Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Climate Change is Coming! Let’s Stop It Before It Drowns Our Theatres!

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Feb 27, 2015 @ 8:30 pm PDT

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los Angelesuserpic=theatre_musicalsAbout two weeks ago, I wrote a post about a situation unfolding here in Los Angeles with our intimate theatres (under 100 seats). The post concerned a move by Actors Equity, the stage actor’s labor union, to replace the “99 seat plan” (itself the successor to what was called “Equity Waiver” theatre) with a new plan that many felt would destroy intimate theatre as it is in Southern California. This new proposal (described in this article, but seemingly unavailable to those not in Equity) would essentially destroy non-profit theatre companies: individual actors could mount showcase productions with no legal protections; membership groups (who could not add to their members) could pay below minimum wage, and any other 99 seat and under theatre that used Equity actors would be required to pay those actors minimum wage for a minimum of 3 hours for each performance, and for rehearsal time.

Now, on the surface of this, you’re probably going — actors are people too (despite what some folks have said in the past). They deserve to be paid at least minimum wage, and to be able to make a living from the theatre. In an ideal world (cue the chirping birds and shining sun), I’d agree with you. Even in a slightly imperfect world — perhaps New York — this might work. Such a world understands and supports live theatre, and is willing to pay ticket prices that permit payment of such wages. Actors in such an imperfect world would not have other lucrative acting opportunities available to them that might make up for poor live theatre pay.

However — and this is the problem in Los Angeles — Los Angeles is far far from being a perfect world. Just ask anyone from San Francisco (hear that, Mr. Roadshow — pick on us for saying “the 405″, will ya??). In Los Angeles, there are many opportunities for actors to make reasonable money acting — there is television and film work, which comes up on short notice and pays well. What LA doesn’t provide is easy — and inexpensive — opportunties to practice the craft. Sure, you can pay for classes … or you can get paid (even if it is just gas and bus fare) to practice on stage as part of a show. Such practice has the side benefit of getting you seen by others in the industry, and permits networking that gets you those lucrative jobs.

I should note that I’m not talking from experience. I’m not an actor. I could never be an actor — I can’t inhabit a role. I’m not a director or producer or other creative. I’m a logically thinking engineer who attends a lot of theatre, and who has been reading what the actors and others have been saying about this proposal. I’m a blogger that some consider a reviewer (I hesitate to use the “critic” term); I attend lots and lots of threatre. In other words, I’m a professional audience. I’ve been trying, in my little way, to capture the audience point of view. Here’s my perspective.

Back in January 2014, I saw an excellent production of Sex and Education at the Colony Theatre. If you aren’t familiar with that show, it concerns an English teacher giving her last test before a well-earned retirement. She catches the star football player, who has already been offered a football scholarship, passing a note to a cheerleader to get her to sleep with him. The note is riddled with grammatical problems, and she refuses to pass him until he rewrites the note as a proper persuasive essay. In doing so, he learns not to think about what he wants to get out of the arrangement; he has to convince the cheerleader why it is to her benefit to sleep with him. This is a very important lesson.

So in this discussion, it is pointless to talk about what the actors want, or even what the producers want (and no one cares what the audience wants). What is important is what Equity wants, and what Equity wants is to protect the financial health of its members. Get that: its members. It doesn’t care about non-union people. It doesn’t care about the health of theatres. It doesn’t care about ticket prices. It wants Equity members to be paid minimum wage — the demand of other unions — and to be able to sanction employers (read “producers”) who hire Equity actors and fail to pay them that.

Pure and simple, the plan they propose will not do that. Los Angeles is a market with three types of theatre goers: those that only know of the “big” theatres that book tours; those that attend any and all theatre in Los Angeles; and those that are friends of actors that attend for free. The big musical tour crew won’t care about this proposal — they don’t even care if they see a non-Equity tour (I’m looking at you, Pantages). The rest of the folks rarely pay full price — they quest for the discount ticket. They will not pay what is required to permit non-profits to pay minimum page. A few non-profits might survive with equity actors, but the rest will not. They will either close — or more likely — employ non-union actors or actors working under assumed names (no sanction for the theatre there). That will hurt, not help, the union.

Everyone seems to agree that the current 99-seat plan is broken. But AEA’s proposal is not the answer. On Facebook, the AEA conciliators suggest voting for the plan to initiate the change — but I’ve seen no guarantees that the plan will change if voted in. Certainly, it is not in AEA’s interest to change it. I’ve seen some excellent proposals that increase actor renumeration based on the budget and size of the theatre. These can only be considered if this AEA proposal is voted down (and even that might not stop it, as the vote is only advisory).

Pro99 - Vote No NowI’m not an AEA member. I can’t vote. If you are an AEA member, I urge you to vote the proposal down.  I urge you, in membership meetings, to use Roberts Rules to your advantage, and introduce motions to consider a different proposal and reject this one. See if you can find a win-win, not the current proposed lose-lose.

Everyone can learn more about this. The LA 99 Theatre Community has posted a large number of articles on the subject. There have been numerous position statements on the subject, all of which Colin over at Bitter Lemons has collected. [ETA: And the I Love 99 folks have created a new Facebook community you should like.] Read learn.

But as I’ve said: I’m an audience member. What can I do? We don’t want to take actions that will hurt our actors or our theatres. I think the answer is to be there and to support. We can let our theatres know we support them. We can let them know of the economic impact we provide to the community at large — not just the tickets we buy, but the restaurants we support. This will encourage public officials to come out on the side of the 99 seat theatres. We can encourage actors we know to vote against the plan. We may also have services and skills that we can provide to the pro-99 community. We may not be able to act, but we know how to work computers, to build mailing lists, to analyze data. Audiences consist of not only unpaid actors, but lawyers, labor specialists, engineers, and problem solvers. We can bring our expertise to the fore to help.

Lastly, we can spread the word. Those of you on Twitter and other services supporting hashtags, use the tags #pro99 #LAthtr #ILove99. Don’t be passive. Speak up and keep LA’s intimate theatre community vibrant. Oh, and go see a show or two while you’re at it!


Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory.

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Feb 27, 2015 @ 7:10 pm PDT

userpic=star_trekThe big big news today has been the passing of Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy was the touchstone of multiple generations as a result of the iconic character he created — and how he fought so valiantly against the Vietnam War and for the healthcare of children. Whoops. Wrong Spock.

Seriously, Nimoy was much much more than the character he created. He was a long-time supporter of Yiddish and the Yiddish Theatre, and excelled in multiple artistic venues. As we remember that “pointy eared Vulcan”, let us also remember the other sides of Nimoy. Here’s a great article from Tribute that recalls Nimoy’s recent interview for the Stars of David book, and how Judaism and Yiddishkeit influenced his life and the characters he portrayed.

P.S.: I love the quote that titles this post, which was Nimoy’s last communication. It so reflects why theatre is so important in life.

Ballot Recommendations – LA Municipal Primary Nominating Election

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 22, 2015 @ 5:36 pm PDT

userpic=voteIt’s hard to believe, but we have an election about a week and a half away. You would hardly know it by the dearth of advertising. Of course, that means that turnout is going to be low — so low, in fact, that our precinct only got 3 pizza boxes (folded up voting booths). This will explain two of the measures on the ballot, but that may create more of a problem. Still, it is an election, and that means it is time for me to go through my sample ballot and tell you what I think.

Member of the City Council, District 12

Mitch Englander is running unopposed. Would be nice for him to have some opposition — after all, this could be a 5½ year term. Still, this is LA city politics for you, where we elect councilcritters who represent populations larger than a state.

Los Angeles City Unified School District, Board of Education, District 3

We have five candidates here, again, for a possible 5½ year term: Carl J. Petersen, Ankur Patel, Scott Mark Schmerelson, Filiberto Gonzalez, Elizabeth Badger Bartels, and the incumbent, Tamar Galatzan. Let’s see if we can sort these folks apart based on their websites. Note that I no longer have a horse in this race — my daughter is the successful product of an LAUSD education, under Galatzen, now at UC Berkeley. All have websites, passing the first hurdle. Let’s look at the endorsements next. The LA Times endorsement is lukewarm for Galatzen.  The Daily News also went for Galatzen. They note Gonzalez as the alternative for those who don’t want Galatzan. They note Galatzan was a Deasy supporter, and is “the only board member with children currently in an LAUSD school”.  Filberto was endorsed by the National Association of Social Workers, CSUN Young Democrats, representatives of NOW — essentially, supporting Filberto’s goal of advancing minorities. Schmerelson has the support of the California School Employees Association and the Associated Administrators — in other words, the teachers. Patel appears to have no major endorsers. Peterson has no major endorsers. Bartels has no major endorsers, and her front page emphasizes that she is a woman of faith, and has children on the autism spectrum. The “woman of faith” troubles me — I’m concerned about the excessively religious being on the school board and overtly or covertly influencing children. Given we have to pare down somehow, that’s a good starting point.

Let’s look at the issues. Galatazan is concerned about the budget, ensuring the A-G requirements are met (UC prerequisites), providing technology, and providing teachers with the needed devices and training. Filberto’s priorities are teachers pay, child safety, class size reduction, local control funding, and children with special needs. Petersen’s is accountability, high stakes testing, local control, defending Public Education, and children on the Autism spectrum. Badger’s is accountability, early childhood education, parent participation, providing sufficient resources, reducing dropout rates, safety and security, special needs children, and teachers and staffing. Schmerelson  focuses on local control, teachers, and adult education. There are some repeated themes here, and some aspects that shows a disconnect with Galtatzen.

But what’s important. For the most part, I didn’t have a problem with LAUSD. I wish teachers were paid what they are worth, but that’s not going to happen with budgets as they are. I wish there weren’t some of the idiotic rules, but the came in because of idiots. There’s the large issue of safety, but valley campuses are mostly safe. I saw no problems with parent participation — for those that wanted to participate. I can’t address special needs children, not having one.

I read through all the issues statements. There’s general railing against standardized testing — but that’s a state and federal requirement, not under local control. There’s general railing against teacher pay. We’d all love to pay teachers more, but only have so much budget. Unless you scrap or adjust Prop 13, we’re not going to be able to pay teachers what they deserve or need, and that’s a tragedy. But the school board can only allocate the pot, and there’s only so much to go around — and further, some is restricted on where it can be applied. There’s lots of railing against Deasy’s iPad plan. Well Deasy is gone, and things are being reevaluated.

I just can’t build up the enthusiasm for this one. Unless someone convinces me otherwise, I’m either going to abstain (leaving it to the parents with kids in the system to decide) or go for the incumbent.

Conclusion: Abstain or Galatzen

Los Angeles Community College District

Talk about a contest with even less interest that LAUSD — how about community college. We have four seats : 1, 3, 5, 7 and candidates I know nothing about. Not a lot of incumbents here, and not a lot of issues I know about. This is where I’m going to depend on the research of the LA Times staff and their recommendations:

Seat 1:  Andra Hoffman

Seat 3: Sydney Kamlager

Seat 5: Scott Svonkin

Seat 7: Mike Fong

In general, I agree with the Times reasoning.

Charter Amendments 1 and 2

Both of these charter amendments have the same goal: eliminate the silliness of the off-year election that everyone ignores. They move the city election dates and schedules, and the LAUSD dates and schedules, to align with Federal and State elections (i.e., even years). This means that in 2015 and 2017, candidates will have 5½ year terms to bring them into alignment with even years, and have everything line up in 2020.

I think this is a good idea, but there’s one shortcoming: What about the LA Community College District? Imagine the waste if that is the only thing on odd year ballots. I urge those to be aligned to even years as well.

Conclusion: For 1 and 2.

And that’s it. This election is a yawn.


The Inner Thoughts of a Girl Group

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 22, 2015 @ 10:25 am PDT

Inside Out (Grove Theatre Center)userpic=dramamasksI discover the shows I go to in many ways. For the theatres to which I subscribe, they pick the shows for me; in fact, that’s one reason I subscribe — to discover shows I might not otherwise pick. But the vast majority of shows I see I pick. I learn about them through promotion by Goldstar and LA Stage Tix; I learn about them from emails from publicists (they seem to think I’m a critic — I may write up the shows I see, but I’m computer security guy and professional audience). I learn about them from ads in programs (such as Footlights). I often learn about new musicals from Ellen Dostal’s excellent blog Musicals in LA. [and I should plug that I monitor this stuff with an excellent RSS reader, Newsblur, which is a great way to keep on top of websites]. Ellen’s blog alerted me to the show we saw last night — the 20th Anniversary production of Inside Out (FB) at the Grove Theatre Center (FB).  I had been looking for a show for this weekend, and just didn’t find one that screamed “come and see me”. Chavez Ravine at the Kirk Douglas came closest, but I couldn’t find tickets. This show called to me for a number of reasons: (1) it was a musical; (2) I had heard good things about Adryan Russ (FB) and her music before; (3) Bruce Kimmel (FB) was involved,  and we’ve liked the shows he’s done in the past (one, two, three); and (4) the subject matter sounded interesting. The net result: the first of two weekends seeing shows in Burbank. The verdict: This one is worth going to see — great performance, great musical, and a grand time.

Inside Out (with book by Doug Haverty (FB), music by Adryan Russ (FB), and lyrics by Doug Haverty (FB) and Adryan Russ (FB)) tells the story of a girl group. But not that kind of girl group — this isn’t Baby It’s You or some other jukebox musical. Rather, this is the story of a woman’s therapy group in the 1980s. This provides the opportunities for the women to talk and work out their problems, which provides the authors the opportunity to comment on the issues women faced with careers, the balance of work and family, and relationships. It also provided the opportunity to comment on failure and the path of recovery from failure.  This could have been a sit-and-talkfest; the fact that the participants sing through their problems is just an unsaid given. It’s the norm of the universe established in the first song.

Given the nature of this musical and this universe, the plot isn’t your traditional “tell a story” plot that one might see in Oklahoma. Instead, the plot is more on the order of A Chorus Line — learning the back story of a bunch of characters and watching them grow and change as they tell their stories and interact. For this to succeed, the mix of characters has to be right. Luckily, the authors chose a good mix: a mom who is dealing with changing body image issues after having children; a successful business woman with a stay-at-home husband and teenagers; a flighty CYT (cute young thing) into numerology and such; and a lesbian banker with a rapping teen son. The impetus for the show is the addition of a new group member: a well-known pop musician who hasn’t published anything or performed in years. The group discussions (and the songs presenting those discussions) touch upon a number of “touchpoint” subjects: the desire to be thin, the desire for a good relationship, what women want from men, the growth and depth of relationships, facing one’s fears, and taking chances. That the show successfully does that was reflected in the reactions of the women audience members — and I’m not talking just about those that know the cast members, but those that paid to be there (such as my wife, who thoroughly enjoyed the show).

Inside Out PhotosI’d venture to say that another reason for success was a directoral light touch. But in reality, I have no idea what the “touch” of the director, Bruce Kimmel (FB), was — and this is a good thing. I tend to believe that the sign of a good director — just like good sound and lights — is that they are transparent. You think everything is coming naturally from the actors. In this show, I couldn’t see obvious signs of overt direction — it all seemed that these were natural characters who loved being themselves. I guess that means there was good direction.

It didn’t hurt that the performances were top notch either. You can see most of the cast in two publicity photos I lifted from the Goldstar site, but note that we had the understudy in the role of Dena. All of the cast was excellent, so let’s talk about them (not behind their backs):

My favorite was Adrienne Visnic (FB) as Sage, the “freethinker”. She just radiated in the role — happiness, bemusement, joy, rapture. It was just a delight to watch her face — not only when she was upfront singing a song, but when she was in the background reacting to the other performers. She was very strong in her numbers, particularly “I Don’t Say Anything” and “Let It Go”. “I Don’t Say Anything” was a number that particularly hit home, as I could sense my wife thinking many of those thoughts about me :-).

Coming in a very very very close second was Stephanie Fredricks (FB) as Chlo, the lesbian banker. We’ve seen her before at REP in I Love You, You’re Perfectand I loved her performance then. She was great here, in much the same way as Ms. Visnic — her background and interaction with the other characters was great. You just got the sense that these women actually liked each other and were friends from this interplay. I don’t believe that level of nuance can come from direction — this comes from the actresses. She was wonderful in her lead numbers such as “never Enough”, but I also enjoyed watching her in the background in numbers such as “Thin.”

“Thin” brings us to the next actress I really liked (OK, I’ll admit it, I liked them all): Dana Meller (FB) as Molly. Meller’s first number, “Thin”, did a perfect job of establishing her character and echoing with the audience (as it touched on body image issues); her major number in the second act, “The Passing of a Friend” was also a hit. Again: great singing, great reaction, great interplay with the other characters and a delight to watch. I’ll note we’ve seen Meller before in both Insanity and Pest Control at the No Ho Arts Center. I still fondly remember Pest Control, and wish it would be revived and have a cast album.

Sandy Bainum (FB) was  strong as Liz, the high powered corporate executive. I initially didn’t warm to her character — I’m not sure if it was her look or the attitude she gave off. However, by the second act when the character loosened up, I was sold. She was great in her “Do It At Home” number, and just watching the transformation of the character was great.

For Dena — the character who seemingly was the focus of the group — we didn’t have the main player, Leslie Stevens (FB). Rather, we had the understudy, Jill Marie Burke (FB). Burke had a very different look than the other characters, and as with Bainum’s character, I was initially cold. Yet again, however, the performance won me over — by the second act as the character warmed up to the environment and the group, she shone. Burke nailed it on the songs and did great on the lines (one or two hesitations, but hey, this was an understudy situation, so they were truly minor). All of her numbers were great, but I’ll particularly highlight her second act numbers, “All I Do Is Sing” and “Reaching Up”. Of course, if her character really wants to find a venue where she can sing again, she should look no further than LA’s vibrant 99 seat theatre scene. More on that in a minute.

Lastly, bringing all these women together was the group therapist, Grace (Cynthia Ferrer (FB)). I could have sworn we had seen Ferrer before, but her name doesn’t appear in any of my writeups. I’m guessing this is because her character exuded that comfort and familiarity. She shone in her Act Two opener, “Grace’s Nightmare”.

The musical numbers were staged by Bruce Kimmel (FB) and Leslie Stevens (FB). Music supervision was by Alby Potts (FB), who provided the offstage music with someone else whose name I didn’t write down and who doesn’t appear to be obvious in the program. The movement and dance worked well, particularly in Dana Meller’s numbers. Music was strong throughout. Music arrangements were by Ned Ginsberg (FB), with vocal arrangements by E. Suzan Ott.

This brings us to the technical side — and the only quibbles with the show. The set design was by Rei Yamamoto/FB, and was very simple — some colored panels, and some office chairs. As they say, no expense was spared :-), but then again, this show has no real locations that had to be created, and the lack of a fancier set allowed the focus to be on the women themselves. Costumes were by Natalya Shaninyan (FB) and provided the quibble from my wife. I’m a guy — I wouldn’t know 80s fashion from a hole in the ground. My wife noted that some of the costume decisions were clearly of the wrong era — in the 80s, there wouldn’t be bare legs, there would be hose and shapers. Similarly, there were some comments from her on blouses tucked vs. untucked. I enjoyed the costumes, but wives often see things that we don’t :-). The sound by Josh Benton was clear and worked well. The lighting by Maarten Cornelis (FB) mostly worked — there were points, in my opinion, where the stage was a little too dark and the actors couldn’t be seen (and they weren’t intentionally in shadow).  Remaining credits: Victoria Chediak (Stage Manager); Maggie Marks (Props / Production Stage Manager), Art + Soul Design (Graphic Design), Michael Sterling (Publicity), Joanna Erdos (FB) (Associate Producer), Kritzerland Entertainment and Play Works Music (Producers).

The 20th Anniversary production of Inside Out (FB) continues at the Grove Theatre Center (FB) in Burbank through March 22, 2015. Tickets are available through Plays411.  Discount tickets may be available through LA Stage Tix and Goldstar. It is well worth seeing.

I Support 99 Seat Theatre in Los AngelesDuring the production, one of the character longs for a place where she can revive her career — a place where she can get back on stage and sing, and get back to being comfortable with performing again. If she was in Los Angeles, she’d have such a place — the wide variety of 99 seat theatres. Alas, on the horizon is a proposal from AEA that might drastically change this scene. The proposal would force 99 seat and under theatres to either give up their non-profit status and only produce actor-mounted productions (unless they were a preexisting membership company), or pay their performers minimum wage for both rehearsals and performances (with a 3 hour minimum per performance). In fact, this very production of Inside Out might not exist under the new rules — it is not an actor produced show, and employs at least 5 AEA actors — meaning that ticket sales and discount sales would not provide enough to pay them. 99 seat theatres would be forced to eschew use of AEA (and possibly SAG/AFTRA actors), and this will hurt the LA scene. If you, like me, are an audience member, you need to get up in arms about this.  Producers have their venues to speak up — through groups like TPPLA. Actors have the standing to protest with Equity. Us audience members? We need to let people know what we think. Are we willing to pay much more for 99 and under seat theatre? Are we willing to see shows with non-equity actors? Learn about the situation, and express your opinion. #Pro99

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: February concludes with a lot of theatre in Burbank. Next weekend bring two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon (for example, I just booked “Loopholes” for the first weekend in May). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

No Pork In This Chum

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Feb 21, 2015 @ 4:17 pm PDT

userpic=schmuckThis has been a busy busy week, and I haven’t collected much chum. However, I do have two articles of interest, both related to Judaism:

  • Where Are The Non-Orthodox Rabbis? This is an interesting article from the Forward looking at the shrinking class size of non-Orthodox denominational rabbinic schools. It also discusses the growth of the non-denominated rabbinic schools. Note that I’m not saying Orthodox rabbinic schools — rather, these are schools that accept a wide variety of practice from the rabbinic students, and teach Judaism — not a particular movement. This reflects a change that is happening in non-Orthodox Judaism as a whole — the movements and traditional synagogues are having trouble attracting members, whereas institutions that are just Jewish and just accepting are growing as they are seen as a form of “authentic” Judaism. Orthodoxy is growing, but as usual it is set apart a bit. Chabad is that odd beast, straddling the middle — accepted by those looking for “authentic” Judaism, but not quite seen as the unaccepting traditional Orthodoxy. This actually reflects Chabad’s approach of being accepting first and foremost.
  • Are Jews Responsible for Antisemitism? Note that I’m not asking the question myself — rather, it was asked this week in response to the attacks in Copenhagen. The question itself is insulting — it is the equivalent of asking a rape victim if they were responsible for their rape because of how they dressed or behaved. People need to learn that hatred towards any class is unacceptable, and violence towards any class is unacceptable. No one “asks for it”. This is true whether that class is based on sex (mysogyny and violence against women), sexual preference (violence towards gays), gender identification, race, or religion (and that includes that other form of Anti-semitism (this time with the hyphen) — violence against Muslims just because they are Muslim). This is a fight and a concern about which we all must be aware.


Audience Members! Awake From Your Slumber!

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Feb 16, 2015 @ 6:29 pm PDT

userpic=soapboxDo you attend live theatre in Los Angeles County? In particular, do you attend intimate (under 99 seat) theatre in Los Angeles County? If so, your quality of entertainment is being threatened by Actors Equity. Read on.

I touched on this issue in my write-up of Loch Ness, but I’d like to amplify it a bit, and ask you for your suggestions and help.

Theatre depends on a triad:

  1. Producers and Directors are required to provide the acting space, the infrastructure, and to bring together the technical components of a show. Often, they are required to program the show, in terms of selecting the script, choosing the technical staff, casting the show, providing the funding for the sets, the infrastructure for tickets, the rehearsal space.  Producers are also the ones that raise the money, pay for all the components they provide, and to pay the actors.
  2. Actors and Technical Artists are needed to create an interpret the art, to bring it to life on the stage. They are the people that get the “fame” and “glory” (such as it is). Some are lucky enough to make a living from the craft; others do the craft out of a need to create, not for the renumeration (although that’s nice).
  3. Audiences are required to receive the art, to provide the immediate feedback to the actors, to provide that energy that the actors live upon and for. Audiences are also required to buy the tickets, and provide the funds.

Recently, there has been loads of debate about the long standing “99 seat plan” in Los Angeles County. This plan, in essence, was a compromise to allow actors to create art. In particular, it was a plan that permitted actors that were part of the Actors Equity union to create art — without the plan, Equity actors would not be permitted to act in Los Angeles without giving up union status, union protection, and most importantly, union benefits such as healthcare and pensions. The plan severely limited the number of shows that could be done, required a certain number of “comp” tickets to permit the actors to promote themselves, set a cap on ticket prices. It provides rules regarding rehearsals and called for some minimum compensation (bus fare, free parking) to actors. Still, under the plan, theatre in Los Angeles thrived, and a number of under 99 seat companies were formed that do excellent work and permit the work of new authors to reach the stage. These companies often shared any surplus income with the actors.

Still, Actors Equity was unsatisfied and wanted to make a greater push into Los Angeles. Not being part of the union, I cannot know the reasons why. Whatever the reason, in late 2014 a move began to reform the 99 seat plan. Those in Los Angeles agreed reform was needed, and there were discussions exploring making changes based on the budget of a given production. As an audience member, this seemed reasonable to me. I should note that the website Bitter Lemons has been providing excellent coverage of all sides of this debate, and I urge those interested to go over to Bitter Lemons and to read and inform yourselves about it. AEA became interested as well, and at a town meeting they were told that reform was wanted, not scrapping the plan.

AEA has come back with a proposal that, essentially, scraps the plan. It provides for actor-mounted productions in theatres that do not have non-profit status. It allows for membership companies as of early February to remain, but to not have non-profit status, and to not admit additional Equity actors. For all other 99 seat and under productions in Los Angeles County, it requires that minimum wage be paid to all actors for all performances (3 hour minimum) and for all rehearsals. It removes the caps on the number of performances and ticket prices. If theatre want to continue to use Equity actors, this all but guarantees that prices will rise significantly; in the Los Angeles economy, that means — if theatres want to continue to use Equity actors — attendance will drop and theatres will close. Los Angeles is a price sensitive market. Just look at New York if you want to see the results — and the prices of Broadway and Off-Broadway theatre.

Will this kill theatre in Los Angeles. Likely not. It will make it so that the intimate theatres, to survive, refuse to employ Equity actors. This may affect show quality; it may also mean actors will be force to choose between their union and performing in Los Angeles. It may mean theatres will close. It may mean theatres will move to Ventura or Orange County to get away from the plan. It will hurt LA Theatre.

Remember I mentioned the triad above. Producers are mobilizing against this. Actors in Los Angeles are mobilizing against this. But I’m an audience member. I’m not an actor, I’m a computer scientist who attends theatre. What can we do as audience members, and is there any evidence that Equity even cares what audience members think? [Again, I think back to Sex and Education at the Colony — what can we say that will convince Equity that it is in their interest to drop this proposal… and that’s likely very different than what we want.]

I’m open to your suggestions. All I can think of is a threat to boycott Equity productions at intimate theatres if this goes through, but that doesn’t hurt anyone but the actors and producers, and means nothing to Equity. Perhaps letters to Equity indicating we will stick with our theatres if they choose to eschew the hiring of Equity actors? All I know is that without us, actors are shouting at an empty space. That isn’t theatre. That’s ranting — and that’s what we blog authors do.

(taps on the screen) Is anyone out there?


Oh, The Shark Has Pretty Teeth

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon Feb 16, 2015 @ 9:25 am PDT

The Threepenny Opera (A Noise Within)userpic=yorickMany (many) years ago, songs used to regularly move from the stage to the popular charts (unlike today’s trend of taking songs on the popular charts and assembling them into a show). This movement was such that many people didn’t know the stage origins of the songs. Some examples are songs like “Hey, Look Me Over” (which came from Wildcat), “The Ballad of the Shape of Things” (which came from The Littlest Revue), or “Hey Jimmie Joe John Jim Jack” (from Let It Ride). Two great examples of this are the songs “Mack The Knife” (made very popular by Bobby Darin and Louis Armstrong) and “Pirate Jenny” (also known as “The Black Freighter”) (made popular by artists such as Judy Collins and Steeleye Span). Both of these songs actually came from a popular 1929 music by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill called “The Threepenny Opera“. Although it was a popular musical in its day, you don’t see productions of it all that often these days. So when I learned that Pasadena’s A Noise Within (FB) was doing the show in repertory with Figaro and Julius Caesar I blocked a date and started looking for tickets. Previews of the show started yesterday, and we were there for the first preview.

The Threepenny Opera is an interesting show. It started out as a German adaptation of John Gay’s The Beggars Opera. Although called an opera, it really isn’t; nor is it a traditional musical. It is really a play with musical interludes. Today, however, people think of it as a musical (but then again, people’s knowledge of the story comes from the Moritat, “Mack the Knife”). It is a very dark show, commenting on the underbelly of society — beggars, prostitutes, thiefs, whores, and the corrupt police. In many ways, it reminded me of Gilbert and Sullivan in that it seemed intent on skewering and commenting on the structure of society — nowhere is this better seen by the end of the show, where Macheath is saved from the gallows and elevated to be a hereditory peer. I also have recollections (although I can’t confirm them online) that the show was intended not for the upper class opera crowd, but for the everyday public who couldn’t afford shows. Whether that recollection is true, the show is often staged as if it was — fancy productions are eschewed for rougher productions. In fact, many shows open with the reminder: An opera for beggars. Conceived with magnificence such as only beggars could imagine, and an economy such as only beggars could afford…The Threepenny Opera!”

The story of The Threepenny Opera revolves around two principle characters: Macheath (“Mack the Knife”) and Polly Peachum. Mac makes his living through theft, murder, and other crimes. Peachum income — actually, her parent’s income — comes from the beggars of London, whom Mr. Peachum has organized, outfitted to best appeal and allocated throughout the city (skimming a hefty percentage from the top). Other principle characters include Tiger Brown, an Army buddy of Macheath now a police officer in London who watches out for his friend (and gets kickbacks); Brown’s daughter Lucy, who is seemingly pregnant by Macheath; and Jenny Diver, a prostitute who used to be Mac’s girlfriend. A Noise Within describes the story as follows (edited a little):

The story begins in the shop of Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, who controls London’s beggars, equipping and training them in return for a cut of their earnings. He enlists a new beggar with the help of his wife, after which time they notice that their grown daughter Polly did not come home the previous night. The scene shifts to an empty stable where Macheath is about to marry Polly as soon as his gang has stolen and brought all the necessary food and furnishings. No vows are exchanged, but Polly is satisfied, and everyone sits down to a banquet. Since none of the gang members can provide fitting entertainment, Polly does it herself. The gang gets nervous when Chief of Police Tiger Brown arrives, but Brown turns out to be an old army buddy of Mack’s who has prevented him from being arrested all these years. Everyone else exits and Mack and Polly celebrate their love. Polly returns home and defiantly announces her marriage, as her parents urge her to get a divorce and Mrs. Peachum resolves to bribe Mack’s favorite prostitutes. Polly reveals Mack’s ties to Brown, which gives Mr. and Mrs. Peachum an idea about how to snare Mack, and the trio meditates on the world’s corruption. // Polly tells Mack that her father will have him arrested. He makes arrangements to leave London, explaining his bandit “business” to Polly so she can manage it in his absence, and departs. Polly takes over the gang decisively as Mrs. Peachum bribes Jenny, Mack’s old lover, to turn him in. On the way out of London, Mack stops at his favorite brothel to visit Jenny. Smith arrives and apologetically arrests Mack, who goes to jail. He bribes the guard to remove his handcuffs; then his wife, Lucy—Brown’s daughter—arrives and declares her love. Polly arrives, and she and Lucy quarrel. After Polly leaves, Lucy engineers Mack’s escape. When Mr. Peachum finds out, he threatens Brown and forces him to send the police after Mack, which engenders another mediation on the unpleasant human condition. // Jenny comes to the Peachums’ shop to demand her bribe money, which Mrs. Peachum refuses to pay. Jenny reveals that Mack is at Suky Tawdry’s house. When Brown arrives, determined to arrest Peachum and the beggars, he is horrified to learn that the beggars are already in position and only Mr. Peachum can stop them. To placate Peachum, Brown’s only option is to arrest Mack and have him executed. Jenny mourns Mack’s plight. In the next scene, Mack is back in jail. He begs the gang to raise a sufficient bribe, but they cannot. A parade of visitors—Brown, Jenny, Peachum, and Polly—enters as Mack prepares to die. Then a sudden reversal: A messenger on horseback arrives to announce that Macheath has been pardoned by the Queen and granted a castle and pension.

Note that the story is in some sense fluid. The original was in German, and there have been numerous translations. I was most familiar with the Marc Blitzstein translation from 1954 (as that was the recorded version I have) — this has the best known lyrics for Mack the Knife and Pirate Jenny, and allocates Pirate Jenny to Jenny in Act I. ANW’s used the Michael Feingold version developed for Broadway in 1989 (with Sting as Macheath). This version returned Pirate Jenny to its original performer and place (sung by Polly Peachum to entertain at the “wedding” in Act I), and made some lyrical changes that made some songs a bit jarring (in particular, Pirate Jenny doesn’t refer to “The Black Freighter” but a Galleon). However, that is not the fault of this particular production; productions often use the most recent translation.

ANW’s production, which was directed by Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott, made a number of production decisions that, in my opinion, hurt the production. Before I go into them, I must note that what I saw was a preview (in fact, the first preview), so there is a good chance that these may be corrected by the official opening. I hope they are.

As ANW’s production opened, the cast members were strewn around the auditorium saying random things in character. The point of this was unclear. Was it to establish character? We had no idea who these overly costumed folks were. Create ambiance? Unclear. The show then started with the lights dimming, the overture starting, the characters assembling in chairs onstage, and launching into The Ballad of Mack the Knife. There was not a balladeer, nor was there an announcement made to remind the audience (which, being a Sunday matinee, was loaded with senior citizens) to turn off their cell phones.  I think this was a poor decision for the opening. These days we need “the announcement” (as we were reminded when someone’s cell phone went off loudly about 20 minutes in); I also think the balladeer is a better way to present the Moritat than a group choral number with alternating parts.

There were other jarring technical aspects as well, which I’ll get out of the way before we launch into the good.  As this was a preview, all of these may be corrected by the official opening. The lighting design by Ken Booth was, in short, distracting. There were moving lights moving for no purpose other than to distract, and lekos going off and on in the back — again, seemingly only to distract. The overall lighting was dark — not only in mood (which was understandable) but in intensity. This often left the performers in shadow, which isn’t good. The costume design (by Angela Balogh Calin (FB)) and hair, wig, and makeup design (by Gieselle Blair (FB)) also had an occasional jarring aspects. In particular, the eyebrows on many of the actors were overdone, which served to distract rather than to illuminate. I also found Polly Peachum’s outfit distracting — in particular, the hose, as there were dark splotches that made me constantly wonder if it was a hosiery effect or if the hose was hiding tattoos. All of these were unnecessary distractions — and luckily, I believe all of them are easily correctable (and, hopefully, will be corrected during the preview process). They are also non-fatal.

Luckily, the performances themselves were quite good (modulo the common problem with shows set in England of American performers doing English accents so heavy that they are hard to understand). All of the leads had wonderful voices and performed their characters well. There were some slight elements of overplay, but that’s a suspension-of-concern as I believe that is the nature of this show. There wasn’t quite the joy in the characters I like to see, but that could be reflective of (a) this being an early preview, before the actors have gotten to know the characters well, and (b) this being a repertory production where the actors are regularly swapping their characters for others in Figaro or Caesar. It could also just be the fact that this is a dark show: there’s no joy of the actors in their characters because there is little joy in the characters themselves.

In the leading tier of performers were Andrew Ableson (FB) as Macheath and Marisa Duchowny (FB) as Polly Peachum.   We’ve seen Ableson before in both Ionescapde and The Beastly Bombing. Both had lovely voices and handled their numbers well. I particularly liked Duchowny’s “Pirate Jenny”, and all of Ableson’s numbers. Immediately supporting them were Geoff Elliott as Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum and Deborah Strang (FB) as Mrs. Peachum. Elliott’s Mr. Peachum had the appropriate gravitas and stench of corruption for the character; Strang’s Mrs. Peachum blended a bit more in the background, but came out strong in her interactions with Jenny Diver (especially in the middle of Act II). Both sang their numbers well, and moved quite well when they climbed the scaffolding.

In the next tier are probably the last well known characters: Jeremy Rabb (FB) as Tiger Brown; Stasha Surdyke (FB) as Jenny Diver, Maegan McConnell as Lucy Brown.  We’ve seen Ms. McConnell before, back in the East-West production of Pippin.  I recall liking McConnell’s take on Catherine there, and she did a lovely take on Lucy Brown here (both in singing and performance). Surdyke’s Jenny was also strong, especially in the opening number for Act II and the number with the ropes. Rabb was also good as Tiger Brown — he was notable not only in his number with Macheath, but his number and performance in the closing where he essentially explained why the large painting of the horse we see at the beginning of Act I looks so odd.

Rounding out the characters in the show are the crew supporting Macheath, the beggars supporting the Peachums, and the various prostitutes supporting Jenny. Although some of these characters have names, the story is such that you never get a sense of them as characters. All performed well. This tier consisted of: E. K. Dagenfield (FB) (Filch/Weeping Willow Walt), Henry Noble (Matt the Mint), Abubakr Ali (FB) (Crook-Fingered Jack), Matthew Ian Welch (FB) (Sawtooth Bob), Jack Elliott (Jimmy), Fionn James (Ned), Alison Elliott (FB) (Dolly), and the ensemble members: Laura Lee Caudill (FB), Shea Donovan (FB), Aly Easton (FB), Zachary Kahn (FB), Carly Pandža (FB), Toby Dalton Riggle, and Nichole Trugler (FB).

In terms of music and movement, the production was reasonable. There were no choreography credits, so presumably much of the movement came from the directoral team. Sergio Leal and Isabella Grosso from Latin Dance Pro were consultants for the tango. The music was under the direction of DeReau K. Farrar (FB), who also served as conductor of the 7 member band: Melissa Sky-Eagle on keyboards, Scott Roewe and Wes Smith on woodwinds, Angela Romero on trumpet, Adam Liebreich-Johnson on tenor and bass trombone, Robert Oriol (FB) on guitar, banjo, and bass, and Tim Curle on percussion. In general, the orchestra provided a good sound. There was the occasional dissonance — I’m not sure if it was a flat, a minor note, or intentional — but it seemed to fit with the nature of the beggar’s production, so I’m going with intentional. Only occasionally did the music overpower the singers.

Turning to the technical side now. The scenic design by Frederica Nascimento was on the order of… what scenic design. I don’t necessarily mean this in a bad way. The scenic design was simple — lots of visible scaffolding, hand painted signage, hand labeled boxes, and little things to suggest location. It worked well for a repertory production, but it definitely wasn’t elaborate. It gave off the sense of this being an itinerant theatre troupe giving a cheap touring production — which I guess was the intent. It was supported by the props from Marissa Bergman (FB) which worked well.  I’ve commented on Ken Booth‘s lighting before: there were lots of lights in the back blinking on and off for no apparent reason, and there were times the lighting bridge was lowered — again, for no clear reason. Lighting should be invisible and subtly create the mood; this wasn’t. The sound design under sound consultant Robert Oriol (FB) was reasonable, although the leads could have done with stronger amplification to make theme clearer. For the most part (i.e., modulo the minor problem in Polly’s costume) the costumes of Angela Balogh Calin (FB) worked well. Similarly, modulo the occasional distracting eyebrow, Gieselle Blair makeup worked well. It was a little overdone, but that’s the style of this form of show — it’s not as naturalistic as Saturday’s production of Loch Ness was. Remaining technical credits were: Aaron Michaud/FB (Audio Engineer), Juliana McBride (FB) (Stage Manager), Nike Doukas (Dialect Coach), Marc Chernoff/FB (Technical Director), Maria Uribe/FB (Costume Shop Coordinator), Orlando de La Paz (Scenic Painter), and Samantha Sintef (Assistant Stage Manager).

I’ll also note that I found ANW’s program to be one of the more confusing programs out there: a thick booklet consisting of a few pages on each show, followed by an alphabetical listing of all the actors in all the shows combined. Although this does make sense for a repertory company, it makes it hard for an audience to read about the actors in their particular performance. I was pleasantly surprised at the large number of actors in this show that had their own webpages (good). As I tend to add Facebook links, I’ll also note that I had a large number of people that had learned to limit the visibility of their friendslist (a good thing, security-wise), and there was a larger proportion of people without Facebook links. Is this an indication of the decline of Facebook? I remember when I used to always include MySpace links until no one maintained them anymore. But I digress.

The Threepenny Opera continues in repertory with Figaro and Julius Caesar through  May 9 (Threepenny runs Feb 15 through May 9; Figaro runs March 1 through May 10; Caesar runs March 22 through May 8). The official opening night is February 21. Tickets are available through the ANW Box Office, and on Goldstar. Even with the technical distractions (which will hopefully be corrected) this is a production worth seeing: Threepenny is rarely done in Southern California, and this one is done reasonably well.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: February concludes with a lot of theatre in Burbank. The weekend of February 21 sees us in Burbank for Inside Out at the Grove Theatre Center (FB). February closes with two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon (for example, I just booked “Loopholes” for the first weekend in May). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.


Wanting to Believe

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun Feb 15, 2015 @ 11:02 am PDT

Loch Ness (A New Musical)userpic=theatre_ticketsThis year seems to be starting out on a particular theme — one that is emphasizing creativity and expressiveness.  We saw that creativity earlier this year at ZJU’s 50 hour theatre; it was also apparent in the creative reimagining of Pulp Fiction.  We’ve seen super expressiveness on stage as well, both with the puppeteers of Avenue Q, the clever ideas behind Serial Killer Barbie, and the wonderfully expressive lead in Redhead. We saw both combined in the new musical now playing at the Chance Theatre (FB) in the Anaheim Hils: Loch Ness.

Loch Ness, a new musical by the father/son team of A. D. Penado (FB) (lyrics and book) and Marshall Pailet (FB) (director, music, books), tells the story of the Loch Ness monster, of course (although that term is a little pejorative :-)). But that’s only part of the story in Loch Ness (the musical). The real focus of the story is on belief, holding on to that belief in the face of reality, recognizing when to give up on a mistaken belief, and coming to the realization — when you do so — that what you gain by giving up may be much more than you gain by holding on. Loch Ness (the musical) is a story about relationships and love — but it isn’t the traditional romantic love that was celebrated in the Chance’s last musical, She Loves Me; rather, the love celebrated in this musical is the love between parent and child, and between child and parent. The two notions — belief and love — combine to create the necessary “I want” that propels the story forward, and provide to be what, ulitmately, make the story successful.

So what is the story behind Loch Ness? It centers around the Westerbook family: the father, Dr. Thomas Westerbrook and his daughter, Haley Westerbrook (and her pet frog, Mudpie).  The Westerbrooks recently lost Haley’s mother in an aircraft disappearance over the North Sea. After searching and searching and searching — exhausting all family funds — Dr. Westerbook gave up the search. The only work he could find was for a wealthy patron, Leana Callaghan, who had once seen the Loch Ness monster when she was young and snapped a picture of her (which looks like a smudge). After a timely inheritance, she now had the funds to prove she exists. She hired Dr. Westerbrook to do the search. Haley comes along, although she’s supremely pissed at her father for giving up the search for her mom and keeps running away and rebelling. Assisting Dr. Westerbrook in the search are Captain Jameson (who prefers to be called “CJ”, the C being for Captain) and two French research assistants, Pierre and Eclair. Not surprisingly, during one of her rebels, Haley discovers Nessie. Nessie, too, is searching for her mother and wants to return to the North Sea to find her. She believes that she can, if only she can get big enough. This gets to the underlying myth of this show: Nessie shrinks when she is photographed and reality comes into play; she grows when people simply believe in her. This starts Haley’s quest: to get people to believe in Nessie while preventing her father’s mission (and Lady Callaghan’s mission) to provide photographic proof of Nessie. If Haley succeeds, Nessie has promised her that she will take her to the North Sea to find her mother. Lurking behind everything is the mysterious “Oiler”, who keeps muttering about things in the Scottish highlands. I won’t spoil the twists and turns of the adventure along the way, but suffice it to say that by the end of the show, both Haley and Nessie have found what they needed, even if it was not necessarily what they believed. The overall effect was just beautiful, creative, and touching.

Katie Brown, Nessie, and Julia Cassandra Smith. Photo ©2014 True Image Studio provided by the Chance Theatre press websiteMuch credit goes to the direction of Pailet (FB), the choreography of Kelly Todd (FB), and the masterful scenic and puppet design of Fred Kinney (FB) and Megan Hill (FB). These folks used creative collaboration to create an environment where Nessie came to life through the work of multiple puppeteers. Using the same technique seen in Avenue Q, the puppeteer’s faces were visible and were amplifying the limited expressiveness of the actual puppet head (which was a single-rod puppet). Katie Brown (shown to the right) served as the main face and voice of Nessie (more on her later), while other actors doubled controlling other parts of Nessie and were equally visible and expressive. It was remarkable to see and emphasized why intimate theatre is a necessity — in the scale of a large auditorium, this magic would be lost for much of the audience.

Julia Cassandra Smith and Nessie/Katie Brown. Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance Theatre press websiteMusically, Loch Ness was well-assembled as well. A complaint with many new musical writers these days is that they don’t know how to write musicals. The songs seem like the novelty songs of old — dropped in because they wanted music at that point, but the music simply repeats what had been said in the story, or provides an entertaining diversion. This was a problem in the recent Serial Killer Barbie.  I’m pleased to say that this musical gets it right — the songs are integral to the story and propel it along. I’d give specific examples with the names of the song, but (alas) no song list was provided and one could not be found online (even at the press site, hint hint). A few musical moments do stick in my mind the morning after. In Act I, there is the moment where Nessie and Haley express their shared hope, their desire to fly back to their mothers. This is just a beautiful song that moves the story along perfectly. Another song that sticks in my mind is the opening to Act II, where CJ, Pierre, Eclair and the Oiler express their joy at finally realizing Nessie is real. The creative musical nature of the number was remarkable. Lastly, there is a touching song in Gaelic that perfectly captures the emotion between parent and child.

Loch Ness Set. From Marshall Pailett's websiteI mentioned the set design earlier with the puppet, and I’d like to discuss it before I go into the actors. The picture to the right, from Marshall Pailett’s website (there were no good set pictures on the Chance website), gives you an idea. There was this large wooden sided pit with Viking wood carvings in front, topped by a movable bridge that could slide back and forth. The bridge represented the ship or land; Nessie and her puppeteers moved in the pits, ducking under the bridge as necessary. At the back of the set were wooden doors that could open up to prove a few specific locations. Dealing with the movable bridge and its back and forth was a different style of choreography on top of the few somewhat traditional dance numbers (this was more of a performance than a dance show). The set worked magic to create the sense of place, especially in the opening where fog machines were used to great effect to create the image and feel of steam rising off the Loch, and the bridge creating the image and feel of being out on the water. You may have heard the phrase “stage magic”. This was stage magic — art and imagination combined to create something real but not realistic, something that bridged the world between the imaginary and the concrete. About my only worry is whether this would scale — it wouldn’t work in many theatres, might lose the magic in large theatres, and there could be problems (as noted in the talk-back) in theatres with balconies. Then again, those are problems you want to have to solve, because that means a future life for the show.

Turning to the performances — they were remarkable (however, I’ve come to expect nothing less from the Chance Theatre (FB)). In the lead tier were Julia Cassandra Smith (FB) as Haley, and Katie Brown (FB) providing the “face” and voice of Nessie.  Both were remarkable. Smith’s Haley was youthful and playful and gave off a delightful depth of spirit — and she had a wonderful voice. Brown’s face was remarkably expressive and just made you melt; again, she also had a delightful voice that worked quite well with Smith’s.

Loch Ness - Jackson Tobiska, Matt Takahashi and Angeline Mirenda . Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance Press websiteIn the second character tier were Jackson Tobiska (FB) as Dr. Thomas Westerbrook and Angeline Mirenda (FB) as Leana Callaghan. We’ve seen Tobiska before in both Triassic Parq and Lysistrata Jones. He plays the scientist well, and captured the fatherly nature of the character quite well. He had a very nice singing voice. Mirenda was seemingly the villain of show — the women hellbent on proving the existence of Nessie. She captured that aspect of the character well both in look and performance.

As we enter the next tier, we’re getting to characters who not only played their “name” roles, but who also helped manipulate the puppets. The first half were the main ship characters: Alex Bueno (FB) as CJ, Keaton Williams (FB) as Pierre, and Gina Velez (FB) as Eclair. We’ve seen both Bueno and Williams before in Parq and were impressed with them then; they were perfection here. Velez is new to us but was also fun to watch. As their name characters they were delightful — both in the little comedy asides (in particular, CJ and the coffee cup at the beginning of the show, and the interactions between Pierre and Eclair) and in their singing and dancing (as I noted before, the opening of Act II is just spectacular). Williams and Velez were also notable for their manipulation of Nessie — especially when they were working close to Smith’s Haley, where the expressiveness of their faces (especially Keaton William’s face) was indescribable for what it added to the show. You can see the three of them in the image to the right.

Loch Ness - Gina Velez, Alex Bueno and Keaton Williams. Image ©2014 True Image Studio from the Chance press siteRounding out the characters in the show were Corky Loupe (FB) as the Oiler, Matt Takahashi (FB) as Angus Ogilvie, and Laura M. Hathaway (FB) as the Balladeer. We saw all three before in She Loves Me. These roles were minor, although Louple’s Oiler provided a wonderful comic relief in his few songs and asides — in particular with the toaster joke (no, not that toaster joke) and the percussion in the Act II opener. I couldn’t quite figure out the purpose of the Balladeer; I saw her more as an echo of the mother who was lost at sea (and it might have been better to refer to her that way). All three provided other background characters and puppet manipulation, and were wonderful in those aspects (in particular, the pub crawl scene).

Music for this show was prerecorded to provide the lushness that that the composer wanted. Mark Sonnenblick (FB) was the Musical Director, and Ryan O’Connell (FB) was the orchestrator.  I do have a few wishes for the music: (a) that a song list was provided somewhere — this not  only helps those who want to share the show with our friends, but helps match the songs with the actors that performed them (a boon to the actors); and (b) that there was a cast recording. I strongly suggest that a Kickstarter be considered for such a recording (hell, if Evil Dead: The Musical or Now. Hear. This. can do it) — it can not only promote the show, but would preserve this wonderful cast (and might even provide income for the Chance). (PS: There also needs to be a scene list in the program)

I’ve talked before about the wonderful set and the Nessie puppet. Remaining credit in those areas goes to Baxley Andresen (puppet mechanics/fabrication) and Amy Ramirez (FB) (props designer). The sound design was by Ryan Brodkin (FB), and was notable not only for the quality of the amplification (which did occasionally overpower the singers, but that was positional and got adjusted during the show), but more so for the ambient noise that was provided that increased the feeling that one was at the Loch. Lighting was by Jonathan Daroca (FB) and it effectively established the mood. I particularly noted the effect of the LED lighting used on the side; I don’t recall this use of LED lighting before at the Chance.  Costumes were by Rachael Lorenzetti and worked quite well. The tight skirt and hose on Lady Callaghan actually made her character seem more evil; Haley’s outfit made her more kid-like, and the outfits of the crew made them appear to be suited for a ship. There were also all those woolens and plaids! There was no credit for makeup or wigs. Remaining show credits: Nora Ives (FB) (Associate Director), Nichole Schlitt (FB) (Stage Manager); Mary Kay Fyra-Mar (FB) (Executive Producer); Lee Seymour (FB) (Associate Producer). I’m not going to list all the Chance staff positions that were in the program; you can find them listed on the Chance website. Two that are worthy of note are Oanh Nguyen (FB), the artistic director, who presumably picked this show for the season (good choice!); and whomever is the marketing director (I’m guessing Molly Dewane, based on a web search), for her well-done speech before the show.

Loch Ness: A New Musical continues at the Chance Theatre (FB) until March 1. Tickets are available through the Chance website; they may also be available through Goldstar. The show is well worth seeing.

The Chance Theatre is lucky — they are in Orange County and not affected by the proposed changes to the 99 seat plan from AEA. These changes, if enacted, could create major changes in the intimate theatre scene in Los Angeles County — and have the potential to at worst decimate it, and at best move many small theatres to eschew the use of actors belonging to Actors Equity or other unions. This will hurt everyone — actors, producers, and audience members. I strongly urge everyone to read about the proposed changes. Colin Mitchell and Bitter Lemons has been doing a remarkable job of being THE source for information about this. Read. Learn. If you are in a position to do so, speak up about it. Alas, I don’t believe Actors Equity would care about the opinion of audience members (that is certainly not their constituency); they likely don’t care about the Producers either (or they wouldn’t have proposed this). They certainly don’t understand the Los Angeles theatre scene. Still, if can never hurt to let your opinions be known — as audience members, we can also choose to stay away from Equity productions under this proposal — after all, a show without an audience. Whatever you do, be out there to support LA Theatre and Southern California theatre.

Dining Notes: Yet again we had an excellent meal before the show at True Shabu. Wonderful organic hot-pot cooking, with farm fresh and healthy ingredients. It’s a shame it is so far away, or we would eat there more often.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: Theatre continues this afternoon with “The Threepenny Opera” at A Noise Within (FB). The weekend of February 21 sees us in Burbank for Inside Out at the Grove Theatre Center (FB). February closes with two more Burbank performances: the Good People Theatre Co (FB)’s production of Maltby/Shire’s Closer Than Ever at Hollywood Piano in the afternoon, and “The Road to Appomattox” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on February 28. March is equally busy, with the MRJ Man of the Year dinner on March 7 (and a Purim Carnival at TAS the next day), “Carrie: The Musical” at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB) on March 14, a “Drowsy Chaperone” at CSUN on Friday March 20, “Doubt” at REP East (FB) on Saturday March 21, “Newsies” at the Pantages (FB) on March 28, followed by Pesach and the Renaissance Faire on April 11. Other than the Faire, April is pretty much open (as is May), but I expect that to start changing soon (for example, I just booked “Loopholes” for the first weekend in May). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.