“When you look at a fellow, if you taught yourself to look for it, you can see his song written on him. Tell you what kind of man he is in the world.” – Bynum, JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE by August Wilson
Adolphus Ward was a shaman. When you stood in his sphere, you felt it. This was a man who accessed the otherworld. A conjure man, a healer, the keeper of souls. His impish grin, twinkling eyes, the playful tone of his voice warmed the heart.
The Fountain was Adolphus’ theater home. “From the start, the Fountain Family has been like blood-family-members to me,” he said. He and Ben Bradley were friends for more than thirty years, harking back to their Milwaukee theater days. At the Fountain, they partnered on two August Wilson plays. Adolphus’ favorite moment on stage in Gem of the Ocean was going to the City of Bones. “That was a damn good trip.”
I directed him in the premieres of two plays by Athol Fugard. Both times, Adolphus was other-worldly. In Coming Home, he played the ghost-spirit of Oupa (“grandfather”). A gentle soul who tended his desert plants and called the magic pumpkin seeds in his leather pouch “little miracles.”
In Fugard’s The Train Driver, he played a gravedigger overseeing a bleak South African burial site for the unknown and unwanted, who “puts the nameless ones in the grave.” I’ll never forget the moment in the play when Adolphus, as the gravedigger, sang a Xhosa lullaby to the souls in the ground who were “sleeping.” The song floated from Adolphus like smoke on the night air. Haunting, beautiful, quietly transcendent.
Adolphus now sleeps. And I sing to him.
Adolphus Ward passed away on November 7th at the age of eighty-six.
“This bill is recognition from the State of California that intimate theater companies matter,” says Sachs. “I applaud Senator Rubio for her tireless advocacy in crafting this bill, and thank her for taking action to support the needs of small nonprofit theaters across the state.”
The “Save the Performing Arts Act of 2021,” authored by Senator Rubio and co-authored by State Senator Benjamin Allen (D – Santa Monica)and State Senator Anthony J. Portantino (D – La Canada Flintridge), provides $50 million in much-needed immediate financial aid to small performing arts organizations with annual budgets under $2 million (including the Fountain.) The bill also includes $500,000 to set up payroll services support, which will be overseen by theCalifornia Arts Council. The public is invited, and encouraged, to attend this celebratory event. Please note: mask-wearing and social distancing will be in effect.
SB 805 is the first bill in the nation that will create a critical funding infrastructure to help assist Small Nonprofit Performing Arts Companies (SNPAC) with average adjusted gross revenues equal to, or less than $1.4 million, to be adjusted every five years based on the California Consumer Price Index. SB 805 will direct the California Arts Council to establish the California Nonprofit Performing Arts Paymaster, which will provide low-cost payroll and paymaster services to SNPACs. This legislation will establish the Performing Arts Equitable Payroll Fund to ensure that SNPACs can pay all workers minimum wage, particularly workers in marginalized communities. Small nonprofit theaters are incubators for playwrights, actors, designers, directors and other artists. They have historically provided networking opportunities and mentorship for Black, Indigenous and People of Color artists to facilitate connections necessary for career advancement by providing performance experience that helps to open doors to larger, less accessible companies. Furthermore, SNPACs contribute to the economic growth, social well-being and cultural vitality of the local communities they serve.
Other confirmed attendees include:
–Danny Glover, Co-Founder of The Robey Theatre Company; upcoming recipient of the 2022 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (an Honorary Oscar); BET Award, Cable ACE Award, NAACP Image Award and Asian Pacific Screen Awards winner, and Emmy Award-nominated actor. SB 805 Coalition Member.
–Josefina López, Founding Artistic Director, CASA 0101. Theater, Emmy Award, Sundance Film Festival and Humanitas Prize Award-Winning Writer. SB 805 Coalition Member.
–Ben Guillory(Co-Founder, CEO and Producing Artistic Director, The Robey Theatre Company, SB 805 Coalition Member.The Robey Theatre Company is a member of the Senate Bill 805 Coalition.
–Snehal Desai, Producing Artistic Director of the award-winning East West Players, the nation’s premiere Asian-American theater company and one of the longest-running theaters of color in the United States.
–Simon Levy, Producing Director of the Fountain Theatre
–SB 805 Coalition Members, which include: Leagues: Alliance of Desert Theatres, Arts for LA, Californians for the Arts/California Arts Advocates, San José Arts Advocates, Theatre Bay Area, Theatrical Producers League Los Angeles; Theaters: 24th Street Theatre, Actors Co-op Theatre Company, Altarena Playhouse, Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble, CASA 0101 Theater, Celebration Theatre, Chance Theater, Coin & Ghost, Collaborative Artist Bloc, Company of Angels, Dezart Performs, Downey Arts Collective, El Teatro Campesino, Flat Tire Theatre Company, Fountain Theatre, IAMA Theatre Company, Infinite Jest Theatre Company, The Inkwell Theater, Inland Valley Repertory Theater, Interact Theatre Company, Invertigo Dance Theatre, Latino Theater Company, Macha Theatre Company/Films, Moving Arts, New American Theatre, Novato Theater Company, Numi Opera, Open Fist Theatre Company, Ophelia’s Jump Productions, Playwrights’ Arena, Rogue Machine Theatre, Rogues Artists Ensemble, Sacred Fools Theater Company at the Broadwater, Santa Cruz Actors’ Theatre, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skylight Theatre Company, SkyPilot Theatre Company, The Robey Theatre Company, The Road Theater Company, The Victory Theatre Center, Theatre of NOTE, Theatre Unleashed, Teatro Máscara Mágica, Teatro Visión, Theatre West, Town Hall Theatre; Independent Artists: Producer Michaela Bulkley, Performer Devon DeGroot, Actor Robert Fancy, Actress Cristal Gonzalez, Performer Julia Sanford and Performer Christopher Sepulveda.
June is Pride month, a time of Mardi Gras-like celebration for the LGBTQ+ community that’s highlighted locally by the annual L.A. Pride Festival and Parade. The first Pride march, held June 28, 1970, was established to mark the one-year anniversary of the now infamous Stonewall uprising – an event widely seen as the launch pad for the modern gay rights movement. Fifty years later, it has become an annual, exuberant, not-to-be-missed event. (Note: The highly anticipated 50th anniversary celebration has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. More info)
The trouble that ignited a revolution started at 1:20am on June 28, 1969, when NYPD officers raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Such raids were all too common at the Mafia-owned bar. But this night was different. On this night, the chronically marginalized, too-often dehumanized gay population who were drinking inside had had enough. On this night, they stood up and fought back. On this night, and in the nights and days and years that followed, gay men and women not only found their pride, they wore it boldly and shouted it out loudly for all the world to hear.
Today at 4pm, the Fountain is gathering together the casts of two of its most highly acclaimed productions – Daniel’s Husband (2018) and The Normal Heart (2013) – for a celebration not only of Pride month, but of the recent historic Supreme Court ruling that protects the civil rights of gay and transgender workers, and to honor the life of writer/activist/Normal Heart playwright Larry Kramer. Viewers can watch live on Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and on our website at http://www.fountaintheatre.com. The recording will also be posted and can be watched at a later date.
Fountain producing director Simon Levy directed both productions, and cast veteran actors Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup as lovers in both stories, each of which was centered on a different pivotal moment in the gay rights movement. The Normal Heart is Kramer’s clarion call to action against the emerging AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s. In it, Ned Weeks (Cummings) is a gay journalist and activist whose fight against the mysterious unnamed scourge running rampant through the gay community turns deeply personal when his lover, Felix (Brochtrup), a New York Times fashion writer, contracts the deadly disease. In Daniel’s Husband, Brochtrup is the eponymous Daniel, a successful architect who longs to be married to his partner of seven years, Mitchell, a marriage-phobic writer of gay romance novels that make him, as he says, “the 21st century gay equivalent of Barbara Cartland.”
Said Levy of the two actors, “After working with, and loving the work of, Bill Brochtrup and Tim Cummings in The Normal Heart, I consciously searched for another project for us. And when I read Daniel’s Husband, I knew I’d found our play and that they would be perfect for it.”
Both shows held a personal appeal to Levy, who spent many years living in San Francisco and working on the long-running, kitschy musical revue, Beach Blanket Babylon.
“When I had the opportunity to get the rights to The Normal Heart I grabbed them,” he explained, “because I wanted to pay a personal tribute to all the friends and colleagues I lost in San Francisco during the heyday of the AIDS crisis. Especially (performer) Bill Kendall of Beach Blanket Babylon, who was a good friend and co-worker, and someone I took the entire journey with. The show was a dedication to his memory, as well as (creator) Steve Silver, and so many others.
“When I read Daniel’s Husband I fell in love with it and knew it was right for the Fountain and L.A.’s gay community. Not only because it dealt with gay marriage, but because of its universal theme of loving and caring for one another. I wanted the production to be a reminder to hold on tight to each other, especially in these toxic political times, because we never know how long someone will be in our life. To live with regret is horrible, so love NOW!”
Both productions received passionate, widespread critical acclaim and extended runs. Audience reaction to both shows was deep and visceral. Many patrons saw both, and there were many who saw each play multiple times. It was also not uncommon for them to come back with friends and family members who they felt compelled to have experience the show.
The teeming post-show gatherings are something Levy remembers fondly.
“(I loved) seeing how deeply moved audiences were by both shows, and how they would congregate outside on the sidewalk afterwards to talk with the actors and share their stories of losing loved ones, or fighting to make gay marriage legal. I also loved the ‘love board’ that allowed people to pay tribute to the memory of loved ones and those they love now.”
The ‘love board’ was a giant, paper-covered plywood board that stood at the theatre’s double doors during The Normal Heart. On it, people would write love notes to, and about, the men and women who were no longer here with them. There were also expressions of gratitude and love for those who were still by their side. It was a powerful, cathartic act, and the paper was oft replaced during the extended run of the show.
In a LA Times interview from October 2, 2013, Levy made a comment about The Normal Heart and the AIDS crisis that now seems prophetic when taken in context of today’s COVID pandemic.
“People have fallen asleep again…Millions of people are dying from AIDS every year. But no one’s talking about it anymore. We’re all pretending that it’s yesterday’s illness.”
His resulting message to the public? “Don’t politicize pandemics! Be kind to each other. Love each other. We’re all in this together.”
Celebrate Pride with us and join us for the cast reunions of Daniel’s Husband and The Normal Heart today at 4pm. Watch on Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or on our website.
I run the Fountain Theatre’s charming upstairs café. Normally, Fridays at the Fountain would be the start of a five-show weekend through Monday night. Six, if we had a Sunday evening Flamenco show as well. There would be a palpable energy in the air.
But on Friday, March 13th, LA’s growing COVID crisis had become critical. The public portions of the theatre – the stage and the café – had been shuttered. The offices were being closed as well.
I should have been working on Friday, March 13th. By 4pm, Pandora would have been rocking one of my favorite show tune stations, and I’d have been singing along with Wicked and A Chorus Line and Into the Woods behind the closed café door as I got the coffee going, bagged chips and cookies for sale, and chatted with local baker Tracy Green when she delivered her weekly order of scrumptious organic mini muffins. I would have caught up with staff when they wandered in for coffee or a snack. I would have arranged fresh flowers on the café tables. Watered the plants out on the deck. Set out food items, made sure the fridge was stocked, and ensured there was plenty of wine on the back counter.
By 6:30pm, actors would have been dropping by to say hello, and get a pre-show caffeine fix as they ate their dinner. If patrons had arrived early, I would have invited them to have a seat and get comfortable while I finished setting up. We would have talked about the show they had come to see and where they had traveled from to see it. Long distance drives from Orange County, Santa Barbara, and Long Beach are not uncommon (and on a Friday night, no less!) Patrons of the Fountain are extremely loyal, and LA’s notorious Friday night traffic has never stopped any of them from persevering to see a great show.
I’d have set out fresh creamer for coffee by 6:45pm and cut fresh lemon wedges for tea. I’d have changed the music to something more appropriate for the show, and turned on the video monitor to run the scroller of past Fountain Theatre productions. I’d have clicked on the twinkle lights draped around the café and the deck, and lit the votive candles that add such warmth and invitation to the space. The stage would have been set. Lights and sound would have been ready. I would have opened the door to let the audience in.
Opening night of Human Interest Story, Feb 15, 2020.
It would have been another Friday night at the Fountain Theatre café. Engaging with patrons. Stepping out from behind the bar to hug a friend who had come to see the show. Getting buzzed off the buzz in the room. And answering a barrage of questions about past productions:
What was that wonderful play about the painting? Either Bakersfield Mist or My Name is Asher Lev. Both featured a painting and had storylines about art.
What was the show about the Latino restaurant workers? I couldn’t stop thinking about it.My Mañana Comes. Yes, a lot of people had that reaction.
What was the one about the border wall and the guy in prison?Building the Wall.
Do you remember the show about the Black girl who was a runner? Sure! It was In the Red and Brown Water, by Tarrell Alvin McCraney. It was the first play in his Brother/Sister trilogy. We also did the second one in that series, The Brothers Size.
Theatre. History. Story-telling. Energy. Friends. Connecting the dots. And, of course, lots of coffee. These were my Friday nights at the Fountain. Until Friday, March 13th. When everything changed.
I have happily worked at the Fountain for over a decade. I’ve been part of dozens of shows in a variety of capacities: production/assistant stage manager, props designer, casting associate, costume maintenance and more. For the past two years I have also been the manager of the charming Fountain Theatre café. I must say, I absolutely love it.
I run the café as I run a show, and I am nourished by it in the process. I am fed by the support of our devoted patrons, by sharing stories of past productions, by greeting first time visitors who inevitably want to know how long we’ve been around, what kinds of shows we do, and, ultimately, how they can become a member. And then there is the question I hear all the time, from guests old and new: will the café ever be open outside of show times? (Answer: it is a long-distance dream.) I feel gratitude every time I’m asked that, because it means they’re comfortable in this charming, funky space. They tell me how much they love the rainbow tables and walls, the gallery of production photographs, the mismatched collection of couches and chairs, the open deck with the hummingbird feeder and the little garden and the view to downtown LA. They want to hang out all day long. They feel a sense of peace, of connection in the space.
Kitchens are often referred to as the heart of a home, and the café is the gathering place of the Fountain Theatre. The room where we all come together to share meals, to talk, to take meetings and to rest. The stage downstairs is the soul of the Fountain. But the café, I believe, is its ever-beating, ever-welcoming, wide-open heart.
So for now, while this pandemic reigns, my Friday nights are different. It’s been nearly four months since I didn’t work that Friday night in March – and I feel it. I miss the energy, the shows, the patrons, the actors, the laughter and the hugs, the fellowship and the connection. But in time, we will tell our stories again. In time, the theatre will open up again. In time, we will gather in the café again. That charming rainbowed place of nourishment and peace and of welcoming home. And in time, we’ll re-connect to each other, again.
This Saturday, June 27, at 5:00 pm The Fountain Theatre is proud to present a reading of France-Luce Benson’s one-act play Showtime Blues, originally presented at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York in 2017. Showtime Blues will be presented online as The Fountain’s final Saturday Matinee program for June and will feature Cecil Blutcher, Suzette Azariah Gunn and Matt Kirkwood. Saturday Matinees will take a break in July, returning with France-Luce in August.
France-Luce produces and hosts Saturday Matinees and has generously presented several readings of her own work for our patrons enjoyment, including our May 20th reading of Detained, her powerful piece commissioned by the ACLU that featured the Tony-nominated actress, Kathleen Chalfant.
We wanted to take the opportunity to discuss Showtime Blues with France-Luce as it is a powerful piece of theatre in perfect pitch with the current moment and is part of a body of work in which France-Luce explores her identity as a Black American of Haitian descent, and examines broad socio-political concepts from the perspective of intimate human relationships.
Q: When did you write Showtime Blues? Did it arise out of one particular experience or in response to a lifetime of experiences?
FLB: I wrote it in 2016. That year, Alton Sterling and Philando Castille were killed by police. Prior to that…Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Micheal Brown…the list goes on and on. I was hurting, and angry, and terrified for my community. I have three brothers, a nephew, dozens of cousins — I couldn’t imagine how anyone could ever view them as a threat. Like all the black men in my life – they are loving, gentle, hard working, family men – they care about their communities, they are human and deserve so much better than what this country gives them. We all do. All of this was stirring in my head and heart. I didn’t know what the play would end up being, but I knew I needed to explore it, work through it, and I wanted to celebrate Black love in a way that transcended romance. I wanted to celebrate the love we as Black people have for one another, based on our shared trauma and triumphs.
Q: I’m curious about the secondary theme in the play which explores the way folks judge one another on appearances and stereotypes.
FLB: As a first generation American, I’m interested in the way we (black and brown people) “Other” each other; and I always believe that as individuals we need to hold ourselves accountable. Both Ameira and Demetrius are quick to judge, and maybe they’re justified. She’s getting hit on by some dude on the train, and he’s being dismissed by someone who can’t even be bothered to look at him – literally. They have both been conditioned by a sexist, racist society. The incident that they experience together exposes their vulnerability. That vulnerability is what interests me most. It is that vulnerability that many of us, black and white, often fail to see in each other. And certainly law enforcement officers – they see black and brown bodies void of vulnerability – void of humanity.
Q: It seems that this moment provides a unique window for artists of color to be heard and seen. What would you like your white friends and colleagues to understand about your experience as a black female artist in America?
FLB: I’d like them to truly understand how far reaching, how expansive, how insidious white supremacy is. My voice and stories matter as much as anyone else. The lack of opportunity artists of color experience is a result of systemic institutionalized racism. White people need to understand this country’s history, and then maybe they’ll begin to understand my experience. I’ve been writing a trilogy about the Haitian Revolution, and I’ve often been told that my cultural experience is not relevant to Americans. But I challenge anyone reading this to study the Haitian Revolution and tell me it’s not part of America’s history. The problem is, Americans have been in denial about a lot of her history; I would like my white friends and colleagues to investigate the ways they have been in denial.
Q: As a Black American. What makes you hopeful?
FLB: This new generation of activists makes me hopeful; the current uprising, the fact that white people seem more willing to listen and take real action.
Suzette Azariah Gunn
Cecil Blutcher: Regional Theater: Pipeline (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville); Petrol Station (The Kennedy Center). NYC: The Hot Wing King (Signature Theatre); Tempo (Ensemble Studio Theatre); Showtime Blues (Ensemble Studio Theatre). Film: Premature (Dir. Rashad Ernesto Green); Skin (Dir. Guy Nattiv); Sketch (Dir. Mariama Diallo). Television: The Good Fight (CBS All-Access); Random Acts of Flyness (HBO). Training: M.F.A. (Penn State). Website: CecilBlutcherCreates.com
Suzette Azariah Gunn is an actress, writer, director from New York. She has a degree in acting from Howard University and Oxford University. She has recurred, starred and guest starred on television and been in film and Theater across the US. Most recently 21 Bridges film and Nya in Pipeline at Cleveland Playhouse. Honors- Los Angeles Film Award Best Ensemble, Golden Door International Film Festival Nominated Best Lead Actress, NBC Diversity Showcase, Named Up and Coming Actress to watch, Best Supporting Actress Planet Connections,.- For more info suzettegunn.com
Matt Kirkwood has been an actor and director in Los Angeles theatre for the last 30+ years. He was last seen in The Fountain’s production of HUMAN INTEREST STORY, and in the live stream reading of DETAINED.
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.”
Actors from “Joy Luck Club” and “Hannah” in Fountain cafe.
Ever question if LA has a real theatre community? A true sense of camaraderie? Doubt no more. Last night, members of the cast from the Sierra Madre Playhouse production of The Joy Luck Club swarmed to the Fountain Theatre to support friends and colleagues in our California Premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. After the performance, members from both companies gathered in our upstairs cafe to celebrate and congratulate each other.
It was fitting that the visit happened on Labor Day, the national observance of the value of work. For people who work in the theatre, there is a fervent dedication to the art form and a palpable cord of goodwill between artists.
The bond between the Joy Luck and Hannah casts — both with Asian actors — began when the company of Joy Luck sent a funny and warm-hearted good luck video from the Sierra Madre Playhouse to the Hannah group days before its opening at the Fountain.
The Hannah company replied, posting their own video to the Joy Luck cast.
Happy opening night to the cast and crew of Joy Luck Club at Sierra Madre Playhouse (Victor S Chi Shar Liu Christine Liao Tim Dang Yee Eun Nam Lee Chen-Norman Grace Shen Christopher Chen and everyone) !!!!! — ❤ the cast of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo at East West Players and Fountain Theatre 🎭🥰👏👏👏👏💐
Last night, cast members from The Joy Luck Club were at the Fountain supporting their fellow players. The Hannah cast will soon do the same. Theatre can be a competitive business. It can also be a haven for friendship and support.
A packed house of passionate theatregoers, donors and guests, friends and family, and the invited press enjoyed Saturday night’s Opening performance of our California Premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo by Jiehae Park. A collaboration between the Fountain Theatre and East West Players, the audience reflected a lively engagement from the communities of both companies.
Following the performance, guests enjoyed a catered reception upstairs in our charming cafe. The delicious Korean cuisine was served by Kimbap Paradise, with Korean beer provided by Lotte Beverage America.
Thayer, a 72-year-old, gay psychotherapist and his ex-wife and great friend, Emma, decide to move back in together to take care of each other through their old age. Emma is still secretly in love with Thayer but does her best to hide it until Thayer and one of his patients – a Mexican-American transman, fall in love throwing sexual orientation, gender identity and true love into question for all concerned. It’s funny, deep, thought provoking and humanizes the struggle between hatred and acceptance in very original and memorable ways.
What is a workshop production? It is the next step in a new play’s developmental process. Although still a work-in-process, the actors will be off-book with the play fully memorized. Using simple props and costumes, the play is performed on the set of our current production of Daniel’s Husband.
Body Beautiful is directed by John Achorn, with Alex Alpharaoh, Leigh Curran, Geoffrey Rivas, Marcelo Tubert.