Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your own theatrical background?
Kristin Towers-Rowles (KTR): I am a born and raised LA Arts girl, and grew up in and around the Theatre and Film industry. Some families have Law Practices, Accounting Firms, Car Dealerships—my entire family is a Performing Arts family who has made their living for generations because of Film, TV, and Theatre.
My grandmother was MGM leading lady Kathryn Grayson, who starred in over 20 musicals in the Golden Age of Hollywood. (“Kiss Me, Kate,” “Showboat,” “Anchors Away.”) She also took over for Julie Andrews as Guinevere in "Camelot" on Broadway, and played the role on the 1st National Tour. My Grandfather, Johnny Johnston, starred in movies (“Rock Around The Clock,” “Unchained”), was a recording artist, and was on Broadway in “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.” My father, Robert Towers, starred in “The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button” and has played hundreds of character roles in Film, TV, and Theatre.
After attending Hollywood High Performing Arts, I went to AMDA in NYC and trained as an actress, singer, and dancer. Even after moving back to LA from NYC to focus on Film and TV. I never stopped doing theatre; in fact, it was truly all I cared about. Not only was it what I loved most but it was also where I found my chosen family. I was very active in L.A. theatre but also did 7 national tours, worked almost an entire year at Sierra Rep in Northern California, worked in Asia, Europe, on Cruise Ships. I was truly living the dream! I had an apartment I saw a few times a year that was little more than an expensive closet. I would come home, re-pack and be off again.
After sustaining a life-altering back injury on tour in 2002, I stopped performing for 7 years, got married and had 3 children, now all accomplished young artists in their own right. Since returning back to work as an actress, singer, and director in 2009, I have been very fortunate to be onstage playing incredible roles in musicals and straight plays. Since then, I've been splitting my time onstage with also being a director at the helm of many award-winning productions, both musicals, and straight plays.
As a woman in a field still dominated by men, it has been wonderful to have the many opportunities I have had to be on stage as an actress and to direct, and have often been employed doing both at the same time. For me, the two go hand-in-hand since I'm a better actress because of my 360-perspective as a director. My understanding of direction comes from being an actress and knowing, first hand, what actors need to hear. And, quite frankly, rarely having had a director that has known how to communicate what they want and how to get me there, I try to be that director to the actors with whom I work.
(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?
(KTR): We had just finished an insanely difficult tech week for Andrew Lippa's "The Wild Party" at The Morgan-Wixson Theatre (MWT) in Santa Monica, which I directed. The entire production team, including Choreographer and Assistant Director, Michael Marchak, Musical Director, Daniel Koh, Stage Manager, Ryan Rowles, Producers Spencer Johnson, and Kristie Mattsson, and cast had been working ourselves sick to have a phenomenal show for opening night and we were more than ready. The show one of the toughest in the Contemporary Musical Theater canon and we had pulled no stops: gorgeous set design by Yelena Babinskaya, phenomenal lighting by Derek Jones, Jazz Age spectacular costumes by Ovation Award-winning Michael Mullen, Scenic Design by Orlando de la Paz, Props by Maggie Randolph, Intimacy Coordinator, Mia Schachter, a stage combat director, Amanda Newman–all designers new to the MWT–and we were excited our show was to be the flagship production for the new direction that theatre is moving in with more daring, broad, and diverse artistic choices. I have only directed one other show at The MWT before, "Company" in 2017, and was so elated to be back and entrusted with this rarely produced theatrical gem: a sexy, slick 20s musical for the 2020s. And everyone was ecstatic we would soon be opening.
(SB): How did you communicate the shutdown with your cast and production team?
(KTR): The President of the MWT Board, the wonderful Michael Heimos, along with a small group of invited friends and family, were present at our final dress rehearsal (for which we received a full standing ovation). Before that rehearsal, he chatted with our cast and team in a truthful and frank with us that the board was meeting that night to discuss the possibility of postponing the opening. This was March 12, , and at this point, there was news every hour about new guidelines for public gatherings. Everything was changing all the time and the board wanted to make the correct call for everyone: the audiences, the cast, and in light of everyone's safety.
At intermission, he told me the board had decided to halt the opening. I sat through the 2nd act with tears streaming down my face, watching the beautiful work we had all created, and then watching the audience jump to their feet at the curtain call. I wanted the audience to understand what they had just witnessed so I asked the President of the board to come up and tell the cast and the audience the news of our being postponed as I felt it would be better if we all heard this together to be able to support each other. Of course, everyone was in tears, the cast, the team, the audience, since we all were heartbroken that this incredible piece of theatre would have to wait. But mixed with that heartbreak was the feeling of joy for what we had all just experienced.
(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?
(KTR): At this time, The MWT still plans on opening our show when the bans are all lifted and it is safe to do so. However, they have an entire season that will most likely need to shift so we have no idea what any of that will look like. It is surreal to think that our sets, costumes, lights, props--everything is just sitting there, frozen in time... waiting. Just like a Ghostlight awaiting our return to the stage.
(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?
(KTR): I was supposed to be directing the North Carolina and National Tour productions of "The Lost Virginity Tour (TLVT)," a play by Cricket Daniel. I directed the L.A. Premiere last year at the McCadden Theatre and it was picked up by Jeanie Linders, creator of "Menopause The Musical," and I was brought on to direct. I've been told the show’s tour will have to wait until at least November. I had turned down other acting and directing work to do "TLVT," but now that we are in this crisis, none of it would have happened anyway since all theaters are dark.
I'm still in shock. I wake up and it takes me hours sometimes to wrap my head around the devastation to my own work and the work of all my colleagues. All of us are out of work. All of our projects are shelved. Everyone I know is suffering a collective grief. And I know that everyone is out of work right now, no matter what field you are in. But the devastation to the Arts, a field that constantly has to beg for money to stay afloat as it normally is, is just absolutely unfathomable. I know that many theatres I've loved and called home are hanging on by a thread and some may not make it through this. It's just unbearable.
(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?
(KTR): I am not very savvy at Zoom or any of the online platforms but I have been happily supporting others. I'm part of an LA Arts Collective having virtual think tanks and meetings to figure out ways to get our work online. But in all honesty, I don't think theatre transfers well to being filmed and I don't enjoy the idea of taking something meant to be experienced live and reducing it to a flat-screen. Just my opinion.
That's where my grief really comes into play. My heart breaks because what we do, as performing artists and performing arts designers, is meant to be experienced in person, with others in attendance. It is a meeting of human beings all creating that moment together, either as the performer or as the audience member. It's symbiotic and that cannot happen watching something on a screen.
(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the ghost light on and promising to return back to the stage soon?
(KTR): As I said earlier, I was injured for seven years and was unable to work. It was hard, depressing, and felt like the end of the world. And then the seven years ended and I was back with my tribe; and for the last 11 years, I've been creating nonstop.
The LA Theatre Community has been through a lot and here we all are. We are the storytellers, the dreamers, the music makers, and the world is beige without the color we bring. We will get through this, and through our unique voices, we will be the ones to teach future generations about it. But in the meantime, stay safe, stay home, and wash your hands! Let's make this end so we can all be back doing what makes our hearts sing.
This article first appeared on Broadway World.