Monday, January 9, 2017

2017 Interview with Actress Salome Jens

Actress Salome Jens certainly needs no introduction. She has starred on Broadway, in film and on television over the years creating a mystique that is original and totally alluring. The very sound of her voice holds me captive. She will open at Group rep in NoHo on January 27 in the classic Witness for the Prosecution. I caught up with her during her busy schedule, and here's what she had to say about the play and the new production.

Explain the choice of Witness for the Prosecution. Is it a favorite?
After Blonde Poison, that I did at Theatre 40 with director Jules (Aaron) a year ago, we talked about what we might want to do next and of course, we were looking at Long Day’s Journey Into Night with Mitch Ryan and a couple of other things that might be possible, as far as rights were concerned, and the possibility of a company and what was going on with Equity and all the things going on right now.  And it did seem like this play was a possibility. It was suggested, first of all, by my brother-in-law Anthony Zerbe, and I suggested to Jules that he might want to read it ... and I read it again.  Certainly it’s a lovely play, and it’s so beautifully written by Agatha Christie. It’s kind of a fun challenge for me.  And certainly Jules was very excited about it as a possibility.  So he took it to the people at GRT and they thought it was a terrific idea – or they certainly liked the idea, and they decided they wanted to produce it.  So that’s how it came about.

This role suits you so well. Tell me about her.
As far as the role is concerned, it’s a bit of a challenge for me in the sense that – what is fun is that I certainly know what Marlene Dietrich did with it in the film. And that’s kind of a glamorous thought.  However, it’s got to be what I think of it and from where I come from.  And it’s also a challenge doing the Cockney girls and it’s fun and certainly a bit of a challenge for me because I’m no longer a spring chicken so, it’s a bit of a stretch ... and, you know, just a stretch going into the rehearsal process – and we’re doing it, and it’s fun, and it’s a lovely company.

So, the rehearsals have started and everything is going well?
Yes. Larry Eisenberg is really wonderful in the part of the interrogator Sir Wilfred, and of course Jules is such a wonderful director which is why I always have pleasure doing his plays.  So I’m looking forward to having some fun with it now that we’ve got the technical things under our belt - which is certainly learning the text and being able to live in it fully so that’s what we’re about right now. It takes a lot of energy and we’re going for it.


Talk a little about your teaching and your love for it. Are you still doing the Graduate program at UCLA? Any TV or film projects on the horizon?
Now, I’m still teaching and have my own classes. I’m not teaching at UCLA; I have my private classes. I have a little theater that I rent at the Atwater Village Theater Playhouse so that goes on, and I have my personal students that I’ve had for a time. I’ve got about 20 people in my class right now and, at the moment, I’m not doing anything new in film or television. But I’m always open to that happening, and I hope that it will, so until there’s more to report, I think that’s what I have to offer you darling. I look forward to seeing you opening night and I hope you’ll enjoy the show.

For info about the play and for tickets, go to:
www.thegrouprep.com




Sunday, January 8, 2017

2004 Interview with Debbie Reynolds



Debbie Reynolds will return to the El Portal from April 29-May 10 for her delightful evening of comedy and song.
When I interviewed her in 2004, she had me in stitches as she answered a question doing a Bette Davis impression. After all, who better than Reynolds to do her? She played Davis' daughter in The Catered Affair. She also does Ann Miller and others. What a talented mimic! Reynolds is no stranger to the El Portal. At the time of the interview she was about to do a benefit of Love Letters on its Mainstage with John Saxon.

Q: How often do you perform your one-woman show?
DR: I do 42 weeks a year, on the road doing night clubs and Vegas, Reno, Tahoe and Atlantic City and all the Indian reservations and different big civic theaters, like the Alex in Glendale. I've been doing that for 30 years or so. Every year I do a Florida tour.

Q: How often do you change the show?
DR: I change it every year. Different songs, different openings...I just put in a new 40s medley. My audience likes that. A Gershwin medley.

Q: You're still in great voice!
DR: Well, I learned years ago from Jack Benny, who used to stay at my Palm Springs house... he used to practice the violin. I'd say to him, "Why don't you just fake it for comedy?" He'd say, "No dear, that's not how you do it. You have to keep practicing, if you're really going to be good."
So, it's the same with the voice, you have to keep singing.

Q: Any comment about Ann Miller's recent passing?
DR: I was just devastated. She was one of my favorites, as well as of many others. At MGM, we were all under contract. It was like a school. Everybody there: Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Janet Leigh, Janie Powell, Kathryn Grayson, we were all friends all these years, since 1949. It's tough when you lose the funniest one. Annie was so loud. She said to me two weeks ago, (in best Miller voice) "Debbie, let me ask you a personal question. Why are you still working? It's ridiculous, you know what I mean, we could go to parties and we could play!" That was just two weeks ago. She had lung cancer, but she didn't tell us. She had osteoporosis, and with an 8 inch bone loss, her head was down on her shoulders. That was clearly why she developped all these other problems. I mean she didn't smoke. She was an athlete; she was a great dancer. She was in top condition when all this happened to her 8 years ago. It was just horrible! She was just fabulous, a greater talent than anyone I could say! She's going to be terribly missed. She had no family, so it's up to her friends to give her a farewell. She was one of a kind.

Q: Why Love Letters?
DR: It's fun to get back to acting. I do Will and Grace and a movie once a year, when you can find a part for older women, or a fun part. There are so few. It hit my fancy. I'm doing it for me.

Q: The El Portal has been in your neighborhood since you were a little girl, correct?
DR: I used to ride my bicycle to go to the movies there for 10 cents. I lived 12 blocks away in North Hollywood. I was raised in Burbank, right on the edge, on Evergreen Street. I was Miss Burbank of 1948 and I'd ride my bike to the El Portal with my girlfreind Jeanette from age of 8 to 17 years. She's coming to see the show. "Is it still pretty, Franny?" (Francis is her real name.) I said, "It's much prettier, Jeanette, you'll see, it's going to cost you more than a dime!" "Should I ride my bike?" I said, "No, bring your Rolls!"

Q: I just saw you in The Catered Affair the other night on TCM (Turner Classic Movies), and Robert Osborne was saying how the movie was a turning point in your career. You were terrific in it!
DR: Well Richard Brooks (director) didn't want me for the part, but...I was under contract, so Mr. Mayer said, "But, you've got her!" So Brooks was really tough on me, but Bette Davis and Ernie Borgnine were great, and Rod Taylor was wonderful.

Q: So were you!
DR: It's amazing, but when I look at it, I was 20, and certainly untrained. They certainly were not thinking of a dramatic actress. They took me out of my tap class and said, "You're doing The Catered Affair". It shook me up, and I had to work really hard. Bette Davis and Ernie Borgnine got me through it, not Richard Brooks. He considered me a brat. But...(she launches into her best Davis impression)...that's where I started imitating Bette Davis and doing impressions.

Q: What's your funniest Bette Davis story?
DR: She and Gary Merrill, to whom she was married, were so ill-matched. He used to come in drunk on the sound stage, wearing a little beanie with a propeller on the top. Then we'd try to do a serious scene. It was a very strange mix. There was Barry Fitzgerald with the Irish voice (she imitates his brogue) and you had BETTE DAVIS and you had Gary Merrill with the beanie and then you had Marty/ Ernie Borgnine sitting there, a serious New York actor and then Rod Taylor from Australia, trying to do an American accent. And then you had Tammy who wasn't yet Tammy. And then the cameraman who tried to run the camera over the director; they hated him so much. It was a real mixture of emotions, but all the actors loved each other.

Q: Was Bette easy to get along with?
DR: She was. She was older at that time, and she wanted to look very ordinary. It was miscasting in a way, but she did it very well, and she was very kind to me. Ernie would tell me, "Don't try to play the scene, just be it!"

Q: What are your more recent memories of Mother with Albert Brooks?
DR: I was very lucky to get that great part. Albert is such a wonderful writer and director. It was a tough movie, because it's really a two-person show. So much dialogue, and you had to underplay. Again, like The Catered Affair, understated. Also, the reason I wanted to do Love Letters. I mean I love doing my act, but I miss acting. I wanted to do Mother on television, but Albert doesn't do television.

Q: What about a project for you and Carrie (Fisher)?
DR: We'd love it, so I told her, "Write something!" There's nothing out there. You have to write your own material. We're available.

Q: What's next for Debbie? Another book?
DR: A Disney movie for children, called Halloween Town. I turned down 42nd Street for Broadway, because I don't want to do 8 shows a week.

Q: And Unsinkable Molly Brown in Long Beach was your last musical onstage, right?
DR: It was too much... dancing. When you're doing flips in the air and that kind of hard dancing ...I was 62 at the time, now I'm 71...I don't think I should do triple flips off the bar. I think you should control yourself a little bit, so you can walk, and when you die, you can walk to your own funeral. (we laugh)

Q: You look great!
DR: Well, I'm in good shape. I love what I do, so I think that's the key. I don't have to retire to be happy.

Q: Any advice for young actors?
DR: If you're a dancer, study singing. You have to do everything and do it well. You have to study acting. You have to study all of it. You have to find workshops, get out on the stage...and fail. The only way you learn is by failure. Now if I could apply that to my marriages...

Debbie Reynolds is happy with her accomplishments, but talked about building her Motion Picture Museum in Tennessee due to the lack of interest in Hollywood. This is something that she truly wants to happen. From my understanding the project is supported by Dolly Parton and in 2009 is still in the works.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016 Interview with Impro's Dan O'Connor

The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica presents the World Premiere of  Impro Theatre’s 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza, from LA’s Impro Theatre, the creators and performers of the wildly popular Jane Austen UnScripted. Impro Theatre’s 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza is created especially for The Broad Stage. Over their history, the company has produced a bevy of mainstage shows including: Shakespeare UnScripted, Film Noir UnScripted, Twilight Zone UnScripted, Sondheim UnScripted, Dickens UnScripted, The Western UnScripted, Tennessee Williams UnScripted, Chekhov UnScripted, along with Fairytales UnScripted and Jane Austen UnScripted, which both previously ran at The Broad Stage. This new production marks the group's 10th anniversary.


Producing artistic director of Impro Dan O’Connor sat down recently to talk to us about this holiday show.




Tell me from your perspective all about this wonderful holiday show. Is it different from usual Impro productions? If so, how?
Well, first of all, Impro Theatre's 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza is a World Premiere.  We've never done this show before, so while the show is completely shaped by audience suggestions and totally improvised (like all of our other shows), this show is brand new and never seen before.  Plus, we have a cast of 17 and a five-piece swinging 60s jazz bandso our audiences will see a much bigger production than most of our other shows. And we're thrilled to be back at the Broad Stage.  

Impro Theatre’s 1966 Holiday Variety Extravaganza
 is a completely improvised show in the style of those TV holiday spectaculars hosted by Andy Williams, Perry Como and Bob Hope in the 60s. This style is perfect for Impro Theatre because we can capture the spirit of spontaneity in those holiday specials. Bing Crosby’s doorbell rings and in walks David Bowie, wrapped in a scarf ... Judy Garland’s house is suddenly filled with a group of dancing Santas for no reason ...  There is a wonderful chaos to these holiday variety specials, and we’ve had great fun exploring these in rehearsal. Everything will be inspired by audience suggestions and improvised, including holiday songs, dances, novelty acts, special appearances from fictional celebrities, puppets, fake commercials, and much more.  Like the original holiday shows, ours will be filled with joy and laughter, and now more than ever, we think it’s important to unite on some level.  What better way to connect than by laughing together during the holidays?

I love the work your group does. I have seen and reviewed many productions around town. I am always amazed at how actors seem to make precise entrances and exits and perform their roles during the improv show as if some plot elements and scenes were previously staged and rehearsed. It just seems too perfect at times. How much exactly do the actors know in advance apart from what the audience provides at the top of the show? I know it takes imagination and mucho skill, which the actors have in spades, but it is actually all improv?
We get this question a lot. And yes, sometimes scenes and shows appear to run very smoothly -- almost perfectly -- which is exactly what we aspire to!  Our shows are completely improvised, and at the top of the show, the actors don't know anything in advance. Nothing is pre-set; the cast doesn't even know who will appear in the first scene. Once we get the audience suggestions that start the show, we're off and running, and everyone is working together to make up the play on the spot. We're usually supported by lighting and sound improvisers, who are improvising right alongside us.

We always tell people that if you doubt the show was completely improvised, come back another night, and we'll prove it to you because you'll see a completely different show.  We also have rotating casts that ensure that every performance is entirely unique.
Even if the script is improvised, you must rehearse. How do you prepare?
We have developed a very innovative rehearsal process that combines scholarly research with improvisational exercises over an extended period of time.  Before we perform a show like "Jane Austen UnScripted," we have spent a great deal of time reading her books, studying literally criticism, watching movies, and discussing the themes, tropes, storylines, language, etc., that Austen explored in her work.  Same thing for "Shakespeare UnScripted," "Chekhov UnScripted," "L.A. Noir UnScripted," even "Sondheim UnScripted," and every other style we do.  All of that extensive work allows us to inhabit the world and collectively work within the framework of that genre. Within that world, we are all working together, inspired by the audience's suggestions and improvising on the spot. 
I understand you extend your skills through education. Tell our readers about this work.
In addition to performing, we also manage the Impro Theatre School in Los Feliz, CA, where we teach these narrative and genre improv skills to students of all levels. The School grows much bigger every year because we're teaching things that students can't find anywhere else, and with every show, people are more and more interested in our creative and artistic process. We attract a lot of actors who are looking to improve their improv skills, and also improvisers who want to become better actors. We really enjoy and believe in the importance of teaching and sharing our innovative approaches to the next generation of improvisers.  What we do is completely unique -- no one else is doing what we do -- and it can definitely be taught. We've been doing it for a long time and have become pretty good at it.



Remember: The Broad Stage December 15-17 at 7:30 pm. Three performances only!

Monday, November 21, 2016

2016 Interview with Cheyenne Jackson

Actor/singer Cheyenne Jackson first appeared on Broadway with Sutton Foster in Thoroughly Modern Millie. Needless to say, he caused a sensation and has since made the TV screen sizzle with his appearances in Glee and American Horror Story. He will be making a concert appearance on December 15 and 17/18 in four Holiday shows with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles. (GMCLA) Jackson spoke briefly with me about this concert and comments on various points of his illustrious career thus far. As far as his personal life goes, Jackson is openly gay, married to Jason Landau, and they just became the parents of two children.

What was it like being an understudy in Thoroughly Modern Millie?
Did you go on and work with Sutton Foster? Describe that experience.

It was life changing, bouncing off the walls excitement.  Yes, I went on with Sutton many times.  She was nurturing, hilarious, and professional.  I learned much from watching how she handled herself.

How did Altar Boyz and All Shook Up change your New York career?

Both shows gave me an opportunity to originate roles for the first time, which is where you can really find and express your voice.

Xanadu followed. Were you happy with that show? Or did you long for something else?

Are you nuts?  Of course I was happy!  Xanadu was magic in every way.  I adored that cast and that character.

Do you prefer the classical Finian's Rainbow to a new show like Xanadu or do you take both in stride?

Both have their merits and appeal to me, but I am definitely looking for something new for my next Broadway outing.

You have also done many plays like Neil LaBute's The Heart of the Matter and The Performers. Was there a favorite?

The Performers will always have a big place in my heart.  I adored that cast and mostly loved being married to Ari Graynor...one of the best comic actresses I've ever worked with.  period.

Which film of those you appeared in did you enjoy the most?

I loved "A Beautiful Now" a film that came out last year with Abigail Spencer  ...  also,  I have a new movie coming out called “Bear With Us."  It's very comically broad, and I'm fully stealing Alec Baldwin's vocal cadences ... cuz,  I'm no dummy. There’s also "Hello Again" a live sung film musical, based on Michael John Lachiusa's piece that comes out next year.  It’s very experimental.  It will be interesting to see how it turns out.  Audra Macdonald and I share quite the love scene.  Look away, mom and dad.!  You've been warned.  

What happened to Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks? You were very good. It seemed to appear and then quickly disappear. It's a great flamboyant role for you.

The best thing to come out of Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks was getting to work with Gena Rowlands.

Talk a bit about being the coach in Glee. What was that experience like?

That was a great, snarky part.  I joined that show on season 2 when it was a cultural phenom.  I'll save the juicy bits for my autobiography one day

Recount, if you would, a little about your part in American Horror Story.

I just finished my second season with them.  I love that troupe of actors.  Ryan Murphy consistently pushes the limits, and I've really enjoyed the challenges that the genre brings.

In 2012 you composed and released Drive. Are you still composing? How is it going?

From time to time.  I wrote a bit last month.  Right now I am in full daddy mode and loving every second.

Talk a little about your appearance with Michael Feinstein and the album that you did together.

I really enjoyed making that album with Michael.  He's a consummate pro.

How did you enjoy playing in and then recording West Side Story? Is that your favorite musical of all time?

It was the perfect experience at the perfect time in my life.  I am very proud of the album … and my first Grammy nomination.  It’s definitely one of my top 5 favorite musicals.

Tell me about what you will be singing in December with GMCLA. Just a tease for our readers without giving it all away.

I’ll be singing a couple of pieces that I feel will really fit right into the evening.  I' m excited to play with the GMCLA.  They always put on a gay old time, which is obviously the point.




Sunday, November 20, 2016

2016 Interview with Ron Laqui from Cirque du Soleil's TORUK

After a nearly sold out engagement at the Staples Center, November 11-13, the new Cirque du Soleil arena show inspired by James Cameron’s record-breaking movie AVATAR, TORUK – The First Flight returns to Los Angeles at The Forum for six performances only from January 12-15, 2017.  Pupeteer Ron Laqui entices us with details about the new show.



Tell me about working with Cirque du Soleil. How long have you been with them?

TORUK - The First Flight is my first Cirque du Soleil show. I started with the majority of artists in July of 2015. I actually first auditioned for Cirque du Soleil in 2001 and made it to their artist database in 2002. It was puppetry that finally got me to run away with the circus!

As a puppeteer, you obviously bring much imagination into the proceedings. Describe what is most magical about the puppets in TORUK.

The whole experience is magical. We puppeteers, and the creatures of Pandora we portray, are just one of the visually stunning and immersive elements of TORUK that draw audiences in and engage their senses. The entire arena floor becomes an otherworldly playground for the life size, full scale puppets and the level of design detail is so nuanced that it's easy for us puppeteers and the other artists onstage to believe we are on the moon Pandora.

Tell us about the story a little bit. It's before Avatar began, correct? How many puppet characters are new to us?

Yes! Our story takes place thousands of years before the events of the movie Avatar and details the adventures of some brave Na'vi youngsters and the first Toruk Makto. I don't want to give too much away... you'll have to see for yourself! Just know that if you are a fan of Cirque du Soleil and/or Avatar you will see a side of both that will thrill and surprise you. And yes, there are some new creatures that are new to the fans of Avatar. There are two new animal species approved by James Cameron himself.

When Cirque approached you in 2014 about TORUK, did they ask you to design the puppetry for the show?

No, the puppets are designed by Patrick Martel, who is based out of Montreal. One of the cool things about being involved with TORUK from creation is seeing how the show evolves. Cirque makes it a point to continue improving and honing the concept of the show to make it better. This is the same with the puppets. We continually seek to improve how the puppets are made so they can be the best tools for the puppeteers as artists to fully express the creatures of Pandora. I think my background in working in a puppet building studio helps me understand mechanics and materials better to assist in how the puppets get better. It really is a collaboration.

Talk a bit about War Horse and that whole wonderful experience.

War Horse was the production that set me down the road of puppeteering as a true artistic endeavor. I hadn't thought of myself as a puppeteer before War Horse and couldn't have dreamed of a better introduction to the world of full scale puppetry. Working with the designers (Handspring Puppet Company) of those incredible puppets and the creative and producing teams (National Theatre of Great Britain/ Bob Boyett) of the production was inspirational. It was a dream job I didn't even know I needed! It was one of those rare projects in an artist's life that are truly delightful and absolutely transformative.

You have a great musical background as a dancer and performer. When did you first get interested in being a puppeteer? Your musical background must help your performance a lot. Explain.

I've always loved puppets and puppeteering. I think I'm like a lot of people in that my first exposure to puppetry was through Jim Henson and the Muppets. I thought there was a magic in how much life and personality went into the Muppets. When I look back at companies that have caught my attention, (Mummenschanz, Imago out of Portland) and companies I've worked for (HT Chen and Dancers, MOMIX) I see glimpses of why puppetry is now my main focus. These companies have elements of technical physical training and extensive prop and object manipulation. I say that I kind of approached dance like puppetry in that I would 'puppeteer' my body. 

I trained in musical theatre because it was my main performance exposure and honestly, I thought it would yield the most employment, but looking back it was the best training because it gave solid background in how to marry physical technique, musicality, and expression in performance. 

Funny, if you would've told me as an aspiring artist in school that I'd have the career path I've had, I definitely would've thought you were crazy! It has been such an amazing journey and working for Cirque du Soleil and this show has been a culmination of so many dreams I didn't even know I had!

What for you sets Cirque du Soleil above every other circus? What makes them special?

Cirque du Soleil make dreams come to life. They use circus arts as a way into fantastic worlds of imagination. The incredible artists Cirque du Soleil uses, from the acrobats able to perform super human feats, to the designers who come up with the brilliant concepts and whimsical landscapes, to the artisans and technicians that physically create and maintain these visions, these talented people allow the audiences to wonder if they are still in everyday reality and if you think about it, they are not. The millions of people that have seen a Cirque du Soleil show have been transported to these universes of ingenuity and fantasy and have left forever changed. It's an honor to be part of this company and this show and to give people a taste of what  they never thought was possible. 

Tickets are now on sale at https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/toruk. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

2016 Interview with Morgan Fairchild

Veteran film and TV actress Morgan Fairchild needs no introduction. She has been working for the past 40+ years, always recognizable as the glamorous blonde vixen from such series as Flamingo Road, Paper Dolls and Falcon Crest, as well as the soap Search For Tomorrow. Now about ready to start rehearsals for the Lythgoe Family's Christmas Panto, called A Cinderella Christmas at the Pasadena Playhouse, bowing December 8, Fairchild took time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about the role she is playing and her career. Has she been happy or does she long to change her sexy image?

What role are you playing in the show? 

I'm playing Cinderella's wicked stepmother, the one who makes her work so hard!

Sounds like a natural fit. Are you having fun?

I was hoping for the good fairy godmother, but my previous evil characters seem to have guided the casting!!! Wicked, I can do falling off a log, so this should be great fun!!!  Hope my singing isn't too embarrassing next to the wonderfully talented young cast.

Have you ever done a panto before or is this the first time? 

No, I've never done a panto before, and I'm really looking forward to it!

What do you think of the style? Is it easy or difficult to play?

I haven't started rehearsals yet, so I'm not quite sure how it all goes, but I hear from everyone that it's great fun!  And I certainly intend to have more fun than anyone!!  I'm sure I'll be quite silly! 

So happy to see you recently in a cable movie. You played a bitchy boss. Do you get tired of these roles?

I'm so glad you liked Perfect On Paper, the Hallmark movie you referenced.  I've been lucky to work all my life as an actress, so I never turn down a good part.  However, it's true!  I have played a lot of bad girls. To tell the truth, they are usually the most fun.  Although, I'd still love to play a doctor or a paleontologist  - that's what I wanted to be when I was growing up...and I still think I'd be good. 

What is your ideal role? 

A doctor, lawyer, senator.  I do have hopes, that as I get older, producers will give me a chance to expand even more.  AND I LOVE doing comedy.

Do you have a favorite TV show/film from the past that you appeared in? If so, which one and why this choice?

I have several shows that I particularly loved.  Mork and Mindy, because I so loved Robin and loved working with him. I always love being part of anything new and cutting edge, and it certainly was that in 1978. Paper Dolls, because I loved my character, Racine, and her dark humor - and I loved the writing on that one a lot! Friends, because I loved the sexy, funny way they wrote for me, as a woman who was no longer a kid.  Always great material and terrific one-liners on that show! Falcon Crest, because it was the first time the adult repercussions of incest were shown in prime time, and because I got to have the fabulous John McMartin play my father. I had adored him in Follies, still my favorite Broadway show, which I saw at least a dozen times. And, of course, the film Pee Wee's Big Adventure. We had such fun on that one!!  I think it was Tim Burton's first movie!

I saw you do Crimes of the Heart at the Falcon Theatre a few years back and you were very good. You should do more stage work in LA 

I'm so glad you liked me in Crimes of the Heart. Loved that part!  Garry Marshall called and asked me to do it for him (he was directing, too) and I couldn't say no, after the breaks he gave me on Happy Days and Mork and Mindy.  Beth Henley (the playwright) came to see it, too, and seemed to love it.  At least she was kind enough to say she did.

I started in the theater when I was 10, so I grew up in that medium.  I always do projects that interest me, like Geniuses  (directed by Gerry Gutierrez) at Playwrights Horizons, or a national tour of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (directed by Fritz Holt) - both in the 80s. I did a national tour of The Graduate in '04-'05 that was very well received (#1 touring play of the year) and 2 years ago I did a run of Murder Among Strangers at The New Theatre in Kansas City.  Oddly enough, I had opened the first theater those producers had in Kansas City with a tour of Last of the Red Hot Lovers in '72!!  And I'm heading back next spring to do Dixie Swim Club at New Theatre.

I still think The Seduction (1982) is one of the sexiest movies and that your work in it was terrific. Any memories of this or feelings about it as you look back?

Thanks so much for the kind words about The Seduction.  It was kind of ground-breaking for the time.  First time a stalker fan story was done (I was told) and first time the "girl" turned the tables and chased HIM with a shotgun.   Although, after chasing him through the whole house with that gun, and missing him numerous times, I told the director that NO ONE could miss him that many times ... with a shotgun.  It was getting embarrassing, for a Texan!

As a sexy blonde, do you feel you can never get past that image or are you OK with it? Or would you rather play a good character role like a tough alcoholic mother?

Oh, I would LOVE to play something else, too, but I'm grateful to have had a whole career being the evil vamp.  There are certainly worse ways to make a living!  I love doing comedy, too, so I've been able to combine the "sexy" part and the "comedy" part to good ends.  But it would always be nice to play more varied parts.  That's what all actors want.  Always looking!!
Glenn Francis of www.PacificProDigital.com

Whom do you enjoy watching onscreen? From the old crop of actors? From the newer crop?

I always love anything with Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Cary Grant,  Clark Gable, etc.  I was fortunate enough to work and become friends with Bette Davis, Natalie Wood, Jane Wyman, Roddy McDowell, Vincent Price, Patrick McGoohan, among others.  Of the current actors, I admire Tom Hardy, Jeremy Northam, Colin Firth, Julianne Nicholson, Sarah Paulson, Jennifer Ehle, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith (who I got see onstage several times and was blown away back in the '70s-'80s)

Anything you care to add?

I would just like to add that when I was starting out, I was often the youngest one in the cast.  I was always so grateful to the stars and pros that took me under their wings and were kind to me.  Now that I'm the "older one", I hope to always be the "kind friend" the younger ones remember fondly.  Theater has it's own special camaraderie, and it's wonderful to create those new relationships on a new show. I'm really looking forward to that on this one!!  

A Cinderella Christmas plays Tuesdays – Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 12:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sundays at 12:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.; Special matinees -- Friday, December 23 at 3:00 p.m.; Monday, December 26 at 3:00 p.m., Wednesday, December 28 at 3:00 p.m. and Friday, December 30 at 3:00 p.m.; Wednesday, January 4 at 3:00 p.m. and Thursday, January 5 at 3:00 p.m. (No performances December 25 and January 1.)  Online sales and information -- www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org   Phone  -- 626-356-7529

Monday, November 14, 2016

2016 Interview with Doug Engalla

Director Doug Engalla joined the Group Rep in 1997, and also began his association with
Playwright Phil Olson that same year. Since then, Doug co-produced Olson's A Nice Family Gathering in 2000, and has been involved in most of the Don't Hug Me World Premiere productions, including directing three of its five world premieres, A Don't Hug Me County Fair; Don't Hug Me, I'm Pregnant; and Don't Hug Me, We're Married. This year, he directed the Group Rep's second revival of A Nice Family Gathering, with an African-American cast. During the day, Doug works for Walt Disney Animation Studios as a custodian of the Studio's animation art legacy, and as an observer of Disney Animation's unique process of storytelling.

Written by Steve Peterson

What was your first directing job and what did you learn from that experience?

My first directing job was for the Fremont Community Theatre in Northern California, on a revival of Neil Simon’s first play, Come Blow Your Horn.  It was during the late 1970s, and I thought it would be more relevant if I updated some aspects of Simon’s 1961 script to fit the culture and mores of the late 70s. But, the lesson I took from that experience, was to always respect the text and to trust that the audience will take any relevance that they saw fit.  I never did that again, unless I was approached to try something nontraditional.

You’ve worked with playwright Phil Olson on several of his plays – mostly world premieres.  Do you also contribute in the creative process of the development of the play, and if so – in what way?

I’ve been invited to attend a number of table reads, especially for those in the Don’t Hug Me series. We sometimes have a “day after” chat, to evaluate the feedback he’s received. During the rehearsal process, Phil will phone me up before a rehearsal and try out some rewrites, to see how I respond to them; and he is present at nearly every rehearsal, which is a great way to make sure we’re doing justice to what he’s written, as well as to his intent of the story and the characters.

What do you like about working with Phil?

Well, I was always taken with the rhythm of Phil’s writing, and I have an affinity for his comedic sensibilities. I think we have a lot of that in common, though it’s not uncommon for one of us to take the other’s idea to the next level, especially if it can make the moment funnier. When it comes to putting on one of his plays, we’re literally co-directors, and in that way, almost like traveling companions on this journey. Phil had referred to me as his honorary Minnesota brother, and I take that as quite a compliment.

For many years, you’ve worked at Walt Disney Studios.  What is your current job there, and what does it entail?

I’m coming up on celebrating 27 years with the Walt Disney Studios, and specifically, with Walt Disney Animation. I do have the distinct honor of helping to archive and to preserve the production art that goes into making the Studio’s theatrical animated features and shorts, for the purposes of Studio reference as well as for publications and exhibitions. It’s a pretty unusual job to be having at all, and for so long, at that; yet working around the filmmakers at the Animation Studio has taught me a great deal about telling a story clearly and without clutter. I would say that their process informs me on how I approach a directing project, based on the clean and relatively simple through line of their stories. 

A Nice Family Christmas is described as a family holiday comedy, with some drama.  What do you want the audience to take away from the play?

In addition to being entertained, I'd like the audience to feel that we all have a family to which we belong, whether related or not, but who are like family in our hearts.  And, after the show, I would want the audience to go home to their loved ones, give them a hug, and tell them how much they’re loved and appreciated- - before it’s too late to tell them.

Is there anything else you want us to know about you, or about the play?

This play came along at an interesting time for me personally, as my Mom celebrated a milestone birthday this year. Though there are differences culturally – my family is of Filipino descent - my own Mom shares something in common with the character ‘Mom,’ both of whom have faced their share of challenges, and who ultimately want family to be happy together. When I recently asked my Mom if there was anything she wanted our family to remember, she simply said, “Just be good to each other, take care of each other, and love each other, always.”

What’s up next for you?

Over at Disney Animation, I’m pretty thrilled about our next feature film, “Moana;” which opens Thanksgiving weekend. As for a next theatre project, I’m hoping to work on a women’s ensemble play, as well as develop a possible revival of one of Phil Olson’s past published plays for the Group Rep, although nothing is set yet.

For info about A Nice Family Christmas, visit:
www.thegrouprep.com