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“What’s a Theater Supposed To Do?” Colloquy

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The Los Angeles Theatre Center

514 South Spring Street

Los Angeles, CA 90013

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Join us for a colloquy on the relevance of theater during this year's Stage Raw/PLAY LA Weekend Festival!

About this Event

Panelists: Melissa Chalsma, Stephen Sachs, Jon Lawrence Rivera, Keiana Richàrd, Elmira Rahim, and Graham Wetterhahn.

Moderated by Shem Bitterman

LA’s legacy theaters have been around for decades because they’re doing something right. “What’s a Theater Supposed to Do?” asks questions about invention and inventiveness with three artistic directors from LA’s legacy theaters and three artistic directors from emerging companies. How does each camp envision the future of theater in Los Angeles?

Panelists

Under Melissa Chalsma’s leadership, Independent Shakespeare Co. (ISC) created the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival, which has grown into the largest theater event of its kind in Los Angeles.Every summer, tens of thousands of Angelenos attend productions, theater workshops and lectures, and performances by local artists. All of ISC summer events are admission-free, and attract the largest, most diverse classical theater audience in Los Angeles. Drawing on her experience as an educator, she has guided the company in the development of educational and outreach programming, reaching many corners of Los Angeles through partnerships with other municipal and non-profit organizations.

ISC is the 2018 recipient of The Paul Robeson Citation Award (recognizing those who best exemplify the principles and ideals of this great humanitarian) by Actors' Equity Foundation and Actors’ Equity Association (ISC is only the second organization to receive this honor). In 2009, ISC received the Hollywood Arts Council’s Theatre Arts Charlie Award and in 2014, ISC received the highest honor bestowed by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, the Margaret Harford Award for Sustained Excellence in Theatre.

Melissa directs and acts in many ISC productions. Her directing includes Pericles, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titus Andronicus, Measure for Measure, Richard III, Twelfth Night, and Romeo & Juliet. She has performed in theaters across the country, on Broadway (including the American premiere of Harold Pinter’s MOONLIGHT with Jason Robards, Blythe Danner, and Liev Schreiber) and in the UK. In her ten years as a college faculty member she taught at Moorpark College, Pepperdine University, and California State University, Northridge. Melissa received her MFA from The Professional Theatre Training Program at the University of Delaware.

Jon Lawrence Rivera is the recipient of the first Career Achievement Award from Stage Raw. He directed the following world premieres for Playwrights’ Arena: SOUTHERNMOST by Mary Lyon Kamitaki, BABY EYES by Donald Jolly, I GO SOMEWHERE ELSE by Inda Craig-Galván, BLOODLETTING by Boni B. Alvarez (also at Kirk Douglas Theatre), THE END TIMES by Jesse Mu-En Shao, LITTLE WOMEN by Velina Hasu Houston, THE HOTEL PLAY written by Paula Cizmar, Velina Hasu Houston, Jennifer Maisel, Nahal Navidar, Julie Oni, Janine Salinas Schoenberg and Laurie Woolery (performed in an actual hotel), @THE SPEEDOFJAKE by Jennifer Maisel, CIRCUS UGLY by Gabriel Rivas Gomez, PAINTING IN RED by Luis Alfaro, CINNAMON GIRL by Velina Hasu Houston and Nathan Wang (also at the 2nd Beijing University International Musical Theater Festival 2014), DALLAS NON-STOP by Boni B. Alvarez, THE ANATOMY OF GAZELLAS by Janine Salinas Schoenberg, GIRL MOST LIKELY TO by Michael Premrirat, BONDED by Donald Jolly and Euripides’ HELEN by Nick Salamone (at the Getty Villa). Other recent work includes: ANNA IN THE TROPICS by Nilo Cruz at Open Fist Theater, AMERICA ADJACENT by Boni B. Alvarez, and OBAMA-OLOGY by Aurin Squire at Skylight Theater; THE JOY LUCK CLUB by Susan Kim, THE LAST FIVE YEARS by Jason Robert Brown, and CRIERS FOR HIRE by Giovanni Ortega at East West Players; HONEYMOON IN VEGAS by Jason Robert Brown and A CLASS ACT by Ed Kleban for Musical Theatre Guild; BINGO HALL by Dillon Chitto, FAIRLY TRACEABLE by Mary Kathryn Nagle, and STAND-OFF AT HWY #37 by Vickie Ramirez for Native Voices at the Autry (also at the University of South Dakota) and the landmark Los Angeles Premiere of DOGEATERS by Jessica Hagedorn at SIPA and Krik Douglas Theatre. Rivera is also the recipient of a NY Fringe Festival Award (for directng HILLARY AGONISGTES), an LA Weekly Award (for directing SEA CHANGE), and five Ovation Award nominations. Rivera is the founding artistic director of Playwrights’ Arena.

Keiana Richàrd is the Associate Artistic Director of CollaborativeArtists Bloc. A native of Nashville, TN, she received her MFA from theUniversity of California, San Diego. Her theatre credits include NewYork: Lincoln Center’s Tony-nominated Broadway production ofDividing the Estate, The Pearl Theatre Company’s Ghosts, TheMcCarter Theatre’s Eclipsed, and The Public/Sundance Lab’s reading ofForgotten World, Los Angeles: Rogue Arts Ensemble’s Wood Boy DogFish, The Hudson Theatre’s Good People, and Center Theatre Group’sThe Trip To Bountiful. Film/T.V. include projects such as Mid-CityBlue, Adult Swim’s Delocated, and NBC’s The Player. She is one of theproducers and the Assistant Director to CAB’s critically acclaimedproduction of Gunshot Medley: Part 1. Keiana is also passionate aboutarts education working/volunteering for such companies as The UnusualSuspects and The Young Storytellers. She is thrilled to participate as apanel member in the Stage Raw/PLAY LA Theater Festival.

Elmira Rahim started her acting career in her home country Iran, where she worked with some of the most prominent theatre companies including Ayeneh and JAM. She performed in an internationally awarded production of Flying Shams at Unesco Hall in Paris in 2004 with Ayeneh.

After leaving her roots, she joined the USC MFA Acting program where she met some of her most inspiring mentors. She has been working on stage, on camera and as a voice over artist since her graduation. She believes her land has offered her a great force to create art and that force combined with a deeply diverse community of artists she met at USC, encouraged her to start the theatre company ÉLAN Ensemble where she works as the artistic director.

Stephen Sachs is an award-winning playwright, director, producer and the co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre, which he co-founded in 1990 and is now one of the most highly regarded theaters of any size in Los Angeles. The Fountain Theatre creates, develops and produces new plays expressing the diverse social issues of Los Angeles and the nation. Diversity and inclusion sit at the heart of its mission, committed to the purpose that the richly varied population of Los Angeles see itself on the Fountain stage. Sachs is the author of fifteen plays that have been produced locally, nationally and around the world. His stage adaption of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (Stage Raw Award) inaugurated Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and was chosen to represent LA theatre for Grand Park’s new Our LA Voices Arts Festival. His play Bakersfield Mist enjoyed a 3-month run on London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner and is now being produced worldwide. He wrote the screenplay for his play Sweet Nothing in my Ear for CBS starring Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. As producer, he introduced LA audiences to Tarell Alvin McCraney and was instrumental in launching Deaf West Theatre. Directing credits include new plays by Athol Fugard, Conor McPherson, and inaugurating the Outdoor Classical Theater at the Getty Villa in Malibu. Sachs has been nominated for the SDC Zelda Fichandler Award three times, recognizing an outstanding director who is making a unique and exceptional contribution to theatre in their region. Sachs was recently honored with a Certificate of Commendation from Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the cultural life of Los Angeles.” In 2019, LA City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell hailed Sachs as “One of the great citizens and artists in our city.” www.stephensachs.com

Graham Wetterhahn is the founder, executive producer, and artistic director of After Hours Theatre Company. Selected theatrical credits include: The Last Five Years: A Multi-Sensory Experience (2019), One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest: The Immersive Experience (2018 - 10x Stage Raw nominations including Revival of the Year, 5x Ovation nominations including Best Production of a Play – Intimate Theatre, L.A. Times Critics’ Choice), and the first Los Angeles production of Pasek and Paul’s Dogfight (2017 - 4x Ovation nominations including Best Production of a Musical - Intimate Theatre, L.A. Times Critics’ Choice). He is also the founder of the Los Angeles Immersive Invitational, Los Angeles’s only 48-hour competition/festival for immersive theatrical design. In addition to theatre, Graham actively produces for film, immersive marketing activations, interactive/immersive nightlife, and a Twitch live stream channel.

Moderator

Shem Bitterman's plays have been produced at South Coast Rep, The Actor's Theatre of Louisville, CTG, Geva, The WPA, Cornerstone and many more. Awards include: PEN USA Award (Harm’s Way), CBS/FDG New Play Program (Iowa Boys), Kennedy Center Fund For New American Plays (Beijing Legends), SCR California Playwrights Competition (The Ramp), LA Drama Critic Circle’s Ted Schmitt Award (The Job). In 2009, he adapted and directed the film version of The Job starring Ron Perlman and Joe Pantoliano. In 2014, his teleplay, Betty & Coretta, was nominated for a HUMANITAS Prize. In 2015, his film, Whitney, directed by Angela Bassett, was nominated for an Image Award. This year, his play, The Stone Witch, played Off Broadway, and his newest movie, It's Time For Me To Come Home, goes into production in September, for Hallmark. He has taught in communist China and the California prison system. In 2011, he founded PlayLab at LA’s Skylight Theatre, which has been responsible for mentoring more than 25 original plays from the ground up.

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The Los Angeles Theatre Center

514 South Spring Street

Los Angeles, CA 90013

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