Female Fusion: Siobhan Dillon

Siobhan Dillon is an astonishing vocal talent. She was “discovered” when she participated in the British Televised Talent Show, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? Though she finished third, she had made her mark, attracting the attention of Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the judges of the show and one of the most prolific composers of modern musical theater.  She made her West End debut in 2007 playing Patty Simcox in Grease and has gone on to star as Molly in Ghost, Ellen in Miss Saigon, Sandy in Grease, Vivienne Kensington in Legally Blonde and Betty in Sunset Boulevard. When the British production of that show moved to Broadway in 2017, Ms. Dillon made her Broadway debut. A move to Los Angeles followed to explore television, film, and to fulfill her dream of living in sunny California. In addition to performing, she has gradually expanded the scope of her voice, both literally and figuratively, to help others through meditation, sound baths and yoga nidra (yoga sleep),which she teaches with her husband Adam Korson.

Luckily for those of us who were not able to catch her on the West End or Broadway, Ms. Dillon just released her first pop album, a stunning collection of covers entitled One Voice. This is not an album review, though I highly encourage you to check it out. It is gorgeous. What is extraordinary about the album, aside from the glorious vocals, is the journey that led to it. While taking British musical theatre by storm, Ms. Dillon fought cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30 in 2015, while performing Ellen in Miss Saigon. While healing, she worked with Breast Cancer Haven, an amazing organization in the UK that supports those fighting the disease. All proceeds from the album benefit the organization. According to Ms. Dillon, “what makes Haven so wonderful is that they are equipped with health care professionals in so many different areas of expertise that they can provide comfort and support for anyone going through the breast cancer struggle. I just felt so strongly about them and the comfort that their charity had brought me that I wanted to say thank you. I didn’t give them a penny during that time, and I think in moments of need, the charities that offer everything for free are the ones who should be celebrated. The tricky thing at this moment is that they can’t continue with their fundraising events as the world is going through this pandemic. I was originally going to continue to support the charity by encouraging people to visit their site and hopefully encourage donations but with everything going on it just felt like the right thing to do to donate all monies to them.”

I asked Ms. Dillon to share her journey, her experience in creating the album and her focus moving forward with life in Los Angeles.

In 2015, Ms. Dillon was just about to open in the West End production of Miss Saigon as Ellen, a role she had long coveted. Just before opening, she discovered a lump during a self examination and her life turned upside down. The lump was malignant. After a few performances, she left the show for treatment. She endured a brutal regime which included surgery, radiation and hormone therapy. During the time between surgery and radiation, she visited California, staying with a friend in Malibu and setting the stage for her future. She did return to the show, but as a changed person. “I had started hormone treatment which effectively switched off my ovaries because the type of cancer I had was all due to hormones - specifically estrogen. So, the doc wanted me to stop producing it which would effectively leave the cancer cells without anything to ‘feed’ on. For anyone who has been through the menopause, you will know all about this. The side effects of reducing that hormone are quite brutal. Panic attacks, depression, hair loss, weight gain, hot sweats... to name a few. It was a challenging time, but while I was sitting on that beautiful California beach, I made a decision that I wanted to push hard to spend time in the US.” She started the process to obtain a green card to work in the US before she returned to London to continue treatment. She found that when she returned to the show, she struggled. “I returned to Miss Saigon to perform and was struggling with being back on stage. I’m not sure what it was exactly but I didn’t have as much fight in me so the nerves returned and it left me wondering if performing on stage was the right thing for me to be doing moving forward….I had always joked as I lifted my eyes to the sky that when the universe took me to perform on Broadway - at that point that I would have just left musical theatre! (It really was as simple as that!) Within weeks I auditioned for Sunset Boulevard and was cast as Betty in the UK production and yep!... we then transferred to New York. I made it to Broadway!” After the show closed that June, she traveled for a few months then made the move to Los Angeles.

Ms. Dillon recorded the first single, She Used to Be Mine, shortly after her recovery process. It seemed to stand in for her entire journey. “I was kind of done with the treatment but was still feeling the waves of what had happened a year earlier. I was petrified that the experience had changed me in a negative way. I was scared of losing something. My fearlessness? Maybe. My naiveté? Probably. I was so scared that people saw me differently. I was scared that my energy had changed, and my light had dimmed.” The song has even more resonance with the current world situation. “This idea of “life slips in through a back door” just really takes the wind out of me every time I hear or sing it, as we get on with living our lives, day to day and suddenly there we are. We find ourselves in places we would never have imagined without noticing it happening.”

One Voice is curated with and produced by Steve Anderson, who has produced the work of more recognizable names that you can count, including 20 years as producer for Kylie Minogue.  The entire album took four years to record. Ms. Dillon says, “both myself and Steve really took our time with this album. We had no idea what it would be or when it would all be complete, but we started anyway. What a wonderfully rare position to be in. It started with Steve asking me to send him a list of ‘Desert Island’ songs, which progressed into ‘the songs that I had always wanted to sing’ which very quickly progressed into ‘the stories that my heart wanted to tell through song.”

Although all of the tracks are gorgeous, Everyone’s Waiting is a standout, both vocally and in what it meant to Dillon to record. “I’d been performing on London stages for almost a decade when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was a few weeks into my contract at The Prince of Wales in Miss Saigon, playing Ellen. I decided to get through my treatment as quickly as possible to get back to the stage and play this iconic role. But when I got back there, I froze. Everything felt different.”  She continues, “I remember stepping onto that stage and it feeling completely different to any other time I had stood on stage before. I was fragile. More sensitive. Things felt different, but I couldn’t work out exactly how. It felt empty and pointless. Nothing about being on the stage excited me. In fact, I just felt uncomfortable.”

This onstage experience led Ms. Dillon to rethink her entire approach to her art and life. “When I stepped back on stage after the treatment, I was quite shocked at how fragile I felt. I took it for granted that I would just walk out there and be focused and hard as nails again. But my hard exterior had really been chipped away and that only really hit me in that moment. My nerves in auditions were through the roof- more so than normal... I think I just wanted to relax! I didn’t like the adrenaline anymore. I think the main reason for this was numerous conversations with my doctor about limiting stressors in my life. He once asked me if I had a stressful life. I said “No! I perform on stage for a living! It’s fun!” He asked me if I ever got butterflies or moments of adrenaline surges... I thought about it for a while and as we talked, I realized that I was constantly feeling these things.”

“The way I live my life has definitely changed. I removed things that were causing me stress. I don’t do things that cause me stress and most importantly I take relaxation incredibly seriously because if the body can't rest, it’s struggling to heal and if the body can’t heal, disease will have a much easier time thriving. So my work in theatre hasn’t stopped- far from it. But my work in meditation and crafting healing sound baths for others has increased. Whenever I can help someone relax to enable them to reach the parasympathetic state, allowing their body to begin to restore and heal itself - I am a happy woman!”

I wanted to take us back to the album for just a moment. The tone of the album is very specific, and though not all of the music is calming or meditative, there is a balance to it that when listened to straight through is very soothing and restorative. Was the idea of sonic healing a part of the process? Was this life path already in motion as she recorded this album? My impression is that it was there, but maybe not intentional. I asked Ms. Dillon directly.  “I think probably you just hit the nail on the head. I think it was subconscious. Steve (Anderson, the producer) is so open himself to artists just going with their flow and he is really a phenomenal support that what actually happened when we started working together that he let me just relax….I heard somewhere a rider who was just told to relax into the saddle like butter…..I love that…... It is kind of like how this process happened. It was kind of a seamless and pain free experience for me, which I can’t say about previous recordings. With Steve, he just allowed me all of the space and time and energy to do what I felt was right and I was able to tap into a part of me that I didn’t even know I had.”

So life in Los Angeles is different, but not entirely divorced from performing. There is a continuity in music, sharing and song. Ms. Dillon was on the Amazon hit show Frankie and Grace this past season. She is absolutely open to the right theatre project or role sweeping her into its fold, but is currently focused on a life of healing, meditation and love. She is deep in study and with her partner Adam, she runs Salus, “a sanctuary space dedicated to creating peace, tranquility and healing.” They are building a new space, using this time to embrace the unknown. She integrates her healing work with her performance and art and is focused on the spiritual rather than commercial side of sound, embodying a Southern California lifestyle. “I am working on meditation music as well as guided meditations specifically designed for self-healing. This, over acting and singing, I have to admit is the thing - at this moment in time - that is getting me out of bed in the morning! That, and the California sunshine of course!!!!!”


Featured photo credit: Adam Korson



Save Your Local Arts District - NoHo Arts District


This is a guest post by Lisa Bianconi


I was born and raised in the Valley and have seen North Hollywood transform from a bit scary (but always fun) to an eclectic, vibrant, creative neighborhood - a real one where folks actually know each other. Back in 2000, my mother and I joined forces to run NoHoArtsDistrict.com, and over the years the theatre owners, visiting companies, acting classes and everyone who uses our theatres have become our friends. When we saw the 18 NoHo Theatres struggling to save their creative homes due to the pandemic shut down, we had to figure out some ways to help.

Together we’ve created “Save NoHo Theatres from COVID-19” Go Fund Me campaign. We are going to do whatever is in our power to keep the NoHo Theatres alive.

As with most LA theatres, the NoHo theatres survive month to month in order to create their shows because they’re not government supported and cannot sustain even a short-term shut down. Without shows, classes, rentals and ticket sales theatres cannot survive. This has an effect on the entire community because without the theatre patrons, actors and crew, restaurants, bars, apartments and other local businesses lose revenue. Without NoHo theatres, there will be no NoHo Arts District.

“Why did residents and businesses move into the area? Because it’s an arts district,” says Nancy Bianconi, publisher of NoHoArtsDisrict.com. “If 18 out of 22 theatres close, this area will have to be called North Hollywood again. Theatres have a huge economic impact on restaurants, bars, apartments, hotels, other creative industries, local businesses, etc.”

Here are the owners of Brews Brothers, one of NoHo’s beloved craft beer bars, who chose their location because of the artsy neighborhood vibe.

But what makes NoHo theatres important to the neighborhood is:

  • NoHo has 22 theatres in one square mile.
  • NoHo had the highest concentration of theatres outside of New York City.
  • NoHo theatres present more than 500 shows per year, including world premieres.
  • NoHo has 35 acting classes held any given night.
  • More than 20,000 people enjoy NoHo's shows throughout the year.
  • NoHo theatres are an economic multiplier for local restaurants, bars, local businesses, etc.

Theatre goers spend on average of extra $32 above the theatre ticket price for dinner, drinks, and retail purchases.

But NoHo wasn’t always how it is today. In the 90s, it was the theatres who helped rebuild the blighted and crime-ridden North Hollywood neighborhood that we now call NoHo. Theatres were the impetus for the creation of the NoHo Arts District and attracted other theatres and creative industry folks as well as new developments, restaurants, bars, apartments, and hotels.

Meet The Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre. They are one of the founding members and longest-running theatre company in the NoHo Arts District.

“As one of the founders of the NoHo Theatre District, I have witnessed the most incredible blossoming of the entire neighborhood,” said Ed Gaynes, owner of three NoHo theatres. “When a few of us began opening theatres in the many empty storefronts, the area was a wasteland. No foot traffic, no shops, practically no restaurants even. The theatres attracted the people, the crowds flowing into our theatres attracted the restaurants, art galleries and shops. Ultimately, it all attracted the flood of new residents who poured into the district.”

But NoHo theatres are more than a place for shows. It is a place to practice your craft and make friends in a city of 10+ million people.

THE BOTTOM LINE
The goal of raising $108,194 will allow theatres to survive into the summer when the productions and audiences return, and NoHo’s entertainment and nightlife scene will be booming again.

WHERE CONTRIBUTIONS GO:
ACME Comedy Theatre, ACME Comedy Club
Actors Workout Studio, Actors Workout Theater B
Avery Schreiber Playhouse
Brick House Theatre
Group Rep Theatre Main Stage, Group Rep Theatre Upstairs
Loft Ensemble Mainstage, Loft Ensemble Sawyer’s Playhouse
Secret Rose Theatre
Theatre 68 Flex, Theatre 68 Main Stage
The Sherry Theater
Theatre Unlimited (T.U. Studios)
The Whitmore-Lindley Theater Center Theatre #1, Whitmore Lindley Theater Center Theatre #2
Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre

ABOUT THE NOHO ARTS DISTRICT
The NoHo Arts District is one of Los Angeles' eclectic and walkable neighborhoods - an enclave of all things artistic. This one-square-mile performing arts community is filled with 20+ live, professional theaters, which is the highest concentration outside of New York City. NoHo is also the hip hop dance capital with studios and choreographers that create the moves we see on TV and in film and all over Instagram. NoHo makes a lot of music and boasts the largest amount of recording studios west of the Mississippi with musicians from all genres having recorded in the district. NoHo was the first neighborhood in the Valley, it has become a Metro hub, and attracts new talent, creative businesses and visitors alike. Visit NoHoArtsDistrict.com for more information.



CONNECT THRU CREATIVITY - APRIL 29 - May 6, 2020

 

Join solo artist Diana Varco (IG @dianavarco) as she leads a daily art therapy exercise to Connect Thru Creativity and draw your feelings into the language of weather!

LIVE at 11am PST on IG @dianavarco

In this 10-15 min experience, you’ll create a snap-shot sketch of your current inner world and also have the freedom to use art to articulate anxiety, frustration, joy, etc - really any emotion under the sun. This exercise is also great to do with loved ones and children to open up dialogue on our own unique and collective experiences during this unprecedented time. Mental health experts agree that being able to label our emotions, helps to support managing mental health.

No need to stick to just weather. Anything goes in your 'Weather Report' - so draw away!

Like weather - emotions can change minute by minute or stay for much longer than we'd prefer. Track your journey by joining Diana daily and writing down the description of your picture afterwards - at the end of stay at home orders, we will have a story of our experience!

This past week for Diana saw complex clouds, the sun and moon acting as stabilizing factors, and the present suspended between a difficult past and hopeful future.

Catch up on the past week of Connect Thru Creativity using the links below:

April 29th:

April 30:

May 1:

May 2:

May 3:

May 4:

May 5:

May 6th:

This art therapy exercise was first taught to Diana at the The Actors Fund - a vital support network for individuals in entertainment. Though Diana is not affiliated with Actors Fund, she remains an ardent supporter of their work. If you’d like to learn more or donate please visit: ActorsFund.org

Mental health matters and you do too! If you need immediate mental health support, contact Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741 (US/Canada) or 85258 (UK) - visit CrisisTextLine.org to learn more.


Diana Varco is an LA based actress, comedian, and storyteller.

Diana is the writer/performer of Shattered - a dark comedy solo show that explores dating, dysfunction, and sexual devastation, as well as the complex path of trauma recovery. Fresh off a 25 show run of Shattered at Edinburgh Fringe, Diana is excited to share her use of the arts to support conversations on mental health! Directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson, Shattered premiered at the 2017 Whitefire Theatre SoloFest and went on to the Hollywood Fringe Festival, Outdoor Voices Festival, United Solo off-Broadway, and LA Women’s Theatre Festival.

Learn more about Diana at DianaVarco.com.
Learn more about Jessica Lynn Johnson and her free solo show class: JessicaLynnJohnson.com.



Save Our Local Theatre - Whitefire Theatre


This is a guest post by Diana Varco


The Whitefire Theatre is a beautiful, 84-seat, state-of-the-art theatre in Sherman Oaks. With the support of Artistic Director Bryan Rasmussen and solo theatre teacher Jessica Lynn Johnson, creator of the Soaring Solo artistic community, hundreds - if not thousands - of people have been able to develop and share their stories at Whitefire Theatre. To me, it's so much more than a theatre - it's an artistic home.

I am one of those performers and am now an internationally touring artist - having completed a 25 show run of my solo show Shattered at The Edinburgh Fringe in 2019. As a result, I also now utilize my story to support discussions on mental health and trauma recovery - two themes I explore in Shattered.

Hands down, I would not have started this journey, had it not been for Whitefire Theatre. Whitefire is where I first saw Kimleigh Smith powerfully perform her critically acclaimed solo show T-O-T-A-L-L-Y about transforming her trauma; and, with Kimleigh's loving support, I slowly started to write about transforming mine. Whitefire is where I made the leap to attend Jessica Lynn Johnson’s exceptional (and free!) solo show class on the Whitefire stage - space donated by Artistic Director Bryan Rasmussen. And in 2017, with the expert guidance of my director Jessica Lynn Johnson, the Whitefire Theatre is where I premiered my solo show Shattered at The Whitefire Theatre SoloFest - the largest solo theatre festival on the West Coast.

I return every year to perform Shattered at Whitefire Theatre SoloFest because Bryan creates a festival that is incredibly supportive for the solo artist; but, more so, I return for the community.

With COVID-19 threatening many small businesses, the impact on the arts has been especially painful. Please consider supporting Whitefire Theatre to continue their great work!

Here are three ways to support:

  1. Donate to the GoFundMe campaign: Click Here
  2. Support Whitefire Theatre SoloFest (Jan 9 - March 27) programming or become an on-line member! Find out more by going to www.whitefiretheatre.com
  3. Share your love for Whitefire on social media IG: @Whitefire_theatre, Twitter: @WhitefireThtr, Facebook: Whitefire Theatre

My story is just one of many. I asked fellow artists at Whitefire to weigh in on their journeys and experiences.

These are their stories:

“The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke often of his Vision of a Beloved Community - a community that honors the Dignity and Worth of every Individual with no one left out! The Whitefire Theatre Management and Community masterfully activates that Vision in every show it produces. Whether through a solo or ensemble performance - LA audiences experience subject matter from A to Z - uncensored - with no experience left out - honoring the Dignity and Worth and Creativity of All! Edutainment at its Best! Truly, the Beloved Community in Action!” ~ Candace Carnicelli (Ex. Dir., Common Peace, Center for the Advancement of Nonviolence) / Writer/Performer - Becoming Peace, a One Woman Rhythmic Dramedy about Power, Culture, Violence and Nonviolence

“Having found the Whitefire Theatre, and working with Jessica Lynn Johnson, has emboldened me to pursue all kinds of projects just knowing that there is a supportive and encouraging community of artists there. Solofest, in particular, the largest celebration of solo theatre on the West Coast, is incredibly inspiring and diverse, and offers not only the opportunity to take in these incredible performances, but is pretty much a welcome mat for anyone interested in pursuing an adventure in the theatrical arts. Community is what it is about, I have never experienced such close yet far reaching camaraderie.” ~ Lisa Verlo, Writer/Performer - HOLLYWOODN'T

“The Whitefire Theatre gave me a safe place to perform my solo show. Bryan and the support staff are generous, competent and helpful.” ~ Susan Porter, Writer/Performer - Wake Up Little Susy

“I have been part of The Whitefire Theatre for about 10 years. I've had my original works produced many times. Bryan has been a mentor AND a brother to me. He has truly built a loving supportive creative environment for artists of all levels. I perform all over the country, but I'm happiest at home at The Whitefire because of Bryan and his generous spirit.” ~ Toni Perrotta, Writer/Performer - Here’s What I’m Saying: Life Lessons From An Italian Mama

“Bryan Rasmussen and the team at Whitefire Theatre truly brought my life back to the stage where it always belonged. The chance to bring my shows to life in such a beautiful venue, supported by someone with such a passion for solo-performers and a capable crew...well, it was like being at home.” ~ Heather Dowling, Writer/Performer - Unemployed. Finally. & Fertile

“The theatre's artistic director, Bryan Rasmussen, is a kind, generous soul, a visionary and passionate supporter of solo theatre, which he frequently says is the most challenging of all theatrical expressions for any actor to undertake. The Whitefire has anchored, midwived and given me and my one-woman show, 'Wild At Hart', a home to return to and feel loved and celebrated within. It has also given home to the extraordinary Soaring Solo Theatre Community that Jessica Lynn Johnson created - a tribe of tremendously talented misfits who somehow all fit together in answering the inner call to Tell Their Stories. And the world, all of us as the larger tribe of belonging, need these stories!” ~ Kamakshi Hart, Writer/Performer - Wild At Hart

“The Whitefire Theatre has always had a welcoming, special and deeply creative energy for me. Before I premiered my show this past February, I used to take class here and was always in awe of their solofest shows. I wanted to be a part of it, badly.

Fast forward many moons later, thanks to Jessica Lynn Johnson, Bryan Rasmussen and Brandon Loeser, my show was brought into this world with their solid theatrical production savvy. I had zero worries (which made me worry) they knew me and what I needed and proceeded to produce magic not only for my sold out audience, but for me as well. I’m still in awe of how easy they make it look!” ~ Maeria Pae, Writer/Performer - Ma’s Kitchen

“I have quite a few lovely stories to share. I have had the privilege of performing at the Whitefire for the last 21 years and this place has literally changed my life. I came to LA for a 6 week run with all intentions of returning home to New York City. However, people plan and g-d laughs because instead of returning home, my show got picked up and produced for a six months run and won “BEST SOLO PRODUCTION” that year at the ADA AWARDS. I also had the AMAZING fortune of meeting my husband at The Whitefire theater. This phenomenal place has been my lucky charm. I am eternally grateful!” ~ Pam Levin, Writer/Performer - Tales of Modern Motherhood - Parts I & II

“The Whitefire Theater and the Soaring Solo community taught me to be so much more than just a performer. With their guidance, I’ve learned to value my stories, my voice, and my capacity for storytelling. They’ve empowered me to create, and I will be forever grateful.” ~ Brandon Raman, Writer/Performer - I Can’t Indian Good



Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar: Virtual Online and Future Shows Now Registered - May 30 - April 5, 2020


Calling all Artists


Better Lemons now includes all Online Live Events in our Calendar!

Online Pre-recorded Events will be posted on our Video page!

To register your virtual theater or performance events that are streaming at a specific time and date on our Event Registration page.

If you have pre-recorded art since practicing social distancing, please send us the link and we will add your show to our Video page.

For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page!


Online Live


Smartphone Theatre

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Rachel Chavkin and Carson Kreitzer in Conversation

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A PLAY ABOUT DAVID MAMET WRITING A PLAY ABOUT HARVEY WEINSTEIN

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LOCKDOWN - with Kimlai

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