Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, Courtney Fortner is a performer, writer, producer, director, and voice coach. She is a producer and board member for Buzzworks, a non-profit theater company. She has directed over a dozen children’s productions and teaches musical theater in Los Angeles. She has performed improv at the Vittum Theater Chicago, Comedy Sportz Theater Chicago, and Theater for the New City, New York. She has been nominated by the Television Academy Foundation for her work writing sketch comedy and currently takes classes at The Groundlings. She has also worked in casting at CBS in New York City. Courtney graciously took time from her busy schedule to interview in April 2020.
When did Buzzworks Theatre Company begin? What led to its creation? What is the mission of Buzzworks? Were you involved from the beginning? When did you become producer/board member for Buzzworks?
Courtney Fortner: Buzzworks is a non-profit theatre company founded by Andrea Hutchman in 1992. After not getting cast as Juliet in Minneapolis and another play fell through last minute, she decided she needed to take her career into her own hands. She got the rights to Painting Churches by Tina Howe and produced and directed it in Minneapolis. It featured Mo Collins (MadTV, Fear the Walking Dead.) And thus, Buzzworks was born!
Over the next couple of years, we did summer stock on Mackinac Island, Michigan for the next two summers and then continued in Green Lake Wisconsin. At that time, the company was just Andrea and two partners and eventually only one partner. In 1996, Buzzworks moved to LA; but we continued to produce in the Midwest, as well as in Los Angeles.
The mission has always been to produce shows that are funny – that is to say, funny and dark, funny and sad, funny and poignant. Funny always has to be in there. We want to create “a theatrical buzz" meaning producing new works, fascinating or unusual works, or just hilarious pieces that allow us and our audience to play.
In 2003, Andrea expanded the board. We have had as many as 12 board members, but we have never been a company that keeps a big roster of non-voting members or requires dues. At present, we have ten board members. I was referred by a previous board member and got involved with the company at the beginning of 2019. I became a board member and took on the task of producing our next play alongside our artistic director, Gregory Kucukarslan. Recent productions included Sex by Mae West and Exit Interview by William Missouri Downs. We’ve received several awards, including Best Comedy Ensemble from LA Weekly for our productions of Bad Seed and Eight Ways to meet your Neighbor. So far, it’s been an exciting ride!
When did you close the theater due to COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run?
CF: We closed down officially March 16 after LA started regulating the number of people that could gather in a public venue. We were anticipating opening our latest production, It Is Magic by Mickle Maher on April 4. We were disappointed, of course, but thankful that we were lucky enough to not have opened already or planning to open sooner.
Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Streaming? Having virtual meetings? Planning for your next show when you reopen? Auditions? Fundraising?
CF: Of course, we are no longer holding rehearsals or meetings in person. We have adapted like many to virtual meetings discussing how to move forward. Buzzworks is anticipating opening our production of It Is Magic as soon as we get government approval on public gatherings and we are able to lock down new dates. We're using this as an opportunity to expand our social media presence and look for new works which we could possibly produce in the future. Currently, we are actively seeking and searching for new playwrights to whom we could commission an entirely new piece – or perhaps workshop one of their not yet produced works.
What do you think will be the impact of COVID-19 on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you foresee any permanent changes? What would you like to ask of the theater public?
CF: We believe live theater will be more needed than ever after this pandemic clears. People will be thrilled to just leave their house and gather in that magical energy of live performance. I do worry that certain theaters may have trouble paying rent during these months. Hopefully, we can all hold through until the storm is over.
Supporting the arts is more important now than ever. If you love a theater group, or are able to support in any way, reach out and see what you can do for them. As far as Buzzworks is concerned, we are accepting donations and looking for new playwrights. If you know of a fabulous new play, a great writer, or are one yourself, please contact us through our website Buzzworks.org. We also might be interested in commissioning a play.
What are some of your future plans?
CF: We are planning on running our 2020 season, but there will be a delay in the opening of our first show. In addition to that, we're hoping to continue growing as a theater company with regular seasons every year and more and more plays we are able to produce.
This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.