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Stretching physical, emotional and mental limits, a group of elderly Broadway actors, musicians and dancers bravely dive into a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and find that nothing is what it seems to be. These former Broadway stars, who reside at the Lillian Booth Actors Home just outside New York City, embark on a journey through the magical play at the urging of the Home’s administrators. The staff of the Home sees this as an opportunity to boost quality of life for the residents. The residents are not so sure.
As the rehearsal process unfolds, the actors find themselves experiencing both the pain and exhilaration of re-immersion in their life’s work amidst the vagaries of old age. At the same time, the troupe’s young co-directors, Ben Steinfeld and Noah Brody of NYC’s celebrated Fiasco Theater, struggle to maintain forward momentum with this over-80 acting ensemble. Alzheimer’s, Dementia, and even minor issues such as sight and hearing loss create constant crises and obstacles for all involved. As the troupe pushes forward, the play’s themes of perception, reality vs. dreaming, and memory become relevant in sharp relief. Ultimately the performance of the play turns out to be surprising, mysterious and resonant, and a vital reminder of the value of engaging in our dreams no matter the circumstance.
THE FILMMAKING TEAM
Hank Rogerson and Jilann Spitzmiller have been making films together since they met at Dartmouth College in 1985. Their passion is documentary filmmaking with compelling characters and strong storylines. They translate this documentary spirit into all that they do, including multi-media, fiction and commercial projects. Their company, PHILOMATH FILMS, offers up projects that stretch the mind, entertain the spirit and reach straight for the heart.
STILL DREAMING is Hank and Jilann’s latest film. Their previous documentary feature, SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS, gave us an unflinching gaze into the dark areas of the human psyche, showing us that there is always the possibility of change. Philomath Films productions have won dozens of awards including Audience Award at AFI Fest, Best of Show at BendFilm, and many Best Documentary Awards. Their work has premiered at festivals such as Sundance, SXSW, and Edinburgh, and has been broadcast around the world on outlets including BBC, Al Jazeera, Canal +, Sundance Channel and PBS. They are three-time recipients of Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding and two-time recipients of Sundance Institute funding. Jilann and Hank are also the co-founders of DocuMentors, a full-service website and mentoring service for documentary filmmakers needing resources, information and support.
Hank is a Producer, Director, Writer, Actor and Educator who works both in documentary and fiction film. Hank directed SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS, which picked up 11 awards on the festival circuit, was broadcast worldwide and had a theatrical run of over 25 U.S. cities. Hank also co-produced, directed and edited HOMELAND, an award-winning documentary about four families on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, as well as CIRCLE OF STORIES, a cutting edge multi-media project that brings to life the vibrant art of Native American storytelling at pbs.org. Hank has freelanced as a writer, director and producer within the film industry, and has twice been a Sundance Institute Fellow. His freelance work includes producing, directing and writing 2 seasons of MEDICAL DIARY for the Discovery Health Channel. He currently teaches filmmaking at Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and has also taught film production at University of Southern California. As an actor, Hank has performed in film, television, theater and improv. You can see him most recently on BREAKING BAD, LONGMIRE and MANHATTAN. Upcoming films include SICARIO with Emily Blunt and Josh Brolin, and KEPLER’S DREAM with Holland Taylor and Steven Michael Quezada.
Jilann is a Documentary Producer, Director, Editor, Cinematographer and Educator whose award-winning work has been shown around the globe. She won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism for her work in the POV PBS documentary, CRITICAL CONDITION, which she co-produced and co-directed. She produced the award-winning SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS and co-directed, produced and edited HOMELAND which aired on National PBS. Jilann has freelanced extensively in the documentary field, directing, writing and shooting two seasons of the documentary series MEDICAL DIARY and producing, writing and directing for the NBC documentary series LIFE MOMENTS. Other credits include A&E, Bravo and VH1. Her work for the Indigo Girls is included in WATERSHED, a one-hour biographical video released by Sony Music.
PHILOMATH FILMS’ COMPANY FILMOGRAPHY (Selected Documentaries)
“SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS” – PBS, SUNDANCE CHANNEL, STARZ, BBC
“HOMELAND” – National PBS. Broadcast in more than 50 countries worldwide
“CRITICAL CONDITION” POV, National PBS; Bill Moyer’s Journal (Jilann Co-produced/Co-directed with Public Policy Productions)
“CIRCLE OF STORIES” interactive, multi-media web site at PBS.org
“CIRCLE OF STORIES” – Currently in Educational distribution
“BLESS ME WITH A GOOD LIFE” – PBS, FREE SPEECH TV
Click here for more Awards and Credits for Philomath Films
SHANA HAGAN, Cinematographer
Shana has photographed over 30 documentary and narrative films including SHAKESPEARE BEHIND BARS and HOMELAND with Hank and Jilann. Hagan has worked with such distinguished directors as Michael Apted, Lauren Greenfield and Jessica Yu. Her work includes BREATHING LESSONS, which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short at the 1996 Academy Awards, an IDA award and an Emmy. Additional credits include FOOD INC, IN THE REALMS OF THE UNREAL, AFTER INNOCENCE, WALT & EL GRUPO, SUNSET STORY, and THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES.
MATT SUTTON – Sound Recordist/Mixer
Matt’s skill, patience, intelligence and sensitivity make him a fantastic sound mixer for documentary verite. Jilann and Hank felt very lucky to have his keen ear and observant eye on the crew. Matt has worked with esteemed directors such as Barbara Koppel and Morgan Spurlock. Clients include FRONTLINE, BBC, DISCOVERY, HISTORY CHANNEL, and ABC.
- CHARLOTTE FAIRCHILD (Puck) Charlotte is a beloved Broadway veteran, having sung and danced in the original productions of 42nd St, Damn Yankees, Mame, All the Girls Came Out to Play, Mr. President and Fiorello. This is her first Shakespeare play.
- DIMO CONDOS (Theseus/Oberon) Dimo is a former member of the Actors Studio and studied with the greats including Harold Clurman, Elia Kazan and Uta Hagan. He has performed previously in productions such as Waiting for Godot and Shakespeare’s Richard III. He is a co-founder of the Lillian Booth Shakespeare group.
- GLORIA ALBEE (Helena) Gloria is a playwright whose work is included in archives of The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America. She wrote an adaptation of the short story Yellow Wallpaper which has been performed all over the US. This is her first time with a major role in a Shakespeare play.
- AIDEEN O’KELLY (Quince) Aideen hails from just outside Dublin, Ireland, where she studied acting. In the US she scored accolades for her portrayal of Emilia in Othello on Broadway with James Earl Jones and Christopher Plummer. She was also in A Life and Philadelphia Here I Come! One of her career highlights was headlining Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days and meeting the playwright.
- JOAN STEIN (Piano & Snout) Joan got an early break in show business as a pianist on Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar, Zero Mostel and Imogen Coca. She later formed the Walden Trio and performed in the northeast for many years. She has also been a beloved teacher to many. She currently holds a weekly music salon at the Lillian Booth.
- MARY DEPAULO (Quince) This is Mary’s first time acting. Although she was clearly born for the stage, she spent most of her life as a housewife and mother in Brooklyn. Upon coming to the Lillian Booth Actors Home, she began singing and now adds acting (not to mention comedy) to her list of talents.
- NOAH BRODY (Co-director, Helena) Noah is an actor, director, writer and teacher. He is co-artistic director and head of producing for Fiasco Theater. He has co-directed and acted in Fiasco’s productions of Cymbeline, Twelfth Night, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Into the Woods, and Measure for Measure.
- BEN STEINFELD (Co-director, Philostrate) Ben is an actor, director, teacher and musician. He is Co-artistic director and Head of Artistic Development for Fiasco Theater. He has been seen on Broadway in Cyrano de Bergerac and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Ben’s film and television work includes “The Good Wife,” “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”, “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight.
- BOB EVANS (Flute/Thisbe) Bob Evans has had a long and distinguished career as a dancer, performing in 14 original Broadway productions including Damn Yankees, Pajama Game and Guys & Dolls. This is his first Shakespeare play.
- LYNETTE LOOSE (Hermia) This is Lynette’s first time acting, although she has children who are involved in the theater. She worked at UPenn for many years and raised 5 amazing children before coming to the Lillian Booth.
- JOHN GRAY (Lysander) John acted while in college but then put away his thespian dreams to work in a more conventional career. He is happy to have the chance to flex his Shakespearean muscles once again.
- JOSEPH LaZIZZA (Demetrius) Joe enjoyed a long and successful career in radio broadcasting. He was also a supernumerary in productions at the old Metropolitan Opera House. He was also a member of the Gagwriters Institute.
- MAYLEEN ADAMS Mayleen is a dedicated full-time aide and caregiver who sees her job as a divine calling. She also aspires to dance and sing as much as possible and was happy to be able to participate in this production under the tutelage of her beloved client Charlotte Fairchild.
- BASIA MOORE (Hippolyta/Titania) Basia Moore is a jazz singer who hails originally from Poland. She had dreams of acting when she was young and is very happy to reconnect with those dreams in this production.
- CHARLOTTE WALDORF (Egeus/Snug/Lion) Charlotte spent her life working in retail and has never acted before this production. She thoroughly enjoyed the amusing rehearsal and performance process, and getting to roar like a lion.
- HAROLD CHERRY (Bottom) Harold has been in numerous theater productions and an extra in films over the years. He has also participated in many Shakespeare festivals around the country. He is happy to finally get the chance to play the inimitable character of Bottom.
- LUCILLE SEGAL (Starveling/Wall) Lucille worked under the stage name of Harriet Green and was in 150 Opera productions, many of those during her 25 year stint with the New York City Opera. She graduated from Julliard in 1936 and also raised 3 children.
ABOUT THE LILLIAN BOOTH ACTORS HOME
The Lillian Booth Actors Home is a very special assisted living and skilled nursing facility in Englewood New Jersey that is owned and operated by The Actors Fund. The Home welcomes all entertainment professionals–designers, writers, sound technicians, musicians, dancers, administrators, directors, film editors, stagehands and actors. Relatives of career entertainers and industry members can also gains residence to The Home. The Lillian Booth was given the coveted “Best Nursing Homes in America” award by U.S. News and World Report. Read more about The Lillian Booth Actors Home here.
DIRECTORS’ STATEMENT: Aging in a Positive Context
We were first and foremost attracted to this story because of the amazing people who reside at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in the quiet and suburban town of Englewood, New Jersey. You’re just 10 miles from New York City, but indeed it seems a lifetime away. At the Lillian Booth, we discovered a group of people who have spent their whole lives following their dreams, some wildly successful, and some hardly at all. And here they are, retired, supposedly having given it all up. But what we witnessed during the rehearsal and performance process of “Midsummer” is that the huge talent of these former entertainers is still alive and well, despite their physical and mental challenges. It was quite a surprise to see the level at which they could still play the game. And their energy, humor and candidness made it even all the better. We were amazed by what this unique cast achieved in spite of their formidable obstacles. What we witnessed was an awakening, and it was truly profound and most certainly inspiring.
We have passionately created this film to be both entertaining and thought-provoking. Our society tends to look away from the Aging issue. This film looks right at it – as a time of potential creative fulfillment rather than decline. We witness a group of elders coming out of retirement mode, and subsequently reawakening their minds, bodies and spirits in very moving and significant ways. Staff of the Lillian Booth Actors Home reported that over the 6 weeks of production, several participants had their medication decreased. Others demonstrated increased self-esteem and improved disposition. There was a marked strengthening of community, not just within the cast of 15, but throughout the Home.
In terms of our artistic approach, we chose to incorporate the themes from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ into the stylistic vision of the film. We often crossed over into the realm of the mysterious woods. Nature footage flirts with magical realism and creates a stunning portrayal of the luminous fairy spirit in the play. Several elders take their roles outside the Lillian Booth, and into the natural landscapes that surround the Home, exploring their characters in intriguing ways. The visual and thematic explorations of the natural “fairy” world are meant to represent the spirit, richness and spontaneity of the creative process, while also adding a beautiful visual dimension to the film.