Tag Archives: Trump

From Schenkkan to Shakespeare, the same urgent warning

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Victoria Platt and Bo Foxworth in ‘Building the Wall’

By Stephen Sachs

One play was written more than 400 years ago, the other last October. Both written by playwrights worried about the future of their countries. One author took months to pen his work, the other took one week.  One writer has been dead 400 years, one is very much alive, chronicling the current political crisis of his time with a dire new play now playing on our Fountain stage. Both authors and their plays have been in the news in recent weeks, igniting a firestorm of national conversation on the role of theatre to express political outrage, and its fundamental right and responsibility to do so. The Fountain Theatre is a voice in that debate. 

As many know, The Public Theater’s production this month in New York of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar drew fire from Right-Wing Conservatives for its depiction of the ruler as a petulant Trump-like politician with blondish hair and a sullen Slavic wife.  Outrage from Conservatives targeted the play’s depiction of Caesar’s assassination, missing the larger meaning of the play, as if director Oskar Eustis was advocating the killing of the current president. Delta Airlines and Bank of America withdrew their corporate sponsorship. Right-Wing groups hired demonstrators to picket the venue and harass theatergoers. Protesters heckled the live performances and wildly stormed the stage to stop the play mid-show. The demonstrators’ feeble attempts may have halted a performance momentarily but, in each instance, the show went on. If anything, it drew national focus to the very thing it schemed to suppress. Art cannot be stopped.

Most discouraging to me, the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency that hails itself as providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation, distanced itself from the production by releasing a statement declaring that NEA funds were not used to support this staging of Julius Caesar. An ironic stance for a federal arts agency whose very existence Trump has vowed to destroy.

Julius CaesarBy William Shakespeare Directed by Oskar Eustis Featuring Tina Benko (Calpurnia); Teagle F. Bougere (Casca); Yusef Bulos (Cinna the Poet); Eisa Davis (Decius Brutus); Robert Gilbert (Octavius); Gregg Henry (Caesar); Edward James Hyland (Lep

‘Julius Caesar’ at The Public Theater, NY

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the Fountain Theatre has been running our sold-out world premiere of Robert Schenkkan’s new play, Building the Wall. It is a riveting drama set in the near future exposing the vulnerability of one man caught up in the horrific unraveling of Trump’s anti-immigration policies.  Robert and I knew the play would generate some interest from the press. Neither of us anticipated the avalanche that has ensued. We’ve been bombarded by interview requests from everywhere. The play and the Fountain production were featured in national news outlets across the country, like the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine. Plus international coverage in the UK and France. “Theatre in the Age of Trump” is now suddenly a hot topic.

untitledThe Public Theater’s production of Julius Caesar and the Fountain Theatre’s production of Building the Wall coincided this month.  Newspapers on both coasts featured stories on both productions, with Oskar Eustis and Robert Schenkkan speaking out boldly for not only the right, but the necessity of freedom of speech and unrestricted artistic expression in this country.  The subject of ‘The Politics of Theater’ became a significant Arts cover feature in last Sunday’s Los Angeles Times.     

The Right-Wing protesters who stormed the outdoor Delacorte Theatre in Central Park no doubt never read Julius Caesar and certainly knew little about it. They focused on the killing of the king, unaware of the greater warning the tale foretells: Beware when you get what you want. A tyrant in power mandated to save the republic can lead to the destruction of the very republic he vows to protect. Shakespeare demands us to recognize that more than a ruler is assassinated in this tragedy. It is democracy itself that is murdered.

Julius Caesar and Breaking the Wall expose the same fatal wound within ourselves. Our susceptibility to become what we hate. Rick’s slow and seamless transformation in Building the Wall, from well-meaning Trump follower to death camp superintendent is so nightmarish and appalling because it seems somehow plausible. This is how Schenkkan and Shakespeare caution us. This dark truth is perfectly crystalized by Shakespeare when Cassius warns, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” It is not fate, but weakness of character that forces a person to act against his will.

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Playwright Robert Schenkkan in rehearsal, Fountain Theatre

“The danger is always giving over your moral calculus to the state,” Robert Schenkkan has said. Fighting a tyrant does not mean imitating him. Julius Caesar no more advocates the killing of a king than Building the Wall promotes the mass detention and extermination of immigrants. Neither play is about genocide or the murder of a tyrant. Each is about the killing of social and political order, played out in the souls of specific human beings. Building the Wall is a razor-sharp two-character play that takes place in one room. Two people in extreme close up.  

Shakespeare based his play Julius Caesar (some say he stole entire sections of it) from Plutarch’s biography of the ruler. Of his examination Plutarch said, “It is not histories I am writing, but lives.”

Plays, too, are about lives, not ideas. Good plays, plays that matter and live forever, have compelling themes and thought-provoking viewpoints and concepts but they are told through the dramatization of human lives. The power of Building the Wall lies in how it puts a human face on the inhuman. It reveals the dichotomy of opposites alive in one man: the wish to do what is right versus the inability to see, and speak out against, what is wrong.   

For all of us at the Fountain Theatre, Building the Wall is more than a play. It is a defining moment, one of many that help set our compass as a company and as artists. Who are we? Why do we do what we do? What is our service, our responsibility, to the community, to our nation?   

This administration fears artists for the same reason it has banned TV cameras from live press briefings. It is terrified that the American people will see the truth. Our role as theatre artists, like that of a free press, is to be truth-tellers.  And to fight for the freedom to speak it, through art.

I am so proud that the Fountain Theatre took the stand of leadership in launching Robert’s new work, and that it continues to ignite this firestorm of conversation, artistic soul-searching and journalistic examination.  That our world premiere production is not only still running after four sold out months but has been extended through August is a testament to its urgent necessity and the overwhelming will expressed by our audiences to engage. 

When art and politics collide like this on a local and national level, theaters like ours, and the art we create, become indispensable not only to our city, but our nation. 

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

After 3rd sold-out month, ‘Building the Wall’ extends again to August 27 at Fountain Theatre

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Judith Moreland and Bo Foxworth in ‘Building the Wall’ at Fountain Theatre

Now in its 3rd sold-out month, The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed world premiere of the powerful new play Building the Wall has been extended to August 27th.

In the newest play by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan (The Kentucky Cycle, All the Way, Hacksaw Ridge), the Trump administration has carried out his campaign promise to round up and detain millions of immigrants. As a writer interviews the former supervisor of a private prison, it becomes clear how federal policy has escalated to a terrifying, seemingly inconceivable, yet inevitable conclusion.

Directed by Michael Michetti, the original cast features Judith Moreland as Gloria, and Bo Foxworth as Rick. Victoria Platt will assume the role of Gloria starting June 24th.

The Fountain Theatre’s world premiere, the first in a series of productions taking place across the U.S. as part of a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere, has received national and international attention from TIME magazine,  The New York Times, Washington Post, BBC News Hour, Radio Canada, Agence France-Presse, Breitbart News and more. The Los Angeles Times calls it “L.A.’s Hottest Ticket!”

A REVOLUTIONARY NEW PLAY”— TIME magazine

L.A.’S HOTTEST TICKET… terrifyingly plausible… should be seen and shuddered over, if only to heighten our collective vigilance.” — Los Angeles Times

PACKS PUNCH AFTER PUNCH”—Daily News

MESMERIZING… logically illustrates, step by step, how fascism can gradually take root among people who abhor it.” —The Hollywood Reporter

COMPELLING… Don’t miss this play” — KCRW

RIVETING… an urgently important call to arms” — Arts In LA

A TOUR DE FORCE… riveting, harrowing and illuminating” — Broadway World

ONE HELL OF A SCARY PLAY… a necessary wake-up call to action.” — EDGE

GRIPPING… timely and relevant” — LA Splash

SEE IT WHILE YOU CAN” — People’s World

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Post-show conversations: “I have a passion to inspire change through theatre”

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Q&A discussion with playwright Robert Schenkkan

Nora King is a California girl who doesn’t surf. She danced in school productions of The Nutcracker but admits she was  “an unbalanced and quite chatty ballerina.” She earned a BFA in Acting from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) then created a non-profit theatre troupe called Acting for Others,  to raise support and awareness for charities through performance.  These days, she now finds herself at the Fountain Theatre as Production Outreach Coordinator for Building the Wall, overseeing the ongoing post-show conversation series Breaking It Down.  

The program Breaking It Down, she says, embodies her dual commitment to theatre and social action. “I have always had a passion to inspire change through theater.”   

Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs agrees. “When the Fountain Theatre made the bold move to reschedule our 2017 season so we could quickly produce the world premiere of this controversial new play Building the Wall, we were sure of one thing. Patrons seeing it will want to talk about it.”

The post-show conversation series Breaking It Down was created to offer an ongoing platform for the dialogue to continue with audiences on a wide variety of topics. The first discussion featured playwright Robert Schenkkan.

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As Production Outreach Coordinator, it was Nora’s job to reach out to a varied list of organizations and schedule dynamic leaders willing to participate in conversations with audience members following performances of Building the Wall. Topics range from immigration to prison systems to women’s rights to stand-up comedy.  

To learn more about the discussion series and the young woman who oversees it, we subjected Nora to her own Q&A.

 How did you get this job at the Fountain?

Funny story. I saw an opening for a position in The Fountain’s cafe. I sent in my resume. And a couple days later I got a call from Stephen Sachs about another position that may be a better fit. And it is a much better fit. My cooking skills are nonexistent. 

What is Breaking It Down? How would you describe it? 

Breaking it Down is a conversation series following performances of Building the Wall. These will be discussions with community leaders, non-profit organizers, socially active performers, etc.

 

Nora King

Nora King

What do you hope to achieve with these post-show conversations?

The goal of Breaking it Down is to activate and inspire the audience. A big theme in Building the Wall is the power and responsibility of the individual. At this point in our country’s history, complacency is extremely dangerous. I want to empower the audience, leaving the theatre ready to influence change.

Has it been hard getting experts to agree to participate in the discussions? Or easier that you thought?

A lot easier than I thought. I was surprised with the eagerness in which people wanted to be involved. Which is very exciting! This also reassures me that there are influential people activated and ready to combat the inhumane policies our government keeps churning out.

Which conversations are you most looking forward to?

After researching each individual and their backgrounds, I am honestly very excited for each conversation. I think they will offer so many different perspectives as well as ways to help. So, all of them!

What role can theatre play in triggering social action?

Theatre has always been a reflection of society. Shakespeare’s histories are basically the People magazine of the time. To say theatre is merely for entertainment, is an ignorant concept. And to say the arts is unnecessary for a nation, is stupid. Sorry to be so blunt. However, the reason I dedicate my life to this art form is because of its influence on society. Theater supplies ethos. We are humans. We need to connect. We need to feel. I believe theatre can supply an up close look at stories you wouldn’t experience otherwise even though, in reality, they might be happening right next to you.

What has your experience been like at the Fountain?

Amazing! Something that drew me to the Fountain Theatre is its commitment to socially provocative work. There is certainly a sense of working towards a shared goal. Everyone is passionate and excited to be there, which is necessary for a theatre to succeed. I feel very honored to be joining The Fountain Family. Thank you Robert and Stephen for bringing this play to life so quickly. I think it is essential for people to see this immediately.   

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

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Judith Moreland and James Macdonald

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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