I was asked a few days ago, “What is the Whitefire?” I was quick to answer that it’s a 99 seat theater in Sherman Oaks that seems to have something happening every night, whether it’s an original play, series of comedy shorts, or film. But the Whitefire is more than just a place. It’s the people who bring it to life. And the person who keeps that fire burning, cooking up creativity and entertainment to its fullest, is Bryan Rasmussen.
Bryan Rasmussen is an actor first and foremost. He “broke into the biz” in Los Angeles when he was in a production of Equus as Alan Strang at the CAST Theater. “That play propelled my career,” said Rasmussen. He’s been on such television shows as The Mentalist, American Horror Story, Bones, Sons of Anarchy and Scandal to name a few, and has been in several films, working with such greats as Billy Bob Thornton and Jessica Lange. Simply put, he’s done a lot. And he keeps doing.
“I continue to work as a film and television actor, but it’s something you can’t really plan. Theater gives me the chance to work nonstop. I just want to keep working,” shared Rasmussen.
Owning a theater was something he never really dreamed of doing, but when the Whitefire was up for sale about ten years ago, the opportunity presented itself — and he went for it. He had performed in several plays already, and directing was something he wanted to do more of, so it seemed to be a natural fit. When things started falling into place he went with it.
“Theater keeps me focused and idling at a high rate and level,” Rasmussen shared.
One of the things that he made part of the Whitefire was having solo show performances. Having done solo shows himself, including portraying Vincent Van Gogh in Sincerely Yours, Vincent, he provided an opportunity for other actors to perform theirs. (Every year the Whitefire Theater presents Solofest, a six week run of various solo shows.) Currently Father, Son & Holy Coach (written and performed by John Posey) is a solo show performing to sold out audiences with rave reviews (it runs through August 30th), and Billie! Backstage with Lady Day (starring Synthia L. Harding and directed by Bryan Rasmussen) comes back to the theater for three more performances (Aug. 30, Sept. 27 & Oct 25 at 7 pm). It’s been performing at the Whitefire off and on for a few years (and the live jazz music in the second act is spectacular.)
It was because of solo shows that Bryan wanted to rotate performances, and came up with “vertical rep.” Not wanting to have dark nights, he slated different nights for different productions on a weekly basis, which afforded him the opportunity to present a variety of performances. This has proven to be highly beneficial for not only actors and writers, but for audiences as well.
In 2013 he teamed up with Jake O’Flaherty to start an actors ensemble for the theater, wherein every three or four months the group puts on a series of original comedic short plays (Summer Shorts came to a close earlier this month after a six week run of packed houses performing on Tuesday nights).
“We’ve produced over 100 pieces of original content with our ‘Shorts’ series,” said Rasmussen. The plan is to keep going, letting it grow and evolve.
Hollywood Shorts will be happening again before the year is over. It’s similar to the ensemble’s shorts series, but includes recognizable television actors performing in original pieces, never produced, written by television actors. From that, Dead Pilots Society was also produced, using the same concept of television writers using material written for television that for one reason or another never made it to the small screen, so was brought to life on the stage.
Then there are also full length productions. Not too long ago, Rasmussen directed a production of Sam Shephard’s Buried Child. I still get chills thinking about it, it was that good.
Misery with an Ocean View is currently on stage, getting rave reviews and packed houses (last performance is August 29th). How does he do it? And it’s in the Valley!
“Some of the best theater is in the Valley,” said Rasmussen.
People who live out in Orange County, Malibu and the Westside all make the trek to the Sherman Oaks theater on a weeknight to see performances on a regular basis. The theater has quite a following. It’s well deserved.
Even though rumor has it that theater in Los Angeles as a whole will be changing drastically because of the current Actors Equity Association situation, Rasmussen expressed his disappointment that the union is not listening to its own members. “They have gone against their own membership, which is basically going to gut the process I just talked about – developing new material. Small theater is about the work. There is no money in theater. It’s like squeezing blood out of a turnip.”
Rasmussen believes the union will more than likely be sued, as they were back in 1987. “We are going to continue to make theater…. I’m not equity anymore, so I can work with the people I want to work with. Then [the Equity] members need to decide how they want to deal with that.”
Rasmussen continued, “What it’s done though, is it’s brought us together in the community. I’m much more connected and that’s exciting. We don’t need more obstacles to create theater. We need more support.”
Rasmussen also participates in Crossroads, a mentorship program that works with at risk youth, helping them express their lives through the arts. In this program, Rasmussen works with Academy Award winner Bobby Moresco. “They don’t get any better than Bobby,” said Rasmussen. “Theater can do miracles for young people. I still continue my relationship with Crossroads.”
Rasmussen also offers classes for beginning and experienced actors, as well as a place for writers and actors to work together to stretch, grow, and of course play.
“I learn a lot through teaching,” professed Rasmussen, “the more I teach the more I learn. It’s something I love to do.”
He seems to be loving all that he’s doing, which is inspiring. His hard work is paying off.
“It’s exciting to work on new works, kind of like a musician with jazz, developing that stuff. Comedy is a particular skill set. I’ve done a lot of heavy drama for a lot of years, so it’s been a lot of fun,” affirmed Rasmussen.
As part of the Whitefire Theater, he has created quite the team with talented, hard working professionals including Moosie Drier, David Svengalis and Jake O’Flaherty (among many others).
There is “theater around the clock, around the year. We do it all year long except the weeks of Christmas and New Year’s,” explained Rasmussen.
“We have a lot of projects coming up, but there will a brand new play in the spring,” shared Rasmussen. He didn’t want to disclose what that play is to be — not just yet anyway, but I am sure it will be fabulous. After all, it will be at the Whitefire Theater.