Monday, November 24, 2008

Now That It's Over

I want to share a lesson I learned as a producer this time. You might want to write this down or bookmark this page. Learn how to pick your people.

Let me give you an example from casting. You have two people come in and audition for the same role. One isn't as talented as the other but is easier to work with in the casting session. The other actor is talented, talks the talk and sounds great but is tougher to work with. Let's say your director meets this actor first (and I'm not really talking about actors from our show) and sees the talent and listens to the sales pitch and is sold. The director comes to you and tells you how great this actor is and how much you're going to love this person. You meet the person, expecting to love the person, and are pleased by what you see in the portfolio -- er, audition -- and how much research has gone into this actor's work for this role. Wow! That's pretty keen. The actor is very effusive with you. It looks like this might work out.

Okay, I'm not really talking about actors at all. Let's drop the charade. Your designer (that's nice and vague, right?) seems like a wonderful person. As an actor, you drop a couple hundred on the table to pay for some pieces this designer is supposed to design so you can keep them later because that's how much confidence you have in this person based on recommendation and what you've seen in the research. You offer assistance and assistants for the months leading up to the show so this person isn't overwhelmed and so everything gets done. You offer shopping help since you know the places to get deals on things for this kind of show. You help when allowed by the designer, providing hours of service, comfort and chocolate. You take home things to help lighten the load when you should be working on your lines, but as a producer you have to make sure it gets done. You spend time at your day job fielding phone calls so the work is done by opening night. You defend this person when she attacks your theatre executives on more than one occasion, and you bite your lip and let it slide when she says the executives are out to sabotage the production three days before opening when you have nearly nothing to show for your personal financial investment. The executives are out to sabotage it? Really?

That's not all, folks. As an actor, you wind up in a hoodie for the dress rehearsal because your costume isn't done. There are finishing touches to be done on other costumes but there's one person (you) who doesn't have anything to wear for most of an act of the play. You've gotten sick from the stress of the thing and never took the initiative to take the reigns, seize the materials and do it yourself because you thought this person might deliver without upsetting more people. Opening night you have something to wear. You spend time every weekend making repairs to your costume, finishing things that weren't done. Other actresses in the show have to do the same thing. This person has worked out wonderfully as a stylist for two photo shoots to promote the show, but not so much in building costumes by a deadline.

And right before the show closes, you are dissed by your costume designer to the director, fellow actors and random people you've never met. You're called insistent because you wanted to make sure the materials purchased were actually used. (There isn't a money hose in non-profit theatre to run out and buy more fabric when the designer jumps ship on a design.) You're picked on for asking if a costume could be in another color long before materials were purchased, fine with a different color being used if necessary but being told by the designer at the time that it wasn't a problem at all. (Remember, you're paying for the materials so this request isn't that uncalled for.) You're also accused of changing the costume yourself at the last minute before opening night. Gee, that would've been possible if you actually had a costume! Your director and theatre executives have been ragged on and ranted about and your photographer has been reamed. All of these people are working for free, and the stress is really unnecessary. You feel like you've been attacked by a rabid dog.

So, in closing, I've learned to pay attention to my people training. I know how to choose my people but I have to remember to apply what I know. It's always been my policy to go with the person who is easier to work with and may or may not be as talented.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


The run of Pin-Up Girls is now officially half-over. Last night was our biggest night yet; we were oversold by two seats! We actually had to bring in folding chairs. The after show ("The High Jinks Burlesque") was nearly sold out. I think we had one or two empty seats.

So here's the deal: If you want to see this show, MAKE YOUR RESERVATIONS NOW! The last weeks of any show's run are always the busiest. You can buy tickets through Goldstar, Brown Paper Tickets, or just call our ticket hotline and reserve your seats to pay in cash on the day of the show.

We will not extend the run! The Avery Schreiber is booked up after our run ends. Sunday, the 23rd of November, we're pulling down the walls of the High Jinks and putting the costumes in storage. But today the play is alive, and we welcome you in to our house! is your source for ticket details, times, etc. Our ticket hotline is (818) 849-4039.

“The principles offer lovely performances.”
Steven Leigh Morris – LA Weekly, October 2008

“An intriguing tale of what love means to people and how they show it, Theatre Unleashed’s production of Pin-Up Girls features fine acting and production work.”
Mary Mallory – The Tolucan Times, October 2008

“Acting is uniformly excellent…”
Mary Mallory – The Tolucan Times, October 2008

"[A] poignant reflection on relationships pulled apart by time and circumstance ..."
Philip Brandes – The Los Angeles Times, November 2008

"Moore's nostalgic affection for the tough-talking gals of the 1940s is obvious. With so many men shipped off to fight overseas, the six well-delineated strippers of San Francisco's Hi Jinks club have no one but themselves to rely on."
Philip Brandes – The Los Angeles Times, November 2008

Friday, November 07, 2008

Originally posted on 6 November 2008, at In The Extreme:

"... a poignant reflection on relationships pulled apart by time and circumstance ..."


This is the second review I've received in the Los Angeles Times, and the second time I felt the reviewer got what I was doing. This is the fairest, most clear-headed review so far. It's not entirely congratulatory, nor should it be. The reviewer does an outstanding job of pointing out what actually needs work, rather than offering up a smug "I didn't like it" in purple prose.

He's right about the subplots. I was going for something more than a mere love triangle, and I do feel that I weave things together nicely in the end. But as I've mentioned before (on Mad Theatrics, if not here) I'm struggling to maintain a certain economy of writing, and it's a struggle that I haven't fully won. To be soberly honest, there are still cuts to be made, and they reside exclusively with the subplots.

I have learn much about this show, watching it every night since it opened. There is definitely another draft in me. But please forgive me for being elated about this review; as a writer, I have a blurb. A blurb! From the Times!

(The Times reviewer also caught the line of dialogue early in the play that firmly sets the location as San Francisco, a minor point that escaped the LA Weekly reviewer. I do so appreciate it when critics reviewing my work bother to listen to what the actors are saying.)
Romance on the home front

Amid the backstage antics of the World War II-era burlesque hall depicted in writer-director Andrew Moore's "Pin-Up Girls," there's a tight little tenderhearted romance percolating somewhere. But coaxing it from this new play's ambitious but often muddled initial outing at NoHo's Avery Schreiber Theatre will take some doing.

Moore's nostalgic affection for the tough-talking gals of the 1940s is obvious. With so many men shipped off to fight overseas, the six well-delineated strippers of San Francisco's Hi Jinks club have no one but themselves to rely on. As Helen, the most fiercely independent of the bunch, Pamela Moore parlays experience in both theater and burlesque choreography into a thoroughly convincing portrait of hardhearted survival. Having recently contracted a venereal disease, Helen finds her past innocence colliding with her jaded present when her onetime lover, a disabled vet named Scotty (Seth Caskey), unexpectedly returns from the war, bent on rekindling their romance.

Their awkward reunion is a poignant reflection on relationships pulled apart by time and circumstance, further complicated by the fact that Helen's roommate and fellow dancer, Ruby (Sarah Cook), has long carried a secret torch for Scotty.

These sympathetic lead performances notwithstanding, the triangle at the core of the piece is overrun by too many subplots involving the other eight characters, some of which lapse into caricature.

The antique prop-laden set by Starlet Jacobs and Christine Guilmette's eye-catching costumes add a period feel, though it clashes with occasional anachronistic dialogue that begs for careful scrubbing.

-- Philip Brandes "Pin-Up Girls," Avery Schreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays. Ends Nov. 23. $20. (818) 849-4039. Running time: 2 hours.
Click here to see the review on the LA Times website.

The Tolucan Times Review

Originally posted on 30 October 2008, at In The Extreme:

(l to r) Sylvia Anderson as "Lottie", Alana Dietze as "Wilma, and Pamela Moore as "Helen." Photo by Chris Cortez.

Another good review, this time from a paper much more local to North Hollywood, where the play is being produced (Toluca Lake is a bordering township.)

Mallory reviewed the play at face value, rather than projecting any preconceived notions or outside baggage onto it, and for that I am thankful. I would disagree with her point about "too many subplots." You can count the subplots on one hand, they all resolve, and the play is an hour and forty-five minutes long. For a play as fast-paced as "Pin-Up Girls" anything less would make the show seem simplistic. There's a wonderful weaving of these subplots into the main plot towards the end of Act II that makes any perceived chaos worth the trouble to keep up.

The misidentification of one of the romantic leads is a bit disappointing. Lauren Burns turns in a wonderfully layered and understated performance as Tillie; she really sucker-punches you with the reality of her character's story late in Act II. (I've been intimately involved in this project forever, and have seen the show more times than I care to recall right now. Sunday night, her final scene brought tears to my eyes.) But it is indeed Sarah Cook, as the pining pilot Ruby who "nurses a true love for Scotty."
"Pin-Up Girls" Takes Off On Love

by Mary Mallory

An intriguing tale of what love means to people and how they show it, Theatre Unleashed's production of "Pin-Up Girls" features fine acting and production work.

The play focuses on the daily struggles of the members of a burlesque troupe struggling through romance, sexual identity, and work issues. Helen (Pamela Moore), is in a relationship with Scotty (Seth Caskey) who is away overseas during World War II, realizes that she wants excitement and not steadiness in romantic relationships. Her troupe mate Tillie (Lauren Burns), contrary to Helen, nurses a true love for Scotty.

Writer/Director Andrew Moore keeps the action moving and realistically brings to life the irritations and closeness of any performing troupe, but it occasionally seems disjointed with too many subplots going on and one character that seems to have escaped from a Saturday Night Live skit.

Acting is uniformly excellent, with outstanding work by Moore, Caskey, and Burns. Moore goes full throttle as the hard charging yet emotional Helen. Caskey touchingly underplays the wounded vet Scotty, positive and steady through turmoil. Burns brings sweetness and vulnerability to the warmhearted, loving Tillie.

Starlet Jacobs' set design is a wonder to behold, a cluttered, busy dressing room. Christine Guilmette's gorgeous costumes and hair wonderfully capture the 1940s.
Bringing to life the dramatic and hilarious goings-on backstage to comment on how values impact the choices we make, "Pin-Up Girls" provides an entertaining look at the big changes brought on by World War II.

"Pin-Up Girls" plays Fridays through Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 7 PM through November 23 at the Avery Schreiber Theatre in North Hollywood. Tickets are $20. Saturday's performances feature a bonus show "The High Jinks Burlesque" at 10:30 PM that costs $10. Both shows cost $25.

LA Weekly Review is up:

Originally posted on 27 October 2008 at In The Extreme:

(l to r) Lauren Burns as "Tillie" and Sarah Cook as "Ruby." Photo by Chris Cortez.

The reviewer seems to have had a good time, but largely missed the point.

For instance, Helen's definition of idependance is not "the right to leave her guy dangling emotionally." Scotty places a demand on Helen, that she continue to be the girl who wrote to him, "Suddenly this big city seems so very daunting and sinister. I wish I could have you here to guide my way." She tries to accommodate this wish, to the detriment of her own freedom, and the whole thing blows up in her face.

It is only when Helen is honest and truthful with Scotty that the situation resolves for both of them. If there is any cruelty on Helen's part, it is self-inflicted. Freedom is not a "get out of jail free" card; there are consequences to calling your own tune. In the end, Helen, Ruby and Scotty make the personal sacrifices necessary to win their freedom.

I'm sure he didn't mean it as such, but I take "cutesy" and "sometimes romantic" as compliments. They say the same things about Capra and Hawks, and that's what I was going for. It's a helluva lot better than "heavy-handed" and "depressing" at any rate.

NEW REVIEW PIN-UP GIRLS Set designer Starlet Jacobs sets the stage with '40s memorabilia -- racks of vintage costumes adorn the playing area and a model of a USAF bomber hangs suspended from the proscenium arch. With waves of overlapping dialogue punctuated with sporadic moments of farce, playwright-director Andrew Moore varyingly hits his mark of hyper-realism in his depiction of burlesque performers in the midst of WWII. Though the locale isn't specified in the program, snippets of dialogue suggest a West Coast setting. While the burlesque act mostly remains off-stage, what we see are the backstage comings and goings of the proprietress (April Adams); the dancers (Sylvia Anderson, Lauren Burns, Sarah Cook, Alana Dietze, Pamela Moore and Lauren Mutascio); the pianist (Jovial Kemp), who taps on a non-functioning spinet to recorded piano sounds; and a cartoon of a self-appointed guardian of decency (Judith Goldstein), who's like a Salvation Army officer out of Guys & Dolls. Moore's story spins on the homecoming of wounded Marine, Scotty (Seth Caskey), to his unfaithful STD-infected heartthrob, Helen (Moore, in a robust and sassy performance). Helen defines her independence as the right to leave her guy dangling emotionally, while dancer Ruby (Cook, in a gentle portrayal brimming with hidden desires) eventually makes her move on her colleague's man, while accepting a post with the WASP corps. It's unclear how the two women catfighting over a guy is an examination of women's freedom, however demurely their fighting may be. That idea is best captured by Helen's insistence of being her own person while stringing along her wounded suitor: Is this cruelty part of a burgeoning women's movement, or a subtle condemnation of it? There's also a subplot of the puppy love between a semi-blind youth (Bryan Gaston) and a teen apprentice (Mustascio), who replaces Ruby when the older dancer enlists in the military. The principals offer lovely performances, but this new play is a sometimes cutesy, sometimes romantic construction. Its larger insight into who we are, and where we've come from, has yet to be chiseled. Avery Shreiber Theatre, 11050 Magnolia Blvd., N. Hlywd.; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m.; thru Nov. 23. (818) 849-4039. A Theatre Unleashed production. (Steven Leigh Morris)
You can find the review in context here.


I've been blogging about my Pin-Up Girls reviews over at my other blog, forgetting of course that theatre people do occasionally read this, and may find the reviews interesting. So Get ready for a bunch of reposting!

But first, let me just say how important it is to have a publicist who knows what he's doing. In Theatre Unleashed, we are quite fortunate to have the very able Jim Martyka as a founding member. The work he has done this year to attract press has been absolutely stellar.