Tag Archives: Larry Kramer

You Have Changed Me Forever: Remembering ‘The Normal Heart’

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Tim Cummings, Bill Brochtrup, “The Normal Heart”, Fountain Theatre, 2013.

by Tim Cummings

“Hello, you don’t know me. I hope you get this message. Sometimes, when you try to send a message to someone you’re not ‘friends’ with on Facebook, it gets blocked, or you have to ‘approve’ it. I hope you’ll approve this message if it gets to you.

 I saw The Normal Heart on Saturday night, and haven’t slept well since. My father died of AIDS in 1995. I was 15. Except he didn’t die of AIDS, he died of ‘cancer.’ Except we all knew it was AIDS because he was gay and had been sleeping around with men for years. We were a Catholic family, and so shame was tantamount to pretty much everything, especially my dad’s secret life. There were a lot of years after he died where Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays and anniversaries were lonely days, hollow days where not much was said and my sister and I would sit with our mom around the table and stare at our food.

Watching you on stage, the frustration and rage, it was so palpable it cracked me open, like an egg, and I feel like I can feel again. Except now I feel a lot of rage too. I feel like the rage is taking its revenge, saying, “You ignored me for 20 years and now I own you.” I feel like you brought it into my life. It was like you were breaking barriers up there. I could feel how uncomfortable the audience was at times. Like they were afraid of you. I was too, I guess, but also relieved. I don’t know what you are doing up there, or how you manage to live the role several times a week, but I want you to know that you have changed me forever. More than the play. More than the production. YOU.

I didn’t know who Larry Kramer was before the other night, but I’ve been reading up on him and watching videos on YouTube. He wanted to change things and wake people up and he could only do it by shattering everyone around him that wouldn’t listen. He’s lucky someone like you can interpret his intentions. I will probably see the show again before it closes. For now, I’m figuring out what to do with these feelings. Like, how do I forgive my dad? How do I talk to my mom, after all these years, about what really happened? How many more people out there are just like me, waiting for something to come along and break them open? Too many innocent men died. For nothing. I think I might take boxing lessons.”

In the summer of 2013, I was 40 (and a half) years old and really taking stock of my life, as one is wont to do at 40 (and a half). I had been in Los Angeles exactly a decade at that point, and reflecting on my career as an actor: roles won, roles lost, characters deeply inhabited, their skins later shed like a snake once a show ended, reviews, awards, pounds gained and dropped again, friends made and later lost, the worry over male pattern baldness. That summer, I contemplated the possibility that the ‘acting thing’ was more of a hobby than a profession. Things had changed drastically after I moved from New York to LA. In NY, I was working on Broadway, making a living acting. I was on a good trajectory there.

Where I grew up, and in my time, theater had always felt like a great act of rebellion, a middle-finger held up high to everything normal and expected and accepted. Thespians were teased and bullied, but I prided myself on being subversive, anathema to their pack mentality and bougie normality. Theater was punk af. In LA, however, acting suddenly felt like trying to be part of the popular kids again. Clique mentality. I wanted no part of it. How will I succeed if I have no interest in playing by the rules? I’ve always hated rules. I didn’t want to be hot or muscular or skinny or alpha or tan or…commercially viable in any way. I didn’t want to do things the way they were supposed to be done. I desired to shave my head, ring my eyes with racoon-black eyeliner, cover my body in tattoos, pierce every part of me, paint like Pollock, join a band. I contemplated whomever managed to pull off “LA success” with bitter disdain and a kind of squishy envy. That’s okay—I’m not above being human. Actors are not superheroes, despite the way the media depict them and fame & fortune define them.

I happened to be perusing the labyrinthian interwebs that summer when I discovered a breakdown for The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s seminal 1985 agit-prop manifesto about AIDS in the early-to-mid 1980s and how he and his friends banded together to create GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis). The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood was set to produce, overseen by one of the theatre’s founders and Co-Artistic Director, the outstanding Stephen Sachs. The play hadn’t been done in LA in about twenty years, and though it had been given a slick, starry revival on Broadway a few years prior, it felt, perhaps, like something that sunny, surfery Southern California had no right to consider. It’s my (arguably harsh) opinion that LA has always felt too granola (read: passive) for the righteous anger of stories birthed in New York City by New Yorkers.

Nonetheless, The Fountain had a reputation for mounting plays with a social justice bend, and Kramer’s behemoth was certainly no exception. I drafted a cordial email to the casting director asking to be seen. (I’m a firm believer that if you want something done, you do it yourself, and immediately. In other words, I wasn’t going to ask the manager to ask the agent if I had been submitted and then wait around, to neither receive a response nor an appointment time.) When casting responded to my inquiry I assumed the team would want to see me for the role of Bruce Niles, the strapping gay ex-marine. At 6’2” , broad-shouldered, and north of 200lbs, I figured it was the only role they’d consider me for. Instead, they asked me to prepare the role of Ned Weeks, the play’s antagonistic protagonist. Ned is molded out of the playwright himself, the pejorative Larry Kramer. It was the true story of him and his friends, after all, and he was going to tell it his way. It’s a colossal script, with a role as immense as Hamlet, and on nearly every page it elucidates Ned’s pushiness, outspokenness, and righteous anger.

How does an audience go on a journey, and root for, a disagreeable character?  Continue reading

Do you really think a life in the theatre means making a living? Think again.

Tony Kushner

Tony Kushner

by Stephen Sachs

Eight words. A statement declared in eight simple words jumped out at me in a feature story on playwright Tony Kushner in today’s New York Times. The eight words were stated by playwright and Kushner friend Larry Kramer, author of The Normal Heart, which we produced at the Fountain Theatre in 2015.  Commenting on Kushner’s shift from playwriting to screenwriting, Kramer says, “I wish he’d go back to writing plays.”

So, why doesn’t he?

Kushner answered that question himself in 2011 when he shocked many in the arts community by revealing in an interview in Time Out New York that not even the author of Angeles in America can make a living as a playwright.

“I make my living now as a screenwriter. Which I’m surprised and horrified to find myself saying, but I don’t think I can support myself as a playwright at this point. I don’t think anybody does.”

Kushner is right. American playwrights — not even one of his stature — do not earn the bulk of their living writing plays. Many teach. An ever-growing number write for film or cable television.  The tsunami of playwrights today surging into television is so large that it now has become a writer’s career model:  A playwright earns notoriety and success writing plays — or even one successful play, he/she “takes meetings” with Industry producers then quickly jumps to movies and/or television to make real money. The well-meaning intent being that a big-bucks TV salary will financially support the writer, allowing him/her to keep writing plays. What often happens? They write fewer plays.  Some never return to the stage.

“I don’t particularly want to do it,” Kushner said in 2011. “I think that it’s a mistake to do it. So, yes, I’m very worried about it. ” The last play by Kushner premiered in 2009.

The classic tale of playwrights writing for Hollywood is as old as celluloid itself. An avalanche is now underway. Playwrights are flocking to cable TV and streaming networks in record numbers. TV showrunners are aggressively recruiting writers from regional theaters like crazed baseball team owners scouting for hot rookie talent.  One major talent agency in Hollywood has opened a department specifically targeting playwrights for film and televsion. The roster of playwrights now writing for film and TV today is too long to list.  Is that such a bad thing?

Many playwrights I know, and have produced at the Fountain Theatre, also write for film and television. My pal Robert Schenkkan (Building the Wall) is writing a new project for Amazon. Tanya Saracho (El Nogalar) is now creator and showrunner of the Starz drama “Vida” and just signed a three-year deal with the network. Tarell Alvin McCraney (In the Red and Brown Water/Brothers Size) has signed to create, write, and executive produce a new hour-long television drama for the Oprah Winfrey Network. I’m confidant that all three will continue writing plays.

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Stephen Sachs, Shirley Jo Finney, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Fountain Theatre (2014)

I had my own Hollywood crossover by writing the teleplay for Sweet Nothing in my Ear for CBS, based on my play that premiered at the Fountain.  The sale of that one TV script paid me more than I would make running an 80-seat theatre for years.  I am currently writing a screenplay based on my comedy/drama Bakersfield Mist. Does this make me a traitor to my art form? I don’t think so. It makes me a man with a family and a mortgage.

Let’s be honest. There’s a reason why it’s called non-profit theatre. One enters the non-profit arts sector like one enters the priesthood — to serve a higher power. Even so, it would be nice to make a good living doing what you feel is important. To be frank, non-profit theatre-making is an inherently shitty business model. The economics of the art form stack the odds against those who actually make the art happen. So, why do we do it? Here, we cue the piano and launch into “What I Did for Love

Of course, it’s not only playwrights who give their hearts to the theatre at the expense of their wallets. Actors, directors and designers often work for love, and little money. The average member of Actors Equity Association, the professional stage union for actors and stage managers, made an annual salary in 2016 of only $7,700 per year. Like corporate America, it’s the folks at the top in this country’s major regional theaters who are earning large salaries. A few of the larger LORT companies have added playwrights to their theatre’s staff, but they are rare. The model of a permanent repertory company, where artists are paid a yearly salary, is a dying concept, a fossilized relic from an earlier age.

Today, the odds of making a living as a playwright are as remote and precarious as making a living as a poet. Our finest example of excelling at both is, of course, the greatest playwright/poet of them all. Shakespeare wrote multiple plays a year, dozens of sonnets, was a partner in the company, and a co-owner of the theatre building. He was also a ruthless businessman and wealthy grain merchant and property owner.  Unlike the character he created in King Lear, Shakespeare was no fool.

I have dedicated my career to the intimate Fountain Theatre and the non-profit arts community in Los Angeles. I knew twenty-eight years ago when I co-founded this theatre that I would never make a lot of money. I’m okay with that. Most days. I’d be lying if I claimed I haven’t envied men and women my age or younger in the entertainment industry making a huge amount of money more than me.

This is the life I have chosen. Two things keep me going. The impact our work has on others, and the example I am setting for my two sons. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with making money. I just want my two boys to know that their father dedicated his life working at something that he loved and knew was important, that he was committed to making the world a better place in the one way he knew how, by exploring and illuminating the human condition, not striving to make himself wealthy. Can one do both? Of course. I just haven’t yet figured out how to do that.

An artist’s life offers riches not found in a bank ledger. In that, I am the wealthiest man in the world.

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.

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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Fountain Theatre Earns 4 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award Nominations for ‘The Normal Heart’

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Tim Cummings, Bill Brochtrup (photo by Ed Krieger)

The Fountain Theatre’s  acclaimed production of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart directed by Simon Levy earned 4 Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award nominations, including Best Production (Revival) and Best Lead Performance for actor Tim Cummings.

The LADCC Award nominations for The Fountain Theatre are:

  • Best Production (Revival) –  The Normal Heart
  • Best Lead Performance –  Tim Cummings, The Normal Heart
  • Best Sound Design –  Peter Bayne, The Normal Heart
  • Best Video Design – Adam Flemming, The Normal Heart 

For the full list of nominees: Click Here

The 45th Annual Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards ceremony will take place on Monday, March 17, 2014 at The Colony Theatre, located at 555 N. Third Street in Burbank. 

2013: A Season of the Heart at the Fountain Theatre

Fountain Mail: “One of the most important evenings of theater I’ve had in many, many years”

Stephen O'Mahoney, Tim Cummings

Stephen O’Mahoney, Tim Cummings

Dear Fountain Theatre,

I was going to write a hardcopy letter but decided to use this route instead. Please, if you think it appropriate, pass my comments along to all of the cast members.

As you know, I was in the audience last Friday. Somehow or other I had missed seeing this play up until now. It was and is a very important play in the history of g/l/b/t rights and the AIDS epidemic. As someone who joined his local gay rights organization in Seattle one week to the day after the beginning of the Stonewall riots, I have been very involved with the movement since then. However, given the passage of time, some of my memories of that awful period in my life and the life of this country had dimmed. The superb job you did on the play brought that whole awful period back to me with stunning clarity. I left the theater an emotional mess.

While I am sure that I took away a different experience from others in the audience last Friday, I was happy to see younger people there. Hopefully they came away with some inkling of what we went through then. I had forgotten, over time, the maddening denial of governmental officials as well as members of the press that anything was going on that needed attention. One of the important aspects of that period that the play brought to life was the pain we all felt as our friends died with frightening suddenness. All of these emotions were brought to the audience in a very palpable way.

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup

Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup

I do not want to single out any performer more than another for praise as everyone contributed to the effectiveness of the evening. I must say though that Tim Cummings certainly brought all the passion and anger of his character to life very effectively. Bill Brochtrup was a great foil to that anger. His progression in the disease was very effective, especially the makeup he wore at the end of the play. Having had several close friends die of the disease, when he appeared towards the end his appearance caused me to suddenly remember that yes, that was exactly what my friends looked like. Stephen O'Mahoney's portrayal of a closeted gay person wanting to come out but unable to because of his job and background hit the right note. Matt Gottlieb's portrayal of a man trying to be supportive of his brother but also constrained by his professional responsibilities also rang true. Fred Koehler's anguish at the end over his job as well as what was happening in his life as part of the GMHC was heartbreaking. Lisa Pelikan's anger at what was happening and her inability to get anyone to do anything about it rang true. Dan and Jeff and Verton's rolls as important supporting characters were just right for their roles. In short I want to say thank you to all of you. The cast of course are deserving on praise but also the director and the rest of the crew for provided me with one of the most important evenings of theater I've had in many, many years.

I come in to Los Angeles frequently for cultural events as there is nothing here in the desert to equal the quality of what I can see in Los Angeles. This evening was well worth the late-night drive back to Palm Springs. You all are to be commended for doing an outstanding job.

Thank you.

Andrew F. Johnson, Palm Springs, CA 

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

NEW VIDEO: Acclaimed LA Production of ‘The Normal Heart’ at the Fountain Theatre

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Enjoy this new promo video for our acclaimed production of The Normal Heart by Larry Kramer. Our exclusive Los Angeles revival directed by Simon Levy has earned rave reviews, overwhelming audience response, and has been extended to December 15th by popular demand.

This promo video was created by our friends and colleagues at the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).  GLAAD amplifies the voice of the LGBT community by empowering real people to share their stories, holding the media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively. By ensuring that the stories of LGBT people are heard through the media, GLAAD promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality.  

GLAAD’s LGBT Los Angeles theater site shares info on plays that bring LGBT characters and plotlines to life that insure accurate depictions of LGBT people and issues.

The Fountain Theatre production of The Normal Heart has been hailed “brilliant” and “outstanding” and a “must-see”. It is highlighted as a Critic’s Pick and is Ovation Award Recommended. Broadway World exclaims, “This production at the Fountain Theatre certainly exemplifies that great theatre is alive and well in Los Angeles.”

The cast features Verton R. Banks, Bill Brochtrup, Tim Cummings, Matt Gottlieb, Fred Koehler, Stephen O’Mahoney, Ray Paolantonio, Lisa Pelikan, Dan Shaked and Jeff Witzke.

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Extended to Dec 15th! (323) 663-1525 Get Tickets Now!

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