Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander in “Human Interest Story.”
“The line between where you are now and sleeping in your car is much thinner than you think.” The Fountain Theatre presents the world premiere of a timely new play, written and directed by Stephen Sachs(Arrival & Departure, Citizen: An American Lyric, Bakersfield Mist), about homelessness, celebrity worship and the assault on American journalism. Human Interest Story opens at the Fountain on Feb. 15, where performances continue through April 5.
Set in the fast-moving world of new media, Human Interest Story chronicles the journey of newspaper columnist Andy Kramer, played by award-winning actor Rob Nagle (recent credits include Apple Season at Moving Arts andThe Judas Kiss at Boston Court). Suddenly laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes his paper — a print publication struggling for readers in changing times — Andy fabricates a letter to his column in retaliation. The letter, from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world, goes viral, and Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman (Tanya Alexander — Mono/Poly at the Odyssey and Future Sex Inc. at the Lounge) to stand-in as the fictitious Jane. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.
According to Sachs, the play is about how contrary and opposing impulses can hide in the same human being. “A newspaper columnist, in the course of writing a human interest story on another individual, is forced to confront truths about himself,” he explains.
The cast also includes James Harper, previously seen at the Fountain in The Accomplices, as newspaper publisher Harold Cain. Playing multiple roles are Richard Azurdia(My Mañana Comes at the Fountain), Aleisha Force(Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra at Virginia Shakes, Maggie in Dancing at Lughnasa at Barnstormers Theatre), Matt Kirkwood (Our Class at Son of Semele, The Goat or, who is Sylvia? at the LGBT Center) and Tarina Pouncy (Vendetta Chrome at Coeurage Theatre; Les Blancs at Rogue Machine; and The Old Settler at International City Theatre, for which she garnered an NAACP award).
The creative team for Human Interest Story includes scenic and video designer Matthew G. Hill; lighting designer Jennifer Edwards; composer and sound designer Peter Bayne; costume designer Shon LeBlanc; video hair and makeup designer Diahann McCrary; and prop master Michael Allen Angel. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer,and the assistant stage manager is Nura Ferdowsi. Simon Levy, James Bennett and Deborah Culver produce for the Fountain Theatre. Producing underwriters include David and Mary Jo Volk; Laurel and Robert Silton; Lois Tandy; and Toby and Daniel Bernstein. The executive producer is Karen Kondazian.
The story was initially inspired by the 1941 Frank Capra classic filmMeet John Doe.
Stephen Sachs is the co-founder and co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre and the author of 15 plays. Recent work includes his Deaf/Hearing love story, Arrival & Departure (“Critic’s Choice,” Los Angeles Times); his stage adaptation of William Goldman’s screenplay for All the President’s Men, starring Bradley Whitford and Joshua Malina at L.A. City Hall; and his stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which premiered at the Fountain Theatre and was remounted by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. His play Bakersfield Mist is performed worldwide. Sachs’ screenplay Sweet Nothing in my Ear, based on his play, was made into a CBS TV movie starring Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin. As director, he is a two-time Ovation Award winner and was recently honored by the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the cultural life of Los Angeles.”
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 all-star readings of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington and 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 recent 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. This season, the Southern California premiere of Daniel’sHusband and the currently extended Los Angeles premiere of Between Riverside and Crazy were each named to multiple “Best of 2019” lists.
Rob Nagle is a film/TV/stage actor and longtime Los Angeles favorite admired by local theatre audiences. His acclaimed portrayal of Oscar Wilde in David Hare’s The Judas Kiss at Boston Court Pasadena was hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “A performance not to be missed.” Tanya Alexander has been seen in a variety of film and TV roles and recently co-starred in the world premiere of Brian Reynolds’ Mono/Poly at the Odyssey Theatre.
In Human Interest Story, newspaper columnist Andy Kramer is laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes the City Chronicle. In retaliation, Andy fabricates a letter to his column from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world. When the letter goes viral, Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman to stand-in as the fictitious Jane Doe. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.
Human Interest Story runs February 15 to April 5 at the Fountain Theatre.
All art is political. In tense, fractious times—like our current moment—all art is political. But even during those times when politics and the future of our country itself are not the source of constant worry and anxiety, art is still political. Art lives in the world, and we exist in the world, and we cannot create honest work about the world in which we live without reflecting it. If the work tells the truth, it will live on.
Public Enemy’s “911 Is a Joke,” George Orwell’s 1984, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s whole damn catalog—all are political works that tell the truth.
Yes, Rodgers and Hammerstein. Consider The Sound of Music. It isn’t just about climbing mountains and fording streams. Look beyond the adorable von Trapp children: It’s about the looming existential threat of Nazism. No longer relevant? A GIF of Captain von Trapp tearing up a Nazi flag is something we see 10 times a day on Twitter, because all sorts of Nazis are out there again in 2019. As last spring’s searing Broadway revival of Oklahoma! revealed, lying underneath Hammerstein’s elephant-eye-high corn and chirping birds is a lawless society becoming itself, bending its rules and procedures based on who is considered part of the community (Curly) and who is marginalized (poor Jud … seriously, poor Jud). Or consider your parents’ favorite, South Pacific. At its center, our hero, Nellie Forbush, must confront her own internalized racism when she learns that the new love of her life has biracial children from a previous marriage. Let your parents know if they forgot: Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals form the spine of Broadway’s “golden age,” and they also deeply engage with the politics of their era.
Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway cast of In the Heights.
My first Broadway musical, In the Heights, is an example of how time can reveal the politics inherent within a piece of art. When I began writing this musical, as a college project at Wesleyan University, it was an 80-minute collegiate love story with a promising mix of Latin music and hip-hop, but it was pretty sophomoric (which is appropriate; I was a sophomore). After college, I started from scratch with the director Thomas Kail and the playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, and we shifted the show’s focus from the love story to Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan where everyone is from everywhere. In the 20th century, Washington Heights was often home to the latest wave of immigrants. It was an Irish neighborhood; it was a Russian Jewish neighborhood (Yeshiva University is up there). If you take the Dominican store sign down you’ll see a sign for an Irish pub underneath it, and if you take that down you’ll find Hebrew. Washington Heights was heavily Dominican when I was growing up, and it remains so, with a vibrant Mexican and Latin American immigrant community as well.
We received great reviews. If critics had a common criticism, it was that the show, its contemporary music aside, was somehow old-fashioned or “sentimental.” Gentrification, the businesses closing, the literal powerlessness as the characters face a blackout that affects only their neighborhood—these issues, always there in the material, didn’t register with most theater critics in 2008. In the Heights was considered a hit by Broadway standards. It didn’t leap off the Arts page and into the national conversation like Hamilton would, but we won some Tonys, recouped our investment, and had a wonderful three-year run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where Hamilton now lives. We posted our Broadway closing notice at the end of 2010.
What a difference 10 years makes.
Right now, Jon M. Chu is editing his feature-film adaptation of In the Heights, which is scheduled to be released in June. We spent a joyous summer shooting the film—on location, in our neighborhood—and issues that were always inherent in the text now stand out in bold-faced type. Gentrification has rendered Lower Manhattan, Harlem, and much of Brooklyn unrecognizable to the previous generations that called those neighborhoods home. The East Village of Jonathan Larson’s Rent is nonexistent, lettered avenues notwithstanding. And the narrative of immigrants coming to this country and making a better life for themselves—the backdrop of everything that happens in In the Heights, across three generations of stories—is somehow a radical narrative now.
Donald Trump came down the escalator to declare his presidential run, and in his first speech he demonized Mexicans: They’re rapists; they’re bringing drugs; they’re not sending their best people. We young Latinos had thought of our parents and grandparents as the latest wave making its home in this country, and we thought that we would be the next group to make this place a better place, to prove once again that the American dream wasn’t just a figment of some propagandist’s imagination. And now we’re in a different age when, for some, considering an immigrant a human being is a radical political act.
Consider this rap, written 12 years ago and delivered by Sonny, In the Heights’ youngest character, in a song called “96,000”:
Your kids are living without a good edumacation,
Change the station, teach ’em about gentrification,
The rent is escalatin’
The rich are penetratin’
We pay our corporations when we should be demonstratin’
What about immigration?
Politicians be hatin’
Racism in this nation’s gone from latent to blatant
It was always political. It was always there. Donald Trump made it even more true.
Trump uses language to destroy empathy. He criminalizes the impulse and imperative to seek asylum, to seek a place to live thousands of miles away because the alternative at home is worse. Through his lens, these seekers are not people; they’re “animals” or “bad hombres.”
What artists can do is bring stories to the table that are unshakably true—the sort of stories that, once you’ve heard them, won’t let you return to what you thought before. I think about the crisis on the border constantly. I think about the famous photograph of a little girl crying beside a Border Patrol truck. That picture went viral because it seemed to capture the horror of family separations. But it turned out that the girl wasn’t being separated from her mother—her mother had simply been ordered to put her daughter down while she was searched by agents. The family was in distress, and the border crisis was real, but people used the details of this particular incident to close themselves off from empathy. “Fake news,” they said. A child is crying for her mother, but that’s not enough to keep people from pushing empathy away. I believe great art is like bypass surgery. It allows us to go around all of the psychological distancing mechanisms that turn people cold to the most vulnerable among us.
At the end of the day, our job as artists is to tell the truth as we see it. If telling the truth is an inherently political act, so be it. Times may change and politics may change, but if we do our best to tell the truth as specifically as possible, time will reveal those truths and reverberate beyond the era in which we created them. We keep revisiting Shakespeare’s Macbeth because ruthless political ambition does not belong to any particular era. We keep listening to Public Enemy because systemic racism continues to rain tragedy on communities of color. We read Orwell’s 1984 and shiver at its diagnosis of double-think, which we see coming out of the White House at this moment. And we listen to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, as Lieutenant Cable sings about racism, “You’ve got to be carefully taught.” It’s all art. It’s all political.
This article appears in the December 2019 issue of The Atlantic. Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Pulitzer Prize, Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award–winning composer, lyricist, and actor.
Liza Fernandez, Joshua Bitton, Guillermo Cienfuegos, Victor Anthony, Lesley Fera, Montae Russell and Marisol Miranda
What happens when you mix a Pulitzer Prize winning script, a company of phenomenal actors and a skilled director together in one room? You get magic. From the moment the first lines of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ funny and powerful Between Riverside and Crazy were spoken at Wednesday night’s first rehearsal, all knew they were in for a wild and joyous ride.
In Gurigis’ profane and tender tale, ex-cop and recent widower Walter “Pops” Washington and his newly paroled son Junior have spent a lifetime living between Riverside and crazy. But now, the NYPD is demanding his signature to close an outstanding lawsuit, the landlord wants him out, the liquor store is closed—and the church won’t leave him alone. When the struggle to keep one of New York City’s last great rent-stabilized apartments collides with old wounds, sketchy new houseguests, and a final ultimatum, it seems that the old days may be dead and gone.
Directed by award-winning Guillermo Cienfuegos, the cast includes Victor Anthony, Joshua Bitton, Lesley Fera, Liza Fernandez, Matthew Hancock, Marisol Miranda, and Montae Russell.
At the first meet-and-greet, the company was joined by Fountain staff, Board members and donors. The group enjoyed a brief welcoming reception and then gathered on the Fountain stage for the reading of the script. Director Cienfuegos commented that he was struck by the support of the Fountain Theatre Family. Never, he said, had he witnessed such a show of community at a first rehearsal, with such a large number of dedicated people so eagerly present. “This is wonderful,” he grinned. “Because the play, in addition to being about racism and class and police work, is really about family.”
Post-show blues. It’s a common phrase among theatre folk.
As we close the final performance of the Fountain Theatre’s arts education program, Walking the Beat Hollywood, as panels are struck and lights come down, as kids head safely home to their families, and cops return to patrolling the streets, the phrase takes on new meaning. In the context of Walking the Beat Hollywood, the phrase alludes not only to the malaise that accompanies the end of an affecting production, but also to the image of an LAPD uniform.
Walking the Beat Hollywood is a theatrical residency for high school students across Los Angeles and the police officers who patrol their neighborhoods. Together, students and officers devised a piece of theatre they titled “A Wall is Just Another Door,” about community policing informed by their personal experiences. During the show, performers begged the question in a rap battle, “When you see me in my uniform what do you see?” The question asks us all to challenge the assumptions we make and to acknowledge our biases, disadvantages, and privileges.
I have often been told that if I want to make a change in the world, I’m in the wrong business. I’ve heard that political theatre preaches to an audience that is already in agreement. This assumes that the audience attending theatre is of the same ilk. And yet, after Walking the Beat Hollywood I have never been more convinced that theatre changes lives.
Perhaps that is because the theatrical community that created and witnessed Walking the Beat Hollywood was not typical. (Walking the Beat Hollywood challenged convention as soon as the doors opened.) Development offices at theatres all over the world work hard to gather demographic information about their audiences. As a result, we know that theatrical audiences are largely white, liberal, affluent, and over 50. Working for a theatre festival during college, I was tasked with reviewing and digitizing hard-copies of audience surveys. One respondent answered the race and ethnicity question: “Really white.”
This respondent’s answer still makes me laugh. However, it’s also true and has far-reaching and troubling consequences. The ambition to democratize theatre can paradoxically become pretentious and self-serving. This is when theatre-makers become white-saviors. “Democratizing” can often look more like condescending to a group of people those in power ostensibly want to “uplift.” This is tokenism. The antidote to this kind of practice is recognizing that individuals are individuals and not representatives of a group. They are people of worth and power. Walking the Beat Hollywood succeeded in democratizing theatre precisely by self-consciously circumventing that goal.
It would be untrue to claim that the regular homogeneity of most theatrical audiences was unrepresented at Walking the Beat Hollywood. But largely this audience and this cast were unconventional. In fact, the ensemble worked hard to disrupt and challenge convention. Their tools in dismantling systems of oppression were their own stories. The ensemble gave generously of themselves and as a result moved their audience.
Melina Young and Barbara Goodhill welcome guests to “Walking the Beat” at LACC.
Angela Kariotis, a visionary theatre-maker, teaching artist, and WTBH playwright writes, “Telling a story is simple, but not easy. Easy and simple are not the same thing… We never think we have any stories. But then all of a sudden, they come tumbling out because we cracked open the door a little. And here they are all demanding, demanding to be told.” That demand imbued Walking the Beat Hollywood with honest urgency. Sitting inside the Caminito Theatre, the call for truth was palpable and stirring. My father wept as he listened to each student’s identity poem and so did I. I already knew and loved these kids and by the end of the performance I think he did too.
When I handed one of the students her final pay check, she looked at me with a telling pout and said, “I don’t want this one.” When I asked her why, she said “because it means it’s the end. And I don’t want to say goodbye to everyone.” Her reluctance was evidence of love. Sixteen strangers—ten kids and six cops—became friends.
Theatre. Changes. Lives.
I saw these kids change. I saw them grow. Many students started this process shy. Many didn’t. Some are still shy and some still aren’t. But I know that they know their worth. I know that they proclaimed their worth in front of an audience eager to bear witness to it. That is genuinely important.
Sure, this was a production focused on cops and kids coming together to discuss the problems of community policing. But the final performance did not offer a solution. Rather, it highlighted human beings of different experience coming together to listen to one another.
I return to the idea of post-show blues. How did Walking the Beat Hollywood change our proverbial uniforms? If only for an evening, we have been armed with an open mind and with the impulse to listen.
I want to challenge theatre-going audiences to continue the legacy of this performance. Be silent and be moved. Listen. After all, “Listening is an act of love.”
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 Academy, The 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.
What is hip hop? A genre of music? A style of clothes? A way of life? Take a look.
In this West Coast Premiere of HYPE MAN by Idris Goodwin, a hip-hop trio is on the verge of making it big on national TV when a police shooting of a Black teen shakes the band to its core, forcing them to confront questions of race, gender, privilege and when to use their art as an act of social protest. When the Hype Man takes matters into his own hands, the ensuing beef exposes the long-buried rifts of race and privilege that divide them. Will it tear them apart or can they find a way to still breathe together?
Written by Idris Goodwin. Directed by Deena Selenow. Starring Chad Addison, Matthew Hancock, Clarissa Thibeaux. Starts Feb 23.
Matthew Hancock, Clarissa Thibeaux, Chad Addison in rehearsal for “Hype Man”
Three young actors. Different personal backgrounds. A trio of distinct professional credits in stage, TV and film. Somehow, under guidance from director Deena Selenow, they must instantly create a close bond to portray a rocketing hip hop band on the brink of national attention in the Fountain Theatre West Coast Premiere of Hype Man by Idris Goodwin, opening February 23.
Meet the talented cast of this funny, powerful and thought-provoking new “break beat play” the Boston Globe describes using “hip hop culture as a crucible where issues of racial identity, gender inequity, ambition, and friendship collide.”
Originally from outside Boston, Chad Addison has been in LA for 13 years. He’s excited to be working in his first play with The Fountain Theatre and to be able to dive into such a poignant piece of art. Music has always been a passion for him, so it’s an honor to combine the two in such a way. He was last seen on stage in the play Connect at Theatre 68. Aside from theater, he’s been pursuing TV/Film. Some notable credits include FOX’s 9-1-1, Most Likely to Die (on Netflix), NCIS: New Orleans, Grimm, Grey’s Anatomy & Bones. He was also a producer/actor on the independent film Paint It Red, which is now streaming on demand.
Matthew Hancock is excited to be back at the Fountain. Favorite theatre credits include: the Los Angeles premiere of the NAACP and Ovation Award nominated The Brothers Size (Oshoosi), I and You (Anthony), Trans Scripts (Zakia). Matthew has recurred on I’m Dying Up Here (Showtime), Emmy Nominated Giants (Youtube), Five Points (Facebook Watch). In addition, he has appeared in Snowfall (FX) and Prince of Peoria (Netflix) While not on the stage or in front of the camera, Matthew enjoys musical endeavors as Michael Siren. He is a LA Drama Critics Circle, Stage Raw award winner and Ovation Nominee for Hit the Wall (Carson). Matthew holds a BFA from Adelphi University (cum laude). To his incredibly supportive Family, Thank you. Follow Matthew on Instagram: @imatthewhancock.
Clarissa Thibeaux is an LA based actor/writer/producer working in television, film, theater, and new media. You can catch Thibeaux in Marvel’s Runaways as Xavin on Hulu. Previously, you may have seen Thibeaux in Echo Theatre Company’s production of The Found Dog Ribbon Dance as Trista, or in the horror films Flight 666, and Ice Sharks. She graduated with her B.A. in Theatre Arts from San Diego State University. Thibeaux currently resides in West Hollywood, CA enjoying every opportunity that comes her way.