INTERVIEWS

The Director's Chair, Artist Spotlight, Playwright's Corner, Choreographer's Cue and Designer's Dialogue are weekly interview series highlighting entertainment professionals, working actors, singers, stage managers, producers, directors, designers and others in the arts and entertainment industry. Guests share stories about how they began in the business, their journey and helpful suggestions for others who aspire to their profession.

Jonathan Van Dyke, Director/Actor of Stage and Screen, is our Focus This Week On The Director's Chair. His Most Recent Directorial Production Has Broken New Ground On How Live Theatre May Be Produced Through The Current Pandemic Challenge.

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DECEMBER 6, 2020 — By Chris Daniels
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Jonathan Van Dyke's theatre career began with performing in dinner theater at the age of 10. He was born in Newton, Massachusetts and grew up in Clearwater, Florida. Primarily a theatre actor, he started as a dancer for Walt Disney World when he was 16 before moving to NYC after graduation. Presently the Director of Van Dyke Productions LLC in Tarpon Springs, Florida, overseeing a diverse range of specialties, i.e., theatrical direction, choreography, special event entertainment, script writing, talent placement, etc., he has performed in over 100 shows around the country, including Totally Electric, White Christmas, West Side Story, Jesus Christ Superstar, Gypsy, Forever Plaid, Grease, Holiday, Disenchanted! No, No, Nanette, Mamma Mia!, the two-man musical Thrill Me, co-starring writer/composer Stephen Dolginoff, and national tours of Bye Bye Birdie, The Music Man, and Oh! Calcutta! with Gennifer Flowers, to name a few. He also has several film credits, including Prime of Your Life (2010), The Glass Window (2011), Let Us Entertain You (2020), and the upcoming Halloween Club (2021).

Jonathan's most recent achievement is the astounding MALTBY & SHIRE'S 'CLOSER THAN EVER' production currently available for On Demand viewing. Using Socially Distanced Innovative Technology at MNM Theatre Company in Florida, Director Van Dyke and Producing Artistic Director and CEO Marcie Gorman created a new, ingenious method of combining film and theatre, mixing live performances, film techniques, scenic projections, deft editing and superimposed images of earlier performances, to produce a first-of-it's-kind production for audiences of theatre. The award-winning musical revue, Closer Than Ever, debuted November 27th and is now livestreaming through December 31st.

We thought you might want to find out more about this amazing performer/director, so we asked him a few questions. Here's Jonathan Van Dyke

In your newest directorial masterwork, “Closer Than Ever,” can you briefly describe the unique methods in putting this show together, and how it was filmed to conform with social distance measures?

 

“Like most theatres, the realization that what was planned was not going to happen got us thinking. Understanding what you can't do gave way to thinking about what we can do.  Thinking about what that "something" was that we were going to do, Closer Than Ever rose to the top for a variety of reasons. The size of the cast, the strength of the material and for me the title said so much of where we are. Though we can't be physically close, we are "closer than ever' in a myriad of other ways.

 

To assist with distancing the actors onstage, we incorporated moving doors that revolve to become projection surfaces. We were able to project images of the actors being close together at certain times to achieve those moments it's called for. I found it to be visually interesting at the same time being a bittersweet reminder of where we are. To see the cast being distanced from each other at the same time images of them taking hands or standing side by side was quite moving. They were always singing live but at times to their own image. Ultimately this allowed us to be authentic with the material, keep everyone safe and have a fully realized production. The work of Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire is extraordinary. I will treasure my time working on this piece.”

 

Many theatres are using the Zoom medium or alternative to produce shows now, some live and some streamed. But as you know, Zoom has issues that interfere with the elements and aesthetics of real live theatre, such as occasional glitchy delays, inconsistent sound quality or a lack of dimension. During this continuing pandemic, do you think your concept of filming live theatre, editing and streaming as in your latest production might be where most theatre will be moving to ensure higher quality shows?   

 

“Our concept of Closer Than Ever was designed to be done onstage and we are looking forward to the day we can mount this in a live theatre setting. It's extremely difficult to capture the theatrical experience in any other way. In my opinion we have to grade on the curve right now and accept these alternative methods. Theatrical organizations are trying to provide what they can to keep from shuttering. Some beloved theatrical institutions have already done so and it's a heartbreak. We chose to film which allowed us a certain quality and confidence that we would not be at the mercy of the unpredictable facets of technology. It's been a life jacket in many ways, but you can't reason with it and there are uncertainties that you just can't control. If an organization has the means, I do lean toward filming until we're back where we belong.” 

 

Can you tell us briefly how you got started in the arts?

 

“My family knew I had the bug when I was kid. My parents sat me down to watch West Side Story when I was eight years old and that was it. I'm grateful to have very supportive parents and I got involved with local performing groups, community theatre and dance classes. When I was in high school I started dancing at Walt Disney World and then it was off to NYC.  I learned so much by watching. I have been blessed to have worked with some pretty remarkable folks. You see what works and then start to sprinkle it into your own work in your own way. I evolved from dancing in shows into roles and then writing and directing. To be honest, my skill set is not particularly suited for anything else, so I had to get myself well rounded in this industry.  I truly love all aspects of the theatrical experience. I have worn all the hats at different times and appreciate them all.” 

 

What are some of your proudest accomplishments and what might be your next project?

 

“Oh boy! Well maybe a few for different reasons.  I was pretty proud of my Harold Hill performance in The Music Man. It was a challenge but when it finally settled in my bones it was quite fulfilling. I am a writer and have a play called Spring at the Willowbrook Inn. It won Outstanding Production in the All Out Arts festival for new LGBTQ work. Greg Louganis did an industry reading and I just felt that I did something that mattered. My next mission is getting Closer Than Ever on the stage. When we start to get a better handle on what we are going through, this is my priority.” 

 

What do you enjoy the most – acting or directing?

“I didn't think there was anything that could be as gratifying as being on the stage.  Directing gives me an entirely different feeling but I have embraced the experience with open arms. I am fascinated with the human condition and the stories that we are able to tell, and particularly the music that has been gifted to us by masterful artists. Because I am also an actor, I understand some of the fundamentals about what makes artists tick and fuels the part of us. Finding the nuances, leaving no artistic stone unturned, and how all the moving parts work together cohesively is very special. I have watched in great wonder at fully realized productions I worked on forgetting all the work that got us there. How did we do this?!“

 

Who do you look up to as your greatest creative inspiration?

  

“I was inspired by Gene Kelly as a performer. He was the guy. I'm a pretty light hearted man, but I have always been drawn to heartbreak and life's complexities. Tennessee Williams is another inspiring force. His writing has always effected me deeply. I think that is what all artists want to do. Leave a mark in some way.” 

 

What else are you passionate about when you’re not doing theatre?

“Equality and animals.” 

 

Has there been a show you’ve done that has deeply affected you personally, perhaps even changed you in a permanent manner?

“The Last 5 Years. The music and lyrics of Jason Robert Brown is so honest. I was in my mid 30's playing Jamie and really able to connect with all of it as most people are. It's a challenging piece but so gratifying. Matters of the heart are the best tales to tell and often the hardest.” 

 

 What is currently your favorite play or musical, and which would you prefer to do next?

 

Blood Brothers is one that has been on my radar for some time. I saw it on Broadway 12 times. It's unconventional and perhaps even a little odd, but it has stuck with me. I love my ladies of music and I saw it with Petula Clark (along with Sean & David Cassidy) Carol King and Helen Reddy.” 

 

 How would you describe yourself in one sentence?

 

“Jonathan makes mistakes be he is dedicated.”

 

And finally, what’s something you are really good at that few people know about?

“I think some people knew it, but as you get older certain abilities get hidden from view. I'm a good tap dancer and it brings me so much joy.  I'm also a horror movie aficionado. Musicals and horror movies are an interesting mix... Viva la diferance!” 

Many Thanks to Jonathan Van Dyke!

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Award Winning Nancy Dobbs Owen has been described as a “highly original” Choreographer/Director, exuding “boundless energy and spunk” in her dancers…“her tangos so hot they are almost violent.” Come join us as Nancy sits in our Director’s Chair this week and we find out more.

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NOVEMBER 30, 2020 — By David Šášik
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Ballerina, Activist, Fashion Designer, Choreographer, Director…Nancy Dobbs Owen does it all, and then some! But most of all, she is passionate about the intersection of arts and activism. She began her professional career with the Joffrey Ballet, danced with numerous ballet and modern companies, then joined the National Tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera.”

She has performed in countless theatre productions, independent films, on television, in national commercials, and choreographed web series and music videos, such as Band Pie's gorgeous song Yo Se, a flash mob scene for the hot web series Squad 85. Recent credits include Crazy Ex Girlfriend, VEEP, American Princess, 2019 Deadwood, and Sia's directorial debut Music. She was also a featured ballerina in the John Adams' Nixon in China with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She's a prolific director/choreographer for theatre, film, video and commercials, earning numerous awards for both choreography and direction. She made her LA directorial debut in August 2012 directing and choreographing SkyPilot Theatre's smash hit War Bride, which received rave reviews, an extension and 7 StageScene LA awards, including Outstanding Direction of a Play. LA choreography includes Skeleton Stories (Best Choreography Nomination, BroadwayWorld.com) and Have You Seen Alice at Theatre of NOTE, Assassins with Sight Unseen Theatre, M. Butterfly, Sweeney Todd and Working (Outstanding Choreography, Small Theater) at the Production Company, The Snow Queen at the Fremont Centre Theatre as well as additional choreography for both I’d Rather Be Right at the Hudson Theater and Dolls! at the Santa Monica Playhouse.


Nancy is a founding member of Weyward Sisters Productions, a multi media production company focused on creating beautiful, thought provoking, emotionally bare work in film, theater, music and visual/fine art. In addition, she is the resident choreographer for the Marina Del Rey Symphony summer dance concert. Holding a BA from UC Irvine, Nancy is a member of faculty for AMDA, the Performing Arts Center and Degas Dance, and also teaches open classes at The Edge, Millennium, Anna Cheselka and throughout LA. She is also a proud member of AEA, SAG-AFTRA and an associate member of SDC.

 

We wanted to hear what her current projects are and how she's faring with the pandemic...so we asked her this:

How did you get started in the arts?

"I was always the artsy kid, drawing and doing crafts projects but I was super shy. I started performing in the very back of a few musicals in middle school and caught the bug. I knew I needed training, so went to a jazz class. The teacher suggested that ballet might be more my thing, which was weird since starting ballet as a teen is kind of nuts. But she was right and I started seriously training at age 13.  From then on, it was full speed ahead."

What has been your story as an artist since that first artistic experience?

"It has been non-stop. Once I found ballet, I was hooked. It's hard to start ballet as a teen, especially as a girl, but I had amazing training and I worked hard. I was working professionally out of high school, managed to sneak in a BA from UC Irvine and went to New York to dance with Joffrey Ballet at age 20. I danced in numerous regional companies and caught the theater bug when I auditioned for and was cast in the First National Company of The Phantom of The Opera. I worked in regional theater for a long time and moved to LA where I added choreography, teaching and directing to my skill set. I also found a love for dance on film, performing in Sia's directorial debut "Music" (out next year), the 2019 Deadwood Feature, numerous music videos and on TV: Crazy-Ex Girlfriend, Veep, American Princess, and Ratched, Ryan Murphy' s new show.  I have choreographed for every medium as well and I also work as a director for numerous LA theater companies. It's been a wild ride." www.nancydobbsowen.com

What are you most proud of?

"The project that I am most proud of is the short dance film Too Many Bodies, for which I served as choreographer, casting director and co-producer. It is a beautiful lamentation on what is lost in school shootings and invites the viewer to take action. We created a website and database of support groups, political action groups and information on common sense gun control. The film was shown at over 30 festivals, won numerous awards and was a passion project from start to finish. Director/producer Reena Dutt is one of my closest collaborators and Too Many Bodies was such an amazing experience."   www.toomanybodies.org

What are you passionate about outside of the arts?

"I am really all in on the arts, even my non-dance related activities are artistic. That said, I am a political and activist artist. I am committed to creating work that is important and inspires action. Civil rights, climate justice, gender and racial equality and education top my (very long) list.  I have a small handmade jewelry business and donate proceeds to progressive causes and disaster relief. I am passionate about making a difference. DOING instead of just talking about change and equity."

People often talk about how they are working toward their dream, especially artists and actors. What is your dream?

"That is a complicated question. I've been really lucky; I've worked in ballet and modern companies, National Tours, with the LA Phil, in major film and on numerous TV shows.  I feel that I am living the dream in many ways, but it also feels incredibly tenuous. Dancers are at the mercy of our physicality so each moment feels like it could be the last. My dream is to keep working and to keep finding new avenues of expression. I am also working towards an MFA that I hope will enable me to really make significant changes in the dance industry in terms of equity, representation and leadership."

The coronavirus pandemic has been an extremely difficult time for artists. How have you been keeping busy? Have you found other ways to be creative?

"I have been extremely lucky. I have kept busy both with teaching (ballet over zoom, it's a thing) and with a few projects.  I have also started an interdisciplinary arts MF A program and will be continuing to work full time as a dancer , choreographer and dance educator while earning my degree. That said, I lost many gigs, including my favorite yearly choreography job for the Marina Del Rey Symphony Dance Concert and my first concert dance job as a DANCER in a while. That one hurt. But, I am in a place of privilege; I have kept my work, my financial stability and have even had the opportunity for some artistic expansion."

Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to promote in this interview? If not, what are you looking forward to post-Covid?

"I am currently in production for a short dance film. Lighting and Sound designer Matt Richter is also a wonderful composer and asked me to choreograph his Covid project Dominion. We began shooting (Covid Compliant, of course) on November 15. It's a beautiful meditation on loss, hope, and the artists' spirit in the face of climate destruction, isolation and fear. My dancers are Darby Epperson and Ryan Ruiz. I lucked out in that they are housemates, so can rehearse together. I'm very proud of this work and cannot wait to get it out in the world. The DP is Bradley Bentz and the lighting magician on this project is Adam Earle."

Lastly, please share with us a boring fact about yourself.

"My cat Sprite is my best friend. Seriously."

Thank you Nancy Dobbs Owen!

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Perhaps the last time you saw Katie McGhie, she was shining high at the Candlelight Pavilion playing the lead in Steve Martin’s “Bright Star.” But with Broadway in her bones and Country in her heart, Katie has also jumped from her California roots to become one of the most gifted singer/songwriters in the music industry.

Come join us for this week's Spotlight Artist—Katie McGhie!

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NOVEMBER 30, 2020 — By David Šášik

During Katie’s high school days, she was well on her way to a career in musical theatre, having been cast in over 60 productions before graduating. But the music industry was also calling. So, with 'Broadway in her bones and country in her heart,' Katie McGhie released her first studio album, an anthem-driven, girl power, pop/country album, in 2011, becoming a regular in the LA music scene, and performing at iconic venues on the Sunset Strip including The Hotel Cafe, The House of Blues and the Roxy.

The following year, Katie and Air Supply front man, Graham Russell, met and formed a duo known as Of Eden. After the pair released their first album in 2013 (Feel), they went on tour in the U.S., stopping in major cities like Nashville, New York, Boston, Chicago and LA.  Katie also co-composed a new musical adaptation of “Treasure Island” with Graham, which ran off-Broadway in the summer of 2015 to rave reviews and is now currently in the early stages of production in Russia and Germany. On the wings of that success, Of Eden released their sophomore album, Astral Love, earlier this summer and is now available on all streaming platforms.

Katie has also been writing for and collaborating with other artists and songwriters, continuing to work across all genres and has been featured on chart topping tracks in the U.S. and internationally. She won Best Original Song at the 8th Annual Indie Series Awards for her single, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” featured in the award-winning web series #Adulting.

In 2018, she found herself back on stage after a decade long hiatus from acting, and played remarkably noteworthy roles, such as Brooke Wyndham in Legally Blonde, Blanche Barrow in Frank Wildhorn’s Bonnie and Clyde, and Alice Murphy in Steve Martin’s Bright Star. It would seem ten years away from the craft had had no effect on her level of talent.

But, enter Covid-19, and a lifetime of dreams and acting careers come to a screeching halt, including Katie’s. At least, for the moment. But, like many other savvy artists during the pandemic, Katie had a backup plan. She began performing livestream concerts instead while writing new music that she plans to release in 2021. But now, her sound is fine-tuned, all her own. Now, she concentrates on alternative folk/country music, with a new spin to that old school sound, and has created her own personal genre. She continues to write from the heart, but blends her passion for both theatre and filmmaking directly into her music and lyrics. We know from our hearts too, that with Katie McGhie, there is much more to come. Here’s a chat we had with Katie a few days ago, expressing some of her personal thoughts, and what she will be doing once the industry opens up again:

How did you get started in the arts?

“I grew up in a house filled with music and the ar ts. My mom and grandma always used to take me to see theatre and concerts from a young age. When I was ten, I joined a local children' s theatre company and I immediately fell in love. I performed and traveled with the company for over twelve years, while also working as a staff director. After college, I discovered my passion for songwriting and have since been working as both an actor and singer/songwriter.”

What has been your story as an artist since that first artistic experience?

“Growing up, my eyes were set on Broadway. I started doing regional work in Los Angeles after graduating college with every intention of making the big move to New York. Around the same time, I was introduced to the music industry and before long, I was recording my first original album.

I focused mainly on music for the last decade until a couple of years ago when I felt a huge part of me missing: theatre. I have since been balancing both a career in theatre and music, and am now moving into the film arena, as well. I'm incredibly thankful to be able to explore every area of the entertainment industry that I'm passionate about.”

What are you most proud of?

“There's nothing I'm more proud of than watching my friends do what they love. They blow me away time and time again. To be surrounded by the most loving and supportive community is quite literally irreplaceable. I couldn't do what I do without them and watching them work towards their dreams inspires me daily. They encourage me to push myself in new spaces, learning more about the industry that I am so passionate about each day. I never want to stop growing or learning more about every aspect of this business and because of them, even when it gets tough, I keep going.”

What are you passionate about outside of the arts?

“Anyone who spends five minutes with me knows I'm a health and wellness nut (pun semi intended). I will talk your ear off about delicious and healthy foods all day long and I love cooking too. If I'm not working (which is not-so-secretly my favorite thing), I'm most likely in nature somewhere, hiking or doing something outdoors. I love yoga and keeping my body moving. Good books, time with friends and family. The simple things.”

People often talk about how they are working toward their dream, especially artists and actors. What is your dream?

“My dream is to never stop working. It's never been about the big break for me. My dream has always been to just be ‘in’ the industry, working every day with people I admire. As long as I'm able to do what I love every day, I'm living my dream.”

The coronavirus pandemic has been an extremely difficult time for artists. How have you been keeping busy? Have you found other ways to be creative?

“This time is certainly a challenge for anyone, artists especially. Our stages have been taken from us and nothing replaces the feeling of being in front of an audience and sharing that energy with them. Being as stubborn as I am, I refused to let being stuck at home stop me from performing and sharing my work. I have managed to release four singles, an album and four music videos during the pandemic, all from home. I've learned a lot and I'm excited to bring what I've learned into my work post-quarantine. Like many others, I've had my fair share of ups and downs, doubting myself, my work and questioning whether I'll ever be able to do what I love again. It's a time of uncertainty and that is most certainly scary as an artist. But what I've seen across social media has been incredibly inspiring and reassuring. This world needs art and during a time of hardship, it begs for it. Artists bring light and joy in times of darkness. I've seen so many people doing more livestreams, creating new projects, connecting in ways we never would have imagined before. THIS is what will get us through and back to our home, back to the stage. We will forever be connected and will never , never let anything change that.”

Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to promote in this interview? If not, what are you looking forward to post-Covid?

“I'll be doing a special Christmas livestream (date TBA) to wrap up the year. In the New Year, I'm excited to release more music as well as new episodes of my podcast, ‘The Unfiltered Artist.’”

Lastly, please share with us a boring fact about yourself.

“I hate salad forks. Only big forks for me.”

Thank You Katie McGhie!

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The amazing Luke Yankee joins us this week on The Director's Chair, revealing his newest creation that exposes the underbelly and decadence of Hollywood — a radio play called "Confessions Of a Star Maker," available on Vimeo beginning November 27th through December 13th.

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NOVEMBER 22, 2020 — By Chris Daniels
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Luke Yankee's storied life history makes any average industry professional sit up and listen. He has written, directed, produced, taught, lectured and acted throughout the country and abroad. He has run two regional theatres, serving as Producing Artistic Director of the Long Beach Civic Light Opera, one of the largest musical theatres in America, and the Struthers Library theatre, a historic landmark in northwestern Pennsylvania.

Luke’s published plays include “The Last Lifeboat” and “A Place at Forest Lawn,” both published by Dramatists Play Service. His other plays include “The Jesus Hickey” (which premiered in Los Angeles starring Harry Hamlin), and “The Man Who Killed the Cure,” and has also written numerous TV spec scripts and pilots. He created and hosted the seminar series, “Conversations on Craft,” where he interviewed prominent members of the entertainment industry, including Emmy winning actor, Edward Asner (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”), Emmy winning actress, Michael Learned (“The Waltons”), Oscar nominated director Mark Rydell (“On Golden Pond), Producer/Director David Lee (creator of “Frasier”), Tony winning actress Harriet Harris (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”), Golden Globe winning writer/producer Marc Cherry (creator of “Desperate Housewives”), writer/executive producer David Rambo (“Empire”, “CSI”) and writer/executive producer Adam Belanoff ( “The Closer”, “Major Crimes”).

 

His book, “Just Outside the Spotlight: Growing Up With Eileen Heckart,” is published by Random House (under the imprint of Back Stage Books), with a foreword by Mary Tyler Moore. Critics have praised it as “One of the most compassionate, illuminating showbiz books ever written” (Musto, The Village Voice).  It was recently cited by PaperMag as “One of the Ten Best Celebrity Memoirs of All Time.”

 

Off Broadway, he directed the political comedy, “High Infidelity” with John Davidson and Morgan Fairchild at the Promenade Theatre and Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” at the York Theatre with Cynthia Nixon, Penny Fuller, David Canary and Merle Louise. On Broadway, he has worked as an assistant director on the musical “Grind” starring Ben Vereen (as assistant to Harold Prince), “The Circle” with Sir Rex Harrision and Glynis Johns, “Light Up the Sky” with Peter Falk and New York City Opera’s “Brigadoon” with Tony Roberts.

His regional theatre directing credits include: “Driving Miss Daisy” with Eileen Heckart, “Nite Club Confidential” with Barbara Eden, “Private Lives” with David Canary, “The King and I” with Lee Meriwether, “Man of La Mancha” with John McCook, “Love Letters” with Edward Asner, Joanna Gleason, John Rubinstein, Sally Struthers and former California Gov. Pete Wilson, the southeastern premiere of David Mamet’s “Oleanna” (Carbonnell Award nomination as Best Director), the 30th anniversary revival of “Waiting for Godot” at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, a bi-lingual tour of “Cyrano De Bergerac” and productions of “Sweeney Todd”, “The Road To Mecca”, “Painting Churches” “Lost in Yonkers”, A Little Night Music”, “Gypsy” and “Lend Me A Tenor.”

As a director and producer of special events, he has worked with Betty White, Quincy Jones, Stephen Sondheim, Alec Baldwin, Florence Henderson, Barbara Cook, Noah Wyle, Annette Bening, Neil Simon, Barry Manilow, Debbie Allen, Dick Clark, Bill Pullman, John Guare, Roma Downey, Patti Austin, August Wilson, Alfre Woodard, and in theatres ranging from Radio City Music Hall to the “Crystal Symphony.” Luke also produced special events and trade shows for the Mattel Toy Company all over the country for more than ten years.

He has taught and guest directed extensively at colleges, universities and conservatories throughout the U.S. and abroad, including five years at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Northwestern, Ohio State, AMDA, Denison, University of New Mexico, the Folkwang Hochschule (in Essen, Germany) and three years on the faculty of Columbia College-Hollywood. For the past six years, he has been a panelist and guest instructor at the William Inge Theatre Festival, where he has performed with Marybeth Hurt, Holland Taylor and George Grizzard. He is also a member of their Advisory Board. He is currently on the faculty of The American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA), teaching advanced acting and scene study.

His theatre acting credits include “Our Town” at the American Shakespeare Theatre with Fred Gwynne, the U.S. premiere of “The Greeks” at The Williamstown Theatre Festival with Gwyneth Paltrow, Blythe Danner, Christopher Reeve and Celeste Holm and “The Dream Watcher” with Eva LeGallienne. In film and television, he has appeared in “The Hiding Place” with Julie Harris, “Ragtime” with Elizabeth McGovern, “Evergreen” with Armand Assante and “The Equalizer” with Jim Dale.

As a filmmaker, Luke wrote and directed the short film, “Help Is on The Way,” starring Lois DeBanzie. He also created “E.H. On Film: An Eileen Heckart Retrospective,” and “Barbara Eden: Still Dreaming.”

Luke has studied at the Juilliard School of Drama, New York University, University of California – Riverside, Northwestern University, Circle in the Square and the Herbert Berghof Studio. He is the son of the late Eileen Heckart, who won an Academy Award for “Butterflies Are Free” and appeared in over 15 feature films, 20 Broadway plays, and countless television programs. Ms. Heckart is a member of the Theatre Hall of Fame and a multiple Emmy and Tony Award winner. In her honor, Luke created the Eileen Heckart Memorial Scholarship Fund at Ohio State University, her alma mater. For six years, Luke served as the casting director for the Los Angeles based, syndicated TV spot, “Hero in Education.” He also served as part of a Presidential Blue Ribbon Task Force to create a theatre piece on drug and alcohol abuse.

 

Luke also toured internationally for more than ten years with “Diva Dish,” his one-man show about the golden age of Broadway and Hollywood. There was such demand for a sequel, he recently created “Diva Dish: The Second Helping,” which he premiered at the Desert Rose Theatre in Palm Springs.

We caught up with Luke Yankee this week, and asked about his new projects coming up, along with a few other questions. Here's a rundown of the conversation:

In “Confessions of a Star Maker,” what’s going to surprise people about this show?

 

"This is a 'live' radio play (complete with a Foley artist) about the dark underbelly of Hollywood in the 1950’s. The play is being produced by Cal State Fullerton and the cast is comprised of the students there. I had such fun teaching them about old Hollywood and 'Film Noir,' which is the predominant style of the play. I originally wrote this as a TV pilot and was thrilled to adapt it as a radio play (which we filmed on Zoom).  It will be available on Vimeo from November 27th thru December 13th. I am very excited about it."

 

Who do you look up to as your greatest creative inspiration, and what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning? 

 

"While a lot of people inspire me, from Joe Mantello to Shonda Rhimes, I never have any trouble getting up in the morning and diving into work. There is so much I want to accomplish!"

 

What do you do when you’re not doing theatre?

 

"I’m a college theatre professor at Cal State Fullerton and Chapman. Between that and guest directing at places like Saddleback and El Camino College (among many others), I’m pretty much always doing theatre in one form or another."

 

If you had a magic wand, what show would you like to personally direct next?

 

"I’d love to do ON THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, A GNTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER and THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST for starters."

 

What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

 

"My book about my life as a showbiz kid, JUST OUTSDIE THE SPOTLIGHT, where I talk about my Mom (Oscar, Emmy and Tony winning actress, Eileen Heckart) has gotten rave reviews from coast to coast and brought me a lot of joy. I’ve also written a new play about my mom’s intense relationship with Marilyn Monroe during the shooting of BUS STOP called MARILYN, MOM & ME. And my play about the aftermath of the sinking of the Titanic, THE LAST LIFEBOAT, has had more than 50 productions around the country."

 

When did you first realize you wanted to be a playwright?

 

"I started out as an actor and a director and I sort of fell into playwriting. They all require different creative muscles and I love them all for different reasons.  It’s incredibly gratifying to see a play of mine onstage and to hear an audience respond to it."

 

What’s the first hook that gets a new play started for you? Is it an image, a theme, or perhaps a character?

 

"Sometimes it’s an idea based on a random idea I might have heard. THE MAN WHO KILLED THE CURE is about how natural medicine was suppressed in this country for so long (and still is, to a great extent) because of the control of Big Pharma. That is an important “message” play. On the other end of the spectrum, my comedy, THE JESUS HICKEY is based on a headline I saw in the National Enquirer about a young girl who gets a hickey in the shape of Jesus and becomes a big celebrity. You never know where ideas will come from!"

 

Do you devote a certain amount of time each day to writing, or only when inspiration hits you?

 

"With my teaching schedule, it is really challenging to carve out writing time. But you make time for what is important to you, right? I’m currently writing a textbook for Bloomsbury Press called THE ART OF WRITING FOR THE THEATRE. It’s a daunting project, but it is also very exciting. It will be out in the fall of 2021."

 

How do you normally approach writing a new play script, testing it, casting it, working with characterization and motivation with cast and crew, and making the play a relevant work of art?

 

"Once I have a first draft, I call a bunch of friends and do a living room reading. Believe me, free pizza is a great motivator.  Sometimes I schedule the reading before the play is even done, so it motivates me to finish it.  As the old saying goes, “Writing is rewriting.” All of my plays have had many, many drafts."

 

What is currently your favorite play?

 

"THE MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT by Stephen Adly Guirgis. It is so raw and “out there”, while being hysterically funny and very deep.  I recently had an opportunity to interview Stephen for my new book. He is as charming as he is witty and insightful."

 

What would you say to a fresh graduate who wants to pursue theatre as a career?

 

"See everything you can, read everything you can, watch Turner Classics and Broadway HD to learn about the greats who came before you. Absorb yourself in it, body and soul."

 

How would you describe yourself in one word?

 

"Just one? That is torture for a writer!  But I guess that word would have to be 'storyteller.'"

 

If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?

 

"An end to COVID-19 – Now!!"

 

What, in your opinion, is the most important quality in a director?

 

"Casting strong actors and trusting them."

 

What’s something you are really good at that few people know about?

 

"I’ve been a dialect coach on about 40 shows. That is also something I love to do.  I was raised by a nanny from Glasgow, so I love to do UK dialects in particular."

 

What would the closest person in your life say if I asked them, “What is the one characteristic that they totally dig about you, and the one that drives them insane?"

 

"They would dig my passion. They would not dig that I can be all over the map sometimes and spread myself too thin."

 

 You’ve obviously worked with a great range of actors over your career. Do you think formal acting classes are important?

"Extremely! There is no substitute for training. I studied acting at Juilliard, NYU, Northwestern and privately with many of the greats from Paul Newman, to Jan Miner to my mom. There is nothing like a good education. And we should never stop learning. Ever." 

Many thanks to Luke Yankee! Take a look at a rough cut movie premiere scene of "Confessions of a Star Maker" below, and be sure to watch on November 27th!
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CONFESSIONS OF A STAR MAKER
Streaming on Vimeo:
8pm: 11/27, 28, 12/3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12
2pm: 11/29, 12/5, 6, 12, 13

This week's Spotlight Artist is no stranger to the limelight. Adriana Rodriguez Burciaga grew up singing in a choir and has gone on to perform with Disney as well as on stages around Orange County. She talks about how the arts are an essential part of her life, what she is up to now, and her secondary career in the field of veterinary medicine.

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NOVEMBER 22, 2020 — By David Šášik

Perhaps it has something to do with that ever-beaming smile, or possibly it's her angelic voice; it could very well be that sense of innocence, or maybe it's just her pure, expressive love for others. But there seems to be a rare, wide-eyed, unpretentious quality about triple-threat Adriana Rodriguez Burciaga—this week’s Spotlight Artist!

 

As she tells it, Adriana’s already-thriving career centers much around all things Disney, so her charisma has got to be quite impressive. Equally adept in song, dance and footlights, Adriana boasts a BFA degree from Cal State Fullerton, and is a member of AGVA. I have personally had the good fortune in viewing a fairly sizable number of Adriana’s précis of theatrical productions over the years, including “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at the Chance, “The Little Mermaid” at Peppertree Park, and many more CSUF and Attic Community Theater breakout performances, and we look forward to seeing more of this rising star very soon on the SoCal stage. We recently connected with Adriana and asked her a few questions about her challenges this year with the COVID pandemic, what her long-range goals are, and about any upcoming projects she's considering. Here's what she said:

How did you get started in the arts?

"I had always been extremely theatrical as a child due to my love for Disney animated films. However, my introduction to the arts began when I joined my middle school choir in the 7th grade!"

What has been your story as an artist since that first artistic experience?

"Throughout my time in the choir I discovered the existence of Musical Theatre. It was then that I realized this is what I wanted to do for a living. When it was time to apply to universities, I only applied to one school: Cal State Fullerton. My family and I didn't have the financial freedom to apply, let alone have me audition, for multiple schools outside of our county. Thankfully, I earned my acceptance into the university and became eager to graduate with a BFA in Musical Theatre. I thought my experience would be like any other "normal" major. I imagined I would go to class, get good grades, maybe do a few shows, and then get my degree - easy! Boy, I was mistaken. After years of rigorous auditions and endless hours of rehearsing, I was admitted to complete my BFA. Along the way I became employed at The Disneyland Resort where I had the opportunity to take on many roles, including the role of an AGVA union performer. Since graduating, I've been doing what actors do best: audition, survive, repeat."

What are you most proud of? 

"I am most proud of my ability to improve and desire to keep learning. This mentality has served me well in many aspects of my life. You know the type of person that is naturally good at the things they're passionate about? I've learned that I am not that kind of person. I have to work tirelessly to feel confident and that's okay. If that's what it takes, then that's what I'll do."

What are you passionate about outside of the arts?

"I have many hobbies! I love to bake my father's homemade cookies, I take after him in that sense. I enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons, playing various board games, and hunting down a new coffee joint. I am extremely passionate about anti-racism, the LGBTQ+ community, empowering women, and diversity - all under the umbrella of social justice/responsibility."

People often talk about how they are working toward their dream, especially artists and actors. What is your dream?

"My dream is quite simple. I want to have a steady career in performance. Whether that be in Film/Televison or live theatre, I just want to do what I love surrounded by people who I care about."

The coronavirus pandemic has been an extremely difficult time for artists. How have you been keeping busy? Have you found other ways to be creative?

"I've been baking a ton! Making a treat for someone other than myself brings me a lot of joy and has been a good way to stay content during this time. Additionally, I've been working at Madewell as an Assistant Manager throughout the pandemic!"

Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to promote in this interview? If not, what are you looking forward to post-Covid?

"I recently became a Company Member of a virtual theatre company called Digital Dramatics! It is fairly new but it made up of incredibly talented artists from across the map. Our most recent project is live on YouTube, but more are sure to come!"

Lastly, please share with us a boring fact about yourself.

"I am allergic to barbecue sauce, quite possibly the most sad and boring fact ever."

 

Many Thanks to Adriana Rodriguez Burciaga!
 

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"Love is Always Lovely in the End" -  The Drowsy Chaperone, Adriana Rodriguez Burciaga and Colby Hamann; Directed by Sarah Ripper at CSUF Fall 2016