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Adam Belvo and the Brutes

After a powerful run at Planet Connections 2018 Theatre Festivity, spit&vigor – helmed by a genuine theatre professional, Adam Belvo, revives THE BRUTES, a gripping piece of history and drama written by Casey Wimpee. The new production will be at the New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street. If that address rings a bell, it is the old haunt of the legendary Wings Theatre, now in another pair of capable hands.

Sara Fellini returns as director bringing Mr. Belvo, and other members of the original cast with her. Performances are November 23 — December 9 (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm). Tickets are $30. For reservations, please visit https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/999133.

We get a tour of the backstage (literally) goings-on of an historic performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar featuring the renowned Booth theatrical family – brothers, Edwin, Junius Jr. and John Wilkes, Booth. There’s another familiar name.

This was the first and only time the three brothers shared a stage together. Events that shaped the world prohibited them from a return engagement. The backstage drama becomes the focus of this portrait of a tempestuous relationship fraught with political conflict ending in an American tragedy.

Fellini stages THE BRUTES in-the-round with a minimalist set pieces that transforms into a theatre, a dinner table, and a nation on the brink of sweeping change. Civil strife, family devolution, and a country sharply divided – 150 years ago or right now – the parable of this drama remains strong.

Ai and other sites under the Five Star Arts banner will discuss the play and the players.

So let’s start with the brother that stayed in the theatre and not in the President’s box …

Adam Belvo, who plays EDWIN BOOTH.
adam-belvo.jpgTell us about yourself as an artist.
I am an actor/producer who has been working in the NY Indie theater scene for the past 13 years. As a performer, I began my NY career as more of a character actor, but as I get older I am finding myself rooted more in straight-man/leading roles. As a producer, I like to choose projects that have unique stories and interesting, complicated human relationships with untidy resolutions. I like plays and productions that start passionate conversations that continue late into the night, conversations that water thoughts and grow you as a person and an artist.
 
Tell us about your role in The Brutes
I am playing Edwin Booth, with a twist; I get to portray him as he is rehearsing for and playing both Brutus in Julius Caesar & Hamlet, so Hamlet and Brutus via Edwin. Edwin’s drama is the struggle to overcome his father’s legacy, survive being besieged by the tensions and fallout that arise over political and familial grudges during his family’s Thanksgiving dinner and benefit performance, and trying to keep his mind (and sanity) intact all the while. It’s an elegantly written role, and the challenge is to simultaneously portray extreme confidence and control onstage while also showing that internally, he’s cracking under the weight of enormous psychological pressure.
I am also a producer on this project, and that poses an entirely different set of challenges. However, by assembling an incredibly talented and dedicated cast and crew, our burden has been made light and the process has been a lot of fun thus far. We’re skin of yr teeth in some ways, but that’s my preference. I started out with small companies where everyone pulled their weight and wore multiple hats (design/direction/costuming/etc.); in these circumstances, everyone pulls together to make something good absolutely incredible. I feel like we continue to foster that philosophy and work ethic with our current company, spit&vigor.
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Share with us your thoughts on independent theater. What is its significance to the skyline of entertainment in NYC?
Indie theater in NYC is the flower growing up through the sidewalk pavement; hardy, resilient, economical and creative. I feel that while we may not have the commercial backing or space opportunities that larger productions uptown might, we make up for that in creative solutions, ingenuity, and pluckiness. I’ve seen brilliant stagings in the backs of bars, kitchens & churches, and new companies rise up from the ashes of old ones like the phoenix. We represent the heart and soul of this city; we rise to meet its challenges every day, regardless of the hardships that might be posed, and we’ll continue doing so as long as we draw breath.
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Divination has some spirit

20181030_215115_HDR (1).JPGDivination

By Dorian Palumbo

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

Six women who take a class in “Mediumship and Divination” bite off more than they can chew in Dorian Palumbo’s supernatural drama Divination, which had its world premiere Off-Off-Broadway.

This cautionary tale for the grown Harry Potter generation shows what happens when a troubled young woman named Tara (Yating Sun) sets out to explore the latent powers she has only begun to understand, and winds up moving too quickly, drawing the five other nascent clairvoyants in her class into a paranormal whirlpool that endangers them all.

It’s an exciting and interesting idea for a play, but Palumbo’s script needs to develop the enigmatic Tara much more and the supporting characters relatively less. Ken Coughlin’s production winds up emphasizing that difference, with stronger performances in some of those supporting roles, especially Esther Ayomide Akinsanya as the peppery crystal-seller Michelle, and Abigail Choi Arader as the sensitive budding sorceress Badriyah.

Considering the subject matter, the play could also benefit either from more numerous magical special effects, or a more suspenseful build toward the climactic special effect it does have. The play gets A-plus for diversity, creating a naturally interacting multi-ethnic variety of characters who never fall into stereotypes in a play about a variety of spirits whose externals are less important than their hearts.

Divination had its world premiere at the Sargent Theatre in the American Theatre of Actors complex at 314 West 54th Street in Manhattan through Nov. 11.

La Dolce DiVita

Director/producer/choreographer, two-time TONY Award nominee, Joey McKneely, has assembled a gifted group of musicians to bring award-winning playwright, Randall David Cook’s memorizing Gothic romance, SHADOWS, to life.  Edison Woods, Maxim Moston, and Karen Bishko transport their audiences into an hypnotic world where lovers – living and otherwise – tell their tales in soaring song and elaborate dance.

SHADOWS follows the secret romance of Claire and Alex. Well, secret to those on this plane. In the afterworld, behind the chiming clock and shuddered windows, another romance between Woman in Red (Claire’s Grandmother) and Man in Blue weave gracefully between the passions of Claire and her young lover. The other spirits, Man in Black and Woman in Silver, unhappy about this affair, torment the lovers. It isn’t until the last few minutes of this stirring piece that we see how the lovers of this world are the salvation for the ones beyond the grave.

SHADOWS was born between a collaboration of playwright and choreographer, using dance as an equal form of narrative to the book. The dances either tell of past encounters, reveal parallel emotions with the main characters, or foreshadow events. In addition, there are two female composer/lyricists who give this musical a unique voice by alternating from hauntingly poetic, alternative dance music to emotional, character driven songs. Along with the third composer, the score creates a modern complexity by using music to set the mood of the characters inner selves. Also, Kabuki style staging was utilized to create the world of the supernatural.

Ai and other five Star Arts Journal sites will follow the production now that its begun rehearsals and continue through coverage of opening night … and beyond.

So speaking of Claire … let’s meet one of the stars, Janine DiVita.

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Janine Divita has been seen on Broadway as Rizzo in GreaseAnything Goes, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood. National Tours: Anne in If/Then starring Idina Menzel, Mary Barrie in Finding Neverland, Elizabeth in Young Frankenstein. Regional credits include: Evita (Eva Peron, JET), Oliver! (Nancy, WST– Barrymore Award Nom.), Spamalot (Lady of the Lake, TUTS), A Walk on the Moon (Pearl, NYSF/Vassar/Powerhouse), Candide (Paquette, Alliance/Atlanta Symphony). Concert work includes: Edmonton Symphony, Omaha Symphony, Broadway Rox (International Tour), Lincoln Center, 54 Below (Solo Shows: #LIT: Modern Broad and Blonde Ammunition). TV/Film: The Deuce, Elementary, The Americans, This Is The Moment, Hear My Song (feature film). University of Michigan alum. Love to husband, Rich.

We were thrilled to sit and chat with this jewel of Broadway on creating this powerful role.

Tell us about yourself as an artist. 

I’ve been working in the entertainment industry for over 10 years now. My career has been varied and I am always challenging myself with new ideas and projects. I studied musical theater and communication studies in college, and with that I have been able to not only work on Broadway, on National Tours, and in Tony Award winning Regional theaters, but I’ve been able to expand to on-camera work, concert work, writing, and producing. I am also very passionate about teaching and outreach and have brought the arts to the military through my company Empowered Voices. I’ve come to realize that I am not one thing and that that is my identity. I am ever changing and ever growing, and I am fortunate to live a life and be in an industry that encourages that.

Tell us about your role in Shadows

I play Claire in Shadows. She is a wonderfully complex woman who is discovering new sides of herself throughout the journey of piece. The colors are endless and I have such empathy for her struggles. Like all of us, Claire has gone through different seasons of life and she wrestles with her decisions and with her need to give and receive love in a genuine way. 

What I find fascinating about Shadows is that the storytelling defies genres. Audiences will not only experience a suspenseful book musical, but they will be entranced by the phenomenal dancers who interpret the story and emotion simultaneously. I’ve never been a part of something so innovative and I’m very excited to be a part of this daring piece.  

Share with us your thoughts on independent theater. What is its significance to the skyline of entertainment in NYC? 

Turi 4.jpgIndependent theater is the heartbeat of NYC theater. Shadows is sexy, funny, human, and scary as hell (kind of the way I would describe New York)!

Also, Shadows has been in the works for years. It takes guts to make a show happen. The sheer tenacity of the creative team aligns with the “won’t quit” attitude of New Yorkers. We all know that when something matters, quitting is not an option!

I also think that New York audiences want to see something different. New York theater goers have seen it all. They want to be excited and surprised and  independent theater can do that. 

 

 

SHADOWS flyer final

A hell of a good time

Give ’Em Hell, Harry! by Samuel Gallu

Reviewed by Robert Viagas

JDolanByrnes_asHST5.jpgThe tiniest one-man show in one of the smallest Off-Off-Broadway venues thundered out some of the most powerful verbal brickbats about America’s political situation on the eve of the fraught 2019 elections.

Though Give ’Em Hell, Harry! was written more than 40 years ago and toured back then with James Whitmore in the title role of President Harry S Truman, the play sounds to 2018 ears to have been written last week as a reproach to the current holder of that job. And all without mentioning his name.

The thirty-third president, Truman served 1945 to 1953, from the end of the World War II through the Korean War. The play presents him as a folksy and amiable Everyman who was catapulted by fate into the Oval Office by the untimely death of his predecessor Franklin D. Roosevelt. For all his humility, Truman had a spine of steel. This is the man who okayed the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan and personally sacked the popular Gen. Douglas MacArthur for insubordination in Korea. J. Dolan Byrnes plays Truman  in this production as such a naturally sweet little guy that when he loses his temper—as Truman often did—it really makes an impact.

But what gives his production its sharp edge is Truman’s warnings about the potential for abuse of power and publicity that he saw in the highest offices of the land. He was talking about the likes of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and other period demagogues, but his cautions ring even truer today. He asserts that the public must remember that it is the boss and elected officials are its servants, reminds us that “the law is for everybody in this country,” warns of “reckless fanatics who could destroy us all,” and insists that one of the biggest dangers in the public discourse is “the Big Lie,” one that leaders “repeat over and over until people believe it.”

He concludes with Truman’s statement that “The most valuable piece of property in this country” is—“the voting booth.”

The play’s title comes from an apocryphal incident at one of the Truman’s fiery campaign speeches. A supporter reportedly yelled out, “Give ’em Hell, Harry!” to which Truman is said to have replied, “I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them, and they think it’s Hell.” This revival certainly gives Truman’s current successor a good hot taste.

Directed by Joan Kane, Give ’Em Hell, Harry! was presented by Ego Actus at the Episcopal Actors Guild, 1 East 29th Street in Manhattan through October 28.

Welcome to the Indie Stage: Joey McKneely

27858058_125051688311798_794528212087534870_n.jpgStage and film professional, Joey McKneely, is a two-time Tony Nominated Broadway Choreographer (Smokey Joe’s Cafe and The Life) and the international Director and Choreographer of West Side Story. Other Broadway credentials include Twelfth Night, The Wild Party, The Boy From OZ and the West Side Story revival. He directed/choreographed the U.S. National Tours of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Annie Get Your Gun, Crazy For You and Smokey Joe’s Café. Internationally, he directed/choreographed the world premieres of Love U Theresa, Ah, Kuling! And Jiu Gan Tang Mai Wu In China; The Beautiful Game, Thoroughly Modern Millie, West Side Story in Japan; Evita and Dusty in London. On film, McKneely is known for his work on Zoolander, The In Crowd, and Far East.

SO WHAT’S HE DOING HERE??

Mr. McKneely is making the transition to NY stage director as well as choreographer. After nine years workshopping his gothic dance musical, Shadows, he is ready to unveil the dancing specters and klavish romantic plot. A powerhouse cast including Janine Divita, who appeared on Broadway in Grease, Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Anything Goes; and Alex (John Arthur Greene, who will be appearing in Tootsie on Broadway with previous Broadway credits of School of Rock, Chicago, West Side Story, Matilda, and on NBC in Peter Pan Live.  and special guest, Irina Dvorovenko; a Soloist with the American Ballet Theatre as well as having made Broadway star-turns in Encores! productions of On Your Toes and Grand Hotel).

Let’s learn about indie theatre’s newest luminary:

1003990695-FL_SAR_fawestside08d.jpgTell us about yourself as an artist. 

Wow…that’s a loaded question. Which part of me as an artist? 

  • The driven, unrelenting, anal retentive, detail artist? 
  • The compassionate, boundary pushing, the up in the middle of the night with a new idea artist?
  • The laughter, screamer, emotional, method actor artist? 
  • The arrive early-leave late, sweaty, full out dancer artist?  
  • The insecure, cerebral, the need to be accepted, commercial artist? 
  • Or maybe the artist who is so in love with being an artist that he wouldn’t be happy doing anything else?

Not sure how to answer this question. 

 

mckneely_joey_rehearsal_2.jpgTell us about your role in Shadows

I am the Director, Choreographer and a co-Creator. I have been developing this project for 9yrs with Randall David Cook. And more recently with our composers who have added songs which have really given life to the piece. Each time Edison Woods, Maxim or Karen bring a new piece of music into the show, the show gets elevated to a whole new level. It’s been so satisfying to work with all of these artist. I am so proud of the work all of them have done. 

Our mission was to create a story where dance was an equal part of the narrative. The Spirits tell their story through dance, and the Lovers through song and text. Both stories feed on each other and interweave emotions, plot and character.  It’s been interesting shifting hats from Director to Choreographer and then back to an author. It’s made me very hyper-aware of storytelling in every detail. I learn everyday something more about the show though this process and the process of collaborating with each of the other authors. Each member of the team shines because of this process. 

 

Share with us your thoughts on independent theater. What is its significance to the skyline of entertainment in NYC?

 As someone who is new to independent theater, I am exhilarated by the freedom of it! It’s an arena which one can make up one’s own rules. Find new ways of telling a story without the constraints of having to make a profit or please a particular crowd.  One can experiment. Hopefully, if we do it right, we will find a greater path for the show and reach a wider audience. Right now, it’s all about the work. Which is what NY Theater needs more of. Affordable ways to produce theater in order for artist to discover how to be great story tellers.  I applaud all of those artist! Because it ain’t easy, especially if one is a self-producing artist.  I feel there is an undercurrent of desire not only on the theater artist side but on the audience side who are hungry for original story telling that’s entertaining and invigorating.   I believe independent theater is not part of the skyline of entertainment in NYC….it is part of the underground of entertainment in the city. Doesn’t always work, but it’s affordable, real, and vital to the life blood of the artist who one day may very well be lighting up the skyline of NYC.

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Baayork Lee: One Singular Sensation

40477607_1982368585141397_1426521611535646720_nTheater Resources Unlimited’s The 2018 TRU Love Benefit, “The Power of Community” honoring Baayork Lee and John Chatterton

The event honors legendary A Chorus Line co-star and co-founder of the National Asian Artists Project Baayork Lee, who will receive the TRU Spirit of Theater Award for a lifetime of creating opportunities for Asian artists. Ms. Lee is choreographing the upcoming 50th Anniversary celebration of A Chorus Line at City Center. Cast members will be coming to TRU to help celebrate her. TRU is also honoring off-off-Broadway maverick, creator of the former OOBR Awards and the Midtown International Theatre Festival, John Chatterton who will receive the TRU Entrepreneur Award for providing 17 years of developmental opportunities for a range of independent theater artists.

Performance and award show will be directed by Jonathan Cerullo, Broadway/NYC choreography consultant for Say, Goodnight Gracie; assistant director and/or choreographer for Band in Berlin, Anna Karenina, The Three Musketeers, original cast of Legs Diamond; and choreographer for Big Apple Circus’ Carnivale! & Picturesque @ Lincoln Center. He will be assisted by Andrew Winans, with music director Lulu Picart and stage manager Jim Semmelman.

APPEARANCES INCLUDE: Members of the recent U.S. National Tour, Japan International Tour, upcoming China International Tour and upcoming 50th Anniversary New York City Center productions of A Chorus Line (Mel Cabey, Samantha Cho Grossman, Aaron Patrick Craven, Giovanni Da Silva, Steven Del Col, Veronica Fiaoni, Lauren Garriott, David Grindrod, Ryan Koerber, Laura Pierpont, Zoe Schneider-Smith, Madison Tinder, Jake Vielbig and Baayork’s assistant Andrew Winans), plus Sam Simahk (Carousel revival, Curly in Oklahoma! at TUTS, 1st National Company of The King and I), will be joining Tony Award nominated Brenda Braxton (Smokey Joe’s Cafe, Chicago); original A Chorus Line co-stars and Tony Award winners Donna McKechnie and Priscilla Lopez; NAAP co-founders Nina Zoie Lam and Steven Eng, as well as selections from MITF musicals Thrill Me! by Stephen Dolginoff, Sistas (the long-run off-Broadway hit) by Dorothy Marcic, Take Me America by Bill Nable, and more!

It all takes place on Sunday, November 4, 2018 from 12pm-4pm at Caroline’s on Broadway, 1626 Broadway, NYC. Tickets are available at Eventbrite(https://www.eventbrite.com/e/tru-love-benefit-2018-the-power-of-community-tickets-50935196544); details about the gala are athttps://truonline.org/events/tru-love-2018/. Tickets start at $50 for the performance only, $115 for performance plus three-course luncheon.

Event committee members include: Broadway/Off-Broadway Producers Lisa Dozier King, Pat Flicker Addiss, and Jim Kierstead and Broadway notables Donna McKechnie and Priscilla Lopez (both from the original production of A Chorus Line) and producer/promoter, Jay Michaels.

Ms. Lee was gracious enough to share a few thoughts with Ai regarding life, career and TRU.

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  • You are part of American theater history. Not just A Chorus Line – where you were the basis for your character – but two of Rodgers ad Hammerstein’s most pivotal works. How does that feel and how did it influence your career goals? 
I am so blessed to have been able to be apart of theater History, The King and I, and Flower Drum Song . Even though I was just a  kid I knew  then that this was going to be my profession. I had started on Broadway and worked very hard throughout the years to stay there.
  • Please share with us something about the National Asian Artists Project. What was the inspiration for creating it? 
With the  lack of diversity in casting on  Broadway  and  no opportunity for talented Asian American performers to experience  the American Classic Musicals ,Nina Zoie Lam ,Steven Eng started NAAP. We were excited to produce Oklahoma, Carousel, Hello, Dolly , Oliver, and Into The Woods. This lead us to go back to Zoie and my hometown, Chinatown, New York and start a Theater Club at Yung Wing Elementary School PS124. Musical Theater is not part of Asian culture, so inorder to cultivate  our community to  appreciation  it we started with the children. Our Theater Club has become an award winning group in Ensemble Choreography, Acting ,and Production performing at Lincoln Center, Senior centers and at the Junior Theater Festival in Atlanta, Georgia. The NAAP Broadway Community Chorus was born also out of a lack of opportunity to sing Musical Theater Classics.
 
  • How has theater changed over the years? 
Theater has changed over the years , as many show are based on Films, or pop artists Song Books. More film stars are coming to Broadway ,a big price tag for a producer but guaranteed an audience. We have many revivals . So much more Orginal material comes out of off Broadway workshops then on to Broadway , Hamilton for example. We look to Off Broadway for fresh and innovated shows. 
  • What does being honored by TRU mean to you? 
To be recognized for my lifes work is a humbling experience. All I ever wanted to do was Dance and Sing on Broadway. Zoie, Steven and I are all performers but we saw the need to make a difference by giving our Asian Actors platforms to be recognized. We started with just passion and commitment. How lucky we are to have an organization like TRU who is there to help navigate the business of theater. As we soon came to discover passion and committment are key players to start but we need the business side of the show to help us survive in this crazy world. TRU with its ever growing workshops and seminars,  helps so many young companies like ours. With our mission to bring Arts Education and Musical Theater Classics ,featuring Asian American performers to the forefront and to be recognized by TRU is an Honor.
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ABOUT ROBERT VIAGAS – Ai Lead Writer

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Robert Viagas is an editor, author, manager, and journalist with more than thirty-five years’ experience, most it working on Broadway with Playbill Inc., the iconic theatre program company. The founding editor of Playbill.com, Playbill’s theatre news website, Viagas has published 19 books on the performing arts, and served as a nominator for the annual Tony Awards.

Playbill placed extraordinary responsibility in Viagas’ hands during the past 21 years to spearhead virtually all of that company’s new projects, notably the widely used and cited theatre news site, Playbill.com, for which Viagas served as founding editor. In addition to Playbill Radio, Viagas also founded Playbill Books (including the Playbill Broadway Yearbook series). He has held various titles at the company over the years. His current title is Special Features Editor, overseeing PlaybillUniverse.com, a new website for the Playbill family of websites, developing content for all platforms, from books and print, to websites and social media.

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Always fascinated with the entertainment business, Viagas was a pioneer broadcaster on satellite radio. In 2002 he began hosting “Radio Playbill,” a program of news and recordings that was part of the original content offered at the premiere of Sirius Satellite Radio (now SiriusXM). He later hosted Playbill Radio, a 24-hour web radio service that drew on more than 20,000 tracks that Viagas assembled for Playbill. Viagas also was asked by Sony to supply liner notes for the special 40th anniversary re-release of the original cast album of the classic A Chorus Line. The anniversary package was released in October 2015.

28240_1511463787921_6355012_n.jpgHe took over writing and editing the “At This Theatre” column from Louis Botto, hosted the Tony Awards webcasts from 2002 to 2008, and produced the special Tony Awards Playbill each year from 2002 to 2012, and again in 2015. He enjoyed the rare honor of serving on the nominating committee for the Tonys 2012-14.

The New York Times’ CyberTimes described him as “encyclopedic” in his knowledge of Broadway.

Among his other books, Viagas was chosen by the original cast of A Chorus Line to tell their story in On the Line: The Creation of “A Chorus Line” (Morrow) and by the creators of the original The Fantasticks to tell their story in “The Amazing Story of The Fantasticks” (Citadel).

When it comes to the difficult area of collaboration he literally wrote the book on it—The Alchemy of Theatre (Applause Books), consisting of essays on collaboration, in which he worked with the likes of Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, Hal Prince, Chita Rivera and others to codify how one collaborates in the world of theatre. The roll-out book-signing event sold out the 92nd Street Y in 2006.

His 2009 book I’m the Greatest Star! (Applause) contained biographies of the 40 people he considers the most brilliant stars of Broadway musical history, from George M. Cohan and Fanny Brice to today’s Nathan Lane and Sutton Foster. The book was also adapted as a stage musical and presented at Hofstra University that same year.

He is a juror for the annual Boston Science-Fiction Film Festival and Marathon, and performs his solo shows, The 10 Secrets of Broadway and The Ghosts of Broadway at libraries and colleges.

Viagas’ experience extends to the world of classical music. In addition to serving at various times as editor of the Playbill programs for the New York City Ballet, the New York City Opera, Houston Ballet, the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania Ballet, he co-authored the book Scales to Scalpels (with Dr. Lisa Wong), about the remarkable Longwood Symphony Orchestra, consisting entirely of professional doctors.