Eight Artists Reflect on 2019, Inspired for 2020

Monique LeBleu

Registered Critic, Writer, Editor

Fueled by the force that is the Hollywood Fringe Festival, creatives brought a banquet of quality smaller theatre and performance art to 2019 to Los Angeles, with many projects growing beyond its borders and seeking destinations in other mediums.

From local producers, east coast transplants, and across-the-pond ex-pats; from solo introspective, post-apocalyptic satire, and the cutting edge, to dance, aerial and burlesqueeight artists reflect on their personal accomplishments and challenges in 2019, as well as on the inspired work of their peers, and share their plans and hopes for more to come in 2020.

Interviewed are Creative Director and Executive Producer,  Lea Walker, at Aeriform Arts, Writer and Producer, Jonathan Tipton Meyers, at We Are Traffic: A Rideshare Adventure, Director and Producer, Roe Moore,  at PiePie Productions, Writer and Director, Matt Ritchey, at M3 and Storycrafting, Actress and Executive Producer, Jenelle Lynn Randall, at The Always Working Reading Series, Writer and Producer, Steven Vlasak, Actress and Variety Performer, Cat LaCohie, Vixen DeVille, and Writer and Filmmaker, Matthew Robinson, at Red Flag Media Productions.

What have been some highlights in 2019 for you personally and your career?

L. Walker –“One of the professional highlights for me this past year was producing Aeriform Artists Media Cirque du Giselle. To be able to present a uniquely executed, extremely well-received performance piece in a festival where there are 400 plus shows was an amazing experience. One of Aeriform Arts main values is inclusivity and we’ve managed to grow our production arm while honoring those values. We are pleased to have worked with Women’s Health Magazine and Hearst Media coaching and coordinating aerial shoots for magazine covers with both Julianne Hough and Para-Olympian Amy Purdy, as well as work with Yvie Oddly, winner of ‘Drag Race’ Season 11 for RuPaul’s World Of Wonder Productions. Personally, my most important accomplishment for the year was being able to create a better work-life balance, allowing me to truly enjoy what I do.”

Jonathan Tipton Meyers – Photo by Cooper Bates

J. T. Meyers – “Personal highlights from this year began with performing a selection from my solo show ‘We Are Traffic: A Solo Rideshare Adventure‘ on KPCC’s Unheard LA. Then turning that solo show into a half-hour television pilot alongside a one-hour dramedy, ‘BLERD’ about a young black engineer who lands his dream job at a private sector Space Company, then discovers a conspiracy that might destroy it. I also co-created alongside fellow storyteller Katya Duft, a live storytelling show about rideshare called ‘Ride or Die’ to bring together passengers and drivers. I’ve met some beautiful artists who inspire me and 5,000+ people in this city trying to get from one place to another and they’ve inspired me to bring their stories to the world.”

R. Moore – “2019 has been a true treat. Career-wise, I had the opportunity to direct many great theatrical productions including Los Angeles Brisk Festival‘s award-winning production of ‘RECESS’ written by Kara Emily Krantz and starring Kyle Secor and Hailey Winslow. I also got to direct my first musical for the Hollywood Fringe Festival [HFF], ‘Jamba Juice: The Musical.’ Other productions include 2Cents Theatre INKFest‘s ‘East Stanton Station’ and OC-Centric New Plays Festival ‘Still Moving’ written by Ben Susskind…On the theatre side, I worked as the associate director on many great television shows this year, including my fourth year on CW’s Masters of Illusion and the Hollywood Christmas Parade. My favorite shows to work on were the CW variety show ‘The Big Stage’ and the upcoming Disney+/Jim Henson talk show Earth to Ned, where alien Ned comes to invade Earth but finds himself enamored by human culture [and] abducts various celebrities to understand how Earth and humans operate. For Henson fans, they will be delightfully impressed with this show. Personally, I completed two half marathons this year: New York and Las Vegas. I’m very much looking forward to doing many more in 2020. I had the pleasure of being a Producers Guild of America Mentor in their Power of Diversity Workshop.”

M. Ritchey – “2019 has been one of my favorite years. I’ve had some tragedy and some pitfalls to be sure, but overall, I love the trajectory of this past year. Personally, I started to trust my instincts more and be okay with people not “getting” me or my choices. I’ve been more open to possibility and did a lot of leaping into things that scared me, mostly to very positive results–many of them being in my career. I did a lot of acting this year: I wrote and performed a one-man show (with two people in it) called ‘Blackboxing‘ at the [HFF 2019] where I tried to shove as much of ‘me’ onto the stage as I could – and it was overwhelmingly accepted. That led to me shooting a music video for the song ‘Smellay Lahk A Turkay‘ with For Love of Parody Productions which was fantastic. (It was written for my aunt Julee back in 1995 who passed away a few weeks after the music video debuted, just after her birthday.) I did a 48-hour project with my company, M3, and stepped into two ‘last-minute’ shows in October and December, I made big strides with my writing partner on a screenplay, I saw and reviewed a ton of L.A. theater, made some great new friends, and was featured on a playing card and poster thanks to Matt Kamimura and ‘Matt: The Gathering.’ And I got to work with Sebastian Munoz and Force of Nature Productions directing my play ‘Romeo and Juliet In Hell.’ Amazing year.”

Jenelle Lynn Randall

J. L. Randall – “Well the past few years have been rough with no rep–my manager died…in the past month I’ve gotten a manager, booked a few voice-over gigs, and met the love of my life so 2019 turned out okay. But I have to say ‘the’ most important thing I accomplished was my Eartha Kitt show that I wrote, EP’d and starred in this past June at [HFF 2019], ‘I Wanna Be Evil: The Eartha Kitt Story.‘ We opened with three sold-out houses, got rave reviews, and offers to bring the show to other theatres. That was very taxing–as it was my first fringe and I did everything except direct myself–but it was very rewarding. I also did a truncated version of my [HFF 2019] show for Feinstein’s At Vitello’s in L.A. in September, where that show also has rave reviews on Broadway World.”

S. Vlasak – “This year started with a bang for me with my ‘Nights at the Algonquin Round Table‘ receiving a run in January at the Carriage House Theatre in Lexington, Kentucky. Every show sold out, and I flew there to be part of the fun–joining in talkbacks after some shows. The director, Bob Singleton, and the entire cast all did a fantastic job with my Dorothy Parker-centered Roaring Twenties comedy. Of course, [also] ‘Disrobed: Why So Clothes-Minded?‘ was the focus and highlight of 2019 for me. This unique ‘naked cast and audience’ theatrical experience, produced and directed by Brian Knudson, sold out its debut Fringe Festival run and extensions, won some awards, and has now settled into a once a month residency at Matt Quinn’s Studio C Theatre in Hollywood.”

C. LaCohie – “This year has been insane both personally and career-wise. I had premiered my solo show ‘Vixen DeVille Revealed‘ in L.A. back in 2018, and at the beginning of 2019 I set my goal to take the show on the road. I toured the show to four cities in three different states and won three awards, including ‘Best One Person Performance,’ ‘Best Solo Performance,’ and ‘Best Out Of Town Show.’ On returning to L.A. I then entered into a deal to have the show taped as a one hour TV special, which we are working on releasing in [2020.] Finally, I had also set a goal to link the show to a charitable cause and 2019 saw the launch of my book ‘Vixen’s Unleashed’ and later a calendar version of the book, proceeds of which go to support the Vixen’s Unleashed Scholarship Program – information on both the book and scholarship are available.”

M. Robinson – “A highlight for my year personally has been learning to play golf. It’s fun because every time you play is a chance to get better. With my career winning best comedy for ‘Olivia Wilde Does Not Survive the Apocalypse‘ at [HFF 2019] was such a rewarding experience. I was so proud of the cast and crew and getting recognition like that was unbelievable.”

What were your top five favorite shows, productions, or performances this past year?

L. Walker – “My five favorite productions this year are a hodgepodge of mediums and styles – circus, music, dance, and film are huge parts of my world. In no particular order, my five favorites this year were: Bauhaus at The Palladium, ‘Disrobed: Why So Clothes-Minded?‘ by Steven Vlasak, [documentary] ‘Industrial Accident: The Story Of Wax Trax! Records’ with concert by Ministry, ‘O’ Cirque du Soleil, and ‘Tarantina.’

J. T. Meyers – “[My] top five favorite shows this year were relatively small in scale, but gigantic in spirit and heart: Kate Radford’s glowing multi-media show ‘Drought,’ Makha Mthembu’s powerful time bomb ‘No Child Left Behind,’ Mitchell Bishop’s mind-bending adventurous, gloriously insane ‘Pit of Goblins,‘ John Leguizamo’s profound ‘Latin History for Morons,’ and ‘August Wilson’s Jitney‘–which needs no additional kudos, it was just brilliant.”

R. Moore – “Based off creative approach, there are two [shows] that really come to mind. During the Brisk Festival, Gerald B. Fillmore’s play ‘Join the Club’ was an insanely hilarious view of an immigrant finding their way to America. When it comes to drama, ‘Beethoven and Misfortune Cookies’ directed by Allison Bergman for the OC-Centric New Plays Festival was not only relevant to the cultural issues where we’re seeing inequality but an insightful look at mental health issues. On the East Coast…’Slava’s Snowshow’ looks like an unassuming clown performance until you find yourself covered in fake snow while clowns climb through the audience. The show ends with ginormous balls for the audience to pass around, as well as more snow! Because of a personal connection, I have to share I enjoyed ‘Say Something, Bunny!’ The show deciphers wires recorded from the early 1950s of a family and discovers the voices in the recording has to not only New York roots, but has insights to the early days of musicals on Broadway. I say this is a personal connection because one of the characters in the recording was a Moore and a possible relation to my family lineage!…My list wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t include at least one dance performance. And for that, I have to say ‘Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.’ Matthew Bourne’s reimagining of the story is very timely and the talent performed is incredible. The production value is extraordinary and the use of lighting, graphics, and production design is great.”

Matt Ritchey

M. Ritchey – “I saw a terrific amount of theatre this year, either by personal choice or as a reviewer, and my obvious stand-outs list was 15 strong. But the five that broke convention and were the most intellectually, artistically, and visually stimulating for me were: ‘Growing Gills to Drown In The Desert‘ at Loft Ensemble. A heady, funny, emotional, and existential look into who we are as individuals, a society, and the meanings of theater and life. ‘The Magic Flute‘ at LA Opera. I’ve been wanting to see this show – Mozart’s classic directed as a live 1920’s film with projections and characters pulled from classic silent films – for years. A good friend got me an amazing seat and I was just as blown away as I had hoped to be. ‘Butcher Holler Here We Come,’ A Economy Production at [HFF 2019]. Not only was this story (based on real events of a coal mine collapsing and burying five men) incredibly well-written, directed, and acted, but it was done in complete darkness in a room at Thymele Arts with only the use of practical headlamps. The action took place all around the audience, making it completely immersive but with no burden on the audience to have to ‘do’ anything. It was frightening, exciting, engrossing, and other words ending in ‘-ing.’ ‘The Death of Sam Mobean,’ Orgasmico Theatre Company at [HFF 2019.] Not only did Michael Shaw Fisher’s mind-bender of a play (reminiscent of ‘Invitation to a Beheading’ and more than one Kafka novel) move me in the brainpan and tickle my funny bone, but it featured Schoen Hodges in what I consider the best male performance at [HFF 2019]. ‘Supportive White Parents‘ at Second City. Centered around an Asian girl who wishes on a shooting star for supportive white parents and ‘magically’ gets her wish. [The play] features brilliant cross-cultural stereotypes, sharp writing, fantastic music, a talented cast, and the mandatory ‘lesson’–Joy Regullano’s show was my favorite new musical of 2019. Immediately following this list is ‘Mr. Yunioshi,’ my favorite one-man show, and ‘Boeing Boeing,’ the most sharply directed and acted piece I saw.” – Matt Ritchey

J. L. Randall – “Well I saw three August Wilson shows – one produced by a friend at the Matrix Theatre in West Hollywood, ‘August Wilson’s Two Trains Running,’ ‘August Wilson’s Jitney‘ at the Mark Taper Forum, and ‘August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean‘ directed by a good friend, Gregg Daniel at A Noise Within in Pasadena. I saw an outstanding production of ‘Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill’ starring dear friend Deidrie Henry at the Garry Marshall Theatre. I also saw ‘Lights Out: Nat ‘King’ Cole’ at the Geffen.”

S. Vlasak – “I got to see a lot of live theatre in 2019, but It’s the shows that were somehow next level in structure and style that most stand out. ‘ Cirque du Giselle‘ an acrobatic show from Aeriform Arts, as part of [HFF 2019], was every bit as visual and breathtaking as something from Cirque du Soleil. Actually, I liked it better, with its world-class performers, a strong narrative, and fantastic costumes evoking visitors from the afterlife. My other 2019 highlights, all reviewed on Better Lemons, and all with distinctive and innovative staging, were Greg Crafts/Theatre Unleashed’s ‘Tattered Capes,’ LA Opera’s ‘The Magic Flute,’ Sacred Fool’s ‘Waiting for Waiting for Godot,’ and another love letter to actors, Matt Ritchey’s ‘Blackboxing.'”

C. LaCohie – “In no particular order. Three of my favorite shows come from [HFF 2019.] ‘Yes. No. Maybe.‘ by Raymond-Kym Suttle, which has some stunning acting talent and beautiful provocative writing. ‘Cirque Du Giselle‘ an exquisitely skilled aerial ballet adaptation presented by circus school Aeriform Arts. ‘Crack Whore, Bulimic, Girl-next-door‘ written by Marnie Olsen and directed by Jennifer Chun (which was, in fact, my second time seeing the show after seeing it at a different venue in 2018) was once again an outstanding roller coaster of a ride through heart-wrenching vulnerable storytelling, expertly peppered with genuine laugh-out-loud moments of light relief. Every cast member took this show to another level and I probably cried even more than the first time around. Honorable mention goes to ‘Blue Man Group‘ which I saw at the Pantages – another second for me this year…I’m going to include ‘Foodies and Boobies Burlesque Brunch’ in my top five (an ongoing burlesque brunch show at El Cid.) I’ve been meaning to see this show for a while and then was cast to perform with them in November!!! I couldn’t wait to get off the stage to watch the rest of the show. The performers they brought in were some of my favorite burlesquers in town, so prolific, entertaining and oozing charisma. The whole show was just put together so well, the whole cast having such a blast on stage, the audience just can’t help but be swept away with the atmosphere. As a burlesque performer of 15 years, YES, I’ve seen a lot of burlesque. Done badly, you want to kill yourself. Done right, it’s like you died and went to heaven. Producer Ginger Lee Belle is doing all kinds of other-worldly brilliance!”

Matthew Robinson – Photo by Matt Kamimura

M. Robinson – “I’ve seen so many amazing shows, so apologies in advance if you feel I overlooked your show. I will definitely wake up in the dead of night realizing I forgot an awesome production. These are listed in no particular order: ‘Lights Out: Nat ‘King’ Cole,‘ ‘We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Südwestafrika, Between the Years 1884–1915 is a 2012,’ ‘When Colossus Falls’ at Acting Out INKFest, ‘Meet me in Mizery,’ and ‘Pockets.’ There are so many I am thinking of but I’ve written this list 12 different ways.”

What is your favorite food and/or holiday tradition for the New Year?

L. Walker – “I’ve given up on ‘resolutions.’ As I’ve grown older and wiser I’ve realized that looking backward isn’t the best way to live your life–I like to look forward. I like to start the New Year out at the beach surfing and setting my intentions for the year, the beach is one of the places I feel the calmest at.”

J. T. Meyers – “I have no New Year’s traditions, but it’s such a good idea that I will start one: A Hollywood Hike to humble myself under the big blue sky.”

Roe Moore

R. Moore – “When it comes to New Year’s traditions, there are two musts: watching ‘New Years Eve Rockin’ Party’ (with that Ryan Seacrest guy) and an overflowing cup of Welch’s sparkling cider. Watching the ball drop in NYC is something I always make sure I do. Goal making is a big part of what I do not just at New Year’s but throughout the year. My approach has morphed over the years as I’ve gone from aspiring to now being in the thick of my career journey. I now look at goal setting as a course correction and aligning my energy with opportunities and networking to continue in the direction I’ve started. What is different at New Year’s is I look at any unfinished business I may have on my plate, critically look at what did work and didn’t work in the past year, and examine what will be best for the new year. I don’t quite do dream boards, but I do post my goals around my bedroom as reminders. There’s a lot that can pull your focus in Los Angeles, so it’s key for me to say, ‘Is this going to be helpful for me or is there something better for me to use my time?'”

M. Ritchey – “I had two holiday traditions at Christmas with my family, one of which has sadly gone away – the annual Snakespoon. (I won’t go into it, but if you’re interested, check it out here.) But through the year, members of my family keep an eye out online or in stores for entries into the Ugly Ornament Contest. It’s exactly what it sounds like: we buy the ugliest ornaments we find during the year and then present them on Christmas Day to one another. We vote as a family and one ornament reigns victorious. Check ‘em out.”

J. L. Randall – “I make sure I go back east, Maryland, to visit my mother for the holidays…on December 30, 2019, she turned 80, so I’m very excited for her party.”

Steven Vlasak

S. Vlasak – “Holiday traditions? I come from a big family, and we do tend to round everyone up, so I do enjoy those Christmas cookies and Italian food! And it’s LA, so…Tamales! Family and friends are the best! As for New Year’s, I just dust off last year’s resolutions and determine to do them again. No, really.”

C. LaCohie – “Food! I go home to the UK every year for the holidays and I can’t get enough of that black pudding! Nom Nom…Every new year I come up with a word for the new year, rather than resolutions. I stole this from Bonnie Gillespie–who I’m sure stole it from someone else–but it’s something I encourage my students to do also. The way I use it is it’s a word that you will filter all your decision making through for the rest of the year. In 2016 my word was ‘go’ as in ‘go to things’–make a conscious effort to accept invitations. If I was tired at night. and not sure whether to attend, I would ‘go.’ 2017, the word was ‘create,’ which meant whenever I was given the opportunity to create something, I would. I would choose that option over making money, overspending time doing general upkeep–unlike the previous year, if it was a toss-up between going to some event and finishing up some costume–I would stay at home and create. 2018 was ‘finish,’ as in finish off unfinished projects, but also put a ‘finish’ a polish or embellish already completed things. I finished creating my solo show, I finished a lot of unfinished burlesque act ideas. I painted my grotty looking living room. Last year was ‘risk.’ If making a decision, the only reason against it was it was too risky– risky financially, risky that I might fail–well, I went and did it!! I really think this is why I’ve actually accomplished so much this year, I just kept taking the risks. I haven’t figured out my word for 2020 but I will meditate on it on New Year’s Day and put it first and foremost in my Freedom Mastery Calendar–another other of my New Year traditions. I go through the whole process of goal setting as set out in the front of the calendar. If you haven’t heard of Freedom Mastery check it out.”

M. Robinson – “For New Year’s Eve, my family loves to make black-eyed peas usually in a stew.”

What can we expect in the New Year from you personally? What creative endeavors or projects are coming up?

Lea Walker

L. Walker – “This year my company Aeriform Artists Media is in the design stage of a Social Circus production. These traveling performances will utilize circus as a medium for exploring, exchanging ideas, championing and bringing awareness to the societal experiences of various marginalized groups. Our goal this year is to find ways to expand creatively and grow organically.”

J. T. Meyers – “In this new year, you can expect a full production mounting of ‘We Are Traffic,’ hopefully, followed by a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe. In addition, I’ll be pitching both TV pilots and finishing a screenplay, ‘All My Friends,’ about the 2003 blackout in NYC.”

R. Moore – “In the new year, I am partnering with playwright Kara Emily Krantz to bring her play ‘inValidated’ to the 2020 [HFF.] ‘inValidated’ is a two-time O’Neill semi-finalist and currently a 2020 National Playwrights Conference semi-finalist. I am also looking forward to see what the seeds I planted in 2019 may create, including shadowing fantastic directors on network shows. Who knows…there may also be a resurgence of the 2018 [HFF] favorite ‘Buzz’d Out!’ finally making it to a television near you! No matter what happens, I am looking forward to creative and ‘awespiring’ 2020!”

M. Ritchey – “I just began my Storycrafting service where I work with actors, writers, or anyone with a story to tell and help guide the process – theater, film, novel, short story, etc. Deadlines are always important so I have some people working toward [HFF] shows in June. Storycrafting: I’m working with a friend to create a Summer Theater Program, continuing to work with Director’s Lab West, and looking for a company to produce my sure-fire hit comedy ‘Shpider.’ Guaranteed hit. Seriously. Call me. Happy Holidays.”

J. L. Randall – “I am entering National Alliance for Musical Theatre in NYC, so I’m excited, and anticipating my Eartha show ‘I Wanna Be Evil: The Eartha Kitt Story’ being accepted into that festival. I’m also looking for a producing theatre that will help me develop my show further for the NY market. The plan is Off-Broadway, then Broadway. I’m ambitious and hopeful, but anything is possible.”

S. Vlasak – “For 2020–Yes, the Roaring Twenties are back! There are additional productions brewing around the country for ‘Nights at the Algonquin Round Table.’ And although it’s too soon to make any announcements, the premise is also being developed as a TV series. ‘Disrobed’ may be found on the first Saturday of every month [starting March 2020] for those whose bucket list includes ‘attending the theatre in my birthday suit.’ And I’ve written a darkly humorous and (not very) naked look at the culture of celebrity, ‘Beautiful Monsterz,’ which I hope to present this June for the [HFF.] And, of course, I’m looking forward to attending and being transported by all the new works from L.A.’s innovative writers, actors and directors, and to logging in a few more hours hanging out with them at the Broadwater Plunge.”

Cat LaCohie

C. LaCohie – “Other than getting the solo show turned into a TV show (which, as I pass it over to the producers is now out of my hands) I will be looking to take the show out of town again towards the end of the new year coupled with showcases of the scholarship winners. Plans for that are on hold the next couple of months as I’m planning my wedding taking place in May (Eeek!) In March, I’ll be going out of my comfort zone with the Vixen DeVille Coaching as I’m exhibiting and speaking at this year’s ‘The Best You Expo,’ the largest personal development gathering on the planet. I’m currently writing my 20-minute TEDTalk-style speech and all of the self-doubt is, of course, creeping in! Come check out the Best You Expo March 20 and 21, 2020 at LA Convention Center.”

M. Robinson – “I am working on a new play, ‘Glamour,’ for the [HFF.] And have a few more plays in development–one about paramedics, and another about astronauts in deep space. I am hoping that I can continue to create interesting stories, and I am super excited for the projects my friends are working on. I feel 2020 is going to be a strong year for a ton of folks!”

Monique A. LeBleu/Event Editor and Contributor.