Spotlight Series: Meet Brandon Ferruccio – Fulfilling Every Actor’s Dream to Direct Plays


With the current theatre world on hiatus, I have created a Spotlight Series which features interviews with some of the many talented artists who make our Los Angeles theatre community so exciting and vibrant thanks to their ongoing contribution to keeping the arts alive in the City of the Angels. And like all of us, how are they dealing with the abrupt end of productions in which they were involved?

This Spotlight focuses on Brandon Ferruccio, who started out as an actor, only to discover his real passion was to direct plays, especially with all-female casts or with a strong feminine lead character. He has directed many productions at Theatre Palisades, Westminster Playhouse, Whittier Community Theatre, The Warner Grand in San Pedro, El Camino College, and the James Armstrong Studio Theatre in Torrance. And soon he will be adding the Westchester Playhouse to the list of theaters in which he has directed productions.


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

Brandon Ferruccio (BF): I was first involved with Theatre through my high school Drama Department. After I dappled in sports for some time, which clearly wasn’t a fit for me. So I decided to throw my energy into something creative and was hooked into acting after appearing in a play on stage. From there, college exposed me into the realm of directing and I’ve been addicted to it ever since. Although the Arts is not my career path, it is very much my passion and my ultimate stress relief from work. Living in the South Bay is nice too, because I’m between LA County and Orange County, so I’ve been able to spread my Director wings to a pretty wide net.

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

(BF): The last production I directed was “Steel Magnolias” at Theatre Palisades. It closed in the middle of February when things were really heating up overseas before the situation was not classified as a worldwide pandemic. Luckily, we were blessed that it did not hit the U.S. during the run and everything was marching along as normal through the show’s closing weekend. However, I remember having conversations about it that weekend because news broadcasts about the Diamond Princess Cruise ship and the people infected aboard it was all over the media. I felt those broadcasts, while timely and needed, sent more of a panic into people who were traveling. It was a sad conversation then, and looking back at it now, I wouldn’t have ever guessed it would have gotten to this point.

(SB): I don’t think any of us did. And importantly, so many are still not heeding the warning to just #StayHome to #FlattenTheCurve.   But since your last show did not have to shut down during the run, have you ever experienced a similar set of circumstances during any of your other productions?

(BF): The current issue reminds me of my production of “Parfumerie” at Theatre Palisades which was running during the 2018 L.A. Firestorm. So much tension was riding on “Is our show going to close because we are located too close to the fire zones?” since so many highways were closed, perhaps preventing cast and audience members from even getting to the theatre which is on Temescal Canyon just south of the hills above Sunset Blvd. in Pacific Palisades. I remember one night, we performed in front of an audience of maybe eight people because no one was venturing out. But since the decision was made that the show must go on, those few got the same quality show as if we had a packed house.

Tension was high, but we reassured the actors that if our theatre became a dangerous area that we would close the production for the weekend. Thank goodness it never happened and everyone was safe. I just remember how much anxiety I had over simply one-weekend possibility closing, and I can’t imagine what it must feel like for a whole production to go dark on which you have worked diligently for so long. It breaks my heart for every single artist who has volunteered so much time and effort into a passionate project, only to have the opportunity to present the final product pulled out from under them.

(SB): In what ways do you think theaters can still present their pulled productions?

(BF): I think something valuable would be to do a Podcast/Live Stream of the shows that were going to be running, although right now that would not be feasible due to all theaters being closed.

(SB): Or perhaps using an online service such as Zoom to present a reading or the production online, especially since some theaters use that format to hold rehearsals right now.

(BF): Perhaps local theatres could create a link on their websites and send out mailing list emails to let all of their members and anyone else interested, especially those who have already purchased tickets, to let them know when a Stream or Audio Recording of the performance will be available for a small donation. Sure, it might not work for bigger productions, but I know I would personally tune in to support my fellow local artists. And since there are unabridged musical recordings out there, no doubt the concept works. Of course, I am not sure how licensing would work in a situation like this, BUT a donation is a donation!

Another great way to help would be to donate the ticket money patrons have already spent on the show that got canceled, rather than getting a refund. In fact, I encourage everyone to consider donating the cost paid for that ticket to the theatre, and simply repurchasing a new ticket when the show finally does open. Or better yet, snag up a Season Pass/Membership this year. All theatre groups need the funds to keep going, especially right now.

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

(BF): This fall, I will be directing my first show for Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse – the suspenseful thriller “Night Watch” by Louise Fletcher. No decisions have been made about whether or not the production dates will be changed or the run shortened. Either way, as an artist I think it is only fair that all of the scheduled shows this year get their chance to shine, even if it’s just for one or two weekends. I encourage all my fellow directors to be flexible and supportive, whatever decision is made on their scheduled shows.

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

(BF): Technology is great isn’t it?! I’ve been able to help out some of my actor friends who have needed coaching and notes for auditions they have done recently or were planning to do, thanks to being able to Skype or Live Stream which is extremely valuable right now. I can watch their monologue without any distractions at my home, give notes via Skype, all the while keeping a safe social distance from each other.

Also, I have written a few one-act plays, which have been produced in the past at the college level. But now I’m trying to flesh them out and possibly turn one into a full-length play about Greek Goddesses living in modern-day New York. I have been gathering a few actors to jump on board with table reads (digital table reads of course via ZOOM or similar platform) to assist me in refining the script. That way we can stay creative without having to gather everyone together. The other show we will be reading is called ‘Restroom Confessions’ about six diverse women from different backgrounds and walks of life, who have gathered together to gossip in a luxury restroom. Both shows are with all-female casts, and that is a real trend in my work when it comes to supporting the female presence on stage. My husband teases me saying that I’m a sucker for a damaged woman who may or may not be a martyr for her loved ones by the time the final curtain falls. And I suppose that is very true!

(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?

(BF): While it’s hard for many of us who volunteer our time for the arts, I can’t imagine what it is like for those who are making their living from it. I simply hope that when everyone comes back, these theatres have more bookings then they can handle, so they can fill up their calendars and keep their doors open to thrive. I think communicating and reaching out to each other is probably the strongest thing we can do now and lending a hand when possible. Also, I would encourage even more patience with each other because as things start to ramp up, it could get very stressful. Lastly, to all of the designers out there! Now is the time you can work on the things you have put to the side because of overwhelming schedules. Sound Design, Record Demos at home, Finish some Set Designs, Style Wigs, Build Costumes! In a way, many designers can play catch up.

(SB) Tell me a little more about your interest in directing “Night Watch” for Kentwood Players, which I am sure you are greatly looking forward too and crossing your fingers all will go as planned.

(BF): One of the biggest reasons I was drawn to Lucille Fletcher’s dramatic thriller “Night Watch” was because of the strong female presence in it as well as it is written by a female playwright. As I have already shared, I try my best to get involved with scripts that have strong female characters; and no, not to push a ‘message’ or fill a quota with casting, but because the female mind is so complex and so captivating. And unfortunately, I find a majority of plays simply lay off their backstories and characterize them in a way that means their true presence gets lost in the script. That is definitely not the case with this play.

(SB) I look forward to experiencing that production with you.


 


Audio Interview: The Cast of 'THE OUTSIDER' at North Coast Rep


THE OUTSIDER, a razor-sharp, hilarious satire of modern American politics is currently getting a witty and smartly paced West Coast premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre. Written by Paul Slade Smith (Unnecessary Farce) and overflowing with clever plot twists, the play is a fun-house mirror held up to reflect the often confounding, yet proudly enduring American political system. This thoroughly non-partisan laugh-fest is the ideal antidote for anyone who is overwhelmed with today’s headlines. This non-partisan laugh-fest is just what you need."*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “THE OUTSIDER at North Coast Rep, playing through March 22, 2020. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage, and even front of the stage. 


*taken from the website


Spotlight Series: Meet 'Melanie MacQueen' – Actress and Playwright Who Found Her Home Base Directing at 'Theatre 40'


Today's Spotlight focuses on Actress, Anime Voice Artist, and Playwright, Melanie MacQueen, who found her home base directing plays at Theatre 40, who I recently saw in that group’s annual production of "The Manor."


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

Melanie MacQueen (MM): I have been lucky enough to be on all sides of a theatrical stage. I’ve acted in many plays over the years, although fewer recently. I am also a produced Playwright, although I have never published my plays—except for a few of my children’s plays. The majority of my Directing jobs have been at Theatre 40, my “Home Base” where I have directed several plays over the past couple of decades. And a theatre is always my favorite place to be!

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

(MM): We had just opened the World Premiere of "Taming the Lion" by Jack Rushen, which had won the Julie Harris Playwrighting Award the previous year. It’s a true story set in Old Hollywood with characters based on real people–such as Louis B. Mayer and Joan Crawford.

(SB): I was so looking forward to seeing that show and had already booked my seats to review it. How did you communicate the shutdown with your cast and production team?

(MM): Our Artistic Director and I had been discussing what we needed to do about the show when the word came down from the Mayor of Beverly Hills that we must close. So, there was no further discussion. We sent an email out to everyone and said we’d open up after a couple of weeks IF that was a possibility.

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

(MM): We may film the show if that is possible to arrange with AEA and everyone involved, but we’re not sure we will be allowed to do so. Then, we might put it up on some other online platform. As far as doing it for an in-person audience, that does not seem possible unless the decision is made to bring it back in mid-May to play in rep with our next show.

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

(MM): Our next Theatre 40 production is supposed to be "[Incident] at Our Lady of Perpetual Help" which was being directed by our wonderful Ann Hearn Tobolowsky. I don’t know if they are trying to work on that–separately–or not. I think everything is in a holding pattern right now.

(SB): The entire world seems to be in a holding pattern at the moment without any idea what the future may bring. But for now, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(MM): I actually started a page dedicated to people who are currently doing art inspired by the “Shelter in Place” scenario we are all experiencing. It is called Celebratory Arts Festival, and the plan is to do a theatrical event at some venue –possibly Theatre 40 – after the worst of this is passed and it is safe to gather in groups once again. I’ve asked writer and musician friends to contribute work, as well as painter friends who might want to contribute their art to decorate the venue. I’ve already had one friend write and perform a song with his daughter from their seclusion, and another wrote a poem. We all want to visualize a time in our thoughts where we will again come together to present art to each other and to the public.

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

(MM): Artists have always enlightened and explored dark times throughout history, and this time is no different. That is our calling, and we will continue. We always have told stories to each other; we always will. The “curtains” will rise again!

The main challenge for artists, in these kinds of dark times, is to bring out of this situation the best we can in ourselves and everyone around us, and call out, artistically, the worst that always arises, sadly, within us and others. We hold up many mirrors for us all to view the Human Journey, and we must never turn away.


Audio Interview: 'Carolyn Ratteray' – 'Emmy-nominated Caitlin Priest' in 'Riley Parra'


Actress, Director, and Producer, Carolyn Ratteray, known for her film and television credits in "Riley Parra" (2017), "NCIS" (2003) and "The Hungover Games" (2014,) was staring as Isabella in Shakespeare's  “Measure for Measure" at the Antaeus Theatre Company at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, which is now closed due to the coronavirus.

A Resident Artist at A Noise Within and a member at the Antaeus Theatre Company, she's also played in productions such as "Gem of the Ocean" at A Noise Within, "The Mountaintop" at the Garry Marshall Theatre, and "The Cake" at The Geffen Playhouse and Echo Theatre CompanyClassically trained in Shakespeare and theatre at The Old Globe at the University of San Diego, she's also appeared in off-broadway and regional theatrical such as "The Winters Tale" at Theatre 150, "Merry Wives of Windsor", "Alls Well That Ends Well," "Two Gentleman of Verona" at The Old Globe, "Hecuba" at The Pearl Theatre Company, and "The Cherry Orchard" at The Classical Theatre of Harlem. As a Director, Ratteray has helmed "By The Way Meet Vera Stark," "In Love and Warcraft," and "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" at Pomona College, along with staged readings throughout the Los Angeles area. 

Ratteray's film and television credits also include “Snowfall,” “Castle," “All My Children," “Chemistry," “The Young and the Restless” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” just to name a few. With a master's in Arts education and training from The Old Globe at the University of San Diego and a bachelor's from New York University, she is currently a professor at Pomona College and has also studied theatrical clown with Philippe Gaulier, Christopher Bayes, David Bridel, and Angela De Castro and she is currently at work creating her solo clown show, “Both, And,” according to her website.

Enjoy this interview!


 


Spotlight Series: Meet 'Gregg Lawrence'—Versatile Actor Who Commands the Stage as Scores of Fully-Embodied Characters


Today's Spotlight focuses on Gregg Lawrence, a versatile actor who commands the stage as larger-than-life, fully-embodied characters.


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

Gregg Lawrence (Gregg): I am a native Southern Californian and I have been acting for over 50 years. And I am a long-time fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers!

(SB): Gregg is being too modest about his incredible range as a triple-threat actor. I have personally seen him as a Klingon, a Venetian gondolier where he was able to bounce his incredible operatic voice through the meandering canals, as well as the King at Medieval Times where he was able to hold court with thousands of spectators watching a jousting tournament.

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

(Gregg): I was working on “Outhouse,” a student film for Chapman University, fulfilling a bucket list item to play a monster on film.  We had finished one weekend of filming when word came down that that University was shuttering all production for the time being.  We have hopes to resume filming when school comes back in session but that may not be until the fall.

I had been making money working as a Standardized Patient for several medical schools around SoCal, where we act as patients with certain conditions to teach the students better communication skills.  But that too has dried up for the time being as the institutions figure out how to teach online.

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

(Gregg): I just found out that Pacific Opera Project’s production of their Star Trek-themed Abduction From the Sereglio that we did at the Ford Theatre will be screened online on April 8, 2020, which will give everyone a chance to see me transformed into the warmongering Klingon Commander Salim, ironically the only non-singing role in the opera! In the meantime, it looks like self-taping auditions will be the wave of the future.  It was headed in the online direction anyway, but the pandemic may have given a little boost to making the change across the board. But for now, I am hunkered down, being over 65 and diabetic, and enjoying the time I have to finally binge watch all the TV I have been waiting to stream.

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

(Gregg): We are all in this together and despite our glorious leader’s plans for us to go back to work in a couple of weeks, I will side with the more cautious among us and weather this thing out, at least while the unemployment lasts.  Things are looking up as I have received some offers to work online.

(SB): Actors have been expressing their frustration with not being able to find work in their chosen profession, especially after having to abruptly give up whatever paying gigs they had. So I am happy to hear that online work may become more readily available until theaters and studios can again open their stages to performers.

(Gregg): My best advice is to stay safe, stay healthy and keep finding reasons to laugh and make others laugh.  It is more important and vital than ever.


Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: The Connections We Make


When not practicing government-mandated social distancing, actors tend to be some of the most social people you can find, both on and off the job. From standing in line to audition at a cattle-call, to table reads, to rehearsal processes, the entire world of creating theater or cinematic art requires actors to be “social.” Add to the mix the after-rehearsal bar gatherings, wrap parties, opening night or premiere galas, and closing cast parties, and you find that social distancing is impossible for working actors.

Sometimes black box theater and indie film projects call on actors to quite literally be on top of each other in confined spaces that have been converted into makeshift dressing rooms, green rooms, and performance locations. Factor in love scenes and the social connectivity goes through the roof!

There is still no telling how the COVID-19 lockdown will forever change the dynamic of artists creating their art in limited spaces with limited resources. Perhaps when the threat has ended, it will be business as usual for small storefront theaters and backroom indie film projects. Perhaps new mandates will require an end to the type of close-quarters we have all worked in from time to time. Only time will tell.

In practicing our craft, we find ourselves connected to so many other artists in so many ways: physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually at times. It will be interesting to see how much more cognizant we will be of the physical connections we have with each other in the Post Covid Age.

When actor life resumes, perhaps stage managers will have to be more tolerant of actors missing rehearsal due to illness. They will certainly be adding massive amounts of hand sanitizer to their first aid kits and more hygiene talk in their backstage etiquette speeches. Dressing room divas may find new justification for demanding their own mirror space now. Love scenes may have to forever be cut from all scripts, and shared props eliminated during virus season. Let’s not even talk about rented and borrowed costume items. Wigs? Yuck!

If you’re smirking about the wigs line, that proves our artistic connections will not change. Our mutual love, appreciation, frustration, and anxieties about our art will remain the same. Our ability to create new and lasting bonds with our fellow artists will remain with us. I have connected with most of my closest friends in life through my craft. Some of those people I may never work with again, but they will always be treasured colleagues and lifelong friends.

The personal connections we make as artists sharing our art run the gamut of human relations. Mentors, friendships, family-like bonds, lovers, soulmates, and even sometimes enemies can be developed through working on a project together. In my lifetime, I have witnessed no fewer than 10 marriages result from relationships developed during the artistic process, and a few divorces as well. On at least one occasion, a divorce of two people led to a second marriage for one of them.

Then there are those awkward connections; the ones we sometimes don’t know how to break. Thanks to social media groups, we all have a string of project groups we are connected to down the sideline of our pages. If your list is anything like mine, some of those groups date back years. Forming a group page can be very helpful during the project to share information, contacts, schedules, etc. Yet, once the projects are over, there the groups awkwardly accumulate down the side of your page.

Sometimes a project is so fun or so successful, or so full of great people, the members of the group talk about the group continuing forever, reviving the show, working together again, or having regular get-togethers that almost never happen. Instead, every once in a while, someone from a past group will post something about the new project they are currently working on as a promotional effort which leads to additional awkward moments for everyone still connected to group. Do you ignore them? Do you respond and reopen that can of worms? Are you suddenly reminded to leave the group, but then hesitate because you don’t want the person to know you left the group right after they posted out of the blue after three years?

Nearly 150 productions into my career, I’ve found it’s best to cut ties where there are no true ties, and not be false about being further connected where you truly are not. There will be other “best cast ever” experiences in your life. There will be plenty of groups to add to the sideline of your page. The true lifelong relationships will continue to exist without the aid of the group, the stage manager on the project, or the director who brought you all together. You will still have your fondest memories of the project and the best people involved.

While you’re shut up inside during this historically unprecedented time of isolation, practice a little social media distancing and clean up your groups list. Reach out to any artists you worked with before whom you truly miss, and then archive that group or drop yourself out of it to make room for new groups, new experiences, and new connections to come in the Post Covid-19 Age.


Spotlight Series: Meet Anzu Lawson - an Asian-American Actress, Playwright, Stand-Up Comic, and Yoko Ono Doppelganger


With the current theatre world on hiatus, I have created a Spotlight Series of interviews with some of am the many talented artists who make our Los Angeles theatre community so exciting and vibrant thanks to their ongoing contribution to keeping the arts alive in the City of the Angels. And like all of us, how are they dealing with the abrupt end of productions in which they were involved?

This Spotlight focuses on Anzu Lawson, an Asian-American Actress, Playwright, Stand-Up Comic, and Yoko Ono doppelganger who I first met during the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival.


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

Anzu Lawson (Anzu): I’m an Asian-American Actress, Playwright, and Stand-Up Comic who has been performing my One Woman Show called Dear Yoko to sold out theatres here in Los Angeles. It was an official selection for 2019 Binge Fringe Festival, the 2020 SOLOFEST & the 2020 Crazy Woke Asians Solo Performance Festival.

I also penned & starred in an all-original musical called Dear John, Why Yoko? which garnered my first Best Actress nomination at the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival for my role as “Yoko Ono.”

(SB): And I am happy to share links to my reviews of both your shows during which you absolutely amazed me with your authentic portrayal of a woman so erroneous hated the world over for her involvement with John Lennon.

(SB): Were you involved with any production(s) when word went out that you needed to immediately postpone/cancel a show?

(Anzu): I was playing the role of YEN opposite Al Pacino with a huge, talented cast in a Benefit Staged Reading for Al Pacino’s charity in the David Rabe play called “The Basic Training Of Pavlo Hummel” that garnered Al his first Tony Award on Broadway in 1977. Al Pacino and director Robert Allan Ackerman revived it on stage to help raise funds and awareness for one of Al’s charities to help war veterans. We performed it Sunday, March 8th at The Wallis Annenberg in association with The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. There were talks of doing it again, but the very next day the Wallis Annenberg closed its doors due to the Corona Pandemic. Here’s a link to a Broadway World article about that amazing production

(SB): How has the shutdown affected your current and future production plans?

(Anzu): I had to make some hard decisions. This has been an extremely unforeseeable event affecting every single human on this planet and not knowing how long we will be quarantined, has many artists unsure if they can even afford to do their show, even with rescheduled dates. I feel bad, but I am canceling all my show commitments until there is a vaccine.

I heard the remaining solo artists involved in the 2020 SOLOFEST dates at The Whitefire Theatre, in which I have participated, have been offered to have their performances streamed online. Personally, as good a solution as that may sound, performing to an empty theatre is not the ideal situation when a) audience interaction and response is a huge part of the experience as a solo performer and b) the main world focus is on live coronavirus news updates. I appreciate everyone trying to rally together to find a solution but I think people everywhere will need more time. Every person is processing what is happening very differently.

As for my future plans, I was about to fly to Chicago’s Cinespace Studios to film another episode of Chicago Med on which I have a recurring role, and I was counting on that money to pay for my 2020 Fringe solo show dates. Unfortunately, I had to cancel my entire participation in the 2020 Hollywood Fringe and am trying my very best to get my invested monies and deposits back. Even though 2020 Hollywood Fringe has been moved to October (much like Stage Coach and Coachella) at this time, I do not have the heart to ask my friends to hurry and get over their Coronavirus/social distancing fear by October to buy tickets and sit in a crowded theater while there is no income coming in for most, nor a readily available vaccine on the horizon.

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

(Anzu): Thank God for the internet and the free classes being offered by so many teachers and studios. I am also grateful for the funny memes on social media keeping me light-hearted and smiling through all this uncertainty. This pandemic has given all of us a “pause button” to reassess our beliefs, our tribes, our creative visions for ourselves as well as for the world. We are being forced to look at our individual contribution to humanity, not only as humans but as artists. This will forever change us as a society, hopefully for the best.

Personally, I’m in research mode. I started revisiting scripts and thinking deeply about what I want to say as an artist from here on out. I am forced to sit still, get grounded and put pen to paper.

(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?

(Anzu): Never forget there is always a silver lining and now more than ever, we artists are being called upon to be the beacon for a new humanity. We will get through this but only together and only by thinking of each other. Feed your soul now and get ready to create! Inspire! And be daring with your artistic voice. We have a huge responsibility ahead of us to shine bigger light and tell new stories that will ever remind us there is nothing more valuable than our ability to care for each other. As Yoko Ono always said, “We are all connected together. We are all one.”

I invite everyone to follow me on IG/FB/Twitter @AnzuLawson and read more about my credits on my IMDB profile. I also want to give a shout out to my director Jessica Lynn Johnson who offers free Solo show creative writing classes now on ZOOM.

(SB): Thank you Anzu. I am hoping to focus a spotlight on Jessica Lynn Johnson in the near future so more people learn about her outstanding contributions to the L.A. Theatre world.


MONIQUE A. LEBLEU TO JOIN BETTER LEMONS AS EDITOR

The Better Lemons commitment to supporting arts and entertainment in Southern California continues with the addition of Monique A. LeBleu as Editor!

On Monday, March 30, 2020, Monique A. LeBleu will take the reins of Better Lemons, L.A.’s premiere arts and entertainment hub, where she will serve as Editor, bringing her unique sensitivity to all that is unique and wonderful about Southern California’s arts, entertainment, and dining scene.

“Monique has long been a significant part of Better Lemons and her willingness to step up as Editor is exciting for all of us,” said Publisher Enci Box, “This is especially because she is such a great storyteller and is such a driving force for promoting local productions, and delivering fresh and creative content from L.A.’s finest cultural critics and creators.”

“As Event Editor, I have looked forward to opening up Better-Lemons.com every day to see what new shows are published on our calendar for what’s new and upcoming in Los Angeles theatre,” said Editor LeBleu. “Reading stories by our Lemon Brigade of contributing writers, listening to their podcasts, and finding new venues to see shows has been part of my daily routine. As the Editor of Better Lemons, I am very excited to be sharing that daily adventure with our readers as Better Lemons continues to grow and provide the Greater L.A. Theatre Community with even more great stories, podcasts, award events, seminars, business-of-theatre tools, production resources, and more!”

LeBleu is a freelance writer, photojournalist, and podcaster. She has been a contributing weekly columnist and podcaster on Better Lemons since March 2018 and is currently Co-Editor on The L.A. Beat's online magazine, The L.A. Beat. Hailing from L.A.C.C.’s Theatre Arts Academy and the Cinema Arts Program at the Cinema/TV Department at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Center, her life-long passion for theatre, film, and the performing arts also comes from her background in L.A. theatre as an Assistant Director and Stage Manager as a member of the Knightsbridge Theatre Company from 2003 - 2006.

Working in production and post-production film throughout the ‘80s, LeBleu had paused in order to reflect and decide on what she wanted to be when she grew up. After 25 years, that decision was finally made upon earning her degree in Communications - Journalism at Pasadena City College in 2017. In addition to writing on theatre, as a freelance journalist, writer, video maker, and consummate foodie her subject interests of greatest focus also include film, documentaries, food and hospitality, music, art, and Greater Los Angeles' ever-evolving community landscape.

Better Lemons exists to celebrate all that is creative and innovative about L.A.’s arts and entertainment community and has a Lemon Brigade of over 48 local writers and critics who promise to engage audiences, share stories, and support the artists who make L.A. the center of the cultural universe.

Better Lemons is solely owned by Founder and Publisher Enci Box and all creative and editorial is under the supervision of Editor LeBleu’s direction.


The Show Must Go Online: Registered this week NEW Online Virtual and Future Shows on Better Lemons Calendar!


Calling all Artists


Better Lemons will now include all Online Live Events and Online Pre-recorded Events in our Calendar!

The first virtual event has registered on the Better Lemons! Be sure to add and register your virtual theater or performance events!

Better Lemons has over 75 shows NOW registered! If you have pre-recorded art since practicing social distancing, please contact us with any questions regarding registrations and scheduling.

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


Online Live


Victoria Gordon

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Future Upcoming Live


Hearts for the Arts

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A Chorus Line

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Always...Patsy Cline

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The Holiday Gem

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THE COMPLETE WORKS OF WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (ABRIDGED)

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HAPPY WORLD "VIRTUAL" THEATRE DAY!

In honor of World Theatre Day, we are sharing with you some live performances that have been made public, so that we don't forget that art is always needed and much missed right now! Keep on creating!

If you have made some art since you have been practicing social distancing share the video with us so we can make sure that your art is seen in a future post.  You can email us the link to your video to contact [at] better-lemons.com.

And now, sit down, relax, and enjoy!

The Center for Puppetry Arts has created videos about how to make puppets (great project for kids of all ages), the science of puppetry, and also puppet shows. You can join and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Vimeo.

National Theatre Live in the UK will release live theatre from their YouTube channel starting next Thursday April 2nd, at 7pm UK time. Each streaming production will be available to watch for 7 days for free. Their first production will be One Man Two Guvnors. Watch the trailer below.

In this TEDx talk, Andrew Russell, Producing Artistic Director of the Tony Award-winning Intiman Theatre, talks about the importance and power of live theatre.

If you want something funny, here is a video of theatre fails, stage falls, and theatre bloopers from TPMvids on YouTube:

Saturday Night Live also had a couple theatre related sketches. Here is Reese Witherspoon:

And here is Emma Stone:

The Vienna State Oper offers daily opera for free. Look at their incredible list! Today you can view Le Nozze di Figaro from 2017 and tomorrow Götterdämmerung from 2019.

Here is a little tour of the opera house, so you can get an idea of where these productions take place:

If you like opera, here is a list of all the free opera streams from European and North and South American companies.

Gus from Minnesota started a Quarantine Playwriting Bake-Off last week and here is the result. You can follow his Quarantine Bake-Off channel on YouTube to either participate, get inspired, or to stay up-to-date of their next event.

The Globe Player offers all of their Shakespeare performances at a small fee to rent or to own. They also have some free content, so check them out on their website. Here is a trailer to get a taste of the quality of their shows and videos:

Watch Jimmy Fallon record The Tonight Show from his home. Here with Lin-Manuel Miranda.

We, at Better Lemons, wish you a creative weekend! Stay healthy!


Actor/Singer Robert Bannon Works Creatively During COVID-19 Closure of Feinstein's

Actor/singer Robert Bannon has worked on Broadway and on TV's "SNL." He was scheduled to present his cabaret show "Unfinished Business" at Feinstein's at Vitello's April 14 (Feinstein's is closed until further notice because of the Corona Virus.) In our conversation he tells us about his background and how his love of the "American Songbook" came to be.

Tell our readers why you are recording an album in salute to the American Songbook. You graduated from Juilliard Prep. What did you learn from the composers of these songs? Who are your favorites?

RB: Growing up in a good little Italian-Irish family in NJ, the music of Sinatra, Sammy, Dean, Johnny was reverent. The instrumentation, storytelling, and classic nature of these songs just spoke to me. I have always been a fan of the “story” and the build of a song. I love singing all music and listening to everything from hip hop to country (and sometimes that sneaks into the show) but all in all nothing beats the classics. They can be done and reimagined but the bones of them remain and will last forever.

I did go to Juilliard Prep, I was in the first music theatre class under Bertin Rowser and Diane Wilson. I am so grateful to them for seeing something in me, as a child, I didn’t see in myself. I learned that acting and musical theater are truly art forms. There is a difference between fame/celebrity and the art and the work it takes to serve it. That goes back to the classic element of the show. It is my story, but I serve the music and I hope that translates.

As far as composers, I learned it iss all in the melodies. Can you listen to a song and remember it? That is the magic of a good song. Also the saying that you don’t remember what you did or what you said but you will always remember how you FEEL! Does the music make you feel something? The universal themes of them all!

I have a bunch of favorites. I love Johnny Mercer. His vibe and style is just timeless. The poetry of his lyrics is second to none. Also I love Anthony Newley. He is often not thought of but I love the DRAMA of his music!! His arrangements and songs are full of drama. It makes a moment in my shows and hopefully emotes something we all can relate to!

You title your concert show Unfinished Business. You are so young. Usually artists use this term at the end of their careers. What is your intent?

RB: Thanks for this question and saying I’m young!

There is a story to the title. When I was in high school and at Juilliard, I ended up getting sick for 4 years. I had undiagnosed Lyme disease which turned into meningitis before Justin Bieber made it a newsworthy thing. I literally never had a chance to go to high school as a “normal” student. When I recovered I only knew one thing - singing. I started putting myself out there. I got called in to replace Roger in Rent on Broadway. I walked in, botched the audition and freaked out. I changed my major to Political Science and became a history teacher done with performing. After two Masters Degrees in Education, I felt something was missing. I would literally tear up at a curtain call or a concert.

So after 10 years of not performing, fate intervened. I met up with the amazing performers and writers Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews. They just did their show Witness Uganda at The Wallis in Beverly Hills. They helped me literally dust off the rust and get back out there. They told me I had something to say. The first day I sang again I said I had some "Unfinished Business" to do and it stuck. I called my show that in NY at 54 Below. It is the journey and the lesson that we all have something unfinished to do. Take a step and the path will FOLLOW!

Do you tell anecdotes in your show or just sing? As a principal in SNL, you must love comedy. Any comedic stories or skits we may look forward to?

RB: I think I talk as much as I sing! I have stories for days and have had such an interesting life thankfully! I love to talk about my journey, family, love, and some of the things that I’ve experienced. I love comedy! I grew up obsessed with SNL so being there is beyond anything I could ever imagine. I’m so grateful to just be in the halls of that American Institution!

I do have some fun stories. I talk about my childhood obsession with all things Manilow, being stuck on an elevator with singing legend Phoebe Snow, my personal life which is a show in of itself, etc! There are a lot of laughs. I am all Jersey all day so that totally comes across in the show.

Talk more in depth about SNL. What has this added to your career as a performer? Has improv strengthened your delivery and stamina onstage?

RB: I was first asked to be on SNL in a sketch about the TSA. In the sketch they let me through security with a sketchy bag and book bag while others were not allowed to come through as they had a travel ban. I had to shave my head for the part and I asked the Casting Director, if I shave my head, can I be on a live show? Please! It actually worked. Ask and you shall receive.

Since then I have had big roles, small roles and everything in between. Check out Electric Shoes with Kenan Thompson and see my bass playing wig debut. Seeing the way that show works and how talented they all are is inspiring. I’ve seen some of the best in the biz work up close to make that show fly. It’s always an honor. When I was first on, a friend from elementary school wrote me and said “You used to stay up and watch this show every Saturday and now you are on that stage!” It is a pretty surreal moment!

Improv is simply the best! It is scary which makes the payoff so much better. I am a graduate of Willian Esper for acting under the amazing Barbara Marchant. That program is Meisner acting technique which is mostly improv. That skill is something that makes you so present in your work as an actor and has certainly helped my stage show and listening to the audience moment to moment. It keeps you on your toes and ready for anything! Who knows what will come out of my mouth!?

What is your favorite Broadway show? It does not have to be one that you have done.

RB: That’s a tough question. I love Rent. I loved finally being able to be in Rent after my awful audition as a kid and being Roger. That show resonates with me so deeply about love and living each day to the fullest.

I would love more original musicals to be made on Broadway! Witness Uganda is BRILLIANT! That score is something that has stuck with me. It was genius at The Wallis in Beverly Hills. Matt Gould who co-wrote that show has a new show coming to La Jolla called Lempicka! Go SEE IT! I am hoping after California it takes over NYC!

Any particular role that you are yearning to play onstage?

RB: I would love to play Bobby in Company. I just relate so much to his character and the score is brilliant. I also love comedy and have been singing “My Girlfriend Who Lives In Canada” for years. So I would love to be fitted with a puppet to have some fun in Avenue Q! I am always down for some campy puppet moments.

Did you grow up with music in your family? What inspired you to be an actor and singer?

RB: My parents loved music. My dad loved placing big headphones on me and letting me rock out to Earth, Wind and Fire. My mom loved Carly Simon. We would listen to her when she made us breakfast every weekend but don’t ask them to sing! Ha! They are not singers. My parents are kinda shy and I am literally shot out of a canon 24-7. I think I always wanted to make people smile and entertain. I would take the sheets from my bed, make curtains, and put on shows for my family since I could remember.

I tell a story about trying sports and being dreadful (soccer goalie is not on my special skills on my resume) and finally being like "nope I quit!" Take me to singing lessons instead. Sixth grade hit, I was the Prince in Cinderella at my school, I was hooked. I wanted to sing and act anywhere and everywhere.

My parents were hip and loved music. I was the old soul. I got a karaoke machine for Christmas with the Hits of Manilow and I was sold. Hook line and sinker. I would listen and study him nonstop.

What was it like performing with giants like Patti LaBelle and Whoopi Goldberg? What did you learn from being in their presence?

RB: Wow! I had the pleasure at 12 years old to perform with Ms. LaBelle at a tribute concert for Laura Nyro (songwriter) at the Beacon Theatre. I have loved her since. She was so kind, humble, and a FORCE on stage. She brings 110% every time and is so authentically herself. Her kindness and authenticity are what makes people love her. I have had the pleasure to see her numerous times after and sing with her again, she is as amazing now as ever! OBSESSED!

Whoopi is such a wonderful performer, kind, and generous. She was such a wonderful person to be around. I think I learned that being kind matters. Being a good listener and remember that you matter and your art matters but you can’t do it without the people who support it.

Do you have a goal in LA? Are you looking toward more work in TV and roles in film? Will stage always remain a vital part of your performing life?

RB: It is so humbling to be booked at Feinstein’s in Studio City. No one is more surprised and honored than me. Three years ago, I had hung it all up and had not done a thing so I’m thrilled people are inspired and supportive. I am focusing on my new album which is on the way based on the one man show and journey. My first love will always be me, a stool, mic, and a piano player. It’s taken me decades to be comfortable sharing my story, and that will always be the one I want to tell first and foremost. I am just happy to meet some new friends in LA and spread my message and music! Therefore stage and the live show will always be the first love. We are always adding more dates so I’m so grateful for that. You can find all upcoming dates on RobertBannon.com.

I also love TV and film! I would love to do more straight up acting. That is such a fulfilling way to make a living to be the vessel for the text and project either comedy or drama-that is a blast. I am open to whatever surprises life has to to offer. One thing I learned is it’s gonna surprise me so let’s see where it goes!

Add anything you wish here that we did not already mention.

RB: Thank you so much for your time and platform! Come see me at the show and say hi! I am so excited to share this show with LA! Joining me is Michael Orland as Music Director! Michael was the MD on American Idol for 15 seasons. He’s worked with everyone and is as talented as he is kind. You don’t want to miss what surprises we both have in store. Also, LA has some of the best singers in the world and I happen to know them so expect a bunch of surprises and a lot of fun!

Unfortunately Feinstein's is closed until further notice because of the Corona Virus.*

* I asked Robert Bannon what he is doing creatively during this time. Are you working on the CD of the "American Songbook?" When your appearance is rescheduled, will there be a CD release party?

RB: I am working on the album! It will be of the Great American Songbook. It is produced by Bob Magnuson and features arrangements by Tedd Firth and Rich DeRosa of songs you know but with my own twist. Thanks to technology we will hopefully do it all digitally and get it ready to be out as soon as possible. I am trying to be as creative as possible with this time out.

The new goal is once we have a new date for Feinstein’s in LA this summer it will be an album release with a whole new show! So I am definitely looking forward to what comes in the future. For now, just sending light and love to everyone to stay safe!


Audio Interview: Paul Culos (Joe from Shameless)

Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Paul Culos began acting at the age of nine. He started his formal training at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Performance in 2007. During that time, he was able to travel abroad to London and study at the British American Drama Academy for four weeks under the instruction of numerous British talents including John Barton, Debra Warner, Fiona Shaw, Brian Cox, and Mark Wing Davey. He was staring in “Measure for Measure" at the Antaeus Theatre Company, which now closed due to the corona virus.

Enjoy this interview!

*taken from the website