Here’s a special treat for Fountain Folk: get an inside peek at a new play written by a nationally acclaimed and award-winning playwright, screenwriter and director. This Sunday at 2pm, as part of our ‘Open Stage’ festival of guest events, the Fountain will host a reading of Mother of the Maid written and directed by Jane Anderson.
Jane’s new play, Mother of the Maid, is the tale of Joan of Arc, as seen through the eyes of her mom who is doing her very best to accept the fact that her daughter is different. The reading features Jenny O’Hara, Mathew Gottleib, Sophie Ullett, Jack Kutcher, Markie Post, Gabrielle Sunday, Corinne Shor.
Born in the Bay Area of Northern California in 1954, Jane Anderson discovered her drive for show business early on. After a few years in college, Anderson moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. In 1975 she was cast in the Off-Broadway premiere of David Mamet’s breakout play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago.
Besides acting, Anderson also worked as a stand-up comedian. It was during the creation of her routines that she discovered her passion for writing. She moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, earning her livelihood writing for film and television. The Challenger space shuttle disaster inspired her to write her first play, Defying Gravity. Her next play, The Baby Dance, tackled the subject of adoption. Her plays have been produced Off-Broadway and in theaters around the country, including Arena Stage, Actors Theater of Louisville, The McCarter Theater, Long Wharf, ACT, the Geffen Theater and The Pasadena Playhouse. Her published plays: Looking for Normal, The Baby Dance, Defying Gravity, Smart Choices for the New Century, Lynette at 3AM and The Last Time We Saw Her. The Quality of Life, premiered at the Geffen Playhouse and was directed by Ms. Anderson.
For her first feature screenplay, Anderson wrote a romantic comedy called It Could Happen to You about a policeman and a waitress who receives his winning lottery ticket as a tip.
While Anderson and her partner, Tess Ayers, were in the process of adopting their son, Raphael, she got word that her play The Baby Dance was to be made into a TV-movie. When actress-producer Jodie Foster offered her the chance to direct, Anderson took the opportunity to work on the story that so closely paralleled her own life. The movie adaptation, which starred Laura Dern and Stockard Channing, won a Peabody Award, a Golden Globe nomination and three Emmy nominations for best writing and made-for-TV film.
Anderson’s next foray into balancing her theatre work with film came when HBO wanted to adapt her play Looking for Normal (which won the 2001 Ovation Award for Best New Play) into a movie. The movie, titled Normal, told the story of a father who confesses to his family his desire for a sex change operation. The moving film received three Golden Globe nominations, six Emmy nominations, while Anderson herself scored nominations from both the Writers and Directors guilds for best writing and directing.
Anderson continued to write for HBO, and the ground-breaking work on their The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, which stared Holly Hunter, gained her an Emmy, a PEN Award and Writers Guild Award for best teleplay.
Vanessa Redgrave in Anderson’s “If These Walls Could Talk”
Anderson wrote the TV movies When Billie Beat Bobby, starring Holly Hunter, and the Emmy-nominated first episode of If These Walls Could Talk II, staring Vanessa Redgrave. However, even with her busy Hollywood schedule, Jane’s theater work (including Food & Shelter, Smart Choices for the New Century, Lynette at 3AM, and The Last Time We Saw Her) have had runs Off-Broadway and in regional theaters all over the country, including Actors Theater of Louisville, Williamstown, McCarter Theater, Long Wharf and Pasadena Playhouse.
Anderson made her feature film directorial debut with 2005’s The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, the story of a 1950s housewife who writes advertising jingles to help keep her family afloat. Continuing the theme of advertising, she joined the team of writers of the critically acclaimed AMC series Mad Men for the show’s second season.
Jane resides in Los Angeles with Tess and Raphael, where she continues to write for both stage and screen.
Join us this Sunday at 2pm! Be part of the creative process in the development of an exciting new play at the Fountain Theatre.
“I have a long history of flamenco,” Pamela Dunlap says — her tongue firmly in her cheek. And thereby hangs the tale.
“Actually, I’m not a dancer,” she continues. “I’m dragged kicking and screaming into flamenco class” as the lead in Stephen Sachs’ new play Heart Song, now having its premiere at the Fountain Theatre.
Playing Rochelle — a middle-aged, out-of-shape Jewish woman who’s undergoing a crisis of faith — Dunlap is persuaded to join a flamenco class for other middle-aged, out-of-shape women. The production unites two of the Fountain’s specialties — plays and the subject of flamenco (the Fountain is presenting Forever Flamenco at the Ford on June 15).
“It’s an all-female cast,” Dunlap says, “and the camaraderie is great. It’s a wonderful journey.” Shirley Jo Finney is directing.
When I suggest that it sounds a bit like Steel Magnolias, a perennial favorite, she says, “Oh no, it’s not anything like Steel Magnolias! In this play nobody has diabetes, nobody’s getting their hair done, and there are no cranky old women.”
She should know. She was in a Salt Lake City production of Steel Magnolias, playing the role of the former mayor’s widow, who describes the new mayor’s wife as looking, while dancing, “like two pigs fightin’ under a blanket.”
Dunlap confesses that early in her career she taught Latin dances — the cha-cha, the merengue, the samba — at a Xavier Cugat Dance Studio in New York. “Cugat was the Arthur Murray of Latin dancing,” she says. “He had dance studios all over.”
Dunlap is herself a New York woman from Flushing and Jackson Heights. Currently she considers herself bicoastal, with a home in Manhattan and another in Van Nuys. In Southern California, shehas performed at the Ahmanson, South Coast Rep, and LA Theatre Works, but this is her first appearance at the Fountain.
In New York she has been seen on Broadway in Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,Redwood Curtain, and Yerma, and in several Off-Broadway roles. Recently, she appeared at Theater Raleigh in North Carolina as Mattie Fae, the nagging sister of Violet and mother of Little Charles in August Osage County.
On TV she has been featured on How I Met Your Mother, NCIS, Law and Order SVU andCommander in Chief, but her most visible role currently is as Betty Draper’s new mother-in-law and abominable baby-sitter for Betty’s daughter Sally on AMC’s Mad Men.
About her role as “Sally’s fiendish baby sitter,” she calls her “a woman with a great sense of entitlement, exactly the opposite of the woman I’m playing in Heart Song — a woman who is struggling to find her sense of entitlement.”
In Heart Song, Rochelle is “a woman who never married, whose mother recently died, and who has very little support. She’s in a painful place of transition, dealing with mortality and trying to find her own identity,” Dunlap explains.
Flamenco teacher Katarina (Maria Bermudez) and Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap).
Questioned about her identification with the characters she plays, she says, “acting allows us to play so many different characters, but we can always find something in ourselves that is like the character. The play mirrors the struggles we all go through, and we find a common history that we didn’t suspect we have in common. A common history or something that connects us to that character.”
On the adventure level, though, she has had a few experiences that aren’t reflected in any play she has appeared in. For example, when her son, Trevor Morgan Doyle, an anthropologist doing research in Finland, decided to marry a Finnish woman, she traveled to the wedding, driving a car for 10 hours above the Arctic Circle. “The car was chugging along because the fuel was freezing in the tank,” she says.
She also reports that the bride’s family, “obviously testing my mettle,” invited her to swim with them in weather that was 70 degrees below freezing. They dug a hole through the ice and then kept scraping the ice off the top of the hole as it froze on contact with the air.
Did she do it? You bet she did!
“Actually, they claim it’s a cure for depression,” she says. “You’re shocking your whole system. I’ve never felt so alive in my life!”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, she has ties with Ethiopia. She is an active member of the Salt Lake City-based Children of Ethiopia Education Fund, a non-governmental organization that provides schooling for girls in that country.
Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings and Pamela Dunlap.
When not rolling naked in ice holes and visiting schools in Ethiopia, however, she has taken a few moments to accept awards. She has received three Drama-Logue awards, has been an honoree of the New York Drama League, and has won an OOBR (Off-Off Broadway Review) award.
As for the future, she has very definite ideas about whom she would like to work with. Before the question is completely posed, she answers enthusiastically, “Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s the real deal.”
But for the present, she is delighted to be working with director Finney, choreographer Maria “Cha Cha” Bermudez, and a cast consisting of Juanita Jennings, Tamlyn Tomita, Bermudez (through June 14), Denise Blasor (beginning June 15), Andrea Dantas, Mindy Krasner, Elissa Kyriacou and Sherrie Lewandowski.
Choreographed by Maria Bermudez, Stephen Sachs’ dance-theater hybrid explores the deep well of emotions that the art form can stir up.
By Susan Josephs
Two years ago Stephen Sachs began working on a play about the philosophy and practice of flamenco. He figured he had all the material he needed, having spent years in close proximity to flamenco dancers as the co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre, home of the long-running performance series “Forever Flamenco!” But after further research, he realized that the Spanish art form intertwined deeply with certain existential preoccupations that also inhabited his writer’s mind.
“The older I get, the more aware I have become of the loss of loved ones, the time in front of me and how I’m spending it. You start to wrestle more with these things,” observes the 53-year-old playwright and director.
Sachs wound up writing “Heart Song,” a uniquely theatrical hybrid that premieres May 25 at the Fountain and pays tribute to flamenco through the lens of one Jewish woman’s midlife crisis. Directed by Los Angeles theater veteran Shirley Jo Finney and choreographed by the flamenco artist Maria Bermudez, it stars Pamela Dunlap as Rochelle, a fiftysomething New York City denizen who struggles over her mother’s recent death and gets dragged to a flamenco class for nonprofessional dancers by her Japanese American masseuse Tina (Tamlyn Tomita).
Convinced that “Jews don’t do flamenco,” Rochelle receives encouragement from fellow class-taker Daloris (Juanita Jennings), an African American cancer survivor, and reluctantly encounters Katarina de la Fuente, the fierce, Gypsy flamenco teacher played by Bermudez. (Denise Blasor will take over the role after June 15.) Katarina teaches her students how to stomp their feet, flick their wrists and fully express themselves so they can experience the heightened spiritual state known as duende. She also waxes poetic about flamenco’s origins, the shared history of persecution between Gypsies and Jews and the cante jondo, the “deep song” born from suffering and oppression.
Eventually, Katarina’s teachings infiltrate Rochelle’s psyche so that she can grieve and confront the truth of her mother’s legacy.
“What interested me in this whole subject was how art, like religion or any spiritual faith, has the power to transform and heal,” says Sachs, who recently lost his mother and still “wrestles with that loss. I wanted to explore how flamenco can give voice to what is beyond the spoken word, to that deep inner well of sorrow and pain and also joy.”
Sachs’ treatment of flamenco, filled with historical and literary references, also feels distinctly educational. This should come as no surprise when considering that the Fountain’s co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor has produced the city’s preeminent flamenco series for some 20 years. “Heart Song,” however, takes the Fountain’s outreach efforts one step further with its potential to simultaneously attract the theater’s two main audiences: traditional playgoers and flamenco fans.
“I don’t think any production has yet explained flamenco as well as ‘Heart Song’ does,” says Lawlor, who served as the play’s dramaturgical consultant and will be honored on June 15 in a“Forever Flamenco!” gala performance at the Ford Theatres in Hollywood. “The play really shows the range of flamenco and its tragic dimensions, which you don’t find in other dance forms.”
Bermudez, who lives in southern Spain and travels all over the world to perform flamenco, agrees that the Fountain’s production “is very unique. In Spain, there have been mountings of flamenco story ballets, but no one has created a drama about flamenco in this way with actors,” she says.
As the show’s choreographer, Bermudez faced the challenge of crafting movement that everyone in the eight-member cast could perform while accurately reflecting flamenco’s essence. For her, casting definitely proved critical.
“One of the mistakes I’ve seen with dance-theater is to have the dancers act or have the actors dance. This is totally detrimental to both genres,” says the 51-year-old flamenco artist. “So I said, ‘Let’s get actors with movement experience and I will create a choreography for them that’s accessible, so they can be these middle-aged people who are there to connect with something interior rather than with an exterior aesthetic.”
At a recent rehearsal, Bermudez’s choreography seemed to function almost as another character in the play, especially during the scene in which Rochelle first visits the flamenco class. As Katarina, Bermudez conducts a class warm-up, instructing her students to lift their arms, “touch the stars” and twirl their wrists, a motion that becomes an effective unison phrase.
Both as choreographer and performer, Bermudez has the task of conveying the flamenco class as a sacred space where women of all backgrounds can unleash their demons as a means of liberating their spirits. “For me, flamenco is about this universal cry, whether you are Jewish or African American, it is the same,” she says in a phone conversation after the rehearsal. “Pain has no color or creed.”
Shirley Jo Finney
The notion of flamenco’s universal accessibility has always resonated with Finney, who collaborated with Bermudez a decade ago on developing a still unproduced, flamenco-based play called “Cry,” which sought parallels between flamenco and the blues. “What I love about ‘Heart Song’ is that it shows how interconnected we all are. Often women’s plays are very ethnic-specific, but in this piece, you see these different tribes and how they become a collective,” she says.
Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) takes her first flamenco class.
For Finney and her cast, the process of practicing flamenco combined with excavating the life and death themes in Sachs’ script has made for an intensely emotional experience. “In the cast we have cancer survivors, we have people who just lost their mothers,” observes Finney. “We rehearse some of these scenes and I have to say, ‘OK ladies, we got our cry. Now we have to stop and work on the script.’ Mothers and daughters, survivors and life, these have been our discussions.”
Dunlap, for example, can fully relate to Rochelle’s reckoning with her mother’s death. “The relationship with her mother was barren and the relationship I had with my mother was difficult,” says the actress, who can also be seen on “Mad Men” as Betty Draper’s formidable mother-in-law. “It is not infrequent for a play to strike a personal chord with its actors, but in this play … we are blown away by material which touches our personal lives.”
Ultimately, Sachs hopes his play and its many layers of meaning will find a “crossover audience. It would be wonderful if all our audiences came together for a shared experience,” he says. “Hopefully, it will open people’s eyes to what flamenco really is and maybe they will want to take a class themselves.”
“Jews doing flamenco? Instead of ‘Ole!’ the crowd shouts ‘Oy vey?’” – Rochelle in “Heart Song”
Three friends embark on a joyous journey of sisterhood, discovering their inner ‘duende’ through a flamenco class for middle-aged women. Heart Song, the newest comedy/drama from Stephen Sachs (Bakersfield Mist, Cyrano), opens at The Fountain Theatre on May 25 with Shirley Jo Finney (In the Red and Brown Water) directing and choreography by internationally renowned flamenco dancer Maria “Cha Cha” Bermudez.
Pamela Dunlap stars as Rochelle, a middle aged Jewish woman struggling with a crisis of faith. When Tina (Tamlyn Tomita) convinces her to join a flamenco class for “seasoned” out of shape women, Rochelle’s life is changed forever. There, she meets Daloris (Juanita Jennings) and an unforgettable circle of women (Andrea Dantas, Mindy Krasner, Elissa Kyriacou,Sherrie Lewandowski and Norma Maldonado) who propel Rochelle on a hilarious and deeply moving course of unexpected self-discovery.
“Heart Song is funny but also allows me to explore serious issues about faith, spirituality and mortality that are deeply personal to me,” says Sachs. “The play dramatizes how art, in the form of flamenco — like religion or spiritual faith — has the power to heal and transform.”
“Flamenco is a life-saver for these women,” explains Finney. “It’s about duende, finding the deeper soul, unearthing that deep inner voice that lives inside us and can heal our inner wounds.”
The Fountain Theatre, recipient of critical acclaim and multiple awards for its theater productions, is also L.A.’s foremost presenter of flamenco. The Fountain’s monthly “Forever Flamenco!” series was created by co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor, who acts as consultant on this production.
“This is the perfect opportunity to marry the Fountain’s two audiences,” says Lawlor. “With Heart Song, we celebrate both our dedication to creating and producing new plays, as well as our longtime passion and commitment to the art of flamenco.”
Tamlyn Tomita, Pamela Dunlap, and Juanita Jennings
Set design for Heart Song is by Tom Buderwitz; lighting design is by Ken Booth; sound design is by Bruno Louchouarn; costume design is by Dana Woods; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; casting is by Cathy Reinking; production stage manager is Corey Womack; and assistant stage managers are Mitzi Delgado and Terri Roberts. The Fountain Theatre production marks its world premiere. A second production will take place at Florida Rep in 2014.
Stephen Sachs’ other plays include Cyrano (2012 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award), Bakersfield Mist (2012 Elliot Norton Award for Best New Play, optioned for London’s West End and New York), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, LADCC and LA Weekly Award nominations), Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist; Back Stage Garland award for Best Play), Mother’s Day, The Golden Gate (Best Play, Drama-Logue), and The Baron in the Trees. His play Sweet Nothing in my Ear (1997 PEN USA Literary Award finalist and Media Access Award winner for Theater Excellence) has been produced in theaters around the country and was made into a TV movie for CBS starring Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. Open Window (2005 Media Access Award winner for Theater Excellence) had its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Shirley Jo Finney received the LADCC award for her direction of In the Red and Brown Water at the Fountain, where she also directed award-winning productions of From the Mississippi Delta, Central Avenue, Yellowman and The Ballad of Emmett Till. Her work has been seen at the McCarter Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, LA Theater Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, American College Theatre Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa, where she helmed the South African opera, Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. Ms. Finney has been honored with Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Back Stage Garland, LA Weekly and NAACP awards. For television, she directed several episodes of Moesha, and she garnered the International Black Filmmakers ‘Best Director’ Award for her short film, Remember Me. In 2007 she received the African American Film Marketplace Award of Achievement for Outstanding Performance and Achievement and leader in Entertainment.
Pamela Dunlap (Rochelle) has performed at Lincoln Center, New York Theatre Workshop, New York Stage and Film and Circle Repertory Company. On Broadway: Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, Redwood Curtain, Yerma. Off Broadway: Early Girl, Sacrifice to Eros, Green Card. L.A. theatergoers have seen her at the Mark Taper, Ahmanson, South Coast Rep and L.A. Theatre Works. Regional theater includes Theatre Raleigh, Pioneer Theatre, St. Louis Repertory, Hartford Stage, Arena Stage, Pittsburgh Public Theatre and Corpus Christi Symphony. She is the recipient of an OOBR Award, an honoree of the New York Drama League, and a three-time Drama-Logue Award recipient. Mad Men fans will recognize her as Pauline Francis, Betty Draper’s new mother-in-law with the questionable baby sitting skills. TV guest appearances include How I Met Your Mother, N.C.I.S., Law and Order SVU, and recurring as Gilda Rockwell on Commander In Chief. Pamela recently completed filming on Doll and Em for British TV, written, produced and starring Emily Mortimer. Film: The Changeling, directed by Clint Eastwood; I Am Sam; War Of The Roses; The Holiday; Sixteen To Life; and Mind The Gap.
Juanita Jennings (Daloris) is known to Fountain audiences for her portrayal of Aunt Ester in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and for her versatility in From the Mississippi Delta. She recently co-starred in South Coast Repertory’s production of Fences, and has also appeared at SCR in Jar the Floor (NAACP Theatre Award for Best Actress) and Twelfth Night. Other theater credits include productions at New York Shakespeare Festival, the Negro Ensemble Company, Mark Taper Forum, The Old Globe and Westwood Playhouse. Her many TV roles include Edna on the Tyler Perry series Meet the Browns and Dorothy Bascomb on The Bold and the Beautiful. She is a Cable Ace winner for her portrayal in the HBO mini-series Laurel Avenue.
Tamlyn Tomita (Tina) starred in the Fountain’s very first production, Winter Crane (Drama-Logue Award).Other stage work include The Square and Don Juan: A Meditation (Taper, Too), Summer Moon (Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre and South Coast Repertory), Day Standing on its Head (Manhattan Theatre Club) and Nagasaki Dust (Philadelphia Theatre Company). She is best known for the films The Day After Tomorrow,The Joy Luck Club and Karate Kid 2. Other film credits include Picture Bride, Come See the Paradise, Four Rooms, Living Out Loud and Gaijin 2. Soap opera followers know her as Dr. Ellen Yu on Days of Our Lives and Glee fans have seen her as Julia Chang.
Maria Bermudez (Choreographer) is one of the foremost flamenco dancers in the world today. Born in Los Angeles, she now resides in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, the “cradle” of flamenco. Her outstanding and critically acclaimed performances include The Hollywood Bowl, The John Anson Ford Theater, The Fountain Theater, The Los Angeles Music Center, and The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles, Central Park and The Joyce Theater in New York City, the Teatro Palacio das Artes in Brazil, Pena Cernicalos, Los Gallos, and Teatro Lope de Vega in Spain, guest appearances with the Santa Cecilia California and numerous venues throughout the world. Most recently she formed Chicana Gypsy Project which draws on her Mexican-American heritage and her immersion into Gypsy culture. Her life and career has inspired the award-winning documentary film, Streets of Flamenco .
Housed in a charming two-story complex, the Fountain 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 200 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Highlights include In the Red and Brown Water (“Best in Theater 2012” – Los Angeles Times); Cyrano, an adaptation of the Rostand classic for hearing and deaf actors by Stephen Sachs (LADCC Award, “Outstanding Production”), a six-month run of Bakersfield Mist, also by Sachs, optioned for London and New York; the Off-Broadway run of the Fountain’s world premiere production of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances; and the making of Sachs’ Sweet Nothing in My Ear into a TV movie.The Fountain has been honored with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Los Angeles City Council for “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles.” The Fountain was recently honored with seven Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle including the Polly Warfield Award for Best Season 2012.
Heart Song opens on Saturday, May 25, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2 pm through July 14. Preview performances take place May 18-24 on the same schedule. Tickets are $34 (reserved seating), except previews which are $15. On Thursdays and Fridays only, seniors over 65 and students with ID are $25. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles.Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call 323-663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.
Casting is now complete for the Fountain Theatre’s world premiere production of the new comedy/drama Heart Song byStephen Sachs, directed byShirley Jo Finney. The trio of TV/Film/Stage actresses leading the way are Pamela Dunlap (“Mad Men”), Juanita Jennings (“Fences” at South Coast Rep) and Tamlyn Tomita (“Glee”, “Days of Our Lives”, “Joy Luck Club”). Heart Song opens May 25th.
Heart Song is a funny and touching new play that chronicles the personal journey of Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), a middle-aged Jewish woman in New York City struggling through a crisis of faith. Rochelle’s life is changed when she is convinced by friend Tina (Tamlyn Tomita) to join a flamenco class for middle-aged women. There she meets Daloris (Juanita Jennings) and an unforgettable circle of other women who propel Rochelle on a journey of sisterhood and self-discovery.
Pamela Dunlap (Rochelle) makes her Fountain Theatre debut in Heart Song. She is a film/TV/stage veteran who has guest-starred on dozens of TV shows including two years as Pauline Francis on TV’s Mad Men and two years as Gilda Rockwell on Commander in Chief. Her many film credits include Clint Eastwood’s The Changeling and I Am Sam with Sean Penn. On stage, she recently co-starred with Dorothy Lyman in August: Osage County and has appeared in regional theaters across the country including South Coast Repertory, Arena Stage, Hartford Stage, the Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum, New York Theatre Workshop and the Lonacre Theatre on Broadway.
Juanita Jennings (Daloris) recently co-starred in South Coast Repertory’s production of Fences. She is well known to Fountain audiences for her thrilling portrayal of Aunt Ester in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and for her versatility in From the Mississippi Delta. She has also appeared at SCR in Jar the Floor (NAACP Theatre Award for Best Actress), and Twelfth Night. Other theatre credits include productions at New York Shakespeare Festival, the Negro Ensemble Company, Mark Taper Forum, The Old Globe and Westwood Playhouse. Her many TV roles include Edna on the Tyler Perry series Meet the Browns, and Dorothy Bascomb on The Bold and the Beautiful. She is also a Cable Ace winner for her portrayal in the HBO mini-series Laurel Avenue.
Tamlyn Tomita (Tina) is best known for the films The Day After Tomorrow,The Joy Luck Club, and Karate Kid 2. Other film credits include Picture Bride, Come See the Paradise, Four Rooms, Living Out Loud, and Gaijin 2. Soap opera followers know her as Dr. Ellen Yu on Days of Our Lives and Glee fans have seen her as Julia Chang. Tamlyn’s stage work include such productions as The Square and Don Juan: A Meditation (Mark Taper Forum’s Taper, Too), Summer Moon (Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre and South Coast Repertory), Day Standing on its Head (Manhattan Theatre Club), and Nagasaki Dust (Philadelphia Theatre Company). Tamlyn returns to our Fountain stage twenty-three years after winning a Drama-Logue Award when she starred in our very first production, Winter Crane, in 1990.
Also featured in the Heart Song cast are Andrea Dantas, Alicia Dhanifu, Mindy Krasner, Sherrie Lewandowski, Norma Maldonado, and Barbara Oilar.
Stephen Sachs is the author of the recent Fountain hits Bakersfield Mist (optioned for London/Broadway) and Cyrano (LA Drama Critics Circle Award). Shirley Jo Finney won the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for her direction of the Fountain Theatre’s critically acclaimed and award-winning In the Red and Brown Water. Internationally heralded flamenco dancer Maria Bermudez will serve as Heart Song choreographer.
How do we make a life in the theater in the twenty-first century while still managing to pay our bills?
The myth of the starving artist is, unfortunately, alive and well in some sectors of the arts—particularly in the theater. I can say that Art saved me, but as in all complicated endeavors, I can also say the opposite. I can say that Art tried, many times over, to murder me in my sleep. My desire to live my life as an artist forced me into ghettos where I dodged bullets, and into days in which the only lunch I could afford was a stolen handful of nuts from a Whole Foods bin. This is not romantic. It’s stupid. I eventually decided: no more.
And I’m not the only one. Artists everywhere have surfaced and said: no more. No more mythic Icarus ramming itself into the sun and melting into the ocean. There’s a way in which that same Icarus can fly, spanned wings across the sky, safe, and yet still beautiful, even awe-inspiring. What I want to argue here, is that the theater and the performing arts are lagging behind other arts—we’re standing in the wings, while the action is taking place on other people’s stages. Television writers, novelists, Young Adult writers, illustrators—all of these artists have found a way to embrace millennial capitalism (for lack of a better term; call it “late capitalism” if you like)—and the theater has been late to catch up.
This is a vision acutely in line with the contemporary generation of neo-hipsters and millennials. “Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration—music, food, good works, what have you—is expressed in those terms. . . call it Generation Sell,” wrote William Deresiewicz in an article for The New York Timesin November of last year. “Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist,” continues Deresiewicz, “but the entrepreneur. (Think of Steve Jobs, our new deity). Autonomy, adventure, imagination; entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan.”
To sell does not mean to sell-out. At least not the way it used to. The playwright can either play-in or lose out.
The novelist has already adhered. “These guys [contemporary novelists] are acutely aware of the multiple audiences for which they write,” says Szalay, whose upcoming new book is entitled The Novel After HBO. He continues: “For a generation of novelists that began to achieve fame and distinction in the early twenty-first century—like Michael Chabon, Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Lethem, Colson Whitehead, Junot Diaz, and Dana Spiotta—the term ‘sell-out’ just doesn’t apply.”
For performing artists to be able to adhere, our attitude towards money has to change. In a recent article. “A Dancer’s Retort,” in The Huffington Post, Brittany Beyer, dancer and associate editor of The Dance Enthusiast, also calls for a new form of operation in the performing arts. She writes:
One important issue is the dance artist’s attitude towards money. Many of us have been brought up with the idea that our field is beyond a job— to be an artist is almost a sacred calling. If you have ever danced you will understand. We love our art form and have the conviction that it does others good. With integrity and passion we put our bodies—our very selves—on the line to create. Our work is beyond a job description; in many ways it is a life’s practice or a life’s mission. How does one monetize that?
Healers are “sacred” too, aren’t they? Doctors, for instance. And we pay them, don’t we? We pay them a bundle. There is a whole other discussion here about health care in this country and about what we do and do not value socially and who gets access. The point, for now is—why should artists be poor? Other life missions and practices are paid for. If we pay people to heal our bodies, why shouldn’t we pay them to heal our souls? Perhaps this seems trite, cheesy, or too sincere. But, I think it’s true. And, truthfully, I don’t care about it sounding “too sincere.” Irony is no longer king.
We cannot live without money. We cannot produce art without money. It seems to me impossible not to monetize the result of an artistic process. And, it seems sillier still to pretend like art and money have nothing to do with each other. As soon as artists realize this, the better off we will be. This mindset becomes dangerous when producers, not creatives are the one monetizing—particularly producers who are more interested in the money than the art (not all are like this, I should add). The clearest solution, again, seems to be for the artist/playwright to be tied to the production—to become, like in television, a “Showrunner.”
The Showrunner—people like David Chase of The Sopranos and Matthew Weiner of Mad Men—creates, writes, and produces; manages and markets. The Showrunner is more than just a writer. “The result is a paradigmatically neoliberal vision of the writer and his labor,” writes Michael Szalay in his article “The Writer as Producer; or, The Hip Figure After HBO,” published by Duke University Press this year.
This requires the artist to become a hybrid. Going back to the Icarus myth—allow the sun to give us energy, rather than drown us. This doesn’t mean we must always produce our own work. We can allow traditional models to merge with newer models, this too can be hybrid in nature. Technology now gives us all access to the means of production. The writer can now learn Photoshop. The creative can now market on Facebook and Twitter (and it works). The audience is used to receiving information from multiple sources. Devised Theater trends prove that audiences are open to theater reflecting the world they live in—after all Devised Theater is a form of hybridity, a place where all the artists are Showrunners in the sense that they take on many roles. Now it is time to apply this idea to the way we make money in the theater. It is our job, as theater professionals not to fall behind—not to kill art, or allow it to kill us. It is, in fact, our job to keep it alive, to keep it thriving in a world full of hybrids. It is our job to save people’s lives and to do this, we need to fully understand what it means to be alive, making and receiving art in twenty-first century America.
Vanessa Garcia is a multi-media writer and artist working from Miami and Los Angeles. She’s the founding artistic Director of The Krane, a theater/arts company. She’s currently working on her PhD from the University of California Irvine in Creative Nonfiction, and is a contributing writer to numerous publications from The Miami Herald to The Art Basel Magazine, among other journals, newspapers, and magazines. She’s also currently shopping her novel, White Light, and working on a two new plays called The Cuban Spring and The Underground.
Tony Kushner can’t make a living writing for the stage. America’s most prominent playwright confessed in an interview published in Time Out New York earlier this year that Angels in America doesn’t pay the rent: “I make my living now as a screenwriter. Which I’m surprised and horrified to find myself saying, but I don’t think I can support myself as a playwright at this point. I don’t think anybody does. I’m developing a series for HBO .”
Kushner is right. American playwrights — not even one of his stature — do not earn the bulk of their living writing plays. Many teach, while a growing number of younger ones write for series television. The trend seems to be: new playwright attains notoriety and success writing plays, realizes he/she can’t make a living at it, jumps to movies and/or television to make real money. The well-meaning intent being that a big-bucks TV salary will financially support the writer, allowing him/her to keep writing plays. What often happens? They write fewer plays. Some never return to the stage.
Some do. Itamar Moses, for instance, writes for HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”, which isn’t stopping him from turning out stage plays (his latest effort, Completeness, just closed Off Broadway). Jon Robin Baitz had a devastating experience in Los Angeles creating and writing the new ABC series, “Brothers and Sisters”. He left the TV show (or was fired, depending on who you ask). After a year of wound-healing and soul-searching, Baitz rediscovered that his true writing home — where he was happiest and where the work was most meaningful — was the theatre. He pulled from a drawer some old notes he had scribbled years before: an idea for a play. And wrote his best new play in years, Other Desert Cities (earning rave reviews at Lincoln Center, now transferring to Broadway).
Playwrights “going to Hollywood” is nothing new. It’s been an ongoing exodus since the 1940’s. Even so, Kushner’s statement is jarring and disturbing.
“I don’t particularly want to do it,” says Kushner. ” I think that it’s a mistake to do it. So, yes, I’m very worried about it, because I think that a lot of talented playwrights wound up producing much less than they should have, and progressing less surely than ought to have, because they’ve spent a certain amount of their creative life doodling around in Hollywood. I think it’s had a baleful impact. Some writers’ work has just been destroyed by it. ”
“Having said all that, I’m deeply trying to make money in Hollywood, like every other idiot in the world.”
Playwright Keith Huff, who wrote the recent Broadway hit A Steady Rain, now writes for the AMC show “Mad Men.” Seven of the nine people writing for HBO’s “Big Love” are playwrights. David Mamet created “The Unit” for CBS, and widely produced playwright Theresa Rebeck has written for TV since the 1990s while remaining prolific as a playwright. Marsha Norman, Adam Rapp, Craig Wright, Eric Overmyer, Aaron Sorkin, Robert Schenkkan, Suzan Lori Parks, Marlene Myer, John Belluso, David Rambo, Alan Ball, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Jeffrey Sweet, Richard Greenberg … the list goes on and on.
“Theater is now viewed as a way of getting a staff writing job on TV,” says Warren Leight, the show runner and developer of “Lights Out” who won a 1999 Tony Award for the jazz-inspired play Side Man. “For a lot of guys now, it’s a means to an end. And the end is, ‘How do I make a living as a writer?'”
No one can begrudge playwrights for going where the money is. They need to make a living like everyone else. And the money is good in TV. Playwrights can earn more in two weeks of work on a TV show than they will with a commission for a play which may take them years to write.
The question is: what important new plays are not being written for the American Theatre because a playwright is writing for television?
The deeper question is: what does it say about our culture?