Tag Archives: Ahmanson

The spirit that smiles on CTG’s ‘Block Party’ celebrating intimate theatre in Los Angeles

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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:

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Stephen Sachs

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.

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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.

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Gordon Davidson celebration at the Ahmanson Theatre.

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Put “Los Angeles” Back into the Los Angeles Times for LA Theatre

by Don Shirley

During the holiday season, the LA Times (aka LAT) demonstrated anew its curiously constricted view of the importance of the other LAT — LA theater.

Charles McNulty

Times theater critic Charles McNulty’s year-in-review roundup included a Top 11 list of theatrical productions, of which only two (Blackbird and Peace in Our Time) were LA-originated. Two other shows on his list, The Cripple of Inishmaan and Let Me Down Easy, were imported by LA area theaters. One Orange County production, Circle Mirror Transformation, also made McNulty’s list.

The other six shows on the list – more than half of the total – included a Canadian import McNulty saw in La Jolla (Jesus Christ Superstar), three shows he saw in New York (The Book of Mormon, The Motherfucker with the Hat and The Normal Heart), and two he saw in London (Luise Miller and One Man, Two Guvnors). McNulty also wrote a separate year-end essay that mentioned other shows, including four LA-originated productions, but they didn’t appear on his Top 11 list.

Whenever a critic tries to cover more than one geographical area in a year-end theater assessment, especially if traveling among the areas involves crossing not only continents but also oceans, I wonder how the critic could possibly have seen enough of the contenders in any one of the areas to make reasonably comprehensive judgments. To be fair to McNulty, it’s true that he wrote that these were the shows that “had me clapping loudest at home and abroad” – not that these were necessarily the best shows in the 2011 theatrical world or even in these particular cities.

Even so, a lot of readers probably assume that the chief LA Times critic reviews or at least sees most of the better LA shows. But it ain’t necessarily so.

RADAR L.A.

I looked up the record of what McNulty wrote about in 2011, courtesy of one of the databases at the LA Public Library. I found 52 reviews of individual theater productions within LA and Orange counties (plus one review at Long Beach Opera and a RADAR L.A. commentary that included brief comments on several shows).

It’s no surprise that he reviewed Center Theatre Group shows more often than those of any other company – a total of 13 in 2011. The surprise about his CTG coverage is that only two of those 13 were at CTG’s flagship venue, the Mark Taper Forum. Four were at CTG’s largest theater, the Ahmanson, while seven were at CTG’s smallest venue, the Kirk Douglas. McNulty wrote about eight productions at Geffen Playhouse and seven at South Coast Repertory. He covered five shows at Broad Stage (all of them imports).

So 33 of his 52 individual theater reviews in Los Angeles and Orange counties took place at those four companies, which are more or less regarded as the “1%” of LA theater by many of the “99%” who work elsewhere in the vast LA theater terrain.

McNulty also spent time in the major San Diego theaters, reviewing five shows at La Jolla Playhouse and four at the Old Globe (plus one at San Diego Rep, which he later re-reviewed when it came to LA).

Oddly enough, McNulty largely avoided one of our major theaters, the Pasadena Playhouse, even though 2011 was the year when it rebounded from bankruptcy. McNulty reviewed only one of the playhouse’s productions, Dangerous Beauty. He ignored the return of the playhouse’s Sheldon Epps as a director in Blues for an Alabama Sky (it opened the same night as the Mark Taper Forum’s Vigil – but McNulty didn’t review Vigil either).

Although 2011 was the year when A Noise Within moved from Glendale to larger digs in Pasadena, McNulty wrote only about the company’s opening show (Twelfth Night) in the new theater, not about the final season of three (better) productions in the former space or the new theater’s second show.

"Small Engine Repair" at Rogue Machine

He didn’t write about any of the four 2011 shows that won the top production honors at last year’s Ovation Awards ceremony (A Raisin in the Sun, Kiss Me Kate, Small Engine Repair, Jerry Springer: the Opera), nor has he has ever written (in his six years at the Times) about Troubadour Theater Company, which won the “best season” Ovation for the second time in three years.

He reviewed no 2011 shows at most of the companies that make up the middle tier of Equity-contracted LA theaters – the Colony, International City Theatre, East West Players, Theatricum Botanicum, Independent Shakespeare, the Falcon, Ebony Rep, Theatre West, Native Voices – nor did he write about anything at the larger musicals-only companies such as Musical Theatre West. He reviewed one production each at Reprise, REDCAT and the Skirball, plus the only Getty Villa production that was open for review in 2011. He wrote about one show each at the larger Pantages and Montalban theaters and at the Hollywood Bowl, as well as Cirque du Soleil’s Iris.

On the small theater (99-Seat Plan) level, he reviewed eight productions, including two at Boston Court and one each at six other venues. That’s eight out of the 371 productions that used the 99-Seat Plan in LA County in 2011, according to tentative figures from Actors’ Equity.       Continue reading