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.
Winner of a San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle award for Transcendence Theatre Company’s 2019 production of A Chorus Line, Daniel Weidlein is a music producer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and music director based in Los Angeles.
Originally from Boulder, Colorado, Daniel has enjoyed a diverse career spanning many parts of the entertainment industry, from acting in Academy Award-winner Whiplash, to performing and music directing on season 3 of NBC’s The Sing Off, to writing and producing Billboard charting music for artists like Blake McGrath, Stan Taylor, and Miss Peppermint. He owns and operates BioSoul Music, a boutique recording studio in LA. In addition to his work as music director and orchestrator for Sonoma County-based Transcendence Theater Company, Daniel has been integral in the development of new musicals such as The Mollyhouse by Richard Hanson and Divya Maus, and Bottleshock by James Sasser and Charles Burwell.
ASR: How did you get started in theater?
DW: From a very young age I acted in musicals, and always loved film musicals in particular, so it’s in my bones. But as I grew older, I felt the call to avenues of performing music.
Professionally, I have worked as a music producer, arranger, music director, instrumentalist, and singer. In almost every single one of those capacities I eventually was brought to the intersection point of the Venn diagram of music and theater.
A major turning point in that regard was the work I did with Morgan Karr in the pop music realm, but ultimately it led me to the work I do in the Bay Area with Transcendence Theatre Company.
ASR: What was the first play you performed in or directed for a paying audience?
DW: The Grifters—a musical theatre adaptation of the book-turned-film with book and lyrics by Joe Giuffre, with music (and musical direction) by yours truly in 2013. Imagine—a theatrical concert of original music from various shows with Transcendence Theatre Company in 2015.
ASR: How many theater companies have you been involved with?
DW: Ahh…Transcendence Theatre Company (Sonoma County), Fogg Theatre Company (San Francisco), NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts (New York City).
ASR: When was your present company formed?
DW: TTC set down roots in Sonoma in 2011 and has been growing ever since!
ASR: Does your company have a special focus, i.e., genre/historical period, contemporary, experimental, emerging playwrights, etc?
DW: Bringing the Broadway experience to the Sonoma Valley!
ASR: Who has had the largest impact on your professional development in the theater?
DW: My fiancé! Divya Maus is an incredible composer and lyricist (wrote The Mollyhouse with Richard Hanson and is in development on a new show, Elijah, that she has written herself).
I serve as the music director, orchestrator, and general editor for her shows. Being able to build her vision from the ground up has helped me grow faster in this business than any “gig.”
….Les Miserables had its place, but we don’t need to keep beating it over our own heads.
ASR: It will likely be several months until theaters reopen. How is your company coping with the shutdown?
DW: Transcendence has been putting on a wonderful online season of shows comprised of highlights from the past ten summers of shows in Jack London State park. There’s one more online show this coming weekend, Sep. 11-13, to commemorate their annual Gala fundraiser!
ASR: How has the COVID-19 crisis affected your planning for coming seasons?
DW: Phew…where to begin? Let’s just hope we can all be back in person in the theater next year…
ASR: How do you envision the future the theater community overall?
DW: I truly believe that theater is going to come back stronger than ever. Nothing replaces an in-person theatrical experience, and the kindling that’s keeping the drive and passion of idle performers all across this country is going to ignite into a brilliant blaze once those hearts and voices and feet are unleashed on the stage again.
ASR: What are some of your favorite dramas? Musicals? Comedies?
DW: West Side Story is a no-brainer. I love Parade. I love Angels in America (I so wish I could have seen the recent revival). I love Hadestown!
ASR: Name three all-time favorites that your company has produced.
DW: Transcendence has only done one full musical so far (the rest are handcrafted reviews and concerts from the Broadway lineage)—A Chorus Line—but it was a blast! Chicago was slated for 2020…
ASR: What are some of your least favorite plays? Care to share titles of those you would never produce—or never produce again?
DW: Les Miserables had its place, but we don’t need to keep beating it over our own heads.
ASR: Which play would you most like to see put into deep freeze for 20 years?
DW: I love Rent, but it’s become that song that’s been played one too many times. I think it may actually age really well if we just hit pause.
ASR: Which rare gems would you like to see revived?
DW: I’m a huge fan of Cole Porter’s music, and yet I will bashfully admit that I’ve only seen Kiss Me Kate. The rest of my experience of his music is through the jazz world.
But I think this is the perfect answer to your question…because his musicals don’t get staged enough!
ASR: What is Shakespeare’s most underrated play? Why?
DW: Seems hard to call any of them underrated…but I’d say Much Ado About Nothing. The tragedies get the credit they deserve, and have deep themes that still very much resonate today, but I think what stands out about Much Ado is that it feels so current, and so modern.
Not just thematically, but in the actual writing. Update the language and the writing and humor feel like they’re part of the canon of indie comedic film writing that I love so much.
ASR: Shakespeare’s most over-performed play?
DW: Hamlet. It’s great…I often feel like I just want to read it though. If you’re going to put it on, please give me a fresh reason to do so!
ASR: If you had to do a whole season performing technical work—sets, lights, projections, sound, props, costumes—which would it be and why?
DW: Light and projections. I’m fascinated with how much you can influence the audience experience with lighting.
I remember seeing Fun Home and being so captivated by how powerful the lighting and projections were. Super simple, yet so powerful.
ASR: As hard as it may be to pick just one, can you name a Bay Area actor who you think does amazing work?
DW: I can’t say her name enough—Lexy Fridell. One of the most brilliant comedic actresses I’ve ever seen in any context, and you Bay Area folks have her all to yourself now in Sonoma after her return from stints in LA and NY.
ASR: How do you warm up before a performance? How do you relax after?
DW: It’s all about building adrenaline so it doesn’t slam into you when the performance starts. So I like to have a little coffee, move my body around a lot, and do a few mental run-throughs of exciting moments of the show.
Afterward, I eat. A lot. All that adrenaline burns calories!
ASR: If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn all that you know, what three things would you tell them are essential?
DW: Great question.
1. It’s all about relationships. Great work is meaningless if you don’t do it in conjunction with all the other people and moving parts that make a show possible.
2. Learn what makes your work unique, and do everything to exploit and celebrate it, rather than try to adapt it to the “norm.”
3. Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Make bold choices—make interesting choices—and let the work and/or the people around you (but not the critics!) inform whether those choices are working or need to be altered.
ASR: What theater-related friendship means the most to you? Why?
DW: There are so many valuable friendships that I have developed through theater. I think the beauty of the theater world is the work requires you to go deep on a personal level with the material—and you’re spending exorbitant amounts of time with one another—so inevitably you end up going deep with your peers during the process.
Compared to most other spheres of my life, I’ve definitely developed more deeply consistent relationships in theater than in any other.
I’ll highlight one great friendship with Tony Gonzalez, a frequent director and choreographer at Transcendence. Tony and I were both new to the creative team in 2016 and were tasked with co-designing and leading the high octane dance show of that year.
The entire process was a masterclass in “yes, and” from the creation side and still to this day is one of my favorite shows I’ve ever put on a stage. With that foundation, Tony has become someone I can share any thought, any concern, any emotion with freely, and he’s always the most supportive and caring friend anyone could ask for!
ASR: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a guest do at the theater?
DW: I’ve seen audience members try to get hand-on with actors coming through the aisles on numerous occasions…please don’t…
ASR: Do you have a “day job?”
DW: I do not! I write and produce music (mostly for other artists…so it’s KINDA a day job…) all day every day when I’m not music directing or playing saxophone and piano.
ASR: What are your interests outside of theater?
DW: Hiking, cooking, basketball, my dog Puri Bhaji.
ASR: What three songs are Included on the soundtrack to your life? And why each?
DW: “John Boy” by Brad Mehldau — it feels like the perfect expression of the curiosity I was talking about earlier.
“Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean — this is the song that can freeze me in my tracks anywhere at anytime. It explores life in a raw, painful way that is so relatable. And Frank’s voice is the ultimate vehicle for expressing that quest.
“Fire in the Sky” by Daniel Weidlein — thought it would be fun to include one of my own. This is the title track off of one of my jazz albums and is really accurate example of how I sometimes can articulate my thoughts and emotions better musically than verbally.
ASR: A fashion accessory you like better than others?
DW: I’m a big jewelry fan in general. Earrings, rings, necklaces. I love making them all work within my wardrobe.
ASR: What would be the coolest animal to scale up to the size of a horse?
DW: An ant. Sounds scary, but it’s insane how much they can carry at their current size. Just imagine…
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, sky diving?
DW: I’ve done a bit of rock climbing. I’m not great with heights, so I feel like I need to conquer that at some point and go sky diving.
ASR: Favorite quote from a movie or stage play?
DW: “I’m curious what makes you so curious,” from Django Unchained. I’m notoriously curious, and one of the things that captivates me most is what drives other people!