Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Interview: Filmmaker/Writer Brad Forenza Talks about Creating his Around the Sun Podcast Series During the Pandemic - A Scripted Series about Social Issues with Known Actor from Stage and Screen

Brad Forenza was busy during the pandemic. As a filmmaker and writer he managed to write and produce a new scripted podcast series which attracted award-winning an recognizable talent from stage and screen. And now the fruits of his labor are available on the Broadway Podcast Network (available wherever you listen to podcasts.) Each episode in the series is acted by different people and cover a different topic. The topics are all related to social issues of today - giving one food for thought but also entertaining.

The list of actors is quite formidable: David Alan Basche (The Exes), Joanna Bonaro (Good ‘n Screwed), Dolores Catania (Real Housewives of New Jersey), Fran├žois Clemmons (Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood), Lilli Cooper (Tootsie), Veanne Cox (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella), David LaRosa (Clandestine), Marsha Mason (The Goodbye Girl), Christine Nagy (106.7 Lite FM), Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos), Austin Pendleton (My Cousin Vinny), 

Alysia Reiner (Orange is the New Black), Sally Struthers (Gilmore Girls), Maureen Van Zandt (The Sopranos ), BD Wong (Mr. Robot), Ryan Wotherspoon (Fogg), and Brad Forenza himself.

What inspired you to create Around the Sun?

Brad Forenza: Most (but not all) of the moments that comprise Around the Sun were written as 10-minute plays, and produced throughout NJ and NYC. I've been especially proud of those plays for a while, because they're so economical. In 10-minutes, the dialog, conflict, character, and relationships have to be crystal clear for the audience. 

As they say, "theater is ephemeral" (and we love it), but when the pandemic forced everything online, preserving these plays and making them live more permanently in the universe seemed feasible. Preserving the plays (now "episodes") through the burgeoning podcast medium - and its heavy reliance on economy and dialog- also seemed intuitive.
How did you round up such a talented cast? Why were each of them selected?

Brad Forenza: I'm still trying to figure out how all of this awesomeness happened! And I'm blown away by the response to Around the Sun thus far. Regarding casting: While I do write with certain "voices" and archetypes types in mind (e.g., the anti-hero, the anxious young man), I never anticipated all of these heavy-hitters saying "yes" to something I had written. 

But the pandemic posed unique challenges and opportunities. For starters, my "mentors" (wonderful, amazing, storied artists, whom I have worked with and/or learned from for years) were better able to say "yes" than they would have been pre-pandemic. And once my mentors committed, I felt confident enough inviting other artists, whose work I had long admired, into the fold. And even though the project wrapped production a while ago... I still can't believe it happened.

What was it like producing this during the pandemic. Do you think that the pandemic spurred creativity?

Brad Forenza: For sure, the pandemic spurred creativity. In hindsight, I'm reminded of a lyric from Jonathan Larson's RENT: "The opposite of War isn't peace, it's creation." I'm with him. The pandemic caused a lot of destruction. Creating Around the Sun was an easy way for me to see past all that, to the greatest extent possible. In the long run, I don't think Around the Sun would have happened if not for the isolation of the pandemic.

Give us a hint as to what the subjects are.

Brad Forenza: All of the episodes are about people (specifically, New Yorkers) yearning for human connection. About a third of them are comedies (try not laughing when Maureen Van Zandt imitates a cockatiel). About a third are dramatic (I have the privilege of playing a "lost boy," opposite the paternal Vincent Pastore). The balance blend comedy and drama (as Veanne Cox offered regarding her turn as a Shakespearean Server,  "The scene is obviously funny, but its dramatic overtones are even richer in the new ‘audio drama’ landscape").

Where can we listen to it? If someone is new to podcasts, tell us how to find it.  It's free, right?

Brad Forenza: Around the Sun is completely free-to-consumers, and you can find it "wherever you listen to podcasts." But if you've never listened to a podcast (like my mom), I'll be more specific: please visit Around the Sun on the Broadway Podcast Network. Then scroll all the way down, below cast photos, until you come upon the available episodes. Then, click "play" on whichever episode you want to listen to.

What are your favorite podcasts?

Brad Forenza: Anecdotally, I'm consuming a lot of non-fiction podcasts- topical content, interviews with newsmakers... that sort of thing (call it the yin and yang of life). But with respect to audio dramas, I most recently finished King Kirby (also via the Broadway Podcast Network).

Tell us your top five movies.

Brad Forenza: I'm a story-oriented guy and I love "coming of age" films, including all the "new" stuff (e.g., Boyhood). But anything I saw before Y2K has probably been vetted more times than I care to admit. I like Bonnie and Clyde for its storytelling and cinematic innovation, The Color Purple for its "coming of age through the life course" qualities The Graduate, which - as a high school student- I produced my own version of, featuring a cast of two-dozen friends, and several North Jersey locations (the climactic wedding scene was split between Our Lady of Mount Carmel and West Side Presbyterian Church, both in Ridgewood NJ).

I enjoyed Harold and Maude for its simple innocence (plot, humor, production value). When Sally Struthers told me she had been channeling Ruth Gordon (who played Maude) in preparation for her role in Around the Sun... we had a bonded moment.  Others on my lists are Breaking Away, Carrie (the original), Network.

What shows have you been binging on? 

Brad Forenza: Succession seems  to be everyone's favorite (including me). In this year of devastation- I've also been revisiting Six Feet Under... mostly because I love the implicit theme at the top of each episode: Life is messy, timing stinks, and loss adds to the mayhem. I guess the messiness of life (and great writing) are shared by both shows. 

Your neighborhood is the tri-state area....what's your best place to create/eat in NYC or Jersey?

Brad Forenza: Anywhere that's quiet, and my phone is on silent. Growing up, my defaults were the Ramapo mountains and the Saddle River bike path. Lately, walks along the Hoboken waterfront or inside Liberty State Park have proven particularly inspiring.


Interview by Suzanne Ordas Curry