A powerful performance and a heartfelt goodbye for now

Victoria last day Aug 2016

Last day as the Fountain 2016 summer intern 

by Victoria Montecillo

Last week, I got to see the Fountain’s current production: a new Tennessee Williams piece called Baby Doll. The circumstances of how this piece came to the stage were a bit unorthodox for a Williams play. It started out as a screenplay adaptation of an older Williams one-act play called 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. Williams adapted it for film in 1956, and it wasn’t until recently that Emily Mann and Pierre Laville re-adapted the film for the stage. I was very curious to see this piece that had started out as a one-act before going to film and then back to the stage. There must have been something truly powerful about the story itself to go back and forth between those mediums.

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“Baby Doll” movie (1956)

I certainly wasn’t wrong about that. Baby Doll is a powerful, immersive story. The events that unfold keep you on edge throughout the show. On top of that, watching this piece in the Fountain’s intimate house made it even more impactful. I felt like I was directly in the story with these characters, with a direct stake in what happened to them. After the show, I watched the 1956 film version of Baby Doll, and it felt like the biggest thing missing was the immediacy and urgency that the staged version, particularly in the Fountain, provided the audience. Other than that main difference, however, the play stayed very true to Williams’ original screenplay – the original dialogue was mostly preserved, and the details of the story were almost identical. In comparing the two, it was clear that this particular story was even more powerful when it was right in your face, up close and personal. 

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‘Baby Doll’ at the Fountain

The Fountain’s production takes a physically and emotionally abusive and manipulative marriage between Baby Doll, a young and impressionable woman, and Archie Lee Meighan, an angry and lonely older man, and pushes it into the audience’s faces, forcing them to confront the uncomfortable dynamics of domestic violence and abuse. The audience is confronted with the uncomfortably predatory nature of their marriage, before we are met with Silva Vacarro, a handsome younger man who seems to be Archie Lee’s opposite in every way. He’s charming, mysterious, and Baby Doll clearly finds him intriguing. He is clearly Baby Doll’s true romantic interest, as well as the foil to Archie Lee’s unpredictable anger and abuse.

BABY DOLL LullabyJust when I thought the story was leading in a predictable direction, though, it became clear that Silva had ulterior motives for flirting with Baby Doll. We spend the majority of the rest of the show watching him alternate between seducing her and emotionally manipulating her for information. I felt a strange discomfort watching them, because I wasn’t sure whether or not I was rooting for them to be together. They clearly had chemistry, so much so that watching their characters together in such a small theatre felt like I was invading their privacy somehow. At the same time, there were moments where he was clearly prodding her for information by pushing her boundaries, or by making her feel special and tended to in a way that he knew she wasn’t getting with Archie Lee. By this time, I was quite literally on the edge of my seat, watching with bated breath to see what would happen next. There were moments where I was sure Silva would get rid of Archie Lee somehow and he and Baby Doll would run off together into the sunset. But then there were other moments where I really couldn’t tell if he truly cared for Baby Doll at all, or if he was just a master manipulator.

This kind of theatre is of a special type: the kind that makes you think and confront difficult, uncomfortable issues, and provokes thought and visceral emotions from its audiences. Theatre is such a special way to present and portray relationships between people, in a way that makes you feel and think about the nature of human connection. The power of the story, as well as the amazing talent and chemistry between the actors in this company, reminded me that theatre can do so much; it is meant to confront and provoke, and to tell stories that audiences can connect to in some way.

Victoria Montecillo at desk June 2016 cropped

Victoria Montecillo

I felt very lucky to get to see not just one but three Fountain productions in my time here. My Mañana Comes, Forever Flamenco at the Ford, and Baby Doll were certainly all incredibly different from one another, but they all had an impact on me: they brought forth an important message or story, or provided an outlet for a vibrant but underexposed community to celebrate beautiful art. All of them presented a piece of art, with performers and creators that had a clear passion and message.

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Signing off!

These shows have made me proud to be a part of the Fountain family, and to get to work at such an organization. This blog post is bittersweet for a lot of reasons, the biggest of which is that today is my last day working at the Fountain. I’m moving up to San Francisco the day after tomorrow, and I’m going to miss the Fountain family so so much. I am so thankful to everyone here at the Fountain, and at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, that made these past ten weeks possible! I know that I have people rooting for me here, and I’m so grateful for that.

This is me signing off – thank you to all that followed my internship saga and read my musings on theatre and arts. And thank you to everyone in the Fountain family for this journey. I wouldn’t feel at all prepared to jump into my next adventure if it had not been for all of you, and all I learned from you!

Our thanks to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the LA County Arts Commission for the support of their LA  County Arts Intern program. 

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: First reading of new play on passionate and iconic 1960’s dancer

4The upstairs rehearsal room at the Fountain last night was transported back to 1964 and Andy Warhol’s Factory with the first reading of the new play, Freddie, written by Fountain Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor. Freddie tells the unforgettable true story of Frederick Herko, the young avant garde dancer who galvanized audiences and those who knew him in New York’s East Village during the turbulent 1960’s.

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Frederick Herko 1964

Continuing its commitment to developing new plays, the reading last night offered Lawlor and the Fountain team the opportunity to hear the script read aloud by actors for the very first time. Reading the new play last night were actors Kristin Carey, Faith D’Amato, John Dyer, Harry Farmer, Dennis Gersten, Matthew Hancock, Rob Nagle, Natalie Ochoa, Erin Reed, and Donna Simone Johnson. The reading was directed by Frances Loy.

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A dazzling storm of charisma, beauty and artistic passion, Herko was a brilliant 28 year-old dancer of extraordinary talent haunted by dark self-destructive demons. A fiery denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory and the experimental scene in Greenwich Village, Herko became more eccentric, unpredictable and self-destructive. In 1964, while dancing in his apartment to Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Herko leapt out the window and fell to his death five stories down. Created by Deborah Lawlor, who was a close friend of Herko in the final year of his life, the project chronicles the blazing comet of the Icarus-like Freddie and the explosive creative energy of the 1960’s. By fusing theatre, music, and dance the project will capture the explosive spirit of a passionate artist and a turbulent era.

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Freddie Herko

The development of Freddie is supported, in part, by a grant from the national Endowment for the Arts. A workshop presentation of the new work will be presented this fall. 

Fountain serves the heart of its mission with ongoing ‘Pay What You Can’ performances

MON Aug 22 PWYC 3Sometimes, on some nights, the value of what we do — and why we do it — manifests itself in a clear and affirming way. Last night, happening simultaneously in two sections of town, was one of those evenings. 

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Town hall meeting at LATC

Last night at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown LA, hundreds of members of the LA theatre community held a town hall meeting to discuss the damaging (and, according to lawsuits filed, potentially illegal) plan by Actors Equity Association to eliminate the 99-Seat Plan, a blow that would cripple dozens of intimate theatres in Los Angeles and could cause several to close.  

Meanwhile, at the very same moment on Fountain Avenue, a full house of theatre-goers were enjoying a performance of our acclaimed west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll. And, like every Monday night at the Fountain Theatre, the public ticket price was Pay What You Can.

Our ongoing Pay What You Can performances on Monday nights have blossomed into a popular LA theatre institution. Every Monday night at the Fountain, patrons choose to pay whatever they can afford. And because it is typically the night off for theatre folk, Monday nights at the Fountain provide many actors in LA with the opportunity to see a performance they wouldn’t normally be available to attend — and see it at whatever price they choose.

“It’s all about being of service,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We instituted Monday night performances as Pay What You Can shows months ago and it’s really caught on. Not only does it keep theatre affordable and accessible for all, it creates community.”

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“It’s insane when you think about it,” he continued.”Creating non-profit theatre in an intimate venue with only 78 seats is a money-losing venture anyway. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘not-for-profit’ theatre. And to be offering valuable tickets every week on Monday nights on a Pay What You Can basis? It makes no sense. Can you imagine walking into Best Buy every Monday night and buying a new laptop by paying whatever you can? Or a new dishwasher at Sears and pay only what you can afford?”  

“Look, there’s nothing wrong with being financially sound and responsible,”says Sachs. “But as a charitable non-profit organization, the core reason for our existence, the very heart of our purpose,  is not about making money. We are here to create art and to be of service to the community and enhance the lives of the people of Los Angeles.”      

Last night in two sections of town, the fundamental philosophical difference between what Actors Equity wants to take away versus the public service LA intimate theatre provides to audiences and artists was on display. One was being debated. The other was actually happening. 

The Fountain Theatre will forge ahead with its mission to create theatre of the highest quality possible, to engage diverse artists and audiences in the meaningful and life-enhancing shared experience of intimate theatre,  and make it accessible and affordable to as many as we can.

It’s what we do. And why.     

 

NEW VIDEO! Rave Reviews for ‘Baby Doll’ at Fountain Theatre

More Info/Get Tickets

Owner of famous ‘Baby Doll’ house enjoys play and company at Fountain Theatre

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Eustace Winn IV surrounded by Baby Doll cast

Last night was a magical evening of Southern hospitality right here in the heart of Hollywood. The Fountain Theatre and the company of Baby Doll had the pleasure of welcoming Eustace Winn IV, proprietor of the actual Baby Doll House in Benoit, Mississippi, into our home. Mr. Winn was thrilled watching our west coast premiere and enjoyed meeting the cast and sipping mint juleps with the company in our upstairs cafe after the sold out performance.

Eustace Winn is the current owner of the historic Burrus House, a stately Greek Revival style plantation home which began being built by his family in 1858. The family moved into the house in 1861, shortly before the Civil War. The house served as a hospital during the conflict. There are stories that John Wilkes Booth spent ten days in the Burrus House after shooting President Lincoln in 1865. In 1928, the last remaining Burrus family member who lived there passed away, and the house entered into decades of decline, decay, and vandalism.

Baby Doll house movie

“Baby Doll” movie (1956)

Nearly 100 years later in 1955, film location scouts were asked to find a suitable “decadent and dilapidated southern mansion” for Elia Kazan’s new movie version of the Tennessee Williams play, 27 Wagons Full of Cotton. When they discovered the worn down Burrus House in Benoit, Mississippi, they knew they found what they were looking for. The film was Baby Doll, starring Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach and Karl Malden. The movie was later nominated for four Academy Awards and the Burrus House became a tourist destination.

In 2005, one of the Burrus heirs, the late Dr. E. H. Winn Jr., of Greenville, established the Burrus Foundation and the house was fully restored to its former splendor. It is magnificent to see today. 

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The Burrus House

BABY DOLL Eustace Winn

Eustace Winn

Eustace Winn enjoyed a marvelous evening last night at the Fountain seeing our acclaimed production of the stage adaptation of Baby Doll and socializing with the company. Mint juleps were savored and Mr. Winn passed around a hardbound copy of the script, which he had signed by actors Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, and John Prosky.  

There will forever be a connection between the Burrus House and Hollywood. A new chapter in that Hollywood story continued last night at the Fountain, and will be remembered by all.   

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The Artist’s Life: How to keep going when the answer is “no”

rejection
by Brent Eickhoff

Rejection is a part of life, just as much as it is a part of theatre. In a world where so many of us must market ourselves and are personally invested in our work, rejection can sting even more. Geraldine Downey, PhD, whose research centers on rejection, explains in an article for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that rejection is synonymous with the feelings of not being wanted or valued. Especially in a community-driven medium such as theatre, these feelings of ostracization and denial can be detrimental to an artist’s outlook on the work. Despite theatre’s vast subjectivity, and the myriad reasons anyone may miss out on an opportunity, the person we blame the most in the face of rejection is our self. Guy Winch, PhD, a frequent blogger for Huffington Post, contends that in many cases, “we start with this high volume of negative self-talk and criticism that takes the rejection to another level.” Unfortunately, competition, criticism, and casting decisions will always be an element of making theatre.

In his book Emotional First Aid, Winch offers up several ways of understanding rejection. He claims that, as an emotion, rejection quickly clouds all reason and will even supersede logic in the most dire of circumstances. Winch details an experiment in which participants were randomly excluded from a computerized program and were unable to ease their pain, even when the scientists provided a host of reasons why each test subject had been excluded. The scientists explained that nobody had legitimately excluded participants, and the results were, in fact, rigged, but subjects were still upset and emotional for being rejected. Even when the scientists told a group that the group responsible for excluding them was comprised of members of the Ku Klux Klan, individuals were still hurt. Winch concludes “reason, logic, and common sense are usually ineffective when it comes to mitigating the pain we feel.” Clearly, rejection is a powerful emotion. These findings explain why even armed with the knowledge that a casting decision was completely subjective, an actor may still struggle to come to terms with the loss of a role.

Another element of rejection is the concept of “rejection sensitivity.” In a nutshell, this idea addresses an individual’s inclination to expect or overreact to rejection. While this principle primarily applies to social rejection, theatre is, in its essence, a social art form. From being “accepted” into the cast or production team, to finding your artistic home in a new city, or gaining favorable reviews from an audience or critics, theatre is arguably more communal than more individualized artistic practices. Rejection sensitivity can be particularly detrimental to actors expecting the worst from auditions. As Shurtleff explains in a later chapter in Audition, persistence and discipline may be the key factor in an actor’s success. He even goes so far as to explicitly state that an actor can fail because “they are victimized by their limitations and prejudices” or are “ruled by their negative side.” Both of these traits are inherent in someone with high rejection sensitivity and no positive outlet for tackling their mindset.

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Understanding Rejection: The Artists’ View

One of the first places many of us confront rejection is in middle and high school. From cliques, to school dances, relationships, and spring play cast lists, the potential for rejection is at an all time high. When she discussed it with me, high school theatre teacher Carrie Reiberg said that rejection comes with the territory when casting a play. “I see rejection happen a lot when casting…it wouldn’t be realistic or honest of me to cast every actor every time they audition,” she says. She discusses that fairness is at the heart of her classroom, since if she doesn’t cast the best actor for the role at the time, “you are setting actors up to fail in the ‘real world’ when they try to make a living as working actors.” If the same actors get the leading roles throughout the formative years of their acting career, they may develop unhealthy expectations for what will happen post-graduation.  Continue reading

Students from Michigan State University enjoy ‘Baby Doll’ performance and Q&A

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Michigan State students with cast on ‘Baby Doll’ set.

by James Bennett

Monday night, we were granted the opportunity to host teacher Mark Colson and his fabulous group of intrepid theatre students from Michigan State University, who after a breathtaking performance of our critically acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll engaged in an inquisitive, inspiring, and heartfelt talkback with our amazing cast and director Simon Levy. 

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Director Simon Levy fielded a very good question: What’s the audition process like? Did you know we had over 600 submissions for the titular role of Baby Doll?

Actor John Prosky spoke about his artistic journey in manifesting the unchained, violent, and maddened Archie Lee, a character so far from his natural state he didn’t think he’d ever get the part. But when he came into the room to audition with Lindsay LaVanchy, something magic happened which brought the character to life.

The incredible Lindsay LaVanchy talked about her process of finding Baby Doll inside her. She spoke about how she had to open herself to being childlike, a quest she had undertaken many years ago but was unable to complete until preparing for this role. A typically reserved and precise woman, it took the innocence of Baby Doll to “crack her open”.

It is one of our greatest pleasures to share with and mentor the next generation of great theatre artists. What an incredible night!

This event was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making theatre accessible to students and young people.