Interview with playwright Lori Jaroslow

“I wrote it, but I’m so happy I’m not in it!” That’s Lori Jaroslow talking about her new musical, The Baby Project, which opens Friday as the first production in Road Theatre’s brand-new second home at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony. As writer and producer, “I can give the show the attention it needs, focusing on all the elements,” she says, “without getting in the way of the director and the actors. In fact, I stayed away from the early rehearsals so that they could develop the process by themselves. An actor can only hear one voice at a time.” Jaroslow’s voice is loud and clear in this musical comedy that started out as an autobiographical solo piece. Expanded to five actors playing more than 30 different roles, the play deals with the trauma that a single, bisexual 40-something New Yorker goes through as she tries to acquire a baby. “It’s a little surreal having a couple of dozen people working on something you wrote,” she says. “You have to be respectful of everyone and pick your battles very carefully.” With 30 years of acting, singing, writing and directing under her belt, Jaroslow has earned the right to express her opinions. Her writing includes numerous essays, screenplays, and personal narratives, but it still took her “more than a decade” to develop The Baby Project. “We’ve had multiple readings in New York and LA and in Provincetown in Massachusetts, “ she says, “but this production is the first time it’s really on its feet.” When the Road Theatre agreed to present the play, it applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts — and received it in 2011, she is pleased to acknowledge. Jaroslow talks proudly of her family. Her father was Jerry Jarrett, an actor who was one of the seven men who played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway. She herself played Tevye’s oldest daughter Tzeitel in 10 different productions, with her father’s Tevye as well as with Herschel Bernardi, Theodore Bikel, and Topol. At one point she played the role with her father and her aunt, Ruth Jaroslow, who is in the Guinness Book of World Records for playing the role of Yentl more times than anyone else on the planet. Her mother, on the other hand, was a professional musician. She played bass with the Boston Pops. “I am a ‘high belter’ in musicals,” she notes. “I usually play funny characters, never an ingénue.” Her favorite of these was the lead in Funny Girl at a dinner theater-in-the-round in Connecticut. “I’m very versatile,” she admits, “which is both a blessing and a curse. But I love writing comedy, and I’m looking forward to writing another musical.” In addition to writing the book and collaborating on the lyrics with Fonda Feingold and the music with Feingold and Noriko Olling, Jaroslow also credits Michael Schiralli with providing additional material, Jodie Patterson for her choreography, and Shannon MacMillan, who directs. MacMillan, a graduate of the Dell’Arte International School for Physical Theater, has training in movement, vaudeville, commedia dell’arte and music, in addition to directing. Although Jaroslow says she has had a good relationship with all of her collaborators, “what I would really like to do in the future is write, direct, and pop myself into the leading role.” Also she would like to

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see The Baby Project run in New York, get published by Samuel French, and have 50 companies doing it all over the country. “I’m hoping this production at NoHo will launch that kind of action,” she says. As for the play itself, she gets tangled up between art and real life when she discusses it. “I get myself confused with the character in the play,” she laughs. “We both went through the fertility processes, but they didn’t work, so my doctor suggested I move to LA, ‘where the sperm is better.’ “Later, I was substitute teaching in LA schools and I still had a desire to parent somebody. I wanted to have a child, but my partner at the time didn’t want children, so I gave up on the idea—–temporarily. “Four years ago I adopted a teenager, Samantha,” she continues. “Adopting someone who has spent her life bouncing around the foster care system is not easy, but as a friend of mine put it, ‘If she is comfortable giving you a hard time, it shows she trusts you.’” Jaroslow currently teaches eight classes a day, three days a week, with 30 students in each class, at the Colfax Charter School. She teaches piano and directs the kids in musicals — Alice in Wonderland and Willie Wonka, for example. But mostly she likes to work with them in creating and performing original plays that they write themselves. She has also directed CDs for children written by Amy Friedman for an audio series called Tell Me A Story. She is particularly proud of the fact that she won a prestigious AUDIE award for her direction of Women of Wonder for that series in 2010. When asked whom she admires of today’s current crop of actors she moans, “I haven’t seen anything in three years. I’ve been reworking my musical 700,000 times and getting to know my daughter.” Later, however, she rattles off a list of a dozen well-known actors, “and of course I love the actors in The Baby Project: Lani Shipman, Kasi Jones, Ann Hu, Jillian Easton, and Susan Boyd Joyce. “I most admire people with tremendous confidence and great self-esteem who are also kind, generous, and thoughtful of others. In entertainment I admire people with those characteristics who are also entrepreneurial and strategic. I wish I had the marketing skills of Madonna, for instance. I admire anyone who thrives in this business, stays creative, makes a living, stays emotionally healthy and balanced, and has love and family in their lives. Those are the people I envy.” The Baby Project, Road Theatre Company’s new theater at NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. Opens Friday. Fri-Sat 8 pm, Sun 2 pm, through March 17. Tickets: $25. 866-506-1248. Photo: Kasi Jones, Ann Hu, Lani Shipman, Jillian Easton, Susan Boyd Jones Photo by Deverill Weekes Reprinted from the Los Angeles Stage Times, published February 20, 2013

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