Tag Archives: playwright

Playwright Lauren Gunderson offers theatre as an antidote to social media

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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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American Theatre Wing releases new documentary film on Fountain Theatre’s ‘Building the Wall’

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Judith Moreland and Bo Foxworth, ‘Building the Wall’, Fountain Theatre

You know them as the New York-based organization that presents the Tony Awards and the Obies each year. But the American Theatre Wing provides a myriad of other remarkable services nationwide. It provides grants and scholarships, connect talents at all stages with educational and professional opportunities, and creates content that illuminates and preserves theatre. Founded in 1917 on the eve of America’s entry into World War I by seven suffragettes, American Theatre Wing has spent a century using theatre to advance human experience, empathy and cultural growth by providing a platform for strong and fearless voices in the American theatre.

This week, American Theatre Wing released a new short documentary film it commissioned on the creation and development of the Fountain Theatre’s world premiere production of Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan.  The riveting new play opened at the Fountain Theatre on March 18, 2017 and was extended to sold-out houses to August 27th. It earned international attention and launched the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere.

The documentary film, Working in the Theatre: Building the Wall, is an episode in The Wing’s Emmy® Nominated series produced to entertain audiences by revealing theatre’s inner-workings, profiling industry luminaries, and taking a closer look at unique stories that surround important work.

“We’re very proud and honored to have our production chronicled by the American Theatre Wing, ” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Robert’s play is triggering a national conversation. It’s a privilege to have our process at the Fountain Theatre documented and permanently archived by The Wing for the field of the American Theatre.”

For playwright Robert Schenkkan, the documentary carries forward the crusade that began when he first wrote the play in a fury of outrage over the 2016 presidential campaign. For Schenkkan and the Fountain, theatre can serve as a spark for social action.

“Theatre, of course, is about bringing together very disparate groups of people, during which they share a story, ” says Schenkkan. “A story about themselves, about their society, about their culture. And in the sharing of that story, hopefully they learn something about themselves, they are provoked to think more deeply about themselves, to ask better questions, and to leave in some fundamental ways, altered and perhaps more open to the possibility of change.”

 

New Video: Meet ‘Runaway Home’ playwright Jeremy J. Kamps

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Veteran TV producer and showrunner Clifton Campbell joins Fountain Theatre Board of Directors

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Clifton Campbell and his wife Kim at the 2017 Academy Awards. 

“The feeling I get sitting in a theatre just before the houselights fade is one that is very personal for me,” admits TV producer and writer Clifton Campbell. “Excitement for what’s about to unfold. The anticipation of bold ideas told through flawed and deeply human characters promising to take me to a richer understanding of a world outside my own. In that moment, I sit wondering not if this play is ready for me; but if I am ready for this play. For the shared human experience you can only get from live theatre.”

It is clear that the Fountain Theatre is ready for Clifton Campbell. The Fountain is pleased and honored to announce that veteran TV producer, showrunner and writer Clifton Campbell has joined the Fountain Theatre Board of Directors. 

“Cliff is passionate about developing a new program to engage parents who have children wanting to be writers,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “He is also committed to building a bridge between the Fountain Theatre and the TV industry. He is eager to guide the forming of new relationships between the Fountain and TV professionals. Cliff is a smart guy with decades of experience as a TV producer, and his heart has never left the theatre. We are thrilled to have him on our Board of Directors.”

Clifton Campbell has enjoyed a career in television spanning more than 30 years. Recently, Clifton was Executive Producer for the TV series Sleepy Hollow.  He was also Executive Producer of White CollarThe GladesProfilerWiseguy, and others. He has partnered with such producers as Steven Spielberg, Stephen J. Cannell, and Michael Mann. 

Clifton was born and raised in Hialeah, Florida. He graduated from Florida State University and moved to Chicago to pursue a career as a playwright.

“The early eighties was an amazing time for theatre in Chicago,” remembers Campbell. “I was witness to ground-breaking new works and game changing productions from companies like Steppenwolf, St. Nicholas, The Goodman, Body Politic, Wisdom Bridge and Victory Gardens, all of whom were leading the charge in a new age of Regional Theatre. The six years I spent in Chicago theatre was the greatest education of my life.”

His work as a playwright caught the eye of producer/director Michael Mann, landing him a writing job on Mann’s TV series Crime StoryClifton‘s writing career took off and escalated to TV producing, but he always remained a theatre guy. He also became a family guy. Clifton and his wife Kim have been married for sixteen years and together have three grown children; Bailey, Jordan and Paige.

“The Fountain Theatre is everything I think of when I remember those incredible days back in Chicago,” says Campbell. “I am proud and excited to be joining its Board of Directors. ” 

Fountain Theatre earns 7 Stage Raw Theatre Award nominations

MY MAÑANA COMES

Lawrence Stallings, Pablo Castelblanco, Richard Azurdia, Peter Pasco

It was announced today that the Fountain Theatre has been nominated for seven Stage Raw Theatre Awards for two productions in the 2016 season. Our Los Angeles premiere of My Manana Comes by Elizabeth Irwin and the world premiere of Stephen Sachs’ Dream Catcher were acknowledged with the following nominations:

  • Leading Male Performance – Lawrence Stallings, MY MAÑANA COMES 
  • Supporting Male Performance – Peter Pasco, MY MAÑANA COMES
  • Playwriting  – Elizabeth Irwin, MY MANANA COMES
  • Two Person Performance – Elizabeth Frances & Brian Tichnell, DREAM CATCHER
  • Lighting Design – Jennifer Edwards, MY MAÑANA COMES 
  • Set Design – Michael Navarro, MY MAÑANA COMES 
  • Production Design – Dillon Nelson,  MY MAÑANA COMES

 Full list of nominees.

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Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell in Dream Catcher. 

The Third Annual Stage Raw Theater Awards are May 15 at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street, Downtown. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show starts at 7:30 p.m. 

Tickets: General Admission $25, VIP reception (post-show) $100. VIP Includes: Hosted bar, passed food, trial membership to Stage Raw “Insiders Club” More Info

 

New Video: How Robert Schenkkan’s ‘Building the Wall’ came to the Fountain Theatre and why

Building the Wall (323) 663-1525 More Info/Get Tickets

What’s it like to walk the red carpet?

oscars-red-carpetHe has strolled down many red carpets in his celebrated career. At the Writers Guild Awards, the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the Venice Film Festival, and the Oscars. He wrote the screenplay for Hacksaw Ridge, nominated Best Picture for this year’s Academy Awards.

The world will be watching the Oscar ceremony this Sunday, and gawk at the parade of celebrities as they strut the red carpet beforehand. What’s it like to march down that crimson pathway with all eyes and cameras tracking your every step? For playwright Robert Schenkkan, author of our upcoming world premiere Building the Wall, the carpet is not always magic. Particularly if you’re a writer.

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Robert Schenkkan at the Venice Film Festival

“The clusterfuck of a red carpet is always where the writer is reminded of his or her place in the food chain, ” admits Schenkkan. “You are absolutely the most important person in the universe, until anybody else steps on the red carpet — then you’re just chopped liver. You can see the heads snap and the cameras snap, and whoever you’re talking to, their eyes are immediately doing the Hollywood over-your-shoulder shuffle. This is something one is used to, but it’s a humbling experience, always.”

Another other-worldly aspect of Award nights are the gifting lounges, where vendors shower talent with free offerings that vary from high-end beauty products to fine wines to elegant clothing to free travel packages at exotic resort islands. For Schenkkan, the touring of gift salons is a strange ritual unto itself.

“You have to make an appointment, and then you’re assigned a guide who walks you through this bizarre bazaar of products and services, ” he explains. “These things are really kind of entertaining in their own way. There’s a whole formality to it. But again, there’s the reminder of where you are in the food chain, particularly as a writer.”

Robert remembers one incident in particular. “Many years ago when I did this, there was a resort island package. I’m a scuba diver, so I’m always interested in that. They have to artfully, discreetly explain that while they would love to gift you with this, actually they have to reserve it for somebody more important than you. It’s a little weird.”

The ups and downs of a Hollywood screenwriter. Thankfully, unlike the film industry, playwrights in the American theatre are held in much higher esteem. And few are held higher than Robert Schenkkan. Which is one of the many reasons why we are so honored to be premiering his newest play at the Fountain Theatre.

Now, Robert, on Opening Night of Building the Wall at the Fountain, don’t expect any fancy gift lounges offering you a scuba diving vacation package on an exotic island resort. But we’re happy to offer you a free snorkel.

Unless, of course, someone more important wants it.

Building the Wall opens March 18 at the Fountain Theatre.

Quotes in this post originally appeared in Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America, West.