One sentence that seared a book, highlighted a play, and inspired a young playwright

gunshot flag

Darius R. Booker, Morgan Camper, and Derek Jackson in “Gunshot Medley”

by Dionna Michelle Daniel

“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”

This sentence has stuck with me since the first time I read Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen: An American Lyric. That sentence has been a jumping-off point and inspiration for the current play that I am currently developing.

I feel most colored

I first encountered Claudia Rankine’s Citizen while a BFA at the California Institute of the Arts. That year, I was taking a class on hybrid writing with a bunch of MFA creative writers. Although I felt slightly out of place from my comfort of theater knowledge, I was determined to get my minor in creative writing. Even though Rankine’s Citizen functions as a hybrid text, at the time it wasn’t on the course reading materials. However, that didn’t stop it from being spoken about almost every other class. This was also around the time when there were the headlines of the black woman reading Citizen at a Trump rally.  In the video, you see angry Trump supporters tap the woman on the shoulder, signaling that it is rude for her to not be complicit in Trump’s nonsense. It is rude for her to read. The woman’s response is one of the most epic things you will every see. She shrugs of the bitter rally attendees and continues to read her book. From that point on, it was clear to me that this book was a symbol of resistance and strength. I had to get my hands on a copy.

It’s funny how life happens. I began working at the Fountain Theatre in the Fall of 2017 and had no idea that Stephen Sachs had adapted a stage adaptation of the book. As a fan of this brilliant book and also a theatre nerd, I was excited to see this work brought to life and inhabited in the bodies of actors. I got my chance to see the performance at Grand Park on April 29th and needless to say, I was beyond moved. There is something about hearing those words spoken and coming from a black body that makes the text sink in that much deeper. The actors, all giving a beautiful performance, showed the pain & confusion that happens when constantly faced with microaggressions and systemic oppression. And when the lines, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background” were spoken, I was overwhelmed by the weight of this sentence. Felt the weight right in my chest.

This message of this book and the stage adaptation correlates to the work that I am trying to flesh out in my own writing. Currently, I am developing a Part 2 to my play Gunshot Medley. The second part will take place in the present day and I’ m most interested in the idea of what happens to the black psyche after being faced with the trauma of seeing so many killings of black men on our phone screens. When does it stop? When can we heal? And if we look at the black body as a vessel, how much can it hold before it snaps and breaks?

Dionna Michelle Daniel is the Outreach Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre

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New Video! Behind the scenes of ‘Citizen’ at Grand Park’s new LA Arts Festival

Would you go to the theatre on “Nude Night”?

naked audience

The Palais de Tokyo’s “Visite Naturiste”. 

by Stephen Sachs

Every Monday night at the Fountain Theatre is Pay What You Want Night. One night each week, ticket payment is optional. We launched it last year as an offering to our community to make theatre accessible for everyone. We believe theatre should be affordable for all. We didn’t want the ticket price to keep anyone from experiencing live theatre at the Fountain. Our Pay What You Want Night has become popular and extremely successful. But what would be the public reaction if, for one night, the price of admission wasn’t the only thing optional? What if clothing was also not required?

I was jarred into contemplating this unexpected question because of an article in today’s New York Times.  A contemporary art museum in Paris conducted its first-ever tour of its galleries given only for nudists. For one night in the museum, the art wasn’t the only handiwork on exhibit. The French nudist group, Paris Naturist Association, received interest in the museum tour from 30,000 people on Facebook. “I was imagining about 100 or 200 people might want to come, not 30,000,” said the group president. The event was limited to 160 people.

The tour was enjoyed by all. According to the article, it seemed the only challenge for the flock of nudists wasn’t the contest of keeping their eyes focused only on the artwork. It was keeping their bare bodies warm in the chilly museum halls. Even so, the nudist group president is now organizing future tours at other museums.  

Ah, yes. Vive la France. Those artsy, wine-and-cheese-loving, free-living French. Would such an event ever happen in America? In a museum or a theatre? Or is America’s view of the human body too repressed, too puritanical? Would a nation outraged by seeing a First Lady’s bare arms tolerate the sight of The Mark Taper Forum filled with bare bodies? We celebrate when a play is eye-opening, not the audience. 

naked tour

Nudity is still viewed as silly at best or sinful at worst by large segments of the American public. Europe, by comparison, is much more lenient about public display of unclothed bodies.

So, will “Nude Night” one day become a popular American night out at the theatre? American audiences may no longer be astonished to see nudity on stage. But what about seeing it on the patron sitting next to you?  Think about the actors. In an intimate theatre like the Fountain, would any costume-wearing actor be able to concentrate on their own performance while playing to a full house of naked people? It’s the classic “actor’s nightmare” coming true, in reverse.  I mean, look at the poor man in this photo (above). This dedicated and fully clothed museum tour guide, elucidating on an art piece’s influence, history and visual application techniques, must be having an out-of-body experience.

Comfortable or not, I may need to start preparing our ushers at the Fountain. Social nudism is on the rise in the United States. It is one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the country. There are now thousands of nudist groups, resorts and organizations across the United States. Why?

For those who practice it, nudism represents an aspect of life that has been lost, a way to get away from the technology that permeates every aspect of modern life, to feel free in one’s natural state, more alive. When shedding clothing, some of the barriers blocking honest human interaction fall away.  Social distinctions disappear. Stereotypes can dissolve.  Self-empowerment and awareness arrives. Nudism challenges the conventional beliefs we have about each other,  ourselves and our society. It can also just be fun and help us feel good.

“It’s a sense of freedom, a sense of being one with whatever it is,” one nudist describes.

If true, then a theatre, where the soul of man is stripped and laid bare, may be the perfect home after all. 

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.

Fountain Theatre awarded $32,000 grant for deaf/hearing new play ‘Arrival & Departure’

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE 2

Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur

The Fountain Theatre is very pleased to announce that it has been awarded a grant from the David Lee Foundation in the amount of $32,000 to support and enhance the budget of the world premiere of its new deaf/hearing production, Arrival & Departure, which will combine American Sign Language and Spoken English. Written and directed by Stephen Sachs and starring Deaf actors Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur, the new play opens July 14. 

The David Lee Foundation aims to support, enhance and promote Los Angeles area professional theater. It offers monetary grants to encourage the production of plays and musicals that might otherwise be overlooked because of financial considerations. Grants are given to supplement cast sizes, set and costume budgets, orchestras and rehearsal time.

“This magnificent award will allow The Fountain to bring Arrival & Departure to our stage with the full vision intact,” affirms Fountain Theatre Director of Development Barbara Goodhill. “It is also a beautiful affirmation of the merit of this beautiful play and the importance of the community it serves and illuminates.”

With ever increasing costs accompanied by decreasing aid to the arts, theater companies large and small are being forced to work with fewer and fewer resources. As a result the live theater appears to be shrinking before our eyes. Few theaters can consider a play with over four actors and anything more than the most rudimentary of sets and costumes. More often than not we are greeted upon entering the theater with a bare stage, a chair and a program that lists one or two actors. While this may well be artistically satisfying in some cases, it has resulted in the neglect of many great works simply because of their size. The David Lee Foundation seeks to change that.

David Lee regularly directs and writes for major regional theaters, including the L.A. Opera, Pasadena Playhouse, Two River Theater CompanyPapermill Playhouse, Williamstown Theater Festival, Encores, Reprise and the Hollywood Bowl. A nine-time Emmy Award winning director, writer and producer for television, David was co-creator/director of “Wings”and “Frasier”, a writer and producer for “Cheers” and a director for “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  19 Emmy nominations, Directors Guild Award, Golden Globe, Producers Guild Award, Ovation Award, British Comedy Award, Television Critics Association Award (three times), the Humanitas Prize (twice) and the Peabody.

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE 1

Set in New York City, Arrival & Departure is a re-imagined modern-day deaf/hearing stage adaptation of the classic 1945 British film, Brief Encounter. A deaf man and a hard-of-hearing woman, married to different people, meet accidentally in a NY city subway station. A friendship develops over time, escalating into a passionate love affair that both deny themselves to consummate. An unforgettable love story inspired by one of the most beloved romantic movies of all time. A fast-moving innovative new production blending sign language, spoken English, open captioning and cinematic video imagery. 

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Now Casting: World premiere ASL/Spoken English love story “Arrival & Departure” at Fountain Theatre

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE 2

Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur

The Fountain Theatre is now accepting submissions from hearing actors for the world premiere of Arrival & Departure, a funny and poignant new play written and directed by Stephen Sachs that will blend American Sign Language and spoken English. 

Two lead roles have been cast. Deaf actress Deanne Bray (TV’s “Sue Thomas”) will play Emily, and acclaimed Deaf actor Troy Kotsur (Cyrano, Big River) is Sam. Bray and Kotsur are real-life husband and wife, and will co-star on stage for the first time.

Set in New York City, Arrival & Departure is a re-imagined modern-day Deaf/hearing stage adaptation of the classic 1945 British film, Brief Encounter. In Sachs’ new spin, a Deaf man and a hard-of-hearing woman, married to different people, meet accidentally in a NY city subway station. A friendship develops over time, escalating into a passionate love affair that both deny themselves to consummate. An unforgettable love story inspired by one of the most beloved romantic movies of all time. A fast-moving innovative new production blending sign language, spoken English, open captioning and cinematic video imagery. 

Now casting the following roles for hearing actors:

RUSSELL – 25 – 35, African American, a uniformed MTA security officer working the NY subway system. Big-hearted, open spirited, warm and friendly, a guy you instantly like. Hopelessly romantic and in love with Myra, the counter girl at the Dunkin’ Donuts shop in the train station.    

MYRA – 20 – 30, Puerto Rican, works at the Dunkin’ Donuts shop in the subway station. Sassy, tough, funny, a straight-talker. A hard-edged survivor.  She protects her oft-broken heart by not trusting Russell’s romantic advances, finally allowing herself to be loved.     

JULE – 13, daughter of Emily (hard of hearing) and Doug. Caught n the explosive transition between girl and woman, Jule is fiery, emotionally high-strung, sarcastic and fiercely insecure. Sensing her parents’ marriage may be failing, she fights wildly with her mother, pushing her buttons, yet aching only to be loved, feel safe and belong.    

DOUG – 45 – 55. A hardworking, well-meaning Christian man who still can’t figure out the track his own life has taken.  A handsome husband and father, Doug loves his wife and daughter, pushing to keep things as they are, yet trying to understand why his home life is changing. Married quickly and unexpectedly to a hard of hearing woman, Doug struggles to overcome his own hidden prejudices as he fights to save his family.   

COMMUTER 1 – 35 – 45, versatile ensemble member to play various roles. Voice actor to character of deaf film teacher Sam (lead), College Clerk, university teacher Jeff, ensemble.  Familiarity with sign language a plus but not necessary.

COMMUTER 2 – 35 – 45, versatile ensemble member to play various roles. Voice actress to character of hard of hearing Emily (lead), church friend Marjorie, ensemble. Familiarity with sign language a plus but not necessary.

Auditions: May 14 – 24
First rehearsal: Mon, June 4, 2018
Opens: July 14, 2018
Ends: September 30, 2018

Contract: AEA Los Angeles 99-Seat Agreement

Pay: $10.50/$12.00 per hour for rehearsals/performances.

Email headshot and resume: casting@fountaintheatre.com

Or mail to: 

Stephen Sachs
Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90029

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New Video: Behind the scenes of exhilarating reading of new play on gun violence

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The Fountain Theatre gives voice to a cry of sexual assault in new play ‘The Lighthouse’

LIGHTHOUSE photo

Garret Wagner, Kelley Mack, Michael D. Turner and Chops Bailey.

By Catherine Womack

“It’s beach week, baby!” A tall, handsome college athlete cracks open a cold beer as he flops onto a worn sofa. The semester is over for Shane and his friends, and the stress of final exams is quickly fading into a blur of sun, sand and mojitos served in red Solo cups.

Onstage at the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood, six young actors fall easily into the rhythms of day drinking and banter inside the fictional rented vacation home. The set is sparse, but the inside jokes and casual flirtations between its occupants feel so real you can practically smell the salty air and taste the PBR.

But there is an elephant in this living room.

Perched on a tall director’s  chair  in  the  middle of the stage, seemingly invisible to the revelers, sits a silent female lifeguard. Only when she’s left alone with Jesse,    the    play’s    central character, does the lifeguard begin to speak.

“Are you sure you want to be wearing that?” the lifeguard asks, peering disapprovingly over her sunglasses at Jesse’s short denim shorts and tank top. “Are you trying to get laid for attention or validation?”

Hypercritical, judgmental and disparaging, the lifeguard is a constant presence throughout Amanda Kohr’s 80-minute, one-act play, “The   Lighthouse.”   As   the winner   of   the   Fountain’s competition-style Rapid Development Series, the play received two nights of free semi-staged readings last week — all part of an effort to give a louder voice to playwrights under 30.

James B and Jessica B

Jessica Broutt and James Bennett, co-creators/producers of Rapid Development Series.

One of several surrealist elements in the show, the lifeguard plays the part of Jesse’s darkest inner voice following a traumatic sexual assault at the beach house. “The Lighthouse” is Kohr’s indictment of rape culture and the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. Kohr said the play was inspired by the 2015 case of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, and was informed by Kohr’s own experiences.

On two printed sheets of folded white office paper that served as the program for the evening, Kohr, 27, wrote candidly about her own story:

“I grew up accepting sexual assault — the act was so prevalent that it swam below the radar under the perception as normalcy. By 16 I had been manipulated into unwanted sexual situations, assaulted and catcalled.”

As an undergraduate at James Madison University in Virginia, Kohr said in an earlier phone interview, she “heard about, witnessed and experienced so much sexual assault and harassment among college-age students that it just become normal.” At times, she said, she felt like it was “harder to find had.”

Kohr  wrote  “The  Lighthouse” in summer 2016. She had read Jon Krakauer’s reported narrative, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” and she closely followed the Stanford case as it unfolded. She was appalled by the leniency of Turner’s sentence — six months, reduced to three months for good behavior — and was inspired by the letter that his victim read at the sentencing hearing.

“I am a firm believer that entertainment can help educate,” Kohr said, “so I really strove to draw my audience in through comedy and then bash them with the truth.”

Kohr wrote the play more than a year before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, sexual assault and harassment became a national cultural conversation, and #MeToo became a movement.  That’s  one  reason Jessica Broutt, 25, the co-founder and co-producer of the Fountain’s Rapid Development Series, found Kohr’s play so compelling.

Broutt, who interned at the Fountain as a college student and worked briefly as the company’s box office manager, came up with the idea for the series with Fountain associate producer James Bennett four years ago.

“We noticed that there weren’t really a lot of young people going to the theater,” she said. “We would go to all these awesome reading series at other theaters, but it was never young people who were playwrights, and they generally weren’t  L.A.- based.”

Jessica Hailey Broutt, Kieran Medina and Amanda Marie Kohr at Fountain Theatre.

Jessica Broutt, Kieran Medina and Amanda Kohr at Fountain Theatre.

Broutt and Bennett pitched the idea to the Fountain’s management as a sort of theatrical battle of the bands. Broutt would select four plays by L.A. playwrights under 30. The theater would provide the actors and the space, and each play would receive a “snapshot” reading at which audiences vote for their favorite, drawing them more actively into the experience.

The actors and directors are volunteers, and the performances are free.

“We were trying to rule out all the reasons why people our age don’t goto plays,” Broutt said.

This year marks the series’ fourth season. Broutt says that when she read “The Lighthouse,” she knew immediately it was special.

“I just felt like, wow, this is a play that is taking on rape culture and breaking it down in a way that is educational and provides a surrealism and a humor that will engage people,” she said. “It’s very rare for me to see something that is doing all of those things effectively. And then as we were going through development last fall, the Harvey Weinstein stuff came out.”

In just a few months Kohr has been able to work with Broutt to polish the play, have it receive two short readings as it progressed through the competition, and watch it performed onstage in its entirety for the first time.

“When I was in college I had a lot of shorter things staged,” Kohn said, “but this is  my  first  thing  that’s  like borderline professional.”

Audience members on Wednesday night were racially diverse and younger than what’s typical in most

L.A. theaters. They laughed out loud as Jesse’s rapist, Shane, was presented as a hero during exaggerated, game-show-style court proceedings. And some wiped tears from their eyes when Jesse found the strength to silence her inner-critic lifeguard and rediscover her own confident voice.

At  the  end  of  the  “The Lighthouse,” the house lights came up dramatically as Jesse called for people to speak out and shine a light on sexual misconduct. In the front row, Kohr hugged her friends. Her #MeToo story had found an audience.

This post originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.