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 🎭🥰👏👏👏👏💐
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.
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.
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?
Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs welcomes guests.
Friends and supporters of the Fountain Theatre and East West Players gathered Sunday at the lovely Hollywood home of Diana Buckhantz to celebrate the upcoming California Premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo by Jiehae Park. There is much to celebrate. The production marks the first time the Fountain and EWP have collaborated and both companies share excitement about this meaningful opportunity.
“For almost 30 years, The Fountain has opened its doors to diversity and inclusion,” Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs stated in his welcoming remarks. “We welcome East West Players into our home. From day one, our collaboration has been open and generous. As the nation’s premiere Asian American Theatre, EWP brings its artistry and authenticity to the production, as we share resources, audiences and communities with each other.”
EWP Artistic Director Snehal Desai echoed Sachs’ enthusiasm for the partnership. Desai shared EWP’s history with the play and director Jennifer Chang. EWP hosted a reading of Hannah in 2013 directed by Chang, winner of the 2019 LADCC award for excellence in direction for the LA premiere of Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone at EWP. Desai kept his eye on Hannah and planned to include it in a earlier season. After Sachs saw the world premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland in 2017, he secured the rights to the play and reached out to EWP in partnership. Everything fell into place.
In the play, Hannah receives a FedEx box with two things: a 100% bona-fide-heart’s-desire-level wish and a suicide note. Hannah tracks the package back to Seoul, where her grandmother recently jumped from the roof of her retirement home onto the wrong side of the Demilitarized Zone. Hannah and her family need North Korea’s permission to retrieve the body, but Kim Jong Il just kicked the bucket, and things in the DMZ are even stranger then they seem. The play is a whimsical, surreal and poignant tale about a grandmother, mother and daughter striving to reconcile the cultural contradictions of their lives.
At Sunday’s gathering, guests enjoyed some Korean delicacies catered by Don Tahara of First Street Cuisine. A brief scene from the play was presented in the living room read by cast members. Then Fountain Director of Development Barbara Goodhill explained to the group how they could support the production.
Guests included James Bennett, Jason Blackwell, Diana Buckhantz, Rose Chan, Jennifer Chang, Wendy Chang, Charles Chatelain, Hahn Cho, Chris Christensen, Snehal Desai, Kiyomi Emi, Lois Fishman, Barbara Goodhill, Elaine Kao, Serena Kim, Jully Lee, Gavin Lee, Simon Levy, Dick Motika, Sally Pai Unruh, Pia Palomo, Youn Park, Dora Quach, Stephen Sachs, Allison Thomas, Steve Warheit, Jerrie Whitfield, Dorothy Wolpert, Kim Wonjung. Melina Young.
The stage is set for a collection of Los Angeles’ creative minds to get a moment in the spotlight. Even better, those moments will take place in Downtown, and the performances will be free.
On Friday-Sunday, April 27-29, the inaugural Our L.A. Voices: Spring Arts Festival will fill Grand Park. The happening will bring more than 30 artists and groups to the 12-acre space, where there will be live theater, dance, music and more. There will be performances as well as opportunities to buy art.
Julia Diamond, Grand Park’s interim director, said that the festival was created through a joint venture with the Music Center. The goal is to showcase a wide spectrum of the L.A. art scene, with everything from sculptors to digital artists in a family-friendly environment.
“We’re really trying to tell a big story about L.A. as a center of massive amounts of creative energy,” Diamond said.
Grand Park opened in 2012 and has played host to numerous community events, everything from the annual New Year’s Eve celebration to a book festival. Frequently local artists have been involved, but were not the focus.
This weekend, Diamond said, the artists will be thrust front and center. Festivities run from 6-10 p.m. on Friday, 1-10 p.m. on Saturday and 1-6 p.m. on Sunday.
“We’re trying to tell the biggest story that we can,” Diamond said. “It’s about making a big splash for an important part of L.A.’s identity and giving the audience a chance to come see art in one place.”
‘Citizen: An American Lyric’
Festival organizers have partnered with a number of artists and groups, among them the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood. The theme of the festival is, “What does it mean to be a citizen?”
Aptly, the Fountain Theatre will perform Citizen: An American Lyric, an adaption of poet Claudia Rankine’s book of the same name that explores race relations and questions of citizenship in the United States. The novel was adapted by Stephen Sachs, artistic director of the Fountain, after coming across a book review in the New York Times. In the wake of the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Sachs said that he wanted the theater to make a statement on race relations in America, and that Rankine’s words provided the proper avenue.
He described the book and the ensuing play as less of a sledgehammer and more of a scalpel, precisely dissecting racial narratives in American society to get to the core of what a citizen’s experience is like in the country. Citizen will be mounted on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; each hour-long performance will be followed by a community discussion about the play and the festival.
Diamond said the play, which was previously on stage at the Fountain and the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, resonates with audiences and fits the theme of what she is trying to do with the Spring Arts Festival.
“It really became the core question of this year’s festival,” Diamond said. “Who belongs? Who is on the inside? Who is on the outside?”
Sachs said it is gratifying to have the work appear at the festival. However, he said he is disheartened that the issues that prompted the play are still relevant almost four years after Brown’s death.
“It’s very meaningful to me to have this work shared with as many people as possible,” Sachs said. “I love the idea of doing it in Grand Park in front of City Hall. I can’t think of anything more appropriate.”
The stage at Grand Park, downtown Los Angeles.
“We encourage people to come out in full force and to bring the whole family,” Diamond said. “Art is meant to bring us together and get us thinking, and there is no better way to do that than across generations.”
Last week’s blog post, I asked our Fountain friends and community to send in their own stories about how confronting “The Other” led to a deeper understanding and compassion. Below are a few responses we received. On the day we mark the 50th anniversary of the loss of Dr. Martin Luther King, we hope these stories on empathy and compassion inspire you.
Marrock Sedgwick, LGBTQ Activist & Filmmaker
“I had some people come up to me after seeing my film that had some kind of spiritual reckoning within themselves making them tell me they will do better by LGBT people. That felt pretty damn good.Most of the time when I confront the other I just get told to ‘F’ off.” – Marrok Sedgwick
Manon Manavit, Director & Theatre Artist
“A man selling hotdogs in New York gave me a hot dog for free because he was ‘promoting peace between muslims and Jews’ it was so beautiful I cried..he was Palestinian” – Manon Manavit
Saurav Jammalamadugu, Actor
“There was a moment where my family and I were on a train to Portland from San Jose and on the train, we were riding first class which meant we had access to a pretty fancy parlor car. Anyway, the lady who was serving us breakfast had to note and constantly point out “how strange it was” that my parents didn’t eat meat for religious purposes. So to calm the tension, I explained to her that we were Hindu, and that some people in our religion think that it’s harmful to eat something that’s killed but, I’d like a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich. To which she again remarked how odd it was but after she walked away with our order seemed to realize that it was just people being people.” – Saurav Jammalamadugu
Thank you to all who responded, if you would like to share your story please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! Your stories matter.
Gilbert Glenn Brown, Suanne Spoke in “The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek” Fountain Theatre
by Sabina Berman
We can imagine.
The tribe launches small stones to bring down birds from the air, when a gigantic mammoth bursts in on the scene and ROARS –and at the same time, a tiny human ROARS like the mammoth. Then, everyone runs away…
That mammoth roar uttered by a human woman –I would like to imagine her as a woman– is the origin of what makes us the species we are. A species capable of imitating what we are not. A species capable of representing the Other.
Let’s leap forward ten years, or a hundred, or a thousand. The tribe has learned how to imitate other beings: deep in the cave, in the flickering light of a bonfire, four men are the mammoth, three women are the river, men and women are birds, bonobos, trees, clouds: the tribe represents the morning’s hunt, thus capturing the past with their theatrical gift. Even more amazing: the tribe then invents possible futures, essaying possible ways to vanquish the mammoth, the enemy of the tribe.
Roars, whistles, murmurs –the onomatopoeia of our first theatre—will become verbal language. Spoken language will become written language. Down another pathway, theatre will become rite and then, cinema.
But along these latter forms, and in the seed of each one of these latter forms, there will always continue to be theatre. The simplest form of representation. The only living form of representation.
Theatre: the simpler it is, the more intimately it connects us to the most wondrous human skill, that of representing the Other.
Today, in all the theatres of the world we celebrate that glorious human skill of performance. Of representing and thus, capturing our past —and of inventing possible futures, that can bring to the tribe more freedom and happiness.
What are the mammoths that must be vanquished today by the human tribe? What are its contemporary enemies? About what should theatre that aspires to be more than entertainment be about?
For me, the greatest mammoth of all is the alienation of human hearts. The loss of our capacity to feel with Others: to feel compassion for our fellow humans and for our fellow non-human living forms.
What a paradox. Today, at the final shores of Humanism —of the Anthropocene— of the era in which human beings are the natural force that has changed the planet the most, and will continue to do so— the mission of the theatre is –in my view– the opposite of that which gathered the tribe when theatre was performed at the back of the cave: today, we must salvage our connection to the natural world.
More than literature, more than cinema, the theatre —which demands the presence of human beings before other human beings— is marvelously suited to the task of saving us from becoming algorithms, pure abstractions.
Let us remove everything superfluous from the theatre. Let us strip it naked. Because the simpler theatre is, the more apt it is to remind us of the only undeniable thing: that we are, while we are in time; that we are only while we are flesh and bone and hearts beating in our breasts; that we are the here and now, and no more.
Long live the theatre. The most ancient art. The art of being in the present. The most wondrous art. Long live the theatre.
Sabina Berman, born in Mexico City, is a writer and journalist. Considered to be Mexico’s most critically and commercially successful contemporary playwright, Berman is one of the most prolific living writers in the Spanish language.
Judith Moreland and Bo Foxworth, ‘Building the Wall’, Fountain Theatre
You know them as the New York-based organization that presents the Tony Awards and the Obies each year. But the American Theatre Wing provides a myriad of other remarkable services nationwide. It provides grants and scholarships, connect talents at all stages with educational and professional opportunities, and creates content that illuminates and preserves theatre. Founded in 1917 on the eve of America’s entry into World War I by seven suffragettes, American Theatre Wing has spent a century using theatre to advance human experience, empathy and cultural growth by providing a platform for strong and fearless voices in the American theatre.
This week, American Theatre Wing released a new short documentary film it commissioned on the creation and development of the Fountain Theatre’s world premiere production of Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan. The riveting new play opened at the Fountain Theatre on March 18, 2017 and was extended to sold-out houses to August 27th. It earned international attention and launched the National New Play Network’s Rolling World Premiere.
The documentary film, Working in the Theatre: Building the Wall, is an episode in The Wing’s Emmy® Nominated series produced to entertain audiences by revealing theatre’s inner-workings, profiling industry luminaries, and taking a closer look at unique stories that surround important work.
“We’re very proud and honored to have our production chronicled by the American Theatre Wing, ” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Robert’s play is triggering a national conversation. It’s a privilege to have our process at the Fountain Theatre documented and permanently archived by The Wing for the field of the American Theatre.”
For playwright Robert Schenkkan, the documentary carries forward the crusade that began when he first wrote the play in a fury of outrage over the 2016 presidential campaign. For Schenkkan and the Fountain, theatre can serve as a spark for social action.
“Theatre, of course, is about bringing together very disparate groups of people, during which they share a story, ” says Schenkkan. “A story about themselves, about their society, about their culture. And in the sharing of that story, hopefully they learn something about themselves, they are provoked to think more deeply about themselves, to ask better questions, and to leave in some fundamental ways, altered and perhaps more open to the possibility of change.”
Teacher Alan Goodson introduces his college students to the Fountain Theatre.
They come to the Fountain Theatre each semester to experience the power of meaningful plays about urgent social and political issues performed in an intimate setting. For teacher Alan Goodson and his college students at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the ongoing visits to the Fountain have become a pilgrimage they look forward to making. Not only are the young people enriched by seeing new plays that move and inspire them, they enjoy the opportunity to personally engage with the professional actors following the performance.
The student visit was made possible by Theatre as a Learning Tool, the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program that makes live theatre accessible to young people throughout Southern California.
The FIDM students arrived at the Fountain on August 11th to see our smash hit world premiere of Building the Wall by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning playwright Robert Schenkkan. They then chatted with actors Victoria Platt and Bo Foxworth.
Returning back to their classroom, the students wrote essays expressing their thoughts and feelings on seeing the production. Take a look at these excerpts:
“During the political state our country is currently in, it is very possible that history could repeat itself. It isn’t just a theme in a play, it is real and it is happening. That is why I feel this play is very important and the idea it expressed that we, the citizens of the United States of America, must stand up against the immoral actions of the government. If viewers take anything away from seeing this play, it should be that it could happen here, but don’t let it get that far, stop it before history repeats itself.”
“It felt as if being an audience member was no different than being a fly on the wall with the two actors. Without a doubt, the play would not have been nearly as effective if it were set in a larger theatre. As an audience member, you felt as if you were watching a real interview take place on your TV screen.”
“I was able to see the worth in Shenkkan’s exaggeration in comparison to how someone may have felt during WWII, and see that it is true, this could happen, even today. History will continue to repeat itself unless we as humans realize the power of unification and take actions to protect ourselves and others.”
“Building the Wall is a play for people who want to gain perspective on the current events that are taking place and could occur in the near future, considering past events that have taken place while an authoritarian leader is in control of a nationalist country. Personally, I appreciated the statement that it conveyed and became more aware of the impact Donald Trump’s place in office has made in the United States. Theater arts are a form of resistance and often give a lesson and theme to the viewers. Building the Wall was a reminder that history can and will repeat itself if the citizens don’t take a stand and show their voice. Hopefully, those that have attended this play, just as I did, will recognize the seriousness of the message that Robert Shenkkan has made and they plan to make their voices heard.”
“Robert Shenkkan’s Building the Wall could not have been made into a play at any other better time. People need to go watch his play and see for themselves a visual experience of what America could be headed for under Trump’s presidency.”
“This performance is set in place to heighten our collective vigilance as a society, allow us to determine wrong from right, empathize, and to take action as citizens of the United States of America. In the closing remarks, we are informed that, included in the playbill, provided by the Fountain, is a call to action, a postcard, stamped and addressed to our dear leader, Mr. Donald Trump, leaving the viewer to decide for themselves what the right thing to do is. This production in itself makes a statement and warning, the postcard is an added confirmation that we have the power to do something, as a governed group and as individuals, and if that is not a defined statement of passion and concern for citizens, then I’m not sure what is.”
“It is common to say that the past is often repeated in the future. Robert Shenkkan took the past experience of the Holocaust and wrote it into the near future of America under the Presidency of Trump and his concept of deporting immigrants. It may be bold of Shenkkan to take America to the horrible extent of the Nazis, but nothing is impossible. Robert Shenkkan reinforced the significance of everyone’s individual conscience and choices with the concept play, Building the Wall. He promotes resistance against fear, racism, division. The future of our country, according to Shenkkan, “…of course will depend entirely on what you do.”
“Building the Wall was relevant and had audience members thinking. In its understated message, questioning where the current presidency may lead is a concept everyone can relate to, making the content of the play laudable. At first, I saw its comparisons to the Nazi regime a bit excessive and not believable, until watching the news recently and seeing the riots taking place in Virginia. Current events have strengthened the credibility of this play.”
“Building the Wall is an excellent drama that I believe will stand the test of time. While the history books are still being written on this time in our modern history, we must be able to understand the situation we are in while we are in it. We must make the change we want to see in the world.”
Final 2 performances of Building the Wall are this weekend, Aug 26 & 27.Get Tickets
That Was The Week That Was was a satirical television show in the early 1960’s that brought focus to social and political issues of the day. The Fountain Theatre may look back on this current week, May 1 – May 7 in 2017, and brand it the same name. This week, in an unplanned juncture of synchronicity, the Fountain Theatre has two acclaimed productions running simultaneously in Los Angeles — one at its 78-seat Hollywood home on Fountain Avenue, the other at the 300-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City — each dramatizing in mesmerizing fashion the urgent issues of race, injustice, and politics.
The Fountain’s National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Building the Wallby Robert Schenkkan was a smash hit the moment it opened in March at the intimate Fountain Theatre, selling out weeks in advance. Set in the near future, the powerful new drama unfolds as a man awaits sentencing in a federal prison for carrying out the orders of Trump’s national policy to round-up and detain immigrants by the millions.
Meanwhile, across town at the mid-sized Kirk Douglas Theatre, the Fountain’s acclaimed and award-winning encore production of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs, is galvanizing audiences. The centerpiece of Center Theatre Group‘s inaugural Block Party celebrating intimate theatre in Los Angles, Citizen is a searing, poetic riff on race in America based on the best-selling book.
“To have these two important, meaningful productions running concurrently, one in an intimate theatre and the other in a mid-sized venue, is extraordinary,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “It exemplifies who we are, what we do, and why we do it.”
Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Robert Schenkkan agrees. “Both Citizen and Building the Wall deal with the issue of race and the fundamental question of who is it we mean when we say, ‘We, the people,'” explains Schenkkan. “For more than twenty five years, the Fountain Theatre has been presenting exhilarating, necessary theater, wrestling with the most pressing social and political issues of the day.”
LA Stage Alliance Executive Director Steven Leigh Morris points out that this week is no anomaly. Morris notes, “That the Fountain Theatre has two productions running simultaneously — one at its home space in East Hollywood and the other at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of Center Theatre Group’s Block Party program — is a testament to the rigor and meticulous artistry that has been part of The Fountain tradition for twenty-seven years.”
By all accounts, this is an unforgettable week for the Fountain. We vow to continue our commitment to create, develop and produce meaningful new plays that bring to life urgent issues, week after week, for many years to come.