Aisle Seat Review and our readers are enjoying a new series of question-and-answer interviews with prominent Bay Area theater people.
Our goal is not to subject you the reader to extended portentous sermons of the guest’s views on Russian translations of lesser-known Mamet flash drama (is there such a thing?)
Too often the people who guide and make theater in the Bay Area are behind the scenes — fast-moving denizens of the curtain lines who mumble into microphones while invariably (always excepting Carl Jordan’s beret collection…) dressed head-to-toe in black. These interviews allow you, the reader, to get to know these amazingly talented people a bit more, as…people.
Offering some personal and professional insights: with a heavy dash of humor, this is Aisle Seat Review’s Not So Random Question Time.
Among the Bay Area’s few married couples who are equally immersed in theater, Michael Scott Wells and Danielle DeBow frequently appear together onstage. Both are Associate Artists with Napa’s Lucky Penny Productions, but their art frequently takes them to other venues. They also work together away from the theater, and have a toddler—the very definition of togetherness.
Michael Scott Wells: Born in Southern California and raised in the Bay Area, Michael has been a part of the theater community for the past fifteen years as an actor, director, fight choreographer, sound designer, casting associate, and musician.
He has appeared on stage recently for CCCT (Bright Star), Sonoma Arts Live (Gypsy, Always Patsy Cline, Hello Dolly). Performances with Lucky Penny Productions, where he is an Associate Artist, include I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change; Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (TBA Award – Featured Actor), Clue: the Musical, Hands on a Hardbody, Annie, The Tasting Room, and Forever Plaid.
Outside of the Bay Area, he was fortunate enough to be a part of the first national tour as Big Anthony in Strega Nona the Musical!, and worked for that production as Associate Technical Director.
Danielle DeBow: Danielle grew up on the stage and studied Theatre and Dance at UC Davis. Dancer turned film actress, turned musical theatre enthusiast, she fell in love with the immediacy and fellowship of the theatre.
She was most recently seen as Alice in Bright Star at CCCT and Rebecca in The Tasting Room at Lucky Penny. You may have seen her at Sonoma Arts Live as Irene Malloy in Hello Dolly, Patsy Cline in Always, Patsy Cline (TBA and Marquee Theatre Award), and Louise in Gypsy.
Danielle is proud to be an Associate Artist at Lucky Penny, her home away from home. When she’s not on stage, you’ll likely find her outdoors chasing her one-year-old and fur babies or finding new ways to turn 90s pops song into folk with her hubby.
ASR: How did you get started in theater?
MW: I’ve always loved to tell stories. My family can regale you with the multitude of puppet shows and make-believe plays I made them sit through as a child. I participated in a number of church plays as well. Then I took a hiatus to focus on sports. All the sports. In high school, a friend asked if I could help stage manage a show he was working on. The bug re-bit me and I never looked back.
DD: I spent much of my childhood on stage dancing. In fourth grade I moved to a new elementary school that focused on learning through musical performance and that is where I fell in love with the art and immediacy of theatre.
ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?
MW: Miss Saigon in 2005 at Diablo Light Opera Company
DD: The Nutcracker, 1992, Bolshoi West
ASR: Who has had the largest impact on your professional development in the theater?
MW: I don’t think I can say just one person or company. Every member of the theater community I’ve had the opportunity to work with has helped shape my life in ways I can truly never thank them enough for.
DD: Many amazing, talented, and compassionate teachers, directors, and crew members have impacted me in ways I’ll be eternally grateful, but I must thank my parents for believing in me and encouraging me to do what I love. They instilled confidence in me that allowed me to pursue opportunities and take risks leading me to where I am today.
ASR: It will likely be several months until theaters reopen. How is your company coping with the shutdown?
DD: The shutdown has been a great challenge. The theatre is where we go to escape, to fill back up when the world drains us. While we miss our theatre family more than words could ever properly describe, we’ve been able to fill at least some of the void jamming in our living room with our one-year-old.
ASR: How do you envision the future for the theater community?
MW: The arts by nature are innovative and revolutionary, so I have no doubt that while this current situation is extremely disheartening for the community, we will all come out of this stronger, more passionate, and more in-tune with who we are as artists and performers.
This time away from the stage, and more importantly, my theatre family has reaffirmed my true love for it. It’s not something that can be created over a zoom call—it’s the tangible aspects I’m craving: the energy exuding from the audience, the jitters in your stomach pre-show, the rush of joy as the overture starts, the sweaty hugs post-show, and the unforgettable conversations in the wings with cast and crew. I know we will get back to it, and I’m proud of the community and companies that are finding ways to bring opportunities for us to share our craft and stories in new ways while we’re restricted from gathering during the pandemic.
ASR: What are some of your favorite dramas? Musicals? Comedies?
DD : While many shows stand out for me, the three shows that top my list are Godspell, Always Patsy Cline, and Bright Star.
MW: Godspell, Big River, and Evil Dead, the Musical.
ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?
DD: Costumes, without a doubt. I’m in constant awe of the men and women who pour their hearts and souls into the costumes we wear on stage. They’re tasked with near-impossible requests and somehow end up making us look beautiful (or hideous depending on the requirements), period-appropriate, and tailored, all while ensuring our frocks can handle our quick changing, jumping, falling, dancing, and sweating through them.
MW: That’s a tough choice. It’s a toss-up between lighting and sound for me. There’s something about creating the atmosphere of a moment to make not only the audience but the storytellers feel that moment deep in their gut. That’s what excites me.
ASR: As hard as it may be to pick just one, can you name a Bay Area actor who you think does amazing work?
DD: Dyan McBride is one of my favorite people to watch on stage. Not to mention, one of the most supportive, humble, and passionate actors to work beside. She’s reliable, devoted, and brings out the best in those around her. Her attention to detail, poise, and comedic timing are impeccable. I aspire to captivate an audience as she can.
MW: It’s been a while since I’ve seen in him in anything, but Joel Roster is truly one of the finest actors I have ever witnessed on stage. I could watch him read the phone book. He is never anything but 100% genuine in everything that he does. I have never laughed harder or felt so deeply than when Joel tells a story.
……. asking a stranger to borrow their popcorn bucket to throw up in.
ASR: How do you warm up before a performance? How do you relax after?
DD: My warm-up varies drastically by the show, but once I get a routine, it must not be broken (kidding/not kidding). I always do a few push-ups right before I hit the stage to shake the jitters and get my blood going. Sometimes my opening costume makes this a challenge, but I’ve yet to find one that’s thwarted me. My last two performances were unique in that my pre-show routine also included breastfeeding my newborn backstage. The two companies I had the privilege to work with made it possible for me to continue to pursue my dreams and share the experience with my baby. I will be eternally grateful to Lucky Penny and CCCT for those unforgettable and cherished memories.
MW: Most people will say you’ll catch me cracking jokes right up to the curtain. This is part ploy to hide my nerves and part enjoying the heck out of my job and the people I’m with. I am always nervous before any show, no matter if it’s opening night or closing night. I try to take a moment or two to stretch and get my mind centered. But when it comes down to it, frivolity is truly the best medicine for preparing myself to go on a nightly journey. After a show—that really depends on the show, but it all generally ends with a late-night snack and binging something on Netflix.
ASR: What theater-related friendship means the most to you? Why?
DD: The cast and crew of Cowgirls at Lucky Penny will forever mean the world to me. The relationships I built during that show continue to enrich my personal and stage life. The theatre became our home. Michael proposed to me there, Barry married us on stage and in real life, and Taylor, Dani, Staci, Dyan, and Heather are some of the most important confidants in my life.
MW: There are many individuals I truly cherish in the theater universe. And while I may not see some of them as often as I’d like right now, the cast/crew of Godspell from a 2014 production will always be in my heart. You’ll never see a group who sweated more, loved harder and supported one another through every trial and tribulation. I can never thank that group of humans enough for the joy and love they brought into my life.
ASR: What is the funniest screw-up you’ve seen on stage in a live performance?
MW: During a production of Into the Woods, Little Red missed her entrance for a scene with Jack. In this production, they used a live chicken for Jack to carry around in this scene. This turned into a hilarious 3-4 minute improvised scene between the actor playing Jack and this live chicken. When Little Red finally showed up, out of breath having clearly run from the dressing room, the audience gave Jack a rousing round of applause for his show-stopping improvisation skills.
ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?
DD: Performing in the wine country comes with its perks, and one of them is often a well-oiled audience. This can make for some wonderful laughs and energetic claps, as well as wine glasses shattering in front of you while singing a tender ballad, or a drunken audience member turning on the house lights while bickering with her partner across the theatre. Yes, that all happened during a single performance.
MW: It’s safe to assume that when you perform in the heart of wine country, most audience members will typically, and hopefully in a responsible fashion, enjoy an adult beverage before coming to the theater. But in some cases, “responsible” can be taken many ways. In one example, it wasn’t just one person but a party bus that decided to over-serve themselves before a show. This resulted in several hilarious moments of call and response, clumsily attempting to leave the theater in the middle of a heartbreaking ballad, and topping off the evening with asking a stranger to borrow their popcorn bucket to throw up in.
ASR: Do you have a “day job?”
DD/MW: We work as the sales and marketing team for a digital workspace consultancy in Davis, CA.
ASR: What are your interests outside of theater?
MW: I’ve been a musician since I was old enough to hold an instrument. The guitar is my main muse but I can play just about anything if you give me twenty minutes to figure it out.
ASR: You discover a beautiful island on which you may build your own society. You make the rules. What are the first three rules you’d put into place?
- Chew with your mouth closed.
- Be nice.
- Chew with your mouth closed. (Yes, I repeated #1; Misophonia made me do it.)
ASR: If you were arrested with no explanation, your friends and family might assume you had done what?
DD: Attacked someone for chewing too loudly.
ASR: Theater people often pride themselves on “taking risks”—have you any interest in true risk-taking, such as rock climbing, shark diving, bungee jumping, skydiving?
MW: I am a total thrill-seeker. Who wants to go skydiving?
ASR: Favorite quotes from movies or stage plays?
DD: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
MW: “May the force be with you.” – Star Wars
ASR Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact: email@example.com.