Tag Archives: Master Class

Director Simon Levy offers an antidote of tolerance with ‘The Chosen’ at Fountain Theatre

SL March 2014

Director Simon Levy

Born in Surrey, England, Simon Levy grew up in San Francisco. After a youthful foray as a jazz and rock-n-roll musician, he settled into the love of his life, theater. His professional debut as a stage director in 1980 preceded his move to Los Angeles in 1990, where he joined the staff of the Fountain Theatre in 1993. Even though the Fountain proved to be a very comfortable home for his multiple talents, he branched out into teaching playwriting in Chapman University and the renowned UCLA Writer’s Extension program. He has also been site evaluator for the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council, as well as a member of numerous theater and humanitarian organizations. Somehow, squeezed between his many activities, he found time to adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and The Last Tycoon to the stage, adapted the anti-Iraq War play What I Heard About Iraq, wrote several original works, and directed many Fountain Theatre award-winning productions.

Simon Levy directs Chaim Potok’s iconic play, THE CHOSEN, opening January 20 at the Fountain Theatre. He discusses his multi-faceted career and his latest Fountain Theatre production.

HOW DID IT HAPPEN THAT YOU BEGAN YOUR ADULT LIFE AS A MUSICIAN AND ENDED UP CHANGING TO THEATER IN COLLEGE?

LEVY: I had a rock band and even played street music as a young man. When I entered college at the age of 21, I decided to study music to become a conductor. After a year of study, I found that I was ahead of most of the other students because of my experience playing on the street; and I started getting bored. To get to my music classes, I would take a short cut through the lobby of the theater, and I started to watch people on stage doing acting exercises. I was intrigued; and, at the urging of my mother, I decided to take an acting class. I found that I had a facility for it; and I loved the sense of community there was among the students in the program, where I was embraced and accepted even though I was a novice. For a while, I double tracked, even venturing into anthropology; but eventually I chose theater.

AS A WRITER, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR PROUDEST MOMENTS?

What I Heard About Iraq

What I Heard About Iraq

LEVY: I think I would have to say my adaptation of Eliot Weinberger’s prose-poem about the war in Iraq. It premiered at the Fountain Theatre in 2005/2006 and has gone on to win international awards. It was a cry of the heart for me, a way to make a statement about the idiocy of war. And, of course, my adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby. I had always loved Fitzgerald and what his novel has to say about the American dream. I pursued the rights for years, getting permission along the way to adapt Tender is the Night and The Last Tycoon before the Fitzgerald estate finally gave me the rights to Gatsby. It’s an honor I cherish.

AS A DIRECTOR, WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PROJECTS?

LEVY: That question always stumps me. Directing a play is like having a love affair or having a whole bunch of children. It’s hard to choose a favorite. With each project, I become obsessed with and immersed in the world of the play and what the playwright has to say through the life of the characters. I’m lucky being part of the Fountain Theatre. I get to pick and choose the plays I want to do. And I only choose projects that I’m in love with or feel I need to give life to. Although it’s hard to choose a favorite, some projects stand out for me, like Master Class and Summer and Smoke and, of course, What I Heard About Iraq. But even as I say that, I feel I’m betraying my other lovers! Every play is a marker along the path of my own life. In a way, each play is somewhat autobiographical, a need to say something specific at that particular time.

THE CHOSEN 3

Jonathan Arkin and Sam Mandel rehearse ‘The Chosen’

WHY DID YOU BECOME INVOLVED WITH “THE CHOSEN?”

LEVY: I always search for something that reflects on how I’m feeling at the moment. At this particular point in American history, I needed something that had themes of redemption and tolerance and accepting the other as an antidote to all the toxicity we’re consuming each day. I had always loved THE CHOSEN as a novel and knew about Posner’s adaptation of My Name is Asher Lev a few years ago. After reading this adaptation, I knew I’d found the project that could give voice to a lot of the things I’m feeling right now. Also, Posner has done a re-write of the earlier adaptation he did with Chaim Potok, changing the play from five characters to four. We’re honored to be doing the West Coast premiere of it.

THE CHOSEN resonates with me because I see it as a hopeful commentary. The play begins with the Hebrew for “These and these are the words of the Living God.” It’s a phrase that is deeply ingrained in Jewish thought: that two opposing ideas can be true at the same time. Today, it feels like we have lost the ability to respect someone with an opposing view without being hateful or disrespectful towards them. Potok’s story is an illustration of how we can and should be tolerant if we’re to retain our humanity. And he does it with love and humor and an exploration of fundamentally deep ideas. It may be Jewish in its context, but it focuses on bridging universal chasms between opposing worlds – between the modern and the traditional, the secular and the sacred, Zionism and Hasidism, fathers and sons, the head and the heart, and being true to yourself while embracing and respecting the other. We could use a lot more of that in today’s America.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS?

LEVY: There are always writing and directing projects I’m toying with or trying to get the rights to, but right now I’m searching for something else that really speaks to me and how I’m feeling. I haven’t found the right one yet. But later this year I will be directing The Immigrant, another Jewish-themed play about acceptance and tolerance, at the Sierra Madre Playhouse. So I guess that’s really on my mind right now.

This post originally appeared in Splash Magazine

More Info/Get Tickets for The Chosen 

Fountain Family Spotlight: Christa and William Wilk

Christa and William Wilk

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.  – Christa and William Wilk

BroadwayWorld: Fountain and Deaf West Theaters present Premiere of Signed “Cyrano”

Paul Raci (Chris), Erinn Anova (Roxy), and Troy Kotsur (Cyrano).

The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre present the world premiere of a modern day classic romance, a re-imagined signed/spoken version of “Cyrano de Bergerac.” CYRANO, written by Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs (Bakersfield Mist) and directed by Simon Levy, opens at The Fountain Theatre on April 28, with previews beginning April 20.

In Sachs’ new adaptation, Cyrano is a deaf poet hopelessly in love with Roxy, a beautiful hearing woman. But she doesn’t understand sign language and instead loves Chris, his hearing brother. Can Cyrano express his love to Roxy with his hands? Or must he teach Chris to woo her, to “speak his words” for him? ASL (American Sign Language) becomes the language of love in this new spin on a classic love story.

Troy Kotsur (Cyrano).

“In the original classic, Cyrano feels self-conscious and over-glorifies his enormous nose, but in this modern deaf version, it’s his hands that are the focus,” explains Sachs. “Cyrano’s deafness is channeled through his hands, which swirl and soar to express the most complex human concepts, his inner-most thoughts and feelings, through the beauty of sign language.”

“It’s a mythic story about our hunger for love, the pangs for it,” says Levy. “But the deeper theme is how we communicate with one another. Stephen has written a beautiful adaptation that’s contemporary and fresh, set in a modern city where people communicate via text, Facebook and Twitter. It’s a world of iPhones, Blackberries and tablets. The production marries three forms of communication: ASL, English, and e-language.”

American Sign Language is not English, but a unique language unto itself with its own syntax, sentence structure, slang, humor, subtlety and complexity. It’s the job of ASL masters Tyrone Giordano and Shoshannah Stern to work with the deaf actors to translate the script into ASL, and director Simon Levy works with ASL interpreters in rehearsals. Fight choreographers Brian Danner and Abby Walla must not only create a fight scene between actors Troy Kotsur (Cyrano) and James Royce Edwards, but incorporate the simultaneous sign language with the help of Giordano, Stern and Levy.

A new project such as this has attracted deaf actors from all over the world. Six of the 13-member ensemble are deaf, and many of them have traveled great distances to make their Los Angeles debuts in Cyrano. Auditions were completed using Skype and video submissions.

“Deaf West is the only established theater company in the U.S. that regularly stages new works featuring deaf actors,” notes newly appointed Deaf West Theatre artistic director David Kurs. “Deaf actors from all over the country and the world were anxious to participate.”

Troy Kotsur is Cyrano.

Troy Kotsur (Cyrano), a veteran of Deaf West Theatre (Big River, Pippin, A Streetcar Named Desire, Of Mice and Men), traveled to Los Angeles from his current home in Arizona; Daniel Durant majored in theater at Gallaudet University and comes to L.A. from Maryland; Eddie Buck, who has acted in productions ranging from A Christmas Carol to Romeo and Juliet to Hamlet, joins the cast from Pennsylvania; Maleni Chaitoo (Switched at Birth) recently arrived from New York; and stage, film and TV actress Ipek D. Mehlum comes all the way from Oslo, Norway. Completing the deaf cast is Los Angeles-based actor Bob Hiltermann, who appeared in the Academy Award winning film version of Children of a Lesser God and recurred on All My Children. The cast also includes hearing actors Erinn Anova (Blues For An Alabama Sky, For Colored Girls…, Doubt) as Roxy and Paul Raci (Joseph Jefferson “Best Actor” nomination for Children of a Lesser God in Chicago) as Cyrano’s brother Chris. Hearing ensemble members Al Bernstein, James Babbin, James Royce Edwards, Victor Warren, and Martica De Cardenas also “voice” for the deaf actors.

The set designer for Cyrano is Jeff McLaughlin; lighting designer is Jeremy Pivnick; sound designer is Peter Bayne; video designer is Jeff Teeter; multimedia tech is by Media Fabricators, Inc.; costume designer is Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop designer is Misty Carlisle; fight choreographers are Brian Danner and Abby Walla; production stage manager is Sue Karutz; assistant stage manager is Terri RobertsLaura Hill and Deborah Lawlor produce for The Fountain Theatre, and David Kurs produces for Deaf West Theatre. Cyrano is funded in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Paul Raci (Chris) and Troy Kotsur (Cyrano).

The relationship between The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre dates back 21 years to the early beginnings of both companies. Excited by the visual theatricality of ASL, Stephen Sachs had already been conducting workshops with deaf actors for a number of years. He and Fountain co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor offered office space in their newly founded theater facility to Ed Waterstreet, an actor with National Theatre of the Deaf who envisioned starting a theater company for deaf actors in Los Angeles. Deaf West Theatre produced its first two productions, The Gin Game and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (the latter directed by Sachs) in the Fountain space. Deaf West Theatre went on to produce 40 plays and four musicals in their own venue and around the country, including the Tony-nominated Big River on Broadway, and to win more than 80 theater awards. The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles with over 200 awards for all areas of production, performance, and design. Fountain projects have been seen in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Florida, New Jersey, Minneapolis and Edinburgh.

Cyrano marks Stephen Sachs’ ninth new play, his third incorporating deaf culture and illuminating the deaf world. His play Sweet Nothing in my Ear (1997, PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Media Access Award winner for Theater Excellence) has been produced in theaters around the country and in 2008 was made into a TV movie for CBS starring Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin and Jeff DanielsOpen Window (2005, Media Access Award winner for Theater Excellence) had its world premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse, directed by Eric Simonson. His other plays include Bakersfield Mist (recently optioned for London’s West End and New York), Miss Julie: Freedom Summer (Fountain Theatre, Vancouver Playhouse,Canadian Stage Company, LA Drama Critics Circle award and LA Weekly award nominations for Best Adaptation), Gilgamesh (Theatre @ Boston Court), Central Avenue (PEN USA Literary Award finalist, Back Stage Garland award, Best Play), Mother’s Day, The Golden Gate (Best Play, Drama-Logue), and The Baron in the Trees. Sachs co-founded The Fountain Theatre with Deborah Lawlor in 1990.

Simon Levy was honored with the 2011 Milton Katselas Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle. Directing credits at the Fountain include A House Not Meant to Stand; Opus; Photograph 51;The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore; The Gimmick with Dael Orlandersmith (Ovation Award-Solo Performance); Master Class (Ovation Award-Best Production); Daisy in the Dreamtime; Going to St. Ives; The Night of the Iguana; Summer & Smoke (Ovation Award-Best Production); The Last Tycoon, which he wrote and directed, (5 Back Stage West awards, including Best Adaptation and Direction); and Orpheus Descending (6 Drama-Logue awards, including Best Production and Direction). What I Heard About Iraq, which he wrote and directed, was produced worldwide including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Fringe First Award) and the Adelaide Fringe Festival (Fringe Award), was produced by BBC Radio, and received a 30-city UK tour culminating in London.

Troy Kotsur (Cyrano) and Erinn Anova (Roxy).

Cyrano opens on Saturday, April 28, with performances Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Sundays @ 2 pm through June 10. Preview performances take place April 20-27 on the same schedule with an additional preview performance on Wednesday, April 25 @ 8 pm. Tickets are $30 on Thursdays and Fridays and $34 on Saturdays and Sundays, except previews which are $15. On Thursdays and Fridays only, students with ID are $20 and seniors are $25. The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles. Secure, on-site parking is available for $5. The Fountain Theatre is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. For reservations and information, call 323 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

Photo Credit: Ed Kreiger 

Subscriber Spotlight: Christa and William Wilk

Christa and William Wilk

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.
– Christa and William Wilk

Fountain Actress Karen Kondazian at Book Soup

Karen will Discuss and Sign her  Novel, “The Whip”

Karen Kondazian

Fountain actress Karen Kondazian (The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, Master Class, Night of the Iguana, Orpheus Descending, and more) will present a reading and Q&A of her critically acclaimed historical novel, The Whip, at Book Soup in West Hollywood on Saturday, February 11 from 4pm – 5:30pm.   Enjoy the book signing and indulge yourself in some cowboy food, beer, wine, sarsaparilla and banjo music!

The Whip is inspired by the true story of a woman, Charlotte “Charley” Parkhurst (1812-1879) who lived most of her extraordinary life as a man. As a young woman in Rhode Island, she fell in love and had a child. Her husband was lynched and her baby killed. The destruction of her family drove her west to California, dressed as a man, to track the murder. Charley became a renowned stagecoach driver. She killed a famous outlaw, had a secret love affair, and lived with a housekeeper who, unaware of her true sex, fell in love with her. Charley was the first woman to vote in America (as a man). Her grave lies in Watsonville, California.

SAT FEB 11 4:00-5:30 pm Book Soup 8818 Sunset Blvd   West Hollywood

More on Book Soup event           Buy the Book!

Stephen Sachs’ “Bakersfield Mist” optioned for London with an Eye to Broadway

Stephen Sachs

LOS ANGELES, CA – December 13, 2011 – Bakersfield Mist, the new play by Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs, has been optioned by multiple Tony award-winning producer Sonia Friedman for productions in London and New York.

Sonia Friedman Productions has signed an option to produce the play on the West End in London with plans to bring it to New York for a subsequent Off Broadway or Broadway run. The cast and director have not been set.

 “I’m thrilled beyond belief and couldn’t be happier,” says Sachs. “With the expert care and pedigree of Sonia Friedman Productions, the play is in very good hands.”

Inspired by a true story, Bakersfield Mist imagines a meeting between foul-mouthed, unemployed, trailer park-dwelling Maude Gutman, who believes the painting she bought in a thrift store for $3 is really an undiscovered masterpiece worth millions, and stuffy New York art expert Lionel Percy who arrives to evaluate the work. The comedy/drama is a fiery and often hilarious debate over class, truth, value, and the meaning of art.

The play had its world premiere at the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles in June, produced by Simon Levy and Deborah Lawlor, where it was supported in part by an award from the National New Play Network. Directed by Sachs and starring husband and wife actors Jenny O’Hara and Nick Ullett, the Fountain production received rave reviews and extended three times. It is now scheduled to close on December 18 following a six-month run and 114 sold-out performances.

Subsequent productions in theaters around the country have received a similarly enthusiastic response from critics and audiences alike.

Negotiations for the option between Sonia Friedman Productions and Sachs’ agent, the Susan Gurman Agency, began last June, just after the opening at the Fountain.

Sonia Friedman is one of London’s most prolific and significant theater producers responsible for some of the most successful theater productions in London and on Broadway including, most recently The Book of Mormon, The Mountaintop (with Samuel Jackson and Angela Bassett), Jerusalem (with Mark Rylance), Legally Blonde: The Musical, Private Lives (with Kim Cattrall and Paul Gross), Master Class (with Tyne Daly), and Betrayal (with Kristin Scott Thomas). Friedman is the recipient of 20 Tony Awards as well as dozens of other awards including Olivier, Evening Standard and New York Drama Desk awards. Sonia Friedman Productions (SFP) was formed in 2002 and is a subsidiary of the Ambassador Theatre Group, the large and highly-regarded network of independent theatres in the UK.