Leah Benavides and Michael Hirstreet are a pair of wide-eyed, energetic, young theatre producers living and working in New York City. Like any two good, young thespians, they are both very aware and very opinionated. Their new play which is getting set to launch October 2 and 3, off-off Broadway at the Roy Arias Theatre “Two Girls Waiting,” deals with issues as provocative as any. I had a chance to sit down with the pair of thespians at a local Starbucks in Manhattan and talk about how they met, what they’re doing, and where they’re going.
Take a look at Leah Benavides Facebook page and you’ll get an idea of who she is. Three of her 115 “likes” are the controversial musician Ani DiFranco, the Sean Penn/Gus Van Zandt film “Milk” about Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, and Barack Obama. Benavides doesn’t hide from her opinions either, calling her and Hirstreet “VERY liberal.” Benavides studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) and began her career in New York City as an aspiring musical theatre actor before quickly switching to the dramatic/directorial side of things. “I’d firmly consider myself a director now,” she told me, saying that having the control to write and direct, produce and create her own material and watch the picture come alive before her eyes was what she appreciated more than anything.
Hirstreet is a little more open calling himself a “actor/writer/director,” but more an actor than anything else. “She has such a clear picture of how she’d like things,” he told me of Benavides directing skills. Hirstreet sees himself as more of an adjunct than full-fledged director. Still this Rutgers alumnus seems to be very interested in creating new works and has a head full of great ideas.
Whatever these two call themselves, their always growing body of work speaks for itself. The pair’s most accomplished achievement to date has been their collaboration in Hirstreet’s solo show, “My Broken Brain (1).” What began as Hirstreet’s own dealing with Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM (2) – ‘an abnormal connection between the arteries and veins in the brain’) as a young man, became his solo show. A show which ended up beating out pretty heated competition for placement in this year’s New York Fringe Theatre Festival with showings going up at The Players Loft.
As all this was going on, Hirstreet and Benavides formed DreamStem productions. As theatre artists are often first to do, they have continued to push outward by talking about issues that are currently relevant. This is why their new show “Two Girls Waiting (3),” is so particularly poignant. Two Girls Waiting is about two pregnant girls and the setting for this short play is inside of a planned parenthood.
They got the inspiration to write the show while watching the MTV program “16 and Pregnant (4).” The resonance of this show was intense. “Heartbreaking,” says Benavides, “These were girls who had no idea the gravity of the decisions they were making and were not able to articulate the challenges after a teen pregnancy.”
What’s even more damning about what Benavides and Hirstreet both call the “huge epidemic” of teen pregnancy is that “many of these girls aren’t even given a choice. Parents get involved and say things like ‘Well you’re having this baby.'” Perhaps as troubling are the parents who say that ‘you’re having an abortion.’ Therein lie the Catch-22, most of these girls aren’t emotionally prepared to deal with teen pregnancy, the responsibility of child rearing, or the emotional tumult of an abortion and still it should always be the mother’s choice.
Look for my review of Benavides and Hirstreet’s short show and the whole of the John Chatterton produced Short Play Lab program (5) in the coming days. Look for more fresh live theatre from Leah Benavides and Michael Hirstreet in the New York City or who knows where in the coming years. These two have found the right mix of awareness to contemporary culture, connection to their local community, engagement in social issues, and honoring the traditions of the live theatre experience to have a long and successful career as accomplished thespians.