The Fountain Theatre is pleased to welcome veteran theater producer and public relations consultant Diana Buckhantz to its Board of Directors.
Diana Buckhantz recently produced the critically acclaimed new musical Songbird in New York City which is about to have a second production at Two Rivers Theatre this June before an eventual return to New York. She was part of the producing team that brought the Tony-nominated musical Leap of Faith from the Ahmanson Theatre to Broadway. Her producing credits also include Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York and The Last Goodbye at the Old Globe.
“I have been seeing shows at the Fountain for many years and have always been so impressed by the quality of the work,” says Buckhantz. “Excellent writing, beautifully staged productions and wonderful acting – all wrapped around and illuminating the important social and moral issues of the day. I believe that theatre should entertain but also that it should stimulate audiences to challenge their values and belief systems. The Fountain does this in engaging and thoughtful ways. I am excited to join the board to help support this important work and help the theatre to grow and expand its reach. “
Diana began her professional career producing award-winning documentaries including “Dying with Dignity,” “Hunger in the Promised Land, and “Not A Question of Courage,” all for KTLA. Her documentaries have also received two National EMMY awards, two local EMMY Awards, the Scripps Howard Award for Broadcast Journalism, the State Bar of California Public Service Award, the NAPTE National Iris Award, the National Education Award, three Angel Awards, and the Kenny Rogers World Hunger Media Award.
While a producer at ITC Productions, she received an Associate Producer credit for the feature film “Without A Clue,” starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley.
Currently, she also runs her family foundation which focuses on issues around runaway and homeless youth, arts education in the schools, aging, reproductive rights, and combating genocides and mass atrocities in Africa.
She proudly serves on the boards of Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles Youth Network, Jewish World Watch and Capital and Main.
Her greatest production, however, is her son Sam.
“Diana has been a fan of the Fountain for some time, ” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Her professional experience as a theater producer and her dedicated service on notable non-profit boards makes her a very strong asset to our Fountain Family. We are thrilled to have her on our Board of Directors. “
Judith Moreland and Bo Foxworth, ‘Building the Wall’, Fountain Theatre
You know them as the New York-based organization that presents the Tony Awards and the Obies each year. But the American Theatre Wing provides a myriad of other remarkable services nationwide. It provides grants and scholarships, connect talents at all stages with educational and professional opportunities, and creates content that illuminates and preserves theatre. Founded in 1917 on the eve of America’s entry into World War I by seven suffragettes, American Theatre Wing has spent a century using theatre to advance human experience, empathy and cultural growth by providing a platform for strong and fearless voices in the American theatre.
This week, American Theatre Wing released a new short documentary film it commissioned on the creation and development of the Fountain Theatre’s world premiere production of Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan. The riveting new play opened at the Fountain Theatre on March 18, 2017 and was extended to sold-out houses to August 27th. It earned international attention and launched the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere.
The documentary film, Working in the Theatre: Building the Wall, is an episode in The Wing’s Emmy® Nominated series produced to entertain audiences by revealing theatre’s inner-workings, profiling industry luminaries, and taking a closer look at unique stories that surround important work.
“We’re very proud and honored to have our production chronicled by the American Theatre Wing, ” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Robert’s play is triggering a national conversation. It’s a privilege to have our process at the Fountain Theatre documented and permanently archived by The Wing for the field of the American Theatre.”
For playwright Robert Schenkkan, the documentary carries forward the crusade that began when he first wrote the play in a fury of outrage over the 2016 presidential campaign. For Schenkkan and the Fountain, theatre can serve as a spark for social action.
“Theatre, of course, is about bringing together very disparate groups of people, during which they share a story, ” says Schenkkan. “A story about themselves, about their society, about their culture. And in the sharing of that story, hopefully they learn something about themselves, they are provoked to think more deeply about themselves, to ask better questions, and to leave in some fundamental ways, altered and perhaps more open to the possibility of change.”
He has strolled down many red carpets in his celebrated career. At the Writers Guild Awards, the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the Venice Film Festival, and the Oscars. He wrote the screenplay for Hacksaw Ridge, nominated Best Picture for this year’s Academy Awards.
The world will be watching the Oscar ceremony this Sunday, and gawk at the parade of celebrities as they strut the red carpet beforehand. What’s it like to march down that crimson pathway with all eyes and cameras tracking your every step? For playwright Robert Schenkkan, author of our upcoming world premiere Building the Wall, the carpet is not always magic. Particularly if you’re a writer.
Robert Schenkkan at the Venice Film Festival
“The clusterfuck of a red carpet is always where the writer is reminded of his or her place in the food chain, ” admits Schenkkan. “You are absolutely the most important person in the universe, until anybody else steps on the red carpet — then you’re just chopped liver. You can see the heads snap and the cameras snap, and whoever you’re talking to, their eyes are immediately doing the Hollywood over-your-shoulder shuffle. This is something one is used to, but it’s a humbling experience, always.”
Another other-worldly aspect of Award nights are the gifting lounges, where vendors shower talent with free offerings that vary from high-end beauty products to fine wines to elegant clothing to free travel packages at exotic resort islands. For Schenkkan, the touring of gift salons is a strange ritual unto itself.
“You have to make an appointment, and then you’re assigned a guide who walks you through this bizarre bazaar of products and services, ” he explains. “These things are really kind of entertaining in their own way. There’s a whole formality to it. But again, there’s the reminder of where you are in the food chain, particularly as a writer.”
Robert remembers one incident in particular. “Many years ago when I did this, there was a resort island package. I’m a scuba diver, so I’m always interested in that. They have to artfully, discreetly explain that while they would love to gift you with this, actually they have to reserve it for somebody more important than you. It’s a little weird.”
The ups and downs of a Hollywood screenwriter. Thankfully, unlike the film industry, playwrights in the American theatre are held in much higher esteem. And few are held higher than Robert Schenkkan. Which is one of the many reasons why we are so honored to be premiering his newest play at the Fountain Theatre.
Now, Robert, on Opening Night of Building the Wall at the Fountain, don’t expect any fancy gift lounges offering you a scuba diving vacation package on an exotic island resort. But we’re happy to offer you a free snorkel.
Unless, of course, someone more important wants it.
First rehearsals are often delicate events. Actors meet for the first time. Designers share their conceptual approaches for the production. The director articulates his or her vision for the journey ahead. Like on a first date, artists eye each other nervously, hoping this night’s first encounter will lead to a meaningful relationship so magic can be created together.
The tone of Monday night’s first rehearsal for the powerful new play Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan was one of purpose, more than jittery vulnerability. Everyone in the room felt exhilarated by the social and political conviction of the project and aware of the publicity the new play has already generated nationwide. Schenkkan is a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, and screenwriter of the Academy Award nominated Hacksaw Ridge.
In Building the Wall, the Trump administration has carried out his campaign promise to round up and detain millions of immigrants. As a writer interviews the former supervisor of a private prison, it becomes clear how federal policy has escalated into something previously unimaginable.
Even before opening, the Fountain premiere of the new play has already been featured in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Our production is part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, with other openings set to take place at the Curious Theater in Denver, Forum Theater in Silver Spring, Md., Borderlands Theater in Tucson and City Theatre in Miami.
The world premiere at the Fountain Theatre is directed by Michael Michetti, and features Judith Moreland and James Macdonald. At Monday night’s first rehearsal, Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs welcomed the team and gave a short history of how the play came to the Fountain. Producer Simon Levy reviewed production protocol. Michetti spoke about the play. Then, the actors opened their scripts and read the play together for the first time. The two actors were riveting, and the play will take audiences on a roller-coaster ride to its shattering ending.
Now the work begins. Rehearsals are underway. Our world premiere of Building the Wall opens March 18 and runs to May 21.
Advance tickets for Building the Wall are selling quickly. We urge you to make your reservations early for this urgent and important new play by a major voice in the American Theatre.
Bakersfield Mist was created and produced at the Fountain Theatrein Los Angeles where Sachs is co-artistic director. The Fountain production, the first in a rolling world premiere supported by the National New Play Network‘s Continued Life of New Plays Fund, was a smash hit, earning rave reviews and running seven months including three extensions.
Inspired by true events the play asks vital questions about what makes art and people truly authentic. It won the 2012 Elliot Norton Award for Best New Play.
In the play, Maude (Turner), a fifty-something unemployed bartender, has bought a painting for a few bucks from the thrift store. Despite almost trashing it, she is now convinced it’s a Jackson Pollock worth millions. But when world-class art expert, Lionel Percy (McDiarmid), flies over from New York and arrives at her trailer park home in Bakersfield to authenticate the painting, he has no idea what he is about to discover.
In a press statement, Turner commented, “The shock and humor of diametrically opposed cultures with the transformative power of art – pure joy.” McDiarmid added, “I liked the idea and comic potential of two passionately opinionated cultural opposites engaged in a life-changing battle for the soul of a great painter.”
Nica Burns, co-producer of the play with Sonia Friedman Productions, Darren Bagert/Martin Massman and Chris & Kelbe Bensinger, added, “When we were lucky enough to hear Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid read the play for us, the chemistry between these two great stage actors was thrilling. It has been eight years since Kathleen stunned London audiences with her extraordinary award winning performance in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? This is a fantastic role for her return to the London stage.”
Turner, who is currently appearing in the title role of Mother Courage at Washington DC’s Arena Stage (through March 9), has previously appeared onstage on Broadway in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Indiscretions, The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and High. Other stage credits include The Killing of Sister George (Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven) andRed Hot Patriot: The Kick Ass Wit of Molly Ivins (Philadelphia Theater Center, LA’s Geffen, and DC’s Arena Stage).
McDiarmid, who is best known for his role as Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine in the “Star Wars” film series, has worked extensively in the theatre, including an 11-year stint when he was joint artistic director of London’s Almeida Theatre. He appeared there in Brian Friel’s Faith Healer, subsequently winning a Tony Award for reprising the role on Broadway in 2006. Other theatre acting credits include Life of Galileo for the RSC, Timon of Athens at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, The Emperor and Galilean at the National Theatre and Henry IV at the Donmar Warehouse.
The play will be directed by Polly Teale, joint artistic director of Shared Experience, for whom she has directed Jane Eyre, Brontë, After Mrs. Rochester, Bracken Moor, Mary Shelley and Speechless, amongst others. She co-directed War and Peace in a co-production for the National Theatre and Mill on the Floss. “Brontë” has been adapted as a feature film for Film Squared/Pathé.
Playwright Stephen Sachs
Playwright Stephen Sachs is co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. His other plays include Heart Song (Los Angeles 2013, Florida Rep 2014), Cyrano (LA Drama Critics Circle Award for Best New Play, Ovation Award nomination), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (LADCC and LA Weekly Award nominations), Gilgamesh (Theater@Boston Court), Open Window (Pasadena Playhouse, Media Access Award), Central Avenue(PEN USA Literary Award Finalist), Sweet Nothing in my Ear (PEN USA Literary Award Finalist, Media Access Award), Mother’s Day, The Golden Gate (Best Play Award, Dramalogue) and The Baron in the Trees. He wrote the teleplay for “Sweet Nothing in my Ear” for Hallmark Hall of Fame which aired on CBS, starring Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels.
The London production will run at the Duchess Theatre, May 10through August 30. The design team includes scenic designer Tom Piper, lighting designer Oliver Fenwick and sound designer Jon Nicholls. Bakersfield Mist is produced in the West End by Nica Burns, Sonia Friedman Productions, Darren Bagert/Martin Massman and Chris & Kelbe Bensinger.
Bakersfield Mist is a work of fiction. Although based on actual events, the characters and events in the play are fictionalized and are not intended to accurately depict or resemble any actual person or event, living or dead. Names, characters, places and incidents have been changed for dramatic purposes.
Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup at first rehearsal.
Fueled by love, anger, hope and pride, a circle of friends struggles to contain a mysterious disease ravaging New York’s gay community. Simon Levy directs the exclusive Los Angeles revival of Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking drama about public and private indifference to the onset of the AIDS crisis, and one man’s fight to awaken the world to its urgency. The Normal Heart opens Sept. 21 at the Fountain Theatre. Not seen in L.A. for over 16 years, The Normal Heart remains one of the theater’s most powerful evenings ever. It was so ahead of its time that many of the core issues it addresses — including gay marriage, a broken healthcare system and, of course, AIDS — are just as relevant today as they were when it first premiered nearly 30 years ago. “What’s wonderful about this play is that it’s a passionate reminder that we must always keep fighting for what we believe in, that we must never let injustice go unanswered,” says Levy.
Loosely autobiographical, The Normal Heart takes place in New York City in 1981. Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and LA Weekly Award-winning actor Tim Cummings (Rogue Machine’s The New Electric Ballroom), stars as writer and activist Ned Weeks, whose doctor (LADCC award-winning Lisa Pelikan, The New Electric Ballroom) tells him he must convince everyone he knows to stop having sex or they’ll die. The play follows Ned and a core group of friends — Verton R. Banks (NAACP Theater Award-winner for Butterflies of Uganda),Bill Brochtrup (ABC’s NYPD Blue, Showtime’sShameless), Matt Gottlieb (The Grapes of Wrath at A Noise Within), Fred Koehler(CBS’s Kate & Allie, HBO’s Oz), Stephen O’Mahoney (Harvey at the Laguna Playhouse), Ray Paolantonio (Animal Farm, Wilhelm Reich in Hell at Son of Semele), Dan Shaked (On the Spectrum at the Fountain) and Jeff Witzke (Blank Theatre Co.’s Book Of Liz) — as they rail against a community that refuses to believe they are in danger, a bureaucracy that refuses to listen and a President who won’t even utter the word AIDS. Dismissed by politicians, frustrated by doctors and fighting with each other, their differences could tear them apart – or change the world. The title of the play comes from a poem by W. H. Auden, the last line of which is this simple truth: “We must love one another or die.”
When The Normal Heart premiered at New York’s Public Theater in 1985, Joseph Papp wrote, “In taking a burning social issue and holding it up to public and private scrutiny so that it reverberates with the social and personal implications of that issue, The Normal Heart reveals its origins in the theater of Sophocles, Euripides and Shakespeare. In his moralistic fervor, Larry Kramer is a first cousin to nineteenth century Ibsen and twentieth century Odets and other radical writers of the 1930s. Yet… the element that gives this powerful political play its essence, is love — love holding firm under fire, put to the ultimate test, facing and overcoming our greatest fear: death.” In 2000, The Normal Heart was named “one of the 100 greatest plays of the 20th century” by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, and the 2011 Broadway revival earned Tony, Drama League, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for Best Revival of a Play. A movie directed by Ryan Murphy and starring Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer and Julia Roberts is slated to premiere on HBO in 2014. Larry Kramer recently told Playbill, “Now it’s considered a history play. Everything I said in the play has come true.”
Larry Kramer is an American playwright and LGBT-rights activist. He is a founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an AIDS service organization, and ACT UP, a direct action AIDS advocacy group. His most acclaimed plays include The Normal Heart (1985) and the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Destiny of Me (1992). His screenplay for Women in Love was nominated for an Academy Award in 1969. He is the author of the novel Faggots (1978), a confrontational portrayal of gay culture, and a critical essay about the AIDS crisis, “1,112 and Counting” (1983). Kramer has also written the plays Sissie’s Scrapbook, A Minor Dark Age and Just Say No, A Play about Farce. His other books are The Tragedy of Today’s Gays and Reports From the Holocaust: The Story of an AIDS Activist. He earned his B.A. in English from Yale University. In 2013, he was honored by the Tony Awards with the Isabelle Stevenson Award for significant contribution to humanitarian or charitable causes.
Simon Levy was honored with the 2011 Milton Katselas Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle. Directing credits at the Fountain include Cyrano (LADCC Awards for Direction and Production), A House Not Meantto Stand; Opus (LA Weekly Awards, Best Director); Photograph 51;The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (Backstage Garland Award, Best Direction); The Gimmick with Dael Orlandersmith (Ovation Award-Solo Performance); Master Class (Ovation Award-Best Production); Daisy in theDreamtime (Backstage Garland Awards, Best Production and Direction); Going to St. Ives; The Night of theIguana; Summer & Smoke (Ovation Award-Best Production); The LastTycoon, which he wrote and directed, (5 Back Stage awards, including Best Adaptation and Direction); and Orpheus Descending (6 Drama-Logue awards, including Best Production and Direction). What I Heard About Iraq, which he wrote and directed, was produced worldwide including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Fringe First Award) and the Adelaide Fringe Festival (Fringe Award), was produced by BBC Radio, and received a 30-city UK tour culminating in London. He has written the official stage adaptations of The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and The Last Tycoon for the Fitzgerald Estate, all published by Dramatists Play Service.
Set design for The Normal Heart is by Jeff McLaughlin; lighting design is by R. Christopher Stokes; sound design is by Peter Bayne; video design is by Adam Flemming; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; the production stage manager is Corey Womack and the assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts.
The Normal Heart Sept 21 – Nov 3 (323) 663-1525MORE
Continuing its 12-year relationship with Athol Fugard, The Fountain Theatre celebrates the master playwright’s 80th birthday with theU.S. premiere of his newest play. Directed by Stephen Sachs and starring Morlan Higgins, Julanne Chidi Hill and Jacqueline Schultz, The Blue Iris opens at the Fountain on August 24, with low-priced previews beginning August 18.
Described by Time magazine as “the greatest active playwright in the English-speaking world,” Athol Fugard celebrated his 80th birthday on June 11, but the prolific writer shows no signs of slowing down. On June 28, The Blue Iris premiered at The National Arts Festival in his native South Africa to rave reviews. “Vintage Fugard… riveting theatre that will evoke whispering echoes in the heart long after the show has ended,” wrote Cue magazine.
The Blue Iris is set in Fugard’s beloved and desolate South African desert, the Karoo. In a burnt-out farmhouse, a widowed farmer, Robert Hannay (Higgins) and his housekeeper, Rieta (Hill) sort through the fire-ravaged debris of their lives. The discovery of a miraculously undamaged painting of a flower – a blue iris – created by Hannay’s deceased wife (Schultz) unlocks long-forgotten memories and hidden secrets. Fugard digs deep into the human heart, and the result is a love story full of tender, soul-touching and surprising revelations.
“We should be going into people`s lives, their souls, their ways of life. Everything I have written is an attempt to share secrets with you,” says the playwright.
“The Blue Iris is achingly beautiful, a heartfelt play that brings to life the tender honesty and deep complexity of human relationships,” avers Sachs. “We cherish Athol’s 12-year friendship and artistic association at the Fountain, and we’re thrilled to celebrate his 80th birthday with this remarkable work.”
The author of over 30 plays and recipient of countless accolades including the Academy Award, Obie Award, and Tony Award, Athol Fugard is best known for his plays about the frustrations of life in contemporary South Africa and the psychological barriers created by apartheid. Widely acclaimed around the world, his plays include Boesman and Lena (Obie Award, Best Foreign Play), Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (Tony Award, Best Play), A Lesson from Aloes (New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Play), the semiautobiographical Master Harold…and the Boys (Writers Guild Award, Outstanding Achievement) and The Road to Mecca (New York Drama Critics Circle Citation, Best Foreign Play, London Evening Standard Award, Best Play). The first white South African playwright to collaborate with black actors and workers, some of his works, such as Blood Knot, were initially banned in South Africa. In his first two post-apartheid plays, Valley Song (1995) and The Captain’s Tiger (1998), Fugard addressed more personal concerns, but in Sorrows and Rejoicings(2001) he focused on the complex racial dynamics of South Africa’s new era. In 2005 his novel, Tsotsi (1980), was adapted for the screen, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2011, Mr. Fugard was honored with a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater. Even though this prolific playwright, novelist, actor, director and teacher now lives and works in San Diego, he continues to be inspired by the dynamics in his land of birth.
Athol Fugard’s ‘The Road to Mecca’ (LA Premiere, Fountain Theatre, 2000) starring Priscilla Pointer and Jacqueline Schultz
The Fountain Theatre’s special relationship with Fugard began when co-founder/co-artistic director Stephen Sachs directed the L.A. premiere of Fugard’s The Road to Mecca in 2000. Fugard was so impressed that he offered the company world premiere rights to an as-yet-unwritten new work. When Sachs directed the world premiere of Exits and Entrances in 2004, it received recognition for Best Production and Best Director from both the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (garnering a total of five awards) and the Ovations (receiving a total of three awards). Mr. Sachs went on to direct acclaimed regional productions of Exits and Entrances around the country, an Off-Broadway production at Primary Stages, and the UK premiere at the 2007 International Edinburgh Festival. Since then, he has directed premieres of Fugard’s plays at the Fountain including the American premiere of Victory (two LADCC awards and four LA Weeklynominations, and named “Best of 2008” by the Los Angeles Times); the West Coast premiere of Coming Home (three LA Weeklyawards including “Ensemble” and “Direction,” LADCC award for “Lead Performance”); and the U.S. premiere of The Train Driver (three LA Weekly awards). Athol Fugard has stated that he “considers The Fountain Theatre his artistic home on the West Coast.”
Set design for The Blue Iris is by Jeff McLaughlin; sound design is by Peter Bayne; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; the dialect coach is JB Blanc; the production stage manager is Terri Roberts; and Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce.
Morlan Higgins starred in Fountain Theatre productions of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances, Victory and The Train Driver, as well as inShining City by Conor McPherson (LA Weekly Award), After the Fall (Ovation award for Best Production) and The Boys in the Band. Other credits: Forgiveness (Black Dahlia Theatre), King Lear (Antaeus), Dealing with Clair, Water Children, Mad Forest, The Birthday Party (The Matrix Theatre Company); Dylan (Skylight Theatre); Equus (Pasadena Playhouse), A Skull in Connemara (Theatre Tribe),Hughie (Eugene O’Neill Foundation at Tao House); and numerous other plays on local stages. Morlan has received multiple Ovation, LADCC, LA Weekly,Back Stage Garland, Drama-Logue, and Ticketholders Awards. He was nominated for the Lucille Lortell Off-Broadway Actor of the Year Award for his performance in Exits and Entrances at Primary Stages in NYC, He was nominated for a Carbonell Award for E and E at Florida Stage and received a New Jersey Tony for E and E at New Jersey Rep. He is also the recipient of Santa Barbara Indie Awards for Hughie and Victory at SBT. Morlan also plays Celtic music in the local band Staggering Jack.
Julanne Chidi Hill
Julanne Chidi Hill is a graduate of the prestigious SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film and was classically trained at Oxford University where she studied extensively with John Barton (Royal Shakespeare Company) and Katie Mitchell (Royal National Theatre). She has worked at the McCarter Theatre, Seattle Rep, Mark Taper Forum, Stages 52, McCadden Stages Theatre, Ebony Rep and Kirk Douglas Theatre, and she most recently appeared at the Celebration Theatre in the Ovation award-winning Women of Brewster Place. Television credits include guest-starring on the Jerry Bruckheimer drama The Whole Truth (ABC) and FX series The Shield, and recurring roles on NBC’s My Name is Earl and Showtime’s Weeds. Feature films: Crank: High Voltage (as “Dark Chocolate”), Barbershop 2, and alongside Tom Everett Scott and Lee Tergesen in 2nd Take, directed by John Suits.
Jacqueline Schultz was last seen in the critically acclaimed production of Park Your Car in Harvard Yard at International City Theatre. She costarred in the West Coast premiere of String of Pearls at both North Hollywood’s Road Theatre Company and the Santa Barbara Theatre, appeared at the Pasadena Playhouse in the world premiere of Open Window, and starred in the critically acclaimed L.A. premiere of Lee Blessing’s Going to St. Ives at the Fountain (Best Actress nomination, NAACP Theatre Award), later reprising her role for the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Other leading roles at the Fountain: After the Fall (Ovation Award for Best Production),The Road to Mecca; The Night of the Iguana;The Darker Face of the Earth; Fighting Over Beverley (LA Weekly Award); Duet for One(Ovation Award nomination, Best Actress); Ashes (Drama-Logue Award); The Golden Gate (Drama-Logue Award); and Orpheus Descending. Other theater credits include To Kill a Mockingbird and Awake and Sing! (International City Theatre) and Sorrows and Rejoicings (Mark Taper Forum). She has appeared at the Kennedy Center, Ensemble Studio Theatre (NY) and the Mark Taper Forum’s New Works Festival. TV credits include The Practice, ER, My Wife and Kids,7th Heaven, Crossing Jordan, Judging Amy, the HBO movie Tyson, and many more.
Housed in a charming two-story complex, the Fountain is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a nurturing, creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. Fountain productions have won more than 200 awards for production, performance and design, with more Ovation nominations and awards than any other intimate theater in the history of the awards—and the only intimate theater to win the Ovation for Best Production five times. Fountain projects have been seen in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Florida, New Jersey, Minneapolis and Edinburgh. Highlights include a six-month run of Bakersfield Mist, written by Stephen Sachs, set to open in London this fall and optioned for New York; the Off-Broadway run of the Fountain’s world premiere production of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances; and the making of Sweet Nothing in My Ear, also by Sachs, into a TV movie. The Fountain has been honored with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Los Angeles City Council for demonstrating years of artistic excellence and “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles.”
THE day after my new play, “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” began previews Off Broadway I received a Facebook message from Wendy Wasserstein’s former assistant, a fellow playwright named Jenny Lyn Bader. Jenny had been in our first audience and wanted to tell me how much she had enjoyed the play. She said she wished Wendy were here to see me “taking up where ‘The Heidi Chronicles’ left off.”
Wasserstein’s “Heidi Chronicles” had its premiere in 1988 at Playwrights Horizons, the same theater where my play opens on Tuesday. It was a huge hit that moved to Broadway and earned its author a Tony and a Pulitzer. Wasserstein died in 2006.
I did not set out to rewrite “Heidi” or to talk back to “Heidi,” but no one is ever going to believe that. Both plays depict a female academic just over 40 with a successful career as an author. Both women, Wasserstein’s Heidi and my Cathy, regard their personal lives as lacking (neither has a romantic partner or children) and find themselves re-examining the feminist movement to sort out how they could have come so far and still wound up unsatisfied. Both women mourn the loss of a relationship they perceive to be a casualty of their ambitions. (It’s not just perception, actually; each play contains a scene in which the man in question confirms our heroine’s fears.) And both plays force our fortysomething doubters to confront bold, confident women in their early 20s who believe they have figured out how to have it all by observing the older women’s mistakes.
Is there such a thing as inadvertent homage? I accept that my play is a homage to “The Heidi Chronicles,” but I swear I didn’t mean it to be. When I start to write, I like to read a bunch of plays that are in the same ballpark subject-wise. I read plays about marriage when I was starting “Becky Shaw,” and I read plays about academics when I started “Rapture, Blister, Burn.” I read “Educating Rita,” “Butley,” “Collected Stories” and “Wit,” but I did not revisit “The Heidi Chronicles.” So how did this happen?
Well, “Heidi” and I have a history.
Ellen Parker, Sarah Jessica Parker and Joan Allen in Wendy Wasserstein’s “Heidi Chronicles.”
I saw the play on Broadway with my roommate when we were juniors at Barnard College. When the lights came up after the curtain call, I thought, “I have to walk out of the theater now, but I feel as if I should be mopped off the floor.” The play devastated me. Heidi’s monologue about feeling too sad to exercise alongside the shiny, happy women in the locker room at the gym made me cry. When I got back to my dorm I called my mother and told her she had to come to New York immediately to see it. She did, and, like my roommate, she appreciated the play but wasn’t wrecked by it as I was.
After hearing from Jenny I decided to reread “The Heidi Chronicles.” I kept thinking about her remark about taking up where “Heidi” left off. That’s true, chronologically; Wasserstein’s play ends in 1989 and mine begins in 2012, but our female protagonists have virtually identical complaints. What conclusions, if any, are to be drawn from that?
Rereading “The Heidi Chronicles” at 42 I’m not sure what to make of my intensely emotional response to it at the age of 20. The play is full of twentysomething women with strategies to bypass Heidi’s fate. Why didn’t I ally myself with them and skip off for post-theater dessert feeling superior? Why, at 20, did I locate myself on that stage as the middle-age baby boomer Heidi Holland?
One possibility, I think, is that some of the reasons for Heidi’s unhappiness are not age-specific or era-specific as much as they are gender-specific and the product of a certain temperament that Wasserstein and I share: call it melancholic, call it artistic, call it the thing that makes you feel gray next to the bouncy people at your gym.
Or maybe our protagonists’ plights are not essentially female or melancholic as much as they are postfeminist. That would be the hardest explanation to swallow, I think. It would mean that whether you’re a woman 20 years past the feminist movement or 40, the same issues between men and women remain unresolved. For both our characters career building proved incompatible with marriage.
Joan Allen, Joanne Camp, Anne Lange and Cynthia Nixon.
I wish Wasserstein were here to weigh in on all this. I wonder if she would be bummed out. We were supposed to have resolved all of this, right?
The last scene of “The Heidi Chronicles” seems to articulate this hope. We learn that Heidi has adopted a baby daughter. She’s become what we now call an S.M.C. — a single mother by choice. The play’s final image is of Heidi rocking her baby in an empty white room. She has just moved into a new apartment. The walls are freshly painted, and none of the furniture has arrived. The stage picture says clean slate, no baggage. We end on a note of sweet optimism; Heidi hopes that her daughter will have an easier path than hers.
Eleven years after she chose single motherhood for Heidi, Wasserstein chose it for herself. In 1999 she gave birth to a daughter, conceived via a donor Wasserstein knew but never publicly named.
A funny thing happened when we were casting “Rapture.” This is back when it truly, if totally improbably, had not occurred to me that I’d written a play in dialogue with “The Heidi Chronicles.” I had a phone call with the actress Amy Brenneman. We were wooing her to play the lead role (lucky for us, she ultimately agreed), and she had questions for me about the ending. Amy didn’t want the play to have an “arc of despair. ”
I agreed that it shouldn’t. I told her I was open to tinkering with the conclusion, but that I didn’t want “a ‘Heidi Chronicles’ ending.” I’ve always been a little bit critical of Wasserstein’s choice to end her play with a baby. Heidi never expresses a yearning for children, then suddenly shows up a blissed-out Madonna in the final scene.
I think this is a valid criticism of the play, but it’s more than a little problematic for me to be making it. I was arguing a “No ‘Heidi Chronicles’ ending” to Ms. Brenneman while my own little “ ‘Heidi Chronicles’ ending” waited with her baby sitter in the next room. I gave birth to a donor-conceived daughter, Ava, in October, and she is wonderful.
I did not write a homage to “The Heidi Chronicles,” and I do not endorse that play’s ending. But I have a play and a baby that suggest otherwise.
“The Heidi Chronicles”, University of Texas, 2007
Why a baby for me but not for my character? Partly because I subscribe to Wordsworth’s belief that poetry comes from “emotions recollected in tranquillity.” I may have a good play in me about becoming a mother, but the time to access that play was not the year I was struggling to conceive. Also: I know an awful lot of women who are sad for the reasons Heidi and Cathy are sad and who don’t hunger for a baby. It felt more optimistic to leave my heroine in the romantic trenches, still swinging rather than choosing (for the moment at least) motherhood.
If Wendy Wasserstein could see my play and have a drink with me afterward (and how much would I love that?), I would want to talk to her about single motherhood. The choice felt very unexpected and bold when Heidi made it in 1988. It still felt, to me, bold and unexpected when Wendy did it in 1999. By the time I did it in 2011 Hollywood had churned out two romantic comedies, “The Switch” and “The Back-Up Plan,” about single women having babies alone. This, I think, is a pretty big deal. Hollywood rom-coms don’t stake out new territory. Self-chosen single motherhood had become pretty much mainstream.
My question for Wasserstein would be: Is this good news or bad news? I mean, I love that my choice has been so warmly received and with so little fanfare. My brother told a teenage waitress he works with about how I made him an uncle; her response was, “My friend Jake is a donor kid.” He said she barely looked up from her side work. He called me, incredulous and excited, and said, “Ava’s going to go to school with other kids like her.”
The mother in me is thrilled about this. The romantic in me isn’t so sure. I would prefer to be an ecstatic aberration, rather than the new normal. I don’t think the world Heidi dreams for her daughter as the curtain falls is a world in which women choosing single motherhood is so common that no one bats an eye. It’s not the dream that closes my play either.
The dream, then and now, postfeminist and post-postfeminist (or whatever we choose to call this moment) is still simple and still incredibly hard: How do men and women figure out how to negotiate their equality better? As Cathy in “Rapture” advises a female student in the throes of love and ambition, “My middle-aged observation is that, in a relationship between two equals, you can’t both go first.”
“Rapture, Blister, Burn” at Playwrights Horizons
Gina Gionfriddo is the author of six plays, including the Pulitzer Prize finalist “Becky Shaw.”
“I saw a play called Cyrano de Bergerac. The main character in the play is a freak: he has an obscenely long nose, he’s the toughest guy in the regiment, and he’s a poet.
I was thirteen when I saw that play. And it changed everything for me. It said, if you are not mindful you will be distracted and deceived by this Practical World. It said, there are other things than money, power and position. Real things. And these are things that make life sweet. Honor, courage, love, poetry, glory, beauty, nobility of purpose, gallantry and friendship.
I walked out of that theatre and thought, I could have a beautiful life. I know I am a freak. But some guy who died one hundred years ago just showed me that there was another way of living. You can do it anywhere and no one can stop you. And I am saying that to you. You can have a beautiful life.
Tell the truth. Say who you are. And let it stand.
Shanley goes on to say:
Not to bring up something upsetting, but when you leave here today, you may go through a period of unemployment.
My suggestion is this: Enjoy the unemployment. Have a second cup of coffee. Go to the park. Read Walt Whitman.
Walt Whitman loved being unemployed. I don’t believe he ever did a day’s work in his life.
As you may know, he was a poet. If a lot of time goes by and you continue to be unemployed, you may want to consider announcing to all appropriate parties that you have become a poet.
So here we are. Commencement. The day stands before you like an open gate.
What’s on the other side? You gotta wonder. A hideous job, a satisfying marriage, a spiritual quest?
I’ve worked like a dog all my life. I have had my heart broken numerous times.
I have had great success, humiliation, physical affliction and I have seen the face of despair. When I stand here, I feel like I’ve dropped out of the mouth of a storm and my hair is crazy on my head.
That storm is life. Life is very long and very short and it’s unknowable and strange and terrifying and beautiful and it’s spooky and boring and bitter and nasty and elegant and extreme and if you are lucky you have the courage to want it to be all those things.
You commit to it. You commit to live and not run away. It’s true I’ve learned nothing. It’s true nobody changes, not really.
But if you commit to your life and live it, you will become more and more truly YOU. And that’s a great thing. That has something of the Divine in it.
Enjoy Shanley’s Entire Speech to the Students
John Patrick Shanley is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His play, “Doubt: A Parable,” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Drama Desk Award and the Tony Award for Best Play. He also won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the 1987 film “Moonstruck.”
Cyrano323-663-1525 Extended to July 8th! More Info
I’m coming late to the controversy over the resoundingly white male-written and -directed season announced for the Guthrie next year, in part because I’m tired of hearing myself rehearse the same old indignities at these repetitive insults to women’s artistry and integrity. Reading the many smart excoriations of Guthrie artistic director Joe Dowling’s defensive protestations about why it’s okay to ignore gender and race in season selection, I’m simply reminded, yet again, of the supreme arrogance of white men like him (not all white men) who are accustomed to seeing and remaking the world in their own image.
I was deeply moved by Polly Carl’s essay, “A Boy in a Man’s Theatre,” on HowlRound (4/28/12), in which she eloquently admitted, “I am compelled to talk some truth about finding yourself ‘other’ in a white man’s world—about the importance of insisting on being seen.” Describing her reaction to watching a rehearsal of Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, Carl realized that although the new musical isn’t her “exact” story, “it was my story.” The power of recognition—of seeing a life that looks like yours on stage—was overwhelming for Carl. And if I’ve done my math right, Carl is in her 40s. She’s been feeling invisible for a long time.
I wish someone like Joe Dowling could imagine what it feels like to go to the theatre or the movies, or turn on the television, and never see yourself represented. If you’re white and male, and especially if you’re straight, it must go without mention that something that at least looks like your life will be part and parcel of the story told of an evening. I can’t imagine the privilege of just assuming that the world will look like you, and that if it doesn’t, it’s because affirmative action or some other “self-serving” quota system (as Dowling accused protests over the Guthrie season of being) has allowed the riff-raff of gender, race, ethnic, and sexual difference to sneak in.
Even the conservative Wall Street Journal published an article called “Lots of Guys, Too Few Dolls,”shortly after this year’s Tony Award nominations were announced, in which the reporter—Pia Catton (a woman)—noted that “one is reminded of a sad truth: While Tony’s are equally bestowed on male and female stars of the stage, there’s a colossal gender gap in the honors given to the men and women who create the shows.” Catton went on to report that the percentages of plays written and directed by women on Broadway has barely changed over the decades, quoting experts like Susan Jonas, who co-wrote the 2002 New York State Council on the Arts report on the status of women in theatre, and mentioning the recently established Lilly Awards (named after Lillian Hellman), which turn their backs on the Tonys’ snubs by giving their own honors to women working in theatre.
On a much brighter side of this ubiquitous story, this week I received by snail mail the new season announcement from Arena Stage, in D.C., and was reminded that the gender and racial diversity in play and director selection that Dowling considers impossible or beneath him (or both) happens as a matter of course at other U.S. theatres. In a market bigger than Minneapolis, with subscribers equally as august and long-standing, Arena artistic director Molly Smith regularly programs seasons that include a majority of productions written or directed by women and people of color (and both).
For 2012-2013, Arena’s eight-play season includes three plays by women, two of which are by women of color: Pullman Porter Blues, by Cheryl L. West, and The Mountaintop, by Katori Hall, as well as a revival of Metamorphoses, written and directed by Mary Zimmerman. West’s play will be directed by Lisa Peterson, who, along with colleagues Zimmerman, Jackie Maxwell, Kyle Donnelly, and Smith herself, comprise a roster of five women directors out of the eight productions. Of the remaining three shows directed by men, two are directed by African Americans (and Tazewell Thompson also wrote the play he’ll direct). The one show written and directed by a white man is One Night with Janis Joplin, so its content counts as gender diversity, if part of the issue is whose stories are told and whose bodies are seen on stage.
Good for Molly Smith and her artistic staff and her board, who no doubt ratified her progressive vision. Smith is directing My Fair Lady at Arena next season, the Lerner and Loewe musical she mounted last summer at the Shaw Festival in Canada. That production was a terrific, high energy, multi-racial cast production that rivaled her 2010 reimagining of Oklahoma! in its rejuvenated vision of the classic American musical. Smith takes the American canon—part of Arena’s mandate—and refashions it to speak across identity communities, instead of sequestering it in presumptively white enclaves and preserving it for white people. That narrow vision—Dowling’s vision—doesn’t reflect or do justice to the complex race, gender, sexuality, ethnic, and class composition of contemporary America. Dowling’s vision is former presidential candidate Bob Dole’s bridge to the past; Smith’s is a glorious, hopeful representation of a reimagined future.
Playwrights Horizons in New York also deserves a place of pride in this counter-pantheon of progressive American theatres. For 2012-2013, long-time artistic director Tim Sanford (a white man) offers six productions, new plays all, of which four are written by women (one of whom is African American), and one is a musical adaptation of Far From Heaven (written by Richard Greenberg and directed by Michael Greif), Todd Hayne’s wrenching 2002 film about the wife of a closeted gay man navigating her nuclear family life in the 1950s. White women direct three of the six productions: Anne Kauffman directs Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit; Carolyn Cantor directs her frequent collaborator Amy Herzog’s The Great God Pan; and Leigh Silverman directs Tanya Barfield’s The Call. Sam Gold, who’s proven his sensitivity as a director of women’s work, directs Annie Baker’s The Flick.
Playwrights’ season teaser brochure also includes a clever “key” to the genres and themes introduced by its six plays. The guide includes symbols that run alongside each play’s title, indicating whether it addresses “comic relief,” “gaiety” (of the LGBT variety), “parenthood,” “race relations,” “impossible love,” “job inequality,” “prophetic vision,” “skeletons in the closet,” “strange neighbors,” “suburban angst,” or “Mormonism.” Just reading this key made me laugh; what a witty reminder that any production has something idiosyncratic for everyone and that “universality” never means just one thing.
Molly Smith’s “Oklahoma”
Arena and Playwrights regularly stage plays written and directed by women and people of color, not to fill a token slot in each season, but because these productions showcase voices that have something to say across communities. They make visible populations of citizens alongside all the Joe Dowlings who are too blind to see how these so-called minorities/future majorities are remaking our collective world. Molly Smith’s Oklahoma! is the state we live in now, thank goodness.
Likewise, Emily Mann’s production of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, now playing on Broadway with a cast of people of color, shows us something new about ourselves and the canon of American drama. Mann knew Williams, and insists he told her that given New Orleans’s Creole population, he could imagine the play with an African American cast. Mann researched the French Quarter of the period, and found ample justification for casting the Dubois family and Stanley as black, conflicted by the same class differences that propel Williams’s drama when it’s cast with white actors.
“Streetcar” directed by Emily Mann
But critics like Ben Brantley consider this “gimmick” casting, and scoff at Mann and the producers (who also mounted an African American production of Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) for fooling around with the American canon in ways they, like Dowling, find self-serving. These reviews sound reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim’s admonishment last summer that Diane Paulus and Suzan-Lori Parks had gone too far in their adaptation and revision of Porgy and Bess.
Underneath all these criticisms that purport to champion good American drama is a warning to women and people of color that they shouldn’t get too uppity, that they should steer clear of white men’s work and stay barefoot and happy—and invisible and silent—in the ghettos of their “special interest” theatres.
The same blatant discrimination was recently called out at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where of the 22 films nominated for the 2012 Palme D’Or prize, none were written or directed by women. The oversight caused a similar online uproar as the Dowling debacle among the film (and larger) arts community, through which petitions circulated for signatures to protest this blatant exclusion.
Have we gone back to the future? Is it the 1950s again? In a political moment in which Republicans and Tea Party-ers threaten to reverse every achievement for women’s reproductive rights garnered since Roe v. Wade; when the same politicians inflame xenophobic anti-immigration sentiments about our southern borders (and when similar anti-immigrant racism roils political waters in Cannes’ France); and when LGBT activists have to celebrate when Obama announces that he’s “evolved” into thinking same-sex marriage is okay after all (gee, thanks, Barack), maybe it’s no surprise that the festival director at Cannes, and Brantley at the Times, and Dowling at the Guthrie think they can discriminate against women and people of color with impunity.
Let’s not let them get away with it. Write to Molly Smith at Arena, and Tim Sanford at Playwrights and tell them how pleased you are with their 2012-2013 season announcements. Write to Dowling at the Guthrieand tell him how disappointed you are that he’s such a Neanderthal. Sign the petitions circulating protesting the exclusion of women from the prize at Cannes. And write letters to the Times protesting that white men like Brantley and Charles Isherwood foster a discourse about the arts in which decisions like Dowling’s season are okay and productions like Mann’s Streetcar are dismissed.
Don’t just go to the theatre—respond to it, write about it, protest it, reimagine it. It’s too important to keep allowing the barbarians to guard the gate.