Spotlight Series: Meet Cate Caplin, A Multiple Award-Winning Producer, Director and Choreographer


This Spotlight focuses on Cate Caplin, a multiple award-winning producer, director and choreographer whose talents have ignited productions on television, in films, music videos, commercials, and in theatrical venues worldwide. But of course, her busy schedule was put on hold with the rest of the world, just as she was beginning to direct and choreograph a musical very close to her heart.

While I assume almost everyone in the LA Theatre community knows of Cate and her contributions to the Arts, for those not lucky enough to have worked with her before, I am first sharing a bit of her theatrical background.

Cate Caplin has been devoted to the Arts all of her life, having started her dance training at age 5. She trained with many inspirational teachers and coaches over the years including summers at Interlochen Center for the Arts while continuing at the Washington School of Ballet, the Royal Academy in London, and the Metropolitan Ballet where she was a principal dancer.


Cate went on to dance with two more professional ballet companies before moving to NYC to continue her training, performing career dancing with the American Dance Machine, doing summer stock, performing internationally with the Broadway revival of West Side Story, and regionally with Disney's Symphonic Fantasy featured as Princess Jasmine for which she enjoyed a 22 city tour starting at the Hollywood Bowl and ending back in New York City at the Metropolitan Opera House. Her amazing talent and charisma on the dance floor led Cate to become a 34-time Regional and International Theatrical Ballroom Dance Champion.

To this date, Cate has produced, directed and choreographed over 200 productions with her work seen on television, in films, music videos, commercials, and in theatrical venues worldwide from the Paris Opera House to the Broadway Stage. She wrote and directed her first feature film Mating Dance, which won an Accolade Award and can be found on Amazon.com. Her production company, Night & Day Entertainment, co-founded with her creative partner Vernon Willet, custom designs entertainment for private parties, corporate events and industrial trade shows.

 

For her work in theatre, Cate has been the recipient of a Garland Award, a Women in Theatre Red Carpet Award, multiple LA Stage Alliance Ovation, Eddon and Scenie Awards, and was honored to receive an Award of Excellence from the LA Film Commission for her work as a Writer, Director, Choreographer and Producer. Last year, Playwright's Arena presented Cate with the Lee Melville Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Los Angeles Theatre Community.

So how has such a talented and totally creative person been able to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic which has sidelined theatre worldwide?  I spoke with Cate to find out.

Shari Barrett (SB): What production were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak? 

Cat Caplin (Cate): We had just cast 32 actors for a production of West Side Story that I was going to direct and choreograph for Inland Valley Repertory Theatre (IVRT) presented at Candlelight Pavilion. The show was officially canceled one day before our first day of rehearsal, same day that Broadway announced it was closing.

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

(Cate): The producer, Frank Minano, emailed me and then the entire creative team and cast. Hearts were broken, of course, as we were very excited to begin. I had been so looking forward to creating the production since I was cast in the revival of the show when it was finishing its run on Broadway back in the 80's, and went on a six-month International Tour throughout Italy and at the Paris Opera House for three months. Our production was directed by Jerome Robbins and conducted by Leonard Bernstein! Needless to say, it was a thrill of a lifetime working on that classic show with the original creators.

(SB): Let me know when you write a book about that tour! Are plans in place to present the IVRT production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

(Cate): I believe the production is canceled completely because IVRT selects their shows based on what Candlelight is producing since they share the backdrop and primary set of what's being presented in their season. I'm not sure how that will play out, especially since no one really knows when theatre will be officially back in full form anywhere, and West Side Story is a big show with lots of physical contact and bodies interacting and dancing in close quarters. The nature of theatre as we knew it is changing dramatically and only time will tell how and what sort of creative work will be presented over the next few months and years. Many companies are canceling seasons completely and postponing productions into 2021, and even that is an unknown entity at this point.

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

(Cate): I have a production I am scheduled to direct in the fall and we are continuing with pre-production conversations sensitive to health and safety elements that are now part of the overall discussion and approach to creating live theatre. I hope we go forward with the show, but like everyone else, we just have to take it one day at a time...

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

(Cate): It's been interesting.... even though in theory I have more time each day without my usual classes, appointments, rehearsals and run around activities, my days continue to be quite full. I am reading lots of wonderful books, watching movies and some television series and specials I wouldn't ordinarily take the time to experience.

I have been taking some online classes offered by Yale University, and also tuning in to theatrical podcasts, seminars, and industry panel discussions since our theatrical community is intensely fertile at this time! I decided to jump into the electronic "pool" with everyone else and just signed on to direct my first Zoom staged reading of a new play later in July.

(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?

(Cate): It's important to keep open to learning, stretching and growing, mentally, emotionally and spiritually during tough times. And now that there's time for more channels of inspiration, embrace those opportunities. Trust the "bigger plan" and try to navigate these uncharted waters with hope and faith in a most positive outcome: a renaissance of heightened compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, humanity and peace.

(SB): For more information about Cate including future updates about her theatrical schedule, please visit CateCaplin.com, www.MatingDanceTheMovie.com, DanceInFlight.com


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Nan McNamara, an Award-Winning Actress, World Premiere Director, and Acting Instructor


This Spotlight focuses on Nan McNamara, an award-winning actress who I have seen in many productions at the Actors Co-op in Hollywood, perhaps most notably her performance in the 2017 Ovation Award-winning 33 Variations in which she played a journalist who was able to go back in time to interview Ludwig Von Beethoven (an outstanding performance by Bruce Ladd) about his work. That outstanding production was staged on a remarkably versatile small stage set designed by Nicholas Acciani (who also designed the accompanying amazing projections), enhanced by O'Leary's jaw-dropping, scene-changing choreography.


Here is the link to my review of that production in which that scenic description appears.

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

Nan McNamara (Nan): I am an actor and director who recently directed the Ovation Recommended World Premiere of Lee Blessing’s A Body of Water at Actors Co-op. As an actor, my credits include the Ovation Award-winning 33 Variations (Los Angeles Drama Critics nomination-Lead Performance, StageRaw Award-Leading Female Performance, Robby Award-Best Actress), A Walk in the Woods (Ovation Recommended) and Wit (Los Angeles Drama Critics Award-Lead Performance, LA Weekly Award-Leading Female Performance).

Other theatre roles include Steel Magnolias (Truvy), Going to St. Ives (Cora), Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Mary), The Crucible (Elizabeth), Uncle Vanya (Yelena) and As You Like It (Rosalind).

TV/film roles include Hawaii Five-0, Major Crimes, Rosewood, Switched at Birth (recurring) and Criminal Minds. I also enjoy a vibrant career in voiceover and have recorded over 100 audiobooks, and have taught acting at The Imagined Life, Asuza Pacific University and Vanguard University.

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

(Nan): I directed the world premiere of Lee Blessing’s A Body of Water at Actors Co-op, and we were entering our final weekend of the run when the production was shut down due to Covid-19.  I was also understudying two roles in Marvin’s Room directed by Thomas James O’Leary which was slated to open March 20 at Actors Co-op.

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

(Nan): We found out through the Actors Co-op board and our production manager who had been keeping abreast of the Mayor and Governor’s orders as well as what other theatres were doing.  And for the safety of our patrons, actors and production team, they decided to shut down on March 13, which was a week prior to the mandatory “shelter at home” order.

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

(Nan): Unfortunately, I don’t think A Body of Water will be able to finish its run, but Actors Co-op is hoping Marvin’s Room will be able to open at some point over the summer. Of course, no one really knows the exact timing of when intimate theatres will be able to open their doors again.

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

(Nan): The final production of Actors Co-op’s 28th season was slated to be the musical A Man of No Importance directed by Richard Israel. They were just completing casting with an opening scheduled for May 8, and now it’s not clear what the new opening date will be.

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

(Nan): I’ve loved receiving regular email updates from various theatre companies around town as many of them have provided inspiration with links to free streaming of plays and readings as well as words of encouragement.  A Noise Within offered a couple of free Shakespeare classes that I really enjoyed, and there is a free Michael Chekhov class on Sunday mornings.  I also loved watching the Sondheim Birthday tribute.

(SB): So did I – what a magnificent evening of extraordinary talent offered to the public for free!

(Nan): It’s wonderful that there have been a lot of wonderful ways to keep engaged. But of course, I can’t wait to get back to the theatre - there is no substitute for the audience interaction of live theatre.

(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?

(Nan): I really appreciate the theatre community here in Los Angeles, and hope everyone is safe and well.  I really miss seeing shows and experiencing the amazing work from so many stellar companies, and the collaboration as an actor/director that is unique to the theatre. While this is certainly an extremely challenging time, it’s my hope that we can all come back stronger than ever and ready to share our stories.  And share some hugs.

(SB): For more information about Nan McNamara, please visit Nan's website at NanMcNamara.com, her Instagram page, and find all her film credits on IMDb.me/NanMcNamara.

 


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 Theater Series: Deaf West Theatre Broadens our Horizons - An Interview with David J. Kurs


Having grown up in a deaf family in Riverside, California, it was no surprise that David J. Kurs became interested in theater performed in American Sign Language (ASL) early on. His passion for the power of the arts was realized when in 2009 he joined the Deaf West Theatre (DWT), founded in 1991 by Ed Waterstreet. Upon Waterstreet’s retirement in 2012, he became the second artistic director in the history of the company. Prior to becoming artistic director, Kurs wrote and produced Aesop Who?, a multimedia show for young audiences, and served as associate producer and ASL master for Deaf West’s productions of Children of a Lesser God (2009), My Sister in this House (2010), and The Adventures of Pinocchio (2011). To quote Kurs: “Deaf West has had a great impact on me in my artistic development, and I can only hope to spread this passion on to others and to create opportunities for them so that we all can achieve a shared goal of artistic growth.” In 2020, he was named “Deaf Person of the Month” by DeafPeople.com. David took time from his busy schedule to interview in May 2020.


Daniel Durant and Natasha Ofili in "Orphee" - Photo by Brandon Simmoneau

When and how did Deaf West Theatre first form? Were you there from the beginning? What are some of the most popular shows you presented? Have you received any rewards? 

David J. Kurs:  Deaf West Theatre (DWT) was founded in Los Angeles in 1991 by deaf actors. Our theater engages artists and audiences in unparalleled theater experiences inspired by deaf culture and the expressive power of sign language. We weave American Sign Language (ASL) with spoken English to create a seamless ballet of movement and voice. Committed to innovation, collaboration, and training, DWT is the artistic bridge between the deaf and hearing worlds.

Recent and past productions include Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, The Solid Life of Sugar Water by Jack Thorne, and Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, a co-production with the Pasadena Playhouse. In co-productions with the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, we also presented Edward Albee's At Home at the Zoo. The Deaf West production of Spring Awakening transferred from a small 99-seat theater to the Wallis and then to Broadway, where we received three Tony Award nominations in 2016. American Buffalo was named the Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” In a co-production with the Fountain Theatre, we also presented Cyrano, which won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for outstanding production. Big River won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and Backstage Garland Awards for best musical in its Los Angeles premiere, as well as a Tony nomination and four Drama Desk Awards on Broadway. In a co-production with Center Theatre Group, DWT produced Pippin, which was presented at the Mark Taper Forum, and Sleeping Beauty Wakes, produced at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Oliver! won the Ovation Award for best musical, and A Streetcar Named Desire won the Ovation Award for best play. In 2005, the Secretary of Health and Human Services selected DWT to receive the highest recognition award for its “distinguished contributions to improve and enrich the culture lives of deaf and hard of hearing actors and theater patrons.”

I have attended DWT shows since the company’s inception when I was in high school. I began working with the theater in 2009 and succeeded our founding artistic director Ed Waterstreet as artistic director in 2012.

Daniel Durant, Eddie Buck, Troy Kotsur, Ipek D. Mehlum, and Maleni Chaitoo in "Cyrano" - Photo by Ed Krieger

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

DJK:  We opened and closed our new production, Jean Cocteau’s Orphée, on the same night. It was heartbreaking; but, in retrospect, I am thankful that everyone is safe. My heart goes out to the actors, designers, and creatives who labored so mightily and valiantly to bring together an exemplary show that was seen by so few. The memory of coming together with the company in the empty theater after the curtain will remain in my heart for a long time.

How has the COVID-19 shutdown impacted your theater?

DJK:  We had to cancel our run of our play on the first night, as well as a planned tour to Tokyo. We also cancelled a planned fall show. Other than readings and workshops, we don’t have anything on the calendar for another year. But I’m still hoping that we’ll get back onstage before then.

Sandra Mae Frank, Treshelle Edmond, Natacha Roi, Katie Boeck, Lauren Patten, Amelia Hensley, Alexandra Winter, and Ali Stroker in "Spring Awakening" - Photo by Tate Tullier

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?

DJK:  We are staying in touch every day, mainly on Zoom. We collaborated with NBC on an episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist that premiered a few weeks ago, and it was extremely gratifying to see the love and praise from the community. We also collaborated with Kelly Clarkson and helped create a community-sourced video for her latest song, “I Dare You.” It’s a blessing to be able to generate work for all of the actors from our community during these times, and we’re not going to stop. We’re also working on several digital projects, including a full production to be streamed.

Nick Apostolina, Natalie Camunas, Sandra Mae Frank, and Tad Cooley in "The Solid Life of Sugar Water" - Photo by Brandon Simmoneau

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?

DJK:  It is my observation that theatergoers in Los Angeles are creatures of habit. Once we emerge from the end of the tunnel, I think that things will return to normal quicker than we expect. I also think a lot about what prospective patrons will need to feel safe in a theater again.

Troy Kotsur, Matthew Ryan Pest, and Paul Raci in "American Buffalo" - Photo by Noel Bass

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

DJK:  I, for one, count my blessings every day. We have a wonderful community of actors and patrons that keeps us going. Our Board has been extremely supportive, and we’ve received some wonderful donations. Theater is an art form that’s been around for ages. While we will continue to fill our need for communal experiences, our industry will continue to evolve. I think our industry will make advances in virtual space. I’m thinking about this time in our industry and how we can step up to the challenges posed by quarantine. But in my mind only one thing is certain: that we must move forward together with grace, strength, and compassion.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



The Diva-licious Carolyn Hennesy On Inhabiting Callas, Holding Oscar, & Meeting Garry Marshall

A soap opera femme fatale/force-to-be-reckoned-with since 2006,  Carolyn Hennesy will be taking one of her many side trips to the Los Angeles boards in the commanding role of opera legend Maria Callas in MASTER CLASS, the first production of the newly-annointed Garry Marshall Theatre (formerly the Falcon Theatre), beginning September 20, 2017. We managed to catch Carolyn in her few moments of down time in between her day job (as legal eagle Diane Miller on General Hospital), manning phonelines for one of the many fundraisers she gives her time to, and rehearsing for Madame Callas's tutorials in Terrence McNally's play, MASTER CLASS.
Thank you for agreeing to this interview with me, Carolyn! You're portraying the renown opera diva Maria Callas. Were you familiar with her accomplishments growing up?
Only peripherally.  I knew that she was an opera great, if you will, and that she was considered temperamental and brilliant... those words used in that sort of general sense in which history tends to mark individuals who've fallen out of our direct line of sight.  These are two aspects of Madame Callas that are often most on the tongue of anyone you ask, and even though I do love opera, that was only what I knew.
In studying her for your role, how would you describe Ms. Callas? 
In addition to an ambitious, focused, hard, intolerant, passionate genius?  Well, there's also carefully crafted, hell-bent and ruthless.  With regard to Aristotle Onassis, the words besotted and desperate come to mind.  With regard to any moment she stepped on stage in her early career... mesmerizing, magical and jaw-dropping.  Later career... broken, in denial, yet elegant.  In researching her, however... and the process will continue long after the final curtain has been lowered on this production... the phrase (mine) "divine tragedy," I think best sums up Callas.  She ran the gamut at once of otherworldly and yet so flawed.
Tell me your definitions of the label/title 'diva'?
Very simple:  obviously "divine"... but not at all in terms of self-aggrandizement, or public haughtiness or superiority.  My definition simply means you are divine to work with, love and know.  With a secureness of self, you focus on others and becoming part of "the team," whatever project is at hand.  Specifically in the performing arts, a diva works to make everyone else's job easier; that's the mission of the diva.  Divas can do that... because they're, well, divas.
I have seen you in a number of public and semi-public functions, and you definitely do not come off as a diva (in the 'other' definition). So, what qualities of Maria Callas can Carolyn Hennesy more easily identify with?
I would hope I do come off as a diva using my definition, but I'll leave that for others to say.  Regarding similar qualities... passion for our art, certainly.  Loving not wisely, but too well.  A desire to see the work continue.  Focus, determination, a personal mandate to be the best possible.  Fastidious.  And probably more than a little OCD.
Have you ever seen any other productions of MASTER CLASS before?
I have not.
Do you 'steal' from the best? Or try to ignore what's already been attempted?
Not having seen an earlier production, I can't steal and I can't ignore.  With regard to other productions and portrayals of characters that have "gone before"... of course, I'll occasionally gently and lovingly "lift."  Everyone does.  If they tell you they don't, they're lying or they haven't ventured outside their room.  By living we're informed; being informed means a larger pool from which to draw.  Being human means you lift... occasionally.
Have you and the amazing Terrence McNally crossed paths before?
I have not had the pleasure before this.  Of course, I've seen McNally works: KISS OF THE SPIDERWOMAN; LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART, and FRANKIE AND JOHNNY. But this is our first real dance together.
You will be in the first production of the newly named Garry Marshall Theatre. Surely you and Mr. Marshall must have met in the Los Angeles Theatre community before. Share a wonderful memory of him, if you would.
Several years ago, Garry Marshall (and Héctor Elizondo) presented me with my Ovation Award for Theatre of NOTE's THE FAN MAROO.  My dress was especially nice that evening, and as I was walking offstage I heard Garry exclaim, "That's a slow-walkin' dress!"
With your background and discipline in having to learn and memorize daily General Hospital scripts, is it now old hat to open a new theatrical script and have the memorization down in no time flat before you begin working on your characterization?
For this play?  Hahahahahaha... you're funny.
You were just a toddler when your father Dale won his Oscar for Best Art Direction for the 1966 Fantastic Voyage. Did you get to play with the golden statute? 
I'm the only person I know...personally... who rehearsed their Oscar speech actually holding one.
At what age did you realize the whole significance of what the award meant to your father and his peers?
Early.  A very early age.  My father was revered, not only for his "divo" qualities (my definition) of teamwork and respect for others, but for his particular genius, and I saw that every time I visited his sets.  There are so many brilliantly talented people in all aspects of this profession, emphasis on the word "many."  The little gold man, however, is the ultimate pat on the back from one's peers and everyone wants that recognition.  Of course, they do; we do.  To have one in my home was like having a moonrock or the little toe of Saint Peter; my mother wouldn't let me touch it until I was, maybe, 25.  My Oscar speeches were done when she was at the store.  I frequently told her we were in need of hot dogs or cookies. So she would dash out, and I could thank the Academy.
Did you ever want a jumpsuit like the one Raquel Welch wore in Fantastic Voyage?
Why do you use the past tense?  Have you seen my closet?
I'll bet you still look great in it, too! OK, Carolyn, so what got you into flying through the air on a trapeze?
I needed to learn the static (or hanging) trapeze for a production of COMEDY OF ERRORS years ago.  From there (i.e., hanging upside down for monologues, and by only one arm for bits of dialogue); it was only a matter of time before I would want to start flying.  You know, as one would.
Have you been able to incorporate your trapeze expertise into an acting gig?
I have!  I was so vociferous about my love of the static trapeze on the set of Jessie that I (essentially) wore down EP Pam Eells until she wrote in a bit for Mrs. Chesterfield.
Now that you have been inhabiting Ms. Callas, what would you think Ms. Callas would think of Terrence McNally's depiction of her?
There are many things with which she'd take issue... some of the denial, the feinting, the parrying.  She simply wouldn't see herself that way... not even in her truly private moments.  The walls are too, too high.  But she would love his words with regard to art (music)  and her feelings about it.  The most honest line in the play is the line by which I believe she lived her life regarding art... and one which I also find haunting in my own life:  "It's making people think that for that precise moment in time there is only way, one voice.  Yours."
What impression of Ms. Callas would you like the Garry Marshall Theatre audience to leave with?
She bullied and bluffed and twisted people and situations only in service of art.  Her art.  She loved without reservation and paid dearly for it.  She was understood as much as she wanted to be and, ultimately, was the epitome of a divine spark in all-too-human form.  I also think that when she sang, God sang.
Thanks again, Carolyn. I look forward to experiencing your Callas diva-licious-ness.
For available MASTER CLASS tickets and scheduling through October 22, 2017, log onto www.garrymarshalltheatre.org