I’m not dead, and neither is Theaatahh in Los Angeles. So I’ll hunt it. Because it can take it. Because it’s not our hero. It’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A dark night out in a bad neighborhood with poor parking and no decent nearby restaurants or bars to party at before or after.
I have spent more cumulative hours on a Manhattan Apartment set than I have spent in my actual apartment. My actual apartment, which is in the Valley, with a broken fridge and broken air conditioning. I’ve taken to mopping my brow with the cat. He’s not into it.
We keep diving into this trope because, for some reason, it’s not glamorous enough to be sweating balls in the most naturally gorgeous area to live in the continental United States, in barely-affordable lodgings mastered by indifferent slumlords of indiscernible, yet extreme, untempered ethnicity. We all have to pretend that living in a closet for twice as much rent makes your struggle somehow more legitimate, handily discounting the heady privilege that comes with being able to flirt with moving to New York in the first place.
Yes, that bookcase of disused, worryingly-stained Goodwill books, painstakingly chosen to somehow reflect the plot. Yes, that same family of Ikea chair, painstakingly reinforced because actors will persist in using their environs with the verve and aplomb usually afforded to our simian cousins. Yes, 9/11 Iraq war Bush 2 obscure restaurant name-check clever literary reference white people problems, because coming to terms with an America where you simply can’t get ahead just by showing up and working hard anymore is too uncomfortably immediate for drama.
Let’s all rage-watch Girls and drink Popov shots with Sriracha every time we catch the pungent whiff of nepotism or, against our best judgment, feel feelings. What we wouldn’t give to waste away in that concrete jungle that dreams are made of! That aggressively passive-aggressive Xanadu! That Margaritaville of the grudgingly enfranchised pseudo-elite! That Candyland of the gluten-averse, world-weary joyless! Let’s pretend to have hurricanes, frozen rain and sufferable transit, like the glittering capital of human effluence from which all True Art™ flows, just so that our problems are theatrical enough to be considered worth sharing!
Los Angeles has elevated mediocrity into a commodity. The vast irony looms of hipster enclaves in the sweaty, hilly bits to the east and the sweaty, beachy bits to the west churn twee intimations in a myriad of variety. Woven with mustache-tickled kisses, twelve dozen whispers of casually enjoyed popular pursuits of yesteryear are enjoyed with a new pseudo-fervor. It somehow became noble to just exist and have worryingly prevalent opinions about esoterica. You can write a blog about how your tomatoes are feeling and not get beat up.
LA Theatre is not immune to this. I’ve weathered hours of stirring speeches on the well-trod boards (or weary masonite) of the small houses, only to sally forth into a bold four weeks of near-anonymity. I love a St. Crispin’s day speech as much as the next Shakespeare iconoclast, but my give-a-shit has long been suffering from erectile dysfunction.
Rather than embrace the heart-crippling beauty of our evanescence, we seem desperate to assign meaning and value to the most inane of pursuits, often steeling ourselves against a miasma of mephitic apathy with the affirmation that we few, we happy few will lead the revolution and somehow coax an obligated audience of well-wishers and ex-lovers to revolt and somehow convince everybody that this is important.
The abecedarian, fresh-off-the-bus, pilot season day-tripper is usually the most culpable, but with so little else to believe in, who can forgive them their solipsism? They are, after all, totally for sure and absolutely for-real-reals about to Make It!™ in the most antagonistic climate since the last time somebody whipped out their smartphone to check the temperature. Fuck solar; if we could power America with naivete, Los Angeles would be the energy production capital of the world.
U mad bro?
A real member of the #community would be out of their mind with how up in arms and sheer ability to can’t even they are apoplectic with by now. I haven’t even started listing the accomplishments of so many companies who are trying so hard and totally getting noticed. Everything anyone spends the time to make is worth a look, which you would know, if only you were adequately indoctrinated into the insular world of theatre people. Clearly, you aren’t, and that’s obviously your fault. Why, if you only had access to the wealth of knowledge readily available to all of us firmly entombed within the #community! I could give you a few recommendations, but you probably wouldn’t appreciate them. Derisive sniffing intensifies.
Derivative of Cinema
Oh, is LA a movie town? You wouldn’t know it.
The language of cinema is pervasive. We are all sensitive to the tropes of the Movies – ask a theatrical video designer why he doesn’t just produce short films for a living. We’re all so dialed-in that it leaks out in weird ways. Daycare providers are expected to have craft services. Fast food workers carry themselves like assistant directors on the day of shooting the big battle sequence. Everybody calls Clothespins C47s, which pisses me off because what even is that?
It seems people are uniquely bothered by entertainment that doesn’t somehow indulge obsession with our hometown industry. Low-budget musical comedy parodies of movies soar (with unfair vanity) while powerful deconstructions of a film’s message and social context languish in obscurity. We don’t want to think about or be challenged by our perception of the popular product of our neighboring community, we want to indulge in tearing it down to our level, that of the lowest common denominator.
Perhaps that’s what you get when a town is mostly populated with the dream-shattered erstwhile-naive from earlier in this article. I guess film had it coming for not casting all of us within the first six months of stepping off the Greyhound/American Idol finals/shitty Mazda crammed full of our meager possessions.
Not Really Minimalism
We only have fifty bucks, but we’re going to try and re-create a restoration comedy with full costumes and dozens of consumable props. Why? Because it’s important to us, so logically, it has to be important to someone else! And there’s a lot of them! And because we’ve done such a good job miming all of the accoutrements we’re too poor to afford, but we have incredibly convincing teacups full of tepid water, they will come in droves! Droves, I say!
I’ve seen dozens of performances with two set pieces or a complete prop list that even the most harried stage manager could easily ferry between performance venues in a stately hatchback. The sad truth is that most productions will invoke the privilege of minimalism precisely when it suits them, but happily ignore it for the most arbitrary of reasons.
Excellent costume rental hookup? Awesome! A few shabby end-tables that can be anachronistically re-appropriated to stand in for their specific counterparts? Let’s do it! Can we solve our problems with more fabric and curtains? Watch me! O, what a delight it is to live in this world of iambic kings and nobles!
I think it’s mostly futile to attempt to capture the halcyon days of the Globe in a forty-seat theatre in the outskirts of North Hollywood with a single semi-functional bathroom you have to cross the stage to use. Most of the time, the insistence of quality in the absence of resources or utility is a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Worse, after Game of Thrones, nobody wants to see the Scottish play if Lady M doesn’t get her tits out.
I love theatre in LA. I honestly mean it. The rest of this article is a cunning diversion to keep you from getting to this point, because if you really, truly need to say something, you’re going to have to fight to say it. That’s what the theatre of this town is trying to do. It’s alive and things are happening here that are incredibly exciting.
People are telling stories because they have to. They gather in meeting halls, off-duty churches and parking lots to spin wild yarns with puppets and crazy musical numbers. If you’re still reading at this point, after that slag-fest, you’re one of those people I actually want to talk to. We make the most exciting, immediate and lively art in the world, on a scale that cannot be rivaled and at a rate that cannot be matched. We are hungry and we absolutely have to express ourselves.
Bright colors. Wild characters. Way not enough tech time. This baby is coming RIGHT NOW, so get ready.
Naked people shouting poetry and covering themselves in paint. Failed rock stars mumbling into half-busted microphones while an octogenarian ballerina creaks her way through a beautiful swan-dance of hauntingly beautiful fragility. Improv people. It’s happening here, and it’s happening because it has to, because we have no choice but to do what we do as loud as we can. We don’t have the luxury of being quiet. We don’t have the privilege of being refined. We have to run out into a room full of strangers who hate us because they didn’t get cast and deliver the good time we promised every waking moment of every day leading up to this night, because it will never happen again.
Nobody is filming us. Everything that happens tonight will be forgotten. A truly great show in Los Angeles will destroy your expectations and spoil you forever.
We do what we must not because we can; we do what we can because we must.
Nobody cares. Our tiny community of die-hards is routinely ignored by the elite, because old insults die hard. LA’s theatre scene is the screen door on capital-T-Theatre’s Polish submarine, and while the world has moved on to consider such humor in bad taste, it would seem the world left Theatre behind. Our tiny industry’s greatest aspiration has been stymied by desperate attempts to attract ticket sales, while the savvy rising stars contribute their brilliance to the occasional movie musical. Is “Let It Go” not ubiquitous?
They may not realize it yet, but everyone putting in real work in the trenches of Los Angeles Theatre at this point in history is learning vital lessons about what is truly essential in performance, from the improv theatres to the big-money comedy cabarets, from the 99-seaters to the depressingly few mid-sized venues, from the karaoke bars to the latest pop music reality show. While television ungracefully dies in the cauldron of web production and the cinema is buried by meticulously planned, long-form storytelling, there will be a swing of the pendulum back to well-crafted live performance. The generation of amateurs today slaving for the love of the art will one day be the professionals helming a new renaissance of work that acknowledges the enduring vitality of vibrant storytelling.
Nothing we do is important, and yet everything we attempt will one day very important indeed.
So go see something. It’s not all shit, and even if it is, you yourself may just learn an important lesson that will bring you one step closer to elevating your art. Do not be a passive audience. Take it upon yourself to declare “I am not dead.” Neither is theatre in Los Angeles.