COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: International City Theatre and COVID-19 - An Interview with Caryn Desai


A talented and successful director with awards and nominations from LA Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly, Drama-Logue, Robby, Ovation, and NAACP, Caryn Desai is also the artistic director / producer for International City Theatre (ICT) in Long Beach. She has extensive experience in acting, directing, producing, and administration, as well as a certificate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Other certificates in arts administration, marketing, and fundraising prepared her for running a successful non-profit organization dealing with arts and education. For over 20 years, she taught college classes at Long Beach City College and received the Distinguished Alumni Award. In 2018, Caryn was named Distinguished Alumna from the College of the Arts at California State University, Long Beach. She was recently named “Enterprising Woman in the Arts” in Long Beach. Clearly, Caryn is a busy woman who likes to get things done. She took time from her busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


J. Thomas Miller, Hunter Berecochea, Josey Montana McCoy, Marisa Matthews, and Trevor Shor in "Life Could Be a Dream" (2018) - Photo by Tracey Roman

When and how did the International City Theatre first form? Were you involved from the beginning? 

Caryn Desai:  International City Theatre (ICT) started in 1985 on the campus of Long Beach City College under the 99-seat plan. The theater was founded by Shashin Desai, who was chair of the theater, film, and dance department at the time. I have been involved from the beginning - but not officially until 1990, when I became general manager. Shashin retired ten years ago, and the Board unanimously named me to lead. I’m now the artistic director and producer of ICT; in my free time, I also do some directing. In 1996, with the encouragement of then-Mayor Beverly O’Neill, ICT moved downtown to the beautiful Long Beach Performing Arts Center. We work with Actors Equity Association under the small professional theater contract.  Everyone is paid, both artists and crew. I’m proud to say that 2020 marks ICT’s thirty-fifth anniversary.

Lexi Ainsworth, Neil Larson, Angelo Custino, and Drew Carr in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (2002) - Photo by Shashin Desai

What are some of the most popular plays you've done? How about awards? 

CD: Over the years, ICT has received more than 400 professional awards including the LA Drama Critics Circle award for sustained excellence. In 2015, we also received the LADCC award for outstanding season. We have had many plays which were real people-pleasers. Some of ICT’s most popular plays have included Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, and Life Could be a Dream. Both are from ICT’s 2019 season and broke 34 years of presale records.  Prior to 2019, some of our most popular shows included Backward in High Heels, To Kill a Mockingbird, Swinging on a Star, and Dinah Was. We try to select productions which are entertaining, intellectually stimulating, and fun.

Stephan Terry and Karole Foreman in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill"

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

CD: ICT was lucky enough to complete the run of our thirty-fifth anniversary season opener on March 8. ICT runs on a calendar year, so that was our first show of the season. Our offices were forced to close with little notice on Friday, March 13, along with everyone else in the County. The next show we planned, Daisy, was a California premiere we selected for its relevance and importance in this election year. We were supposed to start rehearsal April 7.  We’ve moved Daisy to the next slot for a June opening and bumped another show to our 2021 season.

Anna Aimee White as Ginger Rogers and Matt Bauer as Fred Astaire in "Backwards in High Heels" (2010) - Photo by Shashin Desai

How has COVID-19 impacted on your theater? 

CD: To date, ICT is facing lost revenue from one cancelled show so far. We don’t know if there will be future cancellations, and we don’t know how many patrons will want a refund. Right now, it’s hard to predict the impact this will have on season renewals. This is especially disheartening, since subscriptions are our bread and butter and have been up over the last six years.

ICT also has a very active and strong commitment to education. We have six programs for every demographic from age 4 to 104. Most programs are free, including a popular in-school program for third graders which I created at the request of the school district based on my 20 years as a college instructor. That program makes about 480 classroom visits annually. On the other end of the spectrum, ICT runs a Senior Program which provides tickets and transportation to low income seniors to keep them mentally and socially engaged. These are two of our six programs providing access, education, and inspiration to our community. This is a loss for our students, our community, and our teaching artists.

Sybyl Walker, Yvette Freeman as Dinah Washington, and Paul Avedisian in "Dinah Was" (2004) - Photo by Shashin Desai

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Are you streaming? Do you have virtual meetings? Are you planning for your next show when the theater can reopen?

CD: ICT has reached out to the union for some flexibility in allowing possible streaming, and obviously affordability is an issue. We’re having discussions with teaching artists, and we may be able to have virtual classes for our Summer Youth Conservatory - or even our school programs. Currently, all meetings with the executive committee and the board are virtual. The staff is working remotely and communicate mostly by email and phone. The Daisy cast did a virtual read-through on their own. This is a challenging time for all of us, what with our poor artists and audiences isolated from each other and from the work that feeds our souls, brings us together, and helps us understand our shared humanity and the world in which we live. It’s painful for those of us who value and understand the importance of live theatre.

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

CD:  I have to remain hopeful that this pause will motivate those who have the capacity to ensure the future of this most human art form to take action. It would be sad to see this battle we are in with a horrific virus win by losing a voice from any of our many diverse companies and artists.

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

CD: Right now, I need to stay strong, hold my small team together, and find a way through this. I hope the theatre public will stand by ICT and provide the support needed to survive and grow. That would be a victory over this foe and something to celebrate — the spirit, strength, passion, and commitment to art! That feels like America to me!

What are some of your future plans?

CD: ICT has a strategic plan outlining goals for the next three years, including greater investment and further development of this art form, increasing earned revenue, growth of our education programs, and ensuring accessibility to professional theatre for all. This was certainly not how we planned to celebrate our current milestone. ICT’s little team in the office has a motto:  “It’s never easy, but it’s important.”  We never anticipated it would be this hard!  Here’s to better days. Onward!


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Janet Miller, a Multi-Talented Theatre Professor, Producer, Director, Choreographer and Tapper


This Spotlight focuses on Janet Miller, a Theater Professor at College of the Desert, Producing Artistic Director at Good People Theater Company, a multi-talented Producer, Director, Choreographer, and Tapper, as well as a lover of all furry friends. I have attended multiple productions in which Janet has contributed her skills, including several hit Hollywood Fringe Festival productions including The Toxic Avenger, Hello Again! The Songs of Allan Sherman, Marry Me a Little, and The Fantasticks just to name a few. Janet is pictured here with Gordon Goodman, the star of Barrymore which she directed, when they attended and won Ovation Awards for the production. Here is the link to my review on Broadway World: https://www.broadwayworld.com/los-angeles/article/BWW-Reviews-Gordon-Goodman-Channels-John-Barrymore-Into-Reality-Onstage-at-Greenway-Court-20131125


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

Janet Miller (Janet): I am a producer, theatre director, choreographer, and educator.

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

(Janet): We had just opened a production of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) at College of the Desert. We did 2 out of 6 performances before we had to shut down the production.

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

(Janet): We had been waiting to hear that our college was going to shut down as there were a number of emails that went back and forth. When I got the final word, I passed on the information to my co-director Maricela Sandoval, a graduating student, and we contacted everyone. When we arrived at the theatre, I spoke to the cast and crew. It was quite sad for our students at College of the Desert as they worked so diligently, especially the student co-director.

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

(Janet): We would like to remount in the Fall, but we don’t think that is possible, unfortunately.

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

(Janet): We had been granted the rights to Middletown by Will Enos for our fall production, which I would be directing. We are holding off on making any final plans for that show at this point, as well as holding off on the planning on producing The Fantasticks in Spring 2021. We will decide as the course of the Coronavirus becomes clearer.

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

(Janet): I teach Script Analysis, Introduction to Theatre, Acting I, and Tap. I am also attending many Zoom meetings, reading and posting articles, as well as spending time speaking to my colleagues.

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

(Janet): It WILL happen. Theatre is a survivor and so are we!


Featured photo: Janet Miller and Gordon Goodman at the Ovation Awards

This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: The Friendliest Family Theater in Glendale - An Interview with Producer/CEO Brenda Dietlein


The Glendale Centre Theatre has long held the reputation of a family-friendly showplace which caters to audiences who love good, old-fashioned, affordable, family-oriented programs. From colorful fun children’s productions to musical extravaganzas like My Fair Lady, the Glendale Centre Theatre never fails to delight audiences seeking affordable, family, fun entertainment. Owned and operated by the fourth generation great grandsons of the founders and their mother, Brenda Dietlein, this theater-in-the-round is truly a long-time jewel in Glendale’s crown. Currently facing the unique challenges posed by COVID-19, Brenda Dietlein agreed to interview in April 2020.


"Bright Star", A Glendale Centre Theatre Production - Photo by Ashley Caven

The Glendale Centre Theatre has been around since the 1940's. Tell us something about the background and history of the theater. 

Brenda Dietlein:  My sons’ great-grandparents, Grandpa Nate and Grandma Ruth, were born and raised in Utah, members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. When the acting bug bit them, they moved to Los Angeles hoping to get into the movies; but that wasn’t to be their fate. Instead, they settled on their own theater where they could write plays, act in them, and entertain audiences. The Glendale Centre Theater was born in 1947, and their first night they had about six paying customers. They didn’t have money for royalties, so Grandma Ruth wrote plays about what she knew – religion, ethics, and the Mormon Church. To help make ends meet, Grandpa Nate worked as a milkman. In the 1950s, they outgrew their little stage and opened a 230-seat theater that they again outgrew. In 1963, they got a loan, designed a theater, and moved to their current location at 324 North Orange Street in Glendale in 1965. The 230-seat theater space on Doran Street is now a Montessori School.

Grandma and Grandpa Hale lived above the theater to be available to constantly work on whatever needed to be done and save funds for productions. In the 1980s, the theater added musicals. Until the late 1990’s, the theater performed at least one of Grandma Ruth’s shows every year – but they became outdated. The Glendale Centre Theatre depends mainly on ticket sales for revenue. Since all the theaters have been closed, the boys and I have followed in Grandma Ruth and Grandpa Nate’s footsteps and have moved into the theater.

"Charlie's Aunt," A Production of Glendale Centre Theatre - Photo by Angela Kathryn

How has COVID-19 impacted the Glendale Centre Theatre?

BD:  In early March, prior to being mandated to keep gatherings at 250 people or less, I capped performance attendance at less than 150. We stopped all performances on March 14. I can’t wait to get the green light to open so that our patrons can see Witness for the Prosecution by Agatha Christie. We were originally slated to open March 21. The acting, staging, and sound effects are truly a work of art! When we’re allowed to reopen, the number of seats we can sell will depend on social distancing rules. I truly hope royalty companies will work with smaller theaters and only charge royalties based on actual attendance.

I think we’ve had a big impact on Glendale. People look to this theater for social activities. Some people told me that Glendale Centre Theater is their one activity a week. Now people call on the phone to talk. This is family to them; it’s in their blood. Some patrons have been coming here for 30 or 40 years. Other patrons have even been coming here for 50 or 60 years.

COVID-19 has placed a huge burden on the Glendale Centre Theatre. For 74 years, patrons have depended on this theater for their social activities. Patrons call in and plead with us to reopen, stating, “I survived the Korean War and the bird flu…when are you going to open…I feel fine…the Glendale Centre Theatre is my one activity when I get to see my friends…we all meet at your theater.” The boys and I answer calls every day from patrons who just want someone to talk to. A large majority of our patrons consider this theater as part of their family. Parents of children also call and ask when we will be open because their children want “to go see a show at that little theater in Glendale…the mini Staples Center!"

The Glendale Centre Theatre is a for-profit organization and relies on ticket sales to survive. We have not heard any response on any stimulus packages that we have applied for. We will post any news on our social media platforms as soon as we hear anything. Obviously, there are financial challenges because we can’t sell tickets coupled with not knowing when we will be allowed to open or if we will receive government funds. We have heard that the Kennedy Center and NPR were funded, so we hope we will also be funded.

"Bright Star," A Production of Glendale Centre Theatre - Photo by Ashley Caven

So many of our patrons tell us they won’t go to other theater venues in Los Angeles because the Glendale Centre Theatre reminds them of a simple time. For 74 years, our mission has always been to allow patrons to be entertained to the extent that they’re comfortable. Our demographic doesn’t like change. It’s a “Leave it to Beaver” or Hallmark Channel crowd. Even when people move away, they come back here to reminisce about their childhood or the first theater experience they had here – or to remember time spent with their family. One woman flies in four times a year to see a show; it’s become a tradition in her family. We have another woman from New York who comes to see a show here whenever she visits Los Angeles. Out-of-town businessmen tell us they specifically stay at Hyatt Glendale when they are in Los Angeles because they love the family history and the vibe of this theater.

How do you see the future of the Glendale Centre Theatre? 

BD:  We survived the Cold War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy Assassination, Iranian Hostage Crisis, U.S. Invasion of Grenada, Persian Gulf War, Los Angeles Riots, and a few recessions. However, during all of that, we were never mandated to close. We have no idea what the future holds. I’m hoping that, because we are a smaller theater, we’ll manage with the love of our patrons and government help and leadership. Right now, it’s a lot of “what if” and “when.” If the government could just give us an idea of when we can open. Our main concerns are about our staff – keeping their health insurance premiums paid – and, it goes without saying, the safety and well-being of our patrons.”

"Annie," A Production of Glendale Centre Theatre - Screenshot Courtesy of Glendale Centre Theatre

Do you have any final thoughts about this COVID-19 crisis? What can people do to help your theater? 

BD:  The Glendale Centre Theatre is going to need patience, understanding, and all the physical and financial help we can get. Rent our theater; volunteer to answer the phone; do bookkeeping or accounting or graphic arts. Help build or paint sets. Help us at the costume shop. Give us legal advice. Write a show! If some good can come from a crisis, maybe Los Angeles theaters could create an alliance of theaters which works together and which allows them to operate more efficiently.

This crisis may also cause people to have a simpler mindset and be more appreciative of little things. We may be mandated to travel less. I’ve seen some wonderful acts of kindness – strangers helping each other, sharing survival items, sewing face masks, allowing others to go to the head of the line – strangers sharing a hello and smiles. The boys and I sit on our balcony and say “Hi, Human,” when someone walks by. It makes people laugh! This may be a reset button for Americans as we realize our neighbor is someone we can rely on and not fear. We are taking pride in community and family and what is most important – not things. As bad as it is right now, I believe we’ll get through this if we all work together.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Suzanne Mayes, a Native Angeleno Who Went from Future Astronaut to a Shining Star Onstage


This Spotlight focuses on Suzanne Mayes, who started out thinking she would pursue the stars as an astronaut and wound up shining onstage instead!


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

Suzanne Mayes (Suzanne): I am what many call a “Unicorn” in LA: a true native Angeleno.

(SB): I am also a native Angeleno, both born and raised here, and no one has ever called me “Unicorn.”  Not sure where that term came from as it must be new, but it certainly applies to me!

(Suzanne): It’s funny, because being a native Angeleno, I grew up in a city saturated by the industry, with kids who were child actors and the children of A-list celebrities, producers, and writers. But although I was active in school performances and loved singing (especially in choirs), pursuing acting as a career was the furthest thing from my mind.

I was a true Space Camp nerd who had dreams of becoming an astronaut. Interestingly enough – and perhaps the universe knew better than I did – I chose a college that was known for its sciences, but also, coincidentally, theatre: Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. During my freshman year while I was a Midshipman in the Navy ROTC program (I was a hardcore Top Gun fan, what can I say…), I auditioned for a Scotch’n’Soda student-run theatre group production of Into the Woods and was cast as Cinderella’s Stepmother. One show by Sondheim and that was it. I was hooked.

I eventually dropped out of ROTC and performed in every single Scotch’n’Soda musical production made while I was there. A quick fun fact about Scotch’n’Soda: their alumni include Stephen Schwartz, who penned and directed an early draft of Pippin while still a student there!) My junior year, I was lucky enough to study abroad in the south of France, and had the privilege to study Voice under the international opera star, Marion Sylvestre, and sing with the adult chorale at the prestigious National Music Conservatory of Avignon.

After graduating from CMU with double degrees in Professional Writing and French, I wanted another adventure overseas, so I took a position teaching English to kids in Taipei, Taiwan. Apparently, they noticed during our teachers’ orientation that I loved to perform and sing, and the English school I worked for hired me to be a host for a live TV show on TVBS (their version of NBC) as a sort of “edutainment” section of the show. I sang with a dancing pig I had to introduce as “my special friend, Perry the Pig” on every episode. It was campy, hilarious, and so much fun! A few months later, I accepted an opportunity to be part of a musical tour for the Disney World of English products and travelled all over Taiwan, performing in gorgeous 2,000 seat theatres for little kids. It was such a special time.

I came home to Los Angeles the next year and put my theatre and singing aside. For ten whole years I pursued another path in Hollywood – first working for literary agents, then in development on movies such as Coach Carter and Dreamer and on TV shows like One Tree Hill and What I Like About You before working for one of the major studios, Universal Pictures. Somewhere in that chunk of time, a few of my Scotch’n’Soda theatre friends from college moved out to LA and we had the brilliant idea to put together a musical again, like the old days, and I played the role of Sally Brown in Snoopy The Musical!!! which I also produced as a fundraiser for Downtown Dog Rescue. I am so proud that our production raised thousands of dollars for the animal rescue, and that “fun reunion” of mine made some real magic happen.

And of course, once back on stage, I was hooked again. Theatre has a way of doing that to you! I dove headfirst into a lot of local community theatre and 99-seat Equity shows, including two back-to-back productions of Gypsy (both Richard Israel’s LA Weekly-nominated run and then as Dainty June in Conejo Players’ production in Thousand Oaks), High Street’s Seussical as Gertrude McFuzz, and Oklahoma as Gertie at The Met Theatre.

I even got to work with one of my theatre idols, the fabulous Kay Cole (as in the original Chorus Line as Maggie) in a new musical called Reunion at the (now defunct) NoHo Arts Center Theatre.

I then joined The Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks as a Company Member and participated in several productions a year, including their Dead Pilots Society”for which I was nominated for a Valley Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actress in the pilot Under Andrea written and directed by Emmy-winners Ken Levine and David Isaacs (known for some little tv shows called M*A*S*H and Cheers.) My last full musical run was playing Sarah in Company at The Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica.

(SB): I remember that production and loved the way in which Kristin Towers-Rowles directed it. Here’s  my review from March 2017 about that stellar production.

And just last year, I joined Group Rep Theatre in North Hollywood. But I have taken some time most recently to focus on my TV career, so my stage performances lately have been mostly smaller readings and on- night shows. The theatre, though, has always been where I feed my soul and find my family, and it is heart-breaking to see the impact of this pandemic on our theatre community.

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

(Suzanne): As a newer member of Group Rep (GRT), I had been dipping my feet into play readings and one-night cabaret style performances, but my focus during the early part of this year was on TV’s pilot season, which for me means a lot of co-star auditions. So, I wasn’t in any of GRT’s mainstage productions at the time everything shut down. However, they did have their closing weekend of their dramatic play, In My Mind’s Eye and I am so glad I was able to see that gem of a show before everything went dark. But the other productions that were just revving up for rehearsals are all in limbo now.

I was fortunate to see a dear friend’s wonderful production of The Wild Party at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre for their final tech rehearsal and I was there when the cast stood on stage for bows and their board of directors came out to tell them all the sad news that they would not be opening that weekend. My heart broke for every single one of them who had poured their hearts and souls into their show that was ready to open the next day. I truly hope that they get their run when things start up again.

(SB): I was scheduled to see that production on opening night. Now I am also looking forward to seeing it when it can finally be brought back to the Morgan-Wixson stage. But what future productions on your schedule were affected by the shutdown?

(Suzanne): I was really looking forward to auditioning for Group Rep’s Spring / Summer musical production of Applause which is a show that is so rarely performed and has such fun music. I know our board has been in discussions about reworking the schedule, and I think there is a chance Applause may be pushed into 2021’s season, but I don’t know. And it’s so difficult now because none of us know when things will be open again; and once they are, will people be willing to go to the theatre? Is it going to be even harder to sell seats to shows? Will people be afraid to sit in a theatre audience after all this? I know every business and industry is having to re-think and re-plan their business models, and I think the world needs live theatre. But I don’t know how it’s going to happen for the smaller theatres who are struggling right now to stay afloat.

(SB): I wonder about that as well.  As a theatre reviewer, I am not sure when I will feel safe about sitting in a crowded theater unless I can wear a mask and be at least 6’ from any other person.  But for a small house, that will really cut into their ticket sales if they have to abide by those spacing restrictions, as well as provide masks and hand sanitizer for all patrons. And will the actors have to perform with face masks on, which I guess could work if they are doing Greek plays. It’s so up in the air right now, and I am doing my best to stay hopeful. But I don’t see how small theaters will be able to survive - and it scares me too.

(Suzanne): I truly hope we can weather this storm.

(SB): But for now, like all of us survivors in the theatre world, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Suzanne): I have done a few of the self-taped auditions and monologue challenges being presented by several casting directors who are taking the time to get to know fresh faces, which I think is really cool. Also, a small group of talented ladies from my theatre company have been meeting almost weekly on Zoom to do private readings of plays. It’s been a fun way to reconnect and to look at material we weren’t previously familiar with that are female-driven, hoping we discover an amazing gem that we can present to the theatre company down the road for a future season’s production. And then there is my regular weekly acting class, which has shifted to Zoom, so I have been keeping up with that group as well to keep my craft in shape and stay ready for when things pick back up again.

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

(Suzanne): Stay home if you are non-essential and have the ability to do so, and wash your hands often. I think there is this huge pressure to be super uber-productive as an actor right now, but honestly, we are in a pandemic – this is *not* normal life. It’s okay to feel icky and not have the energy to do the self-tapes and so forth. They are there if you want those activities and are someone who needs constant projects, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking the time to do what is best for *you* and to care for yourself. Please, please go easy on yourself. And be kind. We can all be kinder to our neighbors. Check in on those who are struggling. Please reach out to a friend if you yourself are struggling. To steal Sondheim’s words, “You are not alone. No one is alone.”

I am including some links to donate to some local theatres close to my heart. If you are able to donate, it would greatly help them out:

Save NoHo Theatres

The Whitefire Theatre

Morgan Wixson Theatre

And it you like you can follow me on Twitter and on Instagram and my cat would also like you to follow her on Instagram at PirateTheKittyCat.

Lastly, I send out a special thank you to all of our First Responders – especially all those in healthcare and those who are making sure we have food in our supermarkets, and to all the parents and teachers out there who are home-schooling their kids on top of everything else -- you are all heroes!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Robert Yacko, One of the Busiest Triple-Threat Performers in L.A.


This Spotlight focuses on Robert Yacko, one of the busiest triple-threat performers in Los Angeles, whose musical theatre skills constantly bring magic to the stage.


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

Robert Yacko (Robert):  I’ve been around a long time, a native Philadelphian who cut his teeth on theater in high school after being a musician for a few years. I was pulled into the love of dance by a choreographer who saw potential in me. My brilliant acting teacher at Temple University, Joel Friedman, then gave me the tools that got me into the Juilliard Drama Division and things took off from there. My Broadway debut was in Fiddler on the Roof with Herschel Bernardi, directed by Jerome Robbins himself, assisted by Ruth Mitchell and Tommy Abbot. The subsequent National Tours we did brought me to LA twice, and after having the privilege of dancing with the legendary Cyd Charisse in summer stock, LA was beckoning.

“Sunday in the Park with George” with Robert Yacko and Pamela Myers at the LA Premiere at Long Beach CLO. Photo by Craig Schwartz

I was quickly welcomed in the City of Angels with two back-to-back seasons in the Mark Taper Rep, soon followed by one of the highlights of my career - starring in the Los Angeles Premiere of Sunday in the Park With George, with Pamela Myers (the original Marta from Company) as my brilliant Dot and Marie. We had the Broadway sets and costumes and a director chosen by Sondheim and Lapine, the wonderful Fran Soeder.

 

From that flowed lots of amazing opportunities, many of them in Sondheim musicals, which was a gift, since his work was the very reason I longed to do musicals. Highlights of my Los Angeles Theater work include Into the Woods with Leslie Uggams, Company with Carol Burnett and Patrick Cassidy, Chess with Jodi Benson, A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia with Cathy Rigby, The Donmar Warehouse production of Parade at the Mark Taper (which began my association with Jason Robert Brown), and more recently, Annie at the Hollywood Bowl with Lea Salonga, Megan Hilty, Anna Gasteyer, David Alan Grier, and Steven Weber.

As many singing actors do, I have also branched out into the LA Cabaret scene in the last decade, aided and guided by my inspiring friend, Bruce Kimmel. To say I have been blessed over the years, especially in this city, is an understatement!

(SB): I have seen many of the shows you mentioned, but were you involved with any productions when word went out to immediately postpone or cancel them?

(Robert): I had two corporate shows scheduled in late March, one of which was cancelled, one postponed. I have been working with my corporate event company for 17 years and those were the first to go, as they are highly attended events. And I was slated to do the second in a series of Concerts at the Wallis Annenberg on April 1st, organized by the outgoing Mayor of Beverly Hills with Richard Sherman’s son, Greg. The first Concert of this series we did on February 26th, which was an evening of Tom Lehrer and Stephen Sondheim as a partial sing-along. The April concert was to be in a Hollywood Musicals theme, but this event was cancelled.

I was due to perform in the April and May Kritzerland Cabarets at Vitello’s, the second of which would coincide with our Director/Producer Bruce Kimmel’s new book Simply, A Lifetime of Lyrics being published, and would highlight his songs. The April 5th event had to be cancelled. However, the May Concert went online on May 3rd on Facebook Live and YouTube Live with a theme change.

Robert Yacko as Henry Ford in "Ragtime" at 3D Theatricals

The biggest event of mine that got postponed, first from March 30th to June 1st, and now to a TBD date, was the 2nd Benefit for Musical Theatre Guild’s Educational Outreach, an event called Rewind2: By Request at the Rockwell. I was honored to be directing this benefit show and we had been working hard on its planning, built with music from audience-requested musicals from MTG’s archives, using 25 of LA’s best musical theater actors. I’d been working closely with Kristi Holden (producer / organizer) and our Musical Director, Dan Redfeld, since late January and we had a stellar lineup of songs and MTG members to perform them. We were about to have our first rehearsals when everything shut down. This was the toughest one to lose, even temporarily, but I do know that it will get done when we can do so safely.

(SB): That was a lot of changes in such a short time. How were the shutdowns communicated with the cast and production teams?

Robert Yacko in “Undiscovered Country” in the Mark Taper Rep, with Christina Pickles

(Robert): With the corporates, our manager let us know via group email as soon as things changed. With Kritzerland, I spoke to Bruce Kimmel as things unfolded, and at the point where Shelter in Place went through April 15th, we knew we had to cancel April 5th. Then in mid-April, I got a message that we might try and do a Kritzerland online. The Wallis concert word came in a group email from our vocal director Carly Bracco, who had already put a ton of work into the event. It was heartbreaking for many, as this one is lost for good.

Finally, the MTG Benefit word came through back and forth messages with our brilliant coordinator Kristi, who at first tried to have us keep our March rehearsal schedule and get tracks to the singers for the June date. At the same time, MTG was still trying to plan for Kismet on May 3rd and a Glendale Arts event immediately after, which I was asked to direct as well. We soon realized that putting 20+ singers in among some of our elders was not prudent, considering how COVID news was darkening daily. It was first shared privately among the production staff and performers, then the date changes were announced publicly.

(SB): Are plans in place for any of those productions to be done at a future date?

Robert Yacko as Horace Vandergelder In "Hello, Dolly!" at 3D Theatricals

(Robert):  One corporate event may be done in October. The Wallis concerts are gone permanently. Krtizerland went on Facebook Live and YouTube Live, with guest star Liz Calloway contributing from NY. The MTG Benefit will happen at a TBD date. It will be a great show for a worthy cause, to support and inspire the next generation of Musical Theater Artists.

(SB): I have to say, you are one of the busiest stage actors I know. What future productions on your schedule are also being affected by the shutdown?

(Robert): I worked last November for the first time with David Green’s Musical Theatre University in Palm Desert doing Gypsy with a dear friend from NY, Alix Corey, who teaches there. Their program is extraordinary and so are the students involved. David and I talked about future productions (among them, JRB’s Honeymoon in Vegas), and in truth, I am not certain how this affects the program’s schedule. I was to be a guest star at the group’s last (of 6) cabaret shows on March 19th, but that of course was cancelled. I will indeed work with this group again when it is safe to do so.

There were some play readings I was to do with the gifted writer/director Suse Sternkopf (who took my great Cabaret headshot photo), with the ultimate design to create a new theater company. That is off the table until we can reconvene, as her two plays require a real intimate emotional connection which is hard to make with semi-strangers on Zoom.

Other than the MTG Benefit and their Glendale Arts show at the Americana being delayed to indeterminate dates, what is mostly affected is the ability to audition for future work, which is huge. Since no one knows exactly when and if productions can be done, no one is auditioning for anything of note. Of course, that will delay the start of productions at theaters across the board when they can re-open.

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

(Robert): Since I work a lot, the initial shock of having my entire work schedule vanish in the course of two days, topped by the ever-frightening tone of the news, caused me first to reach for humor, rather than panic. It was partly to keep things light and probably partially due to disbelief and denial. So, in the first 9 days of Shelter at Home, I started posting parodies of Musical Theater Posters, as if these were the only shows we could do now: things like Sunday in the Park Without George and No Company. I posted a dozen on Facebook the first day and people clamored for more, as everyone needed a way to laugh off the shock of this new normal in which we were suddenly living. I began posting every day on Facebook and Instagram, and in 9 days, I had created 101 mocked up posters of “Quarantined Musicals.”

A friend asked me to make a book of them for her as a cheer-up and a funny memento, so I went into iPhoto and created one, and sent copies to friends to keep them smiling in the moment and to keep as a funny memory once the plague has passed.

Just 10 days ago, I submitted my vocal-part video for a virtual choir, in which I was asked to participate by Jeff Rizzo and Eric Andrist. It is an 8-part SATB 1 & 2 choir version of a well-known pop song from the 70’s, which I cannot mention until it is ready. Fifty great LA singers sent in vocal/visual tracks to be edited together by David Engel. It should be ready soon.

As mentioned, I was shooting 3 songs for Sunday’s Krtizerland show, from composers Randy Newman, Cole Porter, and Noel Coward. And I am redesigning my professional website. It’s time and I have the time now.

Otherwise, like so many, I am eagerly watching the online concert events like Sondheim’s 90th Celebration and Jason Robert Brown’s Subculture show, highlights of the last 2 days (as I write this). And I am trying to stay in touch with my friends in our circle to make sure everyone is okay.

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

(Robert): Be Kind - to yourself first and to everyone around you, friends, family, and strangers alike. There is no roadmap for this current madness, but we as artists are more used to the kind of uncertainty that everyone is experiencing right now, and are suited to help however we can. This time is a reminder of the Native American adage that “No one wins unless the whole tribe wins.” We are all part of a tribe, both in the theater world and the rest of the world. No one is safe unless everyone is, and kindness goes a long way in making someone’s day, and in relieving some of the stress that breaks down immune systems. The smallest gestures make an enormous difference.

(SB): I so agree with you on bringing kindness into the world. Before the pandemic at the opening night of Daniel's Husband at the Fountain Theatre, director Simon Levy gave me a badge that says “Make America Kind Again” which I proudly wear every day. I wish I had hundreds of them so I could give one to each person who has reacted so positively to its message.

(Robert): I also encourage everyone to mine your solitude for its gifts of self-learning and resting, which is something we don’t do enough of when the wheels are turning full-speed. The digital world has made resting and recharging a forgotten art, one we all need to do to create our best work and, of course, to stay healthy.

You can find me by name on Facebook and Instagram. You can also watch some great videos of my many Cabaret performances on my self-named YouTube Channel, as well as a few bootlegged videos from productions of Company, Chess and Sunday in the Park With George, plus a recording of some unsung Sherman Brothers.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Costume Designer and Educator Halei Parker Who Makes Art a Part of Her Everyday Life


This Spotlight focuses on Costume Designer and Educator Halei Parker, who I first met in the dressing room at the Clark Library when she showed up with a wonderful variety of cleverly designed costumes for the publicity photo shoot for Lady Windermere’s Fan when I was the publicist for Chalk Repertory Theatre. Halei really opened my eyes to the possibilities for character interpretation that a costume designer can bring to a show.


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

“Lady Windermere's Fan” with Chalk Repertory Theatre and the Clark Rare Book Library

Halei Parker (Halei): I'm a freelance costume designer for theatre, opera, dance, immersive experiences, and film. I'm also an educator, and think of myself as a storyteller and world creator. The projects that excite me the most are deeply collaborative and are usually highly stylized and a little weird, especially since I love mixing ideas from disparate sources to create something magical and new.

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

“Gallery Secrets” with Chalk Repertory Theatre and the Los Angeles Natural History Museum

(Halei): I was mentoring students and beginning to source and fabric shop for a production of Sweeney Todd at Cal State LA when we were shut down. I was also beginning the design phase for the Getty Villa summer show. This year the Troubies (Troubadour Theatre Company) were going to be performing our new original musical LIZAstrata (think Los Vegas Liza Minnelli meets Aristophanes' Lysistrata meets the Troubies). Thankfully I had just wrapped shooting on a film and closed the show Earthquakes In London at Rogue Machine right before the world turned upside down.

“How The Princh Stole Christmas” with Troubadour Theatre Company

(SB): Here is the link to my review of the multimedia “Earthquakes on London” at Rogue Machine which examined the effects of global warming.

How were the shutdowns communicated with the cast and production team?

George Takei in “Allegiance” with East West Players and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center

(Halei): For Sweeney, we heard in our production meeting, two days before the Stay-At-Home order. The Liza news came at the end of March. We all saw it coming, but I was really hoping it would still manage to go on. The world could really use some more Troubie joy about now. It was pretty crushing. At this point, we are looking at postponements for both of those, and thankfully not cancellations.

(SB): I really loved all the outrageous costumes you designed for the Troubies “A Christmas Carole King” which I saw at the El Portal last December.

What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Halei): The whole rest of my year is now in flux, since no one really knows when we will be allowed to gather together again to experience live theatre in a group setting. I'm just trying to keep all my fingers and toes crossed that we can make stories for the world again before the year is out.

“Hairy Ape” with Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

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

(Halei): Art is always alive in my home. More than half of my apartment is actually a costume shop, so I'm surrounded by fabrics and my tools. I've been able to keep busy by making hundreds of masks from my eclectic stock of fabrics, and have done a few costume challenges that have proven to be quite fun. I'm trying to curb my use of social media.... somewhat. That is especially true when I am designing and creating costumes for shows.

I'm also feeding my need to make Art for others right now by making a mural for my building on the wall of our little garden.

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

(Halei): Chin up, loves. The world is going to need us more than ever when we are allowed to meet again. Just keep that passion alive in your heart.

You can find my work on Instagram HaleiParkerDesign and me at HaleiPie.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.


Jessica-Lynn-Johnson-Soaring-Solo

ISOLATE.MEDITATE.CREATE WITH JESSICA LYNN JOHNSON - STAY AT HOME DAYS 43 - 49

Everyday of the Stay at Home mandate of the COVID-19 crisis, Jessica Lynn Johnson, BEST NATIONAL SOLO ARTIST WINNER, invites you to create your one person play through her guided meditation and visualization. She encourages you to isolate, meditate, and create as an artistic community EVERY DAY as we are in the STAY AT HOME mode.

Day 43: Recalling a time when our mental, physical, spiritual or emotional health was compromised.

Day 44: Recalling our rock bottom as well our peak time in our lives.

Day 45: Recalling a meaningful moment of celebration in our lives.

Day 46: Calling to mind our biggest fan and supporter.

Day 47: Calling to mind our Fathers or Father Figures.

Day 48: Calling to mind our Mothers, Mother Figures or Mother Nature.

Day 49: Calling to mind our "Chosen Family".

Jessica Lynn Johnson, recipient of BEST NATIONAL SOLO ARTIST AWARD, is the Founder & CEO of Soaring Solo LLC, a company dedicated solely to the Direction & Development of one person plays. Jessica is passionate about the transformational power of solo theatre and has aided in the creation of over 100 solo shows (and still going strong)! Visit www.JessicaLynnJohnson.com for more information on Jessica's work Directing and Developing 1 Person Plays.


 


COVID-19 Theater Series: A 70-Year Theater Family Legacy - Ellen Geer and Theatricum Botanicum


Currently the matriarch of a theater dynasty, Ellen Geer followed in the family footsteps from an early age. Both her parents were actors, with her father Will Geer earning national fame as Grandfather Zeb Walton on TV’s 1960s hit, “The Waltons.” Ellen worked in some of the major repertory theatres around the country and has been active in film and television since 1971. Her career stretches to the present. In 1978, Ellen became the producing artistic director of her father’s dream theater after his death – certainly a huge undertaking for a busy actor, professor, theater director, and writer. She has performed admirably in all these roles, including a parental role. Her sister, Melora Marshall, her brother Thad Geer, and her daughter Willow have continued the family tradition as accomplished actors. Ellen still remains very active in theater as actor, director, playwright, adaptor, and producer. She took time from her busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


Will Geer - Photo courtesy of Theatricum Botanicum

Tell us something about Theatricum Botanicum. When did your theater first begin its long career? Who/how/why/where was it founded?

Ellen Geer:  It was really founded in the 1950s. It was the cruel time of the McCarthy hearings, when people were blackballed and couldn’t work in show business. There were actors, technicians, writers, folksingers, all sorts of out-of-work people essential to theater.  We called our home “Geer Gardens.” We made a living selling plants and became a haven for out-of-work artists. At the time, I was around ten years old – so I was almost born into our family theater. And, given my dad’s career, I was most certainly born into show business.  In the seventies, the family returned; and my father Will Geer founded Theatricum Botanicum. We performed our first show in Topanga Canyon in 1973; it was Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night’s Dream – and we have been performing the play ever since. We also started free workshops in 1973. Hollywood actors wanted to do Shakespeare and other classics, so we had lots of support.

Michael McFall and Melora Marshall in "Midsummer Nights Dream" - Photo by Ian Flanders

When my father died in 1978, the family continued performing and kept the theater going. I took over the running of the theater. We became members of Equity, the actors and stage managers union. My mother was still alive, and the whole family, including brother and sisters, etched out the dream of theater and education. We got our first grant in 1978. That enabled us to begin our educational programs for kids and adults. We have an Academy of Classics; and we also run School Days, a field trip of Shakespeare, and classes for youth in the Los Angeles Unified School District. We have always been a professional theater, but we’re also non-profit and are able to accept grants and donations.

Theatricum Botanicum Company in 1973 - Photo courtesy of Theatricum Botanicum

Theatricum Botanicum has an outdoor stage. Have you had to make any special accommodations to perform on a hillside?

EG:  I absolutely love it. In fact, I like it much more than being indoors with wings and curtains. Nature and art are the best of friends. We have a beautiful natural background, so we don’t have to spend huge amounts of money on sets. Our sets are the great outdoors. But performing in nature also dictates some of our choices. Sometimes, the weather may also interfere. I remember once, a long time ago, it started to rain. The audience opened their umbrellas, so we had to keep going. In Merchant of Venice, a dove of peace flew on the oak tree during the court room scene – it sat there and observed the whole thing! Once a large rat fell from a tree in the middle of a love scene. Our star grabbed the stunned animal by the tale, swung it around over his head, and tossed it far away! There are lots of creative ways to deal with almost anything.

Willow Geer and Christine Breihan in "Twelfth Night" - Photo by Ian Flanders

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

EG:  It was a week before casting. We planned to open School Days at the end of April. Our main repertory season of five plays runs from June to September; and we have programs for the kids in May and October, as well as a camp in the summer. We were all ready to go. Many theaters were in the middle of a run - so hard. We were lucky.

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

EG:  We had to let go of some of our staff; now some are on unemployment. It’s interesting that unemployment is paying them more than we could as a non-profit. We really miss our artists and educators. At this point, all education is online.

Willow Geer and Ellen Geer in "Chalk Garden" - Photo by Liam Flanders

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Are you streaming videos? Do you have virtual meetings? Are you planning for your next show when you reopen? Any auditions coming up or fund raising?

EG:  All education is now digital. Our staff has learned how to use different kinds of digital platforms like Zoom. Elizabeth Tobias, our incredible educational director, has set a full schedule of monologue, poetry, movement, and technical approaches to the classics for adults. We’re also going to have a program on rhetoric and language taught by Milan Dragicevich, who’s an Amhurst professor specializing in Shakespeare. He was one of our original company members. We have teen online classes where students write their own monologues, and we even have a sword fighting class!  We want to have them move - even when quarantined! We’re working with the union trying to find a way to do story telling. We also plan to put on concerts. I’m wondering if someday they may unionize people performing in the digital world. Artists need to be paid!

Melora Marshall and Ellen Geer in "The Tempest" - Photo by Ian Flanders

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

EG:  Until we get a clear understanding about what COVID-19 is, we can’t really make any predictions. We have a huge population in Southern California, and Theatricum won’t open until it’s safe. But I sincerely believe that theater will always come back - maybe in a different form - but theater will still return. Some theaters may die, but new things will come out of it. If a group can’t pay their rent, they may go under for a while. But actors will always start up a new theater, and theater will take on a new form. For sure, the theater we see after the pandemic will be different because actors, crew, and audiences have gone through a life-changing experience. Theatre people will help define it.

Theatricum Botanicum is planning on going green. We’re revitalizing our creek and making other earth-friendly changes. We want people to see what can be done to alleviate climate change. We want to help people grow in their respect for nature.

Mark Bramhall, Willow Geer, and Ellen Geer in "Other Desert Cities" - Photo by Miriam Geer

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

EG:  Return to theater-going! Support young people’s desire to learn about great playwrights, and help them feel comfortable presenting before their peers. Theater helps create the next good society. Theatricum will survive and keep doing what we love. Artists keep going because you know deep in your soul that you have to. Arts have taken a back seat because this plague is so big. But we’re all creating new exciting stories, and the rugged time will change. Stay positive and carry on!

What are some of your future plans?

EG: To open or not to open is up to the scientists and medical world. We will continue our academic and educational work - with social distancing. Actually, social distancing is easier for us because we’re in nature. Where we go in the future will also depend on budgeting and funding and when audiences feel safe again to gather. But we plan to go forward because we have a strong company who have a passion for theater and education. We know that audiences will always have a need to get together and share theater. “O Time, must untangle this, not I: It is too hard a knot for me t’untie!” (Twelfth Night by Shakespeare).


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Center Theatre Group is now accepting applications for the 2021 Dorothy and Richard E. Sherwood Award!

Center Theatre Group's $10,000 Dorothy and Richard E. Sherwood Award for theatre artists is given annually to nurture innovative and adventurous theatre artists working in Los Angeles. Two additional finalists will each receive a $2,000 honorarium.

The Sherwood Award nurtures the selected artists and invites them to engage in a professional relationship with Center Theatre Group. Sherwood Awardees demonstrate leadership qualities, push existing boundaries, and are dedicated to improving the future of their respective artistic fields. Artists are not limited by title, role, or genre, but they must have a relationship to contemporary performance rooted in theatre.

Originally created in 1996 as an annual fund to support innovative, adventurous theatre artists from Los Angeles, the Sherwood Award was established in memory of Dorothy and Richard E. Sherwood. Both of the Sherwoods were patrons of the arts with a special appreciation for the energy and talent of artists at a catalytic moment in their career who are vanguards in theatre. Richard Sherwood was president of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and president and then chairman of Center Theatre Group’s Board of Directors from 1980 until his death in 1993. Dorothy Sherwood created the award to honor her husband and helped shepherd the award process since its inception before her passing in 2018. The award is endowed by the Sherwood family and honors the Sherwoods’ passionate commitment to theatre.

2021 Sherwood Award Applications

The application for the 2021 Sherwood Award is now live. The deadline for the initial application is June 17, 2020 at 12pm. Select candidates will be invited to submit full applications. Full applications, along with letters of recommendation and work sample material, will be due no later than August 14, 2020. The awardee will be announced at the LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards.

APPLY HERE

For more information or any questions about the Sherwood Award, please contact Sherwood [at] ctgla [dot] org.



Spotlight Series: Meet Ashley Griffin, an L.A. Actor Who Moved to NYC to Follow Her Theatre Dreams


This Spotlight focuses on Ashley Griffin, an actor in Los Angeles since the age of five who moved to New York City to follow her theatre dreams - and is now both writing and acting in shows.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background, beginning in Los Angeles which led you to decide to move to NYC?

Ashley Griffin (Ashley): I'm a 5th generation Californian (possibly 6th), but I'm the first actor/dramatist in my family. I grew up at the wonderful rep company, The Santa Monica Playhouse, and made my theatrical debut when I was 5. I worked professionally as a child actor in theater, film and TV and attended the Hamilton Academy of Music Performing Arts High School. I adore Los Angeles theatre, but was always a bit frustrated because it's much more challenging to do theatre in LA than in NYC since there aren't as many theatrical productions in LA and Broadway and touring shows rarely audition here.

Ashley Griffin playing Denise off-Broadway in the revival of "Dubarry Was a Lady," directed by Evan Peters

It’s my experience that the culture is much more TV/Film focused here which was never my true performing interest. But I did appear quite a bit in productions at the Will Geer Theaticum Botanicum (making my Shakespeare debut when I was still a young child), as well as at Royce Hall, The Santa Monica Playhouse, the Morgan-Wixson Theater, and in touring productions, including taking the wonderful show Mary-Mary to the UK where I played Mary-Mary in London, Warwick and Stratford-Upon-Avon.

But at the end of the day, it always felt like if you wanted to do Film/TV you needed to be in LA, and if you wanted to do theatre, you needed to be in NYC. After doing a good amount of Film/TV, I realized my heart was always still within the theater. So, I went to college at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and stayed in the city after graduating, but I'm occasionally still doing work in LA when the right opportunity presents itself.

(SB):  What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?

(Ashley): I'm a Broadway person, and I was literally on my way to a show when I was told Broadway was being shut down. In addition, I had just finished directing The Middleman at the Hudson Theater where we were fortunate to be able to complete our run, and was in meetings about productions I had coming down the pipeline which have obviously been postponed. We're still trying to figure out next steps for three shows of mine in the wake of the shutdown.

Ashley Griffin playing the lead role of Arcadia in "Trial" off-Broadway, directed by Lori Petty. Photo by Micah Joe

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

(Ashley): By the time we received an email about the closure, most of us had already seen it on the news.

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

(Ashley): It depends. Some are being shut down permanently, some are figuring out how to reschedule, and some are in limbo. A lot will depend on when the shutdown actually ends, which is basically out of our hands.

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

(Ashley): I have three specific shows that have been directly affected, but since none of them have been officially announced yet, I can’t really say anything specific about them. I can say one is meant to go up this fall.

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

Ashley Griffin playing the lead role of Astrid in development with "Snow" off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons. Photo by Micah Joel

(Ashley): I'm fortunate that I'm a writer, so I'm working to get as much writing done as I can. I'm in talks to be a part of some virtual readings of projects, and my collaborators and I are meeting online to work and make future plans. I run a podcast for the Onstage Network and I've been doing episodes of that.

I am also taking some dance classes online whenever I can, and really enjoy Kathryn Morgan’s wonderful classes on YouTube. I also love Claudia Dean, anything from the Royal Ballet, and Westside Academy of Dance where I grew up studying - special shout out to Celeste Amos, Chason Greenwood, and Johnny Chong's classes - and I'm very excited to stream Ashley Shaw's class from Matthew Bourne's New Adventures Company.

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

(Ashley): I think this is a great opportunity to showcase work online and bring it to the attention of people outside our normal communities. I think this could be a great time for LA theatre to be seen and appreciated by audiences all over the country, and hopefully when we're all back, the online experience can be a doorway to better supporting live theatre in the Los Angeles area.

If anyone's interested in virtual Arts classes in acting / writing / directing / Shakespeare / business of theatre, I'd love to offer my services. You can reach me on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, my podcast on Onstage Network, and of course through my website.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 Theater Series: A Repurposed Movie Theater Goes Live - Sierra Madre Playhouse and Christian Lebano


Since 2011, when he first joined Sierra Madre Playhouse (SMP), Christian Lebano has produced, directed, or acted in over 43 shows. As an actor, he has played major roles at theaters across the country, including the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Utah Shakespeare Festival, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and American Players Theater.

In 2014, he became artistic director of SMP. Under his leadership, it has earned two Ovation Awards out of thirteen nominations for eight different shows and many awards from other critic’s groups. Six years ago, he initiated the Theater for Young Audiences (TYA) series of plays for schools; the program has drawn 14 school districts and over 13,000 students. He started the Off the Page free monthly reading series which has performed 44 readings to date. Three have moved to full productions, and another is slated for 2021. In 2019, he launched the Off the Screen movie series which is screened with and supports each new production. Christian is currently recovering from COVID-19 but nonetheless made time to interview in April 2020.


Brighid Fleming and Christian Lebano in "To Kill a Mockingbird" - Photo by Gina Long

Tell us something about the history of your theater. When did your theater begin its long career? What is your mission?

Christian Lebano:  The building was built in 1910 as a furniture store and was converted to a silent movie theater and limited vaudeville in 1923. It continued as a movie house until it closed in 1970 when the building was chopped up and used for many different purposes. In 1980, a community theater took over the building and became the Sierra Madre Playhouse. The building underwent major renovations to make it look as it does today. In 1996, we started using Equity actors and began professionalizing our offerings. In 2014, we had a major reorganization and mission change. That was the year I became the first artistic director in over 10 years.

Lee Chen and Grace Shen in "The Joy Luck Club" - Photo by Gina Long

The Sierra Madre Playhouse is a nonprofit, award-winning 99-seat theater. With century-old ties to our community; we are dedicated to fostering an appreciation of live performance in people of all ages and backgrounds by illuminating the diversity of the American experience.

I was not involved from the beginning. I first came to SMP as an actor in 2011 and then joined the board in 2012. I became artistic director in 2014.

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

CL:  We closed on March 5. At the time, we had a rental in the house, and they cancelled their remaining performances. We had cancelled our sold-out production of Charlotte’s Web a few weeks earlier because of the added costs incurred due to AB5 – specifically, the redefinition of independent contractors – so we were spared having to shut down a production.

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

CL:  Of course, we have canceled all programming: our film series, our reading series, and all our productions through the end of 2020.

Aaron Shaw and Katie Franqueira in "Dames at Sea" - Photo by Gina Long

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

CL:  We have not yet streamed anything for our audiences, but we are considering the best ways to stay connected to them, including live streaming performances. We have just launched a newsletter and continue to send email updates. We are also on Facebook. Our marquee has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, LA Times, CNN, and MSNBC. Pretty soon we’re going to need an agent!  We have been updating our marquee messages weekly.

We’re having lots of virtual meetings with staff and our board. We’re planning on our grand reopening production for April of next year. We haven’t set a date yet. Given our uncertainty about the opening date, we haven’t yet scheduled auditions.

In terms of fund raising, we haven’t made any direct appeals for support at this time. We feel that - with so many people struggling - it isn’t the right time to ask for money. However, we have received several unsolicited donations from patrons, all with notes telling us how important we are to the community and how much they hope we will survive the shutdown. WE WILL!!

Brad David Reed and Jack Sundmacher in "The Odd Couple" - Photo by Gina Long

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

CL:  I imagine that quite a few intimate theaters will be forced to close. I see a contraction of offerings looming. COVID-19 comes on the heels of the disastrous AB5 law which changed the definition of independent contractors and thus added thousands of dollars to the cost of productions. The uncertainty of the future makes it very difficult to plan. It is our opinion that we won’t be allowed to gather until 2021 and that, even then, audiences will be wary until there is a vaccine. That is why we are not planning to produce in 2020 and will only begin later in 2021.

Alan Blumenfeld and Katherine James in "The Gin Game" - Photo by Gina Long

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

CL:  We definitely need patience and fortitude. Obviously, we also need donations as we try to keep paying our small staff through these dark times. We love hearing from our patrons. Knowing that they are rooting for us and looking forward to our reopening keeps our spirits strong and makes us determined to come back better than ever.

Most importantly, very soon we will be announcing ways that the audiences can reach out to their State Senators and Assembly persons to help rethink and rewrite AB5. This law has had a great impact on our ability to produce shows at the high level we’ve come to be known for. That’s why we are planning only a four-show season, which is down two shows from our past production schedules.

Susane Lee and Christian Prentice in "4000 Miles" - Photo by Gina Long

What are some of your future plans? 

CL:  We plan a four-show season in 2021 which will include three of the cancelled productions from 2020 – Lauren Yee’s King of the Yees, Lauren Gunderson’s Silent Sky, and a return of our Christmas classic, A Christmas Story. We will be announcing one more show which will open the season. We are ready to announce our Silent Film Festival which will be in the spring. Our reading series, Off the Page, will be back with its monthly offering. We will include a full month of four new plays in June or July, and we’ll launch our Story Telling events (to be named) with two dates. AND we have a few more ideas in the works.

We are also using this time to make many long-needed upgrades to our theater. These changes, large and small, will make our producing capabilities stronger, our actors better supported, and our audiences happier. I am very excited to share them with our patrons when we reopen.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Selah Victor, Former Actors Co-op Theater Production Manager


This Spotlight focuses on Selah Victor, an actor and former Production Manager of Actors Co-op Theater Company in Hollywood whose next production, which is very personal, is due later this year. And while the “wait is on,” Selah is sharing her musical comedy talents by creating clever and very relevant “safe at home” videos on YouTube. So, with a toddler at home as well as a new addition to her family on the way, how is she fueling her creativity at home and sharing it with others?


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

Selah Victor (Selah): I have been a performing in the theater since I was 10 years old and graduated from UC Irvine with a degree in Theater, which also included a year studying and performing in theater all over the UK.

Selah Victor with Floyd Van Buskirk in "Lend Me a Tenor" at the Actors Co-op

After college, I moved to Los Angeles where I continued to perform on the stage all over the city including Actors Co-op, The Garry Marshall Theater, Theater West, Pico Playhouse, and Second City. I became a member of Actors Co-op Theater Company in 2003, serving on the Production Committee and producing several shows before becoming the Production Manager from 2015-2019. I also co-founded an independent theater production company called Standing Room Only to bring shows from concept to creation.

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

Selah Victor in "The World Goes Round"

(Selah): I wasn’t involved in any stage productions personally. But our two Spring shows at Actors Co-op, Marvin’s Room and A Man of No Importance, had to be postponed, and the closing weekend of A Body of Water (March 13-15) had to be cancelled.

(SB): Now that you find yourself at home, how are you keeping the Arts alive by using social media or other online sites?

(Selah): I have been having so much fun keeping the Arts alive while at home by producing sketch comedy with my toddler! And I am pregnant with our second child due later this year. As busy as I have been, it has truly helped to keep my spirits up and I have found it such a thrill to produce things at home, sharpening my skills as a performer, writer, and editor, as well as a Mom! It’s also been so rewarding to post my sketches on social media and YouTube and to get positive feedback from the internet audience.

(SB): My personal favorite, which I saw on Facebook, is your “Stay at Home Rap” which I watched over and over again, laughing myself silly over the cuteness of your son and your relevant lyrics with such important messages.

(Selah) Here are the links to my “quarantine” sketches:

Quarantine With Kids:

Stay at Home Rap:

 

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

(Selah): It’s been so wonderful to see how the LA Theatre community has come together throughout all of this. I’ve seen online rehearsals, performances, play readings, and more, all of which have helped artists to keep their spark alive to keep creating. I do think we need to support our small theaters to help them keep the lights on through this difficult financial time, and so many people have been going the extra mile to make sure these theaters can stay open. 

Let’s stay in touch through my website, my instagram and my twitter accounts.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.