Performing arts companies are notoriously fickle and difficult to keep alive for more than a few years at a time. LA TI DO, which began in DC with cabaret-style shows presenting local performers and spoken word artists, has beaten the odds and cleared its first decade of operations. While there have been ups and downs (including a global pandemic), LA TI DO seems poised to bring its unique blend of intimate art and top-tier talent to even more locations in the coming months.
DC Theater Arts caught up with the (very busy) Don Mike Mendoza, co-founder and executive artistic director of LA TI DO Productions, about his plans for growing the company into its next ten years — and maintaining the niche that they have already developed.
DCTA: How has LTD weathered the pandemic?
Don Mike: The pandemic felt, and still feels, like an eternity. I look at LA TI DO in the pandemic this far as a “two-parter.” During part one, we went virtual to honor the people we had booked so that they were still featured during the year, and to show our audience that we still had content for them. We didn’t know how long the lockdown was going to last, so it was what we thought we could do to stay alive for 2020.
Part two happened during 2021 when our team decided to take a dark year to plan how we hoped to come back in 2022 since it would be our tenth year as an organization. We contemplated what each city could do and how we wanted to relaunch in each location in the new year to honor our 10th anniversary. What occurred during that time was really valuable because it gave us the opportunity to see what we could let go of and focus on what we could do better.
However, 2021 wasn’t a completely perfect year because there were some things that surfaced after we relaunched that we also missed. Altogether, the pandemic was and still is a learning experience, but a big part of us surviving was taking that twelve months to figure out what would come next or whether we would come back at all. Ultimately, there was too much at stake and too much developed to not come back for a tenth year.
What are LTD’s goals for the near future?
Short term, we are working on supporting the really active cities that we have right now: Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Old Town Alexandria, and Pittsburgh — where we finally launched in person in January.
DC is transformed into being our flagship events location. Since we were founded in DC we feel that DC should continue to be the location where we do our annual partnership events such as “Man of the District” with the Miss District of Columbia Scholarship Organization, (which is coming up virtually on May 31), and “Music in the Night” with Capital Pride that we hope occurs in October.
In Los Angeles, we relaunched as we were pre-pandemic following the classic LA TI DO formula of musical performances and spoken word. We will have three shows this year with the next show on July 19 in West Hollywood at our venue Bar Lubitsch.
In Northern Virginia, we’ve moved our monthly cabaret series into Old Town Alexandria at Michael’s Little Italy where we felt it was important to bring the cabaret closer to that community. We have so many alumni from Northern Virginia that we saw an opportunity to bring the event closer to them, especially with the abundance of community theater companies and performers in that market that we could introduce LA TI DO to a new market even if it is across the river from DC. Our annual Pride show is coming up on June 1.
In Pittsburgh, we have two different series. The first is a mostly music monthly series called “Hometown Talent” (HT) where we showcase all people from Pittsburgh. This series is also in partnership with the Filipino American Association of Pittsburgh to raise money to renovate their theater and future Filipiniana Room, which we are currently utilizing, making HT a benefit and a cabaret. The next “Hometown Talent” cabaret is on June 10, which is also a Pride celebration.
The second Pittsburgh series is quarterly this year and is called “LA TI DO: Cabaret at the Carnegie Carnegie” (yes, it’s a double Carnegie), in the Carnegie Library in Carnegie, Pennsylvania – a fifteen-minute drive from downtown Pittsburgh. This venue is historic because it is one of only four of its kind in the country and five in the world that Andrew Carnegie himself endowed, built in 1901, and we get to perform in the newly renovated studio space! The next show is on June 23 and it will be the return of our series called “Duets with Don Mike,” which is actually going to go on tour this year, so expect to see it in a LA TI DO location near you!
Finally, while we’re still strategizing about how we would like to relaunch in New York City, we are launching a sixth city in Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, where we’ll have performances in both Dallas and in Fort Worth beginning on July 13 where the theme for the first show is in Dallas is “Songs of Sondheim.”
Long term, we are planning to launch in a seventh city, though we can’t say publicly yet where that will be, but know that it is in the western region of the country and it’s a place that everyone will be excited about. I can give you one hint: It’s relatively close to Los Angeles.
By 2023, when LA TI DO exists in seven cities, each will have its own associate artistic directors (ADs) and team members. Today, I want to give major kudos to our five ADs working hard to make this year great in our six locations: Lawrence O. Grey Jr. in Washington, DC, and Northern Virginia, Izzy Bartolotta in New York City, Lindsay Hopper in L.A., Alex Manalo — who is our first Filipinx, female-identifying artistic director — in Pittsburgh, and our newest AD, Sarah Powell, a DC LA TI DO alumna, who manages Dallas/Fort Worth.
These individuals are a dream to work with! However, I could not have found them all and we would not be where we are as an organization without mentioning and acknowledging the dedication and encouragement of our first managing director, Anya Randall Nebel, who’s been with us since 2014 but has moved on from her role this year to focus on new artistic and personal endeavors. Anya, our ADs, my co-founder Regie Cabico, and so many staff over the years are why we are where we are and I could not be more grateful to them all.
With this team, I moved into a role handling new business, including overseeing our upcoming Dallas/Fort Worth launch and focusing on our seventh city expansion. This is not to say that I don’t have any involvement in the artistic direction in our current locations, but 2022 is all about the next phase of encouraging and trusting our ADs to step up and lead in each town. Each city has a different personality and each leader has their vision, reflected in the programming in each location, so I encourage them to take the LA TI DO banner and run with it full speed.
One day, we hope to create a LA TI DO Tour where a performer visits and performs at all of our locations on a pre-booked schedule (and some already have done it ad-hoc like hip hop duo SNRG and singer Lexie Martin).
Are there any other updates you’d like to share?
LA TI DO is an ever-growing organization and is now nestled under a new production company, DMH Mendoza Productions (DMHM), based in Pittsburgh with the intention to do business nationally. This allows LA TI DO to grow under this new umbrella company and also makes room for our brand to continue to expand and take on new projects including full-scale musical/play productions and special events.
Everything we produce in 2022 is under the “LTDX” branding, in case anyone is wondering about our new logo where the “X” is the roman numeral for ten brought to life in this re-brand by Sasha Sinclair of Studio 3440.
It’s exciting that LA TI DO continues on as an Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander founded organization, as is DMH Productions, where we continue to provide equity to staff and performers as best as we can with the resources we have. We’re still focused on continuing the mission Regie Cabico and I began a decade ago, which is to build community regionally and nationally.
In the same vein, LA TI DO also supports my podcast called Producing While Asian on the Press Play Podcast Network featuring many of our AANHPI alumni on all major podcast streaming platforms. As a Filipinx American, I’m tired of hearing “We couldn’t find them!” when it comes to producers looking for AANHPI talent. I’m literally shouting them out on the show via a virtual platform!
If someone isn’t familiar with an LTD show, what can they expect?
What’s unique about LA TI DO is that it provides access whether they are an audience member, performer, or staff member. Many have landed opportunities after they made a connection in one of our spaces. If you are an audience member, you can get the chance to chat with performers. If you’re a performer, you can talk with the staff without feeling like there’s a professional divide. And staff members can mingle with the audience and performers in a world where everyone knows who each other is.
I never want someone who works with LA TI DO to be an unknown person to our patrons and because we’re a small organization, there’s no reason why someone shouldn’t know who, for example, the operations manager in L.A. is or who the summer associate is in Pittsburgh.
Furthermore, if someone has never been, they can expect to find a different type of community that we think is a rare find. Obviously, no organization is perfect and no person is perfect, but we continue to try to be as inclusive as possible. Yes, making it to ten years is a phenomenal milestone for anyone, but we are still only ten years old, so we continue to have a lot to learn, a lot to accomplish, and a lot of space for change in all departments. Simply put: we’re not done growing.
We also want to get more involved with our audience and alumni by keeping an open-door policy. We want them to help shape the future of LA TI DO. If performing arts organizations learned anything in the pandemic, it’s that you have to listen to your community. Audiences, performers, staff, venue points of contact…every person counts.
Is there anything else that you’d like people to know?
Having seen LA TI DO grow over the past ten years, and having grown as an artist and a producer during that time, I want people to know that while we are striving to do our best to be holistic in our practice, we’re still going to make mistakes. Achieving is one thing, but it’s equally important to be open to feedback, both positive and negative, to make change and grow.
If there’s one thing that I’ve observed as a business owner, a person who continued to work as much as I could in the arts through the pandemic, and just as a human in our present society, it’s that we all need to be both up-front about our feelings and empathetic when mistakes are made. No one person’s experience is more traumatic than another person’s, but everyone’s experience is connected and ever-changing.
Like LA TI DO, I want people to know that my door — physical and virtual — is open too because there’s only so much that my team can do from within our production meetings. We don’t want anyone to sit on anything, regret not talking about something, or more important miss something completely in moments where we need to pay attention. To make LA TI DO better, we have to have conversations. Come to our shows, visit our website, shoot us an email. We want to hear from and see you.
I’m so excited to be back and to reunite with people that I haven’t seen in years. LA TI DO had an incredible first ten years and we’re looking forward to what we can accomplish and reach in another ten.
LA TI DO Productions returns to DC with an evening of music and spoken word (news story)