A Night I’ll Never Forget, an Interview With Frank Ingrasciotta

Interviews

By Austin Kaiser, Staff Writer, All About Solo
 
Frank Ingrasciotta (Actor/Director/Playwright) is the writer and performer of the acclaimed Off‑Broadway solo play “Blood Type: RAGU,” currently celebrating ten years of performances in regional theatres throughout the USA and internationally. His play has earned him the Westchester Arts Council Star Award, the Sons of Italy Actor Appreciation Award, a citation from the New York State Capital, and two United Solo Awards for Best Comic Actor and Best Comedic Script. Frank can also be seen in the award‑winning SAG independent films “Figs for Italo” and “Brooklyn in July,” now available for streaming on Amazon. Acting credits include the original Off‑Broadway production of “Godspell,” “Snow White Goes West,” “What Would Nora Ephron Say?,” “Valley of the Dolls,” “Three Postcards,” “Dinner at Eight,” Edgar Degas in “The Girl in the Blue Armchair,” and the Pharaoh in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Lincoln Center. TV credits include recurring roles on “Guiding Light,” “One Life to Live,” “ABC Afterschool Special,” and “The Equalizer.” Frank was a director, writer, and producer for the New York Cable Follies, a live musical satire of the year’s events in the cable industry. Regionally and in New York City, he has directed cabarets, corporate shows and productions including Neil Berg’s musical “The Life and Times of Fiona Gander,” “A Day in Hollywood,” “The Prince and the Pauper,” “Grease,” “Chicago,” “West Side Story,” “You Can’t Take It With You,” “Rumors,” “Lend Me a Tenor,” and “Twelve Angry Men.” For the New York City Fire Department, Frank directed and choreographed firefighters alongside professional actors in a benefit production of “Guys and Dolls.” The benefit raised over $20,000 for the New York Burn Center. When not performing, writing or directing, Frank is an arts educator serving numerous institutions by teaching acting, playwriting and memoir writing. His latest project is teaching improvisation as a tool for rehabilitation to incarcerated men and women at the Westchester Correctional Facility. He is a graduate of the William Esper Acting Studio and trained in the Meisner technique. He holds a Theatre Arts‑in‑Education degree from SUNY Empire State. Website: www.bloodtyperagu.com; email: frank@bloodtyperagu.com.
 
Austin Kaiser: When audiences see the first scene of “Blood Type: RAGU,” what do you hope they think?
Frank Ingrasciotta: I open my one-man play “Blood Type: RAGU” by projecting a photo of myself at the age of seven, surrounded by my family as I hold on to my penis. I say to the audience, “Well, I had to hold on to something because I was in for the ride of my life.” The moment receives a hearty laugh, and I hope it sets an image for wanting to hear more about the story.
 
When performing, do you surprise yourself?
“Blood Type: RAGU” has run over 1,000 performances nationally and internationally for the past 10 years. I am surprised how much the story resonates with audiences, and am blessed with gratitude when they come up to me afterwards to share how it connects to their own life experiences.
 
Tell me about the journey “Blood Type: RAGU” took, from first draft to the last edits you made.
My friends always enjoyed hearing my stories about growing up in a colorful Sicilian family and encouraged me to write about it. As an actor, I wanted more leverage over showcasing my work, so I began writing a piece where I poked fun at the culture. While writing, I realized I was using my stories as a shield to separate myself from the childhood shame I was carrying, being the go‑between in my parents’ volatile marriage. Fate then delivered the culture back to me when I fell in love and married my wife Teresa, who was also a child of Sicilian immigrant parents. It was soothing to learn she was from the culture but not of it. She knew my story and loved me anyway. She understood my upbringing without my having to explain myself. Her parents lived in Sicily and, during the tail end of our honeymoon, we visited them. My estranged relatives happened to live in a neighboring town. My wife encouraged me to look them up. Reconnecting with them helped me to forgive my parents and understand my heritage. I now had a different story to tell with a through‑line of humor rooted in poignant reality. After writing a new draft, I enrolled in a solo performance class that nurtured my work. I performed in small venues and discovered that the story appealed to audiences. A dear friend of mine then stepped in and took an interest in producing it Off Broadway. My talented director Ted Sod then guided me towards revising the script, making it specific and helping me to understand the hearts of the 22 characters I was portraying. Although the script remains the same today, I still find new layers that keep the work fresh.
 
Eighty minutes is a long time to perform alone on stage. Does such a performance require athleticism?
Absolutely. When I perform “Blood Type: RAGU,” I sometimes think, “When is my scene partner entering the stage?” I then realize there is no other actor. It’s all me portraying 22 high‑energy characters! Carrying the pace of the show is like a triathlon, where I must care for my body, voice, and the focusing of my mind. I have great respect for any actor who can carry a show alone on stage for 80 minutes.
 
Where does your acting inclination come from? Are there actors or artists in your family?
Although my family never discussed artistry, it always surrounded me. My father was a mason, and I witnessed his hands creating structures. My mother had a talent for cooking, gardening, and sewing clothes. My brother was a gifted graphic artist. When I was fifteen, my sister took me to my first Broadway play. I felt a spark as I watched, and wanted to explore that feeling. So I started performing in high school and community theatre. I studied acting in college, and then with the great Sandy Meisner and Bill Esper, to learn more about the craft. Eventually I moved on to directing and writing plays. I learned as an adult that you cannot create for an audience’s approval. The deeper risk is to find authenticity in your work in the hopes that it will resonate with people. It can be scary and not always easy to understand, but when you hit it, you’ll feel it. Then it becomes so fulfilling to put yourself out there.
 
What are some of the luckiest things to have happened in your career?
One lucky moment that stands out was when I was invited to perform “Blood Type: RAGU” at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in Canada. Like in most Fringe festivals, the performer takes part in promoting their work to generate an audience. I did not know anyone in Winnipeg, but a New York friend recommended I look up his Italian cousin, who had many contacts in the city. He didn’t tell me much more than that. At first, I was reluctant, but decided to reach out. We arranged to meet for dinner. I had no clue how to get around Winnipeg, so he picked me up in his souped‑up Jeep Renegade with tinted windows, black leather interior, and framed wood paneling. As we drove from block to block towards the restaurant, he repeatedly pointed out all the buildings, clubs, and parking lots he owned. I thought to myself, “Who is this guy? Is he the head of an organized crime family in Canada?” After we ordered our food, I excused myself to the men’s room and looked him up on Google. Turns out he wasn’t Mafia but a self‑made man who owned large amounts of real estate in Winnipeg. After our dinner, he said, “I like you and what you’re about. I’m going to sell out your show!” I thought, “What? You don’t even know my show.” He then drove me to the Calabria Market, a specialty Italian food store owned by two Calabrian sisters. Who knew Winnipeg had such a large Italian population? My new real estate mogul friend convinced the two sisters to gather all their customers and invite them to my opening night. He then nudged them to invite the audience back to their store and throw an opening night party in my honor. They looked at him as if he had lost his mind, but when he mentioned that he would pay for it, they agreed. The next day, he asked me to take him to the box office. My mouth dropped as he purchased every available ticket in cash and rented a bus to cart everyone to the theatre. That night was a night I’ll never forget! I performed to a sold‑out house. An opening night party followed in the aisles of the Calabria Market in my honor, where I was greeted by my newfound friends. The word of mouth sold out the rest of my run, and the story spread to my fellow Fringe performers. They kept asking, “How did you make that happen?” I couldn’t answer, except to say, “I was open to allowing and this is what happened!” It didn’t feel like luck but more like synchronicity, for which I am most grateful!
 
What is in the future?
I am writing a screenplay of “Blood Type: RAGU” in the hopes of adapting it into a movie. There are a few more cities and countries where I would like to perform. I am also writing a new solo show about my experiences working simultaneously with high school seniors and elder seniors. The story deals with issues that both populations face, and how I see myself as the ‘tween’ leaving one population and moving into the other.
 
Blood Type: Ragu
Written and Performed by Eva Frank Ingrasciotta
Saturday, Sept 21st at 2PM
Photo credit: Zachary Spitzer
2019 United Solo Theatre Festival
Theatre Row
New York City
 
AUSTIN KAISER, currently writing a book called, “100 Questions Every Artist Should Have The Answers To.” His other book, “How To Go Viral & Put Wings On Ideas: A Book For Content Creators & Young Artists,” explains how ideas travel and which ideas travel best. More at www.medium.com/@KaiserMane.
 

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