Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016 Interview with Impro's Dan O'Connor

The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica presents the World Premiere of  Impro Theatre’s 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza, from LA’s Impro Theatre, the creators and performers of the wildly popular Jane Austen UnScripted. Impro Theatre’s 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza is created especially for The Broad Stage. Over their history, the company has produced a bevy of mainstage shows including: Shakespeare UnScripted, Film Noir UnScripted, Twilight Zone UnScripted, Sondheim UnScripted, Dickens UnScripted, The Western UnScripted, Tennessee Williams UnScripted, Chekhov UnScripted, along with Fairytales UnScripted and Jane Austen UnScripted, which both previously ran at The Broad Stage. This new production marks the group's 10th anniversary.

Producing artistic director of Impro Dan O’Connor sat down recently to talk to us about this holiday show.

Tell me from your perspective all about this wonderful holiday show. Is it different from usual Impro productions? If so, how?
Well, first of all, Impro Theatre's 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza is a World Premiere.  We've never done this show before, so while the show is completely shaped by audience suggestions and totally improvised (like all of our other shows), this show is brand new and never seen before.  Plus, we have a cast of 17 and a five-piece swinging 60s jazz bandso our audiences will see a much bigger production than most of our other shows. And we're thrilled to be back at the Broad Stage.  

Impro Theatre’s 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza
 is a completely improvised show in the style of those TV holiday spectaculars hosted by Andy Williams, Perry Como and Bob Hope in the 60s. This style is perfect for Impro Theatre because we can capture the spirit of spontaneity in those holiday specials. Bing Crosby’s doorbell rings and in walks David Bowie, wrapped in a scarf ... Judy Garland’s house is suddenly filled with a group of dancing Santas for no reason ...  There is a wonderful chaos to these holiday variety specials, and we’ve had great fun exploring these in rehearsal. Everything will be inspired by audience suggestions and improvised, including holiday songs, dances, novelty acts, special appearances from fictional celebrities, puppets, fake commercials, and much more.  Like the original holiday shows, ours will be filled with joy and laughter, and now more than ever, we think it’s important to unite on some level.  What better way to connect than by laughing together during the holidays?

I love the work your group does. I have seen and reviewed many productions around town. I am always amazed at how actors seem to make precise entrances and exits and perform their roles during the improv show as if some plot elements and scenes were previously staged and rehearsed. It just seems too perfect at times. How much exactly do the actors know in advance apart from what the audience provides at the top of the show? I know it takes imagination and mucho skill, which the actors have in spades, but it is actually all improv?
We get this question a lot. And yes, sometimes scenes and shows appear to run very smoothly -- almost perfectly -- which is exactly what we aspire to!  Our shows are completely improvised, and at the top of the show, the actors don't know anything in advance. Nothing is pre-set; the cast doesn't even know who will appear in the first scene. Once we get the audience suggestions that start the show, we're off and running, and everyone is working together to make up the play on the spot. We're usually supported by lighting and sound improvisers, who are improvising right alongside us.

We always tell people that if you doubt the show was completely improvised, come back another night, and we'll prove it to you because you'll see a completely different show.  We also have rotating casts that ensure that every performance is entirely unique.
Even if the script is improvised, you must rehearse. How do you prepare?
We have developed a very innovative rehearsal process that combines scholarly research with improvisational exercises over an extended period of time.  Before we perform a show like "Jane Austen UnScripted," we have spent a great deal of time reading her books, studying literally criticism, watching movies, and discussing the themes, tropes, storylines, language, etc., that Austen explored in her work.  Same thing for "Shakespeare UnScripted," "Chekhov UnScripted," "L.A. Noir UnScripted," even "Sondheim UnScripted," and every other style we do.  All of that extensive work allows us to inhabit the world and collectively work within the framework of that genre. Within that world, we are all working together, inspired by the audience's suggestions and improvising on the spot. 
I understand you extend your skills through education. Tell our readers about this work.
In addition to performing, we also manage the Impro Theatre School in Los Feliz, CA, where we teach these narrative and genre improv skills to students of all levels. The School grows much bigger every year because we're teaching things that students can't find anywhere else, and with every show, people are more and more interested in our creative and artistic process. We attract a lot of actors who are looking to improve their improv skills, and also improvisers who want to become better actors. We really enjoy and believe in the importance of teaching and sharing our innovative approaches to the next generation of improvisers.  What we do is completely unique -- no one else is doing what we do -- and it can definitely be taught. We've been doing it for a long time and have become pretty good at it.

Remember: The Broad Stage December 15-17 at 7:30 pm. Three performances only!

Monday, November 21, 2016

2016 Interview with Cheyenne Jackson

Actor/singer Cheyenne Jackson first appeared on Broadway with Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Needless to say, he caused a sensation and has since made the TV screen sizzle with his appearances in Glee and American Horror Story. He will be making a concert appearance on December 15 and 17/18 in four Holiday shows with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles. (GMCLA) Jackson spoke briefly with me about this concert and comments on various points of his illustrious career thus far. As far as his personal life goes, Jackson is openly gay, married to Jason Landau, and they just became the parents of two children.

What was it like being an understudy in Thoroughly Modern Millie?
Did you go on and work with Sutton Foster? Describe that experience.

It was life changing, bouncing off the walls excitement.  Yes, I went on with Sutton many times.  She was nurturing, hilarious, and professional.  I learned much from watching how she handled herself.

How did Altar Boyz and All Shook Up change your New York career?

Both shows gave me an opportunity to originate roles for the first time, which is where you can really find and express your voice.

Xanadu followed. Were you happy with that show? Or did you long for something else?

Are you nuts?  Of course I was happy!  Xanadu was magic in every way.  I adored that cast and that character.

Do you prefer the classical Finian's Rainbow to a new show like Xanadu or do you take both in stride?

Both have their merits and appeal to me, but I am definitely looking for something new for my next Broadway outing.

You have also done many plays like Neil LaBute's The Heart of the Matter and The Performers. Was there a favorite?

The Performers will always have a big place in my heart.  I adored that cast and mostly loved being married to Ari of the best comic actresses I've ever worked with.  period.

Which film of those you appeared in did you enjoy the most?

I loved "A Beautiful Now" a film that came out last year with Abigail Spencer  ...  also,  I have a new movie coming out called “Bear With Us."  It's very comically broad, and I'm fully stealing Alec Baldwin's vocal cadences ... cuz,  I'm no dummy. There’s also "Hello Again" a live sung film musical, based on Michael John Lachiusa's piece that comes out next year.  It’s very experimental.  It will be interesting to see how it turns out.  Audra Macdonald and I share quite the love scene.  Look away, mom and dad.!  You've been warned.  

What happened to Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks? You were very good. It seemed to appear and then quickly disappear. It's a great flamboyant role for you.

The best thing to come out of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks was getting to work with Gena Rowlands.

Talk a bit about being the coach in Glee. What was that experience like?

That was a great, snarky part.  I joined that show on season 2 when it was a cultural phenom.  I'll save the juicy bits for my autobiography one day

Recount, if you would, a little about your part in American Horror Story.

I just finished my second season with them.  I love that troupe of actors.  Ryan Murphy consistently pushes the limits, and I've really enjoyed the challenges that the genre brings.

In 2012 you composed and released Drive. Are you still composing? How is it going?

From time to time.  I wrote a bit last month.  Right now I am in full daddy mode and loving every second.

Talk a little about your appearance with Michael Feinstein and the album that you did together.

I really enjoyed making that album with Michael.  He's a consummate pro.

How did you enjoy playing in and then recording West Side Story? Is that your favorite musical of all time?

It was the perfect experience at the perfect time in my life.  I am very proud of the album … and my first Grammy nomination.  It’s definitely one of my top 5 favorite musicals.

Tell me about what you will be singing in December with GMCLA. Just a tease for our readers without giving it all away.

I’ll be singing a couple of pieces that I feel will really fit right into the evening.  I' m excited to play with the GMCLA.  They always put on a gay old time, which is obviously the point.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

2016 Interview with Ron Laqui from Cirque du Soleil's TORUK

After a nearly sold out engagement at the Staples Center, November 11-13, the new Cirque du Soleil arena show inspired by James Cameron’s record-breaking movie AVATAR, TORUK – The First Flight returns to Los Angeles at The Forum for six performances only from January 12-15, 2017.  Pupeteer Ron Laqui entices us with details about the new show.

Tell me about working with Cirque du Soleil. How long have you been with them?

TORUK - The First Flight is my first Cirque du Soleil show. I started with the majority of artists in July of 2015. I actually first auditioned for Cirque du Soleil in 2001 and made it to their artist database in 2002. It was puppetry that finally got me to run away with the circus!

As a puppeteer, you obviously bring much imagination into the proceedings. Describe what is most magical about the puppets in TORUK.

The whole experience is magical. We puppeteers, and the creatures of Pandora we portray, are just one of the visually stunning and immersive elements of TORUK that draw audiences in and engage their senses. The entire arena floor becomes an otherworldly playground for the life size, full scale puppets and the level of design detail is so nuanced that it's easy for us puppeteers and the other artists onstage to believe we are on the moon Pandora.

Tell us about the story a little bit. It's before Avatar began, correct? How many puppet characters are new to us?

Yes! Our story takes place thousands of years before the events of the movie Avatar and details the adventures of some brave Na'vi youngsters and the first Toruk Makto. I don't want to give too much away... you'll have to see for yourself! Just know that if you are a fan of Cirque du Soleil and/or Avatar you will see a side of both that will thrill and surprise you. And yes, there are some new creatures that are new to the fans of Avatar. There are two new animal species approved by James Cameron himself.

When Cirque approached you in 2014 about TORUK, did they ask you to design the puppetry for the show?

No, the puppets are designed by Patrick Martel, who is based out of Montreal. One of the cool things about being involved with TORUK from creation is seeing how the show evolves. Cirque makes it a point to continue improving and honing the concept of the show to make it better. This is the same with the puppets. We continually seek to improve how the puppets are made so they can be the best tools for the puppeteers as artists to fully express the creatures of Pandora. I think my background in working in a puppet building studio helps me understand mechanics and materials better to assist in how the puppets get better. It really is a collaboration.

Talk a bit about War Horse and that whole wonderful experience.

War Horse was the production that set me down the road of puppeteering as a true artistic endeavor. I hadn't thought of myself as a puppeteer before War Horse and couldn't have dreamed of a better introduction to the world of full scale puppetry. Working with the designers (Handspring Puppet Company) of those incredible puppets and the creative and producing teams (National Theatre of Great Britain/ Bob Boyett) of the production was inspirational. It was a dream job I didn't even know I needed! It was one of those rare projects in an artist's life that are truly delightful and absolutely transformative.

You have a great musical background as a dancer and performer. When did you first get interested in being a puppeteer? Your musical background must help your performance a lot. Explain.

I've always loved puppets and puppeteering. I think I'm like a lot of people in that my first exposure to puppetry was through Jim Henson and the Muppets. I thought there was a magic in how much life and personality went into the Muppets. When I look back at companies that have caught my attention, (Mummenschanz, Imago out of Portland) and companies I've worked for (HT Chen and Dancers, MOMIX) I see glimpses of why puppetry is now my main focus. These companies have elements of technical physical training and extensive prop and object manipulation. I say that I kind of approached dance like puppetry in that I would 'puppeteer' my body. 

I trained in musical theatre because it was my main performance exposure and honestly, I thought it would yield the most employment, but looking back it was the best training because it gave solid background in how to marry physical technique, musicality, and expression in performance. 

Funny, if you would've told me as an aspiring artist in school that I'd have the career path I've had, I definitely would've thought you were crazy! It has been such an amazing journey and working for Cirque du Soleil and this show has been a culmination of so many dreams I didn't even know I had!

What for you sets Cirque du Soleil above every other circus? What makes them special?

Cirque du Soleil make dreams come to life. They use circus arts as a way into fantastic worlds of imagination. The incredible artists Cirque du Soleil uses, from the acrobats able to perform super human feats, to the designers who come up with the brilliant concepts and whimsical landscapes, to the artisans and technicians that physically create and maintain these visions, these talented people allow the audiences to wonder if they are still in everyday reality and if you think about it, they are not. The millions of people that have seen a Cirque du Soleil show have been transported to these universes of ingenuity and fantasy and have left forever changed. It's an honor to be part of this company and this show and to give people a taste of what  they never thought was possible. 

Tickets are now on sale at 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

2016 Interview with Morgan Fairchild

Veteran film and TV actress Morgan Fairchild needs no introduction. She has been working for the past 40+ years, always recognizable as the glamorous blonde vixen from such series as Flamingo Road, Paper Dolls and Falcon Crest, as well as the soap Search For Tomorrow. Now about ready to start rehearsals for the Lythgoe Family's Christmas Panto, called A Cinderella Christmas at the Pasadena Playhouse, bowing December 8, Fairchild took time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about the role she is playing and her career. Has she been happy or does she long to change her sexy image?

What role are you playing in the show? 

I'm playing Cinderella's wicked stepmother, the one who makes her work so hard!

Sounds like a natural fit. Are you having fun?

I was hoping for the good fairy godmother, but my previous evil characters seem to have guided the casting!!! Wicked, I can do falling off a log, so this should be great fun!!!  Hope my singing isn't too embarrassing next to the wonderfully talented young cast.

Have you ever done a panto before or is this the first time? 

No, I've never done a panto before, and I'm really looking forward to it!

What do you think of the style? Is it easy or difficult to play?

I haven't started rehearsals yet, so I'm not quite sure how it all goes, but I hear from everyone that it's great fun!  And I certainly intend to have more fun than anyone!!  I'm sure I'll be quite silly! 

So happy to see you recently in a cable movie. You played a bitchy boss. Do you get tired of these roles?

I'm so glad you liked Perfect On Paper, the Hallmark movie you referenced.  I've been lucky to work all my life as an actress, so I never turn down a good part.  However, it's true!  I have played a lot of bad girls. To tell the truth, they are usually the most fun.  Although, I'd still love to play a doctor or a paleontologist  - that's what I wanted to be when I was growing up...and I still think I'd be good. 

What is your ideal role? 

A doctor, lawyer, senator.  I do have hopes, that as I get older, producers will give me a chance to expand even more.  AND I LOVE doing comedy.

Do you have a favorite TV show/film from the past that you appeared in? If so, which one and why this choice?

I have several shows that I particularly loved.  Mork and Mindy, because I so loved Robin and loved working with him. I always love being part of anything new and cutting edge, and it certainly was that in 1978. Paper Dolls, because I loved my character, Racine, and her dark humor - and I loved the writing on that one a lot! Friends, because I loved the sexy, funny way they wrote for me, as a woman who was no longer a kid.  Always great material and terrific one-liners on that show! Falcon Crest, because it was the first time the adult repercussions of incest were shown in prime time, and because I got to have the fabulous John McMartin play my father. I had adored him in Follies, still my favorite Broadway show, which I saw at least a dozen times. And, of course, the film Pee Wee's Big Adventure. We had such fun on that one!!  I think it was Tim Burton's first movie!

I saw you do Crimes of the Heart at the Falcon Theatre a few years back and you were very good. You should do more stage work in LA 

I'm so glad you liked me in Crimes of the Heart. Loved that part!  Garry Marshall called and asked me to do it for him (he was directing, too) and I couldn't say no, after the breaks he gave me on Happy Days and Mork and Mindy.  Beth Henley (the playwright) came to see it, too, and seemed to love it.  At least she was kind enough to say she did.

I started in the theater when I was 10, so I grew up in that medium.  I always do projects that interest me, like Geniuses  (directed by Gerry Gutierrez) at Playwrights Horizons, or a national tour of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (directed by Fritz Holt) - both in the 80s. I did a national tour of The Graduate in '04-'05 that was very well received (#1 touring play of the year) and 2 years ago I did a run of Murder Among Strangers at The New Theatre in Kansas City.  Oddly enough, I had opened the first theater those producers had in Kansas City with a tour of Last of the Red Hot Lovers in '72!!  And I'm heading back next spring to do Dixie Swim Club at New Theatre.

I still think The Seduction (1982) is one of the sexiest movies and that your work in it was terrific. Any memories of this or feelings about it as you look back?

Thanks so much for the kind words about The Seduction.  It was kind of ground-breaking for the time.  First time a stalker fan story was done (I was told) and first time the "girl" turned the tables and chased HIM with a shotgun.   Although, after chasing him through the whole house with that gun, and missing him numerous times, I told the director that NO ONE could miss him that many times ... with a shotgun.  It was getting embarrassing, for a Texan!

As a sexy blonde, do you feel you can never get past that image or are you OK with it? Or would you rather play a good character role like a tough alcoholic mother?

Oh, I would LOVE to play something else, too, but I'm grateful to have had a whole career being the evil vamp.  There are certainly worse ways to make a living!  I love doing comedy, too, so I've been able to combine the "sexy" part and the "comedy" part to good ends.  But it would always be nice to play more varied parts.  That's what all actors want.  Always looking!!
Glenn Francis of

Whom do you enjoy watching onscreen? From the old crop of actors? From the newer crop?

I always love anything with Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant,  Clark Gable, etc.  I was fortunate enough to work and become friends with Bette Davis, Natalie Wood, Jane Wyman, Roddy McDowell, Vincent Price, Patrick McGoohan, among others.  Of the current actors, I admire Tom Hardy, Jeremy Northam, Colin Firth, Julianne Nicholson, Sarah Paulson, Jennifer Ehle, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith (who I got see onstage several times and was blown away back in the '70s-'80s)

Anything you care to add?

I would just like to add that when I was starting out, I was often the youngest one in the cast.  I was always so grateful to the stars and pros that took me under their wings and were kind to me.  Now that I'm the "older one", I hope to always be the "kind friend" the younger ones remember fondly.  Theater has it's own special camaraderie, and it's wonderful to create those new relationships on a new show. I'm really looking forward to that on this one!!  

A Cinderella Christmas plays Tuesdays – Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 12:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sundays at 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.; Special matinees -- Friday, December 23 at 3:00 p.m.; Monday, December 26 at 3:00 p.m., Wednesday, December 28 at 3:00 p.m. and Friday, December 30 at 3:00 p.m.; Wednesday, January 4 at 3:00 p.m. and Thursday, January 5 at 3:00 p.m. (No performances December 25 and January 1.)  Online sales and information --   Phone  -- 626-356-7529

Monday, November 14, 2016

2016 Interview with Doug Engalla

Director Doug Engalla joined the Group Rep in 1997, and also began his association with
Playwright Phil Olson that same year. Since then, Doug co-produced Olson's A Nice Family Gathering in 2000, and has been involved in most of the Don't Hug Me World Premiere productions, including directing three of its five world premieres, A Don't Hug Me County Fair; Don't Hug Me, I'm Pregnant; and Don't Hug Me, We're Married. This year, he directed the Group Rep's second revival of A Nice Family Gathering, with an African-American cast. During the day, Doug works for Walt Disney Animation Studios as a custodian of the Studio's animation art legacy, and as an observer of Disney Animation's unique process of storytelling.

Written by Steve Peterson

What was your first directing job and what did you learn from that experience?

My first directing job was for the Fremont Community Theatre in Northern California, on a revival of Neil Simon’s first play, Come Blow Your Horn.  It was during the late 1970s, and I thought it would be more relevant if I updated some aspects of Simon’s 1961 script to fit the culture and mores of the late 70s. But, the lesson I took from that experience, was to always respect the text and to trust that the audience will take any relevance that they saw fit.  I never did that again, unless I was approached to try something nontraditional.

You’ve worked with playwright Phil Olson on several of his plays – mostly world premieres.  Do you also contribute in the creative process of the development of the play, and if so – in what way?

I’ve been invited to attend a number of table reads, especially for those in the Don’t Hug Me series. We sometimes have a “day after” chat, to evaluate the feedback he’s received. During the rehearsal process, Phil will phone me up before a rehearsal and try out some rewrites, to see how I respond to them; and he is present at nearly every rehearsal, which is a great way to make sure we’re doing justice to what he’s written, as well as to his intent of the story and the characters.

What do you like about working with Phil?

Well, I was always taken with the rhythm of Phil’s writing, and I have an affinity for his comedic sensibilities. I think we have a lot of that in common, though it’s not uncommon for one of us to take the other’s idea to the next level, especially if it can make the moment funnier. When it comes to putting on one of his plays, we’re literally co-directors, and in that way, almost like traveling companions on this journey. Phil had referred to me as his honorary Minnesota brother, and I take that as quite a compliment.

For many years, you’ve worked at Walt Disney Studios.  What is your current job there, and what does it entail?

I’m coming up on celebrating 27 years with the Walt Disney Studios, and specifically, with Walt Disney Animation. I do have the distinct honor of helping to archive and to preserve the production art that goes into making the Studio’s theatrical animated features and shorts, for the purposes of Studio reference as well as for publications and exhibitions. It’s a pretty unusual job to be having at all, and for so long, at that; yet working around the filmmakers at the Animation Studio has taught me a great deal about telling a story clearly and without clutter. I would say that their process informs me on how I approach a directing project, based on the clean and relatively simple through line of their stories. 

A Nice Family Christmas is described as a family holiday comedy, with some drama.  What do you want the audience to take away from the play?

In addition to being entertained, I'd like the audience to feel that we all have a family to which we belong, whether related or not, but who are like family in our hearts.  And, after the show, I would want the audience to go home to their loved ones, give them a hug, and tell them how much they’re loved and appreciated- - before it’s too late to tell them.

Is there anything else you want us to know about you, or about the play?

This play came along at an interesting time for me personally, as my Mom celebrated a milestone birthday this year. Though there are differences culturally – my family is of Filipino descent - my own Mom shares something in common with the character ‘Mom,’ both of whom have faced their share of challenges, and who ultimately want family to be happy together. When I recently asked my Mom if there was anything she wanted our family to remember, she simply said, “Just be good to each other, take care of each other, and love each other, always.”

What’s up next for you?

Over at Disney Animation, I’m pretty thrilled about our next feature film, “Moana;” which opens Thanksgiving weekend. As for a next theatre project, I’m hoping to work on a women’s ensemble play, as well as develop a possible revival of one of Phil Olson’s past published plays for the Group Rep, although nothing is set yet.

For info about A Nice Family Christmas, visit:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

2016 Interview with Marc Kudisch

Actor Marc Kudisch has been nominated for many Tony Awards, including Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Thoroughly Modern Millie and 9 to 5: The Musical. A first time director he has just completed an enormously successful engagement of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for 3-D Theatricals. In our brief  chat he ruminates about this success and relates the experience to other productions of Joseph in which he has performed.

Marc, I understand that this is not your first association with Joseph. Tell us about your Broadway debut in the revival of the show in 1993/94.

has been a part of my life since the time that I was a young kid, and my rabbi would call me his young Joseph, and gave me a shirt of many colors, which upset the rest of the kids at Hebrew school, and I got beat up for it! I love the musical of Joseph before I even understood what a musical was, as it was played in my house at Passover year after year. So to have that be my Broadway debut was really special, and to be a part of the creation of the version of Joseph that we all know today made it really fun to come back and direct now. 

How does it feel to step into the director's shoes with the show? As a first-time director of a pre-existing show, you certainly are an asset to the production as you know the show and what is expected of the actors in it. So, what were your existing challenges?

The only challenge I ever see as any kind of a creator,  be it actor, director, producer, writer, etc. is getting beyond the assumptions of what an audience is wanting; risking, going for the unexpected, trusting the audience is always going to be smarter than we give them credit for. Specifically with Joseph, the show is always been done as a camp, as a farce, and the performances always play into the pastiche or parody of each musical moment. As a creator, I always like to go to the "what if" of the situation; in the case of Joseph, instead of playing into the parody of each musical moment, I wanted to use the parody, use the pastiche to continue to tell story, letting the story always be first, letting the story drive the reason for the musical moments. Joseph is a much deeper story, more than most people give it credit for; it's a simple story yes but simple does not mean easy. So in truth, the greater challenge came to those that were the actors in the show, to go beyond what they typically see Joseph being, and trusting in telling a very truthful story. 

Why do you think that Joseph is still popular after all these years? Is it the story and the way that it is told theatrically?

has great music, fun and varied styles and is a classic fable that many different faiths share. It's also fun, about family, about's why the story and show will ALWAYS be popular. 

How does 3-D Theatricals' production of Joseph differ from most? Anything new that our Los Angeles audiences will see?

How we tell the story, our particular point of view is almost completely new, so almost everything will be fresh to audiences that have seen it before. It's very story-centric, and I wanted it to feel like a Cecil B DeMille film come to life. How we handle the pastiche, how we interpret Joseph's's all our own conceit. 

Talk about your cast, creative team and working for 3-D overall. How is it directing your wife Shannon Lewis?

It's been great working with 3D; they're a young company with great passion and ambition, and what they've accomplished in 5-6 short years in the Southern California community is astounding. As well as working with the local talent,which is fantastic and really diverse. It's important for the community to support local theatre!!!!! It's why Shannon and I were so excited to come out here and help premiere 3D's first venture at Cerritos. As for working with Shannon, she's brilliant. Super smart, very in touch with her own unique voice as a choreographer and storyteller, I couldn't have achieved this Joseph without her. 

As a performer, do you have an all-time favorite musical? What is it? Why this particular one? 

Don't have one; my good fortune has been to be a part of the creation of many… and hopefully, many more to come. 

So you have a favorite composer? Why this choice?

Michael John LaChiusa. I have a long standing relationship of creation with him. My proudest musical moments have been with him. He's the best storyteller I know; he lives in the heart and the head constantly, and mines the tension of that existence for all it's worth. I work in the same way I think. 

You have done many musicals as an actor. What makes musicals more difficult to perform than straight plays?

A play is a vacation compared to a musical!! I'm joking, but also not. The physical strain of speaking, singing, dancing all in one evening, working in 3 vernaculars of storytelling, constantly being sensitive to how the "voce" is's exhausting. A few years back I was doing Hamlet at Yale Rep. I was Claudius and the Ghost; it was the dead of an incredibly cold winter; the entire cast was sick and coughing, and I said, "Thank god it's just Hamlet; if it were a musical, we'd all be screwed". 

Do you yearn to play any special role that you have not tackled thus far? What is it? Why?

Honestly, my career has been largely as a creator, my favorite roles I've played didn't exist untiI I played them. It's been my good fortune up til now. I hope that good fortune will continue ‘til I decide performing is done....

Monday, October 17, 2016

2016 Interview with Sam Anderson

The Road Theatre on Magnolia is proud to present a special Los Angeles engagement of Edward Albee’s The Play about The Baby, which opened Friday, September 16. Each week we will spotlight a member of the cast or creative team of the play.

This week the spotlight is on award-winning actor, director Sam Anderson, a veteran member of the Road and co-artistic director.

What character do you play and how does he serve Albee’s vision?
I play MAN. I drive and guide the evening’s “entertainment,” all designed to get the other 3 characters down to the raw truth as I see it.

What is it like to do an Albee play?
It’s an amazing and bittersweet experience. Albee pushes the actor to the limits, and it’s like going to a master class every time we do it. Having him pass away on the day of our opening was something I’m still trying to process, but every time we perform it, I hope we are honoring him and doing him proud.

What is the message of The Play About the Baby?
I believe this piece has so much to do with innocence and experience and how people deal with loss, how each of us has our own “reality,” our own way of seeing the world, and how blind we are, how stuck in certain areas or ways of thinking, how the past affects the present, and how we mourn it once it passes.

What have you done to prepare?
Tough question. I read his wonderful biography by Mel Gussow. I thought a lot about vaudeville, and the theatre of cruelty, and I remembered from an interview that Albee said all of his plays in one way or another were about parenting.

What are audiences taking away?

It’s been so gratifying to listen to people discuss the show after, and like the cast, to accept you are not going to get all the answers wrapped up in a neat little bow, but there’s something to take away from it for every single person. I also love hearing the feedback that above all, audiences are really entertained by it and fascinated with it. I applaud their willingness to take it on its own terms.

2016 Interview with Scott Rognlien

Scott Rognlien (Adaptor/Director/Producer) will have a world premiere of his latest work, VONNEGUT, USA running October 14 – November 20, at the Atwater Village Theatre in Los Angeles, CA.  The work is an adaptation of five Vonnegut short stories presented as one continuous 90 minute piece. Members of The Next Arena, a theatre company founded by Scott and friends, are performing in and producing the six week run.  

Scott’s work as a director has been seen in Chicago, England, Central Oregon, and Los Angeles.  With The Next Arena, Scott directed No Exit, We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!, The Angry Guy in the Pink Hat and the critically acclaimed Von Bach.  Also with TNA, he adapted and performed Vladimir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading for the stage.  Scott is the Artistic Director and a founding member of The Next Arena, and is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Performance Studies Department.

Written by Steve Peterson

How and when did you first become interested in Performance Art?

I studied at Northwestern University in their Performance Studies department.  Early on I adapted an excerpt from TS Eliot's The Wasteland and was instantly hooked on interpretive forms of performance.  There were so many directions one could go with this style of performance that I became fascinated with finding new ways to tell live stories that went beyond what I had been taught about traditional theatre.

It’s a lot of work starting a theatre company.  What was the reason or purpose of starting The Next Arena?  How did you go about finding members interested in joining a new company with an eclectic mission?

Mostly it was friends that were actors and writers that I knew from college that wanted to start the company.  Like most young artists in LA, we were all looking for creative work to do while we were waiting for the phone to ring.  By doing plays, we were able to choose our own material and do the work exactly how we wanted.  The level of control with theatre is great as it's relatively inexpensive and it's a wonderful collaborative effort.  We started creating our own material early on and that became our main goal as we got better at producing shows.  This way we could develop a production all the way from top to bottom.

What was it about Kurt Vonnegut’s writing or short stories that caught your attention?

I think it’s Vonneguts’s  narrative voice that attracted me most of all.  His themes and characters are wonderful and capture a great picture of humanity, but the way he tells the story has always been my favorite part.  He commentates.  He jumps around in time. Sometimes he even shows up in the stories himself.  I always feel like this tall, lanky fella decided to sit down and personally tell me stories.  It's a very intimate experience to read his stories.

 How did you go about developing the piece?

Once I found the 5 stories I wanted to use in the piece, I set about putting them together in various ways over the course of a number of drafts.  I would have readings with our company members where they would give me notes and suggestions.  We also had an informal stage reading of one of the more recent drafts where audience members weighed in on the piece.  These stages of development were integral to helping me figure out how to tell the stories in a cohesive and streamlined way.

What was the biggest challenge bringing this project to fruition?

There were many challenges in trying to connect 5 different stories into one continuous piece of theatre, but the biggest challenge for me as the adaptor was to live up to Kurt's visions and words.  I had to write some original dialog and sequences to connect the worlds of the stories and I tried to emulate his style as best I could.  It's a big, unique voice to live up to and I always hoped he would be happy with the final result.

What do you want the audience 'take away’ to be?

I hope that those who haven't read much, if any, Vonnegut will be motivated to go out and read more of his work.  His messages and themes are so timeless and wise and so beautifully human.  This play in particular highlights stories of progress, both industrial and social.  The 1950s and early 60s were a time of great change in America.  I hope audience members come away with an appreciation for the ups and downs of that time, and how it affected humans at a very basic level.  These themes still resonate today.

VONNEGUT, USA runs October 14 – November 20 at Atwater Village Theatre. For tickets and information or call  323-805-9355                                                                                                         

Thursday, October 13, 2016

2016 Interview with Ana Isabel O

"The Aye" is adapted from Ana Isabel Ordonez’s "The Extraordinary Love Story of Aye Aye and Fedor." The choreography comes together in a sparkling fusion of music, dance and narration which was performed last week Friday October 7 in Cape Town South Africa by the Jazz Dance Theatre with Sifiso Kweyama as choreographer. The shows honored Nobel Peace Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, in celebration of his 85th birthday, and with the opening choreography for the annual Peace Conference in Cape Town. This was the world premiere of the show. The book has been translated into four languages and has graced the shelves of the Beijing and Frankfurt book fairs. The dance theatre version was seen for the first time by South African audiences. The Aye is quite simply a magical show, featuring a fantastic set, a superb jazz-rock score, inspired choreography and mischievous masks hand made in South Africa by La Carla Masks. Before the event author Ana Isabel O discussed elements of the show for our readers. She offers an in depth description of the CDs of the show that include narration and music. She also expresses her beautiful feelings about Palestine and Nelson Mandela's cry for freedom there.

Explain the story briefly and how it has been adapted to the stage.

The dance theatre extravaganza depicts a beautiful and magical love story between two threatened animals, a lemur Aye Aye and a white lion Fedor--each of whom define the term "opposites attract" in a fantastic universe called the Musical Forest. The narrative is enhanced and fleshed-out via weighty, emotive roles for the dancers.

The Story/Ballet is magical; just imagine : midnight. Not a sound in the jungle. Suddenly an explosion of music and lights reveals a larger-than-life wildlife experience. Lights tear across the bush landscape catching the darting image of an animal reaching a unique place, the Musical Forest. It is a special moment when all animals in the story are reunited, finally free. They have escaped from a zoo with the courageous help of a lemur, Aye Aye, inspired by her love for Fedor who bravely reunites all animals who are now allowed to celebrate who they are. The story has a happy ending, thanks to the courage and quick thinking of Aye Aye and Fedor. In this set they and the other animals of the Musical Forest emerge, dancing to express their unique abilities and special traits. All the animals begin to reveal themselves and their wisdom. It is the contemplation of this gift that keeps these animals deep in thought.

In future events you will find the same book adapted by the Martha Graham Dance Company in New York with choreographer Virginie Mécène.

Are you excited about the prospect of seeing these sweet adorable stories come to life?

I'm happy and contented with what life gives me. This show is cause for inner celebration; I’m in the process of re-wiring my brain and seeing different outcomes from different situations or portrayals from the past. These children’s stories are important for me; they’re like my secret place, my secret garden where I'm secure and safe; I can be there only with whom I trust, the objects of my interest are many like fire, earth, water, air, plants, animals and the parts of animals, the physical universe, the essence, the universal ideas connected. Every performance is exciting to me, but I'm a shy person. I prefer my secret garden; it’s simple, joyful like a playground.

When the background for the show was recorded, 2 CDs were made: one, narration and the other, music. Talk first about the narration-who was chosen to narrate - tell me about his background in the arts, what he accomplished or brought to the stories and how satisfied you are with the results.

The narration was recorded in New York City. I chose Dean Bowman; he's my dear friend. I love what he does and who he is inside and out. A real pro! He's amazing, known and praised worldwide for his angelic voice. He began singing in church and has worked in both gospel and jazz styles. Dean regularly performs all around the world. I believe my tale and ballet captures Dean in an intimate performance that showcases his smooth, honey voice and winning delivery. His narration of my love tale/poetry never sounds phony or forced and the tale itself exemplifies directly such an authenticity. I want to say that the love story of two threatened animals is a wonderful tool I use to express feelings. It conveys functions, pattern, pulse, rhyme and structure. Using a simple language one can show the way beings bond and express emotion and encourage imagination as well as story-telling. I want to see what the dancers can express with their bodies, and the music I believe is wonderful.

The narration is essential, like singing has many surprising benefits for children and audiences. However, the meaning of music or dance is not dependent on language. The first response to music is through the movement of the body. Like singing, on children’s stories, narration is an aerobic exercise and that Dean can do, man he can do it very well! On my work at the kids school in Mitchell's Plain Township I have observed that reading and singing together improve children's behavior. It helps them bond – whatever the song or languages are. They can express their feelings of joy or excitement, of being scared or proud. Musical activity involves many different parts of the brain, so narration and listening (which involves music and language) help develop these areas. To me the importance is on movement and dance. Watching children and adults listen to music is a crucial part of assessing their understanding and tolerance, and we see at such times a foot keeping time or hands dancing or sometimes a look of quiet wonder. By communicating freely with voice, face, and body Dean expresses ideas with confidence, empathizes with others with his beautiful voice, people from different cultures and backgrounds. Voice, music and dance help us to become more imaginative, self-aware and collaborative global citizens. Sounds like I'm satisfied, right? (laughing)

Now do the same with the music. Who composed the music, what it is like, how it varies in composition and style from section to section, and whether you are happy with it.

The music was composed by Dutch pianist Michiel Braam. The definitive recorded version is performed by eBraam which includes drummer Dirk-Peter Kölsch, guitarists Pieter Douma and Jorg Lehnardt, and harpist Ulrike von Meyer.

I had the opportunity to work with the composer many years ago for my "Touch of Noir" project and the Bad Big City Band we formed for it. I recalled that good moment and requested him to compose the music to be used solely for my project and for ballet. I own the copyright of that music and the cds are released on my label; they cannot be released or reissued elsewhere. Michiel is the Director of the Jazz Pop Music and Dance Department in Niemejen, Netherlands. An absolute maverick on the piano and in his compositions, he's frequently seen in jazz festivals and jazz clubs the world round. The Aye album features his eBraam performing Braam's own jazz-rock compositions written specially for my ballet: "Introduction," "Aye Aye At Work." "Small Meets Big," "Prison vs Dreamy Freedom," "Restful Peaceful," "Bad Weather," "Enclosure To Enclosure," "Escape," "Happy March," and "Love". Braam manages to inject his infectious skill and enthusiasm into the sequences to make every track fresh and cheerful. Each one is given a nice tempo treatment in a breezy ride from start to finish. Dean adds his share of the soothsayer's touch to the whole endeavor, and his work is surely a highlight of it all.

The music was recorded, edited, mixed and mastered by Sebastiaan van Bijleveld for Galloway Studio in Niemejen, Netherlands.

Will the narrator be seen on a screen or will it just be his voice that is heard?

Not this time and not for the Martha Graham either. You know?... the cd is out...may be in the future...I’m thinking on a performance in Arabic. I love that language. It’s not new stuff. I lived some months in Marrakech with a man I fell in love with a very well known chefBernard Guilhaudin ex chef Tour d'Argent, but at that moment he was working at a Palace called la Mamounia. We traveled all around Maroc even to the dessert close to Ourzazate. I love Arabian culture. They were long time mixed with the Spanish culture until the Inquisition… well that’s another story...anyway I never forgot how enchanting were the sounds early in the mornings and those odours in the zouk, the dance and poetry; so many beautiful things that later I found again in Palestine where lives the most spiritual person, a beautiful soul and great professional in his area; so yeah, I’m thinking on doing something magic but it has to be unique so I need time to brew in my head. Isn't it interesting all of this? Nelson Mandela always said that South Africa's freedom will always be incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians. That’s very important to me.

I have approached Jeanette Bougrab, who I really admire a lot, saw her in Helsinki and we had this idea for Monseigneur; it couldn't happen with her but I hope other ideas come true either with her or with other persons. I was also approached by Richard Attias and associates; we lost touch in December. I'm not very good keeping up with people; I kind of drive my camel alone (laugh loud). The museum of Monseigneur Tutu needs benefactors. I hope all come true. Though France is my country, the place where I could be what I am now, the country that gave me everything, I consider myself a woman without roots and that my friend is fabulous because I belong to other galaxies. I think wherever I can carry joy and a compassionate heart, things can work out. When I find lies and manipulations I just turn my back. I have no time for negativity in my life. The Musical Forest has only positive vibes, babe! (cracking laughter here)

The presentation of “The Aye Show” in honor of Desmond Tutu’s 85th Birthday on October 7 was sold out and a huge success. There will be an encore appearance to celebrate Unsung Heroes Day November 15. Stay tuned!