Interview with Deborah Robin on LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER

P3 Theatre presents LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER, a powerful one-woman musical about the dazzling Southern socialite Linda Lee Thomas and her improbable marriage to songwriter Cole Porter who created such classics as “So in Love,” “Night and Day,” “In the Still of the Night,” and “Love for Sale.”

Though Porter was gay, their companionship and love lasted through 35 years of marriage and a spectacular, glamour-filled life. With innovative arrangements, the timeless music and lyrics of Cole Porter weave through the compelling narrative of Love, Linda examining the darker sides of their life, while also celebrating the deep love that blossomed through their unconventional relationship.  “It’s an amazing love story,” said P3 Theatre Company Executive Artistic Director Jon Peterson. “Many people are surprised to learn that Cole Porter had a wife. The show has all the behind-the-scenes secrets as well as the luscious music of Porter.”

LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER had its Off-Broadway premiere in 2013 featuring music and lyrics by Cole Porter, with Book by Stevie Holland and Gary Wiliam Friedman. The show will have its Southwestern Regional Premiere October 16-24 at the 2nd Story Theatre in Hermosa Beach before moving October 30-31 to the Renaissance Performing Arts Center in Long Beach. Through song and story, Deborah Robin promises a tour-de-force performance as Mrs. Cole Porter. And as a fan of Cole Porter’s music but not knowing anything about his wife or their life together, I wanted to find out a bit more about the production, especially what led Deborah Robin to take on the role.

(Shari): Hi Deborah. Thank you for taking to time to speak with me about LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER.

 (Deborah): Hi Shari, it’s my pleasure to chat with you! I am so delighted that you have an interest in our show

(Shari): First of all, congratulations on your acclaimed pre-pandemic turn as Doris Day in P3 Theatre’s Day After Day: The Life and Music of Doris Day. What else would you like readers to know about your theatre background?

(Deborah): Oh thank you so much, Shari; Day After Day was a wonderful experience! I adore everything about Doris, and always will. It was a privilege to portray her, and to work with the P3 Theater Company. As for my theatre background, I have been involved in theatre for most of my life (including post-graduate studies at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), with the exception of the years I stepped away to be home with my babies. The first time I stepped back into a theatre to audition again, it felt like coming home, like Cinderella’s magical slipper fitting her foot at last. I knew that I belonged here. Many of you can relate, I am sure! Speaking of magic, I have found that I gravitate to shows with elements of magic within them. Besides Doris, one of my favorite past roles to play was Mary Poppins. If enchantment is involved, I’m your girl!

(Shari): I take it you are a big fan of Cole Porter’s music. Do you have a favorite number or two you will be performing in the show?

(Deborah): Ah, that is a tough question! All of Cole’s music is timeless, memorable, marvelous! At this point, I think one of my favorites in this show might be “In the Still of the Night.” Some singers have interpreted this song dramatically, even fun and jazzy, but when it is done tenderly, with feeling, wow, does it touch the heart. Doris Day did an incredible recording of this song that I love, of course!

(Shari):  Since many aspects of Porter's life simply could not be discussed in great detail during the 1940s and 1950s, such as his 35-year marriage to Southern socialite Linda Lee Thomas, what was it about her life and unconventional marriage that pulled you into wanting to portray her onstage?

(Deborah): Yes, absolutely, the reality of their marriage was not up for discussion at that time! There was a rather fictionalized account of their marriage in the movie Night and Day starring Cary Grant as Cole Porter. Apparently, after seeing the film, Cole remarked, with humor, “None of it’s true.”  But I knew almost nothing about Linda’s life before Jon Peterson of the P3 Theatre Company reached out to me during quarantine, asking if I’d heard of Love, Linda and if I might be interested in taking a look at it for the future? Of course, I said “yes” immediately because I relish Porter’s music, especially from Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate.

When I began researching Linda, I was fascinated. She was certainly a very sophisticated, sparkling socialite, but very private. I believe she truly loved him since they were together for nearly half of her life. Did you know she kept every Cole Porter review, ticket stub, and program and that her scrapbooks reside at Yale now?

(Shari): No, I had no idea!

(Deborah): And she saved his life as well, insisting that doctors not amputate his legs when he suffered an accident since she knew it would crush his spirit. I believe Cole loved her, too! After she passed away, he wept inconsolably at her funeral, and said he’d had two great women in his life: his mother and Linda, who kept him going. He commissioned a rose for her as well, the Linda Porter rose.

(Shari): What else do you hope audiences will learn about her?

(Deborah): I hope audiences will come away with an understanding of and connection to this spirited lady. Linda was much more than Cole Porter’s wife, or benefactor, or muse. She was a bright and vivacious woman with a passion for culture, music, and Cole!

(Shari): No doubt their glamour-filled lifestyle was essential for both of them. But how do you think they were able to stay married for 35 years?

(Deborah):  Yes, they were the epitome of glamour! The palatial houses, lavish decor, the world traveling. Linda’s jewelry collection is just to-die-for! Many of her pieces were commissioned by Cartier, and are so gorgeous! One of her most iconic pieces was an aquamarine and ruby Belt Buckle Necklace made by Paul Flato in 1935, which is considered an American work of art.

I think there are many reasons Cole and Linda were able to stay married, which Linda discusses in the show. They admired and respected one another, in addition to love. She saw him for the man that he was, and gave him space and freedom in his intimate life. In a practical sense, for Cole, his marriage to Linda gave him access to a sophisticated social life; for Linda, Cole granted her access to the world of the arts. Of course, they did have problems in their marriage, which Love, Linda explores as well

(Shari): What do you think will surprise audiences about their behind-the-scenes life, either in Paris or New York?

(Deborah): I hope audiences will be pleasantly surprised, even touched, at the genuine love and affection that existed between these two! Marriage can be challenging enough under the best circumstances; Cole and Linda (with eyes wide open) managed to have a beautiful life together, as unconventional and puzzling as it may seem.

(Shari): For this production, are you able to rehearse in person with director Tony Santamauro and/or musical director Bill Wolfe or just online for now?  And have you ever worked with either of them before?

(Deborah): Yes, I have been able to work with both of these fabulous people in person, and we are following all safety protocols. Tony was my director for Day After Day, and I jumped at the opportunity to work with him again. He just radiates a zeal for theatre, he lives and breathes it, and is a joy to work with. This is my first time working with Bill, and he is delightful (and so talented)!

(Shari): What message do you hope audiences take away with them after seeing the show?

(Deborah): Besides all of the classic Cole Porter tunes that will be playing on repeat in their heads for days? Most of us know Cole Porter as a clever and witty composer who was unable to live openly as a gay man. He was more than clever and closeted; he was staggeringly brilliant, and much deeper and more complex than people realize. He was not able to be himself, openly, in the world, but he had someone in his corner who cared. Some of his more thoughtful songs really portray this side of him, touching emotions in us that cannot be conveyed except through music. I hope audiences will come away with a bit more insight into the captivating man that he was, and of the woman who adored him

(Shari): Is there anything else you would like to add?

(Deborah): Yes! The number one reason to come to this show is the music! It is delightful and delicious, and the particular arrangements in Love, Linda are de-lovely! There are also some lesser-known treasures you may never have heard before. Cole Porter’s music is universally loved for a reason, and I hope you will love it, too. Thank you so much, Shari, for your interest in our show, and for this interview! I really appreciate it.

P3 Theatre Company presents the Southwestern Regional Debut of LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER, a musical one-woman show starring Deborah Rubin about the improbable love of the gay songwriter and his socialite wife. With Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, Book by Stevie Holland and Gary Wiliam Friedman, the production is Directed by Tony Santamauro with Musical Direction by Bill Wolfe.

Performances take place:
October 16-24 at the 2nd Story Theatre in Hermosa Beach, with Adult General Admission: $32.00 or Senior/Student/Military General Admission $28.00, available at https://www.onthestage.tickets/show/p3-theatre-company/love-linda-the-life-of-mrs-cole-porter-65321

October 30-31 at the Renaissance Performing Arts Center in Long Beach with General Admission Adult: $35.00 or Senior/Student/Military: $32.00 available at https://www.onthestage.tickets/show/p3-theatre-company/love-linda-the-life-of-mrs-cole-porter-89246 

Run time is 75 minutes with no intermission, and both venues have wheelchair accessible parking and seating available. All ticket sales are final. Please note: For all in-person performances, you will be required to wear a mask indoors in compliance with the current LA County mandate. In addition to wearing a mask, you will need to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test (within 72 hours) along with a photo ID.

Headshot photo of Deborah Robin by Susan Spann

Stock Photos of Cole Porter and his wife Linda Lee Thomas

Photo of Deborah Robin as Doris Day in "Day After Day: The Life and Music of Doris Day"
by Caught in the Moment Photography


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


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.



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.



Spotlight Series: Meet Fringe Management Co-Founder Mike Blaha


This Spotlight focuses on Mike Blaha, Co-Founder of Fringe Management, a company that has produced an incredible assortment of shows for both the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Hollywood Fringe Festival. Listen in as he shares his insights on how the Coronavirus pandemic has affected both this year, especially since the initial shutdown occurred just as the Edinburgh event had begun.


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

Mike Blaha (Mike): I did a little bit of acting in high school, but never really thought about producing.  Then a friend of mine asked me to be his associate Artistic Director at a small, long-defunct theatre in the Valley in the late 80s and I caught the producing bug.

Since beginning in 1989, I’ve produced or co-produced over 100 shows in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Hong Kong, London and especially at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where our company Fringe Management,  LLC (co-founded with my Edinburgh based partner, actor-director Nigel Miles Thomas) has presented approximately 70 productions since 2001.  I have also produced 18 shows at the Hollywood Fringe Festival since 2012.

I was also one of the co-founders of Sci-Fest, a festival of one act science fiction plays that ran from 2014-2016 and have served on the Board of New Musicals, Inc. for most of the last 20 years (as President from 2015-2019).

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

(Mike): I was producing, along with Joel Shapiro of the Electric Lodge in Venice, the Edinburgh Fringe sensation “Hitler’s Tasters,” a brilliant dark comedy by Michelle Kholos Brooks.  We were originally scheduled to run March 12-30, 2020.  We had previews Thursday and Friday, March 12 and 13, 2020, opened on Saturday, March 14, 2020 and had to close on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

(SB): Here is “Hitler’s Tasters” promo reel on You Tube. How did you communicate the shutdown to the cast and crew?

(Mike): We communicated the heartbreaking reality of the shutdown in person with the cast and crew after the performance on Saturday night.

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

(Mike): Fortunately, we made an archival recording on opening night and we were able to negotiate an agreement with Equity to stream that recording for a two-week period, May 8-21, 2020, so audience members who bought a ticket to the live performance, and some new audience members, were able to watch that recording during that window. It is possible that there may be a remount of the play at the Electric Lodge, but it’s tricky because the cast members, who were the actors in the Edinburgh Fringe production, are all from New York.

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

(Mike): I had five shows lined up for the 2020 Hollywood Fringe Festival, including three shows from the UK (The Nights, The Tanner and West), a local sketch comedy show Gold Baby and the 7th annual “Combined Artform’s Pick of the Fringe”.  With the Hollywood Fringe now cancelled this year, except for online shows, I have lost most if not all of the planned productions, although they may return for 2021.

We were also producing 7 shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, which has been cancelled altogether including Activities of Daily Living, Bard Overboard, Elton John: Rocketman, Elvis: He’s Back, Hiding Anne Frank, Once Upon A Time in Hollywoodland, and Two Girls: One Mic.  Fortunately, it looks like most if not all of the shows want to perform at the 2021 edition.

(SB): I saw Joanna Lipari in her one-woman show Activities for Daily Living at the Sierra Madre Playhouse and believe everyone needs to experience her incredible and very personal observations about life and love in that show. So I certainly hope she will be able to take the show to Edinburgh in 2021. (Here’s the link to my review on Broadway World.)

So now that everything is on hold, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Mike): Well, I’m reading my daily reports from Broadway World, of course, following updates from various theatre companies, as well friends’, colleagues’, and various theatre forums on social media (and occasionally posting myself), and trying to keep up with the amazing explosion of content by artists of every stripe on YouTube, Facebook, Patreon, Twitter . . . the list goes on.  I’m in touch with all of the artists involved with the delayed and cancelled productions referenced above, and working with a couple of them on developing new projects.

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

(Mike): Some people think the pandemic will move live theatre online permanently; some people think live theater will return eventually unchanged. I fall somewhere in the middle. I think there may be a hybrid model that combines live theatre with more digital innovation, both with respect to the design and production of live theater, but also respect to the supplemental, possibly complementary exploitation of those live productions.  One thing I am certain of, having witnessed the resilience and creativity of our community over these past few weeks, is that the L.A. Theatre scene will adapt and thrive in whatever becomes the “new normal.”

Of course, this has been a very difficult time for all of us.  One of the things that has kept me sane in spite of all the postponements and cancellations and missed openings is the knowledge that theatre has been around for a couple of thousand years and ain’t going anywhere.  It may be very different or not that different at all; but in a few weeks or months we will all be sitting in a dark black box once again in thrall to the magic of live theatre!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Susan Loewenberg "Sets the Stage for Learning" - LA Theatre Works and Educators


LA Theatre Works, a non-profit organization dedicated to the arts, says it all in their mission statement: “To record the most significant and important stage plays from the American and World canons and to make these recordings available worldwide.” LA Theatre Works invites the public to hear and see well-known actors perform classics by icons like Shakespeare and modern plays by playwrights like Lynn Nottage and then record the results.

Today, LA Theatre Works has the largest library of recorded plays in the world — over 500 audio productions, both free and for purchase, available to the public. In response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, they are offering 25 audio recordings of significant stage plays, each performed by leading actors of stage and screen and free to educators worldwide. LATW’s “Setting the Stage for Learning” initiative is designed to help teachers enhance distance learning during the crisis — as well as classroom learning when schools are again open.  In addition to the current initiative, LATW has remained busy in the community, offering weekly two-hour radio shows on public radio stations nationwide, worldwide streaming and through their podcasts. LATW also broadcasts their show daily in China, where they have over 15 million listeners a week, and they broadcast weekly on KCRW Berlin in Germany. All of these offerings can be accessed on their website. In the midst of this never-ending activity is producing director and CEO Susan Loewenberg, who kindly agreed to this interview in March 2020.


LA Theatre Works Digital Cover Art - Photo Courtesy of LA Theatre Works

What is LA Theatre Works, and how did it begin?

Susan Loewenberg: Originally, six theater artists and I started the organization. Eventually I agreed to head it up. It was around 1972 when a group of artists, actors, and playwrights associated with the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles began to do workshops in Federal, State, and County prisons. We called ourselves Artists in Prison. We created plays with inmates, and the general public was allowed inside to watch our productions. At one point, we even arranged for a group of furloughed inmates to perform live at the John Anson Ford Theater.

It was 1977 or 1978 when the group received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and we changed our name to LA Theatre Works. By 1980, we had begun to produce professional theater, including several award-winning world premieres. In 1985, a group of well-known actors, including John Lithgow, Marsha Mason, Amy Irving, Hector Elizondo, Ed Asner, Helen Hunt, Julie Harris, and Richard Dreyfuss, approached LATW to become their producers. We agreed, and our first project was to record Sinclair Lewis’ Babbitt for radio station KCRW. It took 18 months to record the book; all 34 actors in the company participated. The recording was 14-and-a-half hours long and was released on Thanksgiving Day in 1986. It was a huge success and got great reviews. We had to follow up on that success.

Jane Kaczmarek and Nicholas Hormann in "Spill" - Photo by Nick Toren

How do you arrive at the final recording from start to finish? How do you pick your casts?

SL: Depending on how difficult the play is, we either perform in front of a live audience; or, for the more difficult plays, we record in a studio. For the live performances, we record four or five times in front of audiences, using state of the art technology. There are actors with microphones and live sound effects. I take notes on every performance. The first time, I watch the actors. But after that, I never look at them again. I focus on listening. I put on my headset and take notes, then decide which performance is better for each section of the play. For example, perhaps the first scene was better on Saturday, but the second scene was better on Sunday. We have people in continuity who make sure that every word is correct; everybody makes notes, and the editor looks at all the notes. We edit three times. It takes two to three months from performance to the finished product.

In order to cast our plays, we have a group of both high profile and excellent working actors who love to record with us and who find the work to be challenging and a wonderful way to experience great dramatic literature and exercise their professional muscles at the same time. Think of it as akin to working out in the gym! We give them the opportunity to do that, and they feel it’s invaluable.

Gregory Harrison, Diane Adair, John Heard, and John Getz in "Top Secret" - Photo by Derek Hutchison

What are the advantages of your recordings over live staged theater or audio books?

SL:  Instead of using several senses, like you do in live theater, you’re just listening. That fires up your imagination. You begin to visualize… it’s really very stimulating. With audio books, you usually have only one person telling the story; with LA Theatre Works, there is a whole cast interpreting the story. It’s a doubly rich experience — the recordings stimulate concentration and imagination. It’s more fulfilling to listen when you want to learn, and it’s a better teaching tool than a film would be. The teachers who use our recordings say that the students learn better. One student said that listening to Romeo and Juliet instead of reading it helped him to understand the play for the first time. The head of the Division of Instruction at LAUSD recently remarked about how useful we are in assisting students during the pandemic.

Gregory Harrison and Richard Kind in "An Enemy of the People" - Photo by Joshua Arvizo

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted LA Theatre Works?

SL: It’s had a big impact. Every year, we take a play and tour it around the US to 30-40 performing arts centers. We enhance the production values for touring audiences. Everybody is in costume, we don’t use scripts, there is lighting and movement. This year, we were in the middle of a tour of Seven. It’s about seven women from seven countries whose actions impacted women and human rights in extraordinary ways. We did a fabulous performance in Palm Beach on March 7, which I had flown in to see; then they flew to Minnesota to do five performances, but they only got through two when it, and the rest of the tour, was cancelled. We had 11 more performances to go. It’s sad, because it was a great show and we lost all the fees from those bookings — a big blow. We also had to cancel our NTLive film screenings and our next live in performance show at UCLA for the month of April, and we are waiting to see what we may have to cancel after that. We are trying to get new dates.

But we’re a little more fortunate than most because we still have audio sales and the radio show. We can weather the closures and cancellations. Hopefully, we’ll get aid for the losses on the tour, and maybe we and other nonprofit arts organizations will be eligible for additional governmental and private support.

Larry Powell and Aja Naomi King in "The Mountaintop" - Photo by Matt Petit

Do you have any final thoughts or information that you want your audiences to know?

SL: Absolutely. We always have the play recordings available for purchase. We also have another group of plays available for free online listening. They’re on scientific themes, and they’re called The Relativity Series — titles like The Great Monkey Trial about the Scopes trial with the great speeches of Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan. We just recorded Behind the Sheet. It’s based on a true story about a doctor in the 19th century who performed experimental gynecological operations on slave women. It was good research, but they didn’t use anesthesia and the women suffered terribly. We have others about autism, DNA, and ethics. And we just put up a free listen to the late Terrence McNally’s Lips Together Teeth Apart starring Kristen Johnston and Steven Weber.

Again, the general public can log onto our website and find a host of wonderful free and for sale recordings — a great way to help get through this trying time.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Elmira Rahim Who Began Her Acting Career in Iran, Trained at USC, and Created the ÉLAN Ensemble


This Spotlight focuses on Elmira Rahim who began her acting career in Iran, trained at USC, and created the ÉLAN Ensemble whose inaugural production, How We're Different From Animals, was the recipient of Best Adaptation at Stage Raw Theater Awards in 2019 as well as nominated in multiple categories including Best Production at Stage Raw Theater Awards and LA Drama Critics Circle Awards. But like so many others, this year’s production of a modern adaptation of Trojan Women with A Noise Within had to be postponed until theaters can safely open again.


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

Elmira Rahim (Elmira): I started my acting career in Iran when I was a teenager and was fortunate enough to work with some prominent theater companies including Ayeneh, which led me to perform in     in Paris in 2004. Working in Iran as an actor has given me a perspective of what it means to push the boundaries and use limitations as opportunities to be creative, which I will forever cherish and use as a force. After leaving my roots in Iran, I joined the USC MFA Acting program where I got the chance to work with some of my most inspiring mentors. The training at USC and the opportunity to collaborate with artists from different backgrounds inspired me to start a theater company, ÉLAN Ensemble, dedicated to creating adaptations and devised works rooted in physical theater techniques.

I am proud to share that ÉLAN's inaugural production, How We're Different From Animals, was the recipient of Best Adaptation at Stage Raw Theater Awards in 2019 as well as nominated in multiple categories including Best Production at Stage Raw Theater Awards and LA Drama Critics Circle Awards. I have also been working as an actor with other theater companies in Los Angeles as well as pursuing a career on camera and in voice over, but working as the leader and artistic director of ÉLAN has been one of the greatest honors of my theatrical career.

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

(Elmira): Before the pandemic, I was in conversation with A Noise Within to present a modern adaptation of Trojan Women with ÉLAN Ensemble as part of their Noise Now season. As you can imagine, an opportunity like this is really valuable for a new theater company and often takes time to come to fruition, but it did seem like we were getting closer. The presentation was not yet announced but we were planning to schedule it for August and could not wait to share this powerful piece with the audience.  But it was clear to us after the shutdown that live performance in August was not going to be an option.

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

(Elmira): I deeply feel for all colleagues and friends who had to cancel shows before opening or in the middle of a run. As an actor and a producer, I can totally understand the financial and emotional burden such action incurs. Since our performance dates at ANW were not yet confirmed, we were lucky to only have to communicate with the cast that we will be looking at another time to share this work, which was still hard considering we are still not certain when we will be able to safely gather in theaters again.

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

(Elmira): As of right now, Trojan Women is announced to be performed at ANW on Dec 19th, but we are still waiting for more specific guidelines. As you know, most theaters have cancelled their seasons until next year, so there is a possibility of having to postpone again.

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

(Elmira): ÉLAN is also in development for another project which is going to be a devised piece in process for a year or so. Now that we can’t be in the same room, we have started working on it one day at a time online.

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

(Elmira): We have been scheduling multiple Zoom readings and meetings like most companies. I am also trying to use this time to write, read and think of ideas for future productions. Some online works and creations have been truly inspiring, but we all miss being in the same room together and feeding off of each other's energy and artistry.

(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?

(Elmira): I would like to extend my love to the LA Theatre community. During this time of isolation and reflection, I was reminded of how lucky I am to have met many wonderfully talented artists who are also wonderful human beings. At the same time, I wish that we will come out of this as a community with more awareness to create works that reflect our society more truthfully. Living in such a multicultural city is truly an asset for the Arts, and with all that is going on in our society today, I hope that we can recognize an opportunity for change and our individual role in creating it. I cannot wait to see you all in the theater!  "Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself." Rumi

I would love to invite readers to a wonderfully unique modern adaptation of Trojan Women at A Noise Within/Noise Now at ANoiseWithin.org/noise-now.

Also, would love to share ÉLAN's website for any upcoming productions. ElanensEmble.com


ÉLAN Ensemble's productions of How We're Different From Animals and Seven. Photo credit: Meredith Adelaide


This article first appeared on Broadway World.