You Won’t Believe What This Art Student Was Hired to Paint for Our LA Premiere of ‘Reborning’

Gabriella Guzman

Gabriella Guzman

[WARNING: This post contains adult content and images]

One of the characters in Zayd Dohrn’s play Reborning has a unique profession. And we don’t mean Kelly (Joanna Strapp), the gal who makes lifelike dolls. We’re talking about her boyfriend, Daizy (Ryan Doucette). He makes … well … how does Kelly politely describe them? “Adult rubber and latex items.”  Dildos. Which Daizy waves about their NY loft in the play. So, when it came time to produce the LA Premiere of this funny and powerful comedy/drama, the Fountain was put in the unique and unusual position of needing to hire someone to paint the dildos so they looked as realistic as the dolls Kelly creates.

And where does one go to find a dildo painter? The Fountain turned to Gabriella Guzman, a student at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. 

Where are you from? Where did you get your art training? 

Well my Cuban self was born in Virginia (random, right?), but my parents raised me in Miami, which is basically second Cuba. No lie.  I pretty much get empanadas pelted at my face as soon as I step off the plane. I’ve been in public art schools my whole life, but I’m currently studying Illustration & Fine Art at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

How did you get this unique job on this production? 

Apparently [Artistic Director/Producer] Stephen Sachs sat down at the dinner table one night and asked his son, Daniel [who also attends Art Center], if he had any friends who would be good at a penis paint job. Immediately, my name came to his mind. And to this day, I have no idea how to feel about that.

What was your reaction when you were offered this job?

My immediate reaction was to ask Daniel why in the heck he thought of me as the ideal penis painter. But after a while, I realized that this job makes for the greatest story because it’s my first job! After all, how many people can say their first job title was “Dildo Painter”?

Gabriella Guzman hard at work.

Gabriella Guzman hard at work.

Have you ever painted anything like this before?

You know, as twisted as my mind is, I’ve actually never painted penises before. I should do it more often, though, cuz they definitely make great reference for trees or mushrooms or horrific worm demons. Seriously, just add teeth to one of those things and it’s a pelvic nightmare Dali wishes he would’ve painted.

How are the dildos used in the play?

One of the main characters, Daizy, makes photo-realistic penis sculptures for a living. At one point, he walks out on stage with one of the penises hanging out of his pants! I’m happy to say that the audience thinks it’s a real penis most of the time until they notice how big it is (HA! See what I did there?)

Kristin Carey, Joanna Strapp, Ryan Doucette

Kristin Carey, Joanna Strapp, Ryan Doucette

What’s it like painting a dildo? Did it make you uncomfortable at first? 

Working with the rubber material was challenging at first because any paint I’d put on the surface would immediately crack once the rubber was bent or stretched, but luckily I got a lesson in material methods by a real Special FX Makeup Artist and I was able to use his supplies to produce better results. All in all, painting dildos made me feel like an incredibly unique human being at first, but after a while, I started wishing I was a lesbian just so I’d never have to see another dick again!

Did you tell your friends what you were dong? How did they react? 

Joanna Strapp

Joanna Strapp

As soon as I got the job, my immediate thought was “Omg FACEBOOOOK STATUUUS”, which just shows you where our culture is today. My male friends reacted by offering themselves up as reference, but golly gosh, as much as I loved those offers, I respectfully declined. I remember getting tagged in a lot of posts about phallic sculptures and there were quite a few enlarged stills of pornos messaged to me. Isn’t it great to have supportive friends?

Have you told your parents? What was their reaction?

My mom, being an old fashioned Cuban woman who is too sweet and pure to have heard of such things, reacted pleasantly when I told her I was a dildo painter simply because she had absolutely no idea what a dildo was. I remember her saying “Oh sweetie, how nice. Is that a type of plant?” 

Do you enjoy painting them?


Gabby takes her work home.

I feel like there’s no way for me to answer these questions without sounding like I really like penises.

I do.

And painting them ain’t so bad either.

What is involved in painting a dildo? Can you briefly take us through the process? 

You need to paint rubber using a special paint called Skin Illustrator, and the paint has to go on in very thin layers otherwise it’ll rub off or get clunky. It’s kind of like painting with watercolor, only instead of water, you use alcohol. Once the dildos are dry, you spray them with “Green Marble”, a makeup sealer that keeps everything from rubbing off for a good week or so. You drop off your finished dildos, go home, and once you’ve finally forgotten about penises, you get called to come back for a retouch. Rinse and repeat!

Have you ever been involved in a theater or play before?

I’ve never been involved in a play before or been part of any theater work. It was so exciting to see everyone scramble, to discover what it’s like to put a play together. It requires a lot of teamwork, I’ll tell you that much.

How did you feel on Opening Night, seeing your dildos up there on stage?

When Daizy ran out on stage with my dick hanging out of his pants, I punched my friend in the arm out of excitement.

What’s it like being part of the production team at the Fountain? Has it been a good experience?

I absolutely LOVED being a part of the production team at the Fountain! It was so amazing to feel like a functioning adult for a few weeks, with a job and a title! Everyone at the Fountain has been so accepting, kind, and professional. I’m proud to be a member of this family. 


 You can see Gabriella’s handiwork in the LA Premiere of Reborning at the Fountain Theatre, now playing to March 15th. Get Tickets/More Info

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: First Rehearsal for LA Premiere of I AND YOU at Fountain Theatre

Matthew Hancock, Jennifer Finch

Matthew Hancock, Jennifer Finch

“Do anything, but let it produce joy.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Our company of theatre artists for our upcoming LA Premiere of I And You produced joy at the first rehearsal Monday afternoon at the Fountain. Actors Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch met for the first time under the caring eye of director Robin Larsen. Matthew returns to the Fountain after his acclaimed performance in The Brothers Size.

At the I And You first rehearsal, director Robin Larsen spoke about her vision for the play and producer Stephen Sachs guided the company through the production paperwork. Also present at the first reading were co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor, producing director Simon Levy, associate producer James Bennett, stage manager Josephine Austin, dramaturg Christopher Breyer, and publicist Lucy Pollak. Once the opening business was done, the two actors read the script marvelously.

I and You is a funny and beautifully moving new play by Lauren Gunderson about two high school kids thrown together under unusual circumstances. Caroline is sick and hasn’t been to school in months. Anthony suddenly arrives at her door bearing a beat-up copy of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ and an urgent assignment from their high school lit teacher. As these two let down their guards and share their secrets, the poetry assignment unlocks a much deeper mystery that has brought them together. Winner of the 2014 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Playwrighting Prize, and nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for Best New Play, I and You is a funny and haunting play about youth, life, love, and the strange transcendent connections between us all.

I And You opens April 11th (323) 663-1525  Get Tickets/More Info

Enjoy Snapshots from the First Rehearsal

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New Video! ‘Reborning’ Cast & Director Chat About Acclaimed LA Premiere at Fountain Theatre

Reborning Now Playing to March 15  (323) 663-1525  MORE

10 Audition Tips From The Other Side of the Casting Table

Heather Wolf at the casting table for 'I And You' at the Fountain Theatre.

Heather Wolf at the casting table for ‘I And You’ at the Fountain Theatre.

What I Learned Watching Other Actors Audition 

by Heather Wolf

Ready? Show of hands: How many actors have ever wished to be the proverbial fly on the wall at an audition? Well, volunteering to be an audition reader may just contribute to that most integral tool in an actor’s arsenal: keeping your sanity.

I was given the opportunity to sit on the other side of the casting table during the Fountain Theatre’s casting of I and You, directed by Robin Larsen. It really was an invaluable experience. In preparation for the actor’s life (read constant, unavoidable rejection), there are countless articles, books and instructors all trying to drill in to our sensitive, artist brains that it is not personal. Well, let me add my voice to the throng: It is NOT PERSONAL.

How can I say such a thing? Knowing that it is, quite literally, your life? I know what makes it such a personal and consuming experience for an actor. But across that table, it really is nothing personal. In a good way. Guess what? While you walk out the door obsessing over every moment from your audition, your pic & res is already in the “Yes”, “No” or “Maybe” pile and probably not for the reasons you think.

You may have been the production team’s favorite actor and won’t even get a callback because of [insert-­character- ­stat-here]. How is that fair? How is this supposed to help with the whole staying sane thing? What you keep hearing is true: all you can be is you, all you can control is your work, let the rest go.  I am a witness.

More good news: everyone staring at you from across that casting table is on your side. They want you to be great as much as you do. They understand the courage it takes just to walk through that door. When they smile and welcome you and try to put you at ease, it is genuine. So breathe, try and calm those pesky nerves and remember why all those people are there. Putting actors first is the modus operandi of The Fountain Theatre and they actually deliver. Even if you’re just passing through on an audition. After hearing the same lines read over and over, hour after hour, day after day,  they are still rooting for you when you walk through that door; hoping that you will be the answer to their casting prayers.  It is as difficult for, and means as much to, the people on the other side of the casting table as it does to you.

The audition room at the Fountain Theatre.

The audition room at the Fountain Theatre.

As an actor, I intellectually understood these concepts. But experiencing it first-­hand from the other side of the casting table is another thing altogether. Every actor should be an audition reader at least once. If offered the opportunity, grab it. It really is a priceless and freeing experience for any actor. 

So, here are my ten audition tips taken from the other side of the table:

  1. Relax. They want you to be there. They are on your side. They want every single actor who walks in — including you —  to be the answer to their casting prayers.
  2. Be professional. Be prepared.  Be on time. Arriving early is on time and on time is late.
  3. Always bring your headshot and resume. Even if you know they already have it. At the end of the day when the headshots are spread across the casting table so they can make their callback choices, you want your lovely face shining up at them from that table reminding them who your are. Not an empty blank white sheet of paper with your name scribbled on it.
  4. Do your work. All you can really control is what you put into your audition. You may be a cold-read ninja and think you can just walk in and nail it.  But if you have actually been provided advanced notice with the sides and the script, take that gift! Give yourself every advantage. You’ll need it.
  5. You don’t have to memorize the lines. It impresses no one. I know many actors feel that having their lines memorized is part of doing the work, but that is not what matters most. This from Stephen Sachs, award-winning director and co-founder of The Fountain Theatre: “We really don’t care if the lines are memorized or not. It means nothing to us. What matters is their performance, the freedom of their work. Often, an actor will memorize the lines thinking it will “free” them and enable them to do their best work but then they are concentrating so hard on remembering the words that it completely locks them up. I see it all the time.”
  6. It is okay to make mistakes. Honestly. Skipping a line, having to start over, glancing at your sides, does not impact whether you’re cast or not. Strive for perfection, just don’t be derailed when imperfection strikes. It may be the best part of our day.
  7. Be flexible and directable. Most actors claim they love direction.  Listen and process what you are being given. Because if you go back and give the exact same read? Your goose is pretty well cooked. If you need clarification, ask!
  8. The audition room is a “no fly” zone. Walk calmly, don’t fly in and out the door. The second you have said your last line and hear “thank you” doesn’t mean you are required to turn tail and run. Gather your things, say your final “goodbye” or “have a nice day” and exit at a reasonable pace.  I promise, you have the time.
  9. Leave it in the room. However you feel you did, leave it in the room. Your job is done.  It is out of your control. Just keep on keepin’ on.
  10. Be an audition reader at least once. Volunteer, ask friends, do a show and run your own session, but find a way. The perspective it gives you as an actor, the understanding of the process, knowing first hand what the other side of the table has to deal with and what you can and cannot control, is genuinely priceless. At least it was for me.

Art and Life Replicate Each Other in LA Premiere of ‘Reborning’ at Fountain Theatre

Kristin Carey, Joanna Strapp in 'Reborning'.

Kristin Carey, Joanna Strapp in ‘Reborning’.

by Mindy Farabee

Sometimes art imitates life and sometimes life imitates art. And somewhere in between, sometimes things get curious.

Hollywood’s Fountain Theatre recently opened a play dealing with parenthood, the mystery of creation and the scars of loss. What it’s literally about is reborning, a thriving subculture in which artists spend hundreds of hours creating and collectors spend thousands of dollars buying vinyl dolls meticulously fashioned to resemble real babies.

Reborning began in the United States in the 1990s, when a few enthusiasts started painting over and otherwise altering (or “reborning”) store-bought dolls to make them appear more realistic. Now, however, it has become an international phenomenon. One unassembled, limited-edition kit for making the dolls recently released online sold out in less than three minutes.

The play, Reborning, centers on an artist and the increasingly unnerving relationship she develops with a client. Zayd Dohrn wrote it after the birth of his first child. In stumbling upon the curious art form, Dohrn found a perfect vehicle for exploring the terrifying vulnerability of new life. He also made something of a mess. “I tried my hand at making a couple dolls,” Dohrn says. “It didn’t turn out well.”

The show has previously been produced in New York, San Francisco and Anaheim (at the Chance Theater in 2012), with local reborners employed to create dolls.

The Fountain called Amy Karich, an Orange County stay-at-home mom who sells her reborn creations online. Karich, who also designed dolls for the Chance production, works out of a studio tucked into the tidy rolling hills on the outskirts of Laguna Beach. A slant-roofed add-on to the back of the family home, Karich’s workshop sits on one of those quiet, planned streets with an abundance of two-car garages, stacked rows of matching terracotta-hued roofs and artfully spaced palm trees.

Amy Karich in her studio.

Amy Karich in her studio.

Inside, her studio testifies to a flurry of activity. A paint-drenched sponge lies on her desk amidst jars of paints, brushes and beads. Against the walls sit boxes of eyeballs and a small table of disembodied doll parts. Teething toys, bassinets and pastel blankets dominate the decor.

“I’m not even a baby person,” announces the petite, blond mother of four, with the hint of an ironic smile.

That she’s going on the record at all is a pleasant surprise. The fact that some buyers have suffered miscarriages or found themselves unable to conceive prompted several articles casting them as mildly deranged. “People feel like they’ve been burned in the press,” says Dohrn, to explain why lately the subculture has taken on a slight air of secrecy.

Some clients ask for dolls with particular characteristics, occasionally including a picture. Other clients are more vague. One asked for 13 moles, though Karich could place them where she chose. The dolls aren’t usually used as toys — they’re mainly for display.

Artists become known for certain trademarks, such as color palates, and Karich says her skin tones are a signature of her work. She plucks the head from a nearly completed newborn to illustrate. “I put stork bites on them,” she says, pointing to the pinkish birthmark on the back of its head, which can appear during birth.

“All kinds of traumatic things happen at birth,” she adds. “Newborns … can have pressure marks anywhere. Because sometimes the baby will be resting against the bottom of the tailbone [for instance],” she says, absentmindedly rubbing her lower back.

Zayd Dohrn at the Fountain Theatre

Playwright Zayd Dohrn at the Fountain Theatre

“I love that she said that,” Dohrn says. “When you hear Amy talk, you understand what humans go through [during birth], the adventure they’ve been on and how it shows up on their bodies.”

Karich, whose dolls routinely go for $1,500 apiece, might spend 150 hours creating one. The details she adds reinforce that these aren’t toys but objects meant for display, intended for serious collectors. Artists favor Genesis paints, and stuff glass or zinc beads inside the dolls to give them an authentic heft. (“Some people have been known to use kitty litter,” Karich says, turning up her nose at the idea.)

Karich fishes out handful of handcrafted eyes from beneath a crib. “These are made of mouth-blown glass, produced in Germany. They go for $30 to $40 a pair,” she says. Her newborns also come with detachable magnetic umbilical cords, made by snipping off the finger of a vinyl glove and stuffing it with cloth painted to resemble bloody tissue, before tying it off with a real medical clamp.

“It’s very relaxing to me to be able to create,” she says.

In translating her dolls to the stage, a few adjustments were necessary, such as designing a deeper mottling for the skin to render it more visible to an audience.

There is one aspect of Dohrn’s play that Karich finds not terribly realistic: The reborner allows her client far too much access. Karich doesn’t even give out her phone number, in order to set boundaries on her time. But her clients are nearly all repeat customers. Relationships inevitably form, and personal details are shared — some tragic, but mostly clients just send news about their children.

“Most collectors are mothers and perfectly normal people,” Karich stresses. “Some people could be filling some sort of void with the dolls … but it’s not a void that causes them to treat the dolls like real babies. They are just another group of people, interested in something.”
Mindy Farabee is a writer and critic living in Los Angeles. A former LA Times staff writer, her work has also appeared in publications such as Bookforum, Los Angeles Review of Books, San Francisco Chronicle, The Millions, the Boston Globe, and LA Weekly. This post originally appeared in the LA Weekly

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Production Pix from LA Premiere of ‘Reborning’ at Fountain Theatre

Joanna Strapp in 'Reborning'

Joanna Strapp in ‘Reborning’

The Fountain Theatre’s Los Angeles Premiere of Reborning by Zayd Dohrn opened last weekend to powerful reactions from audiences and critics.  Reviews are starting to trickle in and already the production has been hailed by LA Splash as “another hit for the Fountain Theatre” with “fabulous acting.”

Reborning is a funny and riveting comedy/drama about creating family and the power of healing. Directed by Simon Levy, it stars Kristin Carey, Ryan Doucette and Joanna Strapp and runs to March 15th.  

Enjoy These Production Photos from ‘Reborning’

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Reborning Now – March 15 (323) 663-1525  More/Get Tickets

Does Size Matter?

by Seth Rozin

Seth Rozin

Seth Rozin

There have been many an article, missive, blog, and rant, even a graduate thesis in recent years about how most of Americas’ largest theatres have become corporatized behemoths lacking any kind of real commitment to taking artistic risks, representing cultural diversity on stage and off, cultivating younger and more diverse audiences, etc. In fact, almost any conversation about the professional theatre, as a field, ends up referring to that small handful of once-revolutionary theatres that have succumbed to the forces of the marketplace, and are now producing cookie-cutter seasons that include a Shakespeare, a musical, a modern American or European classic, a regional premiere of a recent Broadway hit, and maybe, maybe a new play by a not completely unknown writer that the theatre is hoping will be the next major American playwright.

These conversations—some public, most private—are especially common among playwrights, and the resentment and outrage that are expressed is palpable. The sentiment is essentially “If only these twenty-five major theatres would change their ways, our field would be much healthier, and we would be much happier.”

Underlying that sentiment are two assumptions: (1) that if all those theatres really did commit to producing plays by lesser known and more diverse writers, American playwrights would be appeased; and (2) that those major, flagship theatres are leading our industry down a dreary path toward homogenization and corporatization, and that we need them to change course in order for the American Theater to not just survive, but thrive.

Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles

Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles

With regard to the first assumption, even if all the largest theatres did produce more new plays, only a handful of playwrights—those happy few who get produced—would feel appeased. Because the numbers of playwrights will continue to exponentially dwarf the number of production opportunities.

With regard to the second assumption, expecting these major, flagship theatres to voluntarily alter their programming and operational practices, or close shop, is ludicrous. What playwrights really want is for those largest theatres to take artistic risks, produce new plays by lesser known writers, engage artists and audiences of color, etc. yet stay the same size, so that the paycheck and prestige remain just as worthwhile. That would be akin to living composers asking the major orchestras around the country to stop programming Beethoven, Mozart and Tchaikovsky in favor of works by twenty-first century composers; the simple economic reality is that the orchestras would all go out of business in a heartbeat.

At the same time, we need to stop demonizing this class of theatres for doing exactly what their substantial audiences, powerful boards, and major institutional funders are rewarding them for doing: Being large. When the only thing you are leading in is size—of budget, staff, and especially audience—bigger really is the only better.

Yoda size matters not

The conversation we need to be having is how we can educate and galvanize audiences, donors, funders, critics, agents, and other power brokers in our field to not automatically equate value or leadership with size; to not automatically reward theatres according to size; to not assume that the quality of the art has to do with size of the institution; to not assume that change can only occur from the “top” down (since history has shown us that change so often occurs from the “bottom” up).

Hard as this may be for most playwrights to stomach, the overwhelming majority of America’s theatregoers are choosing to spend their money and time at large theatres that offer fairly predictable seasons. These hundreds of thousands of patrons are mostly middle-aged and older, upper middle- and upper-class, and white. They find familiar titles and playwrights, proven classics, and New York Times-approved offerings to be comforting and appealing and reliably worth their investment. They are not clamoring for new plays. They are not clamoring for greater diversity on stage. They are not clamoring for greater artistic risk. So why should the large theatres that serve these audiences change? What incentive is there, really, for them to do anything fundamentally different?  Continue reading