Category Archives: Outreach Program

Post-show conversations: “I have a passion to inspire change through theatre”

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Q&A discussion with playwright Robert Schenkkan

Nora King is a California girl who doesn’t surf. She danced in school productions of The Nutcracker but admits she was  “an unbalanced and quite chatty ballerina.” She earned a BFA in Acting from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) then created a non-profit theatre troupe called Acting for Others,  to raise support and awareness for charities through performance.  These days, she now finds herself at the Fountain Theatre as Production Outreach Coordinator for Building the Wall, overseeing the ongoing post-show conversation series Breaking It Down.  

The program Breaking It Down, she says, embodies her dual commitment to theatre and social action. “I have always had a passion to inspire change through theater.”   

Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs agrees. “When the Fountain Theatre made the bold move to reschedule our 2017 season so we could quickly produce the world premiere of this controversial new play Building the Wall, we were sure of one thing. Patrons seeing it will want to talk about it.”

The post-show conversation series Breaking It Down was created to offer an ongoing platform for the dialogue to continue with audiences on a wide variety of topics. The first discussion featured playwright Robert Schenkkan.

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As Production Outreach Coordinator, it was Nora’s job to reach out to a varied list of organizations and schedule dynamic leaders willing to participate in conversations with audience members following performances of Building the Wall. Topics range from immigration to prison systems to women’s rights to stand-up comedy.  

To learn more about the discussion series and the young woman who oversees it, we subjected Nora to her own Q&A.

 How did you get this job at the Fountain?

Funny story. I saw an opening for a position in The Fountain’s cafe. I sent in my resume. And a couple days later I got a call from Stephen Sachs about another position that may be a better fit. And it is a much better fit. My cooking skills are nonexistent. 

What is Breaking It Down? How would you describe it? 

Breaking it Down is a conversation series following performances of Building the Wall. These will be discussions with community leaders, non-profit organizers, socially active performers, etc.

 

Nora King

Nora King

What do you hope to achieve with these post-show conversations?

The goal of Breaking it Down is to activate and inspire the audience. A big theme in Building the Wall is the power and responsibility of the individual. At this point in our country’s history, complacency is extremely dangerous. I want to empower the audience, leaving the theatre ready to influence change.

Has it been hard getting experts to agree to participate in the discussions? Or easier that you thought?

A lot easier than I thought. I was surprised with the eagerness in which people wanted to be involved. Which is very exciting! This also reassures me that there are influential people activated and ready to combat the inhumane policies our government keeps churning out.

Which conversations are you most looking forward to?

After researching each individual and their backgrounds, I am honestly very excited for each conversation. I think they will offer so many different perspectives as well as ways to help. So, all of them!

What role can theatre play in triggering social action?

Theatre has always been a reflection of society. Shakespeare’s histories are basically the People magazine of the time. To say theatre is merely for entertainment, is an ignorant concept. And to say the arts is unnecessary for a nation, is stupid. Sorry to be so blunt. However, the reason I dedicate my life to this art form is because of its influence on society. Theater supplies ethos. We are humans. We need to connect. We need to feel. I believe theatre can supply an up close look at stories you wouldn’t experience otherwise even though, in reality, they might be happening right next to you.

What has your experience been like at the Fountain?

Amazing! Something that drew me to the Fountain Theatre is its commitment to socially provocative work. There is certainly a sense of working towards a shared goal. Everyone is passionate and excited to be there, which is necessary for a theatre to succeed. I feel very honored to be joining The Fountain Family. Thank you Robert and Stephen for bringing this play to life so quickly. I think it is essential for people to see this immediately.   

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Watch 5th graders fling paint like Jackson Pollock at Fountain Theatre

youtube-coverIs she crazy or a hero? In our hit production of Bakersfield Mist now playing at the Fountain, Maude Gutman owns a spattered painting that she bought at a thrift store which she now believes is a masterpiece by Jackson Pollock worth millions. Is it real or a forgery? Last Friday, thirty-two 5th grade students from Ramona Elementary School around the corner visited the Fountain Theatre to try their hands at creating their own abstract expressionist paintings in the style of Jackson Pollock. Says teacher Eric Arboleda, the experience was “priceless”.  

The students gathered in the theatre for a lesson on modern art from Sarah Boulton, educator and coordinator of the day’s event for the Fountain. The group then moved upstairs, where a long table waited with paper, paints and brushes. The students were instructed to freely paint what the feel, to think of images that express their inner selves, not literal pictures. The students  leapt into action. Grabbing brushes, the kids spattered and swirled their paints in a wild flurry of colors. Paint landed not only on paper. It ended up on the floor, on the walls, and peppered the kids themselves with bright colored freckles.  Everyone had a blast. 

After the paint session, the kids moved into the cafe for donuts and drinks. They relaxed on our outdoor balcony and enjoyed the beautiful afternoon sun. All agreed it was an extraordinary day.

Friday’s event was the third visit by Ramona Elementary School students in two years, part of an ongoing educational partnership between the school and the Fountain Theatre to offer an enhanced art experience for young people in our community.  The event was made possible through Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain’s educational outreach program making art available to underserved students. 

Our home is your home. We are in this together.

It’s been a challenging year, hasn’t it? A year of change, division and loss  And a year of hope, unity and bright accomplishments.

The Fountain Theatre ends 2016 soaring on the wind of uplifting achievements. Our world premiere stage adaptation of Citizen: An American Lyric has been chosen to be highlighted in CTG’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in April. Our premieres of Dream Catcher, My Mañana Comes and Baby Doll earned rave reviews and extended runs. Forever Flamenco sizzled this summer at the outdoor Ford Theatre. Bakersfield Mist returned to delight audiences through the holidays and is still running through January. We continued serving communities year round through our educational outreach programs. We broadened our long-term stability by partnering with new foundations and supporters.

For 26 years, The Fountain Theatre has provided a public space where a wide variety of citizens gather together to experience stories that illuminate what it means to be a human being. 

The public discourse across our nation and on our stage in 2016 revealed many things. One being: words matter. What we say to each other, and how we say it, matters. As in the finest plays, language has power. Has impact. In soliloquy and in dialogue. On our intimate stage, and far beyond Fountain Avenue, our dialogue — our conversation — with YOU, our Fountain Family, matters.

Which words would you use to describe the Fountain Theatre? Which words express who we are, what we do? Co-Founding Artistic Directors Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs share with you some words they’d choose. Take a look! 

Fountain Theatre and Antaeus Theatre Company: working together to change lives

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Ann Noble, Liz Berman and John Prosky introduce the evening. 

Tuesday night at the Fountain was one of those evenings that reminds us of the transformative power of theatre. Why we do what we do. It was also a night about working together.  Not only for the incarcerated young men on stage from Rancho San Antonio Boys Home who performed the new play they wrote via the Antaeus Odyssey Workshop. But also for the two LA intimate theatre companies who partnered to make the evening possible.

The Odyssey Workshop is an educational outreach program launched by Antaeus Theatre Company that uses theatre techniques to teach creative writing to young adults from high-risk environments. “This is such an important program for all of us at Antaeus Theatre Company,” says Antaeus Co-Artistic Director Bill Brochtrup. “It’s truly a life-changing event for the young men participating — and for the audiences who are lucky enough to see them.”

Because construction on the company’s new venue in Glendale is not yet complete, Antaeus needed to find a theatre to host its one-night performance of the Odyssey Workshop. They reached out to the Fountain Theatre. We immediately agreed to welcome Antaeus and its program into our home.

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Antaeus actress Ann Noble and Fountain Associate Producer James Bennett greet guests.

The coincidental timing of Tuesday night’s performance was not lost on anyone. The very next day, Actors Equity Association terminated the 99-Seat Plan, replacing it with a controversial and unpopular new Agreement that divides and separates the once-unified LA intimate theatre community into competing categories and factions.

The shared event at the Fountain Theatre was all about cooperation.

Antaeus actress and board member Dawn Didawick commented, “I wish some of our union representatives could be required to attend events like these in order to learn what Los Angeles theatre artists give to their community.”

“There’s been so much rancor and divisiveness with Actors Equity over their elimination of the 99-Seat Plan,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Tuesday night is an example of what happens when two LA intimate theatre companies, each very different in their programming and organizational structure, cooperate together for the sake of being of service to those other than themselves.”

Fountain Producing Director Simon Levy agrees. “Art does change lives. Theatre opens hearts and connects us to The Other. Bravo/bravissima to Antaeus for this great program. And a standing O to the young men who opened their hearts and allowed themselves to be vulnerable… because it changes us.”

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Following the performance, the night was ignited by a lively reception in our upstairs cafe which seemed to exemplify the spirit of the evening. There was food, drinks and a cacophony of raucous chatter and laughter. Students enjoying family and friends intermixing with Antaeus members mingling with Fountain staff. A room packed with a wide variety of diverse people and two uniquely-styled theatre companies. Everyone together, for the same common purpose, becoming one.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Fountain Theatre to host special performance of new play written by incarcerated youth in Antaeus Odyssey Artists’ Program

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Actor John Prosky teaches young men at Rancho San Antonio

They come from all over Southern California. From a wide range of backgrounds, for a variety of reasons. Many have no where else to go. Each has a unique story to tell.  And for the young men at Rancho San Antonio Boys Home in Chatsworth, the Odyssey Artists’ Workshop is an opportunity to use theatre as a vehicle to express their personal stories.

On Tuesday, December 13 at 7pm, the Fountain Theatre will host the culmination performance of a new play written by the incarcerated young men of Rancho San Antonio, made possible through the program launched by members of Antaeus Theatre Company.

“At the heart of the Fountain’s artistic mission is our commitment to giving voice to those who may not otherwise be heard,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We are happy and proud to host this program which embodies that artistic and social philosophy.”

Rancho San Antonio is a non-profit multi-service residential agency serving court-ordered adolescent boys. The primary goal of the agency is to provide an opportunity for rehabilitation of the total person through a balanced physical, social, spiritual, psychological, and educational experience. It focuses on personal responsibility, values clarification, and changing anti-social behaviors. Some of the programs provided include: individual, group and family counseling, drug treatment, educational services and emancipation assistance.

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The Odyssey Artists’ Workshop is a creative writing and theatre program for young adults from high-risk environments. The workshop teaches the structural elements of non-fiction writing as well as theater performance skills through the component of Shakespeare. The students craft and perform an original theater piece of their personal stories interwoven with selected characters and themes from Shakespeare’s plays.

How did the Workshop get started?

“I had been teaching acting and dramatic writing in the lock-down juvenile camps of LA County for a while, ” says actor John Prosky, recently seen at the Fountain in our west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll.  “In 2009, Kitty Swink at Antaeus Theatre Company asked me if I would like to put a Shakespeare program together at Rancho San Antonio. Kitty introduced me to artist and educator Liz Berman who had been teaching a writing program there and we decided to join our programs about 6 years ago.  And Odyssey Artists’ Workshop was born.”

The Workshop now teaches at Rancho San Antonio, Homeboy Industries, Van Nuys High School, Learning Works Charter in Pasadena. It starts at New Village Charter in January.

For actor Prosky, the impetus to launch the program was personal. “After working in TV and Film for more than a decade, ” he says, “I began to wonder if I was really contributing anything to the world. Plus, I was Jesuit trained and they beat into me the idea of service. I get much more from this program than the students do.”

What happens in a typical 10-week Workshop period?

img_0529“We pick a character arc or text from a play we think a particular student population will respond to and then we perform that arc for them through scenes and soliloquies using professional classical actors,” he explains. “Then we invite the students into the plot with writing prompts, improv and other acting exercises based on what they just saw.  The populations we work with tend to be highly polarized by gang affiliation and/or race, so we also spend a great deal of time on ensemble building exercises.  We also do mask work and are staging a short story written by a guy on death row in San Quentin, Jarvis Jay Masters, from his book Finding Freedom.

For the young men at Rancho San Antonio, the 10-week Workshop experience is more than artistic. It is also therapeutic.

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“We are not trained therapists or social workers by any means,” admits Prosky. “But all these theater exercises on a young mind that has experienced trauma is healing.  I tell these guys often that if you tell your story, you will gain wisdom, strength, and a lesson, but more importantly, we as listeners to your story will gain wisdom strength and a lesson.”

“What happens to a young mind that has experienced abuse, neglect, and addiction is that a sense of empathy gets damaged.  The wrong role models and a lack of empathy leads to crime.  Makes sense. But the young brain is repairable.  I’ve seen it over and over. These acting storytelling-exercises coupled with a lot of ensemble building techniques begins to give them back their empathy.  Towards the end of the ten week session racial and gang barriers in the room begin to break down.  Once they have gone through the crucible of performance, they are a new kind of gang; an ensemble.”

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John Prosky and Lindsay LaVanchy in Baby Doll at Fountain Theatre

Because construction for Antaeus Theatre Company’s new venue in Glendale is still underway, Prosky turned to the Fountain to host this culmination performance. The Fountain Theatre immediately accepted. Prosky couldn’t be happier.

“I am so grateful to The Fountain Family for the use of their theatre for this culmination.  Having just done Baby Doll at The Fountain, I felt like the positivism, love, and respect I experienced there made it the perfect place for these young men.”

The Odyssey Artists’ Workshop culmination performance will be on Tuesday, December 13, at 7pm at the Fountain Theatre. The event is free. Seating is limited. Please RSVP to Robin Campbell at robin@antaeus.org or (818) 506-5436.

Students share their feelings on the power and intimacy of ‘Baby Doll’

alan-goodson-students-baby-doll-2Reaching out to students and making theatre available to young people is vitally important to the Fountain Theatre. And we love it when students reach back. Such was the case on October 24th when the Fountain hosted teacher Alan Goodson and his students from Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising to a performance of our sizzling West Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll.

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Alan Goodson

Goodson, also an actor who has appeared on our Fountain stage, led his college students in a post-show discussion with the professional actors following the Baby Doll performance. The students asked questions of cast members, discussed the issues raised in the play and shared thoughts and feelings about the theatre-going experience itself. For some, it was their first time seeing a live professional production of a play.  

The students then returned to the classroom and wrote papers outlining their insights and describing how the play and production impacted them emotionally, intellectually and artistically.

The Fountain recently received a sampling of their comments:   

“Arguably the most powerful moment of the play comes at the very end. Baby Doll and Aunt Comfort sit outside the house after Archie Lee and Silva have been arrested. Silva has said he will come back for Baby Doll, but her future is uncertain at best….Although it is at the very end of the play, this moment, so beautifully directed by Levy, is when the message of the Fountain Theatre’s performance of Baby Doll comes through loud and clear: sexism in 1950’s America was rampant, and the patriarchal mindset of the culture and characters ultimately led to their crippling stagnancy. The Fountain Theatre’s production of Baby Doll is like a fine wine – it gets better with time. You leave the theatre with the assurance that you have just seen an incredible play put on by a talented group; however, the true meaning of the play seeps through more and more the longer you stew on it.”

This student was drawn into the play by the intimacy of the theatre:  

“The play environment was intriguing. I have never been to a production that was so intimate. The theatre itself was very small, the seats were close together, and the stage was right in front of your eyes. I felt the audience was in this play experience together. The actors were so close I could see every detail in their faces. They made eye contact with us and were able to engage us in the storyline. I was intrigued by the fact that I could examine every small detail about the costumes and the set. Being so close to the actors and the set is very different from going to a big theatre where you can barely see their facial expressions or the set theme.”

For this student, overcoming doubts about seeing the play led to a meaningful experience in the theatre: 

“Before seeing Baby Doll at the Fountain Theatre, I was a bit skeptical if I would enjoy the play after reading the synopsis. But I was pleasantly surprised. The actors portrayed their roles remarkably, showing every emotion and movement as if they were really living in the play….the way the cast fed off of one another made it that much more enjoyable….While there was much controversy surrounding the movie when it first came out, I think Tennessee Williams created a phenomenal and important script. The women empowerment and sexuality themes not only made the play witty and comical, but also made the audience think about how life was once like for women of that time. Baby Doll may have started out in the cinema, but it was meant for the theatre. It is a superb play that is brought to life by extremely talented actors.”

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In the post-show Q&A with the cast, perhaps the most important question was asked by a blushing young female student when our handsome, beefy leading man, Daniel Bess, met the group: 

Question: “How many times a week do you work out?”

Answer: “Three.”

See? A life in the theatre can be enhancing in so many ways …

Young people today are the theatre audiences — and theatre makers — of tomorrow. The Fountain maintains its ongoing dedication to staying connected to young audiences and broadening its reach to high school and college students regionwide. With school budgets being cut for arts education everywhere, the Fountain offers an important role in arts learning.  

This event was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making the life-enhancing experience of live theatre accessible to young people and students throughout Southern California.  

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Students from Michigan State University enjoy ‘Baby Doll’ performance and Q&A

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Michigan State students with cast on ‘Baby Doll’ set.

by James Bennett

Monday night, we were granted the opportunity to host teacher Mark Colson and his fabulous group of intrepid theatre students from Michigan State University, who after a breathtaking performance of our critically acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll engaged in an inquisitive, inspiring, and heartfelt talkback with our amazing cast and director Simon Levy. 

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Director Simon Levy fielded a very good question: What’s the audition process like? Did you know we had over 600 submissions for the titular role of Baby Doll?

Actor John Prosky spoke about his artistic journey in manifesting the unchained, violent, and maddened Archie Lee, a character so far from his natural state he didn’t think he’d ever get the part. But when he came into the room to audition with Lindsay LaVanchy, something magic happened which brought the character to life.

The incredible Lindsay LaVanchy talked about her process of finding Baby Doll inside her. She spoke about how she had to open herself to being childlike, a quest she had undertaken many years ago but was unable to complete until preparing for this role. A typically reserved and precise woman, it took the innocence of Baby Doll to “crack her open”.

It is one of our greatest pleasures to share with and mentor the next generation of great theatre artists. What an incredible night!

This event was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making theatre accessible to students and young people.