How Wearing a Mask Could Help the Theatre Industry and Your Local Economy


The following was posted on facebook by film and theatre actress Kitty Swink, who is a member of the Antaeus Theatre Company in Los Angeles. With her permission I'm reposting for all to read and share.

Kitty copied and slightly edited this and shared from multiple of her dear and fabulously talented colleagues.


Please read this...this is personal!!!

Our industry is gone, and it will be a very long time before it recovers. Hope you all are enjoying the beach and theme parks while we just sit home and hope our jobs come back. Stop being selfish. Stay home. Wear a mask.

Yesterday, Broadway formally announced the rest of the year is canceled and Cirque du Soleil has filed for bankruptcy protection. Lincoln Center is closed. Multiple orchestras and opera companies have cancelled seasons. Smaller regional companies , venues and organizations are in jeopardy. Even community theatres , bands, orchestras, free lance gigs have gone away. So when you see your entertainment friends begging you to wear masks and stay home, understand that we are helplessly watching our industry crumble before our eyes because the country is doing so poorly at reducing the spread. This IS personal for us.

If you plan on watching ‘Hamilton’ today... or if you loved the ‘Chicago’ movie... or if ‘Sound of Music’ or Nutcracker is a holiday tradition for you. THEY ALL started on a stage.

Now Broadway is shut down till Jan 2021. Major performing arts presenters are closed for the next season.

ALL of the following people are out work.

It’s not just the actors or musicians.

For those of you not in the theatre or music community, please understand the scope of Broadway/Off-Broadway being shut down. Frankly, this affects all theatre and music anywhere. It travels much further than the stage boards where you see the brilliant performers giving you an amazing show. You also have:

- Tour managers
- Production managers
- Tour accountants
- Stage managers
- Company managers
- House managers
- General managers
- Stage Techs
- House crew
- Runners
- Truck and Bus drivers
- Promoter reps
- Caterers
- Production Assistants
- Dressers / Wardrobe
- Hair/Makeup
- Carpenters
- Electrics
- FOH Sound Engineers, Monitor Engineers & techs
- Lighting Designers and Techs
- Props
- Musicians
- Ushers
- Bartenders
- Box office treasurers
- Porters
- Cleaners
- Matrons
- Merchandise
- Security
- Marketing
- Producers
- Directors
- Choreographers
- Authors
- Orchestrators/Arrangers
- Interns
- Press Agents
- Casting Directors
- Set Designers
- Costume Designers
- Hair/Makeup Designers
- Lighting Designers
- Sound Designers
- Prop Designers
- All the design assistants
- Vocal/dialect coaches
- Child wranglers
- Doormen

Now go out of the theatre district and see the jobs this shutdown also affects:

- All the costume shops where the costumes are made
- The millinery shops where the hats/headpieces are made
- The cobblers where all the custom shoes are made
- The wigmakers
- The fabric/bead/feather shops- while these may reopen they will suffer huge losses with no shows requiring anything for this entire year.
- Scenic shops where the sets are built
- Prop shops where the props are made
- Sound and Lighting shops where the lights & mics are rented from
- Design studios where the sets, costumes, props, etc are dreamed up to make the directors vision a reality
- Rehearsal spaces for the show to be worked out before it appears for your pleasure
- Merchandise vendors, concessions
- Advertising agencies & press agencies
- Talent agencies and managers
- Union offices
- Producer & general management offices

Now venture even deeper into the shutdown and see the business that is lost in the theatre district from just the people in the industry not working on a show (then on top of that the loss of audience members buying stuff at)

- Delis
- Restaurants
- Post-show bars
- Coffee shops
- Hotels
- Garages
- Gyms
- Physical therapists

If that list seems long - it is! And that’s just New York. That’s not even taking into account all the theatre around this country. For most of us - this is our whole life!!
Wear a damn mask!



Spotlight Series: Meet Cate Caplin, A Multiple Award-Winning Producer, Director and Choreographer


This Spotlight focuses on Cate Caplin, a multiple award-winning producer, director and choreographer whose talents have ignited productions on television, in films, music videos, commercials, and in theatrical venues worldwide. But of course, her busy schedule was put on hold with the rest of the world, just as she was beginning to direct and choreograph a musical very close to her heart.

While I assume almost everyone in the LA Theatre community knows of Cate and her contributions to the Arts, for those not lucky enough to have worked with her before, I am first sharing a bit of her theatrical background.

Cate Caplin has been devoted to the Arts all of her life, having started her dance training at age 5. She trained with many inspirational teachers and coaches over the years including summers at Interlochen Center for the Arts while continuing at the Washington School of Ballet, the Royal Academy in London, and the Metropolitan Ballet where she was a principal dancer.


Cate went on to dance with two more professional ballet companies before moving to NYC to continue her training, performing career dancing with the American Dance Machine, doing summer stock, performing internationally with the Broadway revival of West Side Story, and regionally with Disney's Symphonic Fantasy featured as Princess Jasmine for which she enjoyed a 22 city tour starting at the Hollywood Bowl and ending back in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera House. Her amazing talent and charisma on the dance floor led Cate to become a 34-time Regional and International Theatrical Ballroom Dance Champion.

To this date, Cate has produced, directed and choreographed over 200 productions with her work seen on television, in films, music videos, commercials, and in theatrical venues worldwide from the Paris Opera House to the Broadway Stage. She wrote and directed her first feature film Mating Dance, which won an Accolade Award and can be found on Amazon.com. Her production company, Night & Day Entertainment, co-founded with her creative partner Vernon Willet, custom designs entertainment for private parties, corporate events and industrial trade shows.

 

For her work in theatre, Cate has been the recipient of a Garland Award, a Women in Theatre Red Carpet Award, multiple LA Stage Alliance Ovation, Eddon and Scenie Awards, and was honored to receive an Award of Excellence from the LA Film Commission for her work as a Writer, Director, Choreographer and Producer. Last year, Playwright's Arena presented Cate with the Lee Melville Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Los Angeles Theatre Community.

So how has such a talented and totally creative person been able to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic which has sidelined theatre worldwide?  I spoke with Cate to find out.

Shari Barrett (SB): What production were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak? 

Cat Caplin (Cate): We had just cast 32 actors for a production of West Side Story that I was going to direct and choreograph for Inland Valley Repertory Theatre (IVRT) presented at Candlelight Pavilion. The show was officially canceled one day before our first day of rehearsal, same day that Broadway announced it was closing.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team? 

(Cate): The producer, Frank Minano, emailed me and then the entire creative team and cast. Hearts were broken, of course, as we were very excited to begin. I had been so looking forward to creating the production since I was cast in the revival of the show when it was finishing its run on Broadway back in the 80's, and went on a six-month International Tour throughout Italy and at the Paris Opera House for three months. Our production was directed by Jerome Robbins and conducted by Leonard Bernstein! Needless to say, it was a thrill of a lifetime working on that classic show with the original creators.

(SB): Let me know when you write a book about that tour! Are plans in place to present the IVRT production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

(Cate): I believe the production is canceled completely because IVRT selects their shows based on what Candlelight is producing since they share the backdrop and primary set of what's being presented in their season. I'm not sure how that will play out, especially since no one really knows when theatre will be officially back in full form anywhere, and West Side Story is a big show with lots of physical contact and bodies interacting and dancing in close quarters. The nature of theatre as we knew it is changing dramatically and only time will tell how and what sort of creative work will be presented over the next few months and years. Many companies are canceling seasons completely and postponing productions into 2021, and even that is an unknown entity at this point.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?  

(Cate): I have a production I am scheduled to direct in the fall and we are continuing with pre-production conversations sensitive to health and safety elements that are now part of the overall discussion and approach to creating live theatre. I hope we go forward with the show, but like everyone else, we just have to take it one day at a time...

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

(Cate): It's been interesting.... even though in theory I have more time each day without my usual classes, appointments, rehearsals and run around activities, my days continue to be quite full. I am reading lots of wonderful books, watching movies and some television series and specials I wouldn't ordinarily take the time to experience.

I have been taking some online classes offered by Yale University, and also tuning in to theatrical podcasts, seminars, and industry panel discussions since our theatrical community is intensely fertile at this time! I decided to jump into the electronic "pool" with everyone else and just signed on to direct my first Zoom staged reading of a new play later in July.

(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?

(Cate): It's important to keep open to learning, stretching and growing, mentally, emotionally and spiritually during tough times. And now that there's time for more channels of inspiration, embrace those opportunities. Trust the "bigger plan" and try to navigate these uncharted waters with hope and faith in a most positive outcome: a renaissance of heightened compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, humanity and peace.

(SB): For more information about Cate including future updates about her theatrical schedule, please visit CateCaplin.com, www.MatingDanceTheMovie.com, DanceInFlight.com


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 Theater Series: Deaf West Theatre Broadens our Horizons - An Interview with David J. Kurs


Having grown up in a deaf family in Riverside, California, it was no surprise that David J. Kurs became interested in theater performed in American Sign Language (ASL) early on. His passion for the power of the arts was realized when in 2009 he joined the Deaf West Theatre (DWT), founded in 1991 by Ed Waterstreet. Upon Waterstreet’s retirement in 2012, he became the second artistic director in the history of the company. Prior to becoming artistic director, Kurs wrote and produced Aesop Who?, a multimedia show for young audiences, and served as associate producer and ASL master for Deaf West’s productions of Children of a Lesser God (2009), My Sister in this House (2010), and The Adventures of Pinocchio (2011). To quote Kurs: “Deaf West has had a great impact on me in my artistic development, and I can only hope to spread this passion on to others and to create opportunities for them so that we all can achieve a shared goal of artistic growth.” In 2020, he was named “Deaf Person of the Month” by DeafPeople.com. David took time from his busy schedule to interview in May 2020.


Daniel Durant and Natasha Ofili in "Orphee" - Photo by Brandon Simmoneau

When and how did Deaf West Theatre first form? Were you there from the beginning? What are some of the most popular shows you presented? Have you received any rewards? 

David J. Kurs:  Deaf West Theatre (DWT) was founded in Los Angeles in 1991 by deaf actors. Our theater engages artists and audiences in unparalleled theater experiences inspired by deaf culture and the expressive power of sign language. We weave American Sign Language (ASL) with spoken English to create a seamless ballet of movement and voice. Committed to innovation, collaboration, and training, DWT is the artistic bridge between the deaf and hearing worlds.

Recent and past productions include Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, The Solid Life of Sugar Water by Jack Thorne, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, a co-production with the Pasadena Playhouse. In co-productions with the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, we also presented Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo. The Deaf West production of Spring Awakening transferred from a small 99-seat theater to the Wallis and then to Broadway, where we received three Tony Award nominations in 2016. American Buffalo was named the Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” In a co-production with the Fountain Theatre, we also presented Cyrano, which won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for outstanding production. Big River won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and Backstage Garland Awards for best musical in its Los Angeles premiere, as well as a Tony nomination and four Drama Desk Awards on Broadway. In a co-production with Center Theatre Group, DWT produced Pippin, which was presented at the Mark Taper Forum, and Sleeping Beauty Wakes, produced at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Oliver! won the Ovation Award for best musical, and A Streetcar Named Desire won the Ovation Award for best play. In 2005, the Secretary of Health and Human Services selected DWT to receive the highest recognition award for its “distinguished contributions to improve and enrich the culture lives of deaf and hard of hearing actors and theater patrons.”

I have attended DWT shows since the company’s inception when I was in high school. I began working with the theater in 2009 and succeeded our founding artistic director Ed Waterstreet as artistic director in 2012.

Daniel Durant, Eddie Buck, Troy Kotsur, Ipek D. Mehlum, and Maleni Chaitoo in "Cyrano" - Photo by Ed Krieger

When did you close the theater for COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run?

DJK:  We opened and closed our new production, Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, on the same night. It was heartbreaking; but, in retrospect, I am thankful that everyone is safe. My heart goes out to the actors, designers, and creatives who labored so mightily and valiantly to bring together an exemplary show that was seen by so few. The memory of coming together with the company in the empty theater after the curtain will remain in my heart for a long time.

How has the COVID-19 shutdown impacted your theater?

DJK:  We had to cancel our run of our play on the first night, as well as a planned tour to Tokyo. We also cancelled a planned fall show. Other than readings and workshops, we don’t have anything on the calendar for another year. But I’m still hoping that we’ll get back onstage before then.

Sandra Mae Frank, Treshelle Edmond, Natacha Roi, Katie Boeck, Lauren Patten, Amelia Hensley, Alexandra Winter, and Ali Stroker in "Spring Awakening" - Photo by Tate Tullier

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Are you streaming? Do you have virtual meetings? Are you planning for your next show when the theater can reopen?

DJK:  We are staying in touch every day, mainly on Zoom. We collaborated with NBC on an episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist that premiered a few weeks ago, and it was extremely gratifying to see the love and praise from the community. We also collaborated with Kelly Clarkson and helped create a community-sourced video for her latest song, “I Dare You.” It’s a blessing to be able to generate work for all of the actors from our community during these times, and we’re not going to stop. We’re also working on several digital projects, including a full production to be streamed.

Nick Apostolina, Natalie Camunas, Sandra Mae Frank, and Tad Cooley in "The Solid Life of Sugar Water" - Photo by Brandon Simmoneau

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?

DJK:  It is my observation that theatergoers in Los Angeles are creatures of habit. Once we emerge from the end of the tunnel, I think that things will return to normal quicker than we expect. I also think a lot about what prospective patrons will need to feel safe in a theater again.

Troy Kotsur, Matthew Ryan Pest, and Paul Raci in "American Buffalo" - Photo by Noel Bass

What do you need right now to keep going forward? What would you like from the theater public?

DJK:  I, for one, count my blessings every day. We have a wonderful community of actors and patrons that keeps us going. Our Board has been extremely supportive, and we’ve received some wonderful donations. Theater is an art form that’s been around for ages. While we will continue to fill our need for communal experiences, our industry will continue to evolve. I think our industry will make advances in virtual space. I’m thinking about this time in our industry and how we can step up to the challenges posed by quarantine. But in my mind only one thing is certain: that we must move forward together with grace, strength, and compassion.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Female Fusion: Siobhan Dillon

Siobhan Dillon is an astonishing vocal talent. She was “discovered” when she participated in the British Televised Talent Show, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? Though she finished third, she had made her mark, attracting the attention of Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the judges of the show and one of the most prolific composers of modern musical theater.  She made her West End debut in 2007 playing Patty Simcox in Grease and has gone on to star as Molly in Ghost, Ellen in Miss Saigon, Sandy in Grease, Vivienne Kensington in Legally Blonde and Betty in Sunset Boulevard. When the British production of that show moved to Broadway in 2017, Ms. Dillon made her Broadway debut. A move to Los Angeles followed to explore television, film, and to fulfill her dream of living in sunny California. In addition to performing, she has gradually expanded the scope of her voice, both literally and figuratively, to help others through meditation, sound baths and yoga nidra (yoga sleep),which she teaches with her husband Adam Korson.

Luckily for those of us who were not able to catch her on the West End or Broadway, Ms. Dillon just released her first pop album, a stunning collection of covers entitled One Voice. This is not an album review, though I highly encourage you to check it out. It is gorgeous. What is extraordinary about the album, aside from the glorious vocals, is the journey that led to it. While taking British musical theatre by storm, Ms. Dillon fought cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30 in 2015, while performing Ellen in Miss Saigon. While healing, she worked with Breast Cancer Haven, an amazing organization in the UK that supports those fighting the disease. All proceeds from the album benefit the organization. According to Ms. Dillon, “what makes Haven so wonderful is that they are equipped with health care professionals in so many different areas of expertise that they can provide comfort and support for anyone going through the breast cancer struggle. I just felt so strongly about them and the comfort that their charity had brought me that I wanted to say thank you. I didn’t give them a penny during that time, and I think in moments of need, the charities that offer everything for free are the ones who should be celebrated. The tricky thing at this moment is that they can’t continue with their fundraising events as the world is going through this pandemic. I was originally going to continue to support the charity by encouraging people to visit their site and hopefully encourage donations but with everything going on it just felt like the right thing to do to donate all monies to them.”

I asked Ms. Dillon to share her journey, her experience in creating the album and her focus moving forward with life in Los Angeles.

In 2015, Ms. Dillon was just about to open in the West End production of Miss Saigon as Ellen, a role she had long coveted. Just before opening, she discovered a lump during a self examination and her life turned upside down. The lump was malignant. After a few performances, she left the show for treatment. She endured a brutal regime which included surgery, radiation and hormone therapy. During the time between surgery and radiation, she visited California, staying with a friend in Malibu and setting the stage for her future. She did return to the show, but as a changed person. “I had started hormone treatment which effectively switched off my ovaries because the type of cancer I had was all due to hormones - specifically estrogen. So, the doc wanted me to stop producing it which would effectively leave the cancer cells without anything to ‘feed’ on. For anyone who has been through the menopause, you will know all about this. The side effects of reducing that hormone are quite brutal. Panic attacks, depression, hair loss, weight gain, hot sweats... to name a few. It was a challenging time, but while I was sitting on that beautiful California beach, I made a decision that I wanted to push hard to spend time in the US.” She started the process to obtain a green card to work in the US before she returned to London to continue treatment. She found that when she returned to the show, she struggled. “I returned to Miss Saigon to perform and was struggling with being back on stage. I’m not sure what it was exactly but I didn’t have as much fight in me so the nerves returned and it left me wondering if performing on stage was the right thing for me to be doing moving forward….I had always joked as I lifted my eyes to the sky that when the universe took me to perform on Broadway - at that point that I would have just left musical theatre! (It really was as simple as that!) Within weeks I auditioned for Sunset Boulevard and was cast as Betty in the UK production and yep!... we then transferred to New York. I made it to Broadway!” After the show closed that June, she traveled for a few months then made the move to Los Angeles.

Ms. Dillon recorded the first single, She Used to Be Mine, shortly after her recovery process. It seemed to stand in for her entire journey. “I was kind of done with the treatment but was still feeling the waves of what had happened a year earlier. I was petrified that the experience had changed me in a negative way. I was scared of losing something. My fearlessness? Maybe. My naiveté? Probably. I was so scared that people saw me differently. I was scared that my energy had changed, and my light had dimmed.” The song has even more resonance with the current world situation. “This idea of “life slips in through a back door” just really takes the wind out of me every time I hear or sing it, as we get on with living our lives, day to day and suddenly there we are. We find ourselves in places we would never have imagined without noticing it happening.”

One Voice is curated with and produced by Steve Anderson, who has produced the work of more recognizable names that you can count, including 20 years as producer for Kylie Minogue.  The entire album took four years to record. Ms. Dillon says, “both myself and Steve really took our time with this album. We had no idea what it would be or when it would all be complete, but we started anyway. What a wonderfully rare position to be in. It started with Steve asking me to send him a list of ‘Desert Island’ songs, which progressed into ‘the songs that I had always wanted to sing’ which very quickly progressed into ‘the stories that my heart wanted to tell through song.”

Although all of the tracks are gorgeous, Everyone’s Waiting is a standout, both vocally and in what it meant to Dillon to record. “I’d been performing on London stages for almost a decade when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was a few weeks into my contract at The Prince of Wales in Miss Saigon, playing Ellen. I decided to get through my treatment as quickly as possible to get back to the stage and play this iconic role. But when I got back there, I froze. Everything felt different.”  She continues, “I remember stepping onto that stage and it feeling completely different to any other time I had stood on stage before. I was fragile. More sensitive. Things felt different, but I couldn’t work out exactly how. It felt empty and pointless. Nothing about being on the stage excited me. In fact, I just felt uncomfortable.”

This onstage experience led Ms. Dillon to rethink her entire approach to her art and life. “When I stepped back on stage after the treatment, I was quite shocked at how fragile I felt. I took it for granted that I would just walk out there and be focused and hard as nails again. But my hard exterior had really been chipped away and that only really hit me in that moment. My nerves in auditions were through the roof- more so than normal... I think I just wanted to relax! I didn’t like the adrenaline anymore. I think the main reason for this was numerous conversations with my doctor about limiting stressors in my life. He once asked me if I had a stressful life. I said “No! I perform on stage for a living! It’s fun!” He asked me if I ever got butterflies or moments of adrenaline surges... I thought about it for a while and as we talked, I realized that I was constantly feeling these things.”

“The way I live my life has definitely changed. I removed things that were causing me stress. I don’t do things that cause me stress and most importantly I take relaxation incredibly seriously because if the body can't rest, it’s struggling to heal and if the body can’t heal, disease will have a much easier time thriving. So my work in theatre hasn’t stopped- far from it. But my work in meditation and crafting healing sound baths for others has increased. Whenever I can help someone relax to enable them to reach the parasympathetic state, allowing their body to begin to restore and heal itself - I am a happy woman!”

I wanted to take us back to the album for just a moment. The tone of the album is very specific, and though not all of the music is calming or meditative, there is a balance to it that when listened to straight through is very soothing and restorative. Was the idea of sonic healing a part of the process? Was this life path already in motion as she recorded this album? My impression is that it was there, but maybe not intentional. I asked Ms. Dillon directly.  “I think probably you just hit the nail on the head. I think it was subconscious. Steve (Anderson, the producer) is so open himself to artists just going with their flow and he is really a phenomenal support that what actually happened when we started working together that he let me just relax….I heard somewhere a rider who was just told to relax into the saddle like butter…..I love that…... It is kind of like how this process happened. It was kind of a seamless and pain free experience for me, which I can’t say about previous recordings. With Steve, he just allowed me all of the space and time and energy to do what I felt was right and I was able to tap into a part of me that I didn’t even know I had.”

So life in Los Angeles is different, but not entirely divorced from performing. There is a continuity in music, sharing and song. Ms. Dillon was on the Amazon hit show Frankie and Grace this past season. She is absolutely open to the right theatre project or role sweeping her into its fold, but is currently focused on a life of healing, meditation and love. She is deep in study and with her partner Adam, she runs Salus, “a sanctuary space dedicated to creating peace, tranquility and healing.” They are building a new space, using this time to embrace the unknown. She integrates her healing work with her performance and art and is focused on the spiritual rather than commercial side of sound, embodying a Southern California lifestyle. “I am working on meditation music as well as guided meditations specifically designed for self-healing. This, over acting and singing, I have to admit is the thing - at this moment in time - that is getting me out of bed in the morning! That, and the California sunshine of course!!!!!”


Featured photo credit: Adam Korson



Spotlight Series: Meet Composer, Conductor, Lyricist, and Producer Christopher Raymond


This Spotlight focuses on composer, conductor, lyricist, and producer Christopher Raymond who has won an NAACP, Stage Raw, and Broadway World Awards for his work in theatre. Chris has also music directed several Los Angeles area awards shows as well as 14 productions with DOMA Theatre Company in Hollywood, among many others. And in December 2018, he became Music Director for Valley Outreach Synagogue in Calabasas where Passover and Shabbat services are being LiveStreamed from home.


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

Christopher Raymond (Chris): I started my career at the age of 15 by playing in the band for Jason Robert Brown's 13 The Musical at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Mark Taper Forum and on Broadway.

(SB): I saw 13 The Musical at both the Kirk Douglas Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum and really loved the energy in the show. And all the teenage emotions bursting at the seams reminded me of many challenging days I experienced as a middle and high school teacher.

(Chris): I then went on to study music at CalArts, and am now a composer, lyricist and music director, and have won an NAACP, Stage Raw, and Broadway World Award for my work in theatre.

I co-wrote the theme song for the show, Troy (which opened at the 80,000-seat Beijing National Stadium in July, 2017), and music directed and orchestrated the Ovation Awards twice (at The Ahmanson Theatre and at the Theatre at Ace Hotel). I also music directed / arranged the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards twice.

I music directed, conducted and played piano for 14 productions with DOMA Theatre Company in Hollywood, including prominent revivals of Avenue Q, American Idiot, and Dreamgirls (which was awarded "Best Musical" by the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards and the LA Times Awards.)

I recently wrote the book, music and lyrics for Scarlet Letter: The Musical, which had a workshop production at Greenway Court Theatre. A highlights reel for the musical is available on YouTube here:

In December 2018, I became Music Director for Valley Outreach Synagogue in Calabasas. Working with Rabbi Ron Li-Paz, Cantor Michael Li-Paz, Chaplain Jennifer Eaves Nye and the rest of the VOS team is a continually inspiring experience.

(SB): How has COVID-19 affected your work at your Synagogue?

(Chris): The quarantine orders began in Los Angeles shortly before Passover. Due to this, we at VOS held two virtual Seders on our website. The Rabbi, Cantor, Chaplain, and myself LiveStreamed our Seders from our respective homes as our congregation joined us from their homes. It was a beautiful way to create joy and unity during a challenging time for the world.

We are currently LiveStreaming our Shabbat Services on Friday nights and all of our classes are being held online. We are grateful to live in a time when technology allows us to continue functioning and providing help as a Synagogue while our leadership and membership remain safely isolated at home.

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

(Chris): I have been recording / composing music in my home studio and I have also been making musical videos for Valley Outreach Synagogue's website. I have also had an opportunity to watch and support many friends' musical and arts-related projects online, which has been a joy.

(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?

(Chris): As a community, we are all going through uncharted waters, but I believe that at the end of the day we will be stronger and hopefully a bit wiser from the lessons we've learned during this pandemic. May we all stay safe and do our best to keep up our spirits/morale by continuing to learn, grow and create / appreciate art.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Actor/Singer Robert Bannon Works Creatively During COVID-19 Closure of Feinstein's

Actor/singer Robert Bannon has worked on Broadway and on TV's "SNL." He was scheduled to present his cabaret show "Unfinished Business" at Feinstein's at Vitello's April 14 (Feinstein's is closed until further notice because of the Corona Virus.) In our conversation he tells us about his background and how his love of the "American Songbook" came to be.

Tell our readers why you are recording an album in salute to the American Songbook. You graduated from Juilliard Prep. What did you learn from the composers of these songs? Who are your favorites?

RB: Growing up in a good little Italian-Irish family in NJ, the music of Sinatra, Sammy, Dean, Johnny was reverent. The instrumentation, storytelling, and classic nature of these songs just spoke to me. I have always been a fan of the “story” and the build of a song. I love singing all music and listening to everything from hip hop to country (and sometimes that sneaks into the show) but all in all nothing beats the classics. They can be done and reimagined but the bones of them remain and will last forever.

I did go to Juilliard Prep, I was in the first music theatre class under Bertin Rowser and Diane Wilson. I am so grateful to them for seeing something in me, as a child, I didn’t see in myself. I learned that acting and musical theater are truly art forms. There is a difference between fame/celebrity and the art and the work it takes to serve it. That goes back to the classic element of the show. It is my story, but I serve the music and I hope that translates.

As far as composers, I learned it iss all in the melodies. Can you listen to a song and remember it? That is the magic of a good song. Also the saying that you don’t remember what you did or what you said but you will always remember how you FEEL! Does the music make you feel something? The universal themes of them all!

I have a bunch of favorites. I love Johnny Mercer. His vibe and style is just timeless. The poetry of his lyrics is second to none. Also I love Anthony Newley. He is often not thought of but I love the DRAMA of his music!! His arrangements and songs are full of drama. It makes a moment in my shows and hopefully emotes something we all can relate to!

You title your concert show Unfinished Business. You are so young. Usually artists use this term at the end of their careers. What is your intent?

RB: Thanks for this question and saying I’m young!

There is a story to the title. When I was in high school and at Juilliard, I ended up getting sick for 4 years. I had undiagnosed Lyme disease which turned into meningitis before Justin Bieber made it a newsworthy thing. I literally never had a chance to go to high school as a “normal” student. When I recovered I only knew one thing - singing. I started putting myself out there. I got called in to replace Roger in Rent on Broadway. I walked in, botched the audition and freaked out. I changed my major to Political Science and became a history teacher done with performing. After two Masters Degrees in Education, I felt something was missing. I would literally tear up at a curtain call or a concert.

So after 10 years of not performing, fate intervened. I met up with the amazing performers and writers Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews. They just did their show Witness Uganda at The Wallis in Beverly Hills. They helped me literally dust off the rust and get back out there. They told me I had something to say. The first day I sang again I said I had some "Unfinished Business" to do and it stuck. I called my show that in NY at 54 Below. It is the journey and the lesson that we all have something unfinished to do. Take a step and the path will FOLLOW!

Do you tell anecdotes in your show or just sing? As a principal in SNL, you must love comedy. Any comedic stories or skits we may look forward to?

RB: I think I talk as much as I sing! I have stories for days and have had such an interesting life thankfully! I love to talk about my journey, family, love, and some of the things that I’ve experienced. I love comedy! I grew up obsessed with SNL so being there is beyond anything I could ever imagine. I’m so grateful to just be in the halls of that American Institution!

I do have some fun stories. I talk about my childhood obsession with all things Manilow, being stuck on an elevator with singing legend Phoebe Snow, my personal life which is a show in of itself, etc! There are a lot of laughs. I am all Jersey all day so that totally comes across in the show.

Talk more in depth about SNL. What has this added to your career as a performer? Has improv strengthened your delivery and stamina onstage?

RB: I was first asked to be on SNL in a sketch about the TSA. In the sketch they let me through security with a sketchy bag and book bag while others were not allowed to come through as they had a travel ban. I had to shave my head for the part and I asked the Casting Director, if I shave my head, can I be on a live show? Please! It actually worked. Ask and you shall receive.

Since then I have had big roles, small roles and everything in between. Check out Electric Shoes with Kenan Thompson and see my bass playing wig debut. Seeing the way that show works and how talented they all are is inspiring. I’ve seen some of the best in the biz work up close to make that show fly. It’s always an honor. When I was first on, a friend from elementary school wrote me and said “You used to stay up and watch this show every Saturday and now you are on that stage!” It is a pretty surreal moment!

Improv is simply the best! It is scary which makes the payoff so much better. I am a graduate of Willian Esper for acting under the amazing Barbara Marchant. That program is Meisner acting technique which is mostly improv. That skill is something that makes you so present in your work as an actor and has certainly helped my stage show and listening to the audience moment to moment. It keeps you on your toes and ready for anything! Who knows what will come out of my mouth!?

What is your favorite Broadway show? It does not have to be one that you have done.

RB: That’s a tough question. I love Rent. I loved finally being able to be in Rent after my awful audition as a kid and being Roger. That show resonates with me so deeply about love and living each day to the fullest.

I would love more original musicals to be made on Broadway! Witness Uganda is BRILLIANT! That score is something that has stuck with me. It was genius at The Wallis in Beverly Hills. Matt Gould who co-wrote that show has a new show coming to La Jolla called Lempicka! Go SEE IT! I am hoping after California it takes over NYC!

Any particular role that you are yearning to play onstage?

RB: I would love to play Bobby in Company. I just relate so much to his character and the score is brilliant. I also love comedy and have been singing “My Girlfriend Who Lives In Canada” for years. So I would love to be fitted with a puppet to have some fun in Avenue Q! I am always down for some campy puppet moments.

Did you grow up with music in your family? What inspired you to be an actor and singer?

RB: My parents loved music. My dad loved placing big headphones on me and letting me rock out to Earth, Wind and Fire. My mom loved Carly Simon. We would listen to her when she made us breakfast every weekend but don’t ask them to sing! Ha! They are not singers. My parents are kinda shy and I am literally shot out of a canon 24-7. I think I always wanted to make people smile and entertain. I would take the sheets from my bed, make curtains, and put on shows for my family since I could remember.

I tell a story about trying sports and being dreadful (soccer goalie is not on my special skills on my resume) and finally being like "nope I quit!" Take me to singing lessons instead. Sixth grade hit, I was the Prince in Cinderella at my school, I was hooked. I wanted to sing and act anywhere and everywhere.

My parents were hip and loved music. I was the old soul. I got a karaoke machine for Christmas with the Hits of Manilow and I was sold. Hook line and sinker. I would listen and study him nonstop.

What was it like performing with giants like Patti LaBelle and Whoopi Goldberg? What did you learn from being in their presence?

RB: Wow! I had the pleasure at 12 years old to perform with Ms. LaBelle at a tribute concert for Laura Nyro (songwriter) at the Beacon Theatre. I have loved her since. She was so kind, humble, and a FORCE on stage. She brings 110% every time and is so authentically herself. Her kindness and authenticity are what makes people love her. I have had the pleasure to see her numerous times after and sing with her again, she is as amazing now as ever! OBSESSED!

Whoopi is such a wonderful performer, kind, and generous. She was such a wonderful person to be around. I think I learned that being kind matters. Being a good listener and remember that you matter and your art matters but you can’t do it without the people who support it.

Do you have a goal in LA? Are you looking toward more work in TV and roles in film? Will stage always remain a vital part of your performing life?

RB: It is so humbling to be booked at Feinstein’s in Studio City. No one is more surprised and honored than me. Three years ago, I had hung it all up and had not done a thing so I’m thrilled people are inspired and supportive. I am focusing on my new album which is on the way based on the one man show and journey. My first love will always be me, a stool, mic, and a piano player. It’s taken me decades to be comfortable sharing my story, and that will always be the one I want to tell first and foremost. I am just happy to meet some new friends in LA and spread my message and music! Therefore stage and the live show will always be the first love. We are always adding more dates so I’m so grateful for that. You can find all upcoming dates on RobertBannon.com.

I also love TV and film! I would love to do more straight up acting. That is such a fulfilling way to make a living to be the vessel for the text and project either comedy or drama-that is a blast. I am open to whatever surprises life has to to offer. One thing I learned is it’s gonna surprise me so let’s see where it goes!

Add anything you wish here that we did not already mention.

RB: Thank you so much for your time and platform! Come see me at the show and say hi! I am so excited to share this show with LA! Joining me is Michael Orland as Music Director! Michael was the MD on American Idol for 15 seasons. He’s worked with everyone and is as talented as he is kind. You don’t want to miss what surprises we both have in store. Also, LA has some of the best singers in the world and I happen to know them so expect a bunch of surprises and a lot of fun!

Unfortunately Feinstein's is closed until further notice because of the Corona Virus.*

* I asked Robert Bannon what he is doing creatively during this time. Are you working on the CD of the "American Songbook?" When your appearance is rescheduled, will there be a CD release party?

RB: I am working on the album! It will be of the Great American Songbook. It is produced by Bob Magnuson and features arrangements by Tedd Firth and Rich DeRosa of songs you know but with my own twist. Thanks to technology we will hopefully do it all digitally and get it ready to be out as soon as possible. I am trying to be as creative as possible with this time out.

The new goal is once we have a new date for Feinstein’s in LA this summer it will be an album release with a whole new show! So I am definitely looking forward to what comes in the future. For now, just sending light and love to everyone to stay safe!


Voices from the Fringe: Singer/Performer Victoria Gordon

Making her Fringe debut this year is singer, actor and Los Angeles native Victoria Gordon, who is bringing her cabaret show to the Complex in Hollywood. The piece, entitled Victoria Gordon — Live at the Hollywood Fringe, is a combination of musical performance and comedy.

In anticipation of her upcoming appearance, Ms. Gordon spoke with Better Lemons about her show and her all-around Fringe experience.

VICTORIA GORDON - LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD FRINGEBetter Lemons: You performed this show before, right? What’s different about this Fringe production?
Victoria Gordon: I did perform a version of this show before — in September 2018 at the Broad in Santa Monica. But I knew that wasn’t the finished version. As soon as I got the video of that show back, I started taking notes to figure out what I liked and what I didn’t. And I used that to refresh and expand my repertoire, which also led me to write new monologues. At the end of the day, while some of the songs are the same, almost everything around them is different.

BL: And the music… How were the pieces selected?
VG: Everything came to me differently. I love musicals and listen to cast albums all the time, so sometimes, a song just hits me and I think, “I have to sing that!” That’s how the song “Another Round,” from Bright Star, ended up in the show - I was at the Ahmanson, watching the cast perform it, and I just knew I had to do it. Others are old favorites, like “It Might As Well Be Spring,” or characters I’ve dreamed of playing, like Mabel Normand in Mack and Mabel (that’s how I wound up with “Wherever He Ain’t,” one of Mabel’s big moments). And then there are the songs I never imagined singing, but someone else suggested and I quickly realized that they were right. “I Am What I Am” is one I never saw myself performing, but my sister told me I had to give it a try, and now it’s a cornerstone of my act — thanks, Natalie!

BL: How about the band? Did they accompany you in last year’s show?
VG: Two out of three, yes! I met my Musical Director-slash-drummer, Sam Webster, through two contacts: my arranger and a studio musician I trust. They both recommended Sam, so I contacted him and we hit it off right away. He brought in both my bass player, Chelsea Stevens, and pianist, Adam Bravo. Adam is new for this show. He wasn’t available in the fall, but I’m a huge fan already!

BL: Is this your first time at the Fringe? How are you enjoying the experience?
VG: This is my first Fringe as a participant. I had no idea what to expect going in, but I’m really thrilled to be part of it! I’ve met so many incredible people and learned so much about theater and performance. This is such a great and inclusive community.

BL: What makes “Live” a good fit for the Fringe? What can audiences expect?
VG: My show is a throwback. I’ve been describing it lately as an “old-school nightclub act,” back in the day when lounge singers were off-duty Broadway performers. It’s not something that many people my age do anymore, but it’s the only music I’ve ever wanted to sing, and I think Fringe audiences are used to less-than-expected offerings.

Audiences can expect to laugh a lot — usually with me, but sometimes at me—and to hear showtunes they know and love (or maybe a few they don’t know yet!). It’s also just a fun show. I modeled it after Bernadette Peters and Jane Krakowski’s shows, and what I love about them is that they’re just enjoyable shows, filled with entertaining stories and great songs. Nothing too dramatic or depressing; it’s a lighthearted but still touching show.

BL: Tell us a bit about your background.
VG: I grew up in Los Angeles, as did both of my parents, so all of my grandparents were very active in my childhood. My mom’s family was all musical; my dad’s family worked in TV comedy. Both sides were very accomplished, so I got to see what it really takes to be successful in music or entertainment. I grew up playing the violin, but later switched to singing, and haven’t looked back since! I always wanted to be an actress and singer, and got into writing in my teens. I started producing comedic film and TV projects for Amazon while still in college, and post-college, that became my full-time job. But when the opportunity to stage a solo cabaret came up, I jumped at the chance, and Victoria Gordon Live was born. It’s been a great way to put everything I know — performance, production, and live events — into practice at once.

BL: Since the Fringe is a collaboration, what other shows intrigue you?
VG: So many! I have a folder filled with sixty-ish Fringe flyers and they all sound like great shows. I am especially excited for Bunny the Elf, because Christi Pedigo has brought so much sunshine to Fringe this year; Leaving Prince Charming, because Lara Repko’s story is so personal and moving; and Batter Up! My Brain on Baseball, because the idea of a baseball trivia show is just so Fringe.


Victoria Gordon — Live at the Hollywood Fringe plays June 6 (preview) through June 27 at the Complex Hollywood’s OMR Theatre, 6468 Santa Monica Blvd. Information and ticketing can be obtained on the Fringe site.


STAGES OF DOUBT: AN ANALYSIS OF THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION IN AMERICAN THEATRE – PART 4

To read Part 1 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 2 of this series, please click here.

To read Part 3 of this series, please click here.

One of the wilder interpretation of the history of the assassination must surely be The Life and Times of Lee Harvey Oswald Or, The Most Unnatural Murder and Dastardly Assassination of John F. Kennedy by that Bloodthirsty Villain Lee Harvey Oswald (or someone else), as represented by our best hand-carved Marionettes and life-like Mannequins of Choicest Linden Wood.

Conceived, written and directed by Vít Horejš and performed by the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre, this 2017 production at La MaMa Experimental Theater was part Howdy-Doody Show part Greek Tragedy with nine puppeteer-performers, a chorus of a dozen demonic ventriloquist dummies and a cast of over 50 Marionettes.

The whimsy one normally expects from puppetry was apparent in portraying the John Kennedy puppet a knight in shining armor, Jackie as a royal princess, and Joe Kennedy a King. Lyndon Johnson was depicted as a cook, John Connelly in cowboy regalia and Castro as a boasting spirit with an insanely long beard.

Oswald was more recognizable, garbed as seen in the infamous photo taken in the backyard of their home on Neely Street by Marina, with Oswald holding the rifle that would kill Kennedy and the pistol that was used to kill Dallas police officer J.D. Tippit some 45 minutes after the assassination.

The work touched on numerous conspiracy theories but committed to none of them, nor did it limit itself to the events at Dallas, but explored the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Rev. Martin Luther King as well.

The focus of the production seemed to be that as the characters on stage were manipulated by the puppeteers so destiny moved the historical figures towards their historical fates.

A assortment of musical productions have endeavored to capture the essence and consequences of the assassination. In 1983 Leslie Bricusse and Allan J. Friedman opened One Shining Moment: A musical Celebration of John F. Kennedy. Destined to be reworked often up through 2012 the multi-media production used actual footage to display the Kennedys world from the start of his presidential bid until November of '63.

In 1997 Dublin, Ireland saw the opening of JFK: A Musical Drama, music by Will Holt, with book and lyrics by Holt and Tom Sawyer. The hope was to take the show to the Great White Way, which was not an impossibility as in 1970. Holt and Gary William Friedman were the talents behind the hit show The Me Nobody Knows, one of the first rock musicals to reach Broadway.

The show opened with the widowed Jackie informing the audience that she intended to tell them the story of her husband, before the historians "get it wrong."

The musical concerned itself with the struggle of the three Kennedy sons – Joe, John and Bobby to live up to their father's ambitions for them. Later their struggle would be to break free of those ambitions. The play hints that John's fate was sealed by his decision to withdraw from Vietnam, a favorite myth put forth by the conspiracymongers.

What the CT community point to in substantiating their claim that Kennedy was ready to pull the US forces out of Vietnam is an interview with Walter Cronkite on September 2, 1963 in which Kennedy made the following statement:

“I don't think that unless a greater effort is made by the Government [of South Vietnam] to win popular support that the war can be won out there. In the final analysis, it is their war. They are the ones who have to win it or lose it.”

You'll find this quote in scores of pro-conspiracy books and hear it in the film JFK, but you are never given the complete quote, Kennedy goes on to say:

‘But I don't agree with those who say we should withdraw. That would be a great mistake. I know people don't like Americans to be engaged in this kind of an effort. Forty-seven Americans have been killed in combat with the enemy, but this is a very important struggle even though it is far away.”

Would Kennedy have pulled us out of Viet Nam if he had lived is impossible to say, but prior to his assassination there was no indication on his part that he intended to do so.

JFK: A Musical Drama offered an array of historical characters on stage other than the Kennedy clan; Bull Connor, Medger Evers, LBJ, Fidel Castro, Nixon and others. After a good deal of reworking it crossed the pond to Broadway in 1998. Critics found it so scant on dialogue many regarded it more of a operetta than a musical. The show did not find favor and soon closed, inspiring one Irish wag to quip "Can you remember where you were when they shut JFK?"

But the most distinctive as well as the most insightful musical involving the assassination must go to Stephen Sondheim's Assassins with book by John Weidman. This 1990 show was concerned not with just the story of JFK, but with the phenomenon of political violence in this country. To that end it presented the history of the men and women who assassinated a U.S. President or made the attempt. Some like John Wilkes Booth are well known to most Americans others like Charles Guiteau, Leon Czolgosz, Giuseppe Zangara and Samuel Byck are not.

The final scene takes place on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository where a hesitant and undecided Lee Harvey Oswald is confronted by the ghost of Booth and other assassins who entice him slowly to the window and convince him that pulling the trigger on his Mannlicher-Carcano is the answer to all his pain.

Photo: The cast of "The Magic Bullet Theory." Credit: Amani/Wood Photograph

L.A.'s Sacred Fools Theater offered a “Dr. Strangelove” redo on the events in their 2012 black comedy The Magic Bullet Theory by Terry Tocantins and Alex Zola. This misconceived mixture of political murder and merry mayhem began with Charlie Harrelson appearing before the Warren Commission with the truth about the assassination of JFK. The father of actor Woody Harrelson, Charlie Harrelson killed US District Judge Jon H. Wood. During a six hour standoff with Texas police prior to his arrest the coked out Harrelson threatened suicide and claimed to have murdered JFK. He admitted later that the statement was made in "an effort to elongate my life." Nevertheless he became a favorite suspect for the CT community. Tocantins and Zola took a Monty Python approach to the overabundance of conspiracy theories, presenting bumbling glassy knoll shooters, a dim-witted Oswald and clichéd Mafia hit men who all but sweated ragu sauce. The punch line of this show was that JFK's shooting wasn't so much the result of a conspiracy as a boo-boo.

...to be continued


PODCASTS - The Belle's of 'Disney's Beauty and the Beast': Interviews with Susan Egan and Yvette Lawrence

5-STAR THEATRICALS production of “BEAUTY AND THE BEAST" (Courtesy of 5 Star Theatricals)

5 Star Theatrical's production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast is playing at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza until July 29, 2018 and Better Lemons recorded two podcasts, one with Susan Egan and one with Yvette Lawrence-Bishop.

In the first podcast Egan talks about the joys of returning to the role of “Belle” while embracing the new elements brought to the production by director Yvette Lawrence-Bishop. She also discusses the similarities and differences from the original Broadway touring production.

Anime, Comic-Con, and cosplay fans will enjoy hearing Egan chat about her voice acting characters, including her work at The Broadway Princess Party with Club Kraftland at That's From Disneyland.

Egan is a BTVA (Behind The Voice Actors) Television Voice Acting Award-winner and has been nominated for Tony and Drama Desk awards.

In the second Podcast, Lawrence-Bishop talks about her working relationship with Egan and the elements that make this production a unique, educational, family affair.

Lawrence-Bishop also discusses her work as a teacher and as a director with 5 Star Theatricals.

Yvette Lawrence-Bishop is an award-winning multi-faceted director, producer, and performer. She also teaches a Master Class in acting and serves as director of Performing Arts and director of Drama at Chaminade College Preparatory.

Lawrence-Bishop has directed productions such as Guys and Dolls, Godspell, Once Upon a Mattress, 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and Romeo and Juliet. She also has credits as a performer on Broadway and on television.

5 Star Theatricals production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast is currently playing at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza until July 29, 2018.

Visit the site for showtimes and ticket information.

For more podcasts like these, go to our Better Lemons Soundcloud channel.