Tag Archives: Fountain Avenue

VIDEO: What makes the Fountain Theatre a successful home for LA artists and audiences?

 

Los Angeles shines as a theatre town

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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

Gordon Davidson: An inspiration

gordon-davidson

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. 

Jessica’s Journal: Goodbye for Now

by Jessica Broutt

Let me start my last blog post of the summer by saying that I am not a big fan of change.  I love re-reading books, seeing movies over and over, and staying friends with people who I have known a long time.  I find sameness very comforting.  And now, after sitting at the same desk and showing up to work at the same time for the last ten weeks, tomorrow will be my last day at The Fountain.

Obviously, this being my last day makes me very sad because I love everything about this theatre.  I love driving to The Fountain on the 101 and passing Capitol Records because I always feel like I’m in a movie about living in Los Angeles.  I love the fact that The Fountain Theatre is not only on Fountain Avenue but there is an actual fountain in the parking lot. I love knowing that no matter what time I come in Scott will always be in the office before me.  I love sitting at my pink desk and waiting for my computer to load.  I love that when Stephen comes in he always comes to my desk to say hello.  I love that Diana thinks I’m a computer genius because I know how to hit the refresh button.  I love that our bathroom has a bathtub. I love that after 10 weeks I finally know how to use our printer. I love that James pretended like I wasn’t a complete idiot when it took me a considerable amount of time to figure out how to use the printer in question. I love saying hello to Deborah as she comes in and saying goodbye to Simon when I leave.  And I really love writing grants and blogs and e-mails, and whatever else I’m asked to do. But what these little things really mean when you put them all together is that I just love working at The Fountain.

I know I have said this in most all of my blog posts, but being an intern here really has been incredible.  And while I was partly surprised that it has been so wonderful, a part of me knew that it would be from the moment I got the job.  After a phone interview with Stephen, I was asked to come in for a face to face interview with Simon, Stephen, and Deborah.  I came in and thought it went really well and was waiting to hear Stephen offer me the job. But that didn’t happen.  I drove away thinking that it must have not gone as well as I’d thought.  Then, about 5 minutes after I had pulled out of the lot I got a call from Stephen, first chastising me for answering the phone while I was driving, and after clarifying that I had blue tooth, he said, “We talked it over and decided that you’re hired.” Right then I knew that any person that would call me five minutes after I left and then question why I would answer the phone while I was driving, was the kind of person I would be happy to work with.  And I’ve been so happy these past 10 weeks.  I have been spoiled for any other organization because now I know what being an intern should be like, and I can’t wait for my next opportunity to come back.

So while change is not something I’ve ever been too fond of, starting at the Fountain was the best change I’ve ever experienced.  And now I can tell you first hand that not only is the Fountain Theatre intimate and excellent because of its space and the theatre produced here, but because of the people who work here as well.

Jessica Broutt is our summer intern from UC San Diego. We thank the LA County Arts Commission and its Arts Internship Program for its support. 

Take Fountain! Just Don’t Take It for Granted

The "take Fountain" mural across the street from the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.

When Johnny Carson asked Bette Davis for advice on “the best way an aspiring starlet could get into Hollywood,” Ms. Davis replied without hesitation, “Take Fountain.”

Fountain Avenue is a local favorite for many people who use it to cut across Hollywood quickly. It runs parallel between Sunset Boulevard to the north and Santa Monica Boulevard to the south. Only 6 miles in length, Fountain Avenue runs from Silverlake Blvd in the East all the way to La Cienega Blvd in the West with a break between Van Ness and Bronson streets for La Conte Middle School. As you zip along Fountain Avenue, on your way to your next big Hollywood meeting or audition, you’ll see a few notable buildings.

El Mirador apartment building.

In the late 1920s, The Mirador apartment building was built on the corner of Fountain and Sweetzer by renowned theatre architect S. Charles Lee. Mr. Lee is an American architect, born in Chicago, recognized as one of the most prolific and distinguished motion picture theater designers on the West Coast. Lee also designed the Max Factor building, The Los Angeles Theatre and The Bruin Theatre, to name only a few.

In 1930, Cedar-Sinai was moved from Whittier Boulevard to Fountain Avenue where it was renamed Cedars of Lebanon. In 1976, after having merged with the Westside’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, Cedars of Lebanon moved out of its building on Fountain and into a new hospital complex near Beverly Hills and became the world-famous Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Today, the old Cedars of Lebanon building now belongs to the Church of Scientology.

La Fountaine

Also around the same time period, architect Leland Bryant designed La Fountaine,  a replica of a château he had seen in Europe, on the corner of Fountain Avenue and Crescent Heights. Leland Bryant is also responsible for the designs of several other landmark buildings in Los Angeles, including the Argyle HotelSunset Tower, Savoy Plaza and the Trianon – a grande apartment building tucked away from major streets in Hollywood, near Thai Town.

Villa Primavera Apartments

The Villa Primavera Apartments at the corner of Fountain Avenue and Harper was used for the shooting locations of several movies, including In A Lonely Place (1950) starring Humphrey Bogart.

Humphrey Bogart outside the Villa Primavera Apartments.

Joan Crawford lived in Apt D

Movie star Joan Crawford lived in this Fountain Avenue apartment after the death of her husband, Steele, through the early 1970s. It was in a building owned by Loretta Young.

El Palacio Apartments

Actress and singer Dorothy Dandridge lived in the El Palacio Apartments on Fountain Avenue and Crescent Heights. She  committed suicide there in 1965 at age 42, overdosing on prescription barbiturates.

The Patio Del Moro

The Patio Del Moro is a complex of Spanish apartments on Fountain Avenue and was once the home of Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard.

And, of course, there is The Fountain Theatre (5060 Fountain). Founded in 1990 by Co-Artistic Directors Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs, the Fountain Theatre has been an operating theatre for over 50 years. In the 1960’s it was known as The Evergreen Stage. A charming two-story building, tales are told that decades ago the bottom floor was once a liquor store, the upper floor held apartments. Today, the Fountain main stage holds 78 seats and the second floor includes a cafe, offices, a full kitchen, balcony and studio apartment. In addition to the award-winning caliber of work presented on its stage, the warm feeling of the venue makes the Fountain Theatre a favorite “home” for LA audiences.

The Fountain Theatre

For 22 years, Fountain Avenue has been our happy home and our road to success. Take a stroll or car ride down the Avenue and see for yourself!