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This Week’s Roundup: Award Shows Galore; Sacred Fools Stalwart Brandon Clark in ICU; More on the Actor’s Equity-Pro-99 Battle

By Paul Birchall

LADCC Awards Finery

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Justin Huen, left, and Sabina Zuniga in LADCC winner “Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles” (photo by Craig Schwartz)

At the March 14th Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards celebration, it was Hit the Wall that came away the biggest winner, with a veritable slew of honors, including awards for outstanding ensemble, direction (Ken Sawyer), lighting (Matt Richter), supporting performer (Charlotte Gulezian), and lead performer (Matthew Hancock). The ensemble made a stylish appearance, arriving (and departing) in a glamorous neon-festooned Party Bus, which almost certainly allowed the winners to hit the open bar even before they hit the wall. Judging from the ensemble’s gleeful mood, it sounds like they were having a party that everyone wished they could attend.

Other big winners of the evening included Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, a joint production of the Theatre at Boston Court and the Getty Museum. Mojada collected accolades for lead performer (Sabina Zuniga Varela), direction (borderline genius Jessica Kubzansky), and adaptation (Luis Alfaro).  Alfaro, a longtime local and national theatrical treasure, offered a genuine moment of passion, when, eschewing a microphone for his acceptance speech, he walked downstage to address the audience directly about the horrid options this election year, and evangelizing “if you have the power of the pen, you must use it – now is the time!” 

Major prizes also went to Kulunko Teatro’s luscious Andre and Dorrine at LATC (ensemble, special design, and featured performer), and the Odyssey’s ferocious staging of Anna Christie (production, Kim Rubinstein’s powerful direction, and Zoe Perry’ for her luminous turn as the lead). 

Although many awards shows can plod — and in fact this one didn’t end until 10:50 after starting at 7:30 — the celebratory atmosphere was moving and upbeat throughout, with awardee after awardee emphasizing the community aspect of our theater world. The show also had its lovely sentimental moments, as when the frail but determined Shirle Gottlieb’s presented the Polly Warfield Award to her local Long Beach-based International City Theatre.  During her thanks, artistic director Caryn Desai channeled her husband, former company founder Shashin Desai, who has shifted to a career in photography.  “Remember that retirement from one passion is just opening a door to another passion,” she noted. 

One highlight was the heartfelt acceptance speech from lighting and visual designer Aviva Pressman, who won for her work on Sacred Fools’ Astro Boy and the God of Comics. She joyously received her award, and cheerily thanked producer Brian Wallis “for tricking me into doing it!”

Jake Broder of “Louis and Keely” and “Miravel” fame proved an adroit host (though LADCC critic Bob Verini’s rendering of “Shows that Make You Go ‘Oy Vey’,” gave Broder’s singing a run for its money). Brief performances by the casts from Celebration Theater’s Bootycandy and Deaf West’s American Buffalo illustrated just how vital and splendid our local theater can be. The awards were held at the Moss Theatre at the New Roads School in Santa Monica, a welcome and intimate new venue for LADCC (though the lobby’s acoustics did make the pre-show schmoozing a tad difficult). 

 

The list of awards follows: 

Production

Hit the Wall, The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center and Sixth Avenue at The Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum and The Theatre @ Boston Court at Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa. 

McCulloh Award for Revival (plays written between 1920 and 1980)

Anna Christie, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble at Odyssey Theatre. (previously announced)

Lead Performance

Mary Beth Fisher in Luna Gale, Goodman Theatre’s World Premiere Production, Center Theatre Group at Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Matthew Hancock in Hit the Wall, The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center and Sixth Avenue at The Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Emily Lopez in Carrie the Musical, Bruce Robert Harris and Jack W. Batman, The Transfer Group, Michael T. Cohen/Robin Reinach, Kraige Block and Joe Everett Michaels, in association with La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and The Los Angeles Theatre.

Zoe Perry in Anna Christie, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble at Odyssey Theatre.

Jimmi Simpson in Trevor, Circle X Theatre Co. at Atwater Village Theatre.

Sabina Zuniga Varela in Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum and The Theatre @ Boston Court at Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa.                                                 

Featured Performance

Richard Fancy in Awake and Sing!, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble at Odyssey Theatre.

Charlotte Gulezian in Hit the Wall, The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center and Sixth Avenue at The Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Charlie Hofheimer in Bent, Center Theatre Group at Mark Taper Forum.

Tracie Lockwood in A Permanent Image, & Dorine.

Ensemble Performance            

André & Dorine, Kulunka Teatro at Los Angeles Theatre Center.

Hit the Wall, The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center and Sixth Avenue at The Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Solo Performance

Orson Bean in Safe at Home: An Evening With Orson Bean, Pacific Resident Theatre.

Direction

Jessica Kubzansky, Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum and The Theatre @ Boston Court at Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa.

Kim Rubinstein, Anna Christie, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble at Odyssey Theatre.

Ken Sawyer, Hit the Wall, The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center and Sixth Avenue at The Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Writing

Rebecca Gilman, Luna Gale, Goodman Theatre’s World Premiere Production, Center Theatre Group at Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Nick Jones, Trevor, Circle X Theatre Co. at Atwater Village Theatre.

Writing (Adaptation)

Luis Alfaro, Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum and The Theatre @ Boston Court at Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater at the Getty Villa. (previously announced)

Musical Score

Jake Broder, Miravel, Sacred Fools Theater Company at Sacred Fools Theater.

Tim Minchin, Matilda the Musical, Royal Shakespeare Company and the Dodgers, Center Theatre Group at Ahmanson Theatre.

Music Direction

Abdul Hamid Royal, The Gospel at Colonus, Ebony Repertory Theatre at Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.

Julie Wolf, Girlfriend, The Actors Theatre of Louisville Production, Center Theatre Group at Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Choreography

Josh Rhodes, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Robyn Goodman, Jill Furman, Stephen Koos, Edward Walson, Venetian Glass Productions, The Araca Group, Carola Productions, Roy Furman, Peter May/Sanford Robertson, James Spry, Eric Schmidt, and Blanket Fort Productions, Center Theatre Group at Ahmanson Theatre.

Angela Todaro, American Idiot, DOMA Theatre Company at The MET Theatre.

Set Design

Tom Buderwitz, The Whipping Man, South Coast Repertory and The Pasadena Playhouse.

Mimi Lien, Appropriate, Center Theatre Group at Mark Taper Forum.

Lighting Design

Tom Ontiveros, My Barking Dog, The Theatre @ Boston Court.

Matt Richter, Hit the Wall, The Los Angeles LGBT Center’s Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center and Sixth Avenue at The Los Angeles LGBT Center.

Costume Design

Jessica Ford, These Paper Bullets!, Geffen Playhouse in association with Atlantic Theater Company presents the Yale Repertory Theatre Production at Geffen Playhouse.

William Ivey Long, Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Robyn Goodman, Jill Furman, Stephen Koos, Edward Walson, Venetian Glass Productions, The Araca Group, Carola Productions, Roy Furman, Peter May/Sanford Robertson, James Spry, Eric Schmidt, and Blanket Fort Productions, Center Theatre Group at Ahmanson Theatre.

Sound Design

John Zalewski, My Barking Dog, The Theatre @ Boston Court.

CGI/Video Design

Anthony Backman and Jim Pierce, Astro Boy and the God of Comics, Sacred Fools Theatre Company at Sacred Fools Theatre.

Nicholas Santiago, A Permanent Image, Rogue Machine Theatre at Theatre/Theater.

Specialty 

Garbiñe Insausti, André & Dorine, Kulunka Teatro at The Los Angeles Theatre Center. (Masks)

Aviva Pressman, Astro Boy and the God of Comics, Sacred Fools Theatre Company at Sacred Fools Theatre. (Live art direction)

 

Brandon Clark in ICU

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Brandon Clark of Sacred Fools

At the LADCC Awards last week, I was disturbed to learn that Sacred Fools stalwart Brandon Clark is in critical condition following an accident last month. 

Clark is one of the grand Old Fools of Sacred Fools; he’s been with the company for over a decade, not just as a performer in such plays as Beneath the Lintel and the Serial Killers-generated Magnum Opus Theater. Much of his work has been as a producer. Amongst his over two dozen production credits was last year’s There is a Happiness That Morning Is. He is listed as prop master for the Fools’ next show, A Gulag Mouse. 

I reached out to some of the Fools crew for more information. Production manager Heatherlynn Gonzalez told me, “Brandon was crossing Lake Street in Pasadena on February 28th and was struck by a car. Since that time he has been in the ICU at Huntington Hospital. He has had multiple surgeries and is likely to have several more to repair damage to his leg. The extent of brain damage is at this point unknown.  He has regained some level of consciousness, but is unable to communicate as of yet. He is likely to be in the hospital for quite some time, followed by extensive rehabilitation.”

Bruno Oliver, President of the Sacred Fools governing board, adds, “Brandon’s accident has been a real blow to the Fools family, to say the least. His presence is truly missed as we work to make our new home a ‘home’, and especially as we prepare for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, where we were looking forward to Brandon’s HFF experience and perspective.” 

The company has set up a gofundme page to assist with his expenses as he recovers. Explains Gonzalez, “The page is to help Brandon and his husband pay for whatever doctors and hospital bills they will be responsible for, as well as help cover day to day expenses… Brandon’s income was mostly as a stand-in, so there is no vacation or sick pay to cover them.” 

If you’ve ever loved a Sacred Fools show, and feel inclined to help one of the central members of the group, you should think about making a donation. The page is at https://www.gofundme.com/4nszp88k

 

Pro99 Negotiations Continue; Kate Shindle and Dakin Matthews Weigh In

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Writer-producer-director-performer Dakin Matthews

It’s been rather quiet on the Pro99 front the last couple of months. That said, early last week the publicists for the plaintiffs dropped a press release, announcing that talks will continue. According to Stephen Kaplan, although agreement has yet to be reached, both sides have consented to “continue discussion in the near future.” The release reiterates the joint agreement made when the talks started: “While the discussions are ongoing, the plaintiffs will not serve the complaint in the Asner litigation.“ And “in the meantime…. Equity agree(s) to extend the use of the Transitional 99 Seat Code for a period of time commensurate with the duration of the continuing discussions.”

A day or two after the press release, AEA President Kate Shindle, who actively courted the Pro99 seat movement during her electoral campaign a year ago, addressed the Pro99 case during an appearance on Broadway producer Ken Davenport’s podcast, “The Producer’s Perspective.” 

The podcast itself makes for incredibly interesting listening beyond what Shindle has to say about the Equity-Pro99 dispute.  For one thing, it is useful to realize that what happens in Los Angeles is just one of the things the union has to consider. And while Shindle’s attempts to frame the argument in the context of a national debate do border on propaganda, it is a genuine concern. 

 Shindle also mentioned her background. I enjoyed learning about her life — how she was Miss America but also loved acting and, when she was in college, acquired the skills for “making good theater with nothing.”  

 Listening to her opine on our local issues, however, I couldn’t help but feel that she was misinformed, or that the talking points she wanted to adhere to were rigid and illogically structured. Certainly she does not appear to understand the unique system of small theater that exists in Los Angeles. 

“I think lost in the passion out in Los Angeles was the fact that our members are looking for certain things and people who produce these shows are looking for different things,” notes Shindle, once again recasting the local situation as one in which there are poor, starving actors battling greedy, plump producers who are out to exploit them — which may be true if we’re talking about Pantages touring productions, but it’s hardly common with companies like Sacred Fools, where it is the actors who produce most of the shows.  

Elsewhere in the conversation, Shindle conflates the conflict surrounding equity-waiver with attempts to re-negotiate LORT regional contracts.  “How can we sit down across the table from LORT theaters in San Diego or San Francisco or whatever and argue with a straight fact that our members need a pay raise (when Los Angeles actors are willing to work for free)?  You just can’t,” she claims, in a mistakenly false comparison. 

The other talking point that Shindle repeats, in lockstep with the AEA dogma, is the idea that if a number of the small theaters are shut down or perish, it will clear the way for a legion of mid-size theaters to grow like proverbial mushrooms.

 Although I can see how this might work if you’re pruning a rose bush, there’s no hard evidence whatsoever that the premise holds true for theater companies.  The notion that small theaters are somehow smothering large theaters, and mid-size theaters will grow from nowhere, is illogical enough to make Mr. Spock’s ears spin.  

Meanwhile, Footlights has released a wise response to Shindle’s generalizations by acclaimed performer Dakin Matthews, formerly a writer-producer-actor-director at the Andak Stage Company in North Hollywood and currently scheduled to appear on Broadway in the musical Waitress next month.

Matthews breaks down Shindle’s arguments, taking particular umbrage at the high-handed way  that AEA has tried to dismantle the 99 Seat program from the start, then criticizing the logic underlying its premise for taking action. 

Matthews heaps particular scorn on Shindle’s argument that the willingness of Los Angeles actors to work for free undercuts negotiations in other markets.  “(This sounds) like some tactical bullshit some producer’s representative might throw into the mix to muddy the negotiating waters. All negotiations are based on the potential income of the producer, not on the willingness of the actor to take less. All negotiations take into primary consideration what the producer can earn and what the producer can pay, not what the actor would accept. Can we bury that bullshit argument once and for all.”

Last week Shindle emerged again, this time on the Broadway Bullet podcast where she attempted to further clarify the union’s position with regard to clearing out the clutter of small venues in Los Angeles.  Without mentioning Matthews’ counter-argument, which one suspects she probably hasn’t read, Shindle discusses how New York’s Showcase code differs from the L.A. 99-seat contract.   “….there are so many different levels of contracts and there are so many performing opportunities available here,  everything from Broadway to . . . regional shows . . we could make a list,” she notes, implying that none of these options exist here in Los Angeles. 

Elsewhere, she suggests that there are “those actors who say, ‘Hey we want to get paid, we want to be able to make a living at this, and not just do it in our free time for the exposure, but we actually don’t think that there’s any way a real commercial or non-profit theater can get even get started here because they have this business model that has grown into almost the only game in town.’ “

But nowhere have I heard what I suspect is the real issue – and that is that Equity simply doesn’t want to have anything to do with the small theaters.  They’re just using the minimum wage thing to muster popular opinion, in precisely the same way that President Bush bandied about the threat of weapons of mass destruction when, for other reasons, he wanted to invade Iraq.  The money issue is just a canard:  It’s about not wanting to oversee the program — it’s about wanting to close down 99 seat theaters.

 

The Second Annual Stage Raw Awards

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The Stage Raw award nominations are out!  It’s year two of the Rawies, which took over for the late lamented LA Weekly Awards after that ridiculous paper abruptly decided to drastically curtail their commitment to local theater.  The first year, Stage Raw took over the voting and the awards out of necessity; now it’s about sustaining an honorable tradition.  Over the last few years, we’ve watched the number of outlets which report on theater diminish in both scope and quality.  Stage Raw is carrying on, however, with a commitment to focus on the more intimate, experimental shows. 

And it’s a great party!   The awards show will be held on April 25th at the Los Angeles Theater Center downtown, the same venue as last year, and will be hosted by the droll and witty Dr. Pinch and the Pinchtones, aka David Melville and his Independent Shakespeare Company troupe of edgy artisans. 

I was especially delighted at the selection of producer Gary Grossman — one of the Pro99 plaintiffs as well as one of the town’s great artisans — for the Career Achievement Award.  The Skylight has steadfastly remained one of the city’s great wellsprings for brilliant theatrical productions — helping to set the aesthetic tone for the city and making the Pro99 argument worth having, really. 

I was also pleased by the unexpected choice of the wonderful Leo Garcia, Artistic Director of the Highways Performance Space.  It is high time that Highways got some attention!  There are so few places where exciting, unadulterated, and couldn’t-care-less-about-the-showcase element of art takes place, and Garcia is one of its great oracles.

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