Spotlight Series: Meet Sascha Vanderslik, a Native Australian Who Calls The Group Rep Theatre Company Her New Home

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

Sascha Vanderslik (Sascha): I am Australian born and bred and grew up in the theatre. My Mum is an incredible singer with her band Organic Joe and she did musicals when I was a kid, so I spent my childhood watching her perform.  I would sit backstage and watch the actors put on their make-up and costumes, completely enthralled by the magic they were creating and then would go home and make up my own plays with my toys. Then one day they did Little Shop of Horrors and my mind was blown. Seeing that show changed my world and suddenly I realized how versatile and fun the stage could be.

When I was 12, I co-founded a theatre company in my home town since we didn’t have a lot of theatre available for youth. So we made it ourselves and wrote plays that dealt with youth issues such as peer pressure and drugs. I took what I learned in the years with this company and I used it in my career. For me, the best art will always challenge you while it entertains you.

Since living in the States I’ve been focused more on film and TV work and building my credits. I felt something was missing though, and the last three years have been focused on reigniting my first love since theatre soothes my soul and there is no greater rush than performing on stage. I did two plays with the Manor Theatre Company in 2017 and have been a member of The Group Rep Theatre Company for a little over a year, during which time I have been involved with multiple productions at GRT. And I am pleased to announce I was just voted onto their Board of Directors as the 2nd Vice President.

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

(Sascha): When the shutdown started, we were right in the middle of rehearsals for London Suite which is the next Main Stage production at The Group Rep.

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

(Sascha): The Group Rep is such a fantastic company and we are lucky that both the Artistic Director Doug Haverty, and the Executive Director Bert Emmett, are incredibly transparent with the membership. There had been multiple discussions before the shutdown started about what the process would be. We had also had discussions with our Producer Aly York and Director Doug Engalla, both of whom really made it their first priority to make sure the cast were comfortable and felt safe while rehearsals were still happening. As soon as the shutdown started, we received communication from Doug and Aly explaining the situation and that we would be postponing rehearsals.

Once the shutdown happened, we have had regular communication from our Director Doug to check in and see how we are doing. Bert Emmett and Doug Haverty are also in constant contact with the membership to give them updates on what’s happening, and we will be having Zoom meetings with the membership in the future.

(SB) Most theatre companies are going that same route for now, and all are trying to figure out options for their next steps. Do you know if plans in place to present London Suite at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(Sascha): At this time London Suite is postponed and not cancelled, and the plan is to open it as soon as it is safe to do so. We are rehearsing weekly on Zoom, which has been different and a lot of fun. We are a family and it’s great to see people even if it’s only on Zoom. Of course, we are only able to rehearse lines but it’s nice to keep everything fresh in our minds so that when the time comes, we can hit the ground running.

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

(Sascha): This year I am co-producing Nine Winning One Acts at The Group Rep. It was supposed to open in June, and we would be heading into rehearsals right now if we were able to do so. This festival has now been postponed and we don’t have a date yet for when it will open. My Co-Producer Helen O'brien and I have been hard at work reading all the submissions and narrowing down the plays so that when we get the green light, we can head into auditions and get the festival up on its feet.

I’m also in two staged readings that are postponed: the first, Baby With the Bath Water, is going to be completely staged and we are going to be starting Zoom rehearsals for that soon. The other, Ouartermaine’s Terms, is just postponed until it is safe to open.

Loose Knit

Lastly, I am in a hilarious new play, The Canary by Amy Sullivan, that is part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, which had been postponed to October and was then cancelled completely. This is such a fun play and I can’t wait until it can be shared with the world, maybe at Fringe 2021.

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

(Sascha): I am lucky that I still have projects keeping me busy, and rehearsals for London Suite have been such a bright light in these times. I’ve also been participating in the open call self-tapes that different casting offices have been doing. I also have some very talented friends that have been doing Zoom table reads for projects they have written.

(SB): While it’s true the online theatre experience is not quite the same as being in a theater for a live performance, it certainly is keeping us creatively busy. Any thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Sascha): This is such a hard time for our community and it warms my heart to see how we have all banded together. The Arts are so important to the world and we will make it through these dark times. It won’t be easy and we don’t know what the other side looks like, but we will make it through together.

And of course, the Theatre community is struggling right now and we need your help. Most of the small non-profit theaters are held together by a membership of volunteers, so without ticket sales we are struggling to survive. And since Art is always there to help people, in these dark times Art needs some help in return. Like so many other theaters, we need as many donations as possible. And while it has been incredible how many people have already donated, we still need more help. To donate directly to The Group Rep, you can go to TheGroupRep.com/show/donations. Another place to donate is at gofundme.com/savenohotheatres.

Please stay in touch as we all work together to support our vibrant L.A. Theatre community! You can find me on Instagram @saschavanderslik or at TheGroupRep.com.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



How Wearing a Mask Could Help the Theatre Industry and Your Local Economy


The following was posted on facebook by film and theatre actress Kitty Swink, who is a member of the Antaeus Theatre Company in Los Angeles. With her permission I'm reposting for all to read and share.

Kitty copied and slightly edited this and shared from multiple of her dear and fabulously talented colleagues.


Please read this...this is personal!!!

Our industry is gone, and it will be a very long time before it recovers. Hope you all are enjoying the beach and theme parks while we just sit home and hope our jobs come back. Stop being selfish. Stay home. Wear a mask.

Yesterday, Broadway formally announced the rest of the year is canceled and Cirque du Soleil has filed for bankruptcy protection. Lincoln Center is closed. Multiple orchestras and opera companies have cancelled seasons. Smaller regional companies , venues and organizations are in jeopardy. Even community theatres , bands, orchestras, free lance gigs have gone away. So when you see your entertainment friends begging you to wear masks and stay home, understand that we are helplessly watching our industry crumble before our eyes because the country is doing so poorly at reducing the spread. This IS personal for us.

If you plan on watching ‘Hamilton’ today... or if you loved the ‘Chicago’ movie... or if ‘Sound of Music’ or Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for you. THEY ALL started on a stage.

Now Broadway is shut down till Jan 2021. Major performing arts presenters are closed for the next season.

ALL of the following people are out work.

It’s not just the actors or musicians.

For those of you not in the theatre or music community, please understand the scope of Broadway/Off-Broadway being shut down. Frankly, this affects all theatre and music anywhere. It travels much further than the stage boards where you see the brilliant performers giving you an amazing show. You also have:

- Tour managers
- Production managers
- Tour accountants
- Stage managers
- Company managers
- House managers
- General managers
- Stage Techs
- House crew
- Runners
- Truck and Bus drivers
- Promoter reps
- Caterers
- Production Assistants
- Dressers / Wardrobe
- Hair/Makeup
- Carpenters
- Electrics
- FOH Sound Engineers, Monitor Engineers & techs
- Lighting Designers and Techs
- Props
- Musicians
- Ushers
- Bartenders
- Box office treasurers
- Porters
- Cleaners
- Matrons
- Merchandise
- Security
- Marketing
- Producers
- Directors
- Choreographers
- Authors
- Orchestrators/Arrangers
- Interns
- Press Agents
- Casting Directors
- Set Designers
- Costume Designers
- Hair/Makeup Designers
- Lighting Designers
- Sound Designers
- Prop Designers
- All the design assistants
- Vocal/dialect coaches
- Child wranglers
- Doormen

Now go out of the theatre district and see the jobs this shutdown also affects:

- All the costume shops where the costumes are made
- The millinery shops where the hats/headpieces are made
- The cobblers where all the custom shoes are made
- The wigmakers
- The fabric/bead/feather shops- while these may reopen they will suffer huge losses with no shows requiring anything for this entire year.
- Scenic shops where the sets are built
- Prop shops where the props are made
- Sound and Lighting shops where the lights & mics are rented from
- Design studios where the sets, costumes, props, etc are dreamed up to make the directors vision a reality
- Rehearsal spaces for the show to be worked out before it appears for your pleasure
- Merchandise vendors, concessions
- Advertising agencies & press agencies
- Talent agencies and managers
- Union offices
- Producer & general management offices

Now venture even deeper into the shutdown and see the business that is lost in the theatre district from just the people in the industry not working on a show (then on top of that the loss of audience members buying stuff at)

- Delis
- Restaurants
- Post-show bars
- Coffee shops
- Hotels
- Garages
- Gyms
- Physical therapists

If that list seems long - it is! And that’s just New York. That’s not even taking into account all the theatre around this country. For most of us - this is our whole life!!
Wear a damn mask!



Spotlight Series: Meet Holly Baker-Kreiswirth and Bill Wolski, the Dynamic Duo Who Call Little Fish Theatre Their “Home Away from Home”


Anyone who has attended a production at Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro has most likely met Holly Baker-Kreiswirth and Bill Wolski, the dynamic duo who call Little Fish Theatre their “Home Away from Home.” As well as appearing onstage together, the married couple also work behind-the-scenes with Holly managing the theatre's Press Relations and directing shows while Bill often takes on the roles of Director and Producer when not acting onstage.


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

Bill Wolski (Bill): I'm a veteran of over a hundred plays and a whole host of other projects and performances. I cut my teeth on the small theatre circuit in greater Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up. I'm primarily known for my work at Little Fish Theatre, which has been my artistic home since 2007, and for being the husband of the equally talented and prolific Holly Baker-Kreiswirth.

Holly Baker-Kreiswirth (Holly): I started out in television before I worked in theater; the very first paid job I had was in the acting category on Junior Star Search which led to various roles in shows such as Chicago HopeGia (HBO), and Private Practice. I studied theater in college, but took a 10-year break to work on a career in TV production, and then had my kid.  In my early 30s, I started with Palos Verdes Players as a sound tech, then worked my way up to directing, producing, and finally acting again.  When PVP sadly went down, Bill and I appeared onstage in The Tender Trap at Long Beach Playhouse (when we started dating!) and subsequently found our artistic home at Little Fish Theatre, where we produce Pick of the Vine and act in or direct roughly 1/3 of the productions every year.

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

(Bill): I was working on a show called Becky's New Car, written by Steven Dietz, and directed by my wife. It was scheduled to open on April 9th. I was playing Becky's steadfast, not-as-dumb-as-he-looks husband, Joe.

(Holly): We were both deeply into rehearsals for Becky's New Car. I pre-block the shows I direct before rehearsals even begin; we had ten rehearsals under our belt with our lead actress, Amanda Karr, already off book.  Costumes/props were bought, lights/sound were being designed... everything was in motion.  Our stumble-through was the last rehearsal we had, and the show was already in great shape.

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

(Bill and Holly): First, the sports teams postponed their seasons. Then, it was gatherings over 250 people. Then, gatherings over 50 people. Being a very intimate theater, there was still a possibility that LFT could limit ticket sales and hold performances, but the conclusion was reached that we didn't want to put our fan base and company members at risk. Emails went out to those involved that everything was going to be put on hold.

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

(Bill): Becky's New Car will open at a later date, once we've been given the all-clear.

(Holly): We're thrilled that the work we've already put into the show will be seen by an audience someday.  I believe the message will resonate with them.

(SB): I have seen the show before and was really looking forward to seeing the production at Little Fish. So I am happy to hear that eventually that will happen. What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Bill and Holly): We are involved at LFT all the time in a volunteer capacity. The shutdown has affected our entire season. Shows and special events that have not yet been cast or started production may be canceled entirely to give the shows that were already in progress a chance to be performed.

(SB): I know Bill is an avid hiker, but how are the two of you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Bill and Holly): Little Fish Theatre and its company members are doing a lot to bring theatre to a virtual audience. We're promoting and reaching out to our subscribers with videos and newsletters, and writing and sharing original content through our social media platforms. Specifically, we have a 5-part original web series called "Little Fish" that features hilarious portrayals of our artists.  We've produced multiple virtual readings of everything from comedic short plays to screenplays to a play about the shootings at Kent State 50 years ago this month.  And coming up next month we have a reading of a M*A*S*H* script donated to us by one of the writers, Ken Levine!  All of our readings are free -- we're so happy to be able to provide the arts to everyone in this format.

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

(Bill and Holly): Please, be safe. Follow the rules and the health guidelines and limit the risk posed to yourself and your loved ones. In Shakespeare's time, theaters were closed due to the plague, and 400 years later, theatre is still alive and well. As long as there are stories to tell, there will be people to tell them. We'll all be together again soon enough. From our theater to yours, here's a big hug from Little Fish. We love you!

Here's how to stay in touch with Little Fish Theatre:


All production photos credit: Miguel Elliot


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Fringe Management Co-Founder Mike Blaha


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Reflections on COVID-19 and the Fountain Theatre - An Interview with Stephen Sachs


An award-winning playwright, director, and producer, Stephen Sachs has been instrumental in turning the Fountain Theatre, which he co-founded in 1990, into a powerhouse venue for all that is best in the theater world. The home of multiple award-winning plays, Fountain Theatre has proudly presented the world premieres of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances, and Stephen Sachs’ Bakersfield Mist and Arrival and Departure, as well as Los Angeles premieres by Pulitzer Prize winners Martyna Majok and Stephen Adly Guirgis. Sachs was recently honored with a Certificate of Commendation from Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the culture life of Los Angeles.” During an interview in April 2020, Stephen took a moment to reflect on the effect of COVID-19 on theater life as we know it.


Montae Russell, Victor Anthony, and Marisol Miranda in "Between Riverside and Crazy" - Photo by Jenny Graham

When did the Fountain Theatre first begin performances? Were you involved from the beginning? What are some of the most popular plays you've done? How about awards? 

STEPHEN SACHS:  The Fountain Theatre was founded by myself and Deborah Lawlor in 1990 and is currently celebrating 30 years as one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles. The Fountain provides a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and worldwide. Recent highlights include celebrity readings of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington and All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. Our West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living was placed on the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2018” list. The Southern California premiere of Daniel’s Husband and our Los Angeles premiere of Between Riverside and Crazy were each named to multiple “Best of 2019” lists. The Fountain Theatre recently swept the 2019 Ovation Awards, winning Best Season and Best Production of a Play. Last month, the Fountain was honored by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle with the Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence in theater.

Deanne Bray and Brian Robert Burns in "Arrival and Departure" - Photo by Ed Krieger

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

SS:  We had to suspend our acclaimed world premiere of Human Interest Story and close our theater on March 13 due to COVID-19.

Katy Sullivan and Felix Solis in "Cost of Living" - Photo by Geoffrey Wade

HOW HAS COVID-19 IMPACTED ON YOUR THEATER?

 SS: COVID-19 has crippled the Fountain Theatre, but we will survive. Like every other theater in Los Angeles and the nation, we were forced to suspend a production in mid-run and close our doors. That means zero earned income. For months. It’s a financial hardship for our organization. It’s also emotionally devastating for everyone in our Fountain family. None of us are doing this for money. We do it for love. And when what you love most is taken from you, it’s painful. It hurts.

Aleisha Force, Rob Nagle, and Tanya Alexander in "Human Interest Story" - Photo by Jenny Graham

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

SS: The Fountain Theatre very much wants to launch into live streaming. But we use union actors, and Actors Equity Association has still not provided the 99-Seat community with guidelines to use AEA actors for streaming. AEA has approved it in Equity theaters across the country but has yet, as of this date, failed to act on behalf of intimate theaters in Los Angeles. Every day that goes by with our theaters sitting dark - and the option of streaming online being withheld - adds to our financial hardship. In the meantime, we are continuing with Zoom meetings and online community gatherings.

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?

 SS: COVID-19 is like a wildfire that has burned through the landscape of the LA theater community. When this fire is eventually put out – whenever that is – the terrain will grow back, but it will never be the same. Even when we reopen, there is no “normal” to return to; there is no going back. Some theaters will not survive being closed for so long. The ones that do will find themselves in a landscape they will not recognize.

Sam Mandel, Dor Gvirtsman, and Steven B. Green in "The Chosen" - Photo by Ed Krieger

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

SS: All of us in the LA theater community require two kinds of need: financial support and loyalty. Every theater in Los Angeles now has zero box office income. Nothing is coming in. We need financial support from government agencies, from foundations, from donors, and from the public to help get us through this terrible time. And we need loyalty. When we reopen our doors – and we will – we need our audiences to come back, to ignite our rebirth. When this crisis is over, it will take time for all of us to get back on our feet again. If we truly are a community, the community needs to show up, to reassemble in strength, so that we all can march forward.

What are some of your future plans?

SS: Once we get the green light to reopen our doors, our plan is to resume the run for Human Interest Story for 4-6 weeks. We will follow it with the LA premiere of If I Forget by Steven Levenson. We will return with the passion we hope to share with our audiences.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Kristy Edmunds, Executive and Artistic Director of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about you and CAP UCLA?

Kristy Edmonds (Kristy): UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance produces and supports programming that builds a community around the world’s creative artists whose ideas find a home in contemporary theater, dance, music, writing and collaboration. Artists that have achieved a towering legacy in their chosen art forms, alongside those who are well on their way because of their generous and singular vision. At CAP UCLA we leave no stone unturned in assuring that people (in every age, culture and means) have artists in their lives one project at a time.

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

(Kristy): After presenting Octavia Butler’s Parable of The Sower by Toshi Reagon, on the now legendary evening of March 7, there were but days before the safer at home order would come in. An additional 13 performances were immediately impacted. Our work began in earnest for postponing (cancelling was a last measure position for us), and important in every discussion around rescheduling was CAP UCLA’s commitment that we would not leave artists, managers and audiences out to dry, as we knew that artists and their creative teams would be in a severe cash flow challenge (one that would move from stressful to imperiling within weeks as more organizations began to cancel). But none of us anticipated the long duration of the marathon this would rapidly evolve into.

In our situation at CAP UCLA, I had an enhanced vantage point because of the leadership of UCLA – they were responsibly addressing a scale of change that was unfathomable and because of the transparency of critical decision-making, I had a slight head start on the crucial reality of public safety measures spreading in every direction imaginable. We had to all focus on the huge contour and the exacting detail concurrently. I remember getting off of a Zoom call and saying to myself: “Kristy Edmunds, this is not a surreal dream this is happening. You have to move NOW, you’ll add to the chaos if you wait a second longer.”

As hard as it was, it ensured that no one was left unaddressed – not my staff, not the audience, our supporters, associated businesses and not the artists. I knew what the scale of impact would be to artists instantly, this is my profession after all. But I didn’t know it would spread to all of us in every allied workforce and in all walks of life. That equally heart-breaking realization would come later (and rapidly).

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

(Kristy): With all speed and with emotional intelligence. CAP UCLA one of the first performing arts organizations to suspend our programs, so everyone effected would have a different level of awareness and the impact would be different for everyone. I knew that there would be a shock reaction, or a denial impulse (the show must go on!), and then too the gracious diplomacy of understanding. It would land differently for everyone, and everyone would be affected unevenly. Our imperative was that every artist would be supported, and every ticket holder would be refunded. We were bleeding of course, but we acted on principle and did not stand still in justifiable but acutely problematic suspended animation.

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

(Kristy): Yes, there are plans in place for future dates and all of us are operating from plan A, B, C and D. We have also worked closely with artists to explore what approaches for presenting their works will look like, and we will start the soft launch of the programming for the upcoming season in a few weeks.

Every project is now rescheduled, or being re-developed. Some are being filmed and we will present the work online later. Some projects have jumped to the fall of 2021 to get to more solid ground where it may be less crazed by uncertainty. Others are adjusting their work for new platforms and we are there for that as well.

It’s different for each artist and each art form, and with everything still changing, it’s about generating continuity with far less means. All is considered and thought through after many earnest discussions, and in a full recognition that the future of anyone’s capacity is subject to change. For CAP UCLA this means we have had to create possibilities and innovate for the most immediate future as well as the further flung horizon line.

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

(Kristy): We have this rapidly assembled “newsletter” generated weekly. It’s actually becoming a real touch stone for our audiences locally, nationally and around the world. Once the programming for next season is announced, we will all have a lot to look forward to as well.

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

(Kristy): Each of us have assets that are strained now beyond our wildest imagining. It was hard enough before. We do not know how long we can survive in this suspension or what proceeding will look like. But we are an incredible part of the cultural infrastructure of the city and country, and the more we are able to collaborate together, the better off our ecology will be as we work on recovery.


(SB): And with forced theater closures world-wide and long-range performance cancellations, presenting organizations are faced with a myriad of challenges as they navigate artist support with organizational sustainability, and how to plan for an unknown future.

Here is a link to a Conversation with Kristy Edmunds, Executive and Artistic Director, UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance, and Lauren Snelling, Senior Director of Alumni Programming, National YoungArts Foundation, in which Kristy offers an honest conversation addressing the harsh realities associated with a return to public gatherings and ongoing postponements and cancellations, as well as a hopeful perspective on alternatives for artists operating in a virtual landscape and her motivation to activate recovery for the preservation of America’s cultural ecosystem.

Websites and social media:

cap.ucla.edu

facebook.com/CAPatUCLA

instagram.com/cap_ucla

twitter.com/CAP_UCLA

twitter.com/KristyEdmunds

Photo captions:

Kristy Edmunds, Executive & Artistic Director of Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA - Photo by Reed Hutchinson

Production photos of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and “Parable” by Phinn Sriployrung

"Love Letters Straight From Your Heart" promotional photo provided by CAP UCLA


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Reaching for the Stars - An Interview with Edgemar's Michelle Danner


To understand the philosophy of filmmaker, director, and acting coach Michelle Danner, it is only necessary to hear the truth of her own words:

"The craft of acting is as alluring as it is mysterious, and it takes a being of great passion, insight, and determination in order to succeed. But to teach acting – to inspire creative souls to successfully harvest those tools – requires an even great commitment to bring out the best in each and every actor one encounters…the important thing is to keep growing as an artist, to keep raising the bar for yourself.”

Michelle has taught acting for the last 29 years and has worked with many A-List actors privately and on set, including Chris Rock, Gerard Butler, Seth MacFarlane, Penelope Cruz, James Franco, and Zooey Deschanel. In 2020, Michelle anticipates the release of the supernatural thriller Bad Impulse, while prepping her next feature, The Runner starring Cameron Douglas. That’s in addition to running her weekly acting class, keeping watch over the conservatory program at the Los Angeles Acting School (which she co-founded), directing a play starring Anne Archer at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, or cheering on her two high-school aged sons as they pursue their own passions. Michelle took time out of her workaholic’s schedule to interview in April 2020.


Jerry Lacy and Gina Manziello in "Surviving Mama" - Photo by Eric Wade

When did the Edgemar Center for the Arts first begin its long career? What led to its creation? What's your mission? Were you involved from the beginning?

Michelle Danner:  We built the theaters and the art gallery at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in the year 2000. We’re actually celebrating our twentieth anniversary! When I discovered the space, the Santa Monica Museum of Art was there; and it was a big open space. We were able to raise funds to build these beautiful theaters. Ever since then, we have had many many theater productions, musical theater shows, children’s shows, independent film festivals, outreach programs, and exhibits. We have hosted hundreds of events. I was the person who got everyone to believe that this could be a thriving cultural center. I was involved from the beginning, including the construction. I always joke that I know more about drywall, plumbing, and electricity than I would have ever wanted to know. I have been the artistic director for the Edgemar Center for the Arts from its inception. I had a vision for what it could be, and I got a group of similar minded folks to come on board and be part of it.

Rob Estes and Michelle Danner in "One White Crow" - Photo by Sandis Babauskis

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

MD: We were. Thankfully, we had just finished our film festival, Cinema at the Edge, that takes place every year. We had a great response to our screenings, culminating at the end with our award ceremony. Shortly after that, we had to shut down. I was in the middle of rehearsing a very wonderful show, A Ticket to the Circus, with Anne Archer. It was written by Bonnie Culver about Norris Church Mailer, the wife of Norman Mailer; and we had to cancel our rehearsals abruptly and reschedule them from day to day. When it became clear that we had to cancel everything all together, we shut down completely. Because of the unknown of this, it remains a mystery when we will be able to reopen. We had two other shows that were set to open which we also had to cancel and plan to reschedule.

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

MD: It’s impacted it tremendously in the way that everybody has stayed home, but we have touched base online and on the phone. People are scared, sometimes isolated, and not close to their families. A lot of our employees were dependent on their paycheck. We have done our best, but it’s not easy.

Christine Dunford in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" - Photo by Teferi Seifu

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

MD: We are streaming chats and having virtual meetings with our acting students, but it’s not the easiest. Again, all of this because there is an unknown factor to it. We are, however, starting a GoFundMe page to ask people to help keep the theater open. When it’s time - and if anybody would like to help - we are a 501(c)(3). No donation is too small, and they are all tax deductible. Anyone can reach me directly through our website. I would be happy to talk to anyone about different possibilities.

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?

MD: If we read the history of all pandemics, they all come to an end. So I am hoping that there will be a renewed desire to want to share live theater with other people. There is nothing like a communal experience together. Maybe this will help us appreciate the value of that even more.

What are some of your future plans?

MD: Our future plans are to remount what we had planned for the spring and the summer and develop some new plays that will thematically address what we have all been going through. We will also be preparing for “Cinema at the Edge 2021.” I believe that great art can come out of scary times. This is a moment in our lives that can give birth to great content. From my point of view, the theater can never die. When we are back in action, we all need to support it. Right now, I miss theater and that magical shared experience with others.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Eloise Coopersmith, Creator of the “Home for Mom” Web Series


This Spotlight focuses on Eloise Coopersmith, creator of the Home for Mom web series which focuses on elder care and grief in a residential care facility. And with the Coronavirus pandemic hitting this type of facility the hardest, the subject matter about finding a safe place for our elders is even more relevant to families now than when filming began.


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

Eloise Coopersmith (EC): I started my formal theater education at the Young Conservatory at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, graduated from Northwestern, and then earned my Masters from Cal State Los Angeles.  I opened my own theater company in Los Angeles, “Open Book Theater” to bring literary works to the stage.  Performing in many wonderful productions over the years has been a joy. Most recently, I was invited to be a part of the Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble in Santa Ana, and I developed my current web series Home for Mom.

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

(EC): Home for Mom our awarding winning musical digital web series was set to shoot the second half of the season on March 7th. In February we recorded the music at Clear Lake Studios, and performed a live reading at the Frida Cinema in Santa Ana, all in preparation for the upcoming shoot days in March. But our lead actress notified the production team she was ill the week before the shoot, so there was no question we were going to have to cancel. I personally called each actor, crew and production team member as well as providing a written email explanation to everyone involved.

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

(EC): The majority of our cast is over 60 years old, which is appropriate since this project deals with elder care and grief in a residential care facility, which requires a more mature cast. And since our production team did not see how we could provide the safe space needed, we are in the process of pitching to different entities to take this project to the next level.

However, wanting to share the brilliant work of these talented actors, I placed the music on 50+ streaming platforms. We edited the live reading from the Frida Cinema performance and shared it on the “Re-imagine: Life, Loss and Love” event platform which focuses on the emotions we are experiencing during this pandemic.  We offered a post panel discussion on coping with grief, spring-boarding off the reading. And the feedback has been gratifying.

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

(EC): I was cast in a play set to open in June, which of course has been cancelled. Currently, the OC and LA theater groups are holding online forums to discuss how to move forward bringing productions back for live audiences. Unity among creative artists is key to breathing life back into our “new” normal world.

 

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

(EC): Using Zoom, I am a part of readings of original scripts to help writers to continue to develop their work. I am attending online productions of new works, and these powerful performances are impressive and inspiring.

“Home for Mom” is currently being uploaded in podcast format and I am using various social media platforms to create awareness of the project. And of course, I have already mentioned my involvement with “Re-imagine” and those artists keeping the conversation open through creative performances and discussions so people don’t feel quite so alone at this time.

(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?

(EC): I think we need to remember who we are: a very resilient group. We built up a thriving, vibrant artists community once and we will make it happen again. We will do it with original, out-of-the box thinking, looking for solutions that may sound a bit crazy but we try it anyway. And it will work. We will help each other - because we are a community. And although it may seem scary, we are artists who take risks for a living and we make magic happen. It’s is who we are - it is what we do.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Cate Caplin, A Multiple Award-Winning Producer, Director and Choreographer


This Spotlight focuses on Cate Caplin, a multiple award-winning producer, director and choreographer whose talents have ignited productions on television, in films, music videos, commercials, and in theatrical venues worldwide. But of course, her busy schedule was put on hold with the rest of the world, just as she was beginning to direct and choreograph a musical very close to her heart.

While I assume almost everyone in the LA Theatre community knows of Cate and her contributions to the Arts, for those not lucky enough to have worked with her before, I am first sharing a bit of her theatrical background.

Cate Caplin has been devoted to the Arts all of her life, having started her dance training at age 5. She trained with many inspirational teachers and coaches over the years including summers at Interlochen Center for the Arts while continuing at the Washington School of Ballet, the Royal Academy in London, and the Metropolitan Ballet where she was a principal dancer.


Cate went on to dance with two more professional ballet companies before moving to NYC to continue her training, performing career dancing with the American Dance Machine, doing summer stock, performing internationally with the Broadway revival of West Side Story, and regionally with Disney's Symphonic Fantasy featured as Princess Jasmine for which she enjoyed a 22 city tour starting at the Hollywood Bowl and ending back in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera House. Her amazing talent and charisma on the dance floor led Cate to become a 34-time Regional and International Theatrical Ballroom Dance Champion.

To this date, Cate has produced, directed and choreographed over 200 productions with her work seen on television, in films, music videos, commercials, and in theatrical venues worldwide from the Paris Opera House to the Broadway Stage. She wrote and directed her first feature film Mating Dance, which won an Accolade Award and can be found on Amazon.com. Her production company, Night & Day Entertainment, co-founded with her creative partner Vernon Willet, custom designs entertainment for private parties, corporate events and industrial trade shows.

 

For her work in theatre, Cate has been the recipient of a Garland Award, a Women in Theatre Red Carpet Award, multiple LA Stage Alliance Ovation, Eddon and Scenie Awards, and was honored to receive an Award of Excellence from the LA Film Commission for her work as a Writer, Director, Choreographer and Producer. Last year, Playwright's Arena presented Cate with the Lee Melville Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Los Angeles Theatre Community.

So how has such a talented and totally creative person been able to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic which has sidelined theatre worldwide?  I spoke with Cate to find out.

Shari Barrett (SB): What production were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak? 

Cat Caplin (Cate): We had just cast 32 actors for a production of West Side Story that I was going to direct and choreograph for Inland Valley Repertory Theatre (IVRT) presented at Candlelight Pavilion. The show was officially canceled one day before our first day of rehearsal, same day that Broadway announced it was closing.

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

(Cate): The producer, Frank Minano, emailed me and then the entire creative team and cast. Hearts were broken, of course, as we were very excited to begin. I had been so looking forward to creating the production since I was cast in the revival of the show when it was finishing its run on Broadway back in the 80's, and went on a six-month International Tour throughout Italy and at the Paris Opera House for three months. Our production was directed by Jerome Robbins and conducted by Leonard Bernstein! Needless to say, it was a thrill of a lifetime working on that classic show with the original creators.

(SB): Let me know when you write a book about that tour! Are plans in place to present the IVRT production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

(Cate): I believe the production is canceled completely because IVRT selects their shows based on what Candlelight is producing since they share the backdrop and primary set of what's being presented in their season. I'm not sure how that will play out, especially since no one really knows when theatre will be officially back in full form anywhere, and West Side Story is a big show with lots of physical contact and bodies interacting and dancing in close quarters. The nature of theatre as we knew it is changing dramatically and only time will tell how and what sort of creative work will be presented over the next few months and years. Many companies are canceling seasons completely and postponing productions into 2021, and even that is an unknown entity at this point.

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

(Cate): I have a production I am scheduled to direct in the fall and we are continuing with pre-production conversations sensitive to health and safety elements that are now part of the overall discussion and approach to creating live theatre. I hope we go forward with the show, but like everyone else, we just have to take it one day at a time...

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

(Cate): It's been interesting.... even though in theory I have more time each day without my usual classes, appointments, rehearsals and run around activities, my days continue to be quite full. I am reading lots of wonderful books, watching movies and some television series and specials I wouldn't ordinarily take the time to experience.

I have been taking some online classes offered by Yale University, and also tuning in to theatrical podcasts, seminars, and industry panel discussions since our theatrical community is intensely fertile at this time! I decided to jump into the electronic "pool" with everyone else and just signed on to direct my first Zoom staged reading of a new play later in July.

(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?

(Cate): It's important to keep open to learning, stretching and growing, mentally, emotionally and spiritually during tough times. And now that there's time for more channels of inspiration, embrace those opportunities. Trust the "bigger plan" and try to navigate these uncharted waters with hope and faith in a most positive outcome: a renaissance of heightened compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, humanity and peace.

(SB): For more information about Cate including future updates about her theatrical schedule, please visit CateCaplin.com, www.MatingDanceTheMovie.com, DanceInFlight.com


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



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


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


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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instagram.com/michaelleoni1111

Instagram.com/famoustheliveexperience

Instagram.com/americanstreetkid

Instagram.com/elevatortheplay


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

(SB):  How did you audition cast members?

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

(SB): How are you holding rehearsals?

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

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

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

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

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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you doing to prevent closing for good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your future plans?

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


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.