by Eric Andrews-Katz -
SGN A&E Writer
'THE HOT SPOT'
Through June 7
You've probably seen them on stage if not around town. This hot duo has appeared on Seattle stages many times either together or separately. At Teatro ZinZanni, Frank Ferrante and Dreya Weber have headlined together for several shows: Frank as the playfully impish Caesar and Dreya (in several incarnations) as Cleopatra, or the Geenie, or an assortment of other roles all perfectly complementing each other. Frank has been seen in Seattle (and around the world) performing his one-man show about Groucho Marx, and Dreya is responsible for some of the best aerial choreography Cher, Madonna, or Pink has ever presented in one of their Pop Concert Tours. The Seattle Gay News caught up with this Dynamic Duo to find out more about their lives and their work.
Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?
Ferrante: My earliest influences were the Marx Brothers above all else. Steve Allen wrote about the great comedians of the '20s, '30s and '40s, and it was the first book I remember reading as a young person. It was called The Funny Man and there were chapters on Jimmy Durante, Bob Hope and Groucho. I relished in the book. It was a whole new world exposed for me and I loved it. Nuns originally taught me so I was in a constant state of fear, and when I found these comedians they became a sort of alter ego for me. I was able to express myself through their anarchy.
Weber: I think I can remember first seeing the old movie musicals. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in particular, then Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney would do a dance/song/story/comedy mash-up without realizing that was what it was. It made me throw a sheet of plywood in my Dad's workroom and teach myself to tap dance. I loved Ginger Rogers' ease, she was so confident and easy with her charm, and in the way she danced with Fred. I think that is where I thought about all the different vocabularies for the arts are the same: dancing, speaking, aerial ballet, they are all parts of the same toolbox of storytelling. Now when people ask me what my favorite thing is, it's hard to answer - they all contribute to telling a story.
Andrews-Katz: Frank, what started you on your fascination with Groucho Marx?
Ferrante: I saw A Day at the Races when I was nine-years-old, and became enthralled. [Groucho's] performance was garish. I didn't understand all of what was happening on the screen, but I knew it was subversive and wrong and that was what thrilled me. In a way, they [Marx brothers] were adolescent in their behavior by not playing by the rules. I re-enacted the scenes with my brother and we did Groucho/Chico routines. I loved the rhythms and the irreverence and directness, and even the meanness, was refreshing. Groucho was able to tell the truth and we are not usually encouraged to tell the truth in our lives, and at the time, I didn't know that. My secret fantasy for years was to make people laugh like Groucho and I started reading/researching the Marx brothers. It became a major project for me. I did plays and theater in high school, and as a Junior at USC I put on a one-man show about Groucho. I invited Arthur Marx (Groucho's son) to the show and he 'discovered' me. I was hired to do the show, but we rewrote it and I was invited to help participate in that. I played Groucho's age from 15-85. The show moved to London and eventually was taped for PBS.
Andrews-Katz: Dreya, how did you get involved with aerial ballet?
Weber: The year after I finished competing in college gymnastics was successful and horrible. I qualified for Nationals but couldn't go. I found a flying trapeze rig in Bloomington, Indiana, and everything I loved about gymnastics became exceptionally magnified. I did that for a while but realized that it wasn't quite as satisfactory as I wanted. I could see the storytelling in the air and that was amazing. I started teaching myself the individual apparatus, and had the opportunity to start working. Cirque de Soleil did a famous contortionist with red silks and it was one of the first to present Aerial Ballet. There started to be work for corporate parties and shows. I was one of the founding members of the aerial company, Anti-Gravity in New York, and we started getting requests to do corporate gigs. We had a gig called Aerial Hammock at the Rose Planetarium at the turn of the millenium. We were placed around the glass cube and globe inside the building. We were interspersed between the planets and I had to go and perform without having any idea of what to do. They wanted me to improv and 'look nice for 20 minutes,' and that's not as easy as it sounds! But, that's how I got my foundational learning was on the job. I dedicated myself to learning more and there weren't schools around at the time. Occasionally, I would cross paths with a circus performer that had a videotape of a previous performance and it was handed around. I learned from hands-on-the-job training.
Andrews-Katz: Frank, tell us about the Pulitzer Prize finalist, Old Wicked Songs?
Ferrante: That is one of my proudest accomplishments. We did two acts and discovered it was about a gentleman that is a voice teacher and a Holocaust survivor. He's mentoring a young American singer. The teacher comes off as an Anti-Semite, and it comes out that it is a way for him to deal with his own pain. The play is set to matching Schumann's 'Dichterliebe.' The play was a piece I found in a drawer from a reading group. I sent the script in and did a little editing, and they produced it. It became the third most produced play in 1998. Bob Hoskins ending up doing it in London and it became nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. I didn't write the piece, [it was written by Jon Marans], but I helped foster it, and that's one of the things I loved doing.
Andrews-Katz: Dreya, how did you first come to work with Cher and Madonna?
Weber: Cher's first farewell tour (2002) was my first experience. I had performed at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and we performed at a side venue as well. The stage manager and I became friends, and a couple of months later he called me and said, 'A friend of mine is directing a show and needs someone with your skills. I recommend you get your video reel ready for auditioning.' The next day I spoke to the woman who was directing. She and Cher had watched the video, in the limo, on the way to seeing Cirque du Soleil. They offered me the position of being one of the eight dancers. I choreographed the aerial ballets and taught it to those with no experience. Traveling with Cher was a First Class Experience! From that, Pink's manager (Roger Davies) saw the show and wanted aerial ballet as well. The director of that tour (Jamie King) was a previous choreographer for Prince now working for Madonna. He asked me about doing something for Madonna's tour. I've done six tours with Jamie, and it's an odd world working in arena/pop tours.
Andrews-Katz: Frank, you were a question on TV's 'Jeopardy.' What was it?
Ferrante: The category was 'Off-Broadway'. The answer: 'He took his portrayal of Groucho Marx to New York in 1986'; the question: 'Who is Frank Ferrante?' It was when Ken Jennings was on his winning streak. He didn't get it right, but someone else on the show did.
Andrews-Katz: Dreya, tell us about your starring in and producing the film, A Marine's Story.
Weber: There used to be a GLBT television network called Here!. After the success of the film, The Gymnast, we were approached by the Here! Network to create another with a positive role model for the LGBT community. They were planning on ten films, and they wanted us to make one. There was no budget for special effects, and so [it] had to be a character driven production. I thought it would be fun to do something with action; I wanted to do fight sequences and jump around because I can do that! 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' was really a fertile subject then, and Obama was campaigning to overturn it. We started to research it and found out about life before and after DADT, and how many lives were being destroyed because of it. Most of the people we spoke to said that military service was the best time of their lives, and so many of them were being kicked out for whom they loved in their private lives. The film affected and changed many lives. I was proud that so many Service People took it to heart! I received many notes from them expressing their feelings and support.
Andrews-Katz: How did you first meet each other?
Ferrante: We met doing Teatro in San Francisco back in 2010. We were doing a production called 'Hail Caesar!' I'd been with Teatro since 2001, and they brought in Dreya to play Cleopatra. They were looking for someone that could hold their own against the gregarious Caesar. My character is a beast, a monster, but Dreya is a quadruple threat: She sings, dances, acts, AND does aerial! We had great chemistry from day one and have been working as leads for over four-and-a-half years. We both have a common theater background and that's a strong bond.
Weber: A lot of people don't have a theater background, and that definitely helps. You get these extraordinary circus acts, but they don't develop characters very often. Sometimes you get people from a Variety Show, but we try to integrate a theme and weave it through the evening at Teatro. We've learned how to use our skills and learned on the job as well.
Andrews-Katz: Have either of you ever played with an audience member that objected to the omnisexual advances?
Ferrante: I've had that happen on rare occasion. I would put them out on stage and get a big laugh about their hesitancies. I can wear them down and engage them usually. I've found ways to let them convert and realize we're just playing out there. It's amazing the response you get. Sometimes, you get a group of guys that want to play, but feel threatened by it. I've been called all sorts of names, but that is rare in the realm of things. The audience understands that our show is a fairly safe place. Sometimes we scare people, but that's part of the comedy. Playing with the audience is the best part.
Weber: I never had anything like that, but I've had fun and odd things happen. Maybe people fundamentally think of women as being less threatening. I've been mistaken for being a man before, and that's fun. There was a super boozy woman that came up to me, crying. 'I wanted to thank you,' she said. 'For what you do. That beautiful man was so judgmental, but now's he's changed because he thought you were attractive.' She thought I was a man and because her friend was attracted to me, he had a life revelation to be more open-minded. My favorite thing is the transformation, to get the audience to come along, believe I'm one thing, and then having them witness my transformation into another.
Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role on the stage - regardless of limitations - what would it be?
Ferrante: When I was 15, I remember sending out a prayer saying I wish I could make people laugh like Groucho did. That fantasy came true. I like the guy (Caesar) that I play now because I created him. I like characters of redemption. I'd like to play Harold Hill in The Music Man because I love his patter, the bravado, and I love Robert Preston. That role, and Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha.
Weber: The first thing that pops into my mind is that I always wanted to play Hamlet. The language of Shakespeare is endlessly rich, and the breath of poetry and human experience that is contained with that role is so fantastic! I think it would be an educational experience and I would be thrilled.
Frank Ferrante and Dreya Weber currently appear at Seattle's Teatro Zinzanni through June 7, 2015. The show changes on a quarterly basis, alternating performers with their sister production in San Francisco. Don't miss the wonderful production 'The Hot Spot,' or the chance to see two of the most versatile performers Seattle has to offer!
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