Friday, August 30, 2013

Saying goodbye to the Gibson Amphitheatre

 Whether it be the classic intro to The Who's "Pinball Wizard," or Nancy Wilson's high energy riff on "Crazy on You" or even a ballad like Bryan Adams' "Have you Ever Really Loved a Woman," just hearing the first few chords of a guitar in any song stirs something in all of us...
About to play out its final chords is the namesake arena of Gibson Guitars, the Gibson Amphitheatre, home of numerous legendary performances since it opened in 1972.

Hosting legends such as Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Grateful Dead, Kanye West, and even Madonna, this amphitheatre is best known for its mind blowing acoustics. Former presidents have spoken here, musicals have taken over this stage, as well as a long list of awards shows over the years. The last awards show hosted at the venue ever was the Teen Choice Awards earlier this month. My friend and fellow performer Nicole Pano was there working on the show and created this inside peek behind the scenes while she shares some fun trivia and a partial tour of this amazing acoustic triumph that will be missed by many.

Here is a sign of the times......the Gibson is part of Universal Studios City Walk which is a larger part of the Universal Studios Theme Park.... The Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme ride will replace this 41 year old arena.

Avril Lavigne performing Gibson Amphitheatre

Travel with Nicole Pano and friends to behind the scenes at the Teen Choice Awards while they share trivia and FUN facts of the Gibson Amphitheater!

There are still a few weeks to check out final farewell shows before the wrecking ball strikes!

The Gibson Amphitheatre was known as the Universal Amphitheatre until 2005.


Wikipedia, Gibson_Amphitheatre - Wikipedia

TravelwithNicole on YouTube Travel with Nicole...YouTube Channel

Huffington Post at

Nicole Pano....follow her on twitter...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Saturday Night.....all alone

Recently on the Las Vegas strip, a cast of passionate and talented performers transformed the third floor stage of the Hard Rock Cafe into 1928 Brooklyn, for an afternoon performance of Stephen Sondheim's musical, Saturday Night.

This is one of my favorite types of productions, where performers who don't work together on a regular basis team up to stage a one time show. It can either turn out to be a grand slam or a bunt, but that's what makes it fun. Here in Las Vegas, where most of our mainstays are amazing and big budget shows who are on a multi year run with mostly the same cast, collaborations like this is are an occasional breath of fresh air.

In Saturday Night, it's 1928, in Brooklyn, New York.....A time of prohibition and the "boom" just before the Great Depression. Several bachelor friends are restless on Saturday night because they have no dates. Gene, who works in a menial position in a wall street brokerage, has dreams of the exciting society life to be found in Manhattan, while his friends are content to stay in the neighborhood. Gene meets Helen who is crashing a party (as is Gene) and he schemes to "get rich quick"  and escape the humdrum of Brooklyn into the Manhattan society scene. However his plan backfires and he barely escapes jail.....

Ayler Evan (Gene).....Amanda Kaiser (Helen)

The Bridge is my rainbow,
The Bridge is my friend
And it's got a pot of gold at the other end.

(Lyrics from "Class)

The young guys in Saturday Night represent the unskilled and casual workers who lived at or just below the poverty line but within eyesight of the wealthy. This was especially true in a town like Brooklyn where one could smell the prosperity of the richest city in the world just beyond their front porch. However as most of us have learned, wanting something and knowing how to get it are two different things. (After all, we didn't even recognize basic civil rights yet in America.)  

In 1928 the U.S. had recently started putting quotas on immigration. Mass automobile production was making everything more accessible to the average American, and Wall street was in a boom market. This was also the height of prohibition, which internally corroded the country more than the legal sale of alcohol ever could putting the average American directly in contact with members of organized crime, to get their libations.

This was also the time of flappers, (think Clara Bow and the "It" girl). The 1920's represented a lot of change for women. They'd been given the right to vote.  Many had also dumped old restrictive habits and joined the men in speakeasies, jazz clubs, and the work force.  They gave up the corsets, smoked, drank and stayed out all night. Dances like the Black Bottom stomp were popular. The flappers scandalized many Americans.

There  was even an organization formed called the "Anti - flirt Association" which tried to persuade young Americans to behave "decently!"...Soon enough the crash of 29' changed most everyone's priorities in America from prosperity and pleasure to that of simply surviving.

Carnell Johnson, Olga Rios, Alex Olson
This production was staged using what is commonly referred to as Broadway Jazz which is an intimate hybrid of two American staples in performance...jazz cabaret and story telling. The intimacy of cabaret settings, the simplicity of storytelling, and the excitement of Broadway music and choreography are all melded into one.Broadway Jazz breaks all walls of performance. Performers seamlessly flow from traditional stand and deliver cabaret performance, to interconnected work with other performers, and even interaction with the audience. Music is stripped to it's core with a jazz trio adding a swing to the wonderfully arranged vocals.

Above paragraph Excerpt from the Playbill

Stephen Sondheim on writing "Saturday Night"....At the age of 22 I was a young and flawed professional, but not an amateur. I had worked on four musicals. There was a play called "Front Porch in Flatbush" that had never been produced. Written by two brothers (Epstein brothers) that were primarily screenwriters, and they had written this about their childhood.... I was asked to produce it as a musical.

Top row (left to right) - Alex Mendoza (Hank), Lance Bryant (Artie), Alex Olson (Bobby)
Middle (left to right) - Jen Baciagalupi (Celeste), Olga Rios (Florence), Margaret Menzies (Mildred)
Bottom row (left to right) - Daniel Hunter Jr. (Ray), Carnell Johnson (Dino), Herbert Thames (Ted)

Photographer (this and all photos)....Shamish Gamage

Not pictured in this blog;Gus Langley - Pinhead,Tim Molyneux - Nightclub Singer, Brian Scott - Narrator

The cast was comprised of mostly Las Vegas theater professionals who volunteered their time for a good cause....a fundraiser for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America,

Saturday Night

Las Vegas
Hard Rock Cafe
August 11, 2013

Andrew Wright......Director
Alec Ryan Bart......Musical Director
Callie Johnson......Choreographer
Taylor Coull...........Stage Manager


Brian Scott.................Narrator
Ayler Evan.................Gene
Amanda Kaiser..........Helen
Carnell Johnson.........Dino
Lance Bryant..............Artie
Daniel Hunter Jr.........Ray
Herbert Thames.........Ted
Jen Baciagalupi..........Celeste
Alex Mendoza.............Hank
Alex Olson..................Bobby
Margaret Menzies.......Mildred
Olga Rios...................Florence
Gus Langley...............Pinhead
Tim Molyneux............Nightclub Singer


Alec Ryan Bart...........Piano
John Kuhlman............Bass
Matt Murphy...............Drums

Music & Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Book by Julies J. Epstein & Phillip G. Epstein

"Saturday Night".....Cast Photo

Special thanks to...

Caitlin Shea
Las Vegas Little Theatre
Hard Rock Cafe Staff and Crew
Cheryl Reuttiger and the Ruby Foundation
Angela Chan
Cirque du Soleil

For more information on the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America 
please visit our website at

Some of the above is a source from

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Many Capes of D'Manti

The first time I ever met D'Manti was at The Coffee Bean on Sunset Blvd. She had just moved to L.A. from Hawaii and my friend Nicole and I were there to meet her.

When she arrived and walked towards us, we looked at her, and then at each other....both thinking the same thing...."she is one of the most beautiful people we have ever seen!" It was as if she was followed around by some kind of personal spotlight. Turns out she was also smart, ambitious and warm.  She is responsible for introducing me to the best margaritas in L.A. (Spanish Kitchen), and for convincing me to buy the most perfect black leather pants that I wore for several years until they just recently finally fell apart (at the 2013 Billboard Awards).

We only kept in casual touch until the fall of 2011 when I ran into her at a party for the Latin Grammys, which are held in Las Vegas. She was here to celebrate because her song Tonight had hit the Billboard Dance Charts. Turns out since I'd last seen her she had released a few international singles such as...Candela, Shake, and Step Through the Door.

Now her song Let's Just Dance has risen up the Billboard Club Play charts to number five just behind Inaya Day and Robin Thicke. Her last release Tonight made it all the way to #15 on the charts!

Who is this fiery talent D'Manti?

D'Manti talks to Hollywood Underdog...

What's new with you D'Manti?
I have a new single out called "Let's Just Dance" that is currently #5 on the Billboard Charts. Really exciting!

What inspired you to make music?
I have wanted to make music since I can remember.  When I was a child I was placed in an elementary school for musically gifted children and that's where it all began. One of my first memories was seeing Madonna perform and saying, "That's what I want to do when I grow up." I am inspired to make music by my different experiences in life. I am always creating. Music and songwriting have always come to me naturally.

D'Manti stands for something, what is it?
D'Manti means "many capes" in Italian. I feel that as an artist we should be always showing the different aspects of ourselves, regenerating and shedding our capes, so to speak.

Please tell me about your writing...
Yes, I co-write songs all the time. I love to co-write because when you have a good synergy with the other writer(s) it is amazing the beautiful music that can be created. "Let's Just Dance" was written by myself, Ameerah Roelants, and Priya J. Geddis. This song was our interpretation of falling in love and then just letting go and letting yourself live in the moment. "Baby, it don't matter Let's Just Dance!"

You perform in English and Spanish?
Yes and Si!

What are a couple of your most rewarding or exciting performances?
All of my performances are rewarding. The most exciting was when I performed at San Francisco Gay Pride. I was supporting something important, equality,  and it was the first time that I had performed in front of such a large crowd. It felt like there were a million people in front of me giving me all of their energy. It was a powerful and exciting moment. It felt like when I was singing that my feet were not touching the ground!

Former U.S. Marine D'Manti asks..."Did you get your fitness on today?"

D'Manti, who inspires you musically?...
Tina Turner..."She rocks! Her performances are out of this world and she is an inspiration in many ways as a performer and as a resilient strong woman."

What actress' style do you admire?......Sofia Vergara- sexy but classy

If your friends were asked to describe you as an animal what animal would they choose?...A Peacock!

What is it you most love about living some of the time in Hawaii?...
I love Hawaii. I consider Hawaii my second home. I am so fortunate and lucky to be chosen as the spokesperson for "Discover Hawaii Tours". "Discover Hawaii Tours" is the premier Hawaiian Islands tour company. They offer unique experiences with quality, professional Hawaiian sightseeing tours. Their mission is to share the Aloha spirit and give you the most memorable vacation of your life.

What's next for you?
I am working on releasing my next single "Beautiful Life." It is an upbeat, positive, and super fun song that will be released in English and Spanish. 

Did you know?...

D’Manti has always known her passion and destiny to be a performer.  At 7 years old, her teachers discovered that she was musically gifted and sent her to Black Stock Elementary, a school for gifted children. That is when she began her dedicated study of dance, music, acting, and singing.

At the age of 17 she was accepted into the acting conservatory Circle In The Square, just then her life took an unexpected turn and she enlist in the United States Marine Corps. Working in the intelligence field, D’Manti was stationed in Hawaii.  After serving her country, D’Manti took up residence in Hawaii to build a successful business in the travel industry.  In 2008 she decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue her dream as a performer.

D’Manti enlisted the genius of world-renowned choreographer and director Doriana Sanchez (Shakira, Cher, Jane’s Addiction, Grammy Awards, So You Think You Can Dance) to produce a spectacular live show that showcases her artistry, musicality, and the glamour of Las Vegas with a Latin flair.  D’Manti has worked with mega-producer Luny Tunes, Grammy Award winning Marlow Rosado, and has just finished two singles with Orange Factory Music.  Her new single “Let’s Just Dance” is rapidly climbing the Billboard Dance Club Play Chart. (This Bio is an excerpt from Kenut Entertainment).

  New Music Video.."Let's Just Dance" Available on iTunes...


View In iTunes

  Get "SOC" with D'Manti!

Twitter: @DmantiMusic

D'Manti in the news... 

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 8, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- New American talent; singer and songwriter D'MANTI hits Top 5 on this week's Billboard Club Play chart with her latest single "Let's Just Dance."  D'Manti has also released her new music video.

"I'm excited to know that many people are enjoying this song. When we wrote it, I knew this song would be very special and I'm so grateful that so many people are feeling it," comments D'Manti.

The "Let's Just Dance" remix package offers remixes from top US talents, DJ Lynnwood Banger, Razor and Guido, Casey Alva and Klubjumpers who showcase a variety of styles, creating ease of programming for club jocks and radio DJ's alike.
"Let's Just Dance" was produced by the very talented J. Remy Orange from Factory Music Studios and co-written by Ameerah A. Roelants, Prita Jayaram Geddis and D'MANTI.
"Let's Just Dance" is available on iTunes.

More music video links...these can also be instantly accessed on D'

Tonight....D'Manti....ft Mr. Phillips (Mixin Marc & Tony Svejda Remix)

Step Through the Door

Does D'Manti also act? You bet!...check out her some of her work..... D'Manti Acting Montage.... 


Some of the above is an excerpt from KENUT ENTERTAINMENT 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Ivan's Rules

"This is not a country club...This is not a nursery school either. You are here to learn."

His words rang in my ears today when I heard the news that acting teacher Ivan Markota passed away last night. I took several of his classes, learned how to cold read from one of the best, and met a passionate and diverse group of people, some that I still keep in touch with. Even though I moved on to the Stella Adler Academy and completed their program, there are lessons about acting and self discipline from Ivan I still draw from today. Whenever I would run into a new actor who was thinking of studying  with Ivan I'd say...."If you can handle Ivan, you can handle Hollywood!"


The first time I ever went to a real acting class was in the mid 1990's and it was at Ivan's school on Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea. I had done a few plays and public speaking back in Minneapolis, but no official training. To be honest I wasn't sure if I should try, even though I really wanted to. My friend Brenda Theisen Zabal, had found this acting school in Hollywood that accepted newcomers and gave you the first month of classes free. So I went with her...let's face it that's how a lot of us started there.....but it's not why we stayed.

Ivan Markota was not for everyone. He was rough around the edges, temperamental and did not baby his actors. Some couldn't handle it. But he taught from the heart. He was exceptionally talented and could draw someone's true gifts out of them. Here's an example of his bluntness...he would say to me, "You're a leading lady type, not a character don't get fat because you'll never work."...might seem cruel but it's pretty much true.

He was one of the last of the old school Hollywood types and could have easily been as successful as Clint Eastwood, Charlton Heston, Burt Reynolds, or any of the leading men from his era. However he had a lifestyle when he was young that tripped him up. He was honest about it...the drinking, gambling, a few broken marriages along the way. But he gave all of that up decades ago and devoted his life to teaching acting and auditioning.

Before you could take any of Ivan's acting classes you had to take the Monday "Business of Acting" class. This taught you all about the biz....and what it's really like for newcomers. It was common sense advice like know your way around on a set, don't change or paraphrase the lines on a shoot, just stick to the script, don't mess with the props, don't complain on set, never pull a no show for an audition or a job, never audition at someone's house, and for God's sake look like your head shot! 

Ivan used to say there was no excuse for missing class. He'd rail..."If I could jump out of an airplane in WWII you can make it to an acting class. Don't be a baby."

I also learned a lot about the method of creating a character from another teacher at Ivan's school, Stephanie Feury, who was an amazing actress and coach and is still teaching in her own L.A. studio. 

Stephanie Feury...Photo, IMDB

Stephanie Feury Studio Theatre

IMDB Stephanie Feury

Some years ago I was helping a friend cast several parts in a commercial. So I went and auditioned some of Ivan's acting students. One by one they blew me away! We ended up casting ALL of the parts using his students. 

I haven't been in touch with Ivan since then. Have meant to, but like so many of us do with people from our past, I put it off. This sounds so cliché' but just this past weekend I was telling my husband that Brenda and I should go see him and let him know we turned out okay, and that she is still married to her husband she met in his very class!....(The school is no longer there but he was still coaching privately at almost 90 years old). Now my chance to do that is over and I regret that I didn't. Rest in peace Ivan.

Several known actors had some early training from Ivan...Sherri Shepard, Casper Van Diem, Mariska Hargitay, Mary Hart, and John Laroquette, to name a few.

 Here's a shout out to some friends of mine who also trained with Ivan.

Nicole Pano
Joey Garza

Jeff Kueppers

Marlon Ray
Guy Chapman

Brenda Theisen Zabal
Devin Reeves

Zenata Perez

Jeannine Barcarse

Chuck Licata

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Once Upon A Playwright...

In talking with my friend, playwright and actress Rachel Lepore, I am reminded of how important it is to encourage young writers. They have a perspective, poignancy and sense of humor that provides a unique look at the world.

Rachel Lepore

Rachel's first play Circuits was recently published, and is a long form one act play that was a winner in the Dramatics Playwrights Magazine competition last year.

Now a student at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Playwrights Horizons program, her goal is to be a well rounded theatre artist.

The first time I saw Rachel perform was at the Las Vegas Academy's Lowden Theatre for the Performing Arts, in a production of "The Spitfire Grill."  As Effy Crayneck, the nosy, middle aged town postmistress, I was impressed by how she embodied this character through her funny but empathetic portrayal.

In her play Circuits, smart and serious Emily Danvers has all the usual sixteen-year-old stresses: a project due for physics class, a boy from the robotics club who might be a love interest, and a dead older brother who’s spying on her study dates from the bedroom closet! (Excerpt from Samuel French).

Brian Sanchez, Dominuqe Thorne, Jose Useche, Cast of Circuits
Rehearsal Property of  National Theatre for Student Artists

"The message of Circuits is that just because someone dies 
you do not have to fully lose them."
-Rachel Lepore

Circuits is being performed by the National Theatre for Student Artists at the Atlantic Theatre in Manhattan on August 9 & 10. Rachel thoroughly enjoyed the staged reading in Las Vegas earlier this year with actors from her alma mater, Las Vegas Academy. The New York performance is the first time she will see her story brought to life in a fully staged production. Lio Sigerson is directing.

Her current project which is yet untitled but may become her first full length play, is a mix of fantasy and reality which features a Princess....with insomnia. Princess Lydia is "wicked smart" and has spent countless hours awake at night learning and being super productive. She has written a symphony, traveled through time, and more....of course there is a handsome prince or two. However this fairy tale is is not the cookie cutter version.

I am curious and excited to see the finished piece....and all Rachel Lepore has in store in her future as a performer, writer, and well rounded theatre artist. After all, writers bring to the table with words, meals upon which all minds can be nourished....

Rachel Lepore is an actress and playwright from Las Vegas, NV. She attended the Las Vegas Academy for theatre, and is now continuing her studies at New York University's Playwrights Horizons Studio within the Tisch program. Circuits is her first play to date, and was one of the four winners of the Dramatics Thespian Playworks competition.

The above is an excerpt from

Circuits was first published in Thespian Playworks 2012.

Related links and information...

Circuits....Samuel French Publishing

Atlantic Theater Company....Wikipedia page

NYU...Tisch School of the Arts

Cast rehearsal photo property of National Theatre for Student Artists

Anna Wendt. Copyright 2013

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Craft...An Inside Look

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the door of an acting class?

I can tell you that first and foremost an acting class is a place of discovery. It's a magical, sacred sanctuary where once you are inside the room, nothing else outside that door exists. You always leave with some nugget of wisdom or moment of truth, even if it's just to laugh at yourself after having tried something and failed.

A truly gifted acting teacher can impart wisdom and help cultivate an actor's raw talents to perform this 2,000 year old craft to the fullest. Adam Hill is one of these teachers.

"Know that you cannot be hurt by growth," he says in one of his class lectures. I have been invited to observe his class to write about Adam, a respected new member of our entertainment industry here in Las Vegas (by way of New York and Los Angeles).

Adam Hill
 Adam has taught and performed for many years. He knows that when you explore a performing art such as acting, you are delving into many facets of the mind, body and senses and the philosophy and psychology of all combined. You have to be able to trust your instructor not to twist you into an emotional pretzel but to guide you to find your inner depth and talent, whatever that may be.

Like a number of fortunate actors and teachers before him, Adam studied with Stella Adler. As an actor he says that he was not nervous for auditions because he trusted his training and script analysis.  However this does not mean you don't have to prepare. Everyone must in order to bring a character to life. To do this you must create what is called a backstory. An example of this as explained by Adam is when we meet Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire...

"She is in a very unhappy, unrewarding period in her life when we see her in Streetcar. But the actress playing her needs to know those moments when she was happy, and what were those moments when she was joyful, when she was young and spirited.... when she believed that life held a wonderful adventure for her, before she became so disillusioned and became the Blanche that we see in the play. The actress needs to know those things. All this needs to be imagined and felt in order to bring her character to life."  

Adam goes on to say..."You need to look at your imagination like a muscle. It needs be to worked."

Adam's lecture on creating a backstory is one of the best I've ever seen. If you want a spend a few minutes with a true master acting teacher, I have included the link at the end of this story.

On a few recent nights in Las Vegas, I joined Adam and several actors to observe his class.

In a scene with actors/students Isabelle and Don, Isabelle's character is finishing a conversation with her criminal sociopath ex husband. Having to hide what she knows about his crimes, she has managed to contain herself until the end. As she is getting up to leave, he asks where she is going and if he can come along. At that point her hands start shaking as she nods her head and stands to go. I asked her after the scene if she remembered her hands were shaking, and if it was from being nervous or for the character, but she didn't even remember them shaking. It just happened...because she was living the character. Beautiful!

Comedy is also studied in Craft Acting Studio. In the scene below, a detective has just arrived at the character's office and is about to start questioning her regarding her missing boss. The first time around the scene works, but not nearly as well as it could. Adam suggests the actors speed it up...interrupt and speak over each other, like in real life. After this adjustment is made, the actors are able to let the characters the writer created show through and the laughs start to come.

Corinna Harney-Jones & Don Creque, Craft Acting Workshop, Las Vegas

Craft Acting Studio Las Vegas is a collaboration of Adam Hill and Actor Brad Garrett.  Special thanks to all actors from both classes, Jim, Charlene, Don, Isabelle, Joan, Corinna, Dee, Jane and Barbara.

"Adam, I was in your class when I was 19 years old and you said to me, 'you're getting angry. In comedy you can't be angry you can only be frustrated.'  I never forgot that. It was one of the best tips you ever gave me because when I was playing Gleason he was really just a big kid having a tantrum for not getting his way." .....Brad Garrett

"Craft" Acting Studio Website Acting School by Adam Hill and Brad Garrett

"Stages".....a new documentary by Adam Hill, Brad Garrett and Michael Schreiber.

Adam Hill is conducting a special weekend intensive on
Script Analysis for Actors, to be held in Las Vegas August 23 and 24, 2013.
For more information email him at


"Craft" Acting Studio Website Acting School by Adam Hill and Brad Garrett

For more information email or content by Adam Hill and Michael Schreiber

About Adam Hill...Excerpt from below:

Adam Hill has performed extensively on Broadway, Off-Broadway, in regional theatre, in touring companies, and in film and television.  He has directed over 50 productions coast-to-coast, including at Off-Broadway theatres.  In 1985 Adam opened the Adam Hill Actor’s Studio in Los Angeles.  In 1995, he accepted a position at Wilkes University (PA) to establish a professional theatre program.  In 2005, Adam started a professional actor’s class in NYC and now in 2013 he brings his passion for teaching to the Las Vegas acting community.  Adam has taught some of the bright stars of the theatre and film world including Heather Locklear, Laura Dern, Brad Garrett, and Doug Savant.  He is the author of Beyond the Moon, An Acting Manual, and You Got the Job! a guide to getting work in the industry. 

Adam Hill on Backstory...NYC actors workshop

Anna Wendt. Copyright 2013