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Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre

True Stories of American Families

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre

Certainly, almost every American can talk about how we are descendants of immigrants who dreamed of living in a free country and did whatever was necessary to arrive on our shores. And then once here, many attempted to bring the rest of their family together, no matter the cost or difficulties. But what about those who face deportation after settling into their new country, again being forced to give up everything they have earned?

As a direct descendant of four grandparents and one parent who escaped from Eastern Europe in the early 20th Century, when I read about The Fountain Theatre presenting the world premiere of DETAINED, written by The Lily's 2021 Lorraine Hansberry Award-winning playwright France-Luce Benson, "a gripping new docudrama composed of a compilation of true stories that explores the rippling impact of mass deportations on families," I knew I wanted to speak with her about her inspiration and vision for the play.

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre Thank you for taking the time to speak with me, France-Luce (pictured). Before I ask you about DETAINED, congratulations on winning the 2021 Lorraine Hansberry Award from the Lily's, a group celebrating, funding, and fighting for women by promoting gender and racial parity in the American theater. Among your many awards, this one must hold a special place on your mantle!

Of course! Lorraine Hansberry is definitely a literary Shero of mine. A Raisin in the Sun was the first play I ever read written by a Black woman. I was thirteen years old the first time I read it and it left an imprint on me; her work and her life showed me what was possible. Winning an award in her name feels like a full-circle moment.

Can you share about the process of creating DETAINED?

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre When Judy Rabinovitz (pictured) first approached me with the idea, she shared a few stories with me from her many years doing this work. Over the next year, we conducted interviews and gathered additional material from court transcripts, articles, recordings. When I completed the first draft of the play, we had a reading at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in NYC, where I am a company member. We then continued to develop the play with EST, under the direction of Billy Carden. Since then, I have added/edited the play to reflect new administration, legislation, and current events. This production at The Fountain has been the most exciting in terms of the play's development because I've been able to collaborate closely with my director, Mark Valdez and the cast.

From publicity materials: "Originally commissioned by immigration attorney Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, DETAINED is based on interviews with longtime U.S. residents held in immigration detention, and with their family members, advocates, attorneys, and representatives of ICE. Inspired by their stories, my play explores how families fight to stay together as increasingly cruel U.S. immigration legislation keeps them apart through mass deportations and immigration detention centers. It offers a heart-wrenching and in-depth look at the human lives behind the policies and celebrates the strength and determination of the ordinary people who must fight against an unjust system while keeping their hope and faith in humanity intact."

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre

(Pictured from left: Liana Aráuz, Michael Uribes, Will Dixon, Camila Ascencio, Marlo Su
Photo by Jenny Graham)

The key phrase here is ordinary people, isn't it?

Yes. We are not simply talking about policies, buzz words used for clickbait, or political rhetoric. I wanted, more than anything, for this play to focus on the humanity of these people, not just their trauma. I wanted to highlight their families, their aspirations, their accomplishments. I think a lot of people, even those well-intentioned, make assumptions about the kinds of people being held in immigration detention and/or being deported. I want audiences to understand that they are no different from anybody else.

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre

(Pictured from left: Christine Avila, Marlo Su, Camila Ascencio, Liana Aráuz,
Photo by Jenny Graham)

Are there ways in which DETAINED reflects your family's experiences as immigrants from Haiti?

My own family immigrated to America in the 1970s, and my father received a humanitarian award for the work he did in the '80s and '90s at Krome Detention Center, an ICE detention center that is located in Miami, Florida, that houses detainees who are in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This is his story too, and a way for me to honor the sacrifices he made for us.

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre

(Pictured from left: Camila Ascencio, Will Dixon, Theo Perkins
Photo by Jenny Graham)

Is there one thing that impresses you the most about those sacrifices he made for his family?

He never talked about how hard it was, he never let my brothers and I see anything that resembled struggle. My Dad was a lot of fun, had a great sense of humor, and everything he did was for his family. And he was generous. He not only provided for us - he helped to bring the rest of his family (his Mom and siblings) to America, and helped new immigrants get settled in Miami. That's why these characters remind me of him. They are all so vibrant, so devoted to their family, and committed to helping others in their communities.

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre

(Pictured from left: Will Dixon, Theo Perkins, Christine Avila, Camila Ascencio, Michael Uribes, Liana Aráuz and Jan Munroe - Photo by Jenny Graham)

With so much information about immigrants being detained from entering America or being deported from it, are you finding it necessary to keep updating the play as newsworthy events take place?

As long as xenophobia and racism impact immigration legislation, as long as ICE continues to infringe on the rights of people, as long as there are abuses of power - I will continue to update the play so that it can be used as a tool for change.

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre

(Pictured from left: Will Dixon, Camila Ascencio, Christine Avila, Michael Uribes, Marlo Su, and Jan Munroe - Photo by Jenny Graham)

How did you go about finding people to interview? Or did Judy Rabinovitz interview them all and you compiled their stories to write DETAINED?

We both interviewed subjects - some I did alone, some we did together, some Judy did. Most of the people we interviewed were found through Judy's contacts. But some are people that I knew and/or discovered. There are a lot of people we interviewed that, unfortunately, did not make it into the play.

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre

(Pictured from left: Camila Ascencio, Jan Munroe, Marlo Su, Theo Perkins, Liana Aráuz, Michael Uribes, Christine Avila and Will Dixon - Photo by Jenny Graham)

Were you involved in the selection of the show's ensemble members who play a range of roles? (Liana Aráuz, Christine Avila, Will Dixon, Yumarie Morales, Jan Munroe, Theo Perkins, Marlo Su and Michael Uribes.)

Yes. We held auditions and Mark and I cast the show together.

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre

(Pictured from left: Will Dixon, Marlo Su, Jan Munroe
Photo by Jenny Graham)

What do you think will surprise audience members about the stories being told?

I think people will be surprised to learn who's being held in immigration detention - and why.

How did the play's World Premiere get scheduled at The Fountain Theatre?

Well, you'd probably have to ask Stephen Sachs. But when the offer was made, I was delighted.

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre Were you involved in the decision to have Mark Valdez (pictured) direct DETAINED? Have you worked with him before, and/or did you work directly with him during the planning and/or rehearsal process?

This is my first time working with Mark. Stephen Sachs suggested him and when I read about his previous work, I thought it might be a good fit. After our first meeting I was convinced. We worked very closely together. The first production of a play is an extremely collaborative process, and like most playwrights, I remain involved from beginning to end. This is a time of discovery - when the play is up on its feet, you figure out what works, what needs tweaking - you continue to work on the script throughout the entire process. It's exciting!

What are you hoping audiences walk away with or are inspired to do after seeing DETAINED?

I hope that audiences are moved to take action towards immigration rights advocacy.

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me and I look forward to being in a DETAINED audience very soon!

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre

(Pictured from left: Christine Avila, Liana Aráuz, Jan Munroe, Theo Perkins, Will Dixon, and Camila Ascencio - Photo by Jenny Graham)

Performances of DETAINED take place February 19 through April 10 on Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.; and Mondays at 8 p.m. (dark Monday, Feb. 21). Three preview performances will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 16; Thursday, Feb. 17; and Friday, Feb. 18, all at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $25-$45; Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night in addition to regular seating (subject to availability).

Interview: Playwright France-Luce Benson on the World Premiere of DETAINED at the Fountain Theatre

(Pictured: Foreground: Will Dixon
Rear: Michael Uribes, Marlo Su, Theo Perkins, Liana Aráuz, Camila Ascencio
Photo by Jenny Graham)

The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. Patrons are invited to relax before and after the show at the Fountain's indoor/outdoor café. Proof of booster vaccination will be required for admission. Masks, covering both mouth and nose, must be worn throughout the performance.

For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.



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