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Regional Spotlight: How the Fountain Theatre is Working Through The Global Health Crisis

Regional Spotlight: How the Fountain Theatre is Working Through The Global Health Crisis

Now more than ever it is important to support theater and do our part to keep the art form that we love so much alive and as thriving as it can be during these unprecedented times. While the global health crisis has temporarily put the theater world on hold, pausing all live performances and large gatherings to help stop the spread of COVID-19, theaters around the country have taken a hit. During this time of adjusting to our temporary new normal, theaters are figuring out how to take care of their team, and discovering the best ways to virtually bring theater to audiences.

Through our regional theater interview series, we are checking in with theaters all around the country, talking to them about how they are handling these difficult circumstances, learning what they are doing to move forward, and discovering the best way for people to help regional theaters during this time.

Today we shine a spotlight on The Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles with Artistic Director Stephen Sachs.

First of all, I want to check in on the health and well-being of everyone at The Fountain Theatre. How is everyone doing during this difficult time?

Thankfully, all of us at The Fountain Theatre are healthy and working from home. Overall, our spirits are good, considering what we are going through. The temporary shutdown of our theatre in March thrust us all into a state of shock, with deep worry and sadness. Before the virus hit, The Fountain Theatre was riding a wave of success and acclaim. We had the world premiere of a hit play running on our stage, we were celebrating our 30th Anniversary season, we were launching educational outreach programs, we had just won the LA Ovation Award for Best Season and had just been honored by the LA Drama Critics Circle with the Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence in theatre. Then COVID-19 struck. And everything stopped.

What do the days look like right now for those who work at The Fountain Theatre?

The painful reality is that our building now sits empty. That kills me. Hurts my soul. Until we are permitted to bring audiences back, our staff is focused on continuing to communicate with and build The Fountain Theatre community. We are accomplishing this with phone calls to subscribers and donors, emails, social media and online programming. The daily business of accounting and bill-paying for the company still remains, even during this shutdown period. Because we all work from home, our staff meets every week via Zoom. Our Board of Directors remain very involved in overseeing the organization. The urgency now is on contributed giving. And there has been an outpouring of public support from our patrons. A stream of donations has been flowing in, along with personal messages of support and encouragement. It is invigorating to be reminded how important The Fountain Theatre is to so many people.

How much planning is going on both short term and long term for the theater? I would like to hear about the immediate plans for the theater, it's upcoming productions etc., and what the theater is hoping/planning for in future months.

Our planning has been two-fold: short-term triage and long-ball forecasting. Our immediate task was to suspend the run of our current production, with the intention of resuming the run when the theatre reopened. We also had to postpone to next year our 300-seat fundraising Gala at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. And put our educational arts programs on hold. Shortly after the virus hit, one of the first things I did was create a new organizational cashflow forecast for 2020 that I could adjust in real time. Events were changing so rapidly, I needed to generate a spreadsheet that could adapt as developments unfolded, both pro and con. This helps me chart our course forward. We had projected to reopen in August and resume the run of the play in September. But that is now looking less likely. This crisis is longer than anyone anticipated. California has responded well to the health and safety guidelines, but Los Angeles remains a virus hot spot in this state. I anticipate that theaters will be among the last businesses in LA to reopen - and what will that look like? Our audiences sitting six feet apart and wearing masks? Actors standing physically apart donning protective gear? We don't know. More and more theaters are now facing the bleak reality of not reopening until 2021. And if so, how do you keep your organization vital and alive until then? Our task is to transform this crisis into an opportunity for creative thinking.

Do you have plans to bring any previously filmed productions/upcoming events/classes etc. online?

We have already initiated a new multi-campaign of online programming. We have a weekly online gathering called Saturday Matinee, led by our Community Engagement Coordinator, that brings the public together to share their experiences and enjoy the talents of poets, actors and musicians who are featured each week. We also have Theatre Talk, a one-on-one in-depth chat with Fountain directors, actors, designers, playwrights, and Board members. We are also live-streaming the readings of new plays, including this week's offering starring Tony nominee Kathleen Chalfant. We plan to publicly share previously-filmed productions from our vast video library, but have encountered difficult terms from Actors Equity Association, which we hope to resolve.

What is the best way for people to help the theater right now?

All of us in the LA Theatre community require two kinds of need: financial support and loyalty. Every theatre 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. Together.

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