Category Archives: Fountain Family

Conversations with Black Artists, Part I

By Terri Roberts

Over the past three decades, the Fountain Theatre has worked with a vast array of wildly talented Black actors, directors, designers and more. Many of them have worked with us on multiple productions over the years.

We reached out to several of these wonderful artists and asked them a variety questions on a wide range of topics.

Today we feature costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders, and actors Matthew Hancock and Bernard K. Addison. More conversations to come. Stay tuned!

Naila Aladdin Sanders

Costume Designer: Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, The Ballad of Emmett Till, A House Not Meant to Stand, Cyrano, The Blue Iris, In the Red and Brown Water, On the Spectrum, The Normal Heart, The Brothers Size, Reborning, Citizen: An American Lyric, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, Runaway Home

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

I had been working at Los Angeles City College for some years and doing freelance design jobs around town. I knew about the Fountain because I heard that Stephen Sachs was an alumni, and my husband, Henry, was a good friend of the original owner of the Fountain’s building, Jerry Holland. When the Fountain asked me to do the costume design for Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys (2002) I felt at home there and knew it was a safe creative space for me.

2. How has your experience been working here?

Every time I am asked to design a play at the Fountain I know that it will bring to light some new aspect of the human condition, and I continue to be excited about the collaboration used to bring those worlds to life.

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

The Ballad of Emmett Till will always be the play that stands out for me, for many reasons. Ben Bradley was one of the most gracious directors that I have ever worked with. When I designed with him, we always had a lot of private conversations about what he wanted to see or what I was trying to do. He was always so appreciative of the contributions that designers made, and was careful that our vision was melding with his.

The play began, as all do, at a table read with the cast and production crew. Our first rehearsal date was January 3rd. As we gathered on that day, we learned that Ben had been killed in his home on New Year’s Day.

Enter Shirley Jo Finney, the healing presence who would call on the ancestors to put our broken cast back together, with prayers and affirmations and Auntie love. I don’t know of another person that could have made that happen the way she did. I developed a connection with that cast that I never had with any other. The play ran for several months, and many times as I would drive past the theatre on my way home from another long rehearsal on another show, and I would see the light on in the café. I knew my cast was up there. I would go upstairs and see them all together, as if it were opening weekend.

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? 

Last summer’s civil unrest was a culmination of the Black voices that have been crying out for decades, asking for justice, for inclusion, to at least be seen as human. George Floyd was killed by a police officer, and for eight minutes the rest of the world was shown just how little Black lives matter to some people, including those that are charged with protecting that life. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 50’s and 60’s was difficult for me as one of four children in a divorced household. I can bear witness to many of the consequences of the marginalization of black people. I hope that the protests do not let up until we are on a concrete path to real change.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

An awareness of the contributions of Black people in our country is important to us every day, not just in February. Unfortunately, since those contributions have been removed from most textbooks and not included in most school curriculums as another way to denigrate the importance of Black people in our country, the only way we will know our history is to teach it to each other.

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

There are no theatre design projects in the works right now. I am working on several art projects and have been in talks with galleries for inclusion in their virtual shows. And I have been working on my quarantine garden.

Matthew Hancock

Actor: The Brothers Size, I and You, Hype Man, Between Riverside and Crazy

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

I first came to the Fountain Theatre in 2014 to play the part of Oshoosi Size in the West Coast Premiere of The Brothers Size. Although, I did receive some sage advice from actor Jason George in 2013, who said, “Do a show at the Fountain.”

2. How has your experience been working here?

My experience working at the Fountain has always been extremely pleasant yet familiar.  I’ve always remarked that the Fountain has always felt like home. One of the beauties of working in intimate theatre is the strong bonds that are formed with the people. I have always felt supported and nurtured there.

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

I have had the pleasure of being in four very different shows at the Fountain. All of them are jewels that I cherish for different reasons. Each of the characters that I’ve played on the Fountain stage have taught me something about myself, influenced a new thinking, or expanded my view. 

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? 

Being an artist who is at the intersection of race and queer issues, much of what I try to do in my work is put my thumb on the pulse of these matters. In both The Brothers Size and Hype Man, the issue of civil rights is so much in the body of those plays. The work goes in hand-in-hand with what is going on outside the theatre doors. Holding up the mirror so that we can see ourselves and make some changes. From the micro to the macro. 

5. Why is Black History Month important?

Black History is important because it is American History. It’s world history. What this pandemic has reinforced is that we live interdependent of one another. We all require the same things. The contributions of Black Americans have been vast. The world enjoys the fruits of these labors. So the world should pay homage. 

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

You can catch me in the final season of Kidding on Showtime, and the revenge thriller Always and Forever on Amazon. Coming up next is the film Distancing Socially.

Bernard K. Addison

Actor: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Ballad of Emmett Till, Citizen: An American Lyric

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

I was told about the Fountain Theatre somewhere around graduate school. As we were talking about where to go – New York or LA or Chicago – I remember my teacher saying, “Well, if you go to LA, there are a handful of theatres you should get involved with: one is Antaeus and the other is the Fountain Theatre.” So that stayed in my mind until I finally made the move to LA. My first audition at the Fountain was for Central Avenue. I booked it, but I had to drop out because I didn’t know if I could actually commit to the time frame. But then I got an audition for Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, and that really started my relationship with the Fountain.

2. How has your experience been working here?

When I finally started working with the late Ben Bradley on Joe Turner…, it was a needed time in my life. I needed to find a place where my aesthetic for acting and theatre could be really, truly appreciated, nurtured and encouraged. And that’s what I found when I did Joe Turner…. I prepared, I worked my butt off, I came in with an agenda every time for each rehearsal, and Ben recognized that. He was very personal with me, like “How do you think about this scene? What do you think needs to happen here?” He was actually treating me as a co-collaborator, and I really appreciated that. It was great to be not just a person who goes from A to B, but a collaborator. And each piece I have done since, I have had that sense. From Ben to Shirley Jo Finney, I don’t feel like I am just an actor, but I actually have a way of collaborating. The flow of ideas in the rehearsal room has always gone both ways. And that’s been very encouraging.

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

Well, Joe Turner…, of course, was by one of the great playwrights, August Wilson, and was one of his great plays. I was playing one of the most dynamic characters in the canon, and doing that with a crackerjack team of actors, in a beautifully realized rendition of the play directed by Ben Bradley, and making it jump off the stage in that small space was beautiful. That particular production, with those actors, I hold dear to my heart.

Then there’s The Ballad of Emmett Till. We were lauded in so many ways with end-of-the-year award recognition, and lots of people came to see it. Lots of people still tell me that they saw it and remember and think about it. And that was forged from the untimely tragedy of the loss of Ben to the superhuman superhero strength of Shirley Jo to come in and take this cast and turn it around and really make the show live and sing. I actually spoke to all the cast members today. That’s how close we are. We are a lifelong family.

And then, of course, there is Citizen, which speaks to our time now, and has stirred up a lot of conversation. That show really became a precursor to what we are living now, and what the American theatre is living now, as are all the other systemic places where racist doctrine is within the structure of these institutions. And so to have a play like that begin that conversation of what micro-aggression looks like, and the many different permeations of it, to have it start on the Fountain Theatre stage and then be part of the Center Theatre Group Block Party stage, and then actually doing it outside in the Music Center’s Grand Park…oh, my three plays have been such a joy!

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? 

I have been part of conversations with other theatre companies and other theatre practitioners about what this means and what we need, as BIPOC artists, to be able to actually address long-standing, long-held systems in the American theatre that are just traditional. They are not necessarily part of the “Now,” and are not necessarily part of the cultural storytelling that needs to happen. Or that should happen. Especially since these old institutions – the regional theatre movement of the 60’s – are beginning to fade and lose their luster. They were born of an important movement of their time, and now this is a different time. And so being able to look at questions like, Where does theatre go? How does theatre serve all communities? How do we use art to actually begin to dismantle centuries-old pre-conceived ideas and traditions? has been very important for me.

I have also had to come to grips with my understanding of what me being involved in the theatre has done to me and my belief system. How much of it has been impacted by white supremacist thought? How do I unravel that for myself? That’s been a challenging journey for me. And I am so humbled and in awe of the new voices coming up, that I just want to make sure that I’m there to support them in where they want the theatre to go.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

I don’t know. I don’t believe in Black History Month. I think history is history is history. The joke is always that they gave Black History Month the shortest month of the year. Well, that’s your thinking. That’s not my thinking. I like to say that this is a more detailed look at American history, because you can’t have American history without Black people in it. And if we choose to use Black History Month to bring those Black people and those Black stories to the forefront, that’s great! But I don’t think American history can happen without Black people. I don’t think Black History Month can happen without Indigenous people. I think the myth of American exceptionalism has eliminated, or tamped down, these other stories. Now we have to move to a different paradigm. What is Black History Month? I don’t know. I know what American history is, and that it has all shades and all colors. And if we’re really going to begin to unravel these systemic racist institutions, we have to start thinking about the fact that this whole idea of Black History Month is also part of that system. So I think we have to go, Okay, let’s just blow that aside and let’s see where we need to fill in the gaps of our understanding of the importance of Black people in America.

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

I’m teaching. I’m working with my students. I will be doing a big Spotlight Awards master class; I do that every now and then with the Music Center. I have a couple of kids who are in the finals of the August Wilson Monologue Competition here in LA, and that always brings me pleasure. So I guess my focus now is just these young voices coming up; I want to help them find it. Hopefully, my voice is not over yet on the stage, and I hope that once we are out of Pandemic Land that you may hear my voice again.

Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.

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!

Fountain Spotlight: Marcella Meharg

Marcella Meharg 4

Marcella Meharg

The Fountain Theatre community is a devoted band of folk who love theatre and often, one another. Normally The Fountain enjoys shining a light on members of our theatre family in our show programs. During this 2020 pandemic, however, with no show programs to print, The Fountain continues our tradition of honoring members of our devoted community here on the Fountain Blog.

Happy 90th Birthday Marcella Meharg!

Today we honor Marcella Meharg — on the occasion of her recent 90th birthday, and her life-long love of theatre — with two tributes. The first comes from a group of old friends who made a generous contribution in honor of Marcella’s milestone celebration:

“We are a group of former colleagues who worked for Los Angeles County as child welfare workers in the Metro North office in East Hollywood. We met Marcella in the early 70s. From colleagues to friends, we bonded over the years as we worked, raised our children, went to school and lived our lives. Lunches during the work day were a time to catch up. After retirement, lunches became monthly dinners and/or monthly lunches and have continued for over 15 years. The theater has always been an important part of Marcella’s life. Others in the group also have regular subscriptions to theaters in Los Angeles and the Fountain Theatre is one of our favorites. During this pandemic and difficult times for the arts, it seemed so appropriate that Marcella’s gift on the occasion of her 90th birthday would be a donation to the Fountain Theatre. ”
Selma Anderson
Sheila Beving
Ellen Broms
Kay Erland
Carol Fox
Elayne Landy
Bill Lewis
Sharon Mayer
Elaine Smitham
Julie Wheeler
Rochelle Ventura

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The second tribute comes from Sylvie Drake, whose own contributions to Los Angeles’ theatre community are legendary. She is a former theatre critic and columnist for the Los Angeles Times and graduate of The Pasadena Playhouse. She is a current contributor to culturalweekly.com and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

“Marcella Meharg and I did not choose one another. We were thrown together, like it or not, in a dormitory room at the Pasadena Playhouse when we were 19. And it took.
It took so well that, when she came down with a light case of the chickenpox, she eagerly passed it on to me, improved and with bells on. I was sick as a dog. That nasty little episode only drew us closer together. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re young, in “theatre school,” mutually passionate about the “art,” the success you’re certain will follow, the boy-friends and assorted other wonders. You form bonds — good and bad — that become indelible. Our post-Playhouse lives took paths that were at once divergent and not. We didn’t hit fame and fortune, but each of us married and each had two children at roughly the same time. Life went on, separating us as it often does, but not forever.

Marcella became a social worker and went on to run the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild’s Julie Harris Playwriting Contest for a number of years. She also co-produced an Ovation-nominated play and wrote one, which had a reading at Hollywood’s Samuel French Bookstore just before it went dark.

By the time we were both older and ready to take a step back, we rediscovered our friendship on a pleasant leisurely basis. By then I was writing reviews more selectively for culturalweekly.com than when I was writing them for The Los Angeles Times, and Marcella became my go-to theatre companion, chiefly because our tastes in theatre matched and our lengthy relationship made for lively conversations that we both enjoyed. What was invigorating is that we didn’t always admire the same productions and our disagreements were often more interesting than our agreements — until the pandemic hit, interrupting all the fun and the tooling around town, popping in and out of shows.

When some of Marcella’s friends smartly decided to celebrate her 90th birthday by contributing in her name to a theatre of her choice, the decision, she tells me, was easy. The Fountain is where we both spent many fascinating hours and hope to spend many more once the world returns to some kind of normal.

Happy birthday, Marcella. I’ve always known you had good judgment.”
– Sylvie Drake

Do you have a Fountain family member you would like to honor? Let us know. Email us at info@fountaintheatre.com

VIDEO: House Manager Richard Horton loves his job, and the people he greets at the Fountain

House Manager Richard Horton loves his job at the Fountain Theatre. You’ll love Richard after watching him work behind the scenes, greeting patrons, and serving as the Fountain goodwill ambassador.

Happy Birthday, Fountain Theatre

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Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor

When my parents met and fell in love, their favorite book was Eric Sevareid’s “Not So Wild a Dream.” They felt the phrase captured the promise of their bond, and had the words inscribed inside their wedding rings. For me, the Fountain Theatre is also not so wild a dream. Twenty-nine years ago today, Deborah Lawlor and I opened our doors. Our desire was to create a home. A sanctuary on Fountain Avenue where artists and audiences can gather to engage in the life-enhancing rhapsody of live art. Nearly three decades later, after hundreds of productions, thousands of artists and hundreds of thousands of patrons, that desire has proven itself to be not so wild a dream.

Serving Los Angeles for twenty-nine years and still going strong. Changing the world seventy-eight seats a time.

Onward

Stephen Sachs

‘Cost of Living’ playwright Martyna Majok asks you to support the Fountain Theatre

Martyna Majok 1.5

Playwright Martyna Majok.

Friends of the Fountain,

Thank you for bringing Cost of Living to Los Angeles. This is the first production the play has received after its NYC premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club in June 2017 and the world premiere at Williamstown Theatre Festival in July 2016. 

I’m grateful to The Fountain for investing in this story and for continuing its life. I’m grateful also for the beautiful, thoughtful production that you and the wonderful team of artists created. And I’m thrilled for the kind welcome that the play and production have received in LA—and the chance to showcase the talents of some truly incredible actors.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting The Fountain Theatre by making a Year End Gift today.

Martyna Majok

Click here to donate.

VIDEO: ‘Cost of Living’ actor Felix Solis wants you to join the ‘caravan of magic’ at Fountain Theatre

 

Theater producer and consultant Diana Buckhantz joins Fountain Theatre Board of Directors

Diana Buckhantz cropped

The Fountain Theatre is pleased to welcome veteran theater producer and public relations consultant Diana Buckhantz to its Board of Directors.

Diana Buckhantz recently produced the critically acclaimed new musical Songbird in New York City which is about to have a second production at Two Rivers Theatre this June before an eventual return to New York. She was part of the producing team that brought the Tony-nominated musical Leap of Faith from the Ahmanson Theatre to Broadway. Her producing credits also include Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York and The Last Goodbye at the Old Globe.

“I have been seeing shows at the Fountain for many years and have always been so impressed by the quality of the work,” says Buckhantz. “Excellent writing, beautifully staged productions and wonderful acting – all wrapped around and illuminating the important social and moral issues of the day. I believe that theatre should entertain but also that it should stimulate audiences to challenge their values and belief systems.  The Fountain does this in engaging and thoughtful ways. I am excited to join the board to help support this important work and help the theatre to grow and expand its reach. “

Diana began her professional career producing award-winning documentaries including “Dying with Dignity,” “Hunger in the Promised Land, and “Not A Question of Courage,” all for KTLA. Her documentaries have also received two National EMMY awards, two local EMMY Awards, the Scripps Howard Award for Broadcast Journalism, the State Bar of California Public Service Award, the NAPTE National Iris Award, the National Education Award, three Angel Awards, and the Kenny Rogers World Hunger Media Award.

While a producer at ITC Productions, she received an Associate Producer credit for the feature film “Without A Clue,” starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley.

Currently, she also runs her family foundation which focuses on issues around runaway and homeless youth, arts education in the schools, aging, reproductive rights, and combating genocides and mass atrocities in Africa.

She proudly serves on the boards of Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles Youth Network, Jewish World Watch and Capital and Main.

Her greatest production, however, is her son Sam.

“Diana has been a fan of the Fountain for some time, ” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Her professional experience as a theater producer and her dedicated service on notable non-profit boards makes her a very strong asset to our Fountain Family. We are thrilled to have her on our Board of Directors. “

Creating a theatre family and community: Meet intern Victoria Montecillo

Victoria Montecillo at desk June 2016by Victoria Montecillo

Hey there Fountain family! My name is Victoria Montecillo and I am the Development Intern at The Fountain this summer. I am a recent graduate of Scripps College, where I got a double degree in Theatre and Media Studies. Aside from theatre, I love music (making it and listening to it!), reading (now that I’m done with college, I actually have time to read again), and spending time with the people I love. I was born in New York, but my family moved to Hong Kong before I turned two, so I grew up in Hong Kong before coming back to the United States for college.

In my experiences in theatre, I’ve done a little bit of everything – I found my passion as a performer, and I explored working in sound, lights, and directing. I found that although my heart initially was only with performing, I loved being involved in theatre in any way I could. I loved being a part of the work, and helping create that final product. In college, I became so much more aware of the power of theatre; the power of giving voices to untold stories, and of reaching out to audiences through stories of the human experience. 

At the same time, I was beginning to better understand my own identity as a first-generation Filipino-American who grew up abroad. This year, I went to see a play written by a professor of mine about Filipina immigrant women in the United States. The script was a mix of English and Tagalog, with supertitles projected onto the set. It was the first time I had seen a piece of original theatre with people onstage who looked like me, and talking like my family. Each of their stories were powerful, real, and resonated with me in a way I didn’t expect. That’s when I realized the true power of theatre, and I understood my compulsion to work in theatre. I wanted to have a hand in the stories that are told onstage, and I wanted to be able to help create theatre that reached out to all kinds of audiences, to make them feel heard and understood. 

I am so incredibly thrilled to be here at the Fountain this summer – not only do I admire the work that they produce, I am just so honored to be welcomed to the family and community here. Community is such an essential aspect of theatre and creating art, and I am so excited to do my part to contribute and further the work done here. 

Our thanks to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Arts Internship Program for making this summer internship possible.  

Special guests applaud the Fountain Theatre at the home of actor Alan Mandell

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Stephen Sachs speaks to the invited guests.

Fountain friends, longtime and new, enjoyed an unforgettable afternoon Saturday at the magnificent Westwood home of actor Alan Mandell. English tea, sandwiches and pastries were served to thirty invited special guests who marvelled at Alan’s extraordinary art collection and chatted about the achievements and future of the Fountain Theatre.

The afternoon salon was organized so distinguished friends and supporters of the Fountain could stay connected with the theatre and each other. And new colleagues and associates from the Los Angeles business and arts communities were introduced to the Fountain’s inner circle.

Fountain Co-Artistic Directors Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs were joined by Producing Director Simon Levy, Associate Producer James Bennett and Director of Development Barbara Goodhill.

Fountain Board members Dorothy Wolpert, Karen Kondazian, Dick Motika, Jerrie Witfield, Don Zachary, and Oscar Arslanian welcomed guests Nyla Arslanian, Lorraine Evanoff, Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser, Shari Leinwand, Alan Mandell, Victoria Meyers, Dr. Charles and Laura Nagurka, Richard and Gloria Pink, Joan Quinn, Jacqueline Schultz, Marty Shelton, Mark Stankevich, Magda Waingrow, and Stanley Wolpert.

The crowd savored the English Tea delicacies provided by Anyone For Tea. Guests toured Alan’s stunning home populated with museum-quality sculptures, paintings, prints, and other vibrant art works.

Stephen Sachs spoke to the group, reviewing the many accomplishments of the Fountain Theatre over its 26-year history and outlining its goals and needs to come. He expressed the artistic heart and soul of the company and its dedication to serving a wide variety of communities throughout Los Angeles. He listed the many Fountain new plays that are now being produced in theatres across the country and around the world. And he articulated the challenges and objectives moving forward, describing the Fountain as an essential treasure on the cultural landscape of Los Angeles. 

“We use two words to describe the Fountain Theatre,” Sachs remarked. “These two words are our brand.They appear on our letterhead, our website, our business cards. The two words are: Intimate. Excellent. That’s who we are. What we offer. What we’ve been for 26 years.”

“I truly believe, in my heart, that what we do matters, ” he continued. “Now, more than ever, in this electronic age of the internet and streaming videos and a gazillion cable channels, there may be no higher calling than to get people away from their screens and have a shared human experience, live, in the moment, together, that is intimate and excellent.”

“I hope you agree, ” he concluded. “Let’s make it happen. Together.”

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