Category Archives: Acting

Lesley Fera: The intimacy of the Fountain’s ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ is “magical”

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Actor Montae Russell gets in the zone for ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ at the Fountain Theatre

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Montae Russell in “Between Riverside and Crazy” at the Fountain Theatre.

By Darlene Donloe

Montae Russell is well known throughout Los Angeles theater circles for playing meaty roles. He’s played Charlie “Bird” Parker in Bird Lives!, Memphis in Two Trains Running and Elmore in a production of King Hedley II. He also played Mister on Broadway in King Hedley II opposite Viola Davis and Leslie Uggams.

Up next for the veteran thespian is a complicated, determined man named Walter “Pops” Washington who has declared war on almost everything in the Stephen Adly Guirgis 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama Between Riverside and Crazy, opening October 19 at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.

Russell, a Pittsburgh native is ready to take on the role. While talking to him about the show and “Pops”, the 50-something, married (Tonia), father of one, walked around a local park to let the imagery of the play and the character “sink in.”  It’s a process, he said allows him to be “closer to where I need to be” when he hits the stage.

Russell’s first acting role came in the seventh grade when he played Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. His first professional play was in the off-Broadway production of Three Ways Home at the Astor Place Theater in New York.

Eventually he brought his talent to Los Angeles where he became a respected film, television and theater actor.

A highly sought after actor, Russell had to decide between doing August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and Between Riverside and Crazy. He said it was a hard decision, but he read something in the “Pops” character that spoke to him.

In Between Riverside and Crazy, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama by Stephen Adly Guirgis, ex-cop and recent widower Walter ‘Pops’ Washington has made a home for his newly paroled son in his sprawling, rent-controlled New York City apartment on Riverside Drive. But now the NYPD is demanding his signature to close an outstanding lawsuit, the landlord wants him out, the liquor store is closed, and the church is on his back — leaving Pops somewhere between Riverside… and crazy.

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Montae Russell and Victory Anthony in “Between Riverside and Crazy”

I recently caught up with Russell to discuss his role in Between Riverside and Crazy.

DD:  In your own words, describe Between Riverside and Crazy.

MR: I really can’t describe it because I’m in the midst of it. Well, from my character’s perspective,  he was a cop who was shot by a white cop eight years ago. The cop overreacted when he saw black people in a bar. My character is in a battle with NYPD. He’s living in a rent-controlled apartment on Riverside Drive. The landlord wants him out so he can charge more rent.

But my character is dug in. He’s not backing down.   His son is an ex-con. He is fighting for his son. Every father wants his son to become a man. He is also fighting a war with himself. He has war with a lot of people. He has a battle with the bottle and his body. He has stress and strife.  There are external forces and an internal battle within himself. Sometimes it’s not about annihilating your opponent. Sometimes you just have to sign a truce.

DD: In what way are you like Pop and in what way are you the furthest from Pop?

MR: I’m a fighter, but I don’t have as many wars. I have a stubborn streak. I don’t have multiple wars, though. I don’t have people coming at me as he does. But, I can understand what it would be like. I respect the character. I just fight differently. 

DD: Why did you want to play this part?

MR: When I read it, I cracked up. A lot of things about the character made me laugh. He is raging a war with God, or with his beliefs because of all the things that have happened. You can’t win that war.  It’s a very hilarious play. Pops is pulling no punches. He doesn’t care. He is the master of his domain. He’s a very funny cat. He’s not a rabble-rouser. He’s not an activist. He’s a conservative – but not in a social way – more of an interpersonal way. He’s a traditional man, an old school man. He comes from a time when you controlled your emotions.

DD: How did you go about developing Pop?

MR: It’s a day-by-day thing. We’ll be developing until the end of the play in December. Different stuff is revealed each time you crack open the script. There is constant tweaking.

He’s not funny, Ha, Ha. He’s funny concerning his perspectives. Living like that can cause problems. You have to give a fuck at some point. You have to give a fuck about something.

DD: Have you ever been between Riverside and crazy?

MR:  You would have to ask the people around me.

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Montae Russell, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Marisol Miranda, Matthew Hancock.

DD: By what criteria do you decide to do a show?

MR: It has to be a challenge. I have to think I can bring something to it. It’s about what speaks to me. I was supposed to do Gem of the Ocean. I was going to play Caesar. Both shows were going up at the same time. I opted to do this instead. It’s difficult to turn down a role like Caesar. It would have also been difficult to turn down this role.

DD: You’ve played a lot of characters. What role did you nail?

MR: I try to do that all the time. I enjoyed playing Memphis in Two Trains Running. August Wilson front-loads his characters with a lot of stuff they are dealing with. The character challenged me. It felt good that I concurred it. The stuff he has to live through. His backstory – all of that comes into the show.  You’re responsible for the backstory even if it doesn’t come up in the play.

DD:  How do you prepare to go on stage?  Any rituals?

MR: I gotta be at the theater at least 45 minutes before I’m supposed to be there. I have to have food in my stomach to power through the show. It’s just like a sporting event. You can’t keep running back to the locker room. I like to warm up my voice. I warm up my diction and I stretch.  I need to be by myself and get in my space. I like to get in my zone.

DD:  Why did you want to be an actor?

MR: A lot of people today don’t know what they want to do. I was blessed at 13 – that’s when I knew. From there, I got green lights all the way. One job led to another. August Wilson wrote my letter of recommendation to get into Rutgers. He reached back.

DD: What happens to you when you’re on stage?

MR: It allows you to go to another world. Your imagination has to buy it. It’s the same concept when doing a show. We are on stage being looked at by an audience. That to me is fun. It’s nice to get away from the real world and step into someone else’s shoes for a while.

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This post originally appeared on Donloe’s Lowdown

VIDEO: Actress Lesley Fera says ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ is “incredible.” Don’t miss it!

Video: Matthew Hancock is home at the Fountain in ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’

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

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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. 

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