The co-artistic director of IAMA Theatre Company, film, television, and stage actor Stefanie Black has done it all. Twelve years ago, she co-founded the IAMA Theatre Company, an Ovation award-winning Los Angeles-based ensemble of artists committed to invigorating live performance for a streaming generation. Through cutting-edge, cool, and hyper-modern stories, IAMA is invested in the immediacy of production and strives to bring audiences out of their personal space and into a shared experience. IAMA has produced over 15 premiere plays, including Found, Canyon, The Recommendation, A Kid like Jake, and Cult of Love. Pamdemic or not, Stefanie has determined to stay busy doing what she loves. She kindly agreed to being interviewed in April, 2020.
Stefanie Black, Brandon Scott, Adam Shapiro, and Christine Woods in "Canyon" - Photo by Dean Cechvala
When and how did IAMA Theatre Company first form? Were you involved from the beginning?
Stefanie Black: IAMA was founded in the summer of 2007 by a group of us who had all just moved to Los Angeles from NYC. We'd all graduated from NYU a couple years before and found ourselves together in LA looking to create theater and stay true to our roots. Katie Lowes, my co-Artistic Director, and I were part of the original eight members.”
What are some of the most popular plays you've done? How about awards?
SB: IAMA is probably best known for producing the world premieres of all seven of Leslye Headland's The Seven Deadly Plays. Bachelorette and Assistance were some of our most popular and successful plays. We concluded the series in 2018 with our production of Cult of Love which will have its co-world premiere this summer at The Williamstown Theater Festival. In 2013, we won the Ovation Award for best production intimate theater for our production of Jonathan Caren's The Recommendation. We also garnered an Ovation Nomination in 2019 for best season. In 2019 we co-hosted the 5th Annual Stage Raw Awards with Ammunition Theatre Company.
Ryan Garcia, Sheila Carrasco, and Desi Dennis-Dylan in "Found" - Photo by Jeff Lorch
When did you close the theater due to COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run?
SB: We closed our west coast premiere of the new musical Found on March 13. We had two more weeks of performances before we were to close on March 23. We also had our production of Canyon cancelled, which was to be remounted by the Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas as part of Block Party. That was scheduled to open on April 10.”
Tom De Trinis, Jordan Kai Burnett, Mike Millan, and Jonah Platt in "Found" - Photo by Jeff Lorch
How has COVID-19 impacted on your theater?
SB: Honestly, for us, we are very lucky to be a nomadic company moving between a few theater venues each season. Our lack of home has actually kept us a little more financially stable than some of our colleagues. What we do need right now is to keep a direct line to our audience and community. We need to spend this time to plan for the future and the new normal that we are about to enter. The downside has been that we didn't get to finish what was a very successful run, and it has us looking at downsizing production for next season.
Laila Ayad, Melissa Stephens, and Tina Huang in "Cult of Love" - Photo by Dean Cechvala
Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Streaming? Having virtual meetings? Planning for your next show when you reopen?
SB: IAMA is keeping busy by meeting regularly via Zoom and launching our #IAMAatHome, which will see us rolling out a variety of content. We're making theater without a theater. We are also in planning mode for our first show of next season, as well as a potential workshop this summer - if we are able to gather by then.”
What do you think the impact of COVID-19 will be on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you foresee any permanent changes?
SB: I think it's hard to say what the permanent impact will be on LA Theater. I do believe that we are setting new precedents of how theater can live virtually in the cyber world and what that means for all artists. I am hopeful that LA intimate theater will be the first to come back since our numbers for gathering are smaller. Hopefully, that will be encouraging for audiences and help to bring us all back to the theater together.
What do you need right now to keep going forward? What would you like from the theater public?
SB: IAMA isn't going anywhere and we just want our audience to stay with us, stay safe, and stay engaged. We'll be back!!! #LATheatreLives
What are some of your future plans?
SB: IAMA is always looking towards the future. We are very excited about our 2020/2021 season, the Jubilee Season, dedicated to celebrating female-identifying playwrights. We are excited about continuing our writers’ labs and finding ways to share their work with the public. Most importantly, our plans include being around for another 12 seasons and then some.
You've been nominated for an Ovation! Major congrats! How do you feel about this exciting moment?
MALCOLM BARRETT: It’s a pretty amazing feeling considering this is my first full-length play, made all the more meaningful by being recognized for a story as personal as this: the journey of a man trying to cope with death via his imagination, based on a buddy of mine, Thomas Mejia who suffered from multiple AVM's. I think it was both therapeutic and cathartic for both of us to go through this process.
JAMI BRANDLI: I feel very blessed, extremely grateful and, of course, honored.
JONATHAN CAREN: Before I even answer that question, I want to acknowledge the many world premieres of plays that are happening in Los Angeles these days. It’s exciting to know that LA is becoming a hub where plays can gestate. I look at Kemp Powers career, starting off at Rogue Machine, and then bringing his play One Night in Miami across the country and then even to the Donmar in London. I think every aspiring playwright in LA should take that in. I’m very happy to be a part of the larger movement here.
NATE RUFUS EDELMAN: Surprised. I caught the majority of the other plays nominated and they’re really good. It’s an honor to be nominated alongside them.
How did your LA production come about? If it was a regional or world premiere, how was that experience of seeing this work put up for the first time?
MALCOLM BARRETT: I first shared a couple of pages of it for my company’s writing workshop, it was my way of coping. After the reading those first couple pages aloud, Bernardo Cubria, who would later become the director, encouraged me to continue writing. It was a tremendous experience to have it up on its feet for the first time. I never actually got to see it as I was always in it and seeing the audience’s reactions as a performer is always surreal, but it was always enjoyable seeing my friends eyes light up from the stage. It wasn’t until we had our understudy performance that I realized that this play had legs, that it wasn’t relying on my particular performance to carry the writing, which can be a fear when trying to create work you’re featured in.
JAMI BRANDLI: Moving Arts' Artistic Director, Darin Anthony, first gave BLISS (or Emily Post is Dead!) a workshop in 2016 and committed to a future production. As luck would have it, two more theaters wanted to produce the play. So, in 2018, BLISS (or Emily Post is Dead!) received a rolling world premiere with Moxie Theater in San Diego, then Promethean Theatre in Chicago and finally with Moving Arts here in Los Angeles. I had a very unique experience in that I got to see three different productions, which ties in nicely with the next question…
JONATHAN CAREN: It was a world premiere. I workshopped the play with IAMA two years prior to this production. I first got to know IAMA when they did my play THE RECOMMENDATION in 2014. They were incredibly generous to me with space and time to develop it with their ensemble, and when the Latino Theater Company got involved, things took on a whole different energy. The collaboration brought disparate audiences together, which was the most exciting part of the experience.
NATE RUFUS EDELMAN:Desert Rats went through years of development from Los Angeles to London. The Latino Theater Company produced it at the right time with the right cast and crew. It has been my favorite experience in the theater.
Tell us a little about your role in the rehearsal process? What did you learn about the work through production?
MALCOLM BARRETT: My role in the rehearsal process was to listen. Serving as playwright and lead actor, you have to pick and choose when and where to wear which hat. We had over a year of rewrites and readings - that’s where I was the playwright. Once we got deep into rehearsal I had to let go of being a playwright so that I could allow the actors to do what they do, myself included. That was a lot me learning when to shut up and get out the way.
JAMI BRANDLI: Although the San Diego and Chicago productions of BLISS (or Emily Post is Dead!) were solid, I realized there were some areas of the play I wanted to revise and Moving Arts was more than game to work with me on my revision. So I took full advantage of the collaborative experience during rehearsals and the dramaturgical notes from Darin Anthony (the director), Chuma Gault (the assistant director) and Cece Tio (the head producer) were, quite simply, invaluable. The cast and creative crew were truly stellar, and their talent and vision helped me to bring my play to the next level. The play is now set for future productions, and I am forever grateful--especially since BLISS has another production this February at Defunkt Theatre in Portland, OR.
JONATHAN CAREN: I loved working with Whitney White. She challenged me to keep pushing each character’s perspective up against each other. Keep tightening the screws. All the actors brought personal antidotes and perspectives that I considered and sometimes even wove into the text. This was a long collaborative process and to me, feels like a tapestry of colliding worlds and viewpoints, that may never find common ground, but buttress up against each other in our sprawling city.
NATE RUFUS EDELMAN: I production manage the plays at the Los Angeles Theatre Center, which is operated by the Latino Theater Company. Desert Rats rehearsed and ran in tandem with my friend Oliver Mayer’s Member Only. It was a lot of work balancing dual roles, but I was able to be very present in the rehearsal room, share thoughts, and rewrite. I also teach and help run a Summer Youth Conservatory at the LATC with Angie Scott, the director of Desert Rats. We were able to hire alumni of that program to work on the play as the stage manager, assistant director, costume designer, and production assistant. It was particularly rewarding to give these bright young adults their first professional gigs. Rehearsals were like a very happy family making a play for ourselves. I’m extra happy people seemed to dig the production.
Though our reputation is growing, not everyone knows how vibrant the theatre-making scene in Los Angeles really is. Please share your perspective on making theatre in Los Angeles.
MALCOLM BARRETT: There’s clearly a lot of talent here as New York and Los Angeles are the a Mecca for young actors but it gets overshadowed by Broadway and by LA’s film and television scene. But as our theatre communities grow so has the city’s reputation for it’s work on the stage.
JAMI BRANDLI: I feel Los Angeles has entered into "a golden age" with theater, especially developing new plays. In addition to Moving Arts, I've had the great fortune to develop my plays with The Inkwell Theater, The Road Theatre Company, Chalk Rep, Antaeus Theatre Company, The Playwrights Union and HUMANITAS as a 2019 PLAY LA Winner. Every organization has their own exciting approach to new play development, which has helped me grow as a playwright and breathe more life into my plays. I've been *very* lucky in that two more of my plays have been produced here in LA because of this development: Through the Eye of a Needle with The Road Theatre Company and Sisters Three with The Inkwell Theater.
JONATHAN CAREN: The biggest problem with LA theater is that it used to be completely overshadowed by the film industry. Now, I think the problem has more to do with geography. There are great shows happening in Venice, but I don’t think I can get to an 8pm curtain on a weeknight from Echo Park. I’d love to see more co-pros and even transfers where a show doesn’t have to move to another city, but to another part of Los Angeles. We’re that damn big.
NATE RUFUS EDELMAN: I’m from Eagle Rock and, while I have spent years away from Los Angeles in Ireland and New York, Los Angeles and its theater community are my home. The diversity and talent of the theater scene in LA is immense. I am lucky to be friends with great artists, designers, and other playwrights who constantly inspire me.
What advice would you give to a young playwright living and creating in Los Angeles?
MALCOLM BARRETT: Write. See plays. Find your community, find people who are smarter than you, and work with them.
JAMI BRANDLI: Go see all types of LA theater! From 99 seat to CTG to The Hollywood Fringe Festival and everything in between. I can't stress this enough. Then, once you're familiar with LA's amazing theater community, introduce yourself to theaters that would be a good match for your work and inquire about development opportunity. If there isn't a development program, perhaps the theater has a writers group or they're looking for volunteers (volunteer if you have the chance!). The important thing is to show up and support first, and then inquire. There are so many new play development opportunities in LA, but you have to be proactive about it.
Goodness, aren't we all so lucky to be a part of this incredible theater community? I know I am, and I'll never take it for granted.
Thanks for much for the interview!
JONATHAN CAREN: I started out by volunteering at The Elephant and Black Dahlia theaters as an usher. I assisted Matt Shakman on a show back when he ran the Black Dahlia and now he runs The Geffen. I’ve worked with sound designer Jeff Gardner multiple times after first meeting him at The Elephant. Just show up because theaters depend on volunteers. They need you. If you want to put in the time and energy, someone will take you up on the task, but be pro-active. Find a way to show that you are dependable and follow through consistently. Don’t just help once. Do it for a year. Then you’ll know what it’s like to be a company member and soon enough you’ll become a part of the community.
NATE RUFUS EDELMAN: Have patience. Be authentic and humble. Explore and engage with the theater community. Write plays you love. Others will too.
Center Theatre Group Leads With 20 nominations for their productions of Lackawanna Blues (5), and Linda Vista (4) at the Mark Taper Forum; Ain’t Too Proud (1) at the Ahmanson Theatre; and Dana H. (7), and Quack (2) at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, along with Best Season. Fountain Theatre follows with 19 nominations for their productions of "Cost of Living" (9), "Daniel’s Husband" (6), "Hype Man: A Break Beat Play" (3), and Best Season., Geffen Playhouse Garners 18 nominations for their productions of "Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol" (8), "Lights Out: Nat “King” Cole" (8), "Mysterious Circumstances" (2), and "Black Super Hero Magic Mama" (1)., La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts garnered 14 nominations for their productions of "Singin’ in the Rain" (11), "Beauty and the Beast" (2), and "A Night with Janis Joplin" (1), and tied with the Pasadena Playhouse who received 14 nominations for their productions of "Singin’ in the Rain" (11), "Beauty and the Beast" (2), and "A Night with Janis Joplin" (1). And Sophina Brown gets 10 nominations for her production of "August Wilson’s Two Trains Running."
Ovation Honors, which recognizes outstanding achievement in areas that are not among the standard list of nomination categories, have been awarded to Romero Moseley (Music Composition for a Play, Hype Man: A Break Beat Play at Fountain Theatre, and Dillon Nelson & Erin Walley (Puppet Design, Argonautika, A Noise Within.)
During the 2018–2019 voting season, 278 productions were registered for awards consideration by 124 producing organizations, and 3,838 individual artists were evaluated. This year’s 272 voters cast a total of 6,462 ballots.
The 30th Annual LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards Nominations
Rachel Myers accepts her Ovation Award for Scenic Design (Large Theatre) for "Skeleton Crew" (Geffen Playhouse) at 29th Annual LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards, Theatre at Ace Hotel, Downtown Los Angeles, Monday, January 28, 2019. Photo by Monique A. LeBleu.
Sponsors of this year’s Ovation Awards are DOMA Development Corporation; DOMA Theatre Company; Requiem Media Productions, LLC; SE7EN Waves Entertainment, LLC; Venture Hills Entertainment, LLC; UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television; F&D Scene Changes LTD; Ken Werther Publicity; Bakers Man Productions; Rosebrand; Zodiac Entertainment, LLC; Perpetua Holdings, LLC; Behind the Mask, Inc.; and Millennia Development, Inc.
LA STAGE Alliance is a nonprofit arts service organization dedicated to building awareness, appreciation, and support for the performing arts in greater Los Angeles. The LA STAGE Alliance Ovation Awards, founded in 1989, are the only peer-judged theatre awards in Los Angeles. Voters are LA theatre professionals who are chosen through a vigorous application process each year by the Ovation Rules Committee. More information can be found at www.ovationawards.com.
When Fool 1 discovers the giant void in their soul, their best friend Fool 2 joins them on a mission to fill it. Will alcohol and food do the trick? What about religion or activism? Could a job or a “partner-house-baby” do it? Confronting their past should work, no? Will anything fill this damn void?!?!?! (Synopsis taken from site)
Enjoy this interview about Bernardo Cubria's “The Giant Void in My Soul” directed by Felix Angel Solis and staring Karla Mosley(Maya Avant Forrester in a recurring role on the TV series The Bold and the Beautiful) at The Pico, running until June 3rd. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here.