“When you look at a fellow, if you taught yourself to look for it, you can see his song written on him. Tell you what kind of man he is in the world.” – Bynum, JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE by August Wilson
Adolphus Ward was a shaman. When you stood in his sphere, you felt it. This was a man who accessed the otherworld. A conjure man, a healer, the keeper of souls. His impish grin, twinkling eyes, the playful tone of his voice warmed the heart.
The Fountain was Adolphus’ theater home. “From the start, the Fountain Family has been like blood-family-members to me,” he said. He and Ben Bradley were friends for more than thirty years, harking back to their Milwaukee theater days. At the Fountain, they partnered on two August Wilson plays. Adolphus’ favorite moment on stage in Gem of the Ocean was going to the City of Bones. “That was a damn good trip.”
I directed him in the premieres of two plays by Athol Fugard. Both times, Adolphus was other-worldly. In Coming Home, he played the ghost-spirit of Oupa (“grandfather”). A gentle soul who tended his desert plants and called the magic pumpkin seeds in his leather pouch “little miracles.”
In Fugard’s The Train Driver, he played a gravedigger overseeing a bleak South African burial site for the unknown and unwanted, who “puts the nameless ones in the grave.” I’ll never forget the moment in the play when Adolphus, as the gravedigger, sang a Xhosa lullaby to the souls in the ground who were “sleeping.” The song floated from Adolphus like smoke on the night air. Haunting, beautiful, quietly transcendent.
Adolphus now sleeps. And I sing to him.
Adolphus Ward passed away on November 7th at the age of eighty-six.
A packed house of excited and eager young people filled the Fountain Theatre last night with lively energy as the Fountain launched its new play reading series, Rap Dev, serving playwrights thirty years old or younger. Created and produced by Fountain Associate Producer James Bennett and Jessica Broutt, Rap Dev (short for Rapid Development) is an informal, fast-moving evening that combines play development with social mixing.
Rap Dev offers a platform for young playwrights under 30 who may otherwise struggle to get the opportunity to hear their new work read aloud in a professional setting. At each Rap Dev event, a single 20-minute scene is read by professional actors from 2-3 new and unproduced plays introduced by each playwright. Each scene is selected by the writer to offer the best “snapshot” of the total script. After all 3 scenes are read from each of the 3 plays, the audience votes for their favorite. The “winner” moves on to be eligible to compete with other plays in the series for the grand prize: a fully rehearsed and realized staged reading of the entire play on stage at the Fountain Theatre, with guidance from the professional staff.
Short scenes from two new plays were read last night. Hands by Doc, featuring Verton Banks, Gilbert Glenn Brown and Adolphus Ward. And The Redhead is Coming by Bernardo Cubia, featuring Kirsten Kollander, Whitney Montgomery and Julian Silver.
As last night’s high-spirited gathering proved, Rap Dev is also a good time. The fun, informal atmosphere (not to mention the free beer) makes Rap Dev more than just a night of play readings. It’s a good party.
Celebrate the new year with vibrant new works from our friends and family. The Fountain opens her stage to 20 days of readings, workshops, and concerts from our growing community. Join us for fun, casual and engaging guest productions every weekend throughout all of January.
Playwright Athol Fugard calls the Fountain Theatre his “artistic home” on the West Coast. For twelve years, the Fountain has produced five premieres of his new plays. The Fountain’s world premiere production of Fugard’s Exits and Entrances toured the country, was produced Off-Broadway at Primary Stages in NYC, and at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.
This June, Athol turns 80 years old. He is being honored with four major New York productions.
Fugard makes it a general rule not to see a production of his plays that he had not directed.
“What do I say if I don’t like it? So a friend of mine and I drove to Los Angeles, and we slipped in, and I had one of the happiest experiences of my theater career,” he said. “It was a beautiful and truthful production.”
An artistic alliance and friendship between Fugard and the Fountain was formed. It remains to this day.
Rosemary Harris stars in the Roundabout production as Miss Helen, an Afrikaner widow who earns the mistrust of her village when she begins filling her yard with ambitious, whimsical sculptures after the death of her husband.
The Signature Theater Company in New York, which dedicates its entire season to the work of single playwright, has selected Athol Fugard for its inaugural season in its new home on West 42nd Street. The Fugard plays are Blood Knot, My Children! My Africa!, and The Train Driver.
Athol at the Fountain Theatre for rehearsals of "The Train Driver" (2010) with actor Adolphus Ward.
Blood Knot, the 1961 play that vaulted Athol Fugard into international prominence, features two young South African men, one black and one white, grappling over what the world owes them. The Train Driver, which Mr. Fugard wrote in 2010 and had its US premiere at the Fountain, features two older South African men, one black and one white, grappling over what they owe the world.
Written in 1989 shortly before the end of apartheid, My Children! My Africa! presents an honest and unflinching portrait of a country on the brink of revolution, and is a testament to the power and potential of youth, hope, and ideas.
Fugard, whose efforts toward the abolition of apartheid and the creation of a multiracial theater resulted in banned plays and a revoked passport, is not finished chronicling South Africa’s tumultuous past and future. He recently finished a one-act play that he plans to perform with his 8-year-old grandson. And the draft of a new play is nestled alongside his iPad and a neat pile of English- and Afrikaans-language books by Pablo Neruda, Breyten Breytenbach, Ted Hughes and Antjie Krog.
“That’s glorious, isn’t it?” he said. “Everything is exactly in place.”
His recent thoughts on Mecca and Train Driver:
Priscilla Pointer and Jacqueline Schultz in "The Road to Mecca" (2000)
THE ROAD TO MECCA (Fountain Theatre, Los Angeles Premiere, 2000) starring Priscilla Pointer, Jacqueline Schultz and Robert Symonds.
“Something that has always intrigued me, as I think it does any sort of artist of any description, is the nature, genesis and consequences of a creative energy. Where did it come from? How does it work? And what prices do you pay for having it? Because there are consequences. Sometimes it’s a marvelous thing, and sometimes it’s a curse. And sometimes it’s both. And sometimes the discovery of what your life should really be about comes to you very late. I’m an alcoholic — I don’t try to keep that a secret — and I wrote this play when I’d just decided I was going to stop drinking. There’s a line in the play when Miss Helen says, ‘I’ve reached the end of my journey.’ The other night, at the first preview [in New York], I suddenly realized: ‘Wow, you’re reaching the end of your journey. You wrote this play for yourself.’ And it turns out to be the story of this moment in my life, because in a way I’m not far away from the moment that all my candles are going to be blown out. So there we are.”
Adolphus Ward and Morlan Higgins in "The Train Driver" (2010)
THE TRAIN DRIVER (Fountain Theatre, 2010, West Coast Premiere) starring Morlan Higgins and Adolphus Ward:
“The graveyards of the unnamed in South Africa stretch seemingly to infinity. And as you walk among them, from time to time you find that somebody has thought to put a bottle filled with seashells on the ground.
“That is where my idea of Simon [the caretaker] comes from. Although these are nameless people that he buries, he’s trying to do what I’ve tried to do in my writing. You can’t give them a name, but you can say, ‘Here lies a human being.’ That’s all you can say about them. ‘Here lies a bubble of dreams and hopes that came to nothing.’”
For 80 years, the life and brilliant writing of Athol Fugard has certainly come to something deeply meaningful to other human beings around the world.
In the Criminal Court Building in downtown Los Angeles on January 3, 2012, almost two years to the day that the brutal murder was committed, the judge announced that the killer of Ben Bradley can expect a sentence of life in prison with eligibility for parole in 16 years.
Several members of the Fountain Family were present in the courtroom to give Victim Impact Statements. Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs represented the Fountain with a passionate eloquent plea, repeating the phrase “Everybody loved Ben”; Producing Director Simon Levy read a beautiful letter from theatre critic Dany Margolies of Back Stage; Adolphus Ward, one of our beloved actors, spoke movingly about the larger impact of Ben’s murder, intoning “one man killed, many died” ; Rebecca Lackner, a friend of Ben’s brother, read a letter from sound designer David Marling; Barbara Ramsey, subscriber and friend, spoke lovingly of Ben’s impact on her son; and Ben’s brother, Micheal Hill, spoke of the heartache to his family and the uniqueness that was Ben’s spirit. Others from the Fountain Community — actors, designers, friends — were there to show their support and solidarity on Ben’s behalf.
The defense filed a perfunctory retrial motion (standard procedure). There will be a procedural hearing on Feb 10 for the judge to officially rule on the retrial motion but he already said in court that, barring some extraordinary circumstance, he will deny it. And the legal process will be over. And prison time will begin.
The judge remarked in court that it was clear that Ben was widely loved and admired, and that the proceeding that morning was “a sad day”. He also commented that he had deliberated many murder cases in his long career as a judge. This crime was particularly brutal. Referring to the sentence and the obligatory retrial motion by the defense, the judge looked to the killer sitting opposite at the defense table and said “don’t get your hopes up” about any option other than life in prison.
Our deep thanks to those who were able to be there in court with us on Ben’s behalf, and to all of you who sent emails of support. We love you all.
Adolphus Ward is well-known to Fountain audiences for his mesmerizing and award-winning work as an actor in such acclaimed productions as Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Coming Home, and The Train Driver. What you may not know is that he is also a writer: a published novelist.
Adolphus has been honored with acting awards from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and the LA Weekly. He also holds a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration and has received writing awards from the Wisconsin Arts Board, Playwrights’ Fellowship, and the National Endowment For The Arts.
Ward has written an African-American trilogy chronicling the Tallman family: Harvest the Dust, Milk the Iron Cow, and Stand Upside Down. Harvest the Dust introduces the sharecropper’s family during the 1930’s Great Depression. Milk the Iron Cow explores how Milwaukee factories changed in the 1940’s from making autos and washing machines to building warplanes and bombs, as the Tallmans find themselves embroiled in labor struggles and the start of the civil rights movement. Stand Upside Down rests on grandson Calvin Tallman’s shoulders, which evoke white corporate shivers behind unfair policies for Black workers in the 1980’s
Adolphus in the Fountain cafe with playwright Athol Fugard.
How long have you been writing novels?
I am a writer of African-American Family Fiction. I’ve completed three novels following the lives of three successive generations of the same family. I began work on the trilogy September 1984 — I was learning to write fiction while working on the first novel: Harvest the Dust.
What lead you to write this trilogy?
My story grew to be much too involved for one story.
How does writing compare to acting for you, in terms of artistic expression?
The aim of acting and writing is, I think, much the same. Both actor and writer works to have the audience completely involved in the story. They are different in that one works on the stage and the other on the page.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a one-man show bringing elements of the trilogy to the stage. Also, doing preliminary work on a fourth novel.
Adolphus Ward in "The Train Driver".
Describe your relationship with the Fountain Theatre.
I’ve lived long enough to know that people are the most important element in the quality of my life experiences. I feel that way about family, friends, and the places I hold membership. From the start the Fountain Family has been like blood-family-members to me. Ben Bradley introduced me to the rest of the staff, some patrons, and it was — and still is — like I’ve known them for years. I love the Fountain Theatre.
Of the Fountain productions you’ve appeared in, which is your favorite?
Were I working in a production my favorite would be that one — my next production at the Fountain will be my favorite.
Any specific acting moment on stage at the Fountain stand out as particularly memorable?
Going to the City of Bones in Gem of the Ocean. Thanks August, it was a damn good trip.
Adolphus Ward and Jeris Poindexter in August Wilson's "Gem of the Ocean".