Tag Archives: Building the Wall

Cast announced for special reading of Lauren Gunderson’s ‘Natural Shocks’ at Fountain Theatre

Actresses Amy Pietz, Victoria Platt, Suanne Spoke, and Sabina Zuniga Varela will combine their versatile talents to play the same lead character in a special reading of Natural Shocks, Lauren Gunderson’s funny and powerful new play on gun violence and gun control, at the Fountain Theatre on Friday, April 20th at 11:19am. Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs directs.

The timing is intentional: April 20 is the 19th anniversary of Columbine and the day of the National School Walkout, organized by the student activists in Parkland, Florida. The reading at the Fountain Theatre starts on April 20th at 11:19am, the date and exact time of the Columbine shooting.

“The Fountain Theatre has a long history of social and political activism,” explains Sachs. “Our celebrity reading of All the President’s Men at LA City Hall and our world premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s Building the Wall are recent examples. With Lauren’s play, I believe we need to add our voice,  as theatre artists and citizens, to the national outcry of young people across the country against gun violence and advocate for gun control in this country.”

Amy PietzAmy Pietz has appeared in over 300 episodes of television, most recently starring opposite Jason Alexander on Hit The Road.  She was a series regular on No Tomorrow, The Nine Lives of Chloe King, Aliens in America, Rodney, The Weber Show, Muscle and Caroline in the City (SAG Award Nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy).  She has had recurring or guest starring roles on: You’re The Worst, The Magicians, The Office, Trust Me, Maron, How To Get Away With Murder, Dexter, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and many others.  Film roles include those in The Year of Spectacular Men, Halfway, Prom, The Pact II, Autumn Leaves, Rudy, Jingle All the Way, Dysenchanted, Jell-Oh Lady, The Whole Ten Yards, and others. Her favorite theatre credits include: Stupid Fucking Bird at the Theatre @ Boston Court (Ovation Award, LA Drama Critics Circle Award), The Boswell Sisters at The Old Globe Theatre, Christmas In Naples at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, Lobby Hero at the Odyssey Theatre (Ovation nominated), Fiorello and Company (Ovation Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical).  Currently producing a film on gun control called Bodyman, Amy is passionate about getting guns off of our streets.

Victoria PlattVictoria Platt is currently in Antaeus Theatre Company’s production of Native Son. THEATRE: Jelly’s Last Jam (BROADWAY), Building the Wall and Roxy in Cyrano (Fountain Theatre), Venice (Public Theater & Kirk Douglas Theatre – Ovation Award Nom), Sammy (Old Globe), Pippin (Mark Taper Forum, Asphalt (Red Cat), Atlanta (Geffen).  Select TV/FILM: Major Crimes, Bones, The Mentalist, Castle, Criminal Minds and contract roles on both All My Children & Guiding LightH4 (adaptation of Henry IV which she co-produced with Harry Lennix & Terrell Tilford) and as Josephine Baker in HBO’s Winchell. Upcoming film:  #Truth (Charles Murray dir.), The Gleaner (opp. Angus MacFadyen, Harry Lennix dir.), InterferenceFramed and CW’s Lucifer.

Suanne SpokeSuanne Spoke has an extensive career in theatre, television & film, appearing in the critically acclaimed film Whiplash and starring in the feature film Wild Prairie Rose,  winning multiple awards on the festival circuit. On television Suanne recurred on Switched at Birth, Famous in Love and has guest-starred on many others. She can currently be seen recurring on General Hospital. She has performed at numerous theatres and has won every major acting & producing award in Los Angeles including three-time recipient of the Ovation Award/Lead Performance by an Actress. She was most recently seen in the West Coast premiere of Athol Fugard’s Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek  at the Fountain Theatre. Suanne serves on the faculty at the California Institute of the Arts, teaching acting in the Graduate Film Directing program.

Sabina Zuniga VeraleSabina Zuniga Varela, a native New Mexican based in Los Angeles, is an artist, educator and organizer committed to the path of social justice, authentic representation and storytelling.  She is an award winning theatre actor with an MFA from the University of Southern. California. She also holds an MA in Special Education with a focus on twice-exceptional/gifted learning. She is currently a producing director for the LA based theatre company: By The Souls of Our Feet. Most recently she was seen on stage at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival & Portland Center Stage in the title role of Luis Alfaro’s Mojada: A Medea in Los Angeles and was seen in Season 3, Episode 3 of ABC’s American Crime.

Based on Hamlet’s “To be or not to be,” Natural Shocks is a classic Gunderson play: a 60-minute tour-de-force that bursts to life when we meet a woman waiting out an imminent tornado in her basement. She overflows with quirks, stories, and a final secret that puts the reality of domestic violence and guns in America in your very lap. The play is part confessional, part stand up, and part reckoning.

“The play is written as a solo play for one actress,” explains Sachs. “I have Lauren’s permission to have four actresses read the role, as one voice. Together, they are one woman — and all women. I think having the play read by four women adds diversity, theatricality and a stylized musicality that is worth exploring.”

“I wrote the story to continue to push the narrative away from the perpetrators of gun violence and toward the people whose lives are lost, shattered, and shadowed because of it. So many of these people are women. And there is such a tight connection between violence against women and gun violence,” insisted Gunderson.

Gunderson is right: the connection between domestic violence and gun violence is well documented. More than half of the mass shootings from 2009-2016 involved a partner or family member. Nearly half of American women who are murdered are killed by their intimate partners. American women are 16 times more likely to be killed by a gun than women in other developed nations. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that the woman will be killed. In short, domestic violence and grievances against women are the “canary in the coalmine” for gun violence. Any effort to end gun violence must address domestic violence as well.

Lauren GundersonLauren M. Gunderson is the most produced playwright in America of 2017, the winner of the Lanford Wilson Award, the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award and the Otis Guernsey New Voices Award, she is also a finalist for the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and John Gassner Award for Playwriting, a recipient of the Mellon Foundation’s 3-Year Residency with Marin Theatre Company, and a commissioned playwright by Audible. She studied Southern Literature and Drama at Emory University, and Dramatic Writing at NYU’s Tisch School where she was a Reynolds Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship. Her work has been commissioned, produced and developed at companies across the US including South Cost Rep (Emilie, Silent Sky), The Kennedy Center (The Amazing Adventures of Dr. Wonderful And Her Dog!), Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The O’Neill, The Denver Center, San Francisco Playhouse, Marin Theatre, Synchronicity, Berkeley Rep, Shotgun Players, TheatreWorks, Crowded Fire and more. She co-authored Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley with Margot Melcon, which was one of the most produced plays in America in 2017. Her work is published at Playscripts (I and You, Exit Pursued By A Bear, The Taming, and Toil And Trouble), Dramatists (The Revolutionists, The Book of Will, Silent Sky, Bauer, Miss Bennet) and Samuel French (Emilie). Her picture book Dr Wonderful: Blast Off to the Moon was released from Two Lions / Amazon in May 2017.

Reserve Seats to Natural Shocks at Fountain Theatre. National website

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American Theatre Wing releases new documentary film on Fountain Theatre’s ‘Building the Wall’

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Judith Moreland and Bo Foxworth, ‘Building the Wall’, Fountain Theatre

You know them as the New York-based organization that presents the Tony Awards and the Obies each year. But the American Theatre Wing provides a myriad of other remarkable services nationwide. It provides grants and scholarships, connect talents at all stages with educational and professional opportunities, and creates content that illuminates and preserves theatre. Founded in 1917 on the eve of America’s entry into World War I by seven suffragettes, American Theatre Wing has spent a century using theatre to advance human experience, empathy and cultural growth by providing a platform for strong and fearless voices in the American theatre.

This week, American Theatre Wing released a new short documentary film it commissioned on the creation and development of the Fountain Theatre’s world premiere production of Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan.  The riveting new play opened at the Fountain Theatre on March 18, 2017 and was extended to sold-out houses to August 27th. It earned international attention and launched the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere.

The documentary film, Working in the Theatre: Building the Wall, is an episode in The Wing’s Emmy® Nominated series produced to entertain audiences by revealing theatre’s inner-workings, profiling industry luminaries, and taking a closer look at unique stories that surround important work.

“We’re very proud and honored to have our production chronicled by the American Theatre Wing, ” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Robert’s play is triggering a national conversation. It’s a privilege to have our process at the Fountain Theatre documented and permanently archived by The Wing for the field of the American Theatre.”

For playwright Robert Schenkkan, the documentary carries forward the crusade that began when he first wrote the play in a fury of outrage over the 2016 presidential campaign. For Schenkkan and the Fountain, theatre can serve as a spark for social action.

“Theatre, of course, is about bringing together very disparate groups of people, during which they share a story, ” says Schenkkan. “A story about themselves, about their society, about their culture. And in the sharing of that story, hopefully they learn something about themselves, they are provoked to think more deeply about themselves, to ask better questions, and to leave in some fundamental ways, altered and perhaps more open to the possibility of change.”

 

Harvey versus Katrina and the urgent timeliness of powerful new play ‘Runaway Home’

At left, flood waters in East New Orleans on Aug. 31, 2005. At right, the Meyerland area of Houston on Monday. 

As the catastrophic toll of Hurricane Harvey continues to rise with the flooding water, memories of Katrina in 2005 surge into mind like a torrent bursting through a shattered levee. And once again, like with our recent world premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s politcal drama Building the Wall, the Fountain Theatre finds itself launching a new play dramatizing an urgent national issue torn from today’s headlines.

Our world premiere of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps reveals the powerful struggle and courage of the New Orleans community three years after Hurricane Katrina.  Opening September 16th, the new play couldn’t be more timely.

“Unfortunately, the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey makes the issues raised in Runaway Home even more relelvant,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “The Fountain always aims to create new work that illuminates the social and political concerns of our current times. With Runaway Home, we now have the opportunity for a new play to shed light and offer the need for civic humanity in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.”

As the New York Times outlined, Hurricane Harvey evokes comparisons to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Here’s a quick rundown of what we know about similarities and differences between the two.

The Cities

Katrina: Before the storm, New Orleans — with its distinctive Creole-Acadian-French-Haitian-Vietnamese cultural mélange — was a small city of about 455,000 people that lay in large part below sea level, ostensibly protected by a system of levee walls. Its population never fully recovered from the evacuation and destruction and remains below 400,000.

Harvey: Houston is a sprawling, car-dependent, diverse city, low-lying but not below sea level. It has a population of more than two million people, with a system of bayous and waterways to manage flooding.

At left, the flooded streets of New Orleans two days after Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005. At right, the flooded streets of Houston on Sunday.

The Storms

Katrina: It made landfall near the Louisiana/Mississippi border on Aug. 29, 2005, as a Category 3 storm and measured 350 miles across. However, the relatively low classification, based on wind speed, was deceptive because Katrina produced the highest storm surge ever recorded in the United States.

Harvey: It made landfall in Rockport, Tex., on Friday as a Category 4 storm, measuring 200 miles across, but was quickly downgraded. As of Monday, it was expected to linger for days, causing the National Weather Service to warn, “This event is unprecedented and all impacts are unknown.”

Deaths and Damage

Katrina: One of the deadliest hurricanes ever to strike the United States, Katrina was responsible for 1,833 deaths, and some bodies were untouched for days. The storm inflicted more than $100 billion in damage, with most of it caused by wind, storm surge and the failure of the levees. Katrina also left three million people across the region without power.

Harvey: Local officials have reported at least 10 deaths in Texas since the storm began, and the number could rise. Heavy rains and flooding are expected to continue at least through Friday, and most of the damage could be caused by flooding.

As for the economy, the Gulf region’s capacity as an oil and gas hub — Houston accounted for 2.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product in 2015 — does not appear to have been seriously compromised, and economists were predicting that the storm’s cost would be less than half that of Katrina’s. So far in Texas, there are 300,000 people without power.

Rainfall

Katrina: Rain was not the main problem with Katrina, which yielded 5 to 10 inches of rainfall in a 48-hour period.

Harvey: By contrast, Harvey brought a deluge, with up to 50 inches of rain predicted over the next several days — more than Houston receives in a year.

At left, emergency personnel workers rescuing people in New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005. At right, workers rescuing people in Houston on Sunday.

Evacuation

Katrina: The mandatory evacuation of New Orleans was announced a day before the storm hit. An estimated 100,000 people remained stuck in the city. A few weeks later, in another chaotic evacuation, more than 100 people died leaving the Houston area to escape Hurricane Rita.

Harvey: Houston did not call on residents to evacuate and is now urging those who can to shelter in place. However, as the rain continued on Monday, a growing number of other jurisdictions — like Bay City, which expected 10 feet of water downtown — urged residents to leave.

Assistance

Katrina: The storm displaced over a million people and damaged or destroyed 275,000 homes. Almost a million households received individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Harvey: We don’t know yet how many people will be forced out of their homes. But the vast majority of homes in Harvey’s path are not insured against flooding, according to figures from the National Flood Insurance Program. FEMA officials estimated that 450,000 people were likely to seek federal aid.

The Takeaways So Far

Katrina: Evacuation chaos and mostly unfounded panic over riots and violence made issues of race, poverty and government failures impossible to ignore. The breaches of the levees compounded those problems and represented an engineering failure of grave proportions.

Harvey: Harvey will likely sharpen an ongoing debate over whether Houston, a city driven by real estate, has overbuilt at the expense of flood control. While Katrina showed a failure to build well, Harvey — depending on how it plays out — might come to represent a warning about climate change.

More info on Runaway Home

Students see hit political play at the Fountain discover “we must make the change we want to see in the world”

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Teacher Alan Goodson introduces his college students to the Fountain Theatre. 

They come to the Fountain Theatre each semester to experience the power of meaningful plays about urgent social and political issues performed in an intimate setting.  For teacher Alan Goodson and his college students at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the ongoing visits to the Fountain have become a pilgrimage they look forward to making. Not only are the young people enriched by seeing new plays that move and inspire them, they enjoy the opportunity to personally engage with the professional actors following the performance.

The student visit was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program that makes live theatre accessible to young people throughout Southern California. 

The FIDM students arrived at the Fountain on August 11th to see our smash hit world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright Robert Schenkkan.  They then chatted with actors Victoria Platt and Bo Foxworth.

Returning back to their classroom, the students wrote essays expressing their thoughts and feelings on seeing the production. Take a look at these excerpts:        

“During the political state our country is currently in, it is very possible that history could repeat itself. It isn’t just a theme in a play, it is real and it is happening. That is why I feel this play is very important and the idea it expressed that we, the citizens of the United States of America, must stand up against the immoral actions of the government. If viewers take anything away from seeing this play, it should be that it could happen here, but don’t let it get that far, stop it before history repeats itself.”

*

“It felt as if being an audience member was no different than being a fly on the wall with the two actors. Without a doubt, the play would not have been nearly as effective if it were set in a larger theatre. As an audience member, you felt as if you were watching a real interview take place on your TV screen.”

*

“I was able to see the worth in Shenkkan’s exaggeration in comparison to how someone may have felt during WWII, and see that it is true, this could happen, even today. History will continue to repeat itself unless we as humans realize the power of unification and take actions to protect ourselves and others.”

*

Building the Wall is a play for people who want to gain perspective on the current events that are taking place and could occur in the near future, considering past events that have taken place while an authoritarian leader is in control of a nationalist country. Personally, I appreciated the statement that it conveyed and became more aware of the impact Donald Trump’s place in office has made in the United States. Theater arts are a form of resistance and often give a lesson and theme to the viewers. Building the Wall was a reminder that history can and will repeat itself if the citizens don’t take a stand and show their voice. Hopefully, those that have attended this play, just as I did, will recognize the seriousness of the message that Robert Shenkkan has made and they plan to make their voices heard.”

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*

“Robert Shenkkan’s Building the Wall could not have been made into a play at any other better time. People need to go watch his play and see for themselves a visual experience of what America could be headed for under Trump’s presidency.”

*

“This performance is set in place to heighten our collective vigilance as a society, allow us to determine wrong from right, empathize, and to take action as citizens of the United States of America. In the closing remarks, we are informed that, included in the playbill, provided by the Fountain, is a call to action, a postcard, stamped and addressed to our dear leader, Mr. Donald Trump, leaving the viewer to decide for themselves what the right thing to do is. This production in itself makes a statement and warning, the postcard is an added confirmation that we have the power to do something, as a governed group and as individuals, and if that is not a defined statement of passion and concern for citizens, then I’m not sure what is.”

*

 “It is common to say that the past is often repeated in the future. Robert Shenkkan took the past experience of the Holocaust and wrote it into the near future of America under the Presidency of Trump and his concept of deporting immigrants. It may be bold of Shenkkan to take America to the horrible extent of the Nazis, but nothing is impossible. Robert Shenkkan reinforced the significance of everyone’s individual conscience and choices with the concept play, Building the Wall. He promotes resistance against fear, racism, division. The future of our country, according to Shenkkan, “…of course will depend entirely on what you do.”

*

Building the Wall was relevant and had audience members thinking. In its understated message, questioning where the current presidency may lead is a concept everyone can relate to, making the content of the play laudable. At first, I saw its comparisons to the Nazi regime a bit excessive and not believable, until watching the news recently and seeing the riots taking place in Virginia. Current events have strengthened the credibility of this play.”

*

Building the Wall is an excellent drama that I believe will stand the test of time. While the history books are still being written on this time in our modern history, we must be able to understand the situation we are in while we are in it. We must make the change we want to see in the world.”

Final 2 performances of Building the Wall are this weekend, Aug 26 & 27. Get Tickets

 

As summer ends, what’s next for Fountain intern Annie Barker?

Annie Barker last day Aug 2017

Annie Barker

by Annie Barker

Time is a strange thing. It feels like just days ago I made myself at home at my little desk (so conveniently located next to the air conditioning unit). Yet, at the same time I feel like I’ve been a member of the Fountain Theatre family for months. After ten weeks of commuting everyday from Westchester, five podcasts, and too many laughs, my time as the Fountain Theatre’s Production Intern is coming to a close.

There is no typical day at the Fountain. Some days I spent coordinating groups from Create Now! and A Place Called Home to join us for Building the WallOther days I had my nose in scripts, reading and evaluating over ten plays this summer. The best part about working with the Fountain was that I could be in every aspect of the theatre. As a result, I developed a stronger understanding of not just one thing, but a million things.
Before working at the Fountain, I understood the importance of outreach but did not know how to utilize all of the resources available. While working with Barbara Goodwill (Director of Development), I quickly figured out how to take advantage of these resources. This summer, I also worked with James Bennet (Associate Producer) on casting our world premiere collaboration with LACC, Freddy. 
However, the most important thing I gained from this experience was a family. The people who work at the Fountain are some of the most inspiring and hardworking people I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I never felt as if I was just an intern, rather an integrated part of the work environment. I feel blessed, as many college interns don’t find that in their internships. 
 
Something that really added to my experience was the additional programming with my peer group of interns. Led by Jessica Hanna of the Bootleg Theater, we had two jam-packed days of exploring Los Angeles and its art scene. As an out of state student, I had the opportunity to fully dive into the arts scene. Between tours of various performance spaces, MOCA, the Last Book Store, and the Ace Hotel & Theatre, I found inspiration in the city that I’ve called home for the past three years. While meandering through the rooms at MOCA, I came across a painting by Edward Ruscha entitled “FOUNTAIN, SUNSET, HOLLYWOOD.” While the painting may come across as simple, it made me think about the opportunities I had at this little theatre on Fountain Avenue. While my goal may not be Hollywood, the Fountain is a springboard into a lifetime of creative opportunities. 
Hollywood Fountain
 
What comes next? Well, after enjoying two final weeks of my summer, I start my senior year at Loyola Marymount. I dive right back into theatre as the assistant director for our fall musical, Runaways. I will also be working on my senior thesis project by directing (and producing) Ruby Rae Spiegel’s Dry Land, which goes up in December. Needless to say, I’m looking at a very busy semester. My summer at the Fountain has provided me the skills to confidently tackle this semester. Long term, I am applying for directing fellowships across the country and down the road, earning my MFA in Directing. While I might not be the Fountain’s Production Intern, I know that my home and place at the Fountain will remain for years to come. Who knows–maybe I’ll be directing here someday! I want to thank LA County Art’s Commission for making this internship possible and all of the staff of the Fountain who invited me into their family. This summer was truly inspiring. 
The Fountain Theatre thanks the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors and the LA County Arts Commission for their support through the Summer Arts Internship program. 

Fountain Theatre intern Annie Barker: Artists are the gatekeepers of truth

Annie at County Intern event June 2017

Annie Barker with fellow interns at LA County Arts Intern Summit.  

by Annie Barker

This past week, I left my desk at the Fountain Theatre to join my fellow interns at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission Summer Intern Summit. During this all-day event, I had the opportunity to meet with the over 130 interns that work at different non-proft arts organizations across Los Angeles county. While we come from different schools, backgrounds, and organizations, we are connected through the love of the arts.  This event brings us together for a day of workshops, conversation, tours, and much more.

I started my morning off with two workshops–Creative Organizing: The Role of Art in Advancing Justice Movements and What Happens Next: Advice from Former Interns. In the first workshop, we had the opportunity to talk about how we can use different art forms to voice political and social concerns. This relates perfectly to the Fountain Theatre and our current production Building the Wall. The quote that really resonated with me during this talk was “Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.” I truly believe that at both the Fountain Theatre and beyond, I have the ability to create change through art.

The second workshop helped me understand the possible paths that my career could follow as I look forward to my senior year. A double major in English and Theatre, I often worry about my future. Through this workshop, my worries were put to ease with simple advice from Center Theatre Group‘s Camille Schenkkan. At the time, her career path seemed aimless. However, this is the time in one’s life that one must do and try everything. It is through the not knowing that you find your path.

After lunch with some of the other LMU interns (they are SIX of us) and some dancing led by CONTRA-TIEMPO, we headed out to tour different arts spaces in Santa Monica. Through the afternoon, we explored City Garage Theatre, Highways Performance Space, and the 18th Street Arts Center. Originally from Portland, I am still learning about all of the different venues around LA. It is so inspiring to see different artists in their element and home, creating work that they are proud of.

While the day was jam-packed with activity, I left The Broad Stage feeling more inspired and excited for the next six weeks of my internship. While the commute can get long sometimes and early mornings are not my thing, my position with Fountain Theatre and the LA County Arts Commission cannot be traded for anything in the world. Not only am I learning the skills needed to work in non-profit theatre, I am working with people who love the work they do. Everyday, I get to go to an office with people who not only love theatre, but they work to create change through this beautiful, crazy art form. Here’s to another six weeks of adventures with my family here at the Fountain Theatre.

This internship is sponsored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission

From Schenkkan to Shakespeare, the same urgent warning

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Victoria Platt and Bo Foxworth in ‘Building the Wall’

By Stephen Sachs

One play was written more than 400 years ago, the other last October. Both written by playwrights worried about the future of their countries. One author took months to pen his work, the other took one week.  One writer has been dead 400 years, one is very much alive, chronicling the current political crisis of his time with a dire new play now playing on our Fountain stage. Both authors and their plays have been in the news in recent weeks, igniting a firestorm of national conversation on the role of theatre to express political outrage, and its fundamental right and responsibility to do so. The Fountain Theatre is a voice in that debate. 

As many know, The Public Theater’s production this month in New York of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar drew fire from Right-Wing Conservatives for its depiction of the ruler as a petulant Trump-like politician with blondish hair and a sullen Slavic wife.  Outrage from Conservatives targeted the play’s depiction of Caesar’s assassination, missing the larger meaning of the play, as if director Oskar Eustis was advocating the killing of the current president. Delta Airlines and Bank of America withdrew their corporate sponsorship. Right-Wing groups hired demonstrators to picket the venue and harass theatergoers. Protesters heckled the live performances and wildly stormed the stage to stop the play mid-show. The demonstrators’ feeble attempts may have halted a performance momentarily but, in each instance, the show went on. If anything, it drew national focus to the very thing it schemed to suppress. Art cannot be stopped.

Most discouraging to me, the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency that hails itself as providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation, distanced itself from the production by releasing a statement declaring that NEA funds were not used to support this staging of Julius Caesar. An ironic stance for a federal arts agency whose very existence Trump has vowed to destroy.

Julius CaesarBy William Shakespeare Directed by Oskar Eustis Featuring Tina Benko (Calpurnia); Teagle F. Bougere (Casca); Yusef Bulos (Cinna the Poet); Eisa Davis (Decius Brutus); Robert Gilbert (Octavius); Gregg Henry (Caesar); Edward James Hyland (Lep

‘Julius Caesar’ at The Public Theater, NY

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the Fountain Theatre has been running our sold-out world premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s new play, Building the Wall. It is a riveting drama set in the near future exposing the vulnerability of one man caught up in the horrific unraveling of Trump’s anti-immigration policies.  Robert and I knew the play would generate some interest from the press. Neither of us anticipated the avalanche that has ensued. We’ve been bombarded by interview requests from everywhere. The play and the Fountain production were featured in national news outlets across the country, like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine. Plus international coverage in the UK and France. “Theatre in the Age of Trump” is now suddenly a hot topic.

untitledThe Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar and the Fountain Theatre’s production of Building the Wall coincided this month.  Newspapers on both coasts featured stories on both productions, with Oskar Eustis and Robert Schenkkan speaking out boldly for not only the right, but the necessity of freedom of speech and unrestricted artistic expression in this country.  The subject of ‘The Politics of Theater’ became a significant Arts cover feature in last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times.     

The Right-Wing protesters who stormed the outdoor Delacorte Theatre in Central Park no doubt never read Julius Caesar and certainly knew little about it. They focused on the killing of the king, unaware of the greater warning the tale foretells: Beware when you get what you want. A tyrant in power mandated to save the republic can lead to the destruction of the very republic he vows to protect. Shakespeare demands us to recognize that more than a ruler is assassinated in this tragedy. It is democracy itself that is murdered.

Julius Caesar and Breaking the Wall expose the same fatal wound within ourselves. Our susceptibility to become what we hate. Rick’s slow and seamless transformation in Building the Wall, from well-meaning Trump follower to death camp superintendent is so nightmarish and appalling because it seems somehow plausible. This is how Schenkkan and Shakespeare caution us. This dark truth is perfectly crystalized by Shakespeare when Cassius warns, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” It is not fate, but weakness of character that forces a person to act against his will.

RS in FT rehearsal March 2017

Playwright Robert Schenkkan in rehearsal, Fountain Theatre

“The danger is always giving over your moral calculus to the state,” Robert Schenkkan has said. Fighting a tyrant does not mean imitating him. Julius Caesar no more advocates the killing of a king than Building the Wall promotes the mass detention and extermination of immigrants. Neither play is about genocide or the murder of a tyrant. Each is about the killing of social and political order, played out in the souls of specific human beings. Building the Wall is a razor-sharp two-character play that takes place in one room. Two people in extreme close up.  

Shakespeare based his play Julius Caesar (some say he stole entire sections of it) from Plutarch’s biography of the ruler. Of his examination Plutarch said, “It is not histories I am writing, but lives.”

Plays, too, are about lives, not ideas. Good plays, plays that matter and live forever, have compelling themes and thought-provoking viewpoints and concepts but they are told through the dramatization of human lives. The power of Building the Wall lies in how it puts a human face on the inhuman. It reveals the dichotomy of opposites alive in one man: the wish to do what is right versus the inability to see, and speak out against, what is wrong.   

For all of us at the Fountain Theatre, Building the Wall is more than a play. It is a defining moment, one of many that help set our compass as a company and as artists. Who are we? Why do we do what we do? What is our service, our responsibility, to the community, to our nation?   

This administration fears artists for the same reason it has banned TV cameras from live press briefings. It is terrified that the American people will see the truth. Our role as theatre artists, like that of a free press, is to be truth-tellers.  And to fight for the freedom to speak it, through art.

I am so proud that the Fountain Theatre took the stand of leadership in launching Robert’s new work, and that it continues to ignite this firestorm of conversation, artistic soul-searching and journalistic examination.  That our world premiere production is not only still running after four sold out months but has been extended through August is a testament to its urgent necessity and the overwhelming will expressed by our audiences to engage. 

When art and politics collide like this on a local and national level, theaters like ours, and the art we create, become indispensable not only to our city, but our nation. 

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre, Los Angeles.