Tag Archives: director

‘Hannah’ playwright Jiehae Park and director Jennifer Chang making magic together

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Jiehae Park

by Carolina Xique

It’s an exciting time to be an artist. In the last few years, the arts industry has been experiencing a high production value in diverse storytelling aimed toward better representation of people of color, and more specifically, Asian and Asian American representation. With groundbreaking films such as Crazy Rich Asians, Netflix’s Always be My Maybe, The Farewell, as well as the successful theatrical production of Cambodian Rock Band, people everywhere are becoming more exposed to the nuances of the Asian/Asian-American experience.

With a cast that is made up of Koreans and Korean Americans, Jiehae Park’s Hannah and the Dread Gazebo takes a family on a funny, heartbreaking adventure to reconnect with their roots in South and North Korea, and also into the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides them. Hannah premiered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 2017, and is now set to open at the Fountain Theatre in association with East West Players, directed by Jiehae’s longtime collaborator, Jennifer Chang. So we thought we’d grab the chance to talk with them about their own adventure with this play.

Carolina Xique: First, let me say that I’m thrilled to hear about this new piece and that it’s making its way into Los Angeles.

Jiehae, as playwright, can you talk about how the idea for this play came to you? Is it personal to your own experience or indicative of the holistic Korean American experience? And Jennifer, as the director, what drew you to take on this piece?

Jiehae Park: I didn’t know I was writing a play. I was primarily a performer at the time (Jen and I both went to UCSD for acting). There were quite a few big questions I was trying to figure out—and I think the unusual shape of the play reflects that. I would sit down and write down stories that came to me in that moment, not realizing it was all going to add up to something bigger.

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Jennifer Chang

Jennifer Chang: I am a huge fan of Jiehae’s and have been following her career with personal interest for some time as we share an alma mater: we both went through the MFA Acting program at UCSD and have both diversified our careers.  She is a significant talent and I am so thrilled to have this opportunity to collaborate with her on Hannah and the Dread Gazebo. The musicality of the language and the inherent theatricality that emerges from her ability to weave a multiplicity of thought and theme are all very exciting and honestly a dream to be able to dive into.  Also, I love being able to support the telling of Asian American stories in their universality and three-dimensionality.

What kind of research did both of you dive into when writing Hannah?

JP: I didn’t research much initially, but I did do quite a bit before finishing the play (that’s been a recurring pattern in my writing process these last few years). The research didn’t directly go into the play but provided a richer historical and cultural context that helped me complete it.

A follow-up to that, in terms of your other plays and writing process, was anything different for Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

JP: Broadly, I seem to have two general types of plays—super-quick, freight-train-speed linear ones; or messier, slower-baking plays where the structure is far less predictable. Hannah is definitely in the latter category.

Jennifer, what in your directing process is helping you with Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

JC: Regarding research, the usual dramaturgical work of researching was involved: Korea, the DMZ, politics of North and South and Kim Jong Il. I wanted to lean into the magic-realism of the play, and early on knew that I wanted to consult with an illusionist, and also started doing some research into magic (I’m currently reading Spellbound by David Kwong). It’s been so great to have a cast that is Korean American.  There are some points of commonality amongst Asian Americans, but being able to tap into specific details, nuances, and experiences that the cast has so generously shared with the company and has contributed to the making of the show has been invaluable.  It’s illuminating to discover the tiny nuances of how gestures and thinking and sounds differ for Koreans in, and those from, Korea.  I love new plays and really view myself as a locksmith in my approach to collaboration.  I want to know what the play wants to be, the playwright’s intentions, what’s resonating with the cast and how they approach the work, and how best to facilitate the conversation and “the ride” so to speak, with the audience.  Having worked on Vietgone by Qui Nguyen has really helped.  These plays are vastly different but they both have scenes that shift at a cinematic pace in widely varying tones that need to be woven together in the same play.

East West Players is a theatre company known for its work lifting up Asian-American stories. How do you feel about bringing the LA premiere of Hannah in collaboration with EWP and the Fountain Theatre?

JP: Honored. I had a reading of my very first play—which had been my college thesis—at EWP over a decade ago…in the time since I figured out I wasn’t a playwright, went to grad school for something else, then re-figured out that I was.  And Stephen Sachs at the Fountain reached out about the play very soon after the OSF premiere—I’ve long admired the scripts he brings to LA area audiences. Additionally, Jen directed an early reading of the play at EWP years ago, and I acted in a show with Jully Lee (the Shapeshifter) that Howard Ho (Sound Design/Composer) music directed when I was right out of school. I’m bummed to not have been able to be out there for rehearsals, but happy that it feels all in the family.

JC: It’s an honor to be able to helm a project with the support of two highly respected institutions in Los Angeles.  I think it’s really smart theatre making to cross-pollinate and support the universality of human experiences and good work regardless of color.  A collaboration like this signals that this isn’t just work by people of color, but that it’s good work worth supporting, period.

What do you want audiences to take with them when they leave the Fountain Theatre after seeing Hannah and the Dread Gazebo?

JC: Garlic in their pockets.

Carolina Xique, is a theatre artist and arts nonprofit administrator. She is a member of the Los Angeles Female Playwright Initiative

Fountain Theatre earns 3 NAACP Theatre Award nominations for ‘Runaway Home’

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Maya Lynne Robinson and Karen Malina White, Runaway Home, 2017.

The Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Branch this week announced its nominees for the 28th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards.  The nominating committee is one year behind in its honoring process, only now selecting theatre productions opening January 2017 through December 2017. 

The Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed 2017 Los Angeles Premiere of Runaway Home by Jeremy Kamps has earned three NAACP Theatre Award nominations:  

  • Best Choreography – Janet Roston
  • Best Director – Shirley Jo Finney
  • Best Supporting Actress – Karen Malina White

The mission of the Theatre Awards is to entertain, educate, and inspire the community and create diversity in the arts and entertainment industry. The branch also celebrates a four-day theatre festival, which provides a platform for theatre-makers to share their craft with an audience of their peers, the community and other individuals who celebrate live theatre in Los Angeles.

The 28th Annual NAACP Theatre Awards will be held on Monday, June 17, 2019, 6:00 p.m. at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. More information 

MUSIC VIDEO: Fountain Theatre brings acclaimed ‘The Chosen’ to Palo Alto

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Steven Green, Dor Gvirtsman, Jonathan Arkin and Sam Mandel.

Enjoy this fun music video created by actor Jonathan Arkin chronicling the Fountain Theatre opening its acclaimed production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen at the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto, CA.

Directed by Simon Levy, the production stars Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel.

A beautiful reminder of why I chose this life

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Tech rehearsal for “The Chosen”, Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, Palo Alto

by Simon Levy

Our acclaimed production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok, was a wonderful success at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center Taube Koret Campus for Life/Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto this past weekend.

We were invited by Ronit Widmann-Levy, Director of Arts and Culture, because several members of her JCC had seen our production earlier this year in L.A., plus she’d heard about the production at a conference of JCCs in New York. She made arrangements with our Artistic Director, Stephen Sachs, to bring the original cast (Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel), our stage manager (Miranda Stewart), and myself to remount our production in their 300-seat theatre.

On Monday and Tuesday of last week, Miranda and the actors and I got together for brush-up rehearsals over at the Colony Theatre (the Fountain was busy getting ready for the VIP opening of Cost of Living, our current production). It had been four months since we had done the show and I wanted to make sure the actors had time to get ready. They were remarkable! – they knew all their lines and the old camaraderie immediately returned. It was as if they were still doing the show. They were ready and eager to dive back in.

After packing up and shipping most of the furniture, props, and costumes (except for the beautiful bookshelves, arches, and hundreds of books), we boarded a Southwest flight to San Francisco on Thursday, Super Shuttled to the beautiful Sheraton Palo Alto, took a quick tour of where we would be performing, gathered for dinner at the Town and Country Village near the hotel, then settled in for a good night’s rest.

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Simon Levy and actor Sam Mandell enjoy the plane ride to San Francisco.

Friday was a 12-hour tech day where we re-configured and re-sized our intimate production to the larger stage of the Arts Hall. We re-blocked a few key moments, re-designed the dozens of light cues, laid in dozens more sound cues, and re-configured the special video effect of Hebrew letters that accents a key moment in the play. Even without the bookshelves, archways and library effect, the production sat nicely on their stage, allowing the emphasis to be on the actors.

Center for Jewish Life, Palo Alto, California

Schultz Cultural Arts Hall, Palo Alto

Moving a show from one space to another, especially with only one day of tech, can often be stressful and prone to all sorts of mishaps. But we were blessed! I want to give special thanks to the Center’s tech wizards, Nick and Kyle. They could not have been more professional, helpful, creative, and just downright nice! And the same for Ilanit Gal, the Events Manager, who took good care of us. Ronit Widmann-Levy was gracious and welcoming and warmly introduced us to many of the attendees and made sure we had everything we needed. It was a pleasure to work with them, and they made the transition from our intimate space to their larger one, smooth and stress-free.

On Saturday afternoon we had a tech run of the show, made a few adjustments, then prepared for our opening. Spirits were high; there was much joking among the cast as they donned costumes and makeup, re-checked their props, and waited for the 7:30 curtain. The Saturday night show was so oversold that the Center had to add three extra rows of seats to accommodate the 300+ patrons. And word-of-mouth from that performance quickly sold out the Sunday night show. Two full houses… two standing ovations!

CHOSEN LCC posterAt the Q&A after the Sunday performance nearly the entire audience stayed, applauding us, engaging us with intelligent questions, and afterwards they swarmed the actors with more questions and compliments. They loved the show. Just loved it. And they could not have been more complimentary – not only about the acting and production, but also about how relevant the story is; how much it touched them; how certain moments made them laugh or cry or nod in recognition; how Chaim’s book and Posner’s adaptation give life not only to so many Jewish themes and historical moments, but to the dynamics of family, of children finding their own path, of the need for understanding and forgiveness, and how, with empathy and compassion, we actually can hold two opposing ideas in our mind at the same time, and both can be true.

The other thing I heard over and over, both from the JCC staff and audience members, is how the immediacy and three-dimensionality of theatre brings to emotional life the richness of the novel in a visceral way that’s different from reading the book. They entered into the world we created for them, and they were moved.

We were even featured on the cover of J. The Jewish News of Northern California with a full-length article about the production and the novel. 

On Monday morning, we boarded another Southwest flight and returned home.

Theatre of the heart. To touch the heart of another and to remind them of their humanity is our highest calling as artists. Our road trip to Palo Alto was a beautiful reminder of why I chose this life.

Simon Levy is the Producing Director of the Fountain Theatre. 

Cast announced for West Coast Premiere of Pulitzer Prize winner ‘Cost of Living’ at Fountain Theatre

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Katy Sullivan

Katy Sullivan will reprise her off-Broadway role in the West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok‘s Pulitzer Prize winning drama Cost of Living at the Fountain Theatre. Her acclaimed 2017 performance as Ani at Manhattan Theatre Club earned Sullivan nominations for the Lucille Lortel Award, Drama League Award, and Outer Critic’s Circle Award.

Joining Sullivan in the Fountain Theatre production are Tobias Forrest  (Wisdom of the Crowd, Special Unit), Maurice G. Smith (Meet the Browns) and Xochitl Romero (Queens, La Jolla Playhouse). Eileen Grubba (Fear the Walking Dead) will understudy Ms Sullivan. John Vreeke directs.

Achingly human and surprisingly funny, Cost of Living is a haunting, rigorously unsentimental play about the forces that bring people together and the realities of facing the world with physical disabilities. Unemployed truck driver Eddie is struggling to rebuild a relationship with his estranged wife Ani, facing life in a wheelchair with a spinal cord injury. Jess, in a job that she desperately needs, is trying to navigate her duties with John, her new boss with cerebral palsy. But, who is really caring for whom? By shattering stereotypes, the play reveals how deeply we all need each other. In addition to the  2018 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Cost of Living won the Lucille Lortel Award for Outstanding Play.

Cost of Living opens at the Fountain Theatre October 20 and runs to December 16. Tickets go on sale September 12. More Info

Fountain Theatre awarded $32,000 grant for deaf/hearing new play ‘Arrival & Departure’

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Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur

The Fountain Theatre is very pleased to announce that it has been awarded a grant from the David Lee Foundation in the amount of $32,000 to support and enhance the budget of the world premiere of its new deaf/hearing production, Arrival & Departure, which will combine American Sign Language and Spoken English. Written and directed by Stephen Sachs and starring Deaf actors Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur, the new play opens July 14. 

The David Lee Foundation aims to support, enhance and promote Los Angeles area professional theater. It offers monetary grants to encourage the production of plays and musicals that might otherwise be overlooked because of financial considerations. Grants are given to supplement cast sizes, set and costume budgets, orchestras and rehearsal time.

“This magnificent award will allow The Fountain to bring Arrival & Departure to our stage with the full vision intact,” affirms Fountain Theatre Director of Development Barbara Goodhill. “It is also a beautiful affirmation of the merit of this beautiful play and the importance of the community it serves and illuminates.”

With ever increasing costs accompanied by decreasing aid to the arts, theater companies large and small are being forced to work with fewer and fewer resources. As a result the live theater appears to be shrinking before our eyes. Few theaters can consider a play with over four actors and anything more than the most rudimentary of sets and costumes. More often than not we are greeted upon entering the theater with a bare stage, a chair and a program that lists one or two actors. While this may well be artistically satisfying in some cases, it has resulted in the neglect of many great works simply because of their size. The David Lee Foundation seeks to change that.

David Lee regularly directs and writes for major regional theaters, including the L.A. Opera, Pasadena Playhouse, Two River Theater CompanyPapermill Playhouse, Williamstown Theater Festival, Encores, Reprise and the Hollywood Bowl. A nine-time Emmy Award winning director, writer and producer for television, David was co-creator/director of “Wings”and “Frasier”, a writer and producer for “Cheers” and a director for “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  19 Emmy nominations, Directors Guild Award, Golden Globe, Producers Guild Award, Ovation Award, British Comedy Award, Television Critics Association Award (three times), the Humanitas Prize (twice) and the Peabody.

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Set in New York City, Arrival & Departure is a re-imagined modern-day deaf/hearing stage adaptation of the classic 1945 British film, Brief Encounter. A deaf man and a hard-of-hearing woman, married to different people, meet accidentally in a NY city subway station. A friendship develops over time, escalating into a passionate love affair that both deny themselves to consummate. An unforgettable love story inspired by one of the most beloved romantic movies of all time. A fast-moving innovative new production blending sign language, spoken English, open captioning and cinematic video imagery. 

Get Tickets/More Info

VIDEO: Actors and director from’The Chosen’ share insights on acting, theatre and hit play

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Sam Mandel, Dor Gvirtsman with Deborah Kobylt

Director Simon Levy and actors Sam Mandel and Dor Gvirtsman enjoyed chatting about our smash hit production of The Chosen with talk radio/TV host Deborah Kobylt on Wednesday. The acclaimed sold-out run of The Chosen has been extended to June 10th. 

A silent father, an ancient tradition and an unexpectedly important game of baseball forge bonds of lifelong friendship between two Jewish boys from “five blocks and a world apart” in this funny, poignant, timely and timeless father-son story about recognition and acceptance of “the other.”

CRITIC’S CHOICE… DEEPLY EMOTIONAL… reminds us to reach across divides” — Los Angeles Times

MAGIC… brilliantly presented… four stand-out actors… directed with visionary insight” — Broadway World

Deborah Kobylt hosts her own online radio/TV talk program, Deborah Kobylt LIVE, every Wednesday at 1pm on Universal Broadcasting Network (UBN).  

More Info/Get Tickets to The Chosen

‘The Chosen’ extended again! Now to June 10th at the Fountain Theatre

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Steven B. Green in ‘The Chosen’ at the Fountain Theatre (photo by Ed Kreiger)

The Fountain Theatre’s hit production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen has been extended a second time, now playing to June 10th. A silent father, an ancient tradition and an unexpectedly important game of baseball forge bonds of lifelong friendship between two Jewish boys from “five blocks and a world apart” in this funny, poignant, timely and timeless father-son story about recognition and acceptance of “the other.” The smash hit production has sold out every performance since it opened on January 20th.

Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and Directed by Simon Levy, the cast includes Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel.

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Sam Mandel, Dor Gvirtsman and Steven B. Green in ‘The Chosen’.  

The Fountain production has earned rave reviews everywhere. It has been highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times and is Ovation Award Recommended.  

CRITIC’S CHOICE! DEEPLY EMOTIONAL” — Los Angeles Times

MAGIC… four stand-out actors… directed with visionary insight” — Broadway World

INSPIRED… LIVELY… ABSORBING.” —Cultural Weekly

FIVE STARS… EMOTIONALLY STUNNING… DON’T MISS IT” — Haines His Way

MESMERIZING… this play has something for everyone – Jewish or not.” — LA Splash

WOW!… EXQUISITE… gripping, edifying, and moving…  a must-see!” — Stage Scene LA

EXQUISITE AND HEARTFELT”  — Showmag

ASTONISHING… vital, alive, and important” —Stage and Cinema

“RECOMMENDED STAGE RAW TOP 10… CLASSY” —Stage Raw

STUNNING… ageless and universal… theatre at its finest.” — The Tvolution

SPLENDID HEARTFELT…  FIRST-RATE” —. Theatre Notes

“DEEPLY MOVING… fresh and meaningful” — Theatre Spoken Here

WELCOME INDEED… beauty and simple truths” — Ticket Holders LA

The Fountain Theatre’s ongoing post-show discussion series, Breaking It Down, will continue through the extension with thought-provoking conversations on themes connected to issues explored in the play. 

Get Tickets/More Info

 

 

Smash hit play ‘The Chosen’ extends to May 7th at Fountain Theatre

TC_A0482In the wake of nearly two-dozen rave reviews and six weeks of sold-out houses, the Fountain Theatre has extended its run of The Chosen and increased performances from three to four per week. Adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok from Potok’s bestselling novel of the same name, The Chosen will now continue through May 7.

A moving coming-of-age story set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn against the backdrop of World War II, the revelation of the Holocaust and the desperate struggle of Zionism, The Chosen is the story of two observant Jewish boys who live only five blocks, yet seemingly worlds, apart. Danny (Dor Gvirtsman) is the son of the charismatic but forbidding Reb Saunders (Steven B. Green, stepping in for the extension), an ultra Orthodox  tzaddik who has raised his son in strict silence. Reuven (Sam Mandel) is the son of the more traditionally Orthodox scholar and fervent Zionist David Malter (Jonathan Arkin). When Danny injures Reuven during a baseball game between their rival yeshivas, their two universes collide and a unique friendship is born.

In its “Critic’s Choice” review, the Los Angeles Times calls the play “deeply emotional,” noting that the Fountain production “reminds us to reach across divides.” L.A. Splash writes that The Chosen is “a universal story of relationships in their multitude of forms, mak[ing] this play something for everyone – Jewish or not.” Stage Scene LA says, “’The Chosen’ is a must-see for audiences of any age, ethnicity, or religious affiliation.” BroadwayWorld hailsThe Chosen as “a moving coming-of-age story… funny, poignant, timely and timeless,” and Stage and Cinema declares it to be “vital, alive, and important.”

“We are thrilled that this production is resonating with so many people, and that we are touching so many hearts,” says director Simon Levy.

More Info/Get Tickets

 

PHOTOS: Cast and guests enjoy opening night party for ‘The Chosen’

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The company of ‘The Chosen’

A beautiful and heartfelt performance was followed by a lively party as cast and audience members celebrated the opening of The Chosen at the Fountain Theatre on Saturday night, January 20th.   The sold-out house leapt to their feet in a standing ovation, then gathered upstairs in our indoor/outdoor cafe for food, drink and festivities with the company.

Actors Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel were feted by Fountain VIP donors, invited guests and members of our Board of Directors.

Looks like the Fountain has another hit on its hands. performances for The Chosen are already selling out in advance. Get Tickets/More Info