by Terri Roberts
Friday, March 13th, was a very strange day.
I run the Fountain Theatre’s charming upstairs café. Normally, Fridays at the Fountain would be the start of a five-show weekend through Monday night. Six, if we had a Sunday evening Flamenco show as well. There would be a palpable energy in the air.
But on Friday, March 13th, LA’s growing COVID crisis had become critical. The public portions of the theatre – the stage and the café – had been shuttered. The offices were being closed as well.
I should have been working on Friday, March 13th. By 4pm, Pandora would have been rocking one of my favorite show tune stations, and I’d have been singing along with Wicked and A Chorus Line and Into the Woods behind the closed café door as I got the coffee going, bagged chips and cookies for sale, and chatted with local baker Tracy Green when she delivered her weekly order of scrumptious organic mini muffins. I would have caught up with staff when they wandered in for coffee or a snack. I would have arranged fresh flowers on the café tables. Watered the plants out on the deck. Set out food items, made sure the fridge was stocked, and ensured there was plenty of wine on the back counter.
By 6:30pm, actors would have been dropping by to say hello, and get a pre-show caffeine fix as they ate their dinner. If patrons had arrived early, I would have invited them to have a seat and get comfortable while I finished setting up. We would have talked about the show they had come to see and where they had traveled from to see it. Long distance drives from Orange County, Santa Barbara, and Long Beach are not uncommon (and on a Friday night, no less!) Patrons of the Fountain are extremely loyal, and LA’s notorious Friday night traffic has never stopped any of them from persevering to see a great show.
I’d have set out fresh creamer for coffee by 6:45pm and cut fresh lemon wedges for tea. I’d have changed the music to something more appropriate for the show, and turned on the video monitor to run the scroller of past Fountain Theatre productions. I’d have clicked on the twinkle lights draped around the café and the deck, and lit the votive candles that add such warmth and invitation to the space. The stage would have been set. Lights and sound would have been ready. I would have opened the door to let the audience in.
It would have been another Friday night at the Fountain Theatre café. Engaging with patrons. Stepping out from behind the bar to hug a friend who had come to see the show. Getting buzzed off the buzz in the room. And answering a barrage of questions about past productions:
- What was that wonderful play about the painting? Either Bakersfield Mist or My Name is Asher Lev. Both featured a painting and had storylines about art.
- What was the show about the Latino restaurant workers? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My Mañana Comes. Yes, a lot of people had that reaction.
- What was the one about the border wall and the guy in prison? Building the Wall.
- Do you remember the show about the Black girl who was a runner? Sure! It was In the Red and Brown Water, by Tarrell Alvin McCraney. It was the first play in his Brother/Sister trilogy. We also did the second one in that series, The Brothers Size.
Theatre. History. Story-telling. Energy. Friends. Connecting the dots. And, of course, lots of coffee. These were my Friday nights at the Fountain. Until Friday, March 13th. When everything changed.
I have happily worked at the Fountain for over a decade. I’ve been part of dozens of shows in a variety of capacities: production/assistant stage manager, props designer, casting associate, costume maintenance and more. For the past two years I have also been the manager of the charming Fountain Theatre café. I must say, I absolutely love it.
I run the café as I run a show, and I am nourished by it in the process. I am fed by the support of our devoted patrons, by sharing stories of past productions, by greeting first time visitors who inevitably want to know how long we’ve been around, what kinds of shows we do, and, ultimately, how they can become a member. And then there is the question I hear all the time, from guests old and new: will the café ever be open outside of show times? (Answer: it is a long-distance dream.) I feel gratitude every time I’m asked that, because it means they’re comfortable in this charming, funky space. They tell me how much they love the rainbow tables and walls, the gallery of production photographs, the mismatched collection of couches and chairs, the open deck with the hummingbird feeder and the little garden and the view to downtown LA. They want to hang out all day long. They feel a sense of peace, of connection in the space.
Kitchens are often referred to as the heart of a home, and the café is the gathering place of the Fountain Theatre. The room where we all come together to share meals, to talk, to take meetings and to rest. The stage downstairs is the soul of the Fountain. But the café, I believe, is its ever-beating, ever-welcoming, wide-open heart.
So for now, while this pandemic reigns, my Friday nights are different. It’s been nearly four months since I didn’t work that Friday night in March – and I feel it. I miss the energy, the shows, the patrons, the actors, the laughter and the hugs, the fellowship and the connection. But in time, we will tell our stories again. In time, the theatre will open up again. In time, we will gather in the café again. That charming rainbowed place of nourishment and peace and of welcoming home. And in time, we’ll re-connect to each other, again.