Monday, January 14, 2013

Breathless Moments

Disclaimer: I love the Monday Night Tease, and I'm frequently onstage at Three Clubs. A photo of my wife is hanging on the wall at The Perfect Exposure Gallery. My opinion may be a little biased.

"People are so wonderful that a photographer has only to wait for that breathless moment to capture what he wants on film." - Weegee
On exhibit now through February 16th at The Perfect Exposure Gallery in Koreatown:  The Monday Night Tease Retrospective:
Burlesque! — The Monday Night Tease Retrospective celebrates nine years of live performances at LA's longest weekly running burlesque show. Since 2004, Monday Night Tease has been a staple in the variety arts world. Described as the heartbeat of the Los Angeles burlesque scene, it is a home to local performers as well as a destination for out of town artists. Producer Lili VonSchtupp prides herself with launching new talent as well as nurturing established performers to take risks and further their art form. Several burlesque shows have come and gone, but every Monday the backstage area of The Three Clubs in Hollywood pulses with the beat of makeup, glitter, shimmy belts, and pasties. The energy presented weekly at Monday Night Tease is unmatched and we are proud to share it with you through a collection of images captured by some of LA's premier event photographers.
At the opening of the exhibition this past Thursday night, I experienced a moment of wonder: One of the audience regulars of The Monday Night Tease intently studying the faces in the crowd of one photo, trying to locate himself in the shadows.  He recognized the moment frozen in time; that specific burlesque dancer's performance.  He knew he was a part of that moment when it happened, and he was searching for the photographic evidence.

Live entertainment photographs very, very well.  The work of the photographers on display, curated by Lili VonSchtupp, almost perfectly captures the glitz, glamour, sweat, exhilaration, and breathlessness that you will experience on Ms. VonSchtupp's stage every Monday night.  I say "almost," because there is no real substitute for the live experience.

Yet presented in this way, these breathless moments give the viewer a rare opportunity to reflect on live entertainment on a more sublime level.  The beautiful lines of dancers in motion, the colors and textures of their costumes, the expressions on the audience's faces -- it can be spellbinding to let yourself slip into the details of the photos.  For those of us who perform and produce live entertainment, it strikes a deep chord.  You can't help but feel connected to this world.  For those who appreciate live entertainment, the specificity of each image charms and enchants.

The Monday Night Tease Retrospective is on exhibit until February 16th, 2013.  The Perfect Exposure Gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11:00 am to 4 pm, and is located at 3519 West 6th Street in Koreatown, just a couple blocks east of Normandie Ave.

For more information visit, and by all means come out to see The Monday Night Tease!  Who knows what breathless moments you may be a part of?

Friday, January 11, 2013

The ProAm Divide

[NOTE:  I'm still clearing out old drafts.  I notice Phillip Kelly has a few kicking around as well.  I may have to twist his arm and make him dash off an ending paragraph and hit "publish."]

I just ran across the most sobering and depressing thing I've read in a long time, "The Delusion Driving Much of American Theater," on Parabasis. Here's a sample of the pain:
In fact, I'm pretty sure in terms of number of productions, the majority (or at least plurality) of theatre produced in this country is probably Pro-Am (and i use this term to distinguish it from truly amateur productions such as community theatre).
And here's the thing: most of the artists working in the Pro-Am circuit have very very little chance of crossing over. They are, essentially, pursuing a delusion as a result of a category erorr, namely that the Pro-Am circuit and the LORT/Institutional circuit are part of the same system.
Did I say sobering and depressing?  Sorry, I meant inspiring and exciting:
I also think (and I'm trying to develop this into a larger and longer piece to be published elsewhere) it's in the LORT systems' best interests to try to find ways to learn about, be more involved with and collaborate with the Pro-Am system and start to break down the walls a bit. Why? Because, well... we have the audiences they want, the creative energy they need and the next generation of artsits likes working with us. 
Now, if only we could inspire and excite the staid old elitists who guard the gates of "real" theater.  They're open to taking risks and exploring new ideas, right?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Don't Rehearse -- Simulate

[NOTE:  This is another draft that has been sitting around forever.  I'm not sure why I never published this one.  What more could I have added?  It's almost as if I like the sound of my own voice so much, if something I write lacks capacious verbosity I get discouraged and hit "save" instead of "publish."  Oh well.]

I love directing, but I'm a tinkerer.  My casts are lucky if I let them get to the end of a page before jumping in and tweaking things.  I like to think I've gotten better about this, but I really do like to roll up my sleeves and work stuff out with the actors.  When we are into dress rehearsals, I stuff the tinkering side of my directoral personality into a mental broom closet and bar the door.  Those final runs before the audience appears are sacred.

Musician Alex Starapoli blogged some months back: "The Best Ways To Rehearse With Your Band" at the Tom Hess website.  If you're new to Mad Theatrics, I often look to other artforms for fresh ideas on how to approach what we do in live theatre.  This is a perfect example of why I do this:
Think of your band’s rehearsals as a ‘simulator’ not as a time when you ‘practice’ playing your songs. ‘Practicing’ is what you do when you are trying to improve a skill. A ‘simulation’ is what you are doing when you try to recreate the same conditions as you may face at your next gig. Most inexperienced bands never do this. They practice their songs, but they don’t really try to ‘simulate’ their next gigs. Think about how many possible conditions you might expect to encounter at future concerts you play. Now ask yourself how many of these can we recreate in detail at our next band rehearsal. This is what professional bands do to prepare for a tour.
Back in college, when we had the luxury of time and space, we'd run a good solid week of dress rehearsals and tech rehearsals.  Shit would go wrong, but barring any actual dangerous situations (which would elicit a loudly voiced "HOLD!" and an immediate stop of the rehearsal) we'd barrel through as if it were an actual performance.  Afterwords, we'd have a re-e-e-eally long notes session.  Oftentimes the tech crew would split off from the actors and directors, but occasionally we'd do our notes together.  Every single issue that came up -- no matter how minor -- would get addressed.  Loose screw on the upstage platform?  On it.  Stitching coming loose on the sleeve of the lead's act two jacket?  Done.

Light cues didn't time out right?  Sound system failed?  Well, we know what we'll do if that happens again.  But it's not going to happen again.

You shouldn't scrimp on tech and dress rehearsals, although many of us do.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Bad Theater, Bad Powerpoint

Comic by Hugh Macleod.  Check him out and support him here.

Bad theater is like bad Powerpoint.

It is a presentation platform, not the presentation itself.  Like bad Powerpoint, bad theater confuses the two.  Instead of focusing on a solid narrative that engages an audience on an emotional and intellectual level, bad theater worries about putting it all onstage, cluttering a simple construct in hopes that the mere weight of excess of words (or blocking, etc.) will literally give the production gravitas.

Bad theater uses the stock templates available, or else settles for a bare stage because it’s the easy choice, not because it’s the most aesthetic choice. 

Bad theater goes nuts with bullet pointing moments.  Bad theater uses bells and whistles for the sake of bells and whistles.

Good Powerpoint and good theater will give you a single image—a single moment—to focus on, while the narrative spills over you.  It takes you on a journey to enlightenment; every seeming digression pushing you along.

Bad Powerpoint is displayed.  Good Powerpoint is conveyed.  So it is with theater.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Manifestos, not mission statements

[Note: From time to time I wind up with unfinished drafts sitting around, waiting to be finished and published. Oftentimes I had an itch that needed scratching. This is one of those times. As always, please keep in mind my disclaimer.]

The “Rules”*

(a working draft)

Audience first.
Manifestos, not mission statements.
New works; new tellings of old tales.
Solve problems with creativity.
Question creativity with problems.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle -- at both ends of production.
Assemble only what you need, use it all, and end with nothing.
Everyone gets paid or no one gets paid.
Don’t chase renown, chase the work.

*Ultimately, do not blindly accept or follow any lead, rule, or authority.  Adherence, allegiance, assemblage -- these things should be voluntarily committed and withdrawn when necessary.  Theater is an ephemeral art form and nothing is set in stone.  Nothing.

Monday, January 07, 2013


It's been a while since I've trumpeted the genius of Seth Godin, so here goes:  He's a genius.

I wish I could just quote an excerpt here and send you off to his blog to read the whole thing, but there is a ratio of brevity to wisdom in his posts.  This is a short one, and it is critically relevant to live entertainment.  And so here is the entirety of Godin's latest post for you to read and ponder:

Two kinds of mistakes
There is the mistake of overdoing the defense of the status quo, the error of investing too much time and energy in keeping things as they are.
And then there is the mistake made while inventing the future, the error of small experiments gone bad. 
We are almost never hurt by the second kind of mistake and yet we persist in making the first kind, again and again.

(Go to Seth Godin's blog, follow it, buy and read his books, etc.)

There are enough people doing theater exactly like everyone else.  Find your own way, or don't bother.

Invent the future.  Build the piano.  Sure, learn from others, but at some point you have to strike out on your own and contribute your own verse (to borrow a sentiment from Walt Whitman).  You need to make those mistakes, because they are the mistakes worth making.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Permanent Ink 2012

Image courtesy of Pixabay

As nominated by our intrepid readers, presented in chronological order of premiere date, here is the 2012 Permanent Ink List:

The Jacksonian
by Beth Henley
Premiered February 7th, 2012
Presented by Geffen Playhouse
Lemon Meter: 76%  Read review excerpts here.
Summary:  "This eerie offering by Pulitzer Prize winner Beth Henley and directed by Tony Award winner Robert Falls transports us to a seedy motel in Jackson, Mississippi circa 1964. You go to The Jacksonian Cottages to bury your secrets, making the motel an unsettling world where the subversive becomes commonplace and the passage of time becomes hauntingly unpredictable. Revolving around the night of a murder, The Jacksonian is a surreal trip that is rife with disturbingly dark humor. As this salacious tale’s mysterious events unfold, both characters and audience find themselves on a road that ultimately leads to a dead end."

Figure 8 
by Phinneas Kiyomura
Premiered February 24th, 2012
Presented by Theatre of NOTE
Lemon Meter: 91% Read review excerpts here.
Summary:  "Using the seven deadly sins as a springboard, writer, L.A. native, and co-director (with Jerry Kernion) Phinneas Kiyomura weaves together 8 different stories of ordinary sinners fighting, flailing and fornicating their way through what passes for normal life in modern day Southern California. Travelling up the 5 freeway and along a fractured timeline, Figure 8 turns the very notion of sin 'round upon itself."

Naked Before God 
by Leo Geter
Premiered March 24th, 2012
Presented by Circle X at [Inside] the Ford
Lemon Meter: 83% Read review excerpts here.
Summary:  What do a porn star, a stripper and a soldier have in common with a Christian, a Muslim and a Mormon? They all want to get NAKED BEFORE GOD ... what's left to reveal, once they've bared it all?

Cafe Vida
by Lisa Loomer
Premiered April 26th, 2012
Presented by Cornerstone Theater Company
Lemon Meter: 100% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "Acclaimed playwright Lisa Loomer pens the first play in The Hunger Cycle, a collaboration between Cornerstone, Homeboy Industries and Homegirl Café. Chabela and Luz are rival homegirls ready to leave the life and begin anew at Café Vida — the only place in the city that gives young women and their troubled pasts a genuine second chance to start a new life free of violence. It’s here that these former enemies choose “la vida” over “la muerte” as they learn to compost, tend a garden, julienne an onion, and rock your lunch order with a smile and a heaping side of transformation."

Sukie and Sue
by Michael John LaChiusa
Premiered April 28th, 2012
Presented by The Blank Theatre Company
Lemon Meter: 80% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "Based on actual events, Sukie & Sue: Their Story tells the creepy yet funny tale of two young nurses who have everything to live for ... great boyfriends, jobs that actually help people, and as much weed as they can smoke. That is until their Raggedy Ann doll becomes possessed and destroys their lives."

The Children
by Michael Elyanow
Premiered May 3rd, 2012
Presented by Boston Court
Lemon Meter: 92% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "What if a character from Medea wrested the children away from their mother’s murderous intent, accidentally transporting them to present-day Maine in the middle of a hurricane? The Children is a layered, Rubik’s Cube of a story, rich with comedy, passion and pain. Is that the modern-day sheriff or Jason, Medea’s husband? Will these children grow up to overcome their horrific childhoods? Wild theatricality, myth, and puppetry combine to tell an eerily moving story of survival and healing."

by Vanessa Claire Stewart
Premiered May 25th, 2012
Presented by Sacred Fools
Lemon Meter: 94% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "Chronicled through the lens of his own silent films, Stoneface recreates some of Buster Keaton's most memorable gags live on stage, capturing the legend of a bygone era and telling the tale of the redemption of one of Hollywood's greatest performers."

Hearts Like Fists 
by Adam Szymkowicz
Premiered August 3rd, 2012
Presented by Theatre of NOTE
Lemon Meter: 100% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "Dr X is sneaking into people's apartments late at night and injecting lovers with a serum that stops their hearts. Lisa joins the Crimefighters, a group of crimefighting women, to stop him. Peter, a heart doctor, is trying to create an artificial heart that can be mass produced so no one will fear to sleep with their lovers again."

Justin Love
Book by Patricia Cotter and David Elzer
Music and Lyrics by Lori Scarlett and David Manning
Story by David Elzer and Bret Calder
Premiered September 21st, 2012
Presented by Celebration Theatre
Lemon Meter: 88% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "Justin Rush is Hollywood’s biggest movie star who has it all; a beautiful, devoted wife, more money than he knows what to do with, a huge summer action blockbuster set to open - but he’s finding it harder to keep his secrets secret in our TMZ, twitter-addicted, celebrity-obsessed culture. Justin's wife Amanda, (rumored to be under some sort of "contract"), is getting frustrated by the growing questioning of her husband’s sexuality and the endless scrutiny about their "alleged" arrangement. When Chris Andrews, his publicist’s assistant and Mitchell Matthews, her old high school sweetheart (and now tabloid photojournalist), enter their lives, things start to get complicated. What if the rumors aren't true? But if they are...will any major movie star ever come out, or will they continue to retreat into the closet for career’s sake? Someeone has to go first…will it be Justin Rush?"

Faith: Part 1 of a Mexican Trilogy
by Evelina Fernandez
Premiered October 12th, 2012
Presented by Los Angeles Theatre Center
Lemon Meter: 100% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "Set before the backdrop of the Great Depression, Faith is the story of a family faced with the challenge of retaining ancient traditions and cultural memory in the midst of social and political upheaval."

Death of a Salesgirl
by Patricia Scanlon
Premiered October 13th, 2012
Presented by Bootleg Theatre
Lemon Meter: 100% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "Death of a Salesgirl follows Cat (Patricia Scanlon), a struggling salesgirl on her mission to break in new territory. Sales aren't what they used to be and Cat longs for the satisfaction she once found in “a mutually beneficial, yet heartfelt, exchange between two consenting human beings.” As Cat prepares to stake out new territory, alone, in a seedy Hopperesque motel, she succumbs to a strange and disorienting nostalgia that invites a mysterious visitor, Frank (Paul Dillon). Gin, magic and mayhem ensue… and Cat soon finds herself caught between two worlds. As the real and surreal collide, Cat is forced to decide between the two or remain forever stuck between them... in the cramped motel, in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere."

Bad Apples
by Jim Leonard
Music by Beth Thornley and Rob Cairns
Premiered October 13th, 2012
Presented by Circle X
Lemon Meter: 74% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "Bad Apples is a new rock musical that follows three characters inspired by the three National Guard soldiers behind the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003/2004.  Jim Leonard has created a compelling, jarring, beautiful and heartbreaking story that asks how this tragedy came to be. Who were the victims? Who were the villains? Is sadism part of being human? Was Abu really an aberration brought on by a few 'bad apples?'"

Three Views of the Same Object 
by Henry Murray
Premiered October 20th, 2012
Presented by Rogue Machine
Lemon Meter: 100% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "Jesse and Poppy, longtime loves, have made a suicide pact to protect against the time when their bodies deteriorate and they lose control over their destinies. But life has thrown them a curve… so what does this mean for the pact? Three Views of the Same Object explores three different outcomes to this dilemma. It’s a story about enduring love and aging in America."

The Fisherman's Wife
by Steve Yockey
Premiered October 25th, 2012
Presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA
Lemon Meter: 80% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "Vanessa’s marriage to Cooper has grown stale. She wants excitement, passion. He merely wants to provide for her the best way he knows how: fishing. While Cooper is out at sea, Vanessa receives a visit from a mysterious traveling salesman with a bag full of danger. And he’s not the only one new in town: a ravenously horny giant squid and octopus have settled in under the dock, ready for whomever comes their way. Drawing inspiration from the foremost example of tentacle porn, Hokusai’s famous 200-year-old Japanese erotic woodcut The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, playwright Steve Yockey (Disassembly, Cartoon) seduces the audience with another of his brutally hilarious fantasias."


I guess I should have been a bit more clear:  the Permanent Ink List is for world premieres in Los Angeles.  The following shows had their LA debuts in 2012, but were produced in other towns first.

The Convert
by Danai Gurira
LA Premiere: April 17th, 2012
Presented by Center Theatre Group with McCarter Theatre Center and The Goodman Theatre
Lemon Meter: 89% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "It’s 1895 when the convert, a teenager named Jekesai, is thrust into strange new circumstances that pit Ancient African traditions against Western culture and Christianity. When conflict erupts, she must follow her heart and make the ultimate sacrifice.     With an urgent voice, both heartrending and humorous, Obie Award-winner Danai Gurira (In the Continuum and Eclipsed) brings yet another faraway world to the Douglas to enlighten, enrage and ultimately edify audiences."

Year of the Rabbit 
by Keliher Walsh
LA Premiere: September 15th, 2012
Presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA
Lemon Meter: 82% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: 'Race, gender, marriage and motherhood come into conflict in the award-winning war drama Year of the Rabbit. Spanning two families, two generations and two highly controversial wars, Rabbit illuminates the devastating consequences of war across generations and ethnicities -- from Vietnam to Afghanistan."

by Jeff Stetson
LA Premiere: October 3rd, 2012
Presented by Ebony Repertory Theatre
Lemon Meter: 100% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "Three weeks after Dr. King’s seminal “I Have A Dream” speech, a bomb destroyed an Alabama church, murdering four young girls and shattering the dream that had inspired so many. Set in a private club in 1987, Jeff Stetson’s “Fraternity” explores the journeys of seven successful black community leaders whose lives were forever affected by that tragedy. It examines what happens to those who seek power, privilege and inclusion, while abandoning the sacrifices that made their success possible."

The Belle of Belfast 
by Nate Rufus Edelman
LA Premiere: October 6th, 2012
Presented by Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA
Lemon Meter: 100% Read review excerpts here.
Summary: "The Belle of Belfast is Nate Rufus Edelman's sharp and witty play set in 1985 at the height of Northern Ireland's "Troubles." Seventeen-year-old Anne Malloy, a wild child since her parents' death by a terrorist's bomb, turns to the comforts of her local parish. However, her passion is not for the Church, but for her confessor, Father Reilly, forcing both to re-evaluate the meaning of faith and love in a time of crisis."

Note:  If I got anything wrong, or if any of you playwrights wish to correct the URL I direct people to from your name, shoot me an email:

Also, PLAYWRIGHTS:  IF YOU DO NOT YET HAVE ONE, PLEASE ESTABLISH AN ONLINE PRESENCE.  This goes for all of you out there, not just the few folks on this list I had to track down.  Make it easy for people to find you, dammit.

Okay, artistic directors and producers far and wide:  Take heed.  The companies listed above have done the R&D for you.  If you're looking for an exciting new work that will delight audiences, you may just find what you're looking for on this list.