Tag Archives: New Orleans

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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New Casting Update: Seeking black actress for world premiere of ‘Runaway Home’ at Fountain Theatre

RUNAWAY HOME title imageUPDATE: The Fountain Theatre is casting for its upcoming world premiere production of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps, directed by Shirley Finney. Much of the cast is in place. The Fountain is still seeking the following supporting roles:

[SHANA] 35-45, Black, female. The unofficial “mayor” of the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. Moral courage, brash exterior, soft interior, lives by high standards of truth, courage and morality and expects the same from others, loyal and on the flip side, holds grudges, can be stubborn and judgmental, but 100% reliable to be the foundation, indefatigable, righteous in a way that sometimes bleeds into not being realistic. 

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.

In addition still casting:

[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.

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. Auditions will be held next week.  

Email submissions to casting@fountaintheatre.com 

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 

An actress embraces ghosts in this old Southern mansion in a weekend she’ll never forget

Baby Doll house 3

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.  

kazan directing BABY DOLL film

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.”

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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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