Five Questions for Actor Michael Manuel

A Noise Within is producing the Bard’s Othello as part of their 2018-2019 Season: Let Me In. I called upon actor Michael Manuel, who is playing theatre’s favorite miscreant Iago, to learn more about this Jessica Kubzansky-helmed presentation of the play.

Roger Q. Mason (RQM): Othello. Everyone has produced it. Why now at A Noise Within?

Michael Manuel (MM): I don’t know why ANW decided to produce Othello this season—that is really a question for Geoff and Julia. But I imagine the reason anyone produces Shakespeare is that the themes are universal and resonate in every age. The things that people worried about, suffered over and struggled with, have been and will continue to be, universal to the end of time. Shakespeare writes the human condition.

RQM: Reading about the production, I understand the Jessica Kubzansky is setting it in the modern military. Tell me more. In what ways are you updating the story? Is it just setting or are there reference/line changes?

MM: This question is better directed to Jessica. But I will say, I think she’s cast the parts with a sensitivity to how our culture is represented today. In our production women are playing roles that are traditionally played by men. And while that may change, to some degree, how certain moments are interpreted, it also points out and highlights the universal feelings that we all share – protecting our children, or overprotecting as the case may be; unintended or intended racism, which, of course, knows no gender. Another aspect of our production is placing it in Afghanistan. We are faithful to Shakespeare’s text and use Cyprus – but we are imagining that we are on a base in Afghanistan. We’ve discussed the idea of taking over a piece of land and the effect that it has on the people who live there. The Venetians made Cyprus worse for using it as a military outpost, in the same way we are using Afghanistan.

RQM: What I loved about the description of this production was the idea that Iago and Othello were friends until one felt looked over by the other. Considering our current cultural climate, part of which is being attributed to the “silencing” of a certain “majority culture,” this interpretation is entirely relevant. Was Iago’s being overlooked for the promotion really the beginning of his hate for the Moor?

MM: I don’t know if it was the beginning of the hate—but it certainly was the last straw. In my imagining of our relationship, Iago and Othello have been friends for years. Our friendship precedes our joining the military. I imagine we grew up together, have been friends and brothers since we were kids. And one of the things that we shared was our “otherness.” He was the black guy. I was the Latino. Everyone else was white. When he rose to prominence, and had the ability to help his brother out, he chose rather to do the more political thing—he chose the guy that had all the right breeding. Cassio looks the part. Iago does not. That pisses Iago off. It offends Iago’s sense of justice. What is is right. Iago feels like, “of course, he picks the fucking white guy.” Not to mention the fact that Iago thinks that Othello slept with his wife. Not cool.

People think Othello is the face of jealousy. But in my mind, Othello’s jealousy pales in comparison to Iago’s. Iago’s sickness is that everything that he says about other people lives inside him constantly. He notices “triffles light as air” every second of his life. Every tiny unnoticeable thing he adds to the list of personal grievances against him. And like a ticking time bomb – eventually it goes off. And this play is about what happens when that evil is unleashed. The bottom line for me is that there is no answer to your question. There is no one reason for Iago’s motivation, because there are a million reasons.

RQM: I understand you trained under the legendary Earle Gister. What are a few things you’ll always remember from your time with him?

MM: Earle didn’t let you get away with your crap, your tricks—even the tricks you might have used to get into the drama school in the first place. He forced you to be specific, about every single moment. Being specific about the beats of a scene, and the micro beats. He was a master of human behavior – why people do the things they do. He had such respect for actors, and he taught actors how to have respect for people. All people. And that every character in a play was a real person with a full life.

Here’s an example: Our first year we did scene work from Chekhov. I was fascinated by the characters in Chekhov that had almost no lines. How do you figure those people out, make them interesting to watch? We asked Earle. Firs is an 80 year-old servant in The Cherry Orchard, and in the last scene of the play, Firs is alone on stage. All the house has been packed up and everyone else is gone. Firs has been locked in and forgotten in the empty house. He only has a couple of lines. And this is the last image of the play. Earle—who had had his voice box removed because of throat cancer, used an electrolarynx (but he could make that thing talk), anyway, Earle walked slowly over to the chair, said his couple of lines and sat. And the way he just sat there. You saw his whole life. The entire class was weeping.

RQM: What’s next for you, Michael Manuel?

MM: I’m not sure exactly what’s next for me. I’d like to just keep working. Growing. Learning. Why? You hear about a job?

For tickets and more info on OTHELLO, click here.


Audio Interview: The cast of “MAN OF GOD” at the David Henry Hwang Theater

A hidden discovery in a hotel bathroom changes the lives of four Korean American Christian girls on a mission trip to Thailand. Amid the neon lights and go-go bars in Bangkok, the girls plot revenge in this funny, feminist thriller.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “MAN OF GOD” at David Henry Hwang Theater, playing through Feb 24th. 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


Five Questions for Joana Knezevic

Rising star Joana Knezevic is pounding the pavement in the City of Angels, forging a path for herself as an actor in theatre, television and film. When we last checked in with Joana, she had just graduated from Cal Arts’ MFA Acting Program. Let’s see what she’s gotten herself into since then.

Roger Q. Mason (RQM): Since we last spoke, you were working on your first
theatre production in Los Angeles. What was it like making theatre in Los
Angeles for the first time?

Joana Knezevic (JK): My first role after the graduation was in Ibsen’s ‘Ghosts’.
Technically we started rehearsing just one month before my graduation and that show
was kind of my bridge to the real world in LA. I was lucky to present my work in front of the Hollywood Fringe audience and received good feedback.

Making theater in Los Angeles is quite different then in Europe. It seems to me that in LA everything is faster. A lot of work you have to do on your own, before and after the rehearsals. It is very exciting because it always keeps you in shape and you have to make quick and smart acting choices. That said it is important to nourish your instincts and listen to your inner voices. That requires constant work physically and mentally. I’m in love with the LA artist community. They are very supportive and they really want to help you and navigate you into the right direction. I feel I am growing here as an actress and that’s the most important thing for me right now.

RQM: Have you done any plays since then?  What were those experiences like?

JK: Last November artist Edgar Arceneaux and Hauser & Wirth gallery invited me to be part of the project called ‘In response: Zoe Leonard’s I want A President’. Edgar directed my solo show that we called ‘Rasputin for president’, where I played a Russian monk Gregory Rasputin who came to the States to be a new president. I was fully in drag and we talked about gender issues, what does that mean being a female foreigner in the States, and problems about immigration. That day I had a chance to perform and show my work with fantastic and notable artists in LA. Some of them are Lita Albuquerque, Neo Bustamante, Patric Stuff performance Artist and co funder of Black Lives Matter, Edgar Heap of Birds, Patrisse Cullors… That day was very special because we share our deepest thoughts, concerns and feelings about our society and it was cathartic. I’m thankful to Russel Salmon from Hauser & Wirth who was there all the time helping and supporting us.

RQM: I did a little Instagram spying.  You have done some film work.  Tell me about some of your recent film roles.

JK: Yes, I did some short films, one music video and TV. The short film ‘One of Many’ directed by Mikel Dever was part of his final exam at UCLA. It was nice experience because it reminds me how little you need to tell the story. The budget was not high and the time for filming was limited. So, again in a short period of time you have to create your character, tell the story and allow yourself to trust a young director. Working on the music video for the Danish band called ‘Idimish’ was quite different. Director Inka Rusi had time to prepare the locations, story and the script. She really knows what she wants and how to direct actors. The last work that I did for TV is a short episode in the new TV show ‘In Ice Cold Blood’ for Oxygen TV. Big production and huge team. It was a pleasure working on those projects.

RQM: What differences did you notice between film and theatre acting?  How did you change or alter your artistic process?

JK: In terms of acting no matter which medium you use you are oblige to tell the truth.

Through the lens of camera everything looks bigger. I am a very expressive actress and that means I have to be more focused on the details of the movements, and follow the rule ‘less is more’. (laugh) Film forces you to be very intimate with the camera when everything else around you is quite the opposite. You must stay grounded and focused in the world of your character no matter what’s happening on set. You can make mistakes on camera and try another take  but theater will never allow you to do the same scene twice in front of the audience. That’s one of the reasons why my heart belongs to theater. The stakes are higher with the live audience.

RQM: What is your current project?

JK: Currently I am working on a new show directed by Edgar Arceneaux called ‘Boney Manilly’. In this production I get to portray two men: Frank and Rasputin. I enjoy a lot in this process because this is my first time playing men in the disco world.

We have three more weeks of rehearsals before our tour to Nigeria to present a preview of this project as part of the Lagos Theater Festival in March. This is such a great opportunity to meet artists from all around the world and potentially collaborate with them. Our Los Angeles premiere is coming soon, so stay tuned!

In May I will be traveling to New York where I will be doing a workshop for the show ‘Medea’ directed by Michael Alvarez and written by Peter Gray. Michael and I know each other very well from CalArts and this will be our first professional project together. I trust him fully and I can’t wait to start.

Also, NY based choreographer and dancer Sophie Bortolussi is directing her new show
and I’m very lucky that she cast me to be part of her magic. It’s very early in the process so that’s all I can say for now.


Audio Interview: The cast of “Last Call” at Atwater Village Theatre

In Kenney’s semi-autobiographical dramedy, the Vaughn family’s go-to defense mechanism of sarcasm and mordant humor falls short when the aging parents hatch a not-so-funny way to avoid the retirement home.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “Last Call” at Atwater Village Theatre, extended through Mar 2nd. 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


Audio Interview: The cast of “Rod Serling’s Stories from the Zone” at Theatre 40

Rod Serling’s Stories from the Zone. Two classic tales from a master storyteller.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “Rod Serling’s Stories from the Zone” at Theatre 40, running until Feb 17th. 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


Audio Interview: Medalion Rahimi – Princess Isabella on the 2017 ABC show “Still Star-Crossed” stars in “Paradise” at the Odyssey Theatre

What does science have to tell us about love? Viola Davis and Julius Tennon’s JuVee Productions and American Oasis present a moving, funny and thought-provoking drama about science, culture, religion and more.*

Enjoy this interview with Medalion Rahimi – Princess Isabella on the 2017 ABC show “Still Star-Crossed” and the cast of “Paradise” at Odyssey Theatre, running until Feb 17th. 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


Audio Interview: The cast of “It Is Done” at Theatre 40

Inside a desolate bar in the middle of nowhere, bartender Hank and his only customers, Jonas, a man on the run, and Ruby, a mysterious woman on a mission, settle in for a long evening to ride out a windstorm.

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “It Is Done” at Theatre 40, running until Feb 19th. 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


S.O.S.: Five Questions for Director Madeleine Dahm

I love going to The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. On a recent visit there, I happened upon a postcard for a new show called S.O.S. Looking at it closer, I learned that the Wallis had recently formed an acting troupe. Looking at it even further, I saw it was a new devised show being presented in conjunction with Circle X. This took me forward and back. Forward to some devising projects that I am working on this spring and backward to the nascence of Atwater Village Theatre, when Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA and Circle X were sharing what was a renovated either toy or pillow factory in a part of town that was quickly becoming a new hub for creative thought and millennial lifestyle romping. That was about 10 years ago.

I digress.

The task at hand: to find out what are S.O.S. and the Wallis Studio Ensemble. To help me on this quest, I got in contact with director Madeleine Dahm. Here’s what I learned from her.

Roger Q. Mason (RQM): To my knowledge, Wallis Studio Ensemble is a fairly new company here in Los Angeles. Tell me a little about the history of the group?

Madeleine Dahm (MD): In the 2016 I approached The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts about the idea of a company for early-career actors, that represented the diversity of actors here in LA and explored theatre as a force for social change – they liked the idea and so Grow at the Wallis joined with me in launching the ensemble. Since its inception two-and-a-half years ago, The Ensemble has steadily acquired a reputation for creating socially conscious, cutting-edge theatre, with a strong physical component. The Ensemble has mounted four full-length productions at The Wallis and performed at two international performing arts festivals.

2018 saw the mounting of Douglas Adams environmental satire The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (LA Times ‘Pick of the Week’) and Disposable – an original devised work that examined the intersection between environmental destruction and human displacement, also seen at The San Diego International Fringe Festival in June 2018. It was hailed as “hauntingly beautiful” (San Diego Tribune) and “mesmerizing….this is avant-garde theater that sticks with you long after the curtain comes down.” (ArtNow LA).

In 2016/17 The Ensemble premiered at The Wallis Thebes, a contemporary feminist adaptation of the Greek classic by British playwright Gareth Jandrell, and its first original devised play Word of Mouth, an examination of Post-Truth and a response to the 2016 election rhetoric. Word of Mouth was not only featured on National Public Radio by Priska Neely, but was also seen at Rise Up LA and at The Crisis Art Festival in Tuscany, Italy, where The Ensemble spent a week in residence in July 2017.

S.O.S. cast member Siera Williams, a member of The Wallis Studio Ensemble – photo by Jo Rodriguez

RQM: Your current show is being presented in conjunction with Circle X. How did you link up with the company?
MD: This is not a partnership with Circle X, we are renting their theatre for this particular run. We really wanted to get outside of The Wallis space this year and into the 99 seat theater community, and we are very excited that Atwater Village Theater and Circle X were able to assist us with that.

RQM: What was the inspiration for S.O.S.?
MD: As we discuss topics and themes for our yearly devised work, we are always drawn to contemporary issues that directly impact our company members and their communities. The one thing that we found ourselves coming back to as we began this process three months ago, was the general sense of alienation and isolation felt by many people right now. With so much focus today being on attaining financial wealth it’s interesting that a country’s GDP is not related to the overall happiness felt by all its citizens, in fact it seems to be the opposite. Recent studies by the World Health Organization and United Nations have revealed that feelings of loneliness and alienation are reaching global epidemic proportions, and that this general sense of feeling disconnected is reaching many communities worldwide. So much so that now many countries have actually appointed ministers for loneliness in their governments, the UK being the most recent. There is no easy answer or fix to this problem but we wanted to explore how small acts of kindness, and authentic expressions of love can help us reach across the divide, and remember more thoughtful ways to interact with each other.

S.O.S. cast member, Viva Kanani Obiajulu Wittman, a member of The Wallis Studio Ensemble – photo by Jo Rodriguez

RQM: This piece is devised. What was your devising process for this show? I’m curious to learn more about the dynamic between you and the ensemble members specifically.
MD: The devising process usually begins by brainstorming topics and themes that are of interest to the company – as we begin to narrow down themes that we would like to explore, each member brings in support materials that can include text, photographs, music, newspaper articles, videos, all kinds of references. There is a lot of discussion in the early stages but, once we have landed on a specific focus for the work, we primarily begin developing the piece through improvisation. The devising process is very long and much of the material that is originated in the studio actually ends up on the “cutting-room floor.” As we hone in on the arc of the piece, many wonderful moments that we have created simply no longer have a place in the work and so we have to let them go. As the Director of a devised work it is my job to be the keeper of the initial vision and to bring all of the elements together in a cohesive way. It’s like shooting a movie out of sequence, sometimes you’re working on a section that will end up being at the end, but you’re working on it first. Devising can be challenging for actors because there isn’t an obvious through line that you would have with an existing play, and so there is a lot of trust that has to develop between director and actor, and actor and actor. It requires actors who are willing to jump off at the deep end, and have faith that we will get to where we need to by the end of the process.

RQM: What’s next for Wallis Studio Ensemble?
MD: We hope to bring S.O.S to the Hollywood Fringe Festival this year. Then we have our second production of the season, which will be at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts June 6th through 9th, that will not be a devised piece but rather an existing play, on which we have yet to decide.

Featured photo: Cast of S.O.S. – photo by Jo Rodriguez


Audio Interview: The cast of “The Marriage Zone” at The Santa Monica Playhouse

One day, while selling their house, a younger and an older couple unexpectedly show up at the door. It seems innocent at first, but after a little while, it becomes apparent that they have way too much in common. They have crossed over into “The Marriage Zone”. Discoveries are made, secrets are revealed, and the result is a hilarious and poignant look at the life of a marriage.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “The Marriage Zone ” at The Santa Monica Playhouse, running until Mar 31st. 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


Audio Interview: The cast of “The Cripple of Inishmaan” at The Antaeus Theatre Company

Dreams are in short supply on Inishmaan, especially for Billy Claven. So when a Hollywood filmmaker arrives on the neighboring island to make a movie, Billy goes after a part in the film, hoping to escape from the cruelty and bleakness of his life in master storyteller Martin McDonagh’s darkly comic Irish yarn.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “The Cripple of Inishmaan ” at The Antaeus Theatre Company, running until Mar 11th. 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


Audio Interview: The cast of “Pick of the Vine” at Little Fish Theatre

Harvested from over 800 short plays submitted from around the world, Little Fish Theatre uncorks its 17th season of Pick of the Vine


Enjoy this interview with the cast of “Pick of the Vine” at
Little Fish Theatre, running until Feb 3rd. 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.



Audio Interview: The cast of “A Misunderstanding” at The Complex (Ruby Theatre)

In today’s ever-increasingly partisan world, A Misunderstanding offers a philosophical and humorous exploration of the misunderstandings that arise when people with radically different world views become wary of one another and unable to communicate.*


Enjoy this interview with the cast of “A Misunderstanding ” at
The Complex (Ruby Theatre), running until Feb 3rd. 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


Audio Interview: The cast of “Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem” at the Long Beach Shakespeare Company

In the last of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s first run of Sherlock Holmes stories, he,wanted a dramatic showdown between the super-sleuth and his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty. The thrilling game of cat-and-mouse leaves the usual London backdrop and traverses much of Europe before the two geniuses abandon their wits at the Reichenbach Falls to settle the matter once and for all!*


Enjoy this interview with the cast of “Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem” at the Long Beach Shakespeare Company, running until Jan 20th. 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