Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times blog, Culture Monster, hosted a panel titled “Is LA a Theater Town?” The title alone attracted a huge amount of attention from the Los Angeles theatre community, and even more so when the panelists were announced. To the surprise of many, the only representative of the 99-seat theatres on the panel was Tim Robbins from The Actors Gang. The panel was disappointing for a lot of people who attended, mainly because it centered on a negative discussion of what is “wrong” with LA theatre and what makes it so difficult to accomplish. In addition, the panel lasted about an hour and lacked a question and answer period.
Michael Seel, the executive director at Boston Court, was present for the panel (as well as a few other Boston Court staff members), and posted a note on Facebook in response to the panel soon after it ended. Michael’s note, titled “Of course, LA is a theatre town. The next conversation…,” is replicated in full below:
“Like many of you, I was disappointed in the overall content of tonight’s Culture Monster-sponsored panel. “Is LA a Theatre Town” was cut short early by the panelists saying, “Yes, it is and we shouldn’t be asking that question.” I agree with that sentiment. If we have to ask the question, then where is our confidence in what we are doing? The panel discussed issues that have been talked-to-death: geography, the car factor, the economy, film/TV vs. theatre, etc. Not that these aren’t worthy conversations, but I don’t think this is why a majority of the audience attended.…The more I think about the evening, I am wondering if we were looking for the LA Times to somehow announce that they are going to cover all of LA theatre with reviews and give us all some comp advertising. I have a feeling the questions we wanted answered aren’t ever going to come from these panel conversations. It’s going to have to come from some deep, deep conversations amongst the community. And I’m not talking about a big “bitch” session. We’ve all been to those and they never get anywhere. We need to come together with open minds and really think out of the box. I’ve seen many of your theatre productions. I KNOW we are all capable of that conversation.…So I want to ask you, what were the conversations YOU wanted the panel to have? What are the burning questions YOU have about Los Angeles theatre? Let’s start the conversation. And if we can get it started, I’ll buy a keg of beer in the near future and we can sit around and kick-start something incredible.”
What first started out as a personal response has since flourished into an open discussion concerning the “next conversation” about Los Angeles theatre that needs to take place. A collection of comments on Michael’s note follow:
“I love thinking about collaboration for the good of the art: how we can leverage resources and strengths to produce the best theatre possible?”
“A huge part of what’s missing in this town are theater critics at the papers of note that are also ADVOCATES for the work when warranted. I do not mean that we need cheerleaders; clear, objective, smart criticism must be at the crux of it… I can think of at least three must-see productions from the last year, none of which involved me, that got nice or even lovely reviews from the [LA] Times but did not receive the kind of “get off your asses and see this show” kind of press that [some] theater critics…manage to write, with absolute accuracy, about theater… I think this is a necessary conversation for LA theaters, big and small, to have with the press…How do we get the press to understand and behave like LA is the theater town we know it to be?”
“I’d be interested in talking about the role of designers specifically within LA. So much work out here is actor-driven/written/directed/centric that I just wonder if there’s a better way to support certain shows than by shoving them into a “put this in a black box and we’ll set you up with the trappings of theatre” mold rather than exploring site-specific, comedy clubs, music venues and the non-traditional…How can we break down those walls and cross-pollinate a little more? Wouldn’t it be cool to have more musicians, comics, burlesque performers, etc. consider themselves part of the theatre scene?”
Our own Brian Polak:
“…I get the sense that people think, unless the vast majority of the work being done at the 99 seat level is exemplary, it is not relevant…I’ve seen close to 50 productions in the past year and I disliked many of them. But even in most of those I disliked I found elements that were praiseworthy. What boggles my mind is how dismissive many members of the press are. What boggles my mind even more is the lack of attention paid to the biggest and brightest local talent. We have some amazing designers and writers and directors and actors in this town who most of the time don’t get the attention they deserve because there is no celebrity angle. Deborah Puette and Michael Seel are right. Why don’t we have more champions? The commitment at the artist and producer level is strong, and that is the measurement I use to judge LA as a theatre town. But there is a lack of commitment overall in the media… That is the bottom line: The LA Times created a panel asking this question because this is how they see LA theatre. It’s a problem they need to shake, not us. We’re doing the work.”
“I encourage everyone to come out to the LA Critics Panel at Hollywood Fringe June 25th @ 11:30 – we will have 8 or so representatives from print & online media and, unlike the LA Times panel, will open the floor for questions from the audience. This is the perfect opportunity to speak directly to representatives from the LA Critic community about championing our cause – and many of them DO write about 99-seat houses…I think in the past couple of weeks especially, we have seen how strong the call is to converse on the subject. Let’s arm ourselves with information and get to talking!”
“Seeing as how Los Angeles is a “global city”, producer of culture- be it, film, or TV, fashion, or theatre- the important and most successful attribute is its diversity. How this is analyzed and discussed by its inhabitants is extremely important. The dialogue in which the artists of this city produce will be the way in which it is viewed and saved.”
“…I want to talk about how we can become better producers, better marketers, better fundraisers, honestly, better administrators, in order to support the continued growth of our art… The focus should be on putting up the best work possible in the most professional and polished manner possible, and how to get the word out about it. How can we find, reach out to and connect with our potential patrons and more importantly, get their butts in our seats? …Let’s talk about how we can go about doing that, and how we can help and support each other in doing that… My friend and producing partner Erin Scott…brought up a great question – how we can market LA Theatre as a brand to the masses? Broadway shows don’t just market themselves. They market themselves as part of the Broadway brand… How can we go about establishing LA Theatre’s brand, and market ourselves as a part of LA Theatre? …As individual companies, our reach is small, but what could we do together to fix this? How do we reach out and get more people to care about all of the amazing art and culture happening all around them?”…
A call for collaboration seems to be the most visible aspect to come from this exchange so far, but the conversation is definitely far from over. What questions do you still want to ask? What are the conversations you want to start? Leave them in the comments section below!