France-Luce Benson has been honored by the Entertainment Community Fund (formerly the Actors Fund) with the 2023 Teaching Artist Award for Innovative Curriculum. France-Luce was recognized for pioneering Fountain Voices, the Fountain Theatre’s arts education program serving students in schools throughout Southern California. The award is supported by the generosity of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The majority of students in the Fountain Voices program have never seen a play, read a play, or know much about theatre at all. Ms. Benson observed in her thank-you remarks, “They are completely unaware of the power of theatre – which is that it is a space for us to use our voices. Many of the students have never been given that kind of space. They don’t know they have a voice, or that what they have to say matters. Many of them have never been asked to think about what matters to them, what is important to them – let alone write about it. And it’s exciting to watch them come alive when they begin to discover that, to discover who they are, what they care about. And the most exciting thing is not to see them use their voices, but to experience their desire to be heard, to step into the belief that they have a right to be heard.”
Congratulations, France-Luce! We’re proud of the educational outreach work we do at the Fountain. Thanks for laying out the blueprint to help make it happen.
The Fountain Theatre is pleased to add Sherrick O’Quinn to its staff as Theatre Education Manager. In the newly-created position, Mr. O’Quinn is responsible for cultivating and strengthening all strategic community educational partnerships for The Fountain Theatre, enhancing its profile as an arts education leader in Los Angeles. Most important, he will oversee the theatre’s various arts education programs under the banner, Fountain for Youth. The programs include Walking the Beat and Fountain Voices.
Sherrick O’Quinn is an actor, educator, minister, and artist originally from Louisville, KY. He began his career in Louisville, KY working on stage and in film, TV, commercials and voiceover prior to moving to Los Angeles to complete his MFA in Acting degree at the University of Southern California. He formerly ran the GO College program which empowered and prepared at-risk high school students for college-going and career readiness prior to pursuing acting full-time. He spends his time acting, creating, coaching and working as a teaching artist. Sherrick is blessed to be part of Fountain Theatre’s mission to support and amplify diverse voices and create tangible change. His aim is to find intersections in art, work, and his daily life to be a change agent that encourages others to step into their voice, purpose, and light.
The Fountain Theatre has been awarded a WarnerMedia Arts and Culture grant funded by the AT&T Foundation to support Walking the Beat Los Angeles, a pioneering arts education program for inner city high school youth and police officers.
Now in its second year at the Fountain, Walking the Beat utilizes performing arts as a vehicle for youth empowerment and community building, providing transformative experiences for underserved youth and police officers.
Eighteen 9th through 12th graders from five Los Angeles area schools — Hawthorne High School, Hollywood High, Los Angeles High School of the Arts @ RFK, Pasadena High and San Pedro High — have been working since mid-June with two detectives from the Los Angeles School Police Department and one officer from the UCLA Police Department’s Crime Prevention Unit to create Blackout 2021, an original multi-media performance work that focuses on the shift from a culture of incarceration to a culture of care. Each of the students receives a stipend as well as community service hours.
Written by Walking the Beat curriculum director and program facilitator Angela Kariotiswith original writings by the ensemble, Blackout 2021 is directed by Theo Perkins. Perkins is executive and artistic director of New Jersey’s Elizabeth Youth Ensemble, which created the program five years ago. The Los Angeles creative team also includes choreographer Nicholas Rodriguez, sheltered yoga instructor Tine LeMar and drama therapist Adam Stevens. Due to the pandemic, Blackout 2021 was conceived as a virtual/hybrid program and will be screened on the Fountain Theatre’s Covid-safe outdoor stage over the course of two evenings at the end of August.
“Although we all miss being on stage, there was an urgency to keep this work going,” says Perkins. “By taking advantage of the digital space, we were able to invite guest artists from all over the country to join us virtually to help generate writing and ideas. This virtual model of devising theater teaches us a lot about radical imagination, radical creativity, and challenges us to explore new methods of solidarity building.”
Kariotis states, “This summer, we integrated a design thinking framework. This means we work together to identify and solve our own problems. We started with the question, how might we shift from a carceral state to a culture of care? We cast our focus wider, beyond any individual people, and onto the day-to-day systems, policies, processes, and habits that entangle us.”
In addition to Warner Media, Walking the Beat Los Angeles is supported in part by the Fountain Theatre, The Vladimir & Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, David and Mary Jo Volk, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and the 13th District, L.A. County Department of Probation, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, The Allison Thomas Racial Justice Fund, The Phillips-Gerla Family, Sharyk Overhoser, Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber, Friars Charitable Foundation, Toby and Daniel Bernstein, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
The Fountain Theatre is committed to theater as a change agent and to serving the community.
“In these highly charged times, nothing is more urgent than promoting better understanding between young people of color and the police who serve their communities,” notes artistic director Stephen Sachs. “Walking The Beat does just that and more. It changes lives. The powerful curriculum and methodology have been proven — through pre- and post-workshop interviews, surveys and testimonials — to produce real, on-the-ground change.”
Founded in 1990 by Sachs and Deborah Culver, the Fountain Theatre has won hundreds of awards for all areas of production, performance and design, and provides an essential voice for the citizens of Los Angeles. Dedicated to community, the Fountain produces outstanding theater that challenges thinking and shines an artistic light on the many under-represented voices and cultures within Los Angeles. Eric Garcetti joined with the Los Angeles City Council to commend the Fountain for “achieving a position of leadership in the Los Angeles theatre community… producing meaningful new plays of social and political importance that enrich the lives of the citizens of Los Angeles.” During the pandemic, the Fountain was approved by the City of L.A. to build an outdoor stage in its parking lot. As a result, it was one of the first venues to re-open in June. Currently playing on the outdoor stage is the Fountain’s critically acclaimed L.A. premiere of An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, which runs through Sept. 19. The theater is also presenting Forever Flamenco al fresco during the last weekends of August and September.
Established in 2016, the Elizabeth Youth Theater Ensemble’s mission is centered upon strengthening the voices of young artists. Utilizing theater-arts based curricula, EYTE provides creative learning opportunities for inner city youth that allow them to gain confidence, communication skills and self-awareness. EYTE seeks to create experiences that empower youth, developing theater as a powerful place for community
Screenings of Blackout 2021 take place on Wednesday, Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. and Thursday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. on the Fountain Theatre’s outdoor stage. The Wednesday evening event will include special remarks and commendations by L.A. City officials. A reception will follow each of the screenings. Admission to the performances is free and open to the public(reservations necessary). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles CA 90029 (corner Fountain and Normandie). For more information and to make a reservation, call (323) 663-1525 or visit FountainTheatre.com/walking the beat.
The Fountain Theatre announces Fountain Voices, an innovative arts education initiative that utilizes the power of theater to promote compassion and acceptance of others. The program launched at Hollywood High School in Fall 2020 and is now expanding to the Compton Unified School District, where it will commence March 8 at Clarence A. Dickinson K-8.
Integrating playwriting, critical thinking and performance, Fountain Voices guides students in the creation of original plays about issues that matter to them, helping them gain a better understanding of themselves and each other, and shedding light on the issues they see impacting their own communities.
“The students themselves choose the topics they want to write about,” says playwright France-Luce Benson,who serves as the Fountain’s community engagement director. “The Hollywood High kids wrote plays about depression, what it means to be queer and cope with homophobia, racial identity and homelessness among young people, among other things.”
Although the first phase, at Hollywood High, was implemented virtually due to Covid restrictions, that did not hinder the students’ ability to form deep, long lasting connections. According to teacher Ali Nezu, “Fountain Voices provided a safe and engaging environment in the midst of distance learning, as well as an authentic artistic experience that combined social emotional learning with English language arts development.”
The nine-week program kicks off with a virtual viewing of Benson’s play, Detained. Originally commissioned by Judy Rabinowitz of the ACLU, Detained is based on interviews with long time U.S. residents held in immigration detention and/or deported, their family members, advocates, attorneys and representatives of ICE. Their collective voices weave a compelling and complicated tapestry that emphasizes the impact immigration detention has on families.
Following the performance, students discuss the process of creating plays based on interviews, as well as the significance of sharing stories as a way to build community. Students are encouraged to think about what communities they belong to, what their stories are, and how they want their stories to be told. Social justice issues raised by the play are explored and used as a launching pad for students to think critically about the issues that impact their own communities. Students are then given the opportunity to engage (virtually) with each other through acting games and exercises designed to teach vital communication skills. As they learn about one another, students are also introduced to the key elements of playwriting. A major component of the curriculum is the interviews that students conduct with members of their own communities. Once those are completed, students collaborate with one another to craft short plays and monologues about the communities they live in and the ones they aspire to create.
Sixth, seventh and eighth graders will be the first to participate at Clarence A. Dickinson, with additional Compton Unified schools adopting the program, provided by the Fountain Theatre at no cost to the district, in the near future. “We are bringing Fountain Voices to our students because I believe that our students need the arts now more than ever,” stated Clarence A. Dickinson principal Rebecca Harris. “This will support our students’ literacy skills in a unique and engaging way.”
Concludes Benson, “Every voice deserves to be heard. Profound change can happen when we listen, and our collective voices can inspire compelling stories.”
Fountain Voices is made possible, in part, by support from Mary Jo and David Volk, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation and Sharyl Overholser.
Leslie R: I was able to meet 6 of the most incredible people I could ever imagine… They made me love something, they reminded me that a family is not DNA. That’s what the program was to me, a family, a community. I learned to love, and through it, I was able to find a little piece of myself.
Delfin G: I was a really shy and reserved student before but being here helped me be more open and sharing that script really did something for me… Hearing those other stories and accounts by my peers was really eye-opening.
Ashley C: The Fountain voices program is a loving and safe space where there is never a right or wrong approach. It feels more like family than just a group and going from strangers to what I consider friends and family in a span of months is amazing.
Madison M: I not only loved the camaraderie of those who were involved in the program, but I cherished the community we built together… Writing is painful, therapeutic, cathartic, beautiful, and fulfilling all at the same time.
Know a college student looking for a paying job over the next few months? Someone who likes theatre and enjoys reaching out to people from a wide variety of communities? The Fountain is the place.
The Fountain Theatre is now accepting applications to hire one Community Engagement Intern. The internship will begin Monday, October 5th, 2020 and end Friday, February 26, 2021. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the intern will work remotely from home for part or all of the internship. Weekly hours will vary week to week, from 15 hours per week to a full-time 40-hour schedule depending on the workflow. The rate of pay is $15 per hour, to fulfill 400 hours by February 26, 2021.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors established the Arts Internship Program to provide undergraduate students with meaningful on-the-job training and experience in working in nonprofit arts organizations. This is our seventh year participating in the program. Each intern has been helpful, has learned a great deal, and became part of our Fountain Family. We are still in contact with all of them.
Now in our 30th year, the award-winning Fountain Theatre is one of the most highly regarded intimate theatres in Los Angeles. The Fountain is dedicated to new plays that reflect the diversity of Los Angeles, educational outreach programs that enhance the lives of young people and utilizing theatre as a trigger for social action and community engagement.
Assist the Community Engagement Coordinator with outreach initiatives, including: Identifying organizations and diverse L.A. communities that align with The Fountain’s mission of inclusion and social justice. Serve as a teaching assistant for the Fountain’s educational outreach programs. Develop and execute methods to increase The Fountain’s Social Media presence. Contribute to our on-going efforts to create a more ethnically and generationally diverse audience base. Assist in initiatives to cultivate and maintain relationships with supporters and donors. Assist with development and fundraising campaigns. Provide administrative assistance wherever needed
The intern candidate must have basic computer and word-processing skills (PC, Word, Excel, Internet, all relevant social media platforms), good communications skills and pleasant phone manner, organizational skills, be detailed oriented, and have the ability to multi-task. She/he should be self-motivated and have the ability to work successfully from home, when required. Excellent writing and editing skills. Graphic design skills and education experience a plus (education experience may include summer camps, after school programs, children’s theatre). Spanish speaking students are encouraged to apply.
In order to be eligible, a candidate must: (a) have the legal right to work in the United States; (b) reside in or attend college within the County, (c) be currently enrolled in a community college or four-year college/university program; and (d) have completed at least one semester or the equivalent by June 1, 2020. Prospective graduates who will complete their undergraduate degree between May 1, 2020, and September 1, 2020, need not be currently enrolled at the time of the internship.
The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that playwright/teaching artist France-Luce Benson has joined the staff as Community Engagement Coordinator. Her duties will include overseeing the Fountain’s educational outreach programs and expanding the theatre’s interaction with audiences and local communities.
“As an artist committed to equanimity in representation and creating art that affects change, it is an honor to be a part of The Fountain Theatre, a company that is truly walking the walk, ” says Benson. “The many theatrical giants who The Fountain has produced over the years have not only influenced my work as a playwright, but they are representative of Los Angeles’ diverse cultural landscape. I am confident that my own cultural background will contribute to the important work The Fountain is doing to promote and inspire social justice.”
France-Luce Benson was named “Someone to Watch ” in 2019 by American Theatre magazine. As a playwright, she is a recipient of a Miranda Foundation grant (DETAINED), Alfred P. Sloan Foundation New Play Commission (DEVIL’S SALT), and a Princess Grace Award runner up (BOAT PEOPLE). Additional honors include: Zoetrope Grand Prize (CAROLINE’S WEDDING); Dramatists Guild Fellow 2016-17, Sam French OOB Festival Winner, NNPN Award for Best Play, and three time Kilroy List Honorable Mention. Residencies include Djerassi, the Camargo Foundation in France, and Instituto Sacatar in Bahia, Brazil. Her plays have had productions, workshops, and readings at Crossroads Theatre New Jersey, City Theatre of Miami, The Playwrights Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, City Theatre of Miami, Loyola Marymount University, Global Black Voices in London, and in New York The Lark, The Billy Holiday Theatre, and the Ensemble Studio Theatre where she is a company member. She’s been published by Samuel French and Routledge Press. She earned an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University and a BA in Theatre from Florida International University. Teaching appointments include UCLA Extension, St. Johns University, Columbia University, Girl Be Heard, and P.S. Arts/Inside Out in L.A. She is a proud member of The Dramatists Guild, Inc.
France-Luce teaches Story Analysis for Film and Television at UCLA Extension School. As a Dramatist Guild Fund teaching artist, she launched the Traveling Masters Program for NY Public Schools and was a guest lecturer at Columbia University, where she facilitated a playwriting intensive designed for the International Student Fellows of Columbia’s esteemed Human Rights Advocacy Program.
“We’re excited to welcome France-Luce to our Fountain Family,” says Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “She brings expertise, passion and insight to our community programming as the Fountain broadens its services into the future.”