Tuesday, December 10, 2019

2019 Interview with Scott Dreier


Actor/singer Scott Dreier needs no introduction. His involvement with The Doris Day Project is amazing and next Sunday he will present The Merry Little Christmas Show for two performances only at the Colony Theatre. In the conversation that follows he talks in depth about both.

Tell our readers about your Christmas show. Is this the first time you have done one at Christmas?

SD: This is my first official Christmas show! Of course, as a singer, I have been hired many times over the past years to sing for different Christmas and holiday events. And I have always absolutely loved getting to sing these timeless, gorgeous songs.

I have always wanted to create a holiday show. And the inspiration for it has been watching those classic Christmas specials of Perry Como, Andy Williams, The Carpenters, etc. No matter how many times I watch those specials during the holidays, it just feels like they are each effortlessly transporting me with them into the cozy comfort of their living rooms.… And I wanted to create a show that would honor that feeling that we all get and just help take people away from the hustle and bustle and stress that can come with this time of year - transport them into my living room with me where we can all just escape our troubles for a little while and celebrate and share some holiday cheer together.

Without creating a spoiler alert, what are some of the traditional songs you will be performing?

SD: I wanted to make sure to have a wonderful mix of songs. I want to sing every favorite, but there are a lot. Knowing that isn’t possible—I chose songs that mean something special to me and I really wanted to include a musical variety.

My set list will include holiday classics like Sleigh Ride, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, O Holy Night, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, and Merry Christmas Darling and some fun takes on classics with some good musical surprises.

Isn't there a new holiday song you released as a single a couple of years back? Is that on the program?

SD: Believe it or not, I have never actually recorded a holiday album. It has been on my wishlist forever and now even more after working on this Merry Little Christmas show, I hope to make that happen in this next year.

I did record a duet version of Joni MItchell’s River a couple of years ago with Kurtis Simmon’s for his holiday EP. And I am so thrilled that Kurtis is joining me as my special guest for the show. I have always loved the special guests of those classic Christmas specials and there is no one I would rather share the stage with and sing with than Kurtis. He has such a glorious voice and we have not sung live together in several years.

There is a YouTube video up of us signing a beautiful original song by Bret Simmon’s called “Eve.” And it pops up on social media a lot and we always get so many friends and people saying —“you need to sing together more— your voices blend so beautifully together!” And so this felt like the perfect opportunity to do that. It has been absolutely thrilling to get to sing together and then having our sensational musical director Andy Langham on piano—it has truly been holiday heaven.

I am so excited that Kurtis will also be singing a couple of his gorgeous original songs from his holiday EP during the show. It is going to be such a fun show to perform—I can’t wait!

Talk about your joy the Doris Day album that has brought such love to everyone.

SD: After performing my show Doris and Me (celebrating the music, life, and career of Doris Day and my quirky life long obsession with her) for several years-—it was truly a 10 year dream come true and one of the biggest thrills of my life to be able to record “The Doris Day Project” album.

Doris’s music is the soundtrack of my life—-and as an artist, animal welfare activist, and then —still surreal —eventually a friend—-she continues to inspire and shape the course of my life in every way.

So getting to record these timeless, magnificent songs— that have always been in my life—and to celebrate this human being whose artistry I respect most of all—It was such an honor and so humbling. My self-imposed rule when I started the project—I wanted to find my own way with each of her songs—but I also really wanted each song to capture the same essence and emotions that Doris’s version of the songs make me feel.

One of those songs was “Everybody Loves a Lover” and I was absolutely over the moon to get to record the duet for the album with beautiful, dear, extraordinarily talented jazz singer Jane Monheit. She is one of the singers today that inspires me most of all. And all the proceeds for that single —and also a portion of my album sales goes to the Doris Day Animal Foundation to help with animal welfare.

The only song on the album I wanted to really pay homage and sing the original version was “Sentimental Journey”— and I always knew that song would end the album. I was so grateful and thrilled that when I spoke with friend Les Brown, Jr—and talked to him about wanting to sing his dad’s incredible song—he immediately said “You should sing my dad’s original arrangement. What key do you sing it in? I send it to you now.”

The thing about performing live is when you do the show—it lives in someone’s memory—hopefully. But getting to have a record of my Doris Day journey is a permanent, tangible piece of art that is captured forever.

My album came out on Doris’s 94th birthday. Doris was interviewed by People magazine and they asked her whose music she was listening to and her response was “Perry Como, the Mills Brothers, and Scott Dreier’s The Doris Day Project…” It still brings tears to my eyes thinking about it…a dream come true.

Bless you for keeping Doris's memory alive and for helping to shelter the animals. Isn't the show in Beverly Hills this year or am I confused? Was it this past year?

SD: Thank you for those beautiful words of support. They mean so much to me. It has been an incredible honor to celebrate our beloved Doris Day. And one that I don’t take lightly. There will never be another Doris Day—ever. And I never want anyone to forget her. She was so special and one of a kind. And everything you imagine her to be—she was more. And thankfully she will live on thru her music and movies— and all the work she has done for the babies. Millions of fans adore Doris because it always felt like we were watching a friend or a mom. She had the extraordinary ability to be able to always have herself shine through in every song, every movie she made, and on her TV show, and TV specials. It never felt like you were watching a star—she was a friend.

I have always been such an animal lover. And Doris was the trail blazer for all of us—she was a pioneer for animal welfare. It has been a thrilling and humbling part of my life to help to raise so much money for the precious four-leggers during the course of raising money with my show, helping with the Doris Day Animal Foundation fundraising events, and other DVD projects interviewing Doris’s Co-Stars. And then one day waking up to the realization that I have become an animal welfare activist. I have been a part of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars over these few years—and that is what I am most proud of. I can just hear Doris’s voice so clearly still saying “Help the babies.”

Yes—you are correct about my show next year. I am so humbled and honored to have been asked to perform Doris and Me next year in Los Angeles during Doris’s 98th birthday week—March 30th-April 5th (Doris’s actual birthday is April 3rd). Julien’s Auctions will be auctioning items from Doris Day’s estate on April 4 and 5 at their Beverly Hills gallery and online, with the proceeds benefiting the Doris Day Animal Foundation so her extraordinary animal welfare legacy can continue well into the future.

In addition to performing my show, I have jumped on board to help Doris’s animal foundation create magical moments during the week leading up to the auction for the many fans coming from all over the world to celebrate her life and career. Doris read all of her fan mail and truly loved and appreciated all of her fans. We are working on several wonderful surprises, including at least one film screening where I will moderate a Q&A with some of Doris’s co-stars.

What else is on the horizon for you? Any new projects to announce?

SD: I just recorded a fantastic song written by the terrific song writing team Joel Evans and Adryan Russ with the Australian Discovery Orchestra (ADO), conducted by the wonderful Kevin Purcell for an album the orchestra will be releasing next year “New American Musicals” on Broadway Records.

And I just filmed a guest star spot on the Disney Channel show “Coop and Cami Ask the World”—it was a lot of fun to film— and should be airing the end of this month or sometime in January.

I am really hoping to get back into the studio to record another album this next year. I would love to record a holiday album. And I am hoping to expand our holiday show for next year.

I also really want to record a second Doris Day album—to sort of bookend this unimaginable journey into Doris Day Land.

And—of course—performing Doris and Me for the festivities in Los Angeles happening during Doris’s 98th birthday week in April.

Apart from Doris, who is your favorite singer? Do you have a choice from among the male singers of yesteryear or today?

SD: Current artists—Jane Monheit. And I also really love Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Mel Torme, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin—and —of course- Frank Sinatra! Oh, you said “current”? I don’t really listen to a lot of artists you might call “current”, but I do enjoy Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr, kd Lang, Brandi Carlile, Joni Mitchell.

Anything you wish to add? 

SD: I’m just hoping to get a house full of people for this show. We’ve put together something that I think is super fun & chill & musically delicious --that now I just want to be sure people see it. It’s going to be a great way to get some Christmas spirit running through your blood. I know that there are a lot of options out there this month for Christmas shows & concerts & stuff to do, so I hope you’ll find the time to include The Merry Little Christmas Show as part of your celebrations this month.

The Merry Little Christmas Show will play Sunday December 15 at the Colony Theatre at 555 N. Third Street in Burbank at 3pm and 6 pm only. For tix, go to: colonytheatre.org or call: (866)811-4111.


Thursday, December 5, 2019

2019 Interview with Phil Olson

This interview is directed to playwright Phil Olson, so tremendously popular for his Don't Hug Me series of musicals. His new play A Twisted Christmas is about to open Upstairs at the Group Rep on December 14.

Tell our readers about your A Twisted Christmas Carol. When you say that it is the Dickens tale Texas style, what exactly do you mean? Is there a lot of the humor of Don't Hug Me and its characters in this piece?

A Twisted Christmas Carol is a Texas spoof of Charles Dickens’ classic story, “A Christmas Carol.”
It’s Christmas Eve in a small west Texas town and cantankerous barbecue joint owner Buford Johnson gets in an argument with his wife, Darla, tells her he's skipping Christmas, he storms out of the restaurant, goes four wheeling in his pickup, gets hit by a twister, rolls his truck and goes into a coma. He comes back in his dream where he's visited by ex-business partner and barbecue king, Hank Walker, who plays the ghost of Christmas past, present, and future. Hank takes Buford (Scrooge) on a journey similar to that in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" only Texas style.

I used quite a lot of the humor from the Don't Hug Me musicals in A Twisted Christmas Carol. One of the differences is A Twisted Christmas Carol is set in a small town in Texas while the Don't Hug Me musicals are set in a small town in northern Minnesota.

I understand that your show is playing in other states this Christmas? Tell us where.

A Twisted Christmas Carol will open and play in 8 cities concurrently this year. The theatre groups and cities are: 1) Town Players, Watertown, South Dakota, 2) High Desert Center for the Arts, Victorville, California, 3) Port Arthur Little Theatre, Port Arthur, Texas, 4) Alton Little Theatre, Alton, lllinois, 5) Hill Country Community Theatre, Cottonwood Shores, Texas, 6) Indian Valley Theatre, Sandwich, Illinois, 7) Trinidad Community Theatre, Trinidad, Colorado, 8) The Group Rep Theatre, North Hollywood, California.

Is this the first Christmas show that you have written or have there been others?

I'm a big fan of Christmas stories. A Twisted Christmas Carol is the third Christmas show I've written. The others are A Nice Family Christmas and A Don't Hug Me Christmas Carol.
Is there music in this show? If so, are the songs parodies of well known carols?
A Twisted Christmas Carol is a play with one parody song. We have a few short verses of a couple popular Christmas songs, but A Twisted Christmas Carol would be best considered a play, more specifically a fun parody of Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Your comedies are very popular and well received. What is your secret for writing successful comedic pieces?

I'm not sure if I have any secrets with my writing. They say to write what you know, and I tend to write about my experiences growing up in an emotionally reserved Scandinavian household in Minnesota. My father would tell us he was the Norwegian who loved his wife so much, he almost told her. We never hugged growing up and I never once heard any family member say "I love you." Not once. The thing is, I never felt that my parents didn't love each other or the kids. I just assumed that they did. When I learned how strange it was to never hug or say the "L" word, I started to write about it. My stories tend to be about relationships dealing with a lack of communication, affection and emotions, and the comedy in that, and how, ultimately, it's okay to hug or say, "I love you."

When my stories started playing all over the country and internationally, I realized that people all over the world could relate to these issues. It wasn't just a regional Minnesota/Scandinavian thing. With A Twisted Christmas Carol, I brought the same sensibility I experienced growing up to a small town in west Texas. Because so many theatres around the country are producing the play this year, the experiences I had growing up in Minnesota seem to translate well to a small town in west Texas.

Is there a final comment you care to make?

I hope that audiences enjoy A Twisted Christmas Carol as much as I enjoyed writing it. A big thank you to all those who support live theatre!

A Twisted Christmas plays December 15 - January 12. Saturdays at 4:00 pm. Sundays at 7:00 pm. Talk-backs after Sunday shows 12/21 and 01/04. For tickets and information: www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990. Upstairs at the Group Rep on the second floor of the Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood 91601. The Upstairs venue is not handicapped accessible.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Interview on the Panto with Director BT McNicholl


BT McNicholl is the producing artistic director of La Mirada Theatre of the Performing Arts and occasionally directs a show. He is currently in rehearsal for the Lythgoe Panto Peter Pan and Tinker Bell A Pirate's Christmas to open this week at the Laguna Playhouse. In our conversation he talks in detail about the Panto.



What do you like about the Panto productions?

BTM: They're eminently accessible -- contemporary pop songs fused with plucky twists on well-known tales. Plus, these productions feature exceptional professional talents, so -- for children experiencing theatre for the first time -- it's an introduction at a very high level. Best of all, it's a family tradition that can be repeated annually, but without ever becoming stale -- the content keeps changing (one year it's PETER PAN, the next year it's SNOW WHITE, then ALADDIN, etc) -- but the theatrical experience remains vibrant and participatory.

How is Peter Pan and Tinker Bell A Pirate's Christmas shaping up? Talk about your challenges in directing this piece in that style.

BTM: The show is coming along beautifully, actually. The trick is keeping the pacing tight while allowing room for the heart-tugging moments, the passages that evoke wonder (flying) and audience interaction. Also, one has to keep the relationships honest and authentic, to balance the slapstick sequences.

Adults enjoy these shows as well as kids. Explain in detail.

BTM: Like the greatest of the animated feature films, pantos have references and humor that only adults will savor -- so they're not left out of the fun. But in addition to that, there's a good deal of craft, skill, and talent onstage that will be appreciated by anyone who enjoys professional theatre.

How is the American panto different from those originally produced in England?

BTM: Long before I ever imagined I'd be directing a panto, I actually saw two of them in Dublin, where the tradition is as strong as it is in England. I went with my nephews, then 5 and 6, and their parents, so I experienced panto as the perfect target audience member -- as part of a family outing. Naturally, I was studying the show as I was watching it, as theatre people can't help but do. With the exception of the "Dame" (a man playing a female character -- typically an older woman, like Jack in the Beanstalk's mother), the American version has the elements that make English panto so successful. These elements have been retained in America, including: fractured fairy tales, pop music, slapstick, lavish production values, accomplished actors and lots of audience engagement throughout.

Talk about your ingenious cast.

BTM: We're lucky that we have a cast of seasoned veterans like John O'Hurley -- who relishes his villainous role while embracing the humor -- and his side-kick Ben Giroux, whose comic inventiveness is boundless, along with sensational dance talent like Clarice Ordaz from "So You Think You Can Dance", young, exciting TV stars such as Dakota Lotus, Ashley Argota and impressive triple-threat Broadway pros like Bryce Charles and Lincoln Clauss. It's a diverse mix of top-tier personalities that add up to a terrific production.

Tell us about the music and songs chosen for Peter Pan.

BTM: From hip-hop to the Carpenters to "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," the score has something for everyone. All of it is treated with a contemporary sensibility. And while the songs are appropriate to the story and move it along, you get the added bonus of "Hey, I know this one!" -- which, in this jukebox-musical-driven world, is a fantastic plus.

Is there one funny story you will share with us about any mishaps onstage during rehearsals or any comical anecdote about the panto and Peter Pan?

BTM: Well, when Peter Pan finally shows up to save everyone and thwarts Capt. Hook, we discovered that changing Hook's like line from "Oh, shiver me timbers!" to a disappointed and frustrated "Oh, ssssh... iver me timbers" got a great laugh.

Also, the best part of rehearsals is the day when the Pirates run through their slapstick "deck mop" routine for the first time in front of the kids in the cast. They laugh like they're watching Saturday morning cartoons. If they like it, we know we've done it right.

For more info and to purchase tix, go to: 

https://lagunaplayhouse.com/2019-2020-special-performances/peter-pan/


Friday, November 29, 2019

2019 Interview with Actor/Costume Designer Michael Mullen

Michael Mullen works onstage and behind the scenes. He is a superb costumer and an equally marvelous actor. In our conversation he talks about his 7 BWW Award nominations and overall about the joy of being in the theatre.

How does it feel to be nominated four times for a BWW Award for costuming?

MM: It feels really cool to be nominated for 4 BWW Awards for Costume Design. I loved working on all 4 of the shows. It was fun to delve into the 1930s with She Loves Me. I love the Victorian period which I got to do with The Importance Of Being Earnest. The Elizabethan period is one of my favorite time periods which we set The Merchant Of Venice in. And Roots was a series of 4 one-act shows that allowed me to create costumes from modern day to Peter The Great to Ayn Rand to a comedic cockroach.

Is there a favorite of the 4? If so, which one? What would you like to win for?

MM: I don’t really have a favorite of the four shows. I would be honored to win for any of them. :)

Do you do extensive research for every project or do you follow your instincts in many cases?

MM: When designing a show, I do some research on the time period in which the show is set- so that I know the clothing styles of the day. And then I follow my instincts with the rest of the work.

Do you have a mentor? If you had to pick one Broadway or film costumer, who would that be? Why?

MM: I don’t really have a mentor. I love Bob Mackie and William Ivey Long as designers. I love the glitter and glamour of Bob Mackie’s work. He is also a great comedian with some of his designs- like on "The Carol Burnett Show". His design for Scarlett O’Hara with the curtain rod dress is genius and comedy gold. As for William Ivey Long, every show I’ve seen of his was amazing. I especially loved his work in Cinderella. Those costumes were spectacular- especially the Cinderella and Marie transformation dresses!

Do you have a preference in costuming musicals or straight plays? Why that choice?

MM: I prefer costuming musicals because I think they are way more fun. There’s nothing like costuming a big fun musical number and seeing 20 actors up on that stage dancing around in your lavish splashy designs. It’s fun to see how all the costumes move and look together. My favorite musicals that I’ve designed so far are Dreamgirls, The Boy From Oz, Siamese Sex Show, and Cabaret.

What about as an actor? You have also been nominated three times for BWW Awards this year as an actor. Is it more fun to do a musical or a play?

MM: I love acting and have been very lucky to act in a lot of shows in the past few years. I love doing plays and musicals. However, I always feel way more confident acting in plays because singing and dancing don’t come as naturally to me as acting does. One of my favorite roles to date is playing Miss Tracy Mills in The Legend Of Georgia McBride. It’s such a fun role and show! I also really loved playing Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Earnest. She is deliciously snobby and grand.

Would you rather be onstage or designing behind the scenes?

MM: I honestly love being on stage AND designing behind the scenes. Crown City Theatre Company has been wonderful because they have given me the opportunity to act in and costume design I’m Just Wild About Harry, The Mousetrap, The Importance Of Being Earnest, and The Legend Of Georgia McBride. It’s a dream to act in and costume design shows because I love doing both. It’s also really cool to get to dress myself and create my character’s look.

photo by Chris Greenwell

Anything you wish to add?

MM: I am honored to be nominated for seven BWW Awards this year- four for costume design and three for acting. I hope to continue working in both fields and getting better at my crafts. I love what I do. And I hope people come and see The Legend Of Georgia McBride which is now playing at The Secret Rose Theatre through February 9th! It’s a fun show!

Tickets for The Legend of Georgia McBride may be purchased online at www.crowncitytheatre.com or by phone at (818) 605-5685. The running schedule will be Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm through February 9, 2020. The Secret Rose Theatre is located at 11246 W. Magnolia Street in North Hollywood, 91601.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

2019 Interview with Bruce Kimmel


Actor/director/author Bruce Kimmel is best known to audiences for his tremendous work with Kritzerland, his own company that produces updated albums of classic musicals as well as recordings of new ones like his A Carol Christmas, produced last year at Group Rep and currently nominated for several BroadwayWorld Awards. Kimmel is about to open The Man Who Came to Dinner at Group Rep on December 6. In our convesation he talks about his fondness for the play and give us his vision for a successful production of it.



How do you envision The Man Who Came to Dinner onstage?

BK: Fast. Funny. I love the play, have played Banjo twice, so it's really fun to come back to it as a director. The comedy is as funny as it's always been and it's also great to be able to bring whatever we can bring to it. But, for me, pace is key - the play can run long, but I'm making sure that doesn't happen here.

Why do you think it has endured all these years even though it's a period piece with the mention of many, many names people today do not recognize?

BK: The central situation is so relatable - someone takes over your house and your life, and disrupts everything, but, in the end, ends up being helpful to people. Add to that, the assortment of crazies who populate Sheridan Whiteside's world and it's just a recipe for fun. The period aspect is never a problem for me. People told me no one would "get" Li'l Abner when I directed it - yet, they did. People told me how dated Dial "M" for Murder was, and yet the Group Rep's audiences ate it up. In fact, any time anyone tells me something is dated I immediately want to do it just to prove them wrong. Yes, some of the name references will go right over people's heads, but it doesn't really matter. Listen, some young folks don't know who Robert Redford is. We're thinking about putting a glossary in the program.

How do you feel about the supporting players adding so much to the comedic elements of the story and in assisting to display different facets of Whiteside's persona?

BK: As I've been impressing on the cast in rehearsals, the characters in Whiteside's world are larger than life (Banjo, Beverley Carlton, Lorraine Sheldon, Professor Metz, etc.), while the Stanley family and the folks in their world, are not, and that's what makes this so much fun. And of course, Maggie, Whiteside's secretary, has been part of his world for so long, and yet falls in love with someone from the small town there in. It's just beautifully constructed in that way.

How do you feel about the importance of a terrific set design for this comedy?

BK: Well, we have a reality to deal with - we're in a 99-seat theater. It's a beautiful 99-seat theater, but the stage, while really great for that size theater, is the size it is. We decided to go the traditional route with this production, simply because that seemed the best and most logical way to do it for this theater. I've seen photos of all kinds of sets - and for whatever reason, the traditional always looks best.

Talk about your design team and their valuable contributions

BK: Well, Chris Winfield has been doing sets at the Group Rep for many years - however, this is my first time with him and we're having fun and I think the set will work very well. Douglas Gabrielle, the lighting designer is new to me, too, but Doug Haverty, our producer, thinks very highly of him and it's actually a very simple show to light. Steve Shaw is doing sound, as he always does, and that's a key element of the show, and he always does a fine job. Michael Mullen is doing the costumes - my first time with him - but he's great, really great - does a lot of shows in LA. Props are key, and Leslie Young has been gathering them up, including a great wheelchair for Whiteside. And a shoutout to Brianna Saranchock, who is assistant directing. I block very fast, and then adjust and adjust, and she's great about getting it all down in the book so that if something goes awry, she's got it right there.

Aside from the hysterical comedy, what important message does the play convey?

BK: For the Stanley kids, it's follow your heart and dreams - Whiteside, for all his curmudgeon-ness, is very wise with them. Tolerance. And, of course, in the case of Maggie, love conquers all.

Is there anything you wish to add? 

BK: In this nutty world in which we're now living, which seems to be more humorless every day, this play is like a tonic - and we hope audiences will come and laugh. We have a wonderful company of players and these characters are just so much fun. They don't know how to write stuff like this anymore, the craft of it is just breathtaking. And we've all got a little Sherry in us, I think.

With your flair for directing musicals, I think you should consider mounting Sherry at some point. Musically it's better than one might expect.

BK: Well, of course, I recorded the title song for the first Unsung Musicals CD (with Christine Baranski and Jonathan Freeman) and everyone, including the show's authors, love that recording. I haven't ever seen the script - I assume it's the play with songs attached. I'm a huge fan of Larry Rosenthal and have issued a couple of his film scores on Kritzerland. I'll have to take a look at it.

The Man Who Came to Dinner by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman opens at the Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre at 10900 Burbank Blvd. on December 6 and runs through January 12. It plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm. For tix go to:

https://thegrouprep.com/


Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Interview with Ashley Argota

Filipino/American actress Ashley Argota is known for her roles on television, such as Lulu on the Nickelodeon sitcom True Jackson, VP,[2] and Kelly Peckinpaugh on the Nickelodeon sitcom Bucket & Skinner's Epic Adventures. She is no stranger to the stage either, creating diverse characters over the years in the Lythgoe Family Pantos. In our talk, Argota talks about playing Tinkerbell in this year's Panto at Laguna Playhouse entitled Peter Pan and Tinker Bell, A Pirate's Christmas, playing December 4 through the 29th.

This is no ordinary Tinker Bell. Tell us about how the Panto brings your character to life.

In our production, Tinkerbell is sassy and super protective of her relationship with Peter. She can sometimes come off as rude, but she's really just passionate and unafraid to speak her mind. She leaves a trail of fairy dust and loud opinions everywhere she goes.

How different is playing Tink from Belle in Beauty and the Beast?

Well, the biggest difference is how they get around. Tink skates around on Heely's the entire show! She doesn't fly in our production, but we couldn't just let her walk around-- she IS a fairy after all!! Belle and Tink are both similar in that they are strong, fearless women who aren't afraid to stand up for what they believe in, but they certainly go about it in different ways. Tinkerbell isn't afraid to speak her mind as loudly as possible, and Belle prefers a calmer approach when resolving issues.

Are you having fun playing in the Panto? What do you like best about it?

The Pantos have become a staple of my year. My first one was Aladdin six years ago, where I played Jasmine. I was immediately hooked. The shows are so much fun to do, and watching the kids in the audience light up when they see their favorite fairy tale characters come to life, or when they hear their favorite song, or laugh at a funny joke, is just incredible. The Pantos are fun for both kids and their parents, and I love how it brings families together for the holidays. I've also met some of my closest friends doing these shows! I've been so fortunate to be a part of this world for so many years.

Tinker Bell must have contact with the kids. She must be their heroine. Without giving too much away, what does she do?

Tink faces her fears and even puts herself in harms way to help Peter Pan defeat Captain Hook and the evil Pirates when they mess with the people she loves the most!

Tell our readers about your castmates and director BT McNicholl.

Our cast is so rad. I've worked with a few of them before on various Pantos, so it's been fun to basically get to goof off with my friends on stage. And the ones I've just met during our rehearsal process I've quickly bonded with. BT has found so many funny bits for us to do, but most importantly, he's filled the show with so much heart. Everyone is so talented and hilarious, and I really think Laguna is in for another great Panto this year!

For more info and to purchase tix, go to: 
https://lagunaplayhouse.com/2019-2020-special-performances/peter-pan/

2019 Interview with D Scott Eads

Singer D Scott Eads was just nominated for a BroadwayWorld Award for his phenomenal show Shake the House presented at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal in September. In our conversation he talks about his nomination and his upcoming show Christmastime in the Key of Bing this coming Sunday December 1, once again at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal.




How does it feel to be nominated for a BWW Award?

It's very validating and gratifying to be recognized in this nomination, so it feels great! I have had a very busy year crafting and launching three different shows from three different eras and categories of music - with great audience response for each - and it's helped me grow in many ways. Without being cliche, it has been quite a journey. I really challenged myself on many levels and was also dealt some unexpected challenges but all-in-all, everything I've been through has been a growth experience and helped me become a better artist.

How do you feel about your show Shake the House? It was for me one of your best.

I'm very proud of it and feel that it was a watershed moment for me. I've been singing those songs since I was a kid - they're literally in my bones - but I've never sung them in any public capacity. I honestly didn't know how it would work out but I needed to bring more movement into my work and share that part of me on stage so I chose some of my all-time favorites "rock and roll" songs and got lucky enough to get a great MD in David Arana. He put together a phenomenal band - I was blown away at our first rehearsal - and the result was amazing. It felt right. It felt really good.

Any possibility that you might follow it up with a sequel next year?

Absolutely! I am not a big celebrator of birthdays - especially my own - but I'm hitting the half-c in 2020 and would love to have a big dance-mix party to celebrate it! If it happens, it'll be the 50s and 60s of Shake The House, with a heavy dose of 80s and some early 90s to top it off. I love so many different songs from the 80s and early 90s and have too many favorite artists to list but if you were there now, you'd probably hear at least one song from Prince, The Eurythmics, George Michael, INXS, R.E.M., Siouxsie and the Banshees, Duran Duran, Madonna, Elton John, Billy Joel, Abba, Queen, Aerosmith... And many more! (pun intended)

Tell our readers about your next show on December 1.

I'm really excited about this one! I'm a huge fan of the old Christmas specials from Bing, Frank, Dean and Andy Williams and designed the show with them in mind. It's going to have costumed carolers, vintage Christmas readings, a sleighful of classic Christmas songs and a few surprises for the audience that should be a lot of fun. Christmas is my favorite holiday and I really want to celebrate the positivity and inclusiveness of it with this show, as well as the magic and beauty of it all.

Do you have a favorite style of singing yet to be explored?

I am open to many musical styles and plan on exploring more of them through my work. At this stage, if I can wrap my voice around it, it's fair game. I have a background in acting and have also done some writing, so in looking forward to new works, I have areas or themes I want to explore in more of a storyteller capacity in order to provide more of an emotionally resonant experience for the listener. I'm particularly fascinated with the social impact of songs on various demographics and I have a couple of ideas that I'm working on but nothing definite yet apart from having some fun on my birthday.

Remember Christmastime in the Key of Bing at Sterling's Upstairs at the Federal Sunday December 1. The Federal is located at 5303 Lankershim Blvd North Hollywood. Doors open for dinner at 5: 30. Showtime at 7 pm. Call 818-838-3006 ext # 1 for reservations.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

2019 Interview with the Troubies' Beth Kennedy

Actress Beth Kennedy is a staple performer with the Troubadour Theater Company, being one of its founders. The company is about to open A Christmas Carole King for previews on December 7 at the El Portal in NoHo. In our conversation Kennedy talks about how this revival show fits perfectly into the Troubies mission statement.

Describe the music of A Christmas Carole King and how it fits into the Troubies irreverant style

BK: You'll hear your favorite sing a longs from Carole King. Who played the Tapestry cassette until the tape broke? Songs that will bring you back to where you were the first time you heard them. And of course we turn these iconic songs upside down the way we do. So actually you'll try to sing a long and find you don't know these lyrics! There will be many fun surprises musically as we mash two libraries that have stood the test of time, Carole King and The Troubies (heading toward 25 years!)

 Is this the first time mounting the show or have you presented it before?

BK: We presented this show before in 2002 at the Falcon Theatre.

Your shows are over.the.top but based on actual stories. Will the audience instantly recognize A Christmas Carol here and its amazing characters?

BK: I would say a resounding YES. One thing we do as the Troubies is hit you over the head with our characterizations and humor. We are not often described as "The Troubies, L.A.'s subtlest theater company." Yes, all the iconic Dickens' characters are there and even some iconic Troubie characters made the cut. Much of our humor counts on the audience's instant recognition of whatever we are sending their way. This show is no exception. We lean way in to Old Blighty!

What roles are you playing in this show?

BK: I am playing the Narrator, The Ghost of Christmas Past and Mary Cratchit.

Tell us about your band, cast and creative team.

BK: The band will be pumping and on point! The cast is half the size as the first time we did the show. A solid 9 actors. Everyone is playing an average of three characters. No one will be spending much time in the green room! And the creative team is filled with Troubie vets that know the drill. They consistently deliver in a creative, fun and high quality way.

How has playing the El Portal worked out? You surely get bigger audiences than at the Garry Marshall.

BK: This is our 4th show at the El Portal and we have enjoyed each and every one. We had been on the lookout for a larger space for a while as performing a holiday show into late January started to get a little old. Meaning, we would do about 3 times the shows at the Falcon/GMT than we now do at the El Portal, due to the smaller size of the Falcon/GMT. We were basically popping out at the seams and the fact that the El Portal is still in the neighborhood made the switch convenient for the fans. We love the Falcon/GMT and it will always be our home.

For reservations,  visit:
https://www.elportaltheatre.com/christmascaroleking.html

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Interview with Donaco Smyth Re Animal Watch

Donaco Smyth is a Los Angeles based actor and writer. He is a founding member of Neo Ensemble Theatre and has acted in plays and musicals on both coasts. His play Capsized Flotsam has been produced in L.A., NYC and in Melbourne, Florida. Another full length play, Annoyed by Life is currently published by Heuer Publishing. In 2013, his short film, “Way of Seeing”, played in five film festivals around the country. 

Professionally, Donaco’s performed the roles of King Henry II in Lion in Winter, Falstaff in “Merry Wives of Windsor, Daddy Warbucks in “Annie”, a sullen criminal on “Law & Order” and tons of original roles by various writers at Neo Ensemble Theatre in Los Angeles.


How did you get involved in creating Animal Watch?

I had it in my head for a number of years before I was finally able to hook up with an artist, Randall Jahn, who helped me make it all happen with his perfect animal artwork. I’d drawn up some prototype decks of cards and played the game with friends and worked out some kinks in the rules. But the game got sidetracked because I was writing plays and making some short films and trying to find an occasional acting job that paid something. Eventually in 2017, I got the Kickstarter project going because I’d broken my foot and had some down time. So I dove into it then.

Describe the game in some detail.

It takes a little bit of strategy to decide how many tricks you think you can win each round and you have to commit to that number. If you win more than you predicted, you lose points and if you win fewer than you predicted, you lose points. You have to keep in mind how many high cards you have and how many lower cards you have that probably won’t win you anything. But sometimes those “throw away cards” will come back to bite you because they can suddenly be the top card in play. So it can be wild! And in each round everyone plays with fewer and fewer cards in each hand. So you don’t know what’s been removed from the deck.

Are there several versions or is Endangered Species the only one out thus far?

So far there’s just this one edition but I’m leaving my options open for adding more animal sets or maybe even copyrighted characters from Disney or Warner Bros.

Do you feel that this is more for adults or children?

Some games like Uno and Monopoly and Checkers are great for all ages and that's where Animal Watch lies as well. In the comments I’ve read, people say they played it with their families with kids and they caught on quickly and enjoyed it. One lady told me her nine year old daughter became the best player of the family. I know other people who supported the Kickstarter campaign who are in their 20s and 30s and they are playing it with their peers. So it fits in with high school and college age folks as well. My friend Gerri took it to Florida to play with her retired mother and her neighbors. They gave me great feedback during the pre-printing stage about some of the colors that were difficult to their older eyes. So Randall and I made changes based on that which I’m so thankful for. And the ladies sent messages about how they enjoyed the game!

I never considered it to be an outright "kid’s game" but the animals do give it a warm and fuzzy personality. Maybe a future edition should be themed a little darker! In an earlier prototype of the cards, I had some different animals, Octopus, Preying Mantis, Bats…. But my friends didn’t really connect to those species. So I re-thought it and decided on the current menagerie. And that ties in well with the charitable aspect of this business where we donate a portion of the proceeds of this game to places like World Wildlife Fund.

Do you think teachers can incorporate it into lesson plans or is it strictly for parties and events?

It can absolutely be used in lessons because children can learn to strategize based on the numbers of the cards in their hand and remembering which animals have more power than others in each round. So it’s great from a mental development point of view. They’re not just slapping down cute animals on the table; they’re working toward a goal.

Actors love playing charades and password, etc. As an actor did you think about this when you created it?

I kind of had my Las Vegas personality on when I was devising how the game could be played. There are ways you could turn it into a betting game but I’ll let other people sort that out. It’s meant to be a fun pastime like Exploding Kittens or Uno. Technically there are no rules against acting like a tiger or a sea turtle when you play the game so if it helps you to put that Theatre Arts degree to use while you play Animal Watch, don’t let me stop you.

Where can people purchase Animal Watch?

Currently just from the website:

Hopefully it will be available on Amazon in 2020.


Thursday, November 14, 2019

Interview with Paul Rush


Paul Rush is the artistic director of Sixty-six Theater Co. located inside the Strasberg Institute in Hollywood. In our second conversation Rush talks about his excitement for the company getting the rights to produce Lee Blessing's new play For the Loyal. The West Coast premiere opens November 21 at Sixty-Six.

Tell our readers about your next production. Why are you so excited about getting the rights to this play?

PR: For The Loyal poses relevant and timely questions about loyalty. The titular character Mia is forced to choose which side she is playing for; the community she is part of, the family she is starting, or the person she is. The story takes place in a college football town, and the football program runs the town. When an incident threatens to derail the program and everyone involved, Mia needs to decide what play is the correct one to make. Lee Blessing does a phenomenal job of telling this story without preaching to his audience.

We are a young company and getting the rights to new material can be very difficult in Los Angeles. To have the opportunity to work with Lee Blessing, is a great honor. This play has never been produced professionally in California and such makes it a West Coast premiere. Our 1st premiere! It is hard not to be excited to produce and direct this play.

I met Lee Blessing when Group Rep presented his The Winning Streak. It involved baseball. For the Loyal gets into football. Explain his love of sports and how he works within the framework of sports to get to the family and issues that complicate family life.

PR: Sports tend to be a metaphor in a lot of storytelling. Blessing's use of sports goes beyond the game itself and the metaphor of the game. He forces his characters to play roles in the game that they would never expect. For The Loyal does just that. Mia is left with a choice to make, like a coach in the game, what play is the right one to call? The X's and O's of every player is used and laid out for the audience to see. I love how Blessing uses aspects of the 'game' to influence his storytelling without it being blatant.

Are you directing For the Loyal? What directorial challenges does it present?

PR: I am directing For The Loyal. The production of this story has been absolutely wonderful. Maybe it is because it is our first premiere, maybe it is because the writing is exceptional, maybe it is because the cast and team are amazing, but probably it is because this is a story worth telling. The only challenge I face is to do the story justice and give it is due.

How does this play fit into your mission statement?

PR: A play like this fits perfectly into our mission statement. Blessing does not shy away from entertainment while giving a story worth telling. There is only one way to approach that type of writing; with complete internal honesty within the framework of production. That is what we aim to do at Sixty-Six, to tell stories that are equal parts entertaining and thought-provoking.

Has reception to your company grown over the past year? Give us some positive details.

PR: Our company is growing! We got our first premiere! We have hosted the Short and Sweet theatre festival and Nick Hardcastle's Orry premiered here all this season. Our doors are staying open and our community is learning that we are here.

Back to Lee Blessing. Is he considered a foremost American playwright? Why?

PR: It would be hard to not consider Blessing a foremost American playwright. He deals with quintessential Americana and uses the backdrop of communal American life to lay out his stories.

Tell us about your cast in For the Loyal.

PR: Professionals that care. That is this cast. They are all working actors here in Los Angeles, involved with movie premiers, television episodes and auditions. Yet, here they are working hard and committed to story that doesn't get told often and needs to. The wonderful cast includes Hilty Bowen as Mia, Eddie Alfano as Coach Tanner Hale, Torrey Drake as Toby, Mark Youngs as Coach Mitch Carlson and Danny Martha as The Boy.

For the Loyal plays at Sixty-Six Theater Co from November 21 through December 14. The theatre is located inside the Strasberg Institute at 7936 Santa Monica Blvd. West. For more info or to purchase tickets for the play, call: 213-926-3150 or go to: 
sixtysixtheater.com


Friday, November 8, 2019

Highways Interview with Patrick K



Highways Performance Space & Gallery presents Film Maudit 2.0, its inaugural film festival dedicated to outrĂ© films, inspired by the legendary artist Jean Cocteau’s 1949 Festival Du Film Maudit, which celebrated a group of films that were criminally overlooked and neglected at the time.
The event will be held Thursday, November 14 - Sunday, November 17 at Highways Performance Space & Gallery at 1651 18th Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404
http://www.filmmaudit.org
Festival Pass $40 The festival will include: 


  • six feature films & 40 shorts
  • films from around the globe.. . .
  • Belgium, Canada, Columbia, Estonia, France, Germany, Mexico, UK, the Netherlands, etc.
  • 50% of selected films are by female-identifying filmmakers
  • each feature film in the program will make its Los Angeles premiere

Artistic director Patrick Kennelly took time from his busy schedule to discuss the festival in grand detail. I am thrilled to say that from the sound of the entries I would run, not walk, to get tickets for this splendid event, as should you.


Describe in your own words what Film Maudit 2.0 signifies.

PK: Film Maudit are films that in ambition bite off way more than the mainstream (including the “Sundance mainstream”) would normally chew. They’re works that are deliberately bold in their choice of subject matter and aesthetics and consistently challenge themselves and audiences, while still being entertaining as hell. The idea is to buck the trend of “like” culture, where we’re only exposing ourselves (whether we like it or not) to stuff we’re already supposed to like (y’know, that is “Like" something we’ve bought before, watched before). This is not Netflix film programming. Film Maudit is guaranteed to raise your guard and beat through with its cinematic audaciousness.

When you say censored films, are you referring to those that are primarily gay in content? Sounds like the days of Oscar Wilde. Joe Orton's films were brilliant and would most likely fit in here.

PK: The films in the festival, 50% of which are directed by women, encompass many different countries, sexual identities, and genres. A through-line of out-there-ness runs through everything. Pretty much all of them are L.A. premieres, including the features, and part of the purpose of Film Maudit is to give local exposure on the Big Screen to those films from Africa to Mexico to our very own backyard, that might be, for whatever reason, hot potatoes for other fests. There is a particular love here for films that use and abuse the trappings of genre cinema to get at other things.

This is the inaugural film festival. Do you hope to make this an annual event?

PK: Yes, this is the beginning of something that we hope will have a long life, and expand beyond being, you know, ANOTHER film festival. In this first year we have special screenings and music events, but we have big plans to bring in more performance, readings, visual art, and food. To have something that really reflects the platform-less age of tomorrow. A # of the creators involved in this first showcase, not only make films, but work in VR (Virtual Reality), gaming, gallery-based arts, literature and the theater.

How does this festival work within the mission statement of Highways?

PK: Film Maudit 2.0 is an extension of Highways’ mission to develop and present innovative artists, promote interaction among people of diverse cultural backgrounds, and engage artists and the communities they serve in cross-cultural dialogues about social, cultural and artistic issues.

Has your audience built steadily over the past few years? I have seen some wonderful theatrical pieces here in the past. It's definitely a place for theatre and film buffs to gather and exult in your choices of outre work. It's a one of a kind place in its design and in the subject matter presented.

PK: There’s been consistently inconsistent audiences throughout the 30 years of Highways’ existence! It continually ebbs and flows based on the dynamics of the Los Angeles performance, dance and art scene at any given moment in time (even week to week). Communities have come and gone, and sometimes come back again, new ones to fill the gap. There is a consistent re-history, we which love - the book being written on the space and the overall landscape over and over in a uniquely personal way by hundreds of artists. Our continually morphing identity as a space reflects that. We’re grassroots, experimental and diverse beyond measure - all ingredients for something that doesn’t spell long life, but, thanks to the hard-work of Executive Director Leo Garcia and his leadership of the Highways staff, we’ve been able to do it!

Tell our readers anything you wish that I have not mentioned.

PK: Whether you love them or hate them, I recommend that you won’t be bored by the radical narratives and styles we have on display as part of the festival - for much less $ than it will take you to be “shocked” by THE JOKER. If you want something that truly gets under your skin - come out to any of our programs!

Film Maudit 2.0 is Highways' inaugural film festival  takes place Thursday, November 14 - Sunday, November 17. Highways Performance Space & Gallery is located at the 18th Street Arts Complex 1651 18th Street. Santa Monica, CA 90404  Call  310-453-1755 or visit http://www.filmmaudit.org
A Festival Pass costs $40.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

2019 Interview with Burt Grinstead

Actor Burt Grinstead gained recognition in Los Angeles for his terrific performance in Deathtrap at LGBTQ and later in The Rope at Actors Co-op. He formed his own production company and produced and co-starred in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which he also adapted with his partner Anna Stromberg. They won top prize at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2018. Grinstead is currently preparing to open as Richard the Lionheart in The Lion in Winter at Laguna Playhouse this Sunday November 10. In our conversation he talks about the play in depth and lays bare his passion for the acting profession.




Tell us about playing Richard the Lionheart in The Lion in Winter. What a great role! You do realize that Anthony Hopkins played him on film with Katharine Hepburn in his early career. right? How much of a stretch is it playing him?

BG: It’s an awesome role! James Goldman’s script is a gift to actors. It pumps with life and death stakes yet is laced with wit and humor. I’m excited to portray the Lionheart. I remember seeing the movie with Anthony Hopkins, Katharine Hepburn, and Peter O’Toole and thinking ‘these are masters at play.’ You rarely see actors be so free in film. It seemed like they were having the time of their lives. Anthony Hopkins, of course, killed the part and sets a high bar for any mere mortal actor. The story takes place over a Christmas with all the Plantagenets gathered in a castle in France. It’s the first gathering since the eldest son and heir to the throne died. Who is to be the next king of the English empire? Let the games begin. 

Richard is a force of nature, defined by his fury. He is furious at everyone for different yet specific reasons: furious at his father, Henry II, played by the dynamic and strong Gregory Harrison; at his mother, Queen Eleanor, played by the fierce and elegant Frances Fisher; at his little brothers John and Geoffrey, brought to life by the talented and vivacious Spencer Curnutt and Ian Littleworth respectively; at the French king Phillip, portrayed beautifully by Taubert Nadalini. 

My job as the actor is to look beneath the Lionheart’s fury, to understand whether frustration, loss, love, or fear are driving each moment. Goldman writes these emotions in such a truthful and relatable way. As an actor, I’m able to take a psychological dive into the human experience with each new hat I put on. In Richard’s hat (or should I say crown), I’m able to explore the extremes of the human condition. We are defined by how we are nurtured in our youth. Family can be our greatest strength and our deepest flaw at the same time. Mr. Goldman certainly understood that basic dynamic when he penned this classic. It’s a holiday dinner with a dysfunctional family where murder is a very real option and the fate of an empire is at stake.

How are you preparing for the role? What elements of the character do you find in your own persona? 

BG: It’s all about the exploration. Fortunately, Laguna Playhouse and Sheldon Epps, our fearless director, give the actors time to play with different ideas and to work with each other to bring life to the story. The real drama lies in the relationships. The toughest part of telling a story like this is defining a lifelong relationship in a three-week rehearsal process. I’ve only just met these talented actors, and yet we have to be able to openly share some of the most intimate and vulnerable emotions we can muster. Knowing this, Sheldon sat us down for the first week and had us talk through the play with each other. We were able to get to know each other and share our thoughts and ideas. We were able to feel each other out and discuss our character histories and relationships. We were given time to find the depths of each of the bonds that inform the current predicament our characters find themselves in.

Richard was called “the Lionheart” for a reason. If you do any basic research on this man, you’ll see that he was a great soldier and ruthless tactician. He was always fighting. In my mind, he found peace in conflict. When you get to know his family, you can see that conflict was what he knew as home. In my real life, I’m much more of a pacifist, avoiding conflict at all costs, sometimes to my own detriment. I envy how Richard was able to take charge and stand up to obstacles that lay in his path. I don’t, however, envy the violence he left in his wake. It is fun to able to play someone with such ferocity though. It’s a chance to explore an emotion I rarely allow myself to experience in real life.

As with all characters I get to portray, I’m able to relate and bring in elements of my own life that can help further deepen the story. As an actor, you are required to find compassion for your character. It’s the classic actor line, “whether you play Jesus or Hitler, you have to believe you are in the right.” After all, everybody is the protagonist of their own story. The easiest way to find compassion for your character is to put yourself in their shoes. You have to be able to relate, and I definitely can relate to Richard in many ways. I’d rather keep those ways to myself though. My hope is that by bringing myself into Richard, the audience will also be able to relate and walk in his shoes.   

How are rehearsals going? Talk about Sheldon Epps as director of the play.

BG: With material like this, rehearsals are a playground. It’s a chance to explore and imagine and play. It’s a joy to come to the rehearsal room and to work with such talented artists in exploring this twisted, fantastical world.

Sheldon has theatre running in his blood. Every element in this play adds up to create a unified vision and a complete tale. He addresses every moment with us and gives us the material necessary to inform the next moment. It’s a hard play to direct. It’s an elaborate chess match, or rather a long game of poker. Every character is trying to win, but every character keeps their cards close to their chest. Sheldon is in charge of mapping out each of our journeys, each of our tactics, each of our manipulative techniques. Seeing him place us around the space is like watching a master chess player setting up his side of the board. I’m excited for audiences to follow the twists and turns. I can’t wait to see how people react to the surprises that lie around every corner and behind every curtain.   

Tell us in greater detail about working with Gregory Harrison and Frances Fisher. Also, talk a little about the other actors in the cast.

BG: The sheer talent in this rehearsal room is staggering. This cast is incredible. Sheldon, Ann Wareham, and Michael Donovan have somehow gathered such a rare group of proficient artists. This family feels real. Gregory and Frances are simply brilliant. Not just as actors, but as leaders. They are our parents in the play, and they have adopted that familial role in the rehearsal room. They lead by example. They are professional, hardworking, and unbelievably kind. Their years of experience shine through them in every part of this process. I love watching them work, and I love being able to work with them.

Ian Littleworth and Spencer Curnutt play my brothers. In a way, we’ve also adopted those roles in real life. We are able to support each other and laugh each other. We are able to respect each other, but still poke fun at each other. We know that each one of us is there to help the other be the best they can in this piece. Ian and Spencer are powerful actors. They bring life to everything they do. I’m so proud to call them my brothers in this play. 

I don’t want to leave out the other actors in this piece. Taubert Nadalini plays the French King Phillip. Taubert has a natural presence about him that easily steals the show when he walks the stage. There’s also the intelligent and talented Chelsea Kurtz who plays the French princess, Alais. Chelsea brings an emotional depth to the stage that heightens the drama and tension of this story in such a beautiful way.

I can’t wait for people to witness this cast.  

What do you think is the message of The Lion in Winter. It's a comedy, but not always that funny for the protagonists.

BG: The Lion in Winter certainly has some funny moments and some witty lines, but yes, the overall story of this play is a dark and twisted tale about a severely dysfunctional family. I’m sure everyone is going to come away with their own thoughts about the overall message Goldman was trying to share with us, but I think it’s simply about the importance of love. Love is as necessary to human existence as water. It’s food for the soul. Without it, we are starved, we are dry, we are empty. The place we are supposed to be able to find love is within our family. However, that is not true all the time. In fact, most of us are still thirsty for it. In this play about a family coming together for a holiday dinner, we see the sheer lack of love being spread around. In my view, the opposite of love is selfishness. If we are selfish, we are incapable of love. Everyone in this story is looking out for themselves first. In the end, a simple “I love you” or a meaningful hug, could change the fate of this empire. As the Beatles said the year after this play was written, “All you need is love.”

Switching gears, tell us a bit about the success you had in LA and New York with Jekyll and Hyde.

BGDr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde was a roller coaster. We started at the Hollywood Fringe in 2018, and little did we know, we were strapped in for a wild ride. We did eight shows at the Fringe, then we came back for a month at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. Then we came back for Halloween 2018 for a few shows before we headed to Wilmington, North Carolina to perform it there for a couple of weeks. After that, we put the set in a truck and brought it up to New York City where we performed for two weeks in the International Fringe Encore Series at the SoHo Playhouse. The SoHo Playhouse then picked us up, and we headed back there for a full six week Off-Broadway run in the Spring of 2019. Now, the play is in the process of being published and will soon be available for purchase.

Anna Stromberg, my wife, and I were and are completely overwhelmed and grateful for the success of our little show. We absolutely loved performing it, and we’re so lucky to have been given the opportunity to perform it so often. Our producers and team along the way were always incredible, and we learned so much from each new adventure. You can find out more information on our outrageous comedic-thriller Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde on our production company’s website: www.BlanketFortEntertainment.com.

Are you and your wife planning any new projects for the near future?

BG: Yes! Many! First up, we made a movie that opens/premieres in Los Angeles the first week of December, The Lost Footage of Leah Sullivan. It’s a found-footage, mystery-thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat. We will also have screenings throughout December in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and New York City. You can see information on screenings of that film at www.TheLostFootageofLeahSullivan.com

We also hope to produce a new play this coming 2020, and we have several other projects including films and series in the works. We loved creating Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde and were extremely encouraged by the success of it. We can’t wait for audiences to see what we have planned next. You can subscribe to our email list for our most up to date information at www.BlanketFortEntertainment.com.  
(play photo credit: Ed Krieger)

Is there anything you wish to add about Laguna Playhouse and the play?

BG: The Laguna Playhouse is a magical place. Ann E. Wareham and her team have created an adventure zone. A place where you can escape from the trials and tribulations of the modern world and enter the fantastical world of the theatre. It’s a place to come together as a community to laugh, to cry, to enjoy, and to be entertained. It’s a place to learn and to love.  You don’t have many places like this these days. You have to come see this play and support such an artistic playground. Come and have fun with us! You won’t regret it.

Opens: Sunday, November 10 at 5:30pm
Runs: Sunday, November 10 – Sunday, November 24, 2019
Performances will be Wednesdays through Fridays at 7:30pm; Saturdays at 2pm & 7:30pm; Sundays at 1:00pm & 5:30pm.
There will be added performances on Thursday, November 7 & Thursday, November 21 at 2pm & Tuesday, November 12 at 7:30pm.
There will be no performance on Sunday, November 10 at 1pm.
There will be Talk-Backs following the performances on Saturday, November 16 at 2pm and Thursday, November 21 at 7:30pm.

LAGUNA PLAYHOUSE
606 Laguna Canyon Rd. in Laguna Beach, CA
Tickets: $50.00 - $75.00

For tickets – visit www.lagunaplayhouse.com
or call 949-497-2787

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Interview with Armina LaManna

Armina LaManna is writer, director and also co-founder and artistic director of Imagine Project, L.A.’s only Equity theatre company dedicated exclusively to young audiences. Its inaugural production opens on Nov. 7.

This inaugural production is the world premiere of The Tale of Turandot, a modern theatrical puppetry experience for elementary school–aged children. Inspired by the centuries-old story, Armina LaManna wrote and will direct this family friendly production, which is geared toward children between the ages of four and twelve years old.

In our conversation LaManna talks in detail about the theatre company and the inaugural production. As a fan of children's theatre, I was amazed that there has not been am Equity company exclusively devoted to it. I grew up loving puppets and as a language teacher have used them in theatrical skits to tell my stories to students and teachers alike.


As the only Equity theatre company dedicated exclusively to young audiences, Imagine Project is surely getting off to an exciting start with the world premiere of The Tale of Turandot, a modern theatrical puppetry experience.  Tell us about it...the storyline and its background.

AL: When I read the Gozzi play in my teens, I remember really enjoying the combination of commedia dell'arte with an ancient legend. I also recall, however, being saddened that a smart female character was portrayed to be cold and heartless. It was back then that I decided to tell Turandot's story differently one day. Never in a million years did I think that I would be retelling it to young audiences. Yet, over three years ago, when we first decided to commit to telling stories that spotlighted female heroes, I knew that the time was right for Turandot's story from her perspective. Shattering this idea that smart women had to be cold women, was imperative.

This is why, The Tale of Turandot is told from Turandot's point of view - from the perspective of a young woman seeking passionately the opportunity to control her own destiny with plot twists specifically adapted for young audiences. In this play, Turandot uses the riddles to delay being betrothed; she stands her ground, and uses her wit and erudition to get a voice and choice in how her life unfolds; she is a self-reliant heroine - one that I hope would serve as a strong role-model for all kids, but young women especially.

Will there be live actor performances in the future or are you planning puppetry exclusively? 

AL: Puppetry was chosen to help tell this particular story, and while Imagine Project is not a puppet theatre, I do not doubt that we will be seeing more of this majestic craft in the years to come.

Puppetry is a European tradition which when transplanted to American culture has been enchanting children for years. What do you think is the magic of it? Why do kids find it irresistible?

AL: Kids and adults I would add. The magic in large part comes from the audience witnessing puppets transform something common into something extraordinary. What is a simple task for human actors - holding hands for example - suddenly becomes epic when two puppets do it. This allows the audience to develop a new appreciation for holding hands, because it suddenly sees this every-day occurrence in a new and whimsical light. I was born in the former USSR and spent my childhood there, specifically in Yerevan. It was a gift to grow up in a city that had professional children's theatre and of course the Toumanian Puppet Theatre, which was a rite-of-passage for kids there. And really, that's what we want Imagine Project to be for kids in Los Angeles. Did you know that there are hundreds of children's theatres in Belgium, which has a population of only 11.5 million? But Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, which is home to over 10 million people, 2.3 million of whom are kids, had only a handful, and until now, did not have a flagship Equity children's theatre?

No, I did not. We really need you. As artistic director of Imagine Project, what is your mission in detail?

AL: There was a great study done by University of Arkansas a few years ago; it found that seeing high-quality live theatre enhances kids' literary knowledge, tolerance, and empathy (which we have known to be on the decline for the past few decades). Growing this capacity for empathy at an age when technology is interfering with genuine human connection, and also igniting compassion for our differences, all through live storytelling, is the driving force behind our commitment to our community.

We also chose to tell stories that spotlight female heroes derived directly from the folk tales of Los Angeles' rich cultural fabric. The objective is to create an opportunity for our audience to see characters who look like them, while at the same time, inspiring girls to aspire and to teach boys to value parity in society.

From the very beginning, we also made a commitment to produce at the highest levels of professionalism; this is why we chose to be an Equity company.

Is there anything else you care to add like wisely scheduling performances on or close to weekends to avoid conflicts with school...or other future projects?

AL: Oh goodness, this has been one heck of a learning curve. Between testing months, school holidays, required lunch/recess times, bus acquisition issues, scheduling a field trip is nothing short of a miracle. There are schools/districts that made things comparatively easy, and then there are those that we have struggled to connect with. We also find ourselves having to often clarify that we are a company dedicated to producing work for children, and not by them.

Performances of The Tale of Turandot are Thursday, November 7 – Sunday, November 17.  Nine performances:
• Thursday 11/7 - 7:00 pm
• Friday 11/8 - 7:00 pm
• Saturday 11/9 - 11:00 am & 2:00 pm
• Sunday 11/10 - 4:00 pm
• Friday 11/15 - 7:00 pm
• Saturday 11/16- 11:00 am & 2:00 pm
• Sunday 11/17 - 4:00 pm

Performances will be held at The Colony Theatre 555 N. Third St., Burbank, CA 91582; 818-558-7000

For tickets and more informaqtion go to: http://imagineprojectca.com/the-tale-of-turandot



(photo credit: courtesy of Imagine Project)