Tag Archives: HIV

Fountain Theatre Wins 3 LA Drama Critics Circle Awards for ‘The Normal Heart’ Including Best Production

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Stephen Sachs, Verton Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Jeff Witzke, Ray Paolantonio and Simon Levy.

Last night was another memorable evening for the Fountain Theatre, as our acclaimed production of The Normal Heart won Best Production of a Revival of a Play at the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards. Actor Tim Cummings also took the honor of Best Lead Performance and designer Adam Flemming won Best Video Design.

The Award event was held at The Colony Theatre in Burbank and was attended by hundreds of esteemed members from the LA Theatre community.  Representing the Fountain Theatre were Co-Artistic Stephen Sachs, Producing Director Simon Levy, and publicist Lucy Pollak.  Cast members from The Normal Heart included Verton Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Ray Paolantonio and Jeff Witzke.

“Our production of The Normal Heart was more than just producing a play,” said Sachs. “It became this powerful, moving and deeply meaningful cathartic event for the many people who came to see it and for all of us who brought it to life on stage.”

The theme for the awards show was “Family”. It was certainly another wonderful night for the Fountain Family.

For a full list of all award winners: click here

Enjoy These Snapshots from the Awards Night 

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Post-Show Discussion on “Religion, AIDS and the LGBT Community” this Friday night after ‘The Normal Heart’

Rev. Kathy Cooper-Ledesma

Rev. Kathy Cooper-Ledesma

Continuing its ongoing series of post-show Q&A Talkback discussions immediately following performances of The Normal Heart, the Fountain Theatre will host a conversation on “Religion, AIDS and the LGBT Community” this Friday night, Nov 1st.  Led by Rev. Kathy Cooper-Ledesma of the Hollywood United Methodist Church (aka the Red Ribbon church) and Rev. Joe Shore-Goss of MCC in the Valley, the post-show audience discussion will also include members of the cast and the director. 

Rev. Joe Shore-Goss

Rev. Joe Shore-Goss

The Fountain Theatre is committed to reaching out and serving the wide variety of diverse communities that create the vibrant fabric of Los Angeles. At the Fountain, we encourage our audiences to not only watch a play but also engage in the conversation. Please join us for these invigorating, inspiring and thought-provoking discussions. See our acclaimed and powerful production of The Normal Heart this Friday and stay for the conversation.

The Normal Heart has been extended to December 15th! MORE

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Actors from ‘The Normal Heart’ Encourage and Enlighten Young People at LGBT Youth Conference

Jeff Witzke, Bill Brochtrup, Verton R. Banks

Jeff Witzke, Bill Brochtrup, Verton R. Banks

Actors from our acclaimed production of The Normal Heart participated in the Models of Pride LGBT Youth Conference today at the University of Southern California (USC).  This one-day conference is presented by the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center’s LifeWorks program and focuses on the concerns and interests of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth up to age 24, and their allies. 

The Models of Pride conference offers over 100 workshops, a huge resource fair, exciting entertainment, lunch and dinner, and an evening dance with DJ. The workshops cover many areas of life that are experienced by LGBT youth transitioning to adulthood including but not limited to LGBT issues.

The Normal Heart actors were joined at the conference today by Fountain Co-Artistic Stephen Sachs and Associate Producer/ASM Terri Roberts . The Fountain hosted a table at the outdoor event. The group handed out flyers, interacted with hundreds of young people, and networked with dozens of other organizations. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and a very productive day.

Reaching out to young people is a vital goal and ongoing process for the Fountain Theatre and the company of The Normal Heart. The smash hit production has educational, historical, cultural and artistic importance for young audiences who were born after the initial AIDS crisis exploded on the scene in the early 1980’s.  The Fountain was determined to be at today’s LGBT Youth Conference. To keep AIDS and Gay Rights awareness alive in young minds and remind young people that the battle is not over. And to encourage them to see an important play that  brings these issues — and so much more — dramatically and passionately to life.

Enjoy These Snapshots from Today’s Conference 

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The Normal Heart  Extended to Dec 15th (323) 663-1525  MORE

College Student Finds Hope and Inspiration in ‘The Normal Heart’ at Fountain Theatre

Lily Brown

Lily Brown and friend chat with actor Tim Cummings

All of us at the Fountain Theatre feel it is important for young people to see our current production of The Normal Heart. Larry Kramer’s powerful, funny and deeply moving chronicle of the dawn of the AIDS crisis in 1981 has been named one of the 100 Greatest Plays of the Twentieth Century by the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain.  Our production has earned rave reviews and overwhelming audience response and has just been extended to December 15th. 

An entire generation of young people have grown up with little or no awareness of AIDS. Many think the AIDS crisis is “old news” and something that happened “back then” with no relevancy today. Not true. More than 30 million people have died worldwide from the AIDS virus so far, with over 1 million people still dying every year — today, now — in 2013.

Our acclaimed production of The Normal Heart is not a history lesson. It is a riveting drama, a heartfelt love story, a compelling political thriller.  It is powerful theater, life-changing theater, necessary theater. With the force to inspire and open the eyes and hearts of young people. As this message from college student Lily Brown states so eloquently:     

There have been so few times in my life that a piece of theater has moved me so much as to push me to the point of tears. Tears for heartbreak, tears for sorrow, tears for pure rage and tears for lost time and lost lives. But more than deeply moved, I was deeply inspired. As a 20-year-old college student working to get a degree in political theater and Spanish, there is nothing more valuable to me than getting to see the type of work that I aspire to make brought so wonderfully and vivaciously to life. It gives me hope for the future of theater and hope for the future of my career -- I can only hope to make something so powerful someday. Thank you for an evening not soon forgotten.

All my love and appreciation,

Lily Brown

The Normal Heart  Extended to Dec 15  (323) 663-1525  MORE

Post-Show Talkback on AIDS Prevention at ‘The Normal Heart’ This Thursday Oct 17

LAUSD HIV AIDS logo

Special Guests from LA Unified School District HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit to Discuss AIDS and Young People

This Thursday, Oct. 17, immediately following the 8 p.m. performance of The Normal Heart at The Fountain Theatre, guest speakers Timothy Kordic, Project Manager of the LAUSD HIV/AIDS Prevention Unit, and Nancy Ramos, Positively Speaking Facilitator, will host a special talkback with high school students and audience members about the reality of AIDS in 2013 and living with/preventing the disease. Director Simon Levy will moderate the discussion.

The Normal Heart is 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 title of the play is taken from a line in a poem by W.H. Auden.

The Fountain Theatre is committed to reaching as many high school and college students as possible with the show. According to Advocates for Youth (www.advocatesforyouth.org), a national organization that champions efforts to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health, almost 40 percent of new HIV infections in the United States occur in young people ages 13 to 29. This generation is also the first one to have never known a world without AIDS.

“I think it is important to educate our youth on the effect HIV had in the past and why the AIDS movement historically gained so much traction early on,” says Kordic. “It now needs to be put into perspective for this generation why the fight is not over.”

Special $12 student tickets are available for the Oct. 17 performance only. (Student discount is regularly $25.) The talkback is included in the ticket price. Mention “LAUSD” when calling to make reservations in order to get the reduced price. Adult tickets are $34.

The Normal Heart is directed by Simon Levy and features Verton R. BanksBill BrochtrupTim CummingsMatt GottliebFred KoehlerStephen O’MahoneyRay Paolantonio, Lisa PelikanDan Shaked and Jeff Witzke.

NORMAL HEART AIDS Walk flyer

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Fountain Theatre Takes to the Streets for AIDS Walk

Members of the Fountain Theatre AIDS Walk Team

Jacqueline Schultz, Terri Roberts, Barbara Goodhill, Stephen Sachs, Simon Levy

The Fountain Theatre joined more than 25,000 others yesterday for the 2013 AIDS Walk LA in West Hollywood.  The event raised  $2,520,684 for AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) and more than 25 other critically important AIDS organizations. These funds will enable APLA and its community partners to continue their far-reaching prevention and advocacy work, as well as provide urgently needed food, access to dental care, counseling, linkages to safe housing, and other crucial direct services to thousands of people in need living with HIV/AIDS.

The Fountain raised $910 on its AIDS Walk team page. The Fountain Team had a terrific time  at the AIDS Walk on Sunday, passing out flyers for our acclaimed AIDS drama The Normal Heart and raising money for AIDS research and services.  The actual walk itself stretched 6.2 miles and wounds its way through West Hollywood. In addition to the tens of thousands of people walking the route, streets were lined with thousands more cheering on the walkers. The festive, Mardi Gras atmosphere made it a lively, exhilarating and unforgettable day of community.

AIDS Walk LA 2013 026

Members of the Fountain Theatre Team at the AIDS Walk were staff members Stephen Sachs, Simon Levy, Barbara Goodhill, Terri Roberts; actor Verton R. Banks from The Normal Heart; and Fountain Family members Jacqueline Schultz and Heidi Singh.

Enjoy Some Fountain Snapshots from the AIDS Walk LA 

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The Normal Heart  Extended to Dec 15 (323) 663-1525  MORE

Smash Hit ‘The Normal Heart’ Extends to Dec 15 at Fountain Theatre

Tim Cummins, Bill Brochtrup in 'The Normal Heart'.

Tim Cummins, Bill Brochtrup in ‘The Normal Heart’.

“This production at the Fountain Theatre certainly exemplifies that great theatre is alive and well in Los Angeles. “

– Broadway World

The Fountain Theatre’s exclusive L.A. revival of The Normal Heart, which received extensive critical acclaim and has been playing to sold-out houses, will extend through Dec. 15. The Normal Heart is 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. Although it first premiered in 1985, the play 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 — remain strikingly relevant today.
Verton R.Banks, Stephen O'Mahoney, Fred Koehler

Verton R.Banks, Stephen O’Mahoney, Fred Koehler

In its “Pick of the Week” review, the LA Weekly calls the Fountain revival “A deeply moving production… performed by a deeply committed ensemble.” BroadwayWorld says, “Critic’s Pick… directed with meticulous detail …. The Fountain Theatre knocks [it] out of the Park.” EDGE Los Angeles raves, “Passionate and powerful… the Fountain’s thoughtful and moving production of this classic qualifies as a must-see,” and LAist finds The Normal Heart to be “A strong, smart, character-driven play… a theatrical triumph for all involved, and a must-see for all theatre lovers.”

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. The Fountain Theatre production marks the first time the play has been seen in Los Angeles in over 16 years.

The Normal Heart is directed by Simon Levy and features Verton R. Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler, Stephen O’Mahoney, Ray Paolantonio, Lisa Pelikan, Dan Shaked and Jeff Witzke.

Performances continue at the Fountain Theatre through Dec, 15.  For reservations and information: 323-663-1525 www.FountainTheatre.com.

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: The Normal Heart 

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LA High School Students Dialogue With Actors in ‘The Normal Heart’ at Fountain Theatre

NORMAL HEART student Talkback 010

The cast from ‘The Normal Heart’ chats with students and audience.

Students from Los Angeles County High School for the Arts attended a preview performance of The Normal Heart last Friday at the Fountain Theatre.  Following the performance, the teenage students engaged the cast and director Simon Levy in a lively and thought-provoking discussion of the play and its themes. General audience members were also encouraged to join the post-show conversation.

The high school students asked questions of the professional artists about the creative process, how an actor prepares and develops a role, and the historical context of the play.

Actor Tim Cummings shares his thoughts with young people

Actor Tim Cummings shares his thoughts with young people

“This kind of interaction between young students and professional artists is extremely important,” said Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “There is an entire generation of young people who have grown up with little awareness of important social and political movements that took place years before they were born. Providing them with access to see a well-performed play that brings these issues to dramatic life is at the core of our artistic mission. It’s what good theater can do.”      

Parent Elizabeth Dennehy agrees: “Everyone needs to see this brilliant production.  Specially our young who didn’t live through the fight, who have grown up in a world so used to the culture of HIV/AIDS it’s become mundane. Thank you Stephen Sachs, Fountain Theatre and Tim Cummings for an unforgettable night.”

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The Normal Heart  Now to Nov 3rd  (323) 663-1525  MORE

PHOTO SLIDESHOW: Opening Night Party for ‘The Normal Heart’ at Fountain Theatre

Tim Cummings

Tim Cummings

The Fountain Theatre’s thrilling and explosive LA revival of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart officially opened on Saturday, September 21, to a thunderous and heartfelt standing ovation. The Normal Heart continues to Nov 3rd. 

After the Opening Night performance, a catered reception was held upstairs in the Fountain cafe. The audience, cast and company enjoyed food, drink and the intoxicating buzz of knowing they just shared a truly extraordinary experience.

Enjoy These Snapshots from the Opening Night Party! 

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The Normal Heart  Now to Nov 3 (323) 663-1525  MORE

Fight of Passion and Fury Not Over for ‘The Normal Heart’ Actor Tim Cummings and Director Simon Levy

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup in "The Normal Heart"

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup in “The Normal Heart”

by Dale Reynolds

The HIV/AIDS crisis has slipped from the consciousness of the American public in the last decade or so, as fewer and fewer white folk die from it (or are newly infected) and as GLBT acceptance has become more mainstream.  But back in the mid-1980s, when panic over the disease was the norm (Where’d it come from?  Who’s responsible?  How do you catch it???), the conservative government of Ronald Reagan was accused of insufficiently helping the thousands of (mostly) gay men, blacks, intravenous drug users, and hemophiliacs who were infected, grew seriously ill, and subsequently died.

Verton R. Banks, Stephen O'Mahoney and Fred Koehler in "The Normal Heart." Photo by Ed Krieger.

Verton R. Banks, Stephen O’Mahoney and Fred Koehler

There was so much fury in the left-leaning communities, including the most-affected ones — sexually-active gay and bisexual men — that groups such as AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) with its “Silence=Death” slogan and Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC) were formed. They protested government policies and anti-gay religious leaders, along with a general apathy from the confused public.

Larry Kramer

Larry Kramer

To Oscar-nominated screenwriter Larry Kramer (Women in Love), a gay man who is himself HIV+, this was unacceptable, so he helped form the clamorous and aggressive ACT UP and wrote a definitive play on the crisis, The Normal Heart  (1985), which is now having its first revival in Los Angeles since 1997 at the feisty 99-seat Fountain Theatre.

Kramer, an angry and difficult man who still doesn’t mind excoriating the conservatives who wouldn’t help at the beginning of the crisis, was recently quoted in Parade magazine:  “I’ve always felt that our government has allowed [AIDS victims] to die, literally, and…Dachau was where the [Nazi] government was doing just that … [with] Jews and gays and gypsies, a lot earlier than anyone knew.”

The Normal Heart is being directed by Simon Levy, a heterosexual who lived in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, and stars Tim Cummings, a gay man, as Ned Weeks, a surrogate for the playwright.  Cummings came of age after the hysteria had largely disappeared.  But both men were in a decidedly militant mood when interviewed for this article.

For Levy, the crisis is still with us, in the USA especially among African Americans (44% of all new infections in 2009), as well as concentrations of the disease in Africa and Southeast Asia, but it’s become buried in the collective unconsciousness.  “Thirty million people, world-wide, have died from HIV/AIDS in the last 30+ years, and 1.7 million currently die from it each year [as of 2011], with 2.5 million new infections, [so] I picked [this script] because it’s a great American play, a seminal gay and AIDS play, and a great political/love story.  Its agitprop message blends nicely with its real characters.”  And his continued activism?  “Well, I grew up in San Francisco and had a lot of gay friends, from college and around the area, so when the HIV/AIDS crisis hit San Francisco, it took a lot of these friends.”

Tim Cummings and Simon Levy

Tim Cummings and Simon Levy

According to Levy, “This play helps us understand the origins of the crisis when the Reagan Administration wouldn’t acknowledge it or put money into slowing it down.  They were evil.  Larry Kramer is a fighter and a leader in this army of resistance.  He still fights for better health care and more dignity for underserved communities.”

For Cummings, “I knew about the AIDS crisis first hand, studying at Tisch [School of the Arts/New York University] during the early 1990s.  We learned early about the value of condoms [as] ACT UP’s “Silence = Death” campaign was everywhere. There was extraordinary fear about having sex with other men, and even though it was under control at the time, there was a lot of caution and worry in the air.”

Believing that “great art reflects the universal, not just the particular,” Levy wanted to direct Normal Heart since a year ago, when he had seen “this fantastic production of it at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC, and I knew that I had to do it here. It took seven months of negotiations with Larry Kramer’s and producer Daryl Roth’s people to get the rights for LA, but Kramer’s angry voice was important in 1985 and remains so.  The crisis is not over.”

Cummings learned of the project early.  “I already knew the play, and when I heard about it on the grapevine, and saw it on Breakdown Services, I wrote to Raul Staggs [the casting director] asking for an audition.  I had a couple of other play auditions out of town, and was on hold for some job offers, but I turned them down in order to play Ned — it was that important to me.”

Levy acknowledges that he and producers Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs had a short list of actors they wanted to play the lead, including Cummings. “I called around and asked other directors for suggestions, and Tim was highly recommended.  I’d seen him at Rogue Machine Theatre in The New Electric Ballroom and its director, John Perrin Flynn, said that Tim Cummings was ‘one of the best actors in Los Angeles.’  I have well-honed instincts on acting and actors and I agreed.”

Lisa Pelikan and Tim Cummings

Lisa Pelikan and Tim Cummings

The play follows a gay activist, Ned Weeks, who has become enraged at the deliberate indifference of city, state and federal officials, as well as the blindness of some leaders in the gay community. He’s motivated to become an activist, with personal as well as political ramifications for him.  The play allows director and actors much anguish to feed upon for their characterizations.

While Cummings, son of an Irish fireman and built like one, is totally open about his sexuality (still somewhat problematical in Hollywood, if not New York), Levy never asked those auditioning about their sexual or emotional orientations, nor of their HIV status:  “They’re actors first in our eyes.  Besides, I like to create a ‘sacred circle’ for the cast, into which they can be themselves in order to create a full-bodied character.” As to his actors’ responses during the auditions, many knew this play and had wanted to do it — as it was relevant, on whatever level, to their own lives.

Cummings used Joseph Campbell’s idea of “the hero’s journey” for Ned’s progress — what Weeks goes through from beginning to end mirroring the mythology of any hero’s path.  “It was a ‘eureka’ kind of moment for me, demanding attention and change.  I love that the idea means there is something mythical and heroic about his journey, which elevates the play.”

In addition, Cummings thinks that the notion of Ned’s exploration mirrors the struggles the audience will have gone through themselves, or maybe have regretted not having gone through. “The play’s crisis is Weeks’ rite of passage.  In taking on a hostile — or at the very least, indifferent — government, Ned has to stand alone to be that clarion bell on the truth of the situation.  He will stand up, be counted, and walk away as an advocate for human rights.”

All this fits into the actor’s and director’s activist consciences, especially Levy’s:  “My job as an artist is to awaken — or reawaken — the public to important social and political issues.  My mission is to help people remember what’s right.”

Kramer’s screed of a play is what Levy describes as “a political thriller: ‘How did HIV/AIDS get is name?  and why was the government so hostile in helping those stricken?’  His play is a tornado, but Larry’s main message is about love.”

And hate, too. Kramer told Parade in the recent interview, “Life is very fragile. It’s very difficult for us, no matter how secure we think we are. Everybody who goes into a voting booth and votes against [gay people] hates us. We have been hated for so many centuries. You would think somewhere along the line we could’ve learned how to fight back.”

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup

The Fountain is well-known for its provocative and up-to-date productions on a wide variety of recent minority-themed topics:  Heart SongIn the Red and Brown Water, the deaf-specific version of Cyrano de BergeracOn the Spectrum (about characters with autism), as well as a series of American premieres of plays by South African writer Athol Fugard.  The leaders at the Fountain have reached out to ethnically-and–politically-diverse audiences who don’t normally attend relatively expensive theater.

“If we don’t learn these lessons of intolerance,” Levy says, “history will repeat itself.  So reaching this newer generation of young people about this subject is imperative.  We must never repeat these mistakes.”

Dale Reynolds writes for LA Stage Times.

The Normal Heart  Now to Nov 3  (323) 663-1525   MORE