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BWW Interview: Sandra Tsing Loh THE BITCH IS BACK - This Time With Special Guests

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Sandra Tsing Loh streams her 2015 comedic hit THE BITCH IS BACK for The Broad Stage, beginning June 23, 2021

BWW Interview: Sandra Tsing Loh THE BITCH IS BACK - This Time With Special Guests

Sandra Tsing Loh streams her 2015 comedic hit THE BITCH IS BACK for The Broad Stage, beginning June 23, 2021. This streaming performance of THE BITCH IS BACK recorded live will be complemented with added live talkbacks featuring special guests Marlo Thomas, Caroline Aaron, Marilu Henner, Melanie Mayron and JoBeth Williams. The ever-industrious Sandra made some time between frequent COVID-safe book-signing/lawn parties to answer a few of my queries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Sandra!

The streaming of your THE BITCH IS BACK taped live in 2015 at the The Edye Theatre at The Broad Stage (which I totally enjoyed!) will be paired with live 'happy hours' with various guests. How did you come up with the idea for these pairings?

Right now - June into July 2021 - we are in what I consider Pandemic Lifting Eve. The world is partially open, though still not completely. We yearn to gather, even though some of us (like Sleeping Beauty waking up) are not entirely ready for our close-up - which is to say, to grab those car keys and zip ourselves back into those "hard pants" (particularly if we've gained a certain "COVID-19").

So I felt our live Zoom happy hours would meld the best of both worlds. Yes, you can stream THE BITCH IS BACK June 23-30 at any time you wish, ice cream container on your chest, pandemic style. Also yes, though, here's a last opportunity to lift that gentle Zoom pajama cocktail and savor a fun meeting of the minds as we prep a return to the world. The beauty of Zoom is that we can host a party with folks from multiple locations (no JetBlue needed from NY) - and no one knows what you're wearing from the waist down (um, or even a bra)!

And what we're celebrating, after an exhausting year, is WOMEN 45+ in all our various forms! The more formal happy hours on Thursday June 24 and Saturday June 26 are being streamed by The Broad Stage. Admittance to those happy hours are included in your streaming ticket. I'm also hosting some more informal ones, on Wednesday June 23 (THE BITCH COCKTAIL PARTY) and Friday June 25 (RATED FFF: THE BITCHING HOUR). For more info on those, visit: sandratsingloh.com.

You've worked with Melanie Mayron in June of last year promoting your book The Madwoman and the Roomba: My Year of Domestic Mayhem. Have you worked with your other guests before?

Yes! A few years ago, my partner Frier McCollister and I happened to be seated at the same table as Caroline Aaron at a local awards show. We proceeded to hound Caroline mercilessly over the chicken-and-rice-pilaf dinner to find a little time in her busy Hollywood schedule to do theater. She has never forgiven us. (Caroline later added a line to my show in question, literally, to the audience: "My agent forbade me from doing this play.") The play became THE MADWOMAN IN THE VOLVO, based on my memoir of the same name, which premiered at South Coast Repertory, co-starring Shannon Holt, with Lisa Peterson directing, running subsequently at The Pasadena Playhouse and Berkeley Repertory Theatre (all in the same year)! Via what I call Caroline Aaron's "little black book", I was able to rope in - only in the pandemic, mind you - Marilu Henner and JoBeth Williams. This absolutely floored me: I have been a huge longtime fan of all of these great actresses - to me, they are American cultural icons. Same with Marlo Thomas!

BWW Interview: Sandra Tsing Loh THE BITCH IS BACK - This Time With Special Guests Caroline, Marilu, Melanie and JoBeth have been generous enough to share their talents this year to do Zoom readings of a play I've been developing with the wonderful help of New York Stage & Film (current title: THE MADWOMEN IN THE PANDEMIC). One of the many things that fascinates me about these four actresses is that all have history with the plays of Wendy Wasserstein, who still stands out for me as a playwright who wrote great roles for women 50-plus.

Regarding Melanie Mayron, I met her via another completely unexpected way-but if I told you all the details, our children would kill us.

How easy was the process of booking your five guests? A single phone call? A maze of emails?

Marlo Thomas had been a guest in December 2020 on BOOKISH, an hour-long Zoom author show I've been hosting during the pandemic, produced by SCNG (the Southern California News Group). Promoting her book What Makes A Marriage Last, co-written with her husband (of 40 years!) Phil Donahue; Marlo was a smashing guest who broke our Zoom box office records. With many emails, I inveigled her to join us to talk further, in a fun and relaxed hour.

The amazing Chris Burney, artistic director of New York Stage & Film (who I first met in the late 1990's at Second Stage in New York!) (he was but five years old) seamlessly juggled the different time zones and shooting schedules of our four esteemed Saturday night guests. Phew! I call him "The Diva Whisperer."

How many of your 2015 performances were taped to be edited to the finished product? A couple? The entire three-week run?

Great question! The film is taken from two shows on the final weekend - on Saturday, a matinee and then an evening. If you look closely, you can see various audience members in various states of jolly inebriation. (I think Saturday night was more sloshy - although, come to think of it, our matinees weren't so straight-laced either. The "matinee" was actually at 5 p.m., a surprisingly desirable time for many middle-aged theatre goers, which a friend of mine called "the Vespers" ("Show at 5, dinner at 7, in bed by 9... heaven!"))

BWW Interview: Sandra Tsing Loh THE BITCH IS BACK - This Time With Special Guests THE BITCH IS BACK was originally an essay that you wrote for The Atlantic and was selected a Best American Essay for the 2012 edition of the Best American Essay series. Was it a no-brainer to turn your essay into a one-woman show?

Another great question! So: The Bitch is Back (the Atlantic essay) became a memoir THE MADWOMAN IN THE VOLVO (W.W. Norton) which started to wend its way into a play. Frankly, my original concept for turning my memoir about menopause into theatre was to create a VAGINA MONOLOGUES, a LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE, or hell, even a MENOPAUSE: THE MUSICAL! I saw three to six music stands with index cards on them, beloved celebrity actresses in black that you could rotate out every two weeks, myself sitting in the back of the theatre or even at home collecting generous royalty checks.
The trouble started at the Sundance Theatre Lab (led then by Philip Himberg) when Lisa Peterson brilliantly outlined what the play needed to be on a napkin. Not an easily-producible piece filled with star turns, this was going to be an extremely theatrical Dantean mid-life journey to the self. The central image was that of a woman lost in a storm. Instead of bare music stands, there would be a gorgeous hallucinatory set (full of real sand to conjure the desert at Burning Man!) designed by Rachel Hauck. The parts were challenging, requiring truly gifted stage actresses (among other things, they had to play men).

This developing play THE MADWOMAN IN THE VOLVO moved from Sundance to the Ojai Playwrights Festival. The Broad Stage (via Jane Deknatal) expressed interest in premiering the final version, but the timing didn't quite gel and South Coast Repertory got it first (it opened in January 2015). Now The Broad Stage had a slot open in summer at the Edye so... did I have something else to fill it?

It turned out, I had been developing material on book tour for THE MADWOMAN IN THE VOLVO. Author book tours are notoriously dull: audiences show up in a brightly lit bookstore to face rows of folding chairs, a notable lack of wine and cheese, and an author who will read (droning on) for 40 minutes. In process of the tour for this book, women began hosting house parties for me, which were more fun than the more traditional book store stops. (Cheryl Strayed author of Wild threw me my first one in Portland.) To be honest, as many women 45+ are emerging from "young motherhood" (meaning their kids are moving through elementary school into middle school and up), they start to reconnect with themselves, to take a break, look at their lives, and say, "What have I been doing in the last 10-20 years? 50 is rising ahead - that's half my life! What's next?"

BWW Interview: Sandra Tsing Loh THE BITCH IS BACK - This Time With Special Guests Which is a polite way of saying, as the book tour went on, these women's house parties became kind of fabulously wild. At one in particular (Northern California), women were walking up in the driveway in quasi-Mardi Gras costumes, toting bottles not just of chardonnay but of Jim Beam... and I mean the one with the handle! I was preceded by a fire dancer. "There is no way I'm going to stand in your backyard and can read from my book," I told the hostess.

But I had to do something. So half in terror, I just plowed into that squalling female audience and threw out riffs I felt would connect with them... Much like any (terrified) street performer in Times Square or a busker. I had been working a fair amount of call and response into my solo shows for years (starting with MOTHER ON FIRE at the 24th Street Theatre), so this series of riffs became a major part of my "book tour."

So for The Broad Stage show, I compiled the most reliably effective of my "book tour" bits together. In such a way, the audience - and their responses - literally became a part of the show (these interactions - and which directions they can go - are literally marked in the script). (A favorite example is a section I call: "What store has the best food samples?") (Hint: the answer is not "Bristol Farms"-although an occasional Broad patron in "the expensive seats" insisted on that.) (Although it's even funnier if that person is in "the cheap seats"- in that instance, I might move him/her/them to a fancier "Bristol Farms"-friendly table.)

And the innovative Broad Stage effectively transformed the Edye into an in-the-round cabaret bar, so I was able to serve drinks as I went. That fuels a great deal of the raucous fun you see in the film.

You've been productive during our past pandemic months, hosting curbside pick-ups of refreshments with your book The Madwoman and the Roomba: My Year of Domestic Mayhem. Was that fun seeing/meeting people COVID-safely? Any interesting incidents that you will write about?

I have to say, this COVID-safe curbside pickup gambit was one of the most delightful things I ever did. It brought me back to my performance art days, when I did a piano concert on the Harbor Freeway (in 1987) for Fringe Festival L.A. That was a time before social media and Netflix, where artists "took it to the streets" to connect directly with people. I had such relaxed visiting time with folks who wrote me through my website, right there on my driveway. (That was the summer we discovered Bartles & Jaymes Watermelon Mint wine coolers.)

There was a steady stream of people throughout the summer, driving from as far away as Diamond Bar, just because my COVID-safe driveway book signings provided ANY REASON to go ANYWHERE. In the spirit of freedom, I embraced the fact that we had no gardeners in the pandemic and our yard (not to mention my person) was getting a bit shaggy. But then Lolita Davidovich wrote.

"Not that Lolita Davidovich!" I thought... But truly, how many of them are there? Indeed, it was she - and in some embarrassment, I said, "I'd love you to come - I'd be thrilled to meet you, I'm a big fan - but please forgive the weeds."

Next thing, Lolita Davidovich is sauntering up the drive with a chainsaw. (And she's a petite person, so you can imagine the vision.) (With her delightful daughter in tow, the musician Valentina Shelton.)

BWW Interview: Sandra Tsing Loh THE BITCH IS BACK - This Time With Special Guests Did you get a lot of writing done? Or did you master making sourdough bread?

OMG. No, sir. I mastered day drinking (rose all day), and my reward has been the COVID-19. Working on it, so I can live to be seen in public again.

You have a long working history with your director Bart DeLorenzo. Do you remember your first encounter? Was it when you first performed with Joe Frank at the Evidence Room in 2004 that Bart hosted? Did you immediately click?

Oh, my goodness! What a great memory you have! Ladies and gentlemen, BROADWAY WORLD! And RIP the great Joe Frank. Yes, I first worked with Bart at that event, although it was tumultuous and more about managing a crazy audience scene than honing a particular show. (Re: the "scene," Ruth Seymour had fired me from KCRW for uttering the word "f***" on a pre-recorded commentary that was supposed to have been bleeped out. Outraged public radio listeners were responding by mailing mangled pledge drive tote bags and broken pledge drive coffee mugs to the station - forget the Mafia horse head in the bed, the violence!) ("Darnit - that was a very nice tote bag!")

The trajectory of my life in L.A. theatre, though, cannot be described without mentioning the iconic David Schweizer. I was actually first introduced to David by Carole Rothman at Second Stage in New York. I had performed my solo show ALIENS IN AMERICA there (in, I think, 1996), was about to perform my second solo show BAD SEX WITH BUD KEMP there, and Carole thought I needed a director who was good at staging funny shows. (Kevin Adams on set design.)

I worked with David on BAD SEX WITH BUD KEMP, the L.A. version (at the late, great Tiffany Theatre) on ALIENS IN AMERICA, I WORRY (Woolly Mammoth at the Kennedy Center), SUGAR PLUM FAIRY (Seattle Rep, Geffen) (designed by David Zinn), and MOTHER ON FIRE (24th Street Theatre). David and Bart have long lived in the same duplex in Venice; as Bart phased out of The Evidence Room, he phased into directing all over the Southland... Part of that journey was co-helming the direction of shows David was working on as David crisscrossed the country on a multiplicity of projects. Phew.

So I would say David, who is a genius, would get more intense as a show drew to opening. At the first preview of ALIENS IN AMERICA at the Tiffany, I had never actually run the whole show all the way through - a piece of the set that represented my mother's Buick car set arrived literally half an hour before curtain. Bart, on the other hand, always seemed so jolly! (Bart will say he is not, but let us say he is amazingly good at summoning a jolly affect.)

With all the shows you and Bart have collaborated on, do you have a shorthand in communicating your ideas to each other?

BWW Interview: Sandra Tsing Loh THE BITCH IS BACK - This Time With Special Guests Bart is holistic in terms of honing both performances and scripts.

Re: THE BITCH IS BACK, I have to say, first preview (when reviewers were there!) was the first time I ever did the show to an audience bigger than Bart, Frier, and two kind box office ladies from The Broad. That had been just 48 hours before, and Bart's only note had been: "That was fun. Cut 20 minutes."

Any preliminary plans to revise SUGAR PLUM FAIRY this Christmas?

We've come to love doing SUGAR PLUM FAIRY each year (South Coast Repertory, Skylight Theatre, East West Players, with Tony Abatemarco and Shannon Holt), which yields new surprises every iteration. We'd love to roar it back in 2021, but theatres are still in the gradual-opening phase - who knows what the rest of the year holds? And yet, all the SUGAR PLUM FAIRY scenery is stored in my garage... Could it be a special COVID-safe Christmastime driveway performance art piece? Featuring Lolita Davidovich on chainsaw? Never say never!

Thank you again, Sandra! I look for to seeing your 2015 THE BITCH IS BACK again, this time with your added guests.

If you'd like to read my first interview with Sandra from 2018, click here . If you're interested in my review for Sandra's 2015 THE BITCH IS BACK, click here.

For streaming tickets for THE BITCH IS BACK June 23 through 30, 2021; log onto www.thebroadstage.org

All ticket holders can access Sandra live, at two special "happy hours" celebrating WOMEN 45+. Sandra welcomes special guest Marlo Thomas for WOMEN 45+ & RELATIONSHIPS June 24 @ 5pm PT. On June 26 @ 5pm PT, WOMEN 45+ & THEATER: THOUGHTS ON Wendy Wasserstein will feature special guests Caroline Aaron, Marilu Henner, Melanie Mayron, and JoBeth Williams; co-hosted by New York Stage & Film's artistic director Chris Burney.


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