Lights Change: A Conversation with Writer Jacqueline Wright

About 10 years ago when I was an intern-turned-associate literary manager at Ensemble Studio Theatre/Los Angeles, I encountered the brilliant dramaturgical mind of Jacqueline Wright. What excites me about her work is that she is a writer and performer who constantly expands our minds as witnesses of the art-making experience. For her, like me, audiences are not just passive consumers of creative work - they are collaborators and, as collaborators, we writers make them work: we don't always tell stories that are linear, cause and effect, character psychology driven, - you name the normative convention often on view in the mainstream. Jacqueline's background in experimentalism makes her a nimble dramatist who weaves into and out of narrative structures, point of views, modalities of storytelling, and genres.

This is no exception in her provocative work Driving Wilde, currently playing at Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood. I caught the piece and engaged in a hearty conversation with Jacqueline afterwards amongst the seats which were just filled with enthusiastic patrons of the show. If you listen closely, you'll hear and feel the verve of the audience that exited the theatre a few moments prior, indubitably changed, challenged, and expanded by the experience they just received during Driving Wilde.

I would be remiss not to give you the tools to see this show yourself, for it is a must see. More information is available at TheatreOfNote.com

And now, Lights Change with my buddy Jacqueline and me:


Voices from the Fringe: Lucy Gillespie, Writer of ‘Son of a Bitch'

Another piece making its world premiere at the Fringe is Son of a Bitch, the story of the controversial political strategist Lee Atwater. It was written by Lucy Gillespie, playwright of last year’s Keeping Up with the Prozorovs, and directed by Billy Ray Brewton, who helmed last year’s A Beast/A Burden at the Fringe.

Ms. Gillespie took some time from her busy Fringe schedule to talk to Better Lemons about the new show.

Better Lemons: What was the inspiration for Son of a Bitch?
Lucy Gillespie: Lee Atwater is an awesome character. I wanted to work with Billy Ray Brewton, and this was right up his alley. Also, it's a fun writing challenge to condense all that history/spin into plot.

BL: As a native Brit, what did you find intriguing about the story of Atwater, one of the most polarizing political figures of our time? Why tell his story now?
LG: Though I grew up in the UK, my mother is from Chicago, and she raised us to self-identify as American. This was confusing and alienating for me as a teenager living in London in the early 2000's, where the last thing you wanted to be was American.

When 9/11 happened, my friends all cut school to protest "Americanization.” They burned effigies of President Bush in the streets. I was often called upon to explain or apologize for the atrocities of my people. Looking back, I think that's a big part of what led me to leave the UK at 18. I felt unwanted, like I had to pick a side.

I first learned about Lee Atwater in 2008, when I was living in Chicago after college. Between the devastation of the financial crisis and the upswell of hope from the Obama campaign, the air was very charged. I saw a documentary about Lee, became obsessed, and read every book I could find. I think I felt like that was whom I needed to channel and become in order to survive in America. I wrote a play about him, The Atwater Campaign, which went on to become an O'Neill Finalist, effectively starting my career as a playwright.

Politics is a perennial topic — and especially now. A lot of folks are asking how we got here. The answer is, largely, Lee Atwater.

But he was a much more complex, charismatic, compelling human than the demonized bogeyman/genius the liberal and right wing media make him out to be.

BL: How do you hope audiences will react to the piece — on both sides of the political spectrum?
LG: It's interesting because you assume — or I did — that a bunch of theater people in LA will all be ultra-liberal, preaching to the choir. Between the cast and crew, we actually represent a wide political spectrum. So much so that we had to put the kibosh on talking politics after some workshop readings got heated...

Our intention is to show Lee Atwater as a man, and how his personality catalyzed a dramatic shift within the Republican party, and subsequently American politics. We have no interest in theater that's dogmatic or preachy. We want everyone, regardless of political stripe, to laugh, lean in and learn.

Left to right: Billy Ray Brewton (director), Corsica Wilson (Gladys), Chloe Dworkin (Cass), Lucy Gillespie (Playwright)

BL: Tell us a bit about your collaboration with the director, another Fringe veteran, Billy Ray Brewton. How did you work together on the piece? 
LG: I saw Billy Ray's A Beast/A Burden last year, thought it was hysterical and brilliant, and knew I wanted to work with him. Though The Atwater Campaign was an O'Neill Finalist, it had never been produced, so I'd been sort of roaming the earth looking for a home for it ever since. In August 2018, I sent that script to Billy Ray — a Southern boy like Lee — and he signed on immediately. We chatted about story/character/cast/production throughout the year, and then I rewrote the entire script for him before rehearsals started.

It's been an equally scary and thrilling ride. There were definitely moments in April where I wanted to cut and run, never to be heard from again. In theory, I love to devise and workshop; in practice you need a foundation of trust to give in to the process. My baseline is neurotic, and Billy Ray is so chill. It took me a minute to realize that's because he trusts me, and he's not worried. That helped me relax and go with the flow.

Now we're rehearsing, and I'm in awe of him and the actors. He has such a quick, brilliant mind for orchestration. It's a master class watching him zoom in to the tiny details, then zoom out to the big picture. I'm super excited to share this with the world.

Ben Hethcoat (Lee Atwater), and Luke Forbes (George "W" Bush)

BL: Is there humor in this show?
LG: For sure. I'd describe the tone as political satire.

BL: Tell us about the performers and how they came to be cast in their roles.
LG: The cast is a mixture of Prozorovs and Burdens. Ben Hethcoat, who played Chris Burden last year, is reviving his 70s hairstyle for Lee Atwater. Corsica Wilson, playing Gladys, is also a Burden alum. On the Prozorovs side, we have Chloe Dworkin — who you may recall as the pregnant, constipated Olga - playing Cass. Luke Forbes, who played the Kanye-esque Demetrion, is now a young George W Bush.

Rounding out the cast are David McElwee (writer/director of Rory and the Devil, also in Fringe), who is bffs with Ben from college, and Dennis Gersten, who saved all of our asses by signing on at the last minute as George H W Bush.

BL: What makes Son of a Bitch a good fit for the Hollywood Fringe?
LG: It's bold and funny, fast-paced and hard-hitting. We work hard, but we don't take ourselves too seriously.

BL: What brings you back to the Fringe again this year?
LG: Last year was so much fun. Between the show rehearsals, our tight and loving Chekhovian-Kardashian cast family, the wider network of Fringers, and all the great theater we saw, it was just a blast. I spend the rest of the year writing screenplays and pitches, which is lonely and somewhat more creatively constricting, so I've been counting down the days. No joke, I hit up Billy Ray about this project in August.

BL: Since the Fringe is an environment of collaboration, what other shows are you interested in seeing?
LG: Rory and the Devil (of course)
Public Domain: The Musical
Treason
The Duchess and the Stripper
If We Run
Sex with Strangers
Raised by Wolves


Son of a Bitch plays June 6 (preview) through June 29 at the Broadwater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. Find show times and make reservations on the Fringe site.


Producers of the Capezio A.C.E. Awards 'Break the Floor' Bring 'MOVES at The Montalbán' in a Three Day Festival of Dance

Break the Floor Productions, longtime producer of the Capezio A.C.E. Awards, in partnership with The Montalbán, brings MOVES at The Montalbán, a three-day festival celebrating emerging talent in dance, to Los Angeles, Friday, March 15 – Sunday, March 17, 2019.

The dance festival offers audiences the chance to see new talent in the world of choreography and dance. The inaugural festival's three-day engagement inside the historic theatre will host engaging, world-premiere live dance performances inside the historic theatre.

After each performance, audiences can gain access to an exclusive Rooftop After Party featuring talent from the show and more live dancing.

The festival will feature all styles of dance, with pre and post-show entertainment, during the entire weekend.

According to a statement, MOVES at The Montalbán will feature a line-up to include "winners of the coveted Capezio A.C.E Award for outstanding choreography"--awards presented each year to the top choreographers of the future." The festival with include performances by recent Capezio A.C.E Award winners Entity Contemporary Dance Company, co-directed by Marissa Osato and Will Johnston, tap company Rhythmatic, directed by Nick Young, and contemporary choreographer Lukas McFarlane. The festival will also feature veteran choreographers of various backgrounds providing attendees a body of work and teachings from a variety of disciplines.

Will Johnston by Mike Esperanza.

“We wanted to create a dance festival here, in Los Angeles, for years and we're thrilled that the recent winners of the Capezio A.C.E. Awards will be able to show off their talents to all of the dance fans in LA," said Nikole Vallins, a producer with Break the Floor Productions in a statement. "Presenting this festival at the iconic Montalbán Theatre in Hollywood just adds to the amazing opportunity for these outstanding choreographers and dancers.”Led by owner Gil Stroming, Break the Floor Production is a dance entertainment company with a reach of over 500,000 dancers annually. The company has produced tours of Travis Wall's Shaping Sound shows "Dance Reimagined" and "After the Curtain," and this summer Al Blackstone's "Freddie Falls in Love" will be performed for New York audiences at the Joyce Theater.

Founded by Nick Young, Rhythmatic recently appeared on the NBC hit competition show "World of Dance." Since then,  Young and his dancers have performed in Bermuda, Los Angeles, and San Diego.

Los Angeles-based Entity Contemporary Dance, founded in 2009 by choreographers Will Johnston, Marissa Osato, and Elm Pizarro, "interweaves modern, jazz, and hip-hop dance techniques" with a desire to "forge connections between the Southern California hip-hop and contemporary dance communities." The Company has produced two full-length works, "Braxon vs. Oregon" (2014/2015) and "PEEL" (2016/2017), which ran in Los Angeles, and toured San Francisco, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Locally, they hold open company class every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Hollywood.

25-year-old Creative/Choreographer Lukas McFarlane, from Canada, was crowned the UK and Ireland's best dance act, winning Sky1's hit TV show, "Got to Dance" in 2013 at just 19. Now assistant creative director to Brian Friedman on "The X Factor," he is also a choreographer on the show. He's choreographed for the BBC's "Strictly Come Dancing," ITV's "The Voice UK" and "Change Your Tune.," and has worked on "So You Think You Can Dance" in four countries, including here in the U.S.  and is a teacher and Creative Director of his London-based dance company UnTitled Dance Company.

Located just south of the world-famous Hollywood & Vine intersection, The Montalbán is Hollywood's classic theatre reborn for a new era of performing arts, and screened entertainment. In 1999, Emmy Award-winning actor Ricardo Montalbán and his Foundation bought the building in 1999, with a goal to provide "inspiration and employment for young Latinos as well as other underrepresented people throughout the community," in Hollywood. Since 1927, the classic Beaux Arts building was the first "legitimate live Broadway-style theater in Hollywood" and is one of the few remaining mid-sized and fully equipped proscenium theaters in Los Angeles, featuring orchestra, mezzanine, loge, and balcony seating. The rooftop space, with a bar, concession stand, and full kitchen, hosts contemporary and classic films screened throughout the year. Once owned by Howard Hughes, CBS Radio, A&P grocery chain heir Huntington Hartford, and the Greek Theater's James Doolittle, The Montalbán is now under the direction of Montalbán's son-in-law Gilbert Smith.

MOVES at The Montalbán is located at 1615 Vine Street, Hollywood, CA 90028. Tickets are $40/$65 nightly, and festival passes are available for $80/$120 (general admission/VIP packages), Friday, March 15 - Sunday, March 17, 2019. For more information or for tickets, please contact the box office at 323-461-6999 or visit MOVES at The Montalbán.

PODCAST: An Interview with Playwright Steven Vlasak of 'Nights at the Algonquin Round Table'

Local screenwriter and playwright, Steven Vlasak, premiered his Encore Award-winning play "Nights at the Algonquin Round Table" at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2017.
The play opened at the Three Clubs bar and cabaret in Hollywood, a theatre perfect and appropriate in its speakeasy-themed cabaret and bar space, which earned it a "Double Sweet" LemonMeter rating on Better Lemons.
Since then, the show has been picked up by the Studio Player's producers in Lexington, Kentucky, where the show is due to open soon in January next year.
In this interview, at Oeno Vino Wines, Vlasak talks on writing, prohibition, the Roaring Twenties, women's liberation and early sexual revolution, as well as on his very favorite subject–Dorothy Parker and the famous journalists and notorious "wise-cracking" writers of her "vicious circle," Robert Benchley, Franklin Pierce Adams, Alexander Woollcott, and George S. Kaufman, and their luncheons at New York's legendary Algonquin Hotel.
For more information on Steven Vlasak and "Nights at the Algonquin Round Table", its history and its future, visit Algonquinwits on Facebook.
"Nights at the Algonquin Round Table" by Steven Vlasak opens in Lexington, Kentucky, at The Carriage House, January 10, 2019, and plays January 13-27, 2019.  The Carriage House Theatre is located at 154 W. Bell Ct. and tickets for these shows are available through their ticketing agency.

For more podcasts like these visit Better Lemons on Soundcloud.


Now registered this week on the Better Lemons Calendar August 20 to September 2, 2018

NEW! Shows and film festivals that have registered on the Better Lemons calendar. For more shows visit our Calendar. For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.
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Visit our Wakelet for more stories.


"Take Your Broken Heart, Make It Into Art."

My heart is broken and I need some healing!

As January 20th approaches, I'm afraid that the world is coming to an end. It feels like I'm waiting for doomsday to happen, while trying to pretend in front of my boys that life is the best thing ever and every day is the “bestest day ever” as my son, Sydney (5 years), likes to say.

November 7th seems to have put me in a black hole. I have been avoiding friends and people in general. Even at my son's school I have not been able to talk to people much and I've avoided running into people. If I see someone I know, I say a quick “hi” and usually I quickly turn my attention back to my boys. They are a great distraction!

If I talk to anyone, I have to make a concentrated effort to say something positive and if I can't, I talk about the weather. Thankfully we have that now to talk about which also is a great distraction. If I don't focus on the positive, I'm afraid that I will crack and start to cry and fall apart.

I've been searching for inspiration online. Articles about why the wig-man might be a good president fail to inspire me or lift me up. The petitions I'm signing daily seem pointless (though I keep on signing). Calling the White House or my representatives is depressing because people either hang up on me, or the tell me to call someone else, or they connect me to a black hole.

I have avoided social media because it's full of bad news. Some people are outraged, some post articles that are not legitimate, and a lot of people share more and more petitions.

My email inbox has been getting little attention as well. I get emails about great deals on something that I don't need. Emails to sign more petitions. Harassing emails from the Democratic Party to fill out survey after survey and “Why don't I respond. Do I not care about the election?”

And as I'm trying to avoid everything, this past week finally inspiration found me when a friend of mine, Leonora Gershman Pitts, posted in her timeline in response to Meryl Streep's Golden Globe speech. Leonora is is a graduate of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She works as an actress and filmmaker, serves as a City Commissioner for the City of LA, and is the co-founder of the Los Angeles Women's Film Collective. She is married, has two kids and two dogs and she lives in LA. Her post is very well articulated and call to action to artists. I needed this! I needed her post to finally be inspired to do something! To not sit at home and dwell on what is happening but to get up and inspire others around me with my art.

I want to talk about Meryl, about bubbles, about cities, and about makers.

The reaction from Conservative Twitter and our own President-Elect after Meryl Streep's speech at the Golden Globes was swift and predictable. After she called on us to access and nurture our collective empathy, to protect and challenge our free press, and to continue to create create create, the Right called the rest of us “elitists”, said that actors should stick to acting, that we West and East Coasters live in a bubble.

First, let's quickly recognize and then release the irony of this relatively small group of Americans decrying the idea that actors/performers/entertainers should hold political opinions and say them out loud; this is the same group of people who worship Reagan, wanted to change the Constitution to allow Schwarzenegger to run for president, and just put a reality show blowhard idiot in the White House.

Secondly, don't come at me with this idea that Trump wasn't mocking the disabled reporter, which seems to be a common right-wing response on Twitter. Own that you voted for the guy who made fun of someone's disability. Own it. You know full and well he was, there is no other excuse. Also, if you think asking people to choose empathy over bullying is political, examine your life and make some changes, I beg you, for the betterment of our fragile world.

On to the generalization that Hollywood, or the coasts, or cities, or any diverse area is stuck in a liberal “bubble”. I live in the second largest city in the United States. Before I lived here, I lived in the largest city in the United States. Before that, I lived in a small city in a vast but tiny-populated state. So, I have a little experience with white, rural America, and a little experience with diverse, urban America.

Here in Los Angeles, my family and I are surrounded by immigrants, transplants, and homegrown Angelinos of every imaginable ethnicity, class, race, and religion. My kid goes to public school, so we have seen first hand how a group of racially, ethnically, socio-economically, academically, and behaviorally diverse little people can come together and immediately form a little society. My white kid is a minority at her school. This isn't a bubble. It couldn't possibly be - we are all so very very different from one another.

Just because our experiences are diverse and co-existing humans has led us to be more collectively progressive in our views doesn't mean we live in a bubble. It means, as they say, that the arc of human thought and action bends toward progress. Always has. The more we work to get through each day together in a large city, the more we realize that we are all in this together, that we need to exist and protect and align with one another: that's progressivism in a nutshell. We co-exist in this city, sharing our experiences, our ideas, our troubles, our triumphs. We come together when we know someone is in need, we create micro-communities within our communities, we know each other's names. That's not a bubble.

A bubble is being surrounded by people who look and think exactly like you. That's a bubble. If you lack the intellectual curiosity to suss out the difference between fake news and real news - and then just automatically doubt the reporting of the real news, you're in a bubble. If you have convinced yourself that a man who uses the kind of bullying, hurtful language that our president-elect uses, is worthy of our higher office: bubble. Bubble. Bubble. If you think his cowardly and cruel heart is somehow honorable, bubble. Awful bubble.

To Hollywood, specifically, being an “elitist” bubble, I invite any of you to please come visit a set. Nearly every single person on that set belongs to a union. Nearly every single person, save maybe the very biggest stars (who have earned their money and acclaim are shouldn't be excluded from the conversation just because they happened to succeed) are working- and middle-class. Electricians, grips, sound designers, hair and makeup artists, PAs, most actors, costume designers, editors, line producers, location managers, camera ops, DPs, casting directors, set dressers and designers -- most of us are just independent contractors working from job to job. Union workers, just like a mason or a police officer or a plumber.

Lastly, to the point that Meryl should shut up, that actors / entertainers / performers / makers / creators / artists shouldn't speak about politics or current affairs - this might be the point that pisses me off the most. The entire reason art exists, in every single form, is to illuminate, explore, dissect, and attempt to explain the human experience. Since the dawn of man, since people could speak, artists - STORYTELLERS - have helped us understand ourselves. When a movie makes you cry or a TV show makes you laugh or a painting has taken your breath away or a piece of writing has made you blink in disbelief at its beauty or a song has given you goosies from head to toe - even if it is escapist art - it is because some part of you recognizes yourself within the art. Maybe not even you, personally, but yourself as a member of the human race.

Actors, creators, artists, we are all just storytellers. It's our one job. Art is inherently political, and it always, always, always has been. So to the people on the right who want us to shut up, nice try. We've never been able to shut up - it's precisely why we, even the shyest among us, became artists in the first place. So, as we say in California: yeah, no. We aren't shutting up. We're turning up, now more than ever. Make your own shit if you don't like it. Dare ya.

Artists: let's get to work. It's annoying them. That means it's working.

If you feel like I felt the past few months, I hope you will find inspiration to create art. Don't wait for others to invite you to create. Start on your own. And if you are inspired to create something, let us know what it is. We would love to hear it.

As for me, neighbors, inspired by my edible forest front yard, came over today. I gave them a tour of our garden and told them how we are harvesting and storing water with Hügels and ditches, with drought tolerant plants and native flowers. I showed them what vegetables and herbs we have planted and how we are protecting our plants from the scorching sun with arches and plants that will grow in during spring. They are inspired to have a garden like ours and I offered to help.

This will be the year for me where I can put my knowledge and pass it on and who knows, maybe these next four years I will work toward transforming our neighborhood into a sustainable community.