Not Man Apart's Passionate Jones (Welsh) Talmadge - The Perfect Artistic Conduit for the Current Times

Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble (NMA) and the Greenway Arts Alliance will join creative energies to produce PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY at Greenway Court Theatre, beginning March 3 10, 2017. NMA's multi-hat-wearing Co-Artistic Director Jones (Welsh) Talmadge took time out from his company responsibilities and his PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY rehearsals to enlighten Better-Lemons readers with NMA philosophies of entertainment.

Thank you, Jones, for agreeing to this chat with Better-Lemons and myself.

What initially drew you to John Milton's poem Paradise Lost over ten years ago?

I was initially inspired by the visual imagery that the original poem evoked. Through Milton's eloquent descriptions, I could see the battle in Heaven and the torture of Hell, the beautiful movement of the serpent, and the anguish of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden of Eden. I think I envisioned this show because of the possibility of seeing a celestial battle in the air, and knowing that we live in a day and age where this is possible on stage, as well as creating the actual imagery through realistic digital rendering, both of which we have accomplished! 

What have been some of the major tweaks you've made through the years to arrive at its current state as PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY?

First, I saw from the original text how imbalanced the roles of Adam and Eve were in the story. I thought this was perhaps typical of the time it was written in the 17th century, only to learn later that Milton was actually considered a Proto-Feminist just to give Eve a voice at all in his version of the story.  The most striking example of this imbalance in the text is that Eve almost never interacts with the celestial characters. It is always Adam that communes with the spirits and discusses the “important” matters with Raphael, Gabriel, or God Himself. Meanwhile, Eve is either sleeping, serving, or away. 

We live in quite a different time now, where gender roles are transforming and rebalancing in some unexpected and inevitable ways. I don't think we can rely on the traditional roles that masculine and feminine have been assigned in the past, but a rebalancing is happening, starting with the roles of masculine and feminine inside each person, which then diffuses into the culture. Men are now expected to be more emotionally sensitive and know how to run a household. Women need to have a career and also be strong leaders. The potential of a well-rounded human emerging is very exciting to me.

So, the twist I've added into PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY is to show that this version of humanity is actually what God intended, where we are going is how we began. In our version of the tale, Adam and Eve start out perfectly balanced and equal, although different and unique, it is only the eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that separates them from each other and from God, and allows them to judge which is better and worse, which is not at all the love and acceptance that I know God to be. 

Second, the idea to adapt the poem into a workable script was fast-tracked by the fantastic and opportune relationship with the Greenway Arts Alliance, as well as the enthusiastic prodding of my artistic co-directors Aaron Hendry and Laura Covelli. Also Founding Director John Farmanesh-Bocca was quite generous and helpful to work with me one-on-one to find the core of the story and trim it down so that it could fit within two hours.

After many, many sessions of working with the text, we finally came to an understanding that the best way to present the words of Milton on stage, was to use NO words at all.  The story I wanted to tell could certainly be done without speaking, and led me to focus all my energy as director into creating the dance, acrobatics, aerial, and martial arts, which were the parts that really excited me anyway. So, the twist here is the translation of ten thousand lines of verse into an all-movement story.

With your adaptation of Paradise Lost and an ensemble of performers as your base, can you describe how the creative elements came together? (The choreography, the aerial rigging, the digital animation and the video installation) 

The base of Not Man Apart's ensemble is an important one, because at heart, we are an artist collective. A group of colleagues that like to work together, so we work our tails off to make inventive physical theater.  My vision for PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY, just so happened to include collaborations with many other kinds of artists: lighting, costumes, set designers, rigging, choreography. We even have custom designed and beautifully constructed weapons for each angel.  All of these collaborators have been colleagues of mine, and have just jumped right into the process willing to work for free, or at least for significantly less than what they're used to, just because they believe in me and the vision too.  I am incredibly grateful and blown away by everyone's contributions. What really moved this project to the front of the wagon for Not Man Apart was the relationship that I was able to form with J-Walt Adamczyk, who has worked as a professional animator for Disney and has won Academy Awards for his original designs.  With his talents and immediate passion for the project, I truly saw that the rest of the elements would fall into place around the dramatic and gorgeous 3-D worlds that he is able to create and interact with the performers in real time.  I'm excited to show everyone what we have done.

Do you have to be aware of each element's limitations to attempt to go beyond them?

I think it's more that you have to be aware of each element's “potential” to experiment with how they interact with each other. If I focused on limitation all the time, nothing would be created. We call upon the choreographers and performers alike to invent movement based on text, or a feeling, or even images, and when we add in an element like a rope swing, or a rock wall; we have to play even more to discover what can be done and how it fits into the storytelling.

What was your initial vision for Not Man Apart – Physical Theatre Ensemble when you became its founding managing director?

Meeting John Farmanesh-Bocca in 2007 and working with him on PERICLES REDUX, it became instantly clear that we had the same concept for creating performance work: combining all different genres of movement, music, drama, dance, to fill the senses for a visceral experience that the audience could ride like a wave. He is a brilliant director, and it was an easy choice for us to combine the non-profit business model that I had developed with the powerful artistic brand that he had developed.  We continue this legacy and aesthetic with PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY and every NMA show.  The other part of the vision that I stand for, is for our art to make a real and lasting impact, not just for those who attend the shows and engage in the material with us as audience. We always try to take classics and make them culturally relevant to today's issues. We also involve outside organizations and social action groups for talk-back sessions and opportunities for audiences to get involved outside of the performance.

Our Outreach programs have become increasingly extensive, with many in-school arts and physical programs at the elementary level, and also our university workshops and college curriculum for physical theater at Pepperdine, Cal State LA, and many others. The last production of AJAX IN IRAQ centered on veteran affairs throughout time, and we had partnerships with organizations such as New Directions in the VA and the Los Angeles Warriors Chorus. Now, PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY has found several partners for gender equality and female empowerment that we are working actively with - teaching arts empowerment workshops with MOSTE (Motivating Our Students Through Experience), a young women's mentorship program in South LA. Also, we teach a weekly theater and self-defense program at Thomas Riley High School in Watts, which serves solely pregnant teenagers and single mothers trying to finish their diploma. We are proud of the impact and the art we create simultaneously.

What new responsibilities and challenges did you acquire now as NMA's Co-Artistic Director (with Laura Covelli and Aaron Hendry)? 

Having three Co-Artistic Directors is a unique model, but having a clear and established company vision to stand by has made it easy to coordinate and make artistic decisions together. The added responsibility of being an artistic leader for our company members and directing a full-length show are not as challenging as I thought. I think Laura and Aaron and I balance the responsibilities so well.  For the most part, my job has gotten easier. I used to run all aspects of the non-profit, but now Laura steps in to help with finances and budget. Aaron sets up a lot of community relationships, programs, and logistics. I'm a big proponent of co-leadership and I think we are going to see more of it in the arts community as a model for performing arts organizations.

What type of training did you undertake to begin your performing career? 

My training is very diverse, which I highly recommend to any performer these days. I started with sports and gymnastics when I was a kid, which made me fearless. In high school and college I focused on theater and choir, which made me sensitive and present and gave me a powerful voice.  Throughout college and then two years into my New York era, I focused on dance and contact improvisation, which made me flexible and lithe. And then finally into my adulthood, I continued my training with everything in Los Angeles, and added Capoeira and advanced tumbling and tricking. I feel very prepared for any role that comes my way, and I do all my own stunts.  You'll see in PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY that I dance in the air hanging from my arms. I fight with a giant spear and spin a 10-foot long chain around my body. I sing, I yell, I cry, I partner, I manipulate bodies and puppets. This kind of diversity in performance is what Not Man Apart demands from all our company members, and what you will certainly see in this next production.

You toured five seasons with Diavolo and then became its Associate Artistic Director and the Diavolo Institute Director. What lessons did you learn from your Diavolo stint that you're applying to NMA? 

I think the biggest lesson I got from Diavolo is how to stand in my artistry in the face of adversity. Diavolo is a crucible of growth and development that I am very grateful for. Many aspects of my artistry were forged in this company and under the direction of Jacques Heim, one of my greatest mentors.  The creations of Diavolo take on an intensity that is unmatched, and demand the highest level of focus, fitness, skill, innovation, creativity, and after operating in this state for five years straight, it becomes second nature. I take this work ethic with me wherever I go now.  The administration I did with Diavolo as Associate Artistic Director and Institute Director were very prolific times for me. I created programs and performances with Diavolo, set pieces at universities, elementary schools, and community organizations, operating almost independently from the touring company. I created many new part-time jobs for a second company that we worked with in Los Angeles.  I am very proud of the legacy of the Diavolo Institute that I left behind with Jacques and the company. My programs raised over half million dollars for Diavolo and are still operating and growing today.  I have turned my focus to building a strong educational outreach and Los Angeles-based arts program with Not Man Apart that is both sustainable and impactful.

What aspects of a possible piece do you look for to turn into a NMA production?

When we have creative meetings with the Not Man Apart Artistic Co-Directors, we consider projects from criteria straight from our mission. Does the piece bridge literature with current events? Can it be done in a visceral interpretation? Does it follow an epic style or timeline? Mostly we consider projects that the three of us are interested in creating, because likely one of us will direct it, and on occasion we will hire a guest director, or consider original scripts. But they still must stand up with and support the litmus test of the NMA mission.

You wear many hats in PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY - adapter, director, choreographer, set designer, performer. Does one particular hat give you the most joy?

Right now, the joy is directing. To set a vision in motion and to gather the team that can accomplish it. The shaping and crafting of moments in the rehearsal room with a talented cast is an almost indescribably high, a sense of community and belonging housed inside of a creative presence that moves and shifts before your very eyes. I am often surprised at what we come up with in rehearsal. Even though I was so clear about my vision for this show when we first set out, it has evolved for the better in many ways that I could not have anticipated, just by having great minds in the room and a collaborative environment for everyone to shine.

Are you able to enjoy another company's dance performance as a 'civilian' audience member or do you get analytical about its choreography or other technical aspects?

Ha, ha, no! I'm actually able to pull my brain into a place of enjoyment and appreciation for what another artist is doing. I actually love to lose myself in the performance and go on a ride that the director or choreographer is guiding. Notice when and why I get “pulled out” and jump right back in, because it is usually something about me gets disconnected, and I can learn from that. However, if somebody asks me for notes on their piece, I can flip the switch and analyze every detail.

I have seen hyphens or quotation marks used in the spelling of people's name, but yours is the first I've seen with parentheses. Would you explain your use of parentheses in your written name?

That's actually a story I love to tell, because it is so appropriately within the themes of PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY. I've been Jones Welsh most of my artistic career, and a name that people have grown to recognize in the dance and theater community of Los Angeles and on our NMA mailing list. I got married last July and took my wife's last name (Anne-Marie Talmadge). Now that I am Jones Talmadge, I still wanted people to know that it was ME directing PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY, not some other Jones, so I threw the (Welsh) in there as a transition until people get used to the Talmadge. Taking my wife's last name is just one example of how my art and my life are connected. PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY embodies the divine feminine and masculine alike, and I want my life to be a part of the cultural rebalancing that is happening right now. The social tradition of last name change at marriage is a perfect and simple example of unexamined beliefs, and how we can get closer to Eden, where we no longer have to point at each other's gender differences, but we can celebrate a shared humanity.

What audience reactions are you striving for with PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY?

PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY is shaping up to be quite a ride. Each moment calls to the audience for something different: beauty, pain, empathy, disgust, awe, amazement.  Really, I just want people to run wild in their imaginations with us and enjoy the show.  Translating Milton into movement has been quite a challenge and a joy, we hope the audience can connect to the stories in Heaven and on Earth, and be carried away by the stunning visual imagery and movement.

What was the biggest surprise reaction you've received in past NMA shows you've choreographed or performed in?

We typically do a lot of partner and group lifts, and send people flying in the air. We rehearse these moments a lot, so that they are safe and dynamic. I think if you can get an audience to fear for our lives on stage, in a consistently secure movement sequence, then we are on the right track to keeping them engaged in the action of the play. I remember getting comments like “How are you still alive right now?” - that spells a job well-done.

What would you like your audience to leave with after your PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY curtain call?

For me the message of PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY is simple and straight forward. We are just delivering it in a powerful visual package with a lot of action, but I hope that people walk away empowered. They are going to witness the beginning of time and spiritual interactions and also the first human choices that have led us to our current social and political climate. I want people to notice that we are not stuck with what we got.  That our everyday choices can lead us closer to building a Heaven on Earth, if we are conscious and intentional, because it can be so easy to choose building a Hell, simply by how you treat your family when you get up in the morning, how you greet a stranger on the street, how you honor yourself. It's up to us, and I want every audience member to walk away committed to creating Eden again.

Thank you again, Jones, for this interview. I look forward to experiencing your creative flag fly!

For ticket availability through April 2, 2017 and further info on PARADISE LOST: RECLAIMING DESTINY; visit

Bill Brochtrup Reflects on Antaeus' Contributions to LA Theatre & Revitalized Objectives in New Glendale Digs

The Antaeus Theatre Company has been a vital artistic component of the NoHo Theatre District for quite a few years now. Not only does Antaeus put on solidly-produced shows, they also provide theatre training for budding actors with community outreach to high schoolers and seniors. Now on the eve of staging an open house of their new facilities in Glendale the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center, Better-Lemons grabbed the chance to talk to Antaeus Co-Artistic Director Bill Brochtrup.
Thank you for taking time out for this interview, Bill.
Antaeus has been at its various North Hollywood addresses for over 20 years. How did your new space in Glendale come about?
Honestly, there were so many programs going on at Antaeus that our old space in NoHo simply wasn't big enough to contain them all.  There were classes, readings, rehearsals in every nook and cranny.  So we began looking for a place that would be big enough to fit them all in.  We couldn't just rent a theatre because we needed space for the Academy, offices, library, etc.  There are a lot of zoning restrictions, parking restrictions, all kinds of things I had no idea about.  But the City of Glendale has been amazing — they helped us identify a building right in the downtown Art and Entertainment District that could be built out to fit all of our needs.  And throughout this time we had been raising money, first internally from our members and Board, and then externally in our Play On! Capital Campaign.  We worked with a wonderful architect who found a way to fit all of our wishes into what will be the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center.  This has been a multi-year journey!
Space-wise, do you have specific plan to take advantage of your increased square footage?
Our new home has been very carefully designed to include everything we needed to allow Antaeus to grow.  But the space is still tight, not an inch has been wasted.  We'll have two performance spaces, a lobby with an art gallery, library, comfortable green room and dressing room for our actors — and lots of bathrooms!
You are currently one of three rotating co-artistic directors (w/Rob Nagle and John Sloan). How did this leadership model evolve and how does it work exactly? Do you divvy up responsibilities?
We work as a triumvirate, making decisions together.  It's an unusual model, but it works surprisingly well.  We've built up a great deal of trust in one another, and we share a vision for Antaeus' future.  We like to have our hands in every aspect of the company. So while we each have varying areas that are of particular interest to us, it really is a group effort.  Which is emblematic of the way the company works.  We've been elected to represent the members' wishes.  It can be a little unwieldy trying to get all three of us to sign off on something, especially if one or two of us are out working as actors — which all three of us are — but as I said, there is a great deal of trust there, and a shared taste and outlook.  Rob is on his way to New York to open CHURCH & STATE Off-Broadway for an open-ended run.  Luckily, we have his email address and phone number.  He can't get away that easily!
Your inaugural season in your new digs opens with CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, followed by AS YOU LIKE IT and NATIVE SON. Does the recent Equity ruling requiring minimum wage to all small LA-based theatre companies affect your season in any way?
We are living in a challenging time for theatre everywhere, and for theaters in LA in particular.  Things are changing and we must to learn to adapt.  Antaeus will be operating under the AEA Membership Rule which currently allows membership companies to work with Equity actors without the benefit of contract.  Our membership is virtually one hundred percent Equity members, so naturally we will continue to follow all union rules regarding hours, breaks, working conditions, etc. — just as we always have.  We are an ensemble of Equity actors volunteering together to create the kind of work we want to create.  That hasn't changed.
I have seen many of your fellow Antaeus company members in Equity-waiver shows in various Los Angeles theatres, They and you, as Equity members, now can't do another small theatre show without getting paid, like you, yourself so wondrously did at the Fountain Theatre in THE NORMAL HEART in 2013, right?
It's a confusing time and every intimate theater in LA is facing tough choices about how they will move forward.  Our members can generally be seen on stages all over Southern California and beyond, from Broadway to South Coast Rep to the Taper to every 99-seat theater in town.  Some of my very proudest moments onstage have occurred in intimate theatre, like the Fountain's THE NORMAL HEART.  It will be a sad day indeed if we're shut out of those places — and it certainly will happen at some venues.
What would be the alternative to doing small theatre work be other than within Antaeus?
You mean like hiking or yoga?  I guess if I couldn't work in the theatre, I'd have more time for those.
Antaeus is well-known for its partner-casting in all its productions. Who would you credit this Antaeus practice to?
Partner casting has been with Antaeus from the very beginning.  It began as a way to answer the logistical problem of actors in LA wanting to work onstage but needing to make money in film and television — where they can be called away to Vancouver at a moment's notice.  This practice allowed actors to leave a production for a day or a week or even more without scuttling the show, since there was another actor just as rehearsed as you, sharing the role.  But we found that there are additional artistic benefits to working this way — if you can operate without ego, you find that partnering on a role allows you to find and explore many choices that likely wouldn't have occurred to you on your own.  It can forge deep bonds between partners who've created the work together.  I could go on and on about it, but that's for a different interview!
How does a new-to-Los Angeles actor or writer get involved with Antaeus?
It can be a little tricky getting involved at Antaeus quite honestly, as we try to cast our shows from within the ensemble.  Nevertheless, we often need to use guest artists when company members aren't available.  We find these guests from a variety of sources — from our Academy classes, from recommendations, from actors we've seen in other venues (between the three of us, we see a lot of shows).  We're pretty approachable — come to one of the shows and say, "Hello."
When did you, Bill Brochtrup, initially become involved with Antaeus? Was it after I saw you in Black Dahlia's SECRETS OF THE TRADE in 2008?
I met former Antaeus Artistic Director Jeanie Hackett when I was working on NYPD Blue.  She suggested I get involved with Antaeus and invited me to some workshops and then I was cast in PERA PALAS, a co-production with the Theatre @Boston Court in 2005. I joined the company right after that.
What are your acting plans regarding Antaeus' inaugural season?
Ha!  I begged director Cameron Watson to let me be one of the no-neck monsters in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, but to no avail.  But not to worry, there's plenty for me to do at Antaeus behind the scenes as we move in and get situated this year.
What are your goals you'd like to accomplish with Antaeus?
I would love to see Antaeus continue to grow and thrive in every sense.  I want to grow our audiences and donor base, nurture our ensemble, establish deep roots in the Glendale community, strengthen our commitment to inclusivity and Arts Education. Make great theatre.  And I'd like to do it without the fret and worry that is my normal demeanor!
What are you personal goals?
I'm very lucky to have a career as an actor which has allowed me to work in films, television, and on stage.  I'd like to keep that going.  Working as Co-Artistic Director at Antaeus has been an impactful personal journey for me.  Taking on leadership responsibilities has been eye-opening.  Making decisions that affect people's artistic lives is both daunting and highly rewarding.
Any roles you'd love to tackle?
I'm not one of those actors who has a long wish list starting with “Hamlet” and “Lear.”  I'm always surprised by the parts I end up getting and then by how much I end up falling in love with them.  When we did CLOUD 9 last season I didn't plan on playing “Betty/Edward,” but now it's one of my favorite roles ever.  And I have a recurring role on TNT's Major Crimes as savvy police psychologist, “Dr. Joe,” which I just adore.  He's awesome.
Anything you'd like to add regarding Antaeus?
I'd like to invite everyone to come to Glendale to join us for Open Stages, a 4-day celebration of the opening of Antaeus' new home at the Kiki & David Gindler Performing Arts Center (March 2 thru 5).  There'll be tours, open houses, classes, a high school monologue competition, improv, music.  It's for the community, it's all free and everyone is welcome.  Come get to know us.
Thank you again for doing this, Bill.
For further info on Antaeus Theatre Company's Open Stages, as well as, and tickets and scheduling for their inaugural season in their new Glendale space, log onto

Mac Wellman's THE OFFENDING GESTURE Opens 3/18 at Son of Semele

Award-winning Son of Semele Ensemble announces its next production, Mac Wellman's The Offending Gesture, to be presented at the Son of Semele Theater, 3301 Beverly Boulevard, from March 18 to April 9, 2017.
In The Offending Gesture, panicky minions scramble to shield a volatile, thin-skinned despot from a perceived slight. What may not be so funny in real life becomes an absurdist vaudeville in the hands of form-busting playwright Mac Wellman, inspired by actual events: In 1941, the German Foreign Office investigated reports of a Finnish dog, Jackie, trained by his owner to salute at the sound of Hitler's name. Onstage, the actors play cats playing dogs playing humans, watched over by a Greek chorus of singing Mooncats (i.e., cats living on the moon, natch).
"The play is funny and unsettling," says director Edgar Landa. "The first time I read it, I fell in love with its absurdity, although I wasn't quite sure what to make of it. How do you perform a stage direction like 'Paws. Pause. Paws?'" Landa adds, "I was unsettled by the idea of seeing the Nazi salute performed over and over and over again. And, yet, there was humor in the repetition of that gesture. In our production, we take delight in the words Mac Wellman has written and we let them inform the silliness that will evoke laughter in the moment and spark something in the viewer's mind... perhaps a few days later."
Landa, a long-time member of Son of Semele Ensemble, recently received an Ovation Honor Award for his fight choreography of the company's That Pretty Pretty; or The Rape Play. The Gesture cast includes Ensemble members Melina Bielefelt, Flor San Roman and Ashley Steed, with guest artists Rachel Appelbaum, Anastasia Coon, Kyla Ledes, Erin Scerbak and Kate Williams Grabau. The design team comprises Ensemble member Barbara Kallir (lighting), plus Meg Cunningham (set), Becca Kessin (sound), Stephanie Petagno (costumes) and Brenda Varda (original music and music direction). Maria Pasquarelli is the assistant director; Ensemble member Lyndsay Lucas is the stage manager.
Mac Wellman is an Obie award-winning playwright, author and poet, known for the experimental nature of his work, telling American Theatre, "Plays are not about plots. They are about moments. And moments are about epiphanies when something wakes you up." Wellman is Distinguished Professor of Play Writing at Brooklyn College and a recipient of NEA, Guggenheim and Foundation of Contemporary Arts fellowships.
Fridays and Saturdays @ 8pm, Sundays @ 5pm
$5 discount for patrons 25 and under (must show photo ID at the door)
Advance online purchases at The Son of Semele box office is open on performance days only, 30 minutes prior to curtain.
Son of Semele Theater
3301 Beverly Blvd. (@ Hoover), Los Angeles CA 90004
There is free street parking in the surrounding neighborhood. Son of Semele offers a complimentary beverage with taxi, Uber or Lyft receipt/proof of ride.
ABOUT SON OF SEMELE ENSEMBLE: Son of Semele Ensemble is a Los Angeles-based ensemble theatre company comprised of 30+ actors, directors, designers, dramaturgs and producers. In its 16-year history Son of Semele Ensemble productions have been honored with two LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards (nine nominations), five LA Weekly Theatre Awards (eleven nominations), four Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, two SAGE Awards, and an NAACP Theatre Award (four nominations). The company was also nominated in six categories at the inaugural Stage Raw Awards.
SON OF SEMELE ENSEMBLE MISSION: We believe the impact of a theatrical experience should resonate beyond the theater door. As an ensemble of artists, we integrate complex design and performance, producing theatre that embraces the friction between emotion and intellect. Through a process of discovery, collaboration and creative risk-taking, we illuminate and amplify universal questions. To that end, we make an earnest commitment to the artistic sustainability of the greater community.

Urgent call to action: Robert Schenkkan's ‘Building the Wall' will premiere at Fountain Theatre, roll across U.S.

LOS ANGELES (Feb. 17, 2017) — A new play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle, All the Way, Hacksaw Ridge), written in direct response to the immigration policies of the Trump administration, reveals how those policies might lead to a terrifying, seemingly inconceivable, yet inevitable conclusion. Building the Wall opens at the Fountain Theatre on March 18, the first in a series of productions set to take place at theaters across the U.S. as part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere.

In the very near future, the Trump administration has carried out his campaign promise to round up and detain millions of immigrants. As a writer interviews the former supervisor of a private prison, it becomes clear how federal policy has escalated into something previously unimaginable.

Multiple-award winner Michael Michetti directs James Macdonald (Mutual Philanthropy at Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA) and Judith Moreland (Ovation Award for the Fountain's Miss Julie: Freedom Summer) in Schenkkan's riveting, harrowing and illuminating cautionary tale.

“This is an urgent cry of warning from a leading voice in the American theater,” says Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. “It's an opportunity for the Fountain to make its voice heard through our art. This project is more than a play. It's already ignited a national firestorm with theaters across the country signing up to produce it.”

In an interview with BBC Newshour, Schenkkan noted that “Donald Trump is not unusual or extraordinary… this is the playbook of authoritarianism. The question, of course, is not what Donald Trump will do. It's what we, as citizens, will do to respond.”

“Audiences can expect to be very rattled by this play,” notes Michetti. “Robert lays out a clear path of where we could all too easily end up if we don't change course. But the idea is not for people to go home depressed. It's a call to action. We've got to stop this from happening. We need to step up and exercise our rights as citizens to create positive change.”

To that end, the Fountain will host post-performance discussions throughout the run, and additional ancillary events are currently in the planning stages.

Other productions of Building the Wall are set to take place at the Curious Theater in Denver, Forum Theater in Silver Spring, Md., Borderlands Theater in Tucson and City Theatre in Miami.

Building the Wall runs March 18 through May 21, with performances on Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; and Mondays at 8 p.m. (dark Monday, March 20). Three preview performances take place on Wednesday, March 15;Thursday, March 16; and Friday, March 17, all at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $15$35; every Monday is Pay-What-You-Can. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to Like us on Facebook: Follow us on Twitter: @fountaintheatre.

Samuel French bookshop in London to close after 187 years

London's longest-established theatre bookshop Samuel French, currently located in the Fitzrovia area of central London near Tottenham Court Road, is to shutter in April, after a continuous run of 187 years. It has been in its present premises since 1983.
The company also operates as a major theatrical publisher and licensing house on both sides of the Atlantic. Those activities will continue, as will its bookselling operation, but that will be via its online portal only.
In an interview with U.K. trade paper The Stage, Managing Director Douglas Schatz attributed the bookshop closure to an "unsustainable rental increase," stating that these had increased by about 200–300 percent over the last five years.
He also told The Stage, "It's the way the market, the landscape of retail and bookselling in particular, is going. In the last few years it's changed immeasurably, with online retailing and ebooks. There has been a pressure on traditional bookshops and, at the same time, property costs in London have continued to rise, alongside rates and rents. It drives small, independent business out.”
The company will relocate its offices to the company's offices new premises near Euston, where it plans to continue to host customer-focused events, with enough space to host about 50 people. Shatz commented, "We want to stay in touch with customers as there is nothing like face to face."
We face similar issues here in Los Angeles, which makes one wonder - what will happen to our own Samuel French in Hollywood?

The 7 Fingers' Shana Carroll on Jumping Through Hoops & Hanging From the Rafters To Make the Tastiest Banana Bread

Montreal-based Les 7 Doigts de la Main (The 7 Fingers) will be appearing at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage February 16 through 18 with their latest creation CUISINE & CONFESSIONS. Better-Lemons and I had the opportunity to chat with Shana Carroll, the co-founding artistic director of The 7 Fingers. We touched on The 7 Fingers' beginnings from Cirque du Soleil, some of her and her husband Sébastien Soldevila's most memorable creative moments, and, of course, CUISINE & CONFESSIONS.
Shana, thank you for taking the time for this interview with Better-Lemons and myself.
What inspired you to create CUISINE & CONFESSIONS?
My husband and I co-created the show. Prior to creation, we were in our own kitchen, brainstorming on possible themes for the show. He was cooking as we were speaking — he is incredibly passionate about food, cooking — so I looked at him and said, "What if we do a cooking show?" We laughed, wondered if that was even possible, to cook on stage, to combine circus and cooking. I remembered a book my grandmother wrote called Young and Hungry. It was a memoir and a cookbook, marrying recipes from her childhood with accompanying anecdotes. I thought this could be an interesting approach for our show. So often, our shows have these strong autobiographical angles, as it's a big part of the vision of our company to humanize the acrobatics, to ensure the audience really gets to know the performers and care about them. So, we thought of this notion of food memories: combining confession-like moments of storytelling, both physical and verbal, with childhood recipes.
Acrobats and dancers are not known for indulging in sweets or desserts. Do you all work out so much that you can eat whatever you want?
Hmmm… I can't say I notice any across-the-board difference in an acrobat's approach to food. It is true that the physical work is so intense that there is less “weight-watching,” and more assuring their bodies get enough sustenance to do what they need to do. There are peculiar things of timing — very hard to eat before the show, which is often standard dinner time. So they tend to eat large meals very late at night. But other than that, I would say their relationship with food is, in general, just like non-acrobats. 
What can your audience expect to experience in CUISINE & CONFESSIONS?
It was interesting, when we created the show, we began with intense storytelling sessions with the cast. They went up, one by one, took the microphone and told extensive biographies of their parents, grandparents, linking them to food memories, etc. It just happened, with this particular cast, there were so many really tragic stories! Many of them had lost one or more of their parents, had grown up in harsh environments… We really wanted to share these intense stories, but it's true at one moment I thought: My god! This show is gonna be a downer! Partly for that reason, we put a lot of effort on also capturing the joy and beauty and humor and love that also characterize our kitchen memories, and our joy and love of food and cooking… In the end, I find the overall tone of the show is quite light, joyful, playful; but embedded within are these very deep, intense stories that sometimes catch you off guard, and (without revealing too much!) make you contemplate some more pertinent social and political issues.
Also I'd add, circus is, by nature, celebratory, empowering, even triumphant. By its very nature: we are attempting to do seemingly impossible “tricks,” and then (hopefully :)) succeeding! So that is inevitably a factor, and theme, as well: the life-affirming power of circus.
You co-founded Les 7 Doigts de la Main in 2002 in Montreal after seven years as Cirque du Soleil's original solo trapeze artist in SALTIMBANCO. Were all seven of you (Isabelle Chassé, Patrick Léonard, Faon Shane, Gypsy Snider, Sébastien Soldevila and Samuel Tétreault) originally members of Cirque du Soleil at one time or another?
Yes, all seven of us at some point worked at Cirque du Soleil, for varying durations. Faon and Isabelle, for instance, began performing there when they were children! (At the time we founded the company, Faon was the artist to have worked longest at Cirque du Soleil, having started at the company's inception as a young child). However, some of the “Fingers” I originally knew more through my years at circus school, or in the case of Gypsy; we were childhood friends from San Francisco. (I started at Pickle Family Circus, and she is the daughter of the founders.)
You performed with San Francisco's Pickle Family Circus when you were 18 years old. What initially got you interested in performing?
I was a theatre kid, and at the age of 18 wanted to pursue an acting/directing career. My father was a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, and he wrote a book on the Pickle Family Circus, and subsequently, became quite involved with them, was on their board of directors, etc. He had been encouraging me for awhile to come check it out, but I was a serious theatre kid. 🙂 However, I did need a day job while I was pursuing acting and, again he suggested I work at the office at Pickles. At least it was arts-oriented, and I would learn valuable lessons about administration, non-profit, etc. But then I walked into work and saw a trapeze artist 15 feet away from me and everything changed on a dime. I instantly fell in love with it, abandoned everything else and said, "That's what I'm gonna do!" It was certain in my mind; there was no turning back.
What type of technique classes did you first take - Ballet? Gymnastics? Trapeze?
As I mentioned, I did mostly theatre. Within my various theatre programs, I had some minimal movement classes, stage combat etc., and I tap danced for many years as well, but other than that was completely un-physical. I couldn't touch my toes, or do a pull-up, when I first decided I wanted to do trapeze. For everyone who knew me, it was the most shocking and incongruous career choice. But I was so passionate and driven about trapeze, I just trained and trained and trained sometimes not really knowing what I was doing! I left my office job at Pickles to become an apprentice. Paid $300 a month to basically do whatever it is they decide they need you to do, on stage and off (often jumping on the other end of the teeterboard while other people flip into the air), but you get to learn alongside them, in every respect. How to tie knots, how to set up bleachers, how to stretch, tumble, sell t-shirts… I set-up a mini-trapeze off the boom of the bleacher truck and would just play around on it until it was too dark to see anything. That's pretty much how I learned.
When did you decide you wanted to be a choreographer?
Well, it was funny that kind of came by accident before I really understood what choreographing was. I think because I came from theatre, and that it was the artistic qualities of trapeze that drew me to it. From the start, my main interest was in creating pieces, finding arcs and characters and storylines, alongside learning the tricks. When I got to National Circus School in Montreal (when I was 20), I discovered this was more of a rare thing, and I started creating acts for the other kids at school. There was our end-of-the-year show, my first year at school, and for that one year, it was student-directed. I was on the “choreography” team. I ended up choreographing 90% of the show, and realized this was something I loved. So I always tried to maintain that side of my creativity. When I was at Cirque, I was hired also as Dance Captain, so was in charge of maintaining all the choreography in the show. Sometimes, if there were new numbers joining the tour, I got to choreograph them. Then I would do little side projects, cabarets and things, to have the chance to create new pieces. So by the time I left Cirque to start The 7 Fingers (at 30 years old), choreographing had begun to eclipse trapeze as my main passion.
Do most of the troupe have ballet training, as well as acrobatic?
Most of the cast went to circus school. Professional circus schools, particularly the one in Montreal, have very good dance programs the students are required to take. It is, of course, only for a couple years and not every day. But since it is so similar to acrobatics — physical expression — they tend to assimilate the dance very quickly. Because, in school, a circus artist is working towards creating one act, quite often their dance vocabulary is really individuated and limited. They are very expressive in one certain manner, but would have a hard time walking into dance class and just picking up a choreography.
Jumping through square frames is quite impressive. Does looking at common-day objects inspire you to think up interesting visual challenges?
Yes, definitely! It's one of my favorite exercises, I even have my students do it when I teach. I tell them to just look around and find ten items and then brainstorm on how they could use them creatively/acrobatically.
What would a typical pre-show warm-up be for The 7 Fingers?
Actually the warm-up time for CUISINE & CONFESSIONS is fantastic! They need to stretch and warm up certain tricks, also play around with each other to relax and bond and get centered. AND they have to cut vegetables and grate cheese and preset all of their props and food items. It's so great to watch people tumble and chop just inches away from each other, alternating which activity they're doing!
The 7 Fingers have performed all over the world? Would you share a memorable story you remember from some of your many cities you visited.
For me, my most memorable moment was when we performed in Wellington, New Zealand. It was with our first show LOFT, which I was still performing in. We did our final bow and then the audience broke out into a “Haka,” the traditional Maori tribal dance they do. It's like a kind of percussive war cry, but also used to show appreciation. So we were just standing there on stage and then, suddenly it was like the audience was performing for us. So much energy. And it went on and on, tears just streaming down our faces… incredible!
Do you gear or tweak your show according to your different regions or nationalities of your audiences?
Yes. Well, most of all, we always try to perform in the local language. In the case of CUISINE, we're fortunate as the cast combined speaks about eight different languages, so we can reorganize who says what lines. And the others study the lines they have. It is quite a feat — we even performed the whole show in Russian — but really worth it. Also, there are small jokes here and there we try to adapt to the cultures we're in. 
In 2014, your husband Sébastien staged one of the three scenes of the Sochi Olympic Opening Ceremony. How much of his creation excitement did you get to experience? It must have been pretty spectacular, yes?
I was involved in the initial stages of creation of Sochi, so it was a great deal of fun, brainstorming and attending those meetings. When it came time to the on-site creation, Séb went to Sochi alone (I was involved in another project then), though I was brought over for one week just before the opening to tweak. It was exciting!
How did that feeling compare to you choreographing a number for the 2012 Oscars? 
Oh, the Oscars was maybe one of the best memories of my life! It was just so much fun, and such a great team. I can't even express what a fantastic memory that was. One of the moments that stuck with me… When our number was going to perform, they brought me to watch from the centre “island” where all the cameras are. When the performance was finished, one of the cameramen in the aisles high-fived me. It was kind of surreal.
How about for choreographing Cirque du Soleil's IRIS in 2011? 
IRIS was also a great experience. Actually, I think what was most special for me about IRIS was the chance to live in Los Angeles again. I grew up in Northern California, but after the divorce, my dad lived in Santa Monica for many years. So they did the joint custody thing, and I had a double life down there. I had a strong sentimental attachment to LA, but hadn't really been back. So living there for four months, with my 2-year-old daughter, and so close to family, was just wonderful.
Your troupe must be a close-knit family, always being able to second-guess every move, every jump, every catch. How did the idea of living together in a renovated convent in Montreal come about?
Well, we all reached the same point in our lives at the same time: wanting to settle down, grow roots, have families, tour less. We all were hitting our thirties, and the nomadic life-style was starting to wear thin (which was incidentally also one of the reasons we founded the company). So we were all looking to buy a house at the same time in Montreal. Patrick found this crazy convent and had the idea we could all buy it together, renovate, live communally etc. Now we spend so much time together, between company and home, that we live less “communally” and more like very, very close neighbors. It's really great for the kids, they have this crazy fluid expanse of houses they can run through, neighbors that are like siblings.
Aside from leaving The Broad Stage with a tasty morsels of banana bread in their stomachs and banana bread crumbs on their hands, what feelings would you want your audience to leave with?
To feel transformed! That it was cathartic. That they cried, and laughed, and ooh-ed, and aah-ed, and got to know these nine people like new nine best friends that they will remember forever! That they will think about their own food memories, their own parents. That they will go home and cook a family dinner, call their parents, share with their children some childhood memory. That they will decide to go swing on a trapeze or whatever risk-taking life-affirming equivalent, having had the glimpse that anything truly is possible if you just work hard enough, care enough, put enough soul into it. That they leave a little more hopeful, hearts (and bellies!) full.
Merci beaucoup, Shana! I look forward to tasting your banana bread and being wowed by The 7 Fingers' acrobatic visuals.
For tickets and curtain times for their February 16 to 18, 2017 performances at The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage, log onto

The Many Phases of the Unfazeable Rain Pryor

The Jewish Women's Theatre will produce the Los Angeles premiere of Rain Pryor's new solo outing FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES at the Braid, beginning February 16th. Actress/comedian/songtress/writer, Rain performs her autobiographical performance piece covering her early years as the bi-racial child of a broken home, through coping with being a comedy legend's daughter, becoming a performer in her own right, and to her very busy present. We had the chance to chat with Rain between her rehearsals for her Braid bow.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Rain!

You're already in rehearsals for FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES?

I am currently in rehearsals five days a week for FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES. Also, trying to conserve some energy for the opening and the six-week run. 

You originally wrote your autobiographical FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES in 2002. Has a lot of your show changed into its present state from its original?

When I originally wrote FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES, I wrote for the purpose of just presenting a showcase of my talents. Over the past 14-15 years, it has become a very poignant piece of theatre. 

How did you come up with the catchy title FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES?

The title, (thanks for saying it's catchy) just popped up after calling my show SWEET POTATO & LATKES. Fried Chicken (although cliché) seemed better to grasp the juxtaposition of two sides of my cultural lives.

Which are you better at making - fried chicken? Or latkes? 

I love to cook. I would say I can do both extremely well. And that the combination is fabulous. 

What was your father's initial reactions to FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES?

My father never got to see me perform this piece. However, I showed him the reviews and asked his permission to play him and do a part of his act in it. 

It was difficult not to have Dad come to a show because he came to every show I have ever had. Even came to set. 

You're referring to your first TV series?

Yes, Head of the Class.

Did you rewrite any specific sections after hearing your father's comments?

I have never rewritten based on my family's input. I write with authenticity, just as Mom and Dad taught me to do. 

What was your mother Shelley's reaction to FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES?

My mother's reaction was, "Ya know, Rain. I don't really talk that way, but as long as you're making money, it's okay. By the way, I'm proud of you." 

Did your mother have you Bat Mitzvahed?

My mom never had a Bat Mitzvahee. My mom Shelley's family did not do Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. They did Shabbat and holidays though. 

When did you realize you wanted to be a performer?

I think I realized I wanted to be a performing around 4 or 5. I was always imitating family and people I met. I loved to sign big band music and could recite the entire The Wizard of Oz

When were you old enough to understand, or even see, your father's comedy routines?

I grew up in the comedy clubs with both my parents. I may not have understood the language, but I knew about what was funny

How old were you when you fully realized how famous and well-loved your father was?

I talk about this in my show. He took me to his Long Beach concert in 1979. I was 9 years old, and 3,000 people were there. I got it - Dad was God! Ha! 

I hear you do a mean Richard Pryor impersonation in FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES. What other characters, real or composite, can the Braid audiences expect to meet?

I do about 10-11 people from my life. I hope I bring a realness and depth to them. 

Since you wrote about real people in your life, was there any particular person (other than your parents), you were apprehensive getting their feedback?

I don't seek approval from the people I portray. I have nothing to hide, because my intention is not mean-spirited. I create realized real versions of the people in my life. I love them, even the bad teen girl in my show. 

You've performed FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES all over the world. Tell us the most surprising response you received from an audience.

I had a show in Harlem where the audience stood up and applauded in the middle of my show. I was taken aback with profound emotion and gratitude. 

Was the Beverly Hills community during your childhood there less racially color-blind/sensitive than they are today in 2017?

1970s - there weren't kids like me in my area of Beverly Hills. My mom was a single white Jewish woman, raising a bi-racial child. We had to face a lot of adversity, anger, hatred. We survived and overcame. That's what strong Jewish women do. We endure. 

Did you find comedy or singing great weapons in your arsenal to use in your growing up?

Comedy and singing were a huge part of life. You can escape any bad mood with a song or a joke. Well, at least, if you're in my family. 

What do you hope your Braid audiences leave with after your curtain call?

I hope the Braid audiences, leave with a sense of hope and action to keep evolving and changing the world for the better. Our kids are the change. 

Thank you, Rain! Looking forward to seeing you do your favorite foods!

FRIED CHICKEN & LATKES plays through April 2, 2017. For ticket availability and further info, log onto

Drew Droege Dishes on His Many Faces Leading to His Latest of Charles Busch's Angela Arden

An avid, frequent, and popular staple of in Los Angeles theatre scene, Drew Droege adds to his impressive repertoire of female characterizations with his latest role as Angela Arden, the role Charles Busch wrote and originated in his DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! Drew will be high-camping it up at The Celebration Theatre beginning February 10th.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Drew!

My pleasure! Thank YOU!

You will be taking on Charles Busch's iconic role of Angela in his 2007 cult classic DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! at the Celebration Theatre. When did you first become aware of Charles Busch?

I grew up in a small town in North Carolina. However, I had a very well-worn Samuel French catalog and stumbled onto the title PSYCHO BEACH PARTY. I ordered it and immediately fell in love. I desperately campaigned for my high school drama club to produce it, but they had just canceled prom because of freak dancing. So obviously, it was never approved. Instead, we just performed an evening of original and clean poetry. 

Have you seen Charles Busch perform live?

Yes! I got to see him in his play THE THIRD STORY at La Jolla Playhouse in 2008. I was playing his role in RED SCARE ON SUNSET in LA at the time, so the cast drove down to see him and meet him. He is poisonously hilarious to watch live. 

What were your preparations for this role of Angela?

I've watched several Bette Davis, Lana Turner, and Susan Hayward movies to get into the mindset of these women and into the style we're playing. Angela is a blast, because she's equal parts washed-up, drunk, raunchy, vulnerable, glamorous, vindictive, and every inch a STAR! I think it's truly Charles' best character.

You are a fixture of LA Theatre, frequently appearing @ the LA LGBT Center, the Rockwell, Casita del Campo and Celebration. Which gets your creative juices up more, performing live theatre or TV shows and podcasts?

I love doing all of them because they all work different muscles. There's nothing like performing in front of a rowdy LA crowd - I feel so lucky that I get to do stupid fun shows. And, Oh, My God! We all need to get together and laugh - now more than ever. But TV and film are satisfying because I can be a piece of something bigger and try to be somewhat real. And podcasts are just pure raw, sobbing, naked honesty that I also find myself needing now more than ever.

Do you prefer tackling a female role (Miranda Priestley in UMPO THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, Velda in UMPO TROOP BEVERLY HILLS, Mellie Moleson in PRAIRIE-OKE!) to a male role (BRIGHT COLORS & BOLD PATTERNS)?

I always just look at the character's point of view first. To me, their gender is less interesting than what drives them. I hope that I get to play both men and women for my entire life.

UMPO producer Kate Pazakis told me, once you put on Miranda's wig, you became her. Do costumes make the woman for you?

Oh, my god, absolutely. I have always been that actor who screamed for his rehearsal shoes! And wigs are powerful beasts - put them on and just say, 'Yes!'

Did you 'become' Angela when you first tried on her wig?

I'm still trying wigs, and I'm still finding Angela, so... 

You are infamous for your Chloe Sevigny parodies. What made you pick Chloe in particular to 'do'?

I put on a wig for something else and realized I looked like her. And I've long been fascinated by Chloe and her world. And she has been the gift that has kept on giving. And I debuted her in a sketch comedy show at Celebration Theatre - 15 years ago!!!

What was growing up in South & North Carolina like?

It was perfect for me. Everyone is a drag queen or a sketch character there. And I had a family and very close friend circle, and it was always about love and laughter and FOOD!

Was being funny your defense mechanism?

Yes. And pretending to be possessed by Satan - that created a necessary fear that kept the Carolina bullies at bay. 

When did you decide you could make a career out of being funny?

I'm still figuring that out. 

Who were your comedy idols growing up?

Carol Burnett, Divine, Jan Hooks, Madeline Kahn, Goldie Hawn, Kevin Kline, The Kids In The Hall, The State, Laurel and Hardy, and my Dad. 

Was being part of The Groundlings a major stepping stone for your career? Absolutely! First of all, the training is unparalleled, because it made me create original characters. It made me stop waiting for the phone to ring and create my own career. And it's never about jokes at The Groundlings - it's about what's true to the people you are playing. I was fortunate enough to make it through their program and get to perform there and work with the funniest people in the world. My first legit TV job was on RENO 911!, thanks in many ways to The Groundlings. And my most recent TV job was doing four episodes of IDIOTSITTER, created by and starring brilliant Groundlings friends Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse. I will be forever grateful.

Did you find your NY audience reactions different or similar to your LA audience reactions to your BRIGHT COLORS?

Every audience was wildly different. I guess in general, New York has less regard/respect/reverence for celebrities, so they understood the ridiculous tragedy of my character's obsession with them. Truly, that show is my favorite thing ever, ever, ever to perform. 

What's in store for Drew Droege in 2017?

I'm going to be shooting TVLand's brilliant new Heathers series and writing sporadically for a Netflix show - and hopefully bringing BRIGHT COLORS & BOLD PATTERNS back to New York soon. It all feels so exciting and exhausting at once! Come see DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! The cast is amazing and our director Ryan Bergmann is a genius. We're having a blast, and so will you! 

Thank you, Drew! Looking forward to seeing you transformed into Angela.

DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! plays through March 26, 2017. For ticket info and further info, log onto

Devising "Wonder City"

Wonder City is the name of the newly “devised” theater piece that has been created by director Ashley Steed and her 7 person ensemble as part of Son of Semele's Company Creation Festival. It has already run three nights from January 25-27, and it will run two more times on Saturday, February 11 at 8 pm, and on Sunday, February 12 at 5 pm. (

Wonder City


Devised theater? What exactly is it?

I should know. I am part of the 7 person ensemble which created Wonder City collectively, over a long rehearsal process of several months, starting with no script and just an idea, a concept. Like Simon Rodia said, the Italian immigrant who built the Watts Towers from 1921 – 1954, and who is featured in our show, “I had it in mind to do something big and I did it.” Our idea was to create a theater piece out of our own visceral experiences of living in Los Angeles. One day at a time. Of course it didn't take us 33 years to do it, only 4 months, but one day, one rehearsal at a time, we improvised around themes, ideas, places, and events… fires, floods, earthquakes, foods, dreams, maps, people we knew or who we'd observed, and slowly, oh so slowly, we put together a script… which even now, finally in performance, is still partially improvised, making it hopefully still honest, raw, and still in the act of being discovered.

The Company of "Wonder City"

The Company of “Wonder City”

The process reminds me of my early days as a performing artist, creating original ensemble work, when I was 22 years old on the near north side of Chicago, as a modern dancer with Shirley Mordine‘s “Dance Troupe” in residence at Columbia College. On Wells Street in Old Town, right down the street from Second City. I had just started dancing, but there I was, sweating every day in dance classes for the first time in my repressed life, freeing myself, every morning at 10 am. Discovering my own body for the first time, getting out of my head, working with my modern dance colleagues/company members/family/friends… rehearsing every afternoon from 1-4 pm, making evening-length, ensemble dance-theater pieces, right from the fabric of our own lives, decades before there was even a name for “performance art.” There I was, teaching dance-theater classes myself (the little I knew) from 6-8pm, and then falling asleep, totally exhausted, but completely satisfied… after a full day well spent… physically, psychically, creatively… emotionally.

The old days: MoMing Dancers: Susan Kimmelman, Jim Self, Kasia Mintch, Eric Trules, & Jackie Radis

The old days: MoMing Dancers: Susan Kimmelman, Jim Self, Kasia Mintch, Eric Trules, & Jackie Radis

“Back to your roots,” is what USC Dramatic Arts Dean David Bridel said to me the other day, part tongue in cheek, about this “Visceral City Project,” and the whole communal-physical movement thing, his words even truer than he could have possibly known. Because now here I was again, almost 70 years young, about to “retire” from USC, crawling around on a black box floor, blowing imaginary dandelions into the air, playing monkeys, frogs, policemen, my own adopted son, and creating a traffic ballet, a cacophony of complaints, a litany of loved foods, and a day of the earthquake, with an odd, but beautiful-looking ensemble, almost all over the age of forty, whose names are Mark Hein, Stacey Jack, Christian Prentice (our token youngster), Melissa Randel, Flor San Roman, and Roger Weiss. And directed by my former USC student, Ashley Steed, devising a new hour-long piece of theater — with original characters, choreographed movement, and an Anne Bogart type of internal physical vocabulary.

Stacey Jack & Christian Prentice

Stacey Jack & Christian Prentice

Ashley's story itself is unique. As a USC student in my solo performance class, maybe a decade ago, she was certainly smart, hard-working, and prolific. She was the director-producer of the annual performance of Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues and organizer for “Take Back the Night” at USC to raise awareness of sexual violence and assault on campus. I told her that she should become a “producah.” But then off she went to graduate school in London to get her M.A., and when she came back, she was married to an Irishman, had discovered her body, and had learned about devising theater. Back in Los Angeles, she further re-invented herself as an essential part of the LA theater community, its 99 seat theater wars, moderating Facebook's “LA Theater Network,” and just recently being hired as the new editor-in-chief of Better Lemons (the also recently re-invented online arts and entertainment resource).

Ashley Steed, Director "Wonder City"

Ashley Steed, Photo Exsel Manalu-Trules

In the middle of our rehearsal process, Ashley lost her beloved mother, Diane, who I had the pleasure of meeting at Ashley's USC graduation. Her mother's demise was slow, predictable, and painful, yet Ashley was able to survive her loss, or at least to make it slightly more bearable, by pouring herself wholeheartedly into the devising of Wonder City. Sometimes she would have to take long distance phone calls in the middle of a rehearsal to arrange for her mom's funeral or memorial, but she was always the first one at the theater and always the last one to leave. It is also not surprising that one section of the piece is called “Beach as a place to grieve,” a clear example of “making art out of the fabric of one's life.” Here is the article Ashley wrote herself for Better Lemons called “Creativity in the Time of Grief.”

The Frog Dream

The Frog Dream

Devising theater is time consuming, and as we all know, personally, finding time is …difficult… especially in the midst of the busy lives that we all live in LA… and elsewhere. It was certainly more time than I had to give. Yet find time… I did.

And so… here I am…. in the devised show… Wonder City…. “acting,” performing, being part of an ensemble again… after so many years as a solo performer. It's challenging… fun… and visceral…. just like the old days. Truly a… “wonder”!

Christian Prentice & Eric Trules seeing the Watts Towers

Christian Prentice & Eric Trules seeing the Watts Towers

The show's stage manager is Christina Bryan. It's scenic designer is Meg Cunningham, lighting designer, Alexander Freer, and its sound designer, Roger K. Weiss.

Go HERE for tickets to “Wonder City” on February 11 & 12.

And listen HERE to Trules' new PODCAST, “e-travels with e. trules”

Heather Lipson Bell

Heather Lipson Bell

Heather Lipson Bell is a genuine Los Angeles hyphenate; dancer, choreographer, actress, educator and entrepreneur.  She has carved out a successful career by following her heart and soul, connecting experiences and collaborators and weaving them together to create a tapestry of creativity, artistry, education, altruism and family.

Bell is a force in the world of dance and opera, especially as it intersects with young people and both children and adults with different needs. A quick rundown of her current job titles illustrates her lifelong love of music, dance and activism.  She is the founder and creative director for Performing Arts For All, providing arts opportunities for and specializing in working with those who have special needs and limitations. She is a lead educator and the managing director for KIDS/IQUE, a division of, an organization which provides artistic opportunities for those in foster care facilities, at-risk youth and those with additional special needs. PAFA partners with LA Opera, LA Ballet, MUSE/IQUE, Center Stage Opera and is Fiscally Sponsored by the 501c3 Dance Resource Center. Her programs are unique in that they do not separate nor isolate participants by challenge. Rather, all dancers work together and use their different strengths and weaknesses to create a stronger whole.

Bell has worked with the LA Opera since 2008 as a teaching artist, choreographer and assistant director for their in-school and community programs.  She is a dancer and choreographer who works consistently.  She has performed in over ten concerts with the New York Philharmonic, two of which she both choreographed and danced and which will be kept as part of a new online platform, She performs regularly and has film and theater pieces in all states of production. Recent work includes dancing at the Ford Theater, at the Pageant of the Masters, choreographing and co-producing the short film Halfway, which she and her partner Christine Deitner (They also created the award winning "Freeze! Try Again) are now developing for presentation at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Finally, with co-artistic director Tom Dulack ( she is planning on touring their concerts and also in development on 2 other theater projects: Extravaganza (based on the life and work of Vivaldi) and Aphra (a play he's written about the fabulous Aphra Behn that Bell would choreograph).

Lastly, Bell is a mom who home schools her two young children and also serves as their audition chauffeur. Final note: Heather Lipson Bell is busy.

We met for hot drinks on a rainy Thursday morning for a freewheeling conversation that circled around the ideas of art as a source of inspiration, community and service, making it as a freelance artist in Los Angeles and the immense value of the support of friends and family.

The phenomenon of dance as a tool for work with differently abled people is relatively new to the general public but has been part of Bell's career path from early on. Her first major foray was her senior showcase at Boston Conservatory, with a project that involved blind and deaf dancers. Although the artistic director was “completely not on board, she thought it a terrible idea…,” Bell and her creative partner stayed committed to their idea and eventually found an enthusiastic mentor in their Laban professor. They focused on research, teaching classes and small workshops at both the Perkins School for the Blind  and Caroll Center for The Blind.

“For me it was specifically a movement inspired thing. How do different people move? How do they understand movement?" She continues, "it became really interesting because we met people who were born with different levels of disability. Then also those who had lost their vision - one man who had so much anger but agreed to do our little movement class, and he was able to find movement, spacial awareness and comfort in this new sightless world.” Eventually they combined sighted dancers into the project and her path, curvy and indirect though it would be, was set. “It was this huge vast world that I had never been exposed to…..that kind of sparked my interest in movement study.”

Bell and PAFA at The Hard Rock Cafe in 2016

Bell moved to LA in 1999 “not to dance, but following a boyfriend.  I thought I'd hang out for a year and go back to New York.” But she she stayed, “I was lucky when I came to LA - to meet a really good group of people right away who were not competitive in the typical sense of what I grew up with, but really supportive and were like, well if I don't get the job, it's good because you got the job and we all kind of came up together." She adds, "To this day - I find this a really unique group of women and that has been a great support under everything I do.” Her circle of friends and collaborators continues inspire and support her. When casting dancers for a short film she recently choreographed and co-produced, she invited people to simply take part, without telling them exactly what they would be doing. “I expected five or six people to show up and over 25 beautiful dancers came to give of themselves.”

Bell and Gary Franco dancing with City Ballet of Los Angeles at the Ford Theater in a piece that she choreographed.

Bell talks a lot about community and friendship; of the give and take of this industry. She credits much of her success to friends looking out for one another and mentions job after job that she earned after a recommendation from one friend or another. The path to creating Performing Arts for All started with a job vacated by a friend who went to go dance on a cruise. Bell was hired as a dancer by Zina Bethune and Bethune Theatre Dance, a company that created work with both traditional and differently abled dancers. When Bethune later saw Bell's resume, she hired her as an educator which led to 10 years of teaching dance to people with all kinds of challenges. After Bethune was killed in a tragic hit and run accident, some parents approached Bell because they missed her classes. This inspired the creation of PAFA.

What stands out when listening to Bell speak is the fluidity with which she adjusts the focus of her work. There is equal value given to performance, teaching, choreography and activism - all fueled by a constant search for new and inventive ways to create movement stories. Each feeds the other. For example, when choreographing a film scene with Marines who were uncomfortable with the entire premise of dancing, she drew upon what she had learned teaching those who were blind, having them do movement they were already familiar with, then guiding that movement into patterns to create dance. In this way, she essentially allows her dancers to make their own dances. She sums up her philosophy by saying, “there was never a break, I started teaching at 15, following the concept, from an Ailey dancer, of; I am not your teacher, we teach each other.”  She is also vocal in visualizing, setting goals and manifesting what she wants. For example, when auditioning for a beer commercial she asked in the moment if they had a choreographer. They said no. She got the job.

Bell is pragmatic about the ups and downs of the industry. She revealed her disappointment in coming to the realization that she had limits as a choreographer; that creating new movement vocabulary was not among her skills. Initially she mourned what she considered a failing but then turned that liability into an asset. Becoming an expert at research, she studied organic movement and approached her work that way instead. Her work for the NY Phil was based in flamenco, a dance form that she was unfamiliar with at the beginning of the process yet by the time she came to the performance, the world renowned musician with whom she was partnered thought her an expert.

How does she get through the downs? "In regards to fighting depression, a simple thing to do is find one thing, one small thing a day to be joyous about," says Bell. "We all experience depression and feel stuck or powerless. For me, it seems my nature is to be happy - I am drawn to laughter and beauty and stories of strength and resilience like many, and shy away from darkness and evil and blood and guts." For example, "I choose not to go out for roles playing parts of victims, etc." Adding, "I am drawn to other projects and have been lucky to have opportunities that support this. For me I try to always:  Explore. Learn. Play. Move. Connect. I'll continue to set goals, and take on too much, and procrastinate and enjoy my craft and community and family more than I could ever express."

Bell is quick to credit her family for their ongoing support. Her parents, her husband, even her young children all support and participate in her process. “I was a performer when I met my husband. He knows that it is not about the money.” She recounted her dad's reaction when she turned down an opportunity to create a health oriented business when a much less lucrative but much more artistic performance opportunity arrived. “He was like, of course you'll go dance!”

"We seem to all strive for this ‘balance' or even for ‘perfection' - and it is a fleeting thing. If it wasn't I'm sure I'd be bored by the stillness. I have always been grateful for the language of dance, for experiencing and appreciating on a very deep level the impermanence of what we do. And for the voice and opportunities it has given me. Balancing creative work, work, a marriage and motherhood is a dance. I am constantly reminded what a gift it all is and that I'm not perfect - and that is perfect."

"What I'm doing now, who I am -  was present in me as a very young child. I really have always been an artist and activist and as I've been thinking the examples go so far back. I've always loved human movement and storytelling and history and music and art and elephants and trees and collaboration and community and the connections of it all and just the complexity of this world."

Performing Arts For All has a full schedule for 2017.
Two 6 week workshops culminating with a showcase.
Session 1: 1/7/17 - 2/11/17, Session 2: 2/25/17 - 4/1/17
Additional inclusion workshops at Olive Middle and High Schools (Baldwin Park)
KIDS/IQUE outreach visits us: 2/11/17 & 4/1/17
MUSE/IQUE Concert Field Trips: 2/12/17, 4/2/17
Performing with LA Opera - Community Opera Noah's Flood - shows 5/6/17

To keep up to date on Bell's work, visit her Website



Theatre News: Boston Court names Kyle Clausen Executive Director



PASADENA, CA (January 25, 2017)– Following an extensive nationwide search, Boston Court Performing Arts Center Board Chair Sarah Lyding announced today that Mr. Kyle Clausen will join the organization as its Executive Director, bringing dynamic new leadership to the acclaimed Pasadena cultural institution.

“At an important time in Boston Court's history, Kyle joins us with strong leadership skills, experience working for various arts organizations we admire, as well as a personal passion for both music and theatre,” said Lyding.  “His vision, business acumen and track record of success are exactly what Boston Court needs as we enter our next chapter, which I am confident will be even more impactful and artistically adventurous than our last.”

Clausen said, “I am delighted to assume this leadership role at Boston Court, and work with Artistic Directors Jessica Kubzansky, Michael Michetti, and Mark Saltzman as well as the strong board and staff whose incredible work has made a name for Boston Court over the past 13 years.  This is an exciting time in the organization's evolution, and I look forward continuing and building upon the company's commitment to new work and artistic excellence.”

Kyle Clausen currently serves as Director of Marketing and Patron Services at Luther Burbank Center for the Arts (LBC), a multi-disciplinary arts center located in Santa Rosa, California that presents a wide-range of performances, innovative education programs, and myriad community events.  At  LBC, Clausen has been responsible for a substantial increase in both earned and contributed revenue, including the highest levels of ticket sales in the organization's 35-year history. Prior to LBC, Clausen served as Managing Director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz (SSC), a classical repertory theatre company in residence at the University of California, Santa Cruz where he oversaw a significant growth in subscriptions, led a reshaping of the company's patron service philosophy, and expanded SSC's programming to Silicon Valley.  He has also held positions in marketing with Mixed Blood Theatre and the Children's Theatre Company, both of Minneapolis, and began his career as a pianist and music director with more than 40 theatrical productions to his credit. Clausen holds a degree in Art History and Music from the University of Minnesota.

Clausen's appointment concludes a nationwide search that was launched by the Boston Court Board of Directors in September 2016, in conjunction with KGI Advisors, a Los Angeles-based consulting firm. A search committee was formed, and after a thorough interview process, the board of directors unanimously approved Clausen's appointment in December 2016.  Clausen will join Boston Court Performing Arts Center full-time on February 20, 2017.

Boston Court Performing Arts Center's 2017 season begins with The Theatre @ Boston Court's production of Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Boops (February 18 – March 19), and Music @ Boston Court's Winter Series (February 17 – March 18).  More information can be found at

About Boston Court Performing Arts Center

Located in Pasadena, California, and founded in 2003, Boston Court Performing Arts Center is dedicated to creating and presenting works that are innovative, diverse, vital and adventurous in an intimate setting. The 75-seat Marjorie Branson Performance Space and the 99-seat Main Stage are state-of-the-art venues for Theatre @ Boston Court and Music @ Boston Court. The Theatre @ Boston Court, led by Artistic Directors Jessica Kubzansky and Michael Michetti, is currently commencing its 14th Season. The Theatre @ Boston Court has also co-produced productions in New York City, Boston, Houston, and at the Getty Villa in Pacific Palisades, California. Concentrating on new work and re-envisioned classics, The Theatre @ Boston Court is the proud recipient of numerous nominations and awards from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, the Ovations, the NAACP and Stage Raw.  Music @ Boston Court, led by Artistic Director Mark Saltzman, provides a unique and intimate opportunity for musicians, performers, and composers to envision, explore, and realize their individual universes of musical expression. With over 30 programmed concerts a year, Music @ Boston Court is a key music presenter in the Los Angeles area. Boston Court Performing Arts Center is also the home of an annual new play festival, as well as Art Upfront, a rotating visual arts program.

Boston Court Performing Arts Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Key funding is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, New Dramatists, The Shubert Foundation, Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, Edgerton Foundation, The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation, The Ahmanson Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, Lazy L. Foundation, The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation, and the Z. Clark Branson Foundation.


Reasons to Get Off the Couch

Looking for reasons to get off your couch? Then look no further - here are some great shows and events happening this week for you to go check out.

  • There's still time to experience The Jerry Maguire Video Store - this pop up by Everything Is Terrible has acquired 14000 VHS tapes of the Tom Cruise film and has recreated a video store. They'll eventually be building a giant pyramid. On till Jan 29.
  • Scherzo Theater Company is remounting their delightful 8:03 over in Hollywood to raise funds for the American Cancer Society.
  • Bloodletting by Boni Alvarez is closing this weekend. Don't miss this tale about Filipina witches! Closing Sunday at Atwater Theatre.
  • Playing this weekend is SEVEN written by seven female playwrights - Part theatre, part documentary, SEVEN is an affirmation of the boundless power of hope and determination. Playing at LA Theatre Works.
  • Cornerstone Theatre Company is currently running fellowship the eighth play in their Hunger Cycle, which is an immersive experience that puts you in the role of volunteer. Runs until Feb 12.
  • Microtheater LA is an immersive social art experience. Five different theater companies present 5 plays, 15 minutes each, 5 times a night, inside working art studios. Each performance holds only a small group of audience members to allow for a unique intimate theater experience. Jan 28t at 7pm.


What MUST SEE events are you going to this week? Let us know in the comments!

Have a good reason to get off the couch? Send it to [email protected]

Dan Castellaneta on Oscar Levant, Winning Emmys, and Finding His Voice(s)

Dan Castellaneta's latest creative project FOR PIANO AND HARPO world premieres at the Falcon Theatre February 1, 2017. In FOR PIANO AND HARPO, Dan writes about and stars as the renowned 20th century pianist/comedian/actor Oscar Levant. The busy multi-tasker managed to spare us some moments between his The Simpsons responsibilities and FOR PIANO AND HARPO rehearsals to answer a few questions for Better Lemons.

Thank you for taking time out of your crazy, busy schedule for this interview!

When did you first become aware of Oscar Levant?

I had a record album of old comedy bits from radio and television. One of the cuts was of The Fred Allen Show where he interviewed Oscar Levant. He was introduced as a concert piano player, but was really funny. I became more aware of him as my wife had a childhood crush on him. Then I noticed his appearances in many MGM musicals.

What attracted you to Oscar Levant - his off-centered wit? His eccentricities? His uninhibited bon mots?

I love the fact that he was this accomplished musician and composer with one foot in the world of high culture and the other in the world of Broadway and pop culture. He was extremely well-read, but took to talking like a wise-cracking “B” movie gangster.

What made you want to write a piece around Oscar Levant?

I was reading Harpo Marx's biography, Harpo Speaks. There was a chapter about how Oscar Levant crashed a dinner party at Harpo's Beverly Hills home and stayed for a year and a month. I thought a play about these two completely funny, interesting, and different characters living together might make an interesting play. I didn't want it to be a 1930's Odd Couple, so I focused primarily on Oscar Levant's struggle with mental illness and drug addiction and how perhaps memories of his friendship with Harpo helped him cope.

One of my favorite Oscar Levant quotes is "Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm schizophrenic, and so am I." What's yours?

Here's one that he said to his friend George Gershwin. “Tell me, George. If you had to do it all over again; would you still fall in love with yourself?”

You were still a teenager when you realized you had a gift for doing impressions. Yet you initially studied art to become an art teacher. What incident convinced you that comedy could be a viable career for you?

When I was teaching, one of my students was helping me clean up the art class and I started doing voices for him just to make the task a little less tedious. He said to me, “What are you doing here, man? You should be in Hollywood.” It kind of hit home to what I truly felt. So after that, I resolved to pursue acting.

Did you start off doing voice-overs in commercials on radio?  What are some of the first ones you ever did?

I did start off doing voice-overs for radio and television with my wife Deb, in Chicago. We were a male-female voice team, as was the fashion at that time. My first voiceover was for a national TV spot -- I think was for Betty Crocker. It was a picture of a guy looking at a chocolate cake. And I was voicing his thought, which was, “I'm a fool for your chocolate!” I had to say that line fifty different ways until they found the one they liked.

There seems to be major periods of time in between your stage performances - in 1999, you wrote and starred in WHERE DID VINCENT VAN GOGH? Your next stage role was in THE BICYCLE MEN at London's The King's Head Theatre in 2007. Here we are in 2017, and you'll open February 1 in FOR PIANO AND HARPO at the Falcon Theatre. Too busy on your day job passion? Miss being on the boards? What brings you back on stage?

Actually, I've always been performing on stage during that time. Most times, it was doing improv in and around LA. I've also done other plays. Between VAN GOGH and BICYCLE MEN, I was in THE ALCHEMIST Off-Broadway in New York, THE UNDERPANTS at the Geffen in LA, NIGHTHAWKS and TWIST YOUR DICKENS at The Kirk Douglas Theater in LA, and MOONLIGHT & MAGNOLIAS at the Old Globe in San Diego. Since then, I've been more interested in writing plays and using improvisation to create material. I'm doing FOR PIANO AND HARPO because I wrote it and wanted to see it get a production. I was available and I work cheap.

Since Oscar Levant was schizophrenic, I would imagine you portray different characters of him in FOR PIANO AND HARPO. Would The Simpsons fans recognize any voices that you'll 'do' as Oscar Levant?

I'm sure Oscar Levant's quote about being a schizophrenic was more to score a laugh off of his struggles with mental illness, and also because most people mistake schizophrenia with having multiple personalities. As I understand it, Oscar Levant did not suffer from being schizophrenic or having multiple personalities. If he were diagnosed today, he would no doubt be treated for being bi-polar. But in his day, they didn't really have the proper treatment for it. So I only use one voice to do the character – that of Oscar's. I don't know if any Simpsons fans will recognize it.

There's only an elite few who have won multiple Emmys in their respective category. After winning four for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance, does it get old hat each time you get nominated again? Or do you still get that original burst of excitement like the first time you won?

It's not as old hat as you would think, because over the years, the competition has been fierce. There are so many more prime time cartoons. Which means there are many more fine-talented voiceover artists to go up against. Now more than ever, it's a big deal just to get nominated. I haven't won in a while. But the last time was as thrilling as the first because you never think you are going to win.

In your everyday life, do you fall back on certain voices of your treasure trove of voices in the heat of the moment?

I wish I could tell you a fantastic anecdote about how using one of my voices got me out of a tight situation, but alas, the only voice that comes out is shrill and whiny.

What would you like the Falcon audiences to leave with after you take your curtain call for Oscar Levant?

Other than being entertained and emotionally moved, I hope to introduce and spark interest in this fascinating character. He's definitely worth knowing about. He thrived in so many arenas -- pop music, classical music, literature, Broadway, movies, television, radio.  

Thank you, Sir, for taking the time for this interview! 

FOR PIANO AND HARPO plays at the Falcon Theatre February 1 – March 5, 2017; visit for more information and tickets.