The Fountain Theatre returns to indoor performances in October with the Los Angeles Premiere of the acclaimed Tony Award-nominated drama The Children by Lucy Kirkwood. With case numbers of the Delta variant trending downward in Los Angeles, the Fountain plans to reopen its indoor stage in October with all health and safety guidelines in place after nineteen months of closure due to the pandemic.
The Children is set in a small cottage on the east coast of England, where Hazel and Robin, two retired nuclear scientists in their mid-sixties, are living. A recent disaster at the local nuclear power station where they used to work has devastated the area, and they live under the threat of radiation pollution. Electricity and water are rationed, and they keep a Geiger counter to check for signs of radiation. However, Hazel is determined to preserve some semblance of normality and live the healthiest life she possibly can. So, Robin now farms, while Hazel practices yoga and devours salad. But when Rose, a former colleague whom they haven’t seen for 38 years, suddenly turns up, she disrupts their precariously ordered existence. Rose is determined to fix the problems they have caused for the next generation, even if it means certain death. Without ever mentioning climate change, Lucy Kirkwood’s brave, funny, humane, and chilling play asks us to confront the responsibility each generation must face for how it leaves the world. What is our responsibility to the future? Especially as we get older. What legacy, future, do we leave our children?
[ROSE] 64 to 68 years old, all ethnicities female. LEAD. Nuclear scientist/engineer. Sharp wit. No-nonsense. Strong-willed. Independent. A survivor. But these are shields to hide regrets and deep pain. Never married. Never had children. Lived in America for many years. A city person. She’s on a mission to save the world, to be accountable. She has many secrets, including being the former lover of ROBIN. She’s come to visit HAZEL and ROBIN after 38 years, out of the blue, with a request, with one of those secrets that is the turning point of the play.
[HAZEL] 64 to 68 years old, all ethnicities female. LEAD. Nuclear scientist/engineer. Retired. Has lived in the countryside most of her life. British droll sense of humor. She’s the homemaker, the caretaker. She believes in routine. She believes routine and salad and yoga will keep her and ROBIN and the world safe. She just wants everything to be nice, to be okay, to be controllable. But when that’s challenged by ROSE, she can be a fierce, formidable foe. Married to ROBIN for 40 years. Mother of 4. Grandmother. She will do anything to keep everyone safe. And she will not let ROSE steal ROBIN from her… and she will not let ROSE’s secret mission destroy her world.
[ROBIN] 64 to 68 years old, all ethnicities male. LEAD. Nuclear scientist/engineer. Retired. Down-to-earth. British droll sense of humor. Has that lived-in look. Husband of HAZEL. Married for 40 years. Father and grandfather. Former lover of ROSE. He’s the jokester. The little boy. He needs to turn pain and discomfort into humor and playfulness whenever possible. He’s also a workaholic. Always got to be doing something. Working the former farm. Taking care of the animals. Fixing the cottage. Can’t sit still. Like ROSE, he, too, has secrets… but ROSE’s secret request forces him to confront a moral dilemma that will change everything.
Producer/Theatre Company: Fountain Theatre Artistic Director: Stephen Sachs Director: Simon Levy Writer: Lucy Kirkwood Casting Director: Stephen Sachs Audition Date(s): Sept. 2, 2021 Callback Date(s): Sept 7. 2021 Rehearsal Date(s): Sept 13, 2021 Preview Date(s): Oct. 20, 2021 Opening Date(s): Oct. 23, 2021 Closing Date(s): Dec. 19, 2021 Rate of Pay: AEA 99-Seat Contract Location: Los Angeles, CA, USA
We hear it a lot about playwriting—that there’s no money in it. Whether or not that’s actually true, I had the opportunity to talk about this issue recently when I met with a young playwright, a senior at Northwestern University’s Creative Writing for the Media Program, who wanted to pick my brain about how I’ve managed to make it as a career playwright.
But first: let’s try and define make it. I, like a lot of playwrights, struggle. I struggle to write, and to write well. I struggle to get productions, workshops, grants, commissions, and more. Like hundreds of other playwrights, I spend days putting together applications to get into conferences, festivals, and residencies. And, like hundreds of other playwrights, I receive many more rejection letters than congratulatory calls.
Second: let’s define career. If you mean a reliable paycheck—nope (see above). If you mean health benefits or financial security—not a chance. If you mean a profession that steadily moves forward, increasing in stature and scope and visibility… possibly… depends… could happen one day. As writers, so much is out of our control.
In 2010, New York magazine ran a brief piece on Bruce Norris (and his then-new play Clybourne Park) that’s always haunted me. To this day, I remember it vividly thanks to the number $19,000. This was how much Mr. Norris said he earned the year before. Earned. All year. This, from an acclaimed and brilliant writer, who’s had plays produced across the world. To me, this announcement was not only a brave thing to declare publicly, it was a revelation. After Todd London and Ben Pesner’s incredibly insightfulOutrageous Fortune, David Dower’s years of field study… there it was again, in bold print. In New York magazine. A monetary truth exposed.
It is indeed the rare playwright who gets to announce playwriting as a job, a real-life, full-time gig.
And I know this, I do. I knew it going into this field. And still, when this Northwestern student sincerely asked me “Is it worth it?” I found myself nostalgic for the days when I used to immediately answer that question with an unqualified, urgent, booming Yes. But these days, with a kid and a husband and responsibilities and more, my answer has grown in complexity. And, especially with young playwrights, I want to share open and honestly about where I am today with this notion of worth—of value.
Half of the time, and especially in a country where The Arts (and arts programs) are in a constant struggle for survival, my belief that the value of art trumps the value of cash remains unshaken. But then, the other half of the time, when the mail comes in and my school loans are due or my son needs a filling that isn’t covered by insurance…well, that’s where things get complicated. At what cost are we choosing to live the lives of playwrights? Or artists?
“Is playwriting worth it?” My answer to this student was: financially? For where I am today, right now? No. But… in almost every other aspect: yes. Playwriting is worth it. But why? With the amount of energy I spend on writing, the time away from my family, the funds I shell out to attend readings and workshops in other states with no guarantee of production, no guarantee that if I do get a production another one’s coming along, what is the value of playwriting? Or better yet, what can’t I put a price on?
“The Children” (2012, Theatre@Boston Court)
For me, it turns out the answer is collaboration. Or more specifically: a collaboration that works. The experience that I had working with director Jessica Kubzansky and dramaturg Emilie Beck on The Children couldn’t be measured in dollar signs. I was fortunate enough to work with two artists who attacked the play with great care and sensitivity, who asked incisive questions, who challenged my every line but never lost sight of the origins of the play’s beating heart. When collaboration works, you leap together. You dig together. You forgive together. When collaboration works, you learn to become a better artist, communicator, listener, leader, and follower.
How many other professions make this kind of deeply personal exchange possible? Where the work includes sharing who you are and why you are? And how do you place a value on that? Can you put a price on that conversation? That dialogue? That sharing of your core identity in pursuit of a common purpose and goal?
Collaborators build something together. We hear the phrase “the theater community” used often. And that’s what this collaboration built for me. A community. A home—for myself, for my play, for ideas and emotions and a mission. These are all things I greatly value—it’s what I hold dear.
Here’s what I want to say about the money part: wherever we go, we pay for the privilege of community. Governments have taxes. Clubs have fees. Religious organizations have tithes. It’s not exactly analogous, but maybe playwriting is like Social Security. It’s something you will always pay into because it provides you a social safety net. You contribute—with money and time and sacrifice—to a community of artists who shore you up, challenge your evolution, and provide you a place in the world. In this instance, the word value can literally mean a bargain.
Michael Elyanow is a playwright. The Children was produced in 2012 at The Theatre @ Boston Court. A Lasting Mark, commissioned by Hartford Stage, was part of Manhattan Theatre Club’s 2011 7@7 Reading Series. The Idiot Box, published by Samuel French, was produced at Open Fist and Naked Eye theatres. Ten-minute plays Banging Ann Coulter and Game/Over were Humana Festival finalists. Michael is currently writing a play commission for the Carleton College Department of Theatre & Dance.