Category Archives: movies

Veteran TV producer and showrunner Clifton Campbell joins Fountain Theatre Board of Directors

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Clifton Campbell and his wife Kim at the 2017 Academy Awards. 

“The feeling I get sitting in a theatre just before the houselights fade is one that is very personal for me,” admits TV producer and writer Clifton Campbell. “Excitement for what’s about to unfold. The anticipation of bold ideas told through flawed and deeply human characters promising to take me to a richer understanding of a world outside my own. In that moment, I sit wondering not if this play is ready for me; but if I am ready for this play. For the shared human experience you can only get from live theatre.”

It is clear that the Fountain Theatre is ready for Clifton Campbell. The Fountain is pleased and honored to announce that veteran TV producer, showrunner and writer Clifton Campbell has joined the Fountain Theatre Board of Directors. 

“Cliff is passionate about developing a new program to engage parents who have children wanting to be writers,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “He is also committed to building a bridge between the Fountain Theatre and the TV industry. He is eager to guide the forming of new relationships between the Fountain and TV professionals. Cliff is a smart guy with decades of experience as a TV producer, and his heart has never left the theatre. We are thrilled to have him on our Board of Directors.”

Clifton Campbell has enjoyed a career in television spanning more than 30 years. Recently, Clifton was Executive Producer for the TV series Sleepy Hollow.  He was also Executive Producer of White CollarThe GladesProfilerWiseguy, and others. He has partnered with such producers as Steven Spielberg, Stephen J. Cannell, and Michael Mann. 

Clifton was born and raised in Hialeah, Florida. He graduated from Florida State University and moved to Chicago to pursue a career as a playwright.

“The early eighties was an amazing time for theatre in Chicago,” remembers Campbell. “I was witness to ground-breaking new works and game changing productions from companies like Steppenwolf, St. Nicholas, The Goodman, Body Politic, Wisdom Bridge and Victory Gardens, all of whom were leading the charge in a new age of Regional Theatre. The six years I spent in Chicago theatre was the greatest education of my life.”

His work as a playwright caught the eye of producer/director Michael Mann, landing him a writing job on Mann’s TV series Crime StoryClifton‘s writing career took off and escalated to TV producing, but he always remained a theatre guy. He also became a family guy. Clifton and his wife Kim have been married for sixteen years and together have three grown children; Bailey, Jordan and Paige.

“The Fountain Theatre is everything I think of when I remember those incredible days back in Chicago,” says Campbell. “I am proud and excited to be joining its Board of Directors. ” 

Los Angeles shines as a theatre town

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The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood

by Stephen Sachs

Hollywood is heralded around the globe as the mesmerizing “movie capital of the world,” yet more plays are produced each year in Los Angeles than major motion pictures. In fact, Los Angeles has more live theaters and creates more theatre productions per year than any other city in the world. More than New York, Chicago or London. That’s right. Los Angeles. Surprised?

Los Angeles is on the rise. You can feel it. LA is ascending to rightfully take its place as a world city. It is already ranked as one of the world’s most economically powerful cities—a center of business, international trade, entertainment, culture, media, and technology. There are 841 museums and art galleries in the area, over 1,000 performance venues. Hollywood is flourishing, undergoing a multi-billion-dollar renaissance of new commercial, residential and cultural development that is transforming the fabled district. 

Theatre in Los Angeles has never been better. It is diverse, vibrant, first-rate—and everywhere. Stretched across an immense terrain of diverse neighborhoods over 469 square miles, you can experience theatre in Los Angeles in every possible setting. From tiny converted store fronts to festive outdoor stages in city parks to Off-Broadway-style intimate houses on trendy boulevards to grand and glittering show palaces—Los Angeles has it all. 

I’ve been a theatre maker in Los Angeles for more than 30 years. Like so many, I was first an actor, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I transitioned to directing plays in 1987, leaving acting behind and never looking back. While building a career as a stage director, I became intrigued by how theatre companies operated. The business side of making art fascinated me. One day, I volunteered to work temporarily in the office at Ensemble Studio Theatre on Oxford Street in Hollywood. Soon I took over as Theatre Manager. In 1990, I worked with Joan Stein and Suzie Dietz at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills, where we launched a 16-month run of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters starring a parade of famous actors, including Ben Gazarra, Gena Rowlands, Christopher Reeve, Whoopi Goldberg, Charlton Heston, Robert Wagner, Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt, and many more. That same year, I opened the Fountain Theatre with my colleague Deborah Lawlor and embarked on the most meaningful and rewarding journey of my artistic life.

The Fountain Theatre is a charming two-story Spanish-style building on Fountain Avenue in East Hollywood. Originally The Evergreen Stage, it had been a live theatre for more than 60 years. When Deborah and I first walked in and stood on its empty stage, we knew we had found our artistic home. There was something about the place, the cozy atmosphere, how the intimate seating warmly embraced the stage. It felt inviting and electric. We knew magic could happen there. 

The Fountain is now one of a bright constellation of intimate theatres shimmering throughout Los Angeles. This galaxy of small theatres, each singular in their programming, audience and artistic mission, is a construct utterly unique to Los Angeles. There is nothing like it anywhere in the country. LA’s Center Theatre Group, with its Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre, form a theatrical nucleus, yet the more than one hundred intimate theatres across the region swirl around it like spirited electrons, each carrying an electric charge that is fundamental for the survival of LA’s overall cultural organism. In Hollywood, Nederlander’s Pantages Theatre prove nightly that there is a vast audience for live performance. 

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Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles

I’ve seen the intimate theatre community in Los Angeles grow from a cluster of what was then called 99-seat “Equity Waiver” theaters in the 1980s to the vast network of hundreds of intimate theaters today. These theatres weave a rich artistic tapestry that is astounding in its range and variety, matching the cultural, racial and social diversity of this city. Los Angeles is now home to intimate theatres that serve audiences that are Black, Latino, Gay, Straight, Asian, Middle Eastern, LGBT, Deaf, Native American, and everything in between. The content on LA stages is equally wide-ranging. American classics, world premieres of new plays, Shakespeare, Chekhov, musicals, farce, adaptations, the avant garde, immersive pieces, plays staged in the round or in a black box, site specific works performed in empty warehouses, in cars or hotel rooms—an endless menu for every taste. 

hollywood-theatre-row-signLA’s intimate theatres have grown not only in number, they have increased in stature. Top-drawer actors from Broadway, TV and film are routinely seen on LA stages. And while Los Angeles remains an essential destination for acclaimed plays and musicals from New York, London and around the world, LA is now its own vibrant theatre center that creates and develops exciting new work. Much of the most satisfying and challenging new plays are being done in the intimate theaters. Actors long to act in these plays for the same reason we ache to produce them: for the sake of the art. LA’s network of smaller theatres provides a safe, fertile landscape where highly-skilled actors, directors and playwrights can bring new plays to life for audiences that are ever-growing, sophisticated and adventurous. More than 120 plays have transferred from LA’s intimate venues to regional theaters across the United Sates. Such world-class playwrights as Athol Fugard, Tarell McCraney and Robert Schenkkan have launched new plays at our modest home on Fountain Avenue that are now being enjoyed throughout the nation and around the world. 

Even with the staggering amount of high-quality activity on its numerous stages, Tinsel Town fights for the right to be called a “theatre town.” The Hollywood spotlight is blinding. The relationship between the film and television industry and the LA Theatre community is precarious. A forced marriage between two partners who share similar desires yet go about achieving them in vastly different ways and for very different reasons. LA Theatre still struggles to step out from under the shadow of The Industry and stand in its own rightful light. But its blaze is being seen and felt, locally and nationwide, more and more. 

As an artist and a citizen, it has never been a better time to live in Los Angeles. As a haven with invigorating potential and endless possibilities, LA is now peering forward and seeing its future. That vision, as a world city, looks bright. As Los Angeles shines, so does its theatre. And the radiance from our light will illuminate the nation and the world. 

This post originally appeared in Discover Hollywood magazine

What’s it like to walk the red carpet?

oscars-red-carpetHe has strolled down many red carpets in his celebrated career. At the Writers Guild Awards, the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the Venice Film Festival, and the Oscars. He wrote the screenplay for Hacksaw Ridge, nominated Best Picture for this year’s Academy Awards.

The world will be watching the Oscar ceremony this Sunday, and gawk at the parade of celebrities as they strut the red carpet beforehand. What’s it like to march down that crimson pathway with all eyes and cameras tracking your every step? For playwright Robert Schenkkan, author of our upcoming world premiere Building the Wall, the carpet is not always magic. Particularly if you’re a writer.

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Robert Schenkkan at the Venice Film Festival

“The clusterfuck of a red carpet is always where the writer is reminded of his or her place in the food chain, ” admits Schenkkan. “You are absolutely the most important person in the universe, until anybody else steps on the red carpet — then you’re just chopped liver. You can see the heads snap and the cameras snap, and whoever you’re talking to, their eyes are immediately doing the Hollywood over-your-shoulder shuffle. This is something one is used to, but it’s a humbling experience, always.”

Another other-worldly aspect of Award nights are the gifting lounges, where vendors shower talent with free offerings that vary from high-end beauty products to fine wines to elegant clothing to free travel packages at exotic resort islands. For Schenkkan, the touring of gift salons is a strange ritual unto itself.

“You have to make an appointment, and then you’re assigned a guide who walks you through this bizarre bazaar of products and services, ” he explains. “These things are really kind of entertaining in their own way. There’s a whole formality to it. But again, there’s the reminder of where you are in the food chain, particularly as a writer.”

Robert remembers one incident in particular. “Many years ago when I did this, there was a resort island package. I’m a scuba diver, so I’m always interested in that. They have to artfully, discreetly explain that while they would love to gift you with this, actually they have to reserve it for somebody more important than you. It’s a little weird.”

The ups and downs of a Hollywood screenwriter. Thankfully, unlike the film industry, playwrights in the American theatre are held in much higher esteem. And few are held higher than Robert Schenkkan. Which is one of the many reasons why we are so honored to be premiering his newest play at the Fountain Theatre.

Now, Robert, on Opening Night of Building the Wall at the Fountain, don’t expect any fancy gift lounges offering you a scuba diving vacation package on an exotic island resort. But we’re happy to offer you a free snorkel.

Unless, of course, someone more important wants it.

Building the Wall opens March 18 at the Fountain Theatre.

Quotes in this post originally appeared in Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America, West.  

 

 

 

 

 

Fountain actresses are now conquering television and breaking barriers

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Simone Missick, Taraji P. Henson, and Tina Lifford

They are, first and foremost, talented actresses now starring in some of the most popular shows on television. They are strong women conquering an industry dominated by men. They are women of color leading a new wave of diversity now finally being demonstrated on TV screens. And they are all members of the Fountain Family, seen in acclaimed productions on our intimate Fountain stage   

Simone Missick is now taking TV by storm co-starring as Misty Knight on the new Netflix series Marvel’s Luke Cage. She plays the first black female superhero in the history of television. The new series is now being seen in 180 countries.  There is already talk of giving Simone her own series in a Misty Knight spinoff. 

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Simone Missick as Misty Knight in ‘Marvel’s Luke Cage’

Simone’s launch to TV stardom is the stuff of local LA theatre legend. She was catapulted from acting in a play at the intimate Fountain Theatre to co-starring in a new popular television series as an iconic Marvel superhero. It’s the kind of plucking from obscurity to stardom of which most actors dream. 

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Simone Missick in ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

Simone got the call to audition for the series while appearing on stage at the Fountain Theatre in our 2015 hit production of Citizen: An American Lyric. Shuttling back and forth between auditioning for the TV role and performing weekends at the Fountain, she knew it was a longshot. Suffering from a head cold, she flew to New York one final time to audition and test for the part. Sworn to secrecy by TV producers, Simone couldn’t share details with her Fountain cast about the role she was up for. But we knew it was big and important. We all waited. 

Then she got word.    

“I got a call from Jeph Loeb who was the head of Marvel. He kind of just said, ‘Prepare for your life to change,’” says Simone. “And what does that even mean for an actor who’s been working, doing theatre and short films in LA for 10 years? You can just never anticipate when that call is going to come, what it will really be. It was amazing.”

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Tina Lifford

Tina Lifford was also on stage at the Fountain with Simone in the same production of Citizen: An American Lyric. She now co-stars as Violet Bordelon, an aunt to the three estranged Bordelon siblings on OWN’s acclaimed drama Queen Sugar. The new series was  created, directed and executive produced by Ava DuVernay. Oprah Winfrey also serves as executive producer.  

Queen Sugar is groundbreaking. It is produced by a black-owned network and overseen by two black women—one who owns the network (Winfrey) and the other (DuVernay) as showrunner, head writer and director. All of the directors guiding every episode in season one have been women.  

“It’s exciting that we get to represent the excellence that is living in people of color,” says Tina. “The excellence that hasn’t necessarily had a platform before, which is why Ava is championing the whole inclusive movement. She is saying, there’s all of these stories and talents in every face of talent-making to tell those stories, and we’re going to show you who they are. That’s exciting.”

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Taraji P. Henson was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She now stars as Cookie Lyon on the smash hit Fox series Empire, for which she won a Golden Globe Award and has twice been nominated for an Emmy. In 2016, Time magazine named Henson one of the 100 most influential people in the world on the annual Time 100 list.

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Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon on ‘Empire’

Taraji appeared in our Fountain west coast premiere of The Darker Face of the Earth by Rita Dove. She has maintained her connection with the Fountain Family, seeing Fountain productions and visiting with our casts and companies after performances. 

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Taraji P. Henson and the cast of ‘The Ballad of Emmett Till’

The Los Angeles Times has dubbed Diarra Kilpatrick as “a force of nature”. She is not only a dynamic actress. She is a gifted writer and ambitious creator. Her American Koko digital series, originally produced for her YouTube channel, received the Best Web Series Award at the American Black Film Festival and was lauded as a “Web Series You Should Be Watching” by Essence Magazine. ABC’s streaming service ABCd has now acquired American Koko, with Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Viola Davis producing.

“Diarra is an exceptional talent in that she cannot be put in a category,” says Davis. “She has a unique voice that transcends her generation.”

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Diarra Kilpatrick “In the Red and Brown Water”

Diarra starred in the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed and award-winning Los Angeles Premiere of Tarell McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water. Diarra played Oya, a lightning-fast runner, in the stunning and lyrical drama. Since that dazzling production, Diarra has been sprinting ever since.  She is now also developing The Climb for Amazon. She will write and star in the project.   

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Deidrie Henry on ‘Game of Silence’

The list of Fountain actresses goes on. Deidrie Henry has mesmerized audiences in such Fountain productions as Yellowman and Coming Home. She co-starred as Detective Liz Winters on the NBC TV series Game of Silence and is the national TV commercial character Annie for Popeyes.  Monnae Michaell (Citizen: An American Lyric) plays Nina on the new TV series The Good Place. Tonya Pinkins (And Her Hair Went With Her) is Ethel Peabody on the television show Gotham. Tinashe Kajese will be seen in the upcoming TV movie The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Fountain veterans Tracie Thoms, Karen Malina White, Juanita Jennings, Adenrele Ojo are seen often on TV. 

“I’m always thrilled to see one of our actors, any actor, male or female, succeed in the film and TV industry,” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “But to see these extraordinary women achieve these accomplishments and create change, knowing that they come from our Fountain Family, makes me even more delighted and proud.” 

James Dean: The passing of an actor, a landmark, and time

James Dean with Silver Porsche

James Dean fills the tank one last time. Sept 30, 1955.

by Stephen Sachs

It is one of the most historic gas stations in Los Angeles. Seen by millions across the globe in an iconic photograph of a Hollywood legend. The destination for fans and followers worldwide as if on pilgrimages to a religious site. And it has now been torn down.

The gas station at the corner of Beverly Glen and Ventura Blvd in Sherman Oaks, where James Dean filled up the tank of his new Porsche 550 Spyder for the last time and then drove into immortality, has been demolished. One of the last remaining locations connected to Dean’s final day is gone.

If you’re a Dean fan, the gas station and the famous photograph snapped the final morning of his life are well known.

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Casa de Petrol, 1961

Originally named “Casa de Petrol,” the gas station opened in 1948 as an adjunct to the landmark Casa de Cadillac dealership next door. At the time, the intersection on Ventura Blvd was known as “Casa Corner,” and included a Casa burger stand and a “Casa de Cascade” car wash. Only the dealership remains and is still in service.

Sixty-one years ago, on the morning of Friday, September 30, 1955, James Dean woke and had coffee. He was living in a log cabin-styled rented house on Sutton Street in Sherman Oaks a few blocks behind the La Reina Theatre, not far from the gas station. He had recently completed filming on “Giant” and was taking his new Porsche Spyder to Salinas for the car races that weekend. Mechanic Rolf Wütherich, stunt man friend Bill Hickman, and photographer Sanford Roth would go with him.

The group met that morning at Competition Motors in Hollywood, on Vine Street near Fountain Avenue, to give the Spyder one final check. Dean’s father and uncle arrived at the shop for a visit. While the Porsche was being serviced and prepped for the race, the group walked across the street to the Hollywood Ranch Market for doughnuts and coffee.

The car was ready around 1:30 p.m. Dean slung himself into the driver seat of the Spyder, now dubbed “Little Bastard.” Wütherich dropped into the passenger seat. They pulled out of Competition Motors and turned northbound up Vine Street, Hickman and Roth following behind in a Ford station wagon. To get to Route 99 (now the I-5), the group headed west down Ventura Blvd.

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Rolf Wutherich and Dean leave Competition Motors, Sept 30, 1955.

Dean needed to fill up the gas tank for the 345-mile drive to Salinas. He pulled into the gas station on Ventura at Beverly Glen, near his house, at approximately 2 p.m. He hoisted himself out of the Porsche to gas up the tank. Wütherich hopped out, grabbed Dean’s camera and snapped a now-famous photo of Dean standing at the service island.

At approximately 2:15 p.m. Dean climbed back into the Porsche. He gunned the engine, with Wütherich beside him, and turned right on Ventura, then right on Sepulveda Blvd. on their way to Route 99 North and over the “Grapevine.” Around 5 p.m, they stopped at Blackwell’s Corner, a roadside café and gas stop in Lost Hills, to top off the tank, stretch their legs and grab a snack before heading on to Salinas. But Dean would never make it.

Dean was killed near Paso Robles at approximately 5:45 p.m, at the junction of Route 466 (now 46) and Route 41, when a 23 year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed, driving a black-and-white 1950 Ford Tudor, crossed into the highway intersection and slammed into Dean’s Porsche. Turnupseed and Wütherich survived the crash. Dean became a legend. He was only 24 years old.

Many years before launching the Fountain Theatre, I was an actor. I became a Dean fan as an acting student at Los Angeles City College. Like generations of young actors before me, I was galvanized by James Dean. I was riveted by his films and read many books about him, studying the brooding photographs. I was thunderstruck. Not only by his raw, hypnotic acting. By him. His charismatic look, his outsider persona, the way he embodied an ache of loneliness twisted with a tormented, artistic intensity. He was cool.

When you’re a passionate college acting student in your 20s, still figuring out who you are, Dean was the guardian angel of the troubled, misunderstood young man. Like millions of young male actors, he was “me.” Or who I wished I was. I analyzed his acting, his posture, his walk, his manner. Researching his troubled life, he seemed like a vulnerable wounded man/child, perpetually reaching for something just out of grasp. The way he died sealed it. So young, so talented, so cool, enigmatic and beautiful. The low-slung sleek silver Porsche shooting down the dry, barren highway toward the sun. The metal shards and shattered glass exploding like a bursting star.

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Dean and Wutherich, Sept 30, 1955.

After ten years, I stopped acting. I began writing and directing plays. Running theatre companies in Los Angeles. I launched the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood in 1990. Married, became a father. Moved to the San Fernando Valley. No longer a young actor. I was soon a middle-aged husband and a dad with two sons. But I was still a Dean fan.

After dropping one son off at school at Sherman Oaks Elementary on Greenleaf Street, I would sometimes drive one block over to Sutton Street and stare at Dean’s last home address. The house he rented there is gone, burned in a fire many years ago. A new modern home now hides behind a metal gate to keep onlookers out. But the tree-lined street looks much the same. It’s easy to imagine Dean stepping out that bright morning on the last day of September, on what would be his final day.

Many years have passed. My sons and I have gotten older. The gas station where James Dean fueled up for his final ride became a flower shop in the 1980’s. But they kept the original building intact. The service bays, filling pump islands, classic awning — all still there. Over the years, running errands with my wife and kids — chatting over play dates and summer camps and which detergent to buy at the grocery store — we would happen to drive by the old gas station in our family car. Silently, secretly, I’d shoot a glance at the empty service bay island and see Dean and the Porsche, filling up one last time.

Then, last week, came a shocking surprise. After dropping off my older son for an appointment, I drove by the old gas station. I couldn’t see it. It was hidden, encased by heavy green construction fencing and iron scaffolding. Tractors, haulers and earth movers standing ready.

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I frantically parked my blue Honda on Moorpark Street and dashed to the site. Found a gate in the fence and pushed in. The old gas station stood in front of me like a haunted abandoned relic surrounded by dirt, a large pile of rubble nearby. Two construction workers, wearing hardhats and work gloves, stood near their equipment. I rushed quickly to them.

“Do you mind if I have a look?” I asked. “I won’t get in the way. You see, this is kind of an important place -“

“James Dean.” The husky guy on the left, construction manager Doug Thane, smiled. I was clearly not the first fan to appear at the site since demolition began. There had been others.

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Listerman and Curtis

“I didn’t know anything about it, ” admitted Thane. “And then people started showing up. Taking pictures. Wanting things. Some lady took a piece of pipe.”

Thane’s wiry co-worker, Curtis Listerman, squinted into the midday sun. “James Dean was cool, man,” he nodded, running his hand over his balding head. “I look just like him.”

“What’s this place going to be after they tear it down?” I wanted to know. “What will go up in its place?”

“I don’t know,” Thane shrugged. He then pointed across the street. “I think a strip mall. Like that.”

“Folks are saying they should make it a museum or something to James Dean,” chuckled Listerman, wiping the dust from his mouth.

Another construction worker, Dave Wiesing, stepped up. Wiesing was a bit older. He confessed he was also a Dean fan. He knew what the fuss was about. Several times, he and his wife had taken part in the annual James Dean Final Drive, a yearly event on September 30th that draws hundreds of people from all over the world to trace Dean’s route from the site of Competition Motors in Hollywood to the fatal intersection in Cholame.

“Is it okay if I have a look around?” I asked. “Before it’s all gone?”

As construction manager, it was Thane’s call. He peered at me and grinned. “Go ahead.”

The small glass-paned office was long empty with graffiti sprayed across its walls. On the front door of the old office, someone had spray-painted the letter “J” and a heart. A message to Dean and the world.

I walked over to the service island and stood in the exact spot where Dean fueled up his Porsche nearly sixty-one years ago. Much was still there, as it was. The metal columns supporting the tin decorative awning, the cement pedestal that held the three red Mobil gas pumps. The pumps themselves were long gone but the footprints were still visible in the cement.

Standing there was like stepping into the famous photo snapped by Wütherich that fateful day so long ago. Everything looked liked it did. Except now a yellow tractor was parked where Dean’s Spyder once stood.

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“You want to take something?” Thane offered cheerfully.

“Can I? Really?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said. “What do you want?”

I glanced around. There was nothing in the huge pile of rubble that seemed connected to Dean in any way. And what was still there from the photograph — the columns, awning — were impractical to take. Then it hit me.

“Do you have a sledge hammer?” I asked Thane. He nodded. I beckoned. “Follow me.”

I lead Thane and his sledge hammer over to the service island cement pedestal where Dean had fueled his car. The cement was still untouched. Unharmed. Intact. As it was when Dean was here.

“That,” I pointed. “I want a piece of that.” I chose the exact spot of the cement service island pedestal where the Porsche had been parked decades ago, where Dean stood. “There. Right there.”

Thane hoisted the hammer. Raised it above his head. And with a loud grunt and a glisten in the sun, the sledge hammer swung down and — for the first time in sixty-one years — broke off a large chunk of history.

I held the heavy piece of cement like a holy artifact. A smaller chip broke off in my hand. I examined it up close. Like it was going to tell me something. What am I going to do with it? I don’t know. But I knew I had to have it. I guess it’s kind of like the people who chisel a chip off his tombstone. They want to hold a piece of something — anything — that will make them feel that way again.

My older son is now twenty-four, the same age as Dean. And the twenty-four year old actor I once was, so long ago, is a memory. What we once were is no more.

The house Dean rented on Sutton Street is gone. Competition Motors on Vine Street is gone. The Hollywood Ranch Market is gone. Even the original highway intersection where the crash occurred in 1955 is not there. It was moved. The highway was realigned decades ago. The crash site now sits in a grass field.

But the gas station had remained. Still standing. Until now.

Instead of a Porsche Spyder, I stroll back to my Honda. I get in. Drop the heavy chunk of cement in the back. The smaller chip I gently place in the cup holder between the front seats. A piece of Jimmy beside me.

Everything changes, including ourselves. Like old buildings torn down. What remains, we hold on to. Like the chip of cement I now keep in my car.

A talisman of James Dean and the young man I once was.

I turn the ignition of my Honda. Start the car. Rev the engine, good and loud, just to show I still can. Shift the gear into drive. Point my car toward the sun. And the afternoon horizon.

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Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre. This post originally appeared in LA Observed.  

An actress embraces ghosts in this old Southern mansion in a weekend she’ll never forget

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The Burrus ‘Baby Doll’ House today.

In July, actress Lindsay LaVanchy was in the thick of rehearsals at the Fountain Theatre in the lead role of Baby Doll in our west coast premiere when she got a phone call from her agent. Lindsay had booked a guest starring role on the MTV series Scream. It shoots in New Orleans. She would have to leave right away for two weeks.

As the Fountain Theatre scrambled to adjust its rehearsal and production schedule, Lindsay flew to New Orleans. Once there and on the set working, another opportunity suddenly opened for her. She would have a three-day weekend over 4th of July, permitting her time to rent a car and drive the 5.5 hours to Benoit, Mississippi, and stay in the actual Southern mansion where the original 1956 Baby Doll movie was filmed, directed by Elia Kazan and starring Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach and Karl Malden.  

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Eliza Kazan directing Baby Doll (1956) in the Burrus house.

The historic Burrus ‘Baby Doll’ house is now owned by Eustace Winn, who visited the Fountain earlier this month  in August and was thrilled seeing our production.

Grabbing her chance to experience a weekend stay at the Baby Doll house, Lindsay hopped in her rented car on Saturday, July 2nd, and drove from the Scream location in New Orleans to Benoit, Mississippi. There was no question in her mind that she would make the trip.     

“It’s very important to me to know the reality of a character, that soul, as fully as possible,” she says. “So when I had the opportunity, a 3 day window … I had to go.”

Why?

“I knew Baby Doll would not be as realized as she could be if I did not remind myself what it was like to be in that kind of heat, that kind of quiet, smelling those smells, watching the sun come up and go down, every moment swatting away mosquitos, the eeriness of being in a big home alone with neighbors not in earshot, uncomfortably hot nights, a sky full of stars, cotton floating in the air, the kindest people, and how badly one desires a cool drink of water – almost as much as one desires company after spending hours and hours alone in the quiet and the heat.”

It was dusk, the twilight sky getting dark, when Lindsay pulled up to the Baby Doll house in Benoit.  

LV photo of Baby Doll house July 2016

Lindsay’s photo of the Baby Doll house.

“Driving up to this great Antebellum home at dusk was mystical. Not just because of the artistic connection, but the history this home has seen was palpable. I felt like an outsider that was being called by a siren. Like every step I took could awake a ghost. That both excited and terrified me. I felt uncertain about what the two days on the property wandering around — and sleeping in the actual Baby Doll room alone in the house — would bring up for me in terms of discoveries about the character. However, I had a feeling that if I kept quiet, alert, and open I would be shown what I needed to know. And I was.” 

She admits feeling thrilled and awestruck standing in the house that was part of film history. “From an actor’s standpoint, an actor who loves Williams and Kazan and that golden age of theatre and the shocking cinema that they created … I was geeking out.”

The place resurrected not only the lives of fictional characters on film.

BABY DOLL mirror bed

Lindsay LaVanchy

“I also felt the ghosts of real people there, too,” said Lindsay. “My grandmother as a little girl was sent away from her family for a few years to a farm of her French-speaking older relatives and I know that had a major affect on her. So being in a place like that (the majority of the time alone) and experiencing that loneliness that causes one to spend so much time in their imagination and creating a world in your head that keeps you company was … real. And this is the reality that Tennessee knew and drew his characters from.”

Staying in the South again, even for a short time, brought home the play’s relevance for Lindsay in other ways.

“I also was in Louisiana when Alton Sterling was shot,” she says. “And then, only a few days later, I was actually in Baton Rouge. I had several shocking experiences that occurred that were so clearly derived from the sadness and frustration of that horrific event – and the centuries of horrific events.  I was saddened and ashamed and embarrassed and angry, physically and emotionally, by the lack of change between years ago and the present time.  And that immediately reminded me that stories which come from this part of our country need to be shared. These regions, the ones where Tennessee sets all of his plays, are a major artery to the heart and soul of this nation. And we only gaze toward these areas and their people when it becomes national news. It’s a forgotten world. And this is fatal to our country for many obvious reasons.”

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Lindsay LaVanchy and John Prosky in Baby Doll at the Fountain Theatre

As an actor, an artist, the work — and its purpose — go deeper.

“It’s not about performing,” says Lindsay. “It’s not about me, it’s not about the playhouse. This play and these characters and these issues are history. It’s an educational opportunity, a calling card that hopefully stirs up something inside at least one person each night. At least that’s what I think great artistic ventures should do: start a conversation, stir up the emotional life within, cause a quest for something bigger than oneself, be a north star to the leaders who enable change, and give a nugget of purpose and comfort to the wanderers. Whether an artist accomplishes this kind of truth-giving each night or not, we can only hope and attempt. But it’s a solid foundation to work from. “

And did the weekend at the Baby Doll house help contribute some stepping stones to build that foundation?

“I only wish I could have stayed a month,” she sighs. “It was truly a special time for me, and I cannot wait to go back.”

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