Tag Archives: I and You

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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Fountain Theatre earns 4 NAACP Theatre Award nominations

I AND YOU star faces

Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch in “I and You”.

The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed 2015 productions of Lauren Gunderson’s I and You and Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine have earned four NAACP Theatre Award nominations for productions presented between January – December, 2015.

The NAACP Theatre Awards is presented by the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Branch in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles City Council President/Councilmember District 10 Herb Wesson, Jr. and co-chaired by Byron K. Reed, Senior Vice President of Wells Fargo-West Region Community Relations, and Jeffrey Rush of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management.

“We’re always pleased to be acknowledged by the NAACP theatre committee,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We have a long and successful history of supporting and presenting the work of a rich variety of artists on our stage. Diversity and inclusion is at the core of our artistic mission.”

CITIZEN Fountain Theatre in Memory 2

‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

The mission of the NAACP Theatre Awards is to entertain, educate, and inspire the community and create diversity in the arts and entertainment industry. To honor LA theatre artists and celebrate live theatre in Los Angeles.

This year, the Fountain Theatre has received the following nominations:

  • Best Lead Male – Matthew Hancock, I and You
  • Best Choreography – Anastasia Coon, Citizen: An American Lyric
  • Best Lighting – Jeremy Pivnick, I and You
  • Best Set Design – Tom Buderwitz, I and You

The awards show will be held on Monday, November 21, 2016, at 6:00 p.m. at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. More info.

Fountain Theatre wins 17 StageSceneLA Awards including Top Intimate Theatre

Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch in 'I And You'.

Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch in ‘I And You’.

Editor Steven Stanley today announced his recipients of the 2014-15 StageSceneLA Theatre Awards. The Fountain Theatre was awarded 16 citations for its 2014-15 productions of I And You, Reborning and Broomstick.  Steven Stanley’s StageSceneLA.com has spotlighted the best in Southern California theater since 2007.

  • The Year’s Top 8 Intimate Theatres – Fountain Theatre
  • The Year’s Top 8 Productions, PLAY –  I And You 
  • Outstanding Drama (Intimate Theater)  Reborning
  • Outstanding Production, Solo Performance Broomstick
  • Ensemble Cast, Drama (Intimate Theatre) Reborning
  • Performance in a Play Jennifer Finch,  Matthew Hancock, I and You
  • Lead Performance, Duo Ensemble, (Intimate Theatre) Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock, I and You
  • Performance by a Lead Actress (Intimate Theatre) Joanna Strapp, Reborning
  • Best Solo Performance  Jenny O’Hara, Broomstick
  • Direction of a Drama (Intimate Theatre) Simon Levy, Reborning
  • Direction of a Comedy/Drama, (Intimate Theatre) Robin Larsen, I  and You
  • Direction of a Solo Performance Stephen Sachs, Broomstick
  • Production Design (Intimate Theatre) Broomstick
  • Composer of the Year Peter Bayne, Reborning
  • Scenic & Properties Design of the Year Andrew Hammer (set) and Misty Carlisle (properties) for Broomstick

Click here for the full list of award recipients

To be eligible for a 2014-2015 Scenie, a production must have been one of the nearly 250 reviewed on StageSceneLA between September 1, 2014, and August 31, 2015.

Isa’s Intern Journal: The beauty of being close to another human being in ‘I And You’

Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch in 'I And You'.

Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch in ‘I And You’.

by Isabel Espy

One Friday night about a month ago, still in the process of interviewing for this internship, I came to the Fountain Theatre with two of my best friends to see my first show here: I and You. As soon as we entered the space I had the unsettling feeling that I had accidentally broken into a seventeen ­year-old’s bedroom. I was in complete awe at the level of detail and specificity of Tom Buderwitz’s set.

Before the actors had even appeared on stage, I already felt like I was getting to know a character – the room. The Fountain’s 78-seat theatre really allows the audience to feel as if they themselves are part of the play. The lighting and set design had already brought me thoroughly into the world of the play even before the house lights were completely dimmed.

Then the actors stepped on stage. All my attention shifted from admiring the posters on the walls and the string of fairy lights behind the bed, because suddenly I was in the story. As I sat through the performance I could hear my friends laugh and gasp as they followed the action. At one point, all three of us gasped in perfect unison. 

I And You is 100% contemporary, referencing Instagram and Facebook right and left, making jokes anyone with any online presence can relate to. Yet, while social media plays a deep role in the piece, the issues that it brings up are universal to all, digitally savvy or otherwise. It is a play that deals with the fragility of true human connection. We have all been there. We have all had those moments of difficulty, felt the pain of isolation, the embarrassment of being vulnerable to another person, and the beauty of being close to another human.

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

I won’t give anything away, but I can tell you that as we left the theatre both of my friends’ faces had the telltale wetness of cathartic tears. On our drive back to Westwood (with a quick stop at Chipotle for a post-show treat) we couldn’t stop talking about the play. I and You ends its run this weekend, and if you still have a chance, I would definitely recommend getting your butt over to the Fountain Theatre!

Final 2 performances: Saturday, June 20th @ 8pm; Sunday, June 21st @ 2pm.

Get Tickets/Info

Isabel Espy is the Fountain Theatre’s Summer Arts Intern from UCLA. 

Fountain Theatre Extends Acclaimed ‘I And You’ for Two Added Performances June 20 & 21

Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch

Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch

The Fountain Theatre’s critically acclaimed Los Angeles premiere of I And You will extend for two added performances on SaturdayJune 20 at 8pm and Sunday, June 21 at 2pm.
On the night before a class assignment is due, Caroline and Anthony plumb the mysteries of a Whitman poem…unaware that a deeper mystery has brought them together. Written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Robin Larsen, our Los Angeles Premiere stars Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock and has earned outstanding critical praise, including highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times.
Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

CRITIC’S CHOICE… a stunning exploration of cosmic interconnectedness …  a testimonial to the power of intimate theater.” — Los Angeles Times

“WOW! At once funny, captivating, and profoundly moving, a powerful piece of theater … Two of the finest young actors you’ll see all year!” – StageSceneLA

DAZZLING…those performances are extraordinary… moving, unearthly, and completely satisfying” — Los Angeles Post

DYNAMIC… one of those plays you’ll want to see more than once…a great story beautifully told” — Discover Hollywood

UPLIFTINGSUPERB… compelling performances … the Fountain has a gift for presenting extraordinary plays which are at once entertaining and thought-provoking, and ‘I and You’ is no exception.” — Examiner

BEAUTIFUL… packs a real punch … a very lovely play” — ArtsBeatLA

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

With these two added performances, only 10 performances remain. The run now ends Sunday, June 21, 2pm. Get Tickets/More Info 

High School Students Enjoy ‘I And You’ and Meet Actors at Fountain Theatre

Actors chat with students after the performance
Actors chat with students after the performance

“It was great. It was really amazing,” exclaims student

What’s better than skipping class to see an acclaimed production of the Los Angeles Premiere of an award-winning play? Students from three Los Angeles area high schools — Campbell Hall, John Marshall High School,  and Westmark School — enjoyed a special matinee yesterday of I And You at the Fountain. For some, it was their first time seeing a professional production of a play. For many, it was an experience they’ll never forget.

The full house of students had a great time watching the funny and heartfelt comedy/drama starring Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock about two high school students discovering they share a mysterious connection. Many were blown away by the sudden twist of the powerful ending. The Fountain production of I And You has been highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the LA Times, hailed as “a testimonial to the power of intimate theater.”

After the performance, the students engaged in a lively Q&A Talkback with the two actors.  

The students came by bus from three schools representing three communities in the LA area. This special daytime student matinee was made possible through Theatre As A Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making the live theatre experience accessible to students in Southern California.

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Meet ‘I And You’ Playwright Lauren Gunderson

Lauren Gunderson

Lauren Gunderson

At The Fountain, we’re always pleased and excited to introduce important playwrights to Los Angeles audiences.  As we gear-up to start performances of our funny and powerful Los Angeles Premiere of I  And You,  we’re eager for you to meet award-winning playwright Lauren Gunderson. Audiences have been enjoying her plays in regional theatres around the country. Now Lauren makes her Los Angeles debut with us here at the Fountain. We couldn’t be more thrilled. 

Lauren Gunderson is the 2014 winner of the Steinberg/ATCA New Play award and was a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize for I and You.  She studied Southern Literature and Drama at Emory University, and Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School where she was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship. Her work has been commissioned, produced and developed at companies across the US including South Cost Rep (Emilie, Silent Sky), The Kennedy Center (The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful And Her Dog!), The O’Neill, Denver Center, Berkeley Rep, Shotgun Players, TheatreWorks, Crowded Fire, San Francisco Playhouse, Marin Theatre, Synchronicity, Olney Theatre, Geva and more.  Her work is published at Playscripts (I and You, Exit, Pursued By A Bear, and Toil And Trouble) and Samuel French (Emilie). She is a Playwright in Residence at The Playwrights Foundation, and a proud Dramatists Guild member. She is from Atlanta, GA and lives in San Francisco.

In her play  I And You,  two high-school teenagers who meet under extraordinary circumstances.  Caroline is sick and hasn’t been to school in months. Anthony suddenly arrives at her door bearing a beat-up copy of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’ and an urgent assignment from their high school lit teacher. As these two let down their guards and share their secrets, the poetry assignment unlocks a much deeper mystery that has brought them together.

A Quick Chat with Lauren Gunderson

What is ‘I And You’ about?

This play is really about connection and the surprises we find when we really get to know people. In many ways it’s a Hero’s Journey but in miniature, so the heroes that we wouldn’t expect are two teenagers doing a project on Walt Whitman, but through a kind of, what might seem like a kind of vanilla assignment, blossoms this understanding and healing and a kind of transcendent communion that happens between these two unlikely heroes. So through that we found out about how we’re all connected to each other and life and death and meaning.

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock in "I And You"

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock in “I And You”

 What does this play mean to you?

This is a very special play for me because it reminds us that we’re all heroes and we’re all the main characters of our own stories even though we may seem not that in the privacy of our own homes, in this case, in Caroline’s teenage girl room. But from these really beautiful, profound, and private moments can come great stories, universal tales, about connection and meaning. That’s really where it stems from. I think that teenagers can teach us a lot, as much as we can teach them, so I hope that this is a play that finds some of its power in that teenagers can bring their parents and parents can bring their teens and everyone can come around this play and feel like it’s speaking to them and about them.

What was your inspiration behind all this?

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Well I’ve always loved Walt Whitman— who doesn’t?—so it starts there. And I was really fascinated about how people find each other and how we impact each other in ways we don’t even know when we first meet. So that, spinning it all together with a bunch of surprises, a bunch of profound, funny moments, and really meaningful, deeper stuff, all weaving up into a play that’s about what we mean to each other. So in that way it’s a play I’ve been wanting to write for a long time, and through writing it, I’ve kind of changed how I know playwriting, how I tell a story, what a story is really about and what we want a story. so it’s changed me a lot through writing it, as much as I hope it’s changed people through seeing it.

Are there any similarities between you and these characters?

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

That’s a good question. I think there’s probably more similarity between Caroline and me than I would 11 like. But that’s what’s fun about writing, when you think about trying to write about really real characters, is you steal from yourself, you steal from your family and friends, you steal little details about life, and I think it’s those details that make it actually feel more universal. So Caroline likes cats a lot, she likes Jerry Lee Lewis, she likes Elvis, she has a very snarky attitude about things, but she’s very plugged in to herself. But in many ways I’m very like the other character, Anthony, too. I love jazz, he loves jazz. He kind of has a nerdy relationship to things that he’s passionate about, which I might relate to. But it’s really about really curious, smart, funny kids, and I think all of us hope that that part of ourselves is still alive and well no matter how old we get.

What do you hope audiences will get from this play?

I would love this community to get a sense that we’re all in one story together. Even though we might not think a 16- year-old has much to tell as 60-year old or a 50-year-old or a 40-year-old, of course they do, because we’re all human beings and we’re all looking for meaning, and we’re all looking to live a life that matters, a life of love and compassion and being understood. And those things don’t ever change, whether you’re six or 60. So I think that’s the biggest gift. It’s also an interesting thing to resuscitate Walt Whitman, not that he has any press problems, but when you look at a poem that’s over 150 years old and you find that it’s still relevant, I think it’s a metaphor for theatre as a whole. It’s an art form that’s so old and so basic, in a real fundamental way, still matters to us now, and can pull it together in one room and have on great cathartic experience together. I think that’s theatre at its best, and I hopefully this play is part of that tradition.

Previews start April 2nd. It opens April 11th. Get Tickets/More Info