Spotlight Series: Meet Dana Weisman, A Musical Theatre Actor Who Longs to Get Back Onstage ASAP

This Spotlight focuses on Dana Weisman, a musical theatre actor who longs to get back on the stage and entertain audiences as soon as possible!

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

Dana Weisman (Dana): It seems like I have been involved with theatre my whole life. Originally from New York, I began taking dance lessons at around 7 years old and then became a company member in a local children’s theatre troupe when I was around 10.  Like many young girls at the time, I was captivated by the musical Annie when it opened on Broadway and would have given my right arm to be part of that experience. In my mid-teens I attended a performing arts camp called French Woods in the Catskills and further fanned my musical theatre ambition.

Roy Okida and Dana Weisman in "Somethings Afoot"

Then, after the movie Fame came out, I was given the opportunity to audition for the High School of Music & Art (now LaGuardia) and was accepted as a Vocal Arts major. We were classically trained, but for me one of the most fun and fulfilling parts of my high school years was being a member of M&A’s acclaimed Gospel Choir. While at M&A, I was also a part of a professional theatre company in Manhattan called The First All Children’s Theater. With this troupe, I had the opportunity of performing at the Kennedy Center in an original musical called The Trip when I was 16 years old.

After high school, I attended Northwestern as a Theatre major for a couple of years before transferring to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (Circle-In-The-Square) as I had decided I wanted to earn a BFA. After college followed long years of waiting tables at MANY restaurants up and down Manhattan. You can definitely “Betcha your life a waitress earns her pay!”

In between waiter gigs and other odd jobs, I took classes and built my resume doing lots of regional and summer stock theatre. I made lifetime friends at all these jobs and seemed at times to move closer to my goal of a Broadway gig - but then would slide back. It became frustrating as I saw many of my friends move on to Broadway and my confidence eventually began to erode. I learned there is no question one needs to have an unflagging, burning desire coupled with talent and being in the right place at the right time in order to succeed in this biz. But I seemed to never have all three at the same time.

Dana Weisman as Frau Blucher

Eventually, after a break-up, I decided to move to Los Angeles where my brother was living and try out a change of scenery and maybe pursue the TV/film side of the biz. Shortly after being in LA, I met my husband Jon, a native Angelino, and my fate to become a West Coast transplant was sealed. After getting married, I decided to pursue my other strong interest - psychology - and in between raising a family of three, I earned my graduate degree and became a licensed MFT.

However, as almost any theatre person can attest, once you are bitten by the theatre bug, it is impossible to truly get rid of the itch to be involved in the business in some way, shape or form. After years of singing lullabies to my children, I decided I wanted to get back to singing in another capacity. A few wonderful years singing with the famed Angel City Chorale was followed by my LA theatre debut with Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse. Since then, I have been performing in many other venues around LA, The Blank Theatre, The West Coast Jewish Theatre, and the Cupcake Theatre, to name a few, and also trying to break into the television / commercial / film / VO side as well.

Dana Weisman in "Broadway Bound"

(SB): I remember being amazed at your performance in Broadway Bound with The West Coast Jewish Theatre, quoting from my Broadway World review: "And what dedication to her craft was on display by Dana Weisman (understudy for Maria Spassoff), taking the stage with a broken leg in a boot and walking on crutches as Kate's sister Blanche Morton. But as soon as the initial surprise wore off in a matter of seconds, the lovely scene with Blanche visiting the family home, dressed to the nines by Shon Le Blanc in a lovely dressy suit and fur coat, reflected how well she has done for herself." A truly masterful performance! What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show? 

(Dana): Luckily, I was in between shows at the time the “Safe At Home” quarantine began. I had recently ended a run at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center as Donna in Mamma Mia and was auditioning for my next opportunity. I had a callback in the works but unfortunately, the show was postponed as we started to see the ripple effect all over LA of theaters closing and schedules being put up in the air indefinitely. Post show confidence is always a great booster for moving forward to one's next goals. So while I wasn't part of a show in the works at the time the quarantine began, any momentum I was hoping to build upon post Mamma Mia has had to be suspended indefinitely.

Dana Weisman as Donna in "Mamma Mia"

(SB): If you missed Dana in “Mamma Mia” in Simi Valley, here is my review of that fabulous production.

Regarding that callback, how was the shutdown communicated with you?

(Dana): News of this particular shutdown was communicated online via Facebook, emails, and other social media. That said, I knew it was coming and had contemplated perhaps not even attending the original audition because by that time, shutdowns were already taking place all over town. But I am glad that I did though as it always feels good to get out and turn in a mini-performance and get to do what you love, even in nerve-wracking audition circumstances.

(SB): Do you know if plans are in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(Dana): As far as I know, this particular production will commence in the future but no dates have been announced as yet. I certainly hope and pray that CoViD-19 and future precautions do not effectively “kill” live theatre, and I look forward to the day when auditions and live performances can resume. But I know that smaller theaters and theatre companies will have their budgets affected by the shutdown, and that all shows will be pushed back and schedules will have to be altered and reworked. I have a daughter who is attending Northwestern University in the fall as a freshman but, as with theatre, schedules are up in the air and may look like something completely new that we have not yet seen as we get closer to the start of the next semester.

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

Dana Weisman with "Sunday in the Park" cast

(Dana): So far, I have taken advantage of this time by cocooning at home with my family by resting, cooking, baking, watching TV, taking safe distancing walks, meditating and attempting to get some much-needed sleep. Lots of self-care. However, I will say that it can be difficult maintaining motivation as lethargy is not easy to stave off when the rule of the day is to stay at home and mostly indoors. As a theatre person - and generally a “people person” - the distance created by interacting onscreen is not always as fulfilling as the live experience. But if this is the new normal, we will all need to adjust.

Moving into this next phase, I hope to begin keeping up personally by honing my audition songbook, learning monologues, and reading plays. There are so many online classes for just about any aspect of the theatre -- auditions, dance, acting -- I hope to begin taking part in many of them. Some groups I participate in are doing online play readings, and I am planning to also take part in those. Keeping up with my fellow actors in Zoom chats is also a much-needed balm.

(SB): It’s been fun being in a few of the Zoom meetings with you! Any more thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the LA Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Dana): It is difficult to maintain hope and positivity during such unprecedented and anxious times. But theatre isn’t going anywhere. I think it’s best to just take a little rest and time to recalibrate and emerge with renewed vigor once it is safe to again “go live.” As we have all seen, the Arts in all forms are what people are turning to in these crazy times to keep going and to be inspired. They provide solace, laughter, a creative outlet, and catharsis even when shared via distance and online.

Forgive my corny sign-off but it’s true: “The sun will come out tomorrow!”

This article first appeared on Broadway World.

Spotlight Series: Meet Writer / Producer / Actor Mykell Barlow From the L.A. Premiere of “Dessa Rose”

This Spotlight shines on writer/producer and actor Mykell Barlow, who I first saw onstage in the Los Angeles premiere of "Dessa Rose" at the Chromolume Theatre. His next big production is his wedding planned for 6/13/2020, which he hopes can go on as planned.

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

Mykell Barlow (Mykell): I have been obsessed with the theatre since I was 9 when my aunt wrote a Christmas play and we performed it in my Grandmother's living room. When I got to high school, I threw myself into performing with drama club, marching band, choir... you name it and I was doing it. Even my English presentations always had lots of dramatic flair.

In my first semi-professional theatre production, I played a tap dancing thug in 42nd Street.” I eventually scored one of my dream leading roles as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This led to a series of events that brought me to Los Angeles where I threw myself into the Hollywood Fringe Festival scene. I did a few shows including We are One by Christian Jaeger.

"Dessa Rose" cast (Front l-r Abby Carlson, Mykell Barlow, and Shaunte Massard. Back l-r Kymberly Stewart, Bradley Turner, Ambrey Benson, and Ken Purnell)

Since I've been in LA, I have been lucky enough to play a lead role in the Los Angeles premiere of Dessa Rose at the Chromolume Theatre and understudy in Dream Girls at the Cupcake Theatre.

(SB): I am sharing my Broadway World review of Dessa Rose which is the first time I saw Mykell onstage! The outstanding ensemble cast made this musical a favorite of mine in 2018.

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

Mykell Barlow as Joseph in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

(Mykell): I was helping a friend get their first Hollywood Fringe Festival show up and running.  I have also been involved in helping another friend develop a stage musical to pitch to investors. Thankfully we were able to do a few showcases for them before the shutdown came. The biggest production I have been gearing up for is my wedding to my fiancé Justin Patten which is scheduled for June 13th in Downtown LA.

(SB): Congratulations! No doubt it will also be a very dramatic event for the two of you and those lucky enough to attend, which I hope can happen as planned. With the Hollywood Fringe Festival postponed until October 2020, are plans in place to present that production at that time?

Mykell Barlow and fiancé Justin Patten

(Mykell): Since the Fringe Festival has been postponed until October, I am not sure if the show will continue with everyone involved possibly having other commitments in place at that time. We just have to wait and see. In regards to my wedding, Justin and I are hopeful that we won't need to push our wedding date, especially since there are a lot of moving parts with a production like this. So of course, we are keeping an eye on things and will make adjustments accordingly. My hope is that it will go ahead as planned and it will be a great celebration for everyone itching to get out and party after an extended time stuck inside.

(SB):  Have any other future productions on your schedule been affected by the shutdown?

(Mykell): I recently joined Actors Equity and have been excited to audition for some Equity shows. Now they have all be postponed, so I guess I will continue honing my audition skills during this time while I'm stuck at home.

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

Mykell Barlow as Joseph in "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"

(Mykell): I have been digging through my video archives and posting clips from past shows on my twitter and instagram which has been a fun trip down memory lane and a great way to reconnect with old cast mates. I have also been writing online articles for AfterBuzz TV to help maintain a constant flow of entertainment content.

To all my fellow members of the L.A. Theatre Community: I know this time of uncertainty can be unnerving but don't stop creating. Never stop creating. Write, sing, dance, put on a costume and perform a one man show - and record it for the world to see. During moments like this, we need the light that only the Arts can provide. And for all our sakes, please stay inside!

This article first appeared on Broadway World.

Once There Was a Hobgoblin

The Hobgoblin Playhouse behind the gate. Photo by Evan Lorenzetti

"Those that Hobgoblin call you, and sweet Puck,
You do their work, and they shall have good luck."
Midsummer Nights Dream, Act 2, Sc 1

You can walk right by a time capsule without even realizing it, especially if you believe the cliche that Los Angeles has no history at all. Hidden behind a roll-up gate on a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard congested by tourists, there is a 102-year-old blackbox theater.

It looks nothing like the grand old movie palaces on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. There is no gothic facade or grand marque; the space is neighbored by tattoo parlors and shops selling chintzy bric a bric.

The space inside is still in remarkably good condition, however, and it is filled with theatrical props and tokens from several eras. It has housed countless productions through the years, including musicals like Little Shop of Horrors and Avenue Q, as well as more off-center shows like Fluffers: Give you Hard Comedy or All About Walken, which brought an army of Christopher Walken impersonators to the stage.

And sometime later this year or maybe next, it will be torn down.

But a spirit will take over the place for a little while before it goes to make room for a breezeway of all things. Mischievous by nature, this spirit, like Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, appears for only a moment, and meaning no harm to anyone, plays a few pranks before disappearing again. For 90 days the space will be called the Hobgoblin Playhouse, a pop-up theater if you will, and become a venue for the Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Photo by Theresa Stroll

Jenn and Greg Crafts, a couple who call themselves Fringe Junkies and enjoy a solid reputation within the festival's community, created The Hobgoblin Playhouse after persistently and patiently pestering City of Los Angeles officials to give them the space. They both speak passionately about the project, frequently completing each others sentences and thoughts, evidence of a true partnership. They will be out by June 26, just a few days after the Festival ends.

"We've heard different things about when it will be gone," Jenn says. It certainly won't be the day after the Crafts leave the space, it possibly will still be around this time next year. But the city has made it clear – the space will definitely be demolished.

"There are pros and con to this," Jenn says. "It is very sad to lose a historical theater like that, and they are gutting it to make a walkway to parking garage, which is horrifying. But they are promising to put another blackbox theater near the space"--and if they do, the Crafts will make a strong pitch that they should be the ones running it.

"We're hoping our experience in helping and empowering other artists will make us a strong candidate for managing the property," Greg says.

Jenn was up late one night doing research when she thought of the name. "I was trying to think of a name that would go with that this space is a temporary venue, that it will disappear eventually," she says. She began looking for some mythical creature and serendipitously discovered that Hobgoblins are almost exactly the definition of what she was looking for: mischievous spirits that like creating chaos, but unlike poltergeists, are essentially good.

Jenn knew right away that she wanted the name – even if she approached Greg a little tentatively at first, like "hey, this might sound a little dorky, but what do you think of calling the space The Hobgoblin?"

Greg loved the idea, but being a huge Dungeons and Dragons geek, he thought of a Hobgoblin as an evil creature armed with a javelin that can only be defeated with the roll of an eight-sided die. He was even more convinced after Jennifer made him aware of the mythical history of Hobgoblins.

They may continue to use the name for other temporary venues they create, or perhaps if they manage the space again for Fringe Festival 2019. It depends on when the city finalizes plans with the developer and tears it all down.

The Hobgoblin's location, according to Escott O. Norton of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, actually did not begin as a theater. The Hobgoblin was built originally as a store in 1916 and it is unclear exactly when it was converted. Evidently it is also not considered a "historic theater"- the closest is right next door.

The neighboring space was opened by Mr. P. Tabor as Hollywood's first movie theater in late 1910 or early 1911, according to the Los Angeles Theatres blog. It was called the Idle Hour. You could have bought the space in 1912 for $800--a deal that an advertisement of that time warned "You will have to come on a run to get this." It is now home to a store called Stage Hollywood, whose sign advertises flirty dance-wear and fantasy costumes.

Perhaps most famously, the Hobgoblin once housed the Paul G. Gleason Theater, named for its founder and artistic director. Gleason performed in television, film and theatre, but was as much known for his teaching as his acting. The Hollywood Blvd. location was mainstay of the Los Angeles theatre scene starting in the late 90's. It was used as a venue for the inaugural year of the Fringe Festival in 2010.

After the Gleason folded in 2012, the space was vacant for about a year. The Cupcake Theater rebuilt the space, originally booking improv and comedy shows, but later they became known for musicals that made up with verve for what they lacked in budget. The Cupcake eventually outgrew the space as their reputation and fan base grew. They were the last to use it before leaving in 2016 for a new studio in North Hollywood.

When the Crafts first saw the space, the theater was still in remarkably good condition. It was pretty dusty and needed a good cleaning, but the Crafts were shocked by how workable the space still was. All the seats were still there. Costumes and set pieces had been left in the backstage area, which alone is probably larger than many theaters in Los Angeles.

There is a long wooden bar behind which are book shelves stocked with antique books from the 1930's – one title is Best Monologues from 1890 to 1900. There are boxes underneath the bar stacked as high as three feet with textbooks and scripts.

Photo by Theresa Stroll

The front lobby is dominated by a painting of a pair blue eyes on pure white skin surrounded by a shock of red hair – a piece that wouldn't have seemed out of place in A Clockwork Orange. Two pianos are still in the space--a standup in the lobby and a Grand onstage in the theater, and there's a follow spot in the lobby.

They didn't get access to the space until just a few weeks ago--barely enough time to get the space ready before its first show last Sunday night. The Crafts have experienced this last year when they took over the Studio/Stage on Western, a former photo studio with a huge cyc background.

"There was a window that had been boarded up for years, and we were going to unboard the window at 10:30 on a Friday night cause we're stupid" Jen jokes, "but then we pulled down the first board and behind that there was fabric and styrofoam and wood--" and, Greg says, "fluff and layers of black mold." Studio/Stage was in worse condition than the Hobgoblin when the Crafts took it over early last year – there were no risers and the lobby was a mess – but nonetheless they had it finished in time for the Fringe Festival in June.

When the Crafts took over the Studio/Stage space last year, Greg says, "There were a few nights when I slept there, because we were working really late, and since we maybe had rental coming in the early a.m., I said fuck it and wouldn't go home – I wouldn't want to do that at the Hobgoblin." Hollywood Boulevard can be a crazy place on the weekend, and he says there was something a little "ghosty" about the theater when they first moved in. Maybe a spirit or two is lurking in the space, but so far, they haven't revealed themselves.

After a year running that space, they feel "supremely confident" as Jenn puts it, that they can manage a second Fringe venue – in fact, their eventual goal is to operate at least five under 99-seat houses within five years. Difficulties arise, but the Crafts take the perspective that any problem can be overcome – if you hustle hard enough to solve it.

Photo by Evan Lorenzetti

The Hobgoblin is a simpler space than Studio/Stage, and lighter tech-wise, but still robust enough that people can get up on stage and tell their stories.

"There are definitely going to be some surprises at the Hobgoblin that we hadn't thought of, but we will figure it out. It's going to be fine." Jenn says. The Crafts, who jokingly suggest they might start a show called Theatre Rescue instead of Bar Rescue, have had no trouble booking the Hobgoblin. In the anything goes spirit of the Fringe, they've booked several productions with people they've never met who haven't seen the space in person.

Upcoming Fringe productions at the Hobgoblin include several solo shows, at least two Harry Potter parodies, and in what sounds like a work of pure genius, Cthulhu the Musicalbased on the work of H.P. Lovecraft and performed entirely with puppets. Another show, a "theatrical jazz-rock fusion" called Love Takes a Stand, boasts a three-piece band and backup singers – and will undoubtedly put that grand piano to use.

Photo by Evan Lorenzetti

It all goes along with the Fringe ethic, a non-curated event where anything goes and people are encouraged to put up that strange idea they've always thought about, be it an offbeat cabaret piece or a movie mashup musical just for the sheer sake of doing it. Experimentation is far more important than slick professionalism.

"What I like about Fringe is that you're not going to see a polished production of Henry V or Streetcar--" says Greg – and Jenn interjects, saying, "I don't want to see that at Fringe, If I saw someone doing Henry V at Fringe, I'd say what are you doing?--"But" Gregory continues, "I love watching people develop new stuff and have plays take their first steps at the Fringe before going on to bigger venues elsewhere."

Photo by Evan Lorenzetti

Maybe some established theatre groups are wary of the Fringe because it kills off so much of June, Greg theorizes, but you can either hate it or embrace it. The connections the Crafts have made at the Fringe are like a supportive family to them.

There are so many artists in Los Angeles possessed by the desire to create works, and that can happen almost anywhere, whether in an old photo studio on Western or an abandoned blackbox theatre on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The Hobgoblin Playhouse may appear again when we least expect it in a space as yet undiscovered. Or it may disappear and leave us to wonder if we'll ever see anything like it again.