Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Geffen Selects Playwrights for The Writers' Room

Geffen Playhouse today announced its selection of six local writers to participate in the launch of the inaugural cycle of The Writers’ Room, a forum for engagement and collaboration between Los Angeles playwrights. The participants for 2018/2019 are Angelica ChériDipika GuhaChelsea MarcantelBrian OtañoLiza Powel O’Brien and Matt Schatz.

The program marks a significant milestone in the evolution of Geffen Playhouse under Artistic Director Matt Shakman, whose vision for the theater emphasizes world premiere productions and the development of bold, relevant work by the local artistic community. He is supported in realizing this vision by newly named Associate Artistic Director Amy Levinson, who was most recently Literary Director for Geffen Playhouse, as well as Dramaturg.

“We had a remarkable pool of talented, passionate playwrights apply for The Writers’ Room – it was nearly impossible to select only six,” said Shakman. “Los Angeles is an exciting home for both established and emerging writers, and we can’t wait to get started down the creative path with this team.”

The one-year residency begins September 2018 and will be led by Geffen Playhouse Manager of New Play Development Rachel Wiegardt-Egel.

In addition to the feedback of their fellow writers, members will receive dramaturgical support from the Geffen’s artistic staff and the opportunity to further develop their work with directors and actors, culminating in a reading series that may be open to the public.

The Writers’ Room is made possible through the generous support of Patricia Kiernan Applegate.

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Angelica Chéri
Angelica Chéri is a playwright, musical theater book writer/lyricist, and screenwriter. The plays of her “Prophet’s Cycle Trilogy” include The Seeds of Abraham (Signature Theatre, Billie Holiday Theatre, mentored by Lynn Nottage), The Sting of White Roses (North Carolina Black Repertory Company, National Black Theatre Festival) and Crowndation; I Will Not Lie to David (National Black Theatre, I AM SOUL Residency). Other plays include Berta, Berta (world premiere at Contemporary American Theater Festival) and Learn to Speak Doll, a children's play (Peppercorn Theatre commission). Angelica and collaborator Ross Baum received the Richard Rodgers Award for their musical Gun & Powder, also selected for the 2018 NAMT Festival of New Musicals. Gun & Powder has been developed at Goodspeed Opera, the NYU Center for New Musicals and the 2017 SigWorks Lab. Angelica received her B.A. in Theatre from UCLA, M.F.A. in Playwriting from Columbia University and M.F.A. in Musical Theatre Writing from NYU.

Dipika Guha
Dipika Guha’s plays include Yoga Play (South Coast Repertory, upcoming at Gateway Theatre Vancouver, Moxie Theatre & SF Playhouse), The Art of Gaman (Upcoming at Theatre 503 London, Relentless Award semifinalist) and Unreliable (upcoming at Kansas City Repertory Theatre). Recent works include contributions to You Across From Me (Humana, Actors Theatre of Louisville), Azaan, a play for Oregon Symphony Orchestra, Elizabeth for McCarter Theatre Center’s Princeton and Slavery Project and In Braunau for Playwrights Horizons Theatre School. Dipika’s current commissions include South Coast Repertory, Manhattan Theatre Club/Sloan, Barrington Stage and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She was a Hodder Fellow at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University and the inaugural Shakespeare’s Sister Playwriting Fellow with the Lark Play Development Center, A Room of Her Own and Hedgebrook. Dipika earned an M.F.A from the Yale School of Drama under Paula Vogel and a B.A. in English Literature from University College London. She’s currently writing for Sneaky Pete on Amazon. 

Chelsea Marcantel
Chelsea Marcantel is an L.A.-based writer, director, and collaborator. Reared by Cajuns in southwest Louisiana, Chelsea has lived and made theater among the tribes of the Midwest, Appalachia, the Mid-Atlantic and now the West Coast. In 2016, she completed a Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Fellowship at The Juilliard School. Her plays include AirnessEverything is WonderfulLadyishDevour and Tiny Houses. They have been produced around the United States and Canada. Chelsea currently holds commissions from San Francisco Playhouse and Delaware Theatre Company. As a writer, she is extremely interested in humans as small-group primates and what happens when the rules and value systems of our chosen groups cease to serve us. She reads a lot of books, watches a lot of documentaries and listens to a lot of interviews. Chelsea is an avid self-producer, an enthusiastic member of The Writers Guild of America and The Dramatists Guild, and co-hosts a podcast called "Hugging and Learning."

Brian Otaño
Brian Otaño is a bi-coastal playwright and television writer. Most recently, he co-wrote You Across From Me, the 42nd Humana Festival Professional Training Company show at Actors Theatre of Louisville. Other plays include The DustTaraZero Feet Away and The Dooley Street Trilogy: Between the Sandbar and the ShoreWhat We Told the Neighbors and The Myths We Made. Brian’s plays have been developed and workshopped with Roundabout Theatre Company, Ars Nova, New York Theater Workshop, Atlantic Theater Company, IAMA Theatre Company, Celebration Theatre and Milagro Theater Portland. Residencies & Fellowships: Center Theatre Group’s Writing Cohort (2018-2019), New Dramatists Van Lier Fellowship, P73’s Interstate 73 Writers Group, New York Theater Workshop 2050 Fellowship, Ars Nova’s Playgroup, numerous creative residencies with Space on Ryder Farm, Launch Pad New Work Series at UCSB, Disney ABC TV Writing Program (finalist/alternate), NHMC TV Writers Fellowship. Education: B.F.A. in Dramatic Writing (SUNY Purchase). 

Liza Powel O’Brien
Liza Powel O’Brien is a playwright whose work has appeared at Ojai Playwrights Conference, The Blank Theater, Unscreened LA, Naked Angels, The Lark, C Magazine, and Hedgebrook. She has an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University’s School of the Arts and spent nine years as an advertising copywriter in Seattle and New York. Liza serves on the reading committee for the Ojai Playwrights Conference and as a board member at The Lark Play Development Center in New York. She moved to Los Angeles with her family in 2009 and is thrilled to be a part of the Geffen Playhouse’s inaugural year of The Writers’ Room—a sorely-needed addition to a city with a community of playwrights that seems to be growing by the day.

Matt Schatz
Matt Schatz is a writer and composer. His full-length plays and musicals include The Burdens (2019 City Theatre production, 2018 Austin Film Festival Playwriting Award runner-up, 2017 Lanford Wilson Award Nominee, 2016 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference), An Untitled New Play By Justin Timberlake (Pittsburgh CLO’s 2018 Spark Festival, 2017 O’Neill Playwrights Conference finalist), Georama (with Hyler/Herrick, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Great River Shakespeare Festival, New York Musical Festival), Love Trapezoid (Astoria Performing Arts Center), Dunkfest ’88 (Ars Nova), Where Ever It May Be (EST/Ryder Farm, 2018 Spark Festival) and The Tallest Building in the World (Luna Stage). Awards include the Kleban Prize in Musical Theatre and the Outstanding Lyrics Award at NYMF. Television development: eOne, Fox Television Studios, Fullscreen, TBS, USA. Member: ASCAP, Dramatists Guild, EST, Writers Guild of America. Alumnus: BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, Playwrights Union, Youngblood, Interstate 73, Carnegie Mellon, University of the Arts. Commissions: Actors Theatre of Louisville, EST/Sloan Foundation, Jill Furman Productions, Seattle Repertory Theatre. Matt was born in Camden, NJ and currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Jenna. 

Geffen Playhouse has been a hub of the Los Angeles theater scene since opening its doors in 1995. Noted for its intimacy and celebrated for its world-renowned mix of classic and contemporary plays, provocative new works and second productions, the not-for-profit organization continues to present a body of work that has garnered national recognition. Named in honor of entertainment mogul and philanthropist David Geffen, who made the initial donation to the theater, the company was founded by Gilbert Cates and is currently helmed by Executive Director Gil Cates, Jr., Artistic Director Matt Shakman and Board Chair Howard Tenenbaum. Proudly associated with UCLA, the Geffen welcomes an audience of more than 130,000 each year and maintains extensive education and community engagement programs, designed to involve underserved young people and the community at large in the arts.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Hart and Haddish Both Go To 'Night School'

Star Kevin Hart and producer Will Packer, who partnered for the hit Ride Along and Think Like a Man series, bring their signature style to Night School.  The comedy from director Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip) follows a group of misfits who are forced to attend adult classes in the longshot chance they’ll pass the GED exam. 

Co-stars Tiffany Haddish, Rob Riggle, Taran Killam and Romany Malco join Hart on-screen for the film that Hart produces for his Hartbeat Productions, and Packer via his Will Packer Productions.

Genre: Comedy
Cast: Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, Rob Riggle, Taran Killam, Romany Malco
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Writers: Kevin Hart & Harry Ratchford & Joey Wells & Matt Kellard and Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg
Produced by: Will Packer, Kevin Hart
Executive Producers: Malcolm D. Lee, Preston Holmes, James Lopez

'Ain't Too Proud' Tells The Story of The Temps

L-R: Ephraim Sykes, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin and James Harkness
in “Ain't Too Proud,” presented by Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson Theatre
through September 30. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

By Darlene Donloe

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations, is one of the best jukebox musicals to ever grace a stage.   The show is currently playing at the Ahmanson Theater.

From the moment the actors, portraying members of the legendary Motown group, step on the stage, there is nonstop energy, excitement, and, of course, music.

Seamlessly, the actors/singers glide in and out of The Temptations hits: The Way You Do The Things You Do, Ball of Confusion, Cloud Nine, Runaway Child, Running Wild, Get Ready, Just My Imagination, and, of course, Ain’t Too Proud, while telling the group’s sometimes scandalous saga.

Taken from the book by Dominique Morisseau and based on the book entitled, The Temptations by Otis Williams with Patricia Romanowski, Ain’t Too Proud tells the story of The Temptations - warts and all.  We see them go from a ragtag bunch of guys in Detroit trying to get a label and a hit record – to become Motown’s biggest selling group. We hear and see David Ruffin’s descent into a life of drug use. We see Paul Williams’ struggle. He eventually committed suicide. We see Otis try to hold on to a marriage and fatherhood – to no avail. We see Eddie Kendricks grow weary of the group, his departure, return and departure again.  One by one we watch as several of the Temptations make their eternal transitions.

Apparently, there were 24 different members of The Temptations over the years. In fact, at one time, there were two different groups touring the country – one headed by Otis Williams and the other helmed by ousted members Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin.

Some of the more interesting anecdotes happen when Otis Williams’ character shares how the group grew weary of an ousted Ruffin showing up at their shows and jumping on stage to join the group.  Williams’ character also talks about how much the group disliked the song, Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone until it became a huge hit. 

The show is a miniature version of the Motown, The Musical. That's because, in order to tell the story of the Temptations, you have to bring in other powerhouse acts that graced the enviable roster. For instance, The Supremes.  You also can’t talk about the Temptations without talking about Smokey Robinson who penned several of their hits and Norman Whitfield, who also wrote some of the group’s legendary songs.

Des McAnuff’s (Jersey Boys, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, The Who’s Tommy) direction is solid – even though he sometimes cuts some high-energy songs in order to interject more dialogue. He has his actors and the music seamlessly gliding from one scene to the next.  He also seems to effortlessly fly in scenes.

The Broadway-bound show is guided and narrated by Derrick Baskin, who plays Otis Williams, who founded The Temptations and is the last surviving original band member.  Baskin is not only a stalwart singer, he has equally impressive acting chops. As the narrator of his own story, he effectively moves the story along, occasionally interjecting bits of hilarity to the proceedings.

L-R: Christian Thompson, Saint Aubyn, Ephraim Sykes (center), Jeremy Pope, Derrick Baskin and Jawan M. Jackson in Ain't Too Proud, which is being presented by Center Theatre Group at the Ahmanson Theatre through September 30.

All of the actors portraying members of The Temptations bring this story to life.  The acting is on point, the choreography is brisk and exciting, and the music – well, the music speaks volumes.

There are some standouts in the show, including all of the actors playing Temptations: Baskin as Otis Williams, Jeremy Pope, who kills it as Eddie Kendricks; James Harkness as Paul Williams; Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin; Jawan M. Jackson, who drops the mic as Melvin Franklin and Rashidra Scott, who is fantastic as Otis Williams’ wife, Josephine.  Sykes’ voice as Ruffin seemed strained as the show went on. Not sure if it was intentional to show how Ruffin’s voice may have suffered due to drugs, or whether the forcefulness with which Sykes sang – took its toll by Act II.

The lighting is spot on (pun intended). The sound is a bit muffled in places but doesn’t take away from the power of the music. The costumes are sufficiently chic and splashy and the set is fluid and vivid.

Ain’t Too Proud, directed by Des McAnuff, stars Derrick Baskin, James Harkness, Jawan M. Jackson, Jeremy Pope, Ephraim Sykes, Jarvis B. Manning, Jr., Nasia Thomas, Taylor Symone Jackson, Jahi Kearse, Christian Thompson, Candice Marie Woods, Rashidra Scott, Joshua Morgan, Saint Aubyn, E. Clayton Cornelious, and Shawn Bowers.

Overall this is a FUN-tastic show, with a great cast, show-stopping music, fantastic set design, sound design, and lighting.

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Ain’t Too Proud gets an E (excellent).

Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

Ain’t Too Proud, Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. L.A., 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 30; Tickets: $30-$160 (subject to change)
Information: (213) 972-4400 or

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Keyboardist Garfield Is Breaking 'Outside the Box'

Veteran keyboardist David Garfield entered the year with a single in the Billboard Top 10 (“Go Home”) before announcing the details of his ambitious recording project, “Outside the Box.” The multidisc, multi-genre series of albums trickling out over a multi-year span features high-wattage assemblages of Grammy winners, legends, hit-makers and prominent musicians including members of the Zac Brown Band, Steely Dan, Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, The Doors, Chicago, Toto, Tower of Power and The Meters. 

The first two volumes, “Jazz Outside the Box” and “Jammin’ Outside the Box,” arrived to critical acclaim and an abundance of global airplay that launched another single into the Billboard Top 10 (“Jamming”) around the same time that another song (“I Lied”) that he wrote with Smokey Robinson vaulted up the country singles and video charts. The Creatchy Records releases produced and arranged by Garfield that are being promoted to radio outlets around the world are certain to capture the attention of NARAS voters. The offerings were submitted for consideration in more than 26 categories for the Grammy ballot.     

Although Garfield began his five-decade career in straight-ahead jazz as a teenager playing behind bebop trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, he never released his own session in that jazz realm prior to the March release of “Jazz Outside the Box.” Among the luminaries who collaborated with Garfield on the set list comprised of originals, standards and modern classics are The Doors’ John Densmore, Wallace Roney, Poncho Sanchez, Steve Jordan. Randy Brecker, Michael McDonald, Tom Scott, Eric Marienthal, Pete Christlieb, Bennie Maupin, Jason Scheff, Brian Auger, Will Lee, Charlie Bisharat’s String Quartet, an orchestra conducted by John Clayton, and farewell performances by late guitarists Chuck Loeb and Larry Coryell.   

The two Billboard Top 10 singles are part of “Jammin’ Outside the Box,” which dropped last month. This outing is centered on the R&B, contemporary jazz and instrumental pop genres that have been the primary focus of Garfield’s accomplished career. Also spawned from this set is a star-studded version of the Rufus hit “Stay” that features the band’s former drummer, Richard “Moon” Calhoun, singing the song he wrote with Chaka Khan. Guitar legend George Benson and saxophone icon David Sanborn trade solos on the disc’s latest single. A pair of one-of-a-kind voices, Robinson and McDonald unite on the search for “One Like You,” another Garfield-Robinson original to which Sanborn’s sax adds luster. Ray Parker Jr., Kirk Whalum, Rick Braun, Marcus Miller, Oleta Adams, Phil Perry, Paul Jackson Jr., Eric Marienthal, Tom Scott, Mike Campbell, Kenya Hathaway, Bill Champlin, John Klemmer, Will Lee, Tony Maiden, and Rickey Minor also appear on the album’s guest list.

While “Jazz Outside the Box” and “Jammin’ Outside the Box” attract the airplay and accolades reserved for lofty recordings of this level of breadth, depth, quality, history, magnitude, prestige and star power, perhaps the biggest surprise came when the heartache ballad that Garfield wrote with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Robinson landed on the Music Row and Billboard Indicator charts. The accompanying video for “I Lied” sung by J. Paris was added to the Heartland Network playlist reaching over 22 million households.     

In between fronting his own band at dates supporting “Outside the Box” that included a July gig opening for McDonald and a spate of  European and U.S. concerts in his familiar role as Benson’s longtime music director, Garfield toils in the studio laying down tracks, crafting fresh arrangements and recording an array of music royalty for the continuing chapters of “Outside the Box,” which will consist of a vocal album, a fusion excursion that includes extended versions of songs released as part of the project, and a holiday-themed “box.”  

For more information, please visit

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Choreographer-Dancer Marjani Forté-Saunders Presents Memoirs of a...Unicorn at Ford Theatres

Marjani Forté-Saunders in Memoirs of a...Unicorn
Photo by Maria Baranova Photography

By Darlene Donloe

Marjani Forté-Saunders is one of those “wow” performers who can legitimately be called a force of nature. She's talented! She's fierce! She's intense! And, most importantly, she's unapologetically comfortable and content in her blackness!

When she takes the stage at the Ford Theatres August 24-25, as part of its IGNITE @ the FORD! series to present her latest work, Memoirs of a…Unicorn, by all accounts, it will be a powerful, personal and, unforgettable performance.

A self-described educator/evolver/metamorphic activist/artist/choreographer/dancer who, at one time, performed with the Urban Bush Women, Forté-Saunders has created a new solo evening-length dance piece inspired by stories taken directly from the life of her Arkansas-born father. The show includes structures created by Tony Award-winning set designer Mimi Lien and built by none other than her father, Rick Forté.

An introspection on blackness, with an emphasis on the black male experience, the show
weaves historic and personal narratives into an embodied saga of disjointed histories, unabated love, and, what Forté-Saunders calls warrior-ship.

This is no ordinary show. A storyteller through dance, Forté-Saunders isn’t just casually moving through space. There is a purpose! She has something to say. No movement is squandered. No moment is unwarranted. Both the movements and the moments are deliberate, while vividly describing themselves. Watching Forté-Saunders command a stage as she effortlessly flows from one experience to the next while taking the audience on this journey through life, is magical.

Admittedly, Forté-Saunders, who has been married to her husband, Everett for four years (together for 10) and has a soon to be three-year-old son named Nkosi, is anxious about how her latest creation will be received by a Los Angeles audience.

“This is a new thing for them,” said Forté-Saunders, a Pasadena native who also claims Harlem as her home. “We’re all nervous. We don’t know how L.A. audiences will take my work. This is far more abstract. I think we’re all like – ok, let's see what happens.”

When you talk to Forté-Saunders, the passion she has for her work comes through in every carefully crafted syllable.  It’s clear she loves what she does and because of that, she is ready to leave every part of herself on the stage.

Marjani Forté-Saunders 

I recently spoke to Forté-Saunders (MFS) about her upcoming show and what audiences can expect.

DD:  How are rehearsals going?

MFS: They are going well. It’s been intense. Solo work is insane. It’s helpful to have my husband as the composer and sound designer. We can be in our artist funk and bounce off each other. Getting to know the piece all over again.

DD:  All over again?  Where have you performed the piece?

MFS: The very first time was in New York, at South Street Seaport Museum. It was a residency. I also did it at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas. The premiere in New York at Collapsable Hole.

DD:  How has it evolved?

MFS: The concepts we are working with are life concepts, ancestral ideas, and struggles. It’s like seeing something from a different lens. You look at something at age 10, then at age 30. Refining is a word we can use, but it’s not the only word. We’re getting closer. It’s about the energy, the familiarity with the language. The rhythms we work with and play in.  With the audience, it's a reciprocal relationship. The lineage of work I come from - Blondell Cummings and Nia Love. I think all of those works might fall within the pantheon of modern contemporary work. What feels clear to me is that – the sort of listening to the energy of the room – but not catering to it. Not trying to get a laugh or cry. They have the freedom to draw from it what they want. I always listen and connect. I hope the audience sees their own stories. The audience’s participation in deciphering is an energetic contribution.

DD: Describe this show in your own words. What is it about?  What is the message?

MFS: This work is a sort of montage of stories and storytelling about starting off with conversations about the unicorns in my life. Some use the phrase, black man. I didn't want to use black men because it can limit the conversation to what it is to be black and be male. It was a cosmological and celestial idea and also energetic. I wanted to have a conversation to humanize the narratives. What is it to be in blackness?  It started off with a conversation about my dad, then my husband and son.

DD: Talk about what you mean by warrior-ship.

MFS: When I say warrior-ship, it’s about legacy. Folks will experience a shifting from one moment to the next. Me embodying my father’s space, but not splintering off in my own space.
Also what it’s like to be a mother in the last two and a half years.

DD: Let's talk about the title. What does it mean? Is a unicorn a black man?

MFS: Unicorn and black man. They are not synonymous. I refuse to use it when I’m talking about my heart. If I use black man am I not talking about myself anymore?

DD: Walk me through your process of creating a piece.  What happens first?

MFS:  I like to lead by my process, which leans on a great deal of scholarship. I do that to see where I am and where I’m supposed to be. But also to see where these concepts are. Scholarship is an anchor. It can include fiction. It started in a study of Bell Hooks’ writing – in particular – We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. Benevolent patriarchy.  Another author who wrote about understanding the roots of trauma is  Carlos Casteneda, who wrote The Eagles Gift. Then there is Victoria Hamilton’s The People Could Fly. Imagined liberation. I did a year of interviews. I then took my father to meet the patriarchal side of his family.

DD: Was he reluctant to go? If so, or if not, how did you get him to go?

MFS: I said, ‘hey dad, do you want to go back and find out who these people were?’ My grandmother came here when he was between three and five. An aunt hadn’t seen him since he was a baby. We sat with her for a few hours. We just interviewed and found out who we thought my father’s dad was.  Interviews will be at the beginning of the piece. Then we experience what growing up as young black children have been for them.

DD: How do you use body language to communicate?

MFS:  I remind us physically and through spoken text what we know and affirm. We know our bodies are speaking long before. That’s the dance. The deep coded ancestral power of gesture and demeanor and disposition.  There are codes in our body and in our gait. This piece is a study of that – of the physical code woven up in our language.  I’m intentional about not pointing my feet during the piece. When I get ready to squeeze my toes, I remember that it is a European idea of what is correct.

DD: The piece is populated by structures created by MacArthur Genius and Tony Award-winning set designer Mimi Lien and built by your father, Rick Forté. Describe what kind of structures you’re talking about.

Marjani Forté-Saunders
Photo by Maria Baranova Photography 

MFS: For this showing, we didn't do the full installation. A goal for this work is for it to evolve. The idea is that the installation was based on those contributors.  This performance is a workshopping of what Unicorn will be over time.  We brought the anchoring materials, including a pyramid built by hand by my father. There is a 10 ft. horn, which is an anchor piece.  There is also a remainder of a wall that has a composite of different elements. My father had many lives. He does all of these on a high level. We’re not able to do it as large, but we have unicorn horns that are on a wall.

DD: This piece is spurred by stories about your father’s life. Describe how you got the material out of your dad.

MFS:  That’s what blew me away. I realize how much my father wasn’t unique. Everett Saunders, my husband, was also a train conductor, and an emcee with an album out. He is also the person who cuts my hair because he worked as a barber.

DD: Let's talk about the trilogy you’ve completed -  that examines the intersections of mental illness, addiction, and systemic poverty.

MFS:  In case you can’t tell, I am an ambitious one. I’m growing without all the answers. I’m an examiner.  What I was looking at initially was trauma and how every human will experience a level of trauma. I wanted to look at the deep economic disparity of this country and the inhumane pathologizing of responses to trauma in our medical industries. I wanted to demonstrate how it shows up in poor communities - the construct of race and the trauma that accompanies.

DD: What is your philosophy in life that influences your creative work?

MFS: We aren’t Christians. We grew up in the AME (African Methodist Episcopal) church. I will always give an ode to that starting place and how I can move people with my work.  I can be in conversation with the divine. Art is a ministry. It’s my mic. It’s my handshake, the way I connect with people and learn myself.

DD: What do you learn about yourself whenever you perform?

MFS: I learn to never stop seeking knowledge. I learn to always keep growing in the work.

DD: Did you have a Plan B in case dance didn’t work out?

MFS: I pretended that I did for a minute. I went to college when I was 15. The first three years you’re trying to please your parents. I studied business marketing, and dance. The degree was as a business major. I was a double major in dance. That was my pretend. Two weeks after graduation, I moved to New York. I was 19. I had been studying there and had friends at [Alvin] Ailey.  My mom gave me six months to get a job. During that time, I met my husband.

DD: How do you prepare to go on stage?

MFS: I do vocal warm-ups. Everett (her husband) will do a DJ set for me. He’ll play an array of songs to allow me to inhabit different spaces in my body. That will happen for about half an hour. There is also prayer and meditation. And then after that, I surrender.

Memoirs of a...Unicorn, Ford Theatres, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E, Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; $25; (323) 461-3673. 

Tickets on sale now at