Theirs is a unique relationship unlike any I have witnessed in my thirty-five years of creating theater.
They have been paired for decades. They have worked, travelled, and partied together, side by side, for so long they seem to share the same mind while, at the same time, remaining two distinct personalities. Like brothers, they love each other and sometimes piss each other off. Both are married, have families. Now, after logging in countless years of career ups and downs, together and individually, they each are bathing in a dizzying moment of public acclaim and professional success. It makes my heart glad.
Troy Kotsur is an extraordinary actor who happens to be Deaf. Paul Raci is hearing, a child of Deaf parents, fluent in American Sign Language, and a powerful veteran performer. For years, they have been linked on stage – an actor who signs and an actor who speaks – creating mesmerizing blends of sign language and voice on stage, dazzling deaf and hearing audiences in Los Angeles and in regional theaters across the country. I have known and loved both for a long time. We have created new plays together at the Fountain Theatre. My soul sings to now see them bask in the warmth of a bright day in the sun, each in his own light.
Troy co-stars in “CODA,” a touching coming-of-age dramedy about a young girl in conflict with her Deaf parents and brother as she attempts to pursue singing. In January, it received top honors at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. It ignited a bidding war, setting a record when the worldwide distribution rights were picked up by Apple Studios for $25 million — the highest sum ever for a film premiering at Sundance.
Paul has a supporting role in the film “Sound of Metal.” The movie – and Paul’s performance –has been gobbling up accolades and awards since its release. The film has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and, in a life-changing nod to Paul’s work, Best Supporting Actor.
It fills me with joy that each are enjoying a moment of triumph at the same time. And it makes sense. When they played brothers on stage in the world premiere of my play “Cyrano,” they were called upon to become the same person. In this Deaf spin on the classic romantic story, Paul portrayed Chris, the hearing sibling who spoke and ASL-interpreted for his lovelorn Deaf brother Cyrano (Troy). Hands and voice became one. After our acclaimed run at the Fountain, we travelled to New York Theatre Workshop for a special performance. We then brought the play to Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.
Troy and Paul later co-starred in a Deaf West production of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” that opened in Los Angeles and then toured other cities.
The relationship between a Deaf actor and their hearing counterpart who “voices” for them on stage is tricky and delicate. It demands respect on both sides, with the understanding that it is the Deaf actor who dominates, who must lead the way. The “voice actor” partners with the Deaf actor to help make the performance accessible to hearing audiences – but the focus must be on the Deaf actor’s performance. This kind of unique inter-dependence between artists requires that each much surrender a degree of their autonomy. That can be hard. All kinds of feelings come up. A trust and respect must develop between them. It also demands a level of skill that the average person cannot comprehend.
Paul and Troy are men with big hearts, strong opinions, and powerful personalities. They are both blessed with their own unique skills. Most valued by me, they share a vital trait: the capacity to love. They are each kind and compassionate men and longtime actors, deeply talented, who have paid their dues.
In this year following a long period of despair, the recent triumphs of Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci are a spiritual shot in the arm. There is reason to rejoice. Every once in a while, the good guys come out on top.
Stephen Sachs is the Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
Barry Miller and Robbie Benson in “The Chosen” (1981)
It’s Oscar Weekend. The Academy Awards are this Sunday night. Critics and fans are placing their bets, handicapping the nominees, calculating the winners. Fancy gowns and tuxedos have been rented, limousines are standing by. While the movie elite converge on the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Blvd, the rest of America plops down on the couch to watch it all on TV.
Except for the Fountain faithful who go to the theatre.
We have a 2pm matinée of The Chosen this Oscar Sunday. It’s been sold out for weeks. There’s even a waiting list for people standing by, desperate to get in. How can this be possible? Don’t they know that the most-watched non-sporting event in the United States will be dazzling their TV screens that night?
They know. They don’t care. They are theatre people. And, God Bless them.
The Chosen was actually a movie before it was a play. Before Chaim Potok’s 1967 best-selling novel was adapted for the stage, The Chosen was a 1981 film directed by Jeremy Kagan. It starred Maximilian Schell, Rod Steiger, Robbie Benson and Barry Miller. Author Chaim Potok himself makes a cameo appearance as the Talmud Teacher.
Chaim Potok, Robbie Benson and Barry Miller (1981)
Like the homes of the two Brooklyn boys in The Chosen, The Fountain Theatre is a short drive from The Dolby Theatre but it might as well be a world away. It’s hard to imagine two venues more different. The glamorous Dolby seats 3,400 people. Our homey theatre on Fountain Avenue holds 78. The Dolby has the world-famous red carpet holding an avalanche of international press. The only time the Fountain attracted any swarm of paparazzi was when Elizabeth Taylor arrived here to see a play in 1993.
But the Fountain has one thing the Dolby does not. Diehard theatre people who still feel that experiencing a live performance exceeds watching one on a screen. They are the loyal Fountain Family, highly intelligent and culturally sophisticated connoisseurs of a glorious art form dating back centuries before the first electric light bulb was switched on in Thomas Edison’s first Kinetoscope movie projector.
Besides, they can always dash home after our Sunday matinée and still get home in time for Jimmy Kimmel’s opening monologue. As a character in The Chosen might say, “What can you do? Azoy gait es!”
He has strolled down many red carpets in his celebrated career. At the Writers Guild Awards, the Tony Awards, the Emmy Awards, the Venice Film Festival, and the Oscars. He wrote the screenplay for Hacksaw Ridge, nominated Best Picture for this year’s Academy Awards.
The world will be watching the Oscar ceremony this Sunday, and gawk at the parade of celebrities as they strut the red carpet beforehand. What’s it like to march down that crimson pathway with all eyes and cameras tracking your every step? For playwright Robert Schenkkan, author of our upcoming world premiere Building the Wall, the carpet is not always magic. Particularly if you’re a writer.
Robert Schenkkan at the Venice Film Festival
“The clusterfuck of a red carpet is always where the writer is reminded of his or her place in the food chain, ” admits Schenkkan. “You are absolutely the most important person in the universe, until anybody else steps on the red carpet — then you’re just chopped liver. You can see the heads snap and the cameras snap, and whoever you’re talking to, their eyes are immediately doing the Hollywood over-your-shoulder shuffle. This is something one is used to, but it’s a humbling experience, always.”
Another other-worldly aspect of Award nights are the gifting lounges, where vendors shower talent with free offerings that vary from high-end beauty products to fine wines to elegant clothing to free travel packages at exotic resort islands. For Schenkkan, the touring of gift salons is a strange ritual unto itself.
“You have to make an appointment, and then you’re assigned a guide who walks you through this bizarre bazaar of products and services, ” he explains. “These things are really kind of entertaining in their own way. There’s a whole formality to it. But again, there’s the reminder of where you are in the food chain, particularly as a writer.”
Robert remembers one incident in particular. “Many years ago when I did this, there was a resort island package. I’m a scuba diver, so I’m always interested in that. They have to artfully, discreetly explain that while they would love to gift you with this, actually they have to reserve it for somebody more important than you. It’s a little weird.”
The ups and downs of a Hollywood screenwriter. Thankfully, unlike the film industry, playwrights in the American theatre are held in much higher esteem. And few are held higher than Robert Schenkkan. Which is one of the many reasons why we are so honored to be premiering his newest play at the Fountain Theatre.
Now, Robert, on Opening Night of Building the Wall at the Fountain, don’t expect any fancy gift lounges offering you a scuba diving vacation package on an exotic island resort. But we’re happy to offer you a free snorkel.
Unless, of course, someone more important wants it.
Continuing its 12-year relationship with Athol Fugard, The Fountain Theatre celebrates the master playwright’s 80th birthday with theU.S. premiere of his newest play. Directed by Stephen Sachs and starring Morlan Higgins, Julanne Chidi Hill and Jacqueline Schultz, The Blue Iris opens at the Fountain on August 24, with low-priced previews beginning August 18.
Described by Time magazine as “the greatest active playwright in the English-speaking world,” Athol Fugard celebrated his 80th birthday on June 11, but the prolific writer shows no signs of slowing down. On June 28, The Blue Iris premiered at The National Arts Festival in his native South Africa to rave reviews. “Vintage Fugard… riveting theatre that will evoke whispering echoes in the heart long after the show has ended,” wrote Cue magazine.
The Blue Iris is set in Fugard’s beloved and desolate South African desert, the Karoo. In a burnt-out farmhouse, a widowed farmer, Robert Hannay (Higgins) and his housekeeper, Rieta (Hill) sort through the fire-ravaged debris of their lives. The discovery of a miraculously undamaged painting of a flower – a blue iris – created by Hannay’s deceased wife (Schultz) unlocks long-forgotten memories and hidden secrets. Fugard digs deep into the human heart, and the result is a love story full of tender, soul-touching and surprising revelations.
“We should be going into people`s lives, their souls, their ways of life. Everything I have written is an attempt to share secrets with you,” says the playwright.
“The Blue Iris is achingly beautiful, a heartfelt play that brings to life the tender honesty and deep complexity of human relationships,” avers Sachs. “We cherish Athol’s 12-year friendship and artistic association at the Fountain, and we’re thrilled to celebrate his 80th birthday with this remarkable work.”
The author of over 30 plays and recipient of countless accolades including the Academy Award, Obie Award, and Tony Award, Athol Fugard is best known for his plays about the frustrations of life in contemporary South Africa and the psychological barriers created by apartheid. Widely acclaimed around the world, his plays include Boesman and Lena (Obie Award, Best Foreign Play), Sizwe Bansi Is Dead (Tony Award, Best Play), A Lesson from Aloes (New York Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Play), the semiautobiographical Master Harold…and the Boys (Writers Guild Award, Outstanding Achievement) and The Road to Mecca (New York Drama Critics Circle Citation, Best Foreign Play, London Evening Standard Award, Best Play). The first white South African playwright to collaborate with black actors and workers, some of his works, such as Blood Knot, were initially banned in South Africa. In his first two post-apartheid plays, Valley Song (1995) and The Captain’s Tiger (1998), Fugard addressed more personal concerns, but in Sorrows and Rejoicings(2001) he focused on the complex racial dynamics of South Africa’s new era. In 2005 his novel, Tsotsi (1980), was adapted for the screen, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In 2011, Mr. Fugard was honored with a special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater. Even though this prolific playwright, novelist, actor, director and teacher now lives and works in San Diego, he continues to be inspired by the dynamics in his land of birth.
Athol Fugard’s ‘The Road to Mecca’ (LA Premiere, Fountain Theatre, 2000) starring Priscilla Pointer and Jacqueline Schultz
The Fountain Theatre’s special relationship with Fugard began when co-founder/co-artistic director Stephen Sachs directed the L.A. premiere of Fugard’s The Road to Mecca in 2000. Fugard was so impressed that he offered the company world premiere rights to an as-yet-unwritten new work. When Sachs directed the world premiere of Exits and Entrances in 2004, it received recognition for Best Production and Best Director from both the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (garnering a total of five awards) and the Ovations (receiving a total of three awards). Mr. Sachs went on to direct acclaimed regional productions of Exits and Entrances around the country, an Off-Broadway production at Primary Stages, and the UK premiere at the 2007 International Edinburgh Festival. Since then, he has directed premieres of Fugard’s plays at the Fountain including the American premiere of Victory (two LADCC awards and four LA Weeklynominations, and named “Best of 2008” by the Los Angeles Times); the West Coast premiere of Coming Home (three LA Weeklyawards including “Ensemble” and “Direction,” LADCC award for “Lead Performance”); and the U.S. premiere of The Train Driver (three LA Weekly awards). Athol Fugard has stated that he “considers The Fountain Theatre his artistic home on the West Coast.”
Set design for The Blue Iris is by Jeff McLaughlin; sound design is by Peter Bayne; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; the dialect coach is JB Blanc; the production stage manager is Terri Roberts; and Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor produce.
Morlan Higgins starred in Fountain Theatre productions of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances, Victory and The Train Driver, as well as inShining City by Conor McPherson (LA Weekly Award), After the Fall (Ovation award for Best Production) and The Boys in the Band. Other credits: Forgiveness (Black Dahlia Theatre), King Lear (Antaeus), Dealing with Clair, Water Children, Mad Forest, The Birthday Party (The Matrix Theatre Company); Dylan (Skylight Theatre); Equus (Pasadena Playhouse), A Skull in Connemara (Theatre Tribe),Hughie (Eugene O’Neill Foundation at Tao House); and numerous other plays on local stages. Morlan has received multiple Ovation, LADCC, LA Weekly,Back Stage Garland, Drama-Logue, and Ticketholders Awards. He was nominated for the Lucille Lortell Off-Broadway Actor of the Year Award for his performance in Exits and Entrances at Primary Stages in NYC, He was nominated for a Carbonell Award for E and E at Florida Stage and received a New Jersey Tony for E and E at New Jersey Rep. He is also the recipient of Santa Barbara Indie Awards for Hughie and Victory at SBT. Morlan also plays Celtic music in the local band Staggering Jack.
Julanne Chidi Hill
Julanne Chidi Hill is a graduate of the prestigious SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film and was classically trained at Oxford University where she studied extensively with John Barton (Royal Shakespeare Company) and Katie Mitchell (Royal National Theatre). She has worked at the McCarter Theatre, Seattle Rep, Mark Taper Forum, Stages 52, McCadden Stages Theatre, Ebony Rep and Kirk Douglas Theatre, and she most recently appeared at the Celebration Theatre in the Ovation award-winning Women of Brewster Place. Television credits include guest-starring on the Jerry Bruckheimer drama The Whole Truth (ABC) and FX series The Shield, and recurring roles on NBC’s My Name is Earl and Showtime’s Weeds. Feature films: Crank: High Voltage (as “Dark Chocolate”), Barbershop 2, and alongside Tom Everett Scott and Lee Tergesen in 2nd Take, directed by John Suits.
Jacqueline Schultz was last seen in the critically acclaimed production of Park Your Car in Harvard Yard at International City Theatre. She costarred in the West Coast premiere of String of Pearls at both North Hollywood’s Road Theatre Company and the Santa Barbara Theatre, appeared at the Pasadena Playhouse in the world premiere of Open Window, and starred in the critically acclaimed L.A. premiere of Lee Blessing’s Going to St. Ives at the Fountain (Best Actress nomination, NAACP Theatre Award), later reprising her role for the International Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. Other leading roles at the Fountain: After the Fall (Ovation Award for Best Production),The Road to Mecca; The Night of the Iguana;The Darker Face of the Earth; Fighting Over Beverley (LA Weekly Award); Duet for One(Ovation Award nomination, Best Actress); Ashes (Drama-Logue Award); The Golden Gate (Drama-Logue Award); and Orpheus Descending. Other theater credits include To Kill a Mockingbird and Awake and Sing! (International City Theatre) and Sorrows and Rejoicings (Mark Taper Forum). She has appeared at the Kennedy Center, Ensemble Studio Theatre (NY) and the Mark Taper Forum’s New Works Festival. TV credits include The Practice, ER, My Wife and Kids,7th Heaven, Crossing Jordan, Judging Amy, the HBO movie Tyson, and many more.
Housed in a charming two-story complex, the Fountain is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a nurturing, creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. Fountain productions have won more than 200 awards for production, performance and design, with more Ovation nominations and awards than any other intimate theater in the history of the awards—and the only intimate theater to win the Ovation for Best Production five times. Fountain projects have been seen in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Florida, New Jersey, Minneapolis and Edinburgh. Highlights include a six-month run of Bakersfield Mist, written by Stephen Sachs, set to open in London this fall and optioned for New York; the Off-Broadway run of the Fountain’s world premiere production of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances; and the making of Sweet Nothing in My Ear, also by Sachs, into a TV movie. The Fountain has been honored with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Los Angeles City Council for demonstrating years of artistic excellence and “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles.”
What was Selznick’s special interest in seeing our signed/spoken version of Cyrano? One of the main characters in his most recent book, Wonderstruck, is partially deaf.
In a Q&A with Publisher’s Weekly, Selznick talked about his book and deafness:
Where did the idea come from to include deaf characters?
I started what became Wonderstruck while I was still working on Hugo. I had been thinking about Deaf culture after seeing this really, really good documentary, Through Deaf Eyes, which is about the history of Deaf culture. There was a line about how the deaf are a “people of the eye.” Most of the ways they communicate is visually. To me, that was the perfect reason to tell a story about a deaf person through illustrations. I had met deaf people who told me the thing they liked most about Hugo was the silence. Even when you’re reading words, you hear those words in your head but telling a story through pictures, there’s a feeling of silence about that and they really liked that.
Carol Padden and Tom Humphries from the University of California-San Diego, two of the leading Deaf scholars in the country, read my manuscript again and again and again to help me fine-tune the experience of the Deaf culture to make sure it was true to deaf people in general and to these two characters I was writing about. They were incredibly generous with their time and there was no way I could have written the book without them.
There’s also a line in the acknowledgments about being deaf in a hearing family and having to look for one’s culture outside of one’s biological family. This made me think about being gay in a heterosexual family.
Yep. That’s exactly the parallel I was thinking about. In Through Deaf Eyes, there was a young man raised by hearing parents. His parents were great, incredibly supportive, but it wasn’t until he got to college that he became aware he was part of a larger culture that had its own history he could share and be proud of. Growing up gay, there’s this exact parallel. And you don’t have to be deaf or gay to feel like you don’t belong to your own family. So many people have the experience of feeling that the family they were born into is not a good fit: An artist who is born into a family of non–artists, or a kid who is not interested in sports who is born into a family of athletes — there are a million parallels for that situation. You have the family you’re born into but you have this need to meet other people who are uniquely like you. One of the things that people told me they were most moved by in Hugo was how he creates a new family for himself. That’s a truth for so many people. You leave your family and create a family for yourself that’s often a better fit. Wonderstruck is a more direct way of exploring that same theme.
Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson was at the Fountain Theatre this weekend enjoying the sold-out performance of the smash hit Cyrano. She loved the play and visited with the cast after the performance.
“I saw a play called Cyrano de Bergerac. The main character in the play is a freak: he has an obscenely long nose, he’s the toughest guy in the regiment, and he’s a poet.
I was thirteen when I saw that play. And it changed everything for me. It said, if you are not mindful you will be distracted and deceived by this Practical World. It said, there are other things than money, power and position. Real things. And these are things that make life sweet. Honor, courage, love, poetry, glory, beauty, nobility of purpose, gallantry and friendship.
I walked out of that theatre and thought, I could have a beautiful life. I know I am a freak. But some guy who died one hundred years ago just showed me that there was another way of living. You can do it anywhere and no one can stop you. And I am saying that to you. You can have a beautiful life.
Tell the truth. Say who you are. And let it stand.
Shanley goes on to say:
Not to bring up something upsetting, but when you leave here today, you may go through a period of unemployment.
My suggestion is this: Enjoy the unemployment. Have a second cup of coffee. Go to the park. Read Walt Whitman.
Walt Whitman loved being unemployed. I don’t believe he ever did a day’s work in his life.
As you may know, he was a poet. If a lot of time goes by and you continue to be unemployed, you may want to consider announcing to all appropriate parties that you have become a poet.
So here we are. Commencement. The day stands before you like an open gate.
What’s on the other side? You gotta wonder. A hideous job, a satisfying marriage, a spiritual quest?
I’ve worked like a dog all my life. I have had my heart broken numerous times.
I have had great success, humiliation, physical affliction and I have seen the face of despair. When I stand here, I feel like I’ve dropped out of the mouth of a storm and my hair is crazy on my head.
That storm is life. Life is very long and very short and it’s unknowable and strange and terrifying and beautiful and it’s spooky and boring and bitter and nasty and elegant and extreme and if you are lucky you have the courage to want it to be all those things.
You commit to it. You commit to live and not run away. It’s true I’ve learned nothing. It’s true nobody changes, not really.
But if you commit to your life and live it, you will become more and more truly YOU. And that’s a great thing. That has something of the Divine in it.
Enjoy Shanley’s Entire Speech to the Students
John Patrick Shanley is an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His play, “Doubt: A Parable,” was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, the Drama Desk Award and the Tony Award for Best Play. He also won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for the 1987 film “Moonstruck.”
Cyrano323-663-1525 Extended to July 8th! More Info