Spotlight Series: Meet Christine Joëlle, a Versatile Actor Who Also Runs a Successful Pet Care Service

This Spotlight focuses on Christine Joëlle, an actress I first saw onstage in the summer of 2004 as Madge Owens in Picnic, directed by Gail Bernardi for Kentwood Players at the Westchester Playhouse. Christine and I went on to work together in many productions for the community theatre group, both onstage and on production teams. Since then, I have been fortunate to follow her path across the stages of professional theatre companies all over town, always enjoying her ability to transform herself into a great variety of characters – often during the same show!  And I am also a very happy customer of her pet care service, Movin’ Paws.

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

Christine Joëlle (CJ): I graduated from James Madison University and attended The American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Since moving to Los Angeles, I have worked in several theaters all around the city, having performed in over 60 stage productions. I am a proud theatre company member of THE ROAD and THEATRE 40 and union member of AEA, SAG-AFTRA.

Jennifer Laks, Lary Ohlson and Christine Joëlle in "Night Watch" at Theatre 40. Photo by Ed Krieger

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

(CJ): I was currently working on Mistakes Were Made: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda by Jerry Mayer at The Santa Monica Playhouse. We were on its 4th extension before having to postpone until a future date.

Christine Joëlle in “Mistakes Were Made: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda" at the Santa Monica Playhouse. Photo by Evelyn Rudie

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

(CJ): Via emails and phone calls. Ultimately, we came to a mutual decision to close the theatre for our and our patron’s safety.

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

(CJ): Our producers, Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo will most likely resume running the show. I have no doubt that all the cast members would be delighted to return.

(SB): I really enjoyed Mistakes Were Made: Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda and all the characters you played in it. It’s so much fun to attend a show that keeps you laughing - and crying - at the same time from start to finish at such universal human foibles! Here is my review on Broadway World.

What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown? 

Christine Joëlle in the immersive theatre show “Delusion”

(CJ): I was not planning to be in other shows at the moment. But I do have a strong feeling many fall shows and activities may not happen either. For example, the Haunted Play production staff of the immersive theatre show Delusion will most likely not take place this year because it’s the type of show where you must secure and rent a location by May/June in order for production planning to commence.

Caleb Slavens, Alison Blanchard, Christine Joëlle and Christian Pedersen in "Flare Path" at Theatre 40. Photo by Ed Krieger(SB):  How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(CJ): I’m definitely becoming a master of ZOOM chats! Ha! And am putting my self-tape skills to good use as well.

I am also the owner and CEO of a successful pet care service called Movin’ Paws. So, I’ve been busy keeping it movin’ during these crazy times. If you need any dog/cat care for your furry ones, we’d be delighted to lend a helping paw. Check out our services at 

(SB): My dog Cody, bird Ernie, and I all highly recommend Movin’ Paws for their excellent service and personal care of your pets! 

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?

(CJ): Stay Strong and Safe. Without our health, our return to the stage shall take longer. The Arts and our creative community shall never die. We shall need it now more than ever. Keep that creative flow going!

(SB): And in closing to you personally, Christine – windmills!

This article first appeared on Broadway World.

Spotlight Series: Meet Shelley Fisher, “The Hebrew Hillbilly”

This Spotlight  focuses on Shelley Fisher, a down home diva better known as The Hebrew Hillbilly, her persona in her solo music play which is the longest running in the USA. Believing that music is the universal language which brings healing and encouragement to everyone, performing her show fuels the flames of creativity and hope for Shelley, and comedy provides a welcome break from the weight of life as it is today. So, what is she up to until she can back inside the Santa Monica Playhouse to perform for an audience again?

Shelley was born and raised in the heart of the Mississippi Delta in Memphis, TN, the home of The Blues and the birthplace of Rock n’ Roll, which inspired her love of music and performing. Her mother was a professional singer/comedian and her father was a concert violinist who co-founded the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. The gritty musical backbeat of Beale Street and the King of Rock n’ Roll himself, Elvis, coupled with her parents influence, made performing a natural focus of Shelley's early life in local talent shows and high school theater. She moved on to Boston University, studied fine arts and drama and formed her own Blues/Folk band.

"I’m the writer and performer of the longest running critically acclaimed solo musical play in the USA, The Hebrew Hillbilly, which is autobiographically based on my true story of growing up Jewish in the red neck South and is a celebration of diversity, dreams and determination! Obviously, it has hit a popular nerve and is perfect for this time of Passover, Easter & Coronavirus, since for the first time in modern history, Passover and Easter have been canceled due to a Plague.  With 17 original songs I wrote with my co-songwriters Ken Hirsch, Harold Payne and Steve Rawlins, we were preparing for a May 17th benefit performance for Santa Monica Playhouse when the Coronavirus pandemic shut down civilization as we know it."

Since it’s a solo musical play, Shelley only had to contact her audio visual staff, management and acting coach, Missy Peikin, about postponing its current run, and the co-artistic directors of Santa Monica Playhouse, Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo. Evelyn and Chris are seasoned veterans of the theater who welcomed Shelley almost eight years ago and deftly knew how to deal with the current situation. And, if the fates allow, all three are looking forward to present The Hebrew Hillbilly on Sunday, June 28th at 6:30pm as a Benefit Performance for the Santa Monica Playhouse. Of course with uncertainty of the pandemic, all her other productions, including national television (JBSTV), theatrical presentations in Florida, Atlanta, and NYC are now on hold.

To keep her creative juices flowing, Shelley is skyping and zooming with other noted songwriters, including Harold Payne and Steve Rawlins, to create new songs. "I’m also sending bi-weekly emails to friends and fans, posting on my Facebook public page, The Hebrew Hillbilly: Fifty Shades of Oy Vey! and on my website"

"Music and performing fuel the flames of creativity and hope. The universal language, music, brings healing and encouragement to everyone. And comedy provides a welcome break from the weight of life as it is today. Take two Ha Ha’s and call me in the morning! We’ll be back soon."

The Hebrew Hillbilly is designed to entertain and encourage folks to never give up on their dreams. If one dream doesn’t work, get another one. The finale says it all: ‘I’m Still Hot’ (It Comes In Flashes Now).

You can hear Shelley's CD, Rockin' in Memphis on Amazon, and her latest song, ‘I Wanna Win A Grammy (Before I Am A Grammy)’ is available at Spotify, iTunes, YouTube, and CDBaby.

Link to short (1 min 49 sec) performance video:

Be Glad You’re Different:

Miami Beach:

This article first appeared on Broadway World.

Spotlight Series: Meet Barbara Keegan, an Emmy Award-winning Actress

This Spotlight  focuses on Barbara “Bobbie” Keegan, an Emmy Award-winning actress who always says “yes” to the Santa Monica Playhouse and Theatre 68 who always travels with her adopted son, good luck charm and alter- ego, “Smitty the Magical Flying Purple Turtle.” I first met both of them during the second Hollywood Fringe Festival when Keegan took Best in Fringe honors headlining in the world premiere of Jon Courie's Jennifer Aniston Stole My Life, which Courie wrote specifically with her in mind.

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

Bobbie Keegan (BK): I made my Chicago stage debut at age 3, in a duet with my comedy godfather, first mentor and jester spirit-guide for all time - Danny Kaye. I also have the distinction of being the only performer ever to receive a special Emmy Award for my work in a local television commercial. But it all kicked into high gear when I was enjoying a stint as a tourist development authority ambassador (masquerading as beauty queen Miss Miami Beach) at the same time CBS and Universal Studios were in Miami scouting locations and talent and discovered me.

Soon I relocated to the West Coast to strengthen my commitment to both stage and screen, with scores of appearances and participation on the governing bodies of organizations such as First Stage, Theatre 40, and The American National Theatre and Academy.  The move also made me a presence in major motion pictures from Caddyshack, to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, from Disneyland (Saving Mr. Banks, Tomorrowland) to outer space (J.J. Abrams' Star Trek), as well as a slew of award-winning indie and festival projects. I also hosted my own TV series, The Handy Ma'am on PBS, and appeared as "Nell's Mom" on NCIS: Los Angeles (in which I was introduced in a Christmas episode, wearing antlers on my head), in addition to a wealth of classic episodic TV roles.

Los Angeles theater audiences have seen me in ten roles in the Pasadena Playhouse's award-winning Joined at the Head, five roles in the five yea- run of Bill W and Dr. Bob at Theatre 68, as well as original musicals from The Fantastics to the country-western Tanglin' Hearts to the politically-themed Campaign to the borscht-belt Mamaleh! and the occasional beloved classic such as the blarney-speaking Nurse in Romeo and Juliet for Merry War Theatre Group.

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

(BK) I was appearing in the comedy Mistakes Were Made...coulda-woulda-shoulda at The Santa Monica Playhouse, which was written by Jerry Mayer and directed by Chris DeCarlo.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated to you?

(BK): As the coronavirus reports grew more serious, we suspected that we very well might be suspending performances at some point.  This was especially ironic for me, having only joined the cast in this extension of the show on Saturday, March 7.  So, I had my "opening" performance that night and we played our matinee on the following day, Sunday, March 8.  When we left the theatre that evening, we were already wondering if we would be playing the next weekend.  During the week, the reports grew more and more grim, and by “lucky” Friday the 13th, the Co-artistic Directors of Santa Monica Playhouse, Evelyn Rudie and Chris DeCarlo, emailed all of us to confirm that we were indeed suspending performances.  The irony is that this may turn out to be the shortest run of my life!

Mistakes Were Made First Night!

(SB): I know Mistakes Were Made has been running for a while as I reviewed it before you joined the cast. Do you know if plans are in place to present that production at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

(BK): Of course, this is a situation we've never experienced before, and so all plans are of necessity both hopeful and flexible. Evelyn tells me that there is every hope and expectation that we will re-open as soon as it is feasible to do so, and we're hoping to return this summer.

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

(BK):  I have kept my options open since there was already the possibility of further extensions of that show beyond our announced closing of April 26. And since everything is now up in the air, I want to be available for whatever dates we are able to bring Mistakes Were Made back on stage.

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

(BK): I try to post as many fun/funny/uplifting things as I possibly can.  My personal preference is to always try to only spread good news. A lovely recent festival competition-entry film I appeared in called Title 9 by Amy Campione, can be viewed at this link.

(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?

(BK): Oh, I love that you mentioned the Ghostlight!  That's actually something I posted just the other day on my Facebook page. Here's what I want to say: We WILL be back. My personal assignment-to-myself has been to use this time, however strange, as positively and healthily and lovingly as I possibly can.  I'm a do-it-yourselfer but also a lifetime member of the procrastinators club (well as soon as I get around to joining), so I've been trying to do at least one thing around the house per day. Fix something. Clean something.  Take care of the plants inside and out. Straighten a corner that's gotten out of hand, which seem to multiply daily.

It’s important to remember we're all creative artists, so let's create! Maybe you'll re-discover papier-mâché, or watercolors, or maybe you'll use that great idea you have and finally write that play!  But don't forget to take care of yourself, too. Stay healthy, both physically and mentally/spiritually. Move. Exercise as much as you can. Eat. Hydrate. (I'm mostly reminding myself about that, I regularly get "busy" with something and forget to eat or drink 'til I just about fall over, my friends will testify to this)

Most importantly, if you're by yourself (or not), REACH OUT and call people you love (yes, they will be home), write to them, text them, (but don't text me, I'm bad at it). BE KIND TO YOURSELF AND EVERYONE ELSE. We WILL get through this. And always remember, it’s all about the love! And I’d like to end by sending out lots of love and best wishes to everyone from my adopted “son,” good luck charm and alter-ego, “Smitty The Magical Flying Purple Turtle,” who is always at the theatre with me and has an even bigger web following than I do!

This article first appeared on Broadway World.