Monday, August 15, 2016

2016 Interview with Isa Briones

ISA BRIONES was born Isabella Camille Briones in London, England. Her parents, Jon Jon Briones and Megan Johnson Briones are both actors and singers, and her younger brother, Teo Briones is also an actor. She began modeling in New York at the age of 3, and started acting when her family moved to Los Angeles in 2006. She is best known for her role in the film Takers, playing Matt Dillon's daughter. Isa is entering her senior year of high school, and is excited to be making her professional theater debut in this production of Next to Normal. School theater credits include: Velma in Hairspray, Brooke in Legally Blonde and Abigail in The Crucible. TV and film: “Takers,” “Cutthroat”, “Lonely Boy”.

Isa is currently playing the role of ‘Natalie’ in Next To Normal, a contemporary rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, featuring a live five-piece band. Next to Normal explores how one suburban household is torn apart by mental illness and fights to stay together. Next to Normal, a guest production at The Pico Playhouse, runs August 19 – September 25, and is produced by Triage Productions and SRO Productions.

by Steve Peterson

You were born into a musical theater family and grew up surrounded by performers, what was that life like as small child?

Being brought up in that world of performers was truly an amazing experience. It was definitely not your usual childhood but that’s what made it so great. My fondest memories are trick-or-treating backstage during Miss Saigon around the dressing rooms and birthdays surrounded by the cast and all the amazing countries I was fortunate enough to visit. I was immersed in this world of people pursuing their dreams and that really inspired me to do the same.

Did you happen to travel with your parents when they were on the road doing a show? If so, was there a country, city or town you liked exploring or have pleasant memories of that you would visit again, and why?

I was born in London when my dad was closing the original West End production of Miss Saigon and I was there for all of the Saigon tours my parents did after my birth: Asian, US, and UK. One place that I would love to visit soon is the Philippines. Almost all of my family on my dad’s side lives there and I haven’t seen them in over ten years. I was so young the last time I visited so my memories are just short flashes here and there of the beautiful beaches and playing with my cousins.

When did you first consider becoming a performer?

I think performing has pretty much always been a part of me.  I remember performing one-man reenactments of Miss Saigon for my grandmother on her fireplace or dancing to Gwen Stefani in our hotel in the Philippines. However, I didn’t start professionally acting until we settled down in LA when I was eight and I pursued film and TV.  But I think I decided to really commit to pursuing musical theater two summers ago when my dad was living in London doing the West End revival of Miss Saigon. I got to see so much fantastic theater and I had such an emotional response to watching the shows, not because they told emotional stories but because I couldn’t help but think of what it would be like if I was up there on stage. That made me realize how urgent my need to perform was.

Was or is there a teacher or coach, or someone who encouraged you along the way whom you might call a mentor. 

It’s cheesy but my parents have been my coaches my whole life. I only recently started taking voice lessons with a teacher, before that it was always my mom. Everything I know about singing, acting, and life is because of her. She’s a truly amazing woman because she puts our family first and works so hard to make sure we have every opportunity possible and on top of that, she’s unbelievably talented. And my Dad is such an inspiration too because he came from a very poor area in Manila, Philippines. The fact that he was even able to get out of that situation at all is impressive, but to know he achieved that solely on his talent is a huge inspiration. He has worked so hard for so long to get to where he is now, making his Broadway debut at 50. They are both such hardworking, dedicated people that inspire me every single day.

Tell us a bit about your character, Natalie.   What you do you feel the character is there to communicate through song and text to the audience?

Natalie is a teenaged girl whose entire life has revolved around her mother. It has made her feel “invisible”, as the song says. Her mother’s inability to let go of her son leaves Natalie feeling unloved, motivating her to throw herself into anything that will distract from her pain. Most of what you hear come out of Natalie’s mouth is snarky comments calling everyone out but as you see later in the show, deep down, she’s just a girl who needs her parents; she needs her mom. That basic, universal need for love and family is what makes Natalie such a relatable character.

Is there anything you’d like us to know about your experience with NEXT TO NORMAL, whether it is the musical itself or the creative process, and/or people involved?

The thing that is so great about the show is how real it is. The story doesn’t end with some sugar coated happy ending because that’s just not how life goes. It so perfectly follows every character’s journey from chaos to a very realistic, bittersweet resolution. And even though the play is specifically centered on mental illness it’s a story about family, which makes it so relatable to any audience. We’ve got such a great cast and a fantastic director, Thomas James O’Leary.  That has made this experience so great.

Do have a favorite musical or play that you’d like to be in?

Well, my old answer to this question used to be Next to Normal!  I guess I have to find a new answer. Shows I would love to do one day are definitely In the Heights and Spring Awakening, with Nina and Wendla, respectively, as my top dream roles.

Next to Normal, garnered three 2009 Tony Awards, and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. August 19 – September 25, 2016. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets: $32 – 36.99. 

 For tickets:
Information: or 310-204-4440
The Pico Playhouse, 10508 West Pico Blvd., Los Angeles

Thursday, August 11, 2016

2016 Interview with Actor/Director Thomas James O'Leary

Thomas James O’Leary’s recent directing credits include Flim Flam: Houdini and the Hereafter, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Nine, Dusty de los Santos, The Debut of Georgia, A Horse with a View, and currently Sunday in the Park with George. Thomas is best known for his three-year run (over 1,000 performances) in the title role of Broadway’s longest-running musical, The Phantom of the Opera. Other acting credits include Miss Saigon (Broadway original cast), Les Misérables (First National original cast), Chess (First National), You Never Can Tell (Yale Rep), Last Sunday in June (Century Center), Travels with My Aunt (Colony Theatre), and Take Me Out (LA Weekly Award, Celebration Theatre).  

O’Leary is currently directing Next To Normal, a contemporary rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt, featuring a live five-piece band.  Next to Normal explores how one suburban household is torn apart by mental illness and fights to stay together.  Next to Normal, a guest production at The Pico Playhouse, runs August 19 – September 25, and is produced by Triage Productions and SRO Productions.

by Steve Peterson

How did you first become involved in theatre?

I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be involved in theatre until I was in college. I started doing musicals at UConn where I got a BFA in acting, but it was all very new for me. So after college I trained at Trinity Rep Conservatory in Providence, RI, where I got down and dirty with both acting and directing. There I got to work with some amazing actors, directors, and teachers, including Richard Jenkins, Larry Arrick, Suzanne Shepherd, and Adrian Hall. I remember I’d watch Richard Jenkins’ performances as often as possible – I snuck into the back of the theatre to watch the last 45 minutes of Death of a Salesman every night for that show’s two-month run, just to study his work!

What was you first professional job?

My first professional acting gig was doing a season of musicals at Nutmeg Summer Theatre, UConn’s summer theatre back in the ’80s – that summer I did South Pacific, Damn Yankees, and Dames at Sea. I performed in so many musicals during my college years that by the time I went to Trinity Rep, I swore off musicals because I felt “I needed to be taken more seriously as an actor.” Ha! I’m embarrassed now by my judgmental attitude toward musicals at the time, but I’m also grateful I focused so much on acting and directing during my conservatory training!

What was your most memorable performance as an actor?

I think the year I played the Phantom in the national tour of The Phantom of the Opera before I took over the role on Broadway was my most artistically fulfilling time as an actor. I remember I got a mixed review from the local paper in the first city I played, and I was crushed! Luckily I was working with a dream of an actress, Diane Fratantoni, as my costar. We were both so committed to the work that we just worked off each other, moment to moment, night after night.  By the end of those seven weeks, I knew we had something special happening, and from the next city on, it seemed the critics thought so too.

Did you have a mentor or mentors along the way? If so, who?

Larry Arrick, the artistic director of Trinity Rep Conservatory, probably taught me the most about directing in my early years. He always pushed me to pursue a directing career. But once I was in NYC, I focused on acting only, and after taking a lot of classes (and cleaning a lot of apartments), I landed my first big acting gig, Les Miserables, which led to a long period of work. I was very fortunate!  And during the six years I worked on Phantom, the legendary Hal Prince was my inspiration and teacher – though I was working with him as an actor, I look back at those six years as a master class in directing. I think I learned the most about research work, concept work and visuals from Hal.

When did you start directing?

After I graduated from Trinity Rep Conservatory, I directed a production of Equus at a small theatre in Rhode Island. The actors and I were so motivated that we built our own theatre space, using donated sheets of plywood and borrowed nail guns, in a small prep school auditorium. I placed the entire play in a boxing ring/hospital operating theatre and created the horse Nugget with the ensemble using the white cords of the boxing ring. It remains one of my most fulfilling experiences. And since moving to LA about 10 years ago, and discovering the rich theatre world here, I have put directing back on the front burner, and am so glad I did.

You also work as a full-time member of the faculty at AMDA College and Conservatory of the Performing Arts in Hollywood.  Is there one point you work at getting across with each of your students?

I think a lot of musical theatre actors get a bad rap as not being true actors, and I’m trying to change that in whatever ways I can with my students. I teach the various approaches I’ve used in my past to help them treat sung material as any good actor would approach the text of a play. The main difference is that characters in a musical sing when the circumstances are beyond words, which means the stakes need to be higher. But it’s surprising how easy it is for a singing actor to get lulled into just singing a song, because it feels so good to sing, which just doesn’t cut it in musical theatre today. 

How did directing NEXT TO NORMAL come about?

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Selah Victor and Rory Patterson through the Actors’ Co-Op in Hollywood. Selah reached out to me regarding Next to Normal, and as soon as she mentioned the name of the play, I knew I needed to make this work. Meeting Zach Lutsky confirmed for me that I would love to work with this company. They are such wonderful producers and just great people! I’m very grateful to them for this opportunity of a lifetime!

Tell us a bit about the musical and what drew you to the material?

I was blown away by this play when I first saw it on Broadway and again at the Ahmanson. Next to Normal offers an incredible fusion of a strong naturalistic and contemporary dramatic story with a sometimes searing, sometimes tender rock score. A lot is written about how the play deals with someone’s mental illness in relation to the medical profession, but I’m much more drawn to how boldly and sensitively the play deals with the family. This play puts everyone on the map in such an accurate way, and with such specificity and nuance. And in the end, each character’s struggles in this play lead him or her to the priceless gift of self-acceptance, which frankly took me years to find on my own life journey.  

Is there something you want the audience to experience having seen the production?

Because we get to do this gem of a musical in an intimate theatre, I think we can draw the audience in to the story in a way that can be a lot more challenging in a 2,000-seat theatre. Of the various characters’ journeys, I suspect that any audience member can relate to at least one of them, if not a few. And though the play is wisely leavened with some select doses of comedy, it doesn’t pull any punches with heart-rending moments that can pack a wallop. It can be an emotional rollercoaster, but in the end, I hope that our production can offer an inspiring and touching, if not transformative, experience for audiences.  

Next to Normal, garnered three 2009 Tony Awards, and the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.  August 19 – September 25, 2016.  Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 2 pm.  Tickets: $32 – 36.99.                                         
For tickets:
Information: or 310-204-4440

The Pico Playhouse is at 10508 West Pico Blvd

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

2016 Interview with Mario Lopez

Well-known TV personality and show host Mario Lopez returns to the stage as Zach in A Chorus Line at the Hollywood Bowl at the end of this week. In our chat he talks about doing the role on Broadway in 2008...and  the challenges of performing onstage.

Talk about doing Zach in A Chorus Line on Broadway in 2008. Was this your first appearance on Broadway? It must have been thrilling!

Doing Broadway back in 2008 was an awesome experience, something I will never forget because it’s where I met my wife (Courtney Mazza). It was definitely on my bucket list, something I’d always wanted to do. I'm so happy I had the opportunity to do it.

How different is it to perform this show at the Hollywood Bowl? So much stage space is necessary for the dancing. 

The Hollywood Bowl is an Iconic place; performing there is something I’ve always wanted to do. Because of its size, you have to compensate and adjust accordingly which makes it a little difficult. Sometimes, it’s also really hot out here in LA so you have to factor all of that in. Working with Baayork Lee (director/choreographer) ... and the LA Philharmonic Orchestra is quite the treat and an honor.

What do you like best about Zach? 

I really enjoy playing Zach; it’s fun because he drives the show, sets the tone and has an authoritative figure. He gets to show different layers, he dances, he has strong scenes with Cassie, he's vulnerable and he gets the best seat in the house.

You have had such great success as a TV host. How does this compare to doing a big musical on stage? Harder work? More fun?

Performing on stage is obviously a different animal but it’s something that I love doing; you get instant gratification from the audience witch is quite different from doing radio or a TV show. I try to be as diverse as possible, so it’s great to get this opportunity.

Have you seen Hamilton? Everyone tends to compare A Chorus Line to it, because both shows have given new dimension to the Broadway musical. 

Yes, I’ve seen Hamilton, excellent, loved it. I am a huge fan of history and hit pop so to see both worlds merge successfully was pretty awesome. The comparison with A Chorus Line is awesome considering they both changed the course of the Broadway musical.

Are there any other shows that you like personally as well as Chorus Line? What are they? 

I did Grease Live recently, had a blast! A show I would really love to be a part of would be West Side Story. I think it would be relevant to what is going on in the world right now.

Any acting role that you would love to play either onstage or on film?

There are a lot of different acting roles that I would like to play and being on stage in a play is something that I would like to do soon.

In summing up, what stands out in this experience, above and beyond anything else?

The most important thing of the show is that I get to perform with my wife ...  and having our kids be able to see us perform together ...  that is what makes it extra special and memorable.

Mario Lopez is bound to bring charm and electricity to A Chorus Line. Directed and choreographed by original cast member Baayork Lee, A Chorus Line will play the Hollywood Bowl Friday, July 29, Saturday July 30 and Sunday July 31.

For ticket availability, visit:

2016 Interview with Randy Harrison

Actor Randy Harrison is touring with Cabaret as the Emcee and will be at the Pantages performing the show July 19 - August 7. In our chat he discusses the role and what Cabaret means to him.

Describe the experience of playing the emcee in Cabaret. What makes this role such a coveted one?

Playing the emcee has been the most liberating, challenging and rewarding professional experience of my career to date. I think the role is so coveted firstly because the material is so good. The book is one of the best in the musical theatre canon and the score is rightfully iconic. And the role is unique in that it can be so many things - there can be me a myriad of interpretations that all potentially work, so it gives an actor an amazing opportunity for creativity and invention. It also spans an immense emotional and stylistic range.

You get to wear a lot of funky clothes ... or very little in this part. Tell the audience how different this version of Cabaret is from the original.

The emcee in this production loves playing with gender. It’s not something that was absent in the original production but the envelope is pushed farther in this production. Weimar Berlin clubs and bars were progressive, even radical: gender roles, expression and sexuality mores were being openly subverted and explored. Magnus Hirschfeld was beginning his extraordinary research on sexuality and gender. This production is extremely tawdry, raucous, sexy and challenging in a way that is probably very similar to the actually Weimar era cabaret clubs it depicts.

What message does the emcee carry to the audience?

The potential consequences of political disengagement.

You have many fun musical numbers to perform. It's an energetic role. How are you preparing for it? Any challenges?

I’ve been doing it for 6 months now, so it’s pretty much in my body. I have a half hour vocal and physical warm up and I need to be very vigilant about my eating and sleeping schedule.

Is this your best role to date? If so, why? How?

I have a hard time ranking my different roles hierarchically, I’ve loved so many of them. This is a very special role, and a show and production I believe in very deeply. It’s satisfying not only to get to act and sing amazing material but to feel you are communicating a perfectly structured story that is of artistic, social and political significance.

I reviewed you in Amadeus a couple of years ago in Santa Barbara. You were very good. Talk a little about your involvement with this play.

Randy Harrison as Emcee
I’ve done Amadeus twice now. I did it in the Berkshires over 10 years ago and then I did it in Santa Barbara 2 or 3 years ago. It’s a wonderful role, a great play, fantastic music. The role has such a clear and tragic arc, it’s very fun to play. That one takes a lot of energy too. I suppose I’m getting all the exhausting roles out of my system now so in my twilight years I can just play Hamm in End Game, sit in a chair the whole show and boss other people around.

Did you ever see the original Cabaret onstage with Joel Grey? If so, how did it make you feel?

I did not see Joel Grey on stage in Cabaret. I did grow up with the movie, which is very different from the stage version. I was always fascinated by the world of Cabaret and by his Emcee.

What else is new on the horizon for Randy Harrison? Stage, TV or film!

I’ll be on the road with Cabaret through February. I’m in a short film called Photo Op that has been playing festivals (Palm Springs, Soho, Outfest, etc.) And I directed a web series called “New York is Dead” that is just now completing post production.

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Here is an interview below that I did with him in 2014 when he played Mozart in Amadeus at Ensemble Theatre, Santa Barbara.

What was life like, briefly, during Queer As Folk? Did you know at first that this show was unique and groundbreaking? You guys had so many fans. I know because I interviewed Gale Harold when he did Orpheus Descending a few years ago, and the fan response to the interview was incredible. I had comments from all over the world. 

My life during Queer as Folk was pretty hectic. I was in my early 20s, which I think tend to be a chaotic time for most people, especially young artists. I was living half the year in Toronto and the other half in New York, which were both new cities to me at the time, attempting to create some kind of stability in my life. I was trying to figure out what I was most interested in as a performer while simultaneously working and shooting this very personal, emotional and intimate material and becoming some kind of poster boy for something I didn’t understand at the time. I knew very much that the show was unique and ground-breaking.

What made this show so unique in your mind and why does it still attract fans? Oh, and how did you feel about doing the nudity in the show? Was it fun? Did it bother you?

I thought the show was unique because gay romantic story lines and sexuality hadn’t yet been depicted in that way on American television. No, I would never describe being naked on camera as having been fun for me. But I felt the sexuality was a really important aspect of what was ground breaking about the show, so I wasn’t initially bothered doing it. As the series progressed it got more and more difficult because it felt redundant and unnecessary.

On to the stage. You did a couple of plays in New York. What were they? On Broadway or off? Was that your first exposure to theatre or do you come from a long background of theatre training?

My background is in theatre. I’ve been doing theatre since I was a child, working professionally in theatre since I was a teenager and I went to Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music where I got a BFA in theatre. Off-Broadway I’ve done shows at Primary Stages, The Public Theater, Theater for New Audience, Red Bull Theater, Manhattan Class Company. I did Wicked on Broadway. Regionally, I’ve worked at the Guthrie Theater, Shakespeare Theater DC, Yale Repertory Theater, Cleveland Playhouse, Studio Theater DC and many others performing plays by Shakespeare, Shaw, Beckett, Williams, Ibsen, etc.

How are the rehearsals for Amadeus going? Is it daunting to play Mozart? How do you feel about it?

Rehearsals are going well. It's a big show- technically, thematically, emotionally. I love playing Mozart. I played the role before about 7 or 8 years ago. It's interesting to approach it now. I am now a year older than Mozart was at his death. The role requires a lot of energy which is harder at this age but I feel much more grounded and am bringing significantly greater life experience than my previous go.

Who are your mentors? Do you have an acting idol or someone who has taught you more than anyone else?

I don’t really have a mentor or an acting idol. After undergraduate I studied with a handful of incredible acting teachers and directors for many years that shaped me hugely. I’ve seen performances that devastated and thrilled me, and followed certain actors' careers pretty extensively- seeing them do anything and everything. At a certain point I was working consistently enough, it felt more natural to allow my company, director and the material teach me. I can’t remember being a part of a company where I didn’t deeply admire, look up to and learn from other actors in the cast.

Do you have a favorite playwright or author? If so, who and why?

Samuel Beckett. For me, Beckett addresses the most significant questions about being a human being on this earth in a way that is deeply intelligent, realistic (not the style of his plays obviously, but his view of the world to me is profoundly realistic), gorgeously poetic and also hilarious. I’ve done Godot and Endgame. I find it a relief to be in a Beckett play, because it feels like I’m lying less than when I’m performing the work of other authors.

What kind of music do you like to listen to? Has classical music always been a favorite of yours? If not, how has the exposure to Mozart worked into your routine? Has it changed you in any way?

I listen mostly to rock that edges toward experimental and electronic. Current favorites bands are Tune-Yards, Dirty Projectors, The Knife, Liars, Autre Ne Veut, to name just a few. I’m not currently a huge listener of classical music. But I grew up singing classical music and I went to a music conservatory where I was exposed to a great deal of symphonic, choral and especially opera music. My experience with Mozart’s music is greatly filtered through my experience of Shaffer’s Amadeus, both growing up watching the film (it was a favorite of my mother’s and she introduced to to me at a young age and we watched it a lot), having played the role before and of course preparing it again. I can’t hear that Adagio Serenade #10 for Winds in B Flat Major without getting chills every time that oboe comes in, but I wonder if I would feel the same way if I hadn’t been taught to listen to it by Shaffer’s Salieri. It’s one of the many remarkable things about this play. I hear those chords that introduce the ghost father in Don Giovanni and they terrify me. But I definitely hear them filtered through playing Mozart shattered by grief and guilt just after his father’s death. It a strange thing to do: to teach yourself how to listen to music as a fictionalized version of the person who created it.

What role do you yearn to play? Onstage or film or TV...doesn't matter?

One current fantasy is to play the Doctor or one of the Doctor’s companions on Doctor Who. Unlikely, but a man has to dream. There are a million roles still. And more than roles, directors and writers I want to work with. Someday Didi and/or Gogo, Krapp, and Uncle Vanya. I want to work with Ivo Von Hove. The list is fortunately never ending.

Any new projects on the horizon for the big or small screen?

I did a film with Michaal Urie called Such Good People that has been playing festivals this year. And my friend Jenn Harris and I are developing content for, which is exciting and hilarious.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

2016 Interview - Griff O'Neil

Singers, dancers, actors, models and instrumentalists will compete at the 20th Annual World Championships of Performing Arts (WCOPA) July 8 – 17, 2016 in Long Beach, California. This international meet is often cited as the official “Talent Olympics” for performers and is the only event of its kind!
Performers are selected from the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America, Europe, Asia and South Africa. Contestants will be vying for the gold and scholarships and prizes from New York Film Academy, New York Conservatory for Film & TV, Millennium Dance Complex, LA Models, Oleg Cassini, Indasoul Records and CSM Words/Music.

WCOPA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Griff O'Neil took time out of his busy schedule to sit down and talk to us. He describes in detail for our readers about the championship, how it got started, what participants and specific categories it includes ...  and its overall uniqueness as a worldwide event.

Tell me briefly in your own words what the championship is all about. What is the main purpose?

Our mission statement:  To create the ultimate, international Olympic-style competition for performing artists with an emphasis on accurate, professional "Hollywood" entertainment industry education and experience.  Aspiring talent around the world dream about "going to Hollywood."  So, this nine-day event provides an experience beyond belief which includes:   the renowned "Worldstars Boot Camp" - a full day of workshops by experts from the industry, a colorful "Parade of Nations" (similar to the Olympics) in which participants from each country proudly display their nation's flag and wear representative national costumes, Worldstars Village nights (evenings of fun and "meet and greets"), preliminary and semifinal competitions, a day of "go-sees" (every contestant has the opportunity to meet with industry personnel - managers, agents, record label reps, etc.), the spectacular live webcast of the finals (finalists compete for the World Champion titles in each competition category plus the coveted two prestigious WORLD titles:  Junior and Senior Grand Champion Performer of the World are awarded), and this one-of-a-kind event concludes with the exciting Awards Ceremony (gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded in the various categories of competitions).

Is this year the biggest list of countries participating? Wow! 61, I counted.

Yes, sixty-one countries are projected to be represented this year.  This is definitely a monumental year for all as WCOPA celebrates its 20th anniversary!

What contests in the performing arts are presented? I know dance is one. What others?  

There are six (6) categories of competitions in the junior (ages 15 and under) and senior (ages 16 and over) divisions in solo and group:  dancing, singing, acting, modeling, instrumentalists and variety arts

What kind of spirit do the contestants bring with them? Is it an excitement similar to the Olympics? 

There really is nothing to compare with the unforgettable expressions of awe, excitement and amazement on the faces of these fantastic achieving artists from throughout the world.  Again, going to "Hollywood" is a dream for so many... the first time to visit America... add to that, meeting and competing with talent from all over the globe... getting priceless education and tips from industry experts...  all is truly a rare, precious gift!

Tell us in detail what the winners will take with them as prizes. 

Gold, silver and bronze medals are awarded along with cash and prizes, a recording contract, an Oleg Cassini gown for the female model winner and tuxedo for male model winner, and a total of $480,000 in scholarships which includes the famed Millennium Dance Complex, New York Film Academy, New York Conservatory for Film and Television!

You must have a great sense of pride in this. Give us a little background as to how it all got started.

It really is amazing to me how this all evolved.  Previously, as an executive with Miss Universe, our live telecasts (during my tenure the TV specials were on CBS and fully sponsored by Procter & Gamble) were produced in various countries around the world.  Since Miss Universe was a beauty pageant only (no talent was involved), we would go in advance to each respective host country and select exceptional talent to perform on the show.  

It was during this time I realized that so many opportunities and unique experiences appeared to be happening only for sports and athletes and nothing really for aspiring performers and entertainers.  Thus, when my term with Miss Universe ended, I spent time meeting with experts, researching and discussing "the tricks of the trade" so that eventually a non-political, truly independent World Championships for talent could be created and launched.  

The first World Championships for Performing Arts (WCOPA) occurred in 1997 with only 16 countries and 100 contestants.  Now celebrating our 20th anniversary with 61 countries to be represented and nearly 1,000 participants is indeed a dream come true! This could never have happened without the brilliant team of executives and staff that organizes and produces the event, most of whom have been with me the entire time.  

What celebrities continue to be involved in WCOPA?

Additionally, over the course of the 20 years, the Performing Arts Hall of Fame was devised so as to honor and induct at WCOPA celebrities and VIPs who have contributed to the performing arts such as Liza Minnelli, Justin Chambers, Jaclyn Smith,  Michael Bolton, Dionne Warwick, Daniel Lamarre (President and CEO of Cirque du Soleil) and many others.  Also, the International Worldstars Association was established as the first and only international organization for artistes and followers of the performing arts to provide unmatched benefits for its privileged members such as online education, training, career tips as well as invaluable products, services, enlightening and inventive concepts. Yes, as they say this is history... but more importantly, it's the chance for a future for so many!

For specific info and schedule, visit:

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Interview - Recorded in Hollywood Creative Team

We sat down with Jamelle Dolphin and Lou Spisto, producers of the returning RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD as they prepare for the upcoming run at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City. Both men talk about going deeper into John Dolphin's character and adding new material to create the perfect show, which begins previews July 8.

Jamelle (grandson of John Dolphin), authored the book "Recorded In Hollywood: The John Dolphin Story," published in 2011. The book is based on research in historical records, as well as, hundreds of hours of verbal interviews with family and friends -- and records the true life story of John Dolphin, who was owner of the world famous record store "Dolphins of Hollywood" which began around 1948. Jamelle was inspired to write the book, as a natural outgrowth of hearing the many colorful stories about his grandfather. As Jamelle grew up in Los Angeles, having the last name "Dolphin" always seemed to be followed by "are you related to John Dolphin?" Jamelle Dolphin holds a B.A. degree in Business Administration Marketing from Sonoma State University, and he currently runs Dolphins of Hollywood Productions with siblings Ahman Dolphin and Glory Dolphin Hammes, in Los Angeles, CA.

Lou Spisto: Broadway: Producer, THE GLASS MENAGERIE (TONY nominated)
directed by John Tiffany with Cherry Jones and Zachary Quinto, YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (TONY nominated) starring James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne; LOVE LETTERS with Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy, ROCKY and BIG FISH. London: Producer, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN at the Gielgud Theater. Old Globe: Executive Producer, raised $75 million for the theatre’s capital campaign, over ten seasons produced 140 plays and musicals, 40 world premieres, 7 transfers to Broadway. Several theatre projects in development; two television projects with the Wolper Organization; Board of Directors of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.  

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We know that last season's run in Hollywood was a tremendous success. Why did you even contemplate making changes? 

JAMELLE: Last season’s run was a great success but we’re quite aware that at each next “step”, more will be expected of the show. Last fall, we took an honest look at what we achieved and what remained to be done.

LOU: The show was, no doubt, a crowd pleasing great time but we felt we could go deeper to tell the story of John Dolphin and his time, and still keep the entertainment level high, and perhaps even higher. So, we went back to work with all of our creative team—Matt Donelly our book writer, Andy Cooper our composer and lyricist, and Denise Dowse our director, to get clearer about the story of John Dolphin. 

Tell our readers about some of these specific changes, particularly regarding what newer elements we can expect to see in the character of John Dolphin. 

JAMELLE: Nothing was sacred; we looked at every aspect of the material in a series of creative team workshops and then two full cast workshops for both music and book over a period of several months. 

LOU: We think this production will go further to reveal just what made John Dolphin the force that he was—we get more specific about his marketing genius and his creative capabilities that led to his impact on the music business and his artists. We also provide more context; more names and places from his world, the music industry, and the Los Angeles scene.

What about in his relationships with the greats?

JAMELLE: The relationships between John, Sam Cooke, Jesse Belvin, and Huggy Boy are more central to our story as is the key relationship with his my grandmother Ruth Dolphin. We spend more time getting to know my grandfather, personal warts and all, as he struggles to find his place in the world and finally becomes a real leader in South Central.

Did you make any additions to the musical score?

LOU: There are some great additions to the music because we know that this show has to bring great tunes to the audience—our story is first and foremost about music, so the score really needs to deliver. We’ve edited the material and added several new songs—both original songs by Andy Cooper and additional songs from the period. The period songs work with the new material to tell our story and provide a sense of the time and impact that Dolphin’s had on the R&B and early Rock and Roll era.

Are you more content now with the direction the show is taking?

JAMELLE: I started this project with a book about my grandfather so I could honor his legacy and let the world know of the contributions he made in the music industry, but in the end it has to be a great musical and, to that end, I think we are continuing on the right path.

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The sold out, critic's pick musical Recorded in Hollywood returns to the stage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre from July 8 - August 7.
for tickets, visit:

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Interview with Director Drina Durazo

Drina Durazo’s directing credits include: Moon Over Buffalo, Hotel Paradiso, Don’t Dress for Dinner (The Group Rep); Every Christmas Story Ever Told And Then Some, All The Great Books Abridged (Mammoth Lakes Rep); Breaking Bard at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival (Porters of Hellsgate), which earned four Ezra Buzzington Spirit of the Fringe Award Nominations, including Best Direction; and the extended Breaking Bard, which earned eight Valley Theatre Award nominations, including Best Direction, and a win for Best Play.  

Written by Steve Peterson

In the past several years you have been involved with making independent films.  How did your directing for theatre come about?

I have been involved with theatre since my early high school days, but while attending college, I had an opportunity to break into entertainment in a different medium. I went into television, and along the way, I made numerous connections and started dabbling in film as well. In 2010, my journey eventually brought me back to theatre when I collaborated with a friend who was working on a production at The Group Rep. I found myself also working on that show, in the role of Assistant Stage Manager, and on that show I met Larry Eisenberg. When I told him I was most interested in directing, he took me under his wing and I began to assistant direct for him on numerous productions. I was eventually given my directorial debut in 2012 and was incredibly grateful and ecstatic, not only for the opportunity to spread my wings, but also for the support I was given by Larry, and the company as a whole.

What was the first play you directed and what was your take-away from that experience?

The first play I directed was Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, and although I did not choose this play for myself, I was delighted to take a stab at it. My major take-aways were the importance of choosing your play and doing your homework on it. The show was fun, and I was incredibly proud of it, but that show would not have been my first choice. The opportunity helped me prove myself as a director, and I went on to direct a few other shows for GRT before landing on The Armadillo Necktie, but I wasn’t strong on how I wanted the voice of the Buffalo to be heard, and my vision was unclear. I think this was partly due to my inexperience and lack of detailed homework, and also due to the fact that I did not choose this play for myself, therefore I had no immediate attachment to it other than to direct a show. The Armadillo Necktie is actually the first show I have directed for GRT that has been of my own personal choosing. I went in with a lot of passion for the project, which made my pre-production experience that much easier, and the overall process has been so rewarding. I came in fully prepared, with a clear vision, and understand the importance in the process of choosing your play, because your homework begins there.

You previously directed another Gus Krieger play, the well-received Breaking Bard, which won awards and accolades at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe Festival, and was also reprised after the festival ended.  What do you think drew patrons to the play; what was the audience responding to?

Gus Krieger’s Breaking Bard began as a 6-minute scene presented at a fundraiser for his company, The Porters of Hellsgate, and evolved into a 60-minute show for the Hollywood Fringe Festival directed by myself. The show, being a mash-up of William Shakespeare’s most famous dialogue and a parody of the hit television series “Breaking Bad,” drew in die-hard fans of each, in addition to our regular patrons and supporters. The script was written in a way where you could be fan of the show but not know Shakespeare and you’d enjoy it, or you could be a fan of Shakespeare but not know the show and still get the through-line of the story, and enjoy it. The show received four Ezra Buzzington Spirit of the Fringe nominations, including one for Best Direction, with one awarded for Best Writing. The remount was extended to 80 minutes and ran successfully for 5 weeks, and went on to receive eight Valley Theatre Award Nominations, including Best Direction, with two awarded (Best Play and Best Stage Manager).

Tell me a bit about the history of The Armadillo Necktie and what went into the development of the play? How did you directing The Armadillo Necktie come about? 

In 2012, the Group Rep’s Artistic Director, Larry Eisenberg, recognized the script as something I would be interested in and connected me with Gus so we could mount it as a staged reading. I was floored by the material because of how highly sophisticated, dark, and timely the subject matter was. I felt the style and structure was ahead of its time and I was really interested in exploring dark comedy, absurdism, and tragedy at the time, all of which were elements of the script. Our journey involved many discussions, a lot of emailing back-and-forth, and many struggles with casting. We tried for 7 months to get a staged-reading together, but due to schedule conflicts and other things, we had to shelve the project for a bit. Three years passed before we decided to try again; Gus and I both happened to be in-between projects, and so we were finally able to pull it all together. In February 2015, we mounted a staged-reading, worked through some notes during the process, and a final draft was written in December 2015. We pitched it to the Artistic Council and Artistic Directors and were grateful to finally be given the green light to present it to the world (North Hollywood/Los Angeles) on the GRT stage.

Some of the play’s subject matter is quite serious.  How have you gone about keeping the play a “jet black comedy,” as opposed to a black comedy or dramedy which sounds - at least on paper - lighter.

The black comedy is meant to provoke serious thought on some very real topics; in this case, it sets forth a dialogue on the way America deals with war, the way we view and deal with threats, and the affects that the actions of higher power has on its civilians, both on American, and foreign soil. While most playwrights use the genre to make light of one dark subject matter, Gus cleverly uses it to explore numerous dark themes and subject matters. In addition to war, the play also explores the topics of murder, guns, depression, insanity, nightmares, disease, racism, terrorism, political corruption, and torture. It’s these many elements, I feel, make this black comedy a jet-black comedy.

What do you want the audience to take note of or perhaps think about long after they’ve left the theatre?

Over the last few days, I found myself deeply saddened by the disturbing events in Orlando. It was hard to distract myself from the harsh reality of it all because, in the theatre, I was dealing with a group of characters who take matters into their own hands, care only about their personal agendas, view anything outside the bounds of their personal mindset as a threat, and immediately turn to violence to get a point across. The play was originally written in 2011, and had been workshopped since then, but the story and themes have all remained the same. The issues we address on stage are based on much of what has occurred around us over the last 15+ years, and it breaks my heart to see that in that time, not much has changed. We, as Americans, are still constantly exploited by fear -- fear of terrorism, fear of the unknown, fear fed by hatred -- instead of addressing the issues of gun control, mental health, bullying, hatred, and so on. The list is unfortunately a large one. In light of Orlando’s tragedy, I began to get worried that some might be sensitive to the political metaphors and dark themes we tackle in The Armadillo Necktie, but then I was reminded that we must not censor ourselves. We should, instead, continue to get our voices heard and our message out. It might not change the events that occurred in Orlando, that are occurring here or around the world, but it starts a dialogue and that in itself is a good step in the right direction.  

What’s up next for you, either directing or something else creative you might be up to?

For The Group Rep, I am producing their next production, Calendar Girls
directed by Larry Eisenberg, which is set to open August 26th. My other upcoming project will be in the role of Production Designer on Gus Krieger’s groundbreaking feature film, “My Name Is Myeisha.” The film takes us through the dreamscape that is Myeisha Jackson’s mind, as she is faced with the all-too-familiar events which take her life; it’s an exploration of compassion, and the timely issues of police brutality and Black Lives Matter. We are in the early stages of pre-production and are set for principal photography in October. I am excited to be collaborate with Gus again on such a meaningful and profound project.

Drina’s latest directing project Gus Krieger’s The Armadillo Necktie runs June 17 through July 31, Friday & Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm at the Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood.   For tickets and information please visit or call 818-763-5990.