Tuesday, May 30, 2006

"Too Bad There's No Theatre in L.A."

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 3:52 PM
I find myself responding quite pleasantly to variations on this statement more often than I’d like, and more pleasantly than I feel. I always smile early in the sentence when I sense it’s coming and always respond with something like, “Interestingly, that’s really not the case. There are more (or as many) plays opening each year in ‘L.A.’ than in New York, Chicago, or London.” I don’t really get frustrated, and I don’t want to come off as the pathetic unsung artist, but instead become a cheerleader for our underappreciated scene and try to sell some tickets. The person who says to an L.A. theatre artist (or serious theatregoer) that there just isn’t very much theatre going on here immediately identifies themself as one who doesn’t regularly attend theatre. They don't even crack open the theatre sections of the L.A. Times or L.A. Weekly which every Thursday are crammed full of interesting, legitimate, generally good to great quality plays and theatre companies. Oddly, the sentence is often followed with an, “And I LOVE going to the theatre.” Obviously not enough to see what’s playing.

Check out the L.A. Times list of notable summer openings in Southern California. Keep in mind, this is the slow season. In reviewing the list, I was struck by the diversity of offerings and that the majority of productions listed are from serious theatre companies. Many of these productions will be wonderful, on par with the work you’d find on the stages of our lauded ‘theatre towns’ (see New York, London, and recently Chicago...you'll even hear about Seattle, D.C., and Minneapolis! over L.A.). And yes many, many of these productions will be awful...on par with work you'd find on the stages in any of these supposedly better 'theatre towns'.

So what will it take to get L.A. included/branded as a 'theatre town'? Don Shirley writes about it in this week’s City Beat column. He suggests the need for a few defined theatre districts and notes that “Because the venues sprawl over such a wide area, the size of the scene remains relatively invisible.” Get several 99-seat theatre producers in a room for a ‘discussion’ on the topic and they’ll soon begin blaming poor quality, lack of theatrical experimentation, short attention spans, the fact that young people want more multi-media(!) productions, parking problems and Hollywood.

I suspect it’s a marketing problem. And, assuming we don’t have the money for a “Got Milk?” style campaign promoting the fact that L.A. Theatre EXISTS to the world, the artists are going to have to get better at getting the work seen and heard by more than just the regular L.A. theatregoer. We need a handful of small theatres to truly break out onto the national and international scenes before they break-up, re-organize and start over. One Actors’ Gang isn't enough to get L.A. labeled. And, we need a handful of new playwrights to break out from and with those theatre companies. The fact that many plays have been generated by the Taper and South Coast Rep isn't doing it for the rest of us.

To be clear, I think the large & mid-size theatres in this town (Pasadena Playhouse, Geffen Playhouse, Center Theatre Group, A Noise Within, East West Players, The Colony and down the road South Coast Rep, International City Theatre and Laguna Playhouse) are outstanding. I’m proud of them. I recommend them as part of my polite response to the uninformed non-theatregoer. Plus, the Actors' Gang and The Groundlings are known throughout the world despite their 99-seat status. It's not enough apparently. We need more companies to rise up, to expand their reach. The great thing is we don't really need to wish for something we don't already have.

Those of us who know our theatre scene, know that there are at least a dozen theatre companies operating today that are producing world-class work, in addition to the impressive list I already mentioned. Whether or not these companies will be able to rise above the status of proudly-kept secret is I think the better question.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damaso Rodriguez. Andre Lewis here, remember "Sam Houston"?


1:41 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home