Monday, August 25, 2014

Interview with Playwright/Director Joanne Mosconi

Joanne Mosconi's new play You Love That I'm Not Your Wife is set to open at the Avery Schreiber Playhouse in NoHo September 12.

What kind of plays do you write? Comedies? Dramas? Where does this play fall in the spectrum?

I write plays that examine the complex and chaotic world of love.  They fall under the romantic dramedy genre.  I always aim to evoke strong emotions from my audience by portraying different couples in different stages of relationships.

What made you write it? Is it based on real life experiences or is it total fiction?

I wrote You Love That I’m Not Your Wife because I wanted to explore what modern day love in Los Angeles looks like.  Los Angeles is a character in this script, as this play could not take place in any other city.  No one comes to La La Land to fall in love, as Los Angeles is arguably the most lonely, non-committed city in the world. People move to Los Angeles to chase “the dream”.  The characters in this play are very much influenced by this, as well as the city’s abundance of beauty, glamour, wealth, consistent sunshine and amount of options.  Although this is not an autobiographical piece, some characters were based on real life experiences.  The ten characters in this play are all very different, but they are bound together by one thing- their need for love and the fear they experience when they are not receiving it.  This causes them to act in ways they never expected.  These are insatiable, crazy, complex, but lovable characters all yearning to be understood and wanted.

Who is your greatest inspiration as a writer? Why?

Woody Allen is my greatest inspiration as a writer because he never stops working and is committed to uncovering all the many ways to tell a story.  His talent, discipline and passion towards his work are all things I strive for. He is a risk taker.  Allen has a unique mind and his work is always original.  His imagination is one of a genius and his courage to write such complex and interesting characters inspires me.  Like me, he is also a neurotic native New Yorker, who is obsessed with life, death and why we are all here. 

What do you hope audiences will take away from the play? 

No matter who we are, where we are from, and what our age is…our need for connection with others shapes the structure of our emotional lives and causes us to act in ways we never imagined.  Love at its best is a bouquet of great feelings, such as: joy, romance, passion, trust, interest, curiosity, and openness.  This is the love we all strive for and want.  The characters in this play disconnect from their partner when someone or something threatens them from getting this kind of love.  Love triggers our fears and vulnerabilities.  To love another means accepting them exactly as they are.  Without this acceptance, we will never be able to have a committed relationship sealed by trust.  I want our audience to take away these ingredients from my love recipe.

What is it like wearing several hats in the production of a play? Are you serving as director/producer/writer in this case? Do you like a third eye or not?

I am serving as the director, producer and writer of this production, and it is exhausting and exhilarating all at the same time.  I actually do not think I could do it any other way.  I love wearing all these hats, as I am a control freak who needs to micromanage every part of this production.  I have not slept a full night since we started rehearsals, yet I am more awake then ever. I do receive help from my co-producer Stacy Raposa, as well as my technical director Kajal Ardestani and publicist Michael Sterling.  Paul Storiale, theater manager of The Avery Schreiber Playhouse, often serves as my third eye when I choose to listen to what he sees.  I find that the best directors are open to the collaborative nature of our work.

Anything else you care to add?

I am dedicating this production to my beautiful dog Match, who died of sudden death from an unknown cause on July 18th 2014.  I wrote this play with her on my lap, and she is at the center of all the heart, passion and love I have put into this.   Her sister Skype has been my assistant director who radiates Match’s loving energy at every rehearsal. I also have been blessed to be working with a very talented and supportive group of actors who helped me bring my words to life. 

The Avery Schreiber Playhouse is located at 4934 Lankershim Boulevard in NoHo. Opening Night is Friday, September 12th at 8:00 pm, followed by performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 7:00pm through October 5.

Interview with Christian Lebano

New artistic director of Sierra Madre Playhouse Christian Lebano is busy as director rehearsing 4000 Miles for its opening at Sierra Madre Playhouse September 26. Lebano talks about this play, this season at Sierra Madre and his role as artistic director, including his plans for the playhouse.              

What is your background at Sierra Madre Playhouse?

           When I first came to the Sierra Madre Playhouse as an actor to play the Stage Manager in Our Town, I had the same reaction to the building that a lot of people have. I loved that I was walking into a space that had been designed to be a theater, albeit a movie theater built in 1923, but a theater nonetheless. By the time that I worked at SMP in Our Town, the theater had already begun its transformation from its days as a community theater.  In that cast alone there were two actresses who had been on Broadway – one of whom had been nominated for a Drama Desk – so the attraction of the space and the company were working on other actors besides me. The coincidence of doing that particular play in this town (Sierra Madre is a lovely, quiet, and very charming community) made me feel that there was an enormous potential for the theater to become a real draw – almost a destination theater, if you will. I worked at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and the Utah Shakespearean Festival both for a couple of seasons years ago and both of them started the same way – as small theaters in charming towns.  Both of them also had leaders who could envision something larger and more substantial growing out of their intimate beginnings.

I was invited by the Board to direct Alan Ayckbourn’s Woman in Mind (artistic decisions were made by a smaller committee of the Board as the theater had been without an Artistic Director for several years.)  Directing this play allowed me to learn what producing a play was like at the theater and the challenges inherent in the model that the theater had been using. That play got an LATimes Critic’s Choice designation – the first in the history of the theater – which gave me some credibility. I joined the Board later that year and joined the Artistic Committee. 

What are the theatre's strengths and weaknesses?

It starts with the building and the location and our place in the theatrical community of the San Gabriel Valley. I believe that you have to assess your strengths and weaknesses before you can make any decisions.  Our strengths were in our location, the fact that we owned a lovely little playhouse, that our theatrical reputation had been on the rise, that we had a loyal base of patronage, and that we had a small but really dedicated group of people who cared a lot about the Playhouse and its future. Our weaknesses were that we didn’t have a “brand” that distinguished us from other theaters, that little attention had been placed on fundraising, that the old model of directors coming in and having free reign to make decisions that had a great impact on the theater as a whole (I likened it to occupying armies) made a unifying vision impossible, and that because of those factors there was no overall marketing strategy to get the word out about what we were doing.

What is your mission?

Our new mission is to celebrate the American experience in plays written by American playwrights and to put those plays in a cultural and historical context.  What better place to celebrate America than in Sierra Madre? Those plays will create an identity for us, one that fits beautifully with our location and will distinguish us from the other theaters with whom we are competing for patrons. 

How do you plan to carry this forward?

I have always felt that a theater has to look at the complete experience that a patron has – from his or her first visit to the website, to their interaction with the box office, the lobby, the program, the show and what happens afterwards.  That’s why I’ve been so big on our placing the plays in context and have made it part of our mission – we started with my production of Driving Miss Daisy  (our first Ovation Recommended play) for which we had a couple of symposia with Freedom Riders mixed in with songs of the Civil Rights movement, to the world we built around our first Field Trip play (a Series I created to produce school-day matinees) Battledrum, a play about Civil War drummer boys, which included talkbacks with Civil War Historians at every show, a beautiful study guide, and a wonderful lobby exhibit.To the lobby exhibit we have up for our first play of my tenure, 6 RMS RIV VU, which highlights the references in the play and has some fun interactive things (designed by Diane Seigel) for the audience to engage with.  The lobby is already planned for 4000 Miles, our next play, and we are now working on A Little House Christmas, our holiday offering this year. It adds another level of planning and deadline pressures, but I am convinced after seeing audiences engage with the exhibits that it is worth the effort.

Another initiative I started was a refinement to our Sunday Series which had been a really loosely structured series with occasional Sunday evening performances.  I set about curating it more aggressively.  The theater is a wonderful space for music and I thought a music series would be fantastic.  Last year I developed a collaboration with the Colburn Conservatory of Music in downtown Los Angeles.  I call that part of the Series “Emerging Artists in Concert at the Playhouse” and it features young, incredibly talented musicians making wonderfully beautiful music in our acoustically fine little gem of a theater.  The series proved very popular and is back this year with six concerts with the Colburn, two with Idyllwild Music Conservatory, and a concert featuring our new Resident Composer, Jonathan Beard.   With this series I am trying to link the music to the plays that we have on the stage at the time of the concerts.  So for this year’s Field Trip play Einstein is a Dummy I hope the String Quartet will feature music that Albert Einstein enjoyed – filling out the experience of that play.

Finally, and most importantly is engaging the audience with what we are doing.  We’ve been using the line “Come home to the Playhouse” lately – that’s just what I want people to feel.  I want the Playhouse to be a place our patrons feel belongs to them, a place in which they feel comfortable – comfortable to take risks with programming they may not be familiar with, comfortable to engage and speak up about issues that the plays may bring forth, comfortable encouraging other people to join in because they will be sure that no matter what the quality of the work will always be good – whether or not they like the play.  This is the key to my overall strategy.

Tell our readers about 4000 Miles and its significance to this season.

As I said earlier, I’m thrilled that we are premiering 4000 Miles. I thought the LA premiere would have happened at the Geffen or the Douglas, and I’m amazed that we got it and this play could really put us on the map theatrically. It is a beautifully written play and I’ve had enormous luck with the casting – Mimi Cozzens is playing Vera, the grandmother and heart of the play. Mimi has had a long career and has been on Broadway several times directed by the likes of Herb Ross and Gene Saks. Christian Prentice is playing Leo, her grandson. This play brought out a wonderful group of young actors to audition - Estelle Campbell (managing director) and I think it was the strongest showing we’ve ever had – a testament to the attraction of the material – and Christian is an example of that. He’s just so right for the role. The relationship he’s developing with Mimi is beautiful and funny and true. Susane Lee is playing Amanda, the girl Leo picks up in a bar and Alexandra Wright is playing Bec, Leo’s girlfriend – both of these women are remarkably good actresses and are going to be wonderful in the show. I’ve got a wonderful design team who are as committed to making this a success as I am and in whom I have the utmost respect and with whom I’m having a very happy collaboration.

More importantly, this show will let the theatrical community know that we are serious about broadening our reputation and ambition.  We’ve made it clear in our press releases and in our advertising that this is not a “family show” and though we have no intention of abandoning our commitment to families, we will have a range of shows in each season and this play will signal that.  I hope audiences respond to it as I have.

I’m one of the last of a dying breed – I really believe in theater as a place where good things can happen.   My goal is to remind our audiences of the power of live theater, of being in communion with a group of people sharing an unmediated experience, of the incredible thrill it is to be invited in to another world, to consider possibilities and choices foreign to our everyday experiences, to sit in the dark and laugh or cry surrounded by other souls.   That’s the real work of my position – and be it Neil Simon or Amy Herzog or Lee Blessing or any of countless playwrights and artists I hope to people the stage with – that will always be my personal mission and goal.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2014 Interview with Director Glenn Casale

Prolifically talented director Glenn Casale's pursuits in the LA theatre community are immeasurable and should not go unnoticed. He took time out from an ultra busy schedule to talk about his post as artistic director of Music Circus in Sacramento - which is presenting its last offering for the current season  La Cage Aux Folles this week through Sunday August 24 - and also about a production of Beauty and the Beast which will open soon in Russia.

How long have you been artistic director with Music Circus in Sacramento? 

Since 2009.  

Is it a challenge to direct musicals in the round? 

I have been directing here for 27 years. It is exciting to rediscover musicals in the round. It is a challenge, but a good one. 

More so than on a regular stage? 

It frees your creativity up. You are not bound by a proscenium arch.

Tell us about your production of Beauty and the Beast. 

I  have done Beauty and the Beast in 13 countries.  All of the productions are in the the language of the country. One is closing in Paris, and we are building a new one in Moscow in October. My Little Mermaid just closed there. It is also playing in Japan. Beauty had been to Moscow for a two year run in 2009-10.  They are bringing it back.

What is so special about Beauty and the Beast?Audiences just adore it. Is it because it appeals to the entire family, do you think?

It speaks to all generations. I think it is a passionate and timeless story. I feel it really speaks to today's audience. Like Les Mis, it is based on a great French Novel.  

Talk a little about Peter Pan, which you have long? 

Peter Pan was in my life for 15 years. It is also a story that we love to hear over and over. We all don't want to grow up. Cathy Rigby made the piece. She was a great actress and she became that boy.  

How did directing musicals become your line of work? Did you start as a dancer or actor/singer/dancer in musicals? 

I started as an actor. I wanted to be a TV actor when I moved to LA. I had an MFA in directing. A friend wrote a play and asked if I would direct it. Mark Harmon, George Clooney and Brian Cranston were actors in it.  

Do you have a favorite show of all those you have mounted?  

They all are special, but The Little Mermaid is one that I am very proud of.  

Are you directing plays as well or is it strictly musicals at this point?
I love plays....I did Prisoner of Second Avenue with Jason Alexander two years ago. It is hard with my Music Circus job.  

Tell us what else is on the horizon for the coming season anywhere 2014-2015

I have been working on a couple of new musicals that are being developed. I am doing Mary Poppins for La Mirada in May In the fall of 2015 we are putting The Little Mermaid out on tour. Right now we are planning next years season at Music Circus.

Boy oh boy, you sure are one busy director. Can you give a little preview of what may be on at Music Circus in 2015? I know you talked a little about La Cage last year...and voila, it's up next this season!  

We are looking at the survey now. The titles that people want are what we want to give them. Interesting titles....Some old favorites, a couple of new. We shall see.

Thanks for your time, Glenn.

Thank you for being such a support of the theater.