Friday, March 25, 2016

2016 Interview with Irish Actress Lisa Dwan

Irish actress Lisa Dwan, the premier interpreter of Samuel Beckett, is about to step down from the position this spring, but before she does, she will make  an appearance with the Beckett Trilogy at the The Broad Stage in Santa Monica in April.

Why is this the first time that all 3 plays have been performed together?

Well I guess one reason is that Not I is rarely performed and Footfalls has never been performed by one actress playing both roles of Mother (off stage) and May (on stage), and to my knowledge no other actress has tried to perform all three roles in one evening. Up until I tried it, I didn't even think it was possible. 

What do you feel is the single, most urgent theme that runs through Beckett's plays?

Gosh one single theme?!.. Well if I have to squeeze all the sentiment, the ideas, the layers and depth into one single theme, I think DEFIANCE is a good place to start.  Beckett celebrates the very human spirit of I can't go on, I must go on, I'll go on. 

Do you have a favorite of the 3 you're performing? If so, why?

All three are so different and require so much and each have different rewards. Not I is so physically and intellectually taxing but so exhilarating and liberating at the same time, I discover new and profound almost spiritual depths every time I perform Footfalls, and Rockaby's simple compelling poetry grabs me by the throat each time, examining loneliness and yet the honest sharing of this experience and the connection it has with the audience makes me feel less alone.

What do you think audiences are attracted to in Beckett's plays? Is it the harsh reality of the human condition? It is often said that Americans are hooked on violence. Do you think this element is universal?

For me the big attraction is the type of truth Beckett puts on the stage and the fact he isn't selling it to us. He isn't selling us anything, As Pinter puts it "he isn't standing over us with his hand over his heart", There's no polemic, pr or worthy preachiness and I'm so grateful to him for that. He simply puts his finger on his own wounds and in that gentle dark space he leaves us room to find our own. He pays his audience a great compliment. 

Do you feel that Beckett manages to entertain while getting out his message? How does he do that?

The great news about Beckett is that he's not out to entertain, there are no stories on sale here nor does he have an explicit message. As a result we observe the human condition and it’s that profound and real recognition that have us weeping and laughing at the desperate hilarity of our situation.

Talk in depth about Billie Whitelaw, as an actress and human being, and how she helped you.

When Billie Whitelaw spoke, she did so with the arresting gravitas that only someone of profound integrity can. She never minced her words, she was direct, never suffering fools, but she was also disarmingly open, extremely generous and often seemed so emotionally vulnerable as someone who seemed to live life without their skin on. This is precisely why Samuel Beckett loved her.

Despite being a child star Billie had no formal training as an actor. She was therefore a very instinctual artist with a fierce commitment that came direct from the gut. She fearlessly stretched her private landscape around Beckett’s creatures and Beckett drew as much from hers as his own. Their names will always be intertwined as one of the greatest theatre partnerships: a towering master of European theatre and his muse.
Billie Whitelaw
I know that I am only able to perform these late Beckett roles, especially the mouth-only piece Not I, because Billie Whitelaw did. Even before I got to know her, she made that possible. Like Roger Bannister who broke the four-minute mile, Billie’s performance also broke a psychological barrier by turning the famously “unlearnable” and “unplayable” into theatrical tours de force, thus granting those of us who dare to follow in her wake the confidence that it was possible.

But it was Billie alone who was the pioneer of the most innovative theatre of the 20th century. I first met her in 2006 a few months after my first performance of Not I in London. Edward Beckett attended one of those performances and over a Guinness with me afterwards suggested that it might be finally worthwhile to meet her, now that I’d “found my own way”. Up until that point neither of us had ever met anyone who had played Not I, and we greeted each other like two long-lost war veterans. We immediately swapped our trench stories of how we trained our mouths and diaphragms to speak at the speed of thought without moving a millimetre out of the meagre pinprick of light that allows just the lips alone to be seen.

Once she collapsed during rehearsals and Sam rushed over to her saying “Billie, Billie, what have I done to you? What have I done?” Coming to, she replied, “I really don’t know how to answer that Sam.” “Never mind,” he said, “back you go.”

“I would have walked on glass for that man,” Billie admitted. A year after our first meeting she called me out of the blue. “I want to give you his notes, I have to give you his notes ...” Now I had no idea that I would ever play this role again, so I wasn’t quite sure what had me standing in Billie’s kitchen later that afternoon. I thought she might take out and dust off an old rehearsal manuscript, but instead she told me to sit down at the table and “Begin!” As I started speaking she sat directly opposite and began waving her hand, conducting me. I later learned that was exactly what Beckett had done to her, across her kitchen table.Billie lifted the lid on all of his well-worn notes, especially his instruction Don’t Act: “No colour”. She was adamant not to let me emulate her performance or veer towards a surface “Beckett-style” reproduction, but wanted instead for the work to connect deep within the performer. She explained that Beckett dealt with such truths that he had no room for an actor’s craft. He did want emotion, only he wanted all of it – the real stuff, the guts – not some polished fool’s gold. Like a diviner carrying an ancient wisdom she tirelessly helped me and all of us who encountered her to search deep within. She taught me that truth has a sound, a timbre. I will always be in her debt for this. And, of course, for her parting northern wisdom: “Just get on with it.”

What do you hope audiences will take away with them from this newly organized evening?

The most I can hope for is that people will have a personal visceral experience and not an intellectual one. Beckett can be chewed to pieces in the mouths of academics, leaving us to absorb the leftovers, but in fact Beckett wanted his work to play on the nerves of his audience and not on their intellect. Ultimately I would love even just for a few people that when they close their eyes and think about theatre that they remember this show. If it can stay alive in the imagination of just a few long after its performance I would be very very happy. 

With such fantastic reviews, why are you leaving Beckett's work this spring? 

All good things must come to an end. I've been performing these works for over 11 years now and I really have to hang up the lips at least as its wreaking havoc on my neck and my body as well as the strain of putting myself into a nightly state of trauma for such a long and sustained time. I'd like to be able to walk away from this work in one piece. However I'm not done with Beckett and I don't suppose he's done with me and I'm preparing to work on two of his prose pieces one of which with open in the Old Vic Theatre in September and the other I hope to work on in America as I've just got a green card and am planning to make New York my home.

Has this been the greatest challenge of your acting career? How?

It has been the greatest challenge but also the greatest privilege. There is no other experience that has stretched me so much intellectually, physically, psychologically, emotionally and imaginatively.  There is no greater gift as a woman than having the issue of your body removed and being given the freedom to inhabit a role like this, where to be - is to be a slice of life, being paid the compliment  to be consciousness itself from womb to tomb. Wow.. It's very hard to go back to being a petty little bite size cardboard cutout character from the chambers of a frightened limited mind. Women's roles still haven't graduated that far from the three main sexist gears..The bitch, the psycho and the bimbo. We wait in hope..but godot, we've waited a long time.

Plays Thursday, April 7 at 7:30pm; Friday, April 8 at 7:30pm; Saturday, April 9 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm; and Sunday, April 10 at 2:00pm. The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage is at 1310 11th St. in Santa Monica. Parking is free
Box Office at 310.434.3200

Thursday, March 17, 2016

2016 Interview with Actress Amy Tolsky

by Steve Peterson

AMY TOLSKY is a popular character actress currently working in theatre, film and television. Her credits include Regional Theatre:South Coast Repertory. L.A.Theatre: Mud Blue Sky (The Road), The Importance of Being Earnest (Theatre Banshee);Table Manners, Nicholas Nickleby (Theatre 40);I Love Lucy Live Onstage (Greenway Court);City of Angels; Theatre@Boston Court;Antaeus; The Odyssey;PRT. Film:“Please Stand By”;“Fishes ‘n Loaves:Heaven Sent”; “The Tiger Hunter”,“Eat With Me”.  Television: “Crowded”;“Shameless”; “Code Black”;“Married”;“Castle”;“2 Broke Girls”;“Parks and Recreation”; “Big Bang Theory”;“Jeeves and Wooster”. Internet:“You’ve Probably Dated My Mom”.   

When did you first become interested in acting/performing?

I first encountered the acting bug in High School. I saw an audition notice for the student-run variety show, decided to audition with very low expectations and was shocked that I was chosen for the production. I went on to act, direct and crew in a dozen more productions during my high school years including lead roles in Pippin (Leading Player) and Mame (Agnes Gooch).

Who were your mentors along the way (who encouraged you)?

My high school drama teacher, Bob Johnson, was an excellent theatre director and a real taskmaster. He demanded a lot from us kids and we did everything we could to please him. He was pretty realistic about the business and warned me that it wouldn’t be an easy road. However, he sent me on my way with a copy of Michael Shurtleff’s   Audition books when I told him my plans to pursue theatre in college. After receiving my BFA from the University of Illinois, I went on to live in England for thirteen years where I was one of the founding members of Absolute Theatre Company.  Today, my incredibly supportive husband is my number one fan.  He was an actor and understands the trials of the actor’s journey.

Tell us a bit about the play BABY OH BABY. 

It’s a comedic look at two half-sisters whose biological clocks are ticking and are faced with the usual problems of wanting things in life that they don’t have and fretting how to get them. The action of the play takes place in one day, and there are farcical elements when the girls encounter a few interesting folks who come knocking on their door.

What was it about the character of Bella that called out to you?

Doing theatre usually offers more for an actor to chew on than some of the television roles and commercials we work on to pay the bills.  It was an exciting prospect to do a lead role with a lot of range and work on a naturalistic, contemporary piece playing a fully realized character that people could empathize with. She’s a good person who has given up when it comes to herself, but is a hopeless romantic and has found a way to help others.  I was also happy to play a British character as a way of reconnecting with my past. I have a great fondness for my time in England and miss my British mates dearly.

What do you think the audience might take away from having seen the play?

A fun time with lots of giggles! The characters are realistic and I think the audience will easily root for them and hope that they find their way and overcome their challenges in life.

What’s up next for you?

I’m guest starring on the new NBC show called “Crowded”
which premieres March 20th. My episode is called “Daughter” and will air sometime in May. I also worked on a few feature films that should be coming out in the next year or so, “The Tiger Hunter” with Danny Pudi and Jon Heder, “Fishes ‘n Loaves: Heaven Sent” with Dina Meyer, Dominique Swain and Bruce Davison and “Please Stand By” with Dakota Fanning and Toni Collette.

Is there anything you’d like us to know about the play or you that we might not have asked?

It’s really interesting to work on a play from its inception--to be able to help shape the story and tweak the dialogue with the writer/director. It can be a challenge doing theatre in L.A. with scheduling issues and cast changes and we have had a few of those since we did the initial reading in September! We do have a great group of people, though, and I think it’ll be a fun ride. We have another interesting challenge in playing only Saturday nights for twelve weeks. It’s a long commitment and how will we maintain momentum? That is the question! I’m also curious to see what will happen with the documentary aspect of this production(“From Page to Stage”)!

BABY OH BABY runs Saturdays at 8:00 PM, March 19 – June 4.  Adult humor appropriate for ages 18+.  Mature audiences only. Running time: 80 minutes; no intermission. Advance purchase tickets: $20.  Tickets at the door: $25.  Discount Tickets Students/Seniors with ID; Groups of 10 or more: $15. Buy advance tickets at or  call 800-838-3006. For information please call 747-263-9858.  The Whitefire Theatre is located at 13500 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

2016 Interview with Calvin Remsberg

Calvin Remsberg is well known as both actor and director on both coasts. Favorite stage credits: Sweeney Todd (First National, and Television productions), CATS, the acclaimed Los Angeles’ Phantom of the Opera, Man of La Mancha, and Oliver!  Favorite film credits: “Pretty Woman,” “Shrek,” “The X-Files,” “Twilight of the Golds,” “Silk Stalkings.” Favorite Directing credits: The Medium,  Educating Rita, Chapter Two, Dracula,  Triumph of Love, The Sound of Music, Urinetown, Sunday in the Park with George (Ovation Nomination), Into the Woods, Hello, Dolly!, The Last Five Years, Glory Days, F**king Men (American premiere), and Sweeney Todd (Ovation nomination), and ten musicals for The Musical Theatre Guild. This is his directing debut at The Group Rep.

by Steve Peterson

How did you first become interested or involved in theatre? 

It was in kindergarten, and I played the Gingerbread Boy and got lots of laughs. The laughs got me hooked. Then, in elementary school in Roanoke, Virginia, my teachers encouraged me to write and direct plays, which the school actually produced!  I am sure they were terrible.

The real big break came in high school with a program called S.T.A.G.E. Inc. in Fairfax County where eligible kids from 21 high schools in the area auditioned for and performed in summer musicals.  The creative staff was made up of all adults and they were quite gifted.  My first show with them was Brigadoon, and our choreographer had been in the original Broadway production. It was all very exciting!

What was you first professional job?

In 1974, an opera at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Virginia…  I was performing a role in the challenging opera War and Peace directed and conducted by Sarah Caldwell, who was particularly notable in that she was head of the Boston Opera, and was conducting at a time  when there weren’t many female conductors working professionally. Caldwell was also the first woman to conduct at the Metropolitan Opera House.

What was your most memorable performance as an actor?

The Beadle in Sweeney Todd; I was in the National Tour with Angela Lansbury which was filmed for PBS here in Los Angeles at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion.  I reprised the role in the second National Tour.  It was a dream to work with Sondheim and director Harold Prince.

Did you have mentors along the way?

Oh yes, my acting teachers Mark Hammer and Richard Bauer , who I performed with in Wolf Trap’s production of Kismet.  They were teaching in the educational program at Arena Stage and I started studying acting with them.

My most recent mentor was actress June Havoc who played Mrs. Lovett in the second National Tour of Sweeney Todd in which I reprised the role of The Beadle.   Most people know June Havoc as an actress and as the sister of Gypsy Rose Lee.  However, she was a great director, playwright and coach. She taught me how to bring individuality and character to my work.

When did you start directing, what project drew your attention?

I studied directing at The College of William and Mary, and during that time I directed my friend Glenn Close in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in Menotti’s The Medium.  We’ve remained friends over the years.

I was hired for my first big professional directing job by Steven A. Glaudini who was then the executive director/producer of Performance Riverside to direct a production of Sweeney Todd.   I had already directed the 1999 Reprise! production which starred Kelsey Grammar and Christine Baranski.

You're also a vocal coach.  Is there one point you work at getting across with each of your students.

I was fortunate to have studied voice with Fredrick Wilkerson and he turned my whole vocal life around.  He was one of the top vocal coaches of his time.  "Your body is 89 percent water, something like that," he once told an interviewer, "and so are your bones, so you must think of your whole body as a sounding box. You must feel every syllable you say all the way down to your feet, all the way to your toes.”   Wilkie taught the absolute necessity of developing a rock solid technique. He taught a combination of the French “masque” method of placement as well as elements of bel canto.

How did directing this production of Bach at Leipzig come about?

Larry Eisenberg, one of The Group Rep’s co-artistic directors saw my well-received production of Shuffle Along which I directed for the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival.  We’ve kept in touch about plays I might choose to direct in the future and Bach at Leipzig this brilliant, madcap farce with sparkling dialogue written by Itamar  Moses was on my list.

The play takes place in the 18th century, which I have a huge affinity for, having performed 18th century plays under the direction and guidance of Howard Scammon, the head of my college theatre program, who was a notable scholar on the subject.  So, Bach at Leipzig was right up my alley.  I had seen a production of it at the Odyssey Theatre in 2009 and knew I wanted to direct it someday.

Tell us a bit about the play?

The play takes place in 1722, at the Thomaskirche, the most renowned church in Leipzig, Germany. To fulfill a vacancy in their music department, the church elders held a music competition, a sort of “Organist Idol” if you will, to which came all the greatest organists in Germany. That’s true historically, and is the  take- off point of the play.  From there, Itamar Moses invents a combination farce and treatise on form that is hysterical and informative at the same time! A real feat!

Is there something you want the audience to experience having seen the production?

You will learn something and laugh a lot.

Is there anything about you or the production that you want us to know or wish we had asked?

Without giving it away, pay special attention to the opening of Act 2.

Bach at Leipzig written by Itamar Moses, directed by veteran director Calvin Remsberg, produced by Suzy London for The Group Rep runs March 18 through May 1, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM.  Q & A Talk-back Sundays are April 3 and April 17. General Admission: $25.  Students/Seniors with ID: $20.  Groups of 10+: $15. Buy tickets/information: or (818) 763-5990.   Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd, North Hollywood.