A Prolific and Award-winning Lighting Designer Offers Some 'Sayeg' Advice


Jared A Sayeg-2

Theatrical Lighting Designer, Jared A. Sayeg. Photo courtesy of Jared A. Sayeg.

It is no exaggeration to say that multi-award-winning theatrical and Broadway Lighting Designer, Jared A. Sayeg, has a résumé containing a body of work listing over 400-plus shows, spanning from 1999 to the present. Although his work has largely been in musicals, ballet, traveling productions, and awards shows such as the LA Stage Alliance's Ovation Awards, Sayeg has worked repeatedly with many notable and award-winning directors such as Sheldon Epps, Glenn Casale, Sally Struthers, Jules Aaron, Stephanie Vlahos, and now, Richard J. Hinds, just to name a few.

Sayeg’s career began in theatrical lighting at the age of 14 in ballet, when his sister, dancer Jean Michelle Sayeg, was performing. It was then he would meet his mentor, late Lighting Designer Liz Stillwell. Sayeg said he learned from Stillwell lighting aesthetics “from art books like Goya and Rembrandt” where she encouraged the replication of such light and color with the theatre stage as canvas. Critic, Rob Stevens, said of his work that “Sayeg’s painterly lighting design makes you almost feel like you can smell the freshly mown grass, taste the freshly baked cake.

Since then, he has done several productions for 5-Star Theatricals where he hopes that theatre can only continue to grow and thrive.


So when it comes to working on a musical like "Newsies" and with companies like 5-Star Theatricals, please walk our Better Lemons readers through your creative process—from paper to implementation—when providing a working design for the show.

The process for me is always to start with a clean slate. And, you know, it's all a collaboration. 5-Star Theatricals obviously specializes in musicals. And really rather iconic, well-known, Broadway musicals is what they typically program. When they staff their creative teams, from the directors to the designers, we all have several meetings and it all, of course, starts with the Director's vision.

We kind of springboard from that as to what we really want the end product to be and how we can support their vision and what we can bring to the table. Collectively, sometimes we have a touring set. Sometimes we have a set from scratch. In this case, [for "Newsies"] it is an existing set from one of the tours and our Director, Ricky Hinds, was part of the original Broadway production. So he knows the show very well and brings that wealth of knowledge of this production. But we're not just reproducing how it was done on Broadway, we're making it our own production. Everyone's bringing their own talents to the table.

Disney's "Newsies: The Broadway Musical" by 5-Star Theatricals at the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center Thousand Oaks. Lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg. Photo by Jeff Ditto, courtesy of 5-Star Theatricals.

Once we kind of establish our general aesthetic for the show, which was already a month ago, we have several more meetings, and it takes me probably three to four weeks of pre-production before we're in tech rehearsal. And that's from reading the script, having meetings, seeing rehearsals, and reviewing rehearsals again to really be familiar with the material and the staging and the scenery.

And then, from there, I start to generate a light plot, draw it all out, and generate an equipment list of everything that the show needs. And all that then gets delivered to the electricians—to our head electrician and their staff—who install it. That's just from the lighting end of things. Of course, other departments have very similar processes. So all that kind of happens right up until we load it into the theater. And then, once we're fully installed, I will show up to the theater and we'll have a focus session where we focus all the lights, putting them where I want them and adjusting both their softness and the direction.

Then we enter tech rehearsals and that's about a week in the theater.  So that's kind of a nutshell version of the process.

When it comes to a Disney-related production, have you done “Newsies” with other production companies before? How much different are other musicals from a Disney production?

I have not done “Newsies” before. I have done Disney productions before, but they're all so different. I couldn't compare it. I mean, “Newsies” is so iconic just because of the original film, and then of course, the musical—and the songs are just fantastic—it's such a high-energy show with the dancing. It's a huge ensemble. And it requires a very athletic cast of young 'Newsies' and so it's very entertaining, but I couldn't really compare it to other Disney shows.

In my experience in seeing live Disney musical productions, the vibrant color of the animated films seems to be mirrored in such productions. Would you say that is the case with your approach to lighting this show?

I would say it's actually rather unique in that there's a lot of grit to this show. And so there is a real absence of color in a way, because so much of the piece is showing the real world these Newsies are living and working in. So there's a coldness and a harshness, which is really the environment that we live in throughout much of this show. But there are variations or other scenes that take us out of the street and out of the hustle of the city and just the weather of it all. And, then we do go into vignettes scenes where we are more colorful and lush and vibrant.

But the production numbers of course have a lot of energy to them, so the lighting really does sculpt those numbers and supports it with movement, with energy through light. But generally, the aesthetic and color palette of the show is really quite cold and raw because there's a real grit to the whole physical world that they're in. So to compare it to other Disney shows, like I said, it's not lush and vibrant like "Beauty and the Beast" or "Lion King" or any shows like that. There's definitely a sharper look.

Disney's "Newsies: The Broadway Musical" by 5-Star Theatricals at the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center Thousand Oaks. Lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg. Photo by Jeff Ditto, courtesy of 5-Star Theatricals.

I have seen the dramatic power that you do in your work—specifically, as an example, a moving opening scene where light replicates the menacing approach of a very famous train towards the audience. For this particular production of “Newsies”, what are you most looking forward to seeing come to fruition as you have imagined it through your lighting? Are there any particular scenes that you're excited to see when everything comes together?

For me, it's the entire show. There isn't a particular moment, no. But I will say that the end of act one is my favorite. It's a really very high-energy number and the lighting is another character in the piece—rather, it's another part of the choreography and the choreography is so critical in “Newsies.” It's woven through every moment and that, I feel, is a great moment in the production where the syncopation of lighting, music, and movement all really just join together.

I'm looking forward to seeing it. It's my experience that 5-Star Theatricals doesn't skimp when it comes to their high-quality productions.

No, they really don't. We have a great cast and a great creative team. Our director and choreographer are from New York and they cast this from all over and we're excited... You know, it sounds cheesy, but we're all just so glad to have reopened the doors to the theater—to be producing live theatre again and creating. Creating theatre and creating art and creating moments and memories [again] is tremendous. So I'm just thrilled. Live theatre is back and we are all doing it again and thriving.

What were you able to do with your time, or what did you choose to do with your time, when things were quiet during the Pandemic?

I've never really not worked. I should rephrase that: It was really a shock to my system because I've always worked and when the global industry shutdown happened and we were all living in fear, and in the Pandemic, it was an eye-opener. The rest [from work] was great, initially, and to be able to shut [myself] down. But then, after a while, I just tried to make the best use of the time. I did a lot at home and did a lot of cooking, and spent as much time with the family as possible—tried to stay safe and remain positive when we were just kind of in this endless limbo of, “Will the industry come back?

I'm glad we did after a lot of perseverance and COVID compliance and, really, discipline. Which is why we're able to do this show... And that's what I've learned from these last two years—to find a better balance. We're always on the go in this industry and it is important for ourselves to just have that little incubation period in between projects to kind of recharge.

Has anything changed in terms of your methods or approach to a project because of COVID?

It hasn't changed my process. But what has changed for many, many productions, the full company will—and it's different everywhere you go—remain masked all through tech rehearsals up until, let's say, final dress rehearsal or the first preview or something. It's not always the case everywhere, but that's been my experience on several productions. I can't imagine how difficult it is for the sound department, because [actors' voices are often muffled.]

But to have a mask covering the actor's face really does change how I balance lighting and skin tones and in really featuring the performer. So that's just been a new element in through this COVID chaos we've been living through, so that's been a new adjustment on my end.

Lead photo by Jeff Ditto, courtesy of 5-Star Theatricals. Disney's "Newsies: The Broadway Musical" by 5-Star Theatricals at the Fred Kavli Theatre at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center Thousand Oaks. Lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg. 

5-Star Theatricals' "Newsies: The Broadway Musical," directed by Richard J. Hinds, book by Harvey Fierstein, music by Alan Menken, and lyrics by Jack Feldman, is now playing at the Fred Kavli Theatre Bank of America Performing Arts Center Thousand Oaks until Sunday, July 24, 2024.


Featured photo by Jeff Ditto


Writer, Director Matt Ritchey Talks Mr. Malcolm's Music Factory


Mr Malcolm's Music Factory is currently playing at The Broadwater Second Stage at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The show, which is specifically crafted to entertain families and children through puppetry, comedy, music, and general fun, addresses the range of emotions that school-aged children may be experiencingthe dark and oppressive kindin order to bring them into the "light."
I interviewed Actor, Writer, Director and Teacher, Matt Ritchey, who discusses the effect the pandemic, as well as recent traumas, has had on his students, the school staff, and his own life as a grade school improv instructor. Ritchey's improv arts-based teaching brought him to new friends with backgrounds in music, puppetry, and comedy, and together they've created Mr. Malcolm's Music Factory. Using the help of a rich collective of artists who hail from Broadway and popular shows like "Avenue Q", "Mr. Clown," "The Dark Crystal," and The Jim Henson Company's "Puppet Up!" improv, Ritchey's own theatre and Hollywood Fringe Festival experience, and a little crowdfunding, they have together created a live family show that comes not a moment too soon as a balm during times currently charged with trauma, loss, and recovery.

Can you tell us how the idea for Mr. Malcolm's Music Factory came about and what was the catalyst for its creation?

I teach improv to kindergarten through fourth grade and the kids have been going crazy. And all of the stress of all of that is really what made me decide to do a show.

Matt Ritchey

Do you teach other subject matters besides improv?

Just improv. I belong to this really, really cool school called the Larchmont Charter. They've got four schools. Two of them are Kindergarten through 4th grade and then one of them is 5th through 8th grade. And then there's the high school. I teach at both of the Kindergarten through 4th-grade schools... It's been a rough year for everybody. But, in terms of the school year, this is the first year that we've really kind of been back in person, after taking about a year and a half off. And, I am sure for every grade that's been REALLY hard specifically from a social-emotional standpoint. When you take a year and a half off, for an adult it might mean nothing, but when you're a kid one year can feel like 10 years. And that is the reason that Malcolm Moore and I started working on this show. Malcolm started off working with kids with social-emotional needs.

Let's start with how you and Malcolm Moore connected. Tell us about that?

It was funny because a couple of friends of mine from college suggested I meet this guy, Malcolm, because we had very similar sensibilities and just thought we would get along. And he had an idea for a puppet TV show that he wanted to do and then maybe I'd be interested because I'm really into puppets and Muppets and that kind of thing. So, around the same time, they found out that the school needed some help with a couple of things. And I started working at one of the schools slowly kind of building my way up into teaching, and I've been there for a couple of years now. And last yearwhen everybody was still online (learning)I was teaching art online as a substitute. I would show up at one of the campuses in person and a bunch of us would hand out free lunches to parents and kids who would come through and need something. And while I was there I'd get a chance to hobnob and meet people in person. [Malcom and I] do have very similar sensibilities, and we look enough alike that the kids either get confused or actively mess with us. There are a couple of kids who call me “Mr. Malcolm.”

But I found out that he really wanted to do this show, and was very into puppets. He knew a guy named Tom Caltabiano [a producer of] “Everybody Loves Raymond.” [Moore] has since been doing this very cute kid show, Mr. Clown, which is a YouTube channel show that he's been on every once in a while as a drum and social-emotional instructor [with Caltabiano.] And Malcolm wanted to do [a new show]... and he wanted it to be a social-emotional thing. So, I wrote a pilot for him, which he very much liked, and gave it to a producer he knew who thought it was great, but felt that in order to really pitch this to channels or production companies we'd need some visual stuff.

We discussed shooting a pilot, but that was going to cost like twenty to $40,000 to shoot...and then there's no guarantee of anything. This was the end of last year and since I knew Fringe so well I said, “Why don't I rewrite it to be a stage show?” That way, best case scenario, maybe we could bring it to other schools during the next year and do a social, emotional, and musical thing for kids in lots of different schools... start at [the Hollywood] Fringe and see how it goes and then maybe go from there?”

And that's what we did.

So how did you get connected with all the puppeteers?

Malcolm is also not only a great musician but also a drum instructor [who] has taught either in his classes in school or has taught in someone's personal house. Throughout the years he's met a number of people and a number of kids whose parents have been puppeteers or who have been involved with [The Jim Henson Company.]

He met a gentleman named Victor Yerrid, who is a very accomplished Puppeteer [and] has done tons of stuff, including the recent “Age of the Resistance” which was the “Dark Crystal” show that came out a little while ago. Incredibly talented. We also have on our team Christian Anderson, who built two out of three of the actual puppets that we're going to be having on stage.

Geneviève Flati is working with us as well, who I knew from a show she did a while back called “Les Miz and Friends,” which was a painfully funny “Les Miserables” puppet show. And Christian and the guys have done “Puppet Up!” here and there with her.

Do you know what "Puppet Up" is? It's brilliant! It's an adult-only puppet show that takes place once every couple of months on the Henson Lot. Henson, which used to be the Chaplin Studiosand also where they recorded [the song] "We are the World"has a bunch of actors and puppeteers with a whole bunch of different puppets...So they kind of teach you how to do puppets for TV, but then it's an anything-goes Puppet improv! It's brilliant. It's absolutely brilliant.

Alan Heitz, a great actor and an old friend of mine, did a really good stint on the “1883” TV show. I gave him a call as we needed someone to play the bad guys in the show. So Alan came in and he's doing a fantastic job. And I think that's everybody...they're so good. They're so funny...the kids are gonna lose their minds.

I was doing tech the other day and I realized that most of these kids are going to be experiencing Malcolm and puppets for the first time in a controlled environment with special kinds of sound and sound effects, and the lighting, and it's gonna bring things to life in a way that I don't think they will have experiencedsome of them ever!


"Hey, we've just come out of this major, major, major pandemic. How can we remember the things that are important and get back to where we were with gratitude and with love and acceptance?"


So it sounds like you're expecting many of the kids and their families who are from Malcolm's classes and yours?

It's my hope that they're going to be coming along. In order to do this, I first went by my usual Fringe plan [which is to] do everything as inexpensively as possible. Then I work with performers and everybody and I say to them “Okay, listen, we're in this as a group. And however this winds up, I want to try to raise money at the beginning so that we know we can do the show at either no loss or a minimal loss.” I do a [crowd fundraiser] to get whatever it is, and come up with the budget of $3,000, let's say. But I also believe that the donors should be getting more for their money than just a “Thank you” and a T-shirt or something. So if you're giving money to a show you should be able to come to see the show, right? By giving money to the project you get a ticket, and it's also advanced ticket sales!

We've already got a number of people who are going to be bringing their families and stuff, and we know that because they bought tickets in advance to help us on the show. And then from that point on we hope all the kids in our schools are going to be able to come.

But this experience has been unique for me because I know how to handle Fringe in terms of getting other shows' participants to come. Doing a kid show at Fringe is a whole different thing for me. Because, going to [Hollywood Fringe networking] Office Hours and meeting people I certainly hope they would like to come and see the show, but the show is specifically a social-emotional show for kids. And it'd be fun to have people who are doing other shows to come and see it, but we do want the kids. So in addition to letting everybody at the Larchmont schools know about the show we've been trying to get the word out as much as possible. We're in LA Parent online right now, we're on Discover Hollywood, and I've sent things to as many parent blogs as possible.

We didn't really have the money to do big advertising in big periodicals, unfortunately, because we're still a small-time thing. But trying to get some word of mouth trying to get as many people who have kids to say, “Hey, you know, this will be a great fun thing to come and do on a Saturday morning in the first month of summer!” So, it'll be interesting to see how this goes. It's the first time for me in that sense.

So what does the B.A.D.S. acronym stand for?

It's Big Anxiety-Driven Splotches. Steve Troop, who's done a bunch of Fringe puppet performances before, is playing our kind of bad guythe B.A.D.S. So the concept of the show is that Malcolm and his friends' factory is inside a lighthouse. They make rhythms and beats and drums and music to light up the world, and that's where the lighthouse comes in.

But pretty soon, these kinds of dark splotches start attaching themselves to the lighthouse and start dampening the light. And everybody's emotions start getting darker. People start to get worried. They start to get sad. They start to get angry. And the characters have to figure out, “What's going on? And what are these things? And how can we get past this?”

So, as much of a kid show as this is, the deeper aspect is, "Hey, we've just come out of this major, major, major pandemic. How can we remember the things that are important and get back to where we were with gratitude and with love and acceptance?"

Mr. Malcolm's Music Factory show times at The Broadwater (Second Stage), 6320 Santa Monica Blvd. are Saturdays, June 18, 2022, 2:00 P.M., and June 25, 2022, 2:30 P.M. (live and virtual), and Sunday, June 25, 2022, 11:00 A.M. Be sure to check Better Lemons calendar for any updates or future extensions that may be scheduled and The Hollywood Fringe Festival's specific Covid Safety Protocols prior to purchasing tickets and attending.



California Arts Council Arts Grants Deadline Extended A Week

Four key youth development and arts education grant programs currently offered by the California Arts Council (CAC) of the Cycle B grant season have been extended to Thursday, June 23, 2022.

The four grants open for applications are the Artists in Schools, the Arts Education Exposure, the Arts Integration Training, and the Creative Youth Development Grant—the latter grant which targets all projects that “occur outside of traditional school hours, taking place in arts venues, community centers, school sites, and other youth-oriented settings.”

In July of last year, Governor Gavin Newsom revealed a state budget that included more than $100 million in one-time funding allocation for the CAC, which was added to the agency's existing general fund allocation of about $26 million. The additional funds are targeted to “strengthen arts, culture, and creative expression as the tools to cultivate a better California for all” to help “nurture and heal our communities through the arts” and to “keep the doors of our arts and cultural institutions open, protect jobs in the creative field; and preserve our cultural heritage, our stories, and our culture bearers,” according to a statement.

Examples of targeted projects include arts projects in early learning, daycare, or foster-care environments, projects that support traditional arts and cultural practices, youth leadership and mentorship opportunities in arts settings, and arts programming that supports workforce development and entrepreneurship.

The education audience targeted are children ages 0-5, K-12, and support for transitional individuals ages 18 to 24 where projects can demonstrate engagement with transitional youth in “relevant, dynamic, and innovative ways” for the latter.

The Grants

The Artists in Schools grant supports projects integrating community arts partners as part of the regular school day.

The Arts Education Exposure grant supports student attendance to arts performances and exhibits where artists “will offer deep cultural resonance with the student communities to be served.”

Although student artwork is not a focus of this grant category “the impact of student attendance at artistic events should be complemented by pre- and post-attendance activities, such as artist talkbacks, teaching artist workshops, and/or facility tours.”

The Arts Integration Training grant supports arts integration training for educators facilitated by teaching artists with awards to support nonprofit arts organizations and teaching artists that plan and deliver professional development in arts integration strategies to classroom teachers, and site, district, and county-level administrators.

The arts projects are to be designed to pave a pathway for increased student learning in, through, and about the arts which can involve a specific classroom, all classrooms per school, or through a district with a countywide arts plan. This project can be stand-alone or in conjunction with an Artists in Schools project, but must be “planned and implemented with collaboration between a nonprofit arts organization, teaching artists, and the educational entity, with full commitment from all participants.”

The Creative Youth Development grant supports arts projects for youth outside of traditional school hours. Projects are to include youth from infancy to 24 years of age, occurring “outside of traditional school hours, taking place in arts venues, community centers, school sites, and other youth-oriented settings.”

“The California Arts Council is a state agency with a mission of strengthening arts, culture, and creative expression as the tools to cultivate a better California for all. The Arts Council is California’s only public arts grants provider with funding that is accessible to all 58 California counties. The CAC developed its 2022 grant season in service of its vision of a California where all people flourish from arts access and participation, prioritizing its racial equity goals, broad geographic reach, and inclusive of extensive public input.”

Applications for these programs are due by Thursday, June 23, 2022. Visit each link above for more information on how to apply or visit California Arts Council.

Round Two of the California Arts Council Arts Grant Season Reopens with Revised Guidelines

 


Hollywood Fringe Show Highlight "The Annie Sprinkle Project"

Making its world premiere at the Fringe this year is The Annie Sprinkle Project: Reflections of a Post Porn Modernist. This is a solo show about the controversial Annie Sprinkle, the pornstar turned performance artist. It is performed by Fringe veteran Sophia LaPaglia.

In the 1990s, Annie catapulted into the mainstream with her one woman show, Post Porn Modernist. From burlesque dives to off-Broadway stages in New York and sold-out theaters across the world, this controversial piece moved from the fringes of performance art to the battleground of national controversy. Known as the Battle of the NEA 4, Republicans like Jesse Helms called for Annie’s show to be defunded, naming it a “Sewer of Depravity.” Meanwhile, the performance art world struggled to come to terms with the death and devastation of a community demolished by AIDS.

In The Annie Sprinkle Project, Annie (LaPaglia) tells her story in her own words. Set in quarantine 2020, it is comprised of word-for-word interviews with Annie and the legendary team who catapulted her show into theater history. It explores sexuality, feminism, radical love, and the healing impact of theater in the time of a pandemic.

What stirred your interest in this project about the legendary Annie Sprinkle?

I first came into contact with Annie’s work in college. We were studying the NEA 4 and discussing censorship, theater and art. You know how college is, and being a feminist theater major, OF COURSE I was obsessed with Vagina Monologues, and performing in it and directing in it, just feeling my feminist 20s theater girl vibes. Then I started reading about Annie’s work and — mind blown! In her one-woman show, Post Porn Modernist, there is a piece called “Public Cervix Announcement” where Annie spreads her vagina with a speculum, and asks the audience to form a line and pass a flashlight to gaze one at a time between her legs to view her cervix. I mean, it really starts to make Vagina Monologues look like nursery rhymes.

What makes you relate to her?

I think as artists it is always our job to push the boundaries, get everyday people to feel where their limits are, and broaden and deepen their experiences. Annie’s piece really questions where our shame is hiding. Why is sex censored, why is sex work illegal? Looking at where we are “sick” or “shameful” brings to light where we can be healed, as a people, as a whole community, as a culture, as a world. Annie set out to understand her own experiences as a woman, as a sex worker, as a pornographer. She wound up healing herself and her community during a time deeply devastated by AIDS.

Is this the original Post Porn Modernist with you stepping in as Annie? Or has it been revised?

Good question! To answer this, I want to cover a little bit about the history and development of the project. So I went from studying Annie in college to years later moving to San Francisco to work beside her on her current projects surrounding Eco-Sexuality (very fun idea, google it!) It was at that time Madison Young a performance artist, porn performer, and sexual revolutionary (as she would say!) decided to adapt Annie’s show Post Porn Modernist into her own one woman show, Reveal All Fear Nothing.

Annie knew of my deep connection to the show and I was brought on to direct that project, and we toured the country with it for years, selling out, it was a blast! For this project, however, I wanted to move away from adapting Annie’s show, so instead of doing Annie’s show now, we as an audience are experiencing Annie’s show performed BY Annie in the 1990s! I conducted interviews with the friends and colleagues of Annie’s I had met over the years, who were a part of Post Porn Modernist, including Annie herself.

So to answer your question (finally!) my show, The Annie Sprinkle Project: Reflections of a Post Porn Modernist is a performance of these interviews, as a collection of monologues. Among these monologues there will be video of Annie’s show I collected from a 1990 performance in Chicago. I think it is really exciting the audience will be able to enjoy Annie doing her own performance of the show, and the video really gives a sense of transporting us to the 1990s. So alongside the video of Annie performing Post Porn Modernist, my show is a collection of monologues based on interviews that took place during the lockdown in 2020. I think the audience will find there are parallels in these worlds, and Annie’s message continues to feel important today.

You’ve been to the Fringe before. What do you like about it?

Fringe is the perfect place for this project to premiere. It is a supportive group of artists who all have the spirit of working together and making the best art they can make- and having fun at the same time! I am hoping my show will attract like-minded theater folks with a love for Annie’s message who want to collaborate on the full length version, or continued use of these important stories of theater history. I am currently working with Theatre Neo Ensemble to adapt the show into a zoom production, with a full cast of actors. I think it could also be imagined in a dramatized TV show, or movie, so many possibilities! I am looking forward to sharing my work with the Fringe community because I think there is a spirit of collaboration and support. The staff, the theaters, the stage managers, the box office, the audiences, Fringe makes it all easy, it is a huge resource to artists of all experience levels.

Since the Fringe is a collaborative effort, are there any other shows you’re interested in seeing?

ALL of them!! I am making it a goal to try to see all the other one person shows and really get a sense of what is possible in that particular category at Fringe.

The Annie Sprinkle Project: Reflections of a Post Porn Modernist plays at various times June 4, 11 and 25 at the Complex Theatre and Studios, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. The 7:00 performance on June 25 is a virtual performance, and the show is obviously 18+. Tickets are available here.

Submitted by Kurt Gardner, who originally wrote this for ArtsBeat LA.


Interview with Deborah Robin on LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER

P3 Theatre presents LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER, a powerful one-woman musical about the dazzling Southern socialite Linda Lee Thomas and her improbable marriage to songwriter Cole Porter who created such classics as “So in Love,” “Night and Day,” “In the Still of the Night,” and “Love for Sale.”

Though Porter was gay, their companionship and love lasted through 35 years of marriage and a spectacular, glamour-filled life. With innovative arrangements, the timeless music and lyrics of Cole Porter weave through the compelling narrative of Love, Linda examining the darker sides of their life, while also celebrating the deep love that blossomed through their unconventional relationship.  “It’s an amazing love story,” said P3 Theatre Company Executive Artistic Director Jon Peterson. “Many people are surprised to learn that Cole Porter had a wife. The show has all the behind-the-scenes secrets as well as the luscious music of Porter.”

LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER had its Off-Broadway premiere in 2013 featuring music and lyrics by Cole Porter, with Book by Stevie Holland and Gary Wiliam Friedman. The show will have its Southwestern Regional Premiere October 16-24 at the 2nd Story Theatre in Hermosa Beach before moving October 30-31 to the Renaissance Performing Arts Center in Long Beach. Through song and story, Deborah Robin promises a tour-de-force performance as Mrs. Cole Porter. And as a fan of Cole Porter’s music but not knowing anything about his wife or their life together, I wanted to find out a bit more about the production, especially what led Deborah Robin to take on the role.

(Shari): Hi Deborah. Thank you for taking to time to speak with me about LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER.

 (Deborah): Hi Shari, it’s my pleasure to chat with you! I am so delighted that you have an interest in our show

(Shari): First of all, congratulations on your acclaimed pre-pandemic turn as Doris Day in P3 Theatre’s Day After Day: The Life and Music of Doris Day. What else would you like readers to know about your theatre background?

(Deborah): Oh thank you so much, Shari; Day After Day was a wonderful experience! I adore everything about Doris, and always will. It was a privilege to portray her, and to work with the P3 Theater Company. As for my theatre background, I have been involved in theatre for most of my life (including post-graduate studies at The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), with the exception of the years I stepped away to be home with my babies. The first time I stepped back into a theatre to audition again, it felt like coming home, like Cinderella’s magical slipper fitting her foot at last. I knew that I belonged here. Many of you can relate, I am sure! Speaking of magic, I have found that I gravitate to shows with elements of magic within them. Besides Doris, one of my favorite past roles to play was Mary Poppins. If enchantment is involved, I’m your girl!

(Shari): I take it you are a big fan of Cole Porter’s music. Do you have a favorite number or two you will be performing in the show?

(Deborah): Ah, that is a tough question! All of Cole’s music is timeless, memorable, marvelous! At this point, I think one of my favorites in this show might be “In the Still of the Night.” Some singers have interpreted this song dramatically, even fun and jazzy, but when it is done tenderly, with feeling, wow, does it touch the heart. Doris Day did an incredible recording of this song that I love, of course!

(Shari):  Since many aspects of Porter's life simply could not be discussed in great detail during the 1940s and 1950s, such as his 35-year marriage to Southern socialite Linda Lee Thomas, what was it about her life and unconventional marriage that pulled you into wanting to portray her onstage?

(Deborah): Yes, absolutely, the reality of their marriage was not up for discussion at that time! There was a rather fictionalized account of their marriage in the movie Night and Day starring Cary Grant as Cole Porter. Apparently, after seeing the film, Cole remarked, with humor, “None of it’s true.”  But I knew almost nothing about Linda’s life before Jon Peterson of the P3 Theatre Company reached out to me during quarantine, asking if I’d heard of Love, Linda and if I might be interested in taking a look at it for the future? Of course, I said “yes” immediately because I relish Porter’s music, especially from Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate.

When I began researching Linda, I was fascinated. She was certainly a very sophisticated, sparkling socialite, but very private. I believe she truly loved him since they were together for nearly half of her life. Did you know she kept every Cole Porter review, ticket stub, and program and that her scrapbooks reside at Yale now?

(Shari): No, I had no idea!

(Deborah): And she saved his life as well, insisting that doctors not amputate his legs when he suffered an accident since she knew it would crush his spirit. I believe Cole loved her, too! After she passed away, he wept inconsolably at her funeral, and said he’d had two great women in his life: his mother and Linda, who kept him going. He commissioned a rose for her as well, the Linda Porter rose.

(Shari): What else do you hope audiences will learn about her?

(Deborah): I hope audiences will come away with an understanding of and connection to this spirited lady. Linda was much more than Cole Porter’s wife, or benefactor, or muse. She was a bright and vivacious woman with a passion for culture, music, and Cole!

(Shari): No doubt their glamour-filled lifestyle was essential for both of them. But how do you think they were able to stay married for 35 years?

(Deborah):  Yes, they were the epitome of glamour! The palatial houses, lavish decor, the world traveling. Linda’s jewelry collection is just to-die-for! Many of her pieces were commissioned by Cartier, and are so gorgeous! One of her most iconic pieces was an aquamarine and ruby Belt Buckle Necklace made by Paul Flato in 1935, which is considered an American work of art.

I think there are many reasons Cole and Linda were able to stay married, which Linda discusses in the show. They admired and respected one another, in addition to love. She saw him for the man that he was, and gave him space and freedom in his intimate life. In a practical sense, for Cole, his marriage to Linda gave him access to a sophisticated social life; for Linda, Cole granted her access to the world of the arts. Of course, they did have problems in their marriage, which Love, Linda explores as well

(Shari): What do you think will surprise audiences about their behind-the-scenes life, either in Paris or New York?

(Deborah): I hope audiences will be pleasantly surprised, even touched, at the genuine love and affection that existed between these two! Marriage can be challenging enough under the best circumstances; Cole and Linda (with eyes wide open) managed to have a beautiful life together, as unconventional and puzzling as it may seem.

(Shari): For this production, are you able to rehearse in person with director Tony Santamauro and/or musical director Bill Wolfe or just online for now?  And have you ever worked with either of them before?

(Deborah): Yes, I have been able to work with both of these fabulous people in person, and we are following all safety protocols. Tony was my director for Day After Day, and I jumped at the opportunity to work with him again. He just radiates a zeal for theatre, he lives and breathes it, and is a joy to work with. This is my first time working with Bill, and he is delightful (and so talented)!

(Shari): What message do you hope audiences take away with them after seeing the show?

(Deborah): Besides all of the classic Cole Porter tunes that will be playing on repeat in their heads for days? Most of us know Cole Porter as a clever and witty composer who was unable to live openly as a gay man. He was more than clever and closeted; he was staggeringly brilliant, and much deeper and more complex than people realize. He was not able to be himself, openly, in the world, but he had someone in his corner who cared. Some of his more thoughtful songs really portray this side of him, touching emotions in us that cannot be conveyed except through music. I hope audiences will come away with a bit more insight into the captivating man that he was, and of the woman who adored him

(Shari): Is there anything else you would like to add?

(Deborah): Yes! The number one reason to come to this show is the music! It is delightful and delicious, and the particular arrangements in Love, Linda are de-lovely! There are also some lesser-known treasures you may never have heard before. Cole Porter’s music is universally loved for a reason, and I hope you will love it, too. Thank you so much, Shari, for your interest in our show, and for this interview! I really appreciate it.

P3 Theatre Company presents the Southwestern Regional Debut of LOVE, LINDA: THE LIFE OF MRS. COLE PORTER, a musical one-woman show starring Deborah Rubin about the improbable love of the gay songwriter and his socialite wife. With Music and lyrics by Cole Porter, Book by Stevie Holland and Gary Wiliam Friedman, the production is Directed by Tony Santamauro with Musical Direction by Bill Wolfe.

Performances take place:
October 16-24 at the 2nd Story Theatre in Hermosa Beach, with Adult General Admission: $32.00 or Senior/Student/Military General Admission $28.00, available at https://www.onthestage.tickets/show/p3-theatre-company/love-linda-the-life-of-mrs-cole-porter-65321

October 30-31 at the Renaissance Performing Arts Center in Long Beach with General Admission Adult: $35.00 or Senior/Student/Military: $32.00 available at https://www.onthestage.tickets/show/p3-theatre-company/love-linda-the-life-of-mrs-cole-porter-89246 

Run time is 75 minutes with no intermission, and both venues have wheelchair accessible parking and seating available. All ticket sales are final. Please note: For all in-person performances, you will be required to wear a mask indoors in compliance with the current LA County mandate. In addition to wearing a mask, you will need to present proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a negative COVID-19 test (within 72 hours) along with a photo ID.

Headshot photo of Deborah Robin by Susan Spann

Stock Photos of Cole Porter and his wife Linda Lee Thomas

Photo of Deborah Robin as Doris Day in "Day After Day: The Life and Music of Doris Day"
by Caught in the Moment Photography

Wait Until Dark poster

Interview with Vanessa White of Classic Thriller WAIT UNTIL DARK at Theatre Palisades

Vanessa White as Suzy HendrixTheatre Palisades reopened their Pierson Playhouse for live theatre on August 27 with WAIT UNTIL DARK, a suspenseful 1966 Broadway thriller by Frederick Knott. But perhaps this classic tale is best known to audiences from the 1967 film starring Audrey Hepburn (who was nominated for the Academy Award as Best Actress), Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Jack Weston, Julie Herrod and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. In fact, in 2001 the film ranked #55 on the American Film Institute’s One Hundred Year… One Hundred Thrills list and its climatic scene is ranked tenth of Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Its popularity remains intact, with the play often performed on stages around the world.

Harry Roat bribes two con men, whom he renames Sgt. Carlino and Mike Talman, into doing his biding. (from left: Josh Paris, Manfred Hofer, Brett Chapin)
Photo credit: Joy Daunis

WAIT UNTIL DARK, is set in a 1967 Greenwich Village basement apartment where Susy Hendrix, a recently blind woman, is imperiled by a trio of strangers. Aided by her meddling young neighbor Gloria, Susie must fight for her life against these ruthless criminals, led by the sociopath Harry Roat, Jr. who has hired two con men in need of money (giving them the aliases of Mike Talman and Sgt. Carlino) to assist him in carrying out his mission to find a musical doll from Montreal hidden somewhere in her apartment that is more than just a toy.

But since Susy does not have the doll or know where it is, the men proceed to play a cat and mouse game with her to locate it - Roat for its valuable contents and the other two to get paid a hefty sum for assisting him. But when the trio attempts to convince Susy that the police need the doll as part of an investigation, and that her husband might be involved since he brought the doll across the Canadian border, Susie realizes these men are not who they say they are and her life is truly in danger every moment they are in her apartment.

Gloria spies on the van and phone booth outside Susy's window.
Photo credit: Joy Daunis

As the tension builds, Gloria shows up with the doll! Susy then must figure out where to hide it as no doubt the men will soon return and search the place again, probably hurting her in the process. And after Gloria assists Susy by spying on the men through the kitchen window, Susie realizes her blindness might be the key to her escape! Thus, a suspenseful battle of wits begins, leading to a confrontation between the lady and the devil, culminating after darkness falls in this classic thriller’s chilling conclusion.

The WAIT UNTIL DARK cast
Photo credit: Joy Daunis

Directed by Tony Torrisi and produced by Martha Hunter and Sherman Wayne (who also designed the realistic set and lighting), the Theatre Palisades cast features Vanessa White as Susy Hendrix, Brett Chapin as Mike Talman, Manfred Hofer as Harry Roat, Josh Paris as Sgt. Carlino, Amanda Tugangui as Gloria, and Michael Wayne Osborn as Sam Hendrix, with each delivering a well-thought-out characterization. Perhaps since the cast had originally been scheduled to open the show in March 2020, no doubt the extra time to study lines and characterizations contributed to their deeper exploration and understanding of their roles.

Susy begins to wonder whether or not the men are telling her the truth.
Photo credit: Joy Daunis

I spoke with several of the actors after the performance, specifically to ask Vanessa White about her ability to so successfully inhabit a character without sight. She responded, “The most difficult part was not being able to look my fellow actors in the eye during our scenes together. But my reality is that I am legally blind without my glasses or contact lenses, which gives me personal insight in what it’s like to walk around your home when you cannot see things clearly.”  In fact, Vanessa's movements were so specific, each time she walked the wall over to the bottom of the staircase, I saw her tap her foot there as Susy’s indicator on where she was. Same thing was true when she reached for the phone, often by grabbing the cord to lead her to the receiver.

Susy hatches a plan to get the con artists out of her house.
Photo credit: Joy Daunis

Act 1 contains a lot of exposition, and as such, can often get bogged down timewise. That seemed to be the case on the night I attended on opening weekend, with the stage often left empty for no apparent reason. But I am sure well-versed director Tony Torrisi will work with his actors on picking up their lines and movement to quicken the pace during future performances. And while the final confrontation between predator and prey requires us to believe it is performed in total darkness and usually has viewers gasping and jumping out of their seats, unfortunately Sherman Wayne’s dark lighting design did not allow us to see that moment happen. But if his idea was to let us experience Susy’s fearful surprise from a blind person’s perspective, he totally succeeded.

WAIT UNTIL DARK continues on Fri/Sat at 8pm, Sun at 2pm through October 3, 2021 at the Pierson Playhouse, located at 941 Temescal Canyon Rd, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272. Free on-site parking is available. Please note that masks must properly be worn while inside the theater, covering your nose and mouth, and proof of vaccination must be presented at the door for entrance. Tickets are $22 general admission, $20 seniors/students, available at 310-454-1970 or online at http://theatrepalisades.org/


Leela Dance Collective presents ReSound, a 5-day celebration of kathak dance

Leela Dance Collective presents ReSound, a 5-day celebration of kathak dance, featuring street performances and workshops to educate and inspire audiences of all ages. The Kathak (pronounced cut - tuck) dance form can be traced back to the kathakas from 400 BCE who were the traveling storytellers and artists of ancient India. In modern times, the art form has emerged on the presidium stage and traveled outside of India, finding expression in diasporic communities throughout the US and beyond.

One of kathak’s most notable characteristics is the fast, percussive footwork dancers perform by striking their bare feet on the floor using various techniques. In addition, it is known for swift pirouettes, a dynamic movement vocabulary, and compelling character portrayal. Kathak is typically performed with North Indian classical Hindustani music, which provides an exhilarating soundscape and a very collaborative environment for the artists. Dancers wear a string of 150-200 bells around each ankle to ornament their footwork and movements, and to highlight the rhythmic sophistication of the artform.

 

In Los Angeles, free street performances will take place at such iconic locations as Santa Monica’s 3rd St Promenade, DTLA’s Grand Park, Pasadena’s Memorial Park, Culver City’s Town Plaza, Woodland Hills’ The Village at Topanga, and the Oak Canyon Community Park showcasing kathak dance at its best. The $10 workshops are a great opportunity for individuals to experience kathak first hand, the way that kathak dance can ground the body, focus the mind, and uplift the spirit. Workshops are held at some of LA's most popular studios including Evolution Studios, Electric Lodge, The Vault, and Diaz Studio of Dance in Culver City.

Culver City performances include a Free Pop-up Performance on Sunday, Sept 26, at 5:30 p.m. in Town Plaza, 9500 Culver Blvd, Culver City; with two $10 Workshops: The Indian Avatars on Sun, Sept 26, 3:00-4:00 p.m., at Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City, in which kids ages 5 and up are introduced to kathak and learn coordination, movement rhythm, music and dramatic expression as they delve into the rich world of Indian mythology; and Movement, Music & Meditation on Sun, Sept 26, 4:00-5:00 p.m., at Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City, in which participants discover the beauty and dynamism of kathak by being introduced to the technique, movement, music and poetry of the art form woven together into an experience that is meditation in motion. To register for free events and $10 workshops, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/resound-kathak-in-the-streets-los-angeles-tickets-158038416157

The concept and arrangement of the ReSound repertoire is curated by Rina Mehta, senior disciple of kathak legend Pandit Chitresh Das and cofounder of the critically acclaimed Leela Dance Collective, and showcases Das’ original compositions and choreography, while featuring a new generation of emerging kathak dancers trained in his iconic style: Sonali Toppur, Ahana Mukherjee, Carrie McCune, and Ria DasGupta.

After more than a year of living in fear and isolation, we are thrilled to see our neighborhoods and communities start to come back to life. To do our part, we are quite literally dancing with joy - on street corners and promenades and at community parks and outdoor malls across Los Angeles and San Francisco,” shares Rina Mehta, whose work is grounded in the belief that kathak dance can be a powerful tool for empowerment and social change.

Founded and led by women, Leela Dance Collective’s central aim is to advance the voices of women artists and choreographers while providing a space for women to lead and create outside the confines of a traditional male-defined framework of leadership, mentorship, and artistic practice. Through their productions they hope to bring together artists and communities across race, ethnicity, and religion. It is through such exchange that Leela Dance Collective continues to engage with their own artistic tradition, remaking it for contemporary audiences.

For more information, watch the ReSound trailer at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jS6eyK09TPs and check out their moves on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/LeelaDanceCollective. View the complete ReSound schedule at https://leela.dance/resound/

Performances - Free

Friday, Sept 24, 12:30 p.m.:  Grand Park, DTLA

Friday, Sept 24, 6:30 p.m.:  The Village at Topanga, Woodland Hills

- Saturday, Sept 25, 1:30 p.m. & 2:30 p.m.:  3rd Street Promenade, Santa Monica

Saturday, Sept 25, 5:30 p.m.:  Memorial Park, Pasadena
(featuring performance by Los Angeles’ inaugural Leela Youth Dance Company)

- Sunday, Sept 26, 11:30 a.m.: Oak Canyon Community Park, 5600 Hollytree Dr, Oak Park

(part of the Kathak Karnival featuring additional family activities, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.)

Sunday, Sept 26, 5:30 p.m.: Town Plaza, 9500 Culver Blvd, Culver City

Workshops - $10

- Before Bollywood: Wed, Sept 22, 7:00-8:00 p.m., The Vault Dance Studio, 57 Palmetto Dr, Pasadena Before Bollywood there was kathak,
known for its grandeur, beauty, and elegance. Join us for a workshop that introduces you to the movement, music and expression of this dynamic art form. Students of all levels and backgrounds are welcome.

- Bare Feet Beats: Thurs, Sept 23, 7:00-8:00 p.m., Evolution Dance Studios, 10816 Burbank Blvd, NoHo
Dive into the dynamic world of kathak. Move, groove, jam and slam as you learn how to make rhythm and music with your bare feet. Students of all levels and backgrounds welcome.

From Sensuality to Spirituality: Sat, Sept 25, 10:00-11:00 a.m., Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave, Venice

Radha is one of India's most beloved goddesses. Her love, devotion and yearning for Krishna is a metaphor for our relationship to the divine. As we explore Radha's love for Krishna through the art of kathak, classical dance of North India we explore the eternal human search for the divine. Students of all levels and backgrounds welcome.

- The Indian Avatars: Sun, Sept 26, 12:00-1:00pmOak Canyon Community Park, 5600 Hollytree Dr, Oak Park

In this workshop, kids are introduced to kathak, classical dance of North India. Kids learn coordination, movement rhythm, music and dramatic expression as they delve into the rich world of Indian mythology. For kids, ages 5 and up. Part of the Kathak Karnival featuring additional family activities.

The Indian Avatars: Sun, Sept 26, 3:00-4:00 p.m., Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City

In this workshop, kids are introduced to kathak, classical dance of North India. Kids learn coordination, movement rhythm, music and dramatic expression as they delve into the rich world of Indian mythology. For kids, ages 5 and up.

Movement, Music & Meditation: Sun, Sept 26, 4:00-5:00 p.m., Diaz Studio of Dance, 3816 Culver Ctr, Culver City

Discover the beauty and dynamism of kathak. Workshop participants are introduced to the technique, movement, music and poetry of the art form woven together into an experience that is meditation in motion.

Family Festival - $10

Kathak Karnival: Sun, Sept 26, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m., Oak Canyon Community Park, 5600 Hollytree Dr, Oak Park
Enjoy dance, music, food, and fun - $10 admission includes an exclusive performance of ReSound by Leela Dance Collective, with an opening performance by Los Angeles' inaugural Leela Youth Dance Company, as well as kathak workshops for children, youth, and adults. Register now and get unlimited access to family activities including henna art, face painting, photo booths, gift giveaways, and more. Free parking.


NOISES OFF Returns and Proves Whatever Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong!

In 1970, Michael Frayn, the English playwright who would go on to write NOISES OFF, was standing backstage in the wings watching a performance of one of his other farces “The Two of Us.” Of that performance he said, "It was funnier from behind than in front, and I thought that one day I must write a farce from behind."

By the late 70s, Frayn had created the hilarious three-act NOISES OFF, whose title is taken from the theatrical stage direction indicating sounds coming from offstage. And for those never involved in putting on a theatrical play, I can tell you there is more than one show going on at each performance, especially backstage where the stage manager must not only wrangle the cast to be ready and enter at the right time but to also check props, costumes, lighting and sound cues, and basically make sure the performance is presented as the director intended it to be seen. And it’s a fact that given all the things that can go wrong backstage, it’s often a miracle the performance makes it to its curtain call at all.

But it is those instances of pandemonium both onstage and backstage that create laugher from start to finish in NOISES OFF, presented with a real flair for comic timing, entrances and exits, costume changes, tons of props, and an energetic cast who can run around like lunatics and still be able to remember all their lines!  Such is the case at the Long Beach Playhouse under the brilliant direction of Gregory Cohen who first assembled his cast in early 2020, opened the show in March 2020, and then had the pandemic outbreak shut it down just two weeks into the run. And now they are back (with just one replacement cast member) through October 9 to carry on with the mayhem and mischief to delight audiences.

Called the funniest farce ever written, NOISES OFF presents a manic menagerie of itinerant British actors rehearsing a flop called “Nothing’s On.” Doors slamming, on and offstage intrigue, jilted lovers, misplaced and forgotten props, especially errant sardines, all figure in the plot of this hilarious and classically comic play within a play.

The cast features Andrea Stradling as dedicated but forgetful actress Dotty Otley, Eric Schiffer as the womanizing director Lloyd Dallas, handsome John Vann as younger leading man Garry Lejeune, Amara Phelps (who steals many a scene as the cell phone selfie-obsessed lingerie-wearing ingénue Brooke Ashton, Travis Wade as health-challenged actor Frederick Fellowes, Adanna Kenlow as Belinda Blair, perhaps the most “professional” actor of the troupe who attempts to hold things together, Lewis Leighton as washed-up by booze actor Selsdon Mowbray, Lyndsay Palmer as the put-upon and stressed-out Stage Manager Poppy Norton-Taylor who has a big secret herself, and PJ Cimacio as the Set Desginer/Tech Manager Tim Allgood who is called upon to take on several roles when actors are no-shows.

Each of these actors is to be commended for their boundless energy and great skill at physical humor, especially with all the dual-level entrances and exits at breakneck speed and props to remember.  Timing is everything in this farce and this cast never misses a beat – even when we are supposed to think they have.

Act One takes place onstage at the final dress rehearsal of “Nothing’s On” with the cast hopelessly unready, although we are given a peak at how the show is supposed to go, especially their entrances and exits and how many seemingly meaningless plates of sardines have to be carried on and taken back off stage. The act ends with intermission during which Larry Mura’s remarkable double-sided set is completely turned around to allow Act Two to take place backstage a few weeks into the show’s run, which allows the audience to see behind the scenes. And trust me, with all of the actors’ antics going on, it’s every Stage Manager’s nightmare about losing control of the show!

At the end of Act Two, the cast changes the set pieces around in full view of the audience, generating a much-deserved round of applause when the set is back in place. Act Three then takes place at a performance onstage near the end of the fictional ten-week run when personal friction between the actors has continued to increase to the point that their frazzled nerves are getting the best of them.

So in essence, we watch as “Nothing On” is staged three times with each performance sinking lower into the depths of a staged nightmare generating laughs galore, even as the plot breaks down in the process. As the shenanigans mount and the play begins to unravel, it is the actors, each one of them incredibly physically agile, who make this farce come alive and generate hysterical laughter that fills the theater!

NOISES OFF continues at the Long Beach Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim Street in Long Beach 90804, through October 9 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Audience members must show proof of vaccination for admittance and wear a face at all times inside the building. Tickets run $14-$24, available by calling the box office at (562) 494-1014 or online at www.lbplayhouse.org where you can also select your seat assignments on any of the three sides of the thrust stage. And be prepared to try and follow all the action while laughing from start to finish!Photo credit: Michael Hardy Photography


The Troubies Return and Present LIZASTRATA Outdoors at The Getty Villa in Malibu

Troubadour Theater Company (better known as The Troubies) is a free-wheeling, no-holds-barred, Commedia Del Arte-flavored, slapstick-driven, Los Angeles-based ensemble of actors, musicians, and comedians that has been performing for audiences throughout Southern California and beyond since 1995. Over the past 12 years, the Troubies have collaborated with Getty on several occasions. Most recently they presented Getty’s first virtual theater presentation on YouTube with The ODDyssey, a whimsical retelling of Odysseus’s adventure after the Trojan War.

The Troubies fast-paced, laugh-filled, loose adaptations (some of the lines are still there) of classic plays, literature and film, as well as their original productions and hilarious sketch material, make this company a unique and exciting experience for theater-goers of any age, barring their latest show, LIZASTRATA, which is definitely strictly for adult audiences due to subject matter and language.

For those unfamiliar with Aristophanes’s classic Greek comedy Lysistrata, it tells the tale of one woman's extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by convincing the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands as a means of forcing the men to negotiate a peace. In LIZASTRATA, The Troubies tell the same story in a very modern and bawdy adaptation during which I guarantee you will hear more ways to describe sexual relations than you thought possible, see a wide-range of inflated body parts, and laugh at the outrageously updated lyrics to well-known Liza Minelli songs. To get the general idea, think New York, New York redone as No Pork, No Pork sung by the effervescent Cloie Wyatt Taylor as Lizastrata as she attempts to convince several women from other local SoCal cities to go along with her plan. And what a fun bunch of followers they turn out to be as they offer the men a choice – make war or make whoopie!

Directed and adapted by Matt Walker, who energetically takes to the stage as gender-bending characters the Emcee, Lampito and the Magistrate via quick costume changes by designer Halei Parker, the LIZASTRATA cast also features, along with Walker and Wyatt Taylor as Lizastrata, the multi-talented L.T. Martinez, Rick Batalla, Suzanne Jolie, Amanda Pajer, Jess Coffman, Beth Kennedy (whose puppetry skills will have you roaring with laughter) and Michael Faulkner. Band members who also play several roles include Dave Wright (Banjo), Ryan Whyman (Piano), John Ballinger (Guitar, Clarinet, Banjo & Misc.) and Nick Stone (Percussion). Kudos to the entire production team for such an entertaining and welcome return to in-person theatre by The Troubies!

LIZASTRATA is the 15th annual outdoor theater production in the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa. Performances, which as of this writing are totally sold out, take place on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, September 9 – October 2, 2021, at 8:00 p.m. For all the optimists out there, additional tickets may become available at www.getty.edu/LIZA or by calling (310) 440-7300. No admittance without advance reservation, and a ticket for the play does not include admission to the museum, which must be booked separately. Due to sexual language, situations, and imagery that are not recommended for persons under the age of 15. Run time is 90 minutes, no intermission, with on-site parking available. Masks are optional outdoors, but required in all indoor spaces including the café, elevators and restrooms, and proof of vaccination must be shown for admittance.

Photos by Craig Schwartz


Interview: Rachel Parker on her World Premiere of ‘The Wolfe & The Bird’

The need for personal isolation during 2020 appears to have led to a plethora of solo shows being developed and performed online and in person in which performers create mostly autobiographical tales meant to unify their own experience with the rest of us. So when I heard about Rachel Parker’s world premiere of her darkly funny, moving ‘The Wolfe & The Bird’ premiering at the Matrix Theatre on September 18, I decided to ask her about its development as well as the many characters which play a part in her story via voiceover artists.

(Shari): Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions about your show, as I expect you are very busy in final rehearsals this week.

(Rachel): I’m happy to be speaking with you, Shari.

(Shari): Please share a little about your theatrical background in the Los Angeles area.

(Rachel): My first theater community here was Westside Comedy Theater. I’m a huge fan of the improv principles “yes, and-ing,” “there are no mistakes,” and “following the fear.” Eventually, I found my way into a LaBute play for one Fringe Festival, which led to my directing a play at Fringe the following year. Two of the actors from that play were Theatre of NOTE members and encouraged me to audition for the company. It was there that I aligned with actress/playwright Dagney Kerr to act in an early version of her poignant play “Deanna and Paul” being put up at another theatrical community of hers in NoHo. I’ve now collaborated a few times with some of those artists. And through the magic of Actors Access, I was able to collaborate with multi-Ovation-nominated Stefan Marks in his artfully wackadoo play “Space.”

(Shari): The play’s description states, “No time to sleep. No room for error. No pleasing mom. A young girl struggles to find herself against the backdrop of 1980s small town America in the world premiere of The Wolfe & The Bird, a darkly funny and deeply moving solo play written and performed by Rachel Parker (Ovation-nominated Space at the Stella Adler Theatre).”  Am I right in assuming the play is autobiographical, told as an adult looking back on how she got to where she is today. Is that a correct assumption? And if not, please fill me in!

(Rachel): It is autobiographical, yes. It is not, however, presented as a reflection piece. The audience experiences Rachel receiving and perceiving her life and the people in it at ages 8, 12, 15, and so on. The play does begin with a Timeless Rachel but quickly moves to Rachel at 8.

(Shari): You share in program notes that the play exists because of Isadora O’Boto and Matt Hoverman. How did they influence its creation?

(Rachel): I met Matt Hoverman at Naked Angels’ “Tuesdays@9” back in New York. Not only is Matt a talented playwright and Emmy award-winning TV writer, he’s a deeply gifted doula of solo shows since 2001. Innately, Matt is able to meet a solo show artist where she is with her work — and with herself — and to gently tease loose and shed all the stuff that encumbers the telling of a story. Matt leads with loving kindness. He’s simply the best kind of teacher. Isadora O’Boto is also a Go-Solo Workshop alum. She and I synced up and became accountability partners almost upon meeting. Isadora is an exceedingly deep listener. No matter how inchoate a scene of mine is, Isadora’s able to detect my aim and question me in a fashion that nudges me toward reaching my destination. Ours has been the most validating collaboration I’ve had to date.

(Shari): Tell me more about the 1980s small town where you grew up and which of its residents we meet in the play.

(Rachel): My house was situated between an idyllic small lake and a dangerously busy road in a village between Flint and Pontiac. My blue collar father adored that lake, which he himself grew up on. Almost all family downtime was spent on the lake, and a lot of it with my mother’s Flint modeling school coworkers and students. The audience will spend a bit of time with models Kim, Jett, and Rob with the Ken doll hair. Before Rachel starts interacting with her ballet instructor and a couple high school teachers, the audience will get to know Dana the babysitter, who hangs out nonstop with her boyfriend Matt in the basement… that is until they take Rachel and her sister on a road trip to a Pontiac hospital.

(Shari): No doubt most women grow up having issues with their mom, feeling as if there is no pleasing her. Do your observations about her outlook on life figure prominently in the play?

(Rachel): Yes.

(Shari): Does your relationship with her figure into the play’s title The Wolfe & The Bird?  Or if it doesn’t, what does it reference?

(Rachel): My village boasts a number of dirt roads — Wolfe and Bird Roads are but two of them. A number of nights were spent dreading those two roads. For me, they induced terror. For my mother, they provided a place to let out some of the deathless pressure within her. I would also add that it suggests different parenting styles.

(Shari): Tell me a bit about working with so many other actors via voiceover, including James Heaney, Dagney Kerr, Ivory Tiffin, Madeleine Townsend, Phil Ward, Silvie Zamora on the creation of all the characters they portray in the play.

(Rachel): For about eight months, director Alina Phelan and I had been meeting up every few weeks or so over Zoom, fleshing out the script. I believe it was while Alina was cleaning one day that it occurred to her how nice it would be to simply see Rachel receive the words and actions of the surrounding characters. We asked Silvie Zamora and James Heaney to partake in a Zoom reading (Silvie reading all the female characters and James all the male ones). Immediately it became clear how necessary it was to have other energies supporting the storytelling. We were so fortunate to have Silvie take on the role of my mother and to get one socially distanced in-person rehearsal and conversation with her. Silvie’s EQ is through the roof, and I simply can’t imagine anyone else in the role. As my mother is a very complicated human being, having Silvie voice all the female roles would be a disservice to my mother and to this fine actress. Same for James Heaney, who voices my father.

Casting the other actors was a dream. I was familiar with everyone’s work (save Silvie) and knew that, as they were all pros, one Zoom table read would suffice. A week later, we held individual recording sessions at The Matrix with our sound designer Stephen Epstein. It all felt pretty seamless. And safe.

(Shari): Which of these characters do you think figures most prominently in your story?  Why?

(Rachel): Silvie and James as my parents, of course. But Phil Ward as my social studies teacher and Dagney Kerr as my ballet instructor are pivotal players. These teachers provided Rachel anchors for artistic expression and chances to have “wins” during a childhood ruled by chaos.

(Shari): Tell me about bringing Alina Phelan onboard as director.  Have you two worked together before?  Did you work together in person or remotely on The Wolfe & The Bird?

(Rachel): Alina is a veteran member of NOTE. I’d been admirer of her work as both actor and director for years. Once WOLFE & BIRD was in a pretty good place, I tapped-tapped her email inbox to see if directing a solo show would be of interest to her. Thankfully, she was receptive to reading it. Turns out Alina and I both hail from Michigan! And she instantly understood the people I was striving to bring to life. Most likely it’s due to the sheltering in place that Alina’s schedule was open enough to even consider this project.

(Shari): And you have quite a well-known technical team with Lighting Design by Matt Richter, Sound Design by Stephen Epstein, and your Stage Manager Kelly Egan. No doubt you have worked together before?

(Rachel): It’s a tech-heavy show, and dang am I lucky to be surrounded by such talent! Stephen Epstein and I worked together on “Space” so enlisting him to design sound for this was a no-brainer. And Kelly Egan, well… I certainly knew her work at NOTE but this is my first opportunity to work with her, and I couldn’t be more grateful. This show couldn’t happen without her. I know she would demur at such a statement but it’s true. And Kelly is the one who brought Matt Richter onto the team. Truly thanking my lucky stars for this gem of a man and lighting designer. His visceral understanding of story and how to technically support it is simply beyond me. To be profiting from his expertise is a dream. Matt’s taken the production to another level.

(Shari): What is the message you hope audience members walk away with at the end?

(Rachel): Expression is vital. Perfection expression is not. Art heals. Good teachers make the world go round.

(Shari): As a former teacher, I love seeing my former students succeeding. So I really appreciate you expressing that belief in your play.  Thanks so much for speaking with me!

The Wolfe & The Bird premieres September 18 through October 10, with performances on Saturdays at 8 p.m.: Sept. 18; Sept. 25; Oct. 2 (no evening performance on Oct. 9). Saturday at 2 p.m.: Oct. 9 ONLY and  Sundays at 2 p.m.: Sept. 19; Sept. 26; Oct. 3; Oct. 10, at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave. in L.A. 90046 (west of Stanley Ave., between Fairfax and La Brea – arrive early and be mindful of street parking restrictions). Tickets are $18, available in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/5219775 or at the box office prior to each performance, based on availability. Admittance is limited to ages 12+ with proof of vaccination required – no exceptions – and masks must be worn properly covering your nose and mouth throughout the performance as mandated by the County of L.A.

Photos by Joshua Stern

Graphic Design by Damon Pablo


Interview with Mitch Feinstein on his Solo Autobiographical Play FOR LOVE OR MONEY

I recently spoke with writer/performer Mitch Feinstein on this autobiographical journey in FOR LOVE OR MONEY that invites all of us to consider: Can we learn lessons and make changes, or is it too late? Set at the onset of the pandemic, a successful 76-year-old businessman is forced to examine his choices in life, what he thinks he has achieved, and what he feels he has lost. Why did he so fervently quest for money and security at the expense of his own happiness and the trampling of his artistic soul?

"At the beginning of the pandemic, I felt a complete loss of control," Mitch says. "The crashing of the economy brought to my present consciousness deep-seated fears that have besieged me all of my life." Like many during the extended shelter-in-place order, he found an online class to help soothe his anxieties.

Mitch chose a daily meditation and writing class with Jessica Lynn Johnson, Founder and CEO of Soaring Solo Studios (soaringsolostudios.com) in which Jessica guides and directs her students in the creation of their one-person shows. Jessica has directed and developed over 100 solo shows and has performed her own pieces for the past 15 years.

Jessica shares, "It is a joy to help Mitch and all of my students realize their dreams of solo performance. Part of what I do is help them process fears that arise so they can get their stories out and transform them into theatrical, entertaining, and dynamic pieces of art onstage. And we do it as a tribe, which is much more fun and supportive than doing it alone!"

The workshop's daily writing prompts helped Mitch coalesce the pieces of his lived story. "This is my honest attempt to understand and explain the choices I made in my life and perhaps provide guideposts for myself and others to acceptance and peace," Mitch says.

Offering further insight into his creation process, Mitch shares, "For me I had no choice. The way I was feeling in March 2020, looking back on my life, trying to find some peace as a way through the pandemic, the show just came out. The feelings and ideas had been brewing. The more acting classes I took, and the more I let go of my business career, the more I wondered how I had made the choices I made and where was I now. The short answer is this story is the best version of truth of choices people make between the practical and the loved."

Tune in as I am sure the focus of this show is a universal one for all of us whose lives have fundamentally changed in so many ways during the past year. FOR LOVE OR MONEY streams via Vimeo as an official selection of SoloFest 2021 on March 6, 2021, at 7pm. 75 minutes, no intermission. Tickets: $15.99. To purchase visit: https://www.tickettailor.com/events/mitchell/475377

Actor/Writer Bio: Mitch Feinstein always dreamed of being an artist, a writer, a professor, or an actor but his creative path was interrupted early on by forces in him that sought wealth and security. Finally at age 60, when his business career ended, he chose to study acting and was accepted to the Strasberg Institute. For five years Mitch was lucky to be able to study under Hedy Sontag, a preeminent "Strasbergian," and he became a member of the Strasberg acting ensemble, The Group at Strasberg. Memorable roles included Sorin in Chekhov's The Seagull as well as The Landlord in Gogol's The Lower Depths. Mitch continues to study acting with Martha Gehman of Zak Barnett studios and he has had several roles on stage with Theatre Palisades, including most recently, Mr. Hammerschmidt in "Parfumerie."

Photos courtesy of Mitch Feinstein


Interview: Playwright and Actor Sarah Hunter on why DOGS ARE BETTER THAN PEOPLE

Dogs Are Better Than People, written and performed by Sarah Hunter, and developed and directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson, is an eccentric romp through drinking, bad men, and fabulous dogs who each tell Sarah’s story. But why, you may ask, does Sarah Hunter truly believe that Dogs are better than people? Could it be the canines in her life might be better at telling the truth about life’s trials and tribulations, as well as the many joys, they have experienced with her in life?

In tribute to all her knowledgeable dogs over the years, the writer/performer decided to let them tell her story. Lilly the Airedale. along with the Chiweenie duo Koa and Louis the Fourteenth, and several others spill all about her humorous journey - beginning with her divorce in Chicago, frustration, bad relationships, to revelation and celebration in finding a "working relationship" in sobriety with Matthew, the man who appreciates both her and her dogs.

Intrigued by a play’s title and a devoted dog Mom myself, I decided to speak with its writer/performer Sarah Hunter to find out more about her and the play’s creation. To my surprise, I found out Ms. Hunter is also a retired English teacher (as I am), although she taught for many more years than I did. I was also interested to find out about her travels with groups of adolescents to Europe, something I always thought I would have loved to do, had I had the patience for it.

And to top everything off, turns out she also believes that astrology provides insights into understanding other people, especially students and learning to get along with men. And since I used my understanding of astrological birth charts in similar ways, which worked every time, I was curious about whether or not the dogs offer any insights about it in the play.

Shari Barrett (Shari): Hi Sarah. I know we have a lot to talk about given that Dogs Are Better Than People is an eccentric romp through drinking, bad men, and fabulous dogs. So let’s start with the fabulous dogs who tell your story. What can you tell me about the ones you have shared your life with and is there one in particular that inspired you to write the play?

Sarah Hunter (Sarah): Thanks, Shari, for your questions and the chance to let me rhapsodize about dogs, my first loves. Growing up, I had my springer spaniel, Toby, to talk to when things got tough with my family. He always gave me a sloppy kiss and comforted me whenever I needed it. He inspired me to write this piece, along with all the other dogs who have loved me and whom I have adored. So I decided the best way to give them credit for being a part of my life was to BECOME them and let them speak.

Shari: I often think my dog rescued me. Do you believe the unconditional love and emotional support you get from a devoted dog is one of the best presents you can give yourself in life?

Sarah: Oh, yes. I think the presence of a dog, with its head on my knee or in my lap is therapy. It’s hard to remain glum or irritated for long when there’s an enthusiastic, loving little pair of eyes begging for a piece of chicken or wagging her tail for a walk. I can’t imagine living without two of them. They rescued me when I was drunk, when I became sober, and when I went through one bad relationship after another. Always there...always nonjudgmental, always pure love.

Shari: Tell me about your partnership with well-known solo show director Jessica Lynn Johnson. Did you start developing Dogs Are Better Than People as a student in her ongoing free weekly solo theatre class?

Sarah: Actually, no, I sought Jessica out after seeing my friend, and fellow Solo Artist, Lisa Verlo, perform an excerpt of her newest one woman show in Jessica’s Soaring Solo Salon. From there, I started to work with Jessica one-on-one to create my show. Jessica is humorous, talented, creative and full of sound advice and encouragement. And the best part is that Jessica has an adorable “Chug” named Ruby Peanut who makes frequent appearances during our coaching sessions.

Shari: Anything you want to share about the “drinking and bad men” who populate the play?

Sarah: Well, the scene that I put in the play featuring a hideous “Silver Singles date” really happened. Complete with the sweaty armpit-stained t-shirt and the bad attitude. I found my online dating experiences absurd and depressing, so I put one of them in the show... for a bit of humor.

Shari: Tell me a bit more about Matthew, the man who finally appreciates both you and your dogs. Did you meet while walking your dogs? What made you realize he was different than the other men you had dated?

Sarah: Matthew, whose real name is Andres, is a fellow sober man who loves my dogs and me. He has a sense of humor and appreciation of music and the Arts. We’ve been together for a decade.

Shari: That in itself is pretty special! Do you talk about your years as an English teacher in the play as seen through the eyes of your dogs?  No doubt teachers now are on Zoom with their pets often clamoring for attention during online classes!

Sarah: At one point in my show, I have Sarah (me, the main character) grading essays on the couch and swearing out loud. Lilly, the Airedale, makes a comment about what Sarah thinks of the essays and then says she’s grateful she’s a dog instead of an English student.

Shari: I know you led several tours of Europe with students. Was there a favorite place you especially loved sharing with them?

Sarah: I’m in love with Paris, and the kids loved it too -- the nighttime boat ride down the Seine, the trip to the chocolate factory, the ice cream parlors, the Louvre, the cafes, everything. even going to Versailles, a place I find to be magic. They did too. I did my best to wear them out so they wouldn’t complain about the deeply mediocre food catered by the tour company. We all managed to come home a little porkier than when we started out!

Shari: I have been to Paris many times and I absolutely adore the people and places, especially all the museums! It also seems we both have a strong interest in astrology. Have you used its techniques to better understand your dogs – and men?

Sarah: Men, yes, dogs no. I think dogs are God’s gifts to us, but men… well, I’ve made mistakes astrologically there. I’m a Sagittarius and my human partner is a Libra, so we are compatible. All dogs have gotten along great with me. Lilly was a Gemini, and my two chiweenies are both little Tauruses. Stubborn, but oh so loving!

Shari: Is there anything else you would like viewers to know about yourself and/or Dogs Are Better Than People?

Sarah: I hope they enjoy my whacky sensibilities and appreciation of DOGS, especially since God spelled backwards is DOG.

Shari: Thanks so much for speaking with me about the show! I can’t wait to be in the audience!


The eccentric collection of talking dogs presented by Sarah Hunter in Dogs Are Better Than People takes place as part of the Whitefire Theatre Solofest 2021 Livestream on Saturday, March 13th at 7pm PST/10 pm EST. Tickets are $15.99, available at https://www.whitefiretheatre.com with a portion of the show's proceeds being donated to Pasadena Humane, Hand In Paw Rescue, and Soi Dog Foundation. So settle in to enjoy the show with your own four-legged furry friends around your home screen!

 

Background on Sarah Hunter and Jessica Lynn Johnson:

Sarah Hunter is the other half of Two Heads are Better Productions. She began creating characters and dramas in her neighborhood backyard at age eight back in West Lafayette, Indiana. From graduate school to her time in Los Angeles, Sarah remains a dedicated student of classical and modern theater. She has dubbed Japanese cartoons, done voice-over work, had her original plays produced in Los Angeles and Pasadena as well as being a published short story writer. She continues acting, creating, writing and dreaming.

The most important thing for Sarah is the continuous re-inventing of herself each time she writes another play or TV episode. Working with Sandra Cruze on TWO HEADS ARE BETTER PRODUCTIONS has allowed Sarah to continue writing episodes and acting, and working on her one-woman solo shows which she has presented at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA as well as the Whitefire Theatre.

Jessica Lynn Johnson is a published playwright, recipient of BEST NATIONAL SOLO ARTIST AWARD, Board member of the LA Women's Theatre Festival and Founder & CEO of Soaring Solo Theatre Company LLC. For years, Jessica has taught an ongoing free weekly solo theatre class, as well as paid private coaching sessions to guide solo artists in the development of their one person plays. For over a decade she has “edu-tained” international audiences touring her own 25-character one person shows. Recently, Jessica was thrilled to direct 5 solo artists in the LA Women's Theatre Festival, 17 solo shows in Whitefire Theatre's Solo Fest 2017, and 15 solo shows in the Hollywood Fringe Festival 2017. Over the years, Jessica's solo shows haven taken home TOP OF FRINGE, ENCORE PRODUCER AWARDS, & several other accolades! For more info on her various projects, visit www.JessicaLynnJohnson.com