Tag Archives: Simon Levy

MUSIC VIDEO: Fountain Theatre brings acclaimed ‘The Chosen’ to Palo Alto

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Steven Green, Dor Gvirtsman, Jonathan Arkin and Sam Mandel.

Enjoy this fun music video created by actor Jonathan Arkin chronicling the Fountain Theatre opening its acclaimed production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen at the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto, CA.

Directed by Simon Levy, the production stars Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel.

A beautiful reminder of why I chose this life

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Tech rehearsal for “The Chosen”, Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, Palo Alto

by Simon Levy

Our acclaimed production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok, was a wonderful success at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center Taube Koret Campus for Life/Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto this past weekend.

We were invited by Ronit Widmann-Levy, Director of Arts and Culture, because several members of her JCC had seen our production earlier this year in L.A., plus she’d heard about the production at a conference of JCCs in New York. She made arrangements with our Artistic Director, Stephen Sachs, to bring the original cast (Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel), our stage manager (Miranda Stewart), and myself to remount our production in their 300-seat theatre.

On Monday and Tuesday of last week, Miranda and the actors and I got together for brush-up rehearsals over at the Colony Theatre (the Fountain was busy getting ready for the VIP opening of Cost of Living, our current production). It had been four months since we had done the show and I wanted to make sure the actors had time to get ready. They were remarkable! – they knew all their lines and the old camaraderie immediately returned. It was as if they were still doing the show. They were ready and eager to dive back in.

After packing up and shipping most of the furniture, props, and costumes (except for the beautiful bookshelves, arches, and hundreds of books), we boarded a Southwest flight to San Francisco on Thursday, Super Shuttled to the beautiful Sheraton Palo Alto, took a quick tour of where we would be performing, gathered for dinner at the Town and Country Village near the hotel, then settled in for a good night’s rest.

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Simon Levy and actor Sam Mandell enjoy the plane ride to San Francisco.

Friday was a 12-hour tech day where we re-configured and re-sized our intimate production to the larger stage of the Arts Hall. We re-blocked a few key moments, re-designed the dozens of light cues, laid in dozens more sound cues, and re-configured the special video effect of Hebrew letters that accents a key moment in the play. Even without the bookshelves, archways and library effect, the production sat nicely on their stage, allowing the emphasis to be on the actors.

Center for Jewish Life, Palo Alto, California

Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, Palo Alto

Moving a show from one space to another, especially with only one day of tech, can often be stressful and prone to all sorts of mishaps. But we were blessed! I want to give special thanks to the Center’s tech wizards, Nick and Kyle. They could not have been more professional, helpful, creative, and just downright nice! And the same for Ilanit Gal, the Events Manager, who took good care of us. Ronit Widmann-Levy was gracious and welcoming and warmly introduced us to many of the attendees and made sure we had everything we needed. It was a pleasure to work with them, and they made the transition from our intimate space to their larger one, smooth and stress-free.

On Saturday afternoon we had a tech run of the show, made a few adjustments, then prepared for our opening. Spirits were high; there was much joking among the cast as they donned costumes and makeup, re-checked their props, and waited for the 7:30 curtain. The Saturday night show was so oversold that the Center had to add three extra rows of seats to accommodate the 300+ patrons. And word-of-mouth from that performance quickly sold out the Sunday night show. Two full houses… two standing ovations!

CHOSEN LCC posterAt the Q&A after the Sunday performance nearly the entire audience stayed, applauding us, engaging us with intelligent questions, and afterwards they swarmed the actors with more questions and compliments. They loved the show. Just loved it. And they could not have been more complimentary – not only about the acting and production, but also about how relevant the story is; how much it touched them; how certain moments made them laugh or cry or nod in recognition; how Chaim’s book and Posner’s adaptation give life not only to so many Jewish themes and historical moments, but to the dynamics of family, of children finding their own path, of the need for understanding and forgiveness, and how, with empathy and compassion, we actually can hold two opposing ideas in our mind at the same time, and both can be true.

The other thing I heard over and over, both from the JCC staff and audience members, is how the immediacy and three-dimensionality of theatre brings to emotional life the richness of the novel in a visceral way that’s different from reading the book. They entered into the world we created for them, and they were moved.

We were even featured on the cover of J. The Jewish News of Northern California with a full-length article about the production and the novel. 

On Monday morning, we boarded another Southwest flight and returned home.

Theatre of the heart. To touch the heart of another and to remind them of their humanity is our highest calling as artists. Our road trip to Palo Alto was a beautiful reminder of why I chose this life.

Simon Levy is the Producing Director of the Fountain Theatre. 

Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed ‘The Chosen’ to open in limited run in Palo Alto

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Sam Mandel in “The Chosen” at the Fountain Theatre

After a six-month sold-out run earlier this year, the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed Los Angeles Premiere of The Chosen by Chaim Potok will open this weekend for a limited run at the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto.  The original cast and director return for two special performances October 20 and 21.

Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and directed by Simon Levy, the production features Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel. The Schultz Cultural Arts Hall is a 380 seat theatre, giving the cast the opportunity to enjoy a larger audience than the Fountain’s seventy-eight seats allows. It also lifts the production to a full contract under Actors’ Equity Association.

The Schultz Cultural Arts Hall is located at the Palo Alto JCC. Its curatorial efforts are focused on Jewishness, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Art’s transcendent nature and its ability to spark curiosity about the other, dialogue about freedom, values and compassion.

If you’re in the Bay Area — or have friends who live there — share the good news.  The Chosen at the JCC in Palo Alto on Saturday, Oct 20 at 7:30pm and Sunday, Oct 21 at 7pm.

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You Have Changed Me Forever: Remembering ‘The Normal Heart’

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Tim Cummings, Bill Brochtrup, “The Normal Heart”, Fountain Theatre, 2013.

by Tim Cummings

“Hello, you don’t know me. I hope you get this message. Sometimes, when you try to send a message to someone you’re not ‘friends’ with on Facebook, it gets blocked, or you have to ‘approve’ it. I hope you’ll approve this message if it gets to you.

 I saw The Normal Heart on Saturday night, and haven’t slept well since. My father died of AIDS in 1995. I was 15. Except he didn’t die of AIDS, he died of ‘cancer.’ Except we all knew it was AIDS because he was gay and had been sleeping around with men for years. We were a Catholic family, and so shame was tantamount to pretty much everything, especially my dad’s secret life. There were a lot of years after he died where Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays and anniversaries were lonely days, hollow days where not much was said and my sister and I would sit with our mom around the table and stare at our food.

Watching you on stage, the frustration and rage, it was so palpable it cracked me open, like an egg, and I feel like I can feel again. Except now I feel a lot of rage too. I feel like the rage is taking its revenge, saying, “You ignored me for 20 years and now I own you.” I feel like you brought it into my life. It was like you were breaking barriers up there. I could feel how uncomfortable the audience was at times. Like they were afraid of you. I was too, I guess, but also relieved. I don’t know what you are doing up there, or how you manage to live the role several times a week, but I want you to know that you have changed me forever. More than the play. More than the production. YOU.

I didn’t know who Larry Kramer was before the other night, but I’ve been reading up on him and watching videos on YouTube. He wanted to change things and wake people up and he could only do it by shattering everyone around him that wouldn’t listen. He’s lucky someone like you can interpret his intentions. I will probably see the show again before it closes. For now, I’m figuring out what to do with these feelings. Like, how do I forgive my dad? How do I talk to my mom, after all these years, about what really happened? How many more people out there are just like me, waiting for something to come along and break them open? Too many innocent men died. For nothing. I think I might take boxing lessons.”

In the summer of 2013, I was 40 (and a half) years old and really taking stock of my life, as one is wont to do at 40 (and a half). I had been in Los Angeles exactly a decade at that point, and reflecting on my career as an actor: roles won, roles lost, characters deeply inhabited, their skins later shed like a snake once a show ended, reviews, awards, pounds gained and dropped again, friends made and later lost, the worry over male pattern baldness. That summer, I contemplated the possibility that the ‘acting thing’ was more of a hobby than a profession. Things had changed drastically after I moved from New York to LA. In NY, I was working on Broadway, making a living acting. I was on a good trajectory there.

Where I grew up, and in my time, theater had always felt like a great act of rebellion, a middle-finger held up high to everything normal and expected and accepted. Thespians were teased and bullied, but I prided myself on being subversive, anathema to their pack mentality and bougie normality. Theater was punk af. In LA, however, acting suddenly felt like trying to be part of the popular kids again. Clique mentality. I wanted no part of it. How will I succeed if I have no interest in playing by the rules? I’ve always hated rules. I didn’t want to be hot or muscular or skinny or alpha or tan or…commercially viable in any way. I didn’t want to do things the way they were supposed to be done. I desired to shave my head, ring my eyes with racoon-black eyeliner, cover my body in tattoos, pierce every part of me, paint like Pollock, join a band. I contemplated whomever managed to pull off “LA success” with bitter disdain and a kind of squishy envy. That’s okay—I’m not above being human. Actors are not superheroes, despite the way the media depict them and fame & fortune define them.

I happened to be perusing the labyrinthian interwebs that summer when I discovered a breakdown for The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s seminal 1985 agit-prop manifesto about AIDS in the early-to-mid 1980s and how he and his friends banded together to create GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis). The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood was set to produce, overseen by one of the theatre’s founders and Co-Artistic Director, the outstanding Stephen Sachs. The play hadn’t been done in LA in about twenty years, and though it had been given a slick, starry revival on Broadway a few years prior, it felt, perhaps, like something that sunny, surfery Southern California had no right to consider. It’s my (arguably harsh) opinion that LA has always felt too granola (read: passive) for the righteous anger of stories birthed in New York City by New Yorkers.

Nonetheless, The Fountain had a reputation for mounting plays with a social justice bend, and Kramer’s behemoth was certainly no exception. I drafted a cordial email to the casting director asking to be seen. (I’m a firm believer that if you want something done, you do it yourself, and immediately. In other words, I wasn’t going to ask the manager to ask the agent if I had been submitted and then wait around, to neither receive a response nor an appointment time.) When casting responded to my inquiry I assumed the team would want to see me for the role of Bruce Niles, the strapping gay ex-marine. At 6’2” , broad-shouldered, and north of 200lbs, I figured it was the only role they’d consider me for. Instead, they asked me to prepare the role of Ned Weeks, the play’s antagonistic protagonist. Ned is molded out of the playwright himself, the pejorative Larry Kramer. It was the true story of him and his friends, after all, and he was going to tell it his way. It’s a colossal script, with a role as immense as Hamlet, and on nearly every page it elucidates Ned’s pushiness, outspokenness, and righteous anger.

How does an audience go on a journey, and root for, a disagreeable character?  Continue reading

Photos: Fountain Family brunch gives thanks to VIP donors for supporting ‘Arrival & Departure’

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The backyard of Carrie Chassin & Jochen Haber

On a beautiful Sunday morning at the lovely Encino home of Fountain board member Carrie Chassin and husband Jochen Haber, members of the Fountain Family and supporters of Arrival & Departure gathered for a delicious brunch to salute our upcoming world premiere opening July 14. 

Arrival & Departure is the most innovative and ambitious production in our 28-year history, ” said Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs, in his remarks to the group. “We are deeply grateful to our extraordinary donors who make it possible for the Fountain to keep raising its bar of excellence.” 

Actors Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur joined Fountain staff members Sachs and his wife Jacqueline Schultz, Deborah Lawlor, Barbara Goodhill and James Bennett at the festive backyard get-together. Hosts Chassin and Haber welcomed board member and donor Karen Kondazian, donors Debbi and Ashley Posner, board president and donors Dorothy Wolpert and husband Stanley Wolpert, and board member and donor Don Zachary. Andrew Leyva provided ASL interpretation. 

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The savory spread included salmon, salad, fruit, roasted vegetables and bagels. It was a glorious afternoon enjoyed in a beautiful outdoor setting, celebrating some of the remarkable donors who have nurtured the creation, development and soon-to-be opening of this highly anticipated new play at the Fountain. 

Enjoy the photos! And get your tickets soon for Arrival & Departure.    

ARRIVAL & DEPARTURE Love Story to Star Married Deaf Actors Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray

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An unforgettable love story inspired by one of the most romantic movies of all time. Stephen Sachs directs Deaf actors Deanne Bray (Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, Heroes) and Troy Kotsur (title role in Cyrano at the Fountain, Big River on Broadway) in Sachs’ newest play, inspired by the screenplay for Noël Coward’s Brief Encounter. The world premiere of Arrival & Departure will open on July 14 and continue through September 30 at the Fountain Theatre. The cast also features hearing actors Jessica Jade Andres, Adam Burch, Brian Robert Burns, Shon Fuller, Kyra Kotsur, Aurelia Myersand Stasha Surdyke.

In Sachs’ new spin on the classic 1945 British film, a Deaf man (Kotsur) and a hard-of-hearing woman (Bray), two married strangers, meet accidentally in a New York City subway station. As their casual friendship develops into something deeper, each is forced to confront how their simmering relationship could forever change their lives and the lives of those they love.

“A train station is a place of transition, a place people go when they’re on their way to someplace else,” notes Sachs. “‘Arrival & Departure’ is not only a travel term. It expresses the journey of change that the people in this play are experiencing. What happens when you find your soul mate, but the circumstances of life get in the way?”

Kostsur and Bray are married in real life, and Sachs wrote the play with them in mind.

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Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur

“This is my valentine to the two of them,” he says. “But the characters they portray aren’t the only ones seeking human connection in the play. Other storylines interweave through the piece. Each character has a reason to reach out to someone.”

The 1945 classic film Brief Encounter, directed by David Lean with a screenplay by Noël Coward and starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, was named “the most romantic film ever made” according to 101 industry experts polled by Time Out London. The Film Society of Lincoln Center named it “one of the most achingly romantic films ever made.”

The play is performed simultaneously in spoken English and American Sign Language with additional use of open captioning, so that both Deaf and hearing audiences can enjoy the production.

The creative team for Arrival & Departure includes set designer Matthew G. Hill, lighting designer Donny Jackson, video designer Nick Santiago, composer and sound designer Peter Bayne, costume designer Michael Mullen, prop master Michael Navarro, movement director Gary Franco and ASL masters Lisa Hermatz and Jevon Whetter. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer. Simon Levy, Deborah Culver and James Bennett produce for the Fountain Theatre. Executive producers are Karen Kondazian; Diana Buckhantz and The Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation; and Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber. Producing underwriters include Dorothy and Stanley Wolpert; Suzanne and Don Zachary; Lois Tandy; Debbi and Ashley Posner; and The Howard and Helen Family Foundation.

Arrival & Departure is supported, in part, by generous grants from the David Lee Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.

Deanne Bray was born deaf and has been bilingual in American Sign Language and English since the age of two. She kicked off her acting career in 1991 at the Fountain Theatre, where Stephen Sachs directed her in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Bray is best known for the title role in Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye, which ran for three seasons on the PAX network. She has appeared in numerous TV shows, including a recurring role on NBC’s Heroes alongside Milo Ventimiglia and Masi Oka. On stage, Deanne has been seen in Deaf West Theatre productions of Big River, Sleeping Beauty Wakes and My Sister in This House. A graduate of Gallaudet University, she has a Masters in Sign Language Education and a California K-12 Teaching Credential from CSUN. She currently teaches ASL at Oak Park High School.

Troy Kotsur has been acting and directing for over 24 years, earning multiple awards for his work on stage. Deaf since birth, he attended Gallaudet University, where he played basketball for three years before leaving to become a professional actor with the National Theatre of the Deaf. In 1994, Troy moved to Los Angeles and joined the company of Deaf West Theatre, where he has performed in countless productions. His television guest-starring roles include Criminal Minds, Scrubs, CSI: NY and Sue Thomas F.B.Eye in a recurring role (starring alongside Deanne Bray) that became a fan-favorite. In film, he stars in Wild Prairie Rose and in the upcoming Inside Track, and he has had notable supporting roles in The Number 23 with Jim Carrey, Universal Signs and Father’s Day Breakfast. He directed the award-winning independent film No Ordinary Hero: The Superdeafy Movie, the first film in the history of SAG commercial feature films to be directed by a Deaf director and to be executive-produced exclusively by Deaf executive producers. Troy’s stage credits include the Tony Award-winning run of Big River on Broadway, as well as starring roles in Deaf West Theatre productions of American Buffalo (Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award nominee), Our Town at The Pasadena Playhouse, Cyrano at the Fountain (L.A. Drama Critic’s Circle Award for best actor, Ovation Award nominee), A Streetcar Named Desire (L.A. Drama Critics Circle and LA Weekly awards) and Of Mice and Men (LA Weekly Award for best actor).

Stephen Sachs is an award-winning playwright, director, producer and the co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre, which he co-founded with Deborah Culver in 1990. He recently adapted and directed a celebrity reading of the screenplay for All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall starring Bradley Whitford, Joshua Malina and Jeff Perry. His stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (Stage Raw Award at Fountain Theatre) inaugurated Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and was chosen to represent Los Angeles theater for Grand Park’s new Our L.A. Voices Arts Festival. His play Bakersfield Mist enjoyed a three-month run on London’s West End starring Kathleen Turner and is now being produced in regional theaters across the country, translated into other languages and performed worldwide. Other plays include Cyrano (L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Adaptation), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist), Sweet Nothing in My Ear (PEN USA Literary Award finalist) and several others. He wrote the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in My Ear for Hallmark Hall of Fame which aired on CBS starring Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. Sachs’ directing credits My Name is Asher Lev (L.A. premiere); Athol Fugard’s The Blue Iris (U.S. premiere); Bakersfield Mist (world premiere); Completeness by Itamar Moses, starring Jason Ritter; Side Man starring Christine Lahti; The Train Driver by Athol Fugard (U.S. premiere); Conor McPherson’s Shining City (L.A. premiere); the world premiere of Fugard’s Exits and Entrances at the Fountain (Ovation Award, L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award) and off-Broadway at Primary Stages; Fugard’s The Road to Mecca (L.A. premiere); Arthur Miller’s After the Fall (Ovation Award); Sweet Nothing in My Ear (world premiere); Hippolytos, inaugurating the outdoor classical theater at the Getty Villa in Malibu; and many others. Sachs was recently honored with a Certificate of Commendation from the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the cultural life of Los Angeles.”

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 inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Center Theatre Group’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and again, this year, as the centerpiece of Our L.A. Voices at Grand Park; and an all-star reading of All The President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. The Fountain’s most recent production, The Chosen, enjoyed rave reviews and ran for five sold-out months.

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Photos: Company celebrates acclaimed run of ‘The Chosen’ at closing party

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The cast and director of ‘The Chosen’. 

After a critically-acclaimed, six month sold-out run, our production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen celebrated its final performance yesterday to another full house and a standing ovation.  The Chosen has earned its place as one of the most successful productions in recent Fountain Theatre history.  Equally important, it touched many hearts, moving and inspiring audiences. 

Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and directed by directed by Simon Levy, the production featured Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Steve B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel.

Following Sunday’s final performance, the company toasted the long, gratifying run with the audience in our upstairs cafe. 

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Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs announced from the stage Sunday that Fountain Theatre will bring its acclaimed production of The Chosen to the Oshman Family JCC Arts Center in Palo Alto in October.