Category Archives: Arts

The choir needs preaching, too.

FT audience Sept 2019by Stephen Sachs

It came from the young producer of a newly-formed immersive theatre company. His troupe eschews the conventional production of plays. Instead, it presents “multisensory experiences.” The question was targeted at me. The panel discussion at LATC brought together artistic directors from six LA companies, some new and some long-established, to talk over the goals and perils of creating theatre in Los Angeles. As Founder/Artistic Director of the Fountain, I was invited to speak for a “legacy theatre.” I was one of the old guys.

The question thrown to me by the young theater-maker is one I’ve been asked many times over thirty years. It comes when your theatre creates work that confronts social and political issues. The question will surface sometimes in reviews of new plays or be floated in post-show discussions with patrons. Depending on tone and intent, I’ve heard it posed both as a question and as a statement of accusation.

“Aren’t you just preaching to the choir?”

The trope of “preaching to the choir” is defined as presenting work that offers a message so obvious, so apparent and undebatable to those receiving it (because they think or feel the same way) it is therefore rendered meaningless.  A waste of time. For years, I agreed. Preaching to the choir was unproductive. Over time, I have changed my mind.

The choir needs preaching, too.

The choir are the folks at every service. They’ve heard it all. They’ve listened to the same scripture spoken from the same pulpit, time and time again. They know the words to every song and have sung them, over and over. By now the choir should embody, as human beings, what all the words mean. But they can’t. Nobody can. The truth is, once the choir believes that it “already knows,” the church is in trouble.

At the Fountain, the choir are our longtime loyal patrons who follow the artistic mission of our theatre. Together, we are committed to diversity and inclusion. At the Fountain, we dramatize stories on racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-semitism, homelessness. If I were to survey each of our devoted patrons I would wager that all would agree that these social issues are wrong.  Should the Fountain, therefore, not tell these stories?

Why do we go to a church or a temple? Why should we gather with like-minded people who share our same belief system, who think like we do, who know all the same stories and follow all the same rules. Why do we go? To be humbled. Reminded. Illuminated. We are complicated, imperfect beings. There is infinity to discover in ourselves and each other. We think we know.  We do not.

A few weeks ago I was reading a book on racism in America. The book was forcing me to confront my own position of privilege as a White man in this country.  I was highlighting sentences and paragraphs throughout. I also found myself skimming what I considered to be obvious sections outlining racism in this country, thinking, “I know, I know, I know” as I flipped the pages.  I then stopped myself. What was  I doing? Do I really know? Can I really know? Isn’t muttering “I know, I know, I know” while flipping pages on racism just another example of a well-meaning White liberal male self-medicating?

Once we say “I know” to any social issue, and do nothing, we become part of the problem. Preaching to those who need healing is easy. Changing the self-righteous is hard.

Preaching to the choir is pointless only if parishioners do nothing after the service. Just if educated well-meaning patrons at the Fountain see a play on injustice, nod their heads, agree that it’s terrible, feel good about themselves and then go home to their daily lives, unchanged. Preaching to the choir is essential when it pushes the choir to dig deeper inside itself and ask the hard questions: what is my role in this? How do I perpetuate what is wrong? How can I make it right?

At the Fountain, I am deeply aware that I am not only part of the choir, I am the Choir Leader. I am the straight, White male gatekeeper of a theatre dedicated to diversity. Even with my best intentions, no matter how hard I try, I do not “know.” I can not “know.” Whenever I pretend that I do, I have lost my way.

Coming to the theatre reminds me what the many ills of this nation make painfully clear.  No truth is self-evident.

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre

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

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VIDEO: How did playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis get idea for ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’?

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

Fountain Theatre awarded $50,000 grant from Ahmanson Foundation

FT night flags August 2019The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that it has been awarded an Arts and Humanities grant from the Ahmanson Foundation in the amount of $50,000, doubling the amount awarded to the Fountain by the Foundation last year.  The Ahmanson Foundation strives to enhance the quality of life and cultural legacy of the Los Angeles community by supporting non-profit organizations that demonstrate sound fiscal management, efficient operation, and program integrity.

“We are deeply grateful to the Ahmanson Foundation for its continued partnership and support,” states Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “This grant will allow us to enhance our ability to serve the Los Angeles community.”

The Ahmanson Foundation directs its giving toward the areas of the arts and humanities, education, human services, and health and medicine. The foundation’s grants in these areas are largely dedicated toward capital projects that support the nuts-and-bolts-type needs of non-profits.  The vast majority of the foundation’s philanthropy is directed toward organizations and institutions based in and serving the greater Los Angeles area.

The grant award reflects the success of The Fountain Theatre’s ongoing campaign under the guidance of Director of Development Barbara Goodhill to increase the levels and broaden the sources of contributed giving to the organization.  Today’s announcement follows last month’s news of a $40,000 award  from The Wallis Annenberg Foundation to the Fountain for general operating support.

“This generous award from the Ahmanson Foundation is another extraordinary endorsement and affirmation of The Fountain’s continued growth and prestige within Southern California’s cultural landscape and the funding community, ” states Goodhill.

PHOTOS: First rehearsal for Pulitzer Prize winner ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ at Fountain Theatre

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Liza Fernandez, Joshua Bitton, Guillermo Cienfuegos, Victor Anthony, Lesley Fera, Montae Russell and Marisol Miranda

What happens when you mix a Pulitzer Prize winning script, a company of phenomenal actors and a skilled director together in one room? You get magic.  From the moment the first lines of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ funny and powerful Between Riverside and Crazy were spoken at Wednesday night’s first rehearsal, all knew they were in for a wild and joyous ride.

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In Gurigis’ profane and tender tale, ex-cop and recent widower Walter “Pops” Washington and his newly paroled son Junior have spent a lifetime living between Riverside and crazy. 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 won’t leave him alone. When the struggle to keep one of New York City’s last great rent-stabilized apartments collides with old wounds, sketchy new houseguests, and a final ultimatum, it seems that the old days may be dead and gone.

Directed by award-winning Guillermo Cienfuegos, the cast includes Victor Anthony, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Liza Fernandez, Matthew Hancock, Marisol Miranda, and Montae Russell.

At the first meet-and-greet, the company was joined by Fountain staff, Board members and donors.  The group enjoyed a brief welcoming reception and then gathered on the Fountain stage for the reading of the script. Director Cienfuegos commented that he was struck by the support of the Fountain Theatre Family. Never, he said, had he witnessed such a show of community at a first rehearsal, with such a large number of dedicated people so eagerly present. “This is wonderful,” he grinned. “Because the play, in addition to being about racism and class and police work, is really about family.”

Between Riverside and Crazy opens October 19. More Info/Get Tickets

“The Joy Luck Club” cast visits “Hannah and the Dread Gazebo” at Fountain Theatre

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Actors from “Joy Luck Club” and “Hannah” in Fountain cafe.

Ever question if LA has a real theatre community? A true sense of camaraderie? Doubt no more. Last night, members of the cast from the Sierra Madre Playhouse production of The Joy Luck Club swarmed to the Fountain Theatre to support friends and colleagues in our California Premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. After the performance, members from both companies gathered in our upstairs cafe to celebrate and congratulate each other.

It was fitting that the visit happened on Labor Day, the national observance of the value of work.  For people who work in the theatre, there is a fervent dedication to the art form and a palpable cord of goodwill between artists.

The bond between the Joy Luck and Hannah casts  — both with Asian actors — began when the company of Joy Luck sent a funny and warm-hearted good luck video from the Sierra Madre Playhouse to the Hannah group days before its opening at the Fountain.


The Hannah company replied, posting their own video to the Joy Luck cast.

Happy opening night to the cast and crew of Joy Luck Club at Sierra Madre Playhouse (Victor S Chi Shar Liu Christine Liao Tim Dang Yee Eun Nam Lee Chen-Norman Grace Shen Christopher Chen and everyone) !!!!! — ❤ the cast of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo at East West Players and Fountain Theatre 🎭🥰👏👏👏👏💐

Posted by Jully Lee on Saturday, August 24, 2019

 

Last night, cast members from The Joy Luck Club were at the Fountain supporting their fellow players. The Hannah cast will soon do the same. Theatre can be a competitive business. It can also be a haven for friendship and support.

Enjoy these photos from last night’s visit.

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Get tickets/more info on Hannah and the Dread Gazebo and The Joy Luck Club.

VIDEO: Rebecca Bonebrake brings the dazzling light to ‘Hannah and the Dread Gazebo’

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PHOTOS: Opening Night of ‘Hannah and the Dread Gazebo’ at Fountain Theatre

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The Hannah company gathers for a party photo.

A packed house of passionate theatregoers, donors and guests, friends and family, and the invited press enjoyed Saturday night’s Opening performance of our California Premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo by Jiehae Park.  A collaboration between the Fountain Theatre and East West Players, the audience reflected a lively engagement from the communities of both companies.

Following the performance, guests enjoyed a catered reception upstairs in our charming cafe. The delicious Korean cuisine was served by Kimbap Paradise, with Korean beer provided by Lotte Beverage America.

Enjoy these photos!

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Hannah and the Dread Gazebo continues in a limited run to Sept 22.  Tickets/More Info

‘Hannah’ playwright Jiehae Park and director Jennifer Chang making magic together

Jiehae Park 2

Jiehae Park

by Carolina Xique

It’s an exciting time to be an artist. In the last few years, the arts industry has been experiencing a high production value in diverse storytelling aimed toward better representation of people of color, and more specifically, Asian and Asian American representation. With groundbreaking films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Netflix’s Always be My Maybe, The Farewell, as well as the successful theatrical production of Cambodian Rock Band, people everywhere are becoming more exposed to the nuances of the Asian/Asian-American experience.

With a cast that is made up of Koreans and Korean Americans, Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo takes a family on a funny, heartbreaking adventure to reconnect with their roots in South and North Korea, and also into the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides them. Hannah premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2017, and is now set to open at the Fountain Theatre in association with East West Players, directed by Jiehae’s longtime collaborator, Jennifer Chang. So we thought we’d grab the chance to talk with them about their own adventure with this play.

Carolina Xique: First, let me say that I’m thrilled to hear about this new piece and that it’s making its way into Los Angeles.

Jiehae, as playwright, can you talk about how the idea for this play came to you? Is it personal to your own experience or indicative of the holistic Korean American experience? And Jennifer, as the director, what drew you to take on this piece?

Jiehae Park: I didn’t know I was writing a play. I was primarily a performer at the time (Jen and I both went to UCSD for acting). There were quite a few big questions I was trying to figure out—and I think the unusual shape of the play reflects that. I would sit down and write down stories that came to me in that moment, not realizing it was all going to add up to something bigger.

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Jennifer Chang

Jennifer Chang: I am a huge fan of Jiehae’s and have been following her career with personal interest for some time as we share an alma mater: we both went through the MFA Acting program at UCSD and have both diversified our careers.  She is a significant talent and I am so thrilled to have this opportunity to collaborate with her on Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. The musicality of the language and the inherent theatricality that emerges from her ability to weave a multiplicity of thought and theme are all very exciting and honestly a dream to be able to dive into.  Also, I love being able to support the telling of Asian American stories in their universality and three-dimensionality.

What kind of research did both of you dive into when writing Hannah?

JP: I didn’t research much initially, but I did do quite a bit before finishing the play (that’s been a recurring pattern in my writing process these last few years). The research didn’t directly go into the play but provided a richer historical and cultural context that helped me complete it.

A follow-up to that, in terms of your other plays and writing process, was anything different for Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

JP: Broadly, I seem to have two general types of plays—super-quick, freight-train-speed linear ones; or messier, slower-baking plays where the structure is far less predictable. Hannah is definitely in the latter category.

Jennifer, what in your directing process is helping you with Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

JC: Regarding research, the usual dramaturgical work of researching was involved: Korea, the DMZ, politics of North and South and Kim Jong Il. I wanted to lean into the magic-realism of the play, and early on knew that I wanted to consult with an illusionist, and also started doing some research into magic (I’m currently reading Spellbound by David Kwong). It’s been so great to have a cast that is Korean American.  There are some points of commonality amongst Asian Americans, but being able to tap into specific details, nuances, and experiences that the cast has so generously shared with the company and has contributed to the making of the show has been invaluable.  It’s illuminating to discover the tiny nuances of how gestures and thinking and sounds differ for Koreans in, and those from, Korea.  I love new plays and really view myself as a locksmith in my approach to collaboration.  I want to know what the play wants to be, the playwright’s intentions, what’s resonating with the cast and how they approach the work, and how best to facilitate the conversation and “the ride” so to speak, with the audience.  Having worked on Vietgone by Qui Nguyen has really helped.  These plays are vastly different but they both have scenes that shift at a cinematic pace in widely varying tones that need to be woven together in the same play.

East West Players is a theatre company known for its work lifting up Asian-American stories. How do you feel about bringing the LA premiere of Hannah in collaboration with EWP and the Fountain Theatre?

JP: Honored. I had a reading of my very first play—which had been my college thesis—at EWP over a decade ago…in the time since I figured out I wasn’t a playwright, went to grad school for something else, then re-figured out that I was.  And Stephen Sachs at the Fountain reached out about the play very soon after the OSF premiere—I’ve long admired the scripts he brings to LA area audiences. Additionally, Jen directed an early reading of the play at EWP years ago, and I acted in a show with Jully Lee (the Shapeshifter) that Howard Ho (Sound Design/Composer) music directed when I was right out of school. I’m bummed to not have been able to be out there for rehearsals, but happy that it feels all in the family.

JC: It’s an honor to be able to helm a project with the support of two highly respected institutions in Los Angeles.  I think it’s really smart theatre making to cross-pollinate and support the universality of human experiences and good work regardless of color.  A collaboration like this signals that this isn’t just work by people of color, but that it’s good work worth supporting, period.

What do you want audiences to take with them when they leave the Fountain Theatre after seeing Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

JC: Garlic in their pockets.

Carolina Xique, is a theatre artist and arts nonprofit administrator. She is a member of the Los Angeles Female Playwright Initiative