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Interview with Leonardo Defilippis,

Actor, Writer, and Producer

February 7, 2018

NOTE: What do you do when your entire production, on computer, is stolen and your show is to open in eight hours? What would your thoughts be? Almost unbelievably, this happened to the cast and crew of Tolton: From Slave to Priest (the story of the first black priest in the United States of America). What follows is an interview conducted by Ann H. Slattery (AHS) with Leonardo Defilippis (LDF), president and founder of Saint Luke Productions, which recently began performances of Tolton.



Leonardo Defilippis, courtesy Saint Luke Productions

AHS: Where were you when this happened?

LDF: In our Vancouver, Washington studio. It was January 19th, opening night for the show this season and the first night for Jim Coleman’s performance as the lead. Our production crew called me from Bakersfield, California, about 11 am to tell me that their Penske truck had been broken into overnight and that the main computer and sound system, which run the whole show, had been stolen. The show was to open at 7 pm. The crew’s first thoughts were that maybe the show would have to be cancelled.

AHS: What did you do?

LDF: We knew we had to find the backup computer program and get it to the crew and cast. And we had 20 minutes to do it, because if I was going to get a flight to Bakersfield I would have to leave almost immediately. We found the program, I got to the airport, and I was the last person on the plane. I flew to Ontario, California, and then had to drive three hours to get to Bakersfield. I got there right at 7 pm and handed the computer to the waiting staff. Three hundred people were already waiting in the theater. The pressure was on. I managed to talk to the audience for 30 minutes about just about everything—the theft, our history, the production itself. Then I got the “A-OK” sign from the crew and the curtain went up.

AHS: So, it was really a miracle that the company managed to salvage Tolton?

LDF: An e-mail message had been sent out earlier in the day so the whole time people all over the world were praying. Yes, we think it was miraculous. My wife Patti and I credit the prayers of our supporters, the grace of God, and the pluck of the young people who work for Saint Luke Productions.

AHS: How long have you been in the theater and how did you get your start?

LDF: I performed in plays in high school and college. I was interested in a lot of subjects (liberal arts). But different professors encouraged me to do theater, so I started auditioning. I began performing professionally in 1975. I started in San Francisco, then Santa Rosa, then the Old Globe Theater in San Diego. I acted in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the Oregon Shakespearean Festival. I have always been very interested in the classics and in Shakespeare.

AHS: What drew you to found Saint Luke Productions?

LDF: I was brought up Catholic. In the midst of all those years of acting professionally, I experienced a reconversion to the Faith. There was a Benedictine monk at Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon who encouraged me to create a play on the gospel of Saint Luke. This is what started our work. I went on to write and perform other plays at the request of various religious orders who were looking for ways to celebrate anniversaries of various saints, their founders. Their stories really constitute milestones in Church history and are great for teaching the Faith.

AHS: How did Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta influence your work and your decision—if she did—to found Saint Luke Productions?

LDF: I wrote to her out of the blue for her advice. She wrote back and encouraged me to get started. Then I was able to meet her in San Francisco when she gave a talk, and we wrote letters back and forth for five or six years. Yes, she inspired me to want to do something beautiful for God.

AHS: Where have Saint Luke Productions been performed? In how many states and countries?

LDF: In the U.S. we have performed in every state except South Carolina. We have performed in Italy, England, Ireland, Malta, Canada, and Mexico. I was always encouraged by the life of Pope Saint John Paul II and his interest in theater and all arts. So it was a huge honor to be able to perform at World Youth Days in Denver in 1993 and in Rome in 2000.

AHS: How can people see your plays?

LDF: We will go just about anywhere to perform, and we come at the request of the people, whether laymen, deacons, nuns, or priests. Then we organize a tour in that region.

AHS: Where can we go for more information and schedules?

LDF: You can take a look at our website,

AHS: Thank you so much. From listening to you and visiting the website myself, I can see that Saint Luke Productions is more than just a drama company. It is a training ground for young people via internships, workshops, and employment—and all in a family atmosphere of faith and art. 

The life of St. Faustina is one of many Saint Luke Productions (from website).The life of St. Faustina is one of many Saint Luke Productions (from website).