Thursday, October 18, 2018

2018 Interview with Cate Caplin

Cate Caplin has produced, directed and choreographed over 200 productions and her work has been seen on television, in films, music videos, commercials and in theatrical venues world wide from the Paris Opera House to the Broadway Stage. She is a 34 times Regional and International Theatrical Ballroom Dance Champion, is a published writer and has been the recipient of a Garland Award, a Women In Theatre Red Carpet Award, multiple LA Stage Alliance Ovation, Eddon and Scenie Awards and was honored to receive an Award of Excellence from the LA Film Commission for her work as a Writer, Director, Choreographer and Producer. 

Tell me about this production of She Loves Me and what challenges your directing.  

I've always loved this musical. It's beautifully written, artfully constructed, classically romantic, and it's funny in an extremely welcomed way, especially during difficult political times like these... I think the most challenging part of this process quite honestly has been scheduling!  We are blessed with a superb cast, wonderful chemistry between all the players and a particularly positive, joyful and cooperative manner of creatively collaborating. That should be a "given" in all productions but sadly it is not always the case (!) so I am extremely grateful to have that dynamic during our rehearsal process ... but this has definitely been THE most difficult show I have ever experienced in regard to conflicts and scheduling around commitments out of town, work obligations, unexpected booked gigs, and surprise unavailability, and I have quite honestly been going a bit nuts trying to keep the flow and continuity going for the ones who actually ARE present on a consistent basis!  With a situation like this, the name of the game is to keep finessing the details that need attention with the ones who are there and trust that collectively, the pieces of the puzzles will continue to refine and settle into their happy place! Some times it comes down to sheer will, focus and tenacity to pull these things together! 

Musically this is a lovely show. What do you find fascinating about it?  

The music in this show truly advances the plot and the strength of the text is felt throughout the journey of the story unfolding. The characters reveal dimension and a mixture of qualities and shifts in personality more so than some roles in other "old fashioned" musicals. There are more real moments of anger, vulnerability, uncertainty, bewilderment and frustration than you see in a typical feel good musical yet at the same time, the style of comedy is often heightened, almost borderline cartoon-like in sensibilities. It's a fun line to walk artistically .

There is less dancing in this show. What does the choreography add to the story?  

This may have "less dancing" than a show like 42nd Street but to me, all moments of musical staging are a form of dance. I think the challenge is to make musicalized scenes look seamlessly organic evolving out of the action of the scene. Sometimes that is a trickier assignment than a traditional musical number. Looking for the right balance of choreographed moves laced with natural behavior of the character and blending those worlds so it doesn't look too stagey or not carved out specifically enough is the hard part. Some numbers are still in process as I see the actors exploring and trying different things with the given lyrics and others are more clear when the moves make sense and are married to the lyrics and the action of the scene and I then "lock" them in.  The choreography adds humor, theatrics and musicalized punctuation throughout and the "art part" is finding a way to enhance those colors and details without taking you out of the story.

What is your favorite show...that you have worked on?  Why this choice?  

Many moons ago (!) I was brought into the revival of West Side Story in NY, directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins and conducted by Leonard Bernstein - need I say more?! This was an absolute highlight of my career, and besides being one of the all time best musicals ever written, working on that show with those artists was a thrill of a lifetime. I went on to tour Italy and France with the show, always in 15-20,000 seat Amphitheaters and glorious Opera Houses, always with a magnificently full sized orchestra playing that heavenly music. 

Do you have an overall favorite musical?  

That's a very tough question, I love so many but West Side Story may be my number one choice because of my history with the show.There are others that I love for different reasons, Ragtime, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, Light in the Piazza, the list goes on....!

Is there a show you really long to direct? 

There are many shows on my Director "Wish List",  musicals, straight plays and comedies.... A few off the top include Kenneth Lonergan's "Lobby Hero", Anna Ziegler's play "Actually", "Tennessee William's "Glass Menagerie", Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird",  there are many more....

I wish you would put together a one person show about your life. You have so much to enchant us with. Any desire to do that? 

I can't say that it is something I've ever seriously considered. I so love being on the other side of the table now and take great pleasure in coaching dancers and actors and designing and collaborating with other artists and designers..That seems to be my strongest pull and inspiration at the moment but you never know what will lead to what on this creative path! Maybe elements of my story will come out in my future writing and personal projects on stage or in film, we'll see....

What else are you involved with at the moment that you care to share?  

I am currently in pre-production for Georgette Kelly's play, "I Carry Your Heart" which I will be directing at 59 E 59th street in the spring of 2019.
I am very excited to finally have an opportunity to direct in NY, something I have wanted to do for a long time now. We have selected our design team and are now proceeding with casting. Day One we received over 800 submissions for 6 roles. Here we go, the adventure continues....!!!

Anything you wish to add about why audiences should come out to see this production of She Loves Me?

There is nothing like good natured comedy and a warm hearted love story to brighten anyone's day. We've worked hard on this delicious confection and we're delighted and looking forward to sharing it with our theatrical family and friends.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Interview with Playwright Ken Ludwig

Playwright Ken Ludwig has gained tremendous popularity over the last few decades. His hysterical Lend Me a Tenor is performed all over the world and translated into a multitude of languages. His stage adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express is about to open October 20 at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in its West Coast premiere. Ludwig took time out of a super busy schedule to talk about the play and other highlights of his career.

You are perhaps our number one American farceur. Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo are ever so popular. Detective Hercule Poirot is a humorous character in Murder on the  Orient Express, but I am sure you have made him ten times funnier in your adaptation. Do you want to elaborate on creating comedy?

Sure. I'd love to. That's a great question. In a way it just grew out of the text. The kind of humor I try to write is ... tell the story, find a story that innately has humor in it. Mysteries are a lot like comedies. They're highfalutin, very Northrop Frye, who wrote Anatomy of Criticism, books on Shakespeare and stuff. He likens comedies to mysteries as a genre form. Everything gets shaken up. You're sort of in some kind of a normal social situation, and everything gets shaken up. Think of a jigsaw puzzle flying up into the air. When everything comes down, it gets locked together in the right order and makes sense. And there's something innately comic in the larger sense about that journey than say something that ends up with jagged edges and is a psychological tragedy or makes us uneasy in the end. I think what Agatha Christie wrote in essence are comedies or great standard mysteries of the mystery genre being sort of comic because it's so satisfying and has extravagant characters like comedies do. The humor really grew out of those characters.

There are so many characters in Murder on the Orient Express!

Yeah, but less than in the book. The book says that there are twelve suspects. I cut it down to eight, because there are too many people to get on the stage.

Tell our readers more about the process of writing comedy. Expound on what makes comedy so much more difficult to compose than drama.

Well, I think it's who writes it.  For me it's easier than writing drama because it's where I live, it's what I think and feel. I think one is either made to write comedy or made otherwise. Shakespeare did both, but ... For me comedy is a way of looking at the world. I'm innately sort of an optimistic guy but not in a sort of Pollyanna way. I think realistically optimistic. I feel that things will work out all right, and that's really basic to the notion of writing comedy.

You've written about Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. You must like sleuths. Do you think they make the best comic characters?

They do. They're so colorful; they're so interesting; they're so out of the box. They're not average. God knows, they better not be boring. The two greatest detective characters ever written are indeed Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. They're as quirky as the dickens. Writing about their quirkiness is a joy and really allows a writer to flex his muscles.

... Tenor and ... Buffalo are specifically about the theatre. However, all of your work is theatrical. You obviously agree that "All the world's a stage". Comment on that if you would.

I got very involved in writing plays about the world of the theatre or backstage at the opera. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania that did not have access to the larger sense of being in the theatre. There was a community theatre there. I dreamed about being in the theatre. My mom was from New York and exposed us a little bit to what theatre looked like on the outside.  It was really my dream. I'm psychoanalyzing myself but the reason I loved theatre was it gave me a chance to become a part of this whole world that I loved so much. I wrote about it with so much affection and excitement. It's where I want to be.

I understand and can relate to that. Do you have a favorite play of those you\ve written?

It's a cop-out to say it's the one I'm writing at the moment. It's true in a sense. I'm always so enthusiastic I can't imagine how it's not going to knock 'em dead. .. In some ways my favorite is Leading Ladies, a comedy where Twelfth Night meets Some Like It Hot. I loved writing about characters who are crossdressing. And it was my love and admiration for Twelfth Night, my favorite of all the Shakespeare plays; I'm a big Shakespeare geek. I wrote a book on Shakespeare. Again it was very theatrical about two actors in a backstage comedy....Shakespearean actors from England who end up playing the opposite sex.  It touched on all the things I love most about the theatre.

Do you have a favorite playwright besides Shakespeare?

George Bernard Shaw. Living dramatic writers: Woody Allen, who writes movies not plays, Tom Stoppard in his heyday. Those are my favorites.  Shakespeare is certainly the greatest playwright that ever lived. Shaw is the second greatest. You can study him as if you might have known him.

Moon Over Broadway was a terrific documentary about producing Moon Over Buffalo. Carol Burnett was very brave and I think all good actors should be willing to lay it bare and show the ups and downs of what it's like to produce a play on Broadway. How did you feel about that?

I thought it was remarkable in giving a genuine sense of what it is like to put on a Broadway show. You have to change things all the time, the tensions of opening up dealing with the press, dealing with your producers and actors. 

Is there a play you long to write?

 I have two plays coming up, now in rewrites. In my head there is a comedy about the world of classical acting and Shakespeare and the things that influenced me with great actors of the 18th and 19th centuries. It's been kicking around in my head for a long time. I think that will be next.

On your tombstone it reads:  Here lies a great American farceur. Would you be happy with that or would you want to be remembered differently?

(He laughs.)

That's a great question. I'd like it to read  great American playwright, but if I can't, who can be picky... great American farceur, I'll take it.

Anything you wish to add about La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts where Murder on the Orient Express is being presented?

I'm a great admirer of Tom McCoy and Cathy Rigby. Tom came out to see the play on the East Coast when it opened. I just know he's going to do a great job. He's a terrific producer. I'm very excited.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Adapted by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Sheldon Epps
and runs through SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2018
PREVIEW:  Friday, October 19 at 8pm
PERFORMANCES: Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays at 8:00pm; Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm; Sundays at 2:00pm.  
There will be an Open-Captioned performance on Saturday, November 3 at 2pm and an ASL-interpreted performance on Saturday, November 10 at 2pm.  Talkbacks with the cast and creative team will be on Wednesday, October 24 and Wednesday, November 7.  
14900 La Mirada Blvd. in La Mirada, CA 90638.  
Arrive Early To Find Best Parking -- It's Free!
Tickets range from $20 - $84 (Prices subject to change)
$15 Student Tickets for the first 15 performances of the production.
For tickets, please call (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 or buy online at
Student, Senior and Group discounts are available.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

2018 Interview with Monica Mancini

On Saturday October 13 there will be a special tribute concert to the music of Henry Mancini at the Soraya at Cal State Northridge. Monica Mancini, the icon's daughter, took time from her busy schedule to tell us about the event.

What is the reason for the tribute at this particular point in time? 


Give us a sneak peek by talking a little about the program and your special guest.


What was it like growing up the daughter of Henry Mancini? Did he encourage you to make music your future career?


Give a specific incident, humorous if possible, that shows his
dedication to and love for his compositions, like any fun Pink Panther story?


What was his personal favorite composition? Yours?


 Anything else you care to add?


On Saturday, October 13 at 8pm, Mancini’s music comes home to Northridge as The Soraya presents Moon River and the Music of Henry Mancini.  Starring Monica Mancini with special guest three-time Tony nominated Joshua Henry, Moon River and the Music of Henry Mancini features Gregg Field as Music Director and Chris Walden conducting the New West Symphony. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

2018 Interview with Ken Sawyer

Ken Sawyer is an award-winning director for his productions of Deathtrap and Hit the Wall a few years ago at the LGBT Center. He is getting ready to open Rope at Actors Co-op this Friday September 21. Sawyer took time from a busy tech week to discuss the play that became one of Alfred Hitchcock's curious films. 

How does Rope in play form differ from Hitchcock's movie?

Hitchcock's movie took place in the 40s in New York City. The play originally was set in the late 20s in London. We are returning to that time and location. Interestingly Hume Cronyn and Arthur Laurents worked for months with Hitchcock in adapting the script closer to an American esthetic and in the process made some significant character changes. You will note that though we are returning to the original time and place we have included nods to the Hitchcock version...while also developing a world that is uniquely our own.

What are your challenges as director of the piece?

This is a very rich play with a very old fashioned structure. It is talky. It is three acts. And it only works if it achieves an ever tightening sense of tension. In the playwright's own words "Rope is a thriller. A thriller all the time, and nothing but a thriller." How do you take a play written for a completely different audience sensibility and rhythm and make it tense for a modern day audience? Thrillers operate on precise rhythm after all. What fresh light can we shine on the play so it packs a punch while still honoring and living in the shadow of a classic Hitchcock film?
A challenge indeed!

Talk about the bizarre sense of humor in this work.

I have a saying when directing a thriller. "Entertain 'em. Get 'em to laugh. Then stab 'em in the back." The audience will scream. Then laugh at the fact that they got caught off guard. Then later, if the show was good, ponder why they got sucked in. And why they are a little afraid now of turning out the light. That is the cat and mouse game we play with the audience in a thriller. Humor is always a big part of that.

As a psychological thriller, the murderers must contain their feelings so as not to be suspect.
What, if anything, is your advice to the actors for their specific behavior onstage?

Hmmmm. The murderers do not have to hide much because nothing is suspect. In this show it's not a "who dunnit?" but "Whose figurin it out?" or "Whose gonna realize that there is something to figure out?" Everyone is blissfully unaware. Until that quiet woman seems to pick up some bad psychic vibes. And the maid seems to know something about about her two male employers that's not quite...acceptable. One of the hosts is getting trashed on booze. The other alternates between Redford charm and something ...almost dead behind the eyes. And wait....did that perky young girl just say something off handed about murder? Wait. is there something to figure out? I thought this was a party!

Tell us about your cast. I understand Burt Grinstead, who has worked with you at LGBT, is part of the ensemble.

I love working with my "people". I have worked with Carl J. Johnson and Liz Herron since the very first shows of my career. Don Smith was a part of my extraordinary cast of Hit the Wall as a tough NYPD cop. And of course now I have had the pleasure of working with some new and exciting talent from the Co-op. The family grows.

And yes Burt Grinstead was one of the stars of my Deathtrap at the LGBT center. We have taken the "thriller" ride before. Ha! The last one was actually shut down after a very successful run for being too "controversial". I knew he was a daring actor unafraid to take risks with this kind of material and yet give a grounded and thoughtful performance.

You have had tremendous success at LGBT through the years. Tell us a bit about the plays you directed there and the reaction to them from both critics and audiences.

Under the guidance of artistic director Jon Imperato I have been given a gift of being associated with a huge organization who wants to not only provide health services to the LGBT community, but also wants celebrate its artistic and compassionate place in the world today. Jon is a bold and aware individual and we have collaborated on projects that aspire to entertain, heal, educate, and stir up our audience. How lucky am I? I get to explore art in a place whose purpose is to uplift a community long misunderstood. It feels good to work there.

Do you have a favorite play of those you have directed? 

Each has ingrained itself as a marker of where I was in life...because your life always seeps into your work in some way. I will always have a special place in my heart for The Woman in Black at The Road and later The Coronet Theatre. It was a little horror play I directed that somehow hit a nerve at the time and ran forever. Just last month someone I really respect in our theatre community gushed with praise of the show I directed almost 20 years ago as though he had seen it yesterday. Also Hit the Wall, an immersive play about the Stonewall Riots, was a magical experience.

Let's conclude with anything you would like to add. For example audience takeaway from Rope.

I prefer the audience to figure out what they take away. I have my thoughts on what I would take away and have directed it with a point of view. But I'm not going to tell you what to experience. Just today I heard an excited impressive explanation of why I chose for the set to be all red. My reaction? If that's how it spoke to you...sure. It's an over 80 year old play that is speaking. Goal achieved.

ROPE will preview Thursday, September 20 at 8:00 pm and will open on Friday, September 21 at 8 pm and run through October 28, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm. Special Saturday Matinees are September 29 and October 6 at 2:30 pm. To buy tickets or make reservations please visit or call (323) 462-8460.  Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre. 1760 N. Gower St. (on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) in Hollywood.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Interview with Director Mark Kemble

Mark Kemble is an award-winning writer/director from Providence, Rhode Island. He has written and directed over twenty stage productions in Providence, Los Angeles and New York. He is about to open Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Lenane at studio/stage in East Hollywood.

In 1995, Mark’s world premiere play about the Hollywood blacklist, the multi-award winning show NAMES played to sold-out audiences in Los Angeles. Mark also directed the production. NAMES was critic's choice in every major newspaper, and was named one of the Top Plays of 1995 by NPR. In the spring of 1997, Kemble directed his play NAMES Off-Broadway, starring Tovuh Feldshuh, prompting notable New York critic, Clive Barnes to call NAMES “a better play than Odets' The Big Knife”.

Mark is Artist-in-Residence at Actors Studio West.

What do you the director find special about Beauty Queen?

I very much like the authenticity of the material. The characters are delineated and alive, the plot and story are fully realized and the play is "about something", which is never to be taken for granted. Keep in mind that this was written when the playwright was in his mid-twenties, remarkable.

McDonagh's works are compelling to say the least. Is Actors Studio West involved in the production?

Well, it isn't an Actors Studio West production, per se.The actors brought some of the scenes from the play to session at the Studio and many of us involved in the production are Studio members. In many ways it's a perfect production for the Studio because it allows for the opportunity to explore many levels of the work. The wonderful writing will always be there but it is important to go beyond a translation of the author's intent to an interpretation of the author's intent. I think the Studio is well-suited for that exploration.

Talk about the message of the play.

Survival, survival, survival. Not just physical survival, and it is very much about that, this is a hard life we are witnessing and the precarious nature of the character's very existence is always apparent but, perhaps more importantly, it is about the survival of the soul, the spirit, the wonderful doggedness of having even a sliver of hope to carry one through to the next day, the next moment, even.

Tell us about your cast and how they hopefully work as a creative team.

You can't beat big talent and big talent is what I have been fortunate to work with. Casey Kramer, Angela Nicholas, Curtis Belz and Tim Hildebrand are all so very talented. They trust one another and I trust them. They are aware of the importance of trusting their impulses, as opposed to their "talented tendencies", which all actors have, but that can get in the way of true impulses.

Is this your favorite play of this playwright?

I like all of Martin McDonagh's work but I am very much attracted to, "Beauty Queen..." because of the family element. This inescapable need to maintain the family in spite of the continual onslaught on them is very compelling, very hard to keep your eyes away from even as it self-destructs.

What fresh perspective are you bringing to the that will put bodies in the seats as soon as they read about it?

I liked the idea when working on this to let the actors live fully and make the play force them to play the play. Too often, even in good productions,I feel the actor has been left out of the play. They are achieving the play well enough but are too often bound by the play which prevents their own unique talent, unique personality, from emerging. I think we have achieved a situation where the actor's own individuality has been able to come to the play.

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

The audience may well say to itself, "Shit, I thought I had it bad...", but it's such a funny and meaningful play. When an audience witnesses something and they then reflect on something in their own lives, then they are witnessing art as opposed to entertainment and the lovely thing about this play is that it is so entertaining, and yet it challenges you to reflect on yourself. Great art.

About show times and tickets: Preview: September 13 at 8:00 pm. Opens September 14 and runs to October 21. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 7:00. tickets: go to or call (323) 960-7774. studio/stage 520 N. Western, Los Angeles. Wheelchair Accessible. Ample street parking

2018 Interview with Mona Z. Smith and Traci Mariano

FIRE IN A DARK HOUSE opens tonight at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks and runs every Thursday through November 15. Co-Creators Mona Z. Smith and Traci Mariano chat with us about the play and their collaboration.

 by Steve Peterson

You live on opposite coasts and have worked together before. How did you meet and how did this partnership come to be?

We met at graduate school, at Columbia University in New York. Mona was starting the MFA program in playwriting. Traci was in her second year in the MFA directing program.

Traci interviewed Mona for a job at the Miller Theater, and Mona showed up with her 10-month old daughter in a stroller. We got along like a house afire right from the start. Traci offered Mona the job, but Mona felt conflicted because Second Stage had offered her a work-study position. Traci said, "What? Are you crazy? Go with Second Stage. They do new plays!" So Mona took her advice, and she's been taking Traci's advice ever since!

That fall, Mona's first full-length play -- a very early, and very different version of FIRE IN A DARK HOUSE -- won Columbia's John Golden Award. This entitled her to a full production of the play in the spring. Mona really, really, really wanted Traci to direct that production. There were very few women in the theater department, and that first meeting with Traci made a huge impression on Mona. So, about six months after their first meeting, Mona showed up at Traci's door to make the ask. At the time, Traci was in the middle of tech rehearsals for an incredibly complex, brilliant, Brechtian version of Hamlet. Her first response was, "Are you kidding? No." But Mona was persistent, and persuasive, and a bit pitiful, actually, and finally Traci relented and agreed.

That was the start of a beautiful friendship and a rich and rewarding collaboration that has endured for 25 years -- through graduate school, jobs, a transcontinental move, marriages, children and more children! Aside from being with our families, our favorite place to be is with each other in the rehearsal room, creating work.

What was the genesis of this play?

Mona wrote a much different version of this play in graduate school at Columbia. The inspiration for the play -- then and now -- is a fascinating family story her grandmother told her many times when she was a child. That story, about Mona's great aunt Rose, was something of a mystery, and questions about Rose lingered in Mona's mind for many years. Fire in a Dark House imagines one possible answer to those fascinating questions. We can't answer them here: It would be a major spoiler!

What drew you to the subject matter, and why did you want to bring it to the stage?

We loved the idea of working on a wartime romance set during World War I. We believed it was important to stage Fire in a Dark House this fall for many reasons. We wanted to celebrate the 25th year of our collaboration, a rare and beautiful thing for two women in theater. We also are marking other milestones with this production. The true events that inspired this play happened almost exactly 100 years ago, including events that involved members of Mona’s family. This fall also marks the 100th anniversary of the World War I Armistice. And finally, we believe this story explores themes that resonate today, including what it means to be an American, an immigrant, a young Dreamer, and a patriot.

What do you want the audience' take away' to be? Is there anything else about FIRE IN A DARK HOUSE you want us to know?

This play is in part about waves of anti-immigrant sentiment that periodically sweep this nation. In World War I, anti-immigrant fervor targeted German Americans, throwing their families and communities into turmoil.

German Americans came here from many different countries. They practiced many different faiths – Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mennonite, Hutterite, Amish. Some were sophisticated city-dwellers; some were farmers; some helped to build small towns all across the nation. Some came in search of religious or political freedom; others for economic opportunities; and others simply for the chance to start afresh in the New World. Some had been in this country since colonial times; some were the first generation born here; some were immigrants fresh off a boat from Europe.

All of them were Americans. All of them spoke German, or had German-sounding names. And that made all of these “German-Americans” suspect once the U.S. declared war on Germany in 1917 and sent troops to fight in World War I.

Right now we are in a another period of American history where immigrant groups are under attack. We think Fire in a Dark House raises important questions -- about America, our freedoms, our principles, and what we want to stand for in the global community. And we think these questions are especially important to consider during this important election season. Our cast is hosting talkbacks after every performance, and we welcome everyone to please join in the discussion!

For tix and info call 800-838-3006 or visit The Whitefire Theatre is located at 13500 Ventura Boulevard, Sherman Oaks. Please arrive early to find street parking.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

2018 Interview with Bert Emmett

A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Bert has taught, acted in, produced, written, and directed plays for over 35 years. Bert’s favorite acting roles in L.A. include Col. Armadillo in The Armadillo Necktie (Last Straw Award), Karl Lindner is A Raisin in the Sun (A Noise Within), Kanute in Don't Hug Me I'm Pregnant (Eddon Award). Other LA shows include Sherlock Through the Looking Glass, Lombardi, Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, Sherlock’s Last Case (Scenies Award), and Cobb. Film: "The Forsaken,” "Alien Hunter,” "Outside Ozona,” and “Our Next Caller” (with Eric Roberts). Member of SAG/AFTRA and AEA. This is Bert’s directorial debut at The Group Rep. 

Interview by Steve Peterson

When did you get interested in directing?

When I was in 7th grade, I found that I could boss my friends around as long as we were making a movie. We had my dad’s old 8mm camera and shot stories that were about as stupid as they could be, but we all enjoyed the collaboration. I couldn’t stop thinking of what to do next - orchestrating anything that told a story. I was interested in every facet of putting on some kind of show and still am.

Although I haven’t formally directed in Los Angeles, I directed plays and scenes in Flagstaff Arizona as a teacher of drama at Sinagua High School in the 1990’s. I have predominately spent my time in Los Angeles performing, but, as a director, mining for the gold in a well written script is one of the most rewarding experiences a theatre person can have.

The Group Rep is special in that it provides its members the chance to create and develop projects. We were blessed that Co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield thought our “project” (presented to members on only one night after weeks of rehearsal) should be given the chance to be a full-fledged production in our own little theatre upstairs. The studio is a perfect venue for us at 32 seats, as the play is such an intimate experience.

How did this play find its way to you? What intrigued you about this particular play?

It wasn’t a bad idea for Hansel and Gretel to try to leave a trail in the woods so they could find their way home. The trouble is - breadcrumbs disappear! Jennifer Haley’s play came to me through a friend who has an ear for the eloquent and a heart for art that is redolent with the tender needs of fear, loneliness and loss. Breadcrumbs is an exceptional work, full of longing, metaphor, beauty, and humor. Told through the lens of Alzheimer’s (although the disease is not mentioned in the play), Breadcrumbs displays not only the painful tussles someone with a form of dementia might have, but also the effort that must be made by anyone who is braving the path towards personal truth. Many of us may have a loved one who is struggling to remember even the simplest of things, but I think we can all relate to the feeling of being lost in the woods, striving to pick up the fragile trail that can lead us back home.

What was your greatest challenge directing BREADCRUMBS?

There are 25 separate scenes in the play suggesting 11 different environments. We have a small stage! But, as Viola Spolin said, “constraints make it happen.” So, the very limitations of our modest but very serviceable space didn’t hinder us - it functioned as a crucible. Since much of the play is in Alida’s mind, we blend now with yesterday in the space with lights, sound, and most important, our talented actors’ performances.

What do you want the audience take away to be?

Although the play sets up what could possibly be the most terrifying thought one could have - what if I couldn’t find my words anymore? - I believe it has a message of hopefulness. I hope audiences feel encouraged to be honest with themselves and ultimately know that each of us is more than his or her own story.

Audiences will be touched by the creative power of Jennifer Haley’s minimalist exploration of what it means to struggle to find the “points of reference” that lead to personal truth. Dementia, longing, painful reality, and mother/daughter relationships are explored through scenes that are mystical, lyrical, funny, and tender.

Do you have an acting or directing project coming up, and if so – what?

What I am actually most excited about is an upcoming wedding for friends at which I will me officiating. Now THAT makes me nervous!

Is there anything you wished we had asked about you or BREADCRUMBS?

There are very few theaters that actually have the kinds of budgets that can present quality plays with the care they deserve, but I believe the Group Rep does more with the few dollars it has than many other higher end theaters do with more. Packed with passion for our craft, my team has truly put their blood, sweat, tears, and heart into making this happen. It takes patience, flexibility, hard work, and love for a special play such as Jennifer Haley’s Breadcrumbs to truly make moments audiences will be happy to experience.

BREADCRUMBS written by Jennifer Haley, directed by Bert Emmett, produced by Helen O’Brien for the Group Rep. September 8 – October 14. Saturday matinees at 2:00 pm, Sunday evenings at 7:00 pm. After matinee talk-backs Sept. 15 and Sept. 29. General Admission: $20. Seniors and Students with ID: $15. Buy tickets:

Thursday, August 30, 2018

2018 Interview with Director Shira Dubrovner

Director Shira Dubrovner serves as the Artistic Director of the Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre and the Festival Director of the Mammoth Lakes Film Festival. As a past member of the Group Repertory Theatre she is excited to be back and thankful to Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield for giving her the opportunity to direct R&J. Some of her favorite past directing projects include Broken Glass starring Robert Picardo, GRT productions; Sylvia, Nuts, Veronica’s Room and And Then There Were None.

What was the genesis of the change-up of ROMEO AND JULIET?

I have always loved placing Shakespeare in different time periods and seeing what new breath gets infused into the text. Changing the time period and incorporating the events that go along with that time period can add a new level of meaning to the play, making it more current and relatable. Many purists may not enjoy this, but I always get inspired when I go to Oregon Shakespeare Festival and see what their twists and turns do to the bard’s work, which was written over 400 years ago. Coming from an Orthodox Jewish upbringing and being the black sheep of the family and being told that I would be disowned if I ever married someone non-Jewish has always stayed in the back of my mind. One day I was thinking about R&J and the most famous line - “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks,” and I pictured the Sabbath candles in a window and that was the beginning. I have also been obsessed with how the Holocaust came about and how one man convinced an entire nation that this was the right thing to do. It didn’t happen overnight. Then I started thinking about everything that led up to 1939 and all the warning signs. While doing research, I found so many moving images that I realized have not been seen by the public because the focus has always been on the images right before the Jews were taken into the concentration camps. There was so much more that led up to that event that I wanted to share these pictures with society to remind them. From that came the idea to add in a multi-media element of slides projected throughout the show that really places us in Berlin in the 1930s.

This version of ROMEO AND JULIET had its world premiere at Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre where you serve as Artistic Director. How was this version of the play received by the audience? Did this version bring up other talking points with audience members?

Even in Mammoth Lakes two years ago it was very relevant especially because it was right before the elections. And now with where we are in our present state of affairs it seems it is even more relevant. This show is not so much about the Holocaust but all the warning signs that led up to it. There was about a decade of hate propaganda that Hitler promoted, starting out by making promises of changing Germany into a better country. He took advantage of the country's fear and desperation as it was coming out of the depression after WWI. He promised to make Germany a better place with a better economy. It sounds all too familiar to me. People who attended the show in Mammoth were really moved by it and I hope that people are more moved this time as well.

I have added a couple of new elements in the multi- media portion of the play. There are slides that are projected during the show with facts from the 1930s that led up to the Holocaust accompanied by photographs from that time period. It really helps the audience go back in time and puts them in that era.

You have a relationship with the Group Rep that has brought you back to direct plays for the company. How did that come about?

I joined the GRT back in the late 90s while Lonny Chapman was still alive and the Artistic Director. I had just come from studying with Salome Jens and felt that working at the GRT was a place that supported artists and new directors, that wanted to develop works and get them up on stage. It is a true theatre company that is a supportive community and even though I moved out of LA 10 years ago, my heart still stays with the GRT. That is why I love to come back every so often and direct a show here. I would like to think that Lonny is looking down at me and saying, “ Good work, Kid”. He really supported artists taking chances and pushing limits and I think that is what this production is about.

Tell us a bit about this production of ROMEO AN JULIET as it relates to Shakespeare’s original play.

I think that R&J is at its core about the damage that hate causes, and unfortunately that hasn't changed. I think people will be producing this story for as long as humans exist because it is such a universal story that all human beings can relate to.

What do you want the audience take away to be?

To be aware of society When it doesn’t feel right you must stand up and speak against injustice. The Holocaust was not that long ago and so much is happening in the world today that shows us we haven’t learned our lessons from history. It can easily happen again. We need to remember the past and stop repeating it.

The Group Rep’s production of ROMEO AND JULIET runs August 31 – October 14. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm.Sundays at 2:00 pm. Talkbacks after Sunday matinees September 9 and September 23. General Admission: $25. Seniors/Students with ID: $20. Groups 10+: $15. Buy Tickets: or (818) 763-5990. Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood 91601.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

2018 Interview - Desi Oakley

Broadway veteran actress/singer Desi Oakley is essaying the role of Jenna in Waitress on tour, currently at the Hollywood Pantages through August 26. Oakley took time from her busy performance schedule to discuss the show and what it means to her.

I have not seen Waitress. Tell our readers if your character Jenna is a waitress, where she works and specifically how the plotline develops in the show. Does she have a romance with her boss? She must champion some cause for women, or does she?

Jenna is the girl next door, born and still living in a small town. She is in a loveless, abusive marriage and finds out she’s pregnant. As an expert pie-maker at a diner, she has developed a bad habit of baking her problems into her pies instead of facing them. She is kind down to her bones, and has a big heart. But her circumstances have only pushed her dreams further from reality. Between her two best friends at the diner, the owner of the diner and even her gynocologist — she slowly starts to recognize her reality. Waitress is the story of Jenna’s eyes being open to her potential and her journey of taking the risk to fight for more in her life.

What is the most fun for you to do in this show?

Perform with the band onstage. I love that our band is on stage with us. It makes the music really come alive. The band isn’t hidden beneath the stage, they are a part of this story. Since they’re right up there with us, they can help us tell this story and connect with us and the audience in an awesome way.

What is challenging about playing Jenna?

Jenna is a complex character, with many layers. It is a challenge to portray such a real human without allowing myself to integrate into the characterization. Separating myself from Jenna is a difficult task because I relate to her in many ways. But on the flip side, her struggles are different than mine, and it's hard not to carry those home with me each night.

Is this your favorite role so far in your career? Why this choice?

Yes it is. Jenna is down to earth, real, and tangible. The story is an important one that I believe people need to hear, especially now.

Tell us briefly about playing Evita and Elphaba in Wicked.

I’ve been really fortunate to be a part of some iconic hit Broadway shows.  It is both exciting and humbling to make a small splash in Broadway history.

Who is your favorite composer of all time? Do you have a favorite show? Explain your choices.

My new favorite music theater composer is Sara Bareilles because she’s a genius. She was the perfect person to compose the score of Waitress because of her tounge and cheek lyrics and sarcastic wit.

Any role on stage that you are just longing to play?

My dream role is Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie.

I understand you recently sang "Frozen" at a concert? How thrilling was that for you?

I sang "Let it Go" at a Broadway Princess Party concert at 54 Below. I did the Demi Lovato version to switch it up, and it was a blast.

Back to Waitress...tell us why audiences should see this show.

Audience members will love Waitress not only because of the wonderful music and dynamic characters, but also because this is a real story that will make audiences think. It is a down-to-earth story that allows audiences to be introspective -- considering their lives and others'. It's a deeply-connected story of hope, self-acceptance, and love accompanied by Sara Bareilles' brilliant score and served with the aroma of pie. What's not to love?

August 2 - 26, 2018
Hollywood Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA