I’m used to it by now. I expect it. I wait for it. Whenever I travel anywhere in the country, to any state in our union, whether on a personal vacation with my wife or attending a professional theatre conference in a faraway region, once I share where I’m from and what I do for a living I am asked the same question: is Los Angeles a theatre town?
My guard quickly goes up. I shift into protective mode. Defending my city and my art form. My talking points ready. Did you know that more theatre is produced in Los Angeles, more productions of plays and musicals, than in any other city in the world — more than New York, Chicago or London? Did you know that Los Angeles is home to more working artists than any other major metropolis in the United States, including New York? According to a 2010 report commissioned by the Centerfor Cultural Innovation(CCI), Los Angeles hosts the largest pool of artists of any city in the nation. Los Angeles supports more than five times as many performing artists (actors, directors, producers), outpacing New York substantially. These facts always trigger startled looks of surprise.
Now Los Angeles is facing the same skepticism about football. With Super Bowl Sunday approaching this weekend, the nation wants to know: Is Los Angeles a football town? The answer is yes. In fact, Los Angeles is one of only two cities in the nation that has two NFL teams, the Rams and the Chargers. The other metropolis with more than one team? You guessed it. Our theatre rival, New York. Always bent on outshining us, New York has three teams.
While theatre has been performed consistently in Los Angeles since the city was founded in 1781, the Rams’ history with LA has been bumpy and uneven. The franchise began in 1936 as the Cleveland Rams in Ohio. The team moved to Los Angeles in 1946. After the 1994 season, the Rams left LA and moved to St. Louis. They returned to Los Angeles in 2016, suffering through a disappointing season. Then, like a true Hollywood story, magic happened.
In 2017, Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay became the new Rams head coach at the age of 30, making him the youngest in modern NFL history. McVay is a rock star. He is what slick and glamorous basketball coach Pat Riley was to the Lakers in the 1980’s era of Showtime. McVay is young, movie star handsome, charismatic. And a winner. In their first year under McVay, the Rams won their first NFC West title since 2003. This season, the team’s 13–3 record tied for the second-most wins in a single season in franchise history and were the most ever for any NFL team in Los Angeles. On Sunday, they perform on the league’s biggest stage. The Broadway of football. A Los Angeles team hasn’t reached the Super Bowl since 1980.
Is LA a football town? Ask Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald. “It’s a football town now.” The team’s average home attendance in the regular season was more than 72,000 fans per game at the Rams’ temporary home at the LA Coliseum.
Artist rendering of the new Rams Stadium in Inglewood.
Inglewood is now building the team a new state-of-the-art 70,240-seat stadium, scheduled to open in 2020. At a cost of more than $5 billion, it will be the world’s most expensive sports complex. More than three times the size of Disneyland and twice as big as Vatican City. The last time Los Angeles built an arts complex even close to that size was the Music Center downtown in 1964. Although one of the largest performing arts centers in the United States, the 11-acre Music Center is 1/27th the size of the future 298-acre LA Stadium campus. And you thought tickets to Hamilton were expensive? The best seat at Los Angeles’ newest stadium will come with a licensing bill of $100,000 for Rams season-ticket holders, not including the price of each ticket per game.
I hold no illusion that theatre will ever be as popular in Los Angeles as football. More human beings worldwide will watch our LA Rams in this Sunday’s Super Bowl than have seen every performance of every play and musical ever produced in Los Angeles in two hundred years. That’s okay. Something exciting is happening in this town. I can feel it. LA is undergoing a renaissance, blossoming into the city of the future. Money is pouring in, new urban development is underway everywhere, our progressive city laws and lifestyle embrace diversity and inclusion and the hope of opportunity.
For many artists across the country, LA is still the land of dreams. The region’s record in home-growing, attracting and retaining artists is unmatched. Los Angeles is still the nation’s premier place to pursue and maintain an artistic career. Its theatre community is vast, richly varied and thriving.
And the Rams are playing in the Super Bowl. Whatever the outcome this Sunday, Los Angeles comes out a winner.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre and a longtime Rams fan.
Fountain Theatre’s “Citizen: An American Lyric” at Grand Park, Los Angeles, 2018.
by Mary Gabriel
In the late 1930s, amid a global economic collapse, the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy and Japan, and an ugly U.S. nationalism that targeted asylum-seeking immigrants, abstract artists working in New York pondered the perennial question: What is the duty of the artist in troubled times?
The question was not academic. With thousands of Nazi sympathizers marching through Midtown Manhattan, Boston teenagers reenacting Kristallnacht by attacking Jewish-owned businesses, and politicians and preachers spewing messages of hate, the bonds of rational society were unraveling. And many feared that as bad as things were, the worst might be yet to come.
There seemed to be no way to escape a paralyzing sense of foreboding. And yet it was incumbent upon the artist to do just that, to rise above the daily headlines — which dancer Martha Graham said affected every muscle in the body — to transform and clarify the world they inhabited.
It wasn’t easy. When one is in the midst of tectonic historical shifts it is nearly impossible to grasp their significance, much less their outcome. And yet the artists in New York in the 1930s, and later in the 1940s when the full horror of those times became excruciatingly clear, found a way.
Art can take up residence in our minds and hearts in a way a headline cannot.
Today, in our own troubled world, artists from Los Angeles to Beijing, Moscow to Rio are grappling with similar questions. How does one write, paint, compose or perform works that describe this age without being consumed by it, without producing mere propaganda? How does one convey the simultaneous confusion and conviction, the anger and concomitant longing for calm — in short, the irrationality — with any degree of certainty? And how does one project through art a better path when the route is constantly shifting?
Faced with such a difficult task, many artists wonder if they are obliged to be chroniclers of their times. During periods of war, social strife, economic upheaval, massive industrial or technological change, is it the duty of the artist to record and reflect that chaos?
Yes it is, in part because it is impossible for a true artist to do otherwise.
Artists may work in isolation, but they are intrinsically messengers, their works communications. They also exist in a state of hyper-receptivity because every encounter and experience might produce material for the next sentence, song, photograph or canvas. Short of living in a soundproof windowless box, especially in an age such as ours, it is impossible for an artist to blot out the world.
But another, more important reason an artist must confront his or her time is that historically art and artists have explained and challenged, and that combination has produced greater understanding.
Judith Moreland and Bo Foxworth, “Building the Wall”, Fountain Theatre, 2017.
In the 1930s and 1940s, newspaper headlines, cinema newsreels, radio broadcasts and public service posters disseminated information around the clock. But those reports chronicled events. It was left to artists to ascribe meaning.
A young James Jones wrote his first novel, “From Here to Eternity,” describing the wreckage of lives upended by war. Oscar Hammerstein’s 1940 lyrics for “The Last Time I Saw Paris” evoked for generations the melancholy felt by those forced to flee Nazi advances in France. And two painters bookended the traumas of the 1930s and 1940s in their works: Picasso, with “Guernica,” which depicted the 1937 Nazi attack on the Basque capital of that name and the first “total” air raid in history, and Jackson Pollock, with his “drip” paintings 10 years later. In the wake of World War II’s atrocities, from Auschwitz to Hiroshima, Pollock painted the world as it was, a world destroyed but not irrevocably so.
Today, in our own world of blogs, bots and perpetual “breaking news,” it is left to artists to cut through the deafening noise as their forebears did in the middle of the last century — in a search for meaning and, most particularly in our case, in the service of truth.
Art can do that. Art can take up residence in our minds and hearts in a way a headline cannot. Songs, poems, paintings and film provoke, console, elucidate and elevate. It is up to each artist to find a way, and they must try. In the early 1950s, amid the Korean War and Joe McCarthy’s political witch hunts, painter Grace Hartigan said of her work, “I try to make some logic out of the world that has been given to me in chaos…. The fact that I know I am doomed to failure — that doesn’t deter me in the least.”
Hartigan and her fellow painters spent years searching for the best way to convey their era, and realized they could no longer rely on the literal people, places and things that had occupied artists for centuries. They needed to start from scratch, to find new images — a new visual language — to reflect and explain the time because nothing that had been employed before could possibly describe the devastation the world had experienced. In their studios alone, faced with a blank canvas, each painted the only thing they could trust at that broken moment — their own nature. It was a difficult personal journey, but it was not unlike the explorations that expanded the geographic reach of humankind. The artists who would become known as the Abstract Expressionists traveled so far inside themselves that they discovered a universe, and in so doing, helped a ravaged world recover by creating a new way to see.
Before his suicide in the spring of 1948, the French poet and playwright Antonin Artaud wrote a kind of memorandum to artists trying to navigate their way in a hostile world:
Of the writer, of the poet
Is not to shut himself up like a coward in a text, a book, a magazine
from which he will never emerge
But on the contrary to go out
Into the world
The mind of the public
what is he for?
And why was he born?
Mary Gabriel is an award-winning author. This post originally appeared in the LA Times.
The passionate life and self-destructive death of 1960’s dancer Fred Herko inspired friend Deborah Lawlor to write her play, Freddy, opening Wednesday at LACC Theatre Academy as a co-production with the Fountain Theatre. Her new theatre/dance work has, in turn, motivated the students and professional artists involved.
In this honest, poignant and empowering video, the company from Freddy share their thoughts and feelings on the often challenging journey of being an artist, the inner demons they face, and the wings they develop to enable them to soar.
Rejection is a part of life, just as much as it is a part of theatre. In a world where so many of us must market ourselves and are personally invested in our work, rejection can sting even more. Geraldine Downey, PhD, whose research centers on rejection, explains in an article for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that rejection is synonymous with the feelings of not being wanted or valued. Especially in a community-driven medium such as theatre, these feelings of ostracization and denial can be detrimental to an artist’s outlook on the work. Despite theatre’s vast subjectivity, and the myriad reasons anyone may miss out on an opportunity, the person we blame the most in the face of rejection is our self. Guy Winch, PhD, a frequent blogger for Huffington Post, contends that in many cases, “we start with this high volume of negative self-talk and criticism that takes the rejection to another level.” Unfortunately, competition, criticism, and casting decisions will always be an element of making theatre.
In his book Emotional First Aid, Winch offers up several ways of understanding rejection. He claims that, as an emotion, rejection quickly clouds all reason and will even supersede logic in the most dire of circumstances. Winch details an experiment in which participants were randomly excluded from a computerized program and were unable to ease their pain, even when the scientists provided a host of reasons why each test subject had been excluded. The scientists explained that nobody had legitimately excluded participants, and the results were, in fact, rigged, but subjects were still upset and emotional for being rejected. Even when the scientists told a group that the group responsible for excluding them was comprised of members of the Ku Klux Klan, individuals were still hurt. Winch concludes “reason, logic, and common sense are usually ineffective when it comes to mitigating the pain we feel.” Clearly, rejection is a powerful emotion. These findings explain why even armed with the knowledge that a casting decision was completely subjective, an actor may still struggle to come to terms with the loss of a role.
Another element of rejection is the concept of “rejection sensitivity.” In a nutshell, this idea addresses an individual’s inclination to expect or overreact to rejection. While this principle primarily applies to social rejection, theatre is, in its essence, a social art form. From being “accepted” into the cast or production team, to finding your artistic home in a new city, or gaining favorable reviews from an audience or critics, theatre is arguably more communal than more individualized artistic practices. Rejection sensitivity can be particularly detrimental to actors expecting the worst from auditions. As Shurtleff explains in a later chapter in Audition, persistence and discipline may be the key factor in an actor’s success. He even goes so far as to explicitly state that an actor can fail because “they are victimized by their limitations and prejudices” or are “ruled by their negative side.” Both of these traits are inherent in someone with high rejection sensitivity and no positive outlet for tackling their mindset.
Understanding Rejection: The Artists’ View
One of the first places many of us confront rejection is in middle and high school. From cliques, to school dances, relationships, and spring play cast lists, the potential for rejection is at an all time high. When she discussed it with me, high school theatre teacher Carrie Reiberg said that rejection comes with the territory when casting a play. “I see rejection happen a lot when casting…it wouldn’t be realistic or honest of me to cast every actor every time they audition,” she says. She discusses that fairness is at the heart of her classroom, since if she doesn’t cast the best actor for the role at the time, “you are setting actors up to fail in the ‘real world’ when they try to make a living as working actors.” If the same actors get the leading roles throughout the formative years of their acting career, they may develop unhealthy expectations for what will happen post-graduation. Continue reading →
Our house divided? It can seem. There are days and nights like these when only what is wrong is what one sees.
Where once we felt safe, we are now afraid. Shootings. Bombings. Racial tension. Violence. Fear. Aggression. Terror. Polarization. The chasm in our country separating the haves from have-nots, the soaring from the struggling, grows wider. Officers we pay to protect us are shooting us. Public servants we elect to represent us serve themselves. A candidate spews hateful division as his poll numbers grow.
There’s a kind of insanity seeping in. A dis-ease. An unravelling. An anxious self-protection splits us further and further apart.
Disconnection can seem everywhere.
Here in Los Angeles on my own artistic landscape. As Actors Equity Association tries to force its new plan that imposes conflicting rules and opposing financial burdens on a vast mixture of intimate theaters in LA — pitting membership companies against sub 5o-seat houses against staff-driven theaters — I fear fragmentation and division on the horizon for our intimate theatre community as we are disjoined from one 99-Seat Plan for all to segregation, separate and not equal.
Can we come together? Stay together? Or will we fragment and divide?
Then I consider an audience. Any audience.
In our world of theatre, the wide variety of individuals who gather to see a play on any given night in any theatre in this country — no matter the number of people or their diversity of race, ethnicity, age, gender, social standing, neighborhood — are referred to as one entity. They are the audience. Singular. Not plural. Composed of unique and separate individuals who, together, become one thing.
Like the motto of our nation: Out of many, one.
I see it happen all the time in my theatre on Fountain Avenue. The pre-show bustle of patrons before a performance. Folks dash into the lobby, check their smartphones, launch last-minute texts, chatter brightly with each other, get a drink, go to the bathroom. They come from all over the city. From varied neighborhoods, all manner of jobs, vastly different lives. Yet, when curtain time is called, they somehow find their seats together. A Highland Park bus driver sits next to a Century City attorney sits next to a Sherman Oaks nurse sits next to a Koreatown hairdresser.
The lights then go down. The smartphones are silenced, programs are stashed, eyes and ears are trained forward. A hush blankets the crowd. A light warms the stage. An actor makes the first entrance. The play begins.
And it happens.
The outside world evaporates. And this seated mass of human individuals slowly, steadily transforms as they are pulled deeper into the story unfolding before them on stage. One hundred people will see the same performance and see one hundred different plays at the same time, but there is also a shared thing, a unity that happens. An audience becomes a living thing, a dynamic organism that laughs and breathes and interconnects with itself energetically for its brief time together between lights up and lights down. Out of many, one.
And what do we call the area where the audience sits? We don’t call it the sitting area, or thezone or thesector. We call it the house. In the theatre, the audience sits in our house.
And for these shared hours, these shimmering minutes, this gathering of separate people agree to enter into the sacred pact to become an audience, together. The house begins divided. It ends as one.
The purpose of meaningful theatre is to tell stories that illuminate what it means to be a human being. And by its very nature, because it is performed by human beings — live, in the moment, in front of other beings — it puts a human face on issues that confound us all. It humanizes our conflicted ideas about ourselves, each other and our world. Race, religion, poverty, politics, sex and social challenges are embodied on a stage in personal stories of loss and triumph about specific human beings. In a play, ideas, themes and concepts are distilled into the needs and journeys of people.
When an audience is pulled into the world of a meaningful play and emotionally invests in the struggles of the characters on stage, the artificial divide between audience and actor mysteriously falls away and the characters become real. We feel we know them, we care about their outcome. And the alchemy of empathy begins. “They” become “us”. We identify. That character is me.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another human being. The capacity to feel what another being is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference.
A good play can do that.
Healing and transformation begins with the understanding that there is no other, the other is me. A meaningful night in the theatre can create the connection of empathy in ourselves that allows us to wake the next morning with a new awareness of each other, as sisters and brothers. Each of us unique and separate. And, at the same time, not so different.
As an audience, as a city, as a nation.
We are, out of many, one.
Stephen Sachs is the co-founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
An aspiring actress on the Fountain Theatre stage.
by Scott T. Barsotti
Most of us who make theatre have found ourselves, at one point or another, in a conversation about why we do what we do. No matter the reason for one’s passion for theatre, a sentiment that is common among theatre artists is that theatre is what they were born to do. Believe it or not, there’s now data to back this up. Researchers at Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation began studying theatre artists in 2011 in an attempt to understand how this group differs from the average population in terms of aptitude.
Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation, named for its founder, is a Boston-based nonprofit that studies differences in human abilities. Generally speaking, an individual is considered to possess an aptitude if they show ability that meets or exceeds the 70th percentile in their age-norm group. Among Johnson O’Connor’s twenty-two standard aptitude tests, results show long-term relative stability, meaning a person who has a particular aptitude at age fifteen will still have that same aptitude at age fifty-five regardless of his or her education, experience, or acquired skill. The suggestion is that talent—or at least talent of certain types—is natural rather than created.
Where a skill is something that is developed over time, built up by practice and refined in the foundries of repetition, an aptitude is something present in our mental framework, something inextricable from our natural selves that allows us to complete a task or learn something more quickly and easily than our peers can. O’Connor discovered through his research that professionals who possess aptitude for their chosen field are markedly more satisfied in their work.
One way in which the Foundation broadens its research is to conduct career validation studies, in which a group of professionals in a specific field or job are tested to see if there are similarities in how they score on aptitude tests. This is where theatre artists come in.
Scott T. Barsotti
The Theatre Artist Study
I myself am a playwright. I had my first play produced professionally in 2003, and moved to Chicago to get my MFA and pursue a career in theatre. Like many artists, I’ve had to supplement my creative work with a stable job. I discovered Johnson O’Connor’s Chicago lab through a friend and found the company’s history and mission to be fascinating. The tests are standardized, so to give and interpret them one must simply learn how to give and interpret them. Once I completed my training, it didn’t take long for me to become curious about how my fellow theatre people might score on O’Connor’s tests. The Foundation had never researched theatre artists before, so my pitch for a new study was met with enthusiasm.
From 2011 to 2014, the Foundation collected data from theatre professionals—primarily Chicago-based artists—by having them complete an online survey about career goals and preferences, followed by the aptitude tests. Over one hundred and thirty participants ended up taking the full test battery. To qualify as a “professional,” for our purposes, a theatre artist was expected to be currently active in the field, as well as meet at least one other criterion, such as a degree in theatre arts or affiliation with a trade association/union. Acknowledging that many theatre artists wear multiple hats in the industry, a participating artist also had to self-identify his or her primary role in theatre. This was a forced choice and, for many, the most agonizing part of the testing. These categories were necessary so that we could not only see how theatre artists differ from the average person in a broader sense, but then also study how they differ from each other. Ultimately, we ended up with six groups: actors, directors, playwrights, designers, technicians (including stage managers, production managers, and technical directors), and then a sixth group which included all theatre professionals together in one sample.
Theatre and Divergent Thinking
One category of aptitudes that stands out for all theatre artists, regardless of primary role, were the abilities classified as divergent thinking. Briefly, divergent thinking refers to thought processes by which a person generates new ideas or considers many possible outcomes (as opposed to convergent thinking which follows logic and rules to arrive at a specific or correct solution). The Foundation administers two measures of divergent thinking, one called Ideaphoria (literally: flow of ideas) and another called Foresight.
Let’s start with Foresight, as it is the singular aptitude shared by all groups of theatre professionals we studied. Foresight is a name given to the talent for “seeing possibilities.” Those with an aptitude for Foresight may traditionally find outlets for it in entrepreneurial ventures, research and development, nonprofit work, and other areas that encourage a future-oriented approach to big picture questions and problems. High Foresight scorers are often viewed as dreamers, though they may think of themselves as visionaries, those people who are primarily concerned not with what’s happening today, but with what possibilities might exist or emerge down the road. Foresight is about creativity in concept.
Playwrights use Foresight in imagining characters, plot points, and themes. Directors use Foresight while exploring production and staging concepts in order to realize the world of the play, or in re-envisioning a classic text. Designers use Foresight in everything they do; theatre designers, like visual artists, have to take raw materials and imbue them with storytelling and expression. Actors use Foresight in testing various readings of a character, scene, or line, and in imagining backstory and situations outside the play that may inform their characters’ choices. And perhaps most interestingly are those in stage and production management, who also scored high in Foresight but for whom the ability likely factors in as less a creative ability per se, and more an ability to see a theatrical project as a long-term series of phases, problems, and competing deadlines.
Foresight tends to influence people in other ways, as well. High Foresight scorers are more likely to be motivated by long-term challenging goals; in some cases that may be a more nebulous goal with no distinct end date (like, for example, mastering one’s artistic craft). High Foresight scorers also tend toward a dogged persistence in their endeavors; once they have a goal in mind it can be difficult to knock them off that path. Sound familiar?
As mentioned, the other divergent thinking aptitude measured by Johnson O’Connor is called Ideaphoria, the aptitude for idea flow. Ideaphoria is useful for generating content and maintaining a fluency in communication; it’s commonly seen among journalists, schoolteachers, salespeople, and professionals in typical “creative” fields like marketing and public relations. All groups of theatre artists registered above average scores in Ideaphoria, but the statistical spike was most notable among directors and playwrights. While not as prominent in the sample as Foresight, Ideaphoria makes sense as an ability shared by directors and playwrights, as they are the artists most frequently in the position to have to communicate, or even sell, their ideas.
The theatre artist sample did not show significant scoring trends in numerical aptitude, clerical ability, inductive reasoning, or fine motor dexterity. There were, however, significant trends in:
Theatre artists as a group scored significantly above the Foundation mean in a type of convergent thinking called Analytical Reasoning, which is the ability to arrange ideas and concepts into a logical sequence or system. Often seen among editors, computer programmers, and urban planners, Analytical Reasoning was found to be highest among the playwrights we tested. Carlos Murillo, a playwright and the head of playwriting for The Theatre School at DePaul University, had this to say about his high score: “In a sense, at least in the way I work and teach, convergent thinking can’t really happen without divergent thinking,” he says. “When you make an ideaphoric mess it requires analytical [reasoning] to make heads or tails of it and shape it into something that has coherence.”
The aptitude for Structural Visualization (the ability to visualize objects and structures in three-dimensional space and rotate them mentally) is an aptitude we commonly associate with most types of engineering, physical sciences, and architecture. In this area, theatre designers as well as technicians scored high. Spatial aptitude seems like a more obvious fit for technical directors as well as scenic, costume, and lighting design, but sound designers in the group also fit the trend. In music, structural visualization tends to be higher among composers than among performing musicians; perhaps sound designers use the ability in building cues, planning how sound interacts with the action of the play, and in composing original music.
Designers and technicians scored similarly to each other in another way: they both scored high in Memory for Design (the ability to retain and recall two-dimensional images and patterns) and Observation (the ability to recognize small visual details and remember their positions). These abilities are generally useful in artistic and design fields, but also have applications in certain scientific and medical roles. Considering the amount of diagrams, plots, and plans that any designer or technician has to keep track of, these aptitudes surely make the job easier. (It will delight stage managers to know that among all of the groups, Observation was lowest among directors.) Additionally, designers were found to score high in a third visual aptitude: Color Discrimination, the ability to recognize very fine differences in color.
The Foundation measures three auditory abilities that are generally considered to be “music aptitudes,” and the theatre artists tended toward higher auditory scores across the board; however, actors scored higher than the other groups on the tests of Tonal Memory (tonal sequences and melody) as well as Rhythm Memory (timing patterns and cadence). Tonal Memory would find some clear uses in musical theatre or other plays with songs, while Rhythm Memory can also aid a performer in dance, movement and fight choreography, and comedic timing. Additionally, auditory aptitudes may help actors during the process of memorization or in picking up a new dialect.
Personality and Work Approach
In the Johnson O’Connor test battery there is one solitary personality test, which takes the form of a Word Association exercise. An examinee is prompted with a series of words, and is asked to respond with the first word that comes to mind. Responses on this test help to categorize examinees into two broad groups: those with an “Objective” work approach, and those with a “Subjective” work approach. Those with an Objective approach tend to favor generalist roles in which they find success working through others (e.g., managers, executives), whereas those with a Subjective approach tend to prefer operating as a specialist and finding success through individual effort (e.g., surgeons, artists). Group contact and variety tend to be extremely important to Objective personalities; expertise and autonomy tend to be the desires of the Subjective scorers. Most people who are tested by the Foundation fall into one of these two broad categories, although there is a segment of the population that scores “Intermediate,” or right on the border. Intermediate scorers may find aspects of both approaches to be relatable and not need to strongly honor one over the other.
Accepting that, we anticipated more Objective scores from the theatre artists, in particular among groups like directors and stage managers, who must always find success by coordinating the efforts of other people. In fact, directors did trend toward somewhat more Objective scores, but not to the extent anticipated. Theatre artists in general scored much more Subjective than expected.
“It affirms the idea that none of us can go it alone; teamwork is essential,”
Dorothy Milne, Artistic Director of Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre, has some insight: “My own aptitudes are sharply demarcated between what comes effortlessly to me and what is near impossible,” she remarked, citing a common experience with aptitude testing. “It affirms the idea that none of us can go it alone; teamwork is essential,” Milne said. “I bring my area of expertise to every theatrical enterprise—but I also count on mining each team member’s areas of specialty.” When considering the production of a play, each artist has a unique role to fill. So while collaboration is vital to the successful creation of a piece of theatre, perhaps it is a specific type of collaboration—not group-work as we often think of it, but rather the sum total of like-minded experts.
Objective theatre artists were less likely than Subjective scorers to report that they were currently satisfied by their theatre careers. That could suggest that theatre as an industry does not provide as many fulfilling opportunities for generalists. Or it could be that Objective theatre artists need to be very careful about what kinds of projects they seek out; for example, it would stand to reason that Objective artists may find devised, large ensemble, or community-centric work to be more gratifying than other modes of playmaking.
So what does all of this mean? For one thing, it tells us that artists who gravitate toward certain specialties are often driven by more than just creative ambition and personal interest. In many cases, they may be following a path that’s more biological than it is deliberate. This is not to say that we are predestined to be one kind of artist and only that.
Take my aptitude pattern, for example: I score much more like a designer than I do like a playwright. Does this influence how I write plays? Without a doubt. When I write, I have a strong sense of how the play will look in motion; I like to invite bold design choices, often including physical hindrances and complicated mechanics in my plays, but I always have an idea of how these elements might be realistically achieved. I also like to layer and weave dialogue in a quasi-spatial way, almost like composing a song. Since I’m wired to think more visually and spatially, that seeks outlets in my approach to writing, and my awareness of this is extremely beneficial. I don’t have the Ideaphoria aptitude like many other playwrights, so the pages aren’t just going to flow out of me like water from a open hydrant; I don’t have an aptitude for Analytical Reasoning either, so it behooves me to be open to structural feedback from directors and dramaturges.
In theatre, our roles are often fluid and we have room to explore and discover as well as magnificently fail. Especially in university drama programs across the country, young artists have opportunities to challenge their perceptions of themselves and their abilities as they search for their theatrical niche. Murillo remarked that what he learned from his test results has helped him in his thinking, not only about his own writing, but also about how he structures his playwriting courses. “I have incorporated [Ideaphoria and Foresight] into my teaching vocabulary,” he said, “[I encourage my students] to say yes to all ideas good and bad, let free associations flow, embrace the multiple possible directions any given idea might lead you.”
The mission of Johnson O’Connor is to unlock human potential. It’s a lofty mission that is, in various ways, shared by many practitioners of the theatre. What does it mean to be human? How can we better understand ourselves? Our partners? Our fellow citizens? Why do we behave the way we do? What are the difficulties we face? There are myriad factors at play that make up who we are as people, as artists, and as a community. This study provides empirical evidence that while we are all individuals, there is a certain sameness among those of us who make theatre, common curious energies that seek to find expression in this most limitless of art forms. What do we do with those energies—indeed, those gifts?
We see possibilities. We make worlds.
Scott T. Barsotti is a playwright and performer originally from Pittsburgh, PA. This post originally appeared in Howlround.
“Eloquent … The play resonates with double-edged truths … striking visual and emotional strokes … it unfolds in achingly personal terms,” writes the Times, while the Hollywood Reporter commends “a peerless realization by a splendid cast.” The Santa Monica Daily Press raves, “Just-about-perfect… [a] stellar presentation bound to resonate with everyone,” and BroadwayWorld calls the Fountain production “extraordinary.”
Directed by Stephen Sachs and starring Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis, My Name Is Asher Lev is the powerful story of a young Jewish painter and his struggle to become an artist at any cost – even against the will of his parents and the traditions of his ultra-orthodox Hasidic community. Exploring questions of art, family, religion and loyalty, this extraordinary adaptation is a compelling look at the cost of individuality.
My Name Is Asher Lev Extended to May 18 (323) 663-1525MORE
Thought-provoking, unpredictable and wholly magnificent
by David C. Nichols
Saw My Name is Asher Lev last night. Will likely be thinking about it for quite some time to come. The Fountain Theatre continues its ongoing roll with this potent three-hander based on Chaim Potok’s best seller about an Orthodox Jew in post-WWII Brooklyn torn between Hasidic tradition and his nascent artistic gifts. That last aspect typifies the production, which is, even by this venue’s high standards, thought-provoking, unpredictable and wholly magnificent.
Stephen Sachs has done meaningful direction before, and often. Yet the emotional acuity, transitional clarity and specificity of detail he mines from Aaron Posner’s affecting adaptation is at an elevated level from anything previous seen. Design credits are refined and resourceful across the board: Jeff McLaughlin’s symbolist set, Ric Zimmerman’s pin-point lighting plot, Shon LeBlanc’s usual spot-on wardrobe choices, Diane Martinous’ wigs — it’s ALWAYS about the hair — and Lindsay Jones’ evocative music and sound cues add immeasurably to an unusually engrossing and polished execution.
Speaking of which, the cast is exceptional — seamlessly vivid, nuanced and committed. Jason Karasev, so memorable in Tape at the Fringe a couple of cycles back, is heartbreaking as the title character at various ages, surmounting the pitfalls of playing so wide a range with faultless technique, so invested that a late-inning embarrassed moment finds him blushing, just as the character would.
Joel Polis has long been a local exemplar of character acting, so proficiency is expected. However, his assumption of Asher’s father, rabbi, uncle, artistic mentor, etc. literally seems like a different person with each entrance, from subtleties of dialect to physical posture and so forth. An astonishing turn, even from this actor.
And the ever-remarkable Anna Khaja, whose name this observer would enjoy merely seeing in print, reaches mesmeric, even preternatural depths inhabiting respectively, Asher’s mother, first patroness and the artist’s model who elicits the aforementioned blush, her inwardly shifting reactions and light-to-dark-and-back modulations defying criticism — a transcendent performance.
Which essentially describes the whole deeply touching show. It’s an early bar-setter for the theatrical year, an unprepossessing triumph for all concerned and an unforgettable experience. Don’t. Miss. It.
David C. Nichols is a freelance theater reviewer at the Los Angeles Times.
Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis in ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’.
by Renisha Marie
I recently caught Stephen Sachs’ thought-provoking, profound and riveting production of the play, My Name Is Asher Lev, taken from Chaim Potok’s 1972 novel of the same name, adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner.
The play is set in the 1950s, in the Brooklyn home of a Hasidic Jewish family, where a six-year-old boy named Asher Lev discovers an amazing gift bubbling within him. At a young age, the precocious Asher developed within him a strong fixation for art along with a focused, relentless, and positive can-do attitude.
Asher’s gift sends him on an amazing expedition of self-discovery and self-worth. The journey puts him at odds with his family’s expectations and religion, all for the sake of his passion for art.
My Name Is Asher Lev is a moving, challenging and thought-provoking play that crosses the lines of organized religion, ethnicity, and color, presenting for examination, on a universal level, readily identifiable social – human – conflicts. Follow me as we journey though the world of director and playwright Stephen Sachs:
Renisha Marie: Were there any personal parallels that brought you to the story?
Stephen Sachs: My parents were always very supportive of me wanting to be a theatre artist, so I never faced the intense parental conflicts that Asher battles in the play. For me personally, the closest parallel to Asher’s need to be an artist lies with my 18-year-old son, Daniel. He’s an artist. Like Asher, he’s been drawing since he was a little boy and it’s very clear that art is the path he is meant to follow.
Daniel reminds me of Asher in that he, too, has a gift and is passionate and determined to become who he is meant to be.
I wanted to do this play for my son.
Renisha Marie: What mindset did you have to possess in order to come out winning over your adversities?
Stephen Sachs: Whether guiding the Fountain Theatre for twenty-four years or simply surviving as an artist, the mindset that has served me best is when I trust my own artistic instincts and follow my heart. The more one does that, the more you develop an inner voice that speaks the truth to you and the more you learn to listen to it. The times when I’ve gotten myself into artistic trouble are the times when I refused to listen to what that inner voice was whispering.
Renisha Marie: What qualities were you probing for during casting?
Anna Khaja, Joel Polis, Jason Karasev.
Stephen Sachs: The play requires three exceptionally talented actors who must possess a very unique set of acting skills. Two of the actors play a variety of roles and must change character quickly, so you need actors with the technical skill to do that and who also possess the professional craft to be specific with each character and also have a deep emotional well that is truthful and honest. The actor playing Asher has the challenge of serving both as narrator and participant in the story. He must lead us on this journey and hold our attention, all the while being engaging and charming while wrestling with these very deep, profoundly personal struggles over family and self-identity. We must care about him deeply and want him to find his true way.
I’m blessed to have Jason, Joel and Anna — three gifted actors who worked very hard and are utterly dedicated to serving the play at the highest level possible.
Jason Karasev as Asher Lev.
Renisha Marie: What individual qualities did you see in Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja, and Joel Polis that made them stand out above the rest?
Stephen Sachs: I prefer working with actors I already know and trust. Jason was new to me; I had never seen him before. But, when Jason auditioned, there was no question in my mind that he was my Asher. He naturally had everything I was looking for: the right look, the intelligence, humor, charm, the ability to hold the stage as a storyteller, and the complexity and emotional depth as an actor. Anna and Joel are both actors I’ve known and respected for years, although this is the first project we’ve actually worked on together. Anna has a remarkable authenticity as an actress; her river runs deep. Joel has tremendous versatility and a fierce dedication mixed with a delicious sense of humor. Together, the three of them blend marvelously and have developed into an extraordinary, seamless ensemble.
Renisha Marie: What do you love about your work?
Stephen Sachs: What I love most about theatre is when I see how the work we create changes lives. The moments of artistic expression that have given me the most satisfaction are the ones when I see audiences profoundly moved — and somehow changed — by what we’ve just experienced together. It’s hard to pinpoint but you know it, you feel it, when it happens.
A connection happens between the actors on stage and the people in the audience, and between audience members themselves, when we all share in this deeply human experience and are somehow lifted and exalted by it. Moments like that make everything else worthwhile.
If you have a passion of any kind, then My Name Is Asher Lev is the play for you.
Production photos by Ed Krieger. Renisha Marie is a feature writer for Examiner.
My Name Is Asher Lev Now – April 19 (323) 663-1525MORE
Audiences are loving our Los Angeles Premiere of My Name Is Asher Lev at theFountain Theatre. Preview performances began this weekend and our powerful production based on the best-selling novel by Chaim Potok about a Jewish boy struggling to become an artist against the will of his family earned standing ovations from deeply moved patrons. Preview performances continue this week. We officially open this Saturday, Feb 22nd and run to April 19th.
First Preview Saturday night.
The talented trio of actors play all the characters in the play directed by Stephen Sachs. The cast includes Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis.
Previews are early performances in front of an audience as the artistic and production team make final adjustments prior to opening. It’s all part of the creative process and we so enjoy meeting our audiences after each performance and chatting about the issues of the play.
Enjoy These Photos From the Sunday Matinee Preview
My Name Is Asher Lev Now thru April 19 (323) 663-1525MORE