JOAN OF ART: The L.A. Art Show, A Poignant and Important Musical, Sneakers Everyone and The Constitution

There are a lot of super fun things happening this weekend in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas starting with the L.A. Art Show.

The L.A. Art Show continues to lead the way with innovative and one of a kind experiences for an expanding audience. The show is the unparalleled international art experience with over 120 galleries from more than 20 countries exhibiting painting, sculpture, works on paper, installation, photography, fashion, design, video, and performance.

More than 200,000 square feet of exhibition space is committed to today's prominent galleries. I've been going to this event for the last 20 years and I'm never disappointed. Besides great people watching, the eclectic art displayed here is some of the best.

The show takes place at the Los Angeles Convention Center at 1201 South Figueroa Street in Downtown LA, 90015. It runs from February 5th through the 9th. Hours are 11am-5pm. For more information and tickets go to LAArtShow.com.

As you know I absolutely love musical theatre and one of my favorite shows Ragtime (which I've seen twice) is back in Southern California at The Carpenter Performing Arts Center February 7th through the 23rd in honor of Black History Month.

This five time Tony Award Winning musical is based on E. I. Doctorow's acclaimed novel which tells the story of three families trying to find their way during the turn of the 20th century in New York City. Each family is struggling with the changing cultural climate in America and each facing the promise of hope and new beginnings in the midst of prejudice and bigotry.

Tony Award winning playwright Terrence McNally wrote the book and features a score filled with memorable songs. The music is haunting and memorable. If you see one musical this year, I highly recommend Ragtime.

For tickets go to Musical.org or call (562) 56-1999. The Carpenter Performing Arts Center is located at 6200 East Atherton Street in Long Beach 90815. It's definitely worth the trip.

Now if you're a fan of sneakers and think of it as art, then SNEAKERTOPIA; SNEAKER AND STREET ART EXHIBIT is the place to be this weekend.

Sneakertopia is the new massive sneaker and street art exhibit, transporting you through a series of immersive, mind-blowing galleries celebrating the art and culture of sneakers. This is a story of creativity, expression, and innovation.

You will witness the sneaker's epic ascension through sports, music, film, fashion, and fantasy.

There will be a 15,000 square foot indoor playground packed with priceless kicks, oversized sights and sounds and interactive street art masterpieces.

SNEAKERTOPIA takes place Friday February 7th through March 1st at 6081 Center Drive, Suite 222, Los Angeles 90045. For tickets go to Sneakertopia.com or call (323) 546-5950.

Lastly there is a powerful, important, and extremely moving play at the Mark Taper. The play is called What The Constitution Means To Me and this is a definite 'must see.'

In fact every man, woman, and mature teenager should see it. At a time when the Constitution is being assailed by those who have sworn an oath to defend it, this buoyant and often stirring civics lesson is the theatrical curriculum Americans desperately need now.

Actress Maria Dizzia brings to life the maddening, mournful history of how women's bodies have been abused by laws and the male dominated courts imperiously interpreting them. And don't worry about the play getting too heavy. It is infused with humor...lots of it.

For tickets to this extraordinary theatrical event go to CenterTheatreGroup.org. The Mark Taper is located at 135 Grand Avenue in Downtown LA, 90012. The show runs through February 28th.

Whatever you do this weekend people, have a great one.


THE BETTER LEMONS "I LOVE LA" CRITIC AWARD FOR 2019 GOES TO...

 PAUL MYRVOLD - Paul Myrvold's Theatre Notes

The "I Love LA" Award goes to the critic who did the most to promote LA Theatre in 2019.

Congratulations to Paul from all of us!

Paul Myrvold, has been writing theatre commentary for over thirty years, first in the Bay Area covering every kind of performance including plays, musicals, ballet, opera, circus, and even a Portuguese-style bull fight. He has written about theatrical performances at all levels in all kinds of venues from the premiere theatres, such as A.C.T., Berkeley Rep and TheatreWorks, to smaller, high quality venues such as San Jose Stage Company, City Lights Theatre Company, and Pacific Repertory Theatre in Carmel. He has also covered community theatre productions, college and university productions and, on occasion, high school productions.

Now residing in Southern California, Paul has been commenting on shows throughout Los Angeles County and has stretched his beat to Orange County and South Coast Repertory.

An Equity actor for over forty years, Paul played Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum in San Jose Stage Company’s award winning production of The Three Penny Opera and the dual roles of Sir Walter Elliot and Admiral Croft in the world premiere of Jane Austen’s Persuasion also at San Jose Stage Company. He earned a Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award for “Outstanding Performance” in the supporting roles of J. V. “Major” Bouvier and Dr. Norman Vincent Peale in the musical Grey Gardens at TheatreWorks (2008). In the summer of 2018, he appeared in the highly acclaimed Open Fist Theatre production of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood as Reverend Jenkins and Narrator. Paul has performed on Broadway (most notably in the hit show Shenandoah with John Cullum), off Broadway, off-off Broadway, in regional theatres, summer stock and as a Guest Artist at colleges and universities from coast to coast. He has performed his signature role Cervantes/Quixote in Man of La Mancha eight times over four decades, the latest of which was an intimate, theatre-in-the round production at Pacific Repertory Theatre. Some other favorite roles include King Lear, Fred Graham / Petruchio in Kiss Me, Kate, Trigorin in The Sea Gull, Fredrik Egerman in A Little Night Music and Caldwell B. Cladwell in Urinetown. Paul is never happier than when he is in the theatre, either on stage or in the audience, and he hopes to see you at intermission or after the show.

To view all of Paul's review excerpts, visit his 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 winner of the "Enlightenment" Award - the critic who did the most to inform and educate in 2019.

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 "DIRECTOR" CRITIC AWARD FOR 2019 GOES TO...

ERNEST KEARNEY - The TVolution

The "Director" Award goes to the critic who is most likely to write reviews that inform the artists.

Congratulations to Ernest from all of us!

Ernest Kearney is an award-winning L.A. playwright and rabble-rouser of note. He has worked as literary manager or as dramaturge for among others The Hudson Theater Guild, Nova Diem and the Odyssey Ensemble Theatre, where he still serves on the play selection committee. He has been the recipient of two Dramalogue Awards and a finalist or semi-finalist three times in the Julie Harris Playwriting Competition. His play Peddle was selected by the Midwest Theatre Network as one of the best plays of 1997. His most recent work 'The Salt Prince' was awarded honors from the Nathan Miller History Play Contest as well as the Fremont Center Theatre Play Contest. A passionate theatre and history buff, Mr. Kearney's reviews can be found on WorkingAuthor.com and TheTVolution.com.

To view all of Ernest's review excerpts, visit his 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.

On Monday we will announce the winner of the "Up Late" Award - the award that goes to the most prolific critic in 2019.

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 "SILVER TONGUE" CRITIC AWARD FOR 2019 GOES TO...

VANESSA CATE - Stage Raw

The "Silver Tongue" Award goes to the most persuasive critic, capable of enticing anyone into a theatre seat.

Congratulations to Vanessa from all of us!

Vanessa Cate is the Assigning Editor for Stage Raw and former Editor-in-Chief for @thisstage.la. Vanessa is a performance artist, writer, and jack of all trades, and they can be found on stage, in strange audiences, and in interesting situations. Vanessa Cate’s passion for theatre and reverence for fantasy blinds them to how to best live a normal life. Apart from their work with Stage Raw since its inception, Vanessa is the Founder and Artistic Director of the feminist performance-coven known as TheatreWitch, as well as the fantasy dance group Cabaret le Fey. Vanessa performs, writes, directs, and generally creates however and whenever they can.

To view all of Vanessa's review excerpts, visit their 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 winner of the "Director" Award - the most persuasive critic, capable of enticing anyone into a theatre seat.

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 "SAY WHAT?" CRITIC AWARD FOR 2019 GOES TO...

LORENZO MARCHESSI - The Geek Authority

The "Say What?" Award goes to the most provocative critic.

Congratulations to Lorenzo from all of us!

Lorenzo Marchessi is a Chicago born transplant to Southern California who has several degrees in Theatre, Film, Radio, Television, Business and Communications and has worked both on stage and on camera before working directly behind the scenes for stage and screen. Directing over 50 theatrical shows like Annie, A View From The Bridge, and Noises Off for the stage, he has written and produced over 100 shorts, TV spots, and at live entertainment venues. The one thing he has done the most is writing. With stage play, teleplay and screenplay writing credits behind him has received most acclaim and Critics Choice awarded (twice in Illinois as well as Iowa and CA) and has been reviewing since his college days. Currently the owner/President of The Geek Authority which reviews, interviews, does live video feeds and photo expose's at more that 50 conventions a year that feature Fantasy / Sci-Fi / Anime / Comics / TV / Films / Products / Music / Toys / Celebrities / Pop Culture related events. Also, Lorenzo is constantly reviewing over 150 theatrical events (plays. concerts, opera, live entertainment) a year all over Southern CA, AZ and NV. The Geek Authority is now over 10 years old and has expanded with correspondents all over the country.

To view all of Lorenzo's review excerpts, visit his 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 winner of the "Silver Tongue" Award - the most persuasive critic, capable of enticing anyone into a theatre seat.

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 "Name Dropper" CRITIC AWARD FOR 2019 GOES TO...

JILL WEINLEIN from Onstage Blog

"Name Dropper" Award goes to the critic who is most likely to review the big shows in the big theatres with the big names and the big budgets.

Congratulations to Jill from all of us!

Jill Weinlein graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Theater Arts. Her training gave her an understanding and appreciation for the writing, directing, acting and the technical team. Besides reviewing community and big Broadway shows, she lives in Los Angeles and writes restaurant reviews for the Beverly Press and Park LaBrea News. Her reviews can be viewed on dineandtravel.me.

To view all of Jill'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 winner of the "Say What?" Award - the most provocative critic.

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


The Better Lemons "Fomenter of Revolution" Critic Award for 2019 Goes To...

ED RAMPELL from Hollywood Progressive

The "Fomenter of Revolution" Award goes to the Critic who is most likely to stir a conversation about theater, politics, and social justice.

Congratulations to Ed from all of us at Better Lemons!

Ed Rampell is an L.A.-based full-time freelance writer and author. He majored in Cinema at Manhattan’s Hunter College. After graduating, Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, reporting on the nuclear free and independent Pacific and Hawaiian Sovereignty movements for: ABC News’ “20/20,” Reuters, AP, Radio Australia, Radio New Zealand, NewsWeek, Honolulu Weekly, etc. In 1999 Rampell relocated to L.A. and contributed to: “The Finger” column for New Times L.A., Variety, Written By, The Nation, L.A. Times, L.A. Daily News, Financial Times, New York Press, Guardian, The Progressive, Sierra Magazine, Earth Island Journal, Washington Post, The Forward, In These Times, AlterNet, DestinAsian, etc. Rampell currently covers L.A.’s arts scene for: HollywoodProgressive.com, Jesther Entertainment, People’s World, etc.

Rampell co-authored “Conversations with W.S. Merwin” and the film histories: “Made In Paradise, Hollywood’s Films of Hawaii and the South Seas,” “Pearl Harbor in the Movies, and “The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.” Rampell is solo author of the 2005 book “Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States.” Rampell appears in the 2005 Australian documentary “Hula Girls, Imagining Paradise.”

To view all of Ed's review excerpts visit his 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 winner of the "Name Dropper" Award - the critic most likely to review the big shows in the big theatres with the big names and the big budgets.


Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar – January 20 - 26, 2020


Theatrical, One-Person, Musicals, and Comedy shows, Music, Dance, Cabaret, and Theatre Festivals registered on the Better Lemons calendar!

For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.


HAIR

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Michael Griffiths - In Vogue: Songs by Madonna

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gUnTOPIA

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Wild at Hart

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It's Only A Play

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Michael Griffiths - Cole: A Tribute to Cole Porter

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34th Annual Robby Awards

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Linda Purl and Her Big Band Romance - at the Catalina Bar & Grill

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Linda Purl and Her Big Band Romance - at Martinis Above Fourth

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I Decided I'm Fine: A Roach Play

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Glass Ceilings

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Five Pieces of Paper: Stories My Hungarian Grandmother Refused to Tell Me & Other Family Tales

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THE $5 SHAKESPEARE COMPANY

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Enerjoyce...Evolution of a Pisces Baby Boomer

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Lying with Badgers

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It Shoulda Been You

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Solofest 2020

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IN MY MIND'S EYE

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LADY DAY AT EMERSON'S BAR & GRILL

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Rorschach Fest

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Dada Divas

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West Adams

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Jane Austin's Emma

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Life in Boobs

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Vote for your Favorite Critic of 2019

LA's Theatre Critics are an integral part of LA Theatre and now it's our turn to recognize them with the Better Lemons Critic Awards.

There are nine categories for the Better Lemons Critic Awards that you can vote for:

"I LOVE LA" Award - the critic who did the most to promote LA Theatre in 2019

"Up Late" Award - the most prolific critic in 2019

"Say What?" Award - the most provocative critic

"Enlightenment" Award - the critic who does the most to inform and educate

"Name Dropper" Award - the critic most likely to review the big shows in the big theatres with the big names and the big budgets

"Theatre Hound" Award - the critic most likely to review the hidden gems, off the beaten path, those with short runs and small budgets

"Silver Tongue" Award - the most persuasive critic, capable of enticing anyone into a theatre seat

"Director" Award - the critic who is most likely to write reviews that inform the artists

and the

"Fomenter of Revolution" Award - the critic most likely to stir a conversation about theater, politics, and social justice

Click here to vote!

If you'd like to know more about the critics, go to Better-Lemons.com/registered-critics.

Better Lemons has two groups of Critics: those who have registered with us and those who have not.

Those who are registered with us, we call Registered Critics. These Registered Critics post their own review excerpt to production pages that are registered on Better Lemons. They also give each production a Sweet, Sweet and Sour, or Sour LemonMeter rating. (We don't send out critics to review shows, so please contact the critics directly via their publication if you need a reviewer!)

Critics who have not registered with us, post their reviews online and those reviews get submitted to us by the publicists, directors, or producers of shows that are registered on our site.  The Better Lemons team also finds reviews, and then selects the pull-quote, determines the Sweet, Sweet and Sour, or Sour LemonMeter rating, and links to the original source of the review.

We appreciate and celebrate the work of all Critics, but are especially grateful for the Critics that have registered with us! Their review excerpts and LemonMeter ratings are published as soon as they submit it (their submission doesn't need to wait to be approved).

These Registered Critics ensure that the productions are getting a LemonMeter rating quickly and that their submission reflects their own opinion, not that of a publicist, producer, or a Better Lemons team member.

We appreciate these Registered Critics and we’d like to thank them, each and every one of them.

To celebrate these Critics, we are having our first Annual Top Critics Award, where our readers will be able to vote for their favorite Critic from our list of Registered Critics.

Please look at the profile pages of each Registered Critic, read their reviews if you are not familiar with them, and place your votes on the form below by 10pm on Wednesday, January 22nd.


Audio Interview: Cathy Rigby and the cast of "Grumpy Old Men" AT THE LA MIRADA THEATRE

Fasten your seat belt, it’s going to be a grumpy ride! TV legend & Tony winner HAL LINDEN, the beloved CATHY RIGBY and Broadway’s KEN PAGE star in this new musical-comedy based on the classic 1993 film starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Ann-Margret.  Two aging neighbors, Max and John, have been feuding for more than 50 years until the beautiful and charming Ariel moves in across the street — raising the rivalry to new heights.  Don’t miss this laugh-out-loud story of family, friendship, love and romance in a fresh new musical that’s guaranteed to delight!*

Enjoy this interview with Cathy Rigby and the cast of “Grumpy Old Men at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, playing through Oct 13th. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here.

*taken from the website


"MEET THE PUBLICISTS" PANEL PODCAST

Better Lemons and Theatre West hosted “Meet the Publicists” featuring several of LA's premier publicists for a panel discussion of theatre publicity, marketing, and promotion.

The following publicists were on the panel:

Tim Choy (Davidson & Choy Publicity)
DAVIDSON & CHOY PUBLICITY (Press Representatives) resume includes the original Evita through The Book of Mormon and stints with American Ballet Theatre and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Clients include Actor's Gang, Broad Stage, El Capitan Theatre, Ford Theatres, Hollywood Bowl, Lythgoe Pantos, Pasadena Playhouse, Segerstrom Center, Shakespeare Center LA, The Soraya, and Walt Disney Imagineering.

Lucy Pollak (Lucy Pollak Public Relations)
Lucy Pollak has been providing publicity services to the Los Angeles arts community for the past 27 years for companies including 24th STreet Theatre, Antaeus Theatre Company, The Echo Theater Company, Fountain Theatre, International City Theatre, L.A. Theatre Works, Latino Theater Company at the LATC, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Padua Playwrights, Theatre Planners, Will Geer's Theatricum Botanicum; numerous independent theater and dance productions; and large events and festivals such as the annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration at The Music Center.

From 1981 to 1990, she was production manager/staff producer at the Odyssey Theatre, where she co-produced over 100 productions with artistic director Ron Sossi.

She is the recipient of a Los Angeles Drama Critic's Circle Award (Master Class), an LA Weekly Award (Mary Barnes), four Drama-Logue Awards (Mary Barnes, Idioglossia, Accidental Death of An Anarchist, It's A Girl!), and a Women in Theatre Recognition Award. She has served on the boards of directors of the Los Angeles Theatre Alliance (now L.A. Stage Alliance), Women in Theatre and P.A.T.H. (Performing Arts Theatre for the Handicapped).

Philip Sokoloff
PHILIP SOKOLOFF has been a publicist for 24 years. He represents over 100 live attractions and several dozen feature films annually. His long-term clients include Theatre 40, Edgemar Center for the Arts, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Robey Theatre Company, Arena Cinelounge, Dean Productions and more.He is a member of the Public Relations Society of America. He has also produced for stage and television and has been an actor for 49 years.

Lynn Tejada (Green Galactic)
For 25 years, Green Galactic Founder Lynn Tejada has been the go-to publicist in Los Angeles for alternative art and culture producers, representing clients on a local, regional, national, and international scale. Since 1994, her promotions and client-base has included music of all sorts, theatre, art, film, dance, and more.

Tejada is also drawn to helping charities and nonprofit clients – she currently sits on the board of Linda Carmella Sibio's Bezerk Productions, Dance Camera West and on the advisory board of Lauren Segal's Give A Beat. She is also on the Honorary Board of Flea's Silverlake Conservatory of Music and sat on the board of humanitarian nonprofit NextAid for many years.


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:


Steven Sabel's Twist on the Trade: Social Theatre

I’ve never been big on social theatre. Not that I don’t think that theatre can and sometimes should make people think, but I’m a classicist who believes in subtlety. No one ever changed their mind about much of anything by being hit over the head, or force fed with a message. The best way to affect social change through performance is doing a show containing those “ah-ha” moments that strike audience members on their drive home from the theater. The classic masters were – well – masters at this.

Aristophanes sent a message of peace to his fellow Athenians, while highlighting the power of the feminine force through humorous metaphor with his “Lysistrata” without losing its entertainment value by drilling home his message to the populace.

Shakespeare was able to make his point about anti-Semitism by giving Shylock his famous speech, wrapped inside a mostly comic play he knew would appeal to his audience. In fact he almost pandered to their views, and then sort of snuck his message in under the radar. He does this equally well in tragic terms with “Othello,” adding another layer of subtlety by making “the savage Moor” the most eloquent and intelligent speaker in the play, perhaps the entire canon.

Sophocles used a dressing of anti-tyranny for his fellow democratic Athenians to sneak in his messages regarding loyalty to a higher power and the bonds of family over government and society when he wrote “Antigone.” Jean Anouilh used the classic Greek tragedy 2,385 years later to sneak those messages past the Nazi regime in occupied France.

Moliere used his comedies to take stabs at hypocrites of all sorts, and though he was regularly condemned by the religious, political, and medical profession leaders of his time because his attacks hit them too close to home, he was popular with the public who consumed his works with fervor. He wrote 31 of the 85 plays performed at the theatre in the Palais-Royal in Paris over a 14 year period. In today’s modern French, a tartuffe is a hypocrite, and a harpagon is a greedy miser – names of two of Moliere’s most famous characters that have now become part of the French lexicon. How’s that for making an impact?

Too many of today’s playwrights lack the creative subtlety to send their social message to an unsuspecting audience. Instead they write directly to the audience they already have. They preach to the choir. This does not affect any social change. It convinces no one of anything. It merely creates an echo chamber of like-minded people congratulating themselves and each other for sharing the same view – often a tunnel vision view. There is nothing clever about that, and thus not very interesting. It may have some entertainment value, but it isn’t opening new minds to new points of view. If anything, it only pushes potential new audiences away. In essence, a hammer head message accomplishes the exact opposite of what social theatre should be aimed at doing – opening the message to new minds through subtlety.

Much of today’s social theatre is a result of social theatre, in that a group of like-minded friends get together and say: “let’s put on a play!” The play is their social outlet, not unlike a bowling league or softball team. Rehearsals become a place to hang out with friends, and performances become not much more than a precursor to socializing at a local bar or house party. The audience is composed of friends and family members like the backyard productions we used to put on for our parents as kids. Any social message contained in the material actually takes a back seat to the true intent of the gathering: maintaining a social calendar for the participants. It’s a “play” date for grown-ups.

Benedict Knitterbatch

All of that is fine indeed. As I mentioned, some people join bowling leagues, others join softball teams. Some people form book clubs, knitting circles, and model airplane societies. We are social animals, and we like to surround ourselves with like-minded people who share our same interests. The difference is in the professed intent. I’ve never heard of a knitting circle with a “mission” to affect social change through the scarves and beanies they create.

On occasion, the casual hobbyist can turn their past time into some extra dollars. I know several people who place their creations on Etsy, E-bay, or other sites to make a little money by sharing their artistic hobby with others. Unlike actors, very few of these people profess to be aspiring to a career in their chosen social outlet or hobby. People who knit just aren’t that pretentious. Either that, or they have a keener sense of their own realities.

If you are an actor, it is time to examine your reality. Is your social theatre truly reaching the unenlightened masses? Is your social theatre just social theatre, filling your nights and weekends with play dates - or are you truly working toward that career by doing projects that either increase your aptitude, strengthen your skills, advance your professional network, or get you seen by a greater audience?

Have fun. It’s called a play for a reason. But if you’re just playing around with friends, then call it what it is, and build a career doing something else. No subtlety here.