Tag Archives: Maria Bermudez

Fountain Theatre Earns 2 NAACP Theatre Award Nominations for its World Premiere ‘Heart Song’

Tamlyn Tomita and Juanita Jennings in 'Heart Song'

Tamlyn Tomita and Juanita Jennings in ‘Heart Song’

‘Heart Song’ Noted for Acting and Choreography

Our 2013 Fountain Theatre World Premiere production of Heart Song has been nominated for 2 NAACP Theatre Awards for excellence in acting and choreography.  Juanita Jennings has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Maria Bermudez for Best Choreography. The 24th Annual NAACP Awards ceremony will be held Monday, November 17, at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills.

Written by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, our 2013 world premiere of Heart Song earned rave reviews and an extended run. In this funny and touching comedy/drama, Rochelle is a middle-aged Jewish woman in New York City in the middle of a life crisis. Lost and alone, her life is suddenly changed when she is convinced to take a Flamenco class with other middle-aged women. The Flamenco class and its unforgettable circle of women — all shapes, sizes and colors — lead Rochelle on a journey of sisterhood, faith and discovery of her own deep inner voice.

The NAACP Theatre Awards is presented by the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Branch. The gala is produced for the purpose of honoring artists in the field of entertainment. The branch also celebrates a three-day theatre festival, which provides a platform for theatre artists to express their craft and share their contributions with an audience of their peers, the community and other individuals who celebrate live theatre in Los Angeles.

Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) finds release through dance in 'Heart Song'.

‘Heart Song’ featured flamenco choreography by Maria Bermudez.

This year’s Awards show will be hosted by Kym Whitley, star of the humorous and poignant docu-series “Raising Whitley” on Oprah Winfrey’s The OWN Network.  The awards show will take place on Monday, November 17, 2014 at 6PM at the historical Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, California.

Full list of NAACP Award nominees.

 

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‘A Fountain of Work’ at the Acclaimed and Award-Winning Fountain Theatre

FT angel building JT photoby Sylvie Drake

When Stephen Sachs was a student at Agoura High, he won a national high school writing award and was offered several writing scholarships. He turned them all down. Why? “I wanted to be an actor,” he answered a bit sheepishly.

He became one in the 1980s, but it’s the old story. As reality set in, he began to direct, write plays and help run theatre companies. He was a manager at Ensemble Studio Theatre, worked behind the scenes at Stages in Hollywood, and with Joan Stein and Suzie Dietz at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills. Until he got a phone call “out of the blue” from Deborah Lawlor, another independent theatre producer.

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Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs

Lawlor had met Sachs at Stages when she rented space there, and was impressed by him. While recuperating from a serious auto accident in New York, she decided that, if she survived, she would do what she’d always wanted: have her own theatre. She called Sachs and asked him to run it with her. That was 1990. You might say that the rest is history, but not so fast…

“I was just starting to develop as a playwright and director,” Sachs said. “Deborah had a dance background. She was part of the avant-garde dance scene in New York in the 1960s and 70s. The Judson Dance Theater, Café Cino, the whole thing. Her idea was to create an artistic home for theatre and dance artists.”

As a wise friend once told me, we tend to enter our lives through the back door. Looking around for a suitable space, Lawlor and Sachs were shown a funky building at 5060 Fountain Avenue in Hollywood and fell in love with it. They named it the Fountain for the street it sat on, but also, Lawlor said, “I liked the idea of a fountain of work…”

“We opened our doors on April Fool’s Day 1990—the perfect day to start a theatre company,” said Sachs, “and we’ve been there ever since. Los Angeles being such a diverse city, we wanted to do work that would give voice to a variety of communities.”

Which is how the theatre’s association with Flamenco dance began.

Flamenco dancer Maria Bermudez

Flamenco dancer Maria Bermudez

“Through Deborah,” specified Sachs. “Shortly after we opened she asked, ‘Have you ever seen a Flamenco concert?’ I said no and she said, ‘Come with me.’ We got in the car, drove up to Santa Barbara and she introduced me to Roberto Amaral, a well respected Flamenco teacher and choreographer. I saw my first Flamenco concert and was blown away. ‘We’re going to do that at The Fountain,’ Deborah said. And now we’re the foremost regular presenters of Flamenco in Los Angeles.

“When we started it was just Deborah, me and the building. We plugged in a couple of phones, drove down Western Avenue and bought a couple of desks. We had to assemble them ourselves. We made our own programs on a manual typewriter. It was all very small, very modest.”

In many ways, it still is. “But from the beginning,” added Sachs, “we felt we were on to something. We did The Golden Gate, a play I had adapted from a charming novel by Vikram Seth about yuppies, gays and straights living in San Francisco—romantic and fun, beautifully written, and entirely in verse. It was like 30-somethings meet Shakespeare. We did it up in San Francisco, so right out of the gate, our work was being noticed. It’s just been a slow kind of gentle growth ever since.”

Key words: Slow. Gentle. Growth. Add: Challenging.

While next year will mark their 25th year in business at the same address in a virtually unchanged environment, and they have a lot to show artistically for the past quarter century, big profit is not one of them. Lawlor has delivered financial support when needed, while Sachs has delivered a stream of noteworthy plays, becoming that unusual creature: a playwright and director with his own sandbox. Together, they’ve built a loyal audience and done work that has brought them recognition and has traveled pretty far afield.

Sachs has had 11 of his plays produced during that time, many of them at the Fountain, quite a few elsewhere—from The Pasadena Playhouse to Toronto, from Chicago’s Victory Gardens to Vancouver. A quick Google search offers an impressive list of directing and playwriting credits.

Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) finds release through dance in 'Heart Song'.

Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap) finds release through dance in ‘Heart Song’.

Currently, his play Heart Song, which recently premiered at the Fountain and is about the transformation of a middle-aged Jewish woman “separated from her tribe and very much alone,” is filling up houses at Florida Rep. His 2012 two-hander, Bakersfield Mist, about the encounter of a celebrated art dealer with a woman in a Bakersfield trailer convinced she owns a major work of art, opens in June at The Duchess Theatre in London’s West End. It features Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid.

“There’s been something special about this play from the start,” said Sachs. “I directed the world premiere at the Fountain and was on the 101 freeway driving to my first production meeting, when I had a call from my agent telling me the script had been optioned for New York. I had to pull over!”

Bakersfield Mist received three other productions around the country as part of the National New Play Network (NNPN), an organization of theaters of which The Fountain is a member. It was founded in 1998 with the intent of giving new plays more than one production.

“They do this thing called ‘rolling world premieres,’ ” Sachs explained, “guaranteeing at least three productions of a new play. Sweet Nothing In My Ear, another play of mine that premiered at the Fountain, went around the country through NNPN and then was made into a Hallmark movie with Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. A new version of Strinberg’s Miss Julie that I wrote was produced that way as well. We want to continue doing more of that.”

Bakersfield Mist had productions at Wellfleet Harbor Theatre in Cape Cod, New Rep in Boston, the New Jersey Rep and was optioned by Sonia Friedman, a major New York and London producer. “They’d never seen a production of it,” said Sachs. “They read that script sent by my agent and optioned it for London and New York. Now they control the U.S. rights.”

Ian McDiarmid and Kathleen Turner in the London production of "Bakersfield Mist"

Ian McDiarmid and Kathleen Turner in the London production of “Bakersfield Mist”

In 2004, the Fountain drew the attention of no less a playwright than South Africa’s Athol Fugard, who chose the tiny Fountain for the world premiere of an exquisite and very personal two-character play: Exits and Entrances. It was followed by the U.S. premiere of Fugard’s The Blue Iris, The Train Driver, Victory and the West coast premiere of Coming Home.

When asked how many productions the Fountain puts on per year, Sachs answered: “Trick question. We’ll announce four, but actually do two or three. Our productions tend to extend and run for a while which is a nice problem to have. So we announce four and see how it goes.”

Productions are no longer pegged to specific dates, but to seasons — Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter — allowing for greater flexibility. Sachs and Lawlor threw out the old model of rigid slots when they found themselves closing hits because they had committed to a new show on a given date. With just 80 seats to sell, they had to think more creatively. “We changed everyone to a flexible pass and we’ve never looked back. This allows us to keep a hit going. It also allows our subscribers the flexibility to come at their convenience—a good thing when decisions today tend to be so last-minute.”

So is the small physical plant a plus or a minus?

“It’s a question we’ve been wrestling with for years,” Sachs acknowledged, “a tug between ambition and what is right for the company. We even explored Hollywood quite a bit, looking to find maybe a second space or larger building, thinking, boy, how much bigger we could be. Yet talking with Fugard about this, he said, ‘Don’t. Don’t do it.’ Maybe he’s right…”

"The Train Driver" by Athol Fugard

“The Train Driver” by Athol Fugard

So here’s the dilemma: Awards and recognition are certainly not lacking, but breaking even—let alone making money—is a perennial struggle. The staff has ballooned to six people: Lawlor and Sachs, producing director Simon Levy, tech director Scott Tuomey, associate producer James Bennett and head of subscriptions Diana Gibson. The budget has “a little more than doubled” since they opened their doors. It does not easily enable profit.

“There are times when I wish we had more seats, a bigger stage,” said Sachs, “but there are plenty of examples out there of smaller theatres that have gone on to larger buildings and have regretted it or have lost something in the move; suddenly the focus becomes the real estate and maintaining the overhead.

“I don’t ever want to lose the magic of this intimate space. It makes for such a visceral experience. But after almost 25 years, there’s also a question of growth. We can’t become stagnant or complacent and we do want to continue building forward. You don’t want to sell your soul and you don’t want to lose what makes this theatre special.”

Lawlor concurred. She’s writing a play for which she’s received a grant and acknowledged that “our losses have decreased; we may even show a tiny profit this year.”

The future?

“Expanding fund-raising; exploring the possibility of adding 19 seats to our existing space. Not easy,” said Sachs, “but we can do that under the 99-seat Equity Waiver and 19 seats could make a difference. Other than that, we’re looking to expand our exposure across the country and having more of our work done at other theatres.”

So the funky Fountain remains the-little-theatre-that-could, on its funky street with its broken sidewalk, its postage-stamp parking lot, and widely enjoyed by many people who apparently have found out that they really, really like what it has to offer.

 

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: ‘Heart Song’ Final Performance and Party at the Fountain Theatre

The company.

The Heart Song company.

Our wonderful 3-month run of the world premiere of Heart Song came to a glorious conclusion yesterday with its final matinee performance followed by a joyous party. The funny and powerful new play and sold-out production earned many rave reviews and deeply affected audiences. We received many emails and Facebook comments from people expressing how deeply moved they were by the play and what the production meant to them. One patron, Heidi Singh, was so taken with the play she saw it seven times.

New plays created by the Fountain Theatre often have future lives as they are produced by other theaters around the country. Heart Song will open at Florida Repertory Theatre in April.

We thank all of the extraordinary artists, crew, production team, and — most important — audience members who made the extended 3-month run of Heart Song at the Fountain Theatre such an unforgettable and meaningful experience.

Enjoy Photos From The Final Show Party! 

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New Video! Hit Comedy/Drama ‘Heart Song’ Extended to Aug 25 at the Fountain Theatre

"Heart Song" at the Fountain Theatre

“Heart Song” at the Fountain Theatre

Hailed as “superb” and “magnificent” by critics and audiences alike, the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed hit comedy/drama Heart Song has been extended to August 25th. The Hollywood Reporter cheers Heart Song as “a genuine delight”, the LA Weekly heralds it as “beautifully performed,” and Broadway World declares Heart Song “a celebration of life you won’t want to miss.” 

Written by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo FinneyHeart Song follows the funny and touching journey of Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), a middle-aged Jewish woman in New York City struggling through a mid-life crisis and the recent loss of her mother. When Rochelle is convinced to take a flamenco class with other women led by a passionate Gypsy instructor (Denise Blasor), her life and world-view is changed forever.   

Enjoy The New ‘Heart Song’ Video Trailer

Heart Song  (323) 663-1525  MORE INFO

Fountain Theatre’s Fantastic Flamenco Fiesta at the Ford

Fin Fiestaby Tony Frankel

While classic and modern dance seem to be continually reinventing themselves, Flamenco remains a bedrock of the moving arts. As Forever Flamenco! at the Ford proved last Saturday, age and body type have nothing to do with the soulful expressiveness inherent in this traditional dance form.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA Dance Review of the Fountain Theatre's "Forever Flamenco! at the Ford."

Maria Bermudez

There are many forms of dance and song that emerged as a celebration of life amidst human suffering, but surely Flamenco thrillingly stands out as an example of such an art form. There are moments in the music that clearly reflect Indian, Islamic and Moorish influence. Some Flamenco music styles (palos) have been attributed to Jewish influences, as the Jews were firmly ensconced in Iberia since Roman times. And Andalusia, home to Flamenco, is in the south of the Iberian Peninsula.

“But who wants a history lesson?” asked Artistic Director Maria Bermúdez to the sold out crowd at the Ford Amphitheater. This evening was about celebrating Flamenco and to honor Deborah Lawlor, founder of the Fountain Theatre, where Forever Flamenco! plays once a month. Bermúdez, who has an uncanny ability to gather unparalleled artists, presented a line-up of local, national and international artists for a sexy and captivating evening.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA Dance Review of the Fountain Theatre's "Forever Flamenco! at the Ford."

Manuel Guiterrez

The explosive energy created by dancer Timo Nuñez at the start was, as they say, a hard act to follow. In his shiny red shoes, this tall and elegant artist began casually, but soon offered dynamic footwork that sounded like firecrackers. Then he would do a studly stroll, allowing the dance to breathe, often lifting his shirt to show a bit of skin. Sometimes, this graceful storyteller of dance stared at us as an egret looks for a fish in a lake. Although I don’t remember ever seeing such a hunky egret.

Equally thrilling was Manuel Gutierrez, who opened the second act and emulated a bullfighter. He wasn’t showing off, yet he displayed a crackling tap and pedal pyrotechnics the likes of which confirmed why Flamenco is so compelling. So fiery and passionate was Gutierrez that my companion said afterwards, “That’s it. I’m booking us on the next flight to Seville.”

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA Dance Review of the Fountain Theatre's "Forever Flamenco! at the Ford."

Alejandro Granados

The ridiculously sexy and sensuous Fanny Ara (think Salma Hayek) offered us a dance which was defiant, seductive, searching and scorching hot – and WAY too short. Mizuho Sato was another classic beauty who I wish had more stage time. All of the guitarists, whether jazzy or classical, were some of the best I have ever heard. Jason McGuire accompanied Ms. Ara with smoldering fast fingerwork that was a brilliant combination of new age work, á la William Ackerman, and traditional Flamenco. I can’t believe all of that music came out of one guitar. Likewise Jose Tanaka, who overlayed his work with a soulful yearning and accessible dissonance. The other guitarists – Antonio Triana, Ben Woods and Adam del Monte – were ably accompanied by the extraordinary percussionist Joey Heredia.

Alejandro Granados was a man drunk with life and passion. Somewhat nattily dressed in red pants, Granados looked like he could be a seaside merchant or a pawn shop owner. But looks and age have nothing to do with the spirit of Flamenco. Audience members actually began to shout as this older gentleman executed a timeless combination of dance artistry and comedic storytelling, giving us more character than an O’Neill drama.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA Dance Review of the Fountain Theatre's "Forever Flamenco! at the Ford."It may be politically incorrect to mention a woman’s age or body type, but whether we are supposed to say Rubenesque, full-figured or otherwise, there were some women on stage whose magnificence proved that anyone can master Flamenco. Lourdes Rodriguez, with spangles around her waist, brought whimsy, silliness and celebration to her dance (she was the one I most wanted to run up on stage to dance with). Linda Vega’s work was so admirable that I was shocked to discover that this was Ms. Vega after knee surgery. Well done! Most impressive was Yaelisa, a middle-aged woman who proved that time cannot quell the fiery gipsy spirit. This seasoned performer with amazing rhythm was humorous, expressive, joyful and reflective, vacillating from a spunky spirit to a trance-like seduction.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA Dance Review of the Fountain Theatre's "Forever Flamenco! at the Ford."

Fanny Ara

The vocalists were no ordinary singers; to the untrained ear, it may seem like they are struggling to hold a note, but that wailing and fluttering is the evolved style of the suffering gipsy, and, at times, sounded eerily like the plaintive yowling of nomadic Native American tribes or the spiritual yearnings of Jewish Sephardic music. Our powerful singers were Jose Cortes, Ana de los Reyes, Pelé de los Reyes and Ismael de la Rosa.

Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema LA Dance Review of the Fountain Theatre's "Forever Flamenco! at the Ford."

Timo Nunez

In some of the group numbers, it was difficult to ascertain what was choreographed and what was spontaneous, but all of these impeccable artists worked together seamlessly, occasionally eyeing each other’s body parts (feet, hands, hips, eyes) as they performed with rhythmic intention – no differently than the most passionate lover looks upon a paramour during sex.¿Hace calor aqui? I would have preferred a stronger finish in some of the sets, as dancers just casually strolled away. But come to think of it, I’ve had some lovers do that, too.

The free-for-all in the finale included one of the most captivating moments captured on stage when four young girls executed some flawless dancing in colorful Flamenco flocked skirts. These artists who promise to bring Flamenco into the future were more than adorable – they were breathtaking and inspiring. Then again, so was the entire evening.

photos © Optimage Photography

Tony Frankel writes for Stage and Cinema

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: VIP Party at ‘Forever Flamenco at the Ford’

Pele de los Reyes, Deborah Lawlor, Maria Bermudez, Ana de los Reyes

Pele de los Reyes, Deborah Lawlor, Maria Bermudez, Ana de los Reyes

Forever Flamenco at the Ford, our Gala Concert at the Ford Amphitheatre celebrating 20 years of Forever Flamenco and honoring Deborah Lawlor, was a thrilling event and a huge success.  It was unsurpassed as an evening of flamenco artistry. Stage and Cinema hailed the night “Fantastic” and “breathtaking and inspiring”.  The event also exceeded as a fundraiser: the 1200-seat venue was sold-out.

Prior to the concert, our special VIP guests were treated to a private catered reception where they enjoyed food, wine, social mixing with the flamenco artists, and festive gift bags. 

Enjoy These Photos from the VIP Party

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The Healing Power of Flamenco in ‘Heart Song’ at the Fountain Theatre

"Heart Song" at the Fountain Theatre

“Heart Song” at the Fountain Theatre

by Iris Mann

As her mother’s yahrzeit approaches, a middle-aged woman undergoes a crisis of the soul in the play “Heart Song,” currently at The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. The woman, Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), then joins a flamenco class and experiences the transformative power of that dance form. Playwright Stephen Sachs, who co-founded the theater with Deborah Lawlor, said that, due to Lawlor’s love for the dance, the Fountain has become the foremost presenter of flamenco in Los Angeles.

“The idea came to me,” Sachs explained, “that the writing of a play where a character takes a flamenco class and is changed by it would be a really good vehicle through which to tell the story, because the audience shares the experience with our lead character and enters the new world of flamenco with her.”

Sachs described the character of Rochelle as someone disconnected from her Judaism, her culture, her religion, her faith and her God.

Playwright Stephen Sachs

Playwright Stephen Sachs

“In that first scene, she talks about having forgotten the words to the Kaddish, which is something that she has known ever since she was a little girl, but now she can’t remember the words, and so she’s lost. She’s mourning the loss of her mother and struggling with some really deep philosophical questions, not only about grief and loss, but about the meaning of life and what’s our purpose.”

Rochelle’s turmoil was triggered when she went through a closet after her mother’s death and found a box with a girl’s striped dress from the concentration camp at Birkenau. At first she wasn’t sure who owned the dress.

“I think she suspected it was her mother,” Sachs said, “but, because her mother never talked about it, it was an issue that was never spoken in the home, and she never shared her true feelings.

Sachs continued, “Her mother was unable to share her pain with her own daughter.”

The challenging relationship that Rochelle had with her mother is something with which Dunlap can identify. Like Rochelle’s mother, her own mother was not very forthcoming.

Maria Bermudez and Pamela Dunlap in 'Heart Song'.

Maria Bermudez and Pamela Dunlap in ‘Heart Song’.

“Of course, my mother was not harboring the gravity of a secret like Rochelle’s mother was hiding. Actually, my mother said to me, the week of her death, ‘There is something I have never told you. I have to tell you.’ And she was not well. She was frail, and she was agitated and her breath was labored, and I got concerned. I calmed her down and said, ‘Tell me tomorrow. We can talk about it later. You don’t have to tell me now.’ She died. And I don’t know what that secret was.”

Dunlap added, “Most of us have secrets; most of us have big secrets, and we take those secrets to the grave with us, like Rochelle’s mother did.”

Rochelle’s mother also took her true name to the grave. After discovering the concentration camp uniform, Rochelle found out that her mother was born with a Polish name that she had changed. She’s now beside herself because she feels the name on the gravestone is wrong.

When she joins the flamenco group, Rochelle learns from its leader, a Gypsy named Katarina (Maria Bermudez, who is also the play’s choreographer), that there is a tradition of having two names in Gypsy culture. One name is private and known only to the Gypsy community, and the other is the name used in the outside world.

“I just thought that was a really interesting idea and metaphor to use in the play too,” Sachs remarked.

Rochelle also learns about the interconnectedness of the four cultures represented in the group; besides her Judaism and Katarina’s Gypsy roots, there is the Japanese heritage of Tina (Tamlyn Tomita), the masseuse who introduced Rochelle to flamenco, and the African-American culture of Daloris (Juanita Jennings), who befriends Rochelle.

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings, Pamela Dunlap in "Heart Song"

Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings, Pamela Dunlap in “Heart Song”

As Katarina illuminates the mysteries of flamenco, the dance becomes the catalyst for revealing the deep-seated pain born of suffering that is shared by all the cultures. Daloris talks of the blues and its relevance to her culture; Katarina speaks of the Nazi extermination of the Gypsies, much like the extermination of the Jews; Tina expounds on the internment camps in which the Japanese-Americans were held during World War II.

“Too often what we do, and that’s a major theme, we carry other people’s stories,” director Shirley Jo Finney stated, “and part of the letting go is to create our own story.

“I think that’s one of the things each of those ladies, all of those ladies, in fact, were having to reconcile.”

According to Gypsy tradition, flamenco leads the dancer to reach into the farthest recesses of the soul to release the pain residing there, and, ultimately, Rochelle does find release in an anguished wail, the kind of outcry known to the Gypsies as the cante jondo, a primal scream that “rends the world in two” and is common to all cultures.

“Every culture has a wound,” Finney observed, “and it’s the deep need to be seen, to be nurtured, to feel safe.

“And [for] each of the tribes, when they talked about the tribes within that piece, that’s where the cry comes from. The cry comes from not being acknowledged, and the cry comes from that deep-seated place of self-expression.”

For playwright Sachs, working on this story helped him examine issues of spirituality and mortality that are part of the human experience and are very personal to him.

“The older we get,” he mused, “the more friends we seem to be losing, and it just makes one think about one’s own time, the time that we have left and how we’re spending it. I’m very much wrestling with that, and so the play allowed me to kind of swim in that water for awhile.”

Iris Mann writes for the Jewish Journal.

Heart Song Extended to Aug 25th  (323) 663-1525  MORE