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


 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.

Sleep Out: Stage & Screen, Theatres to Provide for Artists, Free Training for Early-Career Actors With Disabilities, and More Local, National, and International News to Inspire, to Stir, and to Entertain


Audio Interview: The cast of “Under Milk Wood” at Atwater Village Theatre

Reflecting the milieu in which Dylan Thomas grew up, Under Milk Wood recounts the dreams, gossip and waking hours of the sleepy, Welsh seaside town of Llareggub — a name that seems innocent enough until you read it backwards. A slice of life set over a period of 24 hours one spring day, Milk Wood exposes the secret thoughts and reveries of over 50 residents in the salty fishing town. Unforgettable characters such as Jack Black, the sexually repressed cobbler; Mr. Pugh, who constantly dreams of murdering his wife; sweet Polly Garter, loved by many men, but still pining for long-dead Little Willy Wee; Mr. Waldo, who has impregnated virtually every woman in the countryside; twice widowed Mrs. Ogmore-Pritchard, who dreams of assigning cleaning tasks to her two dead husbands; and town bigamist Dai Bread populate this odd place, and their affectionate charm and humor still captivate and entertain 65 years after it was written. The poetry wafts and enters through one’s heart rather than one’s head. listen to it here

PODCAST: An Interview with Director Jessica Lynn Johnson of ‘Soaring Solo’

I interviewed Director Jessica Lynn Johnson, teacher of Soaring Solo, a how-to series of workshops and individual instruction on creating solo theatrical projects and bringing them to fruition. Jessica is often a one-woman cheering squad for her students, creating unique costumes out of their promotional bar cards and items for Fringe Festival parties.  read more here

Katy Sullivan, Victor William in “Cost of Living”, Manhattan Theatre Club, 2017.

Fountain Theatre awarded grant for Pulitzer Prize winner ‘Cost of Living’ by Martyna Majok

The National Arts and Disability Center has awarded The Fountain an Arts and Accessibility Grant to support its upcoming West Coast Premiere of Martyna Majok‘s 2018 Pulitzer Prize winning play, Cost of Living. The grant will assist in funding the compensation of two actors with disabilities for the production opening October 20th. read more here

Activist Theater Company Launches Inaugural Season in support of Los Angeles Justice Fund

The Thursday Night Theater Club’s inaugural season to begin with the morality play, “A View from the Bridge” by Arthur Miller, to benefit families in the Los Angeles area.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, CA (August 14, 2018) – Activist theater group Thursday Night Theater Club (TNTheaterClub) opens its inaugural season with Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” on August 23rd, at the historic El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. The LA Justice Fund will receive a percentage of each ticket sold during the 10-week run. read more here

Rogue Machine Theatre trades Hollywood for Venice

Rogue Machine, one of Los Angeles’ more prominent small-theater companies, is heading west this fall, relocating from Hollywood to Venice.

“We’ve been looking for a permanent home for 11 years,” artistic director John Perrin Flynn said with a laugh.

Several factors are behind the move. Most pressing: The company’s current home, the Met Theatre on Oxford Avenue near Santa Monica Boulevard, is for sale and couldn’t guarantee long-term occupancy, Flynn said. At the same time, the 99-seat Electric Lodge in Venice was in search of a resident company and appealed to Flynn as a black-box space with flexible seating arrangements. read more here


Sleep Out: Stage & Screen

Broadway and Hollywood unite to sleep on the street for one night so homeless kids don’t have to.

4.2 million kids in America will face homelessness this year.

Covenant House provides these young people with safe shelter and wrap-around services, including education and job training, so they can move forward to an adulthood free of poverty and the threat of homelessness. read more here and donate to the cause

Queens Theatre to Offer Free Training for Early-Career Actors With Disabilities

Applications are now open for the new training program for Deaf and disabled performers.

New York City’s Queens Theatre is now accepting applications for its free fall training program for early-career Deaf and disabled actors. Part of the organization’s Theatre For All initiative, the new two-week program will run September 16–28 and will be made up of various workshops culminating in a showcase performance.

All workshops and events will take place at Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Actors will be selected through an application process through August 22; read more here

Minority Voices Theatre

Local theater project looks to confront Eugene’s diversity issues

Local theater directors Carol Dennis and Stanley Coleman had been churning around the idea of a diverse project for about six years after noticing a lack of diversity in Eugene and its reflection in the theater communities they were a part of.

“I grew up in Miami,” Dennis says. “I spent my 20s in New York City doing theater, and my 30s in Los Angeles doing theater. When I came up here for life situations, I wanted to do theater up here, and I realized just how white it is here, how small the communities of color are.” read more here

Monthlong exposition to highlight emerging veteran artists

11 locations will feature different artists

MADISON, Wis. – This November, emerging military veteran artists will exhibit two- and three-dimensional visual art, theater and performance art, music and writing at 11 different locations throughout Madison.

According to a release, “In Good Company: An Exposition of Emerging Veteran Artists” will display works that reflect the veteran experience.

Both veteran and civilian curators are organizing the events as a way to ignite discourse. Art created by veterans is starting to become a larger genre, the release said. read more here


Inflatable yellow theatre barge pops-up on east London canal

This year’s Antepavilion is an inflatable arts venue on a barge that unfurls in just 12 minutes, created by architects Thomas Randall-Page and Benedetta Rogers.

Called AirDraft, the floating theatre boasts a balloon-like construction that means it can deflate in five minutes, allowing it to manoeuvre easily under bridges along London’s waterways. read more here

Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director Sam Strong.

10 things theatre companies can provide to artists

Too often conversations around the careers of artists can get lost in the abstract. To counter that, Queensland Theatre Artistic Director Sam Strong gets practical.

ArtsHub performs a wonderful industry service for artists: spotlighting careers, highlighting the challenges of different cities, and shining a light on neglected parts of the sector.

However, a voice has been missing from these conversations. That voice is the voice of companies, the providers of opportunities to artists. read more here