Tag Archives: Bakersfield Mist

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.

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New Fountain cafe chef Baltazar: “Great art should be accompanied by great food”

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Chef Baltazar Gaytan

If you’ve visited our Fountain Café in the last three months, you’ve already noticed the number of changes occurring. With its cheese and delicious snicker doodles topped with black Himalayan salt, its savory pastries, improved wines, finer coffee, its warm and inviting atmosphere, the Café is becoming the place to visit before and after shows here at the Fountain Theatre. Your Fountain Theatre experience is not complete without a drink on our rooftop patio, deep in discussion over the play you just saw.

We cannot talk about the Café’s stunning transformation without hailing our new breakout chef, Baltazar Gaytan. Originally from Salinas, California, Baltzar studied at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Academy in Pasadena and is wowing crowds with his inventive baked goods and dedication to the Café.

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The Fountain cafe busy and buzzing. 

While Baltzar’s skills speak for themselves, we sat down for a little Q&A to learn more about the Fountain’s chef and mastermind of the Café, as well as his goals for the future.

Tell us about your background. Where did you grow up and study cooking?

I grew up in a family of six with a single mother in Salinas, CA. We weren’t the most financially stable family, but it taught me to be resourceful and creative with my limited ingredients. A few years after high school, I decided to take a leap and decided to refine and expand my culinary knowledge at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Academy in Pasadena, CA.

Was there one person or one event in your life that turned you on to cooking? 

During my gap years, my mother became more ill due to a genetic kidney disorder that my family carries. Unfortunately, this brought on a great deal of dietary restrictions, limiting her to an incredibly bland diet. After doing more research, I began to understand what grains and proteins she could have, giving me the ability to make her flavorful dishes despite her restrictions. While she was stubborn about this at first, she began to look forward to see what I’ve created for her. The joy that I gave to my mother when she eat was the point when I decided that I had a talent and it should be shared with others to enjoy.

What is it about cooking that fuels your passion?

I love the magic that I get to make. I mean, look at some of the plates that chefs are doing. They are works of art. We have an open mind to where we almost never say no. If no answer is provided, we seek that knowledge in the hopes of having a culinary breakthrough. The one who discovers the perfect potion. Chefs can play mad scientist, we just try and try until we figure out the perfect potion.

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The outdoor balcony of the Fountain cafe. 

Had you been to the Fountain Theatre before becoming the new chef?

I have once back in January to see Bakersfield Mist. I was visiting my childhood best friend Marisela Hughes (Fountain’s Box Office Manager). I enjoyed the theatre and its intimate, classic theatre ambiance.

How did you become the new chef at the Fountain?

By faith actually, when I decided to move down to Hollywood, the Fountain has been looking for a chef to take over after Bakersfield Mist. Marisela was helping me look for a job and this one seemed to be the perfect match. The universe will tell us when to make a move. And if we don’t make them our selves, well, sometimes the universe will force us to make that change. It’s a growing opportunity and effect that is designed to happen. 

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Chef Baltazar

What kind of changes are you making to the new cafe? How is it now different?

When I walked into the café for the first time as Chef, I saw this vision of comfort, warmth with a little bohemian/Mediterranean chic, lanterns and a garden. Patrons can have a nice romantic dinner underneath the open sky with a glamorous view of the skyline of downtown LA. So here I am, providing quality product made by myself. I’m now providing as many in-home goods as I can possibly produce. Part of this is introducing a cheese course, our first introduction to savory goods. From there we work our way up based on demand and profit. I’d like to turn the Café into a bistro with warm foods and table-side service, being open on days that there isn’t a show going on. Great Performing Art should be accompanied by great food. I’m seeing brunches and dinner parties before the show happening in the future.

What are you hoping to achieve with the new Fountain cafe?

Success! I want to introduce myself as an artist and introduce the beauty in culinary arts. How ones own imagination can go beyond just the eyes, but into taste the stimulate memories and sensors—just like in the theatre.

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Fountain folk enjoy the cafe on a warm summer night. 

What words would you choose to describe the new Fountain café?

Welcoming, peaceful, fun, adorable, hidden oasis, no sense of time and space. These are a few words of which I’ve already heard people say about the New Café

How do you see a Fountain patron’s dining experience in the cafe complementing their experience of seeing a play here?

Well you’d start off with getting a great parking space. Not just that but you’re going to save yourself time. From transporting from place to place and, lets be real, finding parking in LA on a Saturday evening isn’t the most pleasant of task. But once you get here you’ll feel like you’re just at home. In an intimate setting just like our theatre, only a select few will be joining you in a journey that is unique, artistic and creative. No two menus will be alike. The Fountain Café will be the most exclusive dinning destination in Hollywood.

What can we look forward to in the cafe? Any new items or ideas you can share for what’s coming?

We’ve already implemented new items to the café such as gourmet cheese plates and freshly baked beer bread, complete with bacon marmalade and freshly whipped honey butter. We use fresh herbs from the herb garden that I began to grow on the porch, in many of the items now being served. I make a classic from a classic (i.e. PB&J Cookie) I’m letting you enter my mind of culinary imagination, where there is no walls. Brunch and dinner before the show are all on the horizon for the Fountain Café.

More on our website

‘Building the Wall’ to open Off-Broadway

BUILDING THE WALL NYCRobert Schenkkan’s powerful new political thriller Building the Wall, now playing to sold-out houses at the Fountain Theatre, will open Off-Broadway at New World Stages for a limited run May 12 to July 9th.  The New York production will feature Tamara Tunie (“Law & Order: SVU”) and James Badge Dale (“13 hours”, “The Departed”),  directed by Ari Edelson.

“We are thrilled Robert’s play will increase the national conversation on these issues by making its New York debut, ” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “I am very proud that the Fountain Theatre has lead the charge by launching the world premiere of this urgent new play.” 

The Fountain Theatre opened the National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Building the Wall on March 18, directed by Michael Michetti and starring Bo Foxworth and Judith Moreland. The production has earned rave reviews and is still playing to sold-out houses. The current run continues to May 21. 

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

“This announcement comes from the core of our artistic mission at the Fountain,” says Sachs. “We are dedicated to developing and producing new plays that are later seen in theaters across the country and around the world.” Examples include Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances, which premiered at the Fountain and opened Off-Broadway at Primary Stages, Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, and Sachs’ own Bakersfield Mist, now being produced worldwide after a 3-month run on London’s West End.

Building the Wall at Fountain Theatre

PHOTOS: ‘Bakersfield Mist’ ends another triumphant run at the Fountain Theatre

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When the new play Bakersfield Mist premiered at the Fountain Theatre in 2011 starring Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett, it earned rave reviews and ran for seven sold-out months. The current revival with the original cast has been equally successful, enjoying a four-month run and delighting full houses of enthusiastic audiences. The hit production concluded its run yesterday at Sunday’s matinee, followed by a lively reception in our upstairs cafe. 

Playwright and director Stephen Sachs shared his thoughts and gratitude — and some history — on the play’s final performance at the Fountain.

Today at 2pm is the final performance of the current remount of Bakersfield Mist at the Fountain Theatre starring my original cast, Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett. That means, barring some unforeseen opportunity in the future, today will be last time the three of us will inhabit Maude’s trailer together.

It will probably also be the last time I watch a performance of the play. I’ve seen several productions through the years, all over the world. It’s not likely I’ll see more. It warms my heart deeply that my final viewing will be performed by the two glorious actors who first gave it life, for whom I wrote the play in the first place. We end today as we began. Together.

Bakersfield Mist has been an extraordinary, joyous ride for us. I wrote the play in 2010 with the voices of Jenny and Nick in my head. I called them to my house one night, where they read the first draft at my dining room table. They shepherded the play with me through new drafts and rewrites. We knew we liked the play ourselves, but we had no idea what we had until the first public reading in front of a live audience at Play Fest at Orlando Shakespeare Theatre in Florida. The audience roared with laughter, intensely listened, and applauded wildly at the end. And it’s been that way, everywhere, ever since.

The play opened at the Fountain Theatre in 2011, starring Jenny and Nick, and ran for seven sold-out months, raising the two actors to a full Equity contract. The play enjoyed a 3-month run on London’s West End and is now being performed in regional theatres across the country, has been translated into foreign languages and is being produced around the world.

I’m proud that Bakersfield Mist at the Fountain Theatre became a model example of the 99-Seat Plan working exactly as it should, as it was designed. This little play, created, developed and produced at an intimate theatre in Los Angeles under the 99-Seat Plan, has now generated dozens of Equity contracts across the country and created hundreds of jobs for theatre professionals around the world.

Most of all, the play is my gift, my valentine, to Nick and Jenny. These two remarkable people. Husband and wife, partners in art. Supremely skilled, true professionals, and a hell of a lot of fun. We gave birth to this play together. They gave their time, their talent, their expertise and enthusiasm, their decades of professional craft and wisdom to this play, all with a spirit of passion, great humor and deep caring. I love and respect them both dearly, and will be forever grateful.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Bakersfield Mist’ holiday party donates toys for homeless children

bm-holiday-party-3Holiday theatre-goers enjoyed a special treat last night at our smash hit production of Bakersfield Mist. After leaping to their feet in a standing ovation for the funny and thought-provoking performance, the crowd gathered upstairs in our festively-decorated cafe for a holiday party with the cast and company. Patrons brought unwrapped toys and gifts to be donated by Fountain staff to homeless children at the Union Rescue Mission in downtown Los Angeles.

Party revelers enjoyed tasty holiday foods and yummy drinks. Guests included Fountain patrons, Fountain staff, the company of Bakersfield Mist, and members of the LA theatre community. 

Bakersfield Mist continues its extended run through January 30th. The hit comedy/drama starring Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett has earned rave reviews everywhere and is highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times, hailed as a “delightful and provocative comedy.” 

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Wishing you a safe and joyous holiday season, from our Fountain Family to yours.

Bakersfield Mist extended to Jan 30th