Bartlett interview: Anthony Veneziale talks new comedy series, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and music

BartlettLooking for something different, and fun, to watch this week during the Olympic hiatus? Why not give Bartlett a try? The advertising-based comedy (which often takes inspiration from music) is currently available on both Amazon Prime Video and Vimeo on Demand; nor only that, but it will arrive on Tuesday, February 27 onto the new streaming site for independent series IndieVue.

The basis of this series is on Roger Newhouse (Anthony Veneziale, who also serves as an executive producer), a man who tries to figure out if he can leave his entire life in advertising behind to pursue a career in music. The six episodes take place over the course of a single day, and they include many different twists and turns for Roger as he has to figure out where he stands both personally and professionally. The series also stars Chrissy Mazzeo, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Don Reed, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, who stops by for a particularly amazing role as Jesús. He is a struggling actor involved with Mary (you read that right) for an ad pitch; you can see more of that by visiting the link here.

If you want to know more about went into Bartlett before checking it out, check out our recent interview Veneziale on the impetus of the series, incorporating music into the show, his longtime friendship with Lin-Manuel, and more.

CarterMatt – What was the inspiration behind Bartlett as a project?

Anthony Veneziale – The incomparable Martin Edwards was developing a project called Pitch Imperfect as a stage show and he tapped Chrissy Mazzeo to help him work on it. Martin had written it as a very personal piece of theater from his experience working at a creative agency and launching their west coast presence — only to see it come crashing down around him. Chrissy, Martin and I collaborated a number of years ago on a feature length film and it never made it to production. So we had always been looking to find something that felt like a good fit for the three of us and Martin is delightfully collaborative — after reading it and asking if we could make some major changes and open it up a bit more to not just reflect the negative aspects of this type of work but helping to create the world we would LIKE to see then we started in earnest.

From there we started to do a lot of improvisation to help craft the interactions within the scope of what Martin was looking to get across. Eventually, I offered the idea that Roger be an attempting musician as I have a background in music (Freestyle Love Supreme, The Electric Company, etc) and mapped Roger a little more to who I am as a human being. We then tried to do the same for all the characters while keeping our eye on the prize.

The series is touching on a number of different things in a pretty compact space. Was there a challenge in tightening down the story to work within those confines?

When you have the background goal of Dismantling the Patriarchy and also disrupting societal norms around monogamy, race and relationships it can feel overwhelming. But we always tried to keep tying it back to the individual journey and making sure it felt TRUE to that characters modus operandi. If you let that continue to be the beacon of light to lead the writing then I find it always keeps those goals within reach — because they feel organic.

In addition to comedy, were you hoping to have Bartlett say something in general about the advertising world?

That we can make this look the way we want it to. It doesn’t have to keep abiding by the same rules that it has in the past to be successful. There is a great company called August run by a dear friend Mike Arauz and they are doing all the things that Bob has his “vision” about in our show. A clear and transparent company that shows everyone’s earnings and has nothing to hide. A robust company that values many points of view in the workplace and demands that of their clients. They will not take money from a company that doesn’t abide by their rules of gender equity — I am just so impressed and hopeful by that model. I have a similar company called Speechless in the bay area and our major goal is to help giant tech companies with improv thinking to change the story from exclusion to inclusion.

What are you hoping viewers take away from this?

That white dudes get credit in the work environment because they have been engendered / rewarded by and in our society to speak up. To try and fail and try again. That’s not the same for people of color, people who identify as non-binary and for women. So, how do we as a conscious society undo some of the vestigial infrastructure that keeps those points of view from being expressed?

How do you incorporate Roger’s music into the larger story?

I love to use music to convey emotion and build empathy for a character. It’s just a great shortcut to show you the vast emotional landscape that lives inside the character. I develop all my songs using improvisation techniques developed over my time working with Freestyle Love Supreme. I’ll start with a word that is the underlying emotion I’m trying to convey and use that as the pulse to the song. Martin and I looked for places where we felt either a song was a.) integrated – meaning a part of the scene with music coming from the actual actors / environment or b.) non-integrated – meaning they are part of the score or come from an un-motivated sound source. When we found those it felt like it was fun to balance it out and have it go from one episode integrated to the next non-integrated.

Now I had my marching orders and the moments that seemed to call for a heightened emotional response became those non-integrated music video moments so that we can see what Roger wants / needs. Af first he thinks he wants to go along with Maggie’s non-conformist ideas of open relationships but then realizes that he needs to “water” / feed his own dreams first. And he wants to make sure that it is in an authentic way and that’s what gives us the Enoch Bartlett rap.

Lin-Manuel has a pretty fantastic role. How do you describe the character that he’s playing?

Lin and I have known each other for a long time and he’s one of the family known as Freestyle Love Supreme (Utkarsh Ambudkar is as well). He obviously is having quite a big year(s) and lots of people are placing lots of expectations upon his shoulders. When Martin had the holy family in the script it always felt like a fun way to have Lin fit into this project.

As Jesús and Mary come in to help punch up the Bartlett pitch it was doubly fun to have him as an out of work actor. Basically, how could we use his current actual life story to be a comedic backdrop for the character. It was a lot of fun to get to play with him on set as we’ve done so many shows in the past — having him jump up on the desk and quote Shakespeare then to ask if it was in the Bible and Lin to throw back “the actor’s bible” was pure improv genius. That’s the type of work we’ve been doing in FLS for years.

On the other side of Bartlett, what else is next for you?

Wow, well I’m a pretty involved dad and I’m looking forward to my daughter’s next soccer season (I help coach). My partner and I are working on a grant around reshaping sex ed for elementary public schools in San Francisco through an organization called Power to Decide. I continue to build out my company Speechless and looking for opportunities to grow the Freestyle Love Supreme brand, too. We are continuing to push Bartlett and get robust numbers to prove that we should make a second season, fingers crossed! So go watch it people!

Want to see the official trailer?

View that by visiting this link! We mentioned IndieVue earlier in the article; note that on February 27 the service will lost a live and interactive screening of Bartlett at 9:00 p.m. Eastern featuring Anthony alongside Chrissy Mazzeo, Don Reed, Eirnie Carson, Martin Edwards and Rivkah Beth Medow. If you love the series that’s something else worth looking forward to.

Thanks so much to Anthony for his time, and know that you can like CarterMatt on Facebook to receive some additional updates on all things TV. (Photo: Bartlett.)

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