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Interview: Getting to Know Barry Pearl on his Third Time Directing 13 THE MUSICAL

this time at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center

Interview: Getting to Know Barry Pearl on his Third Time Directing 13 THE MUSICAL

Panic! Productions, along with Born To Perform Studios and BarCinBoo Productions, Inc. have announced that Barry Pearl will once again direct their late summer teen musical 13, this time at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center. With music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and book by Dan Elish and Robert Horn, the musical centers on twelve-year-old Evan Goldman who moved from NYC to small-town Indiana after his parents' divorce. As his 13th birthday nears, he must master the complex social circles of his new school and win friends by turning his Bar Mitzvah into the coolest party ever.

This will be Pearl's third time working with Panic! Productions and also his third time directing the musical on the West Coast (Hillcrest Center for The Arts, the El Portal in NoHo, and Palos Verdes Center for The Performing Arts). A long-time veteran of stage, screen and TV, Barry is best known for his portrayal of Doody in Paramount's iconic hit film, "Grease" and with kids as Prof. Tinkerputt in Bedtime With Barney.

Interview: Getting to Know Barry Pearl on his Third Time Directing 13 THE MUSICAL I decided to speak with Barry about his connection to the teen musical and what inspired him to direct it for the third time, as well as how it may differ from his previous incarnations.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me, Barry!

You are most welcome, Shari!

You wear so many hats as an actor, director, producer and teacher. What first inspired you to pursue such a varied career in the arts?

When the light in the operating room hit me as my mother gave birth, it seems! It actually started when I was very young and my mother, Sarah, as well as my aunts and my grandmother saw that I had a flare for performing. Mom had enrolled me in Miriam Mencer's tap dance class. Miriam put on a revue at the end of each year and for two years the revues were centered around me, who was the youngest boy in the class and a young girl by the name of Maxine Gillman. That became the bug that bit me.

Subsequently I became involved with the community theater in my hometown, the Lancaster Little Theater. After doing a few shows with them, I was cast in a few plays at the Green Room Theatre at Franklin and Marshall College. One of them was a production of Richard III which starred a young Roy Scheider as the evil king.

In 1959 I then got cast as Sonny Flood in a production of Dark at the Top of the Stairs at one of the oldest theaters in the country, the Fulton Opera House (now The Fulton Theatre where I'd return as an adult to do several shows) in my hometown of Lancaster PA. It was there that my mother and I met a playwright from New York City by the name of Chuck Miller who had taken a job running lights for the production in order to pay his rent. He told my mom that one of these days he was going to get her son on Broadway.

Interview: Getting to Know Barry Pearl on his Third Time Directing 13 THE MUSICAL Pictured: Barry Pearl as Doody in the hit movie Grease.

Two years later, in the summer of 1961, my mother got a call from Chuck who was friendly with the secretary to the man who produced Bye Bye Birdie on Broadway, Edward Padula. As it turns out the young boy who was playing the role of Randolph McAfee was leaving to do a new Broadway show called Milk and Honey. And when Chuck told the producers that he knew the kid that could fill the role, the next thing you know I'm on a train from Pennsylvania to New York and I never looked back.

As a former Theatre Arts teacher myself, tell me a bit about what inspired you to open your own acting school in 1979, The Acting Lab.

When I moved out to California in 1976, I began taking improv classes from the great Howard Storm. He was teaching the Viola Spolin Theatre Games Technique and I fell in love with the process so much that I began teaching it three years later and forming a private program with two friends. One of them taught our acting technique class, Don Petrie (director of Mystic Pizza, My Favorite Martian, Grumpy Old Men, and Miss Congeniality, among others), and the one who taught a commercial workshop, the late Beth Launer, was one of the most successful commercial casting directors in LA.

Interview: Getting to Know Barry Pearl on his Third Time Directing 13 THE MUSICAL Pictured: The cast of 13 THE MUSICAL at Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, directed by Barry Pearl.

I read that The Viola Spolin Theatre Games Technique is at the center of your classes, and through the years you have given master classes in this process all over the US. For those not familiar with it, can you tell me a bit about why you believe so strongly in the Spolin improvisation technique?

The Spolin Game process allows for one to become most in tune with one's intuitive self; keeps one in the moment; teaches one to abandon any personal considerations and to be fearless. It also suggests that it's "never what you think it is" because all objects are created out of the thin air. It's a bit like what a mime might do (though one does not have to be proficient in mime) because one has the universe at one's disposal. It also takes a great deal of specificity to create such realities. That kind of exercise on that level then begins to manifest itself on the more sophisticated levels as one builds the psychology of any given character.

I read that you also produce, direct, and teach film arts to the special needs' community throughout the country with Joey Travolta's Inclusion Film Company. How did you get involved with the group?

Back in 2014, I received a telephone call from Joey Travolta's wife, Wendy Shawn Travolta, the daughter of the late Dick Shawn, asking if I would be interested in teaching Summer Film Camp for Joey's company. I figured that I'd use the Spolin Games as an approach and it worked beautifully. Between my own experience working in front of the cameras and having been teaching this technique to kids and adults since 1979, it was a perfect match.

Can you share a few inspiring memories during your work with them?

There's a game we play called Department Store. One player sits at the information booth in a store that sells everything in the universe. There's nothing the place doesn't carry. One by one the other players walk up to the info person and ask where in the store can they find what they need (i.e., A left-handed, polka dotted, laser guided monkey wrench.) The info person then simply provides their fellow player with directions to what floor, which escalator, staircase, elevator, right turn, left turn, isle, etc. where such items can be found.

Interview: Getting to Know Barry Pearl on his Third Time Directing 13 THE MUSICAL Pictured: The cheerleaders perform "Opportunity" in 13 The Musical.

I had two young boys in my class with Downs Syndrome. One was a bit harder to understand than the other and playing the info person may have been a challenge for him. When I was about to move to another game, he, Matthew, wanted to play the game again but as the info person. So, in a way to positively reinforce him, I figured I'd play the game with him alone and then move on. I entered into the scene as a druggie looking for where the drug store was. Matthew gave me directions as best he could. Then as I turned to exit, he shouted out, "Go to your bad place!" At that point, I had the entire class play the game again with Matthew as the info guy. It proves how they surprise you at every turn.

However, the thing I'm still wanting to knit into my fabric is not to be surprised. The element of surprise carries with it a sort of an underestimation that shouldn't live inside us teachers. This underscores the message of 13 The Musical in that we all (still) have a little more homework to do.

Interview: Getting to Know Barry Pearl on his Third Time Directing 13 THE MUSICAL Was Grease your first movie? Since you played Doody in it, I imagine you have a lot of fun with special events surrounding the movie all over the country now.

No, I've done a lot of film. Grease, however, is the most iconic. Yes, the entire cast who gathers to do these autograph signing events all over the world have a ball! Our recent UK trip to the LiverpoolCon was beyond amazing. We're a big loving family, us Greasers.

Did working in that teen musical comedy inspire you to direct 13? Or was it a similar experience you had with your own bar mitzvah?

Surprise Surprise...Unlike Evan Goldman, the lead character in 13 The Musical, I was never Bar Mitzvah'd. Long story, but I believe the lack of the male influence in my family might have been at the core of why it never came to be. Also, I'd moved to NY and had a career which found me on the road the year of my 13th birthday understudying Barry Gordon in A Thousand Clowns and, subsequently, doubling for him in the film version.

Now on to your new production of 13, which I saw for the first time at the El Portal in NoHo. What is it about this musical that inspires you to keep bringing it back to audiences?

JRB's music, Dan Elish and Robert Horn's book, the energy, enthusiasm and passion of the young casts, the inspiration of my fellow creatives and the aforementioned message.

Interview: Getting to Know Barry Pearl on his Third Time Directing 13 THE MUSICAL How will this new production in Simi Valey be similar or different from other productions you have directed?

First and foremost, the distinctly different egos and talents of this unique cast as well as the new ideas of my two creative partners, Michelle Elkin and her choreographic wizardry and Lloyd Cooper's inspiring musical direction. I, too, will discover new things along the way which have yet to reveal themselves. That said, there are moments from previous productions that I will explore reintroducing as well.

Have you worked with these two before?

Lloyd and I have. Though not in this kind of partnership. This is my first (of many, I'm certain) time working with Michelle. I've auditioned for Michelle in the past but never collaborated on this level. It's an absolute joy putting our creative heads together on this.

With all the changes going on in society, will you be updating the production to reflect what is going on with teens now, especially how the online world is affecting them?

No need. The script is timeless. I'm a purest and won't muck around with much of those kinds of things.

What do you hope audience members will take away from seeing this production to inspire them to be more creative in their own lives or be more accepting of today's struggling teenagers?

That we never stop growing and learning; and to continue to be mindful of intolerance and to not judge books by their proverbial covers.

Interview: Getting to Know Barry Pearl on his Third Time Directing 13 THE MUSICAL Pictured: A reunion of Barry Pearl, Michael Tucci and Kelly Ward from the original cast of the hit movie Grease.

Are you in touch with any of the actors who appeared in your two previous productions?

Yes, I'm in touch with several from previous casts. It's wonderful to see their growth as talents and as all-around humans. They seem to have taken much from our times together.

How did you and your wife Cindy come up with the name of your company, BarCinBoo Productions, Inc.? What inspired its creation?

Bar = Barry

Cin = Cindy

Boo = A term of endearment we call each other.

We'd originally wanted Boo Boo Productions, in fact that name was on the original ads until we had our attorney and CPA do a search, only to discover the name had been taken.

Can you share any plans the two of you have about bringing work to the stage or in film in the future?

The entertainment world remains our oyster. After all, we ARE Pearls. (OUCH...did that one elicit a groan?)

Yes, but it was perfectly timed! I was really inspired to speak with you when I read you are dedicating this production to all the brave men, women and children of war-torn Ukraine, especially since two of my grandparents immigrated from there. Do you also share a family history from that country?

I do not, though three of my Grandparents are Russian. Two were from Riga. The entire current situation is a global abomination. I've done some fundraising for the victims, but much more needs to be done.

Thanks so much, Barry!

Interview: Getting to Know Barry Pearl on his Third Time Directing 13 THE MUSICAL 13 the Musical has a three-weekend run at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, located at 3050 East Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley, CA 93065, from September 2-18 on Thursday. Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm, with Saturday matinees at 2pm on September 3 and 10. Tickets are $28 adults, $24 for students and seniors, and $20 for children ages 12 and under, available online at®id=9& or by calling (805) 583-7900.

All performers, crew members, musicians, and staff are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Although vaccination is not required for patrons, those indoors are encouraged to wear masks regardless of vaccination status. Masks will be available onsite for patrons who may need one.

From This Author - Shari Barrett

Shari Barrett, a Los Angeles native, has been active in the theater world since the age of six - acting, singing, and dancing her way across the boards all over town. After teaching in secondary sc... (read more about this author)

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