Just released this November, the Baltimore-based Web series “Thespian” features Urbana resident Sasha Carrera in a funny, quirky and poignant character-driven story about a guy at a real crossroads in life.
Carrera plays the part of acting coach Petra Antonelli, who appears in six out of eight episodes in season one. Carrera, who earned her BA in theater at Wesleyan University, said she feels fortunate for the opportunity to play a leading role in the Web series, available on Amazon and Amazon Prime.
“I love it. It’s thrilling and joyful,” Carrera said. “People are so supportive and appreciative, and it really gives me something to look forward to. It’s given me a lot of great material to sink my teeth into.” Filmed almost exclusively in Baltimore, “Thespian” stars veteran actor and comedian Marc Unger, who also wrote and directed the series.
“It’s a story of struggling to remain relevant as we age, perseverance and never saying never,” Unger said. “While it’s set in the world of actors and acting, the story could just as easily be about a guy who decides to go back to his original goal of being an architect or a concert pianist or a cabinet maker.”
Unger, who plays the lead protagonist Adam Kelner, is a national comedy club headliner whose television credits include
Comedy Central, NBC’s “Friday Night Videos,” a recurring role on the HBO series “VEEP” (starring Julia Louise Dreyfus), and
a guest appearance on the hit sitcom “Friends.” Unger stars alongside Nikki Cozart, who has appeared in “House of Cards” and “Law and Order: SVU,” and plays Adams’ wife, Abby.
“Like a lot of writers and comedians, Adam is cursed with the bane of introspection. e tends to live in his head and is
genuinely frustrated by the fact that his professional life never fulfilled its early promise,” said Unger. “Still, that’s always weighed against his love for Abby and the strength of his marriage. He tries not to dwell on his past decisions because he’s aware that whatever transpired it led him to Abby and this amazing love they share. We always see a glimmer of hope in Adam’s eyes as he wrestles with all of this.”
Unger said that as director and writer, it was an honor and a thrill to see the talented cast turn his words into theatrical brilliance. He had limited knowledge of Carrera’s work before casting her for the show, but her talent greatly influenced the Web series, he said.
“Actually, the role of Petra Antonelli was originally written for a male, and all I really had was the opening monologue,” he said.
“It’s when Sasha ended up getting cast and we had a chance to see just how incredible an actress she is that we expanded the role and made her character not only integral to Adam’s storyline but decided that we would introduce her life outside of its relationship to Adam and really develop and expand her role. In season two we will see even more of that as the show is no longer just about Adam but will explore Petra’s life journey as well.”
Carrera’s published works include a 2012 production of “Democracy at Work,” and in 2014 she wrote, produced and acted in
“Mr. Hopewell’s Remedy.” In addition to majoring in theater in college, she spent two years in a conservatory training program in New York before moving to Washington, DC, where she continued training at the Shakespeare Theater, The Studio Theater,
and participated in plays at the Source Theater and the DC Arts Center.
The character she plays in “Thespian” is markedly different from her own upbeat personality. Carrera said that playing the
somewhat abrasive, yet confident Petra was extremely rewarding.
“Petra is a bitter and jaded big fish in a small pond who never had the courage to leave. She feels like life dealt her a raw deal, but she’s also very confident in her own abilities,” Carerra said. “I can do really deep work on this character, and that is an opportunity I might not necessarily get in other more commercial productions.”
Carrera isn’t the only local talent cast in “Thespian.” The Web series also features Matthew Bowerman of Frederick who plays
Adam’s best friend, Greg Mullins, and Greg Crowe of Cumberland who plays Tom the Jogger.
“When we first began the casting process, one of our big concerns was that it would be difficult to find quality actors for all the roles we knew we’d have to fill,” said Unger. “Luckily, I’d worked with Matt and Greg before and knew they were a perfect fit for what I had in mind for their characters.”
Frederick local Chris Mariles also participated in episode three as director of photography, when the crew filmed a scene
at the Fredericktowne Players venue.
“Working with Chris was a blessing for us. Chris is a pro and knew exactly what he wanted to do with episode three. The scenes we shot at the theater in Frederick are beautifully lit and shot, and we owe that to the cooperation between Maria and I, Chris, Tim and Bryan Walsh.”
Unger’s wife Maria worked as producer and creator of “Thespian,” which is the second time the couple has worked together
on a film.
“‘Thespian’ is the first project we have worked on where I have been involved in literally every aspect of the production,”
Maria said. “It is the only thing I can imagine myself happily doing as a career other than teaching.”
Maria, who has worked as a special needs teacher for Baltimore City Schools for 10 years, talked about how her experience as an educator has translated to working in film.
“As a teacher, you are a master scheduler and organizer, so I channeled that experience into my work on ‘Thespian,’” she said. “Even while on set, making sure everyone is in the right place and ready to go, making sure everyone is happy and productive, is something I’m comfortable with because of my teaching career.”
Unlike some big budget, box office productions, the actors and crew of “Thespian” created a connection that extends beyond the screen. “We became a family on ‘Thespian’,” said Unger.
Bowerman agreed. “The best part of Thespian has been the people, and the chance to work with a group of passionate,
dedicated artists on a project that is authentic, that is personal, that is raw in its vulnerability, and allows people to develop an idea over time together, in ways that not only gives the work cohesion, but creates a truly collaborative environment.”