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Emmett Till – Press Release


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(818) 887-1499 [email protected]


Fountain’s 20th anniversary season opens with West Coast premiere of
The Ballad of Emmett Tillin celebration of Black History Month


LOS ANGELES (Feb, 17, 2009) — The Fountain Theatre opens its 20th Anniversary Season with the West Coast premiere of Ifa Bayeza‘s daring and poetic The Ballad of Emmett Till in celebration of Black History Month.  Shirley Jo Finney (Yellowman) directs Bernard K. Addison, Rico E. Anderson, Lorenz Arnell, Adenrele Ojo and Karen Malina White in the seven-week run, Feb. 20 through April 3.

Part history, part mystery and part ghost story, Bayeza’s lyrical integration of past, present, fact and legend turns the story of the 1955 murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, whose shocking death helped spark the nascent civil rights movement, into a soaring work of music, poetic language and riveting theatricality.

Bayeza has newly conceived The Ballad of Emmett Till for the intimate Fountain space, giving the award-winning play, which premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre last year, a whole new spin.

“How do you re-think an epic piece for a 78-seat theater so that it becomes a uniquely intimate experience?” she asks.

The result, says Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs, is a fast, immensely theatrical, 90-minute version with a cast of five that “celebrates a young man who lived, not an icon who died.”

“Everybody thinks of Emmett Till’s story as a tragedy,” says Finney. “This play is a joyous look at a life lived.  Emmett was a hero and a martyr, not a victim.  He had overcome polio, replacing his limp with a swagger.  A stutterer when he was young, he became a wordsmith.  He had a zest for living and a sense of humor; he was fearless and he was defiant.  Those white men had just set out to ‘teach him a lesson’ – they murdered him because he was a ‘smart mouth.’  Three months later, Rosa Parks refused to get off the bus – and she said she was ‘thinking of Emmett Till.’  It was the spirit of his being that sparked the civil rights movement, his defiance and his refusal to bow down and be broken.  And it was his mother who laid that foundation in him and who refused to hide any more by keeping that casket open.  Emmett was the voice of a new generation.”

With this production, the Fountain celebrates another life lived as well.  Shirley Jo Finney stepped in to direct The Ballad of Emmett Till after director Ben Bradley was found murdered in his home on January 2.  “Because Ben loved the play and the project so much, we were determined to go forward,” explains Sachs. “Shirley Jo is a fabulous director and a longtime member of the Fountain family.  Ben worked with her many times and adored her.”

Ifa Bayeza is an award-winning playwright, producer and conceptual theater artist. Her works for the stage include Amistad Voices, Club Harlem, Kid Zero, Homer G & the Rhapsodies, for which she received a Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays fellowship, and The Ballad of Emmett Till, which received its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre in May 2008 and which garnered the 2008 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for “Best Play.”  Bayeza received numerous honors for The Ballad of Emmett Till, including research fellowships from Brown University, Columbia College in Chicago and the Eugene O’Neill 2007 Playwrights Conference. Her work has been performed at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Lorraine Hansberry Theatre,

Crossroads Theatre, BRAVA, Cosmic Theater in Amsterdam and at the Sorbonne. Bayeza served as the original dramaturg and set designer for Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls at New Federal Theatre and The Public Theater. A graduate of Harvard University, Bayeza is co- founder of the theatrical think-tank DBA Studios, a founding board member of the SonEdna Foundation of Mississippi and a member of the Dramatists Guild of America. She lives in Chicago.

Shirley Jo Finney directed Yellowman at the Fountain, for which she received NAACP, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Back Stage Garland, and LA Weekly Awards for Best Director.  Other Fountain credits include Central Avenue and From the Mississippi Delta.  She has directed all over the United States including at the McCarter Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors’ Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, American College Theatre Festival and Sundance Theatre Workshop.  She directed the East Coast premiere of Lydia Diamond’s Stickfly at the McCarter, followed by the West Coast premiere at The Matrix Theatre for which she was nominated for an Ovation Award. She premiered a new play based on a children’s book, Alice, written by Whoopi Goldberg at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C, which  went on to tour nationally.  She has directed several episodes of the UPN series Moesha and the Naked TV project for Fox Television, and she is the recipient of the International Black Filmmakers Award for the short film Remember Me.  In the spring of 2011, she will direct the world premiere of a new opera about Winnie Mandela in Johannesburg, South Africa.  

Set Design for The Ballad of Emmett Till is by Scott Siedman; Lighting Design is by Kathi O’Donohue; Costume Design is by Naila AladdinSanders; Sound Design is by David B. Marling; Dialect Coach is JB Blanc; Production Stage Manager is Elna Kordijan; Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor produce. 

Celebrating its 20th year, The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles.  Housed in a charming two-story complex in Hollywood, California, the Fountain provides a nurturing, creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists.  The Fountain serves as an artistic home for such noted playwrights as Athol Fugard, Lee Blessing, Dael Orlandersmith, Israel Horovitz, and enjoys successful relationships with the literary estates of Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald and August Wilson. Fountain projects have been seen in several major theaters around the country, including Victory Gardens (Chicago), the Guthrie (Minneapolis), Off-Broadway at Primary Stages (New York), and internationally at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland (winner of the Fringe First Award).

Members of the Fountain Theatre artistic team have created plays and productions that have launched the new Getty Villa classical amphitheater at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu; inaugurated the new Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis; and made into a CBS Movie-for-Television and a BBC Radio Drama.  The Fountain was instrumental in launching, hosting and guiding the Deaf West Theatre Company at the Fountain in 1991.  That company went on to win the Tony Award for its acclaimed ASL-version of Big River on Broadway in 2003.

Under the guidance of Producing Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, the Fountain is also the premier venue for Flamenco music and dance in Los Angeles.  Since 1990 it has produced over 500 world-class Flamenco concerts on its intimate stage and seven seasons at the 1200-seat Ford Amphitheatre.  The Fountain has also toured Flamenco projects throughout the Western United States.

Over its two-decade history, the Fountain has won over 200 awards for theater excellence in Los Angeles.  It is the only intimate theater in Los Angeles to win the Ovation Award (L.A.’s version of the Tony Award) for Best Production of a Play four times – and the Fountain has just been nominated twice again in 2009.  Plays created and developed at the Fountain Theatre have won the PEN Literary Award for Drama (and twice been PEN Finalists), the Ovation Award, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, LA Weekly Award, the Media Access Award and nominated for the New York Outer Critics Circle Award. Actors Equity Association presented its Diversity Award to the Fountain for the theater’s multi-cultural programming.  Heralded as “a living treasure” by the LA Weekly, The Fountain has been honored by the Los Angeles City Council for “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

The Ballad of Emmett Till opens on Saturday, Feb. 20 with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through April 3. Tickets are $25 on Thursdays and Fridays and $28 on Saturdays and Sundays.  On Thursdays and Fridays only, Students with ID are $18 and seniors over 62 are $23.

The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles.  Secure, on-site parking is available for $5.00.  The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible.  For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to


The Ballad of Emmett Till

The Ballad of Emmett Till
Part history, part mystery and part ghost story, Ifa Bayeza’s lyrical integration of past, present, fact and legend turns the story of the 1955 murder of 14-year old Emmett Till, whose shocking death helped spark the nascent civil rights movement, into a soaring work of music, poetic language and riveting theatricality. The Fountain Theatre presents the West Coast premiere of this daring new work in celebration of Black History Month.

Written by Ifa Bayeza
Directed by Shirley Jo Finney
Featuring Bernard K. Addison, Rico E. Anderson, Lorenz Arnell, Adenrele Ojo, Karen Malina White

Produced by Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor

Feb. 20 through April 3:
Thursdays at 8 p.m.

Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m.

The Fountain Theatre
5060 Fountain Ave.
Los Angeles CA 90029
(Fountain at Normandie)


(323) 663-1525 or

Thursdays and Fridays: $25

Saturdays and Sundays: $28
Seniors over 62 (Thursdays and Sundays only): $23
Students (with ID): $18
Previews: $15

Secure, on-site parking: $5