The Better Lemons commitment to supporting arts and entertainment in Southern California continues with the addition of Monique A. LeBleu as Editor!
On Monday, March 30, 2020, Monique A. LeBleu will take the reins of Better Lemons, L.A.’s premiere arts and entertainment hub, where she will serve as Editor, bringing her unique sensitivity to all that is unique and wonderful about Southern California’s arts, entertainment, and dining scene.
“Monique has long been a significant part of Better Lemons and her willingness to step up as Editor is exciting for all of us,” said Publisher Enci Box, “This is especially because she is such a great storyteller and is such a driving force for promoting local productions, and delivering fresh and creative content from L.A.’s finest cultural critics and creators.”
“As Event Editor, I have looked forward to opening up Better-Lemons.com every day to see what new shows are published on our calendar for what’s new and upcoming in Los Angeles theatre,” said Editor LeBleu. “Reading stories by our Lemon Brigade of contributing writers, listening to their podcasts, and finding new venues to see shows has been part of my daily routine. As the Editor of Better Lemons, I am very excited to be sharing that daily adventure with our readers as Better Lemons continues to grow and provide the Greater L.A. Theatre Community with even more great stories, podcasts, award events, seminars, business-of-theatre tools, production resources, and more!”
LeBleu is a freelance writer, photojournalist, and podcaster. She has been a contributing weekly columnist and podcaster on Better Lemons since March 2018 and is currently Co-Editor on The L.A. Beat's online magazine, The L.A. Beat. Hailing from L.A.C.C.’s Theatre Arts Academy and the Cinema Arts Program at the Cinema/TV Department at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Center, her life-long passion for theatre, film, and the performing arts also comes from her background in L.A. theatre as an Assistant Director and Stage Manager as a member of the Knightsbridge Theatre Company from 2003 - 2006.
Working in production and post-production film throughout the ‘80s, LeBleu had paused in order to reflect and decide on what she wanted to be when she grew up. After 25 years, that decision was finally made upon earning her degree in Communications - Journalism at Pasadena City College in 2017. In addition to writing on theatre, as a freelance journalist, writer, video maker, and consummate foodie her subject interests of greatest focus also include film, documentaries, food and hospitality, music, art, and Greater Los Angeles' ever-evolving community landscape.
Better Lemons exists to celebrate all that is creative and innovative about L.A.’s arts and entertainment community and has a Lemon Brigade of over 48 local writers and critics who promise to engage audiences, share stories, and support the artists who make L.A. the center of the cultural universe.
Better Lemons is solely owned by Founder and Publisher Enci Box and all creative and editorial is under the supervision of Editor LeBleu’s direction.
With performance venues, productions, and businesses temporarily closing down to help deter the spread of the Coronavirus and protect public health, now is the time to implement or beef up your crisis management plan for the days to come, maintain your branding, and increase your online presence, while maintaining current social distancing requirements.
As part of a series, this column will highlight communication strategies for handling unpredictable circumstances and a variety of essential online tools and suggestions for you and your teams to implement in the coming days.
In addition, as productions may also be considering options for remote viewing of existing and ongoing productions, many of these tools can be used for such planned sharing and viewing of taped productions, with a potential for live performances as well. More on additional options for this feature in future articles for this column.
Plan for redundancies and have a backup plan for all of your critical functions in case you are cut off from key people, whether they are stranded, sick, or injured. You don't want to have a lack of access to that resource. With regard to redundancies, this includes planning for yourself as a resource.
Critical functions include all people, facilities, IT, finances, productions, and communications.
Dispersion: have information in different places and multiple places. Keeping things in your head is not good, so implement cross-training and document processes so “the show goes on.”
Telecommuting: what do telecommuting staff need, what are the protocols, documents, passwords and communication apps they need and provide a contact tree.
Formal closures: provide a closing plan to your facilities that include security, backups, and all the in and outs of staff, when necessary and possible to those facilities.
Look to the future of scanning tickets instead of hard tickets and provide that staff open doors for patrons. This may seem to be moot for the moment, but it is something to consider for the future in order to help ease patrons who may be feeling emotional aftershocks when life returns to normal and they return to live performances at your brick and mortar venues.
Another thing to consider is to make sure that your cancellation policies are formally written. Hourly workers can get disincentivized if not paid, and you will need to think of ways to keep morale high prior to their eventual return.
Engage your Board and create communication and document sharing pipelines between all departments and staff so that you are all on the same page.
Pipelining Tools and Watch Parties
Here are a few online communication portals that I recommend for implementing communications, creative sharing, researching, auditioning, and even remote performance viewing for your audiences. Each site has different features that enable various levels of viewing, information and file sharing, and chatting, so review each to determine which one will work best for you and your teams.
Producers Matthew S. Robinson and Robby DeVillez of Red Flag Media Productions have been using such online tools to continue their audition process for their upcoming production of "Glamour," through facetime remote meetings.
“We were supposed to have in-person auditions this weekend,” said DeVillez. “But now we switched to self-submissions and video conference for those who would rather have the "face-to-face" experience.”
“We are using Zoom and Skype for remote auditions and Google Forums for them to sign,” said Robinson.
Twoseven runs straight from your browser and supports Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo, Amazon, HBO, and private videos that either person has on their computer. Access to several of these requires their Chrome extension. You can create a Private Room, allow participants to use webcam/mic in the room, or only allow admins control of videos and playback. The site allows for chat or muted chat during the video and the Chrome extension informs you if a video on a given website is supported. Note: The app may no longer work with Netflix, but that appears to have patches in place or in the works. Amazon was tricky and must have access to cookies, so check your settings.
A subscription service for those wanting to share music videos or YouTube clips rather than entire movies or TV shows, Plug.DJ creates a private room for a chat and share and there is a feature to line up a list of videos. It also allows you to leave it running on a big screen and remote viewers can join through the app. Register for an account or sign in through Facebook. This looks to work for content that is already published, however it is unclear if it works with YouTube Live content.
Aside from facetime calls, Skype users with accounts can also share a browser in a video chat to review videos, PowerPoint presentations, and share other file and image viewing. The call administrator of the meeting has exclusive control of viewed content and there is no file-sharing ability, but this is another great way to get everyone on the same page.
Syncplay is a free tool that allows you to sync video streams with staff and viewers and is a multi-platform compatible with some video player apps such as VLC, KM Player and Media Player Classic. Content must be stored locally on your hard drive, but once set up you can hit play.
Another for watching video content together in groups in real-time. You create a Room on the home page, add a nickname, and the app opens a video and chat room. Add members to the chat from there and they can join the existing Room. Video source choices are from YouTube, Vimeo, DailyMotion, and even audio from SoundCloud.
Great for creative content producers who desire to do group research on story, structure, and other techniques is Netflix Party, a browser extension exclusive to Chrome for use with Netflix. It only needs to be installed on one computer, then users can synchronize Netflix video playback on multiple computers. Install the extension, then open Netflix and choose a film or show to watch. Once the video loads, pause it and click on the red “NP” button in the top right of your browser and a unique link will be created to send to your staff. Invitees are directed to your virtual room to watch in sync and it includes a simple text chat interface. The biggest advantage to Netflix Party is that only one person needs to have the extension installed with access to one subscription and can invite participants into the Room.* New users are given a free trial period, but everyone must have Netlfix and the Chrome extension. However, because it is connected through Chrome, participants can only access through their computers.
Sync Video creates a private room with registration. It is free, but registering is a requirement. The private virtual room is permanent, which enables you to this room each time you require it. You just invite staff once you are in to join. It allows Vimeo and YouTube videos to be added and saved to playlists to be watched at any time. New rooms and new nicknames can also be created at any time. There is also the option to make your room public for larger viewing audiences.
This one incorporates VoIP capabilities and a free voice chat while watching videos online. Groups can use hours of free voice chatting and people can be invited via social media accounts such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and email and there is no registration requirement. In the voicechats, videos from DailyMotion, Vimeo, and YouTube can be shared, and up to 5GB of video may be uploaded to a custom user space in a variety of video formats. Registered accounts allow up to 5GB space for video uploads to myCloud storage, a use profile, and a history of invitations.
Plex VR allows you to share a Space virtually. Great for live tours of a venue or space, location scouting, and virtual immersive theatre. You can chat, watch videos sourced from one media library through Plex, and sync. Users are, however, able to change the size and the position of the screen, so effecting setting protocols may be necessary to establish in advance, depending on your use. In order for it to work, all participants must have Google Daydream, Gear VR or Oculus Go-compatible hardware, so there is a pre-expense involved in the process by all viewers.
Crisis Media Management provides assistance with connectivity, online communication tools, and strategic social media management to boost your project marketing, retain and improve audience visibility, and reach new audiences.
INTERNAL’s writer/director, Erik Blair, was kind enough to give Better Lemons a sneak preview of this intriguing new production and how it fits in with the Fringe.
Better Lemons: Tell us a bit about the genesis of Internal. Erik Blair: One of the ongoing ideas behind They Played Productions is to examine horror stories from new and different angles. That's what made us launch as a company with a werewolf rock musical and do a multi-chapter modern immersive version of Frankenstein over a 15-month period.
We continue to be really interested in looking at how horror stories are told and seeing how we can transform them in a modern setting or through a new lens.
Internal came from the idea that zombie stories are always about the shambling (or rushing) horde swarming around a group of people. We wanted to find a new way to tell the story — for one person, using specific technological ideas, and on the streets of Hollywood. We couldn't be more excited about how it's coming out!
BL: Briefly, what’s the show about? EB:The show is about a growing viral zombie threat that is happening in real- time. It's a show built for one audience at a time as they traverse the streets around Vine and Santa Monica. As audience members walk, they will experience a story that is happening directly to them.
The goal is to find a way to terrify audiences by weaving a personal story in the midst of the busy Friday nights of Hollywood.
BL: What are the immersive aspects? EB: This is one of the most exciting aspects of the show for us. We're going to try to immerse audiences directly into a story that is tailored to each audience member — while they are walking around outside.
We're going to use technology to place the audience member directly in the role of someone living through the early stages of a zombie apocalypse while still letting them experience the street they are walking on at the same time. We're going to add actors to the experience who are completely relevant to the story — and yet if others walk by, they wouldn't even look twice. It's a combination of clever storytelling and using the street itself as part of the story.
BL: What can audiences expect when they attend the show? EB: They can expect to have a full story with a beginning, middle and absolutely terrifying end. They will find that the show places them directly where they are in real-space, even as the story they are experiencing is something mysterious, terrible and dark. This is not a kids story in any way — it's very much a horror tale.
BL: What makes Internal a good fit for the Hollywood Fringe? EB: The Hollywood Fringe Festival is about trying things out that can't be done easily elsewhere. This is a true experiment for us as we try to find a simple but compelling way to flip the zombie story around. It might be too much for audiences — or too little.
And that's what makes it so interesting to us as a concept and also makes it a perfect fit for the festival. Hollywood Fringe has always embraced productions that expand how people think about theatrical experiences, and we fit that idea of expansion perfectly this year.
BL: Is anyone in the show that people will recognize from past Fringes? EB: We're excited to have two new actors for this year, as well as one veteran, Adam Briggs, who is very excited to be back once again.
BL: How many Fringes have you participated in? EB: I've been a participant in Fringe since 2016 as an actor/stage manager and They Played Productions has had a production that we have written, directed and produced since 2017. So this is HFF number four for us.
BL: What keeps you coming back? EB:The sheer creativity of the festival is a tremendous draw for us. Last year, They Played Productions even launched our own sponsored award because we love the vast and unique takes on stories, theater and performance that we see every year. Even if we had a year that we didn't bring a production, I'd still be running around the festival and seeing everything I can manage to get to during the month. We just love HFF all around.
BL: What other shows are you interested in seeing at the Fringe? EB:Everything immersive (as that's our focus these days). But a more accurate question would be what I'm not interested in — and the answer is very, very little.
I long ago learned that my favorite shows every year are those that I go see spontaneously and randomly. These days, I simply select the shows that I can up front, watch those shows that request to be considered for our awards....and then I just choose things that sound interesting at the moment.
Really, there's no wrong thing to go see in a festival full of such incredible talent and passion.
Internal will be performed on Friday nights from June 7 to 28 at the Hollywood Fringe. Audiences begin their experience at the corner of Santa Monica and Vine. traveling north to Sunset and back south to Vine. This performance requires audience members to be able to traverse that distance at a walking pace.
Ticketing and further information can be found on the Fringe site.
This week I will open my 128th full-scale production as a producer/director. The group of artists working on this post-modern adaptation of Euripides' “Trojan Women,” will become the 128th group of artists to hear me say – at every rehearsal and performance to come over the next three weeks – one of my most famous Sabelisms: “Do The Show That You Know!”
Having produced and/or directed 128 productions, I still hesitate to say I've seen it all. I've learned that's the best way to ask for a situation you have yet to encounter. Nobody likes to face a situation they have not yet encountered. Familiarity is an essential part of success in our trade. Look how many directors and actors have chosen to work together time and again due to their familiarity with each other's work. The history of famous director and actor teams goes back hundreds of years. Familiarity is the reason why theatre companies form and exist. It is an essential focus in the making of every major motion picture – especially today, when audience “familiarity” with certain brands leads to entire series of films featuring the same actors playing the same characters in sequel after sequel. It is the key to the success of any long-running sitcom, dramatic series, and even game shows, with audiences developing their familiarity with the hosts of the shows.
Humans crave consistency. With hundreds of millions of dollars on the line, film producers crave consistency too. Consistent talent, consistent performance, consistent work ethic, productivity, attitude, and most of all – consistent box office draw! The best and most sought after artists in every field of this trade – editors, sound engineers, lighting designers, special effects teams, make-up artists, costumers, actors, directors, you name it – are the people who are known for their consistency. They are the people who do the show that they know, consistently. They are a known commodity, and in this industry, where a known commodity can be worth gold, it is no wonder that a known commodity is always going to be considered for the job before taking a risk on an unknown.
Taking all of this into account, you would be surprised how many times I have watched an artist decide to stray away from familiarity and throw consistency to the wind while on stage in a performance. “Do The Show That You Know” is a pretty clear direction. It is straight forward. It contains only single syllable words. It even rhymes so conveniently. Yet there are actors – I've seen countless numbers through 128 shows – who just can't seem to understand those six simple words. As I mentioned above, I hesitate to ever say I have seen it all, but I have seen a wide variety of actors do outlandish things in changing a performance after a show has opened.
Green Room Gary has been giving advice to his fellow actors throughout the production process, continues to do so in performance, and then also decides – since he obviously knows best – to make changes to his own performance as well. “When the director isn't here, I'll do it my own way,” says Gary.
Sam the Ham
Dorothy Drama and Sam the Ham have different motivations. When her best friend, Edna, and her Grandma Matilda are in the audience, Dorothy just can't help but turn on that extra juice, and melodrama the bones right out of the text of the play! With sudden bursts of random emotion and much sawing of the air, Dorothy sets out to prove to her friends and relatives that she is indeed a serious actress. Sam has the same intent whenever his mother comes to the see the show, or even worse yet, when he has a potential love interest in the room. Then consistent performance be damned, because Sam is trying to impress a lady and win himself a date.
Isaac Ideas isn't a bad fellow, but his “magnificent brainstorms” are a day late and a dollar short. Poor Isaac is just trying to be helpful when he arrives to the theater with new blocking in mind for an important scene. He isn't trying to sabotage his fellow actors by presenting them with something they haven't encountered before on stage, he's just trying to make the show “better.” His pal, Brandon Brando, is just trying to keep things “real” when he decides to change a line or two to make them sound more “natural” and “true” to the character.
Last Night Norman is such a prankster. He just can't help chatting with everyone back stage about anything and everything completely unrelated to the show at hand. He's full of funny jokes and silly anecdotes, and thrives on being the class clown of the cast. On the last night of performances, Norman just can't resist playing that little prank on his fellow actors, that he is oh so sure will help them forever remember closing night. He is always right. We never forget him…
These types of actors can be a terrible detriment to a performance. Changes of any kind to a performance should be made only with the knowledge of the stage manager, and only after thorough discussion with every actor involved in the scene. Anything less is disrespectful to all involved, and completely self-absorbed behavior. Whatever your great new idea is – if it wasn't good enough for rehearsal, it isn't good enough now.
On occasion there are unforeseen circumstances that call for required changes involving safety, or semantics, or sight lines, etc. There are occurrences on the stage, mid-performance, which sometime call for quick thinking, adjustment, and adaptation right on the spot. Props hate people, and they can often be the cause of these unforeseen moments. It's live theater. Things happen. All the more reason you don't want to be the person causing things to happen that are outside the realm of what was rehearsed and prepared for performances. If a prop sabotages a performance, we blame the theater spirits. If you sabotage a performance by making changes, we blame you.
Do The Show That You Know. Stick to the plan. Be consistent. It is what your fellow artists have become familiar with. It's what they expect from you, and it's a quality that will get you more work in the future.
Actors often ask me why I don't make it a point to watch every performance of my productions. Part of that aspect of me is based in having other responsibilities to fulfill, and the nature of our trade which finds the director's job complete after opening night. It is the stage manager's show after that, and their job to maintain a consistent production. You think directors get upset when an actor changes things on stage? Hah! I fear any stage manager worth their salt on this issue, and you should too.
Secretly a key reason I often can't bear to watch performances of my productions is because of actors like Green Room Gary, Dorothy Drama, Sam the Ham, Isaac Ideas, Brando Brando, Last Night Norman, and any variety of others who decide that they just can't possibly show up to the theater on time, follow their preparation routine, warm up, get on stage, and do the show that they know. I don't give director's notes to actors once a show has opened. I shouldn't have to. The show should be the same way I left it on opening night, if you will just Do The Show That You Know!
I met June Carryl back in 2010 when the two of us were participants in Directors' Lab West. Her ideas about theatre mesmerized me because of their narrative specificity and rootedness in sound dramaturgical practices. In 2011, June was part of my playwright renaissance: I'd taken about 3 years off of writing in order to find out why I still told stories through this medium. When Son of SemeleTheatre invited me to present my play ONION CREEK, an Adam and Eve tale set in rural Texas, I immediately called June because she was an exciting theatrical mind whom I knew would direct the HELL out of that piece. My instinct was right – her work on the show was wonderful. But more importantly, I learned that she was a fellow writer, and her mentorship of my creative development process (as a burgeoning post undergrad finding his way in LA's theatre scene) helped mold the writer I am today.
But there is more – in addition to writing and directing, June is also a powerful actor, someone who knows how to really pull audiences into the center of a character's need through performance. Right now, June Carryl is performing in Celebration Theatre's production of CABARET. The show runs through August, and you can get tickets here: CelebrationTheatre.com
And if you know what's good for you, you will get some tickets. The show is amazing.
I saw the production, helmed by Celebration's co-artistic director Michael Matthew earlier this week, and - the old folks used to say – the show sent me, honey. Of course, I was gaga for June's turn as the now-alone but love-seeking boarding house owner Fraulein Schneider. She brings a tautly constructed, grounded, polished, and full-bodied interpretation to the character who, seeing limited options in light of changing politics in rising Nazi Germany, forgoes a chance at love in exchange for her perceived route to survival.
I was so proud of my friend June! And you know I had to get the skinny on the show. So you know I had to have a kiki with June. And better believe that I had to spill some of this tea for you guys, our lovely Better Lemons readers.
So, without further ado, here's my conversation with June Carryl:
Roger Q. Mason (RQM): This is your 13th collaboration with lauded director Michael Matthews! Wow, what an accomplishment!! How did you two start working together?
June Carryl (JC): In 2009 I got to do OTHER PEOPLE'S GARDEN GNOMES by Aliza Goldstein as part of The Blank Theatre's Young Playwrights Fesitval. Michael Matthews was the director. He was this lovely presence, fierce intelligence and vision, big brown eyes and just so kind and supportive. First day of rehearsal and before we went up he said, "Just say what you mean, and mean what you say." Part of my journey has been learning what that means.
RQM: You are a consummate artist - you act, write, and direct. How do these different disciplines inform each other as you make work?
JC: Honestly, I just want joy in my life and I get that telling stories. My mom achieved a lot in life, but I don't think she got to do what she really wanted. Writing is a way to take back some control. It's my way to vent, to talk about the world. I suppose directing is the same thing, though I get a real charge out of seeing an opportunity to shape words or a moment or a stage picture; acting is my excuse to play people who are just braver than I am, more messed up, but way more honest and vocal than I am.
RQM: Tell me EVERYTHING about CABARET - well, as much as you want. You're acting in the show, right? What's your role? What was the rehearsal process like?
JC: I get to play Fraulein Schneider who ends up betraying her heart for the sake
of survival. When Matthews told me he wanted me for this role, I was like, "You want me to WHAT?!?" It was really scary to think of myself as the betrayer. In life, you want to think you'll be stronger than that, but to get to be a full-fledged human being who is flawed and fails is just the greatest gift. Black bodies are so often portrayed as either wholly noble or demonic. We don't often get to be fully human. Matthews' rehearsals are really fun. He has a vision, a goal, but he leaves it to the actor to find their way there. You feel challenged and terrified and so supported. You're willing to fail because you're in such a safe space.
RQM: Why do we still need to see CABARET?
JC: We've cycled backward. We are staring fascism and genocide in the face and having to decide what direction we'll go with detention camps for immigrant children and an American president who wants his people to stand up and listen like Kim Jong Un. We are witnessing the last gasps of white supremacy, and not sure what happens next. This show asks the hard question of whether we go there before going in a better direction.
RQM: What is next for you?
JC: Don't know. I'm writing a musical with my singing teacher, Mia Milan who is AMAZING.
On Saturday, June 2, Better Lemons and Theatre West hosted “Meet the Critics!” featuring several of LA's premier critics for a panel discussion of theatre criticism.
The following critics attended:
Shari Barrett from Broadway World
Shari Barrett, a Los Angeles native, has been active in the theater world since the age of six - acting, singing, and dancing her way across the boards all over town. Shari now dedicates her time and focuses her skills as a theater reviewer, entertainment columnist, and publicist to ""get the word out"" about theaters of all sizes throughout the Los Angeles area. Dale Reynolds from Edge Media Network
Dale Reynolds, a SoCal native, has been a critic for theatre, film and DVD since 1970, for a wide variety of outlets in NYC and L.A., including StageAndCinema.com, StageHappenings.com, EDGELosAngeles.com, and for Frontiers Magazine for many years, in addition to being West Coast Editor of A&U Magazine for four years. Monique LeBleu from Los Angeles Beat
Monique A. LeBleu is a reviewer, writer, photographer, videographer, shameless foodie and wineaux. She has won multi JACC Journalism awards for her feature writing, critical journalism, and social media statewide competitions. Patrick Chavis from LA Theatre Bites
Patrick Chavis is the creator, designer, podcast writer, and head editor of LA Theatre Bites. Because of the massive size of the Los Angeles area and its theatre presence, Patrick decided his reviews should take the form of podcasts en lieu of more traditionally written articles. He is also one of the creators of the Orange County based theatre review site, the Orange Curtain Review. Bill Raden from LA Weekly
Since Bill wrote his first review for LA Weekly over 30 years ago, he has covered theater on both coasts, won multiple awards for his political journalism, and today continues to focus on Los Angeles' experimental and intimate stage scenes for LA Weekly as well as for the online stage journal, Stage Raw. Leigh Kennicott from ShowMag
Leigh Kennicott has an extensive background in theatre, film and television and a Ph.D. degree in Theatre, awarded in 2002. A writer, director and actor, Leigh Kennicott began theatrical reviewing at Backstage, followed by Pasadena Weekly and Stage Happenings blog before joining showmag.com in 2018. Katie Buenneke from Stage Raw
Katie has been a theater critic for over a decade, and has been reviewing Los Angeles theater for 7 years. She ran Neon Tommy's theater section for three years before freelancing for LA Weekly for another three years. She joined the LA Drama Critics Circle in 2015, and she's currently a regular contributor to Stage Raw. She earned her BA in theater and MFA in film producing from USC. Jordan Riefe from The Hollywood Reporter
Currently serves as West Coast theatre critic for The Hollywood Reporter, while also covering art and culture for The Guardian, Cultured Magazine, and KCET Artbound. Cover theater for OC Register/Coast Magazine in Orange County and theatre and film for LA Weekly. Assigned beat for THR focuses on touring productions of Broadway shows. Ernest Kearney from The TVolution
He is presently the cultural critic for The TVolution.com. Michael Van Duzer from This Stage LA
Michael Van Duzer has reviewed opera performances, both locally and nationally, for over 30 years in a variety of print and online media outlets. After leaving his job in 2014, he was finally able to add theatre to his reviewing schedule. Ryan M Luevano from Tin Pan LA
Ryan Luévano is a professor of music at Woodbury University and Santa Ana College. During the summers he is a regular teaching artist at A Noise Within Theatre Company in Pasadena. When he's not making music he pens as a theater critic for his blog Tin Pan L.A. where you can read all about the L.A. theater scene.
Have you ever wished you could squeeze our brains so you could ask questions about how to make the most out of our website?
Here is a FREE workshop where you will be able to do just that! DATE AND TIME
Sat, May 19, 2018
10am - 12 noon LOCATION
3333 Cahuenga Boulevard West
Los Angeles, CA 90068 DESCRIPTION
Do you register your shows on Better Lemons?
Do you use the playbill insert to encourage audience reviews?
Do you use your sweet ratings to further promote your shows?
Do you review shows that you've seen on Better Lemons?
Do you use the resources page of the Better Lemons website?
Introduction to new website features
Come to this free workshop to learn all there is to know about Better Lemons and bring your friends and family! Film, Theatre, and Event Producers, Publicists, Reviewers, Performers, and everyone else who goes to live theater, film festivals, art events, etc. will benefit from this workshop!
Join us! It's FREE!
Enjoy this interview with the cast of The Dance of Death at the Odyssey Theatre, which closes Nov 19th. You can listen to this YouTube 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.
Enjoy this interview about “Daytona” By Oliver Cotton (Cesare Borgia in the BBC's 1981 drama series The Borgias) staring Richard Fancy (Mr. Lippman in a recurring role on Seinfeld) at RogueMachine Theatre, running until Oct 30th. You can listen to this YouTube 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.
With full committed schedules and a lucky twist of fate, veteran actor/directors James Eckhouse (Beverly Hills, 90210) and Richard Schiff (The West Wing) have come together as co-directors for Triptych Theatre Company's production of Adam Rapp's NOCTURNE, a solo show featuring Jamie Wollrab, Triptych Theatre's artistic director. We had the chance to question these two gents on their artistic affiliations with and contributions to the Los Angeles theatre community.
Thank you Both for taking the time for this interview.
What initially drew you to become involved with NOCTURNE?
James Eckhouse: Jamie brought me the script last year and asked if I would direct. I had worked with him over at IAMA Theatre. I loved the script and was very excited to have the chance to work with Jamie again.
Richard Schiff: Jamie asked me to look at the play and to direct, if interested. I had some time before my TV show starts in Vancouver later this summer so I read it. I'm a fan of Adam Rapp. I was moved by this play; it's a compelling story of surviving grief. It's almost triumphant in the end in that this character confronts the darkest corners of his existence and tells this harrowing story and yet there's that survivor's sense of irony and even a little humor wrapped inside the darkness. I've done a one-person play, by that I mean I've acted it. It's challenging and scary and asks the performer to go to the edge of that cliff and make the leap. I thought it would be interesting to coach another actor through that with the perspective of someone who's been there.
Who came up with the idea that the you two co-directing NOCTURNE?
JE: What a crazy idea! Actually this was by necessity. I started to work on the play with Jamie in January. We were hoping to get back into rehearsal in June, but I had some conflicts and wasn't sure I would be able to resume as director. Richard stepped in to direct and did a fantastic job with bringing the piece near to fruition. Then Richard had to bow out (to shoot a pilot). So I (happily!!) stepped back in to bring us to the finish line.
RS: Well, my schedule turned out not to be so accommodating and I had to come to NY for two weeks. I offered up a co-directing or any option that would be most comfortable for Jamie and the company. Then James, who originally was going to direct this, when he became available again, I was happy to give over the reins. Apparently, James, after seeing a run-through, felt compelled to have us share the credit. Jamie and I had worked pretty hard to set the foundational work, but I was fine either way.
Were either of you aware of NOCTURNE since it opened in New York in 2001, or during the succeeding years?
RS: No. I hadn't seen it before. My reading of it was my first introduction to it.
JE: I was aware of Adam Rapp, but not this play of his.
James, you mentioned you've worked with Jamie before. How about you, Richard?
RS: Jamie and I met in Vancouver while filming a TV show. He was coaching an actress in the show and we had dinner up there. Years later, which was just recently, I was doing a workshop for my wife, Sheila Kelley, at her S Factor studio. Sheila has created a journey for women through movement which is extraordinary. She basically invented the industry known as pole fitness back in the early 2000's. But now she has transcended its origins and has created a movement and journey for women that is transformative, life-changing. This workshop included men and understanding the differences between the genders. Jamie was there. He had been working with Sheila for years, but I didn't know until we met again at the workshop. I don't know the Triptych theater's work. I have been bad about LA theater, usually saving my theater going for New York, Chicago or London. I decided to change that recently and take advantage of what is here in town. I was looking at doing Hallie Feiffer's play at the Rogue Theater but the dates weren't working for now. I was going to act in that one. Then when Jamie presented this opportunity, I thought I should really think about this.
JE: As I mentioned, I had worked with Jamie at IAMA and he approached me to work with him at Triptych. I directed one of the John Patrick Shanley one-acts at Triptych this spring, which was a blast. This is growing into a very exciting company!
You both have been steadily acting for the eyes of the mass public since the mid-1980s. Surely, your paths must have crosses once or twice in the past decades. What do you remember of the first time you two met?
JE: Richard and I actually worked together many years ago at the US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, CO. I was producing and directing several one-acts that were part of Ensemble Studio Theatre's line-up. Richard (of course) was extraordinary to work with and watch perform. After that we haven't really played together but I enjoy being a huge fan of his work and admiring his kinda wonderful career from the peanut gallery.
RS: It was produced by HBO for the Aspen Comedy Festival. We had a good time. That's all I remember. That and that festival was my first introduction to Eddie Izzard, who was performing. That was a seminal moment for me. The guy is brilliant.
James, you started your theatrical career acting. When did you say out loud, "But what I want to do is direct!"?
JE: I've always directed when I had the chance. I don't think you have to pidgeonhole yourself. I started directing in a rather wacky theater company I helped found in 1981 in NYC. It was called Dearknows and we started out creating pieces from JAMES JOYCE'S DUBLINERS. Since then I've been a part of several theater companies both here and in NY where I've acted and directed, including a stint as Artistic Director of Ensemble Studio Theatre LA. I've been lucky to direct on camera as well, doing several episodes of hour TV, a documentary, and a couple of short films. I've also been teaching the last 12 years, which has been a fantastic journey. It has fed my work as an actor and director in all kinds of ways. I can't imagine growing up and having to choose one ‘label' or the other.
Richard, you started your theatrical career directing. What do you recall of your directing the then-newbie actress Angela Bassett in ANTIGONE?
RS: Oh, Jeez! She was amazing. Just out of Yale Drama. I was trying to figure things out as a director and she couldn't have been more patient and professional. And she was phenomenal in the role, as she always is.
Richard, you are co-executive producer of NOCTURNE. Does that give you an edge/advantage over when you and your co-director and James don't see eye-to-eye on a directing issue?
RS: Jamie and I had no disagreements during our time rehearsing. Of course, since I had to leave, perhaps he just sat on his hands and has changed everything since I left. Kidding! I believe that if your title is the final arbiter then you're probably on the wrong path.
Both of you have long, successful television careers. What draws you onto the LA boards?
JE: I have never been away from theater for more than a few months. Two years ago, I spent the year in NY acting in the Tony award-winning production of ALL THE WAY with Bryan Cranston. An incredible experience by the way. Last year I did a world premiere in Minneapolis. I have worked out here at The Geffen, the Taper, the Old Globe, Pasadena Playhouse, South Coast Rep, La Jolla, as well as, the typical LA actor diet of gazillions of 99-Seat theater productions! It's my life's blood.
RS: I think I explained that. I did a play that opened the Wallis Annenberg a couple years back. Directed by the great Mark Brokaw, it was called PARFUMERIE. A beautiful production. That's the only theater I've done here since GOOSE & TOMTOM by David Rabe in 1991 and a couple of things with The Actor's Gang. I've gone to Broadway, to The West End, to Off-West End, even to New Brunswick and yet so little theater here in LA. I decided to face my prejudice and embrace what's here.
As one who's frequented the LA theatre boards for the last couple of decades, what do you see as the real value of doing theatre with little-to-no-compensation?
RS: Do the work you love. Love the work you do.
JE: I don't really divide the work into that which I get compensation for and that I don't. Never really think of it that way. It's all ‘the work.' It's all diving into the process and trying to expand, improve, excel at this elusive craft.
Richard, don't you credit acting in David Rabe's GOOSE & TOMTOM at the Stella Adler Theatre in 1991 for opening up the opportunity to be cast in the film version of Glengarry Glen Ross with Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon?
RS: Well, yes. A producer saw me in GOOSE & TOMTOM, and next thing I know I'm at the table read of the film version of Glengarry with Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon and a bunch of Hollywood brats. Later, I was flown to New York and auditioned numerous times. They kept me in New York for two weeks before casting a movie star in my role. Pacino remembered me at a party a few years later and that led to City Hall, which was a big break, and later to GLENGARRY with Al on Broadway. So, wait a second or two and the thing you thought was a break but isn't might yet turn into one.
James, would you share some of the perks you found in directing productions for Bonnie Franklin's Classic Contemporary American Plays?
JE: Working on great texts is like getting in there and really flossing your mind, your soul. It spurs the imagination which can get a little dormant (with a constant diet of television!). It challenges in a myriad of ways – having to dig deeper to reveal the essence of the work, really digesting the text and making sense of it, getting your mind and imagination to get deeper than just a surface level take on a piece.
What major differences/improvements do you notice in LA Theatre today as opposed to when you first entered the LA theatre community?
JE: That's a loaded question! We are at an extremely difficult moment in LA theater with the passage of some arcane rules that are supposed to be for the actor's benefit, but might well limit the opportunities we have to do the extremely important work of practicing our craft. It is a complex issue. I did a play last year in Minneapolis. A great theater town. They have all kinds of sized theaters – no 99-Seat plan. But they have a devoted audience – probably more sophisticated in some ways then LA. They aren't interested in seeing the star from the latest vampire thriller up close. They go to see gritty, exciting work. The actors get paid – not a lot in the small theaters – but a decent wage. Wouldn't we all love that? Of course! But this city's (LA's) relationship to “The Theataaaah” is very different than in Minneapolis or NY or Chicago. We need a much more inclusive and rigorous discourse from all parts of our community to create an environment where the theater life in LA can truly blossom. It's possible! The amount of theater has been growing and growing and the diversity of the participants is expanding, all wonderful to behold. I want theater to feel ‘essential' in this town. It needs to be a high protein/high calorie/vital part of everyone's cultural diet! (I tell ya'! If they'd only make me dictator of the world!)
RS: My nephew, Seth Russell, came from Montana to be an actor here. He is involved in all sorts of theater enterprises and companies. He got involved in the Rustic Theater Company at Santa Monica Airport where I've seen a few things he's been in. Good stuff. They also have cafe plays where a writer writes a theme-based play in four hours, and a cast and director then work on it for six hours, and then they perform it twice that very night. They were fun to see. They asked me to direct one, and I did with Spencer Garrett and Rob Morrow. We had a blast. That's what got me interested in doing more in LA. Funny, The Geffen or the Taper or Kirk Douglas have never asked me to do anything at those theaters. Don't know if I've been too busy or what. Also, I started teaching a master class out of the Rustic space. I actually loved doing it and was exposed to some very fine actors, some of whom have asked me to come to their plays in town. I did so and thoroughly enjoyed them.
Any one specific audience reaction you would love after the curtain call of NORTURNE?
RS: I'm always curious how audiences will react to material. One of the great joys and great mysteries is how when performing a show, it seems so different from night to night, and most of the time I think the energy of that night's audience is the major ingredient to that phenomenon. I don't like to predict a response largely because they vary so much. I stay curious and only hope that audiences listen and absorb everything they can from seeing an act of creativity unfold in front of them.
JE: Thunderous applause and a sea of invitations to expensive dinners.
Better Lemons was launched as a team effort and I'm grateful for Ashley Steed, the founding Editor in Chief, who was there at the beginning, encouraging and nurturing writers, and working with me to get Better Lemons to where we are today.
Ashley and I have a lot in common, including a passion for artists, Los Angeles, and the performing arts.
I'm grateful for her contribution and look forward to supporting her in one of her productions sometime soon.
Ashley has done a great job in organizing an incredible brigade of Better Lemons writers and her accomplishments at Better Lemons will go a long way toward setting up our next Editor in Chief for success.
I'm thankful for Ashley's support and I wish her well as she returns to making theater her priority.
Publisher, Better Lemons
Ten years ago I was an intern at LA Stage Alliance. One day Lee Melville, who was the Editor of LA Stage Magazine (like an actual magazine made of paper), came to us interns and asked us if we'd like to write an interview for the publication. I immediately said yes, whilst simultaneously having a flashback to my senior year of high school.
Lying in the center of my room in the fetal position, my mother comes in, “Oh my god honey what's wrong!”
“Essay,” is all I can muster. I used to love writing but something twisted senior year and now anytime I had to write something I'd have an anxiety attack.
“You are a beautiful writer,” my mother exclaims. “You are a beautiful writer.”
I took me a long time to believe her - the first step towards that was saying “Yes” to Lee Melville. I was so nervous conducting that first interview, even more nervous writing it, but Lee guided me along the way and kept asking for more articles. He was a wonderful mentor and I was deeply saddened by his death nearly four years ago - his love for the LA theatre community is what has inspired me the most.
With writing for LA Stage, I discovered a passion for interviewing artists - I love hearing about what inspires them, what drives them, the challenges they face, the magic they make. I also have a deep, deep love for Los Angeles - I firmly believe this city needs more coverage of the arts. We need the rest of the world to know that we are a culturally rich and diverse city, “Hollywood” is only one aspect of our identity - this city is brimming with artists who are passionate, creative and imaginative. They deserve to be recognised and celebrated.
When offered the Editor in Chief position of Better Lemons, I immediately said yes. Again, that same flashback of my mother came rushing to my mind, this time with a different resonance. For me, the hesitation of saying yes wasn't from insecurity, it was because my mother was dying - I didn't know if I'd have the time or headspace to dedicate to the site. Yet, I could hear my mother's never ending encouragement in the back of my mind, so I took the leap.
When my mother died, I wrote about continuing on with creating despite living with immeasurable grief. It's been four months since she's passed and I've been blessed to have gone from production to production to production. I'm still grappling with the grief, but I'm thankful to have the work to keep me busy. Making theatre is my passion and what a joy it is to be able to do what I love.
It is for this reason that I'm not continuing as Editor for Better Lemons. My priority will always be making theatre. I will continue to do interviews and write about theatre when I can, but Better Lemons deserves a leader who can dedicate more time moving it forward. Which is why I'm delighted Stephen Fife is taking over the helm. He's an incredible writer with a wide range of experience in writing for and about the arts. I have no doubt that he will do great work for arts and culture coverage in Los Angeles.
My deepest gratitude to Better Lemons in allowing me to help it transition into this new chapter of the site, and I look forward to watching it grow.
Who Is Richard Cotovsky?
The Orignal Superior Donuts.
CBS launched a new sitcom earlier this year titled “Superior Donuts,” which is and isn't an adaptation of the play written by the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Tracy Letts. The sitcom version stars Judd Hirsch in the lead as Arthur Przybyszewski and Jermaine Fowler plays Franco. These are two characters from the stage production of “Superior Donuts” that sort of resemble the original characters of the play. Also, the location, Chicago, is central to the story, but not in as much depth as it is in Letts' play. The TV series “Superior Donuts” would be more accurately described as a production created by Bob Daily, Garrett Donovan, Neil Goldman and Jermaine Fowler who are credited as producers and writers of the show.
This by no means is a pan on Judd Hirsh, Jermaine Fowler, Katey Segal, Dave Koechner and the rest of the cast of the TV series. They are all fine actors. My friend and neighbor, Marla Cotovsky - who is Richard Cotovsky's sister - attended a SAG-AFTRA Foundation event, “Conversation with Superior Donuts” in Los Angeles. She submitted a general question to the whole cast about their audition process for the show when panelist and cast member Dave Koechner, who knows Richard, asked Marla to repeat her last name because he recognized it. Once Marla confirmed she was Richard Cotovsky's sister Dave went on to pay homage to Richard and told the cast and audience that he was the character Arthur and credited him for the existence of “Superior Donuts.” The event was videotaped and you can see it on YouTube. However, I watched that event and a few episodes of the sitcom, and get the feeling that none of the producers, cast members or series writers has seen the play.
Dedication of Honorary Richard Cotovsky Way - Photo credit Chicago Tribune
In my conversation with Richard Cotovsky, I ask him for some pre “Superior Donuts” history. Cotovsky, who has a degree in pharmacy from the University of Illinois in Chicago, started acting in college when he took an elective class, introduction to theater. He has performed in and directed many plays, been cast in various TV show episodes, but his most notable and recognized role has been the Artistic Director of the Mary-Arrchie Theater Group in Chicago for 30 years until the theater closed in 2016. To honor Richard Cotovsky's contribution to the Chicago Theater community the street, West Sheridan Road by Angel Island, where the Mary-Arrchie Theater was located, was dedicated as Honorary Richard Cotovsky Way, by Alderman James Cappleman.
Richard Cotovsky met Tracy Letts many years ago when Letts moved to Chicago and became part of the theater community. They became friends and Richard sat in Tracy's improv theater group a few times. They regularly hung out with a group of theater folks in a bar in Chicago, and as Richard put it, “Tracy got involved with the right crowd and I watched him succeed and we maintained a friendship in theater over the years.” A few years ago, Letts approached Richard telling him he's written a draft of a play, “Superior Donuts,” and was surprised when Tracy told him he based the main character Arthur on him. Tracy Letts is a member of the Steppenwolf Theater Group in Chicago and took the draft of “Superior Donuts” to them. Shortly after they got the play, Cotovsky gets a call from the casting director at Steppenwolf and tells him that the info on the call is top secret and they want to see him about Letts' play “Superior Donuts.” So Richard goes to the theater and meets with the producers and casting director and auditions for the play. That was the first time he read the part of Arthur. They tell him if another actor doesn't come on board the part is his. Michael McKean came on board so Richard's role fell to understudy, but they wanted Richard to workshop the play with them, and he was happy about that.
Since the character Arthur was based on him, Richard was able to help the Steppenwolf Theater Company develop the play. Letts is originally from Tulsa Oklahoma and not as deeply familiar with Chicago as Richard so he was able to add some details and nuances of the city as well as character depth in Arthur. Workshopping the play was a very interesting creative process that Cotovsky enjoyed and found satisfying. Many of Richard's suggestions for the play were considered and accepted by the production group.
The play went from the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago to Broadway, but when the play went to The Studio Theater in Washington DC Richard finally gets cast in the lead as Arthur. He got a call of congrats from Tracy Letts and Richard tells his friend, “The play has come full circle.” “Not until you produce it at the Mary-Arrchie,” urged Letts. And so he did. Richard Cotovsky produced and starred in the lead as Arthur at his theater. He got Matt Miller to direct as he knew Matt was not only a great director but also well connected with the best actors in Chicago. Miller cast a young actor, Preston Tate Jr. for the role of Franco and at first Cotovsky thought he might be a little inexperienced for the role, but quickly he found that Tate was very passionate about playing the character Franco and turned out to be the perfect Franco.
The original “Superior Donuts”
Franco & Arthur - Superior Donuts, Mary-Arrchie Theater, Photo by Greg Rothman
In the play, Arthur is a man in his 50s, a pothead who has avoided things all his life and stuck in his ways. A Vietnam War draft dodger who fled to Canada, Arthur had a strained relationship with his father whose last word spoken to Arthur was “coward.” Arthur's father dies and his mother is left to run the donut shop but needs Arthur to come back and take it over. So he comes back during the amnesty period when draft dodgers could return to the US without penalties or imprisonment. Arthur has no ambition or love for the donut shop and it's a dingy, rundown lifeless place that barely gets by as the donut business hangs on by a thread. Arthur reflects the condition of his shop, unkempt; he keeps his wild frizzy hair in a ponytail and wears old t-shirts and dirty jeans. Arthur's style supports the weight of his life; the disappointments and tragedies. Arthur was married some years earlier but his wife leaves him and takes their daughter with her and they get a divorce. His wife dies five years after she leaves him which causes a deep divide between Arthur and his daughter who has not spoken to him in years. Arthur uses marijuana as a smoke screen to avoid the pain of life.
Franco is a young, intelligent, energetic and idealistic black man who has a gambling addiction betting on football. He is also a writer who carries his novel's manuscript with him at all times in a series of notebooks tied together with a bungee cord. Franco is a central character but he's introduced later in act one. Prior to Franco entering Arthur's world, there is a lot of background in the dialog with and between the characters that frequent the donut shop. The dialog and monologs in the first act reveal details of the why and the how of Arthur. Without this background, an audience would not connect and have emotions for Arthur.
Franco wins the trust and heart of Arthur through persistence. He begins to give Arthur ideas to improve his shop and pointers on how to give better customer service and marketing to increase donut sales. A transformation starts to take place as Franco begins to clean up the place and suggests Arthur get a radio to play music and inject uplifting energy into the donut shop. Franco also sparks an external and internal transformation of Arthur as he pries into Arthur's past. Like a sly therapist, he gets Arthur to reveal his life story and helps Arthur stop avoiding change. Franco extends his trust and friendship with Arthur with the ultimate gesture. He gives Arthur his novel “America Will Be” to read. Arthur takes the bundle of notebooks home and reads the novel. When he brings back the manuscript he tells Franco how good the story is, and that he needs to type it out into a computer so he can submit it for publishing.
Preston Tate Jr. & Richard Cotovsky -Franco & Arthur, Photo by Greg Rothman
The emotional turning point in the play comes when Franco who owes a lot of money to a gangster bookie, but can't repay his debt. The gangster burns Franco's notebooks, the only copy of his novel, and cuts off the fingers on one of Franco's hands. This pushes Arthur to break from his life of avoidance and fear to help Franco by paying off his debt and get into a fist fight with the gangster. The play ends with Franco and Arthur quietly sitting at a table in the donut shop, Franco's hand is bandaged where his fingers were cut off, and Arthur has a notebook in front of him and a pen in hand, and begins to help Franco re-write his novel, “America Will Be.”
Tracy Letts wrote his play “Superior Donuts” with thoughtful, unpretentious honesty and a sarcastic wit. Ironically, during “Superior Donuts'” run at the Mary-Arrchie Theater, Richard Cotovsky had a thought that the play would make a good sitcom. In my interview with Richard, he said he could see ten episodes straight from the play. Franco's character would not be introduced until the third episode, but that would allow for the audience to connect with the story and Arthur, and by then be ready for something to bring about a change in him. Though Richard admits it would be very difficult to change the key dramatic scenes with the notebooks being burned and Franco's fingers being cut off into comedy – these were scenes that brought gasps from the audience every night the play was performed – but there are so many possibilities for the TV series to be an actual adaptation of the original “Superior Donuts” and stretch into many episodes.
At the SAG-AFTRA Foundation event, another question from the audience was how were they able to adapt this play into a TV series? Jermaine Fowler answered, “Keeping the story intact and keeping the soul of the story alive.” That would have been doable, but after watching a few episodes of the sitcom it appears the writers have created a new TV story, not an adaptation. I don't find much of the original story included in this series and the soul… I hope the producers of the TV show will bring in the essence and depth of connection and transformation from the original “Superior Donuts” into the series.