Critique of the Week – Runner Up

Anthony Byrnes once again illuminating on both the micro and macro level. Good stuff.

Anthony Byrnes – KCRW

Now typically when I talk about the ephemeral quality of theater, it’s something I’m celebrating. It’s part of what makes theater so magical and essential. Theater can’t be repackaged in a ‘best of’ box set orre-released in 3d. You need to be there in the room or . . . well . . . you missed it.

And that’s the flip side to that magic.

This weekend I saw a play that I really wish you could see. It was director Declan Donnellan’s version of “Tis Pity She’s a Whore.” With his British company Cheek by Jowl, he breathed fresh life into a 400 year old classic. With a physically adventurous cast he made an old morality tale feel disturbingly, sexually present and managed to elicit an audible gasp from the audience. Mr. Donnellan brought such clarity and intent to this dusty text that you felt every word, understood every nuance and chuckled at jokes that in other productions sit like fossils.

It was really thrilling . . . but here’s the problem, it’s gone. It was only here for one weekend as part of UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance series.

Now the reason for that is easy to point to: money. It’s really expensive to bring a company to LA. Airfare, hotels, meals, salaries: they all add up. Without a guaranteed audience, it’s just too risky – as the past couple of years where there was no theater at UCLA proves all too clearly.

“Okay”, I hear you saying, “but UCLA’s a presenter. You know, like RedCat or the Broad. What does this have to do with LA based companies? Does it really matter?”

Yes, it does. And here’s why.

UCLA is just an extreme single weekend case of how theater is produced across Los Angeles from the Taper to the most intimate shoebox. The model is basically run a show for 6 weeks then close. If lightning miraculously strikes and the show’s a blockbuster – consider a two week extension.

It’s astounding with the variety of theater that’s made in Los Angeles just how much fits into this one production model. Yes, it’s the simplest and in many ways the most economical. But is it the best model to attract new audiences?

Sure, it serves an existing audience but as any successful salesman will tell you if you’re not selling to new customers: your days are numbered.

Now, I’m not saying that every show should be extended or every company should suddenly embrace a rotating repertory schedule but there needs to be as much creativity and risk taking in scheduling and marketing
theater as there is in making it.

This week, across town from UCLA in Hollywood, Cirque Du Soleil’s Iris is closing after close to a year and a half – which sounds like a hit until you hear that they’d hoped it would run for 10 years. Now, Iris was less than astounding on stage so it’s not shocking that it didn’t find legs.

Still, it’s a cautionary tale that Los Angeles isn’t yet able to sustain a long run and that’s important to the entire ecosystem whether it’s 2000 seats or 99.

Damn the ephemeral quality of theater!

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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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