Tag Archives: The Normal Heart

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

Do you really think a life in the theatre means making a living? Think again.

Tony Kushner

Tony Kushner

by Stephen Sachs

Eight words. A statement declared in eight simple words jumped out at me in a feature story on playwright Tony Kushner in today’s New York Times. The eight words were stated by playwright and Kushner friend Larry Kramer, author of The Normal Heart, which we produced at the Fountain Theatre in 2015.  Commenting on Kushner’s shift from playwriting to screenwriting, Kramer says, “I wish he’d go back to writing plays.”

So, why doesn’t he?

Kushner answered that question himself in 2011 when he shocked many in the arts community by revealing in an interview in Time Out New York that not even the author of Angeles in America can make a living as a playwright.

“I make my living now as a screenwriter. Which I’m surprised and horrified to find myself saying, but I don’t think I can support myself as a playwright at this point. I don’t think anybody does.”

Kushner is right. American playwrights — not even one of his stature — do not earn the bulk of their living writing plays. Many teach. An ever-growing number write for film or cable television.  The tsunami of playwrights today surging into television is so large that it now has become a writer’s career model:  A playwright earns notoriety and success writing plays — or even one successful play, he/she “takes meetings” with Industry producers then quickly jumps to movies and/or television to make real money. The well-meaning intent being that a big-bucks TV salary will financially support the writer, allowing him/her to keep writing plays. What often happens? They write fewer plays.  Some never return to the stage.

“I don’t particularly want to do it,” Kushner said in 2011. “I think that it’s a mistake to do it. So, yes, I’m very worried about it. ” The last play by Kushner premiered in 2009.

The classic tale of playwrights writing for Hollywood is as old as celluloid itself. An avalanche is now underway. Playwrights are flocking to cable TV and streaming networks in record numbers. TV showrunners are aggressively recruiting writers from regional theaters like crazed baseball team owners scouting for hot rookie talent.  One major talent agency in Hollywood has opened a department specifically targeting playwrights for film and televsion. The roster of playwrights now writing for film and TV today is too long to list.  Is that such a bad thing?

Many playwrights I know, and have produced at the Fountain Theatre, also write for film and television. My pal Robert Schenkkan (Building the Wall) is writing a new project for Amazon. Tanya Saracho (El Nogalar) is now creator and showrunner of the Starz drama “Vida” and just signed a three-year deal with the network. Tarell Alvin McCraney (In the Red and Brown Water/Brothers Size) has signed to create, write, and executive produce a new hour-long television drama for the Oprah Winfrey Network. I’m confidant that all three will continue writing plays.

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Stephen Sachs, Shirley Jo Finney, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Fountain Theatre (2014)

I had my own Hollywood crossover by writing the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in my Ear for CBS, based on my play that premiered at the Fountain.  The sale of that one TV script paid me more than I would make running an 80-seat theatre for years.  I am currently writing a screenplay based on my comedy/drama Bakersfield Mist. Does this make me a traitor to my art form? I don’t think so. It makes me a man with a family and a mortgage.

Let’s be honest. There’s a reason why it’s called non-profit theatre. One enters the non-profit arts sector like one enters the priesthood — to serve a higher power. Even so, it would be nice to make a good living doing what you feel is important. To be frank, non-profit theatre-making is an inherently shitty business model. The economics of the art form stack the odds against those who actually make the art happen. So, why do we do it? Here, we cue the piano and launch into “What I Did for Love

Of course, it’s not only playwrights who give their hearts to the theatre at the expense of their wallets. Actors, directors and designers often work for love, and little money. The average member of Actors Equity Association, the professional stage union for actors and stage managers, made an annual salary in 2016 of only $7,700 per year. Like corporate America, it’s the folks at the top in this country’s major regional theaters who are earning large salaries. A few of the larger LORT companies have added playwrights to their theatre’s staff, but they are rare. The model of a permanent repertory company, where artists are paid a yearly salary, is a dying concept, a fossilized relic from an earlier age.

Today, the odds of making a living as a playwright are as remote and precarious as making a living as a poet. Our finest example of excelling at both is, of course, the greatest playwright/poet of them all. Shakespeare wrote multiple plays a year, dozens of sonnets, was a partner in the company, and a co-owner of the theatre building. He was also a ruthless businessman and wealthy grain merchant and property owner.  Unlike the character he created in King Lear, Shakespeare was no fool.

I have dedicated my career to the intimate Fountain Theatre and the non-profit arts community in Los Angeles. I knew twenty-eight years ago when I co-founded this theatre that I would never make a lot of money. I’m okay with that. Most days. I’d be lying if I claimed I haven’t envied men and women my age or younger in the entertainment industry making a huge amount of money more than me.

This is the life I have chosen. Two things keep me going. The impact our work has on others, and the example I am setting for my two sons. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with making money. I just want my two boys to know that their father dedicated his life working at something that he loved and knew was important, that he was committed to making the world a better place in the one way he knew how, by exploring and illuminating the human condition, not striving to make himself wealthy. Can one do both? Of course. I just haven’t yet figured out how to do that.

An artist’s life offers riches not found in a bank ledger. In that, I am the wealthiest man in the world.

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.

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.

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.

 

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 Wins Top Honor at 2014 Ovation Awards

Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs waves from the stage at the 2014  Ovation Awards.

Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs waves from the stage at the Ovation Awards.

It was a memorable evening for the Fountain Theatre Sunday night, November 2nd,  at the 2014 Ovation Awards hosted by LA Stage Alliance and held at the historic San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel. The Fountain was honored with the prestigious Best Season Award (“The Normal Heart”, “My Name is Asher Lev”, and “The Brothers Size”) for overall excellence and received the 2014 BEST Award from the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation recognizing exceptional theatre organizations that contribute to the cultural vibrancy of Los Angeles.

Often hailed as LA’s version of the Tony Awards, the peer-judged Ovation Awards recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production and design in the Greater Los Angeles area. The LA Times has referred to the Ovation Awards as the “highest-profile contest for local theatre.”

Stephen Sachs

Stephen Sachs

The Best Season Award is the preeminent Ovation honor. It recognizes a theatre company’s overall excellence throughout an entire season. Over the years, The Fountain has received more nominations for the Best Season category than any other theatre in Los Angeles. This year marks the 5th time that The Fountain Theatre has been nominated for Best Season since the category was created 6 years ago. The Fountain has now won the award twice.  

“Being honored with the Best Season Award is particularly meaningful to us because it doesn’t go to one person,” said Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “It celebrates the achievement of an entire season of artists. Therefore, the award goes to — and is shared by — all of the many actors, designers and production team members in our Fountain Family who made our 2013-14 Ovation Season such a success. ”  

Acclaimed productions in the Fountain 2014 Ovation Season included the exclusive revival of The Normal Heart, the Los Angeles Premiere of My Name is Asher Lev, and the Los Angeles Premiere of The Brothers Size.   

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Shirley Jo Finney, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Theo Perkins, Stephen Sachs, Matthew Hancock.

2014 BEST Award winners, with Biller Foundation Executive Director Sarah Lyding

2014 BEST Award winners, with Biller Foundation Executive Director Sarah Lyding

The Fountain was also honored Sunday night with the BEST Award presented and funded by The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation.  The BEST (Building Excellence in Small Theatre) Award recognizes exceptional theatre organizations that contribute to the cultural vitality of Los Angeles with long-term viability. The Fountain was honored for its ability to think creatively, the quality of its ideas and aspirations, and the organization’s ability to differentiate itself from other Los Angeles theatre companies.

Our sincere thanks to LA Stage Alliance and The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation for their ongoing dedicated support of intimate theatre in Los Angeles.

Enjoy These Photos from the 2014 Ovation Awards

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Fountain Theatre Earns 6 Ovation Award Nominations Including Best Season and Best Production of a Play

"My Name is Asher Lev"

Anna Khaja, Joel Polis and Jason Karasev in “My Name is Asher Lev”

The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that it has received six 2014 Ovation Award nominations, including in the prestigious categories of Best Season and Best Production of a Play. Fountain productions eligible for the 2013-14 Ovation voting season were our riveting revival of The Normal Heart, and our acclaimed Los Angeles premieres of  My Name is Asher Lev and The Brothers Size.  The Ovation Awards ceremony will take place on Sunday, November 2 at 7pm at the historic San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel.

Often hailed as LA’s version of the Tony Awards, the peer-judged Ovation Awards recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production and design in the Greater Los Angeles area.  For the 2013-2014 voting season, there are a grand total of 195 nominations for 78 productions, presented by 49 companies. There were 318 total productions registered from 137 companies. 

Gilbert Glenn Brown, Matthew Hancock, Theodore Perkins in 'The Brothers Size'.

Gilbert Glenn Brown, Matthew Hancock, Theodore Perkins in ‘The Brothers Size’.

The LA Times has referred to the Ovation Awards as the “highest-profile contest for local theatre.”

The Fountain Theatre has been honored with the following 2014 Ovation Award nominations:

  • Best Season The Normal Heart, My Name is Asher Lev, The Brothers Size
  • Best Production of a PlayMy Name is Asher Lev
  • Best Lead Actress in a Play – Anna Khaja, My Name is Asher Lev
  • Best Acting Ensemble for a Play – Jason Karasev, Anna Khaja, Joel Polis, My Name is Asher Lev
  • Best Acting Ensemble for a Play – Gilbert Glenn Brown, Matthew Hancock, Theodore Perkins,  The Brothers Size
  • Best Choreography – Ameenah Kaplan, The Brothers Size 

The preeminent Best Season category honors a company’s overall excellence throughout an entire season. Over the years, The Fountain has dominated the Best Season nominations category. This year now marks the 5th time that The Fountain Theatre has been nominated for Best Season since the category was created 6 years ago, winning the award in 2011. The Fountain has also won the Ovation Award for Best Production of a Play 5 times. 

Stephen O'Mahoney, Tim Cummings

Stephen O’Mahoney, Tim Cummings in ‘The Normal Heart’.

For a full list of all the nominees click here.

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

 

 

Fountain Theatre Wins 3 LA Drama Critics Circle Awards for ‘The Normal Heart’ Including Best Production

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Stephen Sachs, Verton Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Jeff Witzke, Ray Paolantonio and Simon Levy.

Last night was another memorable evening for the Fountain Theatre, as our acclaimed production of The Normal Heart won Best Production of a Revival of a Play at the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards. Actor Tim Cummings also took the honor of Best Lead Performance and designer Adam Flemming won Best Video Design.

The Award event was held at The Colony Theatre in Burbank and was attended by hundreds of esteemed members from the LA Theatre community.  Representing the Fountain Theatre were Co-Artistic Stephen Sachs, Producing Director Simon Levy, and publicist Lucy Pollak.  Cast members from The Normal Heart included Verton Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Ray Paolantonio and Jeff Witzke.

“Our production of The Normal Heart was more than just producing a play,” said Sachs. “It became this powerful, moving and deeply meaningful cathartic event for the many people who came to see it and for all of us who brought it to life on stage.”

The theme for the awards show was “Family”. It was certainly another wonderful night for the Fountain Family.

For a full list of all award winners: click here

Enjoy These Snapshots from the Awards Night 

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