Spotlight Series: Meet Suzanne Mayes, a Native Angeleno Who Went from Future Astronaut to a Shining Star Onstage


This Spotlight focuses on Suzanne Mayes, who started out thinking she would pursue the stars as an astronaut and wound up shining onstage instead!


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

Suzanne Mayes (Suzanne): I am what many call a “Unicorn” in LA: a true native Angeleno.

(SB): I am also a native Angeleno, both born and raised here, and no one has ever called me “Unicorn.”  Not sure where that term came from as it must be new, but it certainly applies to me!

(Suzanne): It’s funny, because being a native Angeleno, I grew up in a city saturated by the industry, with kids who were child actors and the children of A-list celebrities, producers, and writers. But although I was active in school performances and loved singing (especially in choirs), pursuing acting as a career was the furthest thing from my mind.

I was a true Space Camp nerd who had dreams of becoming an astronaut. Interestingly enough – and perhaps the universe knew better than I did – I chose a college that was known for its sciences, but also, coincidentally, theatre: Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. During my freshman year while I was a Midshipman in the Navy ROTC program (I was a hardcore Top Gun fan, what can I say…), I auditioned for a Scotch’n’Soda student-run theatre group production of Into the Woods and was cast as Cinderella’s Stepmother. One show by Sondheim and that was it. I was hooked.

I eventually dropped out of ROTC and performed in every single Scotch’n’Soda musical production made while I was there. A quick fun fact about Scotch’n’Soda: their alumni include Stephen Schwartz, who penned and directed an early draft of Pippin while still a student there!) My junior year, I was lucky enough to study abroad in the south of France, and had the privilege to study Voice under the international opera star, Marion Sylvestre, and sing with the adult chorale at the prestigious National Music Conservatory of Avignon.

After graduating from CMU with double degrees in Professional Writing and French, I wanted another adventure overseas, so I took a position teaching English to kids in Taipei, Taiwan. Apparently, they noticed during our teachers’ orientation that I loved to perform and sing, and the English school I worked for hired me to be a host for a live TV show on TVBS (their version of NBC) as a sort of “edutainment” section of the show. I sang with a dancing pig I had to introduce as “my special friend, Perry the Pig” on every episode. It was campy, hilarious, and so much fun! A few months later, I accepted an opportunity to be part of a musical tour for the Disney World of English products and travelled all over Taiwan, performing in gorgeous 2,000 seat theatres for little kids. It was such a special time.

I came home to Los Angeles the next year and put my theatre and singing aside. For ten whole years I pursued another path in Hollywood – first working for literary agents, then in development on movies such as Coach Carter and Dreamer and on TV shows like One Tree Hill and What I Like About You before working for one of the major studios, Universal Pictures. Somewhere in that chunk of time, a few of my Scotch’n’Soda theatre friends from college moved out to LA and we had the brilliant idea to put together a musical again, like the old days, and I played the role of Sally Brown in Snoopy The Musical!!! which I also produced as a fundraiser for Downtown Dog Rescue. I am so proud that our production raised thousands of dollars for the animal rescue, and that “fun reunion” of mine made some real magic happen.

And of course, once back on stage, I was hooked again. Theatre has a way of doing that to you! I dove headfirst into a lot of local community theatre and 99-seat Equity shows, including two back-to-back productions of Gypsy (both Richard Israel’s LA Weekly-nominated run and then as Dainty June in Conejo Players’ production in Thousand Oaks), High Street’s Seussical as Gertrude McFuzz, and Oklahoma as Gertie at The Met Theatre.

I even got to work with one of my theatre idols, the fabulous Kay Cole (as in the original Chorus Line as Maggie) in a new musical called Reunion at the (now defunct) NoHo Arts Center Theatre.

I then joined The Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks as a Company Member and participated in several productions a year, including their Dead Pilots Society”for which I was nominated for a Valley Theatre Award for Best Supporting Actress in the pilot Under Andrea written and directed by Emmy-winners Ken Levine and David Isaacs (known for some little tv shows called M*A*S*H and Cheers.) My last full musical run was playing Sarah in Company at The Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica.

(SB): I remember that production and loved the way in which Kristin Towers-Rowles directed it. Here’s  my review from March 2017 about that stellar production.

And just last year, I joined Group Rep Theatre in North Hollywood. But I have taken some time most recently to focus on my TV career, so my stage performances lately have been mostly smaller readings and on- night shows. The theatre, though, has always been where I feed my soul and find my family, and it is heart-breaking to see the impact of this pandemic on our theatre community.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled?

(Suzanne): As a newer member of Group Rep (GRT), I had been dipping my feet into play readings and one-night cabaret style performances, but my focus during the early part of this year was on TV’s pilot season, which for me means a lot of co-star auditions. So, I wasn’t in any of GRT’s mainstage productions at the time everything shut down. However, they did have their closing weekend of their dramatic play, In My Mind’s Eye and I am so glad I was able to see that gem of a show before everything went dark. But the other productions that were just revving up for rehearsals are all in limbo now.

I was fortunate to see a dear friend’s wonderful production of The Wild Party at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre for their final tech rehearsal and I was there when the cast stood on stage for bows and their board of directors came out to tell them all the sad news that they would not be opening that weekend. My heart broke for every single one of them who had poured their hearts and souls into their show that was ready to open the next day. I truly hope that they get their run when things start up again.

(SB): I was scheduled to see that production on opening night. Now I am also looking forward to seeing it when it can finally be brought back to the Morgan-Wixson stage. But what future productions on your schedule were affected by the shutdown?

(Suzanne): I was really looking forward to auditioning for Group Rep’s Spring / Summer musical production of Applause which is a show that is so rarely performed and has such fun music. I know our board has been in discussions about reworking the schedule, and I think there is a chance Applause may be pushed into 2021’s season, but I don’t know. And it’s so difficult now because none of us know when things will be open again; and once they are, will people be willing to go to the theatre? Is it going to be even harder to sell seats to shows? Will people be afraid to sit in a theatre audience after all this? I know every business and industry is having to re-think and re-plan their business models, and I think the world needs live theatre. But I don’t know how it’s going to happen for the smaller theatres who are struggling right now to stay afloat.

(SB): I wonder about that as well.  As a theatre reviewer, I am not sure when I will feel safe about sitting in a crowded theater unless I can wear a mask and be at least 6’ from any other person.  But for a small house, that will really cut into their ticket sales if they have to abide by those spacing restrictions, as well as provide masks and hand sanitizer for all patrons. And will the actors have to perform with face masks on, which I guess could work if they are doing Greek plays. It’s so up in the air right now, and I am doing my best to stay hopeful. But I don’t see how small theaters will be able to survive - and it scares me too.

(Suzanne): I truly hope we can weather this storm.

(SB): But for now, like all of us survivors in the theatre world, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Suzanne): I have done a few of the self-taped auditions and monologue challenges being presented by several casting directors who are taking the time to get to know fresh faces, which I think is really cool. Also, a small group of talented ladies from my theatre company have been meeting almost weekly on Zoom to do private readings of plays. It’s been a fun way to reconnect and to look at material we weren’t previously familiar with that are female-driven, hoping we discover an amazing gem that we can present to the theatre company down the road for a future season’s production. And then there is my regular weekly acting class, which has shifted to Zoom, so I have been keeping up with that group as well to keep my craft in shape and stay ready for when things pick back up again.

(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?

(Suzanne): Stay home if you are non-essential and have the ability to do so, and wash your hands often. I think there is this huge pressure to be super uber-productive as an actor right now, but honestly, we are in a pandemic – this is *not* normal life. It’s okay to feel icky and not have the energy to do the self-tapes and so forth. They are there if you want those activities and are someone who needs constant projects, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking the time to do what is best for *you* and to care for yourself. Please, please go easy on yourself. And be kind. We can all be kinder to our neighbors. Check in on those who are struggling. Please reach out to a friend if you yourself are struggling. To steal Sondheim’s words, “You are not alone. No one is alone.”

I am including some links to donate to some local theatres close to my heart. If you are able to donate, it would greatly help them out:

Save NoHo Theatres

The Whitefire Theatre

Morgan Wixson Theatre

And it you like you can follow me on Twitter and on Instagram and my cat would also like you to follow her on Instagram at PirateTheKittyCat.

Lastly, I send out a special thank you to all of our First Responders – especially all those in healthcare and those who are making sure we have food in our supermarkets, and to all the parents and teachers out there who are home-schooling their kids on top of everything else -- you are all heroes!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Doug Mattingly, A Multi-Talented Actor, Singer, Director, Composer, Teacher and Sound Designer


This Spotlight focuses on multi-talented actor, singer, director, composer, teacher, and sound designer Doug Mattingly, most recently involved with the production of Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone at Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro.


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

Doug Mattingly (Doug): I'm a stage and screen actor and have performed in dozens of plays, features, shorts, commercials, and videos. I've trained at the University of Southern California as an undergraduate where I also appeared in several student films at the time, at Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC, and at Groundlings here in Los Angeles.

Doug Mattingly as Jack in Theresa Rebecks "Dead Accounts" at Little Fish Theatre

I recently won a Stage Scene LA Award for "Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy - Intimate Theatre" for my performance as Jack in Theresa Rebeck's Dead Accounts at Little Fish Theatre.

In addition to acting, I also work as a theatre sound designer. Most recently I designed sound for Sarah Ruhl's Dead Man's Cell Phone at Little Fish, directed by my wife Branda Lock.

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

Doug Mattingly as Jack in Theresa Rebeck's "Dead Accounts" at Little Fish Theatre

Doug: We had just completed our second weekend of four, of Dead Man's Cell Phone at Little Fish Theatre. I was able to see a design run of the show as well as tech week performances and opening night. My wife and I left for a trip to the Netherlands and Belgium the day after opening and were hoping to see a couple more performances upon returning. But unfortunately, the production closed just after we got back to the States. And given what has gone on since then, we were fortunate to get back when we did.

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

Doug: I believe the director was notified via email and phone the day prior to the email notice going out to the cast and designers, followed by a public announcement. There was talk initially of live streaming or filming the performance, but events unfolded quickly to where social distancing measures made that impossible.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

Doug Mattingly as Ekhart in "Key to Eternity"

(Doug): The broader question right now for many theaters, is if the theater will reopen at all. For now, Little Fish Theatre (LFT) is hosting a Virtual Stage where company members are posting various forms of content. Given my musical background as a performer, composer, and teacher, I've posted a video on songwriting which you can find at the above link. Other actors have posted comedy bits, short films, etc. There's even an ongoing web series happening with material from legendary television writer Ken Levine (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier), prolific playwright Rich Orloff, best-selling author Syrie James (The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen), and LFT Company Members. A full slate of live stream readings, an original web series, classes, and interviews are now available on Little Fish Theatre’s Virtual Stage website.

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

 

(Doug): As far as LFT is concerned, everything is up in the air. I also have some on-camera projects that are on hold. Another theatre company I am a member of, Infinite Jest Theatre Company, is working with the City of West Hollywood to mount readings and/or a production in September. As of now, plans are moving forward in the event that there is some return to normalcy by then.

(SB): I think everyone is hoping things return to normal as soon as possible. For now, how are you personally keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

Doug: I am an instructor at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Hollywood, a performing arts college that offers a Bachelor of Fine Arts as well as a two-year conservatory certificate, so I am (very fortunately) still working. I am teaching all my courses online for the remainder of the semester, so I am engaging with young artists in live one-on-one video settings and by making prerecorded lesson videos and posting documents in Google Classroom.

Doug Mattingly in "Spray It, Don't Say It"

I've also participated and will continue to participate in live online readings of screenplays and short theatrical plays. As a matter of fact, some actor friends and I are doing a reading of one of my feature screenplays on Sunday, April 26 at 4pm. We'll have an invited online audience as well! So that's a lot of fun! I will provide details for those interested in being part of the audience as the details become available.

I'll also be recording live solo music performances (I'm a guitarist and singer). My wife, who is a fantastic singer, and I have recorded a couple pieces as well and will be posting them in the coming days. I hope folks will check out Little Fish's Virtual Stage since there will be a lot of good material hitting there.

(SB): What 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?

(Doug): I will have moments of feeling normal: practicing guitar, working on a screenplay, reading a play, making dinner, watching a movie, preparing for a class I'm teaching, and then remember what's going on outside my front door. That has been unsettling. It's like holding the two ideas in your mind that one day we'll shuffle off this mortal coil, yet you have to do the laundry.

Doug Mattingly staying fit

It's tempting to think of this period as a "hold" or "pause" until we get back to real life. But for me, it's been important to remember that this IS real life. And so I've been doing my best to make the most of each day. I'm using the various video chat formats to keep in touch with friends and family and all that. I had a lockdowned birthday last week. I'll never forget that one, that's for sure.

As people all over the world shelter in place and stream hours and hours of movies and TV shows, creative people should be proud of the service we as a community are providing during this time. When folks watch a movie or TV show, they are enjoying the talents of actors, writers, set designers, directors, gaffers, cinematographers, composers, editors, makeup artists; not to mention the legions of drivers, caterers, accountants, agents, lawyers, union representatives who help make it all possible. We must always remember that artists are vital to our society and we need for all of us to go on creating.

(SB): You have so much going on. How can others stay in touch and/or find out more about you and your projects?

Doug: Folks can keep tabs on me here at my website, where I've recently updated my comedy and drama. And if you've watched all the Netflix, there are a few short films posted including the award winning "Grand Cru," I can also be found on Instagram as dougmattingly.

I'm also posting lots of videos on my YouTube channel. Half Life is a comedic drama about a 40ish struggling actor who returns to his hometown to settle the affairs of his estranged, overbearing father and to find a way to finally move into an adulthood that's been a long time coming. Anyone interested in being part of the audience for the reading of my screenplay Half Life can contact me through my website.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Actor Bill Wolski on the Ever-So-Fleeting Magic of Live Theatre


This morning as I was compiling my Spotlight Series on Bill Wolski and his equally talented wife Holly Baker Kreiswirth of Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro, Bill shared an amazingly wonderful description of the ever-so-fleeting magic of performing live theatre which brings a playwright’s scripts to life and often unites a cast as life-long friends.

His post centers on his first-hand experience in the Little Fish production of The Country House by Donald Margulies, which was directed by Holly and featured a talented cast of six, including Belinda Howell, Frannie Morrison, Richard Perloff, Maire-Rose Pike, Patrick Vest, and Bill Wolski. His post spoke so clearly to me that I immediately reached out to him, and have been given permission to share his words as a Spotlight Series today.


Bill Wolski: “As a younger, newer actor, closing night was a victory lap. I treated my final performance the way an athlete might treat the waning moments of a lopsided win, where the only thing between them and certain victory were the seconds ticking off the clock. I indulged in pranks, I luxuriated in the final utterance of a favorite line, I let my foot off the gas, I celebrated prematurely.

But as I matured, I learned that the best way to savor a final performance is to go out on top. Stay focused, do what you were trained to do, don’t bask in the spotlight. Don’t let up.

My thoughts take me back to The Country House, which closed one year ago today (in April 2019). I consider it to be my favorite role and my best work. Everyone did everything right in that show. Our director’s vision was bold and gentle, deep and clear. Our cast was talented and cohesive, both onstage and off. Our performances crackled with humor, sizzled with sexual tension, and hummed with vibrant life. Characters picked fights with each other. Deep feelings and long held grudges boiled to the surface and spilled over in full view as these beings struggled and pleaded for acknowledgment of their pain. Real tears of grief and heartache fell on the stage and in the audience alike. We were all-in, every night, and on the day we closed, I was melancholy that our time had come to an end.

The cast of The Country House at Little Fish Theatre: Back row, left to right: Richard Perloff, Patrick Vest, Bill Wolski. Front row, left to right, Maire-Rose Pike, Frannie Morrison, Belinda Howell. Photo credit: Mickey Elliot

But those emotions did not alter my performance. As much as I may have wanted to savor every line, beat, and look as I performed them for the last time, we still had an obligation to an audience full of people who were seeing the show for the first time. We also had an obligation to the script and its playwright, our director, each other, and frankly, ourselves. We had all put in so much work, and we had to see it through one last time. It had been such a beautiful experience; it would be criminal to diminish it now.

Every actor develops an ability to seemingly detach and step out of one’s body to take stock of a moment onstage and make objective evaluations. I relied on that gift to take in and bear witness to these final moments of The Country House as they were acted out. No line was hammed, no moment onstage languid, no scenery chewed. Like a driver winning his last race, I watched each urgent moment whiz by, wishing I could capture them forever, but hellbent on keeping the pedal to the floor and doing what I had come here to do.

And that was it. We crossed the finish line, and when the show ended, it disappeared. It wasn’t recorded for posterity or archival purposes, wasn’t preserved or immortalized in any way. It just...ceased to exist. As one of the characters in the show put it, it went “the way of all ephemera.”

But it was here. It existed. And it was our little band, our village, who brought it into being. And I loved it. And every single time we touched it, from the beginning of the first rehearsal to the end of the final performance, we did it justice.”

Holly Baker Kreiswirth

Holly Baker Kreiswirth: "Everything aligned in this show: words, actors, designers. I was incredibly lucky to have found the script while browsing through Samuel French, lucky again to have had it chosen for production by LFT, and then won the lottery with this cast and team that put their all into this love letter of a show. Thank you for all of your thoughtful talent — you make my heart happy."

Holly and Bill also want to share the latest news from Little Fish Theatre on their online Virtual Stage series:

Little Fish Theatre (LFT) is hosting a Virtual Stage where company members are posting various forms of content. Including musicals, songwriting, comedy bits, shorts films and more. There's even an ongoing web series happening with material from legendary television writer Ken Levine (M*A*S*H, Cheers, Frasier), prolific playwright Rich Orloff, best-selling author Syrie James (The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen). Holly and Bill invite you to join LFT Company Members and enjoy a full slate of live stream readings, an original web series, classes, and interviews which are now available on Little Fish Theatre’s Virtual Stage website:   LittleFishTheatre.org/pond/virtual


This article first appeared on Broadway World.