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.



Spotlight Series: Meet Simon Levy, a Director and Producer Who Calls The Fountain Theatre His Home


This Spotlight focuses on Simon Levy who began his directing career in San Francisco, then moved to Los Angeles in 1990 where he has been the Producing Director for the Fountain Theatre since 1993. His directing and producing credits are numerous, with over 100 productions in Los Angeles and San Francisco that have won more than 200 awards. His journey has been blessed with having wonderful mentors along the way, which has enabled the talented director to earn his living doing theatre and earned him great respect from the entire LA Theatre community.


Shari Barrett (SB):  What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Simon Levy (Simon): I started off as a sax player, but when I got bored with some of my music classes at City College of San Francisco, I decided to take an acting class. I immediately became friends with two very talented dynamic actors, Harry Groener and Peter Kors, who are still friends to this day, and because of their encouragement, I fell in love with acting and switched my major. Then it was on to San Francisco State, a national tour doing Hamlet with the rag-tag/caravanning San Francisco Shakespeare Company, a season at the Alley Theatre as an apprentice actor, then back to San Francisco State to finish my degree, where I fell in love with directing.

Simon Levy as Hamlet with the San Francisco Shakespeare Company

My friend, Michael Lynch, a playwright, was having his plays produced at the One Act Theatre Company, and he and I became a playwright/director team which allowed me to really earn my chops as a director. At the same time, I worked at Steve Silver's "Beach Blanket Babylon" for 7 years as everything from House Manager to Stage Manager to General Manager, where I learned to appreciate the business side of theatre.

Eventually I ended up in LA in 1990 and the Fountain Theatre in 1993, where I've been ever since. I've been very fortunate to have wonderful mentors along the way and to earn my living doing theatre.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?

(Simon): I was literally days away from going into rehearsals for Steven Levenson's magnificent play If I Forget at the Fountain with a really wonderful cast and creative team.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

Stephen Sachs and Simon Levy at The Fountain Theatre

(Simon): It was pretty obvious to Stephen Sachs and me at the beginning of the week of March 9th that our lives were about to change, so we started preparing. We were supposed to have a meeting with the cast and designers of If I Forget with our consultant, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila (who was one of my consultants on The Chosen) to start prepping for the background work on the play. We cancelled that meeting out of a growing concern about being in the same room together. Then on March 12th, we made the decision to suspend the production of Human Interest Story and rehearsals for If I Forget. We really wanted to do both in person, with everyone in the room. But, again, out of a heightened sense of precaution and uncertainty, we decided to communicate with everyone by email. By then it was pretty obvious where the news cycle was going.

Bill Brochtrup and Tim Cummings in "Daniel's Husband", directed by Simon Levy at the Fountain Theatre

(SB): I am so happy I was able to attend the opening weekend of Human Interest Story and have featured Spotlight interviews previously on the show’s two stars: Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander. I also interviewed Bill Brochtrup, one of the stars from Daniel’s Husband which you directed last year at the Fountain, which was one of my favorite shows last year.  And I treasure the Make America Kind Again badge you gave to some of us in the audience on opening weekend, and I proudly wear mine every day. It’s an important message, especially right now.

Are plans in place to present those two postponed productions at a future date?

Rob Nagle and Tanya Alexander in "Human Interest Story" at the Fountain Theatre.

(Simon): Both productions are currently suspended, but it's our intention to re-open Human Interest Story and go into rehearsal for If I Forget once we get an All Clear from the City and State. We recognize, of course, that re-opening businesses, especially theatre, will be a helter-skelter, slow rolling out and testing, but we will adjust accordingly. Safety first for our artists and patrons, above all else.

(SB): What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(Simon): We have the rights to two very exciting projects, Caryl Churchill's Escaped Alone and Lucy Kirkwood's The Children. Future announcement about all Fountain Theatre productions will be posted at FountainTheatre.com.

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Simon): There's a stunning amount of material online right now, from local companies like Impro Theatre to readings by Skylight Theatre and L.A. Theatre Works and others, from Broadway and London, and world theatre from Berlin to Japan, plus all the Zoom meet-ups. So I'm sampling a lot of that, and I like to listen to Broadway musicals. Ironically, I haven't been able to read any plays yet as I feel like the real-life world drama that's unfolding on TV and my news-feeds supplants everything else right now... though I'm starting to feel the urge to dig into the huge backlog of plays sitting on my desktop.

But as much as I appreciate all the online content available right now, you can't hit the ‘pause’ button when you're attending live theatre. I miss that immediacy... that visceral thrill... and the danger of it. But I recognize that we're about to enter a "new" normal, which will include theatre online, because this pandemic has forced us to think/create in different ways, and we have to be aware of and sensitive to those changes. Creativity is about growth and moving into the future, and artists will always find a way to be creative. Who knows, perhaps there's a future for Mask Theatre! One thing I know for certain: We artists are phoenixes and we will blaze anew!

(SB): As always, Simon, thank you for your insightful words and presence in the LA Theatre community. For more information about Simon Levy and his projects, please visit:

SimonLevy.com
FountainTheatre.com
TheGreatGatsbyPlay.com


This article first appeared on Broadway World.