Voices from the Fringe: Lucy Gillespie, Writer of ‘Son of a Bitch'

Another piece making its world premiere at the Fringe is Son of a Bitch, the story of the controversial political strategist Lee Atwater. It was written by Lucy Gillespie, playwright of last year’s Keeping Up with the Prozorovs, and directed by Billy Ray Brewton, who helmed last year’s A Beast/A Burden at the Fringe.

Ms. Gillespie took some time from her busy Fringe schedule to talk to Better Lemons about the new show.

Better Lemons: What was the inspiration for Son of a Bitch?
Lucy Gillespie: Lee Atwater is an awesome character. I wanted to work with Billy Ray Brewton, and this was right up his alley. Also, it's a fun writing challenge to condense all that history/spin into plot.

BL: As a native Brit, what did you find intriguing about the story of Atwater, one of the most polarizing political figures of our time? Why tell his story now?
LG: Though I grew up in the UK, my mother is from Chicago, and she raised us to self-identify as American. This was confusing and alienating for me as a teenager living in London in the early 2000's, where the last thing you wanted to be was American.

When 9/11 happened, my friends all cut school to protest "Americanization.” They burned effigies of President Bush in the streets. I was often called upon to explain or apologize for the atrocities of my people. Looking back, I think that's a big part of what led me to leave the UK at 18. I felt unwanted, like I had to pick a side.

I first learned about Lee Atwater in 2008, when I was living in Chicago after college. Between the devastation of the financial crisis and the upswell of hope from the Obama campaign, the air was very charged. I saw a documentary about Lee, became obsessed, and read every book I could find. I think I felt like that was whom I needed to channel and become in order to survive in America. I wrote a play about him, The Atwater Campaign, which went on to become an O'Neill Finalist, effectively starting my career as a playwright.

Politics is a perennial topic — and especially now. A lot of folks are asking how we got here. The answer is, largely, Lee Atwater.

But he was a much more complex, charismatic, compelling human than the demonized bogeyman/genius the liberal and right wing media make him out to be.

BL: How do you hope audiences will react to the piece — on both sides of the political spectrum?
LG: It's interesting because you assume — or I did — that a bunch of theater people in LA will all be ultra-liberal, preaching to the choir. Between the cast and crew, we actually represent a wide political spectrum. So much so that we had to put the kibosh on talking politics after some workshop readings got heated...

Our intention is to show Lee Atwater as a man, and how his personality catalyzed a dramatic shift within the Republican party, and subsequently American politics. We have no interest in theater that's dogmatic or preachy. We want everyone, regardless of political stripe, to laugh, lean in and learn.

Left to right: Billy Ray Brewton (director), Corsica Wilson (Gladys), Chloe Dworkin (Cass), Lucy Gillespie (Playwright)

BL: Tell us a bit about your collaboration with the director, another Fringe veteran, Billy Ray Brewton. How did you work together on the piece? 
LG: I saw Billy Ray's A Beast/A Burden last year, thought it was hysterical and brilliant, and knew I wanted to work with him. Though The Atwater Campaign was an O'Neill Finalist, it had never been produced, so I'd been sort of roaming the earth looking for a home for it ever since. In August 2018, I sent that script to Billy Ray — a Southern boy like Lee — and he signed on immediately. We chatted about story/character/cast/production throughout the year, and then I rewrote the entire script for him before rehearsals started.

It's been an equally scary and thrilling ride. There were definitely moments in April where I wanted to cut and run, never to be heard from again. In theory, I love to devise and workshop; in practice you need a foundation of trust to give in to the process. My baseline is neurotic, and Billy Ray is so chill. It took me a minute to realize that's because he trusts me, and he's not worried. That helped me relax and go with the flow.

Now we're rehearsing, and I'm in awe of him and the actors. He has such a quick, brilliant mind for orchestration. It's a master class watching him zoom in to the tiny details, then zoom out to the big picture. I'm super excited to share this with the world.

Ben Hethcoat (Lee Atwater), and Luke Forbes (George "W" Bush)

BL: Is there humor in this show?
LG: For sure. I'd describe the tone as political satire.

BL: Tell us about the performers and how they came to be cast in their roles.
LG: The cast is a mixture of Prozorovs and Burdens. Ben Hethcoat, who played Chris Burden last year, is reviving his 70s hairstyle for Lee Atwater. Corsica Wilson, playing Gladys, is also a Burden alum. On the Prozorovs side, we have Chloe Dworkin — who you may recall as the pregnant, constipated Olga - playing Cass. Luke Forbes, who played the Kanye-esque Demetrion, is now a young George W Bush.

Rounding out the cast are David McElwee (writer/director of Rory and the Devil, also in Fringe), who is bffs with Ben from college, and Dennis Gersten, who saved all of our asses by signing on at the last minute as George H W Bush.

BL: What makes Son of a Bitch a good fit for the Hollywood Fringe?
LG: It's bold and funny, fast-paced and hard-hitting. We work hard, but we don't take ourselves too seriously.

BL: What brings you back to the Fringe again this year?
LG: Last year was so much fun. Between the show rehearsals, our tight and loving Chekhovian-Kardashian cast family, the wider network of Fringers, and all the great theater we saw, it was just a blast. I spend the rest of the year writing screenplays and pitches, which is lonely and somewhat more creatively constricting, so I've been counting down the days. No joke, I hit up Billy Ray about this project in August.

BL: Since the Fringe is an environment of collaboration, what other shows are you interested in seeing?
LG: Rory and the Devil (of course)
Public Domain: The Musical
Treason
The Duchess and the Stripper
If We Run
Sex with Strangers
Raised by Wolves


Son of a Bitch plays June 6 (preview) through June 29 at the Broadwater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd. Find show times and make reservations on the Fringe site.


Creating Mass Movements — Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

In these turbulent and twisting times that find so many bewildered and baffled, suckered punched by the events of the last two years, I find myself in this punishing period for our nation oddly consoled by a soothing sense of déjà-vu.
Yes, Trump's victory via that Three-Card Monte constitutional encumbrance called the Electoral College left me as bumfuzzled as a hoe-wacked goose, as his election was about as unexpected and unpleasant as finding a spitting cobra inside a box of Cracker Jacks as your secret prize.
However, in the days that followed, I felt a curious calmness creep over me, and it struck me that I recognized the dynamics at play.
Not that I've had prior experience of a long-established democratic system rending itself apart, or of a society being sucked down into the toxic swill of the most recidivistic and repugnant aspects of its national character.
I had watched as Trump infected the body politic, from the GOP convention to the November election, like a particularly viral strain of the French Pox. I had watched as his malevolent, blustering, vainglorious and clownish campaign bloated up into a “crass-roots” crusade fueled by his rabble-rousing duplicity and squalor and constant mudslinging in 140 character smears.  And while I had never beheld such an excremental engine as the Trump candidacy, I had studied the blueprints that built it.
I had read Eric Hoffer.
As far as foreseeing what the future holds, Jean Dixon, Criswell of “Plan Nine” fame and Nostradamus were a pack of third-rate wankers.
Eric Hoffer was the real deal, and his first work, a thin volume published in 1951, should be mandatory reading today.
The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, runs just over 150 pages, and consists of 125 brief commentaries distributed into 18 short chapters.
It's a book one can read in an afternoon; it's a book that explains why individuals would fly airliners into our buildings and how an inadequate, Pecksniffian nonentity finds himself in the White House.
When Hoffer died in 1983 at the age of 84, America lost one of its few native son philosophers and the world lost one of its most original and prescient thinkers.
How Hoffer came to that station is a narrative hued with the tincture of classic American mythos.
Much of Hoffer's life story derives from his own reports, particulars of which over the years have been challenged by biographers and historians.
But when one lives up to the myths woven around oneself, then they transubstantiate into “history” and, whatever myths Hoffer cloaked about himself, his life excelled them all.
His birth date is uncertain and the tales he told of himself over the decades often conflict, but certain details are constant in each retelling.
He was born in the Bronx.
His parents were recent immigrants from the Kaiser's imperial Germany.
He was orphaned at an early age.
Still, it is even possible that none of that is true and that, rather than having been born here, Hoffer came, illegally, into this country some time before the Great Depression.  This would account for attitudes towards and treatment of immigrants being a recurring theme in his work as well as explaining why he spoke with a distinct German accent throughout his life.
Hoffer told how he used the $300 insurance money from his father's death to travel to Los Angeles, where he said he spent the next 10 years on Skid Row: reading, occasionally writing, and working at odd jobs; including as a migrant field hand in California's central valley.
He acquired a library card and spent countless hours in both the Downtown and Hollywood libraries.   His claim that he taught himself Hebrew, botany and chemistry could be dismissed in someone of lesser stature.  But his recounting of reading Michel de Montaigne's Essays and the world they opened up to him seems validated in his adoption of Montaigne's personal, pithy and aphoristic heavy style as his own.
Also, like Montaigne, Hoffer's study was that of man.
Hoffer's life emerges from the mists of self mythology in 1934.
His internment that year in a federal transient camp, set up by California where any jobless drifters who crossed into the sunshine state were detained and put to work on state projects, is documented, and his own account of that period is included in his book The Ordeal of Change which is arguably the strongest narrative writing of his career.
It is of interest to note that in the enormous amount of unpublished writings and notebooks, Hoffer left at his death, there is nothing that predates his arrival in California in 1934.
In 1941, Hoffer moved to San Francisco where he would remain the rest of his life.  There, he took work on the docks as a longshoreman and began writing his first book.
Ten years later Margaret Anderson, a New York editor with Harper & Row, received an unsolicited manuscript by an author neither she nor anyone else, at that time, had ever heard of.
The work bore the sober title of Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements.
Anderson expected to read the first page and set it aside.
By the second paragraph she knew she wasn't setting it aside.
Hoffer pronounced his theme in the opening preface:

“All mass movements generate in their adherents a readiness to die and a proclivity for united action; all of them, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and single hearted allegiance.   All movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, draw their early adherents from the same types of humanity; they all appeal to the same types of mind.”

It would be Anderson, while working as the book's editor, who suggested the addition of “The True Believer” to the title.  Hoffer accepted the suggestion and dedicated the book to her.
At its publication in 1951, Hoffer lived by himself in a single room he rented in the Chinatown section of San Francisco.  His room held a few articles of clothing, a bed, two chairs and writing supplies.  There was no telephone, no radio, no television.  It would remain that way until his death.
Seemingly overnight the unknown, barrel-chested, balding longshoreman was hailed for the staggering insights of his book and stamped by the media as “the Longshoreman Philosopher.”
But Hoffer's impact reached beyond the hype.
In Britain, Bertrand Russell praised Hoffer, and in America the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in speaking of The True Believer said, “This brilliant and original inquiry into the nature of mass movements is a genuine contribution to our social thought.”
Hoffer continued to work as a longshoreman even after the success of his work.  When he left the docks, it was to accept an adjunct professorship at the University of California, Berkeley.
In 1959, it was divulged that Hoffer had another admirer of note.
Two years before the farewell address where he aired his concerns of the threat the “military-industrial complex” posed to our democracy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower(Ike) gave voice to another warning for our nation, in a letter to a dying veteran.
Terminally ill Robert Biggs, who had served in World War II, wrote to Eisenhower venting his concerns, admitting, “I felt from your recent speeches the feeling of hedging and a little uncertainty.”
He longed for the firm leadership of command that he'd known during the war, the lack of which he found disturbing.
He closed his letter with a confession, “We wait for someone to speak for us and back him completely if the statement is made in truth.”
Today Biggs would receive a standard White House form response like hundreds of others that are mailed off daily, consisting of a “thank you” and the president's automated signature.
But Eisenhower sat down and composed a reply.
A reply which reflected the turmoil of his term: Joseph McCarthy had paralyzed the country with his claims of Communist sympathizers at all levels of the government and had infiltrated the nation's schools and industries, and the John Birch Society had branded Ike a tool of the Soviets, all the while making inroads into the Republican party.
To Biggs, Eisenhower wrote:

“I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed.   Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life.”

Eisenhower recommended The True Believer to Biggs, then goes on to explain that the book:

“… points out that dictatorial systems make one contribution to their people which leads them to tend to support such systems — freedom from the necessity of informing themselves and making up their own minds concerning these tremendous complex and difficult questions.”

In warning Biggs of the danger in wishing “for someone to speak for us,” perhaps Eisenhower was recalling this passage from Hoffer's book:

“Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden. Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, ‘to be free from freedom.' It was not sheer hypocrisy when the rank-and-file Nazis declared themselves not guilty of all the enormities they had committed. They considered themselves cheated and maligned when made to shoulder responsibility for obeying orders. Had they not joined the Nazi movement in order to be free from responsibility?”

In his letter, Eisenhower acknowledges this “irksome burden” but he is quick to point out its blessing; “But while this responsibility is a taxing one to a free people it is their great strength as well–from millions of individual free minds come new ideas, new adjustments to emerging problems, and tremendous vigor, vitality and progress."
Eisenhower closes his reply praising Biggs for “pondering these problems despite your deep personal adversity.”
In the post war America, it was difficult to accept that the right-wing fascist and left-wing Marxist were interchangeable.
But Hoffer argued:

“All mass movements, irrespective of the doctrine they preach and the program they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred, and intolerance… A mass movement attracts and holds a following not because it can satisfy the desire for self-advancement, but because it can satisfy the passion for self-renunciation.”

At the close of his life, Hoffer had ten more titles to his name including The Passionate State of Mind (1955), and The Ordeal of Change (1963), which he considered his best work.
But it is The True Believer for which he is best remembered, and 21st century readers can distinguish Hoffer's paradigm in Islamic terrorists such as Hezbollah and al Qaeda, right-wing, evangelical fundamentalists groups such as the World Church of the Creator, Zionist militants such as the followers of Meir Kahane, organizations of both black and white supremacists and a host of other groups.
Citizens of today's troubled America sitting down with the book would be stunned at how Hoffer's words provoke a reverberation so precise in echoing both the roots and allure of Trumpism.
When placed beside Trump and his political movement, Hoffer's commentary takes on the appearance of reversed engineered prophecy.
In the beginning there was Trump trumpeting the ridiculous allegation regarding Obama's birth certificate:

“I have people that have been studying [Obama's birth certificate] and they cannot believe what they're finding… I would like to have him show his birth certificate and, can I be honest with you, I hope he can. Because if he can't—if he can't, if he wasn't born in this country, which is a real possibility…then he has pulled one of the great cons in the history of politics.”
“The fact is, if you're not born in the United States, you cannot be president…”
“An ‘extremely credible source' has called my office and told me that Barack Obama's birth certificate is a fraud.“

You have Trump's assault on any press media or news outlet refusing to kowtow to his public image or challenging his contrived assertions:

“The press has become so dishonest that if we don't talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. We have to talk to find out what's going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”
“And I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news. It's fake, phony, fake. A few days ago, I called the fake news the ‘enemy of the people,' and they are, they are the enemy of the people.“

Hoffer would observe:

"It is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible.”

It is the true believer's ability to ‘shut his eyes and stop his ears' to facts that do not deserve to be either seen or heard which is the source of his unequaled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger nor disheartened by obstacle nor baffled by contradictions because he denies their existence.
All active mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world.
Trump “interpose[d] a fact-proof screen” as a masquerade of “alternative facts,” yet he raged at the media:
They shouldn't be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody's name. Let their name be put out there. Let their name be put out.
A feature in the make-up of a “True Believer” is holding others to a higher code of conduct than they do themselves or their leader, so Trump never needs to identify his “extremely credible source” who denounced Obama's birth certificate a “fraud.”
Trump lashed out unendingly at those forces plotting against him:

“We have losers. We have people that don't have it. We have people that are morally corrupt. We have people that are selling this country down the drain.”
“Our enemies are getting stronger and stronger by the way, and we as a country are getting weaker.”
“The election is absolutely being rigged by the dishonest and distorted media pushing Crooked Hillary – but also at many polling places: SAD.”

Hoffer would retort:

"The enemy—the indispensable devil of every mass movement—is omnipresent. He plots both outside and inside the ranks of the faithful. It is his voice that speaks through the mouth of the dissenter, and the deviationists are his stooges. If anything goes wrong within the movement, it is his doing. It is the sacred duty of the true believer to be suspicious. He must be constantly on the lookout for saboteurs, spies and traitors.
Propaganda … serves more to justify ourselves than to convince others; and the more reason we have to feel guilty, the more fervent our propaganda."

Trump promised those who came to his rallies:

“I think that I would be a great uniter. I think that I would have great diplomatic skills. I think that I would be able to get along with people very well. I've had a great success in my life. I think the world would unite if I were the leader of the United States.”

Hoffer:

"It is futile to judge the viability of a new movement by the truth of its doctrine and the feasibility of its promises. What has to be judged is its corporate organization for quick and total absorption of the frustrated. Where new creeds vie with each other for the allegiance of the populace, the one which comes with the most perfected collective framework wins."

“Sadly,” Trump lamented, “the American dream is dead. But if I get elected president, I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before, and we will make America great again.”
Hoffer:

"There is no more potent dwarfing of the present than by viewing it as a mere link between a glorious past and a glorious future. Thus, though a mass movement at first turns its back on the past, it eventually develops a vivid awareness, often specious, of a distant glorious past. Religious movements go back to the day of creation; social revolutions tell of a golden age when men were free, equal, and independent; nationalist movements revive or invent memories of past greatness."

Trump positioned himself as able to fix all the wrongs of the country just by the force of his personality.

“So I deal with foreign countries, and despite what you may read, I have unbelievable relationships with all of the foreign leaders. They like me. I like them. You know, it's amazing.”
“We'll have companies pouring back into our nation. I mean, it's going to be — you know, it's going to be beautiful.“
“You know, I've had a lot of wins in my life, and I know where I'm coming from, and I know where I've been, and I know how to get the country to where people really want to see it.”
“Hey, I'm a nationalist and a globalist. I'm both.”

Other than the claim, “Only I can fix it,” Trump offered no detailed programs, but when he spoke to his base, where the rest of us heard words fluttering about as meaninglessly as cards flung in a child's game of 52 pickup, his supporters found revelations and reassurance.
Hoffer diagnosed the difference:

"Crude absurdities, trivial nonsense and sublime truths are equally potent in readying people for self-sacrifice if they are accepted as the sole, eternal truth. It is obvious, therefore, that in order to be effective a doctrine must not be understood, but has rather to be believed in. We can be absolutely certain only about things we do not understand.  If a doctrine is not unintelligible, it has to be vague; and if neither unintelligible nor vague, it has to be unverifiable.
For men to plunge headlong into an undertaking of vast change, they must be intensely discontented yet not destitute, and they must have the feeling that by the possession of some potent doctrine, infallible leader or some new technique they have access to a source of irresistible power. They must also have an extravagant conception of the prospects and potentialities of the future. Finally, they must be wholly ignorant of the difficulties involved in their vast undertaking. Experience is a handicap.
A rising mass movement attracts and holds a following not by its doctrine and promises but by the refuge it offers from the anxieties, barrenness, and meaninglessness of an individual existence. It cures the poignantly frustrated not by conferring on them an absolute truth or remedying the difficulties and abuses which made their lives miserable, but by freeing them from their ineffectual selves"

To those immune to Trump's political paroxysm, his constant display of a fractured ego seeking to mask a glaring defectiveness of character beneath hyperbolic pronouncements were reminiscent of a cartoon coyote intoning of himself “Super genius.”
“My IQ is one of the highest — and you all know it! Please don't feel so stupid or insecure; it's not your fault.”
“I'm very smart. My life has proven that I'm smart. I mean, I've had a life of success and I've had a life of victory."
“I've been winning all of my life. . .  My whole life is about winning. I always win. I win at golf….   My whole life is about winning. I don't lose often. I almost never lose.”
“To be blunt, people would vote for me. They just would. Why? Maybe because I'm so good looking.”
“I'm the most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far. Nobody's ever been more successful than me. I'm the most successful person ever to run.”
“I think I am actually humble. I think I'm much more humble than you would understand.”
It was difficult to understand how his supporters were so readily able to accept his self-aggrandizing when so ludicrously over the top, to the rest of us it seemed like dialogue plucked from Monty Python routines.
Hoffer had commented:

"The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.
The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause.
The frustrated follow a leader less because of their faith that he is leading them to a promised land than because of their immediate feeling that he is leading them away from their unwanted selves….  The True Believer is eternally incomplete, eternally insecure."

The final question most asked of Trump's devoted supporters is, ‘Why?'
Yes, both parties failed in fielding a candidate capable of communicating a vision or program that would inspire and unite a great people.  That accounts for what drew many to his standard at the outset.  But what is it now that binds his base to him despite a run of broken promises and failures:

  • Mexico is not paying for a wall that the country shouldn't build.
  • He didn't fully repeal and replace Obamacare with “something even better.”
  • He's alienated our allies and emboldened our foes.
  • He didn't enact new ethics reforms on special interests.
  • He didn't make two and four year colleges more affordable but instead cut student aid.
  • He didn't label China a currency manipulator but nearly plunged us into a trade war.
  • He didn't ban Muslims from entering the country.
  • He didn't expel Syrian refugees.
  • He didn't expel the “Dreamers”; though he is still threatening to despite the country's objections.
  • He didn't sue the women accusing him of sexual misconduct.
  • He didn't arrest Hillary.
  • He didn't defeat Isis in a week.
  • He didn't release his tax returns

And Trump just declares:
“Eventually we're going to get something done and it's going to be really, really good.”
Why?
Why would anyone see in that sad, arrogant little naffin, a leader?
Again, Hoffer has much to say on that topic.

"It has often been said that power corrupts. But it is perhaps equally important to realize that weakness, too, corrupts. Power corrupts the few, while weakness corrupts the many. Hatred, malice, rudeness, intolerance, and suspicion are the faults of weakness. The resentment of the weak does not spring from any injustice done to them but from their sense of inadequacy and impotence.
The permanent misfits can find salvation only in a complete separation from the self; and they usually find it by losing themselves in the compact collectivity of a mass movement.
Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves."

So much of Trump's rhetoric and persona is rancid with racism and xenophobia, describing Mexicans as rapists, criminals, “bad hombres,” declaring at his rallies he doesn't want Syrian refugees or Muslins coming “over here,” his obsession with building his wall.
There's one aphorism in The True Believer that reflects on these attitudes that accounts for so much of Trump's support, it is one of Hoffer's insights that has the most troubling resonance for me.
Should Americans begin to hate foreigners wholeheartedly, it will be an indication that they have lost confidence in their own way of life.
There is little of optimism to be found in The True Believer, but then Hoffer was trying to Illuminate the interaction of individuals within a society that fosters insurrections, rebellions, Jacqueries, terrorism and dictatorships, not write fairy tales.
On the whole, Hoffer counsels caution with hope, writing in The True Believer:
When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors, shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the action which follows them.
In The Ordeal of Change, one of his later works, Hoffer still offers little in the way of hope.  But he does offer us reasons to at least have hope of “Hope.”
Hoffer lists the distinctly American virtues:

"…a superb dynamism, an unprecedented diffusion of skills, a genius for organization and teamwork, a flexibility that makes possible an easy adjustment to the most drastic change, an ability to get things done with a minimum of tutelage and supervision, an unbounded capacity for fraternization."

Contrary to the fear mongering of Fox News and Trump's dire cant, the demise of most democracies are not a result of external enemies breaching their walls or the mongrelization of their culture by an influx of the “outsiders.”
The death of a democracy begins when its people forget their history.
And a people without a history cannot have a future.
There will be a cost to this nation for neglecting its institutions and people until conditions had deteriorated to where Trump's candidacy was possible.  But Trump will eventually travel the same path as “the Know-Nothings,” Father Coughlin's National Union for Social Justice, the Share the Wealth movement of Huey Long, and McCarthyism.
The challenge before us is not defeating Trump and his Crusade of Deplorables.  The challenge is for the people of this nation to recommit to those principles forged at its founding.
For in the end, America will fail when Americans have failed her.
To read Eisenhower's letter in full, click HERE.
Reprinted with permission from TheTVolution.com.


Awards, Interviews, Trigger Warnings, the Middle-Aged Female Voice, and More Local, National, and International News to Inspire, to Stir, and to Entertain

LOCAL

The Better Lemons Fringe Awards

CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THESE WINNERS who have registered their shows on Better Lemons and encouraged audiences and critics to voice their opinion about their show, regardless of the outcome, and to those who submitted all the reviews from online publications! read more here


The Blank Theatre's Founding Artistic Director Daniel Henning Named a 2018 Pride Honoree by California Legislative LGBT Caucus

Daniel Henning, the Founding Artistic Director of Hollywood's Blank Theatre, has been named a 2018 Pride honoree by the California Legislative LGBT Caucus. A special floor ceremony was held on June 18 during the California State Assembly floor session in Sacramento. Honorees were presented with resolutions in commemoration of their accomplishments and contributions to the LGBT community. read more here


Audio Interview: The cast of “The Blade of Jealousy” at Whitefire Theatre by Ashton Marcus

Dashing Melchor moves to Los Angeles to court his online dating connection but unexpectedly falls in love with a mysterious veiled lady (Magdalena), and she with him. He later meets her sans veil but is unimpressed, thus igniting Magdalena's jealousy–of herself! A madcap comedy of disguise and deception, Henry Ong's modern take on a 17th century Spanish play is surprisingly relevant today, in light of society's obsession with outward beauty and how it relates to self-worth. listen to the podcast here


AUDITION: She Loves Me

Set in a 1930s European perfumery, we meet shop clerks, Amalia and Georg, who, more often than not, don't see eye to eye. After both respond to a “lonely hearts advertisement” in the newspaper, they now live for the love letters that they exchange, but the identity of their admirers remains unknown. Join Amalia and Georg to discover the identity of their true loves… and of all the twists and turns along the way! get the breakdown here


Audio Interview: The cast of “THEIR FINEST HOUR: CHURCHILL AND MURROW” at Write Act Rep's Brickhouse Theatre by Ashton Marcus

This full-length play sheds light on the unique relationship between Winston Churchill and Edward R. Murrow during the early years of WW II when England was under attack by Hitlers air-force. Murrow, who was covering the war for CBS Radio News, not only became friendly with Churchill, but had a passionate and adulterous love affair with the Prime Ministers daughter-in-law. listen to the podcast here


A Conversation with June Carryl by Roger Q Mason

I met June Carryl back in 2010 when the two of us were participants in Directors' Lab West. Her ideas about theatre mesmerized me because of their narrative specificity and rootedness in sound dramaturgical practices. In 2011, June was part of my playwright renaissance: I'd taken about 3 years off of writing in order to find out why I still told stories through this medium. When Son of SemeleTheatre invited me to present my play ONION CREEK, an Adam and Eve tale set in rural Texas, I immediately called June because she was an exciting theatrical mind whom I knew would direct the HELL out of that piece. My instinct was right – her work on the show was wonderful. But more importantly, I learned that she was a fellow writer, and her mentorship of my creative development process (as a burgeoning post undergrad finding his way in LA's theatre scene) helped mold the writer I am today. read more here


Audio Interview: The cast of "The Foreigner" at Little Fish Theatre

Charlie, a pathologically shy Englishman, accompanies his friend Froggy on a trip to rural Georgia. Charlie is overcome with fear at the thought of having to make small talk with strangers, so Froggy informs the locals that Charlie is from an exotic foreign country and speaks no English. From the author of The Nerd comes another sidesplitting and heart warming comedy brimming with misunderstanding and mischief. “one comic surprise after another.” — THE NEW YORKER listen to the podcast here


Audio Interview: The cast of "The 39 Steps" at International City Theatre

The 39 Steps — Hitchcock meets hilarious in this fast-paced comedy mystery thriller for anyone who loves the magic of theater. Train chases, plummeting planes and old-fashioned romance lead to a death-defying finale as a cast of four actors breathlessly reenacts hundreds of characters, locations and famous scenes from Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film of the same name. Winner of the 2007 Olivier Award for Best New Comedy and the 2008 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. listen to the podcast here


A White House without art

This White House has been, and is likely to remain, home to the first presidency in American history that is almost completely devoid of culture. In the 17 months that Donald Trump has been in office, he has hosted only a few artists of any kind. One was the gun fetishist Ted Nugent. Another was Kid Rock. They went together (and with Sarah Palin). Neither performed. read more here


Fountain intern Saif Saigol is passionate about theatre and social activism

Hello Fountain community! My name is Saif Saigol and I am the new Development Intern at The Fountain Theatre this summer.

A little bit about me: I am an Indian-Pakistani-Canadian raised in Montreal, Quebec. I came to the US in 2012 to pursue my high school studies at a boarding school in Connecticut. Currently, I'm an undergrad student with a Music Major and Gender & Sexuality Studies Sequence, and I'll be graduating from Claremont McKenna College next Spring, in 2019. Music, theater, and all performing arts are my passion and source of comfort in life. As a performer, I've trained classically as a vocalist for 6 years, and specialize in the Lied and operatic traditions. I'm also a proud member of the Claremont Shades, a co-ed a cappella group of the Claremont Colleges. read more here


2018 Stage Raw Theater Awards Announced

The fourth annual Stage Raw Theater Awards – celebrating the best work in L.A.'s intimate theater scene as determined by StageRaw's jury of critics will take place on Monday night, August 20, 2018 at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. read more here


Bringing boring theatre to the masses

We're into the thick of the summer theatre season, so lets see what's on offer down the road at Stratford.

The cover of this year's Stratford Festival playbill features "The Music Man." And you can't help but notice the title role of Harold Hill, the shyster who bamboozles the 1912 white-bread midwestern town of River City is, unconventionally, played by a black actor. read more here


NATIONAL

At One California High School, Gender Neutral & Color Conscious Casting in “1776”

The musical 1776 has been a favorite of my family's for decades, but I never considered it for my high school's annual musical until I realized the opportunity that lay in gender-neutral, as well as color conscious, casting. read more here


14 Theatre Stars to See on the Big Screen This Summer

Catch stage favorites Daveed Diggs, Brian Tyree Henry, Carrie Coon, and more at the movies.

Whether you're a Hamilfan who's been waiting with bated breath for Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal's lauded film Blindspotting, or you've been looking for a romantic comedy starring your stage favorites, here are 14 stage stars taking their talents to the big screen from now until Labor Day. read more here


‘I'm determined to leave this landscape in better condition than when I found it,' writes theatre-maker Mish Grigor. Photograph: Caiaimage/Martin Barraud/Getty Images

Theatre shuts out the working class. I'm devastated to think of the voices silenced

Middle-class stories about middle-class problems continue to dominate the stage. That needs to change

In 2015, I made a theatre show, The Talk, about my working class family and their working class sex lives. I interviewed them about their sexual histories, and edited their stories into verbatim scenes that I get audiences to read. read more here


INTERNATIONAL

Dame Gillian Lynne obituary

Choreographer and dancer who breathed new life into musical theatre with the hit shows Cats and The Phantom of the Opera

Since the 1970s, British musical theatre has boasted a professionalism and audacity once thought exclusive to Broadway. Much of the credit, entrepreneurial and creative, has gone to Cameron Mackintosh and Andrew Lloyd Webber, but an equally vital force was the choreographer, director and dancer Gillian Lynne, who has died aged 92. She pioneered a striking fusion of ballet, jazz and vaudeville dance, most famously in Cats (1981). read more here


Theatre binge-watching: how long could you sit in a theatre?

Another two-part stage play has opened in the West End, just down the road from the Harry Potter double bill. But how long could you sit in a theatre - and is theatrical binge-watching here to stay?

Seven hours is a long time to sit anywhere, not least in a West End theatre with limited legroom. read more here


A theatre experience for babies, performed in a tent

You've heard the one about the bull in the china shop, but what about the crowd of babies in the theatre?

A trio of Christchurch women have launched a theatre company offering shows aimed at babies and toddlers.

Cubbin Theatre Company's first show Up and Away opens on July 3 in the Isaac Theatre Royal's Gloucester Room. read more here


Edgy theatre content sparks off-stage debate about trigger warnings

New audience advisories warn of specific plot points that could trigger emotional trauma

If you want to trigger a strong response from theatre folk, ask them how they feel about trigger warnings: The debate about if and when to use them has the theatre community deeply divided.

These new type of audience advisories warn of specific plot points that may provoke psychological trauma in some audience members. read more here


Playwright Charlotte Jones: ‘The middle-aged female voice is not heard enough in theatre

After a string of early hits, Charlotte Jones abandoned stage writing for TV, radio and film. Now returning to theatre with The Meeting, she tells Holly Williams how women writers are still marginalised in the industry

A pacifist, Quaker community during the Napoleonic wars may not be the obvious setting for a thriller or passionate love story. But Charlotte Jones is a playwright used to pulling off unusual juxtapositions and her first play in seven years, The Meeting, brings together all those elements. read more here


A view of the Globe Theatre, Bankside, London circa 1600, the first Globe Theatre was built in 1599 by Shakespeare's playing company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men but was destroyed by fire on 29 June 1613. A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site by June 1614. (Photo by Epics/Getty Images)

The Globe theatre fire of 1613: when Shakespeare's playhouse burned down

On 29 June 1613, the original Globe theatre in London, where most of William Shakespeare's plays debuted, was destroyed by fire during a performance of All is True (known to modern audiences asHenry VIII). But what caused the fire and when was the new Globe theatre rebuilt? read more here


A history of theatre in 30 quotations: ‘Acting's just waiting for the custard pie' by The Irish Times

‘Beckett is a confidence trick perpetuated on the 20th century by a theatre-hating God' read more here


Female Fusion - The Intersection of Art and Activism

Reena Dutt is exactly the artist that this column is named for. She creates art; theater, film, web, and video, that moves the conversation forward. The subject of the conversation changes, the message is sometimes obvious, sometimes more obtuse, but the medium stays constant. Art speaks and Dutt knows the language intimately.

There are so many stereotypes of what an ardent feminist, an activist, a person of color fighting for representation is; strong, powerful, angry. Dutt is quite disarming and funny. She laughs easily and often. She is petite, pretty and slightly self effacing.

She mocks herself at times. Do not let that fool you. This is a powerful, confident and driven person. Dutt was born in New Jersey but her family soon
moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where she spent her first nine years. “It was this crazy white picket fences kind of childhood where we were this United Colors of Benetton neighborhood.....it was an idyllic childhood where you just playing.....all of the kids are together and all of the parents would just call each other to see where the kids were and nobody worried.” During this time they also had strong ties to the Indian community and a large extended friends and family network. The next few years involved some additional travel: Huntsville, AL then Dutt moved to India with her mother and brother for school before they finally all settled in Arizona, where they stayed. The South Asian community in Arizona was stronger than in the other cities that they had lived in, and it was here that her lack of belonging became a bit more pronounced. Her parents were not from the same areas, indeed they met in graduate school in Connecticut. Her father was Bengali and spoke Bengali while her mother is
Maharashtrian and speaks Marathi. Dutt doesn't speak either language fluently. They spoke English at home and Dutt enjoyed a very liberal upbringing with Christmas trees, Thanksgiving dinners, foreign students as guests and family outings to the local steakhouse. So, she didn't really fit in with the more traditional South Asian community. Her high school was mostly Catholic and Mormon, with a much smaller population of color. To find a place to belong, Dutt started ice skating, then dancing and eventually found her way to theater, where she stayed. “I was never the other, but I always was different.” She was never discriminated against nor held back due to race and she found her own community in what she did, rather than in her home culture. In fact, race didn't affect or define her until she came to Los Angeles to be an actor, when a casting director, in 1998, “asked me how I speak English so well, that blew my mind, I had never been asked that before...that's literally the first time I felt different.”

Dutt's philosophy and ethic evolved from the juxtaposition of her rather inclusive childhood banging up against the expectations of the rest of the world.

“I grew up feeling supported by everybody around me, which is so lucky, and maybe that's why I get so confused about why people can't or don't understand how to embrace diversity. I have had so many people, from my theater community [in LA] specifically, say ‘well, being from a culture is so different and unique, you should embrace that' when all I want is normalized
diversity like it was when I was a kid.”

As a producer and director, diversity is absolutely at the forefront of Dutt's work. She explains that “representation isn't a THING, it just is.” and that “What you see is what you believe.”

Dutt asks a lot of questions. Every determination is well thought through and important.

“What is the social responsibility of an artist or entertainer? In my mind, that is the big question. We are in one of the most visual mediums ever. How do we use that? Even if it changes one child's mind--oh I saw that one dancer, that dancer looks like me, so I can go be a dancer. So when we start talking about dialogue driven stories where you are hearing someone speak in medical terminology or talk about a business that they started and they look like you, how much does that empower anybody who has a dream that they don't know if they can do because nobody in their family does it and they've never seen it before. SO I do think that art and media...is a social responsibility whether we want it or not and I know that there are a lot of artists who hate calling themselves activists but if you are putting anything in front of someone
else, you are an activist by nature so what is your choice of what you want to present? What do you want to show? You are responsible for that.”

Dutt takes the responsibility of diversity very seriously, both in front of and behind the camera. Production staff, writers, story lines, actors and audiences are all part of the mix and decision making process. Her body of work offers evidence of a well thought out and active agenda.

For example, she associate produced (and appeared in) the web series The Real Girls Guide To Everything Else, which could be tagged as a thinking brown girls' version of Sex and The City. It's fun, lighthearted and tackles much more important issues than shoes (though those are occasionally featured as well).

Parvesh Cheena in Squad 85

Squad 85, which Dutt produced, was an insane time traveling detective mashup starring Parvesh Cheena, now of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. The casting was incredibly diverse, but nothing is made of it. It is simply a group of people who don't happen to all look alike and it is hilarious.

In honor of Asian Awareness Week, Dutt directed a series of PSAs called You Should Know This By Now featuring Asian actors saying pretty basic information that somehow gets overlooked. The short clips are funny and uncomfortable and make a point. The first one stars Vincent Rodriguez, who also stars in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Dutt may be a lucky charm!

Vincent Rodriguez in You Should Know This By Now

Snapshot plays with stereotypes and perception in a short film format. It was a finalist for the New Filmmakers LA series.

Check out Dutt's website for a much more extensive look at her prolific career.

Dutt's current project, which she is both producing and directing is Bodies: Place Called Us, A Music Video For Gun Control. She is reuniting with her first love, dance, putting her love of activism and diversity front and center, once again both in front of and behind the camera, and moving an important conversation into a realm where people might not ordinarily have access to the information. “I've put together an incredible team headed by female key crew. Our cast will be representative of all targeted communities in the States.” The video will launch in June, with an accompanying website that will guide viewers to concrete actions, such as voter registration, contact with legislators, and local events, that they can take to fight for gun control reform in their states. The video is being produced in collaboration with CineFemme and SeedandSpark and features Los Angeles singer/songwriter Alex Mackey. (Disclosure: I am the choreographer and a co-producer on this project)

Reena Dutt has a lot to say and a lot to do. She wants to make the entertainment world, and by extension the world at large, a place where a person of color doesn't have to be explained in any given circumstance, they are just there, being. It's both a shockingly simple premise and a huge undertaking. This woman is well on her way to making it happen.


Waiting For Godot's Obamacare Replacement Starring Patrick Stewart

Here's something fun for all you progressive theatre nerds. Stephen Colbert had Patrick Stewart on the show and did not waste the opportunity! They did a spoof of Beckett's Waiting for Godot to create a wonderful satire of the Republicans continual attack on Obamacare and how they will "repeal and replace," an empty promise that is feeling more and more like a Beckett play.

Now that you've had a laugh. Call you representatives and tell them you support the ACA.


"THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE"

"Everything is political."
That was the word on the street in the late '60s and '70s, when the Twisted Hipster came of age.
The age came by it honestly: From the assassination of JFK to the anti-Vietnam War movement to the killings of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the riots at the 1968 Democratic convention, to Watergate and the Iran Hostage Crisis - it was truly a turbulent age and one the contributing factors to twisting up the inner life and expectations of any hipster, including this one.
Many years have passed since then, and our national focus has been more on that twisted inner life and the emotional fallout from those turbulent times.  But now we have Trump - an atrocity with a bad hair weave.  A cult leader who hides behind any shred of decency until he doesn't have to and reveals himself for the predatory freak that he is - witness his recent rescinding of transgender protections, after earnestly promising to be their champion.
Now comes his exclusion of The New York Times, CNN, Politico and several other media outlets from his most recent press conference - just think if President Obama had tried anything like that. Richard Nixon was bad, but he was never this bad.  This is boldly undemocratic.  UNDEMOCRATIC.  Please consider that word.  Trump claims to represent "The People," even though he lost the election by 3 million votes.  (Oh, and what happened to all those claims of "illegal voters"?  Just another bright shiny object used to distract our attention from the bigger crimes that  he is surely committing.)
The fact is, Trump received the fewest electoral votes since Jimmy Carter - the last one term president, something that the Twisted Hipster also sees in Trump's future.  He keeps touting what an "incredible" victory he had, how "huge" it was.  And when a reporter corrects this misinformation, he merely brushes it aside - oh my God.
The Twisted Hipster has lived through Nixon, Reagan and Bush W.  Trump is Nixon on acid.  Trump is Nixon without the statesmanship.  Trump is Reagan without the personal likeability.  The Twisted Hipster yelled at the TV screen for Reagan's 8 years, as he deregulated business restrictions.  The Twisted Hipster yelled at the TV screen for another 8 years as W nearly destroyed our economy.  But this Orange-Haired Menace is so much worse than them all - not even close.  He got elected by Trumpeting his not being a politician, and somehow that worked just enough.  Now he wants to be King Donald, and he has declared war on the press - ignoring the fact that this is the First Amendment for a good reason.  There is no democracy without it.
The Twisted Hipster is an artist who has also proudly worked as a  journalist.  He was hired by The Village Voice right out of college to write theater feature articles and wrote several during his 18 month tenure there (before his job was phased out for financial reasons).  But this was The Village Voice at the end of its heyday, and the young TH was privileged to share a newsroom with the likes of Jack Newfield, Nat Hentoff, Andrew Sarris, James Woolcott, Karen Durbin, Bob Christgau, Richard Goldstein, Alexander Cockburn, Erika Munk and so many others, all under the leadership of Maryanne Partridge - perhaps the first female editor at a major news outlet. (Not counting Katherine Graham, who owned the Washington Post.)   TH's editor was Ross Wetzsteon, a legendary name in Off-Off-Broadway theater circles for helping to put together the Obie Awards for years.  Ross was not warm and fuzzy, he wasn't a friend, but he was a very serious journalist who has mentored many current journalists, including Charles McNulty at the Los Angeles Times.  Ross had studied writing with Vladimir Nabokov at Princeton, and he was ruthless in terms of applying those stylistic lessons to those he edited.  Thank you, Ross, for the indelible lessons.
The TH went on to write for many publications, including In These Times, American Theatre, The Sunday New York Times "Arts & Leisure" section and The New Republic.  He also delved into hard news, being the only journalist to meet with boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter in maximum security prison after Carter's reconviction.  The TH sounded the alarm that justice still hadn't been served, but nobody listened.  It took six more years for Carter to get his case heard in Federal Court, where he finally gained his freedom for the very reasons that the TH had written about.  While jubilant that Carter was finally free, the TH felt nothing but a deep sadness for the five years that Carter spent in prison after the article had been written.  (The New York Times actually bought it for their Sunday Magazine, but then cancelled its publication after complaints from Selwynn Raab, who had broken the original story of Carter's frame-up; the TH knows this is how it went down because Mr. Raab called at 10:37 pm one night to boast about it.)
The TH had issues with journalism - namely, its Trendiness.  Hard to believe, but the word "demographic" was rarely used outside of academic circles before the early 1980s,  Similarly, it was still possible to have a genuine conversation with artists about their art until around that same time, when everything started becoming publicity.  That is, it was no longer about the art or the artist's authentic voice, it was only about getting your face out there, reaching your demographic.  Which made the TH not a journalist but a grossly-underpaid publicist.  And if the TH had wanted to be a publicist or advertising copywriter, then he would have done so.
One thing the Twisted Hipster can say absolutely: the journalists he observed and worked with were deathly serious about sources and verification.  The instances of writers making up "FAKE NEWS" and getting away are very rare - most recently, the "Rape on Campus" article in Rolling Stone in 2015.  But the fact-checkers at most publication are the most relentless and driven of all employees.  They will call you five or six times a day if there is even a shadow of a question about the veracity of anything you have written.  They will chase you down and disturb your dinner with friends until you have answered their questions to their satisfaction.  To call these people purveyors of "FAKE NEWS" is obscene and an insult to journalists and seekers of truth everywhere.
But the insult is not personal, it's political - as is everything else now.
Yes, "everything is political" once again.
And the Twisted Hipster is honored to join the ranks of such "enemies of the people" once again at such a critical moment.
While BETTER LEMONS is an arts website devoted largely to the Los Angeles theater community, it is also an instrument for delivering the truth to its readers.  The TH would like to thank Ashley Steed and Enci Box (who 10 years ago was acting in one of the Twisted Hipster's plays) for this opportunity.
The Twisted Hipster pledges to keep it real in a time when our gaslighter-in-chief is doing the opposite.   (See what all that emphasis on Trendiness leads to?  The sad imitation of a president that we have today.)  The TH pledges to give you the artist's point of view, and to keep telling the truth - as he did in the case of "Hurricane" Carter.
Here's hoping you will keep listening.