Tag Archives: Center Theatre Group

Los Angeles shines as a theatre town

ft-jb-aug-2016

The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood

by Stephen Sachs

Hollywood is heralded around the globe as the mesmerizing “movie capital of the world,” yet more plays are produced each year in Los Angeles than major motion pictures. In fact, Los Angeles has more live theaters and creates more theatre productions per year than any other city in the world. More than New York, Chicago or London. That’s right. Los Angeles. Surprised?

Los Angeles is on the rise. You can feel it. LA is ascending to rightfully take its place as a world city. It is already ranked as one of the world’s most economically powerful cities—a center of business, international trade, entertainment, culture, media, and technology. There are 841 museums and art galleries in the area, over 1,000 performance venues. Hollywood is flourishing, undergoing a multi-billion-dollar renaissance of new commercial, residential and cultural development that is transforming the fabled district. 

Theatre in Los Angeles has never been better. It is diverse, vibrant, first-rate—and everywhere. Stretched across an immense terrain of diverse neighborhoods over 469 square miles, you can experience theatre in Los Angeles in every possible setting. From tiny converted store fronts to festive outdoor stages in city parks to Off-Broadway-style intimate houses on trendy boulevards to grand and glittering show palaces—Los Angeles has it all. 

I’ve been a theatre maker in Los Angeles for more than 30 years. Like so many, I was first an actor, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I transitioned to directing plays in 1987, leaving acting behind and never looking back. While building a career as a stage director, I became intrigued by how theatre companies operated. The business side of making art fascinated me. One day, I volunteered to work temporarily in the office at Ensemble Studio Theatre on Oxford Street in Hollywood. Soon I took over as Theatre Manager. In 1990, I worked with Joan Stein and Suzie Dietz at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills, where we launched a 16-month run of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters starring a parade of famous actors, including Ben Gazarra, Gena Rowlands, Christopher Reeve, Whoopi Goldberg, Charlton Heston, Robert Wagner, Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt, and many more. That same year, I opened the Fountain Theatre with my colleague Deborah Lawlor and embarked on the most meaningful and rewarding journey of my artistic life.

The Fountain Theatre is a charming two-story Spanish-style building on Fountain Avenue in East Hollywood. Originally The Evergreen Stage, it had been a live theatre for more than 60 years. When Deborah and I first walked in and stood on its empty stage, we knew we had found our artistic home. There was something about the place, the cozy atmosphere, how the intimate seating warmly embraced the stage. It felt inviting and electric. We knew magic could happen there. 

The Fountain is now one of a bright constellation of intimate theatres shimmering throughout Los Angeles. This galaxy of small theatres, each singular in their programming, audience and artistic mission, is a construct utterly unique to Los Angeles. There is nothing like it anywhere in the country. LA’s Center Theatre Group, with its Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre, form a theatrical nucleus, yet the more than one hundred intimate theatres across the region swirl around it like spirited electrons, each carrying an electric charge that is fundamental for the survival of LA’s overall cultural organism. In Hollywood, Nederlander’s Pantages Theatre prove nightly that there is a vast audience for live performance. 

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Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles

I’ve seen the intimate theatre community in Los Angeles grow from a cluster of what was then called 99-seat “Equity Waiver” theaters in the 1980s to the vast network of hundreds of intimate theaters today. These theatres weave a rich artistic tapestry that is astounding in its range and variety, matching the cultural, racial and social diversity of this city. Los Angeles is now home to intimate theatres that serve audiences that are Black, Latino, Gay, Straight, Asian, Middle Eastern, LGBT, Deaf, Native American, and everything in between. The content on LA stages is equally wide-ranging. American classics, world premieres of new plays, Shakespeare, Chekhov, musicals, farce, adaptations, the avant garde, immersive pieces, plays staged in the round or in a black box, site specific works performed in empty warehouses, in cars or hotel rooms—an endless menu for every taste. 

hollywood-theatre-row-signLA’s intimate theatres have grown not only in number, they have increased in stature. Top-drawer actors from Broadway, TV and film are routinely seen on LA stages. And while Los Angeles remains an essential destination for acclaimed plays and musicals from New York, London and around the world, LA is now its own vibrant theatre center that creates and develops exciting new work. Much of the most satisfying and challenging new plays are being done in the intimate theaters. Actors long to act in these plays for the same reason we ache to produce them: for the sake of the art. LA’s network of smaller theatres provides a safe, fertile landscape where highly-skilled actors, directors and playwrights can bring new plays to life for audiences that are ever-growing, sophisticated and adventurous. More than 120 plays have transferred from LA’s intimate venues to regional theaters across the United Sates. Such world-class playwrights as Athol Fugard, Tarell McCraney and Robert Schenkkan have launched new plays at our modest home on Fountain Avenue that are now being enjoyed throughout the nation and around the world. 

Even with the staggering amount of high-quality activity on its numerous stages, Tinsel Town fights for the right to be called a “theatre town.” The Hollywood spotlight is blinding. The relationship between the film and television industry and the LA Theatre community is precarious. A forced marriage between two partners who share similar desires yet go about achieving them in vastly different ways and for very different reasons. LA Theatre still struggles to step out from under the shadow of The Industry and stand in its own rightful light. But its blaze is being seen and felt, locally and nationwide, more and more. 

As an artist and a citizen, it has never been a better time to live in Los Angeles. As a haven with invigorating potential and endless possibilities, LA is now peering forward and seeing its future. That vision, as a world city, looks bright. As Los Angeles shines, so does its theatre. And the radiance from our light will illuminate the nation and the world. 

This post originally appeared in Discover Hollywood magazine

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

Fountain Theatre welcomes financial adviser Miles Benickes to its Board of Directors

Miles Benickes

Miles Benickes

The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that esteemed financial adviser Miles Benickes has joined its Board of Directors. Miles Benickes is Managing Director for Municipal Trading and Executive Vice President for Hilltop Securities Inc.

“Going to the theatre has always been a part of my life since growing up in New York in the 1950’s,” says Benickes. “Thanks to my parents, I have a collection of Playbills that go even further back, to the Yiddish Theatre in New York in the 1920’s.  Becoming a member of The Fountain Theatre Board of Directors is an exciting new step in my lifelong theatrical journey.  I look forward to helping to ensure that The Fountain continues to entertain, educate, enlighten and engage the diverse audience of Los Angeles for many years into the future. ”

Miles is a leader in the financial services industry. He began his career as a municipal bond sales representative with Stern, Brenner & Co., the predecessor firm of M.L. Stern & Co., in July 1975. With the establishment of M.L. Stern & Co. in September 1980, Miles became one of the firm’s municipal bond traders. In December 1991, he was designated as Director of Fixed Income Trading and Marketing with responsibility for all taxable and tax exempt bond activities. With the purchase of M.L. Stern & Co. by Southwest Securities, Inc. in March 2008, Miles assumed responsibility for managing the California municipal bond trading activities of the Dallas based NYSE firm. He was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Bond Dealers Association of America and is a member of the Los Angeles Municipal Bond Club. Miles was the President of Arcola Pictures Corporation and currently manages the activities of the successor DBA of Arcola Pictures which has proprietary interests in such motion pictures as Mutiny on the Bounty, Move Over Darling, Tony Rome, Lady in Cement and The Detective as well as the Daniel Boone television series. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America, West.

Miles is a member of the Music Center Leadership Council.  He has been an active member of Center Theatre Group’s Inner Circle since 1994 and has served as an Inner Circle Ambassador since 2007.  He and his wife, Joni, are the founders and co-chairs of CTG’s Artists and Educators Forum, a support group dedicated to encouraging new works and engaging new audiences.  He is an avid supporter of numerous arts organizations throughout Southern California including CTG’s Block Party, Los Angeles Master Chorale, UCLA School of Film and Television, Writers Guild Foundation, The Drama League, Ojai Playwrights Conference and The Old Globe Theatre.

Miles was born and raised in New York and remembers his first Broadway show was New Faces of 1952, which included Eartha Kitt, Paul Lynde, Carol Lawrence and Mel Brooks. He graduated with a BFA from the UCLA Film School in 1968. He and his wife, Joni, have four children, Erika, Allyn, Torrie and Jason — all avid theatergoers. They have three granddaughters, Hailey, Greer and Zoey. He enjoys tennis (he met his wife while giving her tennis lessons), biking, travelling and spending time with his family.

“We are thrilled and honored to have Miles join our Board,” beams Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “He not only brings an abundance of financial expertise, organizational wisdom and a depth of Board experience — he’s a lifelong theatre lover. The Fountain is fortunate to have him on the Board and in our family.”  

Video: Triumphant toast for Fountain’s ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at Kirk Douglas Theatre

Company backstage SSThe Fountain Theatre’s stunning encore production of Citizen: An American Lyric concluded its run as the centerpiece to Center Theatre Group’s Block Party Sunday night. After the final performance, the company gathered backstage with CTG and Fountain staff to toast their triumphant accomplishment. Take a look.  

Fountain stands for social and political theatre in LA with ‘Building the Wall’ and ‘Citizen’

CITIZEN WALL layout

That Was The Week That Was was a satirical television show in the early 1960’s that brought focus to social and political issues of the day. The Fountain Theatre may look back on this current week, May 1 – May 7 in 2017, and brand it the same name. This week, in an unplanned juncture of synchronicity, the Fountain Theatre has two acclaimed productions running simultaneously in Los Angeles — one at its 78-seat Hollywood home on Fountain Avenue, the other at the 300-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City —  each dramatizing in mesmerizing fashion the urgent issues of race, injustice, and politics.

The Fountain’s National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan was a smash hit the moment it opened in March at the intimate Fountain Theatre, selling out weeks in advance.  Set in the near future, the powerful new drama unfolds as a man awaits sentencing in a federal prison for carrying out the orders of Trump’s national policy to round-up and detain immigrants by the millions.    

 

Meanwhile, across town at the mid-sized Kirk Douglas Theatre, the Fountain’s acclaimed and award-winning encore production of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs, is galvanizing audiences. The centerpiece of Center Theatre Group‘s inaugural Block Party celebrating intimate theatre in Los Angles, Citizen is a searing, poetic riff on race in America based on the best-selling book.   

 

“To have these two important, meaningful productions running concurrently, one in an intimate theatre and the other in a mid-sized venue, is extraordinary,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “It exemplifies who we are, what we do, and why we do it.”

Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Robert Schenkkan agrees. “Both Citizen and Building the Wall deal with the issue of race and the fundamental question of who is it we mean when we say, ‘We, the people,'” explains Schenkkan. “For more than twenty five years, the Fountain Theatre has been presenting exhilarating, necessary theater, wrestling with the most pressing social and political issues of the day.” 

LA Stage Alliance Executive Director Steven Leigh Morris points out that this week is no anomaly. Morris notes, “That the Fountain Theatre has two productions running simultaneously — one at its home space in East Hollywood and the other at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of Center Theatre Group’s Block Party program — is a testament to the rigor and meticulous artistry that has been part of The Fountain tradition for twenty-seven years.”

By all accounts, this is an unforgettable week for the Fountain. We vow to continue our commitment to create, develop and produce meaningful new plays that bring to life urgent issues, week after week, for many years to come. 

Tickets/Info BUILDING THE WALL

Tickets/Info CITIZEN: AN AMERICAN LYRIC

Director Shirley Jo Finney: The healing power of ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’

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Lisa Pescia, Leith Burke, Bernard K. Addison, Monnae Michaell, Tony Maggio  in The Fountain Theatre production of “Citizen: An American Lyric” at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

The journey of veteran director Shirley Jo Finney to the Kirk Douglas Theatre’s Block Party with The Fountain Theatre’s Citizen: An American Lyric began two and a half years ago, when Fountain co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs called to ask her if she had read Claudia Rankine’s New York Times bestseller Citizen. Or maybe it began in 1997, when Finney directed her first of eight works at the Fountain. Or perhaps decades earlier when, as a recent MFA graduate of UCLA, Finney participated in Center Theatre Group’s New Work Festival at the Mark Taper Forum. Or really long before that, when Finney grew up in a segregated neighborhood and attended all-white schools where she was the only person of color.

In 2015, Sachs told Finney he was considering adapting Citizen for the stage, and that she was the right director for the project. “I read it, and I went, ‘Oh, this is my life,'” said Finney, recognizing her own experiences of “walking through and navigating those torrential waters of mainstream America when you are a person of color or ‘other,’ and what you have to swallow in order to survive.”

Citizen premiered at the Fountain in August 2015; last summer, Finney directed it again at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, South Carolina, just one year after the city was devastated by a deadly assault that took the lives of nine African-Americans at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Every performance was followed by a discussion with the audience. “We felt it was necessary while that community was still healing and that wound was oozing,” said Finney.

There will also be Stage & Audience Talks after every performance at the Douglas, where Citizen is onstage April 28 – May 7, 2017. Citizen touched audiences deeply in Los Angeles in 2015, but much has changed since then—for the cast and crew and for the audience.

The Fountain Theatre production of "Citizen: An American Lyric," at Center Theatre Group's Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City, America - 30 April 2017

Shirley Jo Finney

“As human beings we’ve been living our lives…we all evolve,” said Finney of herself and the company. “At the same time, in those two years, there has been a transformation in the collective. I’m interested to see, now, how it’s going to land with our audiences. Because what was maybe specific to a tribe has now expanded…something has been awakened, because ‘the other,’ now, is everyone.” The election, said Finney, “fractured what our belief system is about being an American and being a citizen, and what that culpability and responsibility is.” She added, “Not only do you have to say, ‘What does it mean to be a citizen?’ But also, ‘What does it mean to be a human being?'”

The re-staging at the Douglas offers an opportunity for the show to make a bigger impact in other ways as well. “My designer is excited because we have the height now onstage that we didn’t have in the [Fountain]. Our projections are going to have the impact that we wanted to have,” said Finney.

“I think it’s a healing piece with a historical narrative, and we need it at this point in time,” she concluded. “When you look at what we need as human beings, the three things, if you cut everything away, are: we need to be seen, we need to feel nurtured, and we need to feel safe. Citizen, I think, makes us aware and opens that space for that healing to begin.”

Citizen: An American Lyric is now playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre to May 7th.

Tickets/More Info 

This post originally appeared in CTG News & Blogs

First preview tonight for Fountain’s ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at Kirk Douglas Theatre

2 horizontal B&WCenter Theatre Group‘s Block Party continues with the opening of The Fountain Theatre production of “Citizen: An American Lyric” this Sunday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Based on a book of poetry by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, “Citizen: An American Lyric” will begin previews tonight April 28 and continue for 11 performances only through May 7, 2017.

Block Party highlights some of the remarkable work being done in other, more intimate theatres throughout Los Angeles by fully producing three previously staged productions. The three productions receive the full support of Center Theatre Group and its staff in order to fund, stage and market each production. Block Party began with the Coeurage Theatre production of “Failure: A Love Story” April 14 through 23 and will continue with The Echo Theater Company’s production of “Dry Land” running May 12 through 21.

“Citizen: An American Lyric” fuses poetry, prose, movement, music and the video image in a provocative stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s internationally acclaimed book of poetry about everyday acts of racism in America. Of Rankine’s “Citizen,” The New Yorker wrote that it was “brilliant… [and] explores the kinds of injustice that thrive when the illusion of justice is perfected.” The New York Times wrote that “Rankine brilliantly pushes poetry’s forms to disarm readers and circumvent our carefully constructed defense mechanisms against the hint of possibly being racist ourselves.”

The cast of “Citizen: An American Lyric” includes Bernard K. Addison, Leith Burke, Tony Maggio, Monnae Michaell, Simone Missick and Lisa Pescia. Scenic and projection design is by Yee Eun Nam, costume design is by Naila Aladdin-Sanders, lighting design is by Pablo Santiago and original music and sound design is by Peter Bayne. Anastasia Coon is the movement director and Shawna Voragen is the production stage manager.

Audiences are also invited to engage in discussion with the “Citizen” cast and company following each performance during moderated Stage Talks. There will be no Stage Talk held on opening night.