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.



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.



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


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.



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save NoHo Theatres

The Whitefire Theatre

Morgan Wixson Theatre

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

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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



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


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


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“How The Princh Stole Christmas” with Troubadour Theatre Company

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hairy Ape” with Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

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

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

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

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

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

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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.


Jessica-Lynn-Johnson-Soaring-Solo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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