Category Archives: new plays

Join the party! Daniel’s Husband & The Normal Heart company reunion today @ 4pm

By Terri Roberts

June is Pride month, a time of Mardi Gras-like celebration for the LGBTQ+ community that’s highlighted locally by the annual L.A. Pride Festival and Parade. The first Pride march, held June 28, 1970, was established to mark the one-year anniversary of the now infamous Stonewall uprising – an event widely seen as the launch pad for the modern gay rights movement. Fifty years later, it has become an annual, exuberant, not-to-be-missed event. (Note: The highly anticipated 50th anniversary celebration has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. More info)

The trouble that ignited a revolution started at 1:20am on June 28, 1969, when NYPD officers raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Such raids were all too common at the Mafia-owned bar. But this night was different. On this night, the chronically marginalized, too-often dehumanized gay population who were drinking inside had had enough. On this night, they stood up and fought back. On this night, and in the nights and days and years that followed, gay men and women not only found their pride, they wore it boldly and shouted it out loudly for all the world to hear.

Today at 4pm, the Fountain is gathering together the casts of two of its most highly acclaimed productions – Daniel’s Husband (2018) and The Normal Heart (2013) – for a celebration not only of Pride month, but of the recent historic Supreme Court ruling that protects the civil rights of gay and transgender workers, and to honor the life of writer/activist/Normal Heart playwright Larry Kramer. Viewers can watch live on Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and on our website at http://www.fountaintheatre.com. The recording will also be posted and can be watched at a later date.

Fountain producing director Simon Levy directed both productions, and cast veteran actors Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup as lovers in both stories, each of which was centered on a different pivotal moment in the gay rights movement. The Normal Heart is Kramer’s clarion call to action against the emerging AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s. In it, Ned Weeks (Cummings) is a gay journalist and activist whose fight against the mysterious unnamed scourge running rampant through the gay community turns deeply personal when his lover, Felix (Brochtrup), a New York Times fashion writer, contracts the deadly disease. In Daniel’s Husband, Brochtrup is the eponymous Daniel, a successful architect who longs to be married to his partner of seven years, Mitchell, a marriage-phobic writer of gay romance novels that make him, as he says, “the 21st century gay equivalent of Barbara Cartland.”

Said Levy of the two actors, “After working with, and loving the work of, Bill Brochtrup and Tim Cummings in The Normal Heart, I consciously searched for another project for us. And when I read Daniel’s Husband, I knew I’d found our play and that they would be perfect for it.”

Both shows held a personal appeal to Levy, who spent many years living in San Francisco and working on the long-running, kitschy musical revue, Beach Blanket Babylon.

“When I had the opportunity to get the rights to The Normal Heart I grabbed them,” he explained, “because I wanted to pay a personal tribute to all the friends and colleagues I lost in San Francisco during the heyday of the AIDS crisis. Especially (performer) Bill Kendall of Beach Blanket Babylon, who was a good friend and co-worker, and someone I took the entire journey with. The show was a dedication to his memory, as well as (creator) Steve Silver, and so many others.

“When I read Daniel’s Husband I fell in love with it and knew it was right for the Fountain and L.A.’s gay community. Not only because it dealt with gay marriage, but because of its universal theme of loving and caring for one another. I wanted the production to be a reminder to hold on tight to each other, especially in these toxic political times, because we never know how long someone will be in our life. To live with regret is horrible, so love NOW!”

Both productions received passionate, widespread critical acclaim and extended runs. Audience reaction to both shows was deep and visceral. Many patrons saw both, and there were many who saw each play multiple times. It was also not uncommon for them to come back with friends and family members who they felt compelled to have experience the show.

The teeming post-show gatherings are something Levy remembers fondly.

“(I loved) seeing how deeply moved audiences were by both shows, and how they would congregate outside on the sidewalk afterwards to talk with the actors and share their stories of losing loved ones, or fighting to make gay marriage legal. I also loved the ‘love board’ that allowed people to pay tribute to the memory of loved ones and those they love now.”

The ‘love board’ was a giant, paper-covered plywood board that stood at the theatre’s double doors during The Normal Heart. On it, people would write love notes to, and about, the men and women who were no longer here with them. There were also expressions of gratitude and love for those who were still by their side. It was a powerful, cathartic act, and the paper was oft replaced during the extended run of the show.

In a LA Times interview from October 2, 2013, Levy made a comment about The Normal Heart and the AIDS crisis that now seems prophetic when taken in context of today’s COVID pandemic.

“People have fallen asleep again…Millions of people are dying from AIDS every year. But no one’s talking about it anymore. We’re all pretending that it’s yesterday’s illness.”

His resulting message to the public? “Don’t politicize pandemics! Be kind to each other. Love each other. We’re all in this together.”

Celebrate Pride with us and join us for the cast reunions of Daniel’s Husband and The Normal Heart today at 4pm. Watch on Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or on our website.

France-Luce Benson’s Showtime Blues explores Black love built by shared trauma and triumphs

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Playwright France-Luce Benson

This Saturday, June 27, at 5:00 pm The Fountain Theatre is proud to present a reading of France-Luce Benson’s one-act play Showtime Blues, originally presented at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York in 2017. Showtime Blues will be presented online as The Fountain’s final Saturday Matinee program for June and will feature Cecil Blutcher, Suzette Azariah Gunn and Matt Kirkwood. Saturday Matinees will take a break in July, returning with France-Luce in August.

France-Luce produces and hosts Saturday Matinees and has generously presented several readings of her own work for our patrons enjoyment, including our May 20th reading of  Detained,  her powerful piece commissioned by the ACLU that featured the Tony-nominated actress, Kathleen Chalfant.

We wanted to take the opportunity to discuss Showtime Blues with France-Luce as it is a powerful piece of theatre in perfect pitch with the current moment and is part of a body of work in which France-Luce explores her identity as a Black American of Haitian descent, and examines broad socio-political concepts from the perspective of intimate human relationships.

Q: When did you write Showtime Blues? Did it arise out of one particular experience or in response to a lifetime of experiences?

FLB: I wrote it in 2016. That year, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille were killed by police. Prior to that…Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Micheal Brown…the list goes on and on. I was hurting, and angry, and terrified for my community. I have three brothers, a nephew, dozens of cousins — I couldn’t imagine how anyone could ever view them as a threat. Like all the black men in my life – they are loving, gentle, hard working, family men – they care about their communities, they are human and deserve so much better than what this country gives them. We all do. All of this was stirring in my head and heart. I didn’t know what the play would end up being, but I knew I needed to explore it, work through it, and I wanted to celebrate Black love in a way that transcended romance. I wanted to celebrate the love we as Black people have for one another, based on our shared trauma and triumphs.

Q: I’m curious about the secondary theme in the play which explores the way folks judge one another on appearances and stereotypes.

FLB: As a first generation American, I’m interested in the way we (black and brown people) “Other” each other; and I always believe that as individuals we need to hold ourselves accountable. Both Ameira and Demetrius are quick to judge, and maybe they’re justified. She’s getting hit on by some dude on the train, and he’s being dismissed by someone who can’t even be bothered to look at him – literally. They have both been conditioned by a sexist, racist society. The incident that they experience together exposes their vulnerability. That vulnerability is what interests me most. It is that vulnerability that many of us, black and white, often fail to see in each other. And certainly law enforcement officers – they see black and brown bodies void of vulnerability – void of humanity.

Q: It seems that this moment provides a unique window for artists of color to be heard and seen.  What would you like your white friends and colleagues to understand about your experience as a black female artist in America?

FLB: I’d like them to truly understand how far reaching, how expansive, how insidious white supremacy is. My voice and stories matter as much as anyone else. The lack of opportunity artists of color experience is a result of  systemic institutionalized racism. White people need to understand this country’s history, and then maybe they’ll begin to understand my experience. I’ve been writing a trilogy about the Haitian Revolution, and I’ve often been told that my cultural experience is not relevant to Americans. But I challenge anyone reading this to study the Haitian Revolution and tell me it’s not part of America’s history. The problem is, Americans have been in denial about a lot of her history; I would like my white friends and colleagues to investigate the ways they have been in denial.

Q: As a Black American. What makes you hopeful?

FLB: This new generation of activists makes me hopeful; the current uprising, the fact that white people seem more willing to listen and take real action.

The Cast

Cecil Blutcher: Regional Theater: Pipeline (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville); Petrol Station (The Kennedy Center). NYC: The Hot Wing King (Signature Theatre); Tempo (Ensemble Studio Theatre); Showtime Blues (Ensemble Studio Theatre). Film: Premature (Dir. Rashad Ernesto Green); Skin (Dir. Guy Nattiv); Sketch (Dir. Mariama Diallo). Television: The Good Fight (CBS All-Access); Random Acts of Flyness (HBO). Training: M.F.A. (Penn State). Website: CecilBlutcherCreates.com

Suzette Azariah Gunn is an actress, writer, director from New York. She has a degree in acting from Howard University and Oxford University. She has recurred, starred and guest starred on television and been in film and Theater across the US. Most recently 21 Bridges film and Nya in Pipeline at Cleveland Playhouse. Honors- Los Angeles Film Award Best Ensemble, Golden Door International Film Festival Nominated Best Lead Actress, NBC Diversity Showcase,  Named Up and Coming Actress to watch, Best Supporting Actress Planet Connections,.- For more info suzettegunn.com

Matt Kirkwood has been an actor and director in Los Angeles theatre for the last 30+ years. He was last seen in The Fountain’s production of HUMAN INTEREST STORY, and in the live stream reading of DETAINED.

Zoom Link

A Message of Hope and Solidarity

The Fountain Theatre is a member of a coalition of intimate theatres in Los Angeles that meets weekly to discuss the future of theatre in Los Angeles as we navigate COVID-19 and beyond.

Like Los Angeles, our theatre community has always been at the forefront of innovation. As an integral part of the cultural conversation, a group of 44 artistic directors from LA’s intimate theatres came together two months ago to discuss how we can move through the current COVID crisis and come out stronger. We are committed to raising the bar and pushing the boundaries of professional theatre. At weekly virtual roundtables, we continue to remind each other that theatre is a collaborative art form, in every sense of the word. We are stronger together as one community regardless of company size.

While the doors to our theatres may be shut, our artists continue to innovate and utilize new technology to serve Los Angeles and promote the importance of theatre. Our creative work has never been limited to our stages, and the boundless creativity of Los Angeles theatre artists will ensure that our theatres will reopen with a renewed sense of purpose. Los Angeles is one of the cultural capitals of the world, and together we make sure that #LALivesOnStage.

The 44 theatres are:

24th Street Theatre, Actors Co-op, After Hours Theatre Company, Ammunition Theatre Company, Antaeus Theatre Company, Boston Court Pasadena, Celebration Theatre, Chance Theater, Company of Angels, Coeurage Theater Company, Echo Theater Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, Fountain Theatre, Ghost Road Theatre Company, Greenway Arts Alliance, IAMA Theatre Company, Impro Theatre, Latino Theatre Company, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, Matrix Theatre Company, Moving Arts, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Open Fist Theatre Company, Ophelia’s Jump Productions, Playwrights’ Arena, Pacific Resident Theatre, Rogue Machine Theatre, Ruskin Group Theatre, Sacred Fools Theater Company, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skylight Theatre Company, Son of Semele, Theatre of NOTE, The 6th Act, The Group Rep Theatre, The Inkwell Theater, The New American Theatre, The Road Theatre Company, The Robey Theatre Company, The Victory, United Stages, VS. Theatre Company, Theatre West, and Whitefire Theatre.

The group is taking this opportunity of a pause in their programming to consider some of the bigger issues facing Los Angeles intimate theatres. Most importantly, they have implemented action committees for creating collaborative strategies in health and safety protocols for audiences, staff, and artists. Other areas of focus include marketing, and planning an online Intimate Theatre Festival, with a Live LA Theatre Festival in the works once everyone is able to gather again. Partnering with LA Stage Alliance/onStage.LA, the group is aiming to establish a central hub for all Los Angeles theatre activities.

Tony nominee Kathleen Chalfant heads cast for live-stream reading of immigration play DETAINED

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Kathleen Chalfant

Acclaimed actress Kathleen Chalfant will lead the cast for the Fountain Theatre’s live-stream reading of France-Luce Benson‘s docudrama on immigration, Detained, on Wednesday, May 20th. The Tony nominated and Obie winning actress’ distinguished stage career,  both on Broadway and Off-Broadway,  includes Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Wit.

Actors joining Chalfant are Victor Anthony, France-Luce Benson, Rolando Chusan, Liza Fernandez, Aleisha Force, Dion Graham, Matt Kirkwood, Sofia Riba, Ariel Sandino, Felix A. Solis,  Aldo Uribe, Karl O’Brien Williams.

Based on interviews with individuals who are facing deportation, as well as the judges, lawyers, and activists who are involved in these cases, Detained is a new documentary theater piece about immigration, deportation, and detention in the United States.

“France-Luce has incorporated the voices of all the stakeholders from immigrants to ICE officers and everyone in between, ” says Chalfant, who has been involved in the new play’s development. “The play provides a very important human perspective so that we see that the current system is neither necessary nor inevitable and is certainly not the way it has always been done.”

“The coronavirus crisis makes this already appalling system even crueler and now even murderous,’ she adds.

The live-stream reading of Detained on Wednesday, May 20, will air live at 5pm PST/8pm EST on the Fountain Theatre’s Facebook page, YouTube Channel and on Zoom.

Fountain Theatre honored by LADCC with Margaret Harford Award for excellence in theatre

LADCC FTIn recognition of providing outstanding productions of meaningful new plays and first-class performances spanning three decades, The Fountain Theatre has been honored with The Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence in theatre, presented by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.   

“It is our way of thanking you for your noteworthy contribution to theater in Los Angeles,” commented Jonas Schwartz, LADCC Vice President in an email to the Fountain Theatre. “We really are so pleased to be able to recognize your work.”

Due to the current coronavirus pandemic, and in keeping with the request of state and local officials, the LADCC has been forced to forgo its annual Awards event for the public in April.  Instead, the winners will be posted on the LADCC website.

“This honor from the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle means a great deal to all of us at the Fountain Theatre,” says Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “It is much-needed good news in the midst of this current crisis.”

Founded in 1969, the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) is an organization dedicated to excellence in theatrical criticism and to the encouragement and improvement of theatre in the Greater Los Angeles Area. The LADCC presents the annual Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards.

Full list of LADCC Award nominees and Special Award winners.

Stay Home: Fountain Theatre builds community alliances during time of crisis

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Hollywood Food Coalition

by France-Luce Benson

As we all hunker down, I’ve been thinking a lot about home. As a playwright/performer, I’ve lived a kind of gypsy lifestyle for most of my adulthood. Home is wherever the gig happens to be.  For the last year and a half, home is Los Angeles.  Of course, in Los Angeles, I can’t think about home without thinking of the millions of men, women, and children who are experiencing homelessness today. As our public officials urge us all to “stay home”, rightfully so, I can’t help but wonder what that means for those who don’t have a home.

Like many theatres across the country, The Fountain made the painful decision to suspend performances of Human Interest Story, which grappled with several issues around homelessness. Sadly, this also meant cancelling all of our BID events, including a panel discussion with representatives from several homeless relief organizations in our community.

Although the show cannot go on, we’ve decided to keep the conversation going with one of our esteemed panelists, John Billingsley. As the Board President of Hollywood Food Coalition, Billingsley knows firsthand about what it means to be on the front lines of the fight to end homelessness in L.A.

FLB: First, can you please tell us about Hollywood Food Coalition’s mission and what services you provide:

Billingsley: Every night of the year we serve the most immediate needs of people in our community: we provide a healthy and nutritious five course meal to all comers, no questions asked (soup, salad, choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian entree, fruit, bread, desserts, milk, water).  We also distribute shoes, blankets, sleeping bags, clothing, bus passes, laundry vouchers, toiletry kits, and etc. We  have medical, dental and vision vans from UCLA visiting our campus on a regular basis. We are secular, but we serve our meal on the campus of the Salvation Army, (in one of their two dining halls) and we also help clients access way cool stuff provided by other community social service organizations (our neighbors and buds).  Additionally, insofar as we rescue approximately 7000 pounds of food a week, we aim to distribute the food we cannot use to other Not For Profits serving our community.

FLB: What led you to Hollywood Food Coalition?

Billingsley: Approximately 4 years ago, apres the disastrous 2016 election, I was looking for ways to get more involved in my community. In addition to doing some political fundraising, I started making bad fruit salads at the Hollywood Food Coalition. (I washed dishes badly, as well). I was foolish enough to shoot off my mouth a bit about ways to grow the board, raise more moolah, blah blah blah . . .  and now I’m the Board President!  It (almost) reaffirms my faith in America. Or, perversely, makes me question the sanity of our Executive Director, Sherry Bonanno.

FLB: What has been your focus as Board President?

Billingsley: We believe food is a medium for coalition building.  My specific interest revolves around what it means to build coalitions, to make pals, to get to know our non-for-profit neighbors. We’re interested in helping to bring NFP’s in our community together to collaborate, where possible, on ‘common actions’, like we’re doing with The Fountain Theatre. We’re interested in exploring mechanisms by which we can further each other’s missions: Can we help you do what you do better? Can you help us do what we do better? How?

FLB: In Stephen Sachs’ play, Human Interest Story, the Jane Doe character offers a raw look at the realities of homelessness. She talks about being assaulted, feeling invisible, and the stigma attached to homelessness. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge homeless men and women face?

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Tanya Alexander and Rob Nagle, Human Interest Story.

Billingsley: First off, and apropos of nothing – ‘people who re experiencing homelessness’ is a more artful construction, I have been taught  – when we use the term ‘homeless’, and God knows we all use it, we kinda consign people to a bit of a Dante-esque ‘circle’, a ‘home’, oddly enough . . .

 People go through shit.

One can say: I am going through this time in my life, I am experiencing yada yada yada . . . it’s subtly, but legitimately, different than saying: I am a this.  I am a that.  People ain’t homeless.  They’re living a particular kind of life, they’re experiencing homelessness at this time in their life .  One hopes that they will be living a different kind of life soon.

But to answer your question:

The biggest challenge homeless people face is the biggest challenge most of us face: the folks who rule our country, and many other countries around the world, actively attempt to delegitimize, if not actively dehumanize, people who don’t agree with them, or look like them, or in any way challenge their values or their hold on power. The challenge we all face, or can’t even begin to face (or intellectually recognize) is a deep and internalized acquiescence in the face of systemic and organized political disenfranchisement; perhaps to the perpetuation of our own diminution.   Continue reading

VIDEO: What is actor Rob Nagle’s favorite line from ‘Human Interest Story’?

Fountain Theatre announces cast and creative team for L.A. premiere ‘If I Forget’

Cast FORGET

Top: Jenna Macari, Shelly Kurtz, Roy Abramsohn. Bottom: Jonathan Fishman, Samantha Klein, Jacob Zelonky, Laura Faye Smith.

The Fountain Theatre is thrilled to announce the complete cast of the Los Angeles Premiere of  Steven Levenson’s (Dear Evan Hansen) new play, If I Forget, directed by Simon Levy. The cast includes Shelly Kurtz (Lou Fischer), Jenna Macari (Holly Fischer), Roy Abramsohn (Michael Fischer), Samantha Klein (Sharon Fischer), Laura Faye Smith (Ellen Manning), Jonathan Fishman (Howard Kilberg), Jacob Zelonky (Joey Oren).

If I Forget begins preview performances on April 22, 2020 and opens officially on April 25, 2020. This is a limited engagement through June 14, 2020.

A funny and powerful tale of a family and a culture at odds with itself. In the final months before 9/11, liberal Jewish studies professor Michael Fischer reunites with his two sisters to celebrate their father’s 75th birthday. Each committed to their own version of family history, they clash over everything from Michael’s controversial book, to whether they should sell the family business. Secrets and long-held resentments bubble to the surface as the three negotiate – with biting humor and razor-sharp insight – just what they’re willing to sacrifice for a chance at a new beginning.

The creative team of If I Forget includes Andy Hammer (Set design), Jennifer Edwards (Lighting Design), Jeff Gardner (Sound Design), Michael Allen Angel (Prop Design) and Shon LeBlanc (Costume Design).

More Info/Get Tickets

How 18,000 students proved theater experts wrong

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Students prepare to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Madison Square Garden.

by Stephen Sachs

There hasn’t been that much rapturous cheering in Madison Square Garden since the Knicks won their last championship in 1973. But the thunderous hollering heard this Wednesday at the sold-out arena was not for a basketball game. It was for a play.

On Wednesday, 18,000 middle and high school students from Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island attended a free one-time special performance of the Broadway production of “To Kill A Mockingbird” at Madison Square Garden arranged by producer Scott Rudin, the MSG organization and the city of New York.  That’s right. 18,000 kids sat and watched a 3-hour drama in the cavernous home of the Knicks. Who would have thought it possible?

The result? By all accounts, everyone there on that school-day afternoon – actors, audience, organizers – have been forever changed by the experience. And, I hope, so has our field, as the impact of this one-time event ripples nationwide for years.

Artistic Directors like me have been wringing our hands over the same question for decades. How do we get younger audiences to come to our theatre? How do we engage young people today in our ancient art form? How do we not only hold their attention but excite them enough to want to come back to our theatre?

This week, one answer came. And it showed me that maybe we’ve been asking ourselves the wrong question. Sometimes we must bring the mountain to Muhammed.

The play’s usual Broadway home is the Shubert Theatre, where it commands an average ticket price of $162. The one-time performance at The Garden was free. For many kids, they were seeing a professional play – in an unusual setting — for the first time.

“This is a one-of-a-kind event — 18,000 young people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to see a Broadway play are going to be introduced to American theater,” playwright Aaron Sorkin said.

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The cast of To Kill a Mockingbird take their bows on stage after a special performance for students at Madison Square Garden in New York.

In a week of nothing but bad news for our country, this gives me hope. And shatters a few myths theater-makers may hold about young people.

The attention span of teens is too short. The myth we keep telling ourselves is that the light-speed tempo of video games have accelerated the viewing habits of young people to such a degree that they’ll never sit still for a serious play. A musical, maybe. A rock musical, certainly. Not an issue-driven drama. But the 18,000 students at Madison Square Garden not only sat still and listened to “Mockingbird”, they were riveted in their seats.

Young people are only interested in contemporary stories about themselves. It’s okay to offer them hip hop plays, urban musicals, modern teen comedies about their world today. A drama from another time period? Too risky. This week, however, a multitude of students from New York were engrossed by a fable that takes place in 1934 Alabama. Want to make it worse? It’s a play adapted from a book they are assigned to study as homework in class, for crying out loud. A theatre producer’s nightmare, right? Wrong.

Young people hate theatre. Not true. They just have fewer opportunities to see it. And when they do? “It’s so exciting,” said high school junior Michelle Hernandez. “It’s amazing,” said student Justine Jackson. “The story is very real and you can relate it to modern society,” said junior Andy Lin. “Specially racism because it’s still going on.”  The 18,000 students were clearly swept up in the play and the excitement of the event. The setting of Madison Square Garden seemed to set them free to react openly in ways they would never dare in a conventional theatre. They laughed, they gasped, they shouted, and they cried. They cheered Atticus Finch like he was a rock star.

Regional theaters across the country have educational outreach programs that include bringing their productions of plays to schools for students to enjoy and benefit by seeing. It’s a failsafe strategy that is not going anywhere. A theatre importing its production to a school campus is one thing. Partnering with Madison Square Garden is another.

The conventional model of bussing students to your theatre holds its own many benefits. But I hope the “Mockingbird” event inspires theater organizations across the country to think outside the box in their own community. To explore unconventional venues and unique partnerships to help bring the power of theater to young people nationwide.

Could the “Mockingbird” event happen in Los Angeles? Can we imagine 20,000 students from across the Southland coming to Staples Center to watch a performance of “Death of A Salesman”? Why not? It takes a mayor, a theatre producer and a city believing that it’s important and willing to make it happen. As NY Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “The only way to change your world is if you decide it is your world to change.”

 And you must find like-minded partners who are willing to change it.

Stephen Sachs is the Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre. 

For this L.A. couple, societal issues in ‘Human Interest Story’ are personal

Dick Price and Sharon Kyle

Dick Price and Sharon Kyle

by Dick Price and Sharon Kyle

With his stunning world premiere presentation of Human Interest Story at the Fountain Theatre, playwright and director Stephen Sachs stitches together issues deeply affecting American society, delivering them with a witty edge and kinetic punch that thrilled the audience the night we attended.

Our colleague and friend, Eric A. Gordon, just published a delightfully detailed review with us: Human Interest Story,’ Playwright Stephen Sachs’s Righteous Rage Against Corporate Heartlessness. Rather than replicate his work—or, rather foolishly, try somehow to top it—we’ll share the ironic way Sachs’ themes struck the two of us. Ironies abound, as you’ll see.

At curtain rise, long-time opinion columnist Andy Kramer (played by Rob Nagle) is about to lose his job in a cost-cutting move by his newspaper’s new owners, who are decimating the staff and moving quickly online to save the paper from folding, a fate so many print publications have suffered in recent years.

On his way out the door, as a way to give the new editors the finger, Andy concocts a letter purportedly written by an anonymous homeless woman, Jane Doe, who’s so bereft by her plight that she promises to kill herself on the approaching Fourth of July.

And, of course, in this digital age, the letter immediately goes viral, generating lots of hits on the paper’s website and saving Andy’s job. Problem is, the editors want to know more—lots more—about Jane Doe.

And, of course, in this coincidental world, Andy soon stumbles across a homeless black woman (Tanya Alexander) living in the park, who, after some negotiation, agrees to play Jane Doe. Together they use their ruse to shed a harsh light on the plight of the homeless while saving their own bacon.

But, as Jane Doe will later say, “there’s no good way to do a bad thing,” so problems ensue: rising media stardom, intruding corrupt politicians, distracting sexual escapades, and soulless publishing magnates all colliding in an engrossing stew—“ripped from the headlines,” you might say. You’ll need to see the play—and you absolutely should—to see how all this works out.

Our first irony: Hours before we saw the play, the two of us were at LA CAN (Los Angeles Community Action Network) on West 6th Street, in the heart of L.A.’s sprawling Skid Row, helping to plan the “Radical King” event planned for April 4th.

Moreover, to avoid the crush of L.A.’s highway traffic, we frequently take surface streets to activist meetings we attend downtown, a route that takes us through Skid Row. At one point, we had to stop taking this shortcut because Sharon would break down in tears at the sight of so many of her people—black people—pushing shopping carts down the street, huddling in the endless rows of tents, shaking their fists at an unforgiving sky. At one time, her former brother-in-law had been among them, a Vietnam vet devastated by his wartime experiences and brief capture by the Viet Cong.

And long ago, Dick had been executive director (some would call him “house daddy”) of a halfway house in Torrance where many homeless were among the residents, an experience that showed him that beneath the grime and tattoos and missing teeth, they were every bit as human as he—and not some kind of alien beings you might only see in news reports or passing by quickly in your car.

homeless man

A second irony, of course, is that for the past 12 years we’ve published two online magazines,LA Progressive and Hollywood Progressive, which are in the mix of the shift away from print publication to digital, which has caused the loss of so many editorial jobs like Andy’s.

And again moreover, in Dick’s last job working for other people (other than Sharon), he worked on venerable print magazines at the very start of the move to the digital world, his job to figure out how to preserve revenue—and his staff’s jobs—while moving online.

While readership levels rose dramatically with the much wider reach the Internet afforded, his readers were much less willing to pay for the privilege as they had with print magazines—and the money they did pay had to first go through the Web publishing shop, which took most of the gravy, shrinking the editorial staff bit by bit. His version of Andy, walking out the front door with his belongings in a cardboard box, became an all-too-common sight.

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Rob Nagle, Tanya Alexander in “Human Interest Story.”

But the third irony is perhaps the most telling. Sachs’s play has the middle-aged white “word slinging” columnist ghostwriting speeches and articles for the somewhat younger black homeless woman—who, by the way, was an award-winning fourth grade teacher before bad luck put her on the street. Point being that the white man assumed he needed to do the thinking and writing for a black woman, who, by the way she spoke and acted and carried herself, could surely have used her own words and thoughts quite nicely, thank you very much, given the chance.

Now, at the Dick & Sharon collective, Dick would never dream of putting words in Sharon’s mouth. But our parallels to the play are strong—older white man (she’ll remind you), younger black woman, joined not just with an ampersand but at the hip for years on end. Many days we spend the entire 24 hours within 30 feet of each other, talking to the same people, watching the same programs, reading many of the same things, chewing through the day’s events as one.

We’re together most of the time when the world comes at us, but how we interpret that world, especially around issues of race, can be quite different (one of us says “quite,” the other “somewhat”). If we hear news of yet another unarmed black man gunned down by police or a black mother sent to prison for enrolling her child in the wrong school or reports of a friend suspiciously denied a job or promotion, Dick hears it, hurts for it, perhaps discusses it, and moves on. But then hours later he’ll find Sharon still sunk down in despair for the endless targeting of her people, thinking of her son’s safety, her brothers’ safety, black people’s safety and well-being in general.

See, if Dick walks out our front door, pretty quick he’s just another white dude walking down the street in a mostly white neighborhood, the consequences of racism becoming increasingly intellectual. Sharon doesn’t have that luxury.

So, the heart of Human Interest Story — for us, at least — is the interplay of racism in our lives, white and black, that rot at the heart of America’s soul.

Go see for yourself.

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This post originally appeared in Hollywood Progressive.