Spotlight Series: Meet Michael Mullen, An Award-Winning Costume Designer and Actor


This Spotlight focuses on Michael Mullen, an award-winning and always busy costume designer, writer and actor who often steps onstage in a variety of roles, both male and female.


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

Michael Mullen (MM): I’m a costume designer, actor, and writer who lives in Hollywood with my dog Choo Choo. I’ve worked in the L.A. theatre scene for many years now, and have received several awards and nominations for my work both onstage and off from such organizations as Ovation, L.A. Drama Critics Circle, L.A. Weekly, N.A.A.C.P., Scenie, Stage Raw, Robby, Broadway World, Ticket Holder, Eddon, and Desert Theatre League. I hope to keep working and doing what I love for many years to come, and I’m very happy to be a part of L.A.’s wonderful theatre community.

(SB): I know you are always busy costuming shows around town, so what production(s) were you involved with when word went out that those shows had to be closed or postponed?  

(MM): I was involved with a few shows when this whole Coronavirus pandemic started directly affecting theatre.  I costume designed Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party at Morgan-Wixson Theatre (directed by my good friend Kristin Towers-Rowles) which was slated to open March 14th. I was at the theatre for final dress rehearsal on March 12th and the show was in great shape and ready for an audience. After the performance was over, Michael Heimos, the President of Morgan-Wixson’s board, came onto the stage to address the audience, cast, and crew to announce the run of the show was being postponed until later when it would be deemed safe to do theatre again. Everyone involved with the show was very sad over this news, but we all knew that this was the necessary and safe decision to make.

That night, the cast and crew stayed in the theatre and had an impromptu pizza Karaoke party to console each other that went on until the wee hours of the morning. Kristin (our director) organized a nice dinner for all the cast and crew at a restaurant called The Upper West for Friday, March 13th - which would’ve been our first and only preview performance. It was a lovely night of yummy food, drinks, and bonding. And now everything is on hold.

Michael Mullen in “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Crown City Theatre

Across town, I had a production of Romeo and Juliet (directed by Dana Martin) and All’s Well That End’s Well (directed by Nike Doukas) at a school called Art of Acting that had both just opened on March 11th. These two productions (which I costume designed) were both great, but unfortunately had to close early due to the Coronavirus situation as well. Everyone involved was sad of course, but understood why that decision had to be made.

That same weekend, I had In My Mind’s Eye (which I costume designed) close at Group Rep Theatre, but the production was scheduled to close that particular weekend anyway as it had come to the end of its scheduled run. The show was directed by Bruce Kimmel and written by Group Rep’s Artistic Director, Doug Haverty. It was sad to see the show end, but at least it was able to complete its full run before everything started shutting down.

(SB): You mentioned about the way in which The Wild Party cast and crew found out about the postponement. But what about the other productions at Art of Acting?

Michael Mullen in “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at Secret Rose. Photo credit: Chris Greenwell

(MM): As I recall, the cast of the two shows at Art of Acting were notified by email from the School Director, Johnny Yoder. I personally learned that the Art of Acting shows were closing early when I went to the school on March 12th during the afternoon to deal with some costume repairs for both productions. It was sad to receive all of this news about all three shows which I had costumed that were opening in mid-March. My heart broke, especially for all of the actors.

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

(MM): The plan for The Wild Party is for it to open and have a run later this year when it is safe to do so. Everyone involved is very happy about that and I think audiences will love the show since it’s fun, sexy, and very entertaining.  It’s weird to think that the set, props, costumes, wigs, and lights are all just sitting there in the theatre like a ghost light waiting to be used, but they will all get their glory and chance to shine eventually!

Romeo And Juliet and All’s Well That Ends Well at Art of Acting are sadly done for good. They were truly deserving of much longer runs.

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

(MM): I was costume designing several other productions that were supposed to open over the next few months, but unfortunately all have been cancelled and/or postponed until later (yet to be decided) dates when it is safe to do theatre again. Among these projects are A Little Night Music with Knot Free Productions, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner with Ruskin Group, Imogene at Parson’s Nose, Art Of Acting’s productions of Distracted, Our Lady Of 121st Street, and Landscape Of The Body, and Love’s Labour’s Lost with Shakespeare By The Sea, as well as a few Hollywood Fringe shows. It has been announced that The Hollywood Fringe Festival (which was scheduled to happen in June 2020) is tentatively postponed until the month of October this fall. My 19-week-long costume design class at A Place Called Home has also been cancelled due to the building closing down until further notice.

(SB): That was quite a packed schedule!  I don’t know how you manage to work on so many shows at the same time and do them all so well. So for now, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

Michael Mullen and Choo Choo

(MM): I’m teaching acting/improv classes for kids on Zoom now, reading plays, following the news, Facebooking, talking with family and friends on the phone, watching a lot of T.V. and film, hanging out with my dog Choo Choo, and eating A LOT! And since the Hollywood Fringe Festival is now postponed until the fall, I’ve decided to try and write a play or at least find one to produce and act in myself. I mean, why not, right?! And masks! I should be making masks for people to wear! Bedazzled themed masks would be fun, huh?

(SB): Absolutely!

(MM): It’s tough to be alone and not see people because I’m a social person, but I’ll be okay. We’ll all get through this tough time, and I can’t wait to hug everyone when this Coronavirus nightmare is over.

I just want to remind all my fellow theatre folk that we are all in this together and that we will all be making theatre again when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, it’s important for all of us to stay healthy and safe, practice social distancing, get plenty of rest, and wash our damn hands!  It’s also important for us all to connect with each other and reach out if we get lonely. I’m here for anyone who wants to talk.  And I guess people are starting to do play readings on Zoom! I think that’s great! I encourage doing that for sure! Zoom Zoom, baby!

What I’m looking forward to the most, after this Coronavirus nightmare is over, is the resurgence of theatre across the world and especially here in Los Angeles. Theatre makes the world a better place. ❤️ Much love, everyone.

(SB) I am on the same page with you and can’t wait to get back to reviewing shows. #TheatreInspires


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Kristin Towers-Rowles - Award-Winning Director, Triple-Threat Actress, and Granddaughter of Screen Legend 'Kathryn Grayson'


Today I spotlight Kristin Towers-Rowles, an Award-Winning Director, Triple-Threat Actress, and Granddaughter of Screen Legend Kathryn Grayson.


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

Kristin Towers-Rowles (KTR): I am a born and raised LA Arts girl, and grew up in and around the Theatre and Film industry. Some families have Law Practices, Accounting Firms, Car Dealerships—my entire family is a Performing Arts family who has made their living for generations because of Film, TV, and Theatre.

My grandmother was MGM leading lady Kathryn Grayson, who starred in over 20 musicals in the Golden Age of Hollywood. (“Kiss Me, Kate,” “Showboat,” “Anchors Away.”) She also took over for Julie Andrews as Guinevere in "Camelot" on Broadway, and played the role on the 1st National Tour. My Grandfather, Johnny Johnston, starred in movies (“Rock Around The Clock,” “Unchained”), was a recording artist, and was on Broadway in “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.” My father, Robert Towers, starred in “The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button” and has played hundreds of character roles in Film, TV, and Theatre.

After attending Hollywood High Performing Arts, I went to AMDA in NYC and trained as an actress, singer, and dancer. Even after moving back to LA from NYC to focus on Film and TV. I never stopped doing theatre; in fact, it was truly all I cared about. Not only was it what I loved most but it was also where I found my chosen family. I was very active in L.A. theatre but also did 7 national tours, worked almost an entire year at Sierra Rep in Northern California, worked in Asia, Europe, on Cruise Ships. I was truly living the dream! I had an apartment I saw a few times a year that was little more than an expensive closet. I would come home, re-pack and be off again.

After sustaining a life-altering back injury on tour in 2002, I stopped performing for 7 years, got married and had 3 children, now all accomplished young artists in their own right. Since returning back to work as an actress, singer, and director in 2009, I have been very fortunate to be onstage playing incredible roles in musicals and straight plays. Since then, I've been splitting my time onstage with also being a director at the helm of many award-winning productions, both musicals, and straight plays.

As a woman in a field still dominated by men, it has been wonderful to have the many opportunities I have had to be on stage as an actress and to direct, and have often been employed doing both at the same time. For me, the two go hand-in-hand since I'm a better actress because of my 360-perspective as a director. My understanding of direction comes from being an actress and knowing, first hand, what actors need to hear. And, quite frankly, rarely having had a director that has known how to communicate what they want and how to get me there, I try to be that director to the actors with whom I work.

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

(KTR): We had just finished an insanely difficult tech week for Andrew Lippa's "The Wild Party" at The Morgan-Wixson Theatre (MWT) in Santa Monica, which I directed. The entire production team, including Choreographer and Assistant Director, Michael Marchak, Musical Director, Daniel Koh, Stage Manager, Ryan Rowles, Producers Spencer Johnson, and Kristie Mattsson, and cast had been working ourselves sick to have a phenomenal show for opening night and we were more than ready. The show one of the toughest in the Contemporary Musical Theater canon and we had pulled no stops: gorgeous set design by Yelena Babinskaya, phenomenal lighting by Derek Jones, Jazz Age spectacular costumes by Ovation Award-winning Michael Mullen, Scenic Design by Orlando de la Paz, Props by Maggie Randolph, Intimacy Coordinator, Mia Schachter, a stage combat director, Amanda Newman–all designers new to the MWT–and we were excited our show was to be the flagship production for the new direction that theatre is moving in with more daring, broad, and diverse artistic choices. I have only directed one other show at The MWT before, "Company" in 2017, and was so elated to be back and entrusted with this rarely produced theatrical gem: a sexy, slick 20s musical for the 2020s. And everyone was ecstatic we would soon be opening.

(SB): How did you communicate the shutdown with your cast and production team?

(KTR): The President of the MWT Board, the wonderful Michael Heimos, along with a small group of invited friends and family, were present at our final dress rehearsal (for which we received a full standing ovation). Before that rehearsal, he chatted with our cast and team in a truthful and frank with us that the board was meeting that night to discuss the possibility of postponing the opening. This was March 12, [2020], and at this point, there was news every hour about new guidelines for public gatherings. Everything was changing all the time and the board wanted to make the correct call for everyone: the audiences, the cast, and in light of everyone's safety.

At intermission, he told me the board had decided to halt the opening. I sat through the 2nd act with tears streaming down my face, watching the beautiful work we had all created, and then watching the audience jump to their feet at the curtain call. I wanted the audience to understand what they had just witnessed so I asked the President of the board to come up and tell the cast and the audience the news of our being postponed as I felt it would be better if we all heard this together to be able to support each other. Of course, everyone was in tears, the cast, the team, the audience, since we all were heartbroken that this incredible piece of theatre would have to wait. But mixed with that heartbreak was the feeling of joy for what we had all just experienced.

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

(KTR): At this time, The MWT still plans on opening our show when the bans are all lifted and it is safe to do so. However, they have an entire season that will most likely need to shift so we have no idea what any of that will look like. It is surreal to think that our sets, costumes, lights, props--everything is just sitting there, frozen in time... waiting. Just like a Ghostlight awaiting our return to the stage.

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

(KTR): I was supposed to be directing the North Carolina and National Tour productions of "The Lost Virginity Tour (TLVT)," a play by Cricket Daniel. I directed the L.A. Premiere last year at the McCadden Theatre and it was picked up by Jeanie Linders, creator of "Menopause The Musical," and I was brought on to direct. I've been told the show’s tour will have to wait until at least November. I had turned down other acting and directing work to do "TLVT," but now that we are in this crisis, none of it would have happened anyway since all theaters are dark.

I'm still in shock. I wake up and it takes me hours sometimes to wrap my head around the devastation to my own work and the work of all my colleagues. All of us are out of work. All of our projects are shelved. Everyone I know is suffering a collective grief. And I know that everyone is out of work right now, no matter what field you are in. But the devastation to the Arts, a field that constantly has to beg for money to stay afloat as it normally is, is just absolutely unfathomable. I know that many theatres I've loved and called home are hanging on by a thread and some may not make it through this. It's just unbearable.

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

(KTR): I am not very savvy at Zoom or any of the online platforms but I have been happily supporting others. I'm part of an LA Arts Collective having virtual think tanks and meetings to figure out ways to get our work online. But in all honesty, I don't think theatre transfers well to being filmed and I don't enjoy the idea of taking something meant to be experienced live and reducing it to a flat-screen. Just my opinion.

That's where my grief really comes into play. My heart breaks because what we do, as performing artists and performing arts designers, is meant to be experienced in person, with others in attendance. It is a meeting of human beings all creating that moment together, either as the performer or as the audience member. It's symbiotic and that cannot happen watching something on a screen.

(SB):  What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the ghost light on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(KTR): As I said earlier, I was injured for seven years and was unable to work. It was hard, depressing, and felt like the end of the world. And then the seven years ended and I was back with my tribe; and for the last 11 years, I've been creating nonstop.

The LA Theatre Community has been through a lot and here we all are. We are the storytellers, the dreamers, the music makers, and the world is beige without the color we bring. We will get through this, and through our unique voices, we will be the ones to teach future generations about it. But in the meantime, stay safe, stay home, and wash your hands! Let's make this end so we can all be back doing what makes our hearts sing.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



The Winners at the 50th Annual 'LA Drama Critics Circle' Awards Ceremony Held at the Pasadena Playhouse

The 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards at the Pasadena Playhouse, Monday, April 8, 2019. (Photo by Better Lemons)

The LA Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) held their 50th Annual Awards ceremony at the landmark Pasadena Playhouse where Better Lemons was in attendance to live tweet the evening's festivities and entertainment, Monday, April 8, 2019.

Wenzel Jones presided over the festivities, and Christopher Raymond served as music director with musical performances by Kristin Towers Rowles, Constance Jewell Lopez, and Zachary Ford.

There were four recipients of the 2018 Production award: Cambodian Rock Band (South Coast Repertory), Come From Away (Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre), Cry It Out (Echo Theater Company), and Sell/Buy/Date (Geffen Playhouse / Los Angeles LGBT Center).

Better Lemons' Chief Operating Officer Stephen Box (Left,) Publisher Enci Box, and Playwright & Screenwriter Steven Vlasak at the 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards at the Pasadena Playhouse, Monday, April 8, 2019.

The Antaeus Theatre Company received the most awards, with three of its productions winning a combined seven trophies. Celebration Theatre's Cabaret took home six awards, the most awards for a single production, including one for Revival. Tom Hanks received a lead actor award for his performance as Falstaff in The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of Henry IV in a competitive category. 17 awards were presented in other categories with 17 productions taking home the honors.

In its inaugural this year, the Theater Angel award was presented to Yvonne Bell in recognition of her "long career devoted to fostering theater in Los Angeles ... [and] successful fundraising campaigns" to help open several cultural institutions, such as The Museum of Contemporary Art and the California Science Center.

Eight previously announced special awards were presented, including the Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence in theater to Sacred Fools Theater Company and the Ted Schmitt Award for the world premiere of an outstanding new play to Lauren Yee for Cambodian Rock Band.

The LADCC was established in 1969  “to foster and reward merit in the American Theater and encourage theater in Los Angeles,” the LADCC site quotes from an announcement in the L.A. Times of that year.

Here is the list of award recipients as announced during Better Lemons' live coverage on Twitter:

Featured photo by Enci Box - Theatre patrons in the courtyard of the Pasadena Playhouse for the 50th Annual LA Drama Critics Circle Awards, Pasadena, California, Monday, April 8, 2019. Enci Box contributed to this story and photos.