COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: International City Theatre and COVID-19 - An Interview with Caryn Desai


A talented and successful director with awards and nominations from LA Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly, Drama-Logue, Robby, Ovation, and NAACP, Caryn Desai is also the artistic director / producer for International City Theatre (ICT) in Long Beach. She has extensive experience in acting, directing, producing, and administration, as well as a certificate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Other certificates in arts administration, marketing, and fundraising prepared her for running a successful non-profit organization dealing with arts and education. For over 20 years, she taught college classes at Long Beach City College and received the Distinguished Alumni Award. In 2018, Caryn was named Distinguished Alumna from the College of the Arts at California State University, Long Beach. She was recently named “Enterprising Woman in the Arts” in Long Beach. Clearly, Caryn is a busy woman who likes to get things done. She took time from her busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


J. Thomas Miller, Hunter Berecochea, Josey Montana McCoy, Marisa Matthews, and Trevor Shor in "Life Could Be a Dream" (2018) - Photo by Tracey Roman

When and how did the International City Theatre first form? Were you involved from the beginning? 

Caryn Desai:  International City Theatre (ICT) started in 1985 on the campus of Long Beach City College under the 99-seat plan. The theater was founded by Shashin Desai, who was chair of the theater, film, and dance department at the time. I have been involved from the beginning - but not officially until 1990, when I became general manager. Shashin retired ten years ago, and the Board unanimously named me to lead. I’m now the artistic director and producer of ICT; in my free time, I also do some directing. In 1996, with the encouragement of then-Mayor Beverly O’Neill, ICT moved downtown to the beautiful Long Beach Performing Arts Center. We work with Actors Equity Association under the small professional theater contract.  Everyone is paid, both artists and crew. I’m proud to say that 2020 marks ICT’s thirty-fifth anniversary.

Lexi Ainsworth, Neil Larson, Angelo Custino, and Drew Carr in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (2002) - Photo by Shashin Desai

What are some of the most popular plays you've done? How about awards? 

CD: Over the years, ICT has received more than 400 professional awards including the LA Drama Critics Circle award for sustained excellence. In 2015, we also received the LADCC award for outstanding season. We have had many plays which were real people-pleasers. Some of ICT’s most popular plays have included Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, and Life Could be a Dream. Both are from ICT’s 2019 season and broke 34 years of presale records.  Prior to 2019, some of our most popular shows included Backward in High Heels, To Kill a Mockingbird, Swinging on a Star, and Dinah Was. We try to select productions which are entertaining, intellectually stimulating, and fun.

Stephan Terry and Karole Foreman in "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill"

When did you close the theater due to COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run? 

CD: ICT was lucky enough to complete the run of our thirty-fifth anniversary season opener on March 8. ICT runs on a calendar year, so that was our first show of the season. Our offices were forced to close with little notice on Friday, March 13, along with everyone else in the County. The next show we planned, Daisy, was a California premiere we selected for its relevance and importance in this election year. We were supposed to start rehearsal April 7.  We’ve moved Daisy to the next slot for a June opening and bumped another show to our 2021 season.

Anna Aimee White as Ginger Rogers and Matt Bauer as Fred Astaire in "Backwards in High Heels" (2010) - Photo by Shashin Desai

How has COVID-19 impacted on your theater? 

CD: To date, ICT is facing lost revenue from one cancelled show so far. We don’t know if there will be future cancellations, and we don’t know how many patrons will want a refund. Right now, it’s hard to predict the impact this will have on season renewals. This is especially disheartening, since subscriptions are our bread and butter and have been up over the last six years.

ICT also has a very active and strong commitment to education. We have six programs for every demographic from age 4 to 104. Most programs are free, including a popular in-school program for third graders which I created at the request of the school district based on my 20 years as a college instructor. That program makes about 480 classroom visits annually. On the other end of the spectrum, ICT runs a Senior Program which provides tickets and transportation to low income seniors to keep them mentally and socially engaged. These are two of our six programs providing access, education, and inspiration to our community. This is a loss for our students, our community, and our teaching artists.

Sybyl Walker, Yvette Freeman as Dinah Washington, and Paul Avedisian in "Dinah Was" (2004) - Photo by Shashin Desai

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Are you streaming? Do you have virtual meetings? Are you planning for your next show when the theater can reopen?

CD: ICT has reached out to the union for some flexibility in allowing possible streaming, and obviously affordability is an issue. We’re having discussions with teaching artists, and we may be able to have virtual classes for our Summer Youth Conservatory - or even our school programs. Currently, all meetings with the executive committee and the board are virtual. The staff is working remotely and communicate mostly by email and phone. The Daisy cast did a virtual read-through on their own. This is a challenging time for all of us, what with our poor artists and audiences isolated from each other and from the work that feeds our souls, brings us together, and helps us understand our shared humanity and the world in which we live. It’s painful for those of us who value and understand the importance of live theatre.

What do you think the impact of COVID-19 will be on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you foresee any permanent changes? 

CD:  I have to remain hopeful that this pause will motivate those who have the capacity to ensure the future of this most human art form to take action. It would be sad to see this battle we are in with a horrific virus win by losing a voice from any of our many diverse companies and artists.

What do you need right now to keep going forward? What would you like from the Theater public? 

CD: Right now, I need to stay strong, hold my small team together, and find a way through this. I hope the theatre public will stand by ICT and provide the support needed to survive and grow. That would be a victory over this foe and something to celebrate — the spirit, strength, passion, and commitment to art! That feels like America to me!

What are some of your future plans?

CD: ICT has a strategic plan outlining goals for the next three years, including greater investment and further development of this art form, increasing earned revenue, growth of our education programs, and ensuring accessibility to professional theatre for all. This was certainly not how we planned to celebrate our current milestone. ICT’s little team in the office has a motto:  “It’s never easy, but it’s important.”  We never anticipated it would be this hard!  Here’s to better days. Onward!


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



THE BETTER LEMONS "ENLIGHTENMENT" CRITIC AWARD FOR 2019 GOES TO...

DEBORAH KLUGMAN - Stage Raw

The "Enlightenment" Award goes to the critic who does the most to inform and educate.

Congratulations to Deborah from all of us!

Deborah Klugman has been writing for alternative media in Los Angeles since 1987 when she began writing theater reviews for the LA Reader. She was a theater critic for the LA  Weekly from 1995 through 2013. She has also reviewed film, books, and food for various publications, along with articles on social and political issues. She joined the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle in 2013. She also posts for ArtsBeatLA.com

To view all of Deborah's review excerpts, visit her Better Lemons page HERE.

To view all the Registered Critics on Better Lemons who post their own review excerpts and give each show a LemonMeter rating, go to Better-Lemons.com/Registered-Critics.

All Registered Critics write theater and art reviews for their own publications and then rate registered shows on our website and add their LemonMeter rating. Please contact them through their own website to congratulate them and to get them to review your production.

Tomorrow we will announce the last winner for 2019, which will be the "Critic of the Year" Award.

THE BETTER LEMONS "FOMENTER OF REVOLUTION" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Ed Rampell from Hollywood Progressive.

THE BETTER LEMONS "NAME DROPPER" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Jill Weinlein from Onstage Blog.

THE BETTER LEMONS "SAY WHAT" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Lorenzo Marchessi from The Geek Authority.

THE BETTER LEMONS "SILVER TONGUE" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Vanessa Cate from Stage Raw.

THE BETTER LEMONS "DIRECTOR" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Ernest Kearney from TheTVolution.

THE BETTER LEMONS "UP LATE" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Eric Gordon from People's World.

THE BETTER LEMONS "THEATRE HOUND" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Shari Barrett from Broadway World.

THE BETTER LEMONS "I LOVE LA" CRITIC AWARD for 2019 went to Paul Myrvold from Paul Myrvold Theatre Notes.


'Pasadena Playhouse' Announces New Director of Development

Photo by Jackie Ortiz
NANCY GRIFFITH BAXTER

The Pasadena Playhouse has announced that Nancy Griffith Baxter is their new Director of Development, bringing with her more than 30 years of fundraising and wealth management experience.

Previously as Director of Gift Planning at LA Opera, legacy gift contribution revenue increased nine-fold during Baxter's time at the organization. Prior to the LA Opera, she was also recruited by her alma mater, Colorado College, to serve as Director of Gift Planning, pulling the program out of dormancy and growing its Legacy Society significantly towards raising over $15 million during the 2015-2016 fiscal year in new future gifts.

With a master's in Finance from Claremont Graduate University and a bachelor's in Political Science - International Relations at Colorado College, she's also an award-winning one-time Senior V.P. and Senior Philanthropic Investment Manager at Wells Fargo where she oversaw the investment team that brought and influenced $18 billion in charitable assets. With it, Baxter is looking forward to working with her new team at Pasadena's landmark and official State Theater of California.

“It's an honor to work with a dynamic leadership team at an institution with the amazing history and impact that [the] Pasadena Playhouse has had on both the local and national entertainment industry, including theater, film, and television,” said Baxter in a statement. “I look forward to working with the community to ensure the longevity of this amazing theater for another 100 years.”

In addition to coaching and building wealth teams around the US to attract and expand philanthropic business opportunities and clients, recruiting and managing investment management, and developing investment strategies for endowments, deferred gift programs, and private foundations, “a lover of the arts” Baxter also brings with her extensive and continued volunteerism in the performing arts. She has served as a board member with the Colburn School, as well as with LA Opera, Shakespeare Festival/LA (now Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles), Young & Healthy, the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Institute, and Woman's Educational Society of Colorado College.

In 1937, the Pasadena Playhouse was “officially recognized as the State Theater of California for its contribution and commitment to the dramatic arts”. Pasadena Playhouse recently hosted the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards where it recognized excellence in Los Angeles theatre and it continues its own tradition of excellence under Producing Artistic Director Danny Feldman.

"I am thrilled to welcome Nancy to the leadership team as we continue to take the Playhouse in a new and exciting direction,” said Feldman. “I know her wealth of energy and experience will be invaluable to us in garnering support from the Pasadena community and beyond.”

Featured Photo by Freed14, used via Creative Commons permissions, Wikipedia. The Pasadena Playhouse - State Theatre of California.


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.


L.A.Drama Critics Circle to Celebrate Its 50th Annual Awards Show in 2019

2019 will bring Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) into its 50th year with a new season of Los Angeles theatre, and with it a new Board.
The 2019 Circle's board now includes President Terry Morgan of Stage Raw and Talkin Broadway, Vice President Jonas Schwartz of TheaterMania and ArtsInLA, Treasurer Hoyt Hilsman of The Huffington Post, Co-Secretaries Erin Conley of On Stage & Screen and Jenny Lower of Stage Raw, and Web Content Editor Ellen Dostal of BroadwayWorld Los Angeles and Musicals In LA.
The LADCC will celebrate its 50th Annual Awards Show in 2019 to honor excellence in Los Angeles theater, with nominees, venue, and date of the ceremony to be announced soon.
Founded in 1969, The LADCC currently includes 20 critics who cover productions across Greater Los Angeles and the awards show it typically in the latter part of January.
The LADCC and greater theatre community are still feeling the recent loss of member and longtime theater and arts critic, Shirle Gottlieb, in 2018. Gottlieb was a member of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle "since 1999," according to the site.
Stay tuned for more announcements the LADCC 50th Annual Awards Show in 2019 here and on Better Lemons Twitter and Instagram social media @betterlemons, as well as LA Drama Critics @LADramaCC.