Category Archives: Art

Fountain blog post is American Theatre magazine’s most-read story in 2018

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February 23, 2018.

by Stephen Sachs

When I wrote a story on this Fountain blog in February of this year, one week after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, my goal was to point out that the high school’s drama club had prepared the young survivors in Parkland, Florida, to stand up in protest and have their voices heard. A drama class teaches more than just how to act. It teaches how to take action. Performing in a school play endows students with poise, self-awareness and empathy. All of which the protest leaders exhibited at huge rallies in the weeks and months following that tragic afternoon on their campus.  

My February 23rd blog story, “Are you surprised that the young leaders of the Never Again movement are theatre kids? I’m not.” was re-posted on the American Theatre website the same day. It went viral. Their site was deluged with so many views (100K+) it crashed the site for days. Readers were then re-directed to this Fountain blog, where we received more than 50,000 views. That story was the most-seen Fountain blog post, by far. 

Today, American Theatre magazine announced that my post was their most-read story in 2018.  Clearly, the piece struck a deep nerve at that time with theatre artists, students and drama teachers across the country. As this year now comes to a close, it’s gratifying to be reminded how art — and theatre, in particular — remains essential to the soul of us all. The benefits of art are abundant. Those students in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas drama club, and the many thousands of readers, young and old, engaged by my story prove that the passion and skill learned in a theatre class stay with us for the rest for our lives.

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

Actor Sam Mandel from our smash hit “The Chosen’ has a special message just for you

What is the duty of the artist in troubled times?

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Fountain Theatre’s “Citizen: An American Lyric” at Grand Park, Los Angeles, 2018.

by Mary Gabriel

In the late 1930s, amid a global economic collapse, the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy and Japan, and an ugly U.S. nationalism that targeted asylum-seeking immigrants, abstract artists working in New York pondered the perennial question: What is the duty of the artist in troubled times?

The question was not academic. With thousands of Nazi sympathizers marching through Midtown Manhattan, Boston teenagers reenacting Kristallnacht by attacking Jewish-owned businesses, and politicians and preachers spewing messages of hate, the bonds of rational society were unraveling. And many feared that as bad as things were, the worst might be yet to come.

There seemed to be no way to escape a paralyzing sense of foreboding. And yet it was incumbent upon the artist to do just that, to rise above the daily headlines — which dancer Martha Graham said affected every muscle in the body — to transform and clarify the world they inhabited.

It wasn’t easy. When one is in the midst of tectonic historical shifts it is nearly impossible to grasp their significance, much less their outcome. And yet the artists in New York in the 1930s, and later in the 1940s when the full horror of those times became excruciatingly clear, found a way.

Art can take up residence in our minds and hearts in a way a headline cannot.

Today, in our own troubled world, artists from Los Angeles to Beijing, Moscow to Rio are grappling with similar questions. How does one write, paint, compose or perform works that describe this age without being consumed by it, without producing mere propaganda? How does one convey the simultaneous confusion and conviction, the anger and concomitant longing for calm — in short, the irrationality — with any degree of certainty? And how does one project through art a better path when the route is constantly shifting?

Faced with such a difficult task, many artists wonder if they are obliged to be chroniclers of their times. During periods of war, social strife, economic upheaval, massive industrial or technological change, is it the duty of the artist to record and reflect that chaos?

Yes it is, in part because it is impossible for a true artist to do otherwise.

Artists may work in isolation, but they are intrinsically messengers, their works communications. They also exist in a state of hyper-receptivity because every encounter and experience might produce material for the next sentence, song, photograph or canvas. Short of living in a soundproof windowless box, especially in an age such as ours, it is impossible for an artist to blot out the world.

But another, more important reason an artist must confront his or her time is that historically art and artists have explained and challenged, and that combination has produced greater understanding.

LA Times

Judith Moreland and Bo Foxworth, “Building the Wall”, Fountain Theatre, 2017.

In the 1930s and 1940s, newspaper headlines, cinema newsreels, radio broadcasts and public service posters disseminated information around the clock. But those reports chronicled events. It was left to artists to ascribe meaning.

A young James Jones wrote his first novel, “From Here to Eternity,” describing the wreckage of lives upended by war. Oscar Hammerstein’s 1940 lyrics for “The Last Time I Saw Paris” evoked for generations the melancholy felt by those forced to flee Nazi advances in France. And two painters bookended the traumas of the 1930s and 1940s in their works: Picasso, with “Guernica,” which depicted the 1937 Nazi attack on the Basque capital of that name and the first “total” air raid in history, and Jackson Pollock, with his “drip” paintings 10 years later. In the wake of World War II’s atrocities, from Auschwitz to Hiroshima, Pollock painted the world as it was, a world destroyed but not irrevocably so.

Today, in our own world of blogs, bots and perpetual “breaking news,” it is left to artists to cut through the deafening noise as their forebears did in the middle of the last century — in a search for meaning and, most particularly in our case, in the service of truth.

Art can do that. Art can take up residence in our minds and hearts in a way a headline cannot. Songs, poems, paintings and film provoke, console, elucidate and elevate. It is up to each artist to find a way, and they must try. In the early 1950s, amid the Korean War and Joe McCarthy’s political witch hunts, painter Grace Hartigan said of her work, “I try to make some logic out of the world that has been given to me in chaos…. The fact that I know I am doomed to failure — that doesn’t deter me in the least.”

Hartigan and her fellow painters spent years searching for the best way to convey their era, and realized they could no longer rely on the literal people, places and things that had occupied artists for centuries. They needed to start from scratch, to find new images — a new visual language — to reflect and explain the time because nothing that had been employed before could possibly describe the devastation the world had experienced. In their studios alone, faced with a blank canvas, each painted the only thing they could trust at that broken moment — their own nature. It was a difficult personal journey, but it was not unlike the explorations that expanded the geographic reach of humankind. The artists who would become known as the Abstract Expressionists traveled so far inside themselves that they discovered a universe, and in so doing, helped a ravaged world recover by creating a new way to see.

Before his suicide in the spring of 1948, the French poet and playwright Antonin Artaud wrote a kind of memorandum to artists trying to navigate their way in a hostile world: 

THE DUTY
Of the writer, of the poet
Is not to shut himself up like a coward in a text, a book, a magazine
from which he will never emerge
But on the contrary to go out
Into the world
To jolt
to attack
The mind of the public
If not
what is he for?
And why was he born?

 

Mary Gabriel is an award-winning author. This post originally appeared in the LA Times.

Fountain Theatre’s ‘Cost of Living’ hailed “Best in Theater in 2018” by Los Angeles Times

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Katy Sullivan and Felix Solis in ‘Cost of Living’.

The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed west coast premiere of Cost of Living by Martyna Majok has been named by Los Angeles Times theatre critic Charles McNulty as “Best in Theater in 2018.”  McNulty writes, “The Fountain Theatre’s production of Majok’s “Cost of Living” confirmed just how indispensable 99-seat theaters still are to a healthy theater ecology.” 

“Martyna Majok’s searing drama,” McNulty continues, “about the relationship between disabled persons and their caregivers was bravely essayed by the Fountain in a production directed by John Vreeke that revealed just how acutely this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama exposes some vulnerable truths at the heart of the human condition.”

Cost of Living features Tobias Forrest, Xochitl Romero, Felix Solis and Katy Sullivan. The run ends this Sunday, December 16.

More Info/Get Tickets 

‘Cost of Living’ playwright Martyna Majok asks you to support the Fountain Theatre

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Playwright Martyna Majok.

Friends of the Fountain,

Thank you for bringing Cost of Living to Los Angeles. This is the first production the play has received after its NYC premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club in June 2017 and the world premiere at Williamstown Theatre Festival in July 2016. 

I’m grateful to The Fountain for investing in this story and for continuing its life. I’m grateful also for the beautiful, thoughtful production that you and the wonderful team of artists created. And I’m thrilled for the kind welcome that the play and production have received in LA—and the chance to showcase the talents of some truly incredible actors.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting The Fountain Theatre by making a Year End Gift today.

Martyna Majok

Click here to donate.

Take a pill or see a play?

doctor writing prescriptionby Stephen Sachs

Need a cure for what ails you? Next time you see your doctor, the prescription he or she scribbles may surprise you: see a play.

Research is now proving that gathering with other people to see a play, listen to music or watch a dance concert not only heals the soul. It mends the body, as well.

Doctors generally prescribe pills to make people feel better. Yet the medical benefits of engaging with the arts are well-recorded. A first-of-its-kind study last year found that the social engagement of art is an effective way to improve the health and well-being of patients with such long-term conditions as asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, epilepsy, and osteoporosis—which often exacerbate symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.

Going to the theatre and being part of an audience, joining other human beings in a shared live experience, has medical benefits. Countless studies have found that social isolation takes a heavy toll on our well-being over time. One of the advantages of joining other theater-goers to see a play is that it reduces feelings of loneliness. Our daily lives in front of computer screens can be isolating. Attending live theatre boosts a sense of belonging and face-to-face human connectedness.

In January this year, the U.K. appointed Tracey Crouch to serve as its first “minister of loneliness” to explore how to combat the “sad reality of modern life”. According to a report last year from the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, more than 9 million people in Britain—around 14% of the population—often or always feel lonely. The numbers are even higher in the United States. Cigna’s recent survey revealed 46% of Americans — nearly half the population.– report sometimes or always feeling alone.

“We should value the arts because they’re essential to our health and wellbeing,” says British Health Secretary Matt Hancock. “Access to the arts improves people’s mental and physical health. It makes us happier and healthier.”

The larger question we must ask ourselves is: What sort of society do we want? One that generates physical and emotional illness and then thrives on pharmaceuticals to put it right? Or a society that embraces a more holistic approach to public health through social responsibility and artistic engagement? Given the toxic state of our politics and the poisonous nature of our society and environment today, it is remarkable that we manage to keep going as we are. But for how long? The dilemma was raised by Samuel Beckett, once again, at the theatre, “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”

Witnessing a powerful play can illuminate what it means to be a human being and connect us to a larger and higher vision of ourselves. In his powerful account of his own holocaust experience, psychiatrist Viktor Frankl concludes that the ‘search for meaning is the primary motivation in life’. He describes lack of meaning as an ‘existential vacuum’, often manifesting as boredom, and invaded by numerous neurotic and addictive problems. He quotes Nietzsche:

‘He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.’

This echoes, of course, the eternal question posed by Hamlet: “To be, or not to be …”  This is how theatre triggers self-treatment. A theater-goer witnessing Hamlet’s struggle on stage is himself, from the audience, thrown into questioning the purpose of his or her own life. A great play, seen in the most public of settings, generates intimate self-examination and, at the same time, connects us to our fellow beings. Theatre is a journey inward and outward.

The arts play a critical role in the better health of our nation.  Not only spiritually and aesthetically — but physically, medically.  The arts, like health care, not only make life better — they make it livable. Congress seems to agree. Despite Trump’s call to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, Congress passed a 2019 budget increase of more than $2 million to the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Even with this modest 2019 budget increase in arts funding, the United States is writing a doctor’s prescription to itself. Politicians must learn to protect the NEA as fervently as they defend the Second Amendment.

More than guns, Americans have the right to bear arts.

Stephen Sachs in the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.

3,500 technical cues in the play? No problem for this mighty pair of stage managers

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Stage Managers Deena Tovar and Emily Lehrer, “Arrival & Departure,” Fountain Theatre

You may know that the Fountain Theatre’s smash hit world premiere, Arrival & Departure, is highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times, has earned rave reviews everywhere, and has been delighting audiences in sold-out houses since it opened in July. What you don’t know is that the magical mixture of lights, video, sound, music and open captioning is operated by only two stage managers in the booth — executing the play’s 3,500 technical cues in a fast-paced running time of 90 minutes. How do they do it?

Production Stage Manager Emily Lehrer and Assistant Stage Manager Deena Tovar make an excellent team.  They share years of professional experience between them but Arrival & Departure marks the first time they have worked together. It’s also the first time they’ve managed a cast of Deaf and hearing actors. 

There was a learning curve on the American Sign Language front, for sure,” admits Emily. “That being said, everyone has been so helpful and supportive as I fumbled my way through.”   

Deena echoes the same enthusiasm. “This has been an amazing experience. Everyone involved with the show are truly remarkable and supportive. Even with my signing skills — or rather the lack thereof — everyone made sure I was learning.”

“I really want to start studying ASL more seriously,” adds Emily. “It’s a gorgeous language, and as a Stage Manager, communication is at the heart of everything I do. So having that asset in my communication toolbox would be amazing.”

Emily Lehrer is from Los Angeles and has worked as Production Stage Manager on several plays at the Fountain Theatre. She has also stage managed for The Latino Theatre CompanyThe Garry Marshall TheatreThe Odyssey TheatreSacred Fools, and at Universal Studios Hollywood.  Deena grew up in Eagle Rock. She has worked as a Stage Manager all over Los Angeles at such companies as Circle X, Open Fist, Casa0101, Shakespeare Center of LA and many more.

“The Fountain is a great place to work,” Deena beams. “It really is like a family. Anything I need is almost always available. Everyone is here to support the art and you can really feel that when you walk in every day.”

They clearly enjoy working together and make a kick-ass team in the booth and in the rehearsal room. What makes them such a dynamic duo?

“Complimentary skill sets, ” says Emily. “Honestly, a lot of it comes from Deena also being a great PSM, and because she knows how to think like a PSM, she is able to anticipate needs and fill in the gaps beautifully. It also doesn’t hurt that we enjoy each other’s company as people. Having team members you genuinely enjoy working with is a gift, and it makes every aspect of the process go more smoothly and easily.” 

Deena agrees. “We both absolutely love our jobs as Stage Managers. We don’t come to work wishing we were doing something else, we walk in knowing we are working in our dream profession. It also helps that we both have very similar styles of stage managing and from that we are able to predict exactly what is needed before it’s said out loud.”

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When Deena first read Stephen Sachs‘ script for Arrival & Departure, and its blend of both Deaf and hearing actors in a production that mixes lights, sound, music, video and open captioning, she was unsure how it would all come together.

“I originally felt it would be difficult for the audience to keep up with everything going on,” she admits. “But during the rehearsal process my concerns were very quickly extinguished. I saw exactly how each word and each scene had to be portrayed to make sure no one was missing out on any moment.”  Emily agrees. “I am so thrilled with the way it turned out.”  

Both have been blown away by the audience reaction. 

“It has been such a balm to see how audiences have responded to the show, ” says Emily. “Especially our Deaf audiences, as they realized with utter joy that this is a production created with them in mind.”

“The audiences have loved it, ” exclaims Deena. “They really enjoy the way the show captures both the Deaf and hearing experiences. I love looking at the audience during intense moments and seeing their reactions. My personal favorite was the reaction of these two women sitting in the front row. Just as the characters Sam and Emily are about to kiss, the two women grabbed each other and shook their heads like they wanted to yell out, “don’t do it!”

Both Emily and Deena feel the play — how it was conceived and the way it is performed — serves a valuable purpose.  

“This production is truly important because it incorporates elements of sign language, captioning and spoken English, ” Deena explains. “This show isn’t only for one audience. It is open for everyone. Everyone can watch and relate. That kind of inclusion is sadly lacking in the entertainment industry.”

“We live in weird, difficult, and downright terrifying times,” states Emily. “Times where hatred, bigotry, and closed mindedness are becoming the new normal. In times like these, creating art is an act of resistance. Creating art that is, by design, inclusive, a celebration of a woman coming into her own, a love story —  is nothing short of revolutionary. “

And now that the celebrated run is soon reaching its final performance? 

“I got to meet some of the funniest, most energetic, and kind-hearted  people, ” Deena confesses. “It really has been an excellent experience.”

“It has been such a beautiful, hopeful reminder of what we can be when we open our arms and our hearts to those who may on the surface appear different than us,” states Emily. “I will cherish it.” 

Emily in booth

Arrival & Departure ends September 30.