Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Interview with Christine Dunford

CHRISTINE DUNFORD made her directorial debut with last year’s production of Good People at the Hudson Guild. She trained as an actor at Juilliard, making her debut in Joe Papp's Two Gentlemen of Verona. Broadway: Serious Money. Off-Broadway: Love's Labors Lost (Public Theater);Serious Money (Public Theater);Tamara; Infidelities (Primary Stages.) LA: I Carry Your Heart (BootlegTheater);The Cryptogram; Old Neighborhood (Geffen Playhouse);7Blow Jobs; Erotic Curtsies (Bottom’s Dream Theater Company);    Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike (Edgemar Theater.) Film: “Ulee's Gold” “Love & Basketball” “American Dream” “Bandit Hound” “Hello Herman” “August Creek” and award-winning shorts “Dos Corazones” and “Lost People of Mountain Village.” Ms. Dunford has appeared in over 100 episodes of television. Series Regular: “Good Sports” “Bob” “Hudson Street” “Something So Right” and “Secret Lives of Men”. Guest Star: “The Gifted,” “Longmire,” “The Mentalist,” “Bones: & many others. Solo Performance: HBO Aspen Comedy Festival. She is currently directing a production of Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories to open at the Dorie Theater at the Complex Friday October 13.


by Steve Peterson


You are known best for your work as an actress.  When did you know that you wanted to be an actress and what inspired to you become an actress?

Lee Grant. 1975. I saw a PBS broadcast of The Seagull, which had been mounted, I think, in Williamstown. We lived in the Bronx and I’d never seen a play outside of school, Catholic pageants, that kind of thing.  Lee Grant as Arkadina absolutely captivated me. She was so alive, so complex, full of contradictions…and so funny. I’ve loved her - and wanted to play Arkadina - ever since.

When did you start directing and what was the play? What are you able to draw from that experience that enhances your process of directing?

I directed Good People last year. It was my first directing experience. I had great actors and an absolutely outstanding design team. My take-away from that experience was that people who speak the same creative language as you are treasures: you put them in your pocket, appreciate them and bring them into every project that you can.  I’ve collaborated with Alessandra Manias (Set Design) David Medina (Sound) and Maggie Lima (Costumes) before and if I’m very lucky I’ll get to work with them all again. And again.

Were you familiar with COLLECTED STORIES before you were approached to direct the play?  What intrigued you about the material?

I wasn’t very familiar with Collected Stories before I was approached to direct it, outside of reading it and knowing that both Uta Hagen and Linda Lavin (two of my favorite actors) had played the part of Ruth Steiner. I liked, of course, that it’s a play with rich and complex roles for two women…And I like very much the challenge of telling a story in a way that doesn’t tilt the scale in the moral favor of either character. And it is a challenge, I can tell you that.


Tell us a bit about the play.

Well, on the face of it it’s a story about creative license, about ownership of the past, about loss, about the loneliness of old age and irrelevance…I think it’s also a play about mentors and protégés – and how ill-schooled we are, as Americans, in the nuance of that relationship.


What is up next for you in regards to acting and/or directing?

Oh, I wish I could say what was next for me as an actor or director! One never knows, it’s the bane of our existence. Once the play opens I’ll go back to auditioning, working as much as I can. I like the rhythm of going from one project to the next. One of my teachers at drama school told me “Darling, don’t ever walk away from momentum.”


Is there anything you wished we had asked or want us to know about the play, the production or about you?

I have very tender feelings toward both Ruth and Lisa. I’ve been the ambitious – even ruthless - young artist hungry for growth, for success...But I’m also at the point now where I look back and wish I’d been more appreciative of, and tendered more care for, the amazing artists at Juilliard who taught me, who gave me everything they had.


ShoWorks Entertainment presents Donald Margulies’ Collected Stories, directed by Christine Dunford.  Susan Fisher and Gretchen Goode star in this intense and often funny look at art and the process of creation.  October 13 – November 5.  Fridays and Saturdays 8:00 pm. Sundays 3:00 pm.  Admission: $30. Tickets/Information: www.showorksentertainment.com/theater
Dorie Theater at the Complex, 6476 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles, CA.

                                                            
                                                             


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Interview with Susan Sullivan

Emmy and Golden Globe nominated actress Susan Sullivan has been delighting audiences onstage and on television for many years. She is currently a part of LA Theatre Works production of Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine. In our chat she talks about her role and others that she has played in her varied career.

Tell us about your role in Watch on the Rhine. This character really makes a great sacrifice. Talk about that.

I play Fanny Farrelly in Lillian Hellman's classic, a timely play Watch On The Rhine. I feel as if I have slipped into Ms. Hellman's skin which is a prickly place to be because she uses so much of her own unique and difficult personality in creating this role. This is what an actor longs for in a character...detail, nuance and complexity. While the play takes place in 1940 it translates to our time because it is beyond time... Dealing with the privileged and isolated Farrelly family who must now recognize that their world is not the simple cozy place they assumed it was. When Fanny is forced to deal with the realities of a world and a family in crisis she comes to discover what she actually stands for and what she must sacrifice to survive. Now  you have the foundation for a drama that crosses into many of the dilemmas that inform our time. Perhaps all time.

Do you think people become as involved in foreign affairs as they should? Right now it seems that some people are not doing enough to help save our world.

I think people are more involved in both foreign and domestic affairs than they have ever been. We’re also more aware of hot spot crises around the world and the vulnerabilities of everything from madmen with guns to climate change science. I do think we are all obligated to be informed and to vote for those reflecting our values and priorities. What’s to be learned from this exquisite play is the necessity of finding the ground you can hold and the unique way you can contribute. But you have to see the whole picture to understand how you fit into it and where you might have something to offer and a sacrifice to make that is authentic and meaningful. 

What is your favorite recording for LATW to date? How much preparation do you do? As much as for a regular play?

My favorite play at L A Theatre Works was Assembled Parties. I played a Jewish mother from Long Island and found myself reconnecting with not only my New York roots but my New York and Long Island rhythms. I did grow up and went to school on Long Island so go figure. As for preparation ––  I love exploring a character and that takes time and interacting with your fellows so it is a bit short circuited by limited rehearsal. Learning the lines also deepens the character and, without that discipline, it can be tempting to skim the surface.  But when a play and a character are this interesting I have a hell of a good time working with myself in the bathroom mirror!

Do you have a favorite play that you have done? If so, which one? Why?

I have several favorite plays I have performed in: A Delicate Balance, The Glass Menagerie, and several of Mr. A. R. Gurney’s plays.  All of these have been interesting and challenging for different reasons. And now the glorious and talented and truthful Ms Hellman!

Is there a role you are yearning to play?

The part I am yearning to play at the moment is none other than Fanny. This play offers a world that enriches the actor and I trust, the audience that enters it's realm.

What about your favorite TV/film role? Do you have one?

I have been blessed to play several women who have informed my life by living through and in each of them. Each enhanced by playing for an extended run.  Maggie in Falcon Crest; the truly "good woman" Kitty Montgomery in Dharma and Greg. My first comedy allowed me to be arch but amusing. And finally my actress friend from Castle, Martha... an homage to my career and my mother... I have been one lucky girl.  And I bathe in the wisdom of gratitude daily!

What's up next for you?

Not sure what the road ahead holds which is sort of the good news/bad news part of being an actor.  But I continue my Twitter adventure giving unsolicited advice on a daily basis.  It keeps me centered and hopeful.  Because hope is an important ingredient in the mix that is our life... 

Anything you wish to add about Watch on the Rhine?

I think this is a special and dare I say important play for today and probably tomorrow since we appear to be slow learners. 



What:
Watch on the Rhine
• Written by Lillian Hellman
• Directed by Rosalind Ayres
• Produced by Susan ALoewenberg
• Presented by L.A. Theatre works




WHEN:
• Thursday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m.
• Friday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m.
• Saturday, Oct. 14 at 3 p.m.
• Saturday, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m.
• Sunday, Oct. 15 at 4 p.m.

WHERE:
James Bridges Theater
UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
235 Charles E. Young Drive
Los Angeles, CA
(enter UCLA from Hilgard just south of Sunset Blvd.; park in Lot 3 on the lower level)

HOW:
310-827-0889 or www.latw.org
• Join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LATheatreWorks
• Follow us on Twitter @latheatreworks


Thursday, October 5, 2017

2017 Interview with Bobby Moresco

Bobby Moresco is an Academy Award-winning writer, director and producer, hailing from Hell’s Kitchen, New York. In 2007, Moresco received an Oscar for co-writing the feature film “CRASH”. Other features include, Academy Award-winner “MILLION DOLLAR BABY” and “10TH & WOLF”, starring James Marsden, which was his directorial debut. Moresco’s TV credits include “EZ Streets”, “Falcone”, and “The Black Donnellys”. He is currently producing WORKING at the Whitefire Theatre to play Thursdays October 12-November 9.

by Steve  Peterson                 

What was the genesis of this project? 

Like everybody else in the country in the last couple of years, I’ve been concerned about the disappearing middle class. In my opinion, it’s the heart and soul of who we are, what we are, the ability for a mother or father to work hard and in return receive some sort of economic stability in their lives. Some sort of security by virtue of the work put forth.

What inspired you to continue exploring workers’ lives in 2017?

 I felt some responsibility to speak to it. The idea of marrying what Studs Terkel did in the original “Working” and what Camus explored in The Myth Of Sisyphus, the idea that work is the essential question in one’s life. And it will either destroy you, or be your salvation. That’s intriguing in a very contemporary way for me. Camus suggests that one must imagine Sisyphus happy. It seems essential.

There was a musical based on Terkel’s book that ran for about a about month on Broadway?  Did you see it or have knowledge of it; and was there anything different you were wanting to achieve with a new piece inspired by his work?

Yes I did see it. And of course I read Terkel’s book. The new inspiration came simply from trying to marry Terkel’s ideas with Camus’.

How did you go about developing the concept in workshop?

I brought the idea into the Actor’s Gym Saturday afternoon sessions, presented it to the writers and actors in the group, and asked them to consider writing a character study that might explore the ideas outlined above. I gave them a structure to work with. And they went to work. It was about a two-year journey where everyone continued to put forth ideas, dialogue, characters, and then a reworking, until we wound up with what is now the play.

Tell us a bit about the play.

It’s everything we speak about above. Eleven characters commune with the audience and share their story of the expectation of who and what they are and how the idea and hope of work impact their lives.

What do you want the audience to take away or feel  from having seen WORKING 2017?

I’m hoping they’ll be emotionally involved with the lives of the people on the stage and they take away whatever they take away from it. It’s not about a message. It’s about the human condition, as the writers and actors performing these pieces, see that condition.

What’s  up next for you in regards to directing, writing and producing?

There’s a play I’m attached to direct by one of the Actor’s Gym members, William Hoffman. I’m tremendously excited about directing that.  I have a new movie called BENT that I’ve written and directed starring Sofia Vergara, Andy Garcia and Karl Urban, as well as about a dozen members of the Actor’s Gym. And I’m working on a couple of new television shows, one with legendary director William Friedkin, and one with legendary comedian Colin Quinn.

Is there anything else you care to mention that we didn't ask you?

Yes, I wish you had asked more about Bryan Rasmussen and the Whitefire Theater, and Bryan’s commitment to new and vital works. Without people like Bryan and the Whitefire, there would be no place to put up new pieces of theater. We’d be back on the street corner, which isn’t so bad, but a theater is better J

Also, I wish you had asked about the collaborative work of the crew. Not just the artists. The crew has been amazing, starting with my partner / live stream director Larry McLean, and our lighting crew Derek McDaniel and David Svengalis.  And of course my stage manager David Branson.

WORKING 2017 run Thursdays at 8:00 pm.  October 5 - November 9.  Appropriate for ages 18+. Tickets: $25.  For tickets and information: go to working2017.brownpapertickets.com or call 800 838-3006.  Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Interview with Time Alone's Tonya Pinkins

Belle Rêve Theatre Company (Executive Producer Michelle M. Núñez, Producers Suzanne Warren and Tanya Cohen) presents their inaugural production of Time Alone a World Premiere by Alessandro Camon (Academy Award nominee “The Messenger”) starring Tony Award winner Tonya Pinkins (Jelly’s Last Jam, Caroline or Change, ABC Scandal) and Alex Hernandez (Peter and the Starcatcher, Richard III NYC Public Theatre Mobile Unit), at Theatre 2, Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S Spring Street Los Angeles, September 30 to October 29 .

The production is helmed by award-winning director Bart DeLorenzo (Geffen Playhouse Stage Kiss, Death of the Author; Founding Artistic Director Evidence Room). Time Alone is presented in association with The Latino Theatre Company.


Time Alone traces the parallel journeys of a young man convicted of killing a gang rival, and a woman whose son - a police officer - is murdered in the line of duty. Both end up in places of extreme loneliness — a solitary confinement prison cell, and the silent house of the bereaved.  As time itself seems to unravel, their tales both contrast and mirror each other, providing answers to each other's questions — until they find new doors to life.

Pinkins took time out of her busy rehearsal schedule to talk to us about the play and aspects of her stage career.

Tell us about Time Alone and your character in it. 
Time Alone is a poetically powerful piece by Alessandro Camon which explores the power of pain, connection, and forgiveness

What are your challenges as an actor?
My greatest challenge as an actor is (getting)opportunities to work on material and with collaboratives who match the skill and experience I have acquired as working professional for 42 years. I'm always seeking to challenge myself to do something I haven't ever done. To risk failing.

Talk a bit about Jelly's Last Jam. Lots of ups, I'm sure. Was it one of the happiest times of your life professionally?
Jelly's Last Jam was one of the unhappiest times of my life. Winning a Tony Award was a cherry on a crap cake. My husband had me served with divorce papers in the fan line at the stage door. I lost custody of my kids and essentially walked away from my career to fight to be in my children's lives.

Caroline or Change is a 100% turn around. Talk a bit about this play and what it did for you. What did you like best about it?
Caroline or Change was the most thrilling piece of theater I've ever gotten to be a part of. Everything about the collaboration with all the actors, designers, crew , at The Public, on Broadway, in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London was miraculous. The best part was working with people who were ALL at the top of their game and I had to constantly, work to live up to all the brilliance around me.

Do you prefer musicals to plays or does it matter?
I like variety. I would not be happy doing the same anything for too long. I crave the new, the different, the unexplored, the risky, the stuff that might fail.

Anything else you care to add?
Time Alone is a gift to the audience, like Caroline or Change it is a rare moment in the theater where artists bare their truths and their souls in all the beauty and ugliness. The invitation to the audience is to meet us there and experience a genuine to GOD via an authentic connection with another human being. To witness genuine pain and suffering without moving to fix it or fade it. I pray people will come and meet us at least halfway.


Los Angeles Theatre Center, Theatre 2 is located at  514 S Spring Street Los Angeles. Previews begin Saturday September 30. Opening Night is Saturday, October 7.  Performances on sale through October 29.
For tickets go to: www.bellerevetheatre.com or www.thelatc.org or call 213-489-0994

(photo credit: Kayt Jones)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Interview with Kevin Chesley

KEVIN CHESLEY has directed, written and performed sketch comedy for stages like Upright Citizens Brigade (LA and NYC), The iO (Chicago and West), and the Vancouver Comedy Festival. He is a co-founder of TROOP! and The Riot Act, troupes that have performed in venues like The Comedy Central Stage, The HBO Workspace, and The Chicago Improv Festival. For ten years he has directed The Apple Sisters, a staged 1943 radio show that very much helped prepare him to dive into the 1935 world of The 39 Steps. He was also a director for The Hampstead Players Theater Company.  A screenwriter, Kevin has written for The Onion, National Lampoon, and MTV’s “The Hard Times of RJ Berger,” as well as screenplays for Warner Brothers, Paramount, Bad Robot, Happy Madison, and 20th Century Fox. He has Executive Produced pilots for both NBC and Cartoon Network. Training:  Act One – Hollywood, BFA – Emerson College. He is currently directing The 39 Steps for Actors Co-op about to open Friday September 22.



Written by Steve Peterson

When did you start directing and what was the play?  What did you learn from that first experience as a director that still holds true today?

I started in Children’s Theatre, directing an Intro to Shakespeare show and A Christmas Carol for The Hampstead Players, a touring company based out of Center Barnstead, New Hampshire. You learn fast when entertaining kids that you can’t be boring for a split second or they’ll be just as happy to do snow angels on the cafeteria floor during Hamlet’s blah blah blah… the same is (and should be) true for adults. Don’t be boring. That’s any storyteller’s Job Number One.

Did you have a mentor or mentors along the way, and if so who and how did they encourage you?

I direct for three amazing actors called The Apple Sisters (shout out to Kimmy Gatewood, Sarah Lowe, and Rebekka Johnson!). Their shows are crazy locomotives – staged 40s era radio plays that always change on a dime in the name of keeping moments fresh and giving a show a madcap sense of play. The 39 Steps pulses with that same energy. Those three have taught me so much about how to fearlessly make the show a ride for both the audience and the performers. I’m honored and encouraged that they place such faith in me to direct their vibrant whirlwind. (Don’t tell them I call them “mentors,” though. They’ll make fun of me without mercy.)

You have quite a background in improvisational theatre.  What are you able to draw from that experience that enhances your process of directing?

My particular background is sketch comedy. I’m a writer - so I work best with a script - but what great improv and strong sketches have in common are clear games at the center of every scene. Find that game. Make it clear. Milk it for all that it’s worth. It’s the engine under every moment, whether made up on the fly or tapped out on a laptop.

Tell us a bit about the play.

This play is bonkers. I loved it on first read. It’s such a send up of the thriller genre while still popping with comedy of every stripe: classic physical routines, blunt parody, sharp satire, and some downright bad jokes so no one takes anything too seriously. BUT, it also carries a man’s soul in the center – the stakes are huge for the world, as well as his heart. Walking that edge while still staying hilarious is a wonder to read, watch, and direct.

What is up next for you in regards to writing and directing?

I’m currently working on two feature scripts: one a Vegas romp for Paramount Pictures, and the other an action comedy for Lorne Michael’s Broadway Video. Check theapplesisters.com for info on their Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas shows - ‘round the holidays it gets nice and busy (holy cats, it’s almost the holidays…).

Is there anything you wish to add?

What was it that made this show possible? I directed the thing, sure, but not without four ultra heroic actors, my brilliant designers, producers beyond parallel, awesome PR, Tintin working magic in the shadows, and Derek the Stage Manager bringing the whole shebang together. THANK YOU to the Actors Co-op for the opportunity. Directors dream of such a team… but I actually got to work with one.

The Actors Co-op Theatre Company opens its 26 Season with The 39 Steps. The play previews September 21 at 8:00 pm.  Runs September 22 - October 29.   Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm.   Saturday Matinees: September 30 and October 7 at 2:30 pm.  Tickets: $30.00.  Seniors (60+): $25.00.  Students: $20.00.  Group rates available for parties of 6 or more. To buy tickets or make reservations please visit www.ActorsCo-op.org or call (323) 462-8460.  Actors Co-op Crossley Theatre. 1760 N. Gower St. 90028 (on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood) in Hollywood.


                                                                 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Spotlight on Stupid Kid Director Cameron Watson

The Road Theatre on Magnolia is proud to present a world premiere play by Sharr White entitled Stupid Kid. After 14 years in prison for a crime he swears he didn’t commit, Chick returns home to find his flat-broke family under the thumb of his dangerous Unclemike. A rollicking Gothic Western tale of a family isolated by shame, Stupid Kid explores power, guilt and the limits of maternal love. The play begins previews on Saturday, September 16 at 8pm and has its official opening on Friday, September 22 at 8pm running through Sunday, November 12 at the Road Theatre on Magnolia.

Each week we will spotlight members of the cast and/or creative team. This week we take pride in placing Stupid Kid’s director Cameron Watson centerstage.

Heralded by The Los Angeles Times as “one of our finest contemporary directors,” Watson began his professional career in New York City studying acting with the legendary Herbert Berghof at HB Studio. He soon landed the starring role in the original production of Horton Foote’s The Widow Claire at Circle in the Square, replacing Matthew Broderick, which led to a lifelong relationship and collaboration with Mr. Foote, as well as a successful and enduring acting career. Watson's triumphant revival of Tennessee Williams' Cat On a Hot Tin Roof recently closed a sell-out run at Antaeus Theatre Company.  He is a true Renaissance man: a director, a filmmaker, a teacher and an actor.

What is your perspective of the play? Tell us about the message and what it offers the audience.
Stupid Kid is a very unexpected play about unexpected people and an unusual situation that we very rarely see in the theatre. These folks are Gothic Western Colorado working class folks. They had a very loving lower-middle class existence as a family once, and now they have nothing. Literally.  Barely food. No money, no income. No family. A son imprisoned for fourteen years. And on this particular day, no phone, as it has been cut off. I was drawn to this play because of these people. When I first read it, I laughed out loud at them, I was in amazement of how they treated each other, I laughed even more, and then, all of the sudden, I wept for them. I saw their damaged hearts and I wept. They want what they had before. And the fact that they can't have it truly broke my heart.

How does the playwright achieve his goal via his various characters? Does he involve them in an especially fascinating way?

Sharr's execution of these characters in this play is extraordinary. It is rare to be able to laugh, then be offended, then be blindsided, then to care deeply about a character. In one scene alone he manages to give each of them such fully rounded dimension, it blows me away. They exist. They breathe and sweat and hurt and fall apart and pick themselves up.

Talk about your cast.

You hope above hope that your cast is perfect and that they bond and that they form the ensemble that is on the page and in the playwright's mind and heart. And boy, these six actors that I am blessed to have certainly do all of that, and much more. Casting is everything. The cliche is true. But when you get it right? Oh, man - it makes my job so much easier. I have the expertise of brilliantly seasoned pros like Taylor Gilbert, Joe Hart, Rob Nagle and Michelle Gillette, and then these two new, young discoveries in Allison Blaize and Ben Theobald. They are the real thing. Their skill, to be as young as they are, is jaw dropping. I think, no, actually I know, I have two new shining stars on my hands here.

Anything you care to add?

This play will surprise you and catch you off guard. It will make you laugh hard. It will shock you. And it will make you clutch your heart.

Stupid Kid plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through November 12. The Road on Magnolia is located in The NoHo Senior Arts Colony at 10747 Magnolia Blvd. in North Hollywood. There is plenty of street parking available.




Sunday, September 3, 2017

2017 Interview with Director Larry Eisenberg

Director/Actor/Writer LARRY EISENBERG earned his MFA from CalArts, received a DramaLogue Award for the world premiere adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Stories for Children and has directed numerous productions at GRT. His favorites include The Poor of New York, Trip to Bountiful, Over the River and Through the Woods and his original play, Nautilus, which was later turned into a feature film. He currently serves as one of the two co-artistic directors at the Group Rep. He is currently directing Lost in Yonkers at Group rep which will have its official opening Friday, September 8.

Written by Steve Peterson

When you and Chris Winfield were putting together the Group Rep’s 2016-2017 Season, what drew you to this particular Neil Simon play? How does it fit into the overall theme of the season, “why do people do the things they do? … explore the reasons and rhymes of these creatures called human beings.”

Lost in Yonkers has always been one of my favorite Neil Simon plays. Sometimes he doesn’t get the respect he deserves because he is so very funny and people take him for granted. I think the public thinks that’s all there is to his work. There’s a reason he’s so successful and popular and it’s not just because he knows how to be funny and create entertainment. "Yonkers" won a Pulitzer Prize and I think it’s well deserved. There's a great deal of humor but also profound tenderness and insight into human behavior. Obviously, we thought it would do good box office and that was one of the considerations in selecting it for our season. We also felt that it was something we could cast well from within our company.

One interesting thing about the play is the fascinating array of multi-dimensional characters. These people are damaged and each one has his or her own emotional and personal baggage. Despite these issues, they care intensely about each other and ultimately form a tight family unit that brings salvation and healing to each of them. As Uncle Louie says, "There's nothing like family, boys. The one place in the world you're safe is with your family."

You trained and work as an actor. When did you start directing and what was the play? What did you learn from that first experience as a director that still holds true today?

Actually some of my first professional work was as a director. Right after undergraduate school, I wrote a political piece about the Berrigan Brothers and the Vietnam War. It had a great run in Baltimore and then toured colleges throughout the East Coast. From that I got hired to direct a rock musical inappropriately named Can’t Stop Now! We opened at the Anderson Theatre on 2nd Avenue in New York right after Oh! Calcutta! closed there. I guess this would have been around 1970. The New York Times headline read: “Can’t Stop Now Should!” And we did. Oh! Calcutta! had a record 1314 performances. We lasted 7.

I think the biggest thing I learned was to keep things simple. You’ve got a story; just tell it and don’t waste a lot of time trying to make it fancy.

After Can’t Stop Now I worked as an actor at Center Stage in Baltimore, then came to California and focused primarily on my acting. Over the years, I did direct several plays but did not decide to commit to directing until 1995 when I enrolled in the MFA Directing program at the California Institute of Arts. That's when my relationship started with Jules Aaron who was my mentor and head of the directing program there.

How did that relationship develop and were there any others?

I probably served as his Assistant Director a half dozen times over the years. Jules taught me the importance of starting with a solid floor plan. Jules is a brilliant Dramaturg, probably the best I've ever known, and he always reinforced the need to "tell the story." Everything else is incidental.

At CalArts there was also a program called DTVC, Directing for Theatre, Video and Cinema. Much of the focus was storytelling and writing. A man named Lou Florimonte headed that program and I worked very closely with him. The lesson from Lou was that words were the absolute last thing you needed to work on. He encouraged me to approach everything like a silent movie. Work with the people and the behavior. The spoken word can wait.

And, of course, Lonny Chapman. I acted opposite Lonny several times and was directed by him at least 3 or 4 times. I directed Chaim's Love Song during Lonny's last year. His health was quickly deteriorating but he still managed to come and see the show 8 times. Chaim's was the last show Lonny saw at the GRT.

Tell us a bit about Lost in Yonkers.

It's about family love. The play takes place in 1942 and focuses on two young boys who are sent to live with their no-nonsense grandmother for 10 months. They're not happy to be there and she's not particularly happy to have them. Grandma Kurnitz is harsh, demanding and completely unsentimental. Yet somehow a bond and understanding develops between these people, probably because of the sweetness and challenges of their child-like Aunt Bella.

What would you like the audience to take away from having seen the play, something to reflect on?
At the end of the play, Grandma Kurnitz tells her grandson Jay, "You want to hear what my truth is? Everything hurts. Whatever it is you get good in life, you also lose something." Jay says, "I guess I'm too young to understand that," and Grandma says, "And I'm too old to forget it."


The Group Rep’s production of Neil Simon’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning comedic drama LOST IN YONKERS runs September 8 – October 22. Opens, Friday – September 8 at 8:00 pm. Plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 2:00 pm. Talk-back Sundays are Sept. 17 and October 8. Tickets: $25. Students/Seniors with ID: $20. Groups 10+: $15. Buy tickets: www.thegrouprep.com or info@thegrouprep.com. Reservations Line: (818) 763-5990. Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Boulevard, North Hollywood 91601. Free street parking. The theatre is located on the first floor, is wheelchair accessible, and has AC/Heat.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

2017 Interview with Actor/Ventriloquist Jay Johnson




by Steve Peterson

Jay Johnson made his Broadway debut at the Helen Hayes Theatre starring in the show he both wrote and performed, “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only” which garnered him the 2007 Tony Award for Best Theatrical Event. Four months prior to the Broadway opening, the show played the Colony Theatre in Burbank and won the Los Angeles Ovation Award for Best Solo Show. The previous season, the show had been produced Off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre Company where it earned rave reviews and a coveted Lucille Lortel Award. Jay Johnson is a writer, comic, ventriloquist, poet, magician, and puppeteer. He has written and performed in TV specials for NBC, CBS, and HBO, and has hundreds of appearances on variety specials and talk shows including “The Tonight Show” (with Johnny Carson and with Jay Leno) and “The David Letterman Show.” He has been featured in more than 30 national commercials. Jay’s acting credits include appearances on “CSI”, “That 70’s Show”, “Dave’s World”, “Night Court” and others too numerous to mention. Jay Johnson is best remembered for his role as the schizophrenic ventriloquist Chuck and Bob’ on the ABC classic TV comedy “Soap”.

When did you first get interested in performing ?

I started doing voices and operating puppets as early as five years old. They tell me I was playing with a disconnected telephone when they heard what they thought was a voice coming from the receiver. It was me exercising a natural talent for ventriloquism that no one knew I had… especially me.

What drew you to ventriloquism?

I grew up with a mild form of dyslexia so I became interested in things that did not involve math, writing or spacial directions. Ventriloquism seemed to fit that bill.

Did you have a mentor or mentors along the way encouraging you in the performance art of ventriloquism, as an actor or comic?

Several people were there to guide me along my journey. Having nothing to do with my career or ventriloquism, my third grade teacher Mrs Gordon was the first to identify my learning challenges. Most significant in my career was the man who carved my first professional ventriloquist puppet; a man by the name of Arthur Sieving.

The “unlikely” solo show, “The Two and Only,” which you wrote and performed, garnered you the Los Angeles Ovation Award for Best Solo Show in 2006 and the 2007 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event. How did the show come about? Where were you when heard your show had been nominated for a Tony? How did you feel about winning the award and what did it mean to you?

I think being a solo show was our greatest obstacle on the way to Broadway. The subject matter of “ventriloquism” seems to be unlikely to some, particularly to those who say they want to see something different in the theater. Even though the cast consisted of one human being and 11 different “wooden American actors” it still had to jump through the same investor/producer/theater hoops.

I was actually in New York for the ceremony giving the original Bob puppet to the Smithsonian Institution when the Tony nominations were announced. It was an interesting morning. Things changed for the show and for me from that second on. It was a satisfying feeling to be recognized and ultimately win a Tony for the show that even now some consider “unlikely” even today.

Tell us a bit about the new show you are performing as a benefit fundraiser for the Group Rep. (if you are connected to the Group Rep in any way, please add a sentence or two about that before talking about the new solo show).

I have been a friend of Stan Mazin since the days of the Carol Burnett show when he and my wife danced together. Stan has been involved with the Group Rep for a long time so it was natural that I would know about this theater company and want to support it. Stan is the one who asked me to do this special event, and I was delighted. Excess Baggage is just what is seems to be. The show is composed of some of the things that didn’t make it into “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only”, and some of my favorite moments that did.

Do you have a future project that you’re working on?

I will always be planning my next stage experience. Although some producers have suggested doing “Jay Johnson: The Two and Only – On ICE” I don’t really like to play arenas.

Is there anything  you wish to add?

I was not weird as a child. I did not use ventriloquism to trick my playmates. I had plenty of friends. Ventriloquist puppets are NOT creepy. And ventriloquism is not schizophrenia. And YES I did see all those “Twilight Zone” episodes which would dispute everything I have said about ventriloquism.


The Group Rep presents Tony Award-winning Jay Johnson in a new one-man show, “Excess Baggage,” a special One Night Only fundraiser for the Group Rep.  Best known for playing the schizophrenic role of Chuck and Bob on the groundbreaking TV comedy “Soap,” Jay Johnson is one of the world’s most famous living ventriloquists. The event is co-produced by Jeannine Jackson and Stan Mazin.  "Excess Baggage" will take place Saturday, August 19 at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $50 and are tax deductible. Buy tickets www.thegrouprep.com or (818) 763-5990.  Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood 91601.




Friday, August 4, 2017

Playwright Jordan Essoe


The Road Theatre Company Proudly Presents
The Eighth Annual
SUMMER PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL

8 Days! 30+ plays!
Receptions and live music nightly!
This year’s festival will include a 50/50 parity of male and female playwrights and runs Sunday, July 3Oth through Sunday, August 6th at The Road on Lankershim, in the Historic Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood at 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood  and at The Road on Magnolia at 10747 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood  at the NoHo Arts Colony!

 We will feature spotlights on all the playwrights of full length plays over the next few weeks. This week the spotlight shines on Jordan Essoe, author of Fribley Ashtray.


What is your familiarity with The Road and the Playwrights Festival? If you have been here before how would you rate your experience? If not, why did you choose to bring your play here? Have you seen work produced here?

My first experience with the Road Theatre was as an actor, playing a cockney rocker who wrote heavy metal songs about Ibsen, in “The Night We Bombed Lincoln Towing,” at the Summer Playwrights Festival in 2015! I got to sing and play guitar, put on eyeliner, hook up with the bartender, and, of course, bomb a towing company. Steven Young’s script was a blast, and Ann Hearn’s directing was inspired. You could tell immediately that everyone at the Road was incredibly talented, authentic, warm, and encouraging. And they love and shepherd writers. I fell in love with the company.

What is your process for writing and rewriting? Anything you care to share here as advice for other playwrights would be welcome.

These days I try to begin with just letting the ideas flood, and capture as many of them as I can. I write a lot quicker than I used to. Last year I finished my second play, and it took me over a year to complete it. My third play I wrote in 7 days! “Fribley Ashtray,” the piece I have in this year’s festival, essentially came together in about 2 weeks, in a fever of ideas and intense research. I’ve had a chance to polish it a little more since. Like tuning a guitar, you listen very hard to see what material is harmonizing and what is not. But I trust in the initial inspiration. That is the best advice I can offer fellow writers -- the ideas and characters that come to you with the most force know more about you than you do about them.

What is the value of having your work done here at The Road in California? What are your expectations and hopes for your play for the future?

One aspect of the Road’s philosophy as a company is to seek out new, exciting plays, help develop them, and help find them an audience. The Summer Playwrights Festival has become essential to this model, because they are able to showcase so many brand new works, and then, very often, select a few to program into full production. I am ecstatic to premiere the play in this setting, among a roster of astonishingly talented fellow playwrights, with the incredible backbone of a theatre company that has supported me in so many ways, working with amazing fellow actors, and offering it to the Los Angeles theatre community. I love the characters and world of “Fribley Ashtray” and I want it to live a long, happy life! I couldn’t be more excited.

Remember: The Road on Lankershim is located in the Historic Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood at 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood  and The Road on Magnolia at 10747 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood  at the NoHo Arts Colony! There is street parking available in both locations, but come early, at least a half hour before curtain.

Because SPF8 is a fundraiser, tickets are by donation only and are only available at the door! Suggested donation for a single performance is $15 –or this year, try a weeklong festival pass for the suggested donation of $50! 






Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Playwright Erik Gernand

The Road Theatre Company Proudly Presents
The Eighth Annual
SUMMER PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL

8 Days! 30+ plays!
Receptions and live music nightly!
This year’s festival will include a 50/50 parity of male and female playwrights and runs Sunday, July 3Oth through Sunday, August 6th at The Road on Lankershim, in the Historic Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood at 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood  and at The Road on Magnolia at 10747 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood  at the NoHo Arts Colony!
 We will feature spotlights on all the playwrights of full length plays over the next few weeks. This week the spotlight shines on Erik Gernand, author of A Place in the Woods*.


What is your familiarity with The Road and the Playwrights Festival? If you have been here before how would you rate your experience? If not, why did you choose to bring your play here? Have you seen work produced here?

I had a reading of my play "The Beautiful Dark" at the festival last year but was unfortunately unable to make it out from New York. I did, however, have a terrific experience at another reading at The Road in December 2015. I'm excited to be coming out this year for the festival!

What is your process for writing and rewriting? Anything you care to share here as advice for other playwrights would be welcome.

Seems like everyone I talk to has a different process. I tend to work very intensely on a specific project until a draft of it is finished. I then like to take a break from it so I can visit it again later with fresh eyes. I'm a big reviser also. I spend a lot of time tweaking and rethinking my writing, sometimes for months or years on a script.

What is the value of having your work done here at The Road in California? What are your expectations and hopes for your play for the future?

Everyone I've met at The Road has been amazing! I first met Laura Gardner at The Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Alaska and she was my initial connection to the company. My play "A Place in the Woods" had an initial production in Chicago and I'm hoping to find a West Coast home for it as well as other future productions. Working with talented actors and a director like at The Road is immensely helpful in moving a play forward.

Remember: The Road on Lankershim is located in the Historic Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood at 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood  and The Road on Magnolia at 10747 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood  at the NoHo Arts Colony! There is street parking available in both locations, but come early, at least a half hour before curtain.

Because SPF8 is a fundraiser, tickets are by donation only and are only available at the door! Suggested donation for a single performance is $15 –or this year, try a weeklong festival pass for the suggested donation of $50! 

*To be read Monday July 31 at 8 pm at Lankershim.









Playwright Minna Koskela

The Road Theatre Company Proudly Presents
The Eighth Annual
SUMMER PLAYWRIGHTS FESTIVAL

8 Days! 30+ plays!
Receptions and live music nightly!
This year’s festival will include a 50/50 parity of male and female playwrights and runs Sunday, July 3Oth through Sunday, August 6th at The Road on Lankershim, in the Historic Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood at 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood  and at The Road on Magnolia at 10747 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood  at the NoHo Arts Colony!
 We will feature spotlights on all the playwrights of full length plays over the next few weeks. This week the spotlight shines on Minna Koskela, author of Too Deep*with adaptation from Nina Sallinen.

What is your familiarity with The Road and the Playwrights Festival? If you have been here before how would you rate your experience? If not, why did you choose to bring your play here? Have you seen work produced here?

This is my first time in The Festival. We had a staged reading at The Road and happily they asked us to try to achieve the Festival.

What is your process for writing and rewriting? Anything you care to share here as advice for other playwrights would be welcome.

First I write almost everything that is bothering me and what is in my mind. It's a mess. Sometimes even the subject can change.  The second time I try to reach the deeper level of my message. I get to know more of my characters and the storyline comes out. Then I leave it for a while and after the third rewrite I let my "reliable readers" explore the text. This is very important for me. I need to talk about the play and read it aloud before I finish it. 

 What is the value of having your work done here at The Road in California? What are your expectations and hopes for your play for the future?

 It is very important to me to hear what colleagues and audiences say about my play, because that's how I know I get understood. I'll like to get my play produced on the stage in the USA.

Remember: The Road on Lankershim is located in the Historic Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood at 5108 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood  and The Road on Magnolia at 10747 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood  at the NoHo Arts Colony! There is street parking available in both locations, but come early, at least a half hour before curtain.

Because SPF8 is a fundraiser, tickets are by donation only and are only available at the door! Suggested donation for a single performance is $15 –or this year, try a weeklong festival pass for the suggested donation of $50! 

*To be read Saturday August 5 at 2 pm at Lankershim.