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- Shirley Jo Finney Lifted Every Soul
- Fountain Theatre will host memorial celebration for Shirley Jo Finney at Kirk Douglas Theatre Dec. 12
- NOW CASTING: Graceful, angelic Black actress/dancer for “Freight” West Coast Premiere at Fountain Theatre
- Fountain Theatre mourns the passing of one of its own: Celebrated director Shirley Jo Finney
- J. Alphonse Nicholson stars in West Coast premiere of ‘Freight’ for limited run at Fountain Theatre
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Category Archives: Acting
How do families stay together, even when they are kept apart? The Fountain Theatre presents a gripping new docudrama, a compilation of true stories that explores the rippling impact of mass deportations on families. The world premiere of Detained, written by The Lillys 2021 Lorraine Hansberry Award-winning playwright France-Luce Benson and directed by Mark Valdez, winner of the 2021 Zelda Fichandler Award, opens February 19 at the Fountain Theatre. Performances will continue through April 10, with three public previews taking place February 16, 17, and 18 at 8pm.
Originally commissioned by immigration attorney Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, Detained is based on interviews with longtime U.S. residents held in immigration detention, and with their family members, advocates, attorneys and representatives of ICE. Inspired by their stories, Detained explores how families fight to stay together as increasingly cruel U.S. immigration legislation keeps them apart through mass deportations and immigration detention centers. It offers a heart-wrenching and in-depth look at the human lives behind the policies, and celebrates the strength and determination of the ordinary people who must fight against an unjust system while keeping their hope and faith in humanity intact.
“All of the stories in this play are true, and they are heartbreaking,” says Benson. “The more people I met, the more time I spent with them, the more important it became to tell their stories. When you go through trauma, you want to be seen, to be given a voice. My own family immigrated to America in the 1970s, and my father received a humanitarian award for the work he did at Krome Detention Center in the ’80s and ’90s. This is his story too, and a way for me to honor the sacrifices he made for us.”
When Rabinovitz first approached Benson, President Obama was still in office. Under his administration, more people were being deported than ever before. Since then, with harsher immigration legislation enacted under President Trump and the current Covid-19 health crisis, the situation for many immigrants has become ever more dire. As more stories of injustice persist and legislation changes, so does the play.
“This play is a living document, and I’m constantly updating it,” Benson says. “People think that now that Biden is president, things are better. But thousands of people are still facing deportation every day. Many of these people have been living in this country for decades. They own houses, run businesses, pay taxes, have families.”
Characters in the play include a teenage foodie aspiring “chef-lebrity,” a U.S. Veteran, and a mother of two who works as a roofer in New York City. Together, their collective voices weave a compelling and complicated tapestry.
Ensemble members, who play a range of roles, include Liana Aráuz, Camila Betancourt Ascencio, Christine Avila, Will Dixon, Jan Munroe, Theo Perkins, Marlo Su and Michael Uribes. The creative team includes scenic designer Sarah Krainin; lighting designer Christian V. Mejia; composer and sound designer Marc Antonio Pritchett; media designer Matt Soson; props designer Katelyn Lopez; and costume designer Jeanette Godoy. Movement choreography is by Annie Yee. The production stage manager is Anna Kupershmidt. Stephen Sachs, Simon Levy and James Bennett produce for the Fountain Theatre. Producing underwriters include the Phillips–Gerla Family and Donald and Suzanne Zachary. Executive producers are Miles Benickes and Diana Buckhantz.
Detained was developed, with a generous grant from the Miranda Family Foundation, at Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York under artistic director Billy Carden.
Detained opens February 19 and runs to April 10. Proof of both vaccination and booster will be required for admission. Patrons must be masked at all times in the theatre, except when actively eating or drinking in our upstairs indoor café/outdoor deck. Snug, surgical grade respirator masks (N-95/KN-95/KF-94) that cover both mouth and nose, are strongly encouraged, but blue surgical masks are acceptable. Cloth masks are no longer approved.
For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.
By Terri Roberts
I have a ritual I perform every night, no matter what. I write out a list of the things I am grateful for that day and text it to a dear friend. He, in turn, sends me his nightly Gratitude List as well. We have been doing this, without fail, for almost two years now.
This simple little exercise keeps us focused on the important things in our lives. The things that really matter. And while yes, we sometimes note gratitude for such mundane (but still important) things such as paying the bills, gas in the car, and a working AC on a blistering summer day, our lists are mostly filled with thankfulness for friends and family, meaningful work, joy in simple things, and actions that reflect a refusal to live in the shadow of doom and gloom.
That does not mean, however, that life is lived on a pink cloud. Far from it.
Invariably we each have days where there’s just not a drop of gratitude to be found. Anywhere. Problems at work, health issues, financial stresses, family challenges, the nightly news and the state of the state/country/world can all be tenacious and debilitating in their grip. And so it becomes a wonderful thing – and something else to be deeply grateful for – to have someone there to offer perspective, support, and unflagging friendship and love. We have each pulled the other out of the roadside ditch many times, and are closer for it.
Here at the Fountain, the list is long of similar struggles. But the list of our blessings is even longer. Our amazing supporters and donors. A devoted board of directors. Tremendous plays, performers, and production teams. The generous grantors who believe in our work and the power of theatre to create awareness and change – and help to fund it. A blossoming volunteer program with folks eager to help however they can. Ever-evolving programing to extend our reach into the community even deeper and further than before. A small, but very mighty, staff. And always, a willingness and determination to keep theatre alive and well.
Having an attitude of gratitude is not just putting on a happy face and ignoring the problems before us. It is an action we take. It is a conscious shift in perspective to find the positive in the negative, the good in the bad. An unimaginable pandemic lockdown encouraged us to find new ways of keeping our art alive. The technology of Zoom kept us connected with members of our Fountain Family. The incredible blessing of owning our building and property allowed us to apply for funding to build an outdoor stage in our parking lot – and to make that stage available to other local artists and companies who have either been displaced by Covid or are not yet ready to return to an indoor space. Indeed, the Fountain overflows with blessings.
So tell me – what are you grateful for this Thanksgiving? What’s on your Gratitude List? I would love to know! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share with me what fills your heart with thankfulness and joy. With your permission, I will share some of your thoughts in an upcoming blog. Gratitude, after all, is not restricted to one day of the year. An attitude of gratitude is something to be cultivated year-round. Writing out, on a regular basis, what brings you thankfulness and joy is a powerful way to do that.
I wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving. And for all you have done for all of us here at the Fountain Theatre, “I can no other answer make but thanks and thanks and ever thanks…”
Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.
What is our responsibility to the future? What legacy do we want to leave? The Los Angeles premiere of The Children, written by Lucy Kirkwood and directed by Simon Levy, asks those questions and more in its Los Angeles premiere at the Fountain Theatre. Performances begin on the Fountain’s indoor stage (with all health and safety guidelines strictly adhered to) on Saturday, Nov. 6. The run continues through Jan. 23.
Kirkwood’s funny and astonishing Tony-nominated play is a taut and disquieting thriller about responsibility, reparation and what one generation owes the next. With the outside world in chaos following a devastating environmental disaster, two retired nuclear engineers live a quiet life in a remote cottage on the lonely British coast — until a surprise visit from a former colleague upends the couple’s equilibrium and trust.
The cast includes Ron Bottitta (Hir, Faith Healer, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Arsonists at the Odyssey Theatre; Superior Donuts, Yes, Prime Minister at the Geffen; Oppenheimer, Honky, Razorback at Rogue Machine Theatre, where he also hosts the company’s Rant and Rave spoken word series); Elizabeth Elias Huffman (artistic director of Chain Reaction Theatre in Pittsburgh, most recently seen on stage in The Oldest Profession by Paula Vogel at Portland’s Profile Theatre); and Lily Knight (Ovation, LADCC and Stage Raw award nominee for A Small Fire at the Echo Theater Company; A Delicate Balance at the Odyssey; Three Days in the Country, The Crucible, Peace in Our Time, The Autumn Garden at Antaeus, where she is a member).
“What I love about the play,” says Levy, “is that it tackles these enormously important contemporary issues about our responsibility to the planet, to each other, to future generations, and grounds them in funny, complex, identifiable characters grappling with a moral dilemma that, quite frankly, all of us are confronting, right now, in real time.”
“The nuclear disaster the town is struggling to survive could be anything — it could be COVID, or climate change,” says Fountain artistic director Stephen Sachs. “The moral dilemma is: what world are we leaving to our children?”
The Children premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2016, then transferred to the Manhattan Theatre Club on Broadway the following year. In 2019, The Guardian placed The Children on its list of “greatest theatrical works since 2000.” London’s The Independent called millennial playwright Kirkwood “the most rewarding dramatist of her generation.”
The Fountain creative team includes scenic designer Andrew G. Hammer; lighting designer Christian V. Mejia; sound designer Marc Antonio Pritchett; costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders; choreographer Annie Yee; and dialect coach Nike Doukas. The production stage manager is Gina DeLuca. Stephen Sachs and James Bennett produce for the Fountain Theatre. Producing underwriters include Sheila and Alan Lamson, and Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber. The executive producer is Karen Kondazian.
Proof of vaccination and mask-wearing will be required of all patrons. Admittance limited to ages 12+. All current CDC and local guidelines regarding seating and masks will be followed at each performance.
For reservations and information.
by France-Luce Benson
Among the many lessons learned in 2020, the most crucial may be our urgent need to have open and honest conversations about race in America. As the grisly video of George Floyd’s murder surfaced, it became painfully clear that we could not afford to look away. Protesters spilled into the streets of cities across the country with a powerful message: If we are silent about injustice, we are complicit.
Angie Kariotis, Program Facilitator and Curriculum Director for Walking the Beat Los Angeles, has devoted her work to fostering these difficult conversations. Kariotis, along with Fountain Theatre Board member Theo Perkins, created Walking the Beat as a tool for community building for high school students. The nine-week multi-media workshop combines performance, creative writing, film, and research to initiate positive interactions between youth and police.
The Arts Education program began in New Jersey in partnership with Elizabeth Youth Theatre Ensemble, and in 2019 the Fountain Theatre launched Walking the Beat Hollywood. This year, the Fountain expanded the program, making it possible for students and police officers outside Hollywood to participate. On August 25, the Fountain will screen Walking the Beat Los Angeles’ culminating multi-media presentation, BLACKOUT 2021.
I had the pleasure of talking to Kariotis about the evolution, impact, and future of this vital program.
–What kind of impact did the events of 2020 have on the students, based on your work with them this past month?
If we are scared as a nation, we will forget all the lessons hard learned. You can see it happening already. No one is talking about all the changes we want to keep. What do we want to keep? Instead of rushing to “normal” (which wasn’t!), 2020 necessitated an activation. We’re activated. One thing the students are is ready.
–Was it difficult getting the officers and students to open up?
No, it wasn’t difficult for anyone to open up, by themselves and with each other. People, and I believe most people, want to do just that. But they need permission and they don’t want to be alone doing it.
–How has the program evolved since its inception, particularly in the last year?
We got research-heavy this year. We turned this workshop into a popular education. We practiced critique and analysis. We studied. We grew into our work as research-based performance artists. We aimed to challenge public policy formally. We are working to move our practice into the theater that is public policy.
–How have your own background and experiences prepared you to do this?
I am studying design thinking and collaborative group processes. This framework is about divergent thinking, collaboration, experimentation, and honoring failure. Creativity — and not just the art-making transactional kind — is a necessary skill. We need people who are able to identify problems before they become problems.
–Who should see BLACKOUT 2021? Why?
Anyone who wants to know how to have hard conversations with others. People interested in learning how to get people to the table. How to talk about things no one knows how to talk about. Right now we all want to talk about a lot, but we don’t know how.
–What is your vision for the future of Walking the Beat and beyond?
For Walking the Beat, my vision is doing policy brief work, where we move beyond survivance and reconnect with the Earth. I wonder how our workshop can tackle the larger theme of power and how that affects our relationship with the planet. We talk about public safety. Do we have planetary safety? What does that mean? How is the way we treat each other impacting climate? This is the ethos moving me into this space and beyond.
* * *
It is this passion and progressive vision that have inspired the ensemble of students and officers to create work that is bold, brave, and charged with the urgency of this moment in our country. In addition to serving as Program Facilitator and Curriculum Director of Walking the Beat, Kariotis offers community workshops for parents on How to Raise Anti-Racist Kids, works at Brookdale Community College as Director of Diversity and Inclusion/CCOG, and has published a chapter in Musing the Margins, an anthology examining the influence of culture and identity on the craft of fiction.
BLACKOUT 2021 will premiere on the Fountain Theatre’s outdoor stage this Wednesday, August 25, at 7pm. It will also be available to view on Fountain Stream in the fall.
France-Luce Benson is an award-winning playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.
Casting is complete and rehearsals begin this week for the Los Angeles premiere of a radical, incendiary and subversively funny Obie award-winning play by MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Performances of An Octoroon will inaugurate the new outdoor stage at The Fountain Theatre on June 18. Performances will continue through Sept. 19, with four public previews set for June 11, June 12, June 13 and June 16, and a special press preview on June 17.
Judith Moreland directs Jacobs-Jenkins’s outrageous deconstruction of a moustache-twirling melodrama by 19th century playwright Dion Boucicault. Matthew Hancock (LADCC, Stage Raw and Ovation award-winner for Hit the Wall at the L.A. LGBT Center, previously seen at the Fountain in Between Riverside and Crazy, Hype Man, The Brothers Size, I and You) stars as a modern-day Black playwright struggling to find his voice among a chorus of people telling him what he should and should not be writing. He decides to adapt his favorite play, Boucicault’s The Octoroon, an 1859 melodrama about illicit interracial love.
The Black playwright quickly realizes that getting White, male actors of today to play evil slave owners will not be easy… so, he decides to play the White male roles himself — in whiteface. What ensues is an upside down, topsy-turvy world where race and morality are challenged, mocked and savagely intensified. A highly stylized, theatrical, melodramatic reality is created to tell the story of an octoroon woman (a person who is one-eighth Black) and her quest for identity and love.
The cast includes Rob Nagle (Human Interest Story at the Fountain, The Judas Kiss at Boston Court) as Boucicault; Hazel Lozano (America Adjacent at the Skylight, Othello at Griot Theatre) as the production assistant; Mara Klein (The Judas Kiss at Boston Court, Sucker Punch at Coeurage) as the octoroon, Zoe; and Vanessa Claire Stewart (Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara at the Geffen, Finks at Rogue Machine) as Dora, a rich Southern belle in love with the plantation owner (who is also played by Hancock). Meanwhile, Leea Ayers (BLKS at Steppenwolf, Incendiary at the Goodman Theatre), Kacie Rogers (NAACP award-winner for No Place to be Somebody at Robey Theatre Company and An Accident at Griot Theatre Company; The Heal at Getty Villa) and Pam Trotter (And Her Hair Went With Her at the Fountain, national tour of The Color Purple) portray three startlingly modern slave women.
An Octoroon brutally satirizes racial stereotypes in a funny and profoundly tragic whirlwind of images and dialogue that forces audiences to look at, laugh at, and be shattered by America’s racist history.
“The more you experience this play, the more it turns into something else,” says Moreland. “It’s an extraordinary piece of theater — hilarious, but also shocking, profound, moving… and designed to provoke and offend. We have a terrific group of actors who are completely game and up for the challenge. It’s a celebration of how theater can both move you and change lives.”
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program, commonly but unofficially known as the “Genius Grant,” awards no strings attached cash prizes to individuals who demonstrate “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The website described Jacobs-Jenkins as “a playwright [who draws] from a range of contemporary and historical theatrical genres to engage frankly with complicated issues around identity, family, class and race. Many of Jacobs-Jenkins’s plays use a historical lens to satirize and comment on modern culture, particularly the ways in which race and class are negotiated in both private and public settings. Although the provocation of his audience is purposeful, Jacobs-Jenkins’s creation of unsettling, shocking, often confrontational moments is not gratuitous; these elements are of a piece with the world he has established on stage and in the service of the story he is telling.”
The Fountain Theatre creative team includes scenic designer Frederica Nascimento, lighting designer Derrick McDaniel, sound designer Marc Antonio Pritchett, video designer Nicholas E. Santiago, costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop master Michael Allen Angel; choreographer Annie Yee; fight director Jen Albert; and dramaturg Dr. Daphnie Sicré. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer, assistant stage manager is Deena Tovar, and production manager for the Fountain’s outdoor stage is Shawna Voragen. Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy co-produce for the Fountain Theatre, and the associate producer is James Bennett. Barbara Herman and Susan Stockel are executive producers.
The Fountain’s outdoor stage is made possible, in part, by the generous support of Karen Kondazian, Barbara Herman, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, Rabbi Anne Brener, Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber, Miles and Joni Benickes, and the Phillips-Gerla Family.
The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally.
An Octoroon runs June 18 through Sept.19, with performances on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at 7 p.m., except Saturday, June 19, which will be at 5 p.m. and will be followed by a special Juneteenth event, and July 30 through Aug. 2 and Aug. 27 through Aug. 30 which will be dark. Four preview performances will take place on June 11, June 12, June 13 and June 16 at 7 p.m. There will be one press preview on Thursday, June 17 at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $25–$45; Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night in addition to regular seating (subject to availability). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles.For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.
The Fountain Theatre is now casting roles for its Los Angeles Premiere of the Obie Award-winning play, An Octoroon, by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. The production will launch the new Outdoor Stage at the Fountain Theatre. Judith Moreland directs.
Rehearsal Dates: 5/12/2021 – 6/10/2021
Preview Dates: 6/11/2021 – 6/16/2021
Opening Date: 6/18/2021
Closing Date: 9/19/2021
Performance Schedule: Fridays – Mondays 7pm
30 to 45 years old, Black/African American male. A frustrated contemporary playwright. Probing, idealistic, quick-witted, mocking. Puts on whiteface to make sense of Boucicault’s 19th century melodrama, playing both the cartoonish white villain (M’Closky) and the white hero (George) who falls in love Zoe. Seeking a skilled versatile actor who moves well. Strong sense of comedic timing a must.
30 to 45 years old, male. Native American, Asian, Middle Eastern or South Asian. Seeking fearless versatile actor to don blackface to play older slave Pete (offensive caricature —think Stepin Fetchit) and Paul (cartoonish pickaninny-type slave child—think Alfalfa from Our Gang). Actor must find the humanity in these disturbing stereotypical characters.
25 to 35 years old, female. Caucasian, Biracial, or multi-racial. White in appearance, Zoe is The Octoroon (person 1/8th Black by descent) of the title. Raised as a white-passing free woman but legally a slave. Educated, kind-hearted, dutiful, loyal – yet filled with self-loathing. Treated as though she has no mind of her own and no right to make her own decisions. Seeking classically-trained actress to bring heart to Zoe’s tragic journey.
30 to 40 years old, Caucasian female. A fading Southern Belle. Self-absorbed, privileged, spoiled, a wealthy plantation heiress vying for George’s affection. Actress must have strong comic timing.
35 to 50 years old, Black/African American female. House slave on the plantation, new at the job. Brash, unfiltered, no-nonsense, opinionated. A gossip. A slave, yet her language is modern. Must have strong comic timing.
35 to 45 years old, Black/African American female. Long-time house slave on the plantation. Wise, responsible, dry, with a sly sense of humor. Knows her place, as well as where the bodies are buried. A slave, yet her language is modern. Must have strong comic timing.
25 to 30 years old, Black/African American female. Pregnant domestic slave. Jaded, cynical. Not afraid to call things out with her own realistic spin, stand up for herself, or use her fists if she needs to. Yearns to run away, even though she is pregnant. A slave, yet her language is modern. Must have strong comic timing.
An Octoroon is a play about a play. A modern-day Black playwright is struggling to find his voice among a chorus of people telling him what he should and should not be writing. He adapts his favorite play, The Octoroon by Dion Boucicault, a 19th-century melodrama about illicit interracial love written seven years after Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The Black Playwright quickly realizes that getting white, male actors of today to play evil slave owners will not be easy. So, he decides to play the white male roles himself – in whiteface. What ensues is an upside down, topsy-turvy world where race and morality are challenged, mocked and savagely intensified. A highly stylized, theatrical, melodramatic reality is created to tell the story of an octoroon woman (a person who is ⅛ black) named Zoe and her quest for identity and love. Racial stereotypes are brutally satirized. Funny and profoundly tragic, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ An Octoroon is a whirlwind of images and dialogue that forces audiences to look at, laugh at, and be shattered by America’s racist history. Winner of the OBIE Award for Best New American Play.
Questions? Email us at email@example.com
by France-Luce Benson
Lisa Strum, a Philadelphia native living and working in the New York area is a director, an educator, actress, playwright, producer, casting director, singer and a certified wedding officiant! I’d add to that list truth teller, world traveler, and cherished friend. Her soulful voice and infectious laugh make her a powerful presence on stage and off, and her sharp wit, insightful observations, and wicked sense of humor are what makes her work so compelling. An award-winning actor, she’s starred in some of American theatre’s most celebrated plays, including Wilson’s Fences, Morriseau’s Pipleline, and Nottage’s Sweat. But lately, it is her work as a director that is getting everyone’s attention. I am lucky enough to have had her direct two of my own plays – Fall at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, and Nanã for the All Hands on Deck Virtual play Festival. She also directed a Kennedy Center Award winning production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough, and is currently directing Flyin West at Five Towns College. On this week’s installment of “Saturday Matinees”, Strum will perform from her original works She Gon Learn, An Actor Prepares, and Poetic Tirades. I sat down with her to discuss her journey from actor to director, and the beauty of acceptance.
F.L.B. What led you to directing?
L.S. I dabbled in directing while I was in undergrad; directing one acts and short scenes. But it wasn’t until I was hired by Carl Johnson to act as the Theatre Specialist for the Abrons Arts Center Summer Program at Henry Street Settlement that my directing skills really began to take shape. I discovered that I had a strong visual eye to tell stories on the stage and to get great performances out of the actors I was working with – regardless of their experience or their age. There was always a mainstage show at the end of the 5 weeks of the summer program of an original devised theatre piece created by the students. The show also included dance, singing and a set, so there was constant collaboration between the voice, dance and visual arts instructors throughout the summer and year after year we generated some incredible work together. It was exciting being the conductor of all of this collaborative work. I became hooked. And I just liked telling people what to do! LOL!
F.L.B. – What has been keeping you sane?
Staying connected with friends and family. Preparing and cooking home cooked meals. Laughter. Lots of laughter! Movies from my teenage years. And simply accepting the reality of the situation we are living in right now. Adaption and going with the flow are key. Many people realized during the quarantine how much they needed a break from the constant hustle and rat race. I didn’t realize how much I needed to be still. With all the constraints we’ve been under because of COVID-19, I’ve found peace within the boundaries. It’s been an amazing way to stay focused and to stay in the moment.
FLB. – What gives you hope?
L.S. The will of the human spirit and the ability to adapt and find joy regardless of the circumstances.
France-Luce Benson is a playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Fountain Theatre.