Category Archives: film

Do you really think a life in the theatre means making a living? Think again.

Tony Kushner

Tony Kushner

by Stephen Sachs

Eight words. A statement declared in eight simple words jumped out at me in a feature story on playwright Tony Kushner in today’s New York Times. The eight words were stated by playwright and Kushner friend Larry Kramer, author of The Normal Heart, which we produced at the Fountain Theatre in 2015.  Commenting on Kushner’s shift from playwriting to screenwriting, Kramer says, “I wish he’d go back to writing plays.”

So, why doesn’t he?

Kushner answered that question himself in 2011 when he shocked many in the arts community by revealing in an interview in Time Out New York that not even the author of Angeles in America can make a living as a playwright.

“I make my living now as a screenwriter. Which I’m surprised and horrified to find myself saying, but I don’t think I can support myself as a playwright at this point. I don’t think anybody does.”

Kushner is right. American playwrights — not even one of his stature — do not earn the bulk of their living writing plays. Many teach. An ever-growing number write for film or cable television.  The tsunami of playwrights today surging into television is so large that it now has become a writer’s career model:  A playwright earns notoriety and success writing plays — or even one successful play, he/she “takes meetings” with Industry producers then quickly jumps to movies and/or television to make real money. The well-meaning intent being that a big-bucks TV salary will financially support the writer, allowing him/her to keep writing plays. What often happens? They write fewer plays.  Some never return to the stage.

“I don’t particularly want to do it,” Kushner said in 2011. “I think that it’s a mistake to do it. So, yes, I’m very worried about it. ” The last play by Kushner premiered in 2009.

The classic tale of playwrights writing for Hollywood is as old as celluloid itself. An avalanche is now underway. Playwrights are flocking to cable TV and streaming networks in record numbers. TV showrunners are aggressively recruiting writers from regional theaters like crazed baseball team owners scouting for hot rookie talent.  One major talent agency in Hollywood has opened a department specifically targeting playwrights for film and televsion. The roster of playwrights now writing for film and TV today is too long to list.  Is that such a bad thing?

Many playwrights I know, and have produced at the Fountain Theatre, also write for film and television. My pal Robert Schenkkan (Building the Wall) is writing a new project for Amazon. Tanya Saracho (El Nogalar) is now creator and showrunner of the Starz drama “Vida” and just signed a three-year deal with the network. Tarell Alvin McCraney (In the Red and Brown Water/Brothers Size) has signed to create, write, and executive produce a new hour-long television drama for the Oprah Winfrey Network. I’m confidant that all three will continue writing plays.

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Stephen Sachs, Shirley Jo Finney, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Fountain Theatre (2014)

I had my own Hollywood crossover by writing the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in my Ear for CBS, based on my play that premiered at the Fountain.  The sale of that one TV script paid me more than I would make running an 80-seat theatre for years.  I am currently writing a screenplay based on my comedy/drama Bakersfield Mist. Does this make me a traitor to my art form? I don’t think so. It makes me a man with a family and a mortgage.

Let’s be honest. There’s a reason why it’s called non-profit theatre. One enters the non-profit arts sector like one enters the priesthood — to serve a higher power. Even so, it would be nice to make a good living doing what you feel is important. To be frank, non-profit theatre-making is an inherently shitty business model. The economics of the art form stack the odds against those who actually make the art happen. So, why do we do it? Here, we cue the piano and launch into “What I Did for Love

Of course, it’s not only playwrights who give their hearts to the theatre at the expense of their wallets. Actors, directors and designers often work for love, and little money. The average member of Actors Equity Association, the professional stage union for actors and stage managers, made an annual salary in 2016 of only $7,700 per year. Like corporate America, it’s the folks at the top in this country’s major regional theaters who are earning large salaries. A few of the larger LORT companies have added playwrights to their theatre’s staff, but they are rare. The model of a permanent repertory company, where artists are paid a yearly salary, is a dying concept, a fossilized relic from an earlier age.

Today, the odds of making a living as a playwright are as remote and precarious as making a living as a poet. Our finest example of excelling at both is, of course, the greatest playwright/poet of them all. Shakespeare wrote multiple plays a year, dozens of sonnets, was a partner in the company, and a co-owner of the theatre building. He was also a ruthless businessman and wealthy grain merchant and property owner.  Unlike the character he created in King Lear, Shakespeare was no fool.

I have dedicated my career to the intimate Fountain Theatre and the non-profit arts community in Los Angeles. I knew twenty-eight years ago when I co-founded this theatre that I would never make a lot of money. I’m okay with that. Most days. I’d be lying if I claimed I haven’t envied men and women my age or younger in the entertainment industry making a huge amount of money more than me.

This is the life I have chosen. Two things keep me going. The impact our work has on others, and the example I am setting for my two sons. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with making money. I just want my two boys to know that their father dedicated his life working at something that he loved and knew was important, that he was committed to making the world a better place in the one way he knew how, by exploring and illuminating the human condition, not striving to make himself wealthy. Can one do both? Of course. I just haven’t yet figured out how to do that.

An artist’s life offers riches not found in a bank ledger. In that, I am the wealthiest man in the world.

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

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

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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.  

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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: Fountain Theatre’s all-star reading of ‘All the President’s Men’ soars at LA City Hall

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The company of ‘All the President’s Men’

Saturday night’s exhilarating reading of All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall was an historic event. Not only was it a powerful statement advocating Freedom of the Press and honoring American journalism, it demonstrated a watershed moment in our city’s engagement with local arts organizations. Never has the City of Los Angeles handed over its Council Chamber to a theatre company and partnered with it in this way. We applaud Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and his staff for making it possible.

The Fountain Theatre believes that events like All the President’s Men, where art and politics intersect to enhance our civic discourse, are essential to an informed society.  We believe a small theatre can do big things.  As Charles McNulty stated in his feature story on our event in the Los Angeles Times, “it is heartening to see an intimate theater like the Fountain advocating for what is in our collective interest as a nation.”

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Jeff Perry and Joe Morton, co-stars on ABC-TV’s hit series Scandal, took on the roles of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and anonymous source “Deep Throat,” joining alumni of The West Wing Bradley Whitford as Bob Woodward and Joshua Malina as Carl Bernstein; Richard Schiff as Post local news editor Harry Rosenfeld; and Ed Begley, Jr. as managing editor Howard Simons. The cast also featured Sam AndersonLeith BurkeSeamus DeverJames Dumont, Arianna OrtizSpencer GarrettDeidrie HenryMorlan HigginsAnna KhajaKaren KondazianRob NagleVirginia NewcombLarry Poindexter and Andrew Robinson. The reading was directed by Stephen Sachs, with sound design by Peter Bayne. 

The reading supported, in part, the Society of Professional Journalists, the nation’s oldest organization representing American journalists, founded to protect journalism and dedicated to the continuation of a free press. We were honored to be joined by the Los Angeles Press Club, which supports, promotes, and defends quality journalism in Southern California with the belief that a free press is crucial to a free society. And The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, defending the fundamental rights of each citizen as outlined in the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

“We have a commander-in-chief who does not respect or even understand the freedoms embedded in our Constitution or its First Amendment,” said Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who hosted the reading in the John Ferraro Council Camber. “The Trump administration’s war on the First Amendment includes repeated degradations of the role of media in our society and repeated invocations of ‘fake news’ when the absolute truth does not suit him, blacklisting press on occasion, including, and not ironically, The Washington Post, [and] open discrimination and intolerance under the guise of religious freedom.”

“In Los Angeles, we hold these values dear,” O’Farrell continued. “Donald Trump and his administration do not represent our values. The state of California and the city of Los Angeles, we are leading the resistance. All of us gathered here tonight, we are part and parcel of that resistance.”

“I am so proud of our city,” stated Stephen Sachs in his remarks before the reading. “What other major city in the country would hand over City Hall to its artists? Would have its Councilmembers allowing artists to literally sit in their seats for one night to express an urgent fundamental truth about our country through their art?”

“To every news man and news woman in this room,” Sachs continued. “To every reporter, every elected official, every artist, every citizen – we offer this reminder of hope. The truth will set us free.”

Jeff Perry and Joe Morton of ‘Scandal’ join cast of ‘All the President’s Men’ at City Hall

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Full cast announced for celebrity reading

Final casting has been announced for the all-star reading of William Goldman’s screenplay for All The President’s Men scheduled to take place this SaturdayJan. 27 in the John Ferraro Council Chamber of Los Angeles City Hall.

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.

Jeff Perry and Joe Morton, co-stars on ABC-TV’s hit series Scandal, will take on the roles of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and anonymous source “Deep Throat,” joining previously announced alumni of The West Wing Bradley Whitford as Woodward and Joshua Malina as Bernstein; Richard Schiff as Post local news editor Harry Rosenfeld; and Ed Begley, Jr. as managing editor Howard Simons. The cast will also feature Sam AndersonLeith BurkeSeamus DeverJames Dumont, Arianna OrtizSpencer GarrettDeidrie HenryMorlan HigginsAnna KhajaKaren KondazianRob NagleVirginia NewcombLarry Poindexter and Andrew Robinson.

The reading is being presented by the award-winning Fountain Theatre and co-sponsored by the City of L.A., the Los Angeles Press ClubDavis Wright Tremaine LLP and the American Civil Liberties Union as a statement asserting the First Amendment, advocating freedom of the press and honoring the tenacity of American journalism in 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.

To date, over 5,000 reservation inquiries have been received. With only 240 seats available in the council chamber at City Hall, the producers have instituted a lottery system. No further requests are being accepted.

“We knew this would be a must-see event but this goes beyond our wildest expectations,” says Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. “It shows how passionate the public feels about these urgent issues of Freedom of the Press and the sanctity of the First Amendment.”

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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.

 

 

What’s it like to walk the red carpet?

oscars-red-carpetHe has strolled down many red carpets in his celebrated career. At the Writers Guild Awards, the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the Venice Film Festival, and the Oscars. He wrote the screenplay for Hacksaw Ridge, nominated Best Picture for this year’s Academy Awards.

The world will be watching the Oscar ceremony this Sunday, and gawk at the parade of celebrities as they strut the red carpet beforehand. What’s it like to march down that crimson pathway with all eyes and cameras tracking your every step? For playwright Robert Schenkkan, author of our upcoming world premiere Building the Wall, the carpet is not always magic. Particularly if you’re a writer.

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Robert Schenkkan at the Venice Film Festival

“The clusterfuck of a red carpet is always where the writer is reminded of his or her place in the food chain, ” admits Schenkkan. “You are absolutely the most important person in the universe, until anybody else steps on the red carpet — then you’re just chopped liver. You can see the heads snap and the cameras snap, and whoever you’re talking to, their eyes are immediately doing the Hollywood over-your-shoulder shuffle. This is something one is used to, but it’s a humbling experience, always.”

Another other-worldly aspect of Award nights are the gifting lounges, where vendors shower talent with free offerings that vary from high-end beauty products to fine wines to elegant clothing to free travel packages at exotic resort islands. For Schenkkan, the touring of gift salons is a strange ritual unto itself.

“You have to make an appointment, and then you’re assigned a guide who walks you through this bizarre bazaar of products and services, ” he explains. “These things are really kind of entertaining in their own way. There’s a whole formality to it. But again, there’s the reminder of where you are in the food chain, particularly as a writer.”

Robert remembers one incident in particular. “Many years ago when I did this, there was a resort island package. I’m a scuba diver, so I’m always interested in that. They have to artfully, discreetly explain that while they would love to gift you with this, actually they have to reserve it for somebody more important than you. It’s a little weird.”

The ups and downs of a Hollywood screenwriter. Thankfully, unlike the film industry, playwrights in the American theatre are held in much higher esteem. And few are held higher than Robert Schenkkan. Which is one of the many reasons why we are so honored to be premiering his newest play at the Fountain Theatre.

Now, Robert, on Opening Night of Building the Wall at the Fountain, don’t expect any fancy gift lounges offering you a scuba diving vacation package on an exotic island resort. But we’re happy to offer you a free snorkel.

Unless, of course, someone more important wants it.

Building the Wall opens March 18 at the Fountain Theatre.

Quotes in this post originally appeared in Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America, West.  

 

 

 

 

 

An actress embraces ghosts in this old Southern mansion in a weekend she’ll never forget

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The Burrus ‘Baby Doll’ House today.

In July, actress Lindsay LaVanchy was in the thick of rehearsals at the Fountain Theatre in the lead role of Baby Doll in our west coast premiere when she got a phone call from her agent. Lindsay had booked a guest starring role on the MTV series Scream. It shoots in New Orleans. She would have to leave right away for two weeks.

As the Fountain Theatre scrambled to adjust its rehearsal and production schedule, Lindsay flew to New Orleans. Once there and on the set working, another opportunity suddenly opened for her. She would have a three-day weekend over 4th of July, permitting her time to rent a car and drive the 5.5 hours to Benoit, Mississippi, and stay in the actual Southern mansion where the original 1956 Baby Doll movie was filmed, directed by Elia Kazan and starring Carroll Baker, Eli Wallach and Karl Malden.  

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Eliza Kazan directing Baby Doll (1956) in the Burrus house.

The historic Burrus ‘Baby Doll’ house is now owned by Eustace Winn, who visited the Fountain earlier this month  in August and was thrilled seeing our production.

Grabbing her chance to experience a weekend stay at the Baby Doll house, Lindsay hopped in her rented car on Saturday, July 2nd, and drove from the Scream location in New Orleans to Benoit, Mississippi. There was no question in her mind that she would make the trip.     

“It’s very important to me to know the reality of a character, that soul, as fully as possible,” she says. “So when I had the opportunity, a 3 day window … I had to go.”

Why?

“I knew Baby Doll would not be as realized as she could be if I did not remind myself what it was like to be in that kind of heat, that kind of quiet, smelling those smells, watching the sun come up and go down, every moment swatting away mosquitos, the eeriness of being in a big home alone with neighbors not in earshot, uncomfortably hot nights, a sky full of stars, cotton floating in the air, the kindest people, and how badly one desires a cool drink of water – almost as much as one desires company after spending hours and hours alone in the quiet and the heat.”

It was dusk, the twilight sky getting dark, when Lindsay pulled up to the Baby Doll house in Benoit.  

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Lindsay’s photo of the Baby Doll house.

“Driving up to this great Antebellum home at dusk was mystical. Not just because of the artistic connection, but the history this home has seen was palpable. I felt like an outsider that was being called by a siren. Like every step I took could awake a ghost. That both excited and terrified me. I felt uncertain about what the two days on the property wandering around — and sleeping in the actual Baby Doll room alone in the house — would bring up for me in terms of discoveries about the character. However, I had a feeling that if I kept quiet, alert, and open I would be shown what I needed to know. And I was.” 

She admits feeling thrilled and awestruck standing in the house that was part of film history. “From an actor’s standpoint, an actor who loves Williams and Kazan and that golden age of theatre and the shocking cinema that they created … I was geeking out.”

The place resurrected not only the lives of fictional characters on film.

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Lindsay LaVanchy

“I also felt the ghosts of real people there, too,” said Lindsay. “My grandmother as a little girl was sent away from her family for a few years to a farm of her French-speaking older relatives and I know that had a major affect on her. So being in a place like that (the majority of the time alone) and experiencing that loneliness that causes one to spend so much time in their imagination and creating a world in your head that keeps you company was … real. And this is the reality that Tennessee knew and drew his characters from.”

Staying in the South again, even for a short time, brought home the play’s relevance for Lindsay in other ways.

“I also was in Louisiana when Alton Sterling was shot,” she says. “And then, only a few days later, I was actually in Baton Rouge. I had several shocking experiences that occurred that were so clearly derived from the sadness and frustration of that horrific event – and the centuries of horrific events.  I was saddened and ashamed and embarrassed and angry, physically and emotionally, by the lack of change between years ago and the present time.  And that immediately reminded me that stories which come from this part of our country need to be shared. These regions, the ones where Tennessee sets all of his plays, are a major artery to the heart and soul of this nation. And we only gaze toward these areas and their people when it becomes national news. It’s a forgotten world. And this is fatal to our country for many obvious reasons.”

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Lindsay LaVanchy and John Prosky in Baby Doll at the Fountain Theatre

As an actor, an artist, the work — and its purpose — go deeper.

“It’s not about performing,” says Lindsay. “It’s not about me, it’s not about the playhouse. This play and these characters and these issues are history. It’s an educational opportunity, a calling card that hopefully stirs up something inside at least one person each night. At least that’s what I think great artistic ventures should do: start a conversation, stir up the emotional life within, cause a quest for something bigger than oneself, be a north star to the leaders who enable change, and give a nugget of purpose and comfort to the wanderers. Whether an artist accomplishes this kind of truth-giving each night or not, we can only hope and attempt. But it’s a solid foundation to work from. “

And did the weekend at the Baby Doll house help contribute some stepping stones to build that foundation?

“I only wish I could have stayed a month,” she sighs. “It was truly a special time for me, and I cannot wait to go back.”