COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: Reflections on COVID-19 and the Fountain Theatre - An Interview with Stephen Sachs


An award-winning playwright, director, and producer, Stephen Sachs has been instrumental in turning the Fountain Theatre, which he co-founded in 1990, into a powerhouse venue for all that is best in the theater world. The home of multiple award-winning plays, Fountain Theatre has proudly presented the world premieres of Athol Fugard’s Exits and Entrances, and Stephen Sachs’ Bakersfield Mist and Arrival and Departure, as well as Los Angeles premieres by Pulitzer Prize winners Martyna Majok and Stephen Adly Guirgis. Sachs was recently honored with a Certificate of Commendation from Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles City Council for “his visionary contributions to the culture life of Los Angeles.” During an interview in April 2020, Stephen took a moment to reflect on the effect of COVID-19 on theater life as we know it.


Montae Russell, Victor Anthony, and Marisol Miranda in "Between Riverside and Crazy" - Photo by Jenny Graham

When did the Fountain Theatre first begin performances? Were you involved from the beginning? What are some of the most popular plays you've done? How about awards? 

STEPHEN SACHS:  The Fountain Theatre was founded by myself and Deborah Lawlor in 1990 and is currently celebrating 30 years as one of the most successful intimate theaters in Los Angeles. The Fountain provides 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 worldwide. Recent highlights include celebrity readings of Ms. Smith Goes to Washington and All the President’s Men at Los Angeles City Hall. Our West Coast premiere of Martyna Majok’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Cost of Living was placed on the Los Angeles Times’ “Best of 2018” list. The Southern California premiere of Daniel’s Husband and our Los Angeles premiere of Between Riverside and Crazy were each named to multiple “Best of 2019” lists. The Fountain Theatre recently swept the 2019 Ovation Awards, winning Best Season and Best Production of a Play. Last month, the Fountain was honored by the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle with the Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence in theater.

Deanne Bray and Brian Robert Burns in "Arrival and Departure" - Photo by Ed Krieger

When did you close the theater due to COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run?

SS:  We had to suspend our acclaimed world premiere of Human Interest Story and close our theater on March 13 due to COVID-19.

Katy Sullivan and Felix Solis in "Cost of Living" - Photo by Geoffrey Wade

HOW HAS COVID-19 IMPACTED ON YOUR THEATER?

 SS: COVID-19 has crippled the Fountain Theatre, but we will survive. Like every other theater in Los Angeles and the nation, we were forced to suspend a production in mid-run and close our doors. That means zero earned income. For months. It’s a financial hardship for our organization. It’s also emotionally devastating for everyone in our Fountain family. None of us are doing this for money. We do it for love. And when what you love most is taken from you, it’s painful. It hurts.

Aleisha Force, Rob Nagle, and Tanya Alexander in "Human Interest Story" - Photo by Jenny Graham

Are you doing anything right now to keep your live theater going? Streaming? Having virtual meetings? Planning for your next show when you reopen?

SS: The Fountain Theatre very much wants to launch into live streaming. But we use union actors, and Actors Equity Association has still not provided the 99-Seat community with guidelines to use AEA actors for streaming. AEA has approved it in Equity theaters across the country but has yet, as of this date, failed to act on behalf of intimate theaters in Los Angeles. Every day that goes by with our theaters sitting dark - and the option of streaming online being withheld - adds to our financial hardship. In the meantime, we are continuing with Zoom meetings and online community gatherings.

What do you think the impact of COVID-19 will be on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you foresee any permanent changes?

 SS: COVID-19 is like a wildfire that has burned through the landscape of the LA theater community. When this fire is eventually put out – whenever that is – the terrain will grow back, but it will never be the same. Even when we reopen, there is no “normal” to return to; there is no going back. Some theaters will not survive being closed for so long. The ones that do will find themselves in a landscape they will not recognize.

Sam Mandel, Dor Gvirtsman, and Steven B. Green in "The Chosen" - Photo by Ed Krieger

What do you need right now to keep going forward? What would you like from the theater public?

SS: All of us in the LA theater community require two kinds of need: financial support and loyalty. Every theater in Los Angeles now has zero box office income. Nothing is coming in. We need financial support from government agencies, from foundations, from donors, and from the public to help get us through this terrible time. And we need loyalty. When we reopen our doors – and we will – we need our audiences to come back, to ignite our rebirth. When this crisis is over, it will take time for all of us to get back on our feet again. If we truly are a community, the community needs to show up, to reassemble in strength, so that we all can march forward.

What are some of your future plans?

SS: Once we get the green light to reopen our doors, our plan is to resume the run for Human Interest Story for 4-6 weeks. We will follow it with the LA premiere of If I Forget by Steven Levenson. We will return with the passion we hope to share with our audiences.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



L.A. Venues and Events That Are Postponing, Updating, or Canceling To Help Deter Coronavirus Spread and Protect the Public

UPDATES: 11-14-20 5:30 p.m. PST

Better Lemons is currently in the process of updating our calendar with shows that have postponed, updated, or canceled due to coronavirus and concerns and actions towards the safety of theatre patrons.

The following is a list of venues and shows that we have updated and have been updating currently.

If you have a show that needs updating, please log in and update your show accordingly. If you are postponing, do not delete your event and feel free to email us via our contact form should you need assistance with updating.

UPDATE ONLY


Now Registered on the Better Lemons Calendar – January 28 - February 3, 2019

Theatrical shows registered on the Better Lemons calendar!
For more shows visit our Calendar.
For shows with a LemonMeter rating, visit our LemonMeter page.

The Mountaintop

Garry Marshall Theatre presents the West End and Broadway play The Mountaintop by Katori Hall. The Mountaintop is directed by Gregg T. Daniel, who recently staged A Raisin in the Sun at A Noise Within (Ovation Award nomination for Best Director) and Her Portmanteau at Boston Court.

Visit their Better Lemons Registered Calendar Page for ticket and show information.

HEISENBERG

Rubicon Theatre Company opens the 2019 season with HEISENBERG by playwright SIMON STEPHENS, a quirky romance starring Ovation Award-winner FALINE ENGLAND and Emmy and L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award-winner JOE SPANO. Sweet, sexy and full of surprises, the story follows two strangers whose lives intersect in a bustling London train station.

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Life Could Be A Dream

SH-BOOM! Meet fledgling doo-wop singing group Denny and the Dreamers as they prepare to enter the Big Whopper Radio contest and realize their dreams of making it to the big time. The '60s doo-wop songs in this award-winning jukebox musical say it all: “Fools Fall in Love,” “Tears on My Pillow,” “Runaround Sue,” “Earth Angel,” “Stay,” “Unchained Melody,” “Lonely Teardrops” and “The Glory of Love.

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THE ELEPHANT MAN

Thursday Night Theater Club Presents A Classic True-life Tale in THE ELEPHANT MAN By Bernard Pomerance -LOS ANGELES (January 28, 2019) – Thursday Night Theatre Club is proud to present a classic true-life tale and heart wrenching story that depicts the best and the worst of humanity.

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Rabbit Hole

Becca and Howie Corbett have everything a family could want until a life-shattering accident turns their world upside down and leaves the couple drifting perilously drifting apart. 2Cents Theatre Group begins its 2019 site-specific season with David Lindsay-Abaire's stunning journey through grief, the search for comfort, and the rebirth of hope.

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Hype Man

A hip-hop trio – frontman, hype man and beat maker – is on the verge of making it big on national TV when a police shooting of a black teen shakes the band to its core, forcing them to confront questions of race, gender, privilege and when to use artistic expression as an act of social protest. Winner, 2018 Elliot Norton Award. Feb. 23 – April 14; Fridays @ 8 p.m. / Saturdays @ 2 p.m. & 8 p.m.

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S.O.S.

The Wallis Studio Ensemble presents S.O.S., an original multi-media physical theatre work about love and resilience in times of crisis, directed by Madeleine Dahm, from Thursday, January 31 through Sunday, February 10, 2019 at the Circle X Theatre (Please note: S.O.S. is not being performed at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, but at the Circle X Theatre in Atwater Village).

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THE POW AND THE GIRL

A new play based in part on true and personal experiences of writer Katrina Wood and her father British character actor Percy Herbert who was both in the Japanese POW camp and built the Bridge on the River Kwai and then went on to be cast in the movie with Alec Guinness at the start of his extensive film career.

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SWEENEY TODD - THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET

In a barber shop above Mrs. Lovett's struggling pie shop, Sweeney Todd plots revenge on the lecherous judge who wronged him and his family. In the seedy underbelly of 19th-century London, desperate times lead to diabolical schemes—and strange alliances.

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HELLO DOLLY

Tony Award®-winning Broadway legend Betty Buckley stars in HELLO, DOLLY! – the universally acclaimed smash that NPR calls “the best show of the year!” and the Los Angeles Times says “distills the mood-elevating properties of the American musical at its giddy best.

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Love is Another Country

Gonee (Dee Dee Stephens), a highly educated African American woman, is driven to the edge of sanity by the death of her brother, left lying on the ground for hours by the police who apparently killed him. When Gonee shoots a policeman in a maddened rage, she is imprisoned with no hope of release.

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Fighting Shadows with Richard Cabral - Special Engagement

The Rosenthal Theater at Inner-City Arts and Lineage Entertainment Group in association with Jami Gertz presents Fighting Shadows Written by Richard Cabral with Robert Egan Directed by Diane Rodriguez. Fighting Shadows is a passionate and poignant one-man show celebrating the power of human redemption and transformation.

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