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BWW Interview: Stu James of SLOW FOOD at International City Theatre

on Creating Intimacy While Socially Distant from Other Cast Members

BWW Interview: Stu James of SLOW FOOD at International City Theatre

My eyes were opened to a little-known slice of L.A. history in 2015 when I attended the World Premiere production of RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD, a musical featuring a rare blend of R&B, rock and relevance telling the story of trailblazing Los Angeles entrepreneur and civil rights activist John Dolphin who made his mark on the national music scene by creating the legendary Dolphin's of Hollywood record store in 1948 on Central Avenue in South L.A.

The musical was revamped the following year and presented at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. The charismatic John Dolphin was portrayed in both productions by veteran Broadway actor Stu James, and his attention-grabbing and award-winning performance has led me to follow the talented triple-threat performer ever since.

BWW Interview: Stu James of SLOW FOOD at International City Theatre And now I am looking forward to his virtual theatre appearance in SLOW FOOD, a tender, uproarious comedy by Wendy MacLeod and directed by Marya Mazor for International City Theatre. In this uproarious comedy, a vacationing couple heads to a Greek restaurant in Palm Springs for their anniversary dinner, only to be confronted with the worst service imaginable by a waiter who knows no limits to his meddling. Stu James and Meredith Thomas star as an ordinary, middle-aged couple hoping to celebrate 30 wonderful years of marriage with a special dinner. Perry Ojeda complicates their celebration as the wacky waiter who insinuates his way into their meal, forcing the couple to examine their past as well as their future together.

According to International City Theatre artistic director caryn desai [sic], it's the perfect time for this wacky comedy! "We all need to laugh, now more than ever. Of course, there's no substitute for live, human communication and connection. But, in the meantime, we must find ways to keep connected and engaged until we can once again come together safely."

BWW Interview: Stu James of SLOW FOOD at International City Theatre I decided to get in touch with Stu James to find out more about his involvement with SLOW FOOD and how it is being produced safely since in-person theaters remain shuttered.

Shari Barrett (Shari): It's great to be in touch with you and I look forward to your comedic turn in SLOW FOOD. How did the opportunity arise for you to get involved?

Stu James (Stu): Hi Shari. Thank you so much for having me today. I am most grateful and appreciative. I became involved with SLOW FOOD through my manager, Andy Rooney, calling me and informing me the casting director, Michael Donovan and his assistant casting director, Richie Ferris, BWW Interview: Stu James of SLOW FOOD at International City Theatre requested me to audition for the play. So, due to Covid-19 restrictions, we submitted an audition tape vs. an in-person audition. Then, the following week, I received a callback via Zoom. This was a 2-hour callback where other actors and myself were paired with actresses for the role of Irene (Woman) to create the husband-and-wife coupling. Then, by the end of the day, I believe it was, we received a call with the offer for Peter (Man). My first play, post one year of Covid-19. Theatre is back... at least virtually!!!

(Shari): Will all three actors be appearing together in one location or virtually from three different places to follow current CDC restrictions? It must be challenging to present such an intimate story if you cannot really be in the same room.

BWW Interview: Stu James of SLOW FOOD at International City Theatre (Stu): We are most definitely following CDC guidelines per Actors Equity Association. Everything is virtual: Meet and greet, rehearsals, filming etc. Each department delivers necessary items in masks with proper social distancing... scripts, wardrobe, props, green screen etc., and we end up being crew members in those departments during this process as well. So yes, added responsibilities for the process to flow smoothly.

It is indeed challenging not having the real intimacy that live theatre affords, yet I believe we were able to accomplish that. That's most definitely where the training and finesse of being actors comes into play... lol. Hopefully it translates well in this virtual production since I've never met my cast and director and crew members in person. All via Zoom. Hopefully one day soon.

BWW Interview: Stu James of SLOW FOOD at International City Theatre (Shari): Wow. That has got to be challenging to create that intimacy of being in the same room while being totally separate! Kudos to the SLOW FOOD technical team! Playwright Wendy MacLeod has said, "The play was inspired by a real evening I spent with my family." Have you ever experienced such anger-inducing poor service in your own life? And if so, how did you handle the situation?

(Stu): LOL... Yes, we were informed during table work that the play was inspired in such a manner. Honestly can't recall anything in my life as "Special" as this experience here with Stephen, our waiter. I just know in the past, for me, if the service is more than I am willing to handle, I'd just ask the waiter to make it a to-go order and exit stage left. In the world of SLOW FOOD though, the only path towards the exit is the end of the play, so exiting is no option over food and beer in this case.

(Shari): Will you be singing to your wife during the SLOW FOOD meal before the comedic shenanigans begin?

(Stu): Haha ... remember this is a play and not a musical, so minimal possibility for singing. And if there's one thing that soothes the soul & Irene, that could be a possible serenade. Gotta tune in to see (Smile).

BWW Interview: Stu James of SLOW FOOD at International City Theatre (Shari): I hope so since I remember how emotionally riveting your song delivery was in RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD. I am sure the past year has been challenging for you with in-person theaters shuttered. How have you been stretching your artistic wings until now?

(Stu): I have been growing tremendously during Covid/Rona creation time. I've been a Special Guest Artist at AJP Summer Swing Nights: Drive-In Edition, where I've been able to sing and perform jazz and swing music in a safe, socially-distanced outdoor environment. And I actually produced a Covid-19 PSA Challenge, "Beat Covid 19: From Broadway to LA," with my awesome friends from New York and LA. who are actors and wanted to participate in creating awareness to Mask Up to Fight Covid-19. And lastly, I've been working on my Wellness Coaching Certification through IAPC, which allows me to keep the balance in my life of spirit, mind and body alignment, along with me chanting consistently as a Nichiren Buddhist. So, lots of growth during this Covid 19 experience.

(Shari): That's an impressive use of time! I applaud you for working with others to get the word out about how important it is to Mask Up to Fight Covid-19. And I understand how important it is to center yourself by chanting as I do that every day as well. I know this is a tough question, but is there one production in which you have been involved that really stands out as your favorite? Please tell me a bit about it and why it makes it to the top of your list.

BWW Interview: Stu James of SLOW FOOD at International City Theatre (Stu): Wow... that's hard to answer! Each has had its impact on my life. The top 3 are:RENT - playing Benny was life-changing as my Broadway debut and those relationships are truly real and everlasting; THE COLOR PURPLE - playing Harpo with Tony-nominated, Felicia P. Fields (Love her!!!) and cast was historically impactful being in an Alice Walker Pulitzer Prize-winning novel made into a theatrical experience; then to top it off with RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD playing LA music mogul, entrepreneur and activist for integration, John Dolphin, was the monumental "Icing on the Cake"! These 3 roles have forever affected my life, and I am so grateful for each experience and the journey of each role. No coincidences at all.

(Shari): What is your vision for the future of live theatre once indoor venues can re-open?

BWW Interview: Stu James of SLOW FOOD at International City Theatre (Stu): My vision for the future of theatre is for it to return with the same exuberance, energy and heartfelt stories that have always attracted and fed our human spirits throughout the years. I want it to continue to expand and elevate with material and subject matters that are inclusive of all diverse human experiences, Black, White, Hispanic and Asian cultures. And to be safe and responsible in moving into a post-Covid world. Virtual theatre and streaming also look like another platform and income stream to keep theatre alive and breathing in and out its creativity.

(Shari): Thanks so much Stu for talking the time to chat with me! And I agree that both live, in person theatre and virtual online theatre can exist together in the world as there is a place for both creative outlets without detracting from each other. And what an opportunity we have to share our work with the entire world online now as well as the extraordinary experience of performing live onstage in front of local audiences!

BWW Interview: Stu James of SLOW FOOD at International City Theatre I invite readers to please join me in the virtual audience for SLOW FOOD, a tender, uproarious comedy by Wendy MacLeod, directed by Marya Mazor for International City Theatre, featuring the talents of Stu James, Meredith Thomas and Perry Ojeda. Streaming April 29 through May 16 on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (dark Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays). Tickets are priced at $30 per household and are available for purchase at www.InternationalCityTheatre.org.

Stu James headshot photo courtesy International City Theatre

SLOW FOOD production photos by Mike Bradecich

RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD photos at Lillian Theatre by Ed Krieger

RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD photos at The Kirk Douglas Theatre courtesy of Center Theatre Group


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