Settle in with your favorite beverage on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 5 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. ET when the Fountain Theatre winds up 2020 and its monthly Saturday Matinee series with an Old Hollywood-themed holiday party filled with joy, games, and — of course — an online playreading. Admission is free at fountaintheatre.com.
Venerable actress Karen Kondazian, a lifetime member of the Actors Studio and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award-winner best known for her work in the plays of Tennessee Williams (with whom she was a personal friend), takes on the role of Hollywood legend Bette Davis in Interviewing Miss Davis by award-winning playwright Laura Maria Censabella.
After the reading, stick around for party games and a celebration of friends, fellow artists and the Fountain’s all-important audience. Bring something glamorous! (optional)
Inspired by a true event in Ms. Censabella’s own life, the one-act is set in 1985 as Davis interviews a new personal assistant (Wonjung Kim) upon learning that her current, beloved assistant (and nurse) Jacqueline (Aleisha Force) is leaving.
“I was just out of college and very, very broke — no furniture, a folding chair, folding table, mattress on the floor, and I was working for someone who said I’d make a great assistant for Bette Davis,” Censabella explained in an interview. “I went to the interview but was very conflicted because I wanted to be a writer and at the same time I wanted instant validation, and I felt like if I became Bette Davis’s assistant, I would have that.”
Toward the end of the 1946 film classic It’s A Wonderful Life, when George Bailey is in the throes of an existential crisis, fearing his life has no value or meaning, the angel Clarence tells him, “You’ve been given a great gift, George. A chance to see what the world would be like without you.”
After two months under stay-at-home orders and my theatre temporarily closed, I’m beginning to feel the same gift has been given to me by COVID-19.
Every theatre in our nation is now dark. For now, theatre as an art form performed on a stage for a live audience, does not exist. And no matter which epidemiological model you look at, theatres won’t be reopening in this country any time soon. For those of us who create theatre, the coronavirus is giving the public the chance to see what the world would be like without us.
That is why, like George Bailey haunting his hometown, I now find myself thrown into the same kind of twilight zone, an alternative reality—an upside-down world I no longer recognize, discombobulated. How did things change so quickly? One day my theatre is full, earning rave reviews, selling out. The next day it is closed. On Thursday we’re winning awards, delighting donors and board members. On Friday I am furloughing my staff and applying for unemployment.
Do you know the actor’s nightmare? Ever had it? The one where you’re suddenly thrown onstage into a play in front of an audience, but you don’t know your lines, you can’t find your script, and you don’t even know what play you’re supposed to be doing? That is how life feels to me now: a COVID nightmare. But I never wake up.
If I don’t have a theatre, who am I? Sometimes the most forceful way to discover your place in a culture or a community is to find yourself suddenly yanked from it. All I know is that a world without live theatre is a world I don’t want to live in.
Clicking on a play reading on Zoom is no substitute. Maybe you feel differently, but I personally feel glutted with Zoom meetings and online theatre events by now. My idea of well used stay-at-home time is not watching another online festival of hastily written five-minute plays streamed by a struggling theatre company. Though novel at first, the relentless onslaught of online content by terrified theatres has spread as widely and aggressively as the virus itself. Don’t get me wrong: I love National Theatre Live. Who doesn’t? But who has the millions of dollars to produce and promote at that level? Call me old-fashioned, but I still find the difference between watching a play online vs. experiencing it live in a theatre like the difference between watching porn on your laptop and actually making love.
All the Broadway tributes now streaming online during this shutdown do prove one thing: Theatre people are well-suited to rise above an emergency. Disaster is part of our DNA. Crisis is status quo in the theatre. Calamity is business as usual. We live and breathe uncertainty and panic. Philip Henslowe, the beleaguered and always-in-debt theatre owner in Shakespeare in Love (screenplay written by playwright Tom Stoppard) aptly sums up our philosophy:
Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Fennyman: So, what do we do?
Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
How will this horrific pandemic turn out well for me and my theatre? It would help to have a guardian angel. I don’t mean a corporate sponsor or a high-level donor—I mean like Clarence. My own personal celestial bodyguard to protect me from both spiritual and physical harm. Instead, I see only the Angel of Death. COVID-19 is killing people. Loss is everywhere. We are losing our jobs, our theatres, our audiences, our homes. Our loved ones. Our art form, not to mention our species, is under threat. There is a general, base-level sadness lurking inside all of us like a contagion. Laughter will come when it comes. But it just might be harder, and take a while longer, to get there.
We are all George Bailey. We have dreams unrealized. We are stressed by daily life. We don’t fully appreciate what we have or what we’ve managed to accomplish. We focus on what serves ourselves and ignore what really matters. We get caught up in achieving “great things” instead of appreciating the value of doing small things in a great way. And we are closer than we realize to a huge, catastrophic meltdown triggered by a single financial calamity.
Theatre is community, the intertwining of human lives. And community is infectious, transmitted from person to person. The ripple effect of the stories we tell in a theatre spreads from one human being to another, and then emanates outward, forever. That is why, to me, to have our theatres silenced by a virus, is like a crime against humanity. Our humanity.But, as Clarence tells George, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives.”
My hope for myself is to emerge from this pandemic with a heightened sense of purpose. The great plays have shown me that a person with a strong central purpose can overcome any obstacle. To paraphrase Nietzsche, when you have a why to live for, you can bear any how. Theatre is one of my whys.
After two months holed up at home, I am starting to experience what the ancient Greeks called anagnorisis: a sudden realization of truth about myself and the true nature of my current situation. Before the pandemic, I would sometimes complain about running a theatre: the paperwork, the endless meetings, the donor parties. The season budgets and the hustling for money to pay for them. The long hours, the low pay, the constant pressure to achieve. After 30 years I felt old, overworked, exhausted. Now I want it all back. All I want now is what I had all along.
My wake-up call is the same as George Bailey’s epiphany, as he pleads to Clarence to end his never-been-born nightmare. Like George, I just want to return to the things and the work and the people I love. Like George, I just want what I already had. I miss the magic. The truth is that even when facing catastrophe, the life that I have in the theatre is wonderful.
Like George Bailey, I want to live again.
Stephen Sachs is a playwright, director, and the artistic director of the award-winning Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles.
The Fountain’s Breaking It Down program is designed to build community and deepen the impact of a play through a variety of events before and after performances. Our preshow events may include art exhibitions and talks that invite audiences into the world of the play. Our post show discussions create a space for our audiences to gather with the artistic teams, scholars, journalists, and community leaders to unpack the themes explored, and provide a platform to share personal connections to the work.
March 1: Q&A with the cast of Human Interest Story
Engage in a post-show conversation with actors Tanya Alexander, Richard Azurdia, Aleisha Force, James Harper, Matt Kirkwood, Rob Nagle, and Tarina Pouncy. Get Tickets
March 8 @ 1pm: Meet artist Stuart Perlman
Stuart Perlman’s Faces Of Homelessness portrait project has been exhibited throughout Los Angeles, covered on Public Radio (KPCC), featured in print in Column One of the front page of the Los Angeles Times, and in other national and international publications including TheGuardian (London), Taipei Times (Taiwan), Vanity Fair Italia and a cover story in the Jewish Journal. It will be on display at The Fountain for the duration of the run.
Perlman will talk about what inspired the project, and how his connections with these individuals have impacted his life in ways he never imagined. Get tickets now.
Stuart Perlman has been a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in West Los Angeles for 40 years. He received a Ph.D. from UCLA in clinical psychology, and a second Ph.D. in psychoanalysis. He has published many articles in psychoanalytic journals, and authored the book, The Therapist’s Emotional Survival: Dealing with the Pain of Exploring Trauma. His new book, Struggle in Paradise, is about homeless individuals, featuring moving oil-on-canvas portraits, life stories and follow-ups. This painting project has been nominated for the Best Art of the Year Award by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis. After a hiatus of over 25 years, Dr. Perlman returned to one of his early passions, painting. He has devoted thousands of hours to painting the experiences of the homeless and illuminating their humanity and pain. Through portraiture, a style traditionally used to immortalize the rich, famous and powerful, Dr. Perlman reminds us that these homeless individuals, too, are to be valued: “If we can see into their faces and learn their stories — their hopes, dreams, accomplishments and fears — we can no longer pretend that they don’t exist…we can no longer look the other way.” www.stuartperlmanartist.com
March 15: Inside L.A.’s Homeless Crisis
You see them everywhere. At freeway off-ramps, under bridges, in tents. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has declared homelessness “the great humanitarian crisis of our time.” What are we doing about it? A post-show discussion with panelists Anthony Conley (Covenant House) and John Billingsley (Hollywood Food Coalition). Get tickets now.
March 19 @ 7p.m: Screening of Stuart Perlman’s Struggle in Paradise
“Best Movie of the Year” National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis.
Nominated Best Documentary- Pasadena International Film Festival. Honorable Mention- American Psychological Association Film Festival. Struggle in Paradise is the gripping story of the skyrocketing number of homeless people living and dying on the streets of Los Angeles. I have been shocked at the amount of trauma that people have sustained that contributed to their homelessness and, once on the streets, are repetitively traumatized. View the Trailer
March 22: Truth in American Journalism
How do you get your news? The print edition delivered at your door? Online? Join the post-show conversation with local journalists as we examine how the internet has impacted print newspapers around the country. How has the invention of “fake news” influenced ethics in reporting? What is the truth? Who decides? Get tickets
March 29 @ 5pm: Sunday Supper at The Center
Join us at The Center in Hollywood where the Fountain will host one of their monthly “Supper Sunday” dinners. Following the performance, we will head to The Center where we will prepare (or purchase), serve, set up, and clean up after a meal. The most important aspect of Supper Sunday is that WE will dine WITH the individuals we are serving. Sharing a meal is a beautiful opportunity for the housed and unhoused members of our community to gain greater understanding, empathy, and connection. Order now
Feb 15 – April 5: Donation Drive for our homeless community
Fountain patron April Goddard donates items to the homeless at tonight’s preview of Human Interest Story.
Throughout the run of Human Interest Story The Fountain will accept donations to be distributed to various Homeless organizations in our community. Items most needed are:
Gently Used Clothing (especially winter clothing, socks, shoes)
Men’s and Women’s Underwear (New, all sizes)
Bins will be set up in front of the theatre before each performance and all items will be distributed to various organizations on a weekly basis. You need not have a ticket to the show to bring donations. All are welcome!
France-Luce Benson is the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Fountain Theatre. Contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Ms. Smith Goes to Washington” at Los Angeles City Hall
by Christine Deitner
On Thursday, January 24th a lucky group of citizens in Los Angeles was treated to a unique experience–The Fountain Theatre’s reading of a gender-switched adaptation of Sidney Buchman’s screenplay, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.The Fountain’s Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs adapted the work that was hosted by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.An impressively talented ensemble of tv, film, and theatre veterans gathered in the John Ferraro Council Chamber in Los Angeles City Hall and though the original work is 79 years old the gender switch makes it feel like yesterday’s tweetstorm or this morning’s news.
Sponsored, in part, by the Feminist Majority Foundation and in association with the League of Women Voters, the event’s cast included Joshua Malina, Jeff Perry, Bellamy Young, Sam Waterston, Alan Blumenfeld, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Leith Burke, Tim Cummings, Cameron Dye, Spencer Garrett, Chet Grissom, Morlan Higgins, Aurelia Myers, Jenny O’Hara, Felix Solis, Jack Stehlin, Mark Taylor, and Sal Viscuso.
Councilmember O’Farrell introduced Mr. Sachs with a moving speech about the importance of the arts in society.
“Politics falls short of completely illuminating the complexity of issues,” he stated, “this is where the arts come in.”
In 2017, Mr. O’Farrell hosted the Fountain’s reading of All The Presidents Men and he noted that he hopes this will become an annual event.Reflecting on the record number of women who now hold public office, O’Farrell also spoke about the role that local artists play as public servants, illuminating issues in unique ways.
In Sachs’ version, an idealistic, newly elected female senator finds herself fighting corruption in male-dominated Washington. Bellamy Young’s take on the movingly patriotic Jennifer Smith [originally Jefferson played by James Stewart] is endearing and as successful as a figure of naive nobility as Mr. Stewart was in the film.It doesn’t seem like Mr. Sachs had to change very much beyond references to gender [Girl Rangers here instead of Boy Rangers] and one reference to “fake news” that worked very well in context, but boy does Jennifer Smith’s predicament feel familiar.
It’s Governor Hopper’s daughter [it was a son in the film] who encourages her father to choose Jennifer with the line “It’s 1939, not the dark ages, pop.” and a list of women who have held office before.It shouldn’t have been surprising to hear it but we can thank Mr. Sachs for educating us about these women that included Senators Rebecca Latimer Felton  and Hattie Caraway .Sam Waterston has the role of one of two villains, Senator Joseph Paine; a man who knew Jennifer’s father yet openly wonders whether they can “control a woman” in Congress. The other is Jim Taylor, a nefarious businessman/mob figure played by Jeff Perry.
Fans of the film will know that Smith speaks fondly of his father a number of times, recalling that he often said, “Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.”As Jennifer learns that a swath of land in her state is going to be turned into a useless dam that is only an avenue for graft, she becomes determined to fight for that land where she was hoping to create a girls camp for young women across the nation.Joshua Malina is her charmingly cynical assistant Chester Saunders [Jean Arthur in the film] who begrudgingly assists her in writing a bill for that girl’s camp.As they work together, Jennifer’s enthusiasm for the bill starts to wear down Saunders’ certainty it will fail and when she becomes aware of the relief bill that includes the dam, she decides to filibuster with his help.
Paine and his pro-dam cohorts do all they can to attack Jennifer’s character as they angrily state any blocking of the relief bill will lead to starving the people.Paine likens her attempt to hold the floor to holding the people hostage.There was an audible gasp in the audience followed by a few laughs for this reading took place near the end of Trump’s wall-inspired government shutdown.All of the pain that shutdown was inflicting on government workers was present in the room at that moment.
Jennifer stands firm in her convictions, even when Paine reads telegrams purportedly from her home state asking her to stop. She reads the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and goes on till her voice is hoarse and even Paine can’t take her suffering anymore.He breaks down and admits everything – and when Waterston embodied that moment, he tore the roof off the place, it was awe-inspiring.Jennifer and Saunders have one last moment of celebration before the ends that felt a little rushed but that might have been due to the fact that the TVs behind the cast popped on.
In lieu of credits, images of every woman who has held a seat in Congress appeared in succession on the screens. Members of the audience stood to applaud them, with more standing when California’s own Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein appeared.But it wasn’t till the video closed on a split screen image featuring Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren that the whole house got to their feet shouting.It was a memorable, moving moment that reminded this reviewer of all the things that can be good and honorable and right in this country.It also seemed like a hell of an idea for a presidential ticket in 2020 but that just shows how easy it was to get swept up in Jennifer Smith’s patriotic fervor.Ms. Smith may seem naive and inexperienced, but that character’s faith in what is good in the country is honorable and constant – and those are traits we could all stand to develop in our own lives today.
Sam Waterston (Law & Order, The Newsroom, Gracie and Frankie) will join Scandal co-stars Joshua Malina, Jeff Perry and Bellamy Young for a one-night only, all-star reading of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington at Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m.
The gender-switched adaptation of Sidney Buchman’s screenplay for the 1939 Jimmy Stewart classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is adapted and directed by Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. The free reading is being presented by the Fountain Theatre in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and with exclusive permission from SONY Pictures. It will be hosted by Los Angeles City CouncilmemberMitch O’Farrell and will take place in the John Ferraro Council Chamber. A catered reception will follow in the City Hall Rotunda.
In Sachs’ version, an idealistic, newly elected female senator finds herself fighting corruption in male-dominated Washington. Young will star in the title role, and Waterston has been cast in the pivotal role of Senator Paine.
The full cast includes Joshua Malina, Jeff Perry, Bellamy Young, Sam Waterston,Alan Blumenfeld, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Leith Burke, Tim Cummings, Cameron Dye, Spencer Garrett, Chet Grissom, Morlan Higgins, Aurelia Myers, Jenny O’Hara, Felix Solis, Jack Stehlin, Mark Taylor and Sal Viscuso.
The event is a follow-up to the Fountain’s hugely successful 2018 celebrity reading of All the President’s Men. It is sponsored, in part, by the Feminist Majority Foundation and in association with the League of Women Voters.
Ms. Smith Goes to Washingtontakes place on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the John Ferraro Council Chamber, Room 340 of Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N Spring St.,Los Angeles, CA90012. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Admission is free; however, seating is extremely limited. For more information, and to enter the ticket lottery, go to www.mssmith.org. Due to high security at the venue, no walk-ups will be permitted.
The Fountain Theatre follows its hugely successful 2018 celebrity reading of All the President’s Men with a one-night only, all-star reading of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington, starring Bellamy Young (ABC’s Scandal) in the title role, along with her Scandal co-stars Joshua Malina and Jeff Perry, with more to be announced.
Adapted and directed by Fountain co-artistic director Stephen Sachs, presented by the award-winning Fountain Theatre in partnership with the City of Los Angeles and with exclusive permission from SONY Pictures, this free event will be hosted by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and will take place in the John Ferraro Council Chamber of Los Angeles City Hall on Thursday, January 24 at 7:30 p.m. A catered reception will follow in the City Hall Rotunda.
In this gender-switched adaptation of Sidney Buchman’s screenplay for the 1939 Jimmy Stewart classic Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, an idealistic, newly elected female senator finds herself fighting corruption in male-dominated Washington.
“With more than one hundred women newly elected to Congress, this classic movie reimagined with Smith as a woman could not be more timely and urgent,” says Sachs. “I’m excited for the opportunity to build on the overwhelming success of last year’s event at City Hall. Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell is a longtime friend of the Fountain Theatre and an advocate for the arts in Los Angeles. What other major city in the country would hand over City Hall to its artists for one night? When local artists and city government officials work together, all citizens of Los Angeles benefit.”
According to Councilmember O’Farrell, “With change in the air in Washington after an unprecedented number of diverse women were just sworn into Congress to counter the corrupt, divisive, and destructive agenda of the Trump administration, I am thrilled to announce a staged reading of a beloved Hollywood classic film at Los Angeles City Hall, but with a modern twist that will no doubt prove more illuminating and poignant than it would have otherwise: Ms. Smith Goes to Washington! I am proud to continue what is now an annual artistic tradition at City Hall. The City of Los Angeles must exhibit a commitment to inspire and uplift communities — and sometimes the best way to make that point is through the arts. I want to thank The Fountain Theatre and the artists for volunteering their time and resources to this project.”
The event is sponsored, in part, by the Feminist Majority Foundation, and in association with the League of Women Voters. The FMF is a cutting-edge organization dedicated to women’s equality, reproductive health and non-violence. In all spheres, FMF utilizes research and action to empower women economically, socially and politically. FMF also publishes Ms. magazine, the oldest national feminist publication in the world, and will be distributing copies of their special Inauguration issue — featuring profiles of the new feminists elected to political offices across the country — to all attendees. The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.
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. Recent highlights include the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in the Music Center’s Our L.A. Voices festival at Grand Park, and an all-star reading of All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. The Fountain’s 2018 productions of The Chosen and Arrival & Departure each enjoyed months-long sold out runs and was named a Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” The company’s most recent production, the West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living, was named to the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2018” list.
Ms. Smith Goes to Washingtontakes place on Thursday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. in the John Ferraro Council Chamber, Room 340 of Los Angeles City Hall, 200 N Spring St., Los Angeles, CA90012. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Admission is free; however, seating is extremely limited. For more information, and to enter the ticket lottery, go to www.mssmith.org. Due to high security at the venue, no walk-ups will be permitted.
Playwright/Director Stephen Sachs celebrates with the crowd on Opening Night.
Love was in the air on Saturday night for the opening of our world premiere of Arrival & Departure, the funny and poignant new play inspired by the classic romantic movie, Brief Encounter. Written and directed by Stephen Sachs, Arrival & Departure focuses on a Deaf man and a hard-of-hearing woman, married to different people, who meet accidentally in a New York City subway station. Their casual friendship soon develops into deeper feelings they never expected.
Saturday’s Opening Night performance compelled a sold-out audience to leap to its feet in a standing ovation. Afterward, a catered reception was held in our cafe. The warm summer weather was perfect for our invited guests to enjoy the cafe’s cozy outdoor balcony.
The cast includes Jessica Jade Andres, Deanne Bray, Adam Burch, Brian Robert Burns, Shon Fuller, Kyra Kotsur, Troy Kotsur, Aurelia Myers, and Stasha Surdyke. They were celebrated at the party by Fountain staff, members of the press, members of the Fountain Theatre Board of Directors, and family and friends. The guests were impressed by the dazzling performance, many commenting on its power and poignancy.
Arrival & Departure is performed by Hearing and Deaf actors in a fully integrated, unique blend of Open Captioning, American Sign Language and Spoken English. In this short video clip, Deaf actors Troy Kotsur and Deanne Bray address the party guests.
As a theatre lover, I have often struggled to qualify the artistic value of a show. What, for example, separates a great, large-scale Broadway musical from a great, smaller, experimental work? When it comes to art, does more money equal more success? I received my answer last Saturday, at the designer run-through rehearsal of the Fountain’s Arrival & Departure: a successful play is one that leaves its audience thinking.
Art has the power to leave a lasting impact and change the way we think. That is exactly what I experienced after watching Arrival & Departure.
The play, at its core, follows the classic, impossible love-story of two star-crossed soul mates who have the universe standing between them. The 90-minute play is filled with heart-wrenchingly beautiful acting on the part of the ensemble and a fantastic script by Stephen Sachs. The artists invite us into their most intimate and vulnerable thoughts, thoughts that were born in a reality that they created out of nothing. It seemed impossible that such genuineness had been bred in only a few weeks of rehearsal – it is beyond inspiring to see what the Fountain team is capable of.
Personally, it was especially moving to experience the power and beauty of Deaf theatre for the first time. The show’s interwoven and unique mélange of ASL and Spoken English creates a dynamic and multi-dimensional artistic medium in which authenticity prevails. Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur conveyed a degree of beauty, truth, and honesty in their signing that cannot be expressed in other forms of communication – it was almost like watching a dance. Especially moving was Bray’s ability to convey her character’s struggles with identity as a hard-of-hearing woman, switching back and forth between ASL and Spoken English.
The play struck me as a type of ‘deconstructed theatre’. The various forms of art involved – from ASL, to Spoken English, to movement, to staging – are separated but harmoniously married, each holding its own and conveying breath-taking emotion, but also supporting one another to create one beautiful piece. I left the rehearsal pondering the very nature of art, and the ways in which society often creates pigeon-holes for artists. Arrival & Departure was unlike anything I have experienced before – it is novel and unique, and conveys emotion in ways that don’t conform to exclusive norms. This, I believe, is the point of theatre, and I cannot wait for others to experience the magic of Arrival & Departure.