Female Fusion: Siobhan Dillon

Siobhan Dillon is an astonishing vocal talent. She was “discovered” when she participated in the British Televised Talent Show, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? Though she finished third, she had made her mark, attracting the attention of Andrew Lloyd Webber, one of the judges of the show and one of the most prolific composers of modern musical theater.  She made her West End debut in 2007 playing Patty Simcox in Grease and has gone on to star as Molly in Ghost, Ellen in Miss Saigon, Sandy in Grease, Vivienne Kensington in Legally Blonde and Betty in Sunset Boulevard. When the British production of that show moved to Broadway in 2017, Ms. Dillon made her Broadway debut. A move to Los Angeles followed to explore television, film, and to fulfill her dream of living in sunny California. In addition to performing, she has gradually expanded the scope of her voice, both literally and figuratively, to help others through meditation, sound baths and yoga nidra (yoga sleep),which she teaches with her husband Adam Korson.

Luckily for those of us who were not able to catch her on the West End or Broadway, Ms. Dillon just released her first pop album, a stunning collection of covers entitled One Voice. This is not an album review, though I highly encourage you to check it out. It is gorgeous. What is extraordinary about the album, aside from the glorious vocals, is the journey that led to it. While taking British musical theatre by storm, Ms. Dillon fought cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30 in 2015, while performing Ellen in Miss Saigon. While healing, she worked with Breast Cancer Haven, an amazing organization in the UK that supports those fighting the disease. All proceeds from the album benefit the organization. According to Ms. Dillon, “what makes Haven so wonderful is that they are equipped with health care professionals in so many different areas of expertise that they can provide comfort and support for anyone going through the breast cancer struggle. I just felt so strongly about them and the comfort that their charity had brought me that I wanted to say thank you. I didn’t give them a penny during that time, and I think in moments of need, the charities that offer everything for free are the ones who should be celebrated. The tricky thing at this moment is that they can’t continue with their fundraising events as the world is going through this pandemic. I was originally going to continue to support the charity by encouraging people to visit their site and hopefully encourage donations but with everything going on it just felt like the right thing to do to donate all monies to them.”

I asked Ms. Dillon to share her journey, her experience in creating the album and her focus moving forward with life in Los Angeles.

In 2015, Ms. Dillon was just about to open in the West End production of Miss Saigon as Ellen, a role she had long coveted. Just before opening, she discovered a lump during a self examination and her life turned upside down. The lump was malignant. After a few performances, she left the show for treatment. She endured a brutal regime which included surgery, radiation and hormone therapy. During the time between surgery and radiation, she visited California, staying with a friend in Malibu and setting the stage for her future. She did return to the show, but as a changed person. “I had started hormone treatment which effectively switched off my ovaries because the type of cancer I had was all due to hormones - specifically estrogen. So, the doc wanted me to stop producing it which would effectively leave the cancer cells without anything to ‘feed’ on. For anyone who has been through the menopause, you will know all about this. The side effects of reducing that hormone are quite brutal. Panic attacks, depression, hair loss, weight gain, hot sweats... to name a few. It was a challenging time, but while I was sitting on that beautiful California beach, I made a decision that I wanted to push hard to spend time in the US.” She started the process to obtain a green card to work in the US before she returned to London to continue treatment. She found that when she returned to the show, she struggled. “I returned to Miss Saigon to perform and was struggling with being back on stage. I’m not sure what it was exactly but I didn’t have as much fight in me so the nerves returned and it left me wondering if performing on stage was the right thing for me to be doing moving forward….I had always joked as I lifted my eyes to the sky that when the universe took me to perform on Broadway - at that point that I would have just left musical theatre! (It really was as simple as that!) Within weeks I auditioned for Sunset Boulevard and was cast as Betty in the UK production and yep!... we then transferred to New York. I made it to Broadway!” After the show closed that June, she traveled for a few months then made the move to Los Angeles.

Ms. Dillon recorded the first single, She Used to Be Mine, shortly after her recovery process. It seemed to stand in for her entire journey. “I was kind of done with the treatment but was still feeling the waves of what had happened a year earlier. I was petrified that the experience had changed me in a negative way. I was scared of losing something. My fearlessness? Maybe. My naiveté? Probably. I was so scared that people saw me differently. I was scared that my energy had changed, and my light had dimmed.” The song has even more resonance with the current world situation. “This idea of “life slips in through a back door” just really takes the wind out of me every time I hear or sing it, as we get on with living our lives, day to day and suddenly there we are. We find ourselves in places we would never have imagined without noticing it happening.”

One Voice is curated with and produced by Steve Anderson, who has produced the work of more recognizable names that you can count, including 20 years as producer for Kylie Minogue.  The entire album took four years to record. Ms. Dillon says, “both myself and Steve really took our time with this album. We had no idea what it would be or when it would all be complete, but we started anyway. What a wonderfully rare position to be in. It started with Steve asking me to send him a list of ‘Desert Island’ songs, which progressed into ‘the songs that I had always wanted to sing’ which very quickly progressed into ‘the stories that my heart wanted to tell through song.”

Although all of the tracks are gorgeous, Everyone’s Waiting is a standout, both vocally and in what it meant to Dillon to record. “I’d been performing on London stages for almost a decade when I was diagnosed with cancer. I was a few weeks into my contract at The Prince of Wales in Miss Saigon, playing Ellen. I decided to get through my treatment as quickly as possible to get back to the stage and play this iconic role. But when I got back there, I froze. Everything felt different.”  She continues, “I remember stepping onto that stage and it feeling completely different to any other time I had stood on stage before. I was fragile. More sensitive. Things felt different, but I couldn’t work out exactly how. It felt empty and pointless. Nothing about being on the stage excited me. In fact, I just felt uncomfortable.”

This onstage experience led Ms. Dillon to rethink her entire approach to her art and life. “When I stepped back on stage after the treatment, I was quite shocked at how fragile I felt. I took it for granted that I would just walk out there and be focused and hard as nails again. But my hard exterior had really been chipped away and that only really hit me in that moment. My nerves in auditions were through the roof- more so than normal... I think I just wanted to relax! I didn’t like the adrenaline anymore. I think the main reason for this was numerous conversations with my doctor about limiting stressors in my life. He once asked me if I had a stressful life. I said “No! I perform on stage for a living! It’s fun!” He asked me if I ever got butterflies or moments of adrenaline surges... I thought about it for a while and as we talked, I realized that I was constantly feeling these things.”

“The way I live my life has definitely changed. I removed things that were causing me stress. I don’t do things that cause me stress and most importantly I take relaxation incredibly seriously because if the body can't rest, it’s struggling to heal and if the body can’t heal, disease will have a much easier time thriving. So my work in theatre hasn’t stopped- far from it. But my work in meditation and crafting healing sound baths for others has increased. Whenever I can help someone relax to enable them to reach the parasympathetic state, allowing their body to begin to restore and heal itself - I am a happy woman!”

I wanted to take us back to the album for just a moment. The tone of the album is very specific, and though not all of the music is calming or meditative, there is a balance to it that when listened to straight through is very soothing and restorative. Was the idea of sonic healing a part of the process? Was this life path already in motion as she recorded this album? My impression is that it was there, but maybe not intentional. I asked Ms. Dillon directly.  “I think probably you just hit the nail on the head. I think it was subconscious. Steve (Anderson, the producer) is so open himself to artists just going with their flow and he is really a phenomenal support that what actually happened when we started working together that he let me just relax….I heard somewhere a rider who was just told to relax into the saddle like butter…..I love that…... It is kind of like how this process happened. It was kind of a seamless and pain free experience for me, which I can’t say about previous recordings. With Steve, he just allowed me all of the space and time and energy to do what I felt was right and I was able to tap into a part of me that I didn’t even know I had.”

So life in Los Angeles is different, but not entirely divorced from performing. There is a continuity in music, sharing and song. Ms. Dillon was on the Amazon hit show Frankie and Grace this past season. She is absolutely open to the right theatre project or role sweeping her into its fold, but is currently focused on a life of healing, meditation and love. She is deep in study and with her partner Adam, she runs Salus, “a sanctuary space dedicated to creating peace, tranquility and healing.” They are building a new space, using this time to embrace the unknown. She integrates her healing work with her performance and art and is focused on the spiritual rather than commercial side of sound, embodying a Southern California lifestyle. “I am working on meditation music as well as guided meditations specifically designed for self-healing. This, over acting and singing, I have to admit is the thing - at this moment in time - that is getting me out of bed in the morning! That, and the California sunshine of course!!!!!”


Featured photo credit: Adam Korson



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.



Two New Exciting Creative Projects for Stephen Foster and Chuck Pelletier During Covid-19


Actors/writing partners Chuck Pelletier and Stephen Foster created the popular musical The Green Room and released a CD of the show in 2006 to great acclaim. It has toured across country and played off Broadway to excellent reviews in 2019. Now there is a new website devoted exclusively to The Green Room. Recently they composed a short film entitled That's Opportunity Knocking that has won a myriad of awards. Both men took time out of their busy schedules to discuss both projects, which push the limits on creativity during CoViD-19.


Don: Tell us about your new website for The Green Room. Does it allow visitors to see the show from the ground up, from the very beginning on upward to the latest success in New York?

Stephen Foster: Due to our hectic and diverse creative schedules (acting, writing and directing) the information and materials for The Green Room Musical has been helter-skelter on YouTube and Facebook so we decided, after the Off-Broadway run, to put it all together in one streamlined website at GreenRoomTheMusical.com.

It’s a way to describe how the show has grown and evolved through the years. It provides a platform where people can see clips of various productions, listen to the songs for free, obtain free scripts, and even purchase the sheet music. It’s the catch all for learning all about this 4-character musical that had humble roots in Hollywood theatre and finally had an Off-Broadway run. We are extremely proud of how far this “passion” project has come.

Don: This is the pride and joy for both of you. Chuck's music has been such a success and you have reworked the book to make it more adaptable to current time. What are the elements of the show that have appealed most to audiences everywhere?

Chuck Pelletier: I love writing funny songs, and when I go to see musicals, my favorites are always the comedy songs. For the most part the songs in The Green Room are comedy songs, I think there’s only three or four exceptions. They still move plot and character forward, but they make you laugh. And I think audiences love that. That’s the way musicals were written in golden age, whether it’s Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, Oliver, The Music Man. Most of those shows were fun and funny. They landed on the occasional love song or sad song when the plot warranted it, but for the most part, people went to Broadway to escape. To be entertained. Many people have mentioned to me that that’s how they feel after they see The Green Room, and that is what makes me the most proud as a lyricist. When you hear an audience laugh, really laugh, belly laugh, in the middle of a song, and then again, and then again, to the point they have to try to contain themselves just to keep up with what’s coming next. That gives me more joy than anything.

There is also the sense of youth, four characters in their 20s having fun in college. People love the youthful energy of the story.

Don: Sum up your dreams for this show and advise our readers how they need to be creative and follow their heart at all cost.

Stephen: The musical has had a wonderful track record thus far with indie productions all over the US, Canada, and Ireland. The songs have been performed in cabarets, concerts and singers love singing the 2 comedy songs “It’s All About Me” & “Nothing Can Stop My Boys” at auditions. The future of the show is endless with new theaters and now online venues opening up.

The song “In The End” contains my favorite line, “In the end you do what you have to do. Because it’s you, in the end, who has to live with it.” That’s been my philosophy for many years. To pursue a career in acting and writing, you miss a lot of “normal” living, but in the end you have art to show for it. The trade-off isn’t always fair, the labor of love is long, but sometimes you hit gold and that pay-off is what keeps us going against the odds. Follow your heart is what I coach actors and writers when I teach. If you follow your heart, you might not hit the moon, but you’ll land in the stars.

Don: Let's switch to your new film That's Opportunity Knocking. What basically is it about? What inspired you to write it?

Chuck: That’s Opportunity Knocking is a 22-minute comedy on Amazon Prime that tells the story of two college-educated guys in their 20s so down on their luck they decide to rob an empty apartment. The tenants come home while they are robbing it, so they have to hide, and wait, while the tenants make out on the couch. One of the interesting things about this comedy is that it’s based on a true story. Usually comedies aren’t based on a true story, unless they are historical, period films. So of course it was the true story that inspired it. What happened was that we were involved in a play at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The director of that play, Thomas Anawalt, and most of the cast of the play, went out for drinks one night after the show. Thomas was telling a story about when he lived in New York with a couple roommates, and one night they came home and found some items out of place but didn’t think much of it. They woke up the next morning and found the place had been robbed. So they realized then that, the whole time they had been home that previous night, those burglars had been hiding somewhere. I think I told Thomas right then and there that I wanted to make that into a short film, and I wanted him to play himself. Most of the actors that were in that play ended up being in the movie.

Don: You have won many prizes so far. That is wonderful.

Chuck: Yes, the film has won 24 awards at film festivals, and after that was picked up by Amazon Prime, where it has been viewed hundreds of times since. Who knew there was a market for short films? We are very proud. Stephen himself won 5 awards as Best Supporting Actor.

Stephen: We are humbled and surprised by all the awards. We’ve been working in theater and film as actors and screenwriters for many years, and this one clicked. We are grateful to the indie film festivals that helped us achieve these awards.

Don: What do audiences learn from the movie?

Chuck: There are a few themes running through the movie, but the main theme, which recurs especially throughout the dialogue of the two burglars, is that it is far harder to be middle class right now then it was, say, 50 or 75 years ago. That’s the motivational engine of three of the characters, and the reason the burglars are there in the first place. I hope that is what people take away from the movie, as well as just a lot of laughs and having a good 22 minutes.

Don: Does it have your zany sense of humor?

Stephen: I don’t think we could produce a piece without it containing our off-beat view of the world. I always wanted my creative life to be “The Carol Burnett Show!” Humor is how Chuck and I survived growing up and we use it in our writing and acting. Chuck understands my sense of humor, and I understand his, so we mesh very well together.

Don: But, as well as being entertaining, does it have a substantial base? How does it inspire people to live?

Chuck: I loved the screwball comedies of old Hollywood, because they always worked as simple comedies, but there was always a class-against-class theme behind them. There were other elements, reversed sex roles, etc., but the class struggles are what I always relate to, and as I said, I wanted that to be integral to this movie. If someone told me my comedies inspired them to look at class in a different way, perhaps vote more with the middle class in mind, nothing would be a higher honor.

Don: If you had to sum up your professional life so far, how would you do that? 

Stephen: I would sum up my professional life as “trial and error” with perks thrown in along the way. I’m extremely LUCKY to work hand in hand with Chuck, as we click in all we do. There’s never a sense of competition or one-upmanship with us.

Don: Is there another project on the horizon that you yearn to work on?

We have started our own small company, Round Earth Entertainment, to nurture and develop our creative projects: songs, scripts, movies and plays. We have several projects that are in development.

Chuck: This virus has been the worst thing that has happened to the world in my lifetime, but you have to make lemonade out of lemons, and the time at home has given Stephen and I a lot of time to talk through potential projects and do some good writing.

Stephen: Don, these are very odd and crazy times, humor helps us heal, connect and survive. I think that’s our primary statement to humanity.