Digital Arts Festival

In April of 2020 Center Stage Theater began our Digital Arts Festival. During these challenging times we wanted to create an outlet for artists of all kinds to share their work, and for our audiences to get to know them. We had dance, theater, music, film, visual arts, poetry, story telling, and more! The Festival also included interviews with each artists, sharing their process as art-makers, both during the current time and in happier times. In all we featured 38 artists with a blog post featuring the artist and examples of their work. This may mean photos or videos of past works, it may be performances that are “in home videos” – scenes from the lockdown, if you will. Others include previously recorded performances. We included artists from all genres so there may be no performance but instead examples of visual art, or poetry, or other writing. Jim Sirianni interviewed each artist, and the videos of the interviews are included. The interviews introduce you to the artist, their creative process, how they have been impacted by the quarantine and more.

Scroll through and meet everyone.

Follow our Instagram and Facebook for all the latest information on the Festival.

Day 38 – Mauricio Vera

Jim Sirianni interview with Mauricio Vera

A recent feature of Mauricio Vera in the International Gala of Classical and Contemporary Ballet:

Chilean ballet dancer, Mauricio Vera began his studies in 1998 with Hugo Urrutia Academy In 2000 He was accepted at the Chilean Opera House School of Ballet of the Teatro Municipal de Santiago, under the artistic direction of Patricio Gutierrez. He became a apprentice and corp pf the Ballet De Santiago under the direction of Marcia Haydée. He participate in several Chilean TV productions like the annual Festival International de Viña del Mar. In 2006, he continued studying at the National Ballet of Cuba of Alicia Alonso in La Habana and at Fundacion Julio Bocca in Buenos Aires. After moving to the USA, he trained at Steps on Broadway and School at Steps in NYC and worked with Charleston Ballet Theater in South Carolina. He danced with State Street Ballet in Santa Barbara, CA for six seasons until. He moved back to east coast and joined Roxey Ballet dancing principal rolls, Connecticut Ballet Company, FJK Dance Company for the 2018-19-20 seasons At the same time, he performed at the 2019 Biannual Whitney Museum (Master & Form) installation and Solomon Guggenheim Museum annual Gala.

Mauricio has toured all over Germany, China, South America, as well as the EU invited as a guest artist especially for the Nutcracker season. Mauricio has danced and produced the first Las Condes International Ballet Gala and Festival Reencuentro de Coreógrafos in Santiago de Chile. 

He has trained and worked with: Nancy Bielsky, David Howard, Leslie Brown, Mijaela Tesleoanu at Ballet Nacional de Cuba. He has also worked with choreographers: Marcia Haydee, Ivan Nagy, Ronald Hynd, Rodney Gustafson, William Soleau, Mark Roxey, Andre Prokofviev and dance the choreographies from J.Cranko, G. Balanchine, Sir K. MacMillan, Maurice Béjart, August Bournonville, Vicente Nebrada, among others.

Mauricio Vera
Ballet Dancer & Choreographer
Santa Barbara Ca. NYC / USA
Stgo Chile
(56) 9-3029093

Find Mauricio Vera on Facebook | Vimeo

Day 37 – Harout Aristakessian

Jim Sirianni interview with Harout

Professional Video Reel:

Like A Virgin Dance 

Growing up in Los Angeles as the son of Armenian immigrants, Harout Aristakessian, Founder & Artistic Director of the Dance with Harout (DWH) Performance Company, took his first hip-hop class at the age of ten and was soon identified as a prodigy.  At 14, he received a scholarship to the prestigious Millennium Complex Dance School whose alumni include Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, among others.  Harout started his professional choreography career at only 15, and was asked to co-choreograph and perform a piece live at the Solid Gold Anniversary Celebration.  By the time Harout was 18, he was working as a backup dancer, performing in music videos, and teaching classes at various dance studios throughout Los Angeles where he built a reputation as a talented and inclusive teacher.  

Harout moved to Santa Barbara in 2011 to attend UCSB and quickly built a large following due to his high-energy dance cardio classes and his unique passion in connecting people.  At this time, Harout saw the need in Santa Barbara for a new kind of dance company — one that was open to dancers of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of dance experience, and started his business, “Dance with Harout”.  By 2017, Harout decided to re-connect with his former Los Angeles students and started teaching and directing his LA Performance Company, a sub-division of Dance with Harout.  His community of passionate dancers get to experience the life enriching journey of participating in a show from the early stages of choreography to dancing on stage in a professional production, and have grown throughout the years to over 400 members.   

Harout has performed all over Los Angeles at well-renowned venues from the Staples Center, to the Los Angeles Coliseum, to performing on television on the Disney Channel Show “So Random”, and being a backup dancer in Music Videos for Cody Simpson, and much more. For more information about Dance with Harout, follow along at AND  

Find DWH dance cardio class schedule and pop-up classes on social media, or email Harout at

Show information: 
June 13 & 19, 2020 at 8:00PM

“Fantasyland: Where Fantasy Meets Reality”

Enter the 2020 performance of Dance with Harout Performance Company’s “Fantasyland”, where the bridge between reality and fantasy become interchangeable.  A place where stereotypes are deconstructed and societal rules are broken.  A stage ensemble of dances reflecting the awareness of what your authentic-self fantasizes about and goes on to live and fully accept in reality. 

Tickets available at

Day 36 – Deborah Bertling

Jim Sirianni interview with Deborah

Learn more about Deborah through the links below:

Earthquake Country (film) | RESCUED (film) | Extreming! (podcast)

Youtube | Fan page | Clip from Next to Normal | LinkedIn | Facebook

Deborah Bertling has performed on stages throughout Central California in operas, plays, concerts and staged readings. She has also appeared in commercials and has done voice over work for film and TV ads. Highlights include Magic Flute, Madama Butterfly, Italian Girl in Algiers, Hansel & Gretel, Suor Angelica/Gianni Schicchi and La Traviata. Her musical theater credits include Next To Normal (Indie Award), A Little Night Music, Amelie, Carrie, The Musical, Spring Awakening, The Wild Party, Oliver!, What Rhymes With America and Leonard Bernstein’s Peter Pan, to name a few. Her film credits include Earthquake Country (currently in post-production), RESCUED (currently making the Film Festival rounds in North America and Europe) and Salsipuedes Street. She has had the pleasure of sharing personal stories through Speaking Of Stories’ annual writer’s programming for the past few years. She recently recorded a podcast series by Lee Troxler entitled EXTREMING! voicing an AI-driven android. Next she will co-star in a web series called Mom Life, written by local actors: Janelle Bottlesen Odair and Diane Fredrickson Mackenzie. 

Deborah is President of Performing Arts Scholarship Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to assisting young musicians in Santa Barbara County. She is also Vice President of the CAMA Board of Directors, President of the CAMA Women’s Board, and currently chair of CAMA’s Centennial Celebration Committee. Deborah is passionate about music education and volunteers as a CAMA Music Matters Docent in area schools.

For more about the artist, please visit

Upcoming events and projects:
– Web series called #MOMLIFE (produced by Janelle Bottlestein and Dianne Frederickson).
– Broadway Cruise on Condor Express Sat. July 18.
– Comedy podcast produced by Carol Metcalf .


Day 35 – Lark Batteau

Jim Sirianni interview with Lark Batteau

Video of Lark’s 2000 production of Shakyamuni Life of Buddah

Video of Lark’s 2001 production of Shakyamuni Life of Buddah

Lark Batteau was classically trained at Longey School of Music, Boston Ballet and The Actors Institute in NYC. She’s performed internationally, nationally and locally with Theatre of Process Theatre, Ensemble Theatre and Valerie Huston Dance Theatre as well as creating dance-theater productions of Orpheus & Eurydice (1987) and Shakyamuni: The Life of Buddha (2000). Currently she plays guitar, sings and throttles the audience with her French Cabaret troupe: Bohemian Dreams. She’s also an awarding winning poet. She’s written a memoir called Paris Mishaps and is now writing a coming-of-age memoir about her years living in the Spiritual-Eco community in Northern Scotland called Findhorn.

Day 33 – Selah Dance Collective

Jim Sirianni interview with Meredith Cabaniss

Selah Dance Collective performing Pivot during the Nebula Dance Lab HH11 Festival at Center Stage Theater in February of 2020.

Our Mission Statement

Selah Dance Collective, Inc is a contemporary dance company dedicated to producing original work, creating educational experiences through performance, and maintaining a platform for community dance works and emerging artists through outreach, education, and mentorship.

About Us

Selah Dance Collective, Inc (or SELAH), a Santa Barbara-based contemporary dance company, creates and performs worldwide original work by artistic director and founder MeredithCabaniss. Founded in 2014, SELAH has captured the attention of fellow artists, presenters, and audiences with its innovative work and challenging physicality grounded by a focus to make dance more accessible and relatable to all people. Known for our personality, dynamic style, and technical versatility, SELAH explores the nature of human existence through the art of movement. As a company, we are fueled by interdisciplinary research and collaboration, especially in working with other small dance companies to produce evening-length performances with a variety of different influences and inspirations. We are inspired by the innovative communities of Southern California and New York, constantly igniting long-range artistic work that stretches the boundaries of technology and art. SELAH also advocates for expanding arts exposure and dance education, working within different organizations to bring art, specifically dance, to underserved communities. 

In the past five years, we have performed our work both in festivals and in our own evening-length productions throughout New York and California and have been invited to perform internationally in Asia and Europe. We have created a total of 11 works including five evening-length pieces and two pieces by invited guest choreographers, and have been presented in four countries. We have taken anywhere from a year and a half for a 45-minute work to just a few hours to create and perform a three-minute score.

About Meredith Cabaniss, artistic director

Meredith Cabaniss is a multi-creative artist based out of southern California. She graduated with honors from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a B.F.A. in Dance. During her studies she received a Research Grant for her departmental Honor’s Project, the Corwin Award for choreography, and other departmental honors. Ms. Cabaniss also traveled in Tel Aviv, Israel, to study with Batsheva Dance Company as a recipient of the Patricia Sparrow scholarship.

After finishing her undergraduate education, Ms. Cabaniss received her M.F.A. in dance at Hollins University in collaboration with the Künstlerhaus Mousonturm, The Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts, and The Dresden Frankfurt Dance Company (formerly the Forsythe Company). Additionally, she continued her professional studies in dance and movement and has pursued certifications in Vinyasa and Yin yoga, the Acrobatic Arts syllabus, and Dance Education Laboratory through which she holds Level 1 and 2 certifications for Language of Dance. 

As the founder and artistic director of selah dance collective, Ms. Cabaniss has produced full evening-length performances and presented works throughout the United States in prestigious festivals throughout the United States including the DUMBO Dance Festival (NY), FREEdom DANCEfest (SF), and as a finalist in the McCallum Theater Choreography Competition. Her work has been performed most recently in Estonia, Norway, Finland, and Italy and is frequently commissioned by the University of California, Santa Barbara for their performing companies. Ms. Cabaniss also currently serves as co-artistic director of Növus Dance Project in Los Angeles and company manager and collaborator with Nebula Dance Lab in Santa Barbara, most recently producing a collaborative, multi-media evening-length work at the historic Lobero Theater. Ms. Cabaniss is currently on faculty as ballet master at the prestigious Camarillo Academy of Performing Arts and is a resident teaching artist for Children’s Creative Project through the Santa Barbara County Education Office. She has served on adjudication panels for SB Dance Alliance and The Choreo Fest with Watson Dance and continues traveling nationally and internationally as a dance educator and advocate for the arts. She currently also serves as Executive Director of Santa Barbara Dance Alliance and as a board member for Artspace Inc/Center Stage Theater, a black-box style community theater in downtown Santa Barbara.

Day 32 – Ellyette Iverson/eji experiences

Jim Sirianni interview with Ellyette Iverson

ellyette “elly” iverson
owner | event producer

I am a Santa Barbara native with international style, having explored and lived in a variety of vibrant metropolis spaces like New York, DC, San Francisco, San Diego, Athens, Greece and Lima, Peru (to name a few!)

Those spaces provided me with access to a wide range of cosmopolitan trends and art experiences, which I have been eager to share and explore with the Santa Barbara region I call home. 

Through my event production compay, eji experiences, I have been working tirelessly to create new styles of events, with have ranged from body positive disco parties in contemporary art spaces, to wig-themed bar crawls hosted by drag queens, to block parties featuring up and coming mural artists, musicians, and merchant partners. 

These past few weeks have been absolutely reeling for everyone in the event world (and beyond!) but I believe that people still desire creative outlets and will seek ways to connect with their communities. I am currently exploring the virtual e-vent world and working to provide more resources for the freelance artist community on how to live-stream workshops and concerts during this time of physical isolation. 

Humans need interaction, and I am confident that unique social experiences will be in demand more than ever once safety concerns abate, but in the meantime I think it is critical to think creatively and provide resources for positive virtual interactions and culture sharing. 

Website :

Facebook :

Instagram :

Day 31 – James Paul Brown

Jim Sirianni interview with James Paul Brown

In 1970 Brown published the first edition of Earth Magazine, and later that same year introduced Earth News Radio and established the similarly formatted Rock News syndication. In 1980, Brown sold Earth News, divorced, remained involved in radio syndication for his bread and butter, and moved to a Santa Monica cottage to pursue the life of an artist. After two solid years of 10 hour days of painting, members of the burgeoning Venice Art Community and gallery owners began taking notice of his work. Collectors such as Kris Kristofferson, Cheech Marin, Mayor Koch, Tina Louise, Lee Iacocca, Ray Kroc and leading dealer Paul Cantor began purchasing his paintings. His paintings opened the West Beach Café, which was a popular enclave and showing place for Venice artists (such as Chuck Arnoldi, Billy Al Bengston, Jean Paul Basquait) and across the street from the L.A. Louvre Gallery.

In 1982, Brown was commissioned to paint the backdrop for Raymonda Variations by the Los Angeles Ballet. To commemorate the New York Philharmonic’s 1983 season, Brown painted a poster which he delivered with gift portraits of famed pianist Rudolph Serkin and conductor Zubin Mehta. Brown’s mural of St. Tropez graced the entrance to the Palace Theatre for the entire duration of the Broadway show, La Cage Aux Folles in the early 1980’s. In 1984 Brown became the official artist of the United States swim team. Brown was invited by CBS Sports to capture the Pan Am and World Games. He crossed network lines to become the NBC Sport’s artist for their television coverage of the Bruce Jenner Games and Wimbleton Tennis Classic, and his watercolor paintings of Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Princess Diana were telecast throughout the world. Highlighting these achievements was Brown’s involvement in Presidential Inaugurations as the official artist for “Taste of America.” Pepsi Co. commissioned Brown to paint Michael Jackson during his Thriller tour as well as other venues.

Brown’s original art has adorned the walls of the corporate offices of Pepsi, NBC, Reebok, and Adidas and his original art is also visible in the Swimming Hall of Fame. Brown has frequently donated his time and talent to charitable organizations. He has donated art to Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, The Hunger Project with the late actor Raul Julia, The Los Angeles Ballet, the New York Philharmonic, The American Cancer Society, The Arthritis Foundation, Tipper Gore’s Breast Cancer Walking Marathon in D.C., Alzheimer’s Association, among others. Cedars Sinai Hospital displayed over 50 of his paintings for the enjoyment of patients, staff, and visitors. He has been a cheerful giver of his time, talent and artworks.

Other credits include: the Goodwill Games, 1990 Tokyo Show, the official Monaco Tennis Classic, 1988 America’s Cup (the original is owned by Dennis Connors), Monte Carlo Grand Prix (Commissioned by Hewlett-Packard) and Cannes Film Festival, Fashion Week in New York and the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy (at the request of DHL), Santa Barbara Vintner’s Association, Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra, Fiesta Finale, and he has been the resident artist for the Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara. Recently, Reglais and Chateaux commissioned Brown to create a painting of the U.S. Capitol building to commemorate their social affair for their most influential patrons and he was hosted by AMA Waterways as the guest artist for an exclusive river cruise in Europe. For over 10 years, Brown has also donated artwork to the Central Coast Wine Classic, the proceeds of which honor grants to charitable organizations throughout the central coast. He has offered the same for similar venues, such as the Pebble Beach Wine Auction and the newly developed Big Sur Wine Auction. His art has graced wine labels, including Creston in the early 1980’s (before the plethora of “art” labels exploded onto the scene), Sunstone Winery and Artiste Winery (which he actually founded as a negotiant through his relationship with Sunstone and the Rice Family and which Bion Rice then bought). He has created portraits of such diverse personalities as David Bowie, Mike Tyson, Kiki Camarata, Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton, Pope John Paul II, Pele, Julia Child, Nelson Mandela, and most recently Robert Mondavi, Jerry Brown and Emeril Lagasse. A coffee table book of his artwork up until the early 1990’s is still available through and other venues.

Brown blends the broad brushwork and vibrant colors of Van Gogh with the strokes and pastel shades of Monet to produce enchanting, passionate masterpieces. With his history as a painter, radio entrepreneur, wine connoisseur, marathon runner, and reciter of poetry, his life resembles a colorful palette, capturing the beauty of adventure of the human experience. His paintings are windows into an enchanted world blending energy, color, romance, as well as favorite cities and landscapes.

Today, Brown’s artwork continues to reach new levels of inspiration and admiration. If others have been called painters of light, Brown could certainly be coined the “painter of joy.” He lives true to the following introduction that was written about him for the booklet that accompanied his exhibit at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art in 1996:

“James-Paul Brown is a humanist. That is to say, his art emerges from a deep personal interest in the joys and wonders of the human condition. All of his paintings are about people. If one were to list his favorite subjects, they would encompass a range of scenes of human interaction—jazz clubs, ballet dances, sporting arenas, romantic walks. This humanist perspective is evident even in the landscapes where no individuals appear. His landscapes are all seen romantically through the eyes of a sympathetic viewer.

Among human subjects, he paints those moments when the spirit takes flight and triumphs over the mundane reality of our day-to-day world. His jazz musicians are lost in a reverie of inspired improvisation. His sport paintings show people pushing themselves beyond the limits of ordinary endurance. His ballet scenes show the human body in graceful movement. His romantic paintings conjure a world of dreamy reverie.

For James-Paul, the chief trait of being human is the ability to feel. He paints to record the depth and range of our passions and emotions. A deeply sensitive person, he is drawn to emotional moments in the human drama.

James-Paul is a sensitive and caring recorder of intimate sights, sounds and events. His best paintings are lyric. As in lyric poetry, the art results from a rapid outpouring of intense personal feeling. For James-Paul, there is little concern for established forms or traditions. Intuition and spontaneity rule. Yet these paintings offer more than just uncontrolled passion. The artist’s concern for beauty, propriety and the integrity of all things gives his art a certain balance and restraint.

He is a fine draughtsman. In his best drawings, his line tapers and swells, capturing the physical presence of his subjects. Paintings begin with a pencil underdrawing. This linear plan sets the format of the general composition. Color is then added to enrich, flesh-out and give life to the initial sketch. These vibrant colors are applied with a variety of strokes that vary from short daubs to long threads of paint. The resulting texture of color appears like a rich tapestry.

For want of a better term, James-Paul’s technique can be called impressionistic. But he differs in approach from the original French Impressionists who carefully analyzed a scene into component spots of color. James-Paul synthesizes a picture out of his imagination, freely choosing and even improvising color in order to heighten the emotional impact of an image. He also paints quickly. Once he begins to create, he allows no impediments or distractions to slow or hinder his pace. This speed is due to his exuberance as much as to anything. From the moment he begins to work on a painting, he cannot wait to finish it so he can share it with others.

James-Paul is one of the last true romantics. It is not surprising that he created a series of romantic paintings. They were inspired by his beautiful wife, Juliette. A former actress, she appears in the paintings in various guises—as Ophelia, as a fairy. She is the artist’s muse. In these fairy tale images, love takes the place of gravity as the dominant force lending order to the world.

The artist also painted many celebrities. He was asked to do portraits of the last three United States Presidents. Among other portraits are included rock stars such as David Bowie. The artist paints these portraits because he is fascinated by personal achievement. In these images of famous people, he looked for the unique qualities that make this person a world leader, that person a master musician.

As a person, James-Paul is friendly and exuberant. His boyish charm reflects his dreamy, compassionate interior. Radiating joy and optimism, his ability to enjoy life’s simple pleasures is infectious. This positive attitude is captured in his art which is always bright and cheerful. A daily dose of James-Paul Brown is what we all need to life our spirits.”

Michael Zakian, Director
Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art

Selected Exhibitions 1990-2017

Bunkamura Gallery, Tokyo, Japan
Ross Watkins Gallery, Palm Desert, CA
Gallery Rodeo, San Francisco, CA
Karpeles Museum, Santa Barbara, CA
Frederick Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA
Concordia University, Irvine, CA
FACT Exhibition Space, Laguna Beach, CA
Carthew Thompson Gallery, Beverly Hills, CA
Millard Sheets Museum, Pomona, CA
Reagan Library, Simi Valley, CA
Swimming Hall of Fame, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Art Institute of Southern California, Laguna Beach, CA
Sullivan-Goss Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
Dalphine Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA
Brown Art Gallery, Ojai, CA
Culver Military Academy Nautical Center, Indiana
Bouchon Restaurant, Santa Barbara, CA
Petit Valentein Restaurant, Santa Barbara, CA
Artiste Gallery and Winery Labels, Los Olivos, CA
Sunstone Winery and Labels, Santa Ynez, CA
Central Coast Wine Classic Live Auction, SLO, CA
Corridan Gallery, Santa Barbara, CA

Selected Commissions

Nelson Mandela, Portrait
Fashion Week, New York, NY
Reglais and Chateaux, U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
Las Vegas International Marathon
Winter Olympic Games, Torino, Italy
Santa Barbara Vintners Association
Monaco Grand Prix
President of the Republic of China, Portrait
President of the United States, Bill Clinton, Portrait
President of the United States, George Bush Sr., Portrait
President of the United States, Ronald Reagan, Portrait
President of Venezuela, Portrait
Pope John Paul, Portrait commissioned by United States State Department
Russian State Ballet, Moscow, Russia
Bolshoi Ballet, Moscow, Russia
1984 Olympics, Los Angeles, CA
1996 Olympics, Atlanta, GA
America’s Cup
Pele and Soccer Team
American Ballet Theatre, Lincoln Center, NYC
Russian National Orchestra, Moscow, Russia
Pan American Games, Caracas, Venezuela
World Games, Alberta, Canada
Cannes Film Festival, Cannes, France
New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Santa Barbara Symphony Orchestra
Los Angeles Ballet
International Swimming Hall of Fame, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Wimbledon Tennis, Wimbledon, England
Heavyweight Boxing Championships
Maison Duetz Opening, San Luis Obispo, CA
Fund Raising Event for Governor Jerry Brown, Towbes Estate, Montecito, CA
Artist in Residence 2012 Granada Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA
Sings Like Hell Series, Lobero Theatre, Santa Barbara, CA
Swimming Hall of Fame Awards, Santa Clara, CA

Some Owners of Brown’s Art, Then and Now

Julia Child
Greg Juarez
Barbara Sinatra
Milton Berle
Carole Doheny
Tina Louise
Lee Cocoa
Valerie Harper
Raul Julia
Lou Gossett
Larry Winokur
Douglas Rosen
David Roth
Cyrielle Claire
Anhauser Bush
Santa Monica City Hall
Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles, CA
Cedars Sinai Hospital, Los Angeles, CA
Bristol Meyers Squib
Robert Altman
David Bowie
Nancy Reagan
Bouchon Restaurant, Santa Barbara
Petit Valentein Restaurant, Santa Barbara
The French Laundry Restaurant, Thomas Keller
Sara Miller McCune
Nicky Blair’s Restaurant, Los Angeles
West Beach Café, Venice, CA (Bruce Marder)
John and Mary Weimann
Kris Kristoferson
Cedar Sinai Hospital
Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles
NBC Television
United States Olympic Committee
Ray and June Kroc
Memphis Art Museum
Peter Marshall
Barbara Bush
The Vatican
Budweiser Corp.
Chancellor of Germany
Francois Mitterand
Margaret Thatcher
Winston Churchill Foundation
Donald Brenphanie Kramer
Larry Shepnick
Archie McLarin
Carissa Chappellet
Justin and Debra Baldwin
Mark Goldberg and Maggie Ambrosia
Mayor Koch
Arnold Quinn
Gabriel Brener
Al Gerston
Annie Thiel
Jacques and Patricia Heripret
Mrs. Sugar Ray Robinson
Federico Monte Arduini
Anne and Michael Towbes
Emeril Lagasse
John Lewis and Carrie Towbes
Jose Nazar
Antioch University, Santa Barbara
Chaminade College Preparatory
Michael Hammer
Robert Mondavi, Jr.

Day 30 – Risa Brainin

Jim Sirianni interview with Risa Brainin

Risa Brainin is a freelance director and Founder/Artistic Director of the groundbreaking new play development program LAUNCH PAD at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Brainin served as Artistic Director of Shakespeare Santa Cruz (2001-03) where she directed The Sea Gull, Hamlet and the world premiere of Brad Carroll’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. Prior to SSC, she held the position of Associate Artistic Director for both Kansas City Repertory Theatre (2000-2002) and Indiana Repertory Theatre (1997-2000). From 1987-1997, she resided in Minneapolis and had a rich association with the Guthrie Theater, serving as Resident Director (1991-93), Associate Company Director (1995-96) and acting instructor in the company’s outreach program (1987-97). 

Other directorial credits include plays at Syracuse Stage, Pittsburgh Public Theater, Playmakers Repertory Company, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, American Players Theatre, Actors’ Theatre of Louisville, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Great Lakes Theatre Festival, Portland Stage Company, Actors’ Theatre of Kansas City, New Harmony Project,, Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Ensemble Theatre, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Clarence Brown Theatre, Commonweal Theatre, TheatreSquared, and the Red Bull Theatre. She directed the premiere of Bob Stromberg’s That Wonder Boy in Minneapolis and the United Solo Festival in NY (WINNER: United Solo Fesival and Backstage Award, Best One Man Show and Best Direction, 2015) and Annie Torsiglieri’s “A” Train also at the United Solo Festival in NY (WINNER: Best Production, 2017 and Best Encore, 2018).  Over ten years in the Twin Cities, Ms. Brainin directed for many companies including Mixed Blood, Illusion Theatre, History Theatre, and the Cricket Theatre.

Since creating LAUNCH PAD in 2005, Brainin has developed and directed many new works with the playwright in residence including Sarah Ruhl’s Melancholy Play, John Walch’s The Dinosaur Within, Barbara Lebow’s Plumfield, Iraq and La Niñera: The Nursemaid, Sheri Wilner’s Kingdom CityBiederman’s Match (based on Max Frisch’s Biederman and the Firebugs) by Beau Willimon, music by Michelle DiBucci, lyrics by Portia Kamons, Entangled by Lila Rose Kaplan, Untitled IV by Ruth Markofsky by Alison Tatlock, The Talented Ones by Yussef El Guindi, We Want the Funk, a rustbelt lullaby on the one! by Idris Goodwin, Staging the Daffy Dame by Anne Garcia-Romero, The Watsons Go To Birmingham — 1963 adapted by Cheryl L. West, What Martha Did by Enid Graham and Appoggiatura by James Still which  premiered at Denver Center Theatre Company in January, 2015.  In the reading series, she has developed plays by many others including Jami Brandli, Deborah Brevoort, Mia Chung, Declan Hughes, Arlene Hutton, and Joyce Carol Oates. LAUNCH PAD was featured in American Theatre magazine for its innovation and contribution to new play development.  

The former director of education for SteppingStone Theatre for Youth Development, Ms. Brainin has taught and /or directed for the MFA programs at University of Minnesota and University of Missouri-Kansas City, UC Santa Cruz, Butler University and the BFA Program at University of Utah. A graduate of the Carnegie-Mellon University Drama Program, Brainin has served on grant panels for the Theatre Communications Group and the National Endowment for the Arts. She is past President of the Board of Trustees of the National Theatre Conference, and serves on NTC’s Barrie and Bernice Stavis Playwriting Award Committee. 

Launch Pad

Creating the Next Great American Play

Celebrating 15 years and led by Artistic Director Risa Brainin, LAUNCH PAD is nationally recognized for its innovative contribution to new play development. As a creative laboratory for professional playwrights, UCSB theater students and faculty, and guest artists, LAUNCH PAD is collaboration and experimentation at its finest.

Through its full-scale Preview Productions, Summer Reading Series: New Plays in Process, and recently added New Play Pop-Ups, LAUNCH PAD leads the way for university students to gain the valuable first-hand experience of working alongside professionals, participating in the creative process as it’s happening.

Preview Productions

Each academic year, LAUNCH PAD chooses one play to be developed as a full-scale Preview Production with all the design elements of a professional premiere. As part of the Departmental season, Preview Productions provide the opportunity for playwrights to see their work in three dimensions while continuing to make changes throughout the performances. LAUNCH PAD holds open auditions for all UCSB students. Students also participate as assistant directors, dramaturgs, stage managers, design assistants, and crew.

Summer Reading Series: New Plays in Process

Each summer, three professional playwrights join the UC Santa Barbara community as artists-in-residence to collaborate with UCSB students enrolled in THTR 146: LAUNCH PAD: New Plays in Process. In this three-week class, playwrights, students, and professional artists come together to workshop new works. Participating as actors, stage managers, dramaturgs, and designers, everyone contributes to the development of the play. From the first moment to the last, the play is in constant evolution: actors receive new pages, new scenes, and sometimes even new characters. Each week’s work culminates in a staged reading for the public.

New Play “Pop-Ups”

Several times each year, professional playwrights are invited to “pop in” for a one-time staged reading of their new play. LAUNCH PAD provides a director, actors, and a theater… playwrights see their work “up on its feet” and in front of an audience, adding valuable insight to the development process.


Many LAUNCH PAD plays have gone on to be produced at professional theaters across the country such as the Denver Center, Indiana Repertory Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse, Chicago Children’s Theatre, and others. For a list of our nationally acclaimed playwrights, PLEASE VISIT OUR WEBSITE.  

Celebrating 15 years of Donor Support

LAUNCH PAD depends upon the generous support of its donors and patrons. If you’re someone who loves theater, values the collaboration between students and professional artists, or wants to be part of new play development, PLEASE CONSIDER JOINING THE LAUNCH PAD FAMILY.

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