A True Story of Extremist Radicalization, Verbatim

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How does an average American father become a dangerous insurrectionist pursued by the FBI? Fatherland, conceived and directed by Stephen Sachs at the Fountain Theatre, portrays the sociopolitical process, as well as the human experience, of polarization. The play follows a character referred to as “The Son”(Patrick Keleher) testifying against “The Father” (Ron Bottita) in court for his presence at the insurrection on January 6th, 2021. It is a true story, with every line taken from real court transcripts, case evidence, and public statements. This is the art of verbatim theater, in which plays are written and produced without a single line added to or edited, straight from the original source.

The narrative begins in the courtroom as the son gives his testimony, and then moves into his memories of the years prior to the attack, as well as events of January 6th from his father’s perspective. The show shifts between these three time frames seamlessly, often portraying multiple simultaneously. The set by Joel Daavid is built upon a few sparsely painted metallic walls, which change in mood along with the lighting design and plot. The lighting by Allison Brummer and sound design by Stewart Blackwood further immerse the audience into the hearts and minds of the tragic duo. Verbatim theater creates this visceral resonance because it is so close to our reality, only a few steps away from the real events it portrays. These characters are our fellow citizens, our neighbors, our friends, and our family.

Although most of Fatherland is told from the son’s perspective, both of the duo’s experiences are shown just as they were. As the son begins his statement, a flashback brings us into the early 2010s. Our main characters sing along to Taylor Swift on the radio. The son and his father hold political positions that he defines as moderately left and moderately right, respectively. Soon, the audience starts to see the father frustrated. In a tough financial situation with a family to care for, a promised American Dream feels like it’s been stolen from him. An explanation for his troubles is given to him by presidential hopeful Donald Trump, who promises a solution, a better country, that American dream. The Father and Son continue to disagree, slowly drifting farther apart. When Trump wins the election the situation continues to escalate. He tells his son about how they’re going to take their country back. But surely it’s all talk, the son convinces himself. His dad would never actually do that.

When the son wakes up one day, the pickup truck his father had loaded with weapons the night before is gone. He had actually gone to do it. The son makes an online tip to the FBI, and soon watches his father on the news, standing on the United States capitol. The rest is American history.

The son’s story of losing his father, being the one to turn him in, and being shunned from his family afterwards is heartbreaking. But what struck me even more was just how much I felt for the father. I’m sure that many Americans could understand his emotions as well. There is this narrative around the United States, a utopian opportunity to grow and thrive and live a fulfilling life if you just put in the hard work. When that dream feels like it’s slipping through your fingers, you feel cheated. People feel that someone must be out to get them. And when a politician comes along to give those vulnerable people a scapegoat and a promised solution, they often follow.

As I watched Fatherland, what became clear to me was the full extent that extremist politicians intentionally manipulated vulnerable citizens, turning them into pawns in a selfish plan to take down the free democracy they convinced people they were fighting for. Stephen Sachs’ execution of the script brilliantly pieced together the information surrounding January 6th, which currently exists as a disjointed mess in the collective consciousness of most of the country. Who said what, what happened when, and was it really orchestrated or just an unfortunate effect of mob mentality? When you watch the slow descent of this regular human person against the political backdrop of the time, it becomes abundantly clear that it was all intentional.

By giving the audience a view into the father’s experiences with the knowledge that he is a real person, Fatherland connects uswith his humanity, as well as the humanity of other January 6th participants. Actor Ron Bottita, when discussing his role in Fatherland, commented how his goal was to portray the role in a fair and balanced way, and allow the audience to come to their own conclusions. The whole cast and crew communicate that same important quality: truth, without judgment. We see firsthand the dangers of the extremism pipeline that he went through. Fatherland is a masterpiece of humanity, family, and America, which utilizes verbatim theater to connect the audience with the January 6th insurrectionists in a way no other media could. It allows the audience to draw their own conclusions based on the exact events that occurred.

Events like January 6th are so horrific that the easiest way to console ourselves is by framing the people involved in them as crazy, evil, and inhuman. This feels better than confronting the fact that they are real people, usually with good intentions within their warped reality. And while it does not excuse their actions, dehumanizing the people who are radicalized by fascism, as well as their leaders, leads us blind into letting it happen again. In a time when our democracy is under attack, we must recognize that no one is immune to propaganda, and focus our energy towards the people pulling the strings of radicalization. If we don’t, they will continue to tear us apart like father from son.


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Dive Deeper into Hamlet, Solus with David Melville

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Founded in 1998, Independent Shakespeare Co. started their iconic free outdoor

Shakespeare performances in 2003, at Barnsdall Park. By 2010, ISCLA had moved to Griffith Park’s Old Zoo and has since performed two shows every summer, with bonus live music and cultural performances for their audience of over 40,000. I am one of ISCLA’s many adoring patrons, and have seen their shows every summer for longer than I can remember. Their sense of whimsy, incredible commitment, total immersion with the outdoor performance space, and ability to adapt Shakespeare to modern sensibilities through music, costume, and more makes the experience a delight every time.

As a non-profit theater group, their longevity and ability to survive the pandemic

is inspirational -- amidst the Covid-19 lockdown, they even established a permanent stage at Griffith Park! But their outdoor space is not the only home of ISCLA’s breathtaking shows; in 2011, Atwater Crossing Complex welcomed ISCLA into their arms with a year-round indoor theater space. This 65-seat theater has been home to incredible shows over the years: Julius Caesar, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, singalongs, and even workshops with Independent Shakespeare’s wonderful founders, David Melville and Melissa Chalsma. Now, from March 21-April 9, David Melville will be performing Hamlet, Solus, a one-man show version of one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies.

Melville is no stranger to solo theater; for many consecutive years, he has

performed a two-person show of A Christmas Carol, playing both Dickens and most of the characters. He’s also done some even more minimalist one-person shows including Nicholas Nickelby and Solemn Mockeries. Hamlet, Solus, however, is an entirely different beast. Fascinated by the commitment to such an emotional and complex show, as well as being a huge fan of Shakespeare, I sat down with David Melville to discuss what led him to create this iambic lab.

Cyrus: Of all the famous and beloved Shakespeare plays, what drew you towards Hamlet for the Iambic Lab?

David: Well, I suppose I have a long history with Hamlet. I've done it a number of times, not just with ISC. It was the play that brought me to America. I was in a production that was on Broadway in 1995, and Ralph Fiennes was playing Hamlet, and that's where I met Melissa, and Melissa and I run the company together. So really, Hamlet's the reason I ended up in America, and I ended up meeting Melissa, and without Hamlet, I wouldn't have my children, or Independent Shakespeare Company wouldn't exist. And then when we started doing shows in the park, our second season, 2005, we did Hamlet, and I played Hamlet that time. And I think it was the first show where things really started to take off. It was the first show that really started attracting significantly large audiences, and it was popular.So we did it again the next year, and then we came back to it several times, and it's always been really good to us, I think, in that regard. And the last time I did it was, gosh, must be about 12 years ago now, and I was sad when it was over, because I had such a long relationship with the play. But I always thought it was unfinished business somehow, and I think I was doing a school's workshop, and I had to do some speeches from Hamlet, and I just got the idea then, I wanted to actually do this as a one-person show. But if you do a one-person show, you're not just playing Hamlet, you're playing everyone, so that kind of gives you license to, you know, to be creative. So that's kind of how we arrived at it.

Cyrus: That's perfect. That's actually a great segue to my next question of playing even one of the main roles in Hamlet would be a daunting task, and you're playing them all. What's that like, emotionally and physically, and even practically?

David: We're not doing four and a half hours of me saying absolutely every line. And it's been whittled down quite a bit. I think that it probably should be, it's a little, probably a little over 90 minutes. So I've had to cut quite a lot of roles, and I've really sort of centered on certain themes and certain relationships. But, you know, most of the main characters are there. So I found it interesting starting to work on it, having been so familiar with Hamlet and Hamlet's point of view, it does feel a little bit like the characters are being presented from Hamlet's perspective. So Claudius is way more evil than an actor would approach him, probably, you know, and Gertrude is way more fickle and flighty. And I don't know whether that's how it'll end up in the actual sort of final mix, but certainly as a way in, it was hard to dissociate myself from Hamlet's perspective and his point of view.

Cyrus: One thing that fascinates me about Independent Shakespeare is that you guys often incorporate modern music and live music into your productions. I noticed that that's also a theme for Hamlet, Solus. How do you think that enhances or changes the meaning of the story?

David: Hopefully it enhances it. I think there might be some people that come and see it and strongly disagree with that. You know, there's not a whole lot of music. I mean, it's mostly the Shakespeare text, but I, you know, we wanted to use this as an opportunity to experiment with a certain way of doing things. And I've done a number of one person shows before and I've always approached them in a very minimal way.But, you know, I've been interested in -- I've started doing a lot of sound design for the show. So when I work as a director, I often do my own sound design. And I really like it. And I record my own music at home because I write. So I've been writing songs for the Shakespeare plays. So I do love sound design. And I was sort of curious about how to use looping and whether there was a practical application for that in a stage. So I wanted to see if there was a way to create live loops on stage, and I'm trying to incorporate it on some lines. So certain words can be put into a loop and then sort of repeat. It's quite complicated, because it means I've got to have various trigger points around the stage, where I can activate these things. I mean, doing Hamlet as a solo show is a tightrope walk, as it is, but to deal with all this very fiddly tech stuff… I don't know, my mind might explode.

Cyrus: But hopefully not until after the show.

David: During the show, probably.But, you know, in rehearsals, we've done it, you know, it's quite satisfying when it works. But so yeah, I was just really interested in can I do that? Can I build just using the kind of synthesizer applications that you would use in a program like Logic? There's a live version of that called Main Stage. And I'm not using it a whole lot, but to be able to sort of play just a tone that will underscore a speech in a way.

David (continued): I'm giving a little bit more space to a character who I think is probably the most important character in Hamlet, outside of Hamlet, who doesn't have any lines. And that's Yorick. Whenever you see a picture of Hamlet, you know, it's Hamlet holding Yorick. He's quite sort of iconic as far as the production goes. But we don't really know too much about him [Yorick]. But he has a very interesting perspective, I think, because Hamlet is so much about death and grief. And that's one of the themes I'm trying to explore in this. And, you know, of course, Yorick sort of is on the other side of that. He does know a thing or two about it. You know, he might just be the court fool, but he is actually, something that Hamlet doesn't know, and it's not until Hamlet meets Yorick that it's after his meeting with Yorick that he's finally ready to do what he's been avoiding all of this time, not until he stares into Yorick's eyes, or what used to be his eyes. So I've sort of resurrected him, and he's helping to narrate the show a little bit. But rather than me sort of trying to write Shakespeare, I'm doing it mostly in the form of this 1930s/40s English Music Hall style, in the style of this performer called George Formby, who played a banjolele. And so I'm sort of riffing around his song style, which is very upbeat and comedic. So, tonally, it's very much against the grain of what people would expect from something like this. I'm not sure, you know, whether it's going to please people or not. But I'm just -- this is a ridiculously indulgent project. (laughs)

Cyrus: What was the process of making Hamlet, Solus? Like, I know sometimes productions can be sat on for years. If so, how many months, years, how much time has been spent?

David: We've talked about it for a long time, mostly sort of as a joke. When we're trying to think about what we're going to put in our indoor space, and something drops out. And I said, ‘Well, I can always do my one-man Hamlet’. But this year, I guess, Melissa, just put it on the calendar. And I didn't know whether she was serious or not, but I decided to take her seriously. And then the next part, I guess, was trying to learn some of the speeches of the characters that I'd not played before. So that they're sort of more in my bones, because Hamlet's very in my bones, but you know, Gertrude obviously isn't. So that was the other key part of the process, but it's been very, very much “solus”. But, you know, one of the nice things about doing a one person show is that you can always be in rehearsal. If you're in the car, or whatever you're doing, you know, you can always be working on it. But one of the downsides is that it's rather lonely. And I, one of the things I love about being in the theatre is, you know, having my fellow actors around to goof around and play with and, you know, it's a little lonely. Although I do anticipate that I can have many cast parties, and they'll all be very cheap.

Cyrus: You can invite Hamlet and Gertrude.

David: I don't know that you’d want Hamlet at a party. (laughs)

Cyrus: What do you want or hope audiences to take away from this show?

David: I think that I'd like people to connect with the themes that I want to explore. I'd like them to have a slightly deeper understanding of some of the relationships. I'd like them to sort of understand the graveyard scene as more than just a comic bit. I'd like to think that one of the advantages of doing it as a one person show is you can show characters' points of view a little clearer. Because you have to take a little bit more time in between reactions, and you can stay with reactions, you can show one person saying something to show the other reaction. But if it's just you, you can highlight some of the characters' points of view. There are some key moments. The piece with Hamlet meeting Yorick, which I'm setting up Yorick as kind of this dark comic character. But there's a seriousness when they meet. And also the scene with Gertrude -- I think there's something about the way that it's been edited that it sort of really leads to that moment. So I hope I can sort of highlight some of Gertrude's turmoil and her guilt. And I hope it sort of weirdly, even though it's very sort of edited, I hope there are some elements of the story that maybe make a little more sense. Something I'm very interested in is why Hamlet pretends to be mad. I'm making Hamlet's madness, this sort of weird, like early Pink Floyd sort of noise that sort of keeps coming back and annoying Claudius. So I can create this sort of sound character. So and again, because you're seeing things, you know, the perspective of the characters a little more clearly because it's one person show. I hope I can sort of hone in on the use of Hamlet’s feigned madness that’s a little different from what you would be able to do in a bigger production. Basically grief and madness.

Cyrus: I love that. You’ve touched on this a little bit, but what do you hope to take away from this experience? Do you think you’ll do an iambic lab or Solus project like this in the future?

David: Well we haven’t performed it yet, so we don’t know. It is an act of extreme hubris, so I could fall on my face and regret it. Or I could find wonderful new modes of expression. I mean, I’m challenging myself in ways I’ve never done before, and it’s really scary, and I hope it’s successful and it resonates. If it isn’t successful, I hope I give myself permission to be brave.

Cyrus: Lastly, do you think Hamlet, Solus is accessible to teens who have never seen Sahelsepate and how might they want to prepare for the show?

David: That’s a really good question. I hope it will be; I’m trying to make the story as clear as I can get. I do think the approach to it is playful, hopefully humorous, moving when it needs to be. That’s always a dangerous area with tragic materials -- you don’t want to overplay that comedy, but not overlay the tragedy that people are so bored with. Checkhov used to say “you need to make people laugh before they can cry”. It’ll never be boring, any of this. I do think it’ll be of interest to teens. Even if students don’t study Hamlet, they’ll probably hear some of these lines used as quotations; it’s nice to know where it sits, where it stems from.

Cyrus: Thank you so much; that’s all the questions I’ve prepared. Do you have anything else you’d like to say to teens or anyone else preparing to see the show?

David: Just come with an open mind (laughs). Everything we do, we try to make it warm and welcoming to everyone. If you don’t know Hamlet, it could be the beginning of a wonderful journey, and if you do know Hamlet, it could lend you some deeper insights.

Though Hamlet, Solus has only been in production for a few months, it seems as

though this production from David Melville was inevitable. Hamlet is interwoven with ISCLA’s very DNA, from Melville’s move to America to Independent Shakespeare’s rise in local fame. His personal connection to Hamlet creates a gripping, personal narrative that just hearing about made me jittery with excitement. From the moment I heard about Hamlet, Solus and marked my calendar to see it, to every detail I learned about its creation and nuance by talking to David Melville, I knew this solo expedition into Hamlet would be something unforgettable.

This interview-article is compiled from an audio interview conducted on 5/3/24. Not all of Mr Melville’s full responses have been included. Some responses have been edited or cut.

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Beyond the Bravo - The Importance of an Engaging Crowd

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Nobody ever wants teens to be loud or take up space. But what if there was a place that wasn’t true?

When you were young and you went to the theater, stuffy old adults told you to be quiet and sit still and pay attention -- after all, that was what they were told, and to them, that’s how you express respect for the show. This can make going to the theater a very daunting and unwelcoming environment for teens, not to mention mind-numbingly boring. Nothing kills a show more than dead silence.

Turns out, that’s how the actors feel as well! Actors want people to cheer and shout and clap and be loud; to them, that’s really they can tell someone enjoys the show, not silent approving nods in the darkness.

When I went to see The Winter’s Tale at Antaeus Theatre Company with a group of my friends, we had all previously been in a production of it, so we knew what to expect. We howled with laughter, we sang along to the songs, we booed the antagonistic characters, and we clapped and roared until our throats and hands were raw. The cast adored it. They came out from backstage invigorated, telling us how wonderful of an audience we were and how appreciated they felt.

It made me realize that no one wants a theater to be quiet (except maybe grumpy old men). The highest sign of respect you can pay to an actor is to express your feelings, and do it loud and proud! They put so much work into their comedy routines, musicals, and plays, that a teen laughing at a joke they likely spent weeks practicing is more precious than a double rainbow.

Of course, this is not to endorse any kind of disruptive behavior. Disrespecting the theater you’re at, talking loudly with your friends, or heckling actors that are working very hard to make you smile is just plain rude. Besides, why bother going to a show just to be an unkind audience? It seems a waste of time and money, if you ask me -- not to mention way less enjoyable than the actual show being performed.

So next time you grab your TeenTix Pass and see a show, laugh if something’s funny. Cry if it breaks your heart, and clap so hard your hands hurt. And if that cranky couple gives you a stink eye? Just cheer louder.


Cyrus Rose is a TeenTix LA Intern.

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Learn more about A NEW BRAIN

Q&A by Hannah Gumpert, TeenTix LA Intern

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A New Brain, a show put on by Celebration Theatre and Los Angeles LGBT Center, delves into the concepts of mortality, second chances, and the healing power of art. It follows songwriter Gordon Schwinn, who, after collapsing into their lunch and waking up in the hospital, is faced with the possibility that they might die before writing their greatest songs. The show, Celebration Theatre's first musical in years, is performed with gender-expansive casting. We get the opportunity to learn more about the experience of being in this show and theater through A New Brain's lead actor, Amanda Kruger (they/them).


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Celebrate A Holiday Classic with A Noise Within

Q&A by TeenTix LA Marketing Assistant Albert Tran

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The holiday season is upon us, and A Noise Within has brought back a yearly festive classic. If you haven’t heard about the tale of A Christmas Carol, now is the time to feel immersed within this world. This universal experience unravels the story through its main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, as he discovers change within himself as a person during Christmastime. Lucky for you all, we were able to learn more about this production through the creative eye of Geoff Elliott, the adapter of A Christmas Carol who plays Scrooge himself.


Why did your team decide to showcase A Christmas Carol and have it performed?

Charles Dickens’ short novel A Christmas Carol is an unparalleled tale of transformation and forgiveness. We as an audience are given the opportunity to experience, through Scrooge, the possibilities for change-how just one person can dramatically affect those around them for good or evil. We believe it is vitally important to share with the community such a transformation.

Why do we do it every holiday season and how is the audience impacted?

Well before we began performing the adaptation as a yearly event beginning in 2012, we dreamed of having this holiday tradition on a yearly basis. After we moved into our new and permanent home in 2011 we knew the time was now. The play brings new, younger, families to the theatre, many for the first time. It introduces them to the caliber of work at A Noise Within and many come back to see the other productions. It has become a tradition for members of our community with many coming back over and over again. To be onstage and feel the emotional impact from the audience at curtain call is an experience an actor never forgets.

Why is A Christmas Carol significant to you or your organization?

Dickens’ masterpiece is timeless. Its relevance today, in our rather troubled world, is a healing balm both to us and our audiences every year.

What do we hope for teens to obtain from the production?

First and foremost, that this specific classic and indeed all of the great classics have real world significance-that these plays are not dusty old library books forgotten on a shelf, but have a great deal to tell us about our lives right now. And our young audience members are given the opportunity to realize that live theatre is a once in a lifetime experience, that their active participation as audience members energizes the performers, making that particular day a group effort.


We would like to thank Geoff Elliott for sharing his experience working on this production with TeenTix LA. Click HERE to learn how to see this production for just $5 before it closes on December 23rd. Be like Ebenezer Scrooge and don’t miss out on feeling transformed by art this season. Enjoy the holiday excitement with your loved ones. We wish you all a happy holiday!

Photo by Craig Schwartz

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Celebration Theatre Recognizes Transgender Experiences

Q&A by TeenTix LA Intern Albert Tran


Happy Pride Month, everyone! We are so excited to celebrate Celebration Theatre’s current production, TALES OF THE TRANSCESTORS. This important show acknowledges transgender individuals and their immense erasure and/or unrecorded moments from history. Based on personal and real-life experiences, TALES OF THE TRANCESTORS brings to you all an interpretative, first-time, live-telling of 6 transgender stories across history. Performed by 6 different artists, it’s a multi-genre experience infused with music, poetry, and one-acts that will bring about an authentic and unique perspective to the intersectional transgender experiences LIVE on stage. We asked Shaan Dasani, the play’s director, to further elaborate on this production.


Why did your organization want to specifically showcase TALES OF THE TRANSCESTORS?

Celebration Theatre’s 40-year mission has been to entertain, inspire, and empower with innovative productions that celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community. The stories of our trans* family within that community, however, have too often remained untold. Celebration’s Interim Artistic Director, Ann James [Hamilton, Lempicka] (she/they) says, “This is a show that everyone can learn from and enjoy. I hope that the Hollywood Fringe and PRIDE audiences come out to see these artists bring respect to our community ancestors.”

What message do you (or your team) want for teens to obtain from seeing this play?

We're at a time right now where the conversation around trans* identity in media has been both a powerful tool for visibility and community building and has also put trans people under a sometimes uncomfortable microscope, especially as related to teens. We want younger folks to know that there were people who came before, that this isn't new, and that they are a part of a resilient history, and that resilience is a part of them.

What is an emotion/feeling you and your team hopefully want audiences to feel and why?

Inspired. Here are 6 stories about people who lived in their identity when it might have been near impossible to access community, medical care, stable employment, or other resources we have access to today, but they did it on their terms. They found a way to live true to themselves, which is ultimately what I hope we all strive for.

What is the meaning behind this production and what does it mean to you?

Trans history isn't taught in schools. And the history that has been recorded was many times sensationalized by the media at the time. We wanted to give ourselves a chance to explore the history of trans identity through cultures and through time, and bring these stories forward with dignity and respect, through the interpreted lens of these people, by actors who would feel connected to them. In this rendition, we go as far back as the mid-1800s, focusing largely on people who lived in North America, so this is just a small window into our history.

How important is this production to you and is there anything within the show (that you can disclose) that leaves a lasting impression?

At the end of the day, TRANSCESTORS is not just a show about trans people, it's a show about people and how they lived... some were musicians, some fought in wars, some are more rooted in local community impact.... all of them just happened to be trans. That's important, because seeing our stories from this frame helps humanize our experience beyond just one identity. It helps us be seen as a part of the fabric of society in a more holistic sense.


TeenTix LA would like to echo Shaan, the 6 artists, as well as the rest of the Celebration Theatre team that words have remained truly unspoken for many transgender folks throughout history. This uplifting production celebrates the transgender community and creates much-needed visibility for them. We are so thrilled this production exists -- not just for LGBTQ+ audiences, but for everyone who can gain inspiration from watching it. Just in time for Pride Month, this production is available with our TeenTix Pass for only $5. Fair warning – they only have TWO SHOWS LEFT (one on the 24th & other on the 25th) so once you are done reading this, click on our events calendar tab and make a plan to see this show!

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