Sunday, June 6th, 2010 Diary Entry
Let us begin today with another exercise in identification, as it were. Dionysos encourages us to return to our source, which is without identification or interference from the mind or the shackles of life, and that is why we celebrate him so. But actors identify with him nonetheless- it is perfectly organic to do so; our minds are tools for such. We thank Dionysos for the Life he has given us- in Greece, probably obviously most obviously for the cultivation of grapevines. Or other wet vegetation. Dionysos, the Liberator. Eleutherios. And in Eleutherae, we begin with a rural festival- a πομπή, with φαλλοφόροι, who, as the word implies, carry φαλλοί. A phallic procession- in which we carry the symbol of creation and fertility in the universe. There are other participants- κανηφόροι, ὀβελιαφόροι, σκαφηφόροι, ὑδριαφόροι, ἀσκοφόροι… etc. etc., and of course there’s singing and dancing. If anyone reads this who has never studied either Greek or theatre, well, it’s fun, so get on it if you like. Obviously you don’t need a πομπή to celebrate God. It’s just quite a wonderful way to do so.
Then Thespis came along. Here comes the identification. He put on a mask and assumed a role. Ever since, actors have put on masks and channeled Dionysos so as to assume roles. Great festivals began in honor of Dionysos as actors would perform tragedies, comedies, satyr plays- and so on until modern day. Many have forgotten their primal nature, but Dionysos will always remind us eventually. It is through his great and holy work that actors perform magic, that actors are healers. It is through the god of purification, catharsis, that we purge ourselves. Purgatory, hehehe.
Now, another identification. Of course I do not think actors to be superior to other human beings, so much as a different flavor. And lots of flavors are tasty, but this one is one of my favorites. Let me use a little story here. One of my exes has always been something of a Dionysos personified, with an emphasis on Silenus- you know how Jim Morrison would just take tons of drugs just because they were offered him? Well, he was that kind of guy. I remember once he offered me some ecstasy and told me a story of how Mohammed had spoken with Gabriel… but I was not much in the mood for ecstasy, nor was I much in the mood for being loved at that point in my life. His love was too wild, too strong, too quick- I shied away. So we had a bit of a mutual breakup. But I have always felt very “lovingly” about him anyway, if that makes sense. And I have enjoyed his forays in the arts, usually. But here is what I remember most about him: He says that improvisation is the ultimate path to enlightenment. And I may agree that it is at least my favorite- because it is the path for me too. It is an expedient and fun as fuck celebratory path.
So here is what I think. Actors, true devotees of Dionysos, improvisors- they are not afraid to take a mask and put it on. But you know what? The real healers always know it’s a mask. They are always there in the moment ready to meet other masks too, in truth and presence. Unlike so many other people in the world, when we say something, we know we’re only saying it for fun. When politicians lie, they are doing it because they are afraid and they even half believe themselves. However, when one spends time with actors, one quickly discovers that you can never trust a word they say because they slip into satire half the time. But we recognize this and we play with each other like this. We role-play with one another as well- there are certain dramatic role-playing gatherings which do act as purgative therapy for us, whether in class or just for fun. It shows us the ways of the world and the ways of our Selves. It’s very extreme, but very worth it. And we know not to take ego seriously! We know that we are only masks playing out intentions.
So. Speaking of taking ego seriously. I will note something today because I think it a bit relevant to today. And what is a grimoire but a collection of correspondences, at times. The subject- fame. We all know (and those who are awake remind us) that we should not focus on fame, but service. Humans often gravitate towards fame either because they wish to be treated as a celebrity and to be literally celebrated and given favors in this world wherever they might go while at the same time being celebrated (or defamed) as gossip, or because they have a sense of that deep-rooted primal fear-pain which fears death and so they seek immortality in something which they think will be long-lasting (even though nothing lasts forever, as Dionysos, my Lord of the Ephemeral, shows us).
Achilles, because he knew he would die, chose fame over a long happy life at home. When Odysseus met with him in the underworld, Achilles had realized that he made the wrong choice. While everyone wants to receive validation and love, death is no reason to act out of fear. There is nothing to fear from death, or anything else. These persons need only reconnect with their source to realize the truth… something Achilles struggled with before that early death. At least he tried. So, from fear to an overcompensation of attachment on a part of the ego? Or just the ego itself. I see a lot of strange associations with fame in modern society. Lady Gaga who says she is Tinkerbell and will die if she does not receive your clapping, who chases fame like a lover and sings of the paparazzi, among other things. I like her outfits but I must say she’s not my favorite example of gender-fuckery, somehow, with the way she treats this illusory extension of ego. (That and she has no good rhythm or bass sections.) I dunno what it is. Then there’s that Kate that always gets talked about in the tabloids, that one with eight kids who broke up with that Jon fellow. For her work on Dancing with the Stars, I’ve heard many say she’s awful for spending so much time on her career rather than stay at home being a mother. I say, there’s nothing wrong with a career or providing for your children (other than the fact reality TV is basically a waste of space)- why say such hateful things and especially from such a source? Why such gossip? It’s a mask, too. So maybe she seems to be rather dysfunctional in regards to her attitude towards fame, if the headlines we shove at each other are at all correct (I often think they’re made up like predictable cheesy plots, and everyone disagrees about them anyway). Oh well. There is no such thing as fame, really, celebrity she has, and yet- media (I was bored at work and read a tabloid- and hungry waiting for Luken in Hollywood so I stopped in a pizza place and watched some CNN while I was writing- so I don’t know how much you can trust… haha why trust media anyway) claims that she wants more fame, even thinking that… hahaha she wants to use this to propel her towards acting fame- which she speaks of in ways she cannot fathom. She has no knowledge of the craft of channeling Dionysos yet- so we get to watch her ignorance on national television, but, oh well, maybe she’ll learn and fix something. Haha and I guess she said she liked that Paparazzi song, too… she said it speaks to her? And then there’s some other chick (I’ve also read this part in a tabloid) who won the Bachelor show and she’s reported as “jealous” of her bachelor’s Dancing with the Stars partner, which the tabloid said would be a “better match” for him anyway, for various superficial reasons. So she is apparently rushing the wedding- and she and her bachelor both make numerous appearances around the city to try to keep their “fame” and celebrity wheel a-rollin’. This next bit I heard in pieces from a rapper’s girlfriend- but it’s fairly typical- well you know how rappers all sing in each others’ songs. Well one of them got a hit song and lots of money and girls so he developed a big head and forgot about his friends and treated his fame as the most important thing… when it is just an illusion. I look at all this and wonder why they bother, when I know that service is the glory of God. I know the universe wants to realign itself as such and yet everyone often chases after what is unimportant like a big character who has forgotten they are wearing a mask. I guess this doesn’t matter. Some of us will be called to serve and some of us would rather cling to a possession.
Yet, even if service is our true calling, I think we all want fame anyway. Because we do all want validation, acceptance, celebration- and we have all probably at some point in our lives felt separate from God. So we have felt fear. And so we seek some kind of immortality, even though we know all things pass. Many of us do not want fame for the most part. For instance, I would not want anyone to know all about me… I don’t really want the whole world to see all of me! Though we must accept anything God throws our way, as to do otherwise is dysfunctional. But obviously I use discretion anyway in many parts of my life- it’s a small world, after all ;) Even more proof that fame is ultimately illusory.
Sometimes people like to hear stories about celebrities I’ve met or events such as red carpet shit, velvet rope openings, hot tub parties, book signings, whatever- and so I tell them. And some are fun stories, I suppose, though there was only ever one signing I got the kind of excited about that I knew it was stupid and egoic, haha! I actually bothered to wait in line just to buy the product and compliment the man for how much his products in the past have pleased me. I was just a real fan that time, so, fuck, my ego got all excited staring itself in the face. But, yes, I know it is all an illusion- juuust ego- just as Tolle says. And that was me labeling my attitude as stupid. It even makes me a bit embarrassed the way some people look at these stories and therefore at me, saying such strange things about fame and “stars” and yet forgetting they are each literally stars too… but embarrassment is ego, too. Tolle also covers this topic in A New Earth, I have discovered. Here is what he has to say about fame:
“The well-known phenomenon of ‘name dropping,’ the casual mention of who you know, is part of the ego’s strategy of gaining a superior identity in the eyes of others and therefore in its own eyes through association with someone ‘important’. The bane of being famous in this world is that who you are becomes totally obscured by a collective mental image. Most people you meet want to enhance their identity- the mental image of who they are- through association with you. They themselves may not know that they are not interested in you at all, but only in strengthening their ultimately fictitious sense of self. They believe that through you they can be more. They are looking to complete themselves through you, or rather through the mental image they have of you as a famous person, a larger-than-life collective conceptual identity.
The absurd overvaluation of fame is just one of the many manifestations of egoic madness in our world. Some famous people fall into the same error and identify with the collective fiction, the image people and the media have created of them, and they begin to actually see themselves as superior to ordinary mortals. As a result, they become more and more alienated from themselves and others, more and more unhappy, more and more dependent on their continuing popularity. Surrounded only by people who feed their inflated self-image, they become incapable of genuine relationships.
Albert Einstein, who was admired as almost superhuman and whose fate it was to become one of the most famous people on the planet, never identified with the image the collective mind had created of him. He remained humble, egoless. In fact, he spoke of ‘a grotesque contradiction between what people consider to be my achievements and abilities and the reality of who I am and what I am capable of.’
That is why it is hard for a famous person to be in a genuine relationship with others. In a genuine relationship, there is an outward flow of open, alert attention toward the other person in which there is no wanting whatsoever. That alert attention is Presence. It is the prerequisite for any authentic relationship. The ego always either wants something, or if it believes there is nothing to get from the other, it is in a state of utter indifference: It doesn’t care about you. And so, the three predominant states of egoic relationships are: wanting, thwarted wanting (anger, resentment, blaming, complaining), and indifference.”
Illusory sense of self. So, in line with that, here’s a fun story… once as I was walking from work to a coffee shop, there was a camera crew outside work, and I spoke with a man there. He was terribly excited about a new external physical addition to his ego which he had just purchased, and he told me that he was excited because he was going to be on the news both here and in Canada… and that he had been waiting for this addition to his ego for months… and that he had an audition this afternoon… and that later he was going to look in the mirror and say, ‘You are awesome!’. Which he is. But damn, not in the now much? What a perfect example. I wonder how long his high lasted.
Another story. I knew a girl once who was on a reality show- since they’re just shitty faked gameshows featuring shitty actors (I don’t know how so many people can stand to watch), they decided to make her plot that of the “racist” girl. They gave her a blonde wig and tried to catch her at any moment she might say something questionable, which resulted in rather a topsy-turvy personal life for her afterwards. I would watch the reels with her and listen to her defend herself and complain, all pissed off about how the show had treated her. But it was almost too much for my friends and I not to say it was her own goddamn fault in the first place for ever having let herself use that language in front of a camera. But we would have to love the goof anyway because we must love everyone… even if they do the silliest things. Like forget to distinguish between masks and reality. When they treat the illusory self as self.
Who else does silly things? Greedy corporations or national leaders or secret ebil societyz who also act out of fear, which has also unfortunately been on my mind. Do they think that if they make elbows bend backwards they will work better rather than be injured horribly? But we must love the people involved anyway. And because they are so powerful, we must also serve them lovingly like a carpenter king or cupbearing catamite would, I suppose. Ahh, but I still judge service as boring sometimes. Or painful sometimes. I guess I do not yet love completely. But I have been trying my best- making sure I can help as many women as possible feel that they’ve formulated the most beautiful external ego trends for themselves. Where I work, it is held to heart that life is meaningless, and so fashion is as good a way to spend one’s time as anything else. In fact, the best way for many of these people, and why not? It is an art as well. It is just that some let themselves become rather oblivious over it… they forget to love and serve as well. And sometimes models get WAY too serious… haha. Though I saw a fantastic runway event some weeks ago with models doing Cirque du Soleil type acrobatic shit on ribbons in the air… now THAT is some beautiful art too! So I know that beauty can shine even in a sea of banal superficiality… and I think I’ve seen plenty of that floating around in human form. Or so I judge. Good news is, I’ll soon be heading to a place which fosters character in the feminine- you know how Thelema says everyone is a star? So does this place. It encourages yoga and all sorts of helpful ways of interacting with the universe as a whole woman or person- AND fashion, too!
Once Luken looked over at some paparazzi photographing who-knows-who -I didn’t recognize them- while we were on the way to the theatre- they were at some red carpet event or other. He pondered aloud, “Do they think they are better than us?” And he wondered if the paparazzi think so too. I don’t know that those people would really think that. Oh well, why bother worrying about whether another is overly narcissistic or not? Unless it were somehow pertinent to the present moment, which it probably never would be. If they are, they’re insane, that’s all there is to it.
So yeah. Living in L.A. reminds one that there are a ton of people who have forgotten their source and got all caught up in their masks. Who value fame over service. So I mention this today. But there are still healers left in the world. And, haha, damn, healers are the kind of people who will PAY to create and serve rather than always seek to be paid and churn out a faster but shittier, poisoned product. I mean, I know, scientifically, there’s no such thing as 100% efficient work- I remember that even Crowley says we run with imperfect engines. But I still think that the way “enlightened”, present actors work is something pure and wonderful in the world… I don’t know if I would have always been so pleased with my reflection if not for Dionysos. And I’m not saying there’s not tons of shitty theatre- but it’s the purest gems I’m looking for. Those which resonate with my soul in honest, present catharsis. True healers will also throw themselves at a sea of sleepers if it’s the right thing for the moment, without worrying about judgment, I note.
I read in L.A. Weekly some weeks ago an article called “Why Theatre Matters”. Happened to pick it up on the bus one day and I liked the cover. The cover of the issue featured a nymph-like young lady wearing only plants and barely-there sheer stuff. Now, arts attendance is apparently down. Me, though, being such a worshipper of Dionysos, I go to the theatre a few times a week often, I improvise and associate with improvisors/artists/actors/comedians, and some acquaintances whose theatrical projects I have been following and supporting happened to be in the article too. Today, I think the “Why Theater Matters” article is worth repeating here, and opinions expressed therein are the journalist’s own but I agree with several statements. Steven Leigh Morris says,
“This past January, a press release arrived at the Weekly offices that caught my interest because it publicized a play written by my former UCLA professor Theodore Apstein. Before coming to UCLA, Mr. Apstein taught playwriting at Columbia University. For 27 years after that, until he died in 1998, he taught the craft at the Westwood campus. Despite an accomplished writing career in television and film, he never taught screenwriting.
I remember how Apstein spoke with affection for the theater, and of the various conundrums involved in having his plays put on in New York. His last play, which remains unproduced, was an autobiographical work named Leaving Kiev. This was the play discussed in the aforementioned press release:
‘Theodore Apstein’s career extends all the way back to the early days of television, writing for the dramatic series The General Electric Theater, The Alcoa Hour, Mystery Theater, Studio One and Hallmark Hall of Fame. He wrote for such television dramas as The Untouchables, Ben Casey, The F.B.I., The Virginian, Marcus Welby, M.D., The Waltons, Kung Fu and Another World, among others.’
Next comes the sentence that stands out for me: ‘He also wrote some on- and off-Broadway plays.’
That’s it. Theater. Broadway theater! He also wrote some… plays. Might those plays have a title?
If only this were some West Coast aberration, but in fact it’s indicative of a far more pervasive, waning regard for theater in our culture.
For the record, Mr. Apstein wrote a play called The Innkeepers, which was produced on Broadway in 1956, directed by Jose Quintero, the L.A. City College- and USC-educated stage director from Panama, who went on to become one of the most celebrated directors of Broadway and off-Broadway plays in the American theater. Another of Apstein’s plays, Come Share My House, was produced off-Broadway in 1960. But the larger point is the divide between the commonly held low regard for theater and its actual relevance- far greater than most are willing to acknowledge. From that chasm emerge the questions of why do theater at all, in these times, and what makes a good producer. After all, producers need a good reason, an incentive to keep producing plays. Because if they stop, we’ll all be less than zero for it, culturally in this tiny corner of history, and in an even tinier backwater of recognized theatrical activity called Los Angeles.
The National Endowment for the Arts recently reported that arts attendance in the United States has hit new lows, with 34 percent attending an arts event once a week, down from 39 percent in 2002. (However, the report also noted a spike in audiences procuring their arts fix through the Internet.)
Add this to the emblematic proposal by the Los Angeles Unified School District to eliminate all elementary school arts teachers by the end of 2012, when statistics show a clear pattern of arts attendance established in those formative years.
This apathy toward the arts, and toward artists, is nothing new in America, but with text-messaging, tweeting, cell-photo-taking and social-networking technologies all tied into the escalating global-corporate control of almost all of our affairs — now including unlimited corporate spending in political campaigns under the guise of ‘free speech’, thanks to our Supreme Court — we appear to be surfing on a slow-moving wave toward a kind of globally engineered beachhead. On this beachhead, the sort of independence of thought and language that gets expressed through the arts in general, and in great theatre in particular, gets dashed on the rocks.
On this beachhead, there exists a system of economics and communications that, more than ever before, financially serves the few at the expense of the many, while the people who govern this beachhead complain about the ‘elitism’ of the arts. On this beachhead, history is either forgotten, or rewritten, or reduced to a few slogans. Here, the kinds of belligerence and barbarism that have always been part of the fabric of American life are given freer and freer rein, while qualities of compassion and critical thought, which have also always been part of the American life, slowly wash out to sea. We need look no further than the health care debate to see the kinds of obstinancy and greed that now pass for debate. And so it was in ancient Greece, an empire similarly ensconced in domestic barbarism and military adventurism. Yet it was the theater that reformulated the debates of that era with humanity and intelligence, and put those qualities back into the air that we still breathe more than 2,000 years later.
Do the people who belittle the arts do so because they’re too expensive, irrelevant, or because the arts have the capacity to say unpredictable and unpleasant things? This beachhead vaguely resembles the former Soviet Union. They simply took artists they didn’t like and either shot them or exiled them to Siberia. We’re not killing or dumping artists. We’re trying to dump the thoughts themselves.
This is not cause for despair, though it may sound vaguely apocalyptic. History shows us that the tip of the spear that gored tyrannies of the past was laced with the arts — particularly the arts that were officially buried. (At least we haven’t approached that point.) The Russian poet, songwriter and actor Vladimir Visotsky, with a voice like Tom Waits and a cult following – despite being banned by the government – was instrumental in discrediting and bringing down the Soviet Union. He died while playing Hamlet. Thousands followed his casket to the grave – to the profound annoyance of the Soviets.
Playwright Vaclav Havel’s Velvet Revolution in communist Czechoslovakia follows a similar pattern. The power-challenging, world-influencing plays of Athol Fugard in apartheid-era South Africa emerged from one of the most despotic regimes of its time. Moliere was in and out of favor in the French court, thanks to a church that had little patience for his satires. The cardinal whom he ridiculed in Tartuffe, and who censored him, is long forgotten, while Moliere has theaters, and the French equivalent of the Tony Awards, named after him.
The arts in general, and theater in particular, have historically pried open the caskets of hypocrisy and dead yet despotic ideas, and tossed their contents back into the sea. The lack of support of the arts is a cause for distress, and fury, and dogged and wily resistance, because the underlying reason for the arts and for the theater will never be irrelevant or too expensive to realize in some form. Because fighting for the arts is fighting for our humanity, and fighting for our humanity is fighting for our lives. I can’t think of a more trenchant reason to be producing theater in the 21st century.
The city of Berlin spends more on the arts than the entire federal government of the United States. It’s now been documented- here I refer to the study called Outrageous Fortune, by Todd London, Ben Pesner and Zannie Giraud Voss, published by the Theater Development Fund- that the network of midsize regional theaters across our nation has become too paralyzed by fear and the imperatives of institutional survival to move the art form forward, thereby consigning those theaters to a kind of creeping irrelevance. The evidence for that lies in the aging demographics of their patrons, in a now-staggering system established 60 years ago to provide a viable alternative to the commercial fare of Broadway.
In the absence of arts funding and the intransigence of our regional theaters, the responsibility to keep the theater at the forefront of ideas and passions that are percolating in the United states now falls back squarely on the shoulders of our independent producers, and once again, I can think of no better reason to be producing theater in this country, in these times.
So, if there’s even a flicker of belief that our theater does actually matter, the next question is how to keep it relevant, and inviting, financially and aesthetically, to new generations. The most important of challenges comes down to a juggling act between the comfort of the familiar and its ability to seduce audiences and pay back investors; and the discomfort of the unfamiliar, with its sense of discovery and its appeal to the seething, rebellious young who have no money, but who may be the investors of tomorrow, and their willingness to embrace anything that their parents’ generation doesn’t know about. This isn’t rocket science. It’s the historical shape of how ideas and art forms move forward.
It’s easier to embrace the familiar, but it’s also more shortsighted. This obsession with the familiar – familiar plays and playwrights, even new playwrights familiar to those who occupy our play-development fortresses – is too often mistaken for prudence. Prudence is too often mistaken for a good thing in the theater, when in actuality, vision and courage are the qualities that have always propelled the arts forward – as well as the sciences and industry, for that matter. Prudence, without courage, leads to the plight so many of our theaters now find themselves in, as they wonder where their young audiences have gone, and why they can’t pay their bills.
It’s a very good producer who plucks a hit, like, say, Avenue Q or Urinetown, from a fringe festival and starts building investment and cachet around that project to see if it can survive off-Broadway, on Broadway or, with the help of the Internet, on tours around the country. There’s a sort of salvation for the art form in that kind of thinking.
Or in the kind of thinking by Center Theatre Group’s Michael Ritchie, who took an unknown play by an unknown writer, Doug Steinberg’s Nighthawks, based on the Edward Hopper painting. Ritchie’s literary manager brought it to him, he read it and put it on at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. It was a decision based almost entirely on impulse and personal conviction, and whether or not the play was commercially or even critically successful is irrelevant to the blood-and-guts motive of putting it on, of letting conviction drive the engine, and letting marketing concerns sit in the back.
To hell with critics, and boards of directors and other committees of approval that make pablum of our theater. The conviction of the producer, interlocked with the conviction of the artist, is the kind of thinking that’s going to imbue our theater with newfound relevance. That’s just theater history. It’s what made London’s Royal Court Theatre the breeding ground for generations of new plays that almost always got mixed reviews, but that has nothing to do with their importance.
Please don’t take this as some romantic defense of artistic or commercial failure- that’s a balmy island where embittered critics go to retire. I’m not suggesting we stop producing the latest revival of The Color Purple, or Dreamgirls, or David Mamet’s latest whatever with Annette Bening or Laurie Metcalf or Martin Sheen or whoever. I’m saying that amid all that calculation, leave room for the other, the way Joseph Papp did or Cameron Mackintosh does; leave room for the impulsive, for the possibility that you may be discovering and nurturing something new, because none of us can really know what a failure is after one production.
Chekhov’s The Seagull got shot out of the sky after its first production, in St. Petersburg. (Its second production did just fine in Moscow.) Imagine the loss had the playwright, or his producer, believed the critics and committees who defined that play as a failure. Imagine if Chekhov had left the theater, as he said he was going to do after this initial response to his first play.
If we can’t get 20-year-olds back into the theater because we keep thinking that marketing strategies and the consensus of committees are more important than conviction, that’s when we’ll be facing failure like we’ve never seen failure before. If we can’t afford to put the risky on the stage, there’s no excuse for not developing it in the laboratory, so that the possibility of it living and breathing remains.
This brings us to Los Angeles. In 2008, L.A. welcomed more than 25.6 million visitors. Direct visitor spending totaled $13.8 billion that year. Los Angeles continues to be the second-ranked destination for overseas visitors after New York. Add to that the actors’ unions’ various small-theater contracts- which are both our blessing and our curse. They’re our blessing because they permit a breadth of theatrical activity with some of the best acting and writing talent in the world- a breadth and a talent pool that are the envy of most cities. They’re our curse because the economics of those contracts consign that activity to unlivable wages and second-rate production values. Until we figure out a way to bridge that divide, the most obvious purpose of our theater is that of a gigantic laboratory, completely supported by our economic, professional and even cultural realities.
Our folly is that because we do almost as much theater as they do in New York, we think we should be doing the same kind of theater they do in New York, we think our ticket booths should look like they do in New York, as well as our theaters and our awards ceremonies- when the incentives, the economics and the culture couldn’t be more different.
Until our Equity contracts change, we’ll always be the farm team. And that’s not so terrible, and not such an indignity, once we recognize our value as a theater laboratory, as a generator of new plays, new musicals, new forms and, most importantly, new ideas.
With the possible exception of off-off-Broadway, New York doesn’t do so much of that anymore. They import chunks of their product from London, Chicago and Seattle, and a fraction from L.A. Those numbers should change. Why isn’t Los Angeles a premier supplier of new theater? With the talent here, and the resources, this is inexplicable at best, shameful at worst. We could generate more works for the national and even international markets were we not so fixated on presenting TV stars in the West Coast premieres of plays by Adam Rapp or Martin McDonagh or Neil LaBute.
That said, in any given week across the city, in productions running two weeks or longer (not including sketch comedy), almost 40 percent of the city’s theatrical output is original work. These data, taken from L.A. Weekly’s listings, also suggest a correlation between costs and new work: In the Valleys, where theater rentals are lower, some 60 percent of the shows are new plays; on the Westside and beaches, it drops to 50 percent, and in Hollywood, where property leases really creep up, it drops to 40 percent. In the midsize and larger theaters, the ratio of world premieres plummets to 10 percent. Clearly, with our swath of small theaters, we’re already a new play incubator, but those new plays aren’t getting much traction, either because they’re not very good, or because there’s no system in place to develop them properly or to shine a light on them.
Here’s a wish list for what’s required in the trenches: (1) We need producers who think of themselves as curators- not of one production but of a series of productions incubated here, some targeted for their own neighborhood, some for Broadway, some for Chicago, some for Austin, Texas, and some for Warsaw, Poland. Local producer Rick Culbertson has called for a league of L.A. producers- a good idea, so long as their purpose has a broader vision than bickering with the actors’ union over producers’ profit margins.
(2) We need nonprofit institutions with sufficient influence to curate local festivals of new works for national markets. Since we lost A S K Theatre Projects, which was brilliant at wooing the nation’s top theaters to its annual Common Ground Festival of works in development, REDCAT, a theater in Disney Hall administered and originally funded by CalArts, has emerged as A S K’s most viable replacement with a similar commitment to interdisciplinary performance. Aside from its programming of international and local companies, and REDCAT’s semiannual Studio series of workshop productions, REDCAT and Center Theatre Group are involved in the planning of an ‘Under the Radar’ performance festival in 2011, based on the model at New York’s Public Theatre, and using some of the same organizers. David Sefton continues to program scintillating works in his International Theatre Festival at UCLA Live. (Why isn’t more of our best work going abroad?) The emergence of the noncurated Hollywood Fringe festival, this coming June 17-27, is also a very promising sign, as is the first “microfestival” presented in Los Angeles by the national Network of Ensemble Theaters, later this year.
(3) We need an L.A. Theater Chamber of Commerce, created for the express purpose of establishing liasons between our companies and those in other American cities, with the aim of intranational exchanges of productions. If it’s kept to a grassroots level of mutual hospitality, one level where theater is currently thriving, such a chamber could facilitate exchanges that are as viable financially as they are artistically. Note: A S K Theatre Projects was funded on Audrey Skirball-Kenis Foundation money. REDCAT exists because of Disney money. These were, and are, the hippest theater scenes in town.
Which leads us to wish No. (4). Eli Broad, where are you? Or the moguls at Paramount Pictures or Searchlight? You could fund an L.A. Theater Chamber of Commerce while sneezing and not even notice. Don’t do it just because it’s the Right Thing to Do. We understand that’s the most unpersuasive and possibly offensive reason for you to do anything. Just visit Upright Citizens Brigade on a Saturday night, if you can get in past all the teens. Or visit the Steve Allen Theater. Or REDCAT. That’s where you’ll see a kind of theater that bounces off the walls. And most of it born in L.A. You should get behind it, because its heat, and its cool, will rub off on you, and make you look as good as it makes you feel.
Next summer, we’ll have a rare convergence of activities that could propel us into a national spotlight. For the first time in its 50-year history, Theatre Communications Group- the national theatre-support organization and watchdog (it publishes American Theatre magazine)- will hold its annual conference in Los Angeles.
TCG executive director Teresa Eyring said that the organization chose L.A. for a number of reasons: ‘It represents a microcosm of how theater has evolved in this nation, from large resident companies such as the Center Theatre Group to small ensembles of every stripe. It is an extremely progressive theater community in terms of its consciousness of internationalism, arts learning, new work and new forms. And it has grown up next to the film and television industries, which at one time were believed to be a major threat to the very existence of theater. We are very excited about the energy and possibility presented by Los Angeles for our 2011 conference.’
Meanwhile, with the plans for our own ‘Under the Radar’ theater festival to coincide with the TCG converence, in conjunction with what will then be the second Hollywood Fringe festival, the eyes of the country will be on our theater in the summer of ’11. Now’s the time to determine what we want to make of that opportunity.
There’s little reason that in this city, inventiveness should be seen as running contrary to anybody’s interests, or that we can’t take the bountiful assets of our theater community, and, through investment and rigor and wit and some daring, transform them into a kind of theater that can pay back dividends to investors, while earning the theater here some respect.
What makes a good producer? The ability to see what’s already growing in the backyard, to learn from it, to cultivate it, with the aim of harvests in years to come. That’s not only good for the art, it’s good business as well.”
So I’m fairly excited about all the excellent theatre coming up. I want to attend as many shows as possible… I want to see where we healers push our boundaries of reality, where we heal ourselves. And we do it in masks.
Also, I finally decided to get this post together because this week is an improvisation festival in which there will be many healers returning from out of town… I am excited to see the oldbies play with the newbies! It’s fairly well a wonderful apocalypse, Ganymede.