The Fountain Theatre is a member of a coalition of intimate theatres in Los Angeles that meets weekly to discuss the future of theatre in Los Angeles as we navigate COVID-19 and beyond.
Like Los Angeles, our theatre community has always been at the forefront of innovation. As an integral part of the cultural conversation, a group of 44 artistic directors from LA’s intimate theatres came together two months ago to discuss how we can move through the current COVID crisis and come out stronger. We are committed to raising the bar and pushing the boundaries of professional theatre. At weekly virtual roundtables, we continue to remind each other that theatre is a collaborative art form, in every sense of the word. We are stronger together as one community regardless of company size.
While the doors to our theatres may be shut, our artists continue to innovate and utilize new technology to serve Los Angeles and promote the importance of theatre. Our creative work has never been limited to our stages, and the boundless creativity of Los Angeles theatre artists will ensure that our theatres will reopen with a renewed sense of purpose. Los Angeles is one of the cultural capitals of the world, and together we make sure that #LALivesOnStage.
The 44 theatres are:
24th Street Theatre, Actors Co-op, After Hours Theatre Company, Ammunition Theatre Company, Antaeus Theatre Company, Boston Court Pasadena, Celebration Theatre, Chance Theater, Company of Angels, Coeurage Theater Company, Echo Theater Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, Fountain Theatre, Ghost Road Theatre Company, Greenway Arts Alliance, IAMA Theatre Company, Impro Theatre, Latino Theatre Company, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, Matrix Theatre Company, Moving Arts, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Open Fist Theatre Company, Ophelia’s Jump Productions, Playwrights’ Arena, Pacific Resident Theatre, Rogue Machine Theatre, Ruskin Group Theatre, Sacred Fools Theater Company, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skylight Theatre Company, Son of Semele, Theatre of NOTE, The 6th Act, The Group Rep Theatre, The Inkwell Theater, The New American Theatre, The Road Theatre Company, The Robey Theatre Company, The Victory, United Stages, VS. Theatre Company, Theatre West, and Whitefire Theatre.
The group is taking this opportunity of a pause in their programming to consider some of the bigger issues facing Los Angeles intimate theatres. Most importantly, they have implemented action committees for creating collaborative strategies in health and safety protocols for audiences, staff, and artists. Other areas of focus include marketing, and planning an online Intimate Theatre Festival, with a Live LA Theatre Festival in the works once everyone is able to gather again. Partnering with LA Stage Alliance/onStage.LA, the group is aiming to establish a central hub for all Los Angeles theatre activities.
Hollywood is heralded around the globe as the mesmerizing “movie capital of the world,” yet more plays are produced each year in Los Angeles than major motion pictures. In fact, Los Angeles has more live theaters and creates more theatre productions per year than any other city in the world. More than New York, Chicago or London. That’s right. Los Angeles. Surprised?
Los Angeles is on the rise. You can feel it. LA is ascending to rightfully take its place as a world city. It is already ranked as one of the world’s most economically powerful cities—a center of business, international trade, entertainment, culture, media, and technology. There are 841 museums and art galleries in the area, over 1,000 performance venues. Hollywood is flourishing, undergoing a multi-billion-dollar renaissance of new commercial, residential and cultural development that is transforming the fabled district.
Theatre in Los Angeles has never been better. It is diverse, vibrant, first-rate—and everywhere. Stretched across an immense terrain of diverse neighborhoods over 469 square miles, you can experience theatre in Los Angeles in every possible setting. From tiny converted store fronts to festive outdoor stages in city parks to Off-Broadway-style intimate houses on trendy boulevards to grand and glittering show palaces—Los Angeles has it all.
I’ve been a theatre maker in Los Angeles for more than 30 years. Like so many, I was first an actor, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. I transitioned to directing plays in 1987, leaving acting behind and never looking back. While building a career as a stage director, I became intrigued by how theatre companies operated. The business side of making art fascinated me. One day, I volunteered to work temporarily in the office at Ensemble Studio Theatre on Oxford Street in Hollywood. Soon I took over as Theatre Manager. In 1990, I worked with Joan Stein and Suzie Dietz at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills, where we launched a 16-month run of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters starring a parade of famous actors, including Ben Gazarra, Gena Rowlands, Christopher Reeve, Whoopi Goldberg, Charlton Heston, Robert Wagner, Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt, and many more. That same year, I opened the Fountain Theatre with my colleague Deborah Lawlor and embarked on the most meaningful and rewarding journey of my artistic life.
The Fountain Theatre is a charming two-story Spanish-style building on Fountain Avenue in East Hollywood. Originally The Evergreen Stage, it had been a live theatre for more than 60 years. When Deborah and I first walked in and stood on its empty stage, we knew we had found our artistic home. There was something about the place, the cozy atmosphere, how the intimate seating warmly embraced the stage. It felt inviting and electric. We knew magic could happen there.
The Fountain is now one of a bright constellation of intimate theatres shimmering throughout Los Angeles. This galaxy of small theatres, each singular in their programming, audience and artistic mission, is a construct utterly unique to Los Angeles. There is nothing like it anywhere in the country. LA’s Center Theatre Group, with its Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre, form a theatrical nucleus, yet the more than one hundred intimate theatres across the region swirl around it like spirited electrons, each carrying an electric charge that is fundamental for the survival of LA’s overall cultural organism. In Hollywood, Nederlander’s Pantages Theatre prove nightly that there is a vast audience for live performance.
Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles
I’ve seen the intimate theatre community in Los Angeles grow from a cluster of what was then called 99-seat “Equity Waiver” theaters in the 1980s to the vast network of hundreds of intimate theaters today. These theatres weave a rich artistic tapestry that is astounding in its range and variety, matching the cultural, racial and social diversity of this city. Los Angeles is now home to intimate theatres that serve audiences that are Black, Latino, Gay, Straight, Asian, Middle Eastern, LGBT, Deaf, Native American, and everything in between. The content on LA stages is equally wide-ranging. American classics, world premieres of new plays, Shakespeare, Chekhov, musicals, farce, adaptations, the avant garde, immersive pieces, plays staged in the round or in a black box, site specific works performed in empty warehouses, in cars or hotel rooms—an endless menu for every taste.
LA’s intimate theatres have grown not only in number, they have increased in stature. Top-drawer actors from Broadway, TV and film are routinely seen on LA stages. And while Los Angeles remains an essential destination for acclaimed plays and musicals from New York, London and around the world, LA is now its own vibrant theatre center that creates and develops exciting new work. Much of the most satisfying and challenging new plays are being done in the intimate theaters. Actors long to act in these plays for the same reason we ache to produce them: for the sake of the art. LA’s network of smaller theatres provides a safe, fertile landscape where highly-skilled actors, directors and playwrights can bring new plays to life for audiences that are ever-growing, sophisticated and adventurous. More than 120 plays have transferred from LA’s intimate venues to regional theaters across the United Sates. Such world-class playwrights as Athol Fugard, Tarell McCraney and Robert Schenkkan have launched new plays at our modest home on Fountain Avenue that are now being enjoyed throughout the nation and around the world.
Even with the staggering amount of high-quality activity on its numerous stages, Tinsel Town fights for the right to be called a “theatre town.” The Hollywood spotlight is blinding. The relationship between the film and television industry and the LA Theatre community is precarious. A forced marriage between two partners who share similar desires yet go about achieving them in vastly different ways and for very different reasons. LA Theatre still struggles to step out from under the shadow of The Industry and stand in its own rightful light. But its blaze is being seen and felt, locally and nationwide, more and more.
As an artist and a citizen, it has never been a better time to live in Los Angeles. As a haven with invigorating potential and endless possibilities, LA is now peering forward and seeing its future. That vision, as a world city, looks bright. As Los Angeles shines, so does its theatre. And the radiance from our light will illuminate the nation and the world.
We came to the Kirk Douglas Theatre on Monday night to express our gratitude to Center Theatre Group, we came to congratulate three local companies and their productions, we came to celebrate intimate theatre in Los Angeles. And, most of all, we came to PARTY!
Approximately 300 theatre folk from all over the LA area gathered for a night of camaraderie, cocktails, live music and tacos as CTG launched its Kick Off soiree for Block Party, its pilot program remounting three intimate theatre productions selected from 2015. The Fountain production of Citizen: An American Lyric joins Coeurage Theatre Company’s production of Failure: A Love Story and Echo Theater Company’s production of Dry Land in this first-ever festival running April 14 – May 21, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.
CTG Artistic Director Michael Ritchie welcomed the crowd of party-goers on Monday night in the lobby, stressing the importance and value of intimate theatre in Los Angeles and the need to support the high quality of work it creates. After his brief remarks, Ritchie declared, “Time to party!” The happy crowd then moved into the theatre.
Inside the Kirk Douglas Theatre, each seat was labeled with the name of an intimate theatre company in Los Angeles. It was a meaningful demonstration of the size and variety of the community.
Live music soared from a local high school jazz band. A DJ then kept the party pounding with dance tunes. Free tacos were served to hungry guests. An open bar offered specialty cocktails named for each Block Party company. Our cocktail was named “Fountain Passion,” a tangy mixture of vodka and fruit juices over ice.
More than anything else, Monday night’s party was an evening for local theatre folk to get together, network, and simply have a good time. It also marked a turning point in the relationship between the city’s largest and most influential theatre organization and the network of smaller companies that populate Southern California.
Center Theatre Group’s goal with Block Party is to acknowledge the high quality of work being created in the intimate theatre community, and to welcome these artists and new audiences in a partnership that celebrates the vibrancy and diversity of Los Angeles.
Please add your name to sign the letter to AEA from Pro99. Once we have collected signatures from the community, it will be sent to AEA, and disseminated in the media with signed names attached.
Letter to AEA in Support of Pro99’s Call for a New Referendum
We, the undersigned, are dedicated to the survival and growth of Intimate Theatre in Los Angeles. We are actors, stage managers, playwrights, designers, directors, producers and hyphenates of all of the above. We are also audience members, neighborhood restaurants and bars, and local businesses that benefit from the thriving L.A. Intimate Theatre landscape. We are committed to preserving, protecting and promoting Theatre’s of 99-seats or less, not only in Los Angeles but throughout the United States, while defending Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) members’ rights, privileges and protections when they perform in such venues.
Currently, LA’s 99-seat theatres are under unparalleled threat. With arts funding in decline, and at 1/10 of what New York City garners, we are also now faced with an assault from AEA, which seeks to raze the LA intimate theater landscape.
We are PRO99. We are dedicated to ensuring that this does not happen.
A lawsuit by AEA members and producers, on behalf of the Intimate Theatre community, has been filed against Equity. Pro99 supports this effort and is actively engaging the community in the court of public opinion, and by reaching out to people in all walks of life affected by theatres of 99-seat or less.
Additionally, we support AEA members and Intimate Theatres nationwide that would also benefit from a 99-seat plan that would allow them to incubate and develop new works to eventually go to contract, under vital union protections. We believe these protections and opportunities should be more readily available nationwide, and should certainly be protected, not rolled back, here in Los Angeles.
AEA has put forth a concerted effort to silence us. Our voices are not included in any official union communications, and what communications are issued by AEA are not only one-sided, but filled with misinformation, half-truths, untruths and outright distortions. We will continue to correct the record and put forth our own positive story.
We will also continue to enlist the community in the fight. Plaintiff and Review Committee member Gary Grossman has issued a challenge to AEA President Kate Shindle to make public AEA’s plan for 99-seat theatre, and we will make a new proposal public. We support Grossman’s proposal to have a side by side referendum that will allow LA’s union actors to choose between AEA’s plan and our own.
Our house divided? It can seem. There are days and nights like these when only what is wrong is what one sees.
Where once we felt safe, we are now afraid. Shootings. Bombings. Racial tension. Violence. Fear. Aggression. Terror. Polarization. The chasm in our country separating the haves from have-nots, the soaring from the struggling, grows wider. Officers we pay to protect us are shooting us. Public servants we elect to represent us serve themselves. A candidate spews hateful division as his poll numbers grow.
There’s a kind of insanity seeping in. A dis-ease. An unravelling. An anxious self-protection splits us further and further apart.
Disconnection can seem everywhere.
Here in Los Angeles on my own artistic landscape. As Actors Equity Association tries to force its new plan that imposes conflicting rules and opposing financial burdens on a vast mixture of intimate theaters in LA — pitting membership companies against sub 5o-seat houses against staff-driven theaters — I fear fragmentation and division on the horizon for our intimate theatre community as we are disjoined from one 99-Seat Plan for all to segregation, separate and not equal.
Can we come together? Stay together? Or will we fragment and divide?
Then I consider an audience. Any audience.
In our world of theatre, the wide variety of individuals who gather to see a play on any given night in any theatre in this country — no matter the number of people or their diversity of race, ethnicity, age, gender, social standing, neighborhood — are referred to as one entity. They are the audience. Singular. Not plural. Composed of unique and separate individuals who, together, become one thing.
Like the motto of our nation: Out of many, one.
I see it happen all the time in my theatre on Fountain Avenue. The pre-show bustle of patrons before a performance. Folks dash into the lobby, check their smartphones, launch last-minute texts, chatter brightly with each other, get a drink, go to the bathroom. They come from all over the city. From varied neighborhoods, all manner of jobs, vastly different lives. Yet, when curtain time is called, they somehow find their seats together. A Highland Park bus driver sits next to a Century City attorney sits next to a Sherman Oaks nurse sits next to a Koreatown hairdresser.
The lights then go down. The smartphones are silenced, programs are stashed, eyes and ears are trained forward. A hush blankets the crowd. A light warms the stage. An actor makes the first entrance. The play begins.
And it happens.
The outside world evaporates. And this seated mass of human individuals slowly, steadily transforms as they are pulled deeper into the story unfolding before them on stage. One hundred people will see the same performance and see one hundred different plays at the same time, but there is also a shared thing, a unity that happens. An audience becomes a living thing, a dynamic organism that laughs and breathes and interconnects with itself energetically for its brief time together between lights up and lights down. Out of many, one.
And what do we call the area where the audience sits? We don’t call it the sitting area, or thezone or thesector. We call it the house. In the theatre, the audience sits in our house.
And for these shared hours, these shimmering minutes, this gathering of separate people agree to enter into the sacred pact to become an audience, together. The house begins divided. It ends as one.
The purpose of meaningful theatre is to tell stories that illuminate what it means to be a human being. And by its very nature, because it is performed by human beings — live, in the moment, in front of other beings — it puts a human face on issues that confound us all. It humanizes our conflicted ideas about ourselves, each other and our world. Race, religion, poverty, politics, sex and social challenges are embodied on a stage in personal stories of loss and triumph about specific human beings. In a play, ideas, themes and concepts are distilled into the needs and journeys of people.
When an audience is pulled into the world of a meaningful play and emotionally invests in the struggles of the characters on stage, the artificial divide between audience and actor mysteriously falls away and the characters become real. We feel we know them, we care about their outcome. And the alchemy of empathy begins. “They” become “us”. We identify. That character is me.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another human being. The capacity to feel what another being is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference.
A good play can do that.
Healing and transformation begins with the understanding that there is no other, the other is me. A meaningful night in the theatre can create the connection of empathy in ourselves that allows us to wake the next morning with a new awareness of each other, as sisters and brothers. Each of us unique and separate. And, at the same time, not so different.
As an audience, as a city, as a nation.
We are, out of many, one.
Stephen Sachs is the co-founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.
Mitch O’Farrell accepts last night’s Community Partner award.
by Stephen Sachs
Last night, I attended an event celebrating Playwrights Arena and honoring Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell. Mitch was presented with Playwright Arena’s Community Partner Award. I was asked to write the tribute to Mitch for the program:
We are blessed. We are blessed to live in this beautiful city that bursts with the light of creative energy. Blessed to live in this time when so much change and advancement and development is burgeoning around us. And for those of us fortunate to live and/or work in City District 13, we are blessed to have Mitch O’Farrell as our Councilmember.
Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell
Mitch is a tireless advocate for the arts in Los Angeles. When the LA theatre community was embroiled in a union battle threatening its survival, Mitch O’Farrell took a public stand on our behalf and spoke out on the importance of LA’s vibrant intimate theatre scene. When The Blank Theatre’s Daniel Henning lobbied fervently to have a stretch of Santa Monica Blvd designated as Hollywood Theatre Row, Mitch O’Farrell lead the initiative into City Hall and made the motion before the LA City Council. He made sure it happened. And stood beside us celebrating on the day that official permanent designation sign was proudly unveiled. These and many other acts of service, acts of kindness, he gives to us and the community continuously.
Mitch is our champion, our angel for the arts. And he is our friend. In this era of political distrust and nay-saying, Mitch’s first response to those seeking assistance is always “What can I do to help?”
In the LA Times, when wrestling over a recent decision, Mitch quoted the words of Hillel, a famous Jewish religious leader and one of the most important figures in Jewish history. “In approaching this topic, “ Mitch stated, “I asked myself, if not me who? And if not now, when?” This from a nice Irish boy from Oklahoma.
To me, there is no higher calling than tikkun olam. In modern Jewish circles, tikkun olam has come to mean social action and the pursuit of social justice for the benefit of others. Tikkun olam means “to repair the world”. Not by what you believe. By what you do. Through your actions, you make the world a better place. This Mitch has done, and continues to do, every day. A blessing.
Los Angeles is peppered with small theater companies performing in intimate spaces. They are tiny nonprofits, operating on a shoestring and dependent on dedicated volunteers. Many are nomadic, renting space as they need it. These Los Angeles theater companies are, perhaps, the true pioneers of the pop-up movement now popular with restaurants and retail shops.
Others have found permanent homes, shoehorned into storefronts and carved out of warehouses or similar not-quite-traditional spaces. A few have shiny, new theaters built by the largesse of a few generous and stalwart donors.
None of these companies is rich. They operate under the 99-Seat Plan agreement withActors’ Equity, the theater actors’ union. This limits their costs, but also caps the audience at 99 per performance. It can be very difficult to pay a crew, let alone turn a profit, when your income is so limited. And many of these 99-Seat Plan theaters have even fewer than 99 seats, making filling those seats for every performance very important. The people who run the box offices of these intimate theaters have jobs that look very different from their counterparts at larger venues.
The Fountain Theatre has occupied its home, on Fountain Avenue near Normandie, since 1990. James Bennett has managed the box office for about three years, while finishing a degree in communications. He inherited the position from a high school friend who held the job before him. He is one of four full-time employees at the Fountain—plus two part-timers.
The fact that the Fountain employs a part-time parking attendant speaks to its focus on “superlative service,” Bennett says. As the only box office staffer, Bennett knows his patrons “by name, by voice, by face.” He takes great pride in not only being able to recognize them in person or on the phone, but also knowing where they like to sit—yes, unlike most intimate houses, this theater has assigned seating. He alone processes all ticket orders from the phone and online, assigns seats, and prints out the tickets each day. It may be apocryphal, but the story goes that the theater started assigning seats after two patrons got into a fistfight over front row center—and the theater has only six seats in front row center.
Assigning seats clears up problems in the theater, but creates other challenges. “Sometimes people have specific needs that overlap with other people that have the same specific needs,” says Bennett, “and I am of the opinion that nobody is more important than anybody else, ever, so sometimes I have to give someone something that they don’t exactly know they want, yet.”
Bennett finds the front row too close anyway, and when his mother or girlfriend comes to the theater, he puts her in C20 or A25. He also recommends a couple of specific pairs of seats in the third row, because they face an aisle and have ample legroom. He tries to seat his tallest subscribers in these locations. “The Fountain is an intimate theater and we try to convey that experience through all levels of service,” Bennett explains.
The Fountain Theatre‘s acclaimed and sold-out co-production with Deaf West Theatre of Cyrano received two Ovation Award nominations last night. Actor Troy Kotsur has been nominated for Best Lead Actor in a Play for his lead role as Cyrano , and playwright Stephen Sachs for Best Original Play.
The Ovation Awards are considered LA’s version of the Tony Awards. Founded in 1989 by the LA Stage Alliance, the Ovation Awards are the only peer-judged theater awards in Los Angeles. To give you an idea of the size and scope of the theatrical landscape in Southern California, there were 400 total productions registered for Ovation Award consideration from 173 companies throughout the region. For the 2011-12 voting season, there are a grand total of 191 nominations for 77 productions, presented by 50 companies.
The Fountain Theatre has the distinction of receiving more nominations and winning more awards than any other intimate theatre in the history of the Ovation Awards.
For a complete list of the current Ovation Award nominees, click here.
The 2012 Ovation Awards ceremony will take place on Monday, November 12, at the historic Los Angeles Theatre, 615 South Broadway, in downtown Los Angeles, at 7:30 pm. For more information: www.LASTAGEOvations.com.