Greg Luzitano the artistic director and founder behind Striving Artists, a non-profit company, focusing upon the theater, film, writing and music, Where his own flesh and blood sister Mary Beth Luzitano comes in as executive director. The siblings, worked together, but Greg was the leading man behind it really. Thus, they would put together a team of musicians and performers, that would stun all who heard their works, including their most recent and newest efforts “Jesus Christ Superstar: A Striving Artists Cast Recording”. Greg goes into great detail about this foundation, the album, and what other types and styles of music, his group wants to take on, as a whole.
NP: What made you want to go and create Striving Artists, to those who may not be familiar with it, can you give us a brief summarization?
While in college, I was president of a student-run theatre group. I had been writing plays since high school, and I was lucky enough to direct two of them while running the group in college. While there, I also dabbled a little in making a couple of silly short films, and because I sang and played a few instruments, I was asked by my peers a couple of times to put together background music for their own performances. One of my professors heard that I was working on that and offered to let me use his 4-track so I could overdub each of the instruments that I played at the time. When it came time to graduate, I didn’t really want to do what a lot of performers do and either audition all the time, or busk on the corner or do open mic nights and all that. I also had gotten a taste for being in charge, frankly. So with my sister and a few other recent graduates, I formed Striving Artists, with the intention of continuing to develop in those four areas: theatre, writing, film, and music.
NP: Why did you want to call this Striving Artists, what makes one a striving artist, in your eyes?
We were riffing on the cliché of the “starving artist”, but we wanted to give it a more pro-active spin. To me, all true artists are striving artists. You have to have the desire to do better, to do more, to grow. There are performers who aren’t particularly interested in developing or improving, and that’s fine, they’re still creating even if they aren’t reaching for something. But all my life I’ve sort of promised more than I knew I could deliver, and that creates the impetus to find a way to deliver it anyway, cause I’m obsessed with not letting people down. And then when I manage to do more than I knew I could before I did it, I’ve got a new baseline from which I can try to go further still.
NP: How come this company was made to be a non-profit company of sorts.
We knew that what we were trying to do as a group wasn’t going to have a big audience, frankly. Our tent pole every year is our Shakespeare in the Park show, because it’s the only thing we do that anyone’s ever heard of. Most of the time we do either stuff that we’ve written ourselves, or contemporary shows that are sort of off the beaten path. If we had tried to go for profit and have private investors or a lot of overhead, we’d have closed in a year. Non-profit sort of gives us the freedom to do what we do and collect donations and apply for grants and things like that. It just felt like the right move.
NP: What would you say makes this company stand out above all the rest in existence, what makes Striving Artists, the Striving Artists?
Tone. Somewhere a couple of years into it, we sort of realized that treating the audience as if they’re part of it, that it’s a shared experience, it energized us. Our shows tend to have a nostalgic quality about them, we always address the audience directly, the dramas are always funnier than you’d expect, and the comedies always end up making you cry. I don’t think it was deliberate or anything, but when I was reviewing the first 10 years in 2016, I realized those are some of the common threads.
NP: You have held annual holiday showcases through the years, will the annual tradition keep it’s sway moving along?
Absolutely. Matter of fact, next year (2018) will be our 10th year doing it, which means I’m getting very old indeed. These shows are very very popular, and at this point I almost feel like it’s as much a part of my holiday tradition as a tree or seeing the family or anything like that would be. We sort of surround ourselves with the family we’ve developed in our fellow performers and in our audience. It feels like at a holiday party where after dinner a handful of family members would be like “yeah, I brought my guitar, let’s jam!” and everyone sort of looks ridiculous and warbles through some songs and laughs too loud at dad jokes and has a blast, you know?
NP: Does each of the holiday releases, consist of only holiday based material, if so, have you covered all of the holiday songs in existence, or are there even more that many of us, may have not even heard about just yet?
You’d think after two albums with a total of 65 songs that I’d have run out of holiday songs to do, but since the second album in 2013, I’ve gradually introduced additional songs into the live show which will eventually be compiled into a third album of 35 songs, just so I can hit the magic 100 number. One of the novelties I do every year in the show is a medley of 40 holiday songs in 5 minutes, which was my way of sort of getting through a whole bunch of songs that I don’t like enough to cover in their entirety, but I can at least give them a token nod in there. It’s also a way for me to show off, cause my ego needs the boost by the end of each year.
NP: You turned to the crowd funding campaign website Kick Starter for your first album But why do you think artists and bands alike, are turning to such campaigning tactics such as sites like these. What makes these methods better than a traditional record label or distributor?
Well, I think we’ve all heard the horror stories about major labels, but even besides that, there’s the pressure of needing to create something that will appeal to a mass audience, which isn’t always conducive to creating the most artistically free work. The internet has made it possible for anyone with an interest to try something, put it out there, get pretty much instant feedback, and get back to creating something else. It’s that feeling of just making something that wasn’t there before in a relatively short amount of time, and in a few clicks it’s out there for the world to experience. It’s incredibly satisfying, that moment where you push away from your mixing desk and sort of go, “I made a hat where there never was a hat” (to crib a phrase from Sondheim). Those awesome impromptu collaborations that don’t need to involve having your people call their people, you just shoot them a message and say, “Hey, you wanna be on this record?” No, we’re never going to be able to give up our day jobs, but you can sort of build this body of work in a short amount of time and just keep growing.
NP: Can you tell me as to why Jesus Christ Superstar was chosen as the next release by Striving Artists, what was it about this musical in particular, that made it stand out above all the rest?
I mean, part of it was old hang ups from attending parochial school as a kid, but it was also the first soundtrack that spoke to me when I was growing up. A lot of the musicals I had seen or heard were, you know, Rogers and Hammerstein stuff, and being a punk kid I thought those were lame (I actually appreciate them more now). But that original JCS album is just so rough and grimy and the vocals are so authentic, and Alan Spenner plays ridiculously funky bass on it (which I spent forever learning by ear), and it’s got more riffs than a Led Zeppelin album. I had sort of had it in my head since I was like eight that I would do this music someday. Plus I had to record it while I could still hit the high notes. But I find the album very evocative and deeply moving, sort of whether you think of it as a nice myth or as, pardon the pun, gospel truth. By the time you get to that second disc and he’s been arrested, it just moves and pulls you along with it narratively in a way that only music is able to do.
NP: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, were the one’s behind its original creation, as well as other musicals such as Cats. Do you see that particular tale to be a possible contender for Striving Artists to take on?
I think I could only do music from Cats ironically, but as far as Webber scores, I could definitely see us doing Evita. I’ve also always loved Whistle Down the Wind, which was a total flop, but he wrote it with Jim Steinman, so it sounds like Meat Loaf, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. The most likely contender for another album of a musical for us would be Tommy or Quadrophenia. The Who is my favorite band of all time, and the first significant conversation I ever had with my wife was when I was killing time between classes and I was playing “Pinball Wizard” on my guitar and she came over and just started harmonizing with me and told me Tommy was awesome, and I was like, “I’m gonna marry this person someday.” Then when I was dating her, I did a home recording of the whole Tommy album as a birthday present for her (hmm, maybe I haven’t developed as much as I think I have), which was my first attempt at recording anything more than a couple of songs here and there. So it would be cool to come full circle with that one.
NP: If you were to step away from the holiday and musical material, and step foot into perhaps film and television songs, which movies or shows of songs, would you pick out to do and why?
I’ve always wanted to record the entire Amadeus soundtrack on guitar, although I’d probably still want a few orchestral instruments in there with it. I could also see doing some songs from older movies, the stuff Gershwin wrote, or Irving Berlin. That stuff’s eternal. For TV, I could see doing a collection of sitcom themes, cause I admire the art of a song with a verse, chorus, usually a really short bridge, an ear worm of a hook, and the whole thing’s done in like 55 seconds. That’s not as easy as it seems.
NP: What about considering doing a cover rendition of nursery rhymes or even Disney songs, would either be considered possible?
People are gonna think I fed you that question: I actually started a kids’ album last year when my godson was born. So far I’ve got “Somebody Come and Play” from Sesame Street done straight up cause I’m really good at a piano-pop shuffle; “Baby Mine” from Dumbo done as a doo-wop number; “Just Can’t Wait to Be King” from Lion King Bo Diddley-style; “It’s Such a Good Feeling” from Mr Rogers; “Hushabye Mountain” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s very very likely that I’ll expand on that to do a full-length album of kids’ songs, but probably as a solo album.
NP: How does music affect you and the world around you?
I can’t live without music. I’m that obnoxious guy in the meeting tapping his fingers on the desk cause his internal radio is playing Miami Sound Machine for some reason, followed by “Du Hast”. I feel like music helps us to process things that we otherwise can’t. We use it in all of the times when we need to express something profound, in rituals, at funerals, at celebrations, etc. It can unify us, it can make us think, it has health benefits. It’s just the purest thing out there.
NP: What advice would you give to fellow artists and bands, who would want to do what you do?
What are you waiting for? Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, just put it out there. Worst that happens is people hate it. Actually, the worst that happens is that no one notices. Self-promotion is one of the most awkward things about it, but you just have to do it. Chances are, if it brings something to you, it’ll probably bring something to others too. Look for like-minded people and collaborate. It’s so rewarding, it’s so worth it.
NP: Can you tell us, what are the remaining plans, that you have for the rest of this year?
Well, I’m co-directing a trilogy of Shakespeare plays this summer with one of my oldest friends, and we’ll be making another short film sometime in the next few months concurrent to that. Then in the fall we’ve got a series of shorts by Bill Donnelly, a local playwright, followed by our 9th annual holiday show, for which I’ll once again be handling the music.
NP: If you had one final thing, to say to our readers, what would it be and why?
Listen to the album. You may think it’s lame cause it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s not. It rocks really hard. You may think it’s too religious, or it’s not religious enough, but you get from it what you bring to it. I didn’t leave anything in the tank for this one, and I feel like it came out really well. I’m quite proud of it. Excelsior!
By: Natalie Perez – www.nataliezworld.com – firstname.lastname@example.org