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LA Stage Times

Connie Chats

by Connie Danese | June 29, 2011

Connie Danese

OPENING NIGHT AT TWIST: The title character of Twist ““ An American Musical, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, is played at most performances by an 11-year old with the grand name of Alaman Diadhiou. Possessed of a natural ease, charismatic smile and centered presence, clearly this young actor is a talent to be admired. But wouldn’t stage fright be a problem for someone so young?

Speaking after the show on opening night at the Pasadena Playhouse, Diadhiou flashes a melting grin, and you soon realize that “stage fright” are two words that do not resonate with him.  “I’ve gotten pretty used to it since we did the show in Atlanta.” Credit for his calm demeanor is earnestly explained. “I get it from my Dad and his whole family, because I come from a very spiritual tribe in Africa””the Jola tribe in Senegal””but I was born in Santa Monica.”

Alaman Diadhiou

Diadhiou started dance training with Twist director and choreographer Debbie Allen at the age of six but began singing only one year ago. “I practice for the show with my vocal coach and she helped me a lot.” But he’s obviously most grateful to Allen. “She knows so much about this and pushes us to do great things.” The most important thing he learned from Allen? “Don’t be yourself but be the role you are encompassing. Do not anticipate what happens and live the role.” It appears Diadhiou can anticipate living the role of a future star. (Coco Monroe plays Twist at certain performances).

Another particularly sparkling face among the talented cast of dancers belongs to 11-year old Dempsey Tonks. “I’m from Miss Allen’s dance school and I’ve done a whole bunch of recital shows with her, but this is my second big show. I was in the Hot Chocolate Nutcracker. When I auditioned for Twist we had to sing, dance and act. I sang “I Haven’t Met You Yet” — a Michael Bublé song.” Asked about the most fun part of performing in Twist, Tonks is quick to respond with a huge smile, “Oh, to be on stage and have that big rush.”Â  And what does she mean by “rush”? “Having all those amazing people clapping for you. It gives you so much joy and motivation.”

Dempsey Tonks

Tonks has future plans. “I would like to be on Broadway”.  Has she seen a Broadway show? “Um.” There is a momentary pause as she realizes, “No I haven’t, but I heard so many great things about it, so”¦.” Tonks trails off then brightens up again when asked what makes her happy offstage. “My parents, my sister, my little brother and dancing. I’ve been dancing for three years.” Her contagious energy will surely propel Tonks to many more.

When Allen’s dancers hit the stage for a rousing opening number, the entire theater pulsates with pizzazz, but Matthew Johnson, tap-dancing with various cast members, is a standout ““ and that’s before we realize he plays a major role in the production. “Oh my God,” he says when this is mentioned to him. “Thank you. I can’t believe you’re saying that. I never tapped before being cast in this show. Miss Allen saw something in me that I didn’t even know I had in myself. I took ballet, modern and hip-hop, but I’m really more of a singer and never put on a pair of tap shoes before. Cathie Nicholas, granddaughter [and grandniece] of the famous Nicholas Brothers, taught me how to tap for the show. I worked with her for about two weeks before we began the actual rehearsal period.”

Matthew Johnson with Alaman Diadhiout

Johnson’s road from hometown Atlanta to Pasadena and the leading role of Boston (based on a combination of Dickens’ Bill Sikes and Fagin) is magical. “I never took acting classes because I just wanted to record and sing.” He laughingly admits, “This is the first time I ever had to speak so much. When I was about 17 I worked with Miss Allen in a musical show called Soul Possessed at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. Then 10 years later I was at the Alliance in Rejoice directed by Kenny Leon when Phylicia Rashad came to see it, because she was working with him on A Raisin in the Sun. She called Debbie and said “˜I saw this guy who I think would be great to work with you’. So Debbie called me and asked, “˜are you the same Matthew Johnson I worked with in Soul Possessed’?” Johnson’s face retains a sense of awe as he recalls, “It all came full circle 10 years later. I feel like I’m living a dream.”

The child of a pastor in Atlanta, Johnson grew up singing in the church. “I didn’t do much professionally outside the church, and now I took a step to follow my heart and pursue my dream. I’m thankful to my parents for guiding and grounding me. They helped me develop character and I love them deeply.”

The thing Johnson will remember most about being in this company is, “Watching kids like Alaman, who never sang before, do what they love and see how much they’ve grown. I wish I had started at that age. But this show has given me hope and the knowledge that there is no limit to what I can accomplish.”

Twist, with a book by William F. Brown and Tina Tippit and a score by Tena Clark and Gary Prim, continues its joyful message at the Pasadena Playhouse through July 17.

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LA Stage Times

D is For Dog: Katie Polebaum

by Julio Martinez | June 28, 2011

The multi-disciplinary stagework D is For Dog, produced by Rogue Artists Ensemble, has made a few layovers on the way to its July 1 opening at studio/stage in Hollywood.

Katie Polebaum

“We originally did the play back in 2004,” says Katie Polebaum, who wrote the script along with the show’s director Sean T. Cawelti and Rogue Artists Ensemble, based on an original concept by Cawelti.  “We brought the script back this year but realized it needed a lot of work.  So I took it over.  I initially thought it would just need a few changes but I ended up re-writing the whole thing. I am also the scenic designer.”

Rogue Artists Ensemble differs from most theater companies in that it’s run by a collective of multi-disciplinary artists and designers rather than by actors, writers or directors. By combining ancient storytelling techniques (music, dance, masks, puppetry) with modern technology (digital media, special effects and theatrical illusions), the Rogues cultivate a highly personalized style of live performance. They identify the combined use of these and other art forms as Hyper-theater.

Previous works include: HYPERBOLE: origins, which premiered at [Inside] the Ford, garnering four LA Weekly Award nominations for best production, video design, production design and sound design; Gogol Project, in association with playwright Kitty Felde, which earned 2009 LA Drama Critics Circle awards for adaptation and design and an LA Weekly Award for design.  Other works include The Tragical Comedy of Mr. Punch (three LADCC Awards), The Victorian Hotel by Angus Oblong and The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone, adapted from the book by Timothy Basil Ering.

Nina Silver and Guy Birtwhistle

The 2004 version of D is For Dog was presented at the Garden Grove Playhouse, the first Rogue Artists Ensemble collaboration produced outside of University of California, Irvine. The campus is where the “founding fathers” of the company first met, including Cawelti, who received his BA in Drama with honors in stage direction, and also studied puppetry at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU.

“Rogue Artists moves from place to place, doing only original works,” Polebaum affirms. “We don’t produce from any existing script.  The production process is so taxing and laborious we really only do one or two shows a year.  So we are not really set up to be profitable with a permanent space.  For now, moving around suits our production style best. The opportunity to premiere D is For Dog at South Coast Rep for their Studio Series (June 17-19) was fantastic.  We couldn’t pass that up, so we just dropped everything for the chance to work on that magnificent stage. Then we found studio/stage so we could have a longer run.”

Polebaum acknowledges she is a bit hesitant to actually talk about the play.  “I feel like I am being so vague. It is hard to actually describe the show to someone who hasn’t seen it.  I don’t want to give away too much and take away from the immediacy of actually experiencing the work as it happens.  The play is definitely inspired by the 1950s, not the actual events but the tenseness of the times, the uncertainty of the future, which serves as a template for this family that’s living in what feels like a really idealized world; but it is quickly apparent there is a lot more going on underneath the surface where a lot of complicated family dynamics are playing out.

Nina Silver and Taylor Coffman

“I didn’t do a lot of historical research of the 1950s.  I immersed myself in a lot of sitcoms from the period, commercial television and a lot of ad campaigns of the times. It doesn’t actually deal with political or historical events. We have a six-member cast, four members of the family and two fantastic puppeteers who are portraying the three puppet roles ““ two outsider characters and then the dog character. These characters are all outside the nuclear family and fall into more of a science fiction-y genre. You could describe the work as a 1950s sitcom/science fiction mashup, with elements of horror.”Â  The complete cast includes Michael Scott Allen, Guy Birtwhistle, Taylor Coffman, Heidi Hilliker, Jen Maxcy, Ben Messmer and Nina Silver.

The fact that Polebaum, Cawelti and Rogue Artists Ensemble are sharing playwriting credit is basic to the way the company works. She explains, “We went into rehearsal with a completed script. And then I realized in certain scenes, we knew we had kind of an idea visually what we wanted to happen but weren’t 100 per cent sure on what the language would be. So, I’d sit in at rehearsals to watch the actors play through the scenes.  Then I’d turn out dialogue to fill in the gaps. During that process there was a lot of collecting and collating of feedback from the company.  So it’s always a collaborative process whenever we work on anything.”

The collaboration that Rogue Artist Ensemble brought to South Coast Rep also included:  additional music by composers Ben Phelps and John Nobori; lighting design by Haylee Freeman; sound design by John Nobori; video design by Matt Hill and Cawelti; costume design by Kerry Hennessy; puppet design by Miles Taber; choreography by Shaun Klaseus; properties design by Leslie Grey; and technical direction by Tyler Stamets.

For Polebaum, SCR was a perfect out-of-town tryout. “During the run we learned things like pacing, which we hadn’t really been confronted with, before performing in front of a live audience. It is so different having an audience responding to the text. That is one of our big focuses going into this run at studio/stage.  We learned where we need to tighten up and where the actors can luxuriate in the acting moment.

Michael Scott Allen, Guy Birtwhistle and Taylor Coffman

“This is the first play I’ve written that has been produced, so it is a very exciting and surreal experience to actually have the audience laughing in all the places I’d hoped they would laugh and gasping at the moments I hoped would be a surprise. What was a surprise to me, as reflected in the audience reaction, was the effectiveness of the technical elements — the video design and how the lights supported everything, the way it all came together to be a cohesive whole.  Since I did the scenic design for the show, it was especially gratifying for me to see how well it all worked.”

Polebaum, who grew up outside Boston, has always been drawn to the technical side of putting on a play. “I definitely did a lot of acting all through high school but I also did technical work all through school.  I always loved being a part of all aspects of putting on a show.  Eventually I came to the decision that where I belonged the most was as a designer and a theater technician more than an actor.”

Michael Scott Allen, Taylor Coffman, Guy Birtwhistle and Nina Silver

Polebaum attended Middlebury College in Vermont, earning a joint degree in studio art and theater design. “Of course, the technology of theater design has evolved so much even from when I was college.  The company is always trying to piece together whatever technology we can find to accomplish our vision and present something that is real and interesting. We are working on an upcoming workshop project called Pinocchio, an original stage adaptation of the original Italian text. We also have a new children’s show in development, so we are continuously pushing forward.”

**All production photography by Kris Bicknell

D is For Dog (recommended for mature audiences only) opens July 1 at studio/stage, “¨520 North Western Avenue”¨ Los Angeles.  Performances continue Fridays and Saturdays, 8 pm; Sundays, 4 pm and 8 pm. until August 7.  For tickets and information call 213-596-9468; Tickets $15 – $20 (pay what you can Sunday matinees).

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LA Stage Times

Ritchie Rips Subscribers. Blurry With the Fringe on Top.

by Don Shirley | June 27, 2011

Michael Ritchie, artistic director of Center Theatre Group, delivered an outburst against subscribers in a refreshingly frank interview on Howlround.com — the online Journal of the American Voices New Play Institute at Washington’s Arena Stage.

Here’s the reddest meat in the Q-and-A-style interview, as Ritchie was elaborating on the changes within the programming at CTG’s Kirk Douglas Theatre that led to the experimental DouglasPlus productions, which don’t rely on subscriptions:

“We were sitting around in a staff meeting and it wasn’t me saying we’ve got to come up with Douglas Plus. It came up from me, pounding my fists on the desk saying fuck subscribers. I’m so tired of subscribers. They drive me nuts; they’re strangling me; I hate them. I don’t care how good they are; I don’t care how much money they bring in. Fuck subscribers! And someone there at the table said well if we’re going to fuck them we should tell them we love them first, and we should figure out a way that we can fuck them but they stay anyway.”

Michael Ritchie when he isn’t thinking about subscribers

The bottom line of Ritchie’s remarks is that he hopes to replace the “subscription model” with a “membership model,” which he describes:

“…There is a solution to it, and this is what Lincoln Center does with their membership program. They don’t plan a season. They go from show to show and depending upon demand will run it or close it. Going from a subscription model to a membership model is difficult to do in a seamless way. That’s one of the things we’re trying to do with Douglas Plus — push our subscribers into a membership model so that we can do it at the other theaters too.”

Perhaps Ritchie’s candor and his language, which reads as if it could have come from an early David Mamet script, were related to the fact that the Howlround interviewer was playwright Theresa Rebeck, whose Poor Behavior will open at CTG’s Mark Taper Forum on Sept. 18. Ritchie probably thinks of Rebeck as a colleague, not as a reporter — after all, her comment to Ritchie, just before he unleashed his innermost thoughts about subscribers, was “Wow, you are a hero.” So perhaps he let his guard down more than he would have with a journalist.

The interview, which has other morsels that should fascinate the LA theater world, was posted June 12 — just as the onslaught of LA theater conferences and festivals was about to begin, when most LA theater artists and journalists were too busy to notice it. But on June 21, alert Rob Weinert-Kendt mentioned Ritchie’s remarks and linked to Rebeck’s interview on his Wicked Stage blog. Kyle T. Wilson’s blog Frank’s Wild Lunch picked it up from The Wicked Stage on June 22.

OR IS IT ‘SLURRY WITH THE FRINGE ON TOP’?: Last week was a bit of a blur for me. From Tuesday through Saturday, I attended 17 productions at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. If you include the one already-open Fringe show that I saw on the eve of the Fringe, I saw a total of 18 Fringe shows. That number is exactly one-tenth of the 180 productions that were available at last year’s first Hollywood Fringe, but this year the number of productions expanded to 214, so I saw only about eight per cent of this year’s Fringe.

I couldn’t catch the first official week of the Fringe, because I was too busy covering the Radar L.A. festival, which I commented on last week. At a critics’ panel on Saturday at Fringe Central, comparisons of the two festivals arose, including the obvious differences between them — the most important being that Radar L.A. was curated and the Fringe was not.

Radar L.A. offered only 14 productions, yet they were on a considerably higher professional level than most of the Fringe productions. The two festivals were designed that way. The value of the Fringe is supposedly related to its Wild West quality, in which anyone can stake a claim in the Fringe if they can self-produce. This is a quality that’s surely worth more to producers and artists than it is to audiences.

For most theatergoers who could take the time to see parts of both festivals, Radar L.A. was a much richer experience — and not only because it was easier to find interesting shows there, or productions that were generally better than those at the Hollywood Fringe. It was also because Radar L.A. emphasized theater that was “devised” by companies (international as well as local) instead of individual artists — and this is the kind of fare that isn’t seen nearly as often in L.A. as the generally smaller, showcase-oriented shows at the Fringe.

A super-size showcase?

Now that the second Fringe is over (although Theatre Asylum will again host a post-Fringe mini-season), I see no reason to revise my estimation of the Fringe’s comparative lack of importance to the future development of LA theater, first broached here last year. Most of the Fringe still consists of the kind of shows that LA in general and Hollywood in particular have always offered in great profusion.

In fact, it’s possible that by providing an even bigger showcase for showcases, the Fringe could contribute to a revival of the customary bad rap on LA theater — that it’s nothing but showcases. Although LA theater artists have worked for decades to overturn this canard, it occasionally still lingers within the comments of superficial observers of the scene, who can’t see beyond the proximity of LA theater to the Hollywood industry. The presence of an ever-growing super showcase within the literal boundaries of Hollywood certainly won’t help dispel this common delusion.

I’m not arguing that this giant developmental stew contributes nothing to LA theater. Surely a few talents will emerge from the Fringe in a better position to do better developed work. But I’m also saying that we already have a big cauldron of that same developmental stew simmering throughout the year, thanks in large part to the relatively loose strictures of Actors’ Equity’s 99-Seat Theater Plan. Most Fringe producers don’t even bother to use Equity actors or the 99-Seat Plan, so it’s not surprising that the level of professionalism in some of these Fringe productions makes the average 99-Seat Plan production look like something from the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Case in point: One afternoon at the Fringe, finding myself with a little time to kill between two shows I knew wanted to see, I looked for something else that would be short enough to fill the hour between shows. I found the “world premiere” of Zombie as Fuck!, which was billed as lasting only 30 minutes. The show hadn’t yet started at least 15 minutes after its announced time, so as I waited in the lobby, part of me worried about whether it would end in time to fit my plan, while the rest of my mind eavesdropped on the other half-dozen people in the lobby. Hot topics of their conversation included their recent college experiences and whether it was better to find Hollywood managers before approaching agents. Finally the play began. It offered no zombies or fucking; it was a supposedly realistic little encounter between two young men who were at a turning point in their friendship. The title stemmed from a phrase the characters had used in the sixth grade to describe anything that’s fashionable. The play ended abruptly after only one scene — but I was satisfied that it seemed even shorter than 30 minutes, and I got to the next play on time.

The cast of The Trouble With Words

That’s an admittedly extreme case. To be fair, most of the shows I saw at the Fringe were better and more developed than Zombie as Fuck! I liked the 60-minute excerpt of The Trouble With Words enough that I hope to see the longer version of Coeurage’s musical revue in its extended run at Actors Circle. The Milford Project is an appealingly daffy little musical about a junior high science student who built an atomic bomb in 1937. Too bad the narrative derails about halfway through; I felt as if I were watching a workshop instead of the world premiere.

I was impressed by several of the solo shows I saw — Chela, Mommy With a Penis, The Next Best Thing, Be Careful! The Sharks Will Eat You! But at least three of those four have already played in other LA venues; there is no dearth of venues for solo storytellers in LA. The Long Beach companies that played off Shakespeare — 4 Clowns: Romeo and Juliet and Porter’s Macbeth — created a few funny moments, but both shows need further editing. During Porter’s Macbeth, I kept thinking about how much I’m looking forward to the revival of the Troubies’ Fleetwood Macbeth, which opens on July 8 at the Falcon and– if memory serves — is a much funnier parody of the same Scottish play. Similarly, the Fringe’s mock-musical version of The Blue Lagoon seemed like a pale shadow of Point Blank Live!, another movie parody that happened to be playing one block away, although it wasn’t a part of the Fringe (I saw it at its original downtown venue, so I’m not vouching for the current production).

Actually, the best production I saw in the Fringe area last week was another production that wasn’t part of the Fringe — the West Coast Ensemble’s version of Lynn Nottage’s Crumbs From the Table of Joy, at the Hudson Mainstage. Although South Coast Repertory presented the West Coast premiere in 1996, and LA Theatre Works more recently produced a radio theater version, I had never seen a fully staged production of it, and it’s remarkably moving and funny and alive — much more dimensional than any of the Fringe shows I saw.

Its brief run coincided almost exactly with the Fringe, and it was only a half-block from Fringe Central. But Richard Israel — the co-artistic director of West Coast Ensemble — told me that the company wasn’t making any kind of an anti-Fringe statement by scheduling it that way. West Coast booked the space long before Israel was aware that it would be surrounded by Fringe activity — and by the time he realized what would be happening, the deadline to list a show in the printed Fringe program had passed. Only budgetary problems prevented a longer run.

As I wrote last year, I like the way the Fringe concentrates so much activity in one geographical area. This year’s Fringe did an even better job of doing that than last year — most of the shows were in the Theater Row strip of Santa Monica Boulevard. Compared to the off-Hollywood Boulevard location of Fringe Central last year, this year’s hub offered many more opportunities for free parking and less competition from the usual tourist-oriented sideshows along the boulevard.

I also appreciate the ability to see Fringe shows at odd times — I saw three last Tuesday, for example, all at the same venue. During most Tuesdays of the year, that opportunity would be very difficult to find in LA.

The Fringe can be fun, even when its shows are not fun or otherwise engaging. The Fringe atmosphere is greater than the sum of its specific parts. But some of those parts are so…well, bad, that I wouldn’t recommend the Fringe as an introduction to LA theater in general. The chances of an LA theater newbie not liking the first one or two Fringe shows and then becoming discouraged from seeing more LA theater are fairly high. The Wild West might look exciting in the movies, but would you really want to have lived there for more than a day or two?

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LA Stage Times

National Asian American Theater Festival:
Krystal’s Weekend Vlogs #6-8

by Krystal Banzon | June 27, 2011

Last week LA STAGE Times presented coverage of the 3rd Annual National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival via daily vlogs from Krystal Banzon, a first generation Filipina American who is an emerging theater director. This is her final wrap-up coverage of the weekend’s activities. To read her previous posts on the conference, click here.

Krystal’s Vlog #6 — Hilarious Performance Pieces

Again, another diverse evening of performances at the National Asian American Theater Festival.  I was at the other venue, the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy, to see Brandon Patton and Prince Gomolvilas, Jukebox Stories, and Jason Magabo Perez’s The Passion of El Hulk Hogancito. The evening ranged from hilarious self-deprecation to pissed-off rage at the machine, but it was never disappointing.  Afterwards, I had drinks at the East West Players courtyard, said goodbye to people whose were experiencng their last evening at the ConFest ““ and I got a little sad. As the festival winds down this weekend, and we all begin to head home, how do we keep on keeping on?  How do we remember each other and the importance of our work, without this courtyard and its familiar faces to return to at the end of the day?  How do we carry each other, and our sense of artistic and spiritual family, in our everyday creations?

Krystal’s Vlog #7 — A Number of Porn Stars

Second to last night of the Festival! Saw 10 Reasons Why I’d Be A Bad Porn Star by May Lee Yang, and NAATCO’s production of Caryl Churchill’s A Number.  Two really different shows that asked some interesting questions surrounding issues such as sex education and the representation of sexuality in Asian American culture, and the importance of Asian American visibility in non-Asian American works.  Thoughtful evening!

Krysatl’s Vlog #8 — The End is Only the Beginning

What an inspiring and dynamic week!  The 3rd Annual National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival ended Sunday.  I saw the last two shows of the Festival, Soomi Kim’s Dictee, and Post Natyam Collective’s Sunoh! Tell Me Sister.  Both pieces were a great way to end my experience here, being the most experimental in form of all the shows this week.  They were both multimedia dance/theater pieces that explored issues of culture and gender – they were very abstract, but incredibly brave and bold in exploring new ways of telling stories.  There was live audio mixing in Dictee, and some beautiful projection layering and live-feed camera work in Sunoh! Tell Me Sister. Technology is definitely a new direction that theater is playing with, and I applaud the women in these performances for exploring the uncharted in our field, especially in our particular community.

I know I am going to go through post-ConFest withdrawal – but I will also welcome the time and the space to really let what I have learned and discovered this week percolate.  A part of me wants to run home right now, hole myself up in some perky cafe or at my kitchen table in
Queens and write, write, write, create, create, create!  I do feel a wave of momentum rising in me, a confidence and inspiration motivated by all the talented, kind, and generous souls I met this week, and I’m proud to call them all a part of my artistic family.  I urge everyone at the Festival to remember what I think is the most important thing we have witnessed here – that despite the difficulties, differences, whatever politics come up – we have each other.  We are very lucky, and we cannot do it alone.  And we are not alone.  We are in reality, many.  Abundant and energetic. Responsible for all.  If we do not fail to remember one other, we will be always full, always focused and resolute.

Many days when I am lost, my partner reminds me to ground myself by tracing my roots, digging them deep and down. This week, I hit water.

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LA Stage Times

LA Festival and Conference Leaders Recap Recent “Theaterpalooza” at KPCC

by LA Stage Alliance | June 25, 2011

In the past three weeks, Los Angeles hosted several national and international theater gatherings aimed at celebrating the progress and innovations of the art form.  Last Monday, KPCC Morning Edition host and LA STAGE Times contributor Steve Julian moderated a discussion between representatives from Theatre Communications Group, RADAR L.A., Hollywood Fringe, Asian American Theater Conference, Directors Lab West, and L.A. Stage Alliance about the significance of theater and its relevance to Los Angeles.

Panelists:

Terence McFarland, Executive Director, LA Stage Alliance

Kappy Kilburn, Founder/Co-Producer, Directors Lab West

Ben Hill, Festival Director, Hollywood Fringe Festival

Mark Murphy, Executive Director, REDCAT/Co-Curator RADAR L.A.

Diane Rodriguez, Associate Producer/Director of New Play Production, Center Theatre Group/TCG Board Member and National Conference Co-chair, co-curator for RADAR L.A.

Marie-Reine Velez, Board President, TeAda Productions/National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival Steering Committee

Click here to hear an audio of the program.

Photo Credit: Scott Supak

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LA Stage Times

National Asian American Theater Festival Opens:
Krystal’s vlog #5

by Krystal Banzon | June 24, 2011

All this week LA STAGE Times will present coverage of the 3rd Annual National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival via daily vlogs from Krystal Banzon, a first generation Filipina American who is an emerging theater director. To read her previous posts on the conference, click here.

The National Asian American Theater Festival got off to a great start last night!  I saw the two shows at Inner City Arts. At 7 pm, a diverse trio of performances, Denise Uyehara’s  Archipelago: Islands of Land, Water and Legend, Kennedy Kabasares and Traci Kato-Kiriyama, in Pull, and Navarasa Dance Theater’s Encounter. At 9 pm was RasaNova Theater’s production of Dancing on Glass.  All the pieces were so different, and it was exciting to see the incredible diversity of work and perspectives and form that is a part of the landscape of Asian American theater.  The evening ranged from multimedia work and aerial trapeze, to indigenous forms of dance/theater, and a narrative piece about technology, globalization, and human connection. With a first festival day this dynamic, I am greatly looking forward to seeing the rest of the shows this weekend.

http://www.youtube.com/user/NationalAATF#p/a/u/0/Mxh2DO1PVJ0

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LA Stage Times

Ford Amphitheatre Seeks Proposals For 2012 Summer Season

by LA Stage Alliance | June 24, 2011

The Ford Amphitheatre is offering a leg up to Los Angeles County-based arts organizations who are interested in producing live performing arts events at the historic, open-air theatre in the Hollywood Hills in summer 2012. “We know that producing in L.A. is always challenging and especially so in the current economy,” said Adam Davis, Ford Theatres Managing Director. “Groups who are accepted into the Ford’s Summer Partnership Program receive significant presentation support and assistance for their productions.”

Applications are now available to apply for the 2012 summer season. The deadline to apply is Wednesday, August 31, 2011.

Proposals are being accepted electronically through the Ford’s Web site. Before opening a proposal application, prospective applicants should first read the program’s guidelines which include instructions to apply and information on eligibility, the partnership program and other opportunities that exist for presenting at the Ford. Both the guidelines and application are available at

(for electronic media) http://www.fordtheatres.org/en/opportunity/summerpartnership

(for non-electronic media) www.FordTheatres.org, click on “Opportunities” then “Artist Partnership Programs”

Workshops about the Summer Partnership Program and how to submit a competitive proposal will be held on Tuesday, July 26 at 7:00 p.m. and Tuesday, August 9 at  7:00 p.m. at the Ford, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, 90068, in the Hollywood Hills.

Parking for the workshop is free. Please RSVP with your name, organization, email address and phone number to publicevents@arts.lacounty.gov or call 323-856-5793.

The Ford is seeking proposals for a broad range of categories including, but not limited to, alt-rock, ballet, cabaret, circus, classical music, film, hip hop, jazz, multimedia, modern dance, theatre, world and folk music, and world dance. Similar to a grant program, proposals for the Ford Amphitheatre Summer Season are considered on a competitive basis.

The Ford is a renovated historic 1,200-seat amphitheatre located in a Los Angeles County Regional Park and is operated by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. Over 100 performing arts and film events are presented at the venue each summer.

The Los Angeles County Arts Commission, Laura Zucker, Executive Director, provides leadership in cultural services of all disciplines for the largest county in the United States, encompassing 88 municipalities. The Arts Commission provides leadership and staffing to support the regional blueprint for arts education, Arts for All; administers a grants program that funds more than 300 nonprofit arts organizations annually; oversees the County’s Civic Art Program for capital projects; programs the John Anson Ford Theatres; funds the largest arts internship program in the country in conjunction with the Getty Foundation; and supports the Los Angeles County Cultural Calendar on ExperienceLA.com. The Commission also produces free community programs, including the L.A. Holiday Celebration and a year-round music program that funds more than 70 free concerts each year in public sites. The 2011-12 President of the Arts Commission is Ollie Blanning.For more information please consult the Arts Commission online press kit: http://lacountyarts.org/page/pubnewspress

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LA STAGE INSIDER

by Julio Martinez | June 23, 2011

Denise Crosby

SUMMER PREMIERES”¦ Making its debut at the Odyssey Theatre, the two-hander Revisiting Wildfire, scripted by Kari Floren, helmed by Eve Brandstein, opens July 9. It features noted stage and TV thesps Denise Crosby and Jamie Rose, portraying middle-aged former college roommates who have “each come to a crossroads, and neither one of them can move forward without the help of the other.””¦Open Fist Theatre Company is offering its third annual First Look Festival of New Plays, beginning July 15 with Quake by D. Tucker Smith, helmed by Smith with Anjali Bhimani. The complete schedule includes the workshop tuner Dear John Mayer, wrought by Eydie Faye (book) Shoshana Bean (music and lyrics), Eboni Nichols (choreography), helmed by Martha Demson, opening July 22; and Life on This Couch, scripted by Laura Richardson, staged by Benjamin Burdick, opening Aug. 5.  Staged and concert readings include:  Neither Here Nor There by Rebecca Sue Haber, directed by Michelle Lema (July 16 and 17); Singapore by Philip William Brock, helmed by Bjorn Johnson (July 30, Aug. 1); An Ignorant Man by Richard Manley, staged by John Hindman (Aug. 13 and 14); The Power and the Glory: The Tale of Phil Ochs (American) by Jesse Bernstein, directed by Martha Demson (Aug. 27 and 28); and She’s The Best by Jim Bontempo, helmed by Andrew Dodson (Sep. 3 and 4)”¦

Damaso Rosriguez

ON THE SCREEN”¦Some local theater artists are leaping onto the big screen, for art’s sake. Hollywood Fringe Festival has chosen Pure Shock Value, a film wrought by ensemble members of LA-based Furious Theatre Company, helmed by Damaso Rodriguez, as the “centerpiece feature film of its Fringe [film] programming,” a new branch of Fringe 2011, presented June 24 and 25 at Artworks Theatre and Studios. Fringe [film] programming director Ezra Buzzington affirms, “Its aesthetic is raw and in your face; its budget is non-existent and the creative team behind the film is made up of L.A. Fringe theater artists. I wouldn’t have chosen it, however, if it weren’t also brilliantly written, expertly executed and cleverly subversive.””¦Not quite so subversive, La Mirada Theatre is screening Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard onJuly 22, the seventh and final production of National Theatre Live’s second season, broadcast live from the National’s Olivier Theatre in London, starring Zoë Wanamaker, adapted by Andrew Upton, helmed by Howard Davies”¦

David Ives

ON AIR”¦Noted thesps Hector Elizondo, Andrea Gabriel, Arye Gross and Amy Pietz join Tony-winning actor Richard Easton, reprising the role he created off-Broadway, when L.A. Theatre Works (LATW) The Play’s the Thing series presents David Ives’ impressively titled drama of ideas, New Jerusalem, The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza at Talmud Torah Congregation: Amsterdam, July 27, 1656, helmed by Rosaline Ayres, focusing on the 16th century questioning of noted philosopher Baruch De Spinoza by the Jewish community of Amsterdam for his controversial ideas. Five performances will be recorded in front of a live audience, July 13-15 at the Skirball Cultural Center. LATW’s nationally syndicated radio theater series airs on KPCC 89.3, Saturdays at 10 pm”¦By the way, when LATW launches its 2011-12 series it will be at new digs, the James Bridges Theater on the campus of UCLA.  Ten plays are scheduled, beginning Sep. 22 with A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen, translated by Rolf Fjelde, featuring Calista Flockhart and JoBeth Williams. Other thesps scheduled to cue up to the mikes in future LATW recordings are Sarah Drew, Stacy Keach, Amy Madigan, Jean Smart, Matthew Rhys, Joanne Whalley and more to be announced”¦

SUMMER CLASSICS”¦The Anteaus Company offers ClassicsFest 2011, its annual smorgasbord of venerable plays, a “summer splash” of actor-initiated workshops, readings and special events, July 21 to Aug. 21. The schedule includes: The Doctor’s Dilemma and Caesar and Cleopatra by George Bernard Shaw; The Lucky Chance by Aphra Behn; Twelfth Night, Othello and Macbeth by William Shakespeare; Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill; A Delicate Balance by Edward Albee (rights pending); After the Dance by Terence Rattigan; The Legend of Oedipus by Kenneth Cavander; The Matchmaker by Thornton Wilder; and You Can’t Take it With You by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. Artistic director Jeanie Hackett also promises “a host of late night events, a cabaret, and other special surprise events.” Antaeus is still performing at its interim home at Deaf West Theatre in NoHo”¦Meanwhile, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum’s summer season of the Bard is in session up in Topanga Canyon through Oct. 2; and Independent Shakespeare Company is doing it for free in Griffith Park (June 30 to Aug. 28)”¦

SUMMER FUN“¦Gay Men’s Chorus of LA closes its 2010-11 Season with Totally! Our ’80′s Show, featuring guest conductor Andres Cladera, July 9 at Avalon Hollywood.  The all-1980s pop music program, punctuated by video clips and choreography by Ray Leeper, “reflects upon this transformational and complex decade of fun and tragedy, delight and devastation.””¦Live Nude Groundlings will be the new mainstage revue concocted by those Melrose Avenue sketchmeisters, helmed by Groundlings vet Damon Jones, opening July 22″¦“Jai Ho!  Jai Ho! It’s off to work we go!”Â  The Bollywood dance ensemble, blue13, helmed and choreogaphed by Achinta S. McDaniel, is premiering Into the Bollywoods, a tribute to all those Disney animated features, July 22 and 23 at John Anson Ford Amphitheatre...And for the best entertainment deal in town, Levitt Pavilion’s Memorial Park in Pasadena and downtown LA’s MacArthur Park are hosting over 100 ethnically diverse concerts from Japan, Mexico, Latin America, South Africa and more, all for free.  Guided by artistic director Eddie Cota since 2008, this summer’s highlights include: Grammy winning Latin Jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez (Memorial Park); Grammy nominated Chilean rapper, Ana Tijoux (MacArthur Park); Freshlyground from South Africa who collaborated with Shakira on the 2010 World Cup Anthem (Memorial Park); Ceci Bastida, who is playing with Stevie Wonder at the Global Soul Event (MacArthur Park); folk duo and American Music Awards nominee, Secret Sisters (Memorial Park); and Chilean Spanish pop artist, Francisca Valenzuela (MacArthur Park)”¦

Larry Blum

THE THING IS”¦“I’ve always found myself to be kind of funny and I’ve gotten some affirmation. I’ve had a really eclectic career, from being a dancer on the road with A Chorus Line and one of the original Solid Gold Dancers, to being a background performer in a lot of prime time shows, like Roseanne and Golden Girls. Now, I’m working on daytime and on all these reality shows as one of the rehearsal actors.  We stand in for personalities like Simon Cowell or Piers Morgan.  At award shows, they have to rehearse the show flow over and over again,  so I stand in for an awarder or an awardee depending on what is being blocked and what the needs are. So, I found myself mixing with celebrities and having all these wonderful experiences.  Funny little stories kept evolving from these experiences and I was telling them a lot to friends and at parties.  All of a sudden, I realized I had a funny show by stringing together these little backstage stories and anecdotes. The title of my show came out of the reality that even if I am on stage or on camera, it was usually in conjunction with a celebrity who is getting all the attention and I am always on and off very quickly”¦Larry Blum’s one-person show, Blink and You Might Miss Me, is performing June 25 at Theatre Asylum in Hollywood, in conjunction with Hollywood Fringe Festival 2011″¦

Pasadena Playhouse September 1963

INSIDE LA STAGE HISTORY”¦During the first 130-plus years of its existence, the  apex of upscale cultural life in the United States is live theater. The introduction of formulaic melodramas during the mid-1880s captivates rapidly growing middle class America as well. But by 1910, the embryonic but ambitious film industry is actually beginning to draw audiences away from the stage.  In fear their favorite art form is going to be supplanted by these upstart flick makers, Chicago philanthropists and art patrons Arthur T. Aldis and Mary Aldis, as well as Hull House director Laura Dainty Pelham, spearhead community-based live stage ventures that by 1912 grow into the nationwide Little Theater Movement with a mandate to establish community-based, non-commercial theaters that are impervious to the whims of popular culture. In respect to artistic significance, community involvement and international recognition, the true highlight of this movement is the creation of Pasadena Community Playhouse, established in 1916 by actor/director Gilmor Brown. Under his leadership, the community builds the largest theater complex west of Chicago in 1925, now officially dubbed Pasadena Playhouse. While still nurturing extensive volunteer labor and community financial support, theatrically ambitious Brown leaves the original intent of the 1912 Movement far behind.  At its production peak, the Playhouse boasts six stages, each featuring a new production every two weeks, making it one of the world’s most prolific theatrical production venues at that time.  By 1928, the world and America’s professional artists are taking notice.  That same year, Brown produces the premiere of Eugene O’Neill’s massive theo-philosophical epic, Lazarus Laughed, featuring a cast of 250 primarily local amateur actors.  During the next 25 years, the Playhouse produces premiere works by William Saroyan, Noel Coward, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams.  In 1937, in tribute to the Playhouse’s achievement of producing the entire Shakespeare canon on a single stage for the first time in the U.S., the state’s legislature recognizes the venue as the official State Theater of California. And for its role in cradling this enterprise in its bosom since its inception, George Bernard Shaw likens Pasadena to “the Athens of the West.”Â  Next week’s INSIDE LA STAGE HISTORY chronicles Pasadena Playhouse’s  acting academy, as well as the Playhouse’s role in nurturing the industry that nearly destroys it…

The Julio Martinez-hosted ARTS IN REVIEW, broadcast Fridays  (2 to 2:30 pm) on KPFK (90.7FM), spotlights the best in live theater and cabaret in the Greater LA area. Upcoming on June 23, director Amelia Mulley and cast members of Ruskin Group Theatre’s production of Arthur Miller’s A Memory of Two Mondays”¦

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National Asian American Theater Festival:
Krystal’s Vlog #4 — Last Day of the Conference

by Krystal Banzon | June 23, 2011

All this week LA STAGE Times will present coverage of the 3rd Annual National Asian American Theater Festival via daily vlogs from Krystal Banzon, a first generation Filipina American who is an emerging theater director. To read her previous posts, click here.

What a tremendous and inspiring last three days!  I am brimming with motivation, and ideas.  The final day of the conference was so vibrant, especially the excitement that surrounded the creation of the National Institute for Directing and Ensemble Creation.  We asked ourselves to define what a “director” is, what an “ensemble” is, what “devised theater” means, and we began to question the way theater is made in the United States.  What are the ways community-focused theater is made? Is there a methodology, a pedagogy? How do we value our processes?

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVInmVxvsu4

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LA Stage Times

Young Playwright’s Festival: All the World is an Improv

by Alex Nunnelly | June 23, 2011

Alex Nunnelly

All the world is an improv, waiting to be scripted. It is not a script to be simply acted out. This is what the Blank Theatre has showed me over the past three years. My mentors, directors, and actors have demonstrated the true nature of the creative process, its application and appreciation. Creativity stems from reality; imagination is an optic through which to view this reality.

Through the Young Playwrights Festival, this creative process of rethinking what is already around me has become more apparent””an invaluable lesson. Creativity is not a defined and toggled operant. It is a way of looking at the world differently, constantly, without stopping. It is a rethinking, not a recreating.

Chapter 1: “The Creative Process.” Study up. With the phrase “the creative process,” one conjures images of a mechanistic procedure””a conveyor belt of conveyance. Feed the artist a palette of thoughts, cue the “creative process,” and voila!””a well-structured work of theater, of prose, of the senses””art. Class dismissed. However, obviously, there is more to the story””no pun intended. It is instead a process of looking at beauty where it is otherwise overlooked.

A case in point: I board a bus for rehearsal. I see a man pushing an immaculate shopping cart in flannel, wearing two layers of latex gloves and holding a bottle of hand sanitizer. There are two ways to view this man: an oddity that is peripheral to my world, which should be discarded; or instead, an anomaly worth studying and recreating, a beautiful new form never before seen. The germaphobic hobo””an oxymoronic character, fit for drama, bound for artistic representation.  One is always overwhelmed by facts and people with experiences constantly flowing past us. The writer sorts through these. Art begins with a subconscious effort to witness the sublime, to take it in right here in the present. Meaning emerges through the distillation of these experiences. The playwright’s job is to bring the sublime to center stage.

I force a Coke-caked dollar bill into the bus’s register and take my seat. I look around and observe my fellow passengers. We are all boarded onto the same route, headed in the same direction, connected through motion. Playwriting in motion. The key to playwriting””to art in general””as I’ve learned through the Blank over the past years is about constantly studying this motion and its behavior. The creative process is an adaptive process””a mode of evolving with the world.  It’s about working in the now. I am sitting in the third row of the Blank’s red velvet chairs. The show goes on. All the world is an improv.

Tanoshinde, presented by the Blank Theatre Company’s Young Playwrights Festival, plays June 23-26;  Thurs-Sat at 8pm, Sun at 7pm. Tickets: $17 for adults, $12 for students. Stella Adler Theatre, 6773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; 323- 661-9827 or www.TheBlank.com

Alex Nunnelly (age 19) is an incoming junior at Harvard College. He is currently concentrating in English Studies, with a secondary in Neurobiology. This will be his third year working with the Blank’s Young Playwrights Festival, having had two of his plays previously produced. He graduated from Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, FL. For the remainder of the summer he will be working in a UCLA neuroscience laboratory, and reading scripts for a production company.

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LA Stage Times

Director Debbie Allen Does the Twist at Pasadena Playhouse

by Darlene Donloe | June 22, 2011

Debbie Allen

It’s 11:30 in the morning, and Debbie Allen is dancing from one end of the rehearsal hall to the other with two young actresses who probably aren’t old enough to remember her as Lydia Grant, the dance teacher, on the popular television series Fame (1982-87).

At 60, this acting, choreographing, producing, writing and directing dynamo might be sweating, huffing and puffing a little more than her younger wards, but she still has gazelle-like moves and is no less a rhythmic force.

This is a rehearsal for Twist, opening at the Pasadena Playhouse June 26. Workers are hammering and moving fake walls to and fro, a couple of the 31 actors in the show are practicing their songs, several others are going over their blocking and still others are undergoing wardrobe fittings.

Rehearsal officially started at 11:30 am, but Allen, looking every bit the dancing diva with her gold necklace, gold earrings, oversized white shirt, black t-shirt and pants and long, flowing ponytail accented with a No. 2 pencil, has long been up and at ‘em in preparation of the day’s run-through.

“I am the director and choreographer,” says Allen, who has choreographed the Academy Awards show on several occasions.  “I have to play out all of their parts. I come to rehearsal with a plan and an idea.  I come in early to work it all out.”

Doing the Twist

William F. Brown

Twist is a timely adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Oliver Twist,  set in New Orleans on the eve of the Great Depression, featuring a contemporary score.  It tells the saga of a young orphan boy, who was born to a white, aristocratic mother and a black song-and-dance man. The book is by Tony nominee William F. Brown and Tina Tippit.

The show’s score is in the style of 1920s New Orleans. It’s highlighted by ballads, jazz, blues, gospel and tap-infused dance numbers. The music is by Gary Prim, with lyrics and music by Grammy winner Tena Clark.

Allen on Dickens

“I think I was always a fan of Dickens’ original novel,” says Allen. “It’s about the journey of a kid who is trying to find out who he is in the world.  Whether you’re an orphan or not, that’s a story for everybody I know. We’re all trying to find that out. We want to know what makes us tick and who matters to us. This show highlights the idea…that he’s an orphan and lost and now he’s a runaway and he’s got so many things against him he doesn’t know. Translating it to America, this child is from white and black parents. I realized after [the movie] Amistad [1997, which she co-produced] there are no pure people.”

FA Show

A story, music and dance — this is the kind of show that’s made for Allen, who received Tony nominations for her performances in West Side Story and Sweet Charity. She loves putting a multi-faceted show together by connecting all the nuts and bolts.

“We’re a work in progress,” she says. “Musicals are like babies, you give birth, but they have to learn how to crawl, walk and run.  We’re still finding things. When I sit with the cast I get ideas everyday.”

Although it’s clear she’s having fun, Allen takes her craft seriously. When she decides to take on a project, it’s for a well-thought-out reason.

“I want to be pulled into something I can wrap my mind and creativity around,” she says. “I want to be excited about it and the people I’m working with. When you do something like this, you’re baring your soul everyday. You come naked with your soul.”

When asked what kind of director she is, Allen replies, “I don’t know how to answer that. I get new ideas everyday. I do a lot of homework. I have a real thick game plan. I like to help the actors build their circumstances. I give them a whole syllabus. They have back-stories so they know where they’re living. I help them find the truth of each moment.”

Gray Matter

Tamyra Gray

One of those who appreciates Allen’s efforts is former American Idol contestant Tamyra Gray, whose melodic tones have wrapped themselves gently around every nook and cranny in the rehearsal hall.

When the married mother of nine-month-old daughter Sienna sings, people stop and listen. She plays a nightclub singer, named Della, with a dream and a past.  Della’s encounter with “Twist” changes their lives forever.

Gray, who has also appeared in Rent and Bombay Dreams, can’t stop singing the praises of Allen. “This is fantastic,” she says. “When I think about the fact that I’m working with her, I have to keep it contained. I’ve always wanted to work with her. I’m not a trained dancer, but just having her energy and expertise sometimes makes me feel like one. She’s brilliant. The things she’s bringing out of me and everyone else are phenomenal.”

“She can do it all,” says Gray, who is from Atlanta but now lives in Northern California.  “She’s honest and open to your ideas of what you envision for the character. She goes home and figures it out and then comes to talk to me and together we explore.”

“I like the collaborative part of theater,” says Allen. “Tamyra, oh my, she is lovely. What an intelligent, bright woman she is. She’s wide open. She comes with preparation. She’s open to ideas. What a powerful talent.”

Musically Speaking

Harold Wheeler

Harold Wheeler, the Tony-nominated industry veteran who is currently the musical director of Dancing With the Stars, is also enjoying his collaborative relationship with Allen as he works on the show’s orchestrations.  The two have known each other for 25 years and have done several projects together.

“Debbie does it all,” says Wheeler, 67. “She has the eye of a director, the business sense of a producer and the chops of a choreographer, without a doubt. It’s a pleasure working with her. Our working relationship stays a working relationship. If there is something she doesn’t like, she’ll tell me. It’s about the work.”

Last year Wheeler worked on Twist in Atlanta and looks forward to seeing it on its feet in Pasadena. For Wheeler, who 42 years ago became the first African American to conduct a Broadway show (Promises, Promises), the chance to work on this show was a no-brainer.

“The story is wonderful,” says Wheeler. “I fell in love with Tena’s [Clark] music 20 years ago. I wanted to work on the project because I think I can do something to paint the colors.”

“You want to work with a Harold Wheeler,” says Allen. “He’s the best, a consummate professional and good friend. They don’t come any better.”

Getting it Twisted

Matthew Johnson and his gang

Before she actually got the gig Allen had been hearing whispers about Twist but had never really inquired about working on the production.

Then she met lyricist Clark while working on a project together at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.

“She said, “˜I have a musical called Twist,’” says Allen.  “I said, “˜I heard about it.’  She said maybe I’d be the one to make it go. So, I listened to the music. The music was alive and had breadth. The story of Twist translated to New Orleans is just beautiful and relevant. I am from that part of the world. Oh, but when I heard the music. You know it’s wonderful when you hear it one time and you can still hear it.

Clark didn’t have to twist Allen’s arm to get her on board.

“Oh, honey, they interviewed quite a few directors,” says Allen. “I was chanting and burning that candle. I won. And when they offered it to me I said, “˜I’d love to.’”

Whatta Star

Although she’s been toiling away at her craft for decades, Allen says she still gets excited about working on new projects.

“It’s glorious,” says Allen.  “This couldn’t be better. I’m happy to be working under the watchful eyes of Sheldon Epps (Pasadena Playhouse’s artistic director). “I’m exploring and excavating and putting the show up on its feet. I love that.”

Achievements

Cliff Bemis and Tamyra Gray

Houston-born and a graduate of Howard University in Washington,  Allen is a longtime entertainment veteran whose bio reflects her continued growth.

She has directed and/or starred in a long list of television series including: In The House, Grey’s Anatomy, That’s So Raven, The Parkers, The Twilight Zone, A Different World, All of Us, Everybody Hates Chris, Linc’s, The Jamie Foxx Show, Polly, Hellcats, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, The Game, Girlfriends, The Sinbad Show, Family Ties, The Bronx Zoo and more.

Allen’s LA stage credits include Pearl and Harriet’s Return at the Geffen Playhouse. She has written, directed, and choreographed musicals and a ballet commissioned by the Kennedy Center.  In 2009, she created and directed OMAN … O Man!, told through the eyes of two 12- year-old boys — one Omani Muslim and one American Christian — who meet at a military academy and through movement, music and dance, learn about each other. The dance-driven play was commissioned by the Kennedy Center in conjunction with its Arabesque festival to celebrate Arab culture.   To choreograph the play, Allen took 12 students from her Debbie Allen Dance Academy in LA to Oman to meet with the country’s Sultan Qaboos.

In 2008, Allen directed her sister Phylicia Rashad, James Earl Jones, Terrence Howard and Anika Noni Rose on Broadway in Cat on A Hot Tin Roof.  And, in 2009, she directed and choreographed Mariah Carey’s Vegas concerts.

Her work has won won a Golden Globe, multiple Emmys and an Olivier Award.  She’s also been the recipient of a Drama Desk Award (1979) and two Essence Awards (1992, 1995).

Allen is married to former Laker and Clipper Norm Nixon. And she’s the mother of Vivian, 26, and Norman Jr., 23.

Sister Act

The orphans of the Parish House Orphanage tease Twist

The sisters Allen and Rashad played sisters in a public TV production of The Old Settler. A month ago, they both received honorary doctorates from Spelman College. And as luck would have it, both Allen and Rashad will have productions up at major theatrical houses at the same time within miles of each other.

Rashad is directing encore performances of A Raisin in the Sun for the Ebony Repertory Theatre at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center during part of the time (June 24-26, July 1-3) Twist is playing at the Pasadena Playhouse.

“Phylicia and I are best friends,” says Allen. “Best friends are honest. We’re always honest with each other. I’m thrilled about her directing that amazing play.”

A Full Life

Twist's nightmare scene

You’ve got to be in shape to keep up with Debbie Allen. She’s always going at full throttle, but that’s because she doesn’t know how to do it any other way.

“Chile, there’s a lot of work to be done, a lot of stuff out there to do,” says Allen, her southern drawl seeping through. “I have another part of my life that has [given me] a whole new purpose. I do things internationally,” referring to her work in Oman with her dance academy.  “Through dance I have mitigated the differences between us,” says Allen. “In the Middle East I have young men who call me “˜mama.’ They email me to let me know they are safe.”

On the Academy’s website is that famous quote Allen uttered in Fame — “You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying in sweat.” The quote “passionately sums up the commitment she gives and expects from the students at the Academy,” according to the website.

“I have great kids who work with me at the Academy,” Allen says. “It doesn’t matter if they don’t go to Broadway. I want them to be energized.  I’m disturbed with what’s happening in the public school system. They are taking out the arts.  What are they supposed to do? They have to be motivated.”

At this point in her career, Allen takes on only those projects that will bring her “satisfaction and joy”.

“When I direct, I like the doing, the challenge of figuring it out,” says Allen. “I like the Rubik’s cube, figuring out the puzzle. I like motivating people. Even though I’m directing, that’s me up there.”

Matthew Johnson and Jared Grimes

“I love theater,”Â  she adds. “It’s so in the moment and alive. It’s expressionistic. The audience has to meet there. You come and rehearse. Every night you go to the same river, but you step in different water every time.”

For someone on the outside looking in, it would seem like Allen is a workaholic. And, to a degree, admittedly, she is.  However, she stressed that her family comes first.

Asked how she lets her hair down when work is through, Allen reaches for the hairclip and No. 2 pencil that has been holding her brownish-red tresses in place and lets her hair cascade pass her shoulders.

“Like this,” she says flipping her hair as if she were in a hair commercial. “I let my hair down by cooking. I’m a great cook. They love my honey-baked lamb and lemon pound cake.  I could drop all of this and open that restaurant.”

And, with that, she’s off.

“Hey, who are you in the scene?” she asks, rejoining her cast.

** Production photography by Craig Schwartz

TWIST previews through June 25; opens June 26; plays through July 17; Tues.-Fri, 8 pm; Sat. 4 and 8 pm; Sun. 2 and 7 pm. Tickets: $39-$69.  All preview performances are $10 off the regular ticket price (except premium seating, which is $100); $20 rush tickets one hour prior to the performance. The Pasadena Playhouse, 39 South El Molino Avenue in Pasadena; For information: 626-921-1161 or www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org.

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National Asian American Theater Festival:
Krystal’s Vlog #3 — Homecoming

by Krystal Banzon | June 22, 2011

All this week LA STAGE Times will present coverage of the 3rd Annual National Asian American Theater Festival via daily vlogs from Krystal Banzon, a first generation Filipina American who is an emerging theater director. To read her previous posts, click here.

Day 2 of the Conference was intense!  Someone in one of the sessions described it as a “homecoming,” which I think is absolutely correct.  Day 2 was our first full day of sessions, and by the end of the day I was exhausted.  I was happy, hopeful, hopeless, frustrated, and scared at various times throughout the day. We ate and ate and ate delicious Filipino food at dinner – all the makings of being at home.  I argued with elders whom I embraced afterwards. I’m trying to speak up when I want to question something, because this is the place to do it, isn’t it?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAn5fzI6Yxk

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FRINGE: When a Good Con Leaves More Than He Takes

by Joy Nash | June 22, 2011

Joy Nash

It’s not every day you meet a bodybuilding criminal from France who desperately wants to get into your pants. I was 22 and studying abroad in Europe, desperate to have an adventure, and there one was — almost literally falling into my lap.

I met a handsome, slightly unsavory character oozing with charisma who invited me into his life: flying me to Paris, taking me on boat rides and introducing me to people, food, and situations I never would have otherwise known. I jumped in with both feet.  My life in the US didn’t hold much promise: a mother who hated me, a dead best friend, and no romantic prospects, period.  I was happy to jump on a plane, ask no questions, and look the other way when needed.

I’d come home from these reckless weekends and regale my friends at school with crazy stories about my mobster: the ridiculous things he’d said, the amazing things I’d seen, the countless ways his facts never seemed to line up and the bizarre attraction I felt between us.

My Mobster began in those adventures I’d re-enact for my friends.  At first I was focused on the hilarity of it all, but slowly my curiosity shifted.  I became obsessed with the reality of the situation, and the fact that nothing about him was actually as it seemed.

I came home from my semester in London and took a class in solo performance with Eric Trules at USC.  My favorite thing to talk about was still my mobster, and my class was happy to listen.  Before I knew it, I had two-thirds of a pretty epic story.  The next week was spring break, and my mobster (who was still calling twice a week at 4 am) had invited me to spend 10 days with him in Paris.  I climbed onto that airplane knowing that something was going to happen — but what actually took place, I never, ever would have guessed.

I was so grateful to have that class — my audience — and to be in the process of sharing my story with them when things went down the way they did. It was such a gift to move from thinking “I can’t believe this.  How is this happening?  Why me?” directly into “I am going to tell EVERYONE about this if I make it out alive”.

I did a short run of My Mobster immediately after finishing the first draft, and then kind of put it away until last year.  Last summer, I had the opportunity to study with Eric Trules again, and with the help of another solo performance workshop, I did a major refinement of the script.

In early 2011, I got the chance to assemble a dream team: Louise Hung, my director whom I adore and trust completely;  Lily Symmonds, who has composed perfect pieces of original music; Hana Sooyeon Kim and Yuki Izumihara, who’ve created gorgeous projections featuring a lot of the original photographs I took that first semester in Europe, as well as Priscilla Watson for a beautiful sound design and a complete dream of a stage manager in Melina Franks.

This medium can be so tricky. It’s absolutely narcissistic — “Please ignore all others and listen to me speak for one-and-one-half-hours” — and we are in serious trouble if we don’t move beyond that.  If a solo performer isn’t constantly asking, “Why should they care?  What is the audience receiving from me?,” disaster is impending.

The promise of “a good time” or “a few laughs” isn’t enough for me.  Life is too precious to be spent on “nice times”.  I want joy, pathos, release, adventure.

One of my favorite quotes is from La Pulcina Piccola: “I have loved, lost, and learned to embrace a spirit of adventure.”  I hope that audiences leave My Mobster feeling that same way.

My Mobster, June 21 6 pm, June 22 8 pm, June 25 6 pm, June 26 4 pm. Tickets: $15. Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; 323-455-4585 or mymobsterplay.com.

** Production photography by Timo Elliott

No stranger to the stage, Joy Nash holds two degrees from the University of Southern California in sociolinguistics and theater and has recently starred in shows at the Geffen Playhouse, REDCAT Theatre and 24th Street Theatre. Her online notoriety has earned her a Webby Honoree title as well as featured media attention from various outlets from the New York Times to CNN.

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LA Stage Times

Fringe: The Momo Live Show — The Mime Speaks

by Momo Casablanca | June 22, 2011

Momo Casablanca

I am a former clown with Cirque Du Soleil, embarking on my first solo touring show, which is directed by Sebastien Stella.

In Momo, I reflect on my upbringing. I seek a psychic connection with my audience as I re-enact the past in the form of pantomime storytelling. One of the people I portray is my grandfather. I slump my shoulders, lock my hands behind my back and trudge across the stage looking smaller and more fragile than my normal self. I say, “I was a Jew who converted to Islam in order to marry my wife.” I can lightly wear the mask of tragedy, but it never gets in the way of my one-liners.

Long before Cirque,  I was at the Jacques Lecoq School of Theater in Paris, and I studied and performed with Marcel Marceau. In this world, I felt as if my vocal expressions were minimized or in some cases completely eliminated. Again, in working as a clown for Cirque Du Soleil, I sometimes felt trapped because I could never use my voice to express my emotions.

I wanted to craft a show that combined the use of my physical and vocal apparatus. I needed to get out of the proverbial  “box” and express myself both physically and vocally in order to show the audience a well-rounded and fully developed character.

In my show, I combine comedy, contemporary clown and highly expressive physical theater with storytelling aspects that explore my early childhood in Morocco, my colorful relatives and also my poignant and often funny observations of life in America. I wanted to seamlessly blend pantomime and comedy within a multimedia and interactive solo show. I knew that this would be not be an easy journey, but it was certainly one I wanted to undertake.

I also wanted people to know and understand the world of Middle Eastern actors in Hollywood, post 9/11. The roles for Middle Easterners in Hollywood are very limited, and I wanted to create a piece that shows that I (and we as Middle Easterners) deserve a chance of success in Hollywood.

Sebastien and I worked tirelessly on crafting something that would exhibit the physical and vocal qualities I wanted to embody. As a former Cirque Du Soleil clown himself, Sebastien understood my vision and we worked together to meet them on both a technical and an imaginative level. As a director he encouraged me when needed and provided me with the necessary tools to make this show a success. While Momo makes its debut at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, I look forward to expanding it and touring with it in the future.

The Momo Live Show is playing at the Complex Theater on June 22 at 7:15 pm and tickets are $12. Tickets can be purchased by visiting www.hollywoodfringe.org.

Momo Casablanca is a versatile physical theater performer. He is a former clown with Cirque Du Soleil, a former student of Jacques Lecoq International Theatre School in Paris and has performed with and was taught by the legendary Marcel Marceau. This one-man show is directed by Sebastien “Seb” Stella who recently choreographed (and worked as a trainer) for the feature film Water For Elephants and the upcoming feature film Judy Moody.  Stella also has choreographed and worked with such pop stars as Pink and Cher.

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LA Stage Times

Brave New Theater World

by Pamela Putch | June 21, 2011

Pamela Putch

My love for the theater began at a very early age, when I had the great good fortune of being born in a trunk at my father’s summer theater in Pennsylvania.  Growing up backstage and onstage in this magical world gave me a deep love for this art form.

Today, I make my living in television. At my first TCG national conference this past week in downtown Los Angeles,  I was curious to see how the theater world would look through my TV eyes.

At the TCG conference, I attended many diverse and interesting workshops and sessions.  I was thrilled to be in a room with Marsha Norman, who led a workshop entitled “Secrets of the Great Play”.  Who wouldn’t want to listen in on that!  I was inspired to hear Gordon Davidson’s lunchtime salon about the beginnings of his groundbreaking theater in Los Angeles.  However, the conversations specific to the internet seemed to stir the most discussion and challenge traditional thinking.  The future was the focus at this conference and the questions about the theaters’ evolution in this new virtual reality was prominent.

On the second day, I went to a fascinating lecture by futurist David Houle.  He explained how our culture is moving at a faster pace than ever imagined, and as new generations are born how they will live in a world of virtual communication that we cannot imagine today.  In my TV world, I attend promotional meetings regularly and have heard our CEOs and dot.com experts speak of the virtual world as something that must be embraced wholeheartedly in order to survive.  Houle addressed the theater makers directly with the ultimate question — how do you keep the theater thriving in this future environment?

Even though I understand the importance of this evolution, I have to admit that I was overwhelmed at times by the concepts he was putting forth. Does the future of the theater depend on inviting youth into the theaters by allowing texting during performances or by someday wearing goggles in theaters, which would give virtual information on the performance thereby making it an interactive experience?  I worried that this would change what I loved and cherished about the theater.

I thought about it more as it related to my very profit-based commercial advertising world.  Just as the world of radio morphed into television, television is even now transforming into a new world, an interactive web-based world.  One day the television experience may only be accessible via the internet.  Would the theater world be left behind if it didn’t embrace this virtual world?  Obviously, the theater already uses the internet to sell tickets, promote shows and keep audiences connected.  But in an age when people can remain in the comfort of their own homes to work, shop and view movies, how can the theater inspire patrons to get out of the house and attend live theatrical performances?

I attended other TCG sessions that further explored the nuts and bolts of making use of the virtual world.  On Saturday, two impressive performer/entrepreneurs hosted a conversation in which we discussed the benefits, challenges and realities of the live streaming broadcasts of performances.  The New York Metropolitan Opera’s “Live in HD” and the U.K.’s “National Theatre Live” programs are broadcast in movie theaters around the world.  This made me wonder if one Saturday night in the future I would sit on my couch, push a button on my remote control and buy an 8 pm performance of the Broadway show that I didn’t have time to catch on my last New York trip.  Or perhaps I would choose to watch the world premiere of an up-and-coming playwright’s newest work from a well-known regional stage.   And to add to that scenario, would a younger member of my family be watching with me while they tweeted about the performance?  This future seems very possible to me.

But one astute participant in the session asked the obvious “elephant in the room” question — does theater then become TV?  I don’t have the answer, but I am not happy about it if it’s a possibility.

I left the conference with many questions.  However, I also left with a sense of comfort that all the talented and brilliant young people in attendance as speakers, participants and award recipients had the energy and passion to solve all of the challenges that lie ahead for theater.   The generation that includes the talented Daniel Beaty, Tanya Selvaratnam and Marcus Gardley, to name only a few, would keep the theater alive in ways I could never imagine.

Pamela Putch has had a diversified career in entertainment.  A graduate of Carnegie-Mellon University, she has appeared as an actress in more than 50 plays, directed shows in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles as well as produced a summer season at the Totem Pole Playhouse in Pennsylvania.  In the television arena, she has acted, produced and currently oversees production on the series 30 Rock, The Office and Parks & Recreation as a Sr. Vice President of Production at NBCUniversal Studios.  She looks forward to serving as a new board member of the L.A. Stage Alliance this coming year.

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LA Stage Times

NEA to Webcast National Council on the Arts Meeting Friday, June 24

by LA Stage Alliance | June 21, 2011

k;The 173rd meeting of the National Council on the Arts, the advisory body to the National Endowment for the Arts, will take place on Friday, June 24, from noon to 2 pm California time, in room M-09 of the Nancy Hanks Center, 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC. The public is invited to attend in person or to watch a live webcast at arts.gov.

The session will begin with the announcement of the recipients of the NEA’s three lifetime honors programs: NEA Jazz Master fellowships, NEA National Heritage fellowships, and the NEA Opera Honors. Eighteen artists will receive a total of $450,000 in recognition of their significant contributions to their respective fields.

The meeting also will explore examples of creative place-making at work. Presentations will be made by Cedric B. Glover, mayor of Shreveport, Louisiana; Christine Harris, consulting advisor for Creative Alliance Milwaukee and president of Christine Harris Connections; and environmental artist Lorna Jordan.

The meeting will continue with an update on Blue Star Museums by Michael Harasimowicz, Vice Wing Commander of the 70 Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing at Maryland’s Fort Meade. Blue Star Museums is a partnership among Blue Star Families, the National Endowment for the Arts, and more than 1,000 museums across America to offer free admission to all active duty military personnel and their families from Memorial Day through Labor Day 2011.

Ben Donenberg, artistic director of the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, is among the 14 members of the countil.

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LA Stage Times

National Asian American Theater Festival:
Krystal’s Vlog #2 — Opening of CAATA

by Krystal Banzon | June 21, 2011

All this week LA STAGE Times will present coverage of the 3rd Annual National Asian American Theater Festival via daily vlogs from Krystal Banzon, a first generation Filipina American who is an emerging theater director. To read her previous posts, click here.

It was a gorgeous day for an opening ceremony, delicious food and an open bar underneath a cloudless, turquoise Los Angeles sky in the East  West Players courtyard.  The Who’s Who of Asian American theater were all there, chatting with drinks, holding babies, and talking shop (or not), and it felt like a big family reunion.  There were the folks I knew, the folks I didn’t know, and most of the same elders and some new little ones.  There was an overwhelming feeling of community and family – in all its encouraging warmth, and frightening intensity. A tribe of artists with a lineage of struggle. As I sat with my Kirin munching on teriyaki chicken, I felt proud to be part of the brave Asian American theater community and wondered what this week was going to bring.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkB1Nl2vLdc

Tickets for the 3rd National Asian American Theater Festival are $15 for general admission and $12 for students and seniors. Tickets for performances at partner organizations range from $20 to $76. The festival runs June 16″“26. $80 Festival Passes are available and give access to all core festival performances. $300 ConFest passes are available and give access to all core festival performances as well as all panels, opening and closing receptions to the National Asian American Theater Conference. The conference runs June 20″“22. Festival and ConFest Passes can be purchased online at www.caata.net, by phone at 213-625-7000 or in person at the East West Players’ administrative office, 120 Judge John Aiso St # C, Los Angeles.

The 3rd National Asian American Theater Festival will host core performances at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (Tateuchi Democracy Forum) at 111 N. Central Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles at the Alameda exit off the Hollywood (101) Freeway in Little Tokyo, part of the Japanese American National Museum, and at the Inner-City Arts Rosenthal Theater at 720 Kohler Street in Downtown Los Angeles between E. 7th St. and E. 8th St. Parking is available off Judge John Aiso St. between E. Temple St. and E. 1st St.

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LA Stage Times

The LA in Radar L.A./
Did Davidson Make LA a Theater Town or ‘Kill Theater’?

by Don Shirley | June 20, 2011

Who best represented LA in the Radar L.A. festival? Solitude, from the Latino Theater Company, Car Plays from Moving Arts and State of Incarceration from Los Angeles Poverty Department.

Not only were they among the festival highlights, but they are set in LA. Their “made in LA” labels were out there for everyone to see. And it’s appropriate that Solitude is from a midsize theater, that Car Plays is from a sub-100-seat company, and that State of Incarceration is from a “community theater” in its most urban and literal senses (as opposed to the use of that label by companies that endlessly re-cycle chestnuts that weren’t originated in their communities).

Solitude is more of a traditional play than most of the other “devised” and company-created productions that Radar L.A. emphasized. Writer Evelina Fernandez and director Jose Luis Valenzuela cared about creating somewhat dimensional characters — a process that many of this festival’s productions ignored.

Latino Theater Company’s Solitude

In the overall context of the festival, which de-emphasized dramaturgy, a few critics used adjectives like “overripe” to describe Solitude. But I found it refreshing to see one festival production in which the characters indulged in long conversations about existential matters — while still maintaining an eye on the bigger world, thanks primarily to an unseen character in the next room.

Solitude sometimes strikes a tone similar to one of Woody Allen’s Bergmanesque screenplays or, more to the point, the Octavio Paz essays that inspired it. And the script captures psychological dilemmas that can be found on the borderline between the words Mexican and American — especially among Mexican Americans in LA.

As most of the critics acknowledged, however, Solitude isn’t only about the words. The dialogues and monologues are connected by revivifying music and dance that suggest what’s going on in these characters when words aren’t enough. The dance in particular illustrates the production’s central concern about the relationship between the individuals and the community. This isn’t a musical, but it is one of those hybrids of music, dance and script that critics frequently champion. It has been trimmed from its earlier version, but it would make a satisfying full-length production for audiences, if it picks up touring gigs from its exposure at Radar L.A.

The ability to tour was one of the criteria for selecting Radar L.A. participants, and it would seem to pose some problems for Car Plays. This production features a fleet of cars. Pairs of audience members and pairs of actors enter five parked cars for five 10-minute plays during the course of one performance. In this incarnation, the cars were parked atop that ugly parking structure just east of Disney Hall.

Short tours of Car Plays might not be difficult — you could simply drive the theater and the set, so to speak, from one presenter to another. But in order to travel beyond California, would a new fleet of cars have to be found in each destination? That’s an exercise that probably doesn’t come up much in MFA programs for would-be producers.

Moving Arts’ Car Plays

Still, the production managed to move from the nondescript parking lot of the Steve Allen Theater, where I last saw it, to Radar L.A.’s downtown site, where the cars were facing east, so that actors and audience alike got the relatively palatial view of City Hall and the LA Times building.

Two of the five playlets I saw were indirectly (even inadvertently?) connected in an amusingly ironic way. In EM Lewis’ Drop-Off Day, a mother and daughter are saying farewell as the daughter begins her first year of college at USC. The mother, of course, is fretting about the possible hazards of college life, but the daughter and audience see the mother’s concerns as exaggerated. In the next play that I saw, Allain Rochel’s Abraham & Isaac, a USC student for only three weeks finds himself in the precarious position of approaching a total stranger in a parked car, somewhat east of the USC campus, hoping that he can buy some drugs. Perhaps mothers know best, after all.

Of course the novelty here isn’t the scripts (although kudos to Kiff Scholl’s especially clever playlet The Audience) as much as it’s the experience of being in a closed car with the two actors two or three feet away. The storied intimacy at even the smaller 99-Seat Plan theaters feels virtually Pantages-like when compared to the proximity of audience and actor at Car Plays.

Most Radar L.A. spectators saw only five of the playlets. With a total of six different bills of five plays each, including 22 new plays for this edition of Car Plays and five from previous editions (three were presented on more than one bill, but with different casts), theoretically anyone could have returned several times and seen different work.

It’s a production that is ready-made for repeat customers. Yet the Radar L.A. run was so brief — only four days — and so many other shows were beckoning for attention that probably few of us got to see it more than once, this time around.

So let’s see it again soon. One of the producers, Kim Glann, tells me that’s likely, with a “pop-up” event next month, another presentation next fall, and talks with a possible presenter in Orange County.

State of Incarceration is about people who have zero access to cars — in fact, they’re about as immobile as characters can get short of a physical paralysis. They’re in prison — and for 90 minutes, they give us a glimpse of what that might be like. It’s especially timely considering the recent Supreme Court decision about overcrowding in California prisons.

LAPD’s State of Incarceration

The previous LAPD productions I’ve seen have usually struck me as more therapeutic for the participants — usually Skid Row residents — than as valuable for the audience members. Not this one, which is directed by Henriette Brouwers and LAPD artistic director John Malpede. The audience assumes sitting or reclining positions on bunk beds, along with the actors, in a dorm-style configuration. The action takes place all around us, mixing elements of theatrical ritual with strikingly verite-like moments. It isn’t verite — for example, men and women alike are housed in this ward, and some of the inmates also morph into guards. But it comes close, without excessive harangues and with a lot of maddening and tense silences, plus a sample of prison food offered near the end. I found it continually absorbing, although it does have a problem in allowing tired audience members to recline on beds — the young man next to me fell asleep and started snoring.

None of the other LA-generated shows in Radar L.A. had the same kind of LA-specific content. But my third experience at Titus Redux, after seeing it twice last year, revealed that writer/director John Farmanesh-Bocca has taken some much-needed steps to clarify the narrative. It’s now much more obvious that virtually everything that happens to the central character — a contemporary American version of Titus Andronicus (Jack Stehlin), after he returns to America — is an hallucination. His fantasies are a result of the traumas Titus suffered while in battle and the guilt he feels about his firstborn son’s death in the same war zone.

Jack Stehlin as Titus and John Famanesh-Bocca as Aaron, his neighbor who isn’t really a Jihadist.

Titus spends much more time on stage now, silently observing some of the other characters in a way that suggests that their actions are figments of his PTSD — and his daughter Lavinia enters his flashback to the war zone while dressed in her cheerleader outfit. There is now a reference to his reading of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus in the combat zone, so it provides a more plausible reason why his fantasies ventured in the same direction as Shakespeare’s plot. In combination with trims made for streamlining purposes, Titus Redux is now a more urgent as well as a more coherent production — and another worthy example of the hybrid script/music/dance genre.

A double bill of LA-based performances that blend live performers with shadow puppetry (Christine Marie’s Ground to Cloud) and with animation (Miwa Matreyek’s Myth and Infrastructure) seemed a bit unbalanced, because Matreyek’s work was so much more engaging that Marie’s. Also, The Word Begins, by LA-based hip-hop poets Steve Connell and Sekou Andrews, had a few telling moments and clever turns of phrase, but it struck me as somewhat impersonal and predictably preachy. I didn’t get back to the CalArts/Poor Dog Group Brewsie and Willie, which I saw last year, but it’s still playing through this coming weekend.

DID GORDON DAVIDSON MAKE LA A THEATER TOWN? Center Theatre Group’s founding artistic director, Gordon Davidson, received Theatre Communications Group’s top award at its 50th anniversary conference, held in conjunction with Radar L.A., and the following day he was interviewed by New York Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis at one of the conference sessions.

During the interview, there wasn’t enough time to cover much of Davidson’s career after the talk about his early life and his bold initial forays in his first years in LA, when he generated red-hot controversy over such productions as The Deputy, The Devils and The Trial of the Catonsville 9. For example, left undiscussed was the period when Davidson brought Eustis to work at CTG — a period that culminated in the burst of energy that produced The Kentucky Cycle, Angels in America, and Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992. Also left unmentioned were some of the less illustrious seasons in Davidson’s CTG years.

Still, just from listening to the excitement that surrounded the Taper in Davidson’s first decade at the Taper, it was hard to disagree with Eustis’ assessment that it was Davidson, more than any other individual, who made LA a theater town. Eustis said his own career was inspired by Davidson’s “enthusiasm for making theater that matters.”

No one has ever denied the report that Eustis was one of the two runners-up in the search for a Davidson replacement that ended with the hiring of the current artistic director Michael Ritchie. Although no one brought it up at the TCG session, as I watched Eustis on the platform with Davidson, I couldn’t help but wonder whether a Eustis-led CTG would have engaged more with LA subjects and LA talent than the Ritchie-led CTG. Still, let’s give credit to Ritchie’s CTG for its role in Radar L.A. (via CTG’s Diane Rodriguez, one of Radar L.A.’s three curators). If CTG can help mount similar festivals in the future, its stock among LA’s current theater practitioners might rise.

THEN AGAIN, DID GORDON DAVIDSON ‘KILL THEATER’? Yes, playwright John Steppling claimed that “the Michael Ritchies and the Gordon Davidsons kill theater” in his opening rant at a panel discussion called “The Uninvited: Crashing the Party,” at Lost Studio on Sunday. The panel was designed as “a counter-conference to the 2011 TCG national conference.”

I was at the “conference” for only about an hour. I had to leave to catch a performance at Radar L.A. — which, of course, was an event that more of less disproved Steppling’s contention that LA theater is dead. Before I left, only five of the 12 panelists had yet spoken, and two of them, Matt McCray of Son of Semele and Jay McAdams of the 24th Street Theatre, had already disagreed with key components of Steppling’s critique. McAdams, for example, said that LA’s small theaters should develop stronger institutions — advice that flies in the face of Steppling’s warning against theaters becoming too “commodified” and “corporate.”

So I credit Steppling and company for inviting some panelists who were in disagreement with certain elements of the “conference” mission. However, I can’t overlook my impression that the “Uninvited” panel organizers had themselves left a lot of people “uninvited” — people who might have made this panel more representative of LA theater. For example, in a city where white people are no longer in the majority, this panel of 12 was all-white — no Latino, black or Asian panelists. And nine of the 12 were men. Deaf West wasn’t there, nor was anyone from a midsized company (unless you count Travis Preston of CalArts). But who’s counting?

Car Plays photo by JayPG Photography

State of Incarceration photo by Anne Maeke Mertens.

Titus Redux photo by Ed Krieger.