Friday, November 30, 2012

2012 PERMANENT INK

"Vintage Ink" AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved by artnoose
 
It's on!  Click here to vote for the best, original, unpublished plays to debut in Los Angeles on 2012!

Last year, someone gamed the survey and managed to nab a spot on the list.  In order to provide a check against that, there are two new qualifications for inclusion:
1. Each play must have been reviewed at least THREE times by reputable online sources of live theatre criticism. 
2. Each play must have had a run of at least two weeks.

The playwright who gamed it last year would have been easily disqualified by both points, so I feel pretty good about this update.

Last year we had a paltry 78 responses to this survey.  We can do much better than that.  Remember: the more people who respond, the more accurate this list will be!

Voting closes on December 30th, and the results will be posted on New Years Eve.  Vote, forward the link, and spread the word.

Here's the web address to the survey for you to copy and paste: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/6R6HMXT

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Support the Monday Night Tease!


Lili VonSchtupp, producer extraordinaire of the longest running weekly burlesque show in Los Angeles, The Monday Night Tease is raising funds for a retrospective of the show:

My weekly burlesque show, Monday Night Tease, has been a staple in the Los Angeles live entertainment scene since 2004. It’s not just a home to LA performers but it’s a destination for out of town performers as well. It’s been described as the heartbeat of the LA burlesque scene launching new talent and nurturing performers to take risks. A lot of burlesque shows have come and gone, but on any Monday night you find yourself in LA at 9:45pm, you know there will be performers at  backstage at The Three Clubs, touching up their makeup, applying false eyelashes, and gluing on pasties getting ready to dance their hearts out.

Four years ago, I set foot on Lili's stage.  I'm pretty sure it was with Red, as part of the Tarantino-themed burlesque show:


Since then I've hosted, co-hosted, stripped, slapsticked, sung, killed, bombed -- you name it.  There is no stage I'm more comfortable on, and no producer I admire as much as Lili VonSchtupp.  

She gets it done.  Weekly.  Her show is on time, often standing room only, and it always pays.  She gives newcomers much needed stage time, and she rolls out the red carpet for legends of burlesque who are still shaking it well into their 60's.  Performers from all around the world have graced her stage.  It is a burlesque show, but she books variety artists as well: magicians, jugglers, contortionists, performance artists, musicians, ventriloquists, and these two guys:


That's Phillip Kelly and me, aka "Mr. Snapper & Mr. Buddy," making our Monday Night Tease debut.

Permanent Ink List 2012

"Crisis on the desktop" Attribution Some rights reserved by Alan Cleaver
Last year I ran a poll and you, the reader, voted for your favorite original plays of 2011.  We'll be doing that again shortly (once I figure out some sort of a failsafe to prevent people from gaming the poll.  Apparently the honor system is not enough.  Eh ... theater people. O_o)

BUT FIRST!  Let's review the reason why we do this, shall we?

I was inspired by an article Howard Sherman wrote at HowlRound back in November of last year:

I wonder whether the not-for-profit theater is guilty of what we accuse “popular culture” of doing, that is to say, constantly embracing the new and abandoning anything that can be accused of being “so five minutes ago” (as is that particular phrase). Do we lionize only the true hits and consign the vast body of literature engendered by and created for our stages to the dustbin of history? Yes, you can browse for them at the Drama Book Shop in New York or the Samuel French shop in Los Angeles, but beyond that, they require archeological hunts, facilitated by sites both commercial (Amazon) and altruistic (the dizzyingly thorough Doollee.com). But how many never even saw publication, relegating them to permanent anonymity?

One of the most depressing things about reviewing shows is seeing decades-old posters for "The New Play By ..." prefaced by some title I've never heard of and followed by some name I maybe recognize as a current board member for the theatre company.  These posters may be found in just about every lobby of every theatre company in town.  Seriously, go look.  It's like we produce these things, hang the poster on the wall like a hunting trophy, and promptly forget them.

And I get it.  Theater is a constantly evolving, immediate artform.  Yet we think nothing of producing stale, 400 year old plays by some English playwright whose name escapes me.  Why not give legs to a year-old play that perhaps has more relevance for today's non-doublet-wearing crowd?

The point of the Permanent Ink List is to say THESE PLAYS ARE GOOD AND DESERVE FURTHER PRODUCTION.  Artistic Directors and dramaturgs in far-flung burgs, we're making your work easier here at Mad Theatrics.  Simply take the list of five plays, contact the playwrights, arrange for production, and you have your next season all picked out.  Boom!  Done!  Nailed it.

Keep your eyes peeled, new play fans.  We'll be posting the 2012 poll in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Avenue Q

DOMA Theatre presents
Avenue Q
by Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty
directed by Richard Israel


review by Phillip Kelly

Other than hearing a few hooks from some of the songs, this was my first experience with Avenue Q. I've never heard any of the music. In fact, I avoided it so I could hear it for the first time on stage. And I'm pleased to report that my first experience was a good one. Q is not as raunchy as Peter Jackson's Meet the Feebles, which is not a bad thing. The creators' inspiration was more Simpsons, South Park or Family Guy. It's irreverent in a silly way. I can't imagine this show offending anyone. Much of the story is told through Sesame Street like vignettes, but I'm not going to go into the story as you probably already know it, or should see it.

Like watching a movie with subtitles - it takes a few moments to adjust to keeping your eyes on the felt as opposed to the flesh and blood performers, who all do fantastic jobs, many times voicing two puppets from different areas of the room at once. Their character voices are spot on, and their singing voices are vibrant. Chris Kauffmann (voicing Princeton and Rod) and Danielle Judovits (Kate Monster, Lucy), are both extremely talented in these areas. Thank goodness, as they are the leads! Judovits does need to loosen her arm up a bit, get the puppet off her hip, to really bring it to life. At times, it feels like she forgets it's there and has the tendency to upstage her felt personas (This is me being nit picky, as she's an excellent performer). Mark Whitman is extraordinary, taking on several of the more secondary characters to great effect. The nonpuppet carriers Chris Kerrigan and Janelle Dote do a stand up job playfully giving fresh interpretations to all the human friends on Sesame Street. Benai Boyd as Gary Coleman, captures the spirit of the little man we all loved to tease out of love. But the one who really deserves some attention here is Libby Letlow, who voices Mrs. T and one of the hilarious Bad Decision Bears, when she's not voicing those roles she's physically bringing the puppets alive when they aren't on the appropriate voice actors arms. A performance like this is the backbone of any show. She's not a lead, and yet she's full of life, commitment and works the hell out of those puppets! To cast someone any less talented than Libby, would have brought the entire production down a few notches. But nope, everyone here is equally talented and they bring a joy to the production that's infectious.

The show's heart didn't surprise me. This level of satire and spoof comes with intelligence and typically that means the production will have some heart for people to connect with. Here, it was effective.

I've now seen a handful of productions at DOMA and this is probably the best I've seen, and a great way for anyone to introduce themselves to this ambitious company. You could say it's hard to screw up such a good piece of material, but let me tell you - it's easy to, look at how much poor Shakespeare is done. Israel has brought together an incredibly talented group of people, including Chris Raymond, the musical director, Angela Todaro, the choreographer, and all of the designers. This is a top notch show. 

Nicely done.

Avenue Q 
Directed by Richard Israel
Presented By DOMA Theatre @ The Met Theatre
1089 N. Oxford Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029
November 9th-December 16th Fridays-Sundays
For tickets and times: www.domatheatre.com or 323-802-4990

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Woyzeck

The Illyrian Players present
Woyzeck
by Georg Buchner
adapted and directed by Jaymie Bellous



review by Phillip Kelly

The play Woyzeck is simple. And in that simplicity it touches upon the complexities of human nature: love, dishonesty, jealousy, madness, revenge – but which of these is real and which is imagined. The title character, Woyzeck, is prodded and pushed, teased and twisted around backwards until the audience doesn’t know if what we’re seeing is what he thinks may be happening or what actually is happening. It’s a story of a man who sells his soul piece by piece to make a little money to give to his mistress who has a child, and in doing so becomes less of a man.

Presented by the Illyrian Players, the director, Jaymie Bellous, has taken the extra step to emasculate Woyzeck by casting a woman, Emma Hawley. Of the cross gender casting I’ve seen in Los Angeles, this is one of those that makes sense and thematically is effective. But that isn’t the only surprise! The director has incorporated the art of clowning. Two silent chorus clowns are interspersed throughout the show, in between scenes, sometimes to highlight the absurdity, other times to mirror a theme or emotion, and finally to simply and cleverly get a prop into one of the actors hands. The other actors, too, are made up to appear slightly clown like. This helps sell the cross genderizing and adds a level of absurdity and surrealism to the proceedings (two things I like most.) She’s tied it into a bow with haunting music and sound design (Sinan Zafar) and lighting schemes (Jennifer Hill). As an audience member, we’re supposed to perhaps feel Woyzeck’s madness, and when the production is at its most effective, we do. And when all the ideas don’t quite connect, well, it’s never, not interesting.

Overall the cast is game and quite good. Madeline Harris as Marie, Woyzeck’s mistress, is a natural – she captures all the commitment, desires and confusions that live within a woman. Gerard Marzilli playing the Drum Major is one of the few men in the show and he rages with masculinity in a way that truly offsets Hawley’s performance and demeanor.

While tonally the landscape was effective, the final moments of the show – the tragedy - didn’t command my attention or emotional involvement as much as I would have wanted. The words were said, the action is taken and, unfortunately, this to me is one of those instances where the production fell short. At times it seemed like a little more effort was directed towards the world the characters inhabited than grounding the character’s emotionally in the situation. Hawley, while effectively cast, doesn’t always convey the growing madness, desperation and anxiety that drives Woyzeck, at least as well as the design team was able to do with the environment around her. At other times some of the performances didn’t always flow emotionally from one instance to the next – like there’s a thought missing in the performance that would get us to the next step. Part of it could be simply that it was a highly stylized show. Part of it could be, as a lot of productions struggle with this in Los Angeles*, a lack of dress and final rehearsals. There’s enough talent on stage that I have no doubt these missing beats will be filled in as the actors become more comfortable.

Overall, Bellous has found an interesting and effective way to tell the story of Woyzeck, even if the show doesn't quite live up to its own ambitions, at least everyone involved should be proud that they had such high ambitions; a character trait I’m always pleased to see in artists and their theatre companies.

*This comment is not to be seen as a disparagement against the show or Illyrian. Having been an Artistic Director and director of many productions in LA, when you're working on a budget, you're contending with other rentals in the space you're at. It's a simple and oft times frustrating reality. The fact that Illyrian and Bellous pulled off as much as they set out to do, is a testament to the talent involved.

Woyzeck presented by The Illyrian Player 
Performances: FRIDAY - SUNDAY, November 2nd - 18th.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm
Location: The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood CA 90038
All Tickets are $10
TO RESERVE TICKETS NOW:
www.illyrianplayers.com/tickets.html

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Theatre in the Dark - Evening One: Dark


Directed by Jeremy Aluma, Denise Blasor, David Bridel, Susan Heldford, Ron Sossi
Presented by The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Review by Phillip Kelly

An idea has to begin somewhere even if it can't break from its gimmick and become something that presents an emotional truth that you can hold onto, feel and walk away from the theatre with. The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble has a series of short pieces presented under an interesting light and that is with no lights on. You sit in the dark. You listen. You taste. Your other senses are allowed to flourish. Intriguing. It reminds me of the local Los Angeles restaurant: Opaque.

My biggest problems with the production were the pieces presented and the way in which they were presented

The pieces were generally fluffy and the thought provoking ones consisted of psych 101 subject matter, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there..." The frustrating thing was several of the pieces didn't even fit the premise of the evening (I reference again "Sound in the Forest", which I'm certain was not taking place at night.) If we're going to sit in the dark, presenting pieces that take place in the dark would be the simplest thing to present to the audience. My mind was brimming with alternative pieces to the ones presented that didn't need to be presented in the dark. And many of the pieces simply lasted well beyond the point in which I got it.

In all of this, there was nothing of emotional levity to hold on to. The presentation avoided anything even slightly grounded and real. No searching of real human emotions, for instance the reality of miners trapped in a cave. Instead the actors were directed to perform with slightly comical voices or to simply talk directly to the audience. Drama or intensity meant the volume being turned up to 10. I know when a man on the street yells at me, it doesn't make me feel intensely - I simply stare at him strangely and move on. I don't think there was a single person the entire night that spoke softly or whispered, which when presnted in the dark, is an eerie thing. Instead many of the pieces blended together because there simply was no change in tone or volume or emotion. Maybe this has something to do with the vast number of directors and lack of a unifying vision for the evening.

I'm not a complete hater. There were moments that were ghostly and even (David) Lynchian and those moments occurred when the lights came up just enough to make out a person or some kind of movement on stage. So if you do end up seeing this show, don't close your eyes, you'll miss seeing the best parts in a show that is presented mainly in the dark. Also, while overused, the sound effects were nicely put together. All of this could have invoked the excitement of the radio listening era with a new and interesting edge and twist.

Part two of this festival comes around in two weeks, More Dark (and the two shows will be running in rep). Part of me is still curious to see this done well, but dubious to try again so soon before they can work the kinks out and let the concept grow and breath for a second round.


Theatre in the Dark, Evening One: Dark presented by The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble
2055 South Sepulveda Blvd, LA, CA 90025
October 20 - December 16th
 Go to website for times: www.odysseytheatre.com
Box Office 310-477-2055
info@theodyssey.com

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Big and Small

The lovely Red Snapper gives a rundown of bar costumes vs. event costumes on her blog today:
Bar costumes aren't necessarily intended to be seen from the back row of a large theater.  Bar costumes are a smart investment for a newer performer, for someone with a weekly show, or for someone who wants to hit the ground running and to perform as frequently as possible.

[...]

Event costumes are those you intend to sparkle and shine on a big stage.  They need a bit more "wow" than a bar costume because they need to be seen from the back of the house.
Go read the whole thing.  It's fully illustrated with photos from past performances, so beware a little butt crack and cleavage, if you're reading it at work, but otherwise it's 98% SFW.

This reminds me of "rightsizing," a word that has become a euphemism for "downsizing," but which -- when I first heard the term -- had more to do with observation, estimation, and execution with a minimum of wasted effort and materials.  The way I look at it, "rightsizing" is first cousin to "just in time" production, at least in the milieu of intimate theatre.  Knowing your venue and your audience can help advise the choices you make as a producer.

Do you see any correlations between Red's article and theatre production?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Xanadu

directed by Hallie Baran
musical director Chris Raymond
choreographer Angela Todaro
producer by Doma Theatre Commpany


review by Phillip Kelly

Xanadu is camp, but it's also supposed to be funny and so it should have the energy of an all out comedy, big, over-the-top splendor. It doesn't have to connect with us emotionally, the plot is too ridiculous for that and the characters too thin, we should, however, believe that the leads have fallen in love. This is a show that should cling to a wide-eyed optimism and youthful energy; kids in the backyard being ridiculous and irrelevant - like most 80's romantic comedies were.

Doma's production, directed by Hallie Baran, lacks that inspired vision and energy to elevate the show. Some of the song and dance numbers are fun (there's an enjoyable tap dance), but the scenes in between lack the energy and pace of comedy, and they end up feeling like a bad 80's movie, instead of something that celebrates bad 80's movies. To be fair those elevated and amusing moments are occasionally found, but had they permeated the entire show this would have been a better review.

Comedy is also in the details. A missed reaction, or mistimed glance will throw off a joke entirely. It didn't feel like a lot of time was spent in refining these beats throughout the show.

The performers aren't bad and they help sell some of those moments. Lovlee Carroll, hits some perfect notes and garners some genuine laughter from me. Lovelee plays the muse Kira, who comes to life from a mural that Sonny Malone, as played to be a Venice Beach, Keanu Reeves artist by Matt O'Neill, has painted. She's there to inspire him to greatness. They end up having to talk a business mogul Danny Maguire (David Michael Travino) into letting them use an abandoned theatre that he owns (and even built) for their vision. Meanwhile, two of Kira's muse sisters from Mount Olympus decide to get her banished forever by getting Kira and Sonny to fall in love. But is there love real or is it a curse? So, as you can see, the story is pretty ridiculous.

Brittany Rodine as evil sister Calliope finds the right tone with her performance and when she's given the opportunity she bathes in the camp. Alan Lee and Bradley Sattler look like they're having fun and are pretty good dancers, and David Michael Trevino, once he starts singing and dancing comes to life. Matt O'Neill is charming as Sonny. There is some talent here. There's just a lot of missed opportunities to bring the show to life with them. It feels like they're playing at camp as opposed to embracing it.

Bring some dollar bills, as they have a full bar and cotton candy in the lobby!

Xanadu presented by Doma Theatre Company at the MET Theatre
1089 N oxford Ave. LA, CA 90029
Sept 7th-Oct 7th.
Tickets: 323-802-4990 or www.DomaTheatre.com


The Blue Iris


written by Athol Fugard
The Fountain Theatre presents 
The United States Premiere
review by Phillip Kelly



There's enough at work here in Athol Fugard's The Blue Iris to play with, but the director Stephen Sachs doesn't know how to take advantage of it.

Yelling at the top of a show, especially if it's a ten minute long argument is one of my pet peeves as a viewer and a theatre artist. Anger is a secondary emotion and yelling isn't an emotion at all. It hides who the characters are and how they feel about what they want; yelling does not create vulnerability. If both characters are yelling, then how are we to decipher who they are to each other. I'm right and you're wrong, no I'm right, no I am. Yelling is not storytelling. An actor, especially a good one, has so many more instruments than volume that can be used to create an interesting dynamic, even with anger, that can start a show. Beginning the show like this allows little room for those actors to build to anything. There are so many more interesting ways to show anger, hatred, dislike. More specifically... well, let me back up...

The Blue Iris takes place in the South African desert Karoo (I got that bit of info from the press release, as I don't remember it being said in the play). The exact location of the show is in a burnt down farmhouse. The resident farmer Robert Hannay (Morlan Higgins) and his housekeeper Rieta (Julanne Chidi Hill) sort through the carcass of this once living place, toiling with the debris and their memories. It's a metaphor, a particularly heavy handed one if not handled with grace. The opening argument is "Shall we stay or shall we go". Rieta thinks they should leave, Robert does not, because he's trapped with his memories, the memories of his wife, Sally (Jacqueline Schultz). She died in the fire. More specifically, this is an argument Robert and Rieta have had many times, to the point of exhaustion. They are exhausted, emotionally, physically, so why are they yelling the same argument to each other that they have so many times before while in this state? It's such an easy path for the director to take and gives me nothing of interest to watch. Or if they are going to yell make it brutal and unforgiving, a la Virgina Wolf. But none of these choices are made.

There are long, extremely long passages of Robert and Rieta talking about the past and about Sally. This is another pet peeve of mine. Show me what's happening now. And eventually Fugard finds an interesting way to meld the past with the present and for a time the show comes to life. Robert finds an undamaged painting of a Blue Iris that Sally drew and this brings the ghost of Sally, at least for Robert, to life. With her on stage we see many of the stories we were already told play out, only the point of view has changed and we come to understand a more balanced truth of the series of events and what kind of man Robert truly was.

This segment of the show was haunting in a way that made me recall the Japanese film Ugetsu. Though, again, even this segment of the show relied too heavily on yelling and volume to dictate the intensity we should have been feeling as an audience. Or maybe it just didn't play because that emotional level had been spent early on in the show.

There were some great decisions made, especially technically and with stage design. The set is haunting. The costumes are dirty and grimy. The make up is excellent. All of this creates a palpable physical world and haunting ghostly world. The director and lighting designer make a bold, effective and eerie choice with two lighting cues to bring about the change in tone, preparing for Sally's arrival, or maybe they didn't. I was taught that if you do something 3 times, people will think it's brilliant. If you do it twice, people will think it's a mistake. And as effective as these wonderful lighting transitions were, part of me still wonders if they were a mistake, especially when there was a third opportunity in the show in which this lighting change would have tied it together - when Sally appears. It was a disappointing, missed moment. That's how I felt about much of the play, like a deeper truth was missed in the staging.

The actors are well cast, but are asked to react in ways that feel unnatural and dishonest. This is a melodrama, to be certain, and while there are effective moments and some interesting revelations, I never found myself connecting with the characters or caring about their plight.


The Blue Iris written by Athol Fugard. Directed by Stephen Sachs.
The United States Premiere at
The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029 (Fountain and Normandie)
August 24th-September 16th
Tickets: 323-663-1525  www.FountainTheatre.com

Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Value of Exclusivity

A Guest Post by Lili VonSchtupp

A couple of months ago there was a conversation in the burlesque community about producers who were demanding exclusivity of their performers. Lili VonSchtupp, the Foul-Mouthed Buxom Godmother of Los Angeles Burlesque wrote the following article, and I am reprinting it here with her permission.
 
As performers we sometimes forget that without producers there are no shows. Lili is a successful producer of the longest running weekly burlesque show in town. When she speaks, it pays to listen:
  
Dear performers,
 
The value of exclusivity runs both ways.
 
As producers, we have every right to ask for exclusivity. It benefits a producer/show to have you only appear with them. This doesn't make us greedy, or mean we’re trying to keep you from working and making money, this makes us a good business people who want to run a consistent show and keep it going for years. We have seats to sell in order to pay you. The more seats we sell, the more money we have to pay performers and the more we get rewarded for the hard work we do to keep a show going in this economy.
      
Please understand why exclusivity matters. If someone can see you at 3 or 4 other shows a week, sometimes for less than what I charge for a cover, you have little added value to me as a performer. Why would someone pay $15 to see you at my show when they can see you for free elsewhere doing the exact same thing? Your value as a performer for a show is directly related to your overexposure. More does not equal better. When 10 shows in town all have the same cast, what makes any of them different or special? We have to sell people a reason to see this show.
     
Very few performers are a huge draw because they are oversaturated. I put all the performers’ names on flyers as a courtesy, rarely as a selling point. How many performers really have enough fans that come to EVERY show to see them, who can help support all the shows the performer is in? But if I have a show of performers not seen elsewhere, that is a huge selling point.
      
With a huge oversaturation of performers and shows during a recession, what did we think would happen? The bottom fell out. Everyone wants more stage time, everyone wants to be paid more, but there is less audience willing and able to pay. This is all about the math. Think about it: 100 seats times $5, is $500. 10 girls in a show at $50 each, is $500. Um, the producer makes no money for putting on the show. Plus they lose money for printing, production time, marketing, and everything else we do. Sometimes crap money is all a show can pay, exclusivity or not. And if you don't like the terms, don't take the gig.
      
A misconception in the arts is that value and pay are directly related, but they are not.
       
Things that make you worth more and thus sometimes paid more:
  1. Scarcity
  2. Level of expertise
  3. Cost of production (Large props and expendable props)
  4. Ticket price and venue capacity
I have well over 250 weekly shows at Monday Night Tease! under my belt, and I require certain exclusivity to some acts, requesting you not perform the same act 2 weeks before or after at another show in LA. I'm responsible for paying you so I do get to set guidelines. If you don't like them, please work elsewhere. I don't take it personally. And neither should you. That is how a free market works.
 
As a performer, exclusivity benefits you as you grow and build a following over time. You get better and your fans become more rabid. But remember most performers don't ever reach that place. (Sorry to be a rain cloud.) You have to balance the need to be on stage with the desire to sell yourself as a headliner for higher paying events, if they are even available in your town. You have to work hard and do crap gigs for little money to build your skills and build your reputation. We all do. That is called work, and I think some people forget that part. Now, would you rather perform in eight shows a week or just one show a week, and make the close to or the same money? That's how an exclusive contract can help you as you get better.

“But Lili,” you say, “they want exclusivity and don't want to pay more.” Yes, sometimes they do. And the best thing about a free market is...? You can say no. That producer/show will survive or fail because people want to work there or they don't. If enough people don't, it will fail and a new show will pop up in its place. Businesses fail every day. Businesses start every day. Or you can go exclusive at a lower rate, build better shows with your producer and all benefit later as ticket prices can be raised and pay can be increased. YOU need to decide what is right for you.
 
Burlesque is a part time job for almost everyone I know. You make minimum wage at best, considering call times and total length of the show, or if you do the crazy math, you make $50 for 4 minute act. But it isn't a 40 hour a week paying gig for most people. For every Dita and Dirty Martini, there are (conservatively) 10,000 performers wanting that job!
 
You all know Dita right? Well, she started in a strip club and did lap dances. Fifteen or more years later she's making good money headlining her own show and doing private events. But it seems most of her money comes from her burlesque adjacent work: modeling, endorsements, a clothing line. She doesn't perform in 10 shows a week anymore. She built a brand: DITA. You should be working toward building yours.
      
No one said we all get to be stars. Most of us will never make a living as a performer. Maybe you need to reset your expectations for the career you chose. Most of the artists I know are part time, no matter how good they are. There simply isn't a large burlesque circuit of $1000 a week gigs, either for working nightly or for a one-time exclusive fee.
 
Whenever I get upset about burlesque and the drama, my friend Mike reminds me, "No one got into burlesque to have a boss." And I laugh and remember that yes, it is a just a job; albeit the best job I've ever had, even when I have to be the big bad boss.
 
Thanks for reading,
 
Lili
           
Lili VonSchtupp is the producer of Monday Night Tease at Three Clubs in Hollywood, and the Head Mistress of Lili's School for Wayward Girls where she teaches intermediate and advanced classes for burlesque performers.

Funny Stuff


Photo of Groucho via Decaying Hollywood Mansions.

A couple of geniuses, whose opinions I greatly value, both recently posted about comedy, comedians, and comedy clubs.  The geniuses in question are Red Snapper and Scot Nery.

First up is Red:
I sat with an acquaintance of a friend at the show, not someone I knew at all. I chit-chatted before the show with this fellow from flyover country who had never been to a comedy club before. I thought he knew what to expect, but obviously he didn't. You see, he got up during the second-to-last comic's set and shouted at the comic, then threw his water bottle toward the stage before storming out of the club. He didn't like being picked on, especially when it came to jokes of a sexual nature, and he apparently had no idea how comics work.


Two things about comedy shows:
... but you'll actually have to visit her blog to read those two things in her post, entitled  "Am I Right, Ladies?"

Scot published "4 Ways Comedy Gets Poorer," in which he states:
Comedians need to stop complaining that they can’t make a living. I am a professional comedy performer and I’ve seen comedy be devalued over the past 12 years that I’ve been full-time. Because it’s been slow, I’ve been able to see it happening and have had time to get over a lot of my initial anger or fear. I see the depreciation of funny-business as just one example of the evolution of commercial art. Here’s a list of a few things that help to take the monetary value out of comedy. I’ll try to not spout too much nostalgia.

... and definitely go read his list.

Mr. Snapper and Mr. Buddy after our first performance at The Comedy Store.
My comedy partner and I have been testing the comedy club waters with our brand of neovaudevillian shtick, with varying results.  The other performers and staff seem to really enjoy us, but outside of the audience we bring to these bringer shows, the people in the dark seem to be at a bit of a loss when we take the stage. It has been an interesting experience so far, a learning experience.  We don't do jokes about Fifty Shades of Grey or our relationship problems or smoking pot.  Not to say what we do is better than anyone else, it's just very different.

People like different, it seems, enough that we get booked and asked back.  I am fascinated by the audience-performer relationship.  How in seven minutes can my partner and I break down what the audience is used to seeing, get them completely on board with what we're doing, and make them laugh?  How can we clean the slate at the top of the act so that they are able to jump in and join us for our set?

The solution seems to be twofold:  1. Don't think we know it all (i.e. be self-reflective and willing to change) 2. Observe what others are doing and learn from it.

Part of number 1 is to push ourselves to try harder, to connect with the audience, to avoid lazy choices.

Number 2 means booking more shows and going to more shows.  Identifying the "market leaders," if you will, and figuring out how they are doing it.  Not that you can just do whatever Louis C.K. does and expect success -- there's only one of him, and that would be ripping off the shark anyway.  I'm talking about stripping it down and studying the technique, the mechanics behind such things as audience control, joke building, etc.  It's much more boring than just repeating someone else's jokes. 

The older I get, the more I realize that boring is good.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Disclaimer (Reminder)

No one knows anything.

Well, okay.  Malcolm Gladwell knows a thing or two:



The passage to which I wish to attract your attention:
Third thing that Howard did, and perhaps the most important, is Howard confronted the notion of the Platonic dish. What do I mean by that? For the longest time in the food industry, there was a sense that there was one way, a perfect way, to make a dish. You go to Chez Panisse, they give you the red-tail sashimi with roasted pumpkin seeds in a something something reduction. They don't give you five options on the reduction, right? They don't say, do you want the extra-chunky reduction, or do you want the -- no! You just get the reduction. Why? Because the chef at Chez Panisse has a Platonic notion about red-tail sashimi. This is the way it ought to be. And she serves it that way time and time again, and if you quarrel with her, she will say, "You know what? You're wrong! This is the best way it ought to be in this restaurant."

[...]

And the reason we thought that -- in other words, people in the cooking world were looking for cooking universals. They were looking for one way to treat all of us. And it's good reason for them to be obsessed with the idea of universals, because all of science, through the 19th century and much of the 20th, was obsessed with universals. Psychologists, medical scientists, economists were all interested in finding out the rules that govern the way all of us behave. But that changed, right? What is the great revolution in science of the last 10, 15 years? It is the movement from the search for universals to the understanding of variability. Now in medical science, we don't want to know how necessarily -- just how cancer works, we want to know how your cancer is different from my cancer. I guess my cancer different from your cancer. Genetics has opened the door to the study of human variability. What Howard Moskowitz was doing was saying, this same revolution needs to happen in the world of tomato sauce. And for that, we owe him a great vote of thanks.
As Hugh MacLeod once put it:


A few days ago I made a heady pronouncement on this blog:
If you dip into the Dramatists back catalog, you may sell more tickets.  But are you really challenging anyone, yourself most of all? Or are you rather playing it safe and painting by numbers?
A bit impetuous, considering the director of IAMA's first up, Shiner, directed a stirring and fresh production of The Elephant Man with the Mechanicals Theatre Group, a production I loved.

I'm really not a purist; I literally have skin in the game*.  I know there are those who think the theatre I make isn't theatre at all.  (Just as I know there are those who bristle at spelling "theater" with an "-re" instead of an "-er.")  But as my friend Scot Nery says, "It's all entertainment."  I get a little cranky sometimes, and like to pontificate on HOW THINGS SHOULD BE.  In the end, the only thing that matters is whether or not the people in the dark had a good time.  If what I consider to be "paint by numbers" theatre gets the job done, so be it.  Some people like Nunsense and some people really dig pretentious, art-for-art's-sake performance art.  They're all right.  It's better, perhaps, to try to understand the variety of forms live entertainment takes than to measure everything by some Platonic rubric -- particularly for a reviewer of live entertainment.

In closing, an exchange from that great masterpiece of cinematic storytelling, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves:

AZEEM
Salaam, little one.

GIRL
Did God paint you?

AZEEM
Did God paint me? For certain.

GIRL
Why?

AZEEM
Because... Allah loves wondrous variety.

Who am I to argue with The Great One?

*see also The Mr. Snapper & Mr. Buddy Rumpus Revue in: "Ten-Gallon Giggles."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

PERFORMANCE RIGHTS TO THIRTY-FOUR YEAR OLD PLAY REVOKED DUE TO MOMENT OF "BRIEF NUDITY"

From a press release issued by The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center:
Due to a last-minute revocation of performance rights, the much acclaimed, ‘Ovation Recommended’ production of Ira Levin’s classic comedy-thriller Deathtrap will be unable to return to the Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center in September as previously announced. [...]
Due to the original engagement’s runaway success, the Center planned to remount the production, but the Estate of Ira Levin that controls the performance rights abruptly revoked them, citing a brief moment of onstage nudity.
Note:  Rights were revoked by the Estate of Ira Levin, not the playwright who actually wrote about two characters in a "full-blown affair," as the press release puts it.

God forbid modern theatre artists breathe new life into an old chestnut.  And by "God" I mean whoever currently holds Ira Levin's intellectual property rights (apparently the only intellectual thing they possess.)

Full press release follows:

L.A. GAY & LESBIAN CENTER’S ACCLAIMED PRODUCTION

OF IRA LEVIN’S “DEATHTRAP”

WILL NOT RETURN IN SEPTEMBER

DUE TO PERFORMANCE RIGHTS BEING REVOKED

Due to a last-minute revocation of performance rights, the much acclaimed, ‘Ovation Recommended’ production of Ira Levin’s classic comedy-thriller Deathtrap will be unable to return to the Davidson/Valentini Theatre at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center in September as previously announced. Net proceeds would have benefitted the entire array of the Center’s free and low-cost programs and services.

Directed by eight-time Ovation Award-winner Ken Sawyer, the Center’s production of Deathtrap enjoyed a ten week sold-out run in the spring of this year. Due to the original engagement’s runaway success, the Center planned to remount the production, but the Estate of Ira Levin that controls the performance rights abruptly revoked them, citing a brief moment of onstage nudity.

Following an impassioned appeal by the Center, rights were once again granted, but this time with very strict guidelines prohibiting any onstage behavior that portrayed the two lead male characters having a physical relationship—this despite the fact that in the play the characters are involved in a full-blown affair.

Deathtrap’s famously complex script provides genuine, edge-of-your-seat thrills, and is known for the jolts and surprises that occur along the way. The Center has decided that re-mounting the show with the imposed restrictions would force the play’s central relationship back into the closet, thus compelling the Center to compromise both its mission and its integrity. It would also result in a very different and less effective production than the one audiences had been lining up to see. Therefore the Center has been forced to cancel.

The entire original cast was set to return. They are (in alphabetical order) Brian Foyster, Cynthia Gravinese, Burt Grinstead, Elizabeth Herron, Carl J. Johnson, and Stephen Mendillo. The design team included Joel Daavid (set), Luke Moyer (lighting), Paula Higgins (costumes), and Ken Sawyer (sound). Deathtrap was produced by Jon Imparato, artistic director of the Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center.

Patrons who had already purchased tickets for the extension will receive full refunds. The Center’s box office personnel is in the process of contacting all ticket buyers. The L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center is located at The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N. McCadden Place (one block east of Highland, just north of Santa Monica Boulevard), in Hollywood.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer Classes with Red Snapper

Ladies: Looking for special skills to add to your acting resume? Casting about for techniques to help you break out of your shell, to tap into your inner sensuality as a performer? Curious about the world of burlesque, and anxious to dip your toes in the sexy, sexy water? You should meet my wife:


(My wife teaches dudes as well. You can always email her for more information if you want to learn some brolesque.)

You may register for classes here.

As a bonus treat, an article from Red that was published on Snippets from Snapper back in May:

Ma Familie


I've established that I have opinions about how my parents feel about my life choices. My mother once said that I was going to do what I wanted anyway so it was best just to stand back while I did it. To create resistance when I was so set on doing something would've been a bad idea. I didn't turn out so bad as a result of this parenting method. 'Genius honors student married for almost two decades who has a penchant for stripping' is better than 'psycho serial killer who wants to show parents not to get in the way.'

That said, it's nice to have a family that's not judgmental or barely tolerant of what I do. It's nice to have them as supporters in my career -- not enemies or gossips or people who change the subject when I talk about what I'm doing. They're more supportive of my burlesque dancing than they ever were of my acting. And yes, they know I take my clothes off.

Last time I visited my hometown, my older sister coordinated a nice dinner so Andrew and I could visit with her family and with my dad. (My dad now has a bumper sticker that says his daughter is stripper of the month at MNT ["Monday Night Tease" - ed.]. Next I'm getting him the t-shirt.) My dad would've attended my show, but he's an old man and his car is out of commission so he couldn't drive there and back. He told all of his friends about it. :) My oldest sister couldn't get away from the special needs of two young ones in her household to come to the show, but she's planning to see me perform next time. My mother remarried a man with failing health, so she's unlikely to get away and stay out late while I do what I do. We did have lunch and she often has encouraging things to say about pursuing my dreams. They've got my back.

But the ultimate in support was for family to see me doing my thing. They so rarely saw me act when I did theatre in their area, so it delights me that they PAID to see me do burlesque. My small sister has always been supportive of my performing and has ventured into the world of poi performing, so it was no surprise that she and her boyfriend bought a table by the stage. What was surprising was meeting my younger brother's fiancee for the first time at the show. (They were high school sweethearts and I'd never met her.) She was with my sister right by the stage. What was even more surprising was my oldest brother and his fiancee watching from the back of the room. My brother is an amazing guitarist and I hadn't seen him in many years. He was there to support me. Holy shit. (I may have surprised him when I gave him a hug after the show when I was just wearing pasties and undies, but I warned him that it's what I do.) My mother-in-law and her husband, her boss and his wife, Andrew's grandmother and youngest sister were all there. They bought a table as well. None of these people in my family are embarrassed by what I do.

It's important to surround yourself with people who have your back. It's even better when your family fits into that category. I'm looking forward to seeing all of them this fall.

IAMA


We don't make a habit of publishing press releases here at Mad Theatrics.  After all, this is a lowly theatre blog.  We're not desperate for content so we don't have to publish every scrap that hits our inbox.  When we do publish a press release, there's usually a good reason behind it.
 
In this case, the good reason can be summed up in two words:  "new works."  IAMA Theatre Company's mission statement reads:
IAMA is an ensemble of theater artists seeking to connect and cultivate a new generation of audiences. By promoting new artists and developing new works that challenge and entertain, we hope to produce vibrant, voyeuristic theater that stimulates honest dialogue and sustains the future value of theater within our diverse Los Angeles community.
Two things jump out at me.  First, the aforementioned "new works."  Theatre is of-the-moment and can be a "just-in-time" artform.  Intimate theatre companies have incredible freedom to respond to this moment in time, this plot in space; to develop and produce new stage works that appeal directly to the audience of now.  If you dip into the Dramatists back catalog, you may sell more tickets.  But are you really challenging anyone, yourself most of all? Or are you rather playing it safe and painting by numbers?  A commitment to develop new works -- a commitment backed up by actually doing it -- takes courage and true ambition.
 
The second thing that jumps out at me, the choice of the word "voyeuristic."  That is a very visceral way to put it.  To me, it sounds like IAMA actually knows the difference between theatre as an artform and theatre as a showcase.  There is something very primal about theatre, something basic to our species: the need to share experiential knowledge, the drive to watch.
 
Reading over what IAMA has planned for the coming months, I'm looking forward to watching.

The press release follows:
 
IAMA THEATRE COMPANY 2012 SEASON ANNOUNCEMENT
For Immediate Release—August 20, 2012

For the L.A.-based IAMA THEATRE COMPANY’s first season under the leadership of Artistic Director Becca Wolff and Managing Director Mira Greene, IAMA brings works by young playwrights Dan LeFranc, Louise Munson and Christian Durso to Los Angeles audiences for the first time.
 
World premieres of Durso’s SHINER – named to The Tracking Board’s YOUNG AND HUNGRY LIST 2012 – and Munson’s DO LIKE THE KIDS DO, mark the maturation of two fresh voices in American theater. LeFranc’s 60 MILES TO SILVERLAKE, winner of the 2010 New York Times award for Outstanding Play is an overdue homecoming for this SoCal native and his first L.A. production.
 
With this season, IAMA continues its quest to shift the nerve center of young American theatre to L.A.
 
The Season
 
SHINER by Christian Durso. Opens September 15 at the Working Stage Theatre A wry and nostalgic portrait of teenage love and loss in the 1990s. Inspired by the music of Nirvana, director Neil Patrick Stewart’s production is shot through with the spirit of Kurt Cobain. Featuring IAMA members Graham Sibley and Laila Ayad.
 
DO LIKE THE KIDS DO by Louise Munson. Opens November 9 at the Working Stage Theatre In the tradition of the American family drama comes DO LIKE THE KIDS DO. This profound and funny play tells the story of a brother and sister struggling to connect in the face of events neither can control. The production is helmed by veteran L.A. actor and director Keliher Walsh and features IAMA members Amy Rosoff and Dean Chekvala.
 
60 MILES TO SILVERLAKE by Dan LeFranc. Coming in early 2013. Opening date TBA Directed by Becca Wolff, this play about a father driving his son to soccer practice bends time and space, making this ordinary episode an extraordinary reflection of what it means to grow up. Cast TBA
 
IAMA was conceived in 2007 by a group of young actors eager to create a new theatre movement in L.A. The company members’ talents and commitment to the theatrical form have earned them a devoted local following: “In this industry town, where theater is often the byproduct of actors waiting to be plucked for film and TV, IAMA’s devotion to the stage is fully grounded in its counter-intuitiveness (MetromixLA)”.
 
IAMA is building on the success it enjoyed with the first six installments of Leslye Headland’s critically acclaimed SEVEN DEADLY PLAYS. Headland joined IAMA as Artist-in-Residence in 2007, and her first two collaborations with the company, BACHELORETTE and ASSISTANCE, received Off-Broadway productions at Second Stage and Playwrights Horizons respectively.
 
Artistic Director Becca Wolff says, “I joined IAMA for the same reason that audiences are drawn to them. It’s a dream to find a group that makes significant work with such joy.” Wolff earned her MFA in directing at Yale School of Drama and is co-founder of Tilted Field Productions. She brings a decade of experience at theaters including New York’s Public Theater, The O’Neill Playwrights Conference, and LA’s own Son of Semele Ensemble.
 
To Managing Director Mira Greene, IAMA represents “a perfect storm of passion and talent. It’s thrilling to join them at this point in their growth.” Greene received her BA in Theatre from Smith College and will graduate from California State University Long Beach in 2013 with a dual MBA/MFA in Theatre Management.
 
For more information on IAMA’s 2012-13 season, contact Artistic Director Mira Greene miragreene@iamatheatre.com.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Real Drunk Housewives of the San Fernando Valley

Presented by Oh My Ribs! Entertainment at The Complex

Review by Andrew Moore

Former child star Rikki (Robyn Roth) and emcee Randy (Chris Caldwell Eckert) get "real."

At times surreal and never not funny, Kelly Holden-Bashar and Bill Haller's new musicalette, The Real Drunk Housewives of the San Fernando Valley, is a raucous and entertaining diversion, perfect for a "gals' night out."

Part parody, part fever dream, Drunk Housewives plops us down in the studio audience for the end of season reunion show.  The archetypes are all here, and they are cranked up to "eleven."  Rather than playing us highlight clips, the actresses act out the flashbacks.  Who knew?  Reality TV is a perfect fit for this very theatrical, very presentational treatment.  The songs erupt naturally from the madness.

The music is eclectic, full of lyrical jokes.  "The Bleep Song" trades on the ubiquitous bleeping-out of profanity on these types of shows.  Very funny stuff.  "We're Alive (As Long As We're on Bravo)" is a wry anthem for our age.  The songs would be enough, but we're treated to honest-to-God triple threats in this show, dancing their asses off.  Really, it's a little alarming to reflect on how much talent is committed to such a thin premise.  The show flies because so much care has been put into it, from the songs to the cast.

The ensemble is charmingly twisted and their reality TV creatures are frighteningly credible.  The cast attacks the material with great gusto, perfect comic timing, and musical theatre polish.  Robyn Roth (Rikki) is the stand-out here, turning in a too-accurate portrayal of a former child star turned hopeless alcoholic.  Playing drunk is hard enough; Roth maintains a consistent level of stage-drunkenness that adds to and doesn't distract from her performance.

L to R: Sarah French, Leah Mangum, Chris Caldwell Eckert, Robyn Roth, Jen Rhonheimer, and Ana Cristina

My only complaint: the sound mix.  When the cast sings in unison, nothing is lost, but solos are sometimes overpowered by the music.  Either mic the actors or keep a finger on the master volume, adjusting as needed.  The lyrics are funny -- make sure we can hear all of them.

This show isn't for everyone.  Chris Caldwell Eckert as "Randy," the emcee for the evening, nails it at the top of the show when he says, "Ladies and gay men!"  I imagine this is the perfect way to polish off an evening with your besties.  But even this cynical critic who avoids reality TV like the cultural plague it is laughed his ass off throughout.  So who knows?  If you like to laugh, check it out.

The Real Drunk Housewives of the San Fernando get real on Saturday, August 18th at 10 pm, and Saturday, August 25th at 8 pm and 10 pm. Tickets are $25.  Runtime is just shy of an hour. The Complex is located at 6468 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. Street parking is available, but it's Theatre Row in Hollywood: You will have to do laps to find a spot. Get there a little early.

Visit Oh My Ribs! for more information, including a link to purchase tickets.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

One Mint Julep

On June 22nd, I found myself at Polesque L.A., an evening of competitive pole dancing.  It was a blast!  If you're turning up your nose at the thought, you clearly haven't seen really good pole dancing, and you have no idea what you're missing.

This was my favorite act of the night, and easily some of the best theatre I've seen this year:



Crystal Belcher of Houston lights up the room with her take on "One Mint Julep."

The pole is a phallic symbol.  Crystal takes this idea and runs with it, personifying the pole as a man she encounters, romances, and eventually marries.  Her story is very clearly told from beginning (missing her bus) to end (throwing the bouquet and heading off to honeymoon land.)  Her performance is fully committed, and engages the audience.

And it's full of joie:
It means embodying a fullness of spirit; being fully plugged in to the moment-by-moment; being present and active.  It means effervescing -- including and especially in tragic roles!  It means chasing down the invisible in a tenacious effort to make it visible. 
Video replays of live events rarely hold up on their own, but Belcher's performance is so joie-filled it reaches out across the 1's and 0's that compose this digital echo and delights.  Outstanding work.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

19 Years

photo by Jason Kamimura Photography
My wife and I are a week away from our 19th wedding anniversary.  She reminded me of this guest post I wrote for her burlesque blog, Snippets from Snapper:
“Doesn’t it bother you that people are watching your wife take her clothes off?”

I slowly stir my Jack and coke, a wry grin creeping across my face. I’ve been married to the same wonderful, talented woman for almost 19 years -- over half my life. No answer could possibly encapsulate all the pride I take in her accomplishments, all the happiness she brings me, and the depth of my devotion to her. She is my best friend, my lover, and my muse.
Go to her blog to read the rest.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Live Nude Theatre

Bas-relief of a scene from a Roman Satyr Play.
(CC BY 2.0) ForsterFoto, licensed under Attribution License.

I've been thinking about stage nudity lately.
 
My most frequent experience has been Naked Girls Reading, a bi-monthly production of some of my burlesque friends. My wife is often one of the naked girls and so I've been the booth operator for a couple of shows, have been audience for others, and I have noticed some very curious things.
 
First, the show is built to drive in audience members. It's all there in the first word of the title: "NAKED." If it were "Clothed Girls Reading," I doubt there would be quite the same turn-out. Yes, the intent is to titillate before the audience even sits in the house and the house lights dim, but the titillation is short-lived once the show actually starts.
   
The make-up of the audience is evenly split, men and women. Everyone takes their seat, and you can feel a nervous energy in the room. Chris Beyond, one of the producers of the show comes to the front of the house for a little curtain-warming speech, explaining where the show originated (from the brilliant and sexy mind of Michelle L'amour in Chicago), asking the patrons to turn off cellphones, and informing them that photography of any kind is not allowed.
 
Each show has a theme ("Fan Service" was all about horror, sci-fi and comic books. "Sea Faire" was pirate-themed) and the set is dressed reflective of that theme. The readers enter, wearing robes over not much else. They sit in couches, chairs, etc. Each reader introduces what she is going to read, disrobes, and reads. Once disrobed, the reader stays nude until all the other readers have read, and they take a brief intermission.
 
A very simple show. It is literally naked girls, reading. Do you see how, after an hour and a half of the above, the titillation factor wears off? All the audience is left with after the initial "shock" of seeing a naked girl is ... the reading. And this is where the show lives or dies. If the selection is engaging and if the reader is engaged, the audience is engaged. If the selection is boring or goes on too long, or if the reader doesn't really care about what she's reading, the audience begins shifting in their seats, coughing, etc.
 
When everyone is engaged, something strange happens. The reader is reading something that matters to her. She is completely exposed with literally nothing to hide behind as she shares this important stream of information to a rapt audience. Theatre is about live communion between actor and performer -- it's one of the few things we have over television and film. Nudity in the case of Naked Girls Reading heightens that exchange.

That's my most frequent experience.  My most recent experience was quite a bit different.  Back in June I caught Matt Morillo's The Inventor, The Escort, The Photographer, Her Boyfriend, and His Girlfriend at the Lounge.  In the second act, the titular girlfriend (a delightful Jenni Halina) crashes a reconciliation between her cousin and her cousin's boyfriend -- with whom the girlfriend had a dalliance.  The climax of the act arrives as the girlfriend performs a modern dance piece, culminating in her complete disrobing.

It was hilarious and appropriate to the action of the play.  I was taken by the actress' ease and the audience's reaction.  After I published the review, I posed a question on Facebook and Twitter:
 
"Onstage nudity in stage plays.  Thoughts?"
 
To my delight, none other than Jenni Halina herself answered my question.  We had a very pleasant exchange on Twitter, and here's what I learned.  (Note:  Our exchange is slightly edited to compensate for the imposed brevity of 140 characters.)
 
In the review I noted that the nudity seemed entirely unexploitative.  Jenni agreed: "Yes, I feel that way now. I wouldn't have done it had I not understood that."

"I didnt want nudity," Jenni said, "tried to change it, they said no. The others [other actresses in the play] get down to underwear [and it] wouldn't be enough contrast to do the same."
    
Absolutely true.  I would add that the character is more of a free spirit than the other women in the play.  Jenni did an excellent job portrarying that freeness of spirit, but the visual knocked it out of the park.  I asked her if it was in the script or if it grew out of rehearsal.  "SCRIPTED," she said.  "He [the boyfriend character in the play, "John"] says she doesn't wear panties, she's uninhibited. She's trying to get the other woman to leave."  So yes, the playwright/director knew exactly what he was doing with this moment.

I asked her if being nude onstage in anyway changed her experience of the audience; was she more aware of them?  Less?  She responded, "Neither actually.  In any show, I block out the audience."  Fair enough.  But, she added in regards to her costar, "I felt more confident with my 'boyfriend,' it felt realistic."  Now that's interesting. "Everyone has a body. Everyone gets naked. Playing real life on stage -- to not do something because of the audience, it's fake no?"
 
I asked her if she was nervous about it.  "Not about the performance, more the reaction. And my cast is supportive, though we all laughed a lot the first time in rehearsal."  I imagine!
 
It's easy to write off stage nudity as a mere marketing ploy or some kind of stunt.  I think that's a mistake.  I think it can be a storytelling tool -- a potent tool, to be sure.  How much of that potency is due to society's view of the naked body and how much is due to the inherent symbolic power of nudity is one more thing I don't know the answer to.  At any rate, this is a subject I find fascinating, and I intend to explore it further.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mutually Assured Destruction

written by Peter Lefcourt
directed by Terri Hanauer
presented by Theatre Planners
 world premiere debut at The Odyssey Theatre


review by Phillip Kelly

Mutually Assured Destruction is a play that focuses on the lives of three just over middle aged married couples, all friends, and the one sordid detail that creates a slew of possible sordid scenarios that dance between them in their imagination and on the tip of their tongues, threatening to explode at any moment into a flurry of melodrama and comedy gold. But it never quite happens. Peter Lefcourt shoots for a certain level of sophistication, the Annie Hall Woody Allen years come to mind. A continuing analogy during the show is made between the situation at hand and the Cold War, it brings about some good opportunity for jokes, but like much of the show Lefcourt can't help but get in the way of his own ambitions by overdoing it.

Lefcourt makes two of my least favorite mistakes that seem to be trending in current original plays. First, his narrator, Arnie, an enjoyable and energetic Kip Gilman, doesn't simply narrate. He manages to, not only step in between every scene to say what just happened, is happening or about to happen, he even stops scenes midway to do this - sometimes more than once! Mr. Gilman, and the director Terri Hanauer, have directed and performed these beats so there isn't a break in energy, but after awhile, I just wanted a scene to finish so I could enjoy something from start to finish without being told what I was watching. If the writing is good enough, the audience will know what they're watching. Let something surprise us, don't tell us a surprise is coming. Let us laugh at a situation, don't stop to tell us how crazy a situation is. We know! Let us enjoy it without holding our hands. I want to see a story unfold, not be told about the story unfolding.

The second is the number of short, shorter and really short scenes. Theatre isn't film or TV. No matter how tight your transitions are, the audience still has to wait, over and over again. There's no build. Maybe this is why Arnie was given a monologue between every scene. I remember thinking to myself during a scene at a party nearing the end that something was going to happen, that this scene might build and go somewhere and I was becoming invested, but just as I thought this, Arnie steps forward, tells me nothing happened, tells me months and months pass, that there are other parties, and we not only see one more party, but two - in which nothing happens! The reason why there isn't a movie about the entire Cold War is that nothing happens, there's no third (fifth) act. It doesn't make for interesting drama from beginning to end. Hidden within however there are moments in which very interesting stories happened. Those moments are hidden throughout this show, but are never brought forward to their full dramatic potential. I would suggest to Lefcourt to focus on one of these parties, build up to it, and leave the rest of the play within that party. In the Mutually Assured Destruction is a series of misunderstandings, situational comedy without real punch.

This isn't to say there aren't funny and entertaining moments. While Lefcourt is shooting for Husbands and Wives Woody Allen, Hanauer sprinkles in Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Sex but Were Afraid to Ask Woody Allen. Other characters pick up the narration, our narrator comes out into the audience, they address the fact that they're in a play (allusions to Mel Brooks), there's a giant map in the back with silly pictures of the characters as global chess pieces. In its more inspired moments these beats are a lot of fun, but the two tones don't always mesh, and the sillier side sometimes ends up feeling tacked on.

The performers, all pros in the industry, all charismatic and very talented, embrace the proceedings, and with Lefcourts sometimes clever writing and Hanauer's direction, can be quite funny, but other times they're left lingering on stage with nothing particular to do - especially as the play nears the end. They watch each other with bemused expressions. And at the end, Arnie steps forward and tells us nothing happened, which is something we knew

To keep in mind, that while I didn't particularly like the show, (I enjoyed elements) there was a very loud and very vocal part of the audience that enjoyed it far more than me. The audience seemed split in this regard. Take a chance, you never know.


Mutually Assured Destruction
Presented by Theatre Planners at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S.Sepulveda Blvd, West LA 90025.
Through Aug. 26. Fri-Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm. Tickets $25.
www.plays411.com/destruction. 323-960-5772

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fierce

Spotted backstage at Theatre Asylum:


Pretty cool, Fierce Backbone.  Pretty damn cool.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ten-Gallon Giggles

Once more into the breach ...
 
Tomorrow night Phillip, Pamela, and myself put our money where our mouths are as we produce an evening of entertainment: The Mr. Snapper & Mr. Buddy Rumpus Revue in: "Ten-Gallon Giggles!" 
 
We didn't really go into Rumpus Revue with any kind of philosophical aim, but over the past year we have unknowingly pursued one. From time to time I've banged on the "Bespoke Theatre" drum. At this scale (i.e. under-99) I think we have the opportunity to hand-craft an evening of entertainment for our audience. We take great joy in crafting each show, and we look forward to making the audience laugh. I hope you'll be there.
 
Tickets are $10 at the door, and we will be taking credit cards.
 

This steamy hot July, the Rumpus Revue brings you a special gun-totin', whore-hoppin', singin' and dancin' and steer-ropin' hour of vaudeville, variety and half-naked women.
  
The Wild and Wily West Welcomes Won and Wwww… ALL to… The Mr. Snapper and Mr. Buddy Rumpus Revue in: "Ten-Gallon Giggles!"
 
Snapper, a ukulele playing songster, and his silent foil, Buddy, are your hosts, making a barely capable attempt at maintaining order as the libidinous passions of a group of ragtag performers rage wildly out of control!
 
With Jacob Smith as Pistachio the Mime
Burlesque by Red Snapper and Scarlet O'Keljus
The King of Fling, Jack Dagger
Magic by Phil Van Tee
Music by Jim Martyka
Special Appearance by Jeremy Gayhorse
And the Craigslist Wildcard!

Wed. July 25th. Doors open at 8:00. Show begins at 8:30. About an hour long.
  
Theatre Asylum
6320 Santa Monica Blvd,
Hollywood, CA
A block West of Santa Monica and Vine
  
$10 AT THE DOOR. $10 ON LINE.
BYOB!!!!
  
Go to http://www.snapperbuddy.com/ and follow our updates on Facebook! Or follow us on Twitter @snapperbuddy

Photos from past Rumpus Revues:

From "A Pocket-full of Mischief!" Photo by Markus Alias
L to R: Mr. Snapper, Mr. Buddy, and Chase McKenna as "Billy"
From "Krampusnacht!" Photo by Markus Alias
Mr. Buddy and Mr. Snapper.  And "Little Mr. Buddy" (under the hat)
From "Krampusnacht!" Photo by Markus Alias
Mr. Snapper and Jacob Smith as "Pistachio"
From "Festive Crack-Ups!" Photo by Markus Alias
L to R: Rob the Balloon Guy, Mr. Snapper, Red Snapper, and Mr. Buddy
From "Festive Crack-Ups!" Photo by Markus Alias
L to R: Liz Luttinger, Sean Pawling, Jacob Smith as "Pistachio", Mr. Buddy, Mr. Snapper, and Rob the Balloon Guy