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Our nation’s future depends on moments like this

Mueller Reading 51

Fountain Board member Miles Benickes and Zoey Rosenzweig at Mueller Read-A-Thon.

by Stephen Sachs

First, she said no. She would not do it. When her grandfather asked her again in the Fountain Theatre lobby, she awkwardly took a step back in retreat, shy and embarrassed.  

“No,” she said, in a blushing 14-year old half-grin.

She would not join her grandfather, Miles Benickes, on stage to read a ten-minute section of the Mueller Report in front of a gathered audience of LA professionals and unseen viewers watching online via a simultaneous live stream on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. No way.

Then Zoey Rosenzweig changed her mind. I was thrilled and surprised when she strode out onto our Fountain stage with Miles and diligently read through the Mueller legalese with her grandfather. She may not have understood much of the gobbledygook she was reading. Who did? That didn’t matter. Something vital for the future of our nation was happening. Zoey Rosenzweig was getting involved.

Thursday’s 15-hour Mueller Report Read-A-Thon at the Fountain Theatre held dozens of unforgettable moments like this for me. The marathon event was emotionally overwhelming. The Fountain hummed with ecstatic energy all day and all night. A parade of politicians, actors, writers, and community leaders read from the podium as if declaring from a public square, each person high-charged by their call to duty.

I thought of the day as an Open House. The Fountain Theatre opening its doors – all day and all night — to democracy. At an Open House, all visitors are welcome. At an Open House, anyone who wishes may visit. An Open House is a gathering that’s open to anyone who wants to come by, any time. 

An atmosphere of community was everywhere. In the lobby, in the audience, out front on the sidewalk, in our upstairs café.  Theatre provides community. Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in this country, and our LA theatre network is large and widespread. But on Thursday our Mueller Report Read-A-Thon proved that, like the motto of our nation, Los Angeles and the LA Theatre Community is “out of many, one.”

For our nation to survive, engaging young people in the arts and politics of this country is essential. I studied closely as our twenty-four-year-old Fountain intern, Melina Young, sat in the front row watching respected LA theatre critic Sylvie Drake read from our stage. A proud grin spreading across Melina’s face. Sylvie Drake is Melina’s grandmother. Now Melina seeks a career in the theatre. Her grandmother, by example, reminding her how the arts and social action can intersect.    

An endless stream of memorable instants that day/night flood through me now, two days later. Images of celebrities, LA Theatre icons, government officials. But it was Zoey Rosenzweig, perhaps, who remains the most indelible. A fourteen-year-old girl reading this urgent government document from the podium while her grandfather somberly leans over her shoulder like a rabbi guiding her through the Torah.

Moments like this are the reason we hosted the reading of the Mueller Report in the first place. It gives me hope. We need Zoey Rosenzweig and Melina Young and millions more like them.

Our nation, and our art form, depend on them.     

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre. 

Photo Slideshow: First rehearsal for CA Premiere of ‘Hannah and the Dread Gazebo’

Welcome 6 Jennifer

Director Jennifer Chang addresses the company.

Our California Premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo is an opportunity for the Fountain Theatre and East West Players to bring their community of artists, staff, Board members and patrons together for the first time.  That commonality of purpose was on display last night with the large turnout from both organizations at the meet & greet/first rehearsal.

Held at the East West warehouse rehearsal space in South Los Angeles, the evening began with a brief mixer including food and drinks. Fountain  Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs welcomed the group with some opening remarks. Through the magic of technology, playwright Jiehae Park joined the gathering via FaceTime to provide her thoughts and encouragement.  Director Jennifer Chang then shared her production vision with the room, noting that the play moves at the speed of thought. Designers Rebecca Bonebrake, Howard Ho, Ruoxuan Li, and Michael Allen Angel offered their insights. Professional illusionist Dominik Krzanowski will design special magic elements for the production.

After a quick break, the cast read the script aloud for the first time. And the real magic began.

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In the play, Hannah is two weeks away from becoming a neurologist when she gets a strange package in the mail from her grandmother in South Korea, who may or may not have just ended her own life. A surreal, funny and heartbreaking adventure leads Hannah on a journey back to her homeland and the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides South and North Korea. A startling comedy about a daughter, a mother, a grandmother and the mystery that connects them.

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“Hope you close your faggot show.”

Pride Flag

The Pride flag flies over the Fountain Theatre.

by Stephen Sachs

Some days, our building is tagged by graffiti. That’s life in East Hollywood. Some mornings, I arrive at the Fountain front door and discover a freshly sprayed scribbling on our beige stucco facade. It happens. The scrawling is usually small and, most often, gang related. A badass in the hood staking territory. A banger bearing witness. Once inside my office, I let my Technical Director know we’ve been hit.  Then I make myself coffee. The graffiti is soon wiped away. No big deal. 

I rarely decipher the message. Gang slogans are a code I can’t break. And though the phrase is sometimes personal, about “Diablo” or “Beast”, it never directly targets the Fountain. The statement could have been sprayed anywhere, anytime. It has nothing to do with us.

This time, it did. This time, the message was personal. And it wasn’t graffiti.

Last weekend, we were forced to reschedule a performance of our hit play, Daniel’s Husband. A cast member had booked a TV gig and needed to fly up to Vancouver. This is Tinseltown, right? We’ve been to this rodeo before, many times. We know what to do. Our box office staff contacted our audience for that night and set them up for other performances.  As a precaution, we posted a sign on our front door stating that the night’s show had been cancelled. In case someone walked up.

Someone did.

The next morning, we found that a person had scrawled on our sign in black ink: “Hope you close your faggot show.”

Daniel’s Husband is a play about gay marriage. The men in the cast are gay. This hate-note was inscribed on our front wall the final weekend of Pride month, when our city and our nation celebrate equality and inclusion.

Let’s be real. This written slur from an anonymous homophobe is insignificant compared to the gay men and women beaten and killed in this country. I know that. Our nation has a savage history of discriminating “others.” Ask Native Americans.  Blacks. Mexicans. Asians. Jews. Women. Compared to the systemic prejudice our nation has inflicted on these groups, the note is a small thing, a trifle. No question. Still, it hurts, is upsetting. More so because though tiny, what larger truth does it tell? Like in a well-written play, the more specific a thing is the more universal it becomes.  

In thirty years, I can’t remember the Fountain Theatre ever being hit with a message of hate like this. Sure, every so often we’ll get a heated email of complaint from an unhappy theatergoer. The political and socially conscious nature of the plays we produce often trigger passionate responses from our patrons. That’s the point. Our artistic goal is to engage our audiences in the difficult issues of our time. A free exchange of conflicting ideas is what makes a good play and a free democracy.   

This is different. In today’s incendiary political and cultural climate, it’s not too far a leap to imagine that the individual who scrawled that vile message with a pen next time might bring a bomb or a gun.  

“Something rotten is afoot in America,” posts a gay friend of mine on his Facebook page.  In the last month alone, the word “faggot” has been hurled at him three times. “The word no longer has the power to make me want to erase myself, to spare those associated with me embarrassment. But I can’t help worrying how this climate must be affecting those who are younger and more vulnerable, especially transgender Americans who face far more dangerous threats than a nasty cliché.  Is this the America we want?”

No, it is not. But this is who we are.

Others on my friend’s Facebook page chimed in. “This happened to my son,’ says one. “It’s unbelievable what is going on. A disgrace and a return to ignorance and vile barbarism.” Another states simply, “I literally get called a faggot on the streets of LA at least once or twice a week.”

The mournful words of Paul Simon call to me in his achingly beautiful “American Tune.”

“When I think of the
Road we’re traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong
I can’t help it, I wonder what has gone wrong.”

The number of hate crimes in this country are on the rise. Los Angeles, in particular, reported a decade-high increase in hate crime from 2017 to 2018. Hate crimes targeting Jews and Latinos increased in California in 2018. The trigger for this bigoted hostility is no mystery. Our country’s moral leadership comes from the top.

“Things are polarized in ways we haven’t seen in recent memory,” says Jonathan Greenblatt, the Anti-Defamation League’s national director and chief executive. “People are on edge in part because they are following their leaders. When leaders at the highest levels use incredibly intemperate language and repeat the rhetoric of extremists, we shouldn’t be surprised when young people — let alone others — imitate what they see.”

Hate crimes are defined as “crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, gender or gender identity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity,” according to the Hate Crime Statistics Act passed by Congress in 1990. Hate crimes can be committed against people, property or society, and can include vandalism. Minor as it may be, is this gay-slurring note scrawled on our Fountain sign a hate crime? Before scoffing: What if it were a swastika?

For three decades, The Fountain Theatre has produced new plays about racism, women’s rights, gay rights, anti-Semitism, immigration. Whatever the issue, it has sometimes been lamented to us that we’re preaching to the choir. The claim is that issue-driven plays are produced for like-minded people, and those who most need to be changed by our work never see it at all. Clearly, the perpetrator of that homophobic hate-note will never step inside our theatre walls. But beyond our walls, he is out there. Somewhere. In our world, on the street, in our city, he exists. With thousands, maybe millions, like him. We, as artists, must see the world as it is before we can dream of what it can be. 

In the theater, we know what our job is. Our job “… is to hold up, as ’twere, a mirror to nature; to show scorn her image, to show virtue her appearance, and the very age its form and pressure.” Our job is to hold up a vision to America of who we are as a country. The good, the bad, and – yes – the ugly.  That’s what theater is supposed to do. That’s what the Fountain Theatre will continue to do for another thirty years.

And the Pride flag still flies over the Fountain. 

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.    

Britney Spears and climbing to the theatre arts summit

LA county Arts Interns Summit 2019

2019 LA County Arts Interns Summit at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

by Melina Young

I’m scared.

Terrified in fact. There, I said it.

But really, who isn’t?

It may come as a shock to absolutely no one that to be a recent college graduate is legitimately terrifying. I can almost hear Britney Spears’s dulcet (if a bit nasal) tones reminding me that, “I’m not a girl / Not yet a woman.” She knows something I don’t… or rather she knows something that I do know but that I am trying desperately to avoid admitting.

Britney Spears

“I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” Britney Spears (2002)

The Los Angeles County Arts Commission’s 2019 Arts Summit asked me to look Britney square in her wide set, brown eyes dusted with early 2000s glitter and acknowledge that we are the same—not girls; and not yet fully-grown.

It’s true. I will proclaim it loudly in my best Britney Spears impression (which, to my dismay, is not that good).  Britney and I have something else in common—something that she demonstrates in her 2002 smash hit—we’re both artists.

I have to take a moment here to thank LACAC for organizing day jam-packed with illuminating events and with equally (if not more) illuminating fellow interns.

LA county Arts Interns Summit 2019 2

2019 county arts interns touring downtown Los Angeles.

I’ll continue my momentary digression by commenting on what a relief it was to look at the 2019 class of 203 LACAC arts interns sitting around me and see that the room was not overwhelmingly white and male. This was markedly different from my experience in college and was a refreshing reminder of what it actually looks like to be an Angelino.

Back to Britney.

To be clear, my goal is not to be a pop star, but it is no less ambitious. My goal is to have a fulfilling and sustaining career in theatre. That’s no easy trick.

Here’s what my whole Britney device was leading me toward: Is it possible to give good, actionable advice to someone in my situation? I don’t have an answer to my question. And I’m not sure that I’ve encountered someone who does. I hope that doesn’t sound ungrateful, because I AM GRATEFUL.

Melina Young 3

Melina Young at the Fountain Theatre.

Overwhelmingly grateful. And at the same time, I’m still terrified. I don’t think anything that anyone could say or do would change that. Unless what they do is hand me a contract and what they say is: “Hi, I’ll be your agent for life and I can magically promise you job security, longevity, financial stability, and artistic fulfillment.”

That does happen, but only for the lucky few.

Here’s what’s heartening. Despite the fact that the odds are against us, Arts Summit represented the coming together of two hundred and three arts interns (out of four thousand applicants I might add) who are pursuing the arts in bold defiance of those odds.

We believe in ourselves; and what’s more, we believe in one another.

I think that’s what we might call hope and courage. Fear that’s said its prayers. Sure, it’s hard to be a recent college grad that wants to be an artist. But I’ll take it because I get to be hopeful and courageous and I’m in fabulous company. That’s exciting.

To my delight, I think I encountered good, actionable advice in my LACAC peer group. (I won’t name names to protect the innocent.) Here it is:

Sometimes making art feels like screaming into the void. That’s frustrating; but scream anyway, and use that frustration to scream louder.

So I’m screaming. I hope it’s loud enough that you heard it.

Melina Young is our 2019 summer intern at the Fountain Theatre. Our thanks to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the LA County Arts Commission for its Arts Internship Program.

Fountain Theatre to host Los Angeles ‘Mueller Report Read-A-Thon’ on July 18

Mueller-Banner-Graphic-600

We’ve been told what it is, what it isn’t. What’s in it, what’s not. But how many have actually read it for themselves? Even some members of Congress haven’t read it.

Robert Mueller told us the report speaks for itself. But who can give voice to the report? Our Los Angeles theatre community, that’s who.

The Fountain Theatre will host a single, 15-hour Mueller Report Read-A-Thon, offering citizens of Los Angeles the opportunity to hear the Mueller Report read aloud, on Thursday, July 18 from 9 a.m. to midnight.

On Tuesday, it was announced that former special counsel Robert Mueller will testify before Congress on July 17, the day before the Fountain Read-A-Thon.

Earlier this month, a reading was hosted by NY theater companies, and a marathon reading is scheduled for July at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. This week, an all-star celebrity reading of a new play, adapted from the Mueller Report by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan, was streamed live on social media.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election” is the official report documenting the findings and conclusions of investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 United States presidential election, allegations of conspiracy or coordination between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, and allegations of obstruction of justice.

“The Fountain has a long history of using theater as a trigger for political and social action,” says Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. “My larger purpose for the Read-a-thon is not to disseminate details about the report — although that is important. The greater goal is to give the public and our Los Angeles theatre community the opportunity to engage, to take some kind of expressive action. I see it as similar to a protest march. But all of us are marching from our stages.”

Readers at the Fountain will include over 90 readers representing the diversity of Los Angeles, including actors, artistic leaders, community leaders and business people. Confirmed to read so far: Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell; actors Alfred Molina, Jeff PerryRichard SchiffRob NagleFrances FisherHarry Groener, Karen KondazianBill Brochtrup and Jenny O’Hara; artistic directors Daniel Henning (Blank Theatre) and John Flynn (Rogue Machine); playwright Justin Tanner; and theater journalist Steven Leigh Morris. A complete list of readers is available at www.fountaintheatre.com/event/mueller, where anyone interested in participating can also sign up for a 10-minute reading slot. The Fountain Theatre Read-A-Thon will be streamed live on the Fountain’s Facebook and Twitter pages. The Fountain Theatre Café will be open throughout the event.

Los Angeles Theatres supporting the Read-A-Thon include: 24th Street Theatre, Blank Theatre Company, Boston Court Pasadena, Celebration Theatre, Company of Angels, Cornerstone Theater Company, Echo Theatre Company, Hero Theatre Company, The Inkwell Theatre, Latino Theatre Company, The Los Angeles LGBT Center, Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble, The Matrix Theatre Company, Moving Arts, New American Theatre, Open Fist, Playwrights Arena, Road Theatre Company, Rogue Machine, Skylight Theatre, Stacie Chaiken and What’s the Story?, The Victory Theatre Center, Vs. Theatre Company, Whitefire Theatre, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum

The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in West L.A. will hold a separate marathon reading, breaking it up into two 8-hour sessions on MondayJuly 22 and Tuesday, July 23, each from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m.

According to Odyssey Theatre artistic director Ron Sossi, “Political projects like Chicago Conspiracy Trial, Tracers, McCarthy and Rapmaster Ronnie have always been a large part of the Odyssey’s 50-year history. Sadly politically-oriented work has been missing from American stages of late. This live reading of the Mueller Report at two different L.A. theaters is a refreshing and exciting reminder of the heady days of ‘60s/’70s activism, and, hopefully, a sign that the local theater scene is becoming re-engaged.”

The Odyssey event, curated by Not Man Apart artistic director John Farmanesh-Bocca, will include 20-minute readings by long-standing company members, friends and celebrities including Councilmember Paul Koretz; film and stage actors Alfred MolinaFrances FisherBrenda StrongNorbert WeisserMichael NouriRay Abruzzo, Darrell Larson and Gregg HenryRichard Montoya of Culture Clash; spoken word artist Steve Connell; Cornerstone Theater Company members Shishirand Bahni Kurup; Padua Playwrights founding artistic director Murray Mednick; plus many more. A complete list of readers will be available at www.odysseytheatre.com.

Admission to both Read-A-thons is free and open to the public. Audience members may come and go throughout each event.

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Fountain Theatre, East West Players will make magic in ‘Hannah and the Dread Gazebo’

HANNAH prelim image

Creation myths and family histories meld in a wildly theatrical, startling new comedy that explores what it means to walk the edge between cultures. The Fountain Theatre, in association with East West Players and with generous support form the S. Mark Taper Foundation, presents the California premiere of Hannah and the Dread Gazebo by Jiehae Park. Los Angeles Drama Critic’s Circle Award-winner Jennifer Chang (Vietgone) directs for an Aug. 17 opening at the Fountain Theatre in East Hollywood, near Koreatown, where performances continue through Sept. 22.

Set in NYC and Korea in the winter of 2011, just before the death of Kim Jong Il, Hannah and the Dread Gazebo takes Hannah’s Korean American family on a surreal, funny and heartbreaking adventure back to their roots in South and North Korea and the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides them.

“The play is a funny-tragic look at what it means to be caught in between,” says Park. “The characters are striving to reconcile the contradictions of their immigrant lives: North/South, past/future, coming/going.”

Monica-Hong

Monica Hong

Thirty-something Hannah, played by Monica Hong (Ivanov at the Mint Theater in NYC, Please Stand By at Actor’s Playpen in LA), is two weeks away from becoming a board-certified neurologist when she receives a FedEx box from her grandmother with two things inside: a 100% bona-fide-heart’s-desire-level wish — and a suicide note. Hannah’s father (Hahn Cho, recently seen on TV in For the People, Magnum P.I., Swedish Dicks) and mother (Elaine Kao — upcoming feature film Paper Tigers, recurring on Netflix’s No Good Nick) have already moved back to South Korea to be near Grandma at the Sunrise Dewdrop Apartment City for Senior Living, which sits right on the edge of the DMZ. Meanwhile, Hannah’s slacker brother, Dang (Gavin Lee, whose credits include Blood, written and directed by Robert Allan Ackerman, and a recurring role on Fox’s The Orville) bonds over music with a student activist played by Wonjung Kim (Korea Musical Award for Best Actress, Ovation nominee for The Last Empress in L.A). In this strange and wonderful play that is a mix of unexpected whimsy, delightful comedy, profound despair and more than a little bit of magic, actress Jully Lee (Ladies at Boston Court, tokyo fish story at South Coast Rep) appears in many forms.

Helping make that magic happen is the Magic Castle’s Dominik Krzanowski, who will create original illusions for the production. 

Hannah and the Dread Gazebo premiered at the 2017 Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, where the Mail Tribune called it “blisteringly original, acerbically funny, powerfully dramatic and deeply thought provoking… If you’re keen to have your mind expanded by an evening of theater that is not going to be comparable to anything you’ll see anytime soon, Hannah and the Dread Gazebo is a good place to start.”

Last week, the American Theatre Critics Association announced that Hannah has been selected as one of three finalists for its prestigious Francesca Primus Prize, sponsored by ATCA and the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation.

“I saw the world premiere in Ashland and was completely charmed by the play,” says Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs. “I was enchanted by its whimsical, dreamlike surprises, and truly moved by its poignant revelation of a grandmother, mother and daughter relationship. Once the lights came up and the performance was over, I knew I wanted to present it at the Fountain.”

Sachs continues, “The Fountain is committed to diversity and inclusion, which makes this first-time partnership with East West Players very meaningful. It’s an invigorating sharing of resources, artists and audiences benefiting both companies and the communities we serve.”

“We are honored to partner with the Fountain on this production,” agrees East West Players artistic director Snehal Desai. “EWP first did a reading of the play in 2013, also directed by Jennifer Chang. The Fountain is a theater whose work and mission I have always admired; this seemed like the perfect project for our two companies to collaborate on, with its mix of humor, theatricality and timeliness.”

The creative team for Hannah and the Dread Gazebo also includes scenic and video designer Yee Eun Nam, lighting designer Rebecca Bonebrake, sound designer/composer Howard Ho, costume designer Ruoxuan Li and props designer Michael Allen Angel. The production stage manager is Bryan P. Clements.

jiehae park

Playwright Jiehae Park

Jiehae Park’s plays include peerless (Yale Rep premiere, upcoming in NY at Primary Stages), Hannah and the Dread Gazebo (Oregon Shakespeare Festival), Here We Are Here (Sundance Theater-Makers residency, Berkeley Rep’s Ground Floor, Princess Grace Works-in-Progress @ Baryshnikov Arts Center), The Aves (McCarter Spotlight Series) and contributions to Wondrous Strange (Humana/Actor’s Theatre of Louisville). Her work has been developed through the Soho Rep Writer-Director Lab, The Public’s Emerging Writers Group, p73, Playwrights Horizons, NYTW, Atlantic, Old Globe, Dramatists Guild Fellowship, Ojai, BAPF, CTG Writers Workshop, Banff Playwrights Lab, ACT New Strands, and Ma-Yi Writers Lab. Awards: Leah Ryan, Princess Grace, Weissberger, ANPF Women’s Invitational; two years on the Kilroys List. Commissions: Playwrights Horizons, Yale Rep, Geffen, OSF, Williamstown, MTC/Sloan. Residencies: MacDowell, Yaddo, Hedgebrook, McCarter/Sallie B. Goodman. She is a NYTW Usual Suspect, Lincoln Center New Writer in Residence, former Hodder Fellow, and current New Dramatists. As a performer recently: Ripe Time/Naomi Iizuka’s adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Sleep (BAM Next Wave, Yale Rep); Celine Song’s Endlings (A.R.T.). She was a staff writer on season one of Marvel’s Runaways and currently teaches Playwriting at Princeton University. BA, Amherst;
MFA, UCSD.

Jennifer Chang

Jennifer Chang

Jennifer Chang won the 2019 LADCC award for excellence in direction for her work on the Los Angeles premiere of Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone. She was a 2018 Drama League New York directing fellow and was the assistant director for the Broadway world premiere of Bernhardt/Hamlet by Theresa Rebeck starring Janet McTeer. Ms Chang’s multi-disciplinary work has been honored with Ovation, LA Weekly and the Stage Scene LA awards, among others. She is a founding member of Chalk Repertory Theatre where she served as artistic producing director and produced, directed and acted in numerous plays over the course of eight seasons. Upcoming directing credits include Where the Mountain Meets the Moon at South Coast Repertory and The Time of Your Life at Antaeus Theatre Company. Select directing credits include Death & Cockroaches by Eric Reyes Loo (Chalk Rep at Circle X/ Atwater Village Theatre); 53% Of by Stephanie Del Rosso and Birds of North America by Anna Moench for the Wagner New Play Festival; Animals Out of Paper at East West Players (Los Angeles Times “Critics Pick”); Edith Can Shoot Things and Hit Them for Artists at Play (GLAAD Media Award and Ovation-nominated); and Residence Elsewhere, commemorating the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066 at the Japanese American National Museum. She is very active in the development of new plays with the Geffen Playhouse, Chance Theater, Circle X Theatre Company, EST/LA, Playwrights Arena and East West Players.

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. Recent highlights include all-star readings of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington and All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall and the inclusion of the Fountain’s Citizen: An American Lyric in the Music Center’s Our L.A. Voices festival at Grand Park. The Fountain’s 2018 productions of The Chosen and Arrival & Departure each enjoyed months-long sold out runs and was named a Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice.” The company’s West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living, was named to the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2018” list. Its current production, Daniel’s Husband, was named a Los Angeles Times “Critic’s Choice” and is enjoying an extended, sold-out run.

As the nation’s premier Asian American theater organization, East West Players produces artistic work and educational programs that foster dialogue exploring Asian Pacific Islander (API) experiences. Founded in 1965, at a time when APIs faced limited or no opportunities to see their experiences reflected outside of stereotypical and demeaning caricatures in the American landscape, EWP not only ensures that API stories are told, but works to increase access, inclusion, and representation in the economy.

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VIDEO: Highlights of awesome week one of ‘Walking the Beat’ at Fountain Theatre

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Looking to restore empathy in the world? Here’s where you find it.

My beautiful picture

Terrylene and Freda Norman. Sweet Nothing in my Ear, Fountain Theatre, 1997.

By Stephen Sachs

Whatever happened to empathy in this country?

A candidate for President mocks a person with physical disabilities on national television — and still gets elected.  Undocumented children are pulled from their parents and locked into cages. Hateful tweets fly between rich celebrities. Insulting attacks are vomited on TV talk shows. Demeaning personal smears splatter across the blogosphere. Women are shamed, minorities are assaulted. Those with the power to do good seem indifferent to the suffering of others.  Fewer care to consider what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes, to entertain the notion that others may feel the way they do for reasons that are understandable and valid from their point of view. Common respect for another human being seems as rare today in public life as a sighting of Bigfoot.

What can you do? How can you counteract today’s lack of empathy?

Turn off cable news. Switch off your smartphone. And go to the theatre.

Not because the display of human behavior from the stage will be any prettier. Don’t forget, the fundamental element of drama is conflict. Even so, no matter how tragic, a good play is a pathway to empathy. That’s because theatre doesn’t just manufacture empathy, it depends on it. Without empathy, theatre not only fails, it doesn’t exist.  Here’s why:

Every play that has ever been written asks the same fundamental human question:

“What is it like to be someone else?”

That’s it.

During a recent Sunday panel discussion on NBC’s Meet the Press, political columnist Matt Bai stated, “This is a presidency entirely without empathy.” Trump, he added, “seems to be a person who is entirely without empathy. Whatever his strong suits or weak suits, he does not have the ability to feel personally and deeply the suffering of others.”

Empathy is a skill that everyone could do well to develop and maintain whether President or not, and theatre, an art where the purpose is to explore what it means to be human, is an excellent teacher. Its in-the-moment human interaction makes theatre one-stop shopping for empathy.

In the performance of a play, the current of empathy runs two-fold. The actors pretend they are somebody else while the audience imagines what it must be like to be them. This remarkable double-shot of empathy brings mutual benefit: the attention of both actor and audience is focused on someone other than themselves. The fears, passions and needs of another human being become their own. Performers achieve this skill through years of training. Audiences have empathy thrust upon them.

In a 2012 study, researchers Thalia Goldstein and Ellen Winner assessed empathy levels in elementary and high school students who had received one year of theatre. They found that those who had studied acting for the year showed the most significant growth in empathy scores.

In the past 20 years, psychologists and neurologists have started to look at how empathy actually works, in our brains and our hearts. Fritz Breithaupt, a professor at Indiana University who studies empathy, says one thing he found is that “one of the strongest triggers for human empathy is observing some kind of conflict between two other parties.”

Sound familiar? Conflict is the essence of drama?

All of the hateful me-first narcissistic rhetoric of today doesn’t just give empathy a back seat, it tosses it out of the car entirely. The feeling now seems to be: Why should I put myself in the shoes of someone who is not me? Why waste my empathy on those not deserving? On someone older or younger? More rich or poorer? From another country? Another color? Gender? Sexual preference? The new rule seems to be: Reserve your empathy only for those who are like you which, by definition, isn’t empathy at all.  In this twisted thinking, a lack of empathy is a show of power, self-reliance, a way to make a stand against the imagined danger of “the other.”

I believe our humanity is enhanced if we can learn to see the world through the eyes of a migrant child. A homeless woman. A person of a color not our own. And we are blessed with the opportunity to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling by going to the theatre.

People often confuse the words “sympathy” and “empathy”.  Sympathy describes feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune. Empathy puts you in their shoes. Which is also the difference between a good play and a great play.  A good play makes you feel sorry for a character. A great play makes you see life through their eyes.

On day one of first rehearsal of any play, in any city in any state in this nation, an actor or actress of any age, gender, race or sexual identity will open the first page of their script for the first time, find the role they are playing, and ask themself the same question: Who is this person?

And the door of empathy opens.

Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre.

HBO supports Fountain Theatre’s cops/kids program ‘Walking the Beat’ with $10,000 gift

WTB Group Day One

Cops, kids and staff of Walking the Beat at the Fountain Theatre.

The Fountain Theatre is pleased to announce that HBO is making a generous contribution of $10,000 to support Walking the Beat, the Fountain’s educational arts program that brings together LAPD police officers and inner city students over an 8-week period to write and create a theatre piece that they perform themselves.

“We are thrilled to welcome HBO to the Fountain Family,” says Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs. “HBO’s pedigree in providing ground-breaking, high-quality entertainment is matched by its commitment to young people and communities nationwide. Walking the Beat is an innovative program that uses theatre to promote empathy, self-expression and empowerment.”

HBO’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility Dennis Williams explains the cable network’s philosophy of giving as “how we can do the best with the resources that we have.”

“If you’re in a position of power or privilege, the question you should always ask yourself is, ‘Are you using your powers for good?’” continues Williams. “At HBO, we’re in a position to inspire change and start conversations in a way that others might not be able to do themselves. We must use our powers for good.”

Walking the Beat was devised by Theo Perkins and Angela Kariotis at Elizabeth Youth Theater Ensemble in New Jersey. HBO supported the project there for three years, and continues its sponsorship with the Hollywood program at the Fountain.

HBO and EYTE join other sponsors and partners for Walking the Beat at the Fountain, including the Hollywood Police Activities League,  Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy, Deborah Culver, The Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation, Dorothy Wolpert, Robert and Carrie Meadow, the Central Hollywood Neighborhood Council, Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell and District 13, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and District 3.

Home Box Office is the oldest and longest continuously operating pay television service in the United States, with 140 million subscribers worldwide as of 2018. HBO’s Corporate Social Responsibility team unites employees, talent and non-profit partners to elevate social issues connected to communities. At the heart of HBO’s effort  is a passion for making a difference, to use its platform to educate, inspire thoughtful action and help make the world a better place.

More Info on Walking the Beat

‘Hannah and the Dread Gazebo’ a finalist for American Theatre Critics Association Prize

HANNAH prelim image

Hannah and the Dread Gazebo by Jiehae Park, opening at the Fountain Theatre on August 17th in its Southern California Premiere, has been named a finalist for the Francesca Primus Prize, sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association and the Francesca Ronnie Primus Foundation.  The award, presented annually since 1997, recognizes the best work by an emerging woman playwright who has not yet achieved national prominence.

Hannah and the Dread Gazebo earned glowing reviews in its recent world premiere at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

“Masterful! So powerful and indescribably beautiful.” – Stanford Daily 

“This is theater as it should be — blisteringly original, acerbically funny, powerfully dramatic and deeply thought-provoking.” – Mail Tribune

jiehae park

Playwright Jiehae Park

In the funny and poignant play, Hannah is two weeks away from becoming a neurologist when she gets a strange package in the mail from her grandmother in South Korea, who may or may not have just ended her own life. A surreal adventure leads Hannah on a journey back to her homeland and the forbidden Demilitarized Zone that divides South and North Korea. A startling comedy about a daughter, a mother, a grandmother and the mystery that connects them.

The Fountain Theatre partners with East West Players in the Southland premiere directed by Jennifer Chang. As the nation’s premier Asian American theatre organization, East West Players produces artistic works and educational programs that foster dialogue exploring Asian Pacific experiences.

Named in honor of Francesca Primus, a playwright, dramaturg, theater critic, and ATCA member who died of cancer in 1992, the Primus Prize was originally administered through the Denver Center Theatre Company. Since 2002, ATCA has adjudicated the award, which includes a $10,000 grant presented through the generosity of the Primus Foundation as well as a plaque for the winning author. The winner will be announced in July.