Spotlight Series: Meet Cate Caplin, A Multiple Award-Winning Producer, Director and Choreographer


This Spotlight focuses on Cate Caplin, a multiple award-winning producer, director and choreographer whose talents have ignited productions on television, in films, music videos, commercials, and in theatrical venues worldwide. But of course, her busy schedule was put on hold with the rest of the world, just as she was beginning to direct and choreograph a musical very close to her heart.

While I assume almost everyone in the LA Theatre community knows of Cate and her contributions to the Arts, for those not lucky enough to have worked with her before, I am first sharing a bit of her theatrical background.

Cate Caplin has been devoted to the Arts all of her life, having started her dance training at age 5. She trained with many inspirational teachers and coaches over the years including summers at Interlochen Center for the Arts while continuing at the Washington School of Ballet, the Royal Academy in London, and the Metropolitan Ballet where she was a principal dancer.


Cate went on to dance with two more professional ballet companies before moving to NYC to continue her training, performing career dancing with the American Dance Machine, doing summer stock, performing internationally with the Broadway revival of West Side Story, and regionally with Disney's Symphonic Fantasy featured as Princess Jasmine for which she enjoyed a 22 city tour starting at the Hollywood Bowl and ending back in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera House. Her amazing talent and charisma on the dance floor led Cate to become a 34-time Regional and International Theatrical Ballroom Dance Champion.

To this date, Cate has produced, directed and choreographed over 200 productions with her work seen on television, in films, music videos, commercials, and in theatrical venues worldwide from the Paris Opera House to the Broadway Stage. She wrote and directed her first feature film Mating Dance, which won an Accolade Award and can be found on Amazon.com. Her production company, Night & Day Entertainment, co-founded with her creative partner Vernon Willet, custom designs entertainment for private parties, corporate events and industrial trade shows.

 

For her work in theatre, Cate has been the recipient of a Garland Award, a Women in Theatre Red Carpet Award, multiple LA Stage Alliance Ovation, Eddon and Scenie Awards, and was honored to receive an Award of Excellence from the LA Film Commission for her work as a Writer, Director, Choreographer and Producer. Last year, Playwright's Arena presented Cate with the Lee Melville Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Los Angeles Theatre Community.

So how has such a talented and totally creative person been able to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic which has sidelined theatre worldwide?  I spoke with Cate to find out.

Shari Barrett (SB): What production were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak? 

Cat Caplin (Cate): We had just cast 32 actors for a production of West Side Story that I was going to direct and choreograph for Inland Valley Repertory Theatre (IVRT) presented at Candlelight Pavilion. The show was officially canceled one day before our first day of rehearsal, same day that Broadway announced it was closing.

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

(Cate): The producer, Frank Minano, emailed me and then the entire creative team and cast. Hearts were broken, of course, as we were very excited to begin. I had been so looking forward to creating the production since I was cast in the revival of the show when it was finishing its run on Broadway back in the 80's, and went on a six-month International Tour throughout Italy and at the Paris Opera House for three months. Our production was directed by Jerome Robbins and conducted by Leonard Bernstein! Needless to say, it was a thrill of a lifetime working on that classic show with the original creators.

(SB): Let me know when you write a book about that tour! Are plans in place to present the IVRT production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

(Cate): I believe the production is canceled completely because IVRT selects their shows based on what Candlelight is producing since they share the backdrop and primary set of what's being presented in their season. I'm not sure how that will play out, especially since no one really knows when theatre will be officially back in full form anywhere, and West Side Story is a big show with lots of physical contact and bodies interacting and dancing in close quarters. The nature of theatre as we knew it is changing dramatically and only time will tell how and what sort of creative work will be presented over the next few months and years. Many companies are canceling seasons completely and postponing productions into 2021, and even that is an unknown entity at this point.

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

(Cate): I have a production I am scheduled to direct in the fall and we are continuing with pre-production conversations sensitive to health and safety elements that are now part of the overall discussion and approach to creating live theatre. I hope we go forward with the show, but like everyone else, we just have to take it one day at a time...

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

(Cate): It's been interesting.... even though in theory I have more time each day without my usual classes, appointments, rehearsals and run around activities, my days continue to be quite full. I am reading lots of wonderful books, watching movies and some television series and specials I wouldn't ordinarily take the time to experience.

I have been taking some online classes offered by Yale University, and also tuning in to theatrical podcasts, seminars, and industry panel discussions since our theatrical community is intensely fertile at this time! I decided to jump into the electronic "pool" with everyone else and just signed on to direct my first Zoom staged reading of a new play later in July.

(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?

(Cate): It's important to keep open to learning, stretching and growing, mentally, emotionally and spiritually during tough times. And now that there's time for more channels of inspiration, embrace those opportunities. Trust the "bigger plan" and try to navigate these uncharted waters with hope and faith in a most positive outcome: a renaissance of heightened compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, humanity and peace.

(SB): For more information about Cate including future updates about her theatrical schedule, please visit CateCaplin.com, www.MatingDanceTheMovie.com, DanceInFlight.com


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 Theater Series: Deaf West Theatre Broadens our Horizons - An Interview with David J. Kurs


Having grown up in a deaf family in Riverside, California, it was no surprise that David J. Kurs became interested in theater performed in American Sign Language (ASL) early on. His passion for the power of the arts was realized when in 2009 he joined the Deaf West Theatre (DWT), founded in 1991 by Ed Waterstreet. Upon Waterstreet’s retirement in 2012, he became the second artistic director in the history of the company. Prior to becoming artistic director, Kurs wrote and produced Aesop Who?, a multimedia show for young audiences, and served as associate producer and ASL master for Deaf West’s productions of Children of a Lesser God (2009), My Sister in this House (2010), and The Adventures of Pinocchio (2011). To quote Kurs: “Deaf West has had a great impact on me in my artistic development, and I can only hope to spread this passion on to others and to create opportunities for them so that we all can achieve a shared goal of artistic growth.” In 2020, he was named “Deaf Person of the Month” by DeafPeople.com. David took time from his busy schedule to interview in May 2020.


Daniel Durant and Natasha Ofili in "Orphee" - Photo by Brandon Simmoneau

When and how did Deaf West Theatre first form? Were you there from the beginning? What are some of the most popular shows you presented? Have you received any rewards? 

David J. Kurs:  Deaf West Theatre (DWT) was founded in Los Angeles in 1991 by deaf actors. Our theater engages artists and audiences in unparalleled theater experiences inspired by deaf culture and the expressive power of sign language. We weave American Sign Language (ASL) with spoken English to create a seamless ballet of movement and voice. Committed to innovation, collaboration, and training, DWT is the artistic bridge between the deaf and hearing worlds.

Recent and past productions include Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, The Solid Life of Sugar Water by Jack Thorne, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, a co-production with the Pasadena Playhouse. In co-productions with the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, we also presented Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo. The Deaf West production of Spring Awakening transferred from a small 99-seat theater to the Wallis and then to Broadway, where we received three Tony Award nominations in 2016. American Buffalo was named the Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” In a co-production with the Fountain Theatre, we also presented Cyrano, which won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for outstanding production. Big River won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and Backstage Garland Awards for best musical in its Los Angeles premiere, as well as a Tony nomination and four Drama Desk Awards on Broadway. In a co-production with Center Theatre Group, DWT produced Pippin, which was presented at the Mark Taper Forum, and Sleeping Beauty Wakes, produced at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Oliver! won the Ovation Award for best musical, and A Streetcar Named Desire won the Ovation Award for best play. In 2005, the Secretary of Health and Human Services selected DWT to receive the highest recognition award for its “distinguished contributions to improve and enrich the culture lives of deaf and hard of hearing actors and theater patrons.”

I have attended DWT shows since the company’s inception when I was in high school. I began working with the theater in 2009 and succeeded our founding artistic director Ed Waterstreet as artistic director in 2012.

Daniel Durant, Eddie Buck, Troy Kotsur, Ipek D. Mehlum, and Maleni Chaitoo in "Cyrano" - Photo by Ed Krieger

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

DJK:  We opened and closed our new production, Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, on the same night. It was heartbreaking; but, in retrospect, I am thankful that everyone is safe. My heart goes out to the actors, designers, and creatives who labored so mightily and valiantly to bring together an exemplary show that was seen by so few. The memory of coming together with the company in the empty theater after the curtain will remain in my heart for a long time.

How has the COVID-19 shutdown impacted your theater?

DJK:  We had to cancel our run of our play on the first night, as well as a planned tour to Tokyo. We also cancelled a planned fall show. Other than readings and workshops, we don’t have anything on the calendar for another year. But I’m still hoping that we’ll get back onstage before then.

Sandra Mae Frank, Treshelle Edmond, Natacha Roi, Katie Boeck, Lauren Patten, Amelia Hensley, Alexandra Winter, and Ali Stroker in "Spring Awakening" - Photo by Tate Tullier

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?

DJK:  We are staying in touch every day, mainly on Zoom. We collaborated with NBC on an episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist that premiered a few weeks ago, and it was extremely gratifying to see the love and praise from the community. We also collaborated with Kelly Clarkson and helped create a community-sourced video for her latest song, “I Dare You.” It’s a blessing to be able to generate work for all of the actors from our community during these times, and we’re not going to stop. We’re also working on several digital projects, including a full production to be streamed.

Nick Apostolina, Natalie Camunas, Sandra Mae Frank, and Tad Cooley in "The Solid Life of Sugar Water" - Photo by Brandon Simmoneau

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?

DJK:  It is my observation that theatergoers in Los Angeles are creatures of habit. Once we emerge from the end of the tunnel, I think that things will return to normal quicker than we expect. I also think a lot about what prospective patrons will need to feel safe in a theater again.

Troy Kotsur, Matthew Ryan Pest, and Paul Raci in "American Buffalo" - Photo by Noel Bass

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

DJK:  I, for one, count my blessings every day. We have a wonderful community of actors and patrons that keeps us going. Our Board has been extremely supportive, and we’ve received some wonderful donations. Theater is an art form that’s been around for ages. While we will continue to fill our need for communal experiences, our industry will continue to evolve. I think our industry will make advances in virtual space. I’m thinking about this time in our industry and how we can step up to the challenges posed by quarantine. But in my mind only one thing is certain: that we must move forward together with grace, strength, and compassion.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Center Theatre Group is now accepting applications for the 2021 Dorothy and Richard E. Sherwood Award!

Center Theatre Group's $10,000 Dorothy and Richard E. Sherwood Award for theatre artists is given annually to nurture innovative and adventurous theatre artists working in Los Angeles. Two additional finalists will each receive a $2,000 honorarium.

The Sherwood Award nurtures the selected artists and invites them to engage in a professional relationship with Center Theatre Group. Sherwood Awardees demonstrate leadership qualities, push existing boundaries, and are dedicated to improving the future of their respective artistic fields. Artists are not limited by title, role, or genre, but they must have a relationship to contemporary performance rooted in theatre.

Originally created in 1996 as an annual fund to support innovative, adventurous theatre artists from Los Angeles, the Sherwood Award was established in memory of Dorothy and Richard E. Sherwood. Both of the Sherwoods were patrons of the arts with a special appreciation for the energy and talent of artists at a catalytic moment in their career who are vanguards in theatre. Richard Sherwood was president of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and president and then chairman of Center Theatre Group’s Board of Directors from 1980 until his death in 1993. Dorothy Sherwood created the award to honor her husband and helped shepherd the award process since its inception before her passing in 2018. The award is endowed by the Sherwood family and honors the Sherwoods’ passionate commitment to theatre.

2021 Sherwood Award Applications

The application for the 2021 Sherwood Award is now live. The deadline for the initial application is June 17, 2020 at 12pm. Select candidates will be invited to submit full applications. Full applications, along with letters of recommendation and work sample material, will be due no later than August 14, 2020. The awardee will be announced at the LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards.

APPLY HERE

For more information or any questions about the Sherwood Award, please contact Sherwood [at] ctgla [dot] org.



COVID-19 Theater Series: A Repurposed Movie Theater Goes Live - Sierra Madre Playhouse and Christian Lebano


Since 2011, when he first joined Sierra Madre Playhouse (SMP), Christian Lebano has produced, directed, or acted in over 43 shows. As an actor, he has played major roles at theaters across the country, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and American Players Theater.

In 2014, he became artistic director of SMP. Under his leadership, it has earned two Ovation Awards out of thirteen nominations for eight different shows and many awards from other critic’s groups. Six years ago, he initiated the Theater for Young Audiences (TYA) series of plays for schools; the program has drawn 14 school districts and over 13,000 students. He started the Off the Page free monthly reading series which has performed 44 readings to date. Three have moved to full productions, and another is slated for 2021. In 2019, he launched the Off the Screen movie series which is screened with and supports each new production. Christian is currently recovering from COVID-19 but nonetheless made time to interview in April 2020.


Brighid Fleming and Christian Lebano in "To Kill a Mockingbird" - Photo by Gina Long

Tell us something about the history of your theater. When did your theater begin its long career? What is your mission?

Christian Lebano:  The building was built in 1910 as a furniture store and was converted to a silent movie theater and limited vaudeville in 1923. It continued as a movie house until it closed in 1970 when the building was chopped up and used for many different purposes. In 1980, a community theater took over the building and became the Sierra Madre Playhouse. The building underwent major renovations to make it look as it does today. In 1996, we started using Equity actors and began professionalizing our offerings. In 2014, we had a major reorganization and mission change. That was the year I became the first artistic director in over 10 years.

Lee Chen and Grace Shen in "The Joy Luck Club" - Photo by Gina Long

The Sierra Madre Playhouse is a nonprofit, award-winning 99-seat theater. With century-old ties to our community; we are dedicated to fostering an appreciation of live performance in people of all ages and backgrounds by illuminating the diversity of the American experience.

I was not involved from the beginning. I first came to SMP as an actor in 2011 and then joined the board in 2012. I became artistic director in 2014.

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

CL:  We closed on March 5. At the time, we had a rental in the house, and they cancelled their remaining performances. We had cancelled our sold-out production of Charlotte’s Web a few weeks earlier because of the added costs incurred due to AB5 – specifically, the redefinition of independent contractors – so we were spared having to shut down a production.

Over the past weeks, how has COVID-19 impacted your theater? 

CL:  Of course, we have canceled all programming: our film series, our reading series, and all our productions through the end of 2020.

Aaron Shaw and Katie Franqueira in "Dames at Sea" - Photo by Gina Long

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Streaming? Having virtual meetings? Planning for your next show when you reopen? Auditioning? Fund Raising? 

CL:  We have not yet streamed anything for our audiences, but we are considering the best ways to stay connected to them, including live streaming performances. We have just launched a newsletter and continue to send email updates. We are also on Facebook. Our marquee has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, LA Times, CNN, and MSNBC. Pretty soon we’re going to need an agent!  We have been updating our marquee messages weekly.

We’re having lots of virtual meetings with staff and our board. We’re planning on our grand reopening production for April of next year. We haven’t set a date yet. Given our uncertainty about the opening date, we haven’t yet scheduled auditions.

In terms of fund raising, we haven’t made any direct appeals for support at this time. We feel that - with so many people struggling - it isn’t the right time to ask for money. However, we have received several unsolicited donations from patrons, all with notes telling us how important we are to the community and how much they hope we will survive the shutdown. WE WILL!!

Brad David Reed and Jack Sundmacher in "The Odd Couple" - Photo by Gina Long

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

CL:  I imagine that quite a few intimate theaters will be forced to close. I see a contraction of offerings looming. COVID-19 comes on the heels of the disastrous AB5 law which changed the definition of independent contractors and thus added thousands of dollars to the cost of productions. The uncertainty of the future makes it very difficult to plan. It is our opinion that we won’t be allowed to gather until 2021 and that, even then, audiences will be wary until there is a vaccine. That is why we are not planning to produce in 2020 and will only begin later in 2021.

Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James in "The Gin Game" - Photo by Gina Long

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

CL:  We definitely need patience and fortitude. Obviously, we also need donations as we try to keep paying our small staff through these dark times. We love hearing from our patrons. Knowing that they are rooting for us and looking forward to our reopening keeps our spirits strong and makes us determined to come back better than ever.

Most importantly, very soon we will be announcing ways that the audiences can reach out to their State Senators and Assembly persons to help rethink and rewrite AB5. This law has had a great impact on our ability to produce shows at the high level we’ve come to be known for. That’s why we are planning only a four-show season, which is down two shows from our past production schedules.

Susane Lee and Christian Prentice in "4000 Miles" - Photo by Gina Long

What are some of your future plans? 

CL:  We plan a four-show season in 2021 which will include three of the cancelled productions from 2020 – Lauren Yee’s King of the Yees, Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky, and a return of our Christmas classic, A Christmas Story. We will be announcing one more show which will open the season. We are ready to announce our Silent Film Festival which will be in the spring. Our reading series, Off the Page, will be back with its monthly offering. We will include a full month of four new plays in June or July, and we’ll launch our Story Telling events (to be named) with two dates. AND we have a few more ideas in the works.

We are also using this time to make many long-needed upgrades to our theater. These changes, large and small, will make our producing capabilities stronger, our actors better supported, and our audiences happier. I am very excited to share them with our patrons when we reopen.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Composer, Conductor, Lyricist, and Producer Christopher Raymond


This Spotlight focuses on composer, conductor, lyricist, and producer Christopher Raymond who has won an NAACP, Stage Raw, and Broadway World Awards for his work in theatre. Chris has also music directed several Los Angeles area awards shows as well as 14 productions with DOMA Theatre Company in Hollywood, among many others. And in December 2018, he became Music Director for Valley Outreach Synagogue in Calabasas where Passover and Shabbat services are being LiveStreamed from home.


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

Christopher Raymond (Chris): I started my career at the age of 15 by playing in the band for Jason Robert Brown's 13 The Musical at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Mark Taper Forum and on Broadway.

(SB): I saw 13 The Musical at both the Kirk Douglas Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum and really loved the energy in the show. And all the teenage emotions bursting at the seams reminded me of many challenging days I experienced as a middle and high school teacher.

(Chris): I then went on to study music at CalArts, and am now a composer, lyricist and music director, and have won an NAACP, Stage Raw, and Broadway World Award for my work in theatre.

I co-wrote the theme song for the show, Troy (which opened at the 80,000-seat Beijing National Stadium in July, 2017), and music directed and orchestrated the Ovation Awards twice (at The Ahmanson Theatre and at the Theatre at Ace Hotel). I also music directed / arranged the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards twice.

I music directed, conducted and played piano for 14 productions with DOMA Theatre Company in Hollywood, including prominent revivals of Avenue Q, American Idiot, and Dreamgirls (which was awarded "Best Musical" by the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards and the LA Times Awards.)

I recently wrote the book, music and lyrics for Scarlet Letter: The Musical, which had a workshop production at Greenway Court Theatre. A highlights reel for the musical is available on YouTube here:

In December 2018, I became Music Director for Valley Outreach Synagogue in Calabasas. Working with Rabbi Ron Li-Paz, Cantor Michael Li-Paz, Chaplain Jennifer Eaves Nye and the rest of the VOS team is a continually inspiring experience.

(SB): How has COVID-19 affected your work at your Synagogue?

(Chris): The quarantine orders began in Los Angeles shortly before Passover. Due to this, we at VOS held two virtual Seders on our website. The Rabbi, Cantor, Chaplain, and myself LiveStreamed our Seders from our respective homes as our congregation joined us from their homes. It was a beautiful way to create joy and unity during a challenging time for the world.

We are currently LiveStreaming our Shabbat Services on Friday nights and all of our classes are being held online. We are grateful to live in a time when technology allows us to continue functioning and providing help as a Synagogue while our leadership and membership remain safely isolated at home.

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

(Chris): I have been recording / composing music in my home studio and I have also been making musical videos for Valley Outreach Synagogue's website. I have also had an opportunity to watch and support many friends' musical and arts-related projects online, which has been a joy.

(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?

(Chris): As a community, we are all going through uncharted waters, but I believe that at the end of the day we will be stronger and hopefully a bit wiser from the lessons we've learned during this pandemic. May we all stay safe and do our best to keep up our spirits/morale by continuing to learn, grow and create / appreciate art.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Two New Exciting Creative Projects for Stephen Foster and Chuck Pelletier During Covid-19


Actors/writing partners Chuck Pelletier and Stephen Foster created the popular musical The Green Room and released a CD of the show in 2006 to great acclaim. It has toured across country and played off Broadway to excellent reviews in 2019. Now there is a new website devoted exclusively to The Green Room. Recently they composed a short film entitled That's Opportunity Knocking that has won a myriad of awards. Both men took time out of their busy schedules to discuss both projects, which push the limits on creativity during CoViD-19.


Don: Tell us about your new website for The Green Room. Does it allow visitors to see the show from the ground up, from the very beginning on upward to the latest success in New York?

Stephen Foster: Due to our hectic and diverse creative schedules (acting, writing and directing) the information and materials for The Green Room Musical has been helter-skelter on YouTube and Facebook so we decided, after the Off-Broadway run, to put it all together in one streamlined website at GreenRoomTheMusical.com.

It’s a way to describe how the show has grown and evolved through the years. It provides a platform where people can see clips of various productions, listen to the songs for free, obtain free scripts, and even purchase the sheet music. It’s the catch all for learning all about this 4-character musical that had humble roots in Hollywood theatre and finally had an Off-Broadway run. We are extremely proud of how far this “passion” project has come.

Don: This is the pride and joy for both of you. Chuck's music has been such a success and you have reworked the book to make it more adaptable to current time. What are the elements of the show that have appealed most to audiences everywhere?

Chuck Pelletier: I love writing funny songs, and when I go to see musicals, my favorites are always the comedy songs. For the most part the songs in The Green Room are comedy songs, I think there’s only three or four exceptions. They still move plot and character forward, but they make you laugh. And I think audiences love that. That’s the way musicals were written in golden age, whether it’s Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, Oliver, The Music Man. Most of those shows were fun and funny. They landed on the occasional love song or sad song when the plot warranted it, but for the most part, people went to Broadway to escape. To be entertained. Many people have mentioned to me that that’s how they feel after they see The Green Room, and that is what makes me the most proud as a lyricist. When you hear an audience laugh, really laugh, belly laugh, in the middle of a song, and then again, and then again, to the point they have to try to contain themselves just to keep up with what’s coming next. That gives me more joy than anything.

There is also the sense of youth, four characters in their 20s having fun in college. People love the youthful energy of the story.

Don: Sum up your dreams for this show and advise our readers how they need to be creative and follow their heart at all cost.

Stephen: The musical has had a wonderful track record thus far with indie productions all over the US, Canada, and Ireland. The songs have been performed in cabarets, concerts and singers love singing the 2 comedy songs “It’s All About Me” & “Nothing Can Stop My Boys” at auditions. The future of the show is endless with new theaters and now online venues opening up.

The song “In The End” contains my favorite line, “In the end you do what you have to do. Because it’s you, in the end, who has to live with it.” That’s been my philosophy for many years. To pursue a career in acting and writing, you miss a lot of “normal” living, but in the end you have art to show for it. The trade-off isn’t always fair, the labor of love is long, but sometimes you hit gold and that pay-off is what keeps us going against the odds. Follow your heart is what I coach actors and writers when I teach. If you follow your heart, you might not hit the moon, but you’ll land in the stars.

Don: Let's switch to your new film That's Opportunity Knocking. What basically is it about? What inspired you to write it?

Chuck: That’s Opportunity Knocking is a 22-minute comedy on Amazon Prime that tells the story of two college-educated guys in their 20s so down on their luck they decide to rob an empty apartment. The tenants come home while they are robbing it, so they have to hide, and wait, while the tenants make out on the couch. One of the interesting things about this comedy is that it’s based on a true story. Usually comedies aren’t based on a true story, unless they are historical, period films. So of course it was the true story that inspired it. What happened was that we were involved in a play at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The director of that play, Thomas Anawalt, and most of the cast of the play, went out for drinks one night after the show. Thomas was telling a story about when he lived in New York with a couple roommates, and one night they came home and found some items out of place but didn’t think much of it. They woke up the next morning and found the place had been robbed. So they realized then that, the whole time they had been home that previous night, those burglars had been hiding somewhere. I think I told Thomas right then and there that I wanted to make that into a short film, and I wanted him to play himself. Most of the actors that were in that play ended up being in the movie.

Don: You have won many prizes so far. That is wonderful.

Chuck: Yes, the film has won 24 awards at film festivals, and after that was picked up by Amazon Prime, where it has been viewed hundreds of times since. Who knew there was a market for short films? We are very proud. Stephen himself won 5 awards as Best Supporting Actor.

Stephen: We are humbled and surprised by all the awards. We’ve been working in theater and film as actors and screenwriters for many years, and this one clicked. We are grateful to the indie film festivals that helped us achieve these awards.

Don: What do audiences learn from the movie?

Chuck: There are a few themes running through the movie, but the main theme, which recurs especially throughout the dialogue of the two burglars, is that it is far harder to be middle class right now then it was, say, 50 or 75 years ago. That’s the motivational engine of three of the characters, and the reason the burglars are there in the first place. I hope that is what people take away from the movie, as well as just a lot of laughs and having a good 22 minutes.

Don: Does it have your zany sense of humor?

Stephen: I don’t think we could produce a piece without it containing our off-beat view of the world. I always wanted my creative life to be “The Carol Burnett Show!” Humor is how Chuck and I survived growing up and we use it in our writing and acting. Chuck understands my sense of humor, and I understand his, so we mesh very well together.

Don: But, as well as being entertaining, does it have a substantial base? How does it inspire people to live?

Chuck: I loved the screwball comedies of old Hollywood, because they always worked as simple comedies, but there was always a class-against-class theme behind them. There were other elements, reversed sex roles, etc., but the class struggles are what I always relate to, and as I said, I wanted that to be integral to this movie. If someone told me my comedies inspired them to look at class in a different way, perhaps vote more with the middle class in mind, nothing would be a higher honor.

Don: If you had to sum up your professional life so far, how would you do that? 

Stephen: I would sum up my professional life as “trial and error” with perks thrown in along the way. I’m extremely LUCKY to work hand in hand with Chuck, as we click in all we do. There’s never a sense of competition or one-upmanship with us.

Don: Is there another project on the horizon that you yearn to work on?

We have started our own small company, Round Earth Entertainment, to nurture and develop our creative projects: songs, scripts, movies and plays. We have several projects that are in development.

Chuck: This virus has been the worst thing that has happened to the world in my lifetime, but you have to make lemonade out of lemons, and the time at home has given Stephen and I a lot of time to talk through potential projects and do some good writing.

Stephen: Don, these are very odd and crazy times, humor helps us heal, connect and survive. I think that’s our primary statement to humanity.



Spotlight Series: Meet Michael Mullen, An Award-Winning Costume Designer and Actor


This Spotlight focuses on Michael Mullen, an award-winning and always busy costume designer, writer and actor who often steps onstage in a variety of roles, both male and female.


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

Michael Mullen (MM): I’m a costume designer, actor, and writer who lives in Hollywood with my dog Choo Choo. I’ve worked in the L.A. theatre scene for many years now, and have received several awards and nominations for my work both onstage and off from such organizations as Ovation, L.A. Drama Critics Circle, L.A. Weekly, N.A.A.C.P., Scenie, Stage Raw, Robby, Broadway World, Ticket Holder, Eddon, and Desert Theatre League. I hope to keep working and doing what I love for many years to come, and I’m very happy to be a part of L.A.’s wonderful theatre community.

(SB): I know you are always busy costuming shows around town, so what production(s) were you involved with when word went out that those shows had to be closed or postponed?  

(MM): I was involved with a few shows when this whole Coronavirus pandemic started directly affecting theatre.  I costume designed Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party at Morgan-Wixson Theatre (directed by my good friend Kristin Towers-Rowles) which was slated to open March 14th. I was at the theatre for final dress rehearsal on March 12th and the show was in great shape and ready for an audience. After the performance was over, Michael Heimos, the President of Morgan-Wixson’s board, came onto the stage to address the audience, cast, and crew to announce the run of the show was being postponed until later when it would be deemed safe to do theatre again. Everyone involved with the show was very sad over this news, but we all knew that this was the necessary and safe decision to make.

That night, the cast and crew stayed in the theatre and had an impromptu pizza Karaoke party to console each other that went on until the wee hours of the morning. Kristin (our director) organized a nice dinner for all the cast and crew at a restaurant called The Upper West for Friday, March 13th - which would’ve been our first and only preview performance. It was a lovely night of yummy food, drinks, and bonding. And now everything is on hold.

Michael Mullen in “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Crown City Theatre

Across town, I had a production of Romeo and Juliet (directed by Dana Martin) and All’s Well That End’s Well (directed by Nike Doukas) at a school called Art of Acting that had both just opened on March 11th. These two productions (which I costume designed) were both great, but unfortunately had to close early due to the Coronavirus situation as well. Everyone involved was sad of course, but understood why that decision had to be made.

That same weekend, I had In My Mind’s Eye (which I costume designed) close at Group Rep Theatre, but the production was scheduled to close that particular weekend anyway as it had come to the end of its scheduled run. The show was directed by Bruce Kimmel and written by Group Rep’s Artistic Director, Doug Haverty. It was sad to see the show end, but at least it was able to complete its full run before everything started shutting down.

(SB): You mentioned about the way in which The Wild Party cast and crew found out about the postponement. But what about the other productions at Art of Acting?

Michael Mullen in “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at Secret Rose. Photo credit: Chris Greenwell

(MM): As I recall, the cast of the two shows at Art of Acting were notified by email from the School Director, Johnny Yoder. I personally learned that the Art of Acting shows were closing early when I went to the school on March 12th during the afternoon to deal with some costume repairs for both productions. It was sad to receive all of this news about all three shows which I had costumed that were opening in mid-March. My heart broke, especially for all of the actors.

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

(MM): The plan for The Wild Party is for it to open and have a run later this year when it is safe to do so. Everyone involved is very happy about that and I think audiences will love the show since it’s fun, sexy, and very entertaining.  It’s weird to think that the set, props, costumes, wigs, and lights are all just sitting there in the theatre like a ghost light waiting to be used, but they will all get their glory and chance to shine eventually!

Romeo And Juliet and All’s Well That Ends Well at Art of Acting are sadly done for good. They were truly deserving of much longer runs.

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

(MM): I was costume designing several other productions that were supposed to open over the next few months, but unfortunately all have been cancelled and/or postponed until later (yet to be decided) dates when it is safe to do theatre again. Among these projects are A Little Night Music with Knot Free Productions, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner with Ruskin Group, Imogene at Parson’s Nose, Art Of Acting’s productions of Distracted, Our Lady Of 121st Street, and Landscape Of The Body, and Love’s Labour’s Lost with Shakespeare By The Sea, as well as a few Hollywood Fringe shows. It has been announced that The Hollywood Fringe Festival (which was scheduled to happen in June 2020) is tentatively postponed until the month of October this fall. My 19-week-long costume design class at A Place Called Home has also been cancelled due to the building closing down until further notice.

(SB): That was quite a packed schedule!  I don’t know how you manage to work on so many shows at the same time and do them all so well. So for now, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

Michael Mullen and Choo Choo

(MM): I’m teaching acting/improv classes for kids on Zoom now, reading plays, following the news, Facebooking, talking with family and friends on the phone, watching a lot of T.V. and film, hanging out with my dog Choo Choo, and eating A LOT! And since the Hollywood Fringe Festival is now postponed until the fall, I’ve decided to try and write a play or at least find one to produce and act in myself. I mean, why not, right?! And masks! I should be making masks for people to wear! Bedazzled themed masks would be fun, huh?

(SB): Absolutely!

(MM): It’s tough to be alone and not see people because I’m a social person, but I’ll be okay. We’ll all get through this tough time, and I can’t wait to hug everyone when this Coronavirus nightmare is over.

I just want to remind all my fellow theatre folk that we are all in this together and that we will all be making theatre again when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, it’s important for all of us to stay healthy and safe, practice social distancing, get plenty of rest, and wash our damn hands!  It’s also important for us all to connect with each other and reach out if we get lonely. I’m here for anyone who wants to talk.  And I guess people are starting to do play readings on Zoom! I think that’s great! I encourage doing that for sure! Zoom Zoom, baby!

What I’m looking forward to the most, after this Coronavirus nightmare is over, is the resurgence of theatre across the world and especially here in Los Angeles. Theatre makes the world a better place. ❤️ Much love, everyone.

(SB) I am on the same page with you and can’t wait to get back to reviewing shows. #TheatreInspires


This article first appeared on Broadway World.


Ronnie Marmo at Lenny Bruce

Spotlight Series: Meet Ronnie Marmo – An Actor, Director, Producer, Playwright, and Artistic Director of Theatre 68 in NoHo


This Spotlight focuses on Ronnie Marmo, an actor, director, producer, playwright, and Artistic Director of Theatre 68 who has been touring the country with his dynamic solo show I’m Not A Comedian...I’m Lenny Bruce. I attended the show more than once and was excited to hear the news of its New York City and Chicago production dates, which of course are now on hold. If you missed the show, here’s a link to my review.


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

Ronnie Marmo (RM): On stage, I have starred in more than 30 plays. A few of my favorites include my portrayal of Bill Wilson in Bill W. and Dr. Bob, Silva in Baby Doll, Earl in the Los Angeles Premiere of The Late Henry Moss, Danny in Danny and The Deep Blue Sea, and Satan in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot written by Stephen Adly Guirgis.

I completed an audio book in which I portray Lenny Bruce in Lenny’s autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. Most recently, I wrote and still perform in the long-running, critically-acclaimed and award-winning show, I’m Not A Comedian...I’m Lenny Bruce in Chicago (also in Los Angeles and New York), After 305 total performances across all three cities, we are still going strong. And still under the direction of Joe Mantegna.

As a director, I have staged over 50 productions and produced about 100 in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. I was the Artistic Director and Producer of the critically acclaimed first ever 13 by Shanley Festival; which enjoyed a six-month run. I received the Robert Pastorelli Rising Star Award for achievements as an actor, writer, director and producer at the 2010 Garden State Film Festival.

Most importantly, I am proud to continue to serve as the Artistic Director of Theatre 68 (68 Cent Crew Theatre Company) in Los Angeles and New York City.

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

(RM): We were in production in Chicago for the solo show I wrote and in which I star, I’m Not A Comedian...I’m Lenny Bruce. March 15th was my 85th and final (for now) performance in Chicago. That decision was made since the town was shutting down around us, and I felt the best thing for us to do was stop performing and for me to head back to Los Angeles to be near my daughters.

At the same time, both the LA and NY chapters of Theatre 68 were in pre-production for new shows. In LA, we were in the casting stage for the play Stupid Fucking Bird by Aaron Posner. We are slated to open in early June, and have decided to move all of our auditions and pre-production to a virtual platform, hoping we will get to open on time. Of course, we are prepared to postpone if need be for everyone’s safety during the pandemic.

In NY, our company was just about to go into casting for an evening of seven one-act plays, all written by Theatre 68 members. We were slated to open late May, which seems lightly unrealistic now. But as said above, we will continue on as if we will open as planned and move things out if need be.

To say I am heartbroken for both chapters would be an understatement. I love these artists and so we will do what we can. But obviously, safety is first for them as well as our supporters.

(SB): How did you communicate the shutdown with your cast and production team?

(RM): I was in constant contact with them throughout the entire process. But quite honestly, as the Artistic Director “the buck stops here” in moments like this, and I could not have made these decisions every step of the way without the incredible leaders I have at Theatre 68 on both coasts.

We communicated over video conferencing, phone calls and back and forth email threads. We used any and every platform possible given the circumstances at that moment. Although, I have to say. for someone who had no idea what ‘Zoom’ was a few months ago, it’s become the biggest part of my life now (laughing).

(SB): I am in the same position in that I must also learn how to use “Zoom” in order to be part of online meetings as well. So, we have more than our mutual love of PB&J sandwiches in common!

(RM): My go-to meal before shows!

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

(RM): In the Theatre world, the only thing that was actually on the docket that has now seemingly been delayed was the booking and logistics for the Lenny Bruce National Tour. We signed with Columbia Artists Theatrical and they just began fielding offers right before COVID-19 hit.

While productions have been temporarily affected, one major shift in our Theatre 68 community has been that we moved our Monday Night Actors Gym to a virtual platform. To me, the productions we do are fantastic and we are blessed to have done over 100 of them. But the heartbeat of our company is the fact that we get together every Monday night on both coasts and have a 3-hour “class” of sorts where we hold each other accountable with scene work, monologues, improv, cold readings, writing assignments, etc. What makes it very special is that everyone in the company has a voice - there isn’t just one individual teacher. Transitioning from us being together on stage every Monday night to moving to Zoom has been the biggest adjustment to the company.

I’m excited to announce that we’ve had two successful Monday Night Gyms in NY and LA so far, and they have been inspiring to everyone involved. We’re still very focused on acting of course, but I’ve taken this opportunity to give our artists writing assignments with deadlines. I always preach taking your own career into your own hands and creating your own work. Now they have that opportunity more than ever.

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

(RM): Well, it’s funny you mention that. What started out as a silly idea and something to pass the time about 9 days ago, has become something that many people seem to look forward to watching every day. I have started a Facebook and Instagram live web-show called A Bachelor’s Guide to Do-mes-ti-ca-tion with Ronnie Marmo! The first 8 episodes (days) have felt to be more of a cooking show (since that’s where I need the most work - I basically can’t cook… nor have I ever had to do so for myself and think I single-handedly kept all the take out restaurants in business.

(SB): I watched the episode where you were driving around your neighborhood and asking viewers about how to make chicken parmesan, then took us inside Pinocchio’s Deli to purchase what you needed. I really enjoyed the spur-of-the-moment and interactive format, making those watching feel as if we were in there with you.

(RM): I’m trying to mix it up a bit and tomorrow we might just do some laundry together. It’s interesting how I end up having severe meltdowns and get hurt every episode, but we’re having a lot of fun and there have been a lot of laughs! Honestly, I’ve learned how to cook eight dishes so far thanks to help of all my viewers.  Maybe a cookbook is on the horizon? (more laughs)

(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?

(RM): I’m very proud that Theatre 68 is a part of the NoHo Arts Theatre scene. I have spoken to a dozen or so other theatres in the area and I’m very concerned that many of them will not recover and continue on after COVID-19. We have all been in constant communication and are trying to help each other. I will say, like any other crisis, this has brought us all closer together. I’m trying to encourage all of us to stay positive and try to stay in the day that we’re in and not project too far into the future because there are so many unknowns. I’m going to fight like hell to keep Theatre 68 and all the other Theatres in the NoHo Arts District alive and thriving.

Lastly, I just want to say “Thank You” to Broadway World for all of the support it gives to all the theatres small, medium, and large. There is never enough advertising dollars and generally speaking, we always need a little more enthusiasm and support for what we do. Broadway World and other press outlets have really kept us afloat even when things are great and especially when the road has become a bit rocky. So thank you for your constant support.

(SB): Thanks so much! It’s always my pleasure to get the word out about shows at theaters of all sizes in the greater Los Angeles area, and I appreciate all the kind words of support from readers of my reviews and these Spotlight Series interviews on Broadway World. This writer always likes to know my articles are being read and my contributions to the LA Theatre Community are helping to keep us united as the powerful group of artists I know we are.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



The 34th Annual 'Robby Award' Winners Announced


The 34th Annual Robby Awards show scheduled for March 23, 2020, has been canceled due to the Coronavirus and social distancing.

Here is the list of the winners for the best in Los Angeles area theatre for 2019.  With the Robby Awards, a few categories resulted in a tie vote, even with critic Rob Stevens as the only voter.

The Pasadena Playhouse’s production of "Ragtime" won Best Musical as well as three other awards. The Ahmanson Theatre’s production of "Indecent" also won four awards, including Best Drama. Best Comedy was awarded to Odyssey Theatre Ensemble’s "Loot" which also won two other awards.

A Noise Within led all producing companies with five awards spread over three of their productions—"Argonautika," "The Glass Menagerie," and "Frankenstein." The Geffen Playhouse won three awards, one each for their productions of "Key Largo," "Skintight," and "Witch."

Among 99-seat theatres, Celebration Theatre won two awards for its production of "The Producers," Boston Court Pasadena won two awards for "The Judas Kiss," and Antaeus Theatre Company won two awards for "The Cripple of Inishmaan," while two awards were given to shows at the annual Hollywood Fringe Festival.


The Robby Awards


Teri Ralston Award for Best Musical
Ragtime, Pasadena Playhouse

Virginia Capers Award for Best Director of a Musical
David Lee, Ragtime, Pasadena Playhouse

Michael G. Hawkins Award for Best Actor in a Musical
Marc Ginsburg, Ragtime, Pasadena Playhouse

Michelle Nicastro Award for Best Actress in a Musical
Shannon Warne, Ragtime, Pasadena Playhouse

Gary Beach Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Michael A. Shepperd, The Producers, Celebration Theatre

Lisa Robinson Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Lauren Van Kurin, Earth to Karen, Hollywood Fringe Festival

Dom Salinaro Award for Best Choreography
Christine Negherbon, Holiday Inn, Musical Theatre West

Elan McMahan Award for Best Musical Direction
Gregory Nabours, Scissorhands, The Fuse Project

John Raitt Award for Best Music and Lyrics
Brooke deRosa, Gunfight at the Not-So-OK Saloon, Trial Run Productions

Nan Martin Award for Best Drama
Indecent, Ahmanson Theatre

Martin Benson Award for Best Director of a Drama (Tie)
Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, Argonautika, A Noise Within
Rebecca Taichman, Indecent, Ahmanson Theatre

Ray Stricklyn Award for Best Actor in a Drama
Rob Nagle, The Judas Kiss, Boston Court Pasadena

Sally Kemp Award for Best Actress in a Drama
Deborah Strang, The Glass Menagerie, A Noise Within

Richard Doyle Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama
Kasey Mahaffy, The Glass Menagerie, A Noise Within

Belinda Balaski Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Drama
Jenny O’Hara, Daniel’s Husband, The Fountain Theatre

Carole Cook Award for Best Comedy
Loot, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Ron Link Award for Best Director of a Comedy
Bart DeLorenzo, Loot, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Tom Troupe Award for Best Actor in a Comedy (Tie)
Harry Groener, Skintight, Geffen Playhouse
Evan Jonigkeit, Witch, Geffen Playhouse

Lu Leonard Award for Best Actress in a Comedy
Elizabeth Arends, Loot, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Albert Lord Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy
JD Cullum, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Antaeus Theatre Company

Dee Croxton Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy
Anne Gee Byrd, The Cripple of Inishmaan, Antaeus Theatre Company

Michael Devereaux Award for Best Playwriting
David Hare, The Judas Kiss, Boston Court Pasadena

John Iacovelli Award for Best Scenic Design
John Lee Beatty, Key Largo, Geffen Playhouse

Best Projection Design
Aaron Rhyne, Anastasia, Hollywood Pantages Theatre

Paulie Jenkins Award for Best Lighting Design
Christopher Akerlind, Indecent, Ahmanson Theatre

Garland Riddle Award for Best Costume Design
E. B. Brooks, The Producers, Celebration Theatre

Steve ”Canyon” Kennedy Award for Best Sound Design
Robert Oriol, Frankenstein, A Noise Within

Lies and Legends Award for Best Ensemble Award
Matt Darriau, Elizabeth A. Davis, Joby Earle, Patrick Farrell, Harry Groener,
Lisa Gutkin, Mimi Lieber, Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol, Adina Verson,
Indecent, Ahmanson Theatre

Billy Barnes Award for Best Cabaret Performance
Daniel Thomas Bellusci, Brittney Bertier, Ellie Birdwell, Bruce Kimmel,
Kerry O’Malley, Jenna Lea Rosen, Robert Yacko,
L’Wonderful, L’Marvelous, Legrand, Kritzerland at Vitello’s

Special Award for Props and Puppet Design
Erin Walley and Dillon Nelson, Argonautika, A Noise Within

Robby Living Legend Award
Teri Ralston


Actress Barbara Brownell Continues to Inspire Us All

Actress Barbara Brownell is a true inspiration. She has spent her life performing on the Broadway stage, on film, and in television with a few great surprises along the way, which she discusses with us in much detail.

You have won a BWW award in 2017. What was the play you won the award for and what did you enjoy most about it?

BB: The play was Dull Pain Turned Sharp, written by Brent Beerman and directed by Kay Cole. I played Linda, a woman in her 60s who faces the dilemma of wanting her only daughter to have a grandchild, but is conflicted about a health danger she might have passed down to her. I enjoyed working on a multi-layered character and with a wonderfully talented cast.

You were nominated this past year for directing Laundry and Bourbon/Lone Star. Talk about the plays and what they meant to you.

BB: Laundry and Bourbon and Lonestar are two one acts written by James McLure. While the plays stand on their own, they make a nice companion set because the central conflict in each piece as well as its characters are related closely to those in the other play. They appealed to me because they contain serious themes about friendship, family, and getting through tough times and yet both plays are also delightfully funny. I was blessed to work with two strong casts which made the rehearsal process particularly fun and rewarding.

You have worked in the past with some great directors including Woody Allen. What play did you perform with him, what character did you play, and what was the experience like?

BB: I did Play it Again, Sam with Woody for one year on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre.

My part was Dream Sharon, his fantasy of the perfect woman. When we were in Boston, pre-Broadway, Woody decided to have his dream girl come to life at the end of the play. So I reappeared and he named the character Barbara, after me. Of course, working in a hit show on Broadway opened doors for me. I got a nice role in Going Home with Robert Mitchum and Jan Michael Vincent and was cast in The David Frost Review TV series. However, the most enduring gift is the close friendship I’ve enjoyed these many years with fellow cast member Cynthia Dalbey. I do remember Woody saying, about his writing, “There’s no secret. I make myself write everyday.” And about his directing, “I just cast well, and let them play.”

You also worked on the 2012 film The Master. You mentioned Paul Thomas Anderson, the director who obviously meant a great deal to you. Two of the stars, Joaquin Phoenix, who was competing for an Oscar this year for The Joker, and the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman are unforgettable. What role did you play and what do you remember most vividly about the movie?

BB: My character was a wealthy New York socialite who was being put through a Past Life Regression by the Master. When P.T. (Paul Thomas) found out that I was a hypnotherapist and familiar with the process, he sought out my help in shaping the scene. The only line he had written for me was “My name is Margaret O’Brien.” He wanted Philip and me to improvise the rest, and so we did. Many takes actually. It was exhilarating. Watching Philip work gave me chills. Joaquin was in the scene, but only as an observer. My impression is that he was never really out of character, even at lunch. While Amy Adams in addition to being extraordinarily talented, was one of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met.

Mention some of the other wonderful directors you have worked with.

BB: I was privileged to work with two giants of the sitcom world, Jay Sandrich, who directed me in both the Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart shows, and Jimmy Burrows, who directed me in Barefoot in the Park where I played opposite Tab Hunter. Both Jay and Jimmy were such creative, inventive, and positive influences. I also was lucky enough to work with Steven Soderbergh in HBO’s Behind the Candelabra where I played Liberace’s sister, Angie. Candidly, the part didn’t amount to much, but I got to see Soderbergh work and how much his cast and crew adored him. More recently I’ve had the opportunity to work with two really talented “up and comers”, Ryan Eggold and Eric Bilitch, who both wrote and directed small, wonderful projects that I had so much fun doing.

This last year you were in the Grammy winning music video of Old Town Road with Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X, a song that set the Billboard record for consecutive weeks as the number one hit. How did this come about?

BB: I started my career as a dancer and continue to dance almost every day, especially line dancing. I auditioned with seemingly hundreds of dancers of all ages and styles, so that when I was cast, I really didn’t know what to expect or what I was to do. The song is a cross-over hit that combines hip hop with country dancing, which we did for hours. As the day turned to night, I was fairly certain that at least I’d be recognizable in the piece, but at 2am, they asked me to stay to shoot stills for the end piece of the video. So there I am, in the final frames, posed with Lil Nas X like a moonstruck couple in a prom photo. I found him to be delightful, if not a little overwhelmed by the sudden fame he was experiencing at the ripe old age of 20. I’ll say this, for all of my credits, from Broadway to the Silver Screen, no part has given me more cred with my grandchildren than my appearance in Old Town Road.

With such varied work on stage and on film both acting and dancing, what do you foresee as a main project for you in 2020?

BB: I’m working on a one person show tentatively entitled I am Barbara Brownell, I Think in which I explore how I navigated a challenging childhood and a lifetime of experiences to forge the person and performer I am today, only to discover late in life, that I’m not actually, biologically speaking, who I thought I was. The show gives me the opportunity to do just about everything...acting, dancing, even a bit of singing. It’s both wonderful and frightening to have complete creative control of something. I can’t very well blame anyone else for the writing, now can I?

Is there anyone in particular in the acting world who inspired you. Who are your favorite stars today ... from yesteryear and in present time.

BB: When I was very young, I did my best to imitate Shirley Temple. I even looked a bit like her, with a headful of curls. She was definitely my first inspiration. Nowadays? I’ve always admired Judi Dench, because she can do so many things so well. I used to love to watch her British comedy series As Time Goes By. And yet she’s just as deft in the classics, in Shakespeare, or in the Bond films, or a musical, or even as a director. All done with such class, but then again, she is a Dame!

Another contemporary British actress I’ve admired is Sarah Lancashire. Again, it’s the range she displays from drama and action to comedy that’s so impressive.

Do you prefer drama or comedy with either plays or screenplays?

BB: It’s hard to make a blanket statement. To me, the most important thing is whether I connect to the piece. Truthfully, though, I prefer work that incorporates both drama and comedy. That’s why I so enjoyed directing Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star, for they both manage to tell heartfelt, human, dramatic stories laced with moments of pure comedic joy, with neither feeling out of step or unearned. Of course, as a performer, there’s nothing as intoxicating as getting laughs from an audience, but it’s doubly magical when you sense the audience is also connecting with you emotionally.

Maybe that’s why Neil Simon remains my favorite playwright. Of course, he is widely acknowledged as a genius for his comedies, but I think he is underappreciated as a dramatic writer. I’ve been blessed to perform Barefoot in the Park, Star Spangled Girl, and Come Blow Your Horn, all certainly light fare. But Chapter Two, Lost in Yonkers, and the Eugene trilogy, to name a few, certainly prove his mettle as a serious playwright.

What do you feel has been your greatest achievement in your career so far?

BB: I was able to fulfill the dreams of a little girl from the poor side of Bound Brook, New Jersey to make it to Broadway. And to have the chance to work with the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Robert Mitchum, Woody Allen, Mary Tyler Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Jon Hamm. And to be a senior citizen dancing in a Grammy winning music video. Maybe my greatest accomplishment is that I’m still here.

Sum up your career in one sentence.

BB: It’s not over yet, is it? Ask me again in ten years.


Better Lemons Announces 2019 ‘Critics of the Year’ Awards

Southern California - Better Lemons has announced the 2019 “Better Lemons Critics of the Year” Awards featuring 10 categories, with the winners selected by audience vote.

Ed Rampell from Hollywood Progressive received the Fomenter of Revolution Critic of the Year Award, Jill Weinlein from Onstage Blog was given the Name Dropper Critic of the Year title, and Lorenzo Marchessi from The Geek Authority was recognized as the Say What? Critic of the Year 2019.

The Silver Tongue Critic of the Year Award went to Vanessa Cate from Stage Raw, Ernest Kearney from The TVolution was honored with the Director Critic of the Year Award, and the Up Late Critic of the Year Award went to Eric Gordon from People’s World.

Shari Barrett from Broadway World earned the Theatre Hound Critic of the Year Award, while the I Love LA Critic of the Year Award was given to Paul Myrvold from Paul Myrvold’s Theatre Notes, and the Enlightenment Critic of the Year Award was accepted by Deborah Klugman from Stage Raw.

When the voting dust had settled, Steven Stanley from Stage Scene LA was honored as the overall Southern California’s 2019 CRITIC OF THE YEAR.

According to Better Lemons publisher Enci Box, “So much energy is put on attracting theater critics, reviewers and writers; we decided it was time to put the spotlight on them and to thank them for the work they do in celebrating Southern California’s creative community. This is the first time we have conducted a poll to select the best of the best, and we were overwhelmed by the response.”

Critics who register with Better Lemons, called “Registered Critics," post their own review excerpts to the site's production pages for shows running throughout Southern California. They also give each production a “Sweet,” “Sweet and Sour” or “Sour” LemonMeter rating.

In 2019, Better Lemons had 46 registered critics and 1200 registered productions. Out of these productions, 336 were recognized as “Sweet” by Southern California’s theater critics.

Better Lemons is Southern California’s only theater review site with a LemonMeter rating, and it is also Southern California’s #1 event calendar. Producers and publicists can register their productions for free on the site. Once a production has received a minimum of three reviews from audience members or critics, the listing will receive a LemonMeter rating and become eligible for the year-end “Best of Show Awards.”


THE BETTER LEMONS CRITIC OF THE YEAR AWARD FOR 2019 GOES TO...

STEVEN STANLEY - Stage Scene LA

The CRITIC OF THE YEAR Award goes to the critic who has done the most to advance the fine art of theater criticism. This critic sets a standard for partnering with the artists who bring LA theatre to life and the audiences that LA theatre serves.

Congratulations to Steven from all of us!

Steven Stanley is the editor of StageSceneLA.com and he is also the author of Moroccan Roll, available at Amazon.com.

Steven has been an ESL instructor in the English Language Program (formerly the American Culture And Language Program) at California State University, Los Angeles since 1979.

In the early 1970s, Steven Stanley taught English at Lycée Ibn Sina in Beni-Mellal, Morocco—an experience which led him to write Moroccan Roll (2007, iUniverse) , a multiple-plot novel which has received favorable comparison to Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City and TV’s Sex In The City.

Steven Stanley’s love for theater began at an early age, as a young audience member at L.A. Civic Light Opera productions. In 1993, he returned to acting for the first time since a number of teenaged appearances with a featured role in The Pajama Game at the San Gabriel Civic. This was followed by numerous appearances on Los Angeles area stages including the Lillian Theatre, the Actor’s Group Theatre, the Stephanie Feurie Studio Theatre, the Gardner Stages, the Sierra Madre Playhouse, and the Whittier Center Theatre.

StageSceneLA.com debuted in August of 2007, just as Steven Stanley was concluding two years as an Ovation Awards voter, during which time he attended and voted on over 375 productions. Each September, StageSceneLA.com presents the Scenies to the finest Southern California theater talents.

To view all of Steven's review excerpts, visit his Better Lemons page HERE.

To view all the Registered Critics on Better Lemons who post their own review excerpts and give each show a LemonMeter rating, go to Better-Lemons.com/Registered-Critics.

All Registered Critics write theater and art reviews for their own publications and then rate registered shows on our website and add their LemonMeter rating. Please contact them through their own website to congratulate them and to get them to review your production.

And here are the previously announced 2019 Critic Award winners:

THE BETTER LEMONS "FOMENTER OF REVOLUTION" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Ed Rampell from Hollywood Progressive.

THE BETTER LEMONS "NAME DROPPER" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Jill Weinlein from Onstage Blog.

THE BETTER LEMONS "SAY WHAT" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Lorenzo Marchessi from The Geek Authority.

THE BETTER LEMONS "SILVER TONGUE" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Vanessa Cate from Stage Raw.

THE BETTER LEMONS "DIRECTOR" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Ernest Kearney from TheTVolution.

THE BETTER LEMONS "UP LATE" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Eric Gordon from People's World.

THE BETTER LEMONS "THEATRE HOUND" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Shari Barrett from Broadway World.

THE BETTER LEMONS "I LOVE LA" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Paul Myrvold from Paul Myrvold Theatre Notes.

THE BETTER LEMONS "ENLIGHTENMENT" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Deborah Klugman from Stage Raw.


Award-winning director Katharine Farmer Returns to the Rubicon

Carey Crim's west coast premiere Never Not Once plays at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura February 5 through 23 for a three week engagement only. Award winning British director Katharine Farmer will helm the production. In our conversation she talks about the play, her cast and just how enriching it is to work at the Rubicon.

Discuss the complexities of Never Not Once and your challenges as the director.

KF: Never Not Once is as complicated as you want it to be. It can simply be watched as a family drama, or it can trigger a conversation that is longer than the play itself about identity and whether we are more than the simple sum of the choices that we, and others, make. I hope that the play will give our audiences the option to think, and if we have all done our job correctly, audiences will feel compelled to care.

The central challenge to directing and staging the play has been to capture and convey the haunting humanity that definitely exists in the plot and its characters, but lives just as much between the words as it does within them.

What is the message of the play? How does it stand apart from other dramas about dysfunctional families?

KF: We are living in an era of self, but it is not obvious that this is making us any happier. Likewise, science is evermore confident that it is providing us with answers, but is it making us any smarter about which questions really matter?

The message of Never Not Once is that while trying to understand one’s self is the most natural thing in the world, a focus on “I” should not crowd out an understanding of “us”. This play certainly has it’s fair share of dysfunctionality but the concept of family is less of the problem and more of a solution.

Tell us about your cast and their dynamics.

KF: For everyone in the cast, this is their Rubicon debut!

Sydney Berk is playing Eleanor, the college student who wants to find her father. Sydney trained at LAMDA in the UK and has worked extensively with A Noise Within in LA. Her two mothers are played by Diahnna Nicole Baxter and Melanic Cruz. Diahnna co-created, co-wrote and starred in “SATACRACY 88,” the first web series to win an Emmy Award, and was nominated again the next year. Melanie had a recurring role in HBO’s Big Love and recently was seen on stage as Sara in Lucky Me at Theatre West in Nebraska. Our other two cast members are Issac Cruz, who was recently involved with the multi-theatre homeless support production of Homeward LA for the second consecutive year, and Michael Polak who’s theatre credits include The Illusion at North Coast Repertory Theatre and Doubt at International City Theatre.

Working with this fantastic cast has been a pleasure. They have always approached rehearsals with a focus, passion, and openness that really serves the play.

Two moms and a daughter searching for her father. Is it a lesbian couple or does that bring about a spoiler alert?

KF: A lesbian couple are at the centre of the play and yet the play is not about lesbianism. Allison and Nadine have created a truly loving home, thereby ticking the “nurture” box. Their daughter Eleanor feels the need to find her father to fully understand her genetic heritage, in order to tick the “nature” box. This need would be every bit as essential if her mother was in a heterosexual relationship. The lesbian relationship brings it greater clarity, intensity and poignancy. Separately I think that it will constitute progress for the LGBTQIA+ community when characters in drama are from that community without the plots of those dramas implying that their sexual orientation is all that defines them.

Talk about the other plays you have directed at the Rubicon. Do you have a favorite?

KF: Asking me what my favourite show is is like asking me to pick my favourite child: I have loved them all. I will always remember Last Train to Nibroc as my first professional directing experience. I will always be proud of South Pacific for the courage it took to put a twist on one of the great classics of musical theatre. But to answer your question, Gulf View Drive was my favorite, for its sense of closure for both the characters and the audience who’d followed May and Raleigh’s journey for three years.

You have won many awards. How does that make you feel about working at the Rubicon?

KF: Karyl Lynn Burns and James O’Neil are the best mentors that a young director could hope for and the Rubicon is so much more than just a venue. From the “Friends of Rubicon” to the staff and volunteers, Karyl Lynn and Jim have created a loving, caring and support structure for creatives of all ages and in my case, all nationalities. Rubicon is a shining example of excellence in regional theatre on a global scale. When it comes to awards, they are a much appreciated blessing that I would rather not dwell too much upon. My focus and priority is that my next audience will enjoy my next show.

Back to Never Not Once. Does the play come to the Rubicon intact or have there been changes since it premiered at Jeff Daniels' theatre?

KF: I first read the play in 2016 and loved it since inception. We have made a few small changes to the script since its production at the Purple Rose Theatre, but it’s very much been a case of evolution not revolution. I have always been in awe of Carey Crim’s gift for natural dialogue and compared to other pieces of new writing that I have worked on, much fewer iterations have been required.

(photo credit: Craig Sugden)

Never Not Once plays at the Rubicon Theatre February 5 through 23. The Rubicon Theatre Company is located at 1006 E Main St Ventura, CA 93001

Guest Services: (805) 667-2900