Chil Kong and Philip W. Chung.

More than a few months ago I had the pleasure to sit with two of the co-founders of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble and breathe in the trademark passion that has fueled the company’s 10-year body of work. Researching their production history (I only discovered them in 2006) triggered a genuine sense of loss for the plays I had missed and the realization that 2009 is it! Their last play, GRACE KIM & THE SPIDERS FROM MARS opened November 14th (see separate post) and will be running through December 20th. Suffice to say this is your last chance to be touched by the courageous and fiery duo who lost their funding after their first play all because of a bare bottom.

SS: Let’s go back to the beginning. After the L.A. riots, veteran actor Soon-Tek Oh urges the new generation of Asian American playwrights to tell their own stories to counteract the media’s tendency to portray Asian Americans as immigrant store owners who fall victim to violence.

Chil Kong: Yes. Soon-Tek Oh mobilized us. But it was more about the energy between Phil, Tim Lounibos, Bokyun Chun and I. We were passionate about our vision of the future of Asian American theater and we each had our own ideas about how we wanted to see a theater function in Los Angeles and we talked and talked and talked about it for four months. A lot of it had to do with timing for us; we were at the right place at the right time. We started forming when East West Players was moving from their small black box to their big theater so there was a gap. We filled that vacuum. We’ve been very lucky. From that Lodestone was born.

SS: What is the meaning of the word Lodestone?

Chil Kong: We had so many names. Tim Lounibos did some research and he found out about those magnetic compasses which Chinese explorers used to guide them.

SS: What did you set up to explore?

Philip W. Chung: Up until that point and to a certain degree now a lot of Asian American theater revolves around certain themes, certain subjects; it has to address the Asian American experience. Are we doing plays by South Asians? Are we doing plays by Vietnamese? They have to be inclusive. Because those theaters already existed, we didn’t feel we needed to do that. It gave us a chance to not be confined by those kinds of criteria. If we wanted to do a new play by a White writer then we could do it and we have. If we wanted to do Tennessee Williams, we could. That was the only philosophy and it hasn’t really evolved.

Season 4: 2002-2003

SS: Lodestone, like many small theater companies in LA, has not-for-profit status. Does it influence the choices you make? Do you have to do plays that are community oriented to get grants?

Chil Kong: Yes and No. Yes for certain things we will definitely go after those grants. No because we never wanted to pick the material that we wanted to do based on financial consideration. We didn’t want our choices based on “now we have to get this grant so we have to do a play about this issue.” We always had to stay at a certain level but that’s fine because it gave us creative control.

SS: What do you mean by “a certain level”?

Philip W. Chung: The smaller you are the lower your budget, the more creative control you have. The idea is to work from that model, which represents a lot of theaters in LA, where you don’t have to be depending on those grants. We have picked materials where we thought no one was going to come and see this. But it was ok because artistically it was something we wanted to do and that was more important. If it’s artistically sound, that’s the first criteria.

Chil Kong: It is very dangerous for a company to let their choices be directed by grants, it’s a wag the dog contest. Now, instead of your artistic vision driving your company, it is a commitment to different funders. Now it’s propaganda, now you’re doing things for money. Ultimately the good artistic material will have an audience. After 10 years we’ve been accustomed to that.

Philip W. Chung: We lost most of our funders after our second play LAUGHTER, JOY & LONELINESS & SEX & SEX & SEX & SEX, which I wrote. The subject matter turned them off.

Chil Kong: At the end of the run, I spent a week on the phone with two of our biggest funders screaming at me about betraying them. They were upset because there was a man’s naked butt on stage. I remember being very frustrated and yet laughing. The worst times are also the best times. That experience told us we were doing the right thing.

Philip W. Chung: The play actually ended up doing very well with our audience.

(more…)

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bowdown

The Smiling Spider will be taking a break for the rest of the summer but I wanted to leave you with a few shows worth seeing. First, the 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors are taking over the city with their new sketch comedy “Bow Down to your Asian Masters”:

July 31th-August 23th. Thurs., Fri., Sat., & Sun. @ 8pm, 4 WEEK LIMITED ENGAGEMENT! (July 30th PREVIEW $5) @ THE COMPLEX (Dorie Theater) , 6476 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90038, (East of Highland Ave.) Reservations: 818-754-4500 (vm) or purchase tickets online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/70969 . Information: email 18mmw.mail@gmail.com or go to http://www.18mmw.com.

elverde

At CASA 0101, you can enjoy the latest episode of EL VERDE, the super hero on an everlasting quest to discover what his super power is… August 7th-30th. For more information go to http://www.casa0101.org.

closerthan ever

LODESTONE THEATRE ENSEMBLE, under the artistic direction of Philip W. Chung & Chil Kong, proudly presents CLOSER THAN EVER, a musical revue in two acts with words by Richard Maltby, Jr. and music by David Shire. Directed by Chil Kong. Music Direction by Akira Nakano. Starring: Sharline Liu, DT Matias, Blythe Matsui, Paul Na kauchi, Erin Quill, EJ Arriola, Jully Lee, Jiehae Park, & Miley Yamamoto.

An all Asian American revival of CLOSER THAN EVER, the classic 1989 musical revue which won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical and was nominated for multiple Drama Desk Awards. CLOSER THAN EVER features self-contained songs which deal with such diverse topics as aging, mid-life crisis, second marriages and unrequited love. This is the second mainstage production of Lodestone’s tenth and final “Beginnings and Endings” season.

Thursday-Saturday 8pm, Sunday 2pm. ALL THURS. SHOWS: 2-for-1 general admission tickets if you say the codeword “Doors” at box office. NOTE: Thurs., August 13 performance is SOLD-OUT. To RSVP: (323) 993-7245. For more more information, go to: http://www.lodestonetheatre.org.

ernie http://www.backstage.com

I would also like to acknowledge R. Ernie Silva whose solo show, Heavy Like the Weight of  A Flame, has been extended at  the Odyssey Theatre through September 5th. R. Ernie Silva prances about the stage with uncommon grace and power in this autobiographical journey written by Silva and novelist James Gabriel. The show is deftly choreographed and directed by Mary Joan Negro with special mention to Bosco Flanagan whose lighting design subtly evokes the dark places visited by Silva and reflected off of his unsually expressive face.

The following review was found on http://theguide.latimes.com: “Watching R. Ernie Silva in his autobiographical ‘Heavy Like the Weight of a Flame” is like listening to exquisite poetry, music both classical and jazz all wrapped in the true life experience of the urban jungles of New York. His movement, lovely guitar riffs and impersonations of the players in his life story add to a profoundly satisfying evening of performance art. This is special theater, well worth going to.” By mypetard.

Like El Verde, I hope Ernie Silva will treat us to more episodes of his identity quest. Click here for more information.



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Ewan Chung, Emily Kuroda and Peggy Ahn in Nic Cha Kim’s RE:verse. Photo by Nic Cha Kim.

“After 10 years, Lodestone Theatre Ensemble is calling it quits. No, this isn’t another sad tale of an arts group crunched by the imploding economy. L.A.’s maverick Asian American stage company simply decided that it’s time to go.”We felt we had hit our stride,” says co-artistic director Philip W. Chung. “We had done all that we could with this incarnation.”… Lodestone’s final season is designed to showcase its desire to tell unconventional stories in unconventional ways (its motto is “plays without rules”) and an affinity for life’s dark sides, tempered by a sense of humor. “We’ve always done whatever we wanted,” says Chung. That’s meant shunning staples of Asian American theater — generational struggles, cultural identity crises — and pursuing “new plays by new writers, plays with more edge that might even be seen as twisted.” From “Lodestone Theater Ensemble is going out on its own terms” by Karen Wada, Los Angeles Times, 05/03/09. Click here for full article.

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Feodor Chin and Peggy Ahn in Tim Lounibos’ BE HAPPY. Photo by Nic Cha Kim.

Tim Lounibos, co-founder, who wrote BE HAPPY one of the 4 one-acts comprising TEN TO LIFE, the first show of the final season: “I’ve been with Lodestone from the start and spent the past one and a half years in a dark claustrophobic room with my fellow Lodestone colleagues, creating a perversely compelling show to kick off our final year. TEN TO LIFE is part Twilight Zone, part Outer Limits, part Hitchcock and, hopefully, 100% entertaining-exactly what Lodestone should be.”

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Feodor Chin, Janet Song and Ewan Chung in Annette Lee’s HACIENDA HEIGHTS.

I saw the show last Saturday and all I can tell you, without giving away too much, is that it lived up to its bizarre, entertaining, perversely compelling  and twisted expectations.  My unnatural opinion – to stay in the spirit of TEN TO LIFE – is that watching Annette Lee’s HACIENDA HEIGHTS made me feel like an organ being transplanted into a body that never quite accepted me: the whole wasn’t greater than the sum of its inventive yet odd parts. Tim Lounibos’ first creation,  BE HAPPY, is a house of dangerous mirrors reflecting the most vulnerable aspects of ourselves and constantly keeping us on the edge of our restraint seat thanks also to the wonderful chemistry between Feodor Chin and Peggy Ahn. I already knew that Judy Soo Hoo was one of the Brothers Grimm’s most talented cousins. Phantasmagoria is the word that came to my inquisitive mind as I struggled to describe her RED DRESS. When I looked up the eccentric noun on http://www.thefreedictionary.com, its definition perfectly described what I had witnessed: “A fantastic sequence of haphazardly associative imagery, as seen in dreams or fever.” I’m only sorry I didn’t get all of the explosive finale because of a certain magic wand used by actress Emily Kuroda with such authority that, on that night, it drowned out her voice.

I know, I know, it’s only three stories and I said TEN TO LIFE consists of 4-one acts. In Nic Cha Kim’s RE:verse, Jully Lee (I always look forward to see her perform,) Ewan Chung and Feodor Chin show off their range and hit many notes, from ardent to discordant,  in quite a few interesting and compromising positions. I really can’t say anything more about it. And certainly not anything wrong. My hands are tied. I shouldn’t say that. I don’t want my hands tied. You see, I’m afraid the author will go after me if I say something wrong about RE:verse. If he greets you in the lobby, don’t be fooled by his gentle nature… and please, I urge you, don’t tell anyone that I said on the blogosphere of 112.8 millions and counting, that Nic Cha Kim is…. unrepentantly WICKED!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Jully Lee and Feodor Chin  in Nic Cha Kim’s RE:verse. Photo by Nic Cha Kim.

The cast includes Peggy Ahn, Feodor Chin, Ewan Chung, Elpidio Ebuen, Emily Kuroda, Jully Lee, Janet Song, Carin Chea, Vincent Gabucan, Junko Goda and Joon Lee. The show is directed by Alberto Isaac.

Through June 7th. For show times, admission prices and directions to the GTC Burbank, go to http://www.lodestonetheatre.org.

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Smiling Spider sightings this weekend can be expected in Hollywood where Action Theater Company’s “R.U.R.” comes highly recommended by a very trusted source, Olya Petrakova Brown of ARTEL, who recently directed “Kharmful Charms of Daniil Kharms,” a delirious ensemble piece inspired by the surreal writings of Soviet writer Daniil Kharms.

Here’s what Action Theatre Company has to say about its new production: “R.U.R.” stands for “Rossum’s Universal Robots.” Written in 1920 – R.U.R. garnered worldwide acclaim for its author and introduced the word “Robot” to the English language. Mass-produced, efficient and servile labor, Karel Capek‘s robots remember everything, but lack creative thought, and the Utopian life they provide ultimately lacks meaning. When the robots revolt, killing all but one of their masters, they must attempt to learn the secret of procreation.Working from a new adaptation by Action! Theatre Company Artistic Director, Tiger Reel, this production will highlight Capek’s themes of technology’s effect on society, gender and class roles and will wrestle with the question: “Are we as a race worth saving?”

A quick web search led me to Dennis G. Jerz‘s blog:

“R.U.R. was written in 1920, premiered in Prague early in 1921, was performed in New York in 1922, and published in English translation in 1923.  The following year, G. B. Shaw and G. K. Chesterton were among those in London participating in a public discussion of the play.  Capek responded, via The Saturday Review, to what he felt was the excessive thematic attention they and other critics paid to one of his devices: “For myself, I confess that as the author I was much more interested in men than in Robots.”  Click here for more.

R.U.R. will be performed through May 16th at Art/Works Theater. For more information, go to http://www.action-theatre.com. Featuring Jamil Chokachi, Tegan Ashton Cohan, Vicki Conrad, Warren Davis, A.J. Diamond, Jennifer Gabbert, Katie Kevorkian, Gretchen Koerner, Sara Lesley, Vera Miao, Michael Rachlis, Mahryah Shain and Tee Williams.

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Feodor Chin and Ewan Chung. Photo by Nic Cha Kim.

You might also think you saw me spinning my web in Burbank for another sure treat: Lodestone Theatre Ensemble‘s first play of their tenth and final season: TEN TO LIFE, which opened last weekend.

TEN TO LIFE consists of four one-acts developed specifically for the tenth season by four writers who have been an integral part of Lodestone’s history. The four plays —RE:verse by Nic Cha Kim, Hacienda Heights by Annette Lee, Be Happy by Tim Lounibos and Red Dress by Judy Soo Hoo—were born from an idea to explore the milestones that come along each decade and touch on everything from a ten-year high school reunion to the census but in a distinctly Lodestone fashion…delving into the dark and twisted things lurking beneath the surface of normalcy.

TEN TO LIFE will be performed through June 7th. Click here for more information.

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Look for me on the ceilings of the ACME theater where two of my favorite comedy groups, OPM and 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors, will be performing at this year’s LA Comedy Fest. For the lucky ones, they share the bill on Sunday at 7pm. The festival includes films, standup and group shows, and runs through May 17th.

Check out this video with Mighty Warriors Greg Watanabe and Michael Hornbuckle in THAILAND (for MATURE audience only):

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Opening People’s Minds

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LODESTONE AFTER DARK: THE BEGINNING OF THE END

Hosted by:
Dec 11:
GEDDE WATANABE (Sixteen Candles’ Long Duk Dong) & ERIN QUILL (Avenue Q
)
Dec 12-14:
ALEC MAPA (Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives
)

Lodestone After Dark: The Beginning of the End is a cabaret-style show which will feature comedy sketches and musical numbers to celebrate Lodestone’s ten years and launch the company’s final season of shows before it closes its doors at the end of 2009.    Come join us for an outrageous, festive and raunchy celebration of our past, present and future!

Join your Lodestone favorites and our special celebrity guests who will be making appearances during the run of the show including: JOHN CHO (Harold and Kumar, Star Trek), JAMES K. LEE (Heroes), GEORGE TAKEI (Star Trek), KABA MODERN’S YURI TAG & FYSH N’ CHICKS’ TAEKO COLLINS (America’s Top Dance Crew), members of the Asian American comedy groups the 18 MIGHTY MOUNTAIN WARRIORS, OPM, COLD TOFU & many other surprises.  You never know who will stop by on any given night of the run!  
(NOTE: Some guest artists will appear only on select evenings & all appearances subject to artists’ availability)

Directed by Henry Chan, Chil Kong & Alberto Isaac
Produced by Junko Goda, Michael Hornbuckle, Nic Cha Kim, Rosa Kwon & Amelia Worfolk
Written by Prince Gomovilas, Michael Hornbuckle, Charles Kim, Nic Cha Kim, Annette Lee, Tim Lounibos, Alec Mapa, Erin Quill, Judy Soo Hoo & Peter J. Wong

December 11-14, 2008
8PM
ONE WEEKEND ONLY!

General Admission: $15
Students/Seniors/Groups of 10+: $12
Pay by cash or check only at the door

GTC BURBANK
1111-B W. Olive St.
Burbank, CA 91506
(inside George Izay Park, just west of S. Victory Blvd.)

FREE PARKING: Park near the jet plane in front of George Izay Park at 1111 W. Olive St.  Walk into the park, past Olive Recreation Center.  GTC Burbank is behind the Rec. Center, facing the softball fields.

RSVPS strongly recommended: (323) 993-7245

THERE WILL BE NO LATE ADMISSION!

For more info. about Lodestone:
http://www.lodestonetheatre.org
http://www.myspace.com/lodestonetheatre

Starring: Letitia Chang, Feodor Chin, Becky Heneise, Elaine Kao, Saachiko, Kim Miyori, Kipp Shiotani, Leonard Wu, Elpidio Ebuen, Kelly Portier & Jennifer Betit Yen

Tennessee Williams’ classic “Suddenly, Last Summer” revolves around the death of a beloved son and cousin (Sebastian Venable) which leads to a family conflict as Mrs. Venable and Catherine Holly fight over their memories of the dead man and push the boundaries of truth. How will Sebastian be remembered? How would you like to be remembered?

August 2-24, 2008
Friday & Saturday 8pm, Sunday 2pm
Low-Priced $8 previews, July 31 and August 1, 8pm

$16 general admission
$14 students and seniors (w/valid ID)
$12 (groups of 10+)
All Sunday matinees (except August 24) are pay-what-you-can ($1 minimum)
$20 Aug. 2 opening night gala performance (w/post-show dessert reception)

GTC Burbank
1111-B W. Olive Ave.
Burbank, CA 91506

The theatre is in George Izay Park between S. Victory Bl. and N. Griffith Park Bl. Park near the jet plane at 1111 W. Olive and walk past the Olive Recreation Center. The theatre is behind the rec center; the entrance faces the softball fields.

To RSVP: (323) 993-7245
For more more information, go to:
Myspace: www.myspace.com/suddenly_lodestone

Toraichi Kono and Charlie Chaplin.

I attended two out of the three plays presented at EdgeFest’s LA History Project at the Autry National Center last Sunday. Circle X’s 1pm production of Tom Jacobson’s “The Chinese Massacre” which “chronicles the first race riot in Los Angeles history, when 19 Chinese men and boys were lynched by a mob of 500 people from all nations” was a truly impressive debut even if still in the workshopping stage. The play generated many laughs while staying true to the hard facts. Or attempting to. Indeed, some of the funniest moments were born out of the playwright’s desire to confess to us that all the research he did came from press clippings and studies that might or might not tell the absolute truth. Sometimes the playwright gave us two points of view on the same person or incident from two different sources with two very different agendas, which made the play very timely as we’re dealing with two presidential candidates with two very different versions of our future, our past and our present. I highly recommend that you add your name to Circle X‘s e-mail list to stay informed about the future of this disturbing yet necessary play.

I stayed for the next presentation: the first act of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble’s “My Man Kono” written by Philip W. Chung and directed by Jeff Liu about Toraichi Kono who was Charles Chaplin’s valet for 17 years “before being arrested as a Japanese enemy spy on the eve of World War II.” This first act was extremely moving and also enlightening – does anybody know that Charlies Chaplin was the subject of an attack on his life while visiting Japan? – thanks to a terrific cast all around and an outstanding Garrett Wang as Toraichi Kono, all impassive face and bottled up emotions against Donovan Oakleaf’s Charlie Chaplin pirouetting around the stage with open arms and an overflowing heart. I must say when the play began I was embarrassed for whoever had the formidable task of bringing Charlie Chaplin to life but that’s exactly what Donovan Oakleaf did and I’m still recovering from the shock of having been in the genius’ presence. I also recommend that you go to Lodestone’s website to get a chance one day in the near…distant… future, as Philip W. Chung promised us, to witness this intriguing pair who, ironically, ended up having more in common when they grew apart.

Here is Sunday’s line-up for Part II of the festival:

11 AM
Watts Village Theater Company
At Risk
By Judy Soo Hoo
Directed by David Catanzarite
In a fictional middle school in South Los Angeles, every student is at risk, and so is every teacher. Watts Village Theater Company’s offering to the festival explores the history of United Teachers of Los Angeles through the eyes of a rookie and the motley band of veterans who get him through his first year.

1PM
About Productions
Bleeding Through
Written by Teresa Chavez and Rose Portillo
Directed by Teresa Chavez
A multi-media work inspired by Norman Klein’s novella Bleeding Through Layers of Los Angeles, which uncovers the narrative ghosts, both fictional and non-fictional of Angelino Heights, and addresses historical forgetting and the erasure of memory.

3:30PM
Native Voices at the Autry
Serra Springs
By Larissa FastHorse
Music by Brian Joseph
Lyrics by Brian Joseph and Larissa FastHorse
Directed by Robert Vestal
Two teens, two adults and one strange dude deal with some major surprises during one magical night at a protest to save the last sacred site of the Tongva people in West Los Angeles.

What: EdgeFest Los Angeles History Project
When: Sunday, July 13, and Sunday, July 20, 11AM, 1PM, 3:30 PM
Where: Autry National Center of the American West, Griffith Park Campus, 4700 Western Heritage Way, Los Angeles, CA, 90027-1462
How Much: Free
Reservations: Not required.
More Info: lahp@edgeoftheworld.org