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.

Best Theatre of the Year – Looking Back At L.A.’s 2019

I give to you my personal list of the best theatre Los Angeles offered in 2019, with a few swipes at the less of the best….

First off, the production of August Wilson’s Jitney at the Mark Taper Forum. Wilson’s works share a distinction with those of Shakespeare, in that when the plays of either are fortunate enough to be housed in a production of true artistry one finds theatre nirvana, which is what director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and cast provided L.A. audiences with.

The cast —Steven Antony JonesFrancois BattisteAmari CheatomNija OkoroRay Anthony ThomasHarvy BlanksKeith Randolph SmithBrian D. Coats, and Anthony Chisholm returning to the role which earned him a Drama Desk Award and Obie in 2000’s off-Broadway production— performed as keys on a perfectly tuned piano, with  Santiago-Hudson assuring not one false note was sounded.

Contributing to this perfect harmony were David Gallo’s set, Jane Cox’s deft light design and Toni-Leslie James’ superlatively unobtrusive costumes.

In six short years the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts has won L.A.’s appreciation for the work produced and Artistic Director Paul Crewes its respect for his guidance.

This year that appreciation and respect were given further validation: The Old Man and the Old Moon by the PigPen Theatre Company, was an intoxicating entwining of old world folklore, Arabian night tales and the poetic arts of a Celtic seanchaís resulting in an evening of wondrous magic which is the essence of theatre.

Some twenty-five years ago at the old Tiffany Theatre on Sunset Boulevard, the marvelous Hershey Felder presented his first solo show based on the life of a great composer.  Having previously brought Chopin and Beethoven to the Wallis, this year Felder returned again— and again was…well, marvelous.

Hershey Felder: A Paris Love Story, are the reminiscences of his first youthful journey to Paris which are placed as a palimpsest in homage to his favorite composer Achille-Claude Debussy.  Directed by Trevor Hay it was perhaps the most enchanting show of the season.

We have the Wallis to thank for Renée Taylor’s one-woman show, My Life on a Diet Best known to movie lovers as Eva Braun in Mel Brooks’ The Producers (1968) and to TV viewers as Fran Drescher’s mother on the CBS sitcom The Nanny, Taylor, with her late husband Joseph Bologna, co-wrote the Oscar nominated Lovers and Other Strangers as well as two additional screenplays and 21 more plays.

It was a privilege and a joy to be in the company of the 86 year old Taylor who is a juggernaut of talent as well as a living history of both Broadway and Hollywood, and, personally, I wanted her show to go on longer than its 90 minutes.

Like a week longer.  Maybe two.

The Wallis also deserves thanks for bringing back talented David Mynne, whose one-man presentation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations was one of last year’s high-water mark.

A Christmas Carol, this year’s Dickens offering, was less satisfying but Mynne’s performance was nevertheless amazing to watch.

The Fountain Theatre, which I regard as one of the jewels in the crown of the L.A. theatre community offered little this year that drew my interest and what did, I’m afraid, I was less than thrilled by.

Idris Goodwin’s play Hype Man, though not without merit, I found weak and I thought the cast, Clarissa ThibeauxChad Addison and Matthew Hancock and director Deena Selenow, brought more to the play than the play brought to the stage.

Of course, there was no performance of the Forever Flamenco series that I was not enraptured by.  These monthly Juergas of dancers and singers, overseen by Deborah Culver at the Fountain since 1990, I have often heralded as one of the best kept secrets in L.A. and one of its hottest tickets.

The Long Beach International City Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Price was a show one should regret if missed.

David Nevell as a man who sees in the wreckage of his father’s life the failure of his own, and Elyse Mirto as the wife who sees her husband’s true worth but is unable to make him believe it, were each outstanding.

In the most Biblical referenced of Miller’s plays, Bo Foxworth’s layered performance as the prodigal son allowed the audience to see that the chains forged by his choices were as heavy as those of his brother.

As the secondhand furniture dealer Mister Solomon, which is the heartbeat of the play, Tony Abatemarco fluctuated adroitly between the Old Testament’s wise Solomon and Faust’s wheeling-dealing Mephistopheles.

I find director John Henry Davis to be rather hit or miss, but with The Price he undeniably knocked one out of the stadium.

DoubleDouble playwright Guy Zimmerman and director Juli Crockett, by a fusion of the 1944 noir classic Double Indemnity with Shakespeare’s Scottish play, successfully brought another artistic chimera to the stage.

Zimmerman and Crockett juggled snippets of dialogue and hints of shared motifs, transforming a trio of Barbara Stanwyck doppelgangers  (Henita TeloJenny Greer and Isabella Boose) into a Greek Chorus to warn  Saughn Buchholz as Walter-Walter of the fate awaiting his Oedipus MacMurray.

From concept to execution, this production had the luster that craft and intelligence brings; sharing in the credit for this are scenic designer Melissa Ficociello and Michael Feldman’s ballads.

Bill Irwin’s On Beckett was perhaps more lecture than show, but what a subject to lecture on and what a lecturer to hear.  Having been a fan of Bill Irwin since his Old Hats and Fool Moon days, what I found so extraordinary in his discourse/performance/dissertation/sermon on the works of the great Irish playwright on the stage at Kirk Douglas Theatre, was Irwin’s ability to delve into those “linguistic non-spaces” Beckett supplies, and weave relevance into those silences found there.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson is the current “flavor of the month” from the New York theatre scene.  I find most of her works “vanilla” at best.  But there are a couple of her plays which, while not on the level of “Chocolate Therapy,” come close to “Chunky Monkey” status.

Ada and the Engine is one.  It tells the story of the rakish Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada, and her contribution to the development of Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, precursor to the modern computer.  In their staging, Theatre Unleashed emphasized the play’s strengths while cloaking its weaknesses, resulting in a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging production.

As the two dominant men in Ada’s life —William King-Noel, later Lord Lovelace and the driven Charles Babbage— Gregory Crafts and Alex Knox gave faultless performances.  But it was Jessie Sherman in the titular role that captured the audience and herded them on the pathway from the joys of dreams to the price paid for them.

Director Heidi Powers enriched the production by her employment of Denise Barrett’s costumes and use of Kevin Hilton’s animation which shattered the black box’s confines by expanding the vista of ideas.

Less successful, but certainly more frenzied was the Theatre Unleashed production of Never Ever Land by playwright Rider Strong, centering on the allegations against Michael Jackson’s involvement with underaged boys.  Director Michael A. Shepperd applied cunning and skill but was only moderately successful in masking the play’s faults.  On the other hand, Josh Randall as the “abused” lad’s manipulating father and Leif Gantvoort as the unctuous news commentator after a story turned in exceptional performances.

As a former puppeteer, I admit I was a sucker for Les Miz And Friends! A Puppet Parody and my hearty guffaws filled the Hudson Theatre on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Nathan Makaryk and Geneviève Flati co-directed their “re-envisioning” of Les Misérables, the much beloved musical based on Victor Hugo’s much renowned classic.  The crushing poverty, sexual exploitation, brutal police and civil bloodshed are still there, they just added a ton of puppets and screwed with the songs.

Performer-puppeteers Kelly RogersKevin GarciaGabrielle JacksonJaycob HunterHailey Tweter and Carter Michael kept the laughter coming, as did Christopher Robert Smith as Javert.

The production was packed with silly puns and dopey jokes, but what came as a total surprise, at least to me, was the quality of the cast’s musical chops.  Some credit for this must go to “musical accompaniment, Orchestrator and Arranger” David Norris.  Here’s hoping Makaryk and Flati set their satirical sights on another classic of the musical theatre.

I did manage to see Rogue Machine’s Disposable Necessities in their new space in Santa Monica.  Playwright Neil McGowan has conceived a clever work akin to an old “slam-door” comedy where an actor would rush out as one character to re-enter as another seconds later.  But, McGowan does away with the “doors” by setting his work in a protean near future when bodies are changed with wardrobe like ease.  The device supplies the show with laughs, but also with difficulties.  Claire Blackwelder isn’t up to the demands of conveying the persona of an elderly chauvinistic lecher dwelling in young lady with a body worthy of Vargas’ watercolors.  Nor does Jefferson Reid have the acting apparatus to conjure the reality of a spoiled white boy deposited into the body a black urban teen; the rest of the cast, Billy FlynnDarrett Sanders and the always superb Ann Noble, having the benefit of experience turn in stellar performances.

We look forward to what Rogue Machine and Artistic Director John Perrin Flynn have in store for us in 2020.

The Judas Kiss by British playwright David Hare travels the oft-treaded ground of Oscar Wilde’s disgrace following the infamous trial for libel he foolishly instigated against the father of his young lover Boise.

Director Michael Michetti’s production at The Boston Court was lushly mounted with sets by designer Se Hyun OhDianne K. Graebner’s costumes, and lighting design by David Hernandez, but all the lushness could not conceal the piece’s anemia of dramatic tension.
Some atonement was found in the performances of Darius De La Cruz as Robbie Rose, Wilde’s most stouthearted friend and that of Colin Bates as the self-centered Boise.
But it was the sincerity and depth of humanity which Rob Nagle brought to the role of Wilde that served as the most memorable feature of a rather forgettable show.

The Hollywood Fringe Festival held every June along the strip of Santa Monica Blvd running from Highland Avenue to Vine Street should be a seasonal Mecca for the creative souls of this city and those with any reverence towards the arts.  HFF 2019 boasted a total of 405 individual productions and sold over 67,000 tickets.

Here were the standouts for me:
Mil Grus, featured the absurdly inspired clowning of Helene UdyGrayson MorrisJeremy SappJenson Lavellee and Isaac Kessler under Dean Evans’ direction and took TVO’s “Best of the Fringe.”   The show, along with its five misshapen blobs of bizarre silliness, just opened in New York.

Theatre Unleashed made their presence felt at the Fringe with Tattered Capes by Gregory Crafts, an intelligent and clever account of the marital woes that befall two caped crusaders.  With outstanding performances from Chris ClabaughTravis Joe Dixon and Joanna MercedesCrafts’ play celebrated the superheroes of our childhood while reverberating with deeper questions regarding the secret identities we use in concealing our true selves from those we love.

Designer Denise Barrett provided the super costumes and Corey Lynn Howe’s direction was more powerful than a locomotive.

With Son of A Bitch, Director Billy Ray Brewton fashioned an American Morality play about, to quote my fellow critic David Narine, “Lee Atwater’s  – Republican-Strategist-Liar-Driven-Liar-Brilliant-Liar- Son of a Bitch – rise to power.”

Featuring solid performances by Dennis Gersten as George H.W. Bush, Luke Forbes as “W” and David McElwee as Atwater, playwright, Lucy Gillespie’s work was a much-needed history lesson.

Another political offering at the Fringe was The Mayor’s Debate of Tranquility, Nebraskaa silly and sinister parable on the American electorate.

A local news broadcaster, Emily Dorsett, hosts a mayoral debate in the American heartland.  The candidates include the gay uber-liberal lesbian (Kate Hellen) a Tea-Partier (Lucie Beeby) and the slimy incumbent (Jim Hanna who also penned the script).

The debate goes from glad-handing to backstabbing with gleeful alacrity and the laughs roar out.  But beneath the chortles, Hanna and his cast slip a grim warning; that in this nation today, the “amber waves of grain” are closer to Rod Sterling’s “cornfield.”

Butcher Holler Here We Come written by Casey Wimpee was perhaps the Festival’s most successful immersive piece.  The audience is confined in a room dark as pitch, sharing in the fate of five miners trapped beneath the earth.  Under the astute direction of Leah Bonvissuto, the voices of the unseen miners, Michael MasonIsaac ByrneAdam BelvoMorrison Keddie and Adam Willson, spin about the audience, webbing them in desperation.

Spencer Green’s twisted take on the anthropomorphic beast fables of Aesop, The Scorpion and the Frog, was riotously engaging.  Showcasing the talents of Matthew LeavittChristine Sage and Alex Parker it was hands down one of the Fringe’s most thoroughly enjoyable offerings.

Public Domain the Musicalwhile not perfect, had highpoints that would make your nose bleed. Sam Pasternack (who wrote the book, composed the music, supplied the lyrics and directed) gathered some first-rate performers for this musical ragging of the Disney Corporation’s propensity to squeeze profits from any character in the public domain.  Pasternack uses those public domain icons that Disney overlooked: Oedipus (Max Mahle), The Monkey Paw (Max Ash), Rosie the Riveter (Codi Coates) and…er, Potato Mussolini (Ben Cassil).  Let it be known, costume designer Ember Everett, rose to the occasion.  One of my favorite numbers was Oedipus’ song, “The Way to Become a Hero (is to be at the right place at the right time.)  Were there flaws in the production?  Of course, but it also had a Potato Mussolini!

Solo shows are the stock in trade for any Fringe and HFF 2019 had some extraordinary ones, with the TVO’s “Best Solo Show (Female) going to Raised By Wolves, a cautionary tale about life among alpha-males and evil step-mothers, written and performed by Marla Black.

TVO’s “Best Solo Show (Male) went to Monica Bauer’s Made For Each Other, an astonishingly tender tale staring John Fico as a man who learns that even those in their flabby fifties are deserving of love.

Cathy Schenkelberg arrived at the Fringe with a double whammy for Scientology; first there was Squeeze My Cans, her harrowing one-woman show about the 20 plus years she spent in the cult of L. Ron Hubbard.

Then there was that show’s musical clone Squeeze My Cabaret, in which Schenkelberg related the same tale but showed that she has a pair of pipes on her that could knock the smug superciliousness off Tom Cruise’s puss at twenty yards.

In HFF 2018 Yokko brought her New York based company Ren Gyo Soh with a Japanese Butoh re-fitting of Euripides, Butoh Medea.  This year Yokko turned her efforts on Shakespeare with Hide Your Fires: Butoh Lady Macbeth adapted by Sean Michael Welch and directed by Brian Rhinehart.  Both shows were equally entrancing.

Two excellent productions which deserved greater exposure were Clark Wade-A Jazzy Tragedy, written and performed by Esquizito, AKA EP Perez which drew on memories of New Orleans’ Golden Age;


Stephen Lang’s Beyond Glory based on the recollections of Medal of Honor winners for which Steve Scott took TVO’s “Best Actor” award.

From Ireland came Drought, poetess-songsmith-performer Kate Radford’s haunting indictment of the toxicity of sexual abuse, which TVO acknowledged as the “Best International Show.”

Her true-life tale of a model being afflicted with alopecia was shared by Jannica Olin in (IM)Perfekt. Olin managed to inspire her audiences and at the same time convulse them with laughter.

With Black Boxing, playwright Matt Ritchey held a funhouse mirror to the very concept of solo shows.  Directed by Matthew Martin this raucously funny gem chronicled every pitfall solo shows face.  Fittingly, this send-up of a one-man show featured performances by Ritchey and Jim Niedzialkowski.

Finally, I’ll close with one of the most satisfying shows in HFF 2019, Temple Tantrum, written and performed by Nicole Steinwedell. Raised in a right-wing Christian cult, Steinwedell broke free and plunged into a world diametrically different – Hollywood.  Steinwedell told her tale with the slashes of vibrancy one expects on a Jackson Pollack canvas.

Steinwedell’s dynamism, like the dissonance of a “perfect storm,” may have dissipated into an ineffable silence, but for director Kimleigh Smith who ably applied orchestration to the tempest, assuring awareness of the work’s import and clarity, for which she took TVO’s “Best Director” honors.

Of course the Fringe had disappointments: Olivia Wilde Does Not Survive the Apocalypse, Princess Magic’s Trash Time Revue, and Lincoln 2020.  But these were in a minority.

And the larger L.A. theatre scene had its pratfalls too:

Between Riverside and Crazy, (It won a Pulitzer Prize for drama, just like Enter Madame and Men in White!), Scraps (whose playwright the program told us “never learned to properly write a play.” I buy that.) and The Play That Goes Wrong (which I’m sure would have been much funnier if I hadn’t seen it.)

But these were in a minority as well.

The demands of theatre are arduous, and despite good intentions, dedicated labor and inspired concept, we often fail or falter through our own faults or fate’s callous insensitivity.  This is when we should recall the words of Robert Ingersoll:

“…when men and women belong to a profession
that can count Shakespeare in its number,
they should feel nothing but pride.” ¹

And so I say to all my good friends, to all the stagehands, house managers, dancers, marketing directors, composers, ushers, wardrobe supervisors, directors, set designers, choreographers, carpenters, light board operators, set dressers, producers, sound designers, singers, dramaturges, dialogue coaches, box office agents, fight choreographers, company managers, janitors, make-up artists, musicians, spotlight operators, set builders, technical directors, videographers, dressers, prop masters, parking attendants, playwrights, actors, stage managers, wig makers, publicists, scene painters, critics and most importantly to all who make up our theater, let us join together in 2020 and do what we do best – make magic!

From all of us at theTVolution.com we hope 2020 brings you good fortune, good health and of course, great theatre.

Eight Artists Reflect on 2019, Inspired for 2020

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!”