Rattling the Cage

CHAY YEW plants his hands on his front pockets, wrists twisted forward with subtle effeminacy. He is an artist and academic with a jovial attitude toward his openly gay sexuality and his Chinese-Singaporean ethnicity. That curious blend seeps into his brutal, lyrical plays (Porcelain, Wonderland and Red), which offer a coarser alternative to mainstream Asian-American playwrights such as David Henry Hwang. Yew's had works staged locally at East West Players (where he currently serves as a resident director), as well as at the New York Public Theater. He also runs the Asian-American Workshop at the Mark Taper Forum, a venue for fostering new writers.

BILL RAUCH co-founded the Cornerstone Theater Company out of Harvard University in 1986 (the company relocated to L.A. in 1992) with a mandate to infuse theater into the daily life of communities. Which means that Cornerstone goes into various neighborhoods and works with the locals; often they're performers sharing the stage with his professional company and providing it with new stories to dramatize. The boyish-looking Rauch recently garnered the Leadership for a Changing World Award -- the only artist to do so among the many high-profile recipients. Rauch's activities extend beyond Cornerstone: He's currently at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, directing Robert Schenkkan's new play, Handler; soon, he's off to Yale Rep, co-directing a revival of Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella, the acclaimed theatrical fusing of three legends, that he developed with the Actors' Gang.

JON LAWRENCE RIVERA's vision for the theater company he founded, Playwrights Arena, was born out of the '92 riots and the sense he had that community cohesion had frayed to shreds. The first flicks of gray show on his temples amidst a full head of hair, and he speaks in calm, subtly accented cadences (he's of Filipino descent). With his company settled in residence at the Los Angeles Theater Center after he produced for years at a tiny storefront on Pico Boulevard, Rivera looks back at a decade of producing and directing new plays written exclusively by L.A. playwrights. His high-water marks include directing Luis Alfaro's AIDS comedy Straight as a Line (which, after transferring to New York, received that rarest of glittering prizes for any L.A.-based production, a glowing review in The New York Times), and Nick Salamone's musical Moscow, which nabbed top honors at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last year. Though he envisions himself at Playwrights Arena for another decade at least, he says that if he ever steps down from his company to move to a larger institution, he will always be fighting for new works.

ROBERT A. PRIOR. The artistic director of the Fabulous Monsters is quickly recognizable from his shaved pate and bellowing laugh. Though governed more by style than substance, his theater company has made a name for itself creating pieces with healthy doses of camp and satire -- Voluptuous Madness (a kaleidoscopic musing on ancient mythology), Project: Alice (adapted from Lewis Carroll's story) and Speed-Hedda (a 90-minute, all-male romp through Ibsen's Hedda Gabler). Prior also works as a freelance designer, and has received wide acclaim for the fairy-tale whimsy of his fantastical sets and costumes.

TRACY HUDAK trained as a medical illustrator, moved on to painting -- which she studied at the Art Institute of Chicago -- and settled in performance art. "Things that aren't permanent seem really important to me," she says of her work, which includes street theater and site-specific pieces. "What's not permanent are the brief connections between people," she says. "We can't really hold on to that stuff, and that makes it all the more precious." Hudak is a co-founder of the Zoo District Theater Company, through which she created Imprint, the miasmic story of four women pivotal to the history of Los Angeles.

BARBARA BECKLEY. At the helm of the Colony Theater through its 27 years, she describes herself as a "missionary about theater in Los Angeles." Most of the Colony's three decades was spent in a modest venue on Silver Lake's Riverside Drive, with Beckley spearheading one of the most successful subscription theaters in the region. (The fare still ranges from musicals to adventurous imports to the occasional new work.) In 1998, the city of Burbank invited the Colony to move into a brand-new 300-seat facility. They moved in two years ago, and continue to thrive. More often than not, you'll find her onstage, animated and pixielike, welcoming the audience before the start of a show.

WENDY McCLELLAN is the de facto staff director of Oasis Theater Company, having staged its last two productions -- Gregory Gunter's retro cocktail-party riff on Antigone (Antigone.Tertiary.Sexxx.) at Hollywood's intimate Actor's Lab, and Leon Martell's musical Steel, about the life and death of John Henry, which was part of (Inside) the Ford's Hot Properties series this past season. The young, redheaded director is still finding her way artistically, though her penchant for wild, choreographed theatrics makes her worth following.

MARCI HILL. An artistic-board member of the Road Theater Company in North Hollywood, Marci Hill is a formidable figure in the renaissance of Valley stage. Serving at the Road as a producer, director, performer and designer, Hill embraces the philosophy that technical elements are as vital to shows as performance; her influence might explain why her theater's productions are as richly detailed and atmospheric as a ride in Disneyland.

JAMES MARTIN directs at Bottom's Dream, a company that, though producing infrequently, treads intrepidly into the language-based terrain inhabited by writers such as Mac Wellman and Ruth Margraff. Martin also has a close relationship with wordsmith Erik Ehn, the East Coast author of many impenetrably dense plays that Martin stages with staggering acuity, beauty and conviction.

MATT WALKER. Three months into a contracted two-year tenure as a circus clown, Matt Walker jumped a train somewhere outside Chicago and returned to his native L.A., where in 1994 he formed his Troubadour Theater Company, now known for its irreverent satires of the Bard's work. Among the company's gems are Romeo Hall and Juliet Oates, the immortal love story told through the mortifying music of a soft-rock duo, and A Midsummer Saturday Night's Fever Dream, full of poetic verse and Bee Gee glee.

DANIELLE BRAZELL. Inheriting the artistic directorship for Highways Performance Space from performance artist/NEA survivor Tim Miller, Danielle Brazell embodies the post-revolutionary movement in "performance" (as she dubs it). "In the past, we've been working in a survival mode. I'm trying to turn the tide." Brazell's plans for Highways include bringing an international community of artists to her stage, while finding ways to send L.A. performers abroad, thereby rejuvenating a form that used to push boundaries but has suffered of late from both insulation and calcification.

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