What’s Missing from the Upcoming LA Times Panel on Whether Los Angeles is a “Theatre Town”?

A representative from the 99 Seat Theatre Community.

I’m serious. They got nada.

Here’s the announcement with the lineup for the June 14th roundtable event being sponsored by Culture Monster:

“Los Angeles Times theater critic Charles McNulty will moderate a panel that features Michael Ritchie, artistic director of Center Theatre Group; Tim Robbins, Oscar-winning actor and artistic director of the Actors’ Gang; Broadway producer Marc Platt (“Wicked,” “Three Days of Rain,” “Pal Joey”); Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Beth Henley; and Sheldon Epps, artistic director of Pasadena Playhouse and Broadway director (“Baby It’s You!”).”

And please don’t try and convince me that Tim Robbins fulfills that role.  Nope.  He’s there because he’s a movie star, a celebrity, and happens to run a theatre called the Actors Gang.  A good and valid company, yes, but he absolutely does not qualify as a true representative of the 99 Seat Theatre Community. I have no quibble with the listed panelists, I really don’t, it’s simply the lack of any genuine representative from the actual community that gives LA its theatre identity that pisses me off. Give me a Michael Seel or a David Fofi or a Daniel Henning or a Gates McFadden or a Stephen Sachs or a Tim Wright, a REAL representative of the 99 Seat Theatre Community.  A community that makes at least 90% of the theatre that is produced in this town.

Think I’m making that number up?

By many estimations there are anywhere from 1000 to 1200 plays produced in LA each year.  Let’s just say there are 1000 so we have a nice round number. Now let’s add up all the shows that are produced by the larger companies, you know, the Geffen, the Taper, the Ahmanson, the Kirk Douglas, Pasadena Playhouse, South Coast Rep, heck, let’s even throw in those mid-size theatres that our pal Don Shirley is always touting – rightly so – and let’s say there are about 10 of these theaters that can’t be categorized in the 99 Seat Theatre Community.  Let’s say each of these companies do 5 shows a year.  That’s probably an overestimation, but what the hey, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.  10 x 5 = 20 (50).  20 (50) shows.  So of the 1000 shows produced in LA 20 (50) of them come from organizations other than the 99 Seat Theatre Community.  20 (50) divided by 1000 = 2% (5%).

2% (5%)!

Too low?  Okay, let’s say there are 20 theaters that qualify for this “upper echelon” tier. 20 x 5 = 100.  100 divided by 1000 = 10%.

TEN PERCENT!

That’s right. 10%. What about the other 90% of the theatre in Los Angeles?  Well, apparently the LA Times and Culture Monster don’t give a shit about them.

And that’s why this panel is a fucking joke.

And look, I realize this is more of a “high-exposure” event meant to compete with the TCG Convention – as the article puts it their panel “coincides” with the Convention – and I understand they are trying to feed off the TCG attendees and show how hip they can be by putting on such a sophisticated event – but it’s a fucking joke.

If you leave out a representative (actually there should be more than one) from the part of the theatre community that produces 90% of the theatre in Los Angeles at an event that preposes to be asking the question whether Los Angeles is a “theatre town” then your event is invalid and irrelevant and is nothing more than what I’m sure will be a well-attended, well-documented, circle jerk.

Or as I like to put it, a fucking joke.

And yet they’ve actually allowed us peons an opportunity to send in questions we’d like to be posed to the panel. You can either go to their Facebook page here or you can just go to the article and offer your question in the comment section.  Which is what I did.  Here’s me:

Yes, Colin Mitchell, Editor for Bitter Lemons here. I have a simple question for the panel and for the organization that organized the event: why is there no representative from the 99 Seat Theatre Community? And please don’t tell me that Tim Robbins’ presence fulfills that vacuum. He’s clearly there because he’s a celebrity. Yes, his theatre the Actors Gang might be considered a part of that community, but it’s a poor offering in my opinion. A lack of any real representative from the smaller theatre community that represents about 75% of the theatre that is produced in Los Angeles just makes this panel a complete joke. And you can quote me. Many thanks.

I made the percentage much smaller than the true number just in case they decided to challenge me on that point.

And of course if you’re a masochist you can actually go here and make reservations to attend the circle jerk in person.

I was actually considering attending the event and asking this exact question, but to be honest, I’d rather be attending one of the previews at the Fringe.

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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  1. Lancelot says:

    Collin, Thank you.

  2. My pleasure, Lance. I’m still stunned by the absolute lack of self-awareness by the people running this event. I guess they still have time to make amends, but I’m not holding my breath.

    If people want to see the smaller theatre community WELL represented, make sure you come to the Fringe Critics Panel we are hosting. Here’s the info here: http://www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/620

  3. John Flynn says:

    Hey Colin –

    total agreement – thanks for being vocal – I appreciate
    how much energy and passion it takes -

    John

  4. Paul Mullin says:

    Good on ya, Colin. We fight these fights up in Seattle, too. But given that most of my plays premiere in LA, I have a dog in this fight too.

    Do us a favor and let us know what response you get to your question.

  5. VERY well said! With all the push and hard work that goes into the “smaller” shows and all the amazing shows that Ive seen since my return form NY and the great work that Daniel Henning does over at THE BLANK… He’s an obvious choice for this group… and would speak very well on behalf of the “75%”.

  6. Perhaps this panel will provide a different perspective:
    http://www.scpr.org/events/2011/06/20/why-theatre-why-l/

  7. Brian says:

    The LA Times panel smacks of either ignorance or snobbery. Maybe both. I don’t know the process or reasoning behind assembling the panel, so it could just as easily be neither ignorance nor snobbery.

    I’m just glad it got people’s feathers ruffled. And I think the response so far by the 99 seat community answers their question loud and clear and essentially nullifies the need for the panel at all.

  8. K. Hilton says:

    Enjoyed reading this post, also wanted to share this:

    “THE UNINVITED…Crashing the Party” has been organized by Los Angeles theater artists as a counter-conference to the national Theater Communications Group conference being held in downtown Los Angeles this month.

    To be held on June 19th, 1pm to 4pm
    at The Lost Studio
    130 S. La Brea Ave.

    more info here: http://gfnation.wordpress.com/2011/06/
    Los Angeles, CA 90036

  9. Alex says:

    Well said, Colin. Well fucking said.

  10. Scot Renfro says:

    Bravo! Well written, sir. Sadly, the whole exercise in horse’s assery comes as no surprise.

  11. Gedaly Guberek Gedaly says:

    Remember that this is organized by the LA Times… they don’t see theatre in LA.

  12. Edgar says:

    Bravo, Colin! Well articulated. It is unbelievable that the The Times and McNulty continue to ignore the LA theatre community. Their ignorance and arrogance speaks volumes.

  13. A Producer says:

    Small theatre cannot make anyone any money. That’s why none of the “power brokers” gives a shit about it. Just wait, in 5 years the Hollywood Fringe will be taken over by well-heeled producers hiding behind fake “indy” theatre companies so they can workshop their new productions inexpensively in front of audiences. This is what happened to the NYC Fringe and I’ll wager that once that happens here, all the “power brokers” will start fawning all over the Fringe and the “sudden emergence” of small theatre in LA.

  14. Pat says:

    99seat isn’t the only thing missing from the panel – but that’s specifically why some of us actors, directors and stage managers are going – to ask the questions that need to be raised. So please do come and ask yours!

  15. Who wants to join me on Tuesday to let the L.A. Times know what we think of their Culture Monster “event” which seems sorely lacking in true representation of the Los Angeles theater community? http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2011/06/is-los-angeles-a-theater-town-a-culture-monster-event.html
    It’s downtown, it’s at 6:00, and it’s free!
    http://culturemonster614.eventbrite.com/

  16. Greg says:

    Thanks, Colin, for fighting the good fight. It’s aggravating, the LA Times’ continued insistence on ignoring the 99-seat community.

  17. Brian says:

    I don’t think it is fair to say the LA Times ignores 99 seat theatre in general. Sure, they seem to be ignoring that large segment of the community with this panel and they should account for that. But most of the theatre reviews they run online is for 99 seaters. They don’t make it to every single production, and probably have missed a lot of productions by a lot of theatre companies. And I’m sure those of you unhappy with them are that way because they have never come to see one of your shows. You just have to keep inviting them and telling them why they should pay attention to your work.

    Over the past year/year and a half I have noticed their dedication to including small theaters in their publication. Sometimes they don’t publish them in a timely manner, and sometimes they aren’t given as much space as a review for a larger house. But they are there at least. They certainly treat the larger houses differently and with some favoritism, but the paper is a business and we have to understand that they are selling a product. They shouldn’t be including everybody just to include everybody. That’s not their purpose. Their purpose is to report things they think readers will be interested in reading. And not everything we do in our theaters is going to be as interesting to the LA Times readership as it is to us.

  18. TheatreFan says:

    But Brian – isn’t the purpose of a newspaper to actually report news and NOT just focus on what they think people would want to read. If that were the case we would have stories about how pretty our roses smell and how the weather is always sunny out here. Business or no business there comes a responsibility with journalism and all the more reason to your point that they cover a lot of 99 seat theatre out here in LA should they include some prominent members of that community on this panel.

    The few they have chosen are so far out of touch with what goes on in the daily lives of theatre and its artists. Or at least they all sway in only one direction of what theatre is like out here in LA that it is a totally biased representation. Center Theatre Group is lately only having success with productions that it “busses” in from other places – there is not a lot they are doing to produce or create anything new or exciting using the talent pool out here in LA. Pasadena Playhouse has been struggling with Bankruptcy for sometime now. How can you realistically ask the question, “Is LA a theatre town?” without including the people who have kept small, vital, blossoming theatres alive out here for years with artists who live in this town who are trying to work in all mediums to make a life for themselves.

    All we are asking for is a fair voice here. A voice that represents the people who live and work in the theatre for their love of it whether a newspaper comes to cover the work or not.

  19. Don Shirley says:

    Colin, did I read this correctly in your comments:
    “10 x 5 = 20″?

    I’m no math major, but…

  20. As always my guardian angel, Don Shirley, breathing down my neck.

    Apparently I dropped my calculator in my excitement and was using my fingers and toes. 50 is the total of the initial sum. Which would have been 5%.

    I got the second one right though. 100. Final analysis still stands.

    First day of Fringe Previews and I’m already delirious.

  21. Apollo Dukakis says:

    The tragic truth is that the LA Times will not and I dare say cannot do more to feature the local 99 seat theater because it will not sell newspapers. Only feature stories and reviews with stars or popular award(Tony) winning known shows will sell papers. Dwindling subscription sales are guaranteeing that all the wonderful little theater groups will continue to struggle in oblivion.

  22. Brian says:

    TheatreFan – Do you think they report all the news that happens all the time? All the education news, police news, government news, sports, etc? The answer is no. That is why there are editors on staff to help figure out which news is appropriate for the paper. It’s as true for the arts and theatre as it is for crime. It’s just the reality of newspapers and is not necessarily a reflection of their commitment.

  23. Brian says:

    BTW – I am not talking about the panel specifically here, just the paper’s reporting on theatre in general. I think their reporting has been fair. I do think they have made a mistake with this panel.

  24. Brian says:

    I just found out the title of the panel that ruffled many feathers is “The Role of LA in the National Theater Scene” which is much different than asking “Is LA a theatre town?” That is what Culture Monster originally asked in the blog post. That title seems to be appropriate given the makeup of the panelists. Was this the title for the panel all along and none of us noticed it? Did they change it based on the community’s reaction?

  25. Yes, I believe this was the title all along, but it makes no difference, Brian. Any discussion about LA as a “theatre town” or its “role in the national theatre scene” still would need to include a representative from the community that produces the overwhelming majority of its theatre. This panel does not do that.

    And just for the record, this is how it’s posed in the article, and I quote:

    “Is Los Angeles a “theater town”?

    New York. Chicago. Seattle. San Francisco. For many, those cities come to mind when people mention “theater town.” But where does L.A. fit in?

    That’s the topic of our upcoming theater roundtable. On June 14 at 6 p.m., Culture Monster will host a conversation about the city’s place in the national theater scene -– and in the shadow of Hollywood.”

    Wrong in so many ways its painful.

  26. And just so we’re clear, this was the title of the article on the Times site:

    “Is Los Angeles a ‘theater town’?: A Culture Monster event”

    I appreciate you trying to be the voice of reason here, Brian, and you’re right the Times has done a pretty good job of actually covering some of the shows in the 99 Seat Theatre Community – though you won’t find McNulty on many of those bylines – but this oversight or display of utter ignorance – can’t tell which it is really – is just disgraceful.

  27. Colin Kramer says:

    Excellent article. Thank you for the enlightening, and crucially needed information. Is this by chance the same Colin Mitchell who composed the play “Bitten by a Fly?”

  28. Brian says:

    My point is discussing if LA is a theatre town is very different than a discussion on LA’s place in the national theatre scene. It’s inarguable to include 99 seaters in a discussion of LA being a theatre town. I think many 99 seaters should be included in a discussion of LA on the national level (Just to name a few: Elephant has a relationship with Labyrinth in NYC, Furious has a relationship with Naked Angels, Boston Court has shared world premieres with theaters from around the country, as has The Fountain) but these are not as high profile as big houses bringing in shows from NY (CTG) and shipping them our to NY (Pasadena Playhouse.) So I understand the exclusion of small theatres from the panel because the first impulse is too look at the high profile organizations. I don’t agree with the choices they made, but I understand it.

  29. Hi Colin,

    I’m Elizabeth Doran, Managing Director of The Actors’ Gang. I thought I’d take a moment to comment on your recent editorial (I suppose I should say your “co-administratorial”) on this LA Times theater panel happening tomorrow.

    Tim Robbins, our Artistic Director, read your post and absolutely agreed – we at The Gang are just one voice of the many 99-seat theaters in LA that so deeply form the identity of the LA theater scene. More voices should be heard, and he wanted to let you know that if any of the folks you mentioned want to show up he’ll share his time in the discussion with them.

    Personally, I’d like to respond to your furious thesis statement about how bad it is that Tim is the only representative of LA small theater on this panel. Seriously, your cussing and swearing reminds me of this nasty-tempered be-diapered 85 year-old merchant marine my grandfather used to hang out with. Are you sure I didn’t see you last month hanging out at the Belmont racetrack, chomping on cigars, drinking watered down wine from a jug, and squinting to see which horse takes the biggest pre-race poop? (A system for betting that actually works, people…)

    Despite your rage about this, Tim is a good representative of small theaters in LA and I invite you to get to know him better. I invite you to come to a Sunday night workshop with us and see him in action collaborating with LA theater artists, or to prison with us to see him working with inmates. I invite you to read up on his recent speech in downtown LA at a rally fighting the devastating HR-1 Federal bill (which would have destroyed funding for LA small arts organizations) or read his open letter to Congress fighting for the National Endowment for the Arts. http://blog.artsusa.org/2011/04/07/an-open-letter-to-the-united-states-congress-from-tim-robbins/.

    The Actors’ Gang struggles in this economy just like the rest of the 99 seat theaters. Tim and The Actors’ Gang have produced 99 seat plays for 30 years in this town. Tim is an outspoken arts leader. Don’t like Tim’s celebrity status? Think it is the only reason the LA Times asked him to be on the panel? Think it is bad to have a famous, well spoken arts advocate representing your shared community? C’mon, folks. Time to take a mental dump before galloping out of the gate. The fact is that the horse who carries the least amount of baggage tends to win the race.

    • Hi Elizabeth,

      Lizzie! Was that you down at Belmont? You should’ve stopped by and said hello. Though I was a little too busy with my poop bets. But I have to clarify one of your erroneous remarks, that was a bottle of White Lightning in my brown paper bag, not watered down wine.

      And on the cussing? What can I say, sometimes I cuss when I write, sometimes I don’t. In this particular instance I felt like cussing. Seemed appropriate.

      And to further clarify, and as I said in my article, I don’t have a quibble with Tim being on the panel. My problem is that if the organizers thought Tim was the BEST representative of small theatre in LA, they made a mistake. I also have no argument with Tim’s talents and passion as an actor, writer, director and producer in film and theatre. I am a fan. His body of work more than speaks for itself. And I don’t have any problem with having him on the panel as the token “theatre celebrity”. Celebrity for the most part (there are many exceptions) is something that is usually foisted upon someone. Some embrace it and use it for their disposal, while others shrink from it. Tim for the most part seems to have embraced it and used it for beneficial causes he is obviously passionate about.

      My problem is and remains what I just stated above: if you are going to have a panel that preposes to be discussing LA’s place in the national theatre scene and whether or not LA is a “theatre town” you MUST have a true representative of the community that is ACTUALLY producing 90% of the theatre in that town. Tim, for all his credentials, does not fulfill that requirement and therefore this panel, as it is, is invalid. And yes, a fucking joke.

      Damn. There I go again. Like some kinda sailor on shore leave! Gotta lay off the moonshine. Maybe loosen up those diapers too.

      Sincere thanks, Elizabeth, for chiming in. For all my bilious bile I am honestly grateful for your candor and for taking the time to comment on our humble hub here.

      Oh, and please tell Tim he is more than welcome to do the same. I know some people are heading down to the panel and I look forward to hearing how the discussion shapes up.

  30. Frier McCollister says:

    Your presumptions re. this panel are correct. The sharp focus on the scene given the TCG/ Radar/ Fringe nexus inevitably gives rise to these events which more often than not are an excuse for cheerleading and boosterism. While there is always a wealth of production activity in the 99-seat venues, the fact is that the LA market has been utterly moribund for the last 20 years. A significant factor in this is the lack of mid-size [100-500 seat] houses available to independent production and the lack of responsible stewardship by the city around venues like LATC.
    As to support by the LA Times, the paper really no longer wields any significant influence on the market at large and probably never will again.

  31. Dear Colin,

    I thought you were just “turd jockeying,” but it seems you deserve a second chance (anyone who drinks white lighting can’t be all bad).

    I still insist, though, that your main point is off.
    Tim directs or is directly involved with every production at our 99 seat theater. While he does not chortle his involvement, he is not a figurehead used by an organization, but a constant presence and a vital working asset to our theater and the entire theater community of LA.

    Are there other excellent representatives of the 99 seat theatre community? Of course, but, simply put, Tim is a fine representative of the community that he, myself, and The Actors’ Gang are proud members of.

    See you at the races.

  32. I just appreciate the fact that you’ve now used the phrase “chortle his involvement” on our site. That alone, Elizabeth, makes you an honorary member of our non-existent Bitter Lemons Hall of Fame. Congratulations.

    On your point though, stated and noted.

    We’ll just to have to agree to disagree, as the saying goes.

  33. Amber says:

    Hi,

    Loved this thread! I’m wondering how it went tonight. Would someone share some highlights pretty please? I think it’s a great question to ask. “Is LA a theatre town?” I think the perception from the outside is that it’s not. As a girl who got her MFA in acting and is friends with loads of other MFA recipients I know that no one in their right mind is telling tomorrow’s actors that if they want to be a theatre artist they should move to Los Angeles. It seems like such a great discussion to have because the potential is that the perception can be altered. It would appear to some that doing theatre in LA is not a job, but a hobby and that alone makes LA a non destination for many talented young theatre artists. But what if that changed? What if actors moved here because they wanted to do theatre!? In any case, would love to hear what went down at tonight’s discussion! Wish I could have been there!

    <3

  34. [...] initial announcement of the panel, my head spun around twice, flame shot out of my ears and I wrote this. And I also wrote a comment on their site – AS THEY ASKED US TO DO – offering a [...]