Thursday, July 22, 2010

Interview with Del Shores

Del Shores' plays are unusual, and simultaneously funny and heartbreaking. Yellow has been extended again at the Coast Playhouse through September. In our chat he talks about the genesis of his plays including Yellow and a bit about the sad demise of the Logo Series Sordid Lives.

To what do you contribute your success as a playwright?

I write stories that I know and thankfully, it seems that my characters strike a chord with the audiences. I can't tell you how many times people tell me that they have an aunt like "Sissy" or their mother is "Latrelle". Lately, with Yellow, it seems that so many people have had the foundation of their family ripped from them by an unexpected life circumstance. I've never seen so many tears in a play.

What do you think audiences most enjoy?

I think they love the blend of comedy and drama. People love to laugh, but they also need to cry. And of course, the characters.

Yellow is advertised as your most dramatic play to date, but I found Southern Baptist Sissies just as dramatic and even shocking. How do you feel about that?

When we went out with that campaign, I wasn't for sure that it was right either. The tragedies of Sissies and in The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife.... both are very intense and dramatic. But I believe the blend of comedy that those plays have is throughout, where in Yellow, the comedy is much more uneven. It's in the first act, but sparse in the second act. But, Don, I'm not sure that if we debated this issue, that you wouldn't win.

Do most of the plot elements come from your own real life experiences or are they imagined?

They are a blend of my life, other lives, life observation and my imagination.

Separate and describe, if you will!

Let's take my last four plays. Sordid Lives was conceived because of my coming out to my Southern Baptist family. My imagination went wild and it got a little crazy. "Ty" and "Latrelle" are me and my Mom. I have aunts that I based "Sissy" and "LaVonda" on. Thankfully, I don't have an "Uncle Brother Boy." "Sissies" was me dealing with my upbringing. My Dad was a Southern Baptist preacher and all the "Sissies" were part of me, part of others I knew or know. "Peanut" and "Odette" were characters I created by observing a bar called the "Oasis" (no longer there) in the Valley.
I had a boyfriend who had a sister in an abusive relationship. Her story, then others I researched inspired Trailer Trash Housewife.
Yellow came to me by witnessing the lives of friends. I blended three stories that inspired the play and my imagination then took over. Once I create the characters, they seem to write the plays.

What happened to Sordid Lives the series on LOGO? It was so meticulously written, acted and executed! What's the bottom line?

The bottom line is that I was put in business with the wrong producer by my former agent. I'm trying to stay positive, so as the unions for the actors and myself try and collect the residuals that are owed us (over seven figures), we are moving in other directions. LOGO ordered a second season, the producer choose not to pay us. The series feel apart. Lessons were learned!

What's up next for Del Shores - the actor, playwright and director?

I'm looking to shoot a low budget feature of The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife in the fall with the original stage cast. It's coming together quickly. I'm going to continue to perform live my stand up and one man show. I'm playing the Rrazz Room in San Francisco, August 12-15 with some of my Sordid cast -- and I want to write more plays. I waited too long. The plays feed my heart and soul. I will of course pursue television and film, but I'm not going to worry to much about it. I may not have the money I once had, but I'm happy again. It was a rough couple of years with all the mess with the series, but I'm focused now, and Yellow has had so much to do with the healing. I would also like to return to the Sordid franchise in film and/or webisodes. The fan base is huge and I do love those characters and the actors. I will not replace Rue (McClanahan, who recently passed away). There is no other.

I commented in my review that most playwrights should not direct their own works, but that you are one director that can carry it off successfully without a third eye. Do you ever feel the need for that third eye?

And thank you for that. Many have said the same, a few have said I shouldn't direct. But directing is part of my writing process. I've directed all of my new work since 1996 and it seems to still be working.

Comment, if you will, about the film of SBS!

The film of "Sissies" fell apart when a major financial partner pulled out. I still want to make that movie, but this economy has not been helpful.

Anything else bursting to come out?

Let's talk about the kiss, shall we? First of all, thank you for such a glowing review. I love the way you write. The kiss scene in Yellow has become the most talked about scene, and the favorite with audiences and critics of the play. You said you "disagreed" with it. So allow me to explain. I wrote that kiss because there is something beautiful happening in this country with the new generation. "Gay" isn't a horrible thing. Many straight teens are very accepting and best friends with gay teens. I wanted to show in Yellow that change is happening. We have a Southern family that accepts this gay friend of their daughter, completely and unconditionally. Why? Because the father of the family has a gay brother. Putting a face on gay, so many coming out, is making a difference. And it's making a huge difference in teens (remember I have two daughters - 17 and 20). So, with "Dayne" (a straight boy) growing up with the attitude of "I'm cool with it. With you.", I wanted to show this very straight boy gives his friend a gift -- a kiss by someone he likes. "It's not fair you have to wait until you get to New York." So, there you have it.

Intelligently and passionately defended by Del Shores whose controversial new plays are the most anticipated in Los Angeles. Catch Yellow @ the Coast Playhouse through September...and perhaps beyond!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Interview with Fritz Coleman

Popular KNBC meteorologist/funny man Fritz Coleman brings his new show An Evening with Fritz Coleman/On the Fritz to the El Portal Theatre in NoHo August 19-22 only. Coleman certainly needs no introduction to Angelenos as he has been reporting the weather three times daily in his own inimitable style for the past 27 years on Channel 4. In our talk, he discusses the new show, his roots, his favorite comics and even explains a little about the whys of the fantastic summer weather we've been experiencing.

You did a hilarious show about a wedding at the Victory Theatre Center. How long ago was that? Five years back?

FC: Yes, and thank you for your positive response to that. I took that around and then I had another show after that called Tonight at 11 which was about the news business that I do.

I wish I had seen that. Tell me about the new show that you are about to open.

FC: This is an evening with Fritz Coleman. Before I wrote the plays I was a standup for many years. When I would do a standup set - an hour or an hour and a half, an hour and fifteen minutes - I would open it up to questions and answers, which was a lot of fun. Not only am I a comedian, but people know me from the news business and everybody has a passionate opinion about the media these days, for better or worse. Opening up for questions and answers at the end was awesome, and it would go anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour depending on how long I could hold people's attention. Just asking about the nuts and bolts of the business, how it works and why we do things, and "Damnit, stop doing it that way!"... so it was a lot of fun. It was an organic birth. When I was invited to do these speaking engagements, a corporate event or a nonprofit event, the question would come "Do you mind taking questions and answers?" So it was born from that.

How did you develop the show?

FC: Tweaking this to where I've got it now happened at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse. I did two weeks down there a couple of months ago. I did two acts. The first act was the performance and the second, questions and answers. We may experiment with going straight through here so that I don't lose the momentum. No intermission, but we'll see.

Is the first act about your career?

FC: It's a monologue. It's everything: the news, about being a parent, about the new world that we live in, digital technology; there's stuff about religion, life in Southern California...(pensive) the odd nature of being a weatherman.

(laughing) You've been doing the weather for 27 years. How did that come about?

FC: I always enjoyed performing and being the center of attention as a child. In college I got involved in readers' theatre, learning how to use your voice in performance, not going off script with actors onstage reading off the music stand. I got an award for that...I went to a small college in West Virginia...after the navy and another round of college, I was in the radio business for 15 years as a dj (disc jockey) and talk show host. Part of the job of being a dj is you get invited to host events everywhere. I got this recurring job as an MC at a night club in Buffalo, New York.

You introduced the acts?

FC: Yeah, I was the concierge for the club. In jazz clubs, jazz bands are on their own time schedule. So even though the show was scheduled to start at 8 o'clock and you had paying customers in the seats, if the vibe was not right, the band would not go on until maybe 8:30. The club owner wanted to start at 8 o'clock, and so purely as a defense mechanism, I would write myself material to fill time. After a while, I developped a five, ten, fifteen minute block of material. At the Tralfamadore Cafe in Buffalo, a jazz club, the owner decided to give me my own night, a dark night, like a Monday night and we were packing the joint every week. I'd conquered Buffalo, New York, so I came out to LA in 1980 to pursue a career. I quickly had my self-esteem dashed by how ill-prepared I was. I did the open mic nights at the Comedy Store, and finally became a paid performer. One night my friends who worked at NBC brought their boss to see me perform, a director at NBC at the time, Steve Antonetti. Onstage I talked about doing radio and weather forecasting during vacation spots and made self-deprecating jokes about it. After the show he and his wife came up to me in the hall of the Comedy Store and said "This is a very weird question, but would you have any interest in vacation relief for me? I have a weatherman Kevin O'Connell who hasn't had a vacation in a year, and I need someone to fill in for him. Would you be interested?" And since I was making $45 a night at the Comedy Store, I said "When do I start?" I auditioned and did fill-ins for two years and then was bumped up to the main job. It's just a great stroke of show business luck. And that's how it happened.

And you've made thousands of fans who will now come and see you in this show at the El Portal.
(we laugh)
Who is your favorite comedian? Any mentor or someone from the old school that you love?

FC: No mentor. Comedians are deathly insecure and are not magnanimous enough to bring up this young comedian onstage "who hopefully one day will replace me". I have many friends and I have many heroes. (thinks) George Carlin and Robert Klein, who are heroes to 80% of the comedians out there. And of course, Richard Pryor. I love different guys for different reasons.

What stands out about George Carlin?

FC: His word play. His ability to maipulate the language. The first time I ever saw a standup comic perform live was George Carlin at the Valley Forge Music Fair in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I don't know if theaters do this anymore, this summer tent thing, quite high tech with a rotating stage. It was a transformative moment in my life. I was a freshman in college. Not only the humor, but a man's ability to walk out on stage, and for an hour and a half, talk to the audience with no notes and seemingly flawlessly and being able to manipulate the emotions of this crowd. This is the greatest amount of power you can have over a group of people. I was blown away and then became a student of it.
Robert Klein had this confidence and this charisma onstage. And Robin Williams, his speed and the ability to access parts of his mind in a split second. Richard Pryor for his bravery to talk about things that at first frightened and then convulsed people. And then of course there are my TV heroes: Carson (Johnny), and Hope (Bob) because of their charm and warmth and ability to make everyone like them.

Anything else you care to add about your show?

FC: I just want people to come out and have a good time. We'll share some common frustrations and you can beat up on the weatherman if something irritates you.

Speaking about the weather, why have we had such mild temperatures so far into August in Southern California? Does it mean we'll have a hot Christmas season? Does it have anything to do with environmental issues?

FC: We've had a cooler than normal first and middle part of summer. What comes later is not necessarily connected to what we have now. We're in what's called the La Nina syndrome. The eastern Pacific Ocean is cooler than it is supposed to be by five or eight degrees. And that changes the weather patterns over the water. When the ocean is cooler than it has to be, the air that sits over the top of the ocean is warm, and the contrast between the cool ocean air and the warm summer air causes this cloud cover called the marine layer. That marine layer hangs around in the morning... like the window shade keeps the summer sun away ... that keeps the temperatures five to ten degrees cooler. La Nina is the opposite of El Nino which causes wetter winters. It's weird.
Here's a problem too. Weather patterns can be a millenium long. And we have to look in hindsight to see if this is like part of a major change. I do believe in global warming because there's scientific evidence that the atmosphere is getting warmer. If you're asking me if it's manmade or not, I am not in a position to say that. This could be one of those cyclical things that we do over a period of time. But the beautiful thing about El Nino, La Nina and global warming is that it gives weathermen three good excuses when they blow the forecast. "It's La Nina, sorry it ruined the weekend for you." It's like pleading the fifth.

So there you have it folks, straight from the horse's mouth. Let's end with some more talk about comedy. Comedy styles have changed, don't you think? What do you think about the newer comedians?

FC: Well, I'm out of the clubs, but Chris Rock is obviously the Richard Pryor of this era. His bravery and his intelligence. I just love him; he's so good. You're right, humor is changing. I think the opening of the film Dinner For Schmucks is a great example of people's flavor. We're in a darker society now. The premise of that movie where you invite a man to dinner so you can beat him up and make fun of him, is a change. If you listen to monlogues on talk shows, we're much crueler than we used to be. Woody Allen once said "I'm OK, you're OK. This comedy is what we have in common." Now comedy has become "I'm OK. You're an asshole. And here's why you're an asshole." It's no longer what we have in common, but "You're different from me and I'm better than you."
Larry Miller and Jerry Seinfeld are pristine practitioners of the art that I appreciate so much.
Seinfeld is the perfect example of a comedy minimalist and we can all learn from him.

Happy to be performing at the El Portal again?

FC: I love working in theatres that have a wonderful history. It was a movie house and a vaudeville house. I love that ... and all the spirits that are flying around. I'm really looking forward to it. We'll have a good time.

With Fritz Coleman's intelligence, gentle nature and sharp delivery, the show will be guaranteed GREAT. Don't miss it! August 19 -22 only! Get tix now!
For Box Office and Ticket Sales, call: 818-508-4200.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Interview with Beyond's Aurelien Roulin

Actor, producer, director Aurelien Roulin is an opinionated Frenchman, to be sure, but also a very talented one. His Beyond plays the El Portal mainstage through August 1. In our interview, he tells us how it all came into being. He also shares his thoughts about American versus French culture.

The story about your niece that you told the audience before the show is heartwarming. Tell us a little bit about her struggle with cancer and why you decided to build this show Beyond to help her?

When you hear stories about families going through cancer you think that you know how hard it must be or how they feel , but I can tell you that it's wrong; it's only when you experience it on your own that you realize the impact it has in your life.
My niece was 6 1/2 when the day before my sister's wedding she came down and complained about stomach pains; the next thing we knew was that the wedding was cancelled and she was at the hospital fighting for her life.
Kids are so pure and innocent and when something like that happens to them it makes you realize that life can be shorter then you think; things could be taken away from you and that is why Beyond came alive, following your dream, going beyond your beliefs and not being afraid. My niece helped me grow as a person and Beyond is dedicated to her and to those kids out there who may never get the chance to go beyond....
She is now a healthy 8 year old girl and we hope that she will stay that way ...........

Have you been an aerialist/circus performer since childhood?

Yes. I was born by the swiss border and I was 6 years old when I started to do gymnastics and many other outdoor sports. Growing up by a lake with a 10 meter diving platform, I soon started to feel very comfortable in the air diving and all. I did gymnastics for many years, then started dancing. I moved to Paris at the age of 18, to go to circus school and performed for various dance companies doing dancing and acrobatics combined, so it has been part of my life for now over 24 years.

What was your experience with Frecnh cabaret like? Compare it to American cabaret.

I was 19 when I was hired to go on tour with a company named "les oiseaux de paradis" who by the way are in LA right now and are the ones who created the costumes and more for us.
It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot throughout this journey. It was a dream come true already ..... I moved to the US shortly after and didn't do as much musical work here; it was more about aerial and acrobatic work, less cabaret. American cabaret is a little bit more conservative, so that is why our show is a little more modern with that French touch ....

Are there other shows like Beyond in France?

No. I don't think so. It's so original; I have been working on it for a long time; it brings such a variety of dance styles, people, costumes and music that it is so unique, and I really think that it is one of a kind ........

Who are your favorite performers - American or French? Stage or screen?

Of course, for me it would be Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire; I am a little old school. On screen I admire Meryl Streep for her ability to own whomever she is playing with so much conviction and belief. I get inspired by many people the moment you can tell they are doing all of it with so much love and passion.

Tell me about the Bollywood or Persian segment of the show.

Well, LA has so much Bollywood culture, and I've always been attracted to it. I love the style, the rhythm; the energy is so high. The costumes are so colorful, so I had to have a piece ..... but I was also in a play called The Ramayana directed by Robert Prior, and we ended up performing for 3 years, went to NY and got nominated for many Drama Desk Awards; it was a great show and it played a role in my life that I wanted to pay tribute to in my show.

The aerial act - the birth - is so beautiful. How did that become a part of the show?

A very good friend of mine who is known as a song writer, composer and singer in France offered to write some original music for me, which he did for the opening and closing and also new birth.
I fell in love with Avatar on a spiritual level and I wanted to create a piece very organic and pure. When I told Emmanuel Moire what I wanted, he gave me this amazing piece of music and the creativity came instantly; it's like he was in my head putting notes on my movement and vision. It's so cool. It's my favorite piece I think...... it's very special ... and combined with amazing talented dancers, you can't go wrong .....

What are your plans for Beyond?

We would love to go on tour, but most of all we want to create something unique and special, go beyond with our choreography and see where life will take us. It's a show for a lot of people so our target for now is to spread the word.

Talk a bit about French and American culture. The similarities and differences you see.

So, as far as culture goes, I have been here 11 years and I consider the US my home.
It's different from Europe, for sure, but what I like is that I am able to have both some of my culture heritage and the freedom of the US, land of the free - and it's true, you can do whatever you want, your dream can become reality. French are more abrupt, more direct; Americans are more gentle and polite. That would be more of my observation on the culture .....

Is it easier for you o produce musical theatre here than in France?

Well, for sure, theatre is bigger here than any other places, and that is why I was able to create and produce Beyond; in any other place it would have been more challenging, for sure!

Voila! See Aurelien Roulin and Company in Beyond on the El Portal mainstage until August 1. It's unlike any show you have ever seen! Oui, j'en suis sur!