Old decaying farmhouse in the Karoo, South Africa.
In Athol Fugard’s newest play, The Blue Iris, the playwright describes the setting as “the blackened shell of a once proud Karoo farmhouse that was destroyed by fire … gaping holes of what were once doorways in two of the walls. There are only remnants left of the roof and ceiling that once covered the space.” In the play, farmer Robert Hannay and his housekeeper sift through the ashes and debris of their lives, uncovering hidden secrets and powerful truths about themselves and Robert’s deceased wife, Sally.
The Fountain turned to designer Jeff McLaughlin to create the fire-ravaged farmhouse setting for The Blue Iris. A longtime Fountain award-winning designer, Jeff designed the set for such recent Fountain productions as The Train Driver, Bakersfield Mist, A House Not Meant to Stand, and Cyrano.
Here is an early pencil rendering of the set design for The Blue Iris:
The cast and director are already in rehearsal, working on the Fountain stage during the week while the current hit production of Cyrano is performed on the weekends. For Blue Iris rehearsals, Tech Director Scott Tuomey has erected a make-shift facsimile of Jeff McLaughlin’s set design so the actors can get a sense of the burned-out farmhouse world Jeff has created for them.
Rehearsal set for “The Blue Iris”
After the final performance this Sunday, the Cyrano set will be struck and the actual Blue Iris set will be brought in and installed. Stay tuned and keep an eye on the Fountain stage as the setting for the new play evolves.
The Blue IrisAugust 18 – September 16 (323) 663-1525More Info
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.”
Now a few weeks into interning at The Fountain, I have been able to do some very diverse tasks. This happens every few days when someone, usually Stephen, announces that they have a “project” for me. I have learned that project can mean a lot of things. Sometimes it is prefaced with, “this project is a really horrible boring job” and can be as mundane as organizing check stubs. Other times, like last week, it can mean something really exciting like working in our casting department. This was one project I was dying to be a part of. I would be scheduling times for actresses to audition for a role in our upcoming play, the US Premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris.
When thinking about working in the entertainment industry, obviously casting is a big part of it, but it is also a facet of running a theatre in which I have had no experience. I soon learned that it really is a world unto itself, populated with agents, assistants, and actresses, complete with its own language with which I was all together unfamiliar. Despite some brief coaching from Stephen, I felt a little unsure about how I could survive in this world . But, armed with my new-found knowledge of “sides” and “breakdowns” I put on my most confident voice and called agencies and actresses alike.
Sometimes it was easy. I got to speak to the actress herself, we picked a time, she said she would be there and it was done. Other actresses were not so easy to track down or I found myself talking to the second assistant of their agent. It was quite nerve-wracking to remember who was represented by Lisa from Momentum or who would be out of the country through the week. It definitely gave me a new-found respect for anyone who has ever worked in casting.
Still, one thing that really amazed me was how nice everyone was when I called. Every agent and assistant seemed more than happy to speak with me, e-mailed me back right away, and much to my amazement, seemed to believe I knew what I was doing. And the same was true with the actresses, each one was more polite than the next. I was surprised at how easy it all seemed. It was then I realized that I had a little bit of power. These actresses were grateful for my call. They wanted this role. And by being nice to me, their chances of obtaining it remained intact. I was so worried about them calling my bluff as a casting director, that I failed to realize that they wanted this audition even more than I wanted to not embarrass myself scheduling it.
The Audition Process.
If I thought calling everyone to arrange the auditions was exciting, it was nothing compared to having all the actresses come in the day of the audition. My job sounded fairly simple: have the actresses sign in, take a copy of their resume and headshot, and escort them into the audition room. But then there are the things that no one tells you. Like how some actresses will come a mere moment before they are expected while others will come one hour before and size up the competition. I also had no idea that Calvin Klein jeans were the unspoken uniform for auditions. Or how different every actress’s method of preparation is. Some remained very calm as if waiting for a doctor’s appointment and sat patiently in the waiting area until they were called. And then there were others, like the actress Julanne Chidi Hill, who would rather not sit just outside the audition room and feel the tension. Instead, she went elsewhere and practiced. And not just outside the theatre but a block away, to truly distance herself from the competition. So far away in fact, that I was afraid she had left all together. Yet, her unorthodox method obviously paid off, because she walked away as the newest addition to our Fountain Family, and with the role of Reita.
Julanne Chidi Hill
When auditions were over and the role had been cast I thought my job was done. I commended myself on everything going without a hitch, and considered my venture into the world of casting over. But I forgot something very crucial: I had to call all the other actresses and inform them that they did not get the part. The thought of making those calls seemed awful but in practice, it wasn’t really that bad. The few actresses who I spoke to were painfully nice about it, and thanked me for the call. The agents seemed to take the news as nothing out of the ordinary. And I was blessed with speaking to many voicemail boxes, who all seemed to take the news extremely well.
After the last “the role has been filled” phone call, I was actually done with this project. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief, as I did when I filed away the last check stub, I felt a little sad. While it might have been a bit scary to arrange auditions, it was also very exciting. Now when I get to see The Blue Iris next month in August, I will know that I helped to make it happen in some way.
Just as my many other projects have taught me, there are so many different jobs in running a theatre and countless people who work behind the scenes to make it run smoothly.
This was definitely one of my favorite projects thus far. I look forward to my next!
Jessica Broutt is our summer intern from UC San Diego.