Friday, June 30, 2006

The Reaction to The Action

posted by brad at 1:56 PM
The show is up and running. The audiences are coming. What's the reaction?

On the Critics Front:
Los Angeles Times - Critic's Choice! "Excellent!" "Throat is an anxious and twisted parable for our time."
LA Weekly - Pick of the Week! Go! "a harrowing game of cat-and-mouse"
Pasadena Star News - "Extraordinary!" "Intense!"
Tolucan Times - "A Must See!"

Good stuff.

On the Audience Front:
We're receiving much feedback and many strong reactions to the play from the audience. That's what you want. There is a lot of post-show convesation happening around the Furious Bar, which we like. In general all is good. Below is a photo from the talkback with the playwright Yussef El Guindi Sunday night last weekend. It was an insightful Q & A and the reaction from those attending was positive. In the photo you can see guest moderator Shirley Jahad of NPR, Anthony Di Novi (Bartlett in the play), Yussef El Guindi, Director Damaso Rodriguez, Vonessa Martin (Shelly/Beth/Jean), Ammar Mahmood (Khaled), Aly Mawji (Asfoor) and Doug Newell (Carl).

We had a talkback and reaction of a different kind on opening night. About 3 minutes into the play one woman began to quietly mumble (angrily) in her second row seat. She looked as though she were trying to communicate with the actors onstage. It became more obvious that she was really quite bothered by what she was watching and couldn't stand not getting any response from the actors and also couldn't stay quiet any longer, so she and her companion (they claimed he was her son - not possible) got up and left. Somewhat making a disruption as they left. Once we escorted them outside it became apparent that the disruption had less to do with being upset with the play and much more to do with being ripped on their drug of choice. They were seriously out-of-their-mind high. We decided to refund their money and kindly ask them to leave, despite their request to stay and eat at the reception (understandably so, they had the munchies).

Reactions are good. Come have one. Be Furious.

Saturday, June 24, 2006


posted by Eric Pargac at 3:49 PM

So it's finally opening night for Back of the Throat, and let me say that I couldn't be more proud of this production and this theatre. As the late Joel Hirschhorn said in Variety of director Dámaso Rodriguez's production of The Shape of Things, once again "every detail is firmly in place." Kudos to Dámaso for putting together another stellar production.

Ensemble member Shawn Lee has done an incredible job on the set. First timers to Furious, Dan Jenkins and Cricket Myers, have really highlighted the phenomenal acting and intensified the theatricality of the show with their light and sound designs respectively. As I mentioned, the acting in this production is top knotch. Ensemble members Vonessa Martin and Doug Newell knock it out of the park and make me proud to call myself a Furious ensemble member. Doug's younger agent Carl, is equally thorough, eager and scary, and he delivers his hilarious interjections with impeccable timing. Vonessa masters three separate female roles and goes from a nerdy librarian to a bitchy ex-girlfriend then into an ultra-sexy yet hilariously obnoxious stripper with ease. Our guest artists also deliver. Anthony Di Novi brings such depth, experience and humor to Bartlett. He makes me want to clean my apartment for fear that he may drop by to investigate my shelves. Ammar Mahmood is perfect as Khaled. His dry wit and cordial manner make Khaled sympathetic and humorous, yet he holds an ambiguity that allows the question of Khaled's guilt or innocence to gnaw at the audience. And Aly Mawji is powerful and chilling as the terrorist mastermind Asfoor. Also, I can't forget how perfectly Rachel Canning's costumes wrap these actors in their characters.

The support crew is also outstanding. Thanks to our master stage manager, Christie Wright, our on-top-of-it production manager, Nick Cernoch, the best production intern you could hope for, Jennie Inglis and master-of-the-soundboard Katie Davies. Thanks also to my fellow producers Sara Hennessy and Brad Price for all their incredible work. This production has been an absolute pleasure to work on.

Playwright Yussef El Guindi has given us a brilliant script and this cast and crew has truly delivered a production worthy of its words. I invite you all out to enjoy a funny, gripping and powerful night of theatre.

Be Brave. Be Different. Be Furious.

-Eric Pargac

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Interview with Playwright Yussef El Guindi

posted by Eric Pargac at 11:26 AM

It is always exciting to have direct contact with a playwright during the rehearsal process, and we were lucky enough to be able to bring Back of the Throat playwright Yussef El Guindi out to LA for dress rehearsals through opening weekend. Yussef got into town Saturday night and has been at all our rehearsals and previews, giving feedback and helping to sharpen the play. It's been a pleasure to work with him. We were also able to have journalist Ina Rometsch interview Yussef about Back of the Throat prior to his coming to LA. Here is an excerpt from that interview. Enjoy!

Ina: Yussef, what triggered your writing of Back of the Throat?

Yussef: I started work on this play a couple of months after 9/11. The mood in the country was full of anxiety and fear, and it became slightly surreal at times. There was this story around, I don’t even remember where I read it, about a man whose wife was having a heart attack. He called the paramedics, and they saw his books and found them suspicious. So they called the police, and they came and arrested him. And I remember thinking: "This is like the thought police! You could get arrested for the books you read!"

Ina: That gave you the idea for the play?

Yussef: It started out as a thought game. What would happen if agents paid a visit to my house and looked around? What can you say about a person from what he owns? Ina: What would they find on your bookshelves? Yussef: I have the Koran, I have books on Islam, I have a book on assassins. And I almost bought a book on guns just in case I needed a reference book for a play or story I might write.

Ina: Were there moments of paranoia after 9/11 that you remember particularly well?

Yussef: I had to fly to San Francisco from Seattle. It was a big deal. Even the person who took me in the airport shuttle was commenting on it. And after take-off I was sitting there wanting to get up and go to the restroom. And I thought: I better not. I had better not go to the restroom, because people might get a little nervous. I remember sitting there and thinking: "This is insane. I want to go to the restroom, but I’m not getting up because I’m worried that I might unsettle my fellow passengers." Generally, after 9/11, I began to feel a bit outside the pale, a bit alienated, because my ethnic group was being scrutinized. It was like a spotlight being turned on one for all the wrong reasons. People were just very suspicious.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Hell Week: Come and Gone

posted by brad at 2:51 PM
This past week was the big push to get the set, lights, sound, costumes, and just about everything else associated with the Los Angeles Premiere of Back of the Throat ready. Everything went incredibly well and the show is looking and sounding great. A few got less sleep than others this past week, but for the most part there was very little "hellacious" anxiety or stress. Always a plus.

Last night we had designers and crew only in the space, giving the actors a night off while the show's technical elements had a chance to come together. Tonight, the actors are back and will be on the completed set for the first time. So, "Hell Week" has come and gone and we hardly even noticed it. Now... on to Opening Week.

We start dress rehearsals this weekend and Yussef arrives in town tomorrow. Previews in 5 days... Opening in 8.

Be Furious.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Time Out

posted by Sara Hennessy at 2:25 PM
Our beautiful son not only made his entrance into the world after the opening of The Fair Maid of the West, parts I & II, but he decided not to show up almost until our initial scheduled closing date. He decided to make a dramatic entrance (in true theatre fashion) after 23 hours of labor via c-section almost 2 weeks after he was due. He was born having acted (by proxy) in three productions: The Shape of Things, The God Botherers and a Pasadena Playhouse Staged Reading of Another Part of the Forrest.

For the last 7 months, I’ve been a mom. It’s been a challenge keeping up with the theatre, my son and (sadly) the day job. Before he was born, the theatre was the child I’d go home to at night, but now I go home to a human child and the theatre has turned into the often-neglected stepchild because there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

The goal is that we do it all: have the family, the theatre and pursue our artistic careers. I think that would be easier if we had figured out a way to make a living from our artistic careers prior to starting our family. We would be no different from many working families in the world, a babysitter helping out for several hours a day while at the theatre. But now, for both my husband and I to be actively involved in the rehearsal process, we would have to have a babysitter for 14+ hours a day – not a compromise I’m willing to make.

And so where does that leave me? I’m in time out. It’s as if I’m watching everyone else play from my time-out rug in the corner. This is not a punishment because I’m there with my son who lights up my world. It’s just different because this, play number 11, is the first play I won’t have had an artistic role in, which is weird. I’m not buying props, altering costumes, acting or assisting the director (except by putting his son to bed every night).

It doesn’t mean I’m not working. My list of things to do today includes: putting together proposals and setting up some group nights; deciding on and ordering stock for our Furious Insider Membership cards; proofing website updates and email blasts; delivering a letter to the Box Office that would be included in subscriber orders; and running to Target to buy bottle liners & formula. But I definitely feel a bit disjointed and like I’m not doing quite enough. Everyone else is working so hard day and night, and I’m barely keeping up with my administrative role as the Director of Audience Development. I’m incredibly proud of each person in our ensemble, cast and crew. They’re working so hard to ensure we have a successful run and a great season ahead. Thank you for picking up my slack.

So what’s next for me? My goal is to be on stage again before my son’s 1st birthday. It won’t be easy, but we’re hoping we can make it work.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Tales of a Stripper Artiste

posted by Vonessa at 11:22 AM

In Back of the Throat I play 3 separate women: a librarian, a business woman, and a stripper. Guess which character is most out of my realm of experience? One of the great things about being an actor is the exposure to all walks of life in the pursuit of research. So, I imagine, it was just a matter of time before I found myself going to Jumbo's Clown Room on Hollywood Boulevard to watch and learn.

I didn't go alone, of course. Damaso (the director), Ammar (who plays Khaled), Rachel (the costume designer), Shawn (the scenic designer), and others in the ensemble for moral support. There were probably six girls dancing that night. And they were all attractive and all good at what they did. One would dance for a song. Sometimes using the one chrome pole on the dance floor, sometimes using the mirrored walls, sometimes engaging with the various patrons sitting alongside the stage. One by one they would do their dance, partially stripping but in general no nudity, and then the rotation would begin again. I found myself preferring the artistry of some girls over the other. After their routine was over they would get on their hands and knees to retrieve the money that was thrown at them during the performance. Rachel referred to this action as 'the crawl'. I was one of the patrons sitting along side the edge of the stage and I couldn't resist asking them a couple of questions while they were doing their crawl but in true TV beat cop fashion I paid them for their information. Well, AFTER the ex frat guy next to me explained that it was customary. What did I learn? Apparently, even Goth girl who can do splits in the air and land on the dance floor doesn't choreograph her routines, she wings it. What? They all just go out on stage and feel the music? Body rock girl concurred (she didn't have an outfit per se, just a bikini and she generally used the pole to do the wave with her body).

Obviously one night of watching women dance does not make me a stripper. At this point I have gone to two stripper clubs and watched a lot of stripper movies. For those looking to do some research without wanting to shadow an actual stripper (I guarantee it's expensive), watch the documentary that Daryl Hannah made for the movie Dancing at the Blue Iguana (it's a special feature on the DVD). This is also the movie that inspired Sheila Kelly's pole dancing work-out studios. I took the introductory class there one fine Sunday (so much easier on Sundays when the parking is free on the street) and that was just as much of an eye-opener as Jumbo's Clown Room. I got the feeling the 'eight-week sessions' were more of a work-out and you learned more technique than the intro class (unfortunately the next session did not start until after the show opened). Still, the two-hour intro was educational. During the class the twelve students were treated to a demo by the two teachers. Oh my! Just remember when you walk down the street, or are in a restaurant, or at the gym; one of the women near you might have a big secret. And they might have a pole in their bedrooms too ($300, by the way, to buy a pole for your bedroom...more if you need it custom made).

I'll let you in on a little joke. The choreography for my pole dance has really been a collaboration (no, I will not be winging it like the expert dancers at Jumbo's). But we are crediting a choreographer in the program. You know the old 'use your middle name and the street you were born on and that's your stripper name'? We couldn't resist. Choreography done by Lorraine St. Charles.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Dark Topics and Humor

posted by Doug Newell at 4:32 PM
We're in the 5th week of rehearsals for "Back of the Throat." My character "Carl" is coming along. I've been "off-book" for a couple of weeks, but I still miss the occasional line, and hopefully after Saturday's "table read" I'll rid myself of these mental lapses. It's nice to have everyone moving off-book and it allows the cast to begin really playing the moments and feeding off of each other. The cast has been great to work with and the crew is, as always, on top of it. I feel like I'm growing tremendously as an actor. So much of my acting has been formed by my improv background. Playing to large and often drunk audiences meant I usually had to go big and broad. That experience helped in a show like "Fair Maid of the West" where I could play a drunk sailor, lisping Spaniard and horny Frenchman. But in this show I have to work much more subtly and the director Damaso's notes to "do less" make quite a bit of sense.

This play while topical and intense, is also really funny. I'd describe it as a dark comedy. There's an old saying along the lines of "comedy is harder to pull off than drama." While I think both present their own challenges, I think a dark comedy may present one of the greatest challenges in entertainment. People like to be able to put their entertainment in a labeled box. Tonight they want a "comedy" or a "chick-flic" or "Steven Segal." They need to know if they'll be laughing (comedy), crying (chick-flic), or both (Steven Segal). This show, and most dark comedies don't give you the clear cut signs that laughing is appropriate here and you should be emotionally affected here. Because of that I think a lot of people write these shows off as either "not funny enough" or "shallow." I reacted both ways to a "comedy" I saw on recently so I'll try not to judge too harshly.

I'm looking forward to seeing how an audience will react to this show and the topics it brings up. Specifically is it too early for 9/11 humor? Hollywood felt it wasn't too early to play on people's emotions here or here. That being said I think we're successfully navigating the balance between humor and drama for this show.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Camera Phone Out Takes II

posted by christiemama at 12:24 AM
Here are some more pics from my camera phone over the past week.

Khaled and Asfoor (Ammar and Aly)

Ammar taking a much needed break

Khaled and Asfoor (Ammar and Aly)

Aly awaiting his entrance

Anthony watching scene intently
(one of the few he's not in)

Shawn (our talented Set Designer)
working out the closet gags

Ammar, Vonessa, Anthony, and Doug
(and Damaso in mirror background)

Brad taking a break from build

Damaso's biggest fan

Shawn working hard

Nick taking pics of the set

Jennie trying to stay cool over the
VERY HOT weekend

Getting the walls up

Shawn making sure the closet works

Monday, June 05, 2006

Work in Progress: Spuderitos and Pabst

posted by Nick Cernoch at 4:32 PM

You can click HERE to see updated pics from this weekend’s build. I’ve included some that give a little insight on the eating and drinking habits of the build crew. We'd like to thank Rick's Drive-In and Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer for keeping us healthy during these tough weeks before we open.

We’ve completed our first full weekend of set construction. After 5 days of building, Khaled’s apartment is coming together. The closet doors proved difficult, but not impossible…they now glide impeccably on their tracks.

Check back next week when more pics come as we begin painting and detailing the set.

Until then…BE FURIOUS.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Work in Progress: Set Construction

posted by Nick Cernoch at 12:25 PM

Set construction began earlier this week for Back of the Throat. We were challenged with getting the walls up and ready for a run-through of the play on June 1st. This meant we had 2 nights to build and erect 7 flats and 2 doors; just enough to give the actors and director an idea of what their space on stage would be like. Our construction crew consists of Shawn Lee (Set Designer/Technical Director), Brad Price (Producer/Carpenter) and myself (Nick Cernoch/Production Manager/Carpenter)…we are all ensemble members of the company.

The wide open playing area from our previous show (The Fair Maid of the West, Parts I and II) is being cut almost in half as we create the character Khaled’s cramped apartment. It was very exciting seeing the run-through in this more confined space, and I’m sure the actors enjoyed the sneak peek they got since they won’t be rehearsing on the stage again until we go into Tech Rehearsals. Many times actors never even set foot on the set until Tech and Dress Rehearsals, but we always try to have set construction benchmarks earlier in the rehearsal process so they can have at least a rehearsal or two in the actual space.

You can click HERE to see a slideshow of some early set pictures. Be sure to check back as I’ll try and keep the site updated with more pics as our process continues…we have painting, floor treatments, rear wall installation and tons of set detailing to come. Gotta go now…as usual we have a set to build.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


posted by Nick Cernoch at 2:05 PM

I love New York City (or is it I heart New York City?) and when I found myself visiting an old friend this past Memorial Day weekend I jumped at the chance to see some theatre...4 plays to be exact, not bad for 5 days.

My last visit to the city was over 5 years ago, the city was different and at that point I was living in Texas as an undergrad as opposed to working in Los Angeles theatre, so I didn’t understand the small theatre scene in either city. I thought New York was all about Broadway and edgier Off-Broadway Shows…Off-Off Broadway and 99 Seat Theatre were unfamiliar terms to me at that time.

I now know much more about the many smaller theatres on both coasts and I realize their importance to the development of new plays and playwrights. Smaller theatres in LA and New York also provide stages for work that sometimes just won’t be done at larger venues…work that might be deemed too risky. Armed with this information, I chose to purchase tickets to shows at mostly smaller theatres on my trip to New York this time around.

First up was the Flea Theatre’s production of Back of the Throat by Yussef El Guindi (sound familiar?). I was of course not going to miss a chance to see another company’s production of a play that we are producing in LA.; it’s only ever been possible with one of our previous 10 productions (The God Botherers). The show was in the Flea’s smaller downstairs theatre, a very wide, shallow space where I saw a production very different from what ours will be. It’s quite amazing to see a different group of artists start from the same script and come to somewhat different conclusions about casting, costumes, staging, etc…it was a unique and educational experience.

My next stop was Sheila Callahan’s Dead City, produced by New Georges. This modern adaptation of James Joyce’s Ulysses was done at 3LD Art & Technology Center, a very new venue that has a large art gallery feel to its performance space. Although this was a first preview, I thought the performances were very good. I was also impressed with the show's set, lighting and sound designs. Large rolling walls were moved by the actors while a massive backdrop had scenes from the city rear-projected onto it. Visually the show was like a modern art exhibit, I was happy to see compelling storytelling and acting as well.

UPDATE: Click here to read what the New York Times had to say about Dead City.

Sunday I had a double feature of 2 very hot productions: the Tony-nominated revival of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and Adam Rapp’s Red Light Winter. The minimalist Broadway production of Sweeney Todd featured the actors as orchestra with a fantastic performance by Michael Cerveris as the vengeful Todd. Unfortunately Patti Lupone (who I hear is amazing in this show) did not go on as Mrs. Lovett, I may have been wowed otherwise. Red Light Winter was great, gut-wrenching theatre…something I’m drawn to. I think I was able to enjoy this show the most as a “theatre goer” since I hadn’t read the play and I wasn’t over-analyzing it technically or otherwise (which one may tend to do when one works in the theatre).

Overall my trip was amazing and enlightening, I saw a play our company is working on here, a Broadway understudy, a first preview, a hot show produced by Steppenwolf in New York…I even got to sit in on a tech rehearsal for a play being produced by 13p. After this theatre buffet, I found what Damaso said in his previous blog about LA theatre to be very true…there is great work and not so great work being done in every “theatre” town…the myth about one city having some sort of monopoly on great theatre is just that, a myth.

OK, as always its time to get back to work…we have a set to build.