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Stand Up for Domestic Violence

img1“I did a show for 500 top level corporate executives. It was horrible. I tried to bond with all the women in the group. But both of them were too busy serving the coffee to pay attention to my act.”

That’s comedian Heidi Joyce, definitely a woman’s woman in a man’s world.

Only two years ago Joyce arrived in LA from East Coast, and like a good little comic, she did what she was expected to do—looked around for agents and club bookings and sitcom roles. But at the same time, Joyce looked around for something else—a cause.

Enter Leslie DeBeauvais, who heads Theatre of Hope for Abused Women (THAW), the community outreach program of the American Renegade Theatre Company. A notice in a trade paper led to a meeting at the company’s home, the Bitter Truth Theatre in North Hollywood, and “Stand Up Against Domestic Violence” was born. This tremendously popular all-female night of comedy benefitting THAW’s outreach programs debuted in July of 1997, and has been turning heads ever since.

“When we first did it, I didn’t really know what would develop,” says Joyce. “[But] it was really powerful experience for everyone. It immediately began selling out and I was totally jazzed!” Hosted by Joyce, “Stand Up Against Domestic Violence” has been featured on NBC, ABC and in both Ms and Woman’s Own Magazines. It’s now touring nationally (and to Australia and Barbados), and is one hot ticket when it returns to the Bitter Truth Theatre twice a year. (The current run began on May 2, with two remaining shows on May 23 and 30; Joyce and company return for four shows in October.)

“Boy, are we fortunate,” says DeBeauvais of her connection with Heidi Joyce. “It’s been a real gift to have her involved with us. I know no one who has the energy she has, let alone the talent.”

Founded in 1996, THAW’s programs include critically-acclaimed theatrical productions, play readings, classes, workshops, art therapy and much more. The organization is closely involved with area Women’s Shelters, and residents and staff attend THAW events free of charge.

“Our direction is a little bit different,” says DeBeauvais about THAW and its programs. “One of the criteria [for our presentations] is that they have to have a positive message and portray women who can think for themselves and get out of system. We are not memorials to the tragedy and traumas in our lives,” she continues. But rather, THAW presents “The celebration of the best of who we are.”

“And first of all, you have to entertain or people won’t listen to what you have to say,” adds DeBeauvais with a laugh. “You have to sneak up behind them, give them food for thought.”

It’s a philosophy that sounded good to Joyce.

“I have always been involved with issues that are of concern to women,” she says. “Previous to coming here I was the top female comic in Washington. I was also the only female comic,” Joyce deadpans. “But here in LA there’s a wonderful community of very funny women, who are also very supportive of each other.” And more than willing to be included in an “all-star line-up of America’s funniest women,” to raise funds and raise awareness for a good cause.

Joyce enlists performers who are literally the top names in the business: Margaret Smith, Merrill Markoe, Tracy Smith, and Maryellen Hooper, to name a few. (Hooper was recently named Female Stand Up of the Year by the American Comedy Awards.) Their faces are familiar from appearances on “The Tonight Show,” and many have been featured in their own specials on Comedy Central and other networks. Joyce herself is no slouch either—she recently appeared on CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond,” was called one of the “top comics of Generation X” by the national comedy trade magazine, Just For Laughs, and “a new Gilda Radner” by ABC Casting Director Patrick Baca.

With varied styles, backgrounds and outlooks, the funny women who “Stand Up Against Domestic Violence” are certainly talents to be taken seriously. They’re there for the fight, but it’s by no means a somber afternoon. “The show itself is to celebrate, support and empower women together,” says Joyce. And it’s not just women who show up, either. “I’d say it’s pretty well split,” she says. “Men and women, and all ages. Both behind the mic and in the audience we’re having a blast. It’s a great time, so there’s a lot of hope.”

“Most of our programs—not all of them—have pretty heavy content,” says DeBeauvais. “And one can’t live in that place always, so we lighten it up with music and laughter.” (Ken Stacey’s “Sunday Soul” on May 16 is a benefit concert featuring well-known session vocalists—”Expect to be uplifted,” says DeBeauvais about this week’s musical event.)
Joyce herself places her involvement with THAW pretty high up there in terms of her own accomplishments. “I get a lot of letters and e-mail from people who’ve come to the show. Really the most amazing stuff,” she says. The letters are from people who have had experiences with domestic violence, and thank her for making them laugh. “It’s funny how even if you don’t come out and talk about it directly,” she says softly, “the sense of community helps.”

Let’s hear it for a comedian who cares about things like that. From her lips to our ears: “I can’t believe we still have the Miss America contest. This is America! We’re not supposed to judge people based on how they look. We’re supposed to judge people based on how much money they make.”

Socially-conscious rimshot, please.

—The Gazette, May 13, 1999

 

Quick Wit: Doug Hara

The actor takes the plunge (literally!) into Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses.” Jennie Webb talks with him during a dry period.

 

Doug Hara: Metamorphosis The latest big splash on the LA theater scene is Mary Zimmerman’s “Metamorphoses” at the Mark Taper Forum, a lovely and revealing and very funny exploration of the myths of Ovid, wherein gods and goddesses hobnob with their cohorts on a fabulously fluid set. Literally. The many mythical characters move in and around a reflective pool that spans the entire stage.

The production is an import from the Chicago-based, award-winning Lookingglass Theatre Company, and longtime company member Doug Hara has been a part of “Metamorphoses” since its inception.  That’s a lot of swimming onstage, a lot of water moments. I thought maybe he’d like to dry out and talk about it. Maybe get a few wet things off his chest.

Q: So what about this water? Do you know where the idea came from?

A: I think Mary Zimmerman had a dream of doing “The Odyssey” in water, and this was her way of auditioning the set. She ended up doing “The Odyssey” on dry land, and “Metamorphoses” took on a whole life of its own.

Q: Then you guys were sort of scenic guinea pigs? I can’t remember, when in the show do you first get your feet wet?

A: I come out in the first scene, and sit in the pool. But then I get thrown face down into the water.

Q: Right. You’re the drunk who passes out in the “cabana”?

A: Yeah, I think I’m the first person to actually go in the drink.

Q: How is it as an actor, diving into the set?

A: It’s a completely new experience. When we started, the temperature was a bit of a challenge—it was a long time before we had a warm pool.

Q: And now? How long are you actually in the water? What about the prune factor?

A: The show’s only an hour and a half.  But when we tech it, we’re in there 12 hours at a time.  It pretty much sucks.  And yes, everyone gets pruny and cold. Teching the show is kind of a nightmare, but doing it is a dream.

Q: You stay warm and cozy between scenes?

A: Everyone’s got bathrobes. And we’ve got these rooms offstage we call hot boxes, with big piles of towels and glowing space heaters. Those are pretty luxurious. We didn’t have those in Chicago.

Q: Yikes. What time of year did you do it there?

A: It was getting on winter, into December. That was pretty challenging, with nice breezes coming through. We did our best to sort of enclose the space, but we were definitely working for our art at that point.

Q: And now you’re here in LA, showing off your Chicago tan.

A: Oh yeah, the tan thing. I don’t want to get a tan.

Q: No?

A: I don’t want to be Eros with a tan line.

Q: Oh, that’s right. I forgot I’d seen so much of your performance. [Naturally, the god of love wears nothing but a blindfold and wings. And no, not water wings.] Wanting to look your best, you try to avoid cold water in that scene?

A: As Eros I don’t really get that wet.

Q: But as another character you’re in the water the whole time. On a raft, right?

A: As Phaeton, I have my personal little floatey. It’s also the only scene where the pool is actually representing a pool.

Q: Excellent. Any other liquid issues I should be aware of? Water retention?

A: No. A lot of people have gone down on the deck, though. We’ve definitely had some scares; you really have to be careful, it gets really slippery. But nobody’s swallowing any water…

Q: Not even the audience?

A: Well, the audience does get pretty wet. The front row of seats have towels in them.

Q: After all this time, are you sick of water? Or do you all have swim parties after the show?

A: Everybody’s been talking about that—the hotel where a lot of people are staying has a pool—but we haven’t had a chance. We’ve only been here for a week.

Q: Just a thought—you guys don’t exactly do laps onstage. Everyone can swim, can’t they?

A: Yeah, I think so. Nobody’s admitted it if they can’t. But I guess we’ll find out at the pool party.

Q: Okay then. Have fun and keep your shorts on.

A: When I can!

—TheaterMania.com, April, 2000

Friendly Fire:  When L.A. Theatre Critics Cross the Footlights and Get Reviewed

arts_writing.htm_txt_GBS.a_cmpAmong all theatre artists, perhaps it is playwrights who best know the power of the critic—that all-knowing, pen-wielding voice in the media who mythically can make or break a creative masterpiece, determine a hit or a flop. These two kinds of writers are all too often seen as pitted against each other, dismissing each other’s qualifications and motivations.

But the truth is, no matter what their background and experience, both playwrights and critics are individuals, with individual tastes and talents. And, as was the case with theatre genius George Bernard Shaw, critic and playwright can sometimes be the same individual.

“Ay, there’s the rub,” to quote another playwright and critical thinker. Because inherent in this duality, when it comes down to putting it into black and white, are both problems and advantages.

“Being a playwright and working in the theatre is important to understanding what goes into a play,” said LA Weekly writer Constance Monaghan on the subject of crossing the critical line. “When I go into [review] a play, I understand the work, the hard work, that went into it, how much is personally invested, the jitters you get, and how much you really want it to work. No one sets out to make a bad play.”

Right about now Monaghan understands altogether too well: She’s currently doing double duty as a playwright/critic, as her new play “Talk Talk” opened this past weekend at Wolfskill Theatre and she waits for the reviews to come out. Indeed, long before Monaghan ventured into journalism—in addition to her Weekly writing, she freelances for American Theatre and Coagula Art Journal—she was active in theatre in her native Washington and locally as a member of the late Padua Hills Playwrights’ Festival.

LA Weekly Theatre Editor Steven Leigh Morris likewise came into his current position from the behind the scenes. “I’ve been a playwright longer than I’ve been a critic,” Morris said. Unsurprisingly, he agreed that a working knowledge of theatre is an asset for a critic: “If [critics] have that experience, they have a certain empathy for what people have gone through, and I think that informs the writing.” But when hiring reviewers, Morris stressed that an involvement isn’t his only criterion. “I look at the ability of the critic to make an argument and to support it,” he said. “Our first service is to the reader, not necessarily to the theatre community. Critics and their experiences are a complete mixture. L.A. theatre audiences are a complete mixture, and we represent that.”

Back Stage West/Drama-Logue
caters to readers within the business. “Because we’re a trade paper, we’re looking less at theatre for the consumer, or what’s the best ticket buy,” said Editor Rob Kendt. “We evaluate theatre for people in the theatre.” So how does this color his selection of reviewers for the paper’s staff? “I just base it on how good the writing is and what they have to say,” Kendt said, adding that his first priority is, “They have to love going to the theatre.” Of course, if this love comes from being actors, directors, or playwrights themselves, he considers it “a big help,” but noted that it “does raise conflicts.”

From the start, Kendt will ask a potential reviewer who is, say, an actor, “Are you going to have a problem criticizing your peers?” And he finds occasionally that his critics will voluntarily exempt themselves from reviewing someone they’re too close to.

The Weekly is a bit more official when it comes to critics reviewing friends and neighbors. “We have a code of conduct: If you’d had lunch with this person, you should probably back off” and not review the production, said Morris. In practice he said that Weekly critics “are pretty ethical.”

To eliminate all potential conflicts, other papers go one step further. “At L.A. Times, you don’t work in the field that you cover,” said Times Theatre Critic Laurie Winer. “At all,” she emphasized. “That we’re writers and journalists—that’s the most important criteria. We don’t need to work in the theatre; it hurts our objectivity.”

Not that she denies the playwright/critic connection—there’s always Shaw. “Obviously if you’re writing a play and writing criticism, it takes some of the same muscles,” she said. “But I take criticism on its own plane, as its own form.” (Rumors circulated last week that Winer is no longer with the Times, though her office voice message simply says she’s on leave through November.)

Likewise, although he quipped that he “was a mime in Paris and did guerilla theatre in the jungles of Peru” before coming to the Times, Staff Writer Don Shirley’s background is “primarily journalism.” But in Shirley’s case it was his involvement with, and training in, theatre in college and later community productions that led him to “gravitate towards theatre” in his writing.

In theory, then, no Times critic is going to have the same in-house conflicts when reviewing work that other publications might. But what happens when critics review other critics—or rather their plays?

It’s real borderline kind of call,” admitted Winer, stressing that if she’s “fraternized” (an official Times term) with an artist involved she’ll try to avoid reviewing the play. “Why put yourself in an awkward position?” she added.

Weekly. “Talk about being willing to be attacked, putting your head in the guillotine! I thought, Well, it’s payback time!”

In fact, Morris said, his plays all have been “really well received,” including “Africa,” in which one main character is a critic who is labelled as homophobic and Eurocentric and killed by an alternative artist for fear of a bad review.

“Every play had its critical detractors,” Morris said. “I got sort of torpedoed by at least one person, but I think that was an honest reaction to the work. I have been consistently impressed by the critics in this town, because I don’t think they make [my being a critic] an issue; they’ve really made an effort to make a delineation.”

And how easy is it to keep that line drawn within the same publication? If one of the Weekly‘s critics is involved in a production in any capacity, Morris said, “We have a disclosure policy: Integrated into the review is the fact that whomever is a Weekly writer.” What’s more, he said, “We try to assign someone outside the building so [the critic and criticized] don’t have to run into them in the hall if it’s a bad review.”

This last is no joke, Constance Monaghan confirmed. Shortly after she began writing for the paper, she had a play produced which received favorable notices—except in the Weekly. So, she said with a laugh, “If people say we receive favors, it’s not necessarily true.”

—Back Stage West, September 10, 1998

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