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The year is almost over . One thing 2016 made clear is the diversity of our country. Different cultures, communities, points of view. And a great need to understand, respect and connect with each other.
We believe theatre serves a critical role in creating empathy and deepening understanding between people. We believe that by telling personal, human stories that dramatize lives from different communities, we stop seeing those cultures as “the other”. There is no “other”. There is only ourselves. Together.
Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray are two fabulous actors and members of our Fountain family. You’ve seen them both on TV, in film, and on our stage. You were dazzled by Troy’s lead performance in our Sign Language/English world premiere of Cyrano. And before achieving the ground-breaking lead role in her own TV series, Deanne earned her first professional stage acting job at the Fountain Theatre twenty-five years ago. They now have an eager message to share with you. Take a look and enjoy!
Veteran actors Jenny O’Hara (Transparent and The Mindy Project) and Nick Ullett (As the World Turns, The Big Bang Theory) are the kind of real-life married couple with whom you just love being with and hang around. They are smart, funny and finish each other’s sentences and punch lines like a longtime comedy team. They are also passionate and dedicated artists, committed to creating work that is important and excellent. Which is why the Fountain Theatre is their theater home in Los Angeles.
Nick and Jenny are currently on stage at the Fountain starring in our revival of the smash hit comedy/drama Bakersfield Mist. The acclaimed production is Critic’s Choice in the LA Times and has been extended by popular demand to January 30th.
Take a look at this personal message to you from Jenny and Nick. You’ll see why we love them like we do, and you’ll understand why supporting the Fountain Theatre matters.
Our home is your home.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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.”
Michigan State students with cast on ‘Baby Doll’ set.
by James Bennett
Monday night, we were granted the opportunity to host teacher Mark Colson and his fabulous group of intrepid theatre students from Michigan State University, who after a breathtaking performance of our critically acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll engaged in an inquisitive, inspiring, and heartfelt talkback with our amazing cast and director Simon Levy.
Director Simon Levy fielded a very good question: What’s the audition process like? Did you know we had over 600 submissions for the titular role of Baby Doll?
Actor John Prosky spoke about his artistic journey in manifesting the unchained, violent, and maddened Archie Lee, a character so far from his natural state he didn’t think he’d ever get the part. But when he came into the room to audition with Lindsay LaVanchy, something magic happened which brought the character to life.
The incredible Lindsay LaVanchy talked about her process of finding Baby Doll inside her. She spoke about how she had to open herself to being childlike, a quest she had undertaken many years ago but was unable to complete until preparing for this role. A typically reserved and precise woman, it took the innocence of Baby Doll to “crack her open”.
It is one of our greatest pleasures to share with and mentor the next generation of great theatre artists. What an incredible night!
This event was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making theatre accessible to students and young people.
With lead actress Lindsay LaVanchy currently in New Orleans shooting an episode of Scream: The TV Series for MTV, the Fountain Theatre has announced a revised running schedule for the West Coast premiere of Baby Doll, adapted by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann from the 1956 Academy Award-nominated film by Tennessee Williams. The new opening date will be July 29, and performances will continue through Sept. 25.
Darkly comic and crackling with sexual tension, this enthralling tale of prejudice, sexual politics and passion is the first-ever Williams Estate-approved stage adaptation of the Williams screenplay. Nineteen-year-old married virgin “Baby Doll” Meighan (LaVanchy) must consummate her marriage in two days, on her 20th birthday — as long as her middle-aged husband, Archie Lee, upholds his end of the bargain to provide her with a comfortable life. When Archie Lee burns down his neighbor’s cotton gin to save his failing business, his rival, Sicilian immigrant Silva Vacarro, arrives to seek revenge. What ensues is a complex mix of desire and desperation, with Baby Doll as both player and pawn.
In addition to LaVanchy, Baby Doll stars Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, John Prosky and George Roland. It is directed by Simon Levy.