Thursday, April 12, 2012

2012 Interview with Barbara Bain

Actress/director Barbara Bain, three time Emmy Award winner for playing Cinnamon Carter in TV's original Mission Impossible from 1966-1969 still loves to be challenged by the work she does whether it be in the fields of acting or directing. She is currently doing a little of both in an evening of one-acts entitled Love Struck to open May 11 at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. She is also getting ready to close in the successful run of Why We Have a Body at the Edgemar Center for the Arts. I caught up with the busy Ms. Bain at a rehearsal for Love Struck in NoHo. It is clear that she is highly opinionated, loves what she does and is justifiably proud to be involved in the creative process of bringing good intelligent theatre to LA audiences.

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                               Tell me about Love Struck.

It's a series of one-acts, and they're lovely, lovely observations of life...pretty funny, pretty not so funny, but there's a giggle probably in every one, at least. So each of them has merit in terms of reflecting life as we find it, which is always somewhat surprise, disappointment, joy, pleasure, and all the rest of it. 

And you are directing a piece as well as acting, correct?

I am. In fact, I haven't started with it yet, so I don't like to take full credit for that, yet. I'm meeting about that this afternoon for the first time, and if I feel like I can bring something to it, then I will. I don't want to just say I'm directing something without really knowing what I'm doing.

How are the plays structured? Are they monologues?

No. They're two characters, three characters. There are two monologues, and they're brief and lovely. Most of them engage us with at least two people struggling. There are a lot of nice twists and turns. She's (Dale Griffiths Stamos) a good writer. I had worked with her last year at the Promenade Playhouse in Santa Monica. We did six of them, and of those, I did three. Each one was very different, each of the women, and I really loved doing it. When they asked me if I'd do it again, I said "Oh, OK!" and here we are.

But this time around the plays are different, right?

Totally different material and different theme.

Are you still running in Why We Have a Body at Edgemar?
as Cinnamon Carter in Mission Impossible
I am. Tanna Frederick has directed it, and it's really, really fun. It's totally different work that I'm doing there than this material. That's why it intrigues me.

You like to be challenged?

Absolutely, absolutely. Why We Have a Body is an interesting piece that's written somewhat straightforward. Even though the play itself is not linear, the characters are written rather straightforward. The woman I'm playing is an unusual woman. When I first picked it up, I thought, "I don't know what to do with this", which is why it intrigued me, and I knew Tanna was a first time director, and I went in to meet with her... and the first thing she said opened the door on how to proceed. She said, "We're going to do this like a Terry Gilliam movie, like a cartoon." I said, "Woo! So we can do all kinds of things!" And that is what we're doing. It's great fun, a different reality than what I usually play. Now I'm rehearsing this while doing that, so what could be better?

in quirky why we have a body
You're doing what you love to do.


Do you have a favorite role?

No. Once you embrace something, that's who you're with for a time. I've done some extraordinary plays...I've played Mary Tyrone in Long Day's Journey...I've done Ionesco's The Chairs, Neil Simon's Broadway Bound...extraordinary women, incredible people. I couldn't pick one.

What about playwrights?

Again, it's hard to say. If I am going to do something, I have to have a certain kind of attachment to it. These playwrights are alive, which is kind of exciting, because I mostly grew up with dead playwrights. Williams, O'Neill, Miller...Miller wasn't dead yet, but he certainly wasn't rewriting a play for me (she laughs), so he was part of my heritage as a theatre person. I did have the opportunity to work with Paddy Chayefsky, who was extraordinary. (big smile) I just love it all, what can I say.

So how do you go about choosing a role?

At this point it treats me as something that makes me say in an odd way, "I don't know how to start with this; where do I start?"  There's almost a mystery to it, and in front of it is finding that mystery.  You know what I say to myself? "When the play is well written, you can stay home and read it. Why am I here? I better bring something to this." I love to read, always have since I was a kid. I used to make up my own pictures. Although I didn't know it at that time, wasn't I playing all those parts? Wasn't that part of the reading experience? Wasn't I Anna Karenina standing in the train station waiting for Count Vronsky to come, but he didn't (voice expressive and full of emotion) and he broke my heart? Therein the actress was probably born, unbeknownst to me.

And when you direct, is it the same feeling?
70s TV sci-fi work
Oh, definitely. The question is, what can I bring to this? And if I don't, I'm not directing just to direct. I'm directing, because I go "Oo, what about directing it that way?" I have been involved in the last few years with the Young Playwrights Festival at the Blank Theatre. It's marvelous, and the kids are so young. We need new playwrights. So, number one, that's important. And to go through the whole process with them, where they've written it; they have a professional director with professional actors and they're up: it's not a reading; it's a production.  For them to see that realized is wonderful. I've had a really fun time with everyone I've directed there. It runs on weekends the whole month of June, and I'll be there this year at the Adler; they use the Adler Theatre.

I know you have a dance background. Do you have fond memories of Martha Graham?

Fond memories? I loved it. Dance was my first love; if truth be told, to get out of P.E. I absolutely loved the whole feeling of going through space. It turned me around, so I got on a plane and went to New York to study with Graham. It was kind of interesting, because I was a smart-ass kid who thought she was terribly intelligent; little did I know what I had to learn. I knew she was extraordinary but I wasn't going to fall under her spell. I didn't need a guru. The first day in the studio she walked by, I hit the ground. I just nearly fainted. She was tiny, but such an extraordinary persona. She walked past, you couldn't talk. It was an incredible experience. I wish every dancer and every actress, because then I worked also with Lee Strasberg as a teacher, to work with a master teacher. It's so important in an art form to have exposure to somebody who really has something to offer.

What about Lee Strasberg? Did you like him?

He was a wonderful teacher for me. And I worked with a lot of other marvelous teachers. Lonny Chapman, for one, was extraordinarily generous and kind to me, as I began working and didn't know what I was doing. He was an incredibly loving teacher; Lee wasn't. He was very removed, an academic; he knew his stuff, but he didn't want to talk. You said hello, and he looked at you like you were a nut. He didn't have time for a hello, he would  just dismiss you. What he did have, amongst everything else, because he certainly had it, was...he knew how each actor was getting in their own way, where they were, in a particular point in development. He could give you exercises that would help you take that next step. He was an incredible diagnostician. He was not a shrink but he did help you find that instrument that you had, access it and then what to do with it. A lot of teachers will have you get up and cry... and now what? How does the character in that material behave with all that going on? When does it get revealed? A lot of really wonderful stuff, so Lee was a very important teacher for me, and I've been in some class my whole life.

Are you a lifetime member of the Actors Studio?

Oh, yeah. I took dance class up until three years ago. I love it all. I took David Craig's singing class, even though I can't sing at all. I learned an extraordinary kind of discipline about..."You've got to do it now!" Music has a rhythm; it's now, now, now (she slaps her hands). The now kind of demand on some of us method actors can get a little loose, and that was really important. 

Crossing over to TV, do you think Mission Impossible could be produced today the way it was in the beginning?

It could never be produced the same way after Bruce Geller died. Bruce Geller created it; he had a vision that was clean and pure and strong - he knew just what he wanted about everything. There wasn't anything that was unknown to him about that show. In fact, when it all fell apart after the third year, and I left, Martin (Landau) left, and Bruce was asked to leave, they never really understood the fabric of the show. It kind of got pulled apart. It wasn't the actors' or directors' fault, it was that Bruce wasn't there. Little kinds of things were different. Even in that apartment scene...we didn't ask a question, we didn't say, "You mean there's a 10 megaton bomb there?" We just stated it and knew the danger. The minute you put the question in...then why are you in the room? Now that's a tiny thing, but it's a big thing. We were a team, and it was a whole different thing. The movies today are just ... something else. We did it well, we knew it and we felt good about it... I have no complaints about anything in terms of career; I enjoy what I do.

What does it take to survive in this business?

(laughing) You've got to have the soul of a poet and the skin of an armadillo. It doesn't usually happen in the same person,'s not easy. It's not an easy turf.
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It may not be, but Barbara Bain has made it work for her, and  in our favor, she's still going strong.
Catch her in Why We Have a Body at the Edgemar Center for the Arts through May 6 and then, opening May 11, in Love Struck!
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Love Struck also co-stars Peter Van Norden and Nick Ullett
Runs Fri, May 11 – Sun, May 27 / Fri & Sat 8:00PM / Sunday 3:00PM and 7:00PM / $32.00 General Admission / $25.00 Seniors 
MOTHER'S DAY SPECIAL: May 13th @ 3PM & 7PM: All Moms get in for Half-Price on Mother's Day! 
Reserve in Advance - Bring Your Mother to Beverly Hills Playhouse / 254 S. Robertson Blvd. / Beverly Hills / call (323) 960-7787 for reservations

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Update on Barbara Bain since the interview: In July Miss Bain will direct  the world premiere of a play called To Quiet the Quiet by 29-year-old Christy Hall. It opens July 13th at The Elephant Theater in Los Angeles, starring Lisa Richards, Stephen Mendillo and Michael Friedman.  Currently Hall is writing the book for Home, a new musical with music and lyrics by world renowned composer/lyricist Scott Alan, and includes Scott Alan's hit songs "Never Neverland," "Home," and "Goodnight."  Alan and Hall are joining efforts with commercial Broadway producers StylesFour Productions in heading to Broadway.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Interview with Billy Elliot's Rich Hebert

Actor/singer Rich Hebert will open Thursday April 12 at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood for Broadway LA in the second national tour of Billy Elliot, playing Billy's dad. Other credits on stage include in Vegas: We Will Rock You. Broadway/Tours: The Life, Sunset Boulevard, Les Misérables, Cats, Saturday Night Fever, and Rock and Roll the First 5000 Years. Other: Captains Courageous, Elaborate Lives, Annie. TV: Brotherhood, Law and Order SVU, NYPD Blue, The Sopranos, Deadline, Line of Fire, The Oldest Rookie, 21 Jump Street, The Young and the Restless, Loving. In our talk, he elaborates on the changes in Billy Elliot onstage since the first national tour and his challenges in playing this role and others.

How long have you been playing Billy's dad?

About a year and a half. We started in Durham, North Carolina. There are two aspects of this tour. This is the second. At one point we closed down for a while when we were in San Francisco last summer. We got new producers and they started rehearsing us again about a month later in New York. We basically brought together from the first national tour the people that wanted to come back or were asked to come back and merged with the newer actors who were cast. We resumed November 1 in St. Louis. There was a rehearsal down time period of a couple of months.

I understand that the latest production is much scaled down. Is that true?

It is scaled down, and ultimately it is to the benefit of the show. They took out automation, some lights; they took out the dancing dresses, that were these exaggerated giant things in the first national tour and on Broadway. When director Stephen Daldry, who also directed the 2000 film, came and saw this scaled down production, he said "This is the way it was supposed to be. This is the best production of the show I've seen." You see the community on stage because we're moving things around ourselves. It creates much more of a community effect, which is what the show is really all about. It's still the same amount of people. We have four Billys right now and they alternate every night.
How challenging is it to play Billy's dad?

It's challenging emotionally more than anything else. I played Valjean (Les Miz) for a couple of years in the nationals and that was physically, vocally and emotionally challenging. This is as emotionally challenging but not as physically or vocally challenging. I only sing one song. It's an arc and a growth. Responsibility, growth, arc, because he really comes from one place. It's not even that he's prejudiced or homophobic or anyhting like that; he doesn't know what's going on. He's trying to make do. He's a miner who's uneducated to a certain degree about a lot of things. He comes from a small town and what his dad did, that's what his oldest son does. Basically, it's providing. And that's being taken away from him. His wife died and he really doesn't know how to raise this second kid who's all over the place. He tries to send him to boxing to toughen him up and give him something to do. Billy decides to be a ballet dancer. It's all off the charts to him (his father), who says "You're not going to do that. It's the opposite of what I'm trying to do for you." And then there's the grandmother who's almost in Alzheimer's land; she's got a bit of dementia going on. So, there's no book for him; he's trying to do it all on his own.

Is this one of the hardest roles you've played?

Had I not become a father myself six years ago, I don't think I would understand the amount of commitment that is involved in trying to raise a child. The father in the play is the local head of the union that's on strike and he decides to cross the picket line, so that he can get some money to send his boy to a ballet audition at the Royal Academy. I stopped acting for about four years, I thought it wasn't steady enough money, although I've been an actor for 30 years. I tried to do other things. I sold cars, I taught, I worked at a bank, I taught college, so I made compromises in my life...and he has to do that. Having gone through it, I totally understand.

What remains your favorite role to date?

I have to say Valjean is my favorite. I've worked with kids a lot; I played Daddy Warbucks (Annie) a couple of times. I did it at Papermill in Jersey with Sarah Hyland who's now on Modern Family. I love working with kids. I did Captains Courageous at the Manhattan Theatre Club. When you work with kids, you always learn. It takes so much imagination.
Where did you do Sunset Boulevard? You understudied Max, correct?

I was in the original company here in LA and then went to Broadway with it. I played Max a lot; it was great. I got to work with some divas: Glenn Close, Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige. It was a lot of fun, and I got to learn so much from George Hearn (Max). I got to learn so much about how he would make himself invisible on stage. To be such a domineering presence while being invisible. He's the greatest guy any how. 

Do you enjoy doing musicals more than plays?

I like to sing. I don't get to sing that much in this show but I like to sing. But, I like to work, so it doesn't matter.

What do you tell hopeful kids who want to become actors?

(He laughs) I met Ruth Gordon once. I'm from her hometown, Quincy, Massachusetts. We had a mutual friend, who was like a grandmother to me. She and Garson Kanin (her husband) were sitting at a table signing books. When I walked up to her, I explained who I was, how I had just gotten out of Boston University and I asked her if she had any advice for an actor going to New York.  She said, "Kick ass!" (we both laugh) I'm not sure that that's what I'd tell the kids, but just learn everything you can about every aspect of doing what you can possibly do. Listen to people, listen a lot. Just get involved in classes, in every kind of class. I've been in musical theatre for a long time, but I'm not a dancer. I was in Cats and played Rum Tum Tugger. I walked out of the final call, because I said, "I can't do this!" These are the best dancers in New York. They said, "We'll teach you, we'll teach you." So, if you can get ahead of that and learn. The kids in this show are prime examples of that. They are constantly learning, and they are smart to learn from. Joel Blum, who is in the show, is a two time Tony Award nominee, and he showed the kids some steps that will be great for them for years to come.

We wish Rich Hebert and the entire cast of Billy Elliot the best of luck in their run in LA.
For ticket info, visit:

Pantages Theatre
April 10 – May 13, 2012
Five Weeks Only
L.A. Premiere

Monday, April 2, 2012

Interview with Deathtrap Star Burt Grinstead

Actor Burt Grinstead may have a short theatrical resume at this stage, but he has been working consistently over the past couple of years essaying plays in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. Since coming back to LA last summer, he has been in the highly successful Esther's Moustache at Sidewalk Studio Theatre this past fall and is currently treading the boards once more in the all new critically acclaimed production of Deathtrap at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood. In our chat he discusses Deathtrap and the other roles he's played, his focus as an actor, and those actors who have had the most influence on him.

Tell me where you're from and how the whole acting thing got started.

I'm was born in the Worchester area of Massachusetts, and then I grew up here in Thousand Oaks. From 10-16 in school I started doing plays, and then it started branching out into that whole entertainment world; I started doing commercials and going out on auditions for movies, soap operas, and then I hit puberty and it flatlined. I moved back east to Massachusetts again, and fell out of the acting world in my high school years and into the whole sports thing.

Was there one play that you did that made you say, "Yes, this is for me"?

I studied with Stu Levin who did repertory theatre in Agoura Hills, and from that time, the one role that I wish I could do over is Hal in Picnic. The other play is Hello Out There by William Saroyan. When I did those two plays, I was too young to develop any real sense of character, and Hal is a very modern man. He's very specific to my type and I'd love to play him again. Picnic is an Inge play and it's got that teen, soap opera kind of feel to it, the sex and the dynamic character thing, so it's very in all the time.

Didn't you study at AADA (American Academy of Dramatic Arts) in New York?
ladies in retirement

Yes. I did the two year program and graduated from there. I decided against auditioning for their company. I just went out into the world of New York and tried to book as much theatre as I could.

What did you end up doing?
It went really well. Coming right out I did A Midsummer Night's Dream with a great little company called the Pulse Ensemble Theatre, headed by Alexa Kelly. She had strong faith in me and always kept bringing me back. I also did a great murder thriller called Ladies in Retirement at the Mint Theatre. Then in Pennsylvania I did Julius Caesar for a Shakespeare company that tours high schools. Then in Boston at the Speak Easy Stage I did Neil LaBute's Reasons to Be Pretty, in which I played the ultimate jerk. All the reviews said Burt Grinstead is the biggest douche bag. He plays the most chauvinistic male. It was definitely an intense experience to play that. My testicles got stomped on at the end of the play; that was the defining climax. Every time the other character would do that, he got a standing ovation. I played such a jerk.

Tell me about Esther's Moustache that you did out here last fall.
esther's moustache
It was incredible. Laurel Ollstein is the writer/director of it. It was a fun experience, a very comedic, farcical kind of play but with real family issues. I played a German messenger that would deliver cartoons to the's a complex story, and I became an Orthodox Jew by the end of it because I was so in love with the main character. I got a chance to do a very intense German accent, so it was great fun.

How did Deathtrap come about?
deathtrap as cliff anderson with brian foyster as sidney bruhl
I auditioned for Ken (Sawyer) and Jon Imparato. It hasn't been produced in LA for years, and Jon really wanted this to be successful...and Brian (Foyster) has been involved from square one too. It is so easy to act with him on stage; it's one of the easiest things I've ever done.

There's not one slouch in that cast and what a great set by Joel Daavid!

I was so thrilled by everything about this play, and the fact that we got to work on the set from day one! It had been designed, built and everything was underway when we came in. It's been a fantastic rehearsal process, and Ken (Sawyer) is an incredible director. He just knows how to tell you to do things without you realizing that he's telling you.

Was the nudity a new experience for you onstage?
esther's moustache
Yes and no. Every play I've done, I've definitely had to be shirtless. I guess they use what they have, but this was the first time I've had to be fully nude.

Does it bother you as it does some actors?

No, I of my focuses is to be comfortable with who I am, and I think that's something that a whole lot of actors have trouble with. You have to be comfortable with yourself.

Good and that shows in your performance!  Who are your acting idols?

I have quite a few that I look up to. Christopher Reeve is an incredible actor. I saw the movie of Deathtrap when I was in high school, and he's the reason I wanted to do this project. I haven't watch it recently because I don't want to be influenced by it. But Christopher Reeve is an idol human being as well as an idol talent. I really, really love Robert Redford. I've been compared to him looks wise, but I don't think I'm anywhere close to him talent wise. He is just one of the more natural artists. The way he brings a role to the screen. I did a scene from Barefoot in the Park, and I had seen that movie a hundred times, just 'cause I love him so much, but I could not do it, I couldn't do it because it's a Neil Simon, quick's so hard to do. To keep up that energy and to keep up that pace as well as to hit the lines while keeping it serious and real; he could do it...Jeramiah Johnson is one of the best performances I've ever seen onscreen, and he speaks maybe three times in that movie. In modern times, maybe not as a human being, but I have a lot of respect for Jude Law as an actor. He picks and chooses his career very specifically so that he gets to do these really kind of cool roles. I saw him do Hamlet on Broadway and he was incredible.

Anything you want to add about Deathtrap or anything else?

Just to put in good words for the rest of the cast. They're all incredible - and the director - and the design team.

Burt Grinstead is no slouch. He knows who he is, what he's got and how to use it. I predict great things for him. Tall and handsome - and he can act too! - he's the perfect soap type: producers, take note! I wish him the best of everything!