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

'Cyrano' at New York Theatre Workshop

‘Cyrano’ at New York Theatre Workshop

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Cyrano’ in New York 

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New Video: Romantic Balcony Scene from CYRANO

Enjoy this new video created from our critically acclaimed sold-out 2012 production of Cyrano.  This world premiere of a new play, a re-imagined sign language spin on the romantic classic Cyrano de Bergerac reset in a modern city, has been named a Theater Highlight of 2012 by LA Stage Times.

In this funny, poetic and powerful co-production between Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre, Cyrano is a brilliant deaf poet in love with a hearing woman.

‘Cyrano’ Actor and Playwright Nab Ovation Award Nominations

Troy Kotsur as Cyrano

The Fountain Theatre‘s acclaimed and sold-out co-production with Deaf West Theatre of Cyrano received two Ovation Award nominations last night.   Actor Troy Kotsur has been nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Play for his lead role as Cyrano , and playwright  Stephen Sachs for Best Original Play.

The Ovation Awards are considered LA’s version of the Tony Awards. Founded in 1989 by the LA Stage Alliance, the  Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theater awards in Los Angeles. To give you an idea of the size and scope of the theatrical landscape in Southern California, there were 400 total productions registered for Ovation Award consideration from 173 companies throughout the region.  For the 2011-12 voting season, there are a grand total of 191 nominations for 77 productions, presented by 50 companies.

The Fountain Theatre has the distinction of receiving more nominations and winning more awards than any other intimate theatre in the history of the Ovation Awards.

For a complete list of the current Ovation Award nominees, click here.

The 2012 Ovation Awards ceremony will take place on Monday, November 12, at the historic Los Angeles Theatre, 615 South Broadway, in downtown Los Angeles, at 7:30 pm.  For more information: www.LASTAGEOvations.com.

Photo Slideshow: ‘Cyrano’ Closing party

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

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L.A. Poet Expresses ‘Spellbinding’ Emotion of “Cyrano” Best Way He Can: As a Poem

by Marvin B. Farber

Written after a riveting matinee performance of The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre  co-production of a new play, Cyrano.

Erinn Anova and Troy Kotsur in “Cyrano”.

BRILLIANCE

An inspired deaf poet
patterns his poetry of love
with graceful, sensual 
movements of the hands.
American Sign Language
Skill of the deaf actor
his body and hands
a ballet of movement
complemented by the 
sensuous voice of a hearing actor.

The deaf poet’s face
expresses deep emotions
of man and woman
an afternoon of spellbinding theater.
Sign language performers
combine with speaking actors
the stature of live theater lifts
poetry to a new level of imagination.

(July 2012)

Marvin B. Farber is a poet living in Los Angeles.

‘Cyrano” Cast Members Are “Sexy” in ASL Music Video

Actors Chip Bent and Maleni Chaitoo, two cast members from our smash hit production of Cyrano, got together on their own time and created this ASL Music Video, “Sexy and I Know It”.  Check it out!

New! “Cyrano” Video Trailer

Cyrano  Final Extension! Must End July 29th! (323) 663-1525  More Info

Marlee Matlin Lights Up Opening Night of “Cyrano”

The excitement of Opening Night on Saturday of our world premiere of Cyrano  was given an added thrill by the attendance of Film/TV actress Marlee Matlin. Marlee is a longtime supporter of both Deaf West and the Fountain Theatre.  She is a member of the Advisory Board at Deaf West, and she starred in the CBS TV-movie version of the Fountain Theatre play, Sweet Nothing in my Ear, written by Cyrano playwright Stephen Sachs.

The Cyrano cast was delighted to have Marlee with them on Opening Night. “She’s a sweetheart,” says cast member Eddie Buck. “I got compliments  from her. She absolutely looks gorgeous.”

Actor Daniel Durant describes the encounter with Marlee as “a very big moment to meet and talk with such a great role model.”

Marlee Matlin at the Opening Night of "Cyrano" at the Fountain Theatre.

Cast members Eddie Buck, Ipek Mehlum, Maleni Chaitoo, and Daniel Durant enjoy the support of Marlee Matlin on Opening Night.

Marlee Matlin

Marlee and Daniel Durant.

Actress Ipek Mehlum and Marlee Matlin share a laugh.

More Opening Night Photos on our Facebook Page!

Cyrano   Now Playing to June 10   (323) 663-1525    More Info

LA Stage Times: “Cyrano” in 2012 Los Angeles — Not His Nose, But His Hands

by Julio Martinez

Fountain Theatre’s Stephen Sachs (co-artistic director) and Simon Levy (producing director) are zeroing in on the premiere Saturday of the Fountain’s latest collaboration with Deaf West Theatre — a re-imagined, signed/spoken word adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, scripted by Sachs, helmed by Levy.

The Fountain has a long history with Deaf West, so Sachs and Levy are not exploring totally new territory. But they are quick to make clear that this production is not just a straightforward ASL translation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 rhymed-verse chronicle of the 17th century duelist and poet with an oversized proboscis.

Simon Levy

“First of all, Stephen has set this in modern times in LA, where people communicate through all sorts of electronic gadgets, on Facebook and Twitter,” explains Levy. “This production uses spoken word, ASL and e-language. This provides for myriad possibilities but also a whole lot of complications.”

“In the original, Cyrano’s barrier is his enormous nose and his perceived ugliness,” Sachs elaborates. “In this new version, it’s Cyrano’s deafness. He is a brilliant deaf poet, who signs magnificently. But he is not fully able to express his love for a hearing woman because she does not know sign language. So, while Rostand’s Cyrano was a man of his nose, this is a man of his hands.

“This is also the journey of a man who is at once proud of his deafness and of his hands, which is how he speaks; but he is also at war with himself, as any great tragic hero is, in terms of his pride. In this case, one of the major parts of his journey is to find a kind of peace with that, within and outside his deaf community. Like the original Cyrano, who stands alone, distant from his comrades in arms, our Cyrano stands alone within his deaf community and that gets him into trouble.”

“He also is at odds along the way with insensitive hearing people,” adds Levy.

“But at the end, he is able to make peace and find forgiveness within himself, his community and the outer world,” continues Sachs.

Stephen Sachs

The histories of Fountain Theatre and Deaf West have been entwined for 21 years, when Sachs and co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor provided office space to Ed Waterstreet, an actor with National Theatre of the Deaf, who envisioned founding a theater company for deaf actors in LA, which became Deaf West. The Fountain was the site of Deaf West’s first productions The Gin Game (1991), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1991) and Shirley Valentine (1992).

In 1993, Deaf West moved to the first of its own facilities, on Heliotrope Drive (in what is now Sacred Fools Theater). But Sachs, who already had a history of conducting workshops with deaf actors for a number of years, continued his commitment by writing Sweet Nothing in My Ear (1997) for a Fountain production and Open Window (2005) for a Deaf West/Pasadena Playhouse collaboration at the playhouse. Both of these incorporated deaf culture and illuminated the deaf world.

Cyrano is a project that has been percolating in the years since Deaf West settled in its later NoHo home (which recently has been used primarily by Antaeus Company and is currently rented for the production of The Bridge Club).

Sachs recalls, “About nine years ago, Deaf West had the idea of doing a musical version of Cyrano. It was just after they had a huge success adapting the musical, Big River (2001-02). I remember reading about it at the time and thought it was a great idea.

Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci

“Then, just a couple of years ago, Ed called me, wanting me to write a new play for Deaf West. We kicked around some ideas and then I asked about his plans for Cyrano. Ed said it was an idea that never came to fruition. Well, I told him I would love to do that, but I wanted to turn it into a play and have it be about Cyrano’s hands, not his nose, making it about his deafness and language. And that’s how this project came about.”

Levy adds, “Part of the journey in mounting this production has been the marriage of these three languages. This is a new world we live in with e-language and how important that language is to both the hearing and the deaf communities. That has created some interesting dilemmas in the staging. There are a lot of things we haven’t anticipated that we discovered in process of doing it. For instance, how do you relate text messages among the characters to an audience? We had a lot of wonderful ideas that we had to figure out how to actualize, none of which we could anticipate until we got into them.”

At the center of the action is actor Troy Kotsur, whose performance history with Deaf West includes Big River, Pippin, A Streetcar Named Desire and Of Mice and Men. “Troy is a wonderfully gifted and inventive actor who is a joy to watch as he has been creating this role,” affirms Levy. “So much of the creation of the ASL translation is intense, hard work. Part of it is done in advance with script work and an ASL translator. But a majority of it is done in rehearsal with the actor improvising different ways to sign a certain line or phrase. When you have someone as skilled as Troy doing it, it is an amazing experience to watch. And a wonderful actor, Victor Warren, provides Cyrano’s voice when needed.”

Complementing Kotsur in principal roles are Erinn Anova as the much-adored Roxy and Paul Raci as Chris, the handsome signing/speaking brother of Cyrano, with whom Roxy is smitten. Levy admits to being very aware that communicating with this cast has been a whole new learning curve for him.

“This is my first time staging a spoken word/ASL signed production. I’ve produced several speaking/ASL shows here at the Fountain, but this is a new experience.  I could not do this at all without the immense contribution of the ASL interpreters [Elizabeth Greene and Jennifer Snipstad Vega]. A director has to be able to communicate with his actors and make sure everything is communicated correctly to the audience. I just can’t get up there and start talking about ‘feeling it’ and the actors’ ‘motivation.’ This has been a whole new adventure in using all the elements of communication possible to make sure everyone and everything involved in this is moving in the same direction.”

Sachs just smiles benignly at his cohort. “You’re doing just fine.”

Troy Kotsur and Erinn Anova

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

The Guy Who Taught Johnny Depp and Natalie Portman Sign Language in McCartney Video

With our upcoming opening of the world premiere of our signed/spoken Cyrano, Sign Language is very much on our minds and in our hands these days. No wonder the new Paul McCartney video, “My Valentine”, caught our eye. It features Natalie Portman and Johnny Depp using Sign Language!

So, who taught them the Sign Language used in the video?

Bill Pugin

Our friend, Bill Pugin. Bill lives in Los Angeles and is a longtime friend of the Fountain and Deaf West. His sister, Mary Anne, is deaf and his great affection toward her inspired him to learn sign language. He attended Gallaudet University, a university for the Deaf in Washington DC, where he completed his formal training in Sign Language Interpreting in 1979. He is now one of the foremost ASL interpreters in the country and has traveled the world providing sign language interpreting services for three U.S. Presidents, His Holiness The Dalai Lama, World Leaders and Entertainment Industry Icons. He launched his own national interpreting service, The Sign Language Company, in 1986.

How did the gig with Paul McCartney come about?

“A mysterious call came from London asking if I could teach two actors to sign a Paul McCartney song for a video to be shot at Paul’s home in Beverly Hills, ” Bill says. “The London office of Paul’s Management company was impressed with my company’s web site and the body of work I had done. I ended up at Natalie Portman’s house teaching her “My Valentine” from Paul’s “Kisses on the Bottom” album. Three days later, the day of the shoot, I’m up at Paul’s place waiting for the second actor to be flown in.”

Johnny Depp and Paul McCartney at Paul's house (Bill Pugin in the background)

“Finally, Johnny Depp arrived and we got to work on the same song. We had about fifteen minutes to work on the song. I signed the song for hours sitting on an apple box under the camera for Johnny to be able to peripherally see me for each take. I was his “human cue card”. Johnny’s signing turned out to be more theatrical and ‘abbreviated’ because of the time issue.”

Why Did Paul Want Sign Language in the Video?

“He said it was his daughter, Stella’s idea. Paul always has an interpreter on a riser with a spot for his concerts and Stella loves sign language, apparently. Paul told me that he also makes sure that the portion of seats in the arenas where he performs that are blocked by equipment – and therefore can’t be sold – are given at no charge to blind audience members. All that AND an animal lover!”

Natalie Portman shooting the McCartney video.

“I spent nine hours with Paul McCartney at his house. When introduced to him, I asked “Is it as big a thrill for you meeting me as it is for me meeting you?” He laughed and said, “Bigger!” I told him how I spent a day with Princess Diana, he told me how he cried when she died (they were friends). I told him how some of my elementary school friends were jealous because their parents didn’t let them stay up to watch The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. He told me stories about Eric Clapton and Elvis. I asked him if he ever received my sister (Evelyn’s) letter that she sent in 1966. He said it was the only one he kept.”

“At the ninth hour, he asked how I was doing and he gave me a neck and shoulder rub. I said, “I can’t believe I’m getting a massage from the ‘cute Beatle’! I woke up the next morning smiling because it wasn’t a dream. It was real. Surreal. Sir Paul!”