Tag Archives: hurricane Katrina

Next at the Fountain: Powerful world premiere ‘Runaway Home’ is a poetic mother-daughter tale set in New Orleans

RUNAWAY HOME title image

Sometimes what you’re searching for is right where you started. The Fountain Theatre presents a powerful, funny and deeply moving mother-daughter story by Jeremy J. Kamps. Multiple award-winning Shirley Jo Finney returns to the Fountain to direct the world premiere of Runaway Home for a Sept. 16 opening.

Three years after Hurricane Katrina, the unhealed wounds of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward continue to fester. Camille Spirlin (ABC’s American Koko, Fox TV’s Rosewood, Nickelodeon’s Marvin Marvin) stars as 14-year-old runaway Kali. Rhyming, stealing and scamming her way through the still-destroyed neighborhood, she embarks on a journey to pick through the wreckage of what used to be her life. While the rest of the country’s attention drifts, the neighborhood’s residents are left to repair the damage from the inside out. As their attempts at renewal leave a path of destruction in their wake, Kali bears witness to what the floodwaters left behind. Also in the cast are Leith Burke (Citizen: An American Lyric at the Fountain,Neighbors at the Matrix), Jeris Lee Poindexter (The Darker Face of the Earth, Central Avenue, Gem of the Ocean at the Fountain),Armando Rey (Men on the Verge of a His-panic Breakdown at Macha Theatre), Maya Lynne Robinson (In the Red and Brown Water at the Fountain – LADCC Award, Best Ensemble), Brian Tichnell (Dream Catcher at the Fountain, HBOs Silicon Valley, L.A. Theatre Works’ national tour of The Graduate) and Karen Malina White (Citizen: An American Lyric and The Ballad of Emmett Till – Best Ensemble LADCC and Ovation Awards – at the Fountain, currently in As You Like It at Antaeus).

“This play couldn’t be more timely,” says Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. “Hurricane Katrina may have ceased in 2005, but the storm of racism, poverty and class inequality rages on in our country to this day. We need look no further than Flint, Michigan, to see systemic government prejudice against citizens of color and the poor. But as Jeremy’s play so beautifully demonstrates, the bonds of family and community will weather any storm.”

When Kamps traveled to New Orleans two years after Katrina to volunteer “gutting and mucking” (stripping homes to the studs to remove mold), he had been teaching middle school in Connecticut. He already had an idea in his head about a runaway girl who collects other people’s garbage, finding meaning in the meaningless.

“Kali’s world paralleled the displacement, hope for renewal, fracture and resilience I was seeing in the social-political reality of the Lower 9th Ward,” he explains. “Whenever a character’s inner life and experience are so congruent with an important social issue, that’s the story I want to write.”

While in New Orleans, Kamps met Antoine, a man in his ‘70s who had just returned to what had been his family’s home for generations. Antoine was going from house to house trying to trace relatives, friends, acquaintances and neighbors, to find out what had happened to them in the years since the storm. “His friendship helped me honor the stories of this community in a truthful way — to see the past, present and future of the Lower 9th through their eyes,” says the playwright.

According to Finney, “Because the media painted them as poor and impoverished, most people don’t realize that the residents of the Lower 9th were working class homeowners. Those homes had been in families for generations. Members of the community were expecting government funds so they could rebuild, but because of red tape and bureaucracy, the money never came, or it took so long that people had to end up using it for rent or just to eat.”

“The mother-daughter relationship becomes the pivotal heart space in this story about this community,” she continues. “The play is very funny because Kali is so spirited, but the rage, helplessness and loss that Kali and her mother share are the core of the play. That is the challenge they both struggle with to find their way back to each other and home. What happens to people when they aren’t seen, when they don’t feel safe? How do you begin to rebuild your life when nobody cares?”

Jeremy Kamps’s plays have received awards and recognition including the William Saroyan Human Rights Award Finalist (2016); Page 73 Semi-Finalist (2017); Ruby Lloyd Apsey Award (Gutting); The Goldberg Prize; Woodward International Playwriting (What It Means To Disappear Here); Hudson Valley Writers Center and the NYU Festival of New Works (Water Hyacinth). His play Breitwisch Farm will be produced by Esperance Theater Company in NYC later this year. Recent productions include Gutting, presented by the National Black Theatre of Harlem and What It Means To Disappear Here (Ugly Rhino, NYC). His work has been produced/developed with Esperance Theater Company, Company Cypher at the National Black Theatre of Harlem, Ugly Rhino, Dixon Place, Hudson Valley Shakespeare, The Amoralists and New York Theatre Workshop. His fiction has been published in The Madison Review and The Little Patuxent; has been honored with the H.E. Francis Award, the Howard/John Reid Fiction Prize and was a Lamar York Prize finalist; and has been recognized in Glimmertrain, Inkwell, The Caribbean Writer and New Millenium. He is a member of the Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater. Also an educator and activist, Jeremy has lived and worked for lengthy periods of time in Latin America, India and East Africa, where he focused on support and empowerment for former child soldiers, displaced peoples and child rights. He recently received the Theatre Communications Group “On the Road” grant to return to Kenya where he conducted drama workshops as part of his research for a new play on flower farms. He has facilitated drama and writing workshops around the world and for all ages. He has an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Shirley Jo Finney has previously directed acclaimed Fountain productions of Citizen: An American Lyric (selected for CTG’s first annual Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre) The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water (for which she earned her second Ovation award), Heart Song, The Ballad of Emmett TillYellowman, Central Avenue and From the Mississippi Delta.  Her work has been seen at the McCarter Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, L.A. Theatre Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, American College Theatre Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and at the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa, where she helmed a critically acclaimed production of the South African opera, Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. For television, she directed several episodes of Moesha, and she garnered the International Black Filmmakers ‘Best Director’ Award for her short film, Remember Me.She is the recipient of the African American Film Marketplace Award of Achievement for Outstanding Performance and Achievement and leader in Entertainment.

The creative team for Runaway Home includes scenic designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, lighting designer Jennifer Edwards, composer/sound designer Peter Bayne, costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders, props designer DeAnne Millais, choreographer TylerJanet Roston and dialect coach Tyler Seiple. The production stage manager is Jessaica Shields; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen SachsSimon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored for its acclaimed 25th Anniversary Season in 2015 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council; the 2014 Ovation Award for Best Season and the 2014 BEST Award for overall excellence from the Biller Foundation; the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Center Theatre Group’s upcoming Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre; and the naming of seven Fountain productions in a row as “Critic’s Choice” in the Los Angeles Times. The Fountain’s most recent production, the world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, ran for five months and was named “L.A. hottest ticket” by the Los Angeles Times.

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NOW CASTING: Mexican shop owner in world premiere of new play ‘Runaway Home’ at Fountain Theatre

RUNAWAY HOME title imageThe Fountain Theatre is now casting the following role for its upcoming world premiere production of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps, directed by Shirley Finney.

[ARMANDO] 35 to 45 years old, Mexican male. Owns and runs the small local store in the Lower 9th Ward, New Orleans. Has two daughters in Mexico. Guarded, vulnerable, empathetic, longing, wistful, independent, self-sufficient, courageous, inner-turmoil, soft but with a temper. He offers Kali a job in his store, trying to help the young runaway girl, which leads to a harrowing but hopeful end.

STORYLINE: Set in New Orleans, Lower 9th Ward, three years after Hurricane Katrina. In this funny and deeply moving story, 14 year-old Kali embarks on a journey. Rhyming, stealing, and scamming her way through her still-destroyed neighborhood, engaging the lively folk who remain and running from her worried mother, Kali picks through the wreckage of what used to be her life and is forced to confront the cost of moving forward and embrace the loving power of family.

Rehearsals start August 7th. The production opens September 16th and runs to November 5th.  The Fountain Theatre operates under the new AEA 99 Seat Agreement.  

Email submissions to casting@fountaintheatre.com 

Award-Winning Poet Claudia Rankine explores everyday racism in America with ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’

Claudia Rankine

Claudia Rankine

Fountain Theatre stage adaptation Opens Aug 1st

by Ernest Hardy

During the Q&A following her recent reading at MOCA, someone asked poet Claudia Rankine about the politically and morally complex act of sharing images and video clips of dead black bodies, bodies murdered by policemen, across social media. It’s unquestionably a form of pornography, but can there be something of substantive and socially transformative value in the posting of these modern day lynchings? Ms. Rankine answered, in part, with a multi-tiered question:

“What does it mean to have black male bodies out holding the space of evidence, and also allowing whiteness its sentimentality around black pain, and also having the body be an orphan body as if there’s no family behind it?”

After breaking down in detail the obscenity of Michael Brown’s slain body laying in the street uncovered for four hours (“No way that would have happened to a white body,”) with even his mother not allowed to touch him – and then his mother being denied her son’s body for two weeks – Ms. Rankine reminded the packed room that 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s mother had to wait six months to get his body from the city after he was killed by cops. “They [the authorities] need [all that] time to explain away what we are seeing,” she said bluntly.

“Yes, this is pornography,” she added during the post-reading book signing, “but we need these images out in the world to make real and undeniable for others what we know – what we have always known – and what has always happened.”

book coverHer 2014 book Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press), which has won the National Book Critics Award for Poetry, the PEN Open Book Award, an NAACP Award for Outstanding Literary Work/Poetry, and is up for the Forward Prize for poetry in the UK, is an exquisitely written brutal read. A collection of lyrical prose poems, cultural criticism, brief screenplays, and images from across the spectrum of the visual arts, the effect of the book (experimental/accessible/intoxicating) is at times akin to having a razor slide across your skin.

She read at MOCA Grand as part of their William Pope L exhibit Trinket, and kicked the evening off reading from his monograph The Friendliest Black Artist in America (MIT Press), whose text she says turned her into a Pope fan-girl, and is one of the core influences behindCitizen. She said Pope’s work is one of the things that egged her on to explore, “The lack that becomes the hole that cannot be filled.”

From there, she read poems about police brutality, Hurricane Katrina, the failure of white people to call out racism in their daily lives (with nods to those who actually do,) the soft-but-not-really racism in academia, the racism Venus and Serena Williams have faced throughout their careers – and still face, and the quotidian erasure of and hostility toward blackness. In between pieces, she explained her process; for example she and her husband recorded CNN coverage of Hurricane Katrina in the days leading to its touchdown on land, and its aftermath. Going through the hours of footage after the fact, she came across post-hurricane statements by Barbara Bush (“And so many of the people in the area here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this is working very well for them,”) and Wolf Blitzer (“… so many of these people, almost all of them that we see, are so poor and they are so black,”) that she wove into her piece, and have lost none of their power to stun.

Claudia-Rankine-KCRWOne of the biggest overall surprises was just how funny she was – dry, droll, sardonic. But it also makes sense. That humor is a very necessary protective device when swimming in and documenting the grim realities of anti-blackness. And it was a relief to be in the presence of a poet with a sense of musicality and melody in their delivery that was utterly absent the god-awful slam-poet / coffeehouse / spoken word flow whose embedded hackneyed rhythms and overblown self-importance can sabotage even the best written poems.

In the Q&A that followed, a question about identity politics of the ‘90s and the psychoanalytic aspects of her work led her to observe that the flaw of identity politics was/is the notion that, “If you could see me and properly name me, then you’d change the way you think about me.” To which she added, “That’s bullshit.”

But one of the highlights of the evening came when she introduced her final poem. “It’s always interesting, the choosing of the last piece,” she said with a chuckle. “Because I could leave you in a place of great happiness…” She paused. “But noooooo, we would have to start all over.” She laughed wickedly.

This post originally appeared on craveonline.

The Fountain Theatre will present the world premiere stage adaptation of Citizen: An American Lyric in August. More Info/Get Tickets 

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: ‘The Katrina Comedy Fest’ at the Fountain Theatre

Curtain call!

A Wonderful Sold-Out Performance Followed by Good Times in the Fountain Cafe

Last night was another magical evening at the Fountain Theatre: a terrific performance followed by fun in the cafe. 

A sold-out house enjoyed the special one-night-only performance of The Katrina Comedy Fest, a funny and touching piece telling the true stories of folks in New Orleans who survived the flooding of hurricane Katrina. The play is written by Rob Florence and directed by Misty Carlisle. The fabulous cast included Judy Jean Berns, Deidrie Henry, Travis Michael Holder, Jan Munroe and L. Trey Wilson.

After the performance, the cast and audience gathered upstairs in the Fountain cafe for a night of food, drinks and celebration.   

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The Human Stories in ‘The Katrina Comedy Fest’ Are Still Relevant and True at the Fountain Theatre

The Katrina Comedy Fest cast.

The cast of The Katrina Comedy Fest.

by Analyn Revilla

The Katrina Comedy Fest is based on the true experiences of 5 separate lives who survived the hurricane of 2005.  It’s still a relevant story.  Natural disasters and catastrophes, like waves lapping on the beach, erase the tracks of lives imprinted on the sand.

I’ve visited New Orleans twice.  The first time was in in 1991 when I got married in a small town called Buras.  It’s about an hour south of the Big Easy.  On August 29, 2005, the eye of Hurricane Katrina made its first landfall in the Buras-Triumph district, and the area is still in the process of rebuilding.  On my second visit in 2010, I wanted to see the effects of the BP disaster upon the environment and the people.  It’s unbelievable to see the ant work it took to watch people and helicopters putting up barriers to keep the oil slick at bay.

I sought out the old fire hall station where I was married by the JP with his deputy as witness.  Like my marriage, the white-washed concrete building didn’t withstand the forces of wind and rain.  I sought out Camp’s, the restaurant that served big bowls heaped with rice and oyster gumbo.  That one had closed too, or the owners decided not to rebuild it after the storm.  My memories of Louisiana linger, like the waft of good soul food that beckons.  It was at Camp’s where I learned how to eat a crawfish properly as demonstrated by the happy waitress.  She took one mini-lobster from the heap on the newspaper and used her thumb and index to flick the head off, and she sucked out the ‘best part’, followed by forcing the meat from the body with the same fingers.  This technique ensures “less mess” and allows for continues eating, because there are plenty of hands going into that heap.

The story telling captures the sensitivity, nostalgia and steely guts of survivors in the face of a natural disaster and caught in the web of bureaucratic foibles.  The stories of five characters, from different walks of life, belie a spirit of humor and a soul of surrender.  New Orleans, historically, has always been at the mercy of nature because of its geography – it sits on the soft silt of the Mississippi River delta, and it opens up to the Gulf of Mexico.  This relationship has grown more tenuous with the industrial revolution.  The coast of Louisiana and Texas has been identified as dead zone, and is the largest hypoxic zone in the United States (source: Wikipedia.)  Last week two explosions erupted in two chemical plants on Thursday and Friday.  If the investigation comes up with any likeness to negligence that led to the BP disaster, then this reinforces some themes common woven into the lives of the people.

The Katrina Comedy Fest, refreshingly, does not focus on the politics.  The play brings the event to a tangible level that can be digested as a languorous 5 course meal, beginning with the rising waters and ending with sobering shot of reality.  It becomes a speculation game as to the strength of “this one” compared to the “last one” when the levees didn’t breach.

The Katrina Comedy Fest

The Katrina Comedy Fest

The stories are narrated through the voice of …

Raymond, a homeless, begins his story in the stadium.  He discovers his “air freshener” ineffective against the heavy stench of bodies locked down.  He’s prepared for anything being a homeless.

Antoinette is a savvy and bold owner of “Mother-in-Law Lounge”, and widow of R&B singer Ernie K-Doe.  She keeps both her 15 year old granddaughter and a shrine of her late husband afloat during the storm.  The statue donned with a sawed-off shotgun keeps away would-be intruders.

Rodney is a sweet southern gentleman shoulders the responsibility of keeping his aging parents plus new comers entertained and alive during the siege of rising waters.  He keeps well inebriated with whisky and at the close of the storm realizes he had spent more with his parents than he’s ever done in a long long time.

Judy is a sweet and naïve older woman who meets up with 5 young people.  She wanders out in the street of her neighborhood which had already been evacuated.  She receives texts from her son, “Get out now!”  She meets the pot-smoking youths who takes her with them to San Antonio in her son’s unreliable car.  It is a miraculous trip that opens the life of Judy to young attitudes and wider latitudes.

Sonny, a tourist guide, stays a while and ends up in Oklahoma with high-pitched voiced black woman who likes to scream.  His cool logic and street-wise experience keeps the situation moving until he is investigated by the FBI, because he’s carrying a big wad of cash in a plastic bag.  How else does a person whose business is cash-based supposed to flee the floods of New Orleans?

The Katrina Comedy Fest was written by playwright is Rob Florence and directed by Misty Carlisle.  It stars Judy Jean Berns, Deidrie Henry, Travis Michael Holder, Jan Munroe, L. Trey Wilson. It’s showing at the Fountain Theatre this Sunday, July 28 at 7pm. (323) 663-1525  MORE

Analyn Revilla blogs for the LA Female Playwrights Initiative

‘The Katrina Comedy Fest’: Laughing in the Face of Disaster

The Katrina Comedy Fest

The Katrina Comedy Fest

Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf coast in 2005, causing damage in Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida that would reverberate for years to come. Now that recovery is well under way, the Katrina Comedy Fest lets you experience the heartbreak, humanity — and yes, comedy — of those fateful days through the words of five New Orleans-based stand-up comedians who rode out the storm and lived to tell the tale. The funny and powerful play will be performed for one night only on Sunday, July 28, at 7pm at the Fountain Theatre.

The Katrina Comedy Fest cast.

The Katrina Comedy Fest cast.

Judy Jean Berns, Deidrie Henry, Travis Holder, Jan Munroe and L. Trey Wilson recount their experiences with irreverent humor without trivializing the tragic enormity of what happened. Written by Rob Florence and directed by Misty Carlisle, the show won “Best of the Festival” at the 2010 New York International Fringe Festival and was a recent hit at the 2013 Hollywood Fringe Festival.

  • “Celebrates triumph in disaster.” — LA Stage Times
  • “True and hilarious stories about riding out the storm. Props to anyone who can face their tragedy and laugh in its face.” —LA Weekly
  • “True personal stories brought to life by a stellar cast”  —Bitter Lemons
  • “The audience was mesmerized throughout. Sure to satisfy your soul!”  —Tolucan Times

THE NEW YORK TIMES wrote: “The evocative true stories assembled are full of fear, courage and resilience. But they are also rich in the flavorful humor, inextinguishable identity and civic love that characterize the inhabitants of America’s most battered city.”

Join us on Sunday, July 28th for a funny, thought-provoking and evocative evening you won’t soon forget.

The Katrina Comedy Fest (323) 663-1525  Order Tickets Now