The Blood Sweat and Tears of David Clayton Thomas

By Mende Smith



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“This is really not anything new for me,” comes his voice, jovial and empty with a certain charmed anticipation. “…And recording these songs, it was really funny that I did not even need sheet music, they are so engrained into my mind—these are the songs I did way back in the beginning of my career when I played in clubs.”

Most of the questions I have for him are about the journey that brought the front man of the nostalgic band Blood, Sweat & Tears (BS&T) international stardom. “We can talk about the Soul Ballads album, but not what I did sixty years ago.” The man says again. David Clayton-Thomas asserts he not the same as he was then, and he makes no apologies. As he opens to the conversation, slowly as if holding the story of his past closed with a pair of vice grips, his voice reads easy.

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There is no arguing these tracks on this album are timeless now; committed to the nostalgic court of multi-generational appeal by ballad radio stations all over the world, and listening to Clayton-Thomas’ renditions of them, one might believe his voice is the new voice of these soul ballads, not merely the covers they are, but the new expressions of them that he hopes they will be. From where he sits comfortably in his Toronto home, he orchestrates the conversation he wants to have. Unskillful, his voice echoes, thunders.

BloodSweatAndTears-july2010“Can we talk about the Soul Ballads album rather than digging back into the book?  You want to know about the past, read it in the book I wrote, it’s all in the book...” I wonder if I have hit some nerve—or maybe placed a coin in the wrong slot of the 70s memoir machine? I decide to follow his lead and see where it goes.

Trying to draw a line between the two points of Clayton-Thomas’ music career, we talked about working with the right people to make the right things happen. Of his success, he says that it was clear from the first performances, which way the ball was rolling.

“I think we knew from the very first day that Blood, Sweat & Tears was something different, and something very special—I think all the guys in the band knew it from the very get-go.”

Of his younger days in BS&T, Clayton-Thomas recalls the tireless pursuit of making music, while residing in two countries. In those days, his band toured the world and played five shows a night in forty-minute sets with twenty-minute breaks in between, and it is clearly not among his fonder memories now, as we might expect.

“ My touring days are behind me now, I’ve already done that for forty years with Blood, Sweat & Tears,” Clayton-Thomas laughs, “I am still doing performances, but nothing like before; nowadays we pick nice events. This is a different kind of thing; like going back to the beginning, to my roots.”

Today, Clayton-Thomas enjoys the fruits of his laboring years greatly. Talking about his companion musicians adoringly, like faces in his community now close at hand. When I try to engage in the origin story further, he caps the conversation by referring me to his webpage for links to his autobiography and begins talking about how easily he comes by his talent.

“I find that the elite, really top-notch musicians are a very small club—and we all know each other, so its not very hard to get a group together for a thing like this, you just call your friends.”

As a grandfather of his industry, his impression of the way the music business has changed over the years from a “marketing and promotions tool” to the “distribution-only engine” shares a common view.

“The reason we would ever sign with a record company in those days was for promotions, for getting shows—for your career, that was the basic idea. Now, the Internet does all of that. Any musician can record and just put it out there—I’ve met new artists that are doing the whole thing themselves from production to marketing who do not even want to get signed,” Clayton-Thomas adds. With the effortless pick-up of his tell-all book by a major publisher, Clayton-Thomas admits that his story did pay off in the end.

But he is not looking back there anymore.

Soul Ballads1-300x300The Soul Ballads album had its debut on Universal Canada in 2010, and Airplane Records has re released it in the states today—prompting this review. Clayton-Thomas is all too pleased to imbibe—like the interview today, once he has presented his story, his way.  Soul Ballads was the brainchild of Clayton-Thomas’ friend Lew Pomanti, who had recently wrapped a Michael Buble’ album. Pomanti asked his old friend David to take on the task of recording his versions of what he calls “soul tunes” like those he and Pomanti played in the clubs back in the BS&T heydays together—this association strikes a kinder chord in Clayton-Thomas. Teaming up with a full orchestra, they produced the recordings in this century with a chorus of enthusiastic friends and musicians.

“Lew and I go way, way back,” Clayton-Thomas says, “We toured the world together for about five years in the seventies.”

Every one of the album’s tracks date back to more than thirty years in American music history, and a few, more than fifty. Nostalgia is a brand that Clayton-Thomas does not mind spinning in some circles. Clayton-Thomas says he is already in the best company, and so the album ‘practically made itself.’ Crediting the talents of the late greats, he explains how the ninety-day session turned out classic hits by Brother Ray (Charles), Otis Redding, Gladys Knight, Kenny Rodgers, and Curtis Mayfield—cherishing the most over-played songs on American radios made new ‘in the modern recording studio of twenty-first century technology with a full orchestra’.

“I think it’s intimidating. And in other interviews I have been quoted saying no one should attempt to do these great songs but Ray Charles or Gladys Knight. And here I am now taking on the task of doing them. I think it’s important that when you pay homage to these great, great songs, you try to do it with respect and use your own voice—don’t try to do an imitation.”

Clayton-Thomas refers to how the collaboration made it all sound new again, adding that it is the best way to pay tribute to the greatest artists—recording the tracks to the highest quality in post-modern spectrum, where most of these original recordings were so limited in the technology of the fifties and sixties, only the soul of these records came pouring through despite the early recording tools. When asked to give some advice to budding artists, Clayton-Thomas pauses for a moment and answers with the cold-hearted truth of what’s come to pass?

“The record business has gone through enormous changes in the last three or four years, and the fans seem to think they can just get all the music for free—and its basically bankrupted all the record companies. With no money, there is no money to support new acts—even acts like myself, and so, we have the power back in our hands. We don’t have to wait to get signed to get going anymore—that is one thing that is for sure today that we did not have the advantage of the first time around.”

Clayton-Thomas adds that as recently as ten years ago if a record company did not sign you, you did not even get into the business.  He proudly takes a seat at the helm of his next project with a group of musicians doing old jazz standards.

Time will tell if Soul Ballads will do the justice to the talents of the last century of music, time was, the spinning wheel still turning, we have the nostalgia of the first carousel ride to look back to and those long-gone psychedelic roots locked tightly in the memoirs of the bands who soaked the world in their own blood, sweat, and tears so none other would ever have to again—what goes up, obviously came down.

For more information and future concert dates about David visit his website. http://www.davidclaytonthomas.com

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Born Into Barnes:
The Untold Antics Of The Barnes Sisters

By Mende Smith



There is nothing conventional about the lives of the Barnes sisters. Hollywood transplants from the Midwest, these funny ladies live and work side by side as housemates, writing partners and above all, siblings. Born three years apart in a small southern Illinois town and raised like twins by a single dad in a shutdown tavern, their real-life story reads more like a sitcom. Sheila and Mary Ann tell talk about the antics of growing up in an empty barroom and dance floor playground and exploit their own story for Reap Mediazine, wearing bright smiles. “The tavern was still intact,” Sheila says. “But it was not operational. The living space was upstairs, but we played on the main floor that was once the old tavern; roller skating on the dance floor, and we’d have beauty pageants up on the bar.” Sheila laughs. “It was our home.” Mary Ann recalls the way the occasional drunk patron would come stumbling in through the tavern door, unaware that it was now their home. “Oh, yeah. Sometimes a drunk would come in and walk up to us playing in there and wonder why an 8-year-old girl and a 5-year-old girl were behind the bar.” Mary Ann laughs. “We played in there every day, and in a small town like that nobody locked their doors. And for a number of years our father did not even bother to take down the beer signs from the windows, so it was even more confusing.”

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The Barnes sisters wrote a comedy pilot called Damaged Goods based on their zany upbringing. With an ex-Marine turned factory worker father and an absent mother suffering from bipolar disorder, coming and going on adventures with new men–five of whom she married–leaving the girls with their father and two older siblings to fend for themselves, much chaos ensued. “It was kind of like a game the way she left,” Sheila recalls, “Our mom had a great sense of humor too, as we say in our pilot, and she was so much fun that the first time she ran off, we thought it was a game.” Both sisters crack up again. “She would be so much fun and just great to be with and then, she would go away again and find a new husband. Then, after it maybe did not work out, she would be back staying with us again,” Mary Ann says. The girls had planned to go on to college one day, and Sheila could have easily gotten into an Ivy League school with her outstanding grades, but their father had a plan to keep his girls from ever straying too far from home; he told his daughters he had cancer.  “And for many years, it worked,” Sheila laughs loudly, “We both would have probably moved away to go to college, but our dad convinced us he was dying of cancer and so we never wanted to leave him. We went to school locally instead.”

“I started at Southern Illinois University and eventually moved to St. Louis and finished at Webster, but the funny thing is, our dad did die young, but not from cancer. His autopsy report showed he was cancer free–nobody was more surprised than we were.” Sheila says. Sheila struggled first as a small-town journalist, she says, until she had $14 to her name and was nearly living out of her old blue Pontiac. When she decided to head to California to work an assistant job at Paramount Studios, Mary Ann tagged along. There the comedic screenwriter duo was born.

“My first job out there, I was an assistant to these really great guys, Mort and Barry, and they had gotten Emmys for their work on the Golden Girls. But they were in development, so they would work away from the office a lot. I would sneak Mary Ann into the office, and we would write together and when they would call to say they were coming in, I would kick her out again.” Sheila laughs.

“After awhile they’d see someone who looks an awful lot like me leaving the office, and they realized she was my sister and they started giving her work to do. Looking back, I probably should have split my pay with her … but we were two heads for the price of one.” Sheila says. So, that is how the Barnes sisters started working together.

After the success of their first episode, Mary Ann and her husband, David, were renting a small place off of Hollywood Boulevard, near Sheila and her husband’s big empty house. Mary Ann and Sheila’s late-night writing sessions often resulted in sleepovers so it was just a matter of time, they say, before they were through with the rent hikes and the added stress of living separately. They have all been living together in veritable harmony ever since the ’80s.

“We have a trapdoor in the deck that leads to the basement, and that is our office,” Sheila adds, “It’s a little medieval, but it is what it is.” The girls’ husbands, they say, “get along swimmingly,” and oftentimes their friendship is healthier than that of the Barnes sisters.

“They get along great even though they are very, very different. You know, as women, we might get mad and hold a grudge for days and days, but the guys, I remember once they were having a political argument and then Sheila and I were looking at each other thinking ‘Oh, my God. This is getting heated and we are gonna have to move out.’ And then suddenly one of the guys said, ‘Hey, the game’s on!’ and then they both went in and sat down to watch and it was over.” Mary Ann recalls. “It never even came up again.”

Thrown into the group dynamic, is the girls’ only brother, who, Sheila adds, is mentally challenged. “He’s super sweet and is like a 6-year old forever. Though in many ways, he is the most mature one in the house.” Mary Ann laughs.

The sisters say they have often thought it would be great to extend the comedic family compound to other creatives and accommodate artist friends. “We kicked around the idea of buying, say, a 10-bungalow place and letting people come join the fun, but we just never did.”

When asked about the challenges of the screenwriting business, Sheila says that the best part of having her sister as her writing partner is their level of acceptance. “One of the things that is so hard in this line of work is the ego. I have worked with partners on shows before and they say, ‘Well, if something I write comes out of it, you have to give up something you wrote too.’ It gets really ridiculous because you have to consider what’s good for the project first, not just the egos.” Sheila says. Mary Ann agrees and adds to Sheila’s rant, “I don’t care if something has more of her ideas in it, and she doesn’t care if something has more of my ideas in it–and well, you know, we have always finished each other’s sentences so, we really don’t get in each other’s way there.”

So many people who meet the Barnes sisters think they are twins because of how they look and act together, it does not bother them when people ask. They admit that psychologically, they probably are twins. And, though it sounds bizarre, Sheila says she believes she is really Mary Ann’s clone. Both sisters are married to writers as well, and so they all read each other’s work and live in what Sheila calls “one big writers’ room.” The sisters speak highly of everyone they have worked with in the business from comedian Richard Jeni, on the UPN series Platypus Man to funny man Tim Allen, when they did ABC’s Last Man Standing. “The great thing about working with Tim is,” Sheila, says, “He can just make something out of nothing. We will be working on a scene with Tim and he will be doing some really funny, insane thing with a kitchen drawer, which you would not think was funny on the page but it really is hilarious.” Mary Ann calls Allen a “really nice and super funny guy” on and off the stage. The Barnes add that they are in the perfect line of work for the “crazies they truly are.”

The girls say that they have been fortunate to find producers who “get” the multi-generational vibe they have in their own duo, and happily exploit them and use it to their comedic advantage. For example, the girls are not shy about admitting their Christmas tree is still standing in their living room since the week of Thanksgiving. They just have not taken the time to take it down and laugh about the fact nobody comes over to see it. The year before, too, the fake tree stood past Easter and only came down at all because they had guests over. “We had writer friends coming and we did not want them laughing at us, and we took it down an hour before they arrived.” Sheila smiles. “And then were so embarrassed,” Mary Ann laughs, “that we confessed anyway! We told them that we only just took it down, so they still thought we were crazy.” The Barnes sisters clearly love their work, and they credit their husbands for giving them support in the dizzying business of show. “We are thankful for the guys. They are both creative types too, and without them this would not be so much fun. We are doing very long hours like we do in the comedy room,” Sheila says.

“Our husbands have pretty much done all of the cooking since we moved in together, and we did not even know they could cook,” Mary Ann adds.

One sister then muses on how her brother-in-law is great with taking out the kitchen garbage, and the other calls her sister’s husband the “King of the Barbeque Grill,” a title that has raised competition in their blended household resulting in recipe cook-offs. “A couple of times our husbands would both end up in the kitchen cooking the same meal at the same time, and it would be two different dinners,” Sheila laughs. “It really is great, having them have our backs like that, when your deadline is coming and all you can do is work for days like that, and say, you miss your husband’s birthday: He doesn’t care. We just make up for it later, and we don’t care at all. A birthday is flexible.” Sheila says.

On a bittersweet note, both sisters agree that they decided not to have children of their own greatly because of the way their mother was incapable of raising even one child of her four. “Having kids,” Sheila says, “ … it seemed like something you ran away from. And so we always say that part of the reason we moved back in together is so we could keep being those kids we were, sort of raising each other into adulthood.”

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At one time, Sheila recalls, she thought maybe she would have kids someday, but the day never came.   She and her husband tried to live in southern Illinois where Mary Ann and her husband were full time.  As a way to get away from the Los Angeles buzz, they thought buying a “summer house” would be a good idea.  Sheila laughs about how much she resented it now, saying she hated feeding the ducks on the lake, being surrounded by nature and a “verdant green landscape” because it was too much like doing nothing. “I remember thinking, ‘When is my life going to start again?’ ” Sheila groans. “And I was so happy when we sold that place again and Mary Ann and I came out here to find the house we’re in now. My husband did not really care what we found, and we can see the Hollywood sign right out the front window, and it reminds us where we are.” Sheila says. “Living right here is inspiration, and then there’s those days, as Mary Ann says, when it feels like it’s mocking us. Those are the tough days.” Both sisters burst in peals of laughter.

The sisters are script doctoring for a few series and also polishing another feature, and praise the short turnaround time. They say though it is a downside they cannot get writing credit, they are keeping their heads in the game, adding ideas to someone else’s ideas, that the learning experience is worth it.

“It sharpens our skills, and it is a fun break away from our own writing. And then you can come back to it fresh again, and we can do our original stuff.” Sheila says.

One big-scale project the Barnes sisters are currently writing on is the supernatural dramedy Evermoor, a series for Disney Channels Worldwide. “Working with Lowell Nate over at Disney has been awesome,” Mary Ann says. “Lowell is a funny guy too, and he is so smart and funny and gives us great input in sort of Americanizing it both for British and American audiences.” The series premieres in October and is projected to show in 160 countries.

It’s a huge victory, the writing duo says, which actually came from an earlier failure. Disney called them up after re-reading a script they had submitted three years ago; Lowell asked them if they wanted to give this project a go. “It’s a funny thing,” Sheila says, “How anything–really any project–can lead to another thing down the road, where a break is going to come, or where a job is going to come from. It’s part of this business–and nothing is wasted.”

Living a writing life in Los Angeles, the girls say, is never boring. “For us, for both of us really, comedy is a lifesaver,” Sheila says. “There’s always that thing where people say being a comedian means you’re depressed, and for some people, yes, that is a real thing. But for me, in my life, I can be in the worst situation and I can say, ‘OK, what can I take from this to make myself laugh over this, or make someone else laugh in a script?’” Sheila laughs. “Absolutely,” Mary Ann adds. “ … And then she’s bitter. And the writing is so down and that works too for us; comedy is all about making the most out of your damage.”

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Casa 0101 Celebrates 15th Anniversary
Premiere of Comedy: Clean Slate

By Shirley Craig



Celebrating it's 15th 'Quinceanera' anniversary Casa 0101 opens with Clean Start. Clean Start is a comedic play centering around Parker Reed, played brilliantly by Kim Chase, a down-on-her-luck Beverly Hills socialite, and Rosario Rodriguez, her Latina maid who lives in a small house in East Los Angeles.  When Reed loses everything due to her husband’s illegal dealings running a ponzi scheme, she is forced to move in with her maid, Rosario, and her superstitious but caring mother and slacker, immature sister who at age 35 is still dreaming of her Quinceanera. The resulting tensions question whether the women, from such divergent backgrounds, can resolve their differences and make a 'clean start' with their lives. Taken straight from recent headlines, the Bernie Madoff scandal, the play flows beautifully with lots of laugh out loud moments.

Photo E - l to r Ingrid Oliu Rosario Rodriguez Marina Gonzalez Palmier CS B 245 copy

The five member cast is outstanding particularly Chase, who certainly knows her way around physical comedy by creating a very funny and poignant portrait of a woman who has fallen on very hard times. Reed's character is a challenge but not for the remarkable talents of Chase. Maria Russell as Rosario’s voluptuous unemployed sister develops a a wonderfully raucus character who together with her sister and mother use everything from spells to tolerance to blend themselves together as one family. This is Casa 0101 at it's best and is playing to full houses each performance.

 Photo P - l to r Marina Gonzalez Palmier Doña Maria Rodriguez and CS C 009 copy 
The play is highly commendable for fusing socio-political subject matter with broad uproarious humor verging on satire. It is written by Josefina Lopez (Real Woman Have Curves) and Kathy Fisher (The George Lopez Show) who also directs.  Fisher's spirited directorial stage debut moves fast around a delightful set and shows she has equal talent for writing and direction. The scene changes are handled innovatively by two actors dressed up in maid garb, who dust and dance their way through moving props and furniture around on the stage. A lovely entertaining way to change scenery. 

We'd love to see this play have a future on television as a sitcom that would have the opportunity to explore our cultural differences in new ways.

Clean Start closes out this weekend so click here to get your tickets. Casa 0101 is a wonderful equity waiver theater, with an art gallery, which will increase your cultural experiences two-fold.

They are Saturday, February 14th at 3:00 p.m. and Sunday, February 15th at 8:00 p.m.

Additional performances added: Friday, February 13th at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, February 14th at 8:00 p.m. Regular performances: Friday, February 13th at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, February 14th at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, February 15th at 5:00 p.m.

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Other productions and events, beside Clean Start, to be presented during CASA 0101 Theater’s 15th “Quinceañera” Anniversary Season include: Chicanos, Cholas & Chisme (March 6 – April 12); the World Premiere An L.A. Story written by Emmanuel Deleage and Lorenzo Alfredo, directed by Emmanuel Deleage (May 1 – June 7); the 12th Annual Reel Rasquache Art & Film Festival produced by John Ramirez (May 15 – 17); the musical Little Red, with Book by Anthony Aguilar and Ocar Basulto and Music by Grammy Award-winning band Quetzal, directed by Edward Padilla (June 26 – August 2); the play Placas written by Paul Flores starring Culture Clash’s Ric Salinas (August 14 – September 13); the World Premiere of the play, Drunk Girl written by Josefina López, directed by Claudia Duran (September 25 – October 18); and the musical Eastside Heartbeats written by Tom Waldman and directed by Corky Dominguez (November 6 – December 20). The repertoire is subject to change and revision. 

For more information about Casa 0101 click here, or to read our previous indepth interview with Josefina Lopez click here.

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Musician Ronnie Wells
Talks His Career, New Albums, ‘Shiftin Willie’ and More

By Amber Topping



New Jersey musician Ronnie Wells does it all. He sings, writes, produces and plays the drums and the bass. While managing two careers for numerous years (one in the medical field), he recently began working music full time in 2010. With years of experience behind him as front man of groups like “Ronnie Wells & The Fabulons” and “The Sound Exchange,” as well as performing with many hit groups of the ‘60s, he used his many talents to create his first solo album, “My Bad” in 2012. He’s now jumping into the next new album and working on his solo performance act.

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Can you talk a little bit about your background and how you became interested in music?

At the age of 15-16 I started playing drums and took a liking to that. And then into high school, I played in the high school band and I also played in Drum Corps. While playing, I began singing and a group came to me (who already had a drummer) and asked me if I'd be interested in fronting the group singing. And that went on for a few years. I, maybe three years, four years later, started picking up the bass. And I had an affinity for playing bass for quite a while. So I started adding bass to my performing. And through that, a local agent had hooked me up with several of the recording acts of the time in the '60s. And I was getting gigs playing with those groups when they were appearing in the Jersey/New York area. At that time of course, there weren't big halls or stadiums or anything with groups having hit records out. They just played normal clubs. And that was the typical thing they did. And as time went on, I played and sang…And yeah, that's how I started.

Do you have any fun or interesting stories of those days in the groups you were in? Like "The Sound Exchange?"

Well, I wouldn't call it funny, but before at the age of 18, we wanted to play New York night clubs so you had to get a Cabaret card. And myself and my drummer at the time went over to apply. And the two girls standing in front of us, waiting and waiting—they were getting mad waiting to get their cards—turns out it was Diana Ross and Mary Wilson of “The Supremes.” And that was interesting ‘cause they were gonna appear at the Copa in New York. And in order for them to appear, of course, they also needed Cabaret cards. So if you're under 21, you needed a Cabaret card in New York at the time.

Yeah that's a fun story. Doesn't happen that often, right?

A funny story came later on when a friend of mine, who owned a tractor trailer [training] company, was always writing little jingles and trying to get them heard by people. And he wrote a song about a truck driver called “Shiftin Willie.” But he had no musical background. So he came to me and he said, “You know Ron, could you write some music for this and maybe even sing it?” So I took his lyrics and played around with them and wrote the song and recorded it for him—not to be released or anything like that. However, he called me six months later and said, “Conan O’Brien's coming through the school and is interested in this song.” How he heard it, I have no idea. Anyway, he did a segment live with his crew in New Jersey and sang the song, not accurately, but he sang it anyhow on his show—wound up being heard by a lot of people.

So what was that like for you having your song on the Conan show? Were you surprised? Think it was funny?

Funny! He did it as a comedy skit. The guy who wrote the lyrics, my friend, was reciting the lyrics while Conan O’Brien was playing guitar and singing the song. Of course, it was not even close to accurate, but they used it as a comedy skit. And of course then he played the real song the way it was recorded by me.

Eventually you also went into the medical field, so how did that help you grow as a musician?

Up until 2010, I was in the medical field covering two hospitals. Sometimes, I'd work late or get back from a gig very late and have to go to the hospital early in the morning before getting a chance to change. And the patients looked at me kind of funny walking over, you know, the bell bottoms and hair and trying to treat them with a lab coat over it. So it was kind of funny, kind of interesting switching back and forth between day and night—two different lines of work.

So in 2012 you released your first solo album "My Bad." Can you tell me a little bit about your album?

With the exception of the “Shiftin Willie” thing, it's the first time I decided to take seriously the knack of writing. So I wrote three songs at the time—originals. But to put an album out, I figured I only got time to write seven to eight-nine songs. Let me put an album out with three of my originals and then take songs from the Great American Songbook, the standards, and add on to it. And that's how my first album came about. I mixed the both together. That would actually steer me in the way I would perform. I would do a mixture of everything from standard pop hits to soft rock to my originals…and country…So that stayed with me as the way I would perform as time went on.

Next you have another solo album coming, "Say it With a Song." Is it going to be similar to "My Bad” or a little bit different? What can people expect to find on that one?

Kind of the same, as far as a soft rock type of feel. And again, if I don't write all the songs, I will add some standards that are previously written. It depends—I have it half done right now. I'm deciding which way to go. If I have time to write more and record more then I will put it out in that way. All my originals or some originals, some covers.

You're also working on your solo performance act. Do you have any upcoming shows that are happening soon?

Yes, March 14th I'm gonna be doing a show in East Rutherford, New Jersey. That'll be at a place called Al Di La—it’s an Italian Bistro Night Club. And it's a very nice set up there for shows.

Do you plan on taking the act anywhere else besides New Jersey?

Yes. Depending on bookings, I'm really headed towards doing a lot of hotels and even possibly some cruises next. That's what I'm aiming for really. More so ‘cause the night club situation is not what it used to be. So there's not a lot of venues to work as there used to be. So that's why I'm really aiming toward hotels and even cruises to do the show.

Would you describe your show as like an entertainer type show?

Yes, definitely. A matter of fact, depending on the venue and the lead, I may even bring a comedian with me, background singers and widen the show a bit. It all depends of course on budget and everything else. But that's what I ultimately would like to do.

You can learn more about Ronnie Wells and his music at his website: www.RonnieWellsMusic.com

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Center Stage:
An Interview With Tanna Frederick

By Shirley Craig



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Tanna Frederick's life has been a stage life. Writing, directing, producing and acting since childhood, she has been instrumental in carrying off adaptations, indie film projects and on-camera performance. Most of her days are spent planning the next venue, and the next. Weekends are often back-to-back shows in the same theatre—adding to the mania. Frederick tells Reap in an interview that she is doing great, that she's elated, exhausted and very happy after an all-day double bill of Amiri Baraka's Dutchman and Train to Zakopane, a new play by partner, Henry Jaglom. Frederick explains how they pulled off switching out the sets for both plays, pushing the main train car to the back and reading on the same stage setting a row of folding chairs to mock a subway.

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Frederick first caught the acting bug, she says, when she was 8 years old. "I knew I was very passionate about the arts, and I started out doing ballet in first grade and my teacher said to my mom, 'You know, she does her own thing.'  I don’t remember much, except I remember her correcting my feet all the time and my just wanting to freestyle it. It was a kind of an exclusive dance company in Iowa and the teacher sort of suggested to my mom that maybe I should go in another direction." Frederick says with a laugh.

Even at that age, Frederick says, she marched to the beat of a different drum. She began taking classical piano lessons, which she soon realized she loved. Studying classical piano brought a passion to her life and she took to it right away. " I practiced all the time, and then I remember going with my Girl Scout troop to see the musical Oliver at a local children’s theatre and it was so great!” Frederick says. The musical played to a full house, and she and her fellow scouts sat in the aisle. "My best friend was playing Oliver and I remember watching it. It was my first theater experience and I just remember being completely mesmerized. And when the Artful Dodger walked on stage, I just knew in my body and my soul, I knew I'd found what I would be doing for the rest of my life." Frederick says.

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She joined the little children’s theatre the next year and started doing every role possible there. Before Frederick knew it, she was the actor friends were coming to see onstage.  "I was trained in this children’s theatre by my director to be very professional—we were. I mean, we were treated as adults, and so even then as I was doing theatre with adults, kids and with high-schoolers, there was no room for any unprofessionalism and that was one of the greatest gifts that I was given, because it became ingrained: 'You will not chew gum on stage. You will be quiet when the other actors are up there. You will learn all of the stage directions. You will come to the other shows. You will tech other shows. You will write in your scripts with pencils so you can erase it.' There was no discrepancy between adults and children and the expectations for actors, and that was fantastic."

Frederick stayed with the children's theatre well into high school. She did summer musicals, and her career began to take off. In the auditorium at the local community college, Frederick performed in a 1,200-seat venue. For the most part, Frederick managed to lock in one of the lead roles, and produce and even structure their performances—this was true ensemble. This experience would be the foundation of her career. It was, Frederick recalls, the breeding ground for an actress and an artist in Iowa.

The art of learning competitive performance was one that she would learn to take in stride. “We were very competitive, and we also went all over with our choir competitions. We were well-respected. Again, it was just a very vivacious playground yet, at the same time, institution that was being upheld for us to be nurtured in as blooming artists,” Frederick adds. When she received a full scholarship to the University of Iowa for theatre, she knew there was no going back.

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"The writer’s workshop in Iowa was amazing. New playwrights were constantly coming in and new material was constantly being performed. Everything was just rich with new plays and that really taught me the craft." Frederick sighs. "It's crazy. I had the most fun in that medium. In the most interesting plots and plotlines from different artists whom were all exploring and trying out their work and it was daring and crazy. I would always somehow find the way to connect with the character, no matter who that character was, and I would take it on. It was a really a great place for me to learn," Frederick says.

Frederick recalls that her life nearly took another direction, but her parents discouraged her and she agreed to go on to college. "After high school I almost moved to New York and was actually offered to room with a younger Uta Hagen—my uncle was friends with Uta's daughter—and they wanted her to live in the city and study at the Herbert Berghof Studio! Much to my chagrin, although I guess I’m thankful for it now since my career wouldn’t have panned out the same way, I went to L.A.,” Frederick says.

Frederick just packed up her little Honda and moved to the Golden State, and she says everyone thought she was nuts. "I didn’t know anybody here, but I just knew it was the right decision to make if I wanted to do theatre and to get the television and the film credits under my belt. I’m very glad I made that decision.”

"I wanted to do film,” she says." I was already waiting tables trying to do my survival job, and pay rent with that—and I met Henry Jaglom.

"Henry gave me his original script of A Safe Place and said, 'If you want to take this and do a scene for acting class, fine. I think you’d be brilliant at this role and I haven’t said this since Tuesday Weld and Karen Black played it, but you’re perfect for this part.’” Relieved, she read for it and was happy to fit right in. It was spot-on casting to play the role, and Frederick asked Jaglom if she could have the rights to it as a play, thinking she could go all the way with it. "I felt that if he would give me the rights free, I could find a theatre to produce it, and he did." Jaglom had only done this once before, charging a fee of $600. "I knew I had something that was quite worthwhile," Frederick adds. "There was never a stage production by Henry Jaglom done anywhere all over the world and I was getting the rights for free, which was incredible, and I knew I was perfect at the lead. The Beverly Hills Playhouse at the Skylight Theatre in Los Angeles was to be the venue, and we had a producer who believed in the company and it was all set," Frederick says. “After Camelot Artists got the play produced and ran the production for eight months, I felt like I truly had made it. Henry came to just about every single show," Frederick says, and that’s when I made the hard transition from stage to film acting. Frederick worked very closely with Jaglom. She says there were days where she “just wept,” but that her frustration culminated into Hollywood Dreams getting done. Next, she portrayed an 'Eve Harrington' kind of character in Hollywood Dreams who ends up turning love away, which was not so joyful. But despite this, Frederick says, the role was a joy to make, and it “sealed the deal” that from then on, Jaglom and Frederick were going to keep working together. And eventually, real-life romance would add to the mix. "We had a ball working together," Frederick explains, "Like I said, it was not always easy with peers, but, by that time I had been under fire from him and I was used to his way of working." Of her partnership to Jaglom, Frederick says, "That’s just one of those things that happened over the course of 13 years making films together." From the first project, to the last, she recalls, that shooting his movies were awesome experiences quoting “sheer heaven and sheer excitement and amazing—a dream come true.” Frederick says the added bonus of getting to work with a brilliant mind was that in the process, not only did she find love; she found her place on the screens of the indie film world.

"So, I guess we’ve been making films together for 11 years, but we’ve done a number of plays and a number of films together. So at a certain point, we just sort of realized we’re best friends and that we loved each other and that was just, it was always there, kind of. What a neat thing that an actress could encounter, creating films with somebody who she loves and vice versa." Theirs is a true indie Valentine story.

Never forgetting her roots, Frederick created a film festival in her hometown in Iowa, The Iowa Film Festival. Frederick muses about how the best part about the October event is being able to give back to the kids and the filmmakers there, and to bring more encouragement into the community where she got her start. The pride of American architecture—the Historic Park Inn, which is the only Frank Lloyd Wright hotel in the world—lends all its refurbished glory to the magic of independent film. “Frank Lloyd Wright was there and his students were there,” Frederick says, “It is just an amazing place to hold the festival. We put together a couple of screening rooms and it’s also been a lovely place for the filmmakers to stay while showing their films.” Frederick says she never would have been successful in any other line of work, saying, she ‘had to be fair to her heart and soul and passion.” She is still learning and developing as an actor and collaborator, still working hard and as often as she can.

Of Jaglom’s current production, the onstage production of Train to Zakopane, Frederick says she had mixed emotions upon her first reading of it, calling into question many moral issues that still press audiences today. “I think we’re in the correct political landscape right now where people need some sort of emotional event. They need somewhere that’s not just an intellectual acknowledgement of these fires that are raging around the world in terms of racism, anti-Semitism. They need somewhere to actually feel something. And I think that this play is so important and people being able to support this play, I think, gives them a feel as though they’re doing something because they’re sort of reconciling with their own ideals, especially being a town full of Jews, their own belief systems about—it’s the most difficult play I've ever done because the whole second half is a love story about an anti-Semite and a Jew.” Frederick explains.

Frederick’s challenge was to make her character likable and to get the audience to sit in their seats for the second act, despite the vehemently difficult plotline.  Frederick says she felt physically sick after reading the script. So much so that she was unsure about taking it on even at this stage of her career. “I thought ‘I can never do this. Nobody’s going to want to see this. I’m never going to get hired in this town again.’ But Henry was very passionate about making it and with Gary’s brilliant direction and a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful cast I just went for it.” Frederick compares her co-star Mike Falkow as a modern Leslie Howard.  Laughing, she adds, “It’s his elegance and his poise. I really see him as that and Henry does too, and he makes this character. We’ve worked our assess off to really develop the love,” Frederick explains.

“Now I've come to a place where I’m really passionate about the story, the character, what people walk away with, and know what I need to do to bring the forgiveness in there, to bring the reconciliation of these two characters, to help people understand where seeds of hatred come from. And it’s been quite amazing. I’m actually, I don’t want to say having a good time doing it, but I do want to say I’m having a joyful time playing the role.” Frederick embraces the history and the importance of telling these kinds of stories, but admits that working on this project has changed her forever. “I've done beautifully, wonderfully storytelling plays like The Rainmaker that we ran for a year and got standing ovations for. It’s beautiful storytelling. It’s lovely. I did Sylvia, which was so much fun because I got to play a dog. But doing this piece right now at this specific time for everything brought me such pain.”  Frederick says. “I was a mess during rehearsals, but the international relations political science geek in me is thankful that I have something right now that means something. Sylvia—yeah, it was a fun play—but I don’t think right now would be the time to do something like Sylvia.” Frederick says.

“Today, we need plays like these. Now is the time to do something that does create change.  I believe one of the ways that people can change is through emotional understanding. So, yes, it’s been a tough ride to really feel in my heart and really grasp the fact that, as an actor, I have to look at the role of Katia as a protagonist in order to explain where her hatred comes from. … The audience has been incredible because it’s like I come out, and there’s Holocaust survivors and Polish Jews. It’s amazing, the specificity of Henry’s story about his father. And using the complete specificity of that has given this play a universal understanding, if you will, because everybody has specific stories from that time.” Frederick says.

Train to Zakopane is running through March 28 at The Edgemar Theatre in Los Angeles. With onstage performances still to come and two other films in postproduction, 2015 is already kicking into high gear.  Frederick’s own film, Garner, Iowa is to be shown in this year’s Iowa Film Festival. “Working on Garner, was amazing. We shot in the freezing cold. We shot in the ungodly heat. We shot with local crew, local cast—the talent is amazing. And so that will be coming out in 2015, and I’m so excited for it to come out! It is a gorgeous, breathtaking film, for women especially, and confronting the stigma against mental illness.” Frederick has played many a damsel in distress, and she has played quirky, whimsical characters in Jaglom’s films with great success. But playing a mentally ill woman in a small Midwestern town—in this role she presents a very serious, tough, Olive-Kittredge sort of gritty woman. Frederick says, “We showed a short sneak preview at the Iowa film festival last year. The response was so incredible. Many people came up to me and told me their story after: mothers who were bipolar, people who had struggled with bipolarity, people whose kids were bipolar. Their stories were incredible and again, to me, doing work that creates a dialogue, that just sparks any sort of talk about something that people are not inclined to talk about or are too frightened to talk about, that is the kind of work that I find myself drawn to,” Frederick adds.

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As if Frederick’s schedule was not crazy enough, she is also training for the LA Marathon. She is raising money for a village in the Ben Tre district of Vietnam, where funding is needed to install a hundred water filters. “I had a really hard time the last run and was very discouraged. This time, for this cause, I just said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to run this.’ I’m going to run it to raise money for our kids and our clean water initiative, and I’m not going to care about what happened last time.” Frederick laughs. “I've been doing my long runs and training and taking the pressure off and it has brought the joy back to my running, which I love doing, and it really does help me onstage to get rid of all the chaff with doing the shows. It’s a necessity for me to do something as equally as difficult physically as what I’m doing onstage,” Frederick says. “That is how you do it when you know it is all you can do. You just get back on the horse and keep on riding.”

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Frederick’s life is a true Hollywood story. Gaining happiness, experience, continuing her fitness, keeping up with a creative partner, and managing to pull it all off so gracefully.

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