Tag Archives: online

Dennis A. Allen II to share powerful monologues on Fountain online series ‘Saturday Matinees’

by France-Luce Benson

I first met Dennis A. Allen II back in 2016 when we met to talk about our experiences as Playwrights in Residence at Djerassi’s Resident Artist program. Although I was familiar with his work long before then, particularly his contribution to HANDS UP, a collection of monologues by seven black playwrights in response to the police shootings of Mike Brown, John Crawford the III, among others. His work is raw, gorgeously poetic, and brutally honest. In the past five months, Dennis and I have participated in a weekly virtual gathering of other like minded Black theatre artists, and I have gotten to know the depth of his sensitivity, and the expanse of his enlightenment. He is a truly special artist and man, and I am so thrilled hell be joining us for the return of Saturday Matinees, this Saturday – Aug 22 5pm PST.

Earlier this week, I chatted with Dennis about the work he plans to share with us, his process, and how he’s been processing the events of the last few months:

FLB: What will you be presenting on Saturday?

D.A.A.: I’d like to present three monologues from three different plays of mine. Manhood, The Wretched Begin to Rise and When We Wake Up Dead. Manhood explores the perils or toxic masculinity, The Wretched Begin to Rise is a play set in 1834 Five Points New York and interrogates identity and race relations, and When We Wake Up Dead examines mental health and the effects of untreated trauma within an African American family.  

FLB: I believe you started as an actor, right? How did you find way to writing and directing?

D.A.A.: Writing was actually the first passion. My mother has shared that I wrote a short story about a leprechaun when I was four years old. I don’t remember writing it but I’m sure it was inspired by the Disney movie Darby O’Gill and the Little People, a VHS that was in heavy rotation on my television at the time. Anyway, I always loved writing, I used to perform poetry at open mic nights my undergrad days at Hampton University and for a while had dreams of being a hip hop artist. I won’t bore you with reading my journey to acting and theatre but once I did get into acting I knew that eventually I’d want to write plays. My thinking was I’d be better at creating characters for the stage if I was intimate with the actor’s process. I took a directing class in undergrad and really enjoyed it. My preference is writing, I think because it’s the craft I’ve dedicated the most hours to, so it’s the one I’m most confident executing. For me. acting, writing and directing are just three different styles of storytelling and I love being able to create a good story. 

FLB: How has the last 3 months changed your creative process? (or has it)

D.A.A.: The last three months has not changed my creative process but it has provided me time to ruminate on what stories I think are imperative for me to create.  Capitalism is a helluva drug and there have been times where I’ve focused more on the strategy of making money at the craft than the craft itself. And it’s been those times that I’ve had the least amount of joy ( if any) in my creative process. This “pause” has allowed me to tap back into why I do this; why I love this. 

FLB: What has been keeping you sane?

D.A.A.: Exercise; I’ve been reading specifically Black female sci-fi and fantasy writers this summer (Octavia Butler, Justina Ireland, Tomi Adeyemi, Nnedi Okorafor); and every Friday night for the last five months I’ve participated in a Zoom meet up with friends I consider my creative family- which has provided us all with a catharsis- we laugh, cry, pontificate, talk shit, love on each other and laugh some more. 

FLB: What has been giving you hope?

D.A.A.: With everything going on I am hyper conscious of how privileged I am. My wife is loving and supportive, both of my parents are alive and currently healthy, I have a roof over my head and am blessed to have classes to teach as an adjunct professor; so it’s easy for me to have hope because of my privilege. As bad as it is out in these streets my immediate life ain’t too bad. That said, being able to teach and work with the younger generation has been a constant source of hope because these kids have an emotional intelligence, are politically informed and active, and have an unapologetic exploration around identity that is light years ahead of anything my generation had access to. 

France-Luce Benson is a playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.

The Space In Between …

France-Luce Benson

Playwright France-Luce Benson is the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre, and host of the online gathering, “Saturday Matinees.”

by France-Luce Benson

A few days ago, a friend and I were discussing the concept of Liminal space, moments in life where you experience the pain and discomfort of being on the threshold of change. We are all feeling it right now; in our communities, in our cities, as a country, and in the world. As we navigate this liminal space collectively, some of us, myself included, are also feeling our way through the challenges of personal transition. Uncomfortable, yes. But ripe with the promise of inspiration, enlightenment, and growth.

After three and a half months quarantining in Florida with my Mom, I’m relieved to be back in L.A. I hesitate to say back home, because I’ve been in a kind of holding space. I moved out of my old apartment, and have been house sitting in Arcadia while waiting to move into my new West Hollywood apartment. Not to mention, nothing in Los Angeles is as I left it. Most everything remains shut down – from beaches to bars, movie theatres, museums, and worst of all for us, theatres. Closed. Indefinitely. Meanwhile, uprisings, small and large, fill the space in between. Artistic directors, producers, playwrights, actors and directors are having difficult conversations about the future of theatre. No one really has the answers. But I believe whatever the future is, already exists in this space in between.

I’ve spent much of these last few weeks listening to the neighbors’ children play in imaginary worlds, absorbing every last bit of their summer, unburdened by financial pressures, political anxieties, and this unrelenting fear Covid-19. While I envy the freedom of innocence and ignorance, the urgency that accompanies our collective awakening is oddly comforting. I am reminded that as artists, our voices are powerful and as a black, female artist – my voice is necessary. Now more than ever.

During my hiatus from Saturday Matinees, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this power, and the many ways I have felt powerless in a country, and industry, tainted by white supremacy. I have been asked by many of my colleagues, on the front lines of demanding radical change in the theatre, to recollect and testify about the many ways I have been oppressed in the theatre. The University professors who were unable or unwilling to expose me to artists representative of my identity, the artistic directors who implied that the cultural specificity of my work lessened its value, the directors and producers who failed to honor my vision simply out of laziness and ego. I thought about how powerless I felt at the time. But in this liminal space, I am reminded of how powerful my voice actually is, and how choosing to tell stories that challenge stereotypes and amplify marginalized voices is a powerful act of rebellion. And I’ve been thinking about the ways I might wield this power, peacefully, creatively, urgently. One of those ways is as curator, co-producer, and host of “Saturday Matinees” with The Fountain Theatre.

Saturday Matinees began with a simple premise: A virtual community gathering with live performances. It was an opportunity to break the isolation of quarantine, and to satisfy our hunger for creative expression and live entertainment. It was such a joy getting to know The Fountain audience, and allowing myself to be seen and heard through my own work, and on an intimate level that was completely unexpected. But the greatest gift, by far, was introducing theatrical artists I love and admire to our Fountain family. Once the uprisings began, it occurred to me how powerful this platform could be.

So when Saturday Matinees returns on August 22, I intend to joyfully honor the many voices representative of this powerful liminal space. I hope you will join me in my celebration of resistance, equality, global and social justice, and positive change. Our first guest on August 22 will be Dennis A. Allen II, writer, actor, director, activist. Allen will share from his work and discuss what the current uprisings means to black artists who have been vocal about these issues for decades.

Many of us have desperately attempted to ease the discomfort of this liminal space with catch phrases like “reset” or “pivoting”. But the hard truth is that liminality is defined by the ambiguity, disorientation, and uncertainty one experiences in the middle stage of a rite of passage. However, when the rite of passage is complete, we emerge with greater clarity and strength. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “Progress is impossible without change.”

 

France-Luce Benson is the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre, and the host of the online gathering, Saturday Matinees.

Live Chat with ON THE SPECTRUM Actors Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked Tonight 8pm

In our current West Coast premiere of On the Spectrum, an online e-chat between two young people with autism blossoms into a friendship and unforgettable love story. Now’s your chance to chat live online with the two lead actors who play that autistic couple.

Live chat with actors Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked from On the Spectrum tonight, Wednesday April 17 @ 8pm PST. They will be online LIVE on ustream.tv/channel/autism-in-love

Autism in Love webcast 4.17.13

On the Spectrum Now to April 28 (323) 663-1525  MORE

My Shakespeare: the Bard’s online digital heartbeat

a place to consider what Shakespeare means to us today

Kate Tempest

myShakespeare is the digital home of the World Shakespeare Festival, a celebration of Shakespeare as the world’s playwright now underway in London through September, 2012.

Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, in an unprecedented collaboration with leading UK and international arts organisations, and with Globe to Globe, a major international program produced by Shakespeare’s Globe, it’s the biggest celebration of Shakespeare ever staged.

Almost 60 partners are coming together to bring the Festival alive.  Thousands of artists from around the world are taking part in almost 70 productions, plus supporting events and exhibitions, right across the UK, including London, Stratford-upon-Avon, Newcastle/Gateshead, Birmingham, Wales and Scotland and online.

Measuring Shakespeare’s Digital Heartbeat

At myShakespeare artists and audiences interpret, recode and remix Shakespeare’s online world. It’s a creative space to share thoughts and ideas, revealing how his words, stories and characters continue to influence and reflect human life.

Why are the plays of Shakespeare still so powerful today as they were over 400 years ago?  “The stuff that we care about doesn’t change,” says UK actor, musician and comedian Tim Minchin. Take a look at Tim’s video explaining what myShakespeare is all about:

From every continent, myShakespeare has commissioned a series of artists to create new work. First on the site is rapper, poet and playwright, Kate Tempest from Southeast London.

Check out her video rap/poem, My Shakespeare.  It’s wonderful!

Who is your Shakespeare?

Is Everyone a Critic?

Arts Criticism versus “User Comments” in the Blogosphere

Who do you trust more? A professional critic or a fellow audience member? Which do you now read more — and pay more attention to — in deciding which play to see: a printed review in a newspaper or a “user comment” on a website or blog?

We now buy everything online. Cars, books, electronics, major appliances. Before clicking “submit payment” and buying the product yourself on a site, don’t you first read the “user comments” from other buyers who have purchased the same product and are now using it? To get their opinion of the product, their experience using it?

Is it now the same thing when buying a ticket for a play or any arts event?

One of the substantial changes in the arts environment that has happened with astonishing speed is that arts criticism is no longer a spectator sport. It is now a participatory event. Everyone can now be in on it.

A good thing or bad? One thing is certain: there is no going back.

Every artist, producer or arts organization used to wait for a handful of reviews in newspapers to determine the critical response to a particular project. But in the vast immensity of today’s Web Universe,  a larger portion of arts projects today have become somewhat immune to the opinions of any one newspaper journalist.

Even in New York and Los Angeles, one “make or break” review from “The Theater Critic” in the major newspaper  in each city — while still important — is losing its power and relevance to box office sales and popularity. The mega-hit musical Wicked got a bad review in the New York Times: “Wicked does not, alas, speak hopefully for the future of the Broadway musical.”

Why are newspaper critics having less impact? Three reasons.

First, far fewer people are getting their news from print media. There is a reason the newspaper industry is in trouble. Advertisers are spending less in print media because fewer people are reading hard copy newspapers. And for those arts projects aimed at younger audiences, hard copy newspapers are no longer a central element of a marketing strategy. Younger people get virtually all of their information online, through news web sites, social media and chat rooms. And older people are increasingly getting their information online as well.

Second, because serious arts coverage has been deemed an unnecessary expense by many news media outlets looking to pare costs, there are fewer critics and less space devoted to serious arts criticism. The Los Angeles Times’ arts section is dominated now by features and reviews of popular entertainment — television, movies and pop music — rather than serious opera, dance, music or theater.

And third, the growing influence of blogs, chat rooms and message boards devoted to the arts has given the local professional critic a slew of competitors.  Locally, the theater site Bitter Lemons lists 63 blogs devoted to theater coverage in Los Angeles alone. Many arts institutions even allow their audience members to write their own critiques on the organizational website.

The result is a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.

One side:  Anyone can write a blog or leave a review in a chat room. The fact that someone writes about theater does not mean they have expert judgment. It is difficult to distinguish the professional critic from the amateur as one reads on-line reviews and critiques.

No one critic should be deemed the arbiter of good taste in any market and it is wonderful that people now have an opportunity to express their feelings about a work of art. But art must not be measured by a popularity contest. Otherwise the art that appeals to the lowest common denominator will always be deemed the best.

The other side: People now have the opportunity to interact with their art experience. Tweet, text and blog about it. Going to the theater has always been a shared experience between actors and audience. The blogosphere has taken it a step further.  It is now a shared experience between actor and audience — and the audience’s electronic web network of online friends.

The magic of live performance – even the most traditional forms – is that the audience is never really a passive watcher – they are engaged and their response informs the performance. The internet as a forum for authentic feedback and reaction is vital to the growth, development and continued relevancy of the discipline.

Anyone can create art. And now, anyone can comment on it.

The audience for the arts – and the people who are passionate enough to frequent cultural institutions, comment on their sites or start their own blogs – are frequently educated, knowledgeable, committed individuals who, you know, have actual jobs. They are artists and former artists, they are friends and families of artists, they are people who grew up or into an appreciation of the arts for any number of reasons but because of the necessities of making a living are relegated to “amateur” status. Sure there are some ill-informed writers and commenters out there, but arts writing on the internet has evolved over the years. The quality of writing, the knowledge of the writers and the vitality of the discussion can sometimes be  invigorating, stimulating and exciting.

Newspapers are never again going to be a dominant force in our lives. And the economics that made it possible to subsidize newspapers (and full-time professional arts critics) via ads and real estate listings are not likely to return. The speed of internet/blog/tweet comments and reviews is instant.  Hundreds or thousands of audience members can now post their comments on a play seconds after seeing it. A newspaper review can take days, sometimes one week, to appear in print.

Like it or not, our Smart Phones and the internet are fast becoming our new content delivery system and our primary circuit of commerce and communication (about the arts, and everything else). Theaters and arts organizations that don’t recognize that the internet train left the station years ago — and don’t get on board — are being left behind on the platform, by themselves. Alone.

What do you think? Care to “leave a comment”? Blog about it?