Theater and Its Discontents
Poor Steven Leigh Morris [“A Theater Lover’s Lament,” Dec. 8–14]. “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” It’s quite true that there’s a lot of pap, sap and showcase crap out there, and lamenting the dismal state of L.A. theater (and the lack of new, exciting and original works) must be hard work indeed. I have a few suggestions that would ease Mr. Morris’ burden. If you would, sir, please:
(1) Accept and appreciate that virtually all small theater productions in L.A. use up every nickel of their sad little budgets getting the shows up and running. There is nothing left to cover the obscenely high costs of advertising.
(2) Accept and appreciate that as a direct result of No. 1, we rely on (that’s right, here it comes) the L.A. Weekly and the Los Angeles Times theater reviews for publicity and any pathetic little scrap of positive reinforcement and usable quotes.
(3) Accept and appreciate that as a direct result of No. 1 and No. 2, you can help encourage new works by seeing to it that they are reviewed at the beginning of their run when the review could, potentially, help get butts in the seats so the rent can be paid. Sadly, productions consider themselves lucky if their review comes out before the last two weeks of a six-to-eight-week run.
(4) Please, please, please! Tell your critics to review the production — performances, lighting, sets, direction, pace, accessibility — and not simply give a plot summary or a critique of the playwright’s other body of work. A mediocre play, or a work in progress, can still be presented in a riveting production.
(5) If you’d like to see more new works, then ask your critics to encourage them — err on the side of support rather than oh-so-clever putdowns (is there an end-of-the-year contest among critics, by the way?).
(6) Most importantly: Realize the power you wield, Mr. Morris. If you want more of a certain type of theater in L.A., there are few people in a better position to foster it. I can’t decide if it’s arrogance or if you really just don’t have a clue.
We read Steven Leigh Morris’ recent article about the state of theater in L.A. and felt he couldn’t be more accurate in his comments. As the most loyal supporter that the L.A. theater scene has, he’s right to point out its shortcomings. At City Garage we have taken plenty of tough hits from him, as well as many nice words of praise. But it has been his identification of our weaknesses that has meant the most. Reflecting on his just criticism has allowed us to grow.
We’re constantly striving to hit the high bar he sets and are grateful to him for doing so. He is right to demand courage from L.A. theater. He’s right to demand innovation, shock, surprise, delight and, ultimately, genuine inspiration. Everything else is a waste of time. Morris wants theater to be what Kafka said all art should be: “the ax that breaks the frozen sea within us.” Morris has such an ax, and we in L.A. theater should value him for wielding it so well.
Frédérique Michel ?and Charles Duncombe
This is a letter in response to “A Theater Lover’s Lament” by Steven Leigh Morris. I’d like to thank him for writing, and to join him wholeheartedly in the lament. No one likes to hear the truth about how disintegrated the theater scene is. But silence, or encouragement of the mediocrity, is a sure way to add to the most glaring truth — the disappearing spectators, the empty seats. American theater is overdue for a rehaul. L.A. theater can become a big part of that, and the L.A. Weekly can play a vital role. We need more gadfly theater companies and a forum for honest voices of spectators and critics.
I’d like to add the following observations to the points brought up in the article: Unlike some New York companies, L.A. companies have no lasting body of work produced, and most productions have very short rehearsal periods, so the quality is hard to assure. The convention of the actor-spectator relationship is rarely broken, the location is confined to a standard theater space, the ancient notion of theater as a place of provocation is unexplored. The experimentation is not authentic, often borrowed and mostly safe; the truth is feigned. And lastly, there is often a glaring disconnect among the actors onstage, or between the actors’ actions and the possibilities of the material.
American Russian Theatre ?Ensemble Laboratory