By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“The young actors I coach, who have no theater training and have obviously been chosen for their looks, they’re so, so lost,” explains Jeanie Hackett, co–artistic director of the Antaeus Company. “Our goal is to fulfill our artists’ needs, and if the community wants to look over our shoulder, fine.”
What debases our theater is not actors seeking a living in film and TV — which you’ll find in every theater city — but Hollywood’s cavalier disregard of theater as an institution, and its refusal to get actors to the church on time. “We had to cancel a performance last night, send a full audience home,” explains Antaeus’ John Apicella. “Our lead was held over at a shooting, due to their disorganization or something. He said, ‘But I’ve got a performance!’ Too bad. This would never happen in London or New York.”
Home is the word that crops up most frequently when artistic directors explain their ensembles’ reason for being. As Dakin Matthews puts it, describing how the Antaeus Company could hold onto busy actors such as John Vickery, Kandis Chappell, Mark Harelik, Alan Mandell and Jeremy Lawrence, “Even people making a great living [in film and TV] found they weren’t saying words that meant very much.”
Ensemble Studio Theater’s Laura Jane Salvato spins on her heels when asked whether the theater in Los Angeles is really a profession, or just a hobby.
“A hobby is something you do in your spare time when you have nothing better to do,” she flares. “The theater comes from a hunger— which is very different.”
What follows are snapshots of some of L.A.’s best ensembles:
Antaeus Company at the New Place Theater, 4900 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood; (818) 506-5436; www.antaeus.org. Co–artistic directors Jeanie Hackett and John Apicella. Antaeus explores classical plays. Company members are mostly over 40 years old — hence the in-house training academy, to “pass the torch.” After a series of Monday-night salons through the early ’90s, the troupe was solidified into an arm of the Mark Taper Forum, where it performed Equity workshops of classical plays being considered for production there. After its world-premiere translation (by company members Nicholas Saunders and Frank Dwyer) of Chekhov’s The Wood Demon on the Taper main stage in 1994, Antaeus incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation. This year, it rented a theater space in North Hollywood. Antaeus has 80 members, half of whom are active at any given time because so many of its actors are already working in film, TV or regional theater. Despite its almost 10-year existence, the company has staged only a handful of plays for the public, in mostly excellent productions. Explains Hackett: “John Vickery said, ‘I can go off and do a regional play for four weeks, so here I’d rather sit around a table and explore Coriolanusin depth.’” Dues, $25 monthly. Membership by participation, guest participation welcome through referral.
City Garage, 13401/2 Fourth St. (alley), Santa Monica; (310) 319-9939; www.citygarage.org. Artistic director FrÃ©dÃ©rique Michel; managing director Charles A. Duncombe. Sixteen-member company. The organization is now 17 years old, in its current space since 1994. Michel directs and Duncombe designs (and sometimes adapts) every production — a stream of politically charged works by international scribes (Rainer Fassbinder, Heiner MÃ¼ller, Marguerite Duras, Simone de Beauvoir, Aimee Bender and Caryl Churchill). Michel, a graduate of the Paris Conservatory, relishes her reputation as a serious and sometimes harsh taskmaster. No dues. Membership by audition.Circle X Theater Company c/o Stages Theater Center, 1157 N. McCadden Pl., Hollywood; (323) 461-6069; www.circlextheatre.org. Co-producing artistic directors Tara Flynn and Tim Wright. Founded in 1996. More than 60 members. This space has commented before on the troupe’s literate, whimsical garage-sale aesthetic (embodied in its scintillating, just-closed production of Tom Jacobson’s Sperm, and Jillian Armenante and Alice Dodd’s 2002 movie-biz musical, Laura Comstock’s Bag-Punching Dog). “This will not change,” insists Flynn, despite the company’s recent hiatus (the whole artistic staff collapsed from exhaustion) and appointment of a new leadership. The company provides all manner of voice and style workshops; open membership, earned through participation. No dues.
Pacific Resident Theater, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice; (310) 822-8392; www.pacificresidenttheatre.com. Artistic director Marilyn Fox; managing director Bruce Whitney. Has had a reputation for top-quality ensemble work since its inception in 1985. It now mostly stages European and American lesser-known classics. Fox took over the company in 1995, when finances and morale were bottoming out after expansion plans fell short. Under her watch, the subscription base has shot up from the low hundreds to 1,800, and the company has raised more than $170,000 as part of a capital campaign to support construction of a new 99-seat theater. More than 100 members. Monthly dues of $25 support the adjacent co-op workshop space, which is available to all members. Membership by audition.Open Fist Theater, 1625 N. La Brea Ave., Hollywood; (323) 882-6912; www.openfist.org. Artistic director Martha Demson. Incorporated in 1989. Like Fox over at PRT, Demson (a company member since 1991) also brought her theater back from disarray, when she took charge in 1997. At that time, the founding core had left and membership had dwindled to 25. Demson now holds membership to 65 (to assure that all members participate), the finances are stable, and a soulful quality of production has been slowly rising, with particularly strong stagings of Caryl Churchill’s Fenand David Grieg’s The Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union in the last couple of seasons. “Films follow a protagonist,” says Demson. “What’s interesting about theater is that you can see the entire community on the stage. I also like doing larger-cast shows because the economics [of commercial theater] preclude it.” Dues, $55 monthly. Membership by referral and audition.