Category Archives: Diversity

Meet Barbara Herman and Susan Stockel, Executive Producers for An Octroon

Barbara Herman (L) and Susan Stockel (R)

by Barbara Goodhill

Philanthropists who dedicate their giving to arts organizations like the Fountain Theatre are a special breed.  They are people who understand the value of the arts, love live theatre, and believe in its ability to open hearts and elevate our understanding of the world.  Barbara Herman and Susan Stockel, Executive Producers of An Octoroon, are two such philanthropists. They are extraordinary people who are dedicated to giving back, and it is the Fountain’s great good fortune that they choose to support our work.

Barbara Herman is an enthusiastic member of LA’s philanthropic community. She has many passions. Like her mother before her, Barbara is passionate about supporting ground-breaking medical research. Having been a member of The Cedars-Sinai Women’s Guild for over 50 years, Barbara is proud of her many accomplishments. She is, however, particularly proud to have helped launch The Cedars-Sinai’s Neurology Project, created to support innovative research and education for the understanding and treatment of complex neurological disorders. The Women’s Guild is honoring Barbara this September at their annual gala. Barbara is also passionate about the arts, and she is a pillar of support to both the Fountain Theatre and The Broad Stage, on whose board she serves. 

Barbara Herman enjoys opening night of Citizen: An American Lyric at the Fountain Theatre in 2015.

“I have always loved going to the theatre. One of my most treasured memories is going to the theatre with my parents when I was a little girl. Several years ago, I was thrilled to discover the Fountain, a little gem of a theatre in Los Angeles. One of my favorite things to do is gather a group of friends and take them to the Fountain. We have so much fun! We have dinner at Marouch and then go to the Fountain to enjoy whatever is on the stage. It’s always memorable.”

“To me, the Fountain Theatre offers one of the best cultural experiences in Los Angeles. There are just so many reasons. The first, of course, is the excellence of the productions. Everything is done beautifully. Total artistry. The directing, acting, and sets are consistently excellent. I’ve never seen a show that I didn’t either love or like. Now that’s quite a track record! But what’s equally remarkable is the consistent sensitivity and timeliness of the plays presented. Every play the Fountain mounts is relevant and thought-provoking. My friends and I love to discuss the plays after the show, whether we do it on the sidewalk or up in the cafe.”

“But for me, the Fountain is more than a theatre. It is a community. Everyone — from Joe in the parking lot to Simon, Stephen, Barbara and James— greets me by name and makes me feel welcome. It’s a very personal place, not an institution. And that warmth, that personal connection is very unique, and refreshing. Everything at the Fountain seems to come from the heart.”

Barbara’s philanthropy is guided by a simple principle that she learned from her parents: “I’m a firm believer in leaving the world a better place than I found it. If I see a need, I try to fill it. If I see a problem, I try to fix it. And I always encourage people to join me.”

A passionate theatre lover, Susan Stockel becomes filled with excitement when she speaks about theatre — especially when she is describing a play that has truly touched her. Susan’s love for theatre finds her frequently traveling to New York, London and beyond to experience the magic. A wonderful supporter of the Fountain, Susan has executive produced several plays with us, including Cost of Living and Citizen: An American Lyric. Her family foundation funds a variety of organizations: some grants aid low income families who have children with special needs, other grants aid organizations that are working in innovative ways to slow global warming and help indigenous people protect their lands from deforestation and illegal mining. The foundation also supports children’s theatre programs that introduce theatre to youngsters who have never seen live theatre.

Playwright Martyna Majok and Susan Stockel at the Fountain Theatre’s VIP dinner in celebration of Cost of Living, 2018. 

“The magic happens when the children take out their notebooks and read a scene that they have prepared and rehearsed!” Susan beams with pride when she remembers this, and talks about how she first learned to give back from her parents.

“I learned about how important it was to share what I had with others who were in need by watching my father. He was a first-generation American — one of six children, and the only one to finish college. He had to work to help his family and went to night high school. Thankfully, in those days, New York had tuition-free city college that opened up learning to an entire generation of students. He worked days in a clothing factory. My father always provided for his siblings when they needed help, and would pull out his checkbook and loan money to friends with never a due date on the loans. And, of course, he took care of his mother when he lost his father the month before his graduation from dental school. My husband and I also believed in continuing that tradition. We worked as a team when deciding what donations to make, and taught our values to our children. In my husband’s honor, I established a family foundation, and I feel great joy working on the foundation’s projects with my children and grandchildren, knowing that the work will continue, and the family will always be there for each other and for others.”

Susan’s love of theatre began when she was a young girl, and she has a keen eye for great theatre.

“When I was a little girl I loved to perform. I loved telling stories, and I still do! I am a passionate lover of the spoken word. The Fountain Theatre was introduced to me many years ago. An intimate space on a tight budget — the Fountain was an unexpected surprise. Excellent plays, always well-cast and directed, with a loyal diverse audience from all over the city, who brave the traffic to attend!” 

“I chose to produce An Octoroon because I saw the play when it was first produced in Brooklyn at Theatre for a New Audience. I loved it. An Octoroon is a unique play.  It is funny, sad, clever, quirky and wonderful. Just like any piece of great historical fiction, An Octoroon peels back the layers of civilization to reveal the cruelty and hypocrisy often hidden beneath the facade. An Octoroon shows us powerful men behaving ‘civilly,’ but cruelly. They are willing to do anything to further their own self-interest. Narcissism is revealed as a cruel but powerful driver of history. I am particularly drawn to the depiction of Zoe, our heroine. Despite being beautiful and admirable in every way, she becomes an outcast because she is an Octoroon. I love the story and I knew the Fountain would do a tremendous job with this play, so was happy to join the team.”

“Thank you all for your interest and support of the Fountain, Our Magic Place!  May we grow and thrive.”

Barbara Goodhill is the Director of Development for the Fountain Theatre.

Casting complete for the Fountain’s L.A. premiere production of An Octoroon

Casting is complete and rehearsals begin this week for the Los Angeles premiere of a radical, incendiary and subversively funny Obie award-winning play by MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Performances of An Octoroon will inaugurate the new outdoor stage at The Fountain Theatre on June 18. Performances will continue through Sept. 19, with four public previews set for June 11, June 12, June 13 and June 16, and a special press preview on June 17.

Judith Moreland directs Jacobs-Jenkins’s outrageous deconstruction of a moustache-twirling melodrama by 19th century playwright Dion Boucicault. Matthew Hancock (LADCC, Stage Raw and Ovation award-winner for Hit the Wall at the L.A. LGBT Center, previously seen at the Fountain in Between Riverside and Crazy, Hype Man, The Brothers Size, I and You) stars as a modern-day Black playwright struggling to find his voice among a chorus of people telling him what he should and should not be writing. He decides to adapt his favorite play, Boucicault’s The Octoroon, an 1859 melodrama about illicit interracial love.

The Black playwright quickly realizes that getting White, male actors of today to play evil slave owners will not be easy… so, he decides to play the White male roles himself — in whiteface. What ensues is an upside down, topsy-turvy world where race and morality are challenged, mocked and savagely intensified. A highly stylized, theatrical, melodramatic reality is created to tell the story of an octoroon woman (a person who is one-eighth Black) and her quest for identity and love.

The cast includes Rob Nagle (Human Interest Story at the Fountain, The Judas Kiss at Boston Court) as Boucicault; Hazel Lozano (America Adjacent at the Skylight, Othello at Griot Theatre) as the production assistant; Mara Klein (The Judas Kiss at Boston Court, Sucker Punch at Coeurage) as the octoroon, Zoe; and Vanessa Claire Stewart (Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara at the Geffen, Finks at Rogue Machine) as Dora, a rich Southern belle in love with the plantation owner (who is also played by Hancock). Meanwhile, Leea Ayers (BLKS at Steppenwolf, Incendiary at the Goodman Theatre), Kacie Rogers (NAACP award-winner for No Place to be Somebody at Robey Theatre Company and An Accident at Griot Theatre Company; The Heal at Getty Villa) and Pam Trotter (And Her Hair Went With Her at the Fountain, national tour of The Color Purple) portray three startlingly modern slave women.

An Octoroon brutally satirizes racial stereotypes in a funny and profoundly tragic whirlwind of images and dialogue that forces audiences to look at, laugh at, and be shattered by America’s racist history.

“The more you experience this play, the more it turns into something else,” says Moreland. “It’s an extraordinary piece of theater — hilarious, but also shocking, profound, moving… and designed to provoke and offend. We have a terrific group of actors who are completely game and up for the challenge. It’s a celebration of how theater can both move you and change lives.”

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program, commonly but unofficially known as the “Genius Grant,” awards no strings attached cash prizes to individuals who demonstrate “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The website described Jacobs-Jenkins as “a playwright [who draws] from a range of contemporary and historical theatrical genres to engage frankly with complicated issues around identity, family, class and race. Many of Jacobs-Jenkins’s plays use a historical lens to satirize and comment on modern culture, particularly the ways in which race and class are negotiated in both private and public settings. Although the provocation of his audience is purposeful, Jacobs-Jenkins’s creation of unsettling, shocking, often confrontational moments is not gratuitous; these elements are of a piece with the world he has established on stage and in the service of the story he is telling.”

The Fountain Theatre creative team includes scenic designer Frederica Nascimento, lighting designer Derrick McDaniel, sound designer Marc Antonio Pritchett, video designer Nicholas E. Santiago, costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop master Michael Allen Angel; choreographer Annie Yee; fight director Jen Albert; and dramaturg Dr. Daphnie Sicré. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer, assistant stage manager is Deena Tovar, and production manager for the Fountain’s outdoor stage is Shawna Voragen. Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy co-produce for the Fountain Theatre, and the associate producer is James Bennett. Barbara Herman and Susan Stockel are executive producers.

The Fountain’s outdoor stage is made possible, in part, by the generous support of Karen Kondazian, Barbara Herman, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, Rabbi Anne Brener, Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber, Miles and Joni Benickes, and the Phillips-Gerla Family.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally.

An Octoroon runs June 18 through Sept.19, with performances on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at 7 p.m., except Saturday, June 19, which will be at 5 p.m. and will be followed by a special Juneteenth event, and July 30 through Aug. 2 and Aug. 27 through Aug. 30 which will be dark. Four preview performances will take place on June 11, June 12, June 13 and June 16 at 7 p.m. There will be one press preview on Thursday, June 17 at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $25–$45; Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night in addition to regular seating (subject to availability). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles.For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

Conversations with Black Artists, Part III

by Terri Roberts

In this final segment of our Conversations with Black Artists series, we talk with director Shirley Jo Finney, and actors Gilbert Glenn Brown and Theo Perkins. We are grateful to all of the wonderful performers and creatives who have been so generous with their time and shared their thoughts about issues around race and their relationships with the Fountain Theatre. We hope you have enjoyed getting to know them a little better, as well.

Shirley Jo Finney

Director: From the Mississippi Delta, Central Avenue, Yellowman, The Ballad of Emmett Till, Heart Song, In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size, Citizen: An American Lyric

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

My first directing job at the Fountain was in1997, with From the Mississippi Delta by Endesha Ida Mae Holland.

2. How has your experience been working here?

I find the Fountain Theater supports their artists.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

All of them. Each of the shows are socially relevant and have impacted my artistic awareness as well as my expansion as a human being. It is the creative journey with the actors that hold the most meaning for me and not a particular show.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre? 

Not so much.

For me, the emergence of BIPOC is a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and 70’s. That movement changed laws and stopped a war. The cultural and black arts movement of that time laid the foundation for the raised fist we are experiencing now. I am a child of that time and my foundation as a creative was shaped by that time. It is the work I am called to do. Each generation is defined by their time. 

5. Why is Black History Month important

It brings a microscopic lens of awareness to a culture that historically has been erased. There would not be a need for a month if it were an intricate part our education system.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

I hope many more active and healthy years!

I have adapted creatively during “the time of Covid.” It has opened up a whole new world of Zoom lectures discussing my journey and body of work as a director. I also am relishing the world of Zoom productions using the “mashing” of stage and digital to create story.

Gilbert Glenn Brown

Actor: Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

My very first audition and show with Fountain Theatre was early on when I first arrived to Los Angeles from NY and that was Scottsboro Boys.

2. How has your experience been working here?

My experience at the Fountain in one word… community. Truly the closest experience I’ve had in LA to a NY theatre experience. I feel that a sense of community in theatre is necessary. I enjoy being part of it, and the Fountain is able to foster that to an incredible degree,

The commitment to presenting productions that not only entertain, but transform, educate, and energize is so key. It breaks down walls, opens eyes and allows dialogue. The Fountain does that extremely well. I consider the Fountain my LA theatre home.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

I have to say that every single show I’ve had the honor of being a part of at the Fountain has been transformational for me. Every opportunity I’ve had to step onto that stage and look out into that small, yet giant, space, has changed me and allowed me to grow as an artist and as a human being. As an artist, that’s what you want – because if it moves you in that way, it will no doubt move the audience as well.

I have had the opportunity, at the Fountain, to be directed by some of the best: the incredible Shirley Jo Finney, the wonderful Simon Levy and the late, legendary Ben Bradley.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre? 

Honestly, it has reinforced my conviction to continue doing exceptional, meaningful work as an artist. The projects I gravitate toward speak to the conditions of the world and ask the important questions, then set the stage for dialogue to occur.

There is a space for entertainment, for laughter, for fun – all that and more are a part of life and living. They exist even in classic tragedies, as they do in everyday issues and everyday life – but the responsibility of looking at all sides, of presenting the pleasure and the pain, falls on the artist. The unrest has always been there. The causes for that unrest have always been there. It’s just that now, due to social media/technology, that unrest is being broadcast and streamed 24/7 in real time and in living color. That doesn’t make it any easier, but it does make it more apparent.

Look at George Floyd, or the Capitol riots! Watching those events happen, live, presents the opportunity to either step up and be an active participant, or just sit back and watch. And that is something the Fountain stands on: Yes, of course, sit back. Please watch what’s happening. Go ahead and be uncomfortable by what you see on stage. Let it sink in, and let it transform you in some way. Let that experience provoke discussion, challenge your way of thinking or the way you see the world. That is the amazing opportunity that theatre presents.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

Black History? Well, I’ve been educated and enlightened to see that it’s not just “Black” History or just a month. It’s really World History. It’s really American History. The truth is that much that exists now wouldn’t exist at all without Black input, and, for that matter, without the input of many other cultures, races, religions, etc. America is an amalgamation of all that’s been added to the mix. There really shouldn’t be a limit to the reality of the impact that any culture has had on life in America. If we were to really embrace that truth, that inclusivity, what would, or could, America be?

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

Right now I’m working on the CW/DC show Stargirl. I will be seen as Martin Luther King Jr. opposite Jennifer Hudson in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, due out this August. And I’m always creating, writing and being part of projects that address what I see is missing from the world.

Theo Perkins

Actor: In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size, Raise Your Voice – Vote!

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

Shortly after graduating from UCLA, I received an audition for In the Red and Brown Water. This was my first introduction to the Fountain Theatre.

2. How has your experience been working here?

Transformative. The intimacy of the space really expanded my approach to performance in amazing ways. I’m proud to say the Fountain Theatre is my theater home.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

This is tough one. Each production is close to me to this day. I’d say, In the Red and Brown Water. Not only did it introduce me to Tarell McCraney’s work, but I also gained a tribe of amazing humans, all of whom I still talk to today.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

Well, I believe it served as a reminder of how important it is to have diverse voices in our theaters. Not only in terms of playwrights, but in all departments. The events of this summer shined a light on the years of inequity within our community. And it has pushed us all to do and to be better.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

It’s an intentional acknowledgment of the undeniable contributions African-Americans have made in this country. It’s a reminder that our history should be honored. And studied. And used to inspire younger generations.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

During the quarantine, I wrote and produced a film project that will come out this Spring. Look out for it! Also excited to re-launch Elizabeth Youth Theatre Ensemble’s social justice program, Walking the Beat, both in New Jersey and in Los Angeles at the Fountain Theatre. Both productions will actually be virtual.