Tag Archives: Dionna Michelle Daniel

One sentence that seared a book, highlighted a play, and inspired a young playwright

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Darius R. Booker, Morgan Camper, and Derek Jackson in “Gunshot Medley”

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 feel most colored

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

Fountain Folk: “This is where things are happening”

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Karin, Aliza and Victor

by Dionna Michelle Daniel

Our Fountain Family is at the core of our theatre. This week, I had the privilege to sit down with a few of our patrons before the Monday night performance of our hit production,  The Chosen. Our conversations were not only enriching but made me proud of our thriving LA theater community.

At the beginning of the night, I spoke with Fountain first-time patrons Debbie and Cathy.  They expressed how they are usually season ticket holders at the Mark Taper Forum and generally like to view larger productions in the LA area. However, when they heard that Chaim Potok’s The Chosen was being performed, they bought tickets. “It’s one of my favorite books,” Cathy exclaimed.

The exceptional reviews for The Chosen have been bringing more first-time patrons to our door. So has the universal message of acceptance that is at the core of both the book and stage adaptation. The play has also been very inspirational and heartwarming for LA’s Jewish community, bringing some back to the beauty and wisdom of tradition. While speaking with patrons, I met a group of Sephardic theatre goers who were also equally excited to see Chaim Potok’s work adapted for the stage. Here is a snippet of my conversation with Fountain patrons Karin, Aliza and Victor.

Q: Is this your first time at the Fountain?

Victor: No, we were here many years ago. This has been here a long time, no? Maybe like 30 years ago.

Q: Do you like to see theater in LA?

Victor: Yes yes, we love [theatre] …. We used to [go]  all the time at the Ahmanson and  buy their [season subscription] but not this year.

Aliza: Well you have a community that is goes to theater. You have a community for everything [in LA.]

Victor: One of the things that I like about Los Angeles is that there is theater. You know, I’m from Mexico City. We are from Mexico City. (Pointing to himself and Aliza) She is from Buenos Aires, (Pointing to Karin) Mexico City is the place for theatres, ya know. So I am used to the theatre. That’s why one of the reasons I like to be here in Los Angeles is because this is where things are happening. When I moved to California, first I moved to Del Mar and I found it quite boring.

Q: Where is that?

Victor: Del Mar is north of San Diego. Even San Diego itself is no comparison to Los Angeles. Of course, this is no comparison with New York. I wish I were in New York and I’m not in New York so at least I’m in Los Angeles.

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Debbie and Cathy

Q: What brought you tonight to The Chosen?

Victor: Our friend Karin invited us!

Karin: The president of our synagogue, we’re Jewish, told me. We like Flamenco so we told them that they play Flamenco there. He said, “We saw The Chosen there!” So we bought tickets.

Q: Have you read The Chosen?

All: Yes! Of course!

Q: How has your overall experience been so far since getting to the theater?

Victor: I just arrived here and very excited. I like very much plays. As I was telling you, we buy the yearly pass for the Ahmanson Theater. It’s a completely different experience. I think here it’s more the kind of people who are really interested in theater.

Aliza: The good thing in LA is the people. You will have people from India, from Mexico from South America from Europe! You have a mix of cultures and it’s the same in the theater. You will have theaters for certain groups. Every area has its own community!

Q: And will you be back for Forever Flamenco at the Fountain?

Victor: (gesturing to his wife Aliza) We have children who are twins and yesterday was their 18th birthday. And I told Aliza, I wanted to go to a restaurant to see Flamenco. I didn’t know it was here. Because I wanted to see something Flamenco. We are Sephardic, ya know. Sephardic from Spain. There was a Sephardic show in one of the synagogues in Beverly Hills but I wasn’t able to take my children.  I want them to see, so we’ll be here!

If you’d like to share your own experience at The Fountain Theatre on our Fountain Folk blog, please contact Outreach Coordinator, Dionna Michelle Daniel at dionna@fountaintheatre.com

 

Your stories matter: When encountering ‘the other’ becomes “just people being people”

diversity collageBy Dionna Michelle Daniel

Last week’s blog post,  I asked our Fountain friends and community to send in their own stories about how confronting “The Other” led to a deeper understanding and compassion. Below are a few responses we received. On the day we mark the 50th anniversary of the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King, we hope these stories on empathy and compassion inspire you.

Marrock Sedgwick, LGBTQ Activist & Filmmaker

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“I had some people come up to me after seeing my film that had some kind of spiritual reckoning within themselves making them tell me they will do better by LGBT people. That felt pretty damn good.Most of the time when I confront the other I just get told to ‘F’  off.” – Marrok Sedgwick

Manon Manavit, Director & Theatre Artist

Manon Manavit

Manon Manavit

“A man selling hotdogs in New York gave me a hot dog for free because he was ‘promoting peace between muslims and Jews’ it was so beautiful I cried..he was Palestinian” – Manon Manavit

Saurav Jammalamadugu, Actor

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“There was a moment where my family and I were on a train to Portland from San Jose and on the train, we were riding first class which meant we had access to a pretty fancy parlor car. Anyway, the lady who was serving us breakfast had to note and constantly point out “how strange it was” that my parents didn’t eat meat for religious purposes. So to calm the tension, I explained to her that we were Hindu, and that some people in our religion think that it’s harmful to eat something that’s killed but, I’d like a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. To which she again remarked how odd it was but after she walked away with our order seemed to realize that it was just people being people.” – Saurav Jammalamadugu

Thank you to all who responded, if you would like to share your story please email me at dionna@fountaintheatre.com! Your stories matter.

Dionna Michelle Daniel is the Outreach Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.

Tell me your story on how confronting “the other” led to deeper understanding

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An embrace at a rally in Gainesville, Florida

by Dionna Michelle Daniel

Several summers ago, I had one of the strangest morning commute experiences of my life.

I was working as a spoken word mentor to youth at Authoring Action Organization in Winston-Salem, NC. Every morning I’d ride my bike to the closest bus stop which was near the super Wal-Mart, wait around for the 7:40 bus, and travel across town to work. North Carolina summer mornings are particularly beautiful with the sun rising over a completely green landscape, the thickness of the humid air and the dew still sprinkled among the grass. Those bike rides became my daily ritual.

swatiska tatoo 2One morning I arrived at the bus stop to be met by a man completely covered head to toe in tattoos. The subject matter of his tattoos were of the white supremacist variety. He was completely bald and on the back of his head sat a large swastika. His arms and chest were also decorated in the Confederate flag. Not only did I feel uncomfortable as a black young woman who I had to be alone with this man, waiting for a late bus, but then it got even stranger when he decided to engage in small talk with me. He went on to talk about his past, how everyone he grew up with was a racist, how he became a skinhead, how he went to jail and how he realized his beliefs were awful after truly meeting and empathizing with people of color. He went on to say that he kept the tattoos as a reminder of his transformation and that people can change.

The bus eventually came and as I struggled to put my bike on the rack, he helped me out and then we parted ways. Why this man felt the need to tell me these things so early on hot humid morning, I have no idea. What I do know is that if this same man tried to have this conversation with me today, I’m not sure I would have engaged or listened.

After Trump was elected, I unapologetically deleted a slew of old Facebook friends. A lot of the ones deleted where old middle & high school classmates that I knew growing up in rural North Carolina. Now my Facebook feed is completely curated to a more liberal, anti-Trump demographic with the occasional far-right article that somehow finds it way onto my news feed. At that time, it was great to delete all of those people from my life. However, I’m sure they still say problematic things and are complicit to hate speech. The only thing that changed after deleting them was that I don’t have to view their rhetoric.

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“Gunshot Medley” by Dionna Michelle Daniel

As an artist and activist, I am interested in humanity’s capacity to change. I’m interested in transforming hearts & minds in a way that has lasting impact like the former skinhead I met at the bus stop. That’s why I believe that for real change to begin the divide has to be bridged and discourse must happen. I’m not saying that we should re-add every problematic person we deleted from Facebook after the 2016 elections. Neither should we try to humanize every racist, misogynist, xenophobe or any other person who doesn’t believe in a more diverse future. What I do believe is that if we keep ignoring one another, we will definitely keep the divide polarized. Beginning some sort of dialogue is the best way to bridge the gap. And the best way I know how to contribute to this conversation is through theatre.

At the Fountain, our current season is dedicated to inclusion and awareness of people who are generally marked as “other”. Our current show, The Chosen, focuses on two boys forming an unlikely friendship that all started because of their love of baseball. This summer, we will open an original work by Stephen Sachs called Arrival & Departure, which beautifully recognizes and brings attention to the Deaf community. That will be followed by the west coast premiere of Cost of Living, Martyna Majok’s poignant play dramatizing two characters with physical disabilities.

Our mission is to share diverse stories, break down barriers and bridge the divide. Now it’s your turn to tell me your story. I want to know about an experience when you bridged the gap and shared a moment/bonded with a person who was different from you.  Please email your story to me at dionna@fountaintheatre.com and perhaps we can share it here on the Fountain Blog.

Dionna Michelle Daniel is the Outreach Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre. 

 

From rejection pile to Pulitzer Prize: Women of color rise to take stage as playwrights nationwide

 

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Vickie Ramirez, unidentified, Nikkole Salter, Roberta Uno, Dionna Michelle Daniel, Marissa Chibas, Lynn Nottage (photo: ArtsChangeUs)

by Dionna Michelle Daniel

On March 6th, I had the pleasure of participating in the book launch at The Public Theater for the anthology Contemporary Plays by Women of Color edited by Roberta Uno. Not only was a scene from my play, Gunshot Medley, performed that afternoon but I also performed onstage with my actors Derek Jackson & Morgan Camper. 

Gunshot Medley stretches across the Antebellum American south through present day to weave a rich history of the Black-American experience, responding to the historical expendability of Black bodies and the lives lost to hatred, racism, and police brutality. I first wrote the play in response to the Charleston church shootings and the debate surrounding the insensitive usage of the Confederate flag. The play, combining spoken word and live music, sheds new light on the American slave narrative while paying homage to the real Betty, Alvis, and George, three historically documented slaves that died in North Carolina before the emancipation proclamation was signed.

After the selected scene performances, such playwrights included in the anthology as Lynn Nottage, Marissa Chibas, Nikkole Salter, Vickie Ramirez and I signed books in The Public Theater’s lobby. The energy in the room was magnetic and powerful with so many women taking up that kind of space. 

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Vickie Ramirez, Dionna Michelle Daniel, Marissa Chibas, Oskar Eustis (photo: ArtsChangeUs)

None of this would have been possible without the genius of Roberta Uno (Director of Arts in a Changing America). Roberta edited the 1st and 2nd editions of the anthology, the 1st edition being published a little over 20 years ago with such playwrights as Anna Deavere Smith and Elizabeth Wong. I even remember discovering the 1st edition in my undergraduate library while perusing the shelves, hoping to find work that represented me. As a young undergraduate actress at the California Institute of the Arts, I was thankful to have instructors such as Nataki Garrett and Marissa Chibas who aided in helping me find material I could relate to.

However, I know this is not the case for every young person of color (POC) actor and actress who is currently seeking a degree in acting. So often, I’ve heard my fellow black actors at other institutions talk about not knowing any contemporary black material they can do scene work from. They say that their instructor is usually giving them material from August Wilson’s body of work. Although August Wilson’s work is beautiful and presents the African-American experience in such a deep and profound way, it appears we have forgotten there are other great black writers out there. And, of these overlooked black playwrights, it is the women who are most forgotten.

At the book launch, Roberta Uno spoke about how she acquired a lot of the material for this current anthology. She said she spoke to many theaters and artistic directors asking for their rejection piles. It was clear to her that in this rejection pile was where most of the work submitted by women playwrights resided.

On the bright side, it seems that the theater world is embracing more female playwrights and stories. While I was in NYC that week, I witnessed Soho Rep’s production of Aleshea Harris’s play Is God Is. Not only did I have a mind-blowing experience, but I was in awe and so proud of this all-black cast telling such an epic tale by a young black female playwright. 

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“Is God Is” at Soho Rep.

Is God Is is a fascinating piece of theater because it mixes so many genres: Afro-Punk, Spaghetti Westerns, and experimental theatre all into one cohesive piece. I read the play on my flight to NYC and Harris’s use and experimentation with language completely breaks new ground. Even the way that the actors embodied this text was refreshing and eye-opening. It really inspired me as a young playwright to see other black female writers getting recognition for pushing the boundaries of what a play “can” or “should” be. Harris was actually the first winner of The Relentless Award, which was established to honor actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. The American Playwriting Foundation’s website says, “The Relentless Award is the largest annual cash prize in the American Theater awarded to a playwright in recognition of a new play.”

Also, in the past year, women of color playwrights have been killing the game in other avenues. Dominique Morisseau’s Ain’t Too Proud broke Berkeley Rep’s house record in 2017 and currently, CTG and LATC have produced all three plays in Quiara Alegeria Hudes’s Elliot trilogy. It is quite evident that times are changing.  And in the words of Maxine Waters, it appears women of color playwrights are indeed, #ReclaimingOurTime!

Dionna Michelle Daniel is a playwright and the Outreach Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.

 

 

Dionna Michelle Daniel joins Fountain Theatre to plant seeds for social change

Dionna Michelle Daniel

Dionna Michelle Daniel

Greetings! I am Dionna Michelle Daniel and I am excited to announce that I have joined The Fountain Theatre as the new Outreach Coordinator. At The Fountain, I will be focusing on educational programming and community engagement.

In May, I graduated from the California Institute of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting and a minor in Creative Writing. I am coming to the Fountain after a month-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival of my new play Gunshot MedleyGunshot Medley stretches across the Antebellum American south through present day to weave a rich history of the Black-American experience, blending poetry and song to respond to the historical expendability of Black bodies and the lives lost to hatred, racism, and police brutality. At the Fringe it received four 5 out of 5 star reviews and ultimately became a crowd favorite.

While at The Fountain, I will also be working as a youth instructor teaching creative writing at the Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory through CAP. Building a nurturing community for young artists and educating students is one of my personal missions, so I am excited to embark on helping expand The Fountain’s educational program, Theatre as a Learning Tool.

Theater that is rooted in social activism has always been a passion of mine. I believe that art, especially live performance, has the potential to dramatically change hearts and minds. Theater has the ability to plant the seeds of empathy, inquiry, and discussion. From those seeds, real social change begins.