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Actors' Gang festival signals show must go on

Director Tim Robbins and company plan an ambitious program in answer

October 01, 2009|Reed Johnson

Last June, Actors' Gang artistic director Tim Robbins and his colleagues at the Culver City theater company received some paradoxical advice. The world economy was still shaky. Donations to the theater were down. The best short-term strategy for the theater troupe, the Gang was told, would be to save money by not putting on plays.

A theater company that doesn't make theater? Robbins' none-too-subtle response gave birth to the festival title.

The Actors' Gang's WTF?! Festival, starts Oct. 13 and will run Tuesdays through Saturdays through Dec. 19. It's an ambitious lineup of rotating activities that will encompass live music, poetry, theater and dance performances, readings and film and documentary screenings. Some events will be free.

To longtime Gang watchers, this aggressive approach to battling the recessionary blues seems in character for the Ivy Substation-based company, which is known for its boldly experimental new works and intrepid interpretations of the classics. Conventional wisdom holds that lean economic times require artists and arts groups to rein in their ambitions. The Gang maintains that the opposite is true.

"This is exactly the time, when things are falling apart, when the economy is bad, it's the time to drop ticket prices, it's the time to create free nights, it's the time to figure out how to produce even though the economics say 'don't produce,' " Robbins says.

The new festival, he believes, will allow the company to maintain its artistic goals, preserve its extensive community outreach programs and bring new audiences to the theater while riding out what he calls this "crap economy."

The Oscar-winning actor is curating festival programming, which will bring artists such as Jackson Browne, Tenacious D, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie to perform at the Gang's 99-seat space.

All festival proceeds will be directed toward the Gang's numerous outreach programs, which include pay-what- you-can nights for main- stage Actors' Gang productions, a free summer-in-the-park family theater series, a theater residence in local public schools and a rehabilitation-focused theater in prisons program.

On Tuesdays in November, the Gang and Pen Center USA will host conversations with such authors as Gore Vidal and L.A. Times book editor David Ulin.

Pen American will present work produced by its Prison Writing Program, read by members of "The Shawshank Redemption" cast.

The theater and dance series will open with performances of the previously announced solo shows "The Need to Know: A Veteran's Journey From Fear to Freedom," written and performed by April Fitzsimmons, and "Death and Giggles" from Cirque du Soleil performer Daisuke Tsuji. The festival will wrap up with the choral group Vox Femina.

For details, ticket prices and a complete schedule, call the Actors' Gang box office at (310) 838-4264 or go to www.wtf festival.theactorsgang.com.

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reed.johnson@latimes.com

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