“Live at The Lortel” is a popular podcast created by The Lucille Lortel Theatre which is dedicated to interviewing award-winning actors from off and on Broadway, leading theater administrators, and thought-provoking playwrights and directors. The podcast has interviewed such people as BD Wong who won a TONY and OBIE Award winner Ty Jones who serves as the Producing Artistic Director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem, among others. This season, playwright Betty Shamieh and others will be featured.
“Live at The Lortel” is hosted by Eric Ostrow and his co-hosts John-Andrew Morrison and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Season 2 of “Live at The Lortel” will be dedicated to amplifying the stories of people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and artists who stand in solidarity with the continued fight against institutional racism and racial injustice. The topics will center on the future of theater, their craft, and professional and personal projects.
In order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, the podcast will be recorded via ZOOM rather than on location at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Webcasts will offer theater fans the opportunity to watch the live interviews and participate in a Q&A with artists. To register for upcoming webcasts, please visit www.liveatthelortel.com.
Host Eric Ostrow earned an MFA in acting/performance from Rutgers University. As an actor, he has appeared Off-Broadway, in film, and via voice-overs. Eric has also taught and coached actors for film, television, and Broadway in major shows including “Mamma Mia, “Chicago,” “The Good Wife” and more. He recently hosted The Drama League Director Fest where he interviewed artists about their career for their students and alumni. He recently discussed his career and the podcast via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you discover your love for theater and how did you break into the industry?
Eric Ostrow (EO): Growing up in New York, at six years old my parents took me to see The Wiz, and they could not keep me in my seat. I was dancing, I was running up the aisle trying to climb onto the stage. That was the moment the seed was planted. And my parents were big theatre lovers. Cast albums were always playing in our house. I remember for one birthday all I wanted was a Mickey Mouse record player. Mickey’s hand was the needle and you could fold it up into a little suitcase. I carried that record player like a handbag wherever I went. I would play A Chorus Line and Annie—I wore those albums out. I was obsessed. I started doing plays in elementary school, and then in junior high and high school. I think for me it was always difficult to find my niche coming into any school. It wasn’t until I found my theatre group that I found my home. It was always the space that felt carved out for me. It’s such a common story, but it’s so powerful. I felt at home in the theatre.
Once I got on stage and was able to create characters and know that I could make people laugh, instinctually I knew that’s where I wanted to be. I love rehearsal. It’s my favorite part of being in a show. I love the exploration—digging into a script, finding the beats, the rhythms, the breath—and figuring out what it is we’re all making together.
As an interviewer, I think I’m fueled by my curiosity that comes from being an actor. I want to know what makes an artist tick, what makes them motivated, how they create. And then how does it relate thematically to their own personal evolution–how these artists move from one place to another throughout their careers.
MM: As an actor, what sorts of characters do you most enjoy playing?
EO: When I was younger, I only wanted to play the comic relief. I loved being the sidekick, the character actor. I wanted to be the ham, always. Nothing is more exciting or important to me than finding the laugh. When I got to graduate school, they beat that impulse out of me. But on the other hand, I got to play more roles that were age appropriate.
I still think about my acting training, it makes so much more sense to me now than it did back then. When I’m reading a script now, I gravitate toward the leading men, the roles that have more complexity, more depth—not necessarily the comic relief. That said, I’ll never pass up an opportunity to find the laugh.
MM: How did you get involved with the Lortel Theater?
EO: The initial idea was to host interview sessions with character actors. I wanted to have conversations with artists who have been working in this industry their entire lives, but whose name might not always be above the title. I wanted to share their stories.
I brought this idea to a longtime friend, George Forbes, the Executive Director of the Lucille Lortel Theatre Foundation. In no more than twenty minutes, George said “Follow me,” and led me back to his office. And that’s where this idea was born. Live at the Lortel would be an opportunity for artists currently working Off-Broadway to have a conversation in front of a live audience—giving them the opportunity to not only talk about their current project, but more importantly setting that within the context of their careers, from how they got started to where they want to go next.
I think that so many artist stories are lost. What’s so important to me with Live at the Lortel is that we’re building a platform to keep that kind of storytelling alive. I want to build an archive where you can find really in-depth interviews with artists, where you can hear them talk about their artistry, and why they do what they do. Ten and twenty years down the line, I want to have created a place where someone can hear Marsha Mason talk about her career—so that they might watch The Goodbye Girl and Only When I Laugh for the first time. It’s that intoxicating feeling of falling in love with artists like Marsha, that’s the gift I want to spread.
MM: How did you come to host “Live at The Lortel”?
EO: To be an interviewer and a host has always been a dream of mine. By nature, I am so curious. If anyone is interesting, I want to find out why. Maybe sometimes it’s borderline nosy – but what I’m really interested in is craft. I feel a special kinship to interviewers like Dick Cavett. His ability to disarm a guest immediately, so they open up. It leads to some of the richest and most interesting conversations. I knew if I had an opportunity, this is something I would be very good at. And George knows that I have a similar power to disarm, and he was gracious enough to bring me to this kind of platform.
MM: How do you decide who to interview?
EO: I have a long, and still growing, list of artists I am dying to interview and get to know a little better. So then of course it becomes about finding the right time, and so much of that conversation this past season was based on what was opening Off-Broadway. Something we’re also very intentional about is how we’re bringing these conversations to our younger audience. So many of our listeners are students or a much younger generation of podcast listeners. We do everything we can to ensure we’re framing these conversations in such a way that invites that demographic in to learn more about the rich and longstanding history of Off-Broadway theatre in New York.
MM: Of all the episodes and interviews, which have been the most memorable and why?
EO: This is such a mean question! I’ll never forget our very first conversation with Charles Busch. It was a special evening in the theatre. Charles has always been so kind to me as an artist, but mostly as a friend. I went after him for an interview, and he was so gracious. He said, “Yes, I would love to.”
First, there is nothing in the world like having a conversation in a room full of Charles Busch fans. And you know sometimes interviewing can be like driving in a car with a person. You’re their navigation directing them when to turn left and right. But when you’re sitting down with someone like Charles, who is such a magnificent storyteller, you just give way. You lob it up and watch them knock it out of the park.
Or other times these conversations are like really good acting scenes. You work off each other. You’re going back and forth and riding the magic of each moment. I’ll always remember my conversation with Marsha Mason. I’m such an enormous fan of Marsha and her work. And I remember the moment I think I disarmed her and she really let her guard down. I know so much about her career, and I asked her a question that she said no one has ever asked her before. I think she was so pleasantly surprised to answer questions about particular moments in her career, really pivotal acting moments that she hasn’t ever been able to share. That’s the dream.
And Jocelyn Bioh, the terrific playwright and actor, and I had a conversation about racial injustice in our industry. I remember her describing the change she was starting to see – this was before the pandemic and the increased demands for racial justice and an end to white supremacy we’ve seen this summer. She likened our industry to an enormous ship that is very slow to turn. The incredibly astute storyteller that she is – that image made me stop for a moment and really see this change in a new way. It still resonates with me, watching our industry grapple with these questions right now, it rings so true—this slow turn. Perhaps it’s moving even just a little bit faster now.
MM: What are you most looking forward to regarding the forthcoming season?
EO: Just like in our first season, I’m looking forward to sharing with our audience more conversations with artists I so deeply admire. What’s new about this season is that we have very intentionally committed to amplifying the voices of people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and artists who stand in solidarity with the continued fight against racial injustice and systemic racism.
As such, I’m thrilled to announce that two dear friends of mine will be joining me as co-hosts this season, John-Andrew Morrison and Daphne Rubin-Vega. Together we will be diving into conversations with BD Wong, Producing Artistic Director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem Ty Jones, transgender actor and advocate Maybe Burke, playwright Betty Shamieh, actor, film maker and transgender activist Pooya Mohseni, Tonya Pinkins, Telly Leung, Andréa Burns, Karen Olivo, and many more outstanding artists.
We’re in a moment of real and radical change as a theatre industry, and as the series host and Executive Producer, I am not only deeply aware of my platform and my ability to amplify these voices at this time, but I am also so excited to hear directly from these artists how they have taken part in this change already, and how they envision the future we’re all moving towards.
MM: How has the pandemic affected you and your career?
EO: I’ll be honest, when the pandemic closed the Lucille Lortel Theatre and we couldn’t do these interviews live anymore, my heart broke. Not only for our podcast, but for every artist that can’t work right now.
I’m grateful to be able to continue these conversations on Zoom, but there’s still an element missing when you’re doing these interviews remotely. Our conversations are not quite as spontaneous as they used to be. Everything slows down a little bit. What’s missing for me is the live element, the real social interaction. There’s nothing like sitting across from someone and having a real conversation about their art and craft. I think in person you tend to be so much less blocked or guarded.
And then of course, we miss our audience. The way our conversations moved last season had everything to do with how audiences would respond in real time. When something is funny, a room fills with laughter. There’s no replacing that. And to be inside the Lucille Lortel Theatre, which has such a rich history. People always come up to me and say “I saw the original production of Lips Together, Teeth Apart here, or Steel Magnolias. It’s been an artistic home for so many seminal New York artists. There are some magnificent ghosts inhabiting that space, including Lucille herself. We keep inviting her to the Zoom calls, but still no luck…
MM: How do you think theater, and the arts in general, can help improve society and quality of life?
EO: Well for one, we have made quite a few decisions in preparation for Season 2 of the podcast that are focused around very specific kinds of change we hope to see in our industry. And my hope is that our listeners might consider opening their ears and hearts, to be so moved to start their own conversations, and take up this mantle within their own networks.
As we all know, the theatre has this magical ability to steward powerful change. There’s nothing like going into a theatre and sitting in a large audience of perfect strangers and living though an experience together. After seeing a beautiful piece of theatre, something can change in you. “I’ve never looked at it that way,” or “I’m a different person now after seeing that performance.”
Our playwrights, directors, designers, and actors – they’re all there for you, so you can enjoy something and talk about it after. Theatre is made for conversation. It’s made to create some sort of change. So, I look at the space George and I have created as an invitation, not only for some of our greatest living storytellers to come and tell the truth as authentically as possible, but this is an invitation to our audience. We’re going to continue to really harness this beautiful meeting place of storytellers and audiences as best we can.
MM: Can you tell us about some of the future projects are on the horizon for you and/or the podcast?
EO: Our hope is that we’re going to get back into the theatre as soon as it’s safe to return. And then someday we’d like to take Live at the Lortel on the road. What does it look like to bring these conversations to high schools and colleges, and to theatres around the country? We want to interview artists in their own artistic homes. We want young people to hear these same conversations with their local performers, directors, designers—to be shown a pathway to making a life in the theatre in their own communities. And then of course, when touring productions like Hello, Dolly come into town, what a gift it would be to invite young people into a space where they can fall in love with artists like Betty Buckley for the first time. That’s the hope.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention or discuss?
EO: Please vote. Make sure you’re registered, and that you have a voting plan. Everything you need can be found at IWillVote.com. This is not only your right, but it’s an enormous privilege. And because of this pandemic, it’s more important than ever to take that extra step to have all of the information you need to make your voice heard this November. As my late father-in-law would say, “If you don’t vote, you are stripping yourself of the fundamental right you’ve been afforded as an American citizen.” Please vote.
The “Live at The Lortel” podcast can be heard at www.liveatthelortel.com and wherever you get your podcasts: Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, and Soundcloud. New episodes of “Live at The Lortel” will be posted each Friday as follows. You can also follow them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.