Tag Archives: Walt Whitman

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 

The Surprise and Wonder of Human Connection in LA Premiere of ‘I And You’ at Fountain Theatre

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

“I and This Mystery, here we stand”
 Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself

On the night before a class assignment is due, Caroline and Anthony plumb the mysteries of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass — unaware that a much deeper mystery has brought them together. The Los Angeles premiere  of I and You by Lauren Gunderson, winner of the 2014 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award, opens onApril 11 at the Fountain Theatre, directed by Robin Larsen.

Only in high school would two completely unconnected people — feisty, chronically ill Caroline and levelheaded basketball star Anthony — be paired to collaborate on a project to deconstruct a poem about the interconnectivity of everything. Jennifer Finch (7 Redneck Cheerleaders and Hellcab with Elephant Theatre Company) and Matthew Hancock (Oshoosi in The Brothers Size at the Fountain) star as two smart and funny teens who share an unknown and profound bond.

“Whitman says that we are all one because we are all equal, even though it might not look like it at times. There is a universal oneness,” said Gunderson in an interview.

“These two precocious teenagers and Walt Whitman’s epic poem of humanity have something to teach us all,” says Larsen. “That we are supremely connected, to each other, to the earth, to the stars, and that recognizing this connection, becoming conscious of it, is perhaps the point of our existence.”

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

Jennifer Finch and Matthew Hancock

I and You was commissioned by South Coast Repertory (which also commissioned Gunderson’s Emilie: La Marquise Du Chaltelet Defends Her Life Tonight in 2009 and Silent Sky in 2011). The play received readings at SCR’s Pacific Playwrights Festival in April 2012 and as part of Magic Theatre’s new play development Magic @ the Costume Shop program. It premiered at the Marin Theatre Company in the fall of 2013, the first production in a series of “rolling world premieres” made possible by the National New Play Network’s Continued Life of New Plays Fund; subsequent NNPN productions took place at the Olney Theatre Center in Olney, Maryland and the Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis, Indiana. I and You went on to win the 2014 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award and was a finalist for the 2014 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. American Theatre magazine put it on the cover of its July/August 2014 issue and featured the script in its entirety.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson

Playwright Lauren Gunderson

Lauren Gunderson 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 U.S. including South Coast 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 andToil And Trouble) and Samuel French (Emilie). She is a playwright-in-residence at the Playwrights Foundation and a member of the Dramatists Guild. Originally from Atlanta, GA, Gunderson lives in San Francisco.

Robin Larsen

Robin Larsen

Robin Larsen has been chosen to receive the 2015 Milton Katselas Award for Career Achievement in Direction by the Los Angeles Drama Critic’s Circle, to be presented at the LADCC awards ceremony on March 16, and the production of A Delicate Balance that she directed for Odyssey Theatre Ensemble is a current nominee for the circle’s McCulloh Award for Revival. Other directing credits include Mrs. Warren’s Profession at Antaeus; the L.A. premiere of David Harrower’s Blackbird for Rogue Machine (LADCC nomination, Best Production; five “Best of 2011” lists including the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly); the world premiere of Pursued By Happiness by Keith Huff at the Road Theatre Company (Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice”); and the West Coast premiere of The Fall To Earth by Joel Drake Johnson, starring JoBeth Williams, at the Odyssey (LADCC Nomination, Huffington Post “2012 Top Los Angeles Theater Productions”). Robin’s West Coast premiere of Four Places, also by Joel Johnson, at Rogue Machine was one of the most lauded plays of the 2010 L.A. theater season, winning Ovation, LADCC and Backstage Garland awards for Best Production. For the Black Dahlia Theatre, Robin directed the West Coast premiere of Tryst (five Ovation Award nominations including Best Production and Best Director, three LA Weekly Awards including Best Play, and two Backstage Garland Awards including Best Director) and the L.A. premiere of David Schulner’s An Infinite Ache (Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice”). Robin is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker whose work has screened at festivals around the world. Her web series Sex & Marriage, created with playwright John Pollono, can be seen on Justin Lin’s YouTube network YOMYOMF.

Set design for I and You is by Tom Buderwitz; lighting design is by Jeremy Pivnick; sound design is by John Zalewski; costume design is by Jocelyn Hublau Parker; production stage manager is Josephine Austin; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen Sachs, Deborah Lawlor and Simon Levy produce for the Fountain Theatre.

Currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, 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 with the 2014 Ovation Award for Best Season and the 2014 BEST Award for overall excellence from the Biller Foundation; the Fountain play Bakersfield Mist in London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid; the sold-out Forever Flamenco gala concert at the 1200-seat John Anson Ford Amphitheatre; and the last four Fountain productions consecutively highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times. The Fountain has been honored with six Awards of Excellence from the Los Angeles City Council for “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

production photos by Ed Krieger

I And You April 2 – June 14 (323) 663-1525  MORE/Get Tickets

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: First Rehearsal for LA Premiere of I AND YOU at Fountain Theatre

Matthew Hancock, Jennifer Finch

Matthew Hancock, Jennifer Finch

“Do anything, but let it produce joy.”
― Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Our company of theatre artists for our upcoming LA Premiere of I And You produced joy at the first rehearsal Monday afternoon at the Fountain. Actors Matthew Hancock and Jennifer Finch met for the first time under the caring eye of director Robin Larsen. Matthew returns to the Fountain after his acclaimed performance in The Brothers Size.

At the I And You first rehearsal, director Robin Larsen spoke about her vision for the play and producer Stephen Sachs guided the company through the production paperwork. Also present at the first reading were co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor, producing director Simon Levy, associate producer James Bennett, stage manager Josephine Austin, dramaturg Christopher Breyer, and publicist Lucy Pollak. Once the opening business was done, the two actors read the script marvelously.

I and You is a funny and beautifully moving new play by Lauren Gunderson about two high school kids thrown together under unusual 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. Winner of the 2014 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award, finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Playwrighting Prize, and nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for Best New Play, I and You is a funny and haunting play about youth, life, love, and the strange transcendent connections between us all.

I And You opens April 11th (323) 663-1525  Get Tickets/More Info

Enjoy Snapshots from the First Rehearsal

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John Patrick Shanley Tells How Seeing ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ Changed His Life

John Patrick Shanley

Award-winning playwright and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley gave a commencement speech to students at College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York. In the speech, he described how seeing the play Cyrano de Bergerac changed his life and transformed how he viewed his own self-image:

“I saw a play called Cyrano de Bergerac. The main character in the play is a freak: he has an obscenely long nose, he’s the toughest guy in the regiment, and he’s a poet.

I was thirteen when I saw that play. And it changed everything for me. It said, if you are not mindful you will be distracted and deceived by this Practical World.  It said, there are other things than money, power and position. Real things. And these are things that make life sweet. Honor, courage, love, poetry, glory, beauty, nobility of purpose, gallantry and friendship.

I walked out of that theatre and thought, I could have a beautiful life. I know I am a freak. But some guy who died one hundred years ago just showed me that there was another way of living. You can do it anywhere and no one can stop you. And I am saying that to you. You can have a beautiful life.

Tell the truth. Say who you are. And let it stand.

Shanley goes on to say:

Not to bring up something upsetting, but when you leave here today, you may go through a period of unemployment.

My suggestion is this: Enjoy the unemployment. Have a second cup of coffee. Go to the park. Read Walt Whitman.

Walt Whitman loved being unemployed. I don’t believe he ever did a day’s work in his life.

As you may know, he was a poet. If a lot of time goes by and you continue to be unemployed, you may want to consider announcing to all appropriate parties that you have become a poet.

So here we are. Commencement. The day stands before you like an open gate.

What’s on the other side? You gotta wonder. A hideous job, a satisfying marriage, a spiritual quest?

I’ve worked like a dog all my life. I have had my heart broken numerous times.

I have had great success, humiliation, physical affliction and I have seen the face of despair. When I stand here, I feel like I’ve dropped out of the mouth of a storm and my hair is crazy on my head.

That storm is life. Life is very long and very short and it’s unknowable and strange and terrifying and beautiful and it’s spooky and boring and bitter and nasty and elegant and extreme and if you are lucky you have the courage to want it to be all those things.

You commit to it. You commit to live and not run away. It’s true I’ve learned nothing. It’s true nobody changes, not really.

But if you commit to your life and live it, you will become more and more truly YOU. And that’s a great thing. That has something of the Divine in it.

Enjoy Shanley’s Entire Speech to the Students

John Patrick Shanley is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His play, “Doubt: A Parable,” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Drama Desk Award and the Tony Award for Best Play. He also won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the 1987 film “Moonstruck.”

Cyrano  323-663-1525  Extended to July 8th!  More Info