Director’s Notes for Bikini Beach Bacchae

By Paul Miailovich

This is the third time I have directed a version of The Bacchae.  I keep coming back to this 2400 year old play for several reasons.  First, because a significant portion of the original has been lost, translators and directors can literally fill in the blanks with their own ideas.  Second, it deals with the interplay among sexuality, religion, gender and politics which is of a personal interest to me and to contemporary audiences.  Third, although normally thought of as a tragedy, the play is also funny, romantic and suspenseful.  This ambiguity poses a particular challenge for directors, actors and especially audiences, who may find themselves turning to their companions to ask “is this supposed to be funny?”  Yet this tracks with how we experience life.  Events evoke a range of emotions, so that we often do not know whether we should laugh or cry.

The mid 1960s marked the beginning of a complex cultural and political shift in America and indeed around the world.   The rigid culture was unable to contain the demands for greater individual freedom, resulting in an explosion of expression.  The beach party films of that time promised American youth an endless summer of unbridled fun beyond the reach of parental authority.  The films, therefore, can be viewed as a tame precursor to the more wild abandon of the Summer of Love and Woodstock.  In retrospect, it appears that the uptight parents who feared the coeducational beach parties would lead to a frenzy of drug-fueled sex may not have been entirely incorrect.

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Son of Semele’s Wollowa: the Vanishing of Maude LeRay

By Julia Morizawa, Knightsbridge Member

This past weekend I went over to Son of Semele to see their original play, “Wallowa: the Vanishing of Maude LeRay.” My friend Jonathan CK Williams is in the show, so I was excited to check it out because I hadn’t seen him on stage in a while. And I have to say, it currently stands as the best show I’ve seen all year!

“Wallowa” has apparently been in the works for about 2 years, starting as a mere concept conceived by director Don Boughton. He first read about the story in the newspaper while traveling through Oregon. And the Son of Semele company developed the show (writing credit goes to Oliver Mayer) through improvisation and experimentation. It is based on the true story of a 76-year-old woman who got lost in the treacherous mountains of Eastern Oregon and was missing for about two weeks before she was miraculously found by a volunteer search and rescue team, in relatively impressive physical condition for the circumstances.

The final presented piece explores the perspectives of Maude’s husband, racked with guilt for having gotten them lost in the first place, their two children, the search and rescue team, and a fictionalized idea of what Maude may have experienced while she was lost. It makes use of a beautiful, mobile set (apparently inspired by an artist, whom I cannot recall), very elaborate and impressive lighting design, an incorporation of visual media, haunting sound effects (some of which were vocalized by the ensemble cast), and fluid physical movement. The fictionalized story of Maude’s experience (or hallucinations) incorporated Nez Perce Creation myths, serving as a tribute to the American Indian heritage in Eastern Oregon.

The ensemble cast consisting of twelve performers was quite flawless. No one stood out as being a weak link, which is something I see commonly in a lot of shows. Everyone was extremely strong, however Dee Amerio Sudik as Maude and Alexander Wright as her husband, Howard, were my personal faves. Every casting member was committed as individuals (whether performing as humans or animals), and committed to the ensemble. You know that whole cheesy joke when a stage actor is asked to “be a tree?” Yeah, well, it wasn’t cheesy when these guys did it.

“Wallowa” only runs for a couple/few more weeks, so if you’re in search of an impressive piece of live theatre that may make you tear up at the end (I sure did), go check this one out! It performs Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 4:00pm. Go to www.sonofsemele.org for complete details.

“Wallowa: the Vanishing of Maude LeRay”
directed by Don Boughton
written by Oliver Mayer
starring Sarah Boughton, Sharyn Gabriel, Daniel Getzoff, Gabriel Liebeskind, Gina Manziello, Matthew McCray, Diana Payne, Alex Smith, Dee Sudik, Alex Wells, Jonathan CK Williams and Alexander Wright.

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An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde

The following post is by Marti Hale, director of An Ideal Husband, opening at the Knightsbridge on May 6, 2011.

Oscar Wilde wrote An Ideal Husband over a hundred years ago – a play about morality, marriage and forgiveness.   Surely in this era of social media, “friending” and love match websites we have moved beyond the strict social confines Wilde’s characters found themselves in.  Surely, unlike his characters, we don’t put our partners and our politicians on a pedestal, and then vilify them when they fall from that pedestal.  This century is far removed from Wilde’s century, isn’t it, so how can he be relevant for audiences in 2011?  Well, despite our technology and our assumption that we are constantly evolving, we really haven’t moved far from Victorian morals in the United States (and seem to be quickly returning to them).  We are still searching for the ideal match, the flawless partner and when that partner turns out to have flaws, we move on instead of accepting them.  We expect our politicians to be flawless as well, and then when they are found not to be, we turn our back on them.  That is precisely what Robert Chiltern fears the most – that he will fall from the pedestal his wife Gertrude and his constituents have placed him on and that his career and his marriage will be over.  Sound familiar ? – we see it every day on the news.  Fortunately, with a rueful smile, Wilde lets us see the error of our ways, showing us that there is no ideal person or relationship.  He pokes fun at our silly behavior and beliefs and allows us to laugh at them – this is why I love Oscar Wilde.  Maybe that’s the secret of truly evolving – being able to admit and learn from our mistakes while having a good laugh at our own expense.  I think it’s worth a try.

– Marti Hale

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Some Sweet Day – Interview with Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus

Some Sweet Day will receive its world premiere at the Knightsbridge Theatre on Friday, April 1, 2011. Following is our conversation with writer Flip Kobler and writer-director Cindy Marcus.

Is this your first collaboration on a play, or have you worked on previous projects together?

Flip: Cindy and I have been a writing team since 1987. We sold our first screenplay to Paramount then and have been a personal and professional partnership ever since.  We now have 17 plays published with Samuel French, Dramatic, Pioneer, and Contemporary Drama.

Cindy: Actually, we didn’t start out as writers.  That was not the plan.  Uh uh.  We wrote ’cause I wanted to be a producer and Flip wanted to be an actor, and we thought we could write projects for Flip to star in.  We were very affected by Sylvester Stallone, don’t you know?  When the doors opening were for writing gigs, we decided that might be where we were supposed to go.

How long did it take you to write the show?

Flip: 6 monthsy-ish.  We started writing late summer of 2010, off and on between projects.  We had our first table read in December at our home in Valencia.  We went to Florida over the holidays (my mom is still there and we run a national teen theater camp there), and did another table read. We took notes on both reads and did another draft and a half in January of 2011.  In actual time 6 months, but much shorter in pure man hours.

What challenges did you face while developing the script? Did it change during rehearsals?

Flip: The first major challenge was getting it down to a single set.  Our years of writing have taught us a few things. You not only want to get your play published, you want theaters across the country to do it. You do NOT want to give them ANY  reason to say no.  So, multiple sets are cost prohibitive for a lot of theaters.  Difficult staging,  expensive props or costumes – all things we consider. Another aspect is casting. In doing this show, we’re dealing with a single character played by two actors 24 years apart.

At first we thought it’d be a breeze. But when our first choice for a younger me didn’t really look like me, it dawned on us that other theaters would have similar problems.  So we went back to the drawing board and rewrote to fix that casting issue. We morphed the script to include a backstory about an accident and reconstructive surgery, to loosen the casting reins. But in doing that, it really opened up some great plot and thematic issues we were able to mine. Don’t know if we’da found those little thematic nuggets if we hadn’t had to rewrite the casting issue.

And yes, the script has changed since rehearsals began. Not sure if it’s a blessing or a curse for the actors. On the one hand, we’re making the play better, tighter and honing characters, plots and themes. On the other hand, it’s new pages, new dialog they have to constantly learn.  That’s the glory and pain of original theater.  Sound Of Music has been done. It’s polished and buffed over years and years. Sometimes we don’t know what works until we see it up.

We had an example just this week. [Knightsbridge member] Kate McCoy was having trouble with a scene.  It just didn’t resonate for her.  And she tried everything to make it work. And BECAUSE she’d given it her all, pulled out every trick in her book, we realized the problem wasn’t with Kate, it was the writing. If Kate couldn’t make it work, it would never work.  So we looked at the scene and rewrote it. Again. She had discovered what we’d missed.  Now it works great, but those changes didn’t come in until Sunday, 5 days before opening.

Cindy: Only thing I can add here is the blend of comedy and heart is always a challenge when writing.  Although we believe that you can build in the laughter, you can’t build in the soul of a story.

What are the special advantages/disadvantages, if any, of being a husband and wife team?

Flip: 24 hour access.  That’s both the advantage and dis. It’s hard sometimes to find a way to shut off work. If we’re having an argument, our son will often hear us say, “Wait, is this a professional argument or are you cheesed at the husband?”  It’s taken us a while to develop our style and work method.  But the lines are pretty clearly defined now. We each know our strengths and weakness and respect and rely on the others’.  Usually, one of us spearheads a project with the other flying wingman.  When I run point, I use this analogy:  If you’re generous enough to consider our work art, then I’ve made the marble, Cindy’s made the statue.

Cindy: Phew!  Boy, is Flip right here. In truth, it isn’t just our son, Finn, that has the trouble defining the lines, it’s us too. And some of our worst fights have been creative.  I mean, we have faced some pretty tough stuff in our years together, and to be honest, truly, our meanest arguments have been over a script.  I think it’s ’cause it’s not just about the work for us, it’s about our livelihood.  And mistakes can not only create a bad script, but take away food on the table.

Advantages?  Flip and I speak the same language. We understand the ups and downs of this life, so we have more patience for each other.

How did you first come up with the basic concept for the show?

Flip: This play was actually reverse engineered from a screenplay we’d been toying with over a decade ago. Everybody has regrets. Everybody wonders “what if.” Everybody wishes they could have a do-over.  And we loved the idea of spinning that romantically. Getting a second chance to get the damn girl.  As we noodled, it seemed great fun to have a man play Cyrano to himself!  A wish-Ida-known-then-what-I-know-now deal.

The screenplay went through various drafts and incarnations, but always seemed to end up too actiony. I got it into my head that we needed a true villain. Could never shake that. When we started to work on the play, suddenly the change of format opened up new possibilities.  We didn’t need a bad guy, the characters were both the heroes and villains of their own lives. That major story breaking change would never have come if we hadn’t written for the stage.

Cindy: Oh my gosh, this was frustrating.  We both felt the comedic tonality of the screenplay but we kept coming back to that big old dramatic ending we had.  And could not make the darn thing work.  Doing this as a play completely freed us up.  And the years have honed our strengths.  We feel best when we are doing comedy with heart.

What previous work have you done as screenwriters?

Flip: As I said, we sold our first screenplay to Paramount. Another to Universal. Sadly, neither of those films has yet to be made. Then we ended up at Disney where we became the sequel king and queen for a while. We wrote the sequels: Lion King II Simba’s Pride, Beauty and the Beast II, Pocahontas II, Hunchback of Notre Dame II, Lady and the Tramp II, and a bunch of others.  In fact, we wrote the first screenplay for Pirates of the Caribbean when it was set to be an animated flick.

We wrote an Episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine entitled “Profit and Loss”. And our G rated family film Jack and the Beanstalk starring James Earl Jones, Christopher Lloyd, Wallace Shawn, Katey Segal and Chevy Chase came out in the summer of 2010.

How long have you lived in Los Angeles?

Flip: Cindy grew up here. I grew up in Florida.  I graduated on a Tuesday and on a Thursday I threw everything I owned into my car and chased the stars in my eyes to L.A.  30 years now.

Cindy: Ahem, uhm, I don’t think Flip has to go into the years thing.  LOL.

Any future projects in development?

Flip: Always, always, always.  We have two new plays coming out with Pioneer this fall.  Two more for spring of 2012.  I finished my first novel that I’m about to start shopping and we have several Young Adult novels nearing completion.  Cindy’s acting book will be published with Meriweather and hitting the shelves this fall.

Cindy: Must be a really good day cause we just got an offer today for another young musical.  Yay!  And Flip did not mention that I currently also have a book out.  It’s called Playdate (also through Meriweather) – and can be purchased at any major online bookstore.

What is your favorite aspect of writing for the stage?

Flip: My favorite part is direct access to your audience. You get to hear their laughter, gasps, applause, and yes, yawns and moans. But it’s alive. It breathes. Writing a book is great. But you never get to sit with the reader and see if they like it. It’s all so sanitized and removed.  Screenwriting is great, but our experience has been to get rewritten over and over by animators, producers and directors who have never written on their own. We can only wonder what the finished product would be if they’d filmed our script, not something close to our script.

So I love the real time reaction.

Cindy: Me?  I love getting to be responsible for the whole kit and kaboodle of the show.  From soup to nuts.  Often, we direct our own stuff.  It’s part of the teaching process for our teens in our summer camp.  Our camp is about theater as a means of transformation, so the shows we do enable the teens to find themselves and like what they see. They are pushed and prodded and nurtured through a very short three week process, but the work they do and the growth that comes out of this is transformative.  Phew – that’s a long winded way of saying we have to direct our pieces ’cause they are new.  And that’s an incredible experience to be able to see your project go from idea to production.  And sink or swim, it’s all yours.  Thankfully, we keep on swimmin’.

What was your favorite part of this process?

Flip: On this project, it’s been the theater and the cast.  Knightsbridge has been a blessing. They’ve got our backs when we need and get the hell out of the way when we don’t.  And they get it. They know when to do what.  Give us the freedom to create knowing we’ve got support behind us.

But this cast has truly been the godsend. Hard workers, professional and talented. Willing to go the extra mile with a smile and laugh. Often you get great talent, but lousy humans. Or vice versa, or some weird combo in between. But this entire company has made the journey fun and allowed us to hone the product to be better and better.

Cindy: Yep.  I gotta agree with Flip here.  Working with these actors.  They are a very, very talented bunch.  And passionate about their craft.  No ego.  Just the work.  Wow.  I felt like I died and went to heaven.

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The Knightsbridge Teams with Inside-Out Community Arts

By Elisa Richardson, Knightsbridge Member

On February 6, 2011, the Knightsbridge Theatre and Inside-Out Community Arts joined forces to provide at-risk youth an opportunity to explore the Elizabethan period as they experienced an interactive performance of Twelfth Night. Inside-Out Community Arts works with diverse at-risk and underserved Los Angeles middle-school and high school youth.  They strive to bridge cultural, geographic, socioeconomic and differently-abled boundaries to support youth in creating and presenting topical theater, through visual arts, performing arts, and media workshops.  Their goal is to empower youth with the tools, confidence and inspiration to make a positive difference in their communities and the world… from the inside out.  As part of the Inside-Out curriculum, students are provided an opportunity to see a professional theatrical production.   This allows them to learn from their theatrical experience as well as assist in the creation of their own original plays.  These original plays are often on topics that are of high importance to them.  Past play topics have included: rape, peer pressure, drug addiction, gangs, tagging, budget cuts, immigration and teen pregnancy.  This year, it appeared as if the trip to see a professional theatrical production was to be cancelled due to budget cuts.  However, The Knightsbridge Theatre came to the rescue and provided 30 free tickets to Inside-Out.  But they still needed transportation.  Since Inside-Out is located in Venice and the theatre was in Silver Lake, it seemed as if the trip would not be possible.  Just when the trip was going to be cancelled, Councilmember Bill Rosendahl’s office provided the students with a free bus.

When the kids arrived at the theatre, they were very excited.  Their wonderful teaching artists provided them with a synopsis of the play and a few key terms to help them bridge the Shakespearian gap. Even before they were seated, the students were quickly brought up on stage to dance and sing with the cast.  Since the show’s concept was to break the fourth wall by relating to the audience as invited party guests, the kids were immediately delighted to find that they too were part of the show.  According to the cast of Twelfth Night, the students were one of the best audiences of the entire run!  They laughed and sighed as they were completely involved in the story taking place on stage.  Many students commented on how well they understood the story, even though they were watching a Shakespearian play.  They left the theatre speaking in Elizabethan accents and extremely excited to tell their friends and families about their experiences. They walked away from Twelfth Night with some new vocabulary to discuss things like character work, as well as finding the courage to perform themselves.  In addition, they left with a sense of the Elizabethan period and a further interest to study Shakespeare and literature.

This experience would not have happened if it was not for this partnership among community based organizations. Many thanks are due to Councilmember Bill Rosendahl’s office and to Inside-Out Community Arts for taking care of our youth and providing them with an opportunity to learn, grow and change, even in these difficult times.

kids

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The Kids Are All Right

Here’s a tip – if you find yourself losing hope for the future of the arts in America, volunteer to judge a youth theatre competition.

I had the great privilege to spend a day in Santa Clarita at Golden Valley High School, judging over twenty short scenes presented by high school students. As I wrote my responses to their scenes, my hand quickly cramped up with a frenzy of compliments and suggestions for improvement. These young talents were so inspiring, I could have written volumes.

Entire worlds sprang to life with just a few basic pieces of scenery and some chairs. A colorful parade of characters with complete physical lives made the audience cry with tears of laughter and sadness. Shakespeare was staged in a modern military battle, a jazz lounge act and in an insane asylum.

The task of judging was extremely difficult, but what was easy to see was that every single performer on the stage that day was deeply passionate about what they were doing, and they had a terrific time watching everyone else perform their work. And there must have been over 100 performers from 6 schools there.

It occurred to me that no matter what ends up happening with the legislature and funding for the arts today, or what new 3-D technologies are introduced to televisions, or how well Spider Man: Turn off the Dark does at the box office, our theatre’s future is in good hands. Let’s ensure that everyone has a chance to learn and grow.

–Mark Petrie

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L.A. Theatre Companies Gathering Together

I participated in an exciting gathering this morning at the Circle X Theatre in Atwater Village. Several Los Angeles area theatres were represented, including Absolute Theatre, Need Theater, Celebration Theatre, Coeurage Theatre Company, The Production Company and Boston Court. Also in attendance was Footlights, the LA Stage Alliance,  the Global Theatre Project and the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative.

Part of the meeting focused on new play development and a recent conference in Washington D.C. at the Arena Stage. We even watched some video of some larger east coast theatres discussing issues like promoting diversity and serving their communities as a priority in new play development.

But what was truly encouraging was our collective resolution to explore new ways of supporting each other and developing the Los Angeles theatre industry through regular gatherings and trying to reach out to even more local theatre companies to share issues and solutions, chief among them audience development. Could it be that Los Angeles will be known as a theatre town someday? Is it already? There’s quite a few of us here. Add your voice to our next meeting and bring some ideas to the table.

I think we all feel a bit of urgency these days, especially when the U.S. House of Representatives is making noises about completely gutting the NEA, and Rocco Landesman, the leader of the NEA, has recently been quoted saying that there may be too much supply in the theatre industry (i.e., too many theatres). He thinks maybe it’s time to consider giving larger grants to fewer institutions, further stratifying the allocation of scarce resources. It would be nice to see someone in that position that would advocate the reverse approach, and maybe companies like the Knightsbridge might have a shot at some support. But admittedly, it’s an incredibly complex issue when part of your concern is trying to foster a living wage for an art industry, and it’s evident from his comments that he truly cares about the people that depend on a check from theatre.

Many thanks to Dennis Baker of 2AMTheatre for getting us all together today.

– Mark Petrie

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