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The Fountain Theatre presents a world premiere
theatrical event: ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’
Claudia Rankine’s acclaimed book of poetry about race in America
brought to the stage by playwright Stephen Sachs, director Shirley Jo Finney
LOS ANGELES (June 24, 2015) – A meditation on race fusing poetry, prose, movement, music and the video image, Citizen: An American Lyric is a provocative new stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s internationally acclaimed book of poetry about everyday acts of racism in America. Adapted by multiple award-winning playwright Stephen Sachs, helmed by multi award winning director Shirley Jo Finney, and featuring a talented six-member ensemble including Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick and Lisa Pescia, the world premiere of Citizen opens at the Fountain Theatre on August 1.
Sachs, a prolific playwright who is also co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles, immediately recognized the inherent theatricality of Rankine’s book.
“I kept thinking to myself: this could be a play, this could be a play,” he says. “The Fountain has been looking to create a new work that gives voice to the national conversation on race in America. We want to speak out in response to what’s happening right now in Los Angeles and across the country, in the present tense. And although ‘Citizen’ is a book of poetry, not a play, I knew right away it could make an important, thought-provoking and provocative theater piece.”
Rankine’s book is the recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Los Angeles Times Book Award, PEN Open Book Award and NAACP Image Award, and has been shortlisted for one of the UK’s top poetry collection prizes, the Forward. The New Yorker called Citizen “brilliant… explores the kinds of injustice that thrive when the illusion of justice is perfected,” and The New York Times wrote that “Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry’s forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves.”
Made up of remarks, glances, seeming slips of the tongue — those did-that-really-just-happen-did-they-really-just say-that slurs that happen every day, as well as the larger incidents that become national firestorms — the stage adaptation of Citizen is a spoken word dramatic collage, a meditation, or as Rankine herself calls it, “an American lyric.”
To get to the heart of the issues exposed in the play, Finney explains, it must be personal.
“This piece is an interior, stream-of-consciousness dreamscape that viscerally plugs into the collective truth,” she says. “The actors need to bring a piece of themselves to it, really have the conversation that is on the page. It’s cellular, lives in the soul of our DNA, bypasses the mind. These are words that if you thought about them first, you wouldn’t say them.”
To that end, rehearsals began with a raw, insightful, painful, funny and enlightening conversation among the actors about their own life experiences concerning race, social and cultural interaction, and human relationships.
As Rankine writes, “This is how you are a citizen.”
Originally from Jamaica, Claudia Rankine earned her BA in English from Williams College and her MFA in poetry from Columbia University. She is the author of five collections of poetry: Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014), which received the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry; Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2004);PLOT (Grove Press, 2001); The End of the Alphabet (Grove Press, 1998); and Nothing in Nature is Private (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1995), which received the Cleveland State Poetry Prize. Her honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowments for the Arts. In 2005, she was awarded the Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by the Academy of American Poets, and in 2013, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Rankine is currently the Henry G. Lee Professor of English at Pomona College.
Stephen Sachs’ other plays include Heart Song (Fountain Theatre, Florida Stage), Bakersfield Mist (2012 Elliot Norton Award, Best New Play; produced on London’s West End with Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, LA Drama Critics Circle award and LA Weekly award nomination for Best Adaptation), Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court), Open Window (Pasadena Playhouse, Media Access Award for Excellence), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Back Stage Garland award, Best Play), Sweet Nothing in My Ear (PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Media Access award, NEA grant award), Mother’s Day, The Golden Gate (Best Play, Drama-Logue) and The Baron in the Trees. He wrote the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in My Ear for Hallmark Hall of Fame which aired on CBS starring Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. Sachs co-founded The Fountain Theatre with Deborah Lawlor in 1990.
Shirley Jo Finney has previously directed acclaimed Fountain productions of The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water (for which she earned her second Ovation award), Heart Song, The Ballad of Emmett Till, Yellowman, 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.
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 Ford Amphitheatre; and the last five 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.”
Set design and video projections for Citizen: An American Lyric are by Yee Eun Nam; lighting design is by Pablo Santiago; original music and sound design are by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Naila Aladdin-Sanders; props are by Dillon Nelson; movement is by Anastasia Coon; stage manager is Shawna Voragen; assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts; associate producer is James Bennett; and Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.
Citizen: An American Lyric opens on Saturday, Aug. 1 and continues through Sept. 14, with performances on Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and Mondays at 8 p.m. Four preview performances take place on Saturday, July 25 at 8 p,m.; Sunday, July 26 at 3 p.m. Thursday, July 30 at 8 p.m.; and Friday, July 26 at 8 p.m. Tickets range from Pay-What-You-Can at every Monday performance to $15–$34.95 on the weekends. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.
Details for Calendar Listings
“Citizen: An American Lyric”
Citizen: An American Lyric — A provocative meditation on race fusing poetry, prose, movement, music and the video image. Shirley Jo Finney directs the world premiere of Stephen Sachs’ stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s internationally acclaimed book of poetry about everyday acts of racism in America (winner, National Book Critics Circle Award, Los Angeles Times Book Award, NAACP Image Award; PEN Open Book Award).
• Written by Claudia Rankine
• Adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs
• Directed by Shirley Jo Finney
• Starring Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick, Lisa Pescia
• Produced by Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor
• Associate producer James Bennett
• Presented by The Fountain Theatre
Previews: July 25- July 31
Performances: Aug. 1-Sept. 14
• Thursday at 8 p.m.: July 30 ONLY (preview)
• Friday at 8 p.m.: July 31 ONLY (preview)
• Saturdays at 8 p.m.: July 25 (preview); Aug 1 (opening), 8, 15, 22, 29; Sept. 5, 12
• Sundays at 3 p.m.: July 26 (preview); Aug. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30; Sept. 6, 13
• Sundays at 7 p.m.: Aug. 2, 9, 23, 30; Sept. 6, 13 (no 7 p.m. performance on Aug. 16)
• Mondays at 8 p.m.: Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24, 31; Sept. 14 (dark Sept. 7)
The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
(Fountain at Normandie)
(323) 663-1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com
• Premium Seats: $34.95 (VIP center section, includes 1 free beverage)
• Regular Seating: $30.00 (assigned by box office)
• Patrons 30 years old or younger: $20 (“30/20 Club”– valid ID required)
• Students: $20 (valid ID required)
• Pay-What-You-Can every Monday night
Secure, on-site parking: $5