Central to the Fountain is the impact the post had on one person: Sachs himself.
“I am blown away by the post’s popularity,” he says.
For Sachs, reading the avalanche of online comments the post triggered as it was shared around the world was overwhelming and eye-opening. “For me, the post became more than a feel-good story about young people experiencing live theatre. For me, it is a call to action.”
What action is the Fountain taking?
Starting this weekend with the current production of Human Interest Story, the Fountain Theatre launches a new program called Free Student Fridays. Any high school or college student may see a play at the Fountain on Friday for free. To reserve online, students use the promo code FreeStudent. A valid school ID card must be shown at the box office window on the night of the performance. Seats are subject to availability.
“This program is a modest start, but it’s a start,” admits Sachs. “We may not have 18,000 seats like Madison Square Garden, but if we can inspire the young minds and open the young hearts of 80 students on Fountain Avenue every Friday night, we’ll have humbly done our part to help make the world a better place.”
Who knows? A free performance for 20,000 students at L.A.’s Staples Center may one day be on the horizon. Until then? There’s a seat for any student at the Fountain.
Students prepare to see “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Madison Square Garden.
by Stephen Sachs
There hasn’t been that much rapturous cheering in Madison Square Garden since the Knicks won their last championship in 1973. But the thunderous hollering heard this Wednesday at the sold-out arena was not for a basketball game. It was for a play.
On Wednesday, 18,000 middle and high school students from Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island attended a free one-time special performance of the Broadway production of “To Kill A Mockingbird” at Madison Square Garden arranged by producer Scott Rudin, the MSG organization and the city of New York. That’s right. 18,000 kids sat and watched a 3-hour drama in the cavernous home of the Knicks. Who would have thought it possible?
The result? By all accounts, everyone there on that school-day afternoon – actors, audience, organizers – have been forever changed by the experience. And, I hope, so has our field, as the impact of this one-time event ripples nationwide for years.
Artistic Directors like me have been wringing our hands over the same question for decades. How do we get younger audiences to come to our theatre? How do we engage young people today in our ancient art form? How do we not only hold their attention but excite them enough to want to come back to our theatre?
This week, one answer came. And it showed me that maybe we’ve been asking ourselves the wrong question. Sometimes we must bring the mountain to Muhammed.
The play’s usual Broadway home is the Shubert Theatre, where it commands an average ticket price of $162. The one-time performance at The Garden was free. For many kids, they were seeing a professional play – in an unusual setting — for the first time.
“This is a one-of-a-kind event — 18,000 young people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to see a Broadway play are going to be introduced to American theater,” playwright Aaron Sorkin said.
The cast of To Kill a Mockingbird take their bows on stage after a special performance for students at Madison Square Garden in New York.
In a week of nothing but bad news for our country, this gives me hope. And shatters a few myths theater-makers may hold about young people.
The attention span of teens is too short. The myth we keep telling ourselves is that the light-speed tempo of video games have accelerated the viewing habits of young people to such a degree that they’ll never sit still for a serious play. A musical, maybe. A rock musical, certainly. Not an issue-driven drama. But the 18,000 students at Madison Square Garden not only sat still and listened to “Mockingbird”, they were riveted in their seats.
Young people are only interested in contemporary stories about themselves. It’s okay to offer them hip hop plays, urban musicals, modern teen comedies about their world today. A drama from another time period? Too risky. This week, however, a multitude of students from New York were engrossed by a fable that takes place in 1934 Alabama. Want to make it worse? It’s a play adapted from a book they are assigned to study as homework in class, for crying out loud. A theatre producer’s nightmare, right? Wrong.
Young people hate theatre. Not true. They just have fewer opportunities to see it. And when they do? “It’s so exciting,” said high school junior Michelle Hernandez. “It’s amazing,” said student Justine Jackson. “The story is very real and you can relate it to modern society,” said junior Andy Lin. “Specially racism because it’s still going on.” The 18,000 students were clearly swept up in the play and the excitement of the event. The setting of Madison Square Garden seemed to set them free to react openly in ways they would never dare in a conventional theatre. They laughed, they gasped, they shouted, and they cried. They cheered Atticus Finch like he was a rock star.
Regional theaters across the country have educational outreach programs that include bringing their productions of plays to schools for students to enjoy and benefit by seeing. It’s a failsafe strategy that is not going anywhere. A theatre importing its production to a school campus is one thing. Partnering with Madison Square Garden is another.
The conventional model of bussing students to your theatre holds its own many benefits. But I hope the “Mockingbird” event inspires theater organizations across the country to think outside the box in their own community. To explore unconventional venues and unique partnerships to help bring the power of theater to young people nationwide.
Could the “Mockingbird” event happen in Los Angeles? Can we imagine 20,000 students from across the Southland coming to Staples Center to watch a performance of “Death of A Salesman”? Why not? It takes a mayor, a theatre producer and a city believing that it’s important and willing to make it happen. As NY Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “The only way to change your world is if you decide it is your world to change.”
And you must find like-minded partners who are willing to change it.
The Fountain Theatre is pleased to welcome veteran theater producer and public relations consultant Diana Buckhantz to its Board of Directors.
Diana Buckhantz recently produced the critically acclaimed new musical Songbird in New York City which is about to have a second production at Two Rivers Theatre this June before an eventual return to New York. She was part of the producing team that brought the Tony-nominated musical Leap of Faith from the Ahmanson Theatre to Broadway. Her producing credits also include Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays at the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York and The Last Goodbye at the Old Globe.
“I have been seeing shows at the Fountain for many years and have always been so impressed by the quality of the work,” says Buckhantz. “Excellent writing, beautifully staged productions and wonderful acting – all wrapped around and illuminating the important social and moral issues of the day. I believe that theatre should entertain but also that it should stimulate audiences to challenge their values and belief systems. The Fountain does this in engaging and thoughtful ways. I am excited to join the board to help support this important work and help the theatre to grow and expand its reach. “
Diana began her professional career producing award-winning documentaries including “Dying with Dignity,” “Hunger in the Promised Land, and “Not A Question of Courage,” all for KTLA. Her documentaries have also received two National EMMY awards, two local EMMY Awards, the Scripps Howard Award for Broadcast Journalism, the State Bar of California Public Service Award, the NAPTE National Iris Award, the National Education Award, three Angel Awards, and the Kenny Rogers World Hunger Media Award.
While a producer at ITC Productions, she received an Associate Producer credit for the feature film “Without A Clue,” starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley.
Currently, she also runs her family foundation which focuses on issues around runaway and homeless youth, arts education in the schools, aging, reproductive rights, and combating genocides and mass atrocities in Africa.
She proudly serves on the boards of Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles Youth Network, Jewish World Watch and Capital and Main.
Her greatest production, however, is her son Sam.
“Diana has been a fan of the Fountain for some time, ” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “Her professional experience as a theater producer and her dedicated service on notable non-profit boards makes her a very strong asset to our Fountain Family. We are thrilled to have her on our Board of Directors. “
The Fountain Theatre continues to broaden and expand its Board of Directors with the addition of longtime Fountain Family member Patricia Oliansky. Not only does Pat bring many years of Fountain love and support to the Board, she also offers a wide range of experience and professional expertise.
Patricia Oliansky holds a B.A in History from Hofstra College and a M.A in Ancient Near Eastern History from UCLA.
Board affiliations: Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra (Founding President – 8 years); Friends of Sundays Live (Founding President – 6 years); Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research (member- 5 years); California Dance Institute (member – 2 years); and the Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project or WRRAP (current member – 2 years). Tasks with these organizations include: Board formation, volunteer development, grant writing, budgets, design, event planning and fundraising.
Pat was a docent at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art for 20+ years and is currently a docent for the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. She has archaeological field experience in Los Angeles (La Brea Tar Pits), England, Wales, Turkey, Georgia and Armenia. Having been co-editor for a professional journal on Mesopotamia, she is currently helping to edit two site reports for professional UCLA friends.
Pat was involved in a single foray into the theatre: she co-produced Dario Fo’s Orgasmo AdultoEscapes from the Zoo at the Fremont Centre Theatre. An evening of monologues starring Francesca Fanti, the show won uniformly rave reviews and two awards at the Valley Theatre League in 1998: one for Francesca and one for the production of an evening of one-acts.
On the home front, Pat’s partner for 32 years has been Peter Barna. They each have 2 grown children and have one grandchild. Pat hails originally from New York and Peter from Budapest, Hungary.
Stephen Sachs and Patricia Oliansky at ‘Bakersfield Mist’ in London.
“I am thrilled and delighted to have Pat join our Board,” exclaims Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “I was recently in London opening the West End premiere of Bakersfield Mist — a play created and produced at the Fountain in 2011. I was at our first preview performance in London. There I am at the Duchess Theatre, 5,400 miles away from the Fountain. And who is there in the audience that night? Cheering us on and bringing us good wishes? Pat Oliansky. That kind of loyalty, love and support is priceless and deeply, deeply appreciated.”
Welcome aboard the Board, Pat! See you at the Broadway opening? Fingers crossed.
“How do you make the magic?” students from a middle school in the Bronx asked after seeing their first Broadway show. Their attendance was an outgrowth of a conference Monday at TEDxBroadway 2014.
TED, which started as a conference thirty years ago and has expanded into something of a movement, stands for “Technology, Entertainment and Design.” The dozen and a half people who spoke or entertained (or did both) at the third annual TEDxBroadway included representatives of all three fields—from well-known theater artists such as director Diane Paulus and composer Bobby Lopez, to tech or design oriented visionaries whom, one sensed, hadn’t been to a play since they were kids.
For all the sophistication of the presentations, all the speakers on the stage at New World Stages were addressing, in different ways – directly or by analogy, accessibly or obscurely—the simple question that the students asked after their first Broadway show: How do you make the magic of theater?
1. The theater experience should not just occur on the stage
“What is the theater experience?” asked director Diane Paulus, the first speaker. Too many people think of it as just the show on the stage—“You go inside, you arrive with friends, but once it starts you’re not allowed to talk to one another. You’re either deeply moved or you’re bored, but when the experience is over, you’re asked to leave.”
But the artistic director of the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University asked us to consider the history of theater to realize how much more theater can be—and should be. Greek theater, she said, was more like American Idol than it was like the theater we know today, taking place at competitive festivals. It was also engaged in the “civic, religious, social and political” life of the times.
The nineteenth-century opera house was a beautiful environment, much like our Broadway houses, but part of the reason why people went was to be seen. They dressed up; that was part of the experience.
Dan Gurney offered similar advice in a completely different way. A self-described “six-time United States Champion on the button accordion,” he played a tune for the audience, before describing his business, Concert Window, which enables musicians to record their music using only a laptop, and to make money by showing the resulting video online. Neither Gurney nor his business has any apparent connection to the theater, but his remarks included suggestions on ways for theater and theater performers to engage audiences online before and after the show— building “new digital native experiences” such as an “interactive video chat with the show’s director.”
Gurney seemed unaware of the regular live-streaming of theatrical performances by National Live and others, but he did say: “A venue has four walls, but that doesn’t mean that your whole audience has to fit inside them.”
2. Embrace your audience in innovative ways
Paulus took us on a whirlwind journey through recent shows, many of them her own, that illustrated ways of extending the theater experience by engaging audiences.
For the 2011 musical Prometheus Bound, a political protest play “inspired” (in the words of the blurb for the show) “by Aeschylus’s Ancient Greek tragedy about the heroic struggle of Western civilization’s first prisoner of conscience,” A.R.T. partnered with Amnesty International. “After the show, people stayed and had a chance to talk with Amnesty International volunteers.”
For the Broadway revival of Hair that Paulus directed, she insisted that the audience be allowed on stage, and had to fight the theater’s management to keep the ushers from shooing people off the stage too quickly at the end.
Witness Uganda, a musical this season at A.R.T. based on a true story about a volunteer for a project in Uganda, includes a discussion (she didn’t call it a talk-back) after every single performance. Paulus pointed out that the show’s creators, Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews (who also stars in it), have created a non-profit foundation, Uganda Project to provide a free education and otherwise aid the children of Uganda, 2.5 million of whom are orphans.
3. Consider crowdfunding
In 2012, $2.7 billion was raised worldwide through crowd funding, $1.6 billion of it in North America, said financier David Drake, founder of financial media company The Soho Loft, and the amount being raised just about doubles every year. About 15 percent of that, Drake told me afterwards, has been for theater projects. Crowdfunding can be defined (but wasn’t) as the effort to fund a project by reaching out, usually online, to a large network of regular people who aren’t professional investors, are unlikely to be rich, and donate on average just small amounts.
For a crowdfunding campaign to be a success, Drake said, the fundraisers must
be connected to a crowd, know their audience, and put together a great video. The three biggest online sites for crowdfunding creative projects are Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and RocketHub. Recent federal legislation, Drake said (and has written about), will make it easier for theaters to reach out and create a new network of donors.
4. Don’t punish theatergoers for being digitally connected
Until three years ago, the Apollo Theater in Harlem punished theatergoers for being, like much of the world, “connected 24/7,” according to Dexter Upshaw. “By definition,” Upshaw said, the Apollo’s famed Amateur Night is an “interactive show.” Yet, if anybody took out their mobile devices during a performance, “immediately, ushers would come and shine flashlights in their faces, and say ‘put that away.’”
We have to engage people where they are, Upshaw said, and where they are is in the digital realm.
Upshaw, hired to take charge of all digital projects at the theater, helped change that. Now every Wednesday at Amateur Night, theatergoers are encouraged to use their phones to tell them about the show, using the Apollo Amateur Night app. Upshaw is planning to expand digital interaction at the theater, with a forthcoming app for the Apollo in general Upshaw’s advice to theaters: Don’t think about digital last. Involve staff who are responsible for social media and other digital projects from the very beginning of any stage show, because they might be able to identify opportunities to use digital that can then be more seamlessly incorporated.
Upshaw’s presentation was part of a larger theme for the day, reflecting the fact that the “T” for technology in TED is first, and expressed by designer David Torpey: “Theater is about magic. Lets embrace technology and make it happen…” The potential of technology in immersive set design is overwhelming and beautiful.
Torpey also projected on the screen a quote from industrial designer Dieter Rams that designers “should and must question everything generally thought to be obvious…They must also be able to assess realistically the opportunities and bounds of technology.”
5. Make the neighborhood your lobby.
Craig Dykers of Snohetta, the firm that’s redesigning Times Square, offered an overview of their approach to the Crossroads of the World, which gets 42 million visitors a year. In discussing the “reimagining” of Times Square, he cited the work of Temple Grandin, comparing people’s movement to that of cattle. My favorite detail is how they embedded little shiny pucks in the ground to reflect the light of the marquees. The redesign’s main aim: “We want Times Square to be the lobby of the theater district.”
Yao-Hui Huang, founder of The Hatchery, “a venture collaboration organization” (probably translation: a business consulting firm), contrasted the competitiveness of producers on Broadway with the collaborative attitude and activity of the L.A. Stage Alliance, in which theaters share services and marketing.
Mark Fisher and Michael Keeler, co-owners of a gym that caters to the theater community, offered similar advice, more flamboyantly. Both also wore capes, and asked the audience to stand up and participate in a dance party for fifteen seconds. It’s easier to get in shape, and to build a business, if you are part of a community.
7. Collaborate some more.
Bobby Lopez, co-composer for Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, and the Disney movie Frozen, was one of the TEDxBroadway guests who both spoke and performed— including, memorably, his Oscar-nominated song, “Let It Go,” from Frozen. If his presentation deviated from the norm, his presence was in one way the most apt—the entire conference took place in the theater in New World Stages that normally presents Avenue Q.
He played a song he wrote when he was fourteen, motivated by a medieval belief that when you sing a song, “airy spirits come out of your mouth and mingle with other people’s spirits and influence them. That’s what was special about music. I thought that was a cool idea.”
He explained how much he had to grow from his early attempts. Initially, “I thought it was cheating to accept help from someone else.
“I started to work with other people. My work started to benefit from other people’s talents, thoughts, ideas, qualities. Everything was not about me, and about how my stuff was going to impress people.” He said none of the work for which he is now known would have happened without his change in attitude.
“Every step in the writing of Avenue Q was motivated by: how do we help people with their adult problems?”
He said his growth reflects that of the character Princeton in Avenue Q, and Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon.
Both were self-involved guys who learn how to give and accept help. “Princeton learns that Kate Monsters is not an obstacle to his finding his purpose in life; making her happy is part of his purpose.”
8. Understand the connection between the arts and the sciences. Understand the need for diversity.
The cell phone was inspired by Star Trek— just one example out of many of art inspiring science, and of the connection between the two, said Ainissa Ramirez:
“The three-act play and the scientific paper come from the same seed.”
“Scientists and screenwriters are both:
Crazy about detail
Understand you have to fail to succeed.”
Ramirez, a former professor of mechanical engineering, is the head of Science Underground, a science education consulting firm. She focused on the need for a different kind of diversity in the theater—theater about science and scientists.
“Your mission if you choose to accept it,” she said, is to improve the connection between the arts and the sciences, which “will create something wonderful, and humanity will be better off.” Implicit in her focused argument was a more general lesson—the need for more diverse subject matter in the theater, and more diversity in general.
9. Realize that new forms of entertainment have changed would-be audiences
Games, said “gamification” guru Gabe Zichermann, have changed our very neurochemistry, so that we demand a constant rush of sensation. “We can’t even sit through 22 minutes of television without reaching for another screen”—Facebook or Twitter on our computer or mobile phone. How can people be expected to sit through two hours of theater?”
However, “we can use the power of games to our advantage,” he said, and urged the listeners to embrace games as a way to draw in an audience. He didn’t seem to say how, but he did offer what sounded like a really useful game: At a restaurant, put everybody’s cell phone on the table; the first person to reach for theirs has to pay for everybody’s meal.
10. Have fun
This was the explicit and implicit message throughout the day-long conference—a day that included spontaneous raps by Freestyle Love Supreme (pictured), magic tricks from Todd Robbins and jokes from Lea DeLaria:
By the end, though, Daniel Rehbehn was surely speaking for more than himself when he Tweeted: “My brain is hurting from trying to download so many ideas into my head from#TEDxBway.”
Jonathan Mandell, a proud member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is a third-generation New York City journalist who has written about the theater for a range of publications, including Playbill, American Theatre Magazine, the New York Times, Newsday, Backstage, NPR.com and CNN.com. He currently blogs at New York Theater and Tweets as @NewYorkTheater.
“I have a long history of flamenco,” Pamela Dunlap says — her tongue firmly in her cheek. And thereby hangs the tale.
“Actually, I’m not a dancer,” she continues. “I’m dragged kicking and screaming into flamenco class” as the lead in Stephen Sachs’ new play Heart Song, now having its premiere at the Fountain Theatre.
Playing Rochelle — a middle-aged, out-of-shape Jewish woman who’s undergoing a crisis of faith — Dunlap is persuaded to join a flamenco class for other middle-aged, out-of-shape women. The production unites two of the Fountain’s specialties — plays and the subject of flamenco (the Fountain is presenting Forever Flamenco at the Ford on June 15).
“It’s an all-female cast,” Dunlap says, “and the camaraderie is great. It’s a wonderful journey.” Shirley Jo Finney is directing.
When I suggest that it sounds a bit like Steel Magnolias, a perennial favorite, she says, “Oh no, it’s not anything like Steel Magnolias! In this play nobody has diabetes, nobody’s getting their hair done, and there are no cranky old women.”
She should know. She was in a Salt Lake City production of Steel Magnolias, playing the role of the former mayor’s widow, who describes the new mayor’s wife as looking, while dancing, “like two pigs fightin’ under a blanket.”
Dunlap confesses that early in her career she taught Latin dances — the cha-cha, the merengue, the samba — at a Xavier Cugat Dance Studio in New York. “Cugat was the Arthur Murray of Latin dancing,” she says. “He had dance studios all over.”
Dunlap is herself a New York woman from Flushing and Jackson Heights. Currently she considers herself bicoastal, with a home in Manhattan and another in Van Nuys. In Southern California, shehas performed at the Ahmanson, South Coast Rep, and LA Theatre Works, but this is her first appearance at the Fountain.
In New York she has been seen on Broadway in Musical Comedy Murders of 1940,Redwood Curtain, and Yerma, and in several Off-Broadway roles. Recently, she appeared at Theater Raleigh in North Carolina as Mattie Fae, the nagging sister of Violet and mother of Little Charles in August Osage County.
On TV she has been featured on How I Met Your Mother, NCIS, Law and Order SVU andCommander in Chief, but her most visible role currently is as Betty Draper’s new mother-in-law and abominable baby-sitter for Betty’s daughter Sally on AMC’s Mad Men.
About her role as “Sally’s fiendish baby sitter,” she calls her “a woman with a great sense of entitlement, exactly the opposite of the woman I’m playing in Heart Song — a woman who is struggling to find her sense of entitlement.”
In Heart Song, Rochelle is “a woman who never married, whose mother recently died, and who has very little support. She’s in a painful place of transition, dealing with mortality and trying to find her own identity,” Dunlap explains.
Flamenco teacher Katarina (Maria Bermudez) and Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap).
Questioned about her identification with the characters she plays, she says, “acting allows us to play so many different characters, but we can always find something in ourselves that is like the character. The play mirrors the struggles we all go through, and we find a common history that we didn’t suspect we have in common. A common history or something that connects us to that character.”
On the adventure level, though, she has had a few experiences that aren’t reflected in any play she has appeared in. For example, when her son, Trevor Morgan Doyle, an anthropologist doing research in Finland, decided to marry a Finnish woman, she traveled to the wedding, driving a car for 10 hours above the Arctic Circle. “The car was chugging along because the fuel was freezing in the tank,” she says.
She also reports that the bride’s family, “obviously testing my mettle,” invited her to swim with them in weather that was 70 degrees below freezing. They dug a hole through the ice and then kept scraping the ice off the top of the hole as it froze on contact with the air.
Did she do it? You bet she did!
“Actually, they claim it’s a cure for depression,” she says. “You’re shocking your whole system. I’ve never felt so alive in my life!”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, she has ties with Ethiopia. She is an active member of the Salt Lake City-based Children of Ethiopia Education Fund, a non-governmental organization that provides schooling for girls in that country.
Tamlyn Tomita, Juanita Jennings and Pamela Dunlap.
When not rolling naked in ice holes and visiting schools in Ethiopia, however, she has taken a few moments to accept awards. She has received three Drama-Logue awards, has been an honoree of the New York Drama League, and has won an OOBR (Off-Off Broadway Review) award.
As for the future, she has very definite ideas about whom she would like to work with. Before the question is completely posed, she answers enthusiastically, “Philip Seymour Hoffman. He’s the real deal.”
But for the present, she is delighted to be working with director Finney, choreographer Maria “Cha Cha” Bermudez, and a cast consisting of Juanita Jennings, Tamlyn Tomita, Bermudez (through June 14), Denise Blasor (beginning June 15), Andrea Dantas, Mindy Krasner, Elissa Kyriacou and Sherrie Lewandowski.
I take my title from that great triumvirate of American philosophers: Moe, Larry, and Curly, known in poststructuralist circles as Les Trois Stooges. With unerring precision they captured the complicated essence of American life—and by extension American theatrical life—in their expert revision of the motto of Alexandre Dumas’ three Musketeers: “One for all and all for one.” To which the incisive Curly added, “And every man for himself.” Yes that’s my subject, the one and the all, for each other and for themselves.
I’m not sure how to talk about my subject, in part because I don’t know what language to use. I’ve lost track of the language of our art. After seventeen years of running a nonprofit, it’s been replaced by the lingo of strategic planning and program assessment. It’s been trumped by meaning-deplete, market-aping clichés of our professional shoptalk—branding, innovation, entrepreneurial—and by the hollow repetitions of grant-speak that have sucked the specificity out of such essentials as, “community,” “vision,” “values.”
Somewhere, maybe, lives a root language of theater for us to speak with one another. Somewhere, maybe, is a tongue with words for what we do, how it lands on the human spirit, how we share space and time, story, myth, intention, and feeling. Somewhere there’s an idiom of our being together—a dialect of presence. I wish we could pledge allegiance to an ever-new coinage: the shaky, groping, overheated, imprecise, exuberant, vulnerable, earnest diction of mid-discovery.
The Living Theatre, NYC.
One phrase kept surfacing, as I prepared to write this. It’s from Julian Beck, who, as you may know, back in 1947, founded, with his wife Judith Malina, the still-living Living Theatre. Beck’s meditations read like rabbinical fire: fervent, philosophical, ecstatic. They burn for a truer theater and, more importantly, a better world. Amidst the flames, there’s an almost throwaway statement; its simplicity has haunted me. 1962. New York City. Beck writes to himself: “I do not like the Broadway theater, because it does not know how to say hello.”
Fifty years have passed since he wrote those words, sixty-six since the Becks started their theater. The American theater has in that time exploded—Off Broadway, Off-Off, regional theater, alternative regional theater, community-based theater. The Living Theater’s experiments in poetry, politics, company, global activism have, likewise, exploded, and even those whose sole image of the Becks has them naked and chanting in the streets or against a massive, backlit scaffold demanding “Paradise Now” are, in some way, heirs to their experiments and ameliorative ambitions. We are all, I wish to believe, enemies of the kind of falseness Beck finds on Broadway, where, he claims,
The tone of voice is false, the mannerisms are false, the sex is false, ideal, the Hollywood world of perfection, the clean image, the well pressed clothes; the well scrubbed anus, odorless, inhuman, of the Hollywood actor, the Broadway star. And the terrible false dirt of Broadway, the lower depths in which the dirt is imitated, inaccurate.
I want to know how to say hello. I want our artists to know. Maybe that’s why I can’t get the phrase out of my head, why I repeat it to you today. I want to greet you from the deepest part of me and hear from the deepest in you. I want nothing less from our theater. I want theaters to feel like rooms. I want what passes in them to engender intimacy, even if the performances are wild, flamboyant, artificial things. I want to speak in your ear and have you speak in mine. I want performance that feels like revelation. I want to be in it—whatever it may be—together. I want to know how to say hello.
Specifically, I long for a language of individual distinction. Somewhere in the decline of critical attention, the rise of celebrity, and the homogenization of production, we’ve lost the knack for celebrating the specificities of talent. What makes one artist distinct from another? What are the unique gifts of this writer, that director, each actor? How can we point the way to those singularities in words—the way one writes or plays or moves from what one is, from the fullness of the available self? What is the “I” from whence the individual speaks to us, the something that novelist Marilynne Robinson calls “incandescence,” “that presence, shaped around ‘I’ like a flame on a wick, emanating itself….” How does what we receive from the world get translated through the artist’s unique perspective and imagination and, once translated, how does it, to use her great phrase, emanate itself? If art is, as a painter once said, “nature as seen through a temperament,” how can we, as collaborators, teachers, co-citizens, nourish artistic temperament and celebrate it?
According to the voluble Harold Clurman, who talked into being the seminal Group Theatre of the 1930s, it’s only in the company of others that the individual can reach full flower. Clurman writes of the Group: “We believe that the individual can achieve his fullest stature only through the identification of his own good with the good of his group, a group which he must help to create.” Is this true: the individual reaches fullest stature only by tying his own good to that of the group? Doesn’t the individual gain stature from the spotlight, from having us stare at him until, in our eyes, he grows huge, even mythic?
This is really what I want to address here: the individual and the group, the “I” and the “we” of the theater. How we fulfill ourselves. How we greet one another, treat one another. How hard it is to reconcile one and all. My themes are lifted from Clurman: The individual. Fullest stature. Identification of personal good with group good. The group each must help create.
How do we reconcile these separate excitements, these seemingly distinct realms: the independent, maybe even solitary creator—or actor, director, designer—and the genius of the group? It’s a tough one. I spend my days advocating and making space for independent artists, even as I long for company. Artistic freedom and individual voice on one side, inspiring collaboration and common good on the other. The struggle to reconcile the ambitions of “I” and “we” has plagued the American theater for a hundred years. This tension between individual and group is, I believe, a defining challenge of our theater, probably our culture. All for one and one for all or every man for himself? The Three Stooges agree.
The fusion of individual talent and collective energy fuels great theater. It has always been so. The history of dramatic literature is inseparable from the history of the acting company: Shakespeare and the King’s Men, the Troupe de Molière, Sheridan’s Drury Lane, Chekhov and the Moscow Art Theatre, Brecht, Churchill, Walcott, Fugard—and on and on—fresh theatrical language forged where playwrights and players adventure together.
There are two ways, history also tells us, to sustain a theater in the United States: the first way is to institutionalize, to establish an organization that is viewed as essential to the community or place in which it grows, and to maintain that entity, even beyond the career-span of the people who initially give it life. The second way to sustain a theater here, the harder way, is to balance the evolving needs of the individual artist—voice and ambition—with the evolving group genius, to balance the needs of self-determination and those of the common good. This is the harder way.
In institutional life, human beings are for the most part replaceable; they serve, necessarily and rightly, institutional identity. In company or group culture, each member must be reckoned with, must be given their lead. Care and feeding, of individual and company, goes both ways. If this second approach—that which holds the individual and the group in equitable esteem—were easy, the history of our theater wouldn’t be strewn with the corpses of ensembles and company-founded theaters.
“A group which he must help to create”—that was Clurman’s dictum. And that should be the test. Not whether someone—actor, playwright, business manager—was present at the founding, but is that someone, in a daily way, in a true way helping to create the group. Does she have a voice? Is he present in his fullest stature?
I love Mark Valdez’s formulation: “The process yields the aesthetics.” The way we make work is not merely as important as what we make. It is what we make. You can see it—with individual artists, as in the work of the vital companies populating our current seen/unseen landscape. Process reveals itself through result. Improvised art feels improvised, shared creation feels cooperative, the monastic project emanates its own fanatical purity, aristocratic creation feels refined, and democratic art feels welcoming. The way we say hello carries who we are.
Todd London is the author of The Artistic Home (Theatre Communications Group), Outrageous Fortune: The Life & Times of the New American Play, (with Ben Pesner, Theatre Development Fund), and a novel The World’s Room (Steerforth Press), among others. In 2009 he became the first recipient of TCG’s Visionary Leadership Award for an individual who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to advance the theater field as a whole. He has been the artistic director of New Dramatists since 1996 and, in 2001, he accepted a special Tony Honor on behalf of that long-lived, groundbreaking laboratory for playwrights. Todd also received the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism for his essays in American Theatre magazine.
Last week’s bonus contest winner! She won a romantic dinner for 2 at Le Petit Restaurant. Michelle says:
“Cyrano was one of the best theater experiences I’ve ever had. And since I’m a theatre junkie, that’s saying something.”
The Fountain’s co-production of Cyrano has been invited to New York. In just two weeks, our talented lead actors and artistic team will be performing for
The New York Theatre Workshop, the Tony-winning company that launched Rent, Dirty Blonde, Homebody/Kabul, Peter and the Starcatcher, Once,and more. This will be a staged reading for NY producers and investors with the goal of launching a NY production. To make this dream come true, we need you.Join Us!
Our Sold-Out Award-Winning Smash Hit Drew Rave Reviews and National Attention in LA
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including Best Play and Best Production
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“Jews doing flamenco? Instead of ‘Ole!’ the crowd shouts ‘Oy vey?’” – Rochelle in “Heart Song”
Three friends embark on a joyous journey of sisterhood, discovering their inner ‘duende’ through a flamenco class for middle-aged women. Heart Song, the newest comedy/drama from Stephen Sachs (Bakersfield Mist, Cyrano), opens at The Fountain Theatre on May 25 with Shirley Jo Finney (In the Red and Brown Water) directing and choreography by internationally renowned flamenco dancer Maria “Cha Cha” Bermudez.
Pamela Dunlap stars as Rochelle, a middle aged Jewish woman struggling with a crisis of faith. When Tina (Tamlyn Tomita) convinces her to join a flamenco class for “seasoned” out of shape women, Rochelle’s life is changed forever. There, she meets Daloris (Juanita Jennings) and an unforgettable circle of women (Andrea Dantas, Mindy Krasner, Elissa Kyriacou,Sherrie Lewandowski and Norma Maldonado) who propel Rochelle on a hilarious and deeply moving course of unexpected self-discovery.
“Heart Song is funny but also allows me to explore serious issues about faith, spirituality and mortality that are deeply personal to me,” says Sachs. “The play dramatizes how art, in the form of flamenco — like religion or spiritual faith — has the power to heal and transform.”
“Flamenco is a life-saver for these women,” explains Finney. “It’s about duende, finding the deeper soul, unearthing that deep inner voice that lives inside us and can heal our inner wounds.”
The Fountain Theatre, recipient of critical acclaim and multiple awards for its theater productions, is also L.A.’s foremost presenter of flamenco. The Fountain’s monthly “Forever Flamenco!” series was created by co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor, who acts as consultant on this production.
“This is the perfect opportunity to marry the Fountain’s two audiences,” says Lawlor. “With Heart Song, we celebrate both our dedication to creating and producing new plays, as well as our longtime passion and commitment to the art of flamenco.”
Tamlyn Tomita, Pamela Dunlap, and Juanita Jennings
Set design for Heart Song is by Tom Buderwitz; lighting design is by Ken Booth; sound design is by Bruno Louchouarn; costume design is by Dana Woods; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; casting is by Cathy Reinking; production stage manager is Corey Womack; and assistant stage managers are Mitzi Delgado and Terri Roberts. The Fountain Theatre production marks its world premiere. A second production will take place at Florida Rep in 2014.
Stephen Sachs’ other plays include Cyrano (2012 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award), Bakersfield Mist (2012 Elliot Norton Award for Best New Play, optioned for London’s West End and New York), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse, Canadian Stage Company, LADCC and LA Weekly Award nominations), Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist; Back Stage Garland award for Best Play), Mother’s Day, The Golden Gate (Best Play, Drama-Logue), and The Baron in the Trees. His play Sweet Nothing in my Ear (1997 PEN USA Literary Award finalist and Media Access Award winner for Theater Excellence) has been produced in theaters around the country and was made into a TV movie for CBS starring Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin and Jeff Daniels. Open Window (2005 Media Access Award winner for Theater Excellence) had its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Shirley Jo Finney received the LADCC award for her direction of In the Red and Brown Water at the Fountain, where she also directed award-winning productions of From the Mississippi Delta, Central Avenue, Yellowman and The Ballad of Emmett Till. Her work has been seen at the McCarter Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, LA Theater Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, American College Theatre Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa, where she helmed the South African opera, Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. Ms. Finney has been honored with Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Back Stage Garland, LA Weekly and NAACP awards. For television, she directed several episodes of Moesha, and she garnered the International Black Filmmakers ‘Best Director’ Award for her short film, Remember Me. In 2007 she received the African American Film Marketplace Award of Achievement for Outstanding Performance and Achievement and leader in Entertainment.
Pamela Dunlap (Rochelle) has performed at Lincoln Center, New York Theatre Workshop, New York Stage and Film and Circle Repertory Company. On Broadway: Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, Redwood Curtain, Yerma. Off Broadway: Early Girl, Sacrifice to Eros, Green Card. L.A. theatergoers have seen her at the Mark Taper, Ahmanson, South Coast Rep and L.A. Theatre Works. Regional theater includes Theatre Raleigh, Pioneer Theatre, St. Louis Repertory, Hartford Stage, Arena Stage, Pittsburgh Public Theatre and Corpus Christi Symphony. She is the recipient of an OOBR Award, an honoree of the New York Drama League, and a three-time Drama-Logue Award recipient. Mad Men fans will recognize her as Pauline Francis, Betty Draper’s new mother-in-law with the questionable baby sitting skills. TV guest appearances include How I Met Your Mother, N.C.I.S., Law and Order SVU, and recurring as Gilda Rockwell on Commander In Chief. Pamela recently completed filming on Doll and Em for British TV, written, produced and starring Emily Mortimer. Film: The Changeling, directed by Clint Eastwood; I Am Sam; War Of The Roses; The Holiday; Sixteen To Life; and Mind The Gap.
Juanita Jennings (Daloris) is known to Fountain audiences for her portrayal of Aunt Ester in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and for her versatility in From the Mississippi Delta. She recently co-starred in South Coast Repertory’s production of Fences, and has also appeared at SCR in Jar the Floor (NAACP Theatre Award for Best Actress) and Twelfth Night. Other theater credits include productions at New York Shakespeare Festival, the Negro Ensemble Company, Mark Taper Forum, The Old Globe and Westwood Playhouse. Her many TV roles include Edna on the Tyler Perry series Meet the Browns and Dorothy Bascomb on The Bold and the Beautiful. She is a Cable Ace winner for her portrayal in the HBO mini-series Laurel Avenue.
Tamlyn Tomita (Tina) starred in the Fountain’s very first production, Winter Crane (Drama-Logue Award).Other stage work include The Square and Don Juan: A Meditation (Taper, Too), Summer Moon (Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre and South Coast Repertory), Day Standing on its Head (Manhattan Theatre Club) and Nagasaki Dust (Philadelphia Theatre Company). She is best known for the films The Day After Tomorrow,The Joy Luck Club and Karate Kid 2. Other film credits include Picture Bride, Come See the Paradise, Four Rooms, Living Out Loud and Gaijin 2. Soap opera followers know her as Dr. Ellen Yu on Days of Our Lives and Glee fans have seen her as Julia Chang.
Maria Bermudez (Choreographer) is one of the foremost flamenco dancers in the world today. Born in Los Angeles, she now resides in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, the “cradle” of flamenco. Her outstanding and critically acclaimed performances include The Hollywood Bowl, The John Anson Ford Theater, The Fountain Theater, The Los Angeles Music Center, and The Bilingual Foundation of the Arts in Los Angeles, Central Park and The Joyce Theater in New York City, the Teatro Palacio das Artes in Brazil, Pena Cernicalos, Los Gallos, and Teatro Lope de Vega in Spain, guest appearances with the Santa Cecilia California and numerous venues throughout the world. Most recently she formed Chicana Gypsy Project which draws on her Mexican-American heritage and her immersion into Gypsy culture. Her life and career has inspired the award-winning documentary film, Streets of Flamenco .
Housed in a charming two-story complex, the Fountain is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won over 200 awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally. Highlights include In the Red and Brown Water (“Best in Theater 2012” – Los Angeles Times); Cyrano, an adaptation of the Rostand classic for hearing and deaf actors by Stephen Sachs (LADCC Award, “Outstanding Production”), a six-month run of Bakersfield Mist, also by Sachs, optioned for London and New York; the Off-Broadway run of the Fountain’s world premiere production of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances; and the making of Sachs’ Sweet Nothing in My Ear into a TV movie.The Fountain has been honored with a Certificate of Appreciation from the Los Angeles City Council for “enhancing the cultural life of Los Angeles.” The Fountain was recently honored with seven Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle including the Polly Warfield Award for Best Season 2012.
Heart Song opens on Saturday, May 25, with performances Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2 pm through July 14. Preview performances take place May 18-24 on the same schedule. Tickets are $34 (reserved seating), except previews which are $15. On Thursdays and Fridays only, seniors over 65 and students with ID are $25. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles.Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call 323-663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.
Casting is now complete for the Fountain Theatre’s world premiere production of the new comedy/drama Heart Song byStephen Sachs, directed byShirley Jo Finney. The trio of TV/Film/Stage actresses leading the way are Pamela Dunlap (“Mad Men”), Juanita Jennings (“Fences” at South Coast Rep) and Tamlyn Tomita (“Glee”, “Days of Our Lives”, “Joy Luck Club”). Heart Song opens May 25th.
Heart Song is a funny and touching new play that chronicles the personal journey of Rochelle (Pamela Dunlap), a middle-aged Jewish woman in New York City struggling through a crisis of faith. Rochelle’s life is changed when she is convinced by friend Tina (Tamlyn Tomita) to join a flamenco class for middle-aged women. There she meets Daloris (Juanita Jennings) and an unforgettable circle of other women who propel Rochelle on a journey of sisterhood and self-discovery.
Pamela Dunlap (Rochelle) makes her Fountain Theatre debut in Heart Song. She is a film/TV/stage veteran who has guest-starred on dozens of TV shows including two years as Pauline Francis on TV’s Mad Men and two years as Gilda Rockwell on Commander in Chief. Her many film credits include Clint Eastwood’s The Changeling and I Am Sam with Sean Penn. On stage, she recently co-starred with Dorothy Lyman in August: Osage County and has appeared in regional theaters across the country including South Coast Repertory, Arena Stage, Hartford Stage, the Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum, New York Theatre Workshop and the Lonacre Theatre on Broadway.
Juanita Jennings (Daloris) recently co-starred in South Coast Repertory’s production of Fences. She is well known to Fountain audiences for her thrilling portrayal of Aunt Ester in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and for her versatility in From the Mississippi Delta. She has also appeared at SCR in Jar the Floor (NAACP Theatre Award for Best Actress), and Twelfth Night. Other theatre credits include productions at New York Shakespeare Festival, the Negro Ensemble Company, Mark Taper Forum, The Old Globe and Westwood Playhouse. Her many TV roles include Edna on the Tyler Perry series Meet the Browns, and Dorothy Bascomb on The Bold and the Beautiful. She is also a Cable Ace winner for her portrayal in the HBO mini-series Laurel Avenue.
Tamlyn Tomita (Tina) is best known for the films The Day After Tomorrow,The Joy Luck Club, and Karate Kid 2. Other film credits include Picture Bride, Come See the Paradise, Four Rooms, Living Out Loud, and Gaijin 2. Soap opera followers know her as Dr. Ellen Yu on Days of Our Lives and Glee fans have seen her as Julia Chang. Tamlyn’s stage work include such productions as The Square and Don Juan: A Meditation (Mark Taper Forum’s Taper, Too), Summer Moon (Seattle’s A Contemporary Theatre and South Coast Repertory), Day Standing on its Head (Manhattan Theatre Club), and Nagasaki Dust (Philadelphia Theatre Company). Tamlyn returns to our Fountain stage twenty-three years after winning a Drama-Logue Award when she starred in our very first production, Winter Crane, in 1990.
Also featured in the Heart Song cast are Andrea Dantas, Alicia Dhanifu, Mindy Krasner, Sherrie Lewandowski, Norma Maldonado, and Barbara Oilar.
Stephen Sachs is the author of the recent Fountain hits Bakersfield Mist (optioned for London/Broadway) and Cyrano (LA Drama Critics Circle Award). Shirley Jo Finney won the LA Drama Critics Circle Award for her direction of the Fountain Theatre’s critically acclaimed and award-winning In the Red and Brown Water. Internationally heralded flamenco dancer Maria Bermudez will serve as Heart Song choreographer.