Category Archives: Education

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.

James B and Jessica B

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. 

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Are you surprised that the young leaders of the Never Again movement are theatre kids? I’m not.

Parklandby Stephen Sachs

They are young. They are bold and self-confident. They are articulate. They are passionate. They are leading a national movement.  And they are theatre kids.

A fiercely dedicated band of teen survivors of the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, this week are earning international attention through social media for speaking out on gun control in a movement they call Never Again. This grass-roots uprising launched by young people is highly organized and gathering national momentum.  The fiery speech by student Emma Gonzalez at a Florida rally is a viral sensation. Students grilled NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch and Senator Marco Rubio at a CNN town hall.   It drew three million viewers. The nationwide protest the group is leading on March 24 in Washington, D.C., is now expected to draw more than five hundred thousand participants to the nation’s capital. Sister marches are being planned in cities around the country.  The Never Again Twitter page already has eighty-one thousand followers.

All of this from a small troupe of teenage drama kids at a Florida high school who’s only worry last week rose from the stress of trying to memorize their lines.  This week, they all have much larger roles to play.

Several of the Never Again leaders are members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club. “All these kids are drama kids, and I’m a dramatic kid, so it really meshes well,” says leader Emma González.

Being “dramatic” doesn’t make any of these young people insincere. They are furiously committed. Even so, a dark fringe of “Fake News” conspiracy wackos on the internet are already accusing some of the kids of not being real students at all, but professional “crisis actors” paid to cause trouble. Asked about this charge, student Cameron Kasky told CNN that anyone who had seen him in the school’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” knows that “nobody would pay me to act for anything.”

Are you surprised that these teenage drama nerds are now taking the international stage by storm? I’m not.

A theatre class is more than an artistic distraction for students. It can serve as a lightning rod of empowerment for young people. For many teens, the experience of standing in a spotlight on a stage in a play or musical,  galvanizing the attention of adults in the  audience, is the first time a young person discovers that what they say matters.  They learn that words have power, that their voice can move and inspire others.

Rehearsing a play teaches young people team work, collaboration, tolerance, the importance of listening to and following direction. They learn about problem solving, discipline, goal-setting and time management. And they discover that getting something significant accomplished can also be fun.

Drama club

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club.

The engine for all dramatic plays is conflict. Rehearsing a play thrusts students into roles attacking and defending both sides of an issue.  Therefore, the play teaches that no matter how dire the circumstances may seem, it remains valuable to understand and overcome opposing points of view to reach a satisfying ending.

Something magical happens to students when rehearsing a play or musical. They become a company. Adolescence can be painfully isolating. But in those brief hours of after-school drama practice, young people are forced to put down their cell phones and look each other in the eye.  They find human connection.  Friendships are formed, crushes blossom,  and leaders step forward. Perhaps most important,  kids learn that a group, working together, can deliver something meaningful and life-changing that is greater than themselves, for the benefit of the community.

When the CNN Town Hall on gun control came to a close, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club sang to the crowd. The song was written by survivors Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña to honor the 17 victims of the mass shooting. Their main message? “You’re not going to knock us down” and the standout line, “You may have brought the dark, but together we will shine the light.” At this moment,  those in the audiences turned the lights on their phones and stretched them above the crowd to shine their own light.

As one student asserted during a spoken word section of the performance, the students vow to “Be the voice for those who don’t have one.” A voice is a powerful thing, and theatre can be a formidable stage from which to find one’s own song.

As the Never Again mission statement declares, “Change is coming. And it starts now, inspired by and led by the kids who are our hope for the future. Their young voices will be heard. ”

If art is a reflection of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going, then whatever the students are learning in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club is a lesson for us all.

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

Ralph M. Parsons Foundation awards grant to Fountain Theatre for outreach programs

A Place Called Home

Outreach Coordinator Dionna Daniel with women from A Place Called Home.

The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation has awarded the Fountain Theatre a grant for $14,000.00 to support the theatre’s educational outreach programs.  The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation improves the well-being of the residents of Los Angeles County through grantmaking that enriches cultural experiences and active civic engagement.

The grant award is for general support of the Fountain Theatre organization, including the producing of new plays and educational outreach programs. The Fountain will be allocating funds to support Theatre as a Learning Tool and hiring a new Outreach Coordinator.

Central to the Fountain’s mission is providing youth throughout our diverse region with an equal access experience in the arts; one that encourages understanding and mutual respect. Theatre as a Learning Tool brings underserved students from across Southern California — many of whom have never been to an intimate theatre — to The Fountain Theatre to experience live theater at one of Los Angeles’ premiere venues. Known for producing work that is both artistically excellent and dedicated to strengthening attitudes of tolerance and social justice, The Fountain provides young people with a uniquely intimate educational experience. By watching a play, studying the script and accompanying study guide, and engaging in a post-show discussion with the artists, students can share their thoughts and feelings with one another, their teachers and professional theatre artists in meaningful dialogue about issues that matter.

“Serving the artistic needs of young people is at the heart of who we are and what we do,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We thank the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation for its partnership. This grant will help support the hiring of our new Outreach Coordinator, Dionna Daniel, and will broaden our reach through Theatre as a Learning Tool.  A great way to start the new year.”

Fountain Theatre awarded grant from the Ahmanson Foundation

FT sunny day Feb 2017The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that it has been awarded an Arts and Humanities grant from the Ahmanson Foundation in the amount of $24,500.  The Ahmanson Foundation is committed to the support of non-profit organizations and institutions which continually demonstrate sound fiscal management, responsibility to efficient operation, and program integrity.

“We are deeply grateful to the Ahmanson Foundation for its funding support,” said Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “This grant will allow us to upgrade and enhance our ability to serve the Los Angeles community.”  

The Ahmanson Foundation serves Los Angeles County by funding cultural projects in the arts and humanities, education at all levels, health care, programs related to homelessness and underserved populations, as well as a wide range of human services. The vast majority of the Foundation’s philanthropy is directed toward organizations and institutions based in and serving the greater Los Angeles area.

“This is our first grant award from the Ahmanson Foundation,” says Sachs. “We look forward to an ongoing partnership together for many years to come.” 

10 reasons to support the arts in 2018

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Katie McConaughy and Susan Wilder in ‘Freddy’, 2017. 

by Randy Cohen

The arts are fundamental to our humanity. They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty. The arts bring us joy, help us express our values, and build bridges between cultures. The arts also are a fundamental component of healthy communities, strengthening them socially, educationally, and economically—benefits that persist even in difficult social and economic times.

  1. Arts improve individual well-being. 63 percent of the population believe the arts “lift me up beyond everyday experiences,” 64 percent feel the arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in,” and 73 percent say the arts are a “positive experience in a troubled world.”
  2. Arts unify communities. 67 percent of Americans believe “the arts unify our communities regardless of age, race, and ethnicity” and 62 percent agree that the arts “help me understand other cultures better”—a perspective observed across all demographic and economic categories.
  3. Arts improve academic performance. Students engaged in arts learning have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, and lower drop-out rates. The Department of Education reports that access to arts education for students of color is significantly lower than for their white peers, and has declined for three decades. Yet, research shows that low socio-economic-status students have even greater increases in academic performance, college-going rates, college grades, and holding jobs with a future. 88 percent of Americans believe that arts are part of a well-rounded K-12 education.
  4. Arts strengthen the economy. The arts and culture sector is a $730 billion industry, which represents 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP—a larger share of the economy than transportation, tourism, and agriculture (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis). The nonprofit arts industry alone generates $135 billion in economic activity annually (spending by organizations and their audiences), which supports 4.1 million jobs and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue.
  5. Arts are good for local businesses. Attendees at nonprofit arts events spend $24.60 per person, per event, beyond the cost of admission on items such as meals, parking, and babysitters—valuable revenue for local commerce and the community. Attendees who live outside the county in which the arts event takes place spend twice as much as their local counterparts ($39.96 vs. $17.42).
  6. Arts drive tourism. Arts travelers are ideal tourists, staying longer and spending more to seek out authentic cultural experiences. Arts destinations grow the economy by attracting foreign visitor spending. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that, between 2003-2015, the percentage of international travelers including “art gallery and museum visits” on their trip grew from 17 to 29 percent, and the share attending “concerts, plays, and musicals” increased from 13 to 16 percent.
  7. Arts are an export industry. The arts and culture industries had a $30 billion international trade surplus in 2014, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. U.S. exports of arts goods (e.g., movies, paintings, jewelry) exceeded $60 billion.
  8. Arts spark creativity and innovation. Creativity is among the top 5 applied skills sought by business leaders—with 72 percent saying creativity is of high importance when hiring. The Conference Board’s Ready to Innovate report concludes, “The arts—music, creative writing, drawing, dance—provide skills sought by employers of the 3rd millennium.” Research on creativity shows that Nobel laureates in the sciences are 17 times more likely to be actively engaged in the arts than other scientists.
  9. Arts improve healthcare. Nearly one-half of the nation’s healthcare institutions provide arts programming for patients, families, and even staff. 78 percent deliver these programs because of their healing benefits to patients—shorter hospital stays, better pain management, and less medication.
  10. Arts and healing in the military. The arts are part of the military continuum—promoting readiness during pre-deployment as well as aiding in the successful reintegration and adjustment of Veterans and military families into community life. Service members and Veterans rank art therapies in the top 4 (out of 40) interventions and treatments.

Happy New Year!

Randy Cohen is Vice President of Research and Policy at Americans for the Arts, the nation’s advocacy organization for the arts.

Fountain workshop teaches young people how theatre can be a gateway to empathy

GirlPower and Fountain Theater (Dionna)

Dionna Daniel and the GirlPower group at A Place Called Home.

by Dionna Daniel

I had the pleasure of joining the GirlPower group at A Place Called Home on November 1st, 2017. The Fountain Theatre is always excited to have the students of APCH come see the productions at our theatre. For the first time ever, I was able to lead a short post-show workshop with the youth through our educational outreach program, Theatre as a Learning Tool.  

When I visited the students at their space, we began the afternoon together with a round of theater games.  The laughter echoed in the room as we all introduced ourselves with funny gestures and sounds. Then we began to discuss the Fountain’s production of Runaway Home and how they connected with the show. Many of the students said that they connected with the rocky relationship between the character Kali and her mother. We then began to talk about the historical context of Hurricane Katrina. It was eye opening for me to realize that these students were just babies when one of the most disastrous storms to ever make landfall hit the southern United States. They really didn’t have much context to this show at all.

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The group dives into a writing exercise.

As I showed the students video coverage of the devastation that Katrina caused, our discussion shifted to the themes of displacement in Runaway Home and how it relates to people in Los Angeles. Many Angelenos are being displaced due to the growing housing crisis in LA and the rise of gentrification in LA’s east side. We discussed the erasure of black and brown neighborhoods and communities that is currently taking place in LA. A lot of the gentrification looking very similar to what happen to New Orleans’ black communities. We ended our session together with a quick free-write and said one word that resonated with us in that moment. While some students said such words as “inspired” and “hopeful”, I reflected on how this experience was equally inspiring for me.

As I say often, I believe art must do something. During my time at APCH, I witnessed that theater can be utilized as a gateway to empathy, to not only discuss the historical context of the traumas of people in New Orleans but to also reflect on ourselves and our own communities. Art is vital to understanding the human condition. Theatre matters.

Dionna Daniel is a playwright, performer, and Outreach Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.

Students feel an intimate connection with ‘Runaway Home’ at the Fountain Theatre

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo many college students, class assignments can seem boring and meaningless. But for teacher Alan Goodson and his students at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the ongoing visits to the Fountain have become one assignment they eagerly look forward to undertaking. For years, Goodson regularly pulls his students out of the classroom and into the Fountain to benefit from the educational and life-enhancing experience of live theatre.  

The student visits are made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program that makes live theatre accessible to young people throughout Southern California. 

The FIDM students arrived at the Fountain on November 4th to see our acclaimed world premiere of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps.  The play is set in New Orleans, three years after Hurricane Katrina. 14 year-old runaway Kali embarks on a journey to pick through the wreckage of what used to be her life. Rhyming, stealing, and scamming her way through the still-destroyed neighborhood, she grapples with the real cost of what she lost and is forced to confront the higher risk of moving forward. A funny, moving, and powerful new play about community and the power of family.

Returning back to their classroom, the students wrote essays expressing their thoughts and feelings on seeing the production. Take a look at these excerpts:  

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“The small black box-style theater that The Fountain offers made for an utterly intimate show, leaving tears swelling in every audience member’s eyes as they watched these characters and their troubles unfold. . . . As someone who had no experience with the post-Katrina trauma, this show was a huge learning experience for me. In a way, it caused awareness for tragedies like Katrina, and how the devastation is anything but short-term. In my mind, three years sounds like a very long time, but seeing how devastated these families and communities still were three years later really put it into perspective. Also, the intimate environment of the venue made me feel even closer with these characters, and I truly felt a connection with each and every one of them throughout the show. Kamps’ writing exposed the ugly truths of a natural disaster, but mainly expressed the importance of acceptance, family, and growing up.”

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“This play was directed in a way that really involved the audience emotionally. When watching the play, there were times when I literally felt as if I was in the scene. Aside from that I was sitting in the first row, I felt as if I was immersed in each scene, embracing every dramatic and/or even comedic moment. The actors in the play all performed extremely well. They really embraced the importance of how the aftermath of the hurricane effected so many people.”

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“My personal opinion of the play is that it was a very emotional, but strong story. The actors played the parts effortlessly, especially the actress that played Kali. . . . Overall, the play was very inspiring. It was told in a different way, with these monologues that were extremely poetic. The experience was very cool being so close to the actors. It felt like I was in the story. The was definitely worth watching.”

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“These close quarters allow for audience members to analyze every detail of the actors on stage, whether that be gestures, dialogue, or facial expressions, we can see it all. With that said, the small proximity of the theatre made the execution of Runaway Home that much more impressive and admirable. For audience members like myself, I could tell that each cast member was fully engaged in the story and connected to the characters they played.”

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“Intimacy and raw emotion are concepts that are commonly taken for granted, but when they are used to enhance a piece of art, they suddenly become indispensable. With a smaller-sized venue located at the Fountain Theater in Hollywood, and a close-knit cast of animated actors, they were able to incorporate intimacy as well as capture raw emotion in one jam-packed performance. . . . This play provided not only insight into an event, but shed light on the darker aspects of our government’s behavior. Both the venue and the personnel chose to play each character worked perfectly in articulating the message that Kamps was trying to convey. The audience can expect to get giggly as well as a bit teary eyed during this performance. The range of emotion and intimacy that is put on display makes for an extraordinary production.”