One of the great things about working in a theatre is you get the opportunity to bring people together.
Theater starts the minute the lights go down and the outside world stops. In the darkened theater, the to-do lists and personal hardships fade into a different world that will be yours for the next two hours. In the dark, we are no longer different people but a collective group sharing the same experience. We taste the love Romeo has for Juliet, cry with John Proctor as he asks for forgiveness, and laugh with Eliza Doolittle as she dances all night. Theatre lets us reexperience first kisses, our first heartaches. It evens the playing field so we all can experience the same thing regardless of how different we are. As we experienced it with our last production, Citizen: An American Lyric. In the dark we were the oppressed and the oppressor. We became a collective unit attempting to understand racism.
But Friday, we got to experience a very different type of unifying. Friday we were able to have Eric Arboleda’s third grade class from Ramona Elementary School come to our theatre. And we stopped being actors and children and started becoming one collective unit.
Lexi Lallatin holding photo of Nukain Mabuza to students.
We started the day with a tour of the theatre which ended on the stage set up for our show The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek. There, surrounded by intricately designed rocks, sand, and a set we were able to discuss found art- particularly relating to Nukain Mabuza (The subject of the play). The children were able to see through the eyes of someone who lived during the apartheid. They talked about how they would have wanted to “express their emotions”. And once again, it testified to the unifying power of theatre. Where else would third grade children and theatre artists be able to bond over the artistic genius of an untrained artist during apartheid in South Africa? In the end, the kids were able to express themselves independently by painting their own rocks.
Lexi lallatin with Ramona School student on the set of ‘Painted Rocks”.
I speak for the Fountain Theatre when I say that this experience spoke to us on why we do theater. Theatre has the power to unify. To bring together. Every child was different. Some were too shy to speak and others couldn’t wait to tell you every detail of their day. Some spent the whole time making sure their rock was perfect, while others were more eager to get to the doughnut and play “duck, duck, goose”. Every rock came out different. Some were intricate, with dots and swirls. Some were blobs of a color the child swore was “marbled.” But in the end, all of the students were so excited to share and talk about their rocks.
I am so thankful for the wonderful Ramona Elementary School, to Eric Arboleda and his wonderful class, to American Builders Supply in Pacoima who donated the rocks, to Stan’s Doughnuts, and to all the people at the theatre who helped make this possible. This is the epitome of bringing people together. We are so thankful to be part of this community, and we are proud to say this is the type of thing we strive for.
Students from Ramona Elementary School.
Come to the Fountain Theatre and see The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek. Be part of the shared experience. See the children’s rocks in our lobby. Hear about Nukain Mabuza. On Friday, as the sun set on our collection of wet rocks drying in the sun, each with its own story behind it, I wondered what Nukain would have thought if he knew all the different people he brought together, on Friday and throughout therun of this play, to pay homage to his memory and his work.
Lexi Lallatin is from Portland, Oregon, and now an intern at the Fountain Theatre.The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creekruns to December 14th.Info/Tickets
Students from our neighborhood Ramona Elementary School on Mariposa Street only had to walk around the corner to experience a unforgettable day of creativity, fun and artistic expression at the Fountain Theatre. The kids joined Fountain staff for ‘Painted Rocks Day’, a community arts event inviting the students to visit the theatre, learn about Outsider Art and rock painting, then choose and paint their own smooth rocks to express their world view and inner selves.
The educational activity was a satellite event of the Fountain Theatre’s west coast premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, dramatizing the life and vision of South African artist Nuzain Mabuza who painted hundreds of rocks on a hillside in bright colors and patterns to create his visionary “flower garden” .
Led by teacher Eric Arboleda, the twenty-four 3rd graders arrived Friday morning and were given tours of the Fountain Theatre by staff members. The group was shown the remarkable ‘Painted Rocks’ set on the main stage, complete with real dirt, plants and a vibrant collection of painted rocks and boulders.
Fountain intern Lexi Lallatin lead the class in a lesson discussing examples of Outsider Art and how art can be created by ordinary found objects. Lexi shared the story of Nuzain Mabuza and encouraged the students to imagine how they might transform everyday objects in their daily lives into magical art pieces.
The group then moved outside to the Fountain parking lot where a long art table holding rocks, paints and brushes was waiting. The students excitedly dove in and went to work. Each chose their own rock and were told to paint it however they wished, with as many colors and patterns they imagined, to express who they were and their own inner vision.
The results were extraordinary. Simple gray stones were transformed into vibrant talismen of color and bright patterns. The students thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They painted, laughed and chatted excitedly as they worked for one hour. Donuts and juice were served.
The rocks painted by the students will remain on display in the lobby of the Fountain Theatre throughout the run of The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek to December 14th. At that time, the rocks will then be given to the students to take home.
We wish to thank American Builders Supply in Pacoima for donating the rocks for the students to paint, and Stan’s Doughnuts for the snacks. A shout-out to Fountain staff members Lexi Lallatin, James Bennett, Scott Tuomey, and Barbara Goodhill for helping to make the event a joyous success.
‘Painted Rocks Day’ with Ramona Elementary School was created through Theatre As a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program dedicated to making art accessible to students and young people in Los Angeles.
At last night’s preview performance of The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, the theatre was packed with 80 students from Mission Viejo High School who came with energy, enthusiasm, and questions for the cast and director. A terrific Q&A discussion was held immediately after the performance and everyone — artists, students and teachers — had a wonderful time.
The students were from humanities classes and already familiar with the work of playwright Athol Fugard. One student shared that eight years ago she had actually visited the actual hillside in South Africa where Nukain Mabuza painted his famous rocks. She found the play — and seeing the set with its colorful, rocky landscape — very moving and meaningful. The students asked many interesting and insightful questions of cast members Gilbert Glenn Brown, Thomas Silcott, Philip Solomon, Suanne Spoke, and director Simon Levy. The discussion was moderated by Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs.
This special evening was part of Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making the live theatre experience accessible to students.
Nukain Mabuza was born in Mozambique. His mother was descended from a long line of Tsonga healers and diviners, a walker between worlds. While pregnant with Nukain she was instructed in a dream to take special care of her unborn son because great things were expected of him.
When Nukain was seventeen, his mother was killed at the riverside by a crocodile. Mabuza left his village, walked a long journey, met spiritual guides and had otherworldly visions. He was shown the whole universe, all life and the afterlife filled with birdsong. He moved to Soweto and found work in a factory. But his religious dreams and spiritual visions continued and he wandered the land. One night, Mabuza fell into a deep sleep. A surge of power coursed through him. When he woke, he was filled with a spirit to fulfill his mission: to go home and prepare the Garden of Eden.
Mabuza began creating his visionary garden near Revolver Creek in Kaapmuiden, Mpumalanga, in the late 1960s. He described how, looking downward from the top, the painted rocks appear to be flowers tumbling from heaven. Gazing up at his colorful hillside, he said, ‘I have the most beautiful garden in the universe.’ Mabuza passed away in October 1981. Legend surrounds even his death. Some say Mabuza dug his own grave at the top of his painted mountain before burying himself under a pile of rocks and taking his own life. He was later buried in a pauper’s grave in Emjindini Cemetery in Barberton. Although Nukain Mabuza died in relative obscurity, he left behind important works of art that today attract visitors from around the world. He has received posthumous recognition as an important South African “Outsider” artist. His “Garden of Flowers” continues to inspire other creative minds, including triggering the imagination of playwright Athol Fugard.
“At the heart of it all is a face and a human story, never an idea. I only put words to paper if I have a story to tell,” says Athol Fugard as he reflects on 60 years as a writer and playwright.
“Every play generates expectations and demands,” he continued. “I’m not a political playwright. I’m a storyteller but it’s impossible to tell a South African story honestly and with humility, and not have political resonance. We take politics to bed with us, take it to our dreams.”
“I simply tell stories about South African people. I go where my unpredictable imagination wants me to go.”
Outlining where it all began, Fugard described studying anthropology and philosophy at the University of Cape Town but quietly “wrestling with Sartre and falling in love with Camus, Faulkner and Tolstoy – the writer had begun to stir”.
“I realised that all I wanted to do was tell stories about people. Camus’ courageous pessimism and his exploration of human connection as an act of defiance in particular resonated with my challenge – the predicament of what being a South African was all about.”
“While Faulkner made me never hesitate to be as regional and local as the story needed to be.”
Elizabeth Magdalena Potgieter
He also credits his mother, Elizabeth Magdalena Potgieter, as having distilled the power of language into his soul. “What she did with the English language in her mouth – either to hide secrets or at a crucial moment to reveal them. It’s why I got in to writing plays.” Despite having “scraped tickies and sixpence together to get me to university” she never hesitated when he told her he wanted to write.
He described his first attempt at writing a novel while serving as a seaman on the S. S. Gregor which sailed from Port Sudan. “It ended up in the sea while we were moored in a Fiji lagoon,” he said. “Many times since I have wished I had a lagoon at hand.”
Now with 35 plays, two novels, a memoir and short stories, as well as countless awards and honours to his name, Fugard described the excitement of his first published and performed play – The Blood Knot. “I had found my voice, my watershed. It was a story set in the nitty-gritty specifics of a small corner of the world. But I had told a story that only I could tell, in a way that only I could tell it.”
Athol Fugard and Zakes Mokae, ‘The Blood Knot’ (1961)
“At that point English theatre in South Africa was largely a pale, anaemic copy of British theatre. The idea that South African stories belonged on a stage was not really known.”
Occupying space, time and silence
He describes a play as “a complex time machine, a wind-up toy that scurries around, occupying space, time and silence”. Space because there is a physical space to fill – the stage. Time – because “the audience can’t stay sitting all night”. And silence because “it has to be occupied”.
“You can go anywhere you like – with an invitation from the blank page to surprise the reader and the audience.”
“But you have to be determined not to be pigeonholed. That can end with the writer just imitating himself,” he continued.
Fugard explained his use of notebooks, which date back to the 1960s and have been published, to record and describe incidents and moments from life to which he will return. “We have agreed to meet again in the future. Made an appointment.”
“I take my appointment with my notebooks very seriously,” he added. But he admits now that he does worry “Do I have enough time and energy left to keep that appointment?”
“Must I say farewell without having told their story? If I run out of time and can’t keep that appointment, I will descend into my grave an unhappy man.”
The west coast premiere of Athol Fugard’s new play, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, opens at the Fountain Theatre on Nov 7th. More Info/Get Tickets
The Fountain Theatre continues its 15-year relationship with master playwright Athol Fugard, presenting the West Coast premiere of his newest play. Directed by Simon Levy, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek opens on November 7 at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.
Both Fugard and the Fountain come full circle with Painted Rocks, a play inspired by the work of real-life outsider artist Nukain Mabuza. In 1972, a personal encounter with outsider artist Helen Martins, a reclusive and ostracized figure in a small, ultra-conservative Afrikaans community who had created an extraordinary collection of statues in her back yard, led to Fugard’s celebrated play, The Road to Mecca. And it was the Fountain’s Los Angeles premiere of that play in 2000, directed by Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs, that introduced the playwright to the theater he would come to call his “artistic home on the West Coast.”
“Forty years later [after my encounter with Helen Martins], I became aware of another outsider artist worthy of the same attention, working in completely different circumstances and also with a different medium,” wrote Fugard on the website of South Africa’s Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, where he is currently an artist-in-residence. “The environment of present-day South Africa made me realize the true potential of Nukain’s story, and that, even though he worked on the fringes, it can in fact not be fully realized without taking on the realities of his existence in apartheid South Africa.”
In the play, the aging Nukain (Thomas Silcott) has spent his life transforming the rocks at Revolver Creek into a vibrant garden of painted flowers. Faced with the presence of the final unpainted rock — and at the insistence of his young companion, Bokkie (Philip Solomon) — he is forced to confront his legacy as an artist and a black man in 1980s South Africa. When the landowner’s wife (Suanne Spoke) arrives to demand he stop painting, the deep racial conflict of the country is viscerally exposed. Twenty years later, in what has become the new South Africa, the man called Bokkie as a child (Gilbert Glenn Brown) returns to restore Mabuza’s lifework.
“Possibly, at this moment in our history, the stories that need telling are more urgent than any of the stories that needed telling during the apartheid years,” Fugard said in an interview with NPR.
“At the heart of Athol’s beautiful new play is the issue of seeing and being seen – as an artist, as a man, especially as a black man,” says Levy. “It’s an on-going, universal problem that Athol has spent his life exploring and exposing and humanizing. To be seen for who you really are, and to be loved and honored for that. It’s a beautiful message, and one we need to hear over and over again.”
The author of over 30 plays and recipient of countless accolades including an Academy Award, Obie and the 2011 Special Tony Award for Lifetime in the Theatre, Athol Fugard is best known for his plays about the frustrations of life in contemporary South Africa and the psychological barriers created by apartheid. Widely acclaimed around the world, his plays include Boesman and Lena (Obie Award, Best Foreign Play), Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (Tony Award, Best Play), A Lesson from Aloes (New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Play), the semiautobiographical Master Harold…and the Boys (Writers Guild Award, Outstanding Achievement) and The Road to Mecca(New York Drama Critics Circle Citation, Best Foreign Play, London Evening Standard Award, Best Play). The first white South African playwright to collaborate with black actors and workers, some of his works, such as Blood Knot, were initially banned in South Africa. In his first two post-apartheid plays, Valley Song (1995) and The Captain’s Tiger (1998), Fugard addressed more personal concerns, but in Sorrows and Rejoicings (2001) he focused on the complex racial dynamics of South Africa’s new era. In 2005 his novel, Tsotsi (1980), was adapted for the screen, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
When Fugard saw the Fountain’s Los Angeles premiere of The Road to Mecca in 2000, he was so impressed that he offered the company world premiere rights to an as-yet-unwritten new work. In 2004, Stephen Sachs directed the world premiere of Exits and Entrances. The production garnered production and direction awards from both the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and the Ovations, and Sachs went on to direct acclaimed regional productions around the country, including an off-Broadway production at Primary Stages and the UK premiere at the 2007 International Edinburgh Festival. Since then, the Fountain has produced four premieres of Fugard’s plays including the American premiere of Victory (two LADCC awards and four LA Weekly nominations, and named “Best of 2008” by the Los Angeles Times);the West Coast premiere of Coming Home (three LA Weekly awards including “Ensemble” and “Direction,” LADCC award for “Lead Performance”); the U.S. premiere of The Train Driver (three LA Weekly awards); and the U.S. premiere of The Blue Iris (LA Weekly Award nomination for best ensemble).
The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek premiered to critical acclaim at the Signature Theatre in New York City earlier this year. The New York Times called it “tender and ruminative” and Newsday wrote, “Fugard stamps indelible human faces on faraway reports of the world’s news.”
Set design for the Fountain Theatre production of The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek is by Jeffrey McLaughlin; lighting design is by Jennifer Edwards; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; props are by Dillon Nelson; dialect coach is Nike Doukas; assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts; production stage manager is Rita Cofield; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.
Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, 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 with the 2014 Ovation Award for Best Season and the 2014 BEST Award for overall excellence from the Biller Foundation; the Fountain play Bakersfield Mist in London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid; the sold-out Forever Flamenco gala concert at the 1200-seat John Anson Ford Amphitheatre; and the last six Fountain productions consecutively highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times. The Fountain has been honored with six Awards of Excellence from the Los Angeles City Council for “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles.”