Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mini Interview with Michael Dempsey

Each week we spotlight a member of the “Melissa Arctic” cast. This week we spoke with veteran Road member Michael Dempsey, who plays Lindy.

Tell me about Lindy.

My character is Lindy. My wife Cindy and I are good friends with Mina and Lenny. We’re older, and we've raised kids. Lindy ran a steady business, an apple orchard, for years.

What purpose does Lindy serve in the play?

I am an older, wiser person who is able to listen to Mina and Lenny and their struggles without prejudice, and yet also be tough when I need be.

How are you preparing for this role?

Remembering my childhood in a small town. The way neighbors knew each other, helped, challenged, supported, celebrated and mourned. A lot of my work as an actor is in Craig’s (Wright) writing. Much like Shakespeare, there are a lot of clues to your character in what you say and what others say about you.

How are audiences reacting to the play?

Audiences love the immersion into this "world". There is a lot going on (projections, puppets, songs, etc.), but it all beautifully supports the story.

What do you expect audiences to take away?

A sense of forgiveness, family and community. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


A new play by award-winning playwright Luke Yankee will receive its world premiere at UC-Irvine this November.  The Last Lifeboat is the untold story of J. Bruce Ismay, the owner of the White Star Line at the time of the sinking of the Titanic, whose decision to save himself rather than go down with the ship made him the scapegoat for one of the greatest disasters of all time.  An ensemble cast playing multiple roles tells this epic tale which explores not only the tragedy itself, but the sensationalized trials and aftermath of the night that changed the world forever.  The production will be directed and produced by Don Hill, Vice Chair of the UCI Drama Department. 

Yankee, an award-winning playwright and director said, “The idea for the play came to me while I was on a cruise in Nova Scotia, which is the closest land mass to where the ship sank.  I did an all-day Titanic tour and the guide spoke about how the disaster shattered Ismay’s life, because his survivor’s guilt was so intense.  After the inquiry into the shipwreck, he was forced out of his company and became a Howard Hughes kind of recluse for the rest of his life.  I thought, ‘With everything that’s been written about the Titanic, here’s a fascinating story that’s never been told.”  Yankee spent the next several months doing research before he began writing a screenplay version and finally, the play.

When Yankee approached Stephen Sultan, who was then the President of Dramatists Play Service (the largest publisher of plays in the world), Sultan was initially reticent to produce a play that was so new, it had not yet received a major production.  But, given the universal fascination with the Titanic, coupled with the fact that The Last Lifeboat is performed by an ensemble cast playing multiple roles on a practically bare stage, Sultan immediately saw the potential, particularly for regional theatres, schools and amateur groups. He contacted Yankee and said he’d be happy to publish it.

Yankee then contacted nationally syndicated critic Rex Reed and asked him if he’d be willing to read the script and give him a quote.  Reed wrote, “Imagine the epic story of the drama behind the sinking of the Titanic, revealed with easy, minimal staging on a bare stage.  Luke Yankee has written a surging drama that is riveting, dramatic, educational and entertaining all at the same time.  THE LAST LIFEBOAT is destined to become a theatre classic!”  

Luke Yankee developed a screenplay version of  “The Last Lifeboat” at the DreamAgo Writer’s Workshop in Sierre, Switzerland.  He was one of ten writers chosen internationally for the week-long program in the Swiss Alps, where five Oscar nominated screenwriters mentored him on the project. “While I am very excited about the screenplay,” says Luke, “it’s a big, epic story in the vein of ‘The King’s Speech’. I wanted to see if I could tell the story as simply as possible, on a practically bare stage with a small cast playing multiple roles.

Director Don Hill has been the head of the graduate stage management at UC-Irvine for the past ten years. Prior to that, he was one of the chief negotiators for the western region of Actors Equity Association, associate producer at the Long Beach Civic Light Opera (one of the largest musical theatres in America), and production manager at the Geffen Playhouse. He has directed and produced all over the country and was a protégé of the late John Houseman at USC, where Mr. Hill received an MFA in directing.

The leading role of J. Bruce Ismay will be played by Noah Wagner.  No stranger to Southern California stages, Mr. Wagner is the recipient of three DramaLogue Awards and an LA Stage Scene Award for Best Actor.  He has appeared in leading roles at The Matrix, The Celebration Theatre, The Knightsbridge, Theatre Banshee and the Long Beach Playhouse. His television credits include guest starring roles on NBC, PBS and the Disney Channel, among others.

The Last Lifeboat is being designed by Emmy winning set designer, John Iacovelli.  One of the most sought after designers in America, his more than 300 set design credits include Cathy Rigby’s Peter Pan, production designer for the TV series Babylon 5, the recent production of Kiss Me, Kate at The Pasadena Playhouse starring Wayne Brady and numerous shows at the Mark Taper Forum, The Geffen Playhouse,  South Coast Repertory and many others. He is also on the faculty of the Theatre Department at UC-Davis.

In addition to the students at UC-Irvine in the ensemble, other guest artists in the production include Los Angeles and Orange County theatre veterans George Almond, Harriet Whitmyer and Tom Juarez.

Luke Yankee’s other plays have included The Jesus Hickey starring Harry Hamlin (which premiered at the Skylight Theatre in Los Angeles) and the award-winning A Place at Forest Lawn, which has been presented at several regional theatres and is also published by Dramatists Play Service. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing up with Eileen Heckart, which is published by Random House, with a foreword by Mary Tyler Moore.  Critics have praised the book as “One of the most compassionate, illumination showbiz books ever written.” He is currently in the graduate program at UC-Riverside (Palm Desert), where he is working towards an MFA in Writing for the Performing Arts.

The Last Lifeboat will be presented at the Experimental Media Performance Lab (xMPL) in the Contemporary Arts Center on the campus of UC-Irvine. Production dates are Friday Nov. 14th and 8 pm, Saturday, Nov. 15th at 2 & 8 pm, Sun. Nov. 16th at 2 pm, Thurs.  & Fri, Nov. 20-21st at 8 pm, Sat. Nov. 22nd at 2 & 8 pm and Sun., Nov 23rd at 2 pm. Tickets are available through the UCI Box office at 949-824-2787 or online at

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Interview with Randy Harrison

Actor Randy Harrison, best known for playing Justin Taylor in Showtime's Queer as Folk (2000-2005) is rehearsing Amadeus Mozart for the play Amadeus to bow in Santa Barbara at the Ensemble Theatre on October 11. In our chat he talks about the play, his role, his tastes in music, as well as a bit about Queer as Folk.

What was life like, briefly, during Queer As Folk? Did you know at first that this show was unique and groundbreaking? You guys had so many fans. I know because I interviewed Gale Harold when he did Orpheus Descending a few years ago, and the fan response to the interview was incredible. I had comments from all over the world. 

My life during Queer as Folk was pretty hectic.  I was in my early 20s, which I think tend to be a chaotic time for most people, especially young artists.  I was living half the year in Toronto and the other half in New York, which were both new cities to me at the time, attempting to create some kind of stability in my life.  I was trying to figure out what I was most interested in as a performer while simultaneously working and shooting this very personal, emotional and intimate material and becoming some kind of poster boy for something I didn’t understand at the time. I knew very much that the show was unique and ground-breaking.

Interview with Taylor Coffman at the Road

On Friday September 26 The Road Theatre Company is proud to present the opening weekend performances of Craig Wright’s Melissa Arctic on its second stage at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony on Magnolia. In the next several weeks we will be spotlighting members of the cast of the play. First up is guest actor to the Road, Taylor Coffman.

Taylor Coffman,a transplant from Washington, DC, has been working in LA in film,TV, and theatre. An Associate Artist with Rogue Artists Ensemble, she has been nominated for an LA Weekly Award for Best Comedy Ensemble for D is for Dog and appeared in Songs of Bilitis at the Getty Villa, and just back from performing HYPERBOLE:bard at Oregon Shakespeare Fest's Green Show. Recently, she has been filming the webseries Ruby & Martin, an official selection of the International TV Festival and a finalist in the NYTVF Comedy Central Pilot competition. Other performing/ writing credits include Stream (Kennedy Center Page to Stage Festival), DItch (Mutineer Theatre Co), Best of Craigslist (Hollywood Fringe), regionally in DC: ‘Hilda’ in Ibsen’s Lady from the Sea, ‘Thyona’ in Big Love, and ‘Juliet’ in Romeo & Juliet. She was also a fellow at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC, studied in the advanced program at Upright Citizens Brigade, and worked in late night comedy for Jimmy Kimmel Live. Thanks to Scott & the Road team and Z. More info at

Taylor is understudying Mina in Melissa Arctic.

Tell me about your character.

Mina is based on Hermione from Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale. The characters mirror each other as steadfast loving wives while being accused otherwise by their husbands. We see that Mina in the piece is a devoted wife and new mother trying her best to navigate her husband’s increasingly manic behavior. Without giving away too much, she is a literal portrait of a young Minnesota mother.

There is a lot about Mina left out of the narrative- so it’s been fun filling in the details. We see her at a time of stress, but it’s so clear she is loving, patient and kind. Her edges appear dulled as she tries to weather her way through her relatively newly challenged marriage.

I like Mina quite a bit as a person. She tries to make life better- she’s the kind of woman I’d like as a friend.

What do you feel she contributes to the play?

This is an interesting play because there is quite a time jump between acts like in The Winter’s Tale. In many ways, to me Mina serves as being the heart of the first Act. We’re dropped in the cold Minnesota winter- in a time where the chill is felt not only outside, but inside Leonard and  Mina’s home and relationship. Through her, we see Leonard’s heart as well at a time where his actions seem harsh and confusing.

Mina’s hopes for her child and family are forever changed- and it’s hard not to empathize with the tragedy of such a loss.

How are you preparing for this role?

Well this is my first time understudying, so it’s been an interesting learning process. Luckily I’ve had the opportunity to work right with the main cast in scene work. It’s been so great to allow me to be able to develop my version of Mina. But I am very inspired by Laurie’s work and I hope the Mina I create is not too dissimilar from the Mina that Scott and Laurie are developing. I can contribute the truth of my own personal experience- but otherwise I’ve been thinking about the time, the world Craig Wright created in Minnesota, and really meditating on what it means to be a mother and the dream of creating a family. There isn’t much discussion in the play of Mina’s family in comparison to the other characters- so I see this as being her only unit. Leonard and Melissa are her entire family in my eyes- aside from her close friends The Lindys. So it’s incredibly challenging when she is faced with the conflicts of Act 1. I’m not a mother personally- I don’t carry that in me yet- but I know what it is to build a dream of a family. That’s incredibly accessible to me.

What do you think will be the audience reaction to the play and to your character?

It’s always hard to predict the audience’s reaction. I can only hope the audience can feel for her challenges- I feel for Mina. If I do my job, the audience will feel for her as well as she   navigates this difficult situation.

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

I am not sure what others will say, but I hope the audience will hug their loved ones a little closer- the redemption the play offers can’t help but pull on your heartstrings. And maybe they’ll look at the Mona Lisa a little differently.                    

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Mini Interview with Elizabeth Sampson

The Road Theatre Company proudly presents the West Coast premiere of Melissa Arctic, a play with songs, directed by Scott Alan Smith at the stage on Magnolia through November 15. Elizabeth Sampson is in the cast of Craig Wright's play and has been a Road member since 2007. She appeared in such Road productions as As White As O. She also directed Cuts and assistant directed Lady, and The Unseen with playwright Craig Wright directing.

Tell me about your character.

My character is Cindy Linda (the sort of equivalent to Paulina in The Winter's Tale - although without any of the speeches); she's the friend to Mena (Hermione).
Cindy Linda is the parent figure, the constant friend, the wise friend -- with some flaws, but she is the older person that helps the younger characters along.

Do you identify with her?

I was cast in this role up in Ojai, 4 years ago, but that production was cancelled. So we did a reading of this play 4 years ago in the Road Summer Playwrights Festival with Craig playing Lenny. I've sort of had it in my head for 4 years. I can't say that it's a role that I identify with greatly, but I like the play and just wanted to be a part of it.

What will be the audience reaction to the play and your character?

We hope the audience experiences the beauty of redemption and forgiveness that we were drawn to when we read it.

What do you hope they will take away from the play?                                                                                                                                 
I hope they take away some joy, some identification with loss, and the hope that comes from love and the mysteries of the Universe.


Interview - Phil Olson

Phil Olson grew up in Edina, Minnesota, home of the first indoor mall. After graduating from Dartmouth, and with a strong sports background, Phil tried out for the Chicago Bears. After his "summer with the Bears," he went on to receive an MBA from The University of Chicago and pursued a business career while writing plays and screenplays.  Phil lives in LA where he writes and produces plays.
His 13 published plays have had over 300 productions in the U.S. and Canada. Plays published by Samuel French include Mom's Gift, Don't Hug Me, A Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol, A Don't Hug Me County Fair, Don't Hug Me I'm Pregnant, Polyester The Musical, and A Nice Family Gathering.  As a script doctor,he’s re-written three movies that have been produced, as well as thirteen original screenplays.  Phil has written five award-winning plays set in small towns in Minnesota.

By guest writer Steve Peterson

Your series of “Dont Hug Me Musicals have been very successful, with numerous productions performed across the United States every year.   What element or elements about the play and the ‘characters hanging out at a bar in Bunyan Bay, Minnesota do you think appeals to most audience members?

I think the universal themes of the stories and the quirky characters is what appeals to audiences across the country. The stories are about relationships, a marriage that has gone stale and needs a little love and romance to get back on track, a younger couple looking for love, a jealous ex-boyfriend wanting to win his girlfriend back. I think people across the country can relate to what the characters are going through, and I think they really enjoy the setting being a quirky little town in northern Minnesota, not too far from Lake Wobegon.

Phil, this is the 5th installment of “Dont Hug Me.  The last one was “Dont Hug Me, Im Pregnant.  Gunner and Clara are married…So, is this some sort seven-year itch take on the series?  What is this installment about?

In Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married, we have a double wedding. Gunner and Clara are already married and had a baby in Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant. I don’t want to give away who’s getting married to whom, but we have a visitor come to town, Gunner’s twin sister Trigger (played by Gunner). Trigger is looking for a man and thinks she’s found one. At the same time the double wedding is being planned, Gunner and Clara have a competition on who can be the better spouse. The stakes are high in the competition, and the marriage might be derailed by the loser.

Where did the idea for this one come from?

In the first four installments of the Don’t Hug Me series, Bernice, the pretty waitress, is falling in love, but she never gets married. It was finally time in the series to have a wedding. It was the next natural step to take in the series. But this is not your typical wedding.

Have you gone through the same development process you have used in the past?

Yes, I did 12 staged readings in theaters across the country. That’s about the same number of readings I’ve done with the other Don’t Hug Me’s.

Are you willing to share what that process is?

I do readings in theaters that have done the other Don’t Hug Me musicals. After the readings I take comments from the audience and make changes to the script based on their comments. One question I ask the audience is, “What took you out of the play?” In other words, was there anything in the play that didn’t make sense or didn’t ring true to the characters. I don’t tend to ask what they like about the play. That’s a little self serving and doesn’t help me to make it better. Their response during the show tells me what they liked about it. I intentionally try to write audience pleasing plays and musicals. I think listening to the audiences comments and doing re-writes after the readings has been very helpful in the commercial success of my plays.

I know your brother lives in Minnesota and you live out here in California, Im wondering does your brother ever come out to help you fix things that arent working?  And, how do you go about working on the music and lyrics for the shows? 

My brother, Bear, is very talented at composing music. He’s also a very busy medical doctor in Chaska, Minnesota. He doesn’t have time to come to California to work on the music. He composes the music from home and emails the music sheets to me in a program called Finale. He writes the music first, then I listen to the music over and over and write the lyrics to the music. If something doesn’t work, we email or talk about it over the phone and then he makes adjustments. It works very well.

When the shows go into rehearsal what is your relationship with the director?  Has Doug Engalla directed all of five of the world premiere Los Angeles productions of  “Dont Hug Me?

Doug has directed three of the Don’t Hug Me’s; A Don’t Hug Me County Fair, Don’t Hug Me, I’m Pregnant and Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married. I really like working with Doug. We have a very good collaboration. Doug is very open about my thoughts during the rehearsals and I’m always happy with the way the Don’t Hug Me’s are staged. Plus, Doug is a really nice guy who always keeps cool and calm and I’m a little more high anxiety, so his personality works well with mine. It’s a good fit.

What do you see as the future of the series?  (Is there a time when well see “Dont Hug Me, Im Retired?”)

I have one more Don’t Hug Me that I’ll write, and that might be the last one. My first play, Crappie Talk, takes place in a little town in northern Minnesota. It was the precursor to the Don’t Hug Me series. I will adapt Crappie Talk into a Don’t Hug Me musical.

I noticed on the Dont Hug Me website that you have the Midwest premiere of the play coming up in the near future.   Besides this play, what else are you working on in regards to your writing? (if you feel comfortable talking about it)

After Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married opens at the Group Rep Theatre Oct 3, it opens in the midwest premiere in Plainview, Minnesota on October 23rd, then it opens in Wisconsin in November, then will continue to play from there. Many theaters do all the Don’t Hug Me musicals.
Other than Don’t Hug Me, I’m writing a play about Kahlil Gibran, the man who wrote The Prophet. I’m looking at a Fall 2015 opening of Gibran. After that, I’ll write another Mom’s Gift type of play, a family dramedy. Then I’ll write the next Don’t Hug Me musical.

Thank you!

Don’t Hug Me, We’re Married
October 3 – November 15 
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm; Sunday Matinees at 2pm 
Tickets: $25. Seniors/Students: $20.  Groups 10+:  $15  
Buy Tickets: or 818.763.5990 
Lonny Chapman Theatre 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601