When we announced our 2019 season in June of last year, among the exciting titles like Fun Home and A Doll’s House Part 2 was another familiar title with a vague playwright attached. Below House on Haunted Hill it simply read, “B Street Company.” With the play set to open Friday, it’s time we reveal some of the secrets to this premiere production based on a classic Vincent Price horror film from 1959. The following is an interview with Artistic Producer, playwright, and actor Dave Pierini on the process behind this new work.
Dave, when did B Street Theatre decide to produce our own adaptation of House on Haunted Hill?
Last summer, when we were putting together the 2019 Season, we had selected six out of the seven plays we would produce, but couldn’t find the right play to start off the season right. So, Buck, Jerry and I began talking about stories in which we could adapt in the fashion of Around the World in 80 Days and The 39 Steps, fun theatrical adaptations of beloved stories, that our company of actors always performs well. So we began looking at pieces of literature and discussed some titles, and nothing was clicking. And then one day, I looked up movies that were in the public domain, and House on Haunted Hill was on that list. I mentioned it to Buck, and he pointed to it and said “I remember this movie. I watched this as a kid. It scared the hell out of me. We should adapt this.”
How long did it take for the play to get written?
Well, I initially started around late June, early July of 2018, when we made the initial decision. I just watched the movie over and over again, and had found the original screenplay and looked to that for inspiration. The first draft took me about two months.
How much does this adaptation take away from the original script and how much does of the story is new?
The basic story of the movie is still there. I mean, why mess with that? What we wanted to do with this adaptation is make it wildly entertaining while staying loyal to the original film. You can’t put—what Buck likes to call—the murderers row of comedy actors on our stage and do a straight-up adaptation. Our audiences want us to enhance the humor and enlarge the story. My job as the playwright was to provide a canvas for Buck to create all the creative bits and ideas which he is prone to do. We enlarged some of the personality traits of the character, and I limited the amount of locations. My job was to make a clear, simple story so that Buck could easily add his own creativity to the story.
How has it been like to be the playwright and also one of the actors in the play?
I don’t recommend it. It’s hard, because, in rehearsal, I’m constantly listening and thinking about the script, when I’m supposed to be focused on acting. That’s difficult. The fun thing is when stage management gives me a line note, I can just tell them, “Oh no, that’s a rewrite.”
What’s this play gonna be like for our audiences?
They can expect a classic B Street comedy; similar to Around the World in 80 Days, The 39 Steps, Big Bang, the comedies that made B Street Theatre so popular in this area. A big grand story, with some incredible comedic talent onstage. And I hope they’re a little scared.
B Street Theatre’s House on Haunted Hill opens Friday January 11 and runs until February 17. Come see Dave Pierini, along with Tara Sissom, Amy Kelly, Greg Alexander, Elisabeth Nunziato, John Lamb, and Jason Kuykendall in this hysterical adaptation of the classic 1959 horror film.
Jon Kovach is a talented actor from New York City and is playing the titular character in Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill met with the actor to discuss drag, reprisals, and Sacramento.
Where are you from?
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, raised in the suburb of West Chester. I moved to NYC in 2015 and have happily lived there since.
What was your first experience with drag?
My first experience with drag was during my senior year as a Lakota West Theatre student in high school. A recent graduate was returning home for the weekend, and it was rumored that he had been performing in drag. Everyone is a product of their own environment, right? I joined the theatre program late in high school, and before joining, my exposure to anything other than straight-white-conservative was limited. My friends laughed when I asked what “drag” meant, and that weekend said graduate showed me. He was in the bathroom when I arrived to my friend’s parent’s basement, and 25-30 minutes later she came out in full beat (drag make-up), a long blonde wig, womanly curves hidden under a stunning dress, lip-syncing to a bad-ass pop-diva of the time. I remember being confused; why is he doing this? I remember believing that said graduate must have gotten breast implants (I was wrong, it was padding). I remember being embarrassed for looking at her breasts. I remember her dancing close to me, and touching my face. I remember being uncomfortable, and shortly thereafter kindly excusing myself from the event. This opened up a great dialogue with my friends about learning from that discomfort, and growing to be more open-minded. A few summers later, after moving out of my hometown for college, touring the US with a rock-band, and exposing myself to much beyond West Chester, I was performing in Band Geeks! the musical at Human Race Theatre Co. in Dayton, Ohio. Remembering my experience from high school, I tentatively followed our ensemble to a drag show after one of our performances. Surely I had grown, right? Drag queens danced close to me, touched my face, and shoved my hand into their padded breasts when I offered a dollar bill. I still didn’t “get it” fully, at first; the spirit of drag, but I wasn’t uncomfortable. I was curious as opposed to confused. Using my theatre training at Miami University to discern performance choices I asked myself: why lip-syncing as opposed to just singing? Why so much make-up, and overly-bright clothing? Why am I enjoying this so much? Then it clicked. That joy is why. The freedom that drag brings to the audience, the performers, and to myself is why. A freedom from reality, singing without any limitations of what live bodies/voices allow. Freedom from societal gender norms, constraints, clothing trends, and practicalities. Freedom from the discomfort of a homogenous closed-minded upbringing.
You’ve done this show before. What is it like to return to play this role again?
This is my first time reprising a role, and I am enjoying it more than I thought that I would. Typically, I am cast in a role 1-2 months in advance, then 3-4 weeks of rehearsal, then 3-4 weeks of performances. On this schedule, I am given enough time to form a solid character by opening night, and to be confident in my choices by closing. When the show closes, I may stop working on the story, but the story continues working on me. Meaning, problems/goals will happen in my life that imitate what happens in the script and on stage, and I am able to use what I’ve learned from working on the play in order to solve a problem/achieve a goal in my own life. So I return to Casey at B Street with a much better understanding of the character and the story than I ever could have been able to the last time I performed the role at The Hippodrome Theatre in Gainesville, FL last year (a performance I am also very proud of). And, funny enough, this is the second time that I am playing Casey, but the third time that I have gotten an offer for the role. I was offered the part in Fall of 2016, but turned it down at the opportunity to work at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA in Abigail/1702. So, Casey and The Legend of Georgia McBride have been sitting with me since I read the play the first time in Fall 2016, and I’ve never rolled into an opening night feeling more confident in understanding a character, a story than I am for this performance.
Are you enjoying working at B Street Theatre?
I have thoroughly enjoyed working at B Street Theatre. What a treat to perform in such a beautiful brand-new facility. The staff is so dedicated and passionate to balance so much programming at the quality they produce. This is the hardest-working and most-diversely-skilled intern company that I’ve seen in a regional theatre. Our director, Jerry Montoya, said early in our rehearsal process that B Street focuses mainly on finding strong actors, and that has shown. Between the performance that I caught in Ironbound and the actors that I have the pleasure of sharing the stage with in The Legend of Georgia McBride, this theatre knows how to pick actors.
What are your impressions of Sacramento?
My time outside of rehearsal has been limited. This show is physically and emotionally draining for me, Casey goes through quite the journey. What I have seen I’ve really enjoyed. I caught a drag show at Capitol Garage, and had great vegan food during vegan chef challenge month. The bicycle costume parade on Halloween sure was fun. I went for a hike through the river access at Watt Avenue which was fantastic. The weather this time of year is to die for, 80’s around noon and 50’s at night is supreme. Also the variety of plant life if stunning, how can one climate foster evergreens and palm trees?
Why is this show relevant in 2018?
To briefly echo some points I brought up earlier: it is always important to encourage open-mindedness, to express joy, and celebrate freedom. One of my main concerns in 2018 is the continued push-back against civil rights. Why has the White House chosen to remove any/all LGBTQ terminology from their website/database? Why has the White House recently refused to recognize trans persons’ gender identity? Why does the Republican party continue to endorse a candidate proudly claiming nationalism (rhetoric strongly used by members of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, & white supremacists; groups known for oppressing, beating, and murdering LGBTQ persons)? Drag is different than LGBTQ, straight people perform in drag all of the time, but drag is closely connected to the LGBTQ community, and providing exposure to the LGBTQ community in any way is positive for society. We must continue to fight for LGBTQ rights and representation.
Who are some drag queens that inspire you?
Anita Cocktail in Provincetown, MA, is incredible. I worked with Anita’s creator Mike Steers at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors’ Theatre. She’s quite the queen, and hosts a benefit drag show every year for the AIDS foundation. I am recently quite the fan of Mercury Rising, right here in Sacramento, CA. She is endlessly charismatic, witty, has fabulous costumes, and can perform the best death drop (a well-known and incredibly difficult drag dance move) I’ve ever seen.
If you created your own drag persona, what would she be named?
Miss Tracy Mills from Georgia McBride says to make a drag name on-the-fly use your mother’s birthplace (Sharonville, OH) and the name of the first girl you’ve ever kissed (Brittany Leeland), so I’d start with: Sharon Leeland. That would probably develop into a play on the name Sharon and the word “sharing” to something clever like: Sharon Secrets, Sharon Abed, or Sharon Undies.
The Legend of Georgia McBride continues on the Mainstage this week and runs until December 9. Come see Jon and the rest of the cast find their inner queen.
In their debut with the B Street Theatre, Kevin Kantor plays Miss Anorexia Nervosa, a talented young drag queen who challenges Georgia McBride. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill met with Kevin to talk about the show, drag queens and more.
Where are you from?
I am from Denver by way of Chicago, but I’m currently based in New York.
What’s the earliest time you can recall drag or drag queens?
I, like many a young queer boy, wore out the VHS tape of Peter Pan starring Mary Martin in the titular role. I’d say that was probably my earliest memory of and definitive precursor to my affinity for challenging the notion of what gender should or can be. My first experience with watching live drag as performance was growing up going to the bars in Boystown in Chicago.
You’ve done this show at other theatres? What’s it like to perform the play again?
It’s been a wonderful experience to rediscover this character with a new family and in a new space. So much of a drag persona can be built around their fabulous wardrobe, so I must tip my wig cap to Gina, our costume designer, who has me feeling simply beautiful. And I truly love playing this character. I’m always excited to be playing queer characters, complex, three-dimensional queer characters who get to survive their own stories and celebrate their existence. She has hard-fought battle scars, and I love being able to showcase that you can be resilient but not at the cost of your humanity.
What are your impressions of the city of Sacramento?
I can’t wait until we’re open and I can actually do some exploring, but thus far I’ve had a wonderful time at my four main hangs: the theatre, Urban Fitness, the Safeway at Alhambra, and the Starbucks on N and 26th. (Maybe don’t run this answer haha.)
Why is this show relevant in 2018?
This show is truly for everyone and it is a celebration of joy—more specifically, I believe, an invitation for everyone to celebrate queer joy and chosen family. The Legend of Georgia McBride is a show so full of love and light and it actively welcomes people who may not consider themselves part of or initiated in the queer community, and says ‘We love you. We want you here. We want you to celebrate with us,’ while also realizing and paying respect to the hardships that the queer community had to overcome to earn this space, and at time, fight for our lives.”
Who are some of your favorite drag queens working today?
Sasha Velour is one of my top queer icons, hands down. She’s a culturally-conscious, politically-engaged, wears gag-worthy fashion. She’s a queen we need in times like these.
If you personally had a drag persona, what would be her name?
Ana Tevka, a slutty Jewish shtetl bubbe that lip syncs to Jewish Holiday standard and smells like Werther’s Originals hard candies.
Come see Kevin play Miss Rexy in The Legend of Georgia McBride, running now until December 9. Tickets available at B Street Theatre.
Cameron Folmar has had a substantial career on Broadway and the best regional theatres in the country. Now, he’s making his debut at the B Street Theatre playing Miss Tracy Mills in The Legend of Georgia McBride, a role he played earlier this year at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill met with the actor to discuss the play, Sacramento, and drag queens.
Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in the South, but I’ve lived all my adult life, since I was 23, in New York City.
What is your first memory of drag?
My first memory of drag: When I was five or six a second cousin (or some relation) of my dad’s came to visit us in Birmingham, Alabama. I remember he was gorgeous. At the time, it was common for women to wear wigs and my mom, who was in her early 30’s, had a couple. I remember coming down the stairs wearing a brunette wig with a flip and a knee length powder blue dress which, of course, was floor length on me. I sat next to the cousin (or whoever) and asked if he was married. I think I had a leather pocket book over my wrist, as well. He said, “No”, he wasn’t married. And I replied, “Well, I’ll marry you.” Nobody laughed. Everyone was very uncomfortable, including me. And I don’t think I was joking. As absurd as it was, given I was five or six, I think I actually proposed to this man I never met before or since. And I was in drag when I did it… in front of my parents.
You’ve done this show at another theatre. What is it like to do this play a second time?
Ms. Tracy Mills is one of the finest written characters in any play that I have read or seen in a very long time. I played her this past Summer in Minneapolis and I’m so happy to be with her again now. My cast mates here are very different than the actors I played with before and I love them all. It’s a testament to the integrity of the writing that these characters can be personalized in different ways and still work so perfectly. I confess I was worried that I would cling to the way we staged it in the last production, but that has not proved true. The characters are vivid. They are put in specific places with specific tasks and needs… from that point, it’s a paradox, but the variations are infinite.
What’s your initial impression of Sacramento?
My first impression of Sacramento… my hosts. I am staying at the beautiful home of Chris and Julie Smith. They have allowed me to stay here while they are on vacation. The caveat was that I had to feed the cat. Well, the cat’s name is Gracie and we love each other. She cuddles with me every night and she sits on the couch with me every day. I couldn’t have been happier here with her sunning on the doorstep while I water the plants on a Sunday. She is my pal and I shall have to ask if I can visit after I move out. Also, I was and am enchanted with the trees! I was stunned to see palm trees next to Sycamores… Cypress next to Maples… everything grows here! And there hasn’t been a drop of rain since I got here on October 15. How can it be so lush?!
Why is this show relevant in 2018?
This play, at its heart, is universal. It’s about personas. Some are integrated very fluidly… and some spend all their time changing desperately from one to the other. It’s about embracing identity. The hope of crossing over.
Who are some of your drag queen inspirations?
Lipsynka is my very favorite. Incredible. I copy her….
Tonight is the night The Legend of Georgia McBride officially opens. Come see Cameron and the rest of this amazing cast serve some fierce performances. Tickets on sale now.
Danielle Moné Truitt was a prominent member of B Street Theatre’s acting company in the early 2000’s. Since her departure to Los Angeles, she’s had a prolific career which has included a starring role in the BET series Rebel. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill met with the actress to talk about her early days with B Street Theatre, her time in LA, and her return to the B Street Theatre stage as Jo in The Legend of Georgia McBride.
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Sacramento, CA!
How’d you find theatre?
My first experience with theatre was in 6th grade when I played Belle in Beauty and the Beast. We just lip synced to the movie soundtrack, but it was a full on production and was a lot of fun. I didn’t do a play again until my senior year in high school, but I have to say I officially caught the theatre bug at CSU Sacramento. I took a theatre class just for fun and my professor encouraged me to make theatre my major. The rest is history!
When did you first hear about B Street Theatre?
I first heard about the B Street Theatre in 2005. One night I was driving home, and my phone rang. When I answered it, a guy named Buck Busfield was on the other line and he asked me to come audition for one of their productions. I had never heard of or been to B Street Theatre before then.
Did that phone conversation lead to your first job at B Street Theatre?
It did! Buck said that a guy named Anthony D’Juan had recommended me. So I went in, I met Buck, and I did a monologue that I’m sure was pretty terrible. But Buck thought I was charming and offered me the role. I became equity and shortly after that he made me a Company Member.
What were those initial years at B Street like?
My first play at B Street Theatre was The Beggars’ Strike in the Family Series. It was fun and a great learning experience for me. I knew nothing about professional theatre. I also immediately felt like a part of the family. I knew the B Street would be a place that I could grow as an actor and where I could do great creative work and make relationships that would last for a lifetime.
When and why did you decide to move to LA?
It was always a goal of mine to move a pursue my career in an environment where there were many opportunities, but I just hadn’t made a decision on when or where. Since I started acting “late,” I felt like I was still learning. After working at B Street, I started doing theatre at all of the Equity theaters in town. I ended up doing A Raisin in the Sun in 2005 at Sacramento Theatre Company, and an agent from L.A came to see their client in the show. Afterwards, he invited me to LA for a meeting. He didn’t end up signing me but it sparked the thought that maybe if I moved to LA, I could have a shot at a career in TV and Film. Plus a sistah wasn’t getting any younger, okay?! So, I made the leap. No job, no agent, no manager. I had about three months of rent (I thought $3,500 would last me at least six months but I had no idea how expensive living in LA LA Land would be). It was probably the bravest thing I did at that time in my life, and definitely the best decision I ever made.
How has your life been since making that big leap?
Well I moved out there to become a “famous actress” and little did I know that the attempt would take a lifetime. In the meantime, I married the man of my dreams and became a mommy, which is the most incredible role I will ever play in my life. I have two amazing sons.
Moving to LA to be an actress has given me a whole entire grown up life. I had to challenge myself creatively. I created and produced my own one woman play, 3 Black Girl Blues, with the help of my now long time friend Anthony D’Juan. I created a solo concert entitled Overnight Success. One thing I learned about navigating the industry is that you cannot wait around for people to give you opportunities. You have to define who you are as an artist and remain true to that. Over time, I got a great agent, and then managers and then a couple of more agents. I helped create the first African American Princess, Princess Tiana in The Princess and the Frog by performing her body movements and facial expressions for Disney Animation. I booked a guest spot on an ABC show and another role on a FOX show.
And then a couple of years ago, I was given the amazing opportunity to star in my own TV show on BET called Rebel, and work with the legendary John Singleton and acting greats like Giancarlo Esposito and Mykelti Williamson. Now I am signed with one of the top three agents in the industry and getting opportunities to audition for some incredible projects.
So, I’m still on the journey and I’m grateful for every triumph. I also have a life that is committed to serving others through me and my husband’s ministry, The Livingroom, plus other community events I’ve created and organized such as More Than a Hashtag and Be Eternal: The Thriving Artist.
Why was this the right time to return to B Street Theatre?
Honestly, I have wanted to come back to do a show at the B Street for some time but it just didn’t work with my shooting schedule. Luckily, during the holidays, things are slow in L.A. Everyone is getting ready for the holidays. Plus, this is such a fun piece of theatre! I’m really glad to be a part of it.
What has it been like to be in The Legend of Georgia McBride?
It’s been a blast! I love working with Jerry Montoya. He has so much fun and is so passionate about creating real moments for us actors on stage. It’s also been pretty cool being the only girl in the cast. Watching Cameron (Folmar), Kevin (Kantor), and Jon (Kovach) strutting around in heels while I’m in a pair of flats is awesome.
Why is this a good show for people to see?
It celebrates inclusion. It celebrates life and new and wonderful discoveries. This world is big enough for all of us… and we all have a place in it.
Come see Danielle in The Legend of Georgia McBride, previewing all this week and opening on Friday November 9. Tickets are available online.
B Street veteran Kurt Johnson is playing the role of a lifetime as Long John Silver in the classic pirate story Treasure Island, currently running in B Street Theatre Family Series. Artistic Associate Sean Patrick Nill met with the actor to discuss the role and the ways in which he prepares.
When you found out you were cast as Long John Silver what was your first reaction?
[Sean and Kurt laugh]
No, it sounded really excited. It’s much more fun to play bad guys than good guys.
Because I don’t nearly as often kill people in real life.
What did you to do to prepare for the role?
I spent a lot of time playing with the voice and the accent. A lot has to do with the costume. The peg leg helps a lot, the facial hair helps a lot, the “pirate outfit” helps. Then there’s memorizing your lines of course. I will say, the time I spent learning how to sword fight on a peg leg was… good, and…well… interesting to watch.
What’s your morning routine before playing Long John Silver?
I need a few cups of coffee in the morning. A lot… actually. I practice my “arghs.” I get my voice warmed up. I want to do the traditional pirate gravelly voice, but that can harm your voice. So I practice my arghs.
I scare people a lot.
And what else?
Making fun of Sean helps me a lot.
How do you get the “argh” just right.
(As Long John Silver) arrrrrgh. AAARRRRRRGH! The thing is, the pirate isn’t just saying “argh”, he’s expressing frustration or anger. He’s not saying the word “argh”, that’s the noise that just happens to come out when he’s frustrated; and that’s the key to playing a pirate. You don’t play the ‘argh’, you play the objective. You’re letting people know your angry, or trying to exercise whatever demon is possessing your character at that moment.
How do your fellow pirates (Darek Riley and Melinda Parrett) help you into bringing this famous villain to life?
Well, Darek did a great job with the fight choreography, and Melinda is just an intimidating person all around. And they both sing really well. It makes my singing look like a choice.
[Sean and Kurt laugh]
When everyone else sings really well, and then I do really bad singing, it looks like a character choice.
Why is this a fun play to be in?
Well, the kids get a big kick out of it. And while Long John Silver is the villain, he’s also a bit of a clown. You can get away with a lot of stuff. I mean, he sings a song about his mom and spam. So… it gives me a lot of fun opportunities.
Treasure Island continues its run until November 4. Come see this adventurous, hilarious play that both children and adults love.
Last week at The Sofia saw the arrival of our new roommate, Tea Bar & Fusion Cafe, plus the continued run of Ironbound, and continued rehearsals for Treasure Island and Mathematical Madness. Scroll down to see all the great photos from this past week.
Tea Bar & Fusion Cafe officially opened on October 1 and the B Street Theatre cannot get enough of those scrumptious teas and delicious, healthy snacks! Come check out this amazing new restaurant in Sacramento.
B Street Theatre continues to bring a variety of programming to the Sacramento area. Next week, we’ll have three productions running: Ironbound on the Mainstage, Treasure Island in the Family Series, and Mathematical Madness touring hundreds of schools throughout the area.
Ironbound cast members Dana Brooke and Sam Kebede made a visit to Capital Public Radio and had a great conversation on Insight about the play and its significance in today’s world. Listen to the segment here.
Thanks @momokapeachy for coming to The Sofia on a rainy day. Wine from the Kelly Bar makes everything better.
Hungry when you come to the B Street Theatre? Go to T-Bar and get one of their amazing wraps or bowls for a very affordable price.
We’re so happy @pranajustin that you came to see Ironbound. It really is a wonderful play. Thank you so much for coming to The Sofia. We hope to see you again soon.
This week grab tickets to Ironbound and on Sunday join us on a paranormal investigation in the latest episode of Seekers of the Strange in Upstairs at the B. And as always, Like, Follow, and Tag us at @bstreettheatre on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We’ll share your experience on the blog.