Who is Richard Cotovsky?

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.

richard cotovsky way

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

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

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.


Heather Lipson Bell

Heather Lipson Bell

Heather Lipson Bell is a genuine Los Angeles hyphenate; dancer, choreographer, actress, educator and entrepreneur.  She has carved out a successful career by following her heart and soul, connecting experiences and collaborators and weaving them together to create a tapestry of creativity, artistry, education, altruism and family.

Bell is a force in the world of dance and opera, especially as it intersects with young people and both children and adults with different needs. A quick rundown of her current job titles illustrates her lifelong love of music, dance and activism.  She is the founder and creative director for Performing Arts For All, providing arts opportunities for and specializing in working with those who have special needs and limitations. She is a lead educator and the managing director for KIDS/IQUE, a division of www.muse-ique.com, an organization which provides artistic opportunities for those in foster care facilities, at-risk youth and those with additional special needs. PAFA partners with LA Opera, LA Ballet, MUSE/IQUE, Center Stage Opera and is Fiscally Sponsored by the 501c3 Dance Resource Center. Her programs are unique in that they do not separate nor isolate participants by challenge. Rather, all dancers work together and use their different strengths and weaknesses to create a stronger whole.

Bell has worked with the LA Opera since 2008 as a teaching artist, choreographer and assistant director for their in-school and community programs.  She is a dancer and choreographer who works consistently.  She has performed in over ten concerts with the New York Philharmonic, two of which she both choreographed and danced and which will be kept as part of a new online platform, nyphil.org/ypcplay. She performs regularly and has film and theater pieces in all states of production. Recent work includes dancing at the Ford Theater, at the Pageant of the Masters, choreographing and co-producing the short film Halfway, which she and her partner Christine Deitner (They also created the award winning "Freeze! Try Again) are now developing for presentation at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Finally, with co-artistic director Tom Dulack (www.teatrofilarmonico.org) she is planning on touring their concerts and also in development on 2 other theater projects: Extravaganza (based on the life and work of Vivaldi) and Aphra (a play he's written about the fabulous Aphra Behn that Bell would choreograph).

Lastly, Bell is a mom who home schools her two young children and also serves as their audition chauffeur. Final note: Heather Lipson Bell is busy.

We met for hot drinks on a rainy Thursday morning for a freewheeling conversation that circled around the ideas of art as a source of inspiration, community and service, making it as a freelance artist in Los Angeles and the immense value of the support of friends and family.

The phenomenon of dance as a tool for work with differently abled people is relatively new to the general public but has been part of Bell's career path from early on. Her first major foray was her senior showcase at Boston Conservatory, with a project that involved blind and deaf dancers. Although the artistic director was “completely not on board, she thought it a terrible idea…,” Bell and her creative partner stayed committed to their idea and eventually found an enthusiastic mentor in their Laban professor. They focused on research, teaching classes and small workshops at both the Perkins School for the Blind  and Caroll Center for The Blind.

“For me it was specifically a movement inspired thing. How do different people move? How do they understand movement?" She continues, "it became really interesting because we met people who were born with different levels of disability. Then also those who had lost their vision - one man who had so much anger but agreed to do our little movement class, and he was able to find movement, spacial awareness and comfort in this new sightless world.” Eventually they combined sighted dancers into the project and her path, curvy and indirect though it would be, was set. “It was this huge vast world that I had never been exposed to…..that kind of sparked my interest in movement study.”

Bell and PAFA at The Hard Rock Cafe in 2016

Bell moved to LA in 1999 “not to dance, but following a boyfriend.  I thought I'd hang out for a year and go back to New York.” But she she stayed, “I was lucky when I came to LA - to meet a really good group of people right away who were not competitive in the typical sense of what I grew up with, but really supportive and were like, well if I don't get the job, it's good because you got the job and we all kind of came up together." She adds, "To this day - I find this a really unique group of women and that has been a great support under everything I do.” Her circle of friends and collaborators continues inspire and support her. When casting dancers for a short film she recently choreographed and co-produced, she invited people to simply take part, without telling them exactly what they would be doing. “I expected five or six people to show up and over 25 beautiful dancers came to give of themselves.”

Bell and Gary Franco dancing with City Ballet of Los Angeles at the Ford Theater in a piece that she choreographed.

Bell talks a lot about community and friendship; of the give and take of this industry. She credits much of her success to friends looking out for one another and mentions job after job that she earned after a recommendation from one friend or another. The path to creating Performing Arts for All started with a job vacated by a friend who went to go dance on a cruise. Bell was hired as a dancer by Zina Bethune and Bethune Theatre Dance, a company that created work with both traditional and differently abled dancers. When Bethune later saw Bell's resume, she hired her as an educator which led to 10 years of teaching dance to people with all kinds of challenges. After Bethune was killed in a tragic hit and run accident, some parents approached Bell because they missed her classes. This inspired the creation of PAFA.

What stands out when listening to Bell speak is the fluidity with which she adjusts the focus of her work. There is equal value given to performance, teaching, choreography and activism - all fueled by a constant search for new and inventive ways to create movement stories. Each feeds the other. For example, when choreographing a film scene with Marines who were uncomfortable with the entire premise of dancing, she drew upon what she had learned teaching those who were blind, having them do movement they were already familiar with, then guiding that movement into patterns to create dance. In this way, she essentially allows her dancers to make their own dances. She sums up her philosophy by saying, “there was never a break, I started teaching at 15, following the concept, from an Ailey dancer, of; I am not your teacher, we teach each other.”  She is also vocal in visualizing, setting goals and manifesting what she wants. For example, when auditioning for a beer commercial she asked in the moment if they had a choreographer. They said no. She got the job.

Bell is pragmatic about the ups and downs of the industry. She revealed her disappointment in coming to the realization that she had limits as a choreographer; that creating new movement vocabulary was not among her skills. Initially she mourned what she considered a failing but then turned that liability into an asset. Becoming an expert at research, she studied organic movement and approached her work that way instead. Her work for the NY Phil was based in flamenco, a dance form that she was unfamiliar with at the beginning of the process yet by the time she came to the performance, the world renowned musician with whom she was partnered thought her an expert.

How does she get through the downs? "In regards to fighting depression, a simple thing to do is find one thing, one small thing a day to be joyous about," says Bell. "We all experience depression and feel stuck or powerless. For me, it seems my nature is to be happy - I am drawn to laughter and beauty and stories of strength and resilience like many, and shy away from darkness and evil and blood and guts." For example, "I choose not to go out for roles playing parts of victims, etc." Adding, "I am drawn to other projects and have been lucky to have opportunities that support this. For me I try to always:  Explore. Learn. Play. Move. Connect. I'll continue to set goals, and take on too much, and procrastinate and enjoy my craft and community and family more than I could ever express."

Bell is quick to credit her family for their ongoing support. Her parents, her husband, even her young children all support and participate in her process. “I was a performer when I met my husband. He knows that it is not about the money.” She recounted her dad's reaction when she turned down an opportunity to create a health oriented business when a much less lucrative but much more artistic performance opportunity arrived. “He was like, of course you'll go dance!”

"We seem to all strive for this ‘balance' or even for ‘perfection' - and it is a fleeting thing. If it wasn't I'm sure I'd be bored by the stillness. I have always been grateful for the language of dance, for experiencing and appreciating on a very deep level the impermanence of what we do. And for the voice and opportunities it has given me. Balancing creative work, work, a marriage and motherhood is a dance. I am constantly reminded what a gift it all is and that I'm not perfect - and that is perfect."

"What I'm doing now, who I am -  was present in me as a very young child. I really have always been an artist and activist and as I've been thinking the examples go so far back. I've always loved human movement and storytelling and history and music and art and elephants and trees and collaboration and community and the connections of it all and just the complexity of this world."

Performing Arts For All has a full schedule for 2017.
Two 6 week workshops culminating with a showcase.
Session 1: 1/7/17 - 2/11/17, Session 2: 2/25/17 - 4/1/17
Additional inclusion workshops at Olive Middle and High Schools (Baldwin Park)
KIDS/IQUE outreach visits us: 2/11/17 & 4/1/17
MUSE/IQUE Concert Field Trips: 2/12/17, 4/2/17
LA BALLET Field Trip: TBA
Performing with LA Opera - Community Opera Noah's Flood - shows 5/6/17

To keep up to date on Bell's work, visit her Website

 

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Escaping and Not Escaping The Tension Experience

Circling the World of the O.O.A.

Until this year, I'd never been to any kind of haunt production. I hadn't heard of Delusion, I didn't know what My Haunt Life was, and (I'm embarrassed to say) I had never even been to Sleep No More. What about an escape room? Nope. Hadn't done that, either.

However, I have been part of live events that push beyond the proscenium of “traditional” theatre, and I love it. I've attended as well as created various types of immersive and interactive productions in several genres and forms. So, when I first heard about The Tension Experience: Ascension, I was instantly riveted.

If you're not familiar, The Tension Experience is a highly-produced, ever-changing, individually-tailored machination of tentacled performances that just released its hold on LA (at least officially, and at least for the moment). It was part theatre and part mythological rabbit hole. It was part puzzle and part interrogation. It was made up of guerrilla mind games and shifting layers of morphing storylines. It also was, and is, a complete obsession for those who stepped into its shadowy waters.

My explanation is a little vague because, well, it would take me about 27 pages to give you my initial take on what actually went down. Also, to be honest, there's a part of me that's still nervous they're tapping my phone and monitoring my email, and if I reveal too much I'll come home to find some masked guy waiting with a coil of rope and a tray of scalpels. If you want to dig into their history, scour the internet at your own risk.

The short version of what happened: a cult called the O.O.A. came to town. They were full of mystery and controversy, popping up all over LA for months to interview people and disperse clues. Then, if you actually bought a ticket and showed up at your appointed time, you might have a chance to learn their secrets and become part of their mission.

Unfortunately, I was broke. So I decided not to go.

That is, until a friend of mine offered to loan me the money. Where did he get the funds? I assume the O.O.A. wired them to his account, and blackmailed him into buying me a ticket for their own nefarious purposes. In any case, we secured our admissions, girded our loins, and finally arrived at the designated alleyway at our appointed time.

Shortly afterwards, the black van pulled up.

Inside the Machine

Again, I'm not going to go into great detail about what went down for the next two or three hours of my life. I can tell you that I was stripped of all my possessions (including my clothes, thank you), questioned by several different people, and put through a battery of physical, mental, and psychic tests.

In nearly no time at all, I knew I had been singled out. I was separated from the rest of the group for most of my journey. I was given tasks that pitted me against my fellow entrants, and I was rewarded with encouraging words as I passed through each new challenge. For a good stretch, it appeared they'd narrowed it all down to me and one other person.

But narrowed it down for what?

Finally, my one remaining companion (enemy?) and I were knelt down. We began a strange and frightening ceremony in total darkness. And the question was posed: which one of us was to go first? I held my breath…and they took him first. Then I was alone. For a long time. Until they came back to get me.

I suppose it was after I woke up in a room full of sand. It was after a woman whispered in my ear that she was “so jealous” of what I was about to feel. It was after they strapped me to a medical chair and someone started swabbing my arm. That's when I started to think that maybe I shouldn't have come.

I learned something that night, though: when someone tells you it's time to say your final goodbyes to everyone you know? It's hard, in that moment, to come up with the right words.

The Tension Experience site is now mostly dismantled remains.

The Experience Continues

Clearly, I'm here writing this, so I didn't wind up dead. But it was close. As often happens with cults, things didn't exactly go as planned, and by the time I managed to get out of there, I was a bit shook up—and covered in blood. So, I did the sensible thing: I decided to write about my escape, publish it for all to see, and call out the O.O.A. on their messy little slip-up.

And you know what? They heard me. The next day I received a special message from the O.O.A. Within the week, I was back at their headquarters to ‘bear witness.' To what? I could only assume it would be a very jarring finale.

It was.

While I was there to witness the final moments of the show, I saw others in attendance that I recognized from The Tension Experience forums. There were people I recognized from events like Screenshot Productions' The Rope. It was a small but highly devoted audience, and a group that was apparently very loyal to this brand of terror-driven immersive experience. Everyone gathered with a particular type of fervor and suspense that I have honestly never seen in the theatre.

The Lust Experience is the next chapter, but very little is currently known about it.

However, despite the closing of the O.O.A.'s doors, this isn't over. We already know that the next chapter of this saga will surface in the form of something entitled The Lust Experience, and after that we'll encounter The Adrenaline Experience. It's hard to say what they have in store.

I have a million questions. Some have to do with the story we know, and some have to do with the chapters to come. Some have to do with my interest as a playwright, actor, and producer: how was this thing assembled? I wonder how many more secrets will be revealed. I wonder how many locked doors will remain unopened as this experience continues to grow.

Then I wonder about the audience. For these next installments, will it be the same fervent group of devotees who adore horror and fantasy? Or will new participants emerge after hearing about the success of this first experiment? Will people be more or less comfortable facing Lust than they were facing Tension? Is this the start of a new LA institution?

As I said, the haunt scene is entirely new to me, but I can't help but think that The Tension Experience is, in many ways, the most memorable piece of theatre I've ever witnessed. It grabbed me in ways I couldn't shake, and now it continues to follow me afterwards. On the one hand, I feel like this kind of production could be the future of live theatre. On the other hand, perhaps it follows the form of the exact thing it claimed to be from the start: a small and devoted cult meant for a select few.

Only time will reveal what comes next. But if you're even the tiniest bit curious, I encourage you to visit The Lust Experience and join the list. Even if you're not a haunt-goer. Even if you're not a theatre-goer. Even if you have to bum some money from a friend down the line. Get involved with this story, because what's going on here feels big. It's a narrative that extends far beyond a 90-minute window or a 99-seat theatre. It's not just another live event. It's a living, breathing, organism. And it's waiting for you.


Female Fusion Spotlight on Debbie Devine

Female Fusion -- At the intersection of art and action

A column highlighting and exploring the careers of women creating art and changing the world, one community at a time.

Debbie Devine
Artistic Director of 24th Street Theatre, Director of Drama at the Colburn School and a director for artistic programing at the LA Philharmonic

Debbie Devine

Debbie Devine Directing Hansel and Gretel, Bluegrass with Caleb Foote (Hansel) Angela Giarratana (Gretel)

Debbie Devine has a great laugh. Deep throated, full and infectious, it invites you to actively take part in the conversation. When you do, what a joy ride you will experience! The discussion ricochets between theater, music, education, and human rights - illuminating all of the places where they intersect in a gorgeous kaleidoscope of life and one woman's astonishing career.

debbie-devine-headshot-1

Debbie Devine. Photo courtesy of 24th Street Theatre

Ms. Devine is a director, an educator, a writer and an advocate. She moves seamlessly from one to the other, often occupying several spaces at once. She is the founder and artistic director of 24th Street Theatre, whose mission statement reads, “To engage, educate, and provoke our diverse community with excellent theatre and arts education.” 24th Street Theatre creates gorgeous work that is family inclusive, but in no way simplified or generic. The work is multi-layered, innovative in its content and vision and without fail intensely moving. The list of awards and accolades is much longer than this column can accommodate. In addition to what would be, for most people, more than full time job, she is the Chair of Drama for the Colburn School (both dance and music) and an artistic director for the LA Philharmonic, where she creates content and programs that bring the music and process of creating music to life for young audiences.

When I asked Ms. Devine how she found her calling she recounted that, like many people in the theater community, she was a painfully shy kid, someone absolutely unable to communicate. Her mother was concerned and as a last resort put her in a summer theater program. It worked. She found her life's passion, saying that “it was such an incredible experience for me to understand how the voice is used...how making believe and then actually being able to believe what is make believe can change lives.” She began working professionally as an actress while still in high school and started her teaching career while still quite young.

It was as a high school drama teacher that she found her path. She was working in a school for deeply troubled kids when Jack Black walked into her room. Ms. Devine's relationship with this incredible actor, singer, musician and comedian is well documented. He has, as in this LA Times quote, often credited her with saving him. “I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't met Deb Devine, who inspired me and for the first time gave me a reason to really love going to school. [She] opened my mind and soul to an exciting world of literature and communication.... All of a sudden I knew all these new things.” She was able to get past his rough exterior and helped him uncover the brilliance that was hidden inside. They have stayed close over the years, even sharing a Rose Bowl float in 2015 in honor of their joint initiative, Thank A Million Teachers, which does just that.

It is easy to go down the celebrity worm hole and focus on this ongoing and charming partnership, but Ms. Devine has saved, and I don't use that word lightly, many many people over the years. After she broke through with Mr. Black she said, “I started to look around and I realized that this is happening with all of these kids and I started to realize that this art form [theater], it's magic.” In 1997 she founded 24th Street Theatre with her partner Jay McAdams. It has grown into an internationally recognized organization dedicated to blending professional productions presented by world-class artists with quality arts education. In addition to these critically acclaimed shows, many of which debut here in LA and then tour nationally and internationally, there are arts education programs, community outreach programs and continuing arts education and professional development programs for school teachers.

We spoke in depth about the theater's production of Mike Kenny's Walking the Tightrope, which premiered 24th Street in 2012 and went on to win numerous awards, including a best direction award from LA Weekly for Ms. Devine and Best Production from the LA Drama Critics Circle. It is currently touring the country. We spoke of the power and beauty of the piece, which is the tale of a grandfather who is not quite able to bring himself to tell his 5 year-old granddaughter that Grandma is gone and in the process goes about building a beautiful new relationship with her. The play is incredibly moving, in a truly visceral way. Ms. Devine explained the process of approaching the story not as a child's tale but rather as the grandfather's story. The grandfather is suicidal and believes he cannot go on, but in trying to explain his wife's absence to this child, he finds a way to continue. That is really the mission of the theater and the method to building family friendly productions; tell a simple story in a truthful way that has meaning and sophistication.

One of the programs at the theater which speaks directly to the community at this moment in time is called Enter Stage Right. A part of the Field Trip series, it is a 90 minute show about the magic of theater. The show culminates in a scene set in 1870 at a train depot at which a Mexican mother and her child are stopped from getting onto the train by a racist Irishman. Many issues are explored through music and improvisational acting throughout the show. Ultimately you find a relatable dynamic for modern audiences between the mother and child; the child can read and is able to navigate the situation by standing up for their rights. Literacy and standing up to injustice are illustrated in a very familiar way to the 10,000 students a year see this show, as many of these children are in a similar situation with their own parents, serving as translators for them in Los Angeles. Teaching artists go to the children's classes before and after the field trip to share and explore why the Irishman is so cruel, how to speak truth in intimidating circumstances and how history can teach us about the present.

24th Street Theatre occupies an amazing old building in the predominantly Latino neighborhood near USC. The theater is an old carriage house originally built in 1928. This is truly a community space; always open so that people can come in for a tour, a cup of tea or simply companionship. In addition to the Field Trip programs there is an after school program, After ‘Cool which brings teenagers into the fold and helps them develop into ambassadors and translators to help with bilingual programing. There are additional leadership programs and The Teatro del Pueblo series which brings the parents of all of those kids into the theater and has them create a play. This serves to further strengthen ties to the community and increases the number of Spanish speaking audience members exposed to live theater. Finally, there is a professional development program for teachers. They basically get to experience a three hour acting class with both a live musician and film/technical director in order to create stories. Part of this process is curriculum based and connected to the core standards so that they can take what they learn back to their students. The second and arguably more important piece reminds teachers why they became teachers in the first place. The process of creating art reconnects teachers, these teachers who get so caught up in the day to day bureaucracy of the school system, to their hearts and reinvigorates them as they re-enter the classroom. This is a theater that is as much about life as it is art.

How, then, does her work at 24th Street compare to her duties at both the Colburn School and the LA Philharmonic? She works with composers, musicians and conductors, at both venues and with symphonies around the country, teaching workshops on how to communicate about music with people. Many musicians don't naturally talk about their art and Ms. Devine helps them bridge the gap between their solo work and the people that they work with and for. She points out that a musician can practice solo for six or eight hours at a time and never have to speak to another soul! Speaking to other artists, audience, members and donors can take practice and the workshops facilitate that. The second part of her work in these venues, which is similar to her work with 24th Street, involves building, as a director and co-writer, original theatrical pieces which support library cuts of music that the Philharmonic is playing. She directs and co-writes a theatrical story which supports the music. The current piece that she is working on with Joanne Pierce Martin, the head keyboardist at the Philharmonic, is called The Art of the Piano. The piece is about the relationship between the pianist, the piano tuner and the piano. This is one of three pieces this year. She does similar work at Colburn, both coaching musicians and creating stories.

When I asked jokingly asked her about hobbies or outside interests, knowing that she couldn't possibly have time for them, she laughed that awesome laugh and agreed that maybe she needs an outlet, but that she loves what she does and that is everything.

Ms. Devine's current show is Hansel and Gretel, Bluegrass, currently running through December 11 (with a possible extension) at 24th Street Theatre. It has received rave reviews. The LA Times says, “ Masterful staging by 24th Street co-founder Debbie Devine situates the fine performances within a stunning visual tableau. ….The play's message about interdependence may seem simple enough, but this is no kiddie show. The siblings' trials are a rite of passage to adulthood, one with intentional implicit relevance to today's headlines about desperate parents in troubled regions trying to send their children out of harm's way.” It appears to be exactly what is needed in these dangerous and uncharted times.

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