Category Archives: Outreach Program

What the Constitution Means to intern Melina Young

Heidi-Schreck

Heidi Schreck, the writer and star of “What the Constitution Means to Me.”

by Melina Drake Young

As a kid I was vehemently unpatriotic. A weird stance for a kid to take. I was indifferent to fireworks and staunchly against country music, which is all I understood patriotism to be. That changed when I was in high school.

I take after Heidi Shreck. I was not only a theatre nerd in high school, but also a nerd nerd.

Like Shreck, I too developed a (somewhat obnoxious) penchant for the study of United States history and government. (I owe that in no small part to Mr. Roberts and Mr. Edwards of Immaculate Heart High School who shaped and encouraged the civically minded and curious woman that I am today. Behind every know-it-all is a gifted and endlessly patient teacher—or in my case a few.)

But I digress.

Some of us have had the good fortune to learn what the Constitution means to Heidi Shreck whose play, What the Constitution Means to Me, is based on her successful career competing against other high schoolers in Constitutional debates for scholarship money. As a woman in America, I know that this nation’s laws don’t often work in my favor. Heidi Shreck reminds Broadway audiences that preventing violence against women and protecting our equal rights are barely—and insufficiently—touched on in United States law. What’s more, that failure of justice is much more lethal for women of color and trans women than it is for white, cis women like Shreck and me. Concepts like patriotism and an American love of freedom are hard to stomach when one considers the prejudice that festers within our borders: from a prison system that has modernized slavery to tender age shelters and the vilification of undocumented entry into this country. Freedom stands in sharp contrast to the systemic criminalization of black and brown existence in the United States.

Patriotism is not the marginalization of and lack of legal protections available to non-white, non-cis, non-straight, non-male lives in the United States. These facts are equal parts shameful and frightening. That’s a taste of what the Constitution means to Shreck.

Another similarity between Shreck and me is that my appreciation of the Constitution extends beyond its legal bounds.

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The Constitution means being sixteen and falling in love with United States history and government instead of a boy. It means being serenaded by the Bill of Rights and beguiled by the separation of powers. It means knowing my rights and understanding them. It means civic literacy.

It means being seventeen and dressing up on the Fourth of July in overalls, an American-flag bikini and matching headband, with a copy of the Constitution in my back pocket. It means reading Thomas Paine’s Common Sense in my Nona’s backyard under the sweltering July sun.

It means being eighteen and weeping after the legalization of gay marriage and acknowledging for the first time in my life that I was proud to be an American.

It means being nineteen and getting to finally participate in the triumph of Democracy that is a fair and free election. It means voting for a candidate that resembled me more closely than a major party, presidential candidate ever had. And it means watching her lose. That defeat showed me that this country was more hateful than I had believed it to be.

But I refuse to become jaded.

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Melina Drake Young and her grandmother, Sylvie Drake, at the Mueller Report Read-A-Thon.

To me, the Constitution means being twenty-two and sitting in the front row of the Fountain Theatre as my grandmother reads from the stage at the Fountain’s  Mueller Report Read-A-Thon as an act of patriotic resistance. I watch my Nona, a native of Egypt—one of those countries that her President has shamefully referred to as a “shithole”—marry her love of theatre with her love of a country that has been hers for 70 years come August 10th. As I look toward the 70th anniversary of my grandmother’s escape from the violence of her native land, I acknowledge that this country—her refuge—resembles the land from which she fled more closely with each passing day. And I am saddened. My Nona, however, gives me hope. She is a tri-lingual refugee who raised two kids and maintained an impressive theatrical and literary career (in her third language) 7,470 miles away from the land that raised and then betrayed her. She is undoubtedly a great American.

So I guess, I was wrong.

Despite my childish convictions and everything else, I am an American Patriot. Just like my Nona.

Melina Young is the summer intern at the Fountain Theatre. We thank the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture for the support of its Arts Internship Program. 

Our nation’s future depends on moments like this

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Fountain Board member Miles Benickes and Zoey Rosenzweig at Mueller Read-A-Thon.

by Stephen Sachs

First, she said no. She would not do it. When her grandfather asked her again in the Fountain Theatre lobby, she awkwardly took a step back in retreat, shy and embarrassed.  

“No,” she said, in a blushing 14-year old half-grin.

She would not join her grandfather, Miles Benickes, on stage to read a ten-minute section of the Mueller Report in front of a gathered audience of LA professionals and unseen viewers watching online via a simultaneous live stream on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. No way.

Then Zoey Rosenzweig changed her mind. I was thrilled and surprised when she strode out onto our Fountain stage with Miles and diligently read through the Mueller legalese with her grandfather. She may not have understood much of the gobbledygook she was reading. Who did? That didn’t matter. Something vital for the future of our nation was happening. Zoey Rosenzweig was getting involved.

Thursday’s 15-hour Mueller Report Read-A-Thon at the Fountain Theatre held dozens of unforgettable moments like this for me. The marathon event was emotionally overwhelming. The Fountain hummed with ecstatic energy all day and all night. A parade of politicians, actors, writers, and community leaders read from the podium as if declaring from a public square, each person high-charged by their call to duty.

I thought of the day as an Open House. The Fountain Theatre opening its doors – all day and all night — to democracy. At an Open House, all visitors are welcome. At an Open House, anyone who wishes may visit. An Open House is a gathering that’s open to anyone who wants to come by, any time. 

An atmosphere of community was everywhere. In the lobby, in the audience, out front on the sidewalk, in our upstairs café.  Theatre provides community. Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in this country, and our LA theatre network is large and widespread. But on Thursday our Mueller Report Read-A-Thon proved that, like the motto of our nation, Los Angeles and the LA Theatre Community is “out of many, one.”

For our nation to survive, engaging young people in the arts and politics of this country is essential. I studied closely as our twenty-two-year-old Fountain intern, Melina Young, sat in the front row watching respected LA theatre critic Sylvie Drake read from our stage. A proud grin spreading across Melina’s face. Sylvie Drake is Melina’s grandmother. Now Melina seeks a career in the theatre. Her grandmother, by example, reminding her how the arts and social action can intersect.    

An endless stream of memorable instants that day/night flood through me now, two days later. Images of celebrities, LA Theatre icons, government officials. But it was Zoey Rosenzweig, perhaps, who remains the most indelible. A fourteen-year-old girl reading this urgent government document from the podium while her grandfather somberly leans over her shoulder like a rabbi guiding her through the Torah.

Moments like this are the reason we hosted the reading of the Mueller Report in the first place. It gives me hope. We need Zoey Rosenzweig and Melina Young and millions more like them.

Our nation, and our art form, depend on them.     

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre. 

HBO supports Fountain Theatre’s cops/kids program ‘Walking the Beat’ with $10,000 gift

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Cops, kids and staff of Walking the Beat at the Fountain Theatre.

The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that HBO is making a generous contribution of $10,000 to support Walking the Beat, the Fountain’s educational arts program that brings together LAPD police officers and inner city students over an 8-week period to write and create a theatre piece that they perform themselves.

“We are thrilled to welcome HBO to the Fountain Family,” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “HBO’s pedigree in providing ground-breaking, high-quality entertainment is matched by its commitment to young people and communities nationwide. Walking the Beat is an innovative program that uses theatre to promote empathy, self-expression and empowerment.”

HBO’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility Dennis Williams explains the cable network’s philosophy of giving as “how we can do the best with the resources that we have.”

“If you’re in a position of power or privilege, the question you should always ask yourself is, ‘Are you using your powers for good?’” continues Williams. “At HBO, we’re in a position to inspire change and start conversations in a way that others might not be able to do themselves. We must use our powers for good.”

Walking the Beat was devised by Theo Perkins and Angela Kariotis at Elizabeth Youth Theater Ensemble in New Jersey. HBO supported the project there for three years, and continues its sponsorship with the Hollywood program at the Fountain.

HBO and EYTE join other sponsors and partners for Walking the Beat at the Fountain, including the Hollywood Police Activities League,  Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy, Deborah Culver, The Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, Dorothy Wolpert, Robert and Carrie Meadow, the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and District 13, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and District 3.

Home Box Office is the oldest and longest continuously operating pay television service in the United States, with 140 million subscribers worldwide as of 2018. HBO’s Corporate Social Responsibility team unites employees, talent and non-profit partners to elevate social issues connected to communities. At the heart of HBO’s effort  is a passion for making a difference, to use its platform to educate, inspire thoughtful action and help make the world a better place.

More Info on Walking the Beat

VIDEO: Cops and students share stories in Fountain Theatre’s new outreach program ‘Walking the Beat’

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VIDEO: Actor/teacher Theo Perkins visits Hollywood High School for Fountain’s ‘Walking the Beat’

Take a look as actor/teacher Theo Perkins visits Hollywood High School to interview students for the Fountain Theatre’s new educational outreach program, Walking the Beat. Our innovative program will bring together ten students from six high schools with five LAPD officers, using theatre as a tool to create understanding and empathy.

In partnership with Elizabeth Youth Theater Ensemble, Hollywood Police Activities League, and the Los Angeles City College Theatre AcademyThe Fountain Theatre will introduce Walking the Beat, a summer theater arts based program for inner city high school youth and police officers in the Hollywood area. This pioneering arts education program, originated by New Jersey’s Elizabeth Youth Theater Ensemble in 2016, and now expanding into Hollywood with The Fountain Theatre, will provide transformative experiences for police officers and underserved youth in Hollywood. Utilizing performing arts as a vehicle for youth empowerment and community building, Walking the Beat has transformed lives with a results-based arts education methodology and curriculum. This 10 week program builds confidence, character, communication skills, and community. Walking the Beat inspires — in students and officers alike — an appreciation for their common humanity, and a commitment to community and social justice.

Our first orientation is this Friday.  More Info

Audience picks Round 2 winner of Fountain Theatre’s Rapid Development Series

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George Roland, Paul Burt and Anna Baumgarten read “Eldritch” at Fountain Theatre.

Monsters Are Made by Hannah C. Langley was voted by audience members as the Round 2 winner in last week’s 5th Annual ‘Rapid Development Series for Young Writers. In Langley’s playRicki is faced with a difficult set of questions when Hunter, her rapist and former friend, forces his way back into her life a year after he’s declared not guilty in the court of public opinion.

As the winning script, Monsters Are Made will receive a professional staged reading at the Fountain Theatre later this month.

Langley explains the journey of writing Monsters Are Made:

After years of telling the story of my own “bad experience” with a former friend in a hotel room as a short comic anecdote, I realized that it was anything but funny. It was terrifying, but the only way I could process that level of betrayal for a long time was by rewriting it, sanitizing it, making it into something you could talk about at a party. What I really needed to do (and what I’ve tried to do with this play) was keep rewriting it—researching and raising the stakes—until the story wasn’t about what happened to me anymore. It needed to be someone else’s. It needed to be Ricki’s and it needed to be Hunter’s. And, I hope, even though it’s no longer my story, it’s a more truthful one.”

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Playwright Hannah Langley outside the Fountain Theatre.

Hannah C. Langley is an emerging playwright, screen and television writer from Valencia, California. Her plays approach political topics on a personal scale. With a mix of magic and modern technology, Langley creates protagonists who are young, female-identifying, and on the verge of finding themselves. Her USC thesis play, Losing My Religion (in 140 Characters or Less), received a workshop production at USC, staged readings at Cypress College and the Pasadena Playhouse, and was recorded as a podcast by At the Table: A Play Reading Series, featuring Broadway’s Abby Church, Max Crumm, Aneesh Sheth, and Tony nominee Isabel Keating. The play has since earned semifinalist status in both The Road and Sanguine Theatre NYC’s summer play festivals.

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Created and produced in 2014 by James Bennett and Jessica Broutt, The Fountain Theatre’s Rapid Development Series is designed to showcase the work of previously unproduced, Los Angeles-based playwrights under the age of 30.

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Audiences pick the winner in Fountain Theatre’s 5th annual Rapid Development Series for young writers

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You be the judge: the audience will determine which play gets a professional staged reading at the Fountain Theatre in Round 2 of the company’s 5th annual competition-style reading series, set for ThursdayMay 9 at 8 p.m. Admission is free.

The contestants are Eldritch by Michael Herman, a dark fairytale set in pagan Ireland that explores human monstrosity, adolescence and, ultimately, love — vs. — Monsters Are Made by Hannah C. Langley, in which Ricki is faced with a difficult set of questions when Hunter, her rapist and former friend, forces his way back into her life a year after he’s declared not guilty in the court of public opinion.

The Fountain’s Rapid Development Series is designed to showcase the work of previously unproduced, Los Angeles-based playwrights under the age of 30. In Round 1, each of four playwrights presented a section of a new play currently in development, and the audience voted to determine which two would continue to Round 2. In Round 2, audiences will see the entire first half of each of those two plays, followed by another vote. The winning play and playwright will be announced at the end of the evening in the Fountain’s upstairs café, where complimentary refreshments will be served. The prize: two professional staged readings of the entire play on the Fountain stage at the end of May.

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Young people from East LA say ‘Hype Man’ at Fountain Theatre was “awesome”

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Variety Boys & Girls Club of Los Angeles

A fabulous group of young people from Variety Boys & Girls Club enjoyed an unforgettable Saturday afternoon seeing Hype Man a few weeks ago. Today, a large hand drawn thank you card arrived at the Fountain Theatre office from the kids expressing their gratitude and describing their experience.

Variety Boys and Girls Club has a 68-year tradition of providing meaningful activities and programs to young people of the community.  There are no geographical limitations to membership, although most of the members come from areas surrounding the Club in East Los Angeles.

Club Executive Director Patricia Siqueiros conveyed her appreciation to Fountain Outreach Coordinator Richard Gallegos.

“For many of our Club members, it was their first time watching a theatre production,” Siqueiros related. “I feel fortunate to connect with individuals like you who introduce our kids to a world beyond their surroundings.”

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Thank you card from Variety Boys & Girls Club

The kids sent Richard a large handmade thank you card, writing to him their thoughts and feelings about experiencing the play.

Hype Man is my first live performance.” – David (age 17)

“Hype Man touched on race and racism which I find challenging to speak about with other kids my age.” – Jessica (age 15)

“I like the changes in lighting. Helped set the scene.” – Yael (age 12)

“I loved it! I understood the sarcasm.” – Johnathan (age 15)

“Hype Man was super engaging.” – Yolanda (age 17)

“Thank you for a great show!” – Danny (age 17)

“It was good seeing the friends got together to overcome disagreements.” – Marcelo (age 13)

“I enjoyed watching Hype Man because it touched on relevant topics.” – Alaize (age 14)

“It made me very happy to witness the conversation about gender inequality.” – Evelyn (age 14)

“I liked the cast going through the audience during the social protest.” – Aimee (age 20)

“This is the first time I ever sat through a Q&A.” Aracely (age 14)

Hype Man was very fresh and educational. The music really got my attention.” – Jesus (age 12)

“We need more plays like Hype Man!” – Jocelyn (age 18)

Richard Gallegos joins Fountain Theatre team as Development and Outreach Coordinator

Richard G 3by Richard Gallegos

Hello Fountain Theatre family! I am Richard Gallegos and I’m thrilled to announce that I am the new Development and Outreach Coordinator at The Fountain.

My background: I am a native Angeleno. I am also a first-generation Salvadoran-American. I have been involved in the performing arts since I was in elementary school, and as a matter of fact, I credit my arts education teachers for shaping a very unruly and energetic child into the passionate, actor and theatre arts advocate that I am today.

My passion in theatre arts education is personal and it runs deep. It began as a last-ditch effort to curb my behavior, and over time the skills that I learned morphed into a sort of life curriculum. I have taught students from grades K-12, as well as college conservatory. Because I believe in the life changing potential of arts education, most of my work with youth has been about creating and implementing workshops that teach theatre skills, and include writing components, all with the goal of collectively devising new, non-linear works of theatre. I have collaborated with many students from various LAUSD schools and organizations (LACER, artworxLA, Company of Angels, Will & Company, Open Window, Bilingual Foundation of the Arts), and in my capacity as Resident Artist at PCPA-Pacific Conservatory Theatre. I am currently Theatre Director at Ramona Convent Secondary School and I love that I get to tackle some of my favorite plays with my super awesome students.

As an actor, I have been a long-time member of Critical Mass Performance Group, and my credits with CMPG are: AMERYKA (Kirk Douglas Theatre)Apollo; Parts 1 & 2 (World Premiere at Kirk Douglas Theatre), Apollo; Parts 1, 2 & 3 (Portland Center Stage), Antigone (Workshop, The Actors’ Gang). Other theatre credits include: The Secret Garden, Frost/Nixon, Art, Othello, Anna in the Tropics, Sylvia, Hortencia and the Museum of Dreams, Much Ado About Nothing. As a member of Rosanna Gamson/Worldwide I’ve performed in Grand Hope Flower, Aura, Rita Goes to Hell, Lovesickness, Tov. I am a member of AEA. 

 I couldn’t be more thrilled to be working as Development/Outreach Coordinator here at The Fountain. The work that is produced here is compelling, evocative, and at times deliciously provocative- all the things that I love about theatre. It is for these reasons that I’m really looking forward to growing our community support and involvement. My goal is to bring into our theatre the very people whose stories are getting a voice on our stage.

My website is www.richardgallegos.com.

Students respond to the power and honesty of ‘Cost of Living’ at the Fountain Theatre

“It captured me from the very first scene.”

The Fountain Theatre believes students and young people must have the opportunity to engage and consider meaningful human issues through the experience of live theatre.  We love having students in our audience. They are the artists, arts patrons and arts leaders of tomorrow. 

We’re always delighted when teacher Alan Goodson brings his students from Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising to the Fountain Theatre. They recently enjoyed our funny and poignant West Coast Premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Cost of Living.  Here are some of the reactions written by the students: 

“Overall, the play was an excellent representation of everyday life, not just for one with disabilities, but for those who crave to be pulled out of loneliness. The way that Majok portrayed the play through the eyes of two characters in wheelchairs, as well as their caretakers, was an excellent way to grab the audience’s attention. It was an on-edge performance, with exceptional acting skills. While showing someone with disabilities can be a touchy subject for most, it’s important for others to see that they aren’t the only ones in life that may need a little extra love, or caretaking.”

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Tobias Forrest and Xochitl Romero in “Cost of Living”

“Whether it be bathing, eating, or taking part in social life, Cost of Living is a reenactment of what millions of people go through. This thought-provoking piece allows the audience to be vulnerable, uncomfortable, and also gives people a chance the be thankful for the simple things that are often taken for granted.”

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Cost of Living was a production that completely changed my perception of those that are disabled. I believed that many were strong, and had to carry on with their lives after an incident happens, or even from birth. However, I didn’t realize the actual struggle that these people had to face in daily life, when it comes to daily, normal activities. I not only had sympathy for them, but I also saw their strength and courage and how it can be hard to accept help from others, especially when they see others carrying on their lives normally, when they physically are not able to do so. If the play was able to change my views, it’s able to change many others’ as well.”

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“I believe the director and actors were able to show and bring to life that feeling of what the characters cost of living was. Personally, I can relate to the production in that I have a disability that at times hinders my ability to live life to my fullest. I try not to let it, but at times there is nothing I can do about it being my cost of living.”

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“The play is about disabilities with people, not the other way around. The message of the play is that the biggest disabilities we can have are the ones that every person encounters at some point—loneliness and fear. The worst disabilities are not about having someone bathe or shave you, it’s the ones that make us human and make us all alike in some way. Personally, I found myself somewhere in this play, as I’m sure many others did. It captured me from the very first scene, and made me feel for each character and I related it to struggles in my own life.”

Theatre as a Learning Tool is the Fountain Theatre’s educational outreach program, making theatre accessible to students and young people throughout Southern California. 

More Info/Get Tickets to Cost of Living