Liza Fernandez, Joshua Bitton, Guillermo Cienfuegos, Victor Anthony, Lesley Fera, Montae Russell and Marisol Miranda
What happens when you mix a Pulitzer Prize winning script, a company of phenomenal actors and a skilled director together in one room? You get magic. From the moment the first lines of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ funny and powerful Between Riverside and Crazy were spoken at Wednesday night’s first rehearsal, all knew they were in for a wild and joyous ride.
In Gurigis’ profane and tender tale, ex-cop and recent widower Walter “Pops” Washington and his newly paroled son Junior have spent a lifetime living between Riverside and crazy. But now, the NYPD is demanding his signature to close an outstanding lawsuit, the landlord wants him out, the liquor store is closed—and the church won’t leave him alone. When the struggle to keep one of New York City’s last great rent-stabilized apartments collides with old wounds, sketchy new houseguests, and a final ultimatum, it seems that the old days may be dead and gone.
Directed by award-winning Guillermo Cienfuegos, the cast includes Victor Anthony, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Liza Fernandez, Matthew Hancock, Marisol Miranda, and Montae Russell.
At the first meet-and-greet, the company was joined by Fountain staff, Board members and donors. The group enjoyed a brief welcoming reception and then gathered on the Fountain stage for the reading of the script. Director Cienfuegos commented that he was struck by the support of the Fountain Theatre Family. Never, he said, had he witnessed such a show of community at a first rehearsal, with such a large number of dedicated people so eagerly present. “This is wonderful,” he grinned. “Because the play, in addition to being about racism and class and police work, is really about family.”
Citizen: An American Lyric is a searing and poetic riff on race in America written by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs. The cast features Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tony Maggio, Monnae Michael, Simone Missick, and Lisa Pescia.
The company met in the rehearsal room at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and immediately got to work. Day one began with a table reading of the script. As the week progressed, the actors were soon up on their feet pacing through the blocking. Citizen opens at the Kirk Douglas Theatre for a limited run April 30 – May 7.
First rehearsals are often delicate events. Actors meet for the first time. Designers share their conceptual approaches for the production. The director articulates his or her vision for the journey ahead. Like on a first date, artists eye each other nervously, hoping this night’s first encounter will lead to a meaningful relationship so magic can be created together.
The tone of Monday night’s first rehearsal for the powerful new play Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan was one of purpose, more than jittery vulnerability. Everyone in the room felt exhilarated by the social and political conviction of the project and aware of the publicity the new play has already generated nationwide. Schenkkan is a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, and screenwriter of the Academy Award nominated Hacksaw Ridge.
In Building the Wall, the Trump administration has carried out his campaign promise to round up and detain millions of immigrants. As a writer interviews the former supervisor of a private prison, it becomes clear how federal policy has escalated into something previously unimaginable.
Even before opening, the Fountain premiere of the new play has already been featured in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Our production is part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, with other openings set to take place at the Curious Theater in Denver, Forum Theater in Silver Spring, Md., Borderlands Theater in Tucson and City Theatre in Miami.
The world premiere at the Fountain Theatre is directed by Michael Michetti, and features Judith Moreland and James Macdonald. At Monday night’s first rehearsal, Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs welcomed the team and gave a short history of how the play came to the Fountain. Producer Simon Levy reviewed production protocol. Michetti spoke about the play. Then, the actors opened their scripts and read the play together for the first time. The two actors were riveting, and the play will take audiences on a roller-coaster ride to its shattering ending.
Now the work begins. Rehearsals are underway. Our world premiere of Building the Wall opens March 18 and runs to May 21.
Advance tickets for Building the Wall are selling quickly. We urge you to make your reservations early for this urgent and important new play by a major voice in the American Theatre.
It happens so often at tech rehearsal. And yet, each time it happens, it feels like the first. That magic moment when the colored lights are turned on the first time, the sound is turned up, the costumes are put on, the props are placed in hand. Suddenly the weeks of hard work in the empty rehearsal room blossom to life as the design elements add their wonder. This happened, this week, in tech rehearsals for our upcoming West Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll. It opens July 29.
The cast worked through their cues under the watchful eyes of lighting designer Ken Booth, set designer Jeff McLaughlin, sound designer/composer Peter Bayne, costume designer Terri A. Lewis and props designer Terri Roberts, all under the guidance of production stage manager Emily Lehrer and director Simon Levy.
The meticulous process of technical rehearsals — when light & sound cues are painstakingly timed and drilled — can be tedious. But the end result can be marvelous.As was the case this week with Baby Doll. It’s going to be a beautiful production.
Enjoy these snapshots from tech rehearsal. You’ll be dazzled when you see the finished production.
Sometimes you have a first reading of a play with a new cast and it doesn’t go so well. The script may be solid and the cast experienced and professional. But the magic may not happen immediately.
This was not the case yesterday at our first read-through of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Dollwith this fabulous cast. The magic happened. Immediately.
It was one of those wondrous occasions when actors, director, production team and play all came together in a thrilling first read-through of a colorful and dynamic script. As the actors read the script together for the first time, the play soared off the page.
The gathering began in extraordinary fashion. Actress Karen Kondazian, playing Aunt Rose Comfort, has starred in many Williams plays and knew the playwright personally. Before rehearsal began yesterday, Karen displayed a small black box and slowly opened it. She carefully unwrapped the contents and held it up in the palm of her hand like a scared relic: a pair of Tennessee Williams’ glasses. It was passed around the table. Each company member examined the glasses, some put them on and had the unique experience of “seeing through the eyes” of one of America’s great playwrights.
Fountain Co-Artistic director Stephen Sachs welcomed the company and guided them through the paperwork at hand. Director Simon Levy spoke briefly about the play. Then the cast — Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky and George Roland — read the script. And the play immediately leapt to life.
Joined at the table were Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, associate producer James Bennett, production stage manager Emily Lehrer, assistant stage manager Miranda Stewart, props designer Terri Roberts and publicist Lucy Pollak.
A road trip rehearsal in the vast, open desert became an unforgettable experience for the company of Dream Catcher on Saturday.
Because the new play is set in the middle of the Mojave desert, director Cameron Watson led actors Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell, playwright Stephen Sachs and stage manager Emily Lehrer to a desert spot 80 miles outside Los Angeles. They would rehearse the play there. Watson hoped the desert would offer the actors an authentic sense of place and the opportunity to soak up the sights, sounds, smells and heat of the landscape.
First rehearsals are always a time for nervous energy and eager excitement. Spirits were particularly high at our first rehearsal yesterday for our upcoming West Coast Premiere of On the Spectrum by Ken LaZebnik, directed by Jacqueline Schultz. Awarded a 2012 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award citation and granted a 2011 Edgerton Foundation New American Play award, On the Spectrum is a funny and touching love story between a young man with Asperger’s and a young woman with autism. Previews begin March 9th and it opens March 16th.
The company gathered upstairs in the cozy cafe at the Fountain. The actors met for the first time and filled out their paperwork. Producer Simon Levy welcomed the team, director Jacqueline Schultz spoke about the production, and playwright Ken LaZebnik shared his thoughts about the play. Scripts were then opened and the play was read aloud for the first time by the actors. They were marvelous. The energy in the room ignited with a vibrant and heartwarming glow as it immediately became clear that this was going to be a wonderful journey together.
On the Spectrum March 16 – April 28 (323) 663-1525More
There’s an app for that, as the saying goes. But an increasing number of entrepreneurial theater folk have noticed that for a lot of day-to-day legit work, there isn’t an app for that — and they’ve set about remedying the situation.
Take Jeff Whiting, the latest legiter to add the unlikely words “software developer” to his resume. As a director-choreographer who often works as Susan Stroman’s associate, he found himself slaving over exhaustive “show bibles” — detailed accounts of stage arrangements and actor movements, often totaling thousands of pages per show — so that a production can be reproduced on tour and in other incarnations.
“I’d been dreaming about ways I could make my life easier,” Whiting says. “I kept thinking, ‘This should be simple.’ It’s just there was no existing way to do it.”
Looking for a digital tool that could streamline the process, all Whiting could come up with was a jury-rigged combo of Power Point and Excel. What he really needed, he decided, was an iPad app — and so StageWrite, launching March 1, was born.
Whiting joins a handful of industry denizens in creating rehearsal-tool apps they’d use themselves. Two of the best-known apps for helping actors memorize lines, for instance, come from actors themselves — David H. Lawrence XVII (“Heroes”), who spearheaded the creation of Rehearsal, and J. Kevin Smith, the man behind Scene Partner.
“The dirty little secret is, if nobody ever bought the app and it was just me using it in my day-to-day life as an actor, I’d still be a happy dude,” Lawrence says.
As Whiting discovered, it ain’t easy creating and selling an app. He knew what he wanted, but guided by a friend in the tech industry, he had to seek out the Arizona-based team of programmers that he ended up hiring to do the coding.
There’s also a not-insignificant amount of money involved. Whiting, who capitalized StageWrite himself, says he had to pony up “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to bring the app to market.
The final product is a tool for creating, duplicating and editing the floorplan charts that, in a show bible, give a moment-to-moment, top-down view of where and when actors and set pieces move during a show. In beta tests during his day job, he’s already found it invaluable, talking up the potential, for instance, to email jpegs of the charts to swing performers, or to a regional lighting designer in advance of a touring production’s arrival.
But creation of an app isn’t the only hurdle; creators have to market it as well.
Different apps go after different demographics: StageWrite, for example, isn’t targeted to the masses. With a pricetag of around $200, the app is pitched as a professional tool to be used by those involved with sizable productions.
So far, Whiting has found that the relatively small size of the legit community has proven a plus, tubthumping for his new product among pros he knows. Whiting says he’s also gotten early interest from Sea World, Cirque du Soleil and the Olympic Committee.
Meanwhile, Scene Partner, priced at $4.99, is aimed at a different market. Creator Smith, who pairs his community-theater acting experience with a career as a direct marketer of tech products, targets amateur and pro thesps alike, saying he’s had a lot of luck hawking the app at young-thespian conferences around the country. The $20 Rehearsal, on the other hand, is optimized for working TV and film actors, as well as for legiters.
Among Scene Partner’s several features are a text-to-speech component that allows audio playback of cue lines for actors memorizing a part. With different tools but a similar goal, Rehearsal enables the highlighting of dialogue in digital scripts and the ability to record an actor’s own lines or fellow thesps’ cues, among other functions.
The rehearsal room’s shift into the digital realm jives with a trend that has seen playscript publishing houses also making recent moves into the marketplace. Late last year, Samuel French launched an e-book service, and barely a month later, Dramatists Play Service struck a deal with Scene Partner to make e-scripts available for use with the app (available at around $10 per play).
Both Whiting and Smith have plans for a suite of tools that will help actors, directors and designers do their work. And Smith anticipates further partnerships among legiters brave enough to step into the marketplace. “I think there’s going to be a lot of room for a lot of collaboration,” he says. “We’re all trying to make a viable business out of it.”