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Sometimes You Get a Reminder

I think it’s good, every so often, to get a reminder of why we do the things we love. I had one last week, and it’s gotten me thinking. There wasn’t a lot of theater around where I grew up. Plenty of nature as we were five miles from the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, but cultural things were pretty few and far between. Sometime in middle or high school I became aware, I don’t know how long they had actually been around, of a repertory theater that would put on a few shows every summer. They were pretty good, but that was it. Therefore, it wasn’t until after I had been in a theater production of my own, that I was introduced to Broadway-caliber theater. We had just done a production of “Annie,” and since it was touring through Denver shortly thereafter, we all made the two hour trek to see a matinee.

This production opened my eyes to the fact that the exact same material can be interpreted in multiple ways. My interest was piqued. After this, I somehow, I have no idea how, convinced dad to take us back to see “Les Miserables” and then “Miss Saigon.” My life was irrevocably changed. These pieces blew my mind. They were provocative, and engulfed me into another world, and made me feel as if these people I just met were my best friends and worst foes. I had no idea it was possible to illicit that kind of a reaction from a person, and sitting there in the audience, I knew in my heart of hearts that I had to do that someday. It wasn’t a want, it was a visceral need. I needed to experience the exhilaration of creating a completely different world for people to get lost in. I needed to create, to build and subsequently to grow.


I think anybody that has ever gone into the arts, has a similar experience.  Some moment that was so profound, that they knew there was no other life they could lead. “Les Mis” started me down that road, but when they lowered a helicopter, a frickin’ helicopter, onto the stage, my fate was sealed. I hung on every moment from then to the end. Lea Salonga, as Kim, was mesmerizing, and I cried like a baby at the end. I couldn’t get to my feet fast enough at the curtain call.

I wanted to be Lea Salonga. I mean she got to be Eponine and she was Kim, and she was . . . that’s all I knew, but it was enough. I sang her songs constantly and I idolized the way that her voice could transport me. Cameron Mackintosh, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg were like my gods. Someday my work would be as good as theirs. In a screenplay I wrote, I even named one of my main characters, Claude and the other Michel. It wasn’t until later that I learned Claude-Michel was a French name, which was a problem as my characters were German. In my defense, Michel is spelled the same as my last name, and my family is of German descent. So I think I was totally justified in not recognizing that as a French name.


At any rate, in college I had the opportunity to see “Les Miserables” again. However, this time around I was disappointed. By this point I had seen a lot more theater and so had more to compare it to. I had also done more theater, I had taken classes and like most juniors in college, I of course knew everything. So instead of sitting in the audience blown away, I was re-blocking the scenes in my head to make them more engaging. Due to the contracts, the production had to still use the staging from the original production, which when it opened was innovative. By this point, everybody and their brother were using these conventions so it appeared stale.

I was crushed. One of my absolute best memories from my childhood had just been ruined. So after that, I vowed that I would never see “Miss Saigon” ever again because I didn’t want to ruin that memory too. Fast forward to last week, and I still had not seen another production of “Miss Saigon,” but I was about to break my vow. A friend invited me to go see a screening, at a movie theater, of the 25th Anniversary Performance, and I figured it was about time. After all, I saw a production of “Les Miserables” a couple of years ago, that completely redeemed that memory, so I felt pretty good about it.

Obviously since this was performed with the intent of filming it and making a DVD, there were film aspects to it. It was actually a really nice blending of theater and film. They also tweaked the script in places and straight up swapped out one song for a new one – for the record I like the old one better. But just like the first time I saw it, all of those sweepingly epic songs sent chills running up my arms and down my spine. The love song between Chris and Kim just killed me and pretty much for the entirety of the second act, any time Kim came on the stage I started crying because I knew what was coming at the end.


Then at the end, since it was the 25th anniversary, they brought out the original cast of “Miss Saigon, starting with Lea Salonga who sang several of her old songs. She did a duet with one of the new cast members and then they brought out the original Chris and they sang a song. There was my hero singing the songs that won my heart over and made me want to be a storyteller. I was transported back to the wide-eyed naive kid all over again. I sat there and watched her, knowing in my heart of hearts that the path I chose so many years ago, is still right today.



The Best Advice, Is Ignored . . .

I have spent the past three weekends covering the Hollywood Fringe Festival for See It or Skip LA. Which involves seeing large amounts of shows, writing reviews and getting together with my other correspondents to record podcasts about what we’ve seen.  After our last recording session it occurred to me that all of the shows that I have raved about, have one thing in common: they all used comedy to make a serious story more accessible.

“Night Witches” – a play about the female Russian bomber regiment in WWII who terrorized the Germans night after night despite encountering heavy losses. Was it inspiring? Definitely! Was it depressing because a majority of the main characters died? Yep! Did I leave the theater depressed? No, because amidst the dire situations of the women were interwoven comedic scenes of the Nazi soldiers. These scenes could have easily been written just as serious as the Russian scenes – which did have some elements of comedy but were for the most part dramatic – but that would have resulted in a very different play. It would have been heavy on top of heavy, leaving the audience feeling, you guessed it, heavy. Instead, this show juxtaposes dark with light and as a result is selling out as people clamber to see an historical play.

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Check out our podcasts here.

On the other hand, I saw a different historically based play that left me feeling ambivalent at best and negative at worst. It was 90 minutes of downtrodden woe-is-me-nothing-is-going-right, with no break or release of the tension. Even at the end when the character gets what he had been striving for the whole time, the victory is tinged with heartache. The one victory in the entire piece was spoiled. The piece was acted well, and quite frankly staged better than “Night Witches,” however without that light to balance the dark I had to recommend that audiences skip it for something else.

For the dark to be accessible, palatable, effective it needs to be balanced with light. Then it struck me, out of all of the critiques of my novel there was one outlying comment early on that I looked at briefly before shoving it aside and disregarding it since no one else seemed to have the problem.  What was that comment?

“Be cognizant of providing breaks for your reader. Your first 50 pages are intense and nonstop. It can be overwhelming.”

In other words, at the beginning of my novel about the Civil War, an already super-upbeat topic, I inundate my reader with DARK, DARK, DARK! Hmmmm. I have spent the past three weeks espousing the virtues of how comedy strengthens drama, yet when somebody gave me a similar note, I completely ignored it.

slow clap

Well. Done. Me. Despite the fact that I have rewritten the beginning of my novel more times than I can count since I received that comment, I will be going back to examine it one more time. Here’s to the light, strengthening the dark.

Henry VI Parts 1, 2, and 3 . . . A Behemoth of a Production!

As many of you know, I’m a bit of a Shakespeare fan. Okay, that’s an understatement, I’m a huge Shakespeare fan, and have had the goal for a few years now to see his entire canon performed live. After this past weekend, I was able to cross two off of my list, leaving me with one left. ONE!!!! Technically, I could say that I am done right now because there is definitely a camp that claims “Two Noble Kinsman” is not actually part of the official canon, and that’s the only one that I’m missing. However, I’ve decided to include it in my quest, so I have one left.

This weekend’s boon was thanks to the Porters of Hellsgate theater company with their productions of Henry VI Pts 1, 2, and 3 which are running in rep. Parts 1 and 2 have each been condensed so as to be performed in one long act each. If you choose to attend one of their Sunday double-headers, as I did, you will see Part 1 and 2 in the afternoon, followed by an evening show of Part 3. It is hard to find these plays produced, it is rarer still to find the entire story told at once. Thank you to the Porters for undertaking this behemoth, it was a treat to get to see the entire thing in one go. Therefore, with simplicity in mind, I will refer to Parts 1, 2, and 3 as one big production from here on out.

Those who saw the Porters production of Henry V, much (if not all, I’m not 100% sure on this) of the casting carried over into Henry VI. This provided a lovely continuance of the story. History plays have huge casts, and as Henry VI covers the origin of the War of the Roses, allegiances bounce back and forth like a ping pong ball. For those who are unfamiliar with the plays, to help you follow this review, and the plays should you go see them (which you should) follow these links to read a synopsis of:

Henry VI Pt 1

Henry VI Pt 2

Henry VI Pt 3

Welcome back! As you saw, there are a lot of people and a lot of talk about who is related, how they are related and what those relations mean. Director and set designer Thomas Bigley addresses this issue from the moment you walk into the theater. Painted on the black walls is the royal family tree, clearly depicting the lineage of both the Yorks and the Lancasters. Arrive with enough time to give this a thorough once over. It will help. The costume design also tries to help the audience distinguish what side each character is on. In some respects it succeeds, but its inconsistencies make it fall short of the mark. The biggest obstacle is that the majority of the actors play up to three speaking roles and are in the ensemble. The main speaking roles are easier to distinguish because Shakespeare helps by calling people by their names on a regular basis. Even he understood that you need a scorecard to keep track of this many people.

L to R: William Hickman, Timothy Portnoy and Sean Faye

L to R: Gray Schierholt, Timothy Portnoy and Sean Faye (notice Warwick’s red rose)

A costuming convention helps with the addition of red and white lapel roses – white for the supporters of York and red for the supporters of Lancaster. Even if you don’t know the exact name of the character, you can at least tell which side they belong to. This is especially helpful with Warwick who uses the line of allegiance like a jump rope. This convention goes further by adding accents of color to the Porters stereotypical all black base costumes – followers of York have accents of white, followers of Lancaster have accents of red and the French have accents of blue. Awesome!

L to R: Timothy Portnoy, Sean Faye (notice Warwick's new rose color), Gus Krieger

L to R: Timothy Portnoy, Sean Faye (notice Warwick’s new white rose), Gus Krieger

However, the supporting ensemble members do not have any distinction. For the most part they are in all black, a highly utilitarian choice as several cast members fill in as ‘Third Soldier from the Right’ for all three camps at one point or another. Who can see the problem with this? There were several occasions where the number of characters on stage in all black, outweighed the number of characters with a color/rose designation, making it hard to distinguish who belonged to whom. Everything fixates on which side has the most supporters at any given point, so it was a little disorienting to not be able to tell where everyone stood. Especially in moments where you do discover who belongs where and then realize that there are crucial people standing with their backs to their enemies, yet are perfectly at ease.

There were also inconsistencies in the color distinctions that were present. Rivers, a York supporter, was wearing a red shirt with his white rose. One character, I didn’t catch his name, had on a blue shirt with a red rose, yet I don’t think he was French. The most confusing however was Prince Edward, the son of the Lancastrian King Henry VI. Edward was wearing a white shirt with absolutely no color accent or roses whatsoever. Henry VI is also wearing a white shirt, but despite the obviousness of which side he belongs on, his Lancaster affiliation is denoted with bright red suspenders. Therefore, by the color convention established, Prince Edward should be considered as part of the York camp. What?

L to R: Makeda Declet and Alex Parker

L to R: Makeda Declet and Alex Parker

These oversights are understandable given that the production did not have a dedicated costume designer. With that knowledge, Bigley should be commended for providing the roses and accent colors that were present, given that he was also designing the set, acting and directing. It is a shame, however, that they did not have a costume designer to make sure that the costuming conventions were carried through to each character. My biggest complaint with the production was that it was difficult, if not impossible at times, to keep track of who was whom and what side they were on. Especially early on when you’re still putting faces to names, or when an actor would step onto the stage as their second, third or fourth characters. I intimately know these plays and I still had trouble. The family tree and the costumes take a huge step in the right direction to help this, however, if the costuming had been consistent throughout the cast, they very well may have alleviated my biggest problem, and added some needed clarity. Now on to what did work.

Christine Sage

Christine Sage

The casting, which had to have been daunting, is spot on. Christine Sage as Henry VI is magnificent. Bravo to the gender-blind casting that made this possible. Sage’s milquetoast portrayal of this naïve, reluctant monarch makes everything else that happens believable. She is an utterly memorable wallflower, and that takes skill. Margaret, played by Liza de Weerd, is the perfect counter balance to Henry, right down to her height and formidable stage presence. De Weerd nails not only her more aggressive scenes on the battle field, but also her tender and vulnerable dealings with Suffolk, played by Christopher Salazar.

With actors playing multiple parts, it would be easy to slip into stereotypes for a lot of the characters. I applaud both the actors and director Bigley for avoiding this. Salazar provided great depth in his portrayals of both Suffolk and later Clarence. Matt Jayson was delightfully conniving as York, yet all of his bravado melts away when he learns of the death of his son. David Ghilardi as Talbot, and Gus Krieger as Richard join the ranks of the wonderfully nuanced. The one character that I wish would have been a bit more stereotypical was Joan de Pucelle, played by Makeda Declet. I question the directorial approach of her character, as it was disappointing to see this iconic, hot-tempered character be drug off the stage sniveling and begging not to be killed. This final act largely discounted her previous bold actions making her character hit or miss.

The fight scenes were also hit or miss . . . pun intended. Of the battle scenes some were sloppy, some were decent and one in particular was scary. From where I sat, it looked like Warwick got clipped in his final fight with Edward. Across the board, all of the fights needed to lower their targets as almost all of the hits were occurring at the head level or above. The fight director in me did quite a bit of cringing. That being said, the two slaps, performed by Matt Jayson and Alex Parker, were some of the best I’ve ever seen. They were blocked well, executed well and were totally appropriate for their scenes. Well done!

Behind: Liza de Weerd Front L to R: Alex Parker, Matt Jayson and Thomas Bigley

Behind: Liza de Weerd
Front L to R: Alex Parker, Matt Jayson and Thomas Bigley

Director Bigley also deserves props for capitalizing on the humor in Part 2. With all of the deceit and death going on, a sojourn into the light-hearted was much appreciated. John Cade, played by Timothy Portnoy, and Dick, played by Nick Neidorf, had a fantastic, almost slap-stick relationship that sustained through to the end, despite the fact that their relationship doesn’t have a happy ending. Part 2 can easily be told without the John Cade subplot, so the decision to leave it in speaks to the overall vision of the production as a whole, and the experience of seeing the entire story played out in one go. The adaptation of Part 1 and Part 2, by artistic director Charles Pasternak, facilitates this. The adaptation is fast-paced, yet feels complete. There are no gaping holes or questions left unanswered before the action picks back up in Part 3. All in all, the Porters of Hellsgate have once again delivered a thoroughly enjoyable experience at the theater.


For more information go to – Porters of Hellsgate

The show runs through June 5, 2016 at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, located at 11006 W Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601.

Tickets and detailed show dates are available at: Brown Paper Tickets

 *Originally this review credited Jessica Pasternak as the costume designer. However, I was informed by the Porters of Hellsgate that there was an error in the program, and in fact this production did not have a dedicated costume designer. Changes have been made to reflect this new information.

Planning Out My Fringe

It’s coming up on that time of year again – The Hollywood Fringe Festival! We’re talking more theater over the course of a month than you can shake a stick at. Trust me on this, you’ll get carpal tunnel if you try. Last year I managed to catch 30 shows, and I had several people ask me how in the world I was able to manage that while still working full time. For all of you who asked, and even for those who didn’t, here’s my process.

Step 1 – Look through the thumbnail poster and short description of every offering in the Fringe – yes I looked at every single one of them – and pull out the ones that spark a little interest. This first pass through is pretty broad. I select anything that makes me go, “Huh, cool,” any recommendations, anything with someone I know from last year that was good, anything historically based, all of the classics, and any and all Shakespeare.

A tangent on Shakespeare. I am a bit of a Shakespeare junkie. Below is what my desk looks like. But even more than reading it, I LOVE seeing his work performed. To date, I am three plays away from seeing the entire canon performed live, and if things work out as I have them planned, I will complete my canon by the end of the year. All you have to say is Shakespeare, and I’m in. However, as I am fairly well versed in all of his plays, I do get a little tired of seeing the exact same plays offered over and over again. Fringe participants I’m looking at you!


Here is my list of Shakespearean Fringe shows, not including those that are ‘based on’ his plays. In 2014, I saw “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Twelfth Night,” “Hamlet,” and “Romeo and Juliet.” In 2015, I saw “Taming of the Shrew” and “Romeo and Juliet,” two different productions of each. This year for the Fringe, I can see “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Taming of the Shrew,” “Hamlet,” “Twelfth Night,” and “Titus Andronicus.” Is anybody else seeing a pattern? Come on people, there are over 30 plays in the canon, branch out! How about a little “King Lear,” or “Comedy of Errors,” or even, *gasp* a history play? There is only one show listed that hasn’t appeared in the previous two years. Winner, winner, chicken dinner to Titus Andronicus! You are the outlier my friend, and I applaud you. I applaud you even more, as you’re full title is, “Titus Andronicus, Jr.” because the show is geared toward children. I love it! I might go see it twice on principle alone! Let’s try mixing it up a little for next year, shall we? Thanks.

Step 2 – Read the long description of each play, check running times and pare my picks down to my Chance-Its – ie the ones that I’m willing to actually venture out to give them a chance. You may be wondering why I check the running times at this juncture. Simple, when you’re trying to show hop and squeeze as many plays in as possible, ain’t nobody got time for a three hour “Twelfth Night.” Seriously, what are they doing in that production that has stretched that play out to be three hours? Here is that list:

Table 1

Step 3 – List the show times of each ‘Chance-It’ show on a calendar and start to figure out a schedule that fits in as many as possible. This is the first draft. There were many that came after. I’m guessing that most people would look at this step it find it akin to water boarding. I, on the other hand, find it to be a huge AWESOME puzzle! Yes, I’m well aware that there is something distinctly odd about me.


Step 4 – Look at my completed schedule and say, “Holy shit! I can’t see that many shows in a month. Am I crazy?”

Table 2

Step 5 – Try to pare down the shows so the schedule looks more reasonable . . . but probably only give up one or two before calling it good and setting up camp in Hollywood for the month of June. This is obviously the step that needs the most improvement . . .

At any rate, these are my ‘Chance-Its’ for the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival. What am I missing? What are you excited to see?

My Theater Degree is Too Useful!

For anyone who has an arts degree, especially in theater, you will get asked to explain what they are good for if you are no longer participating in that particular art form. I find that these questions generally come from people with MBA’s or MD’s or any of those other highly applicable acronyms. Chances are they chose that path for the practicability of finding a good paying job later in life. (For their sake, I hope that also enjoy it.) Because of this intense practicality, it is hard for some of them to wrap their heads around how a theater degree is even remotely useful. I know this, because I just spent half an hour trying to explain this to an accountant. She still doesn’t get it, but then again I don’t get why anyone would want to be an accountant, so fair play. At any rate, this list is for her. Five reasons my theater degree is useful, even though I am no longer doing theater.


  1. In acting classes you spend a lot of time discussing what tactics you can use for your scene, and switching up your tactics to see how it changes the scene, etc. Go figure, that shit is useful in real life. Without even consciously realizing that I’m doing it, when I’m faced with something that isn’t working I immediately start to think of different tactics to approach the issue. It’s not a problem, it’s a puzzle. Thank you Acting 101.
  2. Safety pins are god’s gift to clothing snafus. Seriously, I can temporarily fix almost anything that goes wrong with your clothing as long as I have safety pins. Gaff tape and a stapler help too, but the safety pins are key. Then when we get home, I can fix it for real. Tell me that that isn’t a handy skill. Get it? Handy . . . like hands . . . cause you use your hands to sew . . . never mind . . .
  3. Let’s talk about creative problem solving for a minute. When working in low-budget theater (for the record, about 95% of all theater is low-budget theater) we have to figure out how to create an entire world using nothing but what is lying around, supplemented by a budget that is often less than what some companies will spend on lunch. So yeah, I can figure out how to keep that hall door from slamming and interrupting the investor meeting within the next five minutes. It may not be pretty, but it will work. There’s a reason that my roommate calls me MacGyver.
  4. Time management, not a problem! When you’re taking a full load of classes, working part time and rehearsing a show you figure that out and quick! Otherwise you don’t get to do things like eat or sleep. Or you eat and sleep, but fail all of your classes. As neither of those are good options, you learn to manage your time. Notice how I didn’t mention missing rehearsal as an option? That’s because you get mad prioritizing skills too! Some things have leeway, while others do not. Being able to recognize the difference is key.
  5. I can receive constructive criticism without breaking down, because I received it on almost a daily basis while getting my degree. Trust me, if I can take a professor telling me that I was the “scariest Juliet” she’d ever seen, I think I’ll survive being told that I did a spreadsheet wrong.

I’ll Stick With Theater

I have seen a lot of live theater in my life. Last year alone I saw over 50 productions. Clearly, this is an art form that speaks to me. Just in case I wasn’t sure about that, I got proof positive over the weekend. On Saturday I went to a highly anticipated and much lauded new contemporary art museum, on Sunday I saw the multi Oscar nominated, “The Revenant,” and on Monday night I saw a recording of the live broadcast of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company’s production of “A Winter’s Tale.” Anybody want to guess which one was my favorite? No, not the modern art. Modern art is weird.


That leaves the movie and the play. Mind you, “Winter’s Tale” is one of Shakespeare’s problem plays. It’s technically a comedy as it ends in marriage, but you have to wait until the second act (In the viewing convention of two acts, not Shakespeare’s second act) to find some levity and even then it’s sparse. Like I said, it’s a problem play and not one of my favorites. Truth be told, with the exception of the best stage direction ever – Exit pursued by bear – I really don’t even like it that much. It gets ranked somewhere down around “Henry VIII.” That being said, I LOVED this production! It wasn’t perfect, no production is, but I left the theater after three and a half hours of Shakespeare energized and inspired. Even the scene changes were beautiful capitalizing on silhouetted choreography. Every aspect of this production had been given thorough attention and it paid off in dividends. It was a fantastic piece of work that still worked through the translation of a camera. Wonderfully done!

“The Revenant,” on the other hand, is another story. The majority of the cinematography was gorgeous and Leonardo DiCaprio certainly delivered a stellar performance. However, I’m pretty sure that my roommate’s favorite part was listening to my rant during the car ride home about how and why I hated it. SPOILER ALERT START Even if you are willing to suspend disbelief and buy that this guy is attacked by a pissed off mother bear – twice! – that he didn’t bleed out, that none of his wounds festered with infection and became gangrenous in the oh-so-clean environment he was in, he would not have survived how long he spent in that river. There was ice on the deeper, slower running parts which means that water’s temperature was in the 40s maybe 50s if we are suspending our disbelief. A man, who is already horribly debilitated from TWO bear attacks, and is fully submerged in water that frigid never would have made it out. Hypothermia would have kicked in, and he would have lost control on his limbs making it harder than hell to swim to shore, and damn near impossible to build and light a fire. Movie is over, our main character is now a popsicle!


Even if you are willing to suspend disbelief for that, later he falls off a god-damned cliff, into a massive tree and splats on the ground. Not only, does he not have any additional scratches on him, but he is fully capable of pulling a Luke Skywalker and climbing inside of his Tauntaun, er horse which is dead because IT FELL OFF A CLIFF. What the actual fuck? Apparently being attacked by the mother fucking bear imbued him with some sort of magical, invincibility. Somebody tag me, I’m out. It was about this time that I took a leisurely restroom break. I’m assuming that while I was gone he was set on fire, shot and beheaded before finally arriving back at the fort. SPOILER ALERT END

Needless to say, I did not feel energized or inspired after the movie. I felt annoyed. Now true, that movie was clearly not my cup of tea, but in all honesty, while I can think of a few movies that left me energized, I can’t think of any that left me inspired in the same way that “Winter’s Tale” did. And that was from a script that I don’t like. I don’t know what the point of all of this is, I just find it interesting. Also, what was up with the bear theme?

My Year in Numbers


1 = Book Published (10 Cheeky Monkeys)

2 = Baby Showers Attended

3 = Out of State Trips

4 = Visits to Disneyland

5 = Puggle ER Visits (Here’s to hoping they got this out of their systems!)

6 = New Year’s Resolutions Kept (Better than I thought I would do!)

7 = Movies Seen in a Movie Theater (5 of the 7 at El Capitan.)

8 = Query Letters Sent for My Novel

19 = Book Clubs

52 = Plays I Saw

71 = New Blog Posts on My Website

450 = Pages in My Novel

1,050 = Most Website Views in One Day

14,000 = Total Website Views

Happy New Year’s Eve and here’s to 365 days of success, happiness and laughter in 2016! You read this blog as the Count didn’t you? 😉

Follow Through

Over the years I have found myself surrounded with creative/artist types. Regardless of my job, or where I am living I eventually find myself amongst creatives. I guess there’s some validity to the adage about like-minded people being drawn to each other. Some of these people use hobbies for their creative outlets, and others have taken their creative endeavors and turned them into careers. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the hobbyists are less talented. In fact, there are a couple of hobbyists I know that fully have the potential of being a professional artist. At least from the stand point of the quality of their work. Which begs the question, what is the main difference between a hobbyist and a professional?

Work With

For whatever reason, this has been on my mind a lot lately, and I think I’ve come up with an answer. Follow through. Professionals got to where they are because they had follow through. I know that this is an incredibly complex question, but I really do think that it can be summed up to that answer. Follow through. However, this seemingly simple answer has a lot riding behind it. It means that you are not only willing to devote time to your work, but also to finding out what is standard in your industry. To finding out what is expected of professionals and taking whatever steps are necessary to make sure that you fit that criteria. It’s about networking and building relationships with people. It’s about putting yourself out there, which of course opens you up to criticism. Therefore, it is also about learning how to take and grow from criticism, instead of breaking and shrinking from criticism.

To a certain degree, that may be the biggest aspect of follow through. Learning how to receive criticism and move on unscathed. That is of course the ideal, I don’t know if it is actually possible to ever move on unscathed. Perhaps the goal should be to move on stronger instead of unscathed. Because when it comes down to it; that is what criticism should do for you. It should make you stronger. Praise will help your self-confidence but it won’t do anything for your work. To improve your work you need someone to point out the flaws, the cracks in the façade, the places where it doesn’t make sense. After all, if you don’t know where it’s weak, how can you fix it?


I would love to say that I am brilliant, calm and cool while taking criticism. That would be a lie. I am pretty good though. However, every now and then I start to get all bristly and defensive and I have to remember to take a deep breath and stop. Bristly and defensive isn’t productive for anyone involved. Neither are hurt feelings. I have had people ask what I thought and then wind up with hurt feelings when I gave my honest opinion. Guess what? I’m never giving feedback to that person ever again! Disclaimer – I did work as a theater critic for four years, so I have honed my critical eye to a fine point, so to say. Therefore, when someone asks for a critique from me, I let them know my background and what to expect. Only after they’ve acknowledged and accepted this will I give my full opinion. Otherwise I smile and genuinely tell them good job.

That being said, probably my greatest asset in becoming comfortable with criticism myself, was by working as a theater critic. Over my years of critiquing plays, two things became blaringly obvious to me.

  1. A critique is simply one person’s opinion. True, sometimes a group of people have the same opinion, and true, some opinions will be worth more than others. However, at the end of the day it is still an opinion, and chances are if you look, you can find someone with an opposite opinion. So take it for what it is. If it helps you, great. If it doesn’t, move on.
  2. Critiques are not personal. In the four years and hundreds of plays that I saw, at no point did I ever think, “Wow, that’s a horrible person who did this piece. They really suck!” Not once. Why? Because I didn’t personally know any of those people. I can guarantee that I gave rave reviews to raging assholes and panned shows done by some of the kindest and most wonderful people out there. And I can guarantee that the opposite happened. How do I know this? Because horrible people can do good work, good people can do bad work and vice-versa. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re not even related. Therefore, while your work may feel like the most personal thing you can possibly release out into the world, it only is to you. To everyone else, it is simply a piece of work, and that is where the criticism is coming from. It’s not personal.

head and heart

I don’t know why this has been on my mind so much recently, but there you have it. Thanks for letting me brain dump. Follow through. Focus on following through.

Disillusioned with Mediocrity

I got into a conversation recently with a colleague about how we had both noticed a trend of mediocre work being in theatre/writing/art. Worse yet, the people doing that work didn’t realize it was mediocre. It is almost as if the bar has been set at knee level, and people are operating under the assumption that the bar is set high. So when they easily clear it, they celebrate their great work, never realizing that they are fulfilling only a modicum of their potential. I don’t understand where this comes from, or how people can be happy with work like that. My colleague posited that it is stemming for the “everybody gets a trophy” generation. If you get an award for showing up, then why bother putting forth extra effort.


To a certain degree, I have to agree with him. I never understood that mentality. When I was kid the top three people got an award, and the rest didn’t. You had to work for the prize and you had to learn to deal with the disappointment if at the end of the day you weren’t good enough. I am extremely competitive, and as a kid I hated it when I didn’t win at something (truth be told I still do, but I’m much better at coping now). But what I hated even more than that was somebody getting the same award as me, for work that wasn’t as good. Which I think to a large extent is why this new trend is driving me absolutely nuts! I want to gather up all of these artists then show them the difference between what they’re doing and what they could be doing. Explain that they are not mediocre artists, but that they are producing mediocre work. Show them side by side, their mediocrity next to brilliance, in the hopes of lighting a fire under some of them to strive for better. To raise the bar.

Sadly, I feel like the only thing that would come of this is that they would band together with their other comrades who are content with sub-par, and make fun of those putting forth the extra effort. I’m not just being cynical here, I’ve seen it happen. When confronted with truly great work, those not living up to their potential tend to get defensive and lash out. They are happy and comfortable with the bar at a height they can easily jump. No fear of failure. But no chance of failure also equals no chance at brilliance, and as artists isn’t that what we should all be striving for? Not perfection, that’s impossible, but brilliance. Even if it’s only a spark, or a moment, shouldn’t we be striving for a moment of brilliance that takes your audience’s breathe away?

In that pursuit there will be struggles and failures. There will be stumbling blocks and set-backs. The crazy thing is that those are good! You have to fail before you can be brilliant, because you have to learn how NOT to do something. You have to try out all of the different ways to reach a final product and some of them will not work. We can learn a hundred times more from our failures than we can from our successes. So why are people so terrified of failing? Yes, it sucks. I’ve been there myself. A lot. But it is a necessary part of life. Failure is the only way to learn and get better, but it seems like the artistic world is being inundated with those who are content to play it safe. As they have found an audience willing to applaud those meager efforts I’m afraid they’re not going anywhere any time soon. I find myself disillusioned by the whole thing.

Twain expectations

Wrapping Up

I have pretty much spent all of my free time this June down in Hollywood for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, and it’s been great. The quality of the productions have improved from last year’s festival – for the most part – but I think the best improvement for me was joining up with See It or Skip It LA as a correspondent. Not only were we seeing shows and reporting back via social media (everything we saw was graded with one of four hashtags – #SeeItLA, #ChanceItLA, #DrinkBeforeItLA or #SkipItLA) to help people parse through the almost 300 (I think) offerings, but also getting together once a week to talk about what we’d seen. If you haven’t listened to our podcasts, you can check them out here. They were a lot of fun to record and fueled mostly by coffee and a love of theater since they were recorded Sunday morning and the majority of us were coming off of late night Saturday Fringe binges. Gotta love those 11:30 pm show times!

As I saw a significant amount of theater over the past month, I decided to do a recap – especially since there is still one weekend left of the Fringe, and almost all of these shows still have performances left. My micro-reviews for each of these plays can be read on the Fringe website, the interviews that I did with most of the shows can be read here, and last, but not least, here’s my breakdown on the shows I saw, and the dates of any performances they may have left.

Must See It – Get off your butt and see these. (This wasn’t actually a category we used.)


See It – Good show, check it out

  • Sincerely, – 26, 27
  • Shakespeare(ish) – 27, 28
  • Bright Swords – 27
  • The Poe Show – 24, 27
  • R&J – Gender Reversed – 25, 27
  • Taming of the Shrew – An Exploration of Gender Expression
  • Thenardier’s Inn
  • Love Labours Won – 26, 27
  • Amelia’s Going Down – 23, 27

Player King

Chance It – Good for a specific audience

  • Shakespeare’s Last Night Out – 26, 27
  • King of Kong: The Musical Parody – 25, 27
  • YA Novel: A Parody – 27, 28

Chance It – Has good things going, but is a little rough around the edges

  • War and Peace: A One Man Show – 26, 28
  • My Gay Husband – 25, 26
  • The Count of Monte Cristo: The Musical – 26, 27
  • The Three Musketeerers – 25, 28


Drink Before It – Let’s face it, some shows are better with lubrication

  • You and Me and My Best Friend P – 27
  • Waiting for Affleck – 27
  • Four Clowns: The Halfwits Last Hurrah – 23, 26
  • My Darling Josephine – 26

Breaking Bard

Skip It – Needs work to be fully realized

  • Wombatman: The Cereal Murders
  • Might As Well Live
  • Fuck You Jason: Or Medea by Euripedes
  • Bernice’s Story

Honorable Mention – I did not get to see these artists, but I continually saw them out seeing shows to support other productions, so I figured that deserved a shout out.

  • My Sister
  • Timeheart
  • Ex-Communication
  • Dating: Adults Embracing Failure

I have one more show that I am scheduled to see – Tracers – and I know that the script for this one is phenomenal, so I’m hoping the production is too! There are many other shows worth seeing that I didn’t have time to get to, so if you’re in LA, come hang out in Hollywood this weekend. Rub elbows with some artists and see some great theater! As for me, I need a nap.