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.



Sherwood Award-winning Kristina Wong Brings 'UndocuStories' Through LA Department of Cultural Affairs Grants

Actress, Comedian, and local Politician, Kristina Wong, will be presenting a “UndocuStories: Journeys of Justice and Freedom” workshop series at the Dream Resource Center in MacArthur Park, beginning September 3, 2019.

Sponsored by UCLA Dream Resource Center, Wong, and the UCLA Labor Center, the workshop is funded by an Artist-in-Residence grant from the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

In the eighth year as recipient of this grant as Artist-in-Residence, Wong, who refers to her work as “mind-blowing social commentary with a little humor,” on a picture of her 2020 Census Form posted on her Facebook page, facilitated a similar workshop last year where DACA recipients, undocumented individuals, permanent residents, mixed-status families, and allies participated with a similar grant, which was increased this year from $8,000 to $12,000.

Participants in the "UndocuStories" workshops in 2018 in an exercise involving karaoke. (Photo courtesy of Kristina Wong/UCLA Dream Resource Center)

“Last year’s show was a combination of comedy sketches, poetry, movement work, first-person testimonials and a cover of Vanilla’s Ice Ice Baby called “ABOLISH Ice, Ice Baby,” she said. “This year's workshop will specifically center on experiences of undocumented immigrants.”

Wong, who is a newly elected Representative for Sub-District 5 Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council, recently received the Center Theatre Group’s Dorothy and Richard E. Sherwood Award for her work as a “Boundary-Pushing Artist,” which was presented to her at the LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards ceremony at this year.

"UndocuStories: Journeys of Justice and Freedom" is a twelve-week theater workshop facilitated by Wong, that will feature guest artists Yosimar Reyes (2nd Verse: The Rebirth of Poetry) and Kat Evasco (Working in the Theater) who will teach skills in comedy writing, Theater of the Oppressed (TO), movement, and performance, where participants will engage on issues that “impact the undocumented immigrant community, transforming those stories into an original theater piece for the public,” said Wong on the LAFPI site.

According to the Mandala Center for Change, TO is a form of community-based education that “uses theater as a tool for social change" that was developed by Augusto Boal.  Theater of the Oppressed "is now used all over the world for social and political activism, conflict resolution, community building, therapy, and government legislation. It is also practiced on a grassroots level by community organizers, activists, teachers, social workers, cultural animators, and more."

Per Wong, as a public elected official in Koreatown in “a small, unpaid position, but very mighty,” a lot of her constituency and neighborhood is undocumented. In her first 100 days in office, and while still working as an actress, comedian, and writer, she wrote a community impact statement about supporting the abolishment of ICE (Integrations and Customs Enforcement), and that process may make it into a future show. Since then she has made it her goal to work and educate toward achieving social justice through her comedy, where she discusses social issues affecting people of color—especially women of color—, white privilege, and how to be an armchair social justice warrior (or a better one on foot). A great example of her approach is one of her earlier productions titled the “Wong Street Journal.”

“Last year, our allies were really great about stepping up to support the storytelling of our undocumented participants and de-centering themselves when necessary to keep the focus of storytelling on the experiences of undocumented participants,” said Wong in her blog.

Each week, for twelve weeks, with information provided by the Dream Resource Center, participants will explore a new topic that specifically affects the undocumented community, such as “Know your Rights” or healthcare options for undocumented communities and unaccompanied minors crossing the border, along with theater games, a mix of improv and sketch writing exercises, and performance work.

For some individuals who might be concerned about giving their identities with regard to the workshop and performances, they will establish community rules at the top of each meeting so that “everyone is on the same page about how to work together,” according to the LAFPI article, so participants may not be required to give full names if they are undocumented.

“Just let us know if you don’t want your name published on materials or if there are limits as to what you want to share with the group or publicly,” Wong wrote on the LAFPI site.

With regard to any fears about ICE roundups, Wong said, “they would have to have a warrant” [for an individual] and that there are staff members present who are “super trained on how to address ICE” if they were to show. But she feels confident that would not happen or be an issue.

“To those who are not undocumented, it seems scary, but the "Know Your Rights" training in the workshop prepares the undocumented as well as the allies so that we are all ready to put the knowledge to the task," Wong said. “But also they have to ring a doorbell to come in, so we'd at least be able to confront them at the door.”

The “UndocuStories: Journeys of Justice and Freedom” workshop is located at UCLA Downtown Labor Center at 675 S Park View St, Los Angeles, CA 90057, which will meet Tuesdays from September 3 - November 19, 2019, from 6 - 8 p.m., with the final performance on November 19th at 7 p.m. Participants do not need to be a UCLA student to attend, there are no age restrictions for the workshop, the workshop is free, and dinner will be provided at each session. For more information contact: dreamresourcecenter@gmail.com.