Recent Blog Posts
- Shirley Jo Finney Lifted Every Soul
- Fountain Theatre will host memorial celebration for Shirley Jo Finney at Kirk Douglas Theatre Dec. 12
- NOW CASTING: Graceful, angelic Black actress/dancer for “Freight” West Coast Premiere at Fountain Theatre
- Fountain Theatre mourns the passing of one of its own: Celebrated director Shirley Jo Finney
- J. Alphonse Nicholson stars in West Coast premiere of ‘Freight’ for limited run at Fountain Theatre
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Category Archives: Fountain Theatre
Fountain Theatre will host memorial celebration for Shirley Jo Finney at Kirk Douglas Theatre Dec. 12
A respected and beloved Los Angeles theater director who worked at regional theaters across the country and in South Africa, Finney was also an established television and film director. She was the winner of numerous honors and awards, including for eight productions she directed at the Fountain over the course of a decades-long artistic relationship. Her acclaimed staging of the Fountain’s production of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine was one of three chosen to inaugurate CTG’s Block Party at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in 2017. Finney passed away on October 10 at the age of 74 following an eight-month battle with cancer.
“We invite the Los Angeles theater community to gather with us to honor this extraordinary artist,” says Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs. “The celebration is open to anyone who was touched by Shirley Jo’s life. All are welcome.”
The Kirk Douglas Theatre is located at 9820 Washington Blvd, Culver City CA 90232. Parking is free with validation underneath City Hall, located across the street from the theater on the corner of Culver Blvd. and Duquesne Ave. (entrance on Duquesne).
Reservations can be made online at https://tinyurl.com/CelebratingShirleyJo.
NOW CASTING: Graceful, angelic Black actress/dancer for “Freight” West Coast Premiere at Fountain Theatre
The Fountain Theatre is seeking a Black actress with dance training or who moves well for the West Coast Premiere of FREIGHT: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green starring J. Alphonse Nicholson. Nicholson reprises his Off-Broadway, tour-de-force performance, highlighted in the New York Times as Critic’s Pick.
STORYLINE: Five versions of an African American everyman travels through time in different incarnations, from a 19th-century minstrel to a fallen, out-of-work mortgage broker. In each life, Abel Green is guided, distracted, helped, or hindered by a handful of characters with whom his destiny is forever intertwined.
THE CONDUCTOR – 20 to 39 years old, Black woman. Seeking a Black actress with dance training or who moves well. Striking, graceful, angelic. This unique role is a silent presence weaving throughout the play. A Spirit Queen. Duties also include assisting the production stage manager with backstage functions.
Producer/Theatre Company: Stephen Sachs/Fountain Theatre
Director: Joseph Megel
Writer: Howard L. Craft
Casting Director: Stephen Sachs
Audition Date: 10/26/2023
Rehearsal Date: 10/30/2023
Opening Date: 11/12/2023
Closing Date: 12/16/2023
Rate of Pay / Contract: AEA 99-Seat Contract
The Fountain Theatre and the Los Angeles theater community are mourning the death of celebrated director Shirley Jo Finney, who passed away on October 10, 2023 at the age of 74 following an eight-month battle with cancer. The Fountain Theatre, where Finney directed eight productions over the course of a decades-long artistic relationship, will host a memorial service in celebration of Finney’s life and accomplishments at a future date to be announced.
“It shatters my heart beyond expression to announce the passing of my artistic sister,” says Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs. “I am deeply, deeply devastated. She was my theatrical soulmate for 26 years.”
Born July 14, 1949 in Merced, CA, Shirley Jo Finney was a multiple award-winning director and actress. She wore her director’s hat in some of the most respected regional theaters across the country, including the Fountain Theatre, LA Theater Works, Pasadena Playhouse and Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles; the Goodman Theater in Chicago; Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.; the McCarter Theater and Crossroads Theatre Company in New Jersey; the Alabama Shakespeare Festival; Cleveland Playhouse; Humana Festival at the Actors Theater of Louisville; and the Sundance Theater Workshop in Park City, Utah.
Her affiliation with the Fountain began in 1997, with her acclaimed production of Endesha Ida Mae Holland’s From the Mississippi Delta, for which the LA Times highlighted her inventive staging. Under her direction, the smash hit world premiere of Stephen Sachs’ spin on L.A’s jazz history, Central Avenue, ran for seven months in 2001. Her Los Angeles premiere of Dael Orlandersmith’s Yellowman won the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for best production, and earned Finney the Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Theatre Award for best director. Her direction of the Fountain’s West Coast premiere of Ifa Bayeza’s daring, folk and gospel-infused The Ballad of Emmett Till in 2010 resulted in an awards sweep: Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critic’s Circle, NAACP and Backstage Garland awards for production, direction and ensemble. Other directing credits at the Fountain included world premieres of Citizen: An American Lyric by award-winning PENN poet Claudia Rankine and Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs; Heart Song, about three friends who discover their inner ‘duende’ through a flamenco class for middle-aged women, also by Sachs; and Runaway Home, a poetic mother-daughter tale set in the wake of Hurricane Katrina by Jeremy J. Kamps, for which Finney received an NAACP Theater Award nomination. She directed Los Angeles premieres of two plays by Tarell Alvin McCraney for the Fountain: In the Red and Brown Water, for which she received Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Ovation and NAACP awards, and The Brothers Size, for which she garnered a Stage Raw award nomination and a Stage Scene LA “Scenie” award.
She most recently directed Clyde’s by Lynn Nottage at the Ensemble Theatre in Houston, TX, where she had previously directed The Green Book in 2020. Other recent directing credits include the internationally acclaimed South African opera Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela, at the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa; Facing Our Truth, The Trayvon Martin Project at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles; and the Lark Foundation’s rolling world premiere of The Road Weeps by Marcus Gardley at the Los Angeles Theatre Center.
Miss Finney was also an established television and film director. She directed several episodes of Moesha, and she garnered the International Black Filmmakers Award for her short film Remember Me.
She was honored with the UCLA Department of Theater Film and Television Distinguished Alumni Award, the Black Alumni Associations Dr. Beverly Robinson Award for Excellence in the Arts, and the African American Film Marketplace Award of Achievement for Outstanding Performance and Achievement and Leader in Entertainment.
An accomplished actress with many television and film credits, she was best known for her portrayal in the historic title role of Wilma Rudolph, the first female three-time gold medalist in the made-for-TV bio picture Wilma.
Miss Finney was an alumnus of the American Film Institute’s Director Workshop for Women and held an M.F.A. degree from UCLA. She was a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, the Director’s Guild, and the Screen Actor’s Guild. She was an artist-in-residence at several colleges and universities, including Columbia College in Chicago, UC Santa Barbara, USC and UCLA.
The Fountain Theatre presents the West Coast premiere of Freight: The Five Incarnations of Abel Green, a timely and timeless theatrical journey written by Howard L. Craft, directed by Joseph Megel, and starring J. Alphonse Nicholson (Broadway’s Tony award-winning A Soldier’s Play; co-star P-Valley on Starz; Netflix’s They Cloned Tyrone). The limited 21-performance run takes place November 12 through December 16, with low-priced previews beginning November 9.
Nicholson reprises his off-Broadway, tour-de-force star turn as five versions of an African American everyman who travels through time in different incarnations, including a 19th Century minstrel, a faith healer, an FBI informant, a struggling actor, and an out-of-work mortgage broker. In each life, Abel is guided, distracted, helped or hindered by a handful of characters with whom his destiny is forever intertwined. We meet each new iteration of Abel Green on a train, which changes in appearance in accordance with each time period and serves as a link between dimensions.
“Freight operates on the premise that a person’s spirit, or soul, comes to the world because there is something the soul needs to learn,” says Craft. “If the soul does not learn it, then it comes back to the world again and again until it’s successful. The soul can exist concurrently in different time periods, in multiple dimensions of the same universe.”
Inspired by the painting “Slow Down Freight Train” by Rose Piper, the play started out as a 10-minute monologue for North Carolina’s “Activated Art at the Ackland” series. That scene was later expanded in collaboration with Megel and Nicholson to create the current, full-length production.
“The three of us have great chemistry,” Craft explained in an interview. “This is not the first piece we’ve done together. I’m from Durham [North Carolina] and Alphonse is from Greensboro; there are a lot of similarities in these places. He just really gets the rhythm of my writing. And Joseph has a way of pulling things out of an actor, and out of a playwright. He has a very light touch, but he brings so much up.”
Freight earned rave reviews off-Broadway at the New Federal Theatre. “Mr. Nicholson transforms from one Abel to the next in front of us… distinct and entertaining,” raved The New York Times in its “Critic’s Pick” review. New York’s Amsterdam News enthused, “intensely written and stunningly performed,” and Berkshire Fine Arts calls Freight “a superb play.”
Named one of Essence magazine’s “Of the Essence Screen Kings,” Nicolson is a two-time NAACP Image Award nominee for his role inP-Valley, and other notable credits include Just Mercy (Warner Bros.), Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker (Netflix), Blue Bloods (CBS), Mr. Robot (USA), Shots Fired (FOX), Marvel’s Luke Cage (Netflix), Tales (BET), The Blacklist (NBC), and Chicago PD (NBC). In addition to A Soldier’s Play, his theater credits include Signature Theatre’s twice extended off-Broadway premiere of Dominque Morisseau’s Paradise Blue, directed by Tony winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and Days of Rage at 2nd Stage. He was recently seen in the remake of White Men Can’t Jump (Disney/20th Century Studios) and They Cloned Tyrone (Macro/Netflix). Next up: The Sterling Affairs (FX), Black Spartans (Buffalo 8 Productions) and Albany Road.
The creative team for Freight at the Fountain includes scenic designer Joel Daavid; lighting designer Alison Brummer, sound designer Marc Antonio Pritchett; video designer Eamonn Farrell; costume designer Danyele Thomas; and props designer Rebecca Carr. The production stage manager is Kaitlyn R. Cramer.
Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. Running time for Freight is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Patrons are invited to relax before and after the show at the Fountain’s upstairs indoor/outdoor café.
“Critical hope is needed.” Walking the Beat, the Fountain Theatre’s innovative community-building program that sees cops and kids working together to create theater, presents two free performances of this year’s culminating, hope-inspiring production. Two free performances of C.H.I.N. Up! will take place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 5 and Sunday, Aug. 6 on the Fountain Theatre’s outdoor stage.
To create C.H.I.N. Up!, 12 teenagers from Compton Early College High School, Hollywood High School, Camino Nuevo Dalzell Lance, Hawthorne High School and Orthopaedic Hospital Medical Magnet High School joined in a transformative group process with six officers representing the Los Angeles School Police Department to generate ideas and stories around the theme “critical hope is needed.”
Now in its fourth year at the Fountain, “Walking the Beat” utilizes performing arts as a vehicle for youth empowerment and community building, providing life-changing experiences for underserved youth and police officers. Founded by the Elizabeth Youth Theater Ensemble and led by executive and artistic director Theo Perkins, this year’s program provides students with opportunities to work hands-on with program facilitator and director Angela Kariotis, teaching artists Ali Chen and Nathan James, and drama therapist Danielle Levenas.
“Walking the Beat” supporters include HBO Warner Media, The Araxia & Vladimir Buckhantz Foundation, Mary Jo & David Volk, Allison Thomas, The Audrey & Sidney Irmas Charitable Foundation, The Phillips–Gerla Family and Sharyl Overholser.
by Terri Roberts
Fountain audiences know Tim Cummings as an impassioned actor who brings gritty depth and honesty to every role he undertakes. From his searing work as political activist Ned Weeks in The Normal Heart (2013), to his heart-wrenching portrayal of Mitchell, devoted and loving partner to the suddenly-stricken Daniel in Daniel’s Husband (2019), Cummings never fails to impress.
Now he has taken on a new role – that of published author. His debut young adult novel, Alice the Cat, is being celebrated at the Fountain Theatre (indoor stage) with a book signing and conversation moderated by acclaimed author Meg Howrey (They’re Going to Love You) at 7pm on Tuesday, June 27.
What was the inspiration for Alice the Cat? What was so appealing about a suicidal cat, her pre-pubescent owner and a haunted house?
I lost my mother to cancer when I was a teenager, and the family cat fell into an intense depression afterward. I came home from school one day to discover she’d been running into the street, attempting to get run over. I had terrible fights with my dad about this; I wanted him to do something, but he wasn’t able to. Eventually, the cat disappeared. I never knew what happened. One day in grad school, earning my MFA in Writing, a question detonated above my head, “What happened to the cat?” I went home and wrote the first sentence of this book.
From there, it took on a life of its own. It felt like Tess, her friends, and the ghost girl, Francine, were waiting for someone to materialize as a vessel to tell their story. It’s a really wild tale, original and strange, emotional, and intensely goofy, too. I think Tess saw in me a writer who could bring her to life based on my great admiration of so many other strong tween female protagonists, like Meg Murry, Fern Arable, Cassie Logan, Lyra Silvertongue, Chihiro Ogino (AKA Sen), Coraline, Malú (María Luisa O’Neill-Morales), and ‘Eleven.’
Tell us a bit about your writing process.
In grad school, I felt safe and sequestered away from life. I’d spent over 35 years as an actor. I wanted to evolve as a storyteller. Writing has always felt private and intimate and open and free to me. I felt it was time to bring it into the light.
In school I just needed to write a book that I needed to read, that I needed to feel, that allowed me to insert all my wackiness, goofiness, darkness, mysticism, and spirituality into a kind of old-fashioned coming-of-age adventure with some really interesting kids who kept surprising me as I wrote them.
I never felt that Alice the Cat would put me on the map. I did it for me. I broke a lot of rules and took a lot risks, but I’m someone who doesn’t play it safe. And a mentor of mine (the astonishing Gayle Brandeis) in my final semester fell hard for the book and assisted me in purring it into the world. And here we are.
What attracts you to writing for the YA crowd?
Those formative years maintain their power over our lives forever. Adults love reading YA and middle-grade, so the readership is vast. There’s a kind of wild freedom when writing into the emotional and psychological states of tweens and teens. I think back to that age and I remember the feelings. It’s a seminal time, rife with hormonal snakings and expressive utterances. It’s great for writing!
The characters in Alice the Cat are delightfully unique, vivid and offbeat. Are any of them based on any real people in your life, or were they completely created from your imagination?
It’s a bit of both, honestly. I grew up outside Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, with mixed-race kids and vivid personalities. I always loved the girls who were tough and strong, but quiet, fighters when they needed to be. Tess is like that. She’s also based on cool female characters from other middle-grade and YA books I love.
I was goth as a teen (still am in many ways) and I love the misfit feeling of being goth. The mystery, creativity, theatricality of it. The love of the music. Lunar Velvet and Dami Tross were always meant to end up in this story. They’re a very real extension of my own innerness. And I adore Eddie and Cotter. They were a little unwieldy to write because they are so singular, so real, so messy, so expressive, but both care about Tess and Alice so much.
You deal with some very real, very difficult situations faced by many young people: loss of a parent/loved one, depression, suicidal ideation, difficulty fitting in, etc. Did you face any of these issues growing up? How did you deal with them?
In my childhood, I was pretty mercilessly bullied for being different. I had to learn to fight back, to find my voice. Theatre and writing did that for me. And at 16, when I lost my mom…I’ve been trying to figure out what to say about that for a long time. In that respect, Alice the Cat is a gateway.
I didn’t want to play it safe with this book. Most middle-grade books play it safe. You need only see what middle-schoolers are actually facing these days to feel inspired to go a little deeper. This is a story about grief, but it also offers levity in its goofiness. And it has a hopeful, responsible ending.
Which character(s) do you personally identify with most in the book?
All of them, for different reasons, but mostly Francine. The ghost. She’s been lingering in purgatory for eons and finally finds a way out, an absolution, through Tess and Alice. She reaches across dimensions to shudder the borders of these worlds and acquire what she needs to move on. And also allows Tess and Alice to remain together in this weird kind of way. I love her. I love that she and Tess share this penchant for anger and how it manifests.
How does your work as an actor inform your writing?
I always go deep into the characters I play. This book is written in first-person—meaning, I inhabited her the way I would inhabit any character I play. I wanted it visceral, embodied, and expressive. Being an actor helps with voice, the ever-elusive magical element to writing that no one seems to be able to put their finger on. Voice in writing is so mercurial. Thankfully, so is my protagonist.
How has reader response been to Alice the Cat?
Wacky, loving, enthusiastic, powerful. Also critical, whiny, and cruel. In other words: 100% normal. It’s what happens when you brave the deep waters of life by putting something into the world. But if you’re an artist, you’re gonna ‘art’ no matter what people have to say about it. It brings me such joy. And the truth is, true joy is impenetrable. At least for me.
Outside of your signing event at the Fountain on Tuesday, June 27, where can folks purchase Alice the Cat?
My website has all the ways you can buy it! www.timcummings.ink
What’s up next for you? Another book? Another show?
Yes, a few more books are already written, and I’m settling in to get that going. Book # 2 is about theatre kids—and epilepsy. It’s deep, magical, funny, heartbreaking, mysterious, and it features a dog. (And it has some Alice characters in it.) Not sure about the acting. Scattered tiny things here and there, but nothing major. The actor is sleeping. The actor will wake up when the actor feels rested and refreshed; we’ll see if it wants to stay in bed or for me to hand it a cup of coffee, its robe and slippers, see if it rouses and moves about.
by Stephen Sachs
“Isn’t that the theatre where they did Last Summer at Bluefish Cove?” It was 1990, and I heard that a lot. My business partner, Deborah Lawlor, and I had just acquired the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood. We had only an empty building and the dream of transforming it into an energetic artistic home that produced high-quality, meaningful theatre. As it turned out, we also took over a stage where a ground-breaking play ran for two sold-out years just a short while before.
After an 80-performance run Off-Broadway, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove by Jane Chambers opened at the Fountain Theatre in 1983, with Jean Smart reprising the role of Lil. The ensemble, directed by Hilary Moshereece, also included Camilla Carr, Dianne Turley Travis, Shannon Kriska, Linda Cohen, Sandra J. Marshall, Nora Heflin, and Lee Carlington. Jean Smart was honored with the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. The Fountain production also received a Certificate of Outstanding Theatre from the City of Los Angeles.
That twenty-four-month run of Bluefish Cove at the Fountain Theatre was a turning point for the lesbian community in Los Angeles at the time, a benchmark achievement in L.A. theater, and a milestone in the history of the Fountain. For many queer women, it was the first time they saw themselves on stage in a play written by a lesbian. For straight audiences, it was an entertaining glimpse into a world that held many of the same needs and fears as their own. It was exhilarating.
We now live in dangerous, disturbing times. At least 417 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the United States since the start of the year — a new record. People around the country face violence and inequality because of who they love, how they look, or who they are.
The Fountain Theatre offers this play as public affirmation that we all ache for the same human connection, we all seek love and friendship, no matter our differences. Many who were here forty years ago have never forgotten how this funny, tender play changed their lives. Generations of young queer women today, born after the play was produced here on Fountain Avenue, will visit Bluefish Cove for the first time this summer and discover for themselves what all the joy and excitement was about.
Stephen Sachs is the Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
Set in 1974, Bluefish concerns a group of queer women who spend their summers together in a remote seaside town. Their enclave is disrupted when Eva, a naïve straight woman separated from her husband, stumbles unaware into their circle and falls for the charming, tough-talking Lil. This iconic lesbian play bursts with heartfelt friendship, laughter, and love.
Last Summer at Bluefish Cove plays on our Outdoor Stage at 7pm Fridays – Mondays beginning next week. Low-priced previews begin Wednesday, June 14. Opening Night is Saturday, June 17, with a dessert reception to follow. The show runs through Sunday, August 27. TICKETS/MORE INFO.
While the cast of our summer production, Last Summer at Bluefish Cove, have been hard at work rehearsing, Sets-to-Go has been hard at work building the incredible set designed by our fabulous scenic designer, Desma Murphy.
Last week, the set for the Bluefish Cove beach cottage where a group of lesbian women spend their summers together was loaded onto our Outdoor Stage. Soon to come will be the rocks and dock of the cove.
Check out this short video chat with Desma and watch the magic happen as the crew installs the set and Bluefish Cove begins to become a reality.
Last Summer at Bluefish Cove begins previews on June 14, opens on June 17, and runs through August 27. Tickets/More Info.