COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: The Wandering West Coast Jewish Theatre - An Interview with Howard Teichman


As the artistic director for the West Coast Jewish Theatre, Howard Teichman has dedicated his life in the theater to bringing Jewish thematic plays to the second largest Jewish community in the United States. During his tenure as artistic director, Howard has either produced or directed numerous memorable plays that have drawn both critical acclaim and audience pleasure. Plays like Bar Mitzvah Boy, Fugu, and Broadway Bound reveal the variety of approaches he has taken to reach his goals of Yiddishkeit, social relevance, inclusion, and – of course - entertainment. Howard took time from his busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


Pamela Heffner and R. Emmett Lee - Photo by Michael Lamont

When did your theater company first begin its long career? What led to its creation? What's your mission? Were you involved from the beginning?

Howard Teichman: West Coast Jewish Theatre began in the mid-1990s. Our founder Naomi Karz Jacobs wanted to bring Jewish theater to the Los Angeles area. The theater started out performing staged readings with celebrities in people’s homes. Ed Asner, Harold Greene, Shelly Berman and many other well-known actors gave of their time to perform Jewish thematic plays. The readings eventually moved to different synagogues in the Los Angeles area. We did find a home for quite a while at the Wilshire Blvd. Temple in West Los Angeles.

Our mission is to portray Jewish history and foster a respect for our Jewish culture and heritage. It’s through the medium of theater that we keep alive the works of Jewish writers, both past and present, and also encourage new Jewish playwrights. We want to portray to the non-Jewish community the unique qualities of the Jewish people, as well as those qualities that are shared with everyone, making us all equal in the family of man.

I was involved at the beginning of West Coast Jewish Theatre. I was on the Board of Directors. I also produced and directed shows for the theater. I wrote a play on behalf of the West Coast Jewish Theatre for the first ever Yiddishkeit Festival held in Los Angeles in 1999.

West Coast Jewish Theatre’s history is truly a journey of survival. As I stated before, we began as a theater performing staged readings. After a while we partnered with other theaters in town to present full-length productions. We worked with groups like Pacific Resident Theater Ensemble and co-produced with David Ellenstein and other individual producers. When Herb Isaac became our artistic director in 2003, we began to produce our own shows. We performed at the Egyptian Theatre for a few shows, and we performed at the Miles Memorial Playhouse for one show. In 2006, we moved to the Pico Playhouse, where we found a home until 2017. While at the Pico Playhouse, we presented some of the best theater in Los Angeles. We were fortunate to have worked with some of the best actors, directors, and designers that Los Angeles has to offer. If you go to our website, we have cataloged all the good work that we created during that time frame.

In 2018 we returned to the Miles Memorial Playhouse for a couple of shows. Right now, we are searching for a permanent home. I hope it’s a joke when I say, “We should change the name of our theater to the “Wandering Jewish Theater.”

I left the West Coast Jewish Theatre for about eight years and became a resident theater director at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills. In 2009, I was offered and accepted the position of producer for the West Coast Jewish Theatre. In 2010, I took over the reins from Herb Isaac when he retired; and I became the artistic director and producing manager.

Kate Matamura and Matt Gottlieb - Photo by Michael Lamont

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

HT: We closed our theater to any further productions on March 1, 2020, when we could see the writing on the wall. We had just concluded a staged reading series at the Miles Memorial Playhouse and were in the process of negotiating with them for another series of staged readings in May and in July.  We were also negotiating a full length production opening in October.

Richard Fancy and Marco Naggar in "New Jerusalem" - Photo by Hope Burleigh

Over the past weeks, how has COVID-19 impacted your theater?

HT:  Just as it has impacted everyone else in town. We are closed for business until it is safe to congregate as a society. Since we only rent spaces at this time, we are not burdened with the expenses of theater property; however, we continue to reach out for donations to keep the flame alive for our theater.

Carl Crudup and Jack Axelrod in "I'm Not Rappaport" - Photo by Michael Lamont

Are you going anything right now to keep your live theater going? Streaming? Having virtual meetings? Planning for your next show when you reopen? Auditioning? Fundraising?

HT: We have recently created a video for all social media platform for our theater. We are in the process of editing an overview montage of what our theater has accomplished over these many years. Hopefully, we will be performing staged readings on the platform and offer a variety of Jewish theatrical content. We are in the process of developing our next season. We continue to fund raise. We have a grant writer on staff who is reaching out to various foundations with the hope of procuring monies.

Mark Sande and Jill Remez in "Broadway Bound" - Photo by Michael Lamont

What do you think will be the impact of COVID-19 on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you forsee any permanent changes?

HT: Until there is a vaccine or a medication that can prevent the spread of this disease, audiences won’t feel comfortable returning to any publicly-held event. We can only hope that the world’s great scientists come up with something that can kill this virus. Theater is a living being that demands the audience’s participation. Theater has existed for many centuries and has overcome plagues of the past, as well as upheaval, war, and totalitarian governments that censor the free spirit of theater. Theater will continue to shine a light on the human condition as long as man is willing to tell stories and present them in the style, form, and genre that we know as theater.

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

HT:  We need patience, tolerance, and hope. What I would like from the theater public is their resolve that they will return to the theater in droves once it is safe. The public must support and contribute to their favorite theater in order to keep theater alive in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Small theater in Los Angeles is truly at the mercy of the public. Large houses have money and contributors, while small theaters are getting along on shoestring budgets and not enough support from city, state, and federal governments. We need their help now more than ever. History has shown us that a healthy theater scene reflects prosperously on the health of a society.

What are some of your future plans?

HT:  We plan on staying alive and healthy so that we can produce in the near future. We hope to find a permanent home for the West Coast Jewish Theatre. We want to develop new works and open a new season. We must increase our fund-raising events, and we will reach out to the community at large. We will also increase our Board of Directors.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Dana Weisman, A Musical Theatre Actor Who Longs to Get Back Onstage ASAP


This Spotlight focuses on Dana Weisman, a musical theatre actor who longs to get back on the stage and entertain audiences as soon as possible!


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

Dana Weisman (Dana): It seems like I have been involved with theatre my whole life. Originally from New York, I began taking dance lessons at around 7 years old and then became a company member in a local children’s theatre troupe when I was around 10.  Like many young girls at the time, I was captivated by the musical Annie when it opened on Broadway and would have given my right arm to be part of that experience. In my mid-teens I attended a performing arts camp called French Woods in the Catskills and further fanned my musical theatre ambition.

Roy Okida and Dana Weisman in "Somethings Afoot"

Then, after the movie Fame came out, I was given the opportunity to audition for the High School of Music & Art (now LaGuardia) and was accepted as a Vocal Arts major. We were classically trained, but for me one of the most fun and fulfilling parts of my high school years was being a member of M&A’s acclaimed Gospel Choir. While at M&A, I was also a part of a professional theatre company in Manhattan called The First All Children’s Theater. With this troupe, I had the opportunity of performing at the Kennedy Center in an original musical called The Trip when I was 16 years old.

After high school, I attended Northwestern as a Theatre major for a couple of years before transferring to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts (Circle-In-The-Square) as I had decided I wanted to earn a BFA. After college followed long years of waiting tables at MANY restaurants up and down Manhattan. You can definitely “Betcha your life a waitress earns her pay!”

In between waiter gigs and other odd jobs, I took classes and built my resume doing lots of regional and summer stock theatre. I made lifetime friends at all these jobs and seemed at times to move closer to my goal of a Broadway gig - but then would slide back. It became frustrating as I saw many of my friends move on to Broadway and my confidence eventually began to erode. I learned there is no question one needs to have an unflagging, burning desire coupled with talent and being in the right place at the right time in order to succeed in this biz. But I seemed to never have all three at the same time.

Dana Weisman as Frau Blucher

Eventually, after a break-up, I decided to move to Los Angeles where my brother was living and try out a change of scenery and maybe pursue the TV/film side of the biz. Shortly after being in LA, I met my husband Jon, a native Angelino, and my fate to become a West Coast transplant was sealed. After getting married, I decided to pursue my other strong interest - psychology - and in between raising a family of three, I earned my graduate degree and became a licensed MFT.

However, as almost any theatre person can attest, once you are bitten by the theatre bug, it is impossible to truly get rid of the itch to be involved in the business in some way, shape or form. After years of singing lullabies to my children, I decided I wanted to get back to singing in another capacity. A few wonderful years singing with the famed Angel City Chorale was followed by my LA theatre debut with Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse. Since then, I have been performing in many other venues around LA, The Blank Theatre, The West Coast Jewish Theatre, and the Cupcake Theatre, to name a few, and also trying to break into the television / commercial / film / VO side as well.

Dana Weisman in "Broadway Bound"

(SB): I remember being amazed at your performance in Broadway Bound with The West Coast Jewish Theatre, quoting from my Broadway World review: "And what dedication to her craft was on display by Dana Weisman (understudy for Maria Spassoff), taking the stage with a broken leg in a boot and walking on crutches as Kate's sister Blanche Morton. But as soon as the initial surprise wore off in a matter of seconds, the lovely scene with Blanche visiting the family home, dressed to the nines by Shon Le Blanc in a lovely dressy suit and fur coat, reflected how well she has done for herself." A truly masterful performance! What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show? 

(Dana): Luckily, I was in between shows at the time the “Safe At Home” quarantine began. I had recently ended a run at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center as Donna in Mamma Mia and was auditioning for my next opportunity. I had a callback in the works but unfortunately, the show was postponed as we started to see the ripple effect all over LA of theaters closing and schedules being put up in the air indefinitely. Post show confidence is always a great booster for moving forward to one's next goals. So while I wasn't part of a show in the works at the time the quarantine began, any momentum I was hoping to build upon post Mamma Mia has had to be suspended indefinitely.

Dana Weisman as Donna in "Mamma Mia"

(SB): If you missed Dana in “Mamma Mia” in Simi Valley, here is my review of that fabulous production.

Regarding that callback, how was the shutdown communicated with you?

(Dana): News of this particular shutdown was communicated online via Facebook, emails, and other social media. That said, I knew it was coming and had contemplated perhaps not even attending the original audition because by that time, shutdowns were already taking place all over town. But I am glad that I did though as it always feels good to get out and turn in a mini-performance and get to do what you love, even in nerve-wracking audition circumstances.

(SB): Do you know if plans are in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(Dana): As far as I know, this particular production will commence in the future but no dates have been announced as yet. I certainly hope and pray that CoViD-19 and future precautions do not effectively “kill” live theatre, and I look forward to the day when auditions and live performances can resume. But I know that smaller theaters and theatre companies will have their budgets affected by the shutdown, and that all shows will be pushed back and schedules will have to be altered and reworked. I have a daughter who is attending Northwestern University in the fall as a freshman but, as with theatre, schedules are up in the air and may look like something completely new that we have not yet seen as we get closer to the start of the next semester.

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

Dana Weisman with "Sunday in the Park" cast

(Dana): So far, I have taken advantage of this time by cocooning at home with my family by resting, cooking, baking, watching TV, taking safe distancing walks, meditating and attempting to get some much-needed sleep. Lots of self-care. However, I will say that it can be difficult maintaining motivation as lethargy is not easy to stave off when the rule of the day is to stay at home and mostly indoors. As a theatre person - and generally a “people person” - the distance created by interacting onscreen is not always as fulfilling as the live experience. But if this is the new normal, we will all need to adjust.

Moving into this next phase, I hope to begin keeping up personally by honing my audition songbook, learning monologues, and reading plays. There are so many online classes for just about any aspect of the theatre -- auditions, dance, acting -- I hope to begin taking part in many of them. Some groups I participate in are doing online play readings, and I am planning to also take part in those. Keeping up with my fellow actors in Zoom chats is also a much-needed balm.

(SB): It’s been fun being in a few of the Zoom meetings with you! Any more thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the LA Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Dana): It is difficult to maintain hope and positivity during such unprecedented and anxious times. But theatre isn’t going anywhere. I think it’s best to just take a little rest and time to recalibrate and emerge with renewed vigor once it is safe to again “go live.” As we have all seen, the Arts in all forms are what people are turning to in these crazy times to keep going and to be inspired. They provide solace, laughter, a creative outlet, and catharsis even when shared via distance and online.

Forgive my corny sign-off but it’s true: “The sun will come out tomorrow!”


This article first appeared on Broadway World.