Spotlight Series: Meet Cate Caplin, A Multiple Award-Winning Producer, Director and Choreographer


This Spotlight focuses on Cate Caplin, a multiple award-winning producer, director and choreographer whose talents have ignited productions on television, in films, music videos, commercials, and in theatrical venues worldwide. But of course, her busy schedule was put on hold with the rest of the world, just as she was beginning to direct and choreograph a musical very close to her heart.

While I assume almost everyone in the LA Theatre community knows of Cate and her contributions to the Arts, for those not lucky enough to have worked with her before, I am first sharing a bit of her theatrical background.

Cate Caplin has been devoted to the Arts all of her life, having started her dance training at age 5. She trained with many inspirational teachers and coaches over the years including summers at Interlochen Center for the Arts while continuing at the Washington School of Ballet, the Royal Academy in London, and the Metropolitan Ballet where she was a principal dancer.


Cate went on to dance with two more professional ballet companies before moving to NYC to continue her training, performing career dancing with the American Dance Machine, doing summer stock, performing internationally with the Broadway revival of West Side Story, and regionally with Disney's Symphonic Fantasy featured as Princess Jasmine for which she enjoyed a 22 city tour starting at the Hollywood Bowl and ending back in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera House. Her amazing talent and charisma on the dance floor led Cate to become a 34-time Regional and International Theatrical Ballroom Dance Champion.

To this date, Cate has produced, directed and choreographed over 200 productions with her work seen on television, in films, music videos, commercials, and in theatrical venues worldwide from the Paris Opera House to the Broadway Stage. She wrote and directed her first feature film Mating Dance, which won an Accolade Award and can be found on Amazon.com. Her production company, Night & Day Entertainment, co-founded with her creative partner Vernon Willet, custom designs entertainment for private parties, corporate events and industrial trade shows.

 

For her work in theatre, Cate has been the recipient of a Garland Award, a Women in Theatre Red Carpet Award, multiple LA Stage Alliance Ovation, Eddon and Scenie Awards, and was honored to receive an Award of Excellence from the LA Film Commission for her work as a Writer, Director, Choreographer and Producer. Last year, Playwright's Arena presented Cate with the Lee Melville Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Los Angeles Theatre Community.

So how has such a talented and totally creative person been able to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic which has sidelined theatre worldwide?  I spoke with Cate to find out.

Shari Barrett (SB): What production were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak? 

Cat Caplin (Cate): We had just cast 32 actors for a production of West Side Story that I was going to direct and choreograph for Inland Valley Repertory Theatre (IVRT) presented at Candlelight Pavilion. The show was officially canceled one day before our first day of rehearsal, same day that Broadway announced it was closing.

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

(Cate): The producer, Frank Minano, emailed me and then the entire creative team and cast. Hearts were broken, of course, as we were very excited to begin. I had been so looking forward to creating the production since I was cast in the revival of the show when it was finishing its run on Broadway back in the 80's, and went on a six-month International Tour throughout Italy and at the Paris Opera House for three months. Our production was directed by Jerome Robbins and conducted by Leonard Bernstein! Needless to say, it was a thrill of a lifetime working on that classic show with the original creators.

(SB): Let me know when you write a book about that tour! Are plans in place to present the IVRT production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

(Cate): I believe the production is canceled completely because IVRT selects their shows based on what Candlelight is producing since they share the backdrop and primary set of what's being presented in their season. I'm not sure how that will play out, especially since no one really knows when theatre will be officially back in full form anywhere, and West Side Story is a big show with lots of physical contact and bodies interacting and dancing in close quarters. The nature of theatre as we knew it is changing dramatically and only time will tell how and what sort of creative work will be presented over the next few months and years. Many companies are canceling seasons completely and postponing productions into 2021, and even that is an unknown entity at this point.

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

(Cate): I have a production I am scheduled to direct in the fall and we are continuing with pre-production conversations sensitive to health and safety elements that are now part of the overall discussion and approach to creating live theatre. I hope we go forward with the show, but like everyone else, we just have to take it one day at a time...

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

(Cate): It's been interesting.... even though in theory I have more time each day without my usual classes, appointments, rehearsals and run around activities, my days continue to be quite full. I am reading lots of wonderful books, watching movies and some television series and specials I wouldn't ordinarily take the time to experience.

I have been taking some online classes offered by Yale University, and also tuning in to theatrical podcasts, seminars, and industry panel discussions since our theatrical community is intensely fertile at this time! I decided to jump into the electronic "pool" with everyone else and just signed on to direct my first Zoom staged reading of a new play later in July.

(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?

(Cate): It's important to keep open to learning, stretching and growing, mentally, emotionally and spiritually during tough times. And now that there's time for more channels of inspiration, embrace those opportunities. Trust the "bigger plan" and try to navigate these uncharted waters with hope and faith in a most positive outcome: a renaissance of heightened compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, humanity and peace.

(SB): For more information about Cate including future updates about her theatrical schedule, please visit CateCaplin.com, www.MatingDanceTheMovie.com, DanceInFlight.com


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Michael Leoni, the Playwright, Bi-Coastal Director, and Co-Founder of The 11:11 in WeHo


This Spotlight  focuses on Michael Leoni, a playwright, bi-coastal director, and co-founder of The 11:11 in WeHo whose productions have brilliantly focused attention on the pitfalls of modern society, especially in the entertainment industry and on homeless street kids.


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

Michael Leoni (ML): I have been directing theater and film since high school and have been fortunate to direct professionally in both LA and NYC. One of my very first shows in Los Angeles was an original rock musical that I wrote and directed, called The Playground.  It built a cult following and ran successfully at multiple theatres around Los Angeles over several years.

Then, I adapted a short film I had written and directed into the stage play, Elevator. It ran for 11 months starting at The Hudson Mainstage and then moving to The Coast Theatre in WeHo. Here is the trailer:

 

(SB): Read my 2017 Broadway World interview with writer/director Michael Leoni and Erica Katzin who was in the cast of “Elevator” to learn more about that incredible play which won 11 Broadway World nominations including "Best New Work" as well as "Critic's Choice" and "Best Bet" from the Los Angeles Times.

(ML): Following that, my business partners and I opened our theatre in West Hollywood, called “The 11:11.” It became the home to my next original show, Famous, which ran for nine months, was developed into a feature film, and is now in post-production. Here is the trailer:

 

(I’ve lost count of how many times I went back to see “Famous” or the number of people I took with me to experience it. The production remains on my all-time favorites list of shows I have reviewed. If you missed it, here is the link to my 2019 interview with Michael about the cost of fame as faced by those in its spell, which led to the creation of the #MeToo movement.)

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

(ML): When we first got the news that all theatre was going to be shut down, we were in the beginning stages of casting for my newest show, The Boulevard. And at the time, The 11:11, was also in full swing with live theatre, comedy and music.

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

(ML): Luckily, since we had just begun casting, we did not have to communicate any cancellations to actors. However, our staff at the theatre was directly affected and we, like everyone else, had to cancel all theatre bookings as none of us know when live theatre will return. Of course, we’re hopeful that live theatre will return sooner rather than later and are doing as much pre-production that we’re able to do remotely.  We will be looking into a larger theatre, as the technical requirements of The Boulevard demand a larger venue. We can’t wait to get started!

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

(ML): In addition to all of the rentals that were booked to run at The 11:11, we're also a film company. So those productions are also on hold until further notice.

(SB): With all those postponements, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(ML): As a writer/director, I am passionate about using the Arts to create social impact.  I feel like it’s one of the few ways that people from all backgrounds can be brought together to create positive change.

I feel really fortunate that one of my films, American Street Kid has just secured distribution. So, we’re able to channel our creativity into building our online marketing campaign.

For our other current feature, #WhenTodayEnds, we did have to cancel our theatrical premiere, which was set for this summer. We'll also be using Zoom for a read-through of my newest script, The Boulevard, and personally, I've been using some of the isolation time to write another script.

I think it’s really important that creativity is kept alive, especially in the hardest of times. I wrote a book for artists called Dare to Be Bad that helps with removing obstacles and allowing the creativity to flow. During this time, we've seen an increase in sales, and I'm grateful that it's been able to help!

(SB): Any other thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the LA Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghost light on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(ML): We must continue to have faith. Live theatre is vital to our lifeblood as artists. There is nothing that compares to watching performers live and being a part of that collective energy.  It’s life-changing and a connection that is hard to put into words, but you know it when you feel it; it’s like nothing else.  I have a feeling that some amazing art is going to come out of all of this, and I can’t wait to see it.

(SB): Stay in touch with Michael and his work on Instragam:

Instagram.com/michaelleoni1111

Instagram.com/famoustheliveexperience

Instagram.com/americanstreetkid

Instagram.com/elevatortheplay


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Female Fusion: Local Artists, Short Film, Social Justice


How do you make a message film without being preachy? Three veteren Los Angeles filmmakers; director Deborah Lemen, writer Stacy Dymalski, and producer Megan Ford-Miller tackled that challenge with their short film Everything Has A Home. Shot in one day on location in Shreveport, Louisiana, the film is a character study focusing on two young girls with very different circumstances. It looks at classism, homelessness, and the dichotomy of appearance vs. reality. The film stars sisters Julianna Kilgarlin and Isabella Kilgarlin as girls who have a chance encounter. The filmmakers hope to both raise awareness and empathy for those in challenging circumstances while creating a calling card for their young actors. A note to the readers; this interview was conducted prior to the current COVID-19 crisis and does not take the reality of today’s situation into consideration.

I spent a morning talking with the filmmakers about creating relevant content in today’s world, the unique power of an all female production team, and how they each navigate the different roles that they each hold in the industry; as friends, colleagues, and creators.

Deborah Lemen, has a successful acting studio. She and Stacy Dymalski are longtime friends and collaborators. They initially combined their talents to create scenes for Lemen’s on camera classes. When the opportunity arose for them to make a reel for some of Lemen’s students in Louisiana, they decided to take the collaboration to the next level by creating a short film, which they plan on expanding into a feature. Once they made the transition to a professional shoot, Ford-Miller (who’s professional actor son studies with Lemen) joined the team. They filled out the cast with Katie Walker and focused on creating a strong team to shoot the film in just one day on location in Shreveport, Louisiana.

My first question focused on creating art as women. They enthusiastically agreed that feminism, motherhood, and the female essence is integral to the way that each of them, separately and as a team, approaches her work, both generally and in relation to this particular film. Ford-Miller has two children, a son and a daughter, both in their early twenties and is married. Dymalski is also a mother to two sons, but not married. Lemen, with a gentle laugh, says that her students are her children. The vulnerability of being a woman, the deep seeded fears that every woman has of ending up alone, on the streets, is an overwhelming sensation that all identified with. They also spoke of the friendship and the ability to think in a similar way and how they can communicate quickly. They all laugh a lot and finish each other’s sentences. They clearly enjoy each other and their work reflects this community spirit.

The path to Everything Has A Home began when Dymalski in short order discovered a homeless man living in her parking garage, and saw a young girl living in a parked car in a homeless encampment under an overpass. She realized what she wanted to approach with the film and then tailored the story to the two girls. She was able to craft a story that, in her words, “showed a bigger story; people are not what they seem, there are people working and living in their cars… you don’t know what a person’s circumstances are.” All three knew that this is a “hot button issue.” The homeless population is still soaring, especially in California. Current counts list it as around 17% of the general population, but it is difficult to tabulate correctly. What is lost in much of the discussion is the humanity. That is what the filmmakers sought to focus on. According to Lemen, their job was to “find the humanity and intimacy.” They did this by focusing on details; the car had a flat tire, sanitary wipes on the dashboard, tight shots of the actors. By doing all of this, they hope to increase awareness. “People don’t have any awareness of what is around them.” Dymanski states. “Who knew that sanitary wipes are a sign of homelessness?” This short is leading to a feature, and will serve as a launching off point for the film.

"Everything Has a Home"

Race is a sticky issue in regards to both homelessness and filmmaking. This is an all white cast, which is notable in today’s film world. They approached this problem head on. “It was an issue in casting.” According to Ford-Miller, “We struggled with what we were saying with that. We came down to this, the reality is that many people do not understand that homelessness is not a problem for ‘others’.” In this short piece, by keeping race and immigration out of the equation, they hope to bring understanding closer to the majority who could, if there was an excuse, easily make it about “those people.”

"Everything Has a Home"

Once they had their story and stars, the three transitioned into production mode, and from this observer’s point of view, really soared. Every part of the shoot was meticulously planned, so that when surprises occurred, there was space to improvise. There were seven set ups in three locations all shot in one day. Ford-Miller; “We were prepared and efficient. The DP (Director of Photography, Jeremy Enis), said, wow, I never shot a short in one day. Bam.” Because of the pre-existing relationships with the actors, Lemen was able to work in short cuts and because members of the team had already worked together successfully, there was an established trust prior to the day of the shoot that contributed to the speed and efficiency. There was initial fear that the DP, with whom they had not worked before, would balk at the all female team, but he was impressed with the seamless work flow.

"Everything Has a Home"

This is an artistic venture, but the team is looking for organizations to partner with and may end with a call to action. They want people to come away with the question, “Where can I go and what can I do.” If you want to make that happen before the film is released, here are a few options:

School On Wheels: School on Wheels volunteers provide free tutoring & mentoring to children from kindergarten through twelfth grade living in shelters, motels, vehicles, group foster homes, and on the streets in Southern California.

National Coalition for The Homeless: The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national network of people who are currently experiencing or who have experienced homelessness, activists and advocates, community-based and faith-based service providers, and others committed to a single mission: To prevent and end homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights protected.

The Midnight Mission: The Midnight Mission offers paths to self-sufficiency to men, women and children who have lost direction. They remove obstacles and provide the accountability and structure that people who are experiencing homelessness need to be productive in their communities.



Spotlight Series: Meet Actor and Playwright Wendy Bryan Michaels


This Spotlight focuses on Actor and Playwright Wendy Bryan Michaels whose comedy show, My Sister is so Gay, is now streaming on Amazon Prime, although pre-production for the next season has ground to a halt due to CoViD-19.


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

Wendy Bryan Michaels (Wendy): I am a lover of all things theatre. From the first time I entered the back stage area and smelled the wood from the stage sets, I knew I was home. There is something so magically intoxicating about live theatre, beginning the first time I had stage lights stream across my face, in college, which actually brought tears to my eyes. There was something about their warmth and the disappearing of the audience which left me staring into a black space that seemed perfectly natural to me.  I knew then, that this is where my soul thrives, my heart opens, and I could become myself.

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

(Wendy): My co-writer/co-star and I were preparing for meetings to sell our comedy show, My Sister is So Gay, now streaming on Amazon Prime. Although we are fortunate that we completed post production on the most recent episodes and were able to stream them, our pre-production for the next season has ground to a halt due to Covid-19.

LAFPI (Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative) Swan Day March 2020, is a day devoted to actors, playwrights, and directors to gather together to read new works, old works, and works that need an audience, and that was instead transferred to Zoom. And although nice to see everyone, it doesn’t seem to have near the impact of face-to-face networking and watching live theatre in person.

(SB): Those of us involved in live theatre have always understood that there is no replacement for being with a group of people who have gathered together in person and the impact they have on the actors in a production. It’s what makes every performance unique in its own way, adding to the interactive magic.

Wendy Bryan Michaels' cast in "Loving Mathew"

(Wendy): Absolutely! It’s so important to have that give-and-take during a live production. I just finished a full length play Loving Mathew about a brilliant young man who struggles with addiction and mental illness, and his vulnerable sister fights to keep him from harm over seemingly insurmountable odds. There have been two staged readings at City Theatre in Santa Monica, but in terms of finding theatres to now produce, well that’s on hold indefinitely.

The cast of Wendy Bryan Michaels' play "God and Sex"

My other play, God And Sex about a bride, a groom, and a maid of honor who just happens to be the bride’s ex-lover). So, what could possibly go wrong!?

 

It had its world premiere at the Santa Monica Playhouse from Feb 2017-May 2017. But that’s another project now on the shelf until after CoViD-19 passes us so theaters can reopen.

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

(Wendy): For the LAFPI Swan Day, emails and Zoom meeting details were constant. You volunteered as an actor via email, got the script via email, no rehearsal though, and then joined Zoom the day of the event. As for my plays, I just told myself “no.” (laughs) My co-writer for the series and I knew we would have downtime ahead of us and communicated that through text and emails.

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

(Wendy): Actually, other than my comedy show, My Sister is So Gay (MSISG) streaming on Amazon Prime, I do not have any future theatre productions scheduled right now. And plans are on hold for My Sister is So Gay, pre-production for next season, as well as any face-to-face meetings to sell the show.

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

(Wendy): I am reading plays like crazy as the process amazes me as to the how much comfort reading brings to my theatre soul and imagination. Oddly enough, my ‘Art’ is kept alive through producing self-videos on social media detailing the CoViD-19 quarantine. The videos are experiences that actually happened to me and I find it all so surreal that I needed to document something on video – like finally a friend ‘social distanced’ me. So I made a video which turned into a love story about being reunited.

I am keeping in touch with events with LAFPI and ALAP (Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights) through Facebook and may take a class online with Westside Comedy to keep my creative soul from shrinking. I am also submitting MSISG to agents and casting directors since they might have more time on their hands to take notice of a new show from an unknown-to-them writer. We do have Loni Anderson, Debra Wilson and Rae Dawn Chong in our show, which helps our credibility, but Terry Ray and I are fairly unknown writers in the business. At least for the time being....

(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? 

(Wendy): Keep reading plays! Order plays online. Keep in touch with other actors and theatres to see how they are doing and maintain community any way you know how! I mean, we are creatives and need to keep expressing ourselves and sharing our stories.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Two New Exciting Creative Projects for Stephen Foster and Chuck Pelletier During Covid-19


Actors/writing partners Chuck Pelletier and Stephen Foster created the popular musical The Green Room and released a CD of the show in 2006 to great acclaim. It has toured across country and played off Broadway to excellent reviews in 2019. Now there is a new website devoted exclusively to The Green Room. Recently they composed a short film entitled That's Opportunity Knocking that has won a myriad of awards. Both men took time out of their busy schedules to discuss both projects, which push the limits on creativity during CoViD-19.


Don: Tell us about your new website for The Green Room. Does it allow visitors to see the show from the ground up, from the very beginning on upward to the latest success in New York?

Stephen Foster: Due to our hectic and diverse creative schedules (acting, writing and directing) the information and materials for The Green Room Musical has been helter-skelter on YouTube and Facebook so we decided, after the Off-Broadway run, to put it all together in one streamlined website at GreenRoomTheMusical.com.

It’s a way to describe how the show has grown and evolved through the years. It provides a platform where people can see clips of various productions, listen to the songs for free, obtain free scripts, and even purchase the sheet music. It’s the catch all for learning all about this 4-character musical that had humble roots in Hollywood theatre and finally had an Off-Broadway run. We are extremely proud of how far this “passion” project has come.

Don: This is the pride and joy for both of you. Chuck's music has been such a success and you have reworked the book to make it more adaptable to current time. What are the elements of the show that have appealed most to audiences everywhere?

Chuck Pelletier: I love writing funny songs, and when I go to see musicals, my favorites are always the comedy songs. For the most part the songs in The Green Room are comedy songs, I think there’s only three or four exceptions. They still move plot and character forward, but they make you laugh. And I think audiences love that. That’s the way musicals were written in golden age, whether it’s Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, Oliver, The Music Man. Most of those shows were fun and funny. They landed on the occasional love song or sad song when the plot warranted it, but for the most part, people went to Broadway to escape. To be entertained. Many people have mentioned to me that that’s how they feel after they see The Green Room, and that is what makes me the most proud as a lyricist. When you hear an audience laugh, really laugh, belly laugh, in the middle of a song, and then again, and then again, to the point they have to try to contain themselves just to keep up with what’s coming next. That gives me more joy than anything.

There is also the sense of youth, four characters in their 20s having fun in college. People love the youthful energy of the story.

Don: Sum up your dreams for this show and advise our readers how they need to be creative and follow their heart at all cost.

Stephen: The musical has had a wonderful track record thus far with indie productions all over the US, Canada, and Ireland. The songs have been performed in cabarets, concerts and singers love singing the 2 comedy songs “It’s All About Me” & “Nothing Can Stop My Boys” at auditions. The future of the show is endless with new theaters and now online venues opening up.

The song “In The End” contains my favorite line, “In the end you do what you have to do. Because it’s you, in the end, who has to live with it.” That’s been my philosophy for many years. To pursue a career in acting and writing, you miss a lot of “normal” living, but in the end you have art to show for it. The trade-off isn’t always fair, the labor of love is long, but sometimes you hit gold and that pay-off is what keeps us going against the odds. Follow your heart is what I coach actors and writers when I teach. If you follow your heart, you might not hit the moon, but you’ll land in the stars.

Don: Let's switch to your new film That's Opportunity Knocking. What basically is it about? What inspired you to write it?

Chuck: That’s Opportunity Knocking is a 22-minute comedy on Amazon Prime that tells the story of two college-educated guys in their 20s so down on their luck they decide to rob an empty apartment. The tenants come home while they are robbing it, so they have to hide, and wait, while the tenants make out on the couch. One of the interesting things about this comedy is that it’s based on a true story. Usually comedies aren’t based on a true story, unless they are historical, period films. So of course it was the true story that inspired it. What happened was that we were involved in a play at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The director of that play, Thomas Anawalt, and most of the cast of the play, went out for drinks one night after the show. Thomas was telling a story about when he lived in New York with a couple roommates, and one night they came home and found some items out of place but didn’t think much of it. They woke up the next morning and found the place had been robbed. So they realized then that, the whole time they had been home that previous night, those burglars had been hiding somewhere. I think I told Thomas right then and there that I wanted to make that into a short film, and I wanted him to play himself. Most of the actors that were in that play ended up being in the movie.

Don: You have won many prizes so far. That is wonderful.

Chuck: Yes, the film has won 24 awards at film festivals, and after that was picked up by Amazon Prime, where it has been viewed hundreds of times since. Who knew there was a market for short films? We are very proud. Stephen himself won 5 awards as Best Supporting Actor.

Stephen: We are humbled and surprised by all the awards. We’ve been working in theater and film as actors and screenwriters for many years, and this one clicked. We are grateful to the indie film festivals that helped us achieve these awards.

Don: What do audiences learn from the movie?

Chuck: There are a few themes running through the movie, but the main theme, which recurs especially throughout the dialogue of the two burglars, is that it is far harder to be middle class right now then it was, say, 50 or 75 years ago. That’s the motivational engine of three of the characters, and the reason the burglars are there in the first place. I hope that is what people take away from the movie, as well as just a lot of laughs and having a good 22 minutes.

Don: Does it have your zany sense of humor?

Stephen: I don’t think we could produce a piece without it containing our off-beat view of the world. I always wanted my creative life to be “The Carol Burnett Show!” Humor is how Chuck and I survived growing up and we use it in our writing and acting. Chuck understands my sense of humor, and I understand his, so we mesh very well together.

Don: But, as well as being entertaining, does it have a substantial base? How does it inspire people to live?

Chuck: I loved the screwball comedies of old Hollywood, because they always worked as simple comedies, but there was always a class-against-class theme behind them. There were other elements, reversed sex roles, etc., but the class struggles are what I always relate to, and as I said, I wanted that to be integral to this movie. If someone told me my comedies inspired them to look at class in a different way, perhaps vote more with the middle class in mind, nothing would be a higher honor.

Don: If you had to sum up your professional life so far, how would you do that? 

Stephen: I would sum up my professional life as “trial and error” with perks thrown in along the way. I’m extremely LUCKY to work hand in hand with Chuck, as we click in all we do. There’s never a sense of competition or one-upmanship with us.

Don: Is there another project on the horizon that you yearn to work on?

We have started our own small company, Round Earth Entertainment, to nurture and develop our creative projects: songs, scripts, movies and plays. We have several projects that are in development.

Chuck: This virus has been the worst thing that has happened to the world in my lifetime, but you have to make lemonade out of lemons, and the time at home has given Stephen and I a lot of time to talk through potential projects and do some good writing.

Stephen: Don, these are very odd and crazy times, humor helps us heal, connect and survive. I think that’s our primary statement to humanity.



Spotlight Series: Kristin Towers-Rowles - Award-Winning Director, Triple-Threat Actress, and Granddaughter of Screen Legend 'Kathryn Grayson'


Today I spotlight Kristin Towers-Rowles, an Award-Winning Director, Triple-Threat Actress, and Granddaughter of Screen Legend Kathryn Grayson.


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

Kristin Towers-Rowles (KTR): I am a born and raised LA Arts girl, and grew up in and around the Theatre and Film industry. Some families have Law Practices, Accounting Firms, Car Dealerships—my entire family is a Performing Arts family who has made their living for generations because of Film, TV, and Theatre.

My grandmother was MGM leading lady Kathryn Grayson, who starred in over 20 musicals in the Golden Age of Hollywood. (“Kiss Me, Kate,” “Showboat,” “Anchors Away.”) She also took over for Julie Andrews as Guinevere in "Camelot" on Broadway, and played the role on the 1st National Tour. My Grandfather, Johnny Johnston, starred in movies (“Rock Around The Clock,” “Unchained”), was a recording artist, and was on Broadway in “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.” My father, Robert Towers, starred in “The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button” and has played hundreds of character roles in Film, TV, and Theatre.

After attending Hollywood High Performing Arts, I went to AMDA in NYC and trained as an actress, singer, and dancer. Even after moving back to LA from NYC to focus on Film and TV. I never stopped doing theatre; in fact, it was truly all I cared about. Not only was it what I loved most but it was also where I found my chosen family. I was very active in L.A. theatre but also did 7 national tours, worked almost an entire year at Sierra Rep in Northern California, worked in Asia, Europe, on Cruise Ships. I was truly living the dream! I had an apartment I saw a few times a year that was little more than an expensive closet. I would come home, re-pack and be off again.

After sustaining a life-altering back injury on tour in 2002, I stopped performing for 7 years, got married and had 3 children, now all accomplished young artists in their own right. Since returning back to work as an actress, singer, and director in 2009, I have been very fortunate to be onstage playing incredible roles in musicals and straight plays. Since then, I've been splitting my time onstage with also being a director at the helm of many award-winning productions, both musicals, and straight plays.

As a woman in a field still dominated by men, it has been wonderful to have the many opportunities I have had to be on stage as an actress and to direct, and have often been employed doing both at the same time. For me, the two go hand-in-hand since I'm a better actress because of my 360-perspective as a director. My understanding of direction comes from being an actress and knowing, first hand, what actors need to hear. And, quite frankly, rarely having had a director that has known how to communicate what they want and how to get me there, I try to be that director to the actors with whom I work.

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

(KTR): We had just finished an insanely difficult tech week for Andrew Lippa's "The Wild Party" at The Morgan-Wixson Theatre (MWT) in Santa Monica, which I directed. The entire production team, including Choreographer and Assistant Director, Michael Marchak, Musical Director, Daniel Koh, Stage Manager, Ryan Rowles, Producers Spencer Johnson, and Kristie Mattsson, and cast had been working ourselves sick to have a phenomenal show for opening night and we were more than ready. The show one of the toughest in the Contemporary Musical Theater canon and we had pulled no stops: gorgeous set design by Yelena Babinskaya, phenomenal lighting by Derek Jones, Jazz Age spectacular costumes by Ovation Award-winning Michael Mullen, Scenic Design by Orlando de la Paz, Props by Maggie Randolph, Intimacy Coordinator, Mia Schachter, a stage combat director, Amanda Newman–all designers new to the MWT–and we were excited our show was to be the flagship production for the new direction that theatre is moving in with more daring, broad, and diverse artistic choices. I have only directed one other show at The MWT before, "Company" in 2017, and was so elated to be back and entrusted with this rarely produced theatrical gem: a sexy, slick 20s musical for the 2020s. And everyone was ecstatic we would soon be opening.

(SB): How did you communicate the shutdown with your cast and production team?

(KTR): The President of the MWT Board, the wonderful Michael Heimos, along with a small group of invited friends and family, were present at our final dress rehearsal (for which we received a full standing ovation). Before that rehearsal, he chatted with our cast and team in a truthful and frank with us that the board was meeting that night to discuss the possibility of postponing the opening. This was March 12, [2020], and at this point, there was news every hour about new guidelines for public gatherings. Everything was changing all the time and the board wanted to make the correct call for everyone: the audiences, the cast, and in light of everyone's safety.

At intermission, he told me the board had decided to halt the opening. I sat through the 2nd act with tears streaming down my face, watching the beautiful work we had all created, and then watching the audience jump to their feet at the curtain call. I wanted the audience to understand what they had just witnessed so I asked the President of the board to come up and tell the cast and the audience the news of our being postponed as I felt it would be better if we all heard this together to be able to support each other. Of course, everyone was in tears, the cast, the team, the audience, since we all were heartbroken that this incredible piece of theatre would have to wait. But mixed with that heartbreak was the feeling of joy for what we had all just experienced.

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

(KTR): At this time, The MWT still plans on opening our show when the bans are all lifted and it is safe to do so. However, they have an entire season that will most likely need to shift so we have no idea what any of that will look like. It is surreal to think that our sets, costumes, lights, props--everything is just sitting there, frozen in time... waiting. Just like a Ghostlight awaiting our return to the stage.

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

(KTR): I was supposed to be directing the North Carolina and National Tour productions of "The Lost Virginity Tour (TLVT)," a play by Cricket Daniel. I directed the L.A. Premiere last year at the McCadden Theatre and it was picked up by Jeanie Linders, creator of "Menopause The Musical," and I was brought on to direct. I've been told the show’s tour will have to wait until at least November. I had turned down other acting and directing work to do "TLVT," but now that we are in this crisis, none of it would have happened anyway since all theaters are dark.

I'm still in shock. I wake up and it takes me hours sometimes to wrap my head around the devastation to my own work and the work of all my colleagues. All of us are out of work. All of our projects are shelved. Everyone I know is suffering a collective grief. And I know that everyone is out of work right now, no matter what field you are in. But the devastation to the Arts, a field that constantly has to beg for money to stay afloat as it normally is, is just absolutely unfathomable. I know that many theatres I've loved and called home are hanging on by a thread and some may not make it through this. It's just unbearable.

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

(KTR): I am not very savvy at Zoom or any of the online platforms but I have been happily supporting others. I'm part of an LA Arts Collective having virtual think tanks and meetings to figure out ways to get our work online. But in all honesty, I don't think theatre transfers well to being filmed and I don't enjoy the idea of taking something meant to be experienced live and reducing it to a flat-screen. Just my opinion.

That's where my grief really comes into play. My heart breaks because what we do, as performing artists and performing arts designers, is meant to be experienced in person, with others in attendance. It is a meeting of human beings all creating that moment together, either as the performer or as the audience member. It's symbiotic and that cannot happen watching something on a screen.

(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?

(KTR): As I said earlier, I was injured for seven years and was unable to work. It was hard, depressing, and felt like the end of the world. And then the seven years ended and I was back with my tribe; and for the last 11 years, I've been creating nonstop.

The LA Theatre Community has been through a lot and here we all are. We are the storytellers, the dreamers, the music makers, and the world is beige without the color we bring. We will get through this, and through our unique voices, we will be the ones to teach future generations about it. But in the meantime, stay safe, stay home, and wash your hands! Let's make this end so we can all be back doing what makes our hearts sing.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Ashton's Audio Interview: The Cast of 'Found' at The Los Angeles Theatre Center

IAMA Theatre Company presents the West Coast premiere of Found, a new musical inspired by Davy Rothbart’s popular Found magazine, which features scores of actual discarded notes and letters that have been “found” in the real world by everyday people.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “Found at The Los Angeles Theatre Center, playing through Mar 23rd. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here.

*taken from the website


A Super Scary Movie, Burlesque Meets Queen, and Our Favorite Monster

First up is a film I saw at a press screening this week and was really surprised by how good it was. Actually considering it was written and directed by horror maven Leigh Whannell ('Insidious: Chapter 2 & 3', 'Saw') I shouldn't have been that surprised.

The film is The Invisible Man starring the excellent Elizabeth Moss who never makes a wrong move. She's in practically every scene and absolutely nails it.

I always rate how scary a film is by how many times I jumped out of my seat and grabbed the arm of the stranger sitting next to me. I counted at least five times.

The Invisible Man is a 2020 science fiction horror film and a contemporary adaptation of the novel of the same name by H. G. Wells and a reboot of The Invisible Man film series.

It follows a woman who believes she is being haunted by her brilliant, wealthy, abusive husband, despite the fact that he has died from an apparent suicide.

The film has a couple great twists and scares you won't see coming, so if that's what you enjoy, you will not be disappointed. The Invisible Man produced by Universal opens in theaters this Friday, February 28th.

Next up is BURLESQUE RHAPSODY: A QUEEN TRIBUTE which will require you to take a little trip to Harvelle's in Long Beach.

The title of the show is Dirty Little Secrets and it pays tribute to the musical sounds of one of the most commercially successful bands of all time: QUEEN!.

Dirty Little Secrets brings their very own special touch to the amazing songs that Queen produced and at the same time pays tribute to the incredible talent of Freddie Mercury.

The show is a mix of comedy and brilliant burlesque performers and having seen it before, it's something you do not want to miss.

Dirty Little Secrets plays at Harvelle's at 201 East Broadway in Long Beach on Friday, February 28th. For tickets call 562-239-3700 or go to LongBeach.Harvelles.com.

Now if monsters are your thing then this weekend head on over to the Lovelace Studio Theatre at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts to see the world premiere of FRANKENSTEIN, an exuberant amalgamation of dynamic physical theatre, live music and experiential design bringing Mary Shelley's tale to life in a modern take that spotlights the dangers of unregulated technology.

Sourced predominantly after Shelley's novel the production features a cast of twelve all doubling as musicians . The show is created, staged and composed by Four Larks' Mat Sweeney with design and choreography by Sebastian Peters-Lazaro and libretto written with Jesse Rasmussen.

This is Shelley's nightmarish vision of inverted creation and a show you will remember long after the curtain falls.

The remaining performances are Friday, February 28th until Saturday March 7th 2929. To buy tickets and for more information go to TheWallis.org/Frankenstein.

The Wallis is located at 9390 North Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills 90210.

Whatever you choose to do this weekend people, make it a fun one.


Valentine's Weekend and Beyond: The Other Way to Celebrate Love With the Lights Out

Like a box of chocolates, here's a rich and varied collection of L.A. theatrical, comedy, magic, and variety shows, readings, and classic films to enjoy for your Valentine's, Galentine's, or Palentine's Weekend--and beyond--currently registered on Better Lemons' Calendar.


Loves Me/Loves Me Not

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She Loves Me

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Gifted

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The $5 Shakespeare Company

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That's the End of Our Time

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Mistakes Were Made

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Emma

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Shoulda Been You

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The Little Match Girl

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Valentine’s Weekend of Love at The Montalbán

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Casablanca - Valentine’s Weekend of Love at The Montalbán

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The Notebook - Valentine’s Weekend of Love at The Montalbán

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Breakfast at Tiffany's - Valentine’s Weekend of Love at The Montalbán

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Barefoot in the Park

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Never Been Kissed

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Mack & Poppy: 'Til Death Do Us Part

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Hot Tragic Dead Thing

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Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar – February 4 - 9, 2020


Rooftop Film Festivals, Musicals, Comedy, Magic, Shakespeare, Cabaret, Variety shows, and more now registered on the Better Lemons calendar!

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


Ragtime The Musical

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The Bogeyman

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ROD ROGET’S CELEBRITY NIGHTCAP at Zombie Joe's Underground

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Barrett Foa has Friends!

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Never Not Once

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Hamlet

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Hamlet: The Rock Musical

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Barefoot in the Park

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TAME: Up Close And Personal

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The Velveteen Rabbit

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Valentine's 2020 at The Montalban

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Casablanca at The Montalban

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The Notebook at The Montalban

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Breakfast at Tiffany's

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JOAN OF ART: A Magnificent Dance Company, photo l.a., an Iconic Rock Group and Guy Ritchie at His Best

Even though most people will have their minds on Super Bowl Sunday, there are still a lot of other fun things to do this upcoming weekend starting with seeing The Lula Washington Dance Theatre. I've seen them many times in the past and they never cease to blow me away. They are that good!

Lula Washington's company focuses on using dance to explore social and humanitarian issues, including aspects of African-American history, culture and life.

This brilliant ensemble of dancers will be celebrating their 40th anniversary on January 30th through February 1st at the Bram Goldsmith Theatre which is part of The Wallis Annenberg Center for The Performing Arts.

This company has built an international reputation for their earthiness, vitality, energy and humanism of its repertory, bringing charisma and interpretive power to every dance.

The performances are at 7:30pm on Thursday, January 30th, Friday, January 31st, and Saturday, February 1st. The Wallis is located at 9390 North Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills.

To purchase tickets go to TheWallis.org/Lula or call the box office at (310) 746-4000 from 10-5pm. This is definitely a 'must see' event.

Another event I go to every year is photo l.a.. The event is starting at 6pm today and running through Sunday, February 3rd. Once again it will be at the Barker Hangar at 3021 Airport Avenue in Santa Monica.

photo l.a. brings the best of the photography world to you with a collaborative platform that links dealers and collectors with a gamut of galleries from around the globe. If you're a lover of photography this is definitely the place to be.

They will have over 65 galleries represented along with 10,000 collectors and enthusiasts. Personally I can't wait.

To purchase tickets or to find out more information go to photola.com.

Now if you're in the mood for some Rock & Roll, then head down to the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills to see the legendary Jefferson Starship on Saturday night, February 1st.

The band rose from the ashes of another legendary San Francisco band, Hall of Fame inductees, Jefferson Airplane. Founder Paul Kantner who died in January 2016 at the age of 74 knew that combining powerful creative forces, personalities and talents could create something far greater than the sum of its parts and that's exactly what he did.

Between 1974 and 1984 Jefferson Starship released eight gold and platinum albums, twenty hit singles, sold out concerts worldwide and lived out legendary rock and roll escapades.

Today the Starship remains dedicated to breathing new life into the living catalog of the Jeffersonian legacy, going to the edge, pushing the sonic boundaries and staying true to the original spirit of the music.

The music that defined a generation and spanned decades is alive and well and more relevant than ever in pop culture. Songs such as Volunteers, White Rabbit, Wooden Ships, Somebody to Love, Today, Miracles, Count On Me, just to name a few, continues to reverberate throughout the collective consciousness today.

The Jefferson Starship go on at 9pm with doors opening at 6pm. The Canyon Club is located at 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills 91301-3304. To purchase tickets click here or call (888) 845-5006.

Lastly if you are done seeing all the Oscar nominated movies and want to see a film that is so much fun and so well acted, then head over to your local movie theatre and see Guy Ritchie's new film, The Gentlemen. I absolutely loved it.

It stars Charlie Hunnam, Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, and Hugh Grant who has never been better. Everyone in the cast absolutely nails their part. The film is funny, clever and full of twists and turns that you won't see coming. At least I didn't.

Without wanting to give too much away, The Gentlemen is the story of Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) who is an American expatriate who became rich by building a marijuana empire in London. When word gets out that he's looking to cash out of the business, it soon triggers an array of plots and schemes from those who want his fortune.

This action comedy opened wide and it's playing at an AMC theatre near you.

Whatever you do this weekend people, make it a great one.