Deanne Bray and Troy Kotsur, “Arrival & Departure.”
Two acclaimed Fountain Theatre premieres — Arrival & Departure and Cost of Living — have been named Best Production of a Play in 2018 by veteran LA theatre critic Travis Michael Holder on TicketHoldersLA.com. Now in its 27th year, Travis’ Ticketholder Awards celebrate the 100+ Los Angeles theatre productions reviewed by Holder in 2018 in large houses and intimate.
Our Deaf/hearing world premiere of Arrival & Departure, written and directed by Stephen Sachs, won Best Production, Best Adaptation (Sachs) and a Special Achievement Award to movement director, Gary Franco.
Katy Sullivan and Felix Solis, “Cost of Living.”
Cost of Living by Martyna Majok was also named Best Production, and Tobias Forrest was awarded Best Supporting Actor.
The following were also acknowledged as a runner-up:
Arrival & Departure
Runner-Up, Best Actor – Troy Kotsur
Runner-Up, Best Actress – Deanne Bray
Runner-Up, Best Supporting Actor – Shon Fuller
Runner-Up, Best Supporting Actress – Jessica Jade Andres
Runner-Up, Best Supporting Actress – Stasha Surdyke
Runner-Up, New Discovery 2018 – Aurelia Myers
Runner-Up, Best Direction – Stephen Sachs
Runner-Up, Best Set Design – Matthew G. Hill
Runner-Up, Best Sound Design – Peter Bayne
Runner-Up, Best CGI/Video Design – Nicholas E. Santiago
Ava Morgan may be slight of build — with smart eyes and a bright smile — but she’s a powerhouse at building sets. The enthusiastic high-schooler joined our stage carpentry team as part of a two-week summer internship program at the Fountain.
Ava lives with her family in Los Angeles and is a freshman at Marlborough School in Hancock Park. She got interested in the technical backstage life of theatre — props, lights, set building — in 7th grade. For two years, she performed a variety of backstage jobs in plays at school. Marlborough Technical Director, Doug Lowry, was impressed and eager to encourage her growth and education.
“He asked me if I’d be interested in interning at a professional theater for a few weeks during the summer,” Ava explains. “When we talked about it more, he brought up the Fountain and we decided to give it a shot. It worked out great.”
Lowry contacted Stephen Sachs at the Fountain Theatre and Ava was immediately put to work as an intern building sets for our upcoming West Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll. As a stage carpenter, she was cutting lumber, building flats and platforms, and putting it all together with the rest of the professional team. Soon, she was also climbing ladders, striking and hanging lights.
“I absolutely liked working at the Fountain,” she beams. “I am not sure exactly what I expected it to be, especially since this was my first time having a job of sorts outside of school. I liked working in areas that I have basic training in, but have not had the opportunity to focus on them at school. I think it actually was a good thing to do it in an unfamiliar setting with people I haven’t worked with before.”
Foremost was Scott Tuomey, the Fountain Technical Director for 26 years who has overseen every production since the theatre’s founding in 1990. He mentored Ava’s internship, guiding her through the techniques of professional stage craft.
“I had a lot of one-on-one time with Scott,” says Ava. “Which allowed me to ask more questions than I would in a group setting and learn more about not only what to do and how to do it but why. I had a great time working with him.”
And, says Ava, it was a valuable educational experience.
“I think one of the most important things I learned was how to communicate with coworkers who were older and more experienced than me, ” she admits. “I also learned much more about how to translate designs into sets and the various skills related to carpentry.”
Her brief internship now over, Ava is enjoying some summer vacation time with her family before returning to school. She is grateful for her time at the Fountain and sends “a huge thanks to everyone who made it happen.”
Will she come back to see her handiwork on Baby Doll when it opens at the Fountain?
“Definitely!” she beams. “I’m excited to see the final product.”
Design and production team at work during tech weekend.
There are no two ways about it. Tech rehearsals are a long, incremental process. Light cues are programmed into computers, sound levels are meticulously adjusted, set and prop elements are continuously added, costumes are inspected under actual lighting. Actors work out the timing of cues, all under the eye of the director. It can be a slow, repetitive and exacting undertaking.
Over 26 years, we have found the key to a successful Tech Weekend: donuts. Lots of them. Actually, our three sacred virtues of TechWeekend are Diligence, Patience and a Sense of Humor. The cast, design and production team for My Mañana Comes demonstrated all three last weekend as we began integrating the design elements into our upcoming LA Premiere.
The play takes place in the kitchen of an upscale New York restaurant. Michael Navarro’s red brick and stainless steel set design creates the environment. The seating at the Fountain has been restored to its original configuration (we were in-the-round for Dream Catcher) and the audience is expected to feel like fine diners with theatre programs designed like restaurant menus.
My Mañana Comes is a funny and fast-paced new play about four busboys in a fancy bistro who juggle plates, their friendship and chase the American Dream. Written by Elizabeth Irwin and directed by Armando Molina, our LA premiere stars Richard Azurdia, Pablo Castelblanco, Peter Pasco and Lawrence Stallings. It runs April 16 – June 26.
So why in fields that are both devoted to awe and transport, does the norm seem to be an unspoken separation between church and stage?
Could this be exactly because of their similarities? Could the theater offer to both theater artists and theatergoers a kind of substitute for the awe they felt as children towards a religion that they no longer can as readily accept intellectually or morally?
That’s how Scottish theater critic Mark Fisher sees it: “There are a lot of ex-observant artists seeking to find the equivalent sensations. But drama thrives on ambiguity.”
A good example may be playwright Marsha Norman, who in a recent interview, talked at length about her faith: She grew up “trapped in an Evangelical hotspot” and remains greatly influenced by Bible stories, but now embraces a “personal faith” that seems to have no room for organized religion. “I’m not concerned with is there a God or isn’t there a God, but I’m concerned with the trials people face and how they get through them.”
This doesn’t necessarily mean that a person who works in the theater is less likely (or more likely) to be religious than the average person in their community. What’s intriguing is not so much the individuals’ private beliefs, but the way religion plays out publicly on New York stages.
Ridiculing Religion, Worshipping Theater
The Book of Mormon, which focuses on two young Mormon’s mission to Africa, famously mocks organized religion as a whole, and singles out the Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints, highlighting the church’s past history of racism, and what the musical’s creative team see as its odd beliefs.
Almost four years after it opened, this musical remains one of the hottest tickets on Broadway, while more faith-affirming shows have flopped miserably—one thinks of Alan Menken’s Leap of Faith, orScandalous,Kathie Lee Gifford’s ode to evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.
But, some will protest, The Book of Mormon is funny, and tuneful, and smart about musical theater, whileScandalouswas…not. So it may be a coincidence. But it may not be a complete stretch to point out, as I did in my original review, that The Book of Mormon is “worshipping at the altar of The Great White Way”—borrowing, ribbing, and paying homage to such landmark Broadway musicals as The King and I and The Lion King, with The Music Man and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying thrown in. When at the end, the musical acknowledges in a clever way the human need for the spiritual, audiences can be forgiven for getting the message that it’s musical theater that can supply it.
Internal Struggles In the bluntly provocativeDisgraced, playwright Ayad Akhtar examines his sophisticated New York characters’ varying reactions to Islam, slyly putting much of the anti-Islamic sentiment in Amir, the son of Pakistani immigrants, who grew up Muslim and now sees himself as an assimilated affluent attorney living on the Upper East Side with his blonde American wife, Emily. The defense of Islam rests largely with Emily (who’s a Christian), a painter inspired by Islamic art, as well as with Isaac, Emily’s (Jewish) art dealer, who makes a distinction between Islam and what he calls Islamo-fascism.
If the issues here are primarily political, Amir directly attacks the religion itself, citing heinous passages in the Koran.
Amir does not seem to serve as a straightforward mouthpiece for the author, since the character’s actions and attitudes are confused and self-contradictory, at one point admitting to feeling pride at the events of September 11th.
“You’re an American,” says Jory, Isaac’s (African American) wife. “It’s tribal, Jor. It is in the bones,” Amir answers. “You have no idea how I was brought up. You have to work real hard to root that shit out.”
The main character has no such hostility to her religion inGrand Concourse, a play by Heidi Schreck that was atPlaywrights Horizonslast month, though she ultimately engages in a losing struggle with it. Sister Shelley, a nun in charge of a soup kitchen in the Bronx, eschews a nun’s habit and is so unsure of her faith that she turns on the timer to the microwave to force herself to pray for a set number of minutes per day. Emma, a college dropout, visits the kitchen, seeking guidance and offering to help out with cooking—talk to a priest, Shelly advises.
Much of the action of the play involves the interaction of Emma with Shelley and other members of the small family that has developed in the soup kitchen, a single sometimes-homeless customer named Frog, and the janitor and security guard Oscar. Emma turns out to be unreliable to the point of being reckless, and she neglects to take care of Shelley’s cat while the nun visits her dying father in California, with disastrous consequences.
The result is that Shelley quits being a nun. “It was a decision I would have come to, eventually, though your actions were clarifying,” Shelley tells Emma. Perhaps I missed some cues, but they weren’t clarifying to me—her decision seems mysterious, but perhaps that’s the point?
Suspension of Disbelief (Commencement of Belief) Although they both deal with Catholic characters, Katori Hall’sOur Lady of Kibeho at the Signature Theatre, offers an almost complete contrast to Grand Concourse. The play is based on the true story of three church schoolgirls in Rwanda in the 1980s who reported seeing an apparition of the Virgin Mary. The Church eventually affirmed the authenticity of this miracle, determining that the Virgin Mary had visited the girls to warn them of the bloodshed to come; Kibeho was one of the sites of the genocide that occurred in 1994. While director Kip Fagan’s production of Grand Concourse was literal and precise, down to the chopped carrots and the boiling pot of soup, in Our Lady of Kibeho Michael Greif presents an impressionistic and mystical world, with stage effects—dark dramaticlighting, swirling video projections, beds lifting in the air—intended to induce a sense of the miraculous and of spiritual wonder.
In this way, it bears greatest resemblance toThe Oldest Boyby Sarah Ruhl atLincoln Center, which is reportedly also inspired by a true story: An American mother who has married an immigrant Tibetan chef, is visited one day by two Buddhist monks. They tell her that her three-year-old son is the reincarnation of a revered Tibetan Lama, and they ask her whether she would be willing to give him up so that he can be raised in a monastery in India.
As with Our Lady of Kibeho, the stagecraft of The Oldest Boy is breathtaking. The backdrop of sunsets, the use of puppetry (the reincarnated toddler is portrayed by a marionette), the ornate costumes, and the gentle music instill a sense of awe and calm, and add up to a nearly hypnotic effect.
The miracles in The Oldest Boy and Our Lady of Kibeho are not up for debate or much interpretation—the audience is directly presented various demonstrations of the truth of the Kibeho students’ visions and of the Tibetan-American boy’s reincarnation. To me, the miraculous moments felt force-fed, as if I had stayed too long at a church (or temple) to which I do not belong. Let me admit that this was my limitation as a theatergoer.
I have no evidence that either playwright was directly proselytizing for their faith (I doubt that they even share the religion of their characters), and many others were capable of a suspension of disbelief; Our Lady of Kibeho made a couple of critics’top 10 lists for 2014.
Jonathan Mandell, a proud member of the American Theatre Critics Association has written about the theater for a range of publications, including Playbill, American Theatre Magazine, the New York Times,Newsday, Backstage, NPR.com and CNN.com. He currently blogs at New York Theater and Tweets as @NewYorkTheater. This post originally appeared on HowlRound.com
“How do you make the magic?” students from a middle school in the Bronx asked after seeing their first Broadway show. Their attendance was an outgrowth of a conference Monday at TEDxBroadway 2014.
TED, which started as a conference thirty years ago and has expanded into something of a movement, stands for “Technology, Entertainment and Design.” The dozen and a half people who spoke or entertained (or did both) at the third annual TEDxBroadway included representatives of all three fields—from well-known theater artists such as director Diane Paulus and composer Bobby Lopez, to tech or design oriented visionaries whom, one sensed, hadn’t been to a play since they were kids.
For all the sophistication of the presentations, all the speakers on the stage at New World Stages were addressing, in different ways – directly or by analogy, accessibly or obscurely—the simple question that the students asked after their first Broadway show: How do you make the magic of theater?
1. The theater experience should not just occur on the stage
“What is the theater experience?” asked director Diane Paulus, the first speaker. Too many people think of it as just the show on the stage—“You go inside, you arrive with friends, but once it starts you’re not allowed to talk to one another. You’re either deeply moved or you’re bored, but when the experience is over, you’re asked to leave.”
But the artistic director of the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University asked us to consider the history of theater to realize how much more theater can be—and should be. Greek theater, she said, was more like American Idol than it was like the theater we know today, taking place at competitive festivals. It was also engaged in the “civic, religious, social and political” life of the times.
The nineteenth-century opera house was a beautiful environment, much like our Broadway houses, but part of the reason why people went was to be seen. They dressed up; that was part of the experience.
Dan Gurney offered similar advice in a completely different way. A self-described “six-time United States Champion on the button accordion,” he played a tune for the audience, before describing his business, Concert Window, which enables musicians to record their music using only a laptop, and to make money by showing the resulting video online. Neither Gurney nor his business has any apparent connection to the theater, but his remarks included suggestions on ways for theater and theater performers to engage audiences online before and after the show— building “new digital native experiences” such as an “interactive video chat with the show’s director.”
Gurney seemed unaware of the regular live-streaming of theatrical performances by National Live and others, but he did say: “A venue has four walls, but that doesn’t mean that your whole audience has to fit inside them.”
2. Embrace your audience in innovative ways
Paulus took us on a whirlwind journey through recent shows, many of them her own, that illustrated ways of extending the theater experience by engaging audiences.
For the 2011 musical Prometheus Bound, a political protest play “inspired” (in the words of the blurb for the show) “by Aeschylus’s Ancient Greek tragedy about the heroic struggle of Western civilization’s first prisoner of conscience,” A.R.T. partnered with Amnesty International. “After the show, people stayed and had a chance to talk with Amnesty International volunteers.”
For the Broadway revival of Hair that Paulus directed, she insisted that the audience be allowed on stage, and had to fight the theater’s management to keep the ushers from shooing people off the stage too quickly at the end.
Witness Uganda, a musical this season at A.R.T. based on a true story about a volunteer for a project in Uganda, includes a discussion (she didn’t call it a talk-back) after every single performance. Paulus pointed out that the show’s creators, Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews (who also stars in it), have created a non-profit foundation, Uganda Project to provide a free education and otherwise aid the children of Uganda, 2.5 million of whom are orphans.
3. Consider crowdfunding
In 2012, $2.7 billion was raised worldwide through crowd funding, $1.6 billion of it in North America, said financier David Drake, founder of financial media company The Soho Loft, and the amount being raised just about doubles every year. About 15 percent of that, Drake told me afterwards, has been for theater projects. Crowdfunding can be defined (but wasn’t) as the effort to fund a project by reaching out, usually online, to a large network of regular people who aren’t professional investors, are unlikely to be rich, and donate on average just small amounts.
For a crowdfunding campaign to be a success, Drake said, the fundraisers must
be connected to a crowd, know their audience, and put together a great video. The three biggest online sites for crowdfunding creative projects are Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and RocketHub. Recent federal legislation, Drake said (and has written about), will make it easier for theaters to reach out and create a new network of donors.
4. Don’t punish theatergoers for being digitally connected
Until three years ago, the Apollo Theater in Harlem punished theatergoers for being, like much of the world, “connected 24/7,” according to Dexter Upshaw. “By definition,” Upshaw said, the Apollo’s famed Amateur Night is an “interactive show.” Yet, if anybody took out their mobile devices during a performance, “immediately, ushers would come and shine flashlights in their faces, and say ‘put that away.’”
We have to engage people where they are, Upshaw said, and where they are is in the digital realm.
Upshaw, hired to take charge of all digital projects at the theater, helped change that. Now every Wednesday at Amateur Night, theatergoers are encouraged to use their phones to tell them about the show, using the Apollo Amateur Night app. Upshaw is planning to expand digital interaction at the theater, with a forthcoming app for the Apollo in general Upshaw’s advice to theaters: Don’t think about digital last. Involve staff who are responsible for social media and other digital projects from the very beginning of any stage show, because they might be able to identify opportunities to use digital that can then be more seamlessly incorporated.
Upshaw’s presentation was part of a larger theme for the day, reflecting the fact that the “T” for technology in TED is first, and expressed by designer David Torpey: “Theater is about magic. Lets embrace technology and make it happen…” The potential of technology in immersive set design is overwhelming and beautiful.
Torpey also projected on the screen a quote from industrial designer Dieter Rams that designers “should and must question everything generally thought to be obvious…They must also be able to assess realistically the opportunities and bounds of technology.”
5. Make the neighborhood your lobby.
Craig Dykers of Snohetta, the firm that’s redesigning Times Square, offered an overview of their approach to the Crossroads of the World, which gets 42 million visitors a year. In discussing the “reimagining” of Times Square, he cited the work of Temple Grandin, comparing people’s movement to that of cattle. My favorite detail is how they embedded little shiny pucks in the ground to reflect the light of the marquees. The redesign’s main aim: “We want Times Square to be the lobby of the theater district.”
Yao-Hui Huang, founder of The Hatchery, “a venture collaboration organization” (probably translation: a business consulting firm), contrasted the competitiveness of producers on Broadway with the collaborative attitude and activity of the L.A. Stage Alliance, in which theaters share services and marketing.
Mark Fisher and Michael Keeler, co-owners of a gym that caters to the theater community, offered similar advice, more flamboyantly. Both also wore capes, and asked the audience to stand up and participate in a dance party for fifteen seconds. It’s easier to get in shape, and to build a business, if you are part of a community.
7. Collaborate some more.
Bobby Lopez, co-composer for Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon, and the Disney movie Frozen, was one of the TEDxBroadway guests who both spoke and performed— including, memorably, his Oscar-nominated song, “Let It Go,” from Frozen. If his presentation deviated from the norm, his presence was in one way the most apt—the entire conference took place in the theater in New World Stages that normally presents Avenue Q.
He played a song he wrote when he was fourteen, motivated by a medieval belief that when you sing a song, “airy spirits come out of your mouth and mingle with other people’s spirits and influence them. That’s what was special about music. I thought that was a cool idea.”
He explained how much he had to grow from his early attempts. Initially, “I thought it was cheating to accept help from someone else.
“I started to work with other people. My work started to benefit from other people’s talents, thoughts, ideas, qualities. Everything was not about me, and about how my stuff was going to impress people.” He said none of the work for which he is now known would have happened without his change in attitude.
“Every step in the writing of Avenue Q was motivated by: how do we help people with their adult problems?”
He said his growth reflects that of the character Princeton in Avenue Q, and Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon.
Both were self-involved guys who learn how to give and accept help. “Princeton learns that Kate Monsters is not an obstacle to his finding his purpose in life; making her happy is part of his purpose.”
8. Understand the connection between the arts and the sciences. Understand the need for diversity.
The cell phone was inspired by Star Trek— just one example out of many of art inspiring science, and of the connection between the two, said Ainissa Ramirez:
“The three-act play and the scientific paper come from the same seed.”
“Scientists and screenwriters are both:
Crazy about detail
Understand you have to fail to succeed.”
Ramirez, a former professor of mechanical engineering, is the head of Science Underground, a science education consulting firm. She focused on the need for a different kind of diversity in the theater—theater about science and scientists.
“Your mission if you choose to accept it,” she said, is to improve the connection between the arts and the sciences, which “will create something wonderful, and humanity will be better off.” Implicit in her focused argument was a more general lesson—the need for more diverse subject matter in the theater, and more diversity in general.
9. Realize that new forms of entertainment have changed would-be audiences
Games, said “gamification” guru Gabe Zichermann, have changed our very neurochemistry, so that we demand a constant rush of sensation. “We can’t even sit through 22 minutes of television without reaching for another screen”—Facebook or Twitter on our computer or mobile phone. How can people be expected to sit through two hours of theater?”
However, “we can use the power of games to our advantage,” he said, and urged the listeners to embrace games as a way to draw in an audience. He didn’t seem to say how, but he did offer what sounded like a really useful game: At a restaurant, put everybody’s cell phone on the table; the first person to reach for theirs has to pay for everybody’s meal.
10. Have fun
This was the explicit and implicit message throughout the day-long conference—a day that included spontaneous raps by Freestyle Love Supreme (pictured), magic tricks from Todd Robbins and jokes from Lea DeLaria:
By the end, though, Daniel Rehbehn was surely speaking for more than himself when he Tweeted: “My brain is hurting from trying to download so many ideas into my head from#TEDxBway.”
Jonathan Mandell, a proud member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is a third-generation New York City journalist who has written about the theater for a range of publications, including Playbill, American Theatre Magazine, the New York Times, Newsday, Backstage, NPR.com and CNN.com. He currently blogs at New York Theater and Tweets as @NewYorkTheater.
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.