Greet Ted Schmitt with the salutation "How's it going?" and he'll say, "Artistically, fine. Monetarily, well. . . . "
That's not an unusual refrain for most artists who have hung in with careers that have not led to abundant remuneration. But Schmitt, who is producing artistic director of the Cast Theatre, could have made a comfortable career as a businessman. Instead, he's become one of the few figures who has managed to make Equity Waiver theater a vigorous metier instead of an actor's and producer's expedient.
He has therefore become a serious and thoughtful spokesman for Waiver theater in general (he was instrumental in seeing it included in the 1984 Olympics Arts Festival) and his own theater in particular, which has several operations going at once. His latest enterprise is a series of performance pieces called "Roadshows" that will play at the Cast, the Powerhouse in Santa Monica and the L.A.C.E. Gallery downtown.
"I got the idea for 'Roadshows' three years ago, after seeing Donald Krieger's 'Boy's Life,' " Schmitt said. "I realized that performance artists, or performance works--the phrase is politically charged and changes every three months--always came and went in a short space of time. We were developing 'Freeways,' a program that offered new routes to alternative theater, and that led to my thinking that performance people needed a venue."
The upshot is that "Roadshows" will consist of Donald Krieger's "The Lost Continent" ("which deals," according to Schmitt, "with how America's future was perceived at the turn of the century"); Jan Munroe's "Alligator Tales" and "Dinner?" (the latter of which "expresses the human dilemma through food"), and May Sun's "The Great Wall, or How Red Is My China" ("which came of the playwright's return to modern mainland China and her visit with an aunt who was a revolutionary in the Red Army").
Schmitt thinks the performance pieces have a good chance of catching on because they won't conflict with the more conventional theater in the communities of downtown, Hollywood and the Westside. In his Foundry reading program, as well as with "Freeways" and his two theaters, the Cast and Cast-at-the-Circle, Schmitt looks for what will play and what will inform.
"The whole theater community in Los Angeles is facing the problem of reduced audiences. Parking problems, the VCR--where the home has indeed become the family entertainment center--and the geographical layout of Los Angeles, where you have to factor in driving time to get anywhere, all contribute to people's unwillingness to go out to the theater. Plus the Olympic Arts Festival, where leading international groups played here, gave people the sense that L.A. is not really a world-class city when it comes to theater--though I think that's an illegitimate claim."
Schmitt has no revolutionary stratagems for turning things around.
"One can only try to go on being as creative as possible and offer people as much variety as one can. 'Roadshows' has some of the best performance talent working in the Los Angeles area right now. We'd like to have people see some more of it."
Wednesday is the opening date for "The Great Wall" and "Alligator Tails." "The Lost Continent" opens a week later.
August Strindberg never failed to point out that it takes two (or more) to make a hellish match. The Strindberg Society of Los Angeles (founded by David Patch) was formed in appreciation of how much Strindberg had to say about what is now phrased in pop journals as "modern relationships," and on the 29th opens with the modern classic "Miss Julie."
Robert Burgos directs. " 'Miss Julie' was written in 1888 and plays almost as though it were Sam Shepard's 'Fool for Love,' " Burgos said. "It shows how when people are drawn together so much that they flout barriers, they wind up paying a terrible price. I disagree with the claim that Strindberg singled out women for ridicule. He's a man full of contradictions. He could seem unsympathetic, but he also insisted on women's rights. He never believed that a woman should be a slave. I think his real anger was directed at the class system. In any case, our motto at the Strindberg Society is 'The truth is audacious.' "
The Gay and Lesbian Theatre Alliance will hold an open meeting at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 25 to discuss its role in the Los Angeles Theatre Festival, to be held in September, 1987. The alliance's project is titled "Purple Stages: A Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Theatre." Site of the meeting is Plummer Park's Fiesta Hall, and all interested parties are invited. For information, call Bill Kaiser at (213) 650-5596.