Tag Archives: Terri Roberts

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

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

by Tim Cummings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The magic glows to life at ‘Baby Doll’ tech rehearsal

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Baby Doll tech rehearsal 

It happens so often at tech rehearsal. And yet, each time it happens, it feels like the first. That magic moment when the colored lights are turned on the first time, the sound is turned up, the costumes are put on, the props are placed in hand. Suddenly the weeks of hard work in the empty rehearsal room blossom to life as the design elements add their wonder. This happened, this week, in tech rehearsals for our upcoming West Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll. It opens July 29.

The cast worked through their cues under the watchful eyes of lighting designer Ken Booth, set designer Jeff McLaughlin, sound designer/composer Peter Bayne, costume designer Terri A. Lewis and props designer Terri Roberts, all under the guidance of production stage manager Emily Lehrer and director Simon Levy.

The meticulous process of technical rehearsals — when light & sound cues are painstakingly timed and drilled — can be tedious. But the end result can be marvelous. As was the case this week with Baby Doll. It’s going to be a beautiful production.  

Enjoy these snapshots from tech rehearsal. You’ll be dazzled when you see the finished production.  

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‘Baby Doll’ company gathers for thrilling first reading at Fountain Theatre

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Sometimes you have a first reading of a play with a new cast and it doesn’t go so well. The script may be solid and the cast experienced and professional. But the magic may not happen immediately.

This was not the case yesterday at our first read-through of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll with this fabulous cast. The magic happened. Immediately.

It was one of those wondrous occasions when actors, director, production team and play all came together in a thrilling first read-through of a colorful and dynamic script. As the actors read the script together for the first time, the play soared off the page. 

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The gathering began in extraordinary fashion. Actress Karen Kondazian, playing Aunt Rose Comfort, has starred in many Williams plays and knew the playwright personally. Before rehearsal began yesterday, Karen displayed a small black box and slowly opened it. She carefully unwrapped the contents and held it up in the palm of her hand like a scared relic: a pair of Tennessee Williams’ glasses. It was passed around the table. Each company member examined the glasses, some put them on and had the unique experience of “seeing through the eyes” of one of America’s great playwrights.    

Fountain Co-Artistic director Stephen Sachs welcomed the company and guided them through the paperwork at hand. Director Simon Levy spoke briefly about the play. Then the cast — Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky and George Roland — read the script. And the play immediately leapt to life.

Joined at the table were Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, associate producer James Bennett,  production stage manager Emily Lehrer, assistant stage manager Miranda Stewart, props designer Terri Roberts and publicist Lucy Pollak. 

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PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Opening Night Party for LA Premiere of ‘My Mañana Comes‬’

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Lawrence Stallings, Richard Azurdia, Jossara Jina, Pablo Castelblanco, Armando Molina, Emily Lehrer

The house was packed Saturday night for the opening night of our Los Angeles Premiere of Elizabeth Irwin’s fast, funny and powerful new play, My Mañana Comes‬

The thrilling performance was followed by a lively reception upstairs in our charming cafe. The delicious food was provided by Marouch, a local Lebanese and Armenian restaurant. Fountain Friends and audience members had a wonderful time meeting the cast and company.

Directed by Armando Molina,  My Mañana Comes‬  features Richard Azurdia, Pablo Castelblanco, Peter pasco and Lawrence Stallings. The play offers an inside look at four busboys in a fancy NY restaurant as they joke wildly with each other and struggle to better their lives and chase the American Dream.

Our Fountain LA Premiere is already earning rave reviews. “This production of My Mañana Comes is an exemplar of ensemble acting, ” hails Theatre Notes.”The players are extraordinary.”  

Enjoy these photos from the Opening Night Party! 

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My Mañana Comes‬ Now playing to June 26 (323) 663-1525 MORE/Get Tickets  

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Fountain Family and friends enjoy closing party of ‘Dream Catcher’

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Fun time in our upstairs cafe.

Even the most vivid dreams come to an end. The Dream Catcher company awoke Monday night from their 2-month reverie and enjoyed their final performance followed by a lively reception in our upstairs cafe. Another magical evening at the Fountain.

Dream Catcher enjoyed an extended two-month run that earned rave reviews. Actors Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell gave a thrilling performance Monday night. They were joined at a fabulous party in our upstairs cafe by director Cameron Watson, playwright Stephen Sachs, stage manager Emily Lehrer, Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor and producer Simon Levy, associate producer James Bennett and props designer Terri Roberts. Others attending were Jennifer Finch (“I and You”), Sabina Zuniga Varela (“El Nogalar”), Barbara Beckley (Colony Theatre), Michael Seel (Theatre@Boston Court), Dany Margolies, Sandy Baldonado, Kevork & Cecile Keshishian, and videographer Paolo Durazzo.     

This dream now ends. Another dream begins.

Enjoy these photos!

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PHOTOS: First rehearsal for world premiere of new play ‘Dream Catcher’

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All eyes on director Cameron Watson.

Actors, director and production team gathered yesterday afternoon for the first rehearsal of our world premiere production of Dream Catcher by Stephen Sachs. The new play about climate change, cultural change and the moral consequences of personal choice opens January 30.

Producer Simon Levy welcomed the company and director Cameron Watson shared his vision for the production. Playwright Stephen Sachs offered his insight on the script as actors Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell watched and listened.  Also present were Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, associate producer James Bennett, stage manager Emily Lehrer, designers Terri A. Lewis and Terri Roberts, assistant director Alana Dietze. A special guest at the table was Michael Van Duzer, writing a feature story for ThisStage magazine on the development of the new play.

After the remarks and a brief discussion, the script was opened and the new play was read aloud by the two talented actors. The room immediately filled with the passion and intensity of the play, sent soaring by the heat and fervor of the actors. It was clear, even at this first reading, that Dream Catcher was going to be an extraordinary ride for artists and audiences alike.

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Solar power confronts spirit power in the world premiere of ‘Dream Catcher’ by Stephen Sachs

Mojave station sunriseSolar power confronts spirit power in a new drama by Stephen Sachs about climate change, cultural change and the moral consequences of personal choice. Cameron Watson directs Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell in the world premiere of Dream Catcher, opening January 30 at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.

Roy is the youngest member on a team of high-level engineers brought in to launch the most important project of his career — the construction of a solar energy plant in the middle of the Mojave Desert — when the sudden discovery of long-buried Native American artifacts threatens to bring the billion-dollar operation to a halt. The disaster gets deeply personal when the whistle-blower turns out to be Opal, the fiery and unpredictable young Mojave Indian woman with whom Roy has been having an affair.

Inspired by a true event, Sachs wanted to address global warming, climate change and other large issues but weave them into something personal and intimate.

“I’ve always been interested in the battle between science and spirituality, and where they intersect,” he says. “How they are similar, each relying on a kind of faith to explain what we sometimes can’t see. And the paradox of moral certainty. Even when we’re campaigning for something good, sometimes we are forced to discover that we are not who we think we are.”

“This play is messy, complicated, volatile and exciting,” says Watson. “There’s no right or wrong, no bad guy – at least not for the obvious reasons. The muscularity of it got my attention right away. As soon as I read it, I knew I had to be involved, which doesn’t happen often.”

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Cameron Watson has received critical acclaim for directing Antaeus Theatre Company hit productions of Picnic (“Best Plays of 2015,” Time Out Los Angeles, and “Best of Los Angeles Theater 2015, Bitter Lemons) and Top Girls, which The Los Angeles Timesnamed one of the “Ten Best Stage Productions of 2014.” Other credits include the Los Angeles premiere of Cock (Rogue Machine Theatre); All My Sons (The Matrix Theatre Company); Trying, The Savannah Disputation, Grace and Glorie (The Colony Theatre); I Never Sang for My Father (The New American Theatre); I Capture the Castle, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey); and Rolling with Laughter in London’s West End. He wrote and directed the Miramax feature film Our Very Own, starring Allison Janney in an Independent Spirit Award-nominated performance. He created the new comedy series Break a Hip, starring Christina Pickles alongside Octavia Spencer, Peri Gilpin, Priscilla Barnes, Jim Rash and Allison Janney.

Elizabeth Frances finalElizabeth Frances has performed at various theaters including the Mark Taper Forum, La Jolla Playhouse, Los Angeles Theater Center, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Native Voices and the Kirk Douglas Theater. She has worked with artists such as Travis Preston, Phil Soltanoff (Mad Dog Theater), Jim Findlay (Wooster Group), Shirley Jo Finney and Chris Anthony, and performed in world premiere by writers Randy Reinholz, Marcus Gardley, Josefina Lopez, Carolyn Dunn and Melinda Lopez. Film/TV credits include Ghost Forest,Hunting (Cannes), Her Story (produced by Eve Ensler) and Drunktown’s Finest(Sundance) with executive producer Robert Redford. Elizabeth was featured as one of twelve actors in the ABC Networks’ Talent Showcase. She holds a BFA from CalArts.

Brian TichnellBrian Tichnell’s theater credits include Circle Jerk (REDCAT); Some Cars (Padua Playwrights); Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate (L.A. Theatre Works national tour);Peace In Our Time, The Curse of Oedipus and Macbeth (Antaeus Theatre Company); Camino Real (Theatre @ Boston Court); and Hamlet (Oxford Shakespeare Festival). On TV, he recurs as Eric on Silicon Valley and has also been seen in Castle, The Newsroom, Body of Proof and Happy Endings among others. Originally from South Mississippi, Brian attended the University of Mississippi and California Institute of the Arts.

Sachs LA Times feature AUG 2015 croppedStephen Sachs’ plays include Citizen: An American Lyric (adapted from the internationally acclaimed book by Claudia Rankine); Heart Song (Fountain Theatre, Florida Stage); Bakersfield Mist (2012 Elliot Norton Award, Best New Play; produced in London’s West End with Kathleen Turner and Ian McDiarmid, in regional theaters across the US, and translated into other languages and performed worldwide); Cyrano (LA Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Adaptation); Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, LA Drama Critics Circle award and LA Weekly award nomination for Best Adaptation, and recently published by Dramatist’s Play Service); Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court); Open Window(Pasadena Playhouse, Media Access Award for Excellence); Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Back Stage Garland award, Best Play); Sweet Nothing in My Ear(PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Media Access award, NEA grant award); Mother’s Day; The Golden Gate (Best Play, Drama-Logue); and The Baron in the Trees. He wrote the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in My Ear for Hallmark Hall of Fame which aired on CBS starring Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. Sachs co-founded The Fountain Theatre with Deborah Lawlor in 1990.

Consulting with the Fountain on Dream Catcher are Jean Bruce Scott, producing executive director and co-creator of Native Voices at the Autry, and her staff. Set design is by Jeffrey McLaughlin; lighting design is by Luke Moyer; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Terry A. Lewis; props are by Terri Roberts; production stage manager is Emily Lehrer; associate producer is James Bennett; andSimon 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 just-closed West Coast premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, named to Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty’s “Best Theater of 2015” list; and the last seven Fountain productions consecutively highlighted as “Critic’s Choice” in the Los Angeles Times.

Dream Catcher opens January 30 and runs to March 21.

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