Tag Archives: Ben Bradley

Conversations with Black Artists, Part III

by Terri Roberts

In this final segment of our Conversations with Black Artists series, we talk with director Shirley Jo Finney, and actors Gilbert Glenn Brown and Theo Perkins. We are grateful to all of the wonderful performers and creatives who have been so generous with their time and shared their thoughts about issues around race and their relationships with the Fountain Theatre. We hope you have enjoyed getting to know them a little better, as well.

Shirley Jo Finney

Director: From the Mississippi Delta, Central Avenue, Yellowman, The Ballad of Emmett Till, Heart Song, In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size, Citizen: An American Lyric

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

My first directing job at the Fountain was in1997, with From the Mississippi Delta by Endesha Ida Mae Holland.

2. How has your experience been working here?

I find the Fountain Theater supports their artists.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

All of them. Each of the shows are socially relevant and have impacted my artistic awareness as well as my expansion as a human being. It is the creative journey with the actors that hold the most meaning for me and not a particular show.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre? 

Not so much.

For me, the emergence of BIPOC is a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and 70’s. That movement changed laws and stopped a war. The cultural and black arts movement of that time laid the foundation for the raised fist we are experiencing now. I am a child of that time and my foundation as a creative was shaped by that time. It is the work I am called to do. Each generation is defined by their time. 

5. Why is Black History Month important

It brings a microscopic lens of awareness to a culture that historically has been erased. There would not be a need for a month if it were an intricate part our education system.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

I hope many more active and healthy years!

I have adapted creatively during “the time of Covid.” It has opened up a whole new world of Zoom lectures discussing my journey and body of work as a director. I also am relishing the world of Zoom productions using the “mashing” of stage and digital to create story.

Gilbert Glenn Brown

Actor: Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

My very first audition and show with Fountain Theatre was early on when I first arrived to Los Angeles from NY and that was Scottsboro Boys.

2. How has your experience been working here?

My experience at the Fountain in one word… community. Truly the closest experience I’ve had in LA to a NY theatre experience. I feel that a sense of community in theatre is necessary. I enjoy being part of it, and the Fountain is able to foster that to an incredible degree,

The commitment to presenting productions that not only entertain, but transform, educate, and energize is so key. It breaks down walls, opens eyes and allows dialogue. The Fountain does that extremely well. I consider the Fountain my LA theatre home.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

I have to say that every single show I’ve had the honor of being a part of at the Fountain has been transformational for me. Every opportunity I’ve had to step onto that stage and look out into that small, yet giant, space, has changed me and allowed me to grow as an artist and as a human being. As an artist, that’s what you want – because if it moves you in that way, it will no doubt move the audience as well.

I have had the opportunity, at the Fountain, to be directed by some of the best: the incredible Shirley Jo Finney, the wonderful Simon Levy and the late, legendary Ben Bradley.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre? 

Honestly, it has reinforced my conviction to continue doing exceptional, meaningful work as an artist. The projects I gravitate toward speak to the conditions of the world and ask the important questions, then set the stage for dialogue to occur.

There is a space for entertainment, for laughter, for fun – all that and more are a part of life and living. They exist even in classic tragedies, as they do in everyday issues and everyday life – but the responsibility of looking at all sides, of presenting the pleasure and the pain, falls on the artist. The unrest has always been there. The causes for that unrest have always been there. It’s just that now, due to social media/technology, that unrest is being broadcast and streamed 24/7 in real time and in living color. That doesn’t make it any easier, but it does make it more apparent.

Look at George Floyd, or the Capitol riots! Watching those events happen, live, presents the opportunity to either step up and be an active participant, or just sit back and watch. And that is something the Fountain stands on: Yes, of course, sit back. Please watch what’s happening. Go ahead and be uncomfortable by what you see on stage. Let it sink in, and let it transform you in some way. Let that experience provoke discussion, challenge your way of thinking or the way you see the world. That is the amazing opportunity that theatre presents.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

Black History? Well, I’ve been educated and enlightened to see that it’s not just “Black” History or just a month. It’s really World History. It’s really American History. The truth is that much that exists now wouldn’t exist at all without Black input, and, for that matter, without the input of many other cultures, races, religions, etc. America is an amalgamation of all that’s been added to the mix. There really shouldn’t be a limit to the reality of the impact that any culture has had on life in America. If we were to really embrace that truth, that inclusivity, what would, or could, America be?

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

Right now I’m working on the CW/DC show Stargirl. I will be seen as Martin Luther King Jr. opposite Jennifer Hudson in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, due out this August. And I’m always creating, writing and being part of projects that address what I see is missing from the world.

Theo Perkins

Actor: In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size, Raise Your Voice – Vote!

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

Shortly after graduating from UCLA, I received an audition for In the Red and Brown Water. This was my first introduction to the Fountain Theatre.

2. How has your experience been working here?

Transformative. The intimacy of the space really expanded my approach to performance in amazing ways. I’m proud to say the Fountain Theatre is my theater home.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

This is tough one. Each production is close to me to this day. I’d say, In the Red and Brown Water. Not only did it introduce me to Tarell McCraney’s work, but I also gained a tribe of amazing humans, all of whom I still talk to today.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

Well, I believe it served as a reminder of how important it is to have diverse voices in our theaters. Not only in terms of playwrights, but in all departments. The events of this summer shined a light on the years of inequity within our community. And it has pushed us all to do and to be better.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

It’s an intentional acknowledgment of the undeniable contributions African-Americans have made in this country. It’s a reminder that our history should be honored. And studied. And used to inspire younger generations.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

During the quarantine, I wrote and produced a film project that will come out this Spring. Look out for it! Also excited to re-launch Elizabeth Youth Theatre Ensemble’s social justice program, Walking the Beat, both in New Jersey and in Los Angeles at the Fountain Theatre. Both productions will actually be virtual.

Conversations with Black Artists, Part II

By Terri Roberts

Here, in the second part of our series of conversations with Black artists who have frequently worked with the Fountain Theatre, we talk with actor and director’s assistant Erinn Anova, as well as actors Karen Malina White and Victoria Platt. More conversations to come. Stay tuned!

Erinn Anova

Actor: Central Avenue, Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, Cyrano. Assistant to the Director: The Ballad of Emmett Till, In the Red and Brown Water

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I first came to the Fountain as the understudy for “Angel” in Central Avenue. Shirley Jo Finney had just directed me in Blues for an Alabama Sky in Northern California, and I’d recently moved to LA. She knew I was a huge jazz fan, and suggested I audition for the new play she was directing: Central Avenue. That play was so good! It went on for six months, so even as an understudy I had plenty of shows.

2. How has your experience been working here?

Great! I gained amazing friendships, and I’ve learned so much! I’ve had the opportunity to work with world-class playwrights, actors and designers. When I moved to New York, the Fountain was one of the few LA theatres that people have actually heard of. Overall, the Fountain feels like home – the quirks, the magic, the consistency. I just love it.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why? 

They have all been great, but I’m going to have to go with two, for very different reasons.

First, Cyrano. It was such a gift for me, as a hearing person, to be immersed in the deaf community. In this whole new world, I learned about deafness and its power, about language and somatics, and about life. It changed me.

As far as acting goes the whole cast was amazing, but sharing scenes with Troy Kotsur (Cyrano) was something-other-else. It’s what I imagine working with another genius, Charlie Chaplin, would be like, and I’m not exaggerating. I also have to shout out Stephen Sachs for casting me – a dark brown, short-haired black woman (someone not always so “visible” in Hollywood) as the love interest, Roxy. The fact that there was never even a conversation about it was even sweeter. 

Finally – very few people know this, but now’s as good a time as ever to share – a few years after Cyrano closed, and after some mysterious symptoms appeared, I was diagnosed with both hearing loss and an auditory processing disorder. It made so much of my life make sense, and now I wear hearing aids in both ears. That was a very scary time, and folks have no idea how badly regulated the hearing aid business is (that’s another story.) But because of Cyrano, I had people to reach out to. Maleni Chaitoo, one of the deaf actors, helped me tremendously with her knowledge and resources to navigate that journey, and I will always be grateful for her warm welcome into the hard of hearing/deaf community. Cyrano was a blessing.

Next, In the Red and Brown Water. For that show there was no “official” casting person – it was me! I was assisting Shirley Jo, and I believe James Bennett or Stephen gave me a general rundown of how to work the casting websites, and I was off and running. Of course, Shirley Jo gave me parameters of what to look for, but I am very proud of the amazing actors that I personally picked to come in for auditions. There were a few I even fought for: Diarra Kilpatrick, Maya Lynne Robinson, Stephen Marshall, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Justin Chu Cary and Simone Missick. Along with Iona Morris, Theo Perkins, Peggy Blow, and Dorian Baucum, this was one of the most phenomenal casts I’ve ever seen. They, along with Shirley Jo’s brilliant and elevating direction, made Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play fly. And they all turned out to be wonderful people, too! It’s been a joy to see everyone continue to shine bright in theatre, television, and film, and it’s even more of a blessing to be a part of the IRBW “family.”

One more: Direct From Death Row: Scottsboro Boys. This show has special meaning for me because Ben Bradley cast me in it. Rest in peace, Ben. Also, Mark Stein, who wrote it, and my brother, Harley White, Jr., who wrote the music, were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.  They lost out to some musical called Hamilton.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

My work has been impacted by the fact that that these conversations about racism are just now happening in the theatre world. At some point I stopped investing time and interest in pursuing work in “mainstream” theatres. As my grandmother would say, “Go where you’re wanted, honey.” I started in theatre very young (age 12) and in my naivete, I think I mistook the magic and camaraderie of theatre as a place where kindness and respect for humanity were built in. Often they are not. Some of my worst racial experiences have happened at theatres.  No place is perfect, but I appreciate that the Fountain has always been interested in producing plays, supporting playwrights, and hiring actors from various cultures, with different abilities, and with numerous points of view — including BIPOC. It’s unique.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

It’s American history.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

I’m currently producing a documentary based on a study done by the University of California. It’s about racial disparities in marijuana arrests and the cannabis industry, and it’s called When The Smoke Clears. I’ve ot two national commercials that should start airing this spring. And I found a fantastic illustrator, so my children’s book, Pretty Bun, will finally be published this summer!   

Karen Malina White

Actor: The Ballad of Emmett Till, Citizen: An American Lyric, Runaway Home

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I had auditioned for The Ballad of Emmet Till when it was being produced by The Goodman Theatre in Chicago. I was beat out by the one and only Deidrie Henry (Yellowman, Coming Home at the Fountain.) But a friend called me out of the blue to invite me to a reading of it at the Fountain. I was so excited! I hadn’t heard of the Fountain at that time but rushed and hoped I could get inside to hear the reading. I so loved the play and felt an enormous attachment to it. When I got there I saw both the playwright, Ifa Bayeza, and Oz Scott, who directed the Goodman production. I loved the new configuration with five actors playing all the parts, which was not the case in the Chicago production. Oz introduced me to Ben Bradley. Time moved on and that same friend, John McDonald. reached out to say that Ben Bradley was scrambling to find me to audition. So grateful and honored to have been a part of that life changing and bonding production.

2. How has your experience been working here?

Working at the Fountain is wonderful. It’s home now, and Stephen, Simon and Debra, the designers , (technical director) Scott Tuomey, and you, Terri, make every experience a joy!

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

The Ballad of Emmett Till, because it was my first and because of the tragic circumstances surrounding it as well as the eternal friendships that came out of that experience. Finally working with Shirley Jo Finney, too.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

I’m a company member of Antaeus, and we have been having some amazing conversations and taking major actions to be inclusive and reflect the most accurate picture of the best of America. It’s now a conscious decision to have our productions reflect inclusiveness and racial equity. We are looking forward to the work.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

Because it’s American History. African American History. So much of us know about the history of the dominant culture but not enough of other cultures. We have to remedy that.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

I have been fortunate enough to be working on The Proud Family reboot with Disney Plus Channel. Coming soon to the streaming service.

Victoria Platt           

Actor: Cyrano, Building the Wall, Natural Shocks (staged reading)

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I can’t recall the very first production I saw. It was waaay back. But it was late ‘90s that I started coming to see productions there. Victory, In the Red and Brown Water, Emmet Till, The Brothers Size to name a few. The first production I was in was Cyrano.

2. How has your experience been working here?

It’s always wonderful. Simon Levy and Stephen Sachs hold this work with great care and respect. Every production I see at the Fountain is inspiring, thought provoking, and well produced. Hard to find all those elements simultaneously.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

Everything I’ve done at the Fountain has been important. That’s what they do there – important, meaningful work. Natural Shocks brought gun violence and violence against women to the stage. I love that Stephen chose to give the play four voices instead of the one it was written as. Cyrano was an incredible experience because I was reunited with Troy Kotsur (we performed together in Pippin at the Mark Taper Forum) and it was a co-production with Deaf West (as was Pippin.) I learned ASL for Pippin and kept it up, so the opportunity to use ASL on the stage again, to bring theatre to hearing and deaf audience members, and to work again with Troy was a trifecta of awesomeness for me. Building the Wall though was probably the most poignant for me because of the content. Seeing how it all played out in the real world was a testament to the prophetic words of Robert Schenkkan. It was an honor to tell that story at that time. After each show I spoke with audience members who were not just impacted by the work but were compelled to action. That is one of the blessings of all the productions at the Fountain. They not only educate, and enlighten but inspire. Good theatre is supposed to do that.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

The issues that have emerged for some recently, have always been present within the BIBOC (Black Indigenous Bodies of Culture) community. I’m grateful to George Floyd and the countless others who shed their blood to shine a light on the injustices BIBOC have been experiencing for centuries. I’ve encountered more people willing to have real conversations about race, socio-economics and frankly all the ‘isms. And finally, the hard conversations are being had. I was accepted into Communal Consultations – a program created and run by My Grandmother’s Hands author Resmaa Menakem, which will deal with healing ancestral and racialized trauma. This training will allow me more insight into how I can use my work as an artist to bring more awareness and healing to people of all bodies.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

Unfortunately, Black History month is important because there is still grave inequality and oppression. People in Black bodies are still being murdered for no reason except being Black, and with no consequences. Black History Month is one of the necessary actions that highlight how people in Black bodies have contributed to the fabric of this nation; not just the fringe of it. In too many arenas, Black History Month is used as a performative practice, but sometimes even performative practices make their way past the ego and into the soul.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

For the past year I’ve been blessed to have recurring guest star work on NCIS, Good Trouble and Days of Our Lives. I’ve also been working as a motion capture (mocap) performer on a video game by 2K productions, which has yet to be named but due for release later this year. I can also be seen in A Cold Hard Truth, a film by Charles Murray (Luke Cage, Sons of Anarchy), now streaming on multiple platforms, and A Hard Problem, a film I also co-starred in, will release this March.

Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.

Conversations with Black Artists, Part I

By Terri Roberts

Over the past three decades, the Fountain Theatre has worked with a vast array of wildly talented Black actors, directors, designers and more. Many of them have worked with us on multiple productions over the years.

We reached out to several of these wonderful artists and asked them a variety questions on a wide range of topics.

Today we feature costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders, and actors Matthew Hancock and Bernard K. Addison. More conversations to come. Stay tuned!

Naila Aladdin Sanders

Costume Designer: Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, The Ballad of Emmett Till, A House Not Meant to Stand, Cyrano, The Blue Iris, In the Red and Brown Water, On the Spectrum, The Normal Heart, The Brothers Size, Reborning, Citizen: An American Lyric, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek, Runaway Home

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I had been working at Los Angeles City College for some years and doing freelance design jobs around town. I knew about the Fountain because I heard that Stephen Sachs was an alumni, and my husband, Henry, was a good friend of the original owner of the Fountain’s building, Jerry Holland. When the Fountain asked me to do the costume design for Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys (2002) I felt at home there and knew it was a safe creative space for me.

2. How has your experience been working here?

Every time I am asked to design a play at the Fountain I know that it will bring to light some new aspect of the human condition, and I continue to be excited about the collaboration used to bring those worlds to life.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

The Ballad of Emmett Till will always be the play that stands out for me, for many reasons. Ben Bradley was one of the most gracious directors that I have ever worked with. When I designed with him, we always had a lot of private conversations about what he wanted to see or what I was trying to do. He was always so appreciative of the contributions that designers made, and was careful that our vision was melding with his.

The play began, as all do, at a table read with the cast and production crew. Our first rehearsal date was January 3rd. As we gathered on that day, we learned that Ben had been killed in his home on New Year’s Day.

Enter Shirley Jo Finney, the healing presence who would call on the ancestors to put our broken cast back together, with prayers and affirmations and Auntie love. I don’t know of another person that could have made that happen the way she did. I developed a connection with that cast that I never had with any other. The play ran for several months, and many times as I would drive past the theatre on my way home from another long rehearsal on another show, and I would see the light on in the café. I knew my cast was up there. I would go upstairs and see them all together, as if it were opening weekend.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre? 

Last summer’s civil unrest was a culmination of the Black voices that have been crying out for decades, asking for justice, for inclusion, to at least be seen as human. George Floyd was killed by a police officer, and for eight minutes the rest of the world was shown just how little Black lives matter to some people, including those that are charged with protecting that life. Growing up in Los Angeles in the 50’s and 60’s was difficult for me as one of four children in a divorced household. I can bear witness to many of the consequences of the marginalization of black people. I hope that the protests do not let up until we are on a concrete path to real change.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

An awareness of the contributions of Black people in our country is important to us every day, not just in February. Unfortunately, since those contributions have been removed from most textbooks and not included in most school curriculums as another way to denigrate the importance of Black people in our country, the only way we will know our history is to teach it to each other.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

There are no theatre design projects in the works right now. I am working on several art projects and have been in talks with galleries for inclusion in their virtual shows. And I have been working on my quarantine garden.

Matthew Hancock

Actor: The Brothers Size, I and You, Hype Man, Between Riverside and Crazy

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I first came to the Fountain Theatre in 2014 to play the part of Oshoosi Size in the West Coast Premiere of The Brothers Size. Although, I did receive some sage advice from actor Jason George in 2013, who said, “Do a show at the Fountain.”

2. How has your experience been working here?

My experience working at the Fountain has always been extremely pleasant yet familiar.  I’ve always remarked that the Fountain has always felt like home. One of the beauties of working in intimate theatre is the strong bonds that are formed with the people. I have always felt supported and nurtured there.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

I have had the pleasure of being in four very different shows at the Fountain. All of them are jewels that I cherish for different reasons. Each of the characters that I’ve played on the Fountain stage have taught me something about myself, influenced a new thinking, or expanded my view. 

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre? 

Being an artist who is at the intersection of race and queer issues, much of what I try to do in my work is put my thumb on the pulse of these matters. In both The Brothers Size and Hype Man, the issue of civil rights is so much in the body of those plays. The work goes in hand-in-hand with what is going on outside the theatre doors. Holding up the mirror so that we can see ourselves and make some changes. From the micro to the macro. 

5. Why is Black History Month important?

Black History is important because it is American History. It’s world history. What this pandemic has reinforced is that we live interdependent of one another. We all require the same things. The contributions of Black Americans have been vast. The world enjoys the fruits of these labors. So the world should pay homage. 

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

You can catch me in the final season of Kidding on Showtime, and the revenge thriller Always and Forever on Amazon. Coming up next is the film Distancing Socially.

Bernard K. Addison

Actor: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Ballad of Emmett Till, Citizen: An American Lyric

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I was told about the Fountain Theatre somewhere around graduate school. As we were talking about where to go – New York or LA or Chicago – I remember my teacher saying, “Well, if you go to LA, there are a handful of theatres you should get involved with: one is Antaeus and the other is the Fountain Theatre.” So that stayed in my mind until I finally made the move to LA. My first audition at the Fountain was for Central Avenue. I booked it, but I had to drop out because I didn’t know if I could actually commit to the time frame. But then I got an audition for Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, and that really started my relationship with the Fountain.

2. How has your experience been working here?

When I finally started working with the late Ben Bradley on Joe Turner…, it was a needed time in my life. I needed to find a place where my aesthetic for acting and theatre could be really, truly appreciated, nurtured and encouraged. And that’s what I found when I did Joe Turner…. I prepared, I worked my butt off, I came in with an agenda every time for each rehearsal, and Ben recognized that. He was very personal with me, like “How do you think about this scene? What do you think needs to happen here?” He was actually treating me as a co-collaborator, and I really appreciated that. It was great to be not just a person who goes from A to B, but a collaborator. And each piece I have done since, I have had that sense. From Ben to Shirley Jo Finney, I don’t feel like I am just an actor, but I actually have a way of collaborating. The flow of ideas in the rehearsal room has always gone both ways. And that’s been very encouraging.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

Well, Joe Turner…, of course, was by one of the great playwrights, August Wilson, and was one of his great plays. I was playing one of the most dynamic characters in the canon, and doing that with a crackerjack team of actors, in a beautifully realized rendition of the play directed by Ben Bradley, and making it jump off the stage in that small space was beautiful. That particular production, with those actors, I hold dear to my heart.

Then there’s The Ballad of Emmett Till. We were lauded in so many ways with end-of-the-year award recognition, and lots of people came to see it. Lots of people still tell me that they saw it and remember and think about it. And that was forged from the untimely tragedy of the loss of Ben to the superhuman superhero strength of Shirley Jo to come in and take this cast and turn it around and really make the show live and sing. I actually spoke to all the cast members today. That’s how close we are. We are a lifelong family.

And then, of course, there is Citizen, which speaks to our time now, and has stirred up a lot of conversation. That show really became a precursor to what we are living now, and what the American theatre is living now, as are all the other systemic places where racist doctrine is within the structure of these institutions. And so to have a play like that begin that conversation of what micro-aggression looks like, and the many different permeations of it, to have it start on the Fountain Theatre stage and then be part of the Center Theatre Group Block Party stage, and then actually doing it outside in the Music Center’s Grand Park…oh, my three plays have been such a joy!

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre? 

I have been part of conversations with other theatre companies and other theatre practitioners about what this means and what we need, as BIPOC artists, to be able to actually address long-standing, long-held systems in the American theatre that are just traditional. They are not necessarily part of the “Now,” and are not necessarily part of the cultural storytelling that needs to happen. Or that should happen. Especially since these old institutions – the regional theatre movement of the 60’s – are beginning to fade and lose their luster. They were born of an important movement of their time, and now this is a different time. And so being able to look at questions like, Where does theatre go? How does theatre serve all communities? How do we use art to actually begin to dismantle centuries-old pre-conceived ideas and traditions? has been very important for me.

I have also had to come to grips with my understanding of what me being involved in the theatre has done to me and my belief system. How much of it has been impacted by white supremacist thought? How do I unravel that for myself? That’s been a challenging journey for me. And I am so humbled and in awe of the new voices coming up, that I just want to make sure that I’m there to support them in where they want the theatre to go.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

I don’t know. I don’t believe in Black History Month. I think history is history is history. The joke is always that they gave Black History Month the shortest month of the year. Well, that’s your thinking. That’s not my thinking. I like to say that this is a more detailed look at American history, because you can’t have American history without Black people in it. And if we choose to use Black History Month to bring those Black people and those Black stories to the forefront, that’s great! But I don’t think American history can happen without Black people. I don’t think Black History Month can happen without Indigenous people. I think the myth of American exceptionalism has eliminated, or tamped down, these other stories. Now we have to move to a different paradigm. What is Black History Month? I don’t know. I know what American history is, and that it has all shades and all colors. And if we’re really going to begin to unravel these systemic racist institutions, we have to start thinking about the fact that this whole idea of Black History Month is also part of that system. So I think we have to go, Okay, let’s just blow that aside and let’s see where we need to fill in the gaps of our understanding of the importance of Black people in America.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

I’m teaching. I’m working with my students. I will be doing a big Spotlight Awards master class; I do that every now and then with the Music Center. I have a couple of kids who are in the finals of the August Wilson Monologue Competition here in LA, and that always brings me pleasure. So I guess my focus now is just these young voices coming up; I want to help them find it. Hopefully, my voice is not over yet on the stage, and I hope that once we are out of Pandemic Land that you may hear my voice again.

Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.

When City Hall and local artists work together, all citizens of our city benefit

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Reading of ‘All the President’s Men’, LA City Hall, Jan 27th, 2018.

by Stephen Sachs

Los Angeles is hailed as The City of Dreams. But our one-night reading of William Goldman’s screenplay for All the President’s Men at City Hall inspired me in one way that I could never imagine.

We knew we had a good idea. The right project at the right time delivering the right message for the right reason. We knew inviting celebrity actors to participate would heighten public interest. We knew we had the ideal location in the Los Angeles City Council Chamber at City Hall. What I didn’t know, what caught me by surprise, were the men and women who work there.   

The Fountain Theatre has enjoyed a longtime friendship with the City of Los Angeles. We have benefited from the generous grant support of the Department of Cultural Affairs for more than twenty-five years.

Eric Garcetti was our City Councilmember in District 13. His parents, Gil Garcetti and Sukey Roth Garcetti, are longstanding Fountain Theatre members. Eric was more than our Councilmember for twelve years. He was our friend. I am forever grateful to Eric and his staff for coming to our side at the Fountain Theatre’s moment of darkest tragedy.

Our beloved Fountain colleague Ben Bradley was savagely murdered in his apartment on New Year’s Day, 2010. We were inundated with calls and emails of condolence from the LA theatre community. Eric’s staff at Council District 13 came by our office, in person, asking, “What can we do to help?” I was blown away. We sat down together, shared memories of Ben, and planned his memorial service at the Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Park. Eric’s office arranged for us to have access to the venue at no charge. Eric attended the memorial and spoke at the service. He showed up for us. He was there.        

Eric was elected mayor of Los Angeles in 2013. My wife and I happily attended his reelection swearing-in ceremony last year on the steps of City Hall. For five years, The Fountain’s City Councilmember has been Garcetti’s former District Director and senior advisor, Mitch O’Farrell.

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Stephen Sachs and Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell

Mitch has always been a strong advocate for the arts in Los Angeles. For years, Mitch has championed the significance of the network of intimate theatres throughout our city. He took a stand and spoke out publicly on our behalf when we battled with Actors Equity Association over the 99-Seat Plan. He was instrumental in designating a section of Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood as Theatre Row. He knows intimate theatres enhance the cultural landscape of Los Angeles. Once an actor and dancer himself, he is one of us. He gets it.

I placed a call to Mitch’s Field Deputy, Dan Halden, last year about our reading of All the President’s Men. I was adamant that the reading happen close to January 20th, the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration. I was looking for the appropriate location. It needed it to be some place symbolic. I wanted the building itself to hold meaning, make a statement. I called Dan thinking a room at City Hall would be good. Dan agreed. I was then floored when he suggested, “You know, the City Council Chamber might be available. Your actors could sit in the Councilmembers’ chairs …” It was then that the event crystalized from an idea in my mind into something I could see.

Months of planning quickly followed. We had to move fast. The Fountain staff leaped into action. A casting director was hired. A consulting firm was brought on. Most remarkably, Dan Halden and his team at Council District 13 were hands-on, all the way. When using a City building for a public event, every detail must be worked out. Security, parking, access, maintenance, the LAPD, the Fire Department, the press, catering, the offices that oversee use of equipment. All of this was handled through a blizzard of emails, phone calls and in-person meetings with Fountain staff and CD13 personnel. Everything overseen by Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell.  

Receiving a grant award from the City of Los Angeles is a wonderful thing. Financial support from the city is essential and the Fountain is deeply grateful each year. All the President’s Men demanded a different kind of support from the city. It was more than just signing contracts and receiving a check in the mail. This was the rare, exhilarating experience of two teams working together, of Fountain staff and City staff rolling up their sleeves and getting the nuts-and-bolts items done. We were truly partners. Fully invested personally, professionally and ideologically. All of it executed with efficiency, good humor, and energized by knowing that we were pulling off something that had never been done before in that building.

I am so proud of our city. What other major city in the country would hand over City Hall to its artists? Would have its Councilmembers allow artists to literally sit in their seats for one night to express an urgent fundamental truth about our country through their art?

As Washington wallows mired in stagnant gridlock, the city of Los Angeles offers a lesson in public partnership to the nation. When I first called Mitch O’Farrell’s office with the idea to use City Hall as a civic performance space for this reading, the expected government response would have been “no”. Instead, carrying forward the heartfelt spirt of his predecessor, Mitch O’Farrell answered, “What can we do to help?”

I believe last Saturday night’s reading of All the President’s Men at City Hall was a watershed moment in our city’s engagement with local arts organizations. We should not let it end there, on that evening. Our hope is that we use the lessons and rewards earned from this experience to discuss more partnerships like this in the future. When local artists and city government officials work together, all citizens of our city benefit.  

“Art can highlight things that need to change,” Mitch O’Farrell pointed out to the City Hall crowd in his opening remarks for All the President’s Men. “And draw parallels to historical lessons that can propel humanity forward.”  

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.  

Eric Garcetti Declares “The Mayor says ‘Everyone Go See ‘The Normal Heart'”

Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti

Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

by Stephen Sachs

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is a longtime member of the Fountain Family. His parents, Gil and Sukey Garcetti, have been Fountain subscribers for more than a decade starting back with our LA jazz play Central Avenue in 2001 when Gil was the Los Angeles District Attorney. Eric was elected to the LA City Council in 2001 and served as our Councilman in our 13th District for twelve years. We were thrilled and proud when he was elected mayor in May of this year.      

Over the years as our Councilman, Eric and his staff were always there when the Fountain needed him.  We will be forever grateful for his friendship and support in our darkest hour of grief. The day after learning of the brutal slaying of our Fountain colleague Ben Bradley in 2010, Eric Garcetti’s office immediately contacted us, asking “what can we do to help?” Members of Eric’s staff personally came over to the Fountain to help us plan Ben’s memorial. They arranged to make the 300-seat City-owned Gallery Theatre in Barnsdall Park available to us free of charge for the service. And Eric Garcetti attended the memorial and spoke.

Last night was a happier time to see now-Mayor Eric Garcetti. A reception honoring him was held at the LA Gay and Lesbian Center in Hollywood. Fountain Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor and I were invited to attend. We wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

LA Gay & Lesbian Center plaza.

LA Gay & Lesbian Center plaza.

The cocktail event was held on the outdoor plaza of the Center. It was a warm, pleasant night. Before Garcetti’s arrival, about 200 invited guests enjoyed drinks and hors d’oeuvres.  It was nice chatting with East West Players Artistic Director Tim Dang, whose husband, Darrel Cummings is the Center’s Chief of Staff.  And connecting with Jon Imparato, the Center’s Director of Cultural Arts and producer of their upcoming production of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later   

After a lively introduction from Center CEO Lorri L. Jean, Mayor Garcetti spoke. His remarks were casual and friendly and sprinkled with humor, emphasizing social inclusion and his longtime commitment to the LGBT community. He was intelligent, poised, and articulate. Our new Mayor balances charismatic star power with the skill to connect with people as fellow human beings.    

Deborah and I grabbed him briefly after this remarks. He seemed happy to see us. “My parents were just at the Fountain a few weeks ago to see Heart Song,” he exclaimed.  

Eric and I had a short conversation about how the Fountain can best take advantage of the surge of redevelopment in Hollywood and achieve the Fountain’s goal of acquiring a larger venue. We bemoaned the loss of the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency). But Eric had some ideas and suggestions. And, as always, offered to help.

As someone snapped a photo, Garcetti held a postcard from our upcoming Fountain production of The Normal Heart, opening September 21st, and declared with a broad grin:

“The Mayor says ‘Everyone Go See The Normal Heart!” 

You heard him. Better do what the man says. He just might be President some day.

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.

The Normal Heart  Sept 21 – Nov 3  (323) 663-1525   MORE

Artist Moved to Paint Portait of Beloved Fountain Theatre Producer/Director Ben Bradley

Ben Bradley painting

This portrait of Ben Bradley has just been painted by artist and Fountain Family member Diane Levin

“I had the pleasure of meeting Ben twice and of discovering  his beautiful soul,” says Diane. 

Ben Bradley was our longtime and beloved Fountain Theatre producer and director. He was murdered in 2010. 

Says Diane: “The painting is meant to be representational. It has been an enjoyable process to create the portrait of a man so loved by his community.” 

Diane Levin

Diane Levin

Diane Levin is a painter living in Santa Cruz. She is a an artist, a theater lover, a member of our Fountain Family and the mother of Fountain stage manager Jeremy Levin.

Diane’s painting will be on permanent display at the Fountain Theatre.

Ben Bradley’s Killer Sentenced to Life in Prison

Ben Bradley

On Friday, February 10, 2012, the convicted killer of Ben Bradley was officially sentenced to life in prison. He will be eligible for a parole hearing in sixteen years.

The judge denied the motion for retrial submitted last month by the defense. In addition to sentencing, the judge ruled that the murderer must also pay $15,000 in restitution to the Bradley family.

The hearing took place in the Criminal Court Building in downtown Los Angeles. Present in the courtroom were Ben’s brother, Micheal Hill; the Fountain’s Deborah Lawlor, Simon Levy,  and Stephen Sachs; actress Lisa Pelikan; and theater journalist (and Fountain friend) Dany Margolies.

When asked by the judge if he wished to make a statement or had anything to say, the murderer said “No”. He was then led away in handcuffs. To spend the rest of his life in prison.

As invoked in the final line of The Ballad of Emmett Till, the play Ben was directing two years ago when he was brutally murdered:

“It is done.”

Life Sentence Expected for Killer of Ben Bradley

Ben Bradley

In the Criminal Court Building in downtown Los Angeles on January 3, 2012,  almost two years to the day that the brutal murder was committed,  the judge announced that the killer of Ben Bradley can expect a sentence of life in prison with eligibility for parole in 16 years.

Several members of the Fountain Family were present in the courtroom to give Victim Impact Statements. Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs represented the Fountain with a passionate eloquent plea, repeating the phrase “Everybody loved Ben”; Producing Director Simon Levy read a beautiful letter from theatre critic Dany Margolies of Back Stage; Adolphus Ward, one of our beloved actors, spoke movingly about the larger impact of Ben’s murder, intoning “one man killed, many died” ; Rebecca Lackner, a friend of Ben’s brother, read a letter from sound designer David Marling; Barbara Ramsey, subscriber and friend, spoke lovingly of Ben’s impact on her son; and Ben’s brother, Micheal Hill,  spoke of the heartache to his family and the uniqueness that was Ben’s spirit. Others from the Fountain Community — actors, designers, friends — were there to show their support and solidarity on Ben’s behalf.

The defense filed a perfunctory retrial motion (standard procedure). There will be a procedural hearing on Feb 10 for the judge to officially rule on the retrial motion but he already said in court that, barring some extraordinary circumstance, he will deny it. And the legal process will be over. And prison time will begin.

The judge remarked in court that it was clear that Ben was widely loved and admired, and that the proceeding that morning was “a sad day”. He also commented that he had deliberated many murder cases in his long career as a judge. This crime was particularly brutal. Referring to the sentence and the obligatory retrial motion by the defense, the judge looked to the killer sitting opposite at the defense table and said “don’t get your hopes up” about any option other than life in prison.

Our deep thanks to those who were able to be there in court with us on Ben’s behalf, and to all of you who sent emails of support. We love you all.

Guilty Verdict in Ben Bradley Murder Trial

Fountain Reacts with Gratitude and Sad Relief: “Justice is Done”.

The Fountain Theatre announced last week that a guilty verdict has been reached in the trial of the man accused of murdering longtime Fountain director/producer Ben Bradley.

The defendant was found guilty of second-degree felony murder on November 23 in the Los Angeles Superior Court Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles, following a three-week trial that began on November 3. Closing arguments took place on November 21, with the jury deliberating for about a day and half before reaching the verdict. Present in the courtroom when the verdict was read were Bradley’s brother, Michael Hill, a resident of Virginia; Fountain Producing Director Simon Levy; and Fountain Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor. The verdict carries a sentence of 16 years to life. Sentencing is scheduled for January 3.

“All of us in the Fountain family are pleased and relieved by the verdict and grateful that the trial phase of this horrific nightmare is over,” wrote Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs in a statement. “We thank Los Angeles District Attorney Mario Haidar and the team of detectives, led by Matthew Gares, who did such an excellent job on this case. Justice is done. But no matter the verdict or severity of the sentence, justice does not wield the power to bring Ben back to us. With that truth, comes the painful reality that justice can never be fully served in our hearts.”

Prior to his death on January 1, 2010, Ben had been with the Fountain Theatre for over seventeen years as a producer, director, and the Director of Audience Development.  Ben was in rehearsal for The Ballad of Emmett Till when he was murdered. Prior to that, Ben had directed the Fountain’s critically acclaimed production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean (LADCC Awards for Production of the Year and Best Director). He received the 2006 OVATION Award and the 2007 NAACP Award for his direction of the Fountain’s critically acclaimed production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.  Other directorial credits at the Fountain includeLady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (winner of the NAACP Award for Best Actress) and Direct from Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys(winner of Best Ensemble, L.A. Weekly Award, and Best Ensemble, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award).  Ben produced the Fountain’s acclaimed productions of Photograph 51YellowmanMaster Class and Central Avenue, and coproduced the Fountain’sThe Darker Face of the Earth, I Am A Manand Four by Tennessee.  Before joining the Fountain Theatre family, Ben worked at the Los Angeles Theatre Center as Lobby Subscription Manager.  Ben was born in Wilkes County, Georgia, but his family moved to Baltimore, MD when he was very young.  He was a graduate of Carroll College in Wisconsin, where he majored in theater.

Read the blog post about trial verdict in the  Los Angeles Times.

The Fountain Theatre has established The Ben Bradley Memorial Fund to develop new plays at the Fountain.  For more information, go to http://fountaintheatre.com/BenBradleyMemorialPage.htm or call Diana at (323) 663-1098.

Ovation Awards, Ben Bradley, and Why We Do Theatre

The 2011  Ovation Awards will be held Monday night, November 14th, at the historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. The Ovation Awards ceremony is the “big night” of LA Theater, our version of the Tony Awards.  Launched in 1989, the LA Stage Alliance Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theatre awards in Los Angeles, created to recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production and design in the Greater Los Angeles area. Each year, 400 productions compete in 35 Ovation Categories, and are evaluated by a pool of 250 vetted Ovation Voters, who are all currently working theatre professionals.

This year, the Fountain Theatre has received nine Ovation Award nominations, including the prestigious category of Best Season for overall excellence year-round (for this season’s The Train Driver, A House Not Meant to Stand, and Bakersfield Mist). In the three years since the new Best Season category was created, the Fountain has been nominated all three years — and won the award last year for its season of Shining City, The Ballad of Emmett Till, and Opus. In the history of the Ovation Awards, the Fountain has the distinction of being nominated and winning more Ovation Awards overall than any other intimate theatre in Los Angeles.

Ben Bradley

Monday are the 2011 Ovations Awards. At the same time, Monday marks the beginning of the second week of the Ben Bradley murder trial. The black-tie Awards Ceremony downtown will be unfolding just a few blocks down the street from the Criminal Courts Building where the trial is taking place. The painful irony of these two events occurring simultaneously must be acknowledged. Ben, of course, had just started rehearsal to direct last year’s big Award winner, The Ballad of Emmett Till, when he was savagely murdered on New Year’s Day, 2010.  The glorious Shirley Jo Finney then stepped in as director, leading us all with her healing artistic spirit.

We look forward to Monday night’s Ovation Awards. And look back to last year’s ceremony when The Ballad of Emmett Till won Best Production of a Play, Best Director, and Best Acting Ensemble.

Our thoughts are with Ben. And we are reminded — we reaffirm — why we create art, why we do theatre, why we do what we do. And why it matters.

A video peek,  one year ago:

Simon Levy and Stephen Sachs: Ben Bradley and Emmett Till

The Emmett Till cast: “Why Theatre Matters” and “The Power of Family”