Artistic Statement

Robert Paterno and Anne Yatco in Samantha Behr's ELIZABETH HAMMOND--a eulogy.

Robert Paterno and Anne Yatco in Samantha Behr’s ELIZABETH HAMMOND–a eulogy, directed by Doug Oliphant.  Hashimoto Photography

SDC is about to host a workshop in NYC to strengthen your personal artistic statement…and that got me thinking, I don’t have a personal artistic statement.  I’ve got a 3-part catch phrase, I’ve got a theatre company mission statement, I know the kinds of plays I love most, but maybe I should write out what it is that really makes me tick.  So I am:

I love new plays and new adaptations of classic material or other forms of contemporary material, be that a book, album, movie, poem, etc.  I can dig previously produced plays that are being shared for the first time with a new audience, or familiar plays that have a new relevance based on the big issues of today.  I gravitate toward comedies that push the absurdity boundary, be that real characters in absurd situations, or absurd characters in real situations.  Realism is my rock, I have a hard time investing in plays that are too far removed from real life, but get bored with most plays that exist in 100% realism.  Magical Realism is a big, broad category, but nearly all the plays I love live in some version of it.

I direct plays because I long to create a genuine connection between co-actors, actors and audience, audience and story, and audience and experience.  I love plays that make us laugh till we cry, then cry because we laughed.  Movement is my forte, so it’s always an added bonus when I get to work on a play that has room for anything that isn’t quite dance, but it’s not how someone would normally move in a given situation.  I love to highlight the moment before the big action happens–the moment two people realize they love each other, the moment before that person snaps, the moment that triggers ‘they fight’, the moment someone understands something they haven’t been able to the whole play, etc.

I love plays that shine light on a subject or an issue we thought we already knew all there was to know, and forces us to open our minds and see it from a different angle.  I’m also a full-circle freak, so plays that set things up early on and come back around at the end are my jam.  I come from a non-theatre-going childhood, and always hope to tell stories that will appeal to someone who doesn’t see plays just because that’s what they’re familiar with.  I love the idea of theatre as an event–that doesn’t mean that the play is an excuse for a party, but there’s something incredibly exciting about this story being told live, right here, right now.

Bam.  Artistic Statement…as of 3/9/2016

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A West Coast Premiere, a Workshop, a Concert, and a Whole Lotta Readings

The Avalanches are from Australia and released this album 15 years ago, but I just found it a few weeks ago.  This is the title track.

Usually I recap what’s already happened first, but I’m gonna switch it up.  I’m incredibly excited to be directing the west coast premiere of Jerry Lieblich‘s D Deb Debbie Deborah for Theatre of NOTE in August 2016.  This script is filled with absurd situations that revolve around one woman who’s pretty sure she’s losing her mind.  It’s a crisis of perception, personality, and reality, and examines what prevents us from connecting with others and how to overcome that.  Originally produced by Clubbed Thumb in May 2015, it got high praise from both the New York Times’ Ben Brantley and Time Out New York, receiving a Critics’ Pick in both publications.  We’ll have to wait and see how LA critics and audiences respond, but I’ve got a good feeling about it.

Currently, however, I’m directing a workshop production of Samantha Behr‘s Elizabeth Hammond (A Eulogy) with Drive Theatre as a part of Son of Semele’s Company Creation Festival, opening Jan. 23, 2016.  The play follows the recently deceased Beth, who upon hearing shallow comments from her closest friends at her funeral decides to revisit her life, searching for understanding of how she could be remembered simply as an impeccable party hostess and nothing more.  The play is filled with theatrical devices and poetic dialogue that we’ll be playing with, aiming to create a seamless piece of choreography with a clear narrative journey, leaving you questioning your own life choices and asking yourself what impression you want to leave on the world once you’re gone.

Joe Lo Piccolo performing in Attraverso il Mare at Boston Court

Joe Lo Piccolo in Attraverso il Mare at Boston Court

Before that, I directed my first-ever concert at Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena.  Titled Attraverso il Mare, it was an evening of new classical music composed by three different composers (Jason Barabba, Luciano ChessaPaolo Cavallone) and included select songs from Joe Lo Piccolo‘s ‘i t a L i A n’ project and Luciano Berio‘s ‘Folk Songs’, all focused around the Italian-American experience.  We kept the focus on the music, while incorporating projection and live video to support two pieces and some basic staging for the final 25-minute number that had an actor, a conductor, four singers, and five musicians.  It was incredible to get to work with so many talented musicians and singers all in the same room together, I’ll be looking forward to the next concert I get to help shape!

Nahal Navidar's Pairi Daiza at EST/LA

Nahal Navidar’s Pairi Daiza at EST/LA

And before that, I directed two short play readings of Steve Yockey‘s The Succulents and When It Happens It Will Happen Quietly at Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, as well as Pairi Daiza by Nahal Navidar also at EST/LA, The Charlie Play (also by Nahal Navidar) with The Vagrancy, Jacob Juntunen‘s Hath Taken Away at Theatricum Botanicum, and Brian James Polak‘s News for the Deaf Man with Moving Arts.  I love me some new play readings, but here’s hoping that some of those move on to full productions.  It’s easy to give a play a reading, but plays aren’t meant to be read, they’re meant to be performed.  I’ll happily go to bat for these plays and pitch them to your theatre, just say the word 🙂

Cast of Nahal Navidar's The Charlie Play

Robert Paterno, Megan Shao, Mary Ellen Schneider and Karina Wolfe in Nahal Navidar’s The Charlie Play – The Vagrancy

Cast, director, dramaturg, and playwright (via Skype) of Hath Taken Away at Theatricum Botanicum

Michael Hammond, Jackie Kiikvee, Caitlin Stegemoller, Doug Oliphant, Jennie Webb, and Jacob Juntunen (via Skype) – Hath Taken Away at Theatricum Botanicum

Cast, playwright and director of News for the Deaf Man at Moving Arts

Laura Buckles, Brian James Polak, Christopher Salazar, Tim Cummings, Andrew Robinson, Doug Oliphant and Kimberly Shelby-Szyszko – News for the Deaf Man – Moving Arts

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10 Months of Updates

Here’s a cool tune by The Donkey’s called Lower the Heavens.  Listen and read about what’s been happening in my world for the past 10 months:

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Matthew Bamberg-Johnson, William Reinbold and Christie Harms in Becket’s Honour

Back in September 2014, I created some movement and fight choreography on Gary Kechely and Kathleen Grode’s adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s Becket.  We produced a workshop production through Drive Theatre Company with a residency we received up at CalArts.  The adaptation was titled Becket’s Honour and explored gender through splitting Becket and King Henry into double-cast male and female parts.

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Mohamed Sidibay, host for the 2014 International Day of Peace

Also in September, or maybe October 2014, I got to direct a fancy event!  It was at the Capshaw/Spielberg Center for the Arts and Educational Justice in Santa Monica and the the folks at My HERO Project were celebrating their annual International Day of Peace.  Here’s a press release reflecting back on the event.

Sam Robards and Kate Burton in Arthur Miller’s classic drama “The Price” at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Directed by Garry Hynes, “The Price” plays February 11 through March 22, 2015. Opening is February 21.  For tickets and information, please visit CenterTheatreGroup.org or call (213) 628-2772. Contact: CTG Media and Communications (213) 972-7376 / CTGMedia@ctgla.org    Photo by Craig Schwartz

Sam Robards and Kate Burton in “The Price”.
Photo by Craig Schwartz

 

In January/February of this year, I had the privilege of assistant directing for the Tony Award-winning Garry Hynes on Center Theatre Group‘s production of Arthur Miller’s The Price.  It performed at the Mark Taper Forum at downtown LA’s Music Center and ran through March.  I also got to serve as fight consultant on the production.

 

 

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Kirsa Rein, Michael Hanson, Anne Yatco, Doug Oliphant, Sarah Brooke, Michael Evans Lopez, and Deborah Jensen.  Cast, playwright and director for The Forrester Period.

Back in March, I directed a reading of a new play by Kirsa Rein called The Forrester Period, about a woman and her process in dealing with having just lost her husband to cancer.  It was a part of The Blank Theatre’s Livingroom Series.

 

 

 

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Directors Lab West 2015

Culminating in May, I shed my Production Coordinator title and this year served as an Associate Producer for the 2015 Directors Lab West.  Our eight-day conference split time between Pasadena Playhouse, The Broad Stage, Boston Court Performing Arts Center, A Noise Within and CalState LA.  This was the largest group we’ve had in the 16 years the Lab has been in existence, and I had the privilege of moderating a talk with Alan Mandell for our SDC Open Session.

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Rachel Boller, Bob Telford (front) in What the F*ck? at the Hollywood Fringe Festival

For this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, I directed a collection of 26 1-2 minute plays written by members of the company Fierce Backbone in a show appropriately titled What The F*ck?  The show ran just under 55 minutes and had audience members using plastic hand clappers to applaud each mini-play, shout out vulgar phrases that were written on posters, and often jump up onstage with the performers.  There was absolutely no fourth wall, and it was delightful.

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First rehearsal for The Charlie Play in my apartment

Currently, I’m directing a reading of a new play by Nahal Navidar called The Charlie Play.  It performs August 2nd at 4pm at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre in Silverlake as a part of The Vagrancy‘s Blossoming series.  I’m also directing a two-part workshop/staged reading series for a new play by Brian Polak called News for the Deaf Man.  It will perform at a TBD date in September as a part of Moving Arts‘ MADLab series.  Then on October 17th at 8pm, an Italian-American themed evening of music and multimedia I’m directing will perform at the Boston Court Performing Arts Center in Pasadena.  Titled Attraverso il Mare, there will be music and stories from four Italian-American composers, and is a part of the ongoing Music @ Boston Court series.

I’ve got a few other projects and ideas in the works, more details on those if and when they come to fruition!

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LA Theatre, Equity and our Future

I emailed this letter to a couple close friends who have worked with Drive Theatre before, but I thought it useful to post it here for all other Equity members I know to read:

“Hey guys,

 I remember mentioning to you Will a few weeks ago about this Re-Imagine LA website that went up, aiming to spark conversation in the community to change/improve the structure that we all make our LA theatre in.  There’s been lots of griping and ups and downs with the content of the site, but it has sparked big conversations and they all led to Equity putting LA on the top of their to-do list.

There was a membership meeting held at their new offices in NoHo last Friday, with the main topic on the table being the 99-seat plan, aka the plan that reduces your pay to $7-11 per performance, demands you’re provided with water in the rehearsal room, you can perform for no more than 80 performances under that plan, work no more than 32 hours per week (I think…), and producers may charge no more than $34.99 per ticket.  There’s a handful of other rules, but those are the big ones.

I wanted to reach out to you guys cause you’re my closest Equity friends/co-workers and all these talks are super important, both to you and the other Equity members, as well as to me, Drive Theatre, and all the companies in LA, big or small.  There’s likely to be a vote at some point, and there definitely will be more membership meetings before anything is decided, and I, as a non-union person, have no direct voice, so I’m turning to you guys.  However you feel about all this, it’s important that you pay attention to what’s discussed and voice your opinion.

Personally, I’m really hoping all this can lead to the implementation of a new Equity contract that’ll require higher pay for its members and demand more professional working conditions during rehearsals and performance.  I’m hoping that that will in-turn start motivating small theatre companies in town who are already prolific and doing well for themselves in the LA theatre community (financially & artistically) to commit to operating under those higher-standard conditions, and will serve as a bridge for them to eventually move into mid-size houses that pay mid-size wages.  That means more employment for you, but of course I’m also hoping that also means more employment for directors like me.  At the same time, financially, I’m hoping that more companies following a more professional plan will also change the national reputation of LA theatre to something of professional excellence, which then I’m hoping will turn funders heads towards us and suddenly more money will enter into our theatre community, allowing the small companies to grow into larger ones, and the great ones of any size to sustain.

 I see all this right now as the beginning of what could be a massive snowball effect, where if it begins with the Equity contracts, the ripple effect will impact operating structures and other infrastructures that help shape a theatre community and we’ll find our way into a more financially sustainable theatre town than the one that currently exists…mainly through the giant hole of missing mid-size theatres.

Equally important, however, is that the 99-seat plan remain in some capacity for the smallest companies that have no income…*cough Drive Theatre cough*.  It’s the only way we can produce and even come close to breaking even on a production.  The plan could improve though, I think there could be fewer rehearsal hours/wk allowed for Equity members (32 or whatever the exact number is absurdly high for nearly free labor), max number of performances could be drastically reduced from 80, and max ticket price could also be lower.  Anyone charging $34.99 per ticket shouldn’t be using nearly free actor labor.

Those are my feelings, and sharing them with you is the most I can do.  But if this sparks any kind of feelings for you, spread the word to other Equity folks you know and get them fired up.  In short, tweak the 99-seat plan so it doesn’t abusively take advantage of the next-to-free labor and fight for either a new contract or a separate tier of the plan to pay you better and set higher standards (somewhere between the 99-seat plan and the contract mid-size theatres here use).

-Doug”
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One Year Later…

Last month, Scottish man Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit released a solo record under the name Owl John.  It’s another delicious trip through his gravely Scottish/American voice and a great blend of guitars, sounds, grit and finesse.  Check it out above, and below read on what’s been delightfully consuming my life for the past 10 months.

Eurydice, produced by Ophelia's Jump Productions in the beautiful 335-seat Seaver Theatre

Eurydice, produced by Ophelia’s Jump Productions in the beautiful 335-seat Seaver Theatre

Since the end of January, I’ve managed to go nonstop from project to project, some months working on as many as three at once.  May was one of those months, and my biggest project then was directing Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice for Inland Empire-based Ophelia’s Jump Productions in the gorgeous 335-seat Seaver Theatre.  This was a small theatre company producing in a mid-sized venue, and was my first time directing at the mid-size level.  I set out to direct a production of Eurydice that would highlight the story and give the audience a crystal-clear narrative to follow, while utilizing the design elements to further the plot as if they were each their own character in the show.  I was incredibly proud of the work the production and design team did to bring the show to life, and think we successfully moved audiences emotionally and inspired them visually.  Major accolades to scenic designer Joe Holbrook on his amazing ability to collaborate and his constant cross-checking decisions with every element of the script.  Kirsten Opstad created the perfect fusion with the set with her lights, Jacob Kaitz worked endlessly to create film-like soundscapes that made you believe in a world where traveling between the real world and the underworld was possible.  And Ophelia’s Jump Productions–Beatrice Casagran, Kevin Slay, Caitlin and Randy Lopez and the rest of their team–were all rockstars pulling off the seemingly impossible task of starting a new relationship with a college and producing a show in such a grand capacity.  I owe everyone the biggest thanks for being gifted with the opportunity to direct this show.  Thank you.

“Director Doug Oliphant made fantastic use of Pomona College’s Seaver Theater, creating an ethereal atmosphere with sounds and light and magical, surreal touches, including a rain-filled elevator, as well as all-too human touches and emotions.” -John Pixley, Queer3 (full review)

Larry Bates, Tracey A. Leigh and Brad Culver in South Coast Repertory Theatre's production of The Stinky Cheese Man

Larry Bates, Tracey A. Leigh and Brad Culver in South Coast Repertory Theatre’s production of The Stinky Cheese Man

While at night I was directing Eurydice in Claremont, during the day I was assisting the fabulous Jessica Kubzansky at South Coast Rep in Costa Mesa on John Glore’s brilliant adaptation of The Stinky Cheese Man!  Though I wasn’t previously familiar with the children’s book, many of my friends sure were and I quickly learned that this was a major childhood favorite for a lot of people.  The book rolls up a bunch of the classic fairy tales and turns them on their head–the Gingerbread Man is replaced by the Stinky Cheese Man (everyone runs away from him cause he smells so bad), Little Red Riding Hood is instead named Little Red Running Shorts (change of wardrobe and she beats the Wolf to Granny’s house), etc.  Really funny twists if you’re familiar with the classic fairy tales, and even if not, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.  The design team on this show were particularly incredible, especially Ann Closs-Farley and her ingenious puppet/costumes.  Both kids and adults seemed to love the show, and working with Jessica was a fantastic experience.

Mary Ellen Schneider and Robert Paterno in Allison Volk's Rite of Seymour

Mary Ellen Schneider and Robert Paterno in Allison Volk’s Rite of Seymour

Looking back a few more months, Drive Theatre Company presented the world premiere of Allison Volk‘s Rite of Seymour at Son of Semele Theatre in Silverlake, which I directed.  I was particularly passionate about encouraging Allison to continue writing plays (this was her first full-length, she has a collection of one-acts), and I thought Seymour was a great absurd comedy that balanced Allison’s brilliance at writing real-life absurd situations that are underlined with deep sincerity and humanity.  Through internal Drive Theatre readings, we developed the script with Allison and felt it was a perfect fit for our next full production.  I was particularly pleased with the humanity that Robert Paterno brought to a not-quite-human character and the love that blossomed in spite of all the absurdity.  This production was also the first Drive Theatre production with Kat Reinbold leading the producing charge as our company’s Managing Producer, and I can’t say it on enough social media platforms how much I love working with her and how important to Drive Theatre’s success she is.  Lynne Marie Martens did terrific work on costumes for Seymour, just as she had done previously for It Came From The _____!, as did Anna Cecilia Martin on lights.  The show was very well received, and we earned the coveted “100% Sweet” status from Bitter Lemons.

Bruce A. Lemon Jr, Clayton Farris and Lyndon Laveaux in the workshop production of Greg Machlin's Keith Haring:  Pieces of a Life

Bruce A. Lemon Jr, Clayton Farris and Lyndon Laveaux in the workshop production of Greg Machlin’s Keith Haring: Pieces of a Life

July and August brought about a development process for an exciting new play called Keith Haring:  Pieces of a Life by Greg Machlin.  The play is a sort of sci-fi twist on the biography of Keith Haring, the famous pop artist of the ’80s.  You follow The Man Who Knows Things and The Woman Who Knows as they time-travel back into Keith’s life to try and stop him from creating his art–which, as it turns out, happens to be creating a massive crack in the world with what the Man and Woman believe to be the apocalypse threatening to break through on the other side.  The fusion of sci-fi with realism this play hits make it wonderfully theatrical, and all throughout the play Keith is fighting to hold onto the things he’s most passionate about in his life, and that’s a premise I’ll support any day.

James McLindon, Isaac Wade, Amy Greenspan, William Reinbold, Constance Prang, Doug Oliphant and Megan Frances at The Blank Theatre

James McLindon, Isaac Wade, Amy Greenspan, William Reinbold, Constance Parng, Doug Oliphant and Megan Frances–the cast & crew of Good at The Blank Theatre

Other projects that happened including directing a reading of a new play by James McLindon for The Blank Theatre‘s living room series called Good (about 4 college students struggling to be good people who all cross paths through a top-secret term paper writing service), directing a reading of a new play by Cort Brinkerhoff for The Vagrancy‘s annual Blossoming workshop called The Turing Machine (a fictionalized version of the final moments of Alan Turing’s life), choreographing fights on Diamond Bar High School’s production of Pirates of Penzance (kids with swords…aaaah!), and serving as Production Coordinator for the 15th annual Directors Lab West at Pasadena Playhouse (which I sadly couldn’t actually attend in-person this year as I was in the middle of both Eurydice and Stinky Cheese Man, but I did all the work leading up to the event).  I also directed a 10-minute play by Cort Brinkerhoff in The Vagrancy’s 24-hour Play Fest and led a movement workshop for Ophelia’s Jump Productions, open to their company members, students at Pomona College and members of the Claremont community.  Needless to say, I’ve been busy.

My Hero International Day of Peace

My Hero International Day of Peace

Up next, I’m doing movement direction on a workshop production/adaptation of Jean Anouilh’s Becket up at CalArts–a co-production between CalArts and Drive Theatre Company.  I’ll be choreographing a few key moments in the play as well as working with an ensemble of eight to create choral movement and folio sounds to underscore the show.  Completely unrelated to that, later this week I’ll be directing an event for the MY HERO Project at the Moss Theatre in the Capshaw-Spielberg Center for the Arts and Educational Justice in Santa Monica, celebrating the International Day of Peace.  A few other upcoming projects are in the works, but more to come once those take a more definitive shape!

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Poets, Earthquakes, Zagazoos, SEALs, Quitters & Aswangs

Currently digging this song by Groove Armada called ‘At The River’.  Thanks Pandora.

I’ve had it in my head that I haven’t been up to too much lately because I don’t have a full production I’m directing at the moment.  But in trying to come up with a title for this update, I realize that’s pretty far from the truth–the truth is that I’ve actually been up to a whole heck of a lot lately, and juggling all these projects is just as all-consuming, if not more so, as directing a full production.  Here’s what’s been happening lately:

Cast & crew of The Poet and The Frog along with the Fresh Produce'd LA team

Cast & crew of The Poet and The Frog along with the Fresh Produce’d LA team

Back in September I directed a workshop of a short, 10-minute play called The Poet and The Frog by Gene Griffith.  It was a part of Fresh Produced‘s monthly workshops where they provide 3 chosen playwrights (for a nominal fee) each month a team of actors and a director to workshop up to a 20-page chunk of text of a new play and put it up at The Actors Company in West Hollywood.  Gene wrote a whimsical story about a poet who sought a way to distribute his poetry so people would read and appreciate it.  This was my first time being involved with the Fresh Produce’d team, and I found them to be a great group of hard-working professionals who offer a unique service to playwrights.  Cool beans.

Doug Oliphant and Kathleen Holland in Mary Steelsmith's <em>5:15am Ocean Avenue</em>

Doug Oliphant and Kathleen Holland in Mary Steelsmith’s 5:15am Ocean Avenue

Back in early October, I performed in a 10-minute play called 5:15am Ocean Avenue by Mary Steelsmith.  The play was performed along with four other 10-minute plays that evening, and was the third ‘wave’ in Santa Monica Rep‘s ‘Wave Fest’, where they mounted a total of 15 new 10-minute plays written about or around the theme of Santa Monica, California.  Like with Fresh Produce’d, this was another great, unique offering, where audiences got to learn more about the city they live in and 15 local playwrights got their work produced.  The play explored a fictional situation between two people who dislike each other but set their differences aside just minutes after the 1994 Northridge earthquake.  I played David, a gay man with a worsening case of Kaposi’s Sarcoma, whose partner is hospitalized and also dying of AIDs.  Quite a different role than I’ve ever played in the past, but I was excited for the challenge.  Mary wrote a touching play that accomplished a full journey in just 10 minutes–no easy task.  It was a lovely experience and I’m excited to see how Santa Monica Rep continues to engage in unique ways with Santa Monican audiences.

Whitney Rodriguez, Jennice Butler and Zach Schwartz in rehearsal for <em>Zagazoo</em>. Puppets by Park Cofield

Whitney Rodriguez, Jennice Butler and Zach Schwartz in rehearsal for Zagazoo. Puppets by Park Cofield

Nine days ago, I began rehearsals for the US premiere of Zagazoo by Quentin Blake, adapted by Mike Kenny.  Like I did last year around this same time, I’m traveling with the rest of the cast & crew up to Mammoth Lakes, California to perform at Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre for a week.  Kids from local schools will be bused in for performances during the week, and we’ll have one public performance for the Mammoth Lakes community on the weekend.  This year I’m just acting in the show, but Park Cofield, our director and puppet designer will lead the kids in post-show puppetry workshops that I and the other actors will also help to lead.  The puppets Park has created are terrific, and I’ve been learning all about puppetry over these last nine days.  The show is shaping up nicely, the puppets are beginning to really come to life, and I think we’re going to have a really great show to present next week.  Plus of course, a week-long vacation in snow-covered Mammoth with a day of snowboarding planned in the trip doesn’t hurt!

Drive Theatre folks gathered for a peer-pitch/reading of Doug Oliphant's Navy SEAL adaptation of <em>Macbeth</em>

Drive Theatre folks gathered for a peer-pitch/reading of Doug Oliphant’s Navy SEAL adaptation of Macbeth

Last Monday I organized through Drive Theatre Company a peer-pitch and reading of my adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  I’ve been kicking this idea around for quite some time now, and in short, Macbeth is the man who shot and killed Osama Bin Laden and the Witches are news reporters.  The story focuses on the PTSD effects that a veteran has to live with after war, and when coupled with media pressure and American sensationalism, what it could potentially drive someone to do.  I had the second draft of my script ready for the reading, pitched using images and videos displayed on a TV monitor from a Pinterest Board I made, and then got feedback.  The idea seemed to be generally appealing to the group of 15 I had gathered, though the Shakespeare purists had the harshest criticism.  One note in particular I found especially useful:  Remove the story from 100% reality and you save yourself the never-ending struggle of matching up Shakespearean events to real-world events.  So true.  In future drafts, I plan to use the events of the US Navy SEAL Team 6 raid on the Bin Laden compound as inspiration, rather than a literal event in the play–which was how I had things currently.  That leaves room for audiences to draw their own parallels if they see them and relieves them from saying, “Wait, that could never happen”.  I’d never done a peer-pitch before, but the idea seemed right to me, rather than rushing into a production or a pitch at a professional theatre.  It’s a great way to work out the issues in your current vision and gain support from your peers–highly recommend it to any directors with a vision.

Crystal Clark, Keri Safran, Andrew Crabtree and Adam Jefferis in a reading of Larry Pontius' <em>Quitter</em>

Crystal Clark, Keri Safran, Andrew Crabtree and Adam Jefferis in a reading of Larry Pontius’ Quitter

This past Saturday, we had the first of two readings of Quitter, a new play by Larry Pontius, directed by me.  It was produced in The Skylight Theatre‘s Lab Works New Play Festival, where they provide performance and rehearsal space for playwrights to develop their plays, either in readings like this, or in staged workshop productions.  Quitter is about a guy named Doug who claims to be ‘The Guy Who Throws The Parties’.  He throws Neil Patrick Harris-worthy legen–wait for it–dary parties, except the last few he’s thrown he’s been a little off his game.  The play begins on the scene of his most epic party yet–a Hawaiian luau complete with full pig on a spit over an open fire in the street.  Eric, the self-proclaimed ‘Life Of The Party’ arrives, but immediately learns he’s the only guest there and tries to leave, but Alice, Doug’s wife spots him and forces him to stay.  She’s desperately trying to keep Doug unaware that everyone RSVP’d ‘Maybe’ but Eric spills the beans eventually and Doug deems himself a failure.  Hilarity, humanity, farce and revelation ensue.  Rewrites will continue to happen and the play will evolve over the next three weeks, gearing up for a second performance and talkback on November 16th.

Skylight Theatre's Lab Works New Play Festival

Skylight Theatre’s Lab Works New Play Festival

Also a part of Skylight Theatre’s Lab Works Fest, I’ll be doing movement direction on the workshop production of Boni Alvarez’ new play Bloodletting.  Bloodletting is a story about a Filipino-American brother and sister who have traveled to the Philippines to spread the ashes of their father.  They find themselves seeking shelter in a small cafe, when they’re confronted by a living, breathing aswang–aka a witch.  Leelee, the aswang (an 18-year-old girl), tells the sister, Farrah, that she too is an aswang, and the play culminates in an accidental-use-of-power by Farrah in a fight with Leelee.  It’ll be my job to define how a Filipino aswang moves, what their powers look like, and how two people can fight with them.  That opens on Saturday, December 7th and plays just that weekend and next–catch it if you can!

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The Sound of Silence World Premiere

This music has nothing to do with the show, I just really dig the new album by Frightened Rabbit.  The album is called Pedestrian Verse and the song is ‘Late March, Death March’.  Enjoy.

Vince Dalba as Robert Graham in the world premiere of Travis Snyder-Eaton's <em> The Sound of Silence </em>

Vince Dalba as Robert Graham in the world premiere of Travis Snyder-Eaton’s The Sound of Silence

This past weekend, The Sound of Silence, a new play by Travis Snyder-Eaton opened in OC-Centric, Orange County’s New Play Festival hosted by Chapman University.  The show was one of four new plays that was mounted in the third incarnation of this new play festival.  I like a lot of things about this–it being hosted by Chapman University means that acting students have the opportunity to audition, be cast and work together with professionals from Orange County and Los Angeles.  It also means that those students will be originating roles in a brand new play that has the potential to be remounted elsewhere, and they could find themselves with a leg up in the professional world after graduation if they continue on with the production.  The festival is also doing something unique for Orange County, by limiting their playwright applicants to those with addresses within the OC, they’re uniting the OC theatre community and telling the stories that people who reside within their borders want to tell.  My congrats to Tamiko Washington (artistic director, producer) and Eric Eberwein (producer) for making this happen.

Laura Zenoni as Anna Hendrix and Vince Dalba as Robert Graham in the world premiere of Travis Snyder-Eaton's <em> The Sound of Silence </em>

Laura Zenoni as Anna Hendrix and Vince Dalba as Robert Graham in the world premiere of Travis Snyder-Eaton’s The Sound of Silence

The Sound of Silence had a terrific opening, playing to a nearly sold-out audience who greeted the comedy with enthusiastic laughter and the dramatic turn halfway through with gasps and “uh oh”s.  Though the dialogue portion of the play held its own, there’s no doubt that people responded best to the silent portion of the play–Travis’ narrative through physical movement is so clear and so spot-on with the style of 1920’s silent films, that the audience was transfixed watching a story play out in this new (old) way.  What direction the play goes in in the future and if/when it will receive its next production remains to be seen.  If anyone reading my blog could point me in the direction of an LA-based theatre or producing company (or NYC, or Chicago, or elsewhere!) that might be interested in producing The Sound of Silence, I would love to talk with them.  Here’s the info on the show:

Jack Paul Clark as Joseph Steinbeck and Laura Zenoni as Anna Hendrix in the world premiere of Travis Snyder-Eaton's <em> The Sound of Silence </em>

Jack Paul Clark as Joseph Steinbeck and Laura Zenoni as Anna Hendrix in the world premiere of Travis Snyder-Eaton’s The Sound of Silence

Synopsis:

“A play about love and love lost, with the first half performed like a silent film and the second half performed with dialogue. Robert, a Keaton-esque character, falls in love with Anna, the woman of his dreams right as America enters World War II. Pearl Harbor is bombed, Robert is drafted … and the world is no longer the same. Will they ever see each other again? A story that says silence is golden, but love is pure.”

Reviews:

“Pasadena Playhouse’s revival of “Stoneface” may have been postponed, but “The Sound of Silence,” which is almost certain to put a smile on the face of every silent comedy fan, can be seen this week…it’s largely a live silent movie, triumphantly directed by Doug Oliphant, pantomimed and danced to an onstage organist; Vince Dalba and Laura Zenoni are pure delight in the leading roles.” -Jordan Young, The Examiner (full review)

“But the way Snyder-Eaton relays the story is inventive and crafted exquisitely well. The two wordless scenes are quasi-mirror images of the other, but where the first is exuberantly over the top, the second is far more somber; without saying an actual word, Snyder-Eaton insightfully portrays the difference between youthful infatuation and the more pragmatic reality of love in the wake of loss.” -Joel Beers, OC Weekly (full review)

Eleanor Nunez as the Pianist in the world premiere of Travis Snyder-Eaton's <em> The Sound of Silence </em>

Eleanor Nunez as the Pianist in the world premiere of Travis Snyder-Eaton’s The Sound of Silence

Technical requirements:

  • Minimum 25′ wide stage (proscenium ideal, wider is better to accomodate piano)
  • Minimum 17′ deep stage
  • Minimum 13′ high ceiling (height from ground to lowest-hanging light)
  • Set needs 2 stand-alone doors, one of which can fall, 1 “house” or house-like flat which can fall, at least 2 entrances & exits into the stage space
  • A seperate budget for props, approx. 40 props
  • A piano
  • A projector

Other things to note:

  • 9 actors in cast–4 leads, 4 ensemble, 1 pianist (could be done with as few as 2 ensemble)
  • Family-friendly, no profanity
  • Current run-time with no intermission:  55 minutes (could be expanded in future re-writes)
  • Click Here for more production photos
  • Original Cast:  Vince Dalba (Robert Graham), Laura Zenoni (Anna Hendrix), Paul Jasser (Raymond Myers/Jack O’Neill), Jack Paul Clark (Joseph Steinbeck), Eleanor Nunez (Pianist), Matthew Domenico, Angelia Formisano, David Glazer, Emily Jacobson (Ensemble)

I would love to share this production with you, but only 2 performances remain:  Saturday, 8/24 at 8pm and Sunday, 8/25 at 2pm.  Tickets are $20 and can be reserved by calling 714-902-5716.  Parking info can be found here:  http://occentric.weebly.com/parking.html

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SubUrbia – Opening Night

Two months ago, this production was just an idea with a remote possibility of becoming a reality.  But the stars have aligned, and what’s been Michael Hanson‘s dream project for the last 3 years is finally coming true in real life tonight at Pacific Resident Theatre.

Alex Urbom as Buff with Caitlin Beitel as Sooze & Justin Preston as Jeff in Eric Bogosian's SubUrbia at Pacific Resident Theatre

Alex Urbom as Buff with Caitlin Beitel as Sooze & Justin Preston as Jeff in Eric Bogosian’s SubUrbia at Pacific Resident Theatre

Produced through PRT’s Co-Op, the project was given a $1,000 budget which was to cover ALL production expenses outside of rights, the post-card mailing to the theatre’s subscribers and the use of the space.  Every penny of that budget has been stretched, favors have been pulled, people have volunteered their time and offered up their connections to other theatres so we could borrow flats, props, lights, artistic directors?!, and much more.  What’s come as a result is an impressive, professional-looking set and lighting design, with appropriate costumes, every prop called for in the script (including TONS of consumables) and a beautiful soundscape that all work in harmony to transport you to suburban America.  We’re considered a “workshop production”, so reviews are not allowed…you’ll have to see it and judge the quality yourself.

Tania Getty as Erica & Michael Hanson as Tim in Eric Bogosian's SubUrbia at Pacific Resident Theatre

Tania Getty as Erica & Michael Hanson as Tim in Eric Bogosian’s SubUrbia at Pacific Resident Theatre

Hazel Kuang designed the set, Justin Preston the lights, Corwin Evans the sound.  Brenna Canelli has been steering the ship as stage manager since day one, with Michael Malconian aiding as ASM/Prop Master, Cristina Bejarano as assistant set designer and Joshua Davis as assistant lighting designer.  Ann Bronston and Michael Hanson were producers, and Michael gets a special shout out as I’ve never worked on a production that’s been produced as smoothly and efficiently as this one, and Michael’s solely responsible for that.  Well done, sir and congratulations.  Additional thanks to Nav Mann, David Mauer, Bill Wilday, Keith Stevenson, Alex Fernandez, Bryan Kent, Marilyn Fox, Jen Lownsay, Lia Kozatch, Jenell Manzi, John Flynn, Helga Schier, Brad Greenquist, Dalia Vosilius, Bill Lithgow, Lesley Williams, Terry Davis, Richard Fancy, Miguel Flores, Sally Smythe, Nancy Linehan Charles, Sue Altman, Matt & Tiggy McKenzie, and Scott Jackson.

Marley McClean as BeeBee & Alex Urbom as Buff in Eric Bogosian's SubUrbia at Pacific Resident Theatre

Marley McClean as BeeBee & Alex Urbom as Buff in Eric Bogosian’s SubUrbia at Pacific Resident Theatre

Anyone who’s familiar with the show (or Eric Bogosian‘s writing in general) knows that the play is first and foremost driven by the actors.  The characters are all richly complex and the scenes are loaded with unspoken narrative, so without a cast capable of the physiological depths the characters demand, the play will not work.  Thankfully, we’ve assembled one of the best looking and most talented casts I’ve ever worked with.  Those sexy and gifted actors include Caitlin Beitel, John Dittrick, Tania Getty, Michael Hanson, Marley McClean, Justin Preston, Amro Salama, Alex Urbom, Tania Verafield, and Sara Lynn Wright.  Way to meet the challenge guys, and then some.

The cast of Eric Bogosian's SubUrbia at Pacific Resident Theatre

The cast of Eric Bogosian’s SubUrbia at Pacific Resident Theatre

Skip Mercier, my design teacher at the National Theater Institute once said, “I’m not good, I’m only as good as any collaboration I’ve ever been a part of.”  That statement seems to be particularly applicable to this show.  Each individual person who’s lent their talents to this production has helped make every other person working on this show look good.  There’s been such solid commitment and talent on everyone’s part from start to finish, and the end result is something we should all be proud of.  So congratulations to all my fellow collaborators on this show, I hope to work with you again very soon.  And to my friends, colleagues, and the professionals I admire and look up to, I hope you’ll be able to make it out to the show.

SubUrbia:  Thursdays – Saturdays, 8pm, Sundays, 3pm.  June 6 – June 23, 2013.  Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice, CA 90291.  For tickets ($15 suggested donation), call (310) 822-8392 or BUY ONLINE.

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Monsters, Directors Labs and Cabarets, Oh My!

Here’s one of the many lovely Pandora music discoveries I’ve made recently that seems to fit the current state of my life.  The band is called Phantogram, song’s called When I’m Small.

Projects update time!  2013 has brought a bunch of small projects my way, some that have now passed and some that still lie ahead.  Here’s what’s been going on:

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The Monster (this time, from the caves) in Theatre Mab Town Hall’s It Came From The ______!

In March, I performed as The Monster in a new choose-your-own-play called It Came From The ______!, written by Kathleen M. Reinbold and produced by Theatre Mab Town Hall as a part of Son Of Semele’s SOSE Host program.  I happily stretched my movement muscles in the role and created my own animal walk modeled after a sort of chicken-creature.  The “bokoks” of the chicken-creature allowed the character to have a voice of sorts, and made for an absurd monster-killer.  The show was well-received and I hope it has subsequent reincarnations.  Personally, I think it would be a great addition to any regularly-producing theatre’s lineup as a late-night, after-the-mainstage-show production.  Click here to read the press release.  More pictures from the show can be found on the Photos page.

The Ruby Besler Cabaret - Coming to The Hollywood Fringe Festival June 2013

The Ruby Besler Cabaret – Coming to The Hollywood Fringe Festival June 2013

Prior to that, I signed on as the director for a new show from the mind of actress Anastasia Barnes, adapted from the 9-part webseries The Ruby Besler Show, now titled The Ruby Besler Cabaret.  The webseries features Ruby Besler, a fictional 1940’s Broadway star who hosts a television show where she gives advice to women on how to embrace and make the most out of their ladiness.  The live show takes that character and puts her in the context of the underground cabaret scene, where supported by sexy burlesque dancers and her pianist Dorothy, she shares her life story, filled with cheeky humor and razzle dazzle.  Since January I’ve been developing the script, helping to guide Anastasia along the crazy road that is producing for the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  The show will have a preview Tuesday, June 11th at 10pm, and will open officially Friday, June 14th at 7pm at The Elephant Space at Theatre Asylum.  This is certainly a very different kind of production for me to work on, but with Anastasia’s brilliant comedic abilities and the allure of the 1940’s cabaret vibe, it should shape up to be a sexy, silly, fringey evening.

Doug Oliphant, Cindy Marie Jenkins & actress Lena Gwendolyn Hill on La La Land

Doug Oliphant, Cindy Marie Jenkins & actress Lena Gwendolyn Hill on La La Land

Also in the development process is the 14th annual Directors Lab West for which I serve as Production Coordinator.  The Steering Committee and I started meeting back in October of 2012 technically, but after the new year, meetings get more frequent and there’s much more work to be done.  Back in February, Steering Committee member Cindy Marie Jenkins and I were guests on LA Talk Live’s La La Land, a nationally broadcast radio show that features LA-based artists.  We talked about the Lab, shared some personal stories of our own significant memories in years’ past and encouraged theatre directors and choreographers from around the country (or world!) to apply.  This year’s Lab will once again be supported by the SDC and hosted by The Pasadena Playhouse, running from 10am – 10pm May 18-25.  To get an idea of what the Lab is like, check out these articles I wrote with Dani Oliver last year for LA Stage Alliance’s LA Stage Times.

Choreographing fights for White Hot with The Vagrancy

Choreographing fights for White Hot with The Vagrancy

There have been a number of small projects that have come my way recently.  I wrote an article recapping an LA Stage Talks event focusing on Professionalism in the American Theatre for LA Stage Times.  I choreographed fights for an independent 2-minute sci-fi short film that’s to be filmed in the next few weeks.  I choreographed fights and movement for the trailer of The Vagrancy‘s upcoming Fringe production of Tommy Smith‘s White Hot (which I will also be choreographing fights for the actual stage production in June).  I’ve been seeing a lot of theatre lately, getting some quality snowboarding and dog time in, and trying to enjoy the other parts of life while I’m not immersed in a big project.

Coming up on April 19/20th, I’ll be directing a 10-minute play as a part of The Vagrancy’s 24-Hour Play Festival, “Rituals: A Bacchanalia”.  I won’t know whose play I’ll be directing, but the participating playwrights are Tim Cummings, Jami Brandli, Boni B. Alvarez, Andie Bottrell, Chelsea Sutton, Megan Breen & Cort Brinkerhoff.  I’ll also continue working with playwright Annette Lee on her work-in-progress play at the start of May, the final step before she completes the play and we have “Blossoming”–a full workshop with actors and a scripts-in-hand performance in July.

Also, I updated most of my slider images to much more recent shots of me/productions I’ve been a part of.  AND, I finally added photos from Behind Closed Doors – A 2nd Class Cabaret, the new musical I was a part of its initial workshop production in 2011–took a long time for those photos to be released, but check them out on the Photos page.

Lots of small projects lately, though I’m in the very beginning stages of *rights/permission pending* my next rock-album-to-stage adaptation project, which if it works out, will be quite a big and artistically satisfying project.  More on that and other potential projects once they go from potential to definite!

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2012: A Year of Accomplishments

The Flaming Lips – Fight Test.  The first track from their album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, as well as the opening number in the new musical that recently premiered at La Jolla Playhouse under the same name.  The show was thrilling, and the song puts me back in the first scene every time I listen to it.  Can’t wait to see how this new musical will evolve, where it will end  up, and how many future rock albums-turned-musicals will follow.

Karina Wolfe as Lyndon B. Johnson in 44 Plays for 44 Presidents

Karina Wolfe as Lyndon B. Johnson in 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, Photo by Adam Emperor Southard

Every year since I moved to LA, I fly back to Connecticut for the holidays and on that plane ride across the country, I write a list of accomplishments from the past year.  That includes things I felt were accomplishments in both my professional and personal life, as they are equally important.  After I write that list, I write a list of realistic goals I want to accomplish in the next year.  Then, I pull out my old notebook from the previous year and put either a check, a dash, or a N/A next to each item, depending on if I accomplished it, failed to accomplish it, or if my interests have changed and it’s no longer relevant.  For me, this is a great way to stay motivated while on this crazy journey that is a theatre director’s life.  I can see my progress I’ve made each year by reflecting back on what I’ve done, even if in my day-to-day life I feel like I’m not doing enough.  I can also see if there were things I failed to accomplish, and think back on why I didn’t accomplish them, and choose to either accomplish them in the following year by adjusting my strategy in how I pursue them, or dropping the goal if that’s no longer something I wish to achieve.  For anyone of any career path, I’d recommending doing this for yourself.  Everyone works a little differently, but we all need motivation to keep moving forward, and there’s no better motivation than checking in on how well or poorly you’re doing, and creating a plan of action to improve or stay strong on the same path.

Anthony Storwick, Taylor Calmus and I in Bluenose at Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre

Anthony Storwick, Taylor Calmus and I in Bluenose at Mammoth Lakes Repertory Theatre

This year however, I changed up the format for how I went about creating my list of accomplishments.  For the first year since I’ve been in LA, I felt like this year I made significant progress in the areas I wanted to make progress in.  I did things I wanted to do MULTIPLE times, and with a wide variety of collaborators.  So rather than list the individual accomplishments, I categorized everything and created a list of stats.  I’ll post my professional list here not simply for bragging rights, but in the hopes that you might try out the end-of-year-accomplishments-list yourself and add a little more motivation for whatever you’re pursuing:

  • Percentage of total yearly income that came from creative theatre jobs:  12.5%
  • Different theatres/companies/organizations I worked with:  12
  • Productions I choreographed fights for:  7
  • Positive reviews received from various jobs:  6
  • Different cities/regions worked in:  5
  • New plays read for O’Neill National Playwright’s Conference:  5
  • Workshops in movement/physical comedy taught:  4
  • Productions I choreographed movement for:  3
  • Full productions acted in:  3
  • Full productions directed:  2
  • Songs adapted into theatre scenes written:  2
  • New play readings with public performances directed:  2
  • New play readings privately developed with playwright:  2
  • New play readings with private performances acted in:  2
  • New play readings with public performances acted in:  2
  • New musicals (workshop/reading) assistant directed:  1
  • National festivals participated in:  1
  • Music videos directed and choreographed:  1
  • Full productions produced:  1
  • Director’s pitches made to outside theatre companies:  1

There it is.  Quite pleased with how 2012 played out, though it sets the bar high for 2013.  With any luck opportunities will keep coming my way and I will inch my way a little closer to sustaining myself 100% through creative theatre jobs.  Keep motivated!

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