This Spotlight focuses on Michael Leoni, a playwright, bi-coastal director, and co-founder of The 11:11 in WeHo whose productions have brilliantly focused attention on the pitfalls of modern society, especially in the entertainment industry and on homeless street kids.
Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?
Michael Leoni (ML): I have been directing theater and film since high school and have been fortunate to direct professionally in both LA and NYC. One of my very first shows in Los Angeles was an original rock musical that I wrote and directed, called The Playground. It built a cult following and ran successfully at multiple theatres around Los Angeles over several years.
Then, I adapted a short film I had written and directed into the stage play, Elevator. It ran for 11 months starting at The Hudson Mainstage and then moving to The Coast Theatre in WeHo. Here is the trailer:
(SB): Read my 2017 Broadway World interview with writer/director Michael Leoni and Erica Katzin who was in the cast of “Elevator” to learn more about that incredible play which won 11 Broadway World nominations including "Best New Work" as well as "Critic's Choice" and "Best Bet" from the Los Angeles Times.
(ML): Following that, my business partners and I opened our theatre in West Hollywood, called “The 11:11.” It became the home to my next original show, Famous, which ran for nine months, was developed into a feature film, and is now in post-production. Here is the trailer:
(I’ve lost count of how many times I went back to see “Famous” or the number of people I took with me to experience it. The production remains on my all-time favorites list of shows I have reviewed. If you missed it, here is the link to my 2019 interview with Michael about the cost of fame as faced by those in its spell, which led to the creation of the #MeToo movement.)
(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to be either postponed or cancelled immediately?
(ML): When we first got the news that all theatre was going to be shut down, we were in the beginning stages of casting for my newest show, The Boulevard. And at the time, The 11:11, was also in full swing with live theatre, comedy and music.
(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production teams?
(ML): Luckily, since we had just begun casting, we did not have to communicate any cancellations to actors. However, our staff at the theatre was directly affected and we, like everyone else, had to cancel all theatre bookings as none of us know when live theatre will return. Of course, we’re hopeful that live theatre will return sooner rather than later and are doing as much pre-production that we’re able to do remotely. We will be looking into a larger theatre, as the technical requirements of The Boulevard demand a larger venue. We can’t wait to get started!
(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?
(ML): In addition to all of the rentals that were booked to run at The 11:11, we're also a film company. So those productions are also on hold until further notice.
(SB): With all those postponements, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?
(ML): As a writer/director, I am passionate about using the Arts to create social impact. I feel like it’s one of the few ways that people from all backgrounds can be brought together to create positive change.
I feel really fortunate that one of my films, American Street Kid has just secured distribution. So, we’re able to channel our creativity into building our online marketing campaign.
For our other current feature, #WhenTodayEnds, we did have to cancel our theatrical premiere, which was set for this summer. We'll also be using Zoom for a read-through of my newest script, The Boulevard, and personally, I've been using some of the isolation time to write another script.
I think it’s really important that creativity is kept alive, especially in the hardest of times. I wrote a book for artists called Dare to Be Bad that helps with removing obstacles and allowing the creativity to flow. During this time, we've seen an increase in sales, and I'm grateful that it's been able to help!
(SB): Any other thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the LA Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghost light on and promising to return back to the stage soon?
(ML): We must continue to have faith. Live theatre is vital to our lifeblood as artists. There is nothing that compares to watching performers live and being a part of that collective energy. It’s life-changing and a connection that is hard to put into words, but you know it when you feel it; it’s like nothing else. I have a feeling that some amazing art is going to come out of all of this, and I can’t wait to see it.
(SB): Stay in touch with Michael and his work on Instragam:
This article first appeared on Broadway World.