Leela Dance Collective presents ReSound, a 5-day celebration of kathak dance

Leela Dance Collective presents ReSound, a 5-day celebration of kathak dance, featuring street performances and workshops to educate and inspire audiences of all ages. The Kathak (pronounced cut - tuck) dance form can be traced back to the kathakas from 400 BCE who were the traveling storytellers and artists of ancient India. In modern times, the art form has emerged on the presidium stage and traveled outside of India, finding expression in diasporic communities throughout the US and beyond.

One of kathak’s most notable characteristics is the fast, percussive footwork dancers perform by striking their bare feet on the floor using various techniques. In addition, it is known for swift pirouettes, a dynamic movement vocabulary, and compelling character portrayal. Kathak is typically performed with North Indian classical Hindustani music, which provides an exhilarating soundscape and a very collaborative environment for the artists. Dancers wear a string of 150-200 bells around each ankle to ornament their footwork and movements, and to highlight the rhythmic sophistication of the artform.

 

In Los Angeles, free street performances will take place at such iconic locations as Santa Monica’s 3rd St Promenade, DTLA’s Grand Park, Pasadena’s Memorial Park, Culver City’s Town Plaza, Woodland Hills’ The Village at Topanga, and the Oak Canyon Community Park showcasing kathak dance at its best. The $10 workshops are a great opportunity for individuals to experience kathak first hand, the way that kathak dance can ground the body, focus the mind, and uplift the spirit. Workshops are held at some of LA's most popular studios including Evolution Studios, Electric Lodge, The Vault, and Diaz Studio of Dance in Culver City.

Culver City performances include a Free Pop-up Performance on Sunday, Sept 26, at 5:30 p.m. in Town Plaza, 9500 Culver Blvd, Culver City; with two $10 Workshops: The Indian Avatars on Sun, Sept 26, 3:00-4:00 p.m., at Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City, in which kids ages 5 and up are introduced to kathak and learn coordination, movement rhythm, music and dramatic expression as they delve into the rich world of Indian mythology; and Movement, Music & Meditation on Sun, Sept 26, 4:00-5:00 p.m., at Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City, in which participants discover the beauty and dynamism of kathak by being introduced to the technique, movement, music and poetry of the art form woven together into an experience that is meditation in motion. To register for free events and $10 workshops, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/resound-kathak-in-the-streets-los-angeles-tickets-158038416157

The concept and arrangement of the ReSound repertoire is curated by Rina Mehta, senior disciple of kathak legend Pandit Chitresh Das and cofounder of the critically acclaimed Leela Dance Collective, and showcases Das’ original compositions and choreography, while featuring a new generation of emerging kathak dancers trained in his iconic style: Sonali Toppur, Ahana Mukherjee, Carrie McCune, and Ria DasGupta.

After more than a year of living in fear and isolation, we are thrilled to see our neighborhoods and communities start to come back to life. To do our part, we are quite literally dancing with joy - on street corners and promenades and at community parks and outdoor malls across Los Angeles and San Francisco,” shares Rina Mehta, whose work is grounded in the belief that kathak dance can be a powerful tool for empowerment and social change.

Founded and led by women, Leela Dance Collective’s central aim is to advance the voices of women artists and choreographers while providing a space for women to lead and create outside the confines of a traditional male-defined framework of leadership, mentorship, and artistic practice. Through their productions they hope to bring together artists and communities across race, ethnicity, and religion. It is through such exchange that Leela Dance Collective continues to engage with their own artistic tradition, remaking it for contemporary audiences.

For more information, watch the ReSound trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS6eyK09TPs and check out their moves on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/LeelaDanceCollective. View the complete ReSound schedule at https://leela.dance/resound/

Performances - Free

Friday, Sept 24, 12:30 p.m.:  Grand Park, DTLA

Friday, Sept 24, 6:30 p.m.:  The Village at Topanga, Woodland Hills

- Saturday, Sept 25, 1:30 p.m. & 2:30 p.m.:  3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica

Saturday, Sept 25, 5:30 p.m.:  Memorial Park, Pasadena
(featuring performance by Los Angeles’ inaugural Leela Youth Dance Company)

- Sunday, Sept 26, 11:30 a.m.: Oak Canyon Community Park, 5600 Hollytree Dr, Oak Park

(part of the Kathak Karnival featuring additional family activities, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.)

Sunday, Sept 26, 5:30 p.m.: Town Plaza, 9500 Culver Blvd, Culver City

Workshops - $10

- Before Bollywood: Wed, Sept 22, 7:00-8:00 p.m., The Vault Dance Studio, 57 Palmetto Dr, Pasadena Before Bollywood there was kathak,
known for its grandeur, beauty, and elegance. Join us for a workshop that introduces you to the movement, music and expression of this dynamic art form. Students of all levels and backgrounds are welcome.

- Bare Feet Beats: Thurs, Sept 23, 7:00-8:00 p.m., Evolution Dance Studios, 10816 Burbank Blvd, NoHo
Dive into the dynamic world of kathak. Move, groove, jam and slam as you learn how to make rhythm and music with your bare feet. Students of all levels and backgrounds welcome.

From Sensuality to Spirituality: Sat, Sept 25, 10:00-11:00 a.m., Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave, Venice

Radha is one of India's most beloved goddesses. Her love, devotion and yearning for Krishna is a metaphor for our relationship to the divine. As we explore Radha's love for Krishna through the art of kathak, classical dance of North India we explore the eternal human search for the divine. Students of all levels and backgrounds welcome.

- The Indian Avatars: Sun, Sept 26, 12:00-1:00pmOak Canyon Community Park, 5600 Hollytree Dr, Oak Park

In this workshop, kids are introduced to kathak, classical dance of North India. Kids learn coordination, movement rhythm, music and dramatic expression as they delve into the rich world of Indian mythology. For kids, ages 5 and up. Part of the Kathak Karnival featuring additional family activities.

The Indian Avatars: Sun, Sept 26, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City

In this workshop, kids are introduced to kathak, classical dance of North India. Kids learn coordination, movement rhythm, music and dramatic expression as they delve into the rich world of Indian mythology. For kids, ages 5 and up.

Movement, Music & Meditation: Sun, Sept 26, 4:00-5:00 p.m., Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City

Discover the beauty and dynamism of kathak. Workshop participants are introduced to the technique, movement, music and poetry of the art form woven together into an experience that is meditation in motion.

Family Festival - $10

Kathak Karnival: Sun, Sept 26, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m., Oak Canyon Community Park, 5600 Hollytree Dr, Oak Park
Enjoy dance, music, food, and fun - $10 admission includes an exclusive performance of ReSound by Leela Dance Collective, with an opening performance by Los Angeles' inaugural Leela Youth Dance Company, as well as kathak workshops for children, youth, and adults. Register now and get unlimited access to family activities including henna art, face painting, photo booths, gift giveaways, and more. Free parking.


Stage Page: NOISES OFF Proves Whatever Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong!

In 1970, Michael Frayn, the English playwright who would go on to write NOISES OFF, was standing backstage in the wings watching a performance of one of his other farces “The Two of Us.” Of that performance he said, "It was funnier from behind than in front, and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind."

By the late 70s, Frayn had created the hilarious three-act NOISES OFF, whose title is taken from the theatrical stage direction indicating sounds coming from offstage. And for those never involved in putting on a theatrical play, I can tell you there is more than one show going on at each performance, especially backstage where the stage manager must not only wrangle the cast to be ready and enter at the right time but to also check props, costumes, lighting and sound cues, and basically make sure the performance is presented as the director intended it to be seen. And it’s a fact that given all the things that can go wrong backstage, it’s often a miracle the performance makes it to its curtain call at all.

But it is those instances of pandemonium both onstage and backstage that create laugher from start to finish in NOISES OFF, presented with a real flair for comic timing, entrances and exits, costume changes, tons of props, and an energetic cast who can run around like lunatics and still be able to remember all their lines!  Such is the case at the Long Beach Playhouse under the brilliant direction of Gregory Cohen who first assembled his cast in early 2020, opened the show in March 2020, and then had the pandemic outbreak shut it down just two weeks into the run. And now they are back (with just one replacement cast member) through October 9 to carry on with the mayhem and mischief to delight audiences.

Called the funniest farce ever written, NOISES OFF presents a manic menagerie of itinerant British actors rehearsing a flop called “Nothing’s On.” Doors slamming, on and offstage intrigue, jilted lovers, misplaced and forgotten props, especially errant sardines, all figure in the plot of this hilarious and classically comic play within a play.

The cast features Andrea Stradling as dedicated but forgetful actress Dotty Otley, Eric Schiffer as the womanizing director Lloyd Dallas, handsome John Vann as younger leading man Garry Lejeune, Amara Phelps (who steals many a scene as the cell phone selfie-obsessed lingerie-wearing ingénue Brooke Ashton, Travis Wade as health-challenged actor Frederick Fellowes, Adanna Kenlow as Belinda Blair, perhaps the most “professional” actor of the troupe who attempts to hold things together, Lewis Leighton as washed-up by booze actor Selsdon Mowbray, Lyndsay Palmer as the put-upon and stressed-out Stage Manager Poppy Norton-Taylor who has a big secret herself, and PJ Cimacio as the Set Desginer/Tech Manager Tim Allgood who is called upon to take on several roles when actors are no-shows.

Each of these actors is to be commended for their boundless energy and great skill at physical humor, especially with all the dual-level entrances and exits at breakneck speed and props to remember.  Timing is everything in this farce and this cast never misses a beat – even when we are supposed to think they have.

Act One takes place onstage at the final dress rehearsal of “Nothing’s On” with the cast hopelessly unready, although we are given a peak at how the show is supposed to go, especially their entrances and exits and how many seemingly meaningless plates of sardines have to be carried on and taken back off stage. The act ends with intermission during which Larry Mura’s remarkable double-sided set is completely turned around to allow Act Two to take place backstage a few weeks into the show’s run, which allows the audience to see behind the scenes. And trust me, with all of the actors’ antics going on, it’s every Stage Manager’s nightmare about losing control of the show!

At the end of Act Two, the cast changes the set pieces around in full view of the audience, generating a much-deserved round of applause when the set is back in place. Act Three then takes place at a performance onstage near the end of the fictional ten-week run when personal friction between the actors has continued to increase to the point that their frazzled nerves are getting the best of them.

So in essence, we watch as “Nothing On” is staged three times with each performance sinking lower into the depths of a staged nightmare generating laughs galore, even as the plot breaks down in the process. As the shenanigans mount and the play begins to unravel, it is the actors, each one of them incredibly physically agile, who make this farce come alive and generate hysterical laughter that fills the theater!

NOISES OFF continues at the Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim Street in Long Beach 90804, through October 9 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Audience members must show proof of vaccination for admittance and wear a face at all times inside the building. Tickets run $14-$24, available by calling the box office at (562) 494-1014 or online at www.lbplayhouse.org where you can also select your seat assignments on any of the three sides of the thrust stage. And be prepared to try and follow all the action while laughing from start to finish!Photo credit: Michael Hardy Photography


Stage Page: The Troubies Present LIZASTRATA Outdoors at The Getty Villa in Malibu

Troubadour Theater Company (better known as The Troubies) is a free-wheeling, no-holds-barred, Commedia Del Arte-flavored, slapstick-driven, Los Angeles-based ensemble of actors, musicians, and comedians that has been performing for audiences throughout Southern California and beyond since 1995. Over the past 12 years, the Troubies have collaborated with Getty on several occasions. Most recently they presented Getty’s first virtual theater presentation on YouTube with The ODDyssey, a whimsical retelling of Odysseus’s adventure after the Trojan War.

The Troubies fast-paced, laugh-filled, loose adaptations (some of the lines are still there) of classic plays, literature and film, as well as their original productions and hilarious sketch material, make this company a unique and exciting experience for theater-goers of any age, barring their latest show, LIZASTRATA, which is definitely strictly for adult audiences due to subject matter and language.

For those unfamiliar with Aristophanes’s classic Greek comedy Lysistrata, it tells the tale of one woman's extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by convincing the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands as a means of forcing the men to negotiate a peace. In LIZASTRATA, The Troubies tell the same story in a very modern and bawdy adaptation during which I guarantee you will hear more ways to describe sexual relations than you thought possible, see a wide-range of inflated body parts, and laugh at the outrageously updated lyrics to well-known Liza Minelli songs. To get the general idea, think New York, New York redone as No Pork, No Pork sung by the effervescent Cloie Wyatt Taylor as Lizastrata as she attempts to convince several women from other local SoCal cities to go along with her plan. And what a fun bunch of followers they turn out to be as they offer the men a choice – make war or make whoopie!

Directed and adapted by Matt Walker, who energetically takes to the stage as gender-bending characters the Emcee, Lampito and the Magistrate via quick costume changes by designer Halei Parker, the LIZASTRATA cast also features, along with Walker and Wyatt Taylor as Lizastrata, the multi-talented L.T. Martinez, Rick Batalla, Suzanne Jolie, Amanda Pajer, Jess Coffman, Beth Kennedy (whose puppetry skills will have you roaring with laughter) and Michael Faulkner. Band members who also play several roles include Dave Wright (Banjo), Ryan Whyman (Piano), John Ballinger (Guitar, Clarinet, Banjo & Misc.) and Nick Stone (Percussion). Kudos to the entire production team for such an entertaining and welcome return to in-person theatre by The Troubies!

LIZASTRATA is the 15th annual outdoor theater production in the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa. Performances, which as of this writing are totally sold out, take place on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, September 9 – October 2, 2021, at 8:00 p.m. For all the optimists out there, additional tickets may become available at www.getty.edu/LIZA or by calling (310) 440-7300. No admittance without advance reservation, and a ticket for the play does not include admission to the museum, which must be booked separately. Due to sexual language, situations, and imagery that are not recommended for persons under the age of 15. Run time is 90 minutes, no intermission, with on-site parking available. Masks are optional outdoors, but required in all indoor spaces including the café, elevators and restrooms, and proof of vaccination must be shown for admittance.

Photos by Craig Schwartz


Interview: Rachel Parker on her World Premiere of ‘The Wolfe & The Bird’

The need for personal isolation during 2020 appears to have led to a plethora of solo shows being developed and performed online and in person in which performers create mostly autobiographical tales meant to unify their own experience with the rest of us. So when I heard about Rachel Parker’s world premiere of her darkly funny, moving ‘The Wolfe & The Bird’ premiering at the Matrix Theatre on September 18, I decided to ask her about its development as well as the many characters which play a part in her story via voiceover artists.

(Shari): Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about your show, as I expect you are very busy in final rehearsals this week.

(Rachel): I’m happy to be speaking with you, Shari.

(Shari): Please share a little about your theatrical background in the Los Angeles area.

(Rachel): My first theater community here was Westside Comedy Theater. I’m a huge fan of the improv principles “yes, and-ing,” “there are no mistakes,” and “following the fear.” Eventually, I found my way into a LaBute play for one Fringe Festival, which led to my directing a play at Fringe the following year. Two of the actors from that play were Theatre of NOTE members and encouraged me to audition for the company. It was there that I aligned with actress/playwright Dagney Kerr to act in an early version of her poignant play “Deanna and Paul” being put up at another theatrical community of hers in NoHo. I’ve now collaborated a few times with some of those artists. And through the magic of Actors Access, I was able to collaborate with multi-Ovation-nominated Stefan Marks in his artfully wackadoo play “Space.”

(Shari): The play’s description states, “No time to sleep. No room for error. No pleasing mom. A young girl struggles to find herself against the backdrop of 1980s small town America in the world premiere of The Wolfe & The Bird, a darkly funny and deeply moving solo play written and performed by Rachel Parker (Ovation-nominated Space at the Stella Adler Theatre).”  Am I right in assuming the play is autobiographical, told as an adult looking back on how she got to where she is today. Is that a correct assumption? And if not, please fill me in!

(Rachel): It is autobiographical, yes. It is not, however, presented as a reflection piece. The audience experiences Rachel receiving and perceiving her life and the people in it at ages 8, 12, 15, and so on. The play does begin with a Timeless Rachel but quickly moves to Rachel at 8.

(Shari): You share in program notes that the play exists because of Isadora O’Boto and Matt Hoverman. How did they influence its creation?

(Rachel): I met Matt Hoverman at Naked Angels’ “Tuesdays@9” back in New York. Not only is Matt a talented playwright and Emmy award-winning TV writer, he’s a deeply gifted doula of solo shows since 2001. Innately, Matt is able to meet a solo show artist where she is with her work — and with herself — and to gently tease loose and shed all the stuff that encumbers the telling of a story. Matt leads with loving kindness. He’s simply the best kind of teacher. Isadora O’Boto is also a Go-Solo Workshop alum. She and I synced up and became accountability partners almost upon meeting. Isadora is an exceedingly deep listener. No matter how inchoate a scene of mine is, Isadora’s able to detect my aim and question me in a fashion that nudges me toward reaching my destination. Ours has been the most validating collaboration I’ve had to date.

(Shari): Tell me more about the 1980s small town where you grew up and which of its residents we meet in the play.

(Rachel): My house was situated between an idyllic small lake and a dangerously busy road in a village between Flint and Pontiac. My blue collar father adored that lake, which he himself grew up on. Almost all family downtime was spent on the lake, and a lot of it with my mother’s Flint modeling school coworkers and students. The audience will spend a bit of time with models Kim, Jett, and Rob with the Ken doll hair. Before Rachel starts interacting with her ballet instructor and a couple high school teachers, the audience will get to know Dana the babysitter, who hangs out nonstop with her boyfriend Matt in the basement… that is until they take Rachel and her sister on a road trip to a Pontiac hospital.

(Shari): No doubt most women grow up having issues with their mom, feeling as if there is no pleasing her. Do your observations about her outlook on life figure prominently in the play?

(Rachel): Yes.

(Shari): Does your relationship with her figure into the play’s title The Wolfe & The Bird?  Or if it doesn’t, what does it reference?

(Rachel): My village boasts a number of dirt roads — Wolfe and Bird Roads are but two of them. A number of nights were spent dreading those two roads. For me, they induced terror. For my mother, they provided a place to let out some of the deathless pressure within her. I would also add that it suggests different parenting styles.

(Shari): Tell me a bit about working with so many other actors via voiceover, including James Heaney, Dagney Kerr, Ivory Tiffin, Madeleine Townsend, Phil Ward, Silvie Zamora on the creation of all the characters they portray in the play.

(Rachel): For about eight months, director Alina Phelan and I had been meeting up every few weeks or so over Zoom, fleshing out the script. I believe it was while Alina was cleaning one day that it occurred to her how nice it would be to simply see Rachel receive the words and actions of the surrounding characters. We asked Silvie Zamora and James Heaney to partake in a Zoom reading (Silvie reading all the female characters and James all the male ones). Immediately it became clear how necessary it was to have other energies supporting the storytelling. We were so fortunate to have Silvie take on the role of my mother and to get one socially distanced in-person rehearsal and conversation with her. Silvie’s EQ is through the roof, and I simply can’t imagine anyone else in the role. As my mother is a very complicated human being, having Silvie voice all the female roles would be a disservice to my mother and to this fine actress. Same for James Heaney, who voices my father.

Casting the other actors was a dream. I was familiar with everyone’s work (save Silvie) and knew that, as they were all pros, one Zoom table read would suffice. A week later, we held individual recording sessions at The Matrix with our sound designer Stephen Epstein. It all felt pretty seamless. And safe.

(Shari): Which of these characters do you think figures most prominently in your story?  Why?

(Rachel): Silvie and James as my parents, of course. But Phil Ward as my social studies teacher and Dagney Kerr as my ballet instructor are pivotal players. These teachers provided Rachel anchors for artistic expression and chances to have “wins” during a childhood ruled by chaos.

(Shari): Tell me about bringing Alina Phelan onboard as director.  Have you two worked together before?  Did you work together in person or remotely on The Wolfe & The Bird?

(Rachel): Alina is a veteran member of NOTE. I’d been admirer of her work as both actor and director for years. Once WOLFE & BIRD was in a pretty good place, I tapped-tapped her email inbox to see if directing a solo show would be of interest to her. Thankfully, she was receptive to reading it. Turns out Alina and I both hail from Michigan! And she instantly understood the people I was striving to bring to life. Most likely it’s due to the sheltering in place that Alina’s schedule was open enough to even consider this project.

(Shari): And you have quite a well-known technical team with Lighting Design by Matt Richter, Sound Design by Stephen Epstein, and your Stage Manager Kelly Egan. No doubt you have worked together before?

(Rachel): It’s a tech-heavy show, and dang am I lucky to be surrounded by such talent! Stephen Epstein and I worked together on “Space” so enlisting him to design sound for this was a no-brainer. And Kelly Egan, well… I certainly knew her work at NOTE but this is my first opportunity to work with her, and I couldn’t be more grateful. This show couldn’t happen without her. I know she would demur at such a statement but it’s true. And Kelly is the one who brought Matt Richter onto the team. Truly thanking my lucky stars for this gem of a man and lighting designer. His visceral understanding of story and how to technically support it is simply beyond me. To be profiting from his expertise is a dream. Matt’s taken the production to another level.

(Shari): What is the message you hope audience members walk away with at the end?

(Rachel): Expression is vital. Perfection expression is not. Art heals. Good teachers make the world go round.

(Shari): As a former teacher, I love seeing my former students succeeding. So I really appreciate you expressing that belief in your play.  Thanks so much for speaking with me!

The Wolfe & The Bird premieres September 18 through October 10, with performances on Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 18; Sept. 25; Oct. 2 (no evening performance on Oct. 9). Saturday at 2 p.m.: Oct. 9 ONLY and  Sundays at 2 p.m.: Sept. 19; Sept. 26; Oct. 3; Oct. 10, at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave. in L.A. 90046 (west of Stanley Ave., between Fairfax and La Brea – arrive early and be mindful of street parking restrictions). Tickets are $18, available in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/5219775 or at the box office prior to each performance, based on availability. Admittance is limited to ages 12+ with proof of vaccination required – no exceptions – and masks must be worn properly covering your nose and mouth throughout the performance as mandated by the County of L.A.

Photos by Joshua Stern

Graphic Design by Damon Pablo


Interview with Mitch Feinstein on his Solo Autobiographical Play FOR LOVE OR MONEY

I recently spoke with writer/performer Mitch Feinstein on this autobiographical journey in FOR LOVE OR MONEY that invites all of us to consider: Can we learn lessons and make changes, or is it too late? Set at the onset of the pandemic, a successful 76-year-old businessman is forced to examine his choices in life, what he thinks he has achieved, and what he feels he has lost. Why did he so fervently quest for money and security at the expense of his own happiness and the trampling of his artistic soul?

"At the beginning of the pandemic, I felt a complete loss of control," Mitch says. "The crashing of the economy brought to my present consciousness deep-seated fears that have besieged me all of my life." Like many during the extended shelter-in-place order, he found an online class to help soothe his anxieties.

Mitch chose a daily meditation and writing class with Jessica Lynn Johnson, Founder and CEO of Soaring Solo Studios (soaringsolostudios.com) in which Jessica guides and directs her students in the creation of their one-person shows. Jessica has directed and developed over 100 solo shows and has performed her own pieces for the past 15 years.

Jessica shares, "It is a joy to help Mitch and all of my students realize their dreams of solo performance. Part of what I do is help them process fears that arise so they can get their stories out and transform them into theatrical, entertaining, and dynamic pieces of art onstage. And we do it as a tribe, which is much more fun and supportive than doing it alone!"

The workshop's daily writing prompts helped Mitch coalesce the pieces of his lived story. "This is my honest attempt to understand and explain the choices I made in my life and perhaps provide guideposts for myself and others to acceptance and peace," Mitch says.

Offering further insight into his creation process, Mitch shares, "For me I had no choice. The way I was feeling in March 2020, looking back on my life, trying to find some peace as a way through the pandemic, the show just came out. The feelings and ideas had been brewing. The more acting classes I took, and the more I let go of my business career, the more I wondered how I had made the choices I made and where was I now. The short answer is this story is the best version of truth of choices people make between the practical and the loved."

Tune in as I am sure the focus of this show is a universal one for all of us whose lives have fundamentally changed in so many ways during the past year. FOR LOVE OR MONEY streams via Vimeo as an official selection of SoloFest 2021 on March 6, 2021, at 7pm. 75 minutes, no intermission. Tickets: $15.99. To purchase visit: https://www.tickettailor.com/events/mitchell/475377

Actor/Writer Bio: Mitch Feinstein always dreamed of being an artist, a writer, a professor, or an actor but his creative path was interrupted early on by forces in him that sought wealth and security. Finally at age 60, when his business career ended, he chose to study acting and was accepted to the Strasberg Institute. For five years Mitch was lucky to be able to study under Hedy Sontag, a preeminent "Strasbergian," and he became a member of the Strasberg acting ensemble, The Group at Strasberg. Memorable roles included Sorin in Chekhov's The Seagull as well as The Landlord in Gogol's The Lower Depths. Mitch continues to study acting with Martha Gehman of Zak Barnett studios and he has had several roles on stage with Theatre Palisades, including most recently, Mr. Hammerschmidt in "Parfumerie."

Photos courtesy of Mitch Feinstein


Interview: Playwright and Actor Sarah Hunter on why DOGS ARE BETTER THAN PEOPLE

Dogs Are Better Than People, written and performed by Sarah Hunter, and developed and directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson, is an eccentric romp through drinking, bad men, and fabulous dogs who each tell Sarah’s story. But why, you may ask, does Sarah Hunter truly believe that Dogs are better than people? Could it be the canines in her life might be better at telling the truth about life’s trials and tribulations, as well as the many joys, they have experienced with her in life?

In tribute to all her knowledgeable dogs over the years, the writer/performer decided to let them tell her story. Lilly the Airedale. along with the Chiweenie duo Koa and Louis the Fourteenth, and several others spill all about her humorous journey - beginning with her divorce in Chicago, frustration, bad relationships, to revelation and celebration in finding a "working relationship" in sobriety with Matthew, the man who appreciates both her and her dogs.

Intrigued by a play’s title and a devoted dog Mom myself, I decided to speak with its writer/performer Sarah Hunter to find out more about her and the play’s creation. To my surprise, I found out Ms. Hunter is also a retired English teacher (as I am), although she taught for many more years than I did. I was also interested to find out about her travels with groups of adolescents to Europe, something I always thought I would have loved to do, had I had the patience for it.

And to top everything off, turns out she also believes that astrology provides insights into understanding other people, especially students and learning to get along with men. And since I used my understanding of astrological birth charts in similar ways, which worked every time, I was curious about whether or not the dogs offer any insights about it in the play.

Shari Barrett (Shari): Hi Sarah. I know we have a lot to talk about given that Dogs Are Better Than People is an eccentric romp through drinking, bad men, and fabulous dogs. So let’s start with the fabulous dogs who tell your story. What can you tell me about the ones you have shared your life with and is there one in particular that inspired you to write the play?

Sarah Hunter (Sarah): Thanks, Shari, for your questions and the chance to let me rhapsodize about dogs, my first loves. Growing up, I had my springer spaniel, Toby, to talk to when things got tough with my family. He always gave me a sloppy kiss and comforted me whenever I needed it. He inspired me to write this piece, along with all the other dogs who have loved me and whom I have adored. So I decided the best way to give them credit for being a part of my life was to BECOME them and let them speak.

Shari: I often think my dog rescued me. Do you believe the unconditional love and emotional support you get from a devoted dog is one of the best presents you can give yourself in life?

Sarah: Oh, yes. I think the presence of a dog, with its head on my knee or in my lap is therapy. It’s hard to remain glum or irritated for long when there’s an enthusiastic, loving little pair of eyes begging for a piece of chicken or wagging her tail for a walk. I can’t imagine living without two of them. They rescued me when I was drunk, when I became sober, and when I went through one bad relationship after another. Always there...always nonjudgmental, always pure love.

Shari: Tell me about your partnership with well-known solo show director Jessica Lynn Johnson. Did you start developing Dogs Are Better Than People as a student in her ongoing free weekly solo theatre class?

Sarah: Actually, no, I sought Jessica out after seeing my friend, and fellow Solo Artist, Lisa Verlo, perform an excerpt of her newest one woman show in Jessica’s Soaring Solo Salon. From there, I started to work with Jessica one-on-one to create my show. Jessica is humorous, talented, creative and full of sound advice and encouragement. And the best part is that Jessica has an adorable “Chug” named Ruby Peanut who makes frequent appearances during our coaching sessions.

Shari: Anything you want to share about the “drinking and bad men” who populate the play?

Sarah: Well, the scene that I put in the play featuring a hideous “Silver Singles date” really happened. Complete with the sweaty armpit-stained t-shirt and the bad attitude. I found my online dating experiences absurd and depressing, so I put one of them in the show... for a bit of humor.

Shari: Tell me a bit more about Matthew, the man who finally appreciates both you and your dogs. Did you meet while walking your dogs? What made you realize he was different than the other men you had dated?

Sarah: Matthew, whose real name is Andres, is a fellow sober man who loves my dogs and me. He has a sense of humor and appreciation of music and the Arts. We’ve been together for a decade.

Shari: That in itself is pretty special! Do you talk about your years as an English teacher in the play as seen through the eyes of your dogs?  No doubt teachers now are on Zoom with their pets often clamoring for attention during online classes!

Sarah: At one point in my show, I have Sarah (me, the main character) grading essays on the couch and swearing out loud. Lilly, the Airedale, makes a comment about what Sarah thinks of the essays and then says she’s grateful she’s a dog instead of an English student.

Shari: I know you led several tours of Europe with students. Was there a favorite place you especially loved sharing with them?

Sarah: I’m in love with Paris, and the kids loved it too -- the nighttime boat ride down the Seine, the trip to the chocolate factory, the ice cream parlors, the Louvre, the cafes, everything. even going to Versailles, a place I find to be magic. They did too. I did my best to wear them out so they wouldn’t complain about the deeply mediocre food catered by the tour company. We all managed to come home a little porkier than when we started out!

Shari: I have been to Paris many times and I absolutely adore the people and places, especially all the museums! It also seems we both have a strong interest in astrology. Have you used its techniques to better understand your dogs – and men?

Sarah: Men, yes, dogs no. I think dogs are God’s gifts to us, but men… well, I’ve made mistakes astrologically there. I’m a Sagittarius and my human partner is a Libra, so we are compatible. All dogs have gotten along great with me. Lilly was a Gemini, and my two chiweenies are both little Tauruses. Stubborn, but oh so loving!

Shari: Is there anything else you would like viewers to know about yourself and/or Dogs Are Better Than People?

Sarah: I hope they enjoy my whacky sensibilities and appreciation of DOGS, especially since God spelled backwards is DOG.

Shari: Thanks so much for speaking with me about the show! I can’t wait to be in the audience!


The eccentric collection of talking dogs presented by Sarah Hunter in Dogs Are Better Than People takes place as part of the Whitefire Theatre Solofest 2021 Livestream on Saturday, March 13th at 7pm PST/10 pm EST. Tickets are $15.99, available at https://www.whitefiretheatre.com with a portion of the show's proceeds being donated to Pasadena Humane, Hand In Paw Rescue, and Soi Dog Foundation. So settle in to enjoy the show with your own four-legged furry friends around your home screen!

 

Background on Sarah Hunter and Jessica Lynn Johnson:

Sarah Hunter is the other half of Two Heads are Better Productions. She began creating characters and dramas in her neighborhood backyard at age eight back in West Lafayette, Indiana. From graduate school to her time in Los Angeles, Sarah remains a dedicated student of classical and modern theater. She has dubbed Japanese cartoons, done voice-over work, had her original plays produced in Los Angeles and Pasadena as well as being a published short story writer. She continues acting, creating, writing and dreaming.

The most important thing for Sarah is the continuous re-inventing of herself each time she writes another play or TV episode. Working with Sandra Cruze on TWO HEADS ARE BETTER PRODUCTIONS has allowed Sarah to continue writing episodes and acting, and working on her one-woman solo shows which she has presented at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA as well as the Whitefire Theatre.

Jessica Lynn Johnson is a published playwright, recipient of BEST NATIONAL SOLO ARTIST AWARD, Board member of the LA Women's Theatre Festival and Founder & CEO of Soaring Solo Theatre Company LLC. For years, Jessica has taught an ongoing free weekly solo theatre class, as well as paid private coaching sessions to guide solo artists in the development of their one person plays. For over a decade she has “edu-tained” international audiences touring her own 25-character one person shows. Recently, Jessica was thrilled to direct 5 solo artists in the LA Women's Theatre Festival, 17 solo shows in Whitefire Theatre's Solo Fest 2017, and 15 solo shows in the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2017. Over the years, Jessica's solo shows haven taken home TOP OF FRINGE, ENCORE PRODUCER AWARDS, & several other accolades! For more info on her various projects, visit www.JessicaLynnJohnson.com


COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: A Nomad's Journey - An Interview with IAMA's Stefanie Black


The co-artistic director of IAMA Theatre Company, film, television, and stage actor Stefanie Black has done it all. Twelve years ago, she co-founded the IAMA Theatre Company, an Ovation award-winning Los Angeles-based ensemble of artists committed to invigorating live performance for a streaming generation. Through cutting-edge, cool, and hyper-modern stories, IAMA is invested in the immediacy of production and strives to bring audiences out of their personal space and into a shared experience. IAMA has produced over 15 premiere plays, including Found, Canyon, The Recommendation, A Kid like Jake, and Cult of Love. Pamdemic or not, Stefanie has determined to stay busy doing what she loves. She kindly agreed to being interviewed in April, 2020.


Stefanie Black, Brandon Scott, Adam Shapiro, and Christine Woods in "Canyon" - Photo by Dean Cechvala

When and how did IAMA Theatre Company first form? Were you involved from the beginning? 

Stefanie Black:  IAMA was founded in the summer of 2007 by a group of us who had all just moved to Los Angeles from NYC. We'd all graduated from NYU a couple years before and found ourselves together in LA looking to create theater and stay true to our roots. Katie Lowes, my co-Artistic Director, and I were part of the original eight members.”

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

 

SB: IAMA is probably best known for producing the world premieres of all seven of Leslye Headland's The Seven Deadly Plays. Bachelorette and Assistance were some of our most popular and successful plays. We concluded the series in 2018 with our production of Cult of Love which will have its co-world premiere this summer at The Williamstown Theater Festival. In 2013, we won the Ovation Award for best production intimate theater for our production of Jonathan Caren's The Recommendation. We also garnered an Ovation Nomination in 2019 for best season. In 2019 we co-hosted the 5th Annual Stage Raw Awards with Ammunition Theatre Company.

 

Ryan Garcia, Sheila Carrasco, and Desi Dennis-Dylan in "Found" - Photo by Jeff Lorch

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

SB: We closed our west coast premiere of the new musical Found on March 13. We had two more weeks of performances before we were to close on March 23. We also had our production of Canyon cancelled, which was to be remounted by the Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas as part of Block Party. That was scheduled to open on April 10.”

Tom De Trinis, Jordan Kai Burnett, Mike Millan, and Jonah Platt in "Found" - Photo by Jeff Lorch

How has COVID-19 impacted on your theater?

SB: Honestly, for us, we are very lucky to be a nomadic company moving between a few theater venues each season. Our lack of home has actually kept us a little more financially stable than some of our colleagues. What we do need right now is to keep a direct line to our audience and community. We need to spend this time to plan for the future and the new normal that we are about to enter. The downside has been that we didn't get to finish what was a very successful run, and it has us looking at downsizing production for next season.

Laila Ayad, Melissa Stephens, and Tina Huang in "Cult of Love" - Photo by Dean Cechvala

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

SB:  IAMA is keeping busy by meeting regularly via Zoom and launching our #IAMAatHome, which will see us rolling out a variety of content. We're making theater without a theater. We are also in planning mode for our first show of next season, as well as a potential workshop this summer - if we are able to gather by then.”

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

SB:  I think it's hard to say what the permanent impact will be on LA Theater. I do believe that we are setting new precedents of how theater can live virtually in the cyber world and what that means for all artists. I am hopeful that LA intimate theater will be the first to come back since our numbers for gathering are smaller. Hopefully, that will be encouraging for audiences and help to bring us all back to the theater together.

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

SB: IAMA isn't going anywhere and we just want our audience to stay with us, stay safe, and stay engaged. We'll be back!!!  #LATheatreLives

What are some of your future plans?

SB: IAMA is always looking towards the future. We are very excited about our 2020/2021 season, the Jubilee Season, dedicated to celebrating female-identifying playwrights. We are excited about continuing our writers’ labs and finding ways to share their work with the public. Most importantly, our plans include being around for another 12 seasons and then some.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loose Knit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



How Wearing a Mask Could Help the Theatre Industry and Your Local Economy


The following was posted on facebook by film and theatre actress Kitty Swink, who is a member of the Antaeus Theatre Company in Los Angeles. With her permission I'm reposting for all to read and share.

Kitty copied and slightly edited this and shared from multiple of her dear and fabulously talented colleagues.


Please read this...this is personal!!!

Our industry is gone, and it will be a very long time before it recovers. Hope you all are enjoying the beach and theme parks while we just sit home and hope our jobs come back. Stop being selfish. Stay home. Wear a mask.

Yesterday, Broadway formally announced the rest of the year is canceled and Cirque du Soleil has filed for bankruptcy protection. Lincoln Center is closed. Multiple orchestras and opera companies have cancelled seasons. Smaller regional companies , venues and organizations are in jeopardy. Even community theatres , bands, orchestras, free lance gigs have gone away. So when you see your entertainment friends begging you to wear masks and stay home, understand that we are helplessly watching our industry crumble before our eyes because the country is doing so poorly at reducing the spread. This IS personal for us.

If you plan on watching ‘Hamilton’ today... or if you loved the ‘Chicago’ movie... or if ‘Sound of Music’ or Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for you. THEY ALL started on a stage.

Now Broadway is shut down till Jan 2021. Major performing arts presenters are closed for the next season.

ALL of the following people are out work.

It’s not just the actors or musicians.

For those of you not in the theatre or music community, please understand the scope of Broadway/Off-Broadway being shut down. Frankly, this affects all theatre and music anywhere. It travels much further than the stage boards where you see the brilliant performers giving you an amazing show. You also have:

- Tour managers
- Production managers
- Tour accountants
- Stage managers
- Company managers
- House managers
- General managers
- Stage Techs
- House crew
- Runners
- Truck and Bus drivers
- Promoter reps
- Caterers
- Production Assistants
- Dressers / Wardrobe
- Hair/Makeup
- Carpenters
- Electrics
- FOH Sound Engineers, Monitor Engineers & techs
- Lighting Designers and Techs
- Props
- Musicians
- Ushers
- Bartenders
- Box office treasurers
- Porters
- Cleaners
- Matrons
- Merchandise
- Security
- Marketing
- Producers
- Directors
- Choreographers
- Authors
- Orchestrators/Arrangers
- Interns
- Press Agents
- Casting Directors
- Set Designers
- Costume Designers
- Hair/Makeup Designers
- Lighting Designers
- Sound Designers
- Prop Designers
- All the design assistants
- Vocal/dialect coaches
- Child wranglers
- Doormen

Now go out of the theatre district and see the jobs this shutdown also affects:

- All the costume shops where the costumes are made
- The millinery shops where the hats/headpieces are made
- The cobblers where all the custom shoes are made
- The wigmakers
- The fabric/bead/feather shops- while these may reopen they will suffer huge losses with no shows requiring anything for this entire year.
- Scenic shops where the sets are built
- Prop shops where the props are made
- Sound and Lighting shops where the lights & mics are rented from
- Design studios where the sets, costumes, props, etc are dreamed up to make the directors vision a reality
- Rehearsal spaces for the show to be worked out before it appears for your pleasure
- Merchandise vendors, concessions
- Advertising agencies & press agencies
- Talent agencies and managers
- Union offices
- Producer & general management offices

Now venture even deeper into the shutdown and see the business that is lost in the theatre district from just the people in the industry not working on a show (then on top of that the loss of audience members buying stuff at)

- Delis
- Restaurants
- Post-show bars
- Coffee shops
- Hotels
- Garages
- Gyms
- Physical therapists

If that list seems long - it is! And that’s just New York. That’s not even taking into account all the theatre around this country. For most of us - this is our whole life!!
Wear a damn mask!



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Twelve Actors and a Laundromat - An Interview with Group Rep's Doug Haverty


Talented California-born Doug Haverty has done it all, from actor and playwright to lyricist and producer. Little did he know that his first play, a college comedy called Hello, This is the Bottom Drawer, would draw so much positive attention and lead to a writing job in New York. But it was not until In My Mind's Eye premiered at the Los Angeles Group Repertory Theatre in 1984 that his talent won him a most promising playwright award, as well as a Drama-Logue award for best playwriting in 1985. Musicals included Love Again, Roleplay/Inside Out, Flavia, and The Dream Maker, and The Ghost of Gershwin. Doug has acted in numerous Group Rep productions, most notably And Then There were None, Lend Me a Tenor, and The Cape and the Klan. In addition to his role at the Group Rep, Doug also co-moderates Theatre West’s Writer’s Workshop. A true multi-tasker, Doug took some time out of his busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


Kyle Bares, Jean Altadel, Emma-Jayne Appleyard, Daniel Lench, Suzy London, Andrew Bourgeois, and Gregory Guy Gorden in "The Ghost of Gershwin" - Photo by Sherry Netherland

When did your theater first begin its long career? Were you Involved from the beginning?

Doug Haverty: The Group Rep began life in May of 1973 when 12 actors converted a laundromat in Hollywood into a 37-seat theater. They convinced Lonny Chapman to come on board and be their Artistic Director. Shortly thereafter, they relocated to a charming theater on Magnolia Boulevard in North Hollywood. I saw plays at this space, which reminded me (personally) of the summer stock theater in Michigan where I met my wife. The building looked like a barn. It was red with white trim, and it was set back off Magnolia. There was a walkway lined with pine trees and benches. It was really bucolic. It had a front porch and the box office/concessions looked like the bar in a saloon.

I joined the theater in 1982 as a playwright. Lonny liked my play, In My Mind's Eye, and told me he’d like to help me develop it. My first meeting with the group was on a Monday night, and they were presenting a workshop of a new play they’d been rehearsing. It was memorized, directed, costumed; it even had working props. But it was played on the set of their current show. The work and dedication was astounding. Every role had been cast perfectly, it was beautifully directed, and I could not believe the level of commitment from these actors and this director. They had obviously been working on it for weeks without any guarantee of production — they just believed in the play. I knew, then and there, that this was the place for me. The play was The Lilac Tree, and it did become a production — in fact, it was the last production at that charming space. The City of North Hollywood had determined that they needed that land for a senior citizens tower (which is there now). One or two of the pine trees survived.

The City relocated Group Rep to its current space on Burbank Blvd.; and the first full-length production was my play, In My Mind's Eye. The production did very well, and this play went on to be produced in Berkeley and Whittier. It was eventually published by Samuel French, where it’s been done all over the country. The Group Rep just revived this play as part of their 2020 season; and it was, again, very well received by audiences and critics alike. I had many people tell me how moved they were by the play — even perfect strangers liked it.

Reenie Moore, Pat Lentz, Claudia Fenton, Bonnie Snyder, Jodi Carlisle, and Julie Bloomfield, the world premiere cast of "Roleplay/Inside Out"  - Photo by Dale Cooke

When did you become the artistic director?

DH:  Through the years, I have participated in various productions at Group Rep wearing various hats. I have acted in many shows, produced several shows, and done sound design and graphic design for many shows. As a playwright, I’ve had several premieres, including In My Mind's Eye, Next Window Please, Roleplay (A Musical written with Adryan Russ), Love Again (a musical written with Adryan Russ), The Ghost of Gershwin (a musical written with Wayland Pickard and Laura Manning), and A Carol Christmas (a musical written with Bruce Kimmel).

When previous co-artistic directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield announced their plans to retire, the search committee offered me the artistic directorship about a year ago. We began planning the 2020 season last June. I took over, officially, on January 1, 2020. Larry and Chris are both still very much involved with the theater — which is great for the company and me.

“The Group Repertory Theatre was one of the original 99-seat Equity waiver theaters in Los Angeles (allowing us to use Equity actors and not have to pay Equity wages). The 99-seat plan was dissolved by Equity a few years ago, and Equity named a dozen membership companies as AEA approved membership companies. This allows us to use Equity actors and non-Equity actors without any restrictions. AEA recognizes that we are a company run by actors, and therefore assumes we will treat actors justly and with respect.

Some of my works have started at Group Rep and gone on to have other lives. So, it’s fun to realize that things we’re developing in our little theatrical think-tank could actually “grow up” and expand after their debut in NoHo. I wrote a musical with Adryan Russ which started as a workshop. We were going to present it as a two-nighter to the public. After Lonny Chapman popped into a rehearsal for a look-see, he came up to me afterwards and said, in his usual theatrically startling way, “No. We’re not going to do this as a two-nighter. Let’s do a little more rehearsing and just open it.” And we did. It was supposed to run five weeks and it ran five months, which was fairly unheard of at that time. That little musical, now called Inside Out, eventually wound its way into Manhattan , had an Off-Off Broadway run at the Village Theatre Company, and eventually an Off Broadway run at the Cherry Lane Theatre. It’s been done around the world, was recently translated into Serbian, and had an 18-month run in Belgrade that was tremendously successful.

“We did a relatively new version of A Christmas Carol in 2009. It was adapted for the stage by Richard Hellesen and David De Berry. This extravaganza was directed by our then-artistic director, Ernest Figueroa. It was one of the most ambitious shows we’d done with a huge cast, glorious set design, tons of costumes, and beautiful, lush music. The author of the book combined text from the short story, as well as other essays Dickens wrote about Christmas. So, it was a Dickensian Christmas buffet. I played Bob Cratchit, and Chris Winfield was Scrooge. It was magic. Audiences loved it. It was so rewarding to be a part of that; and I genuinely felt affection for all the Cratchit kids, especially Tiny Tim.

It was that experience that inspired me to write my own musical version of the classic by Dickens. I wanted to make mine modern and set in the U.S. I converted all the major men’s roles into women’s roles. I enlisted Bruce Kimmel to direct and create the songs and score. In 2018, A Carol Christmas was born; and audiences absolutely loved it. We’re in the process of marketing it now to a national theater network and hope to have the GRT-streamed version available during this shelter-in-place.”

Stephanie Colet, Tricia Hershberger, Shelby Kocee, Gina Yates, and Bianca Gisselle in "Next Window Please" - Photo by Doug Engalla

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

DH:  Our first production was scheduled to close on March 15, and we did run until the published conclusion. That last weekend, groups of 50 or more were being discouraged. We limited sales to 50 seats per show (which wasn’t difficult at that point) and encouraged seat selection using social distancing. Those last three shows were very good, and the audiences seemed very appreciative. My friend, talented director John Musker, remarked, “Well, this may be the last play I ever see…and if it is, then at least it was a good one.”

“Our next two plays, Neil Simon’s London Suite and Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, were both in rehearsals. Rehearsals continued for a few days, but then the order came through that groups larger than ten were discouraged. That’s when we collectively decided to postpone all activity in the theater building until the Mayor/Governor determine it’s safe to gather again.

Cast of "A Carol Christmas" - Photo by Karen Staitman

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

DH:  This has impacted us drastically. We are completely volunteer-run and member-funded. Our members pay dues and are, in essence, shareholders in our company. Somehow, over the past 46 years, we have managed to stay afloat with donations, dues, fundraisers, and box office. Some months are leaner than others. We had two shows almost ready to open and fundraisers planned. Everything has been put on hold. Plus a lot of our members utilize the theater space for work on various projects that they’ve devised. There is a lot of activity at that building, given two theaters and two additional rehearsal spaces.

Additionally, we are in a Triple Net Lease, which means we are responsible for the physical upkeep of the building (as well as property taxes and insurance). With the rains and a very old roof, we have to constantly keep watch for leaks. We were right in the middle of refurbishing the dressing rooms for the upstairs theater and putting in a new lighting system upstairs.

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

DH:  Just this week, we put a video of In My Mind's Eye; and it’s available for steaming. In the coming weeks, we will upload other original works and make them available for streaming. Once it’s safe to gather again, we will resume rehearsals and start to reschedule our fundraisers. We have had tele-conferences, and some people have been meeting via Zoom."

Bobby Slaski, Kait Haire, Lloyd Pedersen, and Peyton Kirkner in "In My Mind's Eye" - Photo by Doug Engalla

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

DH:  Will live theater in Los Angeles change as a result of COVID-19? I am an optimist, so I always hope for the best. I hope that, after people have been quarantined and sequestered for weeks or months on end, they will be hungry for live theater and crave participating in live art played out before their eyes. I hope that theater-going habits will survive this pandemic. I hope that people will once again look for activities outside the safety of their homes.

Our matinees have always been popular with audiences. We had already planned to introduce additional Saturday matinees with London Suite, and we will continue to schedule them in once we’re up and running again.

My fear is that many businesses, including many theaters, will not survive this pandemic and will shutdown. I just hope that we can hang on and continue doing what we love doing.

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

DH:  Naturally, the thing we most need is money just to keep paying the rent (and in our case also the property taxes and insurance). We realize that — at this point in time — money is not easily given. We desperately need a new roof. The rains have damaged our structure and exterior doors and carpets. We’d also like a large storage shed to hold costumes, props, and set pieces. So, since we are an official 501 (c) (3), we can accept donations in kind (things like materials, labor, etc.)”

What are some of your future plans?

DH:  Once we re-gather, we will complete the rehearsal process and open two plays in rep (upstairs and downstairs). We have a very ambitious season planned (in both spaces). We will re-strategize our fundraising campaigns and events. And we will continue to audition and bring in new members, as well as continue to develop new plays and musicals.

In 2008, we did Inspecting Carol, which is kind of Noises Off  meets A Christmas Carol. It was in the beginning of the financial downturn, and people were generally depressed. It was so wonderful to be able to offer the community an evening of belly laughs. There were times where the laughter was so intense that the huge laughs turned into coughs. Laughter can be healing. So, personally, I am looking forward to presenting Neil Simon’s London Suite. A lot of people are familiar with Plaza Suite and even California Suite, but not that many people are familiar with the third entry in his Suite of Suites. It will be like discovering a new Neil Simon. That play opens whenever we reopen - which is currently set for mid-May - pandemic permitting, of course.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


All production photos credit: Miguel Elliot


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Tom Vitorino - Reflections on COVID-19 and the Thursday Night Theater Club


Actor, producer, and co-founder of Thursday Night Theater Club (TNTC), Tom Vitorino has appeared in film, television, commercials, soap operas, and live theater. Most recently, he starred in The Elephant Man, the tale of tragically deformed John Merrick, at the historic El Portal Theatre. Tom graciously took time from his busy schedule to interview in March 2020.


Vanessa Vaughn, Jennipher Lewis, Robin Roth, and Tom Vitorino in THE ELEPHANT MAN - Photo by David Ruano

When did your theater company first begin? Were you involved from the beginning? Who/how/why/where was it founded?

TV:  Alice Walker and I started “Thursday Night Theater Club” at her kitchen table in 2017. While the company has no long career in the sense of decades, anyone who’s ever taken on the task of starting a theater company ages a decade in the first year!

Alice and I wanted to put on plays that held a mirror up to the audience. That was the reason we started the company. The plays we’ve produced deal with very real social issues, tend to be timeless, and have large casts. We wanted to involve large groups of people from all social groups. It is about activating the idea of change, some sort of mind and spirit expansion, even if for just those associated with the production.”

Tom Vitorino and Alice L. Walker in "A View from the Bridge" - Photo by Cierra Danielle

Have you had to close down any productions due to COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run - or do you have any upcoming productions - which are affected?

TV:  I was at the pre-production stage of Anne Nelson’s The Guys. This was my new endeavor outside of TNTC. This play takes place during the period right after 9/11. It really amplifies the idea of how complete strangers can lean on each other in the most difficult of times. We’ve had a few get-togethers and were set to meet on March 15, but we’ve postponed all of our meetings. We were just about at that point to really dive in, so that is on hold. Ronnie Marmo is directing. Robyn Cohen is playing the role of Joan, and I will be Nick. This will open at Theater 68 in the NoHo Arts District on September 11, 2020. Yes, I am projecting that we return to a sense of normalcy. I have to.

Tom Vitorino and Alice L. Walker in "The Elephant Man" - Photo by David Ruano

Over the past weeks, has COVID-19 impacted on your group in any way?

TV: I think right in front of me is the fear, the anxiety, and the depression that I have never really experienced like this. Usually those feelings are in the moment; but, with this deadly outbreak, you go to bed with it. You awake, and those feelings are still there. Every cough creates a sense of panic!  New terms like “social distancing” are forever a part of the world; and that distance - while 110% needed - creates the inability to physically comfort a friend, a stranger, or anyone outside of your “home stay” crew. I spend a lot of time on Zoom, and it is rather ironic that the very medium of online connectivity that many felt was not a real connection is now in many cases the only connection we have left at this point. My wife Stephanie and I have stayed at home since March 11 except for a few trips to the grocery store wearing whatever PPE (there’s another new term) we have. We are three weeks into this situation. If I should meet eyes with another shopper while grocery shopping, there’s this knowing nod, this unspoken support of each other. The “social distancing” that we all employ is a shared experience is a sign of solidarity against this virus and an act of love for life itself.  So all of this makes me even more grateful for many things I have taken for granted.

Ethan Micael, Tom Vitorino, and Jeremy Falla in "A View from the Bridge" - Photo by Cierra Danielle

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Having virtual meetings? Streaming?

TV:  We have discussed when the time is right to start some readings on Zoom. At this time, I just think that people need space to figure out the day-to-day life changes that this virus has created. There is a lot of information to process, and that reality is front and center every day. But, in the near future, we will find a way forward.

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

TV:  In hard times like World War I, The Great Depression, World War II, and 9/11, people needed entertainment to forget - if just for a few minutes or a few hours - about the reality just outside the living room, cinema, or theater door. Some look at “the arts” as being non-essential in these difficult times; but to me, that is like saying love is non-essential. Art will always be essential to the healing of the world and the existence of a loving, caring humankind. Los Angeles is an amazing, resilient town, and we will come out of this stronger than we went in. As for theater goers, the theater needs them as much, if not more, than it needs the performers. We are all counting on them, as we always do; and they have never let us down.

I understand that you are offering something special to theater patrons for your upcoming productions. Will you tell us more about that?

TV:  We had always planned on offering free tickets to firefighters for our upcoming production of The Guys,, since it deals with the subject matter of eulogizing eight firefighters who lost their lives in 9/11. It just felt like the right thing to do. The COVID-19 outbreak has shifted our social awareness, and we have a responsibility as artists to our community. Any student, healthcare worker, first responder, and anyone 65 years or older, is added to our comp list. We will have to figure out how we administer that. Maybe half the house will be reserved for those groups. Everyone else will be “pay what you can afford,” but that will be our policy.

Do you have any closing thoughts or words of encouragement for your patrons?

TV:  You are not alone in your thoughts. We all share those same fears. But know that this will eventually end, and hopefully we come out a little better than we were before this happened. I wish I could line all of you up and give each of you a hug, but that might not happen again for a good while. So, wrap your arms around yourself and give a little squeeze. That hug’s from me.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.