Art imitates life when the Fountain Theatre presents Talking Peace, a new 10-minute, site-specific “Zoom-within-a-Zoom” by acclaimed playwright France-Luce Benson. Talking Peace will premiere on day one of Alternative Theatre L.A.’s Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival, one of six short plays presented by Los Angeles-based theater companies on Thursday, Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. PT / 10 p.m. ET. In total, 34 companies will participate in the festival over the course of three weeks. Tickets are free, but reservations are required: RSVP at www.togetherlafestival.com.
Benson’s wittily observant take on today’s hot-button issues is set during a virtual Zoom get-together: a healing circle comes undone when an outsider finds her way in, forcing the five women to deconstruct what it means to be Black, BIPOC and bound by sisterhood.
The cast includes Paule Aboite, Miriam Ani, Janelle Lawrence, Celestine Rae and Lisa Rosetta Strum. Dr. Daphnie Sicre, who teaches directing and theater for social change at Loyola Marymount University, directs.
Benson, a Haitian-American playwright based in Los Angeles, was named “Someone to Watch” in 2019 by American Theatre magazine and is the community engagement coordinator for the Fountain.
Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival is presented by Alternative Theatre L.A. in association with the L.A. Stage Alliance. In addition to the Fountain Theatre, participating companies include24th Street Theatre, Actors Co-op, Ammunition Theatre Company, Celebration Theatre, Chance Theater, Coin and Ghost, Company of Angels, Echo Theater Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, IAMA Theatre Company, Impro Theatre, Independent Shakespeare Company, Interact Theatre Company, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, Macha Theatre, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Open Fist Theatre Company, Ophelia’s Jump Productions, Pacific Resident Theatre, Playwrights Arena, Rogue Machine Theatre, Sacred Fools Theater Company, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skylight Theatre Company, The 6th Act, The Group Rep Theatre, The Inkwell Theater, The New American Theatre, , The Road Theatre Company, The Victory Theatre Center, Theatre of NOTE, Theatre West and Whitefire Theatre.
The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally.
Alternative Theatre Los Angeles is a community of 64 professional intimate theaters, all based in the greater Los Angeles area, that came together five months ago through weekly virtual roundtables to discuss how to move through the current COVID crisis and come out stronger.
The L.A. Stage Alliance works with the theater community to expand awareness, appreciation and support of performance arts.
Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival will stream Oct. 1 through Oct. 17 via Twitch.tv. For more information, a full schedule and to RSVP, go to www.togetherlafestival.com
The Broadway League’s recent demographic report found that 83% of tickets were bought by caucasian theatregoers. Loughlin writes: “I think it’s safe to make the following conclusion: Theatre is primarily for white people, as both audience members and practitioners.”
This materializes at a time of seemingly unprecedented exposure for black female playwrights on Broadway.
This season, for apparently the first time, Broadway will host as many as four distinct works written or adapted by African American women. Already running is the Martin Luther King Jr. play The Mountaintop, by the young playwright Katori Hall, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. Also running is Stick Fly, Lydia R. Diamond’s upper-middle-class family drama, featuring Dule Hill, Mekhi Phifer and Tracie Thoms. And the new edition of the Gershwins-DuBose Heyward opera Porgy and Bess, with a revised book by Pulitzer winner Suzan-Lori Parks (Topdog /Underdog). And angling for a theater this spring is By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, by another Pulitzer recipient, Lynn Nottage (“Ruined”).
Some of the women who are being produced on Broadway this season say they are not completely sure how to characterize their rise to prominence — or even totally comfortable with their being looked upon as part of a breakthrough season.
Lydia R. Diamond
Lydia R. Diamond stops herself from the kind of pronouncement that implies a circle has been closed. Not enough work by enough people of color has regularly been produced for any kind of victory to be declared.
Says Diamond: “If Suzan-Lori and Katori and Lynn and I got together we might say, ‘It’s a little safer today, and oh, look how far we’ve come. But we still have a long way to go.’ I feel that it’s important we learn from this moment, but not be so comforted by it that it has corrected all the wrong.”
Nottage takes this observation a step further, arguing that black women remain marginalized in many other facets of the entertainment industry, and figure more centrally in writing for theater because the form has been more welcoming. “There are more of us writing at a high level than ever before,” she says. “But we have to find a medium in which we can do it. And it’s partly because we’re shut out of film and TV that we are writing for this medium.”
Broadway is also noticing the potency of African American ticket buyers, an economic force that for a long time had been undervalued.
“I think there’s a sense in the industry that there’s a black audience out there interested and engaged,” Nottage says.
In a perfect world this confluence of playwrights-of-color on Broadway would be the norm, not the exception. Playwrights rightly bristle at being sorted into categories and resist having their works considered from the perspective of the author’s racial or ethnic background. Good work should speak for itself.
Kenny Leon, the director of the recent smash revival of Fences, directed both The Mountaintop and Stick Fly. He notes, “I can’t remember the last time there were three women playwrights on Broadway during the same season, let alone three African-American women.”
Katori Hall’s ebullience over reaching Broadway is tempered by an awareness that this season is hardly a usual one. “I’m used to the Great White Way being the Great White Way,” she said, “so yes it feels really good. But I’m hesitant to celebrate because next season we may be back to white male writers only. Let’s be cautious.”
“I remember standing in line for The Color Purple with my in-laws and my mother,” in 2005, she said, “and seeing black audiences lined up around the block twice. That was sort of mind blowing for me. I thought, I don’t know why we don’t see more things like this here if there are this many people lining up to see them.”
“I’ve worked very hard with marketing people to include African-Americans,” she said. “I know that there’s a huge population interested in seeing themselves reflected onstage.” Yet, she added, “At the same time I don’t think my work speaks only to an African-American audience.”
Leon pointed to other black female writers who deserve to have their work seen on Broadway stages.
“Lynn Nottage is a top-of-the-line, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer who should have her plays on Broadway,” Mr. Leon said. “Regina Taylor is writing some great work. Pearl Cleage is still writing good plays.”
Suzan Lori Parks
It is, of course, an uphill battle for any emerging playwright to get new work presented on Broadway. But while Ms. Hall cheerfully said, “The fact that me and Lydia and Suzan are coming to Broadway I have to see as something of a triumph,” she still has discouraging memories of regional theaters, where much new American work first gets seen.
“I’ve had frank conversations with theaters who say, ‘We love your play, but we’ve already done a play by another black person this year,’ or ‘I don’t think the kind of people you write about are the ones our audience wants to see,’ ” she said. “Up and coming young black female writers are still struggling to have their voices heard and have their plays produced. I may be on the mountain right now, but they are still in the trenches.”