Category Archives: Social justice

VIDEO: Watch rehearsal for celebrity reading ‘Ms. Smith Goes to Washington’ at LA City Hall

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Celebrity reading of ‘MS. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON’ at LA City Hall is “awe-inspiring”

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“Ms. Smith Goes to Washington” at Los Angeles City Hall

by Christine Deitner

On Thursday, January 24th a lucky group of citizens in Los Angeles was treated to a unique experience–The Fountain Theatre’s reading of a gender-switched adaptation of Sidney Buchman’s screenplay, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.  The Fountain’s Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs adapted the work that was hosted by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.  An impressively talented ensemble of tv, film, and theatre veterans gathered in the John Ferraro Council Chamber in Los Angeles City Hall and though the original work is 79 years old the gender switch makes it feel like yesterday’s tweetstorm or this morning’s news.

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Sponsored, in part, by the Feminist Majority Foundation and in association with the League of Women Voters, the event’s cast included Joshua Malina, Jeff PerryBellamy Young, Sam Waterston, Alan Blumenfeld, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Leith Burke, Tim Cummings, Cameron Dye, Spencer Garrett, Chet Grissom, Morlan Higgins, Aurelia Myers, Jenny O’Hara, Felix Solis, Jack Stehlin, Mark Taylor, and Sal Viscuso.

Councilmember O’Farrell introduced Mr. Sachs with a moving speech about the importance of the arts in society. 

“Politics falls short of completely illuminating the complexity of issues,” he stated, “this is where the arts come in.”

In 2017, Mr. O’Farrell hosted the Fountain’s reading of All The Presidents Men and he noted that he hopes this will become an annual event.  Reflecting on the record number of women who now hold public office, O’Farrell also spoke about the role that local artists play as public servants, illuminating issues in unique ways.

In Sachs’ version, an idealistic, newly elected female senator finds herself fighting corruption in male-dominated Washington. Bellamy Young’s take on the movingly patriotic Jennifer Smith [originally Jefferson played by James Stewart] is endearing and as successful as a figure of naive nobility as Mr. Stewart was in the film.  It doesn’t seem like Mr. Sachs had to change very much beyond references to gender [Girl Rangers here instead of Boy Rangers] and one reference to “fake news” that worked very well in context, but boy does Jennifer Smith’s predicament feel familiar.

It’s Governor Hopper’s daughter [it was a son in the film] who encourages her father to choose Jennifer with the line “It’s 1939, not the dark ages, pop.” and a list of women who have held office before.  It shouldn’t have been surprising to hear it but we can thank Mr. Sachs for educating us about these women that included Senators Rebecca Latimer Felton [1922] and Hattie Caraway [1932].  Sam Waterston has the role of one of two villains, Senator Joseph Paine; a man who knew Jennifer’s father yet openly wonders whether they can “control a woman” in Congress.  The other is Jim Taylor, a nefarious businessman/mob figure played by Jeff Perry.

Fans of the film will know that Smith speaks fondly of his father a number of times, recalling that he often said, “Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.” As Jennifer learns that a swath of land in her state is going to be turned into a useless dam that is only an avenue for graft, she becomes determined to fight for that land where she was hoping to create a girls camp for young women across the nation.  Joshua Malina is her charmingly cynical assistant Chester Saunders [Jean Arthur in the film] who begrudgingly assists her in writing a bill for that girl’s camp.  As they work together, Jennifer’s enthusiasm for the bill starts to wear down Saunders’ certainty it will fail and when she becomes aware of the relief bill that includes the dam, she decides to filibuster with his help.

Paine and his pro-dam cohorts do all they can to attack Jennifer’s character as they angrily state any blocking of the relief bill will lead to starving the people.  Paine likens her attempt to hold the floor to holding the people hostage.  There was an audible gasp in the audience followed by a few laughs for this reading took place near the end of Trump’s wall-inspired government shutdown.  All of the pain that shutdown was inflicting on government workers was present in the room at that moment.

Jennifer stands firm in her convictions, even when Paine reads telegrams purportedly from her home state asking her to stop. She reads the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and goes on till her voice is hoarse and even Paine can’t take her suffering anymore.  He breaks down and admits everything – and when Waterston embodied that moment, he tore the roof off the place, it was awe-inspiring.  Jennifer and Saunders have one last moment of celebration before the ends that felt a little rushed but that might have been due to the fact that the TVs behind the cast popped on. 

In lieu of credits, images of every woman who has held a seat in Congress appeared in succession on the screens. Members of the audience stood to applaud them, with more standing when California’s own Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein appeared.  But it wasn’t till the video closed on a split screen image featuring Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren that the whole house got to their feet shouting.  It was a memorable, moving moment that reminded this reviewer of all the things that can be good and honorable and right in this country.  It also seemed like a hell of an idea for a presidential ticket in 2020 but that just shows how easy it was to get swept up in Jennifer Smith’s patriotic fervor.  Ms. Smith may seem naive and inexperienced, but that character’s faith in what is good in the country is honorable and constant – and those are traits we could all stand to develop in our own lives today.

This post originally appeared in The Theatre Times.

 

VIDEO: Catch the beat of our west coast premiere of ‘Hype Man’ at Fountain Theatre

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‘Scandal’ cast reunites for ‘Ms. Smith Goes to Washington’ at Fountain Theatre’s City Hall event

smith celeb cast trioThe Fountain Theatre follows its hugely successful 2018 celebrity reading of All the President’s Men with a one-night only, all-star reading of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington, starring Bellamy Young (ABC’s Scandal) in the title role, along with her Scandal co-stars Joshua Malina and Jeff Perry, with more to be announced. 

Adapted and directed by Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs, presented by the award-winning Fountain Theatre in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and with exclusive permission from SONY Pictures, this 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 Thursday, January 24 at 7:30 p.m. A catered reception will follow in the City Hall Rotunda.

In this gender-switched adaptation of Sidney Buchman’s screenplay for the 1939 Jimmy Stewart classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washingtonan idealistic, newly elected female senator finds herself fighting corruption in male-dominated Washington.

“With more than one hundred women newly elected to Congress, this classic movie reimagined with Smith as a woman could not be more timely and urgent,” says Sachs. “I’m excited for the opportunity to build on the overwhelming success of last year’s event at City Hall. Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell is a longtime friend of the Fountain Theatre and an advocate for the arts in Los Angeles. What other major city in the country would hand over City Hall to its artists for one night? When local artists and city government officials work together, all citizens of Los Angeles benefit.”

According to Councilmember O’Farrell, “With change in the air in Washington after an unprecedented number of diverse women were just sworn into Congress to counter the corrupt, divisive, and destructive agenda of the Trump administration, I am thrilled to announce a staged reading of a beloved Hollywood classic film at Los Angeles City Hall, but with a modern twist that will no doubt prove more illuminating and poignant than it would have otherwise: Ms. Smith Goes to Washington! I am proud to continue what is now an annual artistic tradition at City Hall. The City of Los Angeles must exhibit a commitment to inspire and uplift communities — and sometimes the best way to make that point is through the arts. I want to thank The Fountain Theatre and the artists for volunteering their time and resources to this project.”

The event is sponsored, in part, by the Feminist Majority Foundation, and in association with the League of Women Voters. The FMF is a cutting-edge organization dedicated to women’s equality, reproductive health and non-violence. In all spheres, FMF utilizes research and action to empower women economically, socially and politically. FMF also publishes Ms. magazine, the oldest national feminist publication in the world, and will be distributing copies of their special Inauguration issue — featuring profiles of the new feminists elected to political offices across the country — to all attendees. The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

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 hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in the Music Center’s Our L.A. Voices festival at Grand Park, and an all-star reading of All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. The Fountain’s 2018 productions of The Chosen and Arrival & Departure each enjoyed months-long sold out runs and was named a Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” The company’s most recent production, the West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living, was named to the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2018” list.

Ms. Smith Goes to Washington takes place on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the John Ferraro Council ChamberRoom 340 of Los Angeles City Hall200 N Spring St.Los Angeles, CA 90012. Doors open at 6 p.m.

Admission is free; however, seating is extremely limited. For more information, and to enter the ticket lottery, go to www.mssmith.org. Due to high security at the venue, no walk-ups will be permitted.

VIDEO: Take a look at these 16 actresses from 4 LA theatre companies set to read ‘Natural Shocks’

Natural Shocks is a darkly hilarious tour-de-force written by Lauren Gunderson, the most-produced playwright in America. A woman is forced into her basement when she finds herself in the path of a tornado. Trapped there, she spills over into confession, regret, long-held secrets, and giddy new love. But as the storm approaches, she becomes less and less sure where safety lies — and how best to defy the danger that awaits.

The Fountain Theatre is proud to partner with the Echo Theatre Company, Rogue Machine Theatre, and Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble to bring their unique artistic visions, backgrounds, and skills to this event of theatre activism against gun violence. FEMEST is the Fountain Theatre’s play reading series of new plays by/about women.

Jan 12 – Feb 3, 2019 (323) 663-1525 http://www.fountaintheatre.com

What is the duty of the artist in troubled times?

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Fountain Theatre’s “Citizen: An American Lyric” at Grand Park, Los Angeles, 2018.

by Mary Gabriel

In the late 1930s, amid a global economic collapse, the rise of fascism in Germany, Italy and Japan, and an ugly U.S. nationalism that targeted asylum-seeking immigrants, abstract artists working in New York pondered the perennial question: What is the duty of the artist in troubled times?

The question was not academic. With thousands of Nazi sympathizers marching through Midtown Manhattan, Boston teenagers reenacting Kristallnacht by attacking Jewish-owned businesses, and politicians and preachers spewing messages of hate, the bonds of rational society were unraveling. And many feared that as bad as things were, the worst might be yet to come.

There seemed to be no way to escape a paralyzing sense of foreboding. And yet it was incumbent upon the artist to do just that, to rise above the daily headlines — which dancer Martha Graham said affected every muscle in the body — to transform and clarify the world they inhabited.

It wasn’t easy. When one is in the midst of tectonic historical shifts it is nearly impossible to grasp their significance, much less their outcome. And yet the artists in New York in the 1930s, and later in the 1940s when the full horror of those times became excruciatingly clear, found a way.

Art can take up residence in our minds and hearts in a way a headline cannot.

Today, in our own troubled world, artists from Los Angeles to Beijing, Moscow to Rio are grappling with similar questions. How does one write, paint, compose or perform works that describe this age without being consumed by it, without producing mere propaganda? How does one convey the simultaneous confusion and conviction, the anger and concomitant longing for calm — in short, the irrationality — with any degree of certainty? And how does one project through art a better path when the route is constantly shifting?

Faced with such a difficult task, many artists wonder if they are obliged to be chroniclers of their times. During periods of war, social strife, economic upheaval, massive industrial or technological change, is it the duty of the artist to record and reflect that chaos?

Yes it is, in part because it is impossible for a true artist to do otherwise.

Artists may work in isolation, but they are intrinsically messengers, their works communications. They also exist in a state of hyper-receptivity because every encounter and experience might produce material for the next sentence, song, photograph or canvas. Short of living in a soundproof windowless box, especially in an age such as ours, it is impossible for an artist to blot out the world.

But another, more important reason an artist must confront his or her time is that historically art and artists have explained and challenged, and that combination has produced greater understanding.

LA Times

Judith Moreland and Bo Foxworth, “Building the Wall”, Fountain Theatre, 2017.

In the 1930s and 1940s, newspaper headlines, cinema newsreels, radio broadcasts and public service posters disseminated information around the clock. But those reports chronicled events. It was left to artists to ascribe meaning.

A young James Jones wrote his first novel, “From Here to Eternity,” describing the wreckage of lives upended by war. Oscar Hammerstein’s 1940 lyrics for “The Last Time I Saw Paris” evoked for generations the melancholy felt by those forced to flee Nazi advances in France. And two painters bookended the traumas of the 1930s and 1940s in their works: Picasso, with “Guernica,” which depicted the 1937 Nazi attack on the Basque capital of that name and the first “total” air raid in history, and Jackson Pollock, with his “drip” paintings 10 years later. In the wake of World War II’s atrocities, from Auschwitz to Hiroshima, Pollock painted the world as it was, a world destroyed but not irrevocably so.

Today, in our own world of blogs, bots and perpetual “breaking news,” it is left to artists to cut through the deafening noise as their forebears did in the middle of the last century — in a search for meaning and, most particularly in our case, in the service of truth.

Art can do that. Art can take up residence in our minds and hearts in a way a headline cannot. Songs, poems, paintings and film provoke, console, elucidate and elevate. It is up to each artist to find a way, and they must try. In the early 1950s, amid the Korean War and Joe McCarthy’s political witch hunts, painter Grace Hartigan said of her work, “I try to make some logic out of the world that has been given to me in chaos…. The fact that I know I am doomed to failure — that doesn’t deter me in the least.”

Hartigan and her fellow painters spent years searching for the best way to convey their era, and realized they could no longer rely on the literal people, places and things that had occupied artists for centuries. They needed to start from scratch, to find new images — a new visual language — to reflect and explain the time because nothing that had been employed before could possibly describe the devastation the world had experienced. In their studios alone, faced with a blank canvas, each painted the only thing they could trust at that broken moment — their own nature. It was a difficult personal journey, but it was not unlike the explorations that expanded the geographic reach of humankind. The artists who would become known as the Abstract Expressionists traveled so far inside themselves that they discovered a universe, and in so doing, helped a ravaged world recover by creating a new way to see.

Before his suicide in the spring of 1948, the French poet and playwright Antonin Artaud wrote a kind of memorandum to artists trying to navigate their way in a hostile world: 

THE DUTY
Of the writer, of the poet
Is not to shut himself up like a coward in a text, a book, a magazine
from which he will never emerge
But on the contrary to go out
Into the world
To jolt
to attack
The mind of the public
If not
what is he for?
And why was he born?

 

Mary Gabriel is an award-winning author. This post originally appeared in the LA Times.

Fountain intern Saif Saigol is passionate about theatre and social activism

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Saif Saigol

Hello Fountain community! My name is Saif Saigol and I am the new Development Intern at The Fountain Theatre this summer.

A little bit about me: I am an Indian-Pakistani-Canadian raised in Montreal, Quebec. I came to the US in 2012 to pursue my high school studies at a boarding school in Connecticut. Currently, I’m an undergrad student with a Music Major and Gender & Sexuality Studies Sequence, and I’ll be graduating from Claremont McKenna College next Spring, in 2019. Music, theater, and all performing arts are my passion and source of comfort in life. As a performer, I’ve trained classically as a vocalist for 6 years, and specialize in the Lied and operatic traditions. I’m also a proud member of the Claremont Shades, a co-ed a cappella group of the Claremont Colleges.

My love for the theatre began at a young age, but truly blossomed in high school, where I gained significant experience both on and off the stage. While I continue to be enamored by the subtleties and complexities of performance itself, I am equally excited about the variety of resources and behind-the-scenes processes that go into producing and staging a professional production.

I could not be more excited to join the Fountain Theatre team this summer! This position has given me the chance to join a community that shares not only my love for the theatre, but also my other passion: social activism. The Fountain’s commitment to telling the stories of marginalized and under-represented identities is both unique and sorely needed in this industry. Everyone deserves the chance to see themselves represented on stage, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or any other identity factor. The Fountain is doing powerful work and breaking cultural barriers and norms by using art as a tool for larger change – I am honored to be a part of their narrative.

I’m looking forward to a summer filled with community, activism, learning, and simply put: good theatre. In my time so far, I have seen that I have much to learn about the industry and I am excited to become better-versed in the goings on of the LA Arts scene. I am also eager to learn more about the Deaf Community and ASL as we move forward with Arrival & Departure. As an arts student, the future is unpredictable and the realities of employment often daunting. I am hoping my time here will help me gain knowledge and experience in the LA arts industry, and ultimately help solidify my future in the arts.

The Fountain Theatre thanks the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors and the LA County Arts Commission for their support through the Summer Arts Internship program.