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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nobody Wants This Subscription Service”

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

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


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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



The Hollywood Fringe Festival Scheduled For October 2020 Is Cancelled


Hollywood, CA (June 22nd, 2020) - After deep reflection the Hollywood Fringe organization is announcing the cancellation of the 2020 Festival.

We recognize that COVID-19 is still a rapidly developing health crisis with little certainty of what the future holds. Knowing this, we cannot guarantee a safe festival season. This decision is based on guidance from state and local health authorities and our desire to minimize further financial strain to our HFF20 participants and partners.

“We are all living in a time of forced reflection and altered normalcy. The work our community will bring to our next festival will no doubt bring to light powerful exploration and insight into this shared experience. It will be more important than ever,” said Festival Director Ben Hill.

While this year’s festival may be cancelled, our commitment to our community is not. We will use our platform and passion to support our community through our ‘Fringe From Home’ programming. We'll also continue to offer our website to all artists to aid in ticketing and event promotion free of charge. Our mission of celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community will live online until we can come together in person.

Check out all of the above programming on HollywoodFringe.org.

This decision does not come lightly to our organization. We, like the rest of the world, have suffered financially due to the unforeseen events this year, but are lucky to have a strong foundation as an organization, and look forward to continuing to present our festival for many years to come.

We look forward to serving our artists, partners and all lovers of the performing arts to the best of our ability until we can fringe together again. Please reach out to support@hollywoodfringe.org with any questions you may have.



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(SB): And certainly, almost every little girl I have ever known has wanted to be a Disney Princess.  What other thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

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

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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your future plans?

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


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Shon LeBlanc, Owner of The Costume House in NoHo


This Spotlight focuses on Shon LeBlanc, owner of The Costume House in NoHo who had 15 shows on his costume design schedule cancel within a week due to the COVID-19 shutdown to “FlattenTheCurve” of infection.


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

Shon LeBlanc (Shon): As of this year, I have been doing this for 35 years and have been fortunate to work with amazing people who gave me a chance to do what I do and push me to do better.  Sometimes that process has been frustrating; but in the end, it was a good thing as it helped me grow to become a better designer.  And as of now, I have done over 400 shows from classics to world premieres.  I also taught costume design at Academy of Art College in SFO, as I do many schools here as I believe in educating our up and coming theatre folk.

I own The Costume House in NoHo and create a great variety of show ensembles with my talented staff, joined the Costume Designers Guild, and was lucky enough to do the Disney series Encore.  Now let me tell you, my theatre background came in handy since that show’s theme is “let’s do a musical in 5 days and present it in front of a live audience!”  So after doing Encore, nothing scares me!

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

(Shon): The amazing Human Interest Story at the Fountain was running and got suspended, but it will rise again!!! As a matter of fact, I lost 3 shows in one day, and by the end of the week about 15 productions as we had schools either postpone or just cancel all together. Some included The Share Project which cancelled their yearly show, while the next show at the Fountain, shows at Sierra Madre, McCoy Rigby Entertainment and the Lounge cancelled, and the Encore season 2 is on hold.

(SB): How were those shutdowns communicated with you, the cast, and production team?

(Shon): Most people either called directly or sent a full company email to let us know. But I can tell you it was not easy for them to tell us. Every Producer or Director was really shaken and devastated.

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

(Shon): Yes, luckily Human Interest Story will continue once things are lifted, and Joe and Betty at the Lounge has been pushed but will be produced. McCoy Rigby Entertainment has plans to present their season with a later start date to be determined. I have no idea what will happen with the schools, but Sierra Madre Playhouse will not open until March next year. So that means no traditional Christmas Story there this year

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

(Shon): I had just moved the shop in February, and then just a month later the shutdown happened. So things are a mess there right now. I am spending time going over there to clean things up, but it’s going slowly. But to keep myself in creative mode, I have been posting pictures of hats, jewelry, purses, and ties on Facebook. And people seem to appreciate it, so that will continue.

(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?

(Shon) I miss the work, my fellow designers, and the cast, which makes me realize I really didn't know how important this community is to me. I miss the magic that happens in it each and every day. I mean where else can you get an email from Del Shores asking if you might like to do his next show, or stand out on the street in Hollywood and have a phone conversation with Nia Peeples? And have Robert Waldon and Chi Chi LaRue come to your shop on the same day. After all, where else would you get to do Show Boat, the Grandfather of all musicals, and the world premiere of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances at the same time?

I encourage you to think about all that you have been blessed with, especially all the amazing people you have worked with and the shows that made you proud. The stinkers... get a laugh out of that!  Remember, we WILL be back together soon.

Please everyone...keep in touch.! Find me on Facebook at Shon LeBlanc; and follow The Costume House, which is located at 13222 Raymer Street, Suite A, in North Hollywood, CA. 91605. Contact me there for all your costume needs at 818-508-9933.  And remember we will all be ready to work once this is over. Please reach out for help when you need it and support your friends when they reach out to you. We are all in this together.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Michael Gordon Shapiro, Composer of Music for Theatre, Film, Games, Television and Concert Halls


This Spotlight focuses on Michael Gordon Shapiro, a composer of music for Theatre, Film, Games, Television and Concert Halls, who I first met during the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival when I attended his The Bully Problem musical, which included not only great lessons against bullying in schools and why it is so important to stand up for yourself, but also his love of robots! The show had its commercial premiere at that Festival, where it earned an Encore Producers Award and was a Pick of the Fringe selection. It was also nominated for seven awards including Best Musical, Top of the Fringe, and Fringe First. And you can bet I was back in the audience during its additional performances in August 2019 – for a third time!


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

Michael Gordon Shapiro (Mike): I wasn’t a theatre kid. I regarded actors as magical creatures with unnatural abilities. (How did they show emotion on demand like that? How did they even memorize all those lines?) And I didn’t become serious about writing musicals until my 30s. Age is a great motivator!

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

(Mike): I’ve been developing a new family musical called Gideon and the Blundersnorp. (The mental image that you just came up with is probably accurate.) We were slated to premiere at the Hollywood Fringe Festival this June, and my producing organization, New Musicals Inc., had booked our run at the Broadwater Main Stage. I had reserved studio time for the cast album and was thinking about my wardrobe for the festival awards party. In short, we were looking forward to this.

(SB): I understand.  It will be a very strange June this year without being able to walk from theater to theater and see 3 or 4 shows a day as I have done at the Fringe for several years now. It must have been very difficult to communicate about the shutdown with the cast and production team of your show.

(Mike): The producers and I had kept an eye on the Coronavirus situation as it progressed, adjusting our expectations accordingly. By the time LA announced the closure of theater venues, we had a suspicion that our original production schedule wasn’t going to happen. We weren’t fully cast yet, but we emailed members of the creative team. It was primarily a courtesy; at that point just about everyone understood the situation.

(SB):  I know the Hollywood Fringe Festival has been re-scheduled for this October. How confident are you it will be able to take place at that time?

(Mike): Our star is hitched to the 2020 Hollywood Fringe Festival. The Fringe has tentative plans to open in October. If the festival proceeds, we’ll be there with bells on, running at the originally-planned venue and on dates that parallel those of the prior June schedule. Needless to say, we’ve got our fingers crossed!

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

(Mike): If there isn’t a Hollywood Fringe this year, we’ll likely move Gideon and the Blundersnorp to next summer. Consequentially, whatever to-be-written show I might have premiered in 2021 will get bumped. Unless I become pathologically ambitious and try and launch two shows next summer… no, that would be unwise.

(SB) Unwise, perhaps. But most welcome to this reviewer!

(Mike): *looks contemplatively into the distance*

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

(Mike): I’ve taken advantage of the downtime to work on the cast album from my prior musical, The Bully Problem. We tracked vocals last year, but there was such a tremendous amount of editing and mixing that I decided to defer it to when I had sufficient time to hunker down. That time is now. The silver lining for me personally is being able to launch this album much sooner than planned.

(SB): As you know, The Bully Problem was one of my favorites shows at last year’s Fringe, and I look forward to being able to hear the score again. For those who missed my review, here is the link

(Mike): I also contributed to the Hollywood’s Fringe’s premiere Virtual Cabaret. Allie Costa self-recorded herself performing a song from Gideon which was presented alongside videos from other Fringe participants. A lively group interacted in the chat room while the online talent show live-streamed. It was great fun, and certainly helped maintain the spirit of artistic camaraderie while we’re all physically separated. (You can watch the first cabaret installment here:

Jenn Crafts started an online play reading series that’s been a huge success. I’ve enjoyed being an audience member and supporting creators who might need a motivational boost. While online readings aren’t meant to replace live theatre, I think they offer a valuable supplementary experience. I hope this sort of thing continues even as we emerge from the lockdown period.

(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?

(Mike): If you’re nervous on a plane flight, think about what you’re going to do after you land. That is, look past the unsettling present, and make your mind focus on what’s to follow. The same principle applies here.

For more information, please visit the website of my upcoming show's Gideon and the Blundersnorp at GideonMusical.com. Here is the website for The Bully Problem TheBullyProblem.com. You can also find me on Twitter and on Instagram.


The Bully Problem photos credit: Matt Kamimura

This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: C. Thomas Howell's "Worst-Case Scenario" - Apocalyptic Moments in Time


Born to a family immersed in the entertainment field, it was probably fated that C. Thomas Howell would have a special place in his heart for keeping others entertained. And that he has done in spades over the past 50 years! Tommy’s father was a stuntman, so a certain degree of physicality marked his earlier forays into show business (dating from the age of four). Eventually, the acting bug bit hard, and today he is best known for stellar appearances in films and television. Adding to his acting chops, Tommy decided to hone his skills in live theater; and his debut on stage was scheduled for the middle of March 2020. Unfortunately, fate intervened with a certain corona virus which led to the theater world going dark. Given his sudden “vacation” from Worst-Case Scenario, C. Thomas Howell consented to an interview probing his feelings about acting, taking the theater plunge, and entertainment changes in general over the years.


Jacy King and C. Thomas Howell - Photo by Jonte Richardson

How did you first enter show business?

C. Thomas Howell:  My father and most of my relatives were stunt people, and I was raised in the film industry. I have a stunt background with a lot of athleticism in my early years. When I was a kid, I rode horses in commercials and a bicycle in ET. That’s how I started my career. Later on, I became more creative. I’ve been in acting my entire life. I’ve had my ups and downs, but I always stayed with acting.

Jacy King and C. Thomas Howell - Photo by Jonte Richardson

What were some of your favorite roles in film and television?

CTH:  I think that “Criminal Minds” was a turning point for me. It changed my perspective on my roles. I played a serial killer, and that changed my career. In “Southland,” I played a hard-edged, old-school cop. That was also an important role for me. It showed another side to me.

Do you see any changes in films and television over the years?

CTH:  I had the chance to work with greats in films like Elizabeth Taylor, Ann Margret, and Richard Chamberlin - those old-school stars. It was a different experience then. Back in the day, every movie was big - the red carpet and all the glamorous extras. The industry is so different from before. Now it’s all Amazon and Hulu. Social media is also giving people a way to be heard. It’s a challenge for all of us – pushing for gender equality and the #MeToo movement. The rules of the game have changed, and people can have a voice and expose things. Now people have to be responsible.

On top of that, show business can be unpredictable and unexpected with no guarantees. I spent the last six weeks preparing to open a show…and, all of a sudden, things changed.

C. Thomas Howell - Photo by Jonte Richardson

With such a long career in films and television, why did you decide to do a play?

CTH:  There were really a couple of motives behind it. Timing is everything. That’s a line in Worst-Case Scenario. It turned into a perfect storm. To be honest, the producers weren’t requiring a long run, and the play was so good. It was so well written. It had comedy, and it was poignant too. It’s an odd couple situation. Two people who are so different, but it only takes a short period of time for them to realize that they’re the same in the ways that matter. It seemed real and attractive, and it made sense. I also get to work with a great team. We all worked so hard trying to figure out what to do.

I think that a big reason for me to do a play was because I hadn’t done it before. I even told everybody I’d never done this. I had no experience to draw from. I came from a more film-like approach that forced everybody to break down things into small acts. For me, that was the way to do it. We had to take a short amount of time to digest a tremendous amount of dialog. It was challenging to bite off larger chunks, and there was a certain amount of stress. I put pressure on myself, the director, the producer, and my cast mates told me it’s always like this. Suddenly all of us can speak the language. Now I’m discovering points and having a good time. The process of being in a play is painful at first. It’s hard work making sure that the last guy in the last row can hear you. It’s the difference between projection and intimacy. Sometimes you can tell things form the actor’s body language. In films, I could use my eyes, but that doesn’t work on stage. It’s been a big learning curve, but it made me a better artist. I think that was my main motivation. I got to smash old habits to grow. There’s a moment when you can celebrate. I couldn’t have asked for more. Without question, I’d do another stage production.

C. Thomas Howell and Jacy King - Photo by Jonte Richardson

As it turned out, Worst Case Scenario, an apocalyptic romance, is inspired by a real event where an actual apocalypse could have happened. Now we are dealing with a global pandemic - a real, nearly-apocalyptic event unfolding as we speak. How do you make sense of this? How is the real news affecting your role in the play? 

CTH:  The irony isn’t lost on any of us. It’s a weird thing, like something we see in the movies or in our dreams. To some degree, we’ve ignored the impact of things like earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes. They happen so quickly. Now people are getting sick, and the government didn’t take it seriously. It was a disconnect. It was so strange, and we’re so vulnerable. We kept our heads in the sand and just went along paying our bills and staying on the treadmill of life. This was a wake-up call. In the play, my character decided to live his life and to quit a job he didn’t believe in. He kept searching, traveling. Some of us don’t have the luxury of doing that. It was sort of a wake-up call.

I have a home in the mountains of Georgia where people are hunters and farmers. The concerns in the city are so different. I was watching everybody’s reaction to this, particularly in LA. This is not where I want to be at a time like this. A huge deal is up to the individual to be prepared. When I was growing up, my family had food and lots of things in the closet ready for something bad. In the past, I thought it would never happen to me, but that’s what’s happening right now. In the play, my character is living his pandemic internally. People do different things: some cry; some pray. There are an infinite amount of choices about how we face a challenge like this. We have been talking about this in our group, about feeling disconnected. It definitely affected how I saw my character.


Without a doubt, it certainly felt that Tommy saw the challenge as an opportunity for growth as an artist. Playwright/producer Darlene Conte remarked:

“Tommy has given so much life to the role of Ethan, so much of himself to the role. Ethan is a complex character. He is going through his own personal apocalypse of the ego. You must surrender some of your own wants to have a chance at mending two lives together. Tommy walked the line so beautifully, really bringing humanity to every word. It’s such a brave performance. He was so courageous to take on this play. It’s a beast! It’s comedic, tragic, cerebral, and physical. He’s onstage every second. I don’t know too many actors who come up in film and television and tackle a two-hour play flawlessly. I’ve been so impressed by him, both as an artist and as a person. We have had a great experience, and we are all looking forward to getting back to it.”

Worst-Case Scenario was scheduled to continue through April but has been on hold since the COVID-19 lockdown was put into place. D.M. Conte added: “We will be putting this up when we get the all clear…now more than ever, this is the play we need.”


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



ASHTON'S AUDIO INTERVIEW: RON SOSSI

Ron Sossi is the Artistic Director of the Odyssey Theatre and also directed The Serpent. This interview discusses the play that explores the biblical Book of Genesis while comparing it to the modern experience.

Enjoy this interview!


Spotlight Series: Meet Nan McNamara, an Award-Winning Actress, World Premiere Director, and Acting Instructor


This Spotlight focuses on Nan McNamara, an award-winning actress who I have seen in many productions at the Actors Co-op in Hollywood, perhaps most notably her performance in the 2017 Ovation Award-winning 33 Variations in which she played a journalist who was able to go back in time to interview Ludwig Von Beethoven (an outstanding performance by Bruce Ladd) about his work. That outstanding production was staged on a remarkably versatile small stage set designed by Nicholas Acciani (who also designed the accompanying amazing projections), enhanced by O'Leary's jaw-dropping, scene-changing choreography.


Here is the link to my review of that production in which that scenic description appears.

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

Nan McNamara (Nan): I am an actor and director who recently directed the Ovation Recommended World Premiere of Lee Blessing’s A Body of Water at Actors Co-op. As an actor, my credits include the Ovation Award-winning 33 Variations (Los Angeles Drama Critics nomination-Lead Performance, StageRaw Award-Leading Female Performance, Robby Award-Best Actress), A Walk in the Woods (Ovation Recommended) and Wit (Los Angeles Drama Critics Award-Lead Performance, LA Weekly Award-Leading Female Performance).

Other theatre roles include Steel Magnolias (Truvy), Going to St. Ives (Cora), Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Mary), The Crucible (Elizabeth), Uncle Vanya (Yelena) and As You Like It (Rosalind).

TV/film roles include Hawaii Five-0, Major Crimes, Rosewood, Switched at Birth (recurring) and Criminal Minds. I also enjoy a vibrant career in voiceover and have recorded over 100 audiobooks, and have taught acting at The Imagined Life, Asuza Pacific University and Vanguard University.

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

(Nan): I directed the world premiere of Lee Blessing’s A Body of Water at Actors Co-op, and we were entering our final weekend of the run when the production was shut down due to Covid-19.  I was also understudying two roles in Marvin’s Room directed by Thomas James O’Leary which was slated to open March 20 at Actors Co-op.

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

(Nan): We found out through the Actors Co-op board and our production manager who had been keeping abreast of the Mayor and Governor’s orders as well as what other theatres were doing.  And for the safety of our patrons, actors and production team, they decided to shut down on March 13, which was a week prior to the mandatory “shelter at home” order.

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

(Nan): Unfortunately, I don’t think A Body of Water will be able to finish its run, but Actors Co-op is hoping Marvin’s Room will be able to open at some point over the summer. Of course, no one really knows the exact timing of when intimate theatres will be able to open their doors again.

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

(Nan): The final production of Actors Co-op’s 28th season was slated to be the musical A Man of No Importance directed by Richard Israel. They were just completing casting with an opening scheduled for May 8, and now it’s not clear what the new opening date will be.

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

(Nan): I’ve loved receiving regular email updates from various theatre companies around town as many of them have provided inspiration with links to free streaming of plays and readings as well as words of encouragement.  A Noise Within offered a couple of free Shakespeare classes that I really enjoyed, and there is a free Michael Chekhov class on Sunday mornings.  I also loved watching the Sondheim Birthday tribute.

(SB): So did I – what a magnificent evening of extraordinary talent offered to the public for free!

(Nan): It’s wonderful that there have been a lot of wonderful ways to keep engaged. But of course, I can’t wait to get back to the theatre - there is no substitute for the audience interaction of live theatre.

(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?

(Nan): I really appreciate the theatre community here in Los Angeles, and hope everyone is safe and well.  I really miss seeing shows and experiencing the amazing work from so many stellar companies, and the collaboration as an actor/director that is unique to the theatre. While this is certainly an extremely challenging time, it’s my hope that we can all come back stronger than ever and ready to share our stories.  And share some hugs.

(SB): For more information about Nan McNamara, please visit Nan's website at NanMcNamara.com, her Instagram page, and find all her film credits on IMDb.me/NanMcNamara.

 


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



TIME FOR A CHANGE...

My dearest friends, readers, and fellow artists,

In light of our current circumstances, I feel the need to make some drastic changes.

But first, I want to apologize to our African-American community for all that we, the white race, have done to you, your family, and your ancestors that has caused so much pain, terror, and suffering! And I want to thank you, your family, and your ancestors for building this country! I want to thank all the African-American workers, wet nurses, farmers, nannies, factory workers, scholars, artists, musicians, physicians, scientists, architects, and every African-American in between who has served and on whose back America was built!

Second, in light of the current Black Lives Matter movement, the injustices that are happening towards innocent people, and the fascist government, I’ve decided that it’s time to focus on my family, raising compassionate children who will work towards a better world, creating our own art, and making a path toward our own future to change the world.

Finally, after spending the last three and half years engaging 28 writers and 49 critics, promoting 3,330 shows, and working to support the theatre community, I’m saying goodbye to Better Lemons.

In these times and in these circumstances, silence and inaction is completely unacceptable. I am going to shift my voice, my actions, and my focus to working to make the world a better place, now.

To the people I have worked with along the way, I appreciate all that you have done and are doing to support the local arts and entertainment community.

Stay healthy, be safe, and create meaningful art!

Love,

Enci Box - Publisher


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.