|Illustration by Michael Crivello|
WHETHER RAT IS AN ACRONYM FOR REGIONAL Alternative Theaters, Room and Transportation or Raggedy Ass Theaters is still being debated. There is agreement, however, that RAT is an informal network of small, not-for-profit theaters in the United States that find themselves linked by poverty, the Internet and a common desire to circumvent the hierarchic organizational structures of Broadway and regional theaters. One of many aims is to create inventive new works without the stipulations of a grant, or having to placate a conservative subscription audience.
“Membership is easy,” says RAT member Mitchell Gossett, artistic director of L.A.'s Bottom's Dream. “If you want to be in, you are.”
On a local level, RAT can involve sharing resources and information on the Big Cheap Theater (BCT) online subscription service. This past spring, the producers of Tom Scanlon's The Superhumans at Silver Lake's Moving Arts found themselves in need of a slide projector. Director Matt Almos immediately put out a plea for help on the BCT Internet posting board; within an hour, four theaters had answered the call. RAT also encourages theater discourse on its national Web site (www.rat conference.com).
Since the publication of playwright Erik Ehn's 1993 treatise (“A Proposal and an Alarum”) on the need and possible methodologies for counterinstitutional theaters, the RATs have convened annually in various cities. This year's conference, to be held in Los Angeles, marks RAT's sixth year of infestation. All events are free and open to the public. The following is an abbreviated itinerary for the weekend.
* THURSDAY, JULY 22, AT THE IVY SUBSTATION (9070 VENICE BLVD., CULVER CITY)
Noon1 p.m.: “RAT Frat,” meet and greet over coffee.
12 p.m.: “RAT Feet.” Mitchell Gossett of L.A.'s Bottom's Dream hosts a discussion of how to use the conference
in order to encourage interregional co-productions.
23:30 p.m.: “How To Work Within an Institution and Still Be a RAT,” a presentation by Caidad Svich, playwright-in-residence at the Mark Taper Forum.
46 p.m.: “RAT del Arte,” an acting demonstration of the Actors' Gang's commedia style, led by the company's general manager, Mark Seldis.
68 p.m.: “The High Cheeze Challenge,” a competition among artistic teams to come up with cheap solutions to impossible stage directions. (For a presentation by the winning team, see program for July 24.)
810 p.m.: A reading of Stations of Desire: Saints, Sinners and Inbetween, an online text collaboration of 14 playwrights.
1011:30 p.m.: A roundtable led by John Sylvain of L.A.'s Sacred Fools on late-night programming.
* FRIDAY, JULY 23, AT THE LOS ANGELES THEATER CENTER (514 S. SPRING ST., DOWNTOWN)
1011 a.m.: “Elixir of the Gods,” java and hospitality.
11 a.m.12:30 p.m.: “RAT Scraps,” a presentation by Douglas Messerli, editor of Sun and Moon Press, about publishing plays on a budget.
11:30 a.m.1 p.m.: “Got Milk?,” a discussion led by playwrights Kelly Stuart and Jeffery M. Jones on issues of language in new work.
23:30 p.m.: “Running a Theater Without Driving Yourself Crazy,” a presentation by the artistic director of L.A.'s Moving Arts, Lee Wochner, on how to organize small, alternative companies.
23:30 p.m.: “The RAT Lady Sings.” Chris Jeffries and Ruth Margraff talk about new trends in operetta.
46 p.m.: Privileged and Confidential, Peculiar Works Project's live simulcast world-premiere performance of S.M. Dale's play, with actors from Los Angeles and New York interacting via video conferencing.
7 p.m.midnight: “Night of a Thousand Playwrights,” featuring two-minute segments from plays read by actors and written by as many writers as the RATs could recruit.
* SATURDAY, JULY 24, AT LOS ANGELES THEATER CENTER
1011 a.m.: Coffee and buzz.
11 a.m.1 p.m.: “Shape Scenes,” a workshop by Suzanne Maynard involving the incorporation of geometric shapes in scene work.
11:301 p.m.: “Setting the Traps: Marketing for RATs.” Mark Shapiro discusses marketing without busting your budget.
23:30 p.m.: “Electrified RATs.” Nick Fracaro points out the benefits of the online phenomenon for big artists in small theaters.
46 p.m.: “RAT Trap — Large Organizations: Helpful or Helpless?,” a debate and discussion between RAT founder Erik Ehn and Theater Communications Group (TCG) executive director Ben Cameron, among others.
6:157 p.m.: A performance by San Diego's Sledgehammer Theater Company.
810 p.m.: Lawyers, a performance of Nat Colley's play directed by Moving Arts' Julie Briggs.
11:30 p.m.12:30 a.m.: A performance of whatever came out of “The High Cheeze Challenge.” (See July 22.)
* SUNDAY, JULY 25, IN AND AROUND SANTA MONICA
Sunday's events were not yet locked down when this went to press, but we're assured it will involve the beach, a chili cook-off and a performance from NYC's Thieves Theater.
All events are subject to change. For further information, contact the RAT Conference hot line: (310) 281-9517.