Category Archives: Arts

Walking the walk: Art for art’s sake is simply not enough anymore

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by Bobby Steggert

About two years ago, I completely turned my back on an acting career that I had spent twenty years building. I found myself increasingly discontented by the lack of control that every artist must submit to, and I found myself nauseatingly self-concerned in a job that threw me off balance enough to never quite feel stable. That, and as the world spiraled into the surreal chaos that continues to swirl around us today, I found it harder and harder to justify my contribution as enough to make a significant difference.

The classic argument for the necessity of art (and a deeply legitimate one) is that is holds a mirror up to the human condition. It asks the important questions and gives voice to the voiceless. I suppose my goal in leaving the theater was to make a difference that felt more practical, or somehow quantifiable — instead of giving metaphoric voice to the voiceless, why not up the ante and work to give them a voice directly? And so I have spent the last two years pursuing a master’s degree in social work. I’ve been given a crash course in anti-black racism, in the horror of our immigration and criminal justice systems, in the forces behind gender and sexual discrimination. I’ve met some incredible social justice warriors — people putting all of their heroic energies into fighting to inspire essential shifts in the cultural fabric.

And may I unequivocally stress, I still believe that artists of all kind — playwrights, painters, musicians, and actors — wield equally powerful heroism in the same aim. In fact, the irony of walking away from the arts is that I am now more convinced than ever as to the necessity of you, the artist. But here is my ultimate argument, and hear me out– you are more powerful than the work you do under the proverbial lights. In fact, it’s only a part of why we need you.

Let’s face it — it is too late and the world is too far gone to celebrate art for art’s sake. It’s simply not enough anymore. We as a collective culture have forgotten what true greatness is, as the paradigm shifts and we are bombarded with the most toxic and pathetic expressions of selfishness masquerading as strength. But here’s the good news — all humans are outfitted with potential greatness, and yours far outstrips your craft. It is a superpower in this ever isolated and polarized world, and it is your responsibility to use it. Many of you already do.

The greatness I speak of is your bravery in offering authentic compassion in the flesh — a space of physical, emotional, and ideological vulnerability that, though out of fashion in our current climate, is the only thing that can save us. Lots of people practice empathy, and every human is endowed with it, but fewer have the experience you have in using it so flexibly.

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Bobby Steggert

At the risk of getting too personal, this is another reason I felt I had to leave acting — it was easy for me to bare my soul under the safety of the blinding lights and a two-hour time limit. What was far more challenging for me was to translate that freedom of expression into daily life. The most distilled version of my disappointment was that, in my deepest knowledge, I wasn’t walking the walk. I was proclaiming an artist’s social responsibility whilst hiding everywhere but onstage. I was vulnerable and brave at work and I was stuck and afraid elsewhere.

Ultimately, I did what felt necessary to create a chance at more sustainable balance in my own life, and I don’t have any regrets today as I work towards something happier. And in no way do I argue that anyone in an artistic life should change course. Instead, I am simply urging you to look at what you have in the moments when you feel frustrated and powerless — the enormous opportunity in every moment of your waking life, regardless of the audition you just aced, the job you just booked, or the brilliant performance you just gave. And equally important, the higher purpose you have despite the audition you just bombed, the job you just lost, or the brilliant performance you wish you had the opportunity to offer the world. You (like all of us) are bigger than your job, but it just so happens that your job has prepared you for the war ahead.

You are trained through your exceptional sensitivity to be generous of heart. You are more comfortable with the vulnerability of emotional expression than most anyone else on Earth. You can look deeply into the eyes of another human without flinching from the terror of being exposed. You understand that silence and stillness are not passive, but radical acts in the digital world of never ending status updates. You realize, even beneath the tidal wave of “self expression” that powers our culture of narcissism, that to listen is the only way to truly honor another’s humanity.

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These qualities are not unique to actors, but they are ones that you have spent a lifetime cultivating. You are also in an industry that threatens the very qualities that brought you here. It surely did mine.

Whether your work reaches dozens or millions, it can only represent life. It cannot stand in for it. I have to believe, from experience, that a “tortured artist” is someone who is unable to integrate their work and their life, so that the only place they feel understood is in the privacy of their work. But I have come to realize that the work is just as much to understand as it is to be understood. And as the world becomes increasingly disembodied and dehumanized by fear and greed, it is your flesh and blood — your eyes and breath and heart — that can bring change to every space you enter. You must remind others, whose gods are money or fear or status or fame, that their worship is futile.

Do not compromise in using the gifts that make you special. Do not allow an industry that asks you to be selfish to take away your generosity. Create no boundary between the stage and the street. Look up from your screens and feel the power you already contain. There are people fighting the good fight at every turn, but it just so happens that your special skills are applicable anywhere you go. When it comes to professional contribution alone, a surgeon is limited to saving lives in the operating room. You are not.

Strange, that I had to completely reroute the entire trajectory of my life to learn that I already had everything I needed to make a difference. My master’s degree will be a piece of paper, but my life as an artist will make me a great social worker, this I know. And if I ever return to acting, it will be with this knowledge (and I hope it reminds you of of your own possibilities) — that the work does not stop when unemployed — that you are an artist every day, if you so choose — that art is an obligation, and that it must be lived, not simply offered to those who have paid the price of admission.

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Video and Photos: Opening night party for romantic world premiere ‘Arrival & Departure’

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Playwright/Director Stephen Sachs celebrates with the crowd on Opening Night. 

Love was in the air on Saturday night for the opening of our world premiere of Arrival & Departure, the funny and poignant new play inspired by the classic romantic movie, Brief Encounter. Written and directed by Stephen Sachs, Arrival & Departure  focuses on a Deaf man and a hard-of-hearing woman, married to different people, who meet accidentally in a New York City subway station. Their casual friendship soon develops into deeper feelings they never expected.

Saturday’s Opening Night performance compelled a sold-out audience to leap to its feet in a standing ovation. Afterward, a catered reception was held in our cafe. The warm summer weather was perfect for our invited guests to enjoy the cafe’s cozy outdoor balcony. 

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The cast includes Jessica Jade Andres, Deanne Bray, Adam Burch, Brian Robert Burns, Shon Fuller, Kyra Kotsur, Troy Kotsur, Aurelia Myers, and Stasha Surdyke. They were celebrated at the party by Fountain staff, members of the press, members of the Fountain Theatre Board of Directors, and family and friends. The guests were impressed by the dazzling performance, many commenting on its power and poignancy.

Arrival & Departure is performed by Hearing and Deaf actors in a fully integrated, unique blend of Open Captioning, American Sign Language and Spoken English. In this short video clip, Deaf actors Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray address the party guests.

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Fountain Theatre earns 7 Stage Raw Theater Award nominations

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Camille Spirlin and Maya Lynne Robinson, “Runaway Home”

The Fountain Theatre has earned 7 Stage Raw Theater Award nominations for our world premiere production of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps, directed by Shirley Jo Finney. The Fountain production of the funny, moving, and powerful new play about community and the power of family, set in New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina,  received the following Stage Raw Theater Award nominations:

  • Production of the Year 
  • Ensemble – Leith Burke, Jeris Poindexter, Armando Rey, Maya Lynne Robinson, Camille Spirlin, Brian Tichnell, Karen Malina White 
  • Playwriting – Jeremy J. Kamps
  • Leading Female Performance – Camille Spirlin 
  • Supporting Female Performance – Maya Lynne Robinson, Karen Malina White
  • Supporting Male Performance – Jeris Poindexter

The 2018 Stage Raw Theater Awards celebrate excellence on the Los Angeles stages in venues of 99-seats or under. This fourth annual edition includes productions that opened between January 1, 2017 and May 31, 2018.

The Awards ceremony is slated for Monday night, August 20, at Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. 

Full list of nominees

‘Arrival & Departure’ was unlike anything I have experienced before

by Saif Saigol

As a theatre lover, I have often struggled to qualify the artistic value of a show. What, for example, separates a great, large-scale Broadway musical from a great, smaller, experimental work? When it comes to art, does more money equal more success? I received my answer last Saturday, at the designer run-through rehearsal of the Fountain’s Arrival & Departure: a successful play is one that leaves its audience thinking.

Art has the power to leave a lasting impact and change the way we think. That is exactly what I experienced after watching Arrival & Departure.

The play, at its core, follows the classic, impossible love-story of two star-crossed soul mates who have the universe standing between them. The 90-minute play is filled with heart-wrenchingly beautiful acting on the part of the ensemble and a fantastic script by Stephen Sachs. The artists invite us into their most intimate and vulnerable thoughts, thoughts that were born in a reality that they created out of nothing. It seemed impossible that such genuineness had been bred in only a few weeks of rehearsal – it is beyond inspiring to see what the Fountain team is capable of.

Personally, it was especially moving to experience the power and beauty of Deaf theatre for the first time. The show’s interwoven and unique mélange of ASL and Spoken English creates a dynamic and multi-dimensional artistic medium in which authenticity prevails. Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur conveyed a degree of beauty, truth, and honesty in their signing that cannot be expressed in other forms of communication – it was almost like watching a dance. Especially moving was Bray’s ability to convey her character’s struggles with identity as a hard-of-hearing woman, switching back and forth between ASL and Spoken English.

The play struck me as a type of ‘deconstructed theatre’. The various forms of art involved – from ASL, to Spoken English, to movement, to staging – are separated but harmoniously married, each holding its own and conveying breath-taking emotion, but also supporting one another to create one beautiful piece. I left the rehearsal pondering the very nature of art, and the ways in which society often creates pigeon-holes for artists. Arrival & Departure was unlike anything I have experienced before – it is novel and unique, and conveys emotion in ways that don’t conform to exclusive norms. This, I believe, is the point of theatre, and I cannot wait for others to experience the magic of Arrival & Departure.

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Saif Saigol is the Development Intern at the Fountain Theatre.  

Photos: Fountain Family brunch gives thanks to VIP donors for supporting ‘Arrival & Departure’

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The backyard of Carrie Chassin & Jochen Haber

On a beautiful Sunday morning at the lovely Encino home of Fountain board member Carrie Chassin and husband Jochen Haber, members of the Fountain Family and supporters of Arrival & Departure gathered for a delicious brunch to salute our upcoming world premiere opening July 14. 

Arrival & Departure is the most innovative and ambitious production in our 28-year history, ” said Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs, in his remarks to the group. “We are deeply grateful to our extraordinary donors who make it possible for the Fountain to keep raising its bar of excellence.” 

Actors Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur joined Fountain staff members Sachs and his wife Jacqueline Schultz, Deborah Lawlor, Barbara Goodhill and James Bennett at the festive backyard get-together. Hosts Chassin and Haber welcomed board member and donor Karen Kondazian, donors Debbi and Ashley Posner, board president and donors Dorothy Wolpert and husband Stanley Wolpert, and board member and donor Don Zachary. Andrew Leyva provided ASL interpretation. 

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The savory spread included salmon, salad, fruit, roasted vegetables and bagels. It was a glorious afternoon enjoyed in a beautiful outdoor setting, celebrating some of the remarkable donors who have nurtured the creation, development and soon-to-be opening of this highly anticipated new play at the Fountain. 

Enjoy the photos! And get your tickets soon for Arrival & Departure.    

A White House without art

Gloomy-White-House-678x381By Dave Eggers

This White House has been, and is likely to remain, home to the first presidency in American history that is almost completely devoid of culture. In the 17 months that Donald Trump has been in office, he has hosted only a few artists of any kind. One was the gun fetishist Ted Nugent. Another was Kid Rock. They went together (and with Sarah Palin). Neither performed.

Since his inauguration in January 2017, there have been no official concerts at the White House (the Reagans had one every few weeks). No poetry readings (the Obamas regularly celebrated young poets). The Carters began a televised series, “In Performance at the White House,” which last aired in 2016, where artists as varied as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride performed in the East Room. The Clintons continued the series with Aretha Franklin and B. B. King, Alison Krauss and Linda Ronstadt.

But aside from occasional performances by “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, the White House is now virtually free of music. Never have we had a president not just indifferent to the arts, but actively oppositional to artists. Mr. Trump disparaged the play “Hamilton” and a few weeks later attacked Meryl Streep. He has said he does not have time to read books (“I read passages, I read areas, I read chapters”). Outside of recommending books by his acolytes, Mr. Trump has tweeted about only one work of literature since the beginning of his presidency: Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury.” It was not an endorsement.

Every great civilization has fostered great art, while authoritarian regimes customarily see artists as either nuisances, enemies of the state or tools for the creation of propaganda. The Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev asserted that “the highest duty of the Soviet writer, artist and composer, of every creative worker” is to “fight for the triumph of the ideas of Marxism-Leninism.”

When John Kennedy took office, his policies reacted against both the Soviet Union’s approach to the arts and that of Joseph McCarthy, who had worked hard to create in the United States an atmosphere where artists were required to be allegiant and where dissent was called treason. Pivoting hard, Kennedy’s White House made support of the avant-garde a priority. The artists Franz Kline and Mark Rothko came to the inauguration, and at a state dinner for France’s minister of cultural affairs, André Malraux, the guests included Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Robert Lowell, Geraldine Page and George Balanchine. Kennedy gave the Spanish cellist Pablo Casals, who had exiled himself to France and then Puerto Rico to protest Franco’s fascism, a forum in the East Room. Casals had performed in the White House once before, at the young age of 27. Now 84, and a man without a country, he played a mournful version of “The Song of the Birds.”

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Pablo Casals at the Kennedy White House.

It’s crucial to note that the White House’s support of the arts has never been partisan. No matter their political differences, presidents and artists have been able to find common ground in the celebration of American art and in the artists’ respect for the office of the presidency. This mutual respect, even if measured, made for the occasional odd photo-op. George H. W. Bush met Michael Jackson, who wore faux-military garb, including two medals he seemed to have given himself. Richard Nixon heartily shook the hand of Elvis Presley, whose jacket hung over his shoulders like a cape.

George W. Bush widened the partisan rift, but culturally, Mr. Bush — the future figurative painter — was open-minded and active. He met Bono in the Oval Office. He hosted a wide range of musicians, from Itzhak Perlman to Destiny’s Child. He was an avid reader — he maintained a long-running contest with Karl Rove to see who could read more books in a year. Laura Bush has long been a crucial figure in the book world, having co-founded the Texas Book Festival and the National Book Festival in Washington, now one of the country’s largest literary gatherings.

But perhaps no Republican could match the presidency of Ronald Reagan, whose guest list was a relentless celebration of the diversity of American culture. He and Nancy Reagan hosted Lionel Hampton. Then the Statler Brothers. Then Ella Fitzgerald. Then Benny Goodman. Then a night with Beverly Sills, Rudolf Serkin and Ida Levin. That was all in the fall of 1981. The Reagans did much to highlight uniquely American forms, especially jazz. One night in 1982, the White House hosted Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea and Stan Getz. When Reagan visited Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow in 1988, he brought along the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

But that kind of thing is inconceivable now. Admittedly, at a time when Mr. Trump’s policies have forcibly separated children from their asylum-seeking parents — taking the most vulnerable children from the most vulnerable adults — the White House’s attitude toward the arts seems relatively unimportant. But with art comes empathy. It allows us to look through someone else’s eyes and know their strivings and struggles. It expands the moral imagination and makes it impossible to accept the dehumanization of others. When we are without art, we are a diminished people — myopic, unlearned and cruel.

This post originally appeared in the NY Times. Dave Eggers is the author, most recently, of “The Monk of Mokha” and co-founder of The International Congress of Youth Voices

VIDEO: A behind-the-scenes peek in the rehearsal room of ‘Arrival & Departure’

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