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.