Category Archives: Acting

With Samuel French Bookshop’s fatal end, the tragic flaw is our own

Samuel French Bookshop LA

by Stephen Sachs

If our beloved Samuel French bookstore were a play, its shocking violent demise this week makes the ending a tragedy. A tragic drama not wrought by a fatal flaw of the store’s own making. The tragic flaw exposed here is our own. The fate of Samuel French bookstore reveals a deeply disturbing character defect of our city, our country and our culture.

According to police, the store was broken into and seriously vandalized on Monday night, March 4th following a confrontation with several unidentified male customers who tried to intimidate one of the store employees. The police have closed the store pending their investigation and to protect the staff’s safety. The shop will not reopen. Ever.

Samuel French bookstore had already announced it was closing at the end of this month. Yet another casualty of e-commerce, book sales at the store have been steadily declining. Over 80% of Samuel French’s retail sales are now made online. Still, the sudden announcement of the store’s imminent closure caught us all by surprise and shook our LA theatre community to its core. News of Monday night’s vandalism drives a dagger into our heart. The loss of Samuel French bookshop is a death in the family.

For decades, as a once-upon-a-time actor and now a director/playwright and overseer of a theatre company, each time I walked into the bookstore on Sunset Blvd I breathed a deep sigh of reverence and gratitude, like stepping into a sanctuary. I experienced a spiritual and physical healing when I walked into Samuel French bookstore. The smell of its books was aromatherapy. The brick walls, the catacomb of shelves, the stacks of books, large and small, piled in corners like paper pillars. One enters Samuel French bookstore to be lost and found. To lose oneself reading a script on a calm afternoon, to find oneself as an artist through what one found in its pages. The vandalism of Samuel French bookshop, to me, is a desecration of a sacred place.     

The Studio City bookshop on Ventura Boulevard closed in 2012. Now, our beloved store on Sunset Boulevard is gone forever. Closed early. Due to violence.

We have no one to blame but ourselves.

Like the art form it celebrated, Samuel French bookstore engaged in a daily battle for its own survival against online technology.  Why leave your home when you can download a book? A bookstore is much like a theatre. A live experience. Physically walking into a book store, interconnecting with fellow human beings, holding an actual book in your hand, turning its pages – these are visceral sensations no e-book can duplicate. A book store and a local theatre create community. A place to meet, to gather, to interact. Both a theatre and a book store are places of worship, both serving an art form greater than themselves.

In my opinion, the Samuel French bookstore didn’t just die in the war against online retailing, we killed it. We made our choice. Eight out of ten plays are now bought online. We choose digital over paper. This is the Amazon-era. We click-shop. Our goods are now delivered to our door. We barely need to get up off the couch. The fault, dear consumer, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.       

Once again, Los Angeles has proved we are not New York. Last October, Drama Book Shop, the legendary 100-year old independent bookstore in Manhattan that has one of the largest selections of plays in the country, announced it was closing. The rent was too high. It didn’t take long for the city and its artists to leap into action. By January, it was announced that Lin-Manuel Miranda and three of his “Hamilton” collaborators purchased the Drama Book Shop. The quartet is currently working with the City of New York to find an affordable space for the store.

“The store is a gem and a cultural institution in New York, and we want to make sure it’s saved,” said Julie Menin, the mayor’s media and entertainment commissioner.

Where is the public statement from the mayor’s office in Los Angeles advocating to save or relocate Samuel French bookshop? Aye, there’s the rub. In Los Angeles, there is no Lin-Manuel Miranda.

We do have Nicki Monet. A platoon of local theatre artists led by actress/producer Nicki Monet launched a petition campaign to protest the store’s closing. The petition collected more than 7,000 signatures. Now violence has struck. Who knows what now will happen? Music conglomerate Concord Music, which purchased the store, said it would be willing to support a new L.A. store “with favorable pricing and payment terms.” We shall see.

In the bookshop’s final hours, Monday night’s vandalism exposes perhaps the most disturbing truth of all. An unsettling truth about ourselves and the temperature of today. The boiling social and political bile of this nation, fanning the flames of hatred and racism and division, ignited on Sunset Boulevard Monday night. Abuse and intimidation in the bookshop by day led to violence and physical destruction in the darkness of night. A depressing reminder of who we are as a people and where we are plummeting as a nation. This is who we have become. Of course, the defacing of a theatre book store in Los Angeles pales when compared to the uncountable acts of fatal violence and hatred executed every day nationwide. Yet Monday night’s act hurts me deeply because it is a symptom of a larger hurt, a greater ill in our country. Shakespeare warned us not to drink the Kool-Aid of anger and hatred. As he warns in Measure for Measure, “Our natures do pursue a thirsty evil; and when we drink, we die.”

In any tragic story, anagnorisis is the moment when the main character discovers his/her true nature, recognizes the truth about his or her true self. I am willing to stay for the Third Act of this play, if there is one. Hopefully, this dramatic story ends with a cathartic spiritual renewal of resurrection.

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

‘Arrival & Departure’ wins 4 Broadway World Los Angeles Awards including Best Play

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Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur in “Arrival & Departure”

Broadway World announced that the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed world premiere of Arrival & Departure, written and directed by Stephen Sachs, earned four Broadway World Los Angeles Awards, including Best Play in 2018.

Other Broadway World Los Angeles Awards for Arrival & Departure went to Troy Kotsur for Leading Actor in a Play, Deanne Bray for Leading Actress in a Play, and Donny Jackson, Lighting Design.

Nominations were reader-submitted and voted by local theatergoers in Los Angeles.  Regional productions, touring shows, and more were all included in the awards, honoring productions which opened between October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2018.

This year the BroadwayWorld Regional Awards included over 100 cities across America, Canada, Central and South America, Europe, and Asia.

VIDEO: Take a look at these 16 actresses from 4 LA theatre companies set to read ‘Natural Shocks’

Natural Shocks is a darkly hilarious tour-de-force written by Lauren Gunderson, the most-produced playwright in America. A woman is forced into her basement when she finds herself in the path of a tornado. Trapped there, she spills over into confession, regret, long-held secrets, and giddy new love. But as the storm approaches, she becomes less and less sure where safety lies — and how best to defy the danger that awaits.

The Fountain Theatre is proud to partner with the Echo Theatre Company, Rogue Machine Theatre, and Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble to bring their unique artistic visions, backgrounds, and skills to this event of theatre activism against gun violence. FEMEST is the Fountain Theatre’s play reading series of new plays by/about women.

Jan 12 – Feb 3, 2019 (323) 663-1525 www.fountaintheatre.com

NOW CASTING: Award-winning West Coast Premiere ‘Hype Man’ by Idris Goodwin at Fountain Theatre

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The Fountain Theatre is now casting for its West Coast Premiere of the award-winning new hip hop play, HYPE MAN by Idris Goodwin. The director is Deena Selenow

Audition Date(s): 01/11/2019 – 01/12/2019

Rehearsal Date(s): 01/21/2019 – 02/19/2019

Preview Date(s): 02/20/2019 – 02/22/2019

Opening Date(s): 02/23/2019

Closing Date(s): 04/14/2019

SPECIAL NOTE:

The role of VERB has already been cast.

Roles:

[PINNACLE]

Male, 30-35, Caucasian. The Rapper. A fierce and fiery white dude who grew up among African-Americans but remains an outsider and separates him from Verb. His swaggering confidence hides his confusion and inner conflict. Because has a cop in his family, he mourns the city’s recent police shooting but thinks the group should stay the course.

[PEEP ONE]

Female, 25-30, mixed race, a “woman of color” upon initial glance, however her specific ancestry is less obvious. The Beat-Maker. The crew’s dynamic and spirited newcomer who crafts the beats and produces their tracks. She yearns for artistic recognition, struggling to get heard musically in this testosterone-fueled world. Peep finds herself caught between competing loyalties as Pinnacle’s and Verb’s previously unspoken views on race threaten to destroy not just their shot at success but also their friendship.

STORYLINE:

A diverse hip-hop trio is on the verge of making it big on national TV when a police shooting of a Black teen shakes the band to its core, forcing them to confront questions of race, gender, privilege and when to use their art as an act of social protest. When the Hype Man takes matters into his own hands, the ensuing beef exposes the long-buried rifts of race and privilege that divide them. Will it tear them apart or can they find a way to still breathe together?

Rate of Pay / Contract: AEA 99-Seat Agreement

Email headshot/resume to: casting@fountaintheatre.com

Fountain Theatre wins 5 Ticketholder Awards including Best Production of a Play in 2018

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Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur, “Arrival & Departure.”

Two acclaimed Fountain Theatre premieres — Arrival & Departure and Cost of Living — have been named Best Production of a Play in 2018 by veteran LA theatre critic Travis Michael Holder on TicketHoldersLA.com.  Now in its 27th year, Travis’ Ticketholder Awards celebrate the 100+ Los Angeles theatre productions reviewed by Holder in 2018 in large houses and intimate.

Our Deaf/hearing world premiere of Arrival & Departure, written and directed by Stephen Sachs, won Best Production, Best Adaptation (Sachs) and a Special Achievement Award to movement director, Gary Franco. 

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Katy Sullivan and Felix Solis, “Cost of Living.”

Cost of Living by Martyna Majok was also named Best Production, and Tobias Forrest was awarded Best Supporting Actor. 

The following were also acknowledged as a runner-up:

Arrival & Departure

  • Runner-Up, Best Actor – Troy Kotsur
  • Runner-Up, Best Actress – Deanne Bray
  • Runner-Up, Best Supporting Actor – Shon Fuller
  • Runner-Up, Best Supporting Actress – Jessica Jade Andres
  • Runner-Up, Best Supporting Actress – Stasha Surdyke
  • Runner-Up, New Discovery 2018 – Aurelia Myers
  • Runner-Up, Best Direction – Stephen Sachs
  • Runner-Up, Best Set Design – Matthew G. Hill
  • Runner-Up, Best Sound Design – Peter Bayne
  • Runner-Up, Best CGI/Video Design – Nicholas E. Santiago

Cost of Living

  • Runner-Up, Best Actress – Xochitl Romero
  • Runner-Up, Best Actress – Katy Sullivan
  • Runner-Up, Best Playwright – Martyna Majok

Full list of Ticketholder Award winners

‘Arrival & Departure’ renewed our love for one another

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Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur in “Arrival & Departure”.

by Deanne Bray

Arrival & Departure was quite a journey for Troy and I, both as artists and as husband and wife. It was a journey that was filled with surprises, both personal and professional.

As actors, who happen to be husband and wife, Troy and I dug deep, discovering what it would be like to fall in love all over again. And as Emily and Sam fell in love in the play, Troy and I fell in love all over again. Through the rehearsal process, and through Stephen Sachs’ direction, we found meaningful ways to keep our feelings fresh and real. As we developed our characters, Emily and Sam, we discovered ways to grow their hearts, allowing them to be truly visible to one another. As the weeks went by during the production, our work continued to grow. There were new discoveries —large and small — and we treasured them all. One of my favorite moments was when Emily saw Sam holding back tears as they said their last goodbyes in the final scene. As they looked into each other’s eyes, Sam’s strength —with one teardrop rolling down his cheek — was lovely and heartbreaking for me to watch. It worked for the scene in such a powerful and magical way; making it harder for me, as Emily to let go of Sam, her soul mate.

For years, I have admired Troy’s work on stage and television. We have worked together before on stage, screen and TV, but never opposite one another as a leading man and woman. With Arrival and Departure, Troy and I had the chance to really explore our craft together as actors.

As husband and wife, Arrival & Departure renewed our love for one another. We found a new and powerful spark that shifted our perspectives, and made us even more grateful to have each other. We learned anew how to bring out the best in each other; and were reminded to always pay attention to each other, despite the daily struggles of life.

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In rehearsal for “Arrival & Departure.”

Arrival & Departure was a unique production in the way theatre, film, and technology were utilized to tell this story about two different communities —Deaf and Hearing — in a thoroughly contemporary and accessible way. This story reminded us to take a step back and celebrate what we have — (or if necessary to be brave enough to make a change).

Another memory that stands out. My daughter’s friend from school came to see the play with her parents on Kyra’s birthday (with Kyra performing). Troy noticed the father smoking in the parking lot while his family was getting the tickets. Troy read his body language as a restless man who probably did not want to be there and half-heartedly followed his family into the theatre. I learned later from the mother, that after the show, the father was speechless and talked nonstop about Arrival & Departure on the way home. Seeing how Arrival & Departure affected her husband was very meaningful for her. This kind of art is unique and so imperative as it gives people insight into their own lives.

Troy and I were blessed to be part of Arrival & Departure. The different characters and storylines touched everyone who saw it. We hope that Arrival & Departure will be produced across the country. Its message is powerful: be true to yourself and support the people in your life with love.

Stories at the Fountain Theatre like The Chosen, Arrival & Departure, and Cost of Living can change people in powerful ways with inspiration, hope and connection.

Deanne Bray is an actress and teacher. 

Click here to support the Fountain Theatre.

VIDEO: ‘Cost of Living’ actor Felix Solis wants you to join the ‘caravan of magic’ at Fountain Theatre

 

VIDEO: Actor Tobias Forrest urges you to experience the human connection in ‘Cost of Living’

Get Tickets/More Info Cost of Living

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

Walking the walk: Art for art’s sake is simply not enough anymore

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by Bobby Steggert

About two years ago, I completely turned my back on an acting career that I had spent twenty years building. I found myself increasingly discontented by the lack of control that every artist must submit to, and I found myself nauseatingly self-concerned in a job that threw me off balance enough to never quite feel stable. That, and as the world spiraled into the surreal chaos that continues to swirl around us today, I found it harder and harder to justify my contribution as enough to make a significant difference.

The classic argument for the necessity of art (and a deeply legitimate one) is that is holds a mirror up to the human condition. It asks the important questions and gives voice to the voiceless. I suppose my goal in leaving the theater was to make a difference that felt more practical, or somehow quantifiable — instead of giving metaphoric voice to the voiceless, why not up the ante and work to give them a voice directly? And so I have spent the last two years pursuing a master’s degree in social work. I’ve been given a crash course in anti-black racism, in the horror of our immigration and criminal justice systems, in the forces behind gender and sexual discrimination. I’ve met some incredible social justice warriors — people putting all of their heroic energies into fighting to inspire essential shifts in the cultural fabric.

And may I unequivocally stress, I still believe that artists of all kind — playwrights, painters, musicians, and actors — wield equally powerful heroism in the same aim. In fact, the irony of walking away from the arts is that I am now more convinced than ever as to the necessity of you, the artist. But here is my ultimate argument, and hear me out– you are more powerful than the work you do under the proverbial lights. In fact, it’s only a part of why we need you.

Let’s face it — it is too late and the world is too far gone to celebrate art for art’s sake. It’s simply not enough anymore. We as a collective culture have forgotten what true greatness is, as the paradigm shifts and we are bombarded with the most toxic and pathetic expressions of selfishness masquerading as strength. But here’s the good news — all humans are outfitted with potential greatness, and yours far outstrips your craft. It is a superpower in this ever isolated and polarized world, and it is your responsibility to use it. Many of you already do.

The greatness I speak of is your bravery in offering authentic compassion in the flesh — a space of physical, emotional, and ideological vulnerability that, though out of fashion in our current climate, is the only thing that can save us. Lots of people practice empathy, and every human is endowed with it, but fewer have the experience you have in using it so flexibly.

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Bobby Steggert

At the risk of getting too personal, this is another reason I felt I had to leave acting — it was easy for me to bare my soul under the safety of the blinding lights and a two-hour time limit. What was far more challenging for me was to translate that freedom of expression into daily life. The most distilled version of my disappointment was that, in my deepest knowledge, I wasn’t walking the walk. I was proclaiming an artist’s social responsibility whilst hiding everywhere but onstage. I was vulnerable and brave at work and I was stuck and afraid elsewhere.

Ultimately, I did what felt necessary to create a chance at more sustainable balance in my own life, and I don’t have any regrets today as I work towards something happier. And in no way do I argue that anyone in an artistic life should change course. Instead, I am simply urging you to look at what you have in the moments when you feel frustrated and powerless — the enormous opportunity in every moment of your waking life, regardless of the audition you just aced, the job you just booked, or the brilliant performance you just gave. And equally important, the higher purpose you have despite the audition you just bombed, the job you just lost, or the brilliant performance you wish you had the opportunity to offer the world. You (like all of us) are bigger than your job, but it just so happens that your job has prepared you for the war ahead.

You are trained through your exceptional sensitivity to be generous of heart. You are more comfortable with the vulnerability of emotional expression than most anyone else on Earth. You can look deeply into the eyes of another human without flinching from the terror of being exposed. You understand that silence and stillness are not passive, but radical acts in the digital world of never ending status updates. You realize, even beneath the tidal wave of “self expression” that powers our culture of narcissism, that to listen is the only way to truly honor another’s humanity.

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These qualities are not unique to actors, but they are ones that you have spent a lifetime cultivating. You are also in an industry that threatens the very qualities that brought you here. It surely did mine.

Whether your work reaches dozens or millions, it can only represent life. It cannot stand in for it. I have to believe, from experience, that a “tortured artist” is someone who is unable to integrate their work and their life, so that the only place they feel understood is in the privacy of their work. But I have come to realize that the work is just as much to understand as it is to be understood. And as the world becomes increasingly disembodied and dehumanized by fear and greed, it is your flesh and blood — your eyes and breath and heart — that can bring change to every space you enter. You must remind others, whose gods are money or fear or status or fame, that their worship is futile.

Do not compromise in using the gifts that make you special. Do not allow an industry that asks you to be selfish to take away your generosity. Create no boundary between the stage and the street. Look up from your screens and feel the power you already contain. There are people fighting the good fight at every turn, but it just so happens that your special skills are applicable anywhere you go. When it comes to professional contribution alone, a surgeon is limited to saving lives in the operating room. You are not.

Strange, that I had to completely reroute the entire trajectory of my life to learn that I already had everything I needed to make a difference. My master’s degree will be a piece of paper, but my life as an artist will make me a great social worker, this I know. And if I ever return to acting, it will be with this knowledge (and I hope it reminds you of of your own possibilities) — that the work does not stop when unemployed — that you are an artist every day, if you so choose — that art is an obligation, and that it must be lived, not simply offered to those who have paid the price of admission.