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by Terri Roberts
“When you’re worried and you can’t sleep Just count your blessings instead of sheep And you’ll fall asleep Counting your blessings…”
Happy 2021! At last, 2020 is in the rear view mirror, and the hope and opportunity of a new year are before us.
Traditionally, this is the point where people try to start over. They make vows to lose weight/stop drinking/quit procrastinating/give up cigarettes, etc. However, a December 31, 2019 post on Psychology Today.com refers to a Scranton University study that found just 19% of people who make New Year’s resolutions actually keep them. Most folks give up within a couple of weeks.
So might I suggest something different this year? Limit your focus on the negative, and consciously expand your focus on the positive. There are countless studies that show developing an attitude of gratitude has great mental health benefits. And when things get as dark as they did in 2020, it’s even more important for the stability of your head and heart to acknowledge those blessings and not take them for granted or ignore them.
Every winter I look forward to watching, once again, those classic holiday movies that remind us to believe in magic and miracles, and to be thankful for all the goodness in our lives – regardless of the darkness that may, at times, obscure it. A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas are not just great, inspiring movies, they are the reminders we need in the chill of winter that warmth still exists, that hope for the better is ever present, and that love, actually, is all around us.
More than any year before it, 2020 made it near impossible to believe any of those uplifting perceptual changes could still occur. The year was memorialized by death, devastation and incalculable loss as the result of, among other things, a raging pandemic, a crashing economy, exploding racial tensions, and a dangerous, defiant political landscape. Where could we possibly find magic and miracles, comfort and joy, goodness, hope and love in all that? Where were the blessings that Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney sang of so sweetly in White Christmas within the tragic year we have just left behind?
I think the very simple answer is this: like love, the blessings of 2020 actually were all around us. They were in the voices and music that rose heavenward from balconies. The drive-bys to celebrate birthdays and lift sagging spirits. The evening outbreaks of applause for first responders, and the celebratory cheers from doctors and nurses when their patients could finally go home.
Blessings were found in the kindnesses of strangers who secretly paid for our coffees, the essential workers who stocked, sold and delivered our food, and the folks who checked on neighbors who could not leave their homes. They were in the gratitude for the outdoors as we took our daily walks, the extra time we suddenly had to clean out closets, learn to bake bread, write a story, or to develop a new skill. They were in the new-found appreciation for the teachers of our children when school became a learn-at-home project, and for our children themselves – even when they clamored for attention while we were Zooming with clients or co-workers. And blessings certainly lived in the medical workers who held the hands of the scared and dying, and used their own cell phones to allow those patients to say goodbye to their loved ones in the only way possible.
Within our theatrical communities, blessings were evident in the sheer resiliency and tenacity of theatre artists everywhere to keep our art alive. Witness, for example, the moving rendition of “Sunday” from the Stephen Sondheim/James Lapine Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece, Sunday in the Park With George, and how it affected both actors and audience. The surprise pop-up performance by out-of-work Broadway actors was staged on the red TKTS steps, and delighted unsuspecting tourists and native New Yorkers alike. Theatre can happen anywhere.
Back in March, when our marquees went dark and the only lights that shined were the ghost lights on our stages, theatres turned, en masse, to Zoom to keep connected to audiences, to each other, and to keep telling stories. Conversations, readings, previously filmed shows and newly created hybrid performances filled our screens and kept us going. Despite its challenges, Zoom emerged as one of 2020’s biggest blessings overall. Now clearly, watching a great play on Zoom or speaking to family members highlighted in their own Hollywood Squares, will never surpass the thrill of the live experience. But with social distancing a necessary part of life, Zoom became a safe, protective means for the literal, and metaphorical, show to go on. Businesses still met, doctors still consulted with patients, support groups were still able to be present for each other, friends and families still stayed in touch. How could that be anything but a blessing?
Personally, I think it is part of the work of every human being to observe and acknowledge such blessings every day, both the commonplace and the extraordinary. And it is also part of the work of the theatre to present such stories, among others, to an audience. (Even White Christmas was eventually adapted for the stage and is now a holiday staple for regional theatres across the country.) Storytelling is an innate part of the human experience. We’ve been sitting around campfires, drawing on cave walls, and creating ceremonies and traditions since the beginning of human existence. The stage is wherever we make it. Last year, Fountain productions started out, as always, on the physical stage of our intimate theatre. And as the pandemic took hold and changed our lives, we changed as well. We adapted. We shared our stories from our living rooms, in parks, in shopping centers, and yes, even on Zoom. The blessing is that theatres everywhere found ways to carry on. To keep art and creativity alive. To stretch ourselves beyond what we thought possible. Growth, perseverance, fortitude…these are all good things. They are blessings, every one.
As we leave the anguish of 2020 behind and step into the fresh air of 2021, let’s keep in mind that, as terrible as it was, 2020 was not all bad. In the midst of despair, there was still hope. There was bravery in the face of fear. There was beauty that rose up out of ugliness. There was strength to stand and adapt. And there was an urgency to create and make art that burned bright in the midst of chaos. That perceptual change was there for us to find.
So if you become worried or anxious and you find you cannot sleep, take a cue from Crosby and Clooney. Count your blessings instead of sheep. You’ll be asleep in no time.
Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.
by Stephen Sachs
A life in the theatre is filled with photographs. We who act, direct, write, compose, design, produce or publicize theatre make use of countless of photographs, in a career and a lifetime. Production stills, headshots, publicity photos, prints for posters, snapshots for marketing brochures. We post JPEGS of ourselves in plays and musicals on social media, upload pictures of past performances for grant applications, embed digital images into our portfolios. At the Fountain Theatre, in our archive room, we have catalogued a collection of photographs chronicling the history of our organization going back thirty years. Hundreds, probably thousands, of pictures. Black and white and in color. Most of them taken by one remarkable man: Ed Krieger.
I got heartbreaking word last week that Ed had passed away at home on December 16, 2020. He had been fighting health issues for the past year and a half, but remained in good spirits. Ed was an essential member of our Fountain Family for twenty-five years, and a beloved photographer for the Los Angeles theatre community for decades. And he was my friend.
Born in Chicago, Ed graduated from Gage Park High School on the South Side. He studied biology and theater at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. In 1985, he married Heather Blades, a graduate from UC Irvine. They each performed in plays and musicals throughout Southern California, appearing on stage together in 42nd Street and The Pajama Game at Downey Civic Light Opera. They had two children, daughter Courtenay and son Will.
Whenever I gave Ed Krieger a call to shoot photos of a current production at my theatre, I was guaranteed two things. First, I knew I would get high quality stills that captured the theatrical essence and energy of our show, shot in a professional and easy-going manner. Second, I could bank on getting a flurry of theater stories from Ed, usually about the other shows he was shooting (and their companies), his own precarious exploits as a musical actor (auditions he failed, or the ones that he aced), and the blossoming careers of his kids. I loved seeing the joy spread on Ed’s face when he spoke about Courtenay and Will, he was so clearly proud of them.
The photographs of Ed Krieger have played a crucial role in the success of my theatre. For one quarter of a century, Ed pulled up in his van outside our building on Fountain Avenue, lugged his equipment into our theatre, and took millions of pictures of thousands of our theatre artists. Multiply that by fifty, by one hundred, by two hundred other theater companies throughout the Los Angeles area and you get an idea of the immense contribution this man has made to our livelihood, our business, and our art.
I imagine that of the dozens and dozens of Los Angeles theater companies who worked with Ed Krieger over the years, each and every one thought of Ed as their photographer, he was theirs. That is just how you felt about Ed. He was yours. He was like your favorite uncle, the one you loved, the one with the camera, who laughed and joked and told stories while he happily snapped photos of you and your family.
I pray that L.A. Stage Alliance reaches out to Ed’s family at the appropriate time to secure the massive archive of images Ed has captured with his camera, all now stored at his home. In those stacks and stacks of cardboard boxes, in those miles of Kodak film, on those gigabytes of imagery, lies the history of us all. The work we have done, the art we have created, the lives we have changed, the friends we have found, the families we have made, and the city we have chronicled and helped put on the national map. Ed photographed that, for us all.
At the request of the Krieger family, those wishing to honor Ed may make a donation in his name to The Actors Fund.
Stephen Sachs in the Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
by Stephen Sachs
I’ve been thinking about a poem by Mary Oliver. The entire poem is only two lines. That’s all it needs. It goes like this:
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”
2020 has been a deep box of darkness. Our task is to learn to view sorrows as gifts. That’s a hard one. The poem encourages us to do something when sorrows come, challenges us not to sit back and do nothing about them. That is what I have learned from this year.
It is hard to receive boxes of darkness. At the bottom of my box, I have found the gift of gratitude. For things big and small. As this dreadful year comes to its close, it has brought me this gift born of darkness: To be without the intimacy of the Fountain Theatre for one year makes me grateful for it even more. I hope you feel the same. While our holiday gatherings may be smaller or grid-boxed on Zoom, our hearts will surely be filled with gratitude.
With vaccinations now underway, our boxes of darkness soon will lighten. I honestly believe that the Fountain Theatre will play an essential role in the healing of our community. As we look ahead to 2021, the Fountain has ambitious plans to move forward, both online and onstage. Creating productions that illuminate what it means to be alive at this time in the world and providing impactful arts education programs for students in underserved schools across Los Angeles. All COVID-safe.
Here’s a snapshot: Our new online platform, Fountain Stream will debut a 2021 season of plays and inter-active community programs. Using innovative video technologies, we will go beyond Zoom, to give you intimate high-quality theatre that makes you think and feel. We have expanded Fountain for Youth, our arts education initiatives, with Fountain Voices, an extraordinary in-school playwriting program designed by France-Luce Benson. Our ground-breaking cops/kids residency, Walking the Beat, will return in a glorious new digital format. And, most ambitious of all, we are hopeful that in the spring of 2021, we will launch our biggest adventure next year: a thrilling Outdoor Stage in our parking lot. Live theatre under the stars! Completely COVID-compliant. Stay tuned.
But for now, the Fountain — like every theater throughout Los Angeles and across the nation — remains closed. I don’t have to tell you things are hard. For the Fountain, our earned income has ground to a halt. The Fountain’s budget has dropped by over 50%. Our building remains non-operational, still standing proud on Fountain Avenue thanks to grants, federal loans, contributions, and the private giving by you, our Fountain Family.
If you have already made a year-end donation to our campaign, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are the gift in our darkness box. Your love, friendship and support are the light that shines the way through these uncertain times. If you haven’t yet contributed, please consider doing so. Your generous holiday gift will help make the coming year possible. I am asking you to turn the sorrows of this year into a gift of gratitude. Out of darkness, light!
Stephen Sachs is the Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
By Terri Roberts
It was just last month that the Fountain Theatre announced it had joined forces with playwright Larry Powell, his producing partner Angelica Robinson, and their Tell Me a Story Productions to bring Powell’s exciting 12-part tragicomedy, The Gaze…No Homo to Fountain audiences. Presented via the theatre’s new digital platform, Fountain Stream, this episodic version of Powell’s live stage play has been reinvented for the digital age.
A set of three short-form episodes has premiered each Friday for the past three weeks. Now, The Gaze…No Homo comes full circle as the final set of episodes have been released. All episodes remain available for viewing on the Fountain Stream page until Dec 31.
To recap: The Gaze…No Homo centers around a young actor, Jerome Price (Galen J. Williams), as he tries to navigate his way through the increasingly uncomfortable rehearsal process of No Homo, a new play by emerging Black queer playwright Shaun Korey (Devere Rogers.) Korey is championed by Miranda Cryer (Sharon Lawrence), the straight White interim artistic director of the esteemed Evergreen Theatre Festival (“where the brightest and boldest new American voices are watered with wisdom, fed with fodder and nurtured with nourishment.”) Cryer is also the director of the world premiere of Korey’s new play.
This year, the festival has been consigned to a digital Zoomscape instead of the traditional seats-and-stage live theatre experience thanks to the COVID pandemic. In addition to the neophyte Price, No Homo features far more seasoned actors Kendrell Thompson (Eugene Byrd) and Buddy DuPois (TC Carson), and is stage managed by the experienced team of no-nosense PSM Sherry Grosse (Yvette Cason) and gender-fluid ASM Tee (Jason “Freckle” Greene.) There is much at stake here for everyone, and complicating matters is the growing dissent between Price and Cryer. As their abrasive relationship grows ever-more heated, the fate of the entire production becomes jeopardized.
The Gaze…No Homo was selected as a finalist in the prestigious 2020/2021 Eugene O’Neill National Playwrights Conference. It is the first in Powell’s The Gaze cycle of plays that examines the process of building culturally specific and queer works of color in certain historically white spaces. The Gaze tackles difficult topics like racism and microagressions, and wrestles with the question, “Why strain to be free under a gaze fixed on your imprisonment, when it’s you who is holding the key?”
As we wrap up our exclusive showing of The Gaze…No Homo on the Fountain’s digital stage this month, Powell reflected back on the journey his show has taken over this past tumultuous year, and ponders the future and what he hopes it will bring.
TR: What was it like working with the Fountain Theatre this past month to present this digital reinvention of your play?
LP: If this piece can bring awareness to theatres that have been serving communities across the globe for years and who have had to close their doors due to the pandemic, I am pleased. I feel like we’ve done that at The Fountain, and that makes me proud.
TR. Would you consider another collaboration with the Fountain in the future?
LP: Of course! I would love one of my plays to be on the Fountain stage!
TR: No Homo is the first play in The Gaze cycle of plays. What is your vision for the entire cycle? How many plays are included in The Gaze? Are any of them written yet and what themes do they explore?
LP: Right now, I know there are three plays. They chart Jerome, the protagonist, as he grows older and older. I am going to start working on a new version of the second play next year. This play will focus on how we hold on to new awareness of ourselves in our art and life once we make the initial reclamation of our time and imagination. What challenges do we face? What questions do we have in that space of new consciousness?
TR: Will No Homo be presented on stage again when we return to live performances? Or will it live now as a digital presentation? What about future installments in The Gaze cycle? What form will they take?
LP: Yes. It is important to me that I continue to diversify how an audience can experience my stories. So, in every way a play can be experienced, I will lean into. A stage play, Screenplay, Teleplay, #Digiplay, Audioplay, VR play, Animated Play…. to me, it all starts with “the play.” All different structures, skill sets, and audiences but definitely all sourced in telling a story around a fire in the village.
TR. Has the success of this digital adaptation of The Gaze…No Homo encouraged you to adapt any of your previous works for digital platforms? If so, what ones?
LP: Yes and All.
TR. Was the choice of the cycle name The Gaze a conscious choice, to play on The Gays, or was it a happy coincidence?
LP: The best titles have double, triple meanings. The first play was always called “No Homo” because of the play within the play. Once I started to see the story as a cycle of works, I needed a title that spoke to a larger, more general container. The reason The Gaze sticks is because it still specifies the queer black experience as it pertains to its relationship to an oppressive gaze.
TR: You said in your Theatre Talk interview with Stephen Sachs that 2020 was a “profound year,” and you talked about “collective grief.” How have the events of 2020 shaped you as an artist? How do we, as theatre artists, as citizens, as a country, grieve our many losses this year and use them for a higher purpose?
LP: I have learned it’s important to give those loved ones, and the things we have lost, space. What I mean by that is silence and the stopping of this abusive obsession with “gotta keep going!!” Grief is a love language. We must take the time to learn it and to speak well and often. That means something different for each of us, and that’s important. We become more courageous in grief because it usually takes us to a place of surrender that opens us up to higher visions of our purpose in the world. It can, at least …if we let it. So, if you work to make firm boundaries around the space you carve out for grief … the gifts you find there are life-enhancing and heart-strengthening.
TR. What form do you prefer? Live stage or the digital small screen? Why?
LP: Well, I love the stage first. Always. That said, a story told is a story told. There are people who will run to the digital screen quicker than they would to the live stage. I want to meet both of these groups of people where they are — and I believe it is my calling to love as many forms of storytelling as possible.
TR: What’s next for you?
LP: More joy. More understanding. More peace. More love. More opportunity. More creation. More surrender. More gratitude. And always, more learning.
Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s new volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.
By France-Luce Benson
The Fountain Theatre is proud to be participating in the L.A. County Arts Internship program, the largest paid arts internship program in the nation. Established in 2000 by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, the program provides undergraduate students with meaningful on the job training and experience working in nonprofit arts organizations.
Jona Yadidi’s application stood out from the dozens we received. A student at Occidental College, Jona’s impressive resume includes event planning, directing and producing musicals for Camp Ramah, and the Glee club. But it was her interview that really blew us away. Her eloquence, sincerity, and passion for spiritual service, theatre, and social activism intrigued and delighted us.
Please join us in welcoming Jona Yadidi to The Fountain Family:
Tell us 3 fun facts about yourself: I am a first-generation American, I can speak 5 languages (Hebrew, Italian, Farsi, Spanish, and… English) , and I taught myself to play the ukulele during quarantine this summer.
What drew you to the Fountain: The commitment y’all have to social justice and promoting diversity on stage. I am dedicated to using theater as a vehicle for community dialogue and engagement and as a tool for more inclusivity and understanding.
What do you hope to gain out of this experience: A general understanding of how a non-profit theatre company works in Los Angeles and the impact that art makes, especially now that we’ve moved into a digital space. I am about to graduate college soon and enter “the real world” and as someone who wants to go into arts education and community engagement, I think my experience at the Fountain will give me a clear vision and direction for my future.
What is your hope for the future of theatre: To make theatre more accessible to all types of audiences and to have those audiences represented on stage. To dismantle the elitism that comes with ticket pricing with more initiatives like “pay what you can”. As well, we have to make sure that what we are producing not only includes, but supports and uplifts BIPOC communities that are normally not represented onstage. As an Iranian woman myself, I rarely see Iranian representation in theatre and I know I’m not alone in this sentiment. We need to have more BIPOC artists involved in all aspects of theatre; on stage, directing, producing, writing material, on theatre staff, and as board members. For more information on this initiative, please check out: https://www.weseeyouwat.com/
What are your goals: I would love to become the head of the education department or community engagement department for a non-profit theatre company (just like you France-Luce!). I think the power in theatre is rooted in educating high school students and the community around us on what different productions represent because the options in theatre are really limitless.
What are you most thankful for this year: My incredible support system of friends and family. It’s really been an unpredictable year full of ups and downs and I wouldn’t be able to get through it without those I have by my side keeping me strong.
The Fountain Theatre thanks the LA County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture for its Arts Internship Program.
Stream Ends December 1st
by Terri Roberts
It’s Thanksgiving week, a time to reflect on that for which we are grateful. And even within the insanity of a year that brought us a global pandemic, extreme racial unrest, and a surreal presidential election, there were still rays of light. Here at the Fountain Theatre, one of our great joys came in the form of creating a stage/screen hybrid video adaptation of Ifa Bayeza’s stunning play, The Ballad of Emmett Till. If you have not seen it, there is still time. But the streaming of this acclaimed video-on-demand production ends on December 1st, so don’t delay. Tickets are just $20 and are available here.
The Ballad of Emmett Till is a lyrical retelling of the true events that kick-started the Civil Rights movement, and blends history, mystery and legend with accents of music and poetry. The Fountain’s widely heralded, multiple award-winning 2010 west coast premiere was helmed by Shirley Jo Finney, and starred the impeccable ensemble of Bernard K. Addison, Rico E. Anderson, Lorenz Arnell, Adenrele Ojo and Karen Malina White. Actors and director reunited over the summer to create this unique VOD version of our original stage production, which is enhanced by the use of music, sound, visual imagery and various film techniques. It debuted on August 28th, which marked the 65-year anniversary of Till’s brutal murder. His death had not only become a rallying cry for the times, but it has continued to resonate, and activate civic action, across the decades that followed.
Emmett Till was a charming, precocious 14-year-old boy who lived in Chicago with his mother, Mamie. In August 1955, he traveled down south to the Mississippi Delta to visit his uncle, Mose “Preacher” Wright, and other family members. One sunny day he and his cousins and a few friends went into town, and the young teenager stopped at a local market to buy some sweets. Accounts differ as to what actually happened to provoke the tragedy that followed, but it is widely believed that Till, who used whistling to help control a lifelong stutter, innocently whistled at the white, married, female store clerk.
As a result, Till was later kidnapped from his uncle’s house in the middle of the night by the woman’s husband and his half-brother. The men took the boy down to the Tallahatchie River and forced him to strip. Then they beat him, shot him in the head, and weighted his body down with a heavy metal cotton gin fan that they wrapped around his neck with barbed wire. Three days later, the boy’s naked, bloated body was discovered floating in the river.
Mamie insisted that her only child’s grotesquely disfigured body be returned to her in Chicago, untouched. “Let the people see what they did to my boy,” she famously said, and insisted on an open casket with a glass shield to contain the stench of her son’s decomposing corpse. The media had started carrying the news of the murder, and Mamie encouraged even more attention by publically displaying the body. Mourners gathered around the clock to pay their respects. The viewing went on for four days.
It might sound odd, during this week of focused gratitude, to suggest taking these final days of opportunity to view the Fountain’s VOD production of The Ballad of Emmett Till as part of our expressions of thankfulness. I feel it is not. The joyous way he lived his short life, contrasted with the ugliness of his premature death, led to a social rebellion that’s still being waged today. We entered the summer of 2020 with streets across America being crowded with marches born of unfettered rage against the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, and the long-shadow history of Sandra Bland, Freddy Gray, Walter Scott, the nine men and women of the Episcopal Church in Charleston, and the hundreds more that came before them. Including, of course, Emmett Till.
The Ballad of Emmett Till is available through December 1st. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased here. I’m willing to bet you’ll be grateful you watched it.
Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s new volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.
‘Fountain Stream’ presents Larry Powell’s 12-part ‘The Gaze… No Homo,’ tackling systemic racism, homophobia head-on
In between BLM protests and existential quarantine queries, writer/creator Larry Powell adapted his play The Gaze…No Homo (2020/2021 Eugene O’Neill NPC finalist) into a new media series. The Fountain Theatre’s new digital platform, Fountain Stream, has partnered with Powell and Angelica Robinson of Tell Me a Story Productions to present this bold, funny episodic tragicomedy for our times, a 12-part, multi-platform online experience unlike anything audiences have seen before. The first three short-form episodes of The Gaze… No Homo will begin streaming on Friday, Nov. 20, with episodes four, five and six going online Friday, Nov. 27; episodes seven, eight and nine on Friday, Dec. 4; and the final three episodes becoming available on Friday, Dec. 11. Tickets are free at fountaintheatre.com/now-upcoming/the-gaze.
No Homo is the first in Powell’s The Gaze cycle of plays that examines the process of building culturally specific and queer works of color in certain historically white spaces. The story of an openly Black queer artist as he navigates the rehearsal process at a very white American theater festival, The Gaze tackles hard topics head on. It wrestles with the question, “Why strain to be free under a gaze fixed on your imprisonment, when it’s you who is holding the key?”
In episode one, we meet protagonist Jerome Price, played by Galen J. Williams (national touring and Broadway productions of Motown the Musical) as he arrives at the prestigious Evergreen Theatre Festival (“where the brightest and boldest new American voices are watered with wisdom, fed with fodder and nurtured with nourishment”). Evergreen interim artistic director Miranda Cryer (Sharon Lawrence of NYPD Blue, Dynasty, Shameless, The Ranch and much more) has always been an outspoken champion of diverse voices — including that of emerging, Black queer playwright Shaun Korey, played by Devere Rogers (My Spy and IFC’s Sherman’s Showcase). Relegated to Zoom by the pandemic, Cryer is directing the world premiere of Korey’s newest work, No Homo, but “artistic differences” between her and festival newbie Price threaten to blow up the process. Eugene Byrd (Dr. Clark Edison in Bones) and TC Carson (Living Single) star as Price’s fellow actors Kendrell Thompson and Buddy DuPois, each of whom has learned to navigate the hidden dangers and microaggressions of the entertainment business in his own way — as has long-time stage manager Sherry Grosse (Yvette Cason, original Broadway cast and feature film version of Dreamgirls) and gender-fluid ASM Tee (internet personality, actor and model Jason “Freckle” Greene).
Powell states, “In order to properly experience my own exodus of the decentralization of the white gaze in my creative work and reclaim my black ass imagination I had to stare the poison in the face and, through the telling of Jerome’s story, turn it into the medicine decolonization so fiercely provides. That I was able to make this piece in the summer of 2020 and share this piece that same summer and beyond is a divine triumph. A blessing standing on sacred ground and under one gaze only: the ancestral one. Thankful to any and all who make it possible for others to catch the vision.”
The creative team behind The Gaze… No Homo includes episode directors Joanna Strapp (episode 1), Larry Powell (episodes 2, 11 and 12), Zhailon Levingston (episode 3), Satya Bhabha (episode 4), Reginald L. Douglas (episode 5), Amber A Harris (episode 6), Jonathan McCrory (episode 7) and Bianca Laverne Jones (episodes 8 and 9); as well as editor Joey Scoma, composer Robert Revell, branding and graphic design artist Samia Zaidi, website designer Nick Ducassi, and co-producer Haley Rawson. The series is produced by producer/executive producers Angelica Robinson, Spencer Williams and Matt Lubetich, along with executive producers Larry Powell, Zhailon Levingston and Devere Rogers and executive producer/director of photography John Macdonald.
Larry Powell is a writer, actor, director and producer born and raised in South Central L.A. As an actor, he’s originated and premiered roles in some of the most exciting new plays in America including The Christians by Lucas Hnath, The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez, Father Comes Home From The Wars by Suzan Lori Parks (opposite Sterling K. Brown), Brokeology by Nathan Louis Jackson, and he played the title role in While I Yet Live by Billy Porter. He is a two-time Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle award-winner, and has been nominated for numerous Ovation, NAACP and San Francisco Bay Area theater awards as well as for Audelco and Audie awards. Larry is also a published playwright and professional screenwriter, with three plays scheduled to receive world premieres over the next two years. He is a core playwright at the Lark Play Development Center. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Drama, Larry is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Southern California’s School of Dramatic Arts MFA Acting program. He is the founder and creative director of the Powell Academy of the Performing Arts, an arts organization providing high-performance training and resources to historically marginalized artists on the rise in the mainstream entertainment industry.
CLICK HERE To watch The Gaze… No Homo beginning Friday, Nov. 20.
A review of Holli Harms’ play Shouting Down A Quiet Life stated, “It is only a matter of time before this play premieres on Broadway”. Set in South Carolina, 1968, the play sheds light on the Orangeburg Massacre, in which highway patrolmen opened fire on 200 unarmed black students at a peaceful Civil Rights demonstration. This Saturday, Harms will share excerpts from the play and other works, and share her hopes for theatre and the country. Here, she discusses how she reconciled her conflicted feelings about writing the play, what it means to be a writer from the South, and the trials and triumphs of raising her teenager daughter.
Your critically acclaimed play Shouting Down A Quiet Life is so brilliantly crafted and authentic that many are surprised to discover it was written by a white woman. Did you ever feel conflicted/hesitant about writing the play? How did you overcome those feelings? What inspired you to tell that particular story?
I absolutely felt conflicted and that I had no right to this story. But it wouldn’t let me go. And actually, I remember speaking with you about another play of mine dealing with slaves in South Carolina that I felt I should not write, but you told me, “If it’s the story that you want to, need to, write – write it.” That is a question I constantly think about, authorship and ownership.
The story of three black men killed on a college campus in 1968, about a 50-minute drive from where I grew up, I discovered, of all places, when I was watching a documentary that I got at the library about the McGovern campaign and why he lost in 68’. In the film, Dick Gregory, comedian and activist, talked about the Orangeburg Massacre and what a disgrace that no knew about these killings, but only two years later Kent State happened and everyone knew about that, why? Because white kids were killed at Kent. I kept thinking does he mean Orangeburg SC? I started to research it and ended up connecting with the NAACP who invited me to a screening of a documentary about the Orangeburg Massacre at NYU, and at the end of the screening, a gentleman stood up and said, “I was there. I was shot. And I never told anyone.” I knew instantly that was the story I wanted to tell. The story of silence. The state silenced the story and the country didn’t hear it, but this man had done the same in his own life. What does that do to a person?
Do you identify as a southern playwright? What does that mean to you?
I think of myself as a writer first, and then a writer from the South. I do think that growing up in a place where language and storytelling are so important had an influence on me. There are rich marvelous characters in the South both in its history and living around me when I was growing up, many quite controversial. Being from the South means that I get to use that richness in my writing, and I think that’s what propelled me on in writing Quiet Life.
As a winner of the Terrance G. Hall Fellowship, you were awarded a week-long residency in Dublin, Ireland. What was that experience like? What did you learn? What did you work on?
Oh, first the Irish have a gift of the gab that is delicious. We had a flat right by the Liffey and within walking distance of everything in Dublin. The Dublin Theatre Festival was going on when we were there so I got to see some excellent theatre. I was there to learn more about the Irish miners for a play that I’m still working on. I spent a lot of time at the National Library reading books on the Irish coal miner. The library is a non-lending library and so the only way to read many of their works is in person. I also spent time at the National Archive building going over old photo albums. Many families gift their family albums to the Archives. Here is something that I started to notice looking at the pictures that eventually went into my play COAL, in picture after picture of families all together I only noticed girls. No boys. Little girls in dresses, but not one boy. These are photos from the late 19th century to the 20th century. I asked the curator about it and he said, “Oh, yeah. Fairies take the boys. Look again at the pictures. See the boys with long hair in dresses.” Sure enough, a second look revealed that the boys were in disguise to fool the fairies. I was and am still working on that play about the life of coal miners, specifically about those in the Pennsylvania region. I would like to get back to Ireland and see more of the country. We were mostly in Dublin for my research and to see shows. I say we, as my husband and daughter who was seven at the time, came along.
I’ve always been fascinated by your background as a South Carolina native of German descent. Has your background informed your work? How so?
Oh, yes, so much of both of my backgrounds have colored my writing, especially the history of the two places. Small things like the rituals of hunters in Germany have found their way into my plays. Being the kid, whose family spoke German at home made us somewhat unusual in Columbia. We were also a military family and Fort Jackson, SC was the last place my dad was stationed. We arrived there from Germany when I was not yet four. We moved off Fort soon after our arrival in the states and lived not far from it. So every day of my childhood I would hear the revelry bugle call. My mother was a war bride as were many of the moms from the Fort. My mother often forgot English words, and sometimes the German equivalent as well, so she would make words up that she felt worked just fine. That has been a big part of my writing. She was a foreigner and embraced it. She didn’t’t really try to assimilate. Why bother when she was so much more interesting exactly the way she was.
Your short film Icarus Stops for Breakfast has won over 20 awards and been featured in 34 Festivals. What was the genesis of that project and how has the experience changed you?
I read the short story, Eating, by Rick Bass and instantly knew it was something I wanted to turn into a film. I took the short story to my director and had her read it and she agreed. It was not an easy script as we had to have an owl, donkey, and pig along with the actors to make it work. That process has opened me to a greater understanding of how story works on film, and how patience in the film world is a must. It was five years from the time we shot the film to the time it was ready for the festivals. We had CGI hold-ups, the music wasn’t working and the editing went through numerous renditions. We just weren’t getting it right until we got it right.
What have you been working on during the pandemic?
My problem is that I have too many ideas and projects swimming around in my noggin. I am working on a book, or I believe it is a book. It was a short story I woke up with in my head and poured it out on the page. It was a finalist with Fish Publishing. I read it over several times and thought, I want to expand on this one particular character in the story and the people around her. I have also just finished a Sci-Fi feature film script, and I am back at school, online getting my Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. That is taking up most of my time and energy, and has been a lot of work, but also been so wonderful as I have learned things that I can immediately apply to my writing.
What have been the challenges/rewards of raising a teenage daughter in the middle of a pandemic?
Having her home all day every day is a challenge and a reward. I get to listen in on her school work and recently I got to hear her give a talk about the LBGTQ community and the difficulties an individual faces when coming out to family and friends for the first time. It was a Social Studies discussion her 7th grade class had on Coming Out Day. I was so proud of her thoughtful, thought-provoking answer. I would not have been privy to that had she been in school that day. Mainly the time has been spent trying to get her off electronics and to go outside. She looks at me like, “What is this outside you speak of?”
What has been keeping you sane this year?
My family. My running. I started running 80 to 100 miles a month and that keeps me grounded. Kayaking all summer with my neighbor Nancy. All summer we had friends over every Saturday night for dinner. The same group, our bubble. We kept social distancing with outside dining and stayed safe. Having those get-togethers, sharing food and stories was so important to my sanity. Music. Music. Music. Putting on my Guardians of the Galaxy DVD and dancing my heart out or my Sammy Davis Jr. album – yup real album, and dancing to his joyful sound just lifts me. I have at my house a record player and tons of albums and so I can go from Sammy and Kate Smith, to Blood Sweat and Tears, to Tom Waits, to Bach and Mendelsohn. And of course, Arlo Guthrie whom our dog is named after.
What gives you hope?
That we just elected a woman who will be the first woman Vice President and she is a woman of color and intelligence and femininity and not afraid to be all that in one package. She has an inner strength that radiates out of her a glow of hope. That so many young women ran for positions in government on both sides of the aisle. That so many want to take away that aisle and make it truly a “United” states.
The resilience of people. Zoom arrived just in time and we all just started using it and creating on it and never looked back. The creativity of humans gives me hope. Seeing friend’s faces on Zoom, and seeing them laugh gives me hope for the day when I can again smash my face against theirs.