Spotlight: “Bakersfield” Writer/Director Stephen Sachs

Stephen Sachs on the set of "Bakersfield Mist".

Stephen Sachs co-founded the Fountain in 1990 and remains its co-artistic director.

by Jason Kehe

Why did you write this play?

I loved the idea of bringing these two wonderful characters together — this bawdy, salty-tongued, boozy lady and this sophisticated art expert from New York — and have their two worlds collide. The conflict in the play is that both of these characters, who come from opposite ends of the social and economic spectrum, have a deep personal relationship with art. It means something very profound to both of them for very different reasons.

Describe the experience of working with actors Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett.

I’ve known Nick and Jenny for years. I wrote the play specifically with them in mind. The two of them are so much like these characters. Jenny is a very straight-talking, honest, direct, funny, emotional person; Nick is a Brit who has a certain kind of sophistication, intelligence — very erudite. We had a ball.

Were you a fan of Jackson Pollock before “Bakersfield Mist”?

I was a fan and certainly knew his work but didn’t know much about him. Doing research for the play, I grew to appreciate him even more. His demonic spirit, his inner storm, his tormented passion is very much a character in this play.

Do you prefer to direct your own work?

Directing one’s own play is a challenge because you need to do two things at once: be present and alive as a creative artist as both director and playwright. In rehearsal I am both listening to the dialogue as the playwright and watching as the director.  I do enjoy directing my own stuff, but I’m ruthless with myself, the playwright, as a director. I don’t treat my own written word as something sacred if it doesn’t work. Nick and Jenny were also a big help with the text throughout the rehearsal process. They’re both very smart actors.

The play is getting a lot of attention. When you were writing it, did you ever think to yourself, “This is good”?

The national attention is exciting. Productions are already planned around the country. And it has been optioned by a commercial producer for New York, for either Broadway or Off-Broadway.  There is something special about this play. It really has a life of its own. From the very first public reading (in Denver) it was clear that the play was going to work. As the writer, this was one of those instances when the characters really came alive for me. I was channeling them, almost like taking dictation. It’s a blessing when that happens, because it doesn’t always happen that way.

Have you ever been in a situation like Maude’s, believing in something’s value against all probability?

Isn’t that what we do everyday as artists? Doing theater at all — whether you’re in Los Angeles or anywhere in this country — can be an uphill battle. Part of the energy goes into creating the art, and the other half goes into screaming to the world that the art matters.

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