Category Archives: Theater

THE LONG JOURNEY OF TSURIA DIAZ BEGAN WITH ONE SINGLE PLAY

There are so many possible means of gaining notoriety these days. All too often there are short cuts to getting attention for your work or talent. Like a match that ignites quickly and burns out just as fast, the individuals who take this approach rarely experience an enduring career. A firm foundation provides for several levels of building. Actress Tsuria Diaz subscribes completely to this premise. Diaz has a long list of television productions to her famed career in Mexico (Rosa Diamante, Como Dice el Dicho, El Octavo Mandiamento, Me Mueves, etc.), which would not have been possible without her training in theater acting. While television and theater have distinct differences, the pressure and immediate nature of the later instills a confidence in actors from which TV and film productions benefit. One of Ms. Diaz’s most noted and acclaimed live performance roles is that of Marimar in the play Perras. The tale is as malevolent as any great Shakespearean tragedy but set in the world of an all girl’s school. Via her character, Tsuria is given the opportunity to play someone in a difficult situation that could happen in any time period but with a very present day woman’s mindset. The range with which Marimar could be presented is wide; critics, the play’s director, and her costar all agree that Diaz presented her character as both vulnerable and tough…portraying a young woman who was at times both endearing and off-putting. This was all part of the actress’s grand design to prepare for any production that would come her way…as a true professional.

Perras (Spanish for “bitches”) is the story of two young women who are expelled from their “nice” all girl school. The vastly different economic and social backgrounds of students at this school is a microcosm for overall society. The two main characters, Sofia and Marimar, are best friends. What Sofia doesn´t know is that Marimar is pregnant and the baby’s father is actually Sofia’s father. Desperate, Marimar performs an abortion by herself. Unaware of the potential risk of doing this, she pays with her own life. Perras presents the idea of unintentional betrayal by those closest to you. While searching for comfort from a society that has treated one with malice, we can sometimes make decisions that steer us towards even greater harm… and to those we care about. The subject matter of Perras might be difficult to watch but the convincing and heartfelt performances of Diaz and Jimena Sanchez (Mairmar’s best friend Sofia in Perras) is transfixing. To communicate such a dire situation in a way that connects with the audience and endears them to tough characters takes great talent and subtlety. Jimena professes, “Tsuria and I spent so much time preparing the most complicated scenes of the play but each time was as if it was the first time. She has an impressive ability to seem honest and spontaneous every single time. It’s very easy for an actor to simply learn one way that works and always deliver lines in this manner but Tsuria is always searching for something that is in the moment. When you work with her, you pay attention because just like the audience, you want to see how she is going to perform each time. Her professional way is simple, she enjoys the entire process. What for I really admire about her is how she always kept a good vibe and positive energy, even in stressful situations. In live theater there are no retakes, you must perform and persevere. When you learn to do that with such artistry, as Tsuria does, I’d have to imagine that acting on a set which gives you the opportunity to do several takes with different approaches…it gives her even more chances to impress those she works with as she did during our time together.” The bond between the two lead characters and actresses was palpable during the performances of Perras. Cultivated in over a year of work, the cast often rehearsed without any props to focus solely on the emotional content and interaction of the characters. The direction that Guillermo Rios instilled in her is something which Diaz credits to this day for her professional work on stage and TV. She notes, “Guillermo was rough on us at times to be honest but he helped me to learn and understand how to own the truth onstage. He never allowed us to ‘lie’ and this is the foundation of my acting skills. I feel very thankful to him, even though it was a hard at rehearsals. It’s as if he built this chip in my head; this inner voice that in every single audition, project, or class I’m taking tells me, ‘Slow down and see the world as she (the character) would see it.’ That fact alone was well worth all of the hard work.”

There’s not a lot that Tsuria Diaz has in common with her character Marimar but…it is acting. A fifteen-year old pregnant teenage girl who unwittingly kills herself and conceals the reasons from her best friend is a dark persona to inhabit. Diaz finds it necessary to leave the character’s emotional journey on the stage and not carry it into her everyday life. While onstage she is clear about her process stating, “The scene where Marimar explains how she did the abortion by herself and the last scene in which she is seated and singing the national anthem (because she used to sing it happy and proud but now she is dead) are particularly difficult emotionally. You literally breathe through the pain, guilt, and fear in these scenes. This is why I love acting, because you understand human nature. Without judging, just deep empathy for another human being is what you feel. Marimar died because the son she was expecting was from her best friend’s dad. She inserted a hook inside her thinking it would work, but it was despair and guilt that drove her to death. Acting allows me to inhabit the lives of these characters and learn from them. In honesty, it makes me better as a person.” An avid lover of dogs (she has rescued seven) gives a glimpse into the warmth that is underneath the surface of Tsuria Diaz in every role. Even her darker characters have an endearing vibe about them. She concedes that it is essential to every role to find that tenderness stating, “I want to achieve the best version of me as a woman, I can possibly be. To be honest, the best way of living my role as a successful actress would be helping as much as possible, indirectly or in a direct way. I have met many successful actors and business men and they all have something in common more than fame or money, they are humble. It’s a trait that is important to me. I want to achieve real empathy.

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I want to touch someone’s heart and move love or hate, hope or fear, but I always want to move them. It has to be sincere though; I hate when someone is fake, I want to keep it real, in my personal life and as my characters.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Actress Mariana Montes captivates audiences in Spanish classic “The House of Bernarda Alba”

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Actress Mariana Montes

While growing up in Mexico City, Mariana Montes loved the arts. As a child, she would make up stories in her head, and as she matured, she realized that acting out these stories was where her passion truly was. For her, acting is giving voice to one’s thoughts, and what a voice she gives.

After rising to the top as one of Mexico’s best actresses, Montes began to be recognized internationally for her talents. While working on the musical Too Many Tamales with the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, Montes showed off her comedic capabilities while acting, singing, and dancing. More recently, she played a very different role in the Spanish classic The House of Bernarda Alba, created by Federico Garcia Lorca.

The House of Bernarda Alba is one of the most important plays ever written in Spanish language. It’s a very powerful play that has very deep characters. It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with such rich material,” said Montes. “I defend freedom, women’s rights, love, I am against racism, I support people who love each other doesn’t matter what sex they are. I am a pacifist. Lorca was murdered during the civil war in Spain because of his political believes and his sexual orientation. This play is great to make a point about our broken society. This was written in 1936, and as incredible as it seems this play is still as recent as ever.”

The play tells the story of Bernarda Alba and her five daughters. Immediately following the death of her husband, Bernarda announces that they will observe an eight-year mourning period in which they will not leave the house. The play takes place in the house of Bernarda Alba in a small Andalusian village during a sweltering hot spell in the summer of 1936. Montes has a principal role in the play, playing Martirio, the second of the five daughters.

“Martirio is a very dark role. She is the most emotionally traumatized of the characters. She has a lot of resentment toward her mother. Her freedom is completely oppressed. Her mother ruined her future marriage because she thought the man who wanted to marry her wasn’t good for the family reputation because his social class was lower than theirs. We are talking about a very traditional society and a lot of rules were to be obey,” described Montes. “Martirio is a lead role who brings all the conflict to the story when she tells her mother about the affair her youngest sister Adela is having with Pepe el Romano who is Angustia’s fiancé, the oldest of the five sisters.”

An important aspect to the character of Martirio is the hump she has, which contributes to her many insecurities. Finding the correct posture was the first step Montes took to truly become her character. The director, Denise Blasor, didn’t want a fake hump to be used, so Montes had to readjust her body to give the impression that she had one.

Blasor has worked in the industry for over 35 years. She is the Associate Artistic Director of The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, and describes Montes as a wonderful asset to the theatre community.

“One of the first things that I noticed about Mariana was that her talent comes naturally. She is an artist of many dimensions and manages to capture the hearts of all whom she works with.  Her commitment to creatively explore her role with sensitivity, intellect and humor and the multitude of skills that she possesses while still maintaining humility and an open mind is a testament to her character and personable demeanor. Mariana is smart, talented, dedicated, professional and a pleasure to work with. She always brings new ideas to the table and inspires her peers with her fast creativity, wit and generous acting style,” said Blasor.

These thoughts were echoed by her fellow cast members, who describes Montes as a pleasure to work with. Elisa Noemi, who plays another sister in the show, says that you can always trust Montes on stage. For Montes, working with everyone was one of the best parts of the experience.

“I had an amazing experience with this production. I love the professionalism of the company. From the cast to the crew, everyone was on top of their game. I love the vision our director had. I got to meet new artists and now I have great relationships with them,” she said.

The production was performed last year at The Barnsdall Gallery Theater in Hollywood, with a second run at Ruth B. Shannon Center. Due to their success, the cast filmed a short film of the play, which was nominated for Best Theatrical Short at the 2015 Imagen Awards. The Imagen Awards honors and recognizes the positive portrayals of Latinos and Latino cultures in film, television and new media and celebrates the achievement of Latino talent in the entertainment industry.

This play will also be performed later this summer with the same cast at the Shannon Center of the Performing Arts in Whittier, California.

BRAZIL’S VICTOR LUCENA GAINS CRITICAL ACCLAIM AND FANS IN “ARRUFOS”

Stage actor Victor Lucena knows a great deal about love. Yes, he has leading man looks and charisma but that’s not the reason. As a lead actor in the play Arrufos (translated as “Tiffs” in English) by XIX Theater Group in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Lucena explored various representation of love. Every actor uses a part of themselves and takes something with them from a role. As a celebrated theater actor in Brazil, Victor is recognized for his willingness to take on complicated roles as he did in Arrufos. The play received awards from the Shell Theatre Awards, the Sao Paulo Art Critics Association Awards, the Sao Paulo Theatre Co-Op Association, and countless others. As the lead actor in this production, Lucena’s ability to emote and relate to the three different characters he performs as in Arrufos was the driving force which led to these achievements. We all know about love but to communicate its various representations in a way that we can all relate to takes an actor of great skill and sensitivity. This Brazilian thespian’s decision to focus on theater rather than film is because of the changing nature of each performance that he thrives upon. Rather than embracing the security of a perfect take, Victor basks in the uncertainty that performing in front of a live audience grants. This is an appropriate metaphor for the changing aspects of love in each of our lives, which again points directly to Lucena’s astute attitude and ability at performing his roles in Arrufos.

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Victor’s work with the XIX Theater Group has driven them to become one of the most beloved and respected of their kind in Brazil; it’s an attribute that Luiz Fernando Marquez (director of XIX Theater Group) does not take lightly. Marques declares, “Victor has an endless collection of credits. There can be no question that our incredible critical acclaim and commercial success is entirely thanks to Mr. Lucena’s leading role. Arrufos consistently achieved massive commercial success through sold out shows with large audiences, resulting in numerous awards. Victor’s unprecedented skillset allowed him to convey three extraordinarily different and crucial characters in such a way that the audience was able to understand the overarching theme of the production. Victor’s versatility as an actor was an invaluable asset to the creation of this production.” Lucena is the type of actor who delights both his peers and his audience, a testament to his talent and his professionalism. He is also quick to throw accolades to his director and co-stars as reasons behind the acclaim that Arrufos received. The actor notes, “Luiz Fernando Marques is truly talented, particularly in the way that he is able to take on the audience’s perspective. He is able to approach it with a fresh set of eyes each time and understand how the audience will see things, rather than getting lost in a director’s mind. My co-stars: Rodolfo Amorim, Ronaldo Serruya, Juliana Sanches and Janaina Leite…they all have such passion and presence! I’m fortunate that their performances challenged me to work at such a high level. Working with the best forces you to become even better…which is why I do it.”

One of the reasons that Victor was so lauded for his work in Arrufos is in regards to his multiple performances in the play and their believability. The production is a research into the history of love in Brazil, and was written into numerous skits and sketches which show the differing ways love can be perceived, given, and received. Despite wildly different depictions of this highly complex emotion, the overall theme of the play is the strength and prevalence of love across time and space. As a leading actor for Arrufos, Mr. Lucena performed three leading characters: The Priest, The Doctor, and The Lonely. Each character is a different look into various aspects of love. The Priest acts as a conduit of the influence of the Catholic Church in the 1700’s on love and faith, the Doctor establishes opposition to the church and the science of love, and the Lonely represents the lack of hope in life when loneliness is prominent and how love conquers it. Victor explains the acts of the play, “It is a really fascinating emotional curve for the actors involved in this play. The first act is so deep, dark, and heavy. Regardless of all the speeches we all have in it; it seems too silent. In order to create that atmosphere, we all would breathe together for a few minutes and then, about 15 minutes before play starts, each actor and actress would get quiet and start concentrating for it. The second act is much lighter. We took the heaviness off of the atmosphere to break away from the First Act, which is kind of relief for the actors and the audience. The Third Act was a joy! It was especially fun because we break the fourth wall; that was something that I felt really confident and comfortable with. A play is a live organism and as so it is always varying. While a song can be performed in the same way night after night in an orchestra, that’s impossible for a play; it depends on so many different variables. I think consistency is the most important achievement for a good performance but you have to explore new places at the same time.”

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When a performance is as recognized by both consumers and critics, it’s natural to be curious about the preparation of the actor. For his roles in Arrufos, Lucena immersed himself with inspiration for the mood by reading books and watching films about the different presentations of love. He even created a specific playlist which he would listen to for 30 minutes prior to each performance. This gives credence to the idea that art inspires art. While Victor admits to ignoring critics during the run of the play, he admits to one self-congratulatory moment. He reveals, “During the First Act, as the Priest, I’d have to hide under a tiny bed, change clothes and “sing” a prayer in the complete darkness. To do all this, I had only about two and a half minutes, which is the time the character of the father had to give his speech. I’m 5’11’’ and the bed is about 5’5”. I truly believed that there was no way I could do all of this in such a cramped space, but I did and every time. When  I finished I’d secretly celebrate.” Perhaps it is this attitude, that of a man who focuses on the little things rather than worrying about grand acceptance from critics, that communicates Lucena’s joy of the stage and all its possibilities to a welcoming group of admirers.

Keanu Uchida Embodies a Champion Horse in New Musical “Dancer”

Keanu Uchida is still a fresh face in the professional dance world but he has already achieved considerable diversity and prestige in his career.

While still studying dance at his home dance studio near Ottawa, Uchida was honored with acceptance into the highly-respected summer intensive program at The Julliard School in 2013.

He has also received many regional and international titles in dance competition, making him one to watch in Canada and beyond. Most notably, he was awarded the title of Senior Male Best Dancer in 2014 at international dance event, The Dance Awards and given the opportunity to assist celebrated choreographers like Travis Wall, Nick Lazzarini, Mia Michaels, and Al Blackstone at conventions.

The multi-talented Uchida, who is a musician as well as a student of physics at The University of Toronto, is making big contributions to the professional dance community with his work on screen and on stage. He danced leading roles as a principal dancer on BBC television series, The Next Step and was hand-selected by head choreographer, Jeff Dimitriou to appear as one of only 15 dancers in the 2015 Pan American Games Closing Ceremonies production which was broadcast to an international audience.

“Keanu is simply brilliant,” says Stacey Tookey, who oversees contemporary dance for the NUVO Dance Convention and is probably best known for her appearances as a resident choreographer and guest judge on the Canadian and American versions of the dance competition reality show So You Think You Can Dance.

Canadian dancer Keanu Uchida

Uchida has also proven an invaluable contributor to dance in Toronto as a featured dancer in immersive and challenging performances by leaders in the city’s contemporary dance scene.

“I often create while channeling Keanu’s movement and essence,” says Cora Kozaris, choreographer of CARNÉ, a bold, new work debuting at one of Toronto’s oldest contemporary dance presenting organizations, Dancemakers Centre for Creation. “His uniqueness and creativity is harmonious with my mind. Together, we inspire each other to push boundaries.”

Uchida is looking forward to the next evolutionary step in his career as he immerses himself in the leading role, Northern Dancer in the upcoming musical theater production, Dancer, which is expected to debut in Spring 2017 at Toronto’s historic Elgin Theatre.

After a competitive audition process that lasted two days and lured many of Canada’s best dancers, he waited months for casting results to discover he was being offered to lead the cast as a race horse that is crowned Canada’s first winner of the Kentucky Derby. Uchida spent an intense three weeks last Spring working with Tookey, who is choreographer for the show, and producer John McKellar to artistically draft the scripted dance pieces during the workshop phase of the production.

“Digging into the creative process with both Stacey and John was a compelling experience,” recalls Uchida. “Both asked a lot from me regarding my character and discovering the role of Northern Dancer became a collaborative effort. I was given artistic freedom to try lots of things.”

The musical, told in “ten furlongs” and split into two acts, follows Northern Dancer’s steady rise to success. A horse no one wanted to buy, he forms special relationships with his owners, is trained and put to the test in race after race, eventually becoming a national symbol of pride. The story is an emotional journey as he seeks acceptance from the equine community and of himself.

The character of Norther Dancer has no lines in the musical, though he is in almost every scene. He communicates through body language and dance with friends and a few enemies throughout the performance. The technical and demanding choreography by Tookey requires of Uchida significant grace, poise, and control, not to mention, imagination and the ability to explore and innovate.

“Lots of movement was developed from improvisation, where I was asked to embody the horse and embrace its motion as naturally as possible,” says Uchida. “I wasn’t asked to ‘dance’ like a horse, but rather to be one.”

Uchida’s capabilities as a very creative and dextrous dancer made him perfect for this character and its development.

“Keanu’s ability to implement his creative vision while adhering to tight deadlines is what makes him an essential asset to any project he is a part of,” says Tookey.

Toronto-based dancer, Keanu Uchida

Fellow dancers and choreographers with whom Uchida has worked repeatedly mention his unique brilliance and artistry as a performer.

“Besides his physical capabilities, he has an incredible way of bringing you into a world,” explains Julia Cratchley, who hired Uchida last year for an immersive dance project with her company TranscenDANCE. “He will make you believe anything he does and captivate you doing even the slightest thing.”

Being thrown into a central role in a musical has inspired Uchida to take voice lessons.

“This process has completely sparked my interest in musical theatre,” he remarks.

Given his dedication and talent, it seems inevitable that no matter where Uchida’s career takes him next, audiences are very likely to see more of this young professional on stage in the future.

DIVERSITY IS A GUITARIST’S BEST FRIEND

 

Indian born guitarist Nipun Nair is a music purist…when it comes to being a great musician but not about the genre he is playing. Consider his latest work on Anthony Cruz’s premier major release “Cosas Del Destino”. Cruz is riding the wave of Latin pop artists whose ever increasing fan base is steadily taking over major radio and popular concert tours (Nair’s guitar work can be heard on the first single “Me Vuelas La Cabeza” currently in major rotation in New York, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, and many other markets). The songs are catchy and the musicianship is top grade. All of Nipun’s influences combine in a way that lifts the songs and supports the vocals. It’s no wonder that Tushar Menon (music journalist for Prog Magazine, Rolling Stone, and other music publications) referred to Nair’s playing as, “that elusive combination of technical and enjoyable. There is much in his music to satisfy seasoned musicians as well as excite non-musicians.”  Top level music production and great recorded performances, combined with Cruz’s matinee good looks are a steady move towards a Hollywood ending; seemingly a world away from Nipun’s early success in India with his band Public Issue. Public Issue garners its identity from the world of rock and funk. Bordering on soulful and even progressive rock at times, the band started out as undergrad friends who wanted to play as a hobby. The group was as surprised as anyone when they immediately started winning competitions and fans, playing to crowds of 5,000 or more. Tours and television performances on music channels like VHI and Channel [v] followed. Press fast forward just a short amount of time and Nipun has travelled to the U.S. and, within days he was contacted to perform in a band, one of whose vocalists happens to be Anthony Cruz. Not only did Anthony take notice of Nair’s abilities, but the creative team behind him did so as well. This team includes Deborah Corday, Randy Phillips, and Rafael Esparza Ruiz (cumulatively they have worked with; Toni Braxton, Rod Stewart, Ricky Martin, Santana, Justin Timberlake, Prince, and many others). Their recognition of the guitarist’s talent and their desire to have him involved is quite an achievement in itself. The weight of the moment is not lost to Nipun who tells, “I was in disbelief at how I was able to come so far so soon. It felt like the moment I stepped into the country things started to happen. Now Anthony’s music is playing on all the Latin radio stations in the country; the songs for which I recorded guitars. The feeling is overwhelming and incredible.” Anthony Cruz 2

Some of the most successful artists in today’s music market are those who are the most diverse. Modern artists use their association with well known products and services (Apple, Kia, etc.) to jump start a new career or give new life to former glory years. Placement is as valid an avenue for artists as radio, possibly even more so due to the ubiquitous nature of music in our society. Many advertising agencies recognize this and employ contemporary artists as composers to create a sound canvas; artists like Nipun Nair. Nipun has enjoyed a successful career as a music composer with Rubecon Creative Solutions in India. Nair has created numerous scores for Rubecon’s campaigns which aired on major television networks (Zee TV, Star Plus, Channel V, etc) and in large cinemas like SPI Cinemas. Massive audiences were exposed to his work. Rubecon’s Alexander Zachariah confirms, “Not only did Nipun prove to be crucial to the success of the productions we did for our clients, but he also proved to be an integral part of the success of our agency.” Nipun has put these skills to use here in the U.S. working with Barbara Cohen to compose music for Dunkin Donuts and Hewlett Packard. Award-winning composer Luis Guerra is the founder of Terremoto Productions Inc., an audio production company that has compositions in feature films like Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (Tina Fey), Fallen Angel (CBS), and countless commercial campaigns for companies such as Honda, Samsung, and others. Guerra hopes to make use of Nair’s abilities creating music for projects with Mountain Dew, Disney Channel, and building the Terremoto Music Library.

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For 2015’s Dreaming is a Private Thing, Nair was given a multitude of challenges. Filmmakers Alan Sardana and AJ Smith needed a score which would resemble and reinforce their film’s topic of corporal and electronic existence. They needed a modern sound with a sense of humanity. The film is based on the story by legendary science fiction writer Isaac Asimov and has a cast of three characters; Eli Lee (played by Leo Lee [Swordfish, The Replacement Killers, Contact]) the world’s last filmmaker and Sam’s creator, Sam (Dan Mousseau) the android/camera, and Samantha (Susie Park [Spider-Man 2, Miracle on 34th Street, The Chaos Factor]) the lead actress in Eli and Sam’s films. Due to the small size of the film’s cast, the score needed to become the fourth member of the ensemble, enabling the audience to further connect with the characters. Nipun’s score achieved this as well as complementing the characters. At times the music is dreamy and digital and yet, intermittently introduces overtly analog and “human” traits. Vacillating between man and machine was a goal the score achieved…all within three days! Nair reveals, “Short on time for submission to festivals, he [AJ Smith] would send me scene after scene and I was writing and recording as quick as possible. I’d watch the scene and compose something to capture the feel of it…but I didn’t have time to think about it. I was going on instinct and first impressions. It was exciting but a little crazy as well. I was happy that AJ and Alan were excited about the score. Dreaming…went on to be screened at the Toronto Short Film Festival as well as a win [for Best Production Design] at the Ryerson University Film Festival in Canada.” RED Bean Can

In addition to composing for film, Nair has been a part of creating music for live theater for years. As any actor can tell you, the two are similar but very different animals at the same time. For many years, Nipun worked with The Little Theater and its founder (award winning director and playwright) Aysha Rau. The theater, which focuses on fostering the creativity of underprivileged children, has received worldwide acclaim for productions like The R.E.D.Bean Can which has toured internationally. The R.E.D. Bean Can was selected out of sixty productions from all over the world to be performed at the 22nd International Children and Young Adults Theater Festival in IRAN. This production was Nair’s most recent compositional offering to The Little Theater. Founder Aysha Rau comments on his work, “I am floored by Nipun’s ingenuity as a composer. He brings a sense of freshness to his work that galvanizes the theater time and time again through his original compositions. It is because of his talent and dedication that our productions have been immensely successful and garnered significant press coverage.” Nair has composed the music for countless productions at The Little Theater; one of the most popular is the annual Christmas Pantomime which has attracted sponsors including; Coca Cola, Ford, and Citibank, to name just a few.

Nipun has also used his skill as a composer in live theater to benefit the Theater of Will in southern California. This non-profit arts and education company is supported by LADWP and performs musicals about water conservation. Award winning author/playwright/actor/director and president of Theater of Will, Willard Simms, confirms, “As his diverse array of achievements clearly indicates, Nipun Nair is among the most elite composers and performing musicians working in the field today.” The success did not come as an easy happenstance for the India born composer. Nair emphasizes, “The Water Wizard shows and the concert series posed specific challenges as a musician. You are trying to educate kids through music in a way that is fresh, stimulating and entertaining…but in a not too obviously educational way. The key is great lyrics and catchy melodies. Having a charismatic stage presence really helps when you are performing for an audience of hundreds.” It seems that Nipun will soon be performing for crowds of thousands (or more) again alongside Anthony Cruz; that charisma on stage will come in quite handy.Nipun solo 3

For the multitalented Zoe Cleland, acting ‘never seemed like a choice’

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Actress Zoe Cleland has shined in her roles in “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town,” “Murdoch Mysteries,” “Reign” and more.

 

 

For Canadian actress Zoe Cleland, the journey began on the stage, advanced to the screen and has featured her becoming many memorable characters across comedy, drama, mystery and more.

“I think every time I do a new project, I grow as an actor and as a human being,” she said. “One of the things I love about acting is that it’s not static. Every job requires me to expand myself and my vision of the world.”

Her own story is one characterized by ambition, talent and success. She began performing for theatrical productions as a child and made her TV debut on “Murdoch Mysteries” at the age of 15. By the age of 17, Cleland was among a dozen actors – and the youngest ever – to be chosen for the National Theatre School of Canada, a milestone selection into her home country’s top conservatory training program.

“I literally knew I wanted to be an actress when I was about 5,” Cleland said. “It never seemed like a choice to me. It was always just part of who I was. For about a year, when I was really little, I used to watch “The Wizard of Oz” every day and told everyone at my school that my name was Dorothy! My parents took me to a lot of theatre as a kid. They would take me to the Stratford Festival every year and I remember that being the first time I started thinking of acting as a profession beyond playing dress-up at home. I remember being about 4 years old and seeing a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that seemed like the most magical thing on earth.”

Cleland, a Toronto-born talent, is classically trained and among her performing arsenal, she’s studied dramatic combat and is well versed in singing, dialects and accents including British, Irish, Scottish and American.

While attending the National Theatre School, Cleland starred in eight productions at the conservatory including her own self-written solo show, “Drawing White,” and in a production of Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters,” in the role of Irina, one of the sisters.

“I also played the Fool in “King Lear,” which was a lot of fun. Sometimes just doing scene work in a lot of detail was most rewarding,” said Cleland. “The great thing about theatre school is that they give you so much time to just totally dive into things and pick everything apart as much as you want, so sometimes just doing scene study was great because you got the chance to look at something from every possible angle.”

The training and experience helped groom Cleland, 24, into a dynamic, well-rounded and brilliant actress with a world of authenticity and performing charisma.

“I think in all honesty going to theatre school taught me more about how I am as a person than any one thing about acting,” she said. “I went when I was really young, 17-19, so I was really still just trying to figure out who I was. The whole thing was such an intense experience and it changed me so much. I think overall it taught me to trust my own internal guidance system and let that lead me in my work, rather than looking to the outside for someone to tell me what I should do.”

Cleland later went on to star in the theatre productions of “Wishes of This & the Other Thing” directed by Rose Plotek and “The Chimes” directed by Nancy Palk. In 2013, Cleland received the Theatre Centre Emerging Artist Award at the Summerworks Festival for her starring role in “Girls! Girls! Girls!” directed by Donna Marie Baratta and Jessica Carmichael. The play is about a group of 14-year-olds who one night decide to attack one of their peers.

“It is written in a poetic, playful style that makes it kind of otherworldly,” Cleland said. “I played Jam, who is a follower just trying to fit in and be liked. She ends up getting in way over her head in the violence that her friends are perpetrating. She struggles with her integrity when she realizes that they have gone too far.”

Parlaying her strong theatre background into TV recognition, Cleland went on to land recurring roles on the CW’s fantasy drama series, “Reign,” starring Adelaide Kane and Megan Follows, and Bite TV’s comedy series, “Guidance” starring Rob Baker.

Millie Tom has worked in the casting of more than 50 films and 19 different TV titles including “A History of Violence,” “The Incredible Hulk” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” She said, “I have known Zoe since she was 15 years old, when she first started auditioning. I believe she has a unique, magnetic quality that lends itself perfectly to film and television. I cast her in two projects since she graduated the National Theatre School, one being “Guidance,” a comedy series about three inept guidance counselors working in a high school.”

In five episodes of “Guidance,” Cleland played Morgan, a student who approaches the counselors for help.

“She was so good as Morgan, a precocious teenager who was being bullied,” Tom said. “She nailed her role as the ‘straight man’ to Rob Baker, who played opposite her, while at the same time pulling off the comedic timing that made the show a success.”

Cleland kept the momentum going and booked roles on the History Channel’s “Brainwashed,” Craig Macnaughton’s comedy webseries, “Pay Up” and in the hit supernatural medical drama, “Saving Hope” starring Erica Durance.

Most recently, Cleland returned for a guest starring role in “Murdoch Mysteries,” for the episode – “Raised on Robbery” – that aired in January on the CBC. She also made her feature film debut in writer-director Jeremy LaLonde’s comedy, “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town,” that’s been screening on the independent film circuit and won Best Feature and Best Ensemble awards at the 2016 Canadian Filmmakers’ Festival. The film stars Jewel Staite, Lauren Lee Smith and Lauren Holly.

“I loved the sense that we were all collaborating and making something together, and that everyone’s thoughts were valued and taken into consideration,” Cleland said.

We’re excited to see Zoe Cleland in many future roles to come. Check out Zoe’s work on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/zoecleland and follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/ZoeCleland

 

 

 

Look Out for Dynamic UK Actress Davina Cole!

Michael Wharley.2
Actress Davina Cole shot by Michael Wharley

 

Davina Cole, who recently earned a nomination for a Best Actress Award at London’s 7th annual SOLO Festival of One Man Shows for her performance in “All the Colours,” is one fiercely talented London-based actress that deserves to be on everyone’s radar.

Her performance as Salimatu in “All the Colours,” a captivating one-woman show that she both wrote and starred in, garnered attention across continents with Tony Award winning actress Starletta Dupois saying, “Davina’s performance of ‘All the Colours’ at the 22nd Los Angeles Womens Theatre Festival was very moving filled with twists and turns says The selection of characters she plays takes you on an emotional journey and gives you a clear insight into what it’s like to become a refugee and have to leave your home. The performance was truly moving and brought me to tears.”

As a child Cole would spend her Saturdays watching old films where actresses like Grace Kelly, Julie Andrews, Sofia Loren, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn mesmerized and inspired her. Not one to simply dream without taking action, she began taking acting classes, which helped her perfect her craft early on in her youth.

Earlier in her career Cole took on the pivotal role of Mama Sanami in the Kabaslot Theatre’s original production of “Wilberforce Bell,” a dramatic comedy that follows what happens when a prized bell given to the village of Wilberforce in Sierra Leone by the Governor General is stolen.

The production, which was directed by Dwight Short and debuted at The Broadway Theatre in Catford, London marked a major turning point in Cole’s career. While “Wilberforce Bell” resonated strongly with the actress due to the fact that her familial roots are based in Sierra Leone, the production offered her the challenges she needed to grow as a performer and she rose to the occasion with flawless precision.

She recalls, “This play really took me out of my comfort zone, as I had to learn different elements of my home language Krio.”

Prior to “Wilberforce Bell,” Cole took on the starring role of Delilah in “1867” written by Theresa Roche, a powerful sold-out production that received rave reviews.

Since making her name known in the international theatre world, Cole has gone on to prove her prowess as a film actress with an astonishing level of depth that continues to land her leading roles.

Today Cole is known for her roles in films including Rodney V. Williams’ “Therapy Sessions,” award-winning director Francoise Ellong’s “When Soukhina Disappeared,” and Simon Gedney “Cyborg Ninja vs. Vampires,” and the Discovery Channel TV series “Sinister Mysteries.”

Davina Cole has an undeniable knack for taking on strong women characters, something she has proven through the plethora of theatre productions she has done to date; but in Caleb Davis’ film “Two Easels” where the actress played the starring role of Kate, Cole revealed her ability to create the perfect balance between her character’s tough exterior and the subtle vulnerability of her inner yearning for love.

A ‘When Harry Met Sally’-esqu light-hearted comedy, “Two Easels” follows two street artists, Kate and Jack. When Jack tries to move in on Kate’s local wall, Kate gets increasingly frustrated until a competition is set to decide which artist has the strongest skill. In the midst of the heated competition a strong attraction forms between the two artist and Kate and Jack go on to not only fall in love, but form a fruitful artistic collaboration as well.

In Williams’ film “Therapy Sessions,” Cole heightened the story’s drama and showed the sharpness of her proverbial teeth when she took on the starring role of Sandra. A highly regarded and sought after relationship therapist, Sandra appears to have it together, at least when she’s leading a therapy session; but in her everyday life, Sandra struggles with her emotions as much as her patients.

A film that examines what happens when the lines between a therapist’s personal life and her relationship with her patients begin to blur, “Therapy Sessions” follows Michael and Lidia, a struggling couple who hire Sandra to help them work out their issues. When Sandra receives a call towards the end of their session, Lidia’s suspicion over Michael’s infidelity is brought to a head when Sandra violently calls out Michael for having an affair with her sister.

Looking towards the future, Cole says, “I hope to get meatier roles, which will push me further as an artist. I really admire the body of work and talent of Angela Bassett and Viola Davis and I would love to work them.”

In addition to shooting the upcoming soap opera “My Church and Family” where she takes on the leading role of Vivian, Cole is currently taking her one-woman show “All the Colours” on tour in the UK.