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 Pasadena Journal, which has published for more than 16 years, may not look like promising ground for theater advertisers. It’s a small paper with a 15,000-copy run. The August 31 issue attacking the Playhouse seemed to consist mainly of opinion pieces by Joe Hopkins, fictitious-business-name announcements, and press releases packaged as articles. This particular issue had no theater reviews, nor did the paper’s Web site.
Still, Joe Hopkins maintains that “there are people who only read our paper. Everyone thinks if they buy an ad in the Sentinel, they’ve reached all blacks. Theaters will get more bang for their buck in our paper because we’re a niche paper and we don’t charge as much [as other papers]. We’re not begging, we’re not asking for charity.”
“They don’t take the ethnic press seriously,” says Andre Herndon, editor of the Los Angeles Wave. “We see it with the number of press invitations we receive for events and with the way we’re offered interviews, which is usually in the form of junkets. But our market research has shown us that a lot of our readers get most of their news from us or give us a higher credibility rating than the MNM — the mainstream news media. We go to see everything. I’m black, and my mom’s favorite actor is Will Ferrell.”
THEFENCES FIASCO HAS FORCED into public conversation the privately expressed belief that blacks aren’t interested in plays or films that aren’t African-American–themed.
Joe Hopkins attacked this assumption in his open letter to the Pasadena Arts Council, claiming that “we are consistently ignored, as if we represent the ugly, mentally ill sister who is best kept in the basement.” He asked, rhetorically, if Pasadena’s arts community’s lack of advertising in the black media stems from a desire not to see too many blacks in audiences, “because they don’t know how to act” and “too many of them might cause whites to be uncomfortable.”
Within Hopkins’ charges lurks a visceral accusation — that perhaps cultural venues don’t advertise in black papers because they don’t want black audiences that are perceived as unruly. The Weekly has learned that in the previews leading up to Fences’ opening night, many blacks in the Playhouse were emotionally vocal, calling back to the stage with shouts of “Tell it!” and “You go, girl!” Anyone who’s seen a play produced south of Pico Boulevard — from dramas to chitlin’-circuit farces — is familiar with this participatory tradition, yet one person familiar with the Playhouse organization says it became a source of concern before Fences’ premiere.
The opening-night ticketing spectacle quickly died down, another chapter that will join a collective memory of fact and mythology about race relations in Pasadena and Los Angeles. Today, Joe Hopkins says he is pressing for more dialogue on the issue of getting more advertising for black newspapers in general and, in particular, more work at the Pasadena Playhouse for African-American–owned catering businesses, florists and photographers.
“We went through this in 1992, when we complained to the Tournament of Roses Committee, which then all of a sudden found black businesses to share in the work. It’s been pretty diverse there ever since,” Hopkins says. For now he’s seeking a meeting between the Pasadena Playhouse and local black business leaders. “I’m not asking for a boycott,” Hopkins says.