Claudia Rankine, author of ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’, wins 2016 MacArthur ‘genius’ Award

CITIZEN Fountain Theatre in Memory 2

‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

by Carolyn Kellogg

Poet Claudia Rankine was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship grant for her work that engages with contemporary American culture, particularly issues of race. Her most recent book, 2014’s  “Citizen,” racked up stacks of awards for its searing take on the personal and political, including the death of Trayvon Martin. Rankine, who taught for many years at Pomona College, is now on the faculty at Yale University. We talked to her about the MacArthur grant and what it means for her work.

What was it like hearing about the award?

It’s very exciting, very surprising, which makes it more exciting.

I’m in my mid-50s. This is an incredible honor, but I’ve been lucky enough to get my work done with or without it. So I feel like having this award given to me at this point in my career, I think in my own imagination, what else? It makes me want to do even more in terms of the subject of my work.

The subject of “Citizen” is, in part, the death of black men in America. And that subject is renewed again as we’re talking. I wonder if you could address that.

To me, the getting of this honor is a kind of recognition, obviously a monetary recognition, which is helpful. But it’s also for me the culture saying: We have an investment in dismantling white dominance in our culture. If you’re trying to do that, we’re going to help you. And that, to me, is encouraging. The MacArthur is given to my subject through me. The subject of trying to change the discourse of black people being equated with criminality and murdered inside a culture where white fear has justified the continued incarceration, murder of blacks and other people of color. I do feel like I am just incidental in a certain way to the prize, and that the prize is being given to the subject — that I am completely invested in.

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Claudia Rankine at Fountain Theatre

Could you talk about your ongoing creative project?

Before I was notified about the MacArthur I had been in the process of putting together with Casey Llewellyn,  and a number of writers and artists, the Racial Imaginary Institute. Which for us is an interdisciplinary arts and cultural laboratory for the dismantling of white dominance. One of the things I think the culture needs is an actual location where writers and artists and thinkers can come together and put pressure on the language that makes apparent white supremacy and white dominance. I think a lot of us are working separately on these subjects, but it would be nice to have a Racial Imaginary Institute that really has as its goal the dismantling of white supremacy. That each of us can go at it inside of our fields. If you’re a writer, you have the benefit of talking to other artists who are interested in the subject. What are we missing? What isn’t getting said? What are the narratives of white greatness that disallow other things to be brought to the surface? I’m very excited about the creation of the institute, the making of the space, the notion that culturally we’ll know where to go to have these discussions, to actively look at the absences and the erasures around the construction of race, especially the construction of whiteness in America.

Where will it be?

Right now we’re looking for a space, but I assume it will be in New York City. Right now we exist as people with a mission and a name. And with work [the essay collection “The Racial Imaginary” was published by Fence Books in 2015].

When you heard about this award, did you think, I’m buying an island and we’ll have our institute!

No, I think that it’s the kind of thing we’ll have to work toward getting funding for. Not even the MacArthur money can put something into the world like that. I really believe that the culture can change the way we think. Right now we have a media culture, television culture, pop culture that still moves forward on many assumptions around whiteness that we all know to be erroneous and hurtful. I think that this institute could begin to make products — books, give talks, present readings, make art — that shifts the understanding into a place that reflects an actual reality rather than the constructed realities around whiteness.

Tell me a little about the aesthetics underlying your work.

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Stephen Sachs, Claudia Rankine, Shirley Jo Finney

I’m committed to an interdisciplinary investigation of cultural dynamics. The reason I will forever identify as a poet is because I think poetry is the one genre that privileges feelings. And so no matter what I’m working on, I’m also interested in the impact of the reality with the human psyche. So for me, the work has to bring the reality up against the experience of the reality. And all of my work is how do you get that to be apparent, and apparent in language? The felt experience. For example, right now we know that 60% of African Americans and Latinos live in communities where you have toxic-waste sites. Now that’s a fact. But how do I get that to be a lived experience inside a work of art? That’s the challenge as a writer and as an art-maker. How do you get the piece of art to enact a discussion that feels plausible inside your own living room? Right now I’m working on a play that draws from “Citizen.” The real challenge is how do you bring the kinds of conversations around race that happen at 7 o’clock over the dinner table onto the stage? So that when you go to the theater to see it, you know you’ve had that conversation.

So that there’s a kind of recognition.

There has to be recognition. One has to step into the moment as a lived experience. Even if the circumstances seem foreign, the experience needs to connect as a known realm on the emotional level.

Adapted by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed 2015 stage adaptation of Citizen: An American Lyric was heralded Critic’s Choice in the LA Times, and won the Stage Raw Award for Best Stage Adaptation.

Carolyn Kellogg lives in Los Angeles and is an award-winning LA Times staff writer who covers books and authors and publishing. This post originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times. 

It’s back! ‘Bakersfield Mist’ returns to Fountain Theatre starring Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett

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Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett in “Bakersfield Mist” at the Fountain Theatre

It has travelled around the world and it is now coming home. Just in time for the holidays.

Bakersfield Mist by Stephen Sachs, the Fountain’s smash hit comedy that went on to see productions around the world including London’s West End, will return to the Fountain for a limited 4-week engagement beginning Nov. 19. Sachs will again direct, with Jenny O’Hara (Transparent, The Mindy Project) and Nick Ullett (As the World Turns) reprising the roles they created.

Inspired by true events, Bakersfield Mist is the story of Maude Gutman, an unemployed, chain-smoking ex-bartender living in a run-down California trailer park, who believes the painting she bought in a thrift store for $3 is really an undiscovered masterpiece worth millions. When stuffy New York art expert Lionel Percy arrives to evaluate the work, the result is a fiery and often hilarious debate over class, truth, value and the meaning of art.

“Stephen’s play has enjoyed success around the country and the world, so when Jenny and Nick became available, we jumped at the chance to bring it back,” says producer Simon Levy. “We live in such stressful times, and this play offers the perfect antidote — it’s very funny, yet also thought-provoking. Just in time for the holidays.”

Bakersfield Mist premiered at the Fountain in June, 2011, garnering glowing notices including a “Critic’s Choice” review in the Los Angeles Times which exclaimed “It’s exhilarating in the extreme when a world premiere play strikes rich on every conceivable level.” The production was hailed a “Go!” in the LA Weekly and a “Critic’s Pick” in Backstage. It played to sold-out houses for more than six months, rivaling only Sachs’ own Central Avenue as the most successful world premiere of a new play in the Fountain’s 26-year history. Bakersfield Mist opened on London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid for a 3-month run.Vanity Fair called Sachs’ play “Not to be missed… tackles large creative questions with well-timed zingers,” The Times of London found it to be “thoroughly entertaining… put a smile on my face and kept my brain buzzing for a good while afterward,” The New York Times labeled it “clever… a battle of wits,” and it received the 2012 Elliot Norton Award for Best New Play. In the U.S., Bakersfield Mist has been produced by Orlando Shakespeare Theater in Florida and in an extended run at the Olney Theatre in Maryland, where it is Helen Hayes Award-recommended and was lauded “5 Stars… provocative, fast-paced and cleverly funny” by DCMetro. The play is currently running in Chicago in a Jeff Award-recommended production at the Timeline Theatre which has been praised as “Highly Recommended” by the Chicago Sun-Times and “the perfect evening of theatre” by Chicago Theatre Review. Bakersfield Mist  is now being produced in regional theaters across the country; it has been translated into other languages and is being performed around the world, including in Iceland, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Scotland, Australia and Canada.

Set design for Bakersfield Mist is by Jeffrey McLaughlin; sound design is by Peter Bayne; props and set dressing are by Terri Roberts; and the fight director is Edgar Landa. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer; associate producer is James Bennett; and Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.

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Stephen Sachs

Stephen Sachs’ other plays include Dream CatcherCitizen: An American Lyric (adapted from the internationally acclaimed book by Claudia Rankine), Heart Song (Fountain Theatre, Florida Stage), Cyrano (LA Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Adaptation), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, LA Drama Critics Circle award and LA Weekly award nomination for Best Adaptation), Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court), Open Window (Pasadena Playhouse, Media Access Award for Excellence), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Back Stage Garland award, Best Play), Sweet Nothing in My Ear(PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Media Access award, NEA grant award), Mother’s Day, The Golden Gate (Best Play, Drama-Logue) 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. Sachs co-founded The Fountain Theatre with Deborah Lawlor in 1990.

More Info/Get Tickets

Fountain Theatre honored with 21 StageSceneLA Awards

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Philip Solomon, Thomas Silcott “The Painted Rocks at revolver Creek”

The Fountain Theatre has been honored with 23 awards of excellence from StageSceneLA for productions in its 2015-16 season. Fountain productions awarded were the west coast premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, the world premiere of Dream Catcher by Stephen Sachs, the Los Angeles premiere of My Mañana Comes by Elizabeth Irwin, and the west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll.   

Since 2007, Steven Stanley’s StageSceneLA.com has spotlighted the best in Southern California theater via reviews, interviews, and its annual StageSceneLA Awards. 

The Fountain has been honored with the following awards this 2015-16 season:

YEAR’S BEST INTIMATE THEATERS
The Fountain Theatre

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION, DRAMA (INTIMATE THEATER)
The Painted Rocks At Revolver Creek 

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION, COMEDY-DRAMA (INTIMATE THEATER)
My Mañana Comes 

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION, COMEDY (INTIMATE THEATER)
Baby Doll 

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Daniel Bess, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky in “Baby Doll”

STAR-MAKING PERFORMANCE (Play)
Lindsay LaVanchy in Baby Doll

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE—DRAMA (INTIMATE THEATER)
Gilbert Glenn Brown, The Painted Rocks At Revolver Creek
Thomas Silcott, The Painted Rocks At Revolver Creek

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE—DRAMA (INTIMATE THEATER)
Suanne Spoke, The Painted Rocks At Revolver Creek

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE—COMEDY (INTIMATE THEATER)
John Prosky, Baby Doll

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE IN A TWO-HANDER (INTIMATE THEATER)
Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell, Dream Catcher

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Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell in “Dream Catcher”

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY A CHILD ACTOR
Philip Solomon, The Painted Rocks At Revolver Creek

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A FEATURED ROLE—COMEDY (INTIMATE THEATER)
Daniel Bess, Baby Doll

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTRESS IN A FEATURED ROLE—COMEDY (INTIMATE THEATER)
Karen Kondazian, Baby Doll

OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE CAST PERFORMANCE—COMEDY-DRAMA (INTIMATE THEATER)
Richard Azurdia, Pablo Castelblanco, Peter Pasco, and Lawrence Stallings, My Mañana Comes

MY MAÑANA COMES

Lawrence Stallings, Pablo Castelblanco,  Richard Azurdia, Peter Pasco, “My Manana Comes”

OUTSTANDING DIRECTION (MULTIPLE PRODUCTIONS)
Simon Levy—Baby Doll, The Painted Rocks At Revolver Creek

OUTSTANDING DIRECTION, COMEDY-DRAMA (INTIMATE THEATER)
Armando Molina—My Mañana Comes

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION DESIGN (INTIMATE THEATER)
Baby Doll , My Mañana Comes, The Painted Rocks At Revolver Creek 

OUTSTANDING FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY
Mike Mahaffey,  Baby Doll

OUTSTANDING LIGHTING DESIGNER
Luke Moyer

COMPOSER OF THE YEAR                                                                                                                    Peter Bayne, Dream Catcher 

SCENIC DESIGNER OF THE YEAR
Jeff McLaughlin

SOUND DESIGNER OF THE YEAR
Peter Bayne

Congratulations to all the winners. Full list here

Invited guests enjoy exclusive VIP performance of “Baby Doll” at the Fountain Theatre

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Dick Motika, Caron Gonzales, Jerrie Whitfield, Edward Gonzales

Sometimes, when you have something special, you just want to share it. That was the feeling last night, when Fountain Board members Dick Motika, Jerrie Whitfield, Dorothy Wolpert and her husband, Stanley Wolpert, invited their friends and colleagues to a special-added private performance of Baby Doll at the Fountain. The VIP guests enjoyed their own exclusive performance and then chatted with the company in a catered reception upstairs in our charming cafe.

It was a relaxed evening of nice food, good wine, stimulating conversation and a riveting production of a steamy, powerful play. The invited guests relished meeting the actors after the performance. Many gathered outside on the balcony to savor the Hollywood night air.

In attendance were Adam Mortanian, Ashley Bowman, Audrey Stein, Bonnie and Arthur Nijst, Brian Getnick, Cala Bowdra, Dale and Don Franzen, Dan Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, Ed and Caron Gonzales, Gary and Rebecca Drucker, James Benge, Jane and Howard Matz, Jessica and Demetrius Martinez, Kathy and Jack Smith, Krista and Ron Sanders, Lisa Nevins and Kent Caldwell-Meek, Mark and Leah Drooks, Natalie Bergeson, Paul Moskowitz, Ruth and Bonnie and Stuart Wolpert, Ryan and Margaret Cutrona, Sheri Leiwand, Shoshana Bannett, Steve Thomas, Thelma and Elliot Samulon. 

Our heartfelt thanks to Dick, Jerrie, Dorothy and Stanley for hosting this very special evening.

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Baby Doll is now extended to Oct 30th. MORE INFO/GET TICKETS    

Finding actor John Prosky was worth the search for ‘Baby Doll’ at Fountain Theatre

 

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John Prosky and Lindsay LaVanchy in ‘Baby Doll’ 

When director Simon Levy was casting our west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll back in April, finding the right actor to play Archie Lee Meighan was a challenge. Levy sifted through hundreds of submissions and auditioned dozens of actors yet he struggled to spot what he was looking for. He needed an actor who could authentically evoke the crude, raw good ol’ boy Southern brutality of the cotton gin owner yet also reveal the character’s fear and vulnerability. Finding that actor seemed impossible. 

Then, one afternoon, actor Daniel Bess, already cast in the play, made a suggestion. Did Simon know John Prosky? Daniel’s friend and fellow-member at Antaeus Theatre Company? A meeting was scheduled. And from the first moment that Prosky began his audition it was clear to Levy and everyone present that the hunt for Archie Lee Meighan was over.

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John Prosky

“I’m strangely drawn to Archie’s desperation,” Prosky now says. “It’s not always easy or fun to play but I get that part of Archie Lee on a visceral level.  I’m certainly no racist, or a cuckold nor am I married to a 20 year old  — although my wife does look so much younger than me that it is sometimes assumed.  But Archie’s place on “the edge” is something I commune with at this point in my life.  Not completely sure why but I sometimes feel like I’m going to loose everything.  Maybe it’s just because I have so much to lose.”

Prosky indeed has many blessings. He is married and a father. His son just started 8th grade.  In addition to a busy acting career, he teaches. Like Archie Lee in Baby Doll, he sometimes worries that what he values most might all be taken from him. “I sometimes have this fear that I will fuck it all up or it will all somehow slide into oblivion,” he admits. “The good actor’s first job is to bring himself to the work and that part of Archie Lee I get.”

Not every aspect of Archie Lee came easy. 

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“His physical abuse of Baby Doll I find a stretch for me” he concedes. “And the shotgun. I hate guns.  I am always using a gun in something I’m acting in but this is my first shotgun.  And a shotgun in the hands of a white male in Mississippi in the 1950s should look as comfortable as an iphone in the hands of a hipster today. So that took some work.”

The Fountain Theatre production — and Prosky’s performance — has earned widespread critical acclaim. But it’s the audience response that pleases him most.

“It’s the reason theater is my first love,” he says. “That immediate communication of actor as storyteller is the whole point of theater and so much more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done on film or TV. “

And his first-time experience working at the Fountain Theatre? 

“The Fountain and this production have made me feel respected, welcomed, supported, challenged and fulfilled.  Very few theaters can do all that.”

Baby Doll has been extended to October 30.  More Info/Get Tickets   

Theatre: Entertainment or art? Can it be both and still be challenging and relevant?

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Zelda Fichandler (1924-2016)

by Howard Shalwitz

The loss of my friend and colleague Zelda Fichandler, the legendary founder of Arena Stage, has got me thinking about the role of theatre in our society.

Over the past decade, I had a few cherished opportunities to compare notes with Zelda about the founding of our respective theatres. As different as Arena Stage and Woolly Mammoth are, there’s one word that always came up for both of us: art. Here’s a quote from Bob Levey’s obituary of Zelda in the Washington Post:

“From the start, Mrs. Fichandler wanted… to reverse what she called, with characteristic dramatic flourish, ‘the contraction and imminent death of the art of the theater.”

And here’s a quote from Woolly Mammoth’s founding manifesto that I wrote with Roger Brady in 1978:

“Among all the art forms, theatre is the one which is least often taken seriously as a form of art… [and] it should be so taken. That is the long and short of what we propose.”

What do we mean when we proclaim that theatre is “art” rather than “entertainment?” We certainly don’t mean that theatre shouldn’t entertain, shouldn’t captivate audiences with diversion and delight and amazement. The survival of our theatres depends on this. The difference lies in what we ask our audiences to do when they’re in our theatres.

When we set out to entertain, we ask our audiences to sit back, relax, and enjoy themselves on terms they already understand. When we set out to make art, we ask our audiences to sit forward, to encounter something different, and to meet the artists halfway in figuring out how it works and what it means. Entertainment nestles us comfortably inside the lives we already lead. Art challenges us to stand outside our own experience and look at our lives and our world in new ways.

Art and entertainment are not mutually exclusive. Every play, every production, has elements of both. But in our conversations, Zelda was concerned that theatres across America were tipping too far toward entertainment and away from art. Some of the reasons are obvious: competition for ticket sales, pressure from new forms of diversion, loss of arts education in our schools, shrinking government support.

However, Zelda saw a potentially deeper problem. A couple of years ago, she asked a question I’ll never forget: “What’s happened to the arrogance of the artist in our country?” She talked about path-breaking playwrights like Arthur Miller, Caryl Churchill, and August Wilson, who boldly expanded the stylistic framework and political range of our theatre, and European stage directors like Liviu Ciulei and Lucien Pintilie, whose experimental approaches completely changed the way we look at classic works.

The forward motion of theatre as an art form depends on playwrights, directors, designers, and actors with the arrogance, the chutzpah, to try things that are different. It also depends on audiences who have the confidence to meet them with openness, empathy, and a spirit of inquiry. When we wrestle with the play itself, then we’re led to wrestle with what the play is about, what it’s saying, why it matters. This is what gives the art form of theatre its relevance in relation to the pressing questions our society is facing.

Howard Shalwitz is the Artistic Director at Woolly Mammoth Theatre in Washington, DC. 

NOW CASTING: 3-week development workshop for new theatre/dance work ‘Freddie’

Freddy rooftopThe Fountain Theatre is now casting a 3-week development workshop for Freddie, a new project by Deborah Lawlor that combines theatre, dance and music to tell the unforgettable true story of a legendary dancer.  

STORYLINE:
Based on a true story. Greenwich Village, 1964. Freddie Herko was a brilliant 28 year-old ballet dancer of extraordinary charisma and talent haunted by dark self-destructive demons. A fiery denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory, Herko became more eccentric, unpredictable and self-destructive. While dancing in his NY apartment to Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Herko leapt out the window and fell to his death five stories down. The project “Freddie” chronicles the friendship between Freddie and Shelley, the naive young woman caught under his spell who desires to be a dancer. By fusing theatre, music, dance and video, the project will capture the explosive spirit of a passionate artist and a turbulent era. 

Director: Frances Loy
Writer: Deborah Lawlor
Producer: Stephen Sachs
Co-Producer: Simon Levy
Associate Producer: James Bennett
Casting Director: Frances Loy

Dates: 3-week rehearsal period in October, culminating in 3 public performances. Exact dates to be determined based on artist availability. 

SPECIAL NOTE:
This is a 3-week developmental workshop of a new theatre piece combining theatre, dance/movement and music. To explore and discover how the text intertwines with dance/movement.  It will culminate in 3 public performances. This project is supported, in part, by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Roles:
[FREDDIE]
20 to 30 years old, male. Charismatic, dynamic, tortured soul. Must have strong training and experience in classical ballet.
[SHELLEY]
20 to 25 years old, female. Naive, innocent, excitable, light quality. Must have strong training and experience in classical ballet.
[GLORIA/DIANE DI PRIMA/MARGARET/BABY JANE]
30 to 50 years old, female. Seeking versatile actress to play multiple roles. Grounded, motherly quality. Flirtatious and exuberant. Must have some training in classical ballet.
[TINA/ONDINE]
30 to 40 years old, female. Darkly mystical and mysterious. Must have some training in classical ballet.
[ANDY/JOHNNIE/GEORGE/EDDIE]
20 to 40 years old, male. Seeking versatile actor to play multiple roles, including aloof to friendly to intimidating to gregarious. Must have some training inn classical ballet.
[BILLY/RALPH/SERGIO]
20 to 40 years old, male. Seeking versatile actor to play multiple roles, including gregarious Italian and down-to-earth dependable.
[JIMMY WARING/ROTTEN RITA]
40 to 50 years old, male. Two roles: sober, sage “mentor” type plus lightly effeminate with strong comedy skills.
[PETE/ONDINE/ARTHUR]
30 to 40 years old, male. Seeking versatile actor to play multiple roles: from opera nut who holds forth to straight, strong and dependable husband of Shelley.

There is pay.

Submit electronically via Actors Access  

or via email: casting@fountaintheatre.com