Tag Archives: actress

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.”

Students from Michigan State University enjoy ‘Baby Doll’ performance and Q&A

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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. 

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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. 

NEW VIDEO: Actress Karen Kondazian compares ‘Baby Doll’ to other plays by Tennessee Williams

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New dates for West Coast Premiere of ‘Baby Doll’ at Fountain Theatre

BABY DOLL image finalWith 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.

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VIDEO: ‘Baby Doll’ Actress Karen Kondazian shares Tennessee Williams’ eye glasses

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Tennessee Williams and Karen Kondazian, The Rose Tattoo, Beverly Hills Playhouse, 1979.

Fountain actress Karen Kondazian has not only had the artistically rewarding experience of starring in several plays by Tennessee Williams over the years, she had the honor of knowing the great playwright personally. And she holds more than unforgettable memories of the legendary writer. She also treasures one of his personal belongings.

Kondazian appears in our upcoming West Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll, directed by Simon Levy. At the first rehearsal last week, Karen shared a small black box with the company that held a remarkable momento: Tennessee Williams’ eye glasses.

Here is Karen sharing the story with you:

Baby Doll July 16 – August 28 (323) 663-1525 MORE INFO/GET TICKETS

NOW CASTING: West Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ ‘Baby Doll’ at Fountain Theatre

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The Fountain Theatre is now casting the West Coast Premiere of a new stage adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll, adapted by Pierre LaVille and Emily Mann from Williams’ screenplay. Not yet seen in Los Angeles, Baby Doll premiered at McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ, 2015. The upcoming Fountain production will open July 16, directed by Simon Levy.

Producers – Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor
Director – Simon Levy
Stage Adaptation – Pierre LaVille and Emily Mann, based on Tennessee Williams’ screenplay
Casting – James Bennett
Previews 7/13-7/15
Opens: 7/16
Runs: Friday-Monday thru 8/28
Casting Director: James Bennett
Interview Dates: April 18-20, 2016
Callback Dates: April 23, 2016
Start Date: May 30, 2016
Pay Rate: AEA 99-Seat Code, $200 rehearsal stipend, plus $25.00/performance

STORY: 1950s, Mississippi. Dilapidated plantation mansion. Comedy/Drama. 19-year-old married virgin, “Baby Doll” Meighan, must consummate her marriage the next day on her 20th birthday, as long as her middle-aged husband, Archie Lee Meighan, upholds his end of the bargain: to provide her with a comfortable life. But Archie Lee is having a lot of problems, with his finances, his wife, and his cotton gin business. After Archie Lee spitefully burns down his neighbor’s gin to save his failing business, his rival, Silva Vacarro, arrives to seek revenge. There he meets Baby Doll, who becomes instrumental in his erotic form of Sicilian revenge. What ensues is a complex mix of desire and desperation, with Baby Doll as both player and pawn. Williams’ unconventional depiction of gender roles, adultery, and female sexuality is as steamy today as it was in the 1950s.

SEEKING:

[“BABY DOLL” MEIGHAN]– LEAD – female,open ethnicity, able to play 19; Southern; wife of Archie Lee; she’s a fascinating contradiction: childlike; still sleeps in a crib; innately sexy and seductive, but still a virgin; charismatic; turns heads wherever she goes; naïve but also coy; uneducated but smarter than she seems.

[ARCHIE LEE MEIGHAN]– LEAD – male, ethnicity, 40s-50s; Southern; owner of failing cotton gin; unshaven, dirty; often comically baffled by Baby Doll and life in general; easily overwhelmed; a closet alcoholic, which can make him abusive; a product of deep-seated Southern prejudices; desperate to be a success and impress Baby Doll and consummate the marriage.

[SILVA VACARRO] – LEAD – male, ethnicity, 30s; Sicilian immigrant who’s lived in the South for a while; successful owner of rival cotton gin; dark, the “foreigner”; attractive, sexy; enjoys toying with Baby Doll and Archie Lee; he doesn’t like to lose.

Submissions accepted via Breakdown Services and Actors Access

Or email headshot & resume to: casting@fountaintheatre.com  

Diarra Kilpatrick is a natural as a force of nature

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Diarra Kilpatrick

The actress has been called ‘superb’ in her role in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s ‘In the Red and Brown Water,’ a play that exists in two conceptual dimensions.

by Reed Johnson

Before Diarra Kilpatrick was cast in August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson,” at age 12, she already knew what she wanted to do with her life: anything but acting.

So when her hometown Detroit newspaper interviewed her about the production at a suburban theater, Kilpatrick told the reporter she wanted to be a lawyer or maybe the president of a public relations firm. But definitely not “a struggling actor,” she said.

Recounting that anecdote recently at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, where she’s playing the lead role in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s mytho-poetic drama “In the Red and Brown Water,” Kilpatrick laughed at the memory of her precocious pre-adolescent self.

Because by the time the article went to press, Kilpatrick knew what she absolutely had to do with her life: Be an actor.

“It was the quality of the actors that I got a chance to work with and see them up close,” she said, explaining her overnight career conversion during “The Piano Lesson.” “And the production, the material — it was August Wilson.”

Startling transformations are the stuff of theatrical magic, and they’re central to McCraney’s play, which opened at the Fountain in October and has been extended through Feb. 24. “In the Red and Brown Water” is the first of McCraney’s trilogy “The Brother/Sister Plays,” produced off-Broadway at the Public Theater in 2009.

Set during the “distant present” at a mythical housing project in a make-believe Louisiana bayou town, “In the Red and Brown Water” exists simultaneously in two conceptual dimensions.

There’s the 21st century world of Oya (Kilpatrick), a high school track star torn between her college ambitions and the need to care for her ailing Mama Mojo (Peggy A. Blow) and between her affection for the stammering, sweetly devoted Ogun (Dorian Christian Baucum) and the dangerous erotic heat she feels whenever Shango (Gilbert Glenn Brown) comes around her door.

Diarra Kilpatrick and Gilbert Glenn brown in "In the Red and Brown Water"

Diarra Kilpatrick and Gilbert Glenn Brown in “In the Red and Brown Water”

But in another dimension — parallel, yet inseparable — the play is a spiritual struggle that draws on the stories, cosmologies and archetypal gods of the Yoruba people of West Africa, whose legends were transported by slaves to the New World. Virtually all of the play’s 10 characters are named for traditional Yoruba orishas, or spirits: Elegba, the shape-shifting trickster; Shango, god of fire and lightning; Ogun, the deity of iron-working and war.

And Oya, goddess of the Niger River, wind, storms and, as Kilpatrick puts it, “revolutionary transformation.”

“It’s not like ‘Let’s redecorate the house,’ it’s like ‘Let’s tear this [stuff] down! Let’s knock the walls out!'” Kilpatrick explained. “So when Oya comes into your life, people fear her because it means your life is about to change.”

For Kilpatrick, the task was to simultaneously, plausibly portray Oya as a contemporary young woman as well as a force of nature. “This is a girl who listens to Nicki Minaj and Rihanna,” Kilpatrick said. “This is the texture of right now. But yeah, we also carry in our DNA these stories from hundreds and hundreds of years ago.”

In his review, Times theater critic Charles McNulty praised the Fountain’s production, directed by Shirley Jo Finney, as “sensational” and Kilpatrick as “superb.”

Growing up in Detroit, Kilpatrick was taken regularly by her mother to plays, art exhibitions and other cultural events. “Let me just say, if there was a play that was done in Detroit I probably saw it, particularly if it was a black play, and let’s say 95% of them are black plays in Detroit.”

Between ages 12 and 16, Kilpatrick took part in Detroit’s Mosaic Youth Theatre, one of the country’s most accomplished youth theater programs. She also acted at her private college prep school, Detroit Country Day, before moving to the theater program at New York University, where she performed in plays like Suzan-Lori Parks’ “In the Blood” and Stephen Adly Guirgis,’ “Our Lady of 121st Street.”

“I was one of the only black girls who had made it that far who could cuss and make it sound real,” Kilpatrick said, laughing. NYU instructors strongly encouraged her to lose the vestigial Southern accent she’d picked up from her South Carolina-migrant forebears.

Given the realities of casting for African American actors, Kilpatrick said, it’s important to be able to switch accents and speech styles depending on the role. “You don’t want the private school to eat up all the richness of … your flavor. Because no matter what that flavor is, that’s going to be your calling card at the end of the day.”

Kilpatrick came to Los Angeles in 2007. She has appeared in the Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble’s version of “Three Sisters,” set in Trinidad, and a half-black, half-Mexican transgender male in the Bootleg Theater’s production of Gary Lennon’s “The Interlopers” last year, among other roles.

But getting to play a role like Oya “is a blessing,” especially with this cast and “Shirley Jo at the helm,” she said.

“There aren’t parts like this for black women very often. It’s like Hamlet, it’s like King Lear, it’s Medea. It’s an opportunity to really go in there.”

In the Red and Brown Water  Extended to Feb 24  (323) 663-1525 More