The Actors' Gang U.S. Premiere of HARLEQUINO: ON TO FREEDOM Written and Directed by Tim Robbins

By: Mar. 13, 2017
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The Actors' Gang's new musical production of Harlequino: On to Freedom will have its U.S. Premiere on March 25, as part of the theater's 2017 Spring Season of Justice. Written and directed by Tim Robbins, Harlequino: On to Freedom is a raucous celebration of the rebel slave, Harlequino.
A combination of low brow and sophisticated comedy, social satire and musical Harlequino: On to Freedom tells a story of love and resistance in an authoritarian world as the actors performing it must do so at the risk of their freedom. The musical had its European Premiere at the Spoleto Festival, in Italy, and it subsequently toured to Shanghai and Beijing where it was censored by government officials.
Harlequino: On to Freedom begins previews Thursday, March 16, opens on Saturday, March 25 and runs through May 6, 2017, at The Actors' Gang Theatre, in Culver City.
Harlequino: On to Freedom looks with a fresh eye at a style of theater created by Italians 500 years ago, the Commedia dell'Arte. The new musical explores what obstacles of oppression and censorship the 16th century actors had to face as they performed their plays for audiences in public squares. As the story evolves, the conflict between a group of rogue actors and two Commedia dell'Arte experts becomes a battle for the soul of the Commedia, questioning the purpose of art, what is funny and who writes history. Ultimately the musical asks the question: What must the artist risk to live freely in today's world?
In researching Harlequino: On to Freedom, Robbins discovered an account from the 16th century that tells of a Duke Gonzaga of Mantua who, after watching a Commedia play, ordered three of the actors to be executed. Although no text survives, this incident raises questions about the nature of the relationship between power and society's truth tellers. "We began to see a connection between those 16th century performers and artists in today's world. From threats of eliminating the NEA to the radical suppression of art by Caliphates and fundamentalists, these questions have a deep resonance in today's environment." says Robbins.
"Censorship of art has always existed in all senses, at all times, during every era. Commedia dell'Arte's jesters were talking newspapers. People couldn't read or write and, through jesters, they would also listen to reviews and comments about the news. And they learnt about what was happening elsewhere. And above all, the jesters' reports helped raise people's awareness. They were liked by the poor, by the common people, but they were hated, feared and despised by those in power." - Dario Fo
Nobel Prize winning playwright Dario Fo became a mentor to Tim Robbins as he developed Harlequino: On to Freedom. Dario Fo, together with his wife, Franca Rame, and their theater company, La Comune, staged shows all over Italy, breaking away from traditional theater venues and bringing theater into poor areas, town squares, occupied factories, engaging their audiences in discussions about the socio-political themes approached in their productions.Their plays always had a political edge, with constant digs made at power and its representatives. His theatrical weapon was contradiction, the absurd and the uncontrollable laughter of truth.
"During the Counter-Reformation, all art forms were massacred, not just theater. Blind violence was used, and we can say that the Commedia dell'Arte genre was created outside of the theater and it greatly enriched it. So you see, sometimes, even violence against theater develops creativity. And thanks to the repression at the hands of the Counter-Reformation, a completely new and innovative kind of theater was created. Sometimes priests are useful in theater." - Dario Fo.
Dario Fo's mentorship continued through the summer of 2016, in Cesanatico, Italy when Robbins and Fo discussed the play shortly before Fo's death at age 90.
The Actors Gang has throughout its history developed theater that reflects the concerns of society, shining a light on the nature of those in power while celebrating the stories of the anonymous and marginalized. Robbins' Iraq war satire Embedded opened in Los Angeles in July 2003, two months after President Bush landed on an aircraft carrier and declared 'Mission Accomplished." It was the first American play to call to question the atrocities of that war and the mainstream press' compliance with the Bush administration agenda. Embedded played to sold out audiences in L.A., in New York and London, and subsequently toured throughout the United States. In 2007, Le Petit Théâtre de Pain, under the direction of Georges Bigot toured Embedded for a year throughout France.
In 2010 Robbins wrote and directed, Break the Whip, a play that explored the class divisions of the English settlers and the early bonds between indentured Europeans, African slaves and indigenous people in the Jamestown Colony in the years 1609-1623.
Inspired by Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," the play dismissed historical favorites John Smith and Pocahontas in favor of "the anonymous, the indentured and enslaved, the muted voices, the vanquished." Break the Whip played to sold out audiences for 10 weeks in Los Angeles at The Actors Gang Theater.
Tim Robbins ( Actor, Writer and Director )
As an actor, Robbins has appeared in Five Corners, Bull Durham, Jacob's Ladder, The Player, Short Cuts, The Hudsucker Proxy, The Shawshank Redemption, Mystic River, The Secret Life of Words, Welcome to Me, A Perfect Day and HBO's The Brink. Robbins won an Academy Award, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor for Mystic River, Best Actor Award at the Cannes Film Festival, the Golden Globe for Best Actor for The Player, and a Golden Globe as a member of the ensemble in Short Cuts. As a film director, Robbins was nominated for a Golden Palm at Cannes with Cradle Will Rock, which he also wrote and produced, won the National Board of Review Award for Special Achievement in Filmmaking and Best Film and Best Film and Best Director at the Sitges Film Festival in Barcelona. Dead Man Walking, which he directed, wrote and produced, won multiple awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actress, the Humanitas Prize, the Christopher Award, and four awards at the Berlin Film Festival, including the Silver Bear as well as four Oscar nominations, including Best Director and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Screenplay. As a screenwriter Robbins has also won awards for his films Bob Roberts and Dead Man Walking.
For the past 35 years, Robbins has served as Artistic Director for the Actors' Gang, a theater company formed in 1982 that has over 150 productions and more than 100 awards to their credit. In addition to producing live theater throughout the year, the Actors' Gang provides arts education to thousands of Elementary, Middle and High School students working in 12 LA USD schools and in underserved communities in the L.A. area. Since 2006, the Actors' Gang's groundbreaking Prison Project provides theatrical workshops to incarcerated men and women in 10 California prisons. In 2014, Robbins and Prison Project director Sabra Williams have been instrumental in reinstating 6 million dollars into the California State budget for Arts in Corrections.
The Cast for Harlequino: On to Freedom will feature (in alphabetical order): Pierre Adeli, Jaime Arze, Adam Bennett, Julia Finch, Lee Hansen, Adam Jefferis, Dora Kiss, Joshua Lamont, Will McFadden, Mary Eileen O'Donnell, Stephanie Pinnock, Cihan Sahin, Bob Turton, Guebri VanOver, Sabra Williams and Paulette Zubata.
The creative team includes: Jason Lovett (Production Design), Bosco Flanagan (Lighting Design), Erhard Steifel (Mask Design), Olivia Courtin (Costume Design), Ken Palmer, Tim Robbins and David Robbins (Original Songs), with music performed by David Robbins (Guitar, percussion, marimba), Aaron Guzzo (Keyboards), Ara Dabanjian (Accordion, Mandolin), Pedro Shanahan (Bass) and David Haines (Percussion), and Austin Brown (Stage Manager).
About The Actors' Gang
Since 1981, The Actors' Gang has created and presented over 150 bold, original works and reinterpretations of the classics to address society and the human condition from an uncompromising and fresh perspective. Over the past 35 years, The Actors' Gang has brought its unique style of theater to audiences throughout the world and performed on five continents and in 40 U.S. States.
Our groundbreaking "Prison Project" has expanded to ten California prisons serving incarcerated women, men and children with rehabilitation programs that reduce tensions in prisons and significantly reduce the recidivism rate.
Hundreds of children in Los Angeles public schools discover confidence and creativity with our Education Department's in school immersion and after school programs. Our classes encourage acceptance, respect and team building in a fun and effective way. For more information, please visit us in our theater or online at
Harlequino: On to Freedom previews begin Thursday, March 16, opens Saturday, March 25 and runs through Saturday, May 6, 2017. Performances are Thursdays at 8 pm; Fridays at 9 pm & Saturdays at 8 pm at The Actors' Gang Theatre, 9070 Venice Blvd, Culver City, CA, 90232
General tickets are available for $34,99. Seniors and students may purchase $30.00 tickets. Thursday evenings are "Pay-What-You-Can." For tickets, please call 310-838-4264 or visit to purchase tickets online or to view the complete schedule. The Actors' Gang Theatre is located at 9070 Venice Blvd, Culver City, CA, 90232.