Why aren’t Major SoCal Cultural Institutions Hiring Longtime SoCal Leaders to fill their Top Slots?

This was the question first posed on the BigCheap Yahoo Group (join if you haven’t already there are some 2500 people on the list!) by LASA Operations & Programming Director Doug Clayton. And apparently it was a good one, because the responses have been varied, heated and most importantly, poignant.

Actually Ezra Buzzington started things off under the great topic title “Why Chickens drown…” when he was ranting over La Jolla Playhouse Artistic Director Christopher Ashley’s boneheaded comments which you can read about here. But Doug then expanded into this topic and here are some of the reactions off the Bigcheap line:

I completely agree with you: long-vested SoCal artists and arts leaders are not only valid, but make more sense because they know the lay of the land and the ticket buyer. In Santa Barbara they went to New York to find their first E.D. at The Granada, because they are basically snobs and felt it would make them look more “theatah”. And they were raising $60 million from other snobs. It worked, but he had no idea how to RUN a theatre, and now he is gone. Here in Thousand Oaks we just hired a SoCal guy to run our Cultural Affairs Department (and theatres) but he is not really an artistic guy, he is a business guy. But at least we hired local.

- Stephanie Wilson, Artistic Director, Gold Coast Theatre Conservatory 

It’s always about money. As long as the funders continue to believe (or are convinced by so-called “artistic leaders”) that east coast talent trumps their own provinicial pool, nothing about the current dysfunctional paradigm will be altered. This is not to be read as defeatist, just realistic. When local money demands local talent, the game will change. Not until. They should be the target. But, my current issue stems from giving ill-informed ass clowns a national voice.

- Ezra Buzzington

Unfortunately, this has been a problem with all types of cultural institutions in Los Angeles, and the very sad longstanding tradition includes the lack of respect afforded visual artists before (and even after) the Southern California visual art explosion of the 60′s and 70′s. Steven Leigh Morris wisely noted that Los Angeles is a great place to develop work because of the immense talent pool here and the ability to work and live affordably, but it’s better to premiere “out of town”. True that.

Mark Seldis, Producing Director, Ghost Road Company

Doesn’t if have to begin with an appreciation of how extraordinary our local artists are – When is the Mark Taper going to stop importing most of their talent directors, designers and actors – or even the Geffin for that matter? Locally mounted productions of new plays would be more vibrant and more exciting and probably better than the continuing process of importing whole productions. It’s the first acknowledgement and gesture of trust in perhaps a long path of growth but if we would look to our own we could energize this community as it has not been energized in many years – and begin a journey to international recognition. This is how the large organizations can invest in this community in a significant way. Presently it is only tokenism.

- John Flynn, Artistic Director, Rogue Machine Theatre

This is a heart-pulpitating topic and I am glad that BigCheapTheatre* group’s point of existence is being re-energized, that point for me was always of a community dialogue to challenge the status quo or to define new approaches to staging theatre. I propose that we discuss, brainstorm, plan and action out steps for transformation of this petty reality. Yes, as SLM said, and Mark Seldis reminded us, and Ezra drove this point home – we have resources & talent in LA. AND, we are the tax payers of this state and city, meaning we are the primary stakeholders (the way arts and culture is currently funded, we are not exactly the high-paying citizens, but still, there are many of us, thus we contribute plenty en masse!). Perhaps a BCT working group can be formed to figure out a strategic plan to change the current state of theatre when it comes to local artists and local leaders? Here is an interesting reference from Charles McNulty, a controversial figure (we can have a whole other discussion about a role of a critic in shaping a local theatre scene): “…DeLorenzo’s staging, among its many pleasures, spectacularly showcased the depth and versatility of L.A.’s pool of auteur-friendly stage actors.” I could not agree more, when it comes to traits of stage actors in LA, it is clear from my own directorial experience that they do have unbelievable depth and versatility, they are the most open and eager to engage in all types of directorial practices (from auteur to full-on collaborative), but they have no way to earn a living wage doing that. Right? We need a reform!

Olya Petrakova, Artist Director, ARTEL

So what do you think, LemonHeads? It is a lack of a trust, a certain snobbery, good common sense, or just plain stupidity?

Love to hear more of your 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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