In the last couple of weeks much has been made about the TCG conference, this question of “Is LA a theater town?,” the role of the 99-seat venue, all this and that sort of jazz. It’s interesting to me as a student in arts administration to see these issues all unfold in front of me, especially since now I’ll be planted in LA until September. It’s also interesting being aware of the outsider’s perspective of LA theater. Just a few weeks ago in Philadelphia when I was telling a theater professor of mine that I would be working at Boston Court for the summer he was very dismissive in saying “The last time I was in LA there wasn’t really much going on.” Obviously it must have been decades ago because it’s not at all hard to see how active this theater town really is. I think the potential of this city is significantly understated by those who can’t see it for themselves.  

Unfortunately since I’ve been back, I have not seen a single piece (car trouble in LA, yeesh), so I haven’t been exposed to the brand spankin’ new stuff, but I do know a lot of the people who are making it. By simply being on Twitter and following a few companies and administrators I’ve been able to see how much is discussed, how many ideas are shared, how many props get borrowed, how many meetings are held, how healthy this community finds itself coming into this brand new decade of 201x’s. It’s pretty damn exciting!

And there’s a bit of charm in the struggle as well. There is something that the LA theater community has to battle, the stigma of being a town full of out of work screen actors filling out their time with community productions of Death of a Salesman. Of course this false visage i’s an insult to all the artists who work in this town, find themselves here in LA from all over the country, wanting to create, wanting to dig into the collective artistic mind trust and pick out something bizarre and new and meaningful. However, I don’t think the blow lands all that severely these days. The leaders of this theater community know what they’re up against and they know what’s at stake. They are willing collaborators, they seek the best in artistic excellence. They are able to do a lot with almost nothing, they are able to compensate fairly and compromise when necessary. There are some impressive individuals in this town, professionals that rival the staunchest East coast opponents, that would laugh at those who challenge this city’s artistic integrity.
Artists always seem to work best when fighting against an idea or an outside force. There’s a little more emphasis in the key pounding, the nail hammering, the brush stroking, the Google searching, the speech delivery. I believe this is why theater in Los Angeles thrives and why it continues to exist. It’s not all about defiance, however, it’s about recognizing the merits of and doing justice to an artform that will outlive all of us. Just as well, from what I can tell, doing theater in LA isn’t about proving something to a wary outsider’s perspective, it’s about giving an audience back more than their money is worth, and that’s all that really needs to be done. All positive feedback and lauding and financial support and national recognition will follow.
I think the most interesting quote of the Culture Monster panel the other night was when Pasadena Playhouse’s Sheldon Epps said, “New York sort of bolsters itself by still existing under the false belief that theater there is superior to theater in other parts of the country… especially when you look at the fact that a great deal of what winds up in New York — successful or not — is nurtured to get there by our theaters…It is the ‘national theater movement,’ which is resident theaters of all sizes all around the country, that creates for New York.” What that says to me is that, in regards to theater, LA only serves as a training ground for art and artists that hope to find legitimacy in the Big Apple. Sure, there is no denying that NY is seen as the epicenter for theater in this country, at least for now, and Chicago, being the Second City, usually takes second crown. Can LA ever hope to supplant these two much older cities and make a name for itself as the new theater mecca? I say, who cares? If LA theater continues to evolve and grow and serve a valuable role in producing and nurturing this nation’s theater content then that’s all that really matters.
I can’t wait to get some Fringing done this week and catch what I can catch from all the great companies this summer and converse with the great professionals in this town while I’m here. I’m nothing but optimistic about the future of theater in LA, so much so that I’m considering moving back here after I graduate to start my career here, but I suppose I should graduate first.
James Haro is a Los Angeles native currently attending Drexel University in Philadelphia, seeking his BS in Entertainment and Arts Management, Theatre Concentration. He co-operates a blog and produces/co-hosts the podcast ANGRY PATRONS RADIO. Episode #0.5 NOW UP! (Click here)

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