Tag Archives: Stephen Sachs

3,500 technical cues in the play? No problem for this mighty pair of stage managers

emily-deena-4.jpg

Stage Managers Deena Tovar and Emily Lehrer, “Arrival & Departure,” Fountain Theatre

You may know that the Fountain Theatre’s smash hit world premiere, Arrival & Departure, is highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times, has earned rave reviews everywhere, and has been delighting audiences in sold-out houses since it opened in July. What you don’t know is that the magical mixture of lights, video, sound, music and open captioning is operated by only two stage managers in the booth — executing the play’s 3,500 technical cues in a fast-paced running time of 90 minutes. How do they do it?

Production Stage Manager Emily Lehrer and Assistant Stage Manager Deena Tovar make an excellent team.  They share years of professional experience between them but Arrival & Departure marks the first time they have worked together. It’s also the first time they’ve managed a cast of Deaf and hearing actors. 

There was a learning curve on the American Sign Language front, for sure,” admits Emily. “That being said, everyone has been so helpful and supportive as I fumbled my way through.”   

Deena echoes the same enthusiasm. “This has been an amazing experience. Everyone involved with the show are truly remarkable and supportive. Even with my signing skills — or rather the lack thereof — everyone made sure I was learning.”

“I really want to start studying ASL more seriously,” adds Emily. “It’s a gorgeous language, and as a Stage Manager, communication is at the heart of everything I do. So having that asset in my communication toolbox would be amazing.”

Emily Lehrer is from Los Angeles and has worked as Production Stage Manager on several plays at the Fountain Theatre. She has also stage managed for The Latino Theatre CompanyThe Garry Marshall TheatreThe Odyssey TheatreSacred Fools, and at Universal Studios Hollywood.  Deena grew up in Eagle Rock. She has worked as a Stage Manager all over Los Angeles at such companies as Circle X, Open Fist, Casa0101, Shakespeare Center of LA and many more.

“The Fountain is a great place to work,” Deena beams. “It really is like a family. Anything I need is almost always available. Everyone is here to support the art and you can really feel that when you walk in every day.”

They clearly enjoy working together and make a kick-ass team in the booth and in the rehearsal room. What makes them such a dynamic duo?

“Complimentary skill sets, ” says Emily. “Honestly, a lot of it comes from Deena also being a great PSM, and because she knows how to think like a PSM, she is able to anticipate needs and fill in the gaps beautifully. It also doesn’t hurt that we enjoy each other’s company as people. Having team members you genuinely enjoy working with is a gift, and it makes every aspect of the process go more smoothly and easily.” 

Deena agrees. “We both absolutely love our jobs as Stage Managers. We don’t come to work wishing we were doing something else, we walk in knowing we are working in our dream profession. It also helps that we both have very similar styles of stage managing and from that we are able to predict exactly what is needed before it’s said out loud.”

Emily Deena 5

When Deena first read Stephen Sachs‘ script for Arrival & Departure, and its blend of both Deaf and hearing actors in a production that mixes lights, sound, music, video and open captioning, she was unsure how it would all come together.

“I originally felt it would be difficult for the audience to keep up with everything going on,” she admits. “But during the rehearsal process my concerns were very quickly extinguished. I saw exactly how each word and each scene had to be portrayed to make sure no one was missing out on any moment.”  Emily agrees. “I am so thrilled with the way it turned out.”  

Both have been blown away by the audience reaction. 

“It has been such a balm to see how audiences have responded to the show, ” says Emily. “Especially our Deaf audiences, as they realized with utter joy that this is a production created with them in mind.”

“The audiences have loved it, ” exclaims Deena. “They really enjoy the way the show captures both the Deaf and hearing experiences. I love looking at the audience during intense moments and seeing their reactions. My personal favorite was the reaction of these two women sitting in the front row. Just as the characters Sam and Emily are about to kiss, the two women grabbed each other and shook their heads like they wanted to yell out, “don’t do it!”

Both Emily and Deena feel the play — how it was conceived and the way it is performed — serves a valuable purpose.  

“This production is truly important because it incorporates elements of sign language, captioning and spoken English, ” Deena explains. “This show isn’t only for one audience. It is open for everyone. Everyone can watch and relate. That kind of inclusion is sadly lacking in the entertainment industry.”

“We live in weird, difficult, and downright terrifying times,” states Emily. “Times where hatred, bigotry, and closed mindedness are becoming the new normal. In times like these, creating art is an act of resistance. Creating art that is, by design, inclusive, a celebration of a woman coming into her own, a love story —  is nothing short of revolutionary. “

And now that the celebrated run is soon reaching its final performance? 

“I got to meet some of the funniest, most energetic, and kind-hearted  people, ” Deena confesses. “It really has been an excellent experience.”

“It has been such a beautiful, hopeful reminder of what we can be when we open our arms and our hearts to those who may on the surface appear different than us,” states Emily. “I will cherish it.” 

Emily in booth

Arrival & Departure ends September 30. 

Advertisements

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

The-Normal-Heart_5NC Cropped

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

My father’s table saw

Table saw 3by Stephen Sachs

This is the story of a table saw. A steel-framed Sears Craftsman table saw manufactured when things were built to last. My father bought the saw more than fifty years ago,  when he was forty-three, to cut lumber at the new home he had just bought in Westlake Village for his young family. The table saw now sits in the parking lot of the Fountain Theatre, worn-out and rusting, like a broken-down Oldsmobile.  

My dad was a newsman in 1967. He was a logical thinker, deliberate. He wore a suit jacket and tie when he went to the CBS newsroom in Los Angeles each morning. Smoked a pipe like network icon Walter Cronkite. Dad was a serious man with a dark furrowed brow who approached his duty as a journalist with somber dedication. On weekends, he was a different man.

Like most dads of that era, he liked tools. Hammers, screwdrivers, socket wrenches. On weekends, Dad eagerly drove our white station wagon to Sears in Woodland Hills to buy a glistening new set of socket wrenches or a new power drill. He dedicated an entire section of the garage to his tools and hardware, mounting hundreds of Craftsman gadgets and gizmos on the wall like shiny religious weaponry.  As a boy, I would stand in the dim garage alone and stare at the burnished tools. They held some kind of spell of magic to me because they drew so much of my father’s care and attention.  Each packet of screws, each mechanical device, each bundle of power cord was lovingly mounted in a logistical order that I recognized as my father’s sense of propriety.  It was on one of his weekend pilgrimages to Sears that he bought the table saw. 

Harvey Sachs Westlake Village building patio overhang

Harvey Sachs

My dad and that table saw labored hard in the hot Conejo Valley sun on weekends, building fences and benches for our home and the outdoor patio overhang  that circled our backyard. Dad huffed and puffed as he manhandled that table saw, his shirt off and bare chested, tiny chips of sawdust speckling the black hair on his chest and arms like  woody flakes of snow.  Who was this man? A clutch of roofing nails clenched in his teeth where, during the work week, a Dunhill pipe used to be. 

By the time I opened the Fountain Theatre, my dad had Parkinson’s disease. He could barely move or speak. He had stopped working for CBS News long before. He could no longer hold a pencil or lift a hammer. His shrine of carpentry tools in the garage stood silent,  dusty and untouched for years like an abandoned tomb. Except for that table saw. 

Somehow, in 1993, I lugged that heavy steel table saw from Westlake Village to the Fountain Theatre and presented it to my Technical Director. “This is my father’s saw,” I told him. It would now build our stage scenery. 

Table saw SS 2

Stephen Sachs, 2018

For the next twenty-five years, my father’s saw stood proud at the Fountain, cutting miles of lumber into thousands of pieces to build dozens of sets for so many of our plays. As Dad’s health declined his table saw powered on. Dad passed away in 1995. From that day forward, the scenery for every play I wrote and directed at the Fountain Theatre has been cut on my father’s table saw.

Until today.

The once hearty motor is now blown. Replacement parts have been discontinued years ago. It is done. The saw now stands forsaken in the Fountain parking lot waiting to be hauled to the dump. 

I swing my car into the lot as I arrive for work each morning. I park, hoist myself out of my Honda, walk to the front door. As I do, I cross the parking lot and shoot a glance at the table saw. And see my father. Bare-chested, happy and alive, pushing a two-by-four into the ever spinning blade. 

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre

Free screening of classic romantic film ‘Brief Encounter’ at Fountain Theatre on Sept 22

Brief Encounter 2

Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in “Brief Encounter”

The Fountain is presenting a free screening of the 1945 classic romantic film, Brief Encounter on Saturday, September 22 at 4:30pm. The screening is in conjunction with the Fountain’s current hit production, Arrival & Departure, which was inspired by the Noel Coward screenplay of the movie. Playwright/Director Stephen Sachs will introduce the film.

The screening will be fully captioned, accessible to all audiences.

When Time Out London recently polled 101 motion picture experts to select the 100 Best Romantic Films of all time, the panel voted Brief Encounter as #1, declaring it “the most romantic film ever made.” They’re not the only ones who think so. The Film Society of Lincoln Center named it “one of the most achingly romantic films ever made.”

Directed by David Lean and starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter is a passionate film about a chance meeting, forbidden love, and finding one’s soul mate.

Brief Encounter is set during WWII in and around a London railway station. A married woman, with children, Laura (Celia Johnson), meets a stranger, a doctor (Trevor Howard) named Alec in the train station’s tea room, who kindly removes a piece of grit from her eye then leaves to catch his train. During her subsequent shopping trips every Thursday, Laura bumps into Alec and a friendship develops. Soon, the weekly meetings become an arranged rendezvous. Finally, they confess that they are deeply, overwhelmingly in love.

With its evocatively fog-enshrouded setting, swooning Rachmaninoff score, and pair of remarkable performances (Johnson was nominated for an Oscar), the film explores the thrill, pain, and tenderness of an illicit romance, and has influenced many a cinematic brief encounter since its release.

“I was looking for a love story to inspire my new play,” explains Sachs, describing the origin of Arrival & Departure. “When I thought of Brief Encounter, with its journey of two strangers travelling from friendship into love, I knew I had found what I was looking for.”

Running time: 90 mins. Limited seating. Reservations necessary.  (323) 663-1525

Reserve Seats Now

Saif Saigol looks forward to opening eyes to the magic of theatre

Saif Saigol

by Saif Saigol

It’s the end of August – the time of year that’s defined by back-to-school sales, the switch from iced coffee to hot coffee, and that one last outing with white pants before Labor Day comes and goes. For me, this week signifies the end of my internship with The Fountain and my first experience living in LA. It occurred to me today that this time next year – for the first time ever – I won’t be preparing to go back to school, and I am reminiscent of my summer at The Fountain and all I have learned.

For the past 10 weeks, I have worked under Barbara Goodhill, The Fountain’s Director of Development, on a variety of projects related to The Fountain’s growth and community impact. As an avid lover of theater, and all other performance arts, this was my first experience working behind-the-scenes (or upstairs, in The Fountain’s case) at one of the desks that keep arts organizations like The Fountain running. I learned the ins and outs of fundraising and grant culture, and the realities of producing art in a country that loves creativity, but hesitates to support it. While it is somewhat disheartening to see all the hoops artists must jump through before being able to express themselves, there is redemption in knowing that organizations like The Fountain, and the foundations that support it, are committed to the arts and the roles arts play in connecting communities. I was able to experience this first-hand this summer, with The Fountain’s production of Arrival & Departure.

A&D Baptism

Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur, Arrival & Departure.

Arrival & Departure is Stephen Sachs’ latest Deaf/Hearing play, inspired by the timeless romance film Brief Encounter. It was truly incredible to witness the level of finesse and intimacy the company was able to achieve in the short time between the beginning of the summer, when rehearsals began, and opening night 6 weeks later. Arrival & Departure is a masterpiece of intimate theatre, from the way it is written to present three distinct story-lines that harmoniously blend into one, to the actors’ ability to engage each other, engage the audience, and fill the room with their presence. Beyond the triumph of Arrival & Departure as a piece of theater, it was particularly meaningful for me to be able to interact with the Deaf community, who graciously opened their arms to us hearing folk and put in the labor to educate and accommodate us. It can only be described as powerful to sit in that theatre for 90 minutes, without one interpreter in sight, and watch Deaf and hearing actors alike (while sitting next to Deaf and hearing audience members alike) reveal their deepest emotions and vulnerabilities, whether through Spoken English, ASL, or movement. It is art in its rawest form, and really makes one wonder why all theater doesn’t strive for this level of accessibility and nuance. If you haven’t yet seen Arrival & Departure, get your tickets ASAP!! It’s a must-see.

One of my projects this summer was working with The Fountain’s Outreach Coordinator, Dionna Daniel, on various efforts to open our doors to the community. It was especially rewarding to give back to the community by way of arts education for LA’s youth. It was because of efforts like these several years ago that my eyes were opened to the magic of theater as a young student, and I’m honored to play a part in providing that experience for others.

Too often, I think, theatre and the arts are viewed as hobbies or simply a source of entertainment. This narrative fails to address that the arts play a unique role in fostering our ability as humans to feel empathy and be creative. In our increasingly polarized and divisive world, these qualities could not be more important. I’ve learned first-hand that is is essential for students to be exposed to the arts at a young age. The Fountain contributes to a movement that brings theatre to underserved groups and students, bridging the gap between communities and giving kids the tools to think outside the box. It was inspiring to be a part of this, and interact directly with some of the students served by The Fountain.

My time at The Fountain has taught me many things, from knowing how to dissect a 501(c)(3)’s 990-Form, to helping coordinate special events, to interacting with Hollywood managers and agents. The looming future of my career in the arts is now slightly less tinged with panic, and driven instead by excitement and confidence. I cannot thank The Fountain enough for welcoming me into their family, teaching me the ways of intimate theatre in Los Angeles, and giving me the tools to take command of my own career.

NOW CASTING: Four roles (two disabled) for Pulitzer Prize winner ‘Cost of Living’ at Fountain Theatre

costofliving-season-thumbnail2

Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play. West Coast Premiere at the Fountain Theatre, Los Angeles.

STORYLINE: Achingly human and surprisingly funny, Cost of Living is a haunting, rigorously unsentimental play about the forces that bring people together and the realities of facing the world with physical disabilities. Unemployed truck driver Eddie is struggling to rebuild a relationship with his estranged wife Ani, recently wheelchair-bound with a spinal cord injury. Jess, in a job that she desperately needs, is trying to navigate her duties with John, her new boss with cerebral palsy. But, who is really caring for whom? By shattering stereotypes, the play reveals how deeply we all need each other.

SUBMIT ELECTRONICALLY TO: Stephen Sachs  casting@fountaintheatre.com
Submission Deadline: 08/24/2018

Producer/Theatre Company: Stephen Sachs, Fountain Theatre
Director: John Vreeke
Writer: Martyna Majok

Audition Date(s): 08/27/2018 – 08/29/2018
Rehearsal Date(s): 09/17/2018 – 10/16/2018
Preview Date(s): 10/17/2018 – 10/19/2018
Opening Date(s): 10/20/2018
Closing Date(s): 12/16/2018

4-show week. Performances Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 2pm, Mondays 8pm.

Roles:

[EDDIE] 40 to 50 years old, Black/African American male. Ani’s ex-husband; an unemployed truck driver who doesn’t allow himself the luxury of self-pity; funny, engaging and playful; kind, would have made a great uncle for someone; working class, rough around the edges. Seeking actors of color for this role.

[ANI] Seeking an actress who is a wheelchair user or with mobility disability for this role. 35 to 45 years old, open ethnicity, female. Eddie’s ex-wife; working class from North Jersey; she has a spinal cord injury because of a recent car accident and now uses a wheelchair; quadriplegic, though has some function in one hand; intense and brusque; hilariously foulmouthed, it’s her way or the highway, and she won’t hesitate to tell you so; a strong sense of self; dry sense of humor. This role requires partial nudity. 

[JESS] 25 to 30 years old, ethnicity open, female. John’s new caregiver; down-to-earth, working class; first-generation from an immigrant family; went to Princeton but has fallen on hard times. Overworked, under- qualified, and nearly homeless, she has a lot of potential but is working three jobs and still living paycheck-to-paycheck; a tough cookie, skittish, perhaps a bit too quick to defend herself. Seeking actors of color for this role.

[JOHN] Seeking a disabled actor for this role. 25 to 30 years old, male. A good-looking and very intelligent doctoral student; has cerebral palsy; uses a wheelchair and requires the assistance of a part-time caregiver. A rich grad student at Princeton, has the confidence and polish of a guy who comes from money; quick witted with a blunt sense of humor; he has a slight speech impediment due to the tension of his cerebral palsy.  This role requires nudity. 

SUBMIT ELECTRONICALLY TO: Stephen Sachs  casting@fountaintheatre.com

Fountain Theatre awarded grant for Pulitzer Prize winner ‘Cost of Living’ by Martyna Majok

COST OF LIVING image

Katy Sullivan, Victor William in “Cost of Living”, Manhattan Theatre Club, 2017.  

The National Arts and Disability Center has awarded The Fountain an Arts and Accessibility Grant to support its upcoming West Coast Premiere of Martyna Majok‘s 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Cost of Living. The grant will assist in funding the compensation of two actors with disabilities for the production opening October 20th.

“We are grateful to the NADC and the California Arts Council for their support of this important project,” states Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We are proud to produce this Pulitzer Prize winning new play which features two leading roles for actors with disabilities.  It is another example of the Fountain Theatre’s mission of inclusion and our commitment to serving a wide variety of communities in Los Angeles.”

Achingly human and surprisingly funny, Cost of Living is a haunting, rigorously unsentimental play about the forces that bring people together and the realities of facing the world with physical disabilities. Unemployed truck driver Eddie is struggling to rebuild a relationship with his estranged wife Ani, recently wheelchair-bound with a spinal cord injury. Jess, in a job that she desperately needs, is trying to navigate her duties with John, her new boss with cerebral palsy. But, who is really caring for whom? By shattering stereotypes, the play reveals how deeply we all need each other.

Cost of Living debuted at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2017. The Fountain west coast premiere, directed by John Vreeke, will run October 20 to December 16th.  Casting is now underway.

This activity is supported in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Arts and Disability Center at the University of California Los Angeles.

More Info/Get Tickets