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.
The Fountain Theatre is readying Raise Your Voice – Vote!, a guerrilla style, immersive theater event set to take place over the course of two days at six locations throughout the City of Los Angeles. Watch the live-stream every hour on the hour beginning at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 24 and Sunday, Oct. 25 at www.FountainTheatre.com.
Conceived by acclaimed playwright and Fountain Theatre community engagement coordinator France-Luce Benson and co-directed by Benson and Lily Ockwell, Raise Your Voice – Vote!aims to build momentum and awareness about the upcoming election while bringing theater for the people to the people. The five-member acting ensemble (Victor Anthony, Jessica Emmanuel, Wonjung Kim, Theo Perkins and Rayne J. Raney) will present a series of pop up performances in six public spaces, each representative of L.A.’s cultural landscape. Each performance will feature America’s most iconic speeches about voting rights, plus dance and song. Volunteers will be stationed at every location to offer assistance with voter registration and voter education.
“We want to create an event that is inspirational, but never didactic,” explains Benson. “The performers will be in conversation with each other and with the people around them, blending in, respecting and embracing whichever community we’re in.”
Each of the performances will be live-streamed and will also be augmented by a series of surprise appearances, posts and performances on the Fountain Theatre’s social media pages in support of voter awareness.
Send Us Your Selfie on Voting
Want to engage in the Fountain’s newest project? We want you to upload a short selfie video (2 mins or less) of yourself expressing how important it is to vote. Nothing fancy. Can literally be taken on a smartphone. Just speak from your heart. Be passionate. What does voting mean to you? Why does voting matter? Do you have a personal story about voting? These video selfies will air at the top of each hour, from 10am to 6pm, on all Fountain social platforms and website.
You (we) cannot endorse a specific candidate.
Do not mention Trump or Biden by name.
Shoot your selfie horizontal, not vertical.
The purpose of the event is to use theatre as a trigger to activate the public to vote, to emphasize the responsibility of voting, to remind each other of the price some have paid to vote, to express the urgency to participate in this election and in our democracy.
Raise Your Voice – Vote! is produced by Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy for the Fountain Theatre. James Bennett is live-stream editor, and Terri Roberts is volunteer coordinator. The event is underwritten by Miles and Joni Benickes, Diana Buckhantz, Karen Kondazian, Maggi Phillips, Susan Stockel, Dorothy Wolpert, and Don and Suzanne Zachary. Event partners include volunteer organizations The Social Ripple Effect and Big Sunday.
For more information, to find out how you can volunteer and to live-stream Raise Your Voice –Vote! on Oct. 24 and Oct. 25, go to www.fountaintheatre.com.
Did you see it? Were you part of the excitement? Thursday, October 1st, was Opening Night of the first weekend of Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival, a three-week long celebration of new works presented by Alternative Theatre Los Angeles (ATLA) in association with L.A. Stage Alliance. The second weekend of performances has begun, and continues tonight and Saturday at 7pm. The final batch of shows is next weekend, October 15-17, at 7pm. The entire festival can be viewed on Twitch.
Each evening of the online festival is a 90-minute stretch of original 10-minute plays, all penned specifically for the digital stage by playwrights representing 34 of the 64 local intimate theatre companies – including the Fountain – that make up ATLA. The Fountain’s entry into the festival, Talking Peace, was written by Community Engagement Coordinator France-Luce Benson, who also happens to be an accomplished playwright. Talking Peace is a wittily observant take on today’s hot-button issues that is set during a virtual Zoom get-together. In it, a healing circle comes undone when an outsider finds her way in, forcing the five women to deconstruct what it means to be Black, BIPOC and bound by sisterhood.
Talking Peace was part of last week’s Opening Night schedule. You can re-watch it – and catch all other performances to date — at www.twitch.tv/togetherlafestival. To make reservations for tonight, and any of the remaining nights, visit www.togetherlafestival.com. Tickets are free, but reservations are required.
ATLA was born five months ago out of the need felt by local theatres to stay connected during the pandemic, offer strength and support to each other, and make positive steps forward in the midst of uncertainty in order to keep hope, art and theatre alive.
And so, LA’s intimate theatre community turned out en masse last Thursday to celebrate the launch of this digital effort together. New plays! Old friends! The forum was virtual, but the energy jumped right off the screen. The pre-show chat box overflowed with cries of “So excited!” and “Break legs everybody!” scattered in-between all the shout-outs and virtual drink orders and jokes about easy parking. The wild exhilaration was further pumped up with a lava flow of exuberant emojis: clapping hands, party poppers, hugs, and a full-range rainbow of colored and decorated hearts. It didn’t seem to matter that the theatre lovers gathered there were not sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the same house. After months of isolation and darkened physical stages, they were sitting spirit-to-spirit and heart-to-heart in the same space, ready and willing to enjoy a virtual stage experience, and reveling in each others’ company. This community knows how to adapt!
“We are here to celebrate the vibrant and diverse intimate theatre scene of greater Los Angeles,” explained host Amy Hill at the top of the show. “Los Angeles theatre has always been on the forefront of innovation, and tonight we bring that to the digital stage…we are showcasing what intimate theatre does best – bringing people together. Telling important stories and creating a place to connect and heal through art.”
The three-week long event is also doubling as a fundraiser for Color of Change, a progressive nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization in the United States that uses online resources to strengthen the political voice of African Americans. By the end of yesterday’s block of shows, $3,680 had been raised toward an ultimate goal of $5,000. Could it be that a new goal will need to be set before the weekend is out? The LA theatre community is nothing if not enthusiastic and generous in their support of friends in need.
The same exuberance on display Opening Night has continued every night since then. So come on in – gather with us tonight and Saturday, and next weekend as well to cheer on all these new short plays, reconnect with the theatres and artists you love, raise some money for a good cause, and help keep the indomitable LA intimate theatre spirit riding high! A digital program will be yours for the asking, and someone will be by shortly to take your virtual drink order. You don’t even have to worry about parking or arriving late and not getting in. There’s always enough room, and plenty of fun to be had.
Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival is presented by Alternative Theatre L.A. in association with the L.A. Stage Alliance. In addition to the Fountain Theatre, participating companies include24th Street Theatre, Actors Co-op, Ammunition Theatre Company, Celebration Theatre, Chance Theater, Coin and Ghost, Company of Angels, Echo Theater Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, IAMA Theatre Company, Impro Theatre, Independent Shakespeare Company, Interact Theatre Company, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, Macha Theatre, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Open Fist Theatre Company, Ophelia’s Jump Productions, Pacific Resident Theatre, Playwrights Arena, Rogue Machine Theatre, Sacred Fools Theater Company, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skylight Theatre Company, The 6th Act, The Group Rep Theatre, The Inkwell Theater, The New American Theatre, , The Road Theatre Company, The Victory Theatre Center, Theatre of NOTE, Theatre West and Whitefire Theatre. For more information about the festival and for a schedule of shows, please visit www.togetherlafestival.com
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.
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.
Art imitates life when the Fountain Theatre presents Talking Peace, a new 10-minute, site-specific “Zoom-within-a-Zoom” by acclaimed playwright France-Luce Benson. Talking Peace will premiere on day one of Alternative Theatre L.A.’s Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival, one of six short plays presented by Los Angeles-based theater companies on Thursday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET. In total, 34 companies will participate in the festival over the course of three weeks. Tickets are free, but reservations are required: RSVP at www.togetherlafestival.com.
Benson’s wittily observant take on today’s hot-button issues is set during a virtual Zoom get-together: a healing circle comes undone when an outsider finds her way in, forcing the five women to deconstruct what it means to be Black, BIPOC and bound by sisterhood.
The cast includes Paule Aboite, Miriam Ani, Janelle Lawrence, Celestine Rae and Lisa Rosetta Strum. Dr. Daphnie Sicre, who teaches directing and theater for social change at Loyola Marymount University, directs.
Benson, a Haitian-American playwright based in Los Angeles, was named “Someone to Watch” in 2019 by American Theatre magazine and is the community engagement coordinator for the Fountain.
Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival is presented by Alternative Theatre L.A. in association with the L.A. Stage Alliance. In addition to the Fountain Theatre, participating companies include24th Street Theatre, Actors Co-op, Ammunition Theatre Company, Celebration Theatre, Chance Theater, Coin and Ghost, Company of Angels, Echo Theater Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, IAMA Theatre Company, Impro Theatre, Independent Shakespeare Company, Interact Theatre Company, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, Macha Theatre, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Open Fist Theatre Company, Ophelia’s Jump Productions, Pacific Resident Theatre, Playwrights Arena, Rogue Machine Theatre, Sacred Fools Theater Company, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skylight Theatre Company, The 6th Act, The Group Rep Theatre, The Inkwell Theater, The New American Theatre, , The Road Theatre Company, The Victory Theatre Center, Theatre of NOTE, Theatre West and Whitefire Theatre.
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.
Alternative Theatre Los Angeles is a community of 64 professional intimate theaters, all based in the greater Los Angeles area, that came together five months ago through weekly virtual roundtables to discuss how to move through the current COVID crisis and come out stronger.
The L.A. Stage Alliance works with the theater community to expand awareness, appreciation and support of performance arts.
Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival will stream Oct. 1 through Oct. 17 via Twitch.tv. For more information, a full schedule and to RSVP, go to www.togetherlafestival.com
Josh Wilder might be the most down to earth wunderkind I’ve ever met. Barely in his 30s, he is the winner of numerous awards including the Jerome Many Voices Fellowship, the Lorraine Hansberry Award, and Holland New Voices – among others. But the Philly native truly represents “brotherly love” – spending his time guiding and nurturing young writers, and developing his green thumb. Wilder is currently based here in Los Angeles, and graciously agreed to appear on this week’s Saturday Matinee. In this interview I learned that although he is an Angeleno at the moment, his Philly roots are firmly intact.
FLB: Philadelphia is a recurring character in many of your plays. What about the city inspires you?
Everything! The murals; the culture; the accent; you can walk anywhere and find a story. Philly is a city of rowhomes with thin walls, so ear-hustling was the everyday. THE LOVE. We really are “The City of Brotherly Love”. Most importantly, it’s the attitude. Philly is an attitude, and everybody you know from Philly got one! PHILLY ALL DAY, BABY!
FLB: I understand you’re based in Los Angeles now. How long have you been here and what has the transition from east to west coast been like for you?
I’ve been here since April. The transition has been very smooth. I love that I can escape to the beach and just think. There’s something about the ocean…
FLB: What do you miss most about Philly?
The food. I want a mushroom cheesesteak with friend onions from Max’s so bad…. Water ice and soft pretzels; the Reading Terminal; block parties in the summertime. Sitting on the porch with my brother.
FLB: I read that you started as an actor? Does that inform your writing process? Do you have any desire to return to acting?
Yes, my favorite playwrights are actors. My writing process is actor focused—being in the room with actors is the ultimate experience. Better than the actual run of the show. There’s so much magic in the room that I never want to leave my side of the table. I don’t have a strong desire to return to acting— I really love being in my lane.
FLB: What was the very first play you ever wrote?
My very first play I wrote and produced was called Michael’s Testimony. I was in my senior year at the Creative and Performing Arts High School. I’ll never forget how the audience left the theater that night.
FLB: In addition to the Pandemic, we (Black and Brown folx) are in the midst of an uprising while simultaneously continuing to see our people suffer at the hands of police brutality. How have you been processing all of this? Do you feel that it has fueled/informed/or radicalized your work in any way?
ALL I CAN SAY IS THAT I LOVE BEING BLACK. I WAS BORN BLACK, I’MA DIE BLACK, AND I’MA CONTINUE BEING BLACK NO MATTER HOW HARD THESE EVIL-ASS PEOPLE TRY AND THAT’S ON THAT. MY GOD AND MY ANCESTORS GOT ME. MY PRESIDENT WILL ALWAYS BE BARACK OBAMA.
FLB: Lol! Agreed!!
FLB: What’s been keeping you sane?
My teaching. As soon as COVID-19 shut the country down—everything changed for me. I was let go from a teaching position in Atlanta just as I was getting the hang of Zoom. Once that happened, I packed up my apartment, got in my car, drove to LA and I set up shop by starting a Playwrights Workshop in April. So far I’ve connected with over 40+ playwrights around the country and the world! I’ve never worked with so many Black and POC playwrights in my whole teaching career—90% women. These women keep me sane– they’re gonna be the ones to watch when the theater reopens. I also became a Plant Daddy J
FLB: What gives you hope? Knowing that the sun is shining, and the sky is blue.
Friday, August 28th, marked the 65th anniversary of the vicious murder of an innocent 14-year-old black youth named Emmett Till. His cold-blooded, colder-hearted killing, and the events surrounding and following his funeral, became the kick-starter events of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement in 1955. The Fountain Theatre recognized that landmark anniversary in two ways: with the reunion of the original director and cast of our award-winning 2010 production of The Ballad of Emmett Till, by poetic playwright Ifa Bayeza, and by navigating this new COVID-19 world of virtual theatre by presenting the show in a unique, forward-thinking beyond-the-Zoom-Room format.
Three hundred and forty-eight people bought $20 tickets for the livestream premiere of this re-imagined digital model of theatre. The five actors – Bernard K. Addison, Rico Anderson, Lorenz Arnell, Adenrele Ojo, and Karen Malina White – performed from their own individual, safely distanced locations, and coordinated with director Shirley Jo Finney and each other via Zoom on their computer screens. But gone was the normally pedestrian cyberscape of living room stages with bookcase backdrops. This fresh digital production of Emmett Till was dramatically enhanced with the use of props, costumes, music, sound, visual effects and cinematic techniques. The resulting hybrid of stage and digital filmmaking made for an exciting and invigorating step forward into the new frontier of virtual theatre.
If you were not able to catch the premiere, you needn’t worry. The livestream premiere was video recorded. The Ballad of Emmett Till is available for a pay-per-view rental of $20 at www.fountaintheatre.com until December 1st.
“What a stunning presentation!” wrote playwright Bayeza after Friday’s premiere. “The commitment and creative investment so enlivened the digital performance, introducing whole new dimensions and possibilities.Shirley Jo, the way you angled the car scenes, Emmett’s dancing in the water, the integration of sound and environments–all were exquisite surprises. The ensemble was marvelous again. Karen’s magical shifts of character are so seamless, you don’t even notice it’s the same actor! All in all, simply superb!”
Other viewers agreed:
“Shirley Jo Finney exceeded the medium and brought new meaning to each of the characters. Bravo! Bravo!” – Steven Williams
“Thank you for such an AMAZING virtual presentation! It was PHENOMENAL!!!! BRAVO!!!” – Cynthia Kitt
“Wonderful work in this crazy world!” – Taylor Bryce.
“Powerful production!” – Shawn Kennedy
“I was initially a bit cautious about watching on my computer but the direction drew me right in. I loved the use of photos and other visuals to create a sense of place. And the acting was superb. Very moving.” – Lois Fishman
“It was very powerful and beautifully done. The cast was amazing. Please convey my appreciation to all of them as well as to Shirley Jo Finney for the beautiful direction.” – Diana Buckhantz
“I’m so proud of what we created,” said Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs. “I’m thrilled that the Fountain is leading the way in developing new ways to tell stories and keep the connection with our community alive.” The pay-per-view event is a budgetary victory as well. Online ticket sales and generous contributions from longtime Fountain donors Susan Stockel and Barbara Herman ensured that Emmett Till was fully funded by its first airing.
The success of Emmett Till hashttps://www.fountaintheatre.com/fountain-digital/the-ballad-of-emmett-till-2020 demonstrated that this form of digital theatre is both viable and profitable, and can help the Fountain keep its doors metaphorically open while we are still in pandemic mode. And while we will certainly continue to present free digital content via the bi-monthly installments of Saturday Matinees and Theatre Talk, as well as other programming and readings as they present themselves, you can also expect to see more livestream/digital pay-per-view productions to come.
Is there something special you would like to see in this new format? A past Fountain production with a small cast you think should be rebooted? We’d love to know what you’d love to see. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts.
Robert and Jenna have been faithful members of The Fountain Family since the 1990s. What’s kept them coming back? Robert says, “…the quality of the acting, the diversity of plays, you always get the best”.
A native of Detroit, Robert moved to Los Angeles in 1975, and never looked back. Coming from Detroit, the weather was an obvious draw. But what he really loved was the cultural diversity, and the ever-evolving music and theatre scene. In the last four decades, he’s watched the Los Angeles theatre scene evolve into an exciting place to see innovative new voices, with Fountain at the center of it all. “Back when I first moved here, many of the intimate theatres mostly produced vanity productions. But in the late 80s/90s, more and more theatres were producing plays that were challenging…cutting edge.”
Some of his favorite Fountain productions over the years are Tarrel McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water; Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman, and Exits and Entrances by Athol Fugard. The latter is one of his all-time favorites. “Morlan Higgins was amazing, and the play spoke to people who love the theatre. And I love the theatre.” A fan of Fugard, one of Robert and Jenna’s fondest memories is of a fundraiser for The Fountain in which Fugard talked about how he created the play, The Train Driver. That remains a special memory for the both of them.
Married 37 years, Robert and Jenna don’t always see eye to eye on every show – but The Fountain productions always give them plenty to talk about. “After the Fall was especially juicy…lots of loose ends to discuss”
Robert has also remained busy as a Board member of Boston Court Theatre, and with his work as a Superior Court Commissioner, hearing Juvenile Court cases. His occupation may have prepared him to endure the challenging times we are in. He continues to find hope and joy in the world. When I asked what’s been giving him hope in these last few months, he replied “All of you; all you theatre folks out there continuing to create, keeping the art form alive”.
We are so lucky to have these two lovers of theatre as a part of our family. Thank you, Robert and Jenna, for all your support over the years.
France-Luce Benson is a playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Fountain Theatre.
I first met Dennis A. Allen II back in 2016 when we met to talk about our experiences as Playwrights in Residence at Djerassi’s Resident Artist program. Although I was familiar with his work long before then, particularly his contribution to HANDS UP, a collection of monologues by seven black playwrights in response to the police shootings of Mike Brown, John Crawford the III, among others. His work is raw, gorgeously poetic, and brutally honest. In the past five months, Dennis and I have participated in a weekly virtual gathering of other like minded Black theatre artists, and I have gotten to know the depth of his sensitivity, and the expanse of his enlightenment. He is a truly special artist and man, and I am so thrilled hell be joining us for the return of Saturday Matinees, this Saturday – Aug 22 5pm PST.
Earlier this week, I chatted with Dennis about the work he plans to share with us, his process, and how he’s been processing the events of the last few months:
FLB: What will you be presenting on Saturday?
D.A.A.: I’d like to present three monologues from three different plays of mine. Manhood, The Wretched Begin to Rise and When We Wake Up Dead. Manhood explores the perils or toxic masculinity, The Wretched Begin to Rise is a play set in 1834 Five Points New York and interrogates identity and race relations, and When We Wake Up Dead examines mental health and the effects of untreated trauma within an African American family.
FLB: I believe you started as an actor, right? How did you find way to writing and directing?
D.A.A.: Writing was actually the first passion. My mother has shared that I wrote a short story about a leprechaun when I was four years old. I don’t remember writing it but I’m sure it was inspired by the Disney movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People, a VHS that was in heavy rotation on my television at the time. Anyway, I always loved writing, I used to perform poetry at open mic nights my undergrad days at Hampton University and for a while had dreams of being a hip hop artist. I won’t bore you with reading my journey to acting and theatre but once I did get into acting I knew that eventually I’d want to write plays. My thinking was I’d be better at creating characters for the stage if I was intimate with the actor’s process. I took a directing class in undergrad and really enjoyed it. My preference is writing, I think because it’s the craft I’ve dedicated the most hours to, so it’s the one I’m most confident executing. For me. acting, writing and directing are just three different styles of storytelling and I love being able to create a good story.
FLB: How has the last 3 months changed your creative process? (or has it)
D.A.A.: The last three months has not changed my creative process but it has provided me time to ruminate on what stories I think are imperative for me to create. Capitalism is a helluva drug and there have been times where I’ve focused more on the strategy of making money at the craft than the craft itself. And it’s been those times that I’ve had the least amount of joy ( if any) in my creative process. This “pause” has allowed me to tap back into why I do this; why I love this.
FLB: What has been keeping you sane?
D.A.A.: Exercise; I’ve been reading specifically Black female sci-fi and fantasy writers this summer (Octavia Butler, Justina Ireland, Tomi Adeyemi, Nnedi Okorafor); and every Friday night for the last five months I’ve participated in a Zoom meet up with friends I consider my creative family- which has provided us all with a catharsis- we laugh, cry, pontificate, talk shit, love on each other and laugh some more.
FLB: What has been giving you hope?
D.A.A.: With everything going on I am hyper conscious of how privileged I am. My wife is loving and supportive, both of my parents are alive and currently healthy, I have a roof over my head and am blessed to have classes to teach as an adjunct professor; so it’s easy for me to have hope because of my privilege. As bad as it is out in these streets my immediate life ain’t too bad. That said, being able to teach and work with the younger generation has been a constant source of hope because these kids have an emotional intelligence, are politically informed and active, and have an unapologetic exploration around identity that is light years ahead of anything my generation had access to.
France-Luce Benson is a playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.