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Tag Archives: African American
by Dionna Michelle Daniel
“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”
This sentence has stuck with me since the first time I read Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen: An American Lyric. That sentence has been a jumping-off point and inspiration for the current play that I am currently developing.
I first encountered Claudia Rankine’s Citizen while a BFA at the California Institute of the Arts. That year, I was taking a class on hybrid writing with a bunch of MFA creative writers. Although I felt slightly out of place from my comfort of theater knowledge, I was determined to get my minor in creative writing. Even though Rankine’s Citizen functions as a hybrid text, at the time it wasn’t on the course reading materials. However, that didn’t stop it from being spoken about almost every other class. This was also around the time when there were the headlines of the black woman reading Citizen at a Trump rally. In the video, you see angry Trump supporters tap the woman on the shoulder, signaling that it is rude for her to not be complicit in Trump’s nonsense. It is rude for her to read. The woman’s response is one of the most epic things you will every see. She shrugs of the bitter rally attendees and continues to read her book. From that point on, it was clear to me that this book was a symbol of resistance and strength. I had to get my hands on a copy.
It’s funny how life happens. I began working at the Fountain Theatre in the Fall of 2017 and had no idea that Stephen Sachs had adapted a stage adaptation of the book. As a fan of this brilliant book and also a theatre nerd, I was excited to see this work brought to life and inhabited in the bodies of actors. I got my chance to see the performance at Grand Park on April 29th and needless to say, I was beyond moved. There is something about hearing those words spoken and coming from a black body that makes the text sink in that much deeper. The actors, all giving a beautiful performance, showed the pain & confusion that happens when constantly faced with microaggressions and systemic oppression. And when the lines, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background” were spoken, I was overwhelmed by the weight of this sentence. Felt the weight right in my chest.
This message of this book and the stage adaptation correlates to the work that I am trying to flesh out in my own writing. Currently, I am developing a Part 2 to my play Gunshot Medley. The second part will take place in the present day and I’ m most interested in the idea of what happens to the black psyche after being faced with the trauma of seeing so many killings of black men on our phone screens. When does it stop? When can we heal? And if we look at the black body as a vessel, how much can it hold before it snaps and breaks?
Dionna Michelle Daniel is the Outreach Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre
They are, first and foremost, talented actresses now starring in some of the most popular shows on television. They are strong women conquering an industry dominated by men. They are women of color leading a new wave of diversity now finally being demonstrated on TV screens. And they are all members of the Fountain Family, seen in acclaimed productions on our intimate Fountain stage
Simone Missick is now taking TV by storm co-starring as Misty Knight on the new Netflix series Marvel’s Luke Cage. She plays the first black female superhero in the history of television. The new series is now being seen in 180 countries. There is already talk of giving Simone her own series in a Misty Knight spinoff.
Simone’s launch to TV stardom is the stuff of local LA theatre legend. She was catapulted from acting in a play at the intimate Fountain Theatre to co-starring in a new popular television series as an iconic Marvel superhero. It’s the kind of plucking from obscurity to stardom of which most actors dream.
Simone got the call to audition for the series while appearing on stage at the Fountain Theatre in our 2015 hit production of Citizen: An American Lyric. Shuttling back and forth between auditioning for the TV role and performing weekends at the Fountain, she knew it was a longshot. Suffering from a head cold, she flew to New York one final time to audition and test for the part. Sworn to secrecy by TV producers, Simone couldn’t share details with her Fountain cast about the role she was up for. But we knew it was big and important. We all waited.
Then she got word.
“I got a call from Jeph Loeb who was the head of Marvel. He kind of just said, ‘Prepare for your life to change,’” says Simone. “And what does that even mean for an actor who’s been working, doing theatre and short films in LA for 10 years? You can just never anticipate when that call is going to come, what it will really be. It was amazing.”
Tina Lifford was also on stage at the Fountain with Simone in the same production of Citizen: An American Lyric. She now co-stars as Violet Bordelon, an aunt to the three estranged Bordelon siblings on OWN’s acclaimed drama Queen Sugar. The new series was created, directed and executive produced by Ava DuVernay. Oprah Winfrey also serves as executive producer.
Queen Sugar is groundbreaking. It is produced by a black-owned network and overseen by two black women—one who owns the network (Winfrey) and the other (DuVernay) as showrunner, head writer and director. All of the directors guiding every episode in season one have been women.
“It’s exciting that we get to represent the excellence that is living in people of color,” says Tina. “The excellence that hasn’t necessarily had a platform before, which is why Ava is championing the whole inclusive movement. She is saying, there’s all of these stories and talents in every face of talent-making to tell those stories, and we’re going to show you who they are. That’s exciting.”
Taraji P. Henson was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She now stars as Cookie Lyon on the smash hit Fox series Empire, for which she won a Golden Globe Award and has twice been nominated for an Emmy. In 2016, Time magazine named Henson one of the 100 most influential people in the world on the annual Time 100 list.
Taraji appeared in our Fountain west coast premiere of The Darker Face of the Earth by Rita Dove. She has maintained her connection with the Fountain Family, seeing Fountain productions and visiting with our casts and companies after performances.
The Los Angeles Times has dubbed Diarra Kilpatrick as “a force of nature”. She is not only a dynamic actress. She is a gifted writer and ambitious creator. Her American Koko digital series, originally produced for her YouTube channel, received the Best Web Series Award at the American Black Film Festival and was lauded as a “Web Series You Should Be Watching” by Essence Magazine. ABC’s streaming service ABCd has now acquired American Koko, with Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Viola Davis producing.
“Diarra is an exceptional talent in that she cannot be put in a category,” says Davis. “She has a unique voice that transcends her generation.”
Diarra starred in the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed and award-winning Los Angeles Premiere of Tarell McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water. Diarra played Oya, a lightning-fast runner, in the stunning and lyrical drama. Since that dazzling production, Diarra has been sprinting ever since. She is now also developing The Climb for Amazon. She will write and star in the project.
The list of Fountain actresses goes on. Deidrie Henry has mesmerized audiences in such Fountain productions as Yellowman and Coming Home. She co-starred as Detective Liz Winters on the NBC TV series Game of Silence and is the national TV commercial character Annie for Popeyes. Monnae Michaell (Citizen: An American Lyric) plays Nina on the new TV series The Good Place. Tonya Pinkins (And Her Hair Went With Her) is Ethel Peabody on the television show Gotham. Tinashe Kajese will be seen in the upcoming TV movie The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Fountain veterans Tracie Thoms, Karen Malina White, Juanita Jennings, Adenrele Ojo are seen often on TV.
“I’m always thrilled to see one of our actors, any actor, male or female, succeed in the film and TV industry,” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “But to see these extraordinary women achieve these accomplishments and create change, knowing that they come from our Fountain Family, makes me even more delighted and proud.”
by Josh Gershick
Citizen: An American Lyric, the play, takes its title and text from a book of prose poetry by Claudia Rankine, finalist for 2014 National Book Award in Poetry and winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry, among other plaudits. Writing in the New York Times last June, after six black women and three black men were shot to death by a self-avowed white supremacist at a Bible-study meeting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, Ms. Rankine said, “Though the white liberal imagination likes to feel temporarily bad about black suffering, there really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black: no hands in your pockets, no playing music, no sudden movements, no driving your car, no walking at night, no walking in the day, no turning onto this street, no entering this building, no standing your ground, no standing here, no standing there, no talking back, no playing with toy guns, no living while black .”
The play – “a fast-moving collage of colliding events, fragments, vignettes and streams of consciousness”-is deeply compelling. Here, a chat with Stephen Sachs, co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre and the playwright who brought Citizen to the stage.
JOSH GERSHICK: Citizen is a beautiful piece of theatre, addressing persistent racism head on. Talk about theatre’s (and this play’s) ability to move, transform, agitate and uplift an audience.
STEPHEN SACHS: In 2014, when Claudia’s book was being published, Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, MO. I had been looking for a theatre protect that would add a unique voice to the national conversation about race in America. Racism is embedded in the fabric of our country and its founding.
We may all be created equal, but we certainly are not perceived that way by each other. I wanted to make a statement that would open the eyes, minds and hearts of audiences in unexpected ways. Quite by accident, I was caught by a review of Citizen in a national newspaper. The title immediately grabbed me. When I actually got the book, it flashed in my mind that this was the voice I was looking for. What makes the book-and the theatre piece – unique is that they expose and illuminate the sometimes unintended and unconscious acts of everyday racism. Subtle, insidious, soul crushing-the little murders we commit daily. Micro-aggressions between friends and co-workers at the market, in the office and on the subway. What we say, how we think, what we do. White privilege and dominance have been so deeply [ingrained] in this country. The play makes you see it, feel it, and think about it. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?
JOSH GERSHICK: You’ve said you’d like theatre-goers to come away with a new awareness of how they themselves might perpetuate racism. A white theatre-goer cannot, in my view, see this piece without confronting his or her own attitudes: ideas. But what is the takeaway for audiences of color, who are on the receiving end of racism?
STEPHEN SACHS: A dramatization of white dominance. A truth-telling. We had a full mix of white and black audience members throughout the run at the Fountain Theatre. Black patrons had a wide range of reactions to the play: the laughter of recognition, gasps, silence, tears. The unease of, “I can’t believe you’re really saying that,” and the delight of “I’m so glad you are.” And because it’s all about exposing and revealing hidden (and not so hidden) racism, the piece carries the call of giving voice and speaking out.
JOSH GERSHICK: The run was clearly a success. (Mazel Tov on your Stage Raw Award!) What’s next for the play?
STEPHEN SACHS: The play now is beginning its future life around the country. I’m proud that Citizen is being performed in Charleston this June, in a theatre just four blocks away from the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting there. On June 17, when we reflect on that national tragedy, the play will be there. This is deeply meaningful to me. This is why we do what we do. This is who we are. A New York production is also in the works.
JOSH GERSHICK: I think of LA theatre, 99-seat theatre, as an incubator, a cradle, a hothouse and a glorious lab for bringing forth new, compelling work-Citizen, for example and revisiting work that remains seldom produced, such as the work of Alice Childress. What percentage of new work launched at the Fountain Theatre goes on to regional stages and to NY?
STEPHEN SACHS: The Fountain Theatre is a home for artists and audiences to gather together in an intimate setting to share stories that illuminate what it means to be a human being, with the goal that new plays are then seen in theatres across the country and around the world. We may be small in size, but we’re large in heart and dedication and purpose.
Quite a number of new plays created, developed and launched at the Fountain have now been produced across the U.S.and around the world. Sweet Nothing in Ear has been performed around the country and was made into a TV movie starring Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin. What I Heard About Iraq has been performed internationally, winning the Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Our world premiere of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances was produced around the country, then opened Off-Broadway at Primary Stages in NYC, then went overseas to the Edinburgh Festival. Bakersfield Mist, performed in theatres across the country, ran for three months on the West End in London, starring Kathleen Turner, and is now being produced in regional theatres throughout the country and translated into other languages and performed worldwide. The list goes on and on.
JOSH GERSHICK: Recently a New Yorker said to me, “Oh, is there theater in Los Angeles?” True, actors, writers & directors typically make their living here in TV, film & digital platforms, but we have amazing theatre-and most abundantly and energetically, intimate theater.
STEPHEN SACHS: Los Angeles still fights for its right to be called a “theatre town,” even though-and this may surprise you-more theatre is produced in LA than any other city in the world. More than New York or London.And according to a recent report, Los Angeles is also home to more working artists than any other city in the United States. The national profile of theatre in Los Angeles has never been higher. More and more new plays created here are being produced nationwide. Still, the myth is that LA theatre is somehow less serious and that LA actors do theatre only to be seen by casting directors in “the industry,” and not for the art of the work. This simply is not true. It’s a lie. And much of the most satisfying work and the most challenging new plays are being done in LA’s intimate theaters. Larger theaters can no longer afford to take artistic risks, so all that adventurous, artistic energy is humming in the intimate theatre community. The spirit behind it, the force to create, has transformed the cultural landscape of Los Angeles.
Josh Gershick is a playwright, filmmaker and author. This post originally appeared in The Dramatist, the national magazine for The Dramatist Guild.
Stephen Sachs‘ award-winning stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, created, developed and produced last year at the Fountain Theatre, opens tonight at the Pure Theatre in Charleston, S.C. The play about racism in America will be performed as the city marks the one-year commemoration of the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel Church. The Pure Theatre is located just four blocks from the church.
In the aftermath of the shooting last June, Pure Theatre artistic director Sharon Graci was searching how to use theatre to express the grief and rage of the community. Sachs’ adaptation of Citizen was brought to her attention by one of the cast members of the Fountain Theatre production, Bernard K. Addison, a South Carolina native who knew someone who knew Graci. Once Graci read the script, she knew she had found what she was looking for.
“We are a nation in crisis,” says Graci. “And our communities are infected with both macro and micro aggressions against persons of color, and until we make a conscious decision to acknowledge the reality of this, we will not engage in meaningful dialogue, we will not change the status quo. We will remain a fractured society eating itself alive from the inside.”
Highlighted as Critic’s Choice and hailed “powerful” in the Los Angeles Times, the Fountain’s 2015 world premiere earned national attention and critical acclaim in an extended run. Sachs’ script won the Stage Raw Award for Best Adaptation.
Directed by Shirley Jo Finney — who also helmed the world premiere at the Fountain — Citizen at Pure Theatre is an event of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, Charleston’s 17-day annual celebration of the arts. Citizen runs June 3 – 10.
New York based playwright Elizabeth Irwin will be attending our hit LA Premiere of her play My Mañana Comes on Saturday May 14th at 8pm. Immediately following the performance, Irwin will be joined by the cast and director for a Q&A Talkback discussion with the audience.
My Mañana Comes is set in the frenzied kitchen of a fancy New York restaurant toiled by four busboys — three Mexican, one African American. The funny and fast-moving new play dramatizes such timely issues as immigration, undocumented workers, fair pay for labor, and chasing the American Dream.
Elizabeth Irwin was born in Worcester, raised by Brooklyn and Mexico City. She was a 2013-14 Playwrights Realm Writing Fellow and is a member of the Public Theater’s 2015 Emerging Writer’s Group. Her play My Mañana Comes received its off-Broadway debut in September 2014 at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater as Playwright Realm’s Page One Production. She continues her work with Playwrights Realm as their 2014-15 Page One Resident Playwright. She was a member of the 2012-13 Soho Rep Writer/Director Lab. Elizabeth is a graduate of Amherst and Harvard and works in the New York City public schools. She is also a pretty great procrasti-baker.
Our Los Angeles Premiere of My Mañana Comes has earned rave reviews everywhere. The Los Angeles Times hails it as “engaging”, Broadway World calls it “wonderful” and Discover Hollywood demands “don’t miss this one!” The production has also been highlighted as Ovation Recommended.
On Saturday May 14th at 8pm, Elizabeth Irwin will be joined by actors Richard Azurdia, Pablo Castelblanco, Peter Posco, Lawrence Stallings and director Armando Molina for a lively post-show discussion. A wonderful evening of great theatre and good conversation with the artists. Join us! MORE INFO/Get Tickets
Four busboys in a fancy NY restaurant juggle plates, immigration and their friendship in our LA premiere of this funny and fast-paced new play about chasing the American Dream and how far you’re willing to go to get it.
My Mañana Comes by Elizabeth Irwin, directed by Armando Molina, opens April 16 and runs to June 26. Featuring Richard Azurdia, Pablo Castelblanco, Peter Pasco, and Lawrence Stallings.
Enjoy these new photos!
by Carla Stillwell
Let me get transparent with you. I cannot stand the word “diversity.” It makes me uncomfortable because I know what it has become code for.
For the first thirty minutes or so of a plenary [at a TCG Conference in Chicago three years ago], there were several accomplished men and women of color sharing some of their experiences with diversity, or the lack thereof, in the theater community. The conversation from the panel quickly became a call to action to the executive and artistic directors in the room to make the American theater landscape match the general population in cultural and gender representations. Then it happened. A middle-aged white man from a theater company in Minnesota stood to speak. He said that he would love to put more “…blacks on stage” but he knows that that would mean that he would lose his audience base because they wouldn’t be able to “…identify with those types of stories.” Hmmm…in that moment it became painfully clear to me that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to add cultural and gender specificity to America’s theatrical landscape. People are bandying about the word “diversity” without having a real understanding of what the word means. Without a true understanding of the word, we certainly cannot move to a place of honest dialogue, and without honest dialogue we will not achieve real change.
So let’s start with defining the word “diversity.” Dictionary.com offers the following:
di·ver·si·ty [dih-vur-si-tee, dahy-] noun, plural di·ver·si·ties.
1. The state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness:diversity of opinion.
2. Variety; multiformity.
3. A point of difference.
I find a few things notable in this definition. The first is that diversity is defined as a noun and not a verb. This means that it is a state of being and not something you do. Hence one cannot perform diversity. This definition suggests that to simply do things that we think seem diverse (i.e., color blind casting) isn’t enough. The definition suggests that to achieve diversity, you have to accept difference as the rule and not the exception. Diversity has become code for throwing cultural and gender difference at a white wall and hoping that the differences stick, but being OK when some or all of them simply slide to the floor.
Per the aforementioned definition, diversity at its core means that there are a variety of things that make up a whole that have different shapes, forms, and kinds. So I think it is safe to say that a state of being diverse can only be achieved if there is variety. We have attempted to achieve diversity by keeping most things in American theater culturally homogenous and adding a dash of difference. But the definition of the word diversity lets us know that this type of thinking is topsy-turvy.
Then there is this third part of the definition, “a point of difference.” A “point” is defined in its second definition as, “a projecting part of anything.” From this one can infer that diversity is the center, the focal point, from which difference and variety project. We have attempted to introduce diversity into the American theater landscape without diversifying the centers of artistic decision-making (producers, artistic directors, board of directors, etc.) in our theatrical institutions. How can we project difference into the entire theatrical experience when the points are culturally homogenous?
I have been at the center of many of these conversations about diversity. But I believe that none of these conversations will bear the fruit of change until we all embrace the state of being diverse and stop acting out diversity.
Carla Stillwell is a theatre director, playwright and performer. She is the Managing Producer for MPAACT as well as a Playwright-In-Residence and Resident Director with the company. Additionally, Ms. Stillwell is a teaching artist for MPAACT and The Steppenwolf Theatre.