The Fountain Theatre is pleased to add Sherrick O’Quinn to its staff as Theatre Education Manager. In the newly-created position, Mr. O’Quinn is responsible for cultivating and strengthening all strategic community educational partnerships for The Fountain Theatre, enhancing its profile as an arts education leader in Los Angeles. Most important, he will oversee the theatre’s various arts education programs under the banner, Fountain for Youth. The programs include Walking the Beat and Fountain Voices.
Sherrick O’Quinn is an actor, educator, minister, and artist originally from Louisville, KY. He began his career in Louisville, KY working on stage and in film, TV, commercials and voiceover prior to moving to Los Angeles to complete his MFA in Acting degree at the University of Southern California. He formerly ran the GO College program which empowered and prepared at-risk high school students for college-going and career readiness prior to pursuing acting full-time. He spends his time acting, creating, coaching and working as a teaching artist. Sherrick is blessed to be part of Fountain Theatre’s mission to support and amplify diverse voices and create tangible change. His aim is to find intersections in art, work, and his daily life to be a change agent that encourages others to step into their voice, purpose, and light.
Among the many lessons learned in 2020, the most crucial may be our urgent need to have open and honest conversations about race in America. As the grisly video of George Floyd’s murder surfaced, it became painfully clear that we could not afford to look away. Protesters spilled into the streets of cities across the country with a powerful message: If we are silent about injustice, we are complicit.
Angie Kariotis, Program Facilitator and Curriculum Director for Walking the Beat Los Angeles, has devoted her work to fostering these difficult conversations. Kariotis, along with Fountain Theatre Board member Theo Perkins, created Walking the Beat as a tool for community building for high school students. The nine-week multi-media workshop combines performance, creative writing, film, and research to initiate positive interactions between youth and police.
The Arts Education program began in New Jersey in partnership with Elizabeth Youth Theatre Ensemble, and in 2019 the Fountain Theatre launched Walking the Beat Hollywood. This year, the Fountain expanded the program, making it possible for students and police officers outside Hollywood to participate. On August 25, the Fountain will screen Walking the Beat Los Angeles’ culminating multi-media presentation, BLACKOUT 2021.
I had the pleasure of talking to Kariotis about the evolution, impact, and future of this vital program.
–What kind of impact did the events of 2020 have on the students, based on your work with them this past month?
If we are scared as a nation, we will forget all the lessons hard learned. You can see it happening already. No one is talking about all the changes we want to keep. What do we want to keep? Instead of rushing to “normal” (which wasn’t!), 2020 necessitated an activation. We’re activated. One thing the students are is ready.
–Was it difficult getting the officers and students to open up?
No, it wasn’t difficult for anyone to open up, by themselves and with each other. People, and I believe most people, want to do just that. But they need permission and they don’t want to be alone doing it.
–How has the program evolved since its inception, particularly in the last year?
We got research-heavy this year. We turned this workshop into a popular education. We practiced critique and analysis. We studied. We grew into our work as research-based performance artists. We aimed to challenge public policy formally. We are working to move our practice into the theater that is public policy.
–How have your own background and experiences prepared you to do this?
I am studying design thinking and collaborative group processes. This framework is about divergent thinking, collaboration, experimentation, and honoring failure. Creativity — and not just the art-making transactional kind — is a necessary skill. We need people who are able to identify problems before they become problems.
–Who should see BLACKOUT 2021? Why?
Anyone who wants to know how to have hard conversations with others. People interested in learning how to get people to the table. How to talk about things no one knows how to talk about. Right now we all want to talk about a lot, but we don’t know how.
–What is your vision for the future of Walking the Beat and beyond?
For Walking the Beat, my vision is doing policy brief work, where we move beyond survivance and reconnect with the Earth. I wonder how our workshop can tackle the larger theme of power and how that affects our relationship with the planet. We talk about public safety. Do we have planetary safety? What does that mean? How is the way we treat each other impacting climate? This is the ethos moving me into this space and beyond.
* * *
It is this passion and progressive vision that have inspired the ensemble of students and officers to create work that is bold, brave, and charged with the urgency of this moment in our country. In addition to serving as Program Facilitator and Curriculum Director of Walking the Beat, Kariotis offers community workshops for parents on How to Raise Anti-Racist Kids, works at Brookdale Community College as Director of Diversity and Inclusion/CCOG, and has published a chapter in Musing the Margins, an anthology examining the influence of culture and identity on the craft of fiction.
BLACKOUT 2021 will premiere on the Fountain Theatre’s outdoor stage this Wednesday, August 25, at 7pm. It will also be available to view on Fountain Stream in the fall.
France-Luce Benson is an award-winning playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.
During these challenging times, it is more important than ever to connect. In this new series of blog articles, Community Chats, we will talk with different community partners about issues of community and gathering together in a virtual world.
To start, the Fountain’s own Community Engagement Director, France-Luce Benson, talks about the theatre’s upcoming community events as well as the launch of our brand new virtual get-together series, Sunday Brunch. The first Sunday Brunch is being served this Sunday at 11am. Join us! Zoom ID: 853 1210 5903. Passcode: Brunch
1. What is Sunday Brunch?
Sunday Brunch is a new initiative we’re starting this Sunday, February 28th, from 11am-12pm. Like Saturday Matinees, it will be a time for all of us to gather, catch up, connect, and inspire one another. But unlike Saturday Matinees, there won’t be any guest performers. For Sunday Brunch, YOU are the special guest. It’s all about you.
2. Who can participate?
Anyone. Anyone who’s ever seen a show at the Fountain. Anyone who’s ever been in a show at the Fountain, or directed, designed, or ushered. Subscribers, donors, supporters, community partners, neighbors, friends and family. All are welcome.
3. What kind of activities should our community members be expecting?
Great conversation, fun ice-breakers and games, and time to share.
4. Sharing? What can they share?
A song, a joke, a poem, a passage from your favorite book, an excerpt of your own writing, a recipe, a personal story, a piece of art – even gossip! Anything that sparks joy. It’s about spreading love and inspiration.
5. How often will these brunches happen?
The last Sunday of every month, beginning this Sunday, February 28th, from 11am-12pm.
6. Are there any more community events that we should keep our eyes out for?
We are taking our new Arts Education program, Fountain Voices, to Clarence A. Dickison school, beginning March 8th. The nine-week program will culminate in a performance of the students’ original work. Be on the look out for info about the performance in May.
In April, the Fountain Theatre will partner with The Dramatists Guild for their annual End of Play initiative, where hundreds of playwrights across the country commit to completing a new play in the month of April. We’ll be hosting a virtual silent writing retreat.
The Fountain Theatre announces Fountain Voices, an innovative arts education initiative that utilizes the power of theater to promote compassion and acceptance of others. The program launched at Hollywood High School in Fall 2020 and is now expanding to the Compton Unified School District, where it will commence March 8 at Clarence A. Dickinson K-8.
Integrating playwriting, critical thinking and performance, Fountain Voices guides students in the creation of original plays about issues that matter to them, helping them gain a better understanding of themselves and each other, and shedding light on the issues they see impacting their own communities.
“The students themselves choose the topics they want to write about,” says playwright France-Luce Benson,who serves as the Fountain’s community engagement director. “The Hollywood High kids wrote plays about depression, what it means to be queer and cope with homophobia, racial identity and homelessness among young people, among other things.”
Although the first phase, at Hollywood High, was implemented virtually due to Covid restrictions, that did not hinder the students’ ability to form deep, long lasting connections. According to teacher Ali Nezu, “Fountain Voices provided a safe and engaging environment in the midst of distance learning, as well as an authentic artistic experience that combined social emotional learning with English language arts development.”
The nine-week program kicks off with a virtual viewing of Benson’s play, Detained. Originally commissioned by Judy Rabinowitz of the ACLU, Detained is based on interviews with long time U.S. residents held in immigration detention and/or deported, their family members, advocates, attorneys and representatives of ICE. Their collective voices weave a compelling and complicated tapestry that emphasizes the impact immigration detention has on families.
Following the performance, students discuss the process of creating plays based on interviews, as well as the significance of sharing stories as a way to build community. Students are encouraged to think about what communities they belong to, what their stories are, and how they want their stories to be told. Social justice issues raised by the play are explored and used as a launching pad for students to think critically about the issues that impact their own communities. Students are then given the opportunity to engage (virtually) with each other through acting games and exercises designed to teach vital communication skills. As they learn about one another, students are also introduced to the key elements of playwriting. A major component of the curriculum is the interviews that students conduct with members of their own communities. Once those are completed, students collaborate with one another to craft short plays and monologues about the communities they live in and the ones they aspire to create.
Sixth, seventh and eighth graders will be the first to participate at Clarence A. Dickinson, with additional Compton Unified schools adopting the program, provided by the Fountain Theatre at no cost to the district, in the near future. “We are bringing Fountain Voices to our students because I believe that our students need the arts now more than ever,” stated Clarence A. Dickinson principal Rebecca Harris. “This will support our students’ literacy skills in a unique and engaging way.”
Concludes Benson, “Every voice deserves to be heard. Profound change can happen when we listen, and our collective voices can inspire compelling stories.”
Fountain Voices is made possible, in part, by support from Mary Jo and David Volk, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation and Sharyl Overholser.
Leslie R: I was able to meet 6 of the most incredible people I could ever imagine… They made me love something, they reminded me that a family is not DNA. That’s what the program was to me, a family, a community. I learned to love, and through it, I was able to find a little piece of myself.
Delfin G: I was a really shy and reserved student before but being here helped me be more open and sharing that script really did something for me… Hearing those other stories and accounts by my peers was really eye-opening.
Ashley C: The Fountain voices program is a loving and safe space where there is never a right or wrong approach. It feels more like family than just a group and going from strangers to what I consider friends and family in a span of months is amazing.
Madison M: I not only loved the camaraderie of those who were involved in the program, but I cherished the community we built together… Writing is painful, therapeutic, cathartic, beautiful, and fulfilling all at the same time.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”