Category Archives: artist

One sentence that seared a book, highlighted a play, and inspired a young playwright

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Darius R. Booker, Morgan Camper, and Derek Jackson in “Gunshot Medley”

by Dionna Michelle Daniel

“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background.”

This sentence has stuck with me since the first time I read Claudia Rankine’s book, Citizen: An American Lyric. That sentence has been a jumping-off point and inspiration for the current play that I am currently developing.

I feel most colored

I first encountered Claudia Rankine’s Citizen while a BFA at the California Institute of the Arts. That year, I was taking a class on hybrid writing with a bunch of MFA creative writers. Although I felt slightly out of place from my comfort of theater knowledge, I was determined to get my minor in creative writing. Even though Rankine’s Citizen functions as a hybrid text, at the time it wasn’t on the course reading materials. However, that didn’t stop it from being spoken about almost every other class. This was also around the time when there were the headlines of the black woman reading Citizen at a Trump rally.  In the video, you see angry Trump supporters tap the woman on the shoulder, signaling that it is rude for her to not be complicit in Trump’s nonsense. It is rude for her to read. The woman’s response is one of the most epic things you will every see. She shrugs of the bitter rally attendees and continues to read her book. From that point on, it was clear to me that this book was a symbol of resistance and strength. I had to get my hands on a copy.

It’s funny how life happens. I began working at the Fountain Theatre in the Fall of 2017 and had no idea that Stephen Sachs had adapted a stage adaptation of the book. As a fan of this brilliant book and also a theatre nerd, I was excited to see this work brought to life and inhabited in the bodies of actors. I got my chance to see the performance at Grand Park on April 29th and needless to say, I was beyond moved. There is something about hearing those words spoken and coming from a black body that makes the text sink in that much deeper. The actors, all giving a beautiful performance, showed the pain & confusion that happens when constantly faced with microaggressions and systemic oppression. And when the lines, “I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background” were spoken, I was overwhelmed by the weight of this sentence. Felt the weight right in my chest.

This message of this book and the stage adaptation correlates to the work that I am trying to flesh out in my own writing. Currently, I am developing a Part 2 to my play Gunshot Medley. The second part will take place in the present day and I’ m most interested in the idea of what happens to the black psyche after being faced with the trauma of seeing so many killings of black men on our phone screens. When does it stop? When can we heal? And if we look at the black body as a vessel, how much can it hold before it snaps and breaks?

Dionna Michelle Daniel is the Outreach Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre

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New Video! Behind the scenes of ‘Citizen’ at Grand Park’s new LA Arts Festival

The Fountain Theatre gives voice to a cry of sexual assault in new play ‘The Lighthouse’

LIGHTHOUSE photo

Garret Wagner, Kelley Mack, Michael D. Turner and Chops Bailey.

By Catherine Womack

“It’s beach week, baby!” A tall, handsome college athlete cracks open a cold beer as he flops onto a worn sofa. The semester is over for Shane and his friends, and the stress of final exams is quickly fading into a blur of sun, sand and mojitos served in red Solo cups.

Onstage at the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood, six young actors fall easily into the rhythms of day drinking and banter inside the fictional rented vacation home. The set is sparse, but the inside jokes and casual flirtations between its occupants feel so real you can practically smell the salty air and taste the PBR.

But there is an elephant in this living room.

Perched on a tall director’s  chair  in  the  middle of the stage, seemingly invisible to the revelers, sits a silent female lifeguard. Only when she’s left alone with Jesse,    the    play’s    central character, does the lifeguard begin to speak.

“Are you sure you want to be wearing that?” the lifeguard asks, peering disapprovingly over her sunglasses at Jesse’s short denim shorts and tank top. “Are you trying to get laid for attention or validation?”

Hypercritical, judgmental and disparaging, the lifeguard is a constant presence throughout Amanda Kohr’s 80-minute, one-act play, “The   Lighthouse.”   As   the winner   of   the   Fountain’s competition-style Rapid Development Series, the play received two nights of free semi-staged readings last week — all part of an effort to give a louder voice to playwrights under 30.

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Jessica Broutt and James Bennett, co-creators/producers of Rapid Development Series.

One of several surrealist elements in the show, the lifeguard plays the part of Jesse’s darkest inner voice following a traumatic sexual assault at the beach house. “The Lighthouse” is Kohr’s indictment of rape culture and the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses. Kohr said the play was inspired by the 2015 case of Brock Turner, the Stanford swimmer convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, and was informed by Kohr’s own experiences.

On two printed sheets of folded white office paper that served as the program for the evening, Kohr, 27, wrote candidly about her own story:

“I grew up accepting sexual assault — the act was so prevalent that it swam below the radar under the perception as normalcy. By 16 I had been manipulated into unwanted sexual situations, assaulted and catcalled.”

As an undergraduate at James Madison University in Virginia, Kohr said in an earlier phone interview, she “heard about, witnessed and experienced so much sexual assault and harassment among college-age students that it just become normal.” At times, she said, she felt like it was “harder to find had.”

Kohr  wrote  “The  Lighthouse” in summer 2016. She had read Jon Krakauer’s reported narrative, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” and she closely followed the Stanford case as it unfolded. She was appalled by the leniency of Turner’s sentence — six months, reduced to three months for good behavior — and was inspired by the letter that his victim read at the sentencing hearing.

“I am a firm believer that entertainment can help educate,” Kohr said, “so I really strove to draw my audience in through comedy and then bash them with the truth.”

Kohr wrote the play more than a year before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, sexual assault and harassment became a national cultural conversation, and #MeToo became a movement.  That’s  one  reason Jessica Broutt, 25, the co-founder and co-producer of the Fountain’s Rapid Development Series, found Kohr’s play so compelling.

Broutt, who interned at the Fountain as a college student and worked briefly as the company’s box office manager, came up with the idea for the series with Fountain associate producer James Bennett four years ago.

“We noticed that there weren’t really a lot of young people going to the theater,” she said. “We would go to all these awesome reading series at other theaters, but it was never young people who were playwrights, and they generally weren’t  L.A.- based.”

Jessica Hailey Broutt, Kieran Medina and Amanda Marie Kohr at Fountain Theatre.

Jessica Broutt, Kieran Medina and Amanda Kohr at Fountain Theatre.

Broutt and Bennett pitched the idea to the Fountain’s management as a sort of theatrical battle of the bands. Broutt would select four plays by L.A. playwrights under 30. The theater would provide the actors and the space, and each play would receive a “snapshot” reading at which audiences vote for their favorite, drawing them more actively into the experience.

The actors and directors are volunteers, and the performances are free.

“We were trying to rule out all the reasons why people our age don’t goto plays,” Broutt said.

This year marks the series’ fourth season. Broutt says that when she read “The Lighthouse,” she knew immediately it was special.

“I just felt like, wow, this is a play that is taking on rape culture and breaking it down in a way that is educational and provides a surrealism and a humor that will engage people,” she said. “It’s very rare for me to see something that is doing all of those things effectively. And then as we were going through development last fall, the Harvey Weinstein stuff came out.”

In just a few months Kohr has been able to work with Broutt to polish the play, have it receive two short readings as it progressed through the competition, and watch it performed onstage in its entirety for the first time.

“When I was in college I had a lot of shorter things staged,” Kohn said, “but this is  my  first  thing  that’s  like borderline professional.”

Audience members on Wednesday night were racially diverse and younger than what’s typical in most

L.A. theaters. They laughed out loud as Jesse’s rapist, Shane, was presented as a hero during exaggerated, game-show-style court proceedings. And some wiped tears from their eyes when Jesse found the strength to silence her inner-critic lifeguard and rediscover her own confident voice.

At  the  end  of  the  “The Lighthouse,” the house lights came up dramatically as Jesse called for people to speak out and shine a light on sexual misconduct. In the front row, Kohr hugged her friends. Her #MeToo story had found an audience.

This post originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times. 

New LA Arts Festival downtown at Grand Park asks: “What does it mean to be a citizen?”

band of uncles subway

The cast of ‘Citizen: An American Lyric”

by Sean P. Thomas

The stage is set for a collection of Los Angeles’ creative minds to get a moment in the spotlight. Even better, those moments will take place in Downtown, and the performances will be free.

On Friday-Sunday, April 27-29, the inaugural Our L.A. Voices: Spring Arts Festival will fill Grand Park. The happening will bring more than 30 artists and groups to the 12-acre space, where there will be live theater, dance, music and more. There will be performances as well as opportunities to buy art.

Julia Diamond, Grand Park’s interim director, said that the festival was created through a joint venture with the Music Center. The goal is to showcase a wide spectrum of the L.A. art scene, with everything from sculptors to digital artists in a family-friendly environment.

“We’re really trying to tell a big story about L.A. as a center of massive amounts of creative energy,” Diamond said.

Grand Park opened in 2012 and has played host to numerous community events, everything from the annual New Year’s Eve celebration to a book festival. Frequently local artists have been involved, but were not the focus.

This weekend, Diamond said, the artists will be thrust front and center. Festivities run from 6-10 p.m. on Friday, 1-10 p.m. on Saturday and 1-6 p.m. on Sunday.

“We’re trying to tell the biggest story that we can,” Diamond said. “It’s about making a big splash for an important part of L.A.’s identity and giving the audience a chance to come see art in one place.”

in memory of CROPPED

‘Citizen: An American Lyric’

Festival organizers have partnered with a number of artists and groups, among them the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood. The theme of the festival is, “What does it mean to be a citizen?”

Aptly, the Fountain Theatre will perform Citizen: An American Lyric, an adaption of poet Claudia Rankine’s book of the same name that explores race relations and questions of citizenship in the United States. The novel was adapted by Stephen Sachs, artistic director of the Fountain, after coming across a book review in the New York Times. In the wake of the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Sachs said that he wanted the theater to make a statement on race relations in America, and that Rankine’s words provided the proper avenue.

He described the book and the ensuing play as less of a sledgehammer and more of a scalpel, precisely dissecting racial narratives in American society to get to the core of what a citizen’s experience is like in the country. Citizen will be mounted on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; each hour-long performance will be followed by a community discussion about the play and the festival.

Diamond said the play, which was previously on stage at the Fountain and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, resonates with audiences and fits the theme of what she is trying to do with the Spring Arts Festival.

“It really became the core question of this year’s festival,” Diamond said. “Who belongs? Who is on the inside? Who is on the outside?”

Sachs said it is gratifying to have the work appear at the festival. However, he said he is disheartened that the issues that prompted the play are still relevant almost four years after Brown’s death.

“It’s very meaningful to me to have this work shared with as many people as possible,” Sachs said. “I love the idea of doing it in Grand Park in front of City Hall. I can’t think of anything more appropriate.”

Grand Park stage chairs

The stage at Grand Park, downtown Los Angeles.

“We encourage people to come out in full force and to bring the whole family,” Diamond said. “Art is meant to bring us together and get us thinking, and there is no better way to do that than across generations.”

The Our L.A. Voices: Spring Arts Festival runs Friday-Sunday, April 27-29, at Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave. or grandparkla.org/event/ourlavoices2018.

This post originally appeared in Downtown News

Your stories matter: When encountering ‘the other’ becomes “just people being people”

diversity collageBy Dionna Michelle Daniel

Last week’s blog post,  I asked our Fountain friends and community to send in their own stories about how confronting “The Other” led to a deeper understanding and compassion. Below are a few responses we received. On the day we mark the 50th anniversary of the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King, we hope these stories on empathy and compassion inspire you.

Marrock Sedgwick, LGBTQ Activist & Filmmaker

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“I had some people come up to me after seeing my film that had some kind of spiritual reckoning within themselves making them tell me they will do better by LGBT people. That felt pretty damn good.Most of the time when I confront the other I just get told to ‘F’  off.” – Marrok Sedgwick

Manon Manavit, Director & Theatre Artist

Manon Manavit

Manon Manavit

“A man selling hotdogs in New York gave me a hot dog for free because he was ‘promoting peace between muslims and Jews’ it was so beautiful I cried..he was Palestinian” – Manon Manavit

Saurav Jammalamadugu, Actor

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“There was a moment where my family and I were on a train to Portland from San Jose and on the train, we were riding first class which meant we had access to a pretty fancy parlor car. Anyway, the lady who was serving us breakfast had to note and constantly point out “how strange it was” that my parents didn’t eat meat for religious purposes. So to calm the tension, I explained to her that we were Hindu, and that some people in our religion think that it’s harmful to eat something that’s killed but, I’d like a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. To which she again remarked how odd it was but after she walked away with our order seemed to realize that it was just people being people.” – Saurav Jammalamadugu

Thank you to all who responded, if you would like to share your story please email me at dionna@fountaintheatre.com! Your stories matter.

Dionna Michelle Daniel is the Outreach Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.

Actor Dor Gvirtsman embraces a complicated role in hit play ‘The Chosen’ at Fountain Theatre

Dorian Tayler

Dor Gvirtsman

After taking a brief hiatus for the Passover holidays, our smash hit production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen restarts its critically acclaimed run this weekend. With every performance sold-out since it opened in January, this second and final extension continues to June 10th. 

We caught up with actor Dor Gvirtsman as he prepared to leap back into the role of Danny Saunders, the brilliant and troubled son of the tzaddik Reb Saunders and destined to follow in his father’s footsteps as the leader of his ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community. 

Where were you born? 

I was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, primarily in Mountain View. Mountain View is a delightful, quiet suburb whose flashiest and most famous resident is Google.

Where did you train as an actor?

I started acting when I was in fourth grade, but I would say my formal training began at the California State Summer School for the Arts in 2011. It was the first time I was immersed in a conservatory-style program, learning about and actively training in theatre, day in and day out. Being involved with that program the summer after my junior year of high school solidified my decision to pursue a degree in acting.

The majority of my acting training occurred at the University of Southern California. That was where I truly learned the craft of acting: breaking ideas down into techniques that I could polish and practice through exercises, scene work, analysis, and performance. My third year I spent a semester training classically at the British American Drama Academy in London. It was a delightful opportunity to build and polish my technical skills by studying and working on Greek plays, Shakespeare, and Restoration Comedy in one of the greatest theatre cities in the world.

How long have you been in Los Angeles?

Six years. I came down here to study at USC, and then I made friends, fell in love, and started working.

In The Chosen, which aspect of Danny’s character do you identify with most?

Danny and I share a desire to understand people. Danny is raised in an absolute, fundamentalist world. The Biblical texts provide astounding analytical insight into law, sociology, and even general insights into the human condition, but provide fewer answers about detailed interpersonal dynamics. Those who are closest to Danny are a mystery. His father is revered by his friends and neighbors, yet provides Danny with no direct guidance or advice on how he is to fill his large shoes. Freud provides Danny with the tools to start understanding how and why people do what they do, in more absolute, specific terms than the Golden Rule.

One of the reasons I love acting is because it gives me the opportunity to think like, behave as, and understand people different than I am. A character I play may make choices I would never make, but in order to play those choices truthfully on stage or on screen, I must learn to understand why they are being made. What Danny sees in Freud, I see in acting: The opportunity to make sense of the people and the world around me, to embrace the complexity of a world that is far from absolute.

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Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel

The difficult relationship between Danny and his father is key to the The Chosen. What’s it like acting opposite a partner who rarely speaks or looks at you?  

The onstage life between Danny and Reb Saunders is a delicate balancing act. When we do interact, we each need to respond to what the other is doing in as thoughtful, specific, and vulnerable a manner as possible. This is not only for the audience’s benefit, but also for each other. It’s how we can communicate: If I know exactly what Steve means by his action, it is easier to respond, and vice versa. The rest is built on the trust that when we aren’t interacting, we are each forwarding our story in our own way. This is developed through conversations between the actors and with the guidance of our director, Simon. Simon’s eye it vital when we actors can’t see each other.

When we do finally get to look at each other, I find many of the denser ideas in the play give way to the human story: A relationship between a father and a son who love each other. Danny defends his father throughout the play, even through his confusion and fury. When Red Saunders and Danny finally speak at the end of the play (spoilers!), the complexities in their relationship seem to give way to one of the most basic things adolescents hope to hear from their parents: I love you, and I am proud of the adult you have become. Having only recently come into an age where I could share moments like that with my own parents, its tremendously emotional experiencing that on stage. 

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The play served as important trigger in your artistic life. 

The Chosen was the first professional stage play I ever saw. I had seen, and performed in, school plays, but seeing The Chosen was the first time I saw theatre in the real world. They were using the medium not only to entertain, as school shows primarily do, but to ask real questions that pertained to my Jewish life and my prescient adolescence. It helped me regain confidence in my desire to act at a time when I was almost dead-set on giving it up because “that’s not what kids with actual friends do” in the mind of a young teenager. The Chosen was the right play at the right time, and it helped set me on my path to where I am today.

What’s it like being part of such a hit production?

It is a humbling, extraordinary privilege. I am touched and amazed by the fact that audiences continue to want to share their afternoons and evenings with us.

Deep into our run, we still have the pleasure to perform for sold-out houses. The jokes still land, the energy still changes in the room when we arrive at an emotional moment, and the role and the show provide new layers and moments to be uncovered. As we head into our extension, I’m starting to realize it may be a good long while until I have the pleasure of being a part of a show like this again. I’m thankful for every bite I get. It’s a little hard to not get sentimental about it.

What’s the most memorable thing an audience member has said to you after a performance?

I have gotten a few Brooklynites who come up to me after then show and told me they have seen and met some Williamsburg Hasids, and that I could pass for one. That is not only a fun premise for an Ocean’s Eleven style heist, but a profoundly moving comment to hear.

Even as a Reform Jew, the Orthodox world seems distant, and at times even foreign. It is often hard to reconcile the fact that people who are part of the same Jewish community as I am could see the world so differently than I do. Knowing that someone who is more intimately connected to the New York Hassidic community sees truth in Danny Saunders makes me feel like I have learned a little about a world I am not a part of. To me, that’s beautiful.

THE CHOSEN out front FT

What’s it like working at the Fountain Theatre?

Oh, it’s tremendous. To me, working at the Fountain is a gift for a young actor. To get to work on a play of substance with people of substance who care about this art form is special. I recognize that. We had the luxury of a long rehearsal process, so we had time to play with this show and experiment with our characters and relationships. We had the extraordinary privilege to work with our director, Simon Levy. He is an artist as passionate as he is compassionate, a patient and specific director with a beautiful vision. I always felt listened to and cared for, as a person and as a professional. Atmospherically, it was great getting to work at a theater where the staff like each other and enjoy working together. It’s not obvious. Artists don’t always get along, and that warmth goes a long way in making the artistic process feel safe and supported. I absolutely understand how the Fountain has cultivated its excellent reputation.

Dor Gvirtsman is an unusual name for an actor. Why did you revert back to it after first changing professionally it to Dorian Tayler? What led to that decision?

Dor backstage

Backstage at ‘The Chosen’

Dor Gvirtsman is the name on my birth certificate. It’s the original. Unfortunately, it’s not a typical “show business name”. People would ask me: What kind of a name is Dor? Dor, like a door? For years, people told me I would likely need to change my name if I want to be an actor. Gvirtsman has lots of consonants in a row; It wasn’t marketable. And I want to be an actor, so I ran with it.

People meeting me for the first time thought Dor might be short for Dorian. I’m a big Oscar Wilde fan, and I love the name Dorian, so that part was easy. Tayler came about as the result of my working at a summer theater program. The kids took one look at me and decided my name was Taylor. I thought it was odd, but interesting that the pure eyes of children decided this name was right for me. I liked the flow of Dorian Tayler: it sounded akin to the names of the English celebrities that I admired and were popular at the time.

However, in the past few years, the world has begun to change. We seem to be seeking a popular culture that reflects more of the population that consumes it. As a result, being your authentic self is becoming more celebrated. I thought, “If Saoirse Ronan could use her guest segment on Stephen Colbert’s show to explain how to pronounce her name, then there is a future for Dor Gvirtsman”. As more people in my professional acting life found out my real name, and didn’t run away in disgust and terror, I became more comfortable with the idea of using my real name in my acting career. When I was cast in The Chosen, I had the opportunity to join Equity. The application asked me what I wanted my professional name to be – I chose my authentic one.

It seems you guys in the cast get along well. What’s the backstage life like?

We get along fantastically well. It’s quite remarkable. We trust each other and love each other as artists and people. It made rehearsing this play a safe, special artistic experience, and it makes for a wonderful long run. This is a group of people I am excited to come in and work with every week.

On another note, we are a cast comprised of men spanning generations. John and Steve have had more experience in the industry than Sam and I. They will sometimes tell us stories about shows they’ve done and experiences they’ve had over the years, and it is delightful to hear and learn from their experience. We are all quite silly and irreverent for a cast of a show so full of ideas and tenderness. 

Any plans after this long run of The Chosen finally ends?   

I’m traveling back home to Israel to see my family and celebrate with them at my aunt’s wedding! After that, I want to dive right in to a new project. Any takers?

The Chosen is now playing to June 10th. More Info/Get Tickets

Happy 28th Birthday, Fountain Theatre!

FT April 1 2016Twenty-eight years ago today, on April 1st, 1990, co-founders Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs opened the doors of the Fountain Theatre. What began as a dream and an empty building on Fountain Avenue has blossomed into one of the most successful and highly regarded intimate theatres in Los Angeles. 

The Fountain Theatre provides a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored for its acclaimed 25th Anniversary Season in 2015 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council; the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The Fountain’s most recent production, the world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, ran for five months and was named “L.A. hottest ticket” by the Los Angeles Times.

Enjoy this video, created three years ago to celebrate our 25th Anniversary. It shares who we are, what we do, and why.