Tag Archives: David Kurs

Staged Reading of ‘Cyrano’ Soars at New York Theatre Workshop

'Cyrano' at New York Theatre Workshop

‘Cyrano’ at New York Theatre Workshop

The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre brought their lyrical and romantic  deaf/hearing updated-version of Cyrano to New York last Monday, April 29, for a special staged reading at the acclaimed New York Theatre Workshop. The staged reading was performed for a full house of NY theater producers and invited VIP’s for the purpose of solidifying interest in a possible New York production.

Four original cast members were flown in from Los Angeles: Troy Kotsur, Paul Raci, Victor Warren and Al Bernstein.  The rest of the ensemble was cast with local New York actors Matt Biagini, Robert De MayoSamira Wiley, John McGinty, Puy Navarro, James W. Guido, Alexandria Wailes, Richard Dent, and original cast member Maleni Chaitoo who happens to now live in NY.

The company rehearsed with director Simon Levy for only three days. Our thanks to our friends at Primary Stages for providing their rehearsal studios to the Cyrano company. Also in attendance at rehearsals were playwright Stephen Sachs, Deaf West Artistic Director David Kurs, Fountain Producing Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, DWT Founder Ed Waterstreet and his wife, actress Linda Bove.

The highly regarded New York Theatre Workshop is the Tony-winning company dedicated to developing new plays and musicals.  Over their 30-year history, they have launched many acclaimed productions and have transferred several to Broadway, including Rent, Dirty Blonde, Homebody/Kabul, Peter and the Starcatcher, Once, and more. The Cyrano staged reading was held Monday in the NYTW upstairs rehearsal hall. An invited list of producers and VIP guests attended, including representatives from New York Theatre Workshop, The Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, Primary Stages, 59E59 Theatres, Broadway director Jeff Calhoun, and more. The actors performed Cyrano entirely memorized and off-book and cleverly incorporated the use of captioning and video design on a large TV flat screen monitor.

Our sincere and heartfelt thanks to our Cyrano donors who contributed to our fundraising campaign and made this very important New York opportunity possible: Phillip Baron, Cal Bartlett, JB Blanc, Eve Brenner, Carlease Burke, Johnny Clark, Kyle Colerider-Krugh, Cathy Colloff, Debra Conklin, James Conley, Kimberly Cyzner Family, Lorraine Danza, Timothy Davis-Reed, Fred Dean, Donna Duarte, Susan Duncan, Michael Edwin, Mark Freund, Amy Frost, Heidi Girardoni, Jane Gordon, Gaby Gross, William Dennis Hurley, Trice Koopman, Ken LaZebnik, Robert Leventer, Dennis Levitt, Ruth Linnick, Betsy Malloy, Caitlin Marcus, Donne McRae, Susan Merson, Mills, Michelle Montooth, Joel Moreno, Russell Nore, Jenny O’Hara, Susan Oka, Z. Oppenheim, Patricia Parker, Cynthia Paskos, Patty Paul, Terry Paule, Sharon Perlmutter, Ralph Pezoldt, Allison Pickering, Lawrence Poindexter, Priscilla Pointer, Bill Pugin and The Sign Language Company, Terri Roberts, Mark Routhier, Rita Schneir, Sandy Schuckett, Susanne Spira Survivors Trust, Suanne Spoke, Marjorie Throne, Eileen T’Kaye, Zoltan & Dorcas Tokes, Andrede Toledo, Tate Tullier, Jessica Turner, Nick Ullett, Heidi Girardoni, Carol Watson, Marianne Weil, William Wilk. We could not have done it without you!

What happens now? We’ll see what the future holds for our unique, thrilling and moving ASL/spoken English version of Cyrano. In the meantime, enjoy these snapshots of the rehearsal process and the staged reading!

‘Cyrano’ in New York 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Fountain Theatre Sweeps Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards

Fountain Theatre wins Best Season Award.

Fountain Theatre wins Best Season Award.

On Monday night, the Fountain Theatre won 7 LA Drama Critics Circle Awards:

  • Best Season 2012 – El NogalarCyranoThe Blue IrisIn the Red and Brown Water
  • Best Production - Cyrano
  • Best Director – Simon Levy, Cyrano
  • Best Director – Shirley Jo Finney, In the Red and Brown Water
  • Best Lead Performance – Troy Kotsur, Cyrano
  • Best Ensemble - In the Red and Brown Water
  • Best Writing (Adaptation) – Stephen Sachs, Cyrano

Fountain Theatre Sweeps with 7 Awards on the Gala Night

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Fountain Theatre Sweeps Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards

cyranoheader

Troy Kotsur and Erinn Anova in “Cyrano”

Fountain Honored for ‘Cyrano and ‘In the Red and Brown Water’ and Best Season in 2012 

Last night was a memorable evening for the Fountain Theatre at the 2012 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards. The Fountain swept all major categories, winning all 6 awards it was nominated for and, in addition, being honored for overall excellence with the Polly Warfield Award for Best Season. The Fountain/Deaf West production of Cyrano won 4 awards including Best Production of the Year.  The Fountain’s acclaimed In the Red and Brown Water was honored for Direction and Best Ensemble.

The Fountain Theatre won 7 LA Drama Critics Circle Awards:

  • Best Season 2012El Nogalar, Cyrano, The Blue Iris, In the Red and Brown Water
  • Best Production - Cyrano
  • Best Director – Simon Levy, Cyrano
  • Best Director – Shirley Jo Finney, In the Red and Brown Water
  • Best Lead Performance – Troy Kotsur, Cyrano
  • Best Ensemble - In the Red and Brown Water
  • Best Writing (Adaptation) – Stephen Sachs, Cyrano
Deaf West Artistic Director David Kurs, Simon Levy, Deborah Lawlor, Stephen Sachs, Troy Kotsur.

“Cyrano” team: Deaf  West Artistic Director David Kurs, director Simon Levy, producer Deborah Lawlor, playwright Stephen Sachs,  actor Troy Kotsur.

'In the Red and Brown Water' cast member Iona Morris enjoys the gala.

‘In the Red and Brown Water’ cast member Iona Morris enjoys the gala.

The LADCC Awards ceremony was held at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. The LA theater community enjoyed socializing with refreshments in the spacious lobby before and after the event. The crowd was an eclectic mix of theater artists, producers and journalists. In attendance from the Fountain Theatre were Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs, Producing Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, Producing Director Simon Levy, director Shirley Jo Finney, publicist Lucy Pollak, and  members of the cast from Cyrano and In the Red and Brown Water. Deaf West Artistic Director David Kurs accepted the Best Production  Award for Cyrano on behalf of the both companies.  

Simon Levy accepts Best Director Award for 'Cyrano'.

Simon Levy accepts Best Director Award for ‘Cyrano’.

“We are grateful for the Best Season Award because in 2012 we continued our longtime artistic relationships with old friends Athol Fugard and Deaf West, ” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “And we introduced important new playwrights Tanya Saracho and Tarell Alvin McCraney to Los Angeles audiences.  Most important, our 2012 season exemplified the heart of our artistic mission: to create and produce new work that reflects the diversity of Los Angeles. Our four productions in 2012 included a new play by a Latina playwright, a new play performed in two languages serving the deaf community, the newest play by South Africa’s greatest writer, and a thrilling new work by a brilliant young African American playwright. ”   

Full List of LADCC Award winners

Photo Slideshow: ‘Cyrano’ Closing party

Snapshots from our party celebrating the magical sold-out run of the world premiere of Cyrano after the final performance on Sunday, July 29th.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Smash Hit ‘Cyrano” Extended Again! Final 3-Week Extension to July 29

On the heels of eight sold-out weeks of performances and rave reviews, The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre have announced a final three-week extension ofCyranoThe modern-day signed/spoken adaptation of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” co-produced by the two multiple award-winning companies, will continue Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through July 29.

Written by Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs (Bakersfield Mist) and directed by Fountain producing director Simon LevyCyrano stars Deaf West actor Troy Kostsur in the title role as a brilliant deaf poet hopelessly in love with Roxy, a beautiful hearing woman who loves poetry. But Roxy doesn’t understand sign language and instead loves Chris, his hearing brother. Can Cyrano express his love to Roxy with his hands? Or must he teach Chris to woo her, to “speak his words” for him? American Sign Language (ASL) becomes the language of love in this new spin on a classic love story.

“We feel that it’s important to share the play with as many audiences as we possibly can, for as long as we possibly can,” says Deaf West artistic director David Kurs, who co-produces with Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor and Laura Hill.

“Seeing the play and this production has meant a great deal to many, many people,” agrees Lawlor. “They are coming back a second time, bringing more friends and family, telling more people. For many, it is more than just seeing a play; it’s having an experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives. What greater purpose is there for us, as artists?”

Over a dozen glowing reviews include a “Critic’s Choice” in the Los Angeles Times, “Critic’s Pick” in Back Stage, and a “GO” in the LA Weekly, and Cyrano was the recent subject of feature stories in both the Los Angeles Times and the LA Weekly.

This will be the final extension for Cyrano, with the U.S. premiere of Athol Fugard‘s newest play, The Blue Iris, scheduled to open in August.

Cyrano continues through July 29 at The Fountain Theatre, with performances ThursdaysFridays, andSaturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2 pm. Tickets are $34. On Thursdays and Fridays only, students with ID are $20 and seniors (over 62) are $25. Group discounts are available: call 323-663-1098. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles.  Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call 323 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

Gifts of Language Continue in ‘Cyrano’

Troy Kotsur as Cyrano.

The forces behind a well-received stage production have worked together for a long time, forever bonding the Fountain and Deaf West theater companies.

by Karen Wada

Nearly a decade ago, an improbable dream came true for Deaf West Theatre and its founder, Ed Waterstreet. The small, L.A.-based company went to Broadway with its signed and spoken version of the musical “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Even as he savored their success, Waterstreet had another dream — creating an original musical inspired by Edmond Rostand‘s “Cyrano de Bergerac.” What better tale for his theater to tell than one that explores the universal desire to express oneself?

This spring, “Cyrano” is making its debut, albeit as a straight play. Stephen Sachs’ modern-day adaptation, which is directed by Simon Levy, opened to acclaim in April at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood and runs until early July. The co-production represents a reunion of old friends — the Fountain gave Deaf West its first home and Sachs, the Fountain’s co-artistic director, is one of its longtime collaborators.

Sachs says the show also has turned out to be “a special farewell to Ed” since the 69-year-old Waterstreet, whom he calls “a delicious mixture of bulldog and teddy bear,” has retired after two decades as his company’s pioneering artistic director.

“Cyrano” marks a beginning as well, as it is Deaf West’s first production under new artistic director D.J. Kurs.

“I want to build on the tradition and passion Ed brought while keeping us moving forward,” says Kurs, 34.

Rostand’s 19th century drama about a 17th century soldier-poet has been reset in a world with Facebook and Starbucks. In the original, Cyrano fears rejection because of his huge nose, so he secretly uses his way with words to help his comrade Christian woo beautiful Roxanne.

In Sachs’ story, a poet believes his deafness will ruin his chances with a hearing woman named Roxy, especially after he learns she’s fallen for his hearing brother, aging rocker Chris. This Cyrano pinch-hits for his less-than-eloquent sibling via text and email.

“Technology has opened up the world” for the deaf community, the playwright says, although it can be a blessing and a curse for someone like Cyrano, “who connects back to a more romantic age.” Sachs’ hero — brash, brilliant and yet plagued by self-doubt — often feels he’s out of place, not fitting in with the hearing and choosing not to fit in with the deaf.

Sachs and Levy have integrated e-language into Deaf West’s trademark blending of signed and spoken language presented by deaf and hearing performers for deaf and hearing audiences. Flat-screen monitors glow with online messages while actors such as Troy Kotsur, who plays Cyrano, express with their hands and faces what Sachs calls the “intimate, visceral, kinetic” beauty of American Sign Language. (The ASL translation was created by two ASL masters working with the actors, director and playwright.)

Sachs discovered the richness of sign language in the late ’80s when he observed the interpreter at a play he was directing. He began holding workshops with deaf actors and writers; when he and Deborah Lawlor founded the 78-seat Fountain in 1990, he hoped to start a deaf theater company as well. Then he heard about Waterstreet, a National Theatre of the Deaf veteran who wanted to establish a company for deaf artists like himself.

The Fountain offered Waterstreet office space, from which he launched Deaf West in 1991. In its first show, “The Gin Game,” actors signed while hearing audience members listened to the dialogue on infrared headphones.

Deaf West ventured out on its own in 1993, eventually settling in North Hollywood. The company has gained a national reputation for expanding opportunities for deaf artists and defying expectations — especially by pursuing what Waterstreet calls “that crazy idea, the deaf musical.”

Just as “wonderfully crazy,” he adds, was the notion that such a musical could reach Broadway. “Big River,” which was directed by Broadway veteran Jeff Calhoun, opened in North Hollywood in 2001, moved to the Mark Taper Forum in 2002 and, in 2003, landed in New York, where it earned two Tony nominations and a Tony honor for excellence in theater.

Deaf West achieved its goal of presenting an original musical in 2007 with “Sleeping Beauty Wakes,” which opened at the Kirk Douglas Theatre with a book by Tony-winner Rachel Sheinkin and a score by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda of indie pop-rock’s GrooveLily. That Center Theatre Group co-production was followed by another, “Pippin,” in 2009.

Over the years, Sachs has continued to create work related to deaf culture. His “Sweet Nothing in My Ear,” inspired by the debate over cochlear implants, debuted at the Fountain in 1997 and was made into a TV movie. For Deaf West, he has directed two plays and written two others. His drama “Open Window,” in which a deaf young man is accused of killing the father who kept him chained in the basement, premiered in 2005 at the Pasadena Playhouse in a co-production between Deaf West and the playhouse.

When Waterstreet suggested collaborating again, Sachs asked about “Cyrano.” “Ed told me they had kicked it around, but it never got off the ground,” he says. So he proposed his modern-day version.

Kurs hopes the strong response to the show, which has been extended through July 8, will attract donors who can help ease the financial challenges Deaf West has faced after the loss of crucial federal funding, starting with a major cut in 2004. He is seeking additional funding sources for the company, which receives foundation, individual and local and state government support. Meanwhile, Deaf West has reduced its staff and rented out its theater during 2012.

Looking beyond “Cyrano,” Kurs is considering possibilities for the next production, which is scheduled for early 2013.

Waterstreet says he decided to leave at the end of last year but didn’t officially retire until Kurs, a former Deaf West artistic associate, was appointed in January. “The theater is still my baby,” he adds, noting that he plans to help with fundraising.

Returning to the Fountain for “Cyrano” proved to be what he calls “a very nice homecoming. … I had tears in my eyes as I saw the play for the first time in the space where we had so many memories.”

On opening night, Sachs sat behind Waterstreet as they watched the world premiere, deaf and hearing actors and an array of high-tech screens filling the stage where Deaf West got its start two decades earlier.

“At intermission, Ed leaned over to me,” Sachs recalls. “He said, ‘Wow! Look at all this. Look at how far we’ve come.’”

Cyrano Extended to July 8th (323) 663-1525  More Info  Buy Tickets

Video and Photos: Tech Weekend at “Cyrano”

A short Cyrano video promo created by actress Ipek Mehlum 

Some photos from Tech Weekend:

Paul Raci and Al Berntstein.

Paul Raci and Troy Kotsur

Erinn Anova and Paul Raci.

Video designer Jeffrey Teeter creating his magic.

Director Simon Levy and ASL interpreter Elizabeth Greene.

ASM Terri Roberts prepares the meal for dinner break.

Daniel Durant, Chip Bent, and Troy Kotsur.

Maleni Chaitoo, Bob Hiltermann, Ipek Mehlum, and Eddie Buck.

Voice and sign actors: Al Bernstein and Paul Raci, Troy Kotsur and Victor Warren.

Fountain Technical Director Scott Tuomey.

Dinner break!

Daniel Durant, Bob Hiltermann.

Deaf West Artistic Director David Kurs.

Troy Kotsur (Cyrano) and his voice actor, Victor Warren.

Cyrano    April 28 – June 10    (323) 663-1525    More Info

BroadwayWorld: Fountain and Deaf West Theaters present Premiere of Signed “Cyrano”

Paul Raci (Chris), Erinn Anova (Roxy), and Troy Kotsur (Cyrano).

The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre present the world premiere of a modern day classic romance, a re-imagined signed/spoken version of “Cyrano de Bergerac.” CYRANO, written by Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs (Bakersfield Mist) and directed by Simon Levy, opens at The Fountain Theatre on April 28, with previews beginning April 20.

In Sachs’ new adaptation, Cyrano is a deaf poet hopelessly in love with Roxy, a beautiful hearing woman. But she doesn’t understand sign language and instead loves Chris, his hearing brother. Can Cyrano express his love to Roxy with his hands? Or must he teach Chris to woo her, to “speak his words” for him? ASL (American Sign Language) becomes the language of love in this new spin on a classic love story.

Troy Kotsur (Cyrano).

“In the original classic, Cyrano feels self-conscious and over-glorifies his enormous nose, but in this modern deaf version, it’s his hands that are the focus,” explains Sachs. “Cyrano’s deafness is channeled through his hands, which swirl and soar to express the most complex human concepts, his inner-most thoughts and feelings, through the beauty of sign language.”

“It’s a mythic story about our hunger for love, the pangs for it,” says Levy. “But the deeper theme is how we communicate with one another. Stephen has written a beautiful adaptation that’s contemporary and fresh, set in a modern city where people communicate via text, Facebook and Twitter. It’s a world of iPhones, Blackberries and tablets. The production marries three forms of communication: ASL, English, and e-language.”

American Sign Language is not English, but a unique language unto itself with its own syntax, sentence structure, slang, humor, subtlety and complexity. It’s the job of ASL masters Tyrone Giordano and Shoshannah Stern to work with the deaf actors to translate the script into ASL, and director Simon Levy works with ASL interpreters in rehearsals. Fight choreographers Brian Danner and Abby Walla must not only create a fight scene between actors Troy Kotsur (Cyrano) and James Royce Edwards, but incorporate the simultaneous sign language with the help of Giordano, Stern and Levy.

A new project such as this has attracted deaf actors from all over the world. Six of the 13-member ensemble are deaf, and many of them have traveled great distances to make their Los Angeles debuts in Cyrano. Auditions were completed using Skype and video submissions.

“Deaf West is the only established theater company in the U.S. that regularly stages new works featuring deaf actors,” notes newly appointed Deaf West Theatre artistic director David Kurs. “Deaf actors from all over the country and the world were anxious to participate.”

Troy Kotsur is Cyrano.

Troy Kotsur (Cyrano), a veteran of Deaf West Theatre (Big River, Pippin, A Streetcar Named Desire, Of Mice and Men), traveled to Los Angeles from his current home in Arizona; Daniel Durant majored in theater at Gallaudet University and comes to L.A. from Maryland; Eddie Buck, who has acted in productions ranging from A Christmas Carol to Romeo and Juliet to Hamlet, joins the cast from Pennsylvania; Maleni Chaitoo (Switched at Birth) recently arrived from New York; and stage, film and TV actress Ipek D. Mehlum comes all the way from Oslo, Norway. Completing the deaf cast is Los Angeles-based actor Bob Hiltermann, who appeared in the Academy Award winning film version of Children of a Lesser God and recurred on All My Children. The cast also includes hearing actors Erinn Anova (Blues For An Alabama Sky, For Colored Girls…, Doubt) as Roxy and Paul Raci (Joseph Jefferson “Best Actor” nomination for Children of a Lesser God in Chicago) as Cyrano’s brother Chris. Hearing ensemble members Al Bernstein, James Babbin, James Royce Edwards, Victor Warren, and Martica De Cardenas also “voice” for the deaf actors.

The set designer for Cyrano is Jeff McLaughlin; lighting designer is Jeremy Pivnick; sound designer is Peter Bayne; video designer is Jeff Teeter; multimedia tech is by Media Fabricators, Inc.; costume designer is Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop designer is Misty Carlisle; fight choreographers are Brian Danner and Abby Walla; production stage manager is Sue Karutz; assistant stage manager is Terri RobertsLaura Hill and Deborah Lawlor produce for The Fountain Theatre, and David Kurs produces for Deaf West Theatre. Cyrano is funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Paul Raci (Chris) and Troy Kotsur (Cyrano).

The relationship between The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre dates back 21 years to the early beginnings of both companies. Excited by the visual theatricality of ASL, Stephen Sachs had already been conducting workshops with deaf actors for a number of years. He and Fountain co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor offered office space in their newly founded theater facility to Ed Waterstreet, an actor with National Theatre of the Deaf who envisioned starting a theater company for deaf actors in Los Angeles. Deaf West Theatre produced its first two productions, The Gin Game and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (the latter directed by Sachs) in the Fountain space. Deaf West Theatre went on to produce 40 plays and four musicals in their own venue and around the country, including the Tony-nominated Big River on Broadway, and to win more than 80 theater awards. The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles with over 200 awards for all areas of production, performance, and design. Fountain projects have been seen in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Florida, New Jersey, Minneapolis and Edinburgh.

Cyrano marks Stephen Sachs’ ninth new play, his third incorporating deaf culture and illuminating the deaf world. His play Sweet Nothing in my Ear (1997, PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Media Access Award winner for Theater Excellence) has been produced in theaters around the country and in 2008 was made into a TV movie for CBS starring Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin and Jeff DanielsOpen Window (2005, Media Access Award winner for Theater Excellence) had its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse, directed by Eric Simonson. His other plays include Bakersfield Mist (recently optioned for London’s West End and New York), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse,Canadian Stage Company, LA Drama Critics Circle award and LA Weekly award nominations for Best Adaptation), Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Back Stage Garland award, Best Play), Mother’s Day, The Golden Gate (Best Play, Drama-Logue), and The Baron in the Trees. Sachs co-founded The Fountain Theatre with Deborah Lawlor in 1990.

Simon Levy was honored with the 2011 Milton Katselas Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle. Directing credits at the Fountain include A House Not Meant to Stand; Opus; Photograph 51;The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore; The Gimmick with Dael Orlandersmith (Ovation Award-Solo Performance); Master Class (Ovation Award-Best Production); Daisy in the Dreamtime; Going to St. Ives; The Night of the Iguana; Summer & Smoke (Ovation Award-Best Production); The Last Tycoon, which he wrote and directed, (5 Back Stage West awards, including Best Adaptation and Direction); and Orpheus Descending (6 Drama-Logue awards, including Best Production and Direction). What I Heard About Iraq, which he wrote and directed, was produced worldwide including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Fringe First Award) and the Adelaide Fringe Festival (Fringe Award), was produced by BBC Radio, and received a 30-city UK tour culminating in London.

Troy Kotsur (Cyrano) and Erinn Anova (Roxy).

Cyrano opens on Saturday, April 28, with performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2 pm through June 10. Preview performances take place April 20-27 on the same schedule with an additional preview performance on Wednesday, April 25 @ 8 pm. Tickets are $30 on Thursdays and Fridays and $34 on Saturdays and Sundays, except previews which are $15. On Thursdays and Fridays only, students with ID are $20 and seniors are $25. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call 323 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

Photo Credit: Ed Kreiger 

David Kurs: A New Leader for Deaf West

Fountain Co-Production with Deaf West Inaugurates  New Artistic Director for Celebrated Deaf Company

by Julio Martinez

Director Simon Levy addresses the deaf/hearing cast of "Cyrano", interpreted by Elizabeth Greene.

Since its birth in 1991, Deaf West Theatre (DWT) has known one leader — Ed Waterstreet, the first deaf artistic director of an American theater company.  During his tenure, DWT established itself as a vital, contributing member of the stage community both locally and nationally, producing 40 plays and four musicals, including the 2001 staging of Big River, which went on to the Mark Taper Forum and then to Broadway, receiving a Tony nomination for best musical.

David Kurs

On March 2, DWT board president Mark Freund simultaneously announced the retirement of Waterstreet and the appointment of David J. Kurs as the new artistic director, just in time to oversee the company’s collaboration with Hollywood’s Fountain Theatre in the premiere of Cyrano, written by Stephen Sachs. It’s a modern, re-imagined staging of Cyrano de Bergerac, performed in a synergistic intermingling of spoken word and ASL signing.

“This is a perfect partnership for us, ” Kurs affirms. “Stephen Sachs [as co-artistic director of the Fountain] was a key player in the early days of Deaf West Theatre. The theater gave Ed [Waterstreet] his first office space. Stephen directed a couple of our productions; and Stephen, Fountain producing director Simon Levy, and Fountain co-artistic director Deborah [Lawlor] have been very supportive of the mission of Deaf West over the years. Stephen also wrote Open Window, which was a Deaf West co-production at the Pasadena Playhouse, and he has remained good friends with Ed throughout the years. So it was natural for Ed to reach out to him about adapting Cyrano.”

Troy Kotsur plays the title role in "Cyrano".

Cyrano, helmed by Levy, is scheduled to open at the Fountain on April 28, with Kurs serving as co-producer, along with the Fountain’s Laura Hill.  “This production model seems to work well for us,” says Kurs.  “We maintain good relationships with many theater companies. We’ve done three co-productions with CTG (Center Theatre Group). Of course, we plan to return to our home base eventually.”  Home base is Deaf West Theatre in North Hollywood (NoHo), which is currently being leased by Antaeus Theatre Company.

Previously, Kurs served as Deaf West’s artistic associate.  He was an associate producer and ASL master on Deaf West productions of Pinocchio (2011), My Sister in This House (2010) and Children of a Lesser God (2009), and he wrote and produced the multimedia young audience show, Aesop Who? (2008). A graduate of Gallaudet University, Kurs has worked as a freelance writer, producer and filmmaker. He has also been active in the local and national deaf community, serving as the president of the board of directors at GLAD (the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness).

A strong advocate for arts education, Kurs believes that the deaf children of today don’t enjoy the same cultural opportunities that he enjoyed as a child. “I grew up in Riverside. My parents are deaf. They would take me to social and cultural events in the deaf community all the time, including the theater. When CTG started offering interpreted performances at the Mark Taper Forum, my parents took me to those performances regularly as well. These opportunities are not as prevalent today.

Although Kurs enjoyed a culturally rich childhood, he was not so sure it would offer him a livelihood as an adult. “I had a passion for the arts for many years, but I didn’t think there would be too many job possibilities for a deaf person like myself in the arts. So at Gallaudet I majored in marketing. One year after graduation, I moved to LA and decided to find a job in the creative industry. I ended up as a script reader. This job was a gateway for me, and it was at this time that I became passionate about the power of the arts and the media in changing the public perception of the deaf community.

"Big River" (2001)

“I saw what Deaf West Theatre had achieved with Big River – not only artistic success, but they had also shown audiences that deaf people were part of a colorful, vivid culture and their language was something that they took pride in.”

As Kurs moves into his new position at Deaf West, Kurs understands his administrative duties will equal if not surpass his creative responsibilities.  And high on his list of priorities is underwriting.  “I have two specific agenda items for 2012: to explore and obtain new sources of funding while continuing to retain our existing funding sources, and to plan our development slate so that we may focus on relevant, engaging work. Ultimately, we’d love to be where art and commerce meet — stretching the boundaries of sign language theater while also achieving success that will sustain our future.”

As for the future, Kurs’ wish list could possibly utilize his filmmaking skills. “Deaf West is a local theater for a good reason — LA is a great home base for many of our actors. We have a wonderful community of deaf actors, writers, and artists. But at the same time, I’d love to serve the nationwide deaf community. Many of our theater fans are unable to travel to LA for every production.

"Cyrano" ASL Masters. Ty Giordano and Shoshannah Stern.

“I want to find ways to bring theater into their homes, to expose deaf children to the potential of the stage so that they may begin to explore it on their own. It’s a very accessible art with deep roots in our community, and it saddens me that sign language theater is not nearly as prevalent as it once was. I was so fortunate to be exposed to so much sign language theater while growing up: community and high school productions, international deaf culture festivals, touring productions of the National Theatre of the Deaf, and most of all, Deaf West’s many productions. And video is one possibility of achieving that exposure.

“Deaf West has had a great impact on me in my artistic development, and I can only hope to spread this passion on to others and to create opportunities for them so that we all can achieve a shared goal of artistic growth.”

Julio Martinez writes for LA Stage Times.

Cyrano April 20 – June 10 (323) 663-1525   More Info   Get Tickets