Producing Quality Theatre in Los Angeles Is An “Art”
The New American Theatre has been gaining prominence in Los Angeles with a growing reputation as a company of professional actors offering top quality entertainment at an affordable ticket price. They have garnered critical acclaim, awards and nominations from the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Variety, Hollywood Reporter, LA Drama Critics Circle, Back Stage, LA Weekly, LA Stage Alliance Ovations and more. CBS Los Angeles named The New American Theatre as one of the top five 99-seat theatre companies in Los Angeles.
“63 Trillion” by John Bunzel, is a world premiere comedy that NAT has developed for the past year and is now launching for a limited run through June 2015, as a guest production at the Odyssey Theatre. Broadway, film, and television actors in this production include Megan Gallagher (Scandal, Suits), Jeffrey Jones (Deadwood, Amadeus), and Jack Stehlin (Weeds), Robert Cicchini, Noah James (Jonah), Ken Lerner, and Jordan Lund.
Producer Jeannine Wisnosky is the Managing Director for New American Theatre and she keeps them on top by making sure the plays are perfectly cast and designed. She has produced over 80 plays for The New American Theatre, including the recent productions of Creditors directed by David Trainer (New American Theatre / Odyssey Theatre co-production),Julius Caesar, Bedfellows, As Is, Five Beauties by Tennessee Williams, I Never Sang for My Father, Titus Redux (with Not Man Apart-at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and RADAR-LA), Davey Holmes’ More Lies About Jerzy (dir. David Trainer), Man.gov (LA/Off-Broadway) Harm’s Way (LA/Off-Broadway/2008 Pen USA Award), The Job (LA/Off-Broadway) as well as co-producing many productions with The Odyssey Theatre. She produced the short Game 7, a 2013 finalist in the Naperville Independent Film Festival.
I asked Jeannine to tell us a little more about the company and the process that they go through when planning to produce a new show. How did the team find and launch their current success story, “63 Trillion” by John Bunzel.
TLAP: Do you think that The New American Theatre fills a particular niche in the Los Angeles theatre scene?
JW: Yes, it’s in our mission. We focus on breaking new ground in Los Angeles by presenting something unique and exciting, not just recycling the plays that are so often done. For example, “63 Trillion” is a world premiere that is supported by world-class acting and directing. It’s a tongue-in-cheek look at those working in the financial markets and how their greed can affect us. Audiences love to laugh and this production offers up some unique characters and comedic twists with a keen sense of intelligence that’s reminiscent of “Glengarry Glen Ross” or “The Office.” It has an edginess to it, and includes beautiful production values. Our audiences appreciate that, the professional quality of our productions, and seeing actors who have spent years on Broadway, in Film and on TV. We maintain the highest standards you can get for a reasonable ticket price, and are eager to support the growth of all artists who participate in the collective imagination that is theatre.
TLAP: Does the company pick its season in advance, and what are you looking for when deciding on what plays to produce?
JW: Every season is a bit different, as we don’t currently have our own permanent space. However, we generally present two main stage productions and two festivals of short one -act plays, each calendar year. Sometimes the artistic team decides on what we want to say and then chooses a play to talk about a certain subject. In some cases we really want to do a project with a certain director and we seek out a project to do. This happened quite successfully with director David Trainer and our productions of “More Lies About Jerzy,” and “Creditors” which we co-produced with the Odyssey Theatre. Some of our most gratifying projects are generated organically by members of the New American Studio Ensemble, they are our core company of actors. Two plays that come to mind that were 100% company generated were our recent productions of “Boy’s Life,” and our production of “Five Beauties By Tennessee Williams.” In both of those cases, company members worked on scenes from those plays in our weekly Saturday Studio. The scenes were so successful that we collectively decided to put up full productions.
TLAP: How did such a “dream team” come together for this world premiere production of 63 Trillion?
JW: Well, first of all, Jack Stehlin (New American Theatre/Artistic Director) and John Bunzel (the playwright) have been good friends for years. They graduated the same year from The Juilliard School. John is an associate artist of The New American Theatre and we’ve successfully produced two previous John Bunzel plays. I mentioned earlier that we present annual festivals of new one-act plays. However we also do staged readings of full length plays. Last year about this time, John showed Jack his new play “63 TRILLION.” We read it and we loved it and decided to present it as a staged reading during our annual fundraiser. It was very well received. It was a much different play a year ago, and throughout the year we’ve been getting together with John and a team of actors to read the latest versions. When we decided to open it, we brought Broadway director Steve Zuckerman aboard. We had worked with Steve on Shem Bitterman’s new plays Harms Way and Man.gov, both of which we presented here in LA as well as Off-Broadway. Steve has a keen eye for directing world premiere plays.
The rest of it fell together. Many of the cast members are longtime company members. Jack is in it. Robert Cicchini is a founding company member, Jordan Lund has been with us since 1997, Megan Gallagher was a Juilliard classmate of Jack and John, and this is the third or fourth play that company member Noah James has been in with NAT. Jeffrey Jones and Jack were in “Henry V” together at the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Delacorte theatre. Ken Lerner came to us through Zuckerman. That being said, this is a true company production. Company member Joseph Gilbert, a very fine actor who also happens to be a talented graphic artist did our artwork and logo. This is our fourth or fifth project with composer Roger Bellon. Florence Kemper did our costumes for “Gravity Shoes” and “Complexity,” and we feel lucky to have her back (she won an Ace Award for her costumes in “Tales From The Crypt”). This is our first collaboration with award winning set/lighting designer Jeffrey McLaughlin and sound designer Chris Moscatiello. We’re looking forward to more.
TLAP: Can you give us your take on this play and why you think audiences might respond positively to it?
JW: First of all, 63 Trillion is a comedy. Secondly, it’s centered on the absurdity of worshipping money. It’s set in the world of wealth management; a world that is mysterious to most people yet affects our lives every single day. I think that audiences will enjoy getting a peek into that world and spending time with the people who live there.
TLAP: What else is in the pipeline for your company? Where can actors find information about getting involved
JW: Next up is an American play (TBA) during the fall, as well as our Festival of New One Act Plays. Our one act plays festivals involve our entire company. Playwrights submit short plays from all over the world. Last year we received over 500 plays, which were all read by our reading committee. We’re in the process of selecting the finalists to be read out loud during our Saturday Studios. We’ll select the winners by committee and voting. As I mentioned earlier, we have ongoing Studios on Saturdays and Mondays. Members meet every Saturday morning from 10 AM– 1 PM to interpret the actors’ challenge on film and in television by working on scenes, monologues and new writing. Jack leads the Saturday Studio. Occasionally (when he’s in town!) company member Alfred Molina comes in and leads a Shakespeare workshop. The Monday night studio is team-lead by Bob Cicchini and Jordan Lund. More information at http://www.newamericantheatre.com
Both Studios are inspired by the teachings of Stanislavsky. Hope that you’ll come take a look at our next one as well.
63 TRILLION runs at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays, 2pm Sunday April 26th and June 7th (only two matinees), closing on June 7, 2015.
A guest production at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 South Sepulveda Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90025
Tickets are $30-$34.99 at NewAmericanTheatre.com/tickets.html or call 310-477-2055
$3 parking available at the theater, or free street parking.