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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
Heidi Schreck, the writer and star of “What the Constitution Means to Me.”
by Melina Drake Young
As a kid I was vehemently unpatriotic. A weird stance for a kid to take. I was indifferent to fireworks and staunchly against country music, which is all I understood patriotism to be. That changed when I was in high school.
I take after Heidi Shreck. I was not only a theatre nerd in high school, but also a nerd nerd.
Like Shreck, I too developed a (somewhat obnoxious) penchant for the study of United States history and government. (I owe that in no small part to Mr. Roberts and Mr. Edwards of Immaculate Heart High School who shaped and encouraged the civically minded and curious woman that I am today. Behind every know-it-all is a gifted and endlessly patient teacher—or in my case a few.)
But I digress.
Some of us have had the good fortune to learn what the Constitution means to Heidi Shreck whose play, What the Constitution Means to Me, is based on her successful career competing against other high schoolers in Constitutional debates for scholarship money. As a woman in America, I know that this nation’s laws don’t often work in my favor. Heidi Shreck reminds Broadway audiences that preventing violence against women and protecting our equal rights are barely—and insufficiently—touched on in United States law. What’s more, that failure of justice is much more lethal for women of color and trans women than it is for white, cis women like Shreck and me. Concepts like patriotism and an American love of freedom are hard to stomach when one considers the prejudice that festers within our borders: from a prison system that has modernized slavery to tender age shelters and the vilification of undocumented entry into this country. Freedom stands in sharp contrast to the systemic criminalization of black and brown existence in the United States.
Patriotism is not the marginalization of and lack of legal protections available to non-white, non-cis, non-straight, non-male lives in the United States. These facts are equal parts shameful and frightening. That’s a taste of what the Constitution means to Shreck.
Another similarity between Shreck and me is that my appreciation of the Constitution extends beyond its legal bounds.
The Constitution means being sixteen and falling in love with United States history and government instead of a boy. It means being serenaded by the Bill of Rights and beguiled by the separation of powers. It means knowing my rights and understanding them. It means civic literacy.
It means being seventeen and dressing up on the Fourth of July in overalls, an American-flag bikini and matching headband, with a copy of the Constitution in my back pocket. It means reading Thomas Paine’s Common Sensein my Nona’s backyard under the sweltering July sun.
It means being eighteen and weeping after the legalization of gay marriage and acknowledging for the first time in my life that I was proud to be an American.
It means being nineteen and getting to finally participate in the triumph of Democracy that is a fair and free election. It means voting for a candidate that resembled me more closely than a major party, presidential candidate ever had. And it means watching her lose. That defeat showed me that this country was more hateful than I had believed it to be.
But I refuse to become jaded.
Melina Drake Young and her grandmother, Sylvie Drake, at the Mueller Report Read-A-Thon.
To me, the Constitution means being twenty-two and sitting in the front row of the Fountain Theatre as my grandmother reads from the stage at the Fountain’s Mueller Report Read-A-Thon as an act of patriotic resistance. I watch my Nona, a native of Egypt—one of those countries that her President has shamefully referred to as a “shithole”—marry her love of theatre with her love of a country that has been hers for 70 years come August 10th. As I look toward the 70th anniversary of my grandmother’s escape from the violence of her native land, I acknowledge that this country—her refuge—resembles the land from which she fled more closely with each passing day. And I am saddened. My Nona, however, gives me hope. She is a tri-lingual refugee who raised two kids and maintained an impressive theatrical and literary career (in her third language) 7,470 miles away from the land that raised and then betrayed her. She is undoubtedly a great American.
So I guess, I was wrong.
Despite my childish convictions and everything else, I am an American Patriot. Just like my Nona.
Fountain Board member Miles Benickes and Zoey Rosenzweig at Mueller Read-A-Thon.
by Stephen Sachs
First, she said no. She would not do it. When her grandfather asked her again in the Fountain Theatre lobby, she awkwardly took a step back in retreat, shy and embarrassed.
“No,” she said, in a blushing 14-year old half-grin.
She would not join her grandfather, Miles Benickes, on stage to read a ten-minute section of the Mueller Report in front of a gathered audience of LA professionals and unseen viewers watching online via a simultaneous live stream on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. No way.
Then Zoey Rosenzweig changed her mind. I was thrilled and surprised when she strode out onto our Fountain stage with Miles and diligently read through the Mueller legalese with her grandfather. She may not have understood much of the gobbledygook she was reading. Who did? That didn’t matter. Something vital for the future of our nation was happening. Zoey Rosenzweig was getting involved.
Thursday’s 15-hour Mueller Report Read-A-Thon at the Fountain Theatre held dozens of unforgettable moments like this for me. The marathon event was emotionally overwhelming. The Fountain hummed with ecstatic energy all day and all night. A parade of politicians, actors, writers, and community leaders read from the podium as if declaring from a public square, each person high-charged by their call to duty.
I thought of the day as an Open House. The Fountain Theatre opening its doors – all day and all night — to democracy. At an Open House, all visitors are welcome. At an Open House, anyone who wishes may visit. An Open House is a gathering that’s open to anyone who wants to come by, any time.
An atmosphere of community was everywhere. In the lobby, in the audience, out front on the sidewalk, in our upstairs café. Theatre provides community. Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in this country, and our LA theatre network is large and widespread. But on Thursday our Mueller Report Read-A-Thon proved that, like the motto of our nation, Los Angeles and the LA Theatre Community is “out of many, one.”
For our nation to survive, engaging young people in the arts and politics of this country is essential. I studied closely as our twenty-two-year-old Fountain intern, Melina Young, sat in the front row watching respected LA theatre critic Sylvie Drake read from our stage. A proud grin spreading across Melina’s face. Sylvie Drake is Melina’s grandmother. Now Melina seeks a career in the theatre. Her grandmother, by example, reminding her how the arts and social action can intersect.
An endless stream of memorable instants that day/night flood through me now, two days later. Images of celebrities, LA Theatre icons, government officials. But it was Zoey Rosenzweig, perhaps, who remains the most indelible. A fourteen-year-old girl reading this urgent government document from the podium while her grandfather somberly leans over her shoulder like a rabbi guiding her through the Torah.
Moments like this are the reason we hosted the reading of the Mueller Report in the first place. It gives me hope. We need Zoey Rosenzweig and Melina Young and millions more like them.
Our nation, and our art form, depend on them.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
2019 LA County Arts Interns Summit at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
by Melina Young
Terrified in fact. There, I said it.
But really, who isn’t?
It may come as a shock to absolutely no one that to be a recent college graduate is legitimately terrifying. I can almost hear Britney Spears’s dulcet (if a bit nasal) tones reminding me that, “I’m not a girl / Not yet a woman.” She knows something I don’t… or rather she knows something that I do know but that I am trying desperately to avoid admitting.
“I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” Britney Spears (2002)
The Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s 2019 Arts Summit asked me to look Britney square in her wide set, brown eyes dusted with early 2000s glitter and acknowledge that we are the same—not girls; and not yet fully-grown.
It’s true. I will proclaim it loudly in my best Britney Spears impression (which, to my dismay, is not that good). Britney and I have something else in common—something that she demonstrates in her 2002 smash hit—we’re both artists.
I have to take a moment here to thank LACAC for organizing day jam-packed with illuminating events and with equally (if not more) illuminating fellow interns.
2019 county arts interns touring downtown Los Angeles.
I’ll continue my momentary digression by commenting on what a relief it was to look at the 2019 class of 203 LACAC arts interns sitting around me and see that the room was not overwhelmingly white and male. This was markedly different from my experience in college and was a refreshing reminder of what it actually looks like to be an Angelino.
Back to Britney.
To be clear, my goal is not to be a pop star, but it is no less ambitious. My goal is to have a fulfilling and sustaining career in theatre. That’s no easy trick.
Here’s what my whole Britney device was leading me toward: Is it possible to give good, actionable advice to someone in my situation? I don’t have an answer to my question. And I’m not sure that I’ve encountered someone who does. I hope that doesn’t sound ungrateful, because I AM GRATEFUL.
Melina Young at the Fountain Theatre.
Overwhelmingly grateful. And at the same time, I’m still terrified. I don’t think anything that anyone could say or do would change that. Unless what they do is hand me a contract and what they say is: “Hi, I’ll be your agent for life and I can magically promise you job security, longevity, financial stability, and artistic fulfillment.”
That does happen, but only for the lucky few.
Here’s what’s heartening. Despite the fact that the odds are against us, Arts Summit represented the coming together of two hundred and three arts interns (out of four thousand applicants I might add) who are pursuing the arts in bold defiance of those odds.
We believe in ourselves; and what’s more, we believe in one another.
I think that’s what we might call hope and courage. Fear that’s said its prayers. Sure, it’s hard to be a recent college grad that wants to be an artist. But I’ll take it because I get to be hopeful and courageous and I’m in fabulous company. That’s exciting.
To my delight, I think I encountered good, actionable advice in my LACAC peer group. (I won’t name names to protect the innocent.) Here it is:
Sometimes making art feels like screaming into the void. That’s frustrating; but scream anyway, and use that frustration to scream louder.
So I’m screaming. I hope it’s loud enough that you heard it.
Melina Young is our 2019 summer intern at the Fountain Theatre. Our thanks to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the LA County Arts Commission for its Arts Internship Program.
Cops, kids and staff of Walking the Beat at the Fountain Theatre.
The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that HBO is making a generous contribution of $10,000 to support Walking the Beat, the Fountain’s educational arts program that brings together LAPD police officers and inner city students over an 8-week period to write and create a theatre piece that they perform themselves.
“We are thrilled to welcome HBO to the Fountain Family,” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “HBO’s pedigree in providing ground-breaking, high-quality entertainment is matched by its commitment to young people and communities nationwide. Walking the Beat is an innovative program that uses theatre to promote empathy, self-expression and empowerment.”
HBO’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility Dennis Williams explains the cable network’s philosophy of giving as “how we can do the best with the resources that we have.”
“If you’re in a position of power or privilege, the question you should always ask yourself is, ‘Are you using your powers for good?’” continues Williams. “At HBO, we’re in a position to inspire change and start conversations in a way that others might not be able to do themselves. We must use our powers for good.”
Walking the Beat was devised by Theo Perkins and Angela Kariotis at Elizabeth Youth Theater Ensemble in New Jersey. HBO supported the project there for three years, and continues its sponsorship with the Hollywood program at the Fountain.
HBO and EYTE join other sponsors and partners for Walking the Beat at the Fountain, including the Hollywood Police Activities League, Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy, Deborah Culver, The Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, Dorothy Wolpert, Robert and Carrie Meadow, the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and District 13, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and District 3.
Home Box Office is the oldest and longest continuously operating pay television service in the United States, with 140 million subscribers worldwide as of 2018. HBO’s Corporate Social Responsibility team unites employees, talent and non-profit partners to elevate social issues connected to communities. At the heart of HBO’s effort is a passion for making a difference, to use its platform to educate, inspire thoughtful action and help make the world a better place.