Spotlight Series: Meet Sascha Vanderslik, a Native Australian Who Calls The Group Rep Theatre Company Her New Home

Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Sascha Vanderslik (Sascha): I am Australian born and bred and grew up in the theatre. My Mum is an incredible singer with her band Organic Joe and she did musicals when I was a kid, so I spent my childhood watching her perform.  I would sit backstage and watch the actors put on their make-up and costumes, completely enthralled by the magic they were creating and then would go home and make up my own plays with my toys. Then one day they did Little Shop of Horrors and my mind was blown. Seeing that show changed my world and suddenly I realized how versatile and fun the stage could be.

When I was 12, I co-founded a theatre company in my home town since we didn’t have a lot of theatre available for youth. So we made it ourselves and wrote plays that dealt with youth issues such as peer pressure and drugs. I took what I learned in the years with this company and I used it in my career. For me, the best art will always challenge you while it entertains you.

Since living in the States I’ve been focused more on film and TV work and building my credits. I felt something was missing though, and the last three years have been focused on reigniting my first love since theatre soothes my soul and there is no greater rush than performing on stage. I did two plays with the Manor Theatre Company in 2017 and have been a member of The Group Rep Theatre Company for a little over a year, during which time I have been involved with multiple productions at GRT. And I am pleased to announce I was just voted onto their Board of Directors as the 2nd Vice President.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

(Sascha): When the shutdown started, we were right in the middle of rehearsals for London Suite which is the next Main Stage production at The Group Rep.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

(Sascha): The Group Rep is such a fantastic company and we are lucky that both the Artistic Director Doug Haverty, and the Executive Director Bert Emmett, are incredibly transparent with the membership. There had been multiple discussions before the shutdown started about what the process would be. We had also had discussions with our Producer Aly York and Director Doug Engalla, both of whom really made it their first priority to make sure the cast were comfortable and felt safe while rehearsals were still happening. As soon as the shutdown started, we received communication from Doug and Aly explaining the situation and that we would be postponing rehearsals.

Once the shutdown happened, we have had regular communication from our Director Doug to check in and see how we are doing. Bert Emmett and Doug Haverty are also in constant contact with the membership to give them updates on what’s happening, and we will be having Zoom meetings with the membership in the future.

(SB) Most theatre companies are going that same route for now, and all are trying to figure out options for their next steps. Do you know if plans in place to present London Suite at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(Sascha): At this time London Suite is postponed and not cancelled, and the plan is to open it as soon as it is safe to do so. We are rehearsing weekly on Zoom, which has been different and a lot of fun. We are a family and it’s great to see people even if it’s only on Zoom. Of course, we are only able to rehearse lines but it’s nice to keep everything fresh in our minds so that when the time comes, we can hit the ground running.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Sascha): This year I am co-producing Nine Winning One Acts at The Group Rep. It was supposed to open in June, and we would be heading into rehearsals right now if we were able to do so. This festival has now been postponed and we don’t have a date yet for when it will open. My Co-Producer Helen O'brien and I have been hard at work reading all the submissions and narrowing down the plays so that when we get the green light, we can head into auditions and get the festival up on its feet.

I’m also in two staged readings that are postponed: the first, Baby With the Bath Water, is going to be completely staged and we are going to be starting Zoom rehearsals for that soon. The other, Ouartermaine’s Terms, is just postponed until it is safe to open.

Loose Knit

Lastly, I am in a hilarious new play, The Canary by Amy Sullivan, that is part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, which had been postponed to October and was then cancelled completely. This is such a fun play and I can’t wait until it can be shared with the world, maybe at Fringe 2021.

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Sascha): I am lucky that I still have projects keeping me busy, and rehearsals for London Suite have been such a bright light in these times. I’ve also been participating in the open call self-tapes that different casting offices have been doing. I also have some very talented friends that have been doing Zoom table reads for projects they have written.

(SB): While it’s true the online theatre experience is not quite the same as being in a theater for a live performance, it certainly is keeping us creatively busy. Any thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Sascha): This is such a hard time for our community and it warms my heart to see how we have all banded together. The Arts are so important to the world and we will make it through these dark times. It won’t be easy and we don’t know what the other side looks like, but we will make it through together.

And of course, the Theatre community is struggling right now and we need your help. Most of the small non-profit theaters are held together by a membership of volunteers, so without ticket sales we are struggling to survive. And since Art is always there to help people, in these dark times Art needs some help in return. Like so many other theaters, we need as many donations as possible. And while it has been incredible how many people have already donated, we still need more help. To donate directly to The Group Rep, you can go to TheGroupRep.com/show/donations. Another place to donate is at gofundme.com/savenohotheatres.

Please stay in touch as we all work together to support our vibrant L.A. Theatre community! You can find me on Instagram @saschavanderslik or at TheGroupRep.com.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Holly Baker-Kreiswirth and Bill Wolski, the Dynamic Duo Who Call Little Fish Theatre Their “Home Away from Home”


Anyone who has attended a production at Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro has most likely met Holly Baker-Kreiswirth and Bill Wolski, the dynamic duo who call Little Fish Theatre their “Home Away from Home.” As well as appearing onstage together, the married couple also work behind-the-scenes with Holly managing the theatre's Press Relations and directing shows while Bill often takes on the roles of Director and Producer when not acting onstage.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Bill Wolski (Bill): I'm a veteran of over a hundred plays and a whole host of other projects and performances. I cut my teeth on the small theatre circuit in greater Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up. I'm primarily known for my work at Little Fish Theatre, which has been my artistic home since 2007, and for being the husband of the equally talented and prolific Holly Baker-Kreiswirth.

Holly Baker-Kreiswirth (Holly): I started out in television before I worked in theater; the very first paid job I had was in the acting category on Junior Star Search which led to various roles in shows such as Chicago HopeGia (HBO), and Private Practice. I studied theater in college, but took a 10-year break to work on a career in TV production, and then had my kid.  In my early 30s, I started with Palos Verdes Players as a sound tech, then worked my way up to directing, producing, and finally acting again.  When PVP sadly went down, Bill and I appeared onstage in The Tender Trap at Long Beach Playhouse (when we started dating!) and subsequently found our artistic home at Little Fish Theatre, where we produce Pick of the Vine and act in or direct roughly 1/3 of the productions every year.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?

(Bill): I was working on a show called Becky's New Car, written by Steven Dietz, and directed by my wife. It was scheduled to open on April 9th. I was playing Becky's steadfast, not-as-dumb-as-he-looks husband, Joe.

(Holly): We were both deeply into rehearsals for Becky's New Car. I pre-block the shows I direct before rehearsals even begin; we had ten rehearsals under our belt with our lead actress, Amanda Karr, already off book.  Costumes/props were bought, lights/sound were being designed... everything was in motion.  Our stumble-through was the last rehearsal we had, and the show was already in great shape.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

(Bill and Holly): First, the sports teams postponed their seasons. Then, it was gatherings over 250 people. Then, gatherings over 50 people. Being a very intimate theater, there was still a possibility that LFT could limit ticket sales and hold performances, but the conclusion was reached that we didn't want to put our fan base and company members at risk. Emails went out to those involved that everything was going to be put on hold.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(Bill): Becky's New Car will open at a later date, once we've been given the all-clear.

(Holly): We're thrilled that the work we've already put into the show will be seen by an audience someday.  I believe the message will resonate with them.

(SB): I have seen the show before and was really looking forward to seeing the production at Little Fish. So I am happy to hear that eventually that will happen. What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Bill and Holly): We are involved at LFT all the time in a volunteer capacity. The shutdown has affected our entire season. Shows and special events that have not yet been cast or started production may be canceled entirely to give the shows that were already in progress a chance to be performed.

(SB): I know Bill is an avid hiker, but how are the two of you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Bill and Holly): Little Fish Theatre and its company members are doing a lot to bring theatre to a virtual audience. We're promoting and reaching out to our subscribers with videos and newsletters, and writing and sharing original content through our social media platforms. Specifically, we have a 5-part original web series called "Little Fish" that features hilarious portrayals of our artists.  We've produced multiple virtual readings of everything from comedic short plays to screenplays to a play about the shootings at Kent State 50 years ago this month.  And coming up next month we have a reading of a M*A*S*H* script donated to us by one of the writers, Ken Levine!  All of our readings are free -- we're so happy to be able to provide the arts to everyone in this format.

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Bill and Holly): Please, be safe. Follow the rules and the health guidelines and limit the risk posed to yourself and your loved ones. In Shakespeare's time, theaters were closed due to the plague, and 400 years later, theatre is still alive and well. As long as there are stories to tell, there will be people to tell them. We'll all be together again soon enough. From our theater to yours, here's a big hug from Little Fish. We love you!

Here's how to stay in touch with Little Fish Theatre:


All production photos credit: Miguel Elliot


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Fringe Management Co-Founder Mike Blaha


This Spotlight focuses on Mike Blaha, Co-Founder of Fringe Management, a company that has produced an incredible assortment of shows for both the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Hollywood Fringe Festival. Listen in as he shares his insights on how the Coronavirus pandemic has affected both this year, especially since the initial shutdown occurred just as the Edinburgh event had begun.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Mike Blaha (Mike): I did a little bit of acting in high school, but never really thought about producing.  Then a friend of mine asked me to be his associate Artistic Director at a small, long-defunct theatre in the Valley in the late 80s and I caught the producing bug.

Since beginning in 1989, I’ve produced or co-produced over 100 shows in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Hong Kong, London and especially at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where our company Fringe Management,  LLC (co-founded with my Edinburgh based partner, actor-director Nigel Miles Thomas) has presented approximately 70 productions since 2001.  I have also produced 18 shows at the Hollywood Fringe Festival since 2012.

I was also one of the co-founders of Sci-Fest, a festival of one act science fiction plays that ran from 2014-2016 and have served on the Board of New Musicals, Inc. for most of the last 20 years (as President from 2015-2019).

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

(Mike): I was producing, along with Joel Shapiro of the Electric Lodge in Venice, the Edinburgh Fringe sensation “Hitler’s Tasters,” a brilliant dark comedy by Michelle Kholos Brooks.  We were originally scheduled to run March 12-30, 2020.  We had previews Thursday and Friday, March 12 and 13, 2020, opened on Saturday, March 14, 2020 and had to close on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

(SB): Here is “Hitler’s Tasters” promo reel on You Tube. How did you communicate the shutdown to the cast and crew?

(Mike): We communicated the heartbreaking reality of the shutdown in person with the cast and crew after the performance on Saturday night.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

(Mike): Fortunately, we made an archival recording on opening night and we were able to negotiate an agreement with Equity to stream that recording for a two-week period, May 8-21, 2020, so audience members who bought a ticket to the live performance, and some new audience members, were able to watch that recording during that window. It is possible that there may be a remount of the play at the Electric Lodge, but it’s tricky because the cast members, who were the actors in the Edinburgh Fringe production, are all from New York.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?  

(Mike): I had five shows lined up for the 2020 Hollywood Fringe Festival, including three shows from the UK (The Nights, The Tanner and West), a local sketch comedy show Gold Baby and the 7th annual “Combined Artform’s Pick of the Fringe”.  With the Hollywood Fringe now cancelled this year, except for online shows, I have lost most if not all of the planned productions, although they may return for 2021.

We were also producing 7 shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, which has been cancelled altogether including Activities of Daily Living, Bard Overboard, Elton John: Rocketman, Elvis: He’s Back, Hiding Anne Frank, Once Upon A Time in Hollywoodland, and Two Girls: One Mic.  Fortunately, it looks like most if not all of the shows want to perform at the 2021 edition.

(SB): I saw Joanna Lipari in her one-woman show Activities for Daily Living at the Sierra Madre Playhouse and believe everyone needs to experience her incredible and very personal observations about life and love in that show. So I certainly hope she will be able to take the show to Edinburgh in 2021. (Here’s the link to my review on Broadway World.)

So now that everything is on hold, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Mike): Well, I’m reading my daily reports from Broadway World, of course, following updates from various theatre companies, as well friends’, colleagues’, and various theatre forums on social media (and occasionally posting myself), and trying to keep up with the amazing explosion of content by artists of every stripe on YouTube, Facebook, Patreon, Twitter . . . the list goes on.  I’m in touch with all of the artists involved with the delayed and cancelled productions referenced above, and working with a couple of them on developing new projects.

(SB): Are there any thoughts would you like to share with L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Mike): Some people think the pandemic will move live theatre online permanently; some people think live theater will return eventually unchanged. I fall somewhere in the middle. I think there may be a hybrid model that combines live theatre with more digital innovation, both with respect to the design and production of live theater, but also respect to the supplemental, possibly complementary exploitation of those live productions.  One thing I am certain of, having witnessed the resilience and creativity of our community over these past few weeks, is that the L.A. Theatre scene will adapt and thrive in whatever becomes the “new normal.”

Of course, this has been a very difficult time for all of us.  One of the things that has kept me sane in spite of all the postponements and cancellations and missed openings is the knowledge that theatre has been around for a couple of thousand years and ain’t going anywhere.  It may be very different or not that different at all; but in a few weeks or months we will all be sitting in a dark black box once again in thrall to the magic of live theatre!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Elmira Rahim Who Began Her Acting Career in Iran, Trained at USC, and Created the ÉLAN Ensemble


This Spotlight focuses on Elmira Rahim who began her acting career in Iran, trained at USC, and created the ÉLAN Ensemble whose inaugural production, How We're Different From Animals, was the recipient of Best Adaptation at Stage Raw Theater Awards in 2019 as well as nominated in multiple categories including Best Production at Stage Raw Theater Awards and LA Drama Critics Circle Awards. But like so many others, this year’s production of a modern adaptation of Trojan Women with A Noise Within had to be postponed until theaters can safely open again.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background? 

Elmira Rahim (Elmira): I started my acting career in Iran when I was a teenager and was fortunate enough to work with some prominent theater companies including Ayeneh, which led me to perform in     in Paris in 2004. Working in Iran as an actor has given me a perspective of what it means to push the boundaries and use limitations as opportunities to be creative, which I will forever cherish and use as a force. After leaving my roots in Iran, I joined the USC MFA Acting program where I got the chance to work with some of my most inspiring mentors. The training at USC and the opportunity to collaborate with artists from different backgrounds inspired me to start a theater company, ÉLAN Ensemble, dedicated to creating adaptations and devised works rooted in physical theater techniques.

I am proud to share that ÉLAN's inaugural production, How We're Different From Animals, was the recipient of Best Adaptation at Stage Raw Theater Awards in 2019 as well as nominated in multiple categories including Best Production at Stage Raw Theater Awards and LA Drama Critics Circle Awards. I have also been working as an actor with other theater companies in Los Angeles as well as pursuing a career on camera and in voice over, but working as the leader and artistic director of ÉLAN has been one of the greatest honors of my theatrical career.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

(Elmira): Before the pandemic, I was in conversation with A Noise Within to present a modern adaptation of Trojan Women with ÉLAN Ensemble as part of their Noise Now season. As you can imagine, an opportunity like this is really valuable for a new theater company and often takes time to come to fruition, but it did seem like we were getting closer. The presentation was not yet announced but we were planning to schedule it for August and could not wait to share this powerful piece with the audience.  But it was clear to us after the shutdown that live performance in August was not going to be an option.

(SB):  How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

(Elmira): I deeply feel for all colleagues and friends who had to cancel shows before opening or in the middle of a run. As an actor and a producer, I can totally understand the financial and emotional burden such action incurs. Since our performance dates at ANW were not yet confirmed, we were lucky to only have to communicate with the cast that we will be looking at another time to share this work, which was still hard considering we are still not certain when we will be able to safely gather in theaters again.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(Elmira): As of right now, Trojan Women is announced to be performed at ANW on Dec 19th, but we are still waiting for more specific guidelines. As you know, most theaters have cancelled their seasons until next year, so there is a possibility of having to postpone again.

(SB): What future productions on ÉLAN’s schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Elmira): ÉLAN is also in development for another project which is going to be a devised piece in process for a year or so. Now that we can’t be in the same room, we have started working on it one day at a time online.

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Elmira): We have been scheduling multiple Zoom readings and meetings like most companies. I am also trying to use this time to write, read and think of ideas for future productions. Some online works and creations have been truly inspiring, but we all miss being in the same room together and feeding off of each other's energy and artistry.

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Elmira): I would like to extend my love to the LA Theatre community. During this time of isolation and reflection, I was reminded of how lucky I am to have met many wonderfully talented artists who are also wonderful human beings. At the same time, I wish that we will come out of this as a community with more awareness to create works that reflect our society more truthfully. Living in such a multicultural city is truly an asset for the Arts, and with all that is going on in our society today, I hope that we can recognize an opportunity for change and our individual role in creating it. I cannot wait to see you all in the theater!  "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." Rumi

I would love to invite readers to a wonderfully unique modern adaptation of Trojan Women at A Noise Within/Noise Now at ANoiseWithin.org/noise-now.

Also, would love to share ÉLAN's website for any upcoming productions. ElanensEmble.com


ÉLAN Ensemble's productions of How We're Different From Animals and Seven. Photo credit: Meredith Adelaide


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Eloise Coopersmith, Creator of the “Home for Mom” Web Series


This Spotlight focuses on Eloise Coopersmith, creator of the Home for Mom web series which focuses on elder care and grief in a residential care facility. And with the Coronavirus pandemic hitting this type of facility the hardest, the subject matter about finding a safe place for our elders is even more relevant to families now than when filming began.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Eloise Coopersmith (EC): I started my formal theater education at the Young Conservatory at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, graduated from Northwestern, and then earned my Masters from Cal State Los Angeles.  I opened my own theater company in Los Angeles, “Open Book Theater” to bring literary works to the stage.  Performing in many wonderful productions over the years has been a joy. Most recently, I was invited to be a part of the Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble in Santa Ana, and I developed my current web series Home for Mom.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

(EC): Home for Mom our awarding winning musical digital web series was set to shoot the second half of the season on March 7th. In February we recorded the music at Clear Lake Studios, and performed a live reading at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana, all in preparation for the upcoming shoot days in March. But our lead actress notified the production team she was ill the week before the shoot, so there was no question we were going to have to cancel. I personally called each actor, crew and production team member as well as providing a written email explanation to everyone involved.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(EC): The majority of our cast is over 60 years old, which is appropriate since this project deals with elder care and grief in a residential care facility, which requires a more mature cast. And since our production team did not see how we could provide the safe space needed, we are in the process of pitching to different entities to take this project to the next level.

However, wanting to share the brilliant work of these talented actors, I placed the music on 50+ streaming platforms. We edited the live reading from the Frida Cinema performance and shared it on the “Re-imagine: Life, Loss and Love” event platform which focuses on the emotions we are experiencing during this pandemic.  We offered a post panel discussion on coping with grief, spring-boarding off the reading. And the feedback has been gratifying.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(EC): I was cast in a play set to open in June, which of course has been cancelled. Currently, the OC and LA theater groups are holding online forums to discuss how to move forward bringing productions back for live audiences. Unity among creative artists is key to breathing life back into our “new” normal world.

 

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(EC): Using Zoom, I am a part of readings of original scripts to help writers to continue to develop their work. I am attending online productions of new works, and these powerful performances are impressive and inspiring.

“Home for Mom” is currently being uploaded in podcast format and I am using various social media platforms to create awareness of the project. And of course, I have already mentioned my involvement with “Re-imagine” and those artists keeping the conversation open through creative performances and discussions so people don’t feel quite so alone at this time.

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(EC): I think we need to remember who we are: a very resilient group. We built up a thriving, vibrant artists community once and we will make it happen again. We will do it with original, out-of-the box thinking, looking for solutions that may sound a bit crazy but we try it anyway. And it will work. We will help each other - because we are a community. And although it may seem scary, we are artists who take risks for a living and we make magic happen. It’s is who we are - it is what we do.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Michael Leoni, the Playwright, Bi-Coastal Director, and Co-Founder of The 11:11 in WeHo


This Spotlight  focuses on Michael Leoni, a playwright, bi-coastal director, and co-founder of The 11:11 in WeHo whose productions have brilliantly focused attention on the pitfalls of modern society, especially in the entertainment industry and on homeless street kids.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Michael Leoni (ML): I have been directing theater and film since high school and have been fortunate to direct professionally in both LA and NYC. One of my very first shows in Los Angeles was an original rock musical that I wrote and directed, called The Playground.  It built a cult following and ran successfully at multiple theatres around Los Angeles over several years.

Then, I adapted a short film I had written and directed into the stage play, Elevator. It ran for 11 months starting at The Hudson Mainstage and then moving to The Coast Theatre in WeHo. Here is the trailer:

 

(SB): Read my 2017 Broadway World interview with writer/director Michael Leoni and Erica Katzin who was in the cast of “Elevator” to learn more about that incredible play which won 11 Broadway World nominations including "Best New Work" as well as "Critic's Choice" and "Best Bet" from the Los Angeles Times.

(ML): Following that, my business partners and I opened our theatre in West Hollywood, called “The 11:11.” It became the home to my next original show, Famous, which ran for nine months, was developed into a feature film, and is now in post-production. Here is the trailer:

 

(I’ve lost count of how many times I went back to see “Famous” or the number of people I took with me to experience it. The production remains on my all-time favorites list of shows I have reviewed. If you missed it, here is the link to my 2019 interview with Michael about the cost of fame as faced by those in its spell, which led to the creation of the #MeToo movement.)

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to be either postponed or cancelled immediately?

(ML): When we first got the news that all theatre was going to be shut down, we were in the beginning stages of casting for my newest show, The Boulevard. And at the time, The 11:11, was also in full swing with live theatre, comedy and music.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production teams?

(ML): Luckily, since we had just begun casting, we did not have to communicate any cancellations to actors. However, our staff at the theatre was directly affected and we, like everyone else, had to cancel all theatre bookings as none of us know when live theatre will return. Of course, we’re hopeful that live theatre will return sooner rather than later and are doing as much pre-production that we’re able to do remotely.  We will be looking into a larger theatre, as the technical requirements of The Boulevard demand a larger venue. We can’t wait to get started!

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(ML): In addition to all of the rentals that were booked to run at The 11:11, we're also a film company. So those productions are also on hold until further notice.

(SB): With all those postponements, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(ML): As a writer/director, I am passionate about using the Arts to create social impact.  I feel like it’s one of the few ways that people from all backgrounds can be brought together to create positive change.

I feel really fortunate that one of my films, American Street Kid has just secured distribution. So, we’re able to channel our creativity into building our online marketing campaign.

For our other current feature, #WhenTodayEnds, we did have to cancel our theatrical premiere, which was set for this summer. We'll also be using Zoom for a read-through of my newest script, The Boulevard, and personally, I've been using some of the isolation time to write another script.

I think it’s really important that creativity is kept alive, especially in the hardest of times. I wrote a book for artists called Dare to Be Bad that helps with removing obstacles and allowing the creativity to flow. During this time, we've seen an increase in sales, and I'm grateful that it's been able to help!

(SB): Any other thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the LA Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghost light on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(ML): We must continue to have faith. Live theatre is vital to our lifeblood as artists. There is nothing that compares to watching performers live and being a part of that collective energy.  It’s life-changing and a connection that is hard to put into words, but you know it when you feel it; it’s like nothing else.  I have a feeling that some amazing art is going to come out of all of this, and I can’t wait to see it.

(SB): Stay in touch with Michael and his work on Instragam:

Instagram.com/michaelleoni1111

Instagram.com/famoustheliveexperience

Instagram.com/americanstreetkid

Instagram.com/elevatortheplay


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Gina D'Acciaro, an L.A. Actress and Regular Performer at Rockwell Table & Stage


This Spotlight focuses on Gina D'Acciaro, an actress in Los Angeles for over 19 years who I first met when she was a member of the Actors Co-op Theatre Company in Hollywood and appeared in their production of the Kander and Ebb musical revue World Goes Round. Gina is now a regular performer at Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz, as well as the creator of  many entertaining YouTube videos.


Shari Barrett (SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

Gina D’Acciaro (Gina): I was fresh off a 2019 Broadway World win for “Best Cabaret - Female - Intimate Space.” I was actually set to remount my one woman show “Gina D’Acciaro is… Famous Adjacent” in NYC when the theater world closed down.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

(Gina): We found a cabaret space that we liked best, and our creative team was juuusssst about to announce a performance date in late April 2020. So thankfully for myself, my director, Robert Marra, and my musical director, Andy Arena, no flights had been reserved yet!

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

(Gina): No way! The show must go on! As soon as cabaret spaces are open to the public again, we will pick up right where we left off.

(SB): That’s great news! But what other future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Gina): Mounting my show was mission number one while in NYC, but so was finally auditioning for Broadway. And as it turned out, Friday, March 13th was the last Equity audition I had scheduled, which was, sadly, cancelled. This is the first time in my life that I left LA to try to audition my face off and book a Broadway show. Guess I picked a fantastic time to give it a try, huh??

(SB): As they say, timing is everything!  So now that we are “safer at home,” how are you keeping the Arts alive while using social media or other online sites? 

(Gina): I spent the first month of quarantine in disbelief, shock, sadness, even depression. Then I decided to limit my news intake and created a virtual variety show with a group of actors in NYC. It’s called “The Corona Clubhouse” and is a weekly LIVE show featuring sketch comedy via Zoom calls. It’s a silly “kid show for adults” and it’s been great to have the chance to get the funny, creative juices flowing as a writer / performer. I’ve been writing/filming a script and a parody song every week with my writing-partner-in-comedy-crime, Jordan Goodsell, another LA actor / singer / friend finding himself in a Broadway-less NYC.

(SB): Here are links to Gina’s latest YouTube videos:

“Quarantine Dating Sucks [Love Is An Open Door Parody]”

“Nobody Wants This Subscription Service”

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon? 

(Gina): Friends! Feel all the feels. And keep hope alive. Don’t feel pressure to create. But don’t forget who you are. An ARTIST. Artists are always essential. And the Arts might be the last thing to come back, but that’s because they always save the best for last.


(SB): And with that wonderful tribute to the Arts to end the interview, I invite you to follow Gina on Instagram @duhchairoh for funny song parodies, sketches, and clips from Famous Adjacent when you need an escape from the daily news!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Shon LeBlanc, Owner of The Costume House in NoHo


This Spotlight focuses on Shon LeBlanc, owner of The Costume House in NoHo who had 15 shows on his costume design schedule cancel within a week due to the COVID-19 shutdown to “FlattenTheCurve” of infection.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Shon LeBlanc (Shon): As of this year, I have been doing this for 35 years and have been fortunate to work with amazing people who gave me a chance to do what I do and push me to do better.  Sometimes that process has been frustrating; but in the end, it was a good thing as it helped me grow to become a better designer.  And as of now, I have done over 400 shows from classics to world premieres.  I also taught costume design at Academy of Art College in SFO, as I do many schools here as I believe in educating our up and coming theatre folk.

I own The Costume House in NoHo and create a great variety of show ensembles with my talented staff, joined the Costume Designers Guild, and was lucky enough to do the Disney series Encore.  Now let me tell you, my theatre background came in handy since that show’s theme is “let’s do a musical in 5 days and present it in front of a live audience!”  So after doing Encore, nothing scares me!

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

(Shon): The amazing Human Interest Story at the Fountain was running and got suspended, but it will rise again!!! As a matter of fact, I lost 3 shows in one day, and by the end of the week about 15 productions as we had schools either postpone or just cancel all together. Some included The Share Project which cancelled their yearly show, while the next show at the Fountain, shows at Sierra Madre, McCoy Rigby Entertainment and the Lounge cancelled, and the Encore season 2 is on hold.

(SB): How were those shutdowns communicated with you, the cast, and production team?

(Shon): Most people either called directly or sent a full company email to let us know. But I can tell you it was not easy for them to tell us. Every Producer or Director was really shaken and devastated.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(Shon): Yes, luckily Human Interest Story will continue once things are lifted, and Joe and Betty at the Lounge has been pushed but will be produced. McCoy Rigby Entertainment has plans to present their season with a later start date to be determined. I have no idea what will happen with the schools, but Sierra Madre Playhouse will not open until March next year. So that means no traditional Christmas Story there this year

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Shon): I had just moved the shop in February, and then just a month later the shutdown happened. So things are a mess there right now. I am spending time going over there to clean things up, but it’s going slowly. But to keep myself in creative mode, I have been posting pictures of hats, jewelry, purses, and ties on Facebook. And people seem to appreciate it, so that will continue.

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Shon) I miss the work, my fellow designers, and the cast, which makes me realize I really didn't know how important this community is to me. I miss the magic that happens in it each and every day. I mean where else can you get an email from Del Shores asking if you might like to do his next show, or stand out on the street in Hollywood and have a phone conversation with Nia Peeples? And have Robert Waldon and Chi Chi LaRue come to your shop on the same day. After all, where else would you get to do Show Boat, the Grandfather of all musicals, and the world premiere of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances at the same time?

I encourage you to think about all that you have been blessed with, especially all the amazing people you have worked with and the shows that made you proud. The stinkers... get a laugh out of that!  Remember, we WILL be back together soon.

Please everyone...keep in touch.! Find me on Facebook at Shon LeBlanc; and follow The Costume House, which is located at 13222 Raymer Street, Suite A, in North Hollywood, CA. 91605. Contact me there for all your costume needs at 818-508-9933.  And remember we will all be ready to work once this is over. Please reach out for help when you need it and support your friends when they reach out to you. We are all in this together.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Michael Gordon Shapiro, Composer of Music for Theatre, Film, Games, Television and Concert Halls


This Spotlight focuses on Michael Gordon Shapiro, a composer of music for Theatre, Film, Games, Television and Concert Halls, who I first met during the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival when I attended his The Bully Problem musical, which included not only great lessons against bullying in schools and why it is so important to stand up for yourself, but also his love of robots! The show had its commercial premiere at that Festival, where it earned an Encore Producers Award and was a Pick of the Fringe selection. It was also nominated for seven awards including Best Musical, Top of the Fringe, and Fringe First. And you can bet I was back in the audience during its additional performances in August 2019 – for a third time!


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Michael Gordon Shapiro (Mike): I wasn’t a theatre kid. I regarded actors as magical creatures with unnatural abilities. (How did they show emotion on demand like that? How did they even memorize all those lines?) And I didn’t become serious about writing musicals until my 30s. Age is a great motivator!

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

(Mike): I’ve been developing a new family musical called Gideon and the Blundersnorp. (The mental image that you just came up with is probably accurate.) We were slated to premiere at the Hollywood Fringe Festival this June, and my producing organization, New Musicals Inc., had booked our run at the Broadwater Main Stage. I had reserved studio time for the cast album and was thinking about my wardrobe for the festival awards party. In short, we were looking forward to this.

(SB): I understand.  It will be a very strange June this year without being able to walk from theater to theater and see 3 or 4 shows a day as I have done at the Fringe for several years now. It must have been very difficult to communicate about the shutdown with the cast and production team of your show.

(Mike): The producers and I had kept an eye on the Coronavirus situation as it progressed, adjusting our expectations accordingly. By the time LA announced the closure of theater venues, we had a suspicion that our original production schedule wasn’t going to happen. We weren’t fully cast yet, but we emailed members of the creative team. It was primarily a courtesy; at that point just about everyone understood the situation.

(SB):  I know the Hollywood Fringe Festival has been re-scheduled for this October. How confident are you it will be able to take place at that time?

(Mike): Our star is hitched to the 2020 Hollywood Fringe Festival. The Fringe has tentative plans to open in October. If the festival proceeds, we’ll be there with bells on, running at the originally-planned venue and on dates that parallel those of the prior June schedule. Needless to say, we’ve got our fingers crossed!

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Mike): If there isn’t a Hollywood Fringe this year, we’ll likely move Gideon and the Blundersnorp to next summer. Consequentially, whatever to-be-written show I might have premiered in 2021 will get bumped. Unless I become pathologically ambitious and try and launch two shows next summer… no, that would be unwise.

(SB) Unwise, perhaps. But most welcome to this reviewer!

(Mike): *looks contemplatively into the distance*

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Mike): I’ve taken advantage of the downtime to work on the cast album from my prior musical, The Bully Problem. We tracked vocals last year, but there was such a tremendous amount of editing and mixing that I decided to defer it to when I had sufficient time to hunker down. That time is now. The silver lining for me personally is being able to launch this album much sooner than planned.

(SB): As you know, The Bully Problem was one of my favorites shows at last year’s Fringe, and I look forward to being able to hear the score again. For those who missed my review, here is the link

(Mike): I also contributed to the Hollywood’s Fringe’s premiere Virtual Cabaret. Allie Costa self-recorded herself performing a song from Gideon which was presented alongside videos from other Fringe participants. A lively group interacted in the chat room while the online talent show live-streamed. It was great fun, and certainly helped maintain the spirit of artistic camaraderie while we’re all physically separated. (You can watch the first cabaret installment here:

Jenn Crafts started an online play reading series that’s been a huge success. I’ve enjoyed being an audience member and supporting creators who might need a motivational boost. While online readings aren’t meant to replace live theatre, I think they offer a valuable supplementary experience. I hope this sort of thing continues even as we emerge from the lockdown period.

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the LA Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Mike): If you’re nervous on a plane flight, think about what you’re going to do after you land. That is, look past the unsettling present, and make your mind focus on what’s to follow. The same principle applies here.

For more information, please visit the website of my upcoming show's Gideon and the Blundersnorp at GideonMusical.com. Here is the website for The Bully Problem TheBullyProblem.com. You can also find me on Twitter and on Instagram.


The Bully Problem photos credit: Matt Kamimura

This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Nan McNamara, an Award-Winning Actress, World Premiere Director, and Acting Instructor


This Spotlight focuses on Nan McNamara, an award-winning actress who I have seen in many productions at the Actors Co-op in Hollywood, perhaps most notably her performance in the 2017 Ovation Award-winning 33 Variations in which she played a journalist who was able to go back in time to interview Ludwig Von Beethoven (an outstanding performance by Bruce Ladd) about his work. That outstanding production was staged on a remarkably versatile small stage set designed by Nicholas Acciani (who also designed the accompanying amazing projections), enhanced by O'Leary's jaw-dropping, scene-changing choreography.


Here is the link to my review of that production in which that scenic description appears.

Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Nan McNamara (Nan): I am an actor and director who recently directed the Ovation Recommended World Premiere of Lee Blessing’s A Body of Water at Actors Co-op. As an actor, my credits include the Ovation Award-winning 33 Variations (Los Angeles Drama Critics nomination-Lead Performance, StageRaw Award-Leading Female Performance, Robby Award-Best Actress), A Walk in the Woods (Ovation Recommended) and Wit (Los Angeles Drama Critics Award-Lead Performance, LA Weekly Award-Leading Female Performance).

Other theatre roles include Steel Magnolias (Truvy), Going to St. Ives (Cora), Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Mary), The Crucible (Elizabeth), Uncle Vanya (Yelena) and As You Like It (Rosalind).

TV/film roles include Hawaii Five-0, Major Crimes, Rosewood, Switched at Birth (recurring) and Criminal Minds. I also enjoy a vibrant career in voiceover and have recorded over 100 audiobooks, and have taught acting at The Imagined Life, Asuza Pacific University and Vanguard University.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

(Nan): I directed the world premiere of Lee Blessing’s A Body of Water at Actors Co-op, and we were entering our final weekend of the run when the production was shut down due to Covid-19.  I was also understudying two roles in Marvin’s Room directed by Thomas James O’Leary which was slated to open March 20 at Actors Co-op.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

(Nan): We found out through the Actors Co-op board and our production manager who had been keeping abreast of the Mayor and Governor’s orders as well as what other theatres were doing.  And for the safety of our patrons, actors and production team, they decided to shut down on March 13, which was a week prior to the mandatory “shelter at home” order.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(Nan): Unfortunately, I don’t think A Body of Water will be able to finish its run, but Actors Co-op is hoping Marvin’s Room will be able to open at some point over the summer. Of course, no one really knows the exact timing of when intimate theatres will be able to open their doors again.

(SB): What other future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Nan): The final production of Actors Co-op’s 28th season was slated to be the musical A Man of No Importance directed by Richard Israel. They were just completing casting with an opening scheduled for May 8, and now it’s not clear what the new opening date will be.

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Nan): I’ve loved receiving regular email updates from various theatre companies around town as many of them have provided inspiration with links to free streaming of plays and readings as well as words of encouragement.  A Noise Within offered a couple of free Shakespeare classes that I really enjoyed, and there is a free Michael Chekhov class on Sunday mornings.  I also loved watching the Sondheim Birthday tribute.

(SB): So did I – what a magnificent evening of extraordinary talent offered to the public for free!

(Nan): It’s wonderful that there have been a lot of wonderful ways to keep engaged. But of course, I can’t wait to get back to the theatre - there is no substitute for the audience interaction of live theatre.

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Nan): I really appreciate the theatre community here in Los Angeles, and hope everyone is safe and well.  I really miss seeing shows and experiencing the amazing work from so many stellar companies, and the collaboration as an actor/director that is unique to the theatre. While this is certainly an extremely challenging time, it’s my hope that we can all come back stronger than ever and ready to share our stories.  And share some hugs.

(SB): For more information about Nan McNamara, please visit Nan's website at NanMcNamara.com, her Instagram page, and find all her film credits on IMDb.me/NanMcNamara.

 


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: International City Theatre and COVID-19 - An Interview with Caryn Desai


A talented and successful director with awards and nominations from LA Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly, Drama-Logue, Robby, Ovation, and NAACP, Caryn Desai is also the artistic director / producer for International City Theatre (ICT) in Long Beach. She has extensive experience in acting, directing, producing, and administration, as well as a certificate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Other certificates in arts administration, marketing, and fundraising prepared her for running a successful non-profit organization dealing with arts and education. For over 20 years, she taught college classes at Long Beach City College and received the Distinguished Alumni Award. In 2018, Caryn was named Distinguished Alumna from the College of the Arts at California State University, Long Beach. She was recently named “Enterprising Woman in the Arts” in Long Beach. Clearly, Caryn is a busy woman who likes to get things done. She took time from her busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


J. Thomas Miller, Hunter Berecochea, Josey Montana McCoy, Marisa Matthews, and Trevor Shor in "Life Could Be a Dream" (2018) - Photo by Tracey Roman

When and how did the International City Theatre first form? Were you involved from the beginning? 

Caryn Desai:  International City Theatre (ICT) started in 1985 on the campus of Long Beach City College under the 99-seat plan. The theater was founded by Shashin Desai, who was chair of the theater, film, and dance department at the time. I have been involved from the beginning - but not officially until 1990, when I became general manager. Shashin retired ten years ago, and the Board unanimously named me to lead. I’m now the artistic director and producer of ICT; in my free time, I also do some directing. In 1996, with the encouragement of then-Mayor Beverly O’Neill, ICT moved downtown to the beautiful Long Beach Performing Arts Center. We work with Actors Equity Association under the small professional theater contract.  Everyone is paid, both artists and crew. I’m proud to say that 2020 marks ICT’s thirty-fifth anniversary.

Lexi Ainsworth, Neil Larson, Angelo Custino, and Drew Carr in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (2002) - Photo by Shashin Desai

What are some of the most popular plays you've done? How about awards? 

CD: Over the years, ICT has received more than 400 professional awards including the LA Drama Critics Circle award for sustained excellence. In 2015, we also received the LADCC award for outstanding season. We have had many plays which were real people-pleasers. Some of ICT’s most popular plays have included Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, and Life Could be a Dream. Both are from ICT’s 2019 season and broke 34 years of presale records.  Prior to 2019, some of our most popular shows included Backward in High Heels, To Kill a Mockingbird, Swinging on a Star, and Dinah Was. We try to select productions which are entertaining, intellectually stimulating, and fun.

Stephan Terry and Karole Foreman in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill"

When did you close the theater due to COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run? 

CD: ICT was lucky enough to complete the run of our thirty-fifth anniversary season opener on March 8. ICT runs on a calendar year, so that was our first show of the season. Our offices were forced to close with little notice on Friday, March 13, along with everyone else in the County. The next show we planned, Daisy, was a California premiere we selected for its relevance and importance in this election year. We were supposed to start rehearsal April 7.  We’ve moved Daisy to the next slot for a June opening and bumped another show to our 2021 season.

Anna Aimee White as Ginger Rogers and Matt Bauer as Fred Astaire in "Backwards in High Heels" (2010) - Photo by Shashin Desai

How has COVID-19 impacted on your theater? 

CD: To date, ICT is facing lost revenue from one cancelled show so far. We don’t know if there will be future cancellations, and we don’t know how many patrons will want a refund. Right now, it’s hard to predict the impact this will have on season renewals. This is especially disheartening, since subscriptions are our bread and butter and have been up over the last six years.

ICT also has a very active and strong commitment to education. We have six programs for every demographic from age 4 to 104. Most programs are free, including a popular in-school program for third graders which I created at the request of the school district based on my 20 years as a college instructor. That program makes about 480 classroom visits annually. On the other end of the spectrum, ICT runs a Senior Program which provides tickets and transportation to low income seniors to keep them mentally and socially engaged. These are two of our six programs providing access, education, and inspiration to our community. This is a loss for our students, our community, and our teaching artists.

Sybyl Walker, Yvette Freeman as Dinah Washington, and Paul Avedisian in "Dinah Was" (2004) - Photo by Shashin Desai

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Are you streaming? Do you have virtual meetings? Are you planning for your next show when the theater can reopen?

CD: ICT has reached out to the union for some flexibility in allowing possible streaming, and obviously affordability is an issue. We’re having discussions with teaching artists, and we may be able to have virtual classes for our Summer Youth Conservatory - or even our school programs. Currently, all meetings with the executive committee and the board are virtual. The staff is working remotely and communicate mostly by email and phone. The Daisy cast did a virtual read-through on their own. This is a challenging time for all of us, what with our poor artists and audiences isolated from each other and from the work that feeds our souls, brings us together, and helps us understand our shared humanity and the world in which we live. It’s painful for those of us who value and understand the importance of live theatre.

What do you think the impact of COVID-19 will be on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you foresee any permanent changes? 

CD:  I have to remain hopeful that this pause will motivate those who have the capacity to ensure the future of this most human art form to take action. It would be sad to see this battle we are in with a horrific virus win by losing a voice from any of our many diverse companies and artists.

What do you need right now to keep going forward? What would you like from the Theater public? 

CD: Right now, I need to stay strong, hold my small team together, and find a way through this. I hope the theatre public will stand by ICT and provide the support needed to survive and grow. That would be a victory over this foe and something to celebrate — the spirit, strength, passion, and commitment to art! That feels like America to me!

What are some of your future plans?

CD: ICT has a strategic plan outlining goals for the next three years, including greater investment and further development of this art form, increasing earned revenue, growth of our education programs, and ensuring accessibility to professional theatre for all. This was certainly not how we planned to celebrate our current milestone. ICT’s little team in the office has a motto:  “It’s never easy, but it’s important.”  We never anticipated it would be this hard!  Here’s to better days. Onward!


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Theatre Row Fixture The Lounge Theatre Closes Fueled by Coronavirus Lockdowns


The Lounge Theatre, Hollywood Fringe Festival 2018, Hollywood, California, June 1, 2018. Photo by Monique A. LeBleu.

The Lounge Theatre recently announced that it has officially closed its doors due to the coronavirus epidemic and lockdowns.

The Lounge Theatre, which is run and managed by Theatre Planners, and has been a part of the Hollywood Theatre Row community since 2005, has also been a venue participant in the annual Hollywood Fringe Festival up until 2019. Racquel Lehrman, founder and managing director of Theatre Planners, who graduated from NYU-Tisch School of the Arts and lived in New York for over eight years producing theatre prior to coming to Los Angeles, reflected on opening the theatre in 2005 in LA fresh from her marriage and honeymoon in New Jersey.

"The timing was not ideal to say the least, but I knew it was right," said Lehrman, via the venue's Facebook page post. "I remember returning from my honeymoon 2 weeks later, walking in and seeing all the construction. I nearly had a heart attack and thought 'What the hell have I done???' 'I can't do this?!!?!' Well, flash to 15 years later. The Lounge Theatre became a staple in the theatre community as a two theatre arts complex in the heart of Hollywood on Theatre Row."

Cat LaCohie in "Vixen DeVille Revealed" at the Lounge Theatre, Hollywood Fringe Festival, Hollywood, California, June 17, 2018. Photo by Monique A. LeBleu.

On the closing now, she specified that the timing in her decision was aided by much reflection along with concern overall for the return of theatre audience attendance in Los Angeles, post-COVID-19.

“It’s my choice that I gave up the Lounge Theatre, the time was right. It’s strictly a business decision and one that I’ve been contemplating for over a year,”  she said in the post. “This global pandemic sped that decision up and exposed the reasons why I need to leave sooner. We don’t know when theatre will return and the Lounge simply can't survive without it.”

The venue, which features two theatres on the ground floor coupled with coffee-concessions and lounge space, premiered many great shows that this reviewer was privileged to see during the Hollywood Fringe Festival, including solo shows like the delicious variety mixed-bag of aerial, circus arts (fire eating/glass walking,) comedy, magic, and burlesque art of Cat LaCohie  in Vixen DeVille Revealed in 2018, or the pleasures and perils of modern motherhood in April Wade Wish's Clementine or the stylish, visceral, and perfect Butoh interpretation of Shakespeare in Yoshiko "Yokko" Sienkiewicz' Hide Your Fires: Butoh Lady MacBeth in 2019.

Wish, whose show Clementine and its successful run at the Lounge for Fringe, enabled her to take her solo show to other venues post-festival as My Name Is Mommy.

Preshow preset of "Clementine" at the Lounge Theatre, Hollywood Fringe Festival, Hollywood, California, June 7, 2019. Photo by Monique A. LeBleu.

"It was the space I felt like I could take a breath in the whirlwind of the festival, a home to an untold number of stories and artists, the kind of space that was cozy, inviting you to pull up a couch and ...lounge," she said. "I will miss it. It is a huge loss to the creative community in Hollywood."

LaCohie, whose show placed challenges for other theatres that she approached, not only found the Lounge Theatre able to accommodate the physical and technical needs of her show, but was warmly embraced by it.

“This theatre helped give birth to the almost impossible show that is 'Vixen DeVille Revealed.' They really allowed me to bring my art to life and trust in my vision," said LaCohie. '"Can I eat fire onstage?' Yes you can. 'Can I rig circus equipment from your roof?' Go for it. 'Can I drag a tarp filled with broken glass on to the floor and smash bottles with a hammer?' Why not! 'Can I bring audience members on stage and teach them death-defying skills during the show?' Why of course!"

“So many theatres tried to nay-say my vision, or say it was too risky or that the set-up was too complicated to pull off, but the Lounge saw my vision and breathed life into it,” she continued. “I still drive by The Lounge and fondly remember 'where it all started' and now that nostalgia will be all the more melancholic.”

Soaring Solo Director, Jessica Lynn Johnson, who recently produced the Soaring Solo Stars Series at the venue, directed Wish, as well as Lisa Verlo for her show Hollywoodn't, Stacy Dymalski's A Bit Much, Heather Dowling's FERTILE, Corina Calderon's Corina: From Lap Dance to Sundance, and several solo artists who have had featured shows at The Lounge for the Hollywood Fringe and beyond.

“Over the past decade as a regular Fringer, I have enjoyed many achingly beautiful stories be shared from the Lounge stage,” said Johnson. “That theatre holds so many precious memories and my heart is certainly broken at the loss of this and so many other things in this season.”

Theatre Planners also runs the Zephyr Theatre and The Lounge on Melrose, both of which remain and await any re-opening changes for theatre and performing arts venues in Los Angeles. The Lounge Theatre will retain its Lounge 3 space upstairs with plans to convert into a 35 seat theatre/studio.

Updated: 5-29-20 - 1:15 p.m.


Spotlight Series: Meet Costume Designer and Educator Halei Parker Who Makes Art a Part of Her Everyday Life


This Spotlight focuses on Costume Designer and Educator Halei Parker, who I first met in the dressing room at the Clark Library when she showed up with a wonderful variety of cleverly designed costumes for the publicity photo shoot for Lady Windermere’s Fan when I was the publicist for Chalk Repertory Theatre. Halei really opened my eyes to the possibilities for character interpretation that a costume designer can bring to a show.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

“Lady Windermere's Fan” with Chalk Repertory Theatre and the Clark Rare Book Library

Halei Parker (Halei): I'm a freelance costume designer for theatre, opera, dance, immersive experiences, and film. I'm also an educator, and think of myself as a storyteller and world creator. The projects that excite me the most are deeply collaborative and are usually highly stylized and a little weird, especially since I love mixing ideas from disparate sources to create something magical and new.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

“Gallery Secrets” with Chalk Repertory Theatre and the Los Angeles Natural History Museum

(Halei): I was mentoring students and beginning to source and fabric shop for a production of Sweeney Todd at Cal State LA when we were shut down. I was also beginning the design phase for the Getty Villa summer show. This year the Troubies (Troubadour Theatre Company) were going to be performing our new original musical LIZAstrata (think Los Vegas Liza Minnelli meets Aristophanes' Lysistrata meets the Troubies). Thankfully I had just wrapped shooting on a film and closed the show Earthquakes In London at Rogue Machine right before the world turned upside down.

“How The Princh Stole Christmas” with Troubadour Theatre Company

(SB): Here is the link to my review of the multimedia “Earthquakes on London” at Rogue Machine which examined the effects of global warming.

How were the shutdowns communicated with the cast and production team?

George Takei in “Allegiance” with East West Players and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center

(Halei): For Sweeney, we heard in our production meeting, two days before the Stay-At-Home order. The Liza news came at the end of March. We all saw it coming, but I was really hoping it would still manage to go on. The world could really use some more Troubie joy about now. It was pretty crushing. At this point, we are looking at postponements for both of those, and thankfully not cancellations.

(SB): I really loved all the outrageous costumes you designed for the Troubies “A Christmas Carole King” which I saw at the El Portal last December.

What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Halei): The whole rest of my year is now in flux, since no one really knows when we will be allowed to gather together again to experience live theatre in a group setting. I'm just trying to keep all my fingers and toes crossed that we can make stories for the world again before the year is out.

“Hairy Ape” with Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Halei): Art is always alive in my home. More than half of my apartment is actually a costume shop, so I'm surrounded by fabrics and my tools. I've been able to keep busy by making hundreds of masks from my eclectic stock of fabrics, and have done a few costume challenges that have proven to be quite fun. I'm trying to curb my use of social media.... somewhat. That is especially true when I am designing and creating costumes for shows.

I'm also feeding my need to make Art for others right now by making a mural for my building on the wall of our little garden.

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Halei): Chin up, loves. The world is going to need us more than ever when we are allowed to meet again. Just keep that passion alive in your heart.

You can find my work on Instagram HaleiParkerDesign and me at HaleiPie.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.