Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Interview with Terra Taylor Knudson

Actress/Playwright Terra Taylor Knudson is about to open her award-winning solo show Willy's Lil Virgin Queen at the Garage Theatre in Long Beach after Labor Day. In our conversation she talks about why Shakespeare's work is so important to her and gives welcome advice to our readers on how to fully understand and appreciate him more.

Willy's Lil Virgin Queen sounds delightful. Tell us about how you and Shakespeare first got acquainted.

TTK: I grew up in Boulder, Colorado and one summer in July when I was nine my Dad surprised me with a trip to the Colorado Shakespeare Festival for an evening performance of “The Merry Wives of Windsor”. The CSF environment is a magical venue nestled at the foot of the Flat Irons, a unique section of the Rocky Mountains. It’s part of the University of Colorado’s campus and the Mary Rippon stage is a wooden stage surrounded by rows of red stone benches. Once the sun goes down, the lights come up on the stage and the rest is magic.  It was the first time I’d experienced Shakespeare and, although I didn’t know what most of the words meant, I could follow the slap-stick comedy well because the play is essentially an episode of “I Love Lucy”, ideal for a first entrĂ©e into the language.

Do you have a favorite play by the Bard? Which one? Why this choice?

TTK: I actually have two favorites; “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Hamlet”. Much Ado because it’s a quintessential romantic comedy with a strong female lead. The banter between Beatrice and Benedick is some of the best uses of word play and wit in any of the comedies. It’s on par with the fast-talking films of the 1940s and conjures images of Bogart and Bacall, Hepburn and Tracy. What makes it especially impactful however, is the depth of drama that also exists in the piece. There is a very dark twist of events that completely changes the tone of the show about half-way through and it becomes a serious drama. The drastic change gives Beatrice an opportunity to show her strength in a way that very few of Shakespeare’s other female characters can. And the dynamic between Beatrice and Benedick at once becomes much more intense as the stakes are raised to a fever pitch. The confrontation scene between the two, which ultimately ends in a declaration of love and a challenge, is one of the greatest dramatic scenes ever written.

Hamlet is not my favorite because it’s the most famous and obvious choice. It’s my favorite because it’s one of the most human stories in the canon. Setting aside for a moment the incredible language, the play is essentially the story of a family; a grieving son, his co-dependent, heartbroken mother, a controlling and overbearing new stepfather, a young teenage girl with whom he is in love but not committed to. It’s elemental and everyone who has a family can relate on some level to Hamlet’s shock, pain and rage at his mother’s flawed character and his step-father/uncle’s sudden arrival on the scene. It’s the most emotionally complex and yet relatable of Shakespeare’s plays because Hamlet’s agony over whether to stay alive and endure this hellish situation or end his suffering is something I think everyone has experienced at some point in his or her life. It’s fundamentally human to question; “Why am I here?”, “What is my purpose?”, “Why am I in so much pain and when will it end?”, “Is this all there is?” Hamlet, is a dissertation on the human condition and the search to find release from grief and restore the balance of ones’ life following tragedy. All of this couched in the most iconic and extraordinary use of language in history.

In your show do you use a lot of quotes from the plays? If so, do you explain what they mean as you go along?

TTK: There are quite a lot of quotes and references made throughout the show and in each case, I try to explain their meaning through the context of the moment. The show is a coming-of-age narrative and Shakespeare’s characters and words are used to inform my personal story. There are parallels with specific plays and I make use of those similarities to help illustrate my journey and challenges at different points in my adolescence and early adulthood. Hopefully, they’re a way to demonstrate that Shakespeare is not only Classical, it’s contemporary and entirely relatable to our modern lives and circumstances. That’s the hope, anyway.

Comedy really started before Shakespeare, in ancient Greece but he seems the master as he was bent on entertaining his audiences, even in very dramatic circumstances. How do you feel about this?

TTK: In fact, Shakespeare’s desire to entertain audiences comedically even despite dramatic circumstances, I think is one of the core challenges facing any storyteller. How does one engage the audience and keep their attention long enough to take them through this journey? That’s the mission of every artist and comedy is a great unifier. When you have the audience laughing, they will trust you when they’re crying.

If you will, tell us a funny story about audience reaction to your play. It can involve someone who loved it ... or someone who reacted negatively...

TTK: One of the things I love about doing this show is the interactive nature of the piece.  It’s a direct conversation with the audience which can allow for some unexpected spontaneous moments to happen. Every audience has its own character and I never know exactly what that dynamic will be until I’m out on stage. If they’re laughing and talking loudly before I start, I know we’re in for a great time. But a quiet audience can be misleading. It can feel extremely vulnerable to be on stage and have a quiet audience, but I’ve learned that silence doesn’t mean disengaged. People react and respond to information in very different ways and there is no right or wrong way to experience live theatre.

During one particular performance I was deep into revealing a very personal and vulnerable moment when an audience member laughed. The room had been silent, so the single laugh rang out loud and clear. It caught me off guard and for just a moment I had to steal myself from looking up to see who had laughed. Just for an instant I was angered and hurt because it felt like such an inappropriate reaction but then I realized, laugher isn’t always because something is funny. Laugher is also a release of tension and that person had laughed, not because she was judging what I was doing, but because she was being affected by it. It was another reminder to me that I’m not the only one in the room who is experiencing the story. And, in truth, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. Otherwise, it’s just therapy in front of a paying audience.

Why do you think some people hate Shakespeare? Most actors, no, because you can be big and bold and the feelings are all there in the lines. I refer to others who refuse to take the time to really listen and learn...

TTK: It’s an excellent question and it’s one of the things I’m most passionate about changing. I think many people, whether actor or not, are frustrated because they feel that they’re stupid or not smart enough to “get” Shakespeare. They may have been introduced to “Romeo & Juliet” as a middle-school student and had to endure the agony of listening to other thirteen-year-olds try to read the language one line at a time. God Bless all middle-school teachers for what they do but unfortunately, it’s not the right way to be introduced to the Bard. For one thing, Shakespeare is meant to be seen and heard not read. And, when it’s done by people who have learned the techniques and have broken down the language, it’s surprisingly easy to understand even without any prior education. An audience shouldn’t have to have a degree in Classical literature to enjoy the work. If they don’t understand what’s being said, that’s a failing of the director and actors. If the performers do their homework the language flows and is as easy to follow as anything contemporary. Sadly, most people who fear or hate Shakespeare don’t realize this because in all likelihood, they haven’t been exposed to it being done well. There is no great mystery to the language, although it does take skill, dedication and training to learn how to break it down and perform it successfully.

For someone who is interested in approaching the language for the first time, I offer the following suggestions on how to get started:

  • See a really good film version. There are many out there that are very accessible and visually stimulating. The added advantage is that the music will help to inform the situation and the camera will tell you exactly where to focus your attention. Oftentimes, films will be slightly – or greatly – edited down to the main storyline and eliminate erroneous references or plot points that don’t serve the main through line. While you’re not getting the whole experience yet, it’s a great way to become familiar with the main plots without too much distraction.

  • See a high school or university production. I know it seems like the last place to go to see “good Shakespeare” but actually, some of the best shows I’ve seen were in high schools, colleges or summer stock, which is typically made up of twenty-something actors on summer vacation. My reason for this is that oftentimes younger actors will approach things more simply.

Not always, of course. There are many examples that immediately contradict this, but there are also examples of young actors portraying Juliet or the lovers in A Midsummer Nights’ Dream sweetly unadorned simply by virtue of the fact that the performers weren’t yet aware of how to get bogged down by the weight of “Shakespeare”. I offer this with the caveat that I think comedies are better for this than histories or dramas.

  • Lastly, see a production during the summer under the stars. No matter what show you see, when you see Shakespeare under the stars, it’s magic. While his works were performed outdoors, they were performed during the day, so the concept of “under the stars” isn’t historically accurate but it’s one of the most magical ways to experience the words. And, if you can, bring a folding chair, a picnic blanket, snacks, friends and just let go and enjoy the experience. Anything you don’t “get” will get lost in the beauty of that summer night. And, after you have a taste of that magic, your ear will want more. It’s not about “getting” Shakespeare. It’s about experiencing it.

How long have you been performing this play? Are there plans to take it to off Broadway maybe?

TTK: I’ve been performing this version of the play since June of 2017 but the show has been developing since 2012. It began as an hour-long lecture about the historical women featured in Shakespeare’s plays that I toured California and parts of Colorado with for two years. Then, in late 2015 I began developing it into a seventy-five minute piece that incorporated some of my personal stories and anecdotes but still focused primarily on the women and the ways in which they were presented in the plays. I produced that in early 2016 and in July of that year I began working with my director, Jessica Lynn Johnson to flesh out the story and adjust the focus from the plays to my personal journey with Shakespeare and how his words and characters helped to inform my life. That’s the piece that I perform now and that’s what you’ll see if you come to the run at The Garage Theatre the first week of September.

As for taking it to off Broadway, I’m currently starting plans for a U.S. tour in several states during 2020 and would love to take it off Broadway. Or heck, on Broadway!

Is this your only play or are there others? If so, tell us about them and how they evolved from your life.

TTK: I’ve had an opportunity to write a number of plays and small musicals over the years. Many have been for education outreach programs while others were specifically commissioned or created for a regular run. Among them is a musical; Old Black Magic: A Haunted Musical which has been produced locally multiple times since 2002, and Intimately Wilde, my period drama about the last hours of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment in the late 19th century, England. That was workshopped in Orange County and produced in Los Angeles in 2009 and later in Long Beach in 2013. In both cases, as well as in several others, the shows came out of a desire to write for the people in my life; actors who I felt were incredibly talented and I wanted to give them something to celebrate their talent. I can’t cook so I wrote instead.

Anything else you care to add?

TTK: Thank you for the very thought-provoking questions. It was fun to think about the show in different ways because of them. And, thank you so much for the opportunity to talk about the show and about Shakespeare with your readers. It’s a passion of mine to help demystify the plays and bring the lofty reputation of the works back down to the ground. They weren’t legendary when they were written. The plays were his work. And now they’re my play, which is really the best kind of work there is.

Willy's Lil Virgin Queen
Written & Performed by Terra Taylor Knudson
Developed with & Directed by Jessica Lynn Johnson
Produced by Olio Theatre Works & The Garage Theatre

Thursday, September 5th at 8:00pm
Friday, September 6th at 8:00pm
Saturday, September 7th at 8:00pm

Ticket Price: $20
*Special 2 for 1 Tickets on Thursday, Sept 5th ONLY with Code: "twofer"

All shows performed at The Garage Theatre in Long Beach
251 E. 7th St., Long Beach, CA 90813
(562) 433-8337

*Street Parking Available

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Interview with Shelly Goldstein

Writer/actress/cabaret performer Shelly Goldstein is  very popular worldwide and is in a constant state of motion. In our interview she talks about her work and how she cannot live without it. Not a moment passes without a sprinkling of her extraordinary humor.

First, tell our readers about your background. How did you get interested in comedy and then musical cabaret?

SG: In truth Don, I don’t think it was ever a conscious interest on my part. It chose me. I was always a performer..Maybe “ham” is a better word. I began singing along with my parents’ musical theatre albums and my big sister’s rock/pop records when I was about 2. I was acting them out by 5 and I wrote my first play when I was 7. I learned early that life was more enjoyable when I made people laugh.

Some years ago, I was hired to write a cabaret/nightclub act for a big TV star who loved what I wrote but only paid me part of the money we agreed on because I finished it a week earlier than we planned. (Punished for getting it done early!)

That gig was such a nightmare, I decided it was time to stop writing acts for other people and to write one for me. I did, expecting it to be a one-time thing. But the experience was electric. And after my very first cabaret show I was offered the great honor of being Michael Feinstein’s opening act at an AIDS benefit. I said yes immediately! And I’ve been performing ever since.

You have been writing and punching up screenplays and TV shows for many years and have worked with some of the greatest names in the business. If you had to tell a funny story about one particular person, who would that be? Or two?

SG: There’s an old expression about never meeting your heroes because they will disappoint you. I’m proud to say that with the occasional exception, most of the people I’ve met and had the honor to work with have been wonderful. There is little in life better than sitting at a table with Stephen Colbert writing jokes or making Steve Martin laugh. In addition to their immense talent, both of those men are as kind and wonderful as you’d want them to be. Having Paul McCartney tell me he’d read something I wrote and really liked it was beyond the beyond. One night I sang for Carol Channing and she said in that inimitable voice of hers, “I have no idea how that mind of yours works, but I love the madness that comes out!” I’d rather not focus on people who were mean or treated people badly. The times we’re living in are much too negative.

Do you have a mentor or mentors from among all those celebs you worked with? Who influenced you the most in producing your own performing career? If more than one, what did you learn from each?

SG: My first mentor was Garry Marshall who discovered me at Northwestern through a seminar he taught that I was invited to attend . That same week he came to see an improv show I ran, directed and performed in – and he told me he was going to keep an eye on me. Two of the cast members of that show were Ira Glass who now is known for THIS AMERICAN LIFE on NPR and Gary Kroeger who was a cast member on SNL. Garry gave me my first TV job writing at Paramount. I met a lot of wonderful people when I first began working in LA. One was the unmatched Larry Gelbart who was one of the sweetest, funniest men in the world. We rarely saw each other, but we wrote each other e-mails back and forth and played word games and pun games which were like a master class in comedy writing. He’d tell me stories about his days working on CAESAR’S HOUR (contrary to popular belief, Larry never wrote YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS and it used to bother him when he was mentioned as a writer on that show) and his early days on Broadway. I was also lucky enough to meet the great Treva Silverman who wrote so many legendary TV shows – notably THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW and THE MONKEES. Treva is the only writer to ever win a “Super Emmy” – it was only given out once and was voted on by other writers. I grew up watching the shows she wrote and recognizing her name on the screen and was always awed by how smart and funny she was. She’s also a dear person and a great friend.

As a performer I simply absorbed everything I could. I grew up performing musicals from the age of 6 in Chicago. When I decided to put together my own show, I went to a different cabaret show every night and participated in every open mic in town. I’ve also worked with brilliant musical directors/arrangers: Scott Harlan & Doug Peck in LA, Nigel Lilley & Tom Brady in London. The “patter” part of the show was never an issue for me, but each of them helped me musically in myriad ways, notably to find ways to do a song that truly made it mine. Not just re-writing lyrics which I love to do and do quite a lot – but also working to interpret a song in a way that was “me” – and working on great arrangements and medleys that tell a story.

I love putting songs together in unexpected ways. One of my favorite arrangements in my new show HOW GROOVY GIRLS SAVED THE WORLD (arranged with Doug Peck) combines “No Time At All” from PIPPIN, Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die,” Eric Idle’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” and Carly Simon’s “Anticipation.” Performing it is a joy. I call it my “Happy Death Medley.”

You have gotten rave reviews in London. What is cabaret like there in comparison to here in the US?

SG: First of all, I am madly in love with London and have been my entire life. It’s the most glorious and electric city. Cabaret is wildly diverse and wonderful there. Different styles, different languages, different generations. It’s invigorating. London cabaret audiences are wild – they want to have a good time.

Lots of Americans have made their mark there. The Queen of London cabaret and one of my best friends in the world is the brilliant Holly Penfield, originally from the Bay Area. Harold Sanditen and I have become very close friends. He’s a dapper Southern gentleman from Tulsa who has built London’s best Open Mic Party at Zedel (which used to be Le Crazy Coqs.) Miss Hope Springs is divine, the brilliant alter ego of Ty Jeffries, a wonderful songwriter and performer. Ruth Leon used to run cabaret at Zedel, now she books the Pheasantry in Chelsea and brings over many great American artists, like my friend Michele Brourman who plays her beautiful songs and performs with the Callaway Sisters and Amanda McBroom.

What thrilled me about performing in London and being so warmly embraced by the crowds there was the simple fact that when I first started, no one knew me (outside of my husband!) My references, especially in my early shows, were obviously very American and I wondered if they would translate. They did!

It was fantastic to make a roomful of strangers laugh and applaud…and over the years, I’m made many friends who follow my shows around.

My first “GroovyShelly” show, ONE FINE DAY: THE GROOVY GIRLS OF THE 60s paid respect to many of their icons: Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Cilla Black, Lulu and the legend of Swingin’ London itself. I’m looking forward to bringing my new show HOW GROOVY GIRLS SAVED THE WORLD over there.

My very first London Show, SONGS FOR LOVERS & THOSE THEY’VE DUMPED was at the old Pizza on the Park, across from the Palace in Knightsbridge. There was a big, distinguished man sitting ringside, smoking an enormous cigar. The smoke drove me mad, but he commanded your attention. I found out he was Lord Spencer Churchill, Sir Winston Churchill’s grandson!

I had a wonderfully fun run at Sergio’s, just north of Carnaby St, organized by Ronnie Davison who is probably London’s #1 fan and promoter of cabaret. My Musical Director was Nigel Lilley. When we started working together, he was fresh out of the Royal Academy of Music. Now he’s one of the busiest conductors, arrangers and MDs in the West End.

He’s been so busy that for my last show, he connected me with a gloriously talented guy who’s making a big mark on West End theatre, Tom Brady. My show included Sondheim’s “Getting Married Today” which I love to sing. A young West End actor was recommended to me as the perfect person to sing it with, playing Paul as well as the “Choirgirl". He showed up at rehearsals and was great. He did the sound check…Perfect.

Then hours later at the show…HE WASN’T THERE! He, uh…got preoccupied and missed the gig. So from backstage I called into the mic, “Tom – you’re on!” And he filled in to perfection.

There I was – stood up at the altar! (Now when I do that song, I play all 3 parts!)

There’s also a very vibrant one-person show community. Lots of shows that come from the Edinburgh Fringe. Hannah Gadsby’s show was an impossible ticket to get long before she exploded on Netflix with Nanette. People would stand in line for ages hoping to get a seat when she went on.

Lots of Americans come over. Join us! I guarantee you an adventure you won’t forget!

If you had to choose between writing and performing, which one takes precedence in your life, or do you like them equally?

SG: Absolutely no way I could choose one or the other. I need to do them both. I write every single day, I sing every day, I hope I say something that makes someone laugh and see something from a new perspective every day. Both are as important to me as breathing. The only real difference between being a writer or a performer is if you ask for a glass of water, someone will bring it to the performer. The writer, not so much!

What do you consider your funniest song?

SG: Hmmm…The most fun I have with a song that I didn’t write is definitely “Getting Married Today.” It’s brilliant, it’s hilarious, it’s my cardio. Of my parodies, probably the one that audiences insist on would be my update on the Carole King classic that I call, “Un-Natural Woman.”

The parody that means the most to me is the one I wrote as an anthem for marriage equality. I took the Mary Poppins/Sherman Brothers classic and rewrote it as, “Stupid Callous Homophobic Hateful Legislation.” It went viral around the world and was sung at many weddings. One lovely man in Brussels translated it into French and sent it to me! The response to that song made me so proud – the cause means so much to me.

Is How Groovy Girls Saved the World set to perform in LA at some point in the near future?

SG: I debuted this show in LA earlier this year at Catalina’s. It was a terrific night and we sold out the room. The show in Chicago was a blast and I hope to bring the show to London soon. I’d also love to take it to other cities – NY, SF, Palm Springs…and any other town that wants Groovy Music from some of the greatest women in Musical History as well as a lot of laughs. (Call me if you’re interested!)

I know you from FB and from running into you at cabarets and hearing others perform your funny, funny songs, but I have never seen you do a show. Maybe a brief appearance in someone else's show at the Gardenia. You have such a curious mind on FB always coming up with quizzes and fun questions. Do you use any of these responses in your material for a show? What about the politics of the day? Does that play into your comedy routines?

SG: Politics always factor into my shows. How can it not these days? One of my favorite songs in the new show is a parody of one of the great Alan Menken-Howard Ashman Disney collaborations. It’s about how Washington is screwing up the environment, primarily the oceans, lakes and rivers. It’s about the problems for fish, flora, fauna and sea life, “Under D.C.!”

My shows are scripted but I always leave room to comment/ad lib based on what insanity we’ve faced that day.

ON FB I just try to get people to talk without being nasty or regurgitate talking points. It’s often just a way to work through my frustration at what we’re going through right now.

What other projects are on the horizon?

SG: Right now I’m writing a live comedy special. The cast is outstanding – Lily Tomlin, Pete Holmes, Kevin Nealon, Margaret Cho, Lesley Jordan, Allee Willis – and me!! It happens next month at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica and it’s a fundraiser for a great animal charity, VOICE FOR THE ANIMALS.

Bruce Vilanch and I just created a sitcom together. Waiting for someone to produce it. The world needs to laugh right now, don’tcha think?

I want to bring HOW GROOVY GIRLS SAVED THE WORLD to some new cities and I am writing a new show about the California sound of the groovy era, notably the community in Laurel Canyon.

BTW – I write cabaret acts, special material and lyrics for performers all the time. Call me~

Oh, one last thing. I’m at that specific time we all must face…I’m obsessed with playing Mama Rose. Because...of course I am.



TWITTER follow me @groovyshelly

Monday, August 12, 2019

Interview with Linda Alznauer

Director/actress Linda Alznauer directed Trapped at Tea Time at the 2018 Hollywood Fringe Festival and Arthur Miller's All My Sons at Upstairs-at-the-Group-Rep (2018). Also Upstairs at the Group Rep, she directed and appeared in And Miss Reardon Drinks a Little by Paul Zindel (2017) and Another Antigone by A.R. Gurney (2016). Other LA credits include Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing at Two Roads Theater in Studio City (2014) and Visiting Oliver at JET Studios in NoHo (2014). NY credits include Blind Date at Open Pulse One Act Festival on Theater Row. Linda is a graduate of the USC Film School. She has recently opened Otherwise Engaged at Upstairs at the Group Rep.

interview by Steve Peterson

What was your first experience directing?

My first directing experience was at USC Film School where I directed several student films. By the time I graduated, I found I was more interested in pursuing acting in front of the camera than behind it. I enjoyed directing actors very much but I didn't like the slowness and tedium of film. I found I preferred directing for the stage. I pursued my acting career in LA and later in New York where I had the opportunity to also direct. I have been doing both since moving back to LA.

How did directing Otherwise Engaged come about?

Directing Otherwise Engaged was a happy accident. I was actually planning to direct Simon Gray’s best known play, Butley but when I read it again I came upon his play Otherwise Engaged which I didn’t know at all. The minute I read it, I fell in love with it and promptly abandoned all thoughts of Butley which is a wonderful play but it is essentially a tour de force for the leading actor with minor supporting parts rounding out the cast. In contrast, Otherwise Engaged is populated with great parts surrounding the leading character. As a director, that was much more appealing to me and I think it will be appealing to an audience as well.

What were some of the challenges you encountered directing Otherwise Engaged?

This play was a little different to direct because it takes place in real time and the leading character of Simon played by Michael Robb, never leaves the stage. We do have an intermission but the action picks up right where it left off so Simon is always onstage. It is a real workout for an actor. And as a director I really have to focus on the time aspect so that what characters are going through when they leave the stage and before they return are clear and immediate to the audience. It requires more concentration for the actors moment to moment because there is no “2 weeks later” or even “2 hours” later as there would be in most plays. Everything unfolds in real time which I think the audience will enjoy.

What do you want the audience take away to be having seen the production?

My desire is for the audience to have a really satisfying “theater” experience. This play is witty and literate and will appeal to people who enjoy a script that makes them think as well as laugh and where the characters have a certain ambiguity to them. I think it will leave people talking about what they just saw. That is my hope anyway.

Otherwise Engaged runs through September 8, Upstairs at the Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood. Tickets and information or (818) 763-5990.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Interview with Odalys Nanin

Actress/director/producer Odalys Nanin presented her award-winning Frida: Stroke of Passion at Casa 0101 in February of this year to great acclaim. The play bowed originally in 2017 at the Macha Theatre and ran for 3 months. The Casa 0101 engagement was made possible by a grant from the Eastside Arts Initiative. Nanin wrote the play and directs, produces and stars in it as Frida Kahlo. She will have a fundraiser in  August and September so she and her team can continue their programming in 2020 and hopefully acquire a new space. In our interview she talks about her success and points to the difficulty in mounting good theatre in Los Angeles.

How did your run of Frida go at Casa 0101?

ON: We had a wonderful sold out run. We sold out before we opened. We added a show Oscar night February 24, and I thought it was going to be half empty...and it was like oversold. It was very well received. I was really happy. We had standing ovations at the end of the show. We had q and a s, and people were very interested in asking questions, because the play deals with the last week of Frida Kahlo's life and the mysterious coverup about her death. People were intrigued wanting to know where I got the information. I told them I did the research, saw a lot of old documentaries, and I read about other people talking about Frida and how they felt about what she was doing. That's how I did it, and of course I added  her bisexuality. which is usually brushed under the rug. She had many men, but she also had many women, many famous women like Josephine Baker in Paris...

You really dug in and delt with controversial issues.

ON: That's the type of playwright I am. I like to explore and kind of educate the audience about the bigger picture. She was not just a painter. She was a revolutionary painter; she was a revolutionary person. Her last lover was a Cuban spy, which was completely a shocking thing for me because I had no idea she was surrounded by so many revolutionary women. I was intrigued. That's really why I wrote the play. It's my tenth play...

I think it's your best, apart from Garbo's Cuban Lover.

ON: Thank you. And I was so taken by the fact that it was sold out before I opened. Incredible! So I realized that maybe I should do like a big one night fundraising event. I thought about Barnsdall Gallery. It's in Hollywood. It has 300 seats. It's a beautiful space. What we're planning to do is have tiers. The regular seats are $50 with open bar. The front 22 seats are VIP, $100, open bar and you get my book and a  t-shirt. This is to raise funds to actually continue producing the play. You need money to produce in this town. And the little theatres are really getting to be incredibly expensive. I'm hoping by next year to have my own space. We'll see. When I first got to LA, there were so many small theatres in Hollywood, and they've just disappeared. They became coffee shops, massage parlors... And the big problem in renting is not the space, but when you have a lot of seats, they want a lot of money. So the plan for this year is to do the fundraiser at Barnsdall with a two month prior campaign to fill the seats, and I'll also remount my comedy Love Struck for a few nights in a smaller space.

Let's talk about the artistic challenges in mounting Frida.

ON: It's very difficult to cast Diego (Rivera). He's tall; he's supposed to be a certain look. I found this actor who looks like him, he did it at Casa 0101, and he's wonderful. You have to have a really good cast. It has to be really connected.

You really cast your plays well. Is there anything new that you're working on?

ON: I'm working on a new play about ghosts, phantoms. It takes you through the reason why they're there. They have their own stories. They were alive once upon a time. You learn their stories, how they die...I'm kind of like half finished. I haven't come up with a good title yet. Sacred Spirits, Haunted happens in a theatre, an old abandoned theatre. The actors, directors come from different times, and you find out why they're in that specific space.

What about some of the film work you've been involved in?

ON: I just did a TV series that's coming out this April called Games People Play for BET. I play a nanny. I'm the only Latina character, which is kind of cool actually, I like it. It shoots in Encino. So far I'm in 4 episodes. When it airs, let's see how it does. If they pick it up, I'll be working, doing that.

Would you rather have your own theatre space and devote more time to theatre or work on more film projects?

ON: I want to do more film. I'd love to do a TV series; that's a working actress. I also want my plays to travel and be translated, produced in Europe. Having my own space is separate. You not only get to write but rewrite and workshop the play. You get to grow. In 99 seat theatre, as a writer, I've been able to experiment, explore, see what works and doesn't work, do more rewrites. You can only do that in a warm space, a safe space, a small theatre. When I had a hit with Frida, I had to turn people away. It's kind of like a haven where I can workshop my plays or film, whatever I'm working on.

What is your process as a playwright?

ON: I love rewrites. When I did Frida again, I did some rewriting. At Casa it was a different space, a different kind of energy, so I changed and added things, I added more pictures, a fog machine, etc

In terms of looking at what I'm going to write, I don't look for it. It comes to me. I' ll give you an example. For my play Skin of Honey, I wrote a five page scene and I put it away in my file. I was talking to someone who grew up in Cuba. She started telling me her story, and I thought, I think I wrote this. I wrote it like 10 years ago. I went back to the file and pulled out the five pages. Skin of Honey (Piel de Miel) is about two teenage girls who experience same-sex love and are torn apart by Cuban politics; one stays, one leaves. That's all I had. When I heard her story, I thought, I can do a play out of this. I hear voices, I channel, I don't know what it is, but I wrote the first draft in two weeks, writing day and night. Each play has its own way of becoming.

Garbo's Cuban Lover ... someone gave me a book and said I should read it. I read 25 pages into it, and I didn't believe a word she (Mercedes de Acosta) was saying. I put the book on a shelf and forgot all about it. At a doctor's appointment, I picked up a magazine and I read: "the letters between Greta Garbo and Mercedes de Acosta, finally to be opened in 2000". I ran back to my house, took the book out and read the whole thing. It was true. I hadn't believed her, but it was true. I read the letters and immersed myself in that era. I read them and boom, I wrote the play Garbo's Cuban Lover.

Now Frida is very different. I didn't know how to write Frida. So, I researched her for six months and thought and thought until I realized the most difficult thing to write about was Frida's pain. I had to write it slowly, so it took me a long time. I wanted to be true to her pain. I did a lot of research about how people suffer. I read about what they saw, what they did. A lot of research went into that play, whereas with the others, it was boom and they were written. Also, I didn't want to turn the audience off, so what I did was to look for Frida's humor. She was very sarcastic and made fun of herself. Then I put in some music that people love to make things a little lighter.

So playwriting is laden with complexities, isn't it?

ON: There's a time to write certain plays in your life. Frida is a play I could not have written when I was younger. You have to be mature to write something so deep. You have to mature to open up and feel that kind of pain. Most people push it away. As a writer, I had to welcome it, make it part of the play so people would understand what she really went through.

In conclusion, is there anything else you care to add?

ON: I am looking into the future and I am going to go to Spain. I want to research about a very special lady that most do not know about. The best friend of Isabella I of Spain. It's not about the queen but about this lady and how she influenced the queen. She was the first woman to teach at the University of Salamanca. She taught Latin, philosophy. Spain did not allow women to go to the University. When Isabella became queen, she opened all that up. This lady was able to teach Latin to the princesses. I want to explore the relationship between her and the queen. That's another one of my ideas.

Oh, and as far as the benefit is concerned and Love Struck, I hope people will come and give whatever they can, even $1, as it all counts in helping theatre stay alive in Los Angeles...
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MACHA Theatre/Films presents 

August 16,17,18
The Zephyr Theatre
7456 Melrose Ave West Hollywood 90046

Fri and Sat 8pm; Sun 6pm 
Tix $25 early bird (includes a glass of wine ) by July 16

Regular $35
Includes a glass of wine with admission. 
by Odalys Nanin 
and Marie Barrientos 
A Landmark Romantic Comedy 
Two Latinas One American and One Cuban in a hurricane of Love Lust and Other devastations. 

The cast:
Tricia Cruz as Rachel 

Odalys Nanin as Laura 

FRIDA-Stroke of Passion
 by Odalys Nanin
February 2020 at Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 E. First St, LA  There will be 6 performances on Feb 7,8,9 and 14, 15, 16, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm. 
All donations are tax deductible 

Cast and creative team include:

Odalys Nanin as Frida Kahlo
Oscar Basulto as Diego Rivera 
Tricia Cruz as Nurse Judith 
Sandra Valls as Chavela Vargas
Francisco Medina as Musician/ Manolo
Andres Mejia Vallejo as Judas
Kesia Elwin as Teresa Proenza
Marjorie Burgos as Maria Felix 
Mantha Balourdou as Tina Modotti 
Christie Black as Josephine Baker 
Paul Cascante as Leon Trostky
Joseph Bixler as Little Diego 

wriitten, produced and directed by Odalys Nanin
Co Producer: 
Patricia Moran

Co- director: 
Corky Dominguez

Set Designer 
Marco de Leon

Light Designer 
Sammie Wayne 

Funded by the Eastside Arts Initiative n the California Foundation