Ann Noble, Liz Berman and John Prosky introduce the evening.
Tuesday night at the Fountain was one of those evenings that reminds us of the transformative power of theatre. Why we do what we do. It was also a night about working together. Not only for the incarcerated young men on stage from Rancho San Antonio Boys Home who performed the new play they wrote via the Antaeus Odyssey Workshop. But also for the two LA intimate theatre companies who partnered to make the evening possible.
The Odyssey Workshop is an educational outreach program launched by Antaeus Theatre Company that uses theatre techniques to teach creative writing to young adults from high-risk environments. “This is such an important program for all of us at Antaeus Theatre Company,” says Antaeus Co-Artistic Director Bill Brochtrup. “It’s truly a life-changing event for the young men participating — and for the audiences who are lucky enough to see them.”
Because construction on the company’s new venue in Glendale is not yet complete, Antaeus needed to find a theatre to host its one-night performance of the Odyssey Workshop. They reached out to the Fountain Theatre. We immediately agreed to welcome Antaeus and its program into our home.
Antaeus actress Ann Noble and Fountain Associate Producer James Bennett greet guests.
The coincidental timing of Tuesday night’s performance was not lost on anyone. The very next day, Actors Equity Association terminated the 99-Seat Plan, replacing it with a controversial and unpopular new Agreement that divides and separates the once-unified LA intimate theatre community into competing categories and factions.
The shared event at the Fountain Theatre was all about cooperation.
Antaeus actress and board member Dawn Didawick commented, “I wish some of our union representatives could be required to attend events like these in order to learn what Los Angeles theatre artists give to their community.”
“There’s been so much rancor and divisiveness with Actors Equity over their elimination of the 99-Seat Plan,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Tuesday night is an example of what happens when two LA intimate theatre companies, each very different in their programming and organizational structure, cooperate together for the sake of being of service to those other than themselves.”
Fountain Producing Director Simon Levy agrees. “Art does change lives. Theatre opens hearts and connects us to The Other. Bravo/bravissima to Antaeus for this great program. And a standing O to the young men who opened their hearts and allowed themselves to be vulnerable… because it changes us.”
Following the performance, the night was ignited by a lively reception in our upstairs cafe which seemed to exemplify the spirit of the evening. There was food, drinks and a cacophony of raucous chatter and laughter. Students enjoying family and friends intermixing with Antaeus members mingling with Fountain staff. A room packed with a wide variety of diverse people and two uniquely-styled theatre companies. Everyone together, for the same common purpose, becoming one.
Actor John Prosky teaches young men at Rancho San Antonio
They come from all over Southern California. From a wide range of backgrounds, for a variety of reasons. Many have no where else to go. Each has a unique story to tell. And for the young men at Rancho San Antonio Boys Home in Chatsworth, the Odyssey Artists’ Workshop is an opportunity to use theatre as a vehicle to express their personal stories.
On Tuesday, December 13 at 7pm, the Fountain Theatre will host the culmination performance of a new play written by the incarcerated young men of Rancho San Antonio, made possible through the program launched by members of Antaeus Theatre Company.
“At the heart of the Fountain’s artistic mission is our commitment to giving voice to those who may not otherwise be heard,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We are happy and proud to host this program which embodies that artistic and social philosophy.”
Rancho San Antonio is a non-profit multi-service residential agency serving court-ordered adolescent boys. The primary goal of the agency is to provide an opportunity for rehabilitation of the total person through a balanced physical, social, spiritual, psychological, and educational experience. It focuses on personal responsibility, values clarification, and changing anti-social behaviors. Some of the programs provided include: individual, group and family counseling, drug treatment, educational services and emancipation assistance.
The Odyssey Artists’ Workshop is a creative writing and theatre program for young adults from high-risk environments. The workshop teaches the structural elements of non-fiction writing as well as theater performance skills through the component of Shakespeare. The students craft and perform an original theater piece of their personal stories interwoven with selected characters and themes from Shakespeare’s plays.
How did the Workshop get started?
“I had been teaching acting and dramatic writing in the lock-down juvenile camps of LA County for a while, ” says actor John Prosky, recently seen at the Fountain in our west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll. “In 2009, Kitty Swink at Antaeus Theatre Company asked me if I would like to put a Shakespeare program together at Rancho San Antonio. Kitty introduced me to artist and educator Liz Berman who had been teaching a writing program there and we decided to join our programs about 6 years ago. And Odyssey Artists’ Workshop was born.”
The Workshop now teaches at Rancho San Antonio, Homeboy Industries, Van Nuys High School, Learning Works Charter in Pasadena. It starts at New Village Charter in January.
For actor Prosky, the impetus to launch the program was personal. “After working in TV and Film for more than a decade, ” he says, “I began to wonder if I was really contributing anything to the world. Plus, I was Jesuit trained and they beat into me the idea of service. I get much more from this program than the students do.”
What happens in a typical 10-week Workshop period?
“We pick a character arc or text from a play we think a particular student population will respond to and then we perform that arc for them through scenes and soliloquies using professional classical actors,” he explains. “Then we invite the students into the plot with writing prompts, improv and other acting exercises based on what they just saw. The populations we work with tend to be highly polarized by gang affiliation and/or race, so we also spend a great deal of time on ensemble building exercises. We also do mask work and are staging a short story written by a guy on death row in San Quentin, Jarvis Jay Masters, from his book Finding Freedom.
For the young men at Rancho San Antonio, the 10-week Workshop experience is more than artistic. It is also therapeutic.
“We are not trained therapists or social workers by any means,” admits Prosky. “But all these theater exercises on a young mind that has experienced trauma is healing. I tell these guys often that if you tell your story, you will gain wisdom, strength, and a lesson, but more importantly, we as listeners to your story will gain wisdom strength and a lesson.”
“What happens to a young mind that has experienced abuse, neglect, and addiction is that a sense of empathy gets damaged. The wrong role models and a lack of empathy leads to crime. Makes sense. But the young brain is repairable. I’ve seen it over and over. These acting storytelling-exercises coupled with a lot of ensemble building techniques begins to give them back their empathy. Towards the end of the ten week session racial and gang barriers in the room begin to break down. Once they have gone through the crucible of performance, they are a new kind of gang; an ensemble.”
John Prosky and Lindsay LaVanchy in Baby Doll at Fountain Theatre
Because construction for Antaeus Theatre Company’s new venue in Glendale is still underway, Prosky turned to the Fountain to host this culmination performance. The Fountain Theatre immediately accepted. Prosky couldn’t be happier.
“I am so grateful to The Fountain Family for the use of their theatre for this culmination. Having just done Baby Doll at The Fountain, I felt like the positivism, love, and respect I experienced there made it the perfect place for these young men.”
The Odyssey Artists’ Workshop culmination performance will be on Tuesday, December 13, at 7pm at the Fountain Theatre. The event is free. Seating is limited. Please RSVP to Robin Campbell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (818) 506-5436.
Philip Solomon, Thomas Silcott “The Painted Rocks at revolver Creek”
The Fountain Theatre has been honored with 23 awards of excellence from StageSceneLA for productions in its 2015-16 season. Fountain productions awarded were the west coast premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, the world premiere of Dream Catcher by Stephen Sachs, the Los Angeles premiere of My Mañana Comes by Elizabeth Irwin, and the west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll.
Since 2007, Steven Stanley’s StageSceneLA.com has spotlighted the best in Southern California theater via reviews, interviews, and its annual StageSceneLA Awards.
The Fountain has been honored with the following awards this 2015-16 season:
YEAR’S BEST INTIMATE THEATERS The Fountain Theatre
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION, DRAMA (INTIMATE THEATER) The Painted Rocks At Revolver Creek
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION, COMEDY-DRAMA (INTIMATE THEATER) My Mañana Comes
When director Simon Levy was casting our west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll back in April, finding the right actor to play Archie Lee Meighan was a challenge. Levy sifted through hundreds of submissions and auditioned dozens of actors yet he struggled to spot what he was looking for. He needed an actor who could authentically evoke the crude, raw good ol’ boy Southern brutality of the cotton gin owner yet also reveal the character’s fear and vulnerability. Finding that actor seemed impossible.
Then, one afternoon, actor Daniel Bess, already cast in the play, made a suggestion. Did Simon know John Prosky? Daniel’s friend and fellow-member at Antaeus Theatre Company? A meeting was scheduled. And from the first moment that Prosky began his audition it was clear to Levy and everyone present that the hunt for Archie Lee Meighan was over.
“I’m strangely drawn to Archie’s desperation,” Prosky now says. “It’s not always easy or fun to play but I get that part of Archie Lee on a visceral level. I’m certainly no racist, or a cuckold nor am I married to a 20 year old — although my wife does look so much younger than me that it is sometimes assumed. But Archie’s place on “the edge” is something I commune with at this point in my life. Not completely sure why but I sometimes feel like I’m going to loose everything. Maybe it’s just because I have so much to lose.”
Prosky indeed has many blessings. He is married and a father. His son just started 8th grade. In addition to a busy acting career, he teaches. Like Archie Lee in Baby Doll, he sometimes worries that what he values most might all be taken from him. “I sometimes have this fear that I will fuck it all up or it will all somehow slide into oblivion,” he admits. “The good actor’s first job is to bring himself to the work and that part of Archie Lee I get.”
Not every aspect of Archie Lee came easy.
“His physical abuse of Baby Doll I find a stretch for me” he concedes. “And the shotgun. I hate guns. I am always using a gun in something I’m acting in but this is my first shotgun. And a shotgun in the hands of a white male in Mississippi in the 1950s should look as comfortable as an iphone in the hands of a hipster today. So that took some work.”
The Fountain Theatre production — and Prosky’s performance — has earned widespread critical acclaim. But it’s the audience response that pleases him most.
“It’s the reason theater is my first love,” he says. “That immediate communication of actor as storyteller is the whole point of theater and so much more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done on film or TV. “
And his first-time experience working at the Fountain Theatre?
“The Fountain and this production have made me feel respected, welcomed, supported, challenged and fulfilled. Very few theaters can do all that.”
When the movie Baby Doll was released in 1956, it was the film’s sexuality that drew all the attention.
Time magazine called it “possibly the dirtiest American picture ever legally exhibited,” and the film was condemned for lewdness by the Legion of Decency.
The week before Christmas, Cardinal Francis Spellman, New York’s rigid archbishop at the time, pronounced from the pulpit. “Dearly beloved in Christ, I have a statement to make. I am anguished to learn of a motion picture that has been responsibly judged to be evil in concept and which is certain to exert an immoral and corrupting influence on those who see it. The revolting theme of this picture, Baby Doll, and the brazen advertising promoting it constitute a contemptuous defiance of the natural law.” Essentially, he admonished, it was a sin for any Catholic to see the film.
Today, mainstream movies depict sexuality in ways that make Baby Doll look quaint. But in 1956, when the red-hot charge of “un-Americanism” was being branded on anyone or any idea deemed remotely threatening, Baby Doll was more than a movie. To many, it was a threat.
For me, the deeper, more insidious threat dramatized in Baby Doll is not about sex. Yes, Baby Doll is sexy and steamy and seductive. Yet more than that, Baby Doll is sadly relevant to the systemic racism and anti-immigration paranoia still seething in our nation today.
It’s easy to now snicker at Spellman’s condemnation that Baby Doll was “immoral” and “evil” in 1956. But that same righteous judgement of sex and morality is echoed in the right-wing ideology of Christian Conservatives today. Throughout sections of our country, views of sex have not changed much since 1956. Neither have opinions on race or immigration. Turn on Fox News and witness the rise of the dangerous, white supremacist, anti-immigrant views of the Alt-Right.
In Baby Doll, Archie Lee is a Southern white male, a middle-aged, cotton gin owner whose business is failing. He is financially drowning, struggling to stay afloat. Archie Lee is a traditionalist, set in Old Southern Ways , baffled and overwhelmed by the shattering realization that what has made his family and his land flourish for generations is now no longer working. His once-stately mansion and plantation is, literally, falling apart around him. Decomposing. He is afraid. And he is angry.
Today, Archie Lee would be a Donald Trump supporter.
John Prosky (Archie Lee) and Daniel Bess (Silva) in ‘Baby Doll’.
Enter Silva Vacarro. The Italian who now runs the cotton gin across the way. Silva Vacarro is an immigrant.
In Tennesee Williams’ early years, there was a significant immigrant population in the Delta—notably Syrians, Chinese, and Italians. Italian farmers first came to America through the port of New Orleans and worked in cotton and sugar cane fields. Many suffered from the same system of discrimination that kept African Americans in poverty long after slavery was abolished. From the south of Italy, Sicilians immigrated to the Delta, settling in towns where they established new businesses of their own, in competition with local farmers. These hardworking people inspired multiple characters in Williams’ plays, including Silva Vacarro in Baby Doll.
To the white male Archie Lee, Silva Vacarro is the immigrant outsider who has come to this country to steal what Archie Lee has worked so hard all his life to preserve. The immigrant is the invader, hellbent to corrupt Archie Lee’s American Dream into a nightmare. The immigrant is the problem. Sound familiar? Listen to the anti-immigrant ranting at any Donald Trump rally. Illegal aliens are vilified as murderers, drug dealers and rapists.
In Baby Doll, the dark immigrant is also a sexual threat. Silva Vacarro targets Archie Lee’s young bride, Baby Doll, who has refused to consummate her marriage to her husband until she turns twenty in two days. This, of course, dramatizes the classic fear of the bigoted white male in America: the dark man stealing his woman. In Baby Doll, the dark man seducing the blonde virgin white girl is every racist white man’s nightmare come true.
Lindsay LaVanchy and John Prosky
But Archie Lee has recourse. He has “friends” who know how to take care of dirty outsiders like Silva.
I! Got position! Yeah, yeah, I got position! Here in this county! Where I was bo’n an’ brought up! I hold a respected position, lifelong! –member of the— Yes sir, on my side‘re friends, longstandin’ bus’ness associates, an’ social! See what I mean? You ain’t got that advantage, have you, mister? Huh, mister? Ain’t you a dago, or something? Excuse me, I mean Eyetalian or something, here in Tiger Tail County?
Archie Lee’s “friends” who know how to take care of people like Silva is an obvious reference to the Klu Klux Klan.
Silva aligns himself with black workers and asserts his right to work and succeed as an immigrant in this country. He’s here to stay. He’s not going anywhere.
I’m a dark man and a Catholic in a county of Protestant blondes —disliked, distrusted, despised. You call me ‘dago’ and ‘wop’ like you call your workers ‘nigger,’ because of a difference in blood. But I came here with a purpose. You can’t freeze me out or burn me out. I’ll do what I came to do.
No one in Baby Doll — not even the well-seeming Silva — is wholly good. Each, in their own way, are manipulative, vindictive, selfish, in some cases mean. But none of are purely evil either. They are complex human characters struggling in a drama of social, sexual, and cultural politics taking place in a specific state in our country in a specific time in our history.
But racism and anti-immigration phobia in this country are timeless. Deeply planted and tilled into the soil of our nation’s history. They are the worms and repellent insects in our national garden that survive in the dark fetid soil under rocks. Always there, hiding in plain sight, just below the surface. Plays like Baby Doll — and the terrifying propaganda of the current election campaign — turn the rock over and expose the distasteful vermin underneath — and, because we are all citizens of this country, remind us that they are ourselves.
When Baby Doll builds to its explosive conclusion, with the defeated Archie Lee hollering in anguish and being carted off to jail, it seems to be Williams’ intent to demonstrate that the era of Archie Lee is, if not over, at least changing. One of the last lines he says to the Sheriff as he is hauled away, is “I’m a white man. You can’t do this to me!”
Today, sixty years later, as the ethnic and cultural complexion of our country’s population continues to evolve into more widespread diversity, I want to hope that our tolerance will evolve with it. We shall see.
I was first eager to produce the west coast premiere of this new stage adaptation of Baby Doll — the first approved by the Williams Estate — because it offered the rare opportunity to present a “new” Tennessee Williams play never seen by our audiences.
I knew it would be sensual and poetic. I was surprised by how timely and relevant it would be.
Stephen Sachs is the co-founding Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
Due to popular demand and sold-out houses, our critically acclaimed hit west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll, adapted by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann, will extend to October 30th.
Sizzling with sexual tension and darkly comic, this enthralling tale of prejudice, sexual politics and passion is the first-ever Williams Estate-approved stage adaptation of the Tennessee Williams screenplay. Nineteen-year-old married virgin “Baby Doll” Meighan must consummate her marriage in two days, on her 20th birthday — as long as her middle-aged husband, Archie Lee, upholds his end of the bargain to provide her with a comfortable life. When Archie Lee burns down his neighbor’s cotton gin to save his failing business, his rival, Sicilian immigrant Silva Vacarro, arrives to seek revenge. What ensues is a complex mix of desire and desperation, with Baby Doll as both player and pawn.
Directed by Simon Levy, the production features Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky, and George Roland. Steve Hofvendahl will assume the role of Archie Lee (currently played by John Prosky) for all performances in October.
The production has earned rave reviews and audience response has been passionately enthusiastic. Adapted from the Williams screenplay of the controversial 1956 movie, our west coast premiere of Baby Doll offers the rare opportunity to experience a “new” play by Tennessee Williams. Clearly, audiences and critics are relishing the ride.
“EROTIC… Lindsay LaVanchy draws out all the sensuality and sadness, the petulance and helplessness of Baby Doll … allows us to once again hope that maybe this time romance will live up to its promise” — Charles McNulty, Los Angeles Times
“BURSTS WITH SCORCHING SENSUALITY… pays exquisite homage to Williams’s screenplay” — Travis Holder, Arts In LA
“SIZZLING… Don’t miss Baby Doll!… the ensemble is divine… directed with stunning clarity” — Don Grigware, Broadwayworld
“FOCUSES THE HEAT like a magnifying glass in the sunlight… This Baby’s pedigree shows” — Bill Garry, Discover Hollywood
“SPECTACULAR… a phenomenal show that will leave your every sensation aching for more.” — Michelle Sandoval, EdgeMediaNetwork
“STEAMY… a must see for those who love the heat. — Michael Sheehan, On Stage Los Angeles
“OUTSTANDING… Don’t’ miss your opportunity to see this Tennessee Williams premiere.” — Carol Kaufman Segal, Review Plays
“WOW!… A just-right darkly comedic tone and pitch-perfect performances… ‘Baby Doll-icous’ ” —Steven Stanley, Stage Scene LA
“VIOLENCE, SEX AND MADNESS, what more could you want?” — Ernest Kearney, The Tvolution
“EXCITING TO WATCH… waves between dark humor, heat, and menace.” — Evan Henerson, Theater Mania
“If you love Tennessee Williams, DON’T MISS THIS PRODUCTION.” —Paul Myrvold,Theatre Notes
“FOUR STARS… The Fountain’s lavish, excellent production does Williams proud.” — Will Manus, Total Theater
Michigan State students with cast on ‘Baby Doll’ set.
by James Bennett
Monday night, we were granted the opportunity to host teacher Mark Colson and his fabulous group of intrepid theatre students from Michigan State University, who after a breathtaking performance of our critically acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Dollengaged in an inquisitive, inspiring, and heartfelt talkback with our amazing cast and director Simon Levy.
Director Simon Levy fielded a very good question: What’s the audition process like? Did you know we had over 600 submissions for the titular role of Baby Doll?
Actor John Prosky spoke about his artistic journey in manifesting the unchained, violent, and maddened Archie Lee, a character so far from his natural state he didn’t think he’d ever get the part. But when he came into the room to audition with Lindsay LaVanchy, something magic happened which brought the character to life.
The incredible Lindsay LaVanchy talked about her process of finding Baby Doll inside her. She spoke about how she had to open herself to being childlike, a quest she had undertaken many years ago but was unable to complete until preparing for this role. A typically reserved and precise woman, it took the innocence of Baby Doll to “crack her open”.
It is one of our greatest pleasures to share with and mentor the next generation of great theatre artists. What an incredible night!
This event was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making theatre accessible to students and young people.
Lindsay LaVanchy and Daniel Bess in ‘Baby Doll’ (photo by Ed Krieger)
We knew the summer was going to get hot but we never imagined it would sizzle so quickly.
Our West Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll opened this weekend to sold out houses, wild audience response and rave reviews. The Los Angeles Times highlighted Baby Doll as its Weekend Pick, On Stage Los Angeles hailed the sensual production as “A must see”, StageSceneLA exclaimed “Wow! Pitch-perfect major summer entertainment”and Theatre Notes declared “Don’t miss this production!”
Friday’s sold out opening night was attended by the press, Fountain friends and supporters, members of the Board of Directors and invited Fountain VIP Donors who enjoyed the catered reception with the actors upstairs in our cafe following the performance.
Everyone had a marvelous time and cheered the stunning performances and beautiful production.
In this sexy dark comedy, Archie Lee has been married to a seductive young woman/child, called only by the endearment of Baby Doll, for some time, but by agreement with the girl’s now-dead father, the marriage can only be consummated on her 20th birthday, now just days away. The manager of a successful plantation nearby, handsome Silva Vacarro, swaggers in, suspecting that Archie Lee is the arsonist who destroyed his cotton gin the night before. Once Silva sets his eyes on Baby Doll, things get steamy and complicated.
Adapted for the stage by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann from the screenplay by Tennessee Williams of the controversial 1956 movie, our Fountain west coast premiere is directed by Simon Levy and stars Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky and George Roland.