Arts In LA

Kite Soars!

Brian Kite named new chair of UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television Department of Theater

LOS ANGELES (Sept. 17, 2015)—Teri Schwartz, Dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television (UCLA TFT), one of the world’s most-prominent academic institutions for entertainment and performing arts education, announced today the appointment of Brian Kite as the new chair of the Department of Theater.
   “I am delighted to welcome Brian Kite as professor and new chair of UCLA TFT’s Department of Theater,” said Schwartz. “Brian brings an outstanding history of great teaching, mentoring, distinguished creative work, and robust artistic direction and management, especially with the resounding successes of the multi-award-winning La Mirada Theatre Company. We are confident that Brian will be a great leader for our Department of Theater. He will work tirelessly and with great imagination to help bring this jewel in the crown for UCLA TFT to new levels of excellence for now and the future."

Kite was the producing artistic director of the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts from 2008 through 2015, where he directed numerous acclaimed productions—including Billy Elliot, Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Little Shop of Horrors, Dinner With Friends, Steel Magnolias, Driving Miss Daisy and Proof. Kite has directed live theater across the United States and abroad. He directed the national tours of In the Heat of the Night and The Graduate for L.A. Theatre Works; staged the first production of Miss Saigon to ever play in China; and directed Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers, which toured throughout Mainland China. The production was the first U.S. production of a play at Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA).
   He also helmed a production of Cabaret in Bermuda and directed Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie at Actors Co-op Theatre Company in Hollywood. For more than seven years, Kite was the director of theater programs at New York’s French Woods Festival, directing more than 20 productions during his tenure there. His upcoming projects include a new production of Rent and an intimate staging of Green Day’s American Idiot. In addition to his directing projects, Kite has taught at UCLA TFT for the past 10 years. Kite is the chair the Los Angeles Stage Alliance’s board of governors and is the artistic director of the award-winning Buffalo Nights Theatre Company. He is the recipient of the 2013 Los Angeles Ovation Award for Best Direction of a Musical for his production of Spring Awakening.
   Kite received his B.A. and his M.F.A. from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.


‘Pro99’ Actors’ Equity members send open letter to AEA President Kate Shindle

Members congratulate Shindle on election victory and respond to inaugural column in Equity News.

Daniel Marmion (at podium), Joshua Castille, Jimmy Bellinger, Austin McKenzie, Joseph Haro, and Daniel Durant in Deaf West’s Spring Awakening
Photo by Tate Tullier

LOS ANGELES (Aug. 27, 2015)—Members of the Pro99 movement of Actors’ Equity Association have issued an open letter to AEA’s newly elected president, Kate Shindle, in response to her victory and to her inaugural address as president of the national union for actors and stage managers. The open letter is signed by more than 400 Equity members.
   The Pro99 movement formed in late 2014 in opposition to AEA’s rollout of a new plan that will effectively force “intimate theaters” in Los Angeles to pay Equity actors minimum wage, go “non-union” or even close—despite an overwhelming vote against the plan by 66 percent of the Los Angeles membership on an advisory referendum. Pro99 members around the nation, who take their name from the current AEA 99 Seat Plan that allows members to volunteer in smaller venues, oppose AEA’s new promulgated plan. They are requesting that Equity leadership put a moratorium on the plan until local members’ voices can be heard, and that the union work with its members to develop an alternative plan that will more realistically address the needs of the Los Angeles theater community.

An Open Letter to Actors’ Equity President Kate Shindle from Pro99 AEA Members

Dear President Shindle,
   We, the undersigned members of AEA who support the Pro99 movement, both in the L.A. area and around the nation, congratulate you on your win, and wish you a successful term as President of our beloved union. We were satisfied that our passionate campaigning helped to elect you, and appreciated that during your campaign you came to Los Angeles to meet with us and express your interest in the 99-Seat debacle that has galvanized our Los Angeles theater community.
   In your “Inaugural Column” in the July/August 2015 edition of Equity News you wrote: "Everyone has a different definition of what’s cool; to me, the coolest thing Equity can do is to encourage its members to be passionate, vocal activists and ambassadors. Because that will not only make our industry more successful, it will also make our union stronger.”
   We couldn’t agree more. We are also encouraged and grateful that you mention our cause in your column, especially since we do not feel we have always been fairly represented in Equity News and emails—that is, when we’ve been represented at all. Thank you for your willingness to both meet with us and publicly discuss what absolutely continues to be a crisis in our union. As you noted, we do have much to celebrate about intimate theater in L.A.—almost thirty years of rich and creative work under the guidelines endorsed by our own union.
   However, we’re concerned about your mention of a recent Fringe Festival production that was produced under the proposed “New 99-Seat Theatre Agreement.” Though you present it as something to perhaps celebrate, we wish to be clear that that Agreement is precisely what an overwhelming majority of local AEA members voted against in the advisory referendum (66 percent: a landslide). As you can imagine, L.A. members don’t consider this an event to celebrate. We think it is, in fact, the problem, and not the solution. Worse, we think the way the new agreement was promulgated by the union is even more problematic for the democratic process. We have found the actions and messaging of the leadership of our union troubling, and the fact that the leadership ignored the will of its own membership is deeply disturbing. Worst of all, we firmly believe this new plan will effectively destroy our vibrant theatrical community.
   We love our union. We have, from the beginning, offered to work with Council and staff to find a solution that will not only address our concerns, but also make our union stronger and respectful of local members’ needs. We welcome turning a new page with your support and willingness to listen to us articulate the realities of our community in order to resolve this crisis.

About “Intimate Theater” and #Pro99
Over the past 50 years, whether it be 99-Seats in L.A., Off-Off Broadway in New York, or companies starting out like Steppenwolf in Chicago, some of the most important productions in American theater history have originated in “intimate theaters.” Right now, a 99-Seat production from Los Angeles of Spring Awakening is opening on Broadway, with twenty members of the original L.A. cast all earning multiple contract weeks and, proudly, earning their Equity cards. This is only one of countless examples—hundreds of shows, thousands of contracts for hundreds of thousands of work weeks—over several decades that have come directly from intimate theater productions, creating opportunities and work for actors, stage managers, playwrights, directors, and designers. This is not just a Los Angeles issue; members across the country share similar issues that create the need for intimate theater where AEA actors can do their work. To attack the state of 99-Seat theater is to attack the core of American theater. We must preserve these venues, not destroy them.

In solidarity,

Members of AEA PRO99 movement
Signed by the following members of Actors’ Equity Association (partial list):
Antoinette Abbamonte
Rhonda Aldrich
Jason Alexander
John Allee
Erinn Anova
John Apicella
Devon Armstrong
Hugo Armstrong
Frank Ashmore
Ed Asner
Whitney Avalon
Shannon Lee Avnsoe
Richard Azurdia
Tim Bagley
Dennis Baker
Libby Baker
Jordan Baker-Kilner
Tisha Terrasini Banker
Karen Bankhead
Jon Collin Barclay
Dana Lyn Baron
Cynthia Beckert
Michael James Bell
Kathy Bell Denton
Rona Benson
Gigi Bermingham
Tom Beyer
Allison Bibicoff
Melina Bielefelt
John Billingsley
Royana Black
Alison Blanchard
Troy Blendell
Daniel Blinkoff
Meaghan Boeing
Curt Bonnem
Lisa Boyd
Loretta Bradley
Alysha Brady
Mark Bramhall
Brendan Brandt
Libby Brien
Bill Brochtrup
Ann Bronston
Sarah Brooke
Haynes Brooke
Rob Brownstein
Ezra Buzzington
Kacey Camp
Caitlin Renee Campbell
Colin Campbell
Mike Campbell
Lauren Campedelli
Amanda Carlin
Cathy Carlton
Rob Roy Cesar
Jennifer Chambers
Blaire Chandler
Emily Chase
Bryan Chesters
Joan Chodorow
Jerry Clarke
Roslyn Cohn
Laura Coker
John Combs
Vince Corazza
Mimi Cozzens
James Patrick Cronin
Nathalie Cunningham
Christopher Curry
Maia Danzinger
Peter Davies
Julia Davis
Susan Carol Davis
Timothy Davis-Reed
Albert Dayan
Lee De Broux
Liza de Weerd
David Desantos
Etta Devine
Susan Dexter
Vince Donvito
Nike Doukas
John Downey III
Lisa Dring
Robert Duncan
Joseph Eastburn
Alex Egan
Emily Eiden
Larry Eisenberg
Rob Elk
Tony Embeck Motzenbacker
Mel England
Stephanie A. Erb
Nicole Erb
Daniel Espeseth
Thomas Evans
Terry Evans
Jennie Fahn
Richard Fancy
Shannon Farnon
Alex Fernandez
James Ferrero
Peter Finlayson
Brian Finney
Tom Fiscella
Frances Fisher
Susan Fisher
Tom Fitzpatrick
Karianne Flaathen
Bridget Flanery
Julia Fletcher
Suzanne Ford
Marilyn Fox
Bo Foxworth
Bruce French
Penny Fuller
Michael Gabiano
Douglas Gabrielle
Richard Gallegos
Jeff Thomas Gardner
Kimiko Gelman
Nancy Georgini
Taylor Gilbert
Lisa Glass
Maria Gobetti
Alexandra Goodman
Eve Gordon
Wendy Gough
Kathryn Graf
Laurel Green
Brad Greenquist
S.A. Griffin
Chet Grissom
Arye Gross
Vincent Guastaferro
Nicholas Guest
Pamela Guest
Christopher Guilmet
Arjun Gupta
Katherine Haan
Jeanie Hackett
Molly Hagan
Herb Hall
Tim Halligan
Kurt Andrew Hansen
Amy K Harmon
DJ Harner
Jim Haynie
Brian Helm
Gregg Henry
Ted Heyck
Victoria Hoffman
Jerry Hoffman
Steve Hofvendahl
Henry Holden
Travis Holder
Michelle Holmes
Stuart Howard
Charles Howerton
Jason Huber
William Dennis Hunt
Alberto Isaac
Debbie Jaffe
Mary Ellen Jennings
Wendy Johnson
Jeffrey Jones
Kennedy Kabaseres
Elizabeth Karr
Drew Katzman
Thorsten Kaye
Crystal Keith
Jason E. Kelley
Jonathan Kells Philips
McKerrin Kelly
Dylan Kenin
Linda Kerns
Jimmy Kieffer
Sally Kirkland
Matt Kirkwood
Mary Jo Kirwan
Eliza Kiss
Melissa Kite
Corey Klemow
Tamara Krinsky
Jonothon Lamer
Michael Lanahan
Edgar Landa
Jack Laufer
Gregg Lawrence
Bobby Lesser
Kelly Lester
Brian Letscher
Ed Levey
Amir Levi
Peter Dan Levin
Laura Levy
Sarah Lilly
Nancy Linehan
Sylvia Little
Ian Littleworth
Ana Therese Lopez
Michael Lorre
Jeremy Lucas
Jordan Lund
Aaron Lyons
Dennis Madden
Jill Maglione
Mike Mahaffey
Christopher Maikish
Alan Mandell
Sandy Mansson
Michael Manuel
Abigail Marks
Ferrell Marshall
Ron Masak
Edgar Mastin
Anna Mathias
Dakin Matthews
Jeremy Maxwell
Margaret McCarley
Kevin McCorkle
Michael McGee
David LM McIntyre
Matt McKenzie
David McKnight
Don McManus
Nan McNamara
Vince Melocchi
Bill Mendieta
Kevin Meoak
Rebecca Metz
Toby Meuli
Adam Meyer
Cameron Meyer
Colin Mitchell
Alfred Molina
Robert Homer Mollohan
Mindy Montavon
Sean Moran
Andrea Morgan
Virginia Morris
Allie Mulholland
Jon Mullich
Rob Nagle
Geoffgrey Nauffts
Judy Nazemetz
David Paul Needles
Shannon Nelson
Claudette Nevins
Sara Newman
Gregory Niebel
Bruce Nozick
Lynn Odell
Nick Offerman
Adenrele Ojo
Laurie Okin
Thomas James O'Leary
Penny Orloff
Ann Osmond
Jason Paige
Marina Palmier
Ray Paolantonio
Ramon V. Parra
Tony Pasqualini
Lisa Pelikan
Jessica Pennington
Zoe Perry
Lisa Pescia
Alina Phelan
Marissa Pitts
Vic Polizos
John Pollono
Rose Portillo
Mary Portsner
Annie Potts
Lawrence Pressman
Michael Prichard
Roses Prichard
Sean Pritchett
Philip Proctor
Zachary Quinto
Anna Quirino
Linda Rand
Bryan Rasmussen
Rebecca Rasmussen
Noreen Reardon
Tom Regan
Annette Reid
Elizabeth Reilly
Shanti Reinhardt
Betsy Reisz
Kevin Remington
Marci Richmond
Roger Rignack
Rene Rivera
Crystal Robbins
Brian Rohan
Tracey Rooney
Stan Roth
Michael Rothhaar
Adriana Roze
Susan Rubin
John Rubinstein
Paul Rurbiak
Ann Ryerson
Jeanne Sakata
Barry Saltzman
William Salyers
Elizabeth Sampson
Julia Sanford
Norman Scott
Diane Sellers
Mimi Seton
Tro Shaw
Stephanie Shayne
Sharron Shayne
David Shine
Graham Sibley
Jacob Sidney
Ruth Silveira
Adam Silver
Anibal Silveyra
John Sloan
Tucker Smallwood
Jacques C. Smith
Sammi Smith
Debra Snyder
Suzan Solomon
Devon Sorvari
Richard Soto
Joe Spano
Adrian Sparks
Valerie Spencer
Steve Spiro
Patrick Stafford
Sami Staitman
Rick Steadman
David Steen
Ellyn Stern
Theo Stevens
Elizabeth Swain
Kim Swennen
Joel Swetow
Jeanne Syquia
John Szura
Bart Tangredi
Barbara Tarbuck
Nick Tate
Jennifer Taub
Mark Taylor
Martin Thompson
Donal Thoms-Cappello
Paul Tigue
Debi Tinsley
Amy Tolsky
Cathy Diane Tomin
Marcelo Tubert
Nick Ullett
Carole Ursetti
Brenda Varda
Tania Verafield
Steve Vinovich
Michael Wallot
Kristine Waters
Cameron Watson
Melisaa Weber Bales
Vance Wells
Leo Weltman
Patrick Wenk-Wolff
Mandy Levin Williams
Mark McClain Wilson
Dan Wingard
Gail Wirth
Steven Wishnoff
Robert Woods
Wendy Worthington
Tim Wright
Kimberly Yates
Travis York
David Youse
LB Zimmerman


The One and Only
Theater director Shirley Jo Finney walked a lonely path but now builds universal worlds.

By Ethan Davison

Bernard K. Addison, Simone Missick, and Leith Burke in the Shirley Jo Finney–directed Citizen: An American Lyric, at the Fountain Theatre
Photo by Ed Krieger

If the role of the storyteller is to expand our perspectives and open us to diverse ideas, why does it seem so many stories are created by white males? Shirley Jo Finney says she struggles with this issue every day. The director of such plays as The Ballad of Emmett Till, From the Mississippi Delta, and her most recent project, Citizen: An American Lyric, at the Fountain Theatre, gravitates to projects that focus on the pain and struggle racism has caused throughout history.
   Finney never intended to be a director. While a student at UCLA, she focused solely on becoming an actor. “I would direct on and off on school projects and wouldn’t think anything of it,” she says. “I would just think, ‘Eh, it’s something to do. But I’m an actress. That’s what I’m going to do.’ That was the mantra.”
   That changed when a friend of hers suffered a heart attack. Finney recalls, “He said to me, ‘If I live through this, I would love for you to work with me in putting on a show.’ Well, he lived through it, and we took pieces of poetry…created the story, made a character arc…. Then we decided we wanted to put it up.” The piece, directed by Finney, was honored by Los Angeles Times as one of the 10 best Equity-waiver productions of the year. Finney would later be invited into the director’s program at Los Angeles Theatre Center, which would cement her path from actor to director.

Still, it hasn’t been an easy path to walk. Says Finney, “I was female, and even though I hate to say that, that becomes a challenge. And I was a female of color. And one thing I learned from that was how to navigate the political system, because there’s a lot of theaters across this country, where I was the first either female or female of color, to walk in those doors.”
   Finney refers to this as “The Only One Syndrome.” She says, “When you’re the only one in a place, there is a certain burden that comes with that. So what I had to learn is what was mine and what was theirs.”
   Societal challenges weren’t the only obstacles that presented themselves. The emotional journey Finney had to embark on with some of her projects also took their toll on her. When Yellow Man, a play centered on the color caste system within the African-American community, was proposed to her, Finney initially turned it down. “It’s all about trying to dissimulate into the main culture, and what that does, and how that impacts relationships,” she explains. “I lived it. I did not want to go there because it’s a wound. But I did.”
Valuing the Core
   Finney’s process involves finding the emotional core of the piece. “I believe that the playwright has given you the themes of the play. So it is my job as a director to do the visceral work of it, to do the emotional investigations. So, when I first read a play, I go, ‘How do I feel about this? What does it trigger in me?’ Then start with the conceptual process. And I usually try to find out what the emotional heart of a play is.”

   With this emotional core, Finney universalizes the story. Though each story may tell of a very specific group or individual, Finney still strongly believes that the message of the play should provide knowledge of or insight into everyone. “Just like in ancient times with the very first indigenous people, it’s about how we navigate the world,” Finney says. “Every story tells us, the people sitting in a circle in the tribe, how to navigate the world. And because we’re human beings and emotions are universal, they don’t see color or gender, right? That’s a key human experience. So you as the audience member, and I as the facilitator, and the acting team, we’re conduits. We’re witnessing each other and taking this journey energetically.”
   And it’s not just the overall story she applies this process to but also the individual characters whose journeys we follow. In doing so, she asks herself, “Who is this person to me? What does he want? How does he feel? How’s he going to feel when he gets his objective? What are his human flaws? What are his joys?”
   Finney points out to actors she directs that humans have only three basic needs: to be nurtured, to be seen, and to be safe. She says, “So you’re getting all those when you come out if you’re a pretty healthy human being, but if you’re missing one of those, then you’re going to act out to get it. So when you’re looking at a story and the protagonist, or even the antagonist, you have to keep that in mind.”
   This work with her actors begins around the table, much like the storytelling in tribes. “We start looking at the theme of the piece and how that relates to us in our lives,” she says. “So when you have a group of people sitting in a circle and they begin sharing, then they start bonding. And that’s how you create great ensembles.”

Being a Good ‘Citizen’
   Citizen: An American Lyric, adapted by Stephen Sachs from the book by Claudia Rankine, focuses on today’s racial issues. Says Finney, “Her conversation is about the everyday encounters of the unconscious/conscious racism. And it’s the speak of middle- and upper-middle-class whites and blacks, which is the discourse that’s happening in America now. So I lived that. This is one of those pieces where everything that she’s talking about I have lived.”

   Ultimately, Finney’s message is about breaking out of the roles society sets up for us. Rather than just being defined by or limited to what is expected, she says, we should strive for what’s important to each of us. “Don’t get locked in a box,” she says “We didn’t come here in a box so why put yourself in a box?”
   As for how to start breaking out of that box, Finney recommends taking advantage of modern media. “You can blog, you can write, you can put it on the Net. So there is nothing stopping one from expressing oneself.” She wrote, directed, produced, and helped to finance her first opportunity, a decision she refers to as “an investment in who I am today.”

August 2015

Adenrele Ojo and Lorenz Arnell in The Ballad of Emmett Till at the Fountain Theatre, 2010

Diarra Kilpatrick in In the Red and Brown Water at the Fountain, 2012

Gilbert Glenn Brown and Theodore Perkins in The Brothers Size at the Fountain, 2014

Production photos by Ed Krieger
Portrait of Shirley Jo Finney by Dany Margolies, ©

Citizen: An American Lyric is at the Fountain Theatre through Oct. 11. 5060 Fountain Ave. Sat 8pm, Sun 3pm & 7pm, Mon 8pm (dark Sept. 7) $15–34.95 (323) 663-1525.


Fitzmaurice Voicework
with Lisa Pelikan
Fountain Theatre presents
: An American Lyric
Through Oct. 11



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