MAKE A DINNER DATE WITH ‘ITALIAN, GOOD LOOKING’ UNCLE TOOTS
CLEVELAND, OH, January 17, 2017—“I’m takin’ it to the people,” declared Uncle Toots, live via Skype from his 1,000 square foot colonial style home that he calls Toots Tower, at an undisclosed location in Parma, Ohio. “Bein’ with my people and feelin’ how much they love me is my favorite. You seen me in that TingleTangle show Theater Ninjas did? Twice? It was a sell-out show both times! People peed their pants when I took the stage. I love makin’ people pee!”
It’s language we’re not accustomed to from our icons, but these are new times with new rules, and Uncle Toots is on the cutting edge in spite of his age. “I had my YouTubes successes, my Twitters, my Facebooks, but the only damn thing gettin’ any coverage on the internets anymore is the damn President-erect!” A piercing beep emanated from his end of the Skype window. His personal nurse, identified only as Nurse Nancy, paused scrolling through her Instagram account, peered through the camera, and complained we were making Toots’ diabetes flare-up. She urged Toots to conclude the interview, stating, “You’re gonna miss Judge Judy.”
Toots giggled and cooed like an infant playing Candy Crush on their iPad, blurting, “The long and snort of it is I been keepin’ a secret: from 1950 to 1953, I seen this girl, Fina. Beautiful, ‘small but mighty,’ my sister, Barb, says. Barb was Fina’s best girlfriend. Anyways, I went into the service, Fina got married and had kids. I came back and sold my sausage ‘round the USA. We all make our choices,” Toots demurred. “Anyways, we got together again forty-some years later. I’m not givin’ away the whole damn thing! You gotta come have dinner with me, Nurse Nancy, and your Aunt Barb when Fina’s grandson, Andy Boy, comes to visit me. He wants to know more about her life, so I told him to bring you over for my sauce and stories.”
“It’s a story of love found, lost, found, and lost again,” a statement from Toots that caused Nancy to groan as she pricked him. “But it ain’t worth a damn if you don’t join me at my table. I can’t wait ta feed ya my famous pasta and see ya!”
“Yeah, me either,” deadpanned Nancy. “Damn diabetics.”
Sunday Dinner with Toots is the conception and production of 2016 Creative Workforce Fellow in Theatre: Improvisation and Storytelling, Ray Caspio (Cleveland Public Theatre’s The Santaland Diaries at Playhouse Square, 2015 & ‘16; Theater Ninjas’ TingleTangle and The Excavation @ the Cleveland Museum of Art). It is based on interviews he conducted with Uncle Toots, Aunt Barb, family members, and other first and second generation Italian-Americans who grew up in the 1930s-50s on Cleveland’s East Side. It features creator-performers Caspio, Benjamin Gregorio, Cassie Neumann Lucas, and Lauren B. Smith. Kevenn T. Smith is co-producer and clothing consultant with pasta, homemade sauce, and salad by Marilu Mercadante...Toots was created through acting and improvisation techniques honed during Caspio’s Fellowship year.
The Creative Workforce Fellowship is a program of the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. Funding for the Fellowship program is made possible by the generous support of Cuyahoga County residents through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. This piece is funded, in part, by the Creative Workforce Fellowship.
This performance piece was developed as part of the LAUNCH performance creation residency program of the Community Engagement & Education Department at Playhouse Square, Cleveland, Ohio.
Thanks to Scott Skiba and Cleveland Opera Theater for the generous donation of the performance space.
Sunday Dinner with Toots is also available for private bookings. Uncle Toots would only consent to this interview if Ray was excluded from the conversation.
SUNDAY DINNER WITH TOOTS
an original performance experience by Ray Caspio & Uncle Toots
with creator-performers Benjamin Gregorio, Cassie Neumann Lucas & Lauren B. Smith
clothing consultant Kevenn T. Smith
produced by Ray Caspio & Kevenn T. Smith
homemade sauce prepared by Marilu Mercadante
February 9, 10, & 13 at 7:30pm
February 11 & 12 at 6:00pm
Doors open 15 minutes prior to start time.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115
look for acme in the window
Thanks to Cleveland Opera Theater for the donation of this space.
Free and street parking near the building.
Uncle Toots, here. Good to see ya! I’ve done the YouTubes and made ya pee-your-pants laughin’ in Theater Ninjas’ TingleTangle. Now, by popular (my) demand, I have my own skit: Sunday Dinner with Toots! I been keepin’ a secret: from 1950 to 1953, I seen this girl, Fina. Beautiful: “small, but mighty,” your Aunt Barb says. I went into the service. Fina got married, had kids. I sold my sausage ‘round the USA. We all make our choices! Lotsa years passed. Her husband bought the farm and Fina and I had 16 more years together before she went to a better place in 2011. Her grandson, Andy Boy—Italian guy, good lookin’—wants to know more about her life, so I told him to bring you over for my sauce and stories! Aunt Barb and Nurse Nancy’ll be there, too. You gotta let me know beforehand when you're comin', though. We’ll sit around my table: a pasta meal, a lovely show, a belly laugh, and off ya go!
Tickets $30 each, including meal*
Highly limited seating! Seats must be purchased at least one day in advance!
http://www.raycaspio.com/uncletoots or (440) 50T-OOTS to buy your seats!
Please let us know the date you're planning on, how many in your party, and if you require a vegan/vegetarian pasta option.
A PayPal invoice will then be provided.
Group rates available for groups of six or more.
Meal includes homemade pasta, red sauce, and salad.
Also accepting private bookings after February 13!
Payment must be made in advance. Ticket sales are final. You may exchange your tickets for a different performance of the same show prior to 48 hours of your scheduled reservation, if seats are available.
Follow Uncle Toots at http://www.raycaspio.com/uncletoots
Twitter & Facebook @uncletoots
Follow Ray Caspio at http://www.raycaspio.com, Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Ray Caspio is a performance and teaching artist whose original work explores identity and the performer-audience relationship. He received a 2016 Creative Workforce Fellowship: a program of the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. Funding for the Fellowship program is made possible by the generous support of Cuyahoga County residents through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture. Scene Magazine calls Ray a "riveting...magical performer" and profiled him as 2014's Thespian. He was awarded Best Risk Taker by Scene during his tenure as Associate Artistic Director of Theater Ninjas (2012-15) for the conception and performance of TingleTangle, which leveraged stories from his journey with marriage equality and sexuality to show how oppressive laws and hate speech affect the queer community. A critic recognized that audiences left with "a challenge to free yourself to be who you are," a core element of Ray's artistic ethic. Other Ninjas performer-creator credits include the original devised productions The Excavation & Ninja Days @ the Cleveland Museum of Art, Code: Preludes, and The Turing Machine (co-writer), among several others. This October, he created and performed an improvised storytelling piece, Your Ask is Mine, with frequent collaborator, Uncle Toots, for Ninjas’ Positive Reinforcements. He has also performed at Cleveland Public Theatre (The Santaland Diaries 2015 & 2016 at Playhouse Square, The Importance of Waiting for the Eagle at Big Box '14; At-TEN-tion Span; and co-creator of the performance installation, Peek, at Pandemonium ’12), and convergence-continuum (Give Me the Map, An Apology...by Doctor John Faustus...). He teaches for Playhouse Square, the Cleveland Museum of Art, MetroHealth Arts-in-Medicine, and privately. He also leads personal storytelling workshops for organizations. Ray is the creator and host of Who•Ray, a comedy and conversation podcast available on iTunes. His training includes Michael Chekhov (MICHA), the Alba Method, Linklater voice, Eccentric Performance, Clown, and Bouffon; and he has trained in improvisation, comedy writing, and personal storytelling at Chicago’s Second City.
I was interviewed by Mara Radulovic of Super Space during the International Michael Chekhov Workshop a couple weeks ago, right after an enlightening session with Joanna Merlin in which we worked on developing characters. The interview (there's video!) was posted yesterday and I'm thrilled to be included among a group of such inspired artists. Click below!
Week 30 | Artist 30: Created to Create 2016 | Ray Caspio, Performance/Teaching Artist/Actor
"I Tapped My Husband's Back" and Charles Aznavour's "What Makes a Man (Comme Ils Disent)" closed Act 1 of the 2014 run of TingleTangle. Here is video of this segment, one of my favorites to perform in the production. These pieces talk about societal, familial, and ingrained prejudices, as well as Love in various forms.
I'll never forget performing and exploring these pieces—their words—the day marriage equality became a thing, which happened to be the closing performance of TingleTangle's second run! To say they took on an entirely new meaning would be an understatement.
(You'll also hear a bit of Mischa Spoliansky's "Maskulinum-Femininum" at the beginning of the video.)
produced by Theater Ninjas (2014-2015)
conceived & performed by Ray Caspio
original compositions, arrangements & accompanied by agleam/Eric M. C. Gonzalez
directed by Jeremy Paul
lighting design by Ben Gantose
costumes by Kevenn T. Smith
stage managed by Kaitlin Kelly
assistant stage managed by Christina Dennis
at Guide to Kulchur
Theater Ninjas’ original production, TingleTangle, was an evening of personal storytelling, songs and conversations about sexuality, marriage equality, the many angles of oppression and the power of compassion. It reveled in the nuances of identity and how we all use performance to communicate our truest selves to the world. Monologues I wrote and performed, drawing on my experiences as a married gay man in Ohio, formed TingleTangle’s core. TingleTangle sold out and extended its run in Fall 2014, and returned in June 2015, poignantly closing the day marriage equality was fully legalized nationwide.
"Maskulinum-Femininum" music and lyrics by Mischa Spoliansky
"I Tapped My Husband's Back" written by Ray Caspio
"What Makes a Man (Comme Ils Disent)" music and lyrics by Charles Aznavour, arranged and accompanied by agleam/Eric M. C. Gonzalez
Four Saturdays, February 6–27, 2016, 11:00–1:30 p.m., with a final storyteller’s showcase on Saturday, February 27, 2:00, Lecture Hall. Led by Ray Caspio (writing & performance) and Laura Mlakar (writing).
"Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced teller of tales, this four-week workshop challenges you to find new depths in both art and yourself as you craft, polish, and perform a personal narrative inspired by works on view at the museum. With exercises in performance, writing, and more, discover how art can become a catalyst for powerful stories and personal expression. Can’t make the workshop? Join the storytellers as they share their stories in a final showcase on February 27."
Registration & workshop information can be found at the Cleveland Museum of Art's website:
Last March I asked eight people, anonymously, to write what their goal in The Art of Storytelling was.
•"To create a moving or funny story + have the courage to tell it."
•"To shape a story that will be theatrical and enlightening."
•"To refine writing style to better connect with people, make story more enticing, engaging, relevant."
•"Learn how to select events from my own + other's lives that would form a compelling story, and how to describe those events."
•"Create a piece. Surprise myself."
•"Make the ghosts of my family storytellers proud of me. To do it well."
•"To create a strong image of feeling in another's head. As well as learn techniques in both writing and performing arts."
It's pretty safe to say these goals were surpassed. Last year's inaugural storytellers took huge risks and were fearless in their writing and performances. This diverse group, ranging in age from 14 to 60, created moving, hilarious, and poignant pieces, and opened their hearts—their whole selves—in performance, to create a magical afternoon of storytelling theater. They were unforgettable.
Authentic, honest, barrier-free storytelling creates a space for empathy to be cultivated and allows for profound transformative experiences in both the artist and the audience. I believe that Art is saying "Yes!" to your truth and sharing it with the world. When someone is being exactly who they are and sharing their story from their heart—and sharing it in a simple way that allows me, as an audience member, IN—well, that feeling…I hope we've all had it happen at least once.
In my work as a performance and teaching artist, that feeling is what I seek from myself and those who have given me their time and trust to guide them, whether from the stage or in a classroom.
I recently conceived and performed a show (Theater Ninjas' TingleTangle) that leveraged stories from my journey with sexuality and marriage equality to show how oppressive laws and hate speech effect the queer population (its second run closed, by the way, the night marriage equality was made legal across the United States: kismet). During its first preview performance in 2013, I noticed a visibly uncomfortable audience member while performing a monologue and song that dealt with me being called a "faggot." After the show, he approached me, extended his hand, and said in a choked-up voice, "I don't have the words right now except to say I need to go home and think about how you made me feel. What you said and did brought up and made me rethink so many things I've said and done. Thank you." It was...huge. I believe everyone has the power to do this.
In The Art of Storytelling, we celebrate, as an ensemble, the myriad ways visual art can effect the individual. You will be guided through the creation of your piece. You will develop tools and learn techniques to cultivate an authentic, honest performance and then get on stage and share the truth of how art has impacted you. If you've had no writing and performance experience: great. If you've had writing and performance experience: great.
The Art of Storytelling will benefit everyone. Laura and I will make sure of it. We can't wait to find out your goal and guide it to the stage.
"Forty Cuyahoga County artists working in the disciplines of craft, dance, design, literature, media arts, music, theatre and visual arts will each receive $15,000 in 2016 through the Creative Workforce Fellowship...which are made possible by the residents of Cuyahoga County through Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, the County's public funder for arts and culture." - Link to full press release at Community Partnership for Arts and Culture's website
I am elated to be one of those forty artists and it's a great honor to be among such stellar company, which includes several past collaborators. My Fellowship is in the Theatre: Improvisational/Spoken Word/Storytelling discipline. Authentic, honest, fearless, barrier-free, from-the-heart storytelling creates a space where empathy is cultivated and allows for profound transformative experiences in both the artist and audience. This Fellowship will allow me to travel and further study techniques vital to my foundation as a performer, creator, and educator in Cuyahoga County. It will provide me the formal training in improvisation and comedy writing I've craved for years. And I'll have the time and brain space to focus on creating and developing my own projects, which includes bringing a certain Uncle Toots to his next level in a live performance piece!
Much more exciting stuff to come.
The past few years, especially 2015, brought great focus, belief, and acceptance in myself, my work, and what only I'm able to do. This Fellowship is the product of that. To everyone who has been a part of who I am, both as a person and an artist (same thing)...thank you. I'm looking forward to what the Creative Workforce Fellowship adds to my story.
To close this out, here is a work sample from my Fellowship application, written and performed by me, from a Fall 2014 performance of TingleTangle: a show conceived by yours truly and created with some crazy-talented Theater Ninjas who gave their souls to the production during its experimental Prelude performances in 2013 and 2014 (directed by me, original compositions and arrangements by Sean Ellis Hussey), and its full runs in Fall 2014 and June 2015 (directed by Jeremy Paul, original compositions and arrangements by Eric M. C. Gonzalez: both CWF recipients), which poignantly closed the night marriage equality was made legal across the United States.
Opening today and running through December 20th for 19 performances at Playhouse Square: The SantaLand Diaries!
written by David Sedaris
adapted by Joe Mantello
directed by Cathleen O’Malley
starring Ray Caspio
Outcalt Theatre at Playhouse Square, 1407 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland
Produced by Cleveland Public Theatre, The SantaLand Diaries by acclaimed author David Sedaris is the semi-autobiographical story of a 33-year-old out-of-work actor who takes a job as “Crumpet,” a Macy’s Christmas Elf, in 1989. Crumpet’s hilarious recount of the trials and tribulations of the Holiday Season is sure to bring a smile to even the grouchiest face! Starring Ray Caspio.
Tickets: $30.00, various dates and times
Available through Playhouse Square's box office:
Interview with Dee Perry on The Sound of Applause
Thrillist Cleveland: "The one man tour de force Ray Caspio"
News Herald: Ray Caspio finds lots with which to identify in David Sedaris' "The SantaLand Diaries"