Tag Archives: Isabel Espy

Isa’s Intern Journal: Utopia

FT archives Aug 2015by Isa Espy

One of my favorite things about theatre is that, when in it, you are free to create worlds that don’t have to abide by the rules of reality. In the last several weeks I have spent many an hour sifting though The Fountain’s archives. Looking through old playbills feels strangely akin to walking though the Museum of Natural History— each one is like a peek at the remnants of a different world. Every play has its own texture, its own rhythm, its own particular flavor.

Last semester, I took an amazing architecture class that felt more like a philosophy lecture. In it we delved into the true meaning of Utopia. Thomas More wrote a book in the early 1500s about the fictional island of Utopia, the home of a society whose religious, social and political customs were harmonious. More fashioned the name of his island from the Greek ou (‘not’) and topos (‘place’). By its very appellation, a Utopia cannot exist in the real world. It cannot be created or completely realized within reality; it is a non place. The purpose of a Utopia is to be a platform from which we may view and critique our own world.

I believe theatre to be a type of Utopia. When a set designer and a lighting designer and a writer come together, they do not just create a story, they fashion a world. As soon as you step into a theatre, time no longer abides by worldly conventions. Sunlight can become rose or pale purple, shining ethereally from a fresnel light. The ocean can seep from the corners of a deep blue blanket. A leopard can sing a child a lullaby. An entire universe is contained within a play.

Utopia.

Utopia.

When an audience goes to see a play, we spend and hour or two in a different world. Yet, after the actors take their last bow and the house lights flick on, that world dissolves into a Non Place, and you find yourself back in the reality you had left behind. Theatre is the ultimate Utopia. We do not live in West Side Story‘s New York or the Paris of Les Miz. We can’t break into song whenever we feel like it. Nor can we be so raw as we are on stage, we cannot bear our soul on a day-­to-­day basis. No one wants to break down every time they buy a smoothie at Whole Foods, or fall passionately and dangerously in love with the person behind the desk at the DMV. Human emotion in its rawest form, stripped of its binding of everyday convention, is powerful but ever so delicate.

We need the armor we carry every day to protect us. But if we can take it off for an hour or two at the theatre, it seems a little lighter when we have to put it back on.

CITIZEN: An American Lyric at the Fountain Theatre

CITIZEN: An American Lyric at the Fountain Theatre

Our current production, Citizen: An American Lyric, is about race in America. Like all good theatre, once audiences and actors are in the world of Citizen, different rules apply. We can talk about problems that go unnoticed or unaddressed. We can use words we would never say. We can look directly at issues under the forgiving light of a fresnel that would hurt our eyes in the harsh light of our unforgiving sun.

After we applaud Citizen and exit The Fountain’s cozy walls, we go back to our world. It is no longer safe. But we carry a little bit of that truth with us, that thing we just glimpsed. We do not live in the Utopia of the theatre, but we have stood on that placeless island for an hour or two and looked from a distance at our little moving planet, our flawed country, our damaged city, our fissured neighborhoods, our dysfunctional homes, our imperfect selves … and we have gotten to know them a little better. The world might be the same as when we entered the theatre and hour and a half earlier, but we are not.

Isabel Espy is the Fountain Theatre’s summer intern from UCLA. We are grateful for the support of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and its Arts Internship program.  

 

Isa’s Intern Journal: Digging for roots and finding a community

Rehearsal for 'The Better Part of 'Forever'

Rehearsal for ‘The Better Part of ‘Forever’

by Isabel Espy

cactusI grew up in a town that brushed up against a desert where not much grew except for the occasional towering cactus.  When I would come across a huge Eulychnia Acida covered in red flowers­­, it would always catch me by surprise. How could such an arid womb give birth to something so affirming?

Theatre is like a cactus. Not because it can be shockingly painful when experienced – which it can be – but because it often gives the impression of springing up out of nothing. But what I learned living next to a desert is that if you dig down around a cactus you will always find roots that can stretch for miles, connecting it to everything. And boy, does theatre have roots!

While you may see one amazing show, one brilliant performance,­­ if you dig you will find a community of passionate artists who provide lifeblood to the show. Much like the roots of cacti that hold a desert’s topsoil from beneath, a strong healthy theatre community, though often invisible, keeps the fabric of a community in place.

After 3 years in the Theatre School at UCLA I have found a hidden world of amazingly talented souls. I am a rising senior at UCLA, and I love the family of performers, designers, directors, and writers I have accumulated. What I hadn’t realized was just how far these roots extend outside and beyond UCLA’s  School of Theatre, Film and Television .  I have already run into so many people through the LA County Arts Commission  internship community and through working here that I know from the larger theatre world.

Pablo Santiago

Pablo Santiago holds his Stage Raw award

During one of my first days here at The Fountain, as I was making one of my many trips to the kitchen to refill my coffee mug, I slipped past an early design meeting for our upcoming play, Citizen: An American Lyric. I recognized Pablo Santiago, an amazing lighting designer who I have been lucky to work with on a couple shows at UCLA, and found out that he designing the lights for the show. A day or two later James Bennett asked me if I would like to read the script of The Better Part of Forever. It turns the play was written by a classmate of mine, Leland Frankel.

I met Leland my first week at UCLA, have spent many an hour working on group projects with him, and just last month accidentally crashed his graduation party. Leland knows how to throw a great soiree, but he knows how to write an even better play.

Leland Frankel

Leland Frankel

I read The Better Part of Forever on my lunch break, which shows you how absorbed I was, as usually I spend that half-­hour hopelessly trying to get a hold of my sister on Skype, my only means of reaching her in The Hague. I was so invested in The Better Part of Forever that on my commute to work the next day I found myself vaguely musing over what Jules, one of the two protagonists of the play, would do if asked to join an ice ­cream sundae eating contest. These random thoughts are usually reserved for bad TV show characters or absorbing books, and it took me a while to locate Jules within the context of Leland’s play.

Rehearsal for 'The Better Part of Forever'.

Rehearsal for ‘The Better Part of Forever’.

Anyway, last week I snuck into one of the rehearsals for The Better Part of Forever and got to catch up with Leland and watch the reading being staged. I am super excited about seeing it on the 12th of July as part of the Fountain’s Rap Dev Series, and so should you! Dig and find the roots that hold up amazing artistic work – you might just stumble upon a flowering cactus.

Don’t miss the staged reading of Leland Frankel’s  The Better  Part of Forever on July 10 & 12. Get Tickets/More Info   

Isabel Espy is the Fountain Theatre’s summer intern from UCLA. We are grateful for the support of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and its Arts Internship program.  

Isa’s Intern Journal: Morning Coffee, Rupert & Rasberry Birthday Cake

blue coffe cup

by Isa Espy

For the last two weeks I have been arriving at around 10 a.m. each morning, and unlocking the Fountain’s second floor side door. Sometimes I am greeted by Maria, the Fountain’s lovely housekeeper. Other times, the first thing to hit me as I walk though the door is the whiff of brewing coffee (one of the world’s best smells, in my opinion). Occasionally, though, I am the first one to arrive, and the Fountain’s sunny cafe welcomes me with a sleepy quiet that is quickly dispelled as people begin to trickle in.

Last Thursday, however, was not such a day. The Fountain regularly rents out its space to other theatre artists within the community, and last week we were hosting a haunting immersive theatre project called Alone which describes itself as “an ongoing, site-specific, fully-immersive and existential experience that explores the range of human emotions.”  Alone had transformed our space, covering all the windows with foil, and draping our walls with black fabric. I was the first person to arrive Thursday morning, and I opened the side door into pitch blackness. I fumbled around for the light switch, all the while hearing the eerie rustle of tinfoil. 

Audiences enter Alone: An Existential Haunting

It was a little unsettling sitting alone in the dark when it was actually morning. Making photocopies suddenly became an adventure as I had to navigate myself through cloth tunnels to get to the printer.

About an hour later The Fountain was abuzz with activity. James Bennett was holding rehearsals for his Rapid Dev show — Leland Frankel’s new play Better Part of Forever. The Alone team was putting the last touches on their show before it opened that night, and Citizen: An American Lyric was rehearsing in the theatre. A full and busy house!

Happy Birthday, Deborah!

Happy Birthday, Deborah!

Rupert

Rupert

While everyone was lovely, one new face in particular stole my heart. That face happened to be covered in fur. Deborah’s dog, Rupert, made a guest appearance at our staff meeting, and I fell in love. Our meeting was extra special because we were also celebrating Deborah Lawlor’s birthday. Book keeper Licia Jaccard made a delicious flowerless chocolate cake with raspberries in celebration. And, while our staff meeting to­ do list was ever-­growing, chocolate cake made it so much better.

Isa Espy is our summer intern from UCLA. Our thanks to the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the support of its Arts Internship Program.  

Isa’s Intern Journal: The beauty of being close to another human being in ‘I And You’

Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch in 'I And You'.

Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch in ‘I And You’.

by Isabel Espy

One Friday night about a month ago, still in the process of interviewing for this internship, I came to the Fountain Theatre with two of my best friends to see my first show here: I and You. As soon as we entered the space I had the unsettling feeling that I had accidentally broken into a seventeen ­year-old’s bedroom. I was in complete awe at the level of detail and specificity of Tom Buderwitz’s set.

Before the actors had even appeared on stage, I already felt like I was getting to know a character – the room. The Fountain’s 78-seat theatre really allows the audience to feel as if they themselves are part of the play. The lighting and set design had already brought me thoroughly into the world of the play even before the house lights were completely dimmed.

Then the actors stepped on stage. All my attention shifted from admiring the posters on the walls and the string of fairy lights behind the bed, because suddenly I was in the story. As I sat through the performance I could hear my friends laugh and gasp as they followed the action. At one point, all three of us gasped in perfect unison. 

I And You is 100% contemporary, referencing Instagram and Facebook right and left, making jokes anyone with any online presence can relate to. Yet, while social media plays a deep role in the piece, the issues that it brings up are universal to all, digitally savvy or otherwise. It is a play that deals with the fragility of true human connection. We have all been there. We have all had those moments of difficulty, felt the pain of isolation, the embarrassment of being vulnerable to another person, and the beauty of being close to another human.

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

I won’t give anything away, but I can tell you that as we left the theatre both of my friends’ faces had the telltale wetness of cathartic tears. On our drive back to Westwood (with a quick stop at Chipotle for a post-show treat) we couldn’t stop talking about the play. I and You ends its run this weekend, and if you still have a chance, I would definitely recommend getting your butt over to the Fountain Theatre!

Final 2 performances: Saturday, June 20th @ 8pm; Sunday, June 21st @ 2pm.

Get Tickets/Info

Isabel Espy is the Fountain Theatre’s Summer Arts Intern from UCLA. 

‘Citizen’ Rehearsals Trigger Thought-Provoking Talk Between Actors at Fountain Theatre

Cast of 'Citizen" have table talk.

Cast of ‘Citizen’ have table talk.

Rehearsals are now underway for our exciting world premiere stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine‘s acclaimed book about race in America, Citizen: An American Lyric. Only a few days into rehearsal , the new play has already inspired an honest, open and insightful dialogue between the actors, sharing thoughts and feelings about race, identity, human connection, self-awareness and what it means to be a citizen in this country. 

Adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, the free-flowing and fast-moving theatre piece opens August 1st. 

The talented ensemble cast includes Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick, and Lisa Pescia.  

Before the cast was permitted to turn to page one of the script and begin the painstaking process of exploring and analyzing the text, it was essential to Director Finney that the actors have a frank conversation with each other about their own life experiences concerning race, social/cultural interaction and human relationships. To get to the heart of the issues exposed in this play, Finney insisted, it must be personal. The result was a spirited dialogue at the rehearsal table that was raw, insightful, painful, funny and enlightening.    

Actor Tony Maggio.

Actor Tony Maggio and company discuss the play.

This powerful  and thought-provoking stage adaptation fuses theatre, music, sound, movement,  and video imagery. Snapshots, vignettes, a meditation on the acts of everyday racism. Remarks, glances, seeming slips of the tongue. Those did-that-really-just-happen-did-they-really-just say-that slurs that happen every day. And the larger incidents that become national firestorms. As Rankine writes, “This is how you are a citizen.”

Rankine’s acclaimed book is the Winner of the 2015 National Book Award, the 2015 Los Angeles Book Award, and the PEN Award.

At Monday night’s first rehearsal, producer Simon Levy guided the company through production business, scheduling and paperwork. Costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders took measurements of the actors. Director Shirley Jo Finney spoke about her vision for the play. The script was then read aloud by the cast.  Also present were Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, Director of Devlopment Barbara Goodhill, designers Yee Eun Nam, and Dillon Nelson, movement director Anastasia Coon, publicist Lucy Pollak, and intern Isabel Espy.  

The meditation on race and truthful questioning of social interaction dramatized in this new work is timely for our city and our country.  Our world premiere stage adaptation of Citizen: An American Lyric promises to be the theatrical event of the summer and will certainly generate much-needed conversation. We urge all citizens to join us for this illuminating and important ride! Opens August 1st. 

Photo Slideshow: Table Talk

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Get Tickets/More Info 

Isa’s Intern Journal: Hi There, Fountain Family!

Isabel Espy

by Isabel Espy

My name is Isa and I am so excited to be joining the Fountain Family for the next ten weeks as an intern in development. I am a rising senior acting major at UCLA’s School of Theatre Film and Television, with a minor in society and genetics. I grew up in Chile, where I spent a lot of my time riding horses and dancing ballet on rickety wooden stages. While my home is more than five thousand miles away, the California summer sun reminds me of that of Chile, and spending my summer immersed within the world of performance reestablishes my conviction that art is universal.

Isabel Feb 2015Most of my experience with theatre has been in performance, but I am finding that what goes on behind the scenes at a theatre can be almost as exciting as being on stage! Within my first day here at The Fountain, Stephen and Barbara have introduced me to a throng of new and ongoing projects which promise to be both exciting and challenging. There is so much going on, and I hope to get my bearings quickly so that I can delve right in! I was able to sit in on one of the initial table-reads of The Fountain’s newest project: Citizen: An American Lyric — by Claudia Rankine and adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs. I had just finished reading the script the night before, and hearing the words brought to life by the voices of an amazing group of actors was really exhilarating. I am happy I will have a chance to watch the piece flourish over the next couple of weeks, and am looking forward to being a small part of the Fountain team.

Our thanks to the LA County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission for the support of their Arts Internship Program.