Friday, September 25, 2009

Interview with new artistic director of Cirque du Soleil's Kooza- Melanie Lalande

Cirque du Soleil's newest show Kooza, now playing in Denver, Colorado, will open at the Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles on October 16 for a limited run until November 29 in the familiar blue and yellow big top. Derived from the Sanskrit word 'koza' which means 'box' or 'treasure', Kooza was chosen as the title to fulfill the concept 'circus in a box'. Melanie Lalande, the new US artistic director of Kooza, a former dance instructor in the DC area, told me more about this intriguing production.

Q: I love Cirque du Soleil. I feel like a kid anticipating each new production. In the press release Kooza is described as being set in an 'exotic world full of surprises, thrills, chills, audacity and total involvement'. That pretty much describes every Cirque show. What specifically makes Kooza stand apart?
ML: Kooza is fascinating because it's really a throwback to the original roots of circus: high level acrobatics, and an emphasis definitely on the clowning. David Shiner is the director of the show and it's pretty phenomenal in that respect. And it goes back to the real precisional circus acts. That will make it stand out a little bit from the other shows.

Q: By traditional circus acts, you mean like juggling, right?
ML: Juggling, highwire, trapeze, yes!

Q: Are the highwire and trapeze artists the same people who have been working right along for Cirque du Soleil?
ML: Most of the ones who are with us have been doing their traditional acts in every circus for 35 years. Cirque du Soleil is so proud and happy to have them become part of our family.

Q: For me, the sets, the costumes, the lighting design, the music - they all add to make the performance extra special. You never know what to expect. Will you give our readers a sneak preview of the surprises in Kooza?
ML: Again, it's back to the traditional circus, so you have what you would see there. Our bataclan travels back and forth on the stage; it is a huge moving figure with phenomenal depth and dynamics.
Q: It sounds like a machine. Is that correct?
ML: Yep. It rides along the stage, and the band sits on top of it. It's amazing.
Q: That image enlivens my curiosity; I can't wait to see it.

Q: Tell me about your background in choreography. I understand you worked on the hiphop act The Roots.
ML: I have a very traditional background in dance. I have my BFA in dance. When one of my longterm employers came to me and asked, "Will you choreograph one of the hiphop tours for
us?" ...and it happened to be for The Roots, out of my mouth popped "Yes!" That's not necessarily my roots, so it was a real challenge for me... as much as coming to say "I know how to run a circus!" You're not necessarily doing ballet or jazz; you're watching a teeterboard artist who's performing in mid air. You're keeping track of that physically, aesthetically...I find that there's that underlying gut feeling about performance and it's what's made me successful even when I step ouside of my immediate genre. I think that's why I can go into different venues like circus or hiphop tours and find as much connection with the performers as I do in dance or choreography.
Q: That gut feeling you get when you dance is similar to the gut feeling an actor gets when he performs. It becomes so strong in you, you can translate it to just about anything.
ML: It sure does! It's the same thing the clowns are looking for!

Q: This marks the 25th anniversary year for Cirque. Is that the reason Kooza is going back to where it all started?
ML: Absolutely! And they also have a real special tie going out to the Santa Monica Pier. In 1984 Guy Laliberte the founder decided to risk it all. He put his business on the line; they were either going to do a show or have enough gas to get home (Quebec, Canada). Either go big or go home! Thankfully, they were successful, so it's all very sentimental and close to Guy's heart.

Q: Adults of all ages love this circus. It redefines the whole idea of what a circus is supposed to be. When I was a kid, it was lions and elephants. Cirque is a people circus.
ML: It takes you on that journey where you can dream and where you can think. Things that seem impossible you see being done before your eyes. That's a gift that every human needs
to be in contact with.

Q: Any special guest stars from Europe in Kooza?
ML: I have 53 artists representing 16 different countries all over the world. It's a very big running a small country.
Q: I can just imagine! You have your hands full as artistic director.

Q: If you had to define in a few words what is the most exciting aspect of what you're doing right now with Kooza, what would you say?
ML: I think it is literally the heart of the performers. These guys do 9-10 shows a week and you go with them. You're growing up a show. It grows up like a child right in front of your eyes. They're at such a level of expertise. They're always looking to finding a new moment of connection. It's like the living heart of a show; that's what this job is ... and it's so great!

Q: How long do the artists rehearse?
ML: The creative team works for about a year. They then get the artists in there and they maybe have 5 or 6 months to prepare...but the show has been in concept for a year to 2 years before that. You are kind of growing it up in your second're cleaning and tweaking and refining...and if the show ends up being the product everything centers around, in this business that's also very nice to be a part of.

Q: O in Las vegas is one of my favorite shows! It blew me away!
ML: It's a piece of artwork, isn't it? It takes you ona rollercoaster ride. Your emotions are going to be up and down; you're going to be laughing, then hoping somebody doesn't die. Kooza's a little more edgy as far as that goes, but O is beautiful, a piece of artwork.

Q: Melanie, thank you so much for your time. See you in LA!
ML: Thank you!
Judging by the photo above called Skeleton Dance, Kooza is indeed edgy. That edgy, traditional mix is what draws us like a magnet to each and every Cirque du Soleil show. Get in the groove!
Don't forget, Kooza opens October 16 at the Santa Monica Pier. To order tickets, go online to or phone 1-800-450-1480.

Interview - F*ucking Men's Jeff Patrick Olson

Sexy, attractive actor Jeff (Patrick) Olson is making waves at the Celebration Theatre in Joe DiPietro's Fucking Men as Ryan the pornstar. He's hot!! Olson is a recent transplant to LA from Chicago, where he did, among other plays, Charles Busch's Die, Mommie, Die!, but he is not just another pretty face seeking work in Hollywood.
As I did my research I realized that he is not only an actor/model, but also a practicing anesthesiologist and a champion bodybuilder - Gay Games 2006 gold medal winner (see photo above right). "Is there anything this Renaissance man cannot do?" I pondered before my
interview with him. I had little to worry as far as ego is concerned for I found him to be a sweet, warm guy, who is openly gay and totally honest about all aspects of his life - and with a tremendous sense of humor.

Q: Has acting always been in your blood? I understand you went to medical school.
JO: I was trying to pass the oral board exam in anesthesiology, and I thought, "Acting class will help me with that!" (laughs heartily) Knowing full well in the back of my brain that I really love it. As a kid I had done some performing here and there, but I went through a phase in the middle school years where I was really shy - got rejected a couple of times when I auditioned for - The Sound of Music - so I put myself into the pit and played clarinet. This was my ticket to getting up onstage and breaking more boundaries. That's what I'm all about - conquering fear and having fun.

Q: You've also sung with the Gay Men's Chorus in Chicago. What prompted that?
JO: I never sang before. I wanted to meet more people. I want to do more training with it, maybe Calvin Remsberg (director of Fucking Men) will be amenable to that. It's a great outlet.

Q: Why did you make a more urgent switch to the pursuit of acting professionally this year?
JO: During my day job in Chicago (anesthesiologist), I didn't feel I was able to fully commit.

Q: How long did you prepare for that?
JO: 12 years of medical schooling including residency. I'm close to $200,000 in debt. For the last 5 years, thankfully, I'd been doing this outpatient gig, allowing me the luxury of pursuing a lot more theatre. Otherwise, there were so many times in my hospital job, working 80-90 hours a week, that at the spur of the moment I had to cancel dinner plans. I had no life; I could not take classes. Although this gig allowed me to pursue my passion, I got bored and I didn't feel like I was really contributing to people's everyday health. It was monotony. I'm grateful for the training that I have, but I'd like to parlay that into something else, maybe doing some wellness stuff here.

Q: Did the wellness, health thing also come out of your bodybuilding? How did that get so intense?
JO: In your mid-thirties you kind of reward yourself, when you have a good job, with good eats and going out more often and having a little more than you should. That's all added calories. I looked at myself in pictures and didn't like what I saw. The Gay Games were coming to Chicago and I thought, "How easy is that!" So, eenie, meanie, minie, mo, I picked some guy that I wanted to look like... online. He was a trainer, so obviously knew what he was doing. Lo and behold he was also an actor, so it was really fun to talk business with him, learn about commercial stuff, and he had also lived in LA for a while. I knew I had to do the training, took a year out and worked with this guy, John Turk. I learned a lot about diet and to fully commit again.
I'll get naked and take off my shirt for a play, but have no aspirations about being a fitness model...I had an audition earlier for an ab machine; I probably won't get it, because my abs aren't where they could be.

Q: I wish I looked as great as you do. It's such hard work. I admire you for it!
JO: Thanks. (laughs)

Q: So, you won the bodybuilding competition and saw it as a way to help people (your patients)
feel better about themselves?
JO: Proven results always are marketable. Dr. Michael Rosen, if you ever watch Oprah!, was a sidekick of Dr. Oz, who was my chairman at the University of Chicago. He came up with this real age, kind of a gimmick, but it has a lot of truth in it... that your lifestyle basically dictates what your physical body age is compared to your chronological age. He had this book out and we were given that as a graduation present. (laughs) Dammit, he thought of it before I ever did! The idea works and it all comes full circle. Trying to be more fulfilled and more confident in your everyday life, doing things that are healthy - it will all lead to some transformation.

Q: If I could just follow that, I'd be all set!
(He laughs)

Q: How did the audition for Fucking Men come about?
JO: Serendipitously, I've been submitting myself for a lot of stuff here in LA. I definitely wanted to do gay theatre here. Michael Shepperd (artistic director of the Celebration Theatre) is also a Chicagoan and knew some of my acting teachers there. It was a nice plug. I'm very happy to have gotten into this show. I didn't know the playwright and probably could have done a little bit more research. I didn't have a monologue prepared for the audition. I just shot a movie called Pooltime. I pieced together a little scene with bits and pieces from that script in which my character is searching for love - and it was perfect. They liked it, and I couldn't believe it when Jami Rudofsky who did the casting...I went back for the callback and she started pairing me up with other people and said, "Jeff, you're our Ryan!" And I said, "Are you basically saying that I have the part?" I think David (Pevsner) and I really knocked it out of the park. We had a lot of chemistry together.

Q: That's great! Tell me about that film Pooltime!
JO: It's a gay romantic comedy. There are a lot of interesting people involved like the producer Inge Jaklin, a former Miss Austria, who plays my mother. She is always trying to hook my character Virgil up with the lead guy, David. We had this ill-fated love affair, and it's stayed mostly friendship... they just need to light the spark, to get things going. Virgil is a party guy who's always searching for Mr. Right. Things haven't worked out for him but it's right in front of his face. (laughs)

Q: Who's your favorite actor?
JO: I love the stuff that Johnny Depp has chosen in his career path. I would also not like to be tied down to what other people want me to do. I've always fancied myself as a cross between Jack Tripper (John Ritter) and an action guy like Thomas Jane on Hung. Ritter was so brilliant with physical comedy.
Q: And a really genuine human being. We miss him!

Q: What about music? Who's your favorite singer?
JO: Funny, but I really love things with a melody, like old cocktail music or Broadway showtunes. I love Ann-Margret, Frank Sinatra, Michael Bublé now. I love music that tells a story and singers with impeccable technique. I do love Beyoncé too! It's interesting the fascination that gay men have with beautiful women. It's sort of empowering and with a ...sense of freedom. Women can parlay their sexuality but it's not offensive or a tool or a weapon. I think men should be freer to do that as well.

Q: What is your one goal as a performer? What would you want folks to say about you?
JO: He's truthful. I think acting is acting. I know LA has its pigeonholes. You tone it down on camera, but I want to do it all: Broadway, film TV, whatever... as long as the part is good.

Jeff Patrick Olson will undoubtedly be successful as an actor, because, like his idol John Ritter, he's just so damn genuine. He equated acting to medicine by saying, "Actors are an educated bunch; they're trained observers like doctors". Serious, yes, but don't let that fool you! There's also that light-spirited side that comes out of him rather frequently. For example, he's working on bringing the charity show Broadway Bares to LA - and to bringing stylized drag burlesque back into the spotlight. There are no limits to this fascinating man!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Interview with GG's John McLaughlin

The Golden Gays (see my review on the review page) is closing September 27 at the Cavern Club Theatre @ Casita Del Campo in Silver Lake and reopening October 1 -18 @ The Complex Hollywood-East Theatre on Santa Monica Blvd is fortunate to have John McLaughlin playing Damian/Dorothy. He steals the show with his right-on-target portrayal of the bewitching Bea Arthur character.
Q: What has it been like working on this show?
JM: From the get-go the cast has been...there's no real diva in the show. There are no problems.
Q: Everyone gets on well?
JM: You know about those quick changes backstage in the space about the size of this could be very easy to fall into bitch-mode, and everyone is very conscious of that...
Q: The show is moving to Hollywood October 1?
JM: Yes. It's definitely through October now and it looks like it might be bleeding into the second week of November. It's one of those shows that has the automatic builtin niche which is so great. And then you premiere it at the Cavern Club which also has its own built in niche...Mr. Dan, in drag Gina Lotromin, runs the theatre and every night (except the night you were there) he goes out and does this little warmup for 5 minutes ...and he knows those audiences very well and is extremely funny. He gets people psyched up. And in a show like this where you're constantly breaking fourth wall, it can be exhausting, especially if you don't get back from the audience what you normally do. The audience is not always typical and it's a very give and take show. You get fed when you break that fourth wall. My character Dorothy has a lot of opportunity to do that with the staring and the glancing. She gets many responses with the wardrobe changes.
Q: Tell me about your exposure to Bea Arthur before you got this part.
JM: I've become more of a fan of hers...I wanted to be a part of this show, which came through the breakdowns. I'm not a singer and I'm not a dancer. In the breakdowns, the script was different. It said there was one part that was nonsinging and nondancing, the part of the therapist, so I submitted for that. But John Trapper (writer) e-mailed me back and said, "I don't care that you don't sing or dance. Which Golden Girl are you?" Well, I suppose if I had to choose one, I'm tall and bitchy...
Q: Well, you're definitely tall like Bea Arthur, and I know she hated being a tall girl.
JM: I know. I've done research. And you never saw her figure either. They always draped her, so you never knew what her figure was like. I show more bust than she ever did. She was very body conscious. There was a deep connection...and I really want to honor her. The last thing I want to do is make fun of her. I want to do my best to capture a piece of her humor and timing and the characteristics that made Bea Arthur/Dorothy so fantastic. It's a unique acting experience, because it's John playing Damian who's playing Bea Arthur's 4 times removed to a degree. I say a little prayer to her every night. I don't want to sound flowery, but I think it's important that we honor her, because she was a genius in what she did. And...she wasn't the best singer in the world or dancer, but it wasn't about that...she knew how to sing; she knew how to deliver - she knew how to be onstage and give them what they wanted.
Q: Any other parts onstage for you that you would compare to this one, with challenges to conquer?
JM: I did an off-Broadway play in New York about a billion years ago, when I was 5 (laughs). Actually, I was just out of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Q: I went there too, but dropped out of the second year because I wasn't allowed to showcase myself.
JM: They are so strict there. I went into the third year, in their company, which led to this off-Broadway show, a US premiere of an English show called Bad Language by Dusty Hughes. I played the character Alistair Young, which was challenging because he was on a trek to stand out and to find his corner of the sky, so to speak. In order to do that he presented himself as a homosexual. What was interesting for me...I was 20, 21 at the time ... I was in process of dealing with my sexuality, orientation, of coming out... going onstage every night and playing a heterosexual presenting himself as a homosexual. Meanwhile, I'm trying to beware of not appearing gay out there. I was very concerned about that at the time. I was told at the Academy and by a soap opera casting director, that if I was gay, "You need to supress it!" So, I had a lot of fears. "If this is known, you won't work!" I was going through my thing while playing this character who was dealing with it on a different level - a straight man pretending to be gay to get noticed and to get attention. It was difficult to find that balance...with my own shit, my own crap.
Q: Any easier role that you've played?
JM: I have to be honest. I took 10 years off. I've just gotten back into it within the last couple of years. I don't think any of it is easy. I do the work no matter what. Whether it's a 35 year-old gay man living in West Hollywood or Bea Arthur. I think it deserves the same amount of attention. Not easy, but I love it all. I do have a film that's beginning to shoot within the next 6 weeks to the end of the year called Methhead. That part was written specifically for me, by Phil McQueen and Jane Clark. I have a history of meth addiction; I was a drug addict for 2 years. You would think that I'd be able to pull from my experiences, but to go there, to go back there and revisit there has been emotional to say the least. I'm hesitant to put that character in my bones while I'm doing Bea Arthur's Dorothy 4 nights a week, but the little bit that I have done, it's visceral. I know the shoot will be tiring. I don't worry about delivering; I worry about the toll on my psyche. I'm looking forward to it, though.
Q: Do you remember The Golden Girls?
JM: Absolutely, and I still watch it in reruns! I'm not ashamed to say that I grew up on 80s sitcoms, lying on the living room floor every single night. A lot of actors poopoo sitcoms. I think if I can go out there and make somebody laugh, entertain somebody or move somebody in any certain way, that's what it's all about.
Q: That's your goal as an entertainer?
JM: I think it's very important, especially in this climate...I'm out (and have a wonderful husband, who is not in the business...he's an artist, not an actor and so supportive of me)...I think it's important to always tell the honest about my past with drugs, that I'm HIV positive...I think society marginalizes us enough without us marginalizing for me to not tell the truth about my journey of getting to this point does society a disservice.
At one point, McLaughlin referred to Arthur as fearless. What a brave human being himself on and off the stage! FYI, McLaughlin put together-all by himself -his entire stunning wardrobe as Bea Arthur/Dorothy for The Golden Gays - sequins and all !!