The Porters of Hellsgate was founded by Edward Castuera, Jack Leahy, and Charles Pasternak; their inaugural production of Julius Caesar opened in December of 2006. Directed by Pasternak, it starred Jack Leahy as Brutus, Gus Krieger as Cassius, and Pasternak as Marc Antony. The cast also included Thomas Bigley, Edward Castuera, and Taylor Fisher. Jessica Pasternak designed the costumes, as she has for every show we’ve produced since.
In early 2007, the Porters followed the surprising success of their Caesar with Twelfth Night. Directed again by Pasternak, it starred Jai Khalsa as Viola, Edward Castuera as Feste and Pasternak as Malvolio.
In the summer of 2007, the Porters followed their (again surprising) success with Richard III. Also directed by Pasternak, the show starred Gus Krieger in the title role, Thomas Bigley as Clarence and Richmond, and Jack Leahy as Buckingham.
It was around this point that the reality of a company began to take shape. More than an avenue to produce a few shows, a small following was being built and there was excitement regarding the future of this young company. To make official what was, to this point, the unofficial working relationship, Charles Pasternak took on the role of Artistic Director, while Edward Castuera and Jack Leahy took on the roles of Managing Directors.
In the fall of 2007 the Porters welcomed their first outside director, Natasha Vargas-Cooper, to direct their production of Titus Andronicus. The show starred Charles Pasternak as Titus, Amanda Marquardt as Tamora, and Edward Castuera as Aaron the Moor. This production was also the first time Nick Neidorf joined the company.
Thus ended the Porters first season, though at the time, no such division was being made. We were young and learning a lot of hard lessons, but somehow we were putting up good work – work that people were excited about.
In late 2007, running into 2008, the Porters began their second season with The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Directed by Charles Pasternak, the show starred Thomas Bigley as Proteus, Amanda Marquardt as Julia, and Jennifer Bronstein as Silvia.
Tragedy, comedy, history, tragedy, comedy… a good opening spread. It was around this time that the Porters promoted Thomas Bigley and Gus Krieger to the roles of Associate Artistic Directors. Both had been in four of the company’s five shows, and both were ready and willing to take on some of the larger duties necessary to running a growing theatre troupe.
Come spring of 2008, the Porters produced Much Ado About Nothing. Directed by Pasternak, the show starred Gus Krieger as Benedick and Jennifer Bronstein as Beatrice, along with Patrick J. Saxon as Don Pedro.
In the summer of 2008, the Porters took on their first of the “great” tragedies: Macbeth. Directed by newly minted Associate Artistic Director Gus Krieger, the show starred Jack Leahy and Amanda Marquardt as Lord and Lady M, along with Thomas Bigley as Macduff.
And so ended the Porters second season. The Los Angeles Times had hailed us as “A promising young company…” while critics in other print had compared us to The Mercury Players (very nice) and said that “In swimming the dangerous water of Shakespeare in Los Angeles, [they’re] a bit of an island amidst the wreckage.” (Not as nice, but we’ll take it.)
In late 2008 the Porters began season number three, which was to be a bit sparser than our first two. Running a theatre company for next-to-nothing on a budget of next-to-nothing takes its toll. Energy began to flag, and while there was real excitement about what we were doing and what we would do next, passion can only take one so far… in surviving our third season, the company solidified in a way it had never before: we almost broke here, but we didn’t. We were here to stay.
So in the winter of 2008, the Porters produced Love’s Labour’s Lost. The show was directed by Charles Pasternak, and starred Pasternak as Berowne, Samantha Stinger as the Princess of France, and Gus Krieger as Don Armado. It was for this production we won our first Scenie Award, of which we have received many since.
The second half of our third season – and the only show we produced in 2009 – was Richard II. Directed by Pasternak, the production starred Thomas Bigley in the title role, Gus Krieger as Bolingbroke, and Jamey Hecht as John of Gaunt.
Despite producing less, the company was moving forward in important ways. We officially formed our first group of resident artists, mainly composed of the wonderful actors who had been with us since the beginning. Our first resident company included: Max Adler, Thomas Bigley, Jennifer Bronstein, Edward Castuera, Taylor Fisher, Brandon Gilbrech, Gus Krieger, Jack Leahy, Amanda Marquardt, Charles Pasternak, Sasha Pasternak, and Patrick J. Saxon. Taylor Fisher also joined our artistic board as an advisor – she was also (at this point) the only artist who had been in every show to date.
Moving into 2010 (and our fourth season!) the Porters were reenergized and ambitious. We decided to take on a project larger than any we had done before: we would produce Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in rep. The size of something like this for a company of our means was huge; if we failed, the company would fold. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Hamlet was the directorial debut of Associate Artistic Director Thomas Bigley. It starred Charles Pasternak in the title role, Jack Leahy as Claudius, and Jessica Temple as Gertrude. With the same cast in rotating repertory, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead was directed by Pasternak, starring Bigley as Rosencrantz (or was is Guildenstern?) and Gus Krieger as Guildenstern (or was it Rosencrantz?), along with Micah Cover as the First Player. This also marked Alex Parker’s first endeavor with the company.
This pairing was a wild success, both critically and commercially. We moved forward with vigor.
Continuing with risk, our next endeavor was a first for us: we produced an original play. Written and directed by Gus Krieger, Deity Clutch opened in the summer of 2010. The show starred Rob Cunliffe, Virginia Welch, and Taylor Fisher. It also featured the first appearance of Kate O’Toole on our boards. We were again in new waters, and again it paid off.
Ending our fourth season, the Porters returned to the Bard in late 2010 with The Comedy of Errors. Directed by Charles Pasternak, the show starred Rob Cunliffe as Antipholus of Syracuse, Gus Krieger as Dromio of Syracuse, and Liza de Weerd as Adriana. Taylor Fisher delivered a wonderful Luciana, which marked the end of her run of being in every single Porters show. She was the last to do so, and we salute her. It was also for this production that Nick Neidorf and Alex Parker came on as producers.
To begin 2011 and our fifth season, we turned to resident artist Jamey Hecht.
Dr. Hecht had approached Mr. Pasternak in a North Hollywood parking lot after our inaugural production of Julius Caesar; he had expressed great admiration for the work he had seen and gave Mr. Pasternak a copy of his original translation of the Oedipus cycle. This was a published translation: a company on the east coast had premiered his Antigone, but both the Oedipus’ (Oedipi?) were up for grabs. Since then he had joined us as an actor, but we had yet to produce his work…
So to begin the Porters fifth season we produced Oedipus the Tyrant; a world premiere translation by Jamey Hecht, the show was directed by Thomas Bigley. It starred Charles Pasternak as Oedipus, Thomas Bigley as Creon, and Kate O’Toole as Jocasta.
It was around here that the artistic board of the company went through a shift. Edward Castuera and Jack Leahy, founding members and Managing Directors, amicably stepped out of their positions as company leaders. Nick Neidorf and Alex Parker joined the artistic board as the new Managing Directors of the Porters.
Next in 2011 came the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Still in its infancy, the Porters wanted to be a part of this exciting new event in Los Angeles theatre. While Shakespeare might not be the right fit, an original and exciting work was… so we had just the thing.
The second show of our fifth season happened to be our first remount: Gus Krieger’s Deity Clutch was produced again, again under his direction.
The third and final show of the Porters fifth season was The Merchant of Venice. Directed by Thomas Bigley, the production starred Gus Krieger as Shylock, Liza de Weerd as Portia, and Alex Parker as Antonio. This was also the show in which Sean Faye first joined the company.
To begin 2012 and the Porters sixth season, Charles Pasternak returned to the director’s chair with Troilus and Cressida, a favorite of his and an unexpected commercial success for the company. The show starred Alex Parker and Taylor Fisher in the title roles, along with Thomas Bigley as Ulysses.
In the summer of 2012, following the success of Troilus, the company turned to lighter fare with The Merry Wives of Windsor. Directed by Pasternak, the show starred Dylan Vigus as Falstaff, along with Dana DeRuyck and Kate O’Toole as the merry wives. Gus Krieger played Master Ford in an award-winning turn.
To finish their sixth season, Thomas Bigley directed Measure for Measure. Bigley starred as the Duke of Vienna, with Justin Michael Terry as Angelo, and Jennifer Bronstein as Isabella.
In 2013, two incredible and established actors entered the fold: Larry Cedar and Leon Russom. Cedar, of “Deadwood” fame (among so many others; he’s the type of wonderful character actor you see everywhere) had been in talks with Associate Artistic Director Gus Krieger about joining us to play Lear. He had seen and loved our work, and wanted very much to have his shot at one of the Bard’s greatest roles. The Porters gathered to discuss our seventh season, and while we were intimidated by the size of the play, we knew the time was right.
So with Cedar locked as our lead and our resident company filling out much of the rest of the cast, we went to auditions. Leon Russom, of “Prison Break” and “The Big Lebowski” fame (among so many others) walked in. We had a very nice chat, he wanted to play Gloucester, and asked if we needed to see him perform anything. We laughed and said no. The part was his if he wanted it. We had our Gloucester.
So in early 2013, King Lear opened the Porters seventh season. The production was directed by Thomas Bigley, and starred Larry Cedar in the title role and Leon Russom as Gloucester. The run sold out, and along with Hamlet and Troilus, was our biggest Shakespearean financial success to date.
Come the summer of 2013, the Porters continued our season of daring: we decided to mount two one-man shows for the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Orwellian: Rants, Recollections, and Cautionary Tales from the Mind of Eric Arthur Blair starred Larry Cedar. It was adapted by Cedar from the works of George Orwell, with the approval of the Orwell estate (a rare thing indeed). Thomas Bigley directed.
Limousine, Midnight Blue starred Jamey Hecht. Adapted by Artistic Director Charles Pasternak and Hecht, from his own published book of poetry by the same name. Pasternak directed the show, with the multimedia developed by Hecht.
The Porters seventh season then continued with Gus Krieger’s original work, Sherlock Through the Looking-Glass, based on the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Lewis Carroll. Directed by Krieger, the show starred Kevin Stidham as Sherlock, Timothy Portnoy as Watson, and Bert Emmett as Lewis Carroll. It was a smash success, and the second sold-out run of our season.
Following the success of Sherlock, Ron Sossi and the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble agreed to co-produce remounts of Sherlock and Orwellian. This was an exciting new step for us as a company, and we dove right in. In the fall of 2013, as a co-production between the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and The Porters of Hellsgate, Sherlock Through the Looking Glass and Orwellian opened once again. An exciting season continued…
To close out the Porters seventh season, we turned to one of Shakespeare’s most unknown works, Timon of Athens. The show was directed by Charles Pasternak, and starred Thomas Bigley in the title role, Cynthia Beckert as Apamantus, and Sean Faye as Flavius.
And so the Porters busiest season to date came to an end. It was around this point that, at long last, we received word from the government that we had been fully approved for our 501(c)3, non-profit status. This had been a long time coming. Too long, we admit. But it was finally official: we were a professional, not-for-profit arts organization.
In early 2014, the Porters opened their eighth season with Henry V. Directed by and starring Charles Pasternak in the title role, the show also featured Leon Russom’s return to our boards as the Chorus. Both the show and Pasternak were nominated for Broadway World Awards, while Russom was nominated for an Ovation Award and a Valley Theatre Award.
After a very busy 2013 and a quick opening in 2014, the company needed to take a breath. The Porters decided not to mount a major production during the summer, nor to join the Hollywood Fringe. Instead we would focus on organization and consolidation, along with our first major fundraiser.
At the Bow & Truss in The NoHo Arts District, the Porters held a massive fundraiser and party. All our friends came. It was magnificent. And we made a bit o’ money.
Also during the downtime of the summer, we held a staged reading of Jamey Hecht’s original work, Barnadine, based on the characters of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (in our production of which Hecht played Pompey, while Nick Neidorf played the titular prisoner).
In the fall of 2014, to close our eighth season, The Porters produced The Winter’s Tale. Making his directorial debut with us, resident artist Jesse James Thomas took the helm. The show starred Thomas Bigley as Leontes, Kate O’Toole as Hermione, and Madeline McDonough Maher as Paulina. This production also marked our nineteenth production of the Bard. We’re halfway through the canon.
In early 2015, The Porters welcomed long-time resident artists Sean Faye and Kate O’Toole onto the artistic board of the company. Their first show as producers was also the first production of our ninth season: Othello was directed by Thomas Bigley, and starred Matt Calloway in the title role, Charles Pasternak as Iago, and Eliza Kiss as Desdemona. It was nominated for four Valley Theatre Awards: Best Production, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Christine Sage as Bianca), and won the award for Charles Pasternak as Best Actor.
Continuing into the summer of 2015, the Porters next returned to The Hollywood Fringe Festival and an original work by Gus Krieger: Breaking Bard, a mash-up of Shakespeare and the hit television show, “Breaking Bad”. Directed by Drina Durazo, it starred Krieger as Walter White, and Jesse James Thomas as Jesse Pinkman. The production was nominated for four Ezra Buzzington Spirit of the Fringe Awards: Best Production, Best Actor (Thomas), Best Director, and won the award for Krieger in the Best Writing category. Following its success at the Fringe, Breaking Bard was remounted for a full run in North Hollywood. Like the Fringe, the NoHo run was a huge success, playing to full houses of excited playgoers. And thus closed our ninth season…
…and now we move into our TENTH. To celebrate our ten-year anniversary, and to continue with daring and ambitious projects, the season will be our Year of the King, beginning with a big fundraiser come March, and followed by a mounting of all three parts of Henry VI in rotating repertory. The VIs will be directed by Thomas Bigley, and adapted for our run by Charles Pasternak.