Tag Archives: Tina Lifford

Fountain Theatre’s ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ chosen for CTG’s Block Party at Kirk Douglas Theatre

CITIZEN Fountain Theatre in Memory 2

‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed and award-winning world stage premiere of Citizen: An American Lyric  by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs, has been chosen by Center Theatre Group for the inaugural Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theatre at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Directed by Shirley Jo Finney,  Citizen will begin previews on April 28, open April 30 and close May 7.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with CTG on its first-ever Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre,” said Sachs. “It’s particularly meaningful to us that ‘Citizen’ was chosen because racism and white dominance in America is as timely now, since the election, as it ever was. The project also reflects the diversity of our work at the Fountain Theatre.”

The Fountain Theatre’s world stage premiere of Citizen earned rave reviews and an extended run in 2015. The Los Angeles Times heralded it as “Powerful” and highlighted it Critic’s Choice. Stage Raw declared it “a transcendent theatrical experience,” later honoring Stephen Sachs with the Stage Raw Theatre Award for Best Adaptation.

The original cast featured Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick, Lisa Pescia. The extended run included Monnae Michaell, Karen Malina White, and Nikki Crawford.

A meditation on race that fuses poetry, prose, movement, music and the video image,  Citizen: An American Lyric is a provocative stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s internationally acclaimed book of poetry about everyday acts of racism in America. Of Rankine’s Citizen, The New Yorker wrote that it was “brilliant… explores the kinds of injustice that thrive when the illusion of justice is perfected.” The New York Times wrote that “Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry’s forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves.”

Center Theatre Group received seventy-six submissions for its new Block Party program and selected three local intimate theatre productions. It will also remount Coeurage Theatre Company’s production of Failure: A Love Story by Philip Dawkins, and Echo Theater Company’s production of Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel.  Each production will have a two-week run presented April 14 through May 21, 2017.

The selected shows will receive the full support of Center Theatre Group and its staff in order to fund, stage and market each production. Full casting will be announced at a later date. Tickets will go on sale to the general public in February.

Fountain actresses are now conquering television and breaking barriers

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Simone Missick, Taraji P. Henson, and Tina Lifford

They are, first and foremost, talented actresses now starring in some of the most popular shows on television. They are strong women conquering an industry dominated by men. They are women of color leading a new wave of diversity now finally being demonstrated on TV screens. And they are all members of the Fountain Family, seen in acclaimed productions on our intimate Fountain stage   

Simone Missick is now taking TV by storm co-starring as Misty Knight on the new Netflix series Marvel’s Luke Cage. She plays the first black female superhero in the history of television. The new series is now being seen in 180 countries.  There is already talk of giving Simone her own series in a Misty Knight spinoff. 

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Simone Missick as Misty Knight in ‘Marvel’s Luke Cage’

Simone’s launch to TV stardom is the stuff of local LA theatre legend. She was catapulted from acting in a play at the intimate Fountain Theatre to co-starring in a new popular television series as an iconic Marvel superhero. It’s the kind of plucking from obscurity to stardom of which most actors dream. 

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Simone Missick in ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

Simone got the call to audition for the series while appearing on stage at the Fountain Theatre in our 2015 hit production of Citizen: An American Lyric. Shuttling back and forth between auditioning for the TV role and performing weekends at the Fountain, she knew it was a longshot. Suffering from a head cold, she flew to New York one final time to audition and test for the part. Sworn to secrecy by TV producers, Simone couldn’t share details with her Fountain cast about the role she was up for. But we knew it was big and important. We all waited. 

Then she got word.    

“I got a call from Jeph Loeb who was the head of Marvel. He kind of just said, ‘Prepare for your life to change,’” says Simone. “And what does that even mean for an actor who’s been working, doing theatre and short films in LA for 10 years? You can just never anticipate when that call is going to come, what it will really be. It was amazing.”

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Tina Lifford

Tina Lifford was also on stage at the Fountain with Simone in the same production of Citizen: An American Lyric. She now co-stars as Violet Bordelon, an aunt to the three estranged Bordelon siblings on OWN’s acclaimed drama Queen Sugar. The new series was  created, directed and executive produced by Ava DuVernay. Oprah Winfrey also serves as executive producer.  

Queen Sugar is groundbreaking. It is produced by a black-owned network and overseen by two black women—one who owns the network (Winfrey) and the other (DuVernay) as showrunner, head writer and director. All of the directors guiding every episode in season one have been women.  

“It’s exciting that we get to represent the excellence that is living in people of color,” says Tina. “The excellence that hasn’t necessarily had a platform before, which is why Ava is championing the whole inclusive movement. She is saying, there’s all of these stories and talents in every face of talent-making to tell those stories, and we’re going to show you who they are. That’s exciting.”

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Taraji P. Henson was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She now stars as Cookie Lyon on the smash hit Fox series Empire, for which she won a Golden Globe Award and has twice been nominated for an Emmy. In 2016, Time magazine named Henson one of the 100 most influential people in the world on the annual Time 100 list.

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Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon on ‘Empire’

Taraji appeared in our Fountain west coast premiere of The Darker Face of the Earth by Rita Dove. She has maintained her connection with the Fountain Family, seeing Fountain productions and visiting with our casts and companies after performances. 

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Taraji P. Henson and the cast of ‘The Ballad of Emmett Till’

The Los Angeles Times has dubbed Diarra Kilpatrick as “a force of nature”. She is not only a dynamic actress. She is a gifted writer and ambitious creator. Her American Koko digital series, originally produced for her YouTube channel, received the Best Web Series Award at the American Black Film Festival and was lauded as a “Web Series You Should Be Watching” by Essence Magazine. ABC’s streaming service ABCd has now acquired American Koko, with Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Viola Davis producing.

“Diarra is an exceptional talent in that she cannot be put in a category,” says Davis. “She has a unique voice that transcends her generation.”

The Race

Diarra Kilpatrick “In the Red and Brown Water”

Diarra starred in the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed and award-winning Los Angeles Premiere of Tarell McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water. Diarra played Oya, a lightning-fast runner, in the stunning and lyrical drama. Since that dazzling production, Diarra has been sprinting ever since.  She is now also developing The Climb for Amazon. She will write and star in the project.   

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Deidrie Henry on ‘Game of Silence’

The list of Fountain actresses goes on. Deidrie Henry has mesmerized audiences in such Fountain productions as Yellowman and Coming Home. She co-starred as Detective Liz Winters on the NBC TV series Game of Silence and is the national TV commercial character Annie for Popeyes.  Monnae Michaell (Citizen: An American Lyric) plays Nina on the new TV series The Good Place. Tonya Pinkins (And Her Hair Went With Her) is Ethel Peabody on the television show Gotham. Tinashe Kajese will be seen in the upcoming TV movie The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Fountain veterans Tracie Thoms, Karen Malina White, Juanita Jennings, Adenrele Ojo are seen often on TV. 

“I’m always thrilled to see one of our actors, any actor, male or female, succeed in the film and TV industry,” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “But to see these extraordinary women achieve these accomplishments and create change, knowing that they come from our Fountain Family, makes me even more delighted and proud.” 

Fountain Theatre’s ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ to get Off-Broadway production

CITIZEN color logoCitizen: An American Lyric, adapted for the stage from Claudia Rankine’s award-winning book of poetry by Rankine and Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs, will headline Primary Stages’ 2016-17 season at Off-Broadway’s Cherry Lane Theatre. Citizen premiered at the Fountain Theatre last summer to critical acclaim.

“We are thrilled that yet another Fountain project has succeeded in moving onward and upward,” says Sachs. “In 2007, our world premiere production of  Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances was presented Off-Broadway by Primary Stages, so this continues our relationship with them. Claudia and I are working together on a new draft for the New York premiere.” An announcement for the NY opening was featured in The New York Times.  

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‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

An intensely provocative and unapologetic rumination on racial aggression in America, Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric has been heralded as one of the best books of the past decade and received the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry. In this new stage adaptation by Rankine and Sachs, seemingly everyday acts of racism are scrutinized as part of an uncompromising testimony of “living while Black” in America, from the shooting of Trayvon Martin, to the tennis career of Serena Williams and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In his “critic’s choice” review of the Fountain production, Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty wrote, “Claudia Rankine’s powerful writings about the trauma of racism make for a staging and message that resonate,” and Stage raw critic Myron Meisel called it “a transcendent experience.”

“We are particularly pleased that this piece will have a life in theaters across the country,” added Sachs. “By enlivening Claudia’s powerful book to the stage, we add our theatrical voice to the national conversation on race in America.”

Other plays written by Sachs that were created and launched at the Fountain’s intimate venue in Hollywood include Bakersfield Mist, now produced worldwide including London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner; Heart Song, produced at Florida Repertory Theatre; Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (adapted from August Strindberg’s Miss Julie) at Vancouver Playhouse and Canadian Stage Company in Toronto; and Sweet Nothing in My Ear which has been produced nationwide and was adapted into a TV movie starring Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin.

The world premiere production of Citizen: An American Lyric at the Fountain Theatre was directed by Shirley Jo Finney and starred Leith Burke, Bernard K. Addison, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick and Lisa Pescia. The director and cast for the Primary Stages production have not been announced.  

For more information about the Primary Stages production of Citizen: An American Lyric, visit www.primarystages.org.

Fountain Theatre highlighted on “Best” Lists for Theatre in 2015

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The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

As the year draws to an end, the Fountain Theatre is delighted to be highlighted on many of the annual “Best of 2015” lists that are starting to appear.

Los Angeles Times theatre critic Charles McNulty selected our west coast premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek to his Best Theater of 2015, hailing it as “Another in the Fountain Theatre’s series of expertly acted productions of the great South African playwright.”

The LA Theatre website Bitter Lemons named The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek as its Top Rated Production of 2015.

And critic Travis Michael Holder honored the Fountain Theatre with several of his TicketHolder Awards for 2015:

BEST PRODUCTION OF 2015

The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

  • RUNNERS-UP: Citizen: An American Lyric

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST IN A PLAY

Gilbert Glenn Brown, Thomas Silcott, Phillip Solomon, Suanne Spoke, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

  • RUNNERS-UP: Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick, Lisa Pescia, Citizen: An American Lyric
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Citizen: An American Lyric

NEW DISCOVERY 2015

Phillip Solomon, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

BEST PLAYWRIGHT

Athol Fugard, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

BEST ADAPTATION

RUNNERS-UP: Stephen Sachs, Citizen: An American Lyric

BEST DIRECTION OF A PLAY

Simon Levy, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

  • RUNNERS-UP: Shirley Jo Finney, Citizen: An American Lyric

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

RUNNERS-UP: Naila Aladdin-Sanders, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

BEST SOUND DESIGN

RUNNERS-UP: Peter Bayne, Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

BEST VIDEO DESIGN

RUNNERS-UP: Yee Eun Nam, Citizen: An American Lyric

SPECIAL ACHIEVEMENTS 

Anastasia Coon, Movement, Citizen: An American Lyric

A marvelous end to a memorable year marking our 25th Anniversary season. More “best” lists will be appearing.  

 

Author Claudia Rankine on ‘Citizen’ at the Fountain: “I had always thought the book should be a play”

Claudia Rankine at the Fountain Theatre

Claudia Rankine at the Fountain Theatre

by Lynell George

On the American “stage” — within mainstream media and in public discourse — the discussion of race and racism is often defined by spectacle: an event that we can collectively point to that plays out on our screens, large and small. It might be the grievous roll call of black lives cut short by raw acts of violence; or it might take shape in next week’s headlines — a bungled arrest or denial of dignity — that eerily mirrors incidents of three generations ago.

While those high-profile, super-charged moments are indeed odious and shameful, they are indicative of a deeper malady affecting the American psyche, writer Claudia Rankine argues in her most recent book, “Citizen: An American Lyric.”

Often, Rankine notes, these high-profile conflagrations — New Orleans post Hurricane Katrina, the murder of Trayvon Martin — are viewed with confusion or are categorized as aberration by those who don’t move through life with black skin. For those who navigate daily through fraught territory, the belief or assumption that racism is largely “behind us” is both a powerful articulation of privilege and a violent act of erasure.

“Citizen” — Rankine’s keenly alert and incisive collection of poetry, prose and imagery — was named a poetry finalist for the 2014 National Book Award and was the winner of the National Books Critics Circle Award. The text is now finding another life as a stage production at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.

“Citizen” carefully catalogs the ways in which casual racism permeates our day-to-day interactions — both spoken and unspoken; those “Did that really happen?” moments. These are slights, dismissals and elisions that are deeply ingrained. They are reflexive gestures — judgments — enacted upon another: the door that is not held open, the seat that is not occupied, the fumbled or “mistaken” identity. Each slip, each cut, is an obliteration.

While “Citizen” articulates this paradox — this notion of people of color rendered at once invisible and hyper-visible — Rankine’s goal was not to enumerate pain, but to expose and address “white blindness.” If we don’t — or refuse to — see it, we can’t engage in a dialogue to disassemble it. Untended, these quiet, repeated microaggressions, denials of full personhood, continue to be the contaminated roots from which these larger conflagrations grow.

Ultimately, Rankine’s book requires that we dig deeper to understand what it means to be a 21st century “citizen.” We must acknowledge what it takes to build stronger, inclusive and thus more meaningful alliances across racial and cultural lines. What is our collective responsibility? What is it that will help us to move beyond that quasi-magical-thinking wish of “moving on” and rather how to move us all collectively and meaningfully forward.

Rankine is the author of four other books including “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric,” a meditation on death and currently serves as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She recently departed from Pomona College in Claremont to join the faculty at USC and will begin teaching writing workshops and poetics in the English department beginning Fall 2016.

I recently caught up with Claudia Rankine in a wide-ranging discussion on the stage adaptation of “Citizen,” the microaggressions of daily life, and “racial silencing.”

Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine

Lynell George: We now have a word for these small moments, the slights — microaggressions — but when you were first encountering these acts in your early years, how did you categorize them? What did you do with them when they landed?

Claudia Rankine: I think the way that I metabolize microaggressions as I was growing up — and I include my 20s and 30s and 40s in my growing up — is that I just listened. I took it in. It wasn’t a situation in which I didn’t hear what was being said. It wasn’t a situation where I was under any kind of misunderstanding around the intent or the source of the statements that were coming at me. I understood them as an assault and I felt them as an assault, but I didn’t respond to them. And that’s part of what drove me to want to write about them.

It’s the sense that there was another thing in play, and even when we know what’s happening, we don’t feel empowered to call it out. And I think we are brought up to be good and have good manners. To not make other people uncomfortable and to understand that by putting our own comfort in the forefront we might create a situation that is uncomfortable. But the consequence is that you carry a lot of stress in your body and all of a sudden your digestive system is given the role of metabolizing it. So I think that I had to grow into the recognition that it was actually okay to feel that my own comfort was worth the attention.

Claudia Rankine signs books at the Fountain Theatre

Claudia Rankine signs books at the Fountain Theatre

LG: You’re right, there has been this impulse to be polite — or mask it. As a survival tactic, it seems we have developed these ways to hide our anger, frustration even when we were/are telling people off.

CR: But even that way, that kind of throwing shade with congeniality, I think that even that should be given up, I think that it is okay for us to embrace our anger. There is this great line by Thomas Jefferson where he refers to blacks, where he says, “Their griefs are transient.” So just that idea. What allows the white imagination to even articulate something like that is that sense that they don’t even have to bear the brunt of the stress that is caused by their actions. So I’m interested in the full recognition of someone’s emotional state and having the freedom to live while black. To live fully as a human being without having to recuperate goodness relative to white stereotypes about blackness. That’s the rhetoric.

LG: It’s even embedded in the language of pop culture where black women in particular are viewed as exceptional in their ability to shoulder whatever is thrown their way — “She can handle all of this — anything because she’s ‘fierce.’ To me the power of “Citizen” is that it shifts the power — in italicizing and naming these off-hand moments — the speaker is no longer the victim. There is power in turning the moment around and on its head. Did you feel a power shift as you were writing this?

CR: I don’t know if I felt it as a shift in power. For me the interest was not in exhibiting black pain. We know it exists. I’m black. I wasn’t interested in exhibiting black pain and performing that. It was not at all at the center of the writing. I was more interested in sort of the white liberal imagination insisting they don’t understand why things happen: they don’t understand how Katrina could have happened. They don’t understand how these killings are happening and yet they are the same ones who forget to open the door if you happen to be a black woman. And they are the same ones who refuse to sit next to you if you happen to be a black man. So I am much more interested in looking at that. Looking at white liberalism and the gap in its own recognition of the ways in which it is implicated in the continuance of white supremacist thinking.

LG: I was thinking as I was moving through the book, I could mirror many of these conversations/interactions, but what also becomes clear in “Citizen” is the pervasiveness of this dismissal. It’s another erasure when someone responds, “Well, let me give you an example when that happens to me.” The subtext is: “Well it might not mean what you think…” It’s minimizing and dismissive.

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CR: Well, I think there is such anxiety in the white imagination around feeling guilt, implicated — whatever. The refusal is in the looking. And whiteness is not used to looking at itself as invested in certain norms in order to keep a certain positioning. That’s part of the culture. You can’t blame individuals because inasmuch as there is systemic racism there is systemic white privilege and the white privileging. In other words, you’re not even white, you’re just “normal” — and you’re just a “normal” human being — and [so] how you think or feel is actually where the level playing-field begins. So I think white people tend to believe that: Oh if I say, ‘I don’t think about race’ that must be true, because, I’m normal. I’m the norm. And yet they are making decisions based on race all the time.

LG: You mentioned earlier that these incidents themselves made you decide that you wanted to embark on this journey, the writing. What was the seed? How did it begin to take shape?

CR: Different parts of the book happened in different ways, so the incidents that accumulate in the opening were probably the last thing, not the first. And that was probably my moment of anthropology. I mean, I literally called up my friends and asked: Can you tell me a moment when race interrupted something you expected to be without incident? Was there some interaction with a colleague or a friend, when you were just doing something very ordinary, when suddenly the moment of scandal happened — because race was brought into that moment? So once I began to collect those, they just kind of stockpiled.

The others — the situation-text scripts, those came out of actual events. Katrina happened and then I worked on a piece. So it was more like that for those pieces. Those were years in the making. And then the more lyric pieces, I just write those when I write them.

LG: There is a beautiful exploration of the symbolism of Serena Williams on the tennis court — and both how she floats in both the tennis world and the American imagination.

CR: I have always been interested in Serena Williams and Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan in terms of the ways in which racism plays itself out in sports. Especially as a black woman watching this other amazing black woman be treated again and again and again with almost 18th century thinking and rhetoric and the insistence on that was — and is — remarkable. In fact, did you see the piece this morning on Serena? It’s a piece I wrote for the New York Times. It was a really great chance to sit down and organize all of the information I had collected over the years as a fan, basically. I had been watching these things happen and I thought: What happens when you just put them down one after another after another after another after another? So the organization of the essay, replicated the organization of the book in terms of what happens when these moments build. Some of them might not have to do with racism, but it doesn’t matter because there is so much precedence, that it might as well have to do with racism… I think even I was surprised at just how consistently she was assaulted on the court over the years. You know the incidents, but when you begin to see them one after the other and then the other and the other it really is stunning.

Bernard K. Addison, Simone Missick and Leith Burke perform in the stage production of "Citizen: An American Lyric." | Photo: Ed Krieger.

Bernard K. Addison, Simone Missick and Leith Burke in “Citizen: An American Lyric.”

LG: Yes, and there is the moment in the book where you react for her. You are appalled by all that she has shouldered. She has had to internalize so much and rise above it and win…

CR: If anything that I have learned from Serena Williams is that the way to deal with what is put in front of you is to deal with what is put in front of you and not to be silenced in the face [by] assault by fantasies of good behavior for black people. I think that has silenced us in the past, because one doesn’t want to play into expectations of rageful black bodies — as if something is not causing the rage, as if we are just out there raging away without anyone assaulting us.

LG: Right and by now, you’ve heard about the Black women’s book group being kicked off the Napa Wine Train… I mean really?

CR: Yes, everyone can laugh — but not you…

LG: Even our joy is restricted. You can’t be angry, you can’t laugh. It’s such a small space we’re expected to occupy emotionally…

CR: Exactly.

LG: The book of course has garnered wide attention, won many important prizes, and yet we are in this moment of such a degraded dialogue around race and such soul-crushing race-related violence. It seems for those reaching for your book, that we collectively want to find ways to close that gap and yet this has been such a long stretch of retrograde thought and action around the subject of race.

CR: I think it’s heartening because people are saying: Well, I see that this is a problem too. And it’s not a state that we actually want. I think many Americans, and many white Americans, are distressed with what’s going on and the difference is that whiteness is not used to interrogating whiteness.

I think it’s complicated. I think with many white policeman, there are some who are just really mean and racist and who want the death of black people, and then there are others who have no idea how our [country’s] white supremacist beginnings continue to control their own imagination. They are reacting sincerely to fears that are not located in the body in front of them, but rather in their heads. And I don’t doubt that they would pass lie detector tests if you asked them “Were you afraid of that guy?” But does that mean that the guy did anything to make them fearful?

I think that the interest in the book, is more than an interest in the book, and is an interest in that dynamic. We can see that there is a problem. How, perhaps, we are implicated in that problem is not as easy to see.

LG: This seems like a good moment to slip over to the play and the challenge of staging these complex voicings of — shadings — of interior thought. Stephen Sachs, the co-artistic director at the Fountain Theatre was the person who approached you. What was your initial thought?

Tony Maggio and Leith Burke perform in the stage production of "Citizen: An American Lyric." | Photo: Ed Krieger.

Tony Maggio and Leith Burke in “Citizen: An American Lyric.”

CR: Actually, I had always thought the book should be a play. It came out of voices so it made sense to me that it could find a life on the stage. So when Stephen approached me I was excited by it. I had some anxieties about the investment or the positioning of the material in the book. Partly some of the things that I’d mentioned before. I was less interested in the staging of black pain and more interested in the staging of white implication in those dynamics. So that, I think, was an issue. But I was very excited that he wanted to adapt the play and I loved the adaptation that he did. He stayed very true to the text. It was more a masterful arranging and editing of the material. So the language is all the language of the text. In that way I appreciated the sensitivity that he brought into the material in terms of editing it.

LG: At what point were you able to see a script?

CR: I went to a reading early on. Initially, [I] was a little worried about the material being pushed over into melodrama because for me the problem is that what is insidious about this day-to-day racism is how ordinary it is. And the way in which, for the black or brown body, is something that is survivable even as it is not survivable. For example, in Sandra Bland’s case, the interaction with the policeman was survivable, but who knows at what point in her own psyche she is: how stressed the woman is, she’s making a major move. Yet another assault might be the one that’s the hardest to take, if in fact she did take her own life. So that’s the thing if you portray them as these heightened moments of scandal and interact with them as scandal rather than as the day-to-day quotidian interactions of Americans…

LG: They see it as “apart from” rather than “part of” the fiber/weave of day-to-day life.

CR: Exactly.

Leith Burke, Bernard K. Addison, Lisa Pescia, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio and Simone Missick perform in the stage production of "Citizen: An American Lyric." | Photo: Ed Krieger.

Leith Burke, Bernard K. Addison, Lisa Pescia, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio and Simone Missick in “Citizen: An American Lyric.”

LG: Part of the actors’ preparation, I’d heard, was that they were encouraged to share incidents that had occurred in their own lives as a way to begin to interact with the material — did that inform/shape the text/script as well?

CR: The actors as an ensemble work incredibly well together and I think that the director, Shirley Jo’s direction, helped to create that bond inasmuch it created a field of empathy on the stage, because you’re also able to say: “Oh, my God yes, that also happened to you?” and “I can see now how I perhaps did that or said this.” So I think that that is fantastic in the way she was able to bring the actors to the material but to find the material in themselves and bring that forward into the portrayal of the role.

LG: Also in terms of the production’s timing, the show was opening right around the anniversary of Ezell Ford’s 2011 police-involved shooting and the 50th anniversary of the Watts rebellion, so these audiences arrived with all of this as a backdrop here in Los Angeles. Where there any audience discussions that you were able to sit in on where these news events and their emotional impact came up?

CR: I have only been to one talk-back and much of it had to do with people either coming to a recognition that, ‘Whoa, these are events that have been in my own life.’ Or ‘Wow, I have been involved and implicated in these events without really understanding what the ramifications are.’ And yes, because the play addresses the murders of many of these black men there is also a dialogue around what’s happening in the culture so I guess, yes, the answer is yes! There is that. The play is only a small reflection of all of the multiple ways in which race continues — race/racism — continues to determine what’s happening in our justice system, what’s happening in our streets, what’s happening in housing policies, what’s happening in education, what’s happening around office tables — in every aspect of our being.

Leith Burke performs in the stage production of "Citizen: An American Lyric." | Photo: Ed Krieger.

Leith Burke, “Citizen: An American Lyric.”

LG: And finally, how have your own conversations changed around the subject of race and racial silencing?

CR: I think the best thing about this — this whole double consciousness, this sense that there was one conversation for African Americans, among them, and there was another conversation about African Americans among whites — I think that distinction has gone out the window.

There’s nothing that I would say to you that I wouldn’t say to whomever. That for me is the real difference. That there is no longer a sense that with you I can speak the truth and with that person I need to just get out of the way. And that’s happening more and more. I pick up the paper and I’m reading [New York Times columnist] Charles Blow and he is saying many things that I have never heard written in mainstream media.

LG: It’s true. And it happens too in real time on his Twitter feed and it is a refreshing candidness that is inherent to the immediacy of social media. You can eavesdrop on conversations you would have never before been privy to. And too, that whole old conversation about “airing dirty laundry” and keeping secrets, that’s changing. It has to.

CR: Right. That’s great in terms of African American culture. I feel for the first time we are all actually on the same page. Whether or not we agree or disagree at least we understand that there is a created white culture, and that created white culture has a history of white supremacism influencing its many decisions. That seemed like a no-brainer. But I think for a lot of white people that was not something to be said — or understood — because whiteness was supposed to be normality — and normality seemed to have no color. So everybody was supposed to strive to reach that. Then suddenly, finally, we have this recognition that we shouldn’t want to strive for something that has at its core the annihilation of black and brown bodies.

Lynell George, is an L.A. based, journalist and essayist. This post originally appeared on KCET Artbound. Production photos by Ed Krieger. 

Citizen: An American Lyric runs to October 11th. More Info/Get Tickets

‘Citizen’ Actress Tina Lifford on Racism: Take action now to bring hope for tomorrow

'Citizen: An Americam Lyric' at the Fountain Theatre

‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

by Tina Lifford

“I don’t know how to end what doesn’t have an ending.”

This line begins the closing sequence in Claudia Rankine’s play Citizen: An American Lyric that I have been rehearsing since June 15th and blogging about since June 30th. Citizen depicts both everyday unconscious and overt acts of racism in America.

Looking through the lens of systematic oppression, hundreds of years in the making, it is easy to surmise that there is no end in sight to our historical predicament. However, this is not the lens through which I see.

Instead, I peer through the lens of social achievement. From this perspective, something within the human spirit seems to consistently triumph. The spirit that animates humanity continues to expand and advance. Crossing over ignorance. Trespassing upon man-made limits and ideas. Forcing change, no matter the circumstances.

Tina Lifford

Tina Lifford

From this purview, what happens to the line of dialogue – I don’t know how to end what doesn’t have an ending – when it is held up against the dismantling of apartheid, the fall of the Berlin wall, and the civil rights gains of gay, lesbian and transgender Americans? Next to these social accomplishments, an affirming thought emerges: our innate resilience is indomitable. It forges unprecedented paths and unpredictable outcomes. Hope for the future can spring from this thought.

Of course, in the face of recent racial strife, it is prudent to understand that the path ahead is not an easy one. The dismantling of institutional racism clearly takes time. But I find comfort in walking through the history of humanity and seeing the consistent presence of an indomitable spirit in action. The two-term election of President Barack Obama comes to mind.

I am also mindful of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Mountaintop speech, wherein he says that he has been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land. It is worth noting that the he never attached a completion date to his vision. I suspect that its fulfillment is an ongoing process. And, for it to be fulfilled we must all do our part.

Our job is to question, and then take actions that align with the march of humanity. When we’re trying to figure out what is best for us all, the question we must courageously ask is “What action most honors the idea that every human being is innately equal?”

When we give our attention to important questions like this, that attention empowers the question, making it strong enough to inform and conjure answers. This is the path of scientific discovery. It is also the path to social change.

Despite the current disquiet and heightened racial tension, there is cause for celebration. Against all odds, in 60 relatively short years, the civil rights movement has created massive change. We must not lose sight of this. Of course, more is still needed. But by acknowledging our gains thus far, we can gather the courage and determination needed to stay the course.

We cannot allow bloodcurdling injustices to blind us or distract us from getting to the promised land. Present challenges and heartbreak must not be permitted to obscure the bigger picture.

We must never throw up our hands, defeated.

Bernard K. Addison, Simone Missick, Leith Burke.

Bernard K. Addison, Simone Missick, Leith Burke.

We do not have to know how to end what doesn’t have an ending. We only need to commit to taking the small steps that are ours to take.

You and the actions you take are the hope for tomorrow.

To forge change we must turn the insights acquired here and elsewhere into action. Applying new insights to current life challenges creates more fulfilled and powerful lives. Lessons learned will support the dismantling of bigger issues, including racism.

When we approach both our personal well-being and the well-being of society with the belief that something inside of us is innately creative, resilient, empowered to make new choices, and undeniably whole and worthy, we become fortified in the ways that achieving change requires.

Tina Lifford is an stage, film and TV actress and founder of the Inner Fitness Project

Citizen: An American Lyric is now playing to Sept 14. More Info/Get Tickets

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: ‘Citizen’ author Claudia Rankine engages in Q&A at Fountain Theatre

 Claudia Rankine at the Fountain Theatre

Claudia Rankine at the Fountain Theatre

Author Claudia Rankine attended last Sunday’s matinée performance of our world stage premiere of her book, Citizen: An American Lyric, and engaged the audience in a Q&A Talkback discussion with the cast.  It was Ms. Rankine’s first opportunity to see the Fountain’s full production of the stage adaptation of her book  (she attended a reading of an earlier draft of the script two months ago). She was very moved by what she experienced on Sunday.  

Following the performance, Ms. Rankine and the cast addressed issues of racism dramatized on stage in the play and rendered in the book. Audience members shared their insightful comments and asked meaningful questions of the author and the actors. Rankine then signed copies of her book and a catered reception was served in the cafe immediately after.

Another memorable afternoon at the Fountain Theatre.

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Citizen: An American Lyric runs to Sept 14th. MORE INFO/GET TICKETS   

Photo Slideshow: ‘Citizen’ cast celebrates exhilarating first preview performance at the Fountain Theatre

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‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

The first performance of a new work in front of an audience is always charged with a wide variety of electrifying feelings. Sunday afternoon at the Fountain was no different when our world premiere stage adaptation of Citizen: An American Lyric launched its first preview and audiences were able to experience the provocative new piece for the first time. Buy all accounts, it was an exhilarating success.

Kato Cooks

Kato Cooks

“Easily, it is the most profound, emotionally engaging production I have experienced in decades,” exclaimed longtime Fountain Family member Kato Cooks.  “It brought me to tears, wringing blood from my soul. It spoke aloud what many of us only consider privately, afraid to give our introspection, these ruminations, these voices. Tears welled in my eyes as the intense performances drained me. Every moment, every actor sublime. I must experience this one a few times with different sets of friends.”

Kato’s compelling experience was clearly shared by others in the audience at the  Sunday matinée. At one moment in the middle of the performance, an audience member was so jarred and engaged in the events unfolding between characters on stage that she actually vocally called out, “Did she really just say that?” The rest of the audience — and the actors on stage — laughed heartily at her honest, spontaneous vocal reaction. It was one of those unplanned truthful shared moments in live theatre that is cherished and we’ll always remember.  Sunday’s first preview received a standing ovation. 

‘Citizen’ Cast Celebrates First Preview

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Citizen: An American Lyric is the world stage premiere of the internationally acclaimed book about race in America by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs. Directed by Shirley Jo Finney, the play features Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick and Lisa Pescia. Previews continue through July 31. It opens August 1st.  

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‘Citizen’ Rehearsals Trigger Thought-Provoking Talk Between Actors at Fountain Theatre

Cast of 'Citizen" have table talk.

Cast of ‘Citizen’ have table talk.

Rehearsals are now underway for our exciting world premiere stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine‘s acclaimed book about race in America, Citizen: An American Lyric. Only a few days into rehearsal , the new play has already inspired an honest, open and insightful dialogue between the actors, sharing thoughts and feelings about race, identity, human connection, self-awareness and what it means to be a citizen in this country. 

Adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, the free-flowing and fast-moving theatre piece opens August 1st. 

The talented ensemble cast includes Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick, and Lisa Pescia.  

Before the cast was permitted to turn to page one of the script and begin the painstaking process of exploring and analyzing the text, it was essential to Director Finney that the actors have a frank conversation with each other about their own life experiences concerning race, social/cultural interaction and human relationships. To get to the heart of the issues exposed in this play, Finney insisted, it must be personal. The result was a spirited dialogue at the rehearsal table that was raw, insightful, painful, funny and enlightening.    

Actor Tony Maggio.

Actor Tony Maggio and company discuss the play.

This powerful  and thought-provoking stage adaptation fuses theatre, music, sound, movement,  and video imagery. Snapshots, vignettes, a meditation on the acts of everyday racism. Remarks, glances, seeming slips of the tongue. Those did-that-really-just-happen-did-they-really-just say-that slurs that happen every day. And the larger incidents that become national firestorms. As Rankine writes, “This is how you are a citizen.”

Rankine’s acclaimed book is the Winner of the 2015 National Book Award, the 2015 Los Angeles Book Award, and the PEN Award.

At Monday night’s first rehearsal, producer Simon Levy guided the company through production business, scheduling and paperwork. Costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders took measurements of the actors. Director Shirley Jo Finney spoke about her vision for the play. The script was then read aloud by the cast.  Also present were Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, Director of Devlopment Barbara Goodhill, designers Yee Eun Nam, and Dillon Nelson, movement director Anastasia Coon, publicist Lucy Pollak, and intern Isabel Espy.  

The meditation on race and truthful questioning of social interaction dramatized in this new work is timely for our city and our country.  Our world premiere stage adaptation of Citizen: An American Lyric promises to be the theatrical event of the summer and will certainly generate much-needed conversation. We urge all citizens to join us for this illuminating and important ride! Opens August 1st. 

Photo Slideshow: Table Talk

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‘Citizen’ Comes Alive in Reading of Stage Adaptation of Award-Winning Book at Fountain Theatre

The company of CITIZEN with author Claudia Rankine (standing, 3rd from left) on Fountain stage.

The company of CITIZEN with author Claudia Rankine (standing with scarf, 3rd from left) on Fountain stage after last night’s reading.

A thrilling new project came to life last night on stage at the Fountain with the first-ever reading of the new stage adaptation of Citizen: American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. The book about race in America has earned international acclaim, winning the National Book Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Award,  and is a finalist for the PEN Award. 

Adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, the cast for last night’s reading included Bernard Addison, Chris Butler, Tina Lifford,  Simone Missick, Linda Park, Amy Pietz, and Larry Poindexter. A new work in development, it was the first public reading of the script. The response from the audience was very enthusiastic, the excited buzz after the reading filled the Fountain with electricity.  

Citizen: An American Lyric is a provocative meditation on race fusing prose, poetry, and the visual image. A lyric poem, snapshots, vignettes, on the acts of everyday racism. Remarks, glances, implied judgments. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV — everywhere, all the time. Those did-that-really-just-happen-did-they-really-just say-that slurs that happen every day and enrage in the moment and later steep poisonously in the mind. And, of course, those larger incidents that become national or international firestorms. As Rankine writes, “This is how you are a citizen.”

The world premiere stage adaption is scheduled to open this summer at the Fountain Theatre.  More Info

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