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.
Here’s a special treat for Fountain Folk: get an inside peek at a new play written by a nationally acclaimed and award-winning playwright, screenwriter and director. This Sunday at 2pm, as part of our ‘Open Stage’ festival of guest events, the Fountain will host a reading of Mother of the Maid written and directed by Jane Anderson.
Jane’s new play, Mother of the Maid, is the tale of Joan of Arc, as seen through the eyes of her mom who is doing her very best to accept the fact that her daughter is different. The reading features Jenny O’Hara, Mathew Gottleib, Sophie Ullett, Jack Kutcher, Markie Post, Gabrielle Sunday, Corinne Shor.
Born in the Bay Area of Northern California in 1954, Jane Anderson discovered her drive for show business early on. After a few years in college, Anderson moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. In 1975 she was cast in the Off-Broadway premiere of David Mamet’s breakout play, Sexual Perversity in Chicago.
Besides acting, Anderson also worked as a stand-up comedian. It was during the creation of her routines that she discovered her passion for writing. She moved to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, earning her livelihood writing for film and television. The Challenger space shuttle disaster inspired her to write her first play, Defying Gravity. Her next play, The Baby Dance, tackled the subject of adoption. Her plays have been produced Off-Broadway and in theaters around the country, including Arena Stage, Actors Theater of Louisville, The McCarter Theater, Long Wharf, ACT, the Geffen Theater and The Pasadena Playhouse. Her published plays: Looking for Normal, The Baby Dance, Defying Gravity, Smart Choices for the New Century, Lynette at 3AM and The Last Time We Saw Her. The Quality of Life, premiered at the Geffen Playhouse and was directed by Ms. Anderson.
For her first feature screenplay, Anderson wrote a romantic comedy called It Could Happen to You about a policeman and a waitress who receives his winning lottery ticket as a tip.
While Anderson and her partner, Tess Ayers, were in the process of adopting their son, Raphael, she got word that her play The Baby Dance was to be made into a TV-movie. When actress-producer Jodie Foster offered her the chance to direct, Anderson took the opportunity to work on the story that so closely paralleled her own life. The movie adaptation, which starred Laura Dern and Stockard Channing, won a Peabody Award, a Golden Globe nomination and three Emmy nominations for best writing and made-for-TV film.
Anderson’s next foray into balancing her theatre work with film came when HBO wanted to adapt her play Looking for Normal (which won the 2001 Ovation Award for Best New Play) into a movie. The movie, titled Normal, told the story of a father who confesses to his family his desire for a sex change operation. The moving film received three Golden Globe nominations, six Emmy nominations, while Anderson herself scored nominations from both the Writers and Directors guilds for best writing and directing.
Anderson continued to write for HBO, and the ground-breaking work on their The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom, which stared Holly Hunter, gained her an Emmy, a PEN Award and Writers Guild Award for best teleplay.
Vanessa Redgrave in Anderson’s “If These Walls Could Talk”
Anderson wrote the TV movies When Billie Beat Bobby, starring Holly Hunter, and the Emmy-nominated first episode of If These Walls Could Talk II, staring Vanessa Redgrave. However, even with her busy Hollywood schedule, Jane’s theater work (including Food & Shelter, Smart Choices for the New Century, Lynette at 3AM, and The Last Time We Saw Her) have had runs Off-Broadway and in regional theaters all over the country, including Actors Theater of Louisville, Williamstown, McCarter Theater, Long Wharf and Pasadena Playhouse.
Anderson made her feature film directorial debut with 2005’s The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, the story of a 1950s housewife who writes advertising jingles to help keep her family afloat. Continuing the theme of advertising, she joined the team of writers of the critically acclaimed AMC series Mad Men for the show’s second season.
Jane resides in Los Angeles with Tess and Raphael, where she continues to write for both stage and screen.
Join us this Sunday at 2pm! Be part of the creative process in the development of an exciting new play at the Fountain Theatre.
Based on the best-selling novel by Chaim Potok, the stage adaptation ofMy Name is Asher Levby Aaron Posner is a fast-moving theatrical journey in which all the characters in the play are performed by three talented actors. Playing many roles requires that each actor combine versatility with emotional depth and complexity. And a fearless sense of fun.
Meet our extraordinary cast of our upcoming Los Angeles Premiere of My Name is Asher Lev:
Jason Karasev plays the lead role of Asher Lev. Jason was born and raised in Chicago, where he has performed with the Tony-Award winning Victory Gardens and Steppenwolf Theatres, to name a few. In Los Angeles, Jason produced and starred in Stephen Belber’s Tape, which took Best of Fringe Honors at The Hollywood Fringe Festival. He has also been seen as Phil in A Boys’ Life (Crown City) and as Naz in Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur (Ovation Nomination). Some of his Chicago Theatre credits include Stanley in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound (The Drury Lane), Zoran in Tesla’s Letters (Timeline Theatre Co.), Stone Cold Dead Serious (The Athenaeum), The Last Night of Ballyhoo (Merle Reskin) and References to Salvador Dali Make Me Hot (Bailiwick Rep.). Jason’s film and TV credits include the hit MTV series Disaster Date, Nickelodeon’s iCarly, Improvised, Shoot The Moon, and Evidence. Jason has trained and performed at the renowned Second City, Chicago with recent SNL cast member Jason Sudeikis and is a Graduate of The Theatre School at DePaul University.
Anna Khaja plays three roles: Asher’s mother, a rich gallery owner, and a model. Anna most recently appeared in the LA Premiere of Falling at Rogue Machine Theatre. Theatre credits also include: the extended Off-Broadway run of Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto, which she also wrote,at the Culture Project in NYC (2013); the LA premiere of Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto (Ovation Award – Lead Actress in a Play / Ovation Nomination – Best Production of a Play); David Hare’s Stuff Happens at the Mark Taper Forum (US Premiere/Ovation Nomination); Judith Thompson’s Palace Of The End atNoHo Arts Center(US Premiere/LA Weekly Award/Ovation nomination), The Cosmonaut’s Last Message (LA Weekly Award) as well as several other productions at The Open Fist Theatre; No Word In Guyanese For Me (GLAAD Award). Regional credits include the Cleveland Playhouse and the Marsh Theatre in SF. Film/TV: Yes Man, Post Grad, King of California, Order of Chaos, Reunion, California Solo, The Newsroom, The Closer, NCIS:LA, Numb3rs, House M.D., Criminal Minds, Private Practice, Bent, Sleeper Cell, Dirt, Weeds and a recurring role as Zaafira on season 5 of HBO’s True Blood.
Joel Polis takes on the greatest number of characters: he is Asher’s father, Asher’s Uncle, the Hasidic community’s Rebbe, and a noted artist who becomes Asher’s mentor. Joel is a native of Philadelphia. He attended the USC School of Theater and Yale Drama School before beginning a stage career in New York. He returned to Los Angeles to work in television and films but continued performing in theaters around the country, from off Broadway and Williamstown to San Diego and West LA. Theater credits include Pound of Flesh, Bach at Leipzig, Defiance, The Baby Dance, Julius Caesar, Family Business, Riga, Names, Oleanna, Richard 3, Three Travelers, The Merchant of Venice and After Crystal Night. He has appeared in over 120 episodic television shows, sitcoms, Movies of the Week, and a dozen feature films. These include The Thing, Castle, It’s My Party, True Believer, Seinfeld, Law and Order, Northern Exposure, Cheers, Home Improvement, Picket Fences and Roseanne.
My Name is AsherLevFeb 15 – April 19 (323) 663-1525 MORE
Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup at first rehearsal.
Fueled by love, anger, hope and pride, a circle of friends struggles to contain a mysterious disease ravaging New York’s gay community. Simon Levy directs the exclusive Los Angeles revival of Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking drama about public and private indifference to the onset of the AIDS crisis, and one man’s fight to awaken the world to its urgency. The Normal Heart opens Sept. 21 at the Fountain Theatre. Not seen in L.A. for over 16 years, The Normal Heart remains one of the theater’s most powerful evenings ever. It was so ahead of its time that many of the core issues it addresses — including gay marriage, a broken healthcare system and, of course, AIDS — are just as relevant today as they were when it first premiered nearly 30 years ago. “What’s wonderful about this play is that it’s a passionate reminder that we must always keep fighting for what we believe in, that we must never let injustice go unanswered,” says Levy.
Loosely autobiographical, The Normal Heart takes place in New York City in 1981. Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle and LA Weekly Award-winning actor Tim Cummings (Rogue Machine’s The New Electric Ballroom), stars as writer and activist Ned Weeks, whose doctor (LADCC award-winning Lisa Pelikan, The New Electric Ballroom) tells him he must convince everyone he knows to stop having sex or they’ll die. The play follows Ned and a core group of friends — Verton R. Banks (NAACP Theater Award-winner for Butterflies of Uganda),Bill Brochtrup (ABC’s NYPD Blue, Showtime’sShameless), Matt Gottlieb (The Grapes of Wrath at A Noise Within), Fred Koehler(CBS’s Kate & Allie, HBO’s Oz), Stephen O’Mahoney (Harvey at the Laguna Playhouse), Ray Paolantonio (Animal Farm, Wilhelm Reich in Hell at Son of Semele), Dan Shaked (On the Spectrum at the Fountain) and Jeff Witzke (Blank Theatre Co.’s Book Of Liz) — as they rail against a community that refuses to believe they are in danger, a bureaucracy that refuses to listen and a President who won’t even utter the word AIDS. Dismissed by politicians, frustrated by doctors and fighting with each other, their differences could tear them apart – or change the world. The title of the play comes from a poem by W. H. Auden, the last line of which is this simple truth: “We must love one another or die.”
When The Normal Heart premiered at New York’s Public Theater in 1985, Joseph Papp wrote, “In taking a burning social issue and holding it up to public and private scrutiny so that it reverberates with the social and personal implications of that issue, The Normal Heart reveals its origins in the theater of Sophocles, Euripides and Shakespeare. In his moralistic fervor, Larry Kramer is a first cousin to nineteenth century Ibsen and twentieth century Odets and other radical writers of the 1930s. Yet… the element that gives this powerful political play its essence, is love — love holding firm under fire, put to the ultimate test, facing and overcoming our greatest fear: death.” In 2000, The Normal Heart was named “one of the 100 greatest plays of the 20th century” by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain, and the 2011 Broadway revival earned Tony, Drama League, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards for Best Revival of a Play. A movie directed by Ryan Murphy and starring Mark Ruffalo, Jim Parsons, Matt Bomer and Julia Roberts is slated to premiere on HBO in 2014. Larry Kramer recently told Playbill, “Now it’s considered a history play. Everything I said in the play has come true.”
Larry Kramer is an American playwright and LGBT-rights activist. He is a founder of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, an AIDS service organization, and ACT UP, a direct action AIDS advocacy group. His most acclaimed plays include The Normal Heart (1985) and the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Destiny of Me (1992). His screenplay for Women in Love was nominated for an Academy Award in 1969. He is the author of the novel Faggots (1978), a confrontational portrayal of gay culture, and a critical essay about the AIDS crisis, “1,112 and Counting” (1983). Kramer has also written the plays Sissie’s Scrapbook, A Minor Dark Age and Just Say No, A Play about Farce. His other books are The Tragedy of Today’s Gays and Reports From the Holocaust: The Story of an AIDS Activist. He earned his B.A. in English from Yale University. In 2013, he was honored by the Tony Awards with the Isabelle Stevenson Award for significant contribution to humanitarian or charitable causes.
Simon Levy was honored with the 2011 Milton Katselas Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle. Directing credits at the Fountain include Cyrano (LADCC Awards for Direction and Production), A House Not Meantto Stand; Opus (LA Weekly Awards, Best Director); Photograph 51;The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore (Backstage Garland Award, Best Direction); The Gimmick with Dael Orlandersmith (Ovation Award-Solo Performance); Master Class (Ovation Award-Best Production); Daisy in theDreamtime (Backstage Garland Awards, Best Production and Direction); Going to St. Ives; The Night of theIguana; Summer & Smoke (Ovation Award-Best Production); The LastTycoon, which he wrote and directed, (5 Back Stage awards, including Best Adaptation and Direction); and Orpheus Descending (6 Drama-Logue awards, including Best Production and Direction). What I Heard About Iraq, which he wrote and directed, was produced worldwide including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Fringe First Award) and the Adelaide Fringe Festival (Fringe Award), was produced by BBC Radio, and received a 30-city UK tour culminating in London. He has written the official stage adaptations of The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and The Last Tycoon for the Fitzgerald Estate, all published by Dramatists Play Service.
Set design for The Normal Heart is by Jeff McLaughlin; lighting design is by R. Christopher Stokes; sound design is by Peter Bayne; video design is by Adam Flemming; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; the production stage manager is Corey Womack and the assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts.
The Normal Heart Sept 21 – Nov 3 (323) 663-1525MORE
“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.
Tracy Middendorf and Morlan Higgins in "After the Fall" at the Fountain Theatre (2002, photo by Ed Krieger); Tommy Schrider and Tracy in "Battle of Black and Dogs" at Yale Repertory Theatre (2010)
by Mark Kinsey Stephenson
Tracy Middendorf was hailed for her “delicious mixture of beauty and raw emotional vulnerability that makes you care deeply about her” by director Stephen Sachs in the March 2002 cover article of LA STAGE magazine. She had already become an LA stage star in 1999, when, at age 29, she received the Ovation Award for leading actress in a play – against powerhouse nominees Annette Bening, Ruby Dee, Phyllis Frelich and Linda Lavin. She earned a LA Drama Critics Circle Award for the same performance, in Summer and Smoke.
A little background
In 1992, straight out of SUNY Purchase, Middendorf was tested in NY for the successful daytime soap opera Days of Our Lives. “I was quite surprised they couldn’t find a young blonde actress in LA,” she says with a light, ironic laugh. “Surprise, surprise,” as she was promptly hired and moved over 2,400 miles — but only on Middendorf’s terms, which demonstrated her mettle.
“I was worried about taking the part; doing a soap opera wasn’t my first choice. They asked me to sign a five-year contract and I told them, ‘No.’ You can imagine the reaction of my agent. How many actresses get an opportunity to be a regular on a soap? But I had high ideals right out of college. They brought the contract down (in years) to what I wanted.” And she thoroughly enjoyed the Days of Our Lives experience – without compromise.
During the next decade, following her soap stint as Carrie Brady, Middendorf was cast on a variety of TV shows including Beverly Hills 90210, Murder She Wrote, Touched by an Angel, Ally McBeal, Six Feet Under and The Practice.
Larry Poindexter and Tracy Middendorf in "Tender is the Night" at the Fountain (photo by Ed Krieger)
But she also was able to incorporate her first love – theater – by performing at the small yet mighty Fountain Theatre. The relationship between actress and theater was mutually rewarding. Middendorf wowed critics in her first LA stage outing in Simon Levy’s 1995 multi-award-winning adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night, and followed up a year later with an Ovation-nominated feature actress performance in Tennessee Williams’ Orpheus Descending.
The East Coast beckoned Middendorf to return, which she did briefly in 1998, performing in Tony winner Daniel Sullivan’s Ah! Wilderness at NY’s Lincoln Center and Joanne Woodward’s The Big Knife at the Williamstown Theatre in Massachusetts. Then in 1999, Middendorf struck gold with Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke at the Fountain, under the direction of Levy. The actress and the production both received Ovation Awards. Life was good for Middendorf, but it was going to get better.
It is early 2002. Arthur Miller’s After the Fall, directed by artistic director Sachs, has opened at the Fountain Theatre, and Middendorf is featured in LA STAGE. She almost had to pinch herself with everything happening – creatively and personally. “It was a really exciting yet exhausting time. Calvin (her son) was two, and I was a single mom. Juggling this amazing show and great part along with bills and everything life was throwing at me, it was… challenging and hard. But going through that, I was proud of myself. It’s important to always do what you love, no matter how difficult life may be. It’s something I’ll always remember.”
Sachs shares more. “Playing Maggie required Tracy to dig deep down into some very dark and scary corners of her own psyche where her own demons hide. Her performance was shattering, fragile, heartbreaking. Unforgettable.”
The recognitions Middendorf received in 1999 were no fluke. After the Fall received four Ovation awards, including best production and one of three lead actress awards that year. Middendorf also added a second LA Drama Critics Circle award for her performance. For a play that hadn’t been seen in LA for 24 years, the Fountain and Middendorf reaped the benefits of Miller’s work.
Five years passed before Middendorf returned to the LA stage. During this passage of time, she married Franz Wisner, author of the well-received book Honeymoon with My Brother, and had another child, Oscar. TV roles were plentiful, including Alias, Cold Case, House M.D., Without a Trace and Lost, as well as acting in the movie Mission: Impossible III with Tom Cruise.
Chuma Gault and Tracy in "Miss Julie" at the Fountain Theatre (2007, photos by Ed Krieger)
However, while she was at the Fountain in Miss Julie, adapted and directed by Sachs, based on the original play by August Strindberg, a canceled audition for a play flicked a switch. She felt it was time for another 2,400-mile move.
During the run of Miss Julie, Middendorf was scheduled to audition for Edward Albee’s The Lady From Dubuque, which was set to open in London, starring Maggie Smith under the direction of Anthony Page (Tony winner for A Doll’s House). But the production team canceled its trip to LA, leaving Middendorf in the lurch. Here’s where the rubber met the road.
“I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to audition for Mr. Page or the play or Mr. Albee, so I flew to NY with my two kids. Yes, it was crazy but this was important.” After booking a hotel room and auditioning, “They paid my flight fee so I could stay a few more days and attend the callbacks.” But the coastal reality hit hard. Two Ovations and LADCC Awards didn’t ultimately sway Page to cast Middendorf. “He didn’t know any of my stage work, never had seen me in anything.” That moment was critical for her. “I wanted to expand my horizons which meant moving back to the East Coast. I didn’t want to be limited.”
"The Pavilion" at Westport Country Playhouse (2008)
Soon an acting gig on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit followed, along with another opportunity to work with Joanne Woodward, who was artistic director at the Westport Country Playhouse. “I had such a wonderful time with Joanne when I performed in The Big Knife. It was a chance to get reacquainted with this fascinating woman. So I was able to do Craig Wright’s The Pavilion (2005-2006 Drama Desk Award nominee for outstanding play).”
Westport, CT, became home for one year with its quaint community, slower pace, dinners on the beach,… but Middendorf and her family realized they wanted to live in the city. To Brooklyn they moved, and they’re still there.
East/West – the active life
Since settling in Brooklyn, Middendorf’s professional resume includes two theater productions. In 2010, she performed at Yale Repertory Theatre in the haunting thriller Battle of Black and Dogs, by the late French playwright Bernard-Marie Koltes. Middendorf reflects on her time there. “It was incredible. I adored working with Robert Woodruff (the director) who has this amazing cult following. And it gave me a chance to work with Andrew Robinson (whom she had performed with in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) now at USC (professor of theatre practice and director of MFA acting).”
Holly Twyford and Tracy in Shakespeare Theatre Company's "Old Times" (2011).
A year later came Harold Pinter’s Old Times at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC. Middendorf wryly says, “It was the shortest commute I’ve ever had. They put me in an apartment three steps from the entrance door.” Expounding on her experience, “This Pinter three-character play is not hugely appealing to everyone. Audiences can be frustrated. Yet the show received good reviews. The director Michael Kahn (also artistic director at the Shakespeare Theatre) was magnificent. We had four weeks of rehearsal to focus on this dense material.” Sophie Gilbert, theater critic with the Washingtonian, wrote, “Middendorf, as Kate, does a remarkable job in expressing the character’s sexuality and the power it gives her over others.”
During this three-year span, Middendorf’s TV credits have included CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Bones, The Mentalist, NCIS, Criminal Minds and she’s especially grateful for Boardwalk Empire. “I play Babbette (the owner of the series’ central nightclub). The pilot was directed by Martin Scorsese. Watching him direct was thrilling.”
Tracy Middendorf in HBO's "Boardwalk Empire"
When it came time for the wardrobe fitting, the initial decision was to put Middendorf in a beautiful dress. She thought otherwise. “When I auditioned for the part, it came across as very masculine. So I told them I saw Babbette in a suit.” Giving the design team pause, Middendorf was told she would be called back. “When I returned later, John Dunn, the extraordinary costume designer, had me meet with a tailor to make a tuxedo. And that’s when they gave me a platinum wig.”
Looking through a different lens
As she reflects on years past and where she is today, realizations are not far behind. “The ability to do those great parts at the Fountain…. I love that theater, Simon, Stephen…. After working on Old Times, which was in a huge space, I realized I prefer the smaller stage and a smaller audience. The intimacy of it feels comfortable to me. I miss having a place where I can do that type of work. I really appreciate and love the vitality of LA theater which is focused on the work and on the play.”
Looking at the arts with a different lens, Middendorf states, “I’ve begun to change my focus toward directing. I’m more interested in the vision for an entire piece rather than just one role in a piece. That seems like a natural step for me.”
"Break", directed by Tracy Middendorf (2011).
In August 2011, Middendorf directed Louise Rozett’s Break for the FringeNYC. The material dealt with the unexpected effects of the Ground Zero recovery effort on NYC’s firemen and policemen, and their families. How she came to helm this play was happenstance. “I was in the laundry room of our building. There was a woman (Rozett) there and we started talking. She had a Young Adult book coming out. I asked if she had written any plays, as I was looking to direct something. She said she did, and gave me her plays, which were wonderful.”
Not letting a moment such as this one go to waste, Middendorf gathered together some actors and directed a reading that had great response. “We submitted it to the Fringe Festival and it got accepted. Within a month of putting it out there, I wanted to direct a play, and that’s what I was doing. We raised money through Kickstarter to mount the production. It turned out wonderful. Now Louise is giving me another play to consider directing.”
This past summer Middendorf read Three Cups of Tea, Stones into Schools and Half the Sky (the Skirball Cultural Center is currently hosting an exhibit entitled “Women Hold Up Half the Sky” inspired by the Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn tome.) These books dealing with the plight of girls around the world touched Middendorf and made her consider ways she could make a difference in the lives of those “who don’t get an education and suffer a dismal fate.”
Middendorf rattles off a few startling facts: “Of the 104 million children aged 6-11 not in school each year, 60 million are girls; in South Asia, more than 40 percent of girls aged 15-19 from poor households never completed first grade; providing girls one extra year of education beyond the average boosts wages by 10-20 percent; educated girls are less likely to contract HIV; education can foster democracy and women’s political participation.”
“I wanted to help. My friend Laurel Holloman (an actress on The L Word), who is an abstract painter, donated one of her paintings for a charity auction. It made me think. With the digital age, what if I created a website with a gallery of photographs taken by actors, writers, musicians and directors? The limited number of photographs would be signed and sold with the money donated to charities focused on educating girls around the world.”
Her dream is near reality. The launch date for the website – www.shuttertothink.org – is scheduled for March 1, 2012, and its small collection of photography grows weekly.
It’s fitting to close this article about the seasoned actress Middendorf with meaningful high praise from Sachs and Levy, who know her well.
“Tracy has this remarkable ability to blend both a ferocious work ethic with the ability to stay utterly alive in the moment,” states Sachs. “She possesses this other-worldly combination of skilled craft and gossamer magic. To work with her again would be a blessing I would cherish.”
Levy adds, “She’s translucent and a true artist. Absolutely one of the most gifted actors I’ve ever worked with. Her emotional well is so deep and so varied, and her moment-to-moment connection so riveting, that it’s impossible, for audiences and actors and as a director, not to be drawn into the world of her truth. Stunning. Truly stunning. She’s rare and a gift to theater.”
Tony Kushner can’t make a living writing for the stage. America’s most prominent playwright confessed in an interview published in Time Out New York earlier this year that Angels in America doesn’t pay the rent: “I make my living now as a screenwriter. Which I’m surprised and horrified to find myself saying, but I don’t think I can support myself as a playwright at this point. I don’t think anybody does. I’m developing a series for HBO .”
Kushner is right. American playwrights — not even one of his stature — do not earn the bulk of their living writing plays. Many teach, while a growing number of younger ones write for series television. The trend seems to be: new playwright attains notoriety and success writing plays, realizes he/she can’t make a living at it, jumps to movies and/or television to make real money. The well-meaning intent being that a big-bucks TV salary will financially support the writer, allowing him/her to keep writing plays. What often happens? They write fewer plays. Some never return to the stage.
Some do. Itamar Moses, for instance, writes for HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire”, which isn’t stopping him from turning out stage plays (his latest effort, Completeness, just closed Off Broadway). Jon Robin Baitz had a devastating experience in Los Angeles creating and writing the new ABC series, “Brothers and Sisters”. He left the TV show (or was fired, depending on who you ask). After a year of wound-healing and soul-searching, Baitz rediscovered that his true writing home — where he was happiest and where the work was most meaningful — was the theatre. He pulled from a drawer some old notes he had scribbled years before: an idea for a play. And wrote his best new play in years, Other Desert Cities (earning rave reviews at Lincoln Center, now transferring to Broadway).
Playwrights “going to Hollywood” is nothing new. It’s been an ongoing exodus since the 1940’s. Even so, Kushner’s statement is jarring and disturbing.
“I don’t particularly want to do it,” says Kushner. ” I think that it’s a mistake to do it. So, yes, I’m very worried about it, because I think that a lot of talented playwrights wound up producing much less than they should have, and progressing less surely than ought to have, because they’ve spent a certain amount of their creative life doodling around in Hollywood. I think it’s had a baleful impact. Some writers’ work has just been destroyed by it. ”
“Having said all that, I’m deeply trying to make money in Hollywood, like every other idiot in the world.”
Playwright Keith Huff, who wrote the recent Broadway hit A Steady Rain, now writes for the AMC show “Mad Men.” Seven of the nine people writing for HBO’s “Big Love” are playwrights. David Mamet created “The Unit” for CBS, and widely produced playwright Theresa Rebeck has written for TV since the 1990s while remaining prolific as a playwright. Marsha Norman, Adam Rapp, Craig Wright, Eric Overmyer, Aaron Sorkin, Robert Schenkkan, Suzan Lori Parks, Marlene Myer, John Belluso, David Rambo, Alan Ball, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Jeffrey Sweet, Richard Greenberg … the list goes on and on.
“Theater is now viewed as a way of getting a staff writing job on TV,” says Warren Leight, the show runner and developer of “Lights Out” who won a 1999 Tony Award for the jazz-inspired play Side Man. “For a lot of guys now, it’s a means to an end. And the end is, ‘How do I make a living as a writer?'”
No one can begrudge playwrights for going where the money is. They need to make a living like everyone else. And the money is good in TV. Playwrights can earn more in two weeks of work on a TV show than they will with a commission for a play which may take them years to write.
The question is: what important new plays are not being written for the American Theatre because a playwright is writing for television?
The deeper question is: what does it say about our culture?