Tuesday, January 14, 2020

2020 Interview with Miwa Matreyek

REDCAT presents the Los Angeles premiere of Infinitely Yours by animator, designer and performer Miwa Matreyek for the debut of her latest work. Running for three performances from Thursday, January 16 through Saturday, January 18, 2020, the award-winning interdisciplinary creator brings her nightmarish vision of climate grief to Los Angeles audiences before heading to Park City, Utah for the works’ world premiere during Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontier program. Infinitely Yours will then embark on a North American tour throughout June. 
In our conversation Matreyek discusses the project in detail.

This brilliant new work, Infinitely Yours, sounds like a film but is, at the same time, a live theatrical experience. I see it’s also headed to Sundance’s New Frontier program, which is where Festivalgoers get "a peek into the next dimension of storytelling,” as they explain on their site. Describe for our readers your new piece's exact nature and composition.

MM: I am an animator, designer, and performer. I create live performances where I step behind the screen and into my kaleidoscopic moving images that are projected onto a screen, and interact with them as a shadow silhouette. My work is at once fantastical and visual like cinema, but is also physically present, intimate, and about creating an emotional connection with the audience, like theater. My work often weaves in narratives of nature and humanity with my shadow taking on various scales of consciousness and perspectives.

Describe what you mean by dreamlike.

MM: My work tends to not have any text, and doesn’t follow a specific character or a clear narrative. Rather, the images the audience sees are surreal and poetic, while also being a physical experience for the shadow silhouette they see on screen. Shadow is interesting because it is physical (cast by a real body) but also abstracted. As a shadow, my body can get larger than life, to show close-ups of my face, my hands, my feet, etc, as well as play with cinematic tropes and conventions, like POV shots. By combining a real body with the video, I want the dreamlike or nigtmare-ish visual moments to seem like real experiences happening to the physical body. 

The work also very much plays with illusion, and transformation, and can feel like a magic show.

From whence does your inspiration come for this issue of climate change?

MM: Much of the inspiration came from news article headlines about climate change that I’d been seeing in the last few years. I began notetaking and cataloguing these articles, as they became inspirations for the images and embodied experiences, as I was imagining up ways to create a metaphorical version of the headlines. A giant body emitting trash in a landfill. A figure reaching in to the ground and pulling out oil.

Apart from making audiences aware of climate change and what it is doing to destroy our world as we know it, what are your other goals with this project? What would you like to see people do to help?

MM: I would say creating a discussion about climate change is my main goal. I often incorporate artist talks when I tour (especially with university presenters). With Infinitely Yours, part of the talk will be not just about the inspiration (articles, books) but also my personal struggles as I wrestle with personal choices in my everyday life. Much of the imagery in the piece came from my daily life –  the plastics floating in the polluted ocean scene is plastic trash I generated. I began doing what I call a plastic audit, where I collected all the plastic trash I generate in a month (rather than putting it out in the blue bin to be taken away every week). It was eye-opening to see the month’s worth of trash in one place, to think through the choices I made in the grocery store, and how I might make those choices differently. Some items, like grains, I can fairly easily avoid plastics by going to a store that has bulk bins. However, some other items, such as tofu, seems impossible to acquire without generating plastic trash – unless I figured out how to make it myself, or completely stopped eating it. I think there is something to be said about stopping and reassessing all the choices we make everyday - driving or taking public transportation, eating plant-based foods or not, buying new or getting used, etc etc. 
I feel like in our world, we need a wider imagination of the before and after of the choices that we make – we tend to see only the moment. I am interested in the work rattling the audiences a bit to reconsider the befores and afters of the choices that they make.

The music we’ll hear in Infinitely Yours is by Morgan Sorne aka SORNE but he did not create it with you or for the piece, correct? How did the two of you approach this collaboration and will he perform the score live at other shows beyond REDCAT and Sundance?

MM: I met Morgan a few years ago when a friend invited him to one of my shows in Los Angeles. Since then I got to know his music and as I started working on Infinitely Yours, I began to feel his music really resonated with the energy and feeling of the scenes. I asked Morgan if he’d consider me using his music, and he said yes, so I went through his whole discography (he has many albums!) to start to pin down which songs work for the project. He gave me the song files, which I was able to start adding animation to, and use the music to help define the structure of how the images and scenes unfold from one to the next. As an animator with some music background, letting the music really drive the energy of the visuals is key for me, using the  rhythms and beats to drive the visual beats. 

So the idea is that I have one version of the full show with all pre-recorded music, including his vocals, and another version of the full show with a lot of the layers in the music removed, so that Morgan can perform live with his vocal and instruments. How often we get to do this will be up to the presenters and our availability....

If you are live on tour with the project, will you answer questions from each audience after the presentation?

MM: Yes, normally there is a Q and A after the shows, where I answer questions from the audience. A lot of my touring takes place through university presenters, and I plan to incorporate artist talks, discussions, and workshops as well. With my past work, the focal point of my talk had been mainly about making interdisciplinary work, and my process. With Infinitely Yours as part of the tour, I’d love for the artist talks to also focus on climate change, sustainability, and personal choices. 

With a run-time of 25 minutes, the L.A. presentation of Infinitely Yours will be paired with some of Matreyek’s older work, creating an 80-minute program, which will include a 15-minute intermission. Each performance will begin at 8:30 pm. Tickets for Infinitely Yours are $22 or $18 for REDCAT members, and all ages are welcome. The Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) is located at 631 W 2nd St, Los Angeles, CA 90012. For tickets, please call the box office at 213 237-2800 or visit https://www.redcat.org/event/miwa-matreyek-infinitely-yours.

• Miwa Matreyek - www.semihemisphere.com
• Matreyek’s Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/miwamatreyekartist
• Matreyek’s Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/matreyek
• Matreyek’s Twitter - https://twitter.com/miwamatreyek
• Matreyek’s Vimeo - https://vimeo.com/matreyek

Friday, January 10, 2020

Interview with Dr. Venus Opal Reese

Best-selling author, acclaimed international speaker and business mentor Dr. Venus Opal Reese will kick-off her latest tour, The Raw Truth Book+ Tour, during MLK weekend at Highways in Santa Monica. Highways is stretching the limits once again to add enrichment to the Los Angeles theatre scene. Dr. Venus is one very theatrical lady who tells our readers in detail where she came from and how she has risen to the heights of fame and success.

Tell our readers about your background and how it affected your current career. As a writer, I am always pleased to see someone rise up out of poverty, take charge and shape their destiny.

Dr. Venus: By the time I was 16, I was living on the streets of Baltimore, MD, eating out of trashcans and sleeping in urine and beer. On the streets, everyone lies. Streetlife is rooted in survival. I had to discern quickly what a person wanted and what to say in order to stay alive.  I became masterful at hearing what people are NOT saying.

This specific capacity is my “million-dollar moneymaker.” Everyone has one.
It’s formed in a moment of crisis when life knocks you to your knees. I can “hear” what people will buy from only you that is rooted in your lived experience. I then position, package, and price it so my clients become the highest-paid leader in their industries, live fulfilled lives and leave a legacy that transforms the world. Simply put, I turned myself into a category of one and I do the same for high net-worth, top-performing, high achievers, business owners, and experts. If I hadn’t lived on the streets, I would never have grossed $5 million in less than 6 years, without loans, investors, a sales team, or government funding.
It’s not in spite of the streets but BECAUSE of what I learned on the streets I am now able to empower and model for others how to “pimp”  their pain instead of their pain pimping them. My clients have grossed millions by implementing my strategies, systems, and programs.

What does your book detail? Is there a specific plan to follow?

Dr. Venus: From the means streets of Baltimore to Stanford Ph.D., to Black Woman Millionaire, The Raw Truth: A Pimp’s Daughter’s Diary is a relentlessly honest and emotionally intimate account of my spiritual healing from a traumatic childhood to salvation and personal power. Inspiring, disturbing, and as “real” as it gets, enter a world very few survive. Ruthlessly authentic, sensually erotic, and viscerally explicit, this story is a road map to guide you, if you’re ready, from socially acceptable acts of self-hate to self-making, self-love, to ultimately self-respect.

Explain the different parts to your evening, so our readers know exactly what to expect.

Dr. Venus: The Raw Truth Book+ Tour: Pimp Slap The Past Into Peace, Purpose, Passion & Profits is a 3-part experience. Unlike conventional book tours, this is a full-day experience for book lovers, lifetime learners, and theatergoers.

1.     The Book Signing: Bring your copy of my bestselling book, The Raw Truth: A Pimp Daughter’s Diary, or purchase one on-site (come early to get yours before they are sold out!), and let’s grab a photo together.
2.     The Wealth Workshop: During this three-hour session, I will share how I turned my painful and traumatic childhood into millions. And meaning. If you have ever felt trapped by the past, knowing there’s SO much more for you, don’t miss this session!
    1. I am also including “love seats,” where a few select audience members get to come on stage where I use my multi-million-dollar brain to show you how to monetize your pain or turn your pain into purpose!
    2. We will finish the session by passing the mic to members in the audience (you?) for “Share YOUR Truth” moments to be witnessed, heard, seen, and confirmed by a loving tribe of fellow “Truth-Tellers” who understand.
3.     The Solo Performance: This is where the book comes to LIFE! It’s one thing to read my powerful and raw words on the page, and it’s great to learn how YOU can pimp your own pain into peace or profits. But to SEE, FEEL, and WITNESS me bringing my words to life? It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you can’t get ANYWHERE else on the planet!

How much spirituality is involved in the program?

Dr. Venus: This program is rooted in my personal relationship with God—as a street urchin. I talk to God like he is a Black Man who just got out of prison. #realtalk  So, my relationship with God is VERY “Street.” In my imaginings, God is a gangsta not an angelic white man in the sky. Because I grew-up on the streets, I needed a God who bleeds; someone I could relate to. So, the entire program is rooted in my personal, street-life centered relationship with God. It’s important to know I didn’t meet God in the church. I met God on the streets. I met Jesus in the club. (Kirk Franklin’s “Stomp)  So, if a person is “religious” they will clutch their pearls when they hear how real and raw God and I roll. I curse, cry and pray—sometimes in the same breath.
My work—written, taught, or performed—doesn’t fit into a box of respectability. 

As a girl from the streets, I don’t traffic in respectability. I traffic in truth. I wasn’t built for the church. I was built for the marketplace. I am foul-mouth, sexually explicit, queer-identified and into kink. AND I love the Lord. Just like the imperfect vessels from the Bible—from David, to Moses, to Saul turned Paul—I’m a hot mess on a good day! That doesn’t mean I can’t love you. And it doesn’t mean God can’t use me for those of us who would NEVER make it with a “traditional” relationship with spirituality.

How do audiences generally react?

Dr. Venus: My audiences are hungry for the truth. Some have to set aside their judgments of what a Godly woman would say or talk about, which I regard as admirable. But those who are open-minded and open-hearted walk away inspired, with new fresh perspectives and wisdom. I always recommend audiences check out some of my Facebook or Instagram live streams, YouTube videos, and blog articles to get a sense of my flow before they come. That way the aren't surprised by how I remix the sacred with the streets. I got an edge on me. I do prepare new audience members, fans and followers for what to expect before I start my programs. I make it my business that everyone who comes to my tour stops and performances are taken care of.

Money is mentioned in the pr. Do you specifically encourage making money as one of the goals or does it come as an aftermath of success?

Dr. Venus: Money is not "effort." It’s energy. “Making” money is hard work, so I don’t advise it. The millions I have manifested come from healing my own historical, cultural and familial traumas—not my effort. Working hard will not make you rich. It will only make you tired. Most people have been taught to bring in money from what they “do.” Rich people bring in money from what they “know.”
When I say "know," I don’t mean skills, talents or credentials. There are tons of people who have the same skills, talents, and credentials that you have. So, you end up in a rat race where the cheapest price wins. The key isn’t “doing.” The keys that have made the biggest difference in my life, allowing me to fulfill my destiny, have NOTHING  to do with "doing." Truthtelling. Healing. Surrender. Allow. Trust. Receive. These energetic states are magic. The more you heal the more you can receive, without earning it, proving it, overcoming it, hustling, grinding, or slavin’.
I can show you how to break your first million in minutes (and I will at the wealth workshop) but money is the easy part. Healing—that’s the rub. When you identify your million-dollar moneymaker that is rooted in your pain—not your brain—and you price, package, and position it properly in the marketplace, financial AND emotional freedom, success, and fulfillment are natural fallouts.

Sum up your life in one sentence. Use past, present, and future in your statement.

Dr. Venus: From the Streets to Stanford, Ph.D., To Hot Mess Millionaire. My life is a miracle.

Dr. Venus Opal Reese presents The Raw Truth Book Tour at Highways Performances Space & Gallery, located at 1651 18th Street, Santa Monica, on Friday January 17 at 8:30 pm, Saturday January 18 at 8:30 pm and Sunday January 19 at 3: 30 pm. Plus you may attend a free open rehearsal on Monday January 13 at 8: 00 pm.

Contact the following link for tix: https://highwaysperformance.org/ :

Thursday, January 9, 2020

2020 Interview with Bryan Rasmussen

An award-winning actor as well as a director, producer, teacher, coach, and Artistic Director of the Whitefire Theatre, Bryan Rasmussen is proud to be celebrating its’ 37th season this year! In the fifteen years he has owned the Whitefire, Bryan has produced over 500 shows, as well as over 50 world premiere productions including “Blood Brothers”, “Love Like Blue”, “Mark Twain in the 20th Century”, “Seasons of Change” and many others. He has directed and acted in the world premiere of the critically acclaimed production of “FIREHOUSE” as well as directing the NAACP Best Solo Show of the Year award-winning “BILLIE!...backstage w/ Lady Day” about the life of Billie Holiday . With Solofest about to begin, Rasmussen tells us in detail about the program, what solofest means and how it will benefit the actors and the Whitefire Theatre this season.

Explain to our readers the exact meaning of Solofest.

BR: Solofest is a festival of one person shows or solo theater that is a celebration of the solo journey that brings 80 shows to the stage in 90 days. The biggest difference with this festival as opposed to other solo festivals is that we only do one show per day and not multiple shows in the same day. That’s so that the soloists can create a full production and not do their shows on other production’s sets or lights which is the case with most. And one of the biggest differences is that the performers are able to pay for their shows out of their box office rather than paying the fees upfront like most festivals. I did my own solo show back in the early 90s about Vincent van Gogh called Sincerely Yours, Vincent and performed it for approximately 10 years in local theaters and at the Edinburgh Festival and the Getty Museum. I learned a lot about producing a solo show and wanted to help other solo artists to get theirs done and not lose an arm and a leg financially like I did and to hopefully provide a safe harbor for solo artists to develop their shows.  Mine was a little easier because van Gogh is a name and that helped with marketing but it’s still a very difficult thing to do and as an actor I think it’s the hardest thing they'll ever have to do in their career. Hamlet doesn’t even have an hour and 20 minute monologue!

How long have you been doing it and how long does it run this year and on what nights does it run?

BR: This is the eighth year of Solofest and we do shows every single night of the week Monday through Sunday with two shows on Sunday which includes a matinee for one of the performances.

How many plays are there usually and how do you choose the plays?

BR: It changes every year. We began with about 20 as part of the festival and it has grown to over 80 shows in 90 days and has become the largest solo theater Festival on the West Coast . All of the shows only do one performance except a few that do a little bit of a run during the festival because they’ve done their shows before and want to do a run. That way everybody’s show gets paid for through their audiences. It’s when you try and do a run of solo shows is when it gets very difficult because of the numbers. We start accepting proposals for shows September 1, and we go through all of those and figure out which ones will be in the festival. I have a lot of help with that from my associate producer Nancy Santiago who lives in Seattle and she does a lot of the administrative work and organization that goes into handling all of the logistics needed for this kind of festival. We don’t have a big team or staff or anything like that, and so we are almost a solo show in itself as a theatre!

Is there a theme covering the shows this year?

BR: It’s not a strict theme but we definitely wanted female oriented stories this year which is why we opened the festival with Ladies First about some of the great female historical figures of our country.

What does the program of shows add to or how does it enhance your overall lineup of Theatre?

BR: I think Solo theater has now become the purest form of storytelling in theater. It used to be more of a showcase, vanity situation mostly. But now it has become a platform in which issues that haven’t been tackled as much in film or television can be approached through solo theatre. We have done solo shows here at the Whitefire ever since I took over in 2005. We have produced over 1000 solo shows at the Whitefire which have gone to Theatres all over the world.

What else of importance will you be performing in 2020? Anything radically new?

BR: Unfortunately I can’t speak about any of that at this moment because we are still negotiating with various producers and companies on possible projects that we will be helping to produce in 2020. One that I can mention will be the third installment of Howard Skora‘s family trilogy. We produced Howard‘s first two plays Miserable with an Ocean View and Damaged Furniture. Howard is one of the greatest comedy playwrights in America and we are proud to collaborate with him on his new plays.

As an actor is there anything new on the horizon for you to report?

BR: I’m always working as an actor mostly in film and television now. I don’t do much theater anymore because I’m so busy producing and directing now. I have some possible projects on the horizon but nothing set yet.

Is there anything you care to add?

BR: I think the biggest radically new situation we’re presenting this year is the ability to live stream live theater on a regular basis. We have been developing this technology for a number of years and finally have come to a point where we are like the Netflix of theater and able to stream multiple shows because we offer multiple shows in the same week. We created a “vertical rep” which basically has shows running once a week vertically rather than a lateral run like a Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday situation which is what is the normal template. It’s taken years to get to the point with technology that we can do this and are very excited about the prospect of streaming our content from the front row center seat worldwide!
We are streaming most of the solofest and a lot of our other content.
To do that simply go to www.whitefiretheatre.com/live and enjoy!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

2019 Interview with Suzy London

Actress/singer Suzy London loves her work with a passion. She is one of those gifted performers who can do a role brilliantly in a play onstage and ... perform equally well in cabaret. In our conversation she tells our readers about how different one arena is from the other. She will do her brand new cabaret show Tattoos on My Heart at Sterling's Upstaris at the Federal on Sunday January 19, 2020. The show is described as an evening of country, bluesy, jazzy tunes. London relates to us with great humor about singing country.

Tell our readers about your new cabaret Tattoos on My Heart. Is it different from you other cabaret shows? If so, how?

SL: It is different, first of all because of the venue for one reason. And...anytime you do a cabaret, you can't just take a show as it is and put it into a place where it's not going to fly. You have to look at the kind of audience you're going to have and what that's going to be like. For instance, there are people in the audience who are drinking and sometimes eating, and so that limits their attention span. If they're there with a group of people, maybe they're talking, so what you do is you have to grab them and keep them or you're not going to be listened to.

I did this show specifically for the Federal. I've never done this show before. I had had great success at the theatre (Group Rep) doing the theatre version of my previous show Around the World with Suzy London. That's where I sang in twelve different styles of twelve different languages. It was sort of autobiographical of my experiences around the world. When I went to the Federal and looked around, I realized it was not the right place for that show, because it had slides and it was a more theatrical production.

How did your musical director play into all of this decision making?

SL: I talked about it with him - Robert Brandzel, and this place lends itself to something light, something fun and something funny. I have had some funny experiences with singing country music because I am a classically trained singer.. Yet, I ended up writing country jingles for a while when I was in Las Vegas. I knew nothing about country but, hey, I got the job. I did a lot of demos for country singers.

Also, right now, you have to take into consideration what is happening in the city you're in, the world you're in, and it's very strifeful. There's a lot of strife going on, a lot of unhappiness going on. I think the number one thing about entertainment is just sort of take people out of the drudgery and misery and upset. So, I wanted to do something that is light and fun. There's a lot of comedy in this show. I do a couple of novelty numbers and a couple of comedy numbers. A good laugh goes a long way.

Robert Brandzel is a joy to work with. I've worked with him for years. I met him when I was hired to do Buttercup in H. M. S. Pinafore. Even though I'm very thin, we did a very thin, skinny Buttercup with humongous breasts. We've done many shows together around town since. We don't even need to speak, we know exactly where we need to go with the music. He listens to me and says, "This isn't feeling right to me. We need to change this." He's a joy...everything about this show has been lighthearted and fun. I think when you get up to perform it, that carries across to the audience and becomes infectious. We need that right now. I'm very excited. There are several songs that I wrote. I put together the flow of  the show with the stories. I do have funny stories about ending up singing country songs in foreign countries. They had no idea what they heard; it's just American to them. (we laugh)

What is your goal with this show? 

SL: This show is meant for a place where people are having some food, drinks and fun. Just the experience of doing it is a joy for me.

It sounds like it may be perfect for cruise ships.

SL: It would be.  That's a good idea. It is very self-contained. I don't need anything but me and the band.

What is the high point for you doing cabaret?

SL: It's much more personal. When you do theatre, you can hide in the character you're playing. and you can let your emotions come out as the other character. But in cabaret, that is not going to work. You cannot have that mask. You have to expose yourself. You have to expose your painful, hurting side, your laissez faire who gives a damn side...your soul, and get through it with a sense of humor. I get through life because I laugh about it.

That's great advice. Do you have a favorite cabaret performer?

SL: I love Liza Minnelli. I know her. Many years ago I met her at an AmfAR Aids Benefit
Man, she really puts herself out there, and I admire that. She just lets it show. And she's a very sweet person. I was taken to see a show of hers when I was a kid, and it was magical. That's I think one of the things that inspired me. And what a small world, Robert Brandzel worked with Liza as well in the beginning of her cabaret career. He thought she needed honing, but had something very special.

 I love Liza too! Let's switch to acting. You are so good at doing big, bold, down.trodden characters, truly bringing them to life onstage. You cement the nitty.gritty of the role you are playing. Do you have a favorite role?

SL: I always enjoy doing musicals. I love singing and dancing, so of course I loved the role I played in The Ghost of Gershwin.  I also enjoyed doing Steppin Out at Group Rep directed and choreographed by Stan Mazin. She was a character with a very interesting arc. I always like characters that have a really clear, distinct arc. I'll tell you right now I am working on a fabulous show about Tallulah Bankhead called Looped, in which she loops dialogue for the film Die Die, My Darling!

I saw that. You would bring a lot to that role.

SL: Thank you. I'm having such fun. I'm hoping to do it somewhere. Bankhead is so outrageous.
As I've been working on Looped. I've found something very interesting. I wondered why Tallulah made such a religious reference and then I saw the film Die Die, My Darling! that the looping was about. In it she's a religious fanatic in that role. Then I got it about her as a person and as an actress. She was the type who became the person and let it influence her, and let it influence her in her private life ...  and it came out in the recording session. By the way, a lot of Looped is taken from the actual recordings of that day when she went to loop that line. It has told me a lot about her as a person, how she sort of becomes the character and imbues everything in her life.

Do you have a mentor? Someone that inspired you, other than Liza?

SL: You know who I also admire because I have seen her work on film and onstage...Annette Bening. She is amazing. You see the kind of vocal skill and control that she's got. You have to be able to project onstage without it looking like you're projecting, and withoiut affecting the tone of the character or what you're trying to say. She's brilliant. She's definitely an inspiration.

What would you like audiences to say about you? She was...

SL: Fun. She was so fun. That was such a great night.

Remember Suzy London in Tattoos on My Heart, Sunday January 19 at 7 pm. Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal is located on the second floor at 5303 Lankershim Blvd in NoHo.

For tix call (800) 838-3006 or go to

Thursday, December 26, 2019

2019 Interview with Patrick Burke

Actor/director Patrick Burke is nominated for a BWW Award for his outstanding direction of Avenue Q at Group Rep this past summer. This interview shows his deep connection to the show and desire to move it forward.

You’ve been an active member of the Group Rep for years, as an actor and producer.  The Group Rep is not known for having musicals on their season schedules.  How did Avenue Q get on the 2019 Season Schedule?

PB: I have just always had a passion for Avenue Q since I saw it on Broadway in August of 2003.  At the Group Rep, members are encouraged to present projects which are performed in front of the company following the Monday night membership meeting. I approached fellow member Paul Cady, a wonderful pianist, and discovered that he loved the show too. Our Co-Artistic Directors and the Artistic council enjoyed the presentation and decided to put it in the 2019 season.

How did you prepare to direct a musical?  

PB: I have performed in many musicals myself and learned a great deal from the men and women that have directed me.  For this particular show my puppeteer training was a plus. I trained with both Kevin Carlson and the late Michael Earl, both had worked extensively with the Henson Company. Kevin Carlson still puppeteers in Henson Company films.  The late Michael Earl worked on "Sesame Street" in the 60s and 70s.

Is this your first BWW Award nomination? Regardless, how do you feel about it?

PB: I was nominated as an actor for my role as Eddie in Lost In Yonkers It is always amazing to be recognized.

Is acting always going to be first with you, or might you continue to direct?

PB: Acting is my priority. However, I really enjoyed directing and most definitely will do it again.

You put your soul into Avenue Q. Might you revive it at some point, if not at Group Rep then at some other theatre?

PB: I would love to revive it. I have all the puppets. I am sure people are tired of hearing me say it but I just love this show.

I understand you created puppets for The Man Who Came to Dinner -  penguins? -  as well. Is that true?

PB: No I was not involved in The Man Who Came To Dinner. I hear it is a wonderful production and I am looking forward to seeing it.

To read more about Patrick Burke and  especially his puppetry background, go to the link below to see an interview I did with him during the run of AVENUE Q last tummer..

Monday, December 23, 2019

2019 Interview with Doug Haverty

Actor/playwright Doug Haverty will become Group Rep's new artistic director in January 2020. In our conversation he tells our readers in great detail about the upcoming season and talks in depth about his vision for the theater.

How long have you been a member of Group Rep?

DH: I started in 1983, so 36 years.

What is it about being in the theater that drives you onward and upward?

DH: I guess I enjoy the challenge of it, the pushing that huge rock up a very steep hill and audience reaction when you get the rock up on that hill. I recently went to see one of my plays in Zurich, Switzerland. The producers wanted to introduce me before the show and I requested that they do that afterward. I just wanted to feel how the play went without the audience knowing an author was in the theater. The play was being performed in English and most people in Zurich speak French, German and then maybe some English. I had no idea how it would be received. I was very pleasantly surprised because they got every single joke. They were listening really intently. I didn’t know anyone there. No friends in the audience cheering, no supporters, no one. And I was struck by the question: what other artist gets to sit with an audience, anonymously, while that audience react to their art? Naturally, there are other elements impacting an audience’s reaction; actors, delivery, direction, etc. But it was pretty cool. If you’re a painter and you have a painting up in a gallery or a museum, a patron probably studies your piece for 10-20 seconds, silently. I got two hours of uproarious laughter and applause. It’s rare and I guess that audience reaction is what drives me.

Is Lonny Chapman's mission for the Group Rep theater still vital to the theater's operation?

DH: It will be because I intend to re-establish his playwrights unit and develop new plays and musicals with the same process that he used when I first joined in 1983.

You were in many of the plays this past season.

DH: Gosh, did it seem like that? I was in THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS, LOOSE KNIT, and MAN/DINNER (downstairs) and NINE WINNING ONE-ACTS and OTHERWISE ENGAGED (upstairs). But we did 12 shows this season.

I know you work exceedingly hard for the company...

DH: Yes, as do others. We are a completely volunteer-run organization, so many people wear many hats and devote a lot of time to the running of the theater. It’s kind of cool when you stop to think about it; that there’s that kind of unselfish cooperation and like-minded goal orientation.

As the new artistic director what is your overall goal?

DH: I am going to try and maintain the status quo, initially. I’d like it to be a seamless transition. I have been on the Artistic Council for Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield and suggesting shows and reading plays and discussing themes, so I plan to keep that the same. As I mentioned earlier, I am going to re-establish Lonny’s playwrights unit and develop new plays and musicals. Chris Winfield has contributed immensely to the overall production of sets and the facility. Having him depart leaves a huge hole. I am going to look to young designers to give us creative, unusual and suggestive sets, so there may be a slightly different look to the shows, simply because we won’t be able to erect the majestic sets that Chris has built for us.

Do you see areas that need improvement?

DH: There is always room for improvement. I hope that each show will be a slight improvement on the previous one. I’m going to try and develop audience beyond our current reach.

What is your plan of attack?

DH: I would love to be able to improve/clean-up/spruce up our physical space. We are going to have to be very creative in how we raise the funds to accomplish this, but it’s a goal.

Are you happy with the play selections from season to season?

DH: I am pleased with the play selections because I was involved; although Larry and Chris did make the final decisions.

Do you think audiences have been pleased or do you need to cater more toward their likes and dislikes?

DH: For the most part, I think they have been pleased. Larry and Chris would usually do 4 or 5 safe bets and then a riskier play. For the first season under my watch, I am trying to present plays we can do well, plays that audiences will want to see (we hope) and plays that have not been over-exposed.

My personal feeling is the need for variety. Not too much Shakespeare but definitely some classics; not too much Neil Simon but maybe an array of Ayckbourn, Simon and some newer comedic and dramatic playwrights.

DH:: I love all those writers, especially Neil Simon and Alan Ayckbourn. And, I agree, variety is needed. What I discovered in arranging the 2020 season is that many new, modern, hip plays are not available to us because we are in Los Angeles. So, another challenge gets heaped on the pile.

Also, you need to attract a younger audience.

DH: Yes, yes, yes. It’s a delicate balance to keep our current audiences satisfied while trying to attract a younger demographic. We’ve tried to do that previously and our marketing campaign must have mis-fired because we didn’t reach that audience.

Is there a plan to bring some newer faces to the board who might express their opinions for change?

DH: We have a new, wonderful on-line marketing manager, Kristin Stancato, and I firmly believe she will be able to help us expand our audience beyond our current status.

Talk about the season coming up in detail.

DH: I am so excited about our new season. I appointed a five person Artistic Council and we looked at a lot of plays and musicals. 2020 is an election year and there will be lots of mud-slinging and speechifying and political craziness. So, we set out to find plays that would offer great escapism, so that our audiences could get away from Breaking News and all things political. We wanted to find plays that we could do well, that audiences would like to see (that haven’t been overdone) and plays that have some kind of feel-good, which will — we hope — engender good word-of-mouth.

We start out with a play that is near and dear to me. It’s a play I wrote and it was the first full-length play presented in our current facility. It’s called IN MY MIND’S EYE and it was the play I initially submitted to Lonny Chapman, and he developed it through his play development process. This play is a love story/memory play based on true events. A teacher of mine inspired it. My first day of junior high, was her first day of teaching and she was legally blind. Even then, I recognized that this was a brave woman. She fell in love with the English teacher next door. The play also deals with the blind teacher’s mother who has grown dependent on her special needs offspring.

Then we return to the world of Neil Simon. Mr. Simon inspired me as a young playwright and I even got to meet him when he was a guest speaker at his brother’s (Danny) writing class where I was a student. We are doing his LONDON SUITE, which is similar in structure to PLAZA SUITE and CALIFORNIA SUITE. It’s four unique plays that just happen to take place in the same suite in London. We also get to re-visit Sydney and Diana (whom we met in CALFIORNIA SUITE). Many people have not even heard of this play, so we are hoping people will enjoy discovering rather unfamiliar Simon wonderfulness. They are reviving PLAZA SUITE on Broadway with Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. When they announced the production, Broderick said, “We all need a little Neil Simon now.” And we’re hoping that is true.

Then we’re doing a big, Broadway musical. This musical won the Tony Award in 1970, so this is its 50th Anniversary. Based on “All About Eve,” this musical is APPLAUSE. It has a wonderful score (by Charles Strouse who wrote BYE BYE BIRDIE and ANNIE), full of musical comedy classics and a sharp, witty book (written by Comden & Green who wrote ON THE TOWN and SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN). It’s a huge show and rarely done because it has so many mammoth production requirements. We’re going to do very theatrical presentation that still lets it live in all its glory.

TO GRANDMOTHER’S HOUSE WE GO by Joanna McClelland Glass will follow that. I saw this play in the early 90s on Broadway with Eva LaGalliene and Kim Hunter. I loved it. When I was working with the Colony, Barbara Beckley asked me to recommend a great American family drama and I told her about this play. Her subscribers loved it and she thanked me profusely every time I saw her after that. It’s about Grannie who’s trying to cope with widowhood and retirement and suddenly all her middle-aged children have to move back home due to financial hardships. So, it’s about that and also claiming your life and following your bliss regardless of what age you start. I think it’s even more timely today than it was when it originally presented.

I love mysteries and thrillers. We tried to get THE DESPERATE HOURS last year and it wasn’t available, but this year it is! This is a classic thriller, really well written about an all-American family who is held hostage in their own home by bank-robbers on the run. Based on the best seller by Joseph Hayes, the Broadway version starred Paul Newman and the film version starred Frederick March. Father, mother, daughter and son are captive and try to prevail over a terrifying situation. And the conclusion is breathtaking.

We close the season with a wonderful holiday treat by Ken Ludwig (who wrote LEND ME A TENOR). It’s part murder mystery, part thriller, part farce and part Christmas play. It’s called THE GAME’S AFOOT (HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS) and it’s wonderfully theatrical and unpredictable. Ludwig is known for zany plays and this is no exception. We hope it will be the perfect holiday alternative confection for theatergoers.

That’s our mainstage season. We are also planning exciting things for Upstairs-At-The Group as well. We will start the season up there with TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE. Our current Artistic Director performed beautifully in this play last year at Sierra Madre Playhouse with direction by L. Flint Esquerra. So, we will be bringing this touching human story to North Hollywood.

We are continuing our series called NINE WINNING ONE-ACTS upstairs too. Writers from around the world submit ten-minute plays and we select nine. This has been a very successful endeavor and we hope it will continue to thrive.

When our building at 10900 Burbank opened in August 1984, our very first production was a program of one-acts called MOTEL 66. The plays were all written by our members (as opposed to Nine Winning One Acts which are outside submissions). The set is the exterior courtyard of a motel along Route 66, any city, any year.

Then we will close out the season upstairs with ORPHAN’S REVENGE, which is a good, olde-fashioned, musical melodrama complete with villain, hero, heroine and lively songs. This was done at Group Rep previously, written by one of our members and was tremendously successful. We’re hoping to repeat that rollicking success.

Change comes slowly if it is to be at all effective. What do you hope to accomplish in 2020?

DH: I hope to build our audiences, expand our audience and become the theater known for creating exciting new material (plays and musicals). I’d love it if people started coming to us to find new material.

Tell us about the award nominations for A Carol Christmas for BWW and Ovation Awards. Great show; you should be very proud!

DH: Yes, very proud of our BroadwayWorld Nominations for A CAROL CHRISTMAS. I was immensely proud of all aspects of that production. And equally thrilling was that we got to make an Original Cast Recording at Village Recorders (in the same studio where Fleetwood Mac recorded their iconic “Tusk” lp). It was very exciting for all involved and the CD sounds stunning.

It’s also very exciting to receive Ovation nominations for Book and Music/Lyrics. The Ovation voters are very tough and very critical, so just to have it nominated is really quite an honor.

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Sunday, December 15, 2019

2019 Interview with Kristin Towers Rowles

Actress Kristin Towers Rowles is also an amazing director. She is nominated this year for two BWW Awards. In the conversation that follows she talks about acting, directing and the meaningful choices she has made in her career so far.

(Kristin Towers Rowles, second from left)

Congratulations on your BWW Award nominations! Tell our readers in what categories you received them.

Thank you. I'm nominated for Best Actress in a Play (Local) for playing Hattie in Laundry and Bourbon at Group Rep and as Director of a Play (Local) for Directing the World Premiere of The Lost Virginity Tour at The McCadden Place Theatre.

If you had to choose winning one, which would that be? Why this choice?

That's a really difficult question..I am an actress, first and foremost. Even though I've done mostly Musical Theatre, my first love and what I feel I am best at is acting. I come from a family of performers so it's not so much a choice, it's who I am and what I know.

But I am also a Director...I became a director by just doing it...I've been in over 200 shows as a performer so I've learned by watching, gleening from the great people I've been blessed to work with. It was on-the-job training...so I feel the Directing Award nomination is even that much more prestigious. I took a show that had never been done and created an entire world. It was the World Premiere and it launched the show into orbit (more on that later). Actors who work with me as a Director say that they love my style...I approach everything from the ground up, I encourage "play", I am on their team.

Tell us about your next major stage project.

This is a really great time to answer that question!! As an actress, I was just offered a role in the long running show, The Manor produced thru Theatre 40 at The Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills, Directed by the Brilliant Martin Thompson. I recently became a company member at Theatre 40 and this will be my first show with them. For more info, please go to www.theatre40.org

I am directing Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party at The Morgan-Wison in Santa Monica. This show is an incredible, sizzling 20s musical, perfect to usher in the new Roaring 20s. The show runs March 14-April 11, 2020 at the Morgan-Wixson. www.morgan-wixson.org.

I am so elated to announce that after directing the World Premiere of The Lost Virginity Tour in Los Angeles, I am being hired to direct the Franchise and National Tour. The writer, Cricket Daniel, was given the opportunity to take her show nationally by Jeanie Linders, who created Menopause the Musical. She chose me to be her Director. We had a blast developing the show in LA with our original cast and team. I'm very excited that this show has legs and will be seen on such a National scale. And that it's about older women...women in the age range of these characters have such rich stories to tell..this show celebrates them.

Talk about caroling this Christmas. You look amazing in your beautiful pre 20th century caroler costume. How many gigs do you do?

This is my 20th year working for the company I carol with, The Voices of Christmas. Many people assume that it is something that we do just for fun, but no it is actually a job and a very lucrative one. I spend most of my evenings in December at The Tam O'Shanter in Atwater Village or Lawry's in Beverly Hills. People come from all over California to dine and hear the carols... it's amazing! We also do Private events/Holiday Parties, office parties, wrap parties for TV shows...I've sung at Disney and been drawn by a Disney Animator. I've Christmas Caroled on the arm of a famous Rapper...it's a fun job and it brings joy to people...and I get to sing great music in a quartet with some of LA'S finest vocalists. Check us out at www.voicesofchristmas.com

If you had to choose, would you be a director or an actor? Why?

I have been asked this question so many times...I love both of my jobs so much!! I do know that if I absolutely HAD to give up one of the things I love, it would be directing because I can't imagine a life without performing. It's just a part of me. Luckily, I don't have to choose. I get to do both and I truly feel that one art form informs the other...my acting is given so much perspective because of my directing and my directing benefits from my knowledge as an actress. People want us all to do one thing only...why?? I'm good at both so I'm going to keep going. This is my unique path.

What project do you really want to do in the not too distant future?

I am in talks with a wonderful director in town to do The Bridges of Madison County and play Francesca. It is my dream role and it's perfect for where I am at right now...I'm a mom of teens, I'm not a 20 year old ingenue and I'm not "older"...and I'm a soprano...most modern musicals ignore true sopranos so it's something that is right for my sound. It's got one of the most gorgeous scores, written by Jason Robert Brown. I'm really hoping it happens.

Talk about the support of your family and their involvement in the industry. Cite your amazing daughters and their accomplishments.

I am very lucky to have an incredible support system..my husband, Ryan, is a musician and a music teacher. He plays 17 instruments proficiently! We have 3 beautiful daughters Ryanna (15), Makayla (14) and Amelya (12) all of our kids are artists in their own way. My older daughter is a visual artist/animator and a stage manager! She loves all things tech. My youngest daughter is a singer with a beautiful Soprano sound and a Kung Fu master...my middle daughter Makayla is my mini me. She is a Musical Theatre girl and she's currently studying Improv and Theatre in an Arts School in Downtown LA. All different, all talented in their own way.

Part of what keeps me going is knowing that my daughters are watching me. They have an example of a mom who continued to live her dreams, even after having children. This business is not kind to women as we age and I feel so fortunate for each and every opportunity to continue creating. Thanks to my friends and family who support my unconventional and on-the-go life. And thanks for your questions!
(Kristin with her husband and three daughters)