“old friends” meeting new friends

Well, I did it! I successfully self-produced CLEAN ROOM at WEST, with all ticket sales and a few on-the-spot or after-the fact donations turned over to HAVEN to support their mission. I had great houses and a marvelous team to help: Tomer Oz designed my lights; Kate Quisumbing helped me rehearse, ran my boards, and shared my house management duties; HAVEN staff and board members helped with ticketing and box office, secured food donations, and made lovely curtain speeches; and my husband came every night and did all the glamorous work like taking out the garbage and–before I could stop him!–Windexing the bathrooms. NHTP served as perfect “landlords” for WEST and I deeply appreciate their support in making this happen. In the audience were friends and colleagues returning to visit with Brighina and Stupino, as well as those making their acquaintance with these characters for the first time. My friend Penny said that seeing the characters again was like spending time with old friends–what an honor to hear! And newcomers have been asking questions and engaging with the writing and performance in ways I find endlessly fascinating. I had a blast performing and was reminded that, although sometimes life presents obstacles, most often things get themselves done!

I learned two interesting things about my relationship to this show:  1) I don’t have to be so anxious about it if I self-produce. It is such a simple show technically that the fewer people in the room with me as I prepare, the more relaxed I feel.  2) I had been preparing to retire Brighina after this performance because I had been feeling too old to continue playing her, but folks told me emphatically NO!!!! The mask does the work of suspending realism and I seem to effectively use my body and voice to communicate Brig’s youthfulness. So, at least for another few years, I just might get away with it.

But I would like to let go of the story she tells in Act One of CLEAN ROOM.  It is sad, and it has been told. So the quest begins for a new story for Brighina to tell. As for Stupino? The dude abides! Thanks to everyone for your support, and for supporting HAVEN!!!




This year, I’ll be producing and performing CLEAN ROOM as a benefit for HAVEN.  It goes up April 6 & 7 at 8 pm and April 8 at 2 pm at the West End Studio Theatre in Portsmouth.  Seating is extremely limited, so it’s wise to book your tickets early.  You can purchase tickets online (highly recommended) or call (603) 321-8550 to reserve seats or ask questions about the show.  Some FAQ:  The show runs about 70 minutes, including a brief intermission. It is recommended for mature audiences and contains adult themes. WEST is at 959 Islington Street and is handicap accessible.

Visit my CLEAN ROOM page for more information about the play, including past reviews, a trailer, and video interview with PPMtv!

Also, please visit HAVEN to learn more about their domestic/sexual violence response and prevention services and how you can help:  havennh.org

Thanks to Genevieve Aichele of New Hampshire Theatre Project for her great management of the performance space.  And thanks to all the folks at HAVEN for helping to bring this production to the stage.  See you at WEST in APRIL!!!

Brig and Stu hit TV and the web!

Hey, snow-enduring creatures of all kinds! There’s an interview with me discussing CLEAN ROOM and mask performance which airs on Portsmouth Public Media TV this week, and which is also available to view online. I had a marvelous time being interviewed by Bill Humphreys back in December as part of a series on the 2012 Spotlight on the Arts winners, and I think it came out pretty well! I spend a portion of the interview as each of my characters, so if you’ve been missing Brighina and Stupino (or you’ve never seen them before), this is your chance to visit with them.

If you live in Portsmouth, you can tune in to channel 98 tonight (Thursday the 13th) at 9 pm, or tomorrow (the 14th) at 11 am, or Saturday the 15th at 11 am.

Or you can watch the 26-minute interview any time you like at:


One other note–the interview includes a lengthy clip from the gorgeously filmed and edited trailer for CLEAN ROOM, created by Shay Willard. To see the full trailer, go to: http://vimeo.com/53951003

Big thanks to Bill and the crew at PPMtv for their support of my work!



Hello, 2014!

Phew, where did the end of 2013 go? Like many folks, I spent the holiday season rushing about between blizzards, visiting with family while dodging second and third helpings of dessert. Also, there’s the issue of a new, boisterous voice in the house:

But, in addition to such chaotic fun, I do have a few exciting theatre accomplishments and upcoming events to report.

My trip to the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts in Concord, MA reunited me with my former student Brian Boruta, who is now doing a marvelous job directing the Performing Arts department of this impressive organization. I performed CLEAN ROOM in the new “Downstage” space, and I also gave a three-hour workshop on Clowning to high schoolers. The workshop was a blast–what an intelligent and courageous group of young performers they were! I warmed them up with a few minutes of Brighina and Stupino, who laid out some basic concepts and got them talking and laughing. Then I just set the exercises in motion and watched the kids unfold. I love this work. . . you see brand new characters with physical mannerisms, postures, walks, and burbling sound tracks emerge in just minutes and then grow and refine themselves over the course of an hour or two as they interact with other creatures. It’s extremely empowering for actors of any age to discover that they don’t always need to be picked by a director to play a role written by a playwright in order to make theatre. All you need is your own self, no matter what physical shape you are in or how fluently you speak. And it allows us to let go of the pressure to look pretty or confident or sexy as we explore the more truthful realms of goofy and even grotesque. Love it! The kids seemed to really enjoy it, too, and they were courteous to me and each other. Kudos to Emerson Umbrella for inspiring such professional, joyful creativity in these young people.

So, that revived my love of workshop teaching and I hope 2014 will bring more of that! Stay tuned.

I rounded out 2013’s CLEAN ROOM work with a surprise invitation from Bill Humphreys to be interviewed by him for airing on Portsmouth Public Media TV, the local cable station for Portsmouth, NH. I brought my masks along and we had a fun and finely detailed conversation about acting, mask technique, and the process of devising CLEAN ROOM. That segment will air sometime soon, so again–stay tuned!

Lastly, MAKE SURE IT’S ME marches on in March, up to Concord, NH! The Brain Injury Association of NH is bringing ACT ONE’s traveling team to do a beefed-up version of our library presentation at the Red River Theatre on Wednesay, March 19th from 5-7 pm. The event will include a pre-show reception and talkback. Admission is free, but please register by visiting: http://www.bianh.org/awareness1.html

I have another MSIM opportunity in the works, and Steph Nugent and I have been hard at work crafting Festival 2014. So I look forward to sharing more news with you soon. Be well and stay cozy!



CLEAN ROOM rocks WEST again!

My Spotlight Award-winning solo show, Clean Room, opened yesterday afternoon at WEST and I just want to say, PHEW! It’s always nerve-wracking to perform, and it’s particularly strange to remount a successful show, because you ask yourself: will it work this time? Will they like it as much as they did before? Have I still “got it,” whatever that elusive “it” may be?

Well, I guess I still have the required amount of the Elusive It, because yesterday’s performance went extremely well and was received with open arms by old friends and new audience members alike! Thanks so much to everyone who attended. . . and if you didn’t, you still have three more chances in Portsmouth. Clean Room will be at WEST on October 5, 11, and 12 at 8 pm. You can check out my Clean Room page for more information on the show and you can call (603) 300-2986 for reservations. (Or purchase online at www.actonenh.org.)




CLEAN ROOM returns!

Wow, August just blew by as ACT ONE rolled out the first four weeks of Festival 2013! As Associate Director, I’ve had only administrative duties behind the scenes so far, helping my “boss” Steph Nugent to promote the shows and serving as cheerleader while she produced On Golden Pond and directed Last Train to Nibroc. I did some curtain speeches, too, which gave me the chance to meet some more of ACT ONE’s loyal audience members. Both of these shows received stellar reviews and I could not be more proud of the casts and crews! More shows are coming down the pike, of course, in this ten-week festival of theatre and concerts. You can read all about it at www.actonenh.org.

As for my own work, well, it’s rehearsal time for Clean Room again! You might remember that last year’s run garnered me the 2012 Spotlight Awards for Best Original Script and Best Actress. So, by all means, come and see this AWARD-WINNING show! I’m doing two runs this fall: I’ll be at the Festival at WEST on September 29, October 5, October 11 and October 12. For reservations, call (603) 300-2986, or visit www.actonenh.org to purchase tickets.

Then, I’ll be bringing the show to the Emerson Umbrella Center for the Arts in Concord, MA, November 14-16. I’ll give three performances and a clown workshop for teens down there. Click here for details and tickets!


As a last note for now: MAKE SURE IT’S ME composer Jason Crigler is bringing his sister Marjorie to Festival to present their show Defying the Odds. You may know that Jason is a brain injury survivor, and DTO tells the remarkable story about how the Crigler clan helped Jason find his way back to his life and his music. I’m deeply inspired by this family. They aren’t just kind, generous, and brave, they are also incredibly cool, in the “groovy” sense of the word. Their lives are full of color and texture and art and love, and so is their show. So, if all that sounds good to you, join us at WEST for Defying the Odds in September and October. Again, visit www.actonenh.org for all those dates and details. SEE YOU AT WEST, MY FRIENDS!

CLEAN ROOM wins Spotlight Awards!

I’m thrilled to say that I’ve won two 2012 Seacoast Spotlight on the Arts awards for last fall’s run of Clean Room at WEST! I’m grateful for the recognition by the Portsmouth arts community, and also for the support of all my loved ones and colleagues who have made Clean Room a success through several patient years of development. But the awards were one bright, personal note in a week dominated by stress and concern on a wider scale.

Last Thursday night, I was presenting with the MAKE SURE IT’S ME/nh team at the Nashua Public Library. It had been a peculiar week: I learned about the Boston marathon violence while on the phone with NHPR’s Virginia Prescott–how bizarre to hear such news delivered right into my ear by a journalist I admire and usually listen to on my car radio! The scene in Boston mirrored all too closely the experiences of our characters in Make Sure It’s Me who have suffered blast-induced traumatic brain injury. So, as I prepared for Nashua on Thursday, I worried about framing our presentation in light of the current situation in Boston.

The presentation wasn’t easy that night, but we seemed to provide information and inspiration to some people who needed help. We distributed a lot of our TBI Fact Sheets, so that must be a good sign that something resonated with our audience.

But, as the library team debriefed about the presentation before splitting up for the night, something else was distracting me. My dear friend and MSIM cast member Pam Battin-Sacks was attending the Spotlight Awards show on my behalf that same night, just in case I won anything. I had written her an acceptance speech that explained why I was absent–giving a brief moment of attention to the MSIM project.

So, on the drive back from Nashua, I asked my cast member and car-pooler Conan Marchi to dig out my phone and check my text messages. Pam’s texts popped up: First, “You won Best Original Script!” Conan whooped, I shrieked, and much was the pandemonium as we (slowly and carefully) rolled through Newfields! Then, as we entered Newmarket: “You won Best Actress!

All I can say is, if you have to get great news, do it with a two-time Iraq War vet around. They know how to fist-pump and holler!

So, we rolled triumphantly into my driveway, where my geriatric hound was let loose for a happy bound around the backyard. Sadly, my husband Paul was in an airport in California waiting for a red-eye flight home, so he missed this whooping and bounding frenzy and had to celebrate with me telephonically a little while later.

Such is the life of a passionate but somewhat reclusive theatre artist and country mouse. I’m likely to grab any work-related excuse to avoid the social stress of schmoozing. I had been THRILLED that the awards show was on an MSIM night–I had a righteous reason to keep the scrutiny off me and to place the focus on military families. So there I was, after Conan took off. My dog resumed his place on his bed, and I waited a moment before I picked up the phone to call Paul. It was so, so quiet. In Portsmouth, I knew, the awards show was still wrapping up. In Cambridge and Watertown, I was to learn the next morning, a series of fatal shootings and a police chase were unfolding. The library presentation had been hard work and the faces of several of the attendees stayed with me. They hadn’t spoken, so I couldn’t know–did they suffer brain injury? Were they grieving someone injured, or dead? What had attracted them to the presentation? Why did they sit so silently, staring? When we spoke about TBI, what did they hear?

I called Paul and shared my wins. I called Pam and got all the details about the awards show and her role in it as my proxy. The funniest part, to me: I had been asked to provide a headshot for the Best Actress category. I had provided my standard headshot, but also a picture of me in mask as Stupino. The producers chose Stupino. And so, as Pam came up to collect my award, those in the audience who hadn’t seen Clean Room and don’t know me personally might have asked themselves,

“Who was that masked woman?”

Luckily, they will have the chance to find out in October. My Executive Director Stephanie Nugent has invited me to bring Clean Room back to WEST for Festival 2013. I’m honored and I look forward to sharing Brighina and Stupino with new audiences, as well as old friends. If you’ve never caught my act and would like to know what the fuss is about, check out the Clean Room trailer, created by Shay Willard.

Thanks again for your support, everyone. Stay safe. Protect your head. An award-winning actress told you so.

leslie and jason are both in the SPOTLIGHT!

Fabulous news, friends! (Warning: Excessive exclamation point alert!) Last week, my solo masked show CLEAN ROOM was nominated for THREE Spotlight Awards by Seacoast Online! Read about my nominations for Best Actress, Best Original Script and Best Play, and then CAST YOUR VOTE before March 17th for the People’s Choice award! I’ll let you know in late April if I win any awards, but as they say, “It’s a thrill just to be nominated!” Thanks to everyone who has supported this show for helping me (and Brighina and Stupino) rock the Seacoast.

Also available online for you: Make Sure It’s Me composer Jason Crigler and his sister Marjorie Crigler presented a TEDx lecture in December and it’s now on the TED site! Click here to learn the remarkable story of Jason’s devastating brain hemorrhage, get a glimpse of his family’s important role in his recovery, and hear this phenomenal musician spin his experiences into song. Jason and I have been having inspiring, revelatory work sessions on the soundscape for Make Sure It’s Me, our project about Traumatic Brain Injury in the military. His compositions are yet another fantastic reason to catch the show in the spring! Steph N. and I have been thrilled to meet Marjorie as well, and I think you’ll be seeing more of these two around the West End Studio Theatre in the coming year.

In other news, Steph N. and I visited both the Hampton American Legion Post 35 and the Hampton Rotary Club in recent days to make short presentations about MSIM/nh. We met wonderful people, fielded many thoughtful questions, and shared some tough stories with our audiences there. Steph and I are deeply grateful for the time and attention given to us by the Hampton American Legion and Rotary members.

As a last note for today, I rehearsed last night with the Make Sure It’s Me/nh Library Team of Jenny Freeman, Conan Marchi, and Steph Riley (yes, we have two beloved Stephs in the ACT ONE family, our Executive Director Steph Nugent, and Lt. Col. Steph Riley of the NHNG). What a great time we had preparing our discussion and dramatic readings from the MSIM script by Kate Wenner. As sobering as the topic of TBI may be, we are looking forward to bringing our hour-long event to the Portsmouth Public Library on March 18th at 7 pm. We’ll also be visiting the Stratham, Hampton, Manchester and Nashua libraries during March and April. Visit the MSIM/nh home page for details on all the library events, as well as the full production in June at WEST.

light in the darkness

Where did November and December go? I’m pleased to say that my work with the Artists’ Collaborative Theatre Of New England (ACT ONE) swallowed up my fall and moved me through half of winter before I realized I’d failed to blog any of it! So, while the New Years’ Eve dinner simmers on the stove, I’ll run down some of the high points of the last two months and share our plans for ’13:

ACT ONE’s Festival 2012 at Portsmouth’s West End Studio Theatre was a smash hit, as it has been for several years now under the leadership of my Executive Director, Stephanie Voss Nugent. She brought back some of her favorite storytellers and musicians, whom I was delighted to meet, including Pat Spalding, Susan Poulin, James Haller, and Ed Gerhard. ACT ONE also produced three plays: The Drawer Boy, Sylvia, and Tragedy: a tragedy. All of these boasted stellar casts and happy audiences, many of whom took in two, three or more shows over the course of the twelve-week festival.

My own involvement in the Festival as the new Associate Director of ACT ONE included some behind-the-scenes work as I began to learn the ropes of Stephanie’s largely one-woman operation. I say “largely” because she does have a lovely Board of Directors, a great cadre of volunteers, and a supportive Circle of Friends among the audience to help her produce these consistently entertaining and thought-provoking Festivals each year. (Plus Steph’s secret weapon, her mom Joan Voss, keeps it all together in the front of the house!) But the amount and variety of work that Stephanie does each year to develop, promote, and produce the Festival, in addition to directing at least one play in the lineup, is truly awe-inspiring. I can only take a deep breath and run to catch up with her.

In addition to supporting Stephanie’s work, I had the honor of presenting a four-performance run of my solo show, Clean Room, in the Festival. Settling this show into WEST felt like coming home; the space is perfectly suited for intimate mask work and I was able to perform for loved ones of mine who haven’t been able to travel to my previous performances. I adore WEST and I am so thankful to Stephanie for producing my show there. As an added bonus: Stellar young filmmaker Shane Willard was on hand to work with some of us Festival artists on promotional videos. The result of my work with Shane is a beautiful trailer for Clean Room that finally captures on video the warm souls of my mask characters, Brighina and Stupino! Check out that trailer here.

Lastly for Festival 2012, I had the pleasure of directing Will Eno’s Tragedy: a tragedy, a “comedy” about the end of the world as viewed by the newscasters struggling to make sense of the whole thing. Steph shot some great pictures of my cast, which I’ll include in a future post. We weren’t sure our audiences would come along for the ride on this one, but most everyone did (although, on opening night, one interesting couple in the front row cracked open some nip bottles to help them through–kudos to my cast for not cracking up when the tipsy folks kicked off their shoes and got a little too comfortable).

Well, it turns out I had more to say about the end of 2012 then I thought! I think I’ll call this Part One of the year-end wrap up and I’ll write a bit more tomorrow. So, coming up: how exactly MSIM/nh rocked the Portsmouth Public Library on November 14th, and why the Spotlight thinks ACT ONE has made a “major move”. Happy New Year!

we got the motors running!

The Clean Room/Make Sure It’s Me combo event on October 7th was a huge success! PHEW! It was more than a little nerve-wracking to wear so many hats in one day. I had a packed house for my final performance, with friends, family, ACT ONE regulars and plenty of curious newcomers all arrayed before me–and I made them work hard. Clean Room addresses a lot of difficult topics, including child abuse, suicide, and the perils of growing old . . . but I try to do so kindly. The involvement of the audience, the quality of their attention, is crucial to getting me through the show. This audience was with me from the start, so, with a painfully open heart but a good handle on my movement and vocal techniques, I “left it all on the floor.”

Actually, my masks do a good job of containing sweat and tears, so not much hit the floor of the West End Studio Theatre. But you get the idea.

As soon as I’d taken my final bows, I changed and mopped off my face and came back onstage to host the MSIM preview event: the marvelous novelist/playwright Kate Wenner was on hand to talk with us about her development of Make Sure It’s Me, which addresses traumatic brain injury in the military. At first, as I anticipated, people were rather stunned by Clean Room and needed a few moments to shift gears. Happily, Kate began by giving me kudos on both my writing and performance–if I hadn’t been aiming for “sophisticated” and “serious,” I would have jumped up to do a victory dance. Or rolled over on my back so she could rub my belly.

So, that raised a few questions for me about my work, and then we segued into talking about TBI, Kate’s background, etc. Next, we presented one scene from the play, which we’ll be staging in full at WEST next spring. Kudos and thanks to Paul Yarborough, Kim Holliday and Pam Battin-Sacks for a terrific performance in that scene! Afterwards, we began a conversation with the audience around TBI, caring for veterans in our families and communities, the dangers of suicide stemming from combat duty, and more. Lt. Col. Stephanie Riley of the NHNG was with us to lend her perspective as an Occupational Health nurse and case manager, and other members of the audience had family members affected by TBI. Their stories were sobering, but assured me of the importance of this project. We had to wind up the conversation when there was still so much to say, to make way for a tech rehearsal, but it was magical to have so many people engaged in these issues. I feel honored to continue leading this discussion in the coming months.

The next MSIM/nh event will be a table reading of the full play at the Portsmouth Public Library on November 14th. Contact me if you’d like to join us! In the meantime, for more information about MSIM/nh, including emergency contacts, click here.