AHH! I can’t handle how cool this is!
I had such a positive experience rehearsing for and performing in the premiere workshop production of The Bully Problem, a brand new musical written by Michael Gordon Shapiro. I was so thrilled to work in a group of such strong performers– everyone was so talented, focused, hardworking, and had so much respect for one another. We’ve all been in creative collaborations where some people are not giving 100% to the project and know how easily that affects the group, and so it makes it all the more sumptuous when you are working with real pros.
I’m very attracted to working on new projects and helping with development (and do so frequently), yet I still can’t find the right words to describe the weird/awesome energy of working on something that feels so FULL– so close to being a real thing. Our director Joshua Finkel mentioned that we “birthed” a new musical, and yes, after a VERY short and intense gestation period, we did birth this show baby together.
Much like the “nerd” kids in the show, I think we musical theatre kids don’t get nearly enough credit. Yes, we can be really loud, and yes, our knowledge of the MT oeuvre is borderline obsessive, but we are soooooooo frickin’ hardworking. When you really think about needing to be able to act and sing and dance and follow blocking and smile and hold for laughs and remember where the mics are and read your script without putting it in front of your face ALL at the same time… EVERYONE who was involved in putting this performance up was a total rock star, and I’m so thankful that I was a part of it.
The audience reception was great, and I think that the afternoon was very entertaining and enjoyable for everyone. I look forward to seeing how to show continues to take shape!
(Photo from the DCA’s FB Event)
On Monday night at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, LA Stage Alliance (was anyone from LASA actually there??), and Arts for LA organized a “town hall” for the LA theatre community alongside and a panel of LA theatre peeps to make use of a visit from the National Endowment for the Arts Director of Theatre and Musical Theatre (and previous LA resident and theatre-maker!), Greg Reiner.
If you are paying attention to the news at all, you know that along with a lot of other really important programs and organizations, the NEA is on the chopping block in our new “administration.” “Administration” implies that there’s some sort of order and organization going on, so we’ll just leave those quotation marks there. Anyway, the chopping block is a very familiar place for us theatre folks. We live there. We know what it looks, feels, and smells like. For some of us (cough cough, people in their 20’s and early 30’s), thanks to the economy crash, it’s all we’ve ever known. It’s like growing up in an abusive home where abuse is what you believe to be normal, and yeah, it sucks, and you have a feeling that if lots of things were different you could be in a much better, happier, healthier situation, but at least in a gross way that abuse is familiar and what you’re used to. As we cradle our love for theatre and the arts, constantly kicking away the haters, we are honest with ourselves that we are always last on the list to get money and first on the list to get eliminated.
The program included quite an impressive list of people, but what I was not at all impressed with, despite the nice turnout (Greg Reiner claimed during his up at bat that this was the largest turnout he’d seen for any town hall he’d done in the country!), I was very frustrated with the people who I didn’t see. The only way that I or anyone I knew at the meeting even found out about its existence was through a random Facebook event that we weren’t invited to but just happened to see floating around on Facebook a day or two before the actual event. I’m sure there were reasons for the lack of organization in inviting people from the community and that this was possibly put together last minute, but the huge absence of main players from the 99 seat theatre scene made me wonder who this meeting was meant to be for, as they clearly weren’t interested in inviting and involving people who are really making consistent work in the trenches and fighting the good fight.
Even though I haven’t heard anything from the Theatre Producers League in a while (guys, what’s up??), it was terribly disheartening to hear people bring up needs in the community that TPLLA is totally already working on. There is SUCH a huge disconnect between these various arts entities and that is something we really need to resolve. I was so frustrated that I literally almost jumped out of my chair to run on the stage and be like, “YOU GUYS– we already got this!” A bunch of different groups working separately on solutions for the same issues at the same time is a waste of time and energy. We need one group/org to represent us and lead the others, and we have to come to an agreement about who that’s going to be. Is it LASA? Is it TPLLA? Is it the DCA? Arts for LA? Is LA Theatre Network even still a group?
In terms of the content of the meeting, it was mainly all the reps at these different organizations telling us how much they care about theatre, which, ok cool, but some interesting and topical conversations did come out of the questions to the panel.
Some cool things that came up:
- Talking about defining LA theatre for outsiders. You guys all totally know what that means. Others usually have their own made-up assumption of what LA theatre is or isn’t, and damned if they aren’t SO READY to share that opinion with you at a party: “There is NO good theatre in Los Angeles.” “If you really want to do theatre, you have to go to New York.” “All the theatre in LA is just actors who wanna get famous in film waiting around for their big break.” Etc, etc, etc… What IS very special about LA theatre and makes us awesome is the cross-pollination of various mediums coming together, everyone being excellent in what they bring to the table. Our abundance of sub-sub-groups is a big positive and makes for delicious niche theatre. Nancy Keystone, who I have a HUGE art-crush on and definitely theatre-stalked for a while, said that LA is “endlessly discoverable.” Is that not the best
- Supporting FRINGE is supporting the entire LA theatre scene because that is where we are growing and evolving amazing work! Panel, suits, and theatre folks working in education or in offices— if you say that you are “involved in/a member of/representing the LA theatre community,” and you have never been to see a show at Fringe, you need to check yourself.
- Leslie Ishii (zot zot UCI!!!) talked about how she has been researching sustainability in relation to the arts for a while now, and how we can look at the recently passed homelessness measure to set better models for how we look after our artist population. We are, when it comes down to it, a vulnerable population. (btw, Mental health IS TOTALLY A SUSTAINABILITY ISSUE!!!!!! If we want to continue to make art, we need to be able to sustain ourselves emotionally and psychologically!!!! Cue Maureen taking care of your heart and feelings via Artists Unbound, coming to a multi-use room near you)
- Nancy Keystone brought up the unfortunately pertinent issue that we (theatre/theatre-makers) are not considered important in the bigger sphere/country. This is something my super rad friend and Arts Administrator/Future Policy-Maker and Superhero Lia Kozatch and I talk about a lot, and unfortunately it’s absolutely true. We are not taken seriously and we are not valued. And I don’t think that’s just me being a martyr. As a society and an economy, the US does not value performing arts (again, we live on the chopping block.) The fix for this is so huge and will take so many years and layers of value-shifting, I don’t know if I’ll see if happen in my lifetime.
I don’t know why they called this gathering a “town hall.” For me, that phrase conjures up the image of a Parks & Recreation/Leslie Knope-style meeting where the people in the community get to have their voices heard by the people who are supposed to represent them. Unfortunately there was neither time nor opportunity for anyone in the audience to speak after the presentation was over. A few questions were asked after Greg Reiner spoke, but we didn’t have time to really dig into anything important. To me it was a meeting for the suits to say, “We know what you guys are doing is meaningful and you deserve support and especially funding……… but there is no support and there is no funding and we’re super super sorrryyyyyyyy….”
In a time when so many of us are negatively affected by the government and are freaking out about what the future holds, we need action, not words. We don’t want the “town hall” version of “thoughts and prayers” on Twitter. We want a plan. We want things we can DO. BECAUSE WE ARE DOERS AND MAKERS.
One of my other lovely theatre cohorts at the meeting, the illustrious Greg Crafts, asked Greg Reiner and the other desk peeps what we, as a theatre community who care very much about taking action, can DO to help these organizations survive and show that there are citizens who will fight for them. Reiner responded that we should talk to people at LASA and Arts for LA and ask them. If there was indeed anyone there from LASA or Arts for LA (again, neither of which seem to have taken the reins of the community that I really think someone needs to friction’ take!!!), they didn’t share anything with us about what that support would look like.
TLDR: Our usual money/support people love us but are stuck and they also don’t know who the LA theatre community actually is.
I can feel the very palpable buzz around the community that the Fringe gears are shifting! It makes me so happy that every year the HFF organization itself is getting more organized, offering more opportunities for education and conversation to production teams, and staying on top of managing the growth that comes with each new year.
At Rogue Machine, of which I am a company member, we are producing and hosting a whole bunch of shows for Fringe. Now that we are in our second year in a more Fringe-friendly neighborhood, we’re really trying to take advantage of this season. While all my theatre buds are jumping on board with various shows, I, alas, have a very busy summer away from Los Angeles ahead of me wherein I will be a bridesmaid in two (YEP, two!) weddings over the Fringe performance schedule. Since I can’t be in any shows this year, I’m helping out with pre-production needs in any way I can.
Right now I’m assisting with auditions and callbacks for a GREAT new show that RMT will be doing at Fringe: In the Valley of the Shadow, by Katherine Cortez. The play explores the LGBTQ community in Orlando and a terrible tragedy echoing the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting. It’s so timely and impactful, and I just know that it is going to be a hit at Fringe. I’m excited to be able to help out with such an important play even though I won’t be around for all the shows!
Come visit me at callbacks tomorrow!
Medieval Times Knights
I had never been to Medieval Times and didn’t really know what to expect, but I ended up very impressed with these dudes who play the knights in the show! At first I just thought, “Man, this is the ultimate drama nerd job,” but then I started to realize what a crazy amount of work and training there must be. Endless fight choreo, tricks with various weapons, working with/riding on/doing tricks on horses, and the show is about two hours long! It was cray. It must be so exhausting and physically demanding (but I’m sure also really fun). Cheers to them.
The Actors Fund
I heard about The Actors Fund’s services through some friends and went to an orientation to check it out. I was so delightfully surprised to hear about how many free services they offer. They have a huge program devoted to getting day jobs as well as money management and budgeting, therapy services, assistance with health insurance, and so on. Not only that, but the Fund also services anyone who works in the entertainment industry– not just actors. Check them out here.
I adore the Bitter Gertrude blog so so much. Melissa Hillman covers challenging, relevant issues in the arts as well as hilarious theatre nerdery. Many of her posts are incredibly insightful and like well-written academic theses– in the intelligent point of view and explication kind of way, not in the boring kind of way. She wrote a great one a few days ago about the current state of small theatres in America. DEF CHECK HER OUT.
Olallieberry Puff at The Buttery
This is seriously my favorite thing in the entire world and it brings me inexplicable joy. Unfortunately it’s all the way up in Santa Cruz. I could eat this every day of my life.
I spent one of my Fridays in October in the jury duty waiting room (not inspirational), and during my lunch break I was enjoying the sunshine in the nearby park and saw this girl playing the violin (very inspirational!). She was at the exit of Civic Center/Grand Park metro rail station. It brightened by day so much and gave me so many good feels.
She was incredible. I think we miss out on some of these random acts of street performance living in a city/culture that doesn’t opt for public transportation. It absolutely brightened my less than awesome mood. Thank you, Violin Girl!
I had a lovely conversation with Brian Sonia-Wallace in October about theatre. He makes the types of I would love to do if I wasn’t scared– socially-charged, sometimes site-specific, Augusto Boal-influenced… to call it “unconventional theatre” or “avant garde” is to degrade it. We talked about how to make theatre a gift for people by asking what stories do people NEED to be receiving, in a shaman-esque way. I so want to be a shaman for my art. He is so full of joy every time I see him and has so many awesome ideas for new projects that I can’t wait to see come to fruition. His passion for theatre reignites mine, and these kind of convos remind me of being in drama school when everyone’s brains were so full of new ideas and possibilities… I want to hold on to that feeling as much as possible. To follow his projects (which you should!), sign up for his mailing list by clicking here.
Tsujita Ramen Annex
I should really start putting more food on here, because food perfection is incredibly inspirational to me. Food is totally an artform, and I feel a kinship with chefs/restaurateurs. Good food is created from an inspired idea and carefully sourced ingredients– just like good film and theatre. Anyway, it seems like the Annex is a smaller version of the more renowned Tsujita, and daaaaaaaym do they have good ramen. The noodles are more al dente than I’m used to, but I know that’s their jam and maybe it’s actually more legit. The broth is simply phenomenal. Sorry, Santouka. I loved you so, but you have been deliciously replaced.
Walk It Out/Gwen Verdon Mash-Up
One of my favorite things ever that I blissfully rediscovered (and a delight for any musical theatre nerd)– an oldie but a goodie from the mid-2000’s, now housed on Funny or Die:
I was watching tv with composer extraordinaire Alex Williamson the other day and the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie was on. I’d never seen it before and we talked about how a lot of the feedback about the version that came out this summer had been that they don’t like the CGI of the turtles, it’s too much of an action movie, some shit about how the nostrils don’t look right,… anyway, whatever, I don’t really care, BUT, it got me thinking about what Plato has to say about art and if that might be why people are always so grumpy about remakes of classic movies, books, etc.
Stay with me here, but do you remember Plato’s Republic and the rant about chairs? Drama nerds and lit/humanities students will know what I’m talking about. There’s a section where Plato discusses art versus truth, and explains that art is extremely untruthful because it’s so far from it’s original truth of the concept which the art is about. With the chair example, here would be the hierarchy (from most truthful to least truthful):
- The idea of “chair” (purest form of chair)
- An actual physical chair (twice removed from chair-ness)
- The absolute WORST = some sort of art about a chair– a drawing, poem, etc. Bleh! He says that this is the worst level of imitation (his antithesis of truth) because it is a “copy of a copy.”
Of course most of what Plato has to say about art here in Republic is cray (like the idea that art is terrible and worthless because of it’s imitative-ness, WHICH, is awkward because Republic is merely words written down that are an imitation of his actual ideas… but anyway, that’s a diatribe for another day), but the apparent TNMT disappointment got me thinking about these concepts of imitation and truth and how people are almost always disappointed by remakes. So many movie-goers (myself included) are tired of seeing a bajillion sequels and remakes all the time rather than getting new, fresh, interesting stories. Not only that, but there’s an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” situation with a lot of these classics being remade– making a reboot that’s less than can desecrate the original. Is this because these copies of copies are getting at our inner Plato spirit? That these remakes and sequels are taking us further and further away from the “true” story? I’m sure Plato would not be down with the blockbuster schedules for the next few summers.
Plato was not a fan of the arts in general, but I think I have to agree with him on some level about this. Let’s treasure our originals and go make some kick-ass new stuff.