For 31 years, the Fountain Theatre has proudly maintained its identity as Intimate and Excellent. With the opening this month ofAn Octoroon, we are doubling down on our commitment to leading the way.
June 18th marks a turning point, not just for the Fountain Theatre but for Los Angeles theatre writ large. The opening of Branden Jacob-Jenkins’An Octoroon brings with it a re-centering of the role that theatre can play in helping communities to heal.
The Fountain holds the distinction of being the first intimate theatre in Los Angeles granted permission by Actors’ Equity, the union that governs stage actors and stage managers, to re-open in the wake of falling COVID-19 infections. The timing of that approval also allows us to acknowledge Juneteenth in a more expansive way, by building out programming that continues the conversation on the themes of both An Octoroon and that important day.
Juneteenth is a national holiday that commemorates June 19th, 1965 – the day that the news of emancipation finally made it to the state of Texas, officially marking the end of chattel slavery in the United States. While President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1st, 1863, it still took two and a half years for that news to travel to Texas. There are many different theories as to why this happened, but the fact remains that the Texas economy was able to benefit from slave labor for more than two years after the rest of the country abandoned it. Appropriately, in 1980, Texas became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday. Today, 47 states and the District of Columbia also accept Juneteenth as a state or ceremonial holiday.
Black independence, Black commerce, and Black solidarity will be on display at the Fountain Theatre throughout the week of Juneteenth. On Monday, June 14th, at 12pm, we will host a virtual panel discussion moderated by Carlyle Brown, noted playwright/performer/artistic director of the Minneapolis-based Carlyle Brown & Company. On Tuesday, June 15th, we’ll be sharing a poem performed by LMU’s Theatre in Color. And during our actual Juneteenth celebration, we’ll be hosting Black-owned businesses such as MamaAunties Vegan Goodies, Nappily Naturals, B.T. Williams’ handmade jewelry, and more, at the theatre. There will also be art from the New Black City art exhibit on display.
We encourage you to join us in experiencing An Octoroon and our additional Juneteenth programming as we celebrate the grand re-opening of the Fountain Theatre and our beautiful new Outoor Stage. Previews for An Octoroon begin June 11; opening night is June 18. Performances are Fridays-Mondays at 7pm through Sept. 19. Tickets range from $25-$45; Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night in addition to regular seating (subject to availability.) Tickets are on sale now via the Fountain box office at (323) 663-1525, or on our website at www.fountaintheatre.com.
Logan Myles Stacer is the Assistant Community Engagement Coordinator at the Fountain Theatre.
Recently, actress Aleisha Force (Human Interest Story) stopped by the Fountain Theatre simply to pick up her belongings which had been locked in a dressing room since March 2020 when the pandemic closed our doors.
But when she arrived, she ran into artistic director Stephen Sachs and a film crew from Spectrum News. They were on-site to do a story about the installation of the Fountain’s outdoor stage, and Aleisha’s jump-for-joy excitement at seeing the progress, and at being reunited with her Human Interest Story director – and her shoes! – immediately made her part of the story.
“This is literally going to be the first theatre that I see!” she happily promised Sachs as she watched the stage being constructed. And it’s highly likely that that will be true for many other live theatre lovers in Los Angeles. Now that Actors’ Equity Association, the union governing live stage performers and stage managers, has approved the Fountain’s COVID safety plan for its actors, audience, staff and crew, the Fountain has become the first intimate theatre in all of L.A. to be granted union approval for re-opening.
But even before getting AEA on board, the City had to sign off on the idea of an outdoor stage in the Fountain’s parking lot. “The hoops we had to jump through, the hurdles we had to cross…it was a long arduous journey,” Sachs told the Spectrum’s reporter Tara Lynn Wagner. “But the City is behind it 100%. And so is the theatre community.”
Inaugurating the outdoor stage will be the L.A. premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins‘ Obie Award-winning Best American Play, An Octoroon. An Octoroon is a radical, incendiary and subversively funny riff on Dion Boucicault‘s once-popular 1859 mustache-twirling melodrama set on a Louisiana plantation. A spectacular collision of the antebellum South and 21st-century cultural politics, An Octoroon twists a funhouse world of larger-than-life stereotypes into blistering social commentary to create a gasp-inducing satire. Previews begin June 11; opening night is June 18. Performances are Fridays-Mondays at 7 pm through Sept. 19. Tickets are on sale now via the Fountain box office at (323) 663-1525 or on our website at www.fountaintheatre.com.
Catch all the excitement, and watch the entire Spectrum News interview, here:
Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café and outdoor concessions.
Eight words. A statement declared in eight simple words jumped out at me in a feature story on playwright Tony Kushner in today’s New York Times. The eight words were stated by playwright and Kushner friend Larry Kramer, author of TheNormal Heart, which we produced at the Fountain Theatre in 2015. Commenting on Kushner’s shift from playwriting to screenwriting, Kramer says, “I wish he’d go back to writing plays.”
So, why doesn’t he?
Kushner answered that question himself in 2011 when he shocked many in the arts community by revealing in an interview in Time Out New York that not even the author of Angeles in America can make a living as a playwright.
“I make my living now as a screenwriter. Which I’m surprised and horrified to find myself saying, but I don’t think I can support myself as a playwright at this point. I don’t think anybody does.”
Kushner is right. American playwrights — not even one of his stature — do not earn the bulk of their living writing plays. Many teach. An ever-growing number write for film or cable television. The tsunami of playwrights today surging into television is so large that it now has become a writer’s career model: A playwright earns notoriety and success writing plays — or even one successful play, he/she “takes meetings” with Industry producers then quickly jumps to movies and/or television to make real money. The well-meaning intent being that a big-bucks TV salary will financially support the writer, allowing him/her to keep writing plays. What often happens? They write fewer plays. Some never return to the stage.
“I don’t particularly want to do it,” Kushner said in 2011. “I think that it’s a mistake to do it. So, yes, I’m very worried about it. ” The last play by Kushner premiered in 2009.
The classic tale of playwrights writing for Hollywood is as old as celluloid itself. An avalanche is now underway. Playwrights are flocking to cable TV and streaming networks in record numbers. TV showrunners are aggressively recruiting writers from regional theaters like crazed baseball team owners scouting for hot rookie talent. One major talent agency in Hollywood has opened a department specifically targeting playwrights for film and televsion. The roster of playwrights now writing for film and TV today is too long to list. Is that such a bad thing?
Many playwrights I know, and have produced at the Fountain Theatre, also write for film and television. My pal Robert Schenkkan (Building the Wall) is writing a new project for Amazon. Tanya Saracho (El Nogalar) is now creator and showrunner of the Starz drama “Vida” and just signed a three-year deal with the network. Tarell Alvin McCraney (In the Red and Brown Water/Brothers Size) has signed to create, write, and executive produce a new hour-long television drama for the Oprah Winfrey Network. I’m confidant that all three will continue writing plays.
Stephen Sachs, Shirley Jo Finney, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Fountain Theatre (2014)
I had my own Hollywood crossover by writing the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in my Ear for CBS, based on my play that premiered at the Fountain. The sale of that one TV script paid me more than I would make running an 80-seat theatre for years. I am currently writing a screenplay based on my comedy/drama Bakersfield Mist. Does this make me a traitor to my art form? I don’t think so. It makes me a man with a family and a mortgage.
Let’s be honest. There’s a reason why it’s called non-profit theatre. One enters the non-profit arts sector like one enters the priesthood — to serve a higher power. Even so, it would be nice to make a good living doing what you feel is important. To be frank, non-profit theatre-making is an inherently shitty business model. The economics of the art form stack the odds against those who actually make the art happen. So, why do we do it? Here, we cue the piano and launch into “What I Did for Love”
Of course, it’s not only playwrights who give their hearts to the theatre at the expense of their wallets. Actors, directors and designers often work for love, and little money. The average member of Actors Equity Association, the professional stage union for actors and stage managers, made an annual salary in 2016 of only $7,700 per year. Like corporate America, it’s the folks at the top in this country’s major regional theaters who are earning large salaries. A few of the larger LORT companies have added playwrights to their theatre’s staff, but they are rare. The model of a permanent repertory company, where artists are paid a yearly salary, is a dying concept, a fossilized relic from an earlier age.
Today, the odds of making a living as a playwright are as remote and precarious as making a living as a poet. Our finest example of excelling at both is, of course, the greatest playwright/poet of them all. Shakespeare wrote multiple plays a year, dozens of sonnets, was a partner in the company, and a co-owner of the theatre building. He was also a ruthless businessman and wealthy grain merchant and property owner. Unlike the character he created in King Lear, Shakespeare was no fool.
I have dedicated my career to the intimate Fountain Theatre and the non-profit arts community in Los Angeles. I knew twenty-eight years ago when I co-founded this theatre that I would never make a lot of money. I’m okay with that. Most days. I’d be lying if I claimed I haven’t envied men and women my age or younger in the entertainment industry making a huge amount of money more than me.
This is the life I have chosen. Two things keep me going. The impact our work has on others, and the example I am setting for my two sons. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with making money. I just want my two boys to know that their father dedicated his life working at something that he loved and knew was important, that he was committed to making the world a better place in the one way he knew how, by exploring and illuminating the human condition, not striving to make himself wealthy. Can one do both? Of course. I just haven’t yet figured out how to do that.
An artist’s life offers riches not found in a bank ledger. In that, I am the wealthiest man in the world.
Hollywood is heralded around the globe as the mesmerizing “movie capital of the world,” yet more plays are produced each year in Los Angeles than major motion pictures. In fact, Los Angeles has more live theaters and creates more theatre productions per year than any other city in the world. More than New York, Chicago or London. That’s right. Los Angeles. Surprised?
Los Angeles is on the rise. You can feel it. LA is ascending to rightfully take its place as a world city. It is already ranked as one of the world’s most economically powerful cities—a center of business, international trade, entertainment, culture, media, and technology. There are 841 museums and art galleries in the area, over 1,000 performance venues. Hollywood is flourishing, undergoing a multi-billion-dollar renaissance of new commercial, residential and cultural development that is transforming the fabled district.
Theatre in Los Angeles has never been better. It is diverse, vibrant, first-rate—and everywhere. Stretched across an immense terrain of diverse neighborhoods over 469 square miles, you can experience theatre in Los Angeles in every possible setting. From tiny converted store fronts to festive outdoor stages in city parks to Off-Broadway-style intimate houses on trendy boulevards to grand and glittering show palaces—Los Angeles has it all.
I’ve been a theatre maker in Los Angeles for more than 30 years. Like so many, I was first an actor, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I transitioned to directing plays in 1987, leaving acting behind and never looking back. While building a career as a stage director, I became intrigued by how theatre companies operated. The business side of making art fascinated me. One day, I volunteered to work temporarily in the office at Ensemble Studio Theatre on Oxford Street in Hollywood. Soon I took over as Theatre Manager. In 1990, I worked with Joan Stein and Suzie Dietz at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills, where we launched a 16-month run of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters starring a parade of famous actors, including Ben Gazarra, Gena Rowlands, Christopher Reeve, Whoopi Goldberg, Charlton Heston, Robert Wagner, Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt, and many more. That same year, I opened the Fountain Theatre with my colleague Deborah Lawlor and embarked on the most meaningful and rewarding journey of my artistic life.
The Fountain Theatre is a charming two-story Spanish-style building on Fountain Avenue in East Hollywood. Originally The Evergreen Stage, it had been a live theatre for more than 60 years. When Deborah and I first walked in and stood on its empty stage, we knew we had found our artistic home. There was something about the place, the cozy atmosphere, how the intimate seating warmly embraced the stage. It felt inviting and electric. We knew magic could happen there.
The Fountain is now one of a bright constellation of intimate theatres shimmering throughout Los Angeles. This galaxy of small theatres, each singular in their programming, audience and artistic mission, is a construct utterly unique to Los Angeles. There is nothing like it anywhere in the country. LA’s Center Theatre Group, with its Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre, form a theatrical nucleus, yet the more than one hundred intimate theatres across the region swirl around it like spirited electrons, each carrying an electric charge that is fundamental for the survival of LA’s overall cultural organism. In Hollywood, Nederlander’s Pantages Theatre prove nightly that there is a vast audience for live performance.
Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles
I’ve seen the intimate theatre community in Los Angeles grow from a cluster of what was then called 99-seat “Equity Waiver” theaters in the 1980s to the vast network of hundreds of intimate theaters today. These theatres weave a rich artistic tapestry that is astounding in its range and variety, matching the cultural, racial and social diversity of this city. Los Angeles is now home to intimate theatres that serve audiences that are Black, Latino, Gay, Straight, Asian, Middle Eastern, LGBT, Deaf, Native American, and everything in between. The content on LA stages is equally wide-ranging. American classics, world premieres of new plays, Shakespeare, Chekhov, musicals, farce, adaptations, the avant garde, immersive pieces, plays staged in the round or in a black box, site specific works performed in empty warehouses, in cars or hotel rooms—an endless menu for every taste.
LA’s intimate theatres have grown not only in number, they have increased in stature. Top-drawer actors from Broadway, TV and film are routinely seen on LA stages. And while Los Angeles remains an essential destination for acclaimed plays and musicals from New York, London and around the world, LA is now its own vibrant theatre center that creates and develops exciting new work. Much of the most satisfying and challenging new plays are being done in the intimate theaters. Actors long to act in these plays for the same reason we ache to produce them: for the sake of the art. LA’s network of smaller theatres provides a safe, fertile landscape where highly-skilled actors, directors and playwrights can bring new plays to life for audiences that are ever-growing, sophisticated and adventurous. More than 120 plays have transferred from LA’s intimate venues to regional theaters across the United Sates. Such world-class playwrights as Athol Fugard, Tarell McCraney and Robert Schenkkan have launched new plays at our modest home on Fountain Avenue that are now being enjoyed throughout the nation and around the world.
Even with the staggering amount of high-quality activity on its numerous stages, Tinsel Town fights for the right to be called a “theatre town.” The Hollywood spotlight is blinding. The relationship between the film and television industry and the LA Theatre community is precarious. A forced marriage between two partners who share similar desires yet go about achieving them in vastly different ways and for very different reasons. LA Theatre still struggles to step out from under the shadow of The Industry and stand in its own rightful light. But its blaze is being seen and felt, locally and nationwide, more and more.
As an artist and a citizen, it has never been a better time to live in Los Angeles. As a haven with invigorating potential and endless possibilities, LA is now peering forward and seeing its future. That vision, as a world city, looks bright. As Los Angeles shines, so does its theatre. And the radiance from our light will illuminate the nation and the world.
On Wednesday, February 8th, Fountain Theatre Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs was asked to speak at the Board of Directors meeting for Center Theatre Group to share his thoughts on the Fountain’s participation in CTG’s new Block Party. The following are his remarks:
I’m Stephen Sachs, the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood, which I co-founded with my partner Deborah Lawlor in 1990. We are now celebrating our 27th season. Prior to that, I was an actor – a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. In fact, in 1982, one of the biggest thrills of my young career as an actor was standing on stage at the Mark Taper Forum in a small role in the world premiere of Tales from Hollywood by Christopher Hampton, directed by Gordon Davidson.
I am a playwright, a director, a producer and artistic director. I began running theatre companies in Los Angeles in 1987 – the Ensemble Studio Theatre, The Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills with Suzi Dietz and Joan Stein – and launched the Fountain Theatre in 1990 to create an artistic home where new plays could be developed and produced that reflect the cultural diversity of Los Angeles and dramatize important social and political issues confronting specific communities in our region and our nation. The Fountain Theatre sits in the heart of the most diverse district in the City. Thirty-two languages are spoken at the local high school.
Our brand phrase is: Intimate. Excellent. We have artistic relationships with such noted playwrights as Athol Fugard, Tarell McCraney, Robert Schenkkan, Emily Mann, Dael Orlandersmith, Anna Ziegler, Lauren Gunderson, Zayd Dorn. We were just featured in the New York Times on Monday for opening the world premiere in March of Robert Schenkkan’s new play Building the Wall. You can guess what that’s about.
Plays launched at the Fountain Theatre are now being produced across the country, in New York, in London, have been translated into other languages and are now being seen around the world.
I’ve been a theatre maker in Los Angeles for 30 years. I’ve seen the intimate theatre community in Los Angeles grow from a cluster of what was then called “Equity Waiver” theaters in the 1980’s to the vast network of literally hundreds of intimate theaters we have today. Although we still fight for the right to call ourselves a “theatre town” because of the film and television industry – more theatre is now produced in Los Angeles every year than in any city in the world. More than New York. More than London.
The constellation of intimate theatres in Los Angeles is utterly unique nationwide. There is nothing like it anywhere in this country. Theaters around the country envied our 99-Seat Plan, which – for 30 years – gave Equity actors the right to hone their craft in an intimate theater without a contract — but not without payment and protections – if they so choose. The 99-Seat Plan was created by Equity actors. It came out of that spirit of revolution, the right to volunteer your services if you so choose, to insist on the artistic freedom to create. Where budgets and bottom lines were not a factor because nobody was making any money anyway. I don’t have to tell you – there’s a reason why it’s called non-profit theatre.
As many of you may know, Actors Equity has just eliminated the 99-Seat Plan. Against the will of its own membership. LA Equity actors voted overwhelmingly against eliminating the Plan. Equity has done it anyway. Forcing theatres to now use a very hotly-contested New Agreement impacting every intimate theatre in Los Angeles. Several small theatres are now closing. The entire landscape of the intimate theatre community will be forever changed.
This makes what you are offering with Block Party so extraordinary. And the timing of it so essential.
With Block Party, Center Theatre Group – the flagship theatre organization in Los Angeles – is reaching out its hand to the intimate theatre community. Not as a hand-out but as a hand in partnership. Recognizing that our work matters. Block Party affirms that the work created in intimate theatres is alive and vibrant and an essential part of the cultural life of Los Angeles. I can not over emphasize how important and meaningful this is. Not only to the Fountain Theatre, and Echo Theatre Company and Courage Theatre Company participating this year, but to all intimate theatres everywhere, throughout our community.
With one program, with Block Party, you have dissolved the barrier between “big” theatre and “small”, between “us” and “them”. With Block Party, there finally is now “we”. Together.
CTG Artistic Director Michael Ritchie
Michael Ritchie, Lindsay Allbaugh, Ian-Julian Williams and the entire Block Party staff have been so open, so inviting, so welcoming. The beauty of Block Party is not only the magic of what’s going to happen on stage, it’s the relationship-building already happening off stage. The setting up of meetings between our intimate theatre companies and CTG departments, to share ideas and swap strategies, is remarkable and generous and will be beneficial to both sides.
I’m confident that the spirit of goodwill and partnership that Block Party creates will ripple out and continue, not only for the 38 days of the festival, but throughout the entire year.
I was at the memorial celebration for Gordon Davidson at the Ahmanson last month. Just a few days after that ceremony, I attended a production meeting for Block Party. The juxtaposition of those two events was not lost on me. Gordon is smiling down on Block Party. He would have loved this. It truly carries forward his spirit of adventure, of risk, his dedication to diversity and inclusion. And I applaud and thank Michael Ritchie, and all of you on this Board, for making that spirit a reality.
Gordon Davidson celebration at the Ahmanson Theatre.
The Fountain Theatre has stood at the center of the battle against Actors’ Equity Association’s attempt to dismantle and fragment the intimate theatre community of L.A. with its Promulgated Plans that favor some of our theatres and disfavor others. We have hosted countless Pro99 and Review Committee meetings at our theatre. We offered our name in pledges of support. Our Producing Director served as a volunteer on the Review Committee, dedicated incalculable hours over nearly two years of meetings, conference calls and intense negotiations with Equity representatives, and even took the bold step of including his own name as a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the union on behalf of the L.A. intimate theatre community.
Our position has been that the Fountain Theatre would continue to operate under the 99-Seat Plan, as we always have, even in defiance of the December 14th deadline, until the court made a ruling, which it did on December 8th. Sadly, the decision was not in our favor. We are angry and heartbroken because we believe that everyone will suffer: the intimate theater community, the members of Actors’ Equity who will lose opportunities, and the citizens of Los Angeles who will be deprived of the benefits that the 99-Seat Plan has provided. Now we, as an organization, need to move forward.
Since the Court’s ruling, we have struggled with the challenge of extending our current production, produced under the 99-Seat Plan, with Equity actors who now are threatened with reprisals by their union. We have told Equity that we will not sign the new seasonal agreement going forward, and have negotiated terms only for the extension of our current production. We do so under protest and duress. Our position that Equity’s tactics are harmful and destructive to our theatre community has not changed. But the Fountain Theatre will not become a non-union theatre. We are committed to delivering to our audiences the highest level of work possible. That necessitates, in addition to talented non-union actors, access to the echelon of professional, trained and experienced Equity talent pool.
We firmly believe that all actors in Los Angeles — including members of Equity — have the right, if they so choose, to exercise their craft in intimate theatres, whether as volunteers, independent contractors or employees. Therefore, The Fountain Theatre will do its best to assure that Equity actors are not excluded from working on our stage. This is a hardship we are forced to undertake to guarantee that The Fountain is accessible to ALL actors in Los Angeles. It is our position that actors and stage managers who are members of Equity should not be denied the right to work at our theatre by an Equity “blacklist” because of the misguided leadership of their own union. For 27 years, the Fountain Theatre has created productions with casts comprised mostly of Equity actors. The contribution of their artistry has helped make the Fountain the success it has become. We will not turn our back on them now.
We do not take this position lightly. It is a difficult and challenging road to take. We are assuming this burden for the integrity of our work, for the sake of all L.A. actors and to continue our role as a leader in presenting the best possible theatre in Los Angeles. Inclusion sits at the heart of our artistic mission. The Fountain will fight to remain a safe haven for all actors to exercise their art. We blacklist no one. Our doors — and our stage — are open to the finest artists we can find.
All of us in the intimate theatre community find ourselves in difficult, unchartered territory. Issues remain unresolved. More challenges lie ahead. Further action may be taken. Our common goal, together, must be to ensure that Los Angeles continues to be a city where meaningful, high-quality theatre is created and to maintain the spirit, artistry and integrity of our intimate theatre community.
Ann Noble, Liz Berman and John Prosky introduce the evening.
Tuesday night at the Fountain was one of those evenings that reminds us of the transformative power of theatre. Why we do what we do. It was also a night about working together. Not only for the incarcerated young men on stage from Rancho San Antonio Boys Home who performed the new play they wrote via the Antaeus Odyssey Workshop. But also for the two LA intimate theatre companies who partnered to make the evening possible.
The Odyssey Workshop is an educational outreach program launched by Antaeus Theatre Company that uses theatre techniques to teach creative writing to young adults from high-risk environments. “This is such an important program for all of us at Antaeus Theatre Company,” says Antaeus Co-Artistic Director Bill Brochtrup. “It’s truly a life-changing event for the young men participating — and for the audiences who are lucky enough to see them.”
Because construction on the company’s new venue in Glendale is not yet complete, Antaeus needed to find a theatre to host its one-night performance of the Odyssey Workshop. They reached out to the Fountain Theatre. We immediately agreed to welcome Antaeus and its program into our home.
Antaeus actress Ann Noble and Fountain Associate Producer James Bennett greet guests.
The coincidental timing of Tuesday night’s performance was not lost on anyone. The very next day, Actors Equity Association terminated the 99-Seat Plan, replacing it with a controversial and unpopular new Agreement that divides and separates the once-unified LA intimate theatre community into competing categories and factions.
The shared event at the Fountain Theatre was all about cooperation.
Antaeus actress and board member Dawn Didawick commented, “I wish some of our union representatives could be required to attend events like these in order to learn what Los Angeles theatre artists give to their community.”
“There’s been so much rancor and divisiveness with Actors Equity over their elimination of the 99-Seat Plan,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Tuesday night is an example of what happens when two LA intimate theatre companies, each very different in their programming and organizational structure, cooperate together for the sake of being of service to those other than themselves.”
Fountain Producing Director Simon Levy agrees. “Art does change lives. Theatre opens hearts and connects us to The Other. Bravo/bravissima to Antaeus for this great program. And a standing O to the young men who opened their hearts and allowed themselves to be vulnerable… because it changes us.”
Following the performance, the night was ignited by a lively reception in our upstairs cafe which seemed to exemplify the spirit of the evening. There was food, drinks and a cacophony of raucous chatter and laughter. Students enjoying family and friends intermixing with Antaeus members mingling with Fountain staff. A room packed with a wide variety of diverse people and two uniquely-styled theatre companies. Everyone together, for the same common purpose, becoming one.
Sometimes, on some nights, the value of what we do — and why we do it — manifests itself in a clear and affirming way. Last night, happening simultaneously in two sections of town, was one of those evenings.
Town hall meeting at LATC
Last night at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown LA, hundreds of members of the LA theatre community held a town hall meeting to discuss the damaging (and, according to lawsuits filed, potentially illegal) plan by Actors Equity Association to eliminate the 99-Seat Plan, a blow that would cripple dozens of intimate theatres in Los Angeles and could cause several to close.
Meanwhile, at the very same moment on Fountain Avenue, a full house of theatre-goers were enjoying a performance of our acclaimed west coast premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll. And, like every Monday night at the Fountain Theatre, the public ticket price was Pay What You Can.
Our ongoing Pay What You Can performances on Monday nights have blossomed into a popular LA theatre institution. Every Monday night at the Fountain, patrons choose to pay whatever they can afford. And because it is typically the night off for theatre folk, Monday nights at the Fountain provide many actors in LA with the opportunity to see a performance they wouldn’t normally be available to attend — and see it at whatever price they choose.
“It’s all about being of service,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “We instituted Monday night performances as Pay What You Can shows months ago and it’s really caught on. Not only does it keep theatre affordable and accessible for all, it creates community.”
“It’s insane when you think about it,” he continued.”Creating non-profit theatre in an intimate venue with only 78 seats is a money-losing venture anyway. There’s a reason why it’s called ‘not-for-profit’ theatre. And to be offering valuable tickets every week on Monday nights on a Pay What You Can basis? It makes no sense. Can you imagine walking into Best Buy every Monday night and buying a new laptop by paying whatever you can? Or a new dishwasher at Sears and pay only what you can afford?”
“Look, there’s nothing wrong with being financially sound and responsible,”says Sachs. “But as a charitable non-profit organization, the core reason for our existence, the very heart of our purpose, is not about making money. We are here to create art and to be of service to the community and enhance the lives of the people of Los Angeles.”
Last night in two sections of town, the fundamental philosophical difference between what Actors Equity wants to take away versus the public service LA intimate theatre provides to audiences and artists was on display. One was being debated. The other was actually happening.
The Fountain Theatre will forge ahead with its mission to create theatre of the highest quality possible, to engage diverse artists and audiences in the meaningful and life-enhancing shared experience of intimate theatre, and make it accessible and affordable to as many as we can.
Please add your name to sign the letter to AEA from Pro99. Once we have collected signatures from the community, it will be sent to AEA, and disseminated in the media with signed names attached.
Letter to AEA in Support of Pro99’s Call for a New Referendum
We, the undersigned, are dedicated to the survival and growth of Intimate Theatre in Los Angeles. We are actors, stage managers, playwrights, designers, directors, producers and hyphenates of all of the above. We are also audience members, neighborhood restaurants and bars, and local businesses that benefit from the thriving L.A. Intimate Theatre landscape. We are committed to preserving, protecting and promoting Theatre’s of 99-seats or less, not only in Los Angeles but throughout the United States, while defending Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) members’ rights, privileges and protections when they perform in such venues.
Currently, LA’s 99-seat theatres are under unparalleled threat. With arts funding in decline, and at 1/10 of what New York City garners, we are also now faced with an assault from AEA, which seeks to raze the LA intimate theater landscape.
We are PRO99. We are dedicated to ensuring that this does not happen.
A lawsuit by AEA members and producers, on behalf of the Intimate Theatre community, has been filed against Equity. Pro99 supports this effort and is actively engaging the community in the court of public opinion, and by reaching out to people in all walks of life affected by theatres of 99-seat or less.
Additionally, we support AEA members and Intimate Theatres nationwide that would also benefit from a 99-seat plan that would allow them to incubate and develop new works to eventually go to contract, under vital union protections. We believe these protections and opportunities should be more readily available nationwide, and should certainly be protected, not rolled back, here in Los Angeles.
AEA has put forth a concerted effort to silence us. Our voices are not included in any official union communications, and what communications are issued by AEA are not only one-sided, but filled with misinformation, half-truths, untruths and outright distortions. We will continue to correct the record and put forth our own positive story.
We will also continue to enlist the community in the fight. Plaintiff and Review Committee member Gary Grossman has issued a challenge to AEA President Kate Shindle to make public AEA’s plan for 99-seat theatre, and we will make a new proposal public. We support Grossman’s proposal to have a side by side referendum that will allow LA’s union actors to choose between AEA’s plan and our own.
Our house divided? It can seem. There are days and nights like these when only what is wrong is what one sees.
Where once we felt safe, we are now afraid. Shootings. Bombings. Racial tension. Violence. Fear. Aggression. Terror. Polarization. The chasm in our country separating the haves from have-nots, the soaring from the struggling, grows wider. Officers we pay to protect us are shooting us. Public servants we elect to represent us serve themselves. A candidate spews hateful division as his poll numbers grow.
There’s a kind of insanity seeping in. A dis-ease. An unravelling. An anxious self-protection splits us further and further apart.
Disconnection can seem everywhere.
Here in Los Angeles on my own artistic landscape. As Actors Equity Association tries to force its new plan that imposes conflicting rules and opposing financial burdens on a vast mixture of intimate theaters in LA — pitting membership companies against sub 5o-seat houses against staff-driven theaters — I fear fragmentation and division on the horizon for our intimate theatre community as we are disjoined from one 99-Seat Plan for all to segregation, separate and not equal.
Can we come together? Stay together? Or will we fragment and divide?
Then I consider an audience. Any audience.
In our world of theatre, the wide variety of individuals who gather to see a play on any given night in any theatre in this country — no matter the number of people or their diversity of race, ethnicity, age, gender, social standing, neighborhood — are referred to as one entity. They are the audience. Singular. Not plural. Composed of unique and separate individuals who, together, become one thing.
Like the motto of our nation: Out of many, one.
I see it happen all the time in my theatre on Fountain Avenue. The pre-show bustle of patrons before a performance. Folks dash into the lobby, check their smartphones, launch last-minute texts, chatter brightly with each other, get a drink, go to the bathroom. They come from all over the city. From varied neighborhoods, all manner of jobs, vastly different lives. Yet, when curtain time is called, they somehow find their seats together. A Highland Park bus driver sits next to a Century City attorney sits next to a Sherman Oaks nurse sits next to a Koreatown hairdresser.
The lights then go down. The smartphones are silenced, programs are stashed, eyes and ears are trained forward. A hush blankets the crowd. A light warms the stage. An actor makes the first entrance. The play begins.
And it happens.
The outside world evaporates. And this seated mass of human individuals slowly, steadily transforms as they are pulled deeper into the story unfolding before them on stage. One hundred people will see the same performance and see one hundred different plays at the same time, but there is also a shared thing, a unity that happens. An audience becomes a living thing, a dynamic organism that laughs and breathes and interconnects with itself energetically for its brief time together between lights up and lights down. Out of many, one.
And what do we call the area where the audience sits? We don’t call it the sitting area, or thezone or thesector. We call it the house. In the theatre, the audience sits in our house.
And for these shared hours, these shimmering minutes, this gathering of separate people agree to enter into the sacred pact to become an audience, together. The house begins divided. It ends as one.
The purpose of meaningful theatre is to tell stories that illuminate what it means to be a human being. And by its very nature, because it is performed by human beings — live, in the moment, in front of other beings — it puts a human face on issues that confound us all. It humanizes our conflicted ideas about ourselves, each other and our world. Race, religion, poverty, politics, sex and social challenges are embodied on a stage in personal stories of loss and triumph about specific human beings. In a play, ideas, themes and concepts are distilled into the needs and journeys of people.
When an audience is pulled into the world of a meaningful play and emotionally invests in the struggles of the characters on stage, the artificial divide between audience and actor mysteriously falls away and the characters become real. We feel we know them, we care about their outcome. And the alchemy of empathy begins. “They” become “us”. We identify. That character is me.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another human being. The capacity to feel what another being is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference.
A good play can do that.
Healing and transformation begins with the understanding that there is no other, the other is me. A meaningful night in the theatre can create the connection of empathy in ourselves that allows us to wake the next morning with a new awareness of each other, as sisters and brothers. Each of us unique and separate. And, at the same time, not so different.
As an audience, as a city, as a nation.
We are, out of many, one.
Stephen Sachs is the co-founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.