Unlike New York, Los Angeles is not a great place for a successful, working stage director to carve out a high-profile career. Local theater-goers' perceptions of directors is so dim that most patrons cannot name the director of the show they're watching at the moment.
But theater production people on the Equity Waiver scene know Jules Aaron. Although Aaron has yet to direct in a major L.A. house, he is among the theater community's most prolific directors. He's emblematic of a director who works continually in Equity Waiver and medium-size venues and makes a comfortable career of it.
Currently, he's juggling three productions: First will be a premiere, a dark comedy by New York playwright David Steven Rappoport, about American family greed, "The Rapids," unveiling Friday. It concludes the first season of Long Beach's only professional producing organization, the (cumbersomely named) International City Theater, on the Long Beach City College campus.
Immediately thereafter, Aaron begins rehearsals for two other plays, "Cloud Nine," the South Coast Repertory's seasonal inaugural, opening Sept. 26, and "Men's Singles," unfurling Sept. 20 at Cast-at-the-Circle.
Aaron, 43, also heads the graduate directing program at Cal Arts in Valencia. And this fall he starts to rehearse "The Taming of the Shrew," which opens in winter at the New Mexico Repertory in Santa Fe. A Silverlake resident, he laughs that his greatest worry is maintaining his car for all the commuting.
Aaron's reputation is built on his deft touch with new plays. (He's premiered 38 of them in his 17-year directorial career.) "For new plays," he said, "L.A. is now the place. Many more exciting ones are being done here than in New York."
"The Rapids," for instance, which satirically charts a family's plunge into avarice and lost innocence from World War II to the present, was initially developed at the Circle Repertory Company in New York but wound up here as the Pasadena-bred playwright's first locally produced play.
"New York agents are no longer hostile to staging new plays in Los Angeles," Aaron remarked. Equating L.A.'s Waiver scene to Off-Off Broadway and our medium-size houses to Off-Broadway, Aaron said comparable productions are twice as expensive in New York.
"A $20,000 Equity Waiver production here would run $40,000-$45,000 in New York. And the Off-Off Broadway producers are also burdened by their Actors Equity showcase deal, which limits a New York Waiver show to 18 performances" (a source of ongoing controversy within the stage actors union).
Aaron, who is a staff director at SCR, directed all three productions this year at the new International City Theater on the Long Beach City College campus, the first community college to service an Equity Waiver theater.
A one-time theater critic for East Coast periodicals, Aaron has some strong opinions about theatrical academia and directing:
--Critics in this country do not sufficiently nurture the growth of new plays. "Much of criticism fails to capture the joyousness of the theater experience. Too many critics are negative about sharing in the maturation of a new play. Theaters have their dramaturges. In a sense critics should take over that role."
--A director's greatest danger is turning into an actor's acting coach rather than a director whose first concern is toward the play and the integrity of the full production. "I don't want to share what an actor uses of his life to create a role. The director/psychiatrist is something I avoid like the plague."
The top drama schools? "Well, CalArts, of course," said the seven-year CalArts teaching veteran. Aaron, whose doctorate is from New York University, also included Carnegie Tech, Julliard, Yale and Southern Methodist University in his top five.