Friday, May 31, 2019

Jessie Knowles Interview

Accomplished stage actress Jessie Knowles brings her courageous hit solo show Jessie's Messy Mind that sheds light on bipolar and schizophrenia by taking patrons on an eye-opening and mind-bending trip through her truly unique experience. 

At a talkback after a show at her school, the presenter asked the audience if anyone had experienced a time when something they considered a flaw turned out to be an asset. Jessie Knowles raised her hand and boldly told the audience that her bipolar and schizophrenia actually heightened her creativity and spiritual insight. The room went silent and Jessie noticed that afterward people either treated her differently or avoided her altogether. She realized the lack of understanding people had about mental health…and that she could do something about it.

The result is Jessie’s Messy Mind, Knowles’ hit solo show that makes its next stop on its national tour at studio/stage this June as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival. In our conversation Jessie brings our readers to a closer understanding of the illnesses.

Describe your illness for our readers and how long it has been part of you life.

First off, I discourage the use of the word “illness,” as I do not believe that the conditions are necessarily “illnesses” or “abnormalities.” I believe every mind is different from every other mind, so I use the term “mental difference.” If we immediately classify those differences as illnesses then we are looking at them through the lens of wanting to “cure” or “fix” a problem. But part of my “problem” has been the inability of others, and by association myself, to accept these differences as a normal part of my unique personality. My experiences have been hard for me to understand and I have used doctors and medication to regulate the “symptoms,” as they manifest quite strong at times, but it was only when I was able to shed the idea that I was somehow “sick” or “broken,” or relegated to a life of “suffering,” that I was truly able to accept myself and embrace my differences as unique and valuable, even as a natural part of the process of human evolution. 

I was hospitalized at age 15 for a week and that was a very unique adventure.  I was definitely out of place in that environment but my parents and therapists were trying everything to help me make sense of myself and my experience.

In my sophomore year of college, I was finally medicated for ADHD, which saved my academic career and got me off academic probation, imposed by the Emerson College Honors Program which demanded a 3.3 GPA or above. 

The next year, I had my first manic episode, which included severe delusions (but no hallucinations) and centered around the stress of casting my very first presidential vote in 2000.  And the fact that I was trying an experimental cure for endometriosis called Lupron. 

At that time, I saw a doctor who diagnosed me with bipolar and prescribed Depakote and Risperdal, which I hated. They made me drool on myself as a zombie on the couch. Eventually, I stopped taking those. I finished my senior year a semester late and then fell into a depression that caused me to move back home. 

In 2003, I had another manic episode, with delusions, and was hospitalized again. That trip to the hospital started as a trip to rehab and ended in the psychiatric ward. I banged on the door to that wing and said “Let me in, I belong in there, not out here!”

I experienced depression and substance abuse issues until I had another episode in 2006. In 2007, I began to develop auditory hallucinations and l believe I received a dual diagnosis of bipolar and schizophrenia.  I had another episode in 2009, then again in 2011.  At some point, the diagnosis of Schizo-affective was mentioned.  But that’s so rare that people seem to understand the experience more as the separate diagnoses of schizophrenia and bipolar. 

I had some severe emotional trauma in 2012 and fell into a depression. By 2014, I had risen to an extreme manic state but refused to go to the hospital. That was my first time with extreme visual hallucinations. I entered into a toxic relationship in 2015, which caused my most severe manic episode to date, and was accepted into Parkridge Valley, a private facility that takes in state health care patients in extreme circumstances.  The toxic relationship continued through the time I was in grad school until my show and I had another severe episode in the fall of 2016, one month before the premiere of the show. 

Two things became very clear to me at that point.  First, I was much more protective of my time, and second, the draw of the euphoria of the manic rise had lost its appeal. So while I have been experiencing auditory hallucinations regularly since 2016, I have been able to avoid a delusional state by being committed to sticking with what I know to be true and carefully disregarding thoughts that try to lure me into a false reality.  It’s not easy, but so much information about the way thoughts and emotions can trick us has been revealed to me, from this process. I think I am better off for it. 

Being bipolar affects both men and women and many do not know they have it.  Is medicine affective or not?

Bipolar is hard to detect without the schizo-affective or bipolar 2 symptoms that manifest as severe delusions or hallucinations.  Many people just feel heightened, or like they have excess energy, or they are unusually paranoid bordering on conspiracy obsessions, suspecting friends and family of doing something to harm them on some way.  And then at other times they feel depressed and unable to find energy for normal functioning, but they can’t really identify why.  I go into a more detailed description of bipolar in the show, that many therapists and psychologists said made some things about bipolar much clearer for them, that even they didn’t know before seeing the show. 

Medication has been helpful for me but only after years of trial and error.  I had to find a really good psychiatrist who listened to me and respected my perspective, who treated me as a patient and not “another wacko wanting drugs.”  Some of them certainly made me feel that way.  I had to switch doctors a lot because of my state insurance. Many doctors would take me off something that was working for me because they use a different medicine or they have a policy that they don’t prescribe it.  But I have been with the same doctor now for 3 ½ years and he allows me to be an active part of my own treatment.  For my sometimes quite severe symptoms, I take 8 different medications, all of which I feel are useful and help me in different ways for managing different symptoms, and have easy to manage side effects. I also take melatonin and B vitamins. Some of my medicines are really expensive but my insurance will cover them. I know not everyone has great options for treatment, but not everyone needs medications to regulate their symptoms and slow things down. Sometimes for a manic state, removing excess stimulus, focusing on deep breathing, meditation, yoga, consciously calming your thoughts or listening to soothing music can help slow things down. Good sleep is a must! The best medicine! It’s hard because at first manic symptoms can be enticing.  It was when I was able to consciously resist the urge to follow the rise that I became stable, with or without medication.

For depression, I’d recommend lots of water, exercise, sunshine, funny movies, support from loved ones or a therapist and compassion for oneself, even in the hard times. And repeating the mantra, “this too shall pass,” has helped lift me out of depression. But as you’ll see in my show, sometimes you have to go through it to get over it.  I just try to have fun with the experience. But of course, if medication is an option and there’s a trust with your healthcare provider, I would say that it could be the boost someone needs to reclaim control of their life. 

But if you notice a negative result or (?) harsh side effects or even no (?) at all, speak up!  

When did you decide to write a show about this?  Talk in detail about the show and what you have put into it. 

I decided to do the show my first day of my first grad school residency for Goddard College in 2012.  I had come to the school planning to rewrite a play I wrote years earlier during my independent study at Emerson College, but because of my condition and the fact that I had just spent the summer experiencing the highest height of euphoria followed by the crushing low of heartbreak, I was a huge mess when I arrived in the fall. 

The first weekend was spent watching the graduating student’s presentations.  A student named Mindy Dillard did a very cool multimedia one-woman show called Poisoned Apple Medicine, using the original music and animated art that she developed at Goddard. It was about how fairy tale stereotypes of women affect young girls and the development of the female psyche, a message I loved. I immediately thought, “doing a show like this would be awesome.”  Then she asked the audience a question, “Has there been a time when something you considered to be a flaw turned out to be an asset?” No one stepped up to answer, but I knew mine. I raised my hand, “I have bipolar and schizophrenia and I think it really enhances my creative inspiration, spiritual insight, intellectual curiosity, emotional understanding, etc.” I said something to that effect. And what I said remains true. But the room fell silent. Mindy had no idea what to say.  It was awkward but I‘m used to awkward. Then she said, “Great! Anyone else?” And we moved on. But people treated me differently because of that admission. The school was small, only 35 - 40 students at my campus. And I knew by the end of the week that I had to change my plans and do the show that would become Jessie’s Messy Mind.

I developed my comedic persona to include all the characters that I like to do as I talk to myself and “the voices.” I learned to be friends with them because they weren’t going anywhere. I knew it wouldn’t work for them to be a “bad thing.”  At the end, during my final two semesters, I took all the pieces that I had written during various states of sanity and wove them together, with the characters interacting and telling the story. I even included some of the scribbled nonsensical stuff just because that’s what it’s really like.   

It turned out to be super funny and fun to perform.  It’s a bold move to put all that “crazy” out there and say “I’m okay with being this way.” But so many people who have lived a life using words like “illness,” “suffering” and “broken” about themselves have come to me and said that they finally understood a part of themselves that they’ve been trained to deny and suppress, or fear.  I’m not afraid of what I am, but the writing of the show was a process of figuring out what that is exactly, and then turning it into a show that would be entertaining, and not just me treating the audience like my therapist! I already had the therapy! The show is the beauty I found at the end!  And I love performing it. It’s scary at the beginning but once I get going… it’s so fun.  

Talk about your mother directing you and the impact that this has had for the show.  She understands you.  Does that make it easier or harder on you to produce the desired affects? 

I absolutely love working with my mom as my director. She has been working professionally as a director, actress, musician, singer, and playwright for longer than I have been alive.  My first memories are being in theaters in Los Angeles as a child as she directed her original musicals, That Other Woman’s Childand Smoky Mountain Suite with her writing partner, composer George S. Clinton, who lives in LA. And has tickets to my show!!

In one of the first musicals I did at ChattState, as Maisie in The Boyfriend, there was a nasty rumor going around that I was only hired because I was the director’s daughter.  But what they did not know was that my mom left the decision to hire me up to the musical director and choreographer.  She’s always been careful like that. I have had to earn my roles like everyone else.

My mom has seen me through a lot of what I talk about in the show, so she understands the root of the stories that I tell and has helped me capture the essence of those moments while keeping me grounded in the present performance, so I don’t get lost in my memory of it. I’m not sure if that makes sense.  But it’s easy to get lost when performing these altered states and she has been instrumental in making sure the audience feels safe and taken care of as I lead them on this unique journey. 

And she sure knows humor!  She finds those moments of comic gold and tunes them so they are subtle enough not to knock you over the head.  She brings the authenticity out in those funny moments, so even I find myself giggling on stage as I perform them.  She’s really a brilliant director and artist and I am so lucky that she was able to take this experimental show, that was very “messy” when I began, and clean up the performance, cut out the confusion and bring precision to the performance so I don’t look like a complete mess on stage!

If we have to pick the Fringe show to see, why should it be yours? 

There will be a lot of great shows at the Fringe, but I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like this one.  Aside from the fact that you’ll see aspects of mental health conditions that most people know very little about and as you see these totally new ways that the mind can operate and explore itself, you’ll be totally entertained and I feel pretty certain that you’ll laugh a lot.  But on a deeper level, what we are calling “mental illness” is on the rise, especially things like ADHD, anxiety and depression.  And more people are discovering that they or a loved one are exhibiting the symptoms of bipolar.  We still know very little about how to properly treat these conditions and as a result, suicide rates are also rising. I’ve lost two good friends to suicide and was devastated to lose Robin Williams just a little bit before I did the first performance of this show in 2016. I believe that he had been struggling with bipolar for most of his life.

The way we talk about mental health needs to change.  Right now we use words like “illness” and “suffering.” I know all too well that often this is the truth of the experiences, but we need a paradigm shift.  And that’s what my show can provide.  So many audience members have approached me after the show saying they are so grateful to have a new, more positive way to approach their struggles, either with a new or existing diagnosis or with caring for a loved one.  Many people have told me that “everyone needs to see this show!”  Even mental health care providers have expressed that they think all doctors, psychiatrists and counselors should see this show. One even suggested that it play regularly on PBS. How that’s supposed to happen, I know not. I’ll settle for Netflix.
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Jessie’s Messy Mind ia written and performed by Jessie Knowles

Directed by Sherry Landrum

Produced by Jessie Knowles and Bridgett Bryant

Executive Producers: SunVine Productions (Rex Knowles and Canedy Knowles)

Part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival

Saturday, June 8 – 11 p.m. (*preview)

Tuesday, June 18 – 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, June 22 – 1 p.m.

Monday, June 24 – 9:30 p.m.

Thursday, June 27 – 10 p.m.


520 N. Western Ave.

Los Angeles, CA 90004


Pay what you can options available


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Spotlight on Christian Prentice

The Road Theatre Company proudly presents Michael Perlman's At the Table at the Lankershim Arts Center May 17 through July 7. This riveting play deals with six so called liberal friends who realize on a weekend retreat that they are not as enlightened or diverse as they thought. Every week we will spotlight a member of the cast. This week the light shines on Christian Prentice.

Who do you play and what purpose does this character serve?

I play Nate, the host for the weekend and one of the "Core Four" friends. Nate is the guy that likes to have a good time. He provides the booze and the weed and the cabin. He also likes to stir the pot a little bit, he will say something or do something to get people riled up and then sit back and watch and he usually gets away with it because he is just charming or funny enough to get by. But he is also very loyal and protective of his friends and he loves them all very deeply.

Thematically he serves the purpose of the rich, straight, white male that truly believes he is an ally to minorities and marginalized groups and is doing the right things but in reality doesn't recognize how much his privilege has given him.

What are your challenges as an actor?

Wow. Um... In this show the biggest challenge is listening. There are a lot of scenes where everyone is talking at once and if someone misses a cue the whole theater can feel the energy drop. This is a show where, as an actor, you have to be "in it" the entire time because if you tune out for a second you've missed a lot and then you're playing catch up.

Also, learning when to time eating food in between lines can be tricky.

How are you preparing?

I've been drinking a lot. Smoking weed. Hanging out with the cast a lot outside of rehearsal. I think the entire cast realized early on that these friendships need to feel authentic for this play to really resonate with people and we've done a lot of work to build those relationships off stage. So hopefully that translates to the work. If not, it was still fun to party with these people.

I look over my lines a lot. This play is very naturalistic. The writing has a lot of "likes" and "ya knows" and trains of thought that jump tracks and then come back fairly quickly. It helps me because as an actor I have to finish the thought internally even if I don't say it out loud. And I have to know why it's connected to the next thing I'm saying in order for it to sound real and to maintain any emotional builds. It's challenging but it forces me to really think about what is this character thinking? What is he feeling? Why? What is the history? What has happened to these friendships in the year between Act 1 and Act 2? Which only leads to deeper, more rewarding work.

I've also been reading a lot about social justice and equal rights and racism and relationships. I read some Chekhov this play feels very Chekhovian to me. It's funny and sad and heartbreaking and absurd but very real all at once.

What is the theme or message of the play?

There are a lot of themes and issues this play addresses: privilege, equality, friendship, racism.
But I think the core of this play is what happens to lifelong friendships when people begin to grow into their truest self. Can we grow together or do we grow apart? Who am I? What is important to me now? And do the people that I surround myself with serve my journey of becoming the best version of myself or are they friendships of habit and history?

Talk about your fellow castmates and your director.

Ugh. The cast is the worst. Kidding! The cast is great. They are funny and talented and messy and complicated and giving and perfectly cast.

There was a night that the cast was out to dinner and it was right in the sweet spot of everyone was drinking and feeling loose and laughing and everyone was talking at once and it hit me that we were doing the play in real life. The rhythm, and the battle to be heard, and the teasing, and the love was all there. I saw the characters in each of us and understood why each person was cast. Credit to Judy for seeing that in us.

Judy (Moreland) is one of my favorite directors that I've every worked with. I've never trusted a director like I trust her. She is smart and funny and generous and curious and I think a lot of her strengths as a director come from her being a really good actor. She was so masterful in getting us where we needed to go as an ensemble. She gently guided us, she was patient, she asked great questions. This is a play that could become one-sided very easily and she did a great job of making sure that everyone was heard, everyone was fighting for what they believed.

The heartbreaking thing about this play is that everyone is hurting and speaking their truth and the other people in the room are having trouble hearing it. They want to help; they just don't know how. Or they are so hurt themselves that they can't see how. Judy did a great job of calibrating all the arguments so at the end of the play the audience will have a lot of things to think and talk about.

At the Table will play at the Lankershim Arts Center 5108 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, CA, opening this Friday through July 7. There is street parking but arrive early. For tickets call 818 766-8838.

Interview with Grace Jasmine

Grace Jasmine writes in a variety of genres. With 47 nonfiction books in print, she decided to return to her first love, writing for theater. She sat down to talk with us about her work The Masher about to open as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
I love your logo. It looks so eerie, like the child from Les Mis turned inside out. I love bizarre tales. How did you get started writing in this style? Is this your first play for the Fringe Festival?

Thank you! I appreciate the compliment. I told the artist, Summer Rue, and she loved your comment. And you are right, I did look at the Les Mis art for the poster and I can see that this art we have for The Masher is the surreal horror version of that. As a writer, I think that I see the tragedies and bad things in the world and try to make sense of them with black comedy. I tend to use broad comedy to deliver (what I believe are) important underlying themes. I have been told by an editor that I write “hysterical tragedy” –I think that is an apt description of my work.

I love bizarre tales too—and in this case the characters in The Masher are in a truly bizarre world— surreal, and really in many ways horrifying, but this is their reality and they live in it as real people. I think that is how bizarre tales really work the best! Regarding how I got started writing like this: I think it’s a combination of my reaction to horrible events and my need to use humor to cope. The link between comedy and tragedy is a very close one. I think that is how I see my work—and the world.

This is my first straight play for the festival. I was part of the festival in 2017 when I got a chance to bring two of my short musicals to the Fringe premiering at Sacred Fools Theatre (now the Broadwater.) F**ked Up Fairy Tales (David Anthony, Composer)– a tale of disenfranchised fairy tale characters who can’t wait to get out of their books every night and into the “Magic Bean,” their favorite bar owned by gay couple – Jack and the Giant. The dysfunctional pals come together to help overthrow a new tyrant who has come to town—a megalomaniac orange king. Everybody wins in the end. My second musical in the 2017 Hollywood Fringe was the story of a kleptomaniac senior, her pious sister, their pastor, and the drag queen next door. Everyone and everything comes out of the closet over a game of bridge. (Ross Plotkin, composer.) Both were a lot of fun and gave me a real sense of the artistic collective that Fringe always is for writers, directors, producers, and actors. I am excited to be back again this year producing and directing my own full-length straight play.

I think theatre is a wonderful place to write the huge and bizarre ideas that you have lurking around in your mind as a writer. I think that may be why even though I have written in a variety of genres this is the home I love the most. I love the freedom of theatre.

Is the story about the three women based on a real-life situation? If not, where did the idea come from?

The situation is surreal but a world that could exist.

Like most writers I get an idea from here, a character from there, a situation from somewhere else. Writers are always staring at their friends funny, not waiting to get into the conversation with something appropriate to say but seeing if their friend’s comments would make a good script or if that story about their grandmother would make a good plot. We are notorious for pulling subject matter from anyone who looks interesting.

In the case of these women they are totally fictional but portray aspects of things that are either life experience or close to my heart and soul as issues. For example, the #MeToo issues that form part of their personalities are subject matter that are personally important to me. it is written as my reaction to the #MeToo movement. I think that most of us, women especially, feel a real connection to the topics about #MeToo.

Without giving away the plot twists, what can you tell that will treat our readers? Just a tiny example of the horror and the humor in it.

Well, it’s interesting how humor and horror come together—but in the plot of The Masher they do. Doris, as audience members will find out, is that family member we all have who we love but they infuriate us. We can’t believe the things they say, and they frustrate the hell out of us. She’s that lost aunt or nutty grandmother that makes us reach for that second drink at the thanksgiving dinner table. Her insensitivity is actually very naive. She doesn’t mean to be as damaging as she is—so we have this constant love and hate for this lady. It makes for some wild moments of humor. Tae and Doris are constantly butting heads and Cassandra ends up an unwitting peacekeeper.

Regarding horror, there is something very odd happening at this factory. Without giving too much away, the factory uses music in an unusual and disturbing way—and interestingly an object at the factory becomes almost a living entity with its own distinct character.

Who are your favorite writers? Did you like Rod Serling of The Twilight Zone fame? If so, in what way? Who else would you care to mention...someone who inspired you to write?

I love the Twilight Zone. I must have watched every original episode. I love the normal people in bizarre situations story lines that make you on edge, that heighten our enjoyment by hooking into our tension and fear as well as a sense of edgy discomfiture.  I think it’s fun to be in an audience where you don’t know what the hell is going to happen next. Or when you are confronted with an emotional rollercoaster ride of action and story, where you don’t know if you should laugh or cry or be disgusted, so you do all three at the same time.

There are so many writers and playwrights who I respect. Some of the ones who have inspired my work recently are Robert Askins, who wrote the very bizarre and amazing Hand to God. Lisa Kron who wrote the book for the musical Fun Home and Hugh Wheeler who wrote the book for the musical Sweeney Todd. I also love the work of Lynn Nottage who wrote Sweat for which she earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. I think the edgy, real people in often surreal situations that are mastered by each of these playwrights makes me love their work. I also appreciate the three dimensionality of their characters and the fearlessness with which all of these playwrights write.

How do you expect audiences to react? What do you hope they will take away with them after having seen the play?

Like all theatre I enjoy, I am hoping for an emotional reaction to my work. I hope to move my audience on an emotional level. I would love it if they laugh and cry, if they are engaged. If they feel sympathy for the characters and care about what happens to them. If they “lean forward” the way I do when I am really enjoying a moment in the theatre.

As far as a take-away. The underlying theme of this work is about violence against women. Both the sexual violence that #MeToo centers on and domestic violence. I want audience members to think about what happens to women and how it's largely ignored. I would like this play to draw attention to these subjects. And because of this underlying theme, I have decided to give a portion of the house each night to a different women’s charity—some that support victims of domestic violence and sexual assault but others that empower women, women in the arts, women writers and girls who want a creative career.  I would like to change the conversation about how women are treated in this country—not only nationally but globally. I think as an artist (and a person!) these issues concern me, and I want to bring attention to them.

Is this your only play or have you written others of this genre? Others of a different nature?

Well, I love over-the-top theatre, that is, theatre that takes risks--whatever they are. I have two shows now that I am currently working on—one, a straight play with music, called The Rage of Ordinary People that will touch on women from all walks of life, including those who are disenfranchised for any reason and what their lives are like now. Additionally, I am working on a musical based on the story of Frankenstein called Skin Deep. This one is another creepy, larger- than-life show, based on the classic tale, but featuring a woman who wants to make herself over through plastic surgery to look like her favorite doll. So, what pulls my work together are a couple of things: digging deeply into emotion, pushing boundaries, and sympathetic characters. In this way I have written comedy, black comedy, musical comedy, dramedy and drama/thrillers.

In your mind, what should a play do for those who watch besides entertain them?

I think a play should make people feel, it should provide a heightened emotional experience. There is something amazing about a heightened emotional experience in real time provided by real people in the same space you are in – as opposed to the thrill of watching something on the screen. There is a group synergy in live theatre.

Can you point to a recent mystery type play that you feel is really well written? Or do you feel that this genre is a dying art form doomed to special effects and poor character development?

Well, my feeling on genre is this: Any play about anything and any genre has the chance of being well written if the characters are well-drawn and three dimensional and if the audience cares about them. If they are sympathetic. Those characters have to have well defined character arcs-that is, they have to change and grow through the story. They have to fight their own dragons, so to speak, and let us watch. That more than a specific genre is how I think any genre succeeds.

What about TV and film? Should a play's suspense outweigh that of a film, or are they the same in your opinion?

Well, I love film and TV, but I do think that immediacy of theatre is quite simply one of the best ways to heighten emotion, especially suspense. I think suspense operates through making an audience member feel uncertain, edgy, a sense of foreboding, or a sense of feeling for a character whose outlook looks grim—and I think all of this can happen in all of these mediums in an exciting way.

What do you hope will happen to The Masher through its contact with the Fringe?

Well, one great thing about Fringe is it is sort of a play incubator. I think my goals with this play are to explore it here at Fringe with a first run and then move forward to a regional and then Equity run and eventually Off-Broadway. I believe that the Hollywood Fringe Festival is a first crucial step in all this. One thing about Fringe, it absolutely increases your contacts and professional friendships, your network and your skill. Everything about it works toward the ultimate creative good of all those involved.

Add anything you care to mention that I did not ask.

Well, of course, I really want to encourage your readership to come and see The Masher. I think it’s going to be a really interesting, intense, and fun night of theatre. I would like to mention the link to our page on the Hollywood Fringe site at I would also like to invite readers to use our discount code "CARD" for 4 dollars off their tickets when they buy them on the Hollywood Fringe site! And thank you so much for these awesome questions and the chance to chat with you!
Grace :
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Produced by Loud Karma Productions, directed and written by Grace Jasmine. Starring: Morgan Aiken, Cindy Lopez, Allana Mathies, Megan Rees, Blake McCormack, with understudies, Amanda Wagner and Megan Rees. 

WHERE: Theatre Asylum’s Studio C–6448 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038

PERFORMANCE DATES: (Running time 55 minutes)
June 7, 2019 @6:00 PM
June 9, 2019 @7:00 PM
June 15, 2019 @ 2:00 PM
June 19, 2019 @10:00 PM
June 23, 2019 @8:00 PM
June 29, 2019 @4:00 PM

TICKET PRICE: General Admission: $14.00 -
HFF Participants and card or code holders: $10.00

**Admission age: Not appropriate for children under 16.

Friday, May 17, 2019

2019 Interview with Will Holbrook

Actor Will Holbrook made a big splash as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet when he first arrived in Los Angeles in 2016 at the Archway Theatre Company. The grandson of Hal Holbrook, Will is ambitious with two plays scheduled to perform this summer - Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and The Skin of Our Teeth - and the presentation of his new production company dedicated to film. In our conversation, Will talks with candor and enthusiasm about his plans for this summer and beyond.

I saw The Skin of Our Teeth several years ago at Theatricum. It's bizarre in structure and insanely hilarious. Describe the Antrobus family and your character son Henry in detail.

WH: The play follows the Antrobus family as they claw through external and internal disasters during the ice age, the great flood, and war. Some characters are representative of the bible, Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus as Adam and Eve, and their son Henry was re-named from Cain after he killed his brother. There is also a play-within-a-play aspect when the actors playing the characters occasionally break the fourth wall to make personal commentary on, or criticize, the production. 

Through all the chaos, the family’s relationships evolve to an explosive third act. Henry is a little boy when the play begins and has already killed his older brother. He strives to please his father and family and be “good”, but his instincts drive him to violence. I think as the story progresses, Henry observes the best way for him to get attention is to be “bad”. But the cost of that transformation is heavy. The play is unusual in its structure and themes, but at the heart it’s about a family trying to survive and cling together, which all of us can relate to on some level.

How are you going to prepare to play Henry? Use lots of imagination, to be sure.

WH: I first read the play before the audition a couple months ago and closely connected with Henry right away. Since then I’ve been preparing for the start of rehearsals. I'm looking forward to exploring being in the mind of a little boy, because young children don’t edit themselves and they go after what they want with zest and no second guessing. I enjoy using a combination of different acting techniques. At the end of the day, it’s whatever is most effective for given moments, stories, relationships. Preparation is the most fun part of acting to me because it’s when you can really learn things and tell a story. I do a lot of script analysis and character development beforehand so that once a production begins I can just be in the moment at rehearsal and in performance. 

On every project my process evolves. Sometimes I’ll prefer a couple months to focus on a character, sometimes just weeks. I also get really excited about entering different worlds and perspectives. Extremes fascinate me, and once I feel I “get” something, my mind starts wanting to move on. Extremes are risky but rewarding, and I seem to find myself in those scenarios over and over. They do make eventual balance more satisfying. Henry faces the dilemma of extremes as well in his pursuit of attention and adoration. Working with great acting veterans like Melora Marshall and Willow Geer, you always get so much from your fellow actors, which brings you to a fuller life. We have a really good team on this production, and I can't wait to start.

Dark comedy is a challenge for most actors, as you tread a thin line between fantasy and reality. Is this new for your repertoire or have you done one before?

WH: I tend to prefer comedies darker. I think a lot of our lives are dark comedy. It’s in the darkest moments we most need to laugh, and laughter is the closet emotional release to crying. The only reason we accept the craziness of life is because we are partaking in it and not observing it. Dark comedy relates us to our human gift of self-consciousness, every moment is so dear and important, yet we are also aware of the world and universe we exist in and that we are but a part of it. Only when we can’t laugh at the darkness does it become too dark. Comedy is tragedy that happens to someone else. If you can observe the dark comedy happening in life, you can understand it in the script.

Is this your first time at Theatricum? Use lots of insect repellant and be prepared to sweat...a lot. Tell us anything else you wish to regarding this character and play. Have you ever read Our Town? Thornton Wilder moves 360 degrees from this for  the satyrical Skin of Our Teeth, but they're both about family life.

WH: This is my second season with Theatricum. Last year I graduated their artist internship program and had ensemble and understudy roles in three of their plays. I’m continually struck by the beauty and community of Theatricum. In a big city going out into nature settles me down and brings peace. Performing classical work to an audience of not just people-but critters and birds is magical. Working on a stage surrounded by trees older than the stage itself brings perspective to what we do: attempt to perceive and relate to the life around us. Nature is the greatest of all storytellers, and humans are it’s most triumphant symphony. Sometimes on stage there I feel like we actors are the ones watching a story unfold around us.

A couple years ago I watched the 1977 production of Our Town that my grandpa Hal was in. I love stories that take place over generations, those two plays being good examples.

Prince Hal in Henry IV has to be one of Shakespeare's most difficult characters to carry off. The speeches are terribly long and immersed in historical content. Describe the dilemma or conflict and how you will attack it as an actor.

WH: Hal’s arc was what first attracted me to the idea of the show a couple years back. He is stuck between two worlds and has to find a way to balance the good from both to become the great king he dreams of being. His arc ends in seeming opposites and we get to see what makes him change. Finding personal meaning in the history is key, as is understanding the scene by scene evolution of Hal. Mining for historical context gives a better idea of relationships. It’s one thing to know Henry Bolingbroke had been banished by Richard II, returned, and won the throne, but another to put this into context for Hal; that his mother passed away in childbirth when he was six, his father was banished when he was nine, and Richard II took Hal under his wing until his father came back at eleven and deposed Richard. 

Hal had several different lifestyles growing up, shifting to fit into each, and I think that shapes him into the heroic king he becomes in Henry V for better and worse. As he predicts, his ability to see different perspectives serves him well as king. To me there is a deep longing in Hal, longing that leads him all the way to the castles of France in conquest. Hal had a king for a father, and was raised in politics and celebrity, what he missed was love and trust. He has to find which people he can surround himself with when it comes time to “pay the debt” of being king. As an actor, understanding and communicating both the boy and the man, the drunkard and the king is a chief challenge. It’s a daunting transformation for Hal to make as well.

Archway did a terrific job with R and J. Are fellow actors returning to do this project as well? Talk a bit about the artistic director and how he manages to mount superior Shakespeare in such a small space.

WH: Archway moves on the blood, sweat, and tears of Steven Sabel. His passion and direction attract good energies to the company. Many of those energies are a part of this production, including John Eddings (Falstaff) who designs our company sets and returns as Falstaff after playing him in Merry Wives of Windsor. Another frequent Archway collaborator, Ron Milts, is directing. His last show with the Archway was Night of The Living Dead in 2017, which won a Valley Theatre Award. It’s a hard working group and that extra detail pays off and keeps the team rolling.

What have you been working on since Romeo? Film projects? Tell me about your production company.

WH: After Romeo I went through a transition period. I put everything into the show, and was so satisfied, that it took a few months to regain my fire. I’ve been booked continuously since October 2017 and am now full to the brim for all of 2019. I am doing now on a small scale what I want to do on a big scale in the future. I’m able to be selective with what projects I do now because I take full ownership of my career and recognize it will be what I make it and what I earn. It’s all about growing and learning, inch by inch. I mostly work in film, which is my preferred medium because it can take you anywhere and it is compact and stand alone. The next release, scheduled for June, is A Shore, a film dealing with the complexities of friendship and regret between two best friends when they meet at their sacred beach spot to reflect on their adolescence and face the reality of being carried on different currents by life.

I am debuting my production company Deep End Productions LLC with the short film Ride Home, being released mid-June. As a boy, my goal was not only to act, but also to write, direct, and produce my own projects. I started doing production work on feature films when I was 16, but after my first few months in LA at 18 I chose to focus on acting because it is the one of those I need in order to exist. With so many inspiring creators out there I feel now is the time to embrace my natural instinct and begin expressing my vision as a director as well. 

Opportunity is now truly in the hands of the artist in our industry. For long I had said "someday", but the time is now to make the art I want, as opposed to what I've been shown. As artists we have to trust our hearts and see where our crazy takes us. My goal is to be more catalyst than observer in my acting projects. We only get so many days, and I want to fill mine with projects that pass the ‘pace test’, if the script makes me pace around my room.

Our second release later this summer will be Way of the Wind. I took a 22 day long solo road trip sleeping in my Toyota Camry from LA to the arctic circle in Alaska, and back, in November 2018. I let my iPhone roll for 33 hours of footage, unsure if it would be anything interesting, but it turned out to be one of the climactic lessons of my life thus far. It was the culmination of adventures I began undertaking last year, days or weeks long unplanned driving trips around North America. I observed how much more I had to bring as an actor and person when I let my instinct take full control and stopped judging myselfI am editing alone so it’s been a bear (wink) of a post-production, but I believe what I learned will inspire and move audiences.

Our next three projects are on tap for late 2019 and the first half of 2020. Next up is a 15-minute short about an artist’s attempt to control his art titled To Eat A Slice of Pizza. There’s heartbreak, shoot-outs, and a film within the film. The script is beginning to look like someone ran over the rule book with a lawn mower. It’s gonna be outright chaos. I’m excited.

Deep End Productions will begin to produce and invest in other artist’s projects as we build it. We say “Stay away from the shallows”.

Getting back to Henry IV and its challenges, how do you approach the actual speeches in your preparation?

WH: One of the primary challenges of this play is tackling the monologue scenes. I’ve prioritized my time by workshopping scenes at Ivana Chubbuck studio, where I've studied for three years, giving me extra opportunity to work on them. Specificity in intention and the meaning attached to the historical facts are essential in this play. On the prose side at the tavern, it's understanding the jokes and references and finding the comedy of them for us the actors. I would argue some of Shakespeare’s best comedic scenes take place at the tavern in Eastcheap with Falstaff, Hal, and Poins.

For updates on the projects mentioned above, follow me on Instagram @willholbrookactor or Facebook at Will Holbrook

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The Skin of Our Teeth plays at the Theatricum Botanicum from July 13 through September 29 for 12 performances, TheTheatricum Botanicum  is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Topanga, California 90290
For tix, call:
Main Office 1-310-455-2322
Box Office 1-310-455-3723

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Fringe Festival Interview: Composer Terri Weiss

Monkey Mind is a family rock musical about a bright, precocious teen driven to thoughts of suicide because of an over active mind. This lesson of life becomes an uplifting and fun experience. Monkey Mind opens June 8th for the Hollywood Fringe Festival at The McCadden Place Theatre at 1157 N. McCadden Place in Hollywood. WriterTerri Weiss sat down recently to discuss the show.

Terri’s career spans decades from appearing on Broadway in FADE OUT FADE IN with Carol Burnett to understudying Betsy Palmer in SOUTH PACIFIC at Carnegie's Judsen Hall, to film where she worked with luminaries such as Jack Benny, Toni Randall and Jane Fonda. She studied voice with all the majors of her day and studied dance with Martha Graham and Matt Mattox. Terri also sang, on the road, for 7 years working at times with the famous Lionel Hampton orchestra.

Tell our readers about yourself.

Well, I’m 33 years sober and I’ve taught myself to live in the now, to control my mind. I am a singing teacher, a former singer/actress/dancer with Broadway, Off broadway and singing on the road experience I thought that it was just alcoholics who had crazy out of control minds but I have found that too many of my students have the same problem with their minds alway going into the dark spots of future and past. I have taught quite a few to “stay in the now’ as I taught myself.

So this is the basis of your play, correct?

Yes. This is a story, based on truth, about a teen girl whose lost her mother and her father’s having financial problems. She wants to win a singing contest and give the money to her father to get him out of his depression. She goes to a singing teacher who tells her she has a monkey mind. And the girl doesn’t want to hear it, but, near suicide she finally learns that staying in the now can save her life.

How long did it take you to write this?

I worked on it for ten years. We had a very successful workshop of it at New Musical Inc but I was never truly happy with the music and didn’t really get along too well with my composer. After letting it sit for about 4 years, I' d had a bad accident, got hit by a truck j-walking. I decided I had to get it done the way I wanted it done so I asked the composer if I could pay to have an arranger come in and make it more contemporary. He said absolutely not. If I got a producer who wanted changes, then he’d let me change. Well that was the last straw for me. I hired a lawyer to send him a very legal letter saying he was off the project.

I like your strength and determination.

I am one who thanks God all day a lot for the blessings in my life, but hardly ever get on my knees, I got on my knees and prayed for God to let me find the right composer. I rent rooms in my home and have never had to advertise, usually students or friends of friends rent from me but this time I had to advertise. A young man shows up from Peru and rents a room. He tell me he’s a composer but I think little about it figuring he wants to be a rock and roll star like so many boys I teach. A couple of weeks later, we’re in the kitchen and I ask him what kind of stuff he writes. He’s done movies in Peru and background to a play. I listen and am impressed. I ask if he’s ever written to lyrics. NO. Is he willing to try. Yes.

And he became your composer!?

Yes, Gerardo Herrera. He’s 26 years old, he studied to be a priest, and I love him.

So, what happened next?

Then I decided to do the Fringe and everything has fallen into line so spectacularly that I feel like I’m in the palm of God’s hand. And I’m NOT religious!. The first theatre I looked at I loved. Asked the guy if he knew a director, he suggested John Coppola, who read my script and loved it. We had audtions and out of 33 people. John picked two girls to star that are past students which thrilled me no end.

What is most exciting for you?

The most amazing thing about the whole thing is that, for years, everybody around me rolled their eyes at my references to spirits and my terms of spirituality. Now, not only does the director believe as I do, so do most of the cast and the energy in the rehearsals is electric!

What really stands out in the show?

Lacy's Monkey Mind is played by characters who sing and dance around her on stage. Because the interaction of the Monkeys with Lacy is funny, this show never gets too serious except for the climax.The lyrics are filled with a great sense of humor!

Written by Terri Weiss, Directed and Choreograph by John Coppola, Music Director: Ron Burnett, Costumes: Rob Saduski, Composer: Gerardo E. Herrera Benavides, Lyrics: Bill Berry.

Cast: Darcy Rose Byrnes, Cameron Gilliam, Karla Kelly, Corey Page, JD Mata, Fernando Christopher, and Tori Cott

PERFORMANCES: 90 minutes

Saturday June 8 2019, 5:00 PM

Friday June 14 2019, 5:00 PM

Sunday June 16 2019, 7:00 PM

Saturday June 22 2019, 8:00 PM

Sunday June 23 2019, 11:00 AM

Saturday June 29 2019, 6:30 PM

Sunday June 30 2019, 1:00 PM

WHERE: McCadden Place Theatre - 1157 N McCadden Pl., Los Angeles, CA 90038

TICKETS: $10.00 -

Admission: All ages, however, parents who have strict rules about any profanity or the subject of suicide should not bring their children.

my webpage,

Fringe Festival Interview: Composer Brooke deRosa

Trial Run Productions presents the world premiere of Gunfight at the Not-So-OK Saloon  a new musical comedy by Brooke deRosa. Gunfight at the Not-So-OK Saloon is a Gilbert and Sullivan-styled musical comedy set in the Old Wild West with a modern spin. The show opens as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival on  Saturday June 8th at the McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place in Hollywood., Brooke deRosa sat down to talk about the show and here's what she said.  

Describe the show for our readers.

So this is a western comedy, it's written almost like a cross between Gilbert & Sullivan and :"Blazing Saddles".

Tell us the basic storyline.  

When a clueless man named Chance wanders into town searching for his first love named Hope he discovers more than he bargained for.  Hope has taken a job in the local brothel where she spends time with the tyrannical Sheriff Sunday. Hijinks ensue as Chance, Hope, and the Sheriff get entangled in a hilarious web of truth, lies and love.  Who will win the girl?  You'll have to come see the result of the showdown between Chance and the Sheriff to find out.

It sounds really funny.

It's a pretty funny show, but I may be biased.  Our creative team is all female, so I suppose that's something. We have a lot of funny dialogue and double entendres, several dance numbers and the show runs about 50 minutes.  

What for you is the most exciting element of your show?
I've spent the majority of my professional life to date on stage as a performer.   Moving to the other side is such a thrill!  I get to collaborate with my favorite co-stars in the opera and musical theatre world that I have performed with many times but in a new way.

What about your cast? Who makes up the ensemble?

Our cast is comprised of: opera performers, operetta folks - who do a lot of Gilbert & Sullivan, and musical theater performers.

Is this your first show as a writer?

This is the third show I've written.

Fill us in with more detail on your background.

My background was originally as a musical theater performer and then an opera singer.  I've been composing music and film scores alongside performing my whole life but around 2016 I started combining both passions into writing opera and musicals.  My first opera, The Monkey's Paw premiered with Pacific Opera Project in 2017. I have several commissions coming up along with shows I am writing to produce.  While I am not performing in this, I am producing it through my new company, Trial Run Productions.

Talk with candor and more detail about what you feel is exciting about this new venture.

As a performer, my favorite shows have been operettas such as Pirates of Penzance, Candide and The Merry Widow.  Operetta is a fun genre that features both singing and dialogue, much like musical theatre. 

I wanted to write something that would be witty, in a more "traditional" style but give it a fresh and modern take, and that's how Gunfight came about.  I feel that having a performing background in both opera and musical theatre definitely helps in the writing process.  I try to envision what I would like to see as an audience and who I would like to portray as an actor.

What are other newer accomplishments?

In 2018 I was hired to orchestrate, re-compose and conduct the famous “missing quintet” from Rossini’s opera “La Gazzetta”. I have also conducted on TV’s "Scandal". " Luke Cage" season 2 and produced albums for Amazon Music, Linear Labs, and most recently, Snoop Dogg.

If you had to sum up Gunfight in a couple of sentences, what would you say?

The whole thing is very tongue in cheek.  It's very funny, and the cast laughs a TON.  

Directed by: Jennifer Clymer, Choreography by: Julie Barnett

Stage Managed by: Jenna Jacobson
Starring: Phil Meyer, Jade Bates, Jonathan Matthews, Nandani Sinha, Christopher Anderson-West, Monica Allan, Jessie Massoudi, Rosa Beltran, Jason Chacon, Spencer Frankeburger, Anthony Moresi
Where: McCadden Place Theatre, 1157 N. McCadden Place, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Performance Dates:
Saturday, June 8th @7pm - Preview
Saturday, June 15th @3:30pm
Friday, June 21st @10pm
Sunday, June 23rd @8:30pm
Saturday, June 29th @5pm – Closing Night

Running Time: 50 minutes  - Admission age: 13+
Ticket Price: $20 -