Tag Archives: Terri Roberts

Fountain Theatre weekend event ‘Raise Your Voice’ seeks to activate public to vote

Actors in rehearsal for Raise Your Voice.

Events on the streets and online

The Fountain Theatre is readying Raise Your Voice – Vote!, a guerrilla style, immersive theater event set to take place over the course of two days at six locations throughout the City of Los Angeles. Watch the live-stream every hour on the hour beginning at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, Oct. 24 and Sunday, Oct. 25 at www.FountainTheatre.com.

Conceived by acclaimed playwright and Fountain Theatre community engagement coordinator France-Luce Benson and co-directed by Benson and Lily OckwellRaise Your Voice – Vote!aims to build momentum and awareness about the upcoming election while bringing theater for the people to the people. The five-member acting ensemble (Victor AnthonyJessica EmmanuelWonjung KimTheo Perkins and Rayne J. Raney) will present a series of pop up performances in six public spaces, each representative of L.A.’s cultural landscape. Each performance will feature America’s most iconic speeches about voting rights, plus dance and song. Volunteers will be stationed at every location to offer assistance with voter registration and voter education.

“We want to create an event that is inspirational, but never didactic,” explains Benson. “The performers will be in conversation with each other and with the people around them, blending in, respecting and embracing whichever community we’re in.”

Each of the performances will be live-streamed and will also be augmented by a series of surprise appearances, posts and performances on the Fountain Theatre’s social media pages in support of voter awareness.

Send Us Your Selfie on Voting

Want to engage in the Fountain’s newest project? We want you to upload a short selfie video (2 mins or less) of yourself expressing how important it is to vote. Nothing fancy. Can literally be taken on a smartphone. Just speak from your heart. Be passionate. What does voting mean to you? Why does voting matter? Do you have a personal story about voting? These video selfies will air at the top of each hour, from 10am to 6pm, on all Fountain social platforms and website.

Important: 

  • You (we) cannot endorse a specific candidate.
  • Do not mention Trump or Biden by name.
  • Shoot your selfie horizontal, not vertical.   

The purpose of the event is to use theatre as a trigger to activate the public to vote, to emphasize the responsibility of voting, to remind each other of the price some have paid to vote, to express the urgency to participate in this election and in our democracy.

Raise Your Voice – Vote! is produced by Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy for the Fountain Theatre. James Bennett is live-stream editor, and Terri Roberts is volunteer coordinator. The event is underwritten by Miles and Joni Benickes, Diana BuckhantzKaren KondazianMaggi PhillipsSusan StockelDorothy Wolpert, and Don and Suzanne Zachary. Event partners include volunteer organizations The Social Ripple Effect and Big Sunday.

For more information, to find out how you can volunteer and to live-stream Raise Your Voice –Vote! on Oct. 24 and Oct. 25, go to www.fountaintheatre.com.

LA intimate theatre community comes together for virtual festival of short plays

By Terri Roberts

Did you see it? Were you part of the excitement? Thursday, October 1st, was Opening Night of the first weekend of Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival, a three-week long celebration of new works presented by Alternative Theatre Los Angeles (ATLA) in association with L.A. Stage Alliance. The second weekend of performances has begun, and continues tonight and Saturday at 7pm. The final batch of shows is next weekend, October 15-17, at 7pm. The entire festival can be viewed on Twitch.

Each evening of the online festival is a 90-minute stretch of original 10-minute plays, all penned specifically for the digital stage by playwrights representing 34 of the 64 local intimate theatre companies – including the Fountain – that make up ATLA. The Fountain’s entry into the festival, Talking Peace, was written by Community Engagement Coordinator France-Luce Benson, who also happens to be an accomplished playwright. Talking Peace is a wittily observant take on today’s hot-button issues that is set during a virtual Zoom get-together. In it, a healing circle comes undone when an outsider finds her way in, forcing the five women to deconstruct what it means to be Black, BIPOC and bound by sisterhood.

Talking Peace was part of last week’s Opening Night schedule. You can re-watch it – and catch all other performances to date — at www.twitch.tv/togetherlafestival. To make reservations for tonight, and any of the remaining nights, visit www.togetherlafestival.com. Tickets are free, but reservations are required.

ATLA was born five months ago out of the need felt by local theatres to stay connected during the pandemic, offer strength and support to each other, and make positive steps forward in the midst of uncertainty in order to keep hope, art and theatre alive.

And so, LA’s intimate theatre community turned out en masse last Thursday to celebrate the launch of this digital effort together. New plays! Old friends! The forum was virtual, but the energy jumped right off the screen. The pre-show chat box overflowed with cries of “So excited!” and “Break legs everybody!” scattered in-between all the shout-outs and virtual drink orders and jokes about easy parking. The wild exhilaration was further pumped up with a lava flow of exuberant emojis: clapping hands, party poppers, hugs, and a full-range rainbow of colored and decorated hearts. It didn’t seem to matter that the theatre lovers gathered there were not sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in the same house. After months of isolation and darkened physical stages, they were sitting spirit-to-spirit and heart-to-heart in the same space, ready and willing to enjoy a virtual stage experience, and reveling in each others’ company. This community knows how to adapt!

“We are here to celebrate the vibrant and diverse intimate theatre scene of greater Los Angeles,” explained host Amy Hill at the top of the show. “Los Angeles theatre has always been on the forefront of innovation, and tonight we bring that to the digital stage…we are showcasing what intimate theatre does best – bringing people together. Telling important stories and creating a place to connect and heal through art.”

The three-week long event is also doubling as a fundraiser for Color of Change, a progressive nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization in the United States that uses online resources to strengthen the political voice of African Americans. By the end of yesterday’s block of shows, $3,680 had been raised toward an ultimate goal of $5,000. Could it be that a new goal will need to be set before the weekend is out? The LA theatre community is nothing if not enthusiastic and generous in their support of friends in need.

The same exuberance on display Opening Night has continued every night since then. So come on in – gather with us tonight and Saturday, and next weekend as well to cheer on all these new short plays, reconnect with the theatres and artists you love, raise some money for a good cause, and help keep the indomitable LA intimate theatre spirit riding high! A digital program will be yours for the asking, and someone will be by shortly to take your virtual drink order. You don’t even have to worry about parking or arriving late and not getting in. There’s always enough room, and plenty of fun to be had.

Together LA: A Virtual Theatre Festival is presented by Alternative Theatre L.A. in association with the L.A. Stage Alliance. In addition to the Fountain Theatre, participating companies include 24th Street Theatre, Actors Co-op, Ammunition Theatre Company, Celebration Theatre, Chance Theater, Coin and Ghost, Company of Angels, Echo Theater Company, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA, IAMA Theatre Company, Impro Theatre, Independent Shakespeare Company, Interact Theatre Company, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, Macha Theatre, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Open Fist Theatre Company, Ophelia’s Jump Productions, Pacific Resident Theatre, Playwrights Arena, Rogue Machine Theatre, Sacred Fools Theater Company, Sierra Madre Playhouse, Skylight Theatre Company, The 6th Act, The Group Rep Theatre, The Inkwell Theater, The New American Theatre, , The Road Theatre Company, The Victory Theatre Center, Theatre of NOTE, Theatre West and Whitefire Theatre. For more information about the festival and for a schedule of shows, please visit www.togetherlafestival.com

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

Make Your Voice Heard: Today is Voter Registration Day

By Terri Roberts

If ever there was a time – and an election – to raise your voice and be heard, this is it. An unprecedented pandemic. Healthcare and welfare. Unemployment and a stalled economy. Racial reckoning. States burning or drowning under water. A country bitterly divided. The presidential contest this November 3rd may be the most consequential election of our lifetime. And every voice everywhere must be heard.

First, you have to be registered to vote. Today, September 22nd, is National Voter Registration Day. In this year of chaos and confusion, nothing could be more vital than making sure that you are able to safely cast your ballot for those individuals who you feel are the strongest representatives for your values and beliefs.

If you are not registered to vote, your voice will be silenced.

Are you registered? Are you sure? Some things to consider: have you moved? Gotten married? Want to change political parties? Any of these things affect your registration status. The good news is that checking it out is easy. So is actually registering.

How to Register/Get Voter Information

Los Angeles Country Registrars Office

Offers: Voter registration, check registration status, polling information, election resources, voter education, community and voter outreach, and more.

CA Secretary of State

Offers: Voter registration/pre-registration (at age 16 or 17)/current registration status. There’s also info on upcoming elections, elections site maps, voting technology, statewide election results, and more.

Vote.org

Offers: Check registration/register to vote, polling place locators, info on how to become a poll worker, and COVID-19/election information. They also have a guide that outlines your voting rights, and an Election Protection Hotline to call for help if anyone tries to prevent you from voting: 1-866/687-8683 (866/OUR-VOTE).

Vote 411

Offers: COVID-19 alerts and personalized voter info that includes registration, status check, poll location, ballot info, upcoming area debates, and more. Sponsored by the League of Women Voters Education Fund.

U.S. Election Assistance Commission

Offers: Registration assistance, downloadable 14 FAQs for Voters and 10 Tips for Voters, list of voter resources, and more.

When We All Vote

Offers: Voting resources, a Vote by Mail FAQ, and actions you can take

Vote By Mail

Beginning with the November 3, 2020 General Election all registered voters will be mailed a Vote by Mail ballot to ensure a safe and accessible voting option during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mailing of Vote by Mail ballots in all elections begins 29 days prior to Election Day. For more information, click here.

Raise Your Voice: Vote!

The Fountain Theatre believes voting is so important that we will be going directly to the people to spread the word. Keep a watchful eye out in late October. The Fountain will be launching a citywide immersive theatre project, Raise Your Voice: Vote to highlight the issues of voting rights and raise awareness in unexpected ways.

“The cultural landscape of Los Angeles personifies why voting is so imperative,” explained Community Engagement Coordinator France-Luce Benson, who conceived of the project. “There is so much history here, so much incredible cuisine, and so many amazing and varied artistic voices. Every one of those voices matters, and every voice must be counted. If we want our city, and our country, to continue to grow and thrive –  we must vote!”

Raise Your Voice: Vote continues the Fountain Theatre’s long history of creating and producing new work that we hope will inspire social action,” agreed artistic director Stephen Sachs. “With the public forbidden to come to our theatre right now, we are taking our theatre to the streets. I believe we can use this period of forced closure as an opportunity to break free from the four walls of our building. To engage the public in dynamic new experiences which encourage each citizen to vote.”

Volunteers will be needed for this exciting voter awareness event. Join us! Please email me at terri@fountaintheatre.com.

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

Groundbreaking livestream ‘The Ballad of Emmett Till’ is artistic and financial success for Fountain Theatre

By Terri Roberts

Friday, August 28th, marked the 65th anniversary of the vicious murder of an innocent 14-year-old black youth named Emmett Till. His cold-blooded, colder-hearted killing, and the events surrounding and following his funeral, became the kick-starter events of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement in 1955. The Fountain Theatre recognized that landmark anniversary in two ways: with the reunion of the original director and cast of our award-winning 2010 production of The Ballad of Emmett Till, by poetic playwright Ifa Bayeza, and by navigating this new COVID-19 world of virtual theatre by presenting the show in a unique, forward-thinking beyond-the-Zoom-Room format.

Three hundred and forty-eight people bought $20 tickets for the livestream premiere of this re-imagined digital model of theatre. The five actors – Bernard K. Addison, Rico Anderson, Lorenz Arnell, Adenrele Ojo, and Karen Malina White – performed from their own individual, safely distanced locations, and coordinated with director Shirley Jo Finney and each other via Zoom on their computer screens. But gone was the normally pedestrian cyberscape of living room stages with bookcase backdrops. This fresh digital production of Emmett Till was dramatically enhanced with the use of props, costumes, music, sound, visual effects and cinematic techniques. The resulting hybrid of stage and digital filmmaking made for an exciting and invigorating step forward into the new frontier of virtual theatre.

If you were not able to catch the premiere, you needn’t worry. The livestream premiere was video recorded. The Ballad of Emmett Till is available for a pay-per-view rental of $20 at www.fountaintheatre.com until December 1st.

“What a stunning presentation!” wrote playwright Bayeza after Friday’s premiere. “The commitment and creative investment so enlivened the digital performance, introducing whole new dimensions and possibilities.Shirley Jo, the way you angled the car scenes, Emmett’s dancing in the water, the integration of sound and environments–all were exquisite surprises. The ensemble was marvelous again. Karen’s magical shifts of character are so seamless, you don’t even notice it’s the same actor! All in all, simply superb!”

Other viewers agreed:

“Shirley Jo Finney exceeded the medium and brought new meaning to each of the characters. Bravo! Bravo!” – Steven Williams

“Thank you for such an AMAZING virtual presentation! It was PHENOMENAL!!!! BRAVO!!!” – Cynthia Kitt

“Wonderful work in this crazy world!” – Taylor Bryce.

“Powerful production!” – Shawn Kennedy

“I was initially a bit cautious about watching on my computer but the direction drew me right in. I loved the use of photos and other visuals to create a sense of place. And the acting was superb. Very moving.” – Lois Fishman

“It was very powerful and beautifully done. The cast was amazing. Please convey my appreciation to all of them as well as to Shirley Jo Finney for the beautiful direction.” – Diana Buckhantz

“I’m so proud of what we created,” said Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs. “I’m thrilled that the Fountain is leading the way in developing new ways to tell stories and keep the connection with our community alive.” The pay-per-view event is a budgetary victory as well. Online ticket sales and generous contributions from longtime Fountain donors Susan Stockel and Barbara Herman ensured that Emmett Till was fully funded by its first airing.  

The success of Emmett Till hashttps://www.fountaintheatre.com/fountain-digital/the-ballad-of-emmett-till-2020 demonstrated that this form of digital theatre is both viable and profitable, and can help the Fountain keep its doors metaphorically open while we are still in pandemic mode. And while we will certainly continue to present free digital content via the bi-monthly installments of Saturday Matinees and Theatre Talk, as well as other programming and readings as they present themselves, you can also expect to see more livestream/digital pay-per-view productions to come.

Is there something special you would like to see in this new format? A past Fountain production with a small cast you think should be rebooted? We’d love to know what you’d love to see. Email me at terri@fountaintheatre.com and share your thoughts.

Until then, The Ballad of Emmett Till is waiting for you.

The tragic life of Emmett Till demonstrates need for national change, 65 years after his death

by Terri Roberts

On August 28, 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was abducted from the home of his great uncle, Mose “Preacher” Wright, in the still-dark hours of a Mississippi morning. The two abductors were white; one of them carried a flashlight and a gun. Together, they forced the black teenager into the back of a pick-up truck and drove off. Three days later, Emmett’s naked, bloated body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. He had been savagely beaten, shot in the head, and his face mutilated beyond recognition. A heavy, metal cotton gin fan had also been tied around his neck – with barbed wire.  

The boy’s body was so disfigured that Mose Wright could only identify him by the distinctive ring he was wearing. It was silver, square-shaped, and had belonged to Emmett’s deceased father. It was engraved with the initials L.T.: Louis Till.

This Friday, August 28, marks the 65th anniversary of the murder of Emmett Till. His death, and its aftermath, are largely credited with sparking the Civil Rights Movement. Rosa Parks had Emmett Till on her mind when she refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger. She thought about going to the back of the bus. But then she thought about Emmett Till and couldn’t do it.  

To honor him, and in recognition of all the challenges for racial equality that have followed from then till now, the original cast and director of the Fountain Theatre’s widely acclaimed, multiple award-winning 2010 production of The Ballad of Emmett Till by Ifa Bayeza will reunite for a live-streamed reading of the play. This highly produced presentation, which includes music, sound, and visual imagery, will take place at 4 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. ET and be available this year for on-demand viewing at www.fountaintheatre.com/fountain-digital/the-ballad-of-emmett-till-2020. Pay-per-view tickets are $20.00. Shirley Jo Finney again directs Bernard K. AddisonRico EAndersonLorenz ArnellAdenrele Ojo and Karen Malina White, all reprising their original roles in Bayeza’s powerfully theatrical intermingling of history, mystery and legend, punctuated with music and poetry.

And on Thursday, August 27, Fountain Theatre artistic director Stephen Sachs will chat with playwright Bayeza during his bi-monthly installment of Theatre Talk at 4 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. ET. That conversation will air live on Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the Fountain website at http://www.fountaintheatre.com.

Emmett’s mother, Mamie, had warned her son before he left their Chicago home that the Mississippi Delta was a whole different world than he was used to when it came to race relations. Segregation was a stricter practice down in the Delta. She worried that her fun-loving son, who was known for telling jokes and pulling pranks, and who used whistling to help control a stutter, could easily find himself in trouble in the unforgiving Jim Crowe south without realizing it.

She was right.

When Mamie was told of the terrible news, she insisted that the body of her only child – who she fondly called Bobo – be returned to Chicago. According to a January 11, 2003 article in The Washington Post following her death on January 6th, Mamie collapsed at the train station when she saw what was left of her son and cried out, “Lord, take my soul.”

Mamie became determined that her son would be seen, exactly as death left him. He would not disappear, like driftwood floating down the Tallahatchie River, to be remembered only by friends and family and then, finally, to be forgotten altogether. No, she wanted his killers, and indeed the whole world, to see what racial hatred, ignorance and bigotry was doing everyday, without regret, to black people everywhere, and what it had done to one particularly cherished life. A young black life that mattered.

“Let the people see what they did to my boy,” Mamie Till famously said. And they have, for 65 years. Today, a simple Google search easily pulls up a plethora of photos, articles, and books about the life and death of Emmett Till, including historian Elliot J. Gorn’s 2018 book, Let the People See, and Timothy B. Tyson’s 2017 book, The Blood of Emmett Till.

Till’s brutal death was already making headlines, and Mamie invited even more media to cover the funeral and the viewings, including the well-known black publication, Jet magazine (which created The Emmett Till Project to commemorate the 60-year anniversary of his death and the trail that followed.) She insisted on an open casket – albeit, one with a glass top because the stench from the decaying body in the Illinois summer sun was overwhelming. She invited the public to attend. And they did, by the thousands. The viewing of Emmett Till’s body went on for four days.

The photo of Mamie Till Mobley mourning over her son’s open coffin was a catalyst for the civil rights movement.

From the same TWP article: “Thousands lined the streets outside the Chicago funeral home. Thousands more walked past the open casket. They wept. They wailed. They seethed.

Photographers snapped close-ups of a boy’s body so disfigured that the human eye instinctively turns away. Those hideous pictures galvanized a nation.

All but two of Bobo’s teeth were missing. His ear was gone, an eye detached, his face and body horribly swollen after 72 hours in the Tallahatchie River.

His crime? This young black boy from Chicago spending the summer with relatives didn’t really understand Jim Crow. To impress friends, it is alleged that he talked fresh or whistled at a married white woman in Money, Miss.

That’s all it took to end a life.

A couple of weeks later, a trial was held for 24-year old Roy Bryant and his half-brother, 36-year-old John William “J.W.” Milam, in a segregated courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi. Bryant was the husband of Carolyn Byrant, the woman who had accused Till of “ugly remarks” and vague improprieties. The Bryant’s also owned the small store that Till and his friends had stopped at to buy some bubble gum. (The site of Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market is now memorialized with a Mississippi Freedom Trail Marker.)

Mose Wright chose to appear at the trial. This short-statured black man stood tall that day in court when he pointed to his nephew’s accused white killers, Bryant and Milam, and positively identified them. Then, after less than an hour of deliberation, the all-white jury declared the men “not guilty.” The state, the jury claimed, had failed to prove the identity of the body. A separate kidnapping charge was also filed against the pair, but they never were indicted.

Both men eventually died of cancer: Milam in 1980 and Bryant in 1994. In 2017, Carolyn Bryant confessed to The Blood of Emmett Till author Timothy B. Tyson that the 14-year-old-boy from Chicago had never accosted her, or touched her, in any way. “Nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him,” she said.

In the more than five decades that have passed since August 28, 1955, thousands of other black men, women and children have needlessly died as the result of racial violence and divisiveness. They breathe no more, but the Civil Rights Movement continues. We march for the fallen, and we say their names: Eric Garner. Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Philando Castile. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. And so many more.

They are remembered. As is Emmett Till.

Join the party! Daniel’s Husband & The Normal Heart company reunion today @ 4pm

By Terri Roberts

June is Pride month, a time of Mardi Gras-like celebration for the LGBTQ+ community that’s highlighted locally by the annual L.A. Pride Festival and Parade. The first Pride march, held June 28, 1970, was established to mark the one-year anniversary of the now infamous Stonewall uprising – an event widely seen as the launch pad for the modern gay rights movement. Fifty years later, it has become an annual, exuberant, not-to-be-missed event. (Note: The highly anticipated 50th anniversary celebration has been postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. More info)

The trouble that ignited a revolution started at 1:20am on June 28, 1969, when NYPD officers raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Such raids were all too common at the Mafia-owned bar. But this night was different. On this night, the chronically marginalized, too-often dehumanized gay population who were drinking inside had had enough. On this night, they stood up and fought back. On this night, and in the nights and days and years that followed, gay men and women not only found their pride, they wore it boldly and shouted it out loudly for all the world to hear.

Today at 4pm, the Fountain is gathering together the casts of two of its most highly acclaimed productions – Daniel’s Husband (2018) and The Normal Heart (2013) – for a celebration not only of Pride month, but of the recent historic Supreme Court ruling that protects the civil rights of gay and transgender workers, and to honor the life of writer/activist/Normal Heart playwright Larry Kramer. Viewers can watch live on Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and on our website at http://www.fountaintheatre.com. The recording will also be posted and can be watched at a later date.

Fountain producing director Simon Levy directed both productions, and cast veteran actors Tim Cummings and Bill Brochtrup as lovers in both stories, each of which was centered on a different pivotal moment in the gay rights movement. The Normal Heart is Kramer’s clarion call to action against the emerging AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s. In it, Ned Weeks (Cummings) is a gay journalist and activist whose fight against the mysterious unnamed scourge running rampant through the gay community turns deeply personal when his lover, Felix (Brochtrup), a New York Times fashion writer, contracts the deadly disease. In Daniel’s Husband, Brochtrup is the eponymous Daniel, a successful architect who longs to be married to his partner of seven years, Mitchell, a marriage-phobic writer of gay romance novels that make him, as he says, “the 21st century gay equivalent of Barbara Cartland.”

Said Levy of the two actors, “After working with, and loving the work of, Bill Brochtrup and Tim Cummings in The Normal Heart, I consciously searched for another project for us. And when I read Daniel’s Husband, I knew I’d found our play and that they would be perfect for it.”

Both shows held a personal appeal to Levy, who spent many years living in San Francisco and working on the long-running, kitschy musical revue, Beach Blanket Babylon.

“When I had the opportunity to get the rights to The Normal Heart I grabbed them,” he explained, “because I wanted to pay a personal tribute to all the friends and colleagues I lost in San Francisco during the heyday of the AIDS crisis. Especially (performer) Bill Kendall of Beach Blanket Babylon, who was a good friend and co-worker, and someone I took the entire journey with. The show was a dedication to his memory, as well as (creator) Steve Silver, and so many others.

“When I read Daniel’s Husband I fell in love with it and knew it was right for the Fountain and L.A.’s gay community. Not only because it dealt with gay marriage, but because of its universal theme of loving and caring for one another. I wanted the production to be a reminder to hold on tight to each other, especially in these toxic political times, because we never know how long someone will be in our life. To live with regret is horrible, so love NOW!”

Both productions received passionate, widespread critical acclaim and extended runs. Audience reaction to both shows was deep and visceral. Many patrons saw both, and there were many who saw each play multiple times. It was also not uncommon for them to come back with friends and family members who they felt compelled to have experience the show.

The teeming post-show gatherings are something Levy remembers fondly.

“(I loved) seeing how deeply moved audiences were by both shows, and how they would congregate outside on the sidewalk afterwards to talk with the actors and share their stories of losing loved ones, or fighting to make gay marriage legal. I also loved the ‘love board’ that allowed people to pay tribute to the memory of loved ones and those they love now.”

The ‘love board’ was a giant, paper-covered plywood board that stood at the theatre’s double doors during The Normal Heart. On it, people would write love notes to, and about, the men and women who were no longer here with them. There were also expressions of gratitude and love for those who were still by their side. It was a powerful, cathartic act, and the paper was oft replaced during the extended run of the show.

In a LA Times interview from October 2, 2013, Levy made a comment about The Normal Heart and the AIDS crisis that now seems prophetic when taken in context of today’s COVID pandemic.

“People have fallen asleep again…Millions of people are dying from AIDS every year. But no one’s talking about it anymore. We’re all pretending that it’s yesterday’s illness.”

His resulting message to the public? “Don’t politicize pandemics! Be kind to each other. Love each other. We’re all in this together.”

Celebrate Pride with us and join us for the cast reunions of Daniel’s Husband and The Normal Heart today at 4pm. Watch on Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or on our website.

Our stage is the soul of the Fountain, but I feel the cafe is its heart

Cafe colorful May 2017by Terri Roberts

Friday, March 13th, was a very strange day.

I run the Fountain Theatre’s charming upstairs café. Normally, Fridays at the Fountain would be the start of a five-show weekend through Monday night. Six, if we had a Sunday evening Flamenco show as well. There would be a palpable energy in the air.

But on Friday, March 13th, LA’s growing COVID crisis had become critical. The public portions of the theatre – the stage and the café – had been shuttered. The offices were being closed as well.

I should have been working on Friday, March 13th. By 4pm, Pandora would have been rocking one of my favorite show tune stations, and I’d have been singing along with Wicked and A Chorus Line and Into the Woods behind the closed café door as I got the coffee going, bagged chips and cookies for sale, and chatted with local baker Tracy Green when she delivered her weekly order of scrumptious organic mini muffins. I would have caught up with staff when they wandered in for coffee or a snack. I would have arranged fresh flowers on the café tables. Watered the plants out on the deck. Set out food items, made sure the fridge was stocked, and ensured there was plenty of wine on the back counter.

By 6:30pm, actors would have been dropping by to say hello, and get a pre-show caffeine fix as they ate their dinner. If patrons had arrived early, I would have invited them to have a seat and get comfortable while I finished setting up. We would have talked about the show they had come to see and where they had traveled from to see it. Long distance drives from Orange County, Santa Barbara, and Long Beach are not uncommon (and on a Friday night, no less!) Patrons of the Fountain are extremely loyal, and LA’s notorious Friday night traffic has never stopped any of them from persevering to see a great show.

I’d have set out fresh creamer for coffee by 6:45pm and cut fresh lemon wedges for tea. I’d have changed the music to something more appropriate for the show, and turned on the video monitor to run the scroller of past Fountain Theatre productions. I’d have clicked on the twinkle lights draped around the café and the deck, and lit the votive candles that add such warmth and invitation to the space. The stage would have been set. Lights and sound would have been ready. I would have opened the door to let the audience in.

HIS Opening Night

Opening night of Human Interest Story, Feb 15, 2020.

 

It would have been another Friday night at the Fountain Theatre café. Engaging with patrons. Stepping out from behind the bar to hug a friend who had come to see the show. Getting buzzed off the buzz in the room. And answering a barrage of questions about past productions:

  • What was that wonderful play about the painting? Either Bakersfield Mist or My Name is Asher Lev. Both featured a painting and had storylines about art.
  • What was the show about the Latino restaurant workers? I couldn’t stop thinking about it. My Mañana Comes. Yes, a lot of people had that reaction.
  • What was the one about the border wall and the guy in prison? Building the Wall.
  • Do you remember the show about the Black girl who was a runner? Sure! It was In the Red and Brown Water, by Tarrell Alvin McCraney. It was the first play in his Brother/Sister trilogy. We also did the second one in that series, The Brothers Size.

Theatre. History. Story-telling. Energy. Friends. Connecting the dots. And, of course, lots of coffee. These were my Friday nights at the Fountain. Until Friday, March 13th. When everything changed.

I have happily worked at the Fountain for over a decade. I’ve been part of dozens of shows in a variety of capacities: production/assistant stage manager, props designer, casting associate, costume maintenance and more. For the past two years I have also been the manager of the charming Fountain Theatre café. I must say, I absolutely love it.

I run the café as I run a show, and I am nourished by it in the process. I am fed by the support of our devoted patrons, by sharing stories of past productions, by greeting first time visitors who inevitably want to know how long we’ve been around, what kinds of shows we do, and, ultimately, how they can become a member. And then there is the question I hear all the time, from guests old and new: will the café ever be open outside of show times? (Answer: it is a long-distance dream.) I feel gratitude every time I’m asked that, because it means they’re comfortable in this charming, funky space. They tell me how much they love the rainbow tables and walls, the gallery of production photographs, the mismatched collection of couches and chairs, the open deck with the hummingbird feeder and the little garden and the view to downtown LA. They want to hang out all day long. They feel a sense of peace, of connection in the space.

IMG_3164Kitchens are often referred to as the heart of a home, and the café is the gathering place of the Fountain Theatre. The room where we all come together to share meals, to talk, to take meetings and to rest. The stage downstairs is the soul of the Fountain. But the café, I believe, is its ever-beating, ever-welcoming, wide-open heart.

So for now, while this pandemic reigns, my Friday nights are different. It’s been nearly four months since I didn’t work that Friday night in March – and I feel it. I miss the energy, the shows, the patrons, the actors, the laughter and the hugs, the fellowship and the connection. But in time, we will tell our stories again. In time, the theatre will open up again. In time, we will gather in the café again. That charming rainbowed place of nourishment and peace and of welcoming home. And in time, we’ll re-connect to each other, again.

You Have Changed Me Forever: Remembering ‘The Normal Heart’

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Tim Cummings, Bill Brochtrup, “The Normal Heart”, Fountain Theatre, 2013.

by Tim Cummings

“Hello, you don’t know me. I hope you get this message. Sometimes, when you try to send a message to someone you’re not ‘friends’ with on Facebook, it gets blocked, or you have to ‘approve’ it. I hope you’ll approve this message if it gets to you.

 I saw The Normal Heart on Saturday night, and haven’t slept well since. My father died of AIDS in 1995. I was 15. Except he didn’t die of AIDS, he died of ‘cancer.’ Except we all knew it was AIDS because he was gay and had been sleeping around with men for years. We were a Catholic family, and so shame was tantamount to pretty much everything, especially my dad’s secret life. There were a lot of years after he died where Thanksgiving and Christmas and birthdays and anniversaries were lonely days, hollow days where not much was said and my sister and I would sit with our mom around the table and stare at our food.

Watching you on stage, the frustration and rage, it was so palpable it cracked me open, like an egg, and I feel like I can feel again. Except now I feel a lot of rage too. I feel like the rage is taking its revenge, saying, “You ignored me for 20 years and now I own you.” I feel like you brought it into my life. It was like you were breaking barriers up there. I could feel how uncomfortable the audience was at times. Like they were afraid of you. I was too, I guess, but also relieved. I don’t know what you are doing up there, or how you manage to live the role several times a week, but I want you to know that you have changed me forever. More than the play. More than the production. YOU.

I didn’t know who Larry Kramer was before the other night, but I’ve been reading up on him and watching videos on YouTube. He wanted to change things and wake people up and he could only do it by shattering everyone around him that wouldn’t listen. He’s lucky someone like you can interpret his intentions. I will probably see the show again before it closes. For now, I’m figuring out what to do with these feelings. Like, how do I forgive my dad? How do I talk to my mom, after all these years, about what really happened? How many more people out there are just like me, waiting for something to come along and break them open? Too many innocent men died. For nothing. I think I might take boxing lessons.”

In the summer of 2013, I was 40 (and a half) years old and really taking stock of my life, as one is wont to do at 40 (and a half). I had been in Los Angeles exactly a decade at that point, and reflecting on my career as an actor: roles won, roles lost, characters deeply inhabited, their skins later shed like a snake once a show ended, reviews, awards, pounds gained and dropped again, friends made and later lost, the worry over male pattern baldness. That summer, I contemplated the possibility that the ‘acting thing’ was more of a hobby than a profession. Things had changed drastically after I moved from New York to LA. In NY, I was working on Broadway, making a living acting. I was on a good trajectory there.

Where I grew up, and in my time, theater had always felt like a great act of rebellion, a middle-finger held up high to everything normal and expected and accepted. Thespians were teased and bullied, but I prided myself on being subversive, anathema to their pack mentality and bougie normality. Theater was punk af. In LA, however, acting suddenly felt like trying to be part of the popular kids again. Clique mentality. I wanted no part of it. How will I succeed if I have no interest in playing by the rules? I’ve always hated rules. I didn’t want to be hot or muscular or skinny or alpha or tan or…commercially viable in any way. I didn’t want to do things the way they were supposed to be done. I desired to shave my head, ring my eyes with racoon-black eyeliner, cover my body in tattoos, pierce every part of me, paint like Pollock, join a band. I contemplated whomever managed to pull off “LA success” with bitter disdain and a kind of squishy envy. That’s okay—I’m not above being human. Actors are not superheroes, despite the way the media depict them and fame & fortune define them.

I happened to be perusing the labyrinthian interwebs that summer when I discovered a breakdown for The Normal Heart, Larry Kramer’s seminal 1985 agit-prop manifesto about AIDS in the early-to-mid 1980s and how he and his friends banded together to create GMHC (Gay Men’s Health Crisis). The Fountain Theatre in Hollywood was set to produce, overseen by one of the theatre’s founders and Co-Artistic Director, the outstanding Stephen Sachs. The play hadn’t been done in LA in about twenty years, and though it had been given a slick, starry revival on Broadway a few years prior, it felt, perhaps, like something that sunny, surfery Southern California had no right to consider. It’s my (arguably harsh) opinion that LA has always felt too granola (read: passive) for the righteous anger of stories birthed in New York City by New Yorkers.

Nonetheless, The Fountain had a reputation for mounting plays with a social justice bend, and Kramer’s behemoth was certainly no exception. I drafted a cordial email to the casting director asking to be seen. (I’m a firm believer that if you want something done, you do it yourself, and immediately. In other words, I wasn’t going to ask the manager to ask the agent if I had been submitted and then wait around, to neither receive a response nor an appointment time.) When casting responded to my inquiry I assumed the team would want to see me for the role of Bruce Niles, the strapping gay ex-marine. At 6’2” , broad-shouldered, and north of 200lbs, I figured it was the only role they’d consider me for. Instead, they asked me to prepare the role of Ned Weeks, the play’s antagonistic protagonist. Ned is molded out of the playwright himself, the pejorative Larry Kramer. It was the true story of him and his friends, after all, and he was going to tell it his way. It’s a colossal script, with a role as immense as Hamlet, and on nearly every page it elucidates Ned’s pushiness, outspokenness, and righteous anger.

How does an audience go on a journey, and root for, a disagreeable character?  Continue reading

The magic glows to life at ‘Baby Doll’ tech rehearsal

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Baby Doll tech rehearsal 

It happens so often at tech rehearsal. And yet, each time it happens, it feels like the first. That magic moment when the colored lights are turned on the first time, the sound is turned up, the costumes are put on, the props are placed in hand. Suddenly the weeks of hard work in the empty rehearsal room blossom to life as the design elements add their wonder. This happened, this week, in tech rehearsals for our upcoming West Coast Premiere of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll. It opens July 29.

The cast worked through their cues under the watchful eyes of lighting designer Ken Booth, set designer Jeff McLaughlin, sound designer/composer Peter Bayne, costume designer Terri A. Lewis and props designer Terri Roberts, all under the guidance of production stage manager Emily Lehrer and director Simon Levy.

The meticulous process of technical rehearsals — when light & sound cues are painstakingly timed and drilled — can be tedious. But the end result can be marvelous. As was the case this week with Baby Doll. It’s going to be a beautiful production.  

Enjoy these snapshots from tech rehearsal. You’ll be dazzled when you see the finished production.  

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‘Baby Doll’ company gathers for thrilling first reading at Fountain Theatre

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Sometimes you have a first reading of a play with a new cast and it doesn’t go so well. The script may be solid and the cast experienced and professional. But the magic may not happen immediately.

This was not the case yesterday at our first read-through of Tennessee Williams’ Baby Doll with this fabulous cast. The magic happened. Immediately.

It was one of those wondrous occasions when actors, director, production team and play all came together in a thrilling first read-through of a colorful and dynamic script. As the actors read the script together for the first time, the play soared off the page. 

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The gathering began in extraordinary fashion. Actress Karen Kondazian, playing Aunt Rose Comfort, has starred in many Williams plays and knew the playwright personally. Before rehearsal began yesterday, Karen displayed a small black box and slowly opened it. She carefully unwrapped the contents and held it up in the palm of her hand like a scared relic: a pair of Tennessee Williams’ glasses. It was passed around the table. Each company member examined the glasses, some put them on and had the unique experience of “seeing through the eyes” of one of America’s great playwrights.    

Fountain Co-Artistic director Stephen Sachs welcomed the company and guided them through the paperwork at hand. Director Simon Levy spoke briefly about the play. Then the cast — Daniel Bess, Karen Kondazian, Lindsay LaVanchy, John Prosky and George Roland — read the script. And the play immediately leapt to life.

Joined at the table were Co-Artistic Director Deborah Lawlor, associate producer James Bennett,  production stage manager Emily Lehrer, assistant stage manager Miranda Stewart, props designer Terri Roberts and publicist Lucy Pollak. 

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