Tag Archives: Fountain Theatre

On Juneteenth: Abolitionist Biscuits

by t.tara turk-haynes

At this point, after the world has collapsed-rebuilt itself-collapsed-on repeat, I shouldn’t be surprised about anything. And then I saw Walmart’s Juneteenth ice cream. 

Listen, I’m not slow – I understand we need money to function as a society until we can figure out how to live like those in the Star Trek Enterprise era. But I did not expect people to go full-on ridiculous. A large corporation commercializing an event that many are so far removed from that they would just venture towards our final acknowledgment of slavery as an atrocity by going after our dollars – specifically the dollars of those likely to shop at Walmart, mid to lower-income blue-collar workers of varying races and views on race. 

I also thought about how much recent conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion have pushed us almost to the real conversations we need to have as a society: How much are you willing to understand about your privilege and what effect it has had either directly or indirectly on those who don’t have it? Allies, accomplices, and/or supporters of underrepresented people have to go beyond talking and understanding – it’s time to look in the mirror and figure out what you’re going to do to really create equitable societies. Or even if you want to. I had a professor in college who asked us in our Whiteness of Blackness (a course on literature on passing during the Harlem Renaissance): what are you really willing to give up so everyone can be free?

Was this what the slave-owners in Galveston, Texas thought about in 1865? After using the many excuses of religion, circus science, and flat-out fear-based racism to keep an entire people enslaved longer than the rest of the country – what did they tell themselves the day it was time to stop? We know they needed the labor because the Civil War practically bankrupted the South coupled with the onset of the industrial age. Former grandeur was now turning to dust and they were just a few shy levels up from the very people they believed they were superior to.

This is where my play Abolitionist Biscuits was born. It’s a play about two women – Black and White – in different times with different understandings of how they function in society. Though stations change for them, safety does not and neither does the assumption of privilege. 

When Lower Depth Theatre (always learning from these active theater practitioners) commissioned a short piece from me for their Juneteenth Jamboree and Freedom Walk, I knew I wanted to make the piece worth their talent and time. I knew we had to be relevant to now. Why now? Why Juneteenth even in the most recent years? 

As acclaimed journalist and author Annette Gordon-Reed says in her book On Juneteenth (a must read): “When I was growing up, we took Texas history twice—if I remember correctly, in the fourth and the seventh grades. I cannot say with certainty that slavery was never mentioned. Of course, I didn’t need school to tell me that Blacks had been enslaved in Texas. I heard references to slavery from my parents and grandparents. A common retort when another kid—often a sibling—insisted you do something for them you didn’t want to do was ‘Slavery time is over.’ And we celebrated Juneteenth, which marked the end of the institution. But if slavery was mentioned in the early days of my education, it didn’t figure prominently enough in our lessons to give us a clear and complete picture of the role the institution played in the state’s early development, its days as a Republic, its entry into the Union, and its role in the Civil War and its aftermath.”

Now we live in a world where social media reigns – and it’s not all bad. I learn so much from TikTok – what to do, what not to do, and often why. There is also a social media drama pouring out every other day – whether it’s a celebrity trial, a global social beef between influencers, or a reality star faux pas, social media is the gift (good or bad) that gives constantly. 

One component of social media not widely talked about is how we use live features for safety – whether they result in our safety or not, we need witnesses because the world doesn’t always believe the marginalized. Philando Castile’s girlfriend used Facebook to stream her beloved getting murdered at a traffic stop. As soon as something in the air goes left, cameras come out. What does that say about us that we need to world to witness just in case it results in us…living. Just in case. Sometimes it is safer than calling those we employ to keep us safe. And sometimes it makes those whose job it is to keep up safe, act with more responsibility and authority. Everyone is on guard because we don’t feel safe. 

The commercialism of the humanity of many, imploring the eyes of many to stay on us to feel safe, the eyes of others allowing us to teach a little something we know. This place was built to find the dots – or at least talk about the dots we need to connect for something to make sense in a time of senselessness. 

t.tara turk-haynes’ play Abolitionist Biscuits will receive a reading as part of the Juneteenth Jamboree and Freedom Walk, 5pm PDT June 19th at the Fountain Theatre. This outdoor celebration of African American history, heritage, and freedom is hosted by Lower Depth Theatre in partnership with The Fountain Theatre.

For more information, visit  lower-depth.com/juneteenth

Click Here to RSVP through Eventbrite

t.tara turk-haynes is a writer whose work has been featured in various stages and screens including Lower Depth Ensemble, Rogue Machine, Company of Angeles, the Hip Hop Theater Festival, the Actor’s Studio, Ensemble Studio Theater, the Schomburg, and the Kennedy Center.  She is a graduate of Lang College and Sarah LAwrence, receiving the Lipkin Playwrighting Award. She has been a Cycle of Violence Fellow at Lower Depth Ensemble, Van Lier Fellow at New York Theatre Workshop,  a member of Cosby Screenwriting Program, the Producers Guild Diversity Workshop, the Underwood Theatre Writers Group with Julia Cho, Rinne Groff, and Theresa Rebeck, and Company of Angels Writers Group. Her screenplays range from shorts to full length.  She won Best Screenplay at African American Women in Cinema and was an Urbanworld Screenplay Finalist. Also a producer, she has co-produced the webseries “Dinner at Lola” featuring Tracie Thoms, Yvette Nicole Brown, Bryan Fuller and Nelson Ellis among others.  As a fiction writer, her shorts and novellas have been published in various publications. She was published in Signifyin Harlem, Obsidian Call & Response: Experiments in Joy, Reverie: Midwest American Literature, the international anthology “X:24”, African Voices and Stress magazine. She has also been featured in Tamara Winfrey’s Harris’s “Dear Black Girl” and on several podcasts on diversity, equity, and inclusion. She has just finished a novel and a TV pilot on the Harlem Renaissance. She is a founding member of the producing playwrights’ collective The Temblors and was a member of the 2021 Geffen Writer’s Room.

The FPI Files: East West Players and Fountain Theatre Team Up for Jiehae Park’s “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo”

by Carolina Xique

It’s an exciting time to be an artist. In the last few years, the arts industry has been experiencing a high production value in diverse storytelling aimed toward better representation of people of color, and more specifically, Asian and Asian American representation. With groundbreaking films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Netflix’s Always be My Maybe, The Farewell, as well as the successful theatrical production of Cambodian Rock Band, people everywhere are becoming more exposed to the nuances of the Asian/Asian-American experience.

With a cast that is almost entirely made up of Koreans and Korean Americans, Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo takes a family on a funny, heartbreaking adventure to reconnect with their roots in South and North Korea, and also into the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides them. Hannah premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2017, and is now set to open at the Fountain Theatre in association with East West Players, directed by Jiehae’s longtime collaborator, Jennifer Chang. So we thought we’d grab the chance to talk with them about their own adventure with this play.

LAFPI: First, let us say that we’re thrilled to hear about this new piece and that it’s making its way into Los Angeles!

Jiehae, as playwright, can you talk about how the idea for this play came to you? And Jennifer, as the director, what drew you to take on this piece?

Jiehae Park: I didn’t know I was writing a play! I was primarily a performer at the time.  There were quite a few big questions I was trying to figure out—and I think the unusual shape of the play reflects that. I would sit down and write down stories that came to me in that moment, not realizing it was all going to add up to something bigger.

Jennifer Chang: I am a huge fan of Jiehae’s and have been following her career with personal interest for some time as we share an alma mater: we both went through the MFA Acting program at UCSD and have both diversified our careers.  She is a significant talent and I am so thrilled to have this opportunity to collaborate with her on Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. The musicality of the language and the inherent theatricality that emerges from her ability to weave a multiplicity of thought and theme are all very exciting and honestly a dream to be able to dive into.  Also, I love being able to support the telling of Asian American stories in their universality and three-dimensionality.

Playwright Jiehae Park

LAFPI: What kind of research did you do when writing Hannah, Jiehae?

Jiehae: I didn’t research much initially, but I did do quite a bit before finishing the play (that’s been a recurring pattern in my writing process these last few years). The research didn’t directly go into the play, but provided a richer historical and cultural context that helped me complete it.

LAFPI: A follow-up to that, in terms of your other plays and writing process, was anything different for Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

Jiehae: Broadly, I seem to have two general types of plays—super-quick, freight-train-speed linear ones; or messier, slower-baking plays where the structure is far less predictable. Hannah is definitely in the latter category.

Director Jennifer Chang

LAFPI: Jennifer, what in your directing process is helping you with Hannah?

Jennifer: Regarding research, the usual dramaturgical work of researching was involved: Korea, the DMZ, politics of North and South and Kim Jong Il. I wanted to lean into the magic-realism of the play, and early on knew that I wanted to consult with an illusionist, and also started doing some research into magic (I’m currently reading Spellbound by David Kwong). It’s been so great to have a cast that is almost entirely Korean and Korean American.  There are some points of commonality amongst Asian Americans, but being able to tap into specific details, nuances, and experiences that the cast has so generously shared with the company and has contributed to the making of the show has been invaluable.  It’s illuminating to discover the tiny nuances of how gestures and thinking sounds differ for Koreans in, and those from, Korea. I love new plays and really view myself as a locksmith in my approach to collaboration.  I want to know what the play wants to be, the playwright’s intentions, what’s resonating with the cast and how they approach the work, and how best to facilitate the conversation and “the ride” so to speak, with the audience.

Actors Monica Hong and Gavin Lee – Photo by Jenny Graham

LAFPI: Where does this piece fit in this new age of Asian/Asian American storytelling? How is it different?

Jiehae: I think it’s an exciting time for bold, uniquely Asian American storytelling that takes up its own space, written for audiences that include—though not exclusively—Asian Americans. Hannah is a play about the in-between-ness of a certain kind of Korean American immigrant identity, where the “homeland” can seem just as foreign as America. It’s written deliberately for a mixed audience—of Korean speakers and of non-Korean speakers—of all ethnicities. A lot of the work I’m excited about lately takes the old binaries and exposes them for what they always were—convenient fictions, with the far richer textures lying in between.

Jennifer:  I think the new age is a function of capitalism producers and production companies are recognizing that an underserved market exists and that if production companies and theaters want to keep making as much money as they have been while building and creating new audiences, the Asian and Asian American audience will have to feel represented in the storytelling.

LAFPI: Is there anything you’d like to share about the casting process?

Jennifer: Only to say that I was looking for actors who could really capture the essence of ‘Han’—which is defined as a certain melancholy that is specific to Korean culture and people. I don’t mean to say that people of other cultures can’t possess Han. A western analogy would be the sadness and longing found in Chekhov’s plays. At its core, the play is about a family and reflecting on what this family’s particular family story is and how inextricably linked it is to the culture upon whose bedrock the family’s roots lay. Everybody comes from some place and has a family story.

Actors Hahn Cho and Monica Hong – Photo by Jenny Graham

LAFPI: We’re looking forward to seeing both sides of the coin of this dynamic show: the funny and the tragic. Jennifer, how does this show find that balance and how do you design that into the show?

Jennifer:  It’s really about honoring the text and mining the emotional wells that exist because of the circumstances that the characters find themselves in. And hopefully the audience can recognize those moments and respond. Laughter and tears are universal and unconscious and bubble up because of a recognition. The company of actors and I are working on the text with an eye and ear on the specificity of the rhythm of the play and essentially choreographing to the music of that language.

LAFPI: East West Players is a theatre company known for its work lifting up Asian-American stories. How do you feel about bringing the LA premiere of Hannah in collaboration with EWP and the Fountain Theatre?

Jiehae: Honored. I had a reading of my very first play—which had been my college thesis—at EWP over a decade ago… In the time since, I figured out I wasn’t a playwright, went to grad school for something else, then re-figured out that I was.  And Stephen Sachs at the Fountain reached out about the play very soon after the OSF premiere—I’ve long admired the scripts he brings to LA area audiences. Additionally, Jen directed an early reading of the play at EWP years ago, and I acted in a show with Jully Lee [who is in the production’s cast]  that Howard Ho (Hannah‘s Sound Design/Composer) music directed when I was right out of school. I’m bummed to not have been able to be out there for rehearsals, but happy that it feels all in the family.

Jennifer: I think it’s really smart theatre-making to cross-pollinate and support the universality of human experiences and good work regardless of color.  A collaboration like this signals that this isn’t just work by people of color, but that it’s good work worth supporting, period.

LAFPI: And what do you want audiences to take with them when they leave the Fountain Theatre after seeing Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

Jennifer: Garlic in their pockets.

“Hannah and the Dread Gazebo” opens August  17 at The Fountain Theatre, produced in association with East West Players. Visit www.FountainTheatre.com for reservations and more information.

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