Tag Archives: Jeanie Hackett

Fountain West Coast Premiere of ‘On the Spectrum’ Named Highlight of 2013

"On the Spectrum"

Dan Shaked in On the Spectrum

The Fountain Theatre’s West Coast Premiere of On the Spectrum has been named a Highlight of 2013 Theater by  writer Don Shirley in LA Stage Times. Written by Ken LaZebnik and directed by Jacqueline Schultz, the funny and poignant play dramatized the relationship between two young people with autism.    

Hailed as “a brilliant, flawless masterpiece”, the acclaimed Fountain production starred Jeanie Hackett, Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked

Earlier this year, video designer Jeff Teeter was honored with a special Ovation Award for his compelling video projections in On the Spectrum

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PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Final Bow and Closing Party for Acclaimed ‘On the Spectrum’ at the Fountain Theatre

The final bow.

The final bow for ‘On the Spectrum’ at the Fountain Theatre.

The final bow for our acclaimed West Coast Premiere of On the Spectrum finally came last Sunday, April 28th, ending a wonderful run of rave reviews and enchanted audiences. Critics and theatergoers were swept away by the heartfelt vulnerability of the script by Ken LaZebnik, the vision and storytelling of the direction by Jacqueline Schultz, the honest passion of the cast (Jeanie Hackett, Virginia Newcomb, Dan Shaked) and the magic of the design team (set – John Iacovelli, lights – Christopher Stokes, video – Jeff Teeter, sound – Peter Bayne, costumes – Naila Alladin-Sanders, props – Misty Carlisle).

A Fountain shout-out to our fabulous production crew: Production Stage Manager – Corey Womack, Assistant Stage Manager – Terri Roberts, Board Operator Jennifer Seifert, House Manager – Jessica Turner, Tech Director – Scott Tuomey).

Our thanks to The Help Group for their support of this production. On the Spectrum was a deeply rewarding run that opened a window for many of us, allowing us to peer into a world we may not otherwise see.

A post-show closing party was held after the final matinee performance last Sunday. Enjoy some snapshots!   

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Q&A Talkback this Thursday with ‘On the Spectrum’ Cast, Film Makers and Autism Specialists

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked in ‘On the Spectrum’ at the Fountain Theatre

‘On the Spectrum’ Cast & Director Join ‘Autism in Love’ Film Makers and Autism Specialists for Post-Show Q&A 

A special Q&A Talkback will immediately follow the performance of On the Spectrum this Thursday, April 18th. Scheduled to speak and answer questions from the audience are Dr. Jason Bolton, Chief Psychologist, and Pamela Clark, Director of Autism Schools, from The Help GroupCarolina Groppa, Producer, and Matt Fuller, Director, of the independent film, Autism in Love, and Nancy Alspaugh-Jackson of Autism Care and Treatment (ACT Today). The On the Spectrum cast — Jeanie Hackett, Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked —  and director Jacqueline Schultz will also join the discussion and answer questions from the audience.  

The Help Group is the largest, most innovative and comprehensive nonprofit of its kind in the United States serving children with special needs related to autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delays, abuse and emotional problems. It is proud to be a sponsor of the Fountain Theatre’s West Coast premiere of On the Spectrum

Autism in Love is a feature length documentary film currently in production exploring how adults with autism fall in love and manage romantic relationships. Due for release in 2014.

ACT Today! is a national nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to raise awareness and provide treatment services and support to families to help their children with autism achieve their full potential.

Join us for the Q&A immediately following the performance on Thursday, April 18th at 8pm. It’s going to be fun and interesting. 

On the Spectrum Now to April 28 (323) 663-1525  MORE

The Help Group Enjoys Matinee and Post-Show Party at ‘On the Spectrum’ at the Fountain Theatre

Actress Virginia Newcomb, Help Group CEO Barbara Firestone, and actors Jeanie Hackett and Dan Shaked.

Actress Virginia Newcomb, Help Group CEO Barbara Firestone, actress Jeanie Hackett and actor Dan Shaked at the ‘On the Spectrum’ post-show reception.

Staff, faculty and friends of The Help Group attended the Sunday matinee of On the Spectrum yesterday and enjoyed a post-show reception with the cast immediately following the performance.  Everyone was thrilled seeing the play and had a lovely time schmoozing with the artists and staff at the Fountain.

Founded in 1975, The Help Group is the largest, most innovative and comprehensive nonprofit of its kind in the United States serving children with special needs related to autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delays, abuse and emotional problems. The Help Group is a proud sponsor of the Fountain Theatre’s West Coast premiere of On the Spectrum.   Among those attending the Sunday matinee from The Help Group were President/CEO Barbara Firestone, Chief Operating Officer Susan Berman, Director of Public Affairs and Special Projects Bradley Shahine, and Director of Autism Schools Pamela Clark.

On the Spectrum  is a funny and touching love story between two people with autism. In the play, an online e-chat between Mac, who has Asperger’s, and Iris, who has autism, blossoms into a friendship and love story with a unique and unforgettable difference. The production has earned rave reviews and ends April 28.

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On the Spectrum Now to April 28 (323) 663-1525  MORE

Fountain Spotlight: Virginia Newcomb is “Astounding” in ‘On the Spectrum’

Virginia Newcomb

Virginia Newcomb

When you see On The Spectrum at the Fountain Theatre you not only get a funny and touching glimpse into a unique world rarely seen. You also witness a truly one-of-a-kind performance. The three actors in On The SpectrumJeanie Hackett, Virginia Newcomb and Dan Shaked — have all deservedly earned rave reviews from critics and audiences alike.  Newcomb’s portrayal of Iris, the young woman with lower-functioning autism and acute physical and neurological challenges yet blessed with a deep and richly imaginative  inner life, is extraordinary.  Critics have hailed her performance as “astounding”, “wondrous” and “breathtaking”.

The challenges of the role are enormous. In addition to her non-stop physical ticks, twitches, movement and behavior,  Iris struggles with speech and  painfully wrestles with forming words and sentences. She communicates online and unseen via the written text of her blog and website  (“The Other World”).  When forced to converse in person with another human being, she types her  thoughts into a hand-held Proloquo computer device which, in turn, “speaks” for her in a computerized voice.

Iris e-chats from "The Other World" with Mac.

Iris e-chats from “The Other World” with Mac.

This means 80% of Virginia’s live performance is achieved in tandem with Iris’s recorded voice (also done by Newcomb). For the actress, it requires tremendous focus, concentration and non-stop physical commitment to the role for the full 90 minutes of the play. Audiences watching her performance have no idea how hard it is (nor should they). But all agree it is vivid, powerful, funny, deeply moving and utterly unforgettable.

How does she do it?       

Before auditioning, what was your impression when you first learned about the play? The role of Iris? Any preconceptions?

My initial response was pretty visceral.  The general themes appealed to me immediately; love, courage, fear, humanity. I think I’ve said to several people some variation of, “This is one of those roles that will make me better at what I do.”  Not to mention, having worked with The Fountain before, I trusted they would do the story justice. 

How did you prepare for the audition?

I knew this was a role that would take quite a bit of research to do it justice.  Given the nature of auditions, it was impossible to bring in all of that in just a couple days.  So, I focused on those initial emotional reactions to the piece.  I did some research online and found a few mannerisms that I felt would heighten my believability.  Mostly, I allowed myself the freedom to express my own quirks, imagination, and fears.  I think those discoveries remain the root of this character. 

How did you feel when you learned you got the role? 

Thrilled and terrified.  It was kind of a moment of, “Oh, okay, I guess this is really happening.”  That’s a funny dichotomy; feeling confidence and doubt simultaneously.    

Iris is such a unique, challenging and demanding role — both physically and mentally. How did you prepare for it? 

I really held on to those initial feelings.  I believe if something makes you feel so strongly,  so quickly, ultimately that will be the key to the character.  Before this, I didn’t have any personal experiences with Autism. But there’s a very rare disease in my family called DRPLA that certainly impacted my choices.  It is very different, but there are physical manifestations that I was able to draw from.  It also informed my understanding of the difference between one’s physical existence and mental acuteness.  Our director, Jacqueline Schultz, was able to arrange time for us to observe at The Help Group, one of the premiere schools for students with special needs.  Perhaps my most valuable experience was attending their high school Valentine’s Day dance.   Dan Shaked and I both remarked on feeling this sense of freedom and non-judgment in the room.  Not to belittle the challenges they face, but I have certainly come to appreciate the perspective of those “on the spectrum”.    Beyond that, I spent a lot of time looking at videos (of which I was surprised to find quite a few).  Autistic activism is a very present community.  It was not difficult to engross myself in that world.  I’ve found other inspiration in studying birds, wild horses, and all the fantastical imagery already written into the play. 

Iris 1

Much of Iris is recorded in Voice Over. What is that experience like, as an actress? Connecting your physical life with the recorded Voice Over track?  

At first, it was a little like rehearsing different characters.  We had rehearsals where I worked on the voice then our stage manager, Corey, would do the lines and sometimes even Jacqueline, then we recorded a temporary track  so I could really focus on the physical life.  We wanted to fully explore the character before committing to one version of the recording.  Iris’s idealistic voice is the voice most like me and the one that really shows us her intelligence.  So, it was important that it was fully explored.  Our sound designer, Peter Bayne, has also done a really great job at maintaining a since of intimacy.  We put it all together during tech week.  It’s become a bit of a dance between me, Corey, and Iris — never being sure who exactly is leading.     

Displaying battle bruises with pride.

Displaying battle bruises with pride.

The physical demands of the role must take a toll. Are you exhausted after every performance? 

When we started putting all the elements together (the physical, mental, and emotional life and then technically; video, VO, audience) I went through an adjustment period.  After our first previews I was a sore, sweaty, dehydrated, and an emotional mess.  My body wasn’t quite sure what the hell I was doing to it.  I’ve since found some sort of balance.  Some nights I still leave feeling a little beaten up, but it’s something to be proud of.  This is my marathon or battle. 

Do you have any favorite moments in the play? As an actress?

It’s been important for me that Iris not be portrayed as a victim.  She certainly has many moments of vulnerability, but my favorite moments are when she’s able to assert herself.  She has moments of true heroism in this play and those are my favorite to play. 

What kind of response are you getting from anyone in the Autism community after seeing you on stage? 

The most validating responses have been from those who have personal experiences with Autism.  I’ve had several people tell me I’m doing it justice; that it’s believable and that’s really what it all comes down to.  People are very touched by the story and the characters.  So, I’m just thrilled that it resonates. 

What was/is your greatest fear in doing the role?

When playing a character with any kind of ‘disability’ you want it to be believable.  The Autism spectrum is so broad that it gave me the freedom to really create something unique for Iris, but also made it difficult to find specific examples of someone like her.  I’ve just had to trust my director and all other aspects of the collaboration.  I know that it can be uncomfortable for some audience members, but I try to keep it honest.  My mother sent me a beautiful letter, “Don’t be afraid of making anyone uncomfortable.  Maybe through Iris you’re teaching them to accept someone different in a way they hadn’t thought of before.”  It feels like a big responsibility, but that’s the beautiful thing that art can do for humanity.

What part of Iris do you most identify or empathize with? Is there any part of her character that you personally connect most deeply to?

Her imagination.  I was a very shy introverted child.  I would fanaticize and draw a lot.  Along the way, I began to intuit that a more public form of expression was my journey.  It wasn’t easy for me at first, still sometimes isn’t really, but it’s my hero’s quest.  Iris’s journey into the real world is not all that different from mine.  We just have different limitations.  It’s kind of my thing to recognize that which scares me the most and run right through it.  All of my best qualities are formed out of those moments.  

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked

You and Dan Shaked have a nice chemistry on stage together. With Mac and Iris both having communication issues — how did you and Dan find ways to connect as actors?

Dan is really fantastic.  There was no trust barrier to get over; it was just so immediately comfortable. We are each other’s spring board for any frustrations we might be having about the characters.  Both of our characters have some juxtaposing characteristics and that can be confusing.  It helps to have someone trying to break the code along with you.   Having so little eye contact with someone you’re supposed to fall in love with can be difficult, but there are so many other ways to connect that it actually heightens the experience.  We have to really pay attention and feel the other’s presence by smell, sound, touch, etc.  It’s really fun.  He and I both love the little differences that happen night to night, too.  Sometime the VO speaker goes out, sometimes his headphones break, sometimes M&M’s are going everywhere, but it’s comforting knowing your partner and you can handle it. 

What was the process with Jacqueline Schultz as a director?

Jacqueline came to the table with such passion and knowledge.  A true artist, she knew how to lay the ground for us to freely create. She really let me run with Iris.  I never heard her say pull back.  If anything she’d say, “Great, okay now more of that.”  She helped push me through any fears I had.  I’m very grateful to her for helping me find Iris.

Virginia's dressing table back stage.

Virginia’s dressing table back stage.

This is your second Fountain production. Do you enjoy working at the Fountain? How does it compare to other theaters in LA?

The Fountain is so good at what they do.  It’s a big part of why I chose to do this play.  I was already familiar with how the team at The Fountain could elevate a production.  I was confident they’d bring Ken LaZebnik’s beautiful story to life.  They are no question one of the best intimate theatres in LA.  It’s a family and you really feel a part of it when you’re working here. 

Do you think the character of Iris will “stay with you” for a while, after the run ends? 

Well, she’s certainly welcome to.  I’ve adored playing Iris.  She is my courage and fear personified. 

Virginia ghost image

What are your plans after SPECTRUM closes?

Take a break, if the universe lets me.  I’ve been going non-stop for a while.  I shot three films last year and then the play.   I have plans to head back South for a bit.    I haven’t seen my family in over a year.  It’ll be nice.  Then? We’ll see.  

On The Spectrum Now to April 28 (323) 663-1525  MORE

This production is sponsored, in part, by The Help Group.

 

NEW VIDEO! ‘On the Spectrum’ is a “brilliant, flawless masterpiece” at the Fountain Theatre

New Video Trailer and Rave Reviews for Funny and Touching Love Story with a Difference

This production is sponsored, in part, by The Help Group.

On the Spectrum  Now to April 28  (323) 663-1525  MORE

Writer and Actors from Acclaimed “On the Spectrum” to be Featured at Advance LA 2013 Conference

Dan Shaked

Dan Shaked in “On the Spectrum”

Cormac is a young man who lives with his mother, Elisabeth, in a tiny apartment in New York City’s West Village. He is preparing to enter law school and Elisabeth’s employer has cut back her hours, so money is tight. Iris, a young blogger from Queens, hires Cormac to design her website. What ensues is a boy meets girl love story unlike any other.

Virginia Newcomb & Dan Shaked

Dan Shaked and Virginia Newcomb

Writer Ken LaZebnik’s highly acclaimed drama, “On the Spectrum,” provides a glimpse into the minds and hearts of two people faced with autism spectrum disorders. The production, directed by Jacqueline Schultz  and currently on stage at the  Fountain Theatre, captures the strengths and quirks of the main characters as they navigate through life. More importantly, the play serves as a testament to the need for increased awareness about autism.

The play “does a great a job of breaking down the myths about autism” says Schultz. “They can feel. They can fall in love. They can get actively involved in their own community.”

Dan Shaked & Jeanie Hackett

Dan Shaked & Jeanie Hackett in “On the Spectrum”

Rave reviews are rolling in for our West Coast Premiere of On the Spectrum by Ken LaZebnik, directed by Jacqueline Schultz. The Hollywood Reporter hails it as “Incandescent!” and Broadway World calls it “life-affirming” and “engrossing theatre that should be experienced by everyone.” The Examiner exclaims “If you have the opportunity to get to one play this spring, On the Spectrum is the one to see!”

Take a Look at All the RAVE REVIEWS

Advance LA is proud to welcome LaZebnik to Day One of the Innovate Conference on Friday, April 26th, from 12:50 to 1:50pm,  where he will be giving a presentation about his celebrated production.  In addition, the play’s three actors — Dan Shaked as Mac, Virginia Newcomb as Iris, and Jeanie Hackett as Elisabeth — are scheduled to perform a scene from the play for Friday’s conference attendees.

Advance LA is an innovative program created and operated by The Help Group to  support teens and young adults with autism, Asperger’s and other learning issues in their  transition to independence.

This year’s Advance LA conference, INNOVATE, will bring together experts and innovators from diverse fields to join in exploring the newest thinking on how best to support young people preparing for a successful transition to college, the workforce, and beyond. The conference will focus on the need to devise innovative, practical, and sustainable solutions to answer questions that arise during the transitioning period, a crucial time for young people who face challenges that differ from those confronting many of their peers. 

Meet the playwright and cast of On the Spectrum at the Advance LA conference on Friday, April 26th, from 12:50 to 1:50, at the American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90077.

More info: (818) 779-5198 or www.advancela.org

On the Spectrum (323) 663-1525  Now to April 28th  MORE

This production is sponsored, in part, by The Help Group.