Tag Archives: Tarell Alvin McCraney

Los Angeles shines as a theatre town

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The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood

by Stephen Sachs

Hollywood is heralded around the globe as the mesmerizing “movie capital of the world,” yet more plays are produced each year in Los Angeles than major motion pictures. In fact, Los Angeles has more live theaters and creates more theatre productions per year than any other city in the world. More than New York, Chicago or London. That’s right. Los Angeles. Surprised?

Los Angeles is on the rise. You can feel it. LA is ascending to rightfully take its place as a world city. It is already ranked as one of the world’s most economically powerful cities—a center of business, international trade, entertainment, culture, media, and technology. There are 841 museums and art galleries in the area, over 1,000 performance venues. Hollywood is flourishing, undergoing a multi-billion-dollar renaissance of new commercial, residential and cultural development that is transforming the fabled district. 

Theatre in Los Angeles has never been better. It is diverse, vibrant, first-rate—and everywhere. Stretched across an immense terrain of diverse neighborhoods over 469 square miles, you can experience theatre in Los Angeles in every possible setting. From tiny converted store fronts to festive outdoor stages in city parks to Off-Broadway-style intimate houses on trendy boulevards to grand and glittering show palaces—Los Angeles has it all. 

I’ve been a theatre maker in Los Angeles for more than 30 years. Like so many, I was first an actor, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I transitioned to directing plays in 1987, leaving acting behind and never looking back. While building a career as a stage director, I became intrigued by how theatre companies operated. The business side of making art fascinated me. One day, I volunteered to work temporarily in the office at Ensemble Studio Theatre on Oxford Street in Hollywood. Soon I took over as Theatre Manager. In 1990, I worked with Joan Stein and Suzie Dietz at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills, where we launched a 16-month run of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters starring a parade of famous actors, including Ben Gazarra, Gena Rowlands, Christopher Reeve, Whoopi Goldberg, Charlton Heston, Robert Wagner, Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt, and many more. That same year, I opened the Fountain Theatre with my colleague Deborah Lawlor and embarked on the most meaningful and rewarding journey of my artistic life.

The Fountain Theatre is a charming two-story Spanish-style building on Fountain Avenue in East Hollywood. Originally The Evergreen Stage, it had been a live theatre for more than 60 years. When Deborah and I first walked in and stood on its empty stage, we knew we had found our artistic home. There was something about the place, the cozy atmosphere, how the intimate seating warmly embraced the stage. It felt inviting and electric. We knew magic could happen there. 

The Fountain is now one of a bright constellation of intimate theatres shimmering throughout Los Angeles. This galaxy of small theatres, each singular in their programming, audience and artistic mission, is a construct utterly unique to Los Angeles. There is nothing like it anywhere in the country. LA’s Center Theatre Group, with its Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre, form a theatrical nucleus, yet the more than one hundred intimate theatres across the region swirl around it like spirited electrons, each carrying an electric charge that is fundamental for the survival of LA’s overall cultural organism. In Hollywood, Nederlander’s Pantages Theatre prove nightly that there is a vast audience for live performance. 

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Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles

I’ve seen the intimate theatre community in Los Angeles grow from a cluster of what was then called 99-seat “Equity Waiver” theaters in the 1980s to the vast network of hundreds of intimate theaters today. These theatres weave a rich artistic tapestry that is astounding in its range and variety, matching the cultural, racial and social diversity of this city. Los Angeles is now home to intimate theatres that serve audiences that are Black, Latino, Gay, Straight, Asian, Middle Eastern, LGBT, Deaf, Native American, and everything in between. The content on LA stages is equally wide-ranging. American classics, world premieres of new plays, Shakespeare, Chekhov, musicals, farce, adaptations, the avant garde, immersive pieces, plays staged in the round or in a black box, site specific works performed in empty warehouses, in cars or hotel rooms—an endless menu for every taste. 

hollywood-theatre-row-signLA’s intimate theatres have grown not only in number, they have increased in stature. Top-drawer actors from Broadway, TV and film are routinely seen on LA stages. And while Los Angeles remains an essential destination for acclaimed plays and musicals from New York, London and around the world, LA is now its own vibrant theatre center that creates and develops exciting new work. Much of the most satisfying and challenging new plays are being done in the intimate theaters. Actors long to act in these plays for the same reason we ache to produce them: for the sake of the art. LA’s network of smaller theatres provides a safe, fertile landscape where highly-skilled actors, directors and playwrights can bring new plays to life for audiences that are ever-growing, sophisticated and adventurous. More than 120 plays have transferred from LA’s intimate venues to regional theaters across the United Sates. Such world-class playwrights as Athol Fugard, Tarell McCraney and Robert Schenkkan have launched new plays at our modest home on Fountain Avenue that are now being enjoyed throughout the nation and around the world. 

Even with the staggering amount of high-quality activity on its numerous stages, Tinsel Town fights for the right to be called a “theatre town.” The Hollywood spotlight is blinding. The relationship between the film and television industry and the LA Theatre community is precarious. A forced marriage between two partners who share similar desires yet go about achieving them in vastly different ways and for very different reasons. LA Theatre still struggles to step out from under the shadow of The Industry and stand in its own rightful light. But its blaze is being seen and felt, locally and nationwide, more and more. 

As an artist and a citizen, it has never been a better time to live in Los Angeles. As a haven with invigorating potential and endless possibilities, LA is now peering forward and seeing its future. That vision, as a world city, looks bright. As Los Angeles shines, so does its theatre. And the radiance from our light will illuminate the nation and the world. 

This post originally appeared in Discover Hollywood magazine

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.

More Info/Get Tickets for Block Party

‘Luke Cage’ co-star Simone Missick asks you to support the Fountain Theatre

misty-knight-simone-missickFountain actress Simone Missick currently co-stars on the Netflix hit series Luke Cage. She has appeared on our Fountain stage in our acclaimed Los Angeles Premiere of Tarell McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water, and our award-winning stage adaptation of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine.

The Fountain Theatre is Simone’s theatre home in Los Angeles. Like any home, the Fountain needs care and upkeep and investment to maintain its value and longevity.

“I have been allowed to grow and change and I’ve been nurtured in ways I could only have dreamed of by my Fountain Family,” says Simone.

The Fountain Theatre is a dream worth supporting. A dream worth fighting for. Don’t you agree? Give now

How Can I Help Keep the Fountain Dream Alive? 

Fountain actresses are now conquering television and breaking barriers

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Simone Missick, Taraji P. Henson, and Tina Lifford

They are, first and foremost, talented actresses now starring in some of the most popular shows on television. They are strong women conquering an industry dominated by men. They are women of color leading a new wave of diversity now finally being demonstrated on TV screens. And they are all members of the Fountain Family, seen in acclaimed productions on our intimate Fountain stage   

Simone Missick is now taking TV by storm co-starring as Misty Knight on the new Netflix series Marvel’s Luke Cage. She plays the first black female superhero in the history of television. The new series is now being seen in 180 countries.  There is already talk of giving Simone her own series in a Misty Knight spinoff. 

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Simone Missick as Misty Knight in ‘Marvel’s Luke Cage’

Simone’s launch to TV stardom is the stuff of local LA theatre legend. She was catapulted from acting in a play at the intimate Fountain Theatre to co-starring in a new popular television series as an iconic Marvel superhero. It’s the kind of plucking from obscurity to stardom of which most actors dream. 

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Simone Missick in ‘Citizen: An American Lyric’ at the Fountain Theatre

Simone got the call to audition for the series while appearing on stage at the Fountain Theatre in our 2015 hit production of Citizen: An American Lyric. Shuttling back and forth between auditioning for the TV role and performing weekends at the Fountain, she knew it was a longshot. Suffering from a head cold, she flew to New York one final time to audition and test for the part. Sworn to secrecy by TV producers, Simone couldn’t share details with her Fountain cast about the role she was up for. But we knew it was big and important. We all waited. 

Then she got word.    

“I got a call from Jeph Loeb who was the head of Marvel. He kind of just said, ‘Prepare for your life to change,’” says Simone. “And what does that even mean for an actor who’s been working, doing theatre and short films in LA for 10 years? You can just never anticipate when that call is going to come, what it will really be. It was amazing.”

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Tina Lifford

Tina Lifford was also on stage at the Fountain with Simone in the same production of Citizen: An American Lyric. She now co-stars as Violet Bordelon, an aunt to the three estranged Bordelon siblings on OWN’s acclaimed drama Queen Sugar. The new series was  created, directed and executive produced by Ava DuVernay. Oprah Winfrey also serves as executive producer.  

Queen Sugar is groundbreaking. It is produced by a black-owned network and overseen by two black women—one who owns the network (Winfrey) and the other (DuVernay) as showrunner, head writer and director. All of the directors guiding every episode in season one have been women.  

“It’s exciting that we get to represent the excellence that is living in people of color,” says Tina. “The excellence that hasn’t necessarily had a platform before, which is why Ava is championing the whole inclusive movement. She is saying, there’s all of these stories and talents in every face of talent-making to tell those stories, and we’re going to show you who they are. That’s exciting.”

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Taraji P. Henson was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. She now stars as Cookie Lyon on the smash hit Fox series Empire, for which she won a Golden Globe Award and has twice been nominated for an Emmy. In 2016, Time magazine named Henson one of the 100 most influential people in the world on the annual Time 100 list.

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Taraji P. Henson as Cookie Lyon on ‘Empire’

Taraji appeared in our Fountain west coast premiere of The Darker Face of the Earth by Rita Dove. She has maintained her connection with the Fountain Family, seeing Fountain productions and visiting with our casts and companies after performances. 

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Taraji P. Henson and the cast of ‘The Ballad of Emmett Till’

The Los Angeles Times has dubbed Diarra Kilpatrick as “a force of nature”. She is not only a dynamic actress. She is a gifted writer and ambitious creator. Her American Koko digital series, originally produced for her YouTube channel, received the Best Web Series Award at the American Black Film Festival and was lauded as a “Web Series You Should Be Watching” by Essence Magazine. ABC’s streaming service ABCd has now acquired American Koko, with Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Viola Davis producing.

“Diarra is an exceptional talent in that she cannot be put in a category,” says Davis. “She has a unique voice that transcends her generation.”

The Race

Diarra Kilpatrick “In the Red and Brown Water”

Diarra starred in the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed and award-winning Los Angeles Premiere of Tarell McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water. Diarra played Oya, a lightning-fast runner, in the stunning and lyrical drama. Since that dazzling production, Diarra has been sprinting ever since.  She is now also developing The Climb for Amazon. She will write and star in the project.   

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Deidrie Henry on ‘Game of Silence’

The list of Fountain actresses goes on. Deidrie Henry has mesmerized audiences in such Fountain productions as Yellowman and Coming Home. She co-starred as Detective Liz Winters on the NBC TV series Game of Silence and is the national TV commercial character Annie for Popeyes.  Monnae Michaell (Citizen: An American Lyric) plays Nina on the new TV series The Good Place. Tonya Pinkins (And Her Hair Went With Her) is Ethel Peabody on the television show Gotham. Tinashe Kajese will be seen in the upcoming TV movie The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Fountain veterans Tracie Thoms, Karen Malina White, Juanita Jennings, Adenrele Ojo are seen often on TV. 

“I’m always thrilled to see one of our actors, any actor, male or female, succeed in the film and TV industry,” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “But to see these extraordinary women achieve these accomplishments and create change, knowing that they come from our Fountain Family, makes me even more delighted and proud.” 

2014: Another Unforgettable Year for the Fountain Theatre

Actors Jenny O'Hara and Tim Cummings after a performance of 'Broomstick' at the Fountain.

Actors Jenny O’Hara and Tim Cummings after a performance of ‘Broomstick’ at the Fountain.

3 Critic’s Choice Selections, Sold-Out Flamenco, London Opening, and Best Season Award Highlight Year

2014 was truly another unforgettable year for the Fountain Theatre.  It was a year of extraordinary growth and achievement.  

All three 2014 productions were honored as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times, our Forever Flamenco at the Ford gala was a sold-out success, and The Fountain was once again awarded the preeminent Ovation Award for Best Season in 2014. And the London production of Bakersfield Mist on the West End starring Kathleen Turner brought us international attention.

The year also brought the shadow of sadness with the loss of our longtime Subscriptions Director Diana Gibson. Her legacy lives on in the vivid memories she leaves behind, and in the Diana Gibson Subscriber Fund we created. 

Here are some of the highlights:

My Name is Asher Lev – Los Angeles Premiere. ‘Critic’s Choice’  Los Angeles Times. Extended sold out run. 

Forever Flamenco @ The Ford – Sold-out gala concert at the 1200-seat Ford Theatre.

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The Brothers Size – Los Angeles Premiere. ‘Critic’s Choice’ Los Angeles Times. Extended run. 

Playwright Tarell McCraney –  Discusses his play, The Brothers Size, at the Fountain Theatre.

Tarell McCraney and the company of The Brothers Size.

Tarell McCraney and the company of The Brothers Size.

Bakersfield Mist opens on the West End in London starring Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid.

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Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor outside The Duchess Theatre, London.

Gabby Lamm and Alice Kors – our two fabulous summer interns were terrific and helpful and launched our first Student Night at the Fountain.

Gabby Lamm and Alice Kors

Gabby Lamm and Alice Kors

Diana Gibson – The Fountain grieved the loss of our longtime Subscriptions Director, who passed away after a long illness.

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Diana Gibson

Fountain Theatre wins BEST Award from the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation.

BEST Award

Fountain Theatre wins the preeminent Ovation Award for BEST SEASON for overall excellence in 2014. 

Next year in 2015, we launch our 25th Anniversary Season. Join us as we continue on this remarkable journey together. 

Happy New Year

Fountain Family Spotlight: Ruth Tavlin Lives Her Dream at the Fountain Theatre

Ruth Tavlin

by Ruth Tavlin

When I was young, I dreamed of running away and joining a theatre company when I grew up. Now that I’ve “grown up,” I realized that I don’t have to run away. I can live that dream right here at the Fountain Theatre.

That realization came at the memorial service for Diana Gibson. I decided to step up and volunteer, to carry on Diana’s tradition and help build relationships and support for my favorite theatre, the Fountain!

For me, The Fountain Theatre is a unique and important place.

No other theatre in Los Angeles demonstrates the same commitment in its work to presenting socially conscious and relevant work that gives voice to groups of people who are not widely represented. The Fountain is accessible and responsive to the work of renowned playwrights like Athol Fugard. Where else can you see a production of The Blue Iris and then have the opportunity to talk with him after the show? Where else can you see the work of a new playwright like Tarell Alvin McCraney and meet him after the show?

I want more young people to experience the life of the theatre. Not only by coming to see plays, but also by learning about the process of creating a production. I support this theatre because it has a commitment to under-represented groups of people and reaches out to people of all ages and gives them the opportunity to see creative, relevant, dynamic, progressive productions.

I want to be part of a community with these values. Don’t you?

 

Fountain Theatre Wins 26 Awards from StageSceneLA For Excellence in 2013-14

The Fountain Theatre has gobbled up 26 Theater Awards from Stage SceneLA for our acclaimed 2013-14 productions of The Normal Heart, My Name is Asher Lev and The Brothers Size. StageSceneLA editor Steven Stanley announced the winners this week after seeing and reviewing 268 productions from September 1, 2013 through August 31, 2014. The overall awards list is long and there are multiple winners in many categories.  All of it demonstrating, as Steven Stanley affirms, that “theater in Los Angeles and its surrounding communities is alive and thriving and quite often simply as good as it gets. “

These 2013-14 Fountain productions received the following awards:

The Normal Heart 

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup in 'The Normal Heart'.

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup in ‘The Normal Heart’.

  • Production of the Year – The Normal Heart
  • Best Director, Drama – Simon Levy
  • Best Performance, Lead Actor – Tim Cummings
  • Best Performance, Lead Actor – Bill Brochtrup
  • Best Performance, Featured Actress – Lisa Pelikan
  • Best Performance by an Understudy – Ray Paolantonio
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Matt Gottlieb
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Fred Koehler
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Stephen O’Mahoney
  • Memorable Performance, Featured Actor – Dan Shaked & Jeff Witzke

My Name Is Asher Lev

Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis in 'My Name Is Asher Lev'.

Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja and Joel Polis in ‘My Name Is Asher Lev’.

  • Best Production, Drama – My Name is Asher Lev
  • Best Director, Drama – Stephen Sachs
  • Best Performance, Lead Actor – Jason Karasev
  • Best Performance, Featured Actor – Joel Polis
  • Best Performance, Featured Actress – Anna Khaja
  • Best Costume Design – Shon LeBlanc
  • Best Lighting Design – Ric Zimmerman 
  • Best Scenic Design – Jeff McLaughlin 

The Brothers Size

Gilbert Glenn brown  and Matthew Hancock (photo by Ed Krieger)

Gilbert Glenn Brown and Matthew Hancock in ‘The Brothers Size

  • Best Director – Shirley Jo Finney
  • Best Ensemble Cast, Drama
  • Best Choreography, Play – Ameenah Kaplan
  • Memorable Lighting Design – Pablo Santiago
  • Best Scenic Designer – Hana S. Kim

Multiple Productions: 

  • Sound Design/Composer of the Year – Peter Bayne, The Brothers Size, The Normal Heart
  • Best Props Design – Misty Carlisle – Asher Lev, Brothers Size, Normal Heart

Our thanks to Steven Stanley and StageSceneLa for this acknowledgement.  We appreciate and applaud his enthusiasm and support for theatre in Los Angeles.   

For the complete list of StageSceneLA Award winners click here.

Production photos by Ed Krieger