Playwright Martyna Majok almost missed receiving the call from her agent on winning the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play, Cost of Living. She was supposed to be serving jury duty that day. Instead, she had postponed it. She was, therefore, home in her New York apartment to receive the call that would change her career forever.
Sharing the story with our Fountain Theatre audience in a post-show Q&A discussion Saturday night, Martyna explained that her husband, actor Josiah Bania, had the day off work that day. They were planning on doing their taxes. He was taking a nap on the couch when Martyna’s phone rang around three o’clock. Her agent was on the phone screaming, “You won the Pulitzer!” Her reaction? She was furious. “How dare you!” she yelled back. “You know how much this means to me. This is not funny!” For nine minutes on the phone, Martyna’s agent tried to convince her. But she would have none it. It wasn’t until the texts began flooding in from friends — including one from her playwright pal Stephen Adly Guirgis — that she accepted that her wish had come true.
Since that fateful phone call, her life has spun into a whirlwind of national attention. Yet the work remains the same. The Fountain Theatre is proud to be producing the West Coast Premiere of her funny and beautiful play, and we’re pleased to now call her our friend and a member of our Fountain Family.
Every Monday night at the Fountain Theatre is Pay What You Want Night. One night each week, ticket payment is optional. We launched it last year as an offering to our community to make theatre accessible for everyone. We believe theatre should be affordable for all. We didn’t want the ticket price to keep anyone from experiencing live theatre at the Fountain. Our Pay What You Want Night has become popular and extremely successful. But what would be the public reaction if, for one night, the price of admission wasn’t the only thing optional? What if clothing was also not required?
I was jarred into contemplating this unexpected question because of an article in today’s New York Times. A contemporary art museum in Paris conducted its first-ever tour of its galleries given only for nudists. For one night in the museum, the art wasn’t the only handiwork on exhibit. The French nudist group, Paris Naturist Association, received interest in the museum tour from 30,000 people on Facebook. “I was imagining about 100 or 200 people might want to come, not 30,000,” said the group president. The event was limited to 160 people.
The tour was enjoyed by all. According to the article, it seemed the only challenge for the flock of nudists wasn’t the contest of keeping their eyes focused only on the artwork. It was keeping their bare bodies warm in the chilly museum halls. Even so, the nudist group president is now organizing future tours at other museums.
Ah, yes. Vive la France. Those artsy, wine-and-cheese-loving, free-living French. Would such an event ever happen in America? In a museum or a theatre? Or is America’s view of the human body too repressed, too puritanical? Would a nation outraged by seeing a First Lady’s bare arms tolerate the sight of The Mark Taper Forum filled with bare bodies? We celebrate when a play is eye-opening, not the audience.
Nudity is still viewed as silly at best or sinful at worst by large segments of the American public. Europe, by comparison, is much more lenient about public display of unclothed bodies.
So, will “Nude Night” one day become a popular American night out at the theatre? American audiences may no longer be astonished to see nudity on stage. But what about seeing it on the patron sitting next to you? Think about the actors. In an intimate theatre like the Fountain, would any costume-wearing actor be able to concentrate on their own performance while playing to a full house of naked people? It’s the classic “actor’s nightmare” coming true, in reverse. I mean, look at the poor man in this photo (above). This dedicated and fully clothed museum tour guide, elucidating on an art piece’s influence, history and visual application techniques, must be having an out-of-body experience.
Comfortable or not, I may need to start preparing our ushers at the Fountain. Social nudism is on the rise in the United States. It is one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the country. There are now thousands of nudist groups, resorts and organizations across the United States. Why?
For those who practice it, nudism represents an aspect of life that has been lost, a way to get away from the technology that permeates every aspect of modern life, to feel free in one’s natural state, more alive. When shedding clothing, some of the barriers blocking honest human interaction fall away. Social distinctions disappear. Stereotypes can dissolve. Self-empowerment and awareness arrives. Nudism challenges the conventional beliefs we have about each other, ourselves and our society. It can also just be fun and help us feel good.
“It’s a sense of freedom, a sense of being one with whatever it is,” one nudist describes.
If true, then a theatre, where the soul of man is stripped and laid bare, may be the perfect home after all.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
Our Fountain Family is at the core of our theatre. This week, I had the privilege to sit down with a few of our patrons before the Monday night performance of our hit production, The Chosen. Our conversations were not only enriching but made me proud of our thriving LA theater community.
At the beginning of the night, I spoke with Fountain first-time patrons Debbie and Cathy. They expressed how they are usually season ticket holders at the Mark Taper Forum and generally like to view larger productions in the LA area. However, when they heard that Chaim Potok’s The Chosen was being performed, they bought tickets. “It’s one of my favorite books,” Cathy exclaimed.
The exceptional reviews for The Chosen have been bringing more first-time patrons to our door. So has the universal message of acceptance that is at the core of both the book and stage adaptation. The play has also been very inspirational and heartwarming for LA’s Jewish community, bringing some back to the beauty and wisdom of tradition. While speaking with patrons, I met a group of Sephardic theatre goers who were also equally excited to see Chaim Potok’s work adapted for the stage. Here is a snippet of my conversation with Fountain patrons Karin, Aliza and Victor.
Q: Is this your first time at the Fountain?
Victor: No, we were here many years ago. This has been here a long time, no? Maybe like 30 years ago.
Q: Do you like to see theater in LA?
Victor: Yes yes, we love [theatre] …. We used to [go] all the time at the Ahmanson and buy their [season subscription] but not this year.
Aliza: Well you have a community that is goes to theater. You have a community for everything [in LA.]
Victor: One of the things that I like about Los Angeles is that there is theater. You know, I’m from Mexico City. We are from Mexico City. (Pointing to himself and Aliza) She is from Buenos Aires, (Pointing to Karin) Mexico City is the place for theatres, ya know. So I am used to the theatre. That’s why one of the reasons I like to be here in Los Angeles is because this is where things are happening. When I moved to California, first I moved to Del Mar and I found it quite boring.
Q: Where is that?
Victor: Del Mar is north of San Diego. Even San Diego itself is no comparison to Los Angeles. Of course, this is no comparison with New York. I wish I were in New York and I’m not in New York so at least I’m in Los Angeles.
Debbie and Cathy
Q: What brought you tonight to The Chosen?
Victor: Our friend Karin invited us!
Karin: The president of our synagogue, we’re Jewish, told me. We like Flamenco so we told them that they play Flamenco there. He said, “We saw The Chosen there!” So we bought tickets.
Q: Have you read The Chosen?
All: Yes! Of course!
Q: How has your overall experience been so far since getting to the theater?
Victor: I just arrived here and very excited. I like very much plays. As I was telling you, we buy the yearly pass for the Ahmanson Theater. It’s a completely different experience. I think here it’s more the kind of people who are really interested in theater.
Aliza: The good thing in LA is the people. You will have people from India, from Mexico from South America from Europe! You have a mix of cultures and it’s the same in the theater. You will have theaters for certain groups. Every area has its own community!
Q: And will you be back for Forever Flamenco at the Fountain?
Victor: (gesturing to his wife Aliza) We have children who are twins and yesterday was their 18th birthday. And I told Aliza, I wanted to go to a restaurant to see Flamenco. I didn’t know it was here. Because I wanted to see something Flamenco. We are Sephardic, ya know. Sephardic from Spain. There was a Sephardic show in one of the synagogues in Beverly Hills but I wasn’t able to take my children. I want them to see, so we’ll be here!
If you’d like to share your own experience at The Fountain Theatre on our Fountain Folk blog, please contact Outreach Coordinator, Dionna Michelle Daniel at firstname.lastname@example.org
Everyone has them. The favorite relatives who visit at a family gathering. A cherished pair of grandparents, a blessed aunt and uncle. Family members so fun, so kind-hearted, supportive and filled with good cheer that you actually look forward to seeing them. For all of us at the Fountain Theatre for decades, Marcia and Mirk Mirkin were that treasured duo. We lost Mirk (Irwin) in 2015 at the age of eighty-eight. We now say good-bye to Marcia Mirkin, who passed away last Friday at eighty-three.
Marcia and Mirk were so connected as a couple, so deeply married, that Mirk passed away on June 20th, the day of their 60th wedding anniversary. That kind of devoted bond at life’s end was no stranger to me. My mother died on the 52nd anniversary of her wedding to my father.
Mirk and Marcia Mirkin were jolly parents to all of us at the Fountain. Mirk with his sly grin and playful glint in his eyes. Marcia, arms open wide, the big mamma you wish you had, proudly bestowing you with accolades when you hit a home run and scolding you lovingly when you sometimes struck out.
Marcia kept coming to the Fountain after Mirk passed. Nothing would keep her away from the theatre she loved. As her own health declined, she’d still get herself here for every production, even when she now required extra help getting to her seat.
Marcia spoke forcefully from the stage at our memorial service for our beloved staff member, Ben Bradley. And she mourned with us when we lost our subscription sales diva, Diana Gibson. Diana and Marcia were close pals.
My strongest feeling of Marcia Mirkin is her huge embrace. Marcia wrapping her large arms around me, smiling broadly, bathing me in praise like a son. I bet each and every one of us at the Fountain felt they were her favorite. She made you feel that way.
Marcia passed away on Friday, December 8th, 2017, by her own choice. She was in hospice care at home in terminal condition and had been approved for the End of Life program at Kaiser. It breaks my heart to learn of her passing but I admire her decision to conclude her life on her own terms.
The Fountain Theatre was on her mind days before her final Friday. As one of her last mortal duties, she had her daughter Karen send me a manuscript written by a patient she knew in a prison hospice unitsuffering from AIDS and MS, encouraged by his therapist to tell his life story in his own words. Marcia believed it was a story of “trauma, healing and redemption.” Telling his life story “could help at-risk youth and prevent them from going into the penal system.” She thought it could make a good play.
This was on her mind, in her heart, days before she had scheduled her own exit from this world.
Our hearts ache with the loss of our dear friend, Marcia Mirkin. We salute a remarkable woman who enjoyed a meaningful life. Even gone, she and Mirk will remain with us always.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
Neuroscientists have now proven what theatre folk have felt for years. The heart beats of audience members actually synchronize and beat together in unison when watching a live performance of a play or musical.
The scientists found that as well as individuals’ emotional responses, the audience members’ hearts were also responding in unison, with their pulses speeding up and slowing down at the same rate, regardless of if they knew each other or not.
Dr Joe Devlin, who led the study, said: “Usually, a group of individuals will each have their own heart rates and rhythms, with little relationship to each other. But romantic couples or highly effective teammates will actually synchronize their hearts so that they beat in time with each other, which in itself is astounding.”
According to Encore Tickets, 59% of people say they have felt emotionally affected by a live performance, and 46% say they enjoy the theatre experience because of the atmosphere that comes with being in the audience.
Dr Devlin said, “Experiencing the live theatre performance was extraordinary enough to overcome group differences and produce a common physiological experience in the audience members.”
The study went on to find that couples and friends continue to have synchronized heart beats during the intermission. Dr Devlin explained: “Our hypothesis is that it’s at this point, the intermission, that the audience members are engaged with each other, discussing the show within their social groups. During this social interaction with each other, we can see that their in-group arousal synchronizes with each other but not with the audience members as a whole.”
Past studies have shown that in environments that cause bodies to synchronize in this way, people are more likely to bond and like each other.
“This clearly demonstrates, ” says Devlin, “that the physiological synchronicity observed during the performance was strong enough to overcome social group differences and engage the audience as a whole.”
In other words, this unified beating of hearts when experiencing live theatre can help break social differences and bring people together.
Can there be a higher calling? We don’t think so. We believe theater’s fundamental and most sacred purpose is to bring a diverse variety of individuals to a common place where they share a meaningful human experience together, as one. This new study proves it, physiologically. Our hearts actually beat together.
This beautiful information comes as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving. It reaffirms, for all of us at the Fountain Theatre and to you, how much we are thankful for.
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.
She was sitting with friends in the third row of the center section. Good seats close to the aisle. She was enjoying our world premiere of Athol Fugard’s The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek. An older woman, she liked going to the theatre and had seen many plays over her long span of theatre-going. She also had a history of heart trouble.
Midway through the first act, audience members nearby noticed that she was becoming restless. She leaned forward like she was trying to stand. Suddenly, as the performance continued on stage, she passed out in her seat, unconscious. As the play unfolded, the woman’s friend dashed out of the theatre and alerted the house manager in the lobby. When paramedics arrived, the performance was stopped and the house lights came up. The stage manager stepped forward and made an announcement to the audience. The actors stood motionless on stage and patrons watched in hushed silence as the emergency team entered the auditorium, put the woman on a stretcher and wheeled her out to the waiting ambulance which then sped away into the night. Meanwhile, inside the theatre, the lights went back down. The performance continued. Shaken and dazed, the actors and audience then took on the shared task of rebuilding the imaginary world they both had created and were inhabiting together.
Emergency incidents like this are jarring and upsetting wherever they occur. And they feel strangely at odds and in sudden conflict with the imagined reality in a theatre when they interrupt a play being performed. Like that jolting moment in a movie theater when the projector suddenly breaks and the movie stops. The screen that one moment ago held glorious vistas of outer space or the intimate electricity of a lover’s kiss — without warning goes blank. The lights come up. You are violently thrust back into real life. You look around, disoriented, no longer on a faraway planet or in a seducer’s bed. You’re in a multiplex.
Over our twenty-five year history, the Fountain Theatre has endured a handful of emergency incidents in the audience and on stage during a performance or immediately after. A patron passing out in the front row, an actress collapsing in the middle of a performance, an actor having a heart attack on his drive home. And, of course, the murder of a director in his apartment prior to coming to rehearsal.
Each of these turmoils remind us of the delicate uncertainty of each of our lives and theatre’s seemingly impossible task to express it. Yet that is its aspiration. Then life intervenes.
Conflict is the engine that drives a good play. We go the theatre to witness human beings struggle to overcome a life-or-death conflict. Its one thing to watch a fictional character battle for survival on stage. Quite another to see it happening to the person sitting next to you in the audience. Drama is meant to erupt on stage, not in the auditorium. In plays, we watch bad things happen to good people to learn an important truth about ourselves. But when bad things happen to good people in the audience, perhaps a deeper and harder truth is enacted. One that no play can equal.
Good theatre, theatre that matters, is not an escape or diversion from the reality of life. It is an art form attempting to explore and shed light on human experience. A good play will try to make sense of what often seems senseless, to give meaning to that which feels meaningless, to illuminate the dark.
Hamlet instructs the band of players that the purpose of theatre is to hold a mirror up to nature. But, as these emergency incidents brazenly remind us, theatre is not real life. It is merely a reflection of the reality that stands before all of us. And when real life intervenes in the theatre, the mirror shatters, the spell is momentarily broken. We are shaken awake from the dream we have entered and are reminded of the precarious fragility of life and the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”
Then the lights dim once again. And the performance goes on.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
We enjoy getting emails and online comments from our Fountain audiences as we open and run our stage productions. Keeping an open and ongoing dialogue between artists and audiences is vitally important to us. Preview audiences are now getting an early look at our Los Angeles Premiere of My Name Is Asher Lev — and they love what they’re seeing. Audiences are leaping to their feet in standing ovations. Here are a few comments posted by patrons after seeing our first two previews this weekend:
” A beautifully written and superbly acted play. Never have I seen a play where there is passion in every single scene, in every single line. A true theater-goer’s gift.” – Terry
“I thoroughly enjoyed this dynamic dramatic presentation based on the Chaim Potok novel. The three member cast is strong and convincing in the multiple characters they portrayed. The play presents the relationship and strains in an orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn when the mother and father have to deal with a son impelled from childhood to draw and paint; artistic endeavors not valued by his family nor the Hasidic community in which they are embedded . The play offers a glimpse into the customs, religious practices and values of a Hasidic family.” – Zamira P.
“This is one moving piece of theatre ! Bravo to all!” – Barbara G.
“I’m happy I was there! So wonderful!” – Rhoda
“Loved My Name is Asher Lev! Get thee to the Fountain!” – Barbara B.
We invite you to come see what folks are raving about. Discount previews continue this week, Wednesday through Friday. We officially open this Saturday, February 22nd and run to Apirl 19th.
In theatre and baseball, nothing beats watching a well-made play.
Right now, the Dodgers are the hottest team in baseball. Burning up the National League West, nearly 10 games ahead in first place and streaking toward the playoffs with only 30 games left to play. They’ve achieved an astounding turnaround since the season began. Only two months ago in June, they were in last place. Then a miracle happened. Transformation. They now have the best record in baseball since the All Star break. LA fans are elated, fired up. Dodger Stadium is selling out, the stands filling up with folk eager to watch, share and be part of this thrilling live event. Feverish with the same zeal of rushing to see a hit Broadway show. Why?
Sure, everyone loves a winner. But if the Dodgers had leapt into first place from day one of the season our delirium today would be far less electric. Winning would become expected and, as all good playwrights know, giving the audience what’s expected kills drama. The Dodgers story this season is dramatic because they began the year so badly. Their story has what playwrights call dramatic arc.
In crafting a well-made play, the playwright shapes the story so that the protagonist (lead character) undergoes dramatic change: the character begins the journey one way and then, by overcoming a series of trials and obstacles, ends the play fundamentally different in some way. Opposite from how he began. Like, say, beginning as a bad team in last place and then winning the pennant in first place at the end. Just saying.
Part of the joy of watching baseball is the relief of losing yourself in something that has nothing to do with whatever it is you do in real life. Even so, one can’t help see similarities between baseball and professional theatre.
In both theatre and baseball, the crowd gathers together in a common place to engage in a live, shared dramatic experience.
A baseball game and a stage play both have a beginning, middle and end building toward a final resolution in which the dramatic question “who will win?” is ultimately answered.
A stage play and a baseball game are driven by the same engine: conflict. Both have good guys and bad guys, heroes and enemies, humor, action, spectacle, courageous deeds and foolish gaffes, turns of direction and a climax resulting in either a sad or happy ending.
Both theatre and baseball require teamwork and collaboration. We focus on the players in front of us but there is a huge staff of unseen professionals behind the scenes who make the whole experience possible.
Theatre and baseball require years of training and a tremendous amount of practice. Contrary though it may seem, on the field and on the stage, repetitive drilling frees the player so he can let go and perform spontaneously, alive in the moment.
A baseball team, like a cast of actors on stage, are both an ensemble who not only play well together but must also rely on the skill of lead players.
Theatre and baseball are romantic. We idolize our favorite stars on stage and on the field. We swap stories about our favorite memories, spin yarns, follow careers of favorite players, share legends, recall highlights and laugh (or agonize) over famous flops.
Stage plays and baseball games are made of specific moments. A great baseball game and a powerful play can each have the power to contain that one unforgettable moment — that one crystalized instant of perfect artistry, of joyous elation or agonizing heartbreak that sears itself into your soul forever. You remember it, that baseball play or that moment on stage, for the rest of your life.
In baseball and theatre, we lose ourselves in the live dramatic event that is unfolding in front of us in real-time. We watch the struggle of other human beings engaged in dramatic conflict and care deeply about their outcome. Who will perish? Who survive?
Both theatre and baseball are a living, breathing experience that is only meaningful with audience interaction. Other human beings.
After watching a thrilling baseball game or seeing an unforgettable stage play, we exit the ballpark or theater and walk to our car or the subway with the same giddy elation. We’re wrung out, exhausted. And stirred up, juices flowing, exhilarated. We can’t stop yakking about the miracle we’ve just seen. Or we are heartbroken and grow quiet and sullen and can’t speak. Then there are those times, after seeing a great baseball game or an extraordinary piece of theatre, when we can not move. At all. The game or stage play is over. We sit in our seat. Paralyzed. Staring at the empty field or stage. Marveling at what we’ve just lived through.
Lived through. We have just shared in a meaningful live experience with other human beings. We are alive.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.