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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Save NoHo Theatres

The Whitefire Theatre

Morgan Wixson Theatre

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

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


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Jessica Lynn Johnson, Founder and CEO of Soaring Solo


This Spotlight focuses on Jessica Lynn Johnson, proud founder and CEO of Soaring Solo LLC, a company dedicated solely to the direction and development of one person plays who has collaborated on well over 100 solo shows and is still going strong despite the current shutdown. And now she is offering free classes on ZOOM until it is possible to perform in a theater again.


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

Jessica Lynn Johnson (JLJ): Besides encouraging other solo artists to develop their own shows while operating my company Soaring Solo, I am also a solo artist myself and have toured for 13+ years with my own two award-winning one woman shows. I am also on the Board of the LA Women's Theatre Festival and we have been empowering diverse women's voices for nearly 3 decades!

Lastly, I would like everyone to know that I have taught a 100% FREE One Person Play Development Class for about a decade, and while this has primarily been at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks, I have now taken my free class online via ZOOM. In addition, I also offer affordable and awesome coaching (one-on-one, small group, and power pair sessions) because as a solo artist myself I know how important it is to get valuable feedback at an affordable price.

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

(JLJ): At any given time, I have 20-30 solo shows up and running with some making their world premiere and others simply continuing to tour since I work with my solo artists for years and help them tour internationally. All of that said, I had close to two dozen solo shows coming up that I directed and developed in three different festivals (Solofest 2020 at Whitefire Theatre, LA Women's Theatre Festival in March, and the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June). And of course, those have all been postponed.

Bryan Rasmussen at the Whitefire Theatre is such an innovative Artistic Director and had been perfecting the Live Stream experience of shows long before this COVID-19 pandemic took over. Therefore, he is planning to begin streaming shows as soon as mandates dictate this is possible. Many of my clients are excited to experiment with this new medium which is planned to begin in June.

(SB): How did you communicate the shutdown with your clients?

(JLJ): Every artist has handled the devastation of this moment differently. Therefore, some clients have processed this news with me on the phone, others have found texting and emailing the best way to process. And many have been partaking in my ongoing free online class, my coaching services, and my free daily Isolate Meditate Create experience, so events were discussed via all those options. My free guided meditation and writing sessions take place on ZOOM at 9am (PT) during the Stay at Home, with more information available on JessicaLynnJohnson.com.

All to say, this is such a challenging time and it is important to respect each person's nuanced way of handling this crisis and hold space for their feelings and the mode in which they feel comfortable engaging.

(SB) Are plans in place to present shows at a future date and how are you keeping the Arts alive during social distancing?

(JLJ): As an eternal optimist, I encourage my clients to "Never Give Up" and "Always Think Outside the Box". We must "Let Go of What Was" and step into the reality of "What Is." Suffice it to say, I am in discussion with several clients about the Live Streaming dates for those who were in the tail end of Solofest, and therefore unable to perform their shows when COVID-19 hit. I am also in discussion with those who would like to wait until we are able to gather in person at Whitefire to resume the production of their shows. I respect both choices.

As it stands right now, the Hollywood Fringe which is traditionally held in June has been postponed until October, and most people are eager to partake during this rescheduled time and I will be there to support them in the Fall.

The LA Women's Theatre Festival is also in talks about next steps to carry on with our programming, and our publicist Philip Sokoloff will certainly make an official statement on that once the Board has agreed upon appropriate next steps.

Lastly, I encourage everyone to TAKE CREATIVE ACTION right now since Art is more important than ever! After all, how many of us are getting through this challenging time by reading a good book, binging television shows and films, or tuning into content being streamed around the globe?  I hope the majority of us are nurturing our souls and entertaining our minds with Art to get through this day-to-day madness.

For example, recently my brilliantly talented client Dana Lynn and I hosted a ZOOM reading of her one-woman show Transcending the Mirror about her journey to accept and love herself as a lesbian woman, and we had 40 people tune in and give us incredible feedback to implement into the script.

We have moved all of our Soaring Solo LLC services online, and I have also transferred all of my coaching services and my 100% free One Person Play Development class to ZOOM so that we can all continue with our Art and not be stopped by this virus. I like to say kill the coronavirus and NOT creativity! As such, I am still coaching solo artists in the development and direction of their one-person plays from the comfort of their living room, offering One-on-One coaching, small group coaching featuring 6 solo artists at a time, and Power Pairs where two artists work together with me on larger excerpts of their solo shows.

With all the fear and uncertainty in the world right now, I know many people appreciate something else to focus on besides the virus and I want to provide that much needed creative outlet for them. And for those who are financial strained and cannot afford my paid services, I have got their back too, offering my 100% free One-Person Play development class on Saturday mornings, as well as my free guided meditation and writing sessions on ZOOM daily at 9am (PT). For more information on my free class and my paid services, please visit www.JessicaLynnJohnson.com

Yes, we need to keep our physical bodies healthy right now, but our mind, heart and spirit need to stay healthy too. Creative expression is a HUGE part of that overall wellness. This is a season for pioneers, innovators, and trailblazers to come forward and take the lead. We all need to think outside of the box and find ways to serve and connect and share our Art like never before. Yes, it is sad that we cannot perform in a theater at this moment in time, but desperation often breeds ingenuity. So, turn that negativity into new ways of creatively expressing yourself and connecting with others. There are true possibilities here if we can let go of the old and step into the new.

Stay healthy, stocked, safe and healthy everyone. We will get through this together!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Anzu Lawson - an Asian-American Actress, Playwright, Stand-Up Comic, and Yoko Ono Doppelganger


With the current theatre world on hiatus, I have created a Spotlight Series of interviews with some of am the many talented artists who make our Los Angeles theatre community so exciting and vibrant thanks to their ongoing contribution to keeping the arts alive in the City of the Angels. And like all of us, how are they dealing with the abrupt end of productions in which they were involved?

This Spotlight focuses on Anzu Lawson, an Asian-American Actress, Playwright, Stand-Up Comic, and Yoko Ono doppelganger who I first met during the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival.


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

Anzu Lawson (Anzu): I’m an Asian-American Actress, Playwright, and Stand-Up Comic who has been performing my One Woman Show called Dear Yoko to sold out theatres here in Los Angeles. It was an official selection for 2019 Binge Fringe Festival, the 2020 SOLOFEST & the 2020 Crazy Woke Asians Solo Performance Festival.

I also penned & starred in an all-original musical called Dear John, Why Yoko? which garnered my first Best Actress nomination at the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival for my role as “Yoko Ono.”

(SB): And I am happy to share links to my reviews of both your shows during which you absolutely amazed me with your authentic portrayal of a woman so erroneous hated the world over for her involvement with John Lennon.

(SB): Were you involved with any production(s) when word went out that you needed to immediately postpone/cancel a show?

(Anzu): I was playing the role of YEN opposite Al Pacino with a huge, talented cast in a Benefit Staged Reading for Al Pacino’s charity in the David Rabe play called “The Basic Training Of Pavlo Hummel” that garnered Al his first Tony Award on Broadway in 1977. Al Pacino and director Robert Allan Ackerman revived it on stage to help raise funds and awareness for one of Al’s charities to help war veterans. We performed it Sunday, March 8th at The Wallis Annenberg in association with The Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles. There were talks of doing it again, but the very next day the Wallis Annenberg closed its doors due to the Corona Pandemic. Here’s a link to a Broadway World article about that amazing production

(SB): How has the shutdown affected your current and future production plans?

(Anzu): I had to make some hard decisions. This has been an extremely unforeseeable event affecting every single human on this planet and not knowing how long we will be quarantined, has many artists unsure if they can even afford to do their show, even with rescheduled dates. I feel bad, but I am canceling all my show commitments until there is a vaccine.

I heard the remaining solo artists involved in the 2020 SOLOFEST dates at The Whitefire Theatre, in which I have participated, have been offered to have their performances streamed online. Personally, as good a solution as that may sound, performing to an empty theatre is not the ideal situation when a) audience interaction and response is a huge part of the experience as a solo performer and b) the main world focus is on live coronavirus news updates. I appreciate everyone trying to rally together to find a solution but I think people everywhere will need more time. Every person is processing what is happening very differently.

As for my future plans, I was about to fly to Chicago’s Cinespace Studios to film another episode of Chicago Med on which I have a recurring role, and I was counting on that money to pay for my 2020 Fringe solo show dates. Unfortunately, I had to cancel my entire participation in the 2020 Hollywood Fringe and am trying my very best to get my invested monies and deposits back. Even though 2020 Hollywood Fringe has been moved to October (much like Stage Coach and Coachella) at this time, I do not have the heart to ask my friends to hurry and get over their Coronavirus/social distancing fear by October to buy tickets and sit in a crowded theater while there is no income coming in for most, nor a readily available vaccine on the horizon.

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

(Anzu): Thank God for the internet and the free classes being offered by so many teachers and studios. I am also grateful for the funny memes on social media keeping me light-hearted and smiling through all this uncertainty. This pandemic has given all of us a “pause button” to reassess our beliefs, our tribes, our creative visions for ourselves as well as for the world. We are being forced to look at our individual contribution to humanity, not only as humans but as artists. This will forever change us as a society, hopefully for the best.

Personally, I’m in research mode. I started revisiting scripts and thinking deeply about what I want to say as an artist from here on out. I am forced to sit still, get grounded and put pen to paper.

(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?

(Anzu): Never forget there is always a silver lining and now more than ever, we artists are being called upon to be the beacon for a new humanity. We will get through this but only together and only by thinking of each other. Feed your soul now and get ready to create! Inspire! And be daring with your artistic voice. We have a huge responsibility ahead of us to shine bigger light and tell new stories that will ever remind us there is nothing more valuable than our ability to care for each other. As Yoko Ono always said, “We are all connected together. We are all one.”

I invite everyone to follow me on IG/FB/Twitter @AnzuLawson and read more about my credits on my IMDB profile. I also want to give a shout out to my director Jessica Lynn Johnson who offers free Solo show creative writing classes now on ZOOM.

(SB): Thank you Anzu. I am hoping to focus a spotlight on Jessica Lynn Johnson in the near future so more people learn about her outstanding contributions to the L.A. Theatre world.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.