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.

Friday, May 26, 2006

In the Room

posted by christiemama at 12:11 AM
We wanted to give you a little look into what goes on in the rehearsal room and behind the scene as we ramp up for Back of the Throat, so we'll be posting pictures on the blog from time to time. Here are some of the faces and names you may be seeing:

Khaled - Ammar Mahmood
Carl - Doug Newell
Bartlett - Anthony Di Novi
Shelly/Beth/Jean - Vonessa Martin
Asfoor - Aly Mawji

Director - Damaso Rodriguez
Stage Manager - Christie Wright (that's me)
Production Intern - Jennie Inglis
Set Designer - Shawn Lee
Lighting Designer - Dan Jenkins
Sound Designer - Cricket Strother Myers
Costume Designer - Rachel Canning
Production Manager - Nick Cernoch
Graphic Designer/Producer - Eric Pargac
Producer - Brad Price
Producer - Sara Hennessy

These are pictures taken on my camera phone from rehearsal tonight:

Damaso giving notes

Doug and Ammar

Anthony on break


Ammar not in character

Doug and Anthony

Action ensues

Damaso and Jennie

Anthony, Ammar, and Doug

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

imMEDIAte, back soon

posted by Katie at 1:52 PM

We just finished our 12 week run of imMEDIAte Theatre. For those of you that didn't catch it, imMEDIAte is an improvised show based on the media. We take newspaper headlines, video clips, and audience suggestions and spin them into a sixty-minute show that's different every week.

Including the fall imMEDIAte shows, which ran after the Saturday night performances of Fair Maid of the West, that puts us at 15 imMEDIAte shows in 6 months. Not a bad run. With 1 rehearsal a week and 1 show a week, it almost feels like a vacation, at least in comparison with our busier times. However, it's still enough to spark creative juices and differences a plenty.

We found that while the audiences for the show were not as huge as we'd like, they were very steady and quite receptive. At certain shows, the audience participation & comments (both of which are widely encouraged) have proved themselves invaluable to the show. While the majority of our audience for imMEDIAte was college-age folks, we know that it appeals to a much larger segment of the community as well and we're looking for more ways to get the word out. Speaking of college, we've had some good reviews from both the Campus Circle and Campus Times, so that certainly can't hurt.

We're currently holding the run due to our upcoming production of Back of the Throat. We're in full rehearsal mode and two of our imMEDIAte cast members (Doug and Vonessa) are in the show, one (Nick) is Production Managing, one (Eric) is in charge of Marketing and the website, and one (me) is Sound Board Operator. So needless to say, while we ramp up for this show, the ensemble (see my post) has to be fully devoted to nurturing Back of the Throat.

However, once we are in full swing with Back of the Throat, imMEDIAte is BACK ON starting July 8th, Saturdays @ 10pm! In the meantime, read the news and become our friend @ www.myspace.com/furiouslatenight.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Creating Buzz

posted by Eric Pargac at 12:18 PM
So here I am in the middle of the swarm. It's the marketing "hell week" that comes well before the typical production hell week. This is the time when the artwork needs to be created and the postcard design needs to be finalized, our On Stage Now website link needs to go up with a link to buy tickets, posters and banners need to be printed, all our ticketing resources need artwork...basically everything to market the show becomes due right around the same time--NOW! And not only am I the Marketing Director for the company, but I also do all the company's graphic design for print and the website. I've been working way into the night. It's exhausting, but exhilarating at the same time. I really love graphic design and when it's going well I get almost as much of a rush as performing on stage.

Our artist Valerie Meijer created the artwork based on a concept we came up with, and I did the text and graphic layout. Valerie is a fantastic artist. She has done the artwork for all our productions. I think it's really exciting and captures the essence of the show. That said, I am proud to show you the design for this show.

Here she is:

Also, check out the On Stage Now page on our website.

I have to get back to work.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Furious Plays for 2006

posted by brad at 4:14 PM
After a busy spring of reading plays and negotiating for rights (see entry from May 2nd) we are proud to finally announce our 2006 productions. Two new American Plays are coming to the Pasadena Playhouse Balcony Theatre soon. The following is pulled from our PR that went out today.



Featuring two new American plays which take explosive looks into our collective national paranoia and Christian Fundamentalism!

Back of the Throat - Los Angeles Premiere
Written by
Yussef El Guindi
Directed by
Dámaso Rodriguez

Opens Saturday, June 24, and runs through Saturday, July 29, 2006 (Previews June 21 – 23)
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 8p.m., Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Pasadena Playhouse Balcony Theatre

Yussef El Guindi’s dark comedy examines the paranoia permeating throughout America today. BACK OF THE THROAT begins with an innocuous Homeland Security investigation and quickly moves into a subversive discovery of racial profiling, civil liberties and what you should and shouldn’t keep in your home. Following a heinous terrorist attack, Khaled, an Arab-American writer is visited by two government officials. What begins as a friendly inquiry soon devolves into a chilling, full-blown investigation of his presumed ties to terrorists. At times surreal and comic, BACK OF THE THROAT examines the way in which facts (or lies), evidence (like porn magazines!) and (mis)perceptions are used to distort the truth and how matters of race impact the relationship between the accusers and the accused.

Grace - Los Angeles Premiere
Written by
Craig Wright
Directed by Dámaso Rodriguez

Opens Saturday, October 7, through Saturday, November 11, 2006 (Previews October 4 – 6)
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays – 8 p.m., Sun 7:30 p.m.
Pasadena Playhouse Balcony Theatre

An empty Florida condo, three dead bodies, police sirens blaring. Is this a shady crime scene or God’s fateful hand at work? Perceptions keep changing as we deconstruct the marriage of an intensely Christian couple, their not so religious disfigured neighbor, a shaky business deal -- and the way religious ideas make sense, and sometimes nonsense, of life's events. In this darkly funny, sometimes hilarious, deadly serious and provocative new play from Craig Wright, writer of Recent Tragic Events and HBO's “Six Feet Under,” things are never what they seem – and never were.

More info to come soon. Thanks for reading. Be Furious.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Theatre for a New Generation

posted by brad at 2:07 PM
Last month there were two interesting articles in the LA Weekly about the next generation of theatre audience (and the loss of the "traditional" audience). How do theatres and theatre companies attract and keep the next generation of theatre goers and why is it important that we do it?. Besides having to find a new career if we don't.

Successfully building a new Amercian theatre audience will no doubt require a great balancing act. Theatres and theatre companies will have to work harder at adapting their production style, marketing strategies, show choices and the overall theatre experience to attract masses of the millennials, and gen-xers and gen-yers that everyone is eager to get into their theatres. At the same time, there will have to be some level of interest and a willingness to try something new from these individuals we are all hoping to turn into "theatre goers." So, how do you help garner their interest?

That's the million dollar question. We certainly don't have it all figured out yet. However, we are trying to do whatever we can to win in this arena and become the theatre company the next generation wants and needs (still to be figured out as well). Thanks to the Pasadena Community Foundation, we have been awarded a $6,000 grant to spend on increasing our Marketing Technology. A new computer, software and programs to build stronger internet leveraging marketing campaigns and the ability to implement more "media" and technology into our productions. Direct Interaction with younger (potential) audiences through the mediums and forums that they are most comfortable with and engaged in, should be good place to start. We'll see. Anyone reading this blog should benefit from the grant. We'll now be posting lots more videoblogs, podcasts, etc. Thank you Pasadena Community Foundation.

One move the company has already made is creating our late-night comedy production - imMEDIAte theatre. Critics have called it a mix of Jon Stewart's Daily show and Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live. Furious Late Night is something that has been long in the coming, but is here to stay now. Expect a few different shows from Furious Late Night this year. For now, you can check out imMEDIAte theatre through May 20.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Tease #2

posted by Damaso Rodriguez at 3:17 PM
We've noticed the traffic to our blog picking up lately, and you can expect our blogging to start coming a lot more often as well. Just as a little teaser, we have two shows ready to unveil, and the announcement is coming soon. We've recently hired one of the city’s most sought-after publicists and together we’re putting the finishing touches on press releases and finalizing our marketing strategy. We have been advised to give it just a few more days.

We’ve assembled a great cast of 5 from hundreds of excellent actor submissions. Our production and design team is complete. And just in case there’s any doubt whether or not there really is a new play coming soon from Furious, I’m glad to write that last night was our first readthru of this yet-to-be-announced play, scheduled to open on June 24, 2006. The script is fast-paced, darkly humorous and about as relevant as theatre can get.

In other news:
-We’ve begun updating our blogger profiles so you can get easy access to info about our ensemble (of bloggers).

-Check out this month’s LA Stage Magazine which features Furious and a few other companies in a ‘moderated round table’ discussion about the “Shifting Scene of L.A.’s 99-Seat Theatres”.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Building the 2006 Season - a long entry

posted by brad at 10:01 AM
Choosing Plays. "How do you do it?" We get that question a lot. Partly I guess because people are genuinely interested in the process and probably in part because people are wondering "why" we chose or "where we found" a certain play. First things first - we read, a lot. Plays, articles, reviews, etc. There are lots of different ways to find information about new plays, then we just have to find the ones that fit - those plays that are "Furious."

We have always tried to choose boldly when selecting plays. We look for stories that stir something up inside us when we read them. High stakes, strong characters and narrative, and theatrically interesting. Those criteria usually make up what we would call a "Furious" play. We want to offer compelling and challenging stories. Nothing too easy. So, sometimes we have to look far and wide to find the "right" stories for our company to tell.

Recently, we have been focusing on finding new American plays and writers to present. We have produced several plays by British writers and some people think that's "what we do." Produce British plays. It's not. It just so happens that we have done several British plays because we really liked the writing and the stories and we had an easier time getting the rights. Some people also think we're political. Not really.

However we will do a political play if we really like the script and we will also continue to work with British writers, when the time is right again (looking into the possibility of a World Premiere for 2007 from one of our writer connections in London - more on that later). But for now, we will focus on producing new American plays for the next few years. We've always had the goal of becoming a major producer/presenter of new American plays, but as a smaller company, sometimes it has been difficult to secure rights to the American plays we're interested in.

See, it is not just about choosing the right plays. You then have to negotiate/request/secure the licensing rights to produce those play(s) you've spent months/years choosing. Many times, this part of the process is harder than the ulcer-inducing task of selecting the "right" plays. When you are a small theatre, like us, you have less seats to sell. Less seats to sell means the less box office receipts you can earn. Lesser box office earnings means less commission(s) for the playwright and the agency representing them. Business is business, even here, in "the arts."

A lot of times small companies are declined the rights because writers or agents are holding out for larger theatres to pick up the play, earning them more money as well as (hopefully) more recognition, leading to advancement of the writer's work and career.

In LA it is especially difficult because there are so many (I would have linked here to a comprehensive list of all active LA/County based theatre companies, but I can't really find a good list - anybody got one?) people competing for the same scripts. All understood. Unfortunately though, many times the bigger theatres can initiate interest in a large amount of plays for their season consideration, which then ties up the decision on licensing those plays to someone else until the larger theatre decides to produce it or not. We've seen this first hand. A few times. Not to blame the larger theatres, we'd probably do it too if we had that kind of leverage. However, it can be terribly nerve-wracking if you're on the wrong end of that power struggle, sitting and waiting, sweating, fingers crossed, hoping they will say no and you'll get your shot.

So, many times, actually "getting the rights" turns out to be the biggest challenge of all, not necessarily the time intensive process of choosing a great season of material. I also want to be clear that this dilemma is mostly the same for all theatres, not just us. It is just something we felt compelled to writing about now because we have recently been going through a very long selection and rights process ourselves - to build our 2006 mini season (more on why it is a "mini" season later - but don't worry).

After deciding to pursue a new play by a pretty hot writer (for the West Coast premiere of a new American play by a writer we had produced before) we were told by the Agency that we were in the running. In fact, we were told that there was a bigger theatre interested and if they said no, we would get it. You can see a recurring theme here...

We started playing the waiting game, making follow up calls and after a few weeks we were declined the rights because a larger theatre chose the play for their 06-07 season. We were pretty disappointed. We were very happy for the writer (whom we really like) that a larger theatre would be producing what we thought was a really important/challenging/daring new play, but disappointed nonetheless. We'll now have to buy a ticket.

The silver lining: Over the past six months the company has been quietly working to establish relationships with a few substantial literary agencies who represent some very talented young/emerging American playwrights. A major goal coming out of our retreat last summer. Build new relationships with young American writers. This focus has proven extremely beneficial to us and has given us the opportunity to read and consider many new plays that are not even published yet. Sent to us from the agencies - it was working.

Through one of these newly established agency relationships we were able to find and garner the rights to two powerful new plays by dynamic and new American playwrights that we will present in 2006. We're certainly learning the benefits of getting in the game early and making strong connections to get the "rights" you want. Seems obvious, but sometimes making the real connections takes a lot of time and patience. Sometimes it simply boils down to past history with the agency, a playwright, etc whether or not you can get their next play.

In the end, you still have to do your homework, know your writers, be totally committed to what you want and then of course, be willing to change at a moment's notice. That play we didn't get led us to the two we did get.

So, what's the name of the two plays we now have the rights to and will produce this year? That's a whole other entry. Check back in a few days for the big announcement. In the meantime, Be Furious.