Tag Archives: Stephen Sachs

New Video: How Robert Schenkkan’s ‘Building the Wall’ came to the Fountain Theatre and why

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PHOTOS: ‘Bakersfield Mist’ ends another triumphant run at the Fountain Theatre

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When the new play Bakersfield Mist premiered at the Fountain Theatre in 2011 starring Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett, it earned rave reviews and ran for seven sold-out months. The current revival with the original cast has been equally successful, enjoying a four-month run and delighting full houses of enthusiastic audiences. The hit production concluded its run yesterday at Sunday’s matinee, followed by a lively reception in our upstairs cafe. 

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Playwright and director Stephen Sachs shared his thoughts and gratitude — and some history — on the play’s final performance at the Fountain.

Today at 2pm is the final performance of the current remount of Bakersfield Mist at the Fountain Theatre starring my original cast, Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett. That means, barring some unforeseen opportunity in the future, today will be last time the three of us will inhabit Maude’s trailer together.

It will probably also be the last time I watch a performance of the play. I’ve seen several productions through the years, all over the world. It’s not likely I’ll see more. It warms my heart deeply that my final viewing will be performed by the two glorious actors who first gave it life, for whom I wrote the play in the first place. We end today as we began. Together.

Bakersfield Mist has been an extraordinary, joyous ride for us. I wrote the play in 2010 with the voices of Jenny and Nick in my head. I called them to my house one night, where they read the first draft at my dining room table. They shepherded the play with me through new drafts and rewrites. We knew we liked the play ourselves, but we had no idea what we had until the first public reading in front of a live audience at Play Fest at Orlando Shakespeare Theatre in Florida. The audience roared with laughter, intensely listened, and applauded wildly at the end. And it’s been that way, everywhere, ever since.

The play opened at the Fountain Theatre in 2011, starring Jenny and Nick, and ran for seven sold-out months, raising the two actors to a full Equity contract. The play enjoyed a 3-month run on London’s West End and is now being performed in regional theatres across the country, has been translated into foreign languages and is being produced around the world.

I’m proud that Bakersfield Mist at the Fountain Theatre became a model example of the 99-Seat Plan working exactly as it should, as it was designed. This little play, created, developed and produced at an intimate theatre in Los Angeles under the 99-Seat Plan, has now generated dozens of Equity contracts across the country and created hundreds of jobs for theatre professionals around the world.

Most of all, the play is my gift, my valentine, to Nick and Jenny. These two remarkable people. Husband and wife, partners in art. Supremely skilled, true professionals, and a hell of a lot of fun. We gave birth to this play together. They gave their time, their talent, their expertise and enthusiasm, their decades of professional craft and wisdom to this play, all with a spirit of passion, great humor and deep caring. I love and respect them both dearly, and will be forever grateful.

 

Sneak Peek: First rehearsal for ‘Building the Wall’ at Fountain Theatre

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Judith Moreland and James Macdonald

First rehearsals are often delicate events. Actors meet for the first time. Designers share their conceptual approaches for the production. The director articulates his or her vision for the journey ahead. Like on a first date, artists eye each other nervously, hoping this night’s first encounter will lead to a meaningful relationship so magic can be created together.

The tone of Monday night’s first rehearsal for the powerful new play Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan was one of purpose, more than jittery vulnerability. Everyone in the room felt exhilarated by the social and political conviction of the project and aware of the publicity the new play has already generated nationwide. Schenkkan is a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, and screenwriter of the Academy Award nominated Hacksaw Ridge

In Building the Wall, the Trump administration has carried out his campaign promise to round up and detain millions of immigrants. As a writer interviews the former supervisor of a private prison, it becomes clear how federal policy has escalated into something previously unimaginable.   

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Even before opening, the Fountain premiere of the new play has already been featured in the New York Times and the Washington Post. Our production is part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, with other openings set to take place at the Curious Theater in Denver, Forum Theater in Silver Spring, Md., Borderlands Theater in Tucson and City Theatre in Miami. 

The world premiere at the Fountain Theatre is directed by Michael Michetti, and features Judith Moreland and James Macdonald.  At Monday night’s first rehearsal, Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs welcomed the team and gave a short history of how the play came to the Fountain. Producer Simon Levy reviewed production protocol. Michetti spoke about the play.  Then, the actors opened their scripts and read the play together for the first time. The two actors were riveting, and the play will take audiences on a roller-coaster ride to its shattering ending. 

Now the work begins. Rehearsals are underway. Our world premiere of Building the Wall opens March 18 and runs to May 21.

Advance tickets for Building the Wall are selling quickly. We urge you to make your reservations early for this urgent and important new play by a major voice in the American Theatre.

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The spirit that smiles on CTG’s ‘Block Party’ celebrating intimate theatre in Los Angeles

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On Wednesday, February 8th, Fountain Theatre Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs was asked to speak at the Board of Directors meeting for Center Theatre Group to share his thoughts on the Fountain’s participation in CTG’s new Block Party.  The following are his remarks:

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Stephen Sachs

I’m Stephen Sachs, the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, which I co-founded with my partner Deborah Lawlor in 1990. We are now celebrating our 27th season. Prior to that, I was an actor – a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In fact, in 1982, one of the biggest thrills of my young career as an actor was standing on stage at the Mark Taper Forum in a small role in the world premiere of Tales from Hollywood by Christopher Hampton, directed by Gordon Davidson. 

I am a playwright, a director, a producer and artistic director. I began running theatre companies in Los Angeles in 1987 – the Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills with Suzi Dietz and Joan Stein – and launched the Fountain Theatre in 1990 to create an artistic home where new plays could be developed and produced that reflect the cultural diversity of Los Angeles and dramatize important social and political issues confronting specific communities in our region and our nation. The Fountain Theatre sits in the heart of the most diverse district in the City. Thirty-two languages are spoken at the local high school.

Our brand phrase is: Intimate. Excellent.  We have artistic relationships with such noted playwrights as Athol Fugard, Tarell McCraney, Robert Schenkkan, Emily Mann, Dael Orlandersmith, Anna Ziegler, Lauren Gunderson, Zayd Dorn. We were just featured in the New York Times on Monday for opening the world premiere in March of Robert Schenkkan’s new play Building the Wall. You can guess what that’s about.

Plays launched at the Fountain Theatre are now being produced across the country, in New York, in London, have been translated into other languages and are now being seen around the world.

I’ve been a theatre maker in Los Angeles for 30 years. I’ve seen the intimate theatre community in Los Angeles grow from a cluster of what was then called “Equity Waiver” theaters in the 1980’s to the vast network of literally hundreds of intimate theaters we have today. Although we still fight for the right to call ourselves a “theatre town” because of the film and television industry – more theatre is now produced in Los Angeles every year than in any city in the world. More than New York. More than London. 

The constellation of intimate theatres in Los Angeles is utterly unique nationwide. There is nothing like it anywhere in this country.  Theaters around the country envied our 99-Seat Plan, which – for 30 years – gave Equity actors the right to hone their craft in an intimate theater without a contract — but not without payment and protections – if they so choose.  The 99-Seat Plan was created by Equity actors. It came out of that spirit of revolution, the right to volunteer your services if you so choose, to insist on the artistic freedom to create. Where budgets and bottom lines were not a factor because nobody was making any money anyway. I don’t have to tell you – there’s a reason why it’s called non-profit theatre.

As many of you may know, Actors Equity has just eliminated the 99-Seat Plan. Against the will of its own membership. LA Equity actors voted overwhelmingly against eliminating the Plan. Equity has done it anyway.  Forcing theatres to now use a very hotly-contested New Agreement impacting every intimate theatre in Los Angeles. Several small theatres are now closing.  The entire landscape of the intimate theatre community will be forever changed.

This makes what you are offering with Block Party so extraordinary. And the timing of it so essential.

With Block Party, Center Theatre Group – the flagship theatre organization in Los Angeles  – is reaching out its hand to the intimate theatre community. Not as a hand-out but as a hand in partnership. Recognizing that our work matters.  Block Party affirms that the work created in intimate theatres is alive and vibrant and an essential part of the cultural life of Los Angeles.  I can not over emphasize how important and meaningful this is. Not only to the Fountain Theatre, and Echo Theatre Company and Courage Theatre Company participating this year, but to all intimate theatres everywhere, throughout our community. 

With one program, with Block Party, you have dissolved the barrier between “big” theatre and “small”, between “us” and “them”.  With Block Party, there finally is now “we”. Together.

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CTG Artistic Director Michael Ritchie

Michael Ritchie, Lindsay Allbaugh, Ian-Julian Williams and the entire Block Party staff have been so open, so inviting, so welcoming. The beauty of Block Party is not only the magic of what’s going to happen on stage, it’s the relationship-building already happening off stage.  The setting up of meetings between our intimate theatre companies and CTG departments, to share ideas and swap strategies, is remarkable and generous and will be beneficial to both sides. 

I’m confident that the spirit of goodwill and partnership that Block Party creates will ripple out and continue, not only for the 38 days of the festival, but throughout the entire year.

I was at the memorial celebration for Gordon Davidson at the Ahmanson last month. Just a few days after that ceremony, I attended a production meeting for Block Party. The juxtaposition of those two events was not lost on me.  Gordon is smiling down on Block Party. He would have loved this. It truly carries forward his spirit of adventure, of risk, his dedication to diversity and inclusion. And I applaud and thank Michael Ritchie, and all of you on this Board, for making that spirit a reality.

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Gordon Davidson celebration at the Ahmanson Theatre.

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Big news day for Fountain Theatre and Robert Schenkkan’s ‘Building the Wall’

wall-title-imageMondays at the Fountain Theatre are usually slow and quiet. The traditional day off for folks in the theatre, Mondays at the Fountain are usually spent catching up on office paperwork and reconciling reports from a weekend of performances. But yesterday was anything but quiet when a series of national news stories on our upcoming world premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s new play, Building the Wall, posted on line and in newspapers across the country, triggering an avalanche of activity. 

The New York Times featured a story by Michael Paulson profiling playwright Robert Schenkkan and his “white-hot fury” to write the first draft of the play in just one week after the election.   The Times outlined that four theatres across the country are producing the new play — lead by the Fountain’s world premiere on March 18 — as part of an National New Play Network (NNPN) Rolling World Premiere. Each theatre had to move fast.

“We no longer live in a world that is business as usual — Trump has made that very clear — and if theater is going to remain relevant, we must become faster to respond,” Mr. Schenkkan said.  

In the Times article, Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs adds:

“We had our season in place, with another production planned, but as soon as I read this script I knew we had to move fast,” said Stephen Sachs, an artistic director of the Fountain Theatre. “It’s a raw, passionate warning cry, and I knew we had to be bold and make this statement.”  

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Playwright Robert Schenkkan (photo by Chad Batka, New York Times)

The Washington Post, in a story by , examined how theatres have changed their season programming in response to the Trump administration. The article highlights Building the Wall.

The same day, Playbill posted a story by Robert Viagas with the headline, ‘Four Theatres Sign on for Trump Play by Pulitzer Prize Winner’. The article summarizes how the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles, Curious Theatre in Denver, Borderlands Theater in Arizona, and Forum Theatre in Maryland have partnered in the NNPN Rolling World Premiere.

This flurry of national press activity — all on the same day — generated a blizzard of phone calls and emails to the Fountain. Social media lit up, with our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts buzzing with posts, re-posts, likes, and comments. The office at the National New Play Network in Washington DC also reported a flood of emails and calls yesterday. Interest in the play is expected to increase as we move closer to opening.

The National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Building the Wall opens at the Fountain Theatre on March 18, directed by Michael Michetti. Set in the very near future, the Trump administration has carried out his campaign promise to round up and detain millions of immigrants. Now, a writer interviews the supervisor of a private prison as he awaits sentencing for carrying out the federal policy that has escalated into the unimaginable. This riveting, harrowing and illuminating drama delivers a powerful warning and puts a human face on the inhuman, revealing how when personal accountability is denied, what seems inconceivable becomes inevitable.

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Fountain Theatre pledges it will not be silent

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Fountain Family: We will not be silent.

Have you heard of Rabbi Joachim Prinz? Probably not. In August of 1963, he and Martin Luther King, Jr. were among the ten leaders of the March on Washington.  Preceding King to the platform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before King declared his dream to the world, Prinz delivered a stirring speech against silence in the face of injustice.  It was an expression of his life-long commitment to equality and tolerance. 

rabbi-prinz“Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept,” he said. “When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not ‘.the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.”

This past weekend, more than 50 years later, women across the nation marched on Washington once again. And on the Thursday prior to marching, on the eve of the Presidential Inauguration,  the Fountain Theatre made a pledge. It would not be silent.

Streaming live on Facebook, the Fountain joined 728 other theaters in all 50 states who gathered outside theaters nationwide to create a “light” for these dark times ahead. The Ghostlight Project offered theater artists and patrons the opportunity to renew a pledge to stand and protect the values of inclusion, participation, and compassion for everyone, regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

The Fountain Theatre joined theaters across the country to reaffirm and declare our commitment and solidarity to provide safe, brave spaces that will serve as lights in the coming years. List of participating theaters in ALL 50 STATES

What is a ghostlight? When our theaters go dark at the end of the night, we turn on a “ghost light” – offering visibility and safety for all who might enter. This is our theatrical tradition and the inspiration for this national event. Like a ghostlight, the light we created on January 19th represents our commitment to provide safety, a safe harbor, for everyone. To resist intolerance at all levels.

Fountain folk were asked to make signs, affirming “I Am” and “I Fight For”. Take a look.

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On Thursday night, a crowd of Fountain Family members — actors, directors, stage managers, patrons and supporters — gathered outside the theatre at exactly at 5:30pm to join the live feed on Facebook. A statement was read by Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs, and the group switched on the portable lights they were asked to bring, in symbolic gesture of adding light into the coming darkness.

The ceremony continued inside. Morlan Higgins played guitar and sang a song by Woody Guthrie. Stephen Sachs listed three Fountain productions of plays that dramatized the issues of tolerance, equality, and inclusion. My Mañana Comes brought to life the struggle of immigration, The Ballad of Emmett Till shed light on racism, and the The Normal Heart articulated the fight against AIDS and social prejudice in the gay community. Stephen then introduced cast members from these productions, each performing selections giving voice to these themes. It was very powerful and moving.

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Quoting Rabbi Prinz, Sachs then announced the Fountain Theatre’s pledge that it “will not be silent.” He then instructed the group to once again switch on their portable lights, as he turned on the Fountain ghostlight that stood on stage, as a beacon of hope.

The Fountain ceremony ended with everyone joining Morlan on guitar and singing together the lively gospel song,  “This Little Light of Mine”.  Afterwards, the group gathered upstairs in the cafe for excited conversation, pizza and beer.

It was an inspiring and joyous evening. Like the light we shine, we will carry our pledge forward into the new year, and the years forever after. We will not remain silent.

Fountain Theatre launches 2017-18 season for social action with world premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s new play, ‘Building the Wall’

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The Fountain Theatre will open its 2017-18 season of new plays with an urgent warning against the proposed policies of the Trump administration, followed by statements on social justice, inclusion, acceptance of “the other,” prejudice, the role of government and the need for human connection.

“The Fountain has always been committed to speaking out for social justice and inclusion,” asserts Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. “These are disturbing and tumultuous times — for our local intimate theater community in Los Angeles and our nation. The Fountain is a place for theater to serve as a vehicle for public discourse: to express outrage, compassion and hope.”

The 2017-18 season will include four world premieres — Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan; Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps; Freddie by Deborah Lawlor; and Arrival and Departure by Stephen Sachs — as well as the Los Angeles premiere of The Chosen by Aaron Posner. The Fountain’s 2015 production of Citizen: An American Lyric, written by Claudia Rankine and adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs, will be presented at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of Center Theatre Group’s inaugural Block Party. And, in addition to the Fountain’s ongoing, monthly ‘Forever Flamenco’ series, the Fountain will host Flamenco Fiesta, a two-day, outdoor flamenco concert celebration.

Over the past 27 years, The Fountain Theatre has established itself as one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. Fountain projects have been translated into numerous languages, produced across the U.S. and worldwide, and made into a TV movie.

The Fountain Theatre’s 2017-18 season is as follows:

March 18 – May 21 (previews March 15-17)
building-wallWorld premiere of Building the WallThe newest play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle, All the Way), directed by award-winning Michael Michetti. It’s the very near future, and the Trump administration has carried out his campaign promise to round up and detain millions of immigrants. Now, a writer interviews the supervisor of a private prison as he awaits sentencing for carrying out the federal policy that has escalated into the unimaginable. This riveting, harrowing and illuminating drama delivers a powerful warning and puts a human face on the inhuman, revealing how when personal accountability is denied, what seems inconceivable becomes inevitable.

April 30 – May 7 (previews April 28-29)

citizenCitizen: An American LyricCenter Theatre Group will remount the Fountain’s award-winning 2015 production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of CTG’s inaugural Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theatre. Written by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs and directed by Shirley Jo Finney, Citizen fuses poetry, prose, movement, music and video images in a provocative meditation on everyday acts of racism in America. Actors returning from the original production include Simone Missick, who co-stars as Misty Knight on Netflix’s Luke Cage.

Summer 2017
runaway-homeWorld premiere of Runaway Home Three years after Hurricane Katrina, the unhealed wounds of New Orleans’s Lower 9th Ward continue to fester. In this powerful, funny and deeply moving mother-daughter story by Jeremy J. Kamps, 14-year-old runaway Kali embarks on a journey to pick through the wreckage of what used to be her life. Rhyming, stealing and scamming her way through the still-destroyed neighborhood, engaging the vivid, lively denizens who remain, she grapples with the real cost of what she has lost as she is forced to confront the even higher cost of moving forward and the possibility of redemption.

Fall 2017
the-chosenLos Angeles premiere of The Chosen The Fountain Theatre celebrates the 50th anniversary of Chaim Potok’s beloved novel with the L.A. premiere of the award-winning stage adaptation by Aaron Posner. A silent father, an ancient tradition and an unexpectedly important game of baseball forge bonds of lifelong friendship between two Jewish boys from “five blocks and a world apart” in this funny, poignant, timely and timeless story about recognition and acceptance of “the other.” Directed by Simon Levy.

Fall 2017
freddieWorld premiere of Freddie This hybrid dance/theater work by Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor will be presented at Los Angeles City College, inaugurating a new partnership with the LACC Theatre Academy. Set in Greenwich Village in 1964 and based on a true story, Freddie fuses theater, music, dance and video to capture the explosive spirit of a passionate artist and a turbulent era. A naïve young woman falls under the spell of Freddie Herko, a brilliant ballet dancer of extraordinary charisma and talent and a beloved luminary of Andy Warhol’s Factory. Frances Loy directs.

Spring 2018
arrival-departWorld premiere of Arrival and Departure Troy Kotsur and his real-life wife Deanne Bray star in a modern-day, re-imagined deaf/hearing stage adaptation by Stephen Sachs (Bakersfield Mist, Cyrano) of the classic 1945 British romantic film, Brief Encounter. A deaf man and a deaf woman, married to different people, meet accidentally in a train station. A friendship develops over time, escalating into a passionate love affair that both struggle to permit themselves to consummate. An unforgettable love story about the challenges of communication, social isolation, diversity and self-empowerment.

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