Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Dying Art of LA Play Development --
Guest Columnist


Last month the Mark Taper Forum shut down all of its new play development labs (Blacksmyths, Latino Theatre Initiative, Asian American, Other Voice- Disabled Writers, etc.). The new artistic director at the Taper, Michael Ritchie, describes his disappointment in the labs to the LA Weekly thusly, “With these labs I had wanted to see more product. . . .” He goes on to cite poor advocacy for production by the lab leaders (who were all summarily fired) and long development cycles as reasons the labs were disbanded. The new plan is to ‘partner’ with smaller local theaters and bring successful small theater LA premieres to the Kirk Douglas Theatre, the experimental Culver City-based arm of the Mark Taper.

The first play to be ‘moved up’ in this Off-off to Off-Broadway model is PERMANENT COLLECTION from the Greenway Arts Alliance. PERMANENT COLLECTION is an exploration of race relations written by white, male playwright Tom Gibbons and despite its doubtless merits, politically, it is sort of an awkward choice to replace selections written about minorities by actual minorities.

They told me in theater school that the theater was a dying art. And that I was apprenticing myself to a wasteland of dwindling opportunity, increasing commercialism, and unrealizable artistic promise. That was part of the romance of pursuing theater. How poignant and meaningful to be priestess of a dying religion, I thought in my exuberant twenties. Now it is just depressing. With the Taper closing the door to all play development, the burden is now placed on the ridiculously under-funded smaller theater community. So this is a good excuse for all you local readers to go and see some local, live, small theater this weekend. That is apparently the best we can do for anything that is not ‘product’ in the arts community.

Johnna is a Los Angeles based playwright, winner of the 2003 OC Weekly Best New Play Award for her play, COCKFIGHTERS. Two of her plays will be published in an anthology of naturist plays this summer. Two other plays will be produced this year.


B2 said...

It's about time those white, male playwrights got the attention they deserve, after so many years of going unsung.

Chandira said...

I'm ashamed to say it's been a while since I went to the theater.. But I do go!

Teatro Zinzanni in Seattle is a dinner/theater combination taht works well, but it's damn expensive!! We can't do that too often!
I think that's part of the vicious cycle, it costs, so people don't go, so it has to cost..
I DID go see the Rocky Horror here a few years back. :-)

The Misanthrope said...

I too find the theater a bit expensive, but I usually enjoy it much more than a movie, and I am usually glad that I saw the play.

Chandira said...

Yeah, you can't really ever beat live theater.. Especially Teatro Zinzanni's very cute French waiter/acrobat in stockings and bowtie.. That left an impression on me.. lol

On The Mark said...

I lost my shirt producing a small play in L.A. (for my ex, who was an actress). But I didn't regret it, and though I haven't done it much lately, I do enjoy going to small theater in L.A. It's kind of like watching college or minor league baseball, the actors/producers seem to try harder because they haven't hit the big time yet.