Tag Archives: Deborah Lawlor

Fountain Theatre affirms its commitment to diversity at Hollywood gathering

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Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs

Fountain friends, longtime and new, enjoyed an unforgettable afternoon Sunday at the magnificent Hollywood apartment of actress and Fountain board member Karen Kondazian. Delicious middle eastern fare from Adana was served to thirty invited special guests who marveled at Karen’s extraordinary home, the panoramic view of Hollywood,  and chatted about the achievements and future of the Fountain Theatre.

The afternoon salon was organized so distinguished friends and supporters of the Fountain could stay connected with the theatre and each other. New colleagues and associates from the Los Angeles business and arts communities were introduced to the Fountain’s inner circle. And the Fountain unveiled a new level of sponsorship, the Artistic Directors Circle, for elite donors who underwrite specific plays or programs or an entire season. 

Fountain Co-Artistic Directors Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs were joined by Producing Director Simon Levy, Associate Producer James Bennett and Director of Development Barbara Goodhill.

“Diversity sits at the heart of our artistic mission,” said Sachs. “When Deborah and I founded the Fountain back in 1990, it was to offer an artistic home for theatre and dance artists, of all backgrounds, to create and develop new work that reflects the cultural diversity of our city and our nation. The Fountain Theatre sits in the center of District 13, the most ethnically and culturally diverse district in Los Angeles. 32 languages are spoken at the local high school.

“Our programing is community-driven. When we think about putting a season together, we ask ourselves which community needs to be served? Which cultural, religious or ethnic group is struggling with an issue that needs to be dramatized? Who’s voice needs to be heard?”       

The 2017-18 Fountain Theatre season includes the world premiere of Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan, Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, the world premiere of Runaway Home by Jeremy Kamps, the world premiere of Freddie by Deborah Lawlor, the stage adaption of The Chosen by Chaim Potok, and the world premiere of Arrival and Departure by Stephen Sachs performed in Spoken English and American Sign Language.

 

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Fountain Board members Dorothy Wolpert, Karen Kondazian, Dick Motika, Jerrie Witfield, Don Zachary, and Oscar Arslanian welcomed guests Nyla Arslanian, Miles and Joni Benickes, Lorraine Evanoff, Bennard Gillison, Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, Lucinda Cowell and Ron Michaelson, Victoria Meyers, Bonnie Nijist and Arthur Zeesman, Jacqueline Schultz, Mark Stankevich, Ron and Elaine Stein, , and Stanley Wolpert.

Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor spoke to the group, reviewing the recent accomplishments of the Fountain Theatre, its fundraising goals, and outlining the upcoming 2017-18 season. They expressed the artistic heart and soul of the company and its dedication to diversity and inclusion by serving a wide variety of communities throughout Los Angeles. And they articulated the challenges and objectives moving forward, describing the Fountain as an essential treasure on the cultural landscape of Los Angeles. And declared that the Fountain’s longtime dedication to diversity was essential in these turbulent times. 

“We are an immigrant nation, ” stated Sachs. “Los Angeles is a world city, rich with the multi-colored fabric of diversity.  At this moment in history, now more than ever, it is crucial that the Fountain Theatre maintain its mission of diversity and inclusion and community focus,  where people from all backgrounds are seen on our stage and in our audiences.”

“The Fountain Theatre may be small in size, ” he concluded. “But we are large in vision, in purpose, and in our commitment to creating and producing meaningful work that has the power to change lives.”

The spirit that smiles on CTG’s ‘Block Party’ celebrating intimate theatre in Los Angeles

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On Wednesday, February 8th, Fountain Theatre Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs was asked to speak at the Board of Directors meeting for Center Theatre Group to share his thoughts on the Fountain’s participation in CTG’s new Block Party.  The following are his remarks:

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Stephen Sachs

I’m Stephen Sachs, the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, which I co-founded with my partner Deborah Lawlor in 1990. We are now celebrating our 27th season. Prior to that, I was an actor – a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In fact, in 1982, one of the biggest thrills of my young career as an actor was standing on stage at the Mark Taper Forum in a small role in the world premiere of Tales from Hollywood by Christopher Hampton, directed by Gordon Davidson. 

I am a playwright, a director, a producer and artistic director. I began running theatre companies in Los Angeles in 1987 – the Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills with Suzi Dietz and Joan Stein – and launched the Fountain Theatre in 1990 to create an artistic home where new plays could be developed and produced that reflect the cultural diversity of Los Angeles and dramatize important social and political issues confronting specific communities in our region and our nation. The Fountain Theatre sits in the heart of the most diverse district in the City. Thirty-two languages are spoken at the local high school.

Our brand phrase is: Intimate. Excellent.  We have artistic relationships with such noted playwrights as Athol Fugard, Tarell McCraney, Robert Schenkkan, Emily Mann, Dael Orlandersmith, Anna Ziegler, Lauren Gunderson, Zayd Dorn. We were just featured in the New York Times on Monday for opening the world premiere in March of Robert Schenkkan’s new play Building the Wall. You can guess what that’s about.

Plays launched at the Fountain Theatre are now being produced across the country, in New York, in London, have been translated into other languages and are now being seen around the world.

I’ve been a theatre maker in Los Angeles for 30 years. I’ve seen the intimate theatre community in Los Angeles grow from a cluster of what was then called “Equity Waiver” theaters in the 1980’s to the vast network of literally hundreds of intimate theaters we have today. Although we still fight for the right to call ourselves a “theatre town” because of the film and television industry – more theatre is now produced in Los Angeles every year than in any city in the world. More than New York. More than London. 

The constellation of intimate theatres in Los Angeles is utterly unique nationwide. There is nothing like it anywhere in this country.  Theaters around the country envied our 99-Seat Plan, which – for 30 years – gave Equity actors the right to hone their craft in an intimate theater without a contract — but not without payment and protections – if they so choose.  The 99-Seat Plan was created by Equity actors. It came out of that spirit of revolution, the right to volunteer your services if you so choose, to insist on the artistic freedom to create. Where budgets and bottom lines were not a factor because nobody was making any money anyway. I don’t have to tell you – there’s a reason why it’s called non-profit theatre.

As many of you may know, Actors Equity has just eliminated the 99-Seat Plan. Against the will of its own membership. LA Equity actors voted overwhelmingly against eliminating the Plan. Equity has done it anyway.  Forcing theatres to now use a very hotly-contested New Agreement impacting every intimate theatre in Los Angeles. Several small theatres are now closing.  The entire landscape of the intimate theatre community will be forever changed.

This makes what you are offering with Block Party so extraordinary. And the timing of it so essential.

With Block Party, Center Theatre Group – the flagship theatre organization in Los Angeles  – is reaching out its hand to the intimate theatre community. Not as a hand-out but as a hand in partnership. Recognizing that our work matters.  Block Party affirms that the work created in intimate theatres is alive and vibrant and an essential part of the cultural life of Los Angeles.  I can not over emphasize how important and meaningful this is. Not only to the Fountain Theatre, and Echo Theatre Company and Courage Theatre Company participating this year, but to all intimate theatres everywhere, throughout our community. 

With one program, with Block Party, you have dissolved the barrier between “big” theatre and “small”, between “us” and “them”.  With Block Party, there finally is now “we”. Together.

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CTG Artistic Director Michael Ritchie

Michael Ritchie, Lindsay Allbaugh, Ian-Julian Williams and the entire Block Party staff have been so open, so inviting, so welcoming. The beauty of Block Party is not only the magic of what’s going to happen on stage, it’s the relationship-building already happening off stage.  The setting up of meetings between our intimate theatre companies and CTG departments, to share ideas and swap strategies, is remarkable and generous and will be beneficial to both sides. 

I’m confident that the spirit of goodwill and partnership that Block Party creates will ripple out and continue, not only for the 38 days of the festival, but throughout the entire year.

I was at the memorial celebration for Gordon Davidson at the Ahmanson last month. Just a few days after that ceremony, I attended a production meeting for Block Party. The juxtaposition of those two events was not lost on me.  Gordon is smiling down on Block Party. He would have loved this. It truly carries forward his spirit of adventure, of risk, his dedication to diversity and inclusion. And I applaud and thank Michael Ritchie, and all of you on this Board, for making that spirit a reality.

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Gordon Davidson celebration at the Ahmanson Theatre.

More Info/Get Tickets for Block Party

Fountain Theatre launches 2017-18 season for social action with world premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s new play, ‘Building the Wall’

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The Fountain Theatre will open its 2017-18 season of new plays with an urgent warning against the proposed policies of the Trump administration, followed by statements on social justice, inclusion, acceptance of “the other,” prejudice, the role of government and the need for human connection.

“The Fountain has always been committed to speaking out for social justice and inclusion,” asserts Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. “These are disturbing and tumultuous times — for our local intimate theater community in Los Angeles and our nation. The Fountain is a place for theater to serve as a vehicle for public discourse: to express outrage, compassion and hope.”

The 2017-18 season will include four world premieres — Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan; Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps; Freddie by Deborah Lawlor; and Arrival and Departure by Stephen Sachs — as well as the Los Angeles premiere of The Chosen by Aaron Posner. The Fountain’s 2015 production of Citizen: An American Lyric, written by Claudia Rankine and adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs, will be presented at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of Center Theatre Group’s inaugural Block Party. And, in addition to the Fountain’s ongoing, monthly ‘Forever Flamenco’ series, the Fountain will host Flamenco Fiesta, a two-day, outdoor flamenco concert celebration.

Over the past 27 years, The Fountain Theatre has established itself as one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. Fountain projects have been translated into numerous languages, produced across the U.S. and worldwide, and made into a TV movie.

The Fountain Theatre’s 2017-18 season is as follows:

March 18 – May 21 (previews March 15-17)
building-wallWorld premiere of Building the WallThe newest play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle, All the Way), directed by award-winning Michael Michetti. It’s the very near future, and the Trump administration has carried out his campaign promise to round up and detain millions of immigrants. Now, a writer interviews the supervisor of a private prison as he awaits sentencing for carrying out the federal policy that has escalated into the unimaginable. This riveting, harrowing and illuminating drama delivers a powerful warning and puts a human face on the inhuman, revealing how when personal accountability is denied, what seems inconceivable becomes inevitable.

April 30 – May 7 (previews April 28-29)

citizenCitizen: An American LyricCenter Theatre Group will remount the Fountain’s award-winning 2015 production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of CTG’s inaugural Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theatre. Written by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, Citizen fuses poetry, prose, movement, music and video images in a provocative meditation on everyday acts of racism in America. Actors returning from the original production include Simone Missick, who co-stars as Misty Knight on Netflix’s Luke Cage.

Summer 2017
runaway-homeWorld premiere of Runaway Home Three years after Hurricane Katrina, the unhealed wounds of New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward continue to fester. In this powerful, funny and deeply moving mother-daughter story by Jeremy J. Kamps, 14-year-old runaway Kali embarks on a journey to pick through the wreckage of what used to be her life. Rhyming, stealing and scamming her way through the still-destroyed neighborhood, engaging the vivid, lively denizens who remain, she grapples with the real cost of what she has lost as she is forced to confront the even higher cost of moving forward and the possibility of redemption.

Fall 2017
the-chosenLos Angeles premiere of The Chosen The Fountain Theatre celebrates the 50th anniversary of Chaim Potok’s beloved novel with the L.A. premiere of the award-winning stage adaptation by Aaron Posner. A silent father, an ancient tradition and an unexpectedly important game of baseball forge bonds of lifelong friendship between two Jewish boys from “five blocks and a world apart” in this funny, poignant, timely and timeless story about recognition and acceptance of “the other.” Directed by Simon Levy.

Fall 2017
freddieWorld premiere of Freddie This hybrid dance/theater work by Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor will be presented at Los Angeles City College, inaugurating a new partnership with the LACC Theatre Academy. Set in Greenwich Village in 1964 and based on a true story, Freddie fuses theater, music, dance and video to capture the explosive spirit of a passionate artist and a turbulent era. A naïve young woman falls under the spell of Freddie Herko, a brilliant ballet dancer of extraordinary charisma and talent and a beloved luminary of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Frances Loy directs.

Spring 2018
arrival-departWorld premiere of Arrival and Departure Troy Kotsur and his real-life wife Deanne Bray star in a modern-day, re-imagined deaf/hearing stage adaptation by Stephen Sachs (Bakersfield Mist, Cyrano) of the classic 1945 British romantic film, Brief Encounter. A deaf man and a deaf woman, married to different people, meet accidentally in a train station. A friendship develops over time, escalating into a passionate love affair that both struggle to permit themselves to consummate. An unforgettable love story about the challenges of communication, social isolation, diversity and self-empowerment.

Visit the Fountain Theatre (323) 663-1525

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Video: Join the adventure of ‘Freddie’, a new theatre/dance work in progress, Oct 27-29

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Ottavio Taddei is Freddie in the lab workshop

Be part of the process as Deborah Lawlor develops her new theatre/dance piece about ballet dancer and friend Freddie Herko. Directed by Frances Loy, the Freddie workshop is an exploration of blending dance movement and theatre to tell the compelling true story of the charismatic dancer who was part of the Andy Warhol scene in New York’s Greenwich Village in the 1960’s.

An exploration, not a full production, this workshop puts you at the center of the creative journey as we invite you into the rehearsal studio for three free public presentations this Thursday, Oct 27th – Saturday, October 29th, at 8pm. Your feedback is important. There will be a conversation following each presentation.

Be bold! Join us for the adventure. Because of the uniqueness of the project, the Freddie workshop is happening at BP Studios at The Brewery, 618 Moulton Avenue, in downtown Los Angeles. Map and directions. Free parking.

Thursday, Oct 27th – Saturday, October 29th, at 8pm

Seating is FREE. (323) 663-1525 More Info/Make Your Reservation       

This project is supported, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts.

First workshop rehearsal in unique space to develop new theatre/dance piece ‘Freddie’

7Deborah Lawlor’s new theatre/dance hybrid Freddie is not a conventional play. Therefore, the development of the new work required locating a unique space. The Fountain team found it at BP Studios downtown in The Brewery Arts Colony.

Covering 23 acres in 14 buildings, The Los Angeles Brewery Art Colony has been called the largest live-and-work artists’ colony in the world. The compound includes twenty-one former warehouses, an old Edison power plant chimney dating to 1903, plus studios, lofts, restaurants and galleries. 500-700 artists and businesses call The Brewery their home.

It will now be the home for our experimental project Freddie for the next three weeks. Written by Deborah Lawlor and directed by Frances Loy, Freddie tells the true story of the passionate, charismatic and troubled ballet dancer Frederick Herko who leaped to his death from a NY city apartment window in 1964. Lawlor was a close friend of Herko and has created this new work to dramatize their friendship. 

The new project will be in residence at BP Studios for a 3-week developmental lab workshop to explore the interweaving of text and dance/movement for the piece. Open presentations, free to the public, will take place Oct 27-29. The developmental lab is being supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.   

The cast includes Tanya Alexander, Addie Doyle, Efé, Michael Matthys, Christopher Nolen, Chris Smith, Douglas Scott Sorenson and Octavio Taddei. The choreographer is Laurel Jenkins.

We look forward to this innovative new project blossoming to life. 

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Gordon Davidson: An inspiration

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By Stephen Sachs

If Los Angeles had a Mount Rushmore, the visage of Gordon Davidson would be on it. Such a monument to the City of the Angels would include many faces, from a variety of disciplines. Politics, the arts, architecture,  sports, business. With names like Mulholland, Chandler, Griffith, Bradley, Getty, O’Malley, Wright, Disney. And the name Gordon Davidson.

Starting in 1967 with the launching of the Music Center and the Mark Taper Forum, Gordon Davidson’s 38-year leadership of Center Theatre Group made him not only the Founding Father of Los Angeles theatre but one of the most influential artistic leaders in the city’s history. He planted the theatre flag in the sand for Los Angeles and put our city on the theatrical map.

With Gordon’s passing, and the loss of Arena Stage’s Zelda Fichandler this summer, the generation of bold visionaries who created, established and fought for the ideal of non-profit theater in this country, upon which all of us follow, are exiting.

For me, as a theatre artist growing up in Los Angeles, with a dream of some day creating my own theatre company, Gordon’s light was inspiring and his shadow monumental. But working with him and getting to know him revealed the kind, generous and supportive man he was. If you were a passionate theatre person, he was always on your side.

Gordon first influenced the course of my artistic life when he cast me in the world premiere of Tales from Hollywood, a new play by Christopher Hampton at the Mark Taper Forum in 1982 starring Paul Sorvino. I was twenty-three. It was my first acting job in the professional theater. I got my Equity card thanks to Gordon Davidson.

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The house on Mabery Road

Gordon commissioned Christopher to write the play inspired by the history of Gordon and Judi Davidson’s home on Mabery Road in Santa Monica Canyon . The 1929 house once belonged to Austrian actress and screenwriter Salka Viertel. It became a meeting place in the 1940’s for German exiles during the war, including Bertolt Brecht, Arnold Schoenberg, Thomas and Heinrich Mann. Greta Garbo and Albert Einstein would visit. Famous actors, writers, and filmmakers of the era would gather each week for a Sunday salon in the house to eat, drink and argue politics and art. During the run of Tales From Hollywood, Gordon and Judi hosted a company party at their home where we all enjoyed an afternoon gathering and experienced the stimulating atmosphere of the notable house firsthand. The home not only held the history of the celebrated émigrés  who met there years ago. It also displayed proof of the remarkable career of the man who lived there now. Among the family photos on the walls hung posters, playbills, and backstage photographs from Gordon’s extraordinary life in the theatre. I remember the framed drawing of Gordon by Al Hirschfeld in particular.

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Drawing by Hirschfeld

As a young actor who grew up in Los Angeles, standing on the stage of the Mark Taper Forum in my first professional production was exhilarating. Like stepping into a dream. The Mark Taper Forum was my Mecca. The epicenter of LA Theater. For me and most actors in Los Angeles, to be working at the Taper was like passing through the portal of professional and artistic arrival. It was where you wanted to be, you needed to be. And that was all because of Gordon.

I loved being there. Not just on stage. All of it. The rehearsal rooms, the offices, the circular backstage hallway that curved around the playing area. The walls decorated with posters from Taper productions, each signed by the actors, many now famous and admired. My young hand trembled when I added my simple signature to our wall poster for Tales from Hollywood.

In the Taper hallways I would stare at the framed photographs from the 1979 world premiere of Children of Lesser God, created and performed on the Taper stage just three years before my arrival there. In the photos there was Gordon, directing John Rubinstein and Phyllis Frelich in that ground-breaking production which showed the world the power and beauty of American Sign Language on stage. Though my own commitment and contribution to deaf theatre in Los Angeles would be years away, a seed had been planted.

That same 1981-82 season at the Taper, just seven months before I appeared there, the newest play by Athol Fugard, A Lesson from Aloes, had been staged. I did not meet Athol that year, but our paths would cross nearly two decades later and an artistic partnership would be formed that would change my life. By way of Gordon Davidson and the Mark Taper Forum.

I savored my time at the Taper. I would sit in the empty arena, watching Gordon direct his company in the home he had fathered, and dream of someday creating a theatre home of my own.

When I finally opened the Fountain Theatre with my colleague Deborah Lawlor in 1990, Gordon and the Taper were entering a renewed phase of artistic achievement with the premieres of Jelly’s Last Jam, The Kentucky Cycle, Angels in America, and Twilight: Los Angeles. The Taper was riding a crest of award-winning national acclaim under Gordon’s unending passion, guidance and leadership.

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Gordon Davidson, Athol Fugard, Stephen Sachs, at Fountain Theatre, 2004

Meanwhile, on Fountain Avenue, our modest theatre company was blossoming. In 2000, Athol Fugard surprised all of us by arriving one night to see our work. He offered me his new play, Exits and Entrances, in 2004 and a 12-year artistic partnership began that continues to this day. Gordon attended our world premiere production of Exits and Entrances and was beaming like a pleased uncle. So caring and supportive.

The last time I spoke with Gordon was a brief hello at the memorial service for Phyllis Frelich held at the Taper two years ago. By this time, I knew Phyllis well and had worked with her many times. She was a founding member of Deaf West Theatre, which we launched at the Fountain in 1991. Her memorial at the Taper was a gathering of the many deaf and hearing artists and friends in the community who knew and loved Phyllis. And a bittersweet reunion of the core team that had created Children of a Lesser God on that very stage: John Rubinstein, Mark Medoff, Robert Steinberg, and, of course, Gordon Davidson. Although eighty-one and moving more delicately, Gordon spoke passionately from the stage he once led about the power of theatre as a vehicle for human connection and a trigger for social change. Theatre still fervently mattered to him. Like a wise elder preaching from the pulpit, Gordon still believed.

And now he is gone. But not really. Because the hundreds of new plays he helped create, develop and produce over nearly four decades will endure forever. And the hundreds of thousands of lives he has impacted will be forever changed. Including one Artistic Director on Fountain Avenue.

The intimate Fountain Theatre is a fraction of the Taper’s size and budget. But that doesn’t matter. The words of Gordon Davidson continue to inspire and remind me that “the great thing about the theatre is that it’s dealing with the art of the possible. What’s possible is not limited by money, but by imagination, and vision.”

Gordon had the vision to see what was possible. The city, and ourselves, are forever richer for it.

Stephen Sachs is the founding Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.