It’s National See-A-Show Day!: SIX Questions with jackbenny

jackbenny, the dynamic musical duo comprised of twin brothers Jack and Benny Lipson, is exactly what the music industry and the world need right now. They are young, grounded in tradition, bounding towards what’s next in the world of sound, and always refreshing. On the eve of their upcoming show National See-A-Show Day!, debuting at the Luckman Intimate Theatre for one-night only this weekend, I had to buzz with these boys about music, their current work, and – of course – queerness in artistic expression. Here we go!

Roger Q. Mason (RQM): How did jackbenny begin?

Jack and Benny (JB): Growing up here in LA we started jamming together in our tweens singing songs by artists and composers we admire. Benny moved away to Miami for undergrad and as soon as he returned the two of us began playing bass and keyboard, respectively, in a handful of local bands. But soon we grew antsy to write and perform original material with more pointed lyrics and unbound to prescribed musical formulae. We retreated to Sedona, Arizona for a week in December 2016, and thus spawned jackbenny and our first batch of songs.

RQM: Let’s talk about style. You two beautifully meld musical theatre, jazz, pop, rock and other influences to create a very unique live concert aesthetic. What was the inspiration behind your sound?

JB: We love all the musical styles you listed and more, and of course we invite them into jackbenny‘s sound! We decided to link our material not necessarily through a certain soundscape – although we do stamp our songs with surprising harmonic diversions and metrical twists – but rather through their savvy and sometimes provocative lyrics addressing contemporary social phenomena. In musical theater the same composer can churn out disparate scores from show to show as they craft in service to the characters and drama; we believe each of our lyrics earns that specificity…the music in a way writes itself!

RQM: Tell me EVERYTHING about It’s National See-a-Show Day!!

Jack: Well we can’t tell you everything, then you’d know exactly what to expect! It’s National See-a-Show Day! is a culmination of all we’ve culled from our residency last year at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre, where we presented 10 unique 2-act shows of our material sprinkled with a range of guest performers coloring our material. At the Luckman, we’ll maintain that 2-act form – this time with five guest artists contributing – but we’re beefing the production value: our set designer roommate built a 60s/70s TV special-esque set for us to play on, we’ve expanded drummer-percussionist Theo Seidmon’s arsenal of toys, and throughout the evening we’ve planned 92 light cues. Simply interacting together as twins on stage seems to invite uproarious laughter, but we want you to leave, as one audience member articulated, “simultaneously smarter and optimistic about the world.”

RQM: Okay, breaking with form – I’m going to ask 6 questions – not five. Jack, what’s it like working with Benny?

Jack: Honestly I can’t fathom working solo – who can fulfill both the artistic and especially the auxiliary managerial work singlehandedly?! In writing and executing our material, we expect utmost excellence of one another, and often this manifests in frank, brusque criticism…that shortly evolves into laughter. On the business end, Benny and I’ve started to carve our own territories: Benny oversees and edits video content for jackbenny’s website, YouTube, and Facebook pages while I manage our Instagram and mailing list, as well as write all prose surrounding the project.

RQM: Benny, what’s it like working with Jack?

Benny: Collaborating with a sibling is both comfortable and challenging; we never hold back how one another is thinking or feeling, good or bad. Since we know one another’s capabilities, we push to those limits. I often keep Jack focused on the tasks at hand and monitor his musical ideas from reaching a level of absolute obscurity. Our personalities as composers and businessmen complement nicely.

RQM: Can you tell us anything about your new work Brainstorm?

JB: Brainstorm is a musical theater song cycle of our songs, many of which we’ll perform on Saturday. The one-act zooms in on three twentysomethings navigating today’s ever-confounding socio-political scene. In continuous sequences of song and movement, they share their newfangled ideas on queer identity, climate change, consensual conduct, bee extinction, healthcare, bureaucracy, and more. The millennials by the piece’s close not only refute putative misconceptions of their caricatured generation, but come to empathize with one another on a mutual journey towards a more just and compassionate world. Actually major news regarding Brainstorm began brewing – pun intended – just last week, though we can’t formally share just yet…but our audience at the Luckman will be first to hear!

RQM: And finally, let’s talk about queerness music. What makes music or a musician or a style of music queer? And why should everyone care?

JB: To start, a couple of our lyrics directly explore queer identity, of course the aptly named “Queer” and its companion number, “Asking.” Other lyrics refer to queer relationships when much music offers either definitively straight characters or nebulously dodges sexual identity as not to expose the creators. But much of the content of our songs, as well as our shows’ theatrical aesthetic, stems inevitably from conversations and interactions through our deep involvement in the LGBTQ cultures of LA and New York. Whereas other artists fear this “queer” label will pigeonhole their art towards a niche audience, conversely “queer” to us embraces a spectrum of individuals as variegated as the rainbow. We want those individuals to find themselves within the characters of our music, and hopefully glean from them truths they’ve – and even we’ve – yet to discover.

For more information about their show, go to LuckmanArts.org or call (323) 343-6600.

All photos © by Cliff Lipson


Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar – February 25 – March 10, 2019

Theatrical shows registered on the Better Lemons calendar!
For more shows visit our Calendar.
For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.

Trojan Women

“Archway Theatre’s immersive post-modern retelling of the aftermath of the Trojan War. Priam, Hector, and Paris are all dead. Queen Hecuba and the women of Troy are now the spoils of war, and must await their fate at the hands of the conquering Greeks.”

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Cemetery of Tortured Souls

“Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre Group proudly presents their All-New Horror-Theatre Spectacular haunted by The Golden Age of Hollywood in 1930’s. While the only escape from The Great Depression were the movies, there was no escape for those entrapped by the glitter of Tinseltown: These restless spirits of stars and villains from yesteryear rise from their forgotten graves – to wander their final resting place and re-live their final moments in eternal damnation!”

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What Matters Now?/! (Another Political Pop-Up of the Theatrical Kind)

“Open Fist’s annual “political pop-up” features a rotating roster of short plays by writers from across the country that explore our nation’s current social and political climate and how the past year has affected us. Finding it hard to get off the couch and get to the theater? ”

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CATS!

“The record-breaking musical spectacular by Andrew Lloyd Webber that has captivated audiences in over 30 countries and 15 languages, is now on tour across North America! Audiences and critics alike are rediscovering this beloved musical with breathtaking music, including one of the most treasured songs in musical theater—”Memory”. Winner of 7 Tony Awards® including BEST MUSICAL, CATS tells the story of one magical night when an extraordinary tribe of cats gathers for its annual ball to rejoice and decide which cat will be reborn. The original score by Andrew Lloyd Webber (Phantom, School of Rock, Sunset Boulevard), original scenic and costume design by John Napier (Les Misérables), all-new lighting design by Natasha Katz (Aladdin), all-new sound design by Mick Potter, new choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton) based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne (Phantom) and direction by Trevor Nunn (Les Misérables) make this production a new CATS for a new generation!…Now and Forever.”

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THE MEATBALL CHRONICLES

“The Meatball Chronicles follows one woman through humorous and sometimes heart wrenching meals that align with stories of her childhood, her relationships with men, and in particular, her complicated relationship to her mother.
Mansini crafts this piece in a way that transcends her own story into universal themes that anyone who has a family can love. As she kneads the dough and thickens the sauce through each Italian recipe, the stories associated with those recipes reveal the complex ways that families cope, laugh, grieve, and show their love through food.”

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The Judas Kiss

“In spring of 1895, Oscar Wilde was larger than life. His masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest, was a hit in the West End and he was the toast of London. Yet by summer he was serving two years in prison for gross indecency. Punished for “the love that dare not speak its name,” Wilde remained devoted to his beloved, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas. The Judas Kiss revolves around two pivotal moments in his life: the day when, cajoled by Bosie into an ill-fated trial, he decides to stay in England and face imprisonment, and a night when, after his release two years later, the lover for whom he risked everything betrays him again. David Hare’s masterful play pulses with the ecstasy and anguish of an enamored heart.”

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Native Voices at the Autry Presents Pure Native

“Brewster’s back! Rising from the ashes with a slick plan for a bottled water plant on reservation land. There’s mixed agreement and opposition from family and friends, including an old flame with a grudge—but is he the secret ingredient for success? This play was workshopped as Corn Soup. Native Voices at the Autry is devoted to developing and producing new works for the stage by Native American, Alaska Native, and First Nations playwrights..”

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THE ELEPHANT MAN

“’The Elephant Man’ is based on the life of John Merrick who lived in London during the latter part of the 19th Century. A horribly deformed young man who has been a freak attraction in traveling side shows, John is found abandoned and helpless and is admitted for observation to Whitechapel, a prestigious London hospital. Under the care of the famous young doctor, Fredrick Treves, Merrick is educated and introduced to London society. Through their eyes, he is changed from sensational object of pity, to an urbane and witty favorite of the aristocracy and literati. It his dream that he will become a man like any other…but unbeknownst to him, he exceeds even that.”

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JOAN and WHAT DID THEY SAY – An Evening of One Acts

“An Evening Of One Acts: JOAN and WHAT DID THEY SAY
JOAN is an imaginary tale of Joan Crawford’s journey through the Bardo and her adjustment to the fact that her soul will move onto the unknown. During this dream state Joan reflects on–her life–her career–her enemies–her loves–those that helped create the film legend she became.
WHAT DID THEY SAY explores gender and sexuality in an unconventional family dramedy, taking place in Los Angeles today. As experienced in today’s rough political climate, families don’t always share the same values. Family members can be rough among themselves, and where Julian’s dad is gay, and his older sister Harper identifies as a dyke, his twin sibling Felicia struggles to understand Julian’s gender identity.”

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LA DRAMA CRITICS CIRCLE AWARDS

“The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC), which presented its first awards for excellence in Los Angeles, Orange County, and Ventura County a half-century ago, has begun the gala celebration of its 50th anniversary by announcing its nominations for the year 2018 (Dec. 1, 2017 – Nov. 30, 2018).
The LADCC is further thrilled to announce that this historic occasion will take place on Monday, April 8, 2019 at one of the region’s most historic and beautiful theatres, Pasadena Playhouse, at 39 S. El Molino Avenue in Pasadena.”

Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.

The Mother of Henry

“In the working class melting pot that was Boyle Heights in the 1960s, five diverse employees in the return department at Sears form a tight bond as they cope with upheaval in their personal lives, their community and the rapidly changing world around them. Connie, a Latinx single working class mother, realizes her agency and discovers her true identity when the anxieties of war, civil unrest and political assassinations plaguing the country tragically affect her own life. Infused with period music and magical realism.”

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The Shape of Things

“Neil LaBute’s 2001 drama “The Shape of Things” is set in a small university town in the American Midwest and centers on the lives of four young students who become emotionally and romantically involved. How far would you go for love? For art? What would you be willing to change? What price might you pay? Such are the painful questions explored in the play. A young student drifts into an ever-changing relationship with an art major while his best friend’s engagement crumbles, unleashing a drama that peels back the skin of two modern-day relationships.”

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The MisMatch Game

“For a record-breaking 15th year, it’s time once again to “get ready to match the stars” with a new edition of Dennis Hensley’s The MisMatch Game. The side-splitting parody of the ‘70s game show has set the rafters ringing with laughter since its debut in 2004. The show the LA Times calls, “witty, ribald … an adventure in surrealist era bending” returns to the Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Renberg Theatre for two hilarious shows.”

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Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival

“The overall theme of the Festival will be I, Woman and the theme of the Opening Night GALA will be In Tribute To. The Champagne GALA and Awards Ceremony will take place on March 22, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. nd will be directed by Denise Dowse (Imposters) and hosted by Starletta DuPois (The Notebook) and Kym Whitley (Young and Hungry). The event will honor five women of exceptional achievement and contribution to the world of theatre (Eternity Awardee- Jenifer Lewis; Integrity Awardee- Leslie Ishii; Maverick Awardee- Sandra Tsing Loh; Rainbow Awardee- Whitney Weston; and posthumously, Infinity Awardee-Carol Channing. There will be special live performances in addition to the awards presentation.”

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IN RESPONSE: Year of the Woman (Still)

“Past and present issues of women including current the #MeToo movement are explored through a collection of dramatic, humorous and thought-provoking, monologues, poems and dance. All the material is written by women. Sunday performances are followed by an audience talkback.”

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Church Basement Ladies

“Church Basement Ladies, a celebration of the church basement kitchen and the women who work there, features four distinct characters and their relationships as they organize the food and the problems of a rural Minnesota church. From the elderly matriarch of the kitchen to the young bride-to-be learning the proper order of things, the show and music give us a touching, funny look at their lives as we see them handle a record breaking Christmas dinner, the funeral of a dear friend, a Hawaiian Easter Fundraiser, and a steaming hot July wedding. They stave off potential disasters, share and debate recipes, instruct the young, and keep the Pastor on due course while thoroughly enjoying, (and tolerating) each other. Funny and down to earth, you will recognize these ladies as they begin to see the Church year unfold from below the House of God.”

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The Sunshine Experience

“So do a little dance! Make a little love! Get down tonight with The Sunshine Experience – the nation’s premier tribute to KC and the Sunshine Band. “Shake, Shake Shake Your Booty” to their funky tunes and fall in love with KCSB’s triple-platinum sound all over again! ‘Cause “That’s the way–uh huh, uh huh–I like it!” The Sunshine Experience delivers a high-energy, adrenaline-pumping show with spot-on musical arrangements and amazing choreography.”

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A Terrible Show for Terrible People

“A Terrible Show for Terrible People is a raunchy and rambunctious, non-verbal solo clown performance that is both boner- and vomit-inducing. Physical comedian Bonnie He takes the audience through a voyeuristic window into personal tragedy, triumph, and titillation. Mostly titillation. Hehe. TIT-illation. You’re not just watching a Terrible Show – you’re participating in the destruction of common decency.”

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HEISENBERG

“LAGUNA PLAYHOUSE is thrilled to present a co-production with the Rubicon Theatre Company, the critically acclaimed (LA Times Critics’ Choice) production of HEISENBERG, written by Simon Stephens (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) directed by Katherine Farmer (South Pacific, Gulf View Drive) and starring Faline England (Valentine’s Day) & Joe Spano (Hill Street Blues and NCIS). Comments Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham and Executive Director Ellen Richard, “What a special opportunity to co-produce this critically acclaimed production with the Rubicon Theatre Company. Simon Stephens has written a funny, tender and quirky love story that celebrates human relationships in all their complexity. Faline England and Joe Spano are giving masterful performances under the brilliant direction of the gifted Katharine Farmer.”

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The Second Coming of Klaus Kinski

“Fresh off an LA Stage Alliance Ovation nomination for Lead Actor in a Play, WTFN brings back Andrew Perez in the Encore Award-winning THE SECOND COMING OF KLAUS KINSKI!…resurrected for 3 consecutive Friday nights — March 22, 29 & April 5 at the Pico Playhouse…Klaus Kinski is one of the most celebrated and controversial actors in the history of world cinema. The reckless abandon with which he approached both life and art left him tortured, demonized and worshipped. He now resurrects to shake your souls with one last command performance. THE SECOND COMING OF KLAUS KINSKI.”

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🍋


Audio Interview: The cast of “Hir” at the Odyssey Theatre

Hilarious and terrifying, Hir is a dysfunctional family dramedy for a new era: a highly intelligent, heartfelt and deeply, darkly humorous portrayal of a family in crisis, in which domestic abuse, the trauma of war and the acceptance of gender neutrality are illustrated in a nearly absurd, emotionally gripping, intensely real dynamic.*

Enjoy this interview with the cast of “Hir” at the Odyssey Theatre, playing through Mar 17th. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here.


*taken from the website


The Winners at the 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards

The 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards were presented on Monday, January 28, 2019, at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles where 36 awards were bestowed on theater productions, producers, directors, artists, and technicians.

Sixteen different Southern California theatre companies won thirty-six awards, including the Center Theatre Group for “Soft Power“, Rogue Artists Ensemble and East West Players for “Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin,” the Bootleg Theatre for “Theater Movement Bazaar’s Grail Project,” the Geffen Playhouse for “Ironbound,” “Sell/Buy/Date,” and “Skeleton Crew,” the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts for “South Pacific” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” the Celebration Theatre  for “Priscilla Queen of the Desert,”  and  The Echo Theater Company  for “Cry it Out.” A Noise Within received the Best Season Award  for “A Raisin in the Sun,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Henry V,” “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” “Noises Off,” “The Madwoman of Chaillot.”

Members of The Kilroys, hosts of the 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards at the Theatre at Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, Monday, January 28, 2019. Photo by Monique A. LeBleu.

The Ovation Honors, which recognizes outstanding achievement in areas that are not among the standard list of nomination categories, were awarded to Adrien Prevost (Music Composition for a Play, Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, Rogue Artists Ensemble co-produced with East West Players) and Brian White, Sean Cawelti, Greg Ballora, Morgan Reban, Jack Pullman, and Christine Papalexis (Puppet Design, Kaidan Project: Walls Grow Thin, Rogue Artists Ensemble co-produced with East West Players).

The Center Theatre Group presented the 2018 Richard E. Sherwood Award to writer, comedian, and performance artist Kristina Wong, which also includes $10,000 endowed by the Sherwood family for innovative and adventurous artists.

Wong, who took the unique opportunity of this night to announce her candidacy for Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council Subdistrict 5 Resident Representative, said in acceptance, “In this line of work there’s a very fine line between being a madwoman and a visionary. It is so validating to be recognized as the latter by this vibrant LA Theatre community that has made me the performance artist slash political candidate that I am today.”

The Kilroys came with their message to the theater community at large to encourage the hiring and support of more women, trans, and non-binary artists in theater in order to achieve gender balance. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Paula Vogel, offered words of encouragement to the theater community as well, aligning with The Kilroys message of the evening with “The sooner produced, the sooner prolific.”

This year’s show, held at the glorious landmark United Artists 1927 movie palace that is now the Theatre at Ace Hotel, was directed by Artistic Director of Coeurage Theatre Company Jer Adrianne Lelliott, also featured live performances including by women’s choral group Vox Femina.

The Ovation Awards is annually produced by LA STAGE Alliance, “a non-profit organization dedicated to building awareness, appreciation, and support for the performing arts in Los Angeles” and companies DOMA Theatre CompanyUCLA School of Theater, Film & Television, F&D Scene Changes Ltd., USC School of Dramatic Arts, Bakers Man Productions, Venture Hill Entertainment LLC, Seven Waves Entertainment LLC, Requiem Media Productions LLC, Variety, and Ken Werther Publicity sponsored the event.

Here’s the complete list of winners. For more information visit LAStageAlliance.com

The awards show was broadcast live on YouTube and Facebook, in case you missed the show or would like to relive it.

Featured top photo: Rachel Myers accepts her Ovation Award for Scenic Design (Large Theatre) for “Skeleton Crew” (Geffen Playhouse) at 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards, Theatre at Ace Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles, Monday, January 28, 2019. Photo by Monique A. LeBleu.


Winners! Killers! Producers!: 'Celebration' Announces Its 2019 Season, 'Celebrating' Reading Series' 'Skin Like Milk'

Last updated: 12/6/18 12:15 a.m.

Celebration, under Executive Director Michael C. Kricfalusi, has announced its 2019 season of shows under the artistic direction of Michael A. Shepperd, making this season Celebration’s 37th and the fourth in its home at The Lex.

The 2019 Season will open with the Los Angeles premiere of “Born To Win,” written by Matt Wilkas and Mark Setlock, and Directed by Michael Matthews, and tickets go on sale today, Wednesday, December 5, 2018.

Starring Drew Droege and Wilkas, “Born to Win,” tells the story of “Pinky Corningfield, who’s always dreamed of her daughter winning the ‘Supreme Queen.'” When newcomers to the child pageant circuit, Marge, along with her participating daughter, show up “to grab the glory,” Pinky will stop at nothing to get that crown.

“I’m very excited about the fact that we are doing “Born to Win” [which] came out of our Celebrating New Works,” said Shepperd. “[Celebrating New Works is] our program that we do once a month where we take a new or ‘newish’ writer and a newish play and we give it a stage reading to see if it can be part of our season.”

“Born To Win” opens Friday, February 15, 2019, and plays until April, 2019.

Also premiering is “The Secretaries” written by The Five Lesbian Brothers and opens April 2019.

‘The Secretaries’ is going to be an all-female cast, helmed by a female director and all-female team,” said Shepperd. “Lighting design, set design, props, costumes, sound design – everyone is going to identify as female.”

“A killer comedy, ‘The Secretaries,’ chronicles the initiation of Patty Johnson as she lands the job of her dreams at the Cooney Lumber Mill in Big Bone, Oregon. But those dreams turn into bloody nightmares when she discovers the truth her co-workers have been hiding from her!,” according to the synopsis. Written 20 years ago, this play is “as fresh as if it was written today in its skewering of feminist archetypes of the ‘80s and ‘90s.”

“I’LL tell you when we’re getting in too deep!” – The Producers

Celebration’s Los Angeles intimate theatre premiere of “The Producers” with book by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, music and lyrics by Mel Brooks, and original direction and choreography by Susan Stroman, and directed by Matthews, will open June 2019.

“It’s the first time the Celebration Theatre has gotten its hands on ‘The Producers’ and creates something spectacular in an intimate theatre,” said Shepperd.

Winner of 12 Tony Awards®, two theatrical producers pull together a team of theatre wannabes, ne’er-do-wells, and misfits, and dream up a get rich scheme involving overselling “interests” in a Broadway play they’re sure is destined to be a flop. Hilarity ensues when the show “unexpectedly turns out to be a massive hit!”

“The Producers” is presented by special arrangement with Music Theatre International and with StudioCanal.

Celebration is located at The Lex, 6760 Lexington Ave., Los Angeles, 90038. Tickets go on sale here for the season tomorrow, Wednesday, December 5, 2019, and be sure to check their Calendar for updated information.

Also, coming up next week, as part of the Celebrating New Works reading series, Celebration will present “Skin Like Milk,” written by Ryan Fogarty, produced by Nathan Frizzell, and directed by Ryan Bergmann, in a one night only performance, Tuesday, December 11, 2018, at the West Hollywood City Chambers.

“Skin Like Milk.” Illustration poster courtesy of Celebration, Celebrating New Works.

“Skin Like Milk” centers in “Berlin, 1941. In a makeshift basement gay bar, Heinrich and Otto have just strangled a Nazi officer … after hiding the body, guests arrive attempting to forget the destruction from last night’s air raids. … Emile, Heinrich’s former lover, and his new interest, … Horst, show up to share a drink and a bit of music with their friends. As the night unravels, the alcohol disappears and air raids resume, the men realize that their dark bar is no longer a refuge from the hateful world above.”

“Skin Like Milk,” plays once only, Tuesday, December 11, 2018, 7:30 p.m. at The West Hollywood City Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., West Hollywood.

For “Skin Like Milk” only, admission is free, with donations gratefully accepted. Contact Celebration via email for more info, or call 323-957-1884.

Celebration is a community of artists dedicated to entertain, inspire, and empower with innovative productions that celebrate the LGBTQ community.

To become a member, purchase a subscription, or get single tickets for “Born to Win” or any Season 2019 shows, visit Celebration, contact via email for more info, or call 323-957-1884.

Updated 12/6/18, 12:15 a.m.: Date change, “Born to Win” opens on Friday, February 15, 2019.

Updated 12/5/18, 10:00 a.m.: – Name correction for Michael A. Shepperd with spelling in attributions corrected.

 


Dixie Longate Always Hawking Tupperware Hilariously

Ever-so-smartly combining her expertise in Tupperware selling and her deep-seeded need to be on a stage, Dixie Longate will be bringing her DIXIE’S TUPPERWARE PARTY to the Kirk Douglas Theatre November 28 through December 30. I had the chance to chat with Dixie on her arduous path from parole to being an awarded Tupperware Lady.

Thank you for taking time out of your Tupperware selling for this interview with me, Dixie!

How long have you been a Tupperware Lady?

I started selling Tupperware 17 years years ago as part of the conditions of my parole.

What first motivated you to become a Tupperware Lady?

My parole officer told me I needed a job in order to get my kids back. I thought to myself, “Damn it!” The law! Argh. But she suggested that I start selling Tupperware. I did my first party after she lifted the restraining order and had so much fun drinking and showing people these creative food storage solutions that I thought, “I could do this forever.” Then I went to my first “Jubilee,” the annual Tupperware convention. I saw all of these amazing ladies being recognized onstage for their accomplishments and I knew I wanted to be on stage getting recognized too. 17 years later, I have been on that stage at the convention many times, and all of the warmth and good wishes I get from that celebration keep me going all year long.

How closely do you have to adhere to Tupperware’s corporate rules in selling their product? Is there much more leeway now in 2018 than there was when you first started?

The thing that is pretty impressive about Tupperware is that they have this great business model that is a framework. They encourage you to drape whatever kind of fantastic, fun party over that frame work and go for it. Everyone at Tupperware corporate has been overwhelmingly kind and supportive throughout the years.

How close have you ever been to being awarded a pink Cadillac?

No! That’s Mary Kay.

Oops! My bad!

I have gotten plenty of awards for all of my achievements at Tupperware, but the classic Pink Cadillac is definitely a signature of Mary Kay.

Describe the light bulb moment of you first coming up with the idea of turning a Tupperware party into a one-woman stage show?

I had been doing parties for years in people’s living rooms. A director friend of mine from NYC saw me at a party and was having so much fun that he said to me, “You should put this on stage. There is a real show here.” I thought he was just being neighborly so that he could make out with me behind the dumpster, but it turns out, he was being serious. We worked on it and took it to New York City. The response was so friendly that it became a little hit, and then went on tour. I have now been touring for just over 10 years. It’s crazy, right!?

You’ve sold Tupperware all around the world. Do you do your show in different languages?

I have had to battle some funny accents in my day in order to understand what people are saying. But most of the time, I have understood enough from their body language that I can order a vodka in over eight languages, just by hand gestures. Most of the places I have traveled to, I can decipher what they are saying, but every so often, I have to bring one of them “wherever the heck do you mean when you say that” phrase translation book. The main thing is that “Food Storage” seems to be a universal language. Lucky for me.

How many languages do you speak?

Counting that thing that I can do with my leg without even having to touch it? One.

What’s your record take for a show?

I think my biggest party was a little over $5,000 in sales. It was a giant group of friends who all had one goal, get creative food storage solutions for their homes. The Party Host got awarded more free Tupperware than any other host I have seen in my life! But the most important thing isn’t how many bowls people buy, it’s how much fun they have at the party. That’s my goal. I want to make sure they are having a blast!

Do you find certain Tupperware pieces sell better in specific cities?

Of course. In places like New York where people have smaller apartments and don’t have space to entertain, the fun party bowls and servings sets don’t really do well there, but the modular storage stuff is amazing. In a city like L.A. where people love to get together with friends, the opposite is true. In Texas, they really love a place to stick their meat for marinading. In the heartland, we got something for your butter. Wherever you are, I have something for you.

How many pieces of Tupperware do you have in your own kitchen?

My kitchen is packed with all kinds of great crap from over the years that I have been selling. Some of it I use every day, and some of it is vintage stuff that I have picked up in my travels or have been given by friends who know that I love me some classic Tupperware.

What’s your oldest Tupperware piece?

My meemaw gave me a bowl that she got as a wedding present back in the 50’s. It has her name scribbled on the bottom in sharpie so that when she would take her ambrosia salad to the church social, she would make sure to get it back. Those people who bought Tupperware when it first came out were hawks about keeping their bowls on a short leash. They didn’t ever want to part company with them. It’s one of my favorite pieces.

What do you look for in picking an audience volunteer?

One of the things I love best about doing my show is that I get to have people up onstage helping to demonstrate with me and play along. It’s a party after all. I don’t want people just sitting on their hands staring at me and listening to me yammer on about containers for days. I want people to get up and have fun with me. I look for people who are excited to be part of the party.

What’s the most memorable audience interaction you had during one of your shows?

I have been blessed to have so many fun moments over the years. I had a woman laugh so hard she coughed her dentures into her hand. We all thought she was having a stroke, but it turns out, she was just laughing so much that she was overcome with the giggles. I had a woman make tee-tee on her seat from laughing, and then she was brave enough to tell me about it. Bless her heart! I had a woman at a show in Nashville tell me that after her momma, a lifelong Tupperware lady, had passed away; they put her ashes in her favorite container and have them on the mantle. The list is long and ridiculous. Trust me.

What’s your favorite Tupperware piece to demonstrate?

Each of the pieces I show have special meaning to me because of the stories that I share about them. It’s like your children. How can you pick a favorite? I mean, most people honestly can, but then they say they can’t in order to not hurt the feelings of the ones who didn’t turn out as well. For example, I couldn’t possibly tell you that I liked one of my children better than the others, except for my son who is my favorite, but I don’t want the other two to know it because then they will frown and pout. I’m real busy, so I don’t have time to try to make them feel better. OK, it’s the wine opener. That’s my favorite.

If I have bowls and lids that don’t completely close to burp, can you help me replace them?

The lifetime warranty is one of the things people love the most about Tupperware. If anything ever goes bad with your Tupperware, I can replace it free of charge. When you buy it, you buy it for life. There aren’t many things in life that have a warranty. If they did, things would be so much easier. For example, have you ever tried to take an empty jug of wine back to the store and say that it was defective and it didn’t come filled up? They would never put more wine in it. Not one time. And I have tried it everywhere. It’s just a crying shame. More things need to come with a warranty.

I’ve been to a few Tupperware parties myself. Bought some pieces and always left with some little cute swag. Can Kirk Douglas audiences expect a little swag giveaway when they attend your Tupperware party?

At the end of the party, I’ll be out in the lobby helping people get their Tupperware and giving hugs and meeting people. While I don’t have the ability to give every single person a little gift just for coming, you can rest assured that everyone can leave with a hug from me. And after all, isn’t that what life is all about, a hug from a really, really pretty lady?

So, what cities are next on your Tupperware tour?

I am putting together my whole tour schedule for next year as we speak. I’ll be in places like Fayetteville, Arkansas and Chandler, Arizona. I’m possibly going back to Des Moines, Iowa and Denver, Colorado. All the places that you associate with a good time. I’m also chatting with theaters in Philly and New York. Chances are within the next year, I’m coming to a city near your friends or family.

Do you, Dixie Longate, have any other future non-Tupperware projects you can share with us?

I always have ideas floating around in my head that I’m working on. I have another show that I do when I’m not doing DIXIE’S TUPPERWARE PARTY called NEVER WEAR A TUBE TOP WHILE RIDING A MECHANICAL BULL (AND 16 OTHER THINGS I LEARNED WHILE I WAS DRINKING LAST THURSDAY. I keep touring around with that and I’m hoping to bring it to L.A. sometime very soon. I have the beginnings of another show that I have started scribbling down on the back of bar napkins. I’ve actually done a bit of stand-up story-telling within the last year after being pressured by some of my friends. I swear you ain’t heard the last of me after you have seen my show.

Thank you again Dixie! I look forward to attending your Tupperware party at the Kirk Douglas and adding to my Tupperware collection.

For ticket availability and show schedule through December 30, 2018; go to DixiesTupperwareParty.com


The Soul of Baby Eyes – A Conversation with Donald Jolly

Usually, I write an introduction to these interviews, contextualizing the artist, how I might have encountered them, and my reasons for sitting down with them to dig in and talk about their work. However, with this interview, playwright Donald Jolly and I laid it all out on the coffeehouse table. Donald, his work, his ideas about theatre, and the context/content of our conversation speak for itself. Donald’s play Baby Eyes is receiving its world premiere at Playwrights’ Arena. It runs through November 5. Go see it. GO. SEE. IT!
More information at playwrightsarena.org/theater/baby-eyes
Roger Q. Mason (RQM): Baby Eyes. Donald Jolly. Let’s get into it. What’s the play about?
Donald Jolly (DJ): It’s a cautionary tale told by a gaggle of male harpies about lust and taboo and, as I like to say, one tragic boy’s search for manhood.
RQM: You are gonna have to break this down. We got a chorus of boys?
DJ: Harpies.
RQM: What is a harpy, for those who did not get that deep into it with the Greek mythology?
DJ: The harpies were birdlike women who would tear unsuspecting men to shreds – sirens.
RQM: One of the protagonists is an older man, as I recall.
DJ: Right, older than this boy for sure.
RQM: So, are we talking about pederasty in this piece?
DJ: Well –
RQM: I know we can’t spill all the tea, but just a little bit for the kids.
DJ: Yes, that is one way of looking at this relationship: Plato and Aristotle, Batman and Robin, Huck and Jim. Those man-boy relationships.
RQM: Uh oh, look at what you’re serving to these kids!
DJ: Oh, and don’t forget Zeus and Ganymede.
RQM: Is that particular myth the impetus for this piece?
DJ: Yes.
RQM: So tell me, how did this piece start? What happened? What happened to you, Donald?
(We both laugh to dizziness).
DJ: I started writing this play in grad school and it was around the time of when To Catch a Predator was on TV. Like millions of Americans, I kept watching this show. It was people enjoying watching folks get caught meeting up with whom they suspected were teenagers. I remember seeing a lot of the times there would be 18,20, 25 year old virgins going to meet up with a 14, 16 year old. They were on that show, so I am pretty sure they will remain virgins because they were on that show. So that was one thing. I was also very attached to these memories of…the first time I met up with a guy I was 17. I was drawn to older men. Nothing ever happened, but I was drawn to these older guys. These situations could have been less innocent than they were. I was reaching out for attention from these older guys. They never really went anywhere other than great places in my imaginations. I revisited these situations years later –
RQM: – with baby eyes! Oh lord, this is not a family show.
DJ: Nope, not a family show.
RQM: That’s alright, honey. Oh my goodness. There are so many taboos now. Let me ask you this: what is the current day legacy of Greek pederasty?
DJ: I think our society would like to say that there is no real legacy from the Greeks and the Romans. We want to get rid of it, particularly in this Judeo-Christian moment. But, a lot of younger boys look up to older males now in ways that society at large wouldn’t necessarily want to discuss. I remember being a little kid and being obsessed with superheroes because of their muscles. I would see guys on the street with big muscles and want to be around them because I liked their muscles.
RQM: There’s something aspirational.
DJ: Yes, perhaps even mildly erotic. But, it’s a completely different conversation if you’re talking about whether teenagers know what’s erotic or can identify what’s erotic to them. But I do know that I experienced a sort of feeling when I was that age.
RQM: You can only live in your truth.
DJ: Right. Then, I came to find out that there were some friends of mine who shared similar stories. Some of the things they experienced as youngsters definitely blurred the lines between what was good/bad, legal/illegal, healthy/unhealthy…
(We both laugh knowing what possibilities fit between these slashes).
RQM: Did any of those stories inform the play?
DJ: Initially.
RQM: So you’re out here outing all your friends.
DJ: Initially. But here’s the deal: this play has undergone so many drafts.
RQM: Yes, talk to us about dramaturgy.
DJ: The play that I originally started writing is not what’s being produced. Some of those questions I had…it was like opening Pandora’s Box. It was a bit toomuch. I worked with Luis Alfaro in class with the play. At that time, I was challenged to write the scariest things that I could imagine.
RQM: One of them classic Luis exercises, yes!! Love it.
DJ: Right. Exactly. I was going to a scary place. I had all those scenes. And now none of them are in the play. Absolutely none of them. But, in doing that, I had to go through, I realized: this is the story that I told; this is the story that I could tell; this is the story that I need to tell. I had to work through all of those areas. I am much older now that when I originally started writing it. I have had so many more experiences since them.
RQM: Yes, she lived. She lived, honey!
DJ: She lived. And those things have come to inform the play. Also, I returned to the idea of manhood – what is masculinity, what are these rites of passages for manhood?
RQM: And see, this is why I said I needed to sit down with you. I need to give you a hand praise. What people don’t know is that silently, but not so silently, you and your work have been a tremendous inspiration to me. I am going to say it right here, right now. I hold Donald Jolly and his body of work to be a type of parent text for the questions I ask in the theatre. You are, to me, a pioneering figure of black queer visibility and the exploration of the fragility of masculine identity. One of my most enduring LA theatre moments was watching your play bonded. It was an Easter Sunday. I will never forget it. And I feel that I was touched by the spirit that day and I have never been the same – in a beautiful way. It was a turning point for me. After seeing that show, my entire approach, reason and purpose for playwriting was finally validated. That piece gave me permission to start exploring the themes and framing mechanisms that I was afraid to before. So, let’s take a slight detour and talk a bit about bonded.
DJ: bonded is a drama that is set in 1820 Virginia on a very dilapidated tobacco farm. It’s dying, and there are four slaves. Two of the male slaves, Sonny and Asa fall in love. Asa is a city male servant, a body servant from New York, who is inherited by some white people in Virginia. He meets Sonny. All these old memories come back.
RQM: And as I recall, the black overseer got into it too. Everybody was gay on that farm.
DJ: Jack, the overseer, was the master’s favorite. We don’t see any of the white people that are discussed. They do not appear onstage. We hear about them and their lives. But we never see them. And Jack – they say he is older than Methuselah and he survived the Middle Passage. He had a wife many years prior. And Jack’s master’s farm is very unprofitable, and he has a gambling problems. So there were a lot of slaves to come and go from this farm because of debts. There is this sequence where Jack remembers his long, lost wife who
is never named. He has some “action” with Asa in this sequence. I looked at it more as an instance of reclaiming power.
RQM: Yes! Now let’s talk about lineage. The world begot Donald Jolly, and Donald Jolly midwifed me (as a writer). After seeing bonded, I adopted this constellation of ideas – sex as an agent of power; power as expressed through sexuality; the magic and the “untold” of slavery. From there my piece Softer was born. It was a short play. I couldn’t do two hours like you did, honey. I had to do ten minutes because it was too hot. In that piece, the couple was a body servant and his master, and it was all about their breakup on Emancipation Day. Now, from mentee to mentor, I have some exciting news: I have turned that play into a film. It’s being submitted around now. And I’m trying to explore other long-form possibilities for it. So, I want to thank you. Because of you, I am finding my way. You are a forebearer to me. You got out here 10 years ago talking this stuff and it just set little queer playwrights like me on fire. Do you think the world was ready for you then?
DJ: I’m not the first person to think about sexuality as it related to the antebellum South or the bellum South and the postbellum South.
RQM: Right, because you and I are BOTH living under Mother Robert O’Hara’s roof.
DJ: Yes, and at that time, I hadn’t yet read Insurrection: Holding History. But my young head was filled with lots of ideas. And for me, sitting down to write this play, it was the first time I had ever seen anybody create this particular story in earnest.
RQM: And to fully articulate it as you did.
DJ: Not a satire, not a fantasy.
RQM: Not fetishizing or eroticizing.
DJ: And I say, I didn’t write bonded. The characters came to me.
RQM: Alright, come on now, Mr. Avant Guard.
DJ: They talked to me.
RQM: Yes!
DJ: I was inspired a lot by narratives: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Harriet Jacobs’ master taught her how to read and write so he could write elicit things to her and then she chose a white husband so the master would leave her alone. There was someone reclaiming their sexuality. And Frederick Douglass discussed the men on his plantation and Olaudah Equiano’s writings – there are hints of queerness there as well. But these characters in bonded came to me because I was trying to communicate with my ancestors. I was thinking that I knew I was not the first one who felt this way. There’s not a lot of LGBTQ history discussing people of color. We say these were human beings who were enslaved. That means they had all of the feelings and thoughts and all of the dimensions involved with being human. They are rarely given that. We only see them in one lens: being oppressed.
RQM: Do you think that respectability politics has something to do with how we
see our history?
DJ: If you read Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, he is very careful to follow the tropes of the adventure story, the travelogue, and those sorts of things. He needed to come across as human in every sense of the word, but to also eliminate all of the stereotypes of African Americans of that period. He doesn’t talk about romantic relationships. Black men were regarded as over-sexed. So he omits those details. Harriet Jacobs did it too. As a woman in the nineteenth century, she had to adhere to the cult of domesticity. She is writing
in those same tropes to appeal to her readers as a Christian woman.
RQM: What I’m noticing is that there is a de-sexualization.
DJ: Absolutely. It was very intentional. Fortunately, for me, I come in a time when that doesn’t need to be done. That said, bonded was still controversial.
RQM: Spill the tea!
DJ: Well, some African Americans are tired of slave stories. They want to say that slavery is not their only history. I personally am fascinated with stories of my ancestors who were enslaved. We are talking about centuries of history. To assume that every possible story about these people has been told is absolutely ludicrous. I was also interested in stories of black people in relationship to other black people. I am curious about how my ancestors found ways to endure, to resist, to fall in love, to fight, to have friends, to have enemies with other black people.
RQM: One of the things I’ve always tried to understand is why bonded has not become part of the canon in the way I think it should be. I’m going out on a limb and speculate for you. I think this was an issue of regionalism. bonded was a play that opened in Los Angeles, the Far West. Now had you opened in New York City….
DJ: You read my mind. The truth of the matter is that I don’t live in New York, and in the arts, sometimes it’s about who you know and the right timing for things.
RQM: bonded was before its time.
DJ: I’m grateful for the publicity that it did get: an LA Times review, GLAAD Media Award nomination, some celebrities came.
RQM: Has it been published?
DJ: Not yet.
RQM: Have you considered a remount?
DJ: Absolutely. And I must say to my better known “siblings,” I went into Moonlight a bit begrudgingly, but I left feeling like it was a beautiful piece. To see the critical reception of that movie cannot be overstated particularly for artists of color who are telling unconventional stories or telling stories in unconventional ways.
RQM: Let’s talk about form. The foundation of your plays is theoretical, cerebral. Clearly, you are coming from an interdisciplinary, liberal arts educational background. Then, you activate and motivate those ideas towards dramatic action. What are ways in which queer artists of color should continue to queer form as well as content?
DJ: That’s a heavy question. In one sense, a significant number of us want to make it, be seen and be recognized –
RQM: You are going in, and I’m going to have to jump in here. You are talking about sacrifice. What do we have to do to make it? What do we have to put away, water down, omit? How do we need to sound or make people feel to get green lights from decision-makers for our projects?
DJ: I think of someone like Suzan-Lori Parks. Her early stuff is out there, and I love it. Venus, her play about the so-called Hottentot Venus was one of the best plays I’ve ever read. But she didn’t get the Pulitzer until she did more conventional things like Topdog/Underdog that has a more linear plot. So, one of the questions is: are we doing things to get accepted or what? For a long time, there was this notion that, to be accepted, don’t be too gay. Actually, I had someone tell me that bonded would be a great play if it didn’t have all that homosexuality in it.
(I stare off out of disdain for Donald’s myopic critic, then smile at Donald, respecting his resilience).
DJ: There’s more. So if then, if I were to say, I’m going to do this artistic piece with a lot of silence and poetry and no white people, that’s asking a lot of an audience – if it were a mainstream audience.
RQM: Who is telling mainstream audiences what they can and cannot handle? Are they telling themselves or are programmers programming the public?
DJ: I think it’s a little bit of both. When bonded came out, I was really excited about it. Prop 8 was still being debated, but we had Obama. Then the Supreme Court struck down Prop 8, granting marriage equality throughout the nation, and I began thinking that maybe there was no longer a need for this kind of story. I am probably like a lot of people who were caught off-guard in the election of 2016 when “the deplorables” came out in full force, and reminded us that they were here and not going anywhere.
RQM: I remember a commentator after the election asserted that there is always backlash to radical change. But ultimately the changes made and the paradigm shifts achieved will outlast these cries against forward movement. It’s kind of like a gout attack. Your joints become irritated when you accumulate acid crystals in your joins and you get a flare up as the crystals are flushed out. The space left behind by the crystals is inflamed by the change. We are experiencing a cultural gout attack right now. We need to drink our tart cherry juice – in this case, the juice is transformative playwriting. Change is happening, and it’s causing inflammation, but the balm – I believe – is artists commenting on culture, keeping us honest, warning us when we stray from our principles, and ultimately bringing us back together again.
DJ: Absolutely, it is important for LGBTQ artists of colors to tell our stories in any way that makes sense for us. So, yes for the big commercial mainstream audiences but also, to paraphrase W.E.B. DuBois, we need theatre, ways to tell stories that are “for us, by us, near us.”
RQM: I love it! And on that note, let’s get back to Baby Eyes.
DJ: You know, this is a very different play. bonded was a spiritual exercise; it is something that I hold dear to my heart and I do hope people get to experience that story again.
RQM: Producers, open up your pocket books. This man needs a remount of his play bonded.
DJ: Production, agent, manager, anything.
RQM: We will take what we can get in this world.
(Donald nods in agreement because we both know the struggle is real for the living queer playwright of color).
RQM: So how did you come back around to Baby Eyes?
DJ: That was a play that I wrote, worked through, and submitted to many contests. It was a quarter-finalist and finalist but nobody took it. After the last rejection, I said, “I don’t want to tell this story anymore.” In the time between when I wrote the original draft and now, my father passed away quite unexpectedly to me. This was a play that I decided not to do anything with ever again because of the controversial subject matter and particularly because of all of the painful father-son issues. Then one day, I got a phone call from my mentor and friend Jon Lawrence Rivera. He asked about the latest draft. Jon actually worked with me on a staged reading of Baby Eyes as my culminating experience at USC’s MFA in Dramatic Writing. Ten years later, he remembered that play. I sent him the script. He read it and called me back. He said, “Oh my god, I’m shaking. We’re doing this.” It was fortuitous for me. It was not something I planned on.
RQM: Revisiting the piece 10 years later, how was the re-write process? So have you done a lot of re-writes?
DJ: Rapid. Challenging on every level – thematically and structurally. The set-up is that the piece is narrated by this gaggle of harpies. So the storytelling is very poetic in that sense. The play is almost linear, but then it is not. It harkens back to Greek storytelling. The main character Gio is 14 years old. He becomes enamored with this black guy in his 30s-40s in 1955 Baltimore. We are talking about taboo-ism with regard to sexuality, race, age, class – to me I’m talking about gender. I call the gaggle the “Gaggle of Sissies”. I am reclaiming the term as a self-identified sissy.
RQM: Okay honey, yes!
DJ: Yes, I’m a sissy, so I have a story for the sissies.
RQM: Yes, yes, for the legendary children.
DJ: Right!
RQM: So, writing a play like that, the casting must have been challenging.
DJ: Amazingly, many actors are quite prudish. People talk a great talk about diversity, inclusion, body positivity, and all the rest, but once you ask somebody to actually take the leap and do something – even if it is simulated or insinuated through monologue – they become very squeamish. I thought more of us had reached a point where we are willing to take risk, but there are a lot of actors out there who are not. They are okay if it is implied that the character is gay, but they will not show you a gay character. But, I will say this: the same people who say, “I am not willing to kiss another man on stage,” would do it if the pay check was high enough or if it was on T.V.
RQM: Your work and mine are similar in that they require actors from a smaller, more risk-taking, self-selecting group that are unapologetic and unafraid.
DJ: I treasure the experience of working with LGBTQ people of color and really be of the mindset that we are telling our own stories. I’m tired of straight people, cis-gender straight people getting awards for telling the stories or acting in roles of LGBTQ people when our lived experiences are still being devalued, marginalized, and oppressed on a daily basis. When we write our own stories and when we try to tell them on stage, on the screen, on the page, we are told to tone it down.
RQM: Amen!
DJ: You don’t ask anybody’s sexuality when they are auditioning for a role. We ask what people are comfortable with. But I am not about to start re-writing things to make a cishet actor comfortable –
RQM: Or audience member, or board of directors member, or producer –
DJ: Yes, yes –
RQM: You all have to take us as we are and invest in THAT. The public can handle it. Don’t worry – you won’t lose your investment. In fact, this is how you re-invest and build the audience of the future: by dreaming the culture forward, challenging people, and building new forms of storytelling while breaking down old cultural and aesthetic walls. Oh lord, look at me go. Let me get off my high horse. Baby Eyes. This show is getting it’s world premiere. Every writer has a wish, a dramaturgical wish for that maiden voyage of a play. What are you hoping will come of this production of your play?
DJ: I want everyone from the cast to the crew behind the scenes to unite and tell this story with…, leading with the heart. The heart and the soul. Soul can mean so many things, and I want us to explore every meaning of that word – Soul.


In Memoriam: Henry Ong

In Memoriam: Henry Ong

Award-winning Los Angeles Playwright and 16-time recipient of Artist-in-Residence grants from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.
October 3, 2018 Silver Lake, CAHenry Ong, a fixture of the Los Angeles theatre community for more than 35 years, died Saturday, September 29th after a long battle with cancer. Ong was the quintessential Los Angeles playwright: a first-generation Asian-American, he was interested in the exploring the immigrant experience, and conducted writing/oral history workshops in many LA communities as diverse as the city itself.
Ong grew up in Singapore and later attended graduate school in the U.S., graduating with a master’s degree in journalism. Post-graduation, he moved to Los Angeles, where he began to pursue his career as a playwright. He was a member of Interact Theatre Company and Company of Angels. In 2014 he was awarded the Lee Melville Award from Playwrights Arena for outstanding contribution to theatre in Los Angeles.
An internationally-produced playwright, Ong’s works span an eclectic mix, from plays inspired by true events to biographical drama and adaptations of classic novels. Credits include: Madame Mao’s Memories, Sweet Karma, Fabric, The Legend of the White Snake, and People Like Me, which won him a Drama-Logue Award for Excellence in Writing in 1998. A number of his plays have been produced nationally, including New York and San Diego (at the Old Globe Theatre); as well as internationally in London, Edinburgh and Singapore. Other works include: The Masseur, Ascent, and theatrical adaptations of the Anthony Trollope novels Rachel Ray, and Nina Balatka, all in various stages of development.
Ong was a 16-time recipient of Artist-in-Residence grants from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. He collaborated with Marlton School, Los Angeles’ only day school for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, on staging a series of Asian folktales for youth. In addition, he was one of the founding members of the non-profit Artists Against Oppression (AAO), whose primary mission is to create and support artistic endeavors that elevate the lives of oppressed or disenfranchised communities.
In 2017, Ong fulfilled a life-long dream to have his six-hour adaptation of the Chinese classic, Dream of the Red Chamber staged, co-directing the play at the Edward Vincent Jr Park in Inglewood. In June his play, The Blade of Jealousy, an adaptation of the Spanish Renaissance Playwright Tirso de Molina’s La Celosa De Sí Misma, had its world premiere at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks.
As a champion of LA theatre, Ong was an avid theatre-goer, attending 150 performances annually. He served for many seasons as an active voter for The Ovation Awards, the Southern California award for excellence in theatre.
Dubbed “the shyest man in theatre” by theatre website Stage Raw, Henry famously avoided the spotlight and cameras unless he was on the other side of the lens. Everyone in the theatre was “a famous person” in his world. No audience member or performer escaped his attention. Ong felt, he said in a 2016 Stage Raw interview, that “everybody deserves to be seen, and wants to be seen.”
Henry is survived by his husband Matthew Black, mother Geok Lian Yan, and sisters Noi Giddings and Stella Ong.


Audio Interview: Kirsten Vangsness – Penelope Garcia on CBS's Criminal Minds stars in ‘Marian or The True Tale of Robin Hood’ at Theatre of NOTE

A gender-bending, patriarchy-smashing, hilarious new take on the classic tale. Robin Hood is (and has always been) Maid Marian in disguise, and leads a motley group of Merry Men (few of whom are actually men) against the greedy Prince John. As the poor get poorer and the rich get richer, who will stand for the vulnerable if not Robin? What is the cost of revealing your true self in a time of trouble? Modern concerns and romantic entanglements clash on the battlefield and on the ramparts of Nottingham Castle. A play about selfishness and selflessness and love deferred and the fight. Always the fight. The fight must go on.*
Enjoy this interview about “Marian or The True Tale of Robin Hood” staring Kirsten Vangsness (Penelope Garcia in a recurring role on the TV series Criminal Minds) at Theatre of NOTE, running until Sep 22nd. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here.

*Taken from the website


Audio Interview: The cast of “Dead Boys” at Celebration Theatre

Dead Boys – 2017 Best of Fringe award winner comes to Celebration! It’s the end of the world. Two millennials trapped in the basement of their old high school. The only gay kid in school. And the guy who used to beat him up. Provocative, hilarious, and heartbreaking, Dead Boys is about two modern American young men who have no choice but to face fate, race, sexuality – and each other.*
Enjoy this interview about “Dead Boys” at Celebration Theatre, running until Jul 31st. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here.

*Taken from the website


Writer/Actor Matthew Scott Montgomery Mashing Up Disney Millennials With Seasoned L.A. Theatre-Goers

Expanded and polished, Matthew Scott Montgomery‘s multi-award-winning DEAD BOYS begins at the Celebration Theatre July 1, 2018. Matthew’s one-act on two millennials trapped alone in their old high school basement morphed into a full-length dark, but comedic piece. Matthew most amiably agreed to answer my probing inquiries.

Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Matthew!

How did you originally come up with the premise of DEAD BOYS? You weren’t in a trapped situation somewhere before, were you?

Well, it started because I love two-person shows! I got addicted to the idea of working on one after acting in a workshop of a two-person play called COROMANDEL, by Nick Johnson with EST LA. It seems like the purest form of acting to me – just two people for 80 minutes. There’s no hiding! So I definitely set out to write a two-hander, and knew I wanted to tackle race and sexuality, and the first draft happened very quickly. I basically took a long weekend marinating with these two characters in mind and I just went with where they were taking me. And the “trapped” aspect and the bit-of-horror element that came along with it kind of happened organically. My personality is really upbeat and find myself doing comedy a lot, but underneath, I’m actually more drawn to dark side of things – and I love a good twist. One person who saw DEAD BOYS last summer called it a millennial Brokeback Mountain meets Moonlight meets 10 Cloverfield Lane, and that feels really apt!

Your 2017 production of DEAD BOYS won a number of awards. Can you give us a run-down of your various initial reactions to being notified of your honors (City of West Hollywood: One City One Pride Scholarship Award-winner, Best of Fringe, Encore! Producers Award, and a Diversity in American Theater Award finalist)?

The scholarship grant I got as part of WeHo’s One City One Pride was TOTALLY unexpected and really exciting. That was also awarded before we opened, it was just based off of the script, so I thought, “Maybe I’m onto something here!” It definitely helped build anticipation to give us that boost of buzz before we had our first performance and I felt like I had a lot to prove to live up to that scholarship. At the same time, I didn’t think ahead too much, mostly just focused on putting on the best show we could each performance at a time, so the fact that we got extended so many times thanks to the Encore! Award was a thrill. To be recognized by Fringe specifically felt very COOL, like I was at the cool table, and to be a finalist for Diversity in American Theatre was really special too. DEAD BOYS poses some tough questions and is really frank in the character’s points-of-view, but it’s actually a celebration of diversity; I’m really glad it was and is continuing to be seen as that.

This isn’t your first dance at Celebration. You acted in revolver in 2013 at their former location on Santa Monica Blvd. Was revolver your first collaboration with Celebration?

revolver was my first time ACTING with them. DEAD BOYS is my first time co-producing with them and my first time on the Lex stage! I feel like I’m in great company with a lot of the actors and shows. I’m such a big fan of that have come before me. I love the whole team at Celebration and revolver was a lot of fun. When I did DEAD BOYS as part of Fringe, multiple people commented that it seemed like a good fit for Celebration, and I agreed. And I had been talking with Todd Milliner, who has worked on several shows there, for a few years about potentially working on something together. He and the literary director Nate Frizzell and one of our producers Tom DeTrinis have always been champions of my work and they’re great friends; they came to see it last year, we stayed in touch about it and the timing worked out great. Tom and Jay Marcus, our other producer, are incredible and have been really enthusiastic about it.

Tell us what factors led you to exercise your creative chops at the Celebration.

I couldn’t be happier that DEAD BOYS‘ first official home is at a place that is known for being a beacon in Los Angeles LGBT entertainment. The show has definitely evolved since last year – it was a one act then and now it’s a full-length. I had invaluable help working on it in The Living Room Series at The Blank Theatre; Beth Bigler and the whole team over there really brought DEAD BOYS to life (pun intended). I consider both theaters homes of mine, but it was important to me to embrace the queer aspects of the story as much as possible, so Celebration was a perfect fit. Celebration is such a great name for the company because it’s exactly that – celebrating all things LGBT. They do such respected and important work and are always telling colorful stories; I’m really honored to be co-producing with them.

When did you become a company member of Celebration?

2013 when I did revolver. I was hooked!

How do you address Celebration’s four Michaels (Kricfalusi, Matthews, O’Hara, Shepperd) when they’re in the same room? Nicknames? Last names? Michael #1, #2, #3, #4?

Ha, ha! GREAT question! Michael Kricfalusi is “Kric.” Michael Matthews is “Michael Matthews.” I’m not sure why this is, but for me; it’s always the full name! Michael O’Hara is “O’Hara.” And Michael Shepperd is “Shep.” Please don’t ask me to pick a favorite!

Did you grow up wanting to be an actor or a writer? Or both?

I’ve always wanted to be an actor, even if at the time I didn’t know how to articulate that. Like the character Levi in DEAD BOYS, I didn’t grow up in an environment with a lot of obvious outlets to act, so if you kind of trace back and look, that’s what I was always trying to do. Writing came hand-in-hand with that a lot because I wanted to perform, but didn’t know how to get started. So I’d write stuff for myself. One time in school, I wrote a musical for me and friends to do just in a classroom – guerrilla style – like we met there at 4PM and kind of just did it for ourselves. After working on TV for a few years, I was so surprised how many of my co-stars didn’t do theater or know much about it, and I was like, “That’s it! I’m taking you to a play so you can see what it’s all about!” And they weren’t always enthusiastic about that – but if I was in and/or wrote something, they were more prone to see it. So honestly, that’s kind of what I did. So writing has always come from the immediacy of wanting to act.

Who were your writing idols growing up?

I’m a huge fan of Kevin Williamson and Joss Whedon. And R.L. Stine.

Would you say you have two distinctly different groups of fans – those of your Disney Channel shows and those of your Celebration and Del Shores work?

Ha, ha, I definitely think that’s true. Doing YELLOW with Del was my big break really. That got me recognized by Disney Channel. I started working on the channel while the show was still running. Then, literally the day after it closed, I was full time working for Mickey Mouse for a couple years. It was a strange transition. I had a lot of grown, mostly gay men recognizing me around town for my theater work, and then overnight, it became mostly teenage girls recognizing me for the TV work.

Have the two groups ever mash-up?

Sometimes! Theater helps them mash-up actually. It’s always really fun and means so much to me when fans of my work on Disney or people who follow my social media come to see me onstage. For some, DEAD BOYS was their first play they had ever seen. There were adults from the traditional theater world and young adults who know me from TV or Instagram/YouTube who travelled to see the show last summer and were there in the audience together. And I think they both identified with it in different ways, both equally rewarding. Because DEAD BOYS deals with the emotional fall-out of high school, I think millennial audiences can identify with it because of the freshness of that experience. Older audiences can appreciate the things that have never really changed about school and being haunted by it. There’s something so volatile and intense, and sometimes sexy, and sometimes heartbreaking about high school that stays with everyone, I think.

Describe the evening at the LADCC ceremony in 2010 you won Best Actor for your role in Del Shores’ YELLOW.

That was pretty surreal, one of the best nights of my life probably. I actually on set that day, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it on time to the ceremony. We were filming a scene where I got ketchup sprayed in my hair. I raced to take a shower in my dressing room as soon as we wrapped and barely made it on time. YELLOW was the most rewarding job. Del and the whole cast was really a family, so that night was a blur of pure love. I brought the award with me to work the next day to show a friend, and it was at our table read and our show runner asked me, “What was it that?” And I did a little show-and-tell. That felt cool. I was like “See! This was that thing I kept talking about!”

Any plans for taking DEAD BOYS on the road, or to another city?

You know I was just talking about that with Del Shores the other day. He thinks Palm Springs could be a good fit! I’m also a big fan of Diversionary Theatre in San Diego. I love Los Angeles and the theater scene here – when stuff is good here, it’s REALLY good – and so I’m proud to be a part of the scene here for the time being. But I do want to share it with a lot of people, and I do have followers online who live all over. Any excuse to perform it anywhere, or to have it performed anywhere, is a gonna be a good excuse for me!

Can you share what your next script will be dealing with?

I have a couple ideas, and they’re equal parts sexy and spooky. There may be a ghost involved… I told you I’m drawn towards dark side of stuff!

What reactions would you like the Celebration audiences to leave with after the curtain call of DEAD BOYS?

There’s a part of the show that’s in Spanish, and even though a good portion of the audiences may not speak the language, I think they’ll “get” what’s being said. Also, even though I mentioned the darkness in it and the logline is fairly dramatic, it’s also a really funny show. Tragedy and comedy can be so close to each other. So I hope they laugh with, and fall in love with the characters like I have – they’re both complicated and imperfect, and the show is a lot of fun. When we did it at Fringe, I was blown away by how different types of people identified with it in different ways. I had a friend who is a straight white woman that was very moved by it. I have a younger friend who is biracial and bisexual and she was very moved by it. And we’ve had a lot of return audience members who’ve brought friends. That has been a gift that’s kept on giving.

Thank you again, Matthew! I look forward to seeing your BOYS.

No, thank YOU! Insert a “dead” pun here that’s in REALLY good taste! I’ll knock ’em dead? I don’t know!

For DEAD BOYS ticket availability and schedule through July 31, 2018; log onto CelebrationTheatre.com


Ryan O'Connor Dishes on His VOTE'ng, PRAY-ing, & LOVE'ng

Actor and popular Los Angeles cabaret staple Ryan O’Connor will be bringing a new and improved edition of his VOTE, PRAY, LOVE to the Celebration Theatre for four performances only, beginning April 8, 2018. Directed by Tony Award-winner Marissa Jaret Winokur, VOTE, PRAY, LOVE will cover a little politics, a little personal challenges and a little Elizabeth Taylor. Ryan agreed to a friendly inquisition from me for some behind-the-scenes tidbits and some chuckles.

Thank you, Ryan for doing this interview.

I’ve seen you displaying your vocal and comic chops on stage at Rockwell in THE UNAUTHORIZED MUSICAL PARODY OF MEAN GURLZ and UMPO HOME ALONE. Is Rockwell where you first connected with your director Marissa? You and she also co-hosted A Little New Music at the Catalina last year.

We’ve actually been friends for over 15 years. We met while she was doing HAIRSPRAY on Broadway. I was a young and hungry, struggling musical theatre actor. We both moved to L.A. around the same time and I had done a few things at Rockwell over the years. Then she came in for UMPO HOCUS POCUS, and I joined the party on MEAN GURLZ. Now we both consider it a home away from home, same way I feel about Celebration. In the show, when I talk about the friend whose guest room I lived in, it was hers! So, she was the natural director for the show. She knew it very well!

Is your title VOTE, PRAY, LOVE a play on Julia Roberts’ 2010 flick Eat, Pray, Love? Or, maybe, the 2013 Bravo series Eat, Drink, Love?

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, is huge inspiration for me. When I applied for the job working on the Hillary campaign, I told the woman who hired me that this was my “Eat, Pray, Love” moment and it just sort of stuck. But I wanted a campaign element in the title, so I chose the word “VOTE.” Besides, I already did a show all about food years ago. This is a very different story. I don’t know that Bravo show! I’ll have to look it up!

You’re a self- admitted Elizabeth Taylor fan. Wasn’t there any titles of her films you could have tweaked to use for this show instead? Ryan on a Hot Tin Roof? Who’s Afraid of Virginia O’Connor? Ryan O’Patra?

Ha! Ha! Ryan O’Patra is hilarious!! My favorite Elizabeth movie is actually called Boom! It was a big flop with her and Richard Burton, an adaptation of a Tennessee Williams play, but it’s fabulously campy and in a scene opposite a nearly dead Noel Coward, she wears this incredible gaudy headdress and white and gold caftan, that (spoiler alert!) may make an appearance in VOTE, PRAY, LOVE. I even have a rare Polish movie poster for it which is a drawing of a caftan made out of Elizabeth and Richard’s faces. It’s stunning. Some day I’d love to musicalize the film and actually play Elizabeth, but I don’t know if anyone is banging down my door to produce that. Ha! Ha!

Did you ever have the opportunity to meet Mz. Taylor?

I never met Elizabeth. It’s a great regret of mine. I remember being told she was wheeled in to The Abbey once when I was nearby, but she was already covered in throngs of gay men trying to get to her, and I just thought it best to leave her an icon I never met. I didn’t actually realize the impact she had on my subconscious until after her death and then, even more evidently, during my divorce.

Will fans of yours experience the same VOTE, PRAY, LOVE at the Celebration that you put on last December at the Rockwell? Or will they be able to detect subtle (or major) changes?

I actually really hope that everyone comes back because I’ve made a ton of changes and it’s so much better! Ha! Ha! It was really well-received, but it was definitely a cabaret show with guests. This time, I’ve taken the dramatic narrative a little deeper, flushed out the story into a concise takeaway and gotten some incredible actors to actually step in and play multiple roles – based on real people. I have Katherine Tokarz, Lindsay Heather Pearce, and Amber Liekhus playing actual women I met working for the Hillary Clinton campaign in Michigan. Plus some surprise stuff that everyone is really gonna like. I also have the incredible actor Alex Nee playing a character we call “Trouble.” He’s sort of the sexy, charming villain of the piece, playing multiple facets of, well… trouble. I’ve cut some songs and added some new stuff plus some actual scenes and less monologues and, truthfully, it’s much more like an actual musical than a solo cabaret show. It’s pretty exciting. I hope everyone comes back!

How long did you work as field organizer for Hillary’s 2016 presidential campaign?

I worked as a Field Organizer for four months. From July through the November Election in 2016. That’s where the bulk of the drama of the show comes in. It’s about the strength I got from these incredible women I met there. As well as, the actual day-to-day of working for the campaign, and the highs of being certain we would elect the first female President of the United States, as well as, the incredible lows, like the Comey letter and, of course, Election Night.

Must have been difficult editing down the stories you accumulated of that time. How did you whittle it all down to fit into VOTE, PRAY, LOVE? You picked the Top Ten funniest incidents? What other criteria came into play in your Hillary material selection?

Yeah, basically. The humor comes from the absurdity of the situation mixed with the incredibly high stakes. I’m also somebody who will find the humor in absolutely anything. So, even a dramatic story like this, you can always trust that I am going to focus on the humor wherever I can. My hope is that by using humor I can help people sort of process and digest this time that most of us would rather not relive.

Can you share a Hillary incident that almost made it into your show, but didn’t?

Great question!! Yes!! One of my favorites that I couldn’t get in the show! One day, I was out knocking doors to remind people to vote and check people’s voter registrations and make sure they knew their polling locations… daily business as usual for us. And this day, I was knocking doors in a retirement village, and this old man answered the door in a shirt and no pants. No underwear, nothing. He must have been 85, and he had a walker, but that didn’t cover everything up. He then proceeded to invite me in, tell me about every Democrat he ever voted for, what he thought about gerrymandering in Michigan, and his position on every ballot measure – with no pants. And he never referenced it. He was completely lucid and so nice, but no pants. I didn’t know what to do, so I just acted like it was normal. I resisted the urge to ask him to volunteer. Seemed a little risky.

I congratulate you on being in such a healthy place that you can mine laughs out of your previous health challenges for inclusion and exposition in VOTE, PRAY, LOVE. Soooo, would you proudly share with us your latest goals you’ve attained?

Ha! Ha! Wow! I never thought I’d get that question in an interview, but yes! I have been sober for two years and four months now. I’ve maintained my weight loss and even started running, if you can believe it! I also quit smoking six months ago, which was actually the hardest of all! So, now I just have a ridiculous Starbucks Cold Brew problem. It’s bad.

Is your divorce going to make me laugh through your tears?

I hope it makes you laugh! And, if you need to cry, I hope it helps! I didn’t talk about it until I had some distance. It was really hard. Everyone tells you it will be okay, and they’re right. But when you’re in it, (pause) it feels impossible and endless. I remember getting so much strength from Elizabeth Gilbert, Cheryl Strayed, Nora Ephron, Carrie Fisher, Michael Ausiello, and other people who shared their super personal stories. Those people’s books, movies, and shows gave me so much hope and if I can do that for anyone, it’s all been worth it. Well, sort of. Ha! Ha!

Will you be covering your encounter with Oprah in VOTE, PRAY, LOVE, in which she chose you to be one of the ten finalists out of 19,000 applicants in her search for the next TV star?

I will. Sort of. It’s kind of where I pick up the story. Like, here I was on top of the world, how did it all fall apart? I actually just made a big decision last night about something I want to put in the show and I’m really excited. I think it’s gonna be cool. Oprah fans will be very pleased. Hopefully, Oprah will too!

If you had your druthers, and knowing all you do now about Hillary and Mz. Taylor, would you have ever wanted to have switch places with one or both of them? Or not?

Ohhh, that is a serious question!!! Hillary is currently wearing a lot of caftans, traveling the world, and seeing a lot of theatre. And no one had a more interesting life than Elizabeth. So, they’re both pretty tempting. But, I actually have a pretty spectacular and interesting life. If I didn’t, it would be so obnoxious to think anyone would want to hear about it for 90 minutes!

Can you give us a hint to some of the songs we might be hearing in VOTE, PRAY, LOVE?

I use almost entirely songs by female songwriters to tell the story. So, you’re gonna get these stories told through the music and lyrics of women you know and trust, like Carly Simon, Stevie Nicks, Annie Lennox, Ani DiFranco, Whitney Houston, and a bunch more. I sneak a couple show tunes in there too, though, don’t worry.

Thank you again, Ryan! I look forward to laughing and crying through your triumphs!

Thanks, Gil! I’m excited for you and your readers to see it!

For tickets to check out how much Ryan will be you laugh or make you cry at one of his four scheduled performances through April 16, 2018; log onto CelebrationTheatre.com