Tag Archives: Stephen Sachs

Meet Barbara Herman and Susan Stockel, Executive Producers for An Octroon

Barbara Herman (L) and Susan Stockel (R)

by Barbara Goodhill

Philanthropists who dedicate their giving to arts organizations like the Fountain Theatre are a special breed.  They are people who understand the value of the arts, love live theatre, and believe in its ability to open hearts and elevate our understanding of the world.  Barbara Herman and Susan Stockel, Executive Producers of An Octoroon, are two such philanthropists. They are extraordinary people who are dedicated to giving back, and it is the Fountain’s great good fortune that they choose to support our work.

Barbara Herman is an enthusiastic member of LA’s philanthropic community. She has many passions. Like her mother before her, Barbara is passionate about supporting ground-breaking medical research. Having been a member of The Cedars-Sinai Women’s Guild for over 50 years, Barbara is proud of her many accomplishments. She is, however, particularly proud to have helped launch The Cedars-Sinai’s Neurology Project, created to support innovative research and education for the understanding and treatment of complex neurological disorders. The Women’s Guild is honoring Barbara this September at their annual gala. Barbara is also passionate about the arts, and she is a pillar of support to both the Fountain Theatre and The Broad Stage, on whose board she serves. 

Barbara Herman enjoys opening night of Citizen: An American Lyric at the Fountain Theatre in 2015.

“I have always loved going to the theatre. One of my most treasured memories is going to the theatre with my parents when I was a little girl. Several years ago, I was thrilled to discover the Fountain, a little gem of a theatre in Los Angeles. One of my favorite things to do is gather a group of friends and take them to the Fountain. We have so much fun! We have dinner at Marouch and then go to the Fountain to enjoy whatever is on the stage. It’s always memorable.”

“To me, the Fountain Theatre offers one of the best cultural experiences in Los Angeles. There are just so many reasons. The first, of course, is the excellence of the productions. Everything is done beautifully. Total artistry. The directing, acting, and sets are consistently excellent. I’ve never seen a show that I didn’t either love or like. Now that’s quite a track record! But what’s equally remarkable is the consistent sensitivity and timeliness of the plays presented. Every play the Fountain mounts is relevant and thought-provoking. My friends and I love to discuss the plays after the show, whether we do it on the sidewalk or up in the cafe.”

“But for me, the Fountain is more than a theatre. It is a community. Everyone — from Joe in the parking lot to Simon, Stephen, Barbara and James— greets me by name and makes me feel welcome. It’s a very personal place, not an institution. And that warmth, that personal connection is very unique, and refreshing. Everything at the Fountain seems to come from the heart.”

Barbara’s philanthropy is guided by a simple principle that she learned from her parents: “I’m a firm believer in leaving the world a better place than I found it. If I see a need, I try to fill it. If I see a problem, I try to fix it. And I always encourage people to join me.”

A passionate theatre lover, Susan Stockel becomes filled with excitement when she speaks about theatre — especially when she is describing a play that has truly touched her. Susan’s love for theatre finds her frequently traveling to New York, London and beyond to experience the magic. A wonderful supporter of the Fountain, Susan has executive produced several plays with us, including Cost of Living and Citizen: An American Lyric. Her family foundation funds a variety of organizations: some grants aid low income families who have children with special needs, other grants aid organizations that are working in innovative ways to slow global warming and help indigenous people protect their lands from deforestation and illegal mining. The foundation also supports children’s theatre programs that introduce theatre to youngsters who have never seen live theatre.

Playwright Martyna Majok and Susan Stockel at the Fountain Theatre’s VIP dinner in celebration of Cost of Living, 2018. 

“The magic happens when the children take out their notebooks and read a scene that they have prepared and rehearsed!” Susan beams with pride when she remembers this, and talks about how she first learned to give back from her parents.

“I learned about how important it was to share what I had with others who were in need by watching my father. He was a first-generation American — one of six children, and the only one to finish college. He had to work to help his family and went to night high school. Thankfully, in those days, New York had tuition-free city college that opened up learning to an entire generation of students. He worked days in a clothing factory. My father always provided for his siblings when they needed help, and would pull out his checkbook and loan money to friends with never a due date on the loans. And, of course, he took care of his mother when he lost his father the month before his graduation from dental school. My husband and I also believed in continuing that tradition. We worked as a team when deciding what donations to make, and taught our values to our children. In my husband’s honor, I established a family foundation, and I feel great joy working on the foundation’s projects with my children and grandchildren, knowing that the work will continue, and the family will always be there for each other and for others.”

Susan’s love of theatre began when she was a young girl, and she has a keen eye for great theatre.

“When I was a little girl I loved to perform. I loved telling stories, and I still do! I am a passionate lover of the spoken word. The Fountain Theatre was introduced to me many years ago. An intimate space on a tight budget — the Fountain was an unexpected surprise. Excellent plays, always well-cast and directed, with a loyal diverse audience from all over the city, who brave the traffic to attend!” 

“I chose to produce An Octoroon because I saw the play when it was first produced in Brooklyn at Theatre for a New Audience. I loved it. An Octoroon is a unique play.  It is funny, sad, clever, quirky and wonderful. Just like any piece of great historical fiction, An Octoroon peels back the layers of civilization to reveal the cruelty and hypocrisy often hidden beneath the facade. An Octoroon shows us powerful men behaving ‘civilly,’ but cruelly. They are willing to do anything to further their own self-interest. Narcissism is revealed as a cruel but powerful driver of history. I am particularly drawn to the depiction of Zoe, our heroine. Despite being beautiful and admirable in every way, she becomes an outcast because she is an Octoroon. I love the story and I knew the Fountain would do a tremendous job with this play, so was happy to join the team.”

“Thank you all for your interest and support of the Fountain, Our Magic Place!  May we grow and thrive.”

Barbara Goodhill is the Director of Development for the Fountain Theatre.

Spectrum News covers the Fountain’s outdoor stage

by Terri Roberts

Recently, actress Aleisha Force (Human Interest Story) stopped by the Fountain Theatre simply to pick up her belongings which had been locked in a dressing room since March 2020 when the pandemic closed our doors.

But when she arrived, she ran into artistic director Stephen Sachs and a film crew from Spectrum News. They were on-site to do a story about the installation of the Fountain’s outdoor stage, and Aleisha’s jump-for-joy excitement at seeing the progress, and at being reunited with her Human Interest Story director – and her shoes! – immediately made her part of the story.

“This is literally going to be the first theatre that I see!” she happily promised Sachs as she watched the stage being constructed. And it’s highly likely that that will be true for many other live theatre lovers in Los Angeles. Now that Actors’ Equity Association, the union governing live stage performers and stage managers, has approved the Fountain’s COVID safety plan for its actors, audience, staff and crew, the Fountain has become the first intimate theatre in all of L.A. to be granted union approval for re-opening.

But even before getting AEA on board, the City had to sign off on the idea of an outdoor stage in the Fountain’s parking lot. “The hoops we had to jump through, the hurdles we had to cross…it was a long arduous journey,” Sachs told the Spectrum’s reporter Tara Lynn Wagner. “But the City is behind it 100%. And so is the theatre community.”

Inaugurating the outdoor stage will be the L.A. premiere of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins‘ Obie Award-winning Best American Play, An Octoroon. An Octoroon is a radical, incendiary and subversively funny riff on Dion Boucicault‘s once-popular 1859 mustache-twirling melodrama set on a Louisiana plantation. A spectacular collision of the antebellum South and 21st-century cultural politics, An Octoroon twists a funhouse world of larger-than-life stereotypes into blistering social commentary to create a gasp-inducing satire. Previews begin June 11; opening night is June 18. Performances are Fridays-Mondays at 7 pm through Sept. 19. Tickets are on sale now via the Fountain box office at (323) 663-1525 or on our website at www.fountaintheatre.com.

Catch all the excitement, and watch the entire Spectrum News interview, here:

Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café and outdoor concessions.

Casting complete for the Fountain’s L.A. premiere production of An Octoroon

Casting is complete and rehearsals begin this week for the Los Angeles premiere of a radical, incendiary and subversively funny Obie award-winning play by MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. Performances of An Octoroon will inaugurate the new outdoor stage at The Fountain Theatre on June 18. Performances will continue through Sept. 19, with four public previews set for June 11, June 12, June 13 and June 16, and a special press preview on June 17.

Judith Moreland directs Jacobs-Jenkins’s outrageous deconstruction of a moustache-twirling melodrama by 19th century playwright Dion Boucicault. Matthew Hancock (LADCC, Stage Raw and Ovation award-winner for Hit the Wall at the L.A. LGBT Center, previously seen at the Fountain in Between Riverside and Crazy, Hype Man, The Brothers Size, I and You) stars as a modern-day Black playwright struggling to find his voice among a chorus of people telling him what he should and should not be writing. He decides to adapt his favorite play, Boucicault’s The Octoroon, an 1859 melodrama about illicit interracial love.

The Black playwright quickly realizes that getting White, male actors of today to play evil slave owners will not be easy… so, he decides to play the White male roles himself — in whiteface. What ensues is an upside down, topsy-turvy world where race and morality are challenged, mocked and savagely intensified. A highly stylized, theatrical, melodramatic reality is created to tell the story of an octoroon woman (a person who is one-eighth Black) and her quest for identity and love.

The cast includes Rob Nagle (Human Interest Story at the Fountain, The Judas Kiss at Boston Court) as Boucicault; Hazel Lozano (America Adjacent at the Skylight, Othello at Griot Theatre) as the production assistant; Mara Klein (The Judas Kiss at Boston Court, Sucker Punch at Coeurage) as the octoroon, Zoe; and Vanessa Claire Stewart (Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara at the Geffen, Finks at Rogue Machine) as Dora, a rich Southern belle in love with the plantation owner (who is also played by Hancock). Meanwhile, Leea Ayers (BLKS at Steppenwolf, Incendiary at the Goodman Theatre), Kacie Rogers (NAACP award-winner for No Place to be Somebody at Robey Theatre Company and An Accident at Griot Theatre Company; The Heal at Getty Villa) and Pam Trotter (And Her Hair Went With Her at the Fountain, national tour of The Color Purple) portray three startlingly modern slave women.

An Octoroon brutally satirizes racial stereotypes in a funny and profoundly tragic whirlwind of images and dialogue that forces audiences to look at, laugh at, and be shattered by America’s racist history.

“The more you experience this play, the more it turns into something else,” says Moreland. “It’s an extraordinary piece of theater — hilarious, but also shocking, profound, moving… and designed to provoke and offend. We have a terrific group of actors who are completely game and up for the challenge. It’s a celebration of how theater can both move you and change lives.”

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program, commonly but unofficially known as the “Genius Grant,” awards no strings attached cash prizes to individuals who demonstrate “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The website described Jacobs-Jenkins as “a playwright [who draws] from a range of contemporary and historical theatrical genres to engage frankly with complicated issues around identity, family, class and race. Many of Jacobs-Jenkins’s plays use a historical lens to satirize and comment on modern culture, particularly the ways in which race and class are negotiated in both private and public settings. Although the provocation of his audience is purposeful, Jacobs-Jenkins’s creation of unsettling, shocking, often confrontational moments is not gratuitous; these elements are of a piece with the world he has established on stage and in the service of the story he is telling.”

The Fountain Theatre creative team includes scenic designer Frederica Nascimento, lighting designer Derrick McDaniel, sound designer Marc Antonio Pritchett, video designer Nicholas E. Santiago, costume designer Naila Aladdin Sanders; prop master Michael Allen Angel; choreographer Annie Yee; fight director Jen Albert; and dramaturg Dr. Daphnie Sicré. The production stage manager is Emily Lehrer, assistant stage manager is Deena Tovar, and production manager for the Fountain’s outdoor stage is Shawna Voragen. Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy co-produce for the Fountain Theatre, and the associate producer is James Bennett. Barbara Herman and Susan Stockel are executive producers.

The Fountain’s outdoor stage is made possible, in part, by the generous support of Karen Kondazian, Barbara Herman, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, Rabbi Anne Brener, Carrie Chassin and Jochen Haber, Miles and Joni Benickes, and the Phillips-Gerla Family.

The Fountain Theatre is one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles, providing a creative home for multi-ethnic theater and dance artists. The Fountain has won hundreds of awards, and Fountain projects have been seen across the U.S. and internationally.

An Octoroon runs June 18 through Sept.19, with performances on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays at 7 p.m., except Saturday, June 19, which will be at 5 p.m. and will be followed by a special Juneteenth event, and July 30 through Aug. 2 and Aug. 27 through Aug. 30 which will be dark. Four preview performances will take place on June 11, June 12, June 13 and June 16 at 7 p.m. There will be one press preview on Thursday, June 17 at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $25–$45; Pay-What-You-Want seating is available every Monday night in addition to regular seating (subject to availability). The Fountain Theatre is located at 5060 Fountain Avenue (at Normandie) in Los Angeles.For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci: When good things happen to good people

Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci

by Stephen Sachs

Theirs is a unique relationship unlike any I have witnessed in my thirty-five years of creating theater.

They have been paired for decades. They have worked, travelled, and partied together, side by side, for so long they seem to share the same mind while, at the same time, remaining two distinct personalities. Like brothers, they love each other and sometimes piss each other off. Both are married, have families. Now, after logging in countless years of career ups and downs, together and individually, they each are bathing in a dizzying moment of public acclaim and professional success. It makes my heart glad.

Troy Kotsur is an extraordinary actor who happens to be Deaf. Paul Raci is hearing, a child of Deaf parents, fluent in American Sign Language, and a powerful veteran performer. For years, they have been linked on stage – an actor who signs and an actor who speaks – creating mesmerizing blends of sign language and voice on stage, dazzling deaf and hearing audiences in Los Angeles and in regional theaters across the country. I have known and loved both for a long time. We have created new plays together at the Fountain Theatre. My soul sings to now see them bask in the warmth of a bright day in the sun, each in his own light.       

Troy co-stars in “CODA,” a touching coming-of-age dramedy about a young girl in conflict with her Deaf parents and brother as she attempts to pursue singing. In January, it received top honors at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. It ignited a bidding war, setting a record when the worldwide distribution rights were picked up by Apple Studios for $25 million — the highest sum ever for a film premiering at Sundance.

Paul has a supporting role in the film “Sound of Metal.” The movie – and Paul’s performance –has been gobbling up accolades and awards since its release. The film has been nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and, in a life-changing nod to Paul’s work, Best Supporting Actor.

It fills me with joy that each are enjoying a moment of triumph at the same time. And it makes sense. When they played brothers on stage in the world premiere of my play “Cyrano,” they were called upon to become the same person. In this Deaf spin on the classic romantic story, Paul portrayed Chris, the hearing sibling who spoke and ASL-interpreted for his lovelorn Deaf brother Cyrano (Troy). Hands and voice became one. After our acclaimed run at the Fountain, we travelled to New York Theatre Workshop for a special performance. We then brought the play to Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis.

Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci in “Cyrano” at the Fountain Theatre

Troy and Paul later co-starred in a Deaf West production of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” that opened in Los Angeles and then toured other cities.  

The relationship between a Deaf actor and their hearing counterpart who “voices” for them on stage is tricky and delicate. It demands respect on both sides, with the understanding that it is the Deaf actor who dominates, who must lead the way. The “voice actor” partners with the Deaf actor to help make the performance accessible to hearing audiences – but the focus must be on the Deaf actor’s performance. This kind of unique inter-dependence between artists requires that each much surrender a degree of their autonomy. That can be hard. All kinds of feelings come up. A trust and respect must develop between them. It also demands a level of skill that the average person cannot comprehend.

Paul and Troy are men with big hearts, strong opinions, and powerful personalities. They are both blessed with their own unique skills. Most valued by me, they share a vital trait: the capacity to love.  They are each kind and compassionate men and longtime actors, deeply talented, who have paid their dues.

In this year following a long period of despair, the recent triumphs of Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci are a spiritual shot in the arm. There is reason to rejoice. Every once in a while, the good guys come out on top.  

Stephen Sachs is the Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.

Video: Fountain Theatre prepares parking lot for new Outdoor Stage

L.A. premiere of ‘An Octoroon’ by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins will launch outdoor stage at Fountain Theatre

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

The Los Angeles premiere of An Octoroon by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins will inaugurate the new outdoor stage at the Fountain Theatre later this spring. Judith Moreland will direct.

Winner of the Obie Award for Best American Play, Jacobs-Jenkins’ landmark play has earned ecstatic reviews nationwide. The New York Times hailed it as “this decade’s most eloquent theatrical statement on race in America today.” The Guardian declared it “brilliant” and “extraordinary.”

An Octoroon is a radical, incendiary and subversively funny riff on Dion Boucicault’s once-popular 1859 mustache-twirling melodrama set on a Louisiana plantation. A spectacular collision of the antebellum South and 21st-century cultural politics, An Octoroon twists a funhouse world of larger-than-life stereotypes into blistering social commentary to create a gasp-inducing satire.

“I’m proud the Fountain will introduce this bold play to Los Angeles audiences on our new outdoor stage,” states Fountain artistic director Stephen Sachs. “It could not be timelier. The moment has come for our nation to confront its own racist history. Branden uses satire to get to the dark core of American slavery and the racial stereotypes that continue to plague this country today.” 

Earlier this year, the Fountain received approval from the City of Los Angeles to install the outdoor stage for the purpose of safely presenting live performances and other events during the pandemic. Construction is set to begin this month, with the opening of An Octoroon slated for June.

Before that can happen, a number of tasks remain on the Fountain’s to-do list to inaugurate the outdoor venue. The first step is to repave the parking lot, where the stage will be installed. Lighting, sound, and video equipment will be loaded in. New chairs will be positioned according to COVID guidelines to accommodate 84 viewers. The entire site will meet all safety requirements for artists and audience members.

“Everything now depends on the COVID numbers,” says Sachs. “Once they drop to a level where the County Department of Public Health allows a gathering outdoors of one hundred people, with safety guidelines in place, we’re good to go.”

The new outdoor performance area is made possible, in part, by the generous support of Karen Kondazian, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz FoundationRabbi Anne BrenerCarrie Chassin and Jochen HaberMiles and Joni Benickes, and the Phillips-Gerla Family.

For more information about the Fountain Theatre, go to www.fountaintheatre.com

KTLA TV profiles Fountain Theatre and its plan for Outdoor Stage this summer

Host Dayna Devon (“L.A. Unscripted“) profiles the Fountain Theatre and its exciting plans for an Outdoor Stage this summer as a game-changing response to COVID-19.

Conversations with Black Artists, Part III

by Terri Roberts

In this final segment of our Conversations with Black Artists series, we talk with director Shirley Jo Finney, and actors Gilbert Glenn Brown and Theo Perkins. We are grateful to all of the wonderful performers and creatives who have been so generous with their time and shared their thoughts about issues around race and their relationships with the Fountain Theatre. We hope you have enjoyed getting to know them a little better, as well.

Shirley Jo Finney

Director: From the Mississippi Delta, Central Avenue, Yellowman, The Ballad of Emmett Till, Heart Song, In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size, Citizen: An American Lyric

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

My first directing job at the Fountain was in1997, with From the Mississippi Delta by Endesha Ida Mae Holland.

2. How has your experience been working here?

I find the Fountain Theater supports their artists.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

All of them. Each of the shows are socially relevant and have impacted my artistic awareness as well as my expansion as a human being. It is the creative journey with the actors that hold the most meaning for me and not a particular show.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre? 

Not so much.

For me, the emergence of BIPOC is a continuation of the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and 70’s. That movement changed laws and stopped a war. The cultural and black arts movement of that time laid the foundation for the raised fist we are experiencing now. I am a child of that time and my foundation as a creative was shaped by that time. It is the work I am called to do. Each generation is defined by their time. 

5. Why is Black History Month important

It brings a microscopic lens of awareness to a culture that historically has been erased. There would not be a need for a month if it were an intricate part our education system.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

I hope many more active and healthy years!

I have adapted creatively during “the time of Covid.” It has opened up a whole new world of Zoom lectures discussing my journey and body of work as a director. I also am relishing the world of Zoom productions using the “mashing” of stage and digital to create story.

Gilbert Glenn Brown

Actor: Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size, The Painted Rocks at Revolver Creek

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

My very first audition and show with Fountain Theatre was early on when I first arrived to Los Angeles from NY and that was Scottsboro Boys.

2. How has your experience been working here?

My experience at the Fountain in one word… community. Truly the closest experience I’ve had in LA to a NY theatre experience. I feel that a sense of community in theatre is necessary. I enjoy being part of it, and the Fountain is able to foster that to an incredible degree,

The commitment to presenting productions that not only entertain, but transform, educate, and energize is so key. It breaks down walls, opens eyes and allows dialogue. The Fountain does that extremely well. I consider the Fountain my LA theatre home.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

I have to say that every single show I’ve had the honor of being a part of at the Fountain has been transformational for me. Every opportunity I’ve had to step onto that stage and look out into that small, yet giant, space, has changed me and allowed me to grow as an artist and as a human being. As an artist, that’s what you want – because if it moves you in that way, it will no doubt move the audience as well.

I have had the opportunity, at the Fountain, to be directed by some of the best: the incredible Shirley Jo Finney, the wonderful Simon Levy and the late, legendary Ben Bradley.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre? 

Honestly, it has reinforced my conviction to continue doing exceptional, meaningful work as an artist. The projects I gravitate toward speak to the conditions of the world and ask the important questions, then set the stage for dialogue to occur.

There is a space for entertainment, for laughter, for fun – all that and more are a part of life and living. They exist even in classic tragedies, as they do in everyday issues and everyday life – but the responsibility of looking at all sides, of presenting the pleasure and the pain, falls on the artist. The unrest has always been there. The causes for that unrest have always been there. It’s just that now, due to social media/technology, that unrest is being broadcast and streamed 24/7 in real time and in living color. That doesn’t make it any easier, but it does make it more apparent.

Look at George Floyd, or the Capitol riots! Watching those events happen, live, presents the opportunity to either step up and be an active participant, or just sit back and watch. And that is something the Fountain stands on: Yes, of course, sit back. Please watch what’s happening. Go ahead and be uncomfortable by what you see on stage. Let it sink in, and let it transform you in some way. Let that experience provoke discussion, challenge your way of thinking or the way you see the world. That is the amazing opportunity that theatre presents.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

Black History? Well, I’ve been educated and enlightened to see that it’s not just “Black” History or just a month. It’s really World History. It’s really American History. The truth is that much that exists now wouldn’t exist at all without Black input, and, for that matter, without the input of many other cultures, races, religions, etc. America is an amalgamation of all that’s been added to the mix. There really shouldn’t be a limit to the reality of the impact that any culture has had on life in America. If we were to really embrace that truth, that inclusivity, what would, or could, America be?

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

Right now I’m working on the CW/DC show Stargirl. I will be seen as Martin Luther King Jr. opposite Jennifer Hudson in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, due out this August. And I’m always creating, writing and being part of projects that address what I see is missing from the world.

Theo Perkins

Actor: In the Red and Brown Water, The Brothers Size, Raise Your Voice – Vote!

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

Shortly after graduating from UCLA, I received an audition for In the Red and Brown Water. This was my first introduction to the Fountain Theatre.

2. How has your experience been working here?

Transformative. The intimacy of the space really expanded my approach to performance in amazing ways. I’m proud to say the Fountain Theatre is my theater home.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

This is tough one. Each production is close to me to this day. I’d say, In the Red and Brown Water. Not only did it introduce me to Tarell McCraney’s work, but I also gained a tribe of amazing humans, all of whom I still talk to today.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

Well, I believe it served as a reminder of how important it is to have diverse voices in our theaters. Not only in terms of playwrights, but in all departments. The events of this summer shined a light on the years of inequity within our community. And it has pushed us all to do and to be better.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

It’s an intentional acknowledgment of the undeniable contributions African-Americans have made in this country. It’s a reminder that our history should be honored. And studied. And used to inspire younger generations.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

During the quarantine, I wrote and produced a film project that will come out this Spring. Look out for it! Also excited to re-launch Elizabeth Youth Theatre Ensemble’s social justice program, Walking the Beat, both in New Jersey and in Los Angeles at the Fountain Theatre. Both productions will actually be virtual.

Stephen Sachs believes Fountain’s Outdoor Stage will be game-changer

Curious about the future of Los Angeles theatre and our game-changing Outdoor Stage? Artistic Director Stephen Sachs chats with theatre journalist Steven Leigh Morris.

Conversations with Black Artists, Part II

By Terri Roberts

Here, in the second part of our series of conversations with Black artists who have frequently worked with the Fountain Theatre, we talk with actor and director’s assistant Erinn Anova, as well as actors Karen Malina White and Victoria Platt. More conversations to come. Stay tuned!

Erinn Anova

Actor: Central Avenue, Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys, Cyrano. Assistant to the Director: The Ballad of Emmett Till, In the Red and Brown Water

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I first came to the Fountain as the understudy for “Angel” in Central Avenue. Shirley Jo Finney had just directed me in Blues for an Alabama Sky in Northern California, and I’d recently moved to LA. She knew I was a huge jazz fan, and suggested I audition for the new play she was directing: Central Avenue. That play was so good! It went on for six months, so even as an understudy I had plenty of shows.

2. How has your experience been working here?

Great! I gained amazing friendships, and I’ve learned so much! I’ve had the opportunity to work with world-class playwrights, actors and designers. When I moved to New York, the Fountain was one of the few LA theatres that people have actually heard of. Overall, the Fountain feels like home – the quirks, the magic, the consistency. I just love it.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why? 

They have all been great, but I’m going to have to go with two, for very different reasons.

First, Cyrano. It was such a gift for me, as a hearing person, to be immersed in the deaf community. In this whole new world, I learned about deafness and its power, about language and somatics, and about life. It changed me.

As far as acting goes the whole cast was amazing, but sharing scenes with Troy Kotsur (Cyrano) was something-other-else. It’s what I imagine working with another genius, Charlie Chaplin, would be like, and I’m not exaggerating. I also have to shout out Stephen Sachs for casting me – a dark brown, short-haired black woman (someone not always so “visible” in Hollywood) as the love interest, Roxy. The fact that there was never even a conversation about it was even sweeter. 

Finally – very few people know this, but now’s as good a time as ever to share – a few years after Cyrano closed, and after some mysterious symptoms appeared, I was diagnosed with both hearing loss and an auditory processing disorder. It made so much of my life make sense, and now I wear hearing aids in both ears. That was a very scary time, and folks have no idea how badly regulated the hearing aid business is (that’s another story.) But because of Cyrano, I had people to reach out to. Maleni Chaitoo, one of the deaf actors, helped me tremendously with her knowledge and resources to navigate that journey, and I will always be grateful for her warm welcome into the hard of hearing/deaf community. Cyrano was a blessing.

Next, In the Red and Brown Water. For that show there was no “official” casting person – it was me! I was assisting Shirley Jo, and I believe James Bennett or Stephen gave me a general rundown of how to work the casting websites, and I was off and running. Of course, Shirley Jo gave me parameters of what to look for, but I am very proud of the amazing actors that I personally picked to come in for auditions. There were a few I even fought for: Diarra Kilpatrick, Maya Lynne Robinson, Stephen Marshall, Gilbert Glenn Brown, Justin Chu Cary and Simone Missick. Along with Iona Morris, Theo Perkins, Peggy Blow, and Dorian Baucum, this was one of the most phenomenal casts I’ve ever seen. They, along with Shirley Jo’s brilliant and elevating direction, made Tarell Alvin McCraney’s play fly. And they all turned out to be wonderful people, too! It’s been a joy to see everyone continue to shine bright in theatre, television, and film, and it’s even more of a blessing to be a part of the IRBW “family.”

One more: Direct From Death Row: Scottsboro Boys. This show has special meaning for me because Ben Bradley cast me in it. Rest in peace, Ben. Also, Mark Stein, who wrote it, and my brother, Harley White, Jr., who wrote the music, were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize.  They lost out to some musical called Hamilton.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

My work has been impacted by the fact that that these conversations about racism are just now happening in the theatre world. At some point I stopped investing time and interest in pursuing work in “mainstream” theatres. As my grandmother would say, “Go where you’re wanted, honey.” I started in theatre very young (age 12) and in my naivete, I think I mistook the magic and camaraderie of theatre as a place where kindness and respect for humanity were built in. Often they are not. Some of my worst racial experiences have happened at theatres.  No place is perfect, but I appreciate that the Fountain has always been interested in producing plays, supporting playwrights, and hiring actors from various cultures, with different abilities, and with numerous points of view — including BIPOC. It’s unique.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

It’s American history.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

I’m currently producing a documentary based on a study done by the University of California. It’s about racial disparities in marijuana arrests and the cannabis industry, and it’s called When The Smoke Clears. I’ve ot two national commercials that should start airing this spring. And I found a fantastic illustrator, so my children’s book, Pretty Bun, will finally be published this summer!   

Karen Malina White

Actor: The Ballad of Emmett Till, Citizen: An American Lyric, Runaway Home

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I had auditioned for The Ballad of Emmet Till when it was being produced by The Goodman Theatre in Chicago. I was beat out by the one and only Deidrie Henry (Yellowman, Coming Home at the Fountain.) But a friend called me out of the blue to invite me to a reading of it at the Fountain. I was so excited! I hadn’t heard of the Fountain at that time but rushed and hoped I could get inside to hear the reading. I so loved the play and felt an enormous attachment to it. When I got there I saw both the playwright, Ifa Bayeza, and Oz Scott, who directed the Goodman production. I loved the new configuration with five actors playing all the parts, which was not the case in the Chicago production. Oz introduced me to Ben Bradley. Time moved on and that same friend, John McDonald. reached out to say that Ben Bradley was scrambling to find me to audition. So grateful and honored to have been a part of that life changing and bonding production.

2. How has your experience been working here?

Working at the Fountain is wonderful. It’s home now, and Stephen, Simon and Debra, the designers , (technical director) Scott Tuomey, and you, Terri, make every experience a joy!

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

The Ballad of Emmett Till, because it was my first and because of the tragic circumstances surrounding it as well as the eternal friendships that came out of that experience. Finally working with Shirley Jo Finney, too.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

I’m a company member of Antaeus, and we have been having some amazing conversations and taking major actions to be inclusive and reflect the most accurate picture of the best of America. It’s now a conscious decision to have our productions reflect inclusiveness and racial equity. We are looking forward to the work.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

Because it’s American History. African American History. So much of us know about the history of the dominant culture but not enough of other cultures. We have to remedy that.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

I have been fortunate enough to be working on The Proud Family reboot with Disney Plus Channel. Coming soon to the streaming service.

Victoria Platt           

Actor: Cyrano, Building the Wall, Natural Shocks (staged reading)

1. When/how did you first come to the Fountain Theatre?

I can’t recall the very first production I saw. It was waaay back. But it was late ‘90s that I started coming to see productions there. Victory, In the Red and Brown Water, Emmet Till, The Brothers Size to name a few. The first production I was in was Cyrano.

2. How has your experience been working here?

It’s always wonderful. Simon Levy and Stephen Sachs hold this work with great care and respect. Every production I see at the Fountain is inspiring, thought provoking, and well produced. Hard to find all those elements simultaneously.

3. What Fountain shows that you’ve worked on hold particular meaning for you, and why?

Everything I’ve done at the Fountain has been important. That’s what they do there – important, meaningful work. Natural Shocks brought gun violence and violence against women to the stage. I love that Stephen chose to give the play four voices instead of the one it was written as. Cyrano was an incredible experience because I was reunited with Troy Kotsur (we performed together in Pippin at the Mark Taper Forum) and it was a co-production with Deaf West (as was Pippin.) I learned ASL for Pippin and kept it up, so the opportunity to use ASL on the stage again, to bring theatre to hearing and deaf audience members, and to work again with Troy was a trifecta of awesomeness for me. Building the Wall though was probably the most poignant for me because of the content. Seeing how it all played out in the real world was a testament to the prophetic words of Robert Schenkkan. It was an honor to tell that story at that time. After each show I spoke with audience members who were not just impacted by the work but were compelled to action. That is one of the blessings of all the productions at the Fountain. They not only educate, and enlighten but inspire. Good theatre is supposed to do that.

4. Last summer’s civil unrest brought an increased focus on racism, both in general and within the theatre world. We also saw the emergence of the BIPOC movement. How have these issues impacted you and your work in the theatre?  

The issues that have emerged for some recently, have always been present within the BIBOC (Black Indigenous Bodies of Culture) community. I’m grateful to George Floyd and the countless others who shed their blood to shine a light on the injustices BIBOC have been experiencing for centuries. I’ve encountered more people willing to have real conversations about race, socio-economics and frankly all the ‘isms. And finally, the hard conversations are being had. I was accepted into Communal Consultations – a program created and run by My Grandmother’s Hands author Resmaa Menakem, which will deal with healing ancestral and racialized trauma. This training will allow me more insight into how I can use my work as an artist to bring more awareness and healing to people of all bodies.

5. Why is Black History Month important?

Unfortunately, Black History month is important because there is still grave inequality and oppression. People in Black bodies are still being murdered for no reason except being Black, and with no consequences. Black History Month is one of the necessary actions that highlight how people in Black bodies have contributed to the fabric of this nation; not just the fringe of it. In too many arenas, Black History Month is used as a performative practice, but sometimes even performative practices make their way past the ego and into the soul.

6. What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

For the past year I’ve been blessed to have recurring guest star work on NCIS, Good Trouble and Days of Our Lives. I’ve also been working as a motion capture (mocap) performer on a video game by 2K productions, which has yet to be named but due for release later this year. I can also be seen in A Cold Hard Truth, a film by Charles Murray (Luke Cage, Sons of Anarchy), now streaming on multiple platforms, and A Hard Problem, a film I also co-starred in, will release this March.

Terri Roberts is a freelance writer and the Coordinator of Fountain Friends, the Fountain Theatre’s volunteer program. She also manages the Fountain Theatre Café.