That Was The Week That Was was a satirical television show in the early 1960’s that brought focus to social and political issues of the day. The Fountain Theatre may look back on this current week, May 1 – May 7 in 2017, and brand it the same name. This week, in an unplanned juncture of synchronicity, the Fountain Theatre has two acclaimed productions running simultaneously in Los Angeles — one at its 78-seat Hollywood home on Fountain Avenue, the other at the 300-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City — each dramatizing in mesmerizing fashion the urgent issues of race, injustice, and politics.
The Fountain’s National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere of Building the Wallby Robert Schenkkan was a smash hit the moment it opened in March at the intimate Fountain Theatre, selling out weeks in advance. Set in the near future, the powerful new drama unfolds as a man awaits sentencing in a federal prison for carrying out the orders of Trump’s national policy to round-up and detain immigrants by the millions.
Meanwhile, across town at the mid-sized Kirk Douglas Theatre, the Fountain’s acclaimed and award-winning encore production of Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine, adapted for the stage by Stephen Sachs, is galvanizing audiences. The centerpiece of Center Theatre Group‘s inaugural Block Party celebrating intimate theatre in Los Angles, Citizen is a searing, poetic riff on race in America based on the best-selling book.
“To have these two important, meaningful productions running concurrently, one in an intimate theatre and the other in a mid-sized venue, is extraordinary,” says Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “It exemplifies who we are, what we do, and why we do it.”
Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Robert Schenkkan agrees. “Both Citizen and Building the Wall deal with the issue of race and the fundamental question of who is it we mean when we say, ‘We, the people,'” explains Schenkkan. “For more than twenty five years, the Fountain Theatre has been presenting exhilarating, necessary theater, wrestling with the most pressing social and political issues of the day.”
LA Stage Alliance Executive Director Steven Leigh Morris points out that this week is no anomaly. Morris notes, “That the Fountain Theatre has two productions running simultaneously — one at its home space in East Hollywood and the other at the Kirk Douglas Theatre as part of Center Theatre Group’s Block Party program — is a testament to the rigor and meticulous artistry that has been part of The Fountain tradition for twenty-seven years.”
By all accounts, this is an unforgettable week for the Fountain. We vow to continue our commitment to create, develop and produce meaningful new plays that bring to life urgent issues, week after week, for many years to come.
Steven Leigh Morris, Executive Director of LA Stage Alliance
by Steven Leigh Morris
PART I: The National Stage Union is Sued (Yet Again) by Its Own Members
If the showdown between the New York-based actors/stage managers union, Actors’ Equity Association (AEA, or Equity), and the L.A. theater community were a soap opera, I’d have changed the channel long ago. This show has been on the air since 1986, and these guys really need to come up with some fresh storylines.
For the uninitiated, last year, AEA announced that it was terminating the 99-Seat Theater Plan, an agreement between the union and its L.A. County membership that’s been in place since 1989, though it’s been regularly modified since then.
The Plan governed the way most of L.A. theater was performed for almost 30 years. It permitted its 7,000-8,000 union actors to volunteer in L.A. County theaters of no more than 99-seats, should they wish to do so, for reasons of artistic fulfillment and/or professional advancement. Examples of the latter include multiple examples of shows produced under the 99-Seat Plan transferring — often with the actors who created those roles — to larger theaters under contract within Los Angeles as well as to other cities, including Chicago and New York.
The Plan also presented a boon of opportunity to playwrights, whose new works wouldn’t stand a chance in theaters with higher production budgets. But that’s another story.
As volunteers under the Plan, union actors had the right to leave at any time. The actors were guaranteed minimal expense stipends per performance from the producers along with union health and safety protections. The 99-seat cap was designed to ensure that producers wouldn’t exploit the actors financially. A ticket price cap was also built in, for exactly the same reason, along with a cap on the number of performances for all such productions. This was all agreed to in the 1989 out-of-court settlement of a contentious lawsuit filed by a number of actors against their union in September, 1988. Those plaintiffs, led by actress Salome Jens and including some of the same plaintiffs who returned for another round in 2015 (Tom Ormeny, Maria Gobetti, Joseph Stern and Gary Grossman), believed that in a field (the theater) with such pervasive unemployment, the union had been unreasonably restricting their right to work under conditions and for reasons that they (the actors) found useful.
Among the litany of complaints in the current lawsuit is that Equity refused to meet for an entire year with the L.A.-based “Review Committee” that was created in the 1989 out-of-court settlement. Among the purposes of the Review Committee was to advise the union on its proposed changes to the Plan. On learning in November, 2013, that the union intended to end the Plan, the Review Committee requested a meeting with Equity to discuss these rumblings. Equity’s 99-Seat Plan Administrator, Michael Van Duzer, granted that meeting eight months later, in July, 2014. But shortly before that meeting, Equity’s Executive Director Mary McColl fired Van Duzer, cancelled the meeting, and never scheduled another.
Now let’s flash back for a moment, to the mid 1980s. You’ll find the complaints on both sides to be almost identical to today’s. This failure of the union to meet with representatives of L.A.’s small theaters, for example, was a pattern that had unfolded about 30 years prior. Continue reading →
Looks like the Fountain may have another hit on its hands. Our world premiere of Dream Catcher by Stephen Sachs is earning rave reviews and has been spotlighted as Ovation Recommended by members of LA Stage Alliance. Broadway World hails it as “an incredible tour de force” and ShowBuzzNYC exclaims that it’s “an emotional rollercoaster thrill ride.”
Directed by Cameron Watson and starring Elizabeth Frances and Brian Tichnell, Dream Catcher is performed in a thrilling in-the-round setting (“Fountain 360”) until March 21.
Enjoy this new video highlighting the fabulous press quotes earned by this passionate production.
Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs waves from the stage at the Ovation Awards.
It was a memorable evening for the Fountain Theatre Sunday night, November 2nd, at the 2014 Ovation Awards hosted by LA Stage Alliance and held at the historic San Gabriel Mission Playhouse in San Gabriel. The Fountain was honored with the prestigious Best Season Award (“The Normal Heart”, “My Name is Asher Lev”, and “The Brothers Size”) for overall excellence and received the 2014 BEST Award from the Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation recognizing exceptional theatre organizations that contribute to the cultural vibrancy of Los Angeles.
Often hailed as LA’s version of the Tony Awards, the peer-judged Ovation Awards recognize excellence in theatrical performance, production and design in the Greater Los Angeles area. The LA Times has referred to the Ovation Awards as the “highest-profile contest for local theatre.”
The Best Season Award is the preeminent Ovation honor. It recognizes a theatre company’s overall excellence throughout an entire season. Over the years, The Fountain has received more nominations for the Best Season category than any other theatre in Los Angeles. This year marks the 5th time that The Fountain Theatre has been nominated for Best Season since the category was created 6 years ago. The Fountain has now won the award twice.
“Being honored with the Best Season Award is particularly meaningful to us because it doesn’t go to one person,” said Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “It celebrates the achievement of an entire season of artists. Therefore, the award goes to — and is shared by — all of the many actors, designers and production team members in our Fountain Family who made our 2013-14 Ovation Season such a success. ”
Acclaimed productions in the Fountain 2014 Ovation Season included the exclusive revival of The Normal Heart, the Los Angeles Premiere of My Name is Asher Lev, and the Los Angeles Premiere of The Brothers Size.
Shirley Jo Finney, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Theo Perkins, Stephen Sachs, Matthew Hancock.
2014 BEST Award winners, with Biller Foundation Executive Director Sarah Lyding
The Fountain was also honored Sunday night with the BEST Award presented and funded by The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation. The BEST (Building Excellence in Small Theatre) Award recognizes exceptional theatre organizations that contribute to the cultural vitality of Los Angeles with long-term viability. The Fountain was honored for its ability to think creatively, the quality of its ideas and aspirations, and the organization’s ability to differentiate itself from other Los Angeles theatre companies.
Our sincere thanks to LA Stage Alliance and The Sheri and Les Biller Family Foundation for their ongoing dedicated support of intimate theatre in Los Angeles.
It was a sunny day and LA Stage Alliance was hosting LA Stage Day, a gathering of Los Angeles theater folk centered around inspirational presentations, workshops, and breakout sessions. So I ventured down the 5 to University Hills, just off the 10, where participants in small group discussions like “Leading Diversity on the LA Stage,” “New Media in the Rehearsal Room,” and “Blue Sky: What Are Your Dream Ideas?” were sharing best practices, brainstorming new ideas, and challenging their own assumptions about how theater works.
As part of a day geared around questions like how to engage new, increasingly diverse, tech savvy audiences, the playwriting workshop stood out for advocating the safest route to getting produced. Led by four men and one woman, “Play!: The 60-minute Everything-You-Need-to-Know-About-Playwriting-in-LA Marathon” offered such revelatory tidbits as “cast a name actor or no one will come see your play,” “every story has to have a protagonist and a resolution,” and “plays only get produced when they have small casts and one set.” Now these things are all well and good if that’s the kind of play you want to write, but what if the best actors you can get have impeccable training but aren’t names? What if the world as you see it or as you want to show it has multiple protagonists and locations, lots of people, and conflicts that don’t necessarily get resolved? What if you want to make art more than you want to sell tickets? What if you’re a woman?
Play reading at Playwrights Union
In search of more fertile ground for innovative new play development, I headed up the 101 to Silver Lake for a reading of Crazy Bitch, a new play by Jennie Webb, presented by The Playwrights Union. As if the theater gods had heard my cry, Webb’s 70-minute play has not one but four protagonists, one of which is a character called The Immortal Jellyfish who is described as 4.5mm wide and lives in a petri dish. And though the play, which is set in LA, deeply investigates questions of life and death, the actual plot is left unresolved. Asked to what extent her play was consciously created in relation to the commercialism of Los Angeles, Webb said:
I’ve lived here all my life but this is the first play I’ve set here. I just got tired of all the new plays set in New York and gave myself a challenge to set one in LA. But I’m not savvy enough to write what’s producible. I write what I write and I hope it speaks to someone. I’d rather write plays where a woman loses body parts or shoes start raining from the ceiling. I call it “domestic absurdism,” with domestic meaning everyday life, because I find that life is absurd, especially for women.
The Playwrights Union
In contrast to the male-heavy representation among speakers at LA Stage Day, a full five of the seven readings done that weekend by The Playwrights Union were by women. The Union, which began in 2009 as a meeting of interested colleagues in organizer Jennifer Haley’s backyard, hosts an annual February challenge to write a play in a month. Participating playwrights gather over a long weekend to read and talk about one another’s plays. They do another round of rewrites and then host a weekend of public readings with actors. Haley, whose own play The Nether recently premiered at Center Theater Group’s Kirk Douglas Theater, told me:
We have about thirty members, and there was a time when we had to recruit men in order to achieve parity. Right now it’s about even, but more women participated in the February Challenge that led to these plays.
Asked how her writing functions in relation to the commercial culture of Hollywood and the idea of what’s “producible,” Haley offered:
I’ve worked as a playwright in Austin, Seattle and all over the East Coast. Studying at Brown with Paula Vogel, I learned to play with both experimental and traditional forms. I think circulation in a variety of theater communities helps you look at different models… there are new Playwrights arriving all the time in LA, and it will be interesting to see if this influences the kind of work being done here.
Though many playwrights are drawn to Los Angeles to write for television, others come here to study and end up making the city their home. Brittany Knupper, a recent grad from the playwriting program headed by Alice Tuan at the California Institute of the Arts—just up the 5 from the Valley—talked to me about her first year living here as a writer:
A lot of people their first year out of school have an existential crisis. Maybe mine just hasn’t hit yet but it hasn’t been that bad. Then again I constantly feel like I’m in an existential crisis, so maybe I’m just used to it. At CalArts I felt like I wasn’t being experimental enough as a writer, but in Hollywood people think what I do is too experimental. LA is such an industry town: People are trying to do anything they can to make a connection. You can feel the desperation. It’s funky and weird and gross, and I kind of like how dirty and weird it is.
Knupper has found an artistic outlet in storytelling, a popular form of Los Angeles entertainment in which people gather in theaters, bars, and homes to hear individuals read stories, usually autobiographical, but sometimes fictional. These pop-up salons feature the work of playwrights, journalists, fiction writers, and essayists and provide writers with regular opportunities to present work and receive feedback from within a supportive community.
Because the nightmare of driving in LA keeps most Angelenos locked in their own neighborhoods, writers who want to reach a city-wide audience have to create communities like these, organized around the discipline rather than through established institutions. Jennie Webb and writer/mythologist Laura Shamas formed just such an association in 2009—the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative—to coordinate efforts to get more plays by women produced on local stages. Webb related,
LA is almost pridefully inaccessible. We needed an organization that would bring women together and spread the word that women writers exist. We are focused on connecting artists to one another, supporting one another by going to see each others plays, and getting the message out that it pays to produce work by women.
LA Female Playwrights Initiative
Clearly LA is not lacking in women playwrights, yet a study done by LAFPI in conjunction with LA Stage Alliance revealed that between 2000 and 2010, only 20% of plays produced in Los Angeles were written or co-written by women.
Hopefully next year’s LA Stage Day will address the lack of gender diversity on our city’s stages. Organizers at the Alliance should start by asking more women to speak and conduct workshops and should include breakout sessions addressing the issue. For their part, producers need to recognize that the only way to appeal to new audiences is to tell stories in new ways, which is why I’m going to stay on the trail of the LA writing underground, where work by women—and experimental work at that—is flourishing.
Holly L. Derr is a writer, director, and professor of theater specializing in the Viewpoints & Composition, the performance of gender, and applied theater history. This post originally appeared on HowlRound. Holly is also a blogger for Ms., where she writes about theater, film, and culture. Follow her on twitter @hld6oddblend.
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.
Something important happened last weekend. Something historic for the Los Angeles theatre community. On Sunday, May 20, 2012, the first step was taken to launch a new chapter in how we produce theater in Los Angeles. At a gathering moderated by LA Stage Alliance at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, a meeting of 80-plus theatre producers agreed by unanimous vote that we would produce theater in a new way in the future: together.
The house full of producers, artistic directors and independent theatre-makers from venues all over Los Angeles, each with their own issues and concerns, voted unanimously to form a new Producers Guild that will speak with a single voice on behalf of all Los Angeles producers (99-seat producers, mid-size and larger). This is the most important milestone in LA Theatre history in the past 20 years.
Can 700+ theater producers spanning a diverse landscape as immense and wide as Los Angeles learn to collaborate and speak with one voice for the benefit of all? We’ll see. Let’s hope.
The new Producers Guild will work with the 99-seat Review Committee, the group already in place since the 1980’s to negotiate with Actor’s Equity Association about any proposed changes to the 99-Seat Plan.
The Producers Guild could also address many issues that can enhance the creation and producing of theatre in Los Angeles: improve conditions at venues (at all levels), rebranding the national image of LA Theatre, shared marketing, standard and improved rental contracts between venues, discount ticketing, collective bargaining with fair and equal dealings with unions (Actors Equity, SDC, USA,), and much more.
And perhaps most importantly: create a deeper sense of community. Remember, this new Guild would include theater producers at all levels: 99-seat, mid-size, large-size, and independents. Power and solidarity and community in numbers.
What Happens Now?
We must build a structure for this new Guild. We should reach out to the producers Leagues in other cities like New York and Chicago and examine their models.
Yes, we will have more meetings. And meetings about meetings. We must come together as a group and discuss how to proceed. This is the long, boring part of the process. It’s going to take time. But let’s get started.
UPDATE:IT WORKED!! SUCCESS! Due to the overwhelming response of the arts community, Assemblymember Mike Gatto has withdrawn the bill that would have added a 7.5% sales tax to theatre tickets! The bill was scheduled to be voted on by the Committee for Revenue and Taxation today, but was pulled from the calendar by Assemblymember Gatto before the Committee could vote.
SEE? Change CAN happen when you TAKE ACTION! This is a victory for the arts community! Out thanks to all who SPOKE OUT in PROTEST! You were HEARD!
The Fountain Theatre has just learned of an issue that would have an adverse impact on you, on us, and other theatres throughout California. A bill is going before the California legislature on Monday that will impose a sales tax on tickets to live theatre productions.
A bill recently introduced by Assembly Member Gatto would impose a SALES TAX on “access to live theater productions through the purchase of a ticket.” In an effort to quickly move the bill through the legislature and reduce industry opposition, this proposal does NOT include sales tax on other forms of entertainment, such as concerts and sporting events.
We apologize for the short notice, however the bill will be before the Committee for Revenue and Taxation on Monday, April 23 so letters of opposition should be sent TODAY and throughout this weekend. Fortunately, there is no Senate companion bill at this time, but it is imperative the Assembly be made aware that nonprofit theatres oppose this tax. PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO FIND A SAMPLE LETTER!
In particular, it is important to point out that theatre tickets are not only sold to wealthy patrons. Many people have to struggle to afford a theatre ticket. The arts help communities prosper. Theatres are a business magnet – how many restaurants are thriving because of our theatre? Theatre companies are employers – and this tax will provide an economic disincentive for the purchase of tickets and will have a chilling effect on all the economic good and public value offered by our theatre.
We recommend that you immediately CALL and WRITE/EMAIL Assembly Member Gatto and the ten members of the Committee (all contact information provided below) to express your objections.
The clock is ticking on this one. Time is of the essence. We urge you to send an outcry of protest right away.
To contact Assemblyman Mike Gatto, call Aaron Moreno, who is staffing the bill, at (916) 319-2043, or email: email@example.com.
To contact the 10 members of the Committee, click here.
We have been married for 41 years and are retired teachers who enjoy live theatre in Los Angeles. Season subscribers to eight theatres and the Los Angeles Stage Alliance, we are thrilled to be in the L.A. area where there is always great live theatre. We’re not limited to theatre and attend Early and Chamber Music concerts and view exhibits at local art museums.
The Fountain Theatre stands out for its bold presentations that inform and challenge us with regard to politics, race relations, war, people’s complex lives, and more. Many of the Fountains plays are first runs and premiers or ones too challenging for larger stages. It’s hard to pick a favorite play, but some are: Master Class (Terrence McNally), Bakersfield Mist (Stephen Sachs), The Ballad of Emmett Till (Ifa Bayeza), Coming Home (Athol Fugard) and several by Tennessee Williams. With picks like these what is not to like?
We hope the Fountain continues to survive and thrive in these difficult times.