France-Luce Benson has been honored by the Entertainment Community Fund (formerly the Actors Fund) with the 2023 Teaching Artist Award for Innovative Curriculum. France-Luce was recognized for pioneering Fountain Voices, the Fountain Theatre’s arts education program serving students in schools throughout Southern California. The award is supported by the generosity of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
The majority of students in the Fountain Voices program have never seen a play, read a play, or know much about theatre at all. Ms. Benson observed in her thank-you remarks, “They are completely unaware of the power of theatre – which is that it is a space for us to use our voices. Many of the students have never been given that kind of space. They don’t know they have a voice, or that what they have to say matters. Many of them have never been asked to think about what matters to them, what is important to them – let alone write about it. And it’s exciting to watch them come alive when they begin to discover that, to discover who they are, what they care about. And the most exciting thing is not to see them use their voices, but to experience their desire to be heard, to step into the belief that they have a right to be heard.”
Congratulations, France-Luce! We’re proud of the educational outreach work we do at the Fountain. Thanks for laying out the blueprint to help make it happen.
The Fountain Theatre has been awarded a WarnerMedia Arts and Culture grant funded by the AT&T Foundation to support Walking the Beat Los Angeles, a pioneering arts education program for inner city high school youth and police officers.
Now in its second year at the Fountain, Walking the Beat utilizes performing arts as a vehicle for youth empowerment and community building, providing transformative experiences for underserved youth and police officers.
Eighteen 9th through 12th graders from five Los Angeles area schools — Hawthorne High School, Hollywood High, Los Angeles High School of the Arts @ RFK, Pasadena High and San Pedro High — have been working since mid-June with two detectives from the Los Angeles School Police Department and one officer from the UCLA Police Department’s Crime Prevention Unit to create Blackout 2021, an original multi-media performance work that focuses on the shift from a culture of incarceration to a culture of care. Each of the students receives a stipend as well as community service hours.
Written by Walking the Beat curriculum director and program facilitator Angela Kariotiswith original writings by the ensemble, Blackout 2021 is directed by Theo Perkins. Perkins is executive and artistic director of New Jersey’s Elizabeth Youth Ensemble, which created the program five years ago. The Los Angeles creative team also includes choreographer Nicholas Rodriguez, sheltered yoga instructor Tine LeMar and drama therapist Adam Stevens. Due to the pandemic, Blackout 2021 was conceived as a virtual/hybrid program and will be screened on the Fountain Theatre’s Covid-safe outdoor stage over the course of two evenings at the end of August.
“Although we all miss being on stage, there was an urgency to keep this work going,” says Perkins. “By taking advantage of the digital space, we were able to invite guest artists from all over the country to join us virtually to help generate writing and ideas. This virtual model of devising theater teaches us a lot about radical imagination, radical creativity, and challenges us to explore new methods of solidarity building.”
Kariotis states, “This summer, we integrated a design thinking framework. This means we work together to identify and solve our own problems. We started with the question, how might we shift from a carceral state to a culture of care? We cast our focus wider, beyond any individual people, and onto the day-to-day systems, policies, processes, and habits that entangle us.”
In addition to Warner Media, Walking the Beat Los Angeles is supported in part by the Fountain Theatre, The Vladimir & Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, David and Mary Jo Volk, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and the 13th District, L.A. County Department of Probation, L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, The Allison Thomas Racial Justice Fund, The Phillips-Gerla Family, Sharyk Overhoser, Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber, Friars Charitable Foundation, Toby and Daniel Bernstein, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
The Fountain Theatre is committed to theater as a change agent and to serving the community.
“In these highly charged times, nothing is more urgent than promoting better understanding between young people of color and the police who serve their communities,” notes artistic director Stephen Sachs. “Walking The Beat does just that and more. It changes lives. The powerful curriculum and methodology have been proven — through pre- and post-workshop interviews, surveys and testimonials — to produce real, on-the-ground change.”
Founded in 1990 by Sachs and Deborah Culver, the Fountain Theatre has won hundreds of awards for all areas of production, performance and design, and provides an essential voice for the citizens of Los Angeles. Dedicated to community, the Fountain produces outstanding theater that challenges thinking and shines an artistic light on the many under-represented voices and cultures within Los Angeles. Eric Garcetti joined with the Los Angeles City Council to commend the Fountain for “achieving a position of leadership in the Los Angeles theatre community… producing meaningful new plays of social and political importance that enrich the lives of the citizens of Los Angeles.” During the pandemic, the Fountain was approved by the City of L.A. to build an outdoor stage in its parking lot. As a result, it was one of the first venues to re-open in June. Currently playing on the outdoor stage is the Fountain’s critically acclaimed L.A. premiere of An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, which runs through Sept. 19. The theater is also presenting Forever Flamenco al fresco during the last weekends of August and September.
Established in 2016, the Elizabeth Youth Theater Ensemble’s mission is centered upon strengthening the voices of young artists. Utilizing theater-arts based curricula, EYTE provides creative learning opportunities for inner city youth that allow them to gain confidence, communication skills and self-awareness. EYTE seeks to create experiences that empower youth, developing theater as a powerful place for community
Screenings of Blackout 2021 take place on Wednesday, Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. and Thursday, Aug. 26 at 7 p.m. on the Fountain Theatre’s outdoor stage. The Wednesday evening event will include special remarks and commendations by L.A. City officials. A reception will follow each of the screenings. Admission to the performances is free and open to the public(reservations necessary). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles CA 90029 (corner Fountain and Normandie). For more information and to make a reservation, call (323) 663-1525 or visit FountainTheatre.com/walking the beat.
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.
Deborah Culver and Stephen Sachs founded the Fountain Theatre in an intimate, Spanish-style, East Hollywood building that belies the sizable local impact and international reach of the company’s acclaimed and award-winning productions. Now entering its 30th year as one of the most highly regarded theaters in Los Angeles, the Fountain is announcing a celebratory 2020 season of dynamic premieres and events.
“Thirty years ago, when we first entered this theater and stepped onto its stage, we knew we had found it. A place to call home,” Culver and Sachs said in a joint statement. “Since that April three decades ago, our charming haven on Fountain Avenue has been home to thousands of artists and millions of patrons. Fountain plays are now performed worldwide and seen on TV. Our flamenco concerts are first class. Our outreach programs change lives. Our legacy is noteworthy. And our future looks bigger and brighter than ever.”
The season opener, the world premiere of Human Interest Story — written and directed by Sachs who, in addition to his role as co-founder and co-artistic director of the Fountain, is an internationally acclaimed playwright — will open on Feb. 15. In this timely drama about homelessness, celebrity worship and truth in American journalism, newspaper columnist Andy Kramer (Rob Nagle) is laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes his paper. In retaliation, Andy fabricates a letter to his column from an imaginary homeless woman named “Jane Doe” who announces she will kill herself on the 4th of July because of the heartless state of the world. When the letter goes viral, Andy is forced to hire a homeless woman (Tanya Alexander) to stand-in as the fictitious Jane. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.
Slated for Spring, 2020, the Los Angeles premiere of If I Forget by Steven Levenson (Dear Evan Hansen) will be directed by Fountain producing director Simon Levy. In this viciously funny, unflinchingly honest portrait of a Jewish family and a culture at odds with itself, a liberal Jewish studies professor reunites with his two sisters to celebrate their father’s 75th birthday. Both political and deeply personal, this play about history, responsibility, and what we’re willing to sacrifice for a new beginning was a New York Times “Critic’s Pick,” while DC Metro calls it “one of the greatest Jewish plays of this century.”
Summer brings the Los Angeles premiere of An Octoroonby 2016 MacArthur fellow Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, who won the Obie for this radical, incendiary and subversively funnyriff on Dion Boucicault’s once-popular 1859 mustache-twirling melodrama set on a Louisiana plantation. A spectacular collision of the antebellum South and 21st-century cultural politics, An Octoroon twists a funhouse world of larger-than-life stereotypes into blistering social commentary to create a gasp-inducing satire that The New York Times calls “This decade’s most eloquent theatrical statement on race in America today.” Judith Moreland directs.
Another noteworthy Los Angeles premiere closes out the season in the Fall: Escaped Alone is a caustically funny and surreal afternoon of tea and calamity by celebrated British playwright Caryl Churchill. In a serene British garden three old friends are joined by a neighbor to engage in amiable chitchat — with a side of apocalyptic horror. The women’s talk of grandchildren and TV shows breezily intersperses with tales of terror in a quietly teetering world where all is not what it seems. In his Off-Broadway review for Escaped Alone, New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley hailed the play as “wondrous” and Caryl Churchill as “the most dazzlingly inventive living dramatist in the English language.”
Also coming up in 2020:
Forever Flamenco: The dancers, musicians and singers of the Fountain’s monthly serieswill continue to delight audiences throughout 2020. The Los Angeles Times hails Forever Flamenco as “the earth and fire of first-class flamenco,” and LA Splash says, “the way you feel when you walk out of a Forever Flamenco performance is pretty darn fabulous.”
Hollywood Dreams: CBS star and Fountain family member Simone Missick (All Rise) and Fountain board chair Dorothy Wolpert will be honored at the Fountain’s dazzling 30th AnniversaryGala at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Saturday, June 27.
Walking the Beat Hollywood, a pioneering arts education program for inner city high school youth and police officers, will return for its second year this August.
The Candidate: The Fountain’s third annual celebrity reading at Los Angeles City Hall, a stage adaptation of the 1972 Academy Award-winning movie that starred Robert Redford as a young, straight-talking candidate for the U.S. Senate, is set for Thursday, Oct. 22. One night only.
For more information about the Fountain Theatre’s 2020 30th anniversary season, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com
The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that playwright/teaching artist France-Luce Benson has joined the staff as Community Engagement Coordinator. Her duties will include overseeing the Fountain’s educational outreach programs and expanding the theatre’s interaction with audiences and local communities.
“As an artist committed to equanimity in representation and creating art that affects change, it is an honor to be a part of The Fountain Theatre, a company that is truly walking the walk, ” says Benson. “The many theatrical giants who The Fountain has produced over the years have not only influenced my work as a playwright, but they are representative of Los Angeles’ diverse cultural landscape. I am confident that my own cultural background will contribute to the important work The Fountain is doing to promote and inspire social justice.”
France-Luce Benson was named “Someone to Watch ” in 2019 by American Theatre magazine. As a playwright, she is a recipient of a Miranda Foundation grant (DETAINED), Alfred P. Sloan Foundation New Play Commission (DEVIL’S SALT), and a Princess Grace Award runner up (BOAT PEOPLE). Additional honors include: Zoetrope Grand Prize (CAROLINE’S WEDDING); Dramatists Guild Fellow 2016-17, Sam French OOB Festival Winner, NNPN Award for Best Play, and three time Kilroy List Honorable Mention. Residencies include Djerassi, the Camargo Foundation in France, and Instituto Sacatar in Bahia, Brazil. Her plays have had productions, workshops, and readings at Crossroads Theatre New Jersey, City Theatre of Miami, The Playwrights Center, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, City Theatre of Miami, Loyola Marymount University, Global Black Voices in London, and in New York The Lark, The Billy Holiday Theatre, and the Ensemble Studio Theatre where she is a company member. She’s been published by Samuel French and Routledge Press. She earned an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University and a BA in Theatre from Florida International University. Teaching appointments include UCLA Extension, St. Johns University, Columbia University, Girl Be Heard, and P.S. Arts/Inside Out in L.A. She is a proud member of The Dramatists Guild, Inc.
France-Luce teaches Story Analysis for Film and Television at UCLA Extension School. As a Dramatist Guild Fund teaching artist, she launched the Traveling Masters Program for NY Public Schools and was a guest lecturer at Columbia University, where she facilitated a playwriting intensive designed for the International Student Fellows of Columbia’s esteemed Human Rights Advocacy Program.
“We’re excited to welcome France-Luce to our Fountain Family,” says Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “She brings expertise, passion and insight to our community programming as the Fountain broadens its services into the future.”
Post-show blues. It’s a common phrase among theatre folk.
As we close the final performance of the Fountain Theatre’s arts education program, Walking the Beat Hollywood, as panels are struck and lights come down, as kids head safely home to their families, and cops return to patrolling the streets, the phrase takes on new meaning. In the context of Walking the Beat Hollywood, the phrase alludes not only to the malaise that accompanies the end of an affecting production, but also to the image of an LAPD uniform.
Walking the Beat Hollywood is a theatrical residency for high school students across Los Angeles and the police officers who patrol their neighborhoods. Together, students and officers devised a piece of theatre they titled “A Wall is Just Another Door,” about community policing informed by their personal experiences. During the show, performers begged the question in a rap battle, “When you see me in my uniform what do you see?” The question asks us all to challenge the assumptions we make and to acknowledge our biases, disadvantages, and privileges.
I have often been told that if I want to make a change in the world, I’m in the wrong business. I’ve heard that political theatre preaches to an audience that is already in agreement. This assumes that the audience attending theatre is of the same ilk. And yet, after Walking the Beat Hollywood I have never been more convinced that theatre changes lives.
Perhaps that is because the theatrical community that created and witnessed Walking the Beat Hollywood was not typical. (Walking the Beat Hollywood challenged convention as soon as the doors opened.) Development offices at theatres all over the world work hard to gather demographic information about their audiences. As a result, we know that theatrical audiences are largely white, liberal, affluent, and over 50. Working for a theatre festival during college, I was tasked with reviewing and digitizing hard-copies of audience surveys. One respondent answered the race and ethnicity question: “Really white.”
This respondent’s answer still makes me laugh. However, it’s also true and has far-reaching and troubling consequences. The ambition to democratize theatre can paradoxically become pretentious and self-serving. This is when theatre-makers become white-saviors. “Democratizing” can often look more like condescending to a group of people those in power ostensibly want to “uplift.” This is tokenism. The antidote to this kind of practice is recognizing that individuals are individuals and not representatives of a group. They are people of worth and power. Walking the Beat Hollywood succeeded in democratizing theatre precisely by self-consciously circumventing that goal.
It would be untrue to claim that the regular homogeneity of most theatrical audiences was unrepresented at Walking the Beat Hollywood. But largely this audience and this cast were unconventional. In fact, the ensemble worked hard to disrupt and challenge convention. Their tools in dismantling systems of oppression were their own stories. The ensemble gave generously of themselves and as a result moved their audience.
Melina Young and Barbara Goodhill welcome guests to “Walking the Beat” at LACC.
Angela Kariotis, a visionary theatre-maker, teaching artist, and WTBH playwright writes, “Telling a story is simple, but not easy. Easy and simple are not the same thing… We never think we have any stories. But then all of a sudden, they come tumbling out because we cracked open the door a little. And here they are all demanding, demanding to be told.” That demand imbued Walking the Beat Hollywood with honest urgency. Sitting inside the Caminito Theatre, the call for truth was palpable and stirring. My father wept as he listened to each student’s identity poem and so did I. I already knew and loved these kids and by the end of the performance I think he did too.
When I handed one of the students her final pay check, she looked at me with a telling pout and said, “I don’t want this one.” When I asked her why, she said “because it means it’s the end. And I don’t want to say goodbye to everyone.” Her reluctance was evidence of love. Sixteen strangers—ten kids and six cops—became friends.
Theatre. Changes. Lives.
I saw these kids change. I saw them grow. Many students started this process shy. Many didn’t. Some are still shy and some still aren’t. But I know that they know their worth. I know that they proclaimed their worth in front of an audience eager to bear witness to it. That is genuinely important.
Sure, this was a production focused on cops and kids coming together to discuss the problems of community policing. But the final performance did not offer a solution. Rather, it highlighted human beings of different experience coming together to listen to one another.
I return to the idea of post-show blues. How did Walking the Beat Hollywood change our proverbial uniforms? If only for an evening, we have been armed with an open mind and with the impulse to listen.
I want to challenge theatre-going audiences to continue the legacy of this performance. Be silent and be moved. Listen. After all, “Listening is an act of love.”
Cops, kids and staff of Walking the Beat at the Fountain Theatre.
The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that HBO is making a generous contribution of $10,000 to support Walking the Beat, the Fountain’s educational arts program that brings together LAPD police officers and inner city students over an 8-week period to write and create a theatre piece that they perform themselves.
“We are thrilled to welcome HBO to the Fountain Family,” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “HBO’s pedigree in providing ground-breaking, high-quality entertainment is matched by its commitment to young people and communities nationwide. Walking the Beat is an innovative program that uses theatre to promote empathy, self-expression and empowerment.”
HBO’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility Dennis Williams explains the cable network’s philosophy of giving as “how we can do the best with the resources that we have.”
“If you’re in a position of power or privilege, the question you should always ask yourself is, ‘Are you using your powers for good?’” continues Williams. “At HBO, we’re in a position to inspire change and start conversations in a way that others might not be able to do themselves. We must use our powers for good.”
Walking the Beat was devised by Theo Perkins and Angela Kariotis at Elizabeth Youth Theater Ensemble in New Jersey. HBO supported the project there for three years, and continues its sponsorship with the Hollywood program at the Fountain.
HBO and EYTE join other sponsors and partners for Walking the Beat at the Fountain, including the Hollywood Police Activities League, Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy, Deborah Culver, The Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, Dorothy Wolpert, Robert and Carrie Meadow, the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and District 13, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and District 3.
Home Box Office is the oldest and longest continuously operating pay television service in the United States, with 140 million subscribers worldwide as of 2018. HBO’s Corporate Social Responsibility team unites employees, talent and non-profit partners to elevate social issues connected to communities. At the heart of HBO’s effort is a passion for making a difference, to use its platform to educate, inspire thoughtful action and help make the world a better place.