The main thrust that came out of the #NewPlay Los Angeles (#LAThtr) watch party was that the issues we were hearing during part one of the action steps portion were not the same issues expressed from the Los Angeles theater practitioners in the room.
Photo taken by Cindy Marie Jenkins
We started the meetup discussing the bullet points Trisha Mead provided from Rocco Landesman’s opening speech. We began discussing the fifth point, that regional theaters should be doing work based within the community. The recent news that Alabama Shakespeare Festival is producing plays about local communities and attendee Tracy Elliot confirmed that New Orleans is a community that likes to see itself on stage were two examples. This led to the question, would Los Angeles go see plays about Los Angeles citizens? Soon it was determined that a theater’s geographical community may be different than its audience. Mark Petrie, of Knightsbridge Theatre, said they do not look at physical location for a source of audience, but their audience comes from connections and friends from people in the show, hence why musicals always puts more buts in seats. Rachel Stoll raised the issue of how nomadic theater companies can engage in geographic community as they have less time to build physical relationships. The idea of geography-based community was still considered an important issue with the agreement that sometimes the biggest prevention to connecting different geographies was the traffic.
Los Angeles Productions Touring Los Angeles
How can a new play connect to different communities in Los Angeles, which is so vast and traffic so bad, that someone who is driving 30-45 miles to see a show could spend up to an hour and half in traffic? Los Angeles is so wide/vast/diverse, a lot of small theaters are needed to tell community stories. With an estimate of only .5% of Los Angeles residents seeing theater, could the model of co-productions work for these small theaters? Could a small theater in Pasadena co-produce a new play with a small theater in Long Beach? This idea led to the notion that Los Angeles theater functions more like profit theater, though they have non-profit status. The tickets sales, and for some companies membership dues, is what sustains the small theaters, not grants. It was brought up that Los Angeles theater survives on thirty percent of the house.
Is Los Angeles to Theater What Vancouver is to Film?
If theaters could help each other take new works to different communities in the Los Angeles basin, the group agreed that Los Angeles could be where the nation brings new work to find its legs. Chil Kong, director/actor and founder of Lodestone Theater Ensemble, said he is working with producers in New York to bring new plays to Los Angeles for their first production. Due to the Actors Equity 99-seat contract, plays can be produced cheaper in Los Angeles, than in New York or other locations. Due to the high supply of Equity actors, not able to work in theater before the AEA 99-seat plan was created in the ’80s, it has created a system that might be ripe for new play development. While it was agreed that the little-to-no pay for artists in Los Angeles is a systematic problem, and King is the first one to fight for Los Angeles artists to get first right refusal for future productions, he also said it can help the new play sector. It was agreed that theater in Los Angeles is improving and quality is increasing, compared to when the AEA 99-Seat plan was first created and theater in Los Angeles was mainly used as a way for actors to showcase their work to the film industry. LA Weekly’s Stephen Leigh Morris, writes about how Los Angeles can seize a national leadership role through producing new works.
To work together we need to talk more to each other. We use the excuse (because it is usually true) that we are too busy creating our own work to meet one another and see each others work. The people at the meetup committed to see each other’s work and meet on a monthly basis. Many people at this meetup met for the very first time, and learned in depth, what each other was working on. We wanted to provide this opportunity for other Los Angeles theater artists by meeting on a monthly basis. Maybe a co-production will happen because one producer is sharing about their project and a theater producer, who works on the other side of the Los Angeles basin, will know that their community will connect to the same story. In light of the TCG National Conference being located in Los Angeles this summer, there is no better time for us to continue to ask and explore how Los Angeles theater can be a part of the national new play conversation.
Dennis Baker lives the ultimate freelance life as an actor, teaching artist, fight director and also working in web design, web development and search engine optimization. You can follow him at @dennisbaker