Category Archives: director

PHOTOS: Dazzling opening night of ‘Building the Wall’ at Fountain Theatre

WALL Opening Night 6

An electrifying thrill filled the air Saturday night, March 18, as the Fountain Theatre opened the highly-anticipated world premiere of Building the Wall by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Robert Schenkkan.  Even before opening, our bold National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere has earned national attention in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other outlets across the country.

The sold-out house Saturday night at the Fountain was packed with patrons, donors, board members, Fountain family and the press. Following the powerful performance, the crowd gathered upstairs in our indoor/outdoor cafe to enjoy a catered reception prepared by our new chef, Baltazar.  Playwright Robert Schenkkan and the cast were surrounded by well-wishers, congratulating them on an unforgettable evening in the theatre. By all accounts, it looks like the Fountain has another hit on its hands.  

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PHOTOS: ‘Bakersfield Mist’ ends another triumphant run at the Fountain Theatre

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When the new play Bakersfield Mist premiered at the Fountain Theatre in 2011 starring Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett, it earned rave reviews and ran for seven sold-out months. The current revival with the original cast has been equally successful, enjoying a four-month run and delighting full houses of enthusiastic audiences. The hit production concluded its run yesterday at Sunday’s matinee, followed by a lively reception in our upstairs cafe. 

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Playwright and director Stephen Sachs shared his thoughts and gratitude — and some history — on the play’s final performance at the Fountain.

Today at 2pm is the final performance of the current remount of Bakersfield Mist at the Fountain Theatre starring my original cast, Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett. That means, barring some unforeseen opportunity in the future, today will be last time the three of us will inhabit Maude’s trailer together.

It will probably also be the last time I watch a performance of the play. I’ve seen several productions through the years, all over the world. It’s not likely I’ll see more. It warms my heart deeply that my final viewing will be performed by the two glorious actors who first gave it life, for whom I wrote the play in the first place. We end today as we began. Together.

Bakersfield Mist has been an extraordinary, joyous ride for us. I wrote the play in 2010 with the voices of Jenny and Nick in my head. I called them to my house one night, where they read the first draft at my dining room table. They shepherded the play with me through new drafts and rewrites. We knew we liked the play ourselves, but we had no idea what we had until the first public reading in front of a live audience at Play Fest at Orlando Shakespeare Theatre in Florida. The audience roared with laughter, intensely listened, and applauded wildly at the end. And it’s been that way, everywhere, ever since.

The play opened at the Fountain Theatre in 2011, starring Jenny and Nick, and ran for seven sold-out months, raising the two actors to a full Equity contract. The play enjoyed a 3-month run on London’s West End and is now being performed in regional theatres across the country, has been translated into foreign languages and is being produced around the world.

I’m proud that Bakersfield Mist at the Fountain Theatre became a model example of the 99-Seat Plan working exactly as it should, as it was designed. This little play, created, developed and produced at an intimate theatre in Los Angeles under the 99-Seat Plan, has now generated dozens of Equity contracts across the country and created hundreds of jobs for theatre professionals around the world.

Most of all, the play is my gift, my valentine, to Nick and Jenny. These two remarkable people. Husband and wife, partners in art. Supremely skilled, true professionals, and a hell of a lot of fun. We gave birth to this play together. They gave their time, their talent, their expertise and enthusiasm, their decades of professional craft and wisdom to this play, all with a spirit of passion, great humor and deep caring. I love and respect them both dearly, and will be forever grateful.

 

Young playwrights and party-goers enjoy ‘Rap Dev’ final round at Fountain Theatre

5They came. They listened. They watched. They partied.

A packed house of young playwrights, colleagues and friends filled the Fountain last night for the final round of our Rapid Development Series (‘Rap Dev’) play reading series. Part new play development program, part social event, Rap Dev offers playwrights thirty years old and younger the opportunity to have scenes from their plays read by actors on stage at the Fountain. Audiences then vote for their favorite play each night, through a series of rounds, culminating in the winning play being awarded a fully staged reading of the entire script.  

In last night’s final round, the winning selection was from the play Before and After by Nicholas Pilapil. The scene was directed by Miranda Stewart, and featured Audry Cain, Rosie Narasaki, Nasi Nassiri, Kelsey Peterjohn, Jose Picado, and Julian Yuen.  

After the play readings, the crowd gathered upstairs in our cafe for the announcement of the winner and to enjoy the beer and snacks. The cafe was energized by the raucous laughter and chatter of young people mixing and networking. The social aspect of Rap Dev is an important element to the program’s success. 

Rap Dev is curated and hosted by its creators, Fountain Associate Producer James Bennett and Jessica Broutt. Check our Fountain website for future dates. Join us for the next round and party!  New play development has never been so fun.

Sneak Peek: First rehearsal for ‘Building the Wall’ at Fountain Theatre

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Judith Moreland and James Macdonald

First rehearsals are often delicate events. Actors meet for the first time. Designers share their conceptual approaches for the production. The director articulates his or her vision for the journey ahead. Like on a first date, artists eye each other nervously, hoping this night’s first encounter will lead to a meaningful relationship so magic can be created together.

The tone of Monday night’s first rehearsal for the powerful new play Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan was one of purpose, more than jittery vulnerability. Everyone in the room felt exhilarated by the social and political conviction of the project and aware of the publicity the new play has already generated nationwide. Schenkkan is a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, and screenwriter of the Academy Award nominated Hacksaw Ridge

In Building the Wall, the Trump administration has carried out his campaign promise to round up and detain millions of immigrants. As a writer interviews the former supervisor of a private prison, it becomes clear how federal policy has escalated into something previously unimaginable.   

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Even before opening, the Fountain premiere of the new play has already been featured in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Our production is part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, with other openings set to take place at the Curious Theater in Denver, Forum Theater in Silver Spring, Md., Borderlands Theater in Tucson and City Theatre in Miami. 

The world premiere at the Fountain Theatre is directed by Michael Michetti, and features Judith Moreland and James Macdonald.  At Monday night’s first rehearsal, Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs welcomed the team and gave a short history of how the play came to the Fountain. Producer Simon Levy reviewed production protocol. Michetti spoke about the play.  Then, the actors opened their scripts and read the play together for the first time. The two actors were riveting, and the play will take audiences on a roller-coaster ride to its shattering ending. 

Now the work begins. Rehearsals are underway. Our world premiere of Building the Wall opens March 18 and runs to May 21.

Advance tickets for Building the Wall are selling quickly. We urge you to make your reservations early for this urgent and important new play by a major voice in the American Theatre.

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Fountain Theatre’s ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ chosen for CTG’s Block Party at Kirk Douglas Theatre

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‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed and award-winning world stage premiere of Citizen: An American Lyric  by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs, has been chosen by Center Theatre Group for the inaugural Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theatre at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Directed by Shirley Jo Finney,  Citizen will begin previews on April 28, open April 30 and close May 7.

“We’re thrilled to be partnering with CTG on its first-ever Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre,” said Sachs. “It’s particularly meaningful to us that ‘Citizen’ was chosen because racism and white dominance in America is as timely now, since the election, as it ever was. The project also reflects the diversity of our work at the Fountain Theatre.”

The Fountain Theatre’s world stage premiere of Citizen earned rave reviews and an extended run in 2015. The Los Angeles Times heralded it as “Powerful” and highlighted it Critic’s Choice. Stage Raw declared it “a transcendent theatrical experience,” later honoring Stephen Sachs with the Stage Raw Theatre Award for Best Adaptation.

The original cast featured Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tina Lifford, Tony Maggio, Simone Missick, Lisa Pescia. The extended run included Monnae Michaell, Karen Malina White, and Nikki Crawford.

A meditation on race that fuses poetry, prose, movement, music and the video image,  Citizen: An American Lyric is a provocative stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s internationally acclaimed book of poetry about everyday acts of racism in America. Of Rankine’s Citizen, The New Yorker wrote that it was “brilliant… explores the kinds of injustice that thrive when the illusion of justice is perfected.” The New York Times wrote that “Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry’s forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves.”

Center Theatre Group received seventy-six submissions for its new Block Party program and selected three local intimate theatre productions. It will also remount Coeurage Theatre Company’s production of Failure: A Love Story by Philip Dawkins, and Echo Theater Company’s production of Dry Land by Ruby Rae Spiegel.  Each production will have a two-week run presented April 14 through May 21, 2017.

The selected shows will receive the full support of Center Theatre Group and its staff in order to fund, stage and market each production. Full casting will be announced at a later date. Tickets will go on sale to the general public in February.

First workshop rehearsal in unique space to develop new theatre/dance piece ‘Freddie’

7Deborah Lawlor’s new theatre/dance hybrid Freddie is not a conventional play. Therefore, the development of the new work required locating a unique space. The Fountain team found it at BP Studios downtown in The Brewery Arts Colony.

Covering 23 acres in 14 buildings, The Los Angeles Brewery Art Colony has been called the largest live-and-work artists’ colony in the world. The compound includes twenty-one former warehouses, an old Edison power plant chimney dating to 1903, plus studios, lofts, restaurants and galleries. 500-700 artists and businesses call The Brewery their home.

It will now be the home for our experimental project Freddie for the next three weeks. Written by Deborah Lawlor and directed by Frances Loy, Freddie tells the true story of the passionate, charismatic and troubled ballet dancer Frederick Herko who leaped to his death from a NY city apartment window in 1964. Lawlor was a close friend of Herko and has created this new work to dramatize their friendship. 

The new project will be in residence at BP Studios for a 3-week developmental lab workshop to explore the interweaving of text and dance/movement for the piece. Open presentations, free to the public, will take place Oct 27-29. The developmental lab is being supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.   

The cast includes Tanya Alexander, Addie Doyle, Efé, Michael Matthys, Christopher Nolen, Chris Smith, Douglas Scott Sorenson and Octavio Taddei. The choreographer is Laurel Jenkins.

We look forward to this innovative new project blossoming to life. 

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Gordon Davidson: An inspiration

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By Stephen Sachs

If Los Angeles had a Mount Rushmore, the visage of Gordon Davidson would be on it. Such a monument to the City of the Angels would include many faces, from a variety of disciplines. Politics, the arts, architecture,  sports, business. With names like Mulholland, Chandler, Griffith, Bradley, Getty, O’Malley, Wright, Disney. And the name Gordon Davidson.

Starting in 1967 with the launching of the Music Center and the Mark Taper Forum, Gordon Davidson’s 38-year leadership of Center Theatre Group made him not only the Founding Father of Los Angeles theatre but one of the most influential artistic leaders in the city’s history. He planted the theatre flag in the sand for Los Angeles and put our city on the theatrical map.

With Gordon’s passing, and the loss of Arena Stage’s Zelda Fichandler this summer, the generation of bold visionaries who created, established and fought for the ideal of non-profit theater in this country, upon which all of us follow, are exiting.

For me, as a theatre artist growing up in Los Angeles, with a dream of some day creating my own theatre company, Gordon’s light was inspiring and his shadow monumental. But working with him and getting to know him revealed the kind, generous and supportive man he was. If you were a passionate theatre person, he was always on your side.

Gordon first influenced the course of my artistic life when he cast me in the world premiere of Tales from Hollywood, a new play by Christopher Hampton at the Mark Taper Forum in 1982 starring Paul Sorvino. I was twenty-three. It was my first acting job in the professional theater. I got my Equity card thanks to Gordon Davidson.

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The house on Mabery Road

Gordon commissioned Christopher to write the play inspired by the history of Gordon and Judi Davidson’s home on Mabery Road in Santa Monica Canyon . The 1929 house once belonged to Austrian actress and screenwriter Salka Viertel. It became a meeting place in the 1940’s for German exiles during the war, including Bertolt Brecht, Arnold Schoenberg, Thomas and Heinrich Mann. Greta Garbo and Albert Einstein would visit. Famous actors, writers, and filmmakers of the era would gather each week for a Sunday salon in the house to eat, drink and argue politics and art. During the run of Tales From Hollywood, Gordon and Judi hosted a company party at their home where we all enjoyed an afternoon gathering and experienced the stimulating atmosphere of the notable house firsthand. The home not only held the history of the celebrated émigrés  who met there years ago. It also displayed proof of the remarkable career of the man who lived there now. Among the family photos on the walls hung posters, playbills, and backstage photographs from Gordon’s extraordinary life in the theatre. I remember the framed drawing of Gordon by Al Hirschfeld in particular.

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Drawing by Hirschfeld

As a young actor who grew up in Los Angeles, standing on the stage of the Mark Taper Forum in my first professional production was exhilarating. Like stepping into a dream. The Mark Taper Forum was my Mecca. The epicenter of LA Theater. For me and most actors in Los Angeles, to be working at the Taper was like passing through the portal of professional and artistic arrival. It was where you wanted to be, you needed to be. And that was all because of Gordon.

I loved being there. Not just on stage. All of it. The rehearsal rooms, the offices, the circular backstage hallway that curved around the playing area. The walls decorated with posters from Taper productions, each signed by the actors, many now famous and admired. My young hand trembled when I added my simple signature to our wall poster for Tales from Hollywood.

In the Taper hallways I would stare at the framed photographs from the 1979 world premiere of Children of Lesser God, created and performed on the Taper stage just three years before my arrival there. In the photos there was Gordon, directing John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich in that ground-breaking production which showed the world the power and beauty of American Sign Language on stage. Though my own commitment and contribution to deaf theatre in Los Angeles would be years away, a seed had been planted.

That same 1981-82 season at the Taper, just seven months before I appeared there, the newest play by Athol Fugard, A Lesson from Aloes, had been staged. I did not meet Athol that year, but our paths would cross nearly two decades later and an artistic partnership would be formed that would change my life. By way of Gordon Davidson and the Mark Taper Forum.

I savored my time at the Taper. I would sit in the empty arena, watching Gordon direct his company in the home he had fathered, and dream of someday creating a theatre home of my own.

When I finally opened the Fountain Theatre with my colleague Deborah Lawlor in 1990, Gordon and the Taper were entering a renewed phase of artistic achievement with the premieres of Jelly’s Last Jam, The Kentucky Cycle, Angels in America, and Twilight: Los Angeles. The Taper was riding a crest of award-winning national acclaim under Gordon’s unending passion, guidance and leadership.

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Gordon Davidson, Athol Fugard, Stephen Sachs, at Fountain Theatre, 2004

Meanwhile, on Fountain Avenue, our modest theatre company was blossoming. In 2000, Athol Fugard surprised all of us by arriving one night to see our work. He offered me his new play, Exits and Entrances, in 2004 and a 12-year artistic partnership began that continues to this day. Gordon attended our world premiere production of Exits and Entrances and was beaming like a pleased uncle. So caring and supportive.

The last time I spoke with Gordon was a brief hello at the memorial service for Phyllis Frelich held at the Taper two years ago. By this time, I knew Phyllis well and had worked with her many times. She was a founding member of Deaf West Theatre, which we launched at the Fountain in 1991. Her memorial at the Taper was a gathering of the many deaf and hearing artists and friends in the community who knew and loved Phyllis. And a bittersweet reunion of the core team that had created Children of a Lesser God on that very stage: John Rubinstein, Mark Medoff, Robert Steinberg, and, of course, Gordon Davidson. Although eighty-one and moving more delicately, Gordon spoke passionately from the stage he once led about the power of theatre as a vehicle for human connection and a trigger for social change. Theatre still fervently mattered to him. Like a wise elder preaching from the pulpit, Gordon still believed.

And now he is gone. But not really. Because the hundreds of new plays he helped create, develop and produce over nearly four decades will endure forever. And the hundreds of thousands of lives he has impacted will be forever changed. Including one Artistic Director on Fountain Avenue.

The intimate Fountain Theatre is a fraction of the Taper’s size and budget. But that doesn’t matter. The words of Gordon Davidson continue to inspire and remind me that “the great thing about the theatre is that it’s dealing with the art of the possible. What’s possible is not limited by money, but by imagination, and vision.”

Gordon had the vision to see what was possible. The city, and ourselves, are forever richer for it.

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