The Fountain Theatre announces Fountain Voices, an innovative arts education initiative that utilizes the power of theater to promote compassion and acceptance of others. The program launched at Hollywood High School in Fall 2020 and is now expanding to the Compton Unified School District, where it will commence March 8 at Clarence A. Dickinson K-8.
Integrating playwriting, critical thinking and performance, Fountain Voices guides students in the creation of original plays about issues that matter to them, helping them gain a better understanding of themselves and each other, and shedding light on the issues they see impacting their own communities.
“The students themselves choose the topics they want to write about,” says playwright France-Luce Benson,who serves as the Fountain’s community engagement director. “The Hollywood High kids wrote plays about depression, what it means to be queer and cope with homophobia, racial identity and homelessness among young people, among other things.”
Although the first phase, at Hollywood High, was implemented virtually due to Covid restrictions, that did not hinder the students’ ability to form deep, long lasting connections. According to teacher Ali Nezu, “Fountain Voices provided a safe and engaging environment in the midst of distance learning, as well as an authentic artistic experience that combined social emotional learning with English language arts development.”
The nine-week program kicks off with a virtual viewing of Benson’s play, Detained. Originally commissioned by Judy Rabinowitz of the ACLU, Detained is based on interviews with long time U.S. residents held in immigration detention and/or deported, their family members, advocates, attorneys and representatives of ICE. Their collective voices weave a compelling and complicated tapestry that emphasizes the impact immigration detention has on families.
Following the performance, students discuss the process of creating plays based on interviews, as well as the significance of sharing stories as a way to build community. Students are encouraged to think about what communities they belong to, what their stories are, and how they want their stories to be told. Social justice issues raised by the play are explored and used as a launching pad for students to think critically about the issues that impact their own communities. Students are then given the opportunity to engage (virtually) with each other through acting games and exercises designed to teach vital communication skills. As they learn about one another, students are also introduced to the key elements of playwriting. A major component of the curriculum is the interviews that students conduct with members of their own communities. Once those are completed, students collaborate with one another to craft short plays and monologues about the communities they live in and the ones they aspire to create.
Sixth, seventh and eighth graders will be the first to participate at Clarence A. Dickinson, with additional Compton Unified schools adopting the program, provided by the Fountain Theatre at no cost to the district, in the near future. “We are bringing Fountain Voices to our students because I believe that our students need the arts now more than ever,” stated Clarence A. Dickinson principal Rebecca Harris. “This will support our students’ literacy skills in a unique and engaging way.”
Concludes Benson, “Every voice deserves to be heard. Profound change can happen when we listen, and our collective voices can inspire compelling stories.”
Fountain Voices is made possible, in part, by support from Mary Jo and David Volk, the Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation and Sharyl Overholser.
Leslie R: I was able to meet 6 of the most incredible people I could ever imagine… They made me love something, they reminded me that a family is not DNA. That’s what the program was to me, a family, a community. I learned to love, and through it, I was able to find a little piece of myself.
Delfin G: I was a really shy and reserved student before but being here helped me be more open and sharing that script really did something for me… Hearing those other stories and accounts by my peers was really eye-opening.
Ashley C: The Fountain voices program is a loving and safe space where there is never a right or wrong approach. It feels more like family than just a group and going from strangers to what I consider friends and family in a span of months is amazing.
Madison M: I not only loved the camaraderie of those who were involved in the program, but I cherished the community we built together… Writing is painful, therapeutic, cathartic, beautiful, and fulfilling all at the same time.
Central to the Fountain is the impact the post had on one person: Sachs himself.
“I am blown away by the post’s popularity,” he says.
For Sachs, reading the avalanche of online comments the post triggered as it was shared around the world was overwhelming and eye-opening. “For me, the post became more than a feel-good story about young people experiencing live theatre. For me, it is a call to action.”
What action is the Fountain taking?
Starting this weekend with the current production of Human Interest Story, the Fountain Theatre launches a new program called Free Student Fridays. Any high school or college student may see a play at the Fountain on Friday for free. To reserve online, students use the promo code FreeStudent. A valid school ID card must be shown at the box office window on the night of the performance. Seats are subject to availability.
“This program is a modest start, but it’s a start,” admits Sachs. “We may not have 18,000 seats like Madison Square Garden, but if we can inspire the young minds and open the young hearts of 80 students on Fountain Avenue every Friday night, we’ll have humbly done our part to help make the world a better place.”
Who knows? A free performance for 20,000 students at L.A.’s Staples Center may one day be on the horizon. Until then? There’s a seat for any student at the Fountain.
2018 intern Saif Saigol (center) with Fountain staff.
Know a college student looking for a paying job this summer? A young person who likes theatre and enjoys working in a crazy, eccentric theatrical environment? Search no further. The Fountain is the place.
The Fountain Theatre is now accepting applications to hire one Development Intern for 10 weeks this summer between June 1 – August 25. It is a full-time position (40 hours per week for 10 weeks) that pays $570 per week.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors established the Arts Internship Program to provide undergraduate students with meaningful on-the-job training and experience in working in nonprofit arts organizations, while assisting arts organizations to develop future arts leaders. This is our sixth year participating in the program and we’ve had great luck with our summer interns. Each one has been incredibly helpful, has learned a great deal, and became part of our Fountain Family. We are still in contact with all of them.
2016 Arts Intern Victoria Montecillo with Director of Development Barbara Goodhill
Student eligibility for internship positions is limited to currently enrolled undergraduate college students who reside or attend college in Los Angeles County. Students must have completed at least one semester of college by June 1, 2019 or will complete their undergraduate degree between May 1 – September 1, 2019 in order to be eligible to participate. Students who have already earned a BA, BS or a higher degree are not eligible.
The Development Intern will work closely with the Director of Development to create and launch new fundraising and grant writing campaigns. The intern will assist in targeting and contacting new funding sources, creating and implementing new fundraising materials, assist in individual contribution programs, and facilitate special events for donors and community partners. Under professional guidance, he/she will learn and develop grant writing skills to create and submit new grant proposals to major foundations.
The intern candidate must have basic computer and word-processing skills (PC, Word, Excel, Internet), good communications skills and pleasant phone manner, organizational skills, be detailed oriented, and have the ability to multi-task in an intimate office environment. A sense of humor and a willingness to learn many aspects of theatre management. She/he should be self-motivated and have the ability to take initiative when required. She/he should also have a passion for theatre. Excellent writing and editing skills. An ability to work effectively both independently and cooperatively. Creativity, enthusiasm for learning, and an outgoing friendly demeanor.
They are young. They are bold and self-confident. They are articulate. They are passionate. They are leading a national movement. And they are theatre kids.
A fiercely dedicated band of teen survivors of the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, this week are earning international attention through social media for speaking out on gun control in a movement they call Never Again. This grass-roots uprising launched by young people is highly organized and gathering national momentum. The fiery speech by student Emma Gonzalez at a Florida rally is a viral sensation. Students grilled NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch and Senator Marco Rubio at a CNN town hall. It drew three million viewers. The nationwide protest the group is leading on March 24 in Washington, D.C., is now expected to draw more than five hundred thousand participants to the nation’s capital. Sister marches are being planned in cities around the country. The Never Again Twitter page already has eighty-one thousand followers.
All of this from a small troupe of teenage drama kids at a Florida high school who’s only worry last week rose from the stress of trying to memorize their lines. This week, they all have much larger roles to play.
Being “dramatic” doesn’t make any of these young people insincere. They are furiously committed. Even so, a dark fringe of “Fake News” conspiracy wackos on the internet are already accusing some of the kids of not being real students at all, but professional “crisis actors” paid to cause trouble. Asked about this charge, student Cameron Kasky told CNN that anyone who had seen him in the school’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof” knows that “nobody would pay me to act for anything.”
Are you surprised that these teenage drama nerds are now taking the international stage by storm? I’m not.
A theatre class is more than an artistic distraction for students. It can serve as a lightning rod of empowerment for young people. For many teens, the experience of standing in a spotlight on a stage in a play or musical, galvanizing the attention of adults in the audience, is the first time a young person discovers that what they say matters. They learn that words have power, that their voice can move and inspire others.
Rehearsing a play teaches young people team work, collaboration, tolerance, the importance of listening to and following direction. They learn about problem solving, discipline, goal-setting and time management. And they discover that getting something significant accomplished can also be fun.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club.
The engine for all dramatic plays is conflict. Rehearsing a play thrusts students into roles attacking and defending both sides of an issue. Therefore, the play teaches that no matter how dire the circumstances may seem, it remains valuable to understand and overcome opposing points of view to reach a satisfying ending.
Something magical happens to students when rehearsing a play or musical. They become a company. Adolescence can be painfully isolating. But in those brief hours of after-school drama practice, young people are forced to put down their cell phones and look each other in the eye. They find human connection. Friendships are formed, crushes blossom, and leaders step forward. Perhaps most important, kids learn that a group, working together, can deliver something meaningful and life-changing that is greater than themselves, for the benefit of the community.
When the CNN Town Hall on gun control came to a close, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club sang to the crowd. The song was written by survivors Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña to honor the 17 victims of the mass shooting. Their main message? “You’re not going to knock us down” and the standout line, “You may have brought the dark, but together we will shine the light.” At this moment, those in the audiences turned the lights on their phones and stretched them above the crowd to shine their own light.
As one student asserted during a spoken word section of the performance, the students vow to “Be the voice for those who don’t have one.” A voice is a powerful thing, and theatre can be a formidable stage from which to find one’s own song.
As the Never Again mission statement declares, “Change is coming. And it starts now, inspired by and led by the kids who are our hope for the future. Their young voices will be heard. ”
If art is a reflection of who we are, where we come from, and where we are going, then whatever the students are learning in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School drama club is a lesson for us all.
The trajectory of my life changed in 8th grade, when I got the following note back on the back of an English essay. My teacher’s name was Dr. Rembert Herbert. This is what he wrote:
“Lin-Manuel—This is an excellent, well-crafted essay. It confirms what I have suspected for some time—that you have been ‘hibernating’ in the back of my class, emerging only occasionally—as when you wrote ‘The Chosen’ musical for class earlier this year. It’s a new semester, almost spring—join us!”
The “Chosen” musical he references was a class project I created as a part of a class assignment. The assignment was to teach three chapters of The Chosen by Chaim Potok, as part of a group. I decided it would be easier to write a song based on each chapter and have our group perform it. Actually, I recorded myself singing all the songs and made my group mates lip-synch my voice, as I had no trust in their musical ability and no way of teaching it to them. Why did I do this? Well, I loved the book. And I loved the way Dr. Herbert taught the book, encouraging us to find the connections and themes for ourselves. I had, in fact, spent most of 8th grade scribbling song lyrics and poems in the back of my classes, earning grades just good enough to get by. I never saw any reason to share these with anyone else.
With this note, Dr. Herbert essentially called me out. He told me, “That creative energy you are burning in the back of the class is what we need IN the class. You can USE that here.” He was also the first person outside of my family to say to me, “You’re a good writer.” He encouraged me to audition and submit my writing to Brick Prison, a student-run theater group at my high school. It was there that I found the energy source that would power the rest of my life.
His encouragement extended far beyond that 8th grade English class. When I began making films in high school, Dr. Herbert would sign permission slips allowing me to film in classrooms, or after school. I began writing short, 20-musicals for Brick Prison, buoyed by my “Chosen” experience in his classroom. My senior year, I earned course credit as his intern, helping him with his 8th grade students. I gained a whole new respect for how much he invested in every student, stepping in if he sensed a drop-off in the quality of their writing, or quietly encouraging the shyest class members with leadership roles.
I still have that 8th grade essay, and Dr. Herbert’s attached note. He is still teaching 8th grade English at Hunter. I am so grateful to him for paying such close attention, for seeing something in me, and urging me to share it. That’s what the best teachers can do. I hope I have made him proud.