Can LA Theater and LA Tourism Ever Mesh?

This is the topic Don Shirley explores in his latest over at LA Stage Times.

The question of whether LA is a theater town is a moot one, but the question of whether LA is a theater DESTINATION town can be easily answered: no.

But there’s a bigger question to be asked: Can LA EVER become a theater destination town?

Probably not. It will more than likely always be a film and TV town, yet all the while the most theater per capita will be continuing right under everyone’s noses. It’s maddening.

But the key to turning that around would be answering the question that led off this article and the one Don explores. How to tap the LA Tourism Market.

Now right off the bat there’s a big obstacle, we don’t have a Broadway, we don’t even have an Off-Broadway, we just have…well…a whole lot of theater going on all over the place.

But having a Broadway, big budgets, big shows, with big stars, centrally located, organized, managed, marketed by the city and its own league of theaters, is huge.

We can’t compete with that. So we have two things working against us, people don’t come to LA to see theater and we don’t have a big, centrally located, glitzy amalgam of theaters like Broadway.

So why would a tourist even consider seeing theater in Los Angeles?

Well Don, in his article, ran into a couple of folks who actually were Los Angeles Theater tourists, people that come here to see LA Theater! I’m guessing this is a rare thing. Nevertheless, there are some things that could be done to perhaps make some inroads. One is getting the city’s tourism center to do a better job of selling our theater. The Los Angeles Tourist & Convention Board has a website called DiscoverLosAngeles that is basically the portal to all things Tourism in LA. Don tried to traverse the site as if he were a tourist looking for some theater to see. It was labrynthian to say the least and after several click throughs he found himself here:

Choose “Arts & Theater” instead of “Arts Theater” and you get absolutely nothing. No events are listed in this sub-category.

Among the other sub-categories lower in the alphabetical list, you’ll find one called “Live Theater” (“dead theater” events are inexplicably ignored). “Live Theater” yields more results — seven theatrical performances scheduled this week. But most of the prominent and acclaimed shows (such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReinDOORS, Nora, Foote Notes, Focus Group Play, Dirty Filthy Love Story) are not listed here.

There are still additional sub-categories that theater lovers might feel compelled to investigate – “More Arts and Theater” (nothing listed for this week), “Musicals” (also nada this week) “Plays” (only ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore is listed – and nothing else in the entire month of January) and, finally, near the bottom, “Theatre” (a big zero).

In other words, following this particular route into the site, a theater-thirsty tourist isn’t going to find much of anything but might waste a lot of time trying to do so. “Theater” should be one of the main categories instead of being lumped in with “Museums…& More”, and no one should be asked to search through seven mostly vacant sub-categories.

So the site sucks and theater is relegated to what it basically is in the eyes of everyone else but us, a sub-category.

But Don asks the other part of the question to this equation: What is the theater community doing to change this situation?

Also, of course, that would-be “Theater” main category should be packed with many, many more entries. Are theater companies and their publicists not aware of this website? Or do they feel that it would be a waste of time to go through the motions of being listed on such a badly organized site? Of course more comprehensive LA theater listings can be found online — including one at the LA STAGE Alliance site. But how many prospective tourists or travel agents have ever heard about that site?

It’s a good question. And it goes back to the point I made: how many tourists, those people who come to LA to see and experience the things that make our town Los Angeles, how many of them really want to see theater? I would say, not many. So yeah, it’s probably a waste of time.

So is it a lost cause? This “tourist market”? Is that audience simply unobtainable here in LA? Don kinda leans that way:

I’m no expert on what else might be done (or even what is being done) to promote LA theater to tourists, but I’d be curious to hear of other avenues. Still, a fairly easy place to start would be to re-organize discoverlosangeles.com and then solicit more participation in LA’s official online tourist gateway, making it clear that the LA theater scene is big, bustling, and relatively inexpensive.

Yeah, not exactly bursting with enthusiasm and ideas, right? But to be fair to Don, what can be done? Yes, keep making the work better, continue to innovate marketing, create a producers’ alliance that promotes LA Theater beyond our borders, and yes, create a better portal for all things theater. If DiscoverLA can’t do it for us, then we should do it for ourselves.

Stay tuned on that point, LemonHeads.

Would love to hear other thoughts on the subject.

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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. Michael Seel says:

    A quick thought…and I need to think more about this…but: NYC is a “theater town” because they have large, sustainable theaters that house long-running shows. If those didn’t exist, and they only had Off and Off-Off-Broadway shows, I don’t think it would be considered a “theater town.” For the most part, Off and Off-Off-Broadway is supported by the locals in NYC. I think what we don’t do well here in L.A. is get our locals excited about theater.

    More to come…

    • Colin Mitchell Colin Mitchell says:

      Seems like you contradicted yourself there, Michael, as far as the tourism question is concerned. Or maybe I’m missing your point? By becoming a “theater town” as you put it, NYC has become a “theater destination” for tourists. So, as you say if it’s the large, sustainable, long-running theaters that have created this “theater town” reputation in NYC, and hence draws tourists, then it seems, following that logic, what we are missing here in LA are the large, sustainable, long running theaters – or for simplicity’s sake, A Broadway.

      I agree.

      We are also missing an organized league of professional producers that are concerned with the business of theater in LA. Though that appears to be changing. Slowly. Thanks to people like yourself.