Tag Archives: Pasadena Playhouse

Fountain Spotlight: Marcella Meharg

Marcella Meharg 4

Marcella Meharg

The Fountain Theatre community is a devoted band of folk who love theatre and often, one another. Normally The Fountain enjoys shining a light on members of our theatre family in our show programs. During this 2020 pandemic, however, with no show programs to print, The Fountain continues our tradition of honoring members of our devoted community here on the Fountain Blog.

Happy 90th Birthday Marcella Meharg!

Today we honor Marcella Meharg — on the occasion of her recent 90th birthday, and her life-long love of theatre — with two tributes. The first comes from a group of old friends who made a generous contribution in honor of Marcella’s milestone celebration:

“We are a group of former colleagues who worked for Los Angeles County as child welfare workers in the Metro North office in East Hollywood. We met Marcella in the early 70s. From colleagues to friends, we bonded over the years as we worked, raised our children, went to school and lived our lives. Lunches during the work day were a time to catch up. After retirement, lunches became monthly dinners and/or monthly lunches and have continued for over 15 years. The theater has always been an important part of Marcella’s life. Others in the group also have regular subscriptions to theaters in Los Angeles and the Fountain Theatre is one of our favorites. During this pandemic and difficult times for the arts, it seemed so appropriate that Marcella’s gift on the occasion of her 90th birthday would be a donation to the Fountain Theatre. ”
Selma Anderson
Sheila Beving
Ellen Broms
Kay Erland
Carol Fox
Elayne Landy
Bill Lewis
Sharon Mayer
Elaine Smitham
Julie Wheeler
Rochelle Ventura

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The second tribute comes from Sylvie Drake, whose own contributions to Los Angeles’ theatre community are legendary. She is a former theatre critic and columnist for the Los Angeles Times and graduate of The Pasadena Playhouse. She is a current contributor to culturalweekly.com and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

“Marcella Meharg and I did not choose one another. We were thrown together, like it or not, in a dormitory room at the Pasadena Playhouse when we were 19. And it took.
It took so well that, when she came down with a light case of the chickenpox, she eagerly passed it on to me, improved and with bells on. I was sick as a dog. That nasty little episode only drew us closer together. It’s the kind of thing that happens when you’re young, in “theatre school,” mutually passionate about the “art,” the success you’re certain will follow, the boy-friends and assorted other wonders. You form bonds — good and bad — that become indelible. Our post-Playhouse lives took paths that were at once divergent and not. We didn’t hit fame and fortune, but each of us married and each had two children at roughly the same time. Life went on, separating us as it often does, but not forever.

Marcella became a social worker and went on to run the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild’s Julie Harris Playwriting Contest for a number of years. She also co-produced an Ovation-nominated play and wrote one, which had a reading at Hollywood’s Samuel French Bookstore just before it went dark.

By the time we were both older and ready to take a step back, we rediscovered our friendship on a pleasant leisurely basis. By then I was writing reviews more selectively for culturalweekly.com than when I was writing them for The Los Angeles Times, and Marcella became my go-to theatre companion, chiefly because our tastes in theatre matched and our lengthy relationship made for lively conversations that we both enjoyed. What was invigorating is that we didn’t always admire the same productions and our disagreements were often more interesting than our agreements — until the pandemic hit, interrupting all the fun and the tooling around town, popping in and out of shows.

When some of Marcella’s friends smartly decided to celebrate her 90th birthday by contributing in her name to a theatre of her choice, the decision, she tells me, was easy. The Fountain is where we both spent many fascinating hours and hope to spend many more once the world returns to some kind of normal.

Happy birthday, Marcella. I’ve always known you had good judgment.”
– Sylvie Drake

Do you have a Fountain family member you would like to honor? Let us know. Email us at info@fountaintheatre.com

Creative Community: The arts in LA is an inspiring world unto itself

1by Victoria Montecillo

On June 29, I, along with 131 other LA County Arts Commission interns, attended an arts summit held in Pasadena. Having never before attended a professional-type conference before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It seemed like a great opportunity to meet other people in the intern program at different organizations, and learn more about the arts world in LA. I was excited, mainly, to attend my first conference! It all felt very grown-up and professional, and I was excited to learn. 

After checking in at the Pasadena Playhouse and picking which workshops I wanted to attend, I spent the first part of my morning nibbling at a blueberry mini muffin and avoiding small talk. As a naturally introverted person, I’m not one to comfortably strike up casual conversation with strangers; it takes me a little bit to warm up the gears of my social side. Eventually, we all migrated inside the Playhouse for a lovely welcome from the Playhouse’s artistic director, as well as some from the LA County Arts Commission and the mayor of Pasadena. It was certainly very inspiring to be so warmly welcomed and encouraged by people who had found fulfilling work in the arts; they spent the morning encouraging us to follow our passions, and work to create real change. 

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Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director Sheldon Epps welcomes the interns.

Afterwards, we split into smaller groups and headed to separate locations. My group headed to the Pasadena Museum of California Art, where we got a private welcome and got to explore the work of California artists. We then got a backstage tour of the Pasadena Playhouse, where Playhouse volunteers told us all about the green room, the costume shop, the scene shop, and the library. As someone who absolutely loves seeing the backstage areas of any theatre, I was absolutely thrilled. After that, we walked over to First United Methodist Church, where we saw a beautiful site specific piece by the Jacob Jonas Dance Company. Essentially, we spent the morning being exposed to the different corners of the LA arts world, where we got to meet and talk with artists that were working towards their passions and were excited to share it.

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Victoria Montecillo

For lunch, we got together with our peer groups, a group of other LA County interns from the same geographic area. I got to meet some wonderful people working at a lot of different organizations. Some were working at theaters like me, while others were working for music non-profits or arts-based community outreach organizations. Even though we were in a crowded, noisy room, it was interesting to go around and hear everyone’s stories and where they came from, and how they ended up in this intern program. Some of the people I met were not necessarily interested in working in the arts world, but they were incredibly passionate about working in social justice and reaching out to Los Angeles neighborhoods. Everyone had a different perspective to bring, and different stories about their experiences to share. It was nice to hear about everyone’s experiences as interns, and the kinds of work they were doing. A few people were interested in pursuing graphic design, some were interested in music and arts education, and others were interested in theatre. I liked that we were a good mix among our group of various interests, because it gave us a wide range of perspectives. Alma Villegas, our wonderful Peer Group Leader from artworxLA, led us along our discussion and made sure to check in with all of us on whether or not we were enjoying our internships so far. It was comforting to feel that (other than my Fountain family of course) I had another community to fall back on, that would offer me help and support if I needed it. 

3After lunch, we split up from our peer groups to attend a workshop of our choosing. I attended a workshop on Public Engagement in the Arts, led by some truly inspirational people from Cornerstone Theatre Company and the Ford Theatres. They started off by keeping us on our feet, moving to different corners of the room for different things (e.g. “Move to this corner if you’re the youngest in your family, this corner if you’re the oldest,”), gradually picking more thought-provoking topics before ending with creating a line with one end being “art for art’s sake”, and the other end being “art for social justice”. This made us all think about why we were there, and what drives us. 

We then got to hear from Cornerstone and the Ford Theatres, and more specifically, the kind of work that they do in community engagement. My experience with community engagement from theaters is still quite limited, so it was certainly very educational to hear about the new and original ways other theatres were working to stay engaged with the communities around them. It was amazing to hear about Cornerstone, actually casting and creating shows with members of their community, and going out to neighborhoods and to the people to collaborate on creating a piece of art. And to hear from the Ford Theatres, and their work in spreading cultural awareness through free interactive workshops on dance and song. It was beautiful to see and hear about people in the community excited about the arts, and sharing it with the younger and older generations. 

Afterwards, I went to a session on Equity & Inclusion in the Arts, where we were told about the LA County Cultural Equity and Inclusivity Initiative. It was essentially a “town hall” meeting, where we were invited to share our comments, stories, and suggestions in order to help make change in policies. While it was not exactly what I expected, I learned a lot simply from listening to my peers discuss the challenges and obstacles they had all faced as people of color pursuing the arts. One suggestion that I found incredibly valuable (and, seemingly, somewhat intuitive) was the suggestion to offer opportunities to regularly have open discussions like the one we were having, where people had the chance to express their feelings in a safe environment. Sometimes, the first step to making change is creating the opportunity to discuss these issues openly, where people can feel they are being heard. 

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I want to thank the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and their wonderful internship program, as well as the Fountain Theatre, for giving me such a unique opportunity to meet other inspiring people pursuing fulfilling and meaningful careers in the arts world. I am learning so much more this summer than I ever anticipated.

Victoria Montecillo is our 2016 arts intern this summer at the Fountain Theatre, made possible through the support of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission Internship Program.  

Meet the Cast of the West Coast Premiere of ‘On the Spectrum’ at the Fountain Theatre

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Casting is now complete for our upcoming West Coast Premiere of On the Spectrum by Ken LaZebnik, directed by Jacqueline Schultz. Awarded a 2012 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award citation and granted a 2011 Edgerton Foundation New American Play award, On the Spectrum is a funny and touching love story between a young man with Asperger’s and a young woman with autism. Previews begin March 9th and it opens March 16th.

Meet The Cast:

Dan ShakedDan Shaked (Mac) is from New York and making his Fountain Theatre debut. He is a graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts drama program and studied at The Lee Strasberg Film/Theater Institute and at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. He can be seen in the upcoming films “The Broken” and “Homeward”, the TV movie “Gilded Lilys” with Blythe Danner, and was a guest star on ABC’s “Body of Proof”.  He played the lead role in the film  “Storm up the Sky,” selected for the Tribeca Film Festival. He has worked at LaMaMA in New York City and played the lead role in Boston’s UnderGround Railway Theater’s production of Naomi Wallace’s “The Fever Chart” at the Central Square Theatre in Cambridge.

Virginia NewcombVirginia Newcomb (Iris) was last seen at the Fountain Theatre in the 2011 West Coast Premiere of the rarely-seen Tennessee Williams play A House Not Meant to Stand. She recently co-starred on stage in The Grapes of Wrath at Knightsbridge Theatre, Sweet Bird of Youth at the Marilyn Monroe  Theatre and This Property is Condemned at the Globe Playhouse. She has appeared on TV’s “The Office” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” and can be seen in the new comedy webseries “Bandmates“. Virginia stars in the lead role in “The Boogeyman”, a feature film based on Stephen King’s short story.

Jeanie-HackettJeanie Hackett (Elisabeth) is well known to Los Angeles theater audiences. She served as Artistic Director of two prestigious Los Angeles ensemble companies: The Classical Theatre Lab & The Antaeus Company. She has played several roles for LA Theater Works, including Trifles with Amy Madigan. And with The Antaeus Company: Tonight at 8:30 & The Autumn Garden, along with numerous readings & workshops. Broadway credits include Stella in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire (with Blythe Danner) at Circle in the Square & Belle in Eugene O’Neill’s Ah, Wilderness at the Roundabout. Off-Broadway she’s been seen in new plays at Soho Rep, The Promenade & The Harold Clurman Theaters. She received her Equity card at the Williamstown Theater Festival where she appeared in over a dozen plays such as The Greeks, Room Service, The Bay at Nice, Summerfolk The Front Page among others. She’s performed at the Pasadena Playhouse, South Coast Rep, Center Theater Group, Long Wharf, Three River Shakespeare Festival & The Tennessee Williams Arts Center playing leading roles in Richard III (Lady Anne) The Winter’s Tale (Perdita, Hermione) The Taming of The Shrew (Kate) Hamlet (Ophelia) Cyrano de Bergerac (Roxanne) Uncle Vanya (Yelena) Old Times (Kate) Arms and The Man (Louka) How the Other Half Loves(Teresa) Vieux Carre (Jane Sparks) & Present Laughter (Joanna) among others. Other LA Theater credits include: The Seagull (Matrix), Black Box (Odyssey), Phaedra (Getty Villa), Light Pera Palas (Theatre@Boston Court), Kate Crackernuts (24th Street Theater) & Andromache in The Trojan Women at CBS Radford. Recent film work includes: The Words (with Bradley Cooper & Dennis Quaid),Take Me Home Tonight (with Topher Grace), King of California (with Michael Douglas) & Post Grad (with Michael O’Keefe & Carol Burnett.) Favorite television work: Lie to Me, Lincoln Heights, Medium, Criminal Minds, The “L” Word, Charmed, Judging Amy (recurring) & playing Queen Margaret from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3 on The West Wing. On the Spectrum marks her debut at the Fountain Theatre.

On the Spectrum March 16 – April 29 (323) 663-1525  More Info

Next at the Fountain: The LA Premiere of a Boldly Original New Play “In the Red and Brown Water”

Oya can run faster than anyone—but not fast enough to escape her destiny. Shirley Jo Finney directs the long-awaited Los Angeles premiere of In the Red and Brown Water. Lyrically weaving together elements of urban contemporary realism with West African mysticism, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s lusciously theatrical and boldly original new play opens at The Fountain Theatre on October 20.

How far will fast, beautiful Oya go to make a mark in the world? The first of McCraney’s acclaimed “The Brother/Sister Plays,” In the Red and Brown Water is an intoxicating story that charts a young girl’s thrust into womanhood, her family struggle, the two men vying for her heart, and her subsequent fall into the murky waters of life. McCraney mixes the mundane with the mythic, drawing on Yoruban influences while setting the play in a modern urban context—a housing project in the fictional Bayou city of San Pere, Louisiana.

“This production was three years in the making,” says Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs. “When ‘The Brother/Sister Plays’ exploded onto the theatrical scene in 2009, it was clear that Tarell was an important and rising new voice. We immediately began our fight for the rights to do this play and refused to give up. The Fountain Theatre is a theater of the heart—and this is where we want the play to live in Los Angeles.”

“I began to investigate how to use ancient myths, stories, to tell urban ones,” McCraney wrote. “I began taking old stories from the canon of the Yoruba and splicing them, placing them down in a mythological housing project in the south. This made the stories feel both old and new, as if they stood on an ancient history but were exploring the here and now.”

Tarrell Alvin McCraney

Lauded by The New York Times as “something rare in the theater, a new, authentically original voice,” and by the Chicago Tribune as “without question, the hottest young playwright in America,” 32-year-old Tarell Alvin McCraney has won numerous awards, including the Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, the Whiting Writing Award, London’s Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright and the National Endowment for the Arts Outstanding New American Play Selection. His plays include Wig Out! (developed at Sundance Theatre Lab, produced in New York by the Vineyard Theatre and in London by the Royal Court) and the trilogy entitled The Brother/Sister Plays, including: The Brothers Size (simultaneously premiered in New York at the Public Theater, in association with the Foundry Theatre, and in London at the Young Vic, where it was nominated for an Olivier Award); In the Red and Brown Water; and Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet. His other plays include Without/Sin and Run, Mourner, Run (adapted from Randall Kenan’s short story), both of which premiered at Yale Cabaret. He holds a B.F.A. in acting from DePaul University, and he graduated from the playwriting program at the Yale School of Drama. He is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s international writer in residence and is currently under commission at Manhattan Theatre Club and Berkeley Rep. His new play, Head of Passes, will have its world premiere in April at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, directed by Tina Landau.

In the Red and Brown Water stars Dorian Christian BaucumPeggy ABlowGilbert Glenn BrownJustin Chu CaryDiarra KilpatrickStephen MarshallSimone MissickIona MorrisTheodore Perkins and Maya Lynne Robinson. Set design is by Frederica Nascimento; lighting design is byJosé Lopez; sound design is by Peter Bayne; costume design is by Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop design is by Misty Carlisle; choreography is by Ameenah Kaplan; vocal coach is Brenda Lee Eager; dialect coach is JB Blanc; assistant director is Erinn Anova; production stage manager is Shawna Voragen; assistant stage manager is Terri Roberts; and Stephen Sachs and Deborah Lawlor produce.

Shirley Jo Finney with NAACP Theater Award

Shirley Jo Finney previously directed award-winning productions of From the Mississippi DeltaCentral AvenueYellowman and The Ballad of Emmett Till at the Fountain Theatre. Her work has been seen at the McCarter Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Goodman Theater, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Cleveland Playhouse, LA Theater Works, Crossroads Theater Company, Actors Theater of Louisville Humana Festival, Mark Taper Forum, American College Theatre Festival, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and, most recently, the State Theater in Pretoria, South Africa, where she helmed a critically acclaimed production of the South African opera, Winnie, based on the life of political icon Winnie Mandela. Ms. Finney has been honored with Ovation, Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle, Back Stage Garland, LA Weekly and NAACP awards. For television, she directed several episodes of Moesha,and she garnered the International Black Filmmakers ‘Best Director’ Award for her short film, Remember Me. In 2007 she received the African American Film Marketplace Award of Achievement for Outstanding Performance and Achievement and leader in Entertainment.

Don’t miss this extraordinary new play at the Fountain.  From the director of our unforgettable smash hit The Ballad of Emmett Till.

In the Red and Brown Water  Oct 20 – Dec 16  (323) 663-1525  More

Gifts of Language Continue in ‘Cyrano’

Troy Kotsur as Cyrano.

The forces behind a well-received stage production have worked together for a long time, forever bonding the Fountain and Deaf West theater companies.

by Karen Wada

Nearly a decade ago, an improbable dream came true for Deaf West Theatre and its founder, Ed Waterstreet. The small, L.A.-based company went to Broadway with its signed and spoken version of the musical “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

Even as he savored their success, Waterstreet had another dream — creating an original musical inspired by Edmond Rostand‘s “Cyrano de Bergerac.” What better tale for his theater to tell than one that explores the universal desire to express oneself?

This spring, “Cyrano” is making its debut, albeit as a straight play. Stephen Sachs’ modern-day adaptation, which is directed by Simon Levy, opened to acclaim in April at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood and runs until early July. The co-production represents a reunion of old friends — the Fountain gave Deaf West its first home and Sachs, the Fountain’s co-artistic director, is one of its longtime collaborators.

Sachs says the show also has turned out to be “a special farewell to Ed” since the 69-year-old Waterstreet, whom he calls “a delicious mixture of bulldog and teddy bear,” has retired after two decades as his company’s pioneering artistic director.

“Cyrano” marks a beginning as well, as it is Deaf West’s first production under new artistic director D.J. Kurs.

“I want to build on the tradition and passion Ed brought while keeping us moving forward,” says Kurs, 34.

Rostand’s 19th century drama about a 17th century soldier-poet has been reset in a world with Facebook and Starbucks. In the original, Cyrano fears rejection because of his huge nose, so he secretly uses his way with words to help his comrade Christian woo beautiful Roxanne.

In Sachs’ story, a poet believes his deafness will ruin his chances with a hearing woman named Roxy, especially after he learns she’s fallen for his hearing brother, aging rocker Chris. This Cyrano pinch-hits for his less-than-eloquent sibling via text and email.

“Technology has opened up the world” for the deaf community, the playwright says, although it can be a blessing and a curse for someone like Cyrano, “who connects back to a more romantic age.” Sachs’ hero — brash, brilliant and yet plagued by self-doubt — often feels he’s out of place, not fitting in with the hearing and choosing not to fit in with the deaf.

Sachs and Levy have integrated e-language into Deaf West’s trademark blending of signed and spoken language presented by deaf and hearing performers for deaf and hearing audiences. Flat-screen monitors glow with online messages while actors such as Troy Kotsur, who plays Cyrano, express with their hands and faces what Sachs calls the “intimate, visceral, kinetic” beauty of American Sign Language. (The ASL translation was created by two ASL masters working with the actors, director and playwright.)

Sachs discovered the richness of sign language in the late ’80s when he observed the interpreter at a play he was directing. He began holding workshops with deaf actors and writers; when he and Deborah Lawlor founded the 78-seat Fountain in 1990, he hoped to start a deaf theater company as well. Then he heard about Waterstreet, a National Theatre of the Deaf veteran who wanted to establish a company for deaf artists like himself.

The Fountain offered Waterstreet office space, from which he launched Deaf West in 1991. In its first show, “The Gin Game,” actors signed while hearing audience members listened to the dialogue on infrared headphones.

Deaf West ventured out on its own in 1993, eventually settling in North Hollywood. The company has gained a national reputation for expanding opportunities for deaf artists and defying expectations — especially by pursuing what Waterstreet calls “that crazy idea, the deaf musical.”

Just as “wonderfully crazy,” he adds, was the notion that such a musical could reach Broadway. “Big River,” which was directed by Broadway veteran Jeff Calhoun, opened in North Hollywood in 2001, moved to the Mark Taper Forum in 2002 and, in 2003, landed in New York, where it earned two Tony nominations and a Tony honor for excellence in theater.

Deaf West achieved its goal of presenting an original musical in 2007 with “Sleeping Beauty Wakes,” which opened at the Kirk Douglas Theatre with a book by Tony-winner Rachel Sheinkin and a score by Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda of indie pop-rock’s GrooveLily. That Center Theatre Group co-production was followed by another, “Pippin,” in 2009.

Over the years, Sachs has continued to create work related to deaf culture. His “Sweet Nothing in My Ear,” inspired by the debate over cochlear implants, debuted at the Fountain in 1997 and was made into a TV movie. For Deaf West, he has directed two plays and written two others. His drama “Open Window,” in which a deaf young man is accused of killing the father who kept him chained in the basement, premiered in 2005 at the Pasadena Playhouse in a co-production between Deaf West and the playhouse.

When Waterstreet suggested collaborating again, Sachs asked about “Cyrano.” “Ed told me they had kicked it around, but it never got off the ground,” he says. So he proposed his modern-day version.

Kurs hopes the strong response to the show, which has been extended through July 8, will attract donors who can help ease the financial challenges Deaf West has faced after the loss of crucial federal funding, starting with a major cut in 2004. He is seeking additional funding sources for the company, which receives foundation, individual and local and state government support. Meanwhile, Deaf West has reduced its staff and rented out its theater during 2012.

Looking beyond “Cyrano,” Kurs is considering possibilities for the next production, which is scheduled for early 2013.

Waterstreet says he decided to leave at the end of last year but didn’t officially retire until Kurs, a former Deaf West artistic associate, was appointed in January. “The theater is still my baby,” he adds, noting that he plans to help with fundraising.

Returning to the Fountain for “Cyrano” proved to be what he calls “a very nice homecoming. … I had tears in my eyes as I saw the play for the first time in the space where we had so many memories.”

On opening night, Sachs sat behind Waterstreet as they watched the world premiere, deaf and hearing actors and an array of high-tech screens filling the stage where Deaf West got its start two decades earlier.

“At intermission, Ed leaned over to me,” Sachs recalls. “He said, ‘Wow! Look at all this. Look at how far we’ve come.'”

Cyrano Extended to July 8th (323) 663-1525  More Info  Buy Tickets

Fountain Theatre and Deaf West: What Dreams Are Made On

In 1990, Stephen Sachs and Ed Waterstreet shared a dream. Stephen had just launched the Fountain Theatre with Deborah Lawlor. He had worked sporadically with deaf actors and writers in Los Angeles for five years prior and was now eager to start a deaf theatre company at the newly-formed Fountain. Ed was a respected actor and director trained at the National Theatre for the Deaf. He, too, was yearning to create something new in Los Angeles: a professional deaf theatre company led and run by deaf artists. Someone suggested that Stephen and Ed meet. Upon meeting, it was clear they were both united by the same exhilarating vision. Ed was immediately invited into the Fountain Family. He was given office space and support. And Deaf West was born. The first professional resident Sign Language Theatre west of the Mississippi.

Ed Waterstreet with actors Patrick Graybill and Phyllis Frelich. "The Gin Game" (1991)

By May, 1991, Deaf West opened its first production at the Fountain, The Gin Game, starring Phyllis Frelich and Patrick Graybill. It was followed by Shirley Valentine in 1992, starring Freda Norman and directed by Waterstreet. In 1993, Sachs directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in which the hospital staff was hearing and the patients deaf.

It was always the goal that Deaf West would become autonomous and operate its own venue. In 1993, Deaf West “left home” and leased the Heliotrope Theatre in Hollywood where Sachs directed ‘Night Mother, costarring Freda Norman and Elena Blue in 1994. Under Ed’s leadership, Deaf West blossomed and grew. Back at the Fountain, the development of new plays with deaf themes continued with the world premiere of Sachs’ Sweet Nothing in my Ear in 1997, tackling the controversial issue of cochlear implants. The play was made into a CBS TV movie in 2008 starring Marlee Matlin, Jeff Daniels, and featuring Ed Waterstreet.

Stephen Sachs directs "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1993)

After a brief stay at the Ventura Court theater in North Hollywood, Deaf West acquired its venue on Lankershim Blvd in the NoHo Arts District. Deaf West and Sachs joined forces again in 2005 with the world premiere of Sachs’ play, Open Window, starring Linda Bove and Shoshannah Stern, at the Pasadena Playhouse.

The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre are now two of the most successful and highly respected intimate theater companies in Los Angeles, both honored with hundreds of awards and earning national recognition for excellence. Twenty-two years after first joining hands, the two companies are together again co-producing the world premiere of their new signed/spoken version of Cyrano, starring Troy Kotsur, at the Fountain Theatre.  Back where it all began. Where a dream became reality. 

Cyrano  April 28 – June 10  (323) 663-1525  More Info  Buy Tickets

Artistic Choice or Financial Risk?

Art and commerce can make strange bedfellows in the world of nonprofit theater, especially in hard times. Can a theatre risk producing new work and still keep its doors open?  When should a theatre sell its soul to please audiences? Can a theatre focus too fearfully on the spreadsheet’s bottom line and violate the bottom line of its artistic mission and the leader who guides it?

The question can be asked right here in Los Angeles. Sheldon Epps has had to program the Pasadena Playhouse with commercial, crowd-pleasing fare to lift the company out of bankruptcy. But, at least, Sheldon remains at the helm. That’s not always the case.

Jeff Zinn has stepped down after 23 years as Artistic Director at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre. Among others, one reason seemed clear: the Board decided that the cutting-edge new work that Zinn championed — and was at the core of WHAT’s artistic mission — could no longer financially support the organization and its gorgeous (and expensive) new state-of-the-art 220 seat theatre. You gotta fill seats.

Jim Petosa

Olney Theatre Center’s Artistic Director Jim Petosa knows that for sure. He has led the Maryland landmark since 1994 and directed shows there well before that. On Petosa’s watch, the sprawling 14-acre campus north of Washington DC  has built a new mainstage, an intimate theater lab, and an outdoor amphitheater for summer Shakespeare.

As Olney’s artistic leader, Petosa has confronted both financial and artistic struggles. In 2010, the theater faced a $6 million debt and a 5 percent drop in subscriptions. Olney added more revivals of family-friendly shows instead of the more cutting edge theater Petosa favored. The overall tone of season 2011 at Olney has been demonstrably tried, true — and commercial. The strategy seems to be working, but for Petosa, the artistic challenges lie elsewhere.

It has just been announced that he will step down as artistic director at the end of this year.

“I think sometimes personal artistic ­ambitions and institutional ­artistic ambitions don’t necessarily meet,” he says.

The sad truth gets sadder: The family-friendly programming at Olney is not viewed by the theater’s board or its audiences as an “unconscionable compromise,” says Petosa. Indeed, they “seem to be responding to these programming ideas with enthusiasm and passion.”

This is what scares us.

Joy Zinoman, a longtime colleague and friend, says Petosa is “a beloved figure as a director — high energy, very warm, very positive; filled with ideas.”

But Zinoman, who stepped down herself in 2010 after 35 years as founding artistic director at Studio Theatre in Washington, questions the road that Petosa and Olney have taken. “Jim is not a person who just wants to do commercial work. In his heart, I don’t think he’s that at all. I would myself not agree that the way to attract an audience is to do that kind of work.”

Even in a bad economy?

“Even so,” she says. “I believe that it is possible to lead an audience. You have to lead an audience and just doing ‘The Sound of Music’ again, or ‘The Christmas Carol’ again, I’m not sure that’s the way to build a theater. I mean, it might solve your problem in the moment, but it’s not going to get you anywhere.”

Put “Los Angeles” Back into the Los Angeles Times for LA Theatre

by Don Shirley

During the holiday season, the LA Times (aka LAT) demonstrated anew its curiously constricted view of the importance of the other LAT — LA theater.

Charles McNulty

Times theater critic Charles McNulty’s year-in-review roundup included a Top 11 list of theatrical productions, of which only two (Blackbird and Peace in Our Time) were LA-originated. Two other shows on his list, The Cripple of Inishmaan and Let Me Down Easy, were imported by LA area theaters. One Orange County production, Circle Mirror Transformation, also made McNulty’s list.

The other six shows on the list – more than half of the total – included a Canadian import McNulty saw in La Jolla (Jesus Christ Superstar), three shows he saw in New York (The Book of Mormon, The Motherfucker with the Hat and The Normal Heart), and two he saw in London (Luise Miller and One Man, Two Guvnors). McNulty also wrote a separate year-end essay that mentioned other shows, including four LA-originated productions, but they didn’t appear on his Top 11 list.

Whenever a critic tries to cover more than one geographical area in a year-end theater assessment, especially if traveling among the areas involves crossing not only continents but also oceans, I wonder how the critic could possibly have seen enough of the contenders in any one of the areas to make reasonably comprehensive judgments. To be fair to McNulty, it’s true that he wrote that these were the shows that “had me clapping loudest at home and abroad” – not that these were necessarily the best shows in the 2011 theatrical world or even in these particular cities.

Even so, a lot of readers probably assume that the chief LA Times critic reviews or at least sees most of the better LA shows. But it ain’t necessarily so.

RADAR L.A.

I looked up the record of what McNulty wrote about in 2011, courtesy of one of the databases at the LA Public Library. I found 52 reviews of individual theater productions within LA and Orange counties (plus one review at Long Beach Opera and a RADAR L.A. commentary that included brief comments on several shows).

It’s no surprise that he reviewed Center Theatre Group shows more often than those of any other company – a total of 13 in 2011. The surprise about his CTG coverage is that only two of those 13 were at CTG’s flagship venue, the Mark Taper Forum. Four were at CTG’s largest theater, the Ahmanson, while seven were at CTG’s smallest venue, the Kirk Douglas. McNulty wrote about eight productions at Geffen Playhouse and seven at South Coast Repertory. He covered five shows at Broad Stage (all of them imports).

So 33 of his 52 individual theater reviews in Los Angeles and Orange counties took place at those four companies, which are more or less regarded as the “1%” of LA theater by many of the “99%” who work elsewhere in the vast LA theater terrain.

McNulty also spent time in the major San Diego theaters, reviewing five shows at La Jolla Playhouse and four at the Old Globe (plus one at San Diego Rep, which he later re-reviewed when it came to LA).

Oddly enough, McNulty largely avoided one of our major theaters, the Pasadena Playhouse, even though 2011 was the year when it rebounded from bankruptcy. McNulty reviewed only one of the playhouse’s productions, Dangerous Beauty. He ignored the return of the playhouse’s Sheldon Epps as a director in Blues for an Alabama Sky (it opened the same night as the Mark Taper Forum’s Vigil – but McNulty didn’t review Vigil either).

Although 2011 was the year when A Noise Within moved from Glendale to larger digs in Pasadena, McNulty wrote only about the company’s opening show (Twelfth Night) in the new theater, not about the final season of three (better) productions in the former space or the new theater’s second show.

"Small Engine Repair" at Rogue Machine

He didn’t write about any of the four 2011 shows that won the top production honors at last year’s Ovation Awards ceremony (A Raisin in the Sun, Kiss Me Kate, Small Engine Repair, Jerry Springer: the Opera), nor has he has ever written (in his six years at the Times) about Troubadour Theater Company, which won the “best season” Ovation for the second time in three years.

He reviewed no 2011 shows at most of the companies that make up the middle tier of Equity-contracted LA theaters – the Colony, International City Theatre, East West Players, Theatricum Botanicum, Independent Shakespeare, the Falcon, Ebony Rep, Theatre West, Native Voices – nor did he write about anything at the larger musicals-only companies such as Musical Theatre West. He reviewed one production each at Reprise, REDCAT and the Skirball, plus the only Getty Villa production that was open for review in 2011. He wrote about one show each at the larger Pantages and Montalban theaters and at the Hollywood Bowl, as well as Cirque du Soleil’s Iris.

On the small theater (99-Seat Plan) level, he reviewed eight productions, including two at Boston Court and one each at six other venues. That’s eight out of the 371 productions that used the 99-Seat Plan in LA County in 2011, according to tentative figures from Actors’ Equity.       Continue reading