"Take Your Broken Heart, Make It Into Art."

My heart is broken and I need some healing!

As January 20th approaches, I'm afraid that the world is coming to an end. It feels like I'm waiting for doomsday to happen, while trying to pretend in front of my boys that life is the best thing ever and every day is the “bestest day ever” as my son, Sydney (5 years), likes to say.

November 7th seems to have put me in a black hole. I have been avoiding friends and people in general. Even at my son's school I have not been able to talk to people much and I've avoided running into people. If I see someone I know, I say a quick “hi” and usually I quickly turn my attention back to my boys. They are a great distraction!

If I talk to anyone, I have to make a concentrated effort to say something positive and if I can't, I talk about the weather. Thankfully we have that now to talk about which also is a great distraction. If I don't focus on the positive, I'm afraid that I will crack and start to cry and fall apart.

I've been searching for inspiration online. Articles about why the wig-man might be a good president fail to inspire me or lift me up. The petitions I'm signing daily seem pointless (though I keep on signing). Calling the White House or my representatives is depressing because people either hang up on me, or the tell me to call someone else, or they connect me to a black hole.

I have avoided social media because it's full of bad news. Some people are outraged, some post articles that are not legitimate, and a lot of people share more and more petitions.

My email inbox has been getting little attention as well. I get emails about great deals on something that I don't need. Emails to sign more petitions. Harassing emails from the Democratic Party to fill out survey after survey and “Why don't I respond. Do I not care about the election?”

And as I'm trying to avoid everything, this past week finally inspiration found me when a friend of mine, Leonora Gershman Pitts, posted in her timeline in response to Meryl Streep's Golden Globe speech. Leonora is is a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She works as an actress and filmmaker, serves as a City Commissioner for the City of LA, and is the co-founder of the Los Angeles Women's Film Collective. She is married, has two kids and two dogs and she lives in LA. Her post is very well articulated and call to action to artists. I needed this! I needed her post to finally be inspired to do something! To not sit at home and dwell on what is happening but to get up and inspire others around me with my art.

I want to talk about Meryl, about bubbles, about cities, and about makers.

The reaction from Conservative Twitter and our own President-Elect after Meryl Streep's speech at the Golden Globes was swift and predictable. After she called on us to access and nurture our collective empathy, to protect and challenge our free press, and to continue to create create create, the Right called the rest of us “elitists”, said that actors should stick to acting, that we West and East Coasters live in a bubble.

First, let's quickly recognize and then release the irony of this relatively small group of Americans decrying the idea that actors/performers/entertainers should hold political opinions and say them out loud; this is the same group of people who worship Reagan, wanted to change the Constitution to allow Schwarzenegger to run for president, and just put a reality show blowhard idiot in the White House.

Secondly, don't come at me with this idea that Trump wasn't mocking the disabled reporter, which seems to be a common right-wing response on Twitter. Own that you voted for the guy who made fun of someone's disability. Own it. You know full and well he was, there is no other excuse. Also, if you think asking people to choose empathy over bullying is political, examine your life and make some changes, I beg you, for the betterment of our fragile world.

On to the generalization that Hollywood, or the coasts, or cities, or any diverse area is stuck in a liberal “bubble”. I live in the second largest city in the United States. Before I lived here, I lived in the largest city in the United States. Before that, I lived in a small city in a vast but tiny-populated state. So, I have a little experience with white, rural America, and a little experience with diverse, urban America.

Here in Los Angeles, my family and I are surrounded by immigrants, transplants, and homegrown Angelinos of every imaginable ethnicity, class, race, and religion. My kid goes to public school, so we have seen first hand how a group of racially, ethnically, socio-economically, academically, and behaviorally diverse little people can come together and immediately form a little society. My white kid is a minority at her school. This isn't a bubble. It couldn't possibly be - we are all so very very different from one another.

Just because our experiences are diverse and co-existing humans has led us to be more collectively progressive in our views doesn't mean we live in a bubble. It means, as they say, that the arc of human thought and action bends toward progress. Always has. The more we work to get through each day together in a large city, the more we realize that we are all in this together, that we need to exist and protect and align with one another: that's progressivism in a nutshell. We co-exist in this city, sharing our experiences, our ideas, our troubles, our triumphs. We come together when we know someone is in need, we create micro-communities within our communities, we know each other's names. That's not a bubble.

A bubble is being surrounded by people who look and think exactly like you. That's a bubble. If you lack the intellectual curiosity to suss out the difference between fake news and real news - and then just automatically doubt the reporting of the real news, you're in a bubble. If you have convinced yourself that a man who uses the kind of bullying, hurtful language that our president-elect uses, is worthy of our higher office: bubble. Bubble. Bubble. If you think his cowardly and cruel heart is somehow honorable, bubble. Awful bubble.

To Hollywood, specifically, being an “elitist” bubble, I invite any of you to please come visit a set. Nearly every single person on that set belongs to a union. Nearly every single person, save maybe the very biggest stars (who have earned their money and acclaim are shouldn't be excluded from the conversation just because they happened to succeed) are working- and middle-class. Electricians, grips, sound designers, hair and makeup artists, PAs, most actors, costume designers, editors, line producers, location managers, camera ops, DPs, casting directors, set dressers and designers -- most of us are just independent contractors working from job to job. Union workers, just like a mason or a police officer or a plumber.

Lastly, to the point that Meryl should shut up, that actors / entertainers / performers / makers / creators / artists shouldn't speak about politics or current affairs - this might be the point that pisses me off the most. The entire reason art exists, in every single form, is to illuminate, explore, dissect, and attempt to explain the human experience. Since the dawn of man, since people could speak, artists - STORYTELLERS - have helped us understand ourselves. When a movie makes you cry or a TV show makes you laugh or a painting has taken your breath away or a piece of writing has made you blink in disbelief at its beauty or a song has given you goosies from head to toe - even if it is escapist art - it is because some part of you recognizes yourself within the art. Maybe not even you, personally, but yourself as a member of the human race.

Actors, creators, artists, we are all just storytellers. It's our one job. Art is inherently political, and it always, always, always has been. So to the people on the right who want us to shut up, nice try. We've never been able to shut up - it's precisely why we, even the shyest among us, became artists in the first place. So, as we say in California: yeah, no. We aren't shutting up. We're turning up, now more than ever. Make your own shit if you don't like it. Dare ya.

Artists: let's get to work. It's annoying them. That means it's working.

If you feel like I felt the past few months, I hope you will find inspiration to create art. Don't wait for others to invite you to create. Start on your own. And if you are inspired to create something, let us know what it is. We would love to hear it.

As for me, neighbors, inspired by my edible forest front yard, came over today. I gave them a tour of our garden and told them how we are harvesting and storing water with Hügels and ditches, with drought tolerant plants and native flowers. I showed them what vegetables and herbs we have planted and how we are protecting our plants from the scorching sun with arches and plants that will grow in during spring. They are inspired to have a garden like ours and I offered to help.

This will be the year for me where I can put my knowledge and pass it on and who knows, maybe these next four years I will work toward transforming our neighborhood into a sustainable community.


This Week's Must Read

HERE ARE THIS WEEK'S BEST ARTICLES ABOUT THEATRE AND THE PERFORMING ARTS:

  • A Noise Within in Pasadena discuss their production of Molière's The Imaginary Invalid  (American Theatre)
  • Millennial Playwrights in the UK pick shows that have stayed with them (Guardian)
  • Although not theatre, I'm excited about George Lucas' museum coming to LA, right next to USC, its rightful home (LA Times)
  • Playwright Lisa Loomer discusses her precinct play Roe, inspired by the Roe v Wade case, which opened this week in DC (Guardian)
  • McNulty reports on Gordon Davidson's Memorial this week (LA Times)
  • Critics Ben Brantley and Wesley Morris discuss August Wilson's impact (NY Times)
  • A dialogue on theatre criticism in the digital age (Exeunt Magazine)
  • Playwright Ayad Akhtar (Disgraced) gives a wonderful speech on the arts being reduced to monetary value (American Theatre)
  • Eloquence and literary power make President Obama one of the nation's great orators (LA Times)
  • An interview with Yuval Sharon about the music of Hopscotch the mobile opera (Theatre Times)

What "must read" stories in the arts did you encounter this week?
 
 


Creativity in a Time of Grief

Although I've officially been the Editor in Chief of the new and improved Better Lemons since November, this is my first article. I've sat down a few times to write something - about how we need to be taking risks and creating magic on our stages, about bringing the theatre community together, about my passion for the performing arts and my deep deep love and appreciation for LA theatre. However, every time I sat down to write, nothing came out. I've had a terrible case of writer's block, which is really a pain for any form of writer. The past few months, I've had trouble focusing - I couldn't think about risks, or community, or even theatre magic because I was busy thinking, or rather worrying, about my mother.
Although my mother encouraged me to study architecture as a backup plan, she never discouraged me from pursuing a career in the performing arts. In fact, after a mental breakdown from too many sleepless nights in the architecture studio, I told my mother that I was officially switching to theatre. Her first words were, “I'm so sorry I ever convinced you to study architecture. The stage is always where you've belonged.”  I, however, wasn't sorry. She knew just how difficult life was and she made sure to prepare me for anything and everything. I loved my time in architecture, but it's not where my heart was. She was right, for me it was always the stage.
At the end of 2015 my mother saw me act for the first time since high school. I was in Love and Information at Son of Semele. She walked in and I could hear her laughing from backstage, proudly telling everyone that she was my mother, her joy overflowing. I was so happy for her to see me on stage again. Yet, there was also deep deep concern. My mother had cirrhosis of the liver and it was taking its toll on her. She had been very unsteady her trip to LA to see the show and by this point there had been countless falls throughout the year and even more hospital visits. There was now a shroud of anxiety around my mother - as if she would spontaneously combust or crack into a million little pieces.
This past year, I decided to lead a devised show for a festival (opening soon). I started the project just after I put my mother into hospice, knowing that she probably wouldn't make it to Christmas. The producer asked me if I wanted to hold off, maybe produce my show later. When my mother was still “with it” she told me she didn't want me to stop living my life because of her illness. Thus, I told the producer, “The best way to honor my mother, is to do the work.”  And that's exactly what I did.
Throughout this intense creation process I've had to deal with calls nearly every other day about my mother's decline. Over Thanksgiving I emptied out her apartment, but made sure no one told her - she still thought there was a chance she could go home. Though a trained actor, I've never been good at lying. Pretending that she could one day leave was one of the hardest roles of my life. However, this was the stage I was standing on - the role of caretaker. After emptying out her apartment and selling all her belongings, she asked me, “when do I get to go home?” I simply replied, “well, mama, let's see what the doctors say, ok?”
It always took me at least a couple of days to recover from visiting my mother. I'd cry while trying to be brave for her. I'd try even harder to be patient with her. However, I've never had time to wallow or rest because, just like my mother, I am a workaholic. There were points during rehearsals for the devised piece where I wondered if I should have waited to do the show. At the same time, I was also grateful to have the distraction.
We took two weeks off of rehearsal for the holidays. I was going to spend the break doing some work for the show to ensure it would be ready for tech mid-January. Of course, no work got done. My mother made it to Christmas but by that point was already in a long process of dying.
I watched a lot of doctor shows growing up (my mom's favorite), they don't depict just how awful and traumatic dying can be. There was no peaceful “I love you” or her simply closing her eyes and being gently taken away by angels. No. She kicked, and bit, and screamed and fought. She was weak but kept trying to get up and walk around, so the staff had to put her on a matress on the floor with some floor pads down on each side. This way she could drag herself around her room without the risk of falling. The final day she was mostly still and slowly, laboriously breathing. Why isn't any of this something shown on tv or film or stage? Maybe it's too hard to watch. Maybe it's too hard to believe. I couldn't believe it myself and I was living it.
My mother died just after midnight on Friday, December 30th at 59 years old. The first thing I felt was mainly relief - as it had been a long and tumultuous road. Nothing was ever easy for my mother, other than her love for me - which poured out freely. It certainly wasn't easy to watch this magnificent warrior woman who forged me from the ashes of all her trauma and pain to make something beautiful, slowly dwindle and waste away.
Just four days after my mother's death I had rehearsal. I didn't want to go. I felt overwhelmingly underprepared and I simply wasn't in a place to deal with people. It felt strange continuing on when I had this large chunk missing from my chest, where phantom pain had been making it difficult to breathe but easy to cry. As we say, however, the show must go on.
Slowly in that first rehearsal the fog had started to lift. I could think clearer and went nearly 6 hours without crying. I was (and am) thankful to have this creative outlet, to have my ensemble all relying on me to lead the way. They've been lifting me up everyday. What a gift. It's true, the greatest way to honor my mother is to do the work.
And so, that's just what I'll do. I'll continue to do the work. With the opening of each new show, if I sit in the theatre, close my eyes and listen, maybe, just maybe, I'll hear her amazing laugh as she proudly declares “I'm Ashley's mom.”
Thank you mama. For everything.


Gordon Davidson Memorial on Monday, January 9th

Gordon Davidson's Memorial is set for Monday, January 9, 2017 AT 7:30PM at the Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Gordon Davidson, Center Theatre Group's Founding Artistic Director, who passed away on October 2, 2016, was one of America's most renowned and beloved artistic visionaries. He led Center Theatre Group for 38 years, shaping the company into one of the most creative and important theatres in the world. Under his leadership, the Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, and Kirk Douglas Theatre was the birthplace of many of the most acclaimed dramatic works of the second half of the Twentieth Century and a launching pad for the careers of dozens of playwrights, actors, directors, designers, and theatre administrators.
Gordon's passionate dramatic, social, and political convictions forever altered and expanded the theatrical landscape in Los Angeles and the place of theatre in American culture. He was and will remain one of the American theatre's greatest leaders. I was proud to call him a mentor, friend, and colleague.
Center Theatre Group will hold a celebration in honor of Gordon Davidson, on Monday, January 9, 2017, beginning at 7:30pm at the Ahmanson Theatre. The theatre will open at 7pm. The celebration is a non-ticketed, open event. ASL and audio description will be provided.
Additional details can be found on the CTG website.


Alexandra Billings to Host 27th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards

[PRESS RELEASE]
Alexandra Billings has been set to host the 27th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, January 17 at the Ahmanson Theatre at The Music Center. Red carpet arrivals begin at 6pm and the ceremony begins at 7:30pm.
Actress, singer, author, teacher, and activist Alexandra Billings stars as Davina on Amazon's multi-award-winning series Transparent. She played Donna in the ABC film Romy and Michelle: A New Beginning, one of the first times a transgender actress played a transgender character on television. Other TV credits include guest starring appearances on How to Get Away with Murder, Grey's Anatomy, ER, and Nurses (with Lynn Redgrave). She stars in the upcoming feature film Valley of Bones. Billings has been acting since 1968 and has performed in hundreds of plays and musicals across the United States. Her autobiographical solo show Before I Disappear toured from Chicago to Boston to Los Angeles and then off-Broadway where it received rave reviews and ran for over 10 years. She recently performed her newest solo piece, S/He and Me at Cal State Long Beach. Billings' activism stretches across the continent. In 2016 she moderated a panel during Transgender Awareness Month at the White House. She has won the TPA Award and the Rainbow Spirit Award and was inducted into the Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in Chicago. Living with AIDS since the mid-80s, Billings chronicles her life's journey in her blog Stilettos and Sneakers, and she is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. From Schoolboy to Showgirl: The Alexandra Billings Story, aired on PBS and received an Emmy Award nomination for Best Documentary.
“The great gift of what we do as artists is to celebrate the human condition,” said Billings. “I am so excited to be in the room with so many humans who believe that what we do is attempt, in the best way we can, to replicate the history of where we've been so that where we're headed can be brighter, more beautiful, and more glorious than we ever dreamed. And then to hand that story to as many other humans as we can. And I'm thrilled to do this with as much hope and as many sequins as possible.”
Los Angeles theatre notables scheduled to be presenters are (in alphabetical order) Luis Alfaro, Michael Arden, Randall Arney, Jon Robin Baitz, EB Brooks, Sara Ryung Clement, Paul Crewes, Dale Dickey, Sheldon Epps, Marilyn Fox, Beth Grant, Elizabeth Harper, Rajiv Joseph, Richard Montoya, Oanh Nguyen, Mitch O'Farrell, Bill Pullman, Diane Rodriguez, Ric Salinas, Del Shores, Herbert Siguenza, Jimmi Simpson, Ali Stroker, and Kitty Swink. All appearances are subject to change. Musical numbers will be presented by DOMA Theatre Company.
Sponsors for this year's Ovation Awards ceremony are Wells Fargo, Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment, F&D Scene Changes Ltd., UCLA School of Theater, Film & Television, Goldstar, USC School of Dramatic Arts, Ken Werther Publicity, Bakers Man Productions, Time Out Los Angeles, TheaterMania | OvationTix, Performances Magazine, Variety, and Peter Konerko Photography. The Ovation Awards are presented in partnership with the New York Drama Desk Awards.
For more information and details on how to attend the Ovation Awards ceremony on January 17, visit OvationAwards.com. #OvationAwards


THE 25th ANNUAL TICKETHOLDER AWARDS, 2016

Boy, time flies when you're appreciating art. This is my 25th year creating my annual TicketHolder Awards, which began in the now defunct Beverly Hills Post a friggin' quarter-century ago. I actually began reviewing theatre in El Lay 30 years ago this month in what was then The Tolucan, now Tolucan Times—a publication the late-great Mr. Blackwell once complained when angry at our boss had a circulation of 20 blocks. Doing graphic art for magazines and newspapers as a survival job, I pitched the Tolucan editor in January 1987 to write a review of a play which had opened in NoHo without any publicity, produced by a theatre company of which I was a member. The next week, I was asked if I'd be interested in writing another review for the paper and so my three-decade journey as a critic began. I was told then if I continued to write reviews I would virtually hammer in the final nail into the already battered coffin of my once promising acting career, but I never was one to listen to reason—obviously.

Along the way, I was editor of LA Theatre Magazine, served as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today for 21 years, and wrote weekly critiques for Backstage for 15 years before the greedy new owners decided to scrap theatre reviews on both coasts—in a publication called Backstage, mind you. For the last several years, I have written for Arts in LA, helmed by my former Backstage editor Dany Margolies, and have contributed to many other publications, many of which hosted my nomadic TicketHolder Awards over the years. My stubborn and reckless determination that I could act and also write reviews as long as I did both with honesty and integrity proved its most gratifying in 2001 when I was awarded a LA Drama Critics Award for Leading Performance, meaning I'd finally earned the respect of my understandably wary colleagues, for my work as Joe Orton's mentor-executioner-lover Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Lanie Robertson's Nasty Little Secrets. Seeing my first effort as a playwright, Surprise Surprise, which debuted here in LA at the Victory Theatre Center, turned into a feature film in 2010 was also one more indication I was appreciated and so, despite earning the majority of my living these days coaching spoiled divas from the sidelines and teaching acting at New York Film Academy, I'm still wearing both of my original hats on a regular basis—although these days only if there happens to be the occasional need for a geriatric priest, a mentally incapacitated adult, or an old gay man with a long sad monologue.

All this is noted during my 30th year obsessing over such an unprofitable madness as supporting, defending, and creating art in a town where such noble efforts are hardly appreciated at all. I herein for the 25th time offer my choices for the best work done this year in our poor maligned desert climes by our stalwart little theatrical community despite everything we do and why we do it being thwarted and dismantled by a union of which I have been affiliated for over six decades. For many years, at the end of every bio, I proclaimed to be a “proud member of Actors Equity Association.” Now, I'm about as proud being a 60-year-plus member of AEA as Mariah Carey must be of her performance ringing in the New Year.

BEST PRODUCTION OF 2016

Church & State

Disgraced, Mark Taper Forum

Colony Collapse, Theatre @ Boston Court

Thom Pain (based on nothing), Geffen Playhouse

Casa Valentina, Pasadena Playhouse

Dream Catcher, Fountain Theatre

Past Time, Sacred Fools

Stage Kiss, Geffen Playhouse

One of the Nice Ones, Echo Theater Company

Church & State, Skylight Theatre Company

The Engine of Our Ruin, Victory Theatre Center

Captain of the Bible Quiz Team, Rogue Machine at various locations

Blueberry Toast, Echo Theatre Company

Barbecue, Geffen Playhouse

Go Back to Where You Are, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Space, Stella Adler Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: An Act of God, CTG/Ahmanson; Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, Celebration Theatre; City of Conversation, Wallis Center; D Deb Debbie Deborah, Theatre of NOTE; Dry Land, Echo Theater Company; The Play About the Baby, Road Theatre Company; Please Don't Ask About Becket, Sacred Fools; The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare), Blank Theatre

BEST REVIVAL PRODUCTION

View From The Bridge

A View from the Bridge, Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre

Endgame, Center Theatre Group, Kirk Douglas Theatre

The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe, Los Angeles LGBT Center

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Center Theatre Group, Mark Taper Forum

A Taste of Honey, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, Pacific Resident Theatre

Baby Doll, Fountain Theatre

Cloud 9, Antaeus Theatre Company

BEST MUSICAL PRODUCTION

Urinetown

Urinetown the Musical, Coeurage Theatre Company

A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre

Amelie the Musical, Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre

Cabaret, Pantages Theatre

When Jazz Had the Blues, Matrix Theatre

The Boy from Oz, Celebration Theatre

Kinky Boots, Pantages Theatre

Newsies, Pantages Theatre

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Pantages Theatre

The Toxic Avenger Musical, Good People Theater Company

La Cage Aux Folles, East West Players

RUNNERS-UP: Bullets Over Broadway, Pantages; Grey Gardens, CTG/Ahmanson; White Christmas, Pantages

BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY

Rob Nagle, Church & State, Skylight Theatre Company
Alan Mandell, Endgame, Center Theatre Group, Kirk Douglas Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: Sam Anderson, The Play About the Baby, Road Theatre Company; Larry Bates, The Mountaintop, Matrix; Albert Dayan, Blueberry Toast, Echo; Hari Dhillon, Disgraced, Taper; Andrew Dits, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, PRT; Stefan Marks, Space, Adler; Johnathan McClain, Four Chords and a Gun, Bootleg; Barry McGovern, Endgame, CTG/Douglas; Leon Russom, Past Time, Sacred Fools; French Stewart, Past Time, Sacred Fools; Brian Tichnell, Dream Catcher, Fountain; York Walker, The Mystery of Love and Sex, CTG/Taper; Frederick Weller, A View from the Bridge, CTG/Ahmanson; Time Winter, The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare), Blank

BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Eccentricities Of Nightingale

Ginna Carter, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, Pacific Resident Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: Deanna Dunagan, The Revisionist, Wallis; Elizabeth Frances, Dream Catcher, Fountain; Taylor Gilbert, The Play About the Baby, Road Theatre Company; Emily Goss, A Gulag Mouse, Sacred Fools; Rebecca Gray, One of the Nice Ones, Echo; Connor Kelly-Eiding, Dry Land, Echo; Christine Lahti, City of Conversation, Wallis; Lindsay LaVanchy, Baby Doll, Fountain; Kestrel Leah, A Taste of Honey, Odyssey; Traci Lockwood, Church & State, Skylight; Andrus Nichols, A View from the Bridge, CTG/Ahmanson; Rachel Parker, Space, Adler; Susan Priver, Kingdom of Earth, Odyssey; Teagan Rose, Dry Land, Echo; Sarah Underwood Saviano, A Taste of Honey, Odyssey; Samantha Smart, Space, Adler; Emily Swallow, Disgraced, Taper; Danielle Truitt, The Mountaintop, Matrix; Jacqueline Wright, Blueberry Toast, Echo

BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Disgraced

Darren Criss, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Pantages Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: Joey Barreiro, Newsies, Pantages; Daniel Bellusci, Urinetown the Musical, Coeurage; Jon Jon Briones, La Cage Aux Folles, East West Players; Jeff Brooks, Bullets Over Broadway, Pantages; Jared Gertner, I Only Have Eyes For You, Montalban; John Rapson, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, CTG/Ahmanson; Jared Reed, The Toxic Avenger Musical, Good People; Gedde Watanabe, La Cage Aux Folles, East West Players

BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Rachel York, Grey Gardens, Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: Kerry Conte, White Christmas, Pantages; Kim Dalton, The Toxic Avenger Musical, Good People; Andrea Goss, Cabaret, Pantages; Morgan Keene, Newsies, Pantages; Phillipa Soo, Amelie the Musical, CTG/Ahmanson; Michole Briana White, When Jazz Had the Blues, Matrix

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A PLAY

Ben Horwitz, Dry Land, Echo Theatre Company

RUNNERS-UP: Tony Abatemarco, The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare), Blank; Chad Brannon, The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare), Blank; Bill Brochtrup, Cloud 9, Antaeus; Bo Foxworth, Cloud 9, Antaeus; James Greene, Endgame, CTG/Douglas; Steve Hofvendahl, The Engine of Our Ruin, Victory; Gregory Hoyt, The Engine of Our Ruin, Victory; Leland Montgomery, A Taste of Honey, Odyssey; Jason Ritter, City of Conversation, Wallis; Thomas Jay Ryan, A View from the Bridge, CTG/Ahmanson; Rodney To, One of the Nice Ones, Echo; Josh Weber, Past Time, Sacred Fools

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A PLAY

Frances Fisher, Barbecue, Geffen Playhouse

RUNNERS-UP: Lisa Banes, Women Laughing Alone With Salad, CTG/Douglas; Catherine Combs, A View from the Bridge, CTG/Ahmanson; Susan Denaker, The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare), Blank; Dale Dickey, Barbecue, Geffen; Julia Griswold, Past Time, Sacred Fools; Tara Karsian, One of the Nice Ones, Echo; Karen Kondazian, Baby Doll, Fountain; Michael Learned, City of Conversation, Wallis; Abigail Marks, Cloud 9, Antaeus; Annika Marks, Church & State, Skylight; Arden Myrin, Four Chords and a Gun, Bootleg; Karen Pittman, Disgraced, CTG/Taper; Deborah Puette, Cloud 9, Antaeus; Charlotte Rae, Endgame, CTG/Douglas; Jennie Soo, Dry Land, Echo; Rebecca Wisocky, Barbecue, Geffen

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL

Randy Harrison, Cabaret, Pantages Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: Ted Barton, Urinetown the Musical, Coeurage; Gilbert Glenn Brown, When Jazz Had the Blues, Matrix; Stephen Michael Langton, Newsies, Pantages; Mark Nelson, Cabaret, Pantages; Andy Richardson, Newsies, Pantages; Lee Aaron Rosen, Cabaret, Pantages; Conrad John Schuck, White Christmas, Pantages; Tony Sheldon, Amelie the Musical, CTG/Ahmanson; Allen Lucky Weaver, La Cage Aux Folles, East West Players

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL

Betty Buckley, Grey Gardens, Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: Janna Cardia, Urinetown the Musical, Coeurage; Shannon Cochran, Cabaret, Pantages; Hannah Rose Del'Flumeri, Bullets Over Broadway, Pantages; Alison Ewing, Cabaret, Pantages; Kelly Lester, The Boy from Oz, Celebration; Shirley Anne Hatton, The Toxic Avenger Musical, Good People; Lorna Luft, White Christmas, Pantages; Kristen Mengelkoch, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, CTG/Ahmanson; Bess Motta, The Boy from Oz, Celebration; Jessica Pennington, The Boy from Oz, Celebration; Mary VanArsdel, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, CTG/Ahmanson

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN A PLAY

Leandro Cano, Julie Cardia, Paula Christiansen, Chris Conner, Adrian Gonzalez, Sally Hughes, Emily James, Jully Lee, Tracey Leigh, Riley Neldam; Colony Collapse, Theatre @ Boston Court

RUNNERS-UP:
Christian Clemenson, Nike Doukas, Valerie Mahaffey, Robert Mammana, Raymond McAnally, Lawrence Pressman, James Snyder, Mark Jude Sullivan, John Vickery, Casa Valentina, Pasadena Playhouse

Kerr Lordygan, Greg Nussen, Alina Phelan, Jenny Soo, Travis York, D Deb Debbie Deborah, Theatre of NOTE

Bill Brochtrup, John Fleck, Annabelle Gurwitch, Justin Huen, Shannon Holt, Jeffrey Hutchinson, Andrew Walke, Go Back to Where You Are, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Graham Hamilton, Rebecca Gray, Tara Karsian, Rodney To, One of the Nice Ones, Echo Theater Company

Hunter Garner, Rob Nagle, Deborah Puette, Rachel Seiferth, Please Don't Ask About Becket, Sacred Fools Theatre

Julia Aks, Charlotte Gulezian, Joe Hart, Julianne Chidi Hill, Kristina Johnson, Kimberly Jurgen, Bellina Logan, Jeremy Luke, Ann Noble, Sasha Pasternak, Anny Rosario, Rachel Sorsa, The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe, Los Angeles LGBT Center

Tim Bagley, Melody Butiu, Stephen Caffrey, Glenne Headly, Emily James, Barry Del Sherman, Matthew Scott Montgomery, Stage Kiss, Geffen Playhouse

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN A MUSICAL

Zach Adkins, Joe Beauregard, Meryn Beckett, Damien Brett, Jim J. Bullock, Joseph Anthony Byrd, E. Clayton Cornelious, Sam Dowling, Alex Dreschke, Annie Edgerton, Tiffany Engen, Jhazz Fleming, J. Harrison Ghee, Shawna M. Hamic, Charissa Hogeland, Adam Kaplan, Patty Lohr, Hudson Loverro, Ellen Marlow, Michael Milkanin, Ashley Moniz, Jennifer Noble, JP Qualters, Aidan Passaro, Jomil Elijah Robinson, Sam Rohloff, Horace V. Rogers, Tom Souhrada, Josh Tolle, Juan Torres-Falcon, Aaron Walpole, Sam Zeller, Kinky Boots, Pantages Theatre

SPECIAL ENSEMBLE WITHIN AN ENSEMBLE AWARD

Keith David, Jason Dirden, Damon Gupton, Glynn Turman, Lillis White, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Center Theatre Group, Mark Taper Forum

NEW DISCOVERY 2016

Savvy Crawford, Amelie the Musical, Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: Ethan Barker, Urinetown the Musical, Coeurage; Michayla Brown, The Boy from Oz, Celebration; Wesley Tunison, The Toxic Avenger Musical, Good People;

BEST SOLO PERFORMANCE

Rainn Wilson, Thom Pain (based on nothing), Geffen Playhouse

RUNNERS-UP: Drew Doege, Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, Celebration; Sam Harris, Ham, Los Angeles LGBT Center; Sean Hayes, An Act of God, CTG/Ahmanson; James Lecesne, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, CTG/Douglas; Deborah Puette, Captain of the Bible Quiz Team, Rogue Machine; Barbara Tarbuck, Stopping By, Edgemar Center

BEST CABARET PERFORMANCE

Adam Pascal and Anthony Rapp, Acoustically Speaking: Celebrating 20 Years of Friendship, Catalina Bar & Grill

BEST PLAYWRIGHT

Will Eno, Thom Pain (based on nothing), Geffen Playhouse

RUNNERS-UP: Ayad Akhtar, Disgraced, CTG/Taper; John Ross Bowie, Four Chords and a Gun, Bootleg; Drew Doege, Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, Celebration; Padraic Duffy, Past Time, Sacred Fools; Harvey Fierstein, Casa Valentina, Pasadena Playhouse; Wendy Graf, Please Don't Ask About Becket, Sacred Fools; David Greenspan, Go Back to Where You Are, Odyssey; Katori Hall, The Mountaintop, Matrix; David Javerbaum, An Act of God, CTG/Ahmanson; Tom Jacobson, Captain of the Bible Quiz Team, Rogue Machine; Mary Laws, Blueberry Toast, Echo; Jerry Lieblich, D Deb Debbie Deborah, Theatre of NOTE; Stefan Marks, Space, Adler; Robert O'Hara, Barbecue, Geffen; Eric Patterson, One of the Nice Ones, Echo; Stephen Sachs, Dream Catcher, Fountain; Ruby Rae Spiegel, Dry Land, Echo; Jane Wagner, The Search for…, LA LGBT Center; Jason Wells, The Engine of Our Ruin, Victory; Jason Odell Williams, Church & State, Skylight; Stefanie Zadravec, Colony Collapse, Boston Court

BEST ADAPTATION OR TRANSLATION

Robert L. Freeman, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: Joe DiPietro, The Toxic Avenger Musical, Good People; Harvey Fierstein, Kinky Boots, Pantages; Harvey Fierstein, Newsies, Pantages; Daniel Henning, The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare), Blank; David Ives and Paul Blake, White Christmas, Pantages; Pierre Laville and Emily Mann, Baby Doll, Fountain; Craig Lucas, Amelie the Musical, CTG/Ahmanson; Doug Wright, Grey Gardens, CTG/Ahmanson

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY

Ivo von Hove, A View from the Bridge, Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: Jeremy Aldridge, Past Time, Sacred Fools; Bart DeLorenzo, Go Back to Where You Are, Odyssey; Bart DeLorenzo, Stage Kiss, Geffen; Elina DeSantos, Church & State, Skylight; Alana Dietze, Dry Land, Echo; Chris Fields, One of the Nice Ones, Echo; Maria Gobetti, The Engine of Our Ruin, Victory; Jessica Hanna, Four Chords and a Gun, Bootleg; Daniel Henning, The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare), Blank; Dana Jackson, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, PRT; Jessica Kubzansky, Colony Collapse, Boston Court; Simon Levy, Baby Doll, Fountain; Alan Mandell, Endgame, CTG/Douglas; Doug Oliphant, D Deb Debbie Deborah, Theatre of NOTE; Danielle Ozmandias, A Gulag Mouse, Sacred Fools; Phylicia Rashad, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, CTG/Taper; Kim Rubinstein, A Taste of Honey, Odyssey; Ken Sawyer, The Search for…, LA LGBT Center; Kiff Scholl, Please Don't Ask About Becket, Sacred Fools; Kimberly Senior, Disgraced, Taper; Michael Urie, Bright Colors and Bold Patterns, Celebration; Cameron Watson, Dream Catcher, Fountain; Dustin Wills, Blueberry Toast, Echo

BEST DIRECTION OF A MUSICAL

Kari Hayter, Urinetown the Musical, Coeurage Theatre Company

RUNNERS-UP: Jeff Calhoun, Newsies, Pantages; Tim Dang, La Cage Aux Folles, East West Players; John Henry Davis, When Jazz Had the Blues, Matrix; Pam MacKinnon, Amelie the Musical, CTG/Ahmanson; Janet Miller, The Toxic Avenger Musical, Good People; Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots, Pantages; Michael A. Shepperd, The Boy from Oz, Celebration; Randy Skinner, White Christmas, Pantages; Darko Tresnjak, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, CTG/Ahmanson; Michael Wilson, Grey Gardens, CTG/Ahmanson

BEST MUSICAL SCORE

Nathan Tysen and Daniel Masse, Amelie the Musical, Center Theatre Groupo, Ahmanson Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: Peter Allen, The Boy from Oz, Celebration; David Bryan, The Toxic Avenger Musical, Good People; Robert L. Freeman and Steven Lutvak, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, CTG/Ahmanson; Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis, Urinetown the Musical, Coeurage; John Kander and Fred Ebb, Cabaret, Pantages; Cyndi Lauper, Kinky Boots, Pantages; Alan Menken and Jack Feldman, Newsies, Pantages; John Nobori, Colony Collapse, Boston Court

BEST MUSICAL DIRECTION

Gregory Nabours, Urinetown the Musical, Coeurage Theatre Company

RUNNERS-UP: Rahn Coleman, When Jazz Had the Blues, Matrix; Robert Cookman, Cabaret, Pantages; Lawrence Goldberg, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, CTG/Ahmanson; Kimberly Grigsby, Amelie the Musical, CTG/Ahmanson; Corey Hirsch, The Toxic Avenger Musical, Good People; Marc Macalintal, La Cage Aux Folles, East West Players; Todd Schroeder, Ham, Los Angeles LGBT Center; Gerald Sternbach, I Only Have Eyes For You, Montalban

BEST CHOREOGRAPHY

Christopher M. Albrecht, Urinetown the Musical, Coeurage Theatre Company

RUNNERS-UP: Kay Cole, I Only Have Eyes For You, Montalban; Cassie Crump, When Jazz Had the Blues, Matrix; Christopher Gattelli, Newsies, Pantages; Reggie Lee, La Cage Aux Folles, East West Players; Jerry Mitchell, Kinky Boots, Pantages; Janet Roston, The Boy from Oz, Celebration; Randy Skinner, White Christmas, Pantages; Susan Stroman, Bullets Over Broadway, Pantages

BEST SET DESIGN

Tom Buderwitz, Casa Valentina, Pasadena Playhouse

RUNNERS UP: Evan Bartoletti, The Engine of Our Ruin, Victory; Jeff Cowie, City of Conversation, Wallis;, CTG/Ahmanson; Jeff Cowie, Grey Gardens, CTG/Ahmanson; Susan Gratch, Colony Collapse, Boston Court; John Iocovelli, Endgame, CTG/Douglas; Amanda Knehans, One of the Nice Ones, Echo; David Offner, Four Chords and a Gun, Bootleg; Scott Pask, An Act of God, CTG/Ahmanson; Alexander Dodge, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder CTG/Ahmanson; David Rockwell, Kinky Boots, Pantages; Keith Mitchell, Stage Kiss, Geffen; David Zinn, Amelie the Musical, CTG/Ahmanson

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Michael Mullen, The Boy from Oz, Celebration Theatre

RUNNERS-UP: Gregg Barnes, Kinky Boots, Pantages; Kate Bergh, Casa Valentina, Pasadena Playhouse; Linda Cho, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, CTG/Ahmanson; Ann Closs-Farley, Women Laughing Alone With Salad, CTG/Douglas; Christine Cover Ferro, The Eccentricities of a Nightingale, PRT; Jess Goldstein, Newsies, Pantages; Garry Lennon, Colony Collapse, Boston Court; Naila Aladdin Sanders, The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare), Blank; A. Jeffrey Schoenberg, Cloud 9, Antaeus; Ilona Somogyi, Grey Gardens, CTG/Ahmanson; David Zinn, Amelie the Musical, CTG/Ahmanson

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN

Jared A. Sayeg, Casa Valentina, Pasadena Playhouse

RUNNERS-UP: Brandon Baruch, I Only Have Eyes For You, Montalban; Brandon Baruch, The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare), Blank; Howard Binkley, Grey Gardens, CTG/Ahmanson; Christine A. Binder, Disgraced, Taper; Justin Huen, Dry Land, Echo; Luke Moyer, Dream Catcher, Fountain; Kenneth Posner, Kinky Boots, Pantages; Matt Richards, The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, CTG/Douglas; Phillip S. Rosenberg, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, CTG/Ahmanson; Jared A. Sayeg, Endgame, CTG/Douglas; Jaymi Lee Smith, Big Sky, Geffen; Jan Versweyveld, A View from the Bridge, CTG/Ahmanson

BEST SOUND DESIGN

John Zalewski, The Revisionist, Wallis Performing Arts Center

RUNNERS-UP: Phillip G. Allen, Casa Valentina, Pasadena Playhouse; John Ballinger, Stage Kiss, Geffen; Peter Bayne, Dream Catcher, Fountain; Jeff Gardner, Dry Land, Echo; Tom Gibbons, A View from the Bridge, CTG/Ahmanson; Jon Gottlieb, Big Sky, Geffen; Cricket Myers, Four Chords and a Gun, Bootleg; John Nobori, Colony Collapse, Boston Court; Dan Moses Schreier, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, CTG/Ahmanson; John Shivers, Kinky Boots, Pantages; Jon Weston, Grey Gardens, CTG/Ahmanson; Mark McClain Wilson, D Deb Debbie Deborah, Theatre of NOTE

BEST STUNT / FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY

Ahmet Best, Blueberry Toast, Echo Theatre Company

RUNNERS-UP: Edgar Landa, That Pretty Pretty; or, The Rape Play, Son of Semele; Steve Rankin, Big Sky, Geffen; Unkledave's Fight-House, Disgraced, CTG/Taper

BEST CGI / VIDEO DESIGN

Nicholas Santiago, The Search for Intelligent Life in the Universe, Los Angeles LGBT Center

RUNNERS-UP: Corwin Evans, Four Chords and a Gun, Bootleg; Hana Sooyeon Kim, City of Conversation, Wallis; Peter Nigrini, David Zinn, Amelie the Musical, CTG/Ahmanson; Aaron Rhyne, A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder, CTG/Ahmanson; Nicholas Santiago, Church & State, Skylight; Jason H. Thompson, Grey Gardens, CTG/Ahmanson

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENTS

Charles LaPointe, Amelie the Musical, CTG/Ahmanson; Zorro J. Susel, Make-Up Design, The Toxic Avenger Musical, Good People; Lauren Wilde, Wig Design, Four Chords and a Gun, Bootleg


Theatre Lemonade of 2016

Although I've only been the Editor in Chief of the new and improved Better Lemons since November, I've been actively seeing (and making) theatre this year. Here are some of my favourites.
1984 by Headlong Theatre at the Broad Stage. I had just moved back to LA from London when this show opened in London and made my husband go see it on my behalf. Needless to say I was delighted when Headlong brought their adaptation of George Orwell's novel to the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. This brilliantly crafted production highlights the paranoia of what we think we know.
Tempest Redux adapted and directed by John Farmanesh-Bocca at the Odyssey Theatre. Not only does Farmanesh-Bocca highlight the absurd comedy in this piece, he also brings out a deeply human and heart-breaking story of a father's love for his daughter and what one will do to protect that love. I had the pleasure of interviewing Farmanesh-Bocca where we discussed refining Shakespeare's language and incorporating heightened physicality.
Ameryka by Nancy Keystone and Critical Mass Performance Group at Shakespeare LA. This 3 hour saga of Polish-American relations since the Revolutionary War is a gargantuan undertaking highlighting the company's impeccable ensemble work. Although the overall production is flawed, its ambition is strikingly beautiful. I'll never forget the scene where Gene drags a suitcase full of bricks, unloading each brick as an emblem of deep racial prejudice and hatred that has weighed him down as a black man in America.
Endgame by Samuel Beckett at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Starring Beckett veterans Barry McGovern and Alan Mandell (who also directed), this production perfectly captures the absurdity of the human need to fill the void. It's dark and bleak, and, to quote Nell, “Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.”
My Mañana Comes by Elizabeth Irwin at the Fountain Theatre. This fast-paced drama about a group of men working as busboys in a busy restaurant encapsulates the pressures of working in the service industry, especially when their management starts to cut their pay.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom by August Wilson at the Mark Taper Forum. Phylicia Rashad superbly directs this production whose ensemble never lets the pace and poetry drop. With equal parts humor and pathos, this show, although written in 1984 and about the 1920s, still resonates today.
Among Us by Marike Splint as part of the LAX Festival. This site specific piece takes us into Union Station in the morning where we listen on headsets about the nature of people, community, and transience. Then in the afternoon, we gather again in a local park where the same calm voice on the headset guides us through a series of questions.
The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh at the Mark Taper Forum. After directing the dark comedy 20 years ago (and winning a Tony Award) Irish director Garry Hynes revisits the dark relationship between a 40-year-old woman and her ailing and manipulative mother.
I'm looking forward to seeing what shows will happen 2017 - especially in how 99 seat community will move forward with the new plans implemented by AEA.
What have you seen this year that you absolutely loved?


Center Theatre Group Announces Inaugural Block Party

Center Theatre Group has selected three local productions for the inaugural Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theatre at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Block Party will remount Coeurage Theatre Company's production of Failure: A Love Story by Philip Dawkins, Echo Theater Company's production of Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel and Fountain Theatre's production of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine and adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs. Each production will have a two-week run presented April 14 through May 21, 2017.
The selected shows will receive the full support of Center Theatre Group and its staff in order to fund, stage and market each production. Full casting for Failure: A Love Story, Dry Land and Citizen: An American Lyric will be announced at a later date.
Failure: A Love Story from Coeurage Theatre Company will take the first slot and will begin previews April 14, open April 16 and close April 23. Written by Philip Dawkins and directed by Michael Matthews, the show chronicles the lives, loves and deaths of the three Fail sisters and the one man who fell in love with each of them. Set against the backdrop of 1920s Chicago, this touching, whimsical tale explores the impermanence of life and the permanence of love.
“We're completely thrilled to be a part of this program,” said Coeurage Artistic Director Jeremy Lelliott of being selected. “Center Theatre Group is a standard-bearer in the L.A. arts scene, and to benefit from their support and input on our growth and this upcoming production marks an exciting new chapter for Coeurage and the 99-seat community as a whole.”
Fountain Theatre's Citizen: An American Lyric, a meditation on race that fuses poetry, prose, movement, music and the video image, will begin previews on April 28, open April 30 and close May 7. Adapted by playwright and Fountain Theatre Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, it is a provocative stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine's internationally acclaimed book of poetry about everyday acts of racism in America. Of Rankine's Citizen, The New Yorker wrote that it was “brilliant… [and] explores the kinds of injustice that thrive when the illusion of justice is perfected.” The New York Times wrote that “Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry's forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves.”
“We're thrilled to be partnering with Center Theatre Group on its first-ever Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre,” said Sachs. “It's particularly meaningful to us that Citizen was chosen because racism and white dominance in America is as timely now, since the election, as it ever was. The project also reflects the diversity of our work at the Fountain Theatre.”
Written by Ruby Rae Spiegel and directed by Alana Dietze, Echo Theater Company's Dry Land will take the final slot of Block Party and will begin previews May 12, open on May 14 and close on May 21. It is a haunting play about female friendship and an abortion that takes place in the locker room of a central Florida high school. Written when Spiegel was just 21 years old and still an undergraduate at Yale, the play is a deeply truthful portrait of the fears, hopes and bonds of teenage girls — as gut-wrenching as it is funny. In his New York Times “critic's pick” review, Ben Brantley called Dry Land “tender, caustic, funny and harrowing, often all at the same time.”
“The Echo is delighted and honored to be selected for Block Party,” said Echo Theater Artistic Director Chris Fields. “The fulfillment of being recognized and the deep gratification of being part of a special affirmation of our entire Los Angeles theatre community is just wonderful.”
“As we celebrate Center Theatre Group's 50 years of creating theatre in Los Angeles, we want to turn the spotlight on some of the remarkable work being done on other stages,” said Center Theatre Group Artistic Director Michael Ritchie in discussing Block Party. “Coeurage Theatre, Echo Theater and Fountain Theatre, as well as others throughout L.A., regularly produce excellent, boundary-pushing work and we're so glad they are sharing some of that work with us.”


L.A.'s PRO-99 community calls for new referendum as Actors' Equity 99-Seat Theatre Plan comes to an end

Members of L.A.'s “PRO-99” theater community continue to gather signatures to demand a new referendum on Actors' Equity's 99-Seat Theater Plan, which is scheduled to end today.
Despite an overwhelming “No” vote by over 66% of the Los Angeles membership on a referendum put before it last April, the union moved forward to eliminate the existing plan which has been in effect since 1989.
To date, over 1,100 signatures have been gathered from supporters in Los Angles and around the country.
To view a list of signatories, go to http://ilove99.org/2016/07/24/letter-pro99-members-aea/.
The text of the petition is as follows:
Letter to AEA in Support of PRO99's Call for a New Referendum:
We, the undersigned, are dedicated to the survival and growth of Intimate Theatre in Los Angeles. We are actors, stage managers, playwrights, designers, directors, producers and hyphenates of all of the above. We are also audience members, neighborhood restaurants and bars, and local businesses that benefit from the thriving L.A. Intimate Theatre landscape. We are committed to preserving, protecting and promoting theatres of 99-seats or less, not only in Los Angeles but throughout the United States, while defending Actors' Equity Association (AEA) members' rights, privileges and protections when they perform in such venues.
Currently, LA's 99-seat theatres are under unparalleled threat. With arts funding in decline, and at 1/10 of what New York City garners, we are also now faced with an assault from AEA, which seeks to raze the LA intimate theater landscape.
We are PRO99. We are dedicated to ensuring that this does not happen.
A lawsuit by AEA members and producers, on behalf of the Intimate Theatre community, has been filed against Equity.* Pro99 supports this effort and is actively engaging the community in the court of public opinion, and by reaching out to people in all walks of life affected by theatres of 99-seat or less.
Additionally, we support AEA members and Intimate Theatres nationwide that would also benefit from a 99-seat plan that would allow them to incubate and develop new works to eventually go to contract, under vital union protections. We believe these protections and opportunities should be more readily available nationwide, and should certainly be protected, not rolled back, here in Los Angeles.
AEA has put forth a concerted effort to silence us. Our voices are not included in any official union communications, and what communications are issued by AEA are not only one-sided, but filled with misinformation, half-truths, untruths and outright distortions. We will continue to correct the record and put forth our own positive story.
We will also continue to enlist the community in the fight. Plaintiff and Review Committee member Gary Grossman has issued a challenge to AEA President Kate Shindle to make public AEA's plan for 99-seat theatre [due to go into effect December 14, 2016], and we will make a new proposal public . We support Grossman's proposal to have a side by side referendum that will allow LA's union actors to choose between AEA's plan and our own.
Our community is united. We will prevail.
*The lawsuit has been dismissed by a federal judge, but Plaintiff's are currently exploring an appeal.


BREAKING: Judge dismisses suit against AEA

Looks like Judge Hatter has dismissed the lawsuit brought against Equity by Los Angeles actors. For the official court document of the judgement CLICK HERE.
I'm sure there are many companies out there who have already been coming up with plans on how to move forward in anticipation of the case being dismissed. There are already a number of companies who have decided to go non-union for their next season. It will be interesting to see how this will affect our community as well as the already tumultuous relationship with AEA.
More to come as information is released.
***If you'd like to write a response to the news please email the editor Ashley@better-lemons.com


In the Heart of America

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

Place: South Bend, Indiana.

Home of Notre Dame, the Fighting Irish.

We were 3.5 weeks into the LA Theatre Works national tour of “Judgment at Nuremberg”. It is a radio play about the Nuremberg Trials after World War II.

You know the one-where Nazi war criminals were tried for the crimes against humanity that resulted in the Holocaust.

Our play is specifically about the trials of the judges.

The trials that followed the first Nuremberg Trials. These trials were of the judges, doctors, business men, IG Farben whose chemicals were used in the gas chambers and so on.

It's Judges judging Judges.

It's a morality play about who is responsible and how far does that responsibility go.

Fun fact: War crimes and crimes against humanity came out of the Nuremberg Trials. It was the first time that people were convicted of carrying out the law. The first time that people were prosecuted for doing something that wasn't illegal at the time that they did it. That's how bad the crimes were. We needed to set a precedent so that it couldn't happen again.

It isn't a comedy.

3.5 weeks at universities all over the country, doing workshops and having talkbacks. Amidst an impending Presidential election. We find ourselves in the middle of America facilitating a conversation about fascism, nationalism and hate. The kind that makes us insulate ourselves from our neighbors.

Election Night.

No one was going to come and see a play about the Holocaust tonight-so we had the day off.

The first thing I noticed when we arrived at Notre Dame was it's swanky-ness. It is gorgeous, surrounded by trees of every color changing before our very eyes. We checked into the Morris Inn-clearly the place they put up donors to impress them.

changing-leaves

This is a place where dreams are made. This is a place where anything is possible.

The next thing that I noticed was the lack of color-everywhere except the trees and the staff at the college. The only students that I saw of any color at all were clearly athletes.

Did I mention I was in Indiana.

Mike Pence is the Governor of Indiana.

Rohr's-the fancy bar at the Morris Inn.

nd-morris-murph

In the middle are me and my castmates. 8 liberal actor tour-mates/friends. 8 of the best that there are to work with. The crème de la crème. 8 people going onto the front lines of truth and 8 people who have been bonded together through intention.

Across from us is a group of 40-50's something women celebrating a birthday.

At the end of the bar is a group of very large college athletes dominating the TV where the sound is on.

Sprinkled amongst us are several tables of couples that probably never look like they are having a good time.

We ordered food and drinks and waited for signs of how the night was going to progress. What the next four years would hold.

Our very smiley waitress, relatively young, particularly Mid-Western-but surprisingly, under further investigation, is a mother of 4. She looks around to see if anyone is watching her and secretly shows me a photo of her kids on her iPhone.

Smiley Waitress: This is a great job. If I stay-my kids will be able to go to college here and get financial aid.

She points to Murph, the grey-haired gentleman bartender.

Smiley Waitress: Murph has worked here for more than 40 years. They named a burger after him. It's really good.

Hillary has taken her first states. Our group cheers. We receive glowers from numerous guests. I feel obliged to remind our group that we are not in Kansas anymore. Kansas, actually would've been a problem as well-but to be conscious of the fact that we might not be in the majority.

Trump takes Tennessee and a middle aged white guy stands up at his table and obnoxiously cheers and claps and directs all of his energy at our table. He jeers at us.

Obnoxious White Guy: Yeah! That's what I'm talking about!

I am actually not sure why he would care that we didn't all vote for the same person-but he was successful at making a point. A point that felt like a threat.

I went to the bathroom and the front desk staff was peering into the bar TVs. They all jumped to attention as I walked past to look like they were working. I stopped and chatted with them-my way of letting them know I'm not the person who needs them to busy themselves.

Darlene the Front Desk Clerk: How is your night going?

Me: Good with the exception of the guy who just clapped for Trump in my face.

Darlene: Oh, yes. They get very aggressive if you don't do what they want you to.

Me: How is this for you tonight?

Darlene: Just a day in the life. This is a good job so I am getting through.

After I returned from the bathroom, the bar had emptied out quite a bit. It was that time in the night when it was looking pretty good for Hillary.

Gone was the obnoxious white guy. Gone was the group of women who I wished that I had asked how they felt about the election and being in Indiana-just to hear what they had to say.

And then about a half hour later-Trump takes another state. Hmmm.

The large athletes-couldn't tell if they were football players or basketball players or maybe both-were all white except one who was ethnically ambiguous. They cheered loudly and ordered more beer. I believe “Whoops” were involved. The ethnically ambiguous one looked like he was in conflict with himself as he tried to “Whoop” along.

One of my cast mates stands abruptly to leave.

Cast mate #1: This is how much they hate us. They had to make sure we knew just exactly how much they hate us. They are really that afraid of women that they would rather have him than her.

She refuses to watch anything further publicly and retires to her room for some kind of sanctuary.

I was feeling a little touchy. I went out for some air.

Earlier that week we were in Iowa. And Wisconsin. And Minnesota. And Arizona. But in Iowa, I was met with these stares. Not by the Quakers. Not by the Amish. Not by the students or the staff at the University. By the people who were just regular people that we'd bump into at the Culver's fast food joint (Frozen custard-check it out) or the lobby at our hotel. These people who stare-it is a look I've seen before-it is a look of disgust. Perhaps I don't look the way they think I should? Perhaps it's indigestion. It's the same kind of look that someone gets when they want to destroy something.

In the space of 3 hours going between Wisconsin and Iowa to return rental cars-it's a long story that involves a cancelled flight at Chicago O'Hare airport during the last game of the World Series when the Chicago Cubs won for the first time-

I was asked by 4 separate people in 4 different places:

“Where you from? You ain't from round here.”

One of whom was a toothless truck driver who thought I might like to see his bumper sticker that was an outline of a pin up girl holding a garden tool.

It read: Every farmer needs a good ho!

When he finished laughing and slapping his knee (really, he actually knee slapped himself) he invited me into the cab of his truck.

Toothless truck driver: Maybe you'd like me to show you other things you won't see out there in California. Maybe you'd like me to teach you a thing or two.

It was at that moment I assumed the person pumping the gas into our rentals was pumping diesel so that the car would stop in a half a mile and they could come “rescue me”.

People keep pointing out that he was just a trucker…and I keep pointing out that I am just a woman and it spooked me. I felt fear. The kind I haven't for a while. The kind that is intentional. The kind you can see in their eyes.   That they want to teach you a lesson. The kind that should be unacceptable in a modern society.
When I returned to the bar this time-

Trump had just been given Florida.

One of our cast mates hangs up his phone.

Cast Mate #2: My kids are in tears. They don't understand what is happening. I told them it was going to be fine and not to worry.

The bar was now mostly empty. Except for our group, Murph the bartender, a 21 year old blonde bartender who never smiled and a man who it turns out was speaking on the panel about the Nuremberg Trials before our show the next night. We talked about the precedent that Hitler set with his rhetoric of hate. We talked about his focus on how “others” were the problem and his meteoric rise to power. We talked about how quickly the tide can shift. We acknowledged how terrifying it is that his language is mirrored to a tee by Trump as we waited to see how Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin were going to turn out.

Dessert was definitely required.

The 21 year old blonde bartender who never smiled came over.

Me: I'll have the crème brulee with 6 spoons please. How is this night for you? How do you feel about this election?

She scoffs.

Blonde Bartender: I'm just getting through it. Is that it? The kitchen is closing.

Me: Yes, that's it.

The crème brulee didn't help.

States that had seemed to be locked up were changing from blue to red.

Another cast mate hangs up his phone.

Cast Mate #3: I don't know what to tell my son. He has a Muslim girlfriend. What am I supposed to tell my son?

It was 1 AM. I'd never been on the east coast for an election. I'm used to Los Angeles where you have a new President by 10.

The bar was closing.   It was me and 2 cast mates, the 2 bartenders and the staff of the hotel. All but the blonde bartender looked like they'd seen a disaster.

I felt like I had just watched the World Trade Center towers fall again. It felt as personal as that day did. An attack on our freedom. Our way of life.

We retreated to our rooms, in shock.

The next day-I felt like I'd been hit by a truck. And the morning news didn't bring a sudden miracle.

I walked to the bagel place on campus. It was cold, sunny and windy.

trees-theater

A very tall athlete brushed past me. I felt invisible. I felt like I had a target on my back.

On the sidewalk someone had scrawled in pastel colored chalk:

Love Trumps Hate

love trumps hate

Standing in line, I overheard 2 undergrads mumbling to each other.

Female Undergrad: I don't really get what the big deal is?

Male Undergrad: I don't know. Everybody always overreacts. I mean what can happen in 4 years?

I felt like a crazy person. I felt scared.

The show that night was the kind of show you dream about. And never want to perform at the same time. Our mutual shock over what had transpired in the last 24 hours had turned to anger. Purpose.

If we were gonna be in the good state of Indiana where Mike Pence is the Governor we are going to leave it all on the stage. We are not going to leave a stone unturned. We are going to tell the fuck out of this story and hold our heads up high.

We had developed a camaraderie that you can only find on the front lines. With the people you go to war with.

Fighting the good fight.

Fighting for right by showing the humanity of being wrong.

The show was tragic and terrifying as these words that we had been saying for the last 3.5 weeks were ringing true. These words took on a new meaning.

There is a monologue in the climax of the play.

The character Ernst Janning, the pre-eminent Judge on trial for war crimes, is confessing to his part in upholding the law. He paints the scene as to how these crimes could have happened.

“There are devils among us. Communists, Liberals, Jews, Gypsies! Once the devils will be destroyed, your miseries will be destroyed…What difference does it make if a few political extremists lose their rights? What difference does it make if a few racial minorities lose their rights? It is only a passing phase. It is only a stage we are going through…It will be discarded sooner or later.”

I and my cast mates were in tears in the wings.

It wasn't until I returned home on Thanksgiving Day that I actually felt the weight of reality. Everything has started to normalize. Everyone is getting on with their day. And after standing on stages across this country for the last 5 weeks, I feel impotent. On stage everything makes sense. I am doing something. I am contributing to the world. I am an ambassador for peace. What do I do now?

Politics are a mirror the same way art is.

It is easy to sit in Los Angeles and say “How could anyone vote for him?” I know I did.

If you want to know how someone voted for him, ask them.

And then listen to what they say in return.

If you listen to someone's fear instead of their hate-they will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about why they are the way they are.

We seem to live in a time where everyone has to agree to be respectful. It's actually the opposite. Respect for humanity is out of the sameness of us all being people. Not because we are all the same.

Fighting for the good of all includes all, even those we don't agree with. Especially those who don't agree with us, because those victories are the hardest won and lost.

Wiser people than me have said that dialogue is the only true path to peace.

There is work to do.


What Theaters Need to Know: Courting Parents

With so much to battle in our world today, theatre is a proven way to create empathy in children's minds, and I appreciate everyone who wants to open their doors to families. Putting that desire into practice, however, is a lot more complicated than you may think.

I've been a theatre maker, marketer for family friendly programming, and in the course of that time I became a parent. Here are some simple - and some not so simple - ways to reach people with families and make it likely that they can actually consider attendance.

One note that will resonate throughout this article: parents need to stay flexible. Anything that sounds minor to a non-parent (speaking from experience) is enough to throw an entire day out of whack for a family: teething, missing a nap, diaper blowout, forgetting a 'lovey' or 'transition toy,' meltdowns. Most of our time from age two to puberty is preventing a meltdown of some sort. 

Staying Flexible to a parent feels like Flaking Out to a theatre producer counting on you to fill those precious seats. I get that. I completely understand. I used to feel that way too, before I had my first. You could fulfill all of the ideas below and still have people flake on you. Trust me, they rather wouldn't and if you are considerate while hearing a dissertation on sleep regression in a toddler, then that same parent will be even more loyal the next time they try to attend your show.

Steps to Courting Families to Your Show:

1. Children under 2 are free if they're lap sitters

Nearly every other arts institution has this policy: museums, theme parks….theaters need to follow suit. I'm a potential audience member dying to bring my sons to art, but I hesitate or just close the browser if I have to pay for a child under 2. You never know how the kid will react or if they'll nap through it or if you just needed to stretch your budget to account for the larger diaper size she just grew into.

My point is, give a little to get parents in your door and they're loyal for life (at least through puberty). If I feel welcome in a restaurant with my family no matter how the little monsters/angels act, I return. All the time. Because I know the staff there welcome us.

Same with art.

2. Changing tables and supplies in bathroom.

You just need a flat surface, really. I had worked at 24th ST Theatre for two years with the specific intention of getting families through the door before I realized how important this is. You know what made me understand? My own experience of bringing my infant to a meeting and needing a place to change him. If you have a flat surface then you only need this $17 top and a few sheets. Some extra wipes and trash can nearby helps too. Also remember to add extra time at intermission to allow for changes. Extra credit if you offer a complimentary branded onesie or shorts for accidents - free advertising at the playground! And please don't patronize fathers; put it in the men's room too. Just ask any Dad how often they've changed a diaper on a nasty bathroom floor.

3. Childcare at matinees.

I'll go into more detail on this one, but if you want to retain audience after they're parents, realize how expensive a night out can be ($90-120 for dinner and a show, JUST for a sitter). Advertise the matinee date well in advance and be willing to lose money until the program gains word of mouth and momentum.

4. Off prime time start times  

Consider your evening show start time to be 4pm. Bedtimes range between 6-10pm, and if there's an infant in the mix, evenings may be out completely. Be understanding when a parent says there's no way they can make it because that's naptime; if a child doesn't nap on time, the nicest Jekyll goes all Hyde in a heartbeat. You also want to consider if your target is church going, in which case a Sunday morning show is moot, but that's a whole other blog post.

5. Staff or volunteer on call to answer questions (and giving parents that knowledge)

I explain this in more detail here, but some parents are not typical theatre goers, and therefore do not know the ‘rules' or assume there are any. For instance, I almost lost a parent influencer and blogger because she thought you had to dress up to see theatre.* Send an email the day or two before the show, when all the pieces needed to make an outing go smoothly are being calculated, and tell them who will answer their questions as they have them. Don't assume the box office staff will have time to talk a lost mother down from the ledge (or off the freeway, or into a parking space).

4. Healthy snacks provided and advertised. Really, any snacks. Plus tea, coffee, beer, wine for the parents.

My first Lil' Pirate enjoying a tamale before a show at 24th ST.

My first Lil' Pirate enjoying a tamale before a show at 24th ST.

Have some fresh fruit ready and you'll be an angel.

5. Allow eating inside the theater.

This makes a huge difference. Best way to avoid a meltdown is sometimes the Cheerios being ready at a moment's notice. It takes about ten extra minutes to clean after each show. Most parents will clean up themselves so no one thinks their kids - or they - are slobs. You also must welcome breastfeeding. Babies eat milk, breastfed or formula, exclusively the first 5-6 months of life. And if a baby wants it, because they're hungry or need comfort, Parent provides.

6. Stroller parking.

Have a secure area in the lobby or offer valet “parking” backstage if you have room. Think a parent can just go without a stroller? Try to control both my infant and toddler on a walk back to the car sometime.

7. Open door policy during show.

Two words you never want to mess with: Potty training. If you tell people at the curtain speech how to exit, you can trust that no parent wants to be the one disturbing the show while their kid holds their crotch. We'll be discreet, I promise. And no one's experience of your show will be ruined. At least, not more ruined than if they smell pee running down the aisle because I didn't know if I could or where I should exit.

8. Clear expectations.

This comes once again to communicating with your audience ahead of time and often. Tell them if it's interactive and they talk back. Explain the difference between TV and theatre (quickly) if it isn't. Frame it as respect, not being bad if you talk out. (This goes for adults, too, but that is, again, another post). And by Dionysus, do not shame anyone whose kid speaks out. That means they got excited, they were involved, they were excited by your show. If you don't want to risk that energy or consider it an interruption of the art, then your show isn't for kids.

 

Let me know any questions you may have on this subject, and please share your own experiences. I'm sure I missed some things. And I know many small theaters don't have the luxury of lobby or bathroom space, but a little accommodation for families goes a long way towards creating loyalty for years.

*If you are someone who still believes that you must dress up to attend theatre, well, we have much more to discuss.