Category Archives: Acting

Stephen Hawking and the observer effect on live theatre

Stephen Hawking NGeo

Stephen Hawking

by Stephen Sachs

In quantum mechanics, the observer effect is the theory that observing a particle  changes the particle being observed. Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle determined that the act of our looking at a quantum element impacts the behavior of the thing we are watching. I believe the same can be applied to live theatre.

What first comes to your mind when Stephen Hawking is mentioned? An Einsteinian genius who theorized the mind-bending truths of the cosmos? His mechanized voice decoded by his wheelchair synthesizer? His best-selling book, A Brief History of Time? His cartoon appearance on The Simpsons?  The indelible impressions left by Hawking are as infinite as string theory. I find myself this morning reflecting on Hawking, Nick Payne’s mesmerizing two-character drama, Constellations, and the parallel universes of science and theatre.


Aria Alpert and Daniel Billet in “Photograph 51”, Fountain Theatre

Several modern plays weave science and math into their storytelling. Heisenberg by Simon Stephens, Tom Stoppard’s ArcadiaCopenhagen by Michael Frayn, and Caryl Churchill’s A Number come to mind. In 2009, we produced the West Coast Premiere of Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51 at the Fountain Theatre, the story of British biophysicist Rosalind Franklin’s discovery of the DNA double-helix. I’ve directed Completeness by Itamar Moses, a love story between a computer scientist and a molecularar biologist.  These playwrights have turned to science as a source of metaphors and forms, using the language of particle physics, evolution or mathematics as ways of speaking about human experience.

In Constellations, science and romance collide. Marianne is a theoretical physicist. She meets Roland at a party.  They go for a drink. Or maybe they don’t. They fall in love, break up, get back together. Maybe they get married, or maybe death proves their time together is finite. Constellations explores the various possible outcomes of eight different situations. Through an astonishing series of vignettes, we watch as Marianne and Roland’s relationship unfold across time and space, with each variation sending their relationship on an entirely new trajectory. The play speculates roads not taken and where they might have led.  All of us who remember, re-remember and reimagine our own lives – as most of us do – see ourselves through a multi-dimensional lens.

Says Marianne: “In the quantum multiverse, every choice, every decision you’ve ever made and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.”

To which Roland replies: “This is genuinely turning me on.”

I know how he feels. Science in theatre turns me on, too.

‘Constellations’ by Nick Payne, TheaterWorks 

Constellations draws on the Many Worlds Interpretation, in which an infinite amount of divergent universes exist side-by-side. The theory postulates that alternate pasts and futures are not only real but unfold simultaneously. Likewise, the play presents us with a series of variations on the encounters between two lovers like a fugue of coexisting possibilities. 

Using quantum physics as a language for theatre and a dramatic structure for plays flies in the face of the linear Aristotelian principle, in which effect should follow cause. But unpredictability and causation are both true in life. The decisions we do and don’t make determine which future we actually end up experiencing.  Yet if any choice is endlessly possible, and each produces a different outcome, where do we find meaning in anything and any sign whatsoever of any evidence of free will?

I don’t know if Nick Payne thought of  essayist Walter Benjamin when naming his play. Walter Benjamin famously proposed in The Origin of German Tragic Drama (1928), that ideas are to objects as constellations are to stars. Ideas are no more present in the world than constellations actually exist in the heavens.  The stars in the night sky are where they are regardless of how we look at them. It’s we, ourselves, who impose ideas and concepts on what we see. We call it a “constellation” and, thereby, give it meaning.

Rather than a linear plot, Payne presents us with a kaleidoscope of infinite possibility. As its title suggests, Constellations creates a space for the spectator’s view, inviting us to group his fragments together and to find new meanings in the constellations they produce and the transformations they effect upon each other.

Any actor will tell you how the presence of an audience impacts the performance of the players. An audience changes everything and affects the outcome of the evening. The very act of an audience watching impacts the observed reality of the play. Actors, like electrons, change their behavior when viewed. And no performance is ever the same twice. Each live experience is utterly unique and not repeatable.

The passing of Stephen Hawking encourages me to examine how his science and my art are related. Theatre is a laboratory for producing possible worlds. In physics and performance there can be a collapsing of time. A revelation of possible pasts, present and futures. Each play is understood differently by each observer, each moment connected to past and future moments to which we choose to relate it. Theatre and science explore the truth hidden in the possible. A great play, like an iconic scientific formula, seeks to reveal the mystery of  human experience. Both activate the viewer’s gaze toward meaningful configurations for the purpose of seeing the infinite.

As Hawking encouraged, “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet.”

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.



Oscar Weekend: ‘The Chosen’ was a movie before it was a play. So, nu?

CHOSEN movie

Barry Miller and Robbie Benson in “The Chosen” (1981)

It’s Oscar Weekend. The Academy Awards are this Sunday night. Critics and fans are placing their bets, handicapping the nominees, calculating the winners. Fancy gowns and tuxedos have been rented, limousines are standing by. While the movie elite converge on the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Blvd, the rest of America plops down on the couch to watch it all on TV.

Except for the Fountain faithful who go to the theatre. 

We have a 2pm matinée of The Chosen this Oscar Sunday. It’s been sold out for weeks.  There’s even a waiting list for people standing by, desperate to get in. How can this be possible? Don’t they know that the most-watched non-sporting event in the United States will be dazzling their TV screens that night?

They know. They don’t care. They are theatre people. And, God Bless them.    

The Chosen was actually a movie before it was a play. Before Chaim Potok’s 1967 best-selling novel was adapted for the stage, The Chosen was a 1981 film directed by Jeremy Kagan. It starred Maximilian Schell, Rod Steiger, Robbie Benson and Barry Miller. Author Chaim Potok himself makes a cameo appearance as the Talmud Teacher. 

Chaim in THE CHOSN movie

Chaim Potok, Robbie Benson and Barry Miller (1981)

Like the homes of the two Brooklyn boys in The Chosen, The Fountain Theatre is a short drive from The Dolby Theatre but it might as well be a world away. It’s hard to imagine two venues more different. The glamorous Dolby seats 3,400 people. Our homey theatre on Fountain Avenue holds 78.  The Dolby has the world-famous red carpet holding an avalanche of international press. The only time the Fountain attracted any swarm of paparazzi was when Elizabeth Taylor arrived here to see a play in 1993.   

But the Fountain has one thing the Dolby does not. Diehard theatre people who still feel that experiencing a live performance exceeds watching one on a screen. They are the loyal Fountain Family, highly intelligent and culturally sophisticated connoisseurs of a glorious art form dating back centuries before the first electric light bulb was switched on in Thomas Edison’s first Kinetoscope movie projector.   

Besides, they can always dash home after our Sunday matinée and still get home in time for Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue. As a character in The Chosen might say, “What can you do? Azoy gait es!”  

‘The Chosen’ actor Sam Mandel shares advice on hustling between acting jobs


By Linnea Sage

Name: Sam Mandel

Side hustle: Chief operating officer of the Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles

Years acting: 13

Favorite acting credits/opportunities: I had a blast working with Chris Rock as recurring guest star Fisher on “Everybody Hates Chris.” My favorite would have to be the role I’m performing right now, making my stage debut as the lead in the west coast premiere of a newly revised version of The Chosen at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. We opened Jan. 20 and it’s been a life-changing experience for me; by far my most challenging and fulfilling role to date.

What do you do when an audition or shoot comes up? 
I let my team at the clinic know that I’m going to be out and to plan accordingly. I have a staff of seven; they’re great! They work hard and are very supportive of my acting career. I move meetings and conference calls with outside companies to different days. I catch up on work from home. It’s not always easy, but I give people as much advanced notice as possible and put in the work before and after filming to meet my responsibilities at the office, even if that means catching up on emails at 2 a.m.

Have you ever felt like your side hustle was in jeopardy because of acting? How long did it take you to feel like you had security at this side hustle, even if you took time off for an acting project? 
I don’t think I ever felt like my side hustle was in jeopardy, but I have felt that my acting hustle was suffering. Managing both has been very intense and stressful at times. I am fully committed to both. Acting is my life, my career, my passion, and it means more to me than anything.

On the other hand, I started a business that now has many people counting on me. Not only is it how I eat and pay my bills, but I’ve invested substantial time and money into it. Our patients come to us deeply depressed, some even suicidal. The treatment we offer is the last hope for many of them. It’s literally life and death. That’s a big responsibility and one I don’t take lightly.

I felt I couldn’t fully pursue acting like I wanted to for the first three years of starting my company. I still auditioned and booked work occasionally—a commercial here, co-star spot there—but wasn’t hustling like I wanted for my acting because I was grinding for the clinic. In the last 12 months, I’ve finally started to turn up the heat on the acting and it feels great. That’s largely a result of dedication, patience, and persistence to establish a strong foundation for the company. It took time, but I now have a wonderful team in place. They say, “good help is hard to find” and no aphorism could be truer! No matter how hard you work you need teamwork to create exceptional outcomes. I’m very grateful to my team at the clinic and my team who represent me for my acting.

What skills or talents did you need for this side hustle? How long did it take you to qualify or complete training for your side hustle? 
My role is very expansive. I create policies and procedures, I’m HR and do hiring and training of staff, marketing, advertising, social media, press, website design, establish and maintain relationships with vendors, budgeting and profit and loss, patient satisfaction, and more. If I had to narrow it all down, I’d say the top three skills needed are to be very detail oriented, creative, and relentless.

As far as qualifying for this job or completing training, I’ve used skills and knowledge from every job I’ve ever had since I was a little kid walking my neighbor’s dogs. I draw a lot from the service industries I’ve worked in and my restaurant experience, which I have a lot of. Naturally, as an actor, I’ve held every position in the restaurant at over a dozen places. I focus heavily on the patient experience from our website to the moment they arrive at the clinic, to continuing care from afar long after they’ve completed their treatment. I grow every day in my ability to do my job more efficiently and successfully and lead others to do the same.

How does this side hustle fulfill you? Do you feel like you’re helping people/society/humanity in a tangible way? 
I truly love my side hustle. It’s very fulfilling. I get to help people who are suffering and be part of a team that provides them measurable relief. I get to offer an innovative solution, something new and different. Applying a wide variety of skills and knowledge in my job helps keep it interesting. New challenges and opportunities come up all the time. I love my team. They’re great people with a strong work ethic and they inspire me to keep reaching higher. The creative control and flexible schedule are nice perks too!

Has your side hustle made you better at acting or achieving your acting goals? 
Absolutely. I’ve grown as a person in so many ways through the experience of starting a company. Much of what I have learned I’ve applied to my acting career and the business side of “the industry”. I don’t overthink my acting choices and preparation for roles as much as I used to. I get to it, give it my all, and move on. Less dwelling on “shoulda, coulda, woulda…” after auditions and performances. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still there, but there simply isn’t time; I gotta get back to the other work!

Why did you choose to do this side hustle instead of more stereotypical acting side hustles like serving? 
I got tired of serving. I’ve done every job in the restaurant industry more than once. I also worked in retail, drove for Uber, was a Task Rabbit, dog walker, babysitter, sold stuff on Craigslist, and all the other stereotypical gigs artists do to get by. I’ve done em’ all. I also worked at less stereotypical jobs for an actor like at a bank, other financial companies, real estate, and more. I wanted to make decent money and not stress about the rent while also enjoying some freedom and flexibility. Acting classes and good headshots aren’t cheap! I got a unique opportunity to be part of something great and I jumped on it. I threw every ounce of my being into it, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

If you produce your own work, do you feel like this current side hustle allows you the freedom/resources to do that? 
Yes and no. My sketch comedy channel on YouTube, Gamer Guy and the Guardians (soon to be renamed The Jungle), is very flexible. My partners Michael Tomasetti, DB Wilson, and I usually shoot on the weekends. We can shoot a whole sketch in eight hours, sometimes two sketches if they’re short or improvised. Bigger projects like a music video I wrote, produced and directed have been tougher. It took significant planning in pre-production, filming, and post-production. That project had some unique challenges and it was my first go at it. I’ve learned a lot from that experience and my clinic is in a totally different place then it was then, so I think taking on a bigger self-produced project would be different today. I plan on creating a short film to direct and act in this year and it will be interesting to see how that goes. I have flexibility within my schedule and financial cushion, but the pressure of keeping things going at the clinic, which is rapidly growing, while also giving all my creative energy to a film is no small task.

Do you have any advice for actors that aren’t sure what path to take while they are waiting for acting to pay all the bills? 
Never give up and work your ass off. Work hard and work smart. Be creative about how to make ends meet until you “make it.” I don’t say this as someone who has “made it” yet, but I feel I am well on my way. I have a long road ahead; one I’m enjoying traveling on. While staying open-minded, I urge actors to explore all work opportunities outside of the clichés with caution. A lot of less-than-savory characters prey on actors for our outgoing personalities and big hearts. If you end up sticking to a restaurant, that’s okay too! There are many advantages to restaurant work, that’s why so many of us do it.

Most importantly, never let go of your identity as an actor and your vision of where you want to go. Whether one week or five years go by without an audition or acting gig, if you are truly an actor in heart and mind, and you stay training and honing your skills, you can come back to it with passion and purpose and create a new rendition even better than where you left off.

This post originally appeared in Backstage. More Info/Get Tickets for The Chosen.

Backstage with veteran actor Alan Blumenfeld from ‘The Chosen’


Playwright Lauren Gunderson offers theatre as an antidote to social media

I AND YOU star faces

Lauren Gunderson’s “I and You”, Fountain Theatre, 2015.

By Lauren Gunderson

Think of this pitch to a room of venture capitalists: “What we’re proposing is a scalable, repeatable product that makes vital intellectual and emotional wisdom portable, communicable, and adaptable and memorable. Everyone will use it and keep using it for millennia. We call it: storytelling.”

But unlike most social media technologies, live storytelling actually is social. And perhaps that’s why it’s still around, never having been truly eclipsed by radio, TV or the Internet. In defiance of each generation’s claim that theater is dying, both “Hamlet” and “Hamilton” would beg to differ. Yes, online social media offers us on-demand communication, information and all manner of opinion articulated and shared to the world. But is there congregation?

I use that word deliberately because, though I grew up going to church in Georgia, I find most of my philosophical and humanitarian meaning coming from theater. Theater is my church. And what it offers in the way of congregation, catharsis and wisdom is not just entertainment or art, but might also be an antidote to stress related to social media.

That stress can be the fatigue that comes with nonstop screens that can disrupt sleep patterns, change our breathing (“email apnea” as coined by Linda Stone), hamstring live interpersonal communication with all ages, and lead some to become addicted to the dopamine of pings and alerts. The stress for some might feel like the constant search for information or connection, but isn’t it really the search for meaning that comes up short?

Theater offers resolution. While social media is often a nearly endless scroll of information and opinion, it often doesn’t lead to any ending, any answer to the question “so what?” But theater answers that question by taking the audience all the way through a hero’s odyssey of struggle and revelation. Being witness to a complete story, instead of the bits and bytes we find online, offers a more satisfying and thoughtful resolution. Meaning is made not from pieces of information but from journeys and fellow journeyers.


Lauren Gunderson

Theater is right here, right now. Theater is not on demand. Rather it asks you to show up on time and focus in order to experience the intimate intensity of its medium. Screens cannot replicate the feeling of being in a shared space and time with other humans. Theater is one of the most intense artistic experiences because the fiction is happening to real people who are right in front of you. You can hear it, smell it, see their passion and pain only feet away from your seat. This viscerality is unlike what you can experience through a posted video on your smartphone or even a TV show at home. The emotionally and physically distinct power of being present for art is hard to document or measure, but it’s apparent to everyone who has witnessed live performance’s arias, embraces and thunderous ovations.

The Bay Area is not only a hub of innovation but for art, too. Silicon Valley lives right next to the “city by the play,” with an abundance of theaters that rivals even Chicago. Bay Area theater companies have transferred shows to Broadway, incubated prize-winning plays and playwrights, and drawn world-famous actors to our stages. The wisest of us (and thankfully not just the wealthiest with a new push for affordable tickets for all) should take advantage of the digital relief, inspiration and empathetic reboot theater has to offer.

For a hotbed of tech that we are, it might be a good time to go old school and let live performance open your mind in a way social media can’t. Who knows what pattern-breaking ideas might occur to you once you leave your bubble (and your phone), focus on someone else’s story with a group of strangers, and see what wisdom alights on you at the theater.

Lauren Gunderson is the author of I and You (Fountain Theatre, 2015). She is a nationlly acclaimed award-winning playwright and the resident playwright of Marin Theatre Company. This essay originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. . 

Lin-Manuel Miranda tells how Chaim Potok’s ‘The Chosen’ changed his life

Lin Manuel Miranda

by Lin-Manuel Miranda

The trajectory of my life changed in 8th grade, when I got the following note back on the back of an English essay. My teacher’s name was Dr. Rembert Herbert. This is what he wrote:

“Lin-Manuel—This is an excellent, well-crafted essay. It confirms what I have suspected for some time—that you have been ‘hibernating’ in the back of my class, emerging only occasionally—as when you wrote ‘The Chosen’ musical for class earlier this year. It’s a new semester, almost spring—join us!”

The “Chosen” musical he references was a class project I created as a part of a class assignment. The assignment was to teach three chapters of The Chosen by Chaim Potok, as part of a group. I decided it would be easier to write a song based on each chapter and have our group perform it. Actually, I recorded myself singing all the songs and made my group mates lip-synch my voice, as I had no trust in their musical ability and no way of teaching it to them. Why did I do this? Well, I loved the book. And I loved the way Dr. Herbert taught the book, encouraging us to find the connections and themes for ourselves. I had, in fact, spent most of 8th grade scribbling song lyrics and poems in the back of my classes, earning grades just good enough to get by. I never saw any reason to share these with anyone else.

With this note, Dr. Herbert essentially called me out. He told me, “That creative energy you are burning in the back of the class is what we need IN the class. You can USE that here.” He was also the first person outside of my family to say to me, “You’re a good writer.” He encouraged me to audition and submit my writing to Brick Prison, a student-run theater group at my high school. It was there that I found the energy source that would power the rest of my life.

His encouragement extended far beyond that 8th grade English class. When I began making films in high school, Dr. Herbert would sign permission slips allowing me to film in classrooms, or after school. I began writing short, 20-musicals for Brick Prison, buoyed by my “Chosen” experience in his classroom. My senior year, I earned course credit as his intern, helping him with his 8th grade students. I gained a whole new respect for how much he invested in every student, stepping in if he sensed a drop-off in the quality of their writing, or quietly encouraging the shyest class members with leadership roles.

I still have that 8th grade essay, and Dr. Herbert’s attached note. He is still teaching 8th grade English at Hunter. I am so grateful to him for paying such close attention, for seeing something in me, and urging me to share it. That’s what the best teachers can do. I hope I have made him proud.

See The Chosen at the Fountain Theatre

Fountain Theatre presents inspiring solo play to benefit L.A. theater director Dan Bonnell

Dan Bonnell

Dan Bonnell

The Fountain Theatre will present the funny and powerful solo play A Piece of My Mind, written and performed by Eric Barr, on Saturday, Dec. 16th at 8 p.m. as a fundraiser for L.A. theater director Dan Bonnell and his family. Bonnell suffered a massive brain aneurysm in April while in a meeting at Sacred Fools Theatre in Hollywood. He remains in rehabilitative care.

With A Piece of My Mind, Barr shares his inspiring true story of how he survived a series of devastating strokes, robbing him of speech, movement and all his future plans. But it didn’t rob him of hope, or his sense of humor and optimism. His solo play takes audiences on his journey from near-death to recovery and reinvention. It is a celebration of life, love and the human spirit.


Eric Barr in “A Piece of My Mind” (photo by Joshua Montez)

“I have known Dan Bonnell for over 25 years as both a director and a friend,” says Barr. “When I was chairman of the UC Riverside Theatre Department, Dan directed a number of shows for us and he always raised the level of our students’ work and of our productions. Our students loved Dan.”

Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs is also a longtime friend of Bonnell. “Dan is a warm-hearted human being and a respected member of our L.A. theater community,” Sachs states. “I offer the Fountain as a way to use theater as an instrument for healing and raising awareness. This night will bring L.A. theater artists and friends of Dan together to show Dan and his family that they are supported.”

A stroke impacts more than the patient. It affects the entire family. Proceeds from the one-night performance will benefit Bonnell and his family as they face mounting medical expenses. A silent auction is also planned to raise additional assistance.


Eric Barr, “A Piece of My Mind” 

As a stroke survivor, Barr knows the struggle Dan is experiencing. Visiting his friend was a sobering reminder. “When we arrived at the nursing facility, Dan was barely conscious,” remembers Barr. “Sitting next to him, I was suddenly flooded with distant memories of my own experience. I knew what it felt like to be trapped in bed, trapped in an unresponsive body. I could feel it all over again.”

After his stroke, Barr feared his life was over. Instead, his one-man show demonstrates he has a new future. Barr now performs his solo play to enthusiastic audiences around the country.

“On stage, I feel completely healthy. I feel more like myself than anywhere else.”

Eric Barr taught acting and directing at University of California, Riverside from 1975 until 2013 and is now a UCR Professor Emeritus of theater. He has directed over 100 productions and was the founding director of the UCR Palm Desert MFA program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts.

Dan Bonnell is an award-winning director whose work has been seen in Los Angeles at the Falcon Theatre, Colony Theatre, Pacific Resident Theatre, Matrix Theatre, Open Fist, Theatre of NOTE, The MET, Boston Court, Cornerstone, [Inside] the Ford, ASK Theater Projects, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, Highways, Moving Arts, Nexus Theatre Company, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble and HBO Workspace. Dan is the recipient of directing awards from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, LA Weekly and the NAACP as well as the GLAAD Media Award, and has been nominated for Theater Communications Group “Alan Schneider Award”

A Piece of My Mind will be performed on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $50. All proceeds will benefit Dan Bonnell and family.  More Info/Get Tickets