On Wednesday, February 8th, Fountain Theatre Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs was asked to speak at the Board of Directors meeting for Center Theatre Group to share his thoughts on the Fountain’s participation in CTG’s new Block Party. The following are his remarks:
I’m Stephen Sachs, the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, which I co-founded with my partner Deborah Lawlor in 1990. We are now celebrating our 27th season. Prior to that, I was an actor – a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In fact, in 1982, one of the biggest thrills of my young career as an actor was standing on stage at the Mark Taper Forum in a small role in the world premiere of Tales from Hollywood by Christopher Hampton, directed by Gordon Davidson.
I am a playwright, a director, a producer and artistic director. I began running theatre companies in Los Angeles in 1987 – the Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills with Suzi Dietz and Joan Stein – and launched the Fountain Theatre in 1990 to create an artistic home where new plays could be developed and produced that reflect the cultural diversity of Los Angeles and dramatize important social and political issues confronting specific communities in our region and our nation. The Fountain Theatre sits in the heart of the most diverse district in the City. Thirty-two languages are spoken at the local high school.
Our brand phrase is: Intimate. Excellent. We have artistic relationships with such noted playwrights as Athol Fugard, Tarell McCraney, Robert Schenkkan, Emily Mann, Dael Orlandersmith, Anna Ziegler, Lauren Gunderson, Zayd Dorn. We were just featured in the New York Times on Monday for opening the world premiere in March of Robert Schenkkan’s new play Building the Wall. You can guess what that’s about.
Plays launched at the Fountain Theatre are now being produced across the country, in New York, in London, have been translated into other languages and are now being seen around the world.
I’ve been a theatre maker in Los Angeles for 30 years. I’ve seen the intimate theatre community in Los Angeles grow from a cluster of what was then called “Equity Waiver” theaters in the 1980’s to the vast network of literally hundreds of intimate theaters we have today. Although we still fight for the right to call ourselves a “theatre town” because of the film and television industry – more theatre is now produced in Los Angeles every year than in any city in the world. More than New York. More than London.
The constellation of intimate theatres in Los Angeles is utterly unique nationwide. There is nothing like it anywhere in this country. Theaters around the country envied our 99-Seat Plan, which – for 30 years – gave Equity actors the right to hone their craft in an intimate theater without a contract — but not without payment and protections – if they so choose. The 99-Seat Plan was created by Equity actors. It came out of that spirit of revolution, the right to volunteer your services if you so choose, to insist on the artistic freedom to create. Where budgets and bottom lines were not a factor because nobody was making any money anyway. I don’t have to tell you – there’s a reason why it’s called non-profit theatre.
As many of you may know, Actors Equity has just eliminated the 99-Seat Plan. Against the will of its own membership. LA Equity actors voted overwhelmingly against eliminating the Plan. Equity has done it anyway. Forcing theatres to now use a very hotly-contested New Agreement impacting every intimate theatre in Los Angeles. Several small theatres are now closing. The entire landscape of the intimate theatre community will be forever changed.
This makes what you are offering with Block Party so extraordinary. And the timing of it so essential.
With Block Party, Center Theatre Group – the flagship theatre organization in Los Angeles – is reaching out its hand to the intimate theatre community. Not as a hand-out but as a hand in partnership. Recognizing that our work matters. Block Party affirms that the work created in intimate theatres is alive and vibrant and an essential part of the cultural life of Los Angeles. I can not over emphasize how important and meaningful this is. Not only to the Fountain Theatre, and Echo Theatre Company and Courage Theatre Company participating this year, but to all intimate theatres everywhere, throughout our community.
With one program, with Block Party, you have dissolved the barrier between “big” theatre and “small”, between “us” and “them”. With Block Party, there finally is now “we”. Together.
Michael Ritchie, Lindsay Allbaugh, Ian-Julian Williams and the entire Block Party staff have been so open, so inviting, so welcoming. The beauty of Block Party is not only the magic of what’s going to happen on stage, it’s the relationship-building already happening off stage. The setting up of meetings between our intimate theatre companies and CTG departments, to share ideas and swap strategies, is remarkable and generous and will be beneficial to both sides.
I’m confident that the spirit of goodwill and partnership that Block Party creates will ripple out and continue, not only for the 38 days of the festival, but throughout the entire year.
I was at the memorial celebration for Gordon Davidson at the Ahmanson last month. Just a few days after that ceremony, I attended a production meeting for Block Party. The juxtaposition of those two events was not lost on me. Gordon is smiling down on Block Party. He would have loved this. It truly carries forward his spirit of adventure, of risk, his dedication to diversity and inclusion. And I applaud and thank Michael Ritchie, and all of you on this Board, for making that spirit a reality.