Camille Spirlin and Maya Lynne Robinson, “Runaway Home”
The Fountain Theatre has earned 7 Stage Raw Theater Award nominations for our world premiere production of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps, directed by Shirley Jo Finney. The Fountain production of the funny, moving, and powerful new play about community and the power of family, set in New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina, received the following Stage Raw Theater Award nominations:
Production of the Year
Ensemble – Leith Burke, Jeris Poindexter, Armando Rey, Maya Lynne Robinson, Camille Spirlin, Brian Tichnell, Karen Malina White
Playwriting – Jeremy J. Kamps
Leading Female Performance – Camille Spirlin
Supporting Female Performance – Maya Lynne Robinson, Karen Malina White
Supporting Male Performance – Jeris Poindexter
The 2018 Stage Raw Theater Awards celebrate excellence on the Los Angeles stages in venues of 99-seats or under. This fourth annual edition includes productions that opened between January 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018.
The Awards ceremony is slated for Monday night, August 20, at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles.
To many college students, class assignments can seem boring and meaningless. But for teacher Alan Goodson and his students at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the ongoing visits to the Fountain have become one assignment they eagerly look forward to undertaking. For years, Goodson regularly pulls his students out of the classroom and into the Fountain to benefit from the educational and life-enhancing experience of live theatre.
The student visits are made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program that makes live theatre accessible to young people throughout Southern California.
The FIDM students arrived at the Fountain on November 4th to see our acclaimed world premiere of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps. The play is set in New Orleans, three years after Hurricane Katrina. 14 year-old runaway Kali embarks on a journey to pick through the wreckage of what used to be her life. Rhyming, stealing, and scamming her way through the still-destroyed neighborhood, she grapples with the real cost of what she lost and is forced to confront the higher risk of moving forward. A funny, moving, and powerful new play about community and the power of family.
Returning back to their classroom, the students wrote essays expressing their thoughts and feelings on seeing the production. Take a look at these excerpts:
“The small black box-style theater that The Fountain offers made for an utterly intimate show, leaving tears swelling in every audience member’s eyes as they watched these characters and their troubles unfold. . . . As someone who had no experience with the post-Katrina trauma, this show was a huge learning experience for me. In a way, it caused awareness for tragedies like Katrina, and how the devastation is anything but short-term. In my mind, three years sounds like a very long time, but seeing how devastated these families and communities still were three years later really put it into perspective. Also, the intimate environment of the venue made me feel even closer with these characters, and I truly felt a connection with each and every one of them throughout the show. Kamps’ writing exposed the ugly truths of a natural disaster, but mainly expressed the importance of acceptance, family, and growing up.”
“This play was directed in a way that really involved the audience emotionally. When watching the play, there were times when I literally felt as if I was in the scene. Aside from that I was sitting in the first row, I felt as if I was immersed in each scene, embracing every dramatic and/or even comedic moment. The actors in the play all performed extremely well. They really embraced the importance of how the aftermath of the hurricane effected so many people.”
“My personal opinion of the play is that it was a very emotional, but strong story. The actors played the parts effortlessly, especially the actress that played Kali. . . . Overall, the play was very inspiring. It was told in a different way, with these monologues that were extremely poetic. The experience was very cool being so close to the actors. It felt like I was in the story. The was definitely worth watching.”
“These close quarters allow for audience members to analyze every detail of the actors on stage, whether that be gestures, dialogue, or facial expressions, we can see it all. With that said, the small proximity of the theatre made the execution of Runaway Home that much more impressive and admirable. For audience members like myself, I could tell that each cast member was fully engaged in the story and connected to the characters they played.”
“Intimacy and raw emotion are concepts that are commonly taken for granted, but when they are used to enhance a piece of art, they suddenly become indispensable. With a smaller-sized venue located at the Fountain Theater in Hollywood, and a close-knit cast of animated actors, they were able to incorporate intimacy as well as capture raw emotion in one jam-packed performance. . . . This play provided not only insight into an event, but shed light on the darker aspects of our government’s behavior. Both the venue and the personnel chose to play each character worked perfectly in articulating the message that Kamps was trying to convey. The audience can expect to get giggly as well as a bit teary eyed during this performance. The range of emotion and intimacy that is put on display makes for an extraordinary production.”
As the catastrophic toll of Hurricane Harvey continues to rise with the flooding water, memories of Katrina in 2005 surge into mind like a torrent bursting through a shattered levee. And once again, like with our recent world premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s politcal drama Building the Wall, the Fountain Theatre finds itself launching a new play dramatizing an urgent national issue torn from today’s headlines.
Our world premiere of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps reveals the powerful struggle and courage of the New Orleans community three years after Hurricane Katrina. Opening September 16th, the new play couldn’t be more timely.
“Unfortunately, the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey makes the issues raised in Runaway Home even more relelvant,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “The Fountain always aims to create new work that illuminates the social and political concerns of our current times. With Runaway Home, we now have the opportunity for a new play to shed light and offer the need for civic humanity in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.”
As the New York Times outlined, Hurricane Harvey evokes comparisons to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Here’s a quick rundown of what we know about similarities and differences between the two.
Katrina: Before the storm, New Orleans — with its distinctive Creole-Acadian-French-Haitian-Vietnamese cultural mélange — was a small city of about 455,000 people that lay in large part below sea level, ostensibly protected by a system of levee walls. Its population never fully recovered from the evacuation and destruction and remains below 400,000.
Harvey: Houston is a sprawling, car-dependent, diverse city, low-lying but not below sea level. It has a population of more than two million people, with a system of bayous and waterways to manage flooding.
Katrina: It made landfall near the Louisiana/Mississippi border on Aug. 29, 2005, as a Category 3 storm and measured 350 miles across. However, the relatively low classification, based on wind speed, was deceptive because Katrina produced the highest storm surge ever recorded in the United States.
Harvey: It made landfall in Rockport, Tex., on Friday as a Category 4 storm, measuring 200 miles across, but was quickly downgraded. As of Monday, it was expected to linger for days, causing the National Weather Service to warn, “This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown.”
Deaths and Damage
Katrina: One of the deadliest hurricanes ever to strike the United States, Katrina was responsible for 1,833 deaths, and some bodies were untouched for days. The storm inflicted more than $100 billion in damage, with most of it caused by wind, storm surge and the failure of the levees. Katrina also left three million people across the region without power.
Harvey: Local officials have reported at least 10 deaths in Texas since the storm began, and the number could rise. Heavy rains and flooding are expected to continue at least through Friday, and most of the damage could be caused by flooding.
As for the economy, the Gulf region’s capacity as an oil and gas hub — Houston accounted for 2.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2015 — does not appear to have been seriously compromised, and economists were predicting that the storm’s cost would be less than half that of Katrina’s. So far in Texas, there are 300,000 people without power.
Katrina: Rain was not the main problem with Katrina, which yielded 5 to 10 inches of rainfall in a 48-hour period.
Harvey: By contrast, Harvey brought a deluge, with up to 50 inches of rain predicted over the next several days — more than Houston receives in a year.
Katrina: The mandatory evacuation of New Orleans was announced a day before the storm hit. An estimated 100,000 people remained stuck in the city. A few weeks later, in another chaotic evacuation, more than 100 people died leaving the Houston area to escape Hurricane Rita.
Harvey: Houston did not call on residents to evacuate and is now urging those who can to shelter in place. However, as the rain continued on Monday, a growing number of other jurisdictions — like Bay City, which expected 10 feet of water downtown — urged residents to leave.
Katrina: The storm displaced over a million people and damaged or destroyed 275,000 homes. Almost a million households received individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Harvey: We don’t know yet how many people will be forced out of their homes. But the vast majority of homes in Harvey’s path are not insured against flooding, according to figures from the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA officials estimated that 450,000 people were likely to seek federal aid.
The Takeaways So Far
Katrina: Evacuation chaos and mostly unfounded panic over riots and violence made issues of race, poverty and government failures impossible to ignore. The breaches of the levees compounded those problems and represented an engineering failure of grave proportions.
Harvey: Harvey will likely sharpen an ongoing debate over whether Houston, a city driven by real estate, has overbuilt at the expense of flood control. While Katrina showed a failure to build well, Harvey — depending on how it plays out — might come to represent a warning about climate change.
Sometimes what you’re searching for is right where you started. The Fountain Theatre presents a powerful, funny and deeply moving mother-daughter story by Jeremy J. Kamps. Multiple award-winning Shirley Jo Finney returns to the Fountain to direct the world premiere of Runaway Home for a Sept. 16 opening.
Three years after Hurricane Katrina, the unhealed wounds of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward continue to fester. Camille Spirlin (ABC’s American Koko, Fox TV’s Rosewood, Nickelodeon’s Marvin Marvin) stars as 14-year-old runaway Kali. Rhyming, stealing and scamming her way through the still-destroyed neighborhood, she embarks on a journey to pick through the wreckage of what used to be her life. While the rest of the country’s attention drifts, the neighborhood’s residents are left to repair the damage from the inside out. As their attempts at renewal leave a path of destruction in their wake, Kali bears witness to what the floodwaters left behind. Also in the cast are Leith Burke (Citizen: An American Lyric at the Fountain,Neighbors at the Matrix), Jeris Lee Poindexter (The Darker Face of the Earth,Central Avenue, Gem of the Ocean at the Fountain),Armando Rey (Men on the Verge of a His-panic Breakdown at Macha Theatre), Maya Lynne Robinson (In the Red and Brown Water at the Fountain – LADCC Award, Best Ensemble), Brian Tichnell (Dream Catcher at the Fountain, HBOs Silicon Valley, L.A. Theatre Works’ national tour of The Graduate) and Karen Malina White (Citizen: An American Lyric and The Ballad of Emmett Till – Best Ensemble LADCC and Ovation Awards – at the Fountain, currently in As You Like It at Antaeus).
“This play couldn’t be more timely,” says Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. “Hurricane Katrina may have ceased in 2005, but the storm of racism, poverty and class inequality rages on in our country to this day. We need look no further than Flint, Michigan, to see systemic government prejudice against citizens of color and the poor. But as Jeremy’s play so beautifully demonstrates, the bonds of family and community will weather any storm.”
When Kamps traveled to New Orleans two years after Katrina to volunteer “gutting and mucking” (stripping homes to the studs to remove mold), he had been teaching middle school in Connecticut. He already had an idea in his head about a runaway girl who collects other people’s garbage, finding meaning in the meaningless.
“Kali’s world paralleled the displacement, hope for renewal, fracture and resilience I was seeing in the social-political reality of the Lower 9th Ward,” he explains. “Whenever a character’s inner life and experience are so congruent with an important social issue, that’s the story I want to write.”
While in New Orleans, Kamps met Antoine, a man in his ‘70s who had just returned to what had been his family’s home for generations. Antoine was going from house to house trying to trace relatives, friends, acquaintances and neighbors, to find out what had happened to them in the years since the storm. “His friendship helped me honor the stories of this community in a truthful way — to see the past, present and future of the Lower 9th through their eyes,” says the playwright.
According to Finney, “Because the media painted them as poor and impoverished, most people don’t realize that the residents of the Lower 9th were working class homeowners. Those homes had been in families for generations. Members of the community were expecting government funds so they could rebuild, but because of red tape and bureaucracy, the money never came, or it took so long that people had to end up using it for rent or just to eat.”
“The mother-daughter relationship becomes the pivotal heart space in this story about this community,” she continues. “The play is very funny because Kali is so spirited, but the rage, helplessness and loss that Kali and her mother share are the core of the play. That is the challenge they both struggle with to find their way back to each other and home. What happens to people when they aren’t seen, when they don’t feel safe? How do you begin to rebuild your life when nobody cares?”
Jeremy Kamps’s plays have received awards and recognition including the William Saroyan Human Rights Award Finalist (2016); Page 73 Semi-Finalist (2017); Ruby Lloyd Apsey Award (Gutting); The Goldberg Prize; Woodward International Playwriting (What It Means To Disappear Here); Hudson Valley Writers Center and the NYU Festival of New Works (Water Hyacinth). His play Breitwisch Farm will be produced by Esperance Theater Company in NYC later this year. Recent productions include Gutting, presented by the National Black Theatre of Harlem and What It Means To Disappear Here (Ugly Rhino, NYC). His work has been produced/developed with Esperance Theater Company, Company Cypher at the National Black Theatre of Harlem, Ugly Rhino, Dixon Place, Hudson Valley Shakespeare, The Amoralists and New York Theatre Workshop. His fiction has been published in The Madison Review and The Little Patuxent; has been honored with the H.E. Francis Award, the Howard/John Reid Fiction Prize and was a Lamar York Prize finalist; and has been recognized in Glimmertrain, Inkwell, The Caribbean Writer and New Millenium. He is a member of the Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater. Also an educator and activist, Jeremy has lived and worked for lengthy periods of time in Latin America, India and East Africa, where he focused on support and empowerment for former child soldiers, displaced peoples and child rights. He recently received the Theatre Communications Group “On the Road” grant to return to Kenya where he conducted drama workshops as part of his research for a new play on flower farms. He has facilitated drama and writing workshops around the world and for all ages. He has an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
Shirley Jo Finney has previously directed acclaimed Fountain productions of Citizen: An American Lyric (selected for CTG’s first annual Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre), The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water (for which she earned her second Ovation award), Heart Song, The Ballad of Emmett Till, Yellowman, Central Avenue and From the Mississippi Delta. Her work has been seen at the McCarter Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, L.A. Theatre Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, American College Theatre Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and at the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa, where she helmed a critically acclaimed production of the South African opera, Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. For television, she directed several episodes of Moesha, and she garnered the International Black Filmmakers ‘Best Director’ Award for her short film, Remember Me.She is the recipient of the African American Film Marketplace Award of Achievement for Outstanding Performance and Achievement and leader in Entertainment.
The creative team for Runaway Home includes scenic designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, lighting designer Jennifer Edwards, composer/sound designer Peter Bayne, costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders, props designer DeAnne Millais, choreographer TylerJanet Roston and dialect coach Tyler Seiple. The production stage manager is Jessaica Shields; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen Sachs, Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain 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 over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored for its acclaimed 25th Anniversary Season in 2015 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council; the 2014 Ovation Award for Best Season and the 2014 BEST Award for overall excellence from the Biller Foundation; the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Center Theatre Group’s upcoming Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre; and the naming of seven Fountain productions in a row as “Critic’s Choice” in the Los Angeles Times. The Fountain’s most recent production, the world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, ran for five months and was named “L.A. hottest ticket” by the Los Angeles Times.
The Fountain Theatre is now casting the following role for its upcoming world premiere production of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps, directed by Shirley Finney.
[ARMANDO] 35 to 45 years old, Mexican male. Owns and runs the small local store in the Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans. Has two daughters in Mexico. Guarded, vulnerable, empathetic, longing, wistful, independent, self-sufficient, courageous, inner-turmoil, soft but with a temper. He offers Kali a job in his store, trying to help the young runaway girl, which leads to a harrowing but hopeful end.
STORYLINE: Set in New Orleans, Lower 9th Ward, three years after Hurricane Katrina. In this funny and deeply moving story, 14 year-old Kali embarks on a journey. Rhyming, stealing, and scamming her way through her still-destroyed neighborhood, engaging the lively folk who remain and running from her worried mother, Kali picks through the wreckage of what used to be her life and is forced to confront the cost of moving forward and embrace the loving power of family.
Rehearsals start August 7th. The production opens September 16th and runs to November 5th. The Fountain Theatre operates under the new AEA 99 Seat Agreement.