LA Theater takes a Summer “Hit” (Again)

As summer ends and the days cool down, a final burn was delivered to the local theatre community. In a recent LA Times wrap-up of art events this summer  in the Sunday Calendar (Sept 5) titled “Summer Hits”, the Times listed what it considered to be the highlights and “bright spots” of “what sizzled this summer” in art and entertainment.

Under the heading of Theater, the Times named the out-of-town touring production of Les Miserables at the Ahmanson as the summer bright spot to highlight.

Huh?

It was a huge success:   it broke box office records at the Ahmanson, drew rave reviews, ecstatic word of mouth, and was a thrilling touring remount of a classic 25 year old musical. Even so …

Could the Times not find one home-grown LA theater event or hometown production worth highlighting as a “bright spot” this summer?

Miwa Matreyek's "Myth and Infrastructure", RADAR L.A.

One possible choice: RADAR L.A., the international theater festival in June that even Times critic Charles McNulty hailed as  “a glorious convergence of panels, conferences and festivals that put L.A. at the center of the theatrical universe.” Like it or not, as hit-or-miss as any festival can be, RADAR L.A. — and the TCG National Theatre Conference in LA that enveloped it — was a thrilling celebration of theater energy and synergy for local theater artists, the national field, and theater-goers from all over the region. In terms of “Theatre in Los Angeles” it was certainly the bright spot this summer, the highlight event that shone the spotlight on us as a city and as a proud theatre community, locally and nationally.

Not as important as a touring production of Les Miz?

In addition to those offered in the RADAR L.A. festival, there were several individual LA productions worth highlighting this summer, many (not all) by local LA playwrights. Many in intimate 99-seat venues. Many named Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times this summer. None ranked as a “summer hit” by the Times feature.

An unfortunate (and revealing) distinction of each Summer Hits listing was the “by the numbers” line-item: touting attendance figures, box office revenue,  capacity percentage totals. No 99-seat venue can compete with the boffo numbers of Les Miz at the Ahmanson. Is this how we measure the value of art?

LA Stage Alliance has now convened a Task Force of theater leaders to discuss the current state of LA Theater, to articulate a Vision of where the community needs to go, and to formulate a plan on how best to promote the profile of Los Angeles theatre.

That’s hard to do when the Los Angeles Times:

  • Runs a headline this summer, “Is Los Angeles a ‘theater town’?” the very week the city is poised to host a national theatre conference and festival meant to celebrate the art form and acknowledge Los Angeles as the thriving theatre town it is.
  • Runs a demeaning story this summer about Shakespeare festivals in LA with the uninformed (and damaging) headline  “Something is rotten in the state of L.A. Shakespeare,” despite the fact that Independent Shakespeare Company had 25,000 people attend their Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival this summer. Nearly twice the number as last year.

Independent Shakespeare Company

The Times runs pages and pages of coverage on the Tony Awards, yet makes little mention of our own local Ovation and LADCC awards. It has reduced local theatre coverage, prints fewer and shorter reviews, has laid-off staff writers and theater critics, has shrunk or eliminated weekly theater listings.  And is over-focused on New York and London, while seeming seeing-impaired on theatre happening here at home.
How can Los Angeles own the mantle of being “a theater town”, with pride and confidence,  if our own major newspaper doesn’t seem to view it as such?
 
The LA Theatre Community is like the Obama Administration. We’re not effective at promoting our accomplishments or touting our many successes. Getting the positive message out. The Task Force assembled by the good folks at LA Stage Alliance is meant to help accomplish that goal.  It will be be easier when our major newspaper joins us the effort and gets on board.
Summer is ending. Let’s hope the fall brings a season of change.
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