Monday, March 16, 2020

Interview with Susan Priver


Actress Susan Priver is a Los Angeles native and former ballerina. The story of how she started in ballet and finally crossed over to acting is the subject of her new mmoir entitled Dancer Interrupted. In our conversation she gives us great detail about the devastating ups and downs of her life. Her passion will make you want to rush out and buy the book, which is a great read.

The style of your book is so affecting. It was like reading your personal diary. Your thoughts and emotions jumped out and hit me. I understood.

SP: OMG, that's what I wanted to do. Let me tell you, it took 8 years. You are a writer by profession, whereas I am an actor.

I am an actor too.

SP: You are an actor too, but you have been writing longer than I. Not all actors can write, but I think actors learn the most important thing is the dialogue, what the person is feeling. I did have diaries from this growing up stage and I remember a lot, not everything, but everything that's in there I remember very distinctly because of my emotional place. I had a tough, tough time with people that I loved.

I felt so sorry for you spending time on the couch and you didn't want to leave it. Your father was hard on you, but he was so funny in his approach.

SP: Let me tell you, I hear kids now. How do you raise a kid? My dad was... "You get your ass off that couch". He was raised a certsain way and he was what he was, but...he didn't understand exactly what I was going through. He didn't have the empathy, but maybe the empathy would have been bad for me.

He did understand what your mother was doing to you and how that relationship was hurtful to you.

SP: She had empathy. My mom enjoyed being a nurse.

She wanted to keep you dependant on her.

SP: That's exactly right. She got some kind of enjoyment out of enabling me to sit there and just fall apart. I've never been a parent, and will never be a parent obviously, but it must be such a hard thing...to be a parent.

Henry (Olak) ...is he your husband?

SP: No, we've been together for 17 years ...do you know Henry?

No, just from reading about him in the book. I thought he was the best of your boyfriends, so kind and understanding. Gregory, the Russian, I wanted to take him and twist his neck.

SP: I think what I wanted to do with Gregory was contextualize in the way that I was still a bunhead. Dancers...I don't know if you know that world at all...I think the acting world is a little broader, because you are fencing, you're dancing, you're learning great playwrights, you're learning how to present yourself in a way that isn't just the veil of ballet, which is extremely difficult. The amount of commitment is more than what actors put in, and it keeps you from many other things. Learning that people take advantage of people. Perhaps my family didn't prepare me for that. My dad would have known, he was a lawyer. He was used to bad things happening in the world. But, maybe I didn't listen. I just was hopeful, hopeful that everything would be ok in those early years. Then when I was out in the world, when it was time to meet someone, maybe I wasn't ready for...I enjoyed being put down. I was a masochist.

Oh yeah, I felt bad for you as I read. I kept thinking, "She's got to break out of this."

SP: And I did...eventually. I did work in a workshop for a while about the craft of writing. I got better as I went along. In terms of the book, people want to feel like they are not going to die. It's not like a Hollywood movie, but I did survive certain things, and a lot of people don't survive.

One thing I did not quite understand. Why were you fired from the Cleveland Ballet ? They said "We have to let you go." What was the reason?

SP: I don't know.

Was it a weight thing?

SP: No. I was the skinniest I had ever been. I don't know exactly what it was, whether it had to do with funding...and they didn't need my services anymore. I didn't stay in line with people very well. I was in the corps de ballet. It might have been that. I was not a soloist. Maybe they didn't need any corps dancers...maybe they needed a soloist but they needed someone better than me. I don't know, but ballet never had a lot of money in these regional companies. They get grants and they bring people up through the schools. City ballet and American Ballet Theatre in New York have money.
Because it was never explained to me, that made it hard. It makes you question yourself. You just go get another job.

I loved your audition for Gwen Verdon and Bob Fosse in New York, where they told you to find a better song. You did "Happy Birthday"! (we both laugh)

SP: I saw people bringing out the sheet music. I didn't sing and I went to the audition kind of on a dare. Fosse liked tall ballet dancers, but ballet dancers who could sort of sing.

Fosse had an addiction problem. I try to bring that out in the book. I think creatives tend to have that.element in them, if they're any good. We're addicts. It's sad but true. A behavioral psychologist who is a professor at USC read my book and said he wants to give it to his addict students. There is a thing... How do you find a self without your addiction? For me it was finding a voice without.dance.

I wrote down that the message of your book is learning to love yourself and taking your place in the world via the arts, first as a dancer and lastly, an actor. In the Forward, you tie them in so well, when you say that ballet is poetry in motion. "I couldn't live without it." Later you add,  "how will I ever get poetry back in my life?"

SP: I had that in my journal. Ballet is a hard icky sticky world but it does have poetry. Then when I took a job as a secretary, I couldn't do anything. My dad thought I was kind of an idiot. My dad was really more of an atheist than Jewish, but in Jewish families, education is everything. Being a baller dancer is really not what they do. But I was weird and we had a little bit of a weird family.

Why did you write the book? For many an autobiography is a catharsis, but I think it's more than that for you. Sum up the various lessons you have learned that have brought you to this current state of bliss.

SP: For me it was to find my particular sensitivity to what had happened to me, in another craft. I always use that sensitivity in the characters that I like to play, particularly in Tennessee Williams...and Pinter. It was a way of creating one full thing that was my own. It was mine. It came directly from my experience. I like to filter that sensitivity into roles that I am capable of playing. I did do Lorraine Sheldon in The Man Who Came to Dinner, which is completely broad and bombastic, but I learned how to use my strength and my kind of witchiness and brought that to it.

So having the experience of doing Blanche in Streetcar and writing this book that has pure emotions in it, pure thoughts in it...I had to shape everything and make it into a craft. I did have an editor, and it's crafted.

I'm also a yoga teacher, and I love teaching.You're giving back. As actors we take people into another world. All people are attracted to storytelling. I'm attracted to storytelling through playwrights. Everybody has a story. It's putting it together and contextualizing why does this relate to this and that. I had to work out my life, that I really didn't have to be a doormat and be used by men like Gregory, a dark passionate Russian who was also an alcoholic. I also had to work out that not everybody hated me and wanted to hurt me as he did. And...to gain confidence, because when I stopped dancing, I had zero confidence, and that's why I attracted certain kinds of men in my life.

Dancers do exactly what they're told to do. It's manipulation and unless somebody gives them a backbone...and my parents were not really bad people. I just didn't listen to that. And as far as drug addiction is concerned, I had to say loud. "You did this to yourself. You are going to have to dig yourself out of it." You cannot isolate yourself. I isolated myself because I was afraid. You learn from your failures. I became a strong human being. I am a survivor, and I hope that the book will help people to realize that you don't have to join a cult or take anidepressants. You have to dig down and embrace your darkness, embrace the things that make us human that will allow you to rise above that.
The dance world taught perfection, Hollywood taught having your face lifted to be beautiful...no, it's what comes out of you: that's what you look like.

There will be signings of Dance Interrupted

on April 13th at Book Soup, Hollywood with John Fleck---Q and A

and on April 27th at Vroman's, Pasadena with Lian Dolan---Q and A

These events are subject to change depending on the state of the Corona Virus.

Check   www.susanpriver.com for updates.




Saturday, March 14, 2020

Message on the Corona Virus and Theatre Closings

ALL SUBMISSION DATES ON THIS BLOG FOR MARCH AND BEYOND ARE CURRENTLY SUBJECT TO CHANGE. DUE TO THE CORONA VIRUS THERE HAVE BEEN MANY THEATRE CANCELLATIONS AND POSTPONEMENTS FOR THE NEXT FEW MONTHS.  UPDATES WILL BE POSTED AS WE RECEIVE THEM.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Interview with Social Worker Daniela Rojas Garnica

The following article explains the atrocity in Colombia in 2010, presents an original story beautifully written about the children and introduces social worker Daniela Rojas Garnica with whom I had a short inerview.

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Letter to U.S. officials regarding rape and murder by Colombian military

Description: Last Thursday, October 14, three siblings, Jenny, age 14, Jimmy, age 9, and Jeferson, age 6, were found tortured, strangled and beheaded in a ditch near their home in Caño Temblador, near Tame, Arauca. A delegation made up of their teachers, social leaders of Tame, a member of Arauca’s state legislature and representatives of the Permanent Committee for Human Rights visited the ditch and took testimony from witnesses in the area that links the Colombian military with what happened. Apparently, military men raped the girl and killed the boys who witnessed their sister’s rape. The Commander of the 18th Brigade complained to local radio programs that the accusations were false and made up by the "guerrillas." More than 6,000 people from the region showed up at their funeral on October 19 in a demonstration of solidarity with the family, condemning the crime and demanding a prompt and clear investigation, given the fact that the presumed responsibility falls on members of the Colombian Army. 

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                                                                                                       THE GAME THAT HID MY FRIENDS


This story is made in memory of the case of violence presented in the municipality of Tame, Arauca in 2010.

FEBRUARY 2020.

Ten years ago, on the "Flor Amarillo" sidewalk in the municipality of Tame (Arauca), I remember that it was more or less in the middle of October 2010 that all the children on the sidewalk were meeting, playing, since we like to play hide and seek in the forest because it is very big.

We agreed to get together to play after lunch, they chose me to count from ten to ten to a thousand, and then go out to look for my friends who had surely hidden among the trees, - well you know what it is about the game! well the case is that we were: Pedrito, Juanchito, Miguelito, Carlitos, Osquítar, Francy and me; first caught Miguelito unprepared ... - "1, 2.3 por Miguelito", then I surprised the Osquítar, hidden there on top of an orange tree. - "1, 2.3 for Osquítar", after neglecting my "base" I am surprised by Pedrito: - 1, 2.3 for me and "safe country" which implies saving the rest of the players, that is, Juanchito , Carlitos and Francy.

- Francy, Juanchito, Carlitos? , already "saved homeland" for you.

Ten minutes and nothing, fifteen, twenty, twenty-five and nothing.

- We are all going to look for them, could it be that they hid far away?

- Sure !, and maybe that's why Pedrito doesn't listen to us.

We decided to distribute ourselves to look for them and this is where the mystery begins, Pedrito went to the houses to see if they were close, Miguelito walked in the direction of some banana crops, where it was said that the spirit of evil lived. Osquítar and I instead walked around the area where we were playing in the hope of reaching the "base".

Around the houses nobody had seen them, the only thing they knew was that their father was working on the neighboring sidewalk and that they were not authorized to leave the sidewalk, therefore they would not be with him. Miguelito, on the other hand, moved to the banana crops with the fear of meeting the evil spirit, but what he was finding was nothing more than clothing from his friends, first he found a shoe by Francy, possibly the right, then he found the scarf he was wearing as part of his hairstyle, he also found a flip flop for his older brother, a shirt for his younger brother and something a little more strange, he found whole locks of long hair, some say that the spirit leaves remains of hair so that they know that it was he who took them and disappeared them.

For our part, Osquítar and I, we were waiting a lot around our game, going round and round, waiting and waiting but nothing. Then we hoped to see them at school the next day, they did not go, we also expected them to visit us at home to do the homework all together as always, on Wednesdays and Fridays, but neither. In short, we have never seen them return.

Ten years have passed, since the spirit disappeared, however we still meet his father on special dates to eat and play, he is very happy to see us. He says seeing us reminds him of the innocence and purity of children and of course we reflect his children. Although it is hard to accept that they are no longer physically with us, I know that they are still here, because I feel them close. Sometimes dreaming of them, they are always dressed in white and in reality they look very calm, I see them very happy playing "the wheel wheel" and then ... they reach out their hands and invite me to play with them and as I walk towards them , they tell me:

-You are not to blame, friend, that this is so ugly, however, peace must be achieved, we must fight for our dreams, do not worry about us, here we are very well, we are happy and we are calm.

-All right, Francy, Juancho and Carlitos, your words give me courage and strength to not stop dreaming and chasing my dreams, do not forget that we also continue from here and will continue to remember them every day and carry them with us in our thoughts and dreams. And especially remembering for you.

- I know, friend, I know ... Let's play until you wake up.

I invite you, and all the children, not to lose hope of finding paths that lead us to peace, to persist in the fight not to be forgotten.

What ending would you put to the story? (children may write snd draw in a space below)
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SUBJECT: Interview on the psychosocial area CORPORACIÓN CLARETIANA
NORMÁN PEREZ BELLO.
Wishing success in your daily work through this I will give an account of the
psychosocial support process that we provide at the CORPORATION
CLARETIANA NORMÁN PEREZ BELLO to victims of state crimes in the framework
of the Colombian armed conflict, in relation to the questions sent by mail

CORPORATE CONTEXT
With the paramilitary presence throughout the country, a massive forced displacement began without
precedents that led the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace of the CRC to direct
its actions in defense of the rights of communities in various regions of the country. The
Claretians were part of the Intercongregational Justice and Peace and we carried out missions
especially in Medellín del Ariari, Meta; also in communities of Chocó and
Santanderes.

For the year 1996, at the initiative of students in the training stage and trainers,
we decided to form the Human Rights Committee "Norman Pérez Bello" in memory
of this young man who worked with the Claretian Missionaries and was assassinated by the forces of the State in Bogotá (1992). Since then, we have welcomed leaders and defenders and
human rights defenders, formalizing us as a Corporation in 2003 as
non-governmental organization defending human rights and accompaniment to
victims of state crimes in the framework of the Colombian armed conflict.


PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT
The Corporation provides comprehensive and therapeutic psychosocial care, whose target population
It is made up of human rights defenders and victims of State crimes in the framework of the armed conflict that remain in Bogotá, who present psychosocial affectations as a result of the victimizing acts, and they well request Attention or are sent by social organizations with which we work in partnership. Psychosocial support and care is carried out from the systemic and
social constructionism, implementing the model of resilience and mutual aid in
individual, family, group and community intervention, from careful listening and
art therapy, which allows through music, painting, meditation, dance between
other techniques that allow identifying needs, potentialities and aspects to be transformed
for the reconstruction of life projects.


In the framework of psychosocial care, the following programs of Attention:

1. Welcoming the lives of those who defend human rights: a shelter for Human rights defenders who are in a situation of risk, providing support through the temporary shelter modality, being
initially the reception for one month, with an extension of up to three months, in that period of time humanitarian aid is provided, legal advice, psychosocial support, food, clothing, therapeutic care and training through the School - Workshop.

2. Workshop School: Mending our history, weaving hope: Training space in human rights for boys, girls, youth, women and men who have been victims of State crimes in the framework of the armed conflict, being a space for recognition and enforceability of rights.

3. MUTRAME: Focus group of women who have been victims of the loss of their brothers or sentimental partners in the framework of the armed conflict, working from art therapy
the elaboration of the duel and from the memory component the reconstruction of their life projects and emotional as well as spiritual healing.

4. Social Movement of Boys, Girls and Youth for PEACE: It was born from the perspective that children and young people manage to imagine new paths for the notion of the component political, social and cultural of the country from childhood, in order to promote knowledge and practices from their experiences that allow influencing as political subjects in all spaces in those that develop.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _


INTERVIEW with social worker Daniela Rojas Garnica, coordinator of attention and psychosocial accompaniment, Norman Perez Bello, Claretian Corporation

How sad! How awful! These horrible crimes have never been solved and the
military arrested. Has something been done?

Faced with the case of Tame Arauca on the murder and rape of a 14-year-old girl and
murder of her two brothers, aged 9 and 6, in 2010, a situation that is reflected
through children's literature, it was not an unpunished case in Colombia, since the military
committed this act was convicted of the crimes of aggravated violent carnal access and
aggravated homicide. However, the father of the children at the present time presents
permanent persecution and threats for reporting the fact.

The little tale is so beautiful in its simplicity of searching for the children and not
finding them. But their spirits live and peace is requested. Who wrote this story?

The story is written by Karen Rubiano of the Republican University Corporation,
who accompanies from her internship at the NORMAN CLARETIAN CORPORATION
PEREZ BELLO to the SOCIAL MOVEMENT OF CHILDREN AND YOUTH FOR THE
PEACE, setting where the story is built: "The game that hid my friends."

What do you hope to achieve by getting people to read this? Do you think that the United States
will intervene and help defame the military responsible for these crimes?

From the construction of children's literature, it is sought with children and young people to make
a critical analysis of the reality of the country, being aware of the need for
social transformation in our territories and conceive ourselves as subjects of rights and
hope. I think organizations like USAID and the UN are betting on the fight to defend
human rights; however, it is necessary to have a complete analysis of the
problems to be able to intervene effectively.

I hope that justice is done/. What else
can we do to help?

We appreciate your solidarity and availability of help, we consider that a way
It is wonderful to support us is to give an account of our process and work at the international level.

I remain attentive,
DANIELA ROJAS GARNICA
SOCIAL WORKER
COORDINATOR OF ATTENTION AND PSYCHOSOCIAL ACCOMPANIMENT
NORMAN PEREZ BELLO CLARETIAN CORPORATION




Tuesday, March 10, 2020

2020 Intrview with Director Thomas James O'Leary

Director Thomas James O'Leary is delighted to be back at Actors Co-op after receiving the 2018 Ovation Award for Direction of a Play for 33 Variations.  


As an actor, Thomas is best known for his three-year run as the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway (over 1,000 performances) and Mason Marzac in Celebration Theatre’s Take Me Out. Thomas is a proud member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC). 

He is currently preparing to open Marvin's Room at Actors Co-op on March 20. In our conversation he talks about the play in depth.

Marvin's Room is a beautiful play because of playwright McPherson's (Scott) witty dialogue and outstanding characterizations. Bessie is nothing short of a minor miracle in the play. She brings such light and hope to everyone. How do you feel as the director about Bessie's fierce determination to keep everything on a positive note?

T O'L: Bessie is the heart of this piece. At times she can seem almost saintly, but I love that Scott McPherson has written her in a very human way. We are left to wonder how much she chose to be in the situation she has been in for 20 years as primary caregiver to her father and aunt. Scott is so good at portraying real people in challenging situations, while keeping a quirky comic tone dancing throughout. She does have an uncanny ability to see the glass as half full, but she also struggles with her burden and fears as anyone might. The primary story is about how we can keep on keeping on, with as much positivity as possible, through trying circumstances.

What challenges do you have in directing the piece? Is the disparity between Bessie and Lee the only conflict to deal with?

T O'L: We have focused a lot on honoring Scott’s unique comic voice, which is a bit counterintuitive at times to the subject matter, but I believe that the comic tone is what makes the play work. There are also a lot of moving parts in this production – and every designer brought her and his A game to make it all happen. And yes, Bessie and Lee, the two long-estranged sisters at the center of this piece, have the most conflict, but Lee has her own struggles with both of her sons, and Bessie is sometimes challenged by Aunt Ruth and Marvin, and even her doctor!

Love is at the center of the play and McPherson allows for such wonderful imaginative power within the audience. What do you see the message(s) of the play to be?


T O'L: Love is definitely at the center of the play, though as in real life, it doesn’t always come easy to these characters. The big concerns of living and dying and caring are deep themes throughout. While Bessie’s love is unable to stop her illness, it does impact everyone in the family, including her. Simple acts of caring transcend the darker fate that awaits her. It’s heartening to see how each character transforms.

My favorite character apart from Bessie is daffy Aunt Ruth. She is superb comic relief and so lovable. Talk about the comedy in the play that deals with such serious life and death matters.

T O'L: When I first saw the play at the Minetta Lane Theatre in NYC in 1992, I was so moved by it, in part because I was living what I saw on that stage, as I was the primary caregiver for my partner who was very ill at that time. I totally related to Bessie’s journey. And I laughed throughout the whole play. And I think Scott’s writing is brilliant – he’s so skilled at comedic but genuine dialogue – tickling our funny bone in one breath and then touching our heart in the next. I marveled at how he did it! Scott achieves something so unique here – there’s a little John Guare and a little Christopher Durang in his writing – but Scott keeps it all grounded in a nuanced reality with beautifully touching moments throughout. So we laugh through the pain. It’s not really a black comedy like Joe Orton. I call it a funny-sad play, but more funny than you’d expect. It’s such a tragedy that we lost Scott McPherson at the age of 33, just six months after he won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play for Marvin’s Room. Just think of how many other gems he would have written by now!

Tell our readers about your cast.

T O'L: I am blessed with an extraordinary cast – and all are actors who were new to me. The Actor’s Co-op is rich with talent! Francesca Casale is simply sublime as Bessie. Tara Battani Bowles is pitch perfect as Lee, the vulgar white-trash sister and mother of the two boys. Kane Filbeck has a natural sensitivity beneath Hank’s hard-to-pierce armor. I went a little younger in casting Marek Meyers as Hank’s younger brother Charlie because he is so unaffected, and he and Kane are so convincing as brothers. Brian Habicht is hysterical as Dr. Wally in scenes that are written as sketch comedy, but he also keeps it grounded in enough reality to allow dramatic moments to hit us at unexpected times. And Crystal Yvonne Jackson is so real and funny as Aunt Ruth. Justin Bowles and Kimi Walker bring much needed versatility to dual roles. I couldn’t ask for a better cast!

How would you relate this play to others you have directed? With a small cast, the ambiance is intimate and relatable. Where else gives the piece its power?

T O'L: Well, I just love this play! It’s the most I’ve been in love with something I’ve directed since 33 Variations, and yet the two plays could not be more different. I think my love affair with this one is because of Scott’s comic writing and because of my connection to the play when I first saw it. We are definitely leaning more toward what I saw in the original production than the more serious direction of the movie. And from what I’ve read, we’re taking it back to its origins more than the Broadway revival of 2012, which was hindered by being spread out on a large stage. The 99-seat Schall Theatre is perfect for this intimate play, and I adore all of the design elements of our production – we’re going for a hyper-realism, with a lot of detail work in Bessie’s home (I just hope no one tries to plug their phone charger into one of the outlets). One of my central images is the bouncing light in Marvin’s room, and that has inspired the lighting and sound design, plus original music by Dylan Price.

This is another perfect play for Actors Co-op. Tell our readers if you agree and why.

T O'L: The Co-op’s acting company is brimming with great talent, so it’s a great fit for them. Plus the story does have a spiritual bent to it – though I see almost any play as spiritual. Scott even satirizes spiritual beliefs in one of Aunt Ruth’s monologues. But the real spirituality in the play is in the theme of discovering the joy of being able to love in an unconditional way, and in seeing everyone being transfigured by Bessie’s love. You can’t get more spiritual than that.

Add anything that you wish like other projects you have been involved in since directing The Christians.

T O'L: I directed concert version of one of my favorite musicals, Sunday in the Park with George, for Musical Theatre Guild last spring, simultaneously with The Christians. And this past fall, I directed Aida at AMDA College of the Performing Arts where I also teach. Ironically, though my Broadway credits were all musicals and I direct only musicals at AMDA, I’ve directed only non-musicals at Actors Co-op. I’m not complaining – I really do love both! I’d rather not get locked into one thing anyways.

MARVIN'S ROOM plays March 20 - May 3
Fridays/Saturdays 8 pm
Sunday Matinees 2:30 pm
Saturday Matinees 3/28 & 4/4 at 2:30 pm
*No Shows Easter Weekend April 10-12 

Dates TBD

at Actors Co-op David Schall Theatre
1760 N. Gower Street
Hollywood, CA 90028






Monday, March 9, 2020

Interview with Luke Monday



Actor/singer Luke Monday is performing as standby for Elder Price 
in The Book of Mormon at the Ahmanson. He is also preparing to 
perform his concert/cabaret at Rockwell Table and Stage on Monday
March 16 entitled Callback Queen. In our interview Monday talks 
about both shows and how he really likes performing in Los Angeles.

I understand you are standby for Elder Price in The Book of Mormon. 
Have you gotten the chance to go on? What other role(s) do you cover?

LM: I have! I went on for Price on last Tuesday March 3rd, and I’ll be on again

March 17. I only cover Elder Price in the show. When it’s a role as demanding
as this, often times companies will hire a standby just to cover that part. I’m 
the only Price standby in this company.

This is without a doubt the funniest musical comedy, especially for gay

people. Are audiences still jumping out of their seats?

LM: They really are! I wasn’t sure what to expect since the show has played 

here a few times, but we’ve been selling really well and the crowds have been
fantastic. I went on on a Tuesday night, and it honestly felt like a Friday night 
crowd. Totally electric. I love it!

What do you think is the message of the play, and why is that vitally 

important in today's mixed up world?

LM: My takeaway from the show is that it’s ok to follow your own path, even

if it’s not what you expected. Particularly in Elder Price’s case, he’s had this 
very specific idea of how everything in his life (and afterlife) will play out. 
Obviously once he gets paired with Cunningham and sent to Uganda, that all 
gets derailed. But by the end of the show he learns to manage the change, and
in that finds a new strength. I think that’s something anyone watching can learn 
from. Life always throws curve balls, but it’s all about how you handle the struggles
and find a way to move forward!

Is this the favorite role you have played? Why? If not, what is your choice 

and why?

LM: It’s definitely up there! Maybe top 3? I love the music in this show. I remember
watching the Tonys that year, hearing “I Believe” for the very first time and thinking,
“I can do that!” Almost 9 years and 3 auditions later and here I am! My other favorites
would have to be Gabe in Next to Normal and George in She Loves Me.

What part did you perform in Mamma Mia? Was that enjoyable for you?


LM: Mamma Mia was a blast! One of the best experiences I’ve ever had. 

It was my first time touring, and and those people became my family. I was
in the ensemble and I covered Sky, the fiancée. I loved Mamma Mia because
no matter what negativity was going on in the world at the time, we could take
the audience away for 2 hours and escape all of that to just have fun.



Your cabaret show Callback Queen premiered last summer in San Diego. 

You tell anecdotes about your career thus far and sing Broadway show 
tunes. Can you give us a little sneak peek without creating a spoiler alert?

LM: That’s right! So, the show sort of opens with my very first rejection, not 

getting the part I wanted in my 4th grade school play, and then we continue
all the way to the present. I noticed a trend with concerts and cabarets that a
lot of them are just greatest hits of roles people played or originated i.e. their
success stories. And while that is perfectly great, I thought it would be interesting
to flip that idea on its head and share stories of rejection. Every actor has them! 
Without giving away too much, there are going to be appearances from my talented
friends from The Book of Mormon, awesome medleys and mashups, a costume 
reveal, glow sticks, and a choose-your-own finale. It should be a blast!

Do you have a favorite musical? Composer? Performer?

Why these choices?

LM: I think it’s a tie between West Side Story and Ragtime for favorite musical. 

Two of the most glorious scores ever written, and sadly still so relevant now. 
I don’t think I’ve got a favorite composer. I appreciate so many of them for 
different reasons! I have a few favorite performers. I’m a huge Gavin Creel 
fan. His voice was and is one of the best in the business. I want to play 
everything he’s ever played. I guess I’m on my way, seeing that he was an
Elder Price! Another fav is Laura Osnes. She’s a true triple threat and just 
has a positive presence that I think is so important in a cut throat industry 
like this.

Have you thought about auditioning for the King in Hamilton or did you? 

It's a funny, funny role.

LM: I mean obviously I’d love to play that part! I think it’s pretty spectacular 

that a character can be onstage for such a short time and yet be so memorable. 
That’s one I definitely will go in for at some point. Thankfully Hamilton will be
around for MANY years, so there’s time!

Tell our readers anything that I did not mention, like the comaraderie 

with your Mormon cast or how LA audiences are different from those
in other cities across the country.

LM: I love my cast. This is the longest I’ve been with any company and I can 

honestly say I love each of them. We lift each other up, and I know they’ll be
there on the 16th cheering me on. I think the audiences in LA are used to 
seeing great theater, so they are really smart! They pic up on the details and
the nuances that often go unnoticed in other cities. Being here is a reminder 
of how truly funny and well written this show is. It feels new again in a way. 
I can’t wait to go on again on the 17th and experience that rush again!




Catch Luke Monday on March 16 at Rockwell Table & Stage at
1714 N. Vertmont Ave. in Hollywood. Call 323-669-1550  for table 
reservations. And remember you can see him perform Elder Price 
in The Book of Mormon downtown at the Ahmanson Tuesday March 17.
CANCELLED

Saturday, February 29, 2020

2020 Interview with Robert Bannon

I have updated news of this appearance at the bottom of the article. Feinstein's is closed until further notice because of the Corona Virus.*

Actor/singer Robert Bannon has worked on Broadway and on TV's SNL. He was to present his cabaret show Unfinished Business at Feinstein's at Vitello's April 14. In our conversation he tells us about his background and how his love of the American Songbook came to be.

Tell our readers why you are recording an album in salute to the American Songbook. You graduated from Julliard Prep. What did you learn from the composers of these songs? Who are your favorites?

RB: Growing up in a good little Italian-Irish family in NJ, the music of Sinatra, Sammy, Dean, Johnny was reverent. The instrumentation, storytelling, and classic nature of these songs just spoke to me. I have always been a fan of the “story” and the build of a song. I love singing all music and listening to everything from hip hop to country (and sometimes that sneaks in the show) but all in all nothing beats the classics. They can be done and reimagined but the bones of them remain and will forever.

I did go to Julliard Prep, I was in the first music theatre class under Bertin Rowser and Diane Wilson. I am so grateful to them for seeing something in me, as a child, I didn’t see in myself. I learned that acting and musical theater are truly art forms. There is a difference between fame/celebrity and the art and the work it takes to serve it. That goes back to the classic element of the show. It is my story, but I serve the music and I hope that translates.

As far as composers, I learned it’s all in the melodies. Can you listen to a song and remember it? That is the magic of a good song. Also the saying that you don’t remember what you did or what you said but you will always remember how you FEEL! Does the music make you feel something? The universal themes of them all!

I have a bunch of favorites. I love Johnny Mercer. His vibe and style is just timeless. The poetry of his lyrics is second to none. Also I love Anthony Newley. He is often not thought of but I love the DRAMA of his music!! His arrangements and songs are full of it. It makes a moment in my shows and hopefully emotes something we all can relate to!

You title your concert show Unfinished Business. You are so young. Usually artists use this term at the end of their careers. What is your intent?

RB: Thanks for this question and saying I’m young!

There is a story to the title. When I was in high school and at Juilliard, I ended up getting sick for 4 years. I had undiagnosed Lyme disease which turned into meningitis before Justin Bieber made it a newsworthy thing. . I literally never had a chance to go to high school as a “normal” student. When I recovered I only knew one thing - singing. I started putting myself out there. I got called in to replace Roger in Rent on Broadway. I walked in, botched the audition and freaked out. I changed my major to Political Science and became a history teacher done with performing. After two Masters Degrees in Education, I felt something was missing. I would literally tear up at a curtain call or a concert.

So after 10 years of not performing, fate intervened. I met up with amazing performers and writers Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews. They just did their show Witness Uganda at the Wallis in Beverly Hills. They helped me literally dust off the rust and get back out there. They told me I had something to say. The first day I sang again I said I had some Unfinished Business to do and it stuck. I called my show that in NY at 54 Below. It is the journey and the lesson that we all have something unfinished to do. Take a step and the path with FOLLOW and do it!

Do you tell anecdotes in your show or just sing? As a principal in SNL, you must love comedy. Any comedic stories or skits we may look forward to?

RB: I think I talk as much as I sing! I have stories for days and have had such an interesting life thankfully! I love to talk about my journey, family, love, and some of the things that I’ve experienced. I love comedy! I grew up obsessed with SNL so being there is beyond anything I could ever imagine. I’m so grateful to just be in the halls of that American Institution!

I do have some fun stories. I talk about my childhood obsession with all things Manilow, being stuck on an elevator with singing legend Phoebe Snow, my personal life which is a show in of itself, etc! There are a lot of laughs. I am all Jersey all day so that totally comes across in the show.

Talk more in depth about SNL. What has this added to your career as a performer? Has improv strengthened your delivery and stamina onstage?

RB: I was first asked to be on SNL in a sketch about the TSA. In the sketch they let me through security with a sketchy bag and book bag while others were not allowed to come through as they had a travel ban. I had to shave my head for the part and I asked the Casting Director, if I shave my head, can I be on a live show? Please! It actually worked. Ask and you shall receive.

Since then I have had big roles, small roles and everything in between. Check out Electric Shoes with Keenan Thompson and see my bass playing wig debut. Seeing the way that show works and how talented they all are is inspiring. I’ve seen some of the best in the biz work up close to make that show fly. It’s always an honor. When I was first on, a friend from elementary school wrote me and said “You used to stay up and watch this show every Saturday and now you are on that stage!” It is a pretty surreal moment!

Improv is simply the best! It is scary which makes the pay off so much better. I am a graduate of Willian Esper for acting under the amazing Barbara Marchant. That program is Meisner acting technique which is mostly improv. That skill is something that makes you so present in your work as an actor and has certainly helped my stage show and listening to the audience moment to moment. It keeps you on your toes and ready for anything! Who knows what will come out of my mouth!?

What is your favorite Broadway show? It does not have to be one that you have done. Why this choice?

RB: That’s a tough question. I love Rent. I loved finally being able to be in Rent after my awful audition as a kid and being Roger. That show resonates with me so deeply about love and living each day to the fullest.

I would love more original musicals to be made on Broadway! Witness Uganda is BRILLIANT! That score is something that has stuck with me. It was genius at the Wallis in Beverly Hills. Matt Gould who co-wrote that show has a new show coming to La Jolla called Lempicka! Go SEE IT! I am hoping after California it takes over NYC!

Any particular role that you are yearning to play onstage? Why this choice?

RB: I would love to play Bobby in Company. I just relate so much to his character and the score is brilliant. I also love comedy and have been singing “My Girlfriend Who Lives In Canada” for years. So I would love to be fitted with a puppet to have some fun in Avenue Q! I am always down for some campy puppet moments.

Did you grow up with music in your family? What inspired you to be an actor and singer?

RB: My parents loved music. My dad loved placing big headphones on me and letting me rock out to Earth Wind and Fire. My mom loved Carly Simon. We would listen to her when she made us breakfast every weekend but don’t ask them to sing! Ha! They are not singers. My parents are kinda shy and I am literally shot out of a canon 24-7. I think I always wanted to make people smile and entertain. I would take the sheets from my bed, make curtains, and put on shows for my family since I could remember.

I tell a story about trying sports and being dreadful (soccer goalie is not on my special skills on my resume) and finally being like nope I quit! Take me to singing lessons instead. Sixth grade hit, I was the Prince in Cinderella at my school, I was hooked. I wanted to sing and act anywhere and everywhere.

My parents were hip and loved music. I was the old soul. I got a karaoke machine for Christmas with the Hits of Manilow and I was sold. Hook line and sinker. I would listen and study him nonstop.

What was it like performing with giants like Patti LaBelle and Whoopi Goldberg? What did you learn from being in their presence?

RB: Wow! I had the pleasure at 12 years old to perform with Ms. LaBelle at a tribute concert for Laura Nyro (songwriter) at the Beacon Theatre. I have loved her since. She was so kind, humble, and a FORCE on stage. She brings 110% everytime and is so authentically herself. Her kindness and authenticity are what makes people love her. I have had the pleasure to see her numerous times after and sing with her again, she is as amazing now as ever! OBSESSED!

Whoopi is such a wonderful performer, kind, and generous. She was such a wonderful person to be around. I think I learned that being kind matters. Being a good listener and remember that you matter and your art matters but you can’t do it without the people who support it.

Do you have a goal in LA? Are you looking toward more work in TV and roles in film? Will stage always remain a vital part of your performing life?

RB: It is so humbling to be booked at Feinstein’s in Studio City. No one is more surprised and honored than me. Three years ago, I had hung it all up and had not done a thing so I’m thrilled people are inspired and supportive. I am focusing on my new album which is on the way based on the one man show and journey. My first love will always be me, a stool, mic, and a piano player. It’s taken me decades to be comfortable sharing my story, and that will always be the one I want to tell first and foremost. I am just happy to meet some new friends in LA and spread my message and music! Therefore stage and the live show will always be the first love. We are always adding more dates so I’m so grateful for that. They are all on RobertBannon.com.

I love TV and film! I would love to do more straight up acting. That is such a fulfilling way to make a living to be the vessel for the text and project either comedy or drama-that is a blast. I would love to be open to whatever life has to surprise me. One thing I learned is it’s gonna surprise me so let’s see where it goes!

Add anything you wish here that we did not already mention.

RB: Thank you so much for your time and platform! Come see me at the show and say hi! I am so excited to share this show with LA! Joining me is Michael Orland as Music Director! Michael was the MD on American Idol for 15 seasons. He’s worked with everyone and is as talented as he is kind. You don’t want to miss what surprises we both have in store. Also, LA has some of the best singers in the world and I happen to know them so expect a bunch of surprises and a lot of fun!


Unfinished Business plays at Feinstein's at Vitello's at 4349 Tujunga Ave in Studio City on April 14 at 8 pm. Doors open for dinner at 6: 30 pm  Call 818-769-0905 for reservations.

* I asked Robert Bannon what he is doing creatively during this time. Are you working on the CD of the American Songbook? When your appearance is rescheduled, maybe it may be a CD release party?

RB: I am working on the album! It will be of the Great American Songbook. It is produced by Bob Magnuson and features arrangements by Tedd Firth and Rich DeRosa of songs you know with my own twist. Thanks to technology we will hopefully do it all digitally and get it ready to be out as soon as possible. I am trying to be as creative as possible with this time out. 

The new goal is once we have a new date for Feinstein’s in LA this summer it will be an album release with a whole new show! So I am definitely looking forward to what comes in the future. For now, just sending light and love to everyone to stay safe! 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Separate Interview with Lee Blessing

Lee Blessing Shows Multiple Perceptions of Reality
by Don Grigware

Actors Co-op presents Lee Blessing's A Body of Water that opened February 5 for previews with official opening night Friday February 7. The play runs through March 15. Multi award winning actress Nan McNamara serves as director. I sat down with Blessing and here's what he has to say about the play and mounting this production.



I am always fascinated by your plays. What character is telling the truth? Or is it all a dream...or nightmare? You keep us on the edge of our seats with your wonderful dialogue. How did A Body of Water come about? Did some event inspire you?

LB: I can't answer most of this question, but I will say that the idea for the play occurred to me as I as waking up one morning. I was relatively newly divorced (from a long marriage) and still feeling the very powerful (for me at least) post-trauma effects of that. In some ways I suppose this is a play about trauma in all its forms. It's about those moments in life when nothing that we think we know feels real any longer--nothing that we depended on, nothing that we knew in our hearts to be true. This happens to different people for different reasons of course, in different ways and at different points in their lives. But it happens to nearly everyone, I'd argue, whether we'll admit it or not.

You have been called our greatest American playwright because you deal with issues that are relevant. Sports are a typical love of the American culture and have played into many of your plays, like baseball in The Winning Streak and football in For the Loyal. Do sports play into this piece?

LB: Sports really don't have a role in this play, unless you count jogging. Actually I have the bad habit (for a playwright) of writing about a great many different phases and aspects of contemporary life as well as many different sorts of people encountering quite a range of challenges. America tends to favor playwrights who stick to a fairly narrow range of issues and styles and sort of do the same thing over and over again, often quite brilliantly. They develop sort of a "shingle" to hang out, so people will know what to expect before even seeing their next play. For whatever reason, I tend not to do that.

Tell our readers about the play in detail without creating a spoiler alert.

LB: This is such a difficult piece to talk about. It's highly conceptual, and one really doesn't want to ruin any surprises or sharp turns that it may contain. I will say the twpeople we meet at the start of play are in their fifties and in great physical health--just as I happened to be when I wrote it. I'll also say that while it's hard to talk about the play before seeing it, it's hard not to talk about the play after seeing it. So feel free to look me up then.

You always lace your plays with a delicious sense of humor. Is there humor here as well? Give us a sample if you will.

LB: There is a LOT of humor in this play. And, just like my life, it never fails to make me laugh.

What is the main theme of the play? What do you want audiences to take away after seeing it?

LB: I suppose if the A Body of Water has a theme, it has something to do with the nature of courage and our inability to live without faith. After all, something has to get us through the inevitable traumas.

Do you care to add anything?
LB: If there's such a thing as music in dialogue, I think this is one of the most musical plays I've written. Just don't expect to hum along.

to purchase tickets for A Body of Water, call 323-462-8460 or visit www.ACTORSCO-OP.ORG




Monday, February 17, 2020

2020 Spotlight On Chet Grissom

The Road Theatre Co is proud to present the premiere of Nowhere on the Border by Carlos Lacámara and directed by Stewart J. Zully. The play concerns itself with the question Why do people cross borders? Two working class men, an Anglo on border watch and a Mexican, face off in the desert. What is discovered is that border crossings are both physical and emotional. The play opened January 17 at the Road on Magnolia and will play through March 8. Each week we will spotlight a member of the cast or creative team. This week the light shines on Chet Grissom.


What character do you play? How does he serve the play?

I play Gary Dobbs, a volunteer with an organization that supports The Border Patrol. He's the main antagonist (other than the desert) in the piece.

How does the play challenge you as an actor?

Getting inside the mindset of a character I personally don't agree with is always a challenge ~ so to overcome that you find similarities and legitimate motivations for how he thinks and feels.

On a practical level, the amount of props I have to deal with took a lot of rehearsal time to master.

What do you feel is the meaning of the play? Its theme or message?

That, at our core, we all want the same things in life.

What would you like audiences to take away?

That this is a complicated issue with valid points on both sides. It's a situation that needs compassionate thought in order to come up with a policy that doesn't criminalize people in desperate situations.

Talk briefly about your director and castmates

Our director Stewart Zully has had a strong vision for this play for a long time now, and what he's done with the cast and designers is really heartbreakingly beautiful. The idea of having live music was a brilliant one and sets the tone for the evening in the first few notes. All of the cast have exhibited a strong passion and dedication to the project, and I think that shows on the stage.

Nowhere on the Border plays on Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. The NoHo Senior Arts Colony is located at 10747 Magnolia Blvd. in NoHo. There is plenty of street parking but arrive early. For tickets call 818-761-8838.

Monday, February 10, 2020

2020 Spotlight on Jonathan Nichols

The Road Theatre Co is proud to present the premiere of Nowhere on the Border by Carlos Lacámara and directed by Stewart J. Zully. The play concerns itself with the question Why do people cross borders? Two working class men, an Anglo on border watch and a Mexican, face off in the desert. What is discovered is that border crossings are both physical and emotional. The play opened January 17 at the Road on Magnolia and will play through March 8. Each week we will spotlight a member of the cast or creative team. This week the light shines on Jonathan Nichols.




What character do you play? How does he serve the play?

I play Roberto Castillo, and I am the Mexican father looking for his daughter in the Sonoran desert between Mexico and Arizona, the Cabeza Prieta region, which is between Mexicali and Nogales, Mexico, and West of Tucson.

Ho do I serve the play? Well, Roberto is the catalyst for the “journeys” both his and his daughter's. That is the play. He insults his daughter and so she just says “enough, I am going after my husband, that you hate” He is not supportive of the marriage and then he tries to find her when she doesn’t arrive. Roberto is also in the “present time” of the play, along with Gary. While his daughter’s journey has happened. Of course, the audience doesn’t know that at the beginning of the play.

How does the play challenge you as an actor?

It breaks my heart every night. I am an immigrant myself, from Cuba, and I am a fortunate immigrant who migrated at a different time and space. The journey that Latinos make is a deadly one, every day this happens and no one leaves their homes and the place of their birth, unless driven by desperate measures, as the characters of this play do.

What do you feel is the meaning of the play? Its theme or message?

It’s a journey of love. A heart journey that, ultimately, is more unifying than the skin journey. We see with our eyes and we categorize and judge based on color, ethnicity and that is understandable and….you fill in the blank. We all have our prejudices. But a journey for love, vows, promises, dreams, aspiration, wanting a better life, missing your loved ones, that is universal. You don’t need to cross borders, that happens every day in every city and state, here and everywhere in the world.

What would you like audiences to take away?

One, I want them to be moved by it, to understand that the story is universal. Two, to understand the terrible and dangerous plight of an immigrant crossing the border and what they experience every day. It’s there. Carlos has done the research and it’s in the play. I think I said in rehearsals, the sun is a character in the play, probably the most important one. I would love to make the theatre the temp of the desert, so it’s a tactile experience. Heat their seats, that’s it, how we do in cars. That part of the desert is one of the hottest and driest in the US, rivaled only by the Mohave Desert. Summer highs reach 120 with surface temperatures at 180. Can you imagine? But, also that it’s a love story as well. Filial love, daughter and father, father and son, husbands and wives, everyone just trying to protect who and what they love. The beauty is that you can change the colors of the skin and put in two different borders and the play would still work. All you have to do is adjust it to that terrain, cause the terrain is also a character. The terrain, the stars and brother sun and sister moon are also characters.

Talk briefly about your director and cast mates.

Listen, they have been steadfast and have all jumped in. The characters that have the journey have had to do research on what happens as your body gets beaten day after day in the desert, and they have had to vocally and physically research and portray that. Not an easy thing let me tell you. I have it much easier. And, because we are double cast, and we rehearsed thru the end of the year holiday, we jump in and out, playing with different actors from one day to the next. Not easy to do. Same words get said, but in different rhythm, and it takes a lot of listening. Which we should be doing anyway….but one becomes hyper vigilant ... which is still what we should be doing. Cause, in the theatre, it happens every night, “for the first time.” That’s the job.

Our director, Stewart (J. Zully) has done a beautiful job crafting it moment to moment. I appreciate all the elements he and his design team have added. It’s a visually stunning play and it’s taken detail work, you know, like for the audience to feel the characters in that heat, the precise consumption of water as the journey progresses, than as you perspire and you have no water, how that affects the body and voice. There is a lot of detail in this and Stewart has been on top of it all. He has also allowed us to find the characters in the process and playing…and has allowed us to disagree with him and tell him why I feel I would not step here or there and, really, has been open to the actor’s feedback. And, more importantly, because he is an actor himself, he respects and loves actors. So his notes come from the director who understands actors' perspectives. You get different notes from a director who has little or no actor speak. Trust me. I would work for him again in a heartbeat. Besides, he’s funny as hell and always had a great attitude. That’s also important.

Nowhere on the Border plays on Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. The NoHo Senior Arts Colony is located at 10747 Magnolia Blvd. in NoHo. There is plenty of street parking but arrive early. For tickets call 818-761-8838.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

2020 Spotlight on Diana DeLaCruz

The Road Theatre Co is proud to present the premiere of Nowhere on the Border by Carlos Lacámara and directed by Stewart J. Zully. The play concerns itself with the question Why do people cross borders? Two working class men, an Anglo on border watch and a Mexican, face off in the desert. What is discovered is that border crossings are both physical and emotional. The play opened January 17 at the Road on Magnolia and will play through March 8. Each week we will spotlight a member of the cast or creative team. This week the light shines on Diana DeLaCruz. 



What character do you play? How does she serve the play?

I play Montoya.  She is a "coyote", which is a term used for a person who smuggles people across the U.S.-Mexico border.  She smuggles two of the characters across the Arizona desert into the U.S.

How does the play challenge you as an actor?

Montoya is challenging because she is has qualities that are very different from my nature.  The biggest thing I hate more than anything in the world is confrontation. I am strong and direct, but not anywhere close to Montoya's fierceness. I usually am cast in nurturing roles-mothers, nurses, etc. So the opportunity to flex in this type of energy was exciting. And it hasn't come easy. When we first started rehearsals, I didn't like getting into Leandro's (Jesus) face to yell at him. It was uncomfortable. I really had to get over my need to be "nice" and embrace that element. I now really enjoy those moments, but it took some work, giving myself permission-to get there.

What do you feel is the meaning of the play? Its theme or message?

I feel that the meaning of the play is about how we are not all that different from each other and all want the same things. We all want safety and prosperity and happiness for ourselves and our loved ones. When we get past what our supposed "differences" are, we find that truly-we are all brothers and sisters in this world, and we really are "in it together".

What would you like audiences to take away?

I am an immigrant myself. My mother brought me over precisely to give me the opportunity of a better life. I want people to recognize the humanity in these people who are in essence, breaking the law. Like the character Roberto says-he doesn't know anyone who wants to leave their country to come here, much less to come here to be a criminal. There are criminal, or "bad" aspects to every part of society. But the bottom line is that these people, like myself-are coming over to thrive in their communities, to try and live their best life, if you will.

Talk briefly about your director and castmates.

I am so grateful that I am surrounded by professional, soulful people. This is one of the most encouraging and supportive casts and director/producers I've ever worked with. 


Nowhere on the Border plays on Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. The NoHo Senior Arts Colony is located at 10747 Magnolia Blvd. in NoHo. There is plenty of street parking but arrive early. For tickets call 818-761-8838.


Interview with Barbara Brownell

Actress Barbara Brownell is a true inspiration. She has spent her life performing on the Broadway stage, on film and in television with a few great surprises along the way, which she discusses with us in much detail. 

You have won a BWW award in 2017.  What was the play and what did you enjoy most about it.?

BB: The play was Dull Pain Turned Sharp, written by Brent Beerman and directed by Kay Cole.  I played Linda, a woman in her 60s who faces the dilemma of wanting her only daughter to have a grandchild, but is conflicted about a health danger she might have passed down to her. I enjoyed working on a multi-layered character and with a wonderfully talented cast.

You were nominated this past year for directing Laundry and Bourbon/Lone Star. Talk about the plays and what they meant to you.

BB: Laundry and Bourbon and Lonestar are two one acts written by James McLure. While the plays stand on their own, they make a nice companion set because the central conflict in each piece as well as its characters are related closely to those in the other play. They appealed to me because they contain serious themes about friendship, family, and getting through tough times and yet both plays are also delightfully funny. I was blessed to work with two strong casts which made the rehearsal process particularly fun and rewarding.

You have worked in the past with some great directors like Woody Allen.  What play did you do with him and what character did you play? What was the experience like?

BB: I did Play it Again,Sam with Woody for one year on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theatre.
My part was Dream Sharon, his fantasy of the perfect woman. When we were in Boston, pre-Broadway, Woody decided to have his dream girl come to life at the end of the play.  So I reappeared and he named the character Barbara, after me. Of course, working in a hit show on Broadway opened doors for me. I got a nice role in Going Home with Robert Mitchum and Jan Michael Vincent and was cast in The David Frost Review TV series.  However, the most enduring gift is the close friendship I’ve enjoyed these many years with fellow cast member Cynthia Dalbey. I do remember Woody saying, about his writing, “There’s no secret. I make myself write everyday.”  And about his directing, “I just cast well, and let them play.”

What about the 2012 film The Master? You mentioned that director who obviously meant a great deal to you, Paul Thomas Anderson. Its two stars Joaquin Phoenix, who is competing for an Oscar this year for “The Joker” and the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman are unforgettable . What role did you play and what do you remember most vividly about the movie?      

BB: My character was a wealthy New York socialite who was being put through a Past Life Regression by the Master.  When P.T. (Paul Thomas) found out that I was a hypnotherapist and familiar with the process, he sought out my help in shaping the scene. The only line he had written for me was “My name is Margaret O’Brien.” He wanted Philip and me to improvise the rest, and so we did.  Many takes actually. It was exhilarating. Watching Philip work gave me chills. Joaquin was in the scene, but only as an observer.  My impression is that he was never really out of character, even at lunch. While Amy Adams in addition to being extraordinarily talented, was one of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met.

Mention some of the other wonderful directors you have worked with.

BB: I was privileged to work with two giants of the sit com world, Jay Sandrich, who directed me in both the Mary Tyler Moore and Bob Newhart shows, and Jimmy Burrows, who directed me in Barefoot in the Park where I played opposite Tab Hunter. Both Jay and Jimmy were such creative, inventive, and positive influences.  I also was lucky enough to work with Steven Soderbergh in HBO’s Behind the Candelabra where I played Liberace’s sister, Angie. Candidly, the part didn’t amount to much, but I got to see Soderbergh work and how much his cast and crew adored him. More recently I’ve had the opportunity to work with two really talented “up and comers”, Ryan Eggold and Eric Bilitch, who both wrote and directed small, wonderful projects that I had so much fun doing.

This last year you were in the Grammy winning music video of “Old Town Road” with Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X, a song that set the Billboard record for consecutive weeks as the number one hit. How did this come about?

BB: I started my career as a dancer and continue to dance almost every day, especially line dancing.  I auditioned with seemingly hundreds of dancers of all ages and styles, so that when I was cast, I really didn’t know what to expect or what I was to do.The song is a cross-over hit that combines hip hop with country dancing, which we did for hours. As the day turned to night, I was fairly certain that at least I’d be recognizable in the piece, but at 2 am, they asked me to stay to shoot stills for the end piece of the video. So there I am, in the final frames, posed with Lil Nas X like a moonstruck couple in a prom photo. I found him to be delightful, if not a little overwhelmed by the sudden fame he was experiencing at the ripe old age of 20.  I’ll say this, for all of my credits, from Broadway to the Silver Screen, no part has given me more cred with my grandchildren than my appearance in “Old Town Road.”

With such varied work on stage and on film both acting and dancing, what do you foresee as a main project for you in 2020?

BB: I’m working on a one person show tentatively entitled “I am Barbara Brownell, I think” in which I explore how I navigated a challenging childhood and a lifetime of experiences to forge the person and performer I am today, only to discover late in life, that I’m not actually, biologically speaking, who I thought I was. The show gives me the opportunity to do just about everything...acting, dancing, even a bit of singing.  It’s both wonderful and frightening to have complete creative control of something.  I can’t very well blame anyone else for the writing, now can I?

Is there anyone in particular in the acting world who inspired you.  Who are your favorite stars today ... from yesteryear and in present time.

BB: When I was very young, I did my best to imitate Shirley Temple. I even looked a bit like her, with a headful of curls. She was definitely my first inspiration. Nowadays?  I’ve always admired Judi Dench, because she can do so many things so well.  I used to love to watch her British comedy series As Time Goes By. And yet she’s just as deft in the classics, in Shakespeare, or in the Bond films, or a musical, or even as a director.  All done with such class, but then again, she is a Dame!

Another contemporary British actress I’ve admired is Sarah Lancashire. Again, it’s the range she displays from drama and action to comedy that’s so impressive.

Do you prefer drama or comedy with either plays or screenplays?  Why this preference?

BB: It’s hard to make a blanket statement. To me, the most important thing is whether I connect to the piece. Truthfully, though, I prefer work that incorporates both drama and comedy. That’s why I so enjoyed directing Laundry and Bourbon and Lone Star, for they both manage to tell heartfelt, human, dramatic stories laced with moments of pure comedic joy, with neither feeling out of step or unearned. Of course, as a performer, there’s nothing as intoxicating as getting laughs from an audience, but it’s doubly magical when you sense the audience is also connecting with you emotionally.

Maybe that’s why Neil Simon remains my favorite playwright. Of course, he is widely acknowledged as a genius for his comedies, but I think he is underappreciated as a dramatic writer. I’ve been blessed to perform Barefoot in the Park, Star Spangled Girl, and Come Blow Your Horn, all certainly light fare. But Chapter Two, Lost in Yonkers, and the Eugene trilogy, to name a few, certainly prove his mettle as a serious playwright.

What do you feel has been your greatest achievement in your career so far?

BB: I was able to fulfill the dreams of a little girl from the poor side of Bound Brook, New Jersey to make it to Broadway. And to have the chance to work with the likes of Jimmy Stewart, Robert Mitchum, Woody Allen, Mary Tyler Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Jon Hamm.  And to be a senior citizen dancing in a Grammy winning music video. Maybe my greatest accomplishment is that I’m still here.

Sum up your career in one sentence.

BB: It’s not over yet, is it?  Ask me again in ten years.