Tag Archives: True Story

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: ‘The Katrina Comedy Fest’ at the Fountain Theatre

Curtain call!

A Wonderful Sold-Out Performance Followed by Good Times in the Fountain Cafe

Last night was another magical evening at the Fountain Theatre: a terrific performance followed by fun in the cafe. 

A sold-out house enjoyed the special one-night-only performance of The Katrina Comedy Fest, a funny and touching piece telling the true stories of folks in New Orleans who survived the flooding of hurricane Katrina. The play is written by Rob Florence and directed by Misty Carlisle. The fabulous cast included Judy Jean Berns, Deidrie Henry, Travis Michael Holder, Jan Munroe and L. Trey Wilson.

After the performance, the cast and audience gathered upstairs in the Fountain cafe for a night of food, drinks and celebration.   

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Human Stories in ‘The Katrina Comedy Fest’ Are Still Relevant and True at the Fountain Theatre

The Katrina Comedy Fest cast.

The cast of The Katrina Comedy Fest.

by Analyn Revilla

The Katrina Comedy Fest is based on the true experiences of 5 separate lives who survived the hurricane of 2005.  It’s still a relevant story.  Natural disasters and catastrophes, like waves lapping on the beach, erase the tracks of lives imprinted on the sand.

I’ve visited New Orleans twice.  The first time was in in 1991 when I got married in a small town called Buras.  It’s about an hour south of the Big Easy.  On August 29, 2005, the eye of Hurricane Katrina made its first landfall in the Buras-Triumph district, and the area is still in the process of rebuilding.  On my second visit in 2010, I wanted to see the effects of the BP disaster upon the environment and the people.  It’s unbelievable to see the ant work it took to watch people and helicopters putting up barriers to keep the oil slick at bay.

I sought out the old fire hall station where I was married by the JP with his deputy as witness.  Like my marriage, the white-washed concrete building didn’t withstand the forces of wind and rain.  I sought out Camp’s, the restaurant that served big bowls heaped with rice and oyster gumbo.  That one had closed too, or the owners decided not to rebuild it after the storm.  My memories of Louisiana linger, like the waft of good soul food that beckons.  It was at Camp’s where I learned how to eat a crawfish properly as demonstrated by the happy waitress.  She took one mini-lobster from the heap on the newspaper and used her thumb and index to flick the head off, and she sucked out the ‘best part’, followed by forcing the meat from the body with the same fingers.  This technique ensures “less mess” and allows for continues eating, because there are plenty of hands going into that heap.

The story telling captures the sensitivity, nostalgia and steely guts of survivors in the face of a natural disaster and caught in the web of bureaucratic foibles.  The stories of five characters, from different walks of life, belie a spirit of humor and a soul of surrender.  New Orleans, historically, has always been at the mercy of nature because of its geography – it sits on the soft silt of the Mississippi River delta, and it opens up to the Gulf of Mexico.  This relationship has grown more tenuous with the industrial revolution.  The coast of Louisiana and Texas has been identified as dead zone, and is the largest hypoxic zone in the United States (source: Wikipedia.)  Last week two explosions erupted in two chemical plants on Thursday and Friday.  If the investigation comes up with any likeness to negligence that led to the BP disaster, then this reinforces some themes common woven into the lives of the people.

The Katrina Comedy Fest, refreshingly, does not focus on the politics.  The play brings the event to a tangible level that can be digested as a languorous 5 course meal, beginning with the rising waters and ending with sobering shot of reality.  It becomes a speculation game as to the strength of “this one” compared to the “last one” when the levees didn’t breach.

The Katrina Comedy Fest

The Katrina Comedy Fest

The stories are narrated through the voice of …

Raymond, a homeless, begins his story in the stadium.  He discovers his “air freshener” ineffective against the heavy stench of bodies locked down.  He’s prepared for anything being a homeless.

Antoinette is a savvy and bold owner of “Mother-in-Law Lounge”, and widow of R&B singer Ernie K-Doe.  She keeps both her 15 year old granddaughter and a shrine of her late husband afloat during the storm.  The statue donned with a sawed-off shotgun keeps away would-be intruders.

Rodney is a sweet southern gentleman shoulders the responsibility of keeping his aging parents plus new comers entertained and alive during the siege of rising waters.  He keeps well inebriated with whisky and at the close of the storm realizes he had spent more with his parents than he’s ever done in a long long time.

Judy is a sweet and naïve older woman who meets up with 5 young people.  She wanders out in the street of her neighborhood which had already been evacuated.  She receives texts from her son, “Get out now!”  She meets the pot-smoking youths who takes her with them to San Antonio in her son’s unreliable car.  It is a miraculous trip that opens the life of Judy to young attitudes and wider latitudes.

Sonny, a tourist guide, stays a while and ends up in Oklahoma with high-pitched voiced black woman who likes to scream.  His cool logic and street-wise experience keeps the situation moving until he is investigated by the FBI, because he’s carrying a big wad of cash in a plastic bag.  How else does a person whose business is cash-based supposed to flee the floods of New Orleans?

The Katrina Comedy Fest was written by playwright is Rob Florence and directed by Misty Carlisle.  It stars Judy Jean Berns, Deidrie Henry, Travis Michael Holder, Jan Munroe, L. Trey Wilson. It’s showing at the Fountain Theatre this Sunday, July 28 at 7pm. (323) 663-1525  MORE

Analyn Revilla blogs for the LA Female Playwrights Initiative

‘The Katrina Comedy Fest’: Laughing in the Face of Disaster

The Katrina Comedy Fest

The Katrina Comedy Fest

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf coast in 2005, causing damage in Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida that would reverberate for years to come. Now that recovery is well under way, the Katrina Comedy Fest lets you experience the heartbreak, humanity — and yes, comedy — of those fateful days through the words of five New Orleans-based stand-up comedians who rode out the storm and lived to tell the tale. The funny and powerful play will be performed for one night only on Sunday, July 28, at 7pm at the Fountain Theatre.

The Katrina Comedy Fest cast.

The Katrina Comedy Fest cast.

Judy Jean Berns, Deidrie Henry, Travis Holder, Jan Munroe and L. Trey Wilson recount their experiences with irreverent humor without trivializing the tragic enormity of what happened. Written by Rob Florence and directed by Misty Carlisle, the show won “Best of the Festival” at the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival and was a recent hit at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

  • “Celebrates triumph in disaster.” — LA Stage Times
  • “True and hilarious stories about riding out the storm. Props to anyone who can face their tragedy and laugh in its face.” —LA Weekly
  • “True personal stories brought to life by a stellar cast”  —Bitter Lemons
  • “The audience was mesmerized throughout. Sure to satisfy your soul!”  —Tolucan Times

THE NEW YORK TIMES wrote: “The evocative true stories assembled are full of fear, courage and resilience. But they are also rich in the flavorful humor, inextinguishable identity and civic love that characterize the inhabitants of America’s most battered city.”

Join us on Sunday, July 28th for a funny, thought-provoking and evocative evening you won’t soon forget.

The Katrina Comedy Fest (323) 663-1525  Order Tickets Now

Inner Voices of a Playwright: Characters Talking or Demons of Fear and Doubt?

EM Lewis

EM Lewis

“I want to keep writing more courageously and living more courageously.”

by EM Lewis

All my characters are trying to wrestle the narrative away from each other right now. When it first happened, when I was working on “True Story,” it was disconcerting, kind of shocking and violent, really, but I went with it. And I doubted myself, because… well, who doesn’t, but I trusted the voices and followed them out into the deep, dark places, because I’ve really begun to understand, these last few years, that that’s the only way to do it.

It’s been a nice couple of years. I got a fellowship, and then another fellowship, so I quit my sensible day job and moved across the country, far away from everything I know, and my family, to New Jersey (!), and have been writing full time. And it’s been nice. It’s been… Madeleine L’Engle used this word “deepening” in one of her books, and that’s how I’ve felt, like I’ve been deepening, finding my true voice in a way that I’ve never–

(How am I going to pay the rent this month?)

–come so close to doing before. And I’ve been writing so much more than I ever ever have. New full lengths, and short plays, and a one-man show that cut so close to the bone I pretty much had a panic attack when we read it in workshop. Maybe not a full panic attack. I don’t know, I’ve never had one before. But all of a sudden my heart started pounding so loud I couldn’t hear Stephen reading anymore. But then I could hear again after a while, and I stayed really quiet there in my chair, and I don’t think anybody noticed. You’re not supposed to talk during the response period anyway, so I–

(don’t know how I’m going to keep doing this. I’m 42 years old, and what the fuck do I have to show for it? no husband, no kids, no house, no — is this a mid-life crisis? How fucking trite that would be. Jesus.)

[why is my internal voice so profane when I never swear?]

–shut up and listened. Is it a good sign when you give yourself a panic attack from something you wrote? It’s probably not a sign at all. But it was a hard play to write. It’s about guns and gun control.

Not really.

It’s about me and my husband, and how he died.

Which makes it really no different from any of my plays, which are all about me and my husband and how he died, except the rest of them cleverly call all the characters by different names and are set in different places, so I don’t think people realize that they’re all about us, that I’ve been writing about us all this time.

It’s called “The Gun Show.” It’s the first thing I’ve written in first person in a long time. It’s written for a guy to read, but he’s playing me, and at a couple points during the play, he points a flashlight at me, picking me out of the audience so they know I’m there and they can identify the guilty party, the one who wrote this thing, the one who… I took out the puppet. There used to be a puppet, and I used to have lines, talking back to the actor who is playing me, but I took them out, because it was already in there, in the text, everything I needed. And I put a clause in the notes about some time, maybe, I’ll be brave enough to read it myself, but that’s probably bullshit. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll do it. Maybe I want to wrestle the narrative away from my actors and claim my own words. Maybe I want to confess my sins.

(maybe I should move back home to the farm in Oregon)

[you’re gonna have to do something if you can’t pay your rent this month]

Into the woods. It’s a good metaphor. It was good back in fairy tale days, with all the romance and darkness, and it’s even better after Mr. Sondheim mucked about with it, because he added the complicatedness that we’ve all run up against, and said, “Yeah, the woods is that, too.” I just saw the show the other day, over at the McCarter, and the lyrics have been sounding in my head like a bell.

“Sometimes people leave you, halfway through the wood.”

(Yeah.)

“Nothing’s quite so clear, now. Feel you’ve lost your way?”

(Yeah.)

But I’m getting closer to something as an artist, I think.

(Is that bullshit? That sounds dangerously close to–)

Those terrible true things. The small personal true things and the larger global true things. I feel like I’m getting closer–

(But how do you ever know? Some people like my plays, I’ve had some productions and such, but how do I know if any of this means anything? If it’s the right path? Maybe I should have–)

[–been a helicopter nurse. I know that sounds like a radical notion, but there was a moment, back when I was at Chemeketa Community College, when I was nineteen, when I seriously considered it. Flying around and saving people. What’s not to like?)

(–done something different with my life, gone down a surer path.)

[What’s surer?]

{Accounting?}

[I’d be a terrible accountant. I can’t event calculate the tip properly.]

(There has to be something surer than this.)

[Is that even a word? Surer?]

I could die tomorrow.

(I really could. It’s been ages since I had health insurance. Looking both ways at the intersections only gets you so far.)

At a certain point… at this point, I guess… you start to ask yourself, is it worthwhile, what I’ve done with my life, what I’m doing with my life? What do I have to show for my life?

(The job hunt hasn’t been going well. I don’t need much, but I need something. I’ll mow lawns. I’ll wash windows. I’m not too proud to do anything, but I can’t even get a call back on most of the jobs I’m applying for. What am I doing wrong? Or does the economy still just suck this bad? Maybe it’s just that nobody wants me.)

[Fuck ’em. Fuck ’em all. You’re a playwright, goddamn it, you shouldn’t be washing fucking windows, you should be writing plays.]

{easy to say, but then maybe when you get back from that play festival in Fayetteville you find all your stuff out on the lawn and they’ve changed the locks on you, and there’s no power outlet for your laptop out on the lawn, girlie-girl.}

(Sometimes I’m terrified, sometimes I lie in the dark and wonder what the fuck I’m doing–)

[–but that’s okay, because you’re a writer, if you weren’t fucked up what the fuck would you write about?]

{yeah, tell yourself that}

(Do you lie in the dark and wonder what the fuck you’re doing sometimes?)

Stop, already! Just stop!!!

(A moment. A Pinter pause.)

This is me, trying to take control of the narrative. The writing narrative and the life narrative. And realizing that you never can, and you always have to keep trying, and you always have to keep trying, and you never can.

There is no “surer” thing than this. Nothing is sure. And we have to figure out why we should push the rock up the hill anyway, and how, and if we can keep a roof over our heads while we’re doing it.

This essay was supposed to be about artistic innovation, but I’m writing about my rent money instead. Because they are inextricable from one another. Both require all of our courage and all of our humility.

I don’t just want to be a braver writer, after all.

I want to be a braver person.

Here’s a funny story. I got an email from someone I didn’t know the other day. The woman said that she’d come across my play “The Edge of Ross Island” on her way to Staunton, and thought it was really interesting. I emailed her back, thanking her for saying so. And I asked her where she’d “come across it,” because… that was a funny way to put it. And it turns out she’d found it on the sidewalk. Laying there on the sidewalk in Staunton, Virginia, for no apparent reason, and she bent down and picked it up, and read it, and in her second email, where she told me all this, she said that she couldn’t put it down.

Something about that whole story makes me laugh, and makes me want to keep going.

Oh, world!

Courage, I guess, is the word I’ve been looking for.

I want to keep writing more courageously and living more courageously. Whether I do that in New Jersey or Oregon, while washing windows or making plays, while voicing my own words or asking actors to do it for me.

The boldest innovations came from people who acted bravely. I want to be brave.

(“Things will come out right now. We can make it so.”)

Be brave.

EM Lewis received a 2012 Fellowship in Playwriting from the NJ Council for the Arts, the 2010‐2011 Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University, and the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award for Song of Extinction and the Primus Prize for Heads from the American Theater Critics Association. Her plays have been produced around the world, and published by Samuel French. Recent: Song of Extinction at the Guthrie and Hostos College; Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday at HotCity Theater. Upcoming: Heads at The Rep in Pittsburgh, and the world premiere of True Story at Passage Theater in Trenton.

This post is a part of the Artistic Innovation blog salon curated by Caridad Svich for the 2013 TCG National Conference: Learn Do Teach in Dallas.