Tag Archives: Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Meet the Cast of ‘My Name is Asher Lev’ at the Fountain Theatre

3 actorsBased on the best-selling novel by Chaim Potok, the stage adaptation of My Name is Asher Lev by Aaron Posner is a fast-moving theatrical journey in which all the characters in the play are performed by three talented actors.  Playing many roles requires that each actor combine versatility with emotional depth and complexity. And a fearless sense of fun.

Meet our extraordinary cast of our upcoming Los Angeles Premiere of My Name is Asher Lev:   

Jason Karasev

Jason Karasev

Jason Karasev plays the lead role of Asher Lev.  Jason was born and raised in Chicago, where he has performed with the Tony-Award winning Victory Gardens and Steppenwolf Theatres, to name a few. In Los Angeles, Jason produced and starred in Stephen Belber’s Tape, which took Best of Fringe Honors at The Hollywood Fringe Festival. He has also been seen as Phil in A Boys’ Life (Crown City) and as Naz in Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur (Ovation Nomination). Some of his Chicago Theatre credits include Stanley in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound (The Drury Lane), Zoran in Tesla’s Letters (Timeline Theatre Co.), Stone Cold Dead Serious (The Athenaeum), The Last Night of Ballyhoo (Merle Reskin) and References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot (Bailiwick Rep.). Jason’s film and TV credits include the hit MTV series Disaster Date, Nickelodeon’s iCarly, Improvised, Shoot The Moon, and Evidence. Jason has trained and performed at the renowned Second City, Chicago with recent SNL cast member Jason Sudeikis and is a Graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University.

Anna Khaja

Anna Khaja

Anna Khaja plays three roles: Asher’s mother, a rich gallery owner, and a model. Anna most recently appeared in the LA Premiere of Falling at Rogue Machine Theatre. Theatre credits also include: the extended Off-Broadway run of Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto, which she also wrote, at the Culture Project in NYC (2013); the LA premiere of Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto (Ovation Award – Lead Actress in a Play / Ovation Nomination – Best Production of a Play); David Hare’s Stuff Happens at the Mark Taper Forum (US Premiere/Ovation Nomination); Judith Thompson’s Palace Of The End at NoHo Arts Center (US Premiere/LA Weekly Award/Ovation nomination), The Cosmonaut’s Last Message (LA Weekly Award) as well as several other productions at The Open Fist Theatre; No Word In Guyanese For Me (GLAAD Award). Regional credits include the Cleveland Playhouse and the Marsh Theatre in SF. Film/TV: Yes Man, Post Grad, King of California, Order of Chaos, Reunion, California Solo, The Newsroom, The Closer, NCIS:LA,  Numb3rs, House M.D., Criminal Minds, Private Practice, Bent, Sleeper Cell, Dirt, Weeds and a recurring role as Zaafira on season 5 of HBO’s True Blood.

Joel Polis

Joel Polis

Joel Polis takes on the greatest number of characters: he is Asher’s father, Asher’s Uncle, the Hasidic community’s Rebbe, and a noted artist who becomes Asher’s mentor. Joel is a native of Philadelphia. He attended the USC School of Theater and Yale Drama School before beginning a stage career in New York. He returned to Los Angeles to work in television and films but continued performing in theaters around the country, from off Broadway and Williamstown to San Diego and West LA. Theater credits include Pound of Flesh, Bach at Leipzig, Defiance, The Baby Dance, Julius Caesar, Family Business, Riga, Names, Oleanna, Richard 3, Three Travelers, The Merchant of Venice and After Crystal Night. He has appeared in over 120 episodic television shows, sitcoms, Movies of the Week, and a dozen feature films.  These include The Thing, Castle, It’s My Party, True Believer, Seinfeld, Law and Order, Northern Exposure, Cheers, Home Improvement, Picket Fences and Roseanne

My Name is Asher Lev Feb 15 – April 19 (323) 663-1525  MORE

Diversity is a Noun, Not a Verb

by Carla Stillwell

Carla Stillwell headshot-thumb-166xauto-95

Carla Stillwell

Let me  get transparent with you.  I cannot stand the word “diversity.” It makes me uncomfortable because I know what it has become code for.

For the first thirty minutes or so of a plenary [at a TCG Conference in Chicago three years ago], there were several accomplished men and women of color sharing some of their experiences with diversity, or the lack thereof, in the theater community. The conversation from the panel quickly became a call to action to the executive and artistic directors in the room to make the American theater landscape match the general population in cultural and gender representations. Then it happened. A middle-aged white man from a theater company in Minnesota stood to speak. He said that he would love to put more “…blacks on stage” but he knows that that would mean that he would lose his audience base because they wouldn’t be able to “…identify with those types of stories.”  Hmmm…in that moment it became painfully clear to me that there is a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to add cultural and gender specificity to America’s theatrical landscape. People are bandying about the word “diversity” without having a real understanding of what the word means. Without a true understanding of the word, we certainly cannot move to a place of honest dialogue, and without honest dialogue we will not achieve real change.

So let’s start with defining the word “diversity.” Dictionary.com offers the following:

di·ver·si·ty [dih-vur-si-tee, dahy-]  noun, plural di·ver·si·ties.

1. The state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness:diversity of opinion.

2. Variety; multiformity.

3. A point of difference.

I find a few things notable in this definition. The first is that diversity is defined as a noun and not a verb. This means that it is a state of being and not something you do. Hence one cannot perform diversity. This definition suggests that to simply do things that we think seem diverse (i.e., color blind casting) isn’t enough. The definition suggests that to achieve diversity, you have to accept difference as the rule and not the exception. Diversity has become code for throwing cultural and gender difference at a white wall and hoping that the differences stick, but being OK when some or all of them simply slide to the floor.

Per the aforementioned definition, diversity at its core means that there are a variety of things that make up a whole that have different shapes, forms, and kinds. So I think it is safe to say that a state of being diverse can only be achieved if there is variety. We have attempted to achieve diversity by keeping most things in American theater culturally homogenous and adding a dash of difference. But the definition of the word diversity lets us know that this type of thinking is topsy-turvy.

Then there is this third part of the definition, “a point of difference.” A “point” is defined in its second definition as, “a projecting part of anything.” From this one can infer that diversity is the center, the focal point, from which difference and variety project. We have attempted to introduce diversity into the American theater landscape without diversifying the centers of artistic decision-making (producers, artistic directors, board of directors, etc.) in our theatrical institutions. How can we project difference into the entire theatrical experience when the points are culturally homogenous?

I have been at the center of many of these conversations about diversity. But I believe that none of these conversations will bear the fruit of change until we all embrace the state of being diverse and stop acting out diversity.

Carla Stillwell is a theatre director, playwright and performer. She is the Managing Producer for MPAACT as well as a Playwright-In-Residence and Resident Director with the company. Additionally, Ms. Stillwell is a teaching artist for MPAACT and The Steppenwolf Theatre.

‘In the Red and Brown Water’ Playwright Will Next Tackle Shakespeare

Tarell Alvin McCraney

In the Red and Brown Water playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney will direct and adapt a new production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra as part of a collaboration among the Public Theater, GableStage in Miami and the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Public announced on Monday. The play will have its premiere at the Stratford-Upon-Avon home of the Royal Shakespeare Company, where Mr. McCraney is an artistic associate, in November 2013, before being staged in Miami in January 2014 and later that month at the Public.

In addition to directing the production, Mr. McCraney edited the text, reordered the scene structure and relocated the play to “the late 1700s against the backdrop of Saint-Domingue, on the eve of the Haitian Revolution against the French,” according to a news release. Casting will take place in London, New York and Miami, Mr. McCraney’s hometown.

Artistic leaders from all three companies say their faith in and admiration for McCraney is what led them to say yes to the collaboration.

Oskar Eustis

“One of the beautiful things about this is that it was driven by Tarell,” says Oskar Eustis, artistic director at the Public, which has presented all three of McCraney’s reputation-making Brother/Sister Plays. “The key to all of this is that we’re unabashed Tarell McCraney fans.”

“Tarell was our playwright in residence, and I wanted to see his take on Antony and Cleopatra,” emailed Michael Boyd, former artistic director of the RSC, who commissioned the script, adding that he was seeking “a bold new take on this difficult play.”

For GableStage’s Joseph Adler, McCraney’s Antony and Cleopatra is an opportunity to build on a relationship that began last season with McCraney’s staging of his The Brothers Size and this season with a January-February production of Hamlet, a 90-minute adaptation McCraney and Bijan Sheibani wrote for the RSC.

The Public’s Eustis explains why a McCraney Antony and Cleopatra set in Haiti is so appealing to him.

“This isn’t an idea you’d lay on top of the play. It’s not a contemporary, lively, anachronistic setting,” he says. “This is something that will allow people to hear this play differently. This brings it closer and makes us understand colonialism.”

“Tarell has a deep sense that his work is in service of something much bigger than himself. He’s trying to answer to an artistic imperative. It makes you want to throw your weight behind him,” Eustis says.

“His life will get more complicated, but one still feels the purity of that vision. Not just for his sake, you want to hold him out as an example that you don’t have to sell out to be a success.”

Tarell Alvin McCraney

A 2007 graduate of Yale, Mr. McCraney is best known for his trilogy The Brother/Sister Plays.  His other plays have been produced at major regional theaters throughout the United States and in England.  McCraney’s  play, Choir Boy, opened at London’s Royal Court Theatre to rave reviews.

Commissioned by New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club, where it will get its U.S. premiere with previews starting June 18 and an opening July 2,Choir Boy is set in a black boys’ prep school celebrating its 50th anniversary.  The headmaster’s nephew is at odds with Pharus, a gay student with a glorious tenor voice who is determined to become leader of the school’s famous gospel choir.  In her review in The Guardian, critic Lyn Gardner writes: “Threaded with searing gospel songs, McCraney’s play examines the shifting nature of truths, biblical and otherwise, and cleverly manipulates the hot-house setting to consider wider issues of black American history, from the brutal days of slavery to Obama’s cry of ‘yes we can!'”

His newest play,  Head of Passes, which will have its premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago next year.

“In the Red and Brown Water” (Fountain Theatre, LA Premiere, 2012)

The Foutain Theatre‘s Los Angeles premiere production of McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water is a critical and popular smash hit, earning rave reviews  including Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times.

Stephen Sachs

“We’re thrilled with the overwhelming response to the play,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “And proud to be the theatre that introduced this important new playwright to Los Angeles audiences. We look forward to continuing our relationship with Tarell. The Fountain is his home in Los Angeles.”

In the Red and Brown Water is now playing  to December 16th, call (323) 663-1525 or buy tickets.

Next at the Fountain: The LA Premiere of a Boldly Original New Play “In the Red and Brown Water”

Oya can run faster than anyone—but not fast enough to escape her destiny. Shirley Jo Finney directs the long-awaited Los Angeles premiere of In the Red and Brown Water. Lyrically weaving together elements of urban contemporary realism with West African mysticism, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s lusciously theatrical and boldly original new play opens at The Fountain Theatre on October 20.

How far will fast, beautiful Oya go to make a mark in the world? The first of McCraney’s acclaimed “The Brother/Sister Plays,” In the Red and Brown Water is an intoxicating story that charts a young girl’s thrust into womanhood, her family struggle, the two men vying for her heart, and her subsequent fall into the murky waters of life. McCraney mixes the mundane with the mythic, drawing on Yoruban influences while setting the play in a modern urban context—a housing project in the fictional Bayou city of San Pere, Louisiana.

“This production was three years in the making,” says Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs. “When ‘The Brother/Sister Plays’ exploded onto the theatrical scene in 2009, it was clear that Tarell was an important and rising new voice. We immediately began our fight for the rights to do this play and refused to give up. The Fountain Theatre is a theater of the heart—and this is where we want the play to live in Los Angeles.”

“I began to investigate how to use ancient myths, stories, to tell urban ones,” McCraney wrote. “I began taking old stories from the canon of the Yoruba and splicing them, placing them down in a mythological housing project in the south. This made the stories feel both old and new, as if they stood on an ancient history but were exploring the here and now.”

Tarrell Alvin McCraney

Lauded by The New York Times as “something rare in the theater, a new, authentically original voice,” and by the Chicago Tribune as “without question, the hottest young playwright in America,” 32-year-old Tarell Alvin McCraney has won numerous awards, including the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, the Whiting Writing Award, London’s Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright and the National Endowment for the Arts Outstanding New American Play Selection. His plays include Wig Out! (developed at Sundance Theatre Lab, produced in New York by the Vineyard Theatre and in London by the Royal Court) and the trilogy entitled The Brother/Sister Plays, including: The Brothers Size (simultaneously premiered in New York at the Public Theater, in association with the Foundry Theatre, and in London at the Young Vic, where it was nominated for an Olivier Award); In the Red and Brown Water; and Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet. His other plays include Without/Sin and Run, Mourner, Run (adapted from Randall Kenan’s short story), both of which premiered at Yale Cabaret. He holds a B.F.A. in acting from DePaul University, and he graduated from the playwriting program at the Yale School of Drama. He is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s international writer in residence and is currently under commission at Manhattan Theatre Club and Berkeley Rep. His new play, Head of Passes, will have its world premiere in April at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, directed by Tina Landau.

In the Red and Brown Water stars Dorian Christian BaucumPeggy ABlowGilbert Glenn BrownJustin Chu CaryDiarra KilpatrickStephen MarshallSimone MissickIona MorrisTheodore Perkins and Maya Lynne Robinson. Set design is by Frederica Nascimento; lighting design is byJosé Lopez; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; choreography is by Ameenah Kaplan; vocal coach is Brenda Lee Eager; dialect coach is JB Blanc; assistant director is Erinn Anova; production stage manager is Shawna Voragen; assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts; and Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor produce.

Shirley Jo Finney with NAACP Theater Award

Shirley Jo Finney previously directed award-winning productions of From the Mississippi DeltaCentral AvenueYellowman and The Ballad of Emmett Till at the Fountain Theatre. 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, most recently, the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa, where she helmed a critically acclaimed production of 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.

Don’t miss this extraordinary new play at the Fountain.  From the director of our unforgettable smash hit The Ballad of Emmett Till.

In the Red and Brown Water  Oct 20 – Dec 16  (323) 663-1525  More

Fade In: A Playwright Moves to Hollywood

by Brett Neveu

FADE IN.

That’s how all of them start, the scripts I write for my LA projects. It’s also how I’ve felt since moving from Chicago to Los Angeles. As if my life were a closed aperture with a really, really long release, my time here has slowly been coming into focus. What remains unclear is what comes after the shot is complete and the first scene begins. But that’s not what I’m looking to discuss just yet. This is about what comes before the shot. That slow fade. That build to first page. The beginning of the story. The how I got here in the first place, what I’m thinking now and what comes next.

When I left Chicago, I had a ten-month old daughter, many Chicago storefront theater productions and a severe antsyness from spending the entirety of my life (up to that point) in the Midwest. I also had a strong desire to try my hand at film and television, something I had only tested and played with during the previous ten years. Heading out, I thought I had more than enough clues about what my future could hold if I only did what I’d done in Chicago. If I continued writing, meeting people and getting better at my job, then surely there would be LA-based writing work to be found.

Then came the writer’s strike.

Then came the recession.

Then came the city of Los Angeles.

Basically—then came life.

If there’s any bit of advice I would give about being a playwright in LA, it would be this: when one moves to LA, life does not suddenly stop. I don’t mean that life itselfwill stop, I mean that your new Hollywood career will not be your only focus. It was a lesson I learned the hard way, my hope being I would be able to dive headfirst into the world of TV and film and let everything be carried away with the current. But life’s current is full of rocks and brambles and discarded plastic bags and who knows what else. Los Angeles is a city, but a different city than Chicago, New York or any place else that I have been to or know of. It has a rhythm that one has to truly root through and discover, much like one of those hidden object puzzles I used to ponder over as a kid in Highlight’s magazine. Comparing this hidden-object lesson to my time in Chicago, my writing life suddenly felt quite different. Perhaps it was the social aspect of rehearsal (and post-rehearsal) that made theater more engaging. Or perhaps it was the hands-on, do-it-yourself determination that can give theater (even in the biggest of houses) a weird, gritty momentum. Or perhaps I hadn’t truly thought of writing as a job, and since moving to LA, it had become just that. There’s a weight to that thought. A heavy weight. A heavy weight that never really goes away and creates a palpable squishing of ideas, thoughts and feelings reverberating through all Los Angeles coffee shops, gyms and bars. But that’s not entirely a complaint. That’s just a fact. LA is full of professionals (those gainfully employed or those “between jobs”) and the production of entertainment in LA is a citywideprofession. Thinking otherwise (and how can you not every once in awhile?) will only make you long for the days when theater could be a playwright’s only focus.

As my time in LA continued, my “fade in” began to open further and I gained more insight into keeping my writing-brain energized and from seeping out of my ears to a puddle on the floor. My mantras became:

1. Expunge the Desperation. After having numerous meetings with executives from across the spectrum of television and film, I learned a desperate writer is an unwanted writer. The suits can spot your “oh crap I need a job” vibe from in the lobby, so maintaining (or faking) ease is your best bet. I’m told often that show runners love playwrights, so know that you’re entering a meeting because you’re respected for what you do. Let that respect carry you. Be seen as a peer and not a just lowly cog in the machine.

2. Keep Writing. The first year I moved to LA, I thought, “Okay! Here I am! I’m a writer!  I’ll go and find me a writer job!” It obviously doesn’t work that way. Just like the rest of the world, Hollywood employers often have all the employees they need and a backlog of friends (or friends of friends) who are just waiting for a slot to open up. The same crop of writers is nearly always looking for a new gig and if you’re new to town, you’re hopping into the unemployment line right along with them. There is a chance you might get a break and have something come along quick or it might be ages until you get noticed. The best solution is to keep writing. Whether it’s a spec pilot, a new play, a daily blog or just some ideas scribbled in a notebook, continue to put fingers to keyboard. Because the moment you stop doing your job, then the frustration and isolation of this company town will start to make you feel you’ve nothing to offer. But you do. There’s a reason a playwright comes to LA (and it’s not to surf). Write, goddamnit. Write.

3. Maintain Theater Relationships. Once you’ve left your city or town of choice and headed west, make sure to keep your theater relationships from dying on the vine. There have been times I’ve backed away from my playwriting career to focus on television and film only to find I needed to get back into the thick of what theaters are doing and think about who I should send a few scripts out to. Because I’m one of those folks who have always considered the theater my family, I felt shocked and lonely in its absence.. Once I realized that leaving town didn’t negate those family ties, I reconnected with the theater artists I care about and enjoy working with. The result is a healthy playwriting career and a burgeoning film and television career, which is exactly what I had hoped for.

4. Question Praise. Before moving to LA, I’d come on a visit and met with a guy from my old agency who told me he was my television agent. He took my wife and me out to dinner and laid on the praise like thick chunks of Philly Cream Cheese. With a twinkle in his eye, he promised money out the wazoo and a house in the hills. This scared the crap out of me, as it should any writer. True praise never comes easy and never comes quick, especially from someone you’ve just met. Only in the rarest situation does a writer “sell the idea in the room.” Often your writing (or your pitch or your staff meeting) passes through multiple brains and hands before it’s either taken on or rejected (most often, like playwriting, rejection is the result—but at least in TV and film, the rejection is quick). Go to meetings, do your best, and always challenge the hype.

5. Have Fun. There are many LA-type activities that your typical new-to-town theater artist doesn’t typically participate in, mostly because your typical new-to-town theater artist was typically at the theater, in rehearsal or at a bar. The beach (seriously, it’s like a freakin’ vacation twenty minutes from your apartment and it’s free), the art museums, the little towns surrounding the city and even LA’s own weird and wonderful history can wrap you up in oddly interesting ways. Ignore your career for a few hours (or days) and go outside. You’ll discover a major reason many people really like living here.

These suggestions come from my experience of learning to “fade in” here in Los Angeles. It’s taken a number of years to semi-understand the ins and outs, but the ability to adapt is a big part of semi-understanding. Just like when a writer begins a script, we know we still have a whole hell of a long way to go. But at least we’ve got our opening shot.

Brett Neveu’s work has been seen at many theaters, including The Royal Court Theatre, Writers’ Theatre, The House Theatre, The Inconvenience, The Goodman Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Company, TimeLine Theatre Company, A Red Orchid Theatre and American Theatre Company. He is a 2012 Sundance Institute Ucross Fellow and the recipient of the Ofner Prize for New Work as well as the Emerging Artist Award from The League of Chicago Theatres. Brett has been commissioned by The Royal Court Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Goodman Theatre, TimeLine Theatre Company, Writers’ Theatre, Strawdog Theatre and has several of his plays published through Broadway Play Publishing, Dramatic Publishing and Nick Hern Publishing. He is also a proud ensemble member of A Red Orchid Theatre and currently lives in Los Angeles.