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
Tethered to the economic decline is what Steppling views as the leaching out of theater and art from the culture. "Maybe it's the way education has been eroded since Reagan. People that I formerly thought of as dedicated theater artists are either defeated and not working, or they're just clamoring for the crumbs from Hollywood in an increasingly desperate way. ... [Sociologist Theodor] Adorno said this thing I quote all the time: 'The rise of fascism in Germany can be directly related to the end of education after World War I.' So as you have an increasingly ignorant population, of course you have the ascent of Sarah Palin.
"But I see signs of optimism in a few places. It's tough because it's this postliterate culture — I had film students who only wanted to read technical manuals on lenses. After six months of watching Fassbinder, I saw them downloading obscure films by Bresson. You can't just throw that at them. You have to provide historical context. That's what's not provided after the decimation of arts education. All we get is dueling reviewers. The template becomes the Academy Awards."
Steppling sees reasons for hope, now that fine indie films such as Winter's Bone and The Prophet are getting made and distributed. "I wish theater would catch up a bit. All these spaces are limping by, and the Taper does another production of The Glass Menagerie, and Burn This. And in the smaller theaters, do we really need another production of All My Sons right now? Or dinosaur renditions of Shakespeare showcasing actors for 47 people a night?"
(Steppling describes his own sliced-back adaptation of King Lear — with Goneril and Regan spoken in Norwegian and the other roles in either Polish or English — as "fairly traditional.")
"These tired old reactionary guys that run these theaters live in some fun-house fishbowl and they don't see the world around them. The thing that strikes me, either they do not reflect on the madness that's out there, or they do fake outreach, like the Taper, the identity-politics theater — enough already, enough."
Living in the desert, Steppling is talking to the city of Indio about the Date Festival grounds, "which is a kitsch wonder. What architectural hideousness has replaced what used to be this oasis of date trees," he reflects. He's pitching a site-specific work for the grounds, but doesn't yet know if it's going to be a film or a theater piece.
Don't mistake Steppling's harsh critique of our theater for despondency.
"I'm now almost 60," he reflects. "I think if you just survive, you stop worrying about things. I just want to do something I enjoy doing, with people I enjoy doing it with. And the possibilities are there. I'm optimistic."
L.A. HISTORY PROJECT: PIO PICO, SAM YORTY AND THE SECRET PROCESSION OF LOS ANGELES | Presented by GUNFIGHTER NATION at THE LOST STUDIO, 130 S. La Brea Ave., L.A. | Sept. 17-Oct. 2 | (323) 933-6944.