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THEATER | Theater Notes

Leaving Some Plays to Posterity

New publications compile the knowledge of some of L.A.'s most distinguished writers and performers.

November 22, 1998|JAN BRESLAUER | Jan Breslauer is a regular contributor to Calendar

Booking a play or performance can be tough. Getting a play published in a book can be even tougher. Yet the amount of drama by Los Angeles writers available in print has increased, well, dramatically over the past few years.

Obviously, this is good news for early elves looking to get a jump on the seasonal gift-giving stampede. But it's also important in terms of the health and long-term growth of L.A's theater community.

Committing plays to print broadens the audience for works that are, by nature, ephemeral. Then it's not only those who attend a play, but also a non-attending readership, that the playwright can reach. This helps bring L.A.-based theater artists the national exposure and (overdue) recognition they deserve. And it also enables theaterphiles outside California to benefit from advice given by our most veteran artist-teachers.

One publisher in particular that is helping to bring the curtain up on Southern California's dramatic literature is L.A.-based Sun and Moon Press. The 23-year-old house, run by poet-author-playwright Douglas Messerli, specializes in poetry, plays and fiction, and has won national recognition for a number of its volumes.

Just out from Sun and Moon is the second in its series of anthologies of American writing: "From the Other Side of the Century II: A New American Drama 1960-1995."

The highly idiosyncratic collection of 38 plays, edited by Messerli and playwright Mac Wellman, is notable not only for its heft and range, but also for its inclusion of such Southern California writers as Naomi Iizuka, Murray Mednick, Kier Peters and John Steppling.

Sun and Moon has also published plays by Mednick, Peters and Steppling, and has plans to bring out work by Iizuka and Kelly Stuart as well. In addition, Sun and Moon and the theater company Bottom's Dream have for several years been co-presenting a Monday evening play reading series at the Ivy Substation in Culver City.

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Last year, another Los Angeles publisher, Alyson Books, brought out "Shirts & Skin," the first book by performance artist Tim Miller. Co-founder and artistic director of Highways Performance Space, Miller is best known to the general public as one of the NEA Four.

Miller's tome consists of a series of autobiographical essays in which he takes the reader on a poignant and sometimes whimsical trip through the signposts of his sexual coming-of-age--from the teenage first kiss to the adult emotional confusion of having two boyfriends at once.

Those who have been following the solo performances that the L.A.-native Miller has been writing and presenting since 1980 will recognize aspects of his stage persona here--the characteristic openness, self-conscious winsomeness and deft sense of linguistic rhythm.

Miller's fellow solo performer, AIDS activist and teacher Michael Kearns, has also published a new book. "Getting Your Solo Act Together" is the third title by this author from Heinemann, which previously brought out the actor-director-writer's "Acting+Life: An Actor's Life Lessons" (1996) and "T-Cells and Sympathy: Monologues in the Age of AIDS" (1995).

An indispensable guide for the budding monologuist, Kearns' book includes pithy and practical advice on the basics of presenting a solo performance, from creation through presentation. The volume also includes a range of excerpts from solos by Kearns and other (mostly L.A.-based) artists, including Colin Martin, Rob Sullivan and Denise Uyehara.

While the book is undeniably pragmatic in its aim, it's also likely to prove inspirational to artists and their collaborators--particularly when it comes to Kearns' recollection of discovering solo performance as "an act of personal and professional courage, forcing me into a psychic place far deeper than could be experienced acting in a Neil Simon play or on 'The Waltons.' "

In a different vein, the national theater support organization Theatre Communications Group recently published three plays by the groundbreaking Latino comedy troupe Culture Clash (Ric Salinas, Herbert Siguenza and Richard Montoya). "Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy" is the first book by the group.

The collection, which includes the 1995 docudrama "Radio Mambo," samples a range of drama and sketch comedy by Culture Clash, which is widely known from its 30-episode Fox TV series.

Like Miller and Kearns, the men of Culture Clash have long served as role models, and these texts are likely to be of particular note to students and other emerging talents.

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