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.



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.


Garry Marshall Theatre’s 5th Annual New Works Festival Submissions Open March 1

Garry Marshall Theatre (GMT) opens its submission process for the nonprofit’s 5th Annual New Works Festival. Submissions for GMT’s NWF 2022 open March 1, 2022, and will close on April 5, 2022 or when the 350 script cap is reached - whichever is sooner. As in previous New Works Festivals held by Garry Marshall Theatre, the 5th Annual New Works Festival is interested in new work that is uniquely theatrical. Such work should reflect an original concept or theme, and include characters whose language expresses their individual worldview.

The 2022 GMT New Works Festival will present five finalist playwrights in livestream virtual readings. Each script will be paired with Los Angeles actors and directors collaborating with the playwrights in their development process. GMT Producer, Joseph Leo Bwarie welcomes back Festival producers Jonathan Muñoz-Proulx and Kimberly Arnold. Virtual presentations of the five finalists selected this year will be held in a Festival weekend on September 23-25, 2022.

Playwrights should visit GarryMarshallTheatre.org for submission guidelines and all requirements for participation.

GMT’s 2022 New Works Festival will employ a ‘blinded’ submission and review process to select its five finalists. Scripts that move into the semi-final round will be reviewed by the selection committee who will have access to all information regarding the submitted play.

GMT is accepting full-length plays that reflect a complete evening of theatre, with requiring no more than six actors (doubling is permitted if clearly indicated in the script). Eligible plays should not have received a past professional production. Script submissions require a $20 fee that supports the festival submission and presentation process. Finalist playwrights will receive a small honorarium.

The 2021 Virtual New Works Festival included Sapience by Diana Burbano, directed by Fran de Leon; Best Little Youth Theatre in Lexington by Jordan Beswick, directed by Mary Jo DuPrey; Affinity Lunch Minutes by Nick Malakhow, directed by Nancy Cheryll Davis-Bellamy; Pangea by Scott Sickles, directed by Rob Nagle; and Memories of Overdevelopment by Caridad Svich (Developed in Future Labs at Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL), directed by Michael John Garcés.

Garry Marshall Theatre is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization providing innovative performances, educational opportunities, and storytelling activities for all ages, year-round. Located in the heart of Burbank and Toluca Lake’s media district, the critically acclaimed and Ovation Award-winning 130-seat theatre was founded in 1997 as the Falcon Theatre by Hollywood legend Garry Marshall. Reestablished as the nonprofit Garry Marshall Theatre in 2017, the theatre continues to cultivate new artists and experiences that spark ideas and build community.

CALENDAR DETAILS

WHAT and WHEN:
Submissions Open for 2022 New Works Festival
Submissions Accepted: March 1, 2022 – April 5, 2022, or when 350 scripts have
been submitted (whichever is sooner)

VIRTUAL FESTIVAL DATES:
GMT’s 5 th Annual New Works Festival
September 23, 24, 25, 2022

SUBMISSION INFO:
GarryMarshallTheatre.org

SUBMISSION FEE: $20

SOCIALS:
Facebook: facebook.com/GarryMarshallTheatre
Twitter: @GMTheatre_org
Instagram: @garrymarshalltheatre


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


Spotlight Series: Meet Holly Baker-Kreiswirth and Bill Wolski, the Dynamic Duo Who Call Little Fish Theatre Their “Home Away from Home”


Anyone who has attended a production at Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro has most likely met Holly Baker-Kreiswirth and Bill Wolski, the dynamic duo who call Little Fish Theatre their “Home Away from Home.” As well as appearing onstage together, the married couple also work behind-the-scenes with Holly managing the theatre's Press Relations and directing shows while Bill often takes on the roles of Director and Producer when not acting onstage.


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

Bill Wolski (Bill): I'm a veteran of over a hundred plays and a whole host of other projects and performances. I cut my teeth on the small theatre circuit in greater Cleveland, Ohio, where I grew up. I'm primarily known for my work at Little Fish Theatre, which has been my artistic home since 2007, and for being the husband of the equally talented and prolific Holly Baker-Kreiswirth.

Holly Baker-Kreiswirth (Holly): I started out in television before I worked in theater; the very first paid job I had was in the acting category on Junior Star Search which led to various roles in shows such as Chicago HopeGia (HBO), and Private Practice. I studied theater in college, but took a 10-year break to work on a career in TV production, and then had my kid.  In my early 30s, I started with Palos Verdes Players as a sound tech, then worked my way up to directing, producing, and finally acting again.  When PVP sadly went down, Bill and I appeared onstage in The Tender Trap at Long Beach Playhouse (when we started dating!) and subsequently found our artistic home at Little Fish Theatre, where we produce Pick of the Vine and act in or direct roughly 1/3 of the productions every year.

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

(Bill): I was working on a show called Becky's New Car, written by Steven Dietz, and directed by my wife. It was scheduled to open on April 9th. I was playing Becky's steadfast, not-as-dumb-as-he-looks husband, Joe.

(Holly): We were both deeply into rehearsals for Becky's New Car. I pre-block the shows I direct before rehearsals even begin; we had ten rehearsals under our belt with our lead actress, Amanda Karr, already off book.  Costumes/props were bought, lights/sound were being designed... everything was in motion.  Our stumble-through was the last rehearsal we had, and the show was already in great shape.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

(Bill and Holly): First, the sports teams postponed their seasons. Then, it was gatherings over 250 people. Then, gatherings over 50 people. Being a very intimate theater, there was still a possibility that LFT could limit ticket sales and hold performances, but the conclusion was reached that we didn't want to put our fan base and company members at risk. Emails went out to those involved that everything was going to be put on hold.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(Bill): Becky's New Car will open at a later date, once we've been given the all-clear.

(Holly): We're thrilled that the work we've already put into the show will be seen by an audience someday.  I believe the message will resonate with them.

(SB): I have seen the show before and was really looking forward to seeing the production at Little Fish. So I am happy to hear that eventually that will happen. What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Bill and Holly): We are involved at LFT all the time in a volunteer capacity. The shutdown has affected our entire season. Shows and special events that have not yet been cast or started production may be canceled entirely to give the shows that were already in progress a chance to be performed.

(SB): I know Bill is an avid hiker, but how are the two of you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Bill and Holly): Little Fish Theatre and its company members are doing a lot to bring theatre to a virtual audience. We're promoting and reaching out to our subscribers with videos and newsletters, and writing and sharing original content through our social media platforms. Specifically, we have a 5-part original web series called "Little Fish" that features hilarious portrayals of our artists.  We've produced multiple virtual readings of everything from comedic short plays to screenplays to a play about the shootings at Kent State 50 years ago this month.  And coming up next month we have a reading of a M*A*S*H* script donated to us by one of the writers, Ken Levine!  All of our readings are free -- we're so happy to be able to provide the arts to everyone in this format.

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

(Bill and Holly): Please, be safe. Follow the rules and the health guidelines and limit the risk posed to yourself and your loved ones. In Shakespeare's time, theaters were closed due to the plague, and 400 years later, theatre is still alive and well. As long as there are stories to tell, there will be people to tell them. We'll all be together again soon enough. From our theater to yours, here's a big hug from Little Fish. We love you!

Here's how to stay in touch with Little Fish Theatre:


All production photos credit: Miguel Elliot


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Fringe Management Co-Founder Mike Blaha


This Spotlight focuses on Mike Blaha, Co-Founder of Fringe Management, a company that has produced an incredible assortment of shows for both the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and Hollywood Fringe Festival. Listen in as he shares his insights on how the Coronavirus pandemic has affected both this year, especially since the initial shutdown occurred just as the Edinburgh event had begun.


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

Mike Blaha (Mike): I did a little bit of acting in high school, but never really thought about producing.  Then a friend of mine asked me to be his associate Artistic Director at a small, long-defunct theatre in the Valley in the late 80s and I caught the producing bug.

Since beginning in 1989, I’ve produced or co-produced over 100 shows in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Hong Kong, London and especially at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, where our company Fringe Management,  LLC (co-founded with my Edinburgh based partner, actor-director Nigel Miles Thomas) has presented approximately 70 productions since 2001.  I have also produced 18 shows at the Hollywood Fringe Festival since 2012.

I was also one of the co-founders of Sci-Fest, a festival of one act science fiction plays that ran from 2014-2016 and have served on the Board of New Musicals, Inc. for most of the last 20 years (as President from 2015-2019).

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

(Mike): I was producing, along with Joel Shapiro of the Electric Lodge in Venice, the Edinburgh Fringe sensation “Hitler’s Tasters,” a brilliant dark comedy by Michelle Kholos Brooks.  We were originally scheduled to run March 12-30, 2020.  We had previews Thursday and Friday, March 12 and 13, 2020, opened on Saturday, March 14, 2020 and had to close on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

(SB): Here is “Hitler’s Tasters” promo reel on You Tube. How did you communicate the shutdown to the cast and crew?

(Mike): We communicated the heartbreaking reality of the shutdown in person with the cast and crew after the performance on Saturday night.

(SB): Are plans in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

(Mike): Fortunately, we made an archival recording on opening night and we were able to negotiate an agreement with Equity to stream that recording for a two-week period, May 8-21, 2020, so audience members who bought a ticket to the live performance, and some new audience members, were able to watch that recording during that window. It is possible that there may be a remount of the play at the Electric Lodge, but it’s tricky because the cast members, who were the actors in the Edinburgh Fringe production, are all from New York.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?  

(Mike): I had five shows lined up for the 2020 Hollywood Fringe Festival, including three shows from the UK (The Nights, The Tanner and West), a local sketch comedy show Gold Baby and the 7th annual “Combined Artform’s Pick of the Fringe”.  With the Hollywood Fringe now cancelled this year, except for online shows, I have lost most if not all of the planned productions, although they may return for 2021.

We were also producing 7 shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, which has been cancelled altogether including Activities of Daily Living, Bard Overboard, Elton John: Rocketman, Elvis: He’s Back, Hiding Anne Frank, Once Upon A Time in Hollywoodland, and Two Girls: One Mic.  Fortunately, it looks like most if not all of the shows want to perform at the 2021 edition.

(SB): I saw Joanna Lipari in her one-woman show Activities for Daily Living at the Sierra Madre Playhouse and believe everyone needs to experience her incredible and very personal observations about life and love in that show. So I certainly hope she will be able to take the show to Edinburgh in 2021. (Here’s the link to my review on Broadway World.)

So now that everything is on hold, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Mike): Well, I’m reading my daily reports from Broadway World, of course, following updates from various theatre companies, as well friends’, colleagues’, and various theatre forums on social media (and occasionally posting myself), and trying to keep up with the amazing explosion of content by artists of every stripe on YouTube, Facebook, Patreon, Twitter . . . the list goes on.  I’m in touch with all of the artists involved with the delayed and cancelled productions referenced above, and working with a couple of them on developing new projects.

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

(Mike): Some people think the pandemic will move live theatre online permanently; some people think live theater will return eventually unchanged. I fall somewhere in the middle. I think there may be a hybrid model that combines live theatre with more digital innovation, both with respect to the design and production of live theater, but also respect to the supplemental, possibly complementary exploitation of those live productions.  One thing I am certain of, having witnessed the resilience and creativity of our community over these past few weeks, is that the L.A. Theatre scene will adapt and thrive in whatever becomes the “new normal.”

Of course, this has been a very difficult time for all of us.  One of the things that has kept me sane in spite of all the postponements and cancellations and missed openings is the knowledge that theatre has been around for a couple of thousand years and ain’t going anywhere.  It may be very different or not that different at all; but in a few weeks or months we will all be sitting in a dark black box once again in thrall to the magic of live theatre!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Reaching for the Stars - An Interview with Edgemar's Michelle Danner


To understand the philosophy of filmmaker, director, and acting coach Michelle Danner, it is only necessary to hear the truth of her own words:

"The craft of acting is as alluring as it is mysterious, and it takes a being of great passion, insight, and determination in order to succeed. But to teach acting – to inspire creative souls to successfully harvest those tools – requires an even great commitment to bring out the best in each and every actor one encounters…the important thing is to keep growing as an artist, to keep raising the bar for yourself.”

Michelle has taught acting for the last 29 years and has worked with many A-List actors privately and on set, including Chris Rock, Gerard Butler, Seth MacFarlane, Penelope Cruz, James Franco, and Zooey Deschanel. In 2020, Michelle anticipates the release of the supernatural thriller Bad Impulse, while prepping her next feature, The Runner starring Cameron Douglas. That’s in addition to running her weekly acting class, keeping watch over the conservatory program at the Los Angeles Acting School (which she co-founded), directing a play starring Anne Archer at the Edgemar Center for the Arts, or cheering on her two high-school aged sons as they pursue their own passions. Michelle took time out of her workaholic’s schedule to interview in April 2020.


Jerry Lacy and Gina Manziello in "Surviving Mama" - Photo by Eric Wade

When did the Edgemar Center for the Arts first begin its long career? What led to its creation? What's your mission? Were you involved from the beginning?

Michelle Danner:  We built the theaters and the art gallery at the Edgemar Center for the Arts in the year 2000. We’re actually celebrating our twentieth anniversary! When I discovered the space, the Santa Monica Museum of Art was there; and it was a big open space. We were able to raise funds to build these beautiful theaters. Ever since then, we have had many many theater productions, musical theater shows, children’s shows, independent film festivals, outreach programs, and exhibits. We have hosted hundreds of events. I was the person who got everyone to believe that this could be a thriving cultural center. I was involved from the beginning, including the construction. I always joke that I know more about drywall, plumbing, and electricity than I would have ever wanted to know. I have been the artistic director for the Edgemar Center for the Arts from its inception. I had a vision for what it could be, and I got a group of similar minded folks to come on board and be part of it.

Rob Estes and Michelle Danner in "One White Crow" - Photo by Sandis Babauskis

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

MD: We were. Thankfully, we had just finished our film festival, Cinema at the Edge, that takes place every year. We had a great response to our screenings, culminating at the end with our award ceremony. Shortly after that, we had to shut down. I was in the middle of rehearsing a very wonderful show, A Ticket to the Circus, with Anne Archer. It was written by Bonnie Culver about Norris Church Mailer, the wife of Norman Mailer; and we had to cancel our rehearsals abruptly and reschedule them from day to day. When it became clear that we had to cancel everything all together, we shut down completely. Because of the unknown of this, it remains a mystery when we will be able to reopen. We had two other shows that were set to open which we also had to cancel and plan to reschedule.

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

MD: It’s impacted it tremendously in the way that everybody has stayed home, but we have touched base online and on the phone. People are scared, sometimes isolated, and not close to their families. A lot of our employees were dependent on their paycheck. We have done our best, but it’s not easy.

Christine Dunford in "Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike" - Photo by Teferi Seifu

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

MD: We are streaming chats and having virtual meetings with our acting students, but it’s not the easiest. Again, all of this because there is an unknown factor to it. We are, however, starting a GoFundMe page to ask people to help keep the theater open. When it’s time - and if anybody would like to help - we are a 501(c)(3). No donation is too small, and they are all tax deductible. Anyone can reach me directly through our website. I would be happy to talk to anyone about different possibilities.

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

MD: If we read the history of all pandemics, they all come to an end. So I am hoping that there will be a renewed desire to want to share live theater with other people. There is nothing like a communal experience together. Maybe this will help us appreciate the value of that even more.

What are some of your future plans?

MD: Our future plans are to remount what we had planned for the spring and the summer and develop some new plays that will thematically address what we have all been going through. We will also be preparing for “Cinema at the Edge 2021.” I believe that great art can come out of scary times. This is a moment in our lives that can give birth to great content. From my point of view, the theater can never die. When we are back in action, we all need to support it. Right now, I miss theater and that magical shared experience with others.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



The Hollywood Fringe Festival Scheduled For October 2020 Is Cancelled


Hollywood, CA (June 22nd, 2020) - After deep reflection the Hollywood Fringe organization is announcing the cancellation of the 2020 Festival.

We recognize that COVID-19 is still a rapidly developing health crisis with little certainty of what the future holds. Knowing this, we cannot guarantee a safe festival season. This decision is based on guidance from state and local health authorities and our desire to minimize further financial strain to our HFF20 participants and partners.

“We are all living in a time of forced reflection and altered normalcy. The work our community will bring to our next festival will no doubt bring to light powerful exploration and insight into this shared experience. It will be more important than ever,” said Festival Director Ben Hill.

While this year’s festival may be cancelled, our commitment to our community is not. We will use our platform and passion to support our community through our ‘Fringe From Home’ programming. We'll also continue to offer our website to all artists to aid in ticketing and event promotion free of charge. Our mission of celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the performing arts community will live online until we can come together in person.

Check out all of the above programming on HollywoodFringe.org.

This decision does not come lightly to our organization. We, like the rest of the world, have suffered financially due to the unforeseen events this year, but are lucky to have a strong foundation as an organization, and look forward to continuing to present our festival for many years to come.

We look forward to serving our artists, partners and all lovers of the performing arts to the best of our ability until we can fringe together again. Please reach out to support@hollywoodfringe.org with any questions you may have.



Spotlight Series: Meet Michael Gordon Shapiro, Composer of Music for Theatre, Film, Games, Television and Concert Halls


This Spotlight focuses on Michael Gordon Shapiro, a composer of music for Theatre, Film, Games, Television and Concert Halls, who I first met during the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival when I attended his The Bully Problem musical, which included not only great lessons against bullying in schools and why it is so important to stand up for yourself, but also his love of robots! The show had its commercial premiere at that Festival, where it earned an Encore Producers Award and was a Pick of the Fringe selection. It was also nominated for seven awards including Best Musical, Top of the Fringe, and Fringe First. And you can bet I was back in the audience during its additional performances in August 2019 – for a third time!


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

Michael Gordon Shapiro (Mike): I wasn’t a theatre kid. I regarded actors as magical creatures with unnatural abilities. (How did they show emotion on demand like that? How did they even memorize all those lines?) And I didn’t become serious about writing musicals until my 30s. Age is a great motivator!

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

(Mike): I’ve been developing a new family musical called Gideon and the Blundersnorp. (The mental image that you just came up with is probably accurate.) We were slated to premiere at the Hollywood Fringe Festival this June, and my producing organization, New Musicals Inc., had booked our run at the Broadwater Main Stage. I had reserved studio time for the cast album and was thinking about my wardrobe for the festival awards party. In short, we were looking forward to this.

(SB): I understand.  It will be a very strange June this year without being able to walk from theater to theater and see 3 or 4 shows a day as I have done at the Fringe for several years now. It must have been very difficult to communicate about the shutdown with the cast and production team of your show.

(Mike): The producers and I had kept an eye on the Coronavirus situation as it progressed, adjusting our expectations accordingly. By the time LA announced the closure of theater venues, we had a suspicion that our original production schedule wasn’t going to happen. We weren’t fully cast yet, but we emailed members of the creative team. It was primarily a courtesy; at that point just about everyone understood the situation.

(SB):  I know the Hollywood Fringe Festival has been re-scheduled for this October. How confident are you it will be able to take place at that time?

(Mike): Our star is hitched to the 2020 Hollywood Fringe Festival. The Fringe has tentative plans to open in October. If the festival proceeds, we’ll be there with bells on, running at the originally-planned venue and on dates that parallel those of the prior June schedule. Needless to say, we’ve got our fingers crossed!

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Mike): If there isn’t a Hollywood Fringe this year, we’ll likely move Gideon and the Blundersnorp to next summer. Consequentially, whatever to-be-written show I might have premiered in 2021 will get bumped. Unless I become pathologically ambitious and try and launch two shows next summer… no, that would be unwise.

(SB) Unwise, perhaps. But most welcome to this reviewer!

(Mike): *looks contemplatively into the distance*

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

(Mike): I’ve taken advantage of the downtime to work on the cast album from my prior musical, The Bully Problem. We tracked vocals last year, but there was such a tremendous amount of editing and mixing that I decided to defer it to when I had sufficient time to hunker down. That time is now. The silver lining for me personally is being able to launch this album much sooner than planned.

(SB): As you know, The Bully Problem was one of my favorites shows at last year’s Fringe, and I look forward to being able to hear the score again. For those who missed my review, here is the link

(Mike): I also contributed to the Hollywood’s Fringe’s premiere Virtual Cabaret. Allie Costa self-recorded herself performing a song from Gideon which was presented alongside videos from other Fringe participants. A lively group interacted in the chat room while the online talent show live-streamed. It was great fun, and certainly helped maintain the spirit of artistic camaraderie while we’re all physically separated. (You can watch the first cabaret installment here:

Jenn Crafts started an online play reading series that’s been a huge success. I’ve enjoyed being an audience member and supporting creators who might need a motivational boost. While online readings aren’t meant to replace live theatre, I think they offer a valuable supplementary experience. I hope this sort of thing continues even as we emerge from the lockdown period.

(SB): What 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?

(Mike): If you’re nervous on a plane flight, think about what you’re going to do after you land. That is, look past the unsettling present, and make your mind focus on what’s to follow. The same principle applies here.

For more information, please visit the website of my upcoming show's Gideon and the Blundersnorp at GideonMusical.com. Here is the website for The Bully Problem TheBullyProblem.com. You can also find me on Twitter and on Instagram.


The Bully Problem photos credit: Matt Kamimura

This article first appeared on Broadway World.



COVID-19 Theater Series: Robey Theatre Company and COVID-19 - Reflections by Ben Guillory


Producing artistic director and co-founder of Robey Theatre Company, Ben Guillory has long graced the entertainment field as director, producer, and actor in film, theater, and television. Born in Louisiana and raised in San Francisco, Ben has been an advocate for human rights, black culture, and black theater for decades. In 1994, Ben and Danny Glover formed Robey Theatre Company, named in honor of Paul Robeson, the late, great actor, activist, and famed operatic singer. Ben took time from his busy schedule to interview in May 2020.


Dwain A. Perry and Ashlee Olivia in "Anna Lucasta" - Photo by Tim Alexander

When did your theater begin and what led to its creation? What is your mission?

Ben Guillory: The Robey Theatre Company was founded in 1994 by myself and Danny Glover in Los Angeles. We recognized a need for a continued and concentrated representation of black culture in the Los Angeles theatre community. Robey’s mission is to develop and produce plays about the global black experience and to reinterpret black classics.

Robey was Paul Robeson’s nickname. Paul‘s artistry and activism were the inspiration for the theater. Danny and I were both attracted to theater because it was a platform to present social consciousness through this art form. In creating this theater, we honor Paul’s life-long commitment to human rights and his unyielding, outspoken stance on the brotherhood of man. As a result of his uncompromising need to be active, he sacrificed much of what he had earned as a successful artist. He would not rest on this seeming success and remain silent. We were passionately interested in creating and contributing by presenting to audiences a point of view through a black consciousness that contained how we felt about many things. We also recognized the need for an institution that would provide artists of color a place to grow, develop, and mature in an atmosphere that understood, was unhurried, and possessed a sensibility that placed these artists first - and not as an afterthought, which was so often done in the past and is still frequently happens even today. We wanted a company where artistic disciplines could be nurtured and cultivated, where raw talent and gifts could be honed. Most importantly, Robey was founded to produce works that speak to the black experience and through that prism.

Jermaine Alexander and Marcus Clark Oliver in "Birdland Blue" - Photo by Ian Foxx

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

BG: We’re not closed. Obviously, production is shut down because of COVID-19; but our developmental work, playwrights’ lab, commissioned plays, Board meetings, and fundraising continue through the internet, zoom, and ongoing meetings and discussions. Given all that has happened in our society in 2020, we are not presenting our program this year. Our 2021 season is being designed for spring and fall productions. We are also planning our summer Paul Robeson Theatre Festival. Those who wish to volunteer, participate, and support Robey need only contact us at (213) 489-7402, and I will gladly speak to them. Right now, we have conversations about our upcoming plans. People can also visit our website to make contributions – something that we need and would really appreciate. We feel boundless gratitude for any support and want to sincerely thank our supporters for their ongoing interest and help. Without that support, we could not continue our work. It is through public grants and individual donors that we find the resources to do this work and fulfill our mission.

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

BG: Obviously, right now we are unable to bring in our audience to see our productions. We are hoping that will change soon, but we realize that we must wait until it is safe to again perform for large groups.

Elizabeth June and Tiffany Coty in "The Magnificant Dunbar Hotel" - Photo by Tomoko Matushita

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Are you streaming? Do you have virtual meetings? Are you planning for your next show when the theater can reopen? Are you auditioning or fundraising?

BG: We haven’t been doing any streaming. We strongly feel that theatre must be a live event. This is the essence of theater. Anything else would not be the same. Of course, we are planning for our 2021 season. But that’s a lot of months away. At the moment, everything is in flux; and we have to wait and see what the future brings.

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

BG: One has only to look around to see the impact of COVID-19 on all of us. I do not know of any production that is running. Everything is at a standstill. After it is safe – and especially when our audiences feel that it is safe to return – then we can enjoy live theater again. At that point, some companies will be able to continue; but others will not be able to return. I believe that this will happen gradually - with the result that the theater community will diminish somewhat. But then I strongly feel that it will rebound – just like it has always done in the past - because there is no substitute for LIVE theater. Our artists will always have the creative urge to continue - because it is and will always be our nature.

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

BG: We need our audience to understand and continue to recognize our value. When this is all over, we need our audiences to return and continue to support live theater. We also need our artists to weather the storm and continue on their creative path. We know that our patrons will keep supporting us any way they can; and, of course, donations are always welcome.

What are some of your future plans?

BG: As I said before, we’re planning our 2021 season, as well as our Robey Theatre Festival next summer. In the longer term, we will secure a permanent home for the Robey Theatre Company.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Spotlight Series: Meet Actor and Playwright Wendy Bryan Michaels


This Spotlight focuses on Actor and Playwright Wendy Bryan Michaels whose comedy show, My Sister is so Gay, is now streaming on Amazon Prime, although pre-production for the next season has ground to a halt due to CoViD-19.


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

Wendy Bryan Michaels (Wendy): I am a lover of all things theatre. From the first time I entered the back stage area and smelled the wood from the stage sets, I knew I was home. There is something so magically intoxicating about live theatre, beginning the first time I had stage lights stream across my face, in college, which actually brought tears to my eyes. There was something about their warmth and the disappearing of the audience which left me staring into a black space that seemed perfectly natural to me.  I knew then, that this is where my soul thrives, my heart opens, and I could become myself.

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

(Wendy): My co-writer/co-star and I were preparing for meetings to sell our comedy show, My Sister is So Gay, now streaming on Amazon Prime. Although we are fortunate that we completed post production on the most recent episodes and were able to stream them, our pre-production for the next season has ground to a halt due to Covid-19.

LAFPI (Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative) Swan Day March 2020, is a day devoted to actors, playwrights, and directors to gather together to read new works, old works, and works that need an audience, and that was instead transferred to Zoom. And although nice to see everyone, it doesn’t seem to have near the impact of face-to-face networking and watching live theatre in person.

(SB): Those of us involved in live theatre have always understood that there is no replacement for being with a group of people who have gathered together in person and the impact they have on the actors in a production. It’s what makes every performance unique in its own way, adding to the interactive magic.

Wendy Bryan Michaels' cast in "Loving Mathew"

(Wendy): Absolutely! It’s so important to have that give-and-take during a live production. I just finished a full length play Loving Mathew about a brilliant young man who struggles with addiction and mental illness, and his vulnerable sister fights to keep him from harm over seemingly insurmountable odds. There have been two staged readings at City Theatre in Santa Monica, but in terms of finding theatres to now produce, well that’s on hold indefinitely.

The cast of Wendy Bryan Michaels' play "God and Sex"

My other play, God And Sex about a bride, a groom, and a maid of honor who just happens to be the bride’s ex-lover). So, what could possibly go wrong!?

 

It had its world premiere at the Santa Monica Playhouse from Feb 2017-May 2017. But that’s another project now on the shelf until after CoViD-19 passes us so theaters can reopen.

(SB): How was the shutdown of LAFPI communicated with the cast and production team? 

(Wendy): For the LAFPI Swan Day, emails and Zoom meeting details were constant. You volunteered as an actor via email, got the script via email, no rehearsal though, and then joined Zoom the day of the event. As for my plays, I just told myself “no.” (laughs) My co-writer for the series and I knew we would have downtime ahead of us and communicated that through text and emails.

(SB): Are plans in place to present your productions at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

(Wendy): Actually, other than my comedy show, My Sister is So Gay (MSISG) streaming on Amazon Prime, I do not have any future theatre productions scheduled right now. And plans are on hold for My Sister is So Gay, pre-production for next season, as well as any face-to-face meetings to sell the show.

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

(Wendy): I am reading plays like crazy as the process amazes me as to the how much comfort reading brings to my theatre soul and imagination. Oddly enough, my ‘Art’ is kept alive through producing self-videos on social media detailing the CoViD-19 quarantine. The videos are experiences that actually happened to me and I find it all so surreal that I needed to document something on video – like finally a friend ‘social distanced’ me. So I made a video which turned into a love story about being reunited.

I am keeping in touch with events with LAFPI and ALAP (Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights) through Facebook and may take a class online with Westside Comedy to keep my creative soul from shrinking. I am also submitting MSISG to agents and casting directors since they might have more time on their hands to take notice of a new show from an unknown-to-them writer. We do have Loni Anderson, Debra Wilson and Rae Dawn Chong in our show, which helps our credibility, but Terry Ray and I are fairly unknown writers in the business. At least for the time being....

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

(Wendy): Keep reading plays! Order plays online. Keep in touch with other actors and theatres to see how they are doing and maintain community any way you know how! I mean, we are creatives and need to keep expressing ourselves and sharing our stories.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.