By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
“I’m working on A Catered Affair right now,” Miramontez explains, “which premiered at the Old Globe in San Diego. That production is trumpeting its San Diego Drama Critics Award. They’re using that. I think if that show premiered in L.A., there would be less enthusiasm to trumpet those awards and quotes. That’s my sense. That perception is based in fact.”
L.A. theater publicist-producer David Elzer, who’s been trying to find a New York home for his Milwaukee-born L.A. hit, The Marvelous Wonderettes, agrees in part with his New York colleague Miramontez. Though Elzer believes there has been a long-standing bias against productions from L.A., he’s observing a shift, a softening, as the world grows smaller and the cities grow increasingly interconnected and symbiotic.
“The best theater in the country will ultimately end up [in New York],” says Isherwood. “If you want attention to be paid, you have to make theater in New York. ... Let’s face it, I don’t think people who come out of grad school with theater in the blood think of L.A. as a place to establish themselves.”
Isherwood doesn’t believe that the New York theater community has any collective perception of L.A. at all, good or bad.
“New York is a New York–centrist place,” he explains. “They figure everything else is a tryout for New York.”
After growing up in Northern California, and graduating from Stanford University, Isherwood “somehow ended up in L.A. ... I don’t remember anymore. I think I was too lazy to move to New York, and the next thing you know, it was 10 years later.”
Isherwood worked for L.A. Style magazine, and then at the copy desk of Variety. While there, he started doing theater reviews for Back Stage West. He showed them to the editor at Variety, and that was the beginning of his career as a national theater critic. As Isherwood recalls this, his view that L.A. theater has scant relevance begins to soften.
“To be honest, L.A. is where I first fell in love with the theater,” he says. “It was in L.A. that I started going on a regular basis. In a weird way, because L.A. is not a great place — for lack of a better term — for high culture, because that’s not part of the general conversation, [that makes] the hunger for it greater in L.A., and you start to seek it out. I didn’t know a lot of people who went to a lot of theater in Los Angeles. That’s when I became really hooked on it.”
He says that while in L.A., he didn’t realize there was a qualitative difference between the work staged in L.A. and New York, and describes it as a consequence of “sheer quantity. ... There’s so much theater in New York, it generates its own excitement. The competition helps people live up to their best. There’s an intensity here [in New York] that you obviously don’t feel in L.A.”
Kendt, who continues to write freelance arts commentary from New York, says the problem of perception has more to do with New York provincialism than with any kind of agenda.
“My initial feeling is that L.A.’s just not on the radar at all out here, and I have to pick the times when I want to argue about that — that there really is theater in L.A. But for the most part, you have to nod along with the perception that it isn’t there. It doesn’t come from hostility, but from ignorance.”
He, like Isherwood, discovered a qualitative difference between the theater in L.A. and in New York, but Kendt’s view is slightly more paradoxical. He says theater buzz flies off the computer screen (from Web sites such as playbill.com and from the theater blogs connected to The New York Times and Time Out New York, plus independent blogs such as Kendt’s own thewickedstage.blogspot.com; Garrett Eisler’s playgoer.blogspot.com; Jason Grote’s jasongrote.blogspot.com; and Kyle T. Wilson’s frankswildlunch.blogspot.com — just for starters). Often, he says, it’s pointless gossip, but it reveals an international focus and a passion for the form that doesn’t exist on that scale in L.A. (though Wilson blogs from L.A.).
Then there’s the work itself. “There is a certain professionalism on the New York stage, and an etiquette of going to the theater that can seem a bit cold after you’ve been in the L.A. theater community,” says Kendt. “It’s more like: Sit down; this is going to start. You can set your clock by curtain time. You get a sense these actors were cast from a large pool; that doesn’t necessarily make for the most enriching theater performance.”