COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Kritzerland Goes Virtual - Bruce Kimmel and Hartley Powers Together for Group Rep Fundraisers


Bruce Kimmel and Hartley Powers joined forces to develop May and June Group Rep fundraisers which they are sharing with the world.

Clearly a man for all theatrical seasons, Bruce Kimmel has achieved success in every endeavor which he tried. Bruce wrote, directed, and starred in the cult movie hit, The First Nudie Musical.  He also co-created the story for the hit film, The Faculty, directed by Robert Rodriguez.  As an actor, Bruce has guest starred on most of the long-running television shows of the 1970s.

Hartley Powers - Photo by Russell Baer

Bruce is also a legendary Grammy-nominated producer of theater music on CD and has produced over 180 albums. His song “Simply” won the Mac Award for best song of the year.  Most recently, he’s directed rave-reviewed productions of L.A. Now and Then, Welcome to My World, Li’l Abner, Inside Out, Dial ‘M’ for Murder, and the world premiere of a new Sherman Brothers musical, Levi, the story of Levi Strauss. For the past ten years, he has been producing and hosting a monthly series of live entertainment called Kritzerland, which most recently was seen at Feinstein’s Upstairs at Vitello’s. In his spare time, Mr. Kimmel has also authored twenty books. Bruce took time from his crowded schedule to an interview with me in May 2020.

Hartley Powers started her acting career at the early age of 11 months and continued in the business through college, studying theater at Cal State Northridge and Fullerton. After graduating, she continued her studies and earned a degree in Digital Media from FIDM. She built a career in the post-production industry and is now the President of Pongo - a boutique A/V marketing agency. After taking a break from acting, Hartley decided to return to her love of theater by becoming a member at the Group Rep in North Hollywood. She played Hermia in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut in Avenue Q, the title role of Carol in A Carol Christmas, and Maggie in The Man Who Came to Dinner ; the last two were directed by Bruce Kimmel. Whether on the stage or through the art of editing, she loves being able to share and tell stories with others. Hartley also agreed to an interview in May 2020.


Bruce, your career goes back nearly 50 years as an actor, writer, novelist, blogger, director, composer, and Grammy-nominated CD producer. How did you happen to branch out so extensively? Which of those roles fits you best and gives you the most satisfaction?

Sam Golzari, Esperanza America, Olivia Cristina Delgado, Ella Saldana North, Julio Macias, Kenneth Miles, and Ellington Lopez in "A Mexican Trilogy" - Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

Bruce Kimmel:  50 YEARS??? Yikes.  I was blessed, I suppose, to be able to do several things well; and I always felt it would be a sin not to nurture anything I did well. It didn’t always serve me well because people in show business - especially when I was coming up - like to put everyone into little boxes. But from the time I was fourteen, I knew I wanted to write - songs, musicals, and plays – as well as direct; back then, I especially wanted to act.  The CD-producing came about in a roundabout way at a time when I had recently emerged from a negative place in my life. I was given the opportunity to be a full-time record producer, and I grabbed it with gusto. In a year, I achieved the kind of success that had eluded me for all those years prior. Not that I didn't have success, mind you, because I did. I was very lucky in that way. But we all have silly places we think we should be and - if you haven't gotten there - then maybe it's time to take the blinders off and look at other avenues. This is what happened to me. But after producing all those albums (over 180 that I personally produced) and releasing over 400 albums on my CD label, Kritzerland, I got back to directing. I absolutely love directing. For the past twenty years, I've written a book a year (seventeen works of fiction and three non-fiction). That has actually been the most satisfying thing of all. I've also written several musicals in the last few years.

Michael Robb and Carrie Schroeder in "Dial 'M' for Murder" - Photo by Doug Engalla

Hartley, I noticed that your bio goes all the way back to 11 months of age “waving baby arms from a Chevy Astro van.” How and when did you first get involved in show business? What are some of the high points in your career thus far?

Hartley Powers:  My parents got me involved in acting when I was just a baby. As a couple that moved to Hollywood to act, they were eager to get me into show business. I was lucky enough to appear on TV shows, movies of the week, some feature films, and the stage - as a child and on to my teen years. A big moment for me was being cast as Billy Crystal’s daughter in Mr. Saturday Night at the age of six. I was lucky enough to work with the likes of Tyne Daly, Melissa Gilbert, Shelley Hack, Richard Crenna, Kay Cole, Jules Aaron, Vincent Dowling, Fred Willard, Marian Seldes, and Cherry Jones.

How did both of you get involved with the Group Rep? What are some of the shows you were involved in, and what was your role in these shows? Any awards?

Bruce Kimmel:  Doug Haverty, a long-time member there (and now the artistic director), and I had been working together for a couple of decades; he designed CD covers for me when I was at both Varese Sarabande and then Fynsworth Alley. He’s also designed all of the Kritzerland releases. Because of our connection, I'd occasionally see a show at the Group Rep. Then I directed a production of Doug and Adryan Russ's musical, Inside Out at the Grove Theater in Burbank. Inside Out actually began life at the Group Rep; it was a big hit award-winning production with a brilliant cast.  Larry Eisenberg, who was then co-artistic director at the Group Rep, came to see it and loved it. He kind of put the word out that he'd be interested in me directing a show for the Group Rep. He asked me what show I'd like to do; and, for reasons I can't really explain, I blurted out, Dial M for Murder.  I don't think he thought it was necessarily a good fit for the theater, but I was passionate about it because it's a real old-fashioned talking play with a great plot and great roles. I convinced Larry; and that production did really well for them - great reviews, and audiences just ate it up.

Then Doug came to me with an idea he had for a musical version of A Christmas Carol, but in a modernized and feminized version, where it takes place in the present and Scrooge is a woman. All the ghosts of the past were also women. We called it A Carol Christmas. I thought it was a clever idea - and so Doug wrote the book; and I wrote the score. The theater had actually committed to do it before we even started writing. I also directed the production, and it happily turned out well. Again, audiences just really took to it. Doug and I were both nominated for Ovation Awards - he for his book and me for the score. I won a Scenie Award for the score, so that was nice. Then last December, I directed The Man Who Came to Dinner. Directly after that, I directed Doug's play, In My Mind's Eye, which was a big change of pace for me and which I loved doing because we had an absolutely perfect cast.

Hartley Powers: The Group Rep has been a part of my life since I was born. My dad has been a member for about as long as I’ve been alive - so that theater has been a huge part of my upbringing. I had never considered becoming a member until I saw my dad really starting to participate in several productions. After going to opening night after opening night I thought, “Wait a second…I wanna jump in and play, too!” It makes for a full schedule to balance a career – but being in a show is always worth it. The Group Rep has given me room to explore roles I would have never thought possible for me - from Hermia in Midsummer Night’s Dream to Kate Monster and Lucy the Slut in Avenue Q. I definitely learned a new appreciation for artist’s when I played the titular role of Carol in A Carol Christmas, a female turn on the Christmas Carol classic where our Carol is the Scrooge of a QVC-style business. Most recently, I was lucky enough to share the stage with Jim Beaver, Barry Pearl, and Kay Cole in The Man Who Came to Dinner.

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

Your Kritzerland concert usually takes place at Feinstein’s at Vitello’s restaurant in Studio City. How was the idea hatched to move the concert onto a virtual platform in support of the Group Rep?

Bruce Kimmel:  We began our monthly Kritzerland shows back in 2010, and Feinstein's Upstairs at Vitello's is our third venue. When this craziness began in mid-March, it became obvious right away that we wouldn't be doing the April show there. So for April, I did a kind of off-the-cuff best-of-show, but I knew so little about Facebook Live and how to do it that it was fun but kind of lame. I would just have to link to videos that were on YouTube, and it was ultimately just irritating to me. Having had that experience, I decided we'd do the May show online as a real Kritzerland show. I contacted Hartley Powers, who's Doug's talented daughter. I had directed her in A Carol Christmas and The Man Who Came to Dinner. Fortunately, she knows from technical stuff - and so we began to figure out how to do it without having any technical issues. We did three or four days of testing on Skype and Zoom and something else, I think; and I just didn't see how we could take the chance of actually doing it live. There were too many variables like the lag time between audio and video. It was just crazy. Then Hartley said, "We should just pre-tape everything, and I'll edit it together."  That's what we ended up doing.  But I have to tell you, everyone thought it was live - we were very clever about it.  We'd done three "tests" prior to the show to make sure what we were doing worked. Everyone thought those tests were live, too; but they weren't.  At the end of the show, I revealed that we'd pre-taped - but that the performances had no editing or fixing. They were shot and sent to us, and those takes were used without trickery. Even after I revealed that, everyone still thought my commentary was live - but it wasn't.  We really couldn't have been happier with the way it turned out.

Hartley, how did you get involved on the technical end of the May and June Kritzerland Fundraisers for the Group Rep?

Hartley Powers:  My career is based in post-production, so Bruce knew that I had tech savvy. When he approached me about doing a fundraiser show for Facebook and YouTube, I knew I might have a learning curve as far as live broadcasting goes - but I knew I would definitely be able to figure out the editorial side of things. And, with our current state of the arts, I knew I was happy to do anything to help my home theater.

In executing a show that features this many performers, a host, and an accompanist, we have to make sure people are set up to film and/or record in their homes (something everyone is facing as we keep moving through this time). I made myself available to make sure performers were set up correctly and submitting video files we could work with. From there, I pieced together Bruce’s hosting segments along with the songs, finessing timing of fades in and out of songs as well as audio levels. From there, we created a 90-minute video file that we needed to “crunch” or make small enough for an upload to a streaming website. With this, I was able to learn about live broadcasting software as well as scheduled live broadcasts. It’s the new world we’re moving into so I’m glad to have knowledge of it.

Bruce, what goes into gathering the songs and creating the patter you developed as host?

Bruce Kimmel:  I choose the theme of the show and the songs, and then I cast it from our incredibly talented LA talent pool. Once I have the theme, I just listen to a lot of songs and pick the ones that seem to make a good show. I'm a stickler for the show structure and order; and, from the very start, I insisted on two rehearsals and a stumble-through so that no one was reading lyrics on a stand and everyone was super prepared. To that end, I was the first person in cabaret to ever pay the performers a fee for doing a multi-singer cabaret show. It was unheard of; but I thought it was only fair since the rehearsals were key. It's not a lot of money, but I know our performers have appreciated it. At least in LA, it set a precedent - so that at least one of the shows that copied our format had to start paying. I'd never intended to do anything but introduce the show; but, when we did our first show based on a series of albums I produced called Lost in Boston - cut songs from hit Broadway shows - I realized the songs wouldn't make any sense without some context. That’s why I wrote a commentary; people liked it and then expected it - so I was stuck. Now I've had to do it for 106 shows. Even so, I really enjoy writing it, and it's given me back all my performer confidence, a nice and unexpected benefit.

Hartley, was there anything that came up that surprised you (in a good way or not so good way) while working on the May fundraiser online?

Hartley Powers:  I was surprised as to how much work it actually was! As someone who tackles production schedules, I thought this would be a breeze. But between creating teasers before the show in order to build momentum, and creating the graphics to help us start and bookend the show, it turned into a pretty big task. And Bruce was wrangling talent as well as directing the performers. We both dedicated a lot of time to this and are really proud of the outcome.

Based on your experience with the May Kritzerland Fundraiser for the GRT and the upcoming June Kritzerland concert, do you think that you might again serve as a technical advisor for any upcoming events?

Hartley Powers:  Considering that we don’t know what the future holds and how our entertainment platforms are going to continue to evolve, I think that many events are going to turn to more of a pre-recorded live type of broadcast. At this point, I think it’s the only hope that is available to live performers. So I hope that I get to participate in more of these.

Bruce, have you made any modifications as a producer and director in order to plan a concert using a virtual format, rather than onstage before a live audience? What differences are entailed in performing in this virtual world? Is technology your friend or your enemy?

Bruce Kimmel:  We haven't made any changes to the format of the show, and we still rehearse - just via Zoom. I hear what everyone is doing and give any little notes I may have. We miss the laughs and applause, of course, which is the downside of doing it online; but it works pretty well. The singers who would be normally playing to the audience have to adjust to playing to the camera, and we do have to get the balances right between voice and track. That’s why I have everyone send a test video to make those adjustments prior to taping the number. Richard Allen, our musical director, has the daunting task of making all the tracks; but it's been pretty smooth. Technology is my half-friend; but technology, thankfully, is Hartley's really good friend.

Hartley, you are an actress/singer who will also be performing in the June concert.  What song or songs will you be singing? Did you have to make any changes in your usual performing style to accommodate the virtual format?

Hartley Powers:  I believe Bruce would prefer I keep my song a secret, but I think I can say that it will help spread a little cheer. Once I went to record myself, I realized just how strange it is to just sing to a camera with no audience to react to you, no mic to help reverb your sound. It’s an odd setting, for sure. I am equipped to film but I’m used to just worrying about being on one side of the camera - not both!

The Kritzerland concert is a fundraiser for the Group Rep. What do you hope to accomplish with your virtual June concert? 

Bruce Kimmel:  What we always hope to accomplish: To give a good show that makes people happy. That's all we can hope for - and bringing people happiness, especially now, is important. I decided to make our online shows benefits for the Group Rep because - like all small theaters right now - they are struggling to pay the rent without having shows running. It's really daunting. Over the years, I've directed a couple of benefits for the Group Rep; and this just seemed like a natural to me. We raised over $1,000 for them with the May show, and I'm hoping June will do well, too.

This question is for both of you. What are some of your plans during and after COVID-19?

Bruce Kimmel:  Right now, I should be in rehearsals at the Group Rep for the fiftieth anniversary production of the musical Applause - but who knows when that will happen. I am ever hopeful that it will be sooner rather than later, but I tend to always accentuate the positive rather than the negative. Other than that, we'll continue doing our Kritzerland shows online until we can get back to Vitello's. I have a new book that just came out, and so I will be doing some press for that.  Otherwise, I'm just trying to stay productive here at home, writing and stuff, and staying safe and out of harm's way.

Hartley Powers:  I wish I could say I had plans for after COVID-19, but I think I’m taking it one day at a time. If we do return to “normal,” I look forward to taking dance classes, browsing the aisles of Target, getting a massage, and visiting with my family. My husband and I have been very fortunate to work from home at this time.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



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


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


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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instagram.com/michaelleoni1111

Instagram.com/famoustheliveexperience

Instagram.com/americanstreetkid

Instagram.com/elevatortheplay


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Bringing Latino Tradition to the Theater - An Interview with Jose Luis Valenzuela


Born in the U.S. and raised in Mexico until the age of 21, Jose Luis Valenzuela got his first taste of acting in school productions in Mexico. Eventually, he returned to the U.S. to pursue a graduate program in social studies. But the acting bug bit deep, and Jose soon began his professional acting career in Chicano Theater in 1970. He moved to Los Angeles in 1984 and became a founding member of the Latino Theater Lab.

In 1984, he was invited by Los Angeles Theater Center founding members Bill Bushnell and Duane White to their new theater in the former Security Pacific National Bank building – which by then had been converted by the City into a theater space as part of a plan to revitalize downtown Los Angeles. In 1986, the company finally presented its first full production, a play about immigration called La Victima. In 1995, the Latino Theater Lab changed its name to the Latino Theater Company and has been operating as a non-profit ever since. In 1995, Jose Luis Valenzuela also became their first artistic director, a role he has had for the past 25 years. Over the years, multi-talented Jose has been an actor, director, and producer. Jose took time from his busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


Cast of "La Victima" - Photo by Jintak Han

Tell us more about the Latino Theater Company. What is your mission? How big a group are you? 

Jose Luis Valenzuela: The actual company is small. Six members are left from the original group 35 years ago. We have 11 full time people, and we hire part timers as we need them. Our mission is to bring people from different cultures together to make the world better and aid in mutual understanding. We produce the entire season. Now we have lots of departments. We have educational programs, theater productions, and a writing festival in the summer. Mostly, we produce new plays.

We have a 20-year lease with the City. It expires in 2026, and we hope to get a long extension then. We pay $1 a year, but we do all the maintenance. It costs us $350,000 just to open the doors, and that’s not counting repairs. That’s just for the basics. To some extent, we depend on ticket sales, so you can imagine how the theater shut-down in March affected us.

Cast of "Dementia" - Photo by Christopher Ash

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

JLV:  We shut down on March 14. We were rehearsing La Victima, a play we first did in 1986. We brought back the original version about immigration because it remains as relevant today as it did in the 1970s. We were going to tour local high schools and colleges with a free presentation. We planned to open our new season on April 16. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Marta Carrasco in "Perra De Nadie" - Photo by David Ruano

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

JLV:  We had to postpone our 2020 season and cancel entirely our presentation of two companies which were going to come from Spain. Barcelona’s Marta Carrassco was supposed to present two plays in repertory (Perra de Nadie and Jo, Dona, a Lili Elbe). Kulunka Teatro was supposed to return with their Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle award-winning production of Andre and Dorine.

It’s been very difficult financially. Even if our rent is low, we need to keep up the building. That’s really expensive. We’re also trying to hold on to our staff, but that’s hard to do under these circumstances. Now our hourly employees are without jobs.

"Andre & Dorine" - Photo by Gonzalo Jerez and Manuel D.

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

JLV:  We’re having a lot of virtual staff meetings. All the full time employees are working remotely from home and still on salary. At this point, I don’t know when we will re-open; but we’re all set up to begin as soon as we can. Hopefully, that will be in the fall. We would like to open on August 29, 2020, with a play called August 29. It’s about a journalist in LA who was killed in 1970. The play marks a 50-year celebration, a City and County remembrance. We have the director and designers, and we’re supposed to be auditioning right now – but we’re not because everything is up in the air.

We want to put shows on the internet, and we’re trying to stream a play we did before – but it’s complicated because of the union. We’re putting things on our Facebook website. Beginning next week, we want to have conversations about a play; it will be streamed live and available for people from the website. Maybe we can show a little bit of a show, and people can read the script before the live stream. We plan to send emails to everyone telling them how to get into the scripts and some video scenes. We’d like to do whole shows, but we can’t afford all the costs that would entail.

Esperanza America in "The Mother of Henry" - Photo by Andrew Vasquez

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?

JLV:   It’s really hard to say. Right now, most people are watching television and films and using the internet while quarantined in their homes. I wonder what will happen in this society if the shut-down lasts a long time. But I think we’ll find a way through it. There’s something about people looking at humans doing things and having intellectual conversations face-to-face. Somehow, people are attracted to being with other people. We are social beings, and theater offers dialog with each other on an intimate level. I think people will always find that important and appealing.

Sam Golzari, Esperanza America, Olivia Cristina Delgado, Ella Saldana North, Julio Macias, Kenneth Miles, and Ellington Lopez in "A Mexican Trilogy" - Photo by Grettel Cortes Photography

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

JLV:  The public should know that we are planning to open as soon as they tell us it’s safe. We need people to come to the theater when we have the opening.  We are going to need people to support us.

What are some of your future plans?

JLV:  When we’re allowed to reopen, we’re planning on presenting several shows. I already mentioned “August 29.” We’re also planning on Sleep with the Angels, a story about a young boy with Mexican parents who’s trying to decide his gender. Another show we want to do is The Last Angry Brown Hat. It’s about the Mexican Brown Berets in the 1970s; that’s a Mexican group a lot like the Black Panthers. We also have Ravine on our agenda. The play tells what happens when the city decides to build Dodgers Stadium and forces the Mexicans living in that area to re-locate. We’re also working on La Virgen de Guadalupe, Dios Inantzin, our annual Christmas play.

So you can see that we have lots of plans and want to grow and bring our message to every Angelino. In the meantime, we’ll keep planning and hoping for the end of the pandemic.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Jon Peterson of P3 Theatre Roulette, Presenting "THE LARAMIE PROJECT" Online


Jon Peterson, Executive Artistic Director/Founder of P3 Theatre Roulette, is presenting a virtual reading of Moisés Kaufman and the Members of the Tectonic Theatre Project’s masterful play The Laramie Project at P3Theatre.biz/p3-theatre-roulette. The online presentation features Emily Abeles, Guillermo Alonso, Alden Bettencourt, Kara Brouelette, Elizabeth Curtin, Christy Mauro-Cohen, Jodi Marks, Philip McBride and Jeremy Saje, each of whom will be reading from their individual “safe at home” locations. For more information, please call (714) 689-8116.

For those not familiar with the facts upon which the play is based, in October 1998, a twenty-one-year-old student at the University of Wyoming was kidnapped, severely beaten, and left tied to a fence in the middle of the prairie outside Laramie, Wyoming. His bloody, bruised, and battered body was not discovered until the next day, and he died several days later in an area hospital. His name was Matthew Shepard, and he was the victim of this assault because he was gay.

Moisés Kaufman and fellow members of the Tectonic Theater Project made six trips to Laramie over the course of a year and a half, both in the aftermath of the beating and during the trial of the two young men accused of killing Shepard, during which they conducted more than 200 interviews with the people of the town. Some people interviewed were directly connected to the case, while others were citizens of Laramie, and the breadth of the reactions to the crime led Kaufman and Tectonic Theater members to construct a deeply moving theatrical experience from these interviews and their own experiences in Laramie.

Their groundbreaking play, The Laramie Project, is a breathtaking collage that explores the depths to which humanity can sink and the heights of compassion of which we are capable. And in these uncertain times when the world must learn to cope with the uncertainty and challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic which is both isolating and uniting us, I cannot think of a better play to experience with your entire family to start a conversation about why equality is so vital to a civilized society.

Jon Peterson, who is directing the production, shares “To be honest, since the switch over from real life staging to virtual happened, I've been scrambling around just trying to find ways to be innovative, stay relevant, and give back to the community. We are a new theatre company, and I'm pretty much running a one-man operation at this point.”

Shari Barrett (SB): As a point of clarification for readers, I held my interview with Jon just hours prior to the death of George Floyd in police custody and the protests/violence that have ensued afterwards.

(SB): What led to your decision to present THE LARAMIE PROJECT now?

 

Jon Peterson (Jon): Ever since the South Coast Chorale did a concert based upon the Matthew Shepard story, his story has weighed very heavily on my heart.  I believe we are at a point in our modern existence where we have the opportunity to unite and get through this, or divide and not be so fortunate.  I feel the last 3-4 years have seen some regression in overall acceptance in this country and I don’t want to lose this precious progress that many minority groups have made in basic societal acceptance.  This story serves as a reminder of what we don’t want this country to become.  Also, June 1st is the beginning of Pride month, so I figured the gay theme would be very fitting.

(SB):  How did you audition cast members?

(Jon): With the exception of one cast member, I’ve seen them onstage in a previous P3 production and have worked with them onstage or both.  They were each picked because of their talent as actors, and with character diversity in mind.

(SB): How are you holding rehearsals?

(Jon): We are at the mercy of Zoom.  Each person is at their own home (with the exception of two cast members who live together) and on their computers/phones/iPads.  We started our first rehearsal and talked about the story.  Most of the cast members were either very young, or not born in 1998, but every single person in the cast had heard the story.  Then we broke it down by acts (there are 3).  It’s been a fun challenge because each actor plays multiple roles.  I can’t wait for you to see the talent that has assembled to donate their time and talents to this production!

(SB): What do you hope audiences take away from the production, especially if they tune in with their families?  

(Jon): What I would like audiences to take away from the production is the realization that people are just that, people: Black, White, Buddhist, Mormon, gay, straight, transgender, male, female.  Each one of us is unique, one of a kind, and special.  Let’s not wait for another tragedy to remind ourselves of that.

P3 Theatre Company would like to send out their wishes that everyone stays safe, healthy and sane at this time.  Live in-person theatre will be back and we hope it will be welcomed with open arms.  Support your local theatres!

(SB): While there is no cost for virtual audience members to register for P3 Theatre Roulette programming, there are still costs incurred by P3 Theatre Company to produce The Laramie Project and other titles during their Monday night virtual series. These costs include licensing of the material, streaming platform fees, and marketing. Currently, P3 artists are sharing their talents in the series on a volunteer basis. But to work toward our mission, P3 Theatre Company would like to be in a position to provide paid opportunities for these artists. If you would like to contribute toward the P3 Theatre Roulette series or to P3 Theatre Company, please visit their donation page HERE.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: The NoHo Arts District - An Interview with Nancy Bianconi


Nancy Bianconi is the president of NoHo Communications Group, Inc. (NCG), an arts and entertainment company specializing in arts education and marketing. NCG owns/operates NoHo Communications Group, Inc. For 20 years, NCG has been responsible for marketing the NoHo Arts District with a major focus on theaters. It has also produced / sponsored 85 per cent of NoHo’s theater / arts community events. Nancy has provided assistance with business practices, including administrative, finance, and coordinated marketing collaborative programs. Nancy has produced three off-Broadway musicals and has provided consulting to hundreds of dance and theater schools / companies in NoHo and Los Angeles. Nancy took time out from her very busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


Ronnie Marmo in "I'm Not a Comedian - I'm Lenny Bruce" at Theatre 68 - Photo by Doren Sorell

Tell us something about the history of the NoHo Arts District. What makes the NoHo Arts District special? 

Nancy Bianconi:  In the 1990s, North Hollywood was a blighted, crime-ridden neighborhood. Due to the cheap rents, theaters began to move in; and it was the theatres who helped rebuild the blighted and crime-ridden North Hollywood neighborhood that we now call NoHo. In 1992, the theaters and the Universal City/North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce petitioned the City of Los Angeles to declare this one-square-mile section of North Hollywood as the NoHo Arts District. Theaters were the impetus for the creation of the NoHo Arts District and attracted other theaters and creative industry folks as well as new developments, restaurants, bars, apartments, and hotels. The theaters have a huge impact on the neighborhood and on Los Angeles as a whole.

  • NoHo has 22 theaters in one square mile.
  • NoHo had the highest concentration of theaters outside of New York City.
  • NoHo theaters present more than 500 shows per year, including world premieres.
  • NoHo has 35 acting classes held any given night.
  • More than 20,000 people enjoy NoHo's shows throughout the year.
  • NoHo theaters are an economic multiplier for local restaurants, bars, local businesses, etc.  Theater-goers spend on average of $32 above the theatre ticket price for dinner, drinks, and retail purchases.

The official site for the NoHo Arts District, NoHoArtsDistrict.com, was created in 1998 to showcase this unique neighborhood, the first established neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. What makes NoHo an eclectic neighborhood is that it is the only performing arts district in Los Angeles. The theaters established this section of North Hollywood as an arts district; and, over the years, it has blossomed into a booming creative neighborhood. NoHo is filled with 20+ live, professional theaters, which is the highest concentration outside of New York City. NoHo is also the hip-hop dance capital with studios and choreographers that create the moves we see on TV and in film and all over Instagram. NoHo makes a lot of music and boasts the largest amount of recording studios west of the Mississippi with musicians from all genres having recorded in the district. NoHo was the first neighborhood in the Valley; it has become a METRO hub and attracts new talent, creative businesses, and visitors alike.

Acme Comedy Theatre, NoHo Arts District - Photo courtesy of Nancy Bianconi

When did the theaters close due to COVID-19? Were any of the theatres in the middle of a run?

NB: All theaters closed when the Mayor ordered a shut-down. They were either in the middle of a run or about to open a show. The NoHo theaters are used for a variety of acting classes, one-night events, workshops, seminars, fundraisers, etc. Our theaters are open to all and the neighborhood utilizes them for many events. Our creative makeup means that our theaters are a normal use, a normal part of daily life, you could even say an essential service - when we are not under quarantine.

TU Studios, NoHo Arts District - Photo courtesy of Nancy Bianconi

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

NB: Eighteen of the 22 live, professional theaters in the NoHo Arts District will close within two months because of Covid-19. It will not only harm the theaters, but also the NoHo Arts District as a whole. All the NoHo theaters survive month-to-month in order to create their shows because they’re not government supported and cannot sustain even a short-term shut down.  Without shows, classes, rentals, and ticket sales, theaters can’t survive. This has an effect on the entire community because, without the theater patrons, actors, and crew, restaurants, bars, apartments and other local businesses lose revenue. Without NoHo theaters, there will be no NoHo Arts District.

Group Rep Theatre, NoHo Arts District - Photo courtesy of Nancy Bianconi

What are you doing to prevent closing for good?

NB: To avoid closure of 18 theaters in Los Angeles’ performing arts district, NoHoArtsdistrict.com has created a “Save NoHo Theatres from COVID19” Go Fund Me campaign to help pay for 60 days of rent for the 18 theaters. The NoHo Arts District  is just one-square mile, and it has the second largest concentration of theaters in the United States. We need to make sure that it survives.

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?

NB:  If we lose our NoHo theaters, we also will have lost theaters in Hollywood, downtown, West LA, and Santa Monica. Can Los Angeles still be the entertainment capital of the world without theater? I don't think so.

Secret Rose Theatre, NoHo Arts District - Photo courtesy of Nancy Bianconi

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

NB: Like all businesses and individuals, we need a true moratorium on rent / mortgages. There is a freeze on rents, but what happens when the freeze is over? How is anyone - theater, dance school, or individual - supposed to repay back rents/mortgages when they have been forced to close, stop working, and have zero income? We all would like the answer to this question. In the short run, we would like to see support for our gofundme campaign from theater lovers, local politicians, arts organizations, etc. We are a large theater community that is an economic multiplier. Without theater patrons who go out for a show and dinner, restaurants would be negatively impacted. Without actors and technical / creative crew, who would fill the apartments? When life begins to function again - although it will be different - we would love to see our theaters packed with audiences, including some who've never seen a show in NoHo. We want to reopen with a splash!

Loft Ensemble, NoHo Arts District - Photo courtesy of Nancy Bianconi

What are some of your future plans?

NB: ​The future of NoHo theatres will be determined by the amount of money we raise through our gofundme campaign. NoHo theaters are determined to continue producing plays, festivals, acting workshops, and home-to-church services, community organization meetings, etc. It is from our theaters that tomorrow's Broadway and Off Broadway shows originate.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Gina D'Acciaro, an L.A. Actress and Regular Performer at Rockwell Table & Stage


This Spotlight focuses on Gina D'Acciaro, an actress in Los Angeles for over 19 years who I first met when she was a member of the Actors Co-op Theatre Company in Hollywood and appeared in their production of the Kander and Ebb musical revue World Goes Round. Gina is now a regular performer at Rockwell Table & Stage in Los Feliz, as well as the creator of  many entertaining YouTube videos.


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

Gina D’Acciaro (Gina): I was fresh off a 2019 Broadway World win for “Best Cabaret - Female - Intimate Space.” I was actually set to remount my one woman show “Gina D’Acciaro is… Famous Adjacent” in NYC when the theater world closed down.

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

(Gina): We found a cabaret space that we liked best, and our creative team was juuusssst about to announce a performance date in late April 2020. So thankfully for myself, my director, Robert Marra, and my musical director, Andy Arena, no flights had been reserved yet!

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

(Gina): No way! The show must go on! As soon as cabaret spaces are open to the public again, we will pick up right where we left off.

(SB): That’s great news! But what other future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Gina): Mounting my show was mission number one while in NYC, but so was finally auditioning for Broadway. And as it turned out, Friday, March 13th was the last Equity audition I had scheduled, which was, sadly, cancelled. This is the first time in my life that I left LA to try to audition my face off and book a Broadway show. Guess I picked a fantastic time to give it a try, huh??

(SB): As they say, timing is everything!  So now that we are “safer at home,” how are you keeping the Arts alive while using social media or other online sites? 

(Gina): I spent the first month of quarantine in disbelief, shock, sadness, even depression. Then I decided to limit my news intake and created a virtual variety show with a group of actors in NYC. It’s called “The Corona Clubhouse” and is a weekly LIVE show featuring sketch comedy via Zoom calls. It’s a silly “kid show for adults” and it’s been great to have the chance to get the funny, creative juices flowing as a writer / performer. I’ve been writing/filming a script and a parody song every week with my writing-partner-in-comedy-crime, Jordan Goodsell, another LA actor / singer / friend finding himself in a Broadway-less NYC.

(SB): Here are links to Gina’s latest YouTube videos:

“Quarantine Dating Sucks [Love Is An Open Door Parody]”

“Nobody Wants This Subscription Service”

(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? 

(Gina): Friends! Feel all the feels. And keep hope alive. Don’t feel pressure to create. But don’t forget who you are. An ARTIST. Artists are always essential. And the Arts might be the last thing to come back, but that’s because they always save the best for last.


(SB): And with that wonderful tribute to the Arts to end the interview, I invite you to follow Gina on Instagram @duhchairoh for funny song parodies, sketches, and clips from Famous Adjacent when you need an escape from the daily news!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Youth and Theater - An Interview with Young Stars Theatre's Jack Bennett


The multi-talented Jack J. Bennett has tried his hand at nearly every aspect of show business, including stand-up comedy, live theater, and directing. Jack is also the veteran of over 100 television commercials, as well as film and television appearances in shows like Desperate Housewives, House, and The Bold and the Beautiful. In 2000, he and his wife Gloria co-founded Young Stars Theatre, specializing in live theater for youth, where he is the artistic director. Jack took time from his schedule to interview in April 2020. 


Corwin Daley, Rowan Farley, Augie Matsuura, and Victoria Field in "Disney's Beauty and the Beast Jr. - Photo by Jack J. Bennett

When did your theater first begin? What led to its creation? What is your mission? Were you involved from the beginning?

Jack J. Bennett:  I met my wife Gloria doing Equity theater in 1996 at the Alhambra Dinner Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida. We became friends, and then I went to work for her as the office manager of her music studio. In 1997, we got hired to run a youth summer drama camp. We noticed that there were some issues working with a few of the staff, but we learned something too. We took away the idea that we could do this ourselves. We did a yearly summer drama camp for several years and started noticing how sad the kids would be at the end. They became tearful because it might not be until the next summer that they got another chance to do theater. That’s how we came up with the idea of year-round youth community theater for kids 18 and under. The Young Stars Theatre (YST) was born in 2000.  Gloria produces and directs the music, and I direct and design/build sets and handle marketing materials. Up until the summer of 2005, we continued doing summer camps in Jacksonville – even after we had moved to the LA area.

We literally knocked down a wall in Gloria's music studio to create a small theatre space with a tiny stage that was 13.5' wide x 8' deep that could seat about 40. We started doing regular productions there; for a couple of years, we did around six a year. The building in Florida was sold, and the new landlords asked for debilitating rent increases. We were forced to shut the Florida program in 2002 (except for the summer camps). After moving to the LA area in 2005, we reopened YST. Starting in 2016, we moved into our permanent space at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena. Although we still mostly do eight youth productions a year, we do at least one show a year with adult performers. We almost always have a youth cast for those productions as well.

Kurt Koehler, Tara Cox, Aidan Martin, and Eadan Franklynn in "Bye Bye Birdie" - Photo by Jack J. Bennett

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

JJB: We made the decision on March 11 and closed on March 12, right after hearing that the NBA was shutting down. We were right in the middle of our run of Seussical Jr. We had already performed for two weekends and had two more weekends (eight shows) to go. Audiences were already very low, as the coronavirus news was already making people wary.  A big moment was when one of our actors commented, "I'm not worried about the virus, but I don't want to catch it and take it home to my grandma." That was a real wake-up call.

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

JJB: As with any small theater, our margin is razor thin. Losing two weeks, which was really four weeks since the first two weekends were not well attended, meant that the loss of ticket sales was financially crushing. Largely thanks to some donations and purchases of gift certificates, we were able to pay our lease for April.

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

JJB: We were in the middle of rehearsals for our next show, The Wizard of Oz.  My wife has been using ZOOM for years, both for virtual lessons (she is a voice teacher) and for meetings for a side business. Because of that, we translated almost immediately to ZOOM rehearsals. Virtual rehearsals have actually gone quite well. Of course, there are challenges trying to communicate movement and spatial relationship in a virtual environment. Besides, having everyone sing a group song is impossible in the traditional sense. But I think we have come up with some viable workarounds for the time being. We are also continuing our improv classes online for our youth membership company.

Jack J. Bennett and Gloria Bennett in "Sweeney Todd" - Photo by Marie Lafranque

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?

JJB: I truly hope we can get back to business more or less as usual; but right now, it's impossible to see. Even when theaters reopen, some questions remain. Will audiences be okay with coming back? Will they have income to spend on theater? I'm actually more concerned about the economic effects going forward than anything else. We were somewhat fortunate to have recently come off a very successful run, so we had a tiny buffer - but not everyone does. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm afraid there are going to be a lot of theaters that close permanently because of this. That really makes me sad.

Brayden Nguyen, Ella Dan, and Carolyn Mottern in "Elf Jr." - Photo by Terre Marriott

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

JJB: It's pretty simple: money. Bills are not susceptible to the virus. We've applied for different programs and loans, but we have no idea whether we'll see a dollar of that. If you have a favorite theater where you love to go, you need to support them financially right now. Donate, buy gift cards, help with fundraisers, anything you can do that helps them keep paying their bills when they have almost no income right now. If you don't, they might not be around later.

What are some of your future plans?

JJB: We are still planning to complete the run of Seussical Jr, put The Wizard of Oz on stage right after that, and then start our summer camps. Fingers crossed.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Monica Ricketts Who Discovered the Magic of Performing Onstage as a Child and Never Looked Back


This Spotlight  focuses on Monica Ricketts who discovered the magic of performing onstage as a child and never looked back or wanted to do anything else. I first asked her what she would like readers to know about her theatrical background.


Monica Ricketts (Monica): As a performing artist, the phrase: “good things take time” is a sentence I’ve heard for many years, but hadn't truly applied to my own life until I became a professional actor. By nature, I am a person who longs for immediate results in a fast-paced and “goal oriented” way. But, as I reflect on my last 7 years here in LA, I can recognize the truth in the statement: PATIENCE IS KEY.

Growing up I had big dreams, but in my mind, they were only that: unattainable DREAMS. From the time I was eleven years old, I was heavily involved in my local children's theater in the small town of Carson City, NV and auditioned regularly to get a taste of performing on that stage. I was shy and quite insincere, but once I had a costume, makeup and a script to recite, I suddenly found my VOICE and was surrounded by people like me, who had strong imaginations and a playfulness that was dying to be released. Being a theater kid, I was finally given the freedom to express this part of myself and let me tell you... it felt MAGICAL. I no longer had to hide or shy away from my passion, but rather, I was encouraged to emote, to sing loudly, to be funny and CONNECT.

This passion of theater carried me through middle school, giving me a safe place to discover different sides of my identity, and later, I found myself in the drama program at Carson High School, where I treated my class like a college program. I knew from day one that I wanted to succeed and learn and grow, and, trust me: it was NOT always easy.  But I learned to not give up, and somehow got back on my own two feet with each challenge that came to me. When senior year arrived, I got an opportunity that began to shift this belief when I auditioned for the lead role of Emily Webb in the play Our Town. This was the most difficult piece of theater that I had ever tackled, and I prepared for it with much determination. And to my great surprise, I got cast! This was my first venture playing a role that was both challenging, and outside of my school or familiar children’s theater, and it proved to me that that THIS was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: I wanted to pursue an ACTING CAREER.

Shari Barrett (SB): That just proves it doesn’t matter at what age you know. But when you know, there is little else that speaks to your soul as deeply as acting does.

(Monica): Once I graduated high school, I decided to drive down to LA to audition to be a Main Stage Performer for Disney Cruise Line, and at only 18 years old, I got cast as Cinderella and Snow White in the musicals onboard the beautiful Disney Wonder Ship. It was my first professional acting/singing job and I was THRILLED. While onboard, I got to explore the beautiful landscapes of Alaska on the cruise itinerary and live my dream of performing for ten months!  From that moment on, I was even more determined to continue to pursue my acting career.

Shortly after, I got cast in a regional production of “Pinkalicious” at the North Coast Rep Theater in Solana Beach, CA, and then I moved to LA to be a full-time actor. I soon got involved with local theater companies, and got cast as Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical at the Actors Repertory Theater of Simi Valley, and that role changed my life forever. I learned how to laugh at myself, take risks, and dive deep into the heartfelt story of self-acceptance and appreciation, which taught me so much. After that production, I got cast in Spring Awakening at the NoHo Arts Center as Ilse, Hope Cladwell in Urinetown the Musical at Cupcake Theater), Kate Monster in Avenue Q at Cupcake Theater, and Ado Annie in Oklahoma! at Candlelight Pavilion. Then I began to dip my toes in film and commercials.

It was an exciting time - but I kept on feeling a desire to travel and perform abroad. After three years of auditioning for Universal Studios Japan (a theme park in Osaka, Japan), I finally got cast as a Marilyn Monroe lookalike/actor. I have had the opportunity to professionally portray Marilyn since 2014, and I feel quite blessed to carry on her legacy in such a special way. Working in Osaka also gave me the opportunity to travel and experience such a beautiful country. I hiked Mt. Fuji, I appreciated the history, immersed myself in the culture and broadened my horizons. It was a 10-month contract, and while I was away, I discovered SO much about myself and grew not just as a performer, but as a person as well.

(SB): But of course, the Los Angeles Theatre community soon called you back!

(Monica): When I came back to LA, I decided to change my focus and REALLY put my heart and soul into musical theater, because I realized just how much it meant to me and that it is my true calling. And that’s when a huge transformation took place.

The year 2019 was a life changing one: it began with playing Martha May Whovier in the wonderful holiday event Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood. The shortly after, I got cast in Musical Theatre Guild’s production of Minnie’s Boys as Miss Taj Mahal, and also got cast in 5 Star Theatricals production of Matilda the Musical as the Acrobat/Ensemble. It was absolutely incredible to suddenly be working at a level I had only imagined before! These experiences truly shaped my career and I’m so thankful for them.

And that summer, I got the biggest opportunity I’ve ever received: I got to play Sleeping Beauty in Into the Woods at the Hollywood Bowl. Suddenly I was performing alongside Sutton Foster, Patina Miller, Gaten Matarazzo, Sierra Boggess and Skylar Astin, all of who I had admired and looked up to for so many years. It was unbelievably rewarding and an experience I’ll never forget and solidified that this is where I BELONGED. I also received my first Playbill Credit, which was a huge step for me.

Later that fall, I performed at A Noise Within in Pasadena, CA in a workshop called A Sad Tale’s Best for Winter which was a feminist take on Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, written by Anna Miles of “A Beating of Wings” an Artist Collective.

And finally, I had the accomplishment of auditioning and getting cast as Evelyn Nesbit (the girl on the Swing) in Ragtime the Musical at one of the highest acclaimed regional theaters in Southern California: Musical Theatre West. This all happened in ONE year - and my goal of focusing whole heartedly on my theater career TRULY paid off.

I am so thankful for the support of my family, friends and representation who always encourage me to never give up. It is where I feel most alive, and feel so blessed to share my passion with the world. I can’t imagine my life without it. So, after these 7 years, I now know for certain that the phrase “good things take time” is true - being persistent, working hard and not giving up is what dreams are made of - and with that, PATIENCE is key.

(SB): That is quite a roster in the musical theatre world! What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled in March 2020?

(Monica): I was currently involved with a staged reading of an original musical about the Kennedy Family: called Rose Marie: A Kennedy Life Interrupted. It is a show I have been workshopping with James Mellon and Margaret Owens for a few years now and we were about to perform it for the public. I was also in the midst of auditioning for a few productions: including Mamma Mia for McCoy Rigby Entertainment. The shutdown was communicated via email with the production of Rose Marie, and for Mamma Mia, it was also communicated via email as well as on Julia Flores Casting website. And as far as I know, both productions plan on postponing to a later date as I haven’t heard that either of them will be cancelled permanently.

(SB): Now that you have some time off, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Monica): I have been very blessed to have such a wonderful and supportive online community that constantly inspire me to be creative. I have an Instagram account (@monicadanae) where I often share performance videos, create costumes/vintage fashion, and share my daily life. It has helped me keep my artistic interests alive and well, and I am grateful to have other people to inspire me.

I have also received a few voiceover opportunities that I can record from home, as well as Disney-inspired collaborations that have been well received. I also write poetry and am in the process of getting my book published (@poetrybymonica), so sharing via social media has been very helpful. And I have been staying busy by creating princess videos for children through Wishing Well Entertainment, where I dress up as their favorite character and either make a pre-recorded video with a message/story/song or we talk via ZOOM or FaceTime.

(SB): And certainly, almost every little girl I have ever known has wanted to be a Disney Princess.  What other 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?

(Monica): This is a time of uncertainty for many of us, and one that I couldn’t have possibly imagined. The world without theatre is much less colorful, and a whole lot lonelier. And I have to be honest; it hasn’t been easy at all. It’s been especially heartbreaking to watch theaters put their productions on hold, have to cancel, or have to close their doors entirely. But we must not lose hope. Seeing this beautiful community come together through social media and other outlets to support each other in any way they can has been inspiring.

What I’ve taken away from this situation is the extreme importance of the performing arts in our world, and I know that I will never take this art form for granted ever again. Theatre is MAGIC and I’m honored to be a part of it. I miss every aspect of it - from the auditions, rehearsals, tech week, performances and backstage memories and laughter. My hope is that we can bounce back with more strength and passion than ever before, because the world will definitely need a couple hours of theatre bliss inside a theater after the Earth heals from this trying time. And I am certain that we will prevail!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: The Wandering West Coast Jewish Theatre - An Interview with Howard Teichman


As the artistic director for the West Coast Jewish Theatre, Howard Teichman has dedicated his life in the theater to bringing Jewish thematic plays to the second largest Jewish community in the United States. During his tenure as artistic director, Howard has either produced or directed numerous memorable plays that have drawn both critical acclaim and audience pleasure. Plays like Bar Mitzvah Boy, Fugu, and Broadway Bound reveal the variety of approaches he has taken to reach his goals of Yiddishkeit, social relevance, inclusion, and – of course - entertainment. Howard took time from his busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


Pamela Heffner and R. Emmett Lee - Photo by Michael Lamont

When did your theater company first begin its long career? What led to its creation? What's your mission? Were you involved from the beginning?

Howard Teichman: West Coast Jewish Theatre began in the mid-1990s. Our founder Naomi Karz Jacobs wanted to bring Jewish theater to the Los Angeles area. The theater started out performing staged readings with celebrities in people’s homes. Ed Asner, Harold Greene, Shelly Berman and many other well-known actors gave of their time to perform Jewish thematic plays. The readings eventually moved to different synagogues in the Los Angeles area. We did find a home for quite a while at the Wilshire Blvd. Temple in West Los Angeles.

Our mission is to portray Jewish history and foster a respect for our Jewish culture and heritage. It’s through the medium of theater that we keep alive the works of Jewish writers, both past and present, and also encourage new Jewish playwrights. We want to portray to the non-Jewish community the unique qualities of the Jewish people, as well as those qualities that are shared with everyone, making us all equal in the family of man.

I was involved at the beginning of West Coast Jewish Theatre. I was on the Board of Directors. I also produced and directed shows for the theater. I wrote a play on behalf of the West Coast Jewish Theatre for the first ever Yiddishkeit Festival held in Los Angeles in 1999.

West Coast Jewish Theatre’s history is truly a journey of survival. As I stated before, we began as a theater performing staged readings. After a while we partnered with other theaters in town to present full-length productions. We worked with groups like Pacific Resident Theater Ensemble and co-produced with David Ellenstein and other individual producers. When Herb Isaac became our artistic director in 2003, we began to produce our own shows. We performed at the Egyptian Theatre for a few shows, and we performed at the Miles Memorial Playhouse for one show. In 2006, we moved to the Pico Playhouse, where we found a home until 2017. While at the Pico Playhouse, we presented some of the best theater in Los Angeles. We were fortunate to have worked with some of the best actors, directors, and designers that Los Angeles has to offer. If you go to our website, we have cataloged all the good work that we created during that time frame.

In 2018 we returned to the Miles Memorial Playhouse for a couple of shows. Right now, we are searching for a permanent home. I hope it’s a joke when I say, “We should change the name of our theater to the “Wandering Jewish Theater.”

I left the West Coast Jewish Theatre for about eight years and became a resident theater director at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills. In 2009, I was offered and accepted the position of producer for the West Coast Jewish Theatre. In 2010, I took over the reins from Herb Isaac when he retired; and I became the artistic director and producing manager.

Kate Matamura and Matt Gottlieb - Photo by Michael Lamont

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

HT: We closed our theater to any further productions on March 1, 2020, when we could see the writing on the wall. We had just concluded a staged reading series at the Miles Memorial Playhouse and were in the process of negotiating with them for another series of staged readings in May and in July.  We were also negotiating a full length production opening in October.

Richard Fancy and Marco Naggar in "New Jerusalem" - Photo by Hope Burleigh

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

HT:  Just as it has impacted everyone else in town. We are closed for business until it is safe to congregate as a society. Since we only rent spaces at this time, we are not burdened with the expenses of theater property; however, we continue to reach out for donations to keep the flame alive for our theater.

Carl Crudup and Jack Axelrod in "I'm Not Rappaport" - Photo by Michael Lamont

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

HT: We have recently created a video for all social media platform for our theater. We are in the process of editing an overview montage of what our theater has accomplished over these many years. Hopefully, we will be performing staged readings on the platform and offer a variety of Jewish theatrical content. We are in the process of developing our next season. We continue to fund raise. We have a grant writer on staff who is reaching out to various foundations with the hope of procuring monies.

Mark Sande and Jill Remez in "Broadway Bound" - Photo by Michael Lamont

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

HT: Until there is a vaccine or a medication that can prevent the spread of this disease, audiences won’t feel comfortable returning to any publicly-held event. We can only hope that the world’s great scientists come up with something that can kill this virus. Theater is a living being that demands the audience’s participation. Theater has existed for many centuries and has overcome plagues of the past, as well as upheaval, war, and totalitarian governments that censor the free spirit of theater. Theater will continue to shine a light on the human condition as long as man is willing to tell stories and present them in the style, form, and genre that we know as theater.

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

HT:  We need patience, tolerance, and hope. What I would like from the theater public is their resolve that they will return to the theater in droves once it is safe. The public must support and contribute to their favorite theater in order to keep theater alive in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Small theater in Los Angeles is truly at the mercy of the public. Large houses have money and contributors, while small theaters are getting along on shoestring budgets and not enough support from city, state, and federal governments. We need their help now more than ever. History has shown us that a healthy theater scene reflects prosperously on the health of a society.

What are some of your future plans?

HT:  We plan on staying alive and healthy so that we can produce in the near future. We hope to find a permanent home for the West Coast Jewish Theatre. We want to develop new works and open a new season. We must increase our fund-raising events, and we will reach out to the community at large. We will also increase our Board of Directors.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: The Actors Co-op and the Pandemic - An Interview with Heather Chesley


Artistic chairperson of the Actors Co-op, Heather Chesley has stretched her talented artistic limbs through acting, directing, and producing. She has been active at the Actor’s Co-op, as well as the Garry Marshall Theatre, and clearly does not let dust gather around her. Her talents have contributed to the success of a number of productions, including Our Town, Dancing at Lughnasa, The Learned Ladies, and Merrily We Roll Along. Splash Magazine had the good fortune to interview her about the current crisis in live theater.


Cast of "The Learned Ladies" (2012) - Photo by John Dlugolecki

When did the Actors Co-op first begin its long career? Were you involved from the beginning?

Heather Chesley:  I think I was in elementary school when Actors Co-op was founded!  Hard to believe. The company started in 1987 as a group of actors (including our official founder David Schall). Everyone in the company attended First Presbyterian Church, where our theaters are located. They were looking to support each other and their careers in Hollywood. One thing led to another, first with scene classes and then the first play. Then came the first season and the first official theatre opening (now the David Schall Theatre) in 1989. The second theatre, the Crossley, opened in 1995; and now we are in our twenty-eighth season! I joined Actors Co-op around its twelfth season; that was in 2004. This is my sixteenth season! It is crazy to think about how time flies.

Leslie Spencer, Brent Schindele, and Matt Bauer in "Merrily We Roll Along" (2010) - Photo by Gregory Bell

How about some history of your cheaters. How about a brief timeline of changes as they occurred. 

HC:  I joined the company in 2004 and was elected to the Board in 2005. In 2008, I started producing shows for Actors Co-op, and I became artistic chairperson in 2010 - which is what I do today. I took a little break due to my mom’s illness from 2013 to 2014. Otherwise, I’ve been here faithfully.

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

HC:  We officially closed March 13 because of the Mayor's suggestions. Lee Blessings' A Body of Water was in its final weekend, and Marvin's Room was planning to open March 20. A Man of No Importance had just finishing casting.

Cast of "Dancing at Lughnasa" (2016) - Photo by Lindsay Schnebly

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

HC:  Here's the thing. We are lucky. Our relationship with First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood means we can put our shows on hold but open our doors the second the church does. We are in a position to wait alongside our country; and we are in a position to reach out to our community, our membership, our guest artists and our Theatre Guild. We have members who are at risk, some members with families, and some who are at the frontlines in our hospitals. Many folks are out of work. We are working hard to help where we can.

Cast of "Miracle on 34th Street" (2019) - Photo by Matthew Gilmore

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

HC:  At the moment, nothing is streaming. But we are hard at work. Our Executive Committee, public relations, and artistic and production teams are meeting virtually.  We are looking at the shape of the year. There are so many unknowns. We are patiently waiting and looking to ways we can be ready when our city says it’s time to return to the boards.

Joseph Barone and Eva Abramian in "Anna Karenina" (2019) - Photo by Larry Sandez

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?

HC:  The community has gone through so much in the last few years with union changes and changes in tax law. But it is a resilient community. There will always be a need for art- and, more importantly, a desire for art. Great art, often comes from moments like this.

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

HC:  For the moment, I ask that you stay home, wash your hands, and love each other. Get yourselves ready to come back to your lives; and, when you are ready, we'll be here waiting for you at eight o'clock curtain.

What are some of your future plans?

HC:  For the company?  I think for Actors Co-op we look forward to entertaining and provoking thought. We look forward to working on new plays and re-visiting the classics. To crying through dramas like this very real life drama. Eventually to laughing again with our audience. Ultimately we want to provide and share in hope. For me? My future plan? Like the company, I plan to continue on in any way the world and theater allows me.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: After the Pandemic - Reflections by Theatre 40's David Hunt Stafford


Active for over 45 years as an actor and theater producer, David Hunt Stafford currently serves as the artistic and managing director of Theatre 40, a post he has held since 2000. He serves as producer on all of the productions and has also performed in over 80 plays at Theatre 40 productions, including Arms and the Man, Our Town, and Screwball Comedy. Television and film credits are numerous and include M*A*S*H, Lou Grant, and The Waltons. Theatre 40 works hand-in-glove with the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) and presents its productions at the Reuben Cordova Theater in Beverly Hills High School. He is also responsible for producing the long-running and critically acclaimed The Manor – Murder and Madness at Greystone, which has played inside Greystone mansion in Beverly Hills for 18 years. David took time from his busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


When did your theater first begin its long career? What led to its creation? What's the mission statement? Were you involved from the beginning?

David Hunt Stafford:  Theatre 40 was founded in 1964 by a group of actors who got together at the home of Susan French in Santa Monica Canyon. They assembled to read Shakespeare. Susan French, John Houlton, Jonathan McMurty, Robert Cornthwaite, James Boles, and a few others went on to incorporate Theatre 40, filed for a 501(c)(3) status, and formally organized the company. At that time, Theatre 40 did not have a “home.” That happened about 10 years later when the deputy superintendent of the Beverly Hills Unified School District, Dr. Reuben Cordova, became familiar with the theater group and brought Theatre 40 onto the campus, creating a permanent home for us. I joined Theatre 40 in 1989 as an actor. Around 2000, I stepped in to handle a misunderstanding with the Beverly Hills Board of Education, settled the dispute with the assistance of fellow board member Gloria Stroock, and was voted managing director.

The contract that was created between the BHUSD and Theatre 40 is honored to this day. Theatre 40 would be given the “room” - which was originally a storage room for custodial supplies - in exchange for an Adult Education class for senior citizens in the community which members of Theatre 40 would teach on Monday night. This program is called the Adult Education Monday Night Theatre Appreciation Class. Again, the Monday night theatre appreciation class is still ongoing to this day after approximately 45 years. Doing the math, that adds up to over 1,150 plays readings that we have done over the years for the adult students who enroll in the class. The founding fathers sought the help of donors to build the theatre inside the “room.” Ana Bing Arnold stepped up and contributed to the cost of the design and building of Theatre 40. Ming Cho Lee did the design for the theater.

Over the years the Beverly Hills High School has rarely used the theater. When they do, it is with our blessing and full cooperation. Our relationship with the BHUSD and the high school administration has been maintained and is always positive. The members of the Board of Education, the members of the BHHS administration, the superintendent of the BHUSD, and the principal of the high school have changed over the years – and continues to change. Nonetheless, we maintain a positive, flexible, and cooperative relationship with whoever is in charge. The City of Beverly Hills, the City Council members and City staff have always, over the years, been very supportive of Theatre 40, especially in recent years. The City Council have always been strong supporters of our programs and productions and an enormous advocate of our organization. We are always grateful for their support. It has worked well for us.

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

DHS:  We closed the theater after the first weekend of the fifth production in our 54th season, the world premiere of the award-winning new play Taming the Lion by Jack Rushen. The play had already received several positive reviews praising the acting, story, and the design. It was scheduled for four more weekends.

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

DHS: We are closed - that is the impact. No show - no audience - not actors - no box office - no revenue coming in. The impact is dramatic, and we need to get going again as do all the small theaters and everyone else in the world - but not at the risk of contamination to ourselves and others or illness to anyone.

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

DHS: We are not streaming. We are having virtual meetings and virtual rehearsals, and we are planning on re-opening Taming the Lion as well as our final show of the season. Incident at Our Lady of Perpetual Help by Katie Forgette was scheduled to open May 15 and it still may - but that is only a possibility at this point. It may be delayed longer, depending how things are in the world. When the world is given the "green light" to resume, we will hit the ground running. We will be ready. We just don’t know when that will be quite yet. Yes, we are doing fund raising; and we need funds and resources very badly.

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?

DHS:  When the world gets going again and the economy returns, I think that there will be a healthy appetite for people to get out and enjoy what the theater community in Los Angeles has to offer. There are a lot of very high quality theater productions going on in Los Angeles. Many very high quality theater groups producing great shows. Theatre 40 is proud to be considered among those theater companies that has interesting, compelling, and extremely high quality productions available to the public and to the community we serve. We are proud of our choices, our staff, our board, and our company of actors.

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

DHS: We need fund raising, more season subscribers, and younger audiences. From the theater public, we need more charitable contributions, donations, more corporate sponsorships, more financial support from the private sector, and grant monies to support our theater. We also want more season ticket holders, more subscribers, and more subscriptions.

What are some of your future plans?

DHS: We want to continue as soon as possible - and continue with energy, high quality, positivity, and excellence - with commitment to our audience and to our company. We want to grow as much as we can so that we reach more people – the theater lovers of Los Angeles - with what we have to offer. Our plans include growing our base of season subscribers and our resources so that the future is secure for our Theatre 40 audiences and for our company of Theatre 40 actors, designers and technicians. We want this most important art form to thrive and bring entertainment and intellectual stimulation to those who attend.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Ronnie Marmo on the Move - A Coast-to-Coast Artist


Originally from the East Coast, actor / producer / director / writer / chief bottle washer Ronnie Marmo has managed to call both the East and West coast home during his life-long career. Perhaps best known for his stellar performance in I'm Not a Comedian... I'm Lenny Bruce, which he also penned – directed, by the way, by the talented Joe Mantegna - or his three year / 150 episode run on General Hospital just a few years ago, Ronnie traveled from Los Angeles to New York to Chicago to entertain audiences far and wide. With critically acclaimed performances in dozens of plays, including Bill W. and Dr. Bob and Tony ‘N Tina’s Wedding, Ronnie co-founded Theatre 68 Los Angeles 19 years ago. The New York Chapter opened nine years ago now, making Theatre 68 a bi-coastal home for many artists. Despite his perpetual-motion-machine style, Ronnie took time out to interview during the COVID-19 “holiday” from live theater.


Ronnie Marmo as Lenny Bruce - Photo by Doren Sorell

How is the COVID-19 ban on live theater affecting you and Theatre 68?

Ronnie Marmo:  We tried to keep the Lenny Bruce show open in Chicago as long as we could. We got as far as Sunday, March 15 before we ultimately postponed the show and went dark for the time being. For our last four performances, we deliberately sold only a quarter of the 180 seats in the theater to allow for social distancing; and we sanitized everything that people might touch. In 25 years, I’ve never missed a performance. Now we don’t have a choice, but this virus is scary and it’s important to respect the people who know more than us about COVID-19 safety.

The LA and NY Chapters of Theatre 68 are currently dark for productions; however, the community is sticking together with our Monday Night Actors Gym on both coasts. It's a hard time right now because many of us don’t know much about this virus. I’m concerned for theaters both small and large around the world because, generally speaking, theater is not a very lucrative business; and many of us survive month to month. After all, we don’t get into the theater business to get rich. We do it because we can’t help ourselves; we love it. It’s a sickness of sorts (laughing). My hope is that people will continue to support the arts. For example, if you currently have tickets for a show or event, it would be wonderful if people can move those tickets to a performance down the road as opposed to asking for a refund - but ONLY if they could afford to do so.

Ronnie Marmo as Lenny Bruce - Photo by Doren Sorell 2

Tell us about your plans for the future. Will you continue with I'm Not a Comedian...I'm Lenny Bruce? Do you have any new shows planned?

RM:  First and foremost, we plan on bringing the Lenny Bruce show back to Chicago just as soon as it is safe to do so. Also, we plan on having a few pop-up performances here in Los Angeles. We have just signed with Columbia Artists Theatrical, and they are working on a national tour. We have already had an offer for early 2021 in Tampa, Florida; and many other venues have inquired. But I assume that, with the virus, things may be delayed a bit. We will see.

Let me tell you a bit more about Theatre 68 and our productions. We have great leadership on both Coasts, and we’ve been in constant meetings making plans and finding ways to keep the company inspired during this very tough time.

I plan to keep moving forward in hopes that all will be well soon enough / Combined on both coasts, we have 90 actors who take part in our NOW virtual Monday Night Actor’s Gym. I’m constantly trying to help keep everyone engaged. We’re working really hard with lots of writing assignments, monologue jams, anything we can do virtually to continue to grow as artists. We’re constantly producing on both coasts. Right now, we’re working on Stupid Fucking Bird by Aaron Posner. It’s a great play, a really cool play. It’s sort of a contemporary version of Anton Chekhov’s, Seagull. We plan to open in June in Los Angeles. We’re having virtual auditions next week, and we plan to move forward as if it will happen, even if maybe we have to postpone it. In NY, we are in the middle of developing seven original one-act plays written by NY company members. We’re going into virtual auditions for that as well in the coming weeks.

Monday night at Theatre 68's virtual gym - Photo by Ronnie Marmo

Any final thoughts on live theater's survival during a pandemic?

RM:  Our survival depends on how kind the landlords are to theater owners. I’m going to work my pants off to keep this thing going for all involved. I feel that enthusiasm is the key to life, and that certainly has been the case for me. People have asked me how I’ve found success in different areas of show business, and I simply tell them - I do my best to finish what I start.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.