Tamlyn Tomita and Juanita Jennings in ‘Heart Song’
‘Heart Song’ Noted for Acting and Choreography
Our 2013 Fountain Theatre World Premiere production of Heart Song has been nominated for 2 NAACP Theatre Awards for excellence in acting and choreography. Juanita Jennings has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Maria Bermudez for Best Choreography. The 24th Annual NAACP Awards ceremony will be held Monday, November 17, at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.
Written by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, our 2013 world premiere of Heart Song earned rave reviews andan extended run. In this funny and touching comedy/drama, Rochelle is a middle-aged Jewish woman in New York City in the middle of a life crisis. Lost and alone, her life is suddenly changed when she is convinced to take a Flamenco class with other middle-aged women. The Flamenco class and its unforgettable circle of women — all shapes, sizes and colors — lead Rochelle on a journey of sisterhood, faith and discovery of her own deep inner voice.
The NAACP Theatre Awards is presented by the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Branch. The gala is produced for the purpose of honoring artists in the field of entertainment. The branch also celebrates a three-day theatre festival, which provides a platform for theatre artists to express their craft and share their contributions with an audience of their peers, the community and other individuals who celebrate live theatre in Los Angeles.
‘Heart Song’ featured flamenco choreography by Maria Bermudez.
This year’s Awards show will be hosted by Kym Whitley, star of the humorous and poignant docu-series “Raising Whitley”on Oprah Winfrey’sThe OWN Network. The awards show will take place on Monday, November 17, 2014 at 6PM at the historical Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, California.
When Stephen Sachs was a student at Agoura High, he won a national high school writing award and was offered several writing scholarships. He turned them all down. Why? “I wanted to be an actor,” he answered a bit sheepishly.
He became one in the 1980s, but it’s the old story. As reality set in, he began to direct, write plays and help run theatre companies. He was a manager at Ensemble Studio Theatre, worked behind the scenes at Stages in Hollywood, and with Joan Stein and Suzie Dietz at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills. Until he got a phone call “out of the blue” from Deborah Lawlor, another independent theatre producer.
Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs
Lawlor had met Sachs at Stages when she rented space there, and was impressed by him. While recuperating from a serious auto accident in New York, she decided that, if she survived, she would do what she’d always wanted: have her own theatre. She called Sachs and asked him to run it with her. That was 1990. You might say that the rest is history, but not so fast…
“I was just starting to develop as a playwright and director,” Sachs said. “Deborah had a dance background. She was part of the avant-garde dance scene in New York in the 1960s and 70s. The Judson Dance Theater, Café Cino, the whole thing. Her idea was to create an artistic home for theatre and dance artists.”
As a wise friend once told me, we tend to enter our lives through the back door. Looking around for a suitable space, Lawlor and Sachs were shown a funky building at 5060 Fountain Avenue in Hollywood and fell in love with it. They named it the Fountain for the street it sat on, but also, Lawlor said, “I liked the idea of a fountain of work…”
“We opened our doors on April Fool’s Day 1990—the perfect day to start a theatre company,” said Sachs, “and we’ve been there ever since. Los Angeles being such a diverse city, we wanted to do work that would give voice to a variety of communities.”
Which is how the theatre’s association with Flamenco dance began.
Flamenco dancer Maria Bermudez
“Through Deborah,” specified Sachs. “Shortly after we opened she asked, ‘Have you ever seen a Flamenco concert?’ I said no and she said, ‘Come with me.’ We got in the car, drove up to Santa Barbara and she introduced me to Roberto Amaral, a well respected Flamenco teacher and choreographer. I saw my first Flamenco concert and was blown away. ‘We’re going to do that at The Fountain,’ Deborah said. And now we’re the foremost regular presenters of Flamenco in Los Angeles.
“When we started it was just Deborah, me and the building. We plugged in a couple of phones, drove down Western Avenue and bought a couple of desks. We had to assemble them ourselves. We made our own programs on a manual typewriter. It was all very small, very modest.”
In many ways, it still is. “But from the beginning,” added Sachs, “we felt we were on to something. We did The Golden Gate, a play I had adapted from a charming novel by Vikram Seth about yuppies, gays and straights living in San Francisco—romantic and fun, beautifully written, and entirely in verse. It was like 30-somethings meet Shakespeare. We did it up in San Francisco, so right out of the gate, our work was being noticed. It’s just been a slow kind of gentle growth ever since.”
While next year will mark their 25th year in business at the same address in a virtually unchanged environment, and they have a lot to show artistically for the past quarter century, big profit is not one of them. Lawlor has delivered financial support when needed, while Sachs has delivered a stream of noteworthy plays, becoming that unusual creature: a playwright and director with his own sandbox. Together, they’ve built a loyal audience and done work that has brought them recognition and has traveled pretty far afield.
Sachs has had 11 of his plays produced during that time, many of them at the Fountain, quite a few elsewhere—from The Pasadena Playhouse to Toronto, from Chicago’s Victory Gardens to Vancouver. A quick Google search offers an impressive list of directing and playwriting credits.
Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) finds release through dance in ‘Heart Song’.
Currently, his play Heart Song, which recently premiered at the Fountain and is about the transformation of a middle-aged Jewish woman “separated from her tribe and very much alone,” is filling up houses at Florida Rep. His 2012 two-hander, Bakersfield Mist, about the encounter of a celebrated art dealer with a woman in a Bakersfield trailer convinced she owns a major work of art, opens in June at The Duchess Theatre in London’s West End. It features Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid.
“There’s been something special about this play from the start,” said Sachs. “I directed the world premiere at the Fountain and was on the 101 freeway driving to my first production meeting, when I had a call from my agent telling me the script had been optioned for New York. I had to pull over!”
Bakersfield Mist received three other productions around the country as part of the National New Play Network (NNPN), an organization of theaters of which The Fountain is a member. It was founded in 1998 with the intent of giving new plays more than one production.
“They do this thing called ‘rolling world premieres,’ ” Sachs explained, “guaranteeing at least three productions of a new play. Sweet Nothing In My Ear, another play of mine that premiered at the Fountain, went around the country through NNPN and then was made into a Hallmark movie with Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. A new version of Strinberg’s Miss Julie that I wrote was produced that way as well. We want to continue doing more of that.”
Bakersfield Mist had productions at Wellfleet Harbor Theatre in Cape Cod, New Rep in Boston, the New Jersey Rep and was optioned by Sonia Friedman, a major New York and London producer. “They’d never seen a production of it,” said Sachs. “They read that script sent by my agent and optioned it for London and New York. Now they control the U.S. rights.”
Ian McDiarmid and Kathleen Turner in the London production of “Bakersfield Mist”
In 2004, the Fountain drew the attention of no less a playwright than South Africa’s Athol Fugard, who chose the tiny Fountain for the world premiere of an exquisite and very personal two-character play: Exits and Entrances. It was followed by the U.S. premiere of Fugard’s The Blue Iris, The Train Driver, Victory and the West coast premiere of Coming Home.
When asked how many productions the Fountain puts on per year, Sachs answered: “Trick question. We’ll announce four, but actually do two or three. Our productions tend to extend and run for a while which is a nice problem to have. So we announce four and see how it goes.”
Productions are no longer pegged to specific dates, but to seasons — Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter — allowing for greater flexibility. Sachs and Lawlor threw out the old model of rigid slots when they found themselves closing hits because they had committed to a new show on a given date. With just 80 seats to sell, they had to think more creatively. “We changed everyone to a flexible pass and we’ve never looked back. This allows us to keep a hit going. It also allows our subscribers the flexibility to come at their convenience—a good thing when decisions today tend to be so last-minute.”
So is the small physical plant a plus or a minus?
“It’s a question we’ve been wrestling with for years,” Sachs acknowledged, “a tug between ambition and what is right for the company. We even explored Hollywood quite a bit, looking to find maybe a second space or larger building, thinking, boy, how much bigger we could be. Yet talking with Fugard about this, he said, ‘Don’t. Don’t do it.’ Maybe he’s right…”
“The Train Driver” by Athol Fugard
So here’s the dilemma: Awards and recognition are certainly not lacking, but breaking even—let alone making money—is a perennial struggle. The staff has ballooned to six people: Lawlor and Sachs, producing director Simon Levy, tech director Scott Tuomey, associate producer James Bennett and head of subscriptions Diana Gibson. The budget has “a little more than doubled” since they opened their doors. It does not easily enable profit.
“There are times when I wish we had more seats, a bigger stage,” said Sachs, “but there are plenty of examples out there of smaller theatres that have gone on to larger buildings and have regretted it or have lost something in the move; suddenly the focus becomes the real estate and maintaining the overhead.
“I don’t ever want to lose the magic of this intimate space. It makes for such a visceral experience. But after almost 25 years, there’s also a question of growth. We can’t become stagnant or complacent and we do want to continue building forward. You don’t want to sell your soul and you don’t want to lose what makes this theatre special.”
Lawlor concurred. She’s writing a play for which she’s received a grant and acknowledged that “our losses have decreased; we may even show a tiny profit this year.”
“Expanding fund-raising; exploring the possibility of adding 19 seats to our existing space. Not easy,” said Sachs, “but we can do that under the 99-seat Equity Waiver and 19 seats could make a difference. Other than that, we’re looking to expand our exposure across the country and having more of our work done at other theatres.”
So the funky Fountain remains the-little-theatre-that-could, on its funky street with its broken sidewalk, its postage-stamp parking lot, and widely enjoyed by many people who apparently have found out that they really, really like what it has to offer.
Leading Female Performance – Pamela Dunlap, Heart Song
Leading Male Performance – Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup, The Normal Heart
Supporting Female Performance – Lisa Pelikan, The Normal Heart
Supporting Male Performance – Verton R.Banks, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler, The Normal Heart
Zombie Joe’s Underground will host the 35th annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards on April 7 at Exchange LA. The awards honor what the paper’s committee of critics have deemed the best work performed in theaters of 99 seats or less in the 2013 calendar year.
The Fountain Theatre has been honored with 8 Ovation Award nominations, including the prestigious categories of Best Season and Best Production of a Play, it was announced last night at an event hosted by LA Stage Alliance. The Ovation season ran from September 2012 to August 2013 and includes the Fountain productions of The Blue Iris, In the Red and Brown Water, On the Spectrum and Heart Song.
Founded in 1989 and considered to be LA’s version of the Tony Awards, the LA STAGE Alliance’s Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theater awards in Los Angeles. Each year over 400 productions in the region compete for Ovation Award consideration.
This marks the 4th time that The Fountain Theatre has been nominated for Best Season since the category was created 5 years ago, winning the award in 2011. The Fountain Theatre has the distinction of earning more Ovation Award nominations and winning more Ovation awards overall than any other intimate theatre in Los Angeles.
“We are particularly pleased with our Best Season nomination because it reflects the overall excellence and diversity of our work year round,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We’re delighted that In The Red and Brown Water earned such recognition and proud to be the first theatre to introduce the work of playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney to LA audiences.”
The 2013 Ovation Award nominations for the Fountain Theatre are:
Best Season (The Blue Iris, In the Red and Brown Water, On the Spectrum, Heart Song)
Best Production of a Play (In the Red and Brown Water)
Best Director (Shirley Jo Finney, In the Red and Brown Water)
Best Ensemble in a Play (In the Red and Brown Water)
Best Lead Actress in a Play (Diarra Kilpatrick, In the Red and Brown Water)
Best Featured Actress in a Play (Peggy Blow and Iona Morris, In the Red and Brown Water)
Special Ovation Honor to Jeff Teeter for video design (On the Spectrum)
The Ovation Awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, November 3 at 7 pm at San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, 320 S. Mission Drive in San Gabriel. For more information, visit www.OvationAwards.com.
Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti
by Stephen Sachs
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is a longtime member of the Fountain Family. His parents, Gil and Sukey Garcetti, have been Fountain subscribers for more than a decade starting back with our LA jazz play Central Avenue in 2001 when Gil was the Los Angeles District Attorney. Eric was elected to the LA City Council in 2001 and served as our Councilman in our 13th District for twelve years. We were thrilled and proud when he was elected mayor in May of this year.
Over the years as our Councilman, Eric and his staff were always there when the Fountain needed him. We will be forever grateful for his friendship and support in our darkest hour of grief. The day after learning of the brutal slaying of our Fountain colleague Ben Bradley in 2010, Eric Garcetti’s office immediately contacted us, asking “what can we do to help?” Members of Eric’s staff personally came over to the Fountain to help us plan Ben’s memorial. They arranged to make the 300-seat City-owned Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Park available to us free of charge for the service. And Eric Garcetti attended the memorial and spoke.
Last night was a happier time to see now-Mayor Eric Garcetti. A reception honoring him was held at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood. Fountain Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor and I were invited to attend. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
LA Gay & Lesbian Center plaza.
The cocktail event was held on the outdoor plaza of the Center. It was a warm, pleasant night. Before Garcetti’s arrival, about 200 invited guests enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres. It was nice chatting with East West Players Artistic Director Tim Dang, whose husband, Darrel Cummings is the Center’s Chief of Staff. And connecting with Jon Imparato, the Center’s Director of Cultural Arts and producer of their upcoming production of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later.
After a lively introduction from Center CEO Lorri L. Jean, Mayor Garcetti spoke. His remarks were casual and friendly and sprinkled with humor, emphasizing social inclusion and his longtime commitment to the LGBT community. He was intelligent, poised, and articulate. Our new Mayor balances charismatic star power with the skill to connect with people as fellow human beings.
Deborah and I grabbed him briefly after this remarks. He seemed happy to see us. “My parents were just at the Fountain a few weeks ago to see Heart Song,” he exclaimed.
Eric and I had a short conversation about how the Fountain can best take advantage of the surge of redevelopment in Hollywood and achieve the Fountain’s goal of acquiring a larger venue. We bemoaned the loss of the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency). But Eric had some ideas and suggestions. And, as always, offered to help.
As someone snapped a photo, Garcetti held a postcard from our upcoming Fountain production of The Normal Heart, opening September 21st, and declared with a broad grin:
“The Mayor says ‘Everyone Go See The Normal Heart!”
You heard him. Better do what the man says. He just might be President some day.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
The Normal Heart Sept 21 – Nov 3 (323) 663-1525MORE
Our wonderful 3-month run of the world premiere of Heart Song came to a glorious conclusion yesterday with its final matinee performance followed by a joyous party. The funny and powerful new play and sold-out production earned many rave reviews and deeply affected audiences. We received many emails and Facebook comments from people expressing how deeply moved they were by the play and what the production meant to them. One patron, Heidi Singh, was so taken with the play she saw it seven times.
We thank all of the extraordinary artists, crew, production team, and — most important — audience members who made the extended 3-month run of Heart Song at the Fountain Theatre such an unforgettable and meaningful experience.
Hello everyone, this is Lowes Lee Moore III one last time.
As you know The Los Angeles County Arts Commission gave me a 10-week Internship with the Fountain Theatre as the Development Intern. YAAAAY!!! I am very sad to say that today marks the end of the internship. It is extremely upsetting to have to leave such a loving family of beautiful theater-making individuals. Every day they have welcomed me with warm smiles, hugs, and valuable lessons. I am truly blessed to have been a member of the Fountain Theatre Family.
I thought it would be funny to take some of my journal entries from my first two weeks on the job so you can see for yourselves how great my summer has been.
photo by Lowes
[6/4/2013] Day 1: Today I met Stephen, Deborah, Scott and Diana. They showed me to my desk, which had a laptop, office supplies, and a phone. The scariest part of the day was the phone rang 3x. Of course I didn’t answer. What am I suppose to say? It’s my first day. Give me a break. Stephen gave me a task to complete over the next few days to get me started. I took that as a challenge. I got to meet Denise Blasor, one of the new actors in the Fountain Theatre play Heart Song written by the very own Stephen Sachs himself. She did a KPFK radio interview which was pretty cool because I got to sit in the room while it happened. They do a lot Flamenco-y things in this place. I probably should look up Flamenco sometime between today and tomorrow. It’s definitely a thing here.
[6/7/2013] Day 4: Today there was a lot of traffic. Being from New York I guess I’ll never understand LA traffic shenanigans. The second I got to the office I was put in charge of 4 tasks! They waste no time here and are going to use every bit of me they can. Well, lucky for them that is why I am here. The most daunting task of all was doing computer research and e-mailing for artist who will donate over 100 CD’s for Forever Flamenco! At the Ford. Apparently, this event is going to be big and I need to get with the program fast. After archiving for about 15 minutes with Deb I had to take a break. There is some much history here at the Fountain. Every time I look at the information that needs to be archived I get exhausted/flustered/overwhelmed/distracted. But hey, who’s complaining really. Deb told me to get rid of items that had too many extra copies but could not watch me and would not let me throw anything away without saying “Let me see that…let me see the copies.” This was going to be a long project I could tell.
photo by Lowes
We decided to call it a day and I joined Deb in some stretching and dancing to cool off. She demanded I research Flamenco dancers who’ve been through the Fountain Theatre like Timo Nunez, Maria Bermudez, and Mizuho Sato to name a few. She, politely, threatened me saying, “you will not be allowed to stay here very long if you don’t come see my Flamenco show” in her most seriously voice but with her most vibrant and loving smile. I am pretty sure Deb was an amazing dancer back in the day. She has moves. That has been confirmed.
[6/13/2013] Day 8: Today was my day of funny events. This morning I laughed with Stephen about how hectic my no car situation is. It felt good to just talk about it. We hung out and ate some hotdogs, which he says is one of our normal Fountain lunch meals. Who knew I would like hotdogs so much. After, I was sitting at my desk when Scott & Diana were working on the phones in the other room but forgot to tell me. Diana fussed me out for answering the phone. “Are you serious? We are checking the phones? Come on Lowes?” which is the pretty censored version haha. I was really embarrassed because Diana is kind of scary. Diana came right over and glared at me for 2 minutes. Then she smiled & chuckled and said “hey Lowes, next time read my mind…that was a joke!!!” Boy, did I need some time to process that one. Today was one of the first days I bonded with James (the head box office person but he is MANAGER now) as I refer to him on the phone. He is really funny and right around the corner from my desk. Sooner or later he’ll get annoyed with my 1,000 questions. Today I definitely had a lot but he did not seem to mind at all. We had our first staff meeting before the show at the Ford. I failed for the first time on the job. I could not find anyone to donate the CD’s that we asked for.
Lowes and dancer Timo Nunez backstage at Forever Flamenco at the Ford
[6/14/2013] Day 9: Just kidding I cannot believe how great today was. After I got home last night. I got an e-mail from a company willing to donate 100 CDs. Stephen and the rest of the FT family were so proud. Apparently, I’m a “boss.” If you do not know what that means…well it means I’M THE MAN!!! Yup and to top it off I surprised Stephen with his favorite Chicken Avocado burrito from El Pollo Loco. Yes it was a pretty great day. As if the day couldn’t get any better, Simon tells me that I get to help him on the producing side of theatre. “This is the fun part of the internship” he says. I get to help with a show he is directing in September called “The Normal Heart.” I am so excited to get started on that project. Simon seems like a very fun person to work with. He gets so intense and is so knowledgeable I can’t help but be amazed majority of the time.
I can’t even begin to process all of the great things that have happened to me this summer. I have learned many new tools and have met so many great people. I got to spend a summer in the office of a Non-Profit Organization who does everything possible to bring quality work to a diverse Los Angeles Community. I finally learned what Flamenco is and have seen some of the best in Los Angeles. I’ve seen Heart Song and had the privilege of working under the writer for my entire stay at the Fountain Theatre. I did research on and helped advertise one of the greatest American Play’s, the The Normal Heart, revival in Los Angeles after 15+ years.
Here are some other areas I helped in while at the Fountain Theatre:
Artist Relations*Box Office Work*Document Managing/Organizing*Entering Transfers & Journal Entries into QuickBooks*Helping Fundraise/Donation*Archiving*General Office Work*Casting Monitor*Assistant Handyman*Running Errands*Grant Research/Preparation*Blogging*
Lowes and box office dude James Bennett
I’ve found a family here at the Fountain Theatre. Everyday forward I will be grateful for all of the wisdom and knowledge this experience has given me. Even though I am very sad to leave and go back to school. I happy I have found another home in East Hollywood at the intersection of Fountain and Normandie. When I walked out of the office after my first day I felt something deep down. There is something special here at the Fountain. It must be in the water. And as I walk out of the office today I know I’ll feel it again. Love.
This upcoming school year I will be diving into intense coursework in classes such as Econometrics, Macro-economics, Music of Western Culture, & Community Literacy. I also will be the section leader for our Glee Club for the second year in a row. Our Glee Club is traveling to Spain & Portugal on tour in January. I will be serving on the executive board, as treasurer of our schools largest club on campus called Dance Production. I will be a Tour Guide for my second year and a music scholarship student for my third year. Lastly, from August 24th to October 12th I am in the production of Hairspray The Broadway Musical at the Glendale Centre Theatre. This summer has opened up doors for me to work in many different aspects of the arts.
I want to give a special thank you to the Los Angeles Arts Commission for allowing me this opportunity to gain more experience in the work place. Thank you Fountain Family: Stephen, Deborah, Simon, Scott, Diana, James, Barbara and everyone else who played such integral parts in making this one of the best summer experiences yet.
Emerging from the One Theatre World conference on plays for young audiences, this past May, life was pretty wondrous. And ringing in my head was a concept totally unrelated to any of what I’d just seen or experienced, except that it was perhaps at the very heart of the experience, and perhaps the heart of what theater, better than any other art form, can achieve. The concept comes from Jean Clottes, former head of scientific research at Chauvet Cave in southern France that contains cave paintings dating back 35,000 years:
People of the Paleolithic probably had two concepts which change [one’s] vision of the world. The concept of fluidity and the concept of permeability. Fluidity means that the categories that we have—man, woman, horse, tree, etc.—can shift. A tree may speak. A man can get transformed into an animal, and the other way around, given certain circumstances. The concept of permeability is that there are no barriers, so to speak, between the world where we are and the world of the spirits. A wall can talk to us, or a wall can accept us or refuse us. A shaman for example can send his or her spirit to the world of the supernatural or can receive the visit, inside him or her, of supernatural spirits. If you put those two concepts together you realize how different life must have been for those people from the way we live now.
Exactly. Except not for all of us. Children are still remarkably, gloriously, frighteningly close to our Paleolithic ancestors. They have absolute faith and comfort in fluidity and permeability, in parents who can become animals and rocks that can speak to enlighten or deceive. The freedom of that worldview, the magic that this enables, makes writing for children’s theater both a joy and exquisite effort—one has to let go of rational plotting, of the need for explanation, while still honoring the rules of the universe being created. Which strikes me as being a valid way to live one’s life outside theater.
But here’s the thing. This universe is not just for kids. Over the three days of the festival, I witnessed adults, men and women from their twenties to their sixties, who totally bought that a Styrofoam ball and a gloved hand were a small man in a diving suit, one that they cared for, rooted for, and grieved with. They believed an obviously human hand moving through the air with a squeaking sound was a mouse that had seen enough injustice in the world and was finally taking action; that a plastic bag came to life and pursued its own agenda within our human realm. Inanimate became animate, fluidity was real. The edges of our known world became permeable. And, yes, we knew. We knew it was a puppeteer—there was no effort to hide the mechanics—we’re sophisticated and jaded and theater people for god’s sake. And yet we believed. We believed with our child/Paleolithic minds. Is there anywhere else besides theater where this can happen with such grace? Where the machinery can be in such plain sight and yet simultaneously break us free of our fundamental knowledge of the world? Paintings, music, dance, novels can punch us in the gut, remind us we’re human, open us to others’ experiences, but can they fundamentally revert our very perceptions to an earlier state? We’re in the same room at the same time with the creators, they are clearly as human as we are, and for minutes or hours at a time we are in the presence of something nonhuman, nonrational, yet viscerally real and true.
So what about plays for adults? Can their stories be just as filled with fluidity and permeability? I would argue that there is as much truth to those states as to any other, perhaps more so. Adults watch, transfixed, transported as leather and wood and wire shift form into a huge animal we weep for in Warhorse. And isn’t that sense of magic—knowing that we are witnessing transformation, craving it, the sense that something larger, more true is happening in the obvious falsehood—isn’t that so much more potent than having real horses on stage? It’s not just impressive, it’s fracking magic. The wildlife of the savannah in Lion King, the singing basement appliances of Caroline, or Change, the terrified blind gods in Equus, this is not just stagecraft—it’s matter transforming into other matter, or at least allowing us to believe again that that is possible. And our world gets bigger, more wondrous.
‘Heart Song’ at the Fountain Theatre
Even when physical objects are not transmogrifying, we can achieve stunning moments of permeability as something sweeping and unexplainable bleeds through into our world (or at least the world of the play). It’s not subtle, but when Tony Kushner has an angel descend through a ceiling to announce heaven’s plans…well, our Paleolithic ancestors (and children) would have grasped that more easily than understanding why Blanche Dubois loves paper lanterns. Lisa D’Amour’s Anna Bella Eema, Mickle Maher’s There Is A Happiness That Morning Is, my own early stabs at permeability in My Barking Dog—all of these stories take place here, now, but in a world where our narrow realities are enlarged and our understanding of life gets bigger. Brilliant plays like Good People and Clybourne Park speak ugly truths in graceful ways, but they are, by choice, creating a world that is the exact same size as life. We need those stories, but I posit that we need, perhaps even more, worlds that are unimaginably larger than the one we return to when we step out of the theater onto the sidewalk.
Sacred Space: the stage before the performance begins.
None of this is new, to be sure; theater likely was birthed from acting out the transformations (and perhaps thus gaining some control over them) believed to be happening in the world around our ancestors. Perhaps ancient theatrical techniques and modern technology may yet show us a way to resuscitate our art in the face of all encompassing digital entertainment by offering audiences something we can’t get anywhere else, something that forces us to do the work, to create (or allow) the magic, even as adults, in the face of what we think we know about our world. It’s one thing to willingly believe that Willy Loman is a real person in a real kitchen, but so many other art forms can trick us into that. Novelists can utterly suck us into their worlds, fantastic or not, but they don’t have to contend with our rational brains telling us we’re sitting in a room with strangers consciously watching other strangers tell a story and simultaneously that a live actor is becoming an automobile or a man has been impregnated by a coyote. By directly engaging this battle between our certainty of the real and our hunger for the might-be-real at such an unconscious yet obvious level, theater supersedes other art forms and is able let the bigger world of transformation bleed through.
One more thought from Mssr. Clottes:
Humans have been described in many ways, right? And for a while it was Homo Sapiens and it’s still called Home Sapiens, “the man who knows.” I don’t think it’s a good definition at all. We don’t know. We don’t know much. I would think Homo Spiritulalis.
The theater has given us the unique tools to take us back to our most primitive basic reality, whether one wants to call that a child’s mind or the mind, now forgotten, that launched our species on our current course. We know what existing in the world created by logic and physics feels like. What about living in a world of magic and vastness and wonder again?
What a gift. What a challenge. What art.
Eric Coble is a playwright born in Edinburgh, Scotland and raised on the Navajo and Ute reservations in New Mexico and Colorado. His plays include The Velocity of Autumn, Bright Ideas,The Dead Guy, Natural Selection, For Better, and The Giver and have been produced Off-Broadway, throughout the U.S., and on several continents. This post appeared on HowlRound.
Post-show cafe chat last Sunday after the matinee of ‘Heart Song’.
By Bette Billett
On behalf of a very grateful UCLA Faculty Women’s Club, I wish to thank all who made Sunday such a rich experience.The after-show conversation and kudos for HEART SONG are still going on at the UCLA campus. A special thank you to Simon Levy and Stephen Sachs who came in on a Sunday, which we noted with gratitude. Stephen stayed for the entire get together and fielded the “insight into women” questions so agilely and , of course, because he wrote such a wonderful play. Many thanks, too, to the stellar cast. Lastly, thanks to Diana and James, who somehow make the ticketing run so smoothly.
Fond regards from Westwood,
Bette Billet, President UCLA Faculty Women’s Club
Bette Billet (left) with Deborah Lawlor, Tamlyn Tomita and Denise Blasor.