Among the many lessons learned in 2020, the most crucial may be our urgent need to have open and honest conversations about race in America. As the grisly video of George Floyd’s murder surfaced, it became painfully clear that we could not afford to look away. Protesters spilled into the streets of cities across the country with a powerful message: If we are silent about injustice, we are complicit.
Angie Kariotis, Program Facilitator and Curriculum Director for Walking the Beat Los Angeles, has devoted her work to fostering these difficult conversations. Kariotis, along with Fountain Theatre Board member Theo Perkins, created Walking the Beat as a tool for community building for high school students. The nine-week multi-media workshop combines performance, creative writing, film, and research to initiate positive interactions between youth and police.
The Arts Education program began in New Jersey in partnership with Elizabeth Youth Theatre Ensemble, and in 2019 the Fountain Theatre launched Walking the Beat Hollywood. This year, the Fountain expanded the program, making it possible for students and police officers outside Hollywood to participate. On August 25, the Fountain will screen Walking the Beat Los Angeles’ culminating multi-media presentation, BLACKOUT 2021.
I had the pleasure of talking to Kariotis about the evolution, impact, and future of this vital program.
–What kind of impact did the events of 2020 have on the students, based on your work with them this past month?
If we are scared as a nation, we will forget all the lessons hard learned. You can see it happening already. No one is talking about all the changes we want to keep. What do we want to keep? Instead of rushing to “normal” (which wasn’t!), 2020 necessitated an activation. We’re activated. One thing the students are is ready.
–Was it difficult getting the officers and students to open up?
No, it wasn’t difficult for anyone to open up, by themselves and with each other. People, and I believe most people, want to do just that. But they need permission and they don’t want to be alone doing it.
–How has the program evolved since its inception, particularly in the last year?
We got research-heavy this year. We turned this workshop into a popular education. We practiced critique and analysis. We studied. We grew into our work as research-based performance artists. We aimed to challenge public policy formally. We are working to move our practice into the theater that is public policy.
–How have your own background and experiences prepared you to do this?
I am studying design thinking and collaborative group processes. This framework is about divergent thinking, collaboration, experimentation, and honoring failure. Creativity — and not just the art-making transactional kind — is a necessary skill. We need people who are able to identify problems before they become problems.
–Who should see BLACKOUT 2021? Why?
Anyone who wants to know how to have hard conversations with others. People interested in learning how to get people to the table. How to talk about things no one knows how to talk about. Right now we all want to talk about a lot, but we don’t know how.
–What is your vision for the future of Walking the Beat and beyond?
For Walking the Beat, my vision is doing policy brief work, where we move beyond survivance and reconnect with the Earth. I wonder how our workshop can tackle the larger theme of power and how that affects our relationship with the planet. We talk about public safety. Do we have planetary safety? What does that mean? How is the way we treat each other impacting climate? This is the ethos moving me into this space and beyond.
* * *
It is this passion and progressive vision that have inspired the ensemble of students and officers to create work that is bold, brave, and charged with the urgency of this moment in our country. In addition to serving as Program Facilitator and Curriculum Director of Walking the Beat, Kariotis offers community workshops for parents on How to Raise Anti-Racist Kids, works at Brookdale Community College as Director of Diversity and Inclusion/CCOG, and has published a chapter in Musing the Margins, an anthology examining the influence of culture and identity on the craft of fiction.
BLACKOUT 2021 will premiere on the Fountain Theatre’s outdoor stage this Wednesday, August 25, at 7pm. It will also be available to view on Fountain Stream in the fall.
France-Luce Benson is an award-winning playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.
One of the many things I’ve desperately missed in this time of isolated lockdown is the beautiful ritual of sharing space with fellow writers to do what we love most – write. Some of my favorite spots were the Writer’s Guild Association Library, Café Intelligentsia, and the warm homes of my lovely writer friends. If you’ve ever sat in silence with other artists to collectively create, you know what a powerful experience it can be. Not only does it increase focus and productivity, but there is something spiritual that happens when artists come together. I believe that creative energy, like laughter, like kindness, is contagious. When I sit with fellow artists committed to doing the work, their dedication and passion boost my own, and likewise. I am reminded what a gift I’ve been given, to be among a community of artists who encourage, challenge, and support one another.
The Dramatists Guild of America is the national, professional membership trade association of theatre writers including playwrights, composers, lyricists, and librettists. The Guild was established for the purpose of aiding dramatists in protecting both the artistic and economic integrity of their work, and has grown into both and advocacy organization for professional dramatists, as well as an artistic sanctuary. Some of the services and initiatives provided include legal aide in contract negotiations, emergency grants for artists experiencing financial hardship, and ongoing reading series for new work development.
A member since 2008, I have been fortunate enough to benefit from all of the above-mentioned programs. Additionally, I was honored to have been awarded a Dramatists Guild Fellowship from 2015-2016. Each year four playwrights and four musical theatre teams are selected for the Fellowship in which emerging dramatists receive professional mentorship and artistic support. Since then, I have served as a teaching artist in the DG’s Traveling Masters program, in which playwrights facilitate workshops across the United States. All of this to say, I know first hand how devoted the Dramatists Guild is to providing playwrights, composers, and lyricists with resources so vital to our work.
End of Play™ is an annual Dramatists Guild initiative to cultivate new plays. For the entire month of April, playwrights, composers, and lyricists will commit to completing a new play, song, score, screenplay, or revised draft of an existing work. In an effort to help us achieve our goals, the Dramatists Guild and partnering organizations will host a series of silent virtual writing sessions each day. You need not be a Dramatists Guild member to participate. All are welcome, and participants may register for as many sessions as they wish.
The Fountain Theatre will host three of these writing sessions: Saturday April 3, 10, and 17, from 9-10:30amPDT. Each of the Fountain’s sessions will end with optional community building where participants will be invited to say hello, share a bit about their process, and get to know each other.
To culminate End of Play™ 2021, the Fountain Theatre will host a presentation of selected excerpts written over the course of the month. Stay tuned for information about the readings.
On March 12, 2020, I flew from Los Angeles to Ft. Lauderdale to watch my 14-year-old niece, Shelby, act in her first play. The year prior we’d spent months, at her request, preparing for her audition for Dillard Performance Arts High School. Days before her audition, she desperately asked, “Auntie, do you think I have a chance?” As any loving aunt would, I replied, “Are you kidding? They’d be crazy not to accept you!”
Truth is, I was worried. Not about whether she’d get in or not—I had no doubt she would. I was actually worried about what would follow when she did get in. What would happen if she fell in love with theatre, just as I did at that age? What if it became her passion, her profession, her vocation, her life? I wanted to protect her from a life of rejection, of disappointment, of cutthroat competition, of financial instability, of heartbreak. I know, right? Project much?
Needless to say, Shelby’s school show did not go on. Like theatres all over the country, the school shut down that week and stayed closed for the remainder of 2020. What this last year without live theatre has taught me is that all the things I love and miss about theatre far outweigh the fears and anxieties I projected on to my niece. I was so focused on the ways the industry can hurt and disappoint. But 2020 reminded me of the ways the art of theatre loves. Theatre heals. Theatre connects. Theatre teaches. Theatre activates change and even revolution.
And probably most evident in this past year, no matter what, theatre survives. I am in awe of the ways my community has demonstrated this truth, and am immensely grateful for the opportunities I have had to create, connect, heal, and teach through my own work. In July 2020, I was one of four female-identifying playwrights, representing the African Diaspora, commissioned to write plays in response to the prompt “Conversations with the Ancestors.” A production of Project Y Theatre, All Hands on Deck streamed throughout the summer.
From April through December, I hosted “Saturday Matinees” with the Fountain Theatre, a virtual salon that featured theatre artists from all over the country, including Kit Yan, Antonio Lyons, Lisa Strum, Dennis A. Allen, Vanessa Garcia, and more. The weekly series celebrated BIPOC artists, while providing audiences time and space to connect with each another during a time when many of us endured incredible isolation. In November, I led a four-week workshop hosted by Global Voices Theatre in London. Participants joined from all over the world—Hong Kong, Philippines, India, the U.S.—to develop new plays aimed at correcting revisionist history.
In January of this year, my play Tigress of San Domingue streamed as part of Atlantic Theatre Company’s African Caribbean Mixfest, and last month I was among six playwrights featured in Long Distance Affair. Produced by Juggerknot Theatre and Popup Theatrics, LDA brought together playwrights and actors from six cities around the world—Los Angeles, Portland, Beirut, Lagos, Mexico City, and Mumbai—to create immersive theatre. With over 60 live performances, LDA is the closest thing to in-person theatre I experienced all year. Audience members interacted with one another in intimate Zoom rooms, and with the characters whose lives they interrupted, often at odd times depending on the city (2 a.m. in Lagos).
I had the pleasure of collaborating with L.A.-based actor Wendy Elizabeth Abraham, who bravely invited us into her home in Sherman Oaks, and into her emotional journey through grief and motherhood. I attended about six of the 60-plus performances, and no two were ever the same.
Finally, I launched Fountain Voices, a new arts education initiative I developed in my role as community engagement coordinator for the Fountain. The program promotes empathy and community building, teaching students how to write original plays based on interviews with members of their own community. The successful pilot run of Fountain Voices at Hollywood High culminated in January, with a powerful presentation of work that explored homophobia, depression, and homelessness among teenagers. This month, Fountain Voices begins a partnership with Compton Unified School District, where we will serve over 100 students, longing to be seen and heard.
My time spent with these students reaffirmed what the last year taught me. And when my niece is ready to return to school and inevitably enjoys her first moment onstage, rather than prepare her for the darkness, I will encourage her to embrace all the light and love theatre shines on us.
During these challenging times, it is more important than ever to connect. In this new series of blog articles, Community Chats, we will talk with different community partners about issues of community and gathering together in a virtual world.
To start, the Fountain’s own Community Engagement Director, France-Luce Benson, talks about the theatre’s upcoming community events as well as the launch of our brand new virtual get-together series, Sunday Brunch. The first Sunday Brunch is being served this Sunday at 11am. Join us! Zoom ID: 853 1210 5903. Passcode: Brunch
1. What is Sunday Brunch?
Sunday Brunch is a new initiative we’re starting this Sunday, February 28th, from 11am-12pm. Like Saturday Matinees, it will be a time for all of us to gather, catch up, connect, and inspire one another. But unlike Saturday Matinees, there won’t be any guest performers. For Sunday Brunch, YOU are the special guest. It’s all about you.
2. Who can participate?
Anyone. Anyone who’s ever seen a show at the Fountain. Anyone who’s ever been in a show at the Fountain, or directed, designed, or ushered. Subscribers, donors, supporters, community partners, neighbors, friends and family. All are welcome.
3. What kind of activities should our community members be expecting?
Great conversation, fun ice-breakers and games, and time to share.
4. Sharing? What can they share?
A song, a joke, a poem, a passage from your favorite book, an excerpt of your own writing, a recipe, a personal story, a piece of art – even gossip! Anything that sparks joy. It’s about spreading love and inspiration.
5. How often will these brunches happen?
The last Sunday of every month, beginning this Sunday, February 28th, from 11am-12pm.
6. Are there any more community events that we should keep our eyes out for?
We are taking our new Arts Education program, Fountain Voices, to Clarence A. Dickison school, beginning March 8th. The nine-week program will culminate in a performance of the students’ original work. Be on the look out for info about the performance in May.
In April, the Fountain Theatre will partner with The Dramatists Guild for their annual End of Play initiative, where hundreds of playwrights across the country commit to completing a new play in the month of April. We’ll be hosting a virtual silent writing retreat.
The Fountain Theatre announces Fountain Voices, an innovative arts education initiative that utilizes the power of theater to promote compassion and acceptance of others. The program launched at Hollywood High School in Fall 2020 and is now expanding to the Compton Unified School District, where it will commence March 8 at Clarence A. Dickinson K-8.
Integrating playwriting, critical thinking and performance, Fountain Voices guides students in the creation of original plays about issues that matter to them, helping them gain a better understanding of themselves and each other, and shedding light on the issues they see impacting their own communities.
“The students themselves choose the topics they want to write about,” says playwright France-Luce Benson,who serves as the Fountain’s community engagement director. “The Hollywood High kids wrote plays about depression, what it means to be queer and cope with homophobia, racial identity and homelessness among young people, among other things.”
Although the first phase, at Hollywood High, was implemented virtually due to Covid restrictions, that did not hinder the students’ ability to form deep, long lasting connections. According to teacher Ali Nezu, “Fountain Voices provided a safe and engaging environment in the midst of distance learning, as well as an authentic artistic experience that combined social emotional learning with English language arts development.”
The nine-week program kicks off with a virtual viewing of Benson’s play, Detained. Originally commissioned by Judy Rabinowitz of the ACLU, Detained is based on interviews with long time U.S. residents held in immigration detention and/or deported, their family members, advocates, attorneys and representatives of ICE. Their collective voices weave a compelling and complicated tapestry that emphasizes the impact immigration detention has on families.
Following the performance, students discuss the process of creating plays based on interviews, as well as the significance of sharing stories as a way to build community. Students are encouraged to think about what communities they belong to, what their stories are, and how they want their stories to be told. Social justice issues raised by the play are explored and used as a launching pad for students to think critically about the issues that impact their own communities. Students are then given the opportunity to engage (virtually) with each other through acting games and exercises designed to teach vital communication skills. As they learn about one another, students are also introduced to the key elements of playwriting. A major component of the curriculum is the interviews that students conduct with members of their own communities. Once those are completed, students collaborate with one another to craft short plays and monologues about the communities they live in and the ones they aspire to create.
Sixth, seventh and eighth graders will be the first to participate at Clarence A. Dickinson, with additional Compton Unified schools adopting the program, provided by the Fountain Theatre at no cost to the district, in the near future. “We are bringing Fountain Voices to our students because I believe that our students need the arts now more than ever,” stated Clarence A. Dickinson principal Rebecca Harris. “This will support our students’ literacy skills in a unique and engaging way.”
Concludes Benson, “Every voice deserves to be heard. Profound change can happen when we listen, and our collective voices can inspire compelling stories.”
Fountain Voices is made possible, in part, by support from Mary Jo and David Volk, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation and Sharyl Overholser.
Leslie R: I was able to meet 6 of the most incredible people I could ever imagine… They made me love something, they reminded me that a family is not DNA. That’s what the program was to me, a family, a community. I learned to love, and through it, I was able to find a little piece of myself.
Delfin G: I was a really shy and reserved student before but being here helped me be more open and sharing that script really did something for me… Hearing those other stories and accounts by my peers was really eye-opening.
Ashley C: The Fountain voices program is a loving and safe space where there is never a right or wrong approach. It feels more like family than just a group and going from strangers to what I consider friends and family in a span of months is amazing.
Madison M: I not only loved the camaraderie of those who were involved in the program, but I cherished the community we built together… Writing is painful, therapeutic, cathartic, beautiful, and fulfilling all at the same time.
I was on a crowded beach in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil celebrating the new year. Surrounded by beautiful, dancing, sweaty bodies I ran towards the ocean to jump the waves, hoping for an unforgettable year ahead. It was definitely unforgettable. But we won’t go there. We survived, and in some ways thrived. While it seemed like the pandemic would be the death of theatre, artists around the world found new, innovative ways to keep creating bold, brave, new theatre. In fact, I’ve been as busy as ever with projects lined up through the fall. For that I am truly grateful. And while I can appreciate the abundance of creativity and opportunity, there are some days when I feel like I’d trade it all to be back in Bahia. Or in the South of France. Or London. Japan. Hell, I’d settle for Nova Scotia and I hate the cold. But you get it. If you’re anything like me the pandemic has given you serious wanderlust. Those days of jet setting across the globe, immersing yourself in a new culture, frolicking sans mask and abandon on a white sand beach, or sipping wine in a crowded café with live music seems like a lifetime ago. So when I was approached by Juggerknot Theatre and Popup Theatrics to join them in this exciting adventure I leapt at the chance.
Long Distance Affair is a global, virtual, immersive, theatrical event. I, along with five other playwrights from all over the world, were tasked with writing short, interactive plays for an actor in our city to perform in their home. As an audience member, you will board a virtual plane and be transported to Beirut, Mexico, Lagos, Mumbai, Portland, and Los Angeles. Each piece offers a glimpse into that city’s culture, and a voyeuristic view of the character/actor’s inner life. You may be asked to dance, or to pray, or simply bear witness to the things we only reveal in the sanctity of our homes.
It’s been an honor collaborating with so many incredible artists, and a special treat to represent Los Angeles with local actor Wendy Elizabeth Abraham. A Resident Artist of Moving Arts Company since 2008, she was last seen in their production of Early Birds by Dana Schwartz. It was actually one of the last live productions I saw before flying out to Brazil for a two month artist residency. We had never met but I waited for her to come out after the show to tell her how much I loved her performance, and hoped that we’d have a chance to work together some day. With theatres closed for nearly a year now, I never imagined that chance would come now. And yet, here we are on an adventure that has been surprising, challenging, and satisfying in so many ways.
Long Distance Affair opens this weekend, and runs Feb. 12 – Feb 21st. And because I love The Fountain Theatre, Juggerknot Theatre has extended a generous offer of 50% off the ticket price to Fountain patrons and friends. Visit www.LongDistanceAffair.info to reserve your ticket and use the code Fountain50 for a 50% discount.
It may be a while before we can start globetrotting again, but in the meantime, this is the next best thing.
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
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.
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.
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 email@example.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.