Recently, actress Aleisha Force (Human Interest Story) stopped by the Fountain Theatre simply to pick up her belongings which had been locked in a dressing room since March 2020 when the pandemic closed our doors.
But when she arrived, she ran into artistic director Stephen Sachs and a film crew from Spectrum News. They were on-site to do a story about the installation of the Fountain’s outdoor stage, and Aleisha’s jump-for-joy excitement at seeing the progress, and at being reunited with her Human Interest Story director – and her shoes! – immediately made her part of the story.
“This is literally going to be the first theatre that I see!” she happily promised Sachs as she watched the stage being constructed. And it’s highly likely that that will be true for many other live theatre lovers in Los Angeles. Now that Actors’ Equity Association, the union governing live stage performers and stage managers, has approved the Fountain’s COVID safety plan for its actors, audience, staff and crew, the Fountain has become the first intimate theatre in all of L.A. to be granted union approval for re-opening.
But even before getting AEA on board, the City had to sign off on the idea of an outdoor stage in the Fountain’s parking lot. “The hoops we had to jump through, the hurdles we had to cross…it was a long arduous journey,” Sachs told the Spectrum’s reporter Tara Lynn Wagner. “But the City is behind it 100%. And so is the theatre community.”
Inaugurating the outdoor stage will be the L.A. premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins‘ Obie Award-winning Best American Play, An Octoroon. An Octoroon is a radical, incendiary and subversively funny riff 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. Previews begin June 11; opening night is June 18. Performances are Fridays-Mondays at 7 pm through Sept. 19. Tickets are on sale now via the Fountain box office at (323) 663-1525 or on our website at www.fountaintheatre.com.
Catch all the excitement, and watch the entire Spectrum News interview, here:
Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café and outdoor concessions.
On March 12, 2020, we were forced to shut down our hit production of the world premiere of HUMAN INTEREST STORY due to the COVID pandemic. One year later, after an unimaginable period of closing our doors, we are poised to launch our game-changing Outdoor Stage this summer.
The Fountain Theatre has received nine nominations for the 31st Annual Ovation Awards, including the prestigious category of Best Production of a Play for overall excellence. Last season, the Fountain was honored with top Ovation Awards for Best Season and Best Production of a Play (Cost of Living).
Overseen by LA Stage Alliance, The Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theatre awards in Los Angeles, created to recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production and design in the Greater Los Angeles area.
During the 2019–2020 voting season, 137 productions were registered for awards consideration by 36 producing organizations. Due to the pandemic, the eligibility period was September 1, 2019 through March 31, 2020.
The Fountain Theatre earned the following Ovation Award nominations:
Best Production of a Play – Between Riverside and Crazy
Acting Ensemble in a Play – Between Riverside and Crazy
Direction of a Play – Guillermo Cienfuegos, Between Riverside and Crazy
Featured Actor in a Play – Joshua Bitton, Between Riverside and Crazy
Featured Actor in a Play – Matthew Hancock, Between Riverside and Crazy
Featured Actress in a Play – Liza Fernandez, Between Riverside and Crazy
Costume Design – Christine Cover Ferro, Between Riverside and Crazy
Featured Actress in a Play – Jully Lee, Hannah and the Dread Gazebo
Video/Projection Design – Matthew Hill, Human Interest Story
For the first time in its history, the Ovation Awards will be a live streamed event. The date is to be determined.
As we all hunker down, I’ve been thinking a lot about home. As a playwright/performer, I’ve lived a kind of gypsy lifestyle for most of my adulthood. Home is wherever the gig happens to be. For the last year and a half, home is Los Angeles. Of course, in Los Angeles, I can’t think about home without thinking of the millions of men, women, and children who are experiencing homelessness today. As our public officials urge us all to “stay home”, rightfully so, I can’t help but wonder what that means for those who don’t have a home.
Like many theatres across the country, The Fountain made the painful decision to suspend performances of Human Interest Story, which grappled with several issues around homelessness. Sadly, this also meant cancelling all of our BID events, including a panel discussion with representatives from several homeless relief organizations in our community.
Although the show cannot go on, we’ve decided to keep the conversation going with one of our esteemed panelists, John Billingsley. As the Board President of Hollywood Food Coalition, Billingsley knows firsthand about what it means to be on the front lines of the fight to end homelessness in L.A.
FLB: First, can you please tell us about Hollywood Food Coalition’s mission and what services you provide:
Billingsley: Every night of the year we serve the most immediate needs of people in our community: we provide a healthy and nutritious five course meal to all comers, no questions asked (soup, salad, choice of vegetarian or non-vegetarian entree, fruit, bread, desserts, milk, water). We also distribute shoes, blankets, sleeping bags, clothing, bus passes, laundry vouchers, toiletry kits, and etc. We have medical, dental and vision vans from UCLA visiting our campus on a regular basis. We are secular, but we serve our meal on the campus of the Salvation Army, (in one of their two dining halls) and we also help clients access way cool stuff provided by other community social service organizations (our neighbors and buds). Additionally, insofar as we rescue approximately 7000 pounds of food a week, we aim to distribute the food we cannot use to other Not For Profits serving our community.
FLB: What led you to Hollywood Food Coalition?
Billingsley: Approximately 4 years ago, apres the disastrous 2016 election, I was looking for ways to get more involved in my community. In addition to doing some political fundraising, I started making bad fruit salads at the Hollywood Food Coalition. (I washed dishes badly, as well). I was foolish enough to shoot off my mouth a bit about ways to grow the board, raise more moolah, blah blah blah . . . and now I’m the Board President! It (almost) reaffirms my faith in America. Or, perversely, makes me question the sanity of our Executive Director, Sherry Bonanno.
FLB: What has been your focus as Board President?
Billingsley: We believe food is a medium for coalition building. My specific interest revolves around what it means to build coalitions, to make pals, to get to know our non-for-profit neighbors. We’re interested in helping to bring NFP’s in our community together to collaborate, where possible, on ‘common actions’, like we’re doing with The Fountain Theatre. We’re interested in exploring mechanisms by which we can further each other’s missions: Can we help you do what you do better? Can you help us do what we do better? How?
FLB: In Stephen Sachs’ play, Human Interest Story, the Jane Doe character offers a raw look at the realities of homelessness. She talks about being assaulted, feeling invisible, and the stigma attached to homelessness. In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge homeless men and women face?
Tanya Alexander and Rob Nagle, Human Interest Story.
Billingsley: First off, and apropos of nothing – ‘people who re experiencing homelessness’ is a more artful construction, I have been taught – when we use the term ‘homeless’, and God knows we all use it, we kinda consign people to a bit of a Dante-esque ‘circle’, a ‘home’, oddly enough . . .
People go through shit.
One can say: I am going through this time in my life, I am experiencing yada yada yada . . . it’s subtly, but legitimately, different than saying: I am a this. I am a that. People ain’t homeless. They’re living a particular kind of life, they’re experiencing homelessness at this time in their life . One hopes that they will be living a different kind of life soon.
But to answer your question:
The biggest challenge homeless people face is the biggest challenge most of us face: the folks who rule our country, and many other countries around the world, actively attempt to delegitimize, if not actively dehumanize, people who don’t agree with them, or look like them, or in any way challenge their values or their hold on power. The challenge we all face, or can’t even begin to face (or intellectually recognize) is a deep and internalized acquiescence in the face of systemic and organized political disenfranchisement; perhaps to the perpetuation of our own diminution. Continue reading →
Mayor Garcetti has issued an order calling for “the postponement or cancellation of all non-essential public community events or group activities with 50 or more participants, or that require close contact between vulnerable individuals.” As you know, close contact is what we’re about at the Fountain. “Social distance” is not who we are.
Therefore, we are heartbroken to report that our acclaimed world premiere production of Human Interest Story has been suspended. We join our brothers and sisters in the LA Theatre Community, in venues large and small, as we take action to slow the spread of this virus.
In addition, we will delay the opening of our Los Angeles Premiere of If I Forget to a later date, to be determined. And our Forever Flamenco concert on March 29 has been canceled.
Are you a ticket buyer to Human Interest Story or Forever Flamenco? To help get us through this devastating period, we ask that you donate your ticket purchase to the Fountain. Not possible? No problem. We’ll gladly refund it. Please contact our box office at (323) 663-1525 or email us at email@example.com.
These are uncertain times for all of us. The world, our country, our city, and the Fountain Theatre are in a very serious crisis. No one knows how long this pandemic will last and, once it is over, what the long-term social and economic ramifications will be.
We will get through this together. This pandemic is like a bomb dropping on our LA Theatre community. The damage it does will be significant, and we may not recognize the landscape once the smoke clears, but we will pick ourselves up after the blast and march forward together.
With his stunning world premiere presentation of Human Interest Story at the Fountain Theatre, playwright and director Stephen Sachs stitches together issues deeply affecting American society, delivering them with a witty edge and kinetic punch that thrilled the audience the night we attended.
At curtain rise, long-time opinion columnist Andy Kramer (played by Rob Nagle) is about to lose his job in a cost-cutting move by his newspaper’s new owners, who are decimating the staff and moving quickly online to save the paper from folding, a fate so many print publications have suffered in recent years.
On his way out the door, as a way to give the new editors the finger, Andy concocts a letter purportedly written by an anonymous homeless woman, Jane Doe, who’s so bereft by her plight that she promises to kill herself on the approaching Fourth of July.
And, of course, in this digital age, the letter immediately goes viral, generating lots of hits on the paper’s website and saving Andy’s job. Problem is, the editors want to know more—lots more—about Jane Doe.
And, of course, in this coincidental world, Andy soon stumbles across a homeless black woman (Tanya Alexander) living in the park, who, after some negotiation, agrees to play Jane Doe. Together they use their ruse to shed a harsh light on the plight of the homeless while saving their own bacon.
But, as Jane Doe will later say, “there’s no good way to do a bad thing,” so problems ensue: rising media stardom, intruding corrupt politicians, distracting sexual escapades, and soulless publishing magnates all colliding in an engrossing stew—“ripped from the headlines,” you might say. You’ll need to see the play—and you absolutely should—to see how all this works out.
Our first irony: Hours before we saw the play, the two of us were at LA CAN (Los Angeles Community Action Network) on West 6th Street, in the heart of L.A.’s sprawling Skid Row, helping to plan the “Radical King” event planned for April 4th.
Moreover, to avoid the crush of L.A.’s highway traffic, we frequently take surface streets to activist meetings we attend downtown, a route that takes us through Skid Row. At one point, we had to stop taking this shortcut because Sharon would break down in tears at the sight of so many of her people—black people—pushing shopping carts down the street, huddling in the endless rows of tents, shaking their fists at an unforgiving sky. At one time, her former brother-in-law had been among them, a Vietnam vet devastated by his wartime experiences and brief capture by the Viet Cong.
And long ago, Dick had been executive director (some would call him “house daddy”) of a halfway house in Torrance where many homeless were among the residents, an experience that showed him that beneath the grime and tattoos and missing teeth, they were every bit as human as he—and not some kind of alien beings you might only see in news reports or passing by quickly in your car.
A second irony, of course, is that for the past 12 years we’ve published two online magazines,LA Progressive and Hollywood Progressive, which are in the mix of the shift away from print publication to digital, which has caused the loss of so many editorial jobs like Andy’s.
And again moreover, in Dick’s last job working for other people (other than Sharon), he worked on venerable print magazines at the very start of the move to the digital world, his job to figure out how to preserve revenue—and his staff’s jobs—while moving online.
While readership levels rose dramatically with the much wider reach the Internet afforded, his readers were much less willing to pay for the privilege as they had with print magazines—and the money they did pay had to first go through the Web publishing shop, which took most of the gravy, shrinking the editorial staff bit by bit. His version of Andy, walking out the front door with his belongings in a cardboard box, became an all-too-common sight.
Rob Nagle, Tanya Alexander in “Human Interest Story.”
But the third irony is perhaps the most telling. Sachs’s play has the middle-aged white “word slinging” columnist ghostwriting speeches and articles for the somewhat younger black homeless woman—who, by the way, was an award-winning fourth grade teacher before bad luck put her on the street. Point being that the white man assumed he needed to do the thinking and writing for a black woman, who, by the way she spoke and acted and carried herself, could surely have used her own words and thoughts quite nicely, thank you very much, given the chance.
Now, at the Dick & Sharon collective, Dick would never dream of putting words in Sharon’s mouth. But our parallels to the play are strong—older white man (she’ll remind you), younger black woman, joined not just with an ampersand but at the hip for years on end. Many days we spend the entire 24 hours within 30 feet of each other, talking to the same people, watching the same programs, reading many of the same things, chewing through the day’s events as one.
We’re together most of the time when the world comes at us, but how we interpret that world, especially around issues of race, can be quite different (one of us says “quite,” the other “somewhat”). If we hear news of yet another unarmed black man gunned down by police or a black mother sent to prison for enrolling her child in the wrong school or reports of a friend suspiciously denied a job or promotion, Dick hears it, hurts for it, perhaps discusses it, and moves on. But then hours later he’ll find Sharon still sunk down in despair for the endless targeting of her people, thinking of her son’s safety, her brothers’ safety, black people’s safety and well-being in general.
See, if Dick walks out our front door, pretty quick he’s just another white dude walking down the street in a mostly white neighborhood, the consequences of racism becoming increasingly intellectual. Sharon doesn’t have that luxury.
So, the heart of Human Interest Story — for us, at least — is the interplay of racism in our lives, white and black, that rot at the heart of America’s soul.
Stuart Perlman, shown surrounded by his portraits of homeless people.
by France-Luce Benson
Stuart Perlman never considered himself an artist. A psychologist and psychoanalyst for over 30 years, he leaned into the arts following the death of his father fifteen years ago. But he found the “bored white models” in his art classes uninspiring and void of the soulfulness he searched for in his time of grief. He found that transformative humanity in the unlikeliest of places.
“I had a beautiful office in West Hollywood, back when there were very few signs of homelessness.” But then Perlman discovered a man who’d been living outside of his office. He slowly got to know the man, Bill. “He became both a friend and a responsibility”.
After painting Bill’s portrait and hearing his story, Perlman realized just how much they had in common. “There but for the grace of god go I”, he repeats; “Most of the men and women I paint are good people that had bad things happen to them”.
Stuart Perlman paints a portrait of “traveler” Aftin Combs, left, 20, hanging out with fellow travelers on the Venice Beach boardwalk.
Over the last 10 years, Perlman has painted over 250 portraits of homeless men and women living on the streets of Venice Beach and on Skid Row; and he’s watched L.A.’s homeless population rise astronomically. “The number of camps on skid row increased by 86% in one year”.
His voice cracks and quivers over the phone as he becomes more and more impassioned. “How did we let this happen?” he asks. It seems his many years as a psychologist has prepared him for what may be his life’s calling.
“In every interaction I have in my life, I think about the person’s well being and try to help,” says Perlman. While his portraits initially served as the catalyst for his own healing, they have had a profound impact on his muses. As he paints, he listens to their stories. One portrait may take hours, and in that time, the two hold a sacred space of artistic intimacy. “People cry, hug me, and say they finally feel seen and heard.”
Although he does compensate them for their time and provide supplies, the personal connection they share is invaluable, not to mention the esteem and import associated with a portrait. Historically reserved for aristocrats, dignitaries, and the wealthiest members of society, Perlman decidedly paints the members of our community who are often forgotten and neglected. Each portrait is both breathtaking and heartbreaking, with a powerful focus on the eyes. “You cannot look into their eyes and not be gripped,” he confesses.
“These are good people that we have just thrown away,” explains Perlman. His hope is that his portraits will encourage us to see their humanity, while inspiring us to do our part in ending the cycle of homelessness.
Perlman’s painting “Denice” greets Fountain patrons in the lobby.
One of the main characters in the current Fountain Theatre world premiere of Human Interest Story is homeless. Several of Perlman’s paintings are currently on display at The Fountain throughout the run of the play to April 5, and signed copies of Perlman’s book Struggles in Paradise are available for sale in the café. Perlman will also join us on March 8 at 1pm for a free pre-show discussion with the public. His film by the same title will have a special screening at The Fountain on March 19 at 7pm.
It’s hard to believe that what started as a hobby he picked up in his 50s has become his life’s mission. It’s not just about the portraits. It’s about promoting the well being and humanity of all people – whether it be through his practice or his art.
“This project has brought me tremendous satisfaction and happiness, and yet I often feel guilty when I return home after painting a portrait,” he admits. Still, he believes that something greater is working through him, and so he will remain devoted to this mission – a mission to reveal the beauty of all human beings, housed or unhoused.
The company of Human Interest Story celebrate Opening Night.
The opening night of the world premiere of a new play at the Fountain Theatre is always an event to celebrate. Such was the case on Saturday, February 15, with the official launch of Human Interest Story, written and directed by Stephen Sachs. A sold-out house gave the powerful and timely new play a standing ovation, and then gathered upstairs in our charming cafe for a catered reception with the company.
In the play, newspaper columnist Andy Kramer is laid off when a corporate takeover downsizes the City Chronicle. 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 to stand-in as the fictitious Jane Doe. She becomes an overnight internet sensation and a national women’s movement is ignited.
early reviews have been laudatory. Theatre Notes has hailed the Fountain production as “Astonishing” and On Stage Los Angeles declares it “A Must See.”
The Fountain’s Breaking It Down program is designed to build community and deepen the impact of a play through a variety of events before and after performances. Our preshow events may include art exhibitions and talks that invite audiences into the world of the play. Our post show discussions create a space for our audiences to gather with the artistic teams, scholars, journalists, and community leaders to unpack the themes explored, and provide a platform to share personal connections to the work.
March 1: Q&A with the cast of Human Interest Story
Engage in a post-show conversation with actors Tanya Alexander, Richard Azurdia, Aleisha Force, James Harper, Matt Kirkwood, Rob Nagle, and Tarina Pouncy. Get Tickets
March 8 @ 1pm: Meet artist Stuart Perlman
Stuart Perlman’s Faces Of Homelessness portrait project has been exhibited throughout Los Angeles, covered on Public Radio (KPCC), featured in print in Column One of the front page of the Los Angeles Times, and in other national and international publications including TheGuardian (London), Taipei Times (Taiwan), Vanity Fair Italia and a cover story in the Jewish Journal. It will be on display at The Fountain for the duration of the run.
Perlman will talk about what inspired the project, and how his connections with these individuals have impacted his life in ways he never imagined. Get tickets now.
Stuart Perlman has been a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in West Los Angeles for 40 years. He received a Ph.D. from UCLA in clinical psychology, and a second Ph.D. in psychoanalysis. He has published many articles in psychoanalytic journals, and authored the book, The Therapist’s Emotional Survival: Dealing with the Pain of Exploring Trauma. His new book, Struggle in Paradise, is about homeless individuals, featuring moving oil-on-canvas portraits, life stories and follow-ups. This painting project has been nominated for the Best Art of the Year Award by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis. After a hiatus of over 25 years, Dr. Perlman returned to one of his early passions, painting. He has devoted thousands of hours to painting the experiences of the homeless and illuminating their humanity and pain. Through portraiture, a style traditionally used to immortalize the rich, famous and powerful, Dr. Perlman reminds us that these homeless individuals, too, are to be valued: “If we can see into their faces and learn their stories — their hopes, dreams, accomplishments and fears — we can no longer pretend that they don’t exist…we can no longer look the other way.” www.stuartperlmanartist.com
March 15: Inside L.A.’s Homeless Crisis
You see them everywhere. At freeway off-ramps, under bridges, in tents. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has declared homelessness “the great humanitarian crisis of our time.” What are we doing about it? A post-show discussion with panelists Anthony Conley (Covenant House) and John Billingsley (Hollywood Food Coalition). Get tickets now.
March 19 @ 7p.m: Screening of Stuart Perlman’s Struggle in Paradise
“Best Movie of the Year” National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis.
Nominated Best Documentary- Pasadena International Film Festival. Honorable Mention- American Psychological Association Film Festival. Struggle in Paradise is the gripping story of the skyrocketing number of homeless people living and dying on the streets of Los Angeles. I have been shocked at the amount of trauma that people have sustained that contributed to their homelessness and, once on the streets, are repetitively traumatized. View the Trailer
March 22: Truth in American Journalism
How do you get your news? The print edition delivered at your door? Online? Join the post-show conversation with local journalists as we examine how the internet has impacted print newspapers around the country. How has the invention of “fake news” influenced ethics in reporting? What is the truth? Who decides? Get tickets
March 29 @ 5pm: Sunday Supper at The Center
Join us at The Center in Hollywood where the Fountain will host one of their monthly “Supper Sunday” dinners. Following the performance, we will head to The Center where we will prepare (or purchase), serve, set up, and clean up after a meal. The most important aspect of Supper Sunday is that WE will dine WITH the individuals we are serving. Sharing a meal is a beautiful opportunity for the housed and unhoused members of our community to gain greater understanding, empathy, and connection. Order now
Feb 15 – April 5: Donation Drive for our homeless community
Fountain patron April Goddard donates items to the homeless at tonight’s preview of Human Interest Story.
Throughout the run of Human Interest Story The Fountain will accept donations to be distributed to various Homeless organizations in our community. Items most needed are:
Gently Used Clothing (especially winter clothing, socks, shoes)
Men’s and Women’s Underwear (New, all sizes)
Bins will be set up in front of the theatre before each performance and all items will be distributed to various organizations on a weekly basis. You need not have a ticket to the show to bring donations. All are welcome!
France-Luce Benson is the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Fountain Theatre. Contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org