The Fountain Theatre has received approval from the City of Los Angeles to install a temporary outdoor stage for the purpose of presenting live performances and other events during the pandemic.
“Pandemic permitting, we hope to open our first outdoor production by late spring or early summer,” says Fountain artistic director Stephen Sachs. “We’re planning an exciting Los Angeles premiere that dramatizes urgent social issues using the Fountain’s signature bold and theatrical approach.”
Installed in what is now the theater parking lot, the new performance area will be able to accommodate 50 to 84 audience members. It will feature seven rows of chairs, each six feet apart, as well as 12 high-top tables positioned six feet apart for use by patrons from the same “bubble” households. Every aspect of the outdoor performance area will meet COVID-19 safety guidelines.
According to Sachs, “The most painful aspect of the past ten months has been the separation from our patrons and the disconnection from our art form. Until our indoor theater reopens, the outdoor stage will be a thrilling performance venue and a hub for our educational and community engagement programs. The outdoor stage will be the centerpiece as we re-emerge in 2021. It galvanizes our vision moving forward.”
The Fountain Theatre outdoor stage is made possible, in part, by the generous support of Karen Kondazian, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, Rabbi Anne Brener, Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber, Miles and Joni Benickes, and the Phillips-Gerla Family.
Want to join our family of donors and become an integral partner in making this thrilling new venture possible? Email Barbara Goodhill at Barbara@FountainTheatre.com.
The mission of the Fountain Theatre is to create, develop and publicly produce plays that reflect the diversity of Los Angeles, to serve young people through educational outreach programs, and to enhance the lives of the public with community engagement activities. For three decades, the Fountain has earned acclaim and admiration nationwide, been honored with more than 200 awards for artistic excellence and is a leader in the L.A. theater community. The organization is proud to count L.A. City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, and Mayor Eric Garcetti as supporters, reflecting the company’s successful history of partnering with City government. In addition to being a Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs grant recipient for decades, the Fountain launched a groundbreaking program that brings celebrity actors to L.A. City Hall to perform one-night free public readings in the City Council chambers.
“When you’re worried and you can’t sleepJust count your blessings instead of sheepAnd you’ll fall asleepCounting your blessings…”
Happy 2021! At last, 2020 is in the rear view mirror, and the hope and opportunity of a new year are before us.
Traditionally, this is the point where people try to start over. They make vows to lose weight/stop drinking/quit procrastinating/give up cigarettes, etc. However, a December 31, 2019 post on Psychology Today.com refers to a Scranton University study that found just 19% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them. Most folks give up within a couple of weeks.
So might I suggest something different this year? Limit your focus on the negative, and consciously expand your focus on the positive. There are countless studies that show developing an attitude of gratitude has great mental health benefits. And when things get as dark as they did in 2020, it’s even more important for the stability of your head and heart to acknowledge those blessings and not take them for granted or ignore them.
Every winter I look forward to watching, once again, those classic holiday movies that remind us to believe in magic and miracles, and to be thankful for all the goodness in our lives – regardless of the darkness that may, at times, obscure it. A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas are not just great, inspiring movies, they are the reminders we need in the chill of winter that warmth still exists, that hope for the better is ever present, and that love, actually, is all around us.
More than any year before it, 2020 made it near impossible to believe any of those uplifting perceptual changes could still occur. The year was memorialized by death, devastation and incalculable loss as the result of, among other things, a raging pandemic, a crashing economy, exploding racial tensions, and a dangerous, defiant political landscape. Where could we possibly find magic and miracles, comfort and joy, goodness, hope and love in all that? Where were the blessings that Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney sang of so sweetly in White Christmas within the tragic year we have just left behind?
I think the very simple answer is this: like love, the blessings of 2020 actually were all around us. They were in the voices and music that rose heavenward from balconies. The drive-bys to celebrate birthdays and lift sagging spirits. The evening outbreaks of applause for first responders, and the celebratory cheers from doctors and nurses when their patients could finally go home.
Blessings were found in the kindnesses of strangers who secretly paid for our coffees, the essential workers who stocked, sold and delivered our food, and the folks who checked on neighbors who could not leave their homes. They were in the gratitude for the outdoors as we took our daily walks, the extra time we suddenly had to clean out closets, learn to bake bread, write a story, or to develop a new skill. They were in the new-found appreciation for the teachers of our children when school became a learn-at-home project, and for our children themselves – even when they clamored for attention while we were Zooming with clients or co-workers. And blessings certainly lived in the medical workers who held the hands of the scared and dying, and used their own cell phones to allow those patients to say goodbye to their loved ones in the only way possible.
Within our theatrical communities, blessings were evident in the sheer resiliency and tenacity of theatre artists everywhere to keep our art alive. Witness, for example, the moving rendition of “Sunday” from the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, Sunday in the Park With George, and how it affected both actors and audience. The surprise pop-up performance by out-of-work Broadway actors was staged on the red TKTS steps, and delighted unsuspecting tourists and native New Yorkers alike. Theatre can happen anywhere.
Back in March, when our marquees went dark and the only lights that shined were the ghost lights on our stages, theatres turned, en masse, to Zoom to keep connected to audiences, to each other, and to keep telling stories. Conversations, readings, previously filmed shows and newly created hybrid performances filled our screens and kept us going. Despite its challenges, Zoom emerged as one of 2020’s biggest blessings overall. Now clearly, watching a great play on Zoom or speaking to family members highlighted in their own Hollywood Squares, will never surpass the thrill of the live experience. But with social distancing a necessary part of life, Zoom became a safe, protective means for the literal, and metaphorical, show to go on. Businesses still met, doctors still consulted with patients, support groups were still able to be present for each other, friends and families still stayed in touch. How could that be anything but a blessing?
Personally, I think it is part of the work of every human being to observe and acknowledge such blessings every day, both the commonplace and the extraordinary. And it is also part of the work of the theatre to present such stories, among others, to an audience. (Even White Christmas was eventually adapted for the stage and is now a holiday staple for regional theatres across the country.) Storytelling is an innate part of the human experience. We’ve been sitting around campfires, drawing on cave walls, and creating ceremonies and traditions since the beginning of human existence. The stage is wherever we make it. Last year, Fountain productions started out, as always, on the physical stage of our intimate theatre. And as the pandemic took hold and changed our lives, we changed as well. We adapted. We shared our stories from our living rooms, in parks, in shopping centers, and yes, even on Zoom. The blessing is that theatres everywhere found ways to carry on. To keep art and creativity alive. To stretch ourselves beyond what we thought possible. Growth, perseverance, fortitude…these are all good things. They are blessings, every one.
As we leave the anguish of 2020 behind and step into the fresh air of 2021, let’s keep in mind that, as terrible as it was, 2020 was not all bad. In the midst of despair, there was still hope. There was bravery in the face of fear. There was beauty that rose up out of ugliness. There was strength to stand and adapt. And there was an urgency to create and make art that burned bright in the midst of chaos. That perceptual change was there for us to find.
So if you become worried or anxious and you find you cannot sleep, take a cue from Crosby and Clooney. Count your blessings instead of sheep. You’ll be asleep in no time.
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.
A life in the theatre is filled with photographs. We who act, direct, write, compose, design, produce or publicize theatre make use of countless of photographs, in a career and a lifetime. Production stills, headshots, publicity photos, prints for posters, snapshots for marketing brochures. We post JPEGS of ourselves in plays and musicals on social media, upload pictures of past performances for grant applications, embed digital images into our portfolios. At the Fountain Theatre, in our archive room, we have catalogued a collection of photographs chronicling the history of our organization going back thirty years. Hundreds, probably thousands, of pictures. Black and white and in color. Most of them taken by one remarkable man: Ed Krieger.
I got heartbreaking word last week that Ed had passed away at home on December 16, 2020. He had been fighting health issues for the past year and a half, but remained in good spirits. Ed was an essential member of our Fountain Family for twenty-five years, and a beloved photographer for the Los Angeles theatre community for decades. And he was my friend.
Born in Chicago, Ed graduated from Gage Park High School on the South Side. He studied biology and theater at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. In 1985, he married Heather Blades, a graduate from UC Irvine. They each performed in plays and musicals throughout Southern California, appearing on stage together in 42nd Street and The Pajama Game at Downey Civic Light Opera. They had two children, daughter Courtenay and son Will.
Whenever I gave Ed Krieger a call to shoot photos of a current production at my theatre, I was guaranteed two things. First, I knew I would get high quality stills that captured the theatrical essence and energy of our show, shot in a professional and easy-going manner. Second, I could bank on getting a flurry of theater stories from Ed, usually about the other shows he was shooting (and their companies), his own precarious exploits as a musical actor (auditions he failed, or the ones that he aced), and the blossoming careers of his kids. I loved seeing the joy spread on Ed’s face when he spoke about Courtenay and Will, he was so clearly proud of them.
The photographs of Ed Krieger have played a crucial role in the success of my theatre. For one quarter of a century, Ed pulled up in his van outside our building on Fountain Avenue, lugged his equipment into our theatre, and took millions of pictures of thousands of our theatre artists. Multiply that by fifty, by one hundred, by two hundred other theater companies throughout the Los Angeles area and you get an idea of the immense contribution this man has made to our livelihood, our business, and our art.
I imagine that of the dozens and dozens of Los Angeles theater companies who worked with Ed Krieger over the years, each and every one thought of Ed as their photographer, he was theirs. That is just how you felt about Ed. He was yours. He was like your favorite uncle, the one you loved, the one with the camera, who laughed and joked and told stories while he happily snapped photos of you and your family.
I pray that L.A. Stage Alliance reaches out to Ed’s family at the appropriate time to secure the massive archive of images Ed has captured with his camera, all now stored at his home. In those stacks and stacks of cardboard boxes, in those miles of Kodak film, on those gigabytes of imagery, lies the history of us all. The work we have done, the art we have created, the lives we have changed, the friends we have found, the families we have made, and the city we have chronicled and helped put on the national map. Ed photographed that, for us all.
At the request of the Krieger family, those wishing to honor Ed may make a donation in his name toThe Actors Fund.
Laura Maria Censabella’s achievements are too many to even begin to name here. But if you are not familiar with her work, look her up. Now. And be sure to join us this Saturday for our final Saturday Matinee of the year, followed by Fountain Theatre’s Holiday Party. Censabella will be our featured guest as we present her play Interviewing Miss Davis, based on her actual interview with Bette Davis many years ago.
What was it really like meeting Bette Davis? What do you remember from that day?
I remember it was boiling hot and I was sweating, and my curly hair had morphed into a ball of straw, so I was incredibly self-conscious. Also, I was intimidated by Miss Davis’s poised and beautiful assistant. When Miss Davis came in—and she did make an entrance–I was shocked by how diminished she was physically. She had to kind of throw her hip as she walked, and her shriveled face made her look like a sharp-eyed bird—but I immediately realized that none of her spirit was diminished. I had been told not to tell her I was a writer since her daughter was coming out with a tell-all book but at a certain point I couldn’t help it. I kept asking her what my hours might be and she wouldn’t tell me because I think basically they were meant to be 24/7. At that time I would get up at 5:30 a.m. to write before office temp jobs. That hour and a half–or two hours–a day I had to write was sacred and all I wanted to know was would I be able to still have that. And yet…I was so broke. I’d had a few short stories published in tiny literary magazines. I felt so small, and so scared that I would never be able to make my dreams happen. I think Miss Davis could smell that.
How do you imagine your life turning out if you did take that job?
I don’t think I would have lasted a day.
As someone who’s been teaching and facilitating writing groups for many years, what is the most important piece of advice you have for young writers?
There are an infinite number of ways to be a very good or great writer. There are only a finite number of ways of being bad and you can learn what those things are and avoid them.
Do you believe the industry has changed for women since you first started writing professionally? How so? In what ways is the industry still behind in gender equality? What needs to happen?
When I was in my 20’s I was selected for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. At that time I was one of only three women playwrights out of sixteen total playwrights. The next year I was one of five women playwrights. The last time I was selected for the O’Neill the majority of playwrights were women; however, most of us could not get our work produced. Since then we can be thankful for the 2008 Town Hall called by Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman and Sarah Schulman out of which The Count was eventually born to document the number of women+ and BIPOC plays produced. There is also the Kilroys List. Because of these big initiatives and many smaller ones we’ve seen an uptick in the statistics of women being produced although at this rate it will take another hundred years to achieve parity, most especially for older women writers who may have been ignored when they were young and now face discrimination due to age which is why the action and advocacy group Honor Roll! was born.
What have you been working on? Anything coming up you’re excited about?
A play based on my severely disabled aunt. About the day late in life that she decided to stop being infantilized by her family and assert her own will and the price she paid for that–and the joy she experienced as well. I’m also beginning to workshop my play Beyond Words, which is essentially a 30-year love story between a scientist who studies animal cognition (Dr. Irene Pepperberg) and her extraordinary research subject, the African Grey parrot Alex. Together they opened a window into the animal mind. The parrot is embodied by a human actor on stage.
What’s been keeping you sane?
I’ve had some very big personal challenges this year. But knowing that we all are suffering in some way, that we’re united by this pandemic, that we’ve all lost dreams, livelihoods, family, loved ones to Covid, unites us as a world community and can, if we let it, increase our compassion for one another.
What gives you hope?
That Biden and Harris were elected. Our very democracy has been at stake. The lust for power has outweighed the very values this democracy stands for. We’ve got to slowly rebuild faith in democratic institutions. We have a very steep climb but at least we’re moving in the right direction.
Interviewing Miss Davis, Saturday, December 19 @ 5pm PST
It was just last month that the Fountain Theatre announced it had joined forces with playwright Larry Powell, his producing partner Angelica Robinson, and their Tell Me a Story Productions to bring Powell’s exciting 12-part tragicomedy, The Gaze…No Homo to Fountain audiences. Presented via the theatre’s new digital platform, Fountain Stream, this episodic version of Powell’s live stage play has been reinvented for the digital age.
A set of three short-form episodes has premiered each Friday for the past three weeks. Now, The Gaze…No Homo comes full circle as the final set of episodes have been released. All episodes remain available for viewing on the Fountain Stream page until Dec 31.
To recap: The Gaze…No Homo centers around a young actor, Jerome Price (Galen J. Williams), as he tries to navigate his way through the increasingly uncomfortable rehearsal process of No Homo, a new play by emerging Black queer playwright Shaun Korey (Devere Rogers.) Korey is championed by Miranda Cryer (Sharon Lawrence), the straight White interim artistic director of the esteemed Evergreen Theatre Festival (“where the brightest and boldest new American voices are watered with wisdom, fed with fodder and nurtured with nourishment.”) Cryer is also the director of the world premiere of Korey’s new play.
This year, the festival has been consigned to a digital Zoomscape instead of the traditional seats-and-stage live theatre experience thanks to the COVID pandemic. In addition to the neophyte Price, No Homo features far more seasoned actors Kendrell Thompson (Eugene Byrd) and Buddy DuPois (TC Carson), and is stage managed by the experienced team of no-nosense PSM Sherry Grosse (Yvette Cason) andgender-fluid ASM Tee (Jason “Freckle” Greene.) There is much at stake here for everyone, and complicating matters is the growing dissent between Price and Cryer. As their abrasive relationship grows ever-more heated, the fate of the entire production becomes jeopardized.
The Gaze…No Homo was selected as a finalist in the prestigious 2020/2021 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. It is the first in Powell’s The Gaze cycle of plays that examines the process of building culturally specific and queer works of color in certain historically white spaces. The Gaze tackles difficult topics like racism and microagressions, and wrestles with the question, “Why strain to be free under a gaze fixed on your imprisonment, when it’s you who is holding the key?”
As we wrap up our exclusive showing of The Gaze…No Homo on the Fountain’s digital stage this month, Powell reflected back on the journey his show has taken over this past tumultuous year, and ponders the future and what he hopes it will bring.
TR: What was it like working with the Fountain Theatre this past month to present this digital reinvention of your play?
LP: If this piece can bring awareness to theatres that have been serving communities across the globe for years and who have had to close their doors due to the pandemic, I am pleased. I feel like we’ve done that at The Fountain, and that makes me proud.
TR. Would you consider another collaboration with the Fountain in the future?
LP: Of course! I would love one of my plays to be on the Fountain stage!
TR: No Homo is the first play in The Gaze cycle of plays. What is your vision for the entire cycle? How many plays are included in The Gaze? Are any of them written yet and what themes do they explore?
LP: Right now, I know there are three plays. They chart Jerome, the protagonist, as he grows older and older. I am going to start working on a new version of the second play next year. This play will focus on how we hold on to new awareness of ourselves in our art and life once we make the initial reclamation of our time and imagination. What challenges do we face? What questions do we have in that space of new consciousness?
TR: Will No Homo be presented on stage again when we return to live performances? Or will it live now as a digital presentation? What about future installments in The Gaze cycle? What form will they take?
LP: Yes. It is important to me that I continue to diversify how an audience can experience my stories. So, in every way a play can be experienced, I will lean into. A stage play, Screenplay, Teleplay, #Digiplay, Audioplay, VR play, Animated Play…. to me, it all starts with “the play.” All different structures, skill sets, and audiences but definitely all sourced in telling a story around a fire in the village.
TR. Has the success of this digital adaptation of The Gaze…No Homo encouraged you to adapt any of your previous works for digital platforms? If so, what ones?
LP: Yes and All.
TR. Was the choice of the cycle name The Gaze a conscious choice, to play on The Gays, or was it a happy coincidence?
LP: The best titles have double, triple meanings. The first play was always called “No Homo” because of the play within the play. Once I started to see the story as a cycle of works, I needed a title that spoke to a larger, more general container. The reason The Gaze sticks is because it still specifies the queer black experience as it pertains to its relationship to an oppressive gaze.
TR: You said in your Theatre Talk interview with Stephen Sachs that 2020 was a “profound year,” and you talked about “collective grief.” How have the events of 2020 shaped you as an artist? How do we, as theatre artists, as citizens, as a country, grieve our many losses this year and use them for a higher purpose?
LP: I have learned it’s important to give those loved ones, and the things we have lost, space. What I mean by that is silence and the stopping of this abusive obsession with “gotta keep going!!” Grief is a love language. We must take the time to learn it and to speak well and often. That means something different for each of us, and that’s important. We become more courageous in grief because it usually takes us to a place of surrender that opens us up to higher visions of our purpose in the world. It can, at least …if we let it. So, if you work to make firm boundaries around the space you carve out for grief … the gifts you find there are life-enhancing and heart-strengthening.
TR. What form do you prefer? Live stage or the digital small screen? Why?
LP: Well, I love the stage first. Always. That said, a story told is a story told. There are people who will run to the digital screen quicker than they would to the live stage. I want to meet both of these groups of people where they are — and I believe it is my calling to love as many forms of storytelling as possible.
TR: What’s next for you?
LP: More joy. More understanding. More peace. More love. More opportunity. More creation. More surrender. More gratitude. And always, more learning.
Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s new volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.
The Fountain Theatre is proud to be participating in the L.A. County Arts Internship program, the largest paid arts internship program in the nation. Established in 2000 by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, the program provides undergraduate students with meaningful on the job training and experience working in nonprofit arts organizations.
Jona Yadidi’s application stood out from the dozens we received. A student at Occidental College, Jona’s impressive resume includes event planning, directing and producing musicals for Camp Ramah, and the Glee club. But it was her interview that really blew us away. Her eloquence, sincerity, and passion for spiritual service, theatre, and social activism intrigued and delighted us.
Please join us in welcoming Jona Yadidi to The Fountain Family:
Tell us 3 fun facts about yourself: I am a first-generation American, I can speak 5 languages (Hebrew, Italian, Farsi, Spanish, and… English) , and I taught myself to play the ukulele during quarantine this summer.
What drew you to the Fountain: The commitment y’all have to social justice and promoting diversity on stage. I am dedicated to using theater as a vehicle for community dialogue and engagement and as a tool for more inclusivity and understanding.
What do you hope to gain out of this experience: A general understanding of how a non-profit theatre company works in Los Angeles and the impact that art makes, especially now that we’ve moved into a digital space. I am about to graduate college soon and enter “the real world” and as someone who wants to go into arts education and community engagement, I think my experience at the Fountain will give me a clear vision and direction for my future.
What is your hope for the future of theatre: To make theatre more accessible to all types of audiences and to have those audiences represented on stage. To dismantle the elitism that comes with ticket pricing with more initiatives like “pay what you can”. As well, we have to make sure that what we are producing not only includes, but supports and uplifts BIPOC communities that are normally not represented onstage. As an Iranian woman myself, I rarely see Iranian representation in theatre and I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. We need to have more BIPOC artists involved in all aspects of theatre; on stage, directing, producing, writing material, on theatre staff, and as board members. For more information on this initiative, please check out: https://www.weseeyouwat.com/
What are your goals: I would love to become the head of the education department or community engagement department for a non-profit theatre company (just like you France-Luce!). I think the power in theatre is rooted in educating high school students and the community around us on what different productions represent because the options in theatre are really limitless.
What are you most thankful for this year: My incredible support system of friends and family. It’s really been an unpredictable year full of ups and downs and I wouldn’t be able to get through it without those I have by my side keeping me strong.
The Fountain Theatre thanks the LA County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture for its Arts Internship Program.
Settle in with your favorite beverage on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 5 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. ET when the Fountain Theatre winds up 2020 and its monthly Saturday Matinee series with an Old Hollywood-themed holiday party filled with joy, games, and — of course — an online playreading. Admission is free at fountaintheatre.com.
Venerable actress Karen Kondazian, a lifetime member of the Actors Studio and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award-winner best known for her work in the plays of Tennessee Williams (with whom she was a personal friend), takes on the role of Hollywood legend Bette Davis in Interviewing Miss Davis by award-winning playwright Laura Maria Censabella.
After the reading, stick around for party games and a celebration of friends, fellow artists and the Fountain’s all-important audience. Bring something glamorous! (optional)
Inspired by a true event in Ms. Censabella’s own life, the one-act is set in 1985 as Davis interviews a new personal assistant (Wonjung Kim) upon learning that her current, beloved assistant (and nurse) Jacqueline (Aleisha Force) is leaving.
“I was just out of college and very, very broke — no furniture, a folding chair, folding table, mattress on the floor, and I was working for someone who said I’d make a great assistant for Bette Davis,” Censabella explained in an interview. “I went to the interview but was very conflicted because I wanted to be a writer and at the same time I wanted instant validation, and I felt like if I became Bette Davis’s assistant, I would have that.”
It’s Thanksgiving week, a time to reflect on that for which we are grateful. And even within the insanity of a year that brought us a global pandemic, extreme racial unrest, and a surreal presidential election, there were still rays of light. Here at the Fountain Theatre, one of our great joys came in the form of creating a stage/screen hybrid video adaptation of Ifa Bayeza’s stunning play, The Ballad of Emmett Till. If you have not seen it, there is still time. But the streaming of this acclaimed video-on-demand production ends on December 1st, so don’t delay. Tickets are just $20 and are available here.
The Ballad of Emmett Till is a lyrical retelling of the true events that kick-started the Civil Rights movement, and blends history, mystery and legend with accents of music and poetry. The Fountain’s widely heralded, multiple award-winning 2010 west coast premiere was helmed by Shirley Jo Finney, and starred the impeccable ensemble of Bernard K. Addison, Rico E. Anderson, Lorenz Arnell, Adenrele Ojo and Karen Malina White. Actors and director reunited over the summer to create this unique VOD version of our original stage production, which is enhanced by the use of music, sound, visual imagery and various film techniques. It debuted on August 28th, which marked the 65-year anniversary of Till’s brutal murder. His death had not only become a rallying cry for the times, but it has continued to resonate, and activate civic action, across the decades that followed.
Emmett Till was a charming, precocious 14-year-old boy who lived in Chicago with his mother, Mamie. In August 1955, he traveled down south to the Mississippi Delta to visit his uncle, Mose “Preacher” Wright, and other family members. One sunny day he and his cousins and a few friends went into town, and the young teenager stopped at a local market to buy some sweets. Accounts differ as to what actually happened to provoke the tragedy that followed, but it is widely believed that Till, who used whistling to help control a lifelong stutter, innocently whistled at the white, married, female store clerk.
As a result, Till was later kidnapped from his uncle’s house in the middle of the night by the woman’s husband and his half-brother. The men took the boy down to the Tallahatchie River and forced him to strip. Then they beat him, shot him in the head, and weighted his body down with a heavy metal cotton gin fan that they wrapped around his neck with barbed wire. Three days later, the boy’s naked, bloated body was discovered floating in the river.
Mamie insisted that her only child’s grotesquely disfigured body be returned to her in Chicago, untouched. “Let the people see what they did to my boy,” she famously said, and insisted on an open casket with a glass shield to contain the stench of her son’s decomposing corpse. The media had started carrying the news of the murder, and Mamie encouraged even more attention by publically displaying the body. Mourners gathered around the clock to pay their respects. The viewing went on for four days.
It might sound odd, during this week of focused gratitude, to suggest taking these final days of opportunity to view the Fountain’s VOD production of The Ballad of Emmett Till as part of our expressions of thankfulness. I feel it is not. The joyous way he lived his short life, contrasted with the ugliness of his premature death, led to a social rebellion that’s still being waged today. We entered the summer of 2020 with streets across America being crowded with marches born of unfettered rage against the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and the long-shadow history of Sandra Bland, Freddy Gray, Walter Scott, the nine men and women of the Episcopal Church in Charleston, and the hundreds more that came before them. Including, of course, Emmett Till.
The Ballad of Emmett Till is available through December 1st. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased here. I’m willing to bet you’ll be grateful you watched it.
Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s new volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.
In between BLM protests and existential quarantine queries, writer/creator Larry Powell adapted his play The Gaze…No Homo (2020/2021 Eugene O’Neill NPC finalist) into a new media series. The Fountain Theatre’s new digital platform, Fountain Stream, has partnered with Powell and Angelica Robinson of Tell Me a Story Productions to present thisbold, funny episodic tragicomedy for our times, a 12-part, multi-platform online experience unlike anything audiences have seen before. The first three short-form episodes of The Gaze… No Homo will begin streaming on Friday, Nov. 20, with episodes four, five and six going online Friday, Nov. 27; episodes seven, eight and nine on Friday, Dec. 4; and the final three episodes becoming available on Friday, Dec. 11. Tickets are free at fountaintheatre.com/now-upcoming/the-gaze.
No Homo is the first in Powell’s The Gaze cycle of plays that examines the process of building culturally specific and queer works of color in certain historically white spaces. The story of an openly Black queer artist as he navigates the rehearsal process at a very white American theater festival, The Gaze tackles hard topics head on. It wrestles with the question, “Why strain to be free under a gaze fixed on your imprisonment, when it’s you who is holding the key?”
In episode one, we meet protagonist Jerome Price, played by Galen J. Williams (national touring and Broadway productions of Motown the Musical) as he arrives at the prestigious Evergreen Theatre Festival (“where the brightest and boldest new American voices are watered with wisdom, fed with fodder and nurtured with nourishment”). Evergreen interim artistic director Miranda Cryer (Sharon Lawrence of NYPD Blue, Dynasty, Shameless, The Ranch and much more) has always been an outspoken champion of diverse voices — including that of emerging, Black queer playwright Shaun Korey, played by Devere Rogers (My Spy and IFC’s Sherman’s Showcase). Relegated to Zoom by the pandemic, Cryer is directing the world premiere of Korey’s newest work, No Homo, but “artistic differences” between her and festival newbie Price threaten to blow up the process. Eugene Byrd (Dr. Clark Edison in Bones) and TC Carson (Living Single)star as Price’sfellow actors Kendrell Thompson and Buddy DuPois, each of whom has learned to navigate the hidden dangers and microaggressions of the entertainment business in his own way — as has long-time stage manager Sherry Grosse (Yvette Cason, original Broadway cast and feature film version of Dreamgirls) andgender-fluid ASM Tee (internet personality, actor and model Jason “Freckle” Greene).
Powell states, “In order to properly experience my own exodus of the decentralization of the white gaze in my creative work and reclaim my black ass imagination I had to stare the poison in the face and, through the telling of Jerome’s story, turn it into the medicine decolonization so fiercely provides. That I was able to make this piece in the summer of 2020 and share this piece that same summer and beyond is a divine triumph. A blessing standing on sacred ground and under one gaze only: the ancestral one. Thankful to any and all who make it possible for others to catch the vision.”
The creative team behind The Gaze… No Homo includes episode directors Joanna Strapp (episode 1), Larry Powell (episodes 2, 11 and 12), Zhailon Levingston (episode 3), Satya Bhabha (episode 4), Reginald L. Douglas (episode 5), Amber A Harris (episode 6), Jonathan McCrory (episode 7) and Bianca Laverne Jones (episodes 8 and 9); as well as editor Joey Scoma, composer Robert Revell, branding and graphic design artist Samia Zaidi, website designer Nick Ducassi, and co-producer Haley Rawson. The series is produced by producer/executive producers Angelica Robinson, Spencer Williams and Matt Lubetich, along with executive producers Larry Powell, Zhailon Levingston and Devere Rogers and executive producer/director of photography John Macdonald.
Larry Powell is a writer, actor, director and producer born and raised in South Central L.A. As an actor, he’s originated and premiered roles in some of the most exciting new plays in America including The Christians by Lucas Hnath, The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez, Father Comes Home From The Wars by Suzan Lori Parks (opposite Sterling K. Brown), Brokeology by Nathan Louis Jackson, and he played the title role in While I Yet Live by Billy Porter. He is a two-time Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle award-winner, and has been nominated for numerous Ovation, NAACP and San Francisco Bay Area theater awards as well as for Audelco and Audie awards. Larry is also a published playwright and professional screenwriter, with three plays scheduled to receive world premieres over the next two years. He is a core playwright at the Lark Play Development Center. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama, Larry is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Southern California’s School of Dramatic Arts MFA Acting program. He is the founder and creative director of the Powell Academy of the Performing Arts, an arts organization providing high-performance training and resources to historically marginalized artists on the rise in the mainstream entertainment industry.
CLICK HERE To watch The Gaze… No Homo beginning Friday, Nov. 20.
No trick or treating this year? The Fountain’s got you covered. Please be sure to bring your kids and grandkids to this week’s show, where our guest – Lynne Streeter Childress – will perform work from her show for young people.
I met Lynne Streeter Childress many moons ago in Miami, FL when I booked my first professional acting gig. We were part of a company that toured plays for young audiences about issues like domestic violence and homelessness. While the subjects are grim, the plays were full of hope and the creative process was full of light. The latter, largely due to Lynne’s exuberance and delightful sense of humor. Decades later, Lynne has her own company, producing plays for young audiences that address issues like tolerance and empathy. I spoke to Lynne about the origins of her company (Building Better People Productions), and what it’s like to balance her creative life with motherhood in the time of Covid.
What was the genesis of Building Better People Productions? I had always wanted to do my own stuff, and I knew that it would be for young audiences, and I knew that it was going to be something about building people up. Over the years I would start, and then put things on a shelf because I was working for other people, which actually was great, because I was gaining not only a paycheck, but support, and the chance to grow. In 2015, lots of things started to come together, good and bad, that kinda pushed me forward. I lost my brother in law, which was the 4th in a series of family losses. I had also started writing a piece about empathy that I planned to produce on my own somehow, and when the opportunity to perform part of it for a festival didn’t work out, that seemed like an open door to just do the thing for real. I was in the place to just move forward.
How will future productions address the moment we are in as a Nation? How do you tackle such complicated conversations? It’s made me want to continue to not run away from addressing hurt. Most of the shows that we have done have hard moments, where people are bullied, and lose family members, and have anxiety, and are treated bad because of differences. There is always a moment in rehearsal where I think “Is this too much?” And no, it’s not. Kids are smart. And I think that we insult them when we DON’T tackle things they are going through or that are going on around them. There has to be something between hitting them over the head and completely ignoring where we are with the isolation of COVID, and the sadness of where we are racially. I owe it to my kid, and all kids, to figure out how to do that respectfully. One more thing: we have always had a pretty diverse group of people that we work with, but I am committed to truly seeking out more people. I also want to do a show that is about a little black girl loving life. I needed to see more of that when I was a little kid, and now I want to do that. For little black girls and for everyone, to normalize that little black girls can just have joy.
You say that the adaptation of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” you performed in is your most favorite show you’ve ever done. Why? What made it so special? It was my first Equity show (although I am not a part of the union now currently), and I participated in a development reading of it, I was part of the original cast of the show, and in the first tour. I am on the cover of the script as a koala! It is the show that made me feel like I was really doing this, and I got to be at the Kennedy Center every day, which is the most beautiful space. I got to see something come off of the page, see it worked in the room with the playwright and composer in rehearsals. And it took me around the country, getting paid to perform and travel. It helped make me. Also, I think that I may have named my son after that show. It was years later, and the name Alexander came to me as a front runner, and I didn’t know why. It just felt right. When my son was a baby I was at a party for a friend, who had directed that first production of “Alexander”, and Judith Viorst,the writer of the show, was there, and I had not seen her in a while. She asked what my son’s name was; when I said “Alexander”, everyone started laughing. And I said, “WAIT! Did I name him for the show?” And maybe I did. It was in there somewhere.
You have a twin sister who also writes? Did you grow up writing together? Will you or have you ever collaborated? My sister is amazing. AMAZING. She has been a journalist for 27 years, and has won awards, and wrote a memoir that came out earlier this year called “Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books with Words Like ‘Journey’ in the Title”, about losing her husband. We used to make up stories as little kids, and actually blogged together about our experiences in our 40s for a while. I produced and perform in a holiday play that she wrote, The Gift of the Mad Guy, about generosity, that Building Better People has performed yearly since 2016. I love saying her words, and I love sending her royalty checks.
Did becoming a Mom change you as an artist? If so, how? Yep. It’s made me want to make a world that he sees as lovely and that sees him as lovely. The third part of “We Got It” was inspired by the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, and I was pregnant when Trayvon was murdered, and I felt the weight of how some people did not value the lives of young black men, and did not see their deaths as tragedies. That wrecked me for their parents, and I was about to BE a parent of a young black man, and me yelling on Facebook, while cathartic, wasn’t going to be enough. What I knew how to do was create. So, I wrote. My son has also inspired shows that I have written or that we have performed, that are things I want him to hear, like about keeping his imagination, and knowing his worth.
How will you make Halloween special for an 8-year-old in the middle of a Pandemic? Our plan is to have my sister and nephew and mom over (they are in our Covid circle), and we will wear costumes and eat candy. That’s a good plan. Family and sugar.
What’s been keeping you sane? God, and the idea that if we are in this place, then there has to be a way to work in it. If we are still here, when other people aren’t, there is something to do in it, even if that’s just to be grateful for being here. I have also learned a lot of grace for others because we are all struggling.
What gives you hope? That people are still creating and finding ways to be light for themselves, and then for other people. Seeing creative output gives me LIFE.