Better Lemons and Theatre West hosted “Meet the Publicists” featuring several of LA's premier publicists for a panel discussion of theatre publicity, marketing, and promotion.
The following publicists were on the panel:
Tim Choy (Davidson & Choy Publicity) DAVIDSON & CHOY PUBLICITY (Press Representatives) resume includes the original Evita through The Book of Mormon and stints with American Ballet Theatre and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Clients include Actor's Gang, Broad Stage, El Capitan Theatre, Ford Theatres, Hollywood Bowl, Lythgoe Pantos, Pasadena Playhouse, Segerstrom Center, Shakespeare Center LA, The Soraya, and Walt Disney Imagineering.
Lucy Pollak (Lucy Pollak Public Relations) Lucy Pollak has been providing publicity services to the Los Angeles arts community for the past 27 years for companies including 24th STreet Theatre, Antaeus Theatre Company, The Echo Theater Company, Fountain Theatre, International City Theatre, L.A. Theatre Works, Latino Theater Company at the LATC, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Padua Playwrights, Theatre Planners, Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum; numerous independent theater and dance productions; and large events and festivals such as the annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration at The Music Center.
From 1981 to 1990, she was production manager/staff producer at the Odyssey Theatre, where she co-produced over 100 productions with artistic director Ron Sossi.
She is the recipient of a Los Angeles Drama Critic's Circle Award (Master Class), an LA Weekly Award (Mary Barnes), four Drama-Logue Awards (Mary Barnes, Idioglossia, Accidental Death of An Anarchist, It's A Girl!), and a Women in Theatre Recognition Award. She has served on the boards of directors of the Los Angeles Theatre Alliance (now L.A. Stage Alliance), Women in Theatre and P.A.T.H. (Performing Arts Theatre for the Handicapped).
PHILIP SOKOLOFF has been a publicist for 24 years. He represents over 100 live attractions and several dozen feature films annually. His long-term clients include Theatre 40, Edgemar Center for the Arts, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Robey Theatre Company, Arena Cinelounge, Dean Productions and more.He is a member of the Public Relations Society of America. He has also produced for stage and television and has been an actor for 49 years.
Lynn Tejada (Green Galactic) For 25 years, Green Galactic Founder Lynn Tejada has been the go-to publicist in Los Angeles for alternative art and culture producers, representing clients on a local, regional, national, and international scale. Since 1994, her promotions and client-base has included music of all sorts, theatre, art, film, dance, and more.
Tejada is also drawn to helping charities and nonprofit clients – she currently sits on the board of Linda Carmella Sibio's Bezerk Productions, Dance Camera West and on the advisory board of Lauren Segal's Give A Beat. She is also on the Honorary Board of Flea's Silverlake Conservatory of Music and sat on the board of humanitarian nonprofit NextAid for many years.
I’ve never been big on social theatre. Not that I don’t think that theatre can and sometimes should make people think, but I’m a classicist who believes in subtlety. No one ever changed their mind about much of anything by being hit over the head, or force fed with a message. The best way to affect social change through performance is doing a show containing those “ah-ha” moments that strike audience members on their drive home from the theater. The classic masters were – well – masters at this.
Aristophanes sent a message of peace to his fellow Athenians, while highlighting the power of the feminine force through humorous metaphor with his “Lysistrata” without losing its entertainment value by drilling home his message to the populace.
Shakespeare was able to make his point about anti-Semitism by giving Shylock his famous speech, wrapped inside a mostly comic play he knew would appeal to his audience. In fact he almost pandered to their views, and then sort of snuck his message in under the radar. He does this equally well in tragic terms with “Othello,” adding another layer of subtlety by making “the savage Moor” the most eloquent and intelligent speaker in the play, perhaps the entire canon.
Sophocles used a dressing of anti-tyranny for his fellow democratic Athenians to sneak in his messages regarding loyalty to a higher power and the bonds of family over government and society when he wrote “Antigone.” Jean Anouilh used the classic Greek tragedy 2,385 years later to sneak those messages past the Nazi regime in occupied France.
Moliere used his comedies to take stabs at hypocrites of all sorts, and though he was regularly condemned by the religious, political, and medical profession leaders of his time because his attacks hit them too close to home, he was popular with the public who consumed his works with fervor. He wrote 31 of the 85 plays performed at the theatre in the Palais-Royal in Paris over a 14 year period. In today’s modern French, a tartuffe is a hypocrite, and a harpagon is a greedy miser – names of two of Moliere’s most famous characters that have now become part of the French lexicon. How’s that for making an impact?
Too many of today’s playwrights lack the creative subtlety to send their social message to an unsuspecting audience. Instead they write directly to the audience they already have. They preach to the choir. This does not affect any social change. It convinces no one of anything. It merely creates an echo chamber of like-minded people congratulating themselves and each other for sharing the same view – often a tunnel vision view. There is nothing clever about that, and thus not very interesting. It may have some entertainment value, but it isn’t opening new minds to new points of view. If anything, it only pushes potential new audiences away. In essence, a hammer head message accomplishes the exact opposite of what social theatre should be aimed at doing – opening the message to new minds through subtlety.
Much of today’s social theatre is a result of social theatre, in that a group of like-minded friends get together and say: “let’s put on a play!” The play is their social outlet, not unlike a bowling league or softball team. Rehearsals become a place to hang out with friends, and performances become not much more than a precursor to socializing at a local bar or house party. The audience is composed of friends and family members like the backyard productions we used to put on for our parents as kids. Any social message contained in the material actually takes a back seat to the true intent of the gathering: maintaining a social calendar for the participants. It’s a “play” date for grown-ups.
All of that is fine indeed. As I mentioned, some people join bowling leagues, others join softball teams. Some people form book clubs, knitting circles, and model airplane societies. We are social animals, and we like to surround ourselves with like-minded people who share our same interests. The difference is in the professed intent. I’ve never heard of a knitting circle with a “mission” to affect social change through the scarves and beanies they create.
On occasion, the casual hobbyist can turn their past time into some extra dollars. I know several people who place their creations on Etsy, E-bay, or other sites to make a little money by sharing their artistic hobby with others. Unlike actors, very few of these people profess to be aspiring to a career in their chosen social outlet or hobby. People who knit just aren’t that pretentious. Either that, or they have a keener sense of their own realities.
If you are an actor, it is time to examine your reality. Is your social theatre truly reaching the unenlightened masses? Is your social theatre just social theatre, filling your nights and weekends with play dates - or are you truly working toward that career by doing projects that either increase your aptitude, strengthen your skills, advance your professional network, or get you seen by a greater audience?
Have fun. It’s called a play for a reason. But if you’re just playing around with friends, then call it what it is, and build a career doing something else. No subtlety here.
So many of us in this industry wear a lot of hats. Most of us have multiple descriptors after our names in our email signatures, social media bios, and website home page descriptions. “Steven Sabel, producer, director, designer, actor, writer, podcaster, and publicist.” Sheesh! Pick one already!
The truth is, many of us wear many hats in order to keep our options open and appear more desirable to potential employers. We say, “I can do that too!” with each of our descriptors. We are all trying to make it in the industry, and many of us do not really care which of our many talents gets us in the door: actor, singer, dancer, writer, director, stage manager, whatever it takes. The other side of that is we have to make a living. Many of us wear multiple hats because that is the only way we can pay the bills – picking up whatever gigs we can to add to the proverbial piggy bank however we are able.
There is also a risk to this. If your focus is spread too thin, you cannot apply yourself and talents fully to succeeding at any one thing. You’re an actor. You want to make big block buster movies someday. But you’re also a comedian. You love improv, you take your improv classes, you work on your stand-up routine, because you want to be on a popular sitcom someday. You’re also a writer. You love sketch comedy, and you write your own comic material because you want to be on “Saturday Night Live” someday. You’re also a burlesque dancer. You take your pole dancing classes, perfect your music choices, rehearse your routines, and spend your late nights titillating people into humorous desire. You’re busy! You’re doing all you can to make it. You’re wearing every hat you can think of – including that restaurant server hat you have to wear 20 hours a week to add to that piggy bank.
Here are the hats you are not wearing: business manager, publicist, webmaster, social media marketer, and overall executive director of your potential career. If you aren’t spending that 20 hours per week on these facets of your success, the only thing you will succeed at is being a good hat rack for your many choices of head wear.
As a producing artistic director, I know this far too well. My fellow producers, producing artistic directors, executive directors, managing artistic directors, artistic managing producer directors, and the like, will raise their voices in a silent cheer here as I write this self-aggrandizing truth: Nobody wears more hats than we do. While you are studying your lines, we are studying the bottom line, serving as accountants to our respective theatre organizations. While you are at improv class, we are improvising with available materials to design a set that will work for the show. While you are writing your sketch comedy, we are writing press releases to send to media outlets. While you are rehearsing your next dance routine, we are dancing around questions of financial viability, potential liability, and actors’ reliability.
In addition to being an artistic leader, the producer/director must also often times just be a boss. On our minds at any given time are not just the artistic aspects of the project we are working on, but the business semantics of every decision involved. Our brains are constantly crowded with issues of finances, venue constraints, insurance policies, website updates, social media content, publicity, ticket sales, missing props, washing costumes, developing patrons, juggling schedules, coordinating designers, and a plethora of other responsibilities, including selecting the next project to do it all, all over again.
The producer/director/actor is an absolute crazy person. If you still have your wits about you, adding the actor hat to the mix will definitely drive you over the edge of sanity. It is also a risk that wearing the actor hat on top of the multitudinous head wear of the producer/director will foster a deep seeded resentment toward those who only have to learn their lines, show up to rehearsal, and “play” their parts. Producer/director/actor types would welcome the luxury of delving into their creative process as only an actor, without the weighty heaviness of their positions of leadership. Most of us can’t even remember what it is like to be at a rehearsal with only one task ahead of us – act your part.
Producing/directing isn’t for everyone. I have tremendous respect for those who have tried it and walked away (in some cases run away…screaming), and never looked back at the prospect of ever doing it again. I secretly chuckle at those who say they want to try it – many of them with what business leaders call the “field of dreams” model in their minds, or what marketers refer to (ironically) as the “black box” of their consumerism – but I always encourage them to go forward with their plans. One more producer/director, no matter how short-lived, is one more person who understands how difficult it is to do the job, let alone to do it successfully.
Nonetheless, each and every artist must learn to wear some of these hats concurrently for the advancement of their own careers. I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again: You have to do the work to get the work! If you find that you just cannot juggle your actor/comedian/writer/burlesque interests while also fulfilling the aspects of business manager and promoter for all four pursuits, then you have to pick and choose which hats you can successfully wear.
The truth of the matter is that most people just don’t have heads large enough to wear that many hats. A recent stint on stage in a production of “Henry IV,” served as a great reminder to me that even my head is a poor hat rack for too many chapeaus, and I suffered to find the level of concentration I needed to focus on the hat (crown) worn by my character. It was profoundly frustrating. Thankfully I had a director for the project who understood my plight, and did his best to take some of my hats off of my head so I could play my part.
Even still, you learn you can put the hats on. It is difficult to take them off when you want to. You can’t help but worry about how actors are handling their props, keeping actors from eating in costume, making sure ticket sales are up to par, facilitating house management, negotiating details with the venue, promoting the show, and a myriad of other producer duties that just don’t go away because you got the itch to get back on stage and want to be just an actor for a while. It’s tough.
So to all of those out there who are juggling their millinery, especially my fellow producer/director/actor friends: My hat’s off to you! To the rest: time to choose the correct tam o'shanter for your noggin…
Soaring Solo Artist Award Squeeze My Cans by Cathy Schenkelberg
Dear Jeff by Callie Ott
Mr. Yunioshi by Jonathan Cho Mandy Picks A Husband by Amanda Broomell
The One-Man Improvised Musical by Conor Hanney
On Saturday, July 13, from 10 am until 12 noon, Better Lemons and Theatre West will be hosting “Show Me the Money!” with some of LA’s premiere theatrical producers sharing their fundraising success stories and secrets.
This is a great opportunity for LA’s vast theatrical community to grapple with the full spectrum of strategies for funding a production, from sponsors, advertisers, and membership campaigns to grants, solicitations, and gala events.
“Whose job is it to raise the money?"
“What are some long-term strategies for establishing funding for an entire season?”
“Are there individuals or organizations that are motivated to support local theatre and how do we find them?”
“How do we get support from the local community, from the city, from the county, from the state?”
The “Show Me the Money!” workshop will be a panel discussion and a conversation with the audience to address specific situations and opportunities.
All of the panelists are producers with a diverse background of fundraising experience, from attracting wealthy benefactors to leveraging public funds.
Confirmed Producers on the Panel:
ANDREW CARLBERG - Named by Variety as one of “Hollywoodʼs New Leaders,” Carlberg is an Academy Award-winning film, television, new media, Broadway and Los Angeles stage producer. Andrew’s extensive credits include, but aren’t limited to, ABC’s Castle, DirecTV’s Full Circle, Broadway’s Romeo and Juliet and Side Show, the Neil LaBute penned feature films Some Girl(s) and Dirty Weekend, actress Jennifer Morrison’s feature directorial debut Sun Dogs (Netflix 2018), the 2018 Official Sundance Selection The Blazing World, Celebration Theatre’s Ovation Award-winning productions of The Color Purple: The Musical, The Boy From Oz, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the cult hit improv-based show The Blind Date Project, and the critically-acclaimed and award-winning LA premiere of Rotterdam at the Skylight Theatre (which was subsequently remounted at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre).
This past fall Andrew completed production on the feature film The Pleasure of Your Presence (starring Alicia Silverstone, Mathilde Ollivier and Tom Everett Scott), and produced the Los Angeles return production of Tony winner Sarah Jones's smash hit Sell/Buy/Date (The Renberg Theatre at the LA LGBT Center).
Carlberg also produced Skin, which won the 2019 Academy Award for Live Action Short Film.
Andrew is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, an alum of Film Independent’s Fast Track Producing Fellowship and New York’s Independent Filmmaker Project, and an event producer for the I Have a Dream Foundation - Los Angeles and the National Breast Cancer Coalition.
FRIER McCOLLISTER is an independent theatrical producer and general manager based in Los Angeles. Most recently, he served as producer on Sandra Tsing Loh’s holiday hit Sugar Plum Fairy at The Skylight Theatre in December. He will co-produce the show with East West Players in December of this year.
He served as Associate Producer for the South Coast Repertory production of the show in 2017 as well as for SCR’s production of Ms. Loh’s The Madwoman in the Volvo and its subsequent productions at Pasadena Playhouse and Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
He has produced the west coast premieres of all Ms. Loh’s solo performance pieces beginning with Aliens in America and Bad Sex with Bud Kemp at the Tiffany Theatre and more recently The Bitch is Back (Broad Stage/ Eyde).
With Joel Viertel, he is the original producer of the hip hop dance hit GROOVALOO. He has served as general manager on a wide range of commercial productions in Los Angeles, notably The Vagina Monologues (Canon Theatre); Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe (Ahmanson Theatre); Eric Idle’s Rutlemania! (Montalban; Blender NYC); and Pee Wee’s Playhouse (Club Nokia). As general manager, he operated the Coronet Theatre (now Largo at The Coronet) and The Falcon Theatre (now The Garry Marshall Theatre) and served as Managing Director of the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. Prior to arriving in Los Angeles in 1994, he served as company manager on a variety of Broadway and off Broadway productions and toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe.
SPIKE DOLOMITE is the executive director of Theatre West. She has a 20 year background in arts nonprofit management. She started her own nonprofit, Arts in Education Aid Council, which got the arts back into San Fernando Valley public schools.
Her producer credits include producing the Valley Wide Student Art Show and Family Arts Festival for 10 years in a row (the audience doubled every year until it hit 5,000), the Valley Artists Studio Tour, the Reseda Open Studio Tour, Reseda Rocks Again for the Reseda Neighborhood Council, and Ian Ruskin in To Begin the World Again – the Life of Thomas Paine, and From Wharf Rats to Lords of the Docks, at both Emerson UUC and Theatre West, The Vagina Monologues directed Emmalinda MacLean at Emerson UUC, Tom Dugan’s Wiesenthal at Theatre West, and coming up in July a reading of Twelve Angry July by twelve Los Angeles attorneys.
Spike has received personal recognition from the City of Los Angeles on several occasions for her advocacy in supporting the arts in the San Fernando Valley and was one of the very first Community Champions for the Annenberg Foundation’s Alchemy program, mentoring nonprofit leaders on how to build stronger boards.
Spike also has a long background in grassroots community organizing and is using those skills to bring people together in the LA theatre community to brainstorm, share best practices and pass on fundraising tips!
STEFANIE LAU is is an arts administrator specializing in marketing, fundraising, and audience development with almost 20 years of experience in Los Angeles theatre. She is a co-founder and Producing Artistic Leader of Artists at Play, a theatre company dedicated to telling the stories of underrepresented communities, with a focus on the Asian American experience. Her work with Artists at Play includes mainstage productions, new play development, fundraisers and other special events. Stefanie previously worked at Center Theatre Group, East West Players and the Ford Amphitheater, among others. She has been part of Cold Tofu Improv since 2003 in numerous capacities: student, producer, managing director, board member and current marketing manager. A graduate of UCLA, Stefanie sits on the national board of the Consortium of Asian American Theatres and Artists. Twitter @MsStefanieL
MONIKA RAMNATH is the Development Manager at Ford Theatres, formerly at East West Players.
Here it is, as promised. The auditions version of some of the strangest, most outlandish, and downright horrible things I have seen. In preface, after producing and/or directing 138 productions, I have watched thousands of auditions. Some simple math puts it at around 10,000 monologues I have witnessed. Many of them were well prepared, well delivered, and led to many great casting choices. Many did not. O, the things that I have seen…
As I wrote at the end of last month’s column, I think I’ll lead with the guy with the banana. There I was conducting auditions in the theatre of a favorite colleague of mine, watching slates and monologues, taking notes, and shuffling head shots. A young actor came into the room looking disheveled, in a 90s grunge sort of way, with his hair in his face, and his hands in his pockets. He slated. I honestly don’t remember his name. He told us what his monologue was from - a film script, if I recall – and he began. Midway through, he reaches into his pocket, pulls out a banana, takes a giant bite, peel and all, and tosses the rest on floor. My colleague, who has a very strict rule about food in his theatre, almost leaped from his chair. The kid finished his monologue, picked up his banana, and left. That’s when my colleague turned to me and said: “What the (*#@$) was that?”
It's bananas to bring props into an audition!
Needless to say: Don’t bring props to an audition. In fact it is best to choose audition monologues that have no need for props. It is just never effective to “pretend” to be on the phone, or to “need” to look through your purse during a monologue. It isn’t it a comedy sketch. It’s an audition monologue. Don’t make it about the props. Make it about you and your talent delivering the text with emotional truth, not faking it with a prop. Besides, don’t forget props hate people. You don’t want to bring a potential adversary into the audition room with you.
The only prop I have ever seen used effectively in an audition is a simple piece of paper or a book. The best use of a piece of paper I have seen has been as a “note” for Julia’s monologue from “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” That piece can be a very effective piece for auditioning for a classical comedic role, if it is executed well. That requires plenty of rehearsal with plenty of pieces of paper, and even then, you are taking a risk that the prop won’t cooperate the way you want it to in the audition room.
Worse than props, are costumes. Yes, I’ve seen plenty of costumed auditions. I have had actors called from the lobby to the audition room who had to scramble in from the restroom because they were changing into their costume. From period clothing to Halloween attire, each and every time an actor comes into audition wearing a costume, it makes me think of that famous story about Sean Young and Cat Woman. Epic. Legendary. Infamous. Don’t do it. I really don’t need to see you in tights to learn whether or not you can deliver effective classical text in character.
Here’s a piece of paper you definitely don’t want to walk into the audition room with in your hands: the text of your monologue. If you don’t have it memorized, stop wasting everyone’s time. It’s not a side you have just been handed. It’s supposed to be your well-chosen, properly thought out, fully rehearsed, and peer reviewed best foot forward work. If you can’t come into the audition room off book, then don’t come into the audition room at all.
It saddens me to recollect how many times I have watched an actor walk into the room with their monologue on a sheet of paper in their hands, but this one takes the cake. Once I had an actress come into the audition room with several sheets of paper stapled together. There were visible pencil scribblings and highlight markings on the pages, and it was evident that it was some pages of a script. After the actress slated, and I asked her what she was going to perform, she handed me script, and asked if I would read in the other characters for her to perform the scene she had prepared for the audition.
“I don’t know any monologues,” she told me. “But I know this scene from a play I was in at my college. It’s on my resume.” And so it was, but I wasn’t about to become her scene partner for the evening. Unbelievable.
Here’s a good hint: Look like your head shot. I can’t tell you how many double takes and triple takes I have had in an audition room while holding a head shot in my hands, but looking at someone completely different standing in front of me. Don’t be the cause of double takes. Come in looking as close to the head shot you submitted as you possibly can. Once we had a trans-gendered person submit a very male head shot, but then arrived to the audition in very female appearance. The actor told us they could “change back” if necessary for the role. Now that’s an extreme example, but if your head shot shows you with blonde hair, and you decided last week you wanted to become a brunette for a while; well then you better get new head shots.
As I have admitted in this column before, my head shot is way outdated, and I am way over due for a new one, except that I so hardly ever use my head shot, that I just haven’t made it a priority. I don’t have time to audition for other people’s projects. I’m a producing artistic director. I barely have time to get on stage at all, and when I do, I pay for it dearly. But that’s another column for another day.
Clothing. O, boy, the clothing. I’ve seen three-piece suits, pant suits, and zoot suits. I’ve seen shorts, shorter shorts, and “Dear Lord, what were you thinking” shorts. There have been jumpers, rompers, and overalls; baggy pants, skinny jeans, and jeans of every color. I have seen dresses, gowns, and skirts of every length, as well as shirts, blouses, tops, and sweaters of every sort. I once had an actress come in wearing a bikini top, and I’ve seen muscle shirts galore. Please just remember this great word of advice we were all taught by early acting teachers and coaches: dress like it is an important job interview. Great practice, but with this caveat: make sure you are comfortable, and make sure you can make proper physical choices in what you are wearing. I’ve seen more than one breast flop out of a top during a vigorous call back.
Take off your coat or jacket, no matter how cold it is in the audition room. I have seen so many auditions destroyed by a heavy coat or constricting jacket. On occasion I have stopped actors to ask them to remove theirs coats and start their monologue over again. I want to see you physicality as an actor. It’s called “acting,’ and it is 90 percent what you do. Only 10 percent what you say. But you can’t effectively say anything, if you can’t do what you need to do as an actor. And you can’t do that underneath a heavy coat, unless you are in the cast of “Almost Maine,” or something like it.
As more and more casting directors turn to video submissions for their first round of auditions, the landscape for audition monologues will continue to change. Just as you should have at least four worthy monologues prepared and available to you at any given time (comedic contemporary, dramatic contemporary, comedic classical, dramatic classical), it is a good idea to line up a good camera with a good operator, book some time, and have all four of your monologues recorded to video files you can easily share or upload for any audition. Don’t wait until it is asked for, and then you have to scramble to find a friend through social media posts to help you with your “self-tape” by holding your smart phone for you while you recite your monologue. Plan ahead. Select the proper back drop, the proper lighting, the proper clothing. Clean yourself up. Prepare for the shoot date. Do a practice run, and look at the footage. Make corrections. Do a final cut, and have them all in digital files on the desktop of your computer, ready and waiting to land you that call-back.
Or you can just walk into the audition room with a banana….
Last month I briefly mentioned some of the outlandish experiences I have had as a producer/director and actor. As I consistently hold true, I never say I have seen it all, because that is the best way to have the theatre Fates send you something new and beyond belief. However, my column last month left readers asking for some specific awkward events of craziness, ridiculous bouts of ego, stunning unprofessional behavior, and unheard of incidents hard to believe, but nonetheless true.
I hesitate to refer to the following tales as “my favorites,' for some of them still make me shudder to retell. Some have become nothing more than humorous anecdotes – as time has a way of turning dramatic incidents into comedic episodes, especially in our industry. I will start by stating that all names have been redacted, and some details left out in order to protect the guilty.
My tales begin with triplets. Many moons ago, I was directing a production of “Much Ado About Nothing.” The actress cast as the lead, Beatrice, told us she was shooting a commercial in a European country for the first week of the 8-week rehearsal process. We worked around her until she returned. Three weeks before opening, she came to ask that all of her blocking be changed and her costumes altered to adjust for her pregnancy with triplets. It turned out that she hadn't actually been shooting a commercial, but was instead at a fertility clinic the week she was gone. She told us she accepted the role knowing she was going to be inseminated that week. In case the pregnancy didn't take, she said, she would have the role of Beatrice to work on to ease her disappointment. Despite the very high-risk nature of her now revealed triple pregnancy, and doctor's orders to stick to strict bed rest to insure the success of all three children, this actress insisted she wanted to continue in the role. Huge risk. Giant liability. Complete insanity. I replaced her.
“Postmortem,” by Ken Ludwig, is a favorite play of mine. I have done the show several times, but the first time was decades ago when I was playing the role of Bobby. Throughout the rehearsal process, we had some troubles with our leading man. Nobody was quite sure what was going on with him – hot and cold from night to night with regards to lines and blocking. On the final Friday performance of a four weekend run, I arrived to the theatre to be taken aside by the director who informed me that she thought the leading man “might have been drinking.”
He was plastered! He could barely speak coherently. He was staggering around backstage, and hugging everyone. A call to the president of the theatre organization resulted in a “show must go on” response. The stage manager brewed some strong coffee, and somebody had a box of See's Candy that they started force-feeding him to get his blood sugar up. It was a disaster. He missed his first entrance, leaving us stuck on stage to adlib. When his lines did come out, they were barely understandable. A special intermission had to be called after the first scene. He started getting angry. He accused us all of sabotaging his performance, before we realized that in his drunken mind, he was doing and saying everything perfectly…. I laugh about it now, but it was a nightmare when it happened.
Alcohol has been a culprit in a few instances in my book of tales. Once I had two actresses leave the theatre in the middle of the performance to go to the bar next door to tie one on together. They came back tipsy and sloppy, and then caused another actor to miss his entrance due to their distracting antics back stage. It is never a good idea to leave the theater in the middle of a performance, even if your scenes are all completed or your character is dead. “I'll come back in time for curtain call” can be famous last words. I once had an actor find himself locked out of the building. He had to wave through the door to catch the attention of actors on the stage to send someone around to unlock the door for him.
Then there was that time an actress actually left mid-performance to finish a phone call that had made her nearly an hour late to call time in the first place. Apparently a guy who knew a guy who worked with a guy who knew a guy who once saw Steven Spielberg in a crowded room wanted to introduce her to the guy who knew this guy. She directly told her fellow actors they would have to take over her lines in the further scenes of the play, and out the door she went to take advantage of this “tremendous opportunity.” No word on her upcoming roles in any Spielberg films….
Another locked door in a nontraditional venue once caused one of my actors to have to run around the entire building to the other side to make his entrance. He came on anxious and out of breath, and it was beautiful to see how realistic the response was from the other actors when he arrived in this condition from the wrong side of the stage. It reminds me of that episode of “Slings and Arrows.”
I once had an actor wear a baseball cap onto the stage during the final dress rehearsal of a classical production at an outdoor venue, because he “was cold” and couldn't find the actual hat he had been given to wear by the costume team. Another time, an actor misplaced his boots, and wore his tennis shoes on stage for an actual performance.
I've seen costume failures galore. Falling dresses and skirts, flying wigs, blown out boot heels, split trousers (it's happened twice to me on stage), uncooperative coats, capes, and cloaks – the list is long. Yet my favorite costume fail of all time is from a production of “Romeo and Juliet,” when the two leads found their costumes literally linked together after the final kiss of the balcony scene. Parting was no sweet sorrow. They couldn't part at all - completely unable to pull themselves apart when his doublet clasp hooked on the laces of her bodice, it seemed to take forever for them to get unhinged. We all came unhinged watching it unfold before us! Hysterical.
From costumes to props. This leads to another classic Sabelism: Props Hate People!
I've worked with some props: A full size guillotine for a production of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” real cars and motorcycles driven onto the stage for various productions, swords and weapons of a wide variety, food of many types, and a giant life-sized trolley for “Meet Me In St. Louis.” Rubber tires were a bad idea. They became a terrible idea when one burst on the stage directly in front of a floor mic, that was a giant boom, and then trolley had to be dragged off the stage by the cast and crew.
I've had blood effects spray the crowd when we didn't want them to. I've had black powder flash pots smoke and smolder, and clear the entire audience in coughing fits. I've had guns that wouldn't fire, and swords broken at the hilt. There have been doors that refused to open, doors that wouldn't stay shut, pictures that have fallen off of walls, and walls that have fallen down. Once I had two actors get so into a combat sequence, one of them literally put a hole in the back wall of the theater with his rump.
Through 128 productions and more than 25 years as a producer/director, I have worked with more than 2,000 actors – technically a small sampling, when you consider you can throw a baseball in this town and easily hit 2,000 actors in one shot. This is why I know I have yet to see it all, but I sure have seen a lot. This is just a scratch on the surface of the tales of what I have seen. Stay tuned for next month's column: “To See What I have Seen: The Auditions.” I think I'll lead with the guy with the banana…..
Sherman Wayne is a lifelong participant in nearly every aspect of the production and performance of live theater, from stage management, to directing, set building, and teaching. Most famously, he was the stage manager of The Fantastiks on Broadway for five years. Wayne is 83 years old and he shows no signs of slowing down.
Currently, he is all-hands-in-all-pots at Theatre Palisades production of CLYBOURNE PARK, having built the set, wrangled volunteers to help change it at intermission (five people are needed to transform the entire set from the 1950s to the 2000s at intermission for each performance), co-producing the show (with Martha Hunter), AND stepping in as director when Tony Torrisi fell ill with pneumonia and was hospitalized, also while two actors had to be replaced — just two weeks before opening night!
“The other day I came here at 10 o'clock in the morning because my lighting man is here and I want to talk to him about lighting." he says as he describes a typical day during rehearsals. "And I left here at 11 o'clock at night after rehearsal, which means I got stuff out of the refrigerator, cooked up something in the microwave.”
“I'm very lucky. Knock on wood!" he adds. "I've had my problems (with my health), but I've been able to overcome them. I moved from Torrance to the Palisades, so I didn't have to take the 405. I live about a half a block down the street from the theater now. I walk here which makes it much easier. I'm the kind of guy that says if you do it, you do it. I said I would build the set. And I told Tony I would cover for him. So that's what I did.”
When asked about the challenge of the set change in the script, Wayne says: “The way the play is written, the set is a very nice house in the Chicago suburbs in 1959. It gets abandoned, and 50 years later, a couple is trying to buy it, but it's gone to heck! And so, during the intermission, we have to change a nice set to one that's been basically destroyed by squatters or graffiti or whatever. And it's a big job because the author really wants a major change — so both houses are characters in the show!”
When Wayne came to Theatre Palisades, he was looking to direct, but when he was not chosen for that particular play, he offered to build sets instead. Over time, he has built nearly all of the sets, roughly 45 sets in 15 years, and has directed many shows.
“You don't just don't direct, you are a shrink." he adds when asked about directing. "You have to handle the people and help them and encourage them. You need to be a people person!”
Wayne will also direct the next production at Theatre Palisades, LEND ME A TENOR.
Wayne came to Theatre Palisades after a long career that started in high school, where he directed a drama production and he also put on variety shows at his local church. Wayne attended college at San Jose State University, where he majored in Drama and worked as a stage manager during his four years. He also acquired a teaching certificate to ensure he “would always be able to pay the bills.”
“When I got to San Jose State, I auditioned for a show." he recalls. "I did not get it, but the director who was very pragmatic — he just was marvelous — and he wanted to know if I wanted to be a stage manager. I thought, ‘What the heck is that?' But, I did. And from then on, I became the major stage manager at San Jose State University for my four years at college. After graduation, a local director and I then opened a theatre in Sausalito where we presented musicals and plays. Unfortunately San Jose State did not have a management class in theatre, so I didn't know anything. I knew nothing! So, we failed. And then I was broke, living on the Sausalito side of San Francisco. One day, I was in a park and there was a newspaper on a bench, and in there was a help wanted ad for a drama teacher in San Francisco.”
Wayne spent a year teaching drama, but then decided to move to New York, to “see if he could compete with the ‘big boys,'” stopping along the way in Fitchburg, Massachusetts to take stage director jobs in summer stock productions, and where he also began work in set design. Once in New York, Wayne worked in several off Broadway productions and soon, nearly by luck, he was hired as stage manager for The Fantasticks, a dream gig that lasted five years.
“When I moved to New York, I worked very hard and got several jobs as a stage manager Off-Broadway. Another student and I formed a company to supply Off-Broadway producers with technical help. We would supply everything they needed, from directors through lighting people and all that stuff! So I was running around doing stage managing and running this company. Then I was in my attorney's office one day, and the attorney was being told that the general manager of The Fantasticks was being fired. And fortunately the attorney said, ‘hey, I've got a great guy, he's sitting in the lobby.' So I interviewed and got the job.”
Wayne also stage-managed several other shows on and off Broadway. Eventually he decided to move to the West Coast, where he then worked in several “round houses” such as in Anaheim, where the 3,000-seat venues usually had an audience for musicals. Next, he got a job teaching high school, a role he enjoyed for the next 25 years.
When Wayne retired from teaching, he still wanted to keep his hand in theater, which led him to Theatre Palisades.
And so, with Wayne's considerable contributions, Pulitzer-Prize-winning play CLYBOURNE PARK opened at Theatre Palisades on Friday April 5th for a five week run, every Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through May 5th. (Box Office: 310-454-1970)
The play features a complete scene change between acts, as the script tells the story of a neighborhood undergoing demographic change twice, first in the early 50's and then again 50 years later. Like a character aging in the play, the complete set change demonstrates the effects of the decades that lead to the deterioration of the home.
Set building is hard, physical, and demanding work. However, Wayne notes, “Fortunately, we never hammer and nail anymore. We just put screws in, so that the wood won't split. One of my things here is, of course I reuse stuff. I've got a whole storage area which is packed full. I get a lot of static about storing all of that stuff, but I can save hundreds of dollars per show by pulling out or planning with something that I have. For this show, I'm using the same staircase that I used in the last show. We don't tear sets apart, we just try and store them because I can use them again!”
In 1963, Theatre Palisades was founded by three television writers; Ken Rosen, Sheldon Stark, and Jacquie Chester. By 1967, Theatre Palisades had become a community theatre. From 1967 through 1975, the theatre produced shows in various venues including Palisades Park and Rustic Canyon Park as well as a few touring productions around Southern California.
In 1975, Kate Ahrens of the Pacific Palisades Historical Society brought an offer from Lelah and J. Townley Pierson to Theatre Palisades to donate land to build a theatre. Lelah, along with her husband, Townley, donated the property on which the theatre now stands. In November, 1988, just in time for the 25th anniversary of the group, Theatre Palisades opened the new 125 seat theatre, which was named Pierson Playhouse, in honor of Lelah and J. Townley Pierson who had not only generously donated the property but also contributed extensively to the Building Fund. The current busy schedule of Theatre Palisades includes five major productions per year, with a run of 18 performances per production. TPYouth produces two shows a year by children for a total of 13 performances a year. The theater also offers chamber music concerts, special shows and membership meetings. Theatre Palisades hosts many Palisades Historical Society presentations throughout the year.
The Pasadena Playhouse has announced that Nancy Griffith Baxter is their new Director of Development, bringing with her more than 30 years of fundraising and wealth management experience.
Previously as Director of Gift Planning at LA Opera, legacy gift contribution revenue increased nine-fold during Baxter's time at the organization. Prior to the LA Opera, she was also recruited by her alma mater, Colorado College, to serve as Director of Gift Planning, pulling the program out of dormancy and growing its Legacy Society significantly towards raising over $15 million during the 2015-2016 fiscal year in new future gifts.
With a master's in Finance from Claremont Graduate University and a bachelor's in Political Science - International Relations at Colorado College, she's also an award-winning one-time Senior V.P. and Senior Philanthropic Investment Manager at Wells Fargo where she oversaw the investment team that brought and influenced $18 billion in charitable assets. With it, Baxter is looking forward to working with her new team at Pasadena's landmark and official State Theater of California.
“It's an honor to work with a dynamic leadership team at an institution with the amazing history and impact that [the] Pasadena Playhouse has had on both the local and national entertainment industry, including theater, film, and television,” said Baxter in a statement. “I look forward to working with the community to ensure the longevity of this amazing theater for another 100 years.”
In addition to coaching and building wealth teams around the US to attract and expand philanthropic business opportunities and clients, recruiting and managing investment management, and developing investment strategies for endowments, deferred gift programs, and private foundations, “a lover of the arts” Baxter also brings with her extensive and continued volunteerism in the performing arts. She has served as a board member with the Colburn School, as well as with LA Opera, Shakespeare Festival/LA (now Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles), Young & Healthy, the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Institute, and Woman's Educational Society of Colorado College.
In 1937, the Pasadena Playhouse was “officially recognized as the State Theater of California for its contribution and commitment to the dramatic arts”. Pasadena Playhouse recently hosted the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards where it recognized excellence in Los Angeles theatre and it continues its own tradition of excellence under Producing Artistic Director Danny Feldman.
"I am thrilled to welcome Nancy to the leadership team as we continue to take the Playhouse in a new and exciting direction,” said Feldman. “I know her wealth of energy and experience will be invaluable to us in garnering support from the Pasadena community and beyond.”
Featured Photo by Freed14, used via Creative Commons permissions, Wikipedia. The Pasadena Playhouse - State Theatre of California.