Tag Archives: James Bennett

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.”

Young playwrights and party-goers enjoy ‘Rap Dev’ final round at Fountain Theatre

5They came. They listened. They watched. They partied.

A packed house of young playwrights, colleagues and friends filled the Fountain last night for the final round of our Rapid Development Series (‘Rap Dev’) play reading series. Part new play development program, part social event, Rap Dev offers playwrights thirty years old and younger the opportunity to have scenes from their plays read by actors on stage at the Fountain. Audiences then vote for their favorite play each night, through a series of rounds, culminating in the winning play being awarded a fully staged reading of the entire script.  

In last night’s final round, the winning selection was from the play Before and After by Nicholas Pilapil. The scene was directed by Miranda Stewart, and featured Audry Cain, Rosie Narasaki, Nasi Nassiri, Kelsey Peterjohn, Jose Picado, and Julian Yuen.  

After the play readings, the crowd gathered upstairs in our cafe for the announcement of the winner and to enjoy the beer and snacks. The cafe was energized by the raucous laughter and chatter of young people mixing and networking. The social aspect of Rap Dev is an important element to the program’s success. 

Rap Dev is curated and hosted by its creators, Fountain Associate Producer James Bennett and Jessica Broutt. Check our Fountain website for future dates. Join us for the next round and party!  New play development has never been so fun.

Fountain Celebrates CTG’s Block Party and ‘Citizen’ at Kirk Douglas Theatre

party-logosWe came to the Kirk Douglas Theatre on Monday night to express our gratitude to Center Theatre Group, we came to congratulate three local companies and their productions, we came to celebrate intimate theatre in Los Angeles. And, most of all, we came to PARTY!

Approximately 300 theatre folk from all over the LA area gathered for a night of camaraderie, cocktails, live music and tacos as CTG launched its Kick Off soiree for Block Party, its pilot program remounting three intimate theatre productions selected from 2015. The Fountain production of Citizen: An American Lyric joins Coeurage Theatre Company’s production of Failure: A Love Story and Echo Theater Company’s production of Dry Land in this first-ever festival running April 14 – May 21, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. 

CTG Artistic Director Michael Ritchie welcomed the crowd of party-goers on Monday night in the lobby, stressing the importance and value of intimate theatre in Los Angeles and the need to support the high quality of work it creates. After his brief remarks, Ritchie declared, “Time to party!” The happy crowd then moved into the theatre. 

Inside the Kirk Douglas Theatre, each seat was labeled with the name of an intimate theatre company in Los Angeles. It was a meaningful demonstration of the size and variety of the community.

Live music soared from a local high school jazz band. A DJ then kept the party pounding with dance tunes. Free tacos were served to hungry guests. An open bar offered specialty cocktails named for each Block Party company. Our cocktail was named “Fountain Passion,” a tangy mixture of vodka and fruit juices over ice.  

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More than anything else, Monday night’s party was an evening for local theatre folk to get together, network, and simply have a good time. It also marked a turning point in the relationship between the city’s largest and most influential theatre organization and the network of smaller companies that populate Southern California.

Center Theatre Group’s goal with Block Party is to acknowledge the high quality of work being created in the intimate theatre community, and to welcome these artists and new audiences in a partnership that celebrates the vibrancy and diversity of Los Angeles.

Let’s get this party started.   

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Fountain Theatre and Antaeus Theatre Company: working together to change lives

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Ann Noble, Liz Berman and John Prosky introduce the evening. 

Tuesday night at the Fountain was one of those evenings that reminds us of the transformative power of theatre. Why we do what we do. It was also a night about working together.  Not only for the incarcerated young men on stage from Rancho San Antonio Boys Home who performed the new play they wrote via the Antaeus Odyssey Workshop. But also for the two LA intimate theatre companies who partnered to make the evening possible.

The Odyssey Workshop is an educational outreach program launched by Antaeus Theatre Company that uses theatre techniques to teach creative writing to young adults from high-risk environments. “This is such an important program for all of us at Antaeus Theatre Company,” says Antaeus Co-Artistic Director Bill Brochtrup. “It’s truly a life-changing event for the young men participating — and for the audiences who are lucky enough to see them.”

Because construction on the company’s new venue in Glendale is not yet complete, Antaeus needed to find a theatre to host its one-night performance of the Odyssey Workshop. They reached out to the Fountain Theatre. We immediately agreed to welcome Antaeus and its program into our home.

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Antaeus actress Ann Noble and Fountain Associate Producer James Bennett greet guests.

The coincidental timing of Tuesday night’s performance was not lost on anyone. The very next day, Actors Equity Association terminated the 99-Seat Plan, replacing it with a controversial and unpopular new Agreement that divides and separates the once-unified LA intimate theatre community into competing categories and factions.

The shared event at the Fountain Theatre was all about cooperation.

Antaeus actress and board member Dawn Didawick commented, “I wish some of our union representatives could be required to attend events like these in order to learn what Los Angeles theatre artists give to their community.”

“There’s been so much rancor and divisiveness with Actors Equity over their elimination of the 99-Seat Plan,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Tuesday night is an example of what happens when two LA intimate theatre companies, each very different in their programming and organizational structure, cooperate together for the sake of being of service to those other than themselves.”

Fountain Producing Director Simon Levy agrees. “Art does change lives. Theatre opens hearts and connects us to The Other. Bravo/bravissima to Antaeus for this great program. And a standing O to the young men who opened their hearts and allowed themselves to be vulnerable… because it changes us.”

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Following the performance, the night was ignited by a lively reception in our upstairs cafe which seemed to exemplify the spirit of the evening. There was food, drinks and a cacophony of raucous chatter and laughter. Students enjoying family and friends intermixing with Antaeus members mingling with Fountain staff. A room packed with a wide variety of diverse people and two uniquely-styled theatre companies. Everyone together, for the same common purpose, becoming one.

Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Students from Michigan State University enjoy ‘Baby Doll’ performance and Q&A

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Michigan State students with cast on ‘Baby Doll’ set.

by James Bennett

Monday night, we were granted the opportunity to host teacher Mark Colson and his fabulous group of intrepid theatre students from Michigan State University, who after a breathtaking performance of our critically acclaimed production of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll engaged in an inquisitive, inspiring, and heartfelt talkback with our amazing cast and director Simon Levy. 

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Director Simon Levy fielded a very good question: What’s the audition process like? Did you know we had over 600 submissions for the titular role of Baby Doll?

Actor John Prosky spoke about his artistic journey in manifesting the unchained, violent, and maddened Archie Lee, a character so far from his natural state he didn’t think he’d ever get the part. But when he came into the room to audition with Lindsay LaVanchy, something magic happened which brought the character to life.

The incredible Lindsay LaVanchy talked about her process of finding Baby Doll inside her. She spoke about how she had to open herself to being childlike, a quest she had undertaken many years ago but was unable to complete until preparing for this role. A typically reserved and precise woman, it took the innocence of Baby Doll to “crack her open”.

It is one of our greatest pleasures to share with and mentor the next generation of great theatre artists. What an incredible night!

This event was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program making theatre accessible to students and young people. 

Fountain Theatre presents West Coast Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ ‘Baby Doll’

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Lindsay LaVanchy is Baby Doll at Fountain Theatre

This summer, L.A. audiences get to see a brand new play by Tennessee Williams. Simon Levy directs the West Coast premiere of Baby Doll, adapted by Pierre Laville and Emily Mann from the 1956 Academy Award-nominated film of the same name – the first-ever Williams Estate-approved adaptation of this Williams screenplay. Baby Doll opens at the Fountain Theatre on July 16, starring Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky and George Roland.

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John Prosky

Darkly comic and crackling with sexual tension, Baby Doll is the story of 19-year-old married virgin “Baby Doll” Meighan (LaVanchy), who must consummate her marriage in two days, on her 20th birthday — as long as her middle-aged husband, Archie Lee (Prosky), upholds his end of the bargain to provide her with a comfortable life. When Archie Lee burns down his neighbor’s cotton gin to save his failing business, his rival, Sicilian immigrant Silva Vacarro (Bess), arrives to seek revenge. What ensues is a complex mix of desire and desperation, with Baby Doll as both player and pawn.

“The miracle of Tennessee Williams is that he can write these wonderful, wacky, wildly rich and complex characters and situations, yet underneath it all are timeless social and political themes,” says Levy. “It’s almost as if this play is a look at today’s America. It’s astonishing.”

 

Karen Kondazian

Karen Kondazian

The Fountain Theatre, Levy and Kondazian, who plays the role of dotty Aunt Rose Comfort, have a long combined history with Williams. Levy has previously directed five of his plays for the Fountain, including Orpheus Descending (1996); Summer and Smoke (1999); The Night of the Iguana (2001); The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Any More (2007); and A House Not Meant to Stand (2011), and the Fountain additionally produced Four X Tenn in 1996. By the time she appeared in Orpheus, Iguana and Milk Train for the Fountain, Kondazian had already starred in numerous Williams productions, including a 1979 production of The Rose Tattoo for which she received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award – and which led to a steadfast friendship with Williams until his death in 1983. 

 

Daniel Bess

Daniel Bess

Adapted for the screen by Williams from his one-act play 27 Wagons Full of Cotton,Baby Doll was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Karl Malden, Carroll Baker and newcomer Eli Wallach. It immediately caused a sensation, due in large part to the poster image depicting Baker in a crib sucking her thumb. It was labeled variously “notorious,” “salacious,” “revolting,” “steamy,” “lewd,” “suggestive,” “provocative” and “morally repellent,” and Cardinal Francis Spellman, the Archbishop of New York, personally denounced the film before it was even released, declaring that Catholics would be committing a sin if they saw it. Baby Doll premiered as a stage play at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton, NJ in 2015; the Fountain production is only its second.
 
“Adapting the screenplay of Baby Doll to the stage has been an exciting process,” Mann said. “Every word is Tennessee’s; my co-adaptor, Pierre Laville, and I simply freed the play within the screenplay to allow the four main characters to live on stage.”

Set design for Baby Doll is by Jeffrey McLaughlin; lighting design is by Ken Booth; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Terri A. Lewis; props and set dressing are by Terri Roberts; fight director is Mike Mahaffey; dialect coach isTyler Seiple; production stage manager is Emily Lehrer; assistant stage manager isMiranda Stewart; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen Sachs andDeborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.

 

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Tennessee Williams, 1956.

Tennessee Williams (1911-1983), born Thomas Lanier Williams III, explored passion with daring honesty and forged a poetic theater of raw psychological insight that shattered conventional proprieties and transformed the American stage. The autobiographical The Glass Menagerie (1945) brought what Mr. Williams called “the catastrophe of success.” He went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes, for A Streetcar Named Desire in 1948 and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955. Among his many other masterpieces are Vieux Carre, Sweet Bird of Youth, The Rose Tattoo, Orpheus Descending, The Night of the Iguana and Camino Real.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 225 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include being honored for its acclaimed 25th Anniversary Season in 2015 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council; the 2014 Ovation Award for Best Season and the 2014 BEST Award for overall excellence from the Biller Foundation; the recent production of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Charleston, S.C. to commemorate the tragic shooting at Mother Emanuel Church; and the naming of seven Fountain productions in a row as “Critic’s Choice” in the Los Angeles Times.

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‘Baby Doll’ company gathers for thrilling first reading at Fountain Theatre

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Sometimes you have a first reading of a play with a new cast and it doesn’t go so well. The script may be solid and the cast experienced and professional. But the magic may not happen immediately.

This was not the case yesterday at our first read-through of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll with this fabulous cast. The magic happened. Immediately.

It was one of those wondrous occasions when actors, director, production team and play all came together in a thrilling first read-through of a colorful and dynamic script. As the actors read the script together for the first time, the play soared off the page. 

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The gathering began in extraordinary fashion. Actress Karen Kondazian, playing Aunt Rose Comfort, has starred in many Williams plays and knew the playwright personally. Before rehearsal began yesterday, Karen displayed a small black box and slowly opened it. She carefully unwrapped the contents and held it up in the palm of her hand like a scared relic: a pair of Tennessee Williams’ glasses. It was passed around the table. Each company member examined the glasses, some put them on and had the unique experience of “seeing through the eyes” of one of America’s great playwrights.    

Fountain Co-Artistic director Stephen Sachs welcomed the company and guided them through the paperwork at hand. Director Simon Levy spoke briefly about the play. Then the cast — Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky and George Roland — read the script. And the play immediately leapt to life.

Joined at the table were Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, associate producer James Bennett,  production stage manager Emily Lehrer, assistant stage manager Miranda Stewart, props designer Terri Roberts and publicist Lucy Pollak. 

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