Tag Archives: Theater Arts

Students see hit political play at the Fountain discover “we must make the change we want to see in the world”

alan-goodson-students-baby-doll-2

Teacher Alan Goodson introduces his college students to the Fountain Theatre. 

They come to the Fountain Theatre each semester to experience the power of meaningful plays about urgent social and political issues performed in an intimate setting.  For teacher Alan Goodson and his college students at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the ongoing visits to the Fountain have become a pilgrimage they look forward to making. Not only are the young people enriched by seeing new plays that move and inspire them, they enjoy the opportunity to personally engage with the professional actors following the performance.

The student visit was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program that makes live theatre accessible to young people throughout Southern California. 

The FIDM students arrived at the Fountain on August 11th to see our smash hit world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright Robert Schenkkan.  They then chatted with actors Victoria Platt and Bo Foxworth.

Returning back to their classroom, the students wrote essays expressing their thoughts and feelings on seeing the production. Take a look at these excerpts:        

“During the political state our country is currently in, it is very possible that history could repeat itself. It isn’t just a theme in a play, it is real and it is happening. That is why I feel this play is very important and the idea it expressed that we, the citizens of the United States of America, must stand up against the immoral actions of the government. If viewers take anything away from seeing this play, it should be that it could happen here, but don’t let it get that far, stop it before history repeats itself.”

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“It felt as if being an audience member was no different than being a fly on the wall with the two actors. Without a doubt, the play would not have been nearly as effective if it were set in a larger theatre. As an audience member, you felt as if you were watching a real interview take place on your TV screen.”

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“I was able to see the worth in Shenkkan’s exaggeration in comparison to how someone may have felt during WWII, and see that it is true, this could happen, even today. History will continue to repeat itself unless we as humans realize the power of unification and take actions to protect ourselves and others.”

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Building the Wall is a play for people who want to gain perspective on the current events that are taking place and could occur in the near future, considering past events that have taken place while an authoritarian leader is in control of a nationalist country. Personally, I appreciated the statement that it conveyed and became more aware of the impact Donald Trump’s place in office has made in the United States. Theater arts are a form of resistance and often give a lesson and theme to the viewers. Building the Wall was a reminder that history can and will repeat itself if the citizens don’t take a stand and show their voice. Hopefully, those that have attended this play, just as I did, will recognize the seriousness of the message that Robert Shenkkan has made and they plan to make their voices heard.”

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“Robert Shenkkan’s Building the Wall could not have been made into a play at any other better time. People need to go watch his play and see for themselves a visual experience of what America could be headed for under Trump’s presidency.”

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“This performance is set in place to heighten our collective vigilance as a society, allow us to determine wrong from right, empathize, and to take action as citizens of the United States of America. In the closing remarks, we are informed that, included in the playbill, provided by the Fountain, is a call to action, a postcard, stamped and addressed to our dear leader, Mr. Donald Trump, leaving the viewer to decide for themselves what the right thing to do is. This production in itself makes a statement and warning, the postcard is an added confirmation that we have the power to do something, as a governed group and as individuals, and if that is not a defined statement of passion and concern for citizens, then I’m not sure what is.”

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 “It is common to say that the past is often repeated in the future. Robert Shenkkan took the past experience of the Holocaust and wrote it into the near future of America under the Presidency of Trump and his concept of deporting immigrants. It may be bold of Shenkkan to take America to the horrible extent of the Nazis, but nothing is impossible. Robert Shenkkan reinforced the significance of everyone’s individual conscience and choices with the concept play, Building the Wall. He promotes resistance against fear, racism, division. The future of our country, according to Shenkkan, “…of course will depend entirely on what you do.”

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Building the Wall was relevant and had audience members thinking. In its understated message, questioning where the current presidency may lead is a concept everyone can relate to, making the content of the play laudable. At first, I saw its comparisons to the Nazi regime a bit excessive and not believable, until watching the news recently and seeing the riots taking place in Virginia. Current events have strengthened the credibility of this play.”

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Building the Wall is an excellent drama that I believe will stand the test of time. While the history books are still being written on this time in our modern history, we must be able to understand the situation we are in while we are in it. We must make the change we want to see in the world.”

Final 2 performances of Building the Wall are this weekend, Aug 26 & 27. Get Tickets

 

Backstage to End All Theater Reviews

backstage_logo

When Backstage “let go” Los Angeles theater writer Dany Margolies last January for “restructuring” reasons we knew it was a bad omen of darker times to come for the 53-year-old theater industry trade publication. Now, more bad news arrives: As of the April 11th print edition, Backstage will stop printing theater reviews, online or in print. Any of them. All of them. Gone. Done. Period. 

Last week, The Executive Editor Daniel Holloway of Backstage sent the following memo:

An analysis of metric data by our executive team led to the conclusion that too few readers are engaging our reviews for Backstage to continue to invest resources in producing them. We will be shifting those resources primarily to the creation of additional advice, news, and features content.

Got that? No more critical analysis of the art itself. No more artistic assessment or creative survey of what is actually happening on stage. Who wants to read that? Apparently, no one. Instead, we want  “advice, news and features”. The dumbing-down of American culture continues. 

To Halloway and Backstage, “metric data” and investment resources appear to be more important than remembering that the name of their publication includes the word “stage”.  

Ironically, the announcement from Backstage on Friday came after HowlRound — committed to modeling a commons-based approach to advancing the health and impact of the not-for-profit theater — devoted the week on a discussion of theater criticism.

In the ether of our online reality, are “User Comments” and Yelp reviews written by “people like us” holding more sway than a studied critique by an arts journalist?  Do we now trust home-written blogs more than art experts? In the lightning-fast instantaneous tech-world of Tweeting and texting and Instant Messaging, are critical reviews being left behind and lost in the dust like relics from another era?

Or is the evil of Corporate Thinking overtaking and poisoning our art form? Are CEO’s of Arts Organizations — and Arts Publications — focused only on the bottom-line and not enhancing the art form they are meant to serve? 

Or does the problem lie at the feet of the quality of dramatic criticism itself?  Without question, the time has come to take a fresh look at and, perhaps, reinvent a new form of dramatic criticism that can respond in new ways to what happens on stage. What is that fresh approach? What will it look like? Which journalists  have the skill, intelligence and artistic sensibility to lead the way?   

The arts community has been complaining about the quality of dramatic criticism almost as long as it’s moaned about the dying of theater as an art form itself. As both art form and journalist run the risk of becoming more and more marginalized in today’s Info-Age, the more vital and essential both are revealed to be.

Intelligent and insightful arts journalism and dramatic criticism is essential for a healthy dialogue between the journalist, the audience and the art form we all love. The sad announcement last week from Backstage is another stab in the heart of the theatre community and a further silencing of the critical voice. Let’s not forget that the word critical not only means “to judge, find fault or criticize”. It also means “crucial, indispensable, and urgently needed”.      

Things I Wish I Had Been Told in Theatre School

Callam Rodya 2

by Callam Rodya

Theatre school was great. It is great. But it can omit some of the more fundamental and important career lessons. School is, after all, a bubble. It’s not a natural professional environment.

So, with what little wisdom I have regarding a career as an actor, here’s a list of some things I wish somebody had told me in theatre school. Some of these lessons, I had to learn the hard way. Others simply would have saved me a bit of time.

  1. “Stealing the show” is not a compliment. The ensemble is more important than your “moments”.
  2. You’d be surprised how few people are willing to pay for theatre tickets when they aren’t your friends and family and have no personal connection to you whatsoever.
  3. No, you can’t actually play forty and fifty-year-olds in your twenties. At least, no one will pay you to do it.
  4. By the same token, there are very few roles in the theatre for twenty-year-olds.
  5. The stage manager always works much harder than you. And technically, you work for him/her, not the other way around.
  6. Most people don’t get drunk on Opening Night…because they have a show the next day…idiot. Oh, and cast parties are more likely to be cast dinners.
  7. Developing and producing your own work is the single MOST important thing you can do after you graduate.
  8. Background film roles don’t do shit for your career.
  9. Unions are awesome and the worst at the same time.
  10. When people said you would be poor thanks to your brilliant career choice, what they really meant was “completely fucking destitute.” And that’s okay.
  11. Auditions are on one level. Knowing the right people is a completely different level altogether.
  12. Directors, casting agents, and producers care as much about how easy you will be to work with as they do about how good you are for the role. If not more so.
  13. Remember how you used to have five weeks to get off book? NOPE. Get off book NOW.
  14. Save up a certifiable shit-ton of money if you’re going to move to Toronto. Like, a ridiculous amount. Student-loan worthy. That is, if you want to actually be able to go for auditions, take classes, network, and you know, any of those other career-building essentials.
  15. Don’t do everything. Seriously. Know when to turn something down. And believe me, you’ll know.
  16. It’s not unreasonable to expect to be paid for your work. And you should be. But you won’t always be. So when you do work for free, which will be a lot, make sure it’s work that you’re passionate about or will really be a career booster. And honestly, it should be both.
  17. Ninety percent of casting decisions have nothing to do with how you perform in your audition.
  18. Most of the time, when you don’t get the part, it’s not because you suck, but because of some other (probably superficial) reason altogether. Unless you suck.
  19. Energy is more important than appearance. So get more sleep instead of wasting your time making yourself look good. After all, there’s always a hair and makeup person on set. There’s rarely a person to spoon-feed you caffeine and cocaine.
  20. Take your “me” time. And cherish it. Because the pursuit of an acting career will totally consume your life.
  21. Don’t hide your “physical flaws.” Embrace them. And learn how to look at yourself objectively.
  22. Your “hit” is no joke. It’s what you’re selling. Either be okay with it, or figure out a way to change it and still look like a real human being.
  23. No matter how big of a star you were in school, out here, you are just a part of a team. So act like it. And give credit where credit is due at every opportunity.
  24. Acting is actually easier than you want to believe it is. And more people can actually do it than you want to believe. And most people behind the scenes work harder than you do. So don’t be a diva.
  25. You are replaceable.
  26. The camera really does add ten pounds. No shit.
  27. Stage and screen are completely different worlds requiring completely different approaches and are cast in completely different ways.
  28. You thought there was “technique” to acting on stage? Just wait till you get some serious face time with the camera.
  29. Rehearsals are a luxury. Don’t waste them.
  30. It is not okay to be drunk, stoned, high, or any other kind of intoxicated while you work. Not for “professionalism” reasons. But because you are, in fact, worse.
  31. Try not to get discouraged/cynical/jaded/resentful too early. This is a tough business. That’s just the way it is, and it’s not going to change any time soon. So be tough. Or get out.
  32. And finally, don’t go down this path just because you’re “good enough” to be a professional actor. For the love of God, do it ONLY because you cannot do anything else.

Always be brave and bold.

Callam Rodya is an actor, electronic music producer, graphic designer, writer, and filmmaker based in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada.

An Empty Theatre: The Quiet Spell Before the Magic Starts

empty stage

“In the Red and Brown Water” (Fountain Theatre)

by Lyn Gardner

I love nothing more than a theatre full of people leaning forward in their seats so they don’t miss a word. And the roar of a crowd enjoying themselves can be immensely seductive.

But being one of the first people into an empty auditorium is a rare pleasure. Outside, the lobby and bars are buzzing; but inside – particularly in older theatres – there is often a feeling that you might have just missed glimpsing the theatre’s ghosts, who only made themselves scarce when the “house open” announcement was made.

Untitled, "Solitary figure in theatre" by Edward Hopper

“Solitary Figure in a Theatre” by Edward Hopper

Alone – or almost alone – you can prepare for what is to come in the eloquent silence before the auditorium begins to fill. It makes me think of Edward Hopper’s wonderful early painting, Solitary Figure in a Theatre, a picture which is alive with expectation.

I hate rushing into a theatre at the very last moment. I much prefer the ritual of preparation. The perusal of the program, the chance to observe the audience, and contemplate what is yet to come. These pre-show moments are like looking forward to a holiday or party, as much part of the enjoyment as the event itself.

I cherish this netherworld between real life and the life of the play, and often find it difficult to have a meaningful conversation in those minutes before a performance. I’m no longer quite in this world, but not yet in the one to come. It feels like those moments after you’ve turned off the light but before you’ve fallen sleep. And dreams soon begin.

Lyn Gardner writes for The Guardian

7 Reasons Why Theatre Makes Our Lives Better

Howard Shalwitz

Howard Shalwitz

by Howard Shalwitz

As someone who came from a family of doctors, started out pre-med in college, detoured to philosophy, then teaching, and finally to theatre — not only did my career choices slide steadily downhill from my mother’s perspective, but I was left with a moral conundrum: does my chosen profession, theatre, make a valuable contribution to the world when compared with the other professions I left behind? I guess this conundrum has stuck with me, because as recently as this past winter I made a list of seven reasons why theatre matters and I’d like to share them with you briefly tonight.

First, theatre does no harm. Theatre is one of those human activities that doesn’t really hurt anyone or anything (except for its carbon footprint — but let’s ignore that for now). While we’re engaged in making or attending theatre, or any of the arts for that matter, we are not engaged in war, persecution, crime, wife-beating, drinking, pornography, or any of the social or personal vices we could be engaged in instead. For this reason alone, the more time and energy we as a society devote to theatre and the arts, the better off we will be.

Second, theatre is a sophisticated expression of a basic human need — one might call it an instinct — to mimic, to project stories onto ourselves and others, and to create meaning through narrative and metaphor. We see this instinct expressed in children when they act out real or imagined characters and events. We have evidence of theatre-like rituals in some of the oldest human societies, long before the foundations of Western theatre in Ancient Greece. So theatre matters, in essence, because we can’t help it. It’s part of what makes us human.

Third, theatre brings people together. For a performance to happen, anywhere from a hundred to a thousand or more people need to gather in one place for a couple of hours, and share together in witnessing and contemplating an event that may be beautiful, funny, moving, thought-provoking, or hopefully at least diverting. And in an age when most of our communication happens in front of a screen, I think that this gathering function of theatre is, in and of itself, something that matters.

Fourth, theatre models for us a kind of public discourse that lies at the heart of democratic life, and builds our skills for listening to different sides of a conversation or argument, and empathizing with the struggles of our fellow human beings whatever their views may be. When we watch a play, we learn what happens when conflicts don’t get resolved, and what happens when they do. We develop our faculty for imagining the outcomes of various choices we might make in our personal lives and our political lives. It’s not surprising that, in repressive societies, theatre has often been aligned with the movement toward openness and freedom. In South Africa theatre played a role in the struggle against apartheid; in Czechoslovakia, a playwright became the leader of a new democracy. If our own representatives and senators in Washington went to the theatre more often, I suspect we’d all be better off.

Fifth, both the making of theatre and attending of theatre contribute to education and literacy. Watching the characters talk back and forth in the theatre is tricky; it requires sharp attention, quick mental shifts, and nimble language skills. It teaches us about human motivation and psychology. In historical plays we get lessons in leadership and government. In contemporary plays, we learn about people and cultures in different parts or our own country or in other countries. Studies have shown that students who participate in theatre do better in school. Making plays together also draws kids out of their shells and helps them learn to socialize in a productive and healthy way.

Sixth, theatre as an industry contributes to our economy and plays a special role in the revitalization of neglected neighborhoods. We’ve seen this quite clearly in our own city. You can look at the role that the Studio Theatre played along the 14th Street corridor, or Shakespeare Theatre along Seventh Street, or Woolly in both these neighborhoods, or Gala Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights, the Atlas along H Street, or the new Arena Stage along the waterfront. As each of these theatres opened, new audiences started flooding in, new restaurants opened, jobs were created, the city improved the sidewalks, and neighborhoods that were once grim and forbidding became vibrant hubs of activity. And this pattern has been repeated in cities across the United States and around the world.

Finally, the seventh way that theatre matters — and this one applies to some kinds of theatre more than others — is that it influences the way we think and feel about our own lives and encourages us to take a hard look at ourselves, our values, and our behavior. The most vivid example of this I’ve ever experienced was during a post-show discussion at Woolly Mammoth when a woman said that one of our plays made her and her husband decide that they had a serious problem in their marriage and needed to go for counseling; and she was pleased to report that they were still together and much happier as a result. Now, I’ll admit, I don’t hear things like this every day. But speaking more generally isn’t this one of the things we go to the theatre for, to measure our own lives against the lives we see depicted on the stage, to imagine what it would be like if we had those lives instead? And isn’t it a very short step from there to saying, gee, maybe there’s something I should change about my own life? And it may have nothing to do with the message that the playwright wanted to deliver! Maybe the play is about a fierce battle over a family dinner that breaks the family apart over irreconcilable political divisions — but maybe you watch the play and say, gosh, wouldn’t it be nice to at least have a family dinner once in a while, and so you decide to plan one for next month.

So, those are my seven ways that theatre matters: it does no harm, expresses a basic human instinct, brings people together, models democratic discourse, contributes to education and literary, sparks economic revitalization, and influences how we think and feel about our own lives.

Howard Shalwitz is the Artistic Director at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

Nonprofit Theater as Public Service: How Should We Define Profit and Loss?

Polly Carl

by Polly Carl

Something profound happened on the first Tuesday in November, something I’m still trying to digest fully. To my mind the election results represent a victory of love over hate, of human dignity over market forces, of public service over private gain. Those who spewed hate toward women weren’t reelected. Those who insisted on heteronormativity as the only way were defeated handily, and those who spouted the rights of the wealthy to buy elections for the sake of perpetuating the private markets of their personal fortunes were sent packing. On that Tuesday, at least for a moment, we redefined public service as something meant to benefit everyone, not just the few.

John Adams

John Adams

John Adams wrote in a letter to his son, “Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or another. If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.” Most of us would agree, though deeply flawed, our Founding Fathers were wise men who created a frame for a political system that in many ways has served us well.

I feel and see more deeply the cost of a commitment to public service. The long view of history reminds me that the $4.2 billion we spent on this last election is recent history. And it also makes me ask: Are too many honest men and women refusing public service, making room for too many politicians driven by ego and the desire for personal gain? And because this is what I do for a living, it makes me think about the history of the regional theater movement—about our leaders, past and present. And I ask: How do we currently as a field define our relationship to public service? We take a tax break, and like churches and libraries, we offer something of value to the public. When we say we choose to make our art in the context of nonprofit theater, we embrace a form of public service—not for the sake of glamorous careers that include arriving in limos to the Tony awards and sipping champagne with the stars. I intentionally chose to work inside nonprofit theater because I had a deep desire to effect change in the world. But somewhere along the historical path of the nonprofit theater movement, public service to artists and a community ran head long into private desires for personal success. Like our political milieu the public good has gotten confused with private desires.

In both editing the report, In the Intersection: Partnerships in the New Play Sector by Diane Ragsdalejust released by The Center for the Theater Commons, and attending the convening that the report covers, I have a deeper understanding of the movement of history in our field from a purer sense of public service to a market-driven desire to both serve and survive. These historical shifts in mission and purpose aren’t simple, and they don’t happen over night. We didn’t go from John Adams to Mitt Romney without struggles of every kind. But if you are invested in the future of the nonprofit theater movement, I suggest you read this report closely (you can download it for free), because it will place you in the thick of history whose next chapter will be written by the readers of HowlRound, among others.

Oskar Eustis

Oskar Eustis

The meeting this report covers was, from my vantage point, remarkable. The participants are public servants struggling with increased market pressures—how to make a public good in the face of enormous obstacles. The report covers a historical shift from the very opening conversation between Rocco Landesman and Gregory Mosher, and that shift is more deeply explored in the second chapter in the conversation between Oskar Eustis and Robert Brustein. Eustis frames the very question that the report explores:

What strikes me as you talk Bob is that . . . everything you’re talking about is about being part of a larger history that stems back really to that beach in Provincetown in 1920 through to the present. And you talk about being engaged in the training and the discussion and the creation at all at once so that, in a way, you are creating a world of values that is separate. And that world of values is part of a larger history; but we haven’t talked about profit or commerce in any of this really. And I think that one of the difficult things is: Where do you find an alternative set of values in the world—where you can live inside an alternative set of conversations about “profit and loss”?

Tony Taccone

Tony Taccone

In pondering this question we must consider the history of our own movement. We must consider the values and the words of the founders of this movement like Robert Brustein and Zelda Fichandler who are still around and able to guide us—and not just when it’s to our advantage to do so, but even when that looking back questions our practices in the moment. The group of twenty-six nonprofit theater representatives, commercial producers, and artists that gathered for this conversation did exactly that. And in the looking backwards and forwards, all of us in that room felt perplexed about where the nonprofit theater movement stands now. We asked ourselves how we had gotten from there to here and most of the nonprofit participants, as you will read, were not convinced that here was what our founders meant when they argued that nonprofit status made sense for the theater. In one of the many honest and soul-searching moments in the report, Tony Taccone, artistic director of Berkeley Rep, tries to make sense of how we came to this moment in our history:

And so we’re trying to describe what happened to us. And trying to exercise a little bit of consciousness about where we want to go. Is there a creative progressive place we can go together as a community, as a culture? Because individualism, fame, money, materialism lead one another to an iceberg. But we all kind of need and want those things too; so it’s a really tricky road.

And so I sit here post-election pondering multiple American histories, the histories of presidents, and Constitutions, and theater movements. And I don’t want to argue that things should be as they once were. We don’t look back in order to go back, but rather to better choose what going forward looks like. I’m so grateful for the evolution of thought that has created the possibilities for new stories, not the least of which is my new story as a legally married person. But in this post-election bliss for many of us, it makes sense for us consider why we value public service, and why we’ve chosen a life in the nonprofit theater. Have we done it to succeed on personal terms or do we make art to make the world better?

Polly Carl is the director of the Center for the Theater Commons at Emerson College, and the editor of the online journal HowlRound

We Get Mail: Teacher Hails “Wow of an evening” for ‘In the Red and Brown Water’

Joan Martin

Dear Fountain Theatre,

Just wanted you to know my friends and I were astonished at the wonderment of the play, In the Red and Brown Water. It was  exhilarating and haunting at the same time.  The ensemble did not “perform”. They were an in-the-moment reality.

The Fountain can always be counted on to entertain, educate, and explore the human condition in a way no other theater in town can match. In the Red and Brown Water is another proud achievement for the Fountain Theatre.

My friends and I were all teachers. One was a professor at Cal State Northridge (CSUN). Another taught middle school and I taught high school. We have all experienced using mythology in the classroom because, hard to believe, students can actually relate to that genre. Well, obviously, so can adults.  I taught Theater Arts and have presented plays, once in a while, where the actors actually include the stage directions in the dialogue. Usually have done this when the plays are performed for youngsters.   The playwright  (McCranney) used this technique in a way that did the same thing for adults. It was a wonderful way to show that the actors were both  “part of a tale” and “telling a tale”.

It was a WOW of an evening! Not soon forgotten. Good to see you….and, of course, wishing you well as do all your fans.

– Joan Martin

“In the Red and Brown Water” at the Fountain Theatre

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