Tag Archives: Aurelia Myers

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.

 

Sam Waterston joins cast of Fountain Theatre’s ‘Ms. Smith Goes to Washington’ at L.A. City Hall

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Sam Waterston

Sam Waterston (Law & Order, The Newsroom, Gracie and Frankie) will join Scandal co-stars Joshua MalinaJeff Perry and Bellamy Young for a one-night only, all-star reading of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington at Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m.

The gender-switched adaptation of Sidney Buchman’s screenplay for the 1939 Jimmy Stewart classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is adapted and directed by Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. The free reading is being presented by the Fountain Theatre in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and with exclusive permission from SONY Pictures. It will be hosted by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and will take place in the John Ferraro Council Chamber.  A catered reception will follow in the City Hall Rotunda.

In Sachs’ version, an idealistic, newly elected female senator finds herself fighting corruption in male-dominated Washington. Young will star in the title role, and Waterston has been cast in the pivotal role of Senator Paine.

The full cast includes Joshua MalinaJeff PerryBellamy YoungSam Waterston, Alan BlumenfeldGilbert Glenn BrownLeith BurkeTim CummingsCameron DyeSpencer GarrettChet GrissomMorlan HigginsAurelia MyersJenny O’HaraFelix SolisJack StehlinMark Taylor and Sal Viscuso.

The event is a follow-up to the Fountain’s hugely successful 2018 celebrity reading of All the President’s Men. It is sponsored, in part, by the Feminist Majority Foundation and in association with the League of Women Voters.

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.

Fountain Theatre wins 5 Ticketholder Awards including Best Production of a Play in 2018

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Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur, “Arrival & Departure.”

Two acclaimed Fountain Theatre premieres — Arrival & Departure and Cost of Living — have been named Best Production of a Play in 2018 by veteran LA theatre critic Travis Michael Holder on TicketHoldersLA.com.  Now in its 27th year, Travis’ Ticketholder Awards celebrate the 100+ Los Angeles theatre productions reviewed by Holder in 2018 in large houses and intimate.

Our Deaf/hearing world premiere of Arrival & Departure, written and directed by Stephen Sachs, won Best Production, Best Adaptation (Sachs) and a Special Achievement Award to movement director, Gary Franco. 

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Katy Sullivan and Felix Solis, “Cost of Living.”

Cost of Living by Martyna Majok was also named Best Production, and Tobias Forrest was awarded Best Supporting Actor. 

The following were also acknowledged as a runner-up:

Arrival & Departure

  • Runner-Up, Best Actor – Troy Kotsur
  • Runner-Up, Best Actress – Deanne Bray
  • Runner-Up, Best Supporting Actor – Shon Fuller
  • Runner-Up, Best Supporting Actress – Jessica Jade Andres
  • Runner-Up, Best Supporting Actress – Stasha Surdyke
  • Runner-Up, New Discovery 2018 – Aurelia Myers
  • Runner-Up, Best Direction – Stephen Sachs
  • Runner-Up, Best Set Design – Matthew G. Hill
  • Runner-Up, Best Sound Design – Peter Bayne
  • Runner-Up, Best CGI/Video Design – Nicholas E. Santiago

Cost of Living

  • Runner-Up, Best Actress – Xochitl Romero
  • Runner-Up, Best Actress – Katy Sullivan
  • Runner-Up, Best Playwright – Martyna Majok

Full list of Ticketholder Award winners

Video and Photos: Opening night party for romantic world premiere ‘Arrival & Departure’

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Playwright/Director Stephen Sachs celebrates with the crowd on Opening Night. 

Love was in the air on Saturday night for the opening of our world premiere of Arrival & Departure, the funny and poignant new play inspired by the classic romantic movie, Brief Encounter. Written and directed by Stephen Sachs, Arrival & Departure  focuses on a Deaf man and a hard-of-hearing woman, married to different people, who meet accidentally in a New York City subway station. Their casual friendship soon develops into deeper feelings they never expected.

Saturday’s Opening Night performance compelled a sold-out audience to leap to its feet in a standing ovation. Afterward, a catered reception was held in our cafe. The warm summer weather was perfect for our invited guests to enjoy the cafe’s cozy outdoor balcony. 

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The cast includes Jessica Jade Andres, Deanne Bray, Adam Burch, Brian Robert Burns, Shon Fuller, Kyra Kotsur, Troy Kotsur, Aurelia Myers, and Stasha Surdyke. They were celebrated at the party by Fountain staff, members of the press, members of the Fountain Theatre Board of Directors, and family and friends. The guests were impressed by the dazzling performance, many commenting on its power and poignancy.

Arrival & Departure is performed by Hearing and Deaf actors in a fully integrated, unique blend of Open Captioning, American Sign Language and Spoken English. In this short video clip, Deaf actors Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray address the party guests.

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VIDEO: A behind-the-scenes peek in the rehearsal room of ‘Arrival & Departure’

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ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE Love Story to Star Married Deaf Actors Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray

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An unforgettable love story inspired by one of the most romantic movies of all time. Stephen Sachs directs Deaf actors Deanne Bray (Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, Heroes) and Troy Kotsur (title role in Cyrano at the Fountain, Big River on Broadway) in Sachs’ newest play, inspired by the screenplay for Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter. The world premiere of Arrival & Departure will open on July 14 and continue through September 30 at the Fountain Theatre. The cast also features hearing actors Jessica Jade Andres, Adam Burch, Brian Robert Burns, Shon Fuller, Kyra Kotsur, Aurelia Myersand Stasha Surdyke.

In Sachs’ new spin on the classic 1945 British film, a Deaf man (Kotsur) and a hard-of-hearing woman (Bray), two married strangers, meet accidentally in a New York City subway station. As their casual friendship develops into something deeper, each is forced to confront how their simmering relationship could forever change their lives and the lives of those they love.

“A train station is a place of transition, a place people go when they’re on their way to someplace else,” notes Sachs. “‘Arrival & Departure’ is not only a travel term. It expresses the journey of change that the people in this play are experiencing. What happens when you find your soul mate, but the circumstances of life get in the way?”

Kostsur and Bray are married in real life, and Sachs wrote the play with them in mind.

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Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur

“This is my valentine to the two of them,” he says. “But the characters they portray aren’t the only ones seeking human connection in the play. Other storylines interweave through the piece. Each character has a reason to reach out to someone.”

The 1945 classic film Brief Encounter, directed by David Lean with a screenplay by Noël Coward and starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, was named “the most romantic film ever made” according to 101 industry experts polled by Time Out London. The Film Society of Lincoln Center named it “one of the most achingly romantic films ever made.”

The play is performed simultaneously in spoken English and American Sign Language with additional use of open captioning, so that both Deaf and hearing audiences can enjoy the production.

The creative team for Arrival & Departure includes set designer Matthew G. Hill, lighting designer Donny Jackson, video designer Nick Santiago, composer and sound designer Peter Bayne, costume designer Michael Mullen, prop master Michael Navarro, movement director Gary Franco and ASL masters Lisa Hermatz and Jevon Whetter. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer. Simon Levy, Deborah Culver and James Bennett produce for the Fountain Theatre. Executive producers are Karen Kondazian; Diana Buckhantz and The Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation; and Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber. Producing underwriters include Dorothy and Stanley Wolpert; Suzanne and Don Zachary; Lois Tandy; Debbi and Ashley Posner; and The Howard and Helen Family Foundation.

Arrival & Departure is supported, in part, by generous grants from the David Lee Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

Deanne Bray was born deaf and has been bilingual in American Sign Language and English since the age of two. She kicked off her acting career in 1991 at the Fountain Theatre, where Stephen Sachs directed her in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Bray is best known for the title role in Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, which ran for three seasons on the PAX network. She has appeared in numerous TV shows, including a recurring role on NBC’s Heroes alongside Milo Ventimiglia and Masi Oka. On stage, Deanne has been seen in Deaf West Theatre productions of Big River, Sleeping Beauty Wakes and My Sister in This House. A graduate of Gallaudet University, she has a Masters in Sign Language Education and a California K-12 Teaching Credential from CSUN. She currently teaches ASL at Oak Park High School.

Troy Kotsur has been acting and directing for over 24 years, earning multiple awards for his work on stage. Deaf since birth, he attended Gallaudet University, where he played basketball for three years before leaving to become a professional actor with the National Theatre of the Deaf. In 1994, Troy moved to Los Angeles and joined the company of Deaf West Theatre, where he has performed in countless productions. His television guest-starring roles include Criminal Minds, Scrubs, CSI: NY and Sue Thomas F.B.Eye in a recurring role (starring alongside Deanne Bray) that became a fan-favorite. In film, he stars in Wild Prairie Rose and in the upcoming Inside Track, and he has had notable supporting roles in The Number 23 with Jim Carrey, Universal Signs and Father’s Day Breakfast. He directed the award-winning independent film No Ordinary Hero: The Superdeafy Movie, the first film in the history of SAG commercial feature films to be directed by a Deaf director and to be executive-produced exclusively by Deaf executive producers. Troy’s stage credits include the Tony Award-winning run of Big River on Broadway, as well as starring roles in Deaf West Theatre productions of American Buffalo (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award nominee), Our Town at The Pasadena Playhouse, Cyrano at the Fountain (L.A. Drama Critic’s Circle Award for best actor, Ovation Award nominee), A Streetcar Named Desire (L.A. Drama Critics Circle and LA Weekly awards) and Of Mice and Men (LA Weekly Award for best actor).

Stephen Sachs is an award-winning playwright, director, producer and the co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre, which he co-founded with Deborah Culver in 1990. He recently adapted and directed a celebrity reading of the screenplay for All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall starring Bradley Whitford, Joshua Malina and Jeff Perry. His stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (Stage Raw Award at Fountain Theatre) inaugurated Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and was chosen to represent Los Angeles theater for Grand Park’s new Our L.A. Voices Arts Festival. His play Bakersfield Mist enjoyed a three-month run on London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner and is now being produced in regional theaters across the country, translated into other languages and performed worldwide. Other plays include Cyrano (L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Adaptation), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist), Sweet Nothing in My Ear (PEN USA Literary Award finalist) and several others. He wrote the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in My Ear for Hallmark Hall of Fame which aired on CBS starring Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. Sachs’ directing credits My Name is Asher Lev (L.A. premiere); Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris (U.S. premiere); Bakersfield Mist (world premiere); Completeness by Itamar Moses, starring Jason Ritter; Side Man starring Christine Lahti; The Train Driver by Athol Fugard (U.S. premiere); Conor McPherson’s Shining City (L.A. premiere); the world premiere of Fugard’s Exits and Entrances at the Fountain (Ovation Award, L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award) and off-Broadway at Primary Stages; Fugard’s The Road to Mecca (L.A. premiere); Arthur Miller’s After the Fall (Ovation Award); Sweet Nothing in My Ear (world premiere); Hippolytos, inaugurating the outdoor classical theater at the Getty Villa in Malibu; and many others. Sachs was recently honored with a Certificate of Commendation from the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored for its acclaimed 25th Anniversary Season in 2015 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council; the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and again, this year, as the centerpiece of Our L.A. Voices at Grand Park; and an all-star reading of All The President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. The Fountain’s most recent production, The Chosen, enjoyed rave reviews and ran for five sold-out months.

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VIDEO: Deaf and hearing actors meet at ‘Arrival & Departure’ first rehearsal

Excitement was high and fingers were flying as the company of Deaf and hearing theatre artists gathered at the Fountain Theatre for the first rehearsal of Arrival & Departure, a new play combining spoken English and American Sign Language. The world premiere opens July 14. 

The world premiere of a re-imagined modern-day stage adaptation of the classic 1945 film, Brief Encounter. A Deaf man and a hard-of-hearing woman, married to different people, meet accidentally in a New York City subway station. Their casual friendship soon develops into deeper feelings they never expected, forcing both to confront how their simmering relationship will change their lives and damage the lives of those they love forever. An unforgettable love story inspired by one of the most beloved romantic movies of all time.

Written and directed by Stephen Sachs, Arrival & Departure stars Deaf actors Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur, with Jessica Jade Andres, Adam Burch, Brian Robert Burns, Shon Fuller, Kyra Kotsur, Aurelia Myers, and Stasha Surdyke.

The play is performed simultaneously in American Sign Language, Spoken English, and open captioning so that all audiences can enjoy the production.

 

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