I would restate Sullivan's question: Given the circumstances--how does L.A. theater manage to be so good?
What's wrong with Los Angeles theater is not epitomized just by the two current sad offerings at one of our large and one of our mid-sized theaters.
There is good work done regularly at the approximately 15 serious professional 99-seat houses. The quality of their work matches and often surpasses that of the small theaters around the country. Top-quality large-scale work from the big houses is more problematical.
Theater is a collaborative art and not just on the part of its creators. The fact that there is no substantial funding to support the creation of new work, large or small, is part of the problem.
Imagine Martha Clarke or Peter Sellars (our new L.A. Festival chieftain) trying to raise money for one of their theater dreams as a young unknown artist in Los Angeles. Significant support of theater work in Los Angeles is virtually nonexistent from foundations and corporations, and federal support is approximately half of that received by our Eastern counterparts.
If we are to develop and grow we need more support from the print and electronic media as well. The editorial policies of both the print and electronic media in Los Angeles with regard to theater need to be reexamined.
How many times has theater appeared on the cover of Sunday Calendar? When did you hear a review of a play on television for any theater under 500 seats? How many follow-up stories get in the paper if a show has been running more than two months?
Audiences willing to go to the theater and producers who are willing to do more than book in the latest show on the tour circuit are both in short supply. Our city needs to put substantial dollars into support of local artists instead of spending millions only on out-of-town artists--however esteemed.
And lastly, we need a willingness on the part of the boards of directors of our grander theater enterprises to support progressive leaders of the same vision and expertise that they require in their own enterprises.
The theater community in Los Angeles is at a crossroads.
Too often the stepchild of the arts in this city, theater is either going to make an impact in the next few years or we are going to experience a devastating artistic recession in our art form.
We have begun to meet the challenge for excellence in the visual arts and music. It is now time to challenge ourselves to make Los Angeles a hospitable environment for the theater.
L.A. Theater Works