Category Archives: racism

Stay Home: Fountain Theatre builds community alliances during time of crisis

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Hollywood Food Coalition

by France-Luce Benson

As we all hunker down, I’ve been thinking a lot about home. As a playwright/performer, I’ve lived a kind of gypsy lifestyle for most of my adulthood. Home is wherever the gig happens to be.  For the last year and a half, home is Los Angeles.  Of course, in Los Angeles, I can’t think about home without thinking of the millions of men, women, and children who are experiencing homelessness today. As our public officials urge us all to “stay home”, rightfully so, I can’t help but wonder what that means for those who don’t have a home.

Like many theatres across the country, The Fountain made the painful decision to suspend performances of Human Interest Story, which grappled with several issues around homelessness. Sadly, this also meant cancelling all of our BID events, including a panel discussion with representatives from several homeless relief organizations in our community.

Although the show cannot go on, we’ve decided to keep the conversation going with one of our esteemed panelists, John Billingsley. As the Board President of Hollywood Food Coalition, Billingsley knows firsthand about what it means to be on the front lines of the fight to end homelessness in L.A.

FLB: First, can you please tell us about Hollywood Food Coalition’s mission and what services you provide:

Billingsley: Every night of the year we serve the most immediate needs of people in our community: we provide a healthy and nutritious five course meal to all comers, no questions asked (soup, salad, choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian entree, fruit, bread, desserts, milk, water).  We also distribute shoes, blankets, sleeping bags, clothing, bus passes, laundry vouchers, toiletry kits, and etc. We  have medical, dental and vision vans from UCLA visiting our campus on a regular basis. We are secular, but we serve our meal on the campus of the Salvation Army, (in one of their two dining halls) and we also help clients access way cool stuff provided by other community social service organizations (our neighbors and buds).  Additionally, insofar as we rescue approximately 7000 pounds of food a week, we aim to distribute the food we cannot use to other Not For Profits serving our community.

FLB: What led you to Hollywood Food Coalition?

Billingsley: Approximately 4 years ago, apres the disastrous 2016 election, I was looking for ways to get more involved in my community. In addition to doing some political fundraising, I started making bad fruit salads at the Hollywood Food Coalition. (I washed dishes badly, as well). I was foolish enough to shoot off my mouth a bit about ways to grow the board, raise more moolah, blah blah blah . . .  and now I’m the Board President!  It (almost) reaffirms my faith in America. Or, perversely, makes me question the sanity of our Executive Director, Sherry Bonanno.

FLB: What has been your focus as Board President?

Billingsley: We believe food is a medium for coalition building.  My specific interest revolves around what it means to build coalitions, to make pals, to get to know our non-for-profit neighbors. We’re interested in helping to bring NFP’s in our community together to collaborate, where possible, on ‘common actions’, like we’re doing with The Fountain Theatre. We’re interested in exploring mechanisms by which we can further each other’s missions: Can we help you do what you do better? Can you help us do what we do better? How?

FLB: In Stephen Sachs’ play, Human Interest Story, the Jane Doe character offers a raw look at the realities of homelessness. She talks about being assaulted, feeling invisible, and the stigma attached to homelessness. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge homeless men and women face?

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Tanya Alexander and Rob Nagle, Human Interest Story.

Billingsley: First off, and apropos of nothing – ‘people who re experiencing homelessness’ is a more artful construction, I have been taught  – when we use the term ‘homeless’, and God knows we all use it, we kinda consign people to a bit of a Dante-esque ‘circle’, a ‘home’, oddly enough . . .

 People go through shit.

One can say: I am going through this time in my life, I am experiencing yada yada yada . . . it’s subtly, but legitimately, different than saying: I am a this.  I am a that.  People ain’t homeless.  They’re living a particular kind of life, they’re experiencing homelessness at this time in their life .  One hopes that they will be living a different kind of life soon.

But to answer your question:

The biggest challenge homeless people face is the biggest challenge most of us face: the folks who rule our country, and many other countries around the world, actively attempt to delegitimize, if not actively dehumanize, people who don’t agree with them, or look like them, or in any way challenge their values or their hold on power. The challenge we all face, or can’t even begin to face (or intellectually recognize) is a deep and internalized acquiescence in the face of systemic and organized political disenfranchisement; perhaps to the perpetuation of our own diminution.   Continue reading

For this L.A. couple, societal issues in ‘Human Interest Story’ are personal

Dick Price and Sharon Kyle

Dick Price and Sharon Kyle

by Dick Price and Sharon Kyle

With his stunning world premiere presentation of Human Interest Story at the Fountain Theatre, playwright and director Stephen Sachs stitches together issues deeply affecting American society, delivering them with a witty edge and kinetic punch that thrilled the audience the night we attended.

Our colleague and friend, Eric A. Gordon, just published a delightfully detailed review with us: Human Interest Story,’ Playwright Stephen Sachs’s Righteous Rage Against Corporate Heartlessness. Rather than replicate his work—or, rather foolishly, try somehow to top it—we’ll share the ironic way Sachs’ themes struck the two of us. Ironies abound, as you’ll see.

At curtain rise, long-time opinion columnist Andy Kramer (played by Rob Nagle) is about to lose his job in a cost-cutting move by his newspaper’s new owners, who are decimating the staff and moving quickly online to save the paper from folding, a fate so many print publications have suffered in recent years.

On his way out the door, as a way to give the new editors the finger, Andy concocts a letter purportedly written by an anonymous homeless woman, Jane Doe, who’s so bereft by her plight that she promises to kill herself on the approaching Fourth of July.

And, of course, in this digital age, the letter immediately goes viral, generating lots of hits on the paper’s website and saving Andy’s job. Problem is, the editors want to know more—lots more—about Jane Doe.

And, of course, in this coincidental world, Andy soon stumbles across a homeless black woman (Tanya Alexander) living in the park, who, after some negotiation, agrees to play Jane Doe. Together they use their ruse to shed a harsh light on the plight of the homeless while saving their own bacon.

But, as Jane Doe will later say, “there’s no good way to do a bad thing,” so problems ensue: rising media stardom, intruding corrupt politicians, distracting sexual escapades, and soulless publishing magnates all colliding in an engrossing stew—“ripped from the headlines,” you might say. You’ll need to see the play—and you absolutely should—to see how all this works out.

Our first irony: Hours before we saw the play, the two of us were at LA CAN (Los Angeles Community Action Network) on West 6th Street, in the heart of L.A.’s sprawling Skid Row, helping to plan the “Radical King” event planned for April 4th.

Moreover, to avoid the crush of L.A.’s highway traffic, we frequently take surface streets to activist meetings we attend downtown, a route that takes us through Skid Row. At one point, we had to stop taking this shortcut because Sharon would break down in tears at the sight of so many of her people—black people—pushing shopping carts down the street, huddling in the endless rows of tents, shaking their fists at an unforgiving sky. At one time, her former brother-in-law had been among them, a Vietnam vet devastated by his wartime experiences and brief capture by the Viet Cong.

And long ago, Dick had been executive director (some would call him “house daddy”) of a halfway house in Torrance where many homeless were among the residents, an experience that showed him that beneath the grime and tattoos and missing teeth, they were every bit as human as he—and not some kind of alien beings you might only see in news reports or passing by quickly in your car.

homeless man

A second irony, of course, is that for the past 12 years we’ve published two online magazines,LA Progressive and Hollywood Progressive, which are in the mix of the shift away from print publication to digital, which has caused the loss of so many editorial jobs like Andy’s.

And again moreover, in Dick’s last job working for other people (other than Sharon), he worked on venerable print magazines at the very start of the move to the digital world, his job to figure out how to preserve revenue—and his staff’s jobs—while moving online.

While readership levels rose dramatically with the much wider reach the Internet afforded, his readers were much less willing to pay for the privilege as they had with print magazines—and the money they did pay had to first go through the Web publishing shop, which took most of the gravy, shrinking the editorial staff bit by bit. His version of Andy, walking out the front door with his belongings in a cardboard box, became an all-too-common sight.

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Rob Nagle, Tanya Alexander in “Human Interest Story.”

But the third irony is perhaps the most telling. Sachs’s play has the middle-aged white “word slinging” columnist ghostwriting speeches and articles for the somewhat younger black homeless woman—who, by the way, was an award-winning fourth grade teacher before bad luck put her on the street. Point being that the white man assumed he needed to do the thinking and writing for a black woman, who, by the way she spoke and acted and carried herself, could surely have used her own words and thoughts quite nicely, thank you very much, given the chance.

Now, at the Dick & Sharon collective, Dick would never dream of putting words in Sharon’s mouth. But our parallels to the play are strong—older white man (she’ll remind you), younger black woman, joined not just with an ampersand but at the hip for years on end. Many days we spend the entire 24 hours within 30 feet of each other, talking to the same people, watching the same programs, reading many of the same things, chewing through the day’s events as one.

We’re together most of the time when the world comes at us, but how we interpret that world, especially around issues of race, can be quite different (one of us says “quite,” the other “somewhat”). If we hear news of yet another unarmed black man gunned down by police or a black mother sent to prison for enrolling her child in the wrong school or reports of a friend suspiciously denied a job or promotion, Dick hears it, hurts for it, perhaps discusses it, and moves on. But then hours later he’ll find Sharon still sunk down in despair for the endless targeting of her people, thinking of her son’s safety, her brothers’ safety, black people’s safety and well-being in general.

See, if Dick walks out our front door, pretty quick he’s just another white dude walking down the street in a mostly white neighborhood, the consequences of racism becoming increasingly intellectual. Sharon doesn’t have that luxury.

So, the heart of Human Interest Story — for us, at least — is the interplay of racism in our lives, white and black, that rot at the heart of America’s soul.

Go see for yourself.

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This post originally appeared in Hollywood Progressive.

Fountain celebrates 30 years with electrifying season of premieres in 2020

FT night cars 2018Deborah Culver and Stephen Sachs founded the Fountain Theatre in an intimate, Spanish-style, East Hollywood building that belies the sizable local impact and international reach of the company’s acclaimed and award-winning productions. Now entering its 30th year as one of the most highly regarded theaters in Los Angeles, the Fountain is announcing a celebratory 2020 season of dynamic premieres and events.

“Thirty years ago, when we first entered this theater and stepped onto its stage, we knew we had found it. A place to call home,” Culver and Sachs said in a joint statement. “Since that April three decades ago, our charming haven on Fountain Avenue has been home to thousands of artists and millions of patrons. Fountain plays are now performed worldwide and seen on TV. Our flamenco concerts are first class. Our outreach programs change lives. Our legacy is noteworthy. And our future looks bigger and brighter than ever.”

The season opener, the world premiere of Human Interest Story — written and directed by Sachs who, in addition to his role as co-founder and co-artistic director of the Fountain, is an internationally acclaimed playwright — will open on Feb. 15. In this timely drama about homelessness, celebrity worship and truth in American journalism, newspaper columnist Andy Kramer (Rob Nagle) is laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes his paper. In retaliation, Andy fabricates a letter to his column from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world. When the letter goes viral, Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman (Tanya Alexander) to stand-in as the fictitious Jane. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.

Slated for Spring, 2020, the Los Angeles premiere of If I Forget by Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen) will be directed by Fountain producing director Simon Levy. In this viciously funny, unflinchingly honest portrait of a Jewish family and a culture at odds with itself, a liberal Jewish studies professor reunites with his two sisters to celebrate their father’s 75th birthday. Both political and deeply personal, this play about history, responsibility, and what we’re willing to sacrifice for a new beginning was a New York Times “Critic’s Pick,” while DC Metro calls it “one of the greatest Jewish plays of this century.”

Summer brings the Los Angeles premiere of An Octoroon by 2016 MacArthur fellow Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, who won the Obie for this radical, incendiary and subversively funny riff on Dion Boucicault’s once-popular 1859 mustache-twirling melodrama set on a Louisiana plantation. A spectacular collision of the antebellum South and 21st-century cultural politics, An Octoroon twists a funhouse world of larger-than-life stereotypes into blistering social commentary to create a gasp-inducing satire that The New York Times calls “This decade’s most eloquent theatrical statement on race in America today.” Judith Moreland directs.

Another noteworthy Los Angeles premiere closes out the season in the Fall: Escaped Alone is a caustically funny and surreal afternoon of tea and calamity by celebrated British playwright Caryl Churchill. In a serene British garden three old friends are joined by a neighbor to engage in amiable chitchat — with a side of apocalyptic horror. The women’s talk of grandchildren and TV shows breezily intersperses with tales of terror in a quietly teetering world where all is not what it seems. In his Off-Broadway review for Escaped AloneNew York Times theater critic Ben Brantley hailed the play as “wondrous” and Caryl Churchill as “the most dazzlingly inventive living dramatist in the English language.”

Also coming up in 2020:

Forever Flamenco: The dancers, musicians and singers of the Fountain’s monthly series will continue to delight audiences throughout 2020. The Los Angeles Times hails Forever Flamenco as “the earth and fire of first-class flamenco,” and LA Splash says, “the way you feel when you walk out of a Forever Flamenco performance is pretty darn fabulous.”

Hollywood Dreams: CBS star and Fountain family member Simone Missick (All Rise) and Fountain board chair Dorothy Wolpert will be honored at the Fountain’s dazzling 30th Anniversary Gala at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on SaturdayJune 27.

Walking the Beat Hollywooda pioneering arts education program for inner city high school youth and police officers, will return for its second year this August.

The Candidate: The Fountain’s third annual celebrity reading at Los Angeles City Hall, a stage adaptation of the 1972 Academy Award-winning movie that starred Robert Redford as a young, straight-talking candidate for the U.S. Senate, is set for ThursdayOct. 22. One night only.

For more information about the Fountain Theatre’s 2020 30th anniversary season, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com

VIDEO: ‘Human Interest Story’ is “a beautiful story, about as current as you can get.”

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World premiere ‘Human Interest Story’ explores homelessness and truth in journalism

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Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander in “Human Interest Story.”

“The line between where you are now and sleeping in your car is much thinner than you think.” The Fountain Theatre presents the world premiere of a timely new play, written and directed by Stephen Sachs (Arrival & Departure, Citizen: An American Lyric, Bakersfield Mist), about homelessness, celebrity worship and the assault on American journalism. Human Interest Story opens at the Fountain on Feb. 15, where performances continue through April 5.

Set in the fast-moving world of new media, Human Interest Story chronicles the journey of newspaper columnist Andy Kramer, played by award-winning actor Rob Nagle (recent credits include Apple Season at Moving Arts and The Judas Kiss at Boston Court). Suddenly laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes his paper — a print publication struggling for readers in changing times — Andy fabricates a letter to his column in retaliation. The letter, from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world, goes viral, and Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman (Tanya Alexander —  Mono/Poly at the Odyssey and Future Sex Inc. at the Lounge) to stand-in as the fictitious Jane. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.

According to Sachs, the play is about how contrary and opposing impulses can hide in the same human being. “A newspaper columnist, in the course of writing a human interest story on another individual, is forced to confront truths about himself,” he explains.

The cast also includes James Harper, previously seen at the Fountain in The Accomplices, as newspaper publisher Harold Cain. Playing multiple roles are Richard Azurdia (My Mañana Comes at the Fountain), Aleisha Force (Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra at Virginia Shakes, Maggie in Dancing at Lughnasa at Barnstormers Theatre), Matt Kirkwood (Our Class at Son of Semele, The Goat or, who is Sylvia? at the LGBT Center) and Tarina Pouncy (Vendetta Chrome at Coeurage Theatre; Les Blancs at Rogue Machine; and The Old Settler at International City Theatre, for which she garnered an NAACP award).

The creative team for Human Interest Story includes scenic and video designer Matthew G. Hill; lighting designer Jennifer Edwards; composer and sound designer Peter Bayne; costume designer Shon LeBlanc; video hair and makeup designer Diahann McCrary; and prop master Michael Allen Angel. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer, and the assistant stage manager is Nura FerdowsiSimon LevyJames Bennett and Deborah Culver produce for the Fountain Theatre. Producing underwriters include David and Mary Jo VolkLaurel and Robert SiltonLois Tandy; and Toby and Daniel Bernstein. The executive producer is Karen Kondazian.

The story was initially inspired by the 1941 Frank Capra classic film Meet John Doe.

Stephen Sachs is the co-founder and co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre and the author of 15 plays. Recent work includes his Deaf/Hearing love story, Arrival & Departure (“Critic’s Choice,” Los Angeles Times); his stage adaptation of William Goldman’s screenplay for All the President’s Men, starring Bradley Whitford and Joshua Malina at L.A. City Hall; and his stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which premiered at the Fountain Theatre and was remounted by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. His play Bakersfield Mist is performed worldwide. Sachs’ screenplay Sweet Nothing in my Ear, based on his play, was made into a CBS TV movie starring Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin. As director, he is a two-time Ovation Award winner and was recently honored by the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

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. Recent highlights include all-star readings of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington and All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. The Fountain’s 2018 productions of The Chosen and Arrival & Departure each enjoyed months-long sold out runs and was named a Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” The company’s recent West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living, was named to the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2018” list. This season, the Southern California premiere of Daniel’s Husband and the currently extended Los Angeles premiere of Between Riverside and Crazy were each named to multiple “Best of 2019” lists.

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VIDEO: World Premiere ‘Human Interest Story’ to launch Fountain Theatre 2020 season on Feb 15

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Cast announced for world premiere of timely ‘Human Interest Story’ at Fountain Theatre

HUMAN INTEREST STORY prelim image 2Actors Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander will head the cast as newspaper columnist Andy Kramer and laid-off Elementary school teacher Betty Frazier in the world premiere of Human Interest Story at the Fountain Theatre, written and directed by Stephen Sachs. The timely drama on homelessness, celebrity worship and the assault on American journalism opens February 15.

Rob Nagle is a film/TV/stage actor and longtime Los Angeles favorite admired by local theatre audiences. His acclaimed portrayal of Oscar Wilde in David Hare’s The Judas Kiss at Boston Court Pasadena was hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “A performance not to be missed.” Tanya Alexander has been seen in a variety of film and TV roles and recently co-starred in the world premiere of Brian Reynolds’ Mono/Poly at the Odyssey Theatre.

Joining Nagle and Alexander are veterans Richard Azurdia, Aleisha Force, James Harper, Matt Kirkwood, and Tarina Pouncy.

Stephen Sachs is the co-founder and co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre and the author of fifteen plays. Recent work includes his Deaf/Hearing love story, Arrival & Departure (Critic’s Choice, LA Times), his stage adaptation of William Goldman’s screenplay for All the President’s Men at LA City Hall starring Bradley Whitford and Joshua Malina, and his stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (Fountain Theatre and Kirk Douglas Theatre). His play Bakersfield Mist is performed worldwide.

In Human Interest Story, newspaper columnist Andy Kramer is laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes the City Chronicle. In retaliation, Andy fabricates a letter to his column from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world. When the letter goes viral, Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman to stand-in as the fictitious Jane Doe. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.

Human Interest Story runs February 15 to April 5 at the Fountain Theatre.

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Smash Hit LA Premiere ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ extends to January 26 at Fountain Theatre

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Montae Russell, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Marisol Miranda, Matthew Hancock.

The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed Los Angeles Premiere of the Pulitzer Prize winning play Between Riverside and Crazy by Stephen Adly Guirgis will extend its sold-out run to January 26, 2020. The original cast will remain intact.

The performance schedule continues to be Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm & 8pm, Sunday 2pm and Monday 8pm (Pay What You Want). More info/Get Tickets 

Over a dozen rave reviews:

THE PULITZER-WINNING PLAY YOU MUST SEE IN L.A.” — Los Angeles Times

REWARD[S] US WITH THE RAREST OF GIFTS: the pleasure of a raffish grace where you least expect to find it.”— Cultural Weekly

SUPERBLY ACTED… The Fountain Theatre has done itself proud again.” — Hollywood Progressive

SPLASH SELECTION… a superbly directed, acted, and produced must-see show.” — LA Splash

HUMOR AND WORDPLAY AND FANTASTIC MUSIC POWERFUL PERFORMANCES” — Larchmont Buzz

“A thoughtful exploration of family, forgiveness, and deciding what is important when life has not gone the way you imagined… led by a TOUR DE FORCE from Russell, who brings the enigmatic Pops to life with impressive complexity.” — On Stage and Screen

NEEDS TO BE SEEN… sometimes hilarious, sometimes agonizing… a seamless, breathtaking ensemble” — People’s World

OUTSTANDING… laugh lines abound… deals with profound issues of the human condition.” — Beverly Cohn, Santa Monica Mirror

WOW!SENSATIONAL… Contemporary play-writing at its most original and Los Angeles theater at its finest.” —Stage Scene LA

SCINTILLATING… an exciting, engrossing piece of theatre with a cast of seasoned pros.”  Theatre Notes

BRILLIANT DIRECTION… [A] SUPERB CAST“—Theatre Spoken Here

HILARIOUSLY OUTRAGEOUS and delightfully off-kilter dialogue… one of out city’s best ensemble casts” — Ticket Holders LA

FEARLESS… a brutally honest understanding of human emotions fully on display by a talented cast of seven.” — Culver City News

Lin-Manuel Miranda: “All art is political.”

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Lin-Manuel Miranda in Chicago, 2019.

by Lin-Manuel Miranda

All art is political. In tense, fractious times—like our current moment—all art is political. But even during those times when politics and the future of our country itself are not the source of constant worry and anxiety, art is still political. Art lives in the world, and we exist in the world, and we cannot create honest work about the world in which we live without reflecting it. If the work tells the truth, it will live on.

Public Enemy’s “911 Is a Joke,” George Orwell’s 1984, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s whole damn catalog—all are political works that tell the truth.

Yes, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Consider The Sound of Music. It isn’t just about climbing mountains and fording streams. Look beyond the adorable von Trapp children: It’s about the looming existential threat of Nazism. No longer relevant? A GIF of Captain von Trapp tearing up a Nazi flag is something we see 10 times a day on Twitter, because all sorts of Nazis are out there again in 2019. As last spring’s searing Broadway revival of Oklahoma! revealed, lying underneath Hammerstein’s elephant-eye-high corn and chirping birds is a lawless society becoming itself, bending its rules and procedures based on who is considered part of the community (Curly) and who is marginalized (poor Jud … seriously, poor Jud). Or consider your parents’ favorite, South Pacific. At its center, our hero, Nellie Forbush, must confront her own internalized racism when she learns that the new love of her life has biracial children from a previous marriage. Let your parents know if they forgot: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals form the spine of Broadway’s “golden age,” and they also deeply engage with the politics of their era.

In the Heights

Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway cast of In the Heights.

My first Broadway musical, In the Heights, is an example of how time can reveal the politics inherent within a piece of art. When I began writing this musical, as a college project at Wesleyan University, it was an 80-minute collegiate love story with a promising mix of Latin music and hip-hop, but it was pretty sophomoric (which is appropriate; I was a sophomore). After college, I started from scratch with the director Thomas Kail and the playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, and we shifted the show’s focus from the love story to Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan where everyone is from everywhere. In the 20th century, Washington Heights was often home to the latest wave of immigrants. It was an Irish neighborhood; it was a Russian Jewish neighborhood (Yeshiva University is up there). If you take the Dominican store sign down you’ll see a sign for an Irish pub underneath it, and if you take that down you’ll find Hebrew. Washington Heights was heavily Dominican when I was growing up, and it remains so, with a vibrant Mexican and Latin American immigrant community as well.

We received great reviews. If critics had a common criticism, it was that the show, its contemporary music aside, was somehow old-fashioned or “sentimental.” Gentrification, the businesses closing, the literal powerlessness as the characters face a blackout that affects only their neighborhood—these issues, always there in the material, didn’t register with most theater critics in 2008. In the Heights was considered a hit by Broadway standards. It didn’t leap off the Arts page and into the national conversation like Hamilton would, but we won some Tonys, recouped our investment, and had a wonderful three-year run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where Hamilton now lives. We posted our Broadway closing notice at the end of 2010.

What a difference 10 years makes.

Trump+Immigration+Policy

Right now, Jon M. Chu is editing his feature-film adaptation of In the Heights, which is scheduled to be released in June. We spent a joyous summer shooting the film—on location, in our neighborhood—and issues that were always inherent in the text now stand out in bold-faced type. Gentrification has rendered Lower Manhattan, Harlem, and much of Brooklyn unrecognizable to the previous generations that called those neighborhoods home. The East Village of Jonathan Larson’s Rent is nonexistent, lettered avenues notwithstanding. And the narrative of immigrants coming to this country and making a better life for themselves—the backdrop of everything that happens in In the Heights, across three generations of stories—is somehow a radical narrative now.

Donald Trump came down the escalator to declare his presidential run, and in his first speech he demonized Mexicans: They’re rapists; they’re bringing drugs; they’re not sending their best people. We young Latinos had thought of our parents and grandparents as the latest wave making its home in this country, and we thought that we would be the next group to make this place a better place, to prove once again that the American dream wasn’t just a figment of some propagandist’s imagination. And now we’re in a different age when, for some, considering an immigrant a human being is a radical political act.

Consider this rap, written 12 years ago and delivered by Sonny, In the Heights’ youngest character, in a song called “96,000”:

Your kids are living without a good edumacation,
Change the station, teach ’em about gentrification,
The rent is escalatin’
The rich are penetratin’
We pay our corporations when we should be demonstratin’
What about immigration?
Politicians be hatin’
Racism in this nation’s gone from latent to blatant

It was always political. It was always there. Donald Trump made it even more true.

Trump uses language to destroy empathy. He criminalizes the impulse and imperative to seek asylum, to seek a place to live thousands of miles away because the alternative at home is worse. Through his lens, these seekers are not people; they’re “animals” or “bad hombres.”

What artists can do is bring stories to the table that are unshakably true—the sort of stories that, once you’ve heard them, won’t let you return to what you thought before. I think about the crisis on the border constantly. I think about the famous photograph of a little girl crying beside a Border Patrol truck. That picture went viral because it seemed to capture the horror of family separations. But it turned out that the girl wasn’t being separated from her mother—her mother had simply been ordered to put her daughter down while she was searched by agents. The family was in distress, and the border crisis was real, but people used the details of this particular incident to close themselves off from empathy. “Fake news,” they said. A child is crying for her mother, but that’s not enough to keep people from pushing empathy away. I believe great art is like bypass surgery. It allows us to go around all of the psychological distancing mechanisms that turn people cold to the most vulnerable among us.

At the end of the day, our job as artists is to tell the truth as we see it. If telling the truth is an inherently political act, so be it. Times may change and politics may change, but if we do our best to tell the truth as specifically as possible, time will reveal those truths and reverberate beyond the era in which we created them. We keep revisiting Shakespeare’s Macbeth because ruthless political ambition does not belong to any particular era. We keep listening to Public Enemy because systemic racism continues to rain tragedy on communities of color. We read Orwell’s 1984 and shiver at its diagnosis of double-think, which we see coming out of the White House at this moment. And we listen to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, as Lieutenant Cable sings about racism, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” It’s all art. It’s all political.


This article appears in the December 2019 issue of The Atlantic. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award–winning composer, lyricist, and actor.

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

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