On September 1, the L.A. Weekly hosted the second in a series of
six roundtable discussions on new-play development, this one held at Evidence
Room. The discussions grew out of a perceived vacuum after the closing of A.S.K.
Theater Projects and Center Theater Group’s play-development labs.

In the aftermath of all the praise heaped on CTG’s former play-development labs in the first July 21 roundtable, I pointed out that there is nonetheless considerable feeling in the city that those labs were too cliquish and insulated. However, Luis Alfaro, who ran the Taper’s Latino Theater Initiative lab, countered that any festival is going to include cliquishness. “That’s what happens when you have a curator,” he said.

Not necessarily: REDCAT’s executive director, Mark Murphy, noted that though REDCAT, being a new institution, has hosted only two performance festivals, the second year he excluded those who had participated the year before. Writer-performer Stacie Chaiken added her support of an open-door policy, referring to her experiences with the New York Theater Workshop. The “clubbiness” is connected to resources, she said: “If we have access to money, we have to sustain an entry level.”

After independent producer Anthony Byrnes and Ghost Road Theater Company’s Mark Seldis took issue with excluding prior participants, urging both a sense of community and the principle of developing artists rather than just their products, Murphy acknowledged the importance of continuity: “Repeat engagements build name recognition . . . Strategically, you need to do both as much as possible.”

Writer-performer/radio host Sandra Tsing Loh argued that once playwrights have made it to a recognized play-development institution, such as Sundance or the New York Theater Workshop, they’ve got their career. It’s the entry-level “quirky individuals” who define L.A. theater we need to stand behind, she said.

With various people advocating varied approaches, a semblance of unity and consensus came from a proposal by Jessica Kubzanksy (Theater @ Boston Court) — a follow-up from Alfaro’s idea in the July 21 discussion — that the competing needs under discussion could be met with a consortium of small theaters. It was from this idea that everything fell into a sharper focus.

Sylvie Drake of the Denver Theater Center stressed the need to take time refining the administration of the consortium, while many expressed excitement about the idea of mixing styles, getting musicians and poets, dramatists and ensembles all working together, drawing from models such as the Contemporary Arts Center, the National Performance Network and the National Dance Project, which have hub sites. “A local version might mean a sampling of different organizations,” Murphy added.

It was also pointed out that for reasons of conflict of interest, nobody involved in the consortium should serve on the rotating panel governing it.

The idea was floated that the consortium should consist of four to six performing-arts organizations, and that each year, one or two new groups should be added, and one or two of the senior groups graduated out, so that any single organization can have a tenure of three or four years within the consortium. Enthusiasm also was expressed for an annual or biannual festival with public activities ranging from technically sophisticated workshops to preliminary readings or concerts.

Questions yet to be discussed: How does a consortium not become a hobby center? How does it help its participants become full-time artists? And how is a curatorial panel appointed or elected? Evidence Room’s Bart DeLorenzo added that the curatorial role is important. “If this panel can propose their own things but also look outward and propose other things, it keeps the germ of the idea truly exciting.”

On Sunday, October 16, from 2 to 4 p.m., Edge of the World Theater Festival is hosting a town-hall, “Developing Our Play,” free and open to the public, at Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 S. Spring St., downtown.

Also at LATC, on Saturday, October 1, from 6:30 p.m., the theater is hosting a
party for everybody who ever worked at LATC in any capacity. Free admission. For
more information, go to www.celebrate-latc.org.

LA Weekly