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Monthly Inspirations, July 2014

Bernstein and Gershwin at the Hollywood Bowl

Lovely concert of the LA Philharmonic doing songs of Bernstein and Gershwin. This hit such a sweet spot in my musical theatre girl heart. I am such a nerd for both of those composers. There was a great surprise performance by Alysha Umphress, who’s apparently going to be in a Broadway production of On the Town soon, of “I Can Cook, Too.” She was just great. What an excellent job. Watch out for her. I am so picky about musical theatre singers (well, probably just singers in general, too 😉 ) and she just does it right. SUCH great control. Anyway, yes, the rest of the music was lovely as well! Bramwell Tovey was incredibly charming and confident as the conductor. It felt amazing to be in the presence of someone with such immense respect for this music. Hearing “Rhapsody in Blue” performed live was definitely a bucket list thing for me and made me cry a lot with tears of overwhelm for the beauty and the drama of it all.

Bramwell Tovey conducting, from

Orphan Black

I started watching this show in July and now am completely obsessed. Tatiana Maslany is the bomb dot com. Absolute baller hall of fame. Check it out on Amazon Prime immediately.



I wasn’t always sure about what was going on during Rogue Machine’s production of Penelope by Enda Walsh, but as usual the Rogues do not let me down when it comes to top notch actors. Hanging around theatres like this inspire me because it aligns with my career goal, which is to be a working actor in both theatre AND film/tv. Brian Letscher, who is on Scandal, was one of the main characters in this play, and in the talkback spoke on acting in both mediums and how he’s drawn to doing theatre even if he has a paying gig because it’s such fun work and so rewarding. Also, he tweeted me right back after I tweeted that he did a great job in the show, so… I have a crush on him now.


TPLLA Meeting

I am fortunate to be an Associate Member of the Theatre Producers League of Los Angeles, and to be a part of conversations about strengthening the Los Angeles theatre community, the theatre we make, and how we represent ourselves. In July we had a member meeting to discuss some committees and initiatives we want to work on and some standards and best practices we want to put into place for companies in Los Angeles. It was so exciting to be in a room with so many talented, conscientious, passionate theatre-makers. You can find out more about us here: 

Meeting in progress; photo credit: Greg Crafts

The Blind Date Project

Produced by Andrew Carlberg and starring Bojana Novakovic. This is (kind of) site-specific theatre where the show is in a bar and Bojana and a select, handsome, known-ish actor (different guy very show) meet to have an improvised blind date in front of the audience. The fact that Bojana creates a completely different character for every show is amazing. It’s very intense to watch (definitely exciting and sometimes stressful!) and is a WORKOUT for those actors. I would absolutely recommend that any and all LA actors go see this because it is such a lesson in listening, being in the moment, not getting in your own way, and basically everything you need to learn as an actor. They have shows most Wednesdays at the Three Clubs in Hollywood. More details about it on their Facebook page.

What did you see/do in July that inspired you?


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Monthly Inspirations, June 2014

I’m starting a new posting series about inspirational stuff I see each month. I think it’s so important to stay active and inspired as an artist, and if I can help give more exposure to things I believe in, all the better! Here goes! 🙂


Phew! June is such a crazy month out here! Festivals galore! I volunteered for the Dances with Films Festival and helped out with an award for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, so I had the opportunity to see MANY films and plays in June. Here are some special ones:

Dances with Films first…

Personal Day

From their FB page: “The story of two disgruntled office workers who (by complete coincidence) choose the same day to bring guns to work and ‘resign’.” I watch a lot of things that I feel like could be a lot better after one or two more drafts. This was not one of them. What a great feeling to be watching something and thinking “This is just perfect.” They took a topic that’s so timely and so heavy, yet but an interesting, exciting, smart twist on it and made it INCREDIBLY funny. Can’t wait to see what these peeps do next.


Wow. Soldier comes back from Afghanistan to her family and civilian life and becomes obsessed with a guy she sees in her hometown, believing him to be connected to some shiz that went down back in Afghanistan. I really loved the story and was completely captivated in that “Oh shit what’s gonna happen?!?!?!?” way that I absolutely love. Tajana Prka carries this movie and did such incredible work. It’s so wonderful to see a female character who’s such a badass and still extremely emotionally complex and troubled. Her troubled-ness was magnificently executed, and damn it’s so exciting to see such rich inner life become exposed through great acting.


Missing Child

From the website: “A young woman, who never knew her parents, discovers that she resembles an age-progressed photo in a “Missing Child” listing. After she meets the man who could be her father, her journey takes an unexpected turn. She uncovers secrets and lies in an attempt to find closure to her own disturbing past.” Some amazing acting Kristen Ruhlin in this one. It looks like she’s been in some great projects, and I really hope to see more of her. Luke created a great, suspenseful vibe that was both creepy and exciting. I am always super impressed when actors in the film are also directing the film and do a great job of both.

Druid Peak

I cried during this more than I’ve cried during a movie in a long time. And I cry a lot during movies. Honestly, even watching the trailer again just now I cried. This film is about a kid who’s having a rough time and goes to live with his estranged father who monitors wolf packs in Wyoming, and then finds himself while learning about and tracking these wolves. Not only is this film totally beautiful to watch because of the landscape and wildlife, but it’s also an intensely heartfelt and touching story. I think there’s just something about seeing someone who is hurting so much and having such a hard time with life find something that fills their heart and brings them a sense of purpose. Spencer, the lead actor, was AMAZING and gave an absolutely masterful performance in this film. Watch out for him. I can’t believe he’s not being cast in every movie right now.

If this shit doesn’t get a theatrical release, I’m going to lose all faith in the film industry.

Druid Peak


It’s hard to talk about this one without tons of spoilers, so here is what their FB page says: “Casey is about a young girl who struggles with her mother’s misguided attempts to show love. She finds escape as an MC in an underground hip-hop club and must decide between taking a stand against her mother, or watching her owns dreams drift away.” Very touching, great characters, and I love how they play with expectation. Very personal connection to some of the material in here and would love to see what they do next.


And now for two wonderful productions at the Hollywood Fringe Festival (admittedly both featuring friends of mine!):

No Homo

A great exploration of sexuality which brings up many interesting questions about relationships, sex, how we like to categorize, and so much more. Funny, but still sensitive. I love seeing plays that explore something I haven’t thought about before. Won hella awards at Fringe, which was well-deserved.

No Homo

Friends Like These

Written by the illustrious Greg Crafts (one of the most hard-working, earnest people I’ve ever met), this play focuses on the interweaving of high school cliques, the isolation and otherness we’ve all felt, and the feelings that lead us to violence. We actually had a reading of this play at my house two years ago and it was so awesome to see it fully realized. They have a really excellent production here with some equally excellent acting work that opened up some great conversations at the Q&A after the show. It’s at San Diego Fringe Festival now, and I’m sure that’s not the last we’ll see of this show. Check it out at the SD Fringe if you’re in the area.


Until next month!

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#TIL: The One-Headphone Secret

Here’s an Instagrammed up picture of our at-home studio set-up (yes, I finally got on Instagram, at maureenchesus) that we used to record some music for my singing reel:


I feel the need to impart some wisdom from recording today: Mariah and Christina and all those other folks you see wailing away with the headphones half off and their right hand diva gesticulations– they are NOT just being divas and trying to show you how into the song they are. Well, actually I can’t speak for the gesticulating. I don’t know what that’s about. But what I DO know is…

As someone coming from a musical theatre background rather than a recording background, I’m used to hearing myself sing live. In musical theatre, you’re taught to sing for the space; to fill the whole room. You’re using your voice to give love and emotion to the entire theatre, all the way to the back row. When you’re recording, it’s all getting funneled pointedly into the microphone. The mic doesn’t care how full and luscious the sound is as it reverberates throughout the room. It can sound much thinner and weaker. Alex kept telling me that that’s why there are producers who take the recording and work their magic to make it sound full and luscious again. However, the psychological damage this can do while you’re recording is not to be underestimated!!! If you’re used to hearing that fullness, listening to your own playback can be really disorienting and, potentially, very disappointing, which then messes with your head and can screw up your focus on your performance. I tried taking one headphone off to see if it would help to hear my actual voice in the room rather than what the recording was picking up and voila! I was able to hear myself sounding normal again. For the rest of the session I felt way more confident and stopped doubting my abilities.

So, don’t judge when you see photos of people in the studio like that! They’re just trying to help themselves do a good job! Oh, and don’t burp into the microphone, because if you do, your boyfriend will keep it and hold it as blackmail.


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A Late Love Letter to Peter O’Toole

When I was in high school, most of my favorite movies were old movies: Casablanca, On the Waterfront, The Philadelphia Story, that kind of thing. As kind of a pre-hipster who hated to like anything that people my age liked (thanks, Santa Cruz), and movies like From Justin to Kelly and Gigli coming out during that time, you can see why I favored the classics.

Two of my favorites that I still have on VHS to this day were How to Steal a Million and Lawrence of Arabia. Though very different in tone, they both tell great stories with a charm and subtlety that you don’t often see in films coming out today.

Despite my convictions, I was still kind of a weirdo for liking them at the time. I remember trying to make a group of high school friends watch Lawrence at my parents house. It didn’t take long before they got bored and wanted to do something else, causing me to be offended, take it extremely personally, and wonder if they were really the type of people I wanted as friends if they couldn’t handle watching a masterpiece of film, even if it was almost four hours long.

During such an influential time, when my passion for acting was continuing to grow and develop, Peter O’Toole and his contemporaries were my icons and I got my inspiration and drive from watching them.

While doing a report on Audrey Hepburn for my U.S. history class (you know, like you do) and looking up her birth and death dates. At that moment, I realized that out of all of my favorite actors in those movies, Peter O’Toole was the only one still living.

Given this new information, I thought a lot about writing him a letter. If he was still around, I should take advantage of it and let him know how amazing I thought he was. I would tell him that I’ve seen many of his films and admire them very much, how they had been very special and influential to me as a young actor, praise him for his acting abilities, and thank him for being so inspiring to me.

Sadly, I promptly came up with a list of reasons why I shouldn’t write this letter. I convinced myself that it would probably be too hard to find an address, and that if I did find one that it would go to some kind of secretary/gatekeeper who would probably throw it away, and, most importantly, that it would be too dorky. I figured he’s probably surrounded by people who think he’s amazing, so even if I could make it work, one little letter from me isn’t going to mean anything.

For years after, the idea of writing a letter to Peter O’Toole kept popping back into my head. Knowing that he was getting older, I thought maybe I should say something before he’s gone, but I still kept telling myself that it would be lame and that he probably wouldn’t even read it.

When I woke up and saw the news this morning that he had passed away, I cried. Not just for the fact that we’ve lost a great contributor to American storytelling, but that I never sent that letter. I’m still not sure if he would have ever personally read it or not, but now I’ll never know.

From here forward, I will challenge myself to share my admiration for someone whenever I can, because people who do great work deserve to hear about it, even if it’s via their secretary and even if they’ve head it a million times. Who knows what happens after we die, but if there’s some chance that he’s hearing this, I hope he will know how much he meant to a young girl in a small town who wanted to be an actor.

My Peter O'Toole VHS Movies


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WRNG is Coming!

It’s hard to believe that over a year after completing filming, the first few episodes of WRNG in Studio City are about to premiere online! The webseries is about a news team who lose their funding and decide that the only way to survive is to make up the news. I play Janeen, who works at the station and quickly climbs the ladder to newscaster.

We’ve got a bunch of episodes coming out in the next couple of weeks starting TOMORROW! It’s super silly, and has a lot of similarities in sensibility to Community.

Watch the super cute trailer HERE.


Yep. This.

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SAG/AFTRA-Eligible / LA Producers League Vote

Two very exciting things happened for me this week! Porter Kelly must be psychic, because after posting on Facebook that she had a feeling that good things would happen this week, I got some kind of good news every day following. Mysterious…!

The first was a letter I received from SAG-AFTRA letting me know that I am now SAG-eligible! I know that the step to between eligible status and actually joining will be a big one, but it feels great to be moving in the right direction!

Another exciting moment was the ‘yes’ vote to establish by-laws for the theatre producing community of Los Angeles! I was in attendance for the vote Monday night at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, alongside many excellent and well-known LA theatre producers, to support the early stages of the LA Producers League. I attended with the talented and bright Mary Kimball and we were the only non-producers there! How cool are we! 🙂 There is more information about the developments here on the LA Stage Alliance website. I think this is the start of some wonderful, positive movements for the theatre community and it was great to be there to support it. I hope to get involved from the ground up and learn more about producing theatre in LA.

Can you spot Mary and I in this picture? 🙂

From the LA Stage website, photo by Dani Oliver

From the LA Stage website, photo by Dani Oliver

Here’s to more good news!!!

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Absolute Core Truths of Theatre Personnel Management

Great. Real and to the point. Things to work towards when I become an artistic director someday. 🙂

Bitter Gertrude

This is something I wrote for Theatre Bay Area‘s Chatterbox blog in 2011. If you’re a Bay Area theatremaker or theatre company, you need to be a member of TBA!

You can see this post in its original setting here. I recommend going there to click around the blog. There are some really excellent articles there. Velina Brown‘s posts with advice for actors are particularly excellent.



This season marked my 10th anniversary as artistic director of Impact Theatre, and my 15th with the company as a founding member. When I became Impact’s AD, I quickly became aware of the fact that there’s no AD boot camp. There’s no Handbook for New ADs. Some local people were very helpful—Patrick Dooley at Shotgun Players was especially generous. Now that I’m more established, people who are planning to start their…

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