Category Archives: Books

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.”

Casals-at-the-White-House

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: Actress Monnae Michaell invites you to ‘Citizen’ at Our L.A. Voices at Grand Park

Monna Michaell

Monnae Michaell

The Fountain Theatre’s critically acclaimed, award-winning stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric has been chosen as the centerpiece of Our L.A. Voices, a new festival celebrating the diversity and excellence of the arts in Los Angeles that will launch April 27-29 at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles. A compelling play about racism in America, Citizen will represent excellence in Los Angeles theater at the multi-arts festival, with performances set for Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28. All performances are free to the public. 

Citizen: An American Lyric was adapted for the stage by acclaimed playwright and Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs from Rankine’s National Book Critics Circle award-winning book of poetry. In this intensely provocative and unapologetic rumination on racial aggression directed by Shirley Jo Finney, seemingly everyday acts of racism are scrutinized as part of an uncompromising testimony of “living while Black” in America — from the shooting of Trayvon Martin, to the tennis career of Serena Williams to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Actress Monnae Michael invites you to join her and fellow cast members — Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tony Maggio, Adenrele Ojo and Lisa Pescia — to enjoy what Stage Raw critic Myron Meisel called “a transcendent theatrical experience.” 

 

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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

Akiva Potok, son of ‘The Chosen’ author, joins cast of acclaimed production for Q&A

Akiva Potok 1

Akiva Potok chats with the company of ‘The Chosen’ and audience in Q&A.

What’s it like to grow up in a house where your father is the author of a beloved internationally best-selling novel dubbed “the Jewish Catcher in the Rye” that is taught in classrooms around the world? Last night, you could have asked Akiva Potok this question yourself, when the Fountain hosted a Q&A discussion following the sold-out performance of the stage adaptation of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen. Akiva is Chaim Potok’s son. 

The lively conversation with Potok drew intriguing questions from the audience. Akiva described his relationship with his world-famous father as one that grew closer when Akiva was in his early twenties and his father gave himself permission to become more open and vulnerable with his son. Audience members commented on the skill and authenticity of the actors and the powerful appeal of the story.  One gentleman pointed out that the play’s central spiritual and philosophical theme, that two opposing realities can be true at the same time, has been proven in modern physics and quantum theory.  

Akiva was joined onstage by actors Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Dor Gvirtsman, Sam Mandel, and director Simon Levy. The discussion was moderated by Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. 

Our acclaimed production of The Chosen continues our relationship with the work of Chaim Potok, adaptor Aaron Posner, and Potok’s son, Akiva. The Fountain produced the Los Angeles premiere of Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev in 2014, also adapted by Posner. Akiva visited the Fountain and joined the company for a fascinating post-show discussion at that time, as well.  

Akiva Potok company 2

Akiva Potok (center) and the company of ‘The Chosen’. 

Akiva Potok is an award-winning screenwriter, film producer and cinematographer. His latest film, Haze (2016, cinematography) was released theatrically and is presently in distribution on Netflix.  It was hailed by Variety as “Accomplished and energetic” and the LA Times called it a “Fresh take on fraternity life.” It has screened at ten film festivals and at over fifty college campuses stimulating much-needed conversation on the topic of hazing. Akiva’s other films have featured at festivals such as Sundance, Cinequest and The Brooklyn Film Festival as well as many others. Akiva Potok received his MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in 2003 and presently resides in Beverly Hills, CA.

The sold out run of The Chosen has been extended to May 14th. Get Tickets/More Info

PHOTOS: Cast and guests enjoy opening night party for ‘The Chosen’

CHOSEN Op Night 12

The company of ‘The Chosen’

A beautiful and heartfelt performance was followed by a lively party as cast and audience members celebrated the opening of The Chosen at the Fountain Theatre on Saturday night, January 20th.   The sold-out house leapt to their feet in a standing ovation, then gathered upstairs in our indoor/outdoor cafe for food, drink and festivities with the company.

Actors Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel were feted by Fountain VIP donors, invited guests and members of our Board of Directors.

Looks like the Fountain has another hit on its hands. performances for The Chosen are already selling out in advance. Get Tickets/More Info 

Actor Sam Mandel shares how the message of ‘The Chosen’ is so timely and universal

More Info/Get Tickets

Fountain Theatre to present ‘West Wing’ cast reading of ‘All the President’s Men’ at LA City Hall

ATPM cast image“Nothing’s riding on this except the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.” — Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, as portrayed by Jason Robards in ‘All The President’s Men’

Bradley Whitford (The Post, Get Out, The West Wing), Joshua Malina (Scandal, The West Wing), Richard Schiff (The Good Doctor, The West Wing) and Ed Begley, Jr. (Future Man, St. Elsewhere, The West Wing) will head the cast of a special, one-night only reading of William Goldman’s screenplay for All The President’s Men, presented by the award-winning Fountain Theatre in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and with exclusive permission from Warner Bros Entertainment and Simon & Schuster. The free event will be hosted by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and will take place in the John Ferraro Council Chamber of Los Angeles City Hall on Saturday, January 27 at 7:30 p.m. A catered reception will follow in the City Hall Rotunda.

Based on the book by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the 1976 film All The President’s Men tells the story of their Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation of the Watergate scandal, which brought down the presidency of Richard M. Nixon.

“This high-profile reading will be a statement asserting the First Amendment, advocating freedom of the press and honoring the tenacity of American journalism in a free society,” says Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs, who will direct the reading. “As the current administration is under investigation, the echo of Watergate rings loud and clear. Reporters from The New York Times and Washington Post have been heroes, warriors for our democracy, as they were forty-five years ago.”

According to Councilmember O’Farrell, “All the President’s Men is a reminder of the parallels between Richard Nixon and the corruption that brought his presidency to an end and the current state of corruption overshadowing the Donald Trump administration. I want to thank the Fountain Theatre for producing this live reading, which underscores the importance of art in its many forms that can illuminate the conditions that affect us as a nation and as a society.”

Adds Sachs “We are profoundly grateful to Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s office and the City of Los Angeles for taking the extraordinary and unprecedented action of hosting the reading at Los Angeles City Hall, in the City Council Chamber, as a sign of solidarity. I am very proud of our city.”

The event is co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Press Club, which exists to support, promote, and defend quality journalism in Southern California with the belief that a free press is crucial to a free society. Although admission to the reading is free of charge, any voluntary donations will support, in part, the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s oldest organization representing American journalists, founded to improve and protect journalism and dedicated to the perpetuation of a free press.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing 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.

All The President’s Men takes place on SaturdayJan. 27 at 7:30 p.m. in the John Ferraro Council ChamberRoom 340 of Los Angeles City Hall200 N Spring St.Los Angeles, CA 90012. Admission is free. Seating is extremely limited. Please go to www.FountainFreePress.com or email  freepress@fountaintheatre.com to inquire. No walk-ups will be permitted.