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'Theaterpalooza' hits L.A. area in June

So much theater, so little time. With Radar L.A., Hollywood Fringe, the Asian American Theater Conference and Festival happening in June, the Los Angeles area is about to be inundated with live shows. We suggest highlights.

June 12, 2011|By Reed Johnson, Los Angeles Times
  • The Company, "As you are now so once were we."
The Company, "As you are now so once were we." (Ros Kavanagh / RADAR L.A. )

The first question is: What the heck do you call it?

How do you describe a 12-day stretch of June in which three very different, recently minted theater festivals with major-league aspirations – "Radar L.A." Hollywood Fringe and the Third National Asian American Theater Conference and Festival – all will be running in Greater Los Angeles at the same time that Theatre Communications Group the nation's largest theatrical professional and service organization, is holding its 50th anniversary conference in downtown L.A.? Not to mention the ongoing Fourth Annual Festival of New American Musicals?

Would you term it a harmonic convergence, since much of the overlap was unplanned? An embarrassment of stage-crafted riches that will tax Angelenos' freeway-cruising skills? A great excuse for hundreds of theater professionals and aficionados to hit every bistro and close down every bar between Little Tokyo and the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel?

"We've got basically 'Theaterpalooza' here in L.A. in June," says Ben Hill, director of the 2-year-old Hollywood Fringe, a 10-day (June 16-26) blowout of more than 1,000 total performances by 200 alternative and underground-theater artists, acts and "projects" that someday hopes to become Southern California's answer to Scotland's venerable Edinburgh Festival Fringe (or maybe a slightly tamer, urbanized version of Burning Man).

By whatever name, the next two weeks are shaping up as one of the largest, most varied concentrations of live performances in Los Angeles since the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival. Mark Murphy, executive director of REDCAT and one of the three co-directors of the inaugural Radar L.A. festival of experimental theater (June 14-19), thinks the next two weeks could be "a theatrical equivalent of a 'Helter Skelter' moment."

That aggressively ambitious 1992 show at L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art focusing on cutting-edge L.A. artists and writers has been widely credited with helping to make the case for the vitality and international significance of L.A.'s contemporary arts scene.

Although "Helter Skelter," Murphy says, "didn't change everybody's careers overnight," he thinks it could help people see L.A. as a "theater town" where theatrical performance can mean a lot more than just traditional, author-driven, "well-made" two-act plays.

But how can L.A. theater mavens keep track of all the activity without frying their iPad datebooks? What follows is a necessarily selective guide to a few possible highlights.

Last September, when TCG first announced that it had chosen Los Angeles to host its half-century conference (June 16-18), its organizers cited the quality as well as the aesthetic and cultural diversity of the region's performance offerings (as well as, you know, all those beaches and cool nightclubs). "We feel L.A. just represents so many of the positive things that have evolved for our theater community over the past 50 years," Teresa Eyring, Theatre Communications Group's executive director, said at the time.

Apparently, the sales pitch worked: The group's conference is sold out, with more than 1,000 scheduled participants, topping the organization's previous record high of 930 at last year's gathering in Chicago. (L.A. is only the third West Coast city to host Theatre Communications Group's convention, after Seattle and San Francisco.)

The group's attendees will be spending most of their days at panel discussions with titles like "Breaking the Fifth Wall: Rethinking Arts Marketing for the 21st Century." They'll also hear a closing keynote speech by Julie Taymor, who began her career as a downtown avant-garde artist and went on to become the first woman to win a Tony Award for best direction of a musical ("The Lion King") and craft the beta version of the ever-anticipated Broadway show "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

But in the evenings, many of the Biltmore Hotel-based conferees will be walking a few blocks north to the REDCAT performance space at Walt Disney Concert Hall or east to the Los Angeles Theatre Center, where most "Radar L.A." performances will take place.

Designed as a sort of West Coast response to New York's frisky 6-year-old "Under the Radar" festival, "Radar L.A." will spotlight innovative, so-called designed theater – interdisciplinary, collaborative theater that doesn't necessarily originate with an existing script and may emphasize visual storytelling and conceptual or other performing elements over a single author's written work.

"There's a group of artists but a single mise-en-scene," says Murphy, co-curating "Radar L.A." with Diane Rodriguez, associate producer and director of new play production at the Center Theatre Group, and Mark Russell, who produces "Under the Radar" for the Public Theater in New York.

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