Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Separate Interview with Less 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. 


Sunday, February 2, 2020

Nan McNamara and lee Blessing Interviews

Actors Co-op presents Lee Blessing's A Body of Water opening February 5 for previews with official opening night scheduled for Friday February 7. Multi award winning actress Nan McNamara will serve as director. I sat down with both of them and here's what they have to say about the play and mounting this production.

(to Lee Blessing)



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 Nan McNamara) 

From a director's standpoint, what is your favorite aspect of A Body of Water?

NM: To bring to life a world premiere new ending to Mr. Blessing’s play is an absolute thrill, especially having previously performed in two of his plays (Going to St. Ives and A Walk in the Woods).  I think he is one of our greatest American playwrights.  It’s been a privilege and honor to have him involved in our production.  

What challenges do you face in directing it?


NM: The play has existential themes and tackles some of life’s biggest questions.  But it’s also very funny and moving, and circumstances and characters shift on a dime. There are also some interesting design elements we are integrating.  So orchestrating all those layers and making sure the specificity is in every moment is a wonderful challenge.

What in your mind is the strongest element (s) of a Lee Blessing play? How does he drive a plot forward better than other contemporary playwrights?


NM: There is so much breadth to Mr. Blessing’s plays. Looking at his body of work, there is a wide variety of relationships and themes.  His plays stand the test of time. When you think that A Walk in the Woods was written in 1988 and Two Rooms was written in 1990 (as just a couple of examples), it’s remarkable how these plays feel like they were written today.   He champions strong female characters in his stories. And he is able to tap into the heart of his characters so that in them, we see ourselves.  That’s what great plays do. And he has achieved that time and time again. 

What message stands out? In other plays I have noted his severe interest in love and strong relationships. Tell us in detail what you think.

NM: Mr. Blessing has said A Body of Water is about, in part, the tenuousness of our reality. This feels particularly relevant in today’s world where waking up in the morning one is almost afraid to look at the headlines.  But fear and isolation are also themes in the play.  The characters grapple with the fear of intimacy, the rewriting of their pasts and not living in the present.  In a sense, they are living in a kind of hell.  They are searching for their identities, for their purpose. The play has a profound message about who we are - as individuals and in relationship. 

Tell our readers about your cast and how they are adapting in rehearsals for the play.

NM: I feel so fortunate to have three of the best actors, all company members of Actors Co-op. Ivy Beech, Bruce Ladd and Treva Tegtmeier are such a talented trio. We have had a wonderful time working together and discovering this story together. They are true collaborators. And since we have worked together as actors in the past, there is so much trust. I look forward to every single rehearsal, excited to see what we find as they get more and more specific in their work. They each have moments of humor and moments of great pathos and their work is seemingly effortless. They constantly surprise me with their talents.  

Add anything you care to like how the play is a fit for Actors Co-op.


NM: When I first read the play, I felt it would work really well in the round.  I think it is such an interesting way to experience this story, and I have a terrific design team that has pulled out all the stops - the artistry and care they are bringing to this production is really inspiring.  Actors Co-op has produced two other plays by Mr. Blessing that were very popular with our audiences. I think A Body of Water is a play that will challenge our audiences in a wonderful way. It’s a 90 minute roller coaster ride into a world that is unlike anything we’ve produced before.  And that is very exciting.

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





Saturday, February 1, 2020

2020 Interview with Magician Blaise Serra

As part of Valentine's weekend at the Montalban, magician Blaise Serra will perform on Friday February 14 and Saturday February 15. This young man really knows who he is and what he can do, as you will learn when you read our detailed interview below.


Blaise, I love magic as it can be very theatrical and transport one to new levels of joy. What do you feel sets you apart from other magicians?

BS: I feel that what sets me apart as a magician is my background as an entertainer and artist prior to becoming a magician. I became infatuated with performing first as a musician rather than as a magician, and I think my approach to creating magic is heavily influenced by music and theatre. It started when I was quite young and began playing guitar. I continued for years and had my first experiences on stage in talent shows and in a band. It’s because of that upbringing that I approach art and creativity based more on the thought process of the musician. In music, there are no secrets- rather there is an emphasis on originality and writing something new that can touch the hearts of listeners. Although I appreciate the classics of magic and the effects that have amazed audiences for centuries, I don’t have them in my show as I am much more interested in sharing my own voice and perspective. I try to constantly create and improve upon what I’ve done before so that anyone who goes to my show, whether a magician or not, will witness magic routines that they have never seen before. Through that approach to this art form I hope my audiences can experience a magic show that is unlike any other.

What is your specialty act? Is it card tricks? Mental telepathy via the audience? Be specific!

BS: I believe friends of mine in the magic community would consider my specialty to be card magic, as I have developed new sleight of hand techniques that were published as instructional tutorials to sell to other magicians. And although I love sleight of hand, my show is not centered on being a sleight of hand artist. Rather, the reason my show is called ‘Through A Magician’s Eyes”(TAME for short) is because I think my real specialty is giving members of the audience the feeling of really being involved in the magic taking place. Rather than making the show just about me, I enjoy creating a story that every member of the audience feels heavily involved in. By focusing on a connection between all of us, I like to bring everyone on a journey where they read each other’s minds or visualize things that become a reality in their own hands. Every member of the audience becomes an integral member of the ensemble of the show, where they truly feel that they can do magic too, even if they can’t explain how ;)

Who or what inspired you to do magic as a profession? Have you been involved since childhood? Is there a specific event that happened in your life that catapulted you to success in the realm of magic? Be specific!

BS: I can remember the moment that I knew I needed to pursue magic as a hobby, as well as the moment I realized it could be my career path. When I was in school, I was heavily focused on academics. I thought I was going to go to a university and study computer science or biomedical engineering. I think now looking back, I just enjoyed problem solving and found that aspect of those careers interesting. Leading up to high school I was passionate about music and theater whenever I was outside of class, but I remember the day my interest in magic was sparked. We were on a field trip during my freshman year and someone on the bus had brought a deck of cards to play games on the way. I had learned a couple card tricks when I was really young but had forgotten about them, yet when I saw the deck I asked if I could play with it and suddenly bits and pieces of those simple tricks I’d learned came flooding back to me. I didn’t recall them from beginning to end, but I began making up tricks on the spot and performing for some of my friends on the bus. The fact that they were reacting so strongly to something I just made up was a feeling I began to chase from that moment on, I was hooked.

I looked up clips of the show ‘Penn and Teller: Fool Us’ on youtube and loved the idea of freaking out my friends at school with tricks I had come up with at home. I already was in love with performing, but found so much satisfaction in the creative problem solving that goes into magic that starts with trying to think of an impossible problem no one has thought of before that you set out to solve it by any means. Once when I was at the beach I brought a deck and started performing for people all around just for fun to see if people I didn’t know would be just as entertained as my friends. And one of those people asked me for a business card, which I didn’t have, so I wrote down my phone number on a playing card and a few months later was asked to perform for a holiday party with hundreds of guests. From that first gig I went and had business cards made up, and began getting calls to perform at various other events in Connecticut and other parts of New England. Suddenly I found myself pretty busy getting paid for the thing I loved to do for free, and I realized at some point I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.


Do you perform mostly in the US or abroad? Is the Magic Castle a favorite venue to perform? If so, why?

BS: So far I’ve performed all over the US but I’d love to venture out and hope to get booked abroad soon. I learn so much about people every time I step in front of an audience, and would love to be able to better understand other cultures and create routines that are relatable to and touch the heart strings of people all over the world. I have an act in my show based around that concept and how magic is a universal language much like music that is able to connect us with people from any background. So I’d love any opportunity to test my ability to entertain audiences from different cultures and continue to grow as a performer.

As for the Magic Castle, I feel incredibly privileged every time I get the chance to perform there, since that is kind of a Mecca for magicians and a legendary place I hoped I’d get the chance to visit, let alone perform at, back when I was living in Connecticut. Audiences there are so much fun because they’ve all come to see magic(unlike many of the restaurant gigs I did when I first started out) and are really excited to be a part of the show. But my shows at the Montalban are certainly the ones I am most excited about, as I get to be involved in every aspect of the production including the layout of the space, lighting, sound, etc. to fully customize the experience for my show.

Why is Valentine's weekend at the Montalban so special? What do you feel you will bring through magic to the weekend of love?

BS: My show is all about forming a connection between myself and my audience, and showing them what life is like Through A Magician’s Eyes. The goal is that when audience members leave the Montalban that evening, they’ll notice the magic in things that usually go under the radar or are taken for granted. Love is the ultimate connection, and without being an illusion or trick it is one of the most magical things that we are lucky enough to experience in life. I don’t feel that by just doing some sleight of hand I’d be adding to that magic, rather I’d like to put a spotlight on the connections we already have to one another, amplify them, and bring to life something beautifully tangible to behold from a concept as intangible as love.

Who is your favorite magician of all time? Why this choice?

BS: Recently through getting the chance to consult and work with him frequently, my favorite magician is Shin Lim. I first began working with him while he was on season 13 of "America’s Got Talent" which he won, and I don’t think I’ve ever met someone more deserving of winning that competition. He is the most creative magician I know, and he is constantly innovating in the field of magic and pushing himself to improve upon what he has done before. Aside from that, he is a great human being and hasn’t become any less of a genuinely good person with the sudden influx of fame. While I was starting out in magic I wasn’t influenced much by magicians but rather by musicians and other entertainers with skill sets that allowed them to create art that could not be replicated such as Joe Satriani or Gene Kelly. However, a magician that I’ve always found incredible is Asi Wind. It’s funny that he also is both a performer and consultant(for David Blaine), and he is notorious for going to any means necessary to make an effect he has visualized possible, no matter how difficult it might be. Which is certainly a trait I admire.

Is there anything you would like to add for our readers?

BS: I hope that the readers enjoyed this little peek into my thought process behind my show, and I cannot wait to share with them the magic I’ve created for this Valentine’s Day weekend. Also, when I found out that there is an art gallery in the Mezzanine of the Montalban I reached out to my friend Marwan Shahin from Egypt who is the most incredible artist I’ve met to organize an exhibition. So on Valentine’s Day the same night as my show TAME, his gallery APEX Mirage will be opening upstairs so I urge people to either come early before my show or stay late after it ends to check out his artwork- you will not be disappointed.

More information and tickets to my show are available at https://themontalban.com/TAME, and if anyone has any questions for me they can reach out to me on social media. I’m @blaiseserra on all platforms. I’m so excited to perform for everyone, and I hope they can make it out to see Through A Magician’s Eyes.

(photo credit: Lionel Garcia)

Visit Blaise Serra at:   https://blaiseserra.com

To reserve tickets, go to:   https://www.themontalban.com/tame

2020 Interview with Director Katharine Farmer



Carey Crim's west coast premiere Never Not Once plays at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura February 5 through 23 for a three week engagement only. Award winning British director Katharine Farmer will helm the production. In our conversation she talks about the play, her cast and just how enriching it is to work at the Rubicon.


Discuss the complexities of Never Not Once and your challenges as the director.

KF: Never Not Once is as complicated as you want it to be. It can simply be watched as a family drama, or it can trigger a conversation that is longer than the play itself about identity and whether we are more than the simple sum of the choices that we, and others, make. I hope that the play will give our audiences the option to think, and if we have all done our job correctly, audiences will feel compelled to care.

The central challenge to directing and staging the play has been to capture and convey the haunting humanity that definitely exists in the plot and its characters, but lives just as much between the words as it does within them.

What is the message of the play? How does it stand apart from other dramas about dysfunctional families?

KF: We are living in an era of self, but it is not obvious that this is making us any happier. Likewise, science is evermore confident that it is providing us with answers, but is it making us any smarter about which questions really matter?

The message of Never Not Once is that while trying to understand one’s self is the most natural thing in the world, a focus on “I” should not crowd out an understanding of “us”. This play certainly has it’s fair share of dysfunctionality but the concept of family is less of the problem and more of a solution.

Tell us about your cast and their dynamics.

KF: For everyone in the cast, this is their Rubicon debut!

Sydney Berk is playing Eleanor, the college student who wants to find her father. Sydney trained at LAMDA in the UK and has worked extensively with A Noise Within in LA. Her two mothers are played by Diahnna Nicole Baxter and Melanic Cruz. Diahnna co-created, co-wrote and starred in “SATACRACY 88,” the first web series to win an Emmy Award, and was nominated again the next year. Melanie had a recurring role in HBO’s Big Love and recently was seen on stage as Sara in Lucky Me at Theatre West in Nebraska. Our other two cast members are Issac Cruz, who was recently involved with the multi-theatre homeless support production of Homeward LA for the second consecutive year, and Michael Polak who’s theatre credits include The Illusion at North Coast Repertory Theatre and Doubt at International City Theatre.

Working with this fantastic cast has been a pleasure. They have always approached rehearsals with a focus, passion and openness that really serves the play.

Two moms and a daughter searching for her father. Is it a lesbian couple or does that bring about a spoiler alert?

KF: A lesbian couple are at the centre of the play and yet the play is not about lesbianism. Allison and Nadine have created a truly loving home, thereby ticking the “nurture” box. Their daughter Eleanor feels the need to find her father to fully understand her genetic heritage, in order to tick the “nature” box. This need would be every bit as essential if her mother was in a heterosexual relationship. The lesbian relationship brings it greater clarity, intensity and poignancy. Separately I think that it will constitute progress for the LGBTQIA+ community when characters in drama are from that community without the plots of those dramas implying that their sexual orientation is all that defines them.

Talk about the other plays you have directed at the Rubicon. Do you have a favorite?

KF: Asking me what my favourite show is is like asking me to pick my favourite child: I have loved them all. I will always remember Last Train to Nibroc as my first professional directing experience. I will always be proud of South Pacific for the courage it took to put a twist on one of the great classics of musical theatre. But to answer your question, Gulf View Drive was my favourite, for its sense of closure for the both the characters and the audience who’d followed May and Raleigh’s journey for three years.

You have won many awards. How does that make you feel about working at the Rubicon?

KF: Karyl Lynn Burns and James O’Neil are the best mentors that a young director could hope for and the Rubicon is so much more than just a venue. From the “Friends of Rubicon” to the staff and volunteers, Karyl Lynn and Jim have created a loving, caring and support structure for creatives of all ages and in my case, all nationalities. Rubicon is a shining example of excellence in regional theatre on a global scale. When it comes to awards, they are a much appreciated blessing that I would rather not dwell too much upon. My focus and priority is that my next audience will enjoy my next show.

Back to Never Not Once. Does the play come to the Rubicon in tact or have there been changes since it premiered at Jeff Daniels' theatre?

KF: I first read the play in 2016 and loved it since inception. We have made a few small changes to the script since its production at the Purple Rose Theatre, but it’s very much been a case of evolution not revolution. I have always been in awe of Carey Crim’s gift for natural dialogue and compared to other pieces of new writing that I have worked on, much fewer iterations have been required.

(photo credit: Craig Sugden)

Never Not Once plays at the Rubicon Theatre February 5 through 23. The Rubicon Theatre Company is located at 1006 E Main St Ventura, CA 93001
Guest Services: 805.667.2900