Tag Archives: Stephen Sachs

Fountain director Shirley Jo Finney awarded SDC Denham Fellowship for ‘Runaway Home’

ShirleyJoFinney

Shirley Jo Finney

The Fountain Theatre is proud to announce that the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF), the not-for-profit foundation of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society (SDC), has selected Director Shirley Jo Finney as SDCF’s 2017 Denham Fellow for her production of Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps. Runaway Home made its world premiere at The Fountain Theatre and runs to November 5th. 

The Denham Fellowship was established by Mary Orr Denham in 2006 with a bequest to SDCF in honor of her late husband, Reginald H. F. Denham. It is an annual cash award given to women directors to further develop their directing skills, and supports a particular proposed project. Past recipients include May Adrales, Tea Alagic, Rachel Alderman, Kathleen Amshoff, Jessi D. Hill, Joanie Schultz, Bridget Leak, Hannah Ryan, and Diane Rodriguez.

“I love this place because it does important work, ” Finney stated about the Fountain Theatre and Runaway Home. “I love when a piece of work is being presented and the audience can’t get out of their seats. Because they have not experienced a play. They have experienced a life.”

Denham Fellow Shirley Jo Finney is an award-winning international director and actress. She has worn her director’s hat in some of the most respected regional theater houses across the country including: The McCarter Theater, The Pasadena Playhouse, The Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, Fountain Theater, LA Theater Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival, Sundance Theater Workshop, Mark Taper Forum, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa. Ms. Finney has received many prestigious awards over the years for her special talent and eye for storytelling and for creating exciting ensembles. Her awards include the L.A. Stage Alliance Ovation Award, The Los Angeles Drama Critics Award, LA Weekly Award, The NAACP Award, and the Santa Barbara Independent Award for her directing work. Finney helmed the acclaimed international all South African Opera entitled Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. Most recently, Ms. Finney directed and developed the critically acclaimed world premiere of Citizen: An American Lyric by the award-winning PENN poet, Claudia Rankin. Other recent works include Facing Our Truth, The Trayvon Martin Project at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles, the Lark Play Development Center’s rolling world premiere of the road weeps, the well runs dry by Marcus Gardley at the Los Angeles Theater Center, and Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Brother/Sister Plays.

“Shirley Jo has been a cherished member of our Fountain Family for many years,” says Stephen Sachs, Co-Artistic Director. “We are thrilled and proud that the SDC Foundation has honored her excellence.”

Runaway Home now playing to Nov 5th.

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Photos: Opening Night celebration for world premiere of ‘Runaway Home’

7Launching the world premiere of a meaningful new play is always a cause for celebration at the Fountain Theatre. Saturday night, September 16th, was a thrilling night of jubilation as we opened the beautiful, funny and powerful new play Runaway Home by Jeremy J. Kamps. This timely new work about the community of New Orleans surviving together after Hurricane Katrina runs to November 5th.

After the soaring opening night performance, the enthralled audience gathered upstairs in our cafe for a catered reception with the cast and creative team. Food from New Orleans was served, with wine and beer flowing. A truly magical evening highlighting an unforgettable theatrical experience.

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New Video: Meet the artists in our powerful and timely ‘Runaway Home’ opening Sept 16

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Next at the Fountain: Powerful world premiere ‘Runaway Home’ is a poetic mother-daughter tale set in New Orleans

RUNAWAY HOME title image

Sometimes what you’re searching for is right where you started. The Fountain Theatre presents a powerful, funny and deeply moving mother-daughter story by Jeremy J. Kamps. Multiple award-winning Shirley Jo Finney returns to the Fountain to direct the world premiere of Runaway Home for a Sept. 16 opening.

Three years after Hurricane Katrina, the unhealed wounds of New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward continue to fester. Camille Spirlin (ABC’s American Koko, Fox TV’s Rosewood, Nickelodeon’s Marvin Marvin) stars as 14-year-old runaway Kali. Rhyming, stealing and scamming her way through the still-destroyed neighborhood, she embarks on a journey to pick through the wreckage of what used to be her life. While the rest of the country’s attention drifts, the neighborhood’s residents are left to repair the damage from the inside out. As their attempts at renewal leave a path of destruction in their wake, Kali bears witness to what the floodwaters left behind. Also in the cast are Leith Burke (Citizen: An American Lyric at the Fountain,Neighbors at the Matrix), Jeris Lee Poindexter (The Darker Face of the Earth, Central Avenue, Gem of the Ocean at the Fountain),Armando Rey (Men on the Verge of a His-panic Breakdown at Macha Theatre), Maya Lynne Robinson (In the Red and Brown Water at the Fountain – LADCC Award, Best Ensemble), Brian Tichnell (Dream Catcher at the Fountain, HBOs Silicon Valley, L.A. Theatre Works’ national tour of The Graduate) and Karen Malina White (Citizen: An American Lyric and The Ballad of Emmett Till – Best Ensemble LADCC and Ovation Awards – at the Fountain, currently in As You Like It at Antaeus).

“This play couldn’t be more timely,” says Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. “Hurricane Katrina may have ceased in 2005, but the storm of racism, poverty and class inequality rages on in our country to this day. We need look no further than Flint, Michigan, to see systemic government prejudice against citizens of color and the poor. But as Jeremy’s play so beautifully demonstrates, the bonds of family and community will weather any storm.”

When Kamps traveled to New Orleans two years after Katrina to volunteer “gutting and mucking” (stripping homes to the studs to remove mold), he had been teaching middle school in Connecticut. He already had an idea in his head about a runaway girl who collects other people’s garbage, finding meaning in the meaningless.

“Kali’s world paralleled the displacement, hope for renewal, fracture and resilience I was seeing in the social-political reality of the Lower 9th Ward,” he explains. “Whenever a character’s inner life and experience are so congruent with an important social issue, that’s the story I want to write.”

While in New Orleans, Kamps met Antoine, a man in his ‘70s who had just returned to what had been his family’s home for generations. Antoine was going from house to house trying to trace relatives, friends, acquaintances and neighbors, to find out what had happened to them in the years since the storm. “His friendship helped me honor the stories of this community in a truthful way — to see the past, present and future of the Lower 9th through their eyes,” says the playwright.

According to Finney, “Because the media painted them as poor and impoverished, most people don’t realize that the residents of the Lower 9th were working class homeowners. Those homes had been in families for generations. Members of the community were expecting government funds so they could rebuild, but because of red tape and bureaucracy, the money never came, or it took so long that people had to end up using it for rent or just to eat.”

“The mother-daughter relationship becomes the pivotal heart space in this story about this community,” she continues. “The play is very funny because Kali is so spirited, but the rage, helplessness and loss that Kali and her mother share are the core of the play. That is the challenge they both struggle with to find their way back to each other and home. What happens to people when they aren’t seen, when they don’t feel safe? How do you begin to rebuild your life when nobody cares?”

Jeremy Kamps’s plays have received awards and recognition including the William Saroyan Human Rights Award Finalist (2016); Page 73 Semi-Finalist (2017); Ruby Lloyd Apsey Award (Gutting); The Goldberg Prize; Woodward International Playwriting (What It Means To Disappear Here); Hudson Valley Writers Center and the NYU Festival of New Works (Water Hyacinth). His play Breitwisch Farm will be produced by Esperance Theater Company in NYC later this year. Recent productions include Gutting, presented by the National Black Theatre of Harlem and What It Means To Disappear Here (Ugly Rhino, NYC). His work has been produced/developed with Esperance Theater Company, Company Cypher at the National Black Theatre of Harlem, Ugly Rhino, Dixon Place, Hudson Valley Shakespeare, The Amoralists and New York Theatre Workshop. His fiction has been published in The Madison Review and The Little Patuxent; has been honored with the H.E. Francis Award, the Howard/John Reid Fiction Prize and was a Lamar York Prize finalist; and has been recognized in Glimmertrain, Inkwell, The Caribbean Writer and New Millenium. He is a member of the Emerging Writers Group at the Public Theater. Also an educator and activist, Jeremy has lived and worked for lengthy periods of time in Latin America, India and East Africa, where he focused on support and empowerment for former child soldiers, displaced peoples and child rights. He recently received the Theatre Communications Group “On the Road” grant to return to Kenya where he conducted drama workshops as part of his research for a new play on flower farms. He has facilitated drama and writing workshops around the world and for all ages. He has an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

Shirley Jo Finney has previously directed acclaimed Fountain productions of Citizen: An American Lyric (selected for CTG’s first annual Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre) The Brothers Size, In the Red and Brown Water (for which she earned her second Ovation award), Heart Song, The Ballad of Emmett TillYellowman, Central Avenue and From the Mississippi Delta.  Her work has been seen at the McCarter Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, L.A. Theatre Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, American College Theatre Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and at the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa, where she helmed a critically acclaimed production of the South African opera, Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. For television, she directed several episodes of Moesha, and she garnered the International Black Filmmakers ‘Best Director’ Award for her short film, Remember Me.She is the recipient of the African American Film Marketplace Award of Achievement for Outstanding Performance and Achievement and leader in Entertainment.

The creative team for Runaway Home includes scenic designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, lighting designer Jennifer Edwards, composer/sound designer Peter Bayne, costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders, props designer DeAnne Millais, choreographer TylerJanet Roston and dialect coach Tyler Seiple. The production stage manager is Jessaica Shields; associate producer is James Bennett; and Stephen SachsSimon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce for the Fountain Theatre.

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 2014 Ovation Award for Best Season and the 2014 BEST Award for overall excellence from the Biller Foundation; the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in Center Theatre Group’s upcoming Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre; and the naming of seven Fountain productions in a row as “Critic’s Choice” in the Los Angeles Times. The Fountain’s most recent production, the world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, ran for five months and was named “L.A. hottest ticket” by the Los Angeles Times.

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Aerospace Engineer and theatre lover Ejike Ndefo joins Fountain Board of Directors

Ndefo CITIZEN opening night 2015

Ejike and Victoria Ndefo, Stephen Sachs, Opening Night ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’

The Fountain Theatre is pleased to welcome retired Aerospace Engineer Ejike Ndefo to its Board of Directors. Ejike and his wife, Victoria, are avid theatre lovers, and have been part of The Fountain Family for more than fifteen years.

“Victoria and I have been residents of Los Feliz for more than 30 years,” says Ndefo. “We love theatre and we fell in love with The Fountain Theatre the first time we saw a play there about 15 years ago.”

What was it about the Fountain that caught their eye and captured their hearts?

“We are continually impressed by the originality and quality of the plays at the Fountain, as well as the intimate environment,” he explains. “As such, The Fountain is a great place to see the plays of great writers.  We will be remiss if we do not mention the professionalism and friendliness of The Fountain staff. They have always been gracious.” 

Ejike NdefoEjike graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a doctorate in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.  While he was at the University of California, Berkeley, Ejike played a major role in the travelling theatre group raising money in support of the humanitarian effort in the Nigerian-Biafran war.  He worked in several Aerospace companies including Northrop Corporation, TRW, and The Aerospace Corporation on such programs as Space Defense Initiative, Space Shuttle, and design of large rockets for launch of spacecraft and satellites.  He retired as the Director of Fluid Mechanics Department from The Aerospace Corporation in August 2015 after forty one years.  For the past two years, Ejike has served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Normandie Church of Christ, Los Angeles.

“It’s deeply gratifying when a longtime Fountain supporter like Ejike chooses to assume a role of leadership by joining our Board of Directors,” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We share a love of the Fountain and a commitment to creating meaningful theatre for the city of Los Angeles. Ejike joins our Board at a pivotal time as we look forward and seek to broaden and enhance our artistic service to the community. ”  

A passion for theatre and baseball

Dodger_Stadium_Panoramaby Stephen Sachs

The red-hot Dodgers are the best team in baseball right now. They have a MLB leading record of 66 and 29, have won 11 in a row, and their current 30-4 run is now entering historic territory. They are the first National League team to achieve a run of this dominance since the 1936 Giants. This is a great year to be a Dodger fan. 

This is also a great season to be a theatre fan. In regional theaters across the country and on Broadway, thought-provoking and powerful new plays are being developed and produced to illuminate the urgency of our times. Right here in Los Angeles, theatre has never been better. 

My passion for both theatre and baseball were ignited at an early age and remain heated to this day.  I am dedicated to both as a lifetime commitment, a sacred calling. America’s Pastime and The Great Invalid both require a fierce devotion, unyielding faith, a resilience to overcome disappointment, and the joyful capacity to celebrate excellence. To quote ABC’s Wide World of Sports, theatre and baseball each contain “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”   

Granted, not every aspect of baseball and theatre are identical. In the theatre, only critics, pen and notepad in hand, keep score of the players as the action unfolds. Unlike baseball, a theatre audience does not stand en masse three-quarters into the play to sing, “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Yet, one can’t help but see similarities between baseball and professional theatre.

  • In both theatre and baseball, the crowd gathers together in a common place to engage in a live, shared dramatic experience.
  • Theatre and baseball can happen anywhere, indoors and outdoors, in settings large and small. On neighborhood streets, in city parks, and in grand municipal buildings.  
  • A baseball game and a stage play both have a beginning, middle and end escalating toward a final resolution in which the dramatic question “who will win?” is ultimately answered.
  • A stage play and a baseball game are driven by the same engine: conflict. Both have good guys and bad guys, heroes and enemies, humor, action, spectacle,  courageous deeds and foolish gaffes, turns of direction and a climax resulting in either a sad or happy ending.
  • Both theatre and baseball require teamwork and collaboration. We focus on the players in front of us but there is a huge staff of unseen professionals behind the scenes who make the whole experience possible.
  • Theatre and baseball require years of training and a tremendous amount of practice. Contrary though it may seem, on the field and on the stage, repetitive drilling frees the player so he can let go and perform spontaneously, alive in the moment.
  • A baseball team, like a cast of actors on stage, are both an ensemble who not only play well together but must also rely on the skill of lead players.
  • Theatre and baseball are romantic. We idolize our favorite stars on stage and on the field. We swap stories about our favorite memories, spin yarns, follow careers of favorite players, share legends, recall highlights and laugh (or agonize) over famous flops.
  • Baseball and theatre savor a rich and colorful history, a reverence for tradition, and eccentric superstitions.  
  • Stage plays and baseball games are made of moments. A great baseball game and a powerful play can each have the power to contain that one unforgettable moment — that one crystallized instant of perfect artistry, of joyous elation or agonizing heartbreak that sears itself into your soul forever. You remember it, that baseball play or that moment on stage,  for the rest of your life.

My family video of the seventh-inning stretch at Dodger Stadium. 

In baseball and theatre, we invest ourselves in the live dramatic event that is unfolding in front of us in real-time. We watch the struggle of other human beings engaged in dramatic conflict and care deeply about their outcome. Who will perish? Who survive?

As to survival, both theatre and baseball have been assailed as dying art forms for years. Both suffer from a decreasing appeal to young people, while viewership for both are getting older. Baseball games and dramatic plays are too slow and too long for this new generation raised on TV and video games. 

Even so, my stat-obsessed sport tells me this: Live attendance to Major League Baseball games each year outnumber both NFL and NBA games combined, nationwide.  Likewise, attendance for live theatre across the country is on the rise. These facts give me hope and tell me one thing. In this digital age, human beings still crave a fundamental need to assemble together in a shared public event that brings thought, drama, spectacle and enhances their lives.

Batter up. And “places for the top of Act One”.