Monthly Archives: July 2013

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: ‘The Katrina Comedy Fest’ at the Fountain Theatre

Curtain call!

A Wonderful Sold-Out Performance Followed by Good Times in the Fountain Cafe

Last night was another magical evening at the Fountain Theatre: a terrific performance followed by fun in the cafe. 

A sold-out house enjoyed the special one-night-only performance of The Katrina Comedy Fest, a funny and touching piece telling the true stories of folks in New Orleans who survived the flooding of hurricane Katrina. The play is written by Rob Florence and directed by Misty Carlisle. The fabulous cast included Judy Jean Berns, Deidrie Henry, Travis Michael Holder, Jan Munroe and L. Trey Wilson.

After the performance, the cast and audience gathered upstairs in the Fountain cafe for a night of food, drinks and celebration.   

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Shake Your Booty and Get Down Tonight

mirror ball 1The best way to prepare for a production meeting? Get down and boogie!

We had a ball (a mirror ball?) yesterday. To get the Fountain Theatre staff in the mood for a meeting for our upcoming production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, we blasted 80’s disco music in the office just for fun.  We laughed and danced and had a great time bouncing to the beat. Producing Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor couldn’t help getting down with her bad self. Go, Deb! What fun! 

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The Power of Storytelling: Your Brain on Stories

cave paintingby Leo Widrich

For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods. Recently a good friend of mine gave me an introduction to the power of storytelling, and I wanted to learn more.

Here is the science around storytelling and how we can use it to make better decisions every day:

Our brain on stories: How our brains become more active when we tell stories

We all enjoy a good story, whether it’s a play, a novel, a movie, or simply something one of our friends is explaining to us. But why do we feel so much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events?

It’s in fact quite simple. If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that’s it, nothing else happens.

When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.

If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active:

“Metaphors like “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” roused the sensory cortex. […] Then, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like “John grasped the object” and “Pablo kicked the ball.” The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body’s movements.”

A story can put your whole brain to work. And yet, it gets better:

When we tell stories to others that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on them too. The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton:

“When the woman spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized. When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.”

Anything you’ve experienced, you can get others to experience the same. Or at least, get their brain areas that you’ve activated that way, active too:

storytelling 1

Evolution has wired our brains for storytelling—how to make use of it

Now all this is interesting. We know that we can activate our brains better if we listen to stories. The still unanswered question is: Why is that? Why does the format of a story, where events unfold one after the other, have such a profound impact on our learning?

The simple answer is this: We are wired that way. A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think. We think in narratives all day long, no matter if it is about buying groceries, whether we think about work or our spouse at home. We make up (short) stories in our heads for every action and conversation. In fact, Jeremy Hsu found [that] “personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations.”

Now, whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That’s why metaphors work so well with us. While we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, or disgust.

The following graphic probably describes it best:

storytelling 2

In a great experiment, John Bargh at Yale found the following:

“Volunteers would meet one of the experimenters, believing that they would be starting the experiment shortly. In reality, the experiment began when the experimenter, seemingly struggling with an armful of folders, asks the volunteer to briefly hold their coffee. As the key experimental manipulation, the coffee was either hot or iced. Subjects then read a description of some individual, and those who had held the warmer cup tended to rate the individual as having a warmer personality, with no change in ratings of other attributes.”

We link up metaphors and literal happenings automatically. Everything in our brain is looking for the cause and effect relationship of something we’ve previously experienced.

Let’s dig into some hands on tips to make use of it:

Exchange giving suggestions for telling stories

Do you know the feeling when a good friend tells you a story and then two weeks later, you mention the same story to him, as if it was your idea? This is totally normal and at the same time, one of the most powerful ways to get people on board with your ideas and thoughts. According to Uri Hasson from Princeton, a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.

The next time you struggle with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, simply tell them a story, where the outcome is that doing what you had in mind is the best thing to do. According to Princeton researcher Hasson, storytelling is the only way to plant ideas into other people’s minds.

Write more persuasively—bring in stories from yourself or an expert

This is something that took me a long time to understand. If you start out writing, it’s only natural to think “I don’t have a lot of experience with this, how can I make my post believable if I use personal stories?” The best way to get around this is by simply exchanging stories with those of experts. When this blog used to be a social media blog, I would ask for quotes from the top folks in the industry or simply find great passages they had written online. It’s a great way to add credibility and at the same time, tell a story.

The simple story is more successful than the complicated one

When we think of stories, it is often easy to convince ourselves that they have to be complex and detailed to be interesting. The truth is however, that the simpler a story, the more likely it will stick. Using simple language as well as low complexity is the best way to activate the brain regions that make us truly relate to the happenings of a story. This is a similar reason why multitasking is so hard for us. Try for example to reduce the number of adjectives or complicated nouns in a presentation or article and exchange them with more simple, yet heartfelt language.

Quick last fact: Our brain learns to ignore certain overused words and phrases that used to make stories awesome. Scientists, in the midst of researching the topic of storytelling have also discovered, that certain words and phrases have lost all storytelling power:

“Some scientists have contended that figures of speech like “a rough day” are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more.”

This means, that the frontal cortex—the area of your brain responsible to experience emotions—can’t be activated with these phrases. It’s something that might be worth remembering when crafting your next story.

Leo Widrich is the co-founder of Buffer, a smarter way to share on Twitter and Facebook. Leo writes more posts on efficiency and customer happiness over on the Buffer blog. Hit him up on Twitter @LeoWid anytime; he is a super nice guy.

The Human Stories in ‘The Katrina Comedy Fest’ Are Still Relevant and True at the Fountain Theatre

The Katrina Comedy Fest cast.

The cast of The Katrina Comedy Fest.

by Analyn Revilla

The Katrina Comedy Fest is based on the true experiences of 5 separate lives who survived the hurricane of 2005.  It’s still a relevant story.  Natural disasters and catastrophes, like waves lapping on the beach, erase the tracks of lives imprinted on the sand.

I’ve visited New Orleans twice.  The first time was in in 1991 when I got married in a small town called Buras.  It’s about an hour south of the Big Easy.  On August 29, 2005, the eye of Hurricane Katrina made its first landfall in the Buras-Triumph district, and the area is still in the process of rebuilding.  On my second visit in 2010, I wanted to see the effects of the BP disaster upon the environment and the people.  It’s unbelievable to see the ant work it took to watch people and helicopters putting up barriers to keep the oil slick at bay.

I sought out the old fire hall station where I was married by the JP with his deputy as witness.  Like my marriage, the white-washed concrete building didn’t withstand the forces of wind and rain.  I sought out Camp’s, the restaurant that served big bowls heaped with rice and oyster gumbo.  That one had closed too, or the owners decided not to rebuild it after the storm.  My memories of Louisiana linger, like the waft of good soul food that beckons.  It was at Camp’s where I learned how to eat a crawfish properly as demonstrated by the happy waitress.  She took one mini-lobster from the heap on the newspaper and used her thumb and index to flick the head off, and she sucked out the ‘best part’, followed by forcing the meat from the body with the same fingers.  This technique ensures “less mess” and allows for continues eating, because there are plenty of hands going into that heap.

The story telling captures the sensitivity, nostalgia and steely guts of survivors in the face of a natural disaster and caught in the web of bureaucratic foibles.  The stories of five characters, from different walks of life, belie a spirit of humor and a soul of surrender.  New Orleans, historically, has always been at the mercy of nature because of its geography – it sits on the soft silt of the Mississippi River delta, and it opens up to the Gulf of Mexico.  This relationship has grown more tenuous with the industrial revolution.  The coast of Louisiana and Texas has been identified as dead zone, and is the largest hypoxic zone in the United States (source: Wikipedia.)  Last week two explosions erupted in two chemical plants on Thursday and Friday.  If the investigation comes up with any likeness to negligence that led to the BP disaster, then this reinforces some themes common woven into the lives of the people.

The Katrina Comedy Fest, refreshingly, does not focus on the politics.  The play brings the event to a tangible level that can be digested as a languorous 5 course meal, beginning with the rising waters and ending with sobering shot of reality.  It becomes a speculation game as to the strength of “this one” compared to the “last one” when the levees didn’t breach.

The Katrina Comedy Fest

The Katrina Comedy Fest

The stories are narrated through the voice of …

Raymond, a homeless, begins his story in the stadium.  He discovers his “air freshener” ineffective against the heavy stench of bodies locked down.  He’s prepared for anything being a homeless.

Antoinette is a savvy and bold owner of “Mother-in-Law Lounge”, and widow of R&B singer Ernie K-Doe.  She keeps both her 15 year old granddaughter and a shrine of her late husband afloat during the storm.  The statue donned with a sawed-off shotgun keeps away would-be intruders.

Rodney is a sweet southern gentleman shoulders the responsibility of keeping his aging parents plus new comers entertained and alive during the siege of rising waters.  He keeps well inebriated with whisky and at the close of the storm realizes he had spent more with his parents than he’s ever done in a long long time.

Judy is a sweet and naïve older woman who meets up with 5 young people.  She wanders out in the street of her neighborhood which had already been evacuated.  She receives texts from her son, “Get out now!”  She meets the pot-smoking youths who takes her with them to San Antonio in her son’s unreliable car.  It is a miraculous trip that opens the life of Judy to young attitudes and wider latitudes.

Sonny, a tourist guide, stays a while and ends up in Oklahoma with high-pitched voiced black woman who likes to scream.  His cool logic and street-wise experience keeps the situation moving until he is investigated by the FBI, because he’s carrying a big wad of cash in a plastic bag.  How else does a person whose business is cash-based supposed to flee the floods of New Orleans?

The Katrina Comedy Fest was written by playwright is Rob Florence and directed by Misty Carlisle.  It stars Judy Jean Berns, Deidrie Henry, Travis Michael Holder, Jan Munroe, L. Trey Wilson. It’s showing at the Fountain Theatre this Sunday, July 28 at 7pm. (323) 663-1525  MORE

Analyn Revilla blogs for the LA Female Playwrights Initiative

‘The Katrina Comedy Fest’: Laughing in the Face of Disaster

The Katrina Comedy Fest

The Katrina Comedy Fest

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf coast in 2005, causing damage in Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida that would reverberate for years to come. Now that recovery is well under way, the Katrina Comedy Fest lets you experience the heartbreak, humanity — and yes, comedy — of those fateful days through the words of five New Orleans-based stand-up comedians who rode out the storm and lived to tell the tale. The funny and powerful play will be performed for one night only on Sunday, July 28, at 7pm at the Fountain Theatre.

The Katrina Comedy Fest cast.

The Katrina Comedy Fest cast.

Judy Jean Berns, Deidrie Henry, Travis Holder, Jan Munroe and L. Trey Wilson recount their experiences with irreverent humor without trivializing the tragic enormity of what happened. Written by Rob Florence and directed by Misty Carlisle, the show won “Best of the Festival” at the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival and was a recent hit at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

  • “Celebrates triumph in disaster.” — LA Stage Times
  • “True and hilarious stories about riding out the storm. Props to anyone who can face their tragedy and laugh in its face.” —LA Weekly
  • “True personal stories brought to life by a stellar cast”  —Bitter Lemons
  • “The audience was mesmerized throughout. Sure to satisfy your soul!”  —Tolucan Times

THE NEW YORK TIMES wrote: “The evocative true stories assembled are full of fear, courage and resilience. But they are also rich in the flavorful humor, inextinguishable identity and civic love that characterize the inhabitants of America’s most battered city.”

Join us on Sunday, July 28th for a funny, thought-provoking and evocative evening you won’t soon forget.

The Katrina Comedy Fest (323) 663-1525  Order Tickets Now

Keeping the Fire of Flamenco Burning in Los Angeles: Katina Dunn and Jose Tanaka

Katina Dunn and Jose Tanaka

Katina Dunn and Jose Tanaka

By Mikey Hirano Culross

A new documentary, exploring the reach of flamenco music and dance into Los Angeles, screens Friday at the Fountain Theatre.

Conventional wisdom would have us assume that anyone directing a documentary has at least scant knowledge of the subject being explored.

Asked how much she knew about flamenco music before beginning her film project, Katina Dunn was pretty forthcomng about it.

“Nothing. Not a thing,” she said.

A journalist by trade, the Chicago native happened into a small club in Hollywood in 2010, and was instantly enchanted by a group of flamenco musicians and dancer Mizuho Sato.

“After I saw these guys playing, I went home and searched for them on Google, and there was nothing,” Dunn recalled at the Rafu Shimpo offices last week. “I knew I had to do something on them, because their performance was so moving. I knew what they were creating was incredible.”

Dunn’s directorial debut is the film “Kumpanía: Flamenco Los Angeles,” which will have a screening this Friday, at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. Showing as part of the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles, the film will be followed by a live concert by flamenco guitar virtuoso Jose Tanaka, who is among the artists profiled in “Kumpanía”.

Dunn’s film explores the reach of flamenco into cultures outside of its birthplace in the Andalusia region of southern Spain. The folk music – whose name translates roughly to “the folklore of the flame” – has enjoyed great popularity in Japan, where it is said there are more flamenco schools than in Spain.

Mizuho Sato

Mizuho Sato

Tanaka, 44, said his parents were part of the generation that first embraced flamenco, and his given name is a direct result of their enthusiasm. He endured endless lessons, and when he was 18, his mother suggested he go study guitar in Spain.

Young Jose had other ideas.

“I said, ‘Screw that, I’m going to Hollywood!’ I wanted to be a rock star,” he explained.

Tanaka was working as a guitar instructor at a small music school shortly after arriving in L.A. in 1987. He said he soon became disillusioned with the monotony of his job.

“At the time, hard rock bands like Metallica and Pearl Jam were very popular, and I was teaching these kids that kind of stuff,” he said. “I found that they picked it up so quickly and I felt like I wasn’t much better than those kids. I didn’t feel like I was special, and all this time I was avoiding flamenco.”

All the while, his mother back in his hometown of Kyoto continued to send news of up-and-coming flamenco artists. But it wasn’t until the renowned Spanish guitarist Paco de Lucía came to L.A. for a concert that the flamenco fire was rekindled in Tanaka’s heart.

“All the memories started to come back. There were a lot of mixed feelings, but I realized how much I missed flamenco. I was really brought to tears,” he said.

“Kumpanía” also features Sato, a native of Iwate Prefecture who teaches dance and has been performing with Tanaka’s group since 2004.

Jose Tanaka will perform a live solo concert immediately following the screening of ‘Kumpania’ on Friday night, July 19 at 8pm at the Fountain Theatre. 

Mikey Hirano Culross is Arts & Entertainment Editor for Rafu Shimpo

Kumpania & Jose Tanaka Friday, July 19 (323) 663-1525  MORE

Thanks from the Women of Westwood


Post-show cafe chat last Sunday after the matinee of ‘Heart Song’.

By Bette Billett

On behalf of a very grateful UCLA Faculty Women’s Club, I wish to thank all who made Sunday such a rich experience.The after-show conversation and kudos for HEART SONG are still going on at the UCLA campus. A special thank you to Simon Levy and Stephen Sachs who came in on a Sunday, which we noted with gratitude. Stephen stayed for the entire get together and fielded the “insight into women” questions so agilely and , of course, because he wrote such a wonderful play. Many thanks, too, to the stellar cast. Lastly, thanks to Diana and James, who somehow make the ticketing run so smoothly.

Fond regards from Westwood,

Bette Billet, President UCLA Faculty Women’s Club

Bette Billet (left) with Deborah Lawlor, Tamlyn Tomita and Denise Blasor.

Bette Billet (left) with Deborah Lawlor, Tamlyn Tomita and Denise Blasor.

Heart Song  Extended to Aug 25  (323) 663-1525  MORE

Inner Voices of a Playwright: Characters Talking or Demons of Fear and Doubt?

EM Lewis

EM Lewis

“I want to keep writing more courageously and living more courageously.”

by EM Lewis

All my characters are trying to wrestle the narrative away from each other right now. When it first happened, when I was working on “True Story,” it was disconcerting, kind of shocking and violent, really, but I went with it. And I doubted myself, because… well, who doesn’t, but I trusted the voices and followed them out into the deep, dark places, because I’ve really begun to understand, these last few years, that that’s the only way to do it.

It’s been a nice couple of years. I got a fellowship, and then another fellowship, so I quit my sensible day job and moved across the country, far away from everything I know, and my family, to New Jersey (!), and have been writing full time. And it’s been nice. It’s been… Madeleine L’Engle used this word “deepening” in one of her books, and that’s how I’ve felt, like I’ve been deepening, finding my true voice in a way that I’ve never–

(How am I going to pay the rent this month?)

–come so close to doing before. And I’ve been writing so much more than I ever ever have. New full lengths, and short plays, and a one-man show that cut so close to the bone I pretty much had a panic attack when we read it in workshop. Maybe not a full panic attack. I don’t know, I’ve never had one before. But all of a sudden my heart started pounding so loud I couldn’t hear Stephen reading anymore. But then I could hear again after a while, and I stayed really quiet there in my chair, and I don’t think anybody noticed. You’re not supposed to talk during the response period anyway, so I–

(don’t know how I’m going to keep doing this. I’m 42 years old, and what the fuck do I have to show for it? no husband, no kids, no house, no — is this a mid-life crisis? How fucking trite that would be. Jesus.)

[why is my internal voice so profane when I never swear?]

–shut up and listened. Is it a good sign when you give yourself a panic attack from something you wrote? It’s probably not a sign at all. But it was a hard play to write. It’s about guns and gun control.

Not really.

It’s about me and my husband, and how he died.

Which makes it really no different from any of my plays, which are all about me and my husband and how he died, except the rest of them cleverly call all the characters by different names and are set in different places, so I don’t think people realize that they’re all about us, that I’ve been writing about us all this time.

It’s called “The Gun Show.” It’s the first thing I’ve written in first person in a long time. It’s written for a guy to read, but he’s playing me, and at a couple points during the play, he points a flashlight at me, picking me out of the audience so they know I’m there and they can identify the guilty party, the one who wrote this thing, the one who… I took out the puppet. There used to be a puppet, and I used to have lines, talking back to the actor who is playing me, but I took them out, because it was already in there, in the text, everything I needed. And I put a clause in the notes about some time, maybe, I’ll be brave enough to read it myself, but that’s probably bullshit. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll do it. Maybe I want to wrestle the narrative away from my actors and claim my own words. Maybe I want to confess my sins.

(maybe I should move back home to the farm in Oregon)

[you’re gonna have to do something if you can’t pay your rent this month]

Into the woods. It’s a good metaphor. It was good back in fairy tale days, with all the romance and darkness, and it’s even better after Mr. Sondheim mucked about with it, because he added the complicatedness that we’ve all run up against, and said, “Yeah, the woods is that, too.” I just saw the show the other day, over at the McCarter, and the lyrics have been sounding in my head like a bell.

“Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood.”


“Nothing’s quite so clear, now. Feel you’ve lost your way?”


But I’m getting closer to something as an artist, I think.

(Is that bullshit? That sounds dangerously close to–)

Those terrible true things. The small personal true things and the larger global true things. I feel like I’m getting closer–

(But how do you ever know? Some people like my plays, I’ve had some productions and such, but how do I know if any of this means anything? If it’s the right path? Maybe I should have–)

[–been a helicopter nurse. I know that sounds like a radical notion, but there was a moment, back when I was at Chemeketa Community College, when I was nineteen, when I seriously considered it. Flying around and saving people. What’s not to like?)

(–done something different with my life, gone down a surer path.)

[What’s surer?]


[I’d be a terrible accountant. I can’t event calculate the tip properly.]

(There has to be something surer than this.)

[Is that even a word? Surer?]

I could die tomorrow.

(I really could. It’s been ages since I had health insurance. Looking both ways at the intersections only gets you so far.)

At a certain point… at this point, I guess… you start to ask yourself, is it worthwhile, what I’ve done with my life, what I’m doing with my life? What do I have to show for my life?

(The job hunt hasn’t been going well. I don’t need much, but I need something. I’ll mow lawns. I’ll wash windows. I’m not too proud to do anything, but I can’t even get a call back on most of the jobs I’m applying for. What am I doing wrong? Or does the economy still just suck this bad? Maybe it’s just that nobody wants me.)

[Fuck ’em. Fuck ’em all. You’re a playwright, goddamn it, you shouldn’t be washing fucking windows, you should be writing plays.]

{easy to say, but then maybe when you get back from that play festival in Fayetteville you find all your stuff out on the lawn and they’ve changed the locks on you, and there’s no power outlet for your laptop out on the lawn, girlie-girl.}

(Sometimes I’m terrified, sometimes I lie in the dark and wonder what the fuck I’m doing–)

[–but that’s okay, because you’re a writer, if you weren’t fucked up what the fuck would you write about?]

{yeah, tell yourself that}

(Do you lie in the dark and wonder what the fuck you’re doing sometimes?)

Stop, already! Just stop!!!

(A moment. A Pinter pause.)

This is me, trying to take control of the narrative. The writing narrative and the life narrative. And realizing that you never can, and you always have to keep trying, and you always have to keep trying, and you never can.

There is no “surer” thing than this. Nothing is sure. And we have to figure out why we should push the rock up the hill anyway, and how, and if we can keep a roof over our heads while we’re doing it.

This essay was supposed to be about artistic innovation, but I’m writing about my rent money instead. Because they are inextricable from one another. Both require all of our courage and all of our humility.

I don’t just want to be a braver writer, after all.

I want to be a braver person.

Here’s a funny story. I got an email from someone I didn’t know the other day. The woman said that she’d come across my play “The Edge of Ross Island” on her way to Staunton, and thought it was really interesting. I emailed her back, thanking her for saying so. And I asked her where she’d “come across it,” because… that was a funny way to put it. And it turns out she’d found it on the sidewalk. Laying there on the sidewalk in Staunton, Virginia, for no apparent reason, and she bent down and picked it up, and read it, and in her second email, where she told me all this, she said that she couldn’t put it down.

Something about that whole story makes me laugh, and makes me want to keep going.

Oh, world!

Courage, I guess, is the word I’ve been looking for.

I want to keep writing more courageously and living more courageously. Whether I do that in New Jersey or Oregon, while washing windows or making plays, while voicing my own words or asking actors to do it for me.

The boldest innovations came from people who acted bravely. I want to be brave.

(“Things will come out right now. We can make it so.”)

Be brave.

EM Lewis received a 2012 Fellowship in Playwriting from the NJ Council for the Arts, the 2010‐2011 Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University, and the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for Song of Extinction and the Primus Prize for Heads from the American Theater Critics Association. Her plays have been produced around the world, and published by Samuel French. Recent: Song of Extinction at the Guthrie and Hostos College; Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday at HotCity Theater. Upcoming: Heads at The Rep in Pittsburgh, and the world premiere of True Story at Passage Theater in Trenton.

This post is a part of the Artistic Innovation blog salon curated by Caridad Svich for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas.

New Video! Hit Comedy/Drama ‘Heart Song’ Extended to Aug 25 at the Fountain Theatre

"Heart Song" at the Fountain Theatre

“Heart Song” at the Fountain Theatre

Hailed as “superb” and “magnificent” by critics and audiences alike, the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed hit comedy/drama Heart Song has been extended to August 25th. The Hollywood Reporter cheers Heart Song as “a genuine delight”, the LA Weekly heralds it as “beautifully performed,” and Broadway World declares Heart Song “a celebration of life you won’t want to miss.” 

Written by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo FinneyHeart Song follows the funny and touching journey of Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), a middle-aged Jewish woman in New York City struggling through a mid-life crisis and the recent loss of her mother. When Rochelle is convinced to take a flamenco class with other women led by a passionate Gypsy instructor (Denise Blasor), her life and world-view is changed forever.   

Enjoy The New ‘Heart Song’ Video Trailer

Heart Song  (323) 663-1525  MORE INFO

The Coming-of-Middle-Age Story: “The merit in trying to communicate what it means to be human”

"Heart Song" at the Fountain Theatre

Mid-life journeys in “Heart Song” at the Fountain Theatre

by Rachel Ditor

I have read countless coming-of-age stories. As a teenager and young adult many of those stories were lifesavers. I still struggled but I didn’t feel alone anymore.

I’m discovering now a subset of this genre, the coming-of-middle age story.

I don’t feel I was adequately warned about this stage in life. Not sure who to complain to about this, but where are the educational films and pamphlets? Why don’t we have special parties that celebrate compromise as a significant achievement? Where are the guidebooks and diagrams that explain feeling conflicted is not a fleeting emotion but a way of life?

And that this isn’t actually bad. It’s challenging but it’s fascinating.

Plus, this whole thing about life having a definitive beginning and end is misleading. It cues you to think linearly. I’m not finding this very helpful. What if I conceive of the journey as a maze instead of a trajectory?

(An interesting, intriguing maze. No Minotaur.)

Our personal lives have many markers of progress. Most of these relate to our physical age—able to bear children, not able to bear children; can read the directions on the pill bottle, can’t read the stupid tiny directions on the fucking pill bottle.

Our professional lives (ok, mine) seem to lack definitive markers. What does “forward movement” really mean mid-career?

If I were motivated by money, I would have chosen another field, just about any other field. But I chose theater. So “escalating earning power” is not the definitive marker on the trail of progress.

“Artistic freedom.” Is that the next step forward, mid-career? But artistic freedom to some degree has always been part of the package as a theater artist, from the start. (Partly because we’re not perceived to be a threat to the mainstream.) Constraints of any kind often spur us to make theatrical discoveries we wouldn’t have otherwise.

Rachel Ditor

Rachel Ditor

I’m not even going to bother considering whether fame and acclaim are critical markers. First, I’m Canadian and we find that kind of striving a little distasteful. (It’s also distasteful to admit that.) Second, we put so much of ourselves into our work that outside opinions have limited impact. If you feel good about your work, someone may disagree with the value of the product, but that can’t tarnish the value of an experience that likely evolved over years. And likewise, a great review or pat on the back can’t redeem your experience of a shitty process and a disappointing product, one that also likely evolved over years. Years that you will never get back.

I’m getting off track. To be honest, my surprise at mid-life, mid-career is to discover I’m passionate and knowledgeable about my work, but uncertain about where to meaningfully expend my energy in what feels like a finite timeframe in a way it hadn’t before.

The only way I see to move forward with this uncertainty is to go back and ask myself: what gets me out of bed in the morning? (Beyond habit or gratitude.)

If I can name it, I can nurture it.

The merit in trying to communicate what it means to be human is being reaffirmed for me. I’ve recently felt the importance of ritual and the necessity of story to help us parse life. My experiences, personal and professional, have made me suspicious about the idea of acquiring or holding on to anything mid-career mid-life—just when acquiring and securing seems to be all the rage.

In my second coming-of-age it’s live performance that reminds me I am not alone in my struggle, and in my joy. I love that we make community simply by bringing people together in the same room at the same time to hear the same story. Maybe I’m finding the creation of fleeting community life-affirming because it is both temporary and meaningful. In a maze I can revisit the existentialist I was at twenty, but with more compassion. That might not be forward movement, but it is an interesting place to be. For now.

Rachel Ditor is the literary manager at the Arts Club Theatre in Vancouver, BC.  Her post appeared on HowlRound.