Tag Archives: Ari Edelson

Ari Edelson: Coming Out Of A 2-Week COVID Battle

By this point, nearly everyone in Westport knows someone who has suffered from COVID-19.

And by now, everyone should know that it does not strike only the elderly, or those with underlying health issues.

If you don’t believe that — or don’t think you know someone affected by the coronavirus — think again.

Ari Edelson is a 1994 graduate of Staples High School. After starring with Staples Players — including directing their groundbreaking production of “Falsettos” — and graduating from both Yale and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, he earned international fame as a producer and director in the US and Europe.

A few years ago, Ari Edelson was honored with a Westport Arts Center Horizon Award. (Photo/Emily Hamilton Laux)

On Sunday, Ari — who is in his mid-40s, and has been in excellent health — posted this on Facebook:

Hi, folks. Many of you have been amazing over the last 2 weeks as I dealt with being both home quarantined and put totally through the wringer with COVID-19. I just wanted to share my most heartfelt gratitude as I’m coming out the other side of it.

On March 15, I started having a minor elevated temp and cough, which then fully exploded into 8 days of delirious fevers of 103, coughs, and drenching sweats.

After a 2-week nightmarish battle, I have now been afebrile for 2 days, comfortable and gaining strength.

Julia Levy has been a superwoman through it all, not only taking care of me, but also somehow also keeping Eliot and Leo on their best behavior, coordinating care with my father (my forever medical hero), not to mention coming up with home school ideas for hundreds of thousands of other families through her work at Sparkler and Noggin.

Ari Edelson, Julia Levy and their son Eliot, in 2017.

She is truly phenomenal, as is the rest of my family. I am so thankful to the generous folks at Weill Cornell and Yale New Haven, who provided me and my family desperately appreciated guidance.

I am more than happy to answer questions for anyone, if my experience can be helpful. To one question I am getting already: Even though I went through New York State’s intake process to be tested on March 20, I was never able to get a test, and never even got the promised return phone call.

I cannot blame the state for it — they are more than overrun. But the failure of full national leadership to address this one fundamental issue and own up to it should give anyone pause about how you take care of a populace that you cannot even test.

If you cannot test, you cannot plan, and the data we are all seeing currently is faulty at its core. I will continue to be one of the likely hundreds of thousands of COVID cases that are unreported, an entire quadrant of data that may entirely shift understanding of the disease and our planning for it.

One other thing that we learned through this process was the importance of acquiring a pulse oximeter, a tiny little finger meter used to measure 02 circulation. With consistent use it kept us on top of this horrible virus as best we could, highlighting my luck in maintaining sufficient lung function and providing the light and sanity that kept us focused on convalescing and not taxing precious healthcare resources.

We were lucky that my O2 levels never went beneath the 92% threshold, but having the tools to monitor them made all the difference. If I can recommend anything to the many of you who have yet to have this virus hit your house, it is to say that knowledge is power, and science is to be heeded and trusted. Science is real.

And go get yourself a pulse oximeter to be safe.

And then — proving the coronavirus could not conquer his sense of humor — Ari posted this:

Art Trumps Politics

A couple of weeks before November’s election, Pulitzer-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan sent Ari Edelson a copy of his new work: “Building the Wall.”

Set in 2019, the 2-person dystopian tragedy imagines that President Trump has carried out his campaign promise to round up millions of immigrants. It’s harrowing.

But Edelson — a 1994 Staples High School graduate who’s earned fame as a director and producer here and abroad — could not imagine anyone staging the show. Hillary Clinton was headed to the White House, Trump to the dustbin of history.

“I was painfully wrong,” Edelson admits.

Attending a reading 3 weeks after the election, he realized “this was a very dramatic, nimble play of the moment. It gives voice to people’s real fears.”

Schenkkan’s agent sent it around. But, Edelson notes, “theater culture moves slowly.” Some houses were booked through 2018. Others worried they’d lose donors if they staged it.

However, Edelson says, “this election upended all the rules. It’s no longer business as usual.”

A few years ago — already a rising star — Ari Edelson was honored with a Westport Arts Center Horizon Award. (Photo/Emily Hamilton Laux)

He helped Schenkkan get the play in the hands of a few theaters that did realize its significance. It’s been booked for stages in Los Angeles, Denver, Washington, Santa Fe, Tucson and Miami. Three productions are already underway; 3 more open between June and September.

But New York is the holy grail of American theater. Now “Building the Wall” is set for off-Broadway, at New World Stages.

With Edelson as director.

It could be one of the quickest roll-outs in New York theater history. The cast and design team were assembled with blazing speed. Rehearsals started last Monday. Previews begin May 12. The premiere is May 21.

“We’re not the pioneers,” Edelson emphasizes. “The Fountain Theatre in LA and Curious Theatre in Denver have done extraordinary work. The script evolves with each production.”

He is excited about his role. “‘Building the Wall’ is a cautionary tale about free will. People can get swept up in what’s happening, and not always act in the best ways,” he says.

The New York Times agrees. Yesterday it called the show one of 5 “must-sees” this month.

Edelson is not the only member of his family motivated to act by the November election.

Like many Americans, Julia Levy — Edelson’s wife — watched with alarm during the presidential campaign, as rhetoric heated up.

Though her son Eliot is not yet 3, he could point at the TV and identify Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. From the tones of voices, he knew when people were not being nice to each other.

“All parents try to set examples for their kids,” Levy says. “We try to model being nice to each other.”

Ari Edelson, Julia Levy and their son Eliot.

As public discourse turned nasty, she searched for a way to help Eliot — and other children — digest what was going on. And, she hoped, to make something good come out of it.

Levy is an educational consultant — and a very creative person. She’d always wanted to write a children’s book. Now she had a chance.

Using bright colors and approachable animals, she wrote and illustrated “Donny the Bully.” With cut paper and catchy rhymes, it tells the story of a bullying bull, and a group of classmates who stand up for a friend.

She got feedback from a child psychologist and teacher. Edelson did the layout and design work, and shot a video.

Levy also created a DonnyTheBully.com website, stickers and t-shirts.

Funding came through an Indiegogo pitch. Last week, the books were shipped. “I hope they get through customs,” Levy said.

She was only half kidding.

(Hat tip: Danya Pincavage)

Ari Edelson Goes “All The Way” With LBJ

All The Way — the exciting new play about Lyndon Johnson’s first year in office, as the “Shakespearean figure of towering ambition and appetite who hurls himself into the Civil Rights Act” — is captivating audiences in previews. It opens March 6 on Broadway.

This Sunday (February 23, New World Stages, New York), a day-long symposium offers an in-depth exploration of both the political and artistic sides of the play. Participants include historian Doris Kearns Goodwin and civil rights activist Bob Moses.

But none of it would be possible without Staples Class of ’94 graduate Ari Edelson.

Ari Edelson, accepting the Westport Arts Center Horizon Award. (Photo/Emily Hamilton Laux)

Ari Edelson, accepting the Westport Arts Center Horizon Award. (Photo/Emily Hamilton Laux)

The passionate director/producer — who in his high school days riveted the town with his production of Falsettos — is the artistic director of The Exchange and The Orchard Project. Both supported early development of “All The Way.”

The Exchange — a New York City-based theater company — focuses on new plays. It runs the Orchard Project, a summer development center where artists and companies can realize their innovative new ideas. The Orchard Project birthed Tony-winning 33 Variations on Broadway, The Royal Court’s Posh, Obie-winning The AliensThe Shipment and Architecting.

When Ari was at Staples, everyone knew he had enough talent to reach the top. Now it’s clearer than ever that he’s headed All The Way there.

(Fun fact: Westporter Harvey Weinstein is a co-producer of All The Way. For more information on Sunday’s day-long symposium, click here. For more information on All The Way, click here.)

All the Way

24 Hours To Showtime

At Staples, Ari Edelson spent months putting on shows. Whether acting or directing in Players, the 1994 grad learned to do theater the way  professionals do.

Now — as a professional “director/ producer/ multiple hat-wearer” with successes on 2 continents — Ari understands more than ever the importance of organization, planning and preparation.

Except when he’s putting on a musical in just 24 hours.

Ari Edelson, doing an interview for "24-Hour Musicals." (Photo by Kerry Long)

Ari Edelson, doing an interview for “24-Hour Musicals.” (Photo by Kerry Long)

From start — casting, writing songs and dialogue, staging, rehearsing and opening — to finish.

Poof! Like Brigadoon, the moment the curtain falls on a performance that did not exist one day earlier, it’s gone forever.

24-Hour Musicals,” they’re called. Ari has organized them at New York’s Gramercy Theatre since 2008.

Now they’ve become a little less ephemeral. A documentary crew has produced a film about the event. “One Night Stand” — which earned great reviews at festivals around the country — will open nationally in hundreds of theaters on Wednesday, January 30.

Fittingly, it will play for one night only. The closest Connecticut sites are Milford and Danbury.

Ben Pasek (left) and Justin Paul, deep into their "24-Hour Musical." (Photo by Kerry Long)

Ben Pasek (left) and Justin Paul, deep into their “24-Hour Musical.” (Photo by Kerry Long)

This being Westport, there’s more than one connection to the film. Staples 2003 grad Justin Paul and his writing partner, Benj Pasek — who most recently wrote the Broadway smash “A Christmas Story, The Musical” — participated in the 2009 24-Hour Musical, which the filmmakers followed. Ari, Justin and Ben are featured prominently in the movie.

Ari calls each exhausting, exhilarating 24-Hour Musical “an Ironman for the theater.”

The New York Times says the film “borrows from the frenzied, ticking-clock world of reality television.”

Describing the final product, Ari says, “Part of the fun is when people forget their lines. The audience loves seeing blood on the floor.”

There’s an even better line in the movie. Near the beginning, actress Tamara Tunie proclaims, “I’m excited and I’m terrified. It is kind of like sex.”

One Night Stand

Ari Edelson’s Chocolate-Chip Proposal

Ari Edelson is a Staples graduate (Class of 1994). He’s also one of the country’s most up-and-coming theater director/producers.

Ari Edelson and Julia Levy

Today though, he’s most famous as the director/producer of one of the  “best marriage-proposal arrangements of 2011.”

At least, according to the New York Times.

Yesterday’s “Weddings/Celebrations” page story related, in shorter form, the Times’ longer version on July 24, which read:

Mr. Edelson fed into (Julia) Levy’s passion for sweets and baking when he proposed in September 2010, a year and a half after he initially wooed her with a box of his favorite cookies, from the Levain Bakery on the Upper West Side, which he had sent to her office.

He took her to the bakery, which stayed opened a half-hour later than usual for the occasion. She said she recalled that he seemed “kind of nervous” and that there were more cookies than usual in the display case. Then she noticed the cards atop the cookies.

Together they read, “Julia, will you please marry me?”

Her favorite, chocolate-chip walnut, had a “yes” sign in all capital letters, and her least favorite, oatmeal raisin, intentionally overdone and smaller than the rest, read “no.”

“It was so overwhelming,” she said.

She chose the chocolate-chip walnut.

The story did not describe their wedding cake.

24-Hour Musical Madness

It’s the ultimate one-night stand.

Beginning at 9:30 p.m., over 100 cast and crew members have just 24 hours to write, rehearse, tech and perform 4 musicals.  Each is 20 minutes long, and includes 2 songs and a dance number.

Oh, yeah — no one knows beforehand who they’ll work with.  Most have never met each other.

24 Hour Musicals” is masterminded by Ari Edelson.  The 1994 Staples grad — a self-described “theatre director/multiple hat-wearer” — organized the entire event last weekend, for the 2nd year in a row.  There’s a good reason:  The project is a fundraiser for the Orchard Project, an upstate New York incubator for cutting-edge theater (he’s the artistic director).

Ari Edelson giving direction (Photo by Kerry Long - www.kerrylong.com)

Ari Edelson giving direction (Photo by Kerry Long - http://www.kerrylong.com)

This year’s show was held at the Gramercy Theater, a 350-seat venue. Ari also scored the National Arts Club — Samuel Tilden’s Gilded Age mansion — for the overnight writing session, breakfast and after-party.

“That turned a low-cost event into something classy and special,” Ari says.

Special indeed:  Audience members and cast know they’ll never see these shows again.  Like Brigadoon, “24 Hour Musicals” exist for just 1 day.  Unlike Brigadoon, they never reappear.

At 9:30 p.m. the writer-composers (including Westporter Justin Paul) met.  They took actors’ photos into a room, and — like fantasy football —  drafted a team.  By 11, 4 casts were picked.  Writers worked through the night creating musicals from scratch.

At 6 a.m. computers transcribed their creations into scripts and mp3s. At 7 the directors and actors began rehearsals.  A few frantic hours later, the shows opened.  An hour and a half later, they were already closed.

The actors — who this year included Cheyenne Jackson, Rachel Dratch, Roger Bart and Richard Kind — were stunned.  “It’s normally 3 weeks before I memorize a song,” one said.  “Here I had 3 hours.”

Ari calls the exhausting, exhilarating event “an Ironman for the theater.”

And like an Ironman challenge, only the strong survive.

“Part of the fun is when people forget their lines,” Ari says.  “The audience loves seeing blood on the floor.”

The cast and crew of "24 Hour Musical" - Justin Paul is in the lightest shirt, near the left (Photo by Kerry Long - www.kerrylong.com)

Cast of "24 Hour Musical" (Photo by Kerry Long - http://www.kerrylong.com)