Lisa Strum, a Philadelphia native living and working in the New York area is a director, an educator, actress, playwright, producer, casting director, singer and a certified wedding officiant! I’d add to that list truth teller, world traveler, and cherished friend. Her soulful voice and infectious laugh make her a powerful presence on stage and off, and her sharp wit, insightful observations, and wicked sense of humor are what makes her work so compelling. An award-winning actor, she’s starred in some of American theatre’s most celebrated plays, including Wilson’s Fences, Morriseau’s Pipleline, and Nottage’s Sweat. But lately, it is her work as a director that is getting everyone’s attention. I am lucky enough to have had her direct two of my own plays – Fall at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York, and Nanã for the All Hands on Deck Virtual play Festival. She also directed a Kennedy Center Award winning production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough, and is currently directing Flyin West at Five Towns College. On this week’s installment of “Saturday Matinees”, Strum will perform from her original works She Gon Learn, An Actor Prepares, and Poetic Tirades. I sat down with her to discuss her journey from actor to director, and the beauty of acceptance.
F.L.B. What led you to directing?
L.S. I dabbled in directing while I was in undergrad; directing one acts and short scenes. But it wasn’t until I was hired by Carl Johnson to act as the Theatre Specialist for the Abrons Arts Center Summer Program at Henry Street Settlement that my directing skills really began to take shape. I discovered that I had a strong visual eye to tell stories on the stage and to get great performances out of the actors I was working with – regardless of their experience or their age. There was always a mainstage show at the end of the 5 weeks of the summer program of an original devised theatre piece created by the students. The show also included dance, singing and a set, so there was constant collaboration between the voice, dance and visual arts instructors throughout the summer and year after year we generated some incredible work together. It was exciting being the conductor of all of this collaborative work. I became hooked. And I just liked telling people what to do! LOL!
F.L.B. – What has been keeping you sane?
Staying connected with friends and family. Preparing and cooking home cooked meals. Laughter. Lots of laughter! Movies from my teenage years. And simply accepting the reality of the situation we are living in right now. Adaption and going with the flow are key. Many people realized during the quarantine how much they needed a break from the constant hustle and rat race. I didn’t realize how much I needed to be still. With all the constraints we’ve been under because of COVID-19, I’ve found peace within the boundaries. It’s been an amazing way to stay focused and to stay in the moment.
FLB. – What gives you hope?
L.S. The will of the human spirit and the ability to adapt and find joy regardless of the circumstances.
France-Luce Benson is a playwright and the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Fountain Theatre.
The Fountain Theatre community is a devoted band of folk who love theatre and often, one another. Normally The Fountain enjoys shining a light on members of our theatre family in our show programs. During this 2020 pandemic, however, with no show programs to print, The Fountain continues our tradition of honoring members of our devoted community here on the Fountain Blog.
Happy 90th Birthday Marcella Meharg!
Today we honor Marcella Meharg — on the occasion of her recent 90th birthday, and her life-long love of theatre — with two tributes. The first comes from a group of old friends who made a generous contribution in honor of Marcella’s milestone celebration:
“We are a group of former colleagues who worked for Los Angeles County as child welfare workers in the Metro North office in East Hollywood. We met Marcella in the early 70s. From colleagues to friends, we bonded over the years as we worked, raised our children, went to school and lived our lives. Lunches during the work day were a time to catch up. After retirement, lunches became monthly dinners and/or monthly lunches and have continued for over 15 years. The theater has always been an important part of Marcella’s life. Others in the group also have regular subscriptions to theaters in Los Angeles and the Fountain Theatre is one of our favorites. During this pandemic and difficult times for the arts, it seemed so appropriate that Marcella’s gift on the occasion of her 90th birthday would be a donation to the Fountain Theatre. ”
“Marcella Meharg and I did not choose one another. We were thrown together, like it or not, in a dormitory room at the Pasadena Playhouse when we were 19. And it took.
It took so well that, when she came down with a light case of the chickenpox, she eagerly passed it on to me, improved and with bells on. I was sick as a dog. That nasty little episode only drew us closer together. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re young, in “theatre school,” mutually passionate about the “art,” the success you’re certain will follow, the boy-friends and assorted other wonders. You form bonds — good and bad — that become indelible. Our post-Playhouse lives took paths that were at once divergent and not. We didn’t hit fame and fortune, but each of us married and each had two children at roughly the same time. Life went on, separating us as it often does, but not forever.
Marcella became a social worker and went on to run the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild’s Julie Harris Playwriting Contest for a number of years. She also co-produced an Ovation-nominated play and wrote one, which had a reading at Hollywood’s Samuel French Bookstore just before it went dark.
By the time we were both older and ready to take a step back, we rediscovered our friendship on a pleasant leisurely basis. By then I was writing reviews more selectively for culturalweekly.com than when I was writing them for The Los Angeles Times, and Marcella became my go-to theatre companion, chiefly because our tastes in theatre matched and our lengthy relationship made for lively conversations that we both enjoyed. What was invigorating is that we didn’t always admire the same productions and our disagreements were often more interesting than our agreements — until the pandemic hit, interrupting all the fun and the tooling around town, popping in and out of shows.
When some of Marcella’s friends smartly decided to celebrate her 90th birthday by contributing in her name to a theatre of her choice, the decision, she tells me, was easy. The Fountain is where we both spent many fascinating hours and hope to spend many more once the world returns to some kind of normal.
Happy birthday, Marcella. I’ve always known you had good judgment.”
– Sylvie Drake
Acclaimed actress Kathleen Chalfant will lead the cast for the Fountain Theatre’s live-stream reading of France-Luce Benson‘s docudrama on immigration, Detained, on Wednesday, May 20th. The Tony nominated and Obie winning actress’ distinguished stage career, both on Broadway and Off-Broadway, includes Tony Kushner’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Wit.
Actors joining Chalfant are Victor Anthony, France-Luce Benson, Rolando Chusan, Liza Fernandez, Aleisha Force, Dion Graham, Matt Kirkwood, Sofia Riba, Ariel Sandino, Felix A. Solis, Aldo Uribe, Karl O’Brien Williams.
Based on interviews with individuals who are facing deportation, as well as the judges, lawyers, and activists who are involved in these cases, Detained is a new documentary theater piece about immigration, deportation, and detention in the United States.
“France-Luce has incorporated the voices of all the stakeholders from immigrants to ICE officers and everyone in between, ” says Chalfant, who has been involved in the new play’s development. “The play provides a very important human perspective so that we see that the current system is neither necessary nor inevitable and is certainly not the way it has always been done.”
“The coronavirus crisis makes this already appalling system even crueler and now even murderous,’ she adds.
The live-stream reading of Detained on Wednesday, May 20, will air live at 5pm PST/8pm EST on the Fountain Theatre’s Facebook page, YouTube Channel and on Zoom.
Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander in “Human Interest Story.”
“The line between where you are now and sleeping in your car is much thinner than you think.” The Fountain Theatre presents the world premiere of a timely new play, written and directed by Stephen Sachs(Arrival & Departure, Citizen: An American Lyric, Bakersfield Mist), about homelessness, celebrity worship and the assault on American journalism. Human Interest Story opens at the Fountain on Feb. 15, where performances continue through April 5.
Set in the fast-moving world of new media, Human Interest Story chronicles the journey of newspaper columnist Andy Kramer, played by award-winning actor Rob Nagle (recent credits include Apple Season at Moving Arts andThe Judas Kiss at Boston Court). Suddenly laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes his paper — a print publication struggling for readers in changing times — Andy fabricates a letter to his column in retaliation. The letter, from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world, goes viral, and Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman (Tanya Alexander — Mono/Poly at the Odyssey and Future Sex Inc. at the Lounge) to stand-in as the fictitious Jane. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.
According to Sachs, the play is about how contrary and opposing impulses can hide in the same human being. “A newspaper columnist, in the course of writing a human interest story on another individual, is forced to confront truths about himself,” he explains.
The cast also includes James Harper, previously seen at the Fountain in The Accomplices, as newspaper publisher Harold Cain. Playing multiple roles are Richard Azurdia(My Mañana Comes at the Fountain), Aleisha Force(Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra at Virginia Shakes, Maggie in Dancing at Lughnasa at Barnstormers Theatre), Matt Kirkwood (Our Class at Son of Semele, The Goat or, who is Sylvia? at the LGBT Center) and Tarina Pouncy (Vendetta Chrome at Coeurage Theatre; Les Blancs at Rogue Machine; and The Old Settler at International City Theatre, for which she garnered an NAACP award).
The creative team for Human Interest Story includes scenic and video designer Matthew G. Hill; lighting designer Jennifer Edwards; composer and sound designer Peter Bayne; costume designer Shon LeBlanc; video hair and makeup designer Diahann McCrary; and prop master Michael Allen Angel. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer,and the assistant stage manager is Nura Ferdowsi. Simon Levy, James Bennett and Deborah Culver produce for the Fountain Theatre. Producing underwriters include David and Mary Jo Volk; Laurel and Robert Silton; Lois Tandy; and Toby and Daniel Bernstein. The executive producer is Karen Kondazian.
The story was initially inspired by the 1941 Frank Capra classic filmMeet John Doe.
Stephen Sachs is the co-founder and co-artistic director of the Fountain Theatre and the author of 15 plays. Recent work includes his Deaf/Hearing love story, Arrival & Departure (“Critic’s Choice,” Los Angeles Times); his stage adaptation of William Goldman’s screenplay for All the President’s Men, starring Bradley Whitford and Joshua Malina at L.A. City Hall; and his stage adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, which premiered at the Fountain Theatre and was remounted by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. His play Bakersfield Mist is performed worldwide. Sachs’ screenplay Sweet Nothing in my Ear, based on his play, was made into a CBS TV movie starring Jeff Daniels and Marlee Matlin. As director, he is a two-time Ovation Award winner and was recently honored by the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the cultural life of Los Angeles.”
The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Recent highlights include all-star readings of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington and All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. The Fountain’s 2018 productions of The Chosen and Arrival & Departure each enjoyed months-long sold out runs and was named a Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” The company’s recent West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living, was named to the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2018” list. This season, the Southern California premiere of Daniel’sHusband and the currently extended Los Angeles premiere of Between Riverside and Crazy were each named to multiple “Best of 2019” lists.
Maya Lynne Robinson and Karen Malina White, Runaway Home, 2017.
The Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Branch this week announced its nominees for the 28th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards. The nominating committee is one year behind in its honoring process, only now selecting theatre productions opening January 2017 through December 2017.
The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed 2017 Los Angeles Premiere of Runaway Home by Jeremy Kamps has earned three NAACP Theatre Award nominations:
Best Choreography – Janet Roston
Best Director – Shirley Jo Finney
Best Supporting Actress – Karen Malina White
The mission of the Theatre Awards is to entertain, educate, and inspire the community and create diversity in the arts and entertainment industry. The branch also celebrates a four-day theatre festival, which provides a platform for theatre-makers to share their craft with an audience of their peers, the community and other individuals who celebrate live theatre in Los Angeles.
The 28th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards will be held on Monday, June 17, 2019, 6:00 p.m. at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. More information
Psychologist Carl Jung introduced the word “synchronicity”, coining it to describe a “meaningful coincidence,” when unrelated events seem to happen for a reason. Synchronicity is something you feel. When, for no outward reason, the stars align and the right people come together at the right time and the result is something meaningful and long lasting.
Simone Missick, last seen at the Fountain in Citizen: An American Lyric, co-starred on the Netflix TV series Luke Cage as Misty Knight. She just signed the lead role in the new CBS legal drama pilot Courthouse.
Diarra Kilpatrick is the creator and star of American Koko, an ABC digital original series, earning her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy/Drama Series, Short Form. She created, wrote, and starred in the comedy pilot The Climb for Amazon, and is set to star in a new comedy for Showtime opposite Keenen Ivory Wayans.
Maya Lynne Robinson, recently on stage at the Fountain in Runaway Home, is now a series regular on ABC’s Roseanne spinoff The Connors, playing the role of Geena Williams-Conner.
We asked these three dynamic actresses to share their thoughts on In the Red and BrownWater, and how theatre can form bonds that last a lifetime.
In the Red and Brown Water, Fountain Theatre, 2012.
What was it about In The Red and Brown Water that created such close ties?
MLR: For me, it stemmed from the fact that I was 3 months new in town and didn’t have a foundation/tribe yet. In the Red and Brown Water was the first project I was cast in once I moved to LA. I met these wonderfully creative and down-to-earth people and when you find those type of people, you shouldn’t let them go.
SM: I think what started at the table, with our director, Shirley Jo Finney, had a huge impact in creating a family amongst the cast and crew. To be able to discuss the play, the characters, inside and out and know that you were working with artists who took the work as seriously as you, made us all feel like we were experiencing something different and special. We knew we could trust one another onstage, and that trust helped us to build bonds as artists and as friends. But there is also a level of divine placement when it came to that production. Each of us were appointed to be there for those six plus months, for only God knows the reason, and to then be a part of each others lives. We’ve been there for each other through marriages, babies, cross country moves, and amazing work opportunities. It is just one of those special blessings, that so many of us gelled, and we found sisters and brothers, aunties and cousins in one another.
DK: I do believe [director] Shirley Jo Finney brought together a great group of not only artists but people. It was a joy playing with them and I’m grateful that we’ve s formed such loving, supportive bonds. We made a family and even though that’s common in the theater, this is a particularly special group of artists. Every one of us has continued to grow as artists and as people, I mean to the person. And I’m so, so proud of us.
What’s your favorite memory from that production?
MLR: Singing warm ups and prayer together before the show. There was something about our vibration that made me happy to do the show with these people every day for almost six months.
SM: There are sooooo many. Some of them stay in the vault. But one of them is Maya Lynne stomping her feet to get some of our other (not as rhythmically gifted brothers) on beat. She earned a nickname from that.
With whom from the cast have you most stayed in touch?
SM: All of us are on a text message chain that we connect through. This past Valentine’s Day, we all sent silly pictures to say we loved each other. I had the fortune to work with Shirley Jo four more times after that production, and she is such a special influence in my career and in my life. Our stage manager, Shawna and I have worked together again. I love that girl. Diarra and Maya Lynne are people that I talk to more often. We are all around the same age, experiencing some of the same career “firsts”, and we are always shooting each other a text of congratulations and cheering one another on. But the Red Brown family got together for a Christmas brunch, and FaceTimed with Stephen Marshall who moved to NY, so he wouldn’t be left out. We just love each other!
MLR: Whether we speak daily or once a year, we all pick up right where we left off. We have text message chains during holidays and big events. We try to have a reunion whenever possible. Half of us got together for a reunion earlier this year.
What is it about theatre — and the Fountain Theatre in particular — that creates a feeling of family?
MLR: There is a sense of family at the Fountain Theatre. From the exterior and interior style all the way to the intimacy of the spaces, the Fountain Theatre fosters closeness, authenticity and talent.
SM: Live theatre is an experience like no other. It is the artist’s equivalent to trapeze work, but the net is your fellow cast members. You are sailing through the air, with the audience there witnessing you doing emotional gymnastics, and every moment is alive and terrifying and electrifying. The intimacy of the Fountain leaves no room for hiding. You have to be vulnerable and authentic at every turn. That experience is one that creates a bond with your acting partners, because you are all there being honest and alive together.
DK:In The Red and Brown Water was a beautiful experience. I remember being in church and was particularly prayerful about opening myself up to new opportunities and challenges and ways to express myself. After service, Erinn Anova came up to me and said she was helping to cast a play at the Fountain and wanted to make sure she brought me in for it. She had seen me in something else and thought I’d be right for the lead. I so badly had wanted to work at The Fountain and with Shirley Jo. So, every step of the Red/Brown journey felt as synchronistic as that. Like it was meant to be. Like magic.
SM: I’ve managed to keep my Red Brown family close through it all. It truly was an experience of a lifetime that I will always cherish.
Winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play. West Coast Premiere at the Fountain Theatre, Los Angeles.
STORYLINE: Achingly human and surprisingly funny, Cost of Living is a haunting, rigorously unsentimental play about the forces that bring people together and the realities of facing the world with physical disabilities. Unemployed truck driver Eddie is struggling to rebuild a relationship with his estranged wife Ani, recently wheelchair-bound with a spinal cord injury. Jess, in a job that she desperately needs, is trying to navigate her duties with John, her new boss with cerebral palsy. But, who is really caring for whom? By shattering stereotypes, the play reveals how deeply we all need each other.
SUBMIT ELECTRONICALLY TO: Stephen Sachs firstname.lastname@example.org Submission Deadline: 08/24/2018
Producer/Theatre Company: Stephen Sachs, Fountain Theatre Director: John Vreeke Writer: Martyna Majok
[EDDIE]40 to 50 years old, Black/African American male. Ani’s ex-husband; an unemployed truck driver who doesn’t allow himself the luxury of self-pity; funny, engaging and playful; kind, would have made a great uncle for someone; working class, rough around the edges. Seeking actors of color for this role.
[ANI]Seeking an actress who is a wheelchair user or with mobility disability for this role.35 to 45 years old, open ethnicity, female. Eddie’s ex-wife; working class from North Jersey; she has a spinal cord injury because of a recent car accident and now uses a wheelchair; quadriplegic, though has some function in one hand; intense and brusque; hilariously foulmouthed, it’s her way or the highway, and she won’t hesitate to tell you so; a strong sense of self; dry sense of humor. This role requires partial nudity.
[JESS]25 to 30 years old, ethnicity open, female. John’s new caregiver; down-to-earth, working class; first-generation from an immigrant family; went to Princeton but has fallen on hard times. Overworked, under- qualified, and nearly homeless, she has a lot of potential but is working three jobs and still living paycheck-to-paycheck; a tough cookie, skittish, perhaps a bit too quick to defend herself. Seeking actors of color for this role.
[JOHN]Seeking a disabled actor for this role. 25 to 30 years old, male. A good-looking and very intelligent doctoral student; has cerebral palsy; uses a wheelchair and requires the assistance of a part-time caregiver. A rich grad student at Princeton, has the confidence and polish of a guy who comes from money; quick witted with a blunt sense of humor; he has a slight speech impediment due to the tension of his cerebral palsy. This role requires nudity.
SUBMIT ELECTRONICALLY TO: Stephen Sachs email@example.com