Category Archives: African American

PHOTOS: First rehearsal for Pulitzer Prize winner ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ at Fountain Theatre

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Liza Fernandez, Joshua Bitton, Guillermo Cienfuegos, Victor Anthony, Lesley Fera, Montae Russell and Marisol Miranda

What happens when you mix a Pulitzer Prize winning script, a company of phenomenal actors and a skilled director together in one room? You get magic.  From the moment the first lines of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ funny and powerful Between Riverside and Crazy were spoken at Wednesday night’s first rehearsal, all knew they were in for a wild and joyous ride.

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In Gurigis’ profane and tender tale, ex-cop and recent widower Walter “Pops” Washington and his newly paroled son Junior have spent a lifetime living between Riverside and crazy. But now, the NYPD is demanding his signature to close an outstanding lawsuit, the landlord wants him out, the liquor store is closed—and the church won’t leave him alone. When the struggle to keep one of New York City’s last great rent-stabilized apartments collides with old wounds, sketchy new houseguests, and a final ultimatum, it seems that the old days may be dead and gone.

Directed by award-winning Guillermo Cienfuegos, the cast includes Victor Anthony, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Liza Fernandez, Matthew Hancock, Marisol Miranda, and Montae Russell.

At the first meet-and-greet, the company was joined by Fountain staff, Board members and donors.  The group enjoyed a brief welcoming reception and then gathered on the Fountain stage for the reading of the script. Director Cienfuegos commented that he was struck by the support of the Fountain Theatre Family. Never, he said, had he witnessed such a show of community at a first rehearsal, with such a large number of dedicated people so eagerly present. “This is wonderful,” he grinned. “Because the play, in addition to being about racism and class and police work, is really about family.”

Between Riverside and Crazy opens October 19. More Info/Get Tickets

Fountain Theatre earns 3 NAACP Theatre Award nominations for ‘Runaway Home’

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Maya Lynne Robinson and Karen Malina White, Runaway Home, 2017.

The Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Branch this week announced its nominees for the 28th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards.  The nominating committee is one year behind in its honoring process, only now selecting theatre productions opening January 2017 through December 2017. 

The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed 2017 Los Angeles Premiere of Runaway Home by Jeremy Kamps has earned three NAACP Theatre Award nominations:  

  • Best Choreography – Janet Roston
  • Best Director – Shirley Jo Finney
  • Best Supporting Actress – Karen Malina White

The mission of the Theatre Awards is to entertain, educate, and inspire the community and create diversity in the arts and entertainment industry. The branch also celebrates a four-day theatre festival, which provides a platform for theatre-makers to share their craft with an audience of their peers, the community and other individuals who celebrate live theatre in Los Angeles.

The 28th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards will be held on Monday, June 17, 2019, 6:00 p.m. at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. More information 

These three Fountain actresses, now TV stars, stay close since forming bonds on stage

Psychologist Carl Jung introduced the word “synchronicity”,  coining it to describe a “meaningful coincidence,” when unrelated events seem to happen for a reason.  Synchronicity is something you feel. When, for no outward reason, the stars align and the right people come together at the right time and the result is something meaningful and long lasting. 

Synchronicity is what occurred with the cast of the 2012 Fountain Theatre LA premiere of Tarell Alvin McCraney‘s In the Red and Brown Water.  Magic happened not only on stage. Friendships were formed seven years ago that remain strong to this day. And three actresses from that cast — Simone Missick, Maya Lynne Robinson and Diarra Kilpatrick — are now enjoying a blossoming of their TV careers at the same time. Coincidence? We don’t think so.

Simone Missick, last seen at the Fountain in Citizen: An American Lyric, co-starred on the Netflix TV series Luke Cage as Misty Knight. She just signed the lead role in the new CBS legal drama pilot Courthouse.  

Diarra Kilpatrick is the creator and star of American Koko, an ABC digital original series, earning her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy/Drama Series, Short Form. She created, wrote, and starred in the comedy pilot The Climb for Amazon, and is set to star in a new comedy for Showtime opposite Keenen Ivory Wayans.  

Maya Lynne Robinson, recently on stage at the Fountain in Runaway Home, is now a series regular on ABC’s Roseanne spinoff  The Connors, playing the role of Geena Williams-Conner.  

We asked these three dynamic actresses to share their thoughts on In the Red and Brown Water, and how theatre can form bonds that last a lifetime.

The race

In the Red and Brown Water, Fountain Theatre, 2012.

What was it about In The Red and Brown Water that created such close ties? 

MLR: For me, it stemmed from the fact that I was 3 months new in town and didn’t have a foundation/tribe yet. In the Red and Brown Water was the first project I was cast in once I moved to LA. I met these wonderfully creative and down-to-earth people and when you find those type of people, you shouldn’t let them go.

SM: I think what started at the table, with our director, Shirley Jo Finney, had a huge impact in creating a family amongst the cast and crew. To be able to discuss the play, the characters, inside and out and know that you were working with artists who took the work as seriously as you, made us all feel like we were experiencing something different and special. We knew we could trust one another onstage, and that trust helped us to build bonds as artists and as friends. But there is also a level of divine placement when it came to that production. Each of us were appointed to be there for those six plus months, for only God knows the reason, and to then be a part of each others lives. We’ve been there for each other through marriages, babies, cross country moves, and amazing work opportunities.  It is just one of those special blessings, that so many of us gelled, and we found sisters and brothers, aunties and cousins in one another.

DK: I do believe [director] Shirley Jo Finney brought together a great group of not only artists but people. It was a joy playing with them and I’m grateful that we’ve s formed such loving, supportive bonds. We made a family and even though that’s common in the theater, this is a particularly special group of artists.   Every one of us has continued to grow as artists and as people, I mean to the person. And I’m so, so proud of us.

What’s your favorite memory from that production?

MLR: Singing warm ups and prayer together before the show.  There was something about our vibration that made me happy to do the show with these people every day for almost six months.

SM: There are sooooo many. Some of them stay in the vault. But one of them is Maya Lynne stomping her feet to get some of our other (not as rhythmically gifted brothers) on beat. She earned a nickname from that. 

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Maya Lynne Robinson, Diarra Kilpatrick, Simone Missick, Iona Morris, 2018.

With whom from the cast have you most stayed in touch?

SM: All of us are on a text message chain that we connect through. This past Valentine’s Day, we all sent silly pictures to say we loved each other.  I had the fortune to work with Shirley Jo four more times after that production, and she is such a special influence in my career and in my life. Our stage manager, Shawna and I have worked together again. I love that girl. Diarra and Maya Lynne are people that I talk to more often. We are all around the same age, experiencing some of the same career “firsts”, and we are always shooting each other a text of congratulations and cheering one another on. But the Red Brown family got together for a Christmas brunch, and FaceTimed with Stephen Marshall who moved to NY, so he wouldn’t be left out. We just love each other!

MLR: Whether we speak daily or once a year, we all pick up right where we left off. We have text message chains during holidays and big events. We try to have a reunion whenever possible. Half of us got together for a reunion earlier this year.

What is it about theatre — and the Fountain Theatre in particular — that creates a feeling of family? 

MLR: There is a sense of family at the Fountain Theatre. From the exterior and interior style all the way to the intimacy of the spaces, the Fountain Theatre fosters closeness, authenticity and talent. 

SM: Live theatre is an experience like no other. It is the artist’s equivalent to trapeze work, but the net is your fellow cast members. You are sailing through the air, with the audience there witnessing you doing emotional gymnastics, and every moment is alive and terrifying and electrifying. The intimacy of the Fountain leaves no room for hiding. You have to be vulnerable and authentic at every turn. That experience is one that creates a bond with your acting partners, because you are all there being honest and alive together. 

DK: In The Red and Brown Water was a beautiful experience. I remember being in church and was particularly prayerful about opening myself up to new opportunities and challenges and ways to express myself.  After service, Erinn Anova came up to me and said she was helping to cast a play at the Fountain and wanted to make sure she brought me in for it. She had seen me in something else and thought I’d be right for the lead. I so badly had wanted to work at The Fountain and with Shirley Jo. So, every step of the Red/Brown journey felt as synchronistic as that. Like it was meant to be. Like magic.

SM: I’ve managed to keep my Red Brown family close through it all. It truly was an experience of a lifetime that I will always cherish.

VIDEO: For playwright Idris Goodwin, hip hop play ‘Hype Man’ is about friendship

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NEW VIDEO: A backstage look behind the scenes of ‘Hype Man’ at Fountain Theatre

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VIDEO: What is hip hop?

What is hip hop? A genre of music? A style of clothes? A way of life? Take a look.

In this West Coast Premiere of HYPE MAN by Idris Goodwin, a hip-hop trio is on the verge of making it big on national TV when a police shooting of a Black teen shakes the band to its core, forcing them to confront questions of race, gender, privilege and when to use their art as an act of social protest. When the Hype Man takes matters into his own hands, the ensuing beef exposes the long-buried rifts of race and privilege that divide them. Will it tear them apart or can they find a way to still breathe together?

Written by Idris Goodwin. Directed by Deena Selenow. Starring Chad Addison, Matthew Hancock, Clarissa Thibeaux. Starts Feb 23.

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New Video! Behind the scenes of ‘Citizen’ at Grand Park’s new LA Arts Festival

New LA Arts Festival downtown at Grand Park asks: “What does it mean to be a citizen?”

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The cast of ‘Citizen: An American Lyric”

by Sean P. Thomas

The stage is set for a collection of Los Angeles’ creative minds to get a moment in the spotlight. Even better, those moments will take place in Downtown, and the performances will be free.

On Friday-Sunday, April 27-29, the inaugural Our L.A. Voices: Spring Arts Festival will fill Grand Park. The happening will bring more than 30 artists and groups to the 12-acre space, where there will be live theater, dance, music and more. There will be performances as well as opportunities to buy art.

Julia Diamond, Grand Park’s interim director, said that the festival was created through a joint venture with the Music Center. The goal is to showcase a wide spectrum of the L.A. art scene, with everything from sculptors to digital artists in a family-friendly environment.

“We’re really trying to tell a big story about L.A. as a center of massive amounts of creative energy,” Diamond said.

Grand Park opened in 2012 and has played host to numerous community events, everything from the annual New Year’s Eve celebration to a book festival. Frequently local artists have been involved, but were not the focus.

This weekend, Diamond said, the artists will be thrust front and center. Festivities run from 6-10 p.m. on Friday, 1-10 p.m. on Saturday and 1-6 p.m. on Sunday.

“We’re trying to tell the biggest story that we can,” Diamond said. “It’s about making a big splash for an important part of L.A.’s identity and giving the audience a chance to come see art in one place.”

in memory of CROPPED

‘Citizen: An American Lyric’

Festival organizers have partnered with a number of artists and groups, among them the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood. The theme of the festival is, “What does it mean to be a citizen?”

Aptly, the Fountain Theatre will perform Citizen: An American Lyric, an adaption of poet Claudia Rankine’s book of the same name that explores race relations and questions of citizenship in the United States. The novel was adapted by Stephen Sachs, artistic director of the Fountain, after coming across a book review in the New York Times. In the wake of the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Sachs said that he wanted the theater to make a statement on race relations in America, and that Rankine’s words provided the proper avenue.

He described the book and the ensuing play as less of a sledgehammer and more of a scalpel, precisely dissecting racial narratives in American society to get to the core of what a citizen’s experience is like in the country. Citizen will be mounted on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; each hour-long performance will be followed by a community discussion about the play and the festival.

Diamond said the play, which was previously on stage at the Fountain and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, resonates with audiences and fits the theme of what she is trying to do with the Spring Arts Festival.

“It really became the core question of this year’s festival,” Diamond said. “Who belongs? Who is on the inside? Who is on the outside?”

Sachs said it is gratifying to have the work appear at the festival. However, he said he is disheartened that the issues that prompted the play are still relevant almost four years after Brown’s death.

“It’s very meaningful to me to have this work shared with as many people as possible,” Sachs said. “I love the idea of doing it in Grand Park in front of City Hall. I can’t think of anything more appropriate.”

Grand Park stage chairs

The stage at Grand Park, downtown Los Angeles.

“We encourage people to come out in full force and to bring the whole family,” Diamond said. “Art is meant to bring us together and get us thinking, and there is no better way to do that than across generations.”

The Our L.A. Voices: Spring Arts Festival runs Friday-Sunday, April 27-29, at Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave. or grandparkla.org/event/ourlavoices2018.

This post originally appeared in Downtown News

Tell me your story on how confronting “the other” led to deeper understanding

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An embrace at a rally in Gainesville, Florida

by Dionna Michelle Daniel

Several summers ago, I had one of the strangest morning commute experiences of my life.

I was working as a spoken word mentor to youth at Authoring Action Organization in Winston-Salem, NC. Every morning I’d ride my bike to the closest bus stop which was near the super Wal-Mart, wait around for the 7:40 bus, and travel across town to work. North Carolina summer mornings are particularly beautiful with the sun rising over a completely green landscape, the thickness of the humid air and the dew still sprinkled among the grass. Those bike rides became my daily ritual.

swatiska tatoo 2One morning I arrived at the bus stop to be met by a man completely covered head to toe in tattoos. The subject matter of his tattoos were of the white supremacist variety. He was completely bald and on the back of his head sat a large swastika. His arms and chest were also decorated in the Confederate flag. Not only did I feel uncomfortable as a black young woman who I had to be alone with this man, waiting for a late bus, but then it got even stranger when he decided to engage in small talk with me. He went on to talk about his past, how everyone he grew up with was a racist, how he became a skinhead, how he went to jail and how he realized his beliefs were awful after truly meeting and empathizing with people of color. He went on to say that he kept the tattoos as a reminder of his transformation and that people can change.

The bus eventually came and as I struggled to put my bike on the rack, he helped me out and then we parted ways. Why this man felt the need to tell me these things so early on hot humid morning, I have no idea. What I do know is that if this same man tried to have this conversation with me today, I’m not sure I would have engaged or listened.

After Trump was elected, I unapologetically deleted a slew of old Facebook friends. A lot of the ones deleted where old middle & high school classmates that I knew growing up in rural North Carolina. Now my Facebook feed is completely curated to a more liberal, anti-Trump demographic with the occasional far-right article that somehow finds it way onto my news feed. At that time, it was great to delete all of those people from my life. However, I’m sure they still say problematic things and are complicit to hate speech. The only thing that changed after deleting them was that I don’t have to view their rhetoric.

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“Gunshot Medley” by Dionna Michelle Daniel

As an artist and activist, I am interested in humanity’s capacity to change. I’m interested in transforming hearts & minds in a way that has lasting impact like the former skinhead I met at the bus stop. That’s why I believe that for real change to begin the divide has to be bridged and discourse must happen. I’m not saying that we should re-add every problematic person we deleted from Facebook after the 2016 elections. Neither should we try to humanize every racist, misogynist, xenophobe or any other person who doesn’t believe in a more diverse future. What I do believe is that if we keep ignoring one another, we will definitely keep the divide polarized. Beginning some sort of dialogue is the best way to bridge the gap. And the best way I know how to contribute to this conversation is through theatre.

At the Fountain, our current season is dedicated to inclusion and awareness of people who are generally marked as “other”. Our current show, The Chosen, focuses on two boys forming an unlikely friendship that all started because of their love of baseball. This summer, we will open an original work by Stephen Sachs called Arrival & Departure, which beautifully recognizes and brings attention to the Deaf community. That will be followed by the west coast premiere of Cost of Living, Martyna Majok’s poignant play dramatizing two characters with physical disabilities.

Our mission is to share diverse stories, break down barriers and bridge the divide. Now it’s your turn to tell me your story. I want to know about an experience when you bridged the gap and shared a moment/bonded with a person who was different from you.  Please email your story to me at dionna@fountaintheatre.com and perhaps we can share it here on the Fountain Blog.

Dionna Michelle Daniel is the Outreach Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre. 

 

Director Shirley Jo Finney: The healing power of ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’

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Lisa Pescia, Leith Burke, Bernard K. Addison, Monnae Michaell, Tony Maggio  in The Fountain Theatre production of “Citizen: An American Lyric” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

The journey of veteran director Shirley Jo Finney to the Kirk Douglas Theatre’s Block Party with The Fountain Theatre’s Citizen: An American Lyric began two and a half years ago, when Fountain co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs called to ask her if she had read Claudia Rankine’s New York Times bestseller Citizen. Or maybe it began in 1997, when Finney directed her first of eight works at the Fountain. Or perhaps decades earlier when, as a recent MFA graduate of UCLA, Finney participated in Center Theatre Group’s New Work Festival at the Mark Taper Forum. Or really long before that, when Finney grew up in a segregated neighborhood and attended all-white schools where she was the only person of color.

In 2015, Sachs told Finney he was considering adapting Citizen for the stage, and that she was the right director for the project. “I read it, and I went, ‘Oh, this is my life,'” said Finney, recognizing her own experiences of “walking through and navigating those torrential waters of mainstream America when you are a person of color or ‘other,’ and what you have to swallow in order to survive.”

Citizen premiered at the Fountain in August 2015; last summer, Finney directed it again at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, just one year after the city was devastated by a deadly assault that took the lives of nine African-Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Every performance was followed by a discussion with the audience. “We felt it was necessary while that community was still healing and that wound was oozing,” said Finney.

There will also be Stage & Audience Talks after every performance at the Douglas, where Citizen is onstage April 28 – May 7, 2017. Citizen touched audiences deeply in Los Angeles in 2015, but much has changed since then—for the cast and crew and for the audience.

The Fountain Theatre production of "Citizen: An American Lyric," at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City, America - 30 April 2017

Shirley Jo Finney

“As human beings we’ve been living our lives…we all evolve,” said Finney of herself and the company. “At the same time, in those two years, there has been a transformation in the collective. I’m interested to see, now, how it’s going to land with our audiences. Because what was maybe specific to a tribe has now expanded…something has been awakened, because ‘the other,’ now, is everyone.” The election, said Finney, “fractured what our belief system is about being an American and being a citizen, and what that culpability and responsibility is.” She added, “Not only do you have to say, ‘What does it mean to be a citizen?’ But also, ‘What does it mean to be a human being?'”

The re-staging at the Douglas offers an opportunity for the show to make a bigger impact in other ways as well. “My designer is excited because we have the height now onstage that we didn’t have in the [Fountain]. Our projections are going to have the impact that we wanted to have,” said Finney.

“I think it’s a healing piece with a historical narrative, and we need it at this point in time,” she concluded. “When you look at what we need as human beings, the three things, if you cut everything away, are: we need to be seen, we need to feel nurtured, and we need to feel safe. Citizen, I think, makes us aware and opens that space for that healing to begin.”

Citizen: An American Lyric is now playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre to May 7th.

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This post originally appeared in CTG News & Blogs