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Fountain Theatre awarded grant for Pulitzer Prize winner ‘Cost of Living’ by Martyna Majok

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Katy Sullivan, Victor William in “Cost of Living”, Manhattan Theatre Club, 2017.  

The National Arts and Disability Center has awarded The Fountain an Arts and Accessibility Grant to support its upcoming West Coast Premiere of Martyna Majok‘s 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Cost of Living. The grant will assist in funding the compensation of two actors with disabilities for the production opening October 20th.

“We are grateful to the NADC and the California Arts Council for their support of this important project,” states Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We are proud to produce this Pulitzer Prize winning new play which features two leading roles for actors with disabilities.  It is another example of the Fountain Theatre’s mission of inclusion and our commitment to serving a wide variety of communities in Los Angeles.”

Achingly human and surprisingly funny, Cost of Living is a haunting, rigorously unsentimental play about the forces that bring people together and the realities of facing the world with physical disabilities. Unemployed truck driver Eddie is struggling to rebuild a relationship with his estranged wife Ani, recently wheelchair-bound with a spinal cord injury. Jess, in a job that she desperately needs, is trying to navigate her duties with John, her new boss with cerebral palsy. But, who is really caring for whom? By shattering stereotypes, the play reveals how deeply we all need each other.

Cost of Living debuted at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2017. The Fountain west coast premiere, directed by John Vreeke, will run October 20 to December 16th.  Casting is now underway.

This activity is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Arts and Disability Center at the University of California Los Angeles.

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Walking the walk: Art for art’s sake is simply not enough anymore

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by Bobby Steggert

About two years ago, I completely turned my back on an acting career that I had spent twenty years building. I found myself increasingly discontented by the lack of control that every artist must submit to, and I found myself nauseatingly self-concerned in a job that threw me off balance enough to never quite feel stable. That, and as the world spiraled into the surreal chaos that continues to swirl around us today, I found it harder and harder to justify my contribution as enough to make a significant difference.

The classic argument for the necessity of art (and a deeply legitimate one) is that is holds a mirror up to the human condition. It asks the important questions and gives voice to the voiceless. I suppose my goal in leaving the theater was to make a difference that felt more practical, or somehow quantifiable — instead of giving metaphoric voice to the voiceless, why not up the ante and work to give them a voice directly? And so I have spent the last two years pursuing a master’s degree in social work. I’ve been given a crash course in anti-black racism, in the horror of our immigration and criminal justice systems, in the forces behind gender and sexual discrimination. I’ve met some incredible social justice warriors — people putting all of their heroic energies into fighting to inspire essential shifts in the cultural fabric.

And may I unequivocally stress, I still believe that artists of all kind — playwrights, painters, musicians, and actors — wield equally powerful heroism in the same aim. In fact, the irony of walking away from the arts is that I am now more convinced than ever as to the necessity of you, the artist. But here is my ultimate argument, and hear me out– you are more powerful than the work you do under the proverbial lights. In fact, it’s only a part of why we need you.

Let’s face it — it is too late and the world is too far gone to celebrate art for art’s sake. It’s simply not enough anymore. We as a collective culture have forgotten what true greatness is, as the paradigm shifts and we are bombarded with the most toxic and pathetic expressions of selfishness masquerading as strength. But here’s the good news — all humans are outfitted with potential greatness, and yours far outstrips your craft. It is a superpower in this ever isolated and polarized world, and it is your responsibility to use it. Many of you already do.

The greatness I speak of is your bravery in offering authentic compassion in the flesh — a space of physical, emotional, and ideological vulnerability that, though out of fashion in our current climate, is the only thing that can save us. Lots of people practice empathy, and every human is endowed with it, but fewer have the experience you have in using it so flexibly.

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Bobby Steggert

At the risk of getting too personal, this is another reason I felt I had to leave acting — it was easy for me to bare my soul under the safety of the blinding lights and a two-hour time limit. What was far more challenging for me was to translate that freedom of expression into daily life. The most distilled version of my disappointment was that, in my deepest knowledge, I wasn’t walking the walk. I was proclaiming an artist’s social responsibility whilst hiding everywhere but onstage. I was vulnerable and brave at work and I was stuck and afraid elsewhere.

Ultimately, I did what felt necessary to create a chance at more sustainable balance in my own life, and I don’t have any regrets today as I work towards something happier. And in no way do I argue that anyone in an artistic life should change course. Instead, I am simply urging you to look at what you have in the moments when you feel frustrated and powerless — the enormous opportunity in every moment of your waking life, regardless of the audition you just aced, the job you just booked, or the brilliant performance you just gave. And equally important, the higher purpose you have despite the audition you just bombed, the job you just lost, or the brilliant performance you wish you had the opportunity to offer the world. You (like all of us) are bigger than your job, but it just so happens that your job has prepared you for the war ahead.

You are trained through your exceptional sensitivity to be generous of heart. You are more comfortable with the vulnerability of emotional expression than most anyone else on Earth. You can look deeply into the eyes of another human without flinching from the terror of being exposed. You understand that silence and stillness are not passive, but radical acts in the digital world of never ending status updates. You realize, even beneath the tidal wave of “self expression” that powers our culture of narcissism, that to listen is the only way to truly honor another’s humanity.

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These qualities are not unique to actors, but they are ones that you have spent a lifetime cultivating. You are also in an industry that threatens the very qualities that brought you here. It surely did mine.

Whether your work reaches dozens or millions, it can only represent life. It cannot stand in for it. I have to believe, from experience, that a “tortured artist” is someone who is unable to integrate their work and their life, so that the only place they feel understood is in the privacy of their work. But I have come to realize that the work is just as much to understand as it is to be understood. And as the world becomes increasingly disembodied and dehumanized by fear and greed, it is your flesh and blood — your eyes and breath and heart — that can bring change to every space you enter. You must remind others, whose gods are money or fear or status or fame, that their worship is futile.

Do not compromise in using the gifts that make you special. Do not allow an industry that asks you to be selfish to take away your generosity. Create no boundary between the stage and the street. Look up from your screens and feel the power you already contain. There are people fighting the good fight at every turn, but it just so happens that your special skills are applicable anywhere you go. When it comes to professional contribution alone, a surgeon is limited to saving lives in the operating room. You are not.

Strange, that I had to completely reroute the entire trajectory of my life to learn that I already had everything I needed to make a difference. My master’s degree will be a piece of paper, but my life as an artist will make me a great social worker, this I know. And if I ever return to acting, it will be with this knowledge (and I hope it reminds you of of your own possibilities) — that the work does not stop when unemployed — that you are an artist every day, if you so choose — that art is an obligation, and that it must be lived, not simply offered to those who have paid the price of admission.

After “The Chosen”, to be worthy of rest

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The cast of ‘The Chosen’ take final bows on closing weekend. 

by Stephen Sachs

Our six-month sold-out run of The Chosen came to an end on Sunday. In the opening moment of Aaron Posner’s stage adaptation of Chaim Potok’s classic novel, Reuven Malter faces the audience and asks, can two conflicting ideas or realities be true at the same time even if they directly contradict each other? From the cross-current of feelings still swirling within me after Sunday’s final performance at the Fountain Theatre, the answer is clearly yes. As with any closure, even those we know are coming, I felt sadness and the ache of letting go. Yet, in direct opposition, my heart soared with joy. Two conflicting perceptions. Both true.

I glowed with fulfillment at the closing of The Chosen not because our production earned rave reviews, including being highlighted as the LA Times Critic’s Choice. Not because it ran for six months and every performance was sold-out. Not because it joined the echelon of other top box-office champions at the Fountain Theatre.  

It was because of the people. The talented artists and dedicated production team members who brought our production of the play to life, for the sole purpose of emotionally moving and spiritually inspiring other human beings, our audiences. It’s the interchange between people, from our stage to our patrons, that gives me the deepest satisfaction.  Fountain folk connected with this play and this production like kindred at a family gathering. For the two-hour length of each performance, we laughed together, wept together, were reminded of our fathers, our sons and ourselves, together.

Why do we do theatre? Why do people come? This is why.

One of my favorite passages in the novel is when Reuven’s father, David Malter, tells his young son:    

“Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So, it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye? 

I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. 

It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here.”   

This is my purpose for the Fountain Theatre and the guiding principle behind dedicating my life to starting and running a non-profit arts organization. To create art that is meaningful. A life filled with meaning is well lived.

The title of Potok’s novel and play, “The Chosen”, obviously refers to the belief in Judaism that the Jews are the chosen people, chosen to be in a covenant with God. The word “chosen” is an adjective. To “choose”, however, is a verb, an action word. At the Fountain Theatre, we take action to choose to create, to develop and produce work that is meaningful. We choose plays that hold the promise to touch hearts and open eyes and challenge minds. To make the world a better place. As David Malter warns his son, it is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning.  But no matter the struggle, this is the mission we choose at the Fountain.  When we produce a play that is specific to the Jewish faith yet can uplift the soul and spark the minds of audiences of all faiths, we fulfill our agreement with that which is sacred and holy.  And that is a good thing.

So, when the run is over, we are worthy of rest.

Shubert Foundation awards Fountain Theatre $20,000 to support growth and artistic achievement

THE CHOSEN out front FTThe Fountain Theatre has been awarded a 2018 grant in the amount of $20,000 from The Shubert Foundation to support the general operating of the organization.  The Shubert Foundation provides grants only to organizations that have an established artistic and administrative track record, as well as a history of fiscal responsibility.

The award marks the third year that the Fountain Theatre has received support from the Shubert Fountain. Each year the award amount has increased.

“We sincerely thank the Shubert Foundation for its ongoing support,” said Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “The Shubert name is synonymous with excellence in the American Theatre.  It’s an honor for us to be recognized by one of the most highly respected foundations and organizations in our field. “

The Shubert Foundation, Inc. is dedicated to sustaining and advancing the live performing arts in the United States, with a particular emphasis on theatre. The Foundation’s Board of Directors believes that the most effective way to encourage the artistic process is by providing the general operating support that reinforces the structure that nurtures its development. Accordingly, The Foundation does not earmark its awards; all allocations are unrestricted.Theatres are evaluated individually and with appropriate allowance for size and resources. The standard for awarding these grants is based on an assessment of each organization’s operation and its contribution to the field. Artistic achievement, administrative strength and fiscal stability are factored into each evaluation, as is the company’s development of new work and other significant contributions to the field of professional theatre in the US.

Communications specialist Carrie Chassin joins the Fountain Theatre Board of Directors

Carrie Chassin

Carrie Chassin

The Fountain Theatre continues to expand and broaden its Board of Directors with an elite team of highly-regarded and successful business, arts, legal and financial professionals. The Fountain is honored to welcome Carrie Chassin to the Board.  

“I am thrilled to be joining the dedicated members of the Fountain board in advancing the goals of this sparkling gem of Los Angeles, ” says Ms. Chassin. “The fearless productions have often reminded me of the role of drama in ancient Athens : inspiring, educating , entertaining, stimulating, challenging and uplifting. The clarity and talent on display at the Fountain stage have consistently provided me with the most satisfying theatre experience in our city.”

Carrie has spent her professional life engaged in controversial issues and crisis communications on behalf of Fortune 100 companies, governments, non-governmental organizations, environmental groups, industry associations, and Indian tribes. She developed and executed strategies responding to complex legal, legislative, regulatory, public opinion and media challenges. Many of these assignments involved advising CEOs, establishing and mobilizing grassroots organizations, media training, multiple forms of communication and complex negotiations. Her issues included major project siting, product liability, air quality, utility deregulation, labor disputes, water resources and preservation of wild lands and architecturally significant buildings. 

“Carrie brings a high level of clear organizational thinking to our Board of Directors,” states Co-Artistic Director Stephen. “She has dedicated her career to passionately defending the rights of people and groups fighting for the public good. She has strongly  advocated for issues that make the world a better place.”

Sachs jokes, “Besides, every non-profit theatre organization should have an expert on crisis management on its Board of Directors.” 

Carrie retired 6 years ago from her position as Executive Vice President at Winner & Associates, an international issue management firm and Winner & Mandabach Campaigns, a national, full-service ballot measure campaign firm where she managed all aspects of ballot measure and issue campaigns, including strategic planning, public opinion research, advertising, direct mail, digital/social media, phone banks, earned media, and grassroots/outreach activities.

Her successful campaigns in California included park and water bonds, eminent domain, taxes for rapid transit, and the legalization of Indian gaming. She was honored by 88 California tribes as a Great Warrior Woman during that campaign. She also represented the Choctaw Nation in preserving their water rights and in negotiations with the Smithsonian for what is now the annual Choctaw Days festival at the National Museum of the American Indian. Her theater work involved advising the Nederlander organization on their Greek Theatre contract with the City of Los Angeles.

She spent almost a decade at Exxon directing corporate philanthropy to the arts, education and community programs in the Western region. She served as media spokesperson, lobbyist, strategist and on the negotiating team that obtained federal, state and local permits for a $3 billion onshore and offshore oil and gas project in Santa Barbara County. She was also involved in legislative and regulatory issues related to all areas of Exxon’s interests in exploration, production, shipping, pipelines, refining and marketing.

Prior to working in the private sector, she served as a deputy to Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude. Carrie has served on the board of directors of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, Hillel and the Los Angeles Child Development Center. She was the first Chief Operating Officer of CALSTART, dedicated to the growth of a clean transportation.

Carrie has been married to Jochen Haber for almost 40 years. She swam into him at the Rec Center pool while a graduate student in urban and regional planning at UCLA. They still swim there together. She has one son and 3 grandchildren living in Amsterdam. She is also sculpts, paints, gardens and travels as much as possible.

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.

 

Fountain Theatre’s ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ to highlight new LA arts festival at Grand Park

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‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 2017.

The Fountain Theatre’s critically acclaimed and award-winning stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric has been chosen as the centerpiece of a new festival celebrating the diversity and excellence of the arts in Los Angeles. The festival, called Our L.A. Voices, will be launched April 27 – 29, 2018, in downtown Los Angeles at Grand Park. 

Envisioned as an annual “best of L.A. arts festival,” this free, three-day performing and visual arts showcase will bring dance, music and theatre performances as well as visual artwork by L.A. artists to Grand Park every spring. Grand Park’s Our L.A. Voices will serve as a home for L.A. artists, underlining Grand Park’s commitment to L.A.’s creative communities.

The Fountain Theatre’s production of Citizen: An American Lyric has been chosen to represent excellence in Los Angeles theatre.  The compelling play about racism in America will be the culmination of both evenings on Friday April 27th and Saturday April 28th, both performances at 8pm, serving as the centerpiece for the multi-arts festival.

Stephen Sachs’ stage adaptation of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine won the 2016 Stage Raw Theatre Award for Best Adaptation, declaring it “a transcendent theatrical experience.The Los Angeles Times hailed it as “powerful”, highlighting it as Critic’s Choice. The production was chosen by Center Theatre Group for its first Block Party celebration of intimate theatre in Los Angeles at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2017.

Director Shirley Jo Finney returns to direct the Grand Park outdoor production. Original cast members Bernard K. Addision, Leith Burke, Tony Maggio, Monnae Michaell, Lisa Pescia will be joined by Adenrele Ojo. The original design team — Yee Eun Nam (set and video), Pablo Santiago (lighting), Peter Bayne (sound), Naila Aladdin-Sanders (costumes) — also return with production stage manager Shawna Voragen. 

“In the sprawling Los Angeles metropolis, Grand Park provides both a place and a reason for Angelenos to come together to experience the arts and each other in ways they never have before,” said Rachel Moore, president and CEO of The Music Center.   

Grand Park is a 12-acre urban oasis nestled between The Music Center and City Hall. Operated by The Music Center, the park features fountains, outdoor dining, recreation, sprawling lawns and an outdoor stage. That stage will be the center platform for the Our L.A. Voices Arts Festival, highlighting the variety and high quality of L.A.-based artists and companies.  The weekend-long event will feature music, dance, theatre, spoken word poetry and fine art. Food trucks will offer savory menus of LA cuisine. 

Grand Park

Grand Park, Los Angeles.

“It’s an honor for the Fountain Theatre to be representing Los Angeles theatre at this exciting new arts festival,” beams Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We’re proud to be partnering with the Music Center and Grand Park to celebrate the diversity and artistic excellence of our city.” 

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