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Check Out Sarah Mann’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sarah Mann.

Sarah Mann

Hi Sarah, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
After graduating from Chapman University with a BFA in Dance Performance, I began my career in nightlife entertainment as a dancer & aerialist. Throughout the past 14 years working with various live productions & stage companies, I naturally found myself moving up the ranks to claim the role(s) of stage manager, production assistant, production manager, choreographer, or various other production titles. I have grown to love backstage production work & have discovered that I have both a passion & the natural talent needed to succeed as a leader in the production world.

As a performer and producer, I have grown frustrated with the lack of unique shows I see in Los Angeles, as well as the lack of funding available to create high-quality, rehearsed productions with performers who deserve a rate that matches their skills. Don’t get me wrong: there are definitely some great shows in LA. However, most follow the same structure or have similar elements. It has been a while since I’ve seen a show (both in and outside of LA) where I was truly wowed and felt inspired. When thinking about the type of production I, myself, would want to be a part of, I prefer a fully rehearsed show, where my skills as a performer and professionalism are appreciated and respected, & where I get to work with other skilled technicians to develop & perform acts that are not seen elsewhere.

This led me to create a circus dinner theater concept I call “Madmann’s Playground.” A ticket to Madmann’s Playground provides audience members with a 3-course meal, a fully produced and rehearsed circus show, and live music. Every production has an original story, original music, and a menu based on the themes of the show.

Madmann’s Playground is a company where performers of all talents, writers, composers, chefs, and mixologists can come together and create a unique, immersive experience for food lovers and performing arts supporters. As an added bonus, Madmann’s Playground aims to provide a home for circus artists, who so often have to leave Los Angeles to find regular work.

Madmann’s Playground is still in its start-up phase and is currently in the process of launching our first production, “Van Helsing’s Dracula.” The show opens October 21, with a 4 night run as a pop-up experience. Moving forward, in 2024, we plan to host three pop-ups (with 4-6 nights each) and hope to have a brick-and-mortar location by 2025.

I see Madmann’s Playground as an opportunity to do something different with how people enjoy food and how performing art is experienced. As a creative and performer, Madmann’s Playground is the dream. It elevates the dining experience for the audience while elevating the performing experience for the talent by providing a space where they can grow as performers as they perfect their skills and enhance their storytelling abilities while simultaneously adequately paying them for their time to rehearse and perform.

Through Madmann’s Playground, I aim to create a collaborative space where creatives & performers – especially BIPOC creatives & performers who have generally been underrepresented in the professional performing arts world – can be highlighted. I strive to have a safe space where everyone – regardless of race, sexual orientation, body shape, or age – can thrive.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
While Madmann’s Playground has been an incredibly refreshing and inspiring experience as a creative and producer, getting it off the ground as a business owner has definitely had its fair share of challenges.

The first big challenge was acknowledging that I was starting a restaurant. In my mind, I was creating a show with food. However, the deeper into Madmann’s Playground I got, the more I realized that I was actually creating a restaurant experience with a show. My background is in the performing arts and theater tech. I have only ever worked in a restaurant as a hostess or at coffee shops. Because I have barely any experience in the restaurant industry, I chose to bring a catering company on board to cater the show, as well as handle kitchen operations and wait staff. For our upcoming event, “Van Helsing’s Dracula,” I have brought on Anne Apra Events and Ronen Levy Events. After learning the storyline and plot twists of “Van Helsing’s Dracula,” Anne and Ronen developed a menu specifically for the show, designed around the show and playing off of the themes presented. Myself and the rest of the creative team behind the show could not be happier with their willingness to dive into and explore the world we have created and create a delicious Romanian-inspired menu for the show.

After tackling the food component, the next big challenge was finding a venue that could house Madmann’s Playground. Months of visiting various spaces led me to determine that using a banquet hall was the best bet. Banquet halls provide enough floor space for a stage and for table seating, as well as ceiling height for aerial rigging, juggling, acrobatics, and other crucial circus components. In addition, banquet halls come with tables, chairs, plates, linens, etc., allowing me to cut costs on rentals. However, because I am working with an outside catering company, the number of banquet halls available to me were severely limited. Luckily, I found Vatican Banquet Hall in Van Nuys, who have graciously opened up their space to accommodate Madmann’s Playground and all of our needs. The venue and the staff who run it and work there have been incredible!

Once the venue was secured, the third challenge was figuring out how to turn a banquet hall into a theatrical space with audio and visual equipment. Because a banquet hall is not typically equipped with stage lighting and sound, we have to load in all of our production elements (lighting, sound, aerial rigging, etc.) the day of each show, hold the event, and then load out directly after the doors close. Derek Jones of Panda Roja Design has come on board to help me navigate the challenges associated with lighting the show, while Chris Sousa and Justin Harris have joined forces to tackle the audio elements.

Although I have managed to tackle these obstacles, the reality is that a pop-up circus dinner theater is not sustainable long term. I have come to realize that Madmann’s Playground will need to have a permanent space sooner than later. With a permanent location, the production elements can be permanently installed, and the majority of the rental costs I have right now will be eliminated. I would be able to bring in whatever catering company I choose to work with, and the space would be able to accommodate all of our needs. However, as we are currently in the start-up phase, it makes the most sense to use the pop-up model to help build a clientele and get the name “Madmann’s Playground” out to the locals and tourists in LA.

With our first show about to launch, and because Madmann’s Playground is a new business, the current challenges are building a following and getting people in seats. While I have no doubt that after the first night, the buzz will draw an audience, this endeavor has cost more than I had originally anticipated. As of now, the nightly costs will be covered by ticket sales; however, the pre-production costs are coming out of pocket. So, aside from the logistical challenges mentioned above, my biggest challenge has been and still is, raising capital. While I am more than happy to invest in myself and put money into my business, I am looking for investors, reaching out to potential donors, and applying for grants to help cover as many of the upfront costs as possible.

Although getting Madmann’s Playground going has definitely been a costly learning experience, I would not change it for the world. Through the process, I have found an amazing team of creatives, performers, musicians, chefs, and press and media personnel who believe in the business. I believe in what I have created and I truly feel the need to bring the Madmann’s Playground experience to all the performers, foodies, and performing arts supporters in Los Angeles (Southern California).

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I have always been a performer since a young age, studying both dance and music (flute). After high school, I chose to focus on dance as a career path and graduated from Chapman University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Over the past 14 years, I have made a career in the nightlife industry in Los Angeles, performing as a dancer and aerialist in a variety of bars and clubs in cabaret and burlesque shows and at private events and parties.

Aside from performing, I have also held various roles on the production side of the live entertainment industry: I am the Production Coordinator for The Toledo Show, LA’s longest-running cabaret show, featuring Toledo Diamond. I am also the Production Coordinator for Sweven, an erotic performance art company. Outside of the nightlife industry, I am the Managing Director of ZiRu Dance, a non-profit BIPOC modern dance company in the Bay Area/Peninsula, and am a Producer of ZiRu Dance’s Silicon Valley Dance Festival.

Seeing where my career has taken me, I would currently say that I am known for my ability to help other creatives. I find myself being sought out by other performers who are interested in (or who are currently) creating shows to help them with the logistical and theatrical tech elements. My knowledge of what the performers need and how to best support them, as well as my organizational skills and ability to problem solve and navigate the technical production elements is what I am able to bring to the table.

I enjoy being part of a creative team and creating content for live stage shows. I also pride myself on my ability to professionally and systematically coordinate and produce live stage shows in a variety of venues from large professional theaters to small bars. I am proficient in managing the backstage staff during a production, coordinating with lighting and sound designers, working with live musicians, coordinating venues and their management team, communicating with all personnel, as well as organizing and planning the day-to-day activities for large events/parties/productions.

As far as what sets me apart, I believe it is my ability to follow through with my word and keep an open line of communication. I have had countless performers tell me that they enjoy working with me and never have to think twice about accepting a job if I am running things. They know they will be supported and that I have their back. This is something I am really proud of.

However, the thing I am most proud of is Madmann’s Playground. It’s taken years for me to finally make the jump and turn Madmann’s Playground into a reality. Madmann’s Playground will be opening its doors on October 21, 20223 for a 4 night run with a brand new production, “Van Helsing’s Dracula.” “Van Helsing’s Dracula” was written by director/intimacy coordinator Corrin Evans and actress/poet Katie Rediger and features an original score by two-time Emmy-award winning film composer Hummie Mann. This sapphic spin on the classic tale, “Dracula,” showcases a cast of 8 female performers and four live musicians. I’m ready to put the experience to the test with an audience and see where Madmann’s Playground goes from here.

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?
Generally, I would not call myself a risk taker. If I am moving forward with a large project or new idea, I like to know that as many of the foreseen potential issues have been thought through and I that have a plan for tackling every possible problem. However, when it comes to starting Madmann’s Playground – despite having thought through and tackled the potential issues – I would say it’s a huge risk. It’s definitely a much bigger (and much pricier) risk than I’ve ever taken in the past.

The reality is: the performing arts industry is risky. The restaurant industry is risky. Put them together and what do you get? More risk.

However, after almost seven years of thinking about creating Madmann’s Playground and wanting to cut back on my other job (as a Pilates and fitness instructor), it is a risk that I am willing to take. There was never going to be a time where I felt truly ready to take the plunge and get Madmann’s Playground started, so I knew I just had to step off the cliff and see what would (and what could) happen.

If I had never tried, I would have always wondered. And honestly, despite the waves of terror and panic that regularly wash over me, I am so much happier because I am finally doing the thing that I have wanted to do for so long.

Pricing:

  • VIP tickets: $325 each
  • Tier 1 tickets: $275 each
  • Tier 2 tickets: $250 each
  • Tier 3 tickets: $225 each

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Van Helsing’s Dracula poster by Corrin Evans Black & red group photo by Corrin Evans Food photo by Skye Schmidt All other photos by G L Askew II

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