Tag Archives: France-Luce Benson

What did playwright Laura Maria Censabellado do after meeting Bette Davis? She wrote a play.

Laura Maria Censabella

By France-Luce Benson

Laura Maria Censabella’s achievements are too many to even begin to name here. But if you are not familiar with her work, look her up. Now. And be sure to join us this Saturday for our final Saturday Matinee of the year, followed  by Fountain Theatre’s Holiday Party. Censabella will be our featured guest as we present her play Interviewing Miss Davis, based on her actual interview with Bette Davis many years ago.

What was it really like meeting Bette Davis? What do you remember from that day?

I remember it was boiling hot and I was sweating, and my curly hair had morphed into a ball of straw, so I was incredibly self-conscious.  Also, I was intimidated by Miss Davis’s poised and beautiful assistant.  When Miss Davis came in—and she did make an entrance–I was shocked by how diminished she was physically.  She had to kind of throw her hip as she walked, and her shriveled face made her look like a sharp-eyed bird—but I immediately realized that none of her spirit was diminished.  I had been told not to tell her I was a writer since her daughter was coming out with a tell-all book but at a certain point I couldn’t help it.  I kept asking her what my hours might be and she wouldn’t tell me because I think basically they were meant to be 24/7.  At that time I would get up at 5:30 a.m. to write before office temp jobs.  That hour and a half–or two hours–a day I had to write was sacred and all I wanted to know was would I be able to still have that.  And yet…I was so broke.  I’d had a few short stories published in tiny literary magazines.  I felt so small, and so scared that I would never be able to make my dreams happen.  I think Miss Davis could smell that.

How do you imagine your life turning out if you did take that job?

I don’t think I would have lasted a day. 

As someone who’s been teaching and facilitating writing groups for many years, what is the most important piece of advice you have for young writers?

There are an infinite number of ways to be a very good or great writer.  There are only a finite number of ways of being bad and you can learn what those things are and avoid them.

Do you believe the industry has changed for women since you first started writing professionally? How so? In what ways is the industry still behind in gender equality? What needs to happen?

When I was in my 20’s I was selected for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference.  At that time I was one of only three women playwrights out of sixteen total playwrights.  The next year I was one of five women playwrights.  The last time I was selected for the O’Neill the majority of playwrights were women; however, most of us could not get our work produced.  Since then we can be thankful for the 2008 Town Hall called by Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman and Sarah Schulman out of which The Count was eventually born to document the number of women+ and BIPOC plays produced.  There is also the Kilroys List.  Because of these big initiatives and many smaller ones we’ve seen an uptick in the statistics of women being produced although at this rate it will take another hundred years to achieve parity, most especially for older women writers who may have been ignored when they were young and now face discrimination due to age which is why the action and advocacy group Honor Roll! was born. 

What have you been working on? Anything coming up you’re excited about?

A play based on my severely disabled aunt.  About the day late in life that she decided to stop being infantilized by her family and assert her own will and the price she paid for that–and the joy she experienced as well.   I’m also beginning to workshop my play Beyond Words, which is essentially a 30-year love story between a scientist who studies animal cognition (Dr. Irene Pepperberg) and her extraordinary research subject, the African Grey parrot Alex.  Together they opened a window into the animal mind.  The parrot is embodied by a human actor on stage.

What’s been keeping you sane?

I’ve had some very big personal challenges this year.  But knowing that we all are suffering in some way, that we’re united by this pandemic, that we’ve all lost dreams, livelihoods, family, loved ones to Covid, unites us as a world community and can, if we let it, increase our compassion for one another.

What gives you hope?

That Biden and Harris were elected.  Our very democracy has been at stake.  The lust for power has outweighed the very values this democracy stands for.  We’ve got to slowly rebuild faith in democratic institutions.  We have a very steep climb but at least we’re moving in the right direction.

Interviewing Miss Davis, Saturday, December 19 @ 5pm PST

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Author Leslie Gray Streeter on the resilience of the human spirit, Sat Dec 28 @ 5pm PST

By France-Luce Benson

No, you are not experiencing Déjà vu. Our guest this week on Saturday Matinees is actually the identical twin sister of our guest a few weeks ago, and an extraordinary talent in her own right. On Saturday, Leslie Gray Streeter will share an excerpt from her book, which bestselling author James Patterson calls “a wonderfully touching love story that will make you laugh and cry, sometimes on the same page.”  Streeter’s memoir Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books With Words like ‘Journey’ In the Title, written after the sudden death of her beloved husband, is a celebration of life and the resilience of the human spirit.

FLB: I love the title of your book. Do you really avoid books with “journey” in the title?

STREETER: I do kinda side-eye them. It’s become such a cliché word that doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean. I know that it’s meaningful to a lot of people, but I wanted readers to know that my book wasn’t offering some candy-colored look at grief that was some standard they were supposed to live up to. There is no template.

FLB: Who is this book for?

STREETER: Everyone who ever lost someone or loves someone who did and wants to know how to talk to them. Also humans who like words J And Shelia E. references.

FLB: Are you working on a follow up book?

STREETER: Yes! One chapter down. So many to go.

FLB: What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?

STREETER: Turning 50 and starting the next part of my life in the city I love (Baltimore). Also the vaccine. So I can go sit on an island somewhere safely and dream. Also? A less-sucky world.

FLB: What has been keeping you sane?

STREETER: Yoga. My faith. My funny kid and family. Walking past beautiful old buildings and wondering who lived there. Fried tofu.

FLB: What gives you hope?

STREETER: That humanity can learn. We have to. We can do hard stuff.

Saturday Matinee, Nov 28 @ 5pm PST

What is the story playwright Holli Harms needed to tell?

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.

Ive 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.

Catch Holli Harm Saturday Matinee this Saturday, November 14 @ 5pm PST.

‘Raise Your Voice’ was our call to action

By Terri Roberts

Election Day has come and gone. As of this writing, millions of ballots are still being counted. The process may be slow and frustrating, but taking the time to make sure every voice, every vote, is heard and counted is American democracy in action. It’s why the Fountain Theatre launched its get-out-the-vote project, Raise Your Voice – Vote!, that lived in public spaces across Los Angeles on October 24th and 25th. The fact that you joined us and took action – that you raised your voice, you cast your vote, made your selfie videos encouraging others to do the same – means that you were a vitally important part of the process. And we wanted to say thank you. Thank you for participating, from the bottom of our hearts.

Over that last weekend in October, Raise Your Voice – Vote! actors Victor Anthony, Jessica Emmanuel, Wonjung Kim, Theo Perkins and Rayne J. Rayney – all COVID-tested, properly masked and with a supply of PPE’s – popped up at a variety of culturally different communities across Los Angeles with a mission to activate voter participation via socially-distanced guerrilla-style theatre. Raise Your Voice – Vote! was conceived by the Fountain’s Community Engagement Coordinator France Luce Benson, and co-directed by Benson and dancer/choreographer Lily Ockwell. It utilized some of America’s most iconic speeches about voting rights to create a choreographed collection of 10-minute theatre pieces, augmented with bits of song and movement, that were performed in front of surprised and appreciative audiences at Union Station, Little Tokyo, Fig and 7th Shopping Center, Leimert Park, Pan Pacific Park and Balboa Park.

“We wanted to create an event that was inspirational, but never didactic,” explained Benson. “The performers were in conversation with each other and with the people around them, blending, respecting and embracing whichever community we were in.”

The actors were supported in their travels and performances by Fountain staff and, for the first time ever, a wonderful group of recruited volunteers. (For more information on volunteer opportunities at the Fountain, please email me at terri@fountaintheatre.com.) Raise Your Voice – Vote! was also presented in partnership with the volunteer group Big Sunday and The Social Ripple Effect, a non-profit organization committed to global change through local action. As part of our get-out-the-vote effort, SRE was on hand to distribute literature briefly outlining the significant propositions also on this year’s ballot.

The Raise Your Voice – Vote! performances were live-streamed throughout the weekend on the Fountain’s website and its Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram pages. Those live feeds were supplemented by the afore-mentioned selfie videos, posted hourly, that were submitted by actors, directors and producers; Fountain patrons, staff and board members; colleagues within the LA theatre community-at-large; plus educators and students, business leaders and soccer moms, and more. Dozens of videos flowed in, all of them with personal observations about the urgent need to vote in this, “the most important election of our lifetime.” They were witty. Heartfelt. Serious. Reflective. One video was even sung, a cappella, as a comedic duet version of The Star Spangled Banner! But all of them, in their own unique ways, were impassioned calls to action.

So, thank you for answering the call. For being part of a record-breaking turnout of voters who stood up and had the courage to say, with your vote, These are the people, the propositions and the measures I believe will best be of service to me and my country.

Still, we all know it’s not a fair election unless every voice is heard. And because the laws that govern when ballots can be opened and counted vary by location, a full and complete ballot count is going to take awhile. Unfortunately, there are those who are actively trying to halt this process and silence all those voices. We urge you: Don’t let them.

Raise your voice one more time and demand that every single vote be counted. Send a text, make a phone call, sign the petitions that are probably clogging your inbox right now. Take action. Stay involved.

In the meantime, while votes continue to be counted, enjoy these photos from the many stirring public performances of Raise Your Voice – Vote! And reflect on these words from Lyndon B. Johnson, which were part of the Raise Your Voice —Vote! live experience:

“Our mission is, at once, the oldest and the most basic of this country: to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man…Our fathers believed that if this noble view of the rights of man was to flourish, it must be rooted in democracy. The most basic right of all was the right to choose your own leaders. The history of this country, in large measure, is the history of the expansion of that right to all of our people. Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this, there can, and should be, no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right.”

  — Lyndon B. Johnson, March 15, 1965

                                                       

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.

Lynne Street Childress brings theatre for young people at this week’s Saturday Matinee, 5pm PT

By France-Luce Benson

No trick or treating this year? The Fountain’s got you covered. Please be sure to bring your kids and grandkids to this week’s show, where our guest – Lynne Streeter Childress – will perform work from her show for young people.

I met Lynne Streeter Childress many moons ago in Miami, FL when I booked my first professional acting gig. We were part of a company that toured plays for young audiences about issues like domestic violence and homelessness. While the subjects are grim, the plays were full of hope and the creative process was full of light. The latter, largely due to Lynne’s exuberance and delightful sense of humor. Decades later, Lynne has her own company, producing plays for young audiences that address issues like tolerance and empathy. I spoke to Lynne about the origins of her company (Building Better People Productions), and what it’s like to balance her creative life with motherhood in the time of Covid.

What was the genesis of Building Better People Productions?
I had always wanted to do my own stuff, and I knew that it would be for young audiences, and I knew that it was going to be something about building people up. Over the years I would start, and then put things on a shelf because I was working for other people, which actually was great, because I was gaining not only a paycheck, but support, and the chance to grow. In 2015, lots of things started to come together, good and bad, that kinda pushed me forward. I lost my brother in law, which was the 4th in a series of family losses. I had also started writing a piece about empathy that I planned to produce on my own somehow, and when the opportunity to perform part of it for a festival didn’t work out, that seemed like an open door to just do the thing for real. I was in the place to just move forward.

How will future productions address the moment we are in as a Nation? How do you tackle such complicated conversations?
It’s made me want to continue to not run away from addressing hurt. Most of the shows that we have done have hard moments, where people are bullied, and lose family members, and have anxiety, and are treated bad because of differences. There is always a moment in rehearsal where I think “Is this too much?” And no, it’s not. Kids are smart. And I think that we insult them when we DON’T tackle things they are going through or that are going on around them. There has to be something between hitting them over the head and completely ignoring where we are with the isolation of COVID, and the sadness of where we are racially. I owe it to my kid, and all kids, to figure out how to do that respectfully. One more thing: we have always had a pretty diverse group of people that we work with, but I am committed to truly seeking out more people. I also want to do a show that is about a little black girl loving life. I needed to see more of that when I was a little kid, and now I want to do that. For little black girls and for everyone, to normalize that little black girls can just have joy.

You say that the adaptation of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” you performed in is your most favorite show you’ve ever done. Why? What made it so special?
It was my first Equity show (although I am not a part of the union now currently), and I participated in a development reading of it, I was part of the original cast of the show, and in the first tour. I am on the cover of the script as a koala! It is the show that made me feel like I was really doing this, and I got to be at the Kennedy Center every day, which is the most beautiful space. I got to see something come off of the page, see it worked in the room with the playwright and composer in rehearsals. And it took me around the country, getting paid to perform and travel. It helped make me. Also, I think that I may have named my son after that show. It was years later, and the name Alexander came to me as a front runner, and I didn’t know why. It just felt right. When my son was a baby I was at a party for a friend, who had directed that first production of “Alexander”, and Judith Viorst,the writer of the show, was there, and I had not seen her in a while. She asked what my son’s name was; when I said “Alexander”, everyone started laughing. And I said, “WAIT! Did I name him for the show?” And maybe I did. It was in there somewhere.

Build Better People Productions

You have a twin sister who also writes? Did you grow up writing together? Will you or have you ever collaborated?
My sister is amazing. AMAZING. She has been a journalist for 27 years, and has won awards, and wrote a memoir that came out earlier this year called “Black Widow: A Sad-Funny Journey Through Grief for People Who Normally Avoid Books with Words Like ‘Journey’ in the Title”, about losing her husband. We used to make up stories as little kids, and actually blogged together about our experiences in our 40s for a while. I produced and perform in a holiday play that she wrote, The Gift of the Mad Guy, about generosity, that Building Better People has performed yearly since 2016. I love saying her words, and I love sending her royalty checks.

Did becoming a Mom change you as an artist? If so, how?
Yep. It’s made me want to make a world that he sees as lovely and that sees him as lovely. The third part of “We Got It” was inspired by the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice, and I was pregnant when Trayvon was murdered, and I felt the weight of how some people did not value the lives of young black men, and did not see their deaths as tragedies. That wrecked me for their parents, and I was about to BE a parent of a young black man, and me yelling on Facebook, while cathartic, wasn’t going to be enough. What I knew how to do was create. So, I wrote. My son has also inspired shows that I have written or that we have performed, that are things I want him to hear, like about keeping his imagination, and knowing his worth.


How will you make Halloween special for an 8-year-old in the middle of a Pandemic?
Our plan is to have my sister and nephew and mom over (they are in our Covid circle), and we will wear costumes and eat candy. That’s a good plan. Family and sugar.

What’s been keeping you sane?
God, and the idea that if we are in this place, then there has to be a way to work in it. If we are still here, when other people aren’t, there is something to do in it, even if that’s just to be grateful for being here. I have also learned a lot of grace for others because we are all struggling.

What gives you hope?
That people are still creating and finding ways to be light for themselves, and then for other people. Seeing creative output gives me LIFE.

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Artistic Director Padraic Lillis, inspired by baseball farm system, develops new playwrights

By France-Luce Benson

This Saturday we are joined by playwright, director, and Founding Artistic Director of The Farm Theatre, Padraic Lillis. Founded in 2013, The Farm Theatre develops early career artists with limited support systems through workshops, productions, and mentoring. The Farm Theatre’s name is inspired by baseball’s “farm system” to develop new talent. Similarly, Lillis has devoted himself to developing new voices in theatre, as well as mentoring young artists through his work as an educator, and with his own work. His award-winning solo show Hope You Get To Eleven or What Are We Going to do About Sally, about suicide awareness, has been performed at high schools and colleges around the country – and he’ll share an excerpt with us this Saturday. Here, Lillis talks about the timeliness of that play, his love for the Yankees, and hopes for the future of theatre.

How did the Farm Theater come to be?

I am a member of the LAByrinth Theater Company in New York, NY and led the education program for a decade. It became clear that the artists and young companies that succeeded were those that had on going contact with mentors and had a community of peer support.  When I had an impulse to start my own company, I recognized that my passion was not in developing and producing plays but that it was developing artists. 

What seeds are you planting for the spring?

I’m developing a lot of new work and mentoring playwrights – and I’m investing in their work. I believe the work that we begin to write and fully develop will be ready to share publicly in the spring. Regardless of the form public productions will take in the spring – we will have a lot of new voices ready to share the stories.

You describe yourself as a life-long Yankee fan; Do you have a favorite memory watching the Yankees? 

I grew up in Upstate New York. Fairport, a suburb of Rochester. I became a Yankee fan probably because of the great history of the team and our cable tv in the 70’s included channel 11 where I could watch the Yankees play every night. A favorite memory of watching Yankees – I have a lot, but one that stands out…and I talk about in my solo show, is game 5 of the 2001 World Series. Top of the 8th inning – and the Yankees are in the field – and the crowd starts chanting “Paul O’Neill, Paul O’Neill” – he’s in right field. He’s retiring after this year. This is his last game at the stadium and the crowd needed to let him know how much they appreciated and valued him. What makes it even more beautiful is that the Yankees were losing. They were about to lose the World Series…but the fans needed to tell Paul O’Neill how much he meant to them. I love that moment.

Do you feel your solo show Hope You Get to Eleven, or What are we going to do about Sally?, about suicide awareness, has significant relevance right now? 

Right now, isolation is a major challenge. Our entire industry is shut down and each of us are being forced to reimagine how we create and share our work. It is incredibly difficult to reimagine your entire identity and how engage with the world. People need to know that they are not alone, that they are not the only ones experiencing difficulty, that need help – and that it is okay not to be perfect or to not know —- how to navigate this change. We’re all figuring it out. 

Do you work with any suicide prevention organizations?

When I present this show for a public audience, I make it a point to raise funds and awareness for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. When I perform the show at high schools and colleges I do it in collaboration with the school counselors – and make sure that each performance has a post-show discussion. For days after each performance I hear audience members share their personal relationship with the issue. I believe the most valuable thing the show does is that it facilitates open dialogue about a disease that preys on secrecy. 

How have you cared for yourself during this time?

I take a walk in nature every day. It gets me out of my apartment, away from my computer, and gives me a chance to appreciate the simplicity of life.

What’s been keeping you sane?

The daily walk. And baseball.

What brings you hope?

This. The fact that your theater has found a way to stay engaged with your community. The plays that people are writing. Zoom readings, audio plays, live streaming…all of the ways that people are finding to create and share their work. I think we can all agree that not all of the forms are completely satisfying – but that fact that we are continuing to create and to share the work is incredibly hopeful. 

France-Luce Benson is a playwright and Community Engagement Coordinator for the Fountain Theatre.

Fountain Theatre weekend event ‘Raise Your Voice’ seeks to activate public to vote

Actors in rehearsal for Raise Your Voice.

Events on the streets and online

The Fountain Theatre is readying Raise Your Voice – Vote!, a guerrilla style, immersive theater event set to take place over the course of two days at six locations throughout the City of Los Angeles. Watch the live-stream every hour on the hour beginning at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 24 and Sunday, Oct. 25 at www.FountainTheatre.com.

Conceived by acclaimed playwright and Fountain Theatre community engagement coordinator France-Luce Benson and co-directed by Benson and Lily OckwellRaise Your Voice – Vote!aims to build momentum and awareness about the upcoming election while bringing theater for the people to the people. The five-member acting ensemble (Victor AnthonyJessica EmmanuelWonjung KimTheo Perkins and Rayne J. Raney) will present a series of pop up performances in six public spaces, each representative of L.A.’s cultural landscape. Each performance will feature America’s most iconic speeches about voting rights, plus dance and song. Volunteers will be stationed at every location to offer assistance with voter registration and voter education.

“We want to create an event that is inspirational, but never didactic,” explains Benson. “The performers will be in conversation with each other and with the people around them, blending in, respecting and embracing whichever community we’re in.”

Each of the performances will be live-streamed and will also be augmented by a series of surprise appearances, posts and performances on the Fountain Theatre’s social media pages in support of voter awareness.

Send Us Your Selfie on Voting

Want to engage in the Fountain’s newest project? We want you to upload a short selfie video (2 mins or less) of yourself expressing how important it is to vote. Nothing fancy. Can literally be taken on a smartphone. Just speak from your heart. Be passionate. What does voting mean to you? Why does voting matter? Do you have a personal story about voting? These video selfies will air at the top of each hour, from 10am to 6pm, on all Fountain social platforms and website.

Important: 

  • You (we) cannot endorse a specific candidate.
  • Do not mention Trump or Biden by name.
  • Shoot your selfie horizontal, not vertical.   

The purpose of the event is to use theatre as a trigger to activate the public to vote, to emphasize the responsibility of voting, to remind each other of the price some have paid to vote, to express the urgency to participate in this election and in our democracy.

Raise Your Voice – Vote! is produced by Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy for the Fountain Theatre. James Bennett is live-stream editor, and Terri Roberts is volunteer coordinator. The event is underwritten by Miles and Joni Benickes, Diana BuckhantzKaren KondazianMaggi PhillipsSusan StockelDorothy Wolpert, and Don and Suzanne Zachary. Event partners include volunteer organizations The Social Ripple Effect and Big Sunday.

For more information, to find out how you can volunteer and to live-stream Raise Your Voice –Vote! on Oct. 24 and Oct. 25, go to www.fountaintheatre.com.

LA intimate theatre community comes together for virtual festival of short plays

By Terri Roberts

Did you see it? Were you part of the excitement? Thursday, October 1st, was Opening Night of the first weekend of Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival, a three-week long celebration of new works presented by Alternative Theatre Los Angeles (ATLA) in association with L.A. Stage Alliance. The second weekend of performances has begun, and continues tonight and Saturday at 7pm. The final batch of shows is next weekend, October 15-17, at 7pm. The entire festival can be viewed on Twitch.

Each evening of the online festival is a 90-minute stretch of original 10-minute plays, all penned specifically for the digital stage by playwrights representing 34 of the 64 local intimate theatre companies – including the Fountain – that make up ATLA. The Fountain’s entry into the festival, Talking Peace, was written by Community Engagement Coordinator France-Luce Benson, who also happens to be an accomplished playwright. Talking Peace is a wittily observant take on today’s hot-button issues that is set during a virtual Zoom get-together. In it, 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.

Talking Peace was part of last week’s Opening Night schedule. You can re-watch it – and catch all other performances to date — at www.twitch.tv/togetherlafestival. To make reservations for tonight, and any of the remaining nights, visit www.togetherlafestival.com. Tickets are free, but reservations are required.

ATLA was born five months ago out of the need felt by local theatres to stay connected during the pandemic, offer strength and support to each other, and make positive steps forward in the midst of uncertainty in order to keep hope, art and theatre alive.

And so, LA’s intimate theatre community turned out en masse last Thursday to celebrate the launch of this digital effort together. New plays! Old friends! The forum was virtual, but the energy jumped right off the screen. The pre-show chat box overflowed with cries of “So excited!” and “Break legs everybody!” scattered in-between all the shout-outs and virtual drink orders and jokes about easy parking. The wild exhilaration was further pumped up with a lava flow of exuberant emojis: clapping hands, party poppers, hugs, and a full-range rainbow of colored and decorated hearts. It didn’t seem to matter that the theatre lovers gathered there were not sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the same house. After months of isolation and darkened physical stages, they were sitting spirit-to-spirit and heart-to-heart in the same space, ready and willing to enjoy a virtual stage experience, and reveling in each others’ company. This community knows how to adapt!

“We are here to celebrate the vibrant and diverse intimate theatre scene of greater Los Angeles,” explained host Amy Hill at the top of the show. “Los Angeles theatre has always been on the forefront of innovation, and tonight we bring that to the digital stage…we are showcasing what intimate theatre does best – bringing people together. Telling important stories and creating a place to connect and heal through art.”

The three-week long event is also doubling as a fundraiser for Color of Change, a progressive nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization in the United States that uses online resources to strengthen the political voice of African Americans. By the end of yesterday’s block of shows, $3,680 had been raised toward an ultimate goal of $5,000. Could it be that a new goal will need to be set before the weekend is out? The LA theatre community is nothing if not enthusiastic and generous in their support of friends in need.

The same exuberance on display Opening Night has continued every night since then. So come on in – gather with us tonight and Saturday, and next weekend as well to cheer on all these new short plays, reconnect with the theatres and artists you love, raise some money for a good cause, and help keep the indomitable LA intimate theatre spirit riding high! A digital program will be yours for the asking, and someone will be by shortly to take your virtual drink order. You don’t even have to worry about parking or arriving late and not getting in. There’s always enough room, and plenty of fun to be had.

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 include 24th 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. For more information about the festival and for a schedule of shows, please visit www.togetherlafestival.com

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.

Actress/Director Lisa Strum to share hilarious and poignant solo work on ‘Saturday Matinee’

by France-Luce Benson

Lisa Strum, a Philadelphia native living and working in the New York area is a director, an educator, actress, playwright, producer, casting director, singer and a certified wedding officiant! I’d add to that list truth teller, world traveler, and cherished friend. Her soulful voice and infectious laugh make her a powerful presence on stage and off, and her sharp wit, insightful observations, and wicked sense of humor are what makes her work so compelling. An award-winning actor, she’s starred in some of American theatre’s most celebrated plays, including Wilson’s Fences, Morriseau’s Pipleline, and Nottage’s Sweat. But lately, it is her work as a director that is getting everyone’s attention. I am lucky enough to have had her direct two of my own plays – Fall at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, and Nanã for the All Hands on Deck Virtual play Festival. She also directed a Kennedy Center Award winning production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough, and is currently directing Flyin West at Five Towns College. On this week’s installment of “Saturday Matinees”, Strum will perform from her original works She Gon Learn, An Actor Prepares, and Poetic Tirades. I sat down with her to discuss her journey from actor to director, and the beauty of acceptance.

F.L.B. What led you to directing?

L.S.   I dabbled in directing while I was in undergrad; directing one acts and short scenes. But it wasn’t until I was hired by Carl Johnson to act as the Theatre Specialist for the Abrons Arts Center Summer Program at Henry Street Settlement that my directing skills really began to take shape. I discovered that I had a strong visual eye to tell stories on the stage and to get great performances out of the actors I was working with – regardless of their experience or their age. There was always a mainstage show at the end of the 5 weeks of the summer program of an original devised theatre piece created by the students. The show also included dance, singing and a set, so there was constant collaboration between the voice, dance and visual arts instructors throughout the summer and year after year we generated some incredible work together. It was exciting being the conductor of all of this collaborative work. I became hooked. And I just liked telling people what to do! LOL!

F.L.B. – What has been keeping you sane?

Staying connected with friends and family. Preparing and cooking home cooked meals. Laughter. Lots of laughter! Movies from my teenage years. And simply accepting the reality of the situation we are living in right now. Adaption and going with the flow are key. Many people realized during the quarantine how much they needed a break from the constant hustle and rat race. I didn’t realize how much I needed to be still. With all the constraints we’ve been under because of COVID-19, I’ve found peace within the boundaries. It’s been an amazing way to stay focused and to stay in the moment.

FLB. – What gives you hope?

L.S. The will of the human spirit and the ability to adapt and find joy regardless of the circumstances.

France-Luce Benson is a playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Fountain Theatre.

Art imitates life in site-specific Zoom play ‘Talking Peace’ by France-Luce Benson

Playwright France-Luce Benson is the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre, and host of the online gathering, “Saturday Matinees.”

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 BensonTalking Peace will premiere on day one of Alternative Theatre L.A.’s Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festivalone 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 AboiteMiriam Ani, Janelle LawrenceCelestine Rae and Lisa Rosetta StrumDr. 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