Category Archives: Arts education

The gift in the darkness box

by Stephen Sachs

I’ve been thinking about a poem by Mary Oliver. The entire poem is only two lines. That’s all it needs. It goes like this:

“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.”

2020 has been a deep box of darkness. Our task is to learn to view sorrows as gifts. That’s a hard one. The poem encourages us to do something when sorrows come, challenges us not to sit back and do nothing about them. That is what I have learned from this year.

It is hard to receive boxes of darkness. At the bottom of my box, I have found the gift of gratitude. For things big and small. As this dreadful year comes to its close, it has brought me this gift born of darkness: To be without the intimacy of the Fountain Theatre for one year makes me grateful for it even more. I hope you feel the same. While our holiday gatherings may be smaller or grid-boxed on Zoom, our hearts will surely be filled with gratitude.

With vaccinations now underway, our boxes of darkness soon will lighten. I honestly believe that the Fountain Theatre will play an essential role in the healing of our community. As we look ahead to 2021, the Fountain has ambitious plans to move forward, both online and onstage. Creating productions that illuminate what it means to be alive at this time in the world and providing impactful arts education programs for students in underserved schools across Los Angeles. All COVID-safe.

Here’s a snapshot: Our new online platform, Fountain Stream will debut a 2021 season of plays and inter-active community programs. Using innovative video technologies, we will go beyond Zoom, to give you intimate high-quality theatre that makes you think and feel. We have expanded Fountain for Youth, our arts education initiatives, with Fountain Voices, an extraordinary in-school playwriting program designed by France-Luce Benson. Our ground-breaking cops/kids residency, Walking the Beat, will return in a glorious new digital format. And, most ambitious of all, we are hopeful that in the spring of 2021, we will launch our biggest adventure next year: a thrilling Outdoor Stage in our parking lot. Live theatre under the stars! Completely COVID-compliant. Stay tuned.

But for now, the Fountain — like every theater throughout Los Angeles and across the nation — remains closed. I don’t have to tell you things are hard. For the Fountain, our earned income has ground to a halt. The Fountain’s budget has dropped by over 50%. Our building remains non-operational, still standing proud on Fountain Avenue thanks to grants, federal loans, contributions, and the private giving by you, our Fountain Family. 

If you have already made a year-end donation to our campaign, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are the gift in our darkness box. Your love, friendship and support are the light that shines the way through these uncertain times. If you haven’t yet contributed, please consider doing so. Your generous holiday gift will help make the coming year possible. I am asking you to turn the sorrows of this year into a gift of gratitude. Out of darkness, light! 

Onward,

Stephen Sachs is the Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.

NOW HIRING: Arts Intern for Community Engagement at Fountain Theatre

Know a college student looking for a paying job over the next few months? Someone who likes theatre and enjoys reaching out to people from a wide variety of communities? The Fountain is the place.

The Fountain Theatre is now accepting applications to hire one Community Engagement Intern. The internship will begin Monday, October 5th, 2020 and end Friday, February 26, 2021. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the intern will work remotely from home for part or all of the internship. Weekly hours will vary week to week, from 15 hours per week to a full-time 40-hour schedule depending on the workflow. The rate of pay is $15 per hour, to fulfill 400 hours by February 26, 2021.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors established the Arts Internship Program to provide undergraduate students with meaningful on-the-job training and experience in working in nonprofit arts organizations. This is our seventh year participating in the program. Each intern has been helpful, has learned a great deal, and became part of our Fountain Family. We are still in contact with all of them.

Now in our 30th year, the award-winning Fountain Theatre is one of the most highly regarded intimate theatres in Los Angeles. The Fountain is dedicated to new plays that reflect the diversity of Los Angeles, educational outreach programs that enhance the lives of young people and utilizing theatre as a trigger for social action and community engagement.

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Assist the Community Engagement Coordinator with outreach initiatives, including: Identifying organizations and diverse L.A. communities that align with The Fountain’s mission of inclusion and social justice. Serve as a teaching assistant for the Fountain’s educational outreach programs. Develop and execute methods to increase The Fountain’s Social Media presence. Contribute to our on-going efforts to create a more ethnically and generationally diverse audience base. Assist in initiatives to cultivate and maintain relationships with supporters and donors. Assist with development and fundraising campaigns. Provide administrative assistance wherever needed

QUALIFICATIONS

The intern candidate must have basic computer and word-processing skills (PC, Word, Excel, Internet, all relevant social media platforms), good communications skills and pleasant phone manner, organizational skills, be detailed oriented, and have the ability to multi-task. She/he should be self-motivated and have the ability to work successfully from home, when required. Excellent writing and editing skills. Graphic design skills and education experience a plus (education experience may include summer camps, after school programs, children’s theatre). Spanish speaking students are encouraged to apply.

ELIGABILITY

In order to be eligible, a candidate must: (a) have the legal right to work in the United States; (b) reside in or attend college within the County, (c) be currently enrolled in a community college or four-year college/university program; and (d) have completed at least one semester or the equivalent by June 1, 2020. Prospective graduates who will complete their undergraduate degree between May 1, 2020, and September 1, 2020, need not be currently enrolled at the time of the internship.

HOW TO APPLY

Submit cover letter and resume to Ms. France-Luce Benson, Community Engagement Coordinator at franceluce@fountaintheatre.com

Video: 2019 was only one year ago …

As 2020 continues on its perilous path and our theatre sits empty, we look back at a jam-packed and deeply rewarding 2019. It was only last year but it feels like a century ago. Enjoy!

Inspired by viral post on ‘Mockingbird’, Fountain Theatre launches Free Student Fridays

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Students can now see a Friday night play free at the Fountain.

When Artistic Director Stephen Sachs shared his thoughts on the Fountain Theatre blog last Friday, he never dreamed his post would go viral.  It did, big time. His observations on the free performance of Broadway’s “To Kill A Mockingbird” at Madison Square Garden for 18,000 high school students drew 65,975 views to the Fountain blog and was shared by more than 39,000 people on Facebook, sweeping the globe in 111 countries.

Central to the Fountain is the impact the post had on one person: Sachs himself.

“I am blown away by the post’s popularity,” he says.

For Sachs, reading the avalanche of online comments the post triggered as it was shared around the world was overwhelming and eye-opening. “For me, the post became more than a feel-good story about young people experiencing live theatre.  For me, it is a call to action.”

What action is the Fountain taking?

Starting this weekend with the current production of Human Interest Story, the Fountain Theatre launches a new program called Free Student Fridays. Any high school or college student may see a play at the Fountain on Friday for free.  To reserve online, students use the promo code FreeStudent. A valid school ID card must be shown at the box office window on the night of the performance. Seats are subject to availability.

“This program is a modest start, but it’s a start,” admits Sachs. “We may not have 18,000 seats like Madison Square Garden, but if we can inspire the young minds and open the young hearts of 80 students on Fountain Avenue every Friday night, we’ll have humbly done our part to help make the world a better place.”

Who knows? A free performance for 20,000 students at L.A.’s Staples Center may one day be on the horizon. Until then? There’s a seat for any student at the Fountain.

Click this link to book tickets for a Free Student Friday. Info on Human Interest Story.

How 18,000 students proved theater experts wrong

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Students prepare to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Madison Square Garden.

by Stephen Sachs

There hasn’t been that much rapturous cheering in Madison Square Garden since the Knicks won their last championship in 1973. But the thunderous hollering heard this Wednesday at the sold-out arena was not for a basketball game. It was for a play.

On Wednesday, 18,000 middle and high school students from Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island attended a free one-time special performance of the Broadway production of “To Kill A Mockingbird” at Madison Square Garden arranged by producer Scott Rudin, the MSG organization and the city of New York.  That’s right. 18,000 kids sat and watched a 3-hour drama in the cavernous home of the Knicks. Who would have thought it possible?

The result? By all accounts, everyone there on that school-day afternoon – actors, audience, organizers – have been forever changed by the experience. And, I hope, so has our field, as the impact of this one-time event ripples nationwide for years.

Artistic Directors like me have been wringing our hands over the same question for decades. How do we get younger audiences to come to our theatre? How do we engage young people today in our ancient art form? How do we not only hold their attention but excite them enough to want to come back to our theatre?

This week, one answer came. And it showed me that maybe we’ve been asking ourselves the wrong question. Sometimes we must bring the mountain to Muhammed.

The play’s usual Broadway home is the Shubert Theatre, where it commands an average ticket price of $162. The one-time performance at The Garden was free. For many kids, they were seeing a professional play – in an unusual setting — for the first time.

“This is a one-of-a-kind event — 18,000 young people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to see a Broadway play are going to be introduced to American theater,” playwright Aaron Sorkin said.

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The cast of To Kill a Mockingbird take their bows on stage after a special performance for students at Madison Square Garden in New York.

In a week of nothing but bad news for our country, this gives me hope. And shatters a few myths theater-makers may hold about young people.

The attention span of teens is too short. The myth we keep telling ourselves is that the light-speed tempo of video games have accelerated the viewing habits of young people to such a degree that they’ll never sit still for a serious play. A musical, maybe. A rock musical, certainly. Not an issue-driven drama. But the 18,000 students at Madison Square Garden not only sat still and listened to “Mockingbird”, they were riveted in their seats.

Young people are only interested in contemporary stories about themselves. It’s okay to offer them hip hop plays, urban musicals, modern teen comedies about their world today. A drama from another time period? Too risky. This week, however, a multitude of students from New York were engrossed by a fable that takes place in 1934 Alabama. Want to make it worse? It’s a play adapted from a book they are assigned to study as homework in class, for crying out loud. A theatre producer’s nightmare, right? Wrong.

Young people hate theatre. Not true. They just have fewer opportunities to see it. And when they do? “It’s so exciting,” said high school junior Michelle Hernandez. “It’s amazing,” said student Justine Jackson. “The story is very real and you can relate it to modern society,” said junior Andy Lin. “Specially racism because it’s still going on.”  The 18,000 students were clearly swept up in the play and the excitement of the event. The setting of Madison Square Garden seemed to set them free to react openly in ways they would never dare in a conventional theatre. They laughed, they gasped, they shouted, and they cried. They cheered Atticus Finch like he was a rock star.

Regional theaters across the country have educational outreach programs that include bringing their productions of plays to schools for students to enjoy and benefit by seeing. It’s a failsafe strategy that is not going anywhere. A theatre importing its production to a school campus is one thing. Partnering with Madison Square Garden is another.

The conventional model of bussing students to your theatre holds its own many benefits. But I hope the “Mockingbird” event inspires theater organizations across the country to think outside the box in their own community. To explore unconventional venues and unique partnerships to help bring the power of theater to young people nationwide.

Could the “Mockingbird” event happen in Los Angeles? Can we imagine 20,000 students from across the Southland coming to Staples Center to watch a performance of “Death of A Salesman”? Why not? It takes a mayor, a theatre producer and a city believing that it’s important and willing to make it happen. As NY Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “The only way to change your world is if you decide it is your world to change.”

 And you must find like-minded partners who are willing to change it.

Stephen Sachs is the Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre. 

France-Luce Benson joins Fountain Theatre staff as Community Engagement Coordinator

France-Luce Benson

France-Luce Benson

The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that playwright/teaching artist France-Luce Benson has joined the staff as Community Engagement Coordinator. Her duties will include overseeing the Fountain’s educational outreach programs and expanding the theatre’s interaction with audiences and local communities.

“As an artist committed to equanimity in representation and creating art that affects change, it is an honor to be a part of The Fountain Theatre, a company that is truly walking the walk, ” says Benson. “The many theatrical giants who The Fountain has produced over the years have not only influenced my work as a playwright, but they are representative of Los Angeles’ diverse cultural landscape. I am confident that my own cultural background will contribute to the important work The Fountain is doing to promote and inspire social justice.”

France-Luce Benson was named “Someone to Watch ” in 2019 by American Theatre magazine. As a playwright, she is a recipient of a Miranda Foundation grant (DETAINED), Alfred P. Sloan Foundation New Play Commission (DEVIL’S SALT), and a Princess Grace Award runner up (BOAT PEOPLE).   Additional honors include: Zoetrope Grand Prize (CAROLINE’S WEDDING); Dramatists Guild Fellow 2016-17, Sam French OOB Festival Winner, NNPN Award for Best Play, and  three time Kilroy List Honorable Mention.  Residencies include  Djerassi, the Camargo Foundation in France, and Instituto Sacatar in Bahia, Brazil. Her plays have had productions, workshops, and readings at Crossroads Theatre New Jersey, City Theatre of Miami, The Playwrights Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, City Theatre of Miami, Loyola Marymount University, Global Black Voices in London, and in New York The Lark, The Billy Holiday Theatre, and the Ensemble Studio Theatre where she is a company member. She’s been published by Samuel French and Routledge Press. She earned an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University and a BA in Theatre from Florida International University. Teaching appointments include UCLA Extension, St. Johns University, Columbia University, Girl Be Heard, and P.S. Arts/Inside Out in L.A. She is a proud member of The Dramatists Guild, Inc.

France-Luce teaches Story Analysis for Film and Television at UCLA Extension School. As a Dramatist Guild Fund teaching artist, she launched the Traveling Masters Program for NY Public Schools and was a guest lecturer at Columbia University, where she facilitated a playwriting intensive designed for the International Student Fellows of Columbia’s esteemed Human Rights Advocacy Program.

“We’re excited to welcome France-Luce to our Fountain Family,” says Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “She brings expertise, passion and insight to our community programming as the Fountain broadens its services into the future.”

VIDEO: Devised Theatre Lab encourages future theater-makers to express themselves

 

VIDEO: Watch cops and kids put their stories on stage in short documentary ‘Walking the Beat’

Post-Show Blues

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by Melina Young

Post-show blues. It’s a common phrase among theatre folk.

As we close the final performance of the Fountain Theatre’s arts education program, Walking the Beat Hollywood, as panels are struck and lights come down, as kids head safely home to their families, and cops return to patrolling the streets, the phrase takes on new meaning. In the context of Walking the Beat Hollywood, the phrase alludes not only to the malaise that accompanies the end of an affecting production, but also to the image of an LAPD uniform.

Post-show blues.

Walking the Beat Hollywood is a theatrical residency for high school students across Los Angeles and the police officers who patrol their neighborhoods. Together, students and officers devised a piece of theatre they titled “A Wall is Just Another Door,” about community policing informed by their personal experiences. During the show, performers begged the question in a rap battle, “When you see me in my uniform what do you see?” The question asks us all to challenge the assumptions we make and to acknowledge our biases, disadvantages, and privileges.

I have often been told that if I want to make a change in the world, I’m in the wrong business. I’ve heard that political theatre preaches to an audience that is already in agreement. This assumes that the audience attending theatre is of the same ilk. And yet, after Walking the Beat Hollywood I have never been more convinced that theatre changes lives.

Perhaps that is because the theatrical community that created and witnessed Walking the Beat Hollywood was not typical. (Walking the Beat Hollywood challenged convention as soon as the doors opened.) Development offices at theatres all over the world work hard to gather demographic information about their audiences. As a result, we know that theatrical audiences are largely white, liberal, affluent, and over 50. Working for a theatre festival during college, I was tasked with reviewing and digitizing hard-copies of audience surveys. One respondent answered the race and ethnicity question: “Really white.”

This respondent’s answer still makes me laugh. However, it’s also true and has far-reaching and troubling consequences. The ambition to democratize theatre can paradoxically become pretentious and self-serving. This is when theatre-makers become white-saviors. “Democratizing” can often look more like condescending to a group of people those in power ostensibly want to “uplift.” This is tokenism. The antidote to this kind of practice is recognizing that individuals are individuals and not representatives of a group. They are people of worth and power. Walking the Beat Hollywood succeeded in democratizing theatre precisely by self-consciously circumventing that goal.

It would be untrue to claim that the regular homogeneity of most theatrical audiences was unrepresented at Walking the Beat Hollywood. But largely this audience and this cast were unconventional. In fact, the ensemble worked hard to disrupt and challenge convention. Their tools in dismantling systems of oppression were their own stories. The ensemble gave generously of themselves and as a result moved their audience.

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Melina Young and Barbara Goodhill welcome guests to “Walking the Beat” at LACC.

Angela Kariotis, a visionary theatre-maker, teaching artist, and WTBH playwright writes, “Telling a story is simple, but not easy. Easy and simple are not the same thing… We never think we have any stories. But then all of a sudden, they come tumbling out because we cracked open the door a little. And here they are all demanding, demanding to be told.” That demand imbued Walking the Beat Hollywood with honest urgency. Sitting inside the Caminito Theatre, the call for truth was palpable and stirring. My father wept as he listened to each student’s identity poem and so did I. I already knew and loved these kids and by the end of the performance I think he did too.

When I handed one of the students her final pay check, she looked at me with a telling pout and said, “I don’t want this one.” When I asked her why, she said “because it means it’s the end. And I don’t want to say goodbye to everyone.” Her reluctance was evidence of love. Sixteen strangers—ten kids and six cops—became friends.

Theatre. Changes. Lives.

I saw these kids change. I saw them grow. Many students started this process shy. Many didn’t. Some are still shy and some still aren’t. But I know that they know their worth. I know that they proclaimed their worth in front of an audience eager to bear witness to it. That is genuinely important.

Sure, this was a production focused on cops and kids coming together to discuss the problems of community policing. But the final performance did not offer a solution. Rather, it highlighted human beings of different experience coming together to listen to one another.

I return to the idea of post-show blues. How did Walking the Beat Hollywood change our proverbial uniforms? If only for an evening, we have been armed with an open mind and with the impulse to listen.

I want to challenge theatre-going audiences to continue the legacy of this performance. Be silent and be moved. Listen. After all, “Listening is an act of love.”

Melina Young is the 2019 summer intern at the Fountain Theatre. We thanks the LA Department of Arts and Culture for the support of its Arts Internship Program. 

FOUNTAIN THEATRE AWARDED $40,000 GRANT FROM THE ANNENBERG FOUNDATION

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The Wallis Annenberg Foundation has awarded The Fountain Theatre a $40,000 grant for general operating support.  The Annenberg Foundation is one of the top private philanthropies in the country, and is dedicated to using its resources to support organizations that are fostering positive change in the world.  As Wallis Annenberg stated in an article in CSQ Magazine, “To me, the future of philanthropy – the true value of philanthropy in a world of massive needs—comes down to a single, simple word: innovation. Finding it, supporting it, growing as much of it as possible.”

 
“This generous unrestricted award from The Annenberg Foundation is a profound validation of the innovation that The Fountain Theatre has brought to the Los Angeles community for 29 years.  From our MainStage productions, to our arts education and outreach programs, The Fountain strives — through art — to illuminate and uplift the diverse communities of Los Angeles,” says Director of Development, Barbara Goodhill. “We are deeply grateful to The Annenberg Foundation for its generosity and partnership.”

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The Annenberg Foundation’s Mission, Values & Vision:

The Annenberg Foundation is a family foundation that provides funding and support to nonprofit organizations in the United States and globally. The Foundation and its Board of Directors are also directly involved in the community with innovative projects that further its mission to advance the public well-being through improved communication. The Foundation encourages the development of effective ways to share ideas and knowledge. The Foundation is committed to core values of responsiveness, accessibility, fairness and involvement.

 
The Foundation believes in funding organizations that have a deep level of community involvement, are led by effective leaders and tackle challenging and timely problems. Specific organizational attributes valued by the Foundation are: visionary leadership, impact, sustainability, innovation, organizational strength, network of partnerships plus the population being served.