Category Archives: Acting

Playwright Lauren Gunderson offers theatre as an antidote to social media

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Lauren Gunderson’s “I and You”, Fountain Theatre, 2015.

By Lauren Gunderson

Think of this pitch to a room of venture capitalists: “What we’re proposing is a scalable, repeatable product that makes vital intellectual and emotional wisdom portable, communicable, and adaptable and memorable. Everyone will use it and keep using it for millennia. We call it: storytelling.”

But unlike most social media technologies, live storytelling actually is social. And perhaps that’s why it’s still around, never having been truly eclipsed by radio, TV or the Internet. In defiance of each generation’s claim that theater is dying, both “Hamlet” and “Hamilton” would beg to differ. Yes, online social media offers us on-demand communication, information and all manner of opinion articulated and shared to the world. But is there congregation?

I use that word deliberately because, though I grew up going to church in Georgia, I find most of my philosophical and humanitarian meaning coming from theater. Theater is my church. And what it offers in the way of congregation, catharsis and wisdom is not just entertainment or art, but might also be an antidote to stress related to social media.

That stress can be the fatigue that comes with nonstop screens that can disrupt sleep patterns, change our breathing (“email apnea” as coined by Linda Stone), hamstring live interpersonal communication with all ages, and lead some to become addicted to the dopamine of pings and alerts. The stress for some might feel like the constant search for information or connection, but isn’t it really the search for meaning that comes up short?

Theater offers resolution. While social media is often a nearly endless scroll of information and opinion, it often doesn’t lead to any ending, any answer to the question “so what?” But theater answers that question by taking the audience all the way through a hero’s odyssey of struggle and revelation. Being witness to a complete story, instead of the bits and bytes we find online, offers a more satisfying and thoughtful resolution. Meaning is made not from pieces of information but from journeys and fellow journeyers.

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Lauren Gunderson

Theater is right here, right now. Theater is not on demand. Rather it asks you to show up on time and focus in order to experience the intimate intensity of its medium. Screens cannot replicate the feeling of being in a shared space and time with other humans. Theater is one of the most intense artistic experiences because the fiction is happening to real people who are right in front of you. You can hear it, smell it, see their passion and pain only feet away from your seat. This viscerality is unlike what you can experience through a posted video on your smartphone or even a TV show at home. The emotionally and physically distinct power of being present for art is hard to document or measure, but it’s apparent to everyone who has witnessed live performance’s arias, embraces and thunderous ovations.

The Bay Area is not only a hub of innovation but for art, too. Silicon Valley lives right next to the “city by the play,” with an abundance of theaters that rivals even Chicago. Bay Area theater companies have transferred shows to Broadway, incubated prize-winning plays and playwrights, and drawn world-famous actors to our stages. The wisest of us (and thankfully not just the wealthiest with a new push for affordable tickets for all) should take advantage of the digital relief, inspiration and empathetic reboot theater has to offer.

For a hotbed of tech that we are, it might be a good time to go old school and let live performance open your mind in a way social media can’t. Who knows what pattern-breaking ideas might occur to you once you leave your bubble (and your phone), focus on someone else’s story with a group of strangers, and see what wisdom alights on you at the theater.

Lauren Gunderson is the author of I and You (Fountain Theatre, 2015). She is a nationlly acclaimed award-winning playwright and the resident playwright of Marin Theatre Company. This essay originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. . 

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Lin-Manuel Miranda tells how Chaim Potok’s ‘The Chosen’ changed his life

Lin Manuel Mirandaby Lin-Manuel Miranda

The trajectory of my life changed in 8th grade, when I got the following note back on the back of an English essay. My teacher’s name was Dr. Rembert Herbert. This is what he wrote:

“Lin-Manuel—This is an excellent, well-crafted essay. It confirms what I have suspected for some time—that you have been ‘hibernating’ in the back of my class, emerging only occasionally—as when you wrote ‘The Chosen’ musical for class earlier this year. It’s a new semester, almost spring—join us!”

The “Chosen” musical he references was a class project I created as a part of a class assignment. The assignment was to teach three chapters of The Chosen by Chaim Potok, as part of a group. I decided it would be easier to write a song based on each chapter and have our group perform it. Actually, I recorded myself singing all the songs and made my group mates lip-synch my voice, as I had no trust in their musical ability and no way of teaching it to them. Why did I do this? Well, I loved the book. And I loved the way Dr. Herbert taught the book, encouraging us to find the connections and themes for ourselves. I had, in fact, spent most of 8th grade scribbling song lyrics and poems in the back of my classes, earning grades just good enough to get by. I never saw any reason to share these with anyone else.

With this note, Dr. Herbert essentially called me out. He told me, “That creative energy you are burning in the back of the class is what we need IN the class. You can USE that here.” He was also the first person outside of my family to say to me, “You’re a good writer.” He encouraged me to audition and submit my writing to Brick Prison, a student-run theater group at my high school. It was there that I found the energy source that would power the rest of my life.

His encouragement extended far beyond that 8th grade English class. When I began making films in high school, Dr. Herbert would sign permission slips allowing me to film in classrooms, or after school. I began writing short, 20-musicals for Brick Prison, buoyed by my “Chosen” experience in his classroom. My senior year, I earned course credit as his intern, helping him with his 8th grade students. I gained a whole new respect for how much he invested in every student, stepping in if he sensed a drop-off in the quality of their writing, or quietly encouraging the shyest class members with leadership roles.

I still have that 8th grade essay, and Dr. Herbert’s attached note. He is still teaching 8th grade English at Hunter. I am so grateful to him for paying such close attention, for seeing something in me, and urging me to share it. That’s what the best teachers can do. I hope I have made him proud.

See The Chosen at the Fountain Theatre

Fountain Theatre presents inspiring solo play to benefit L.A. theater director Dan Bonnell

Dan Bonnell

Dan Bonnell

The Fountain Theatre will present the funny and powerful solo play A Piece of My Mind, written and performed by Eric Barr, on Saturday, Dec. 16th at 8 p.m. as a fundraiser for L.A. theater director Dan Bonnell and his family. Bonnell suffered a massive brain aneurysm in April while in a meeting at Sacred Fools Theatre in Hollywood. He remains in rehabilitative care.

With A Piece of My Mind, Barr shares his inspiring true story of how he survived a series of devastating strokes, robbing him of speech, movement and all his future plans. But it didn’t rob him of hope, or his sense of humor and optimism. His solo play takes audiences on his journey from near-death to recovery and reinvention. It is a celebration of life, love and the human spirit.

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Eric Barr in “A Piece of My Mind” (photo by Joshua Montez)

“I have known Dan Bonnell for over 25 years as both a director and a friend,” says Barr. “When I was chairman of the UC Riverside Theatre Department, Dan directed a number of shows for us and he always raised the level of our students’ work and of our productions. Our students loved Dan.”

Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs is also a longtime friend of Bonnell. “Dan is a warm-hearted human being and a respected member of our L.A. theater community,” Sachs states. “I offer the Fountain as a way to use theater as an instrument for healing and raising awareness. This night will bring L.A. theater artists and friends of Dan together to show Dan and his family that they are supported.”

A stroke impacts more than the patient. It affects the entire family. Proceeds from the one-night performance will benefit Bonnell and his family as they face mounting medical expenses. A silent auction is also planned to raise additional assistance.

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Eric Barr, “A Piece of My Mind” 

As a stroke survivor, Barr knows the struggle Dan is experiencing. Visiting his friend was a sobering reminder. “When we arrived at the nursing facility, Dan was barely conscious,” remembers Barr. “Sitting next to him, I was suddenly flooded with distant memories of my own experience. I knew what it felt like to be trapped in bed, trapped in an unresponsive body. I could feel it all over again.”

After his stroke, Barr feared his life was over. Instead, his one-man show demonstrates he has a new future. Barr now performs his solo play to enthusiastic audiences around the country.

“On stage, I feel completely healthy. I feel more like myself than anywhere else.”

Eric Barr taught acting and directing at University of California, Riverside from 1975 until 2013 and is now a UCR Professor Emeritus of theater. He has directed over 100 productions and was the founding director of the UCR Palm Desert MFA program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts.

Dan Bonnell is an award-winning director whose work has been seen in Los Angeles at the Falcon Theatre, Colony Theatre, Pacific Resident Theatre, Matrix Theatre, Open Fist, Theatre of NOTE, The MET, Boston Court, Cornerstone, [Inside] the Ford, ASK Theater Projects, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, Highways, Moving Arts, Nexus Theatre Company, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and HBO Workspace. Dan is the recipient of directing awards from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly and the NAACP as well as the GLAAD Media Award, and has been nominated for Theater Communications Group “Alan Schneider Award”

A Piece of My Mind will be performed on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $50. All proceeds will benefit Dan Bonnell and family.  More Info/Get Tickets

 

Q&A with Fred Herko biographer following ‘Freddy’ performance Thursday Sept 28th

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Fred Herko

Audiences seeing the world premiere of the new theatre/dance work Freddy on Thursday night, September 28th, will enjoy an added treat when Fred Herko biographer Gerard Forde engages in a Q&A discussion immediately following the performance at 8pm in the Caminito Theatre at LA City College.  Freddy is written by Herko friend Deborah Lawlor, directed by Frances Loy, with dance/movement direction by Cate Caplin.

Set in 1964 Greenwich Village and based on a true story, Freddy blends theatre, dance, music and projected images to tell the tale of a naïve young woman who falls under the spell of Fred Herko, a brilliant ballet dancer of extraordinary charisma and talent and a fiery denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory.

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Fred Herko biographer Gerard Forde and Deborah Lawlor

Gerard Forde is a curator, writer and translator. Over the past eight years he has been researching a biography of Fred Herko and a history of the New York Poets Theatre, founded in 1961 by Herko, Diane di Prima, LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka), Alan Marlowe and James Waring.

In 2014, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Herko’s death, he curated a week long program of events in New York, including an exhibition of photographs of Herko at the Emily Harvey Foundation Gallery and a symposium at NYU.

His recently published essays include ‘Plus or Minus 1961 – A Chronology 1959-1963’ in ± 1961: Founding the Expanded Arts, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2013; ‘Poet’s Vaudeville – The Collages of James Waring’, in James Waring, Galerie 1900-2000, Paris, 2013; and ‘Dramatis Personæ: The Theatrical Collaborations of Kenneth Koch, Jean Tinguely and Niki de Saint Phalle’, in Niki de Saint Phalle: At Last I Found the Treasure, Kunst- und Kulturstiftung Opelvillen, Rüsselheim, 2016.

Fred Herko (1936-1964) was a central figure in New York’s downtown avant-garde. A musical prodigy, he studied piano at the Juilliard School of Music before switching to ballet at the age of twenty. In 1956 he won a scholarship to study at American Ballet Theatre School and within a few years was dancing with established choreographers including John Butler, Katherine Litz, Buzz Miller, Glen Tetley and James Waring. He was a founding member of Judson Dance Theater, presenting six of his own works in the group’s concerts between 1962 and 1964 and dancing in works by Al Hansen, Deborah Hay, Arlene Rothlein and Elaine Summers. He was a co-founder of the New York Poets Theatre, which staged one-act plays by poets and provided a podium for happenings by Ray Johnson, Allan Kaprow and Robert Whitman; dances by Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown; music by La Monte Young, John Herbert McDowell and Philip Corner; and films by Brian De Palma, Stan VanDerBeek and Andy Warhol. Herko starred in seven of Warhol’s earliest cinematic experiments in 1963, including Jill and Freddy Dancing, Rollerskate/Dance Movie and Salome and Delilah. His untimely death in 1964, at the age of 28, robbed New York’s underground scene of one of its most exuberant and versatile performers who was equally at home performing Comb Music by Fluxus composer George Brecht or camping it up in Rosalyn Drexler’s musical comedy Home Movies.

 

Reserve Now for Freddy, Thursday, Sept 28 followed by Q&A with Gerard Forde

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College students and professional actors share struggle and truth, declare “I am Freddy”

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The company of “Freddy”. 

The passionate life and self-destructive death of 1960’s dancer Fred Herko inspired friend Deborah Lawlor to write her play, Freddy, opening Wednesday at LACC Theatre Academy as a co-production with the Fountain Theatre. Her new theatre/dance work has, in turn, motivated the students and professional artists involved. 

In this honest, poignant and empowering video, the company from Freddy share their thoughts and feelings on the often challenging journey of being an artist, the inner demons they face, and the wings they develop to enable them to soar.

Freddy Sept 27 – Oct 14 More Info/Tickets  

Video: Actor Leith Burke finds hope in powerful world premiere ‘Runaway Home’

Runaway Home Now playing to Nov 5th More Info/Get Tickets

Fountain partners with LACC Theatre Academy for world premiere on 1960s dancer ‘Freddy’

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Marty Dew is Fred Herko in ‘Freddy’. 

A naïve young woman falls under the spell of Fred Herko, a brilliant ballet dancer of extraordinary charisma and talent and a fiery denizen of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Written by Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor, the world premiere of Freddyopens on Sept. 27, inaugurating a new partnership between the Fountain Theatre and the Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy at LACC’sCaminito Theatre.

Set in Greenwich Village in 1964 and based on a true story, Freddy fuses theater, music, dance and video to capture the explosive spirit of a passionate artist and a turbulent era. Marty Dew (Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, Mascot) stars as Fred Herko, a founding member of Judson Dance Theater who was a legendary figure of New York’s avant-garde in the 1960s. Susan Wilder (Still Life at Rogue Machine Theatre) portrays Shelley, whose memories create the framework of the play, while Katie McConaughy (American Idiot at Cupcake Theater) plays her younger self.Mel England (Indie films Best Day Ever and Ron and Laura Take Back America, Swimming with the Polar Bears off-Broadway) takes on the role of dancer, artist and designer James Waring, Herko’s friend and mentor. The cast is rounded out by Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy students Alexandra FiallosJamal HopesTristen KimJackie Mohr, Lamont Oakley, Connor Clark Pascale, Justice Quinn, Savannah RutledgeBrianna Saranchock, Trenton Tabak and Jesse Trout. Frances Loydirects.

Lawlor, who began her career as a dancer, choreographer and actor in New York, was a personal friend of Herko’s.

“I carried around all those memories for a very long time before I finally sat down to write,” she says. “Freddy and I were students of Jimmy Waring together, and we were both involved with the Judson Church, which was at the heart of the downtown dance scene. Freddy was a brilliant talent and good friend to many people. His death shocked us all.”

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Fred Herko, 1964.

Fred Herko (1936-1964) was a central figure in New York’s downtown avant-garde. A musical prodigy, he studied piano at the Juilliard School of Music before switching to ballet at the age of twenty. In 1956 he won a scholarship to study at American Ballet Theatre School and within a few years was dancing with established choreographers including John Butler, Katherine Litz, Buzz Miller, Glen Tetley and James Waring. He was a founding member of Judson Dance Theater, presenting six of his own works in the group’s concerts between 1962 and 1964 and dancing in works by Al Hansen, Deborah Hay, Arlene Rothlein and Elaine Summers. He was a co-founder of the New York Poets Theatre, which staged one-act plays by poets and provided a podium for happenings by Ray Johnson, Allan Kaprow and Robert Whitman; dances by Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown; music by La Monte Young, John Herbert McDowell and Philip Corner; and films by Brian De Palma, Stan VanDerBeek and Andy Warhol. Herko starred in seven of Warhol’s earliest cinematic experiments in 1963, including Jill and Freddy Dancing, Rollerskate/Dance Movie and Salome and Delilah. His untimely death in 1964, at the age of 28, robbed New York’s underground scene of one of its most exuberant and versatile performers who was equally at home performing Comb Music by Fluxus composer George Brecht or camping it up in Rosalyn Drexler’s musical comedy Home Movies.

Freddy was always conceived as an off-site project because it requires a larger performance area than what we can offer at the Fountain,” explains Lawlor’s co-artistic director, Stephen Sachs, who is an alumnus of the LACC Theatre Academy. “In addition to sharing their remarkable facility, this collaboration gives Academy students the opportunity to work with professional actors and designers, and it gives us the chance to mentor young people who will become theater artists of tomorrow.”

The creative team for Freddy includes dance and movement director Cate Caplin, scenic designer Tesshi Nakagowa, lighting designer Derek Jones, sound designer Vern Yonemura, costume designer Jillian Ross and props master Amrit Samra. The production stage manager is Jasmine KalraJames Bennett and Leslie Ferreira produce for the Fountain Theatre and LACC Theatre Academy respectively.

Deborah Lawlor began her career as a dancer, choreographer and actor in New York before moving to South India, where she lived for five years. There, she was involved in the initial development of the international township of Auroville and created two full-length outdoor dance/theater pieces celebrating the community. She spent the next ten years in Australia and France studying ancient cultures of India and Egypt and translating several books in these fields from French into English. Returning to the U.S. in 1986, she became deeply involved in the intimate theater scene and, in 1990, she and Stephen Sachs co-founded the Fountain Theatre. Lawlor is responsible for the Fountain’s extensive dance involvement, including the company’s renowned “Forever Flamenco” series. Other dance projects at the Fountain include The Women of Guernica, Lawlor’s flamenco-based adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women, which she also directed, and three full-evening dance-theater pieces which she created and directed: Declarations: Love Letters of the Great Romantics; The Path of Love, which she also directed in South India; and the dance opera, The Song of Songs, with music by Al Carmines. Actor’s Equity Association honored Lawlor with its Diversity Award for her dedication to presenting work at the Fountain that is culturally diverse.

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Deborah Lawlor and Frances Loy

A British director currently living in Los Angeles, Frances Loy creates text-based, ensemble driven work inspired and ignited by the darker experiences of humanity. She has a strong aesthetic towards up-close and intimate theater that puts the audience in the heart of the world created by the actors, and has particular experience in alternative performance spaces and immersive theatrical experiences. Frances was co-founder and artistic director of Theatre Delicatessen, described by Time Out London as “the leading light of pop-up theatre,” and she is artistic director of Ferment Theatre, whose production of Tonight/Jungle was given a New York Times “Critic’s Pick” by Ben Brantley. Frances also creates content for VR 360 films and is currently in pre-production for her first short film.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric being selected by Center Theatre Group for its inaugural launching of Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre; and grant awards from The Greenberg Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, and a $50,000 gift from Drama-Logue founder Bill Bordy. The Fountain’s most recent production, the world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, ran for five months and was named “L.A. hottest ticket” by the Los Angeles Times.

Established in 1929, the theater training program at Los Angeles City College is one of the oldest and most respected training programs in the country. It has trained countless numbers of students who have gone on to successful careers in the entertainment industry in acting, directing, casting, production, writing, production coordination, design in lighting, sound, costuming and sets, technical production, technical direction, owners and directors of various theater-oriented businesses and organizations, and numerous technical and costuming specializations. Graduates from LACC have won numerous awards, including recipients of the Academy Award, Emmy Award, Tony Award and Bravo Award. Its teaching excellence has been heralded by the Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival, the California Community College Academic Senate, the California Educational Theatre Association, the Los Angeles Community College District, the County of Los Angeles and the City of Los Angeles. Further, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle gave LACC a special award for “maintaining consistently high standard of programming and production.”

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