Tag Archives: arts

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

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.

Fountain Theatre awarded $15,000 grant from The Shubert Foundation

Shubert Theatre

The Shubert Theatre, New York.

The Fountain Theatre has been awarded a 2017 grant in the amount of $15,000 from The Shubert Foundation to support the general operating of the organization.  The Shubert Foundation provides grants only to organizations that have an established artistic and administrative track record, as well as a history of fiscal responsibility.

The award marks the second year in a row that the Fountain Theatre has received support from the Shubert Fountain. This year the award amount was increased.

“This grant is a substantial award from a foundation whose mission is to lend support to theatres of varying sizes across the country,” notes Barbara Goodhill, Fountain Director of Development. “This is another step up forward in a year of growth for The Fountain.”

Barbara Goodhill at Fountain desk

Barbara Goodhill

Theatres are evaluated individually and with appropriate allowance for size and resources. The standard for awarding these grants is based on an assessment of each organization’s operation and its contribution to the field. Artistic achievement, administrative strength and fiscal stability are factored into each evaluation, as is the company’s development of new work and other significant contributions to the field of professional theatre in the US.

The Shubert Foundation, Inc. is dedicated to sustaining and advancing the live performing arts in the United States, with a particular emphasis on theatre. The Foundation’s Board of Directors believes that the most effective way to encourage the artistic process is by providing the general operating support that reinforces the structure that nurtures its development. Accordingly, The Foundation does not earmark its awards; all allocations are unrestricted.

The Shubert Foundation, Inc. was established in 1945 by Lee and J.J. Shubert in memory of their brother Sam, and is the sole shareholder of The Shubert Organization, Inc., which currently owns/operates 21 theatres: 17 on Broadway, one Off-Broadway theatre (The Little Shubert), and one each in Boston and Philadelphia. The Shubert Archive, a working repository of more than 10 million theatrical documents and related items, operates under the aegis of The Shubert Foundation.

“We sincerely thank the Shubert Foundation for its ongoing support,” said Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “The Shubert name is synonymous with excellence in the American Theatre.  It’s an honor for us to be recognized by one of the most highly respected foundations and organizations in our field. “

The Artist’s Life: How to keep going when the answer is “no”

rejection
by Brent Eickhoff

Rejection is a part of life, just as much as it is a part of theatre. In a world where so many of us must market ourselves and are personally invested in our work, rejection can sting even more. Geraldine Downey, PhD, whose research centers on rejection, explains in an article for the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that rejection is synonymous with the feelings of not being wanted or valued. Especially in a community-driven medium such as theatre, these feelings of ostracization and denial can be detrimental to an artist’s outlook on the work. Despite theatre’s vast subjectivity, and the myriad reasons anyone may miss out on an opportunity, the person we blame the most in the face of rejection is our self. Guy Winch, PhD, a frequent blogger for Huffington Post, contends that in many cases, “we start with this high volume of negative self-talk and criticism that takes the rejection to another level.” Unfortunately, competition, criticism, and casting decisions will always be an element of making theatre.

In his book Emotional First Aid, Winch offers up several ways of understanding rejection. He claims that, as an emotion, rejection quickly clouds all reason and will even supersede logic in the most dire of circumstances. Winch details an experiment in which participants were randomly excluded from a computerized program and were unable to ease their pain, even when the scientists provided a host of reasons why each test subject had been excluded. The scientists explained that nobody had legitimately excluded participants, and the results were, in fact, rigged, but subjects were still upset and emotional for being rejected. Even when the scientists told a group that the group responsible for excluding them was comprised of members of the Ku Klux Klan, individuals were still hurt. Winch concludes “reason, logic, and common sense are usually ineffective when it comes to mitigating the pain we feel.” Clearly, rejection is a powerful emotion. These findings explain why even armed with the knowledge that a casting decision was completely subjective, an actor may still struggle to come to terms with the loss of a role.

Another element of rejection is the concept of “rejection sensitivity.” In a nutshell, this idea addresses an individual’s inclination to expect or overreact to rejection. While this principle primarily applies to social rejection, theatre is, in its essence, a social art form. From being “accepted” into the cast or production team, to finding your artistic home in a new city, or gaining favorable reviews from an audience or critics, theatre is arguably more communal than more individualized artistic practices. Rejection sensitivity can be particularly detrimental to actors expecting the worst from auditions. As Shurtleff explains in a later chapter in Audition, persistence and discipline may be the key factor in an actor’s success. He even goes so far as to explicitly state that an actor can fail because “they are victimized by their limitations and prejudices” or are “ruled by their negative side.” Both of these traits are inherent in someone with high rejection sensitivity and no positive outlet for tackling their mindset.

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Understanding Rejection: The Artists’ View

One of the first places many of us confront rejection is in middle and high school. From cliques, to school dances, relationships, and spring play cast lists, the potential for rejection is at an all time high. When she discussed it with me, high school theatre teacher Carrie Reiberg said that rejection comes with the territory when casting a play. “I see rejection happen a lot when casting…it wouldn’t be realistic or honest of me to cast every actor every time they audition,” she says. She discusses that fairness is at the heart of her classroom, since if she doesn’t cast the best actor for the role at the time, “you are setting actors up to fail in the ‘real world’ when they try to make a living as working actors.” If the same actors get the leading roles throughout the formative years of their acting career, they may develop unhealthy expectations for what will happen post-graduation.  Continue reading

The night I went from selling flamenco fans to becoming one

FORD Merch table Victoria Sela

Victoria Montecillo and Marisela Hughes

by Victoria Montecillo

This past weekend was the biggest event of the summer for the Fountain: Forever Flamenco at the Ford. Since I’ve been working here at the Fountain, this event was something we were all working towards, and I found myself growing more curious and excited to see what all of the fuss was about. As a newcomer, Forever Flamenco sounded like an amazing opportunity to showcase a beautiful and unique art form to the communities of Los Angeles. In the weeks leading up to the big night, everyone in the office kept telling me about the fervor and passion of the flamenco community, and that I had to just wait to see it for myself. No amount of preparation, however, could have prepared me for the experience. 

FORD seats fansOn the day of the show, I came to the venue early with the rest of the Fountain family in order to put out the VIP gift bags (I had spent the weeks leading up to the show working very hard to make sure the bags were all ready and had what they needed, so I was very proud of them), and set up a merchandise table up front. By the time it got to be about two hours before curtain, I started to notice a sizable crowd gathered outside, ready and waiting with picnic baskets. Once the gates opened, people came streaming in, chatting excitedly and eyeing our merchandise and flamenco fans as they passed our merchandise table. And once the gates had opened, the people just kept streaming in. There were people laughing and eating together, and greeting others in what felt like a true community. 

Many of the people who approached our table were loyal, longtime flamenco fans who loved and appreciated the Fountain’s commitment to producing flamenco. Others were drawn to our beautiful fans, where they shared that this was their first flamenco show. It was amazing to see and be able to meet all of the different people that were in attendance at this big event, and to get to feel the pure excitement in the air.

FORD Merch table

Barbara Goodhill, Victoria Montecillo and Marisela Hughes at the merchandise table.

The show itself was truly something to see. With the extent of my knowledge about flamenco being pretty much the dancing lady emoji and the sounds of fervent stomping and complex guitar riffs coming from the rehearsal room of the Fountain that week, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I certainly could not have anticipated the raw passion and artistic skill that I saw in each of those performers. What I found to be most striking about watching these flamenco musicians and dancers was that each one of them seemed so happy to be there. They were all doing what they loved most, with a group of artists that understood that passion. 

FORD 2016 prod photo 1

On top of that, I could feel the excitement and joy in the crowd around me throughout the show. During each number, the audience would interject with enthusiastic applause, clapping, and excited cheers. Families around me grabbed each other’s shoulders and clasped each other’s hands as they shouted encouragements to the musicians and the dancers as they did what they do best, and I truly felt like I was experiencing a new community full of joy, passion, and celebration. It was a truly unique and amazing experience. 

I am so grateful to everyone at the Fountain, as well as the fantastic team of flamenco artists, for introducing me to the beautiful community of flamenco. I certainly hope I’m able to witness something like this again in my life.

Victoria Montecillo is the Fountain Theatre’s 2016 Summer Arts Intern. We thank the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission for their support. 

To be like our audience: out of many, one

audience

by Stephen Sachs

Our house divided? It can seem. There are days and nights like these when only what is wrong is what one sees.

Where once we felt safe, we are now afraid. Shootings. Bombings. Racial tension. Violence. Fear. Aggression. Terror. Polarization. The chasm in our country separating the haves from have-nots, the soaring from the struggling, grows wider. Officers we pay to protect us are shooting us. Public servants we elect to represent us serve themselves. A candidate spews hateful division as his poll numbers grow. 

There’s a kind of insanity seeping in. A dis-ease. An unravelling. An anxious self-protection splits us further and further apart. 

Disconnection can seem everywhere.

Here in Los Angeles on my own artistic landscape. As Actors Equity Association tries to force its new plan that imposes conflicting rules and opposing financial burdens on a vast mixture of intimate theaters in LA — pitting membership companies against sub 5o-seat houses against staff-driven theaters — I fear fragmentation and division on the horizon for our intimate theatre community as we are disjoined from one 99-Seat Plan for all to segregation, separate and not equal.

Can we come together? Stay together? Or will we fragment and divide? 

Then I consider an audience. Any audience. 

In our world of theatre, the wide variety of individuals who gather to see a play on any given night in any theatre in this country — no matter the number of people or their diversity of race, ethnicity, age, gender, social standing, neighborhood — are referred to as one entity. They are the audience. Singular. Not plural. Composed of unique and separate individuals who, together, become one thing.

Like the motto of our nation: Out of many, one.

I see it happen all the time in my theatre on Fountain Avenue. The pre-show bustle of patrons before a performance. Folks dash into the lobby, check their smartphones, launch last-minute texts, chatter brightly with each other, get a drink, go to the bathroom. They come from all over the city. From varied neighborhoods, all manner of jobs, vastly different lives. Yet, when curtain time is called, they somehow find their seats together. A Highland Park bus driver sits next to a Century City attorney sits next to a Sherman Oaks nurse sits next to a Koreatown hairdresser.

The lights then go down. The smartphones are silenced, programs are stashed, eyes and ears are trained forward. A hush blankets the crowd. A light warms the stage. An actor makes the first entrance. The play begins.

And it happens.

The outside world evaporates. And this seated mass of human individuals slowly, steadily transforms as they are pulled deeper into the story unfolding before them on stage. One hundred people will see the same performance and see one hundred different plays at the same time, but there is also a shared thing, a unity that happens. An audience becomes a living thing, a dynamic organism that laughs and breathes and interconnects with itself energetically for its brief time together between lights up and lights down. Out of many, one.

And what do we call the area where the audience sits?  We don’t call it the sitting area, or the zone or the sector. We call it the house.  In the theatre, the audience sits in our house. 

And for these shared hours, these shimmering minutes, this gathering of separate people agree to enter into the sacred pact to become an audience, together.  The house begins divided. It ends as one.

The purpose of meaningful theatre is to tell stories that illuminate what it means to be a human being. And by its very nature, because it is performed by human beings — live, in the moment, in front of other beings — it puts a human face on issues that confound us all. It humanizes our conflicted ideas about ourselves, each other and our world. Race, religion, poverty, politics, sex and social challenges are embodied on a stage in personal stories of loss and triumph about specific human beings. In a play, ideas, themes and concepts are distilled into the needs and journeys of people

When an audience is pulled into the world of a meaningful play and emotionally invests in the struggles of the characters on stage, the artificial divide between audience and actor mysteriously falls away and the characters become real. We feel we know them, we care about their outcome. And the alchemy of empathy begins.  “They” become “us”. We identify. That character is me.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another human being. The capacity to feel what another being is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference.

A good play can do that.

Healing and transformation begins with the understanding that there is no other, the other is me. A meaningful night in the theatre can create the connection of empathy in ourselves that allows us to wake the next morning with a new awareness of each other, as sisters and brothers. Each of us unique and separate. And, at the same time, not so different.

As an audience, as a city, as a nation.

We are, out of many, one.

Stephen Sachs is the co-founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.