Interview with Ms Retta Blaney; Theatre Critic, Producer & Adjunct Professor, New York University


1) Tell us something about your book, “Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life through the Eyes of Actors”
Stage and screen actors form unique relationships with their audiences.  Through their work, they challenge, teach and inspire us by shedding light on all corners of life and connecting with us through our senses and emotions.  Working on the Inside goes backstage into the inner lives of respected actors like LIAM NEESON, VANESSA WILLIAMS, PHYLICIA RASHAD, EDWARD HERRMANN, KRISTIN CHENOWETH, DUDU FISHER and many others to reveal the deep spirituality each one relies on in their lives and work.  The book presents 10 key elements of the universal spiritual life from the perspective of actors whose work it is to tap into the essence of life, tell stories and reveal life’s truths.

 As an award-winning journalist now specializing in theatre and religion, I was inspired to write this book by the spiritual wisdom actors conveyed in their interviews with me over the years.  I dared to ask actors questions few ever do: How does your spirituality influence your life and work?  How do you pray?  How do you stay centered in a career with so much uncertainty?  And they answered me, readily sharing experiences of faith, being in the moment, listening, silence, prayer, self-knowledge, community, hospitality, ritual and transformation.  Working on the Inside takes readers into the private thoughts of some of their favorite actors for inspiring tips on how they, too, can begin working on the inside.

2) Why is your Blog called ‘Life upon the Sacred Stage’?
 I named my blog Life Upon the Sacred Stage as a play on the Oscar Hammerstein/Jerome Kern song “Life Upon the Wicked Stage” from the 1927 musical Show Boat.  Back then, working in show business was considered to be only for people of low character, hence the notion of the “wicked stage.”  The performing arts are valued now for their transforming power, so I post pieces that emphasize the “sacred” quality.

3) Share some of your experiences as a producer.
     I also am the founder and producer of Broadway Blessing, the interfaith service of song, dance and story that brings the theatre community together every September to ask God’s blessing on the new season. I started Broadway Blessing in 1997 to gather people to celebrate theatre, and also to offer comfort and encouragement to those who make their living in the challenging world of show business.  Among the performers who have taken part over the years are Lynn Redgrave, Marian Seldes, Frances Sternhagen, Boyd Gaines, Edward Herrmann, Anna Manahan, KT Sullivan, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, J. Mark McVey, Tituss Burgess, Kathleen Chalfant, Billy Porter, Elizabeth Swados, James Barbour, Carol Hall, Three Mo’ Tenors and Broadway Inspirational Voices.
Much of the appeal of the event is the chance to hear these A-list performers, but I think it’s more than just that.  Broadway Blessing touches audiences because it’s different from any other event. People can see theatre celebrities at Broadway on Broadway, Stars in the Alley or other happenings, but those are either for marketing or to raise money for a good cause.  Broadway Blessing’s purpose is to gather together people of various faiths, or no faith, to celebrate the creative spirit and seek God’s grace for the new season.  The artists who take part and those in the audience feel affirmed, and affirmation is otherwise hard to come by in the difficult world of the performing arts.  It’s an affirmation that asks nothing of them -- no donation, no conversion; it’s just a celebration of their giftedness and a recognition of how important those creative gifts are in all of our lives.  I hope readers in the New York area will join us for the 15th anniversary celebration, 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, Amsterdam Avenue at 112th Street.  Admission is free and reservations are not necessary.

4) What are your interests and hobbies besides spirituality? Share your favorite story from the anthology, “Journalism Stories from the Real World” in brief.
Besides theatre, the profession of journalism also is important to me.  I’ve taught at New York University’s Graduate School for Journalism and the City University of New York.  Those experiences inspired me to put together Journalism Stories from the Real World, for which Walter Cronkite wrote the introduction. It is an anthology of journalism stories, many set in historical contexts such as the Kennedy assassinations, the Vietnam War and the integration of the Boston public school district.  I wrote the introduction to each of the 10 chapters and contributed a story about accuracy, stemming from a humorous incident when I was a young reporter and a demanding rewrite editor taught me the biological difference between a midget and a dwarf.

Thanks a lot Retta for sparing your precious time and sharing the worlds of Broadway, Journalism and Faith. Indian film industry is also moving from the wicked stage to the sacred stage.
 
Brief Profile
Retta Blaney is the author of Working on the Inside: The Spiritual Life Through the Eyes of Actors, which includes interviews with Kristin Chenoweth, Edward Herrmann, Liam Neeson, Phylicia Rashad and Vanessa Williams. Her blog, Life Upon the Sacred Stage, features news, reviews and insights into the worlds of faith and the performing arts.  

To see the Blog, click here:-

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