Save Our Local Theatre - Whitefire Theatre


This is a guest post by Diana Varco


The Whitefire Theatre is a beautiful, 84-seat, state-of-the-art theatre in Sherman Oaks. With the support of Artistic Director Bryan Rasmussen and solo theatre teacher Jessica Lynn Johnson, creator of the Soaring Solo artistic community, hundreds - if not thousands - of people have been able to develop and share their stories at Whitefire Theatre. To me, it's so much more than a theatre - it's an artistic home.

I am one of those performers and am now an internationally touring artist - having completed a 25 show run of my solo show Shattered at The Edinburgh Fringe in 2019. As a result, I also now utilize my story to support discussions on mental health and trauma recovery - two themes I explore in Shattered.

Hands down, I would not have started this journey, had it not been for Whitefire Theatre. Whitefire is where I first saw Kimleigh Smith powerfully perform her critically acclaimed solo show T-O-T-A-L-L-Y about transforming her trauma; and, with Kimleigh's loving support, I slowly started to write about transforming mine. Whitefire is where I made the leap to attend Jessica Lynn Johnson’s exceptional (and free!) solo show class on the Whitefire stage - space donated by Artistic Director Bryan Rasmussen. And in 2017, with the expert guidance of my director Jessica Lynn Johnson, the Whitefire Theatre is where I premiered my solo show Shattered at The Whitefire Theatre SoloFest - the largest solo theatre festival on the West Coast.

I return every year to perform Shattered at Whitefire Theatre SoloFest because Bryan creates a festival that is incredibly supportive for the solo artist; but, more so, I return for the community.

With COVID-19 threatening many small businesses, the impact on the arts has been especially painful. Please consider supporting Whitefire Theatre to continue their great work!

Here are three ways to support:

  1. Donate to the GoFundMe campaign: Click Here
  2. Support Whitefire Theatre SoloFest (Jan 9 - March 27) programming or become an on-line member! Find out more by going to www.whitefiretheatre.com
  3. Share your love for Whitefire on social media IG: @Whitefire_theatre, Twitter: @WhitefireThtr, Facebook: Whitefire Theatre

My story is just one of many. I asked fellow artists at Whitefire to weigh in on their journeys and experiences.

These are their stories:

“The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke often of his Vision of a Beloved Community - a community that honors the Dignity and Worth of every Individual with no one left out! The Whitefire Theatre Management and Community masterfully activates that Vision in every show it produces. Whether through a solo or ensemble performance - LA audiences experience subject matter from A to Z - uncensored - with no experience left out - honoring the Dignity and Worth and Creativity of All! Edutainment at its Best! Truly, the Beloved Community in Action!” ~ Candace Carnicelli (Ex. Dir., Common Peace, Center for the Advancement of Nonviolence) / Writer/Performer - Becoming Peace, a One Woman Rhythmic Dramedy about Power, Culture, Violence and Nonviolence

“Having found the Whitefire Theatre, and working with Jessica Lynn Johnson, has emboldened me to pursue all kinds of projects just knowing that there is a supportive and encouraging community of artists there. Solofest, in particular, the largest celebration of solo theatre on the West Coast, is incredibly inspiring and diverse, and offers not only the opportunity to take in these incredible performances, but is pretty much a welcome mat for anyone interested in pursuing an adventure in the theatrical arts. Community is what it is about, I have never experienced such close yet far reaching camaraderie.” ~ Lisa Verlo, Writer/Performer - HOLLYWOODN'T

“The Whitefire Theatre gave me a safe place to perform my solo show. Bryan and the support staff are generous, competent and helpful.” ~ Susan Porter, Writer/Performer - Wake Up Little Susy

“I have been part of The Whitefire Theatre for about 10 years. I've had my original works produced many times. Bryan has been a mentor AND a brother to me. He has truly built a loving supportive creative environment for artists of all levels. I perform all over the country, but I'm happiest at home at The Whitefire because of Bryan and his generous spirit.” ~ Toni Perrotta, Writer/Performer - Here’s What I’m Saying: Life Lessons From An Italian Mama

“Bryan Rasmussen and the team at Whitefire Theatre truly brought my life back to the stage where it always belonged. The chance to bring my shows to life in such a beautiful venue, supported by someone with such a passion for solo-performers and a capable crew...well, it was like being at home.” ~ Heather Dowling, Writer/Performer - Unemployed. Finally. & Fertile

“The theatre's artistic director, Bryan Rasmussen, is a kind, generous soul, a visionary and passionate supporter of solo theatre, which he frequently says is the most challenging of all theatrical expressions for any actor to undertake. The Whitefire has anchored, midwived and given me and my one-woman show, 'Wild At Hart', a home to return to and feel loved and celebrated within. It has also given home to the extraordinary Soaring Solo Theatre Community that Jessica Lynn Johnson created - a tribe of tremendously talented misfits who somehow all fit together in answering the inner call to Tell Their Stories. And the world, all of us as the larger tribe of belonging, need these stories!” ~ Kamakshi Hart, Writer/Performer - Wild At Hart

“The Whitefire Theatre has always had a welcoming, special and deeply creative energy for me. Before I premiered my show this past February, I used to take class here and was always in awe of their solofest shows. I wanted to be a part of it, badly.

Fast forward many moons later, thanks to Jessica Lynn Johnson, Bryan Rasmussen and Brandon Loeser, my show was brought into this world with their solid theatrical production savvy. I had zero worries (which made me worry) they knew me and what I needed and proceeded to produce magic not only for my sold out audience, but for me as well. I’m still in awe of how easy they make it look!” ~ Maeria Pae, Writer/Performer - Ma’s Kitchen

“I have quite a few lovely stories to share. I have had the privilege of performing at the Whitefire for the last 21 years and this place has literally changed my life. I came to LA for a 6 week run with all intentions of returning home to New York City. However, people plan and g-d laughs because instead of returning home, my show got picked up and produced for a six months run and won “BEST SOLO PRODUCTION” that year at the ADA AWARDS. I also had the AMAZING fortune of meeting my husband at The Whitefire theater. This phenomenal place has been my lucky charm. I am eternally grateful!” ~ Pam Levin, Writer/Performer - Tales of Modern Motherhood - Parts I & II

“The Whitefire Theater and the Soaring Solo community taught me to be so much more than just a performer. With their guidance, I’ve learned to value my stories, my voice, and my capacity for storytelling. They’ve empowered me to create, and I will be forever grateful.” ~ Brandon Raman, Writer/Performer - I Can’t Indian Good



Spotlight Series: Meet Jessica Lynn Johnson, Founder and CEO of Soaring Solo


This Spotlight focuses on Jessica Lynn Johnson, proud founder and CEO of Soaring Solo LLC, a company dedicated solely to the direction and development of one person plays who has collaborated on well over 100 solo shows and is still going strong despite the current shutdown. And now she is offering free classes on ZOOM until it is possible to perform in a theater again.


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

Jessica Lynn Johnson (JLJ): Besides encouraging other solo artists to develop their own shows while operating my company Soaring Solo, I am also a solo artist myself and have toured for 13+ years with my own two award-winning one woman shows. I am also on the Board of the LA Women's Theatre Festival and we have been empowering diverse women's voices for nearly 3 decades!

Lastly, I would like everyone to know that I have taught a 100% FREE One Person Play Development Class for about a decade, and while this has primarily been at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks, I have now taken my free class online via ZOOM. In addition, I also offer affordable and awesome coaching (one-on-one, small group, and power pair sessions) because as a solo artist myself I know how important it is to get valuable feedback at an affordable price.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the shows?

(JLJ): At any given time, I have 20-30 solo shows up and running with some making their world premiere and others simply continuing to tour since I work with my solo artists for years and help them tour internationally. All of that said, I had close to two dozen solo shows coming up that I directed and developed in three different festivals (Solofest 2020 at Whitefire Theatre, LA Women's Theatre Festival in March, and the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June). And of course, those have all been postponed.

Bryan Rasmussen at the Whitefire Theatre is such an innovative Artistic Director and had been perfecting the Live Stream experience of shows long before this COVID-19 pandemic took over. Therefore, he is planning to begin streaming shows as soon as mandates dictate this is possible. Many of my clients are excited to experiment with this new medium which is planned to begin in June.

(SB): How did you communicate the shutdown with your clients?

(JLJ): Every artist has handled the devastation of this moment differently. Therefore, some clients have processed this news with me on the phone, others have found texting and emailing the best way to process. And many have been partaking in my ongoing free online class, my coaching services, and my free daily Isolate Meditate Create experience, so events were discussed via all those options. My free guided meditation and writing sessions take place on ZOOM at 9am (PT) during the Stay at Home, with more information available on JessicaLynnJohnson.com.

All to say, this is such a challenging time and it is important to respect each person's nuanced way of handling this crisis and hold space for their feelings and the mode in which they feel comfortable engaging.

(SB) Are plans in place to present shows at a future date and how are you keeping the Arts alive during social distancing?

(JLJ): As an eternal optimist, I encourage my clients to "Never Give Up" and "Always Think Outside the Box". We must "Let Go of What Was" and step into the reality of "What Is." Suffice it to say, I am in discussion with several clients about the Live Streaming dates for those who were in the tail end of Solofest, and therefore unable to perform their shows when COVID-19 hit. I am also in discussion with those who would like to wait until we are able to gather in person at Whitefire to resume the production of their shows. I respect both choices.

As it stands right now, the Hollywood Fringe which is traditionally held in June has been postponed until October, and most people are eager to partake during this rescheduled time and I will be there to support them in the Fall.

The LA Women's Theatre Festival is also in talks about next steps to carry on with our programming, and our publicist Philip Sokoloff will certainly make an official statement on that once the Board has agreed upon appropriate next steps.

Lastly, I encourage everyone to TAKE CREATIVE ACTION right now since Art is more important than ever! After all, how many of us are getting through this challenging time by reading a good book, binging television shows and films, or tuning into content being streamed around the globe?  I hope the majority of us are nurturing our souls and entertaining our minds with Art to get through this day-to-day madness.

For example, recently my brilliantly talented client Dana Lynn and I hosted a ZOOM reading of her one-woman show Transcending the Mirror about her journey to accept and love herself as a lesbian woman, and we had 40 people tune in and give us incredible feedback to implement into the script.

We have moved all of our Soaring Solo LLC services online, and I have also transferred all of my coaching services and my 100% free One Person Play Development class to ZOOM so that we can all continue with our Art and not be stopped by this virus. I like to say kill the coronavirus and NOT creativity! As such, I am still coaching solo artists in the development and direction of their one-person plays from the comfort of their living room, offering One-on-One coaching, small group coaching featuring 6 solo artists at a time, and Power Pairs where two artists work together with me on larger excerpts of their solo shows.

With all the fear and uncertainty in the world right now, I know many people appreciate something else to focus on besides the virus and I want to provide that much needed creative outlet for them. And for those who are financial strained and cannot afford my paid services, I have got their back too, offering my 100% free One-Person Play development class on Saturday mornings, as well as my free guided meditation and writing sessions on ZOOM daily at 9am (PT). For more information on my free class and my paid services, please visit www.JessicaLynnJohnson.com

Yes, we need to keep our physical bodies healthy right now, but our mind, heart and spirit need to stay healthy too. Creative expression is a HUGE part of that overall wellness. This is a season for pioneers, innovators, and trailblazers to come forward and take the lead. We all need to think outside of the box and find ways to serve and connect and share our Art like never before. Yes, it is sad that we cannot perform in a theater at this moment in time, but desperation often breeds ingenuity. So, turn that negativity into new ways of creatively expressing yourself and connecting with others. There are true possibilities here if we can let go of the old and step into the new.

Stay healthy, stocked, safe and healthy everyone. We will get through this together!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Whitefire Theatre's Jake O'Flaherty Welcomes All in SHORTS

Producer/actor/career coach Jake O'Flaherty has lived and breathed the Whitefire Theatre Company since he and Bryan Rasmussen (Whitefire Theatre's artistic director since 2005) started it in 2013. With diversity one of the hot button topics at issue to discuss, Jake gives us Whitefire's take on running a theatre company with inclusiveness, while also carefully balancing his acting career, his coaching responsibilities, his producing duties and his home life.

Thank you taking the time for this interview, Jake!

Thank you for giving me the opportunity for this interview.

Is your upcoming COMPANY SHORTS Whitefire Theatre's most diversified evening of performers and subjects?

Yes, the upcoming show called COMPANY SHORTS has a diverse group of theatre company members, and plays that embrace themes of diversity.

Whitefire Theatre's been around for 35 years and you and Bryan took charge of it about five years ago. Was there always a conscious effort to be inviting to all people of all colors and orientations? Or was there a specific lightbulb moment for this policy?

When I started the theatre company with Whitefire Theatre artistic director Bryan Rasmussen five years ago, we very much from the start wanted to embrace absolute diversity in every category so that each 10 minute play would reflect the real world. All races, age ranges, sexual orientation, cultures, and religions. All of this was planned between myself and Bryan Rasmussen from the very first meeting.

How does an evening of Whitefire Theatre's various SHORTS come about? Writing workshops? Acting improvs? Drinks at the neighborhood bar?

Whitefire Theatre's evening of 10-minute original short comedy plays comes about through the process of meeting every Tuesday night from 7 to 10PM, and reading every original play submitted to the theatre company. Some of them are through friends, as well as playwright websites, as well as social media submissions that come from my announcements on Facebook and Instagram. Half-price sushi at Izakaya after doesn't hurt either 🙂

In the early days of Whitefire Theatre, did you ever cast Caucasian actors in non-Caucasion roles? (MISS SAIGON, comes to mind. Unfortunately, so does Mickey Rooney in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's.)

In regards to the Whitefire Theatre, I can only speak to the casting of the plays in the five years I have been there producing the shows. We make every effort to expand on the opportunities of every character that is written in the play to involve diversity of some kind. Honestly, I was getting tired of going to other theatre productions & watching 25-year-old Caucasian people playing every role. It was not authentic and didn't make sense to me.

We feel like the diversity actually enhances the dialogue and brings new light and meaning to the situations at hand in most of the plays.

What's your opinion of #Oscarssowhite? Would you agree that Oscars aren't necessarily the source of the issue, but the end game?

#OscarsSoWhiteHasBeenAnIssueForALongTime. And yes, the Oscars are not the issue, but a reflection of the endgame. In my opinion, things are changing for the better now, and hopefully, will continue to do so each year moving forward. People from diverse backgrounds have very diverse stories to tell from a very specific point of view that can appeal to a mass audience. The people in charge of making the decisions have to embrace the opportunities that are available for all of us, regardless of what language we speak, or what country we come from, the color of our skin. I think they're finally starting to see in movies and TV shows today, that their bottom-line financial gains are part of that process as well.

You were born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. How long were you there before moving to Tampa, Florida?

Yes, I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and lived there for a few years before moving to Tampa, Florida to start grade school at Incarnation Catholic school.

Did your FBI father teach you to get along with all kinds of people? Or did it just come naturally for you?

Yes, my FBI father and my mother raised all four of us children to treat everyone the same, as human beings. That everyone deserved respect, consideration and appreciation for who they were. I use these values and raised my daughter with them as well , and am grateful every day that I had the parents God gave me.

You seem like a person who makes lemonade out of any lemons rolling your way. Would you share your worst audition experience that was completely morphed into a totally unforgettable positive life lesson?

I like the lemonade analogy. In this entertainment business, you have to see the glass half-full or you will drive yourself crazy. There are opportunities all the time, every day if you look for them.

OK, my worst audition experience that was completely morphed into an unforgettable positive life lesson, occurred many years ago when I was reading for the network executives for what would eventually become a huge hit television series. They kept asking me to behave like one of the other actors(out in the lobby with me), and to talk like him and to make facial reactions like him etc. I knew it was him, because I saw him doing them out in the lobby for 30 minutes before he went in, before me, to audition. This other actor was the son of a well-known 30-year veteran actor. In my opinion, you bring a certain amount of yourself, that is different from everyone, to each part that you play. So they were asking me not to be myself and telling me that they really didn't appreciate my choices. But, perhaps I was a less expensive option? It kind of crushed my soul for a few weeks, but then I realized that there's nothing I can do except be myself. And those were the roles that I would book anyway. When you embrace who you are. The good, the bad, the in-between. It makes life a lot easier from there.

You have degrees in both psychology and business admin. To complement that book knowledge you're absorbed, you must share a lot of your own learning experiences with the commercial acting and career consultant classes you teach at Whitefire Theatre. Would you tell us what personal experience always seems to find itself being told to your classes?

Yes, my bachelors degree in psychology and business administration have helped a great deal in my acting career, as well as my career consultation side business. Hollywood is a business of show. You have to make sure you run your business in an organized and professional manner every day. Always be kind and considerate. Be on time, have your lines memorized, understand before the audition the who, what, where, when, and why of your character in the script pages provided and commit to those choices before you enter the audition room. Then be flexible and able to listen to redirection if needed. In the beginning of my career, I wasn't booking jobs, but I was always being called back by the same casting director for a different episode of the same show, or a different show that they were casting. And I was told it was because I was pleasant and professional and didn't over extend my welcome in the room. I share that with every class I teach.

What do you find the most common practical mistake actors make in managing their careers?

One of the most common mistakes that actors make in their careers is relying on their agent/managers to do all the work for them. As an actor, it is your responsibility to be proactive every day and do something positive for your own career. Including self-submissions through online casting sites, taking classes, learning a new language or a skill to add to your resume, do a play or write your own material. Through all these experiences, you will meet new people to network with, see different points of view about acting, and observe all kinds of great character work.

How Whitefire Theatre's live streaming program coming along?

Whitefire Theatre's live streaming is up and running. We just finished six weeks of a live improv show directed by Bill Chott called Live on Fire, which aired live on Facebook as well.

We will live stream our theater company show COMPANY SHORTS which opens Tuesday, April 17 at 8 PM and runs for six consecutive Tuesday nights.

Which do you enjoy absolutely the most: Wearing your coaching cap? Donning your producer's chapeau? Tipping your fedora at an acting partner under the stagelights?

That's a really tough question. I am really proud of my Whitefire Theatre Company and all the up-and-coming actors and playwrights that have found representation, going out on auditions and booking jobs from our shows. I've been coaching clients and teaching since 1998, and I do really enjoy being able to give back a little of what I have learned, but I also find myself learning from my students/clients more than I expected every time. Truthfully, being on stage/set as an actor and creating different characters is a feeling like no other for me, almost euphoria.

Thank you again, Jake! I look forward to seeing your fresh new COMPANY SHORTS.

Thank you Gil. It takes a village to raise awareness, appreciate artistry and entertain the masses, and your support and encouragement are always welcome.

For COMPANY SHORTS Tuesday night ticket availability and other White Theatre shows, log onto WhitefireTheatre.com


Bryan Rasmussen On His Visions for His Whitefire Theatre - The SHORTS & the Long-Reaching

Whitefire Theatre will be presenting their latest edition of their SHORTS series, FALL SHORTS, opening September 26, 2017. Whitefire Theatre has been a reliable San Fernando Valley fixture providing countless entertaining theatre pieces and workshops.
Whitefire Theatre's artistic director Bryan Rasmussen took some moments from his creative multi-tasking to chat with us.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview, Bryan!
This is your fifth year of presenting your evenings of original short comedy plays. What was the genesis of inaugurating this series?
When Jake O'Flaherty (the producer) and I started the company; we still didn't know exactly what material we would be presenting as a company. Because the choice of the material you do is your reputation usually for the company itself. I had already been working in the 10-minute format for a while and thought it was just amazing. And then it all came together, being able to use every actor in the company for every show. And they would basically get cast as leads in their short pieces. So everybody got great roles, and we could use 25-to-30 actors for a show. So we started using that format. It worked so well, we just kept using it, and we use it now exclusively for the company.
How do you select what shorts become a part of each production?

We have a core group of writers that we work with on a regular basis, both within the company and outside of the company. Many award-winning comedy writers are involved. It takes approximately 16 weeks to find the plays, rehearse and develop them. Because these are plays and not sketches, it needs that kind of rehearsal process. We pick the nine or ten best plays we can find, and we cast them that way rather than the opposite way of finding plays that fit the company. But it happens anyway every time. Amazing!
Have any of the 100-plus shorts you've presented in the last five years grown into full-length plays?
Some have, but that's not necessarily the reason this is happening. The 10-minute play is its own genre. It's not just a short clip in order to get the long-form produced, etc. And many great things can happen in that arc of 10 minutes. I did one that covered the characters from babies to Alzheimer's, and it was incredible! The format that these lend themselves well to is the web series. And we are developing many of those as well.
Any specific success stories to brag about?
Well, we have many great relationships with artists, but collaborating with Academy Award-winning writer (Crash)/director/producer Bobby Moresco for over eight years is a great one! Many of our projects that we developed in the Gym have gone on to full-length play productions, feature films, scripts and other projects. We've been developing a new work inspired by Studs Terkel's WORKING but with completely new characters and written by members of the Actors Gym and Bobby Moresco who conceived the project called WORKING 2017, starring a world-class cast that we will be streaming live worldwide.
This is the 35th anniversary of Whitefire Theatre. What made you decide to stake ownership in Whitefire eight years ago?

It was actually a very serendipitous event. I was an actor at the time bartending with no real ability to start a business whatsoever. But a friend of mine stepped in and put up a little money, and then I was able to get a few others to do the same. Amazingly, it all took place over the course of a six-month period. Then after about three years of steady bookings, the recession hit and changed everything drastically. 
I had run spaces and produced before but having my own theatre was not a realistic goal of mine. I think everybody would like one, but it was certainly not on my goal list. I was on full steam ahead for an acting career, and had already done a lot by the time this came along. But it came along in my life when I was at a crossroads trying to figure out what I was going to do with the rest of my life and, Boom!, this came into my life. It's been an amazing ride!
Your Whitefire website pictures a core group of eleven company members. Do you choose the plays Whitefire produces to fit their talents? 
Actually, our core group is 25 company members. The biggest difference is most casting is the actors becoming characters that have already been written. But in film and television, it's very important to understand what your 'personal' essence is, as opposed to your 'casting' essence. So these parts are all customized for each of their individual talents and diversity or ethnicity. And it's worked just fantastically that way!
Do company members get first crack at new roles? Or do they have to audition at your open auditions?

Yes, they do...we always consider our company members for other shows playing at the Whitefire. Theatre company members read all the submitted plays and are then cast based on who can represent the characters best as written. We have open auditions after the close of each show for any new company members who would like to join for the next show. Our producer Jake O'Flaherty arranges the audition process. 
How does one become a company member? 
Auditions are held on the week after the current show closes. The actor needs to prepare a two-minute comedy monologue of their choice to perform, and bring a headshot and resume.
You, Bobby Moresco and Jessica Lynn Johnson offer classes at Whitefire. Does one need to audition to enroll in your classes?
Yes, but they aren't as much classes as they are workshops. Bobby's are by referral and he has writers, actors, and directors in that. Jessica's is a free ongoing workshop developing solo shows. Mine is an ongoing on-camera, working-actors class for all pro-actor needs. Bill Chott (This is Us) teaches an ongoing improv workshop on Saturday and Sunday 11am-1pm. Portia Scott runs a Sunday morning voiceover workshop. Jake O'Flaherty has commercial and business of acting classes as well. The rest of the time we are in production.

What are your long-term goals for Whitefire?
We are launching our live-streaming program as we speak. We are very excited about what this could all mean!
What's in the immediate future for Whitefire? 

I'd love to make the Whitefire the Netflix of theatre. Broadcasting our content nightly live out of the Whitefire, and creating a stream of income for theatre artists so they can make a living doing theatre in LA!
And in the future for Bryan Rasmussen, acting or directing?

The Company show FALL SHORTS that opens Tuesday, September 26 at 8pm. Then, I am acting in a feature film in October, shooting in New Orleans about the aftermath of Katrina. Jake O'Flaherty and I are also doing multiple web series together. So life is good when you get to do what you love. That is true success. After my heart attack a year ago, it helped me hyper-focus on what is important, and who I wanted to work with. I'm the luckiest guy in town.
Thank you again, Bryan!
For FALL SHORTS ticket availability and schedule thru October 31, 2017; as well as, ongoing Whitefire Theatre class schedules; log onto www.whitefiretheatre.com