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Enjoy this fun music video created by actor Jonathan Arkin chronicling the Fountain Theatre opening its acclaimed production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen at the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto, CA.
Directed by Simon Levy, the production stars Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman and Sam Mandel.
by Simon Levy
Our acclaimed production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok, was a wonderful success at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center Taube Koret Campus for Life/Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto this past weekend.
We were invited by Ronit Widmann-Levy, Director of Arts and Culture, because several members of her JCC had seen our production earlier this year in L.A., plus she’d heard about the production at a conference of JCCs in New York. She made arrangements with our Artistic Director, Stephen Sachs, to bring the original cast (Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel), our stage manager (Miranda Stewart), and myself to remount our production in their 300-seat theatre.
On Monday and Tuesday of last week, Miranda and the actors and I got together for brush-up rehearsals over at the Colony Theatre (the Fountain was busy getting ready for the VIP opening of Cost of Living, our current production). It had been four months since we had done the show and I wanted to make sure the actors had time to get ready. They were remarkable! – they knew all their lines and the old camaraderie immediately returned. It was as if they were still doing the show. They were ready and eager to dive back in.
After packing up and shipping most of the furniture, props, and costumes (except for the beautiful bookshelves, arches, and hundreds of books), we boarded a Southwest flight to San Francisco on Thursday, Super Shuttled to the beautiful Sheraton Palo Alto, took a quick tour of where we would be performing, gathered for dinner at the Town and Country Village near the hotel, then settled in for a good night’s rest.
Friday was a 12-hour tech day where we re-configured and re-sized our intimate production to the larger stage of the Arts Hall. We re-blocked a few key moments, re-designed the dozens of light cues, laid in dozens more sound cues, and re-configured the special video effect of Hebrew letters that accents a key moment in the play. Even without the bookshelves, archways and library effect, the production sat nicely on their stage, allowing the emphasis to be on the actors.
Moving a show from one space to another, especially with only one day of tech, can often be stressful and prone to all sorts of mishaps. But we were blessed! I want to give special thanks to the Center’s tech wizards, Nick and Kyle. They could not have been more professional, helpful, creative, and just downright nice! And the same for Ilanit Gal, the Events Manager, who took good care of us. Ronit Widmann-Levy was gracious and welcoming and warmly introduced us to many of the attendees and made sure we had everything we needed. It was a pleasure to work with them, and they made the transition from our intimate space to their larger one, smooth and stress-free.
On Saturday afternoon we had a tech run of the show, made a few adjustments, then prepared for our opening. Spirits were high; there was much joking among the cast as they donned costumes and makeup, re-checked their props, and waited for the 7:30 curtain. The Saturday night show was so oversold that the Center had to add three extra rows of seats to accommodate the 300+ patrons. And word-of-mouth from that performance quickly sold out the Sunday night show. Two full houses… two standing ovations!
At the Q&A after the Sunday performance nearly the entire audience stayed, applauding us, engaging us with intelligent questions, and afterwards they swarmed the actors with more questions and compliments. They loved the show. Just loved it. And they could not have been more complimentary – not only about the acting and production, but also about how relevant the story is; how much it touched them; how certain moments made them laugh or cry or nod in recognition; how Chaim’s book and Posner’s adaptation give life not only to so many Jewish themes and historical moments, but to the dynamics of family, of children finding their own path, of the need for understanding and forgiveness, and how, with empathy and compassion, we actually can hold two opposing ideas in our mind at the same time, and both can be true.
The other thing I heard over and over, both from the JCC staff and audience members, is how the immediacy and three-dimensionality of theatre brings to emotional life the richness of the novel in a visceral way that’s different from reading the book. They entered into the world we created for them, and they were moved.
We were even featured on the cover of J. The Jewish News of Northern California with a full-length article about the production and the novel.
On Monday morning, we boarded another Southwest flight and returned home.
Theatre of the heart. To touch the heart of another and to remind them of their humanity is our highest calling as artists. Our road trip to Palo Alto was a beautiful reminder of why I chose this life.
Simon Levy is the Producing Director of the Fountain Theatre.
After a six-month sold-out run earlier this year, the Fountain Theatre’s acclaimed Los Angeles Premiere of The Chosen by Chaim Potok will open this weekend for a limited run at the Schultz Cultural Arts Hall in Palo Alto. The original cast and director return for two special performances October 20 and 21.
Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and directed by Simon Levy, the production features Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel. The Schultz Cultural Arts Hall is a 380 seat theatre, giving the cast the opportunity to enjoy a larger audience than the Fountain’s seventy-eight seats allows. It also lifts the production to a full contract under Actors’ Equity Association.
The Schultz Cultural Arts Hall is located at the Palo Alto JCC. Its curatorial efforts are focused on Jewishness, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. Art’s transcendent nature and its ability to spark curiosity about the other, dialogue about freedom, values and compassion.
After a critically-acclaimed, six month sold-out run, our production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen celebrated its final performance yesterday to another full house and a standing ovation. The Chosen has earned its place as one of the most successful productions in recent Fountain Theatre history. Equally important, it touched many hearts, moving and inspiring audiences.
Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and directed by directed by Simon Levy, the production featured Jonathan Arkin, Alan Blumenfeld, Steve B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel.
Following Sunday’s final performance, the company toasted the long, gratifying run with the audience in our upstairs cafe.
Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs announced from the stage Sunday that Fountain Theatre will bring its acclaimed production of The Chosen to the Oshman Family JCC Arts Center in Palo Alto in October.
Director Simon Levy and actors Sam Mandel and Dor Gvirtsman enjoyed chatting about our smash hit production of The Chosen with talk radio/TV host Deborah Kobylt on Wednesday. The acclaimed sold-out run of The Chosen has been extended to June 10th.
A silent father, an ancient tradition and an unexpectedly important game of baseball forge bonds of lifelong friendship between two Jewish boys from “five blocks and a world apart” in this funny, poignant, timely and timeless father-son story about recognition and acceptance of “the other.”
“CRITIC’S CHOICE… DEEPLY EMOTIONAL… reminds us to reach across divides” — Los Angeles Times
“MAGIC… brilliantly presented… four stand-out actors… directed with visionary insight” — Broadway World
Deborah Kobylt hosts her own online radio/TV talk program, Deborah Kobylt LIVE, every Wednesday at 1pm on Universal Broadcasting Network (UBN).
More Info/Get Tickets to The Chosen
Steven B. Green in ‘The Chosen’ at the Fountain Theatre (photo by Ed Kreiger)
The Fountain Theatre’s hit production of Chaim Potok’s The Chosen has been extended a second time, now playing to June 10th. A silent father, an ancient tradition and an unexpectedly important game of baseball forge bonds of lifelong friendship between two Jewish boys from “five blocks and a world apart” in this funny, poignant, timely and timeless father-son story about recognition and acceptance of “the other.” The smash hit production has sold out every performance since it opened on January 20th.
Adapted for the stage by Aaron Posner and Directed by Simon Levy, the cast includes Jonathan Arkin, Steven B. Green, Dor Gvirtsman, and Sam Mandel.
The Fountain production has earned rave reviews everywhere. It has been highlighted as Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times and is Ovation Award Recommended.
“CRITIC’S CHOICE! DEEPLY EMOTIONAL” — Los Angeles Times
“MAGIC… four stand-out actors… directed with visionary insight” — Broadway World
“INSPIRED… LIVELY… ABSORBING.” —Cultural Weekly
“FIVE STARS… EMOTIONALLY STUNNING… DON’T MISS IT” — Haines His Way
“MESMERIZING… this play has something for everyone – Jewish or not.” — LA Splash
“WOW!… EXQUISITE… gripping, edifying, and moving… a must-see!” — Stage Scene LA
“EXQUISITE AND HEARTFELT” — Showmag
“ASTONISHING… vital, alive, and important” —Stage and Cinema
“RECOMMENDED… STAGE RAW TOP 10… CLASSY” —Stage Raw
“STUNNING… ageless and universal… theatre at its finest.” — The Tvolution
“SPLENDID… HEARTFELT… FIRST-RATE” —. Theatre Notes
“DEEPLY MOVING… fresh and meaningful” — Theatre Spoken Here
“WELCOME INDEED… beauty and simple truths” — Ticket Holders LA
The Fountain Theatre’s ongoing post-show discussion series, Breaking It Down, will continue through the extension with thought-provoking conversations on themes connected to issues explored in the play.
By Linnea Sage
Name: Sam Mandel
Side hustle: Chief operating officer of the Ketamine Clinics of Los Angeles
Years acting: 13
Favorite acting credits/opportunities: I had a blast working with Chris Rock as recurring guest star Fisher on “Everybody Hates Chris.” My favorite would have to be the role I’m performing right now, making my stage debut as the lead in the west coast premiere of a newly revised version of The Chosen at the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood. We opened Jan. 20 and it’s been a life-changing experience for me; by far my most challenging and fulfilling role to date.
What do you do when an audition or shoot comes up?
I let my team at the clinic know that I’m going to be out and to plan accordingly. I have a staff of seven; they’re great! They work hard and are very supportive of my acting career. I move meetings and conference calls with outside companies to different days. I catch up on work from home. It’s not always easy, but I give people as much advanced notice as possible and put in the work before and after filming to meet my responsibilities at the office, even if that means catching up on emails at 2 a.m.
Have you ever felt like your side hustle was in jeopardy because of acting? How long did it take you to feel like you had security at this side hustle, even if you took time off for an acting project?
I don’t think I ever felt like my side hustle was in jeopardy, but I have felt that my acting hustle was suffering. Managing both has been very intense and stressful at times. I am fully committed to both. Acting is my life, my career, my passion, and it means more to me than anything.
On the other hand, I started a business that now has many people counting on me. Not only is it how I eat and pay my bills, but I’ve invested substantial time and money into it. Our patients come to us deeply depressed, some even suicidal. The treatment we offer is the last hope for many of them. It’s literally life and death. That’s a big responsibility and one I don’t take lightly.
I felt I couldn’t fully pursue acting like I wanted to for the first three years of starting my company. I still auditioned and booked work occasionally—a commercial here, co-star spot there—but wasn’t hustling like I wanted for my acting because I was grinding for the clinic. In the last 12 months, I’ve finally started to turn up the heat on the acting and it feels great. That’s largely a result of dedication, patience, and persistence to establish a strong foundation for the company. It took time, but I now have a wonderful team in place. They say, “good help is hard to find” and no aphorism could be truer! No matter how hard you work you need teamwork to create exceptional outcomes. I’m very grateful to my team at the clinic and my team who represent me for my acting.
What skills or talents did you need for this side hustle? How long did it take you to qualify or complete training for your side hustle?
My role is very expansive. I create policies and procedures, I’m HR and do hiring and training of staff, marketing, advertising, social media, press, website design, establish and maintain relationships with vendors, budgeting and profit and loss, patient satisfaction, and more. If I had to narrow it all down, I’d say the top three skills needed are to be very detail oriented, creative, and relentless.
As far as qualifying for this job or completing training, I’ve used skills and knowledge from every job I’ve ever had since I was a little kid walking my neighbor’s dogs. I draw a lot from the service industries I’ve worked in and my restaurant experience, which I have a lot of. Naturally, as an actor, I’ve held every position in the restaurant at over a dozen places. I focus heavily on the patient experience from our website to the moment they arrive at the clinic, to continuing care from afar long after they’ve completed their treatment. I grow every day in my ability to do my job more efficiently and successfully and lead others to do the same.
How does this side hustle fulfill you? Do you feel like you’re helping people/society/humanity in a tangible way?
I truly love my side hustle. It’s very fulfilling. I get to help people who are suffering and be part of a team that provides them measurable relief. I get to offer an innovative solution, something new and different. Applying a wide variety of skills and knowledge in my job helps keep it interesting. New challenges and opportunities come up all the time. I love my team. They’re great people with a strong work ethic and they inspire me to keep reaching higher. The creative control and flexible schedule are nice perks too!
Has your side hustle made you better at acting or achieving your acting goals?
Absolutely. I’ve grown as a person in so many ways through the experience of starting a company. Much of what I have learned I’ve applied to my acting career and the business side of “the industry”. I don’t overthink my acting choices and preparation for roles as much as I used to. I get to it, give it my all, and move on. Less dwelling on “shoulda, coulda, woulda…” after auditions and performances. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still there, but there simply isn’t time; I gotta get back to the other work!
Why did you choose to do this side hustle instead of more stereotypical acting side hustles like serving?
I got tired of serving. I’ve done every job in the restaurant industry more than once. I also worked in retail, drove for Uber, was a Task Rabbit, dog walker, babysitter, sold stuff on Craigslist, and all the other stereotypical gigs artists do to get by. I’ve done em’ all. I also worked at less stereotypical jobs for an actor like at a bank, other financial companies, real estate, and more. I wanted to make decent money and not stress about the rent while also enjoying some freedom and flexibility. Acting classes and good headshots aren’t cheap! I got a unique opportunity to be part of something great and I jumped on it. I threw every ounce of my being into it, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
If you produce your own work, do you feel like this current side hustle allows you the freedom/resources to do that?
Yes and no. My sketch comedy channel on YouTube, Gamer Guy and the Guardians (soon to be renamed The Jungle), is very flexible. My partners Michael Tomasetti, DB Wilson, and I usually shoot on the weekends. We can shoot a whole sketch in eight hours, sometimes two sketches if they’re short or improvised. Bigger projects like a music video I wrote, produced and directed have been tougher. It took significant planning in pre-production, filming, and post-production. That project had some unique challenges and it was my first go at it. I’ve learned a lot from that experience and my clinic is in a totally different place then it was then, so I think taking on a bigger self-produced project would be different today. I plan on creating a short film to direct and act in this year and it will be interesting to see how that goes. I have flexibility within my schedule and financial cushion, but the pressure of keeping things going at the clinic, which is rapidly growing, while also giving all my creative energy to a film is no small task.
Do you have any advice for actors that aren’t sure what path to take while they are waiting for acting to pay all the bills?
Never give up and work your ass off. Work hard and work smart. Be creative about how to make ends meet until you “make it.” I don’t say this as someone who has “made it” yet, but I feel I am well on my way. I have a long road ahead; one I’m enjoying traveling on. While staying open-minded, I urge actors to explore all work opportunities outside of the clichés with caution. A lot of less-than-savory characters prey on actors for our outgoing personalities and big hearts. If you end up sticking to a restaurant, that’s okay too! There are many advantages to restaurant work, that’s why so many of us do it.
Most importantly, never let go of your identity as an actor and your vision of where you want to go. Whether one week or five years go by without an audition or acting gig, if you are truly an actor in heart and mind, and you stay training and honing your skills, you can come back to it with passion and purpose and create a new rendition even better than where you left off.
In the wake of nearly two-dozen rave reviews and six weeks of sold-out houses, the Fountain Theatre has extended its run of The Chosen and increased performances from three to four per week. Adapted by Aaron Posner and Chaim Potok from Potok’s bestselling novel of the same name, The Chosen will now continue through May 7.
A moving coming-of-age story set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn against the backdrop of World War II, the revelation of the Holocaust and the desperate struggle of Zionism, The Chosen is the story of two observant Jewish boys who live only five blocks, yet seemingly worlds, apart. Danny (Dor Gvirtsman) is the son of the charismatic but forbidding Reb Saunders (Steven B. Green, stepping in for the extension), an ultra Orthodox tzaddik who has raised his son in strict silence. Reuven (Sam Mandel) is the son of the more traditionally Orthodox scholar and fervent Zionist David Malter (Jonathan Arkin). When Danny injures Reuven during a baseball game between their rival yeshivas, their two universes collide and a unique friendship is born.
In its “Critic’s Choice” review, the Los Angeles Times calls the play “deeply emotional,” noting that the Fountain production “reminds us to reach across divides.” L.A. Splash writes that The Chosen is “a universal story of relationships in their multitude of forms, mak[ing] this play something for everyone – Jewish or not.” Stage Scene LA says, “’The Chosen’ is a must-see for audiences of any age, ethnicity, or religious affiliation.” BroadwayWorld hailsThe Chosen as “a moving coming-of-age story… funny, poignant, timely and timeless,” and Stage and Cinema declares it to be “vital, alive, and important.”
“We are thrilled that this production is resonating with so many people, and that we are touching so many hearts,” says director Simon Levy.