BILLY SIEGENFELD PAIRS beautifully and impeccably with his performing partner Jordan Batta in his play What Do You Want To Be When You Give Up?, presented at the Mark O’Donnell Theater in Brooklyn. The exquisite movement underpinning their unions (spoken, scatted, sung, and danced) is utterly fluid, suggesting endlessly rolling waves on gentle waters. It is so smooth, so effortless in appearance, belying the work that went into it. It’s also reflective of the egalitarian impulses Siegenfeld suggests are our only hope for survival. So, bit by bit, the two of them turn into the stuff of successful partnering, first inviting from us a suspension of disbelief, but then convincing us we don’t need to suspend it. That the bonding we finally see really is what it is. The portrayal of self-inquiry that forms the play’s subtext keeps us leaning in. Batta and Siegenfeld play two actors who have come together to rehearse a scene. But then they bump into more than they counted on – a re-routing that happens before a song or dance step is ever taken. But even as they keep on bumping, even as they continue mocking at or, finally, laughing with each other, they also celebrate their thankfulness for the other. It threads through every moment. Siegenfeld has written a play that is raw autobiography. (It’s based on his and Batta’s many-years-long partnership.) What Do You Want To Be When You Give Up? is a delicate re-imagining of what can happen when each member of a couple learns to give up just enough to allow the other to become who he or she needs to be.
LIKE ELIZA IN MY FAIR LADY, I had trouble falling asleep after seeing What Do You Want To Be When You Give Up? It was magic. The tunes, the movement creativity, the messages Jordan Batta and Billy Siegenfeld spoke, sang, and expressed through their bodies were spectacular. Billy’s arrangements of the rhythms in the play’s words and lyrics are as sophisticated as I’ve ever heard. The uniquely simpatico partnering he and Jordan do knocked me out. Such beautiful natural voices, whether in acting or singing. I was so touched by the fresh way the two of them did the Sondheim songs; and how they moved in tender slow motion to one of Piazzolla’s great bandoneon melodies. To a person, the audience seemed to get it. We seemed to be laughing, sighing, and crying in unison. This is a piece of theatre that will resonate with anyone with an open heart or wishes to have one. For years to come.
IN WHAT DO YOUR WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GIVE UP?, process and product blend in a mix of candid scenes, heartfelt songs, and delicious dances. Billy Siegenfeld and Jordan Batta, as two actors rehearsing a fictional play, give audiences an intimate look at the underlying stresses and triumphs of 21st century art-making. The piece covers a lot of ground: work-life imbalance and the particular challenges that face working mothers; the pitfalls and pinnacles of intimate collaboration; the struggle to inspire students to actively participate in their own education; the sophisticated simplicity of pre-Information-Age literature; and the immutable but increasingly daunting drive to create something grounded and honest in the era of glass-screen-addled distraction. he piece pulses with alternating moments of insecurity, joy, ego, trust, reassurance, loss, and friendship. As the two characters muddle their way through their conflicted relationships to themselves, each other and the creative life, the two actors lay bare their truths: they truly are long-time collaborators. Batta is indeed a working mother juggling home-life and artistry. Siegenfeld is actually an inveterate educator who seeks more for his students than gold-star mentalities and straight A’s. The piece’s greatest strength lies in its transparency; these actors know what they’re talking about because they’ve lived it. What Do You Want to Be When You Give Up? reads as a timely meditation on hopelessness and isolation, ultimately suggesting that we’re never as alone as we may feel.
BILLY SIEGENFELD AND JORDAN BATTA HAVE SO MUCH talent and electricity that it seems to spill out into the audience. Siegenfeld’s play What Do You Want to Be When You Give Up? is a powerful and intimate piece of theatre that combines tender acting, beautiful singing, and explosive dance. To see two performers so magnificently attuned to each other is a delight. As the story unfolds, the drama grows from a simple disagreement in a rehearsal room to a thrilling exploration of what it means to be an artist in a world that seems to only get bigger and bigger. The play works its magic in a subtle and revelatory way: as the performers flit between delicate dances and riotous eruptions of funk and tap, the conversation shifts between the hilarious banalities of suburban life and the extraordinary potential for art to heal the broken parts of ourselves, especially in dark times. Do not miss an opportunity to see this show!
AT A TIME WHEN IT FEELS “HER STORY” ISN’T RELEVANT, a play about two longtime acting colleagues rehearsing a scene – What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? – dares to tell the struggles, frustrations, and needs of a woman trying desperately to reconcile her artistic self with her role as a mother and wife. I immediately thought to myself: I know her. When the female actor, played by Jordan Batta, begins walking side by side with the male actor, played by Billy Siegenfeld, she is testing whether she wants to intertwine her journey with his. As she moves from spoken word to song to dance in sometimes playful, sometimes painful, but always truthful ways, I see her holding firm to her goal: she must find her self on this journey. The play’s story brings into the open the invisible inner life of a woman artist – her need to share herself with a wider world than the one she inhabits at home. Batta’s character expresses this by physically contorting her schedule to meet the demands of the high-energy, deeply insecure actor Siegenfeld plays. But her urgency gradually coaxes the two of them toward authenticity. When they finally start breathing together, laughing together, then swinging an Astaire-like duet with each other, the story becomes metaphor for the constant adapting that characterizes any strong relationship. It’s their seamless moving in and out of sync with one other – as all of us do with the colleagues, friends, lovers, spouses, and children we care for – that makes the play so powerfully of the present moment.
NOTES ON WHAT DO YOUR WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GIVE UP?
- The play balances the two characters – both how their relationship changes and how they change each other.
- The musical choices are unusual and unique.
- The play’s line of action is clear. It all takes place in an uncluttered rehearsal room in a single evening.
- The “walking dance” – which becomes the play’s chief movement motif – is not only a signature of playwright-choreographer Billy Siegenfeld’s work in the theatre. When it appears it emerges naturally.
- Jordan Batta has so much beauty on the stage. She radiates her character’s pathos, its inner quiet. A something indefinable that rivets.
- Both actors come across completely natural, unforced. Whether acting, dancing or singing, we always believe their humanity.
- The slow-motion duet to the tango music stands out. It stays with you after the play ends.
- In the stylized moments – those when the characters leave their rehearsal selves and morph into a magic realism – they become people who are both alone and yet together.
- The simple black rehearsal clothes work perfectly – especially since they’re finished with black boots accented by funky laces!
- The tap-dancing and movement in general vary traditional choreography so subtly they feel like a new language.
- The film-noir characters of Margie Rizzabolli and Jimmie Blues come across funny, fast, and fun.
- The “can’t always get what you want” tap/hip-hop mash-up is rageful, painful, beautiful dancing. It is Drama, capital “d.” For real. In the course of it, the characters realize something important about acceptance; about who they are becoming.
- Finally, the characters of Batta and Siegenfeld fuse tender, vulnerable, smart, different, memorable, and, not least, LOVABLE.
IN WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GIVE UP?, we watch its characters, two longtime performance partners played by Jordan Batta and Billy Siegenfeld, emotionally fly through the play’s setting of a bare rehearsal room. They fly by pushing each other to – in a kind of paradox – get more and more down. They use a fluent mix of talking, singing, and dancing as a way to dig feet deeper into the ground and open their hidden hearts. Batta and Siegenfeld are a rare gift on the stage: fine actors who are also graceful counterparts. They’re like a plush thread whose two main fibers are both tightly woven but also, in another kind of contradiction, bound loosely enough to make room for bursts of physical and emotional conviction. The two of them switch on a dime between battling, joking, and forgiving. The play’s structure supports these calls-and-responses. It’s chock full of – as the subtitle has it – “snatches” of music from 30s and 40s popular song, musicals, funk and hip hop icons, and – in one of its central dance episodes – a gripping tango that launches them into slow-phrased, pulsing traverses across the floor. Their singing, both a cappella and accompanied, is both easy and heartfelt. What they say in song is as tender and barking and full of love as what they speak in words and dance. They deliver all three languages with glorious musicality and energy.
SO, WHEN I FIRST GOT NOTICE that Jump Rhythm was performing in NYC, I knew I would go. On the other hand I cannot say my feeling was one of enthusiasm, knowing this group does a lot of dancing. I am not a dance guy. But, wow, was I surprised. It was a full-blown play Billy Siegenfeld wrote that I loved. I loved the way it mixed in singing and dancing to a story of an unfolding love, all played out on a barren stage with only two chairs and two people. As for their dancing, even though I’m not a dance guy: Siegenfeld and his acting partner Jordan Batta move so effortlessly and smoothly that I felt they were vessels for how it’s only by filling one another’s heart with equal emotion that real love can happen. I think everyone should take 75 minutes in their life to sit and enjoy this performance.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE WHEN YOU GIVE UP? is a theatrical self-portrait of vocal-rhythmic performance artist Billy Siegenfeld, rendered in dance, songs, comedy, and drama. This delectable play encounters us with a man eternally youthful in his passions, blessed with a powerful gift to entertain.
BILLY SIEGENFELD AND JORDAN BATTA’S performance of the play What Do You Want To Be When You Give Up? exceeded all expectations. It’s a must-see. A one-of-a-kind tale told in movement and verse. Just amazing and awesome. It’s an original display of acting, singing, and dancing seldom seen on stage or screen. The smoothest couple since Fred and Ginger. 75 minutes of pure joy!
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