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Hollywood hopefuls flex creative muscles onstage in 'Unscreened'

The weekend series of one-act plays in Hollywood taps the talent of mostly unknown film and TV actors and writers, who find the theater a refreshing change of pace.

March 20, 2013|By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times
  • Spencer Garrett and Lindsey Kraft in a scene from the play, "Unscreened."
Spencer Garrett and Lindsey Kraft in a scene from the play, "Unscreened." (Erik Lang )

Actress Lindsey Kraft has suffered her way through dozens of readings for pilots and bit television parts.

But before the stage series "Unscreened," Kraft never had the chance to play a lead role--let alone a prostitute caught off-guard when a client turns out to be her father.

"Most of the day I feel less like an actor than a professional auditioner," said Kraft, who has had small roles on TV shows such as "The Mob Doctor." "It's nice to finally have something you feel proud of," she added, then laughed when reminded of her part.

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The Los Angeles theater scene is packed with refugees from Hollywood. But few productions in the city are quite like "Unscreened," a weekend series of four original one-acts that are almost exclusively staged by, and star, the people who toil in the film and TV industry, still awaiting their big break.

It is a distinctly Los Angeles undertaking. In a town where there are as many aspiring screen stars as there are parking meters, "Unscreened" attempts to bring the untapped talent of film and TV to the underserved market of the homegrown stage.

To those who work in theater, the idea may not exactly feel like a purist exercise. And the transition hasn't always been entirely smooth (screenwriters think in terms of much bigger sets, for one thing).

But the backers of the project say that enthusiasm has helped make up the shortfall.

"Most of the writers start off with first drafts that are not at all adaptable," said Jordana Mollick, who with actor-producer Steven Klein is producing the third annual show via the duo's respective companies, Black Sheep Entertainment and Firefly Theater & Films. "But these are people really happy to have the creative freedom, and that helps them evolve their plays in really interesting ways."

Running through Sunday at Hollywood's Lillian Theater, the plays of "Unscreened" cover the gamut, from gays in the military to sibling rivalry at a weekend cabin. The show received a glowing review from the theater publication Backstage, which called it "innovative, provocative, humorous, and laced with surprises."

If the plays feature a not-quite-household level of names — to wit, Nate Corddry, a workaday TV actor who, yes, is Rob's younger brother — it compensates for that with an energetic range of material.

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"Laura & Sebastian (and Jordan & Bliss)," from "Dexter" script coordinator Daria Polatin, follows two brothers and their girlfriends on a fraught weekend vacation. In "Two Clean Rooms" by Will Wissler Graham, a veteran of "The Onion" who is currently making a pilot for Amazon's new studio division, a Vietnam War military interrogator (Corddry) railroads a soldier for being gay. Mallory Westfall's "Treehouse Apocalypse" is about, well, just that. Corinne Kingsbury, a consultant and writer on "The Newsroom," penned the prostitute drama "His Girl."

The show has added a Hollywood dimension this year: Management and production company Anonymous Content provided financial support in exchange for a first-look deal.

"It seemed like we were missing this in Los Angeles, a place where talented people who are working in film and television can expand their parameters in front of a critical public," said Anonymous' David Kanter, who said he was eyeing at least one of this year's pieces for TV development.

The Friday before "Unscreened" opened earlier this month, a dress rehearsal was filled with creative chaos. A sound cue had gone off at the wrong time. Wires and cables were hanging everywhere. An actor's pants had split. It was not exactly the polished confines of, say, a sitcom taping on a studio lot.

But those involved say this has been rewarding in ways that television production is not.

"You get trained to think certain things with a network, especially in comedy," said Wissler Graham. "There's a focus on every character and motivation having to be 100% clear so that someone microwaving an enchilada at the same time can understand. This is a chance to work with more subtlety."

Mollick, who is also a film producer, added: "There's a show-must-go-on idea in theater that I think a lot of people who've spent years trying to get a TV or film made were grateful to discover."

Still, the screen isn't always far from their minds.

A play from the 2011 edition — a dramedy about female friends called "Life Partners" — has already been turned into a feature screenplay, gone through the Sundance Lab and aims to shoot as early as this spring, said Mollick, who will also produce the film. Wissler Graham said he's toying with writing a screenplay version of "Two Clean Rooms."

And Kraft said she recently had a call to read for a TV part from a producer who saw "Unscreened."

"I don't think of this as a showcase but more as a place to act. At auditions you feel stupid dancing around like a monkey," she said. She added, "Here I get to be in the zoo for a bit and eat my banana."

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

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'Unscreened'

When: Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m.

Where: Lillian Theater, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles

Tickets: $25 general admission

Info: http://unscreened2013.brownpapertickets.com, or (323) 962-0046

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