Category Archives: stage

VIDEO: Actress Monnae Michaell invites you to ‘Citizen’ at Our L.A. Voices at Grand Park

Monna Michaell

Monnae Michaell

The Fountain Theatre’s critically acclaimed, award-winning stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric has been chosen as the centerpiece of Our L.A. Voices, a new festival celebrating the diversity and excellence of the arts in Los Angeles that will launch April 27-29 at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles. A compelling play about racism in America, Citizen will represent excellence in Los Angeles theater at the multi-arts festival, with performances set for Friday, April 27 and Saturday, April 28. All performances are free to the public. 

Citizen: An American Lyric was adapted for the stage by acclaimed playwright and Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs from Rankine’s National Book Critics Circle award-winning book of poetry. In this intensely provocative and unapologetic rumination on racial aggression directed by Shirley Jo Finney, seemingly everyday acts of racism are scrutinized as part of an uncompromising testimony of “living while Black” in America — from the shooting of Trayvon Martin, to the tennis career of Serena Williams to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Actress Monnae Michael invites you to join her and fellow cast members — Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tony Maggio, Adenrele Ojo and Lisa Pescia — to enjoy what Stage Raw critic Myron Meisel called “a transcendent theatrical experience.” 

 

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On World Theatre Day: Long live the theatre. The most wondrous art form.

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Gilbert Glenn Brown, Suanne Spoke in “The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek” Fountain Theatre 

by Sabina Berman

We can imagine.

The tribe launches small stones to bring down birds from the air, when a gigantic mammoth bursts in on the scene and ROARS –and at the same time, a tiny human ROARS like the mammoth. Then, everyone runs away…

That mammoth roar uttered by a human woman –I would like to imagine her as a woman– is the origin of what makes us the species we are. A species capable of imitating what we are not. A species capable of representing the Other.

Let’s leap forward ten years, or a hundred, or a thousand. The tribe has learned how to imitate other beings: deep in the cave, in the flickering light of a bonfire, four men are the mammoth, three women are the river, men and women are birds, bonobos, trees, clouds: the tribe represents the morning’s hunt, thus capturing the past with their theatrical gift. Even more amazing: the tribe then invents possible futures, essaying possible ways to vanquish the mammoth, the enemy of the tribe.

Roars, whistles, murmurs –the onomatopoeia of our first theatre—will become verbal language. Spoken language will become written language. Down another pathway, theatre will become rite and then, cinema.

But along these latter forms, and in the seed of each one of these latter forms, there will always continue to be theatre. The simplest form of representation. The only living form of representation.

Theatre: the simpler it is, the more intimately it connects us to the most wondrous human skill, that of representing the Other.

Today, in all the theatres of the world we celebrate that glorious human skill of performance. Of representing and thus, capturing our past —and of inventing possible futures, that can bring to the tribe more freedom and happiness.

What are the mammoths that must be vanquished today by the human tribe? What are its contemporary enemies? About what should theatre that aspires to be more than entertainment be about?

For me, the greatest mammoth of all is the alienation of human hearts. The loss of our capacity to feel with Others: to feel compassion for our fellow humans and for our fellow non-human living forms.

What a paradox. Today, at the final shores of Humanism —of the Anthropocene— of the era in which human beings are the natural force that has changed the planet the most, and will continue to do so— the mission of the theatre is –in my view– the opposite of that which gathered the tribe when theatre was performed at the back of the cave: today, we must salvage our connection to the natural world.

More than literature, more than cinema, the theatre —which demands the presence of human beings before other human beings— is marvelously suited to the task of saving us from becoming algorithms, pure abstractions.

Let us remove everything superfluous from the theatre. Let us strip it naked. Because the
simpler theatre is, the more apt it is to remind us of the only undeniable thing: that we are, while we are in time; that we are only while we are flesh and bone and hearts beating in our breasts; that we are the here and now, and no more.

Long live the theatre. The most ancient art. The art of being in the present. The most wondrous art. Long live the theatre.

Sabina Berman, born in Mexico City, is a writer and journalist. Considered to be Mexico’s most critically and commercially successful contemporary playwright, Berman is one of the most prolific living writers in the Spanish language.

Today is World Theatre Day.

 

‘The Chosen’ extended again! Now to June 10th at the Fountain Theatre

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Steven B. Green in ‘The Chosen’ at the Fountain Theatre (photo by Ed Kreiger)

The Fountain Theatre’s hit production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen has been extended a second time, now playing to June 10th. A silent father, an ancient tradition and an unexpectedly important game of baseball forge bonds of lifelong friendship between two Jewish boys from “five blocks and a world apart” in this funny, poignant, timely and timeless father-son story about recognition and acceptance of “the other.” The smash hit production has sold out every performance since it opened on January 20th.

Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and Directed by Simon Levy, the cast includes Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel.

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Sam Mandel, Dor Gvirtsman and Steven B. Green in ‘The Chosen’.  

The Fountain production has earned rave reviews everywhere. It has been highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times and is Ovation Award Recommended.  

CRITIC’S CHOICE! DEEPLY EMOTIONAL” — Los Angeles Times

MAGIC… four stand-out actors… directed with visionary insight” — Broadway World

INSPIRED… LIVELY… ABSORBING.” —Cultural Weekly

FIVE STARS… EMOTIONALLY STUNNING… DON’T MISS IT” — Haines His Way

MESMERIZING… this play has something for everyone – Jewish or not.” — LA Splash

WOW!… EXQUISITE… gripping, edifying, and moving…  a must-see!” — Stage Scene LA

EXQUISITE AND HEARTFELT”  — Showmag

ASTONISHING… vital, alive, and important” —Stage and Cinema

“RECOMMENDED STAGE RAW TOP 10… CLASSY” —Stage Raw

STUNNING… ageless and universal… theatre at its finest.” — The Tvolution

SPLENDID HEARTFELT…  FIRST-RATE” —. Theatre Notes

“DEEPLY MOVING… fresh and meaningful” — Theatre Spoken Here

WELCOME INDEED… beauty and simple truths” — Ticket Holders LA

The Fountain Theatre’s ongoing post-show discussion series, Breaking It Down, will continue through the extension with thought-provoking conversations on themes connected to issues explored in the play. 

Get Tickets/More Info

 

 

From rejection pile to Pulitzer Prize: Women of color rise to take stage as playwrights nationwide

 

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Vickie Ramirez, unidentified, Nikkole Salter, Roberta Uno, Dionna Michelle Daniel, Marissa Chibas, Lynn Nottage (photo: ArtsChangeUs)

by Dionna Michelle Daniel

On March 6th, I had the pleasure of participating in the book launch at The Public Theater for the anthology Contemporary Plays by Women of Color edited by Roberta Uno. Not only was a scene from my play, Gunshot Medley, performed that afternoon but I also performed onstage with my actors Derek Jackson & Morgan Camper. 

Gunshot Medley stretches across the Antebellum American south through present day to weave a rich history of the Black-American experience, responding to the historical expendability of Black bodies and the lives lost to hatred, racism, and police brutality. I first wrote the play in response to the Charleston church shootings and the debate surrounding the insensitive usage of the Confederate flag. The play, combining spoken word and live music, sheds new light on the American slave narrative while paying homage to the real Betty, Alvis, and George, three historically documented slaves that died in North Carolina before the emancipation proclamation was signed.

After the selected scene performances, such playwrights included in the anthology as Lynn Nottage, Marissa Chibas, Nikkole Salter, Vickie Ramirez and I signed books in The Public Theater’s lobby. The energy in the room was magnetic and powerful with so many women taking up that kind of space. 

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Vickie Ramirez, Dionna Michelle Daniel, Marissa Chibas, Oskar Eustis (photo: ArtsChangeUs)

None of this would have been possible without the genius of Roberta Uno (Director of Arts in a Changing America). Roberta edited the 1st and 2nd editions of the anthology, the 1st edition being published a little over 20 years ago with such playwrights as Anna Deavere Smith and Elizabeth Wong. I even remember discovering the 1st edition in my undergraduate library while perusing the shelves, hoping to find work that represented me. As a young undergraduate actress at the California Institute of the Arts, I was thankful to have instructors such as Nataki Garrett and Marissa Chibas who aided in helping me find material I could relate to.

However, I know this is not the case for every young person of color (POC) actor and actress who is currently seeking a degree in acting. So often, I’ve heard my fellow black actors at other institutions talk about not knowing any contemporary black material they can do scene work from. They say that their instructor is usually giving them material from August Wilson’s body of work. Although August Wilson’s work is beautiful and presents the African-American experience in such a deep and profound way, it appears we have forgotten there are other great black writers out there. And, of these overlooked black playwrights, it is the women who are most forgotten.

At the book launch, Roberta Uno spoke about how she acquired a lot of the material for this current anthology. She said she spoke to many theaters and artistic directors asking for their rejection piles. It was clear to her that in this rejection pile was where most of the work submitted by women playwrights resided.

On the bright side, it seems that the theater world is embracing more female playwrights and stories. While I was in NYC that week, I witnessed Soho Rep’s production of Aleshea Harris’s play Is God Is. Not only did I have a mind-blowing experience, but I was in awe and so proud of this all-black cast telling such an epic tale by a young black female playwright. 

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“Is God Is” at Soho Rep.

Is God Is is a fascinating piece of theater because it mixes so many genres: Afro-Punk, Spaghetti Westerns, and experimental theatre all into one cohesive piece. I read the play on my flight to NYC and Harris’s use and experimentation with language completely breaks new ground. Even the way that the actors embodied this text was refreshing and eye-opening. It really inspired me as a young playwright to see other black female writers getting recognition for pushing the boundaries of what a play “can” or “should” be. Harris was actually the first winner of The Relentless Award, which was established to honor actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. The American Playwriting Foundation’s website says, “The Relentless Award is the largest annual cash prize in the American Theater awarded to a playwright in recognition of a new play.”

Also, in the past year, women of color playwrights have been killing the game in other avenues. Dominique Morisseau’s Ain’t Too Proud broke Berkeley Rep’s house record in 2017 and currently, CTG and LATC have produced all three plays in Quiara Alegeria Hudes’s Elliot trilogy. It is quite evident that times are changing.  And in the words of Maxine Waters, it appears women of color playwrights are indeed, #ReclaimingOurTime!

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

 

 

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.

Oscar Weekend: ‘The Chosen’ was a movie before it was a play. So, nu?

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Barry Miller and Robbie Benson in “The Chosen” (1981)

It’s Oscar Weekend. The Academy Awards are this Sunday night. Critics and fans are placing their bets, handicapping the nominees, calculating the winners. Fancy gowns and tuxedos have been rented, limousines are standing by. While the movie elite converge on the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Blvd, the rest of America plops down on the couch to watch it all on TV.

Except for the Fountain faithful who go to the theatre. 

We have a 2pm matinée of The Chosen this Oscar Sunday. It’s been sold out for weeks.  There’s even a waiting list for people standing by, desperate to get in. How can this be possible? Don’t they know that the most-watched non-sporting event in the United States will be dazzling their TV screens that night?

They know. They don’t care. They are theatre people. And, God Bless them.    

The Chosen was actually a movie before it was a play. Before Chaim Potok’s 1967 best-selling novel was adapted for the stage, The Chosen was a 1981 film directed by Jeremy Kagan. It starred Maximilian Schell, Rod Steiger, Robbie Benson and Barry Miller. Author Chaim Potok himself makes a cameo appearance as the Talmud Teacher. 

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Chaim Potok, Robbie Benson and Barry Miller (1981)

Like the homes of the two Brooklyn boys in The Chosen, The Fountain Theatre is a short drive from The Dolby Theatre but it might as well be a world away. It’s hard to imagine two venues more different. The glamorous Dolby seats 3,400 people. Our homey theatre on Fountain Avenue holds 78.  The Dolby has the world-famous red carpet holding an avalanche of international press. The only time the Fountain attracted any swarm of paparazzi was when Elizabeth Taylor arrived here to see a play in 1993.   

But the Fountain has one thing the Dolby does not. Diehard theatre people who still feel that experiencing a live performance exceeds watching one on a screen. They are the loyal Fountain Family, highly intelligent and culturally sophisticated connoisseurs of a glorious art form dating back centuries before the first electric light bulb was switched on in Thomas Edison’s first Kinetoscope movie projector.   

Besides, they can always dash home after our Sunday matinée and still get home in time for Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue. As a character in The Chosen might say, “What can you do? Azoy gait es!”  

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.

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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