Category Archives: artist

Playwright Lauren Gunderson offers theatre as an antidote to social media

I AND YOU star faces

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 director Shirley Jo Finney awarded SDC Denham Fellowship for ‘Runaway Home’

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Shirley Jo Finney

The Fountain Theatre is proud to announce that the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF), the not-for-profit foundation of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), has selected Director Shirley Jo Finney as SDCF’s 2017 Denham Fellow for her production of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps. Runaway Home made its world premiere at The Fountain Theatre and runs to November 5th. 

The Denham Fellowship was established by Mary Orr Denham in 2006 with a bequest to SDCF in honor of her late husband, Reginald H. F. Denham. It is an annual cash award given to women directors to further develop their directing skills, and supports a particular proposed project. Past recipients include May Adrales, Tea Alagic, Rachel Alderman, Kathleen Amshoff, Jessi D. Hill, Joanie Schultz, Bridget Leak, Hannah Ryan, and Diane Rodriguez.

“I love this place because it does important work, ” Finney stated about the Fountain Theatre and Runaway Home. “I love when a piece of work is being presented and the audience can’t get out of their seats. Because they have not experienced a play. They have experienced a life.”

Denham Fellow Shirley Jo Finney is an award-winning international director and actress. She has worn her director’s hat in some of the most respected regional theater houses across the country including: The McCarter Theater, The Pasadena Playhouse, The Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, Fountain Theater, LA Theater Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival, Sundance Theater Workshop, Mark Taper Forum, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa. Ms. Finney has received many prestigious awards over the years for her special talent and eye for storytelling and for creating exciting ensembles. Her awards include the L.A. Stage Alliance Ovation Award, The Los Angeles Drama Critics Award, LA Weekly Award, The NAACP Award, and the Santa Barbara Independent Award for her directing work. Finney helmed the acclaimed international all South African Opera entitled Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. Most recently, Ms. Finney directed and developed the critically acclaimed world premiere of Citizen: An American Lyric by the award-winning PENN poet, Claudia Rankin. Other recent works include Facing Our Truth, The Trayvon Martin Project at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles, the Lark Play Development Center’s rolling world premiere of the road weeps, the well runs dry by Marcus Gardley at the Los Angeles Theater Center, and Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Brother/Sister Plays.

“Shirley Jo has been a cherished member of our Fountain Family for many years,” says Stephen Sachs, Co-Artistic Director. “We are thrilled and proud that the SDC Foundation has honored her excellence.”

Runaway Home now playing to Nov 5th.

Dionna Michelle Daniel joins Fountain Theatre to plant seeds for social change

Dionna Michelle Daniel

Dionna Michelle Daniel

Greetings! I am Dionna Michelle Daniel and I am excited to announce that I have joined The Fountain Theatre as the new Outreach Coordinator. At The Fountain, I will be focusing on educational programming and community engagement.

In May, I graduated from the California Institute of the Arts with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting and a minor in Creative Writing. I am coming to the Fountain after a month-long run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival of my new play Gunshot MedleyGunshot Medley stretches across the Antebellum American south through present day to weave a rich history of the Black-American experience, blending poetry and song to respond to the historical expendability of Black bodies and the lives lost to hatred, racism, and police brutality. At the Fringe it received four 5 out of 5 star reviews and ultimately became a crowd favorite.

While at The Fountain, I will also be working as a youth instructor teaching creative writing at the Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory through CAP. Building a nurturing community for young artists and educating students is one of my personal missions, so I am excited to embark on helping expand The Fountain’s educational program, Theatre as a Learning Tool.

Theater that is rooted in social activism has always been a passion of mine. I believe that art, especially live performance, has the potential to dramatically change hearts and minds. Theater has the ability to plant the seeds of empathy, inquiry, and discussion. From those seeds, real social change begins.

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.

Deb Gerard

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

More Info/Get Tickets

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

FREDDY company

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