Monday, March 06, 2006

Theatre Is Dead (in Los Angeles)

Okay, that's a bold statement, but I should have lots of bold statements to make.

I've always heard tales about theatre in New York. Apparently it's abundant and prosperous there, and people think of you as a real actor if you do theatre. There are even charming terms for the plays written on the backs of napkins and performed in holes-in-the-wall: "Avant Garde" or "Off-Off Broadway." In Los Angeles, there are no charming terms. People don't seem to go to plays as much as I've heard they do in New York. (Now, I've only been through La Guardia Airport in New York so I don't have firsthand experience with this.) It also seems that theatre isn't appreciated as much, and that theatre actors in L.A. don't get the same regard that they would in New York. There's no lack of talented actors out here, so what's the deal?

I know that some of these actors will band together and start their own theatre group. The great thing about that is that the founding members can decide what kind of theatre they want to do. I don't want to do a play that's badly written, so I could form my own theatre group dedicated to doing plays that don't suck (kind of what we did with Torrid Affaire). You have to have the organization to back up the talent on any theatre endeavor, so I'm sure there are tons of companies that form and disband all the time.

In the past month, I've auditioned for three different dues-paying companies. (I want to do something while Andrew finishes writing Sonny, and doing a play is a great way to showcase my talents to industry people and potential connections.) The idea is that you audition for the company, and once accepted you pay dues to play. All of these places work differently. It's good to know what you're getting into when you audition.

Here's what I learned about each company:

-Company A has auditions for company members and auditions for actors to fill out the ranks of a production. I auditioned as a fill-in actor (and didn't get it). They charge first and last month's membership. It's reasonable -- less than most acting classes. If you're a company member, you have to wear a "hat" (perform some job) to contribute to each show where you don't act. That reminded me of college since that's how we did it. I had a friend who auditioned and joined as a company member. She paid her dues and worked as house manager. I never got an email from her to come see her in a show, so I don't know if she ever acted in a show with that company. I had another friend who actually did a show with them. Not sure if she was a company member or a fill-in. They would provide you with postcards to promote. I don't know what the committment is.

-Company B has auditions for shows that are written by company members who are playwrights or have completed the company playwright program. I auditioned for a role in one of these shows and got a callback (and didn't get it). They charge a flat fee if you're cast, and you pay it as soon as you start rehearsals. I don't remember what the deal was about the promo -- whether or not they provided it. You're responsible for selling ten tickets for about $14 each, but you get to keep the money (so you make back most of what you spent right there). They would also pay you a tiny stipend per performance, so chances were very good you'd at least break even on the investment. You didn't have to wear a "hat" other than as a performer and pay for it. People would still volunteer to help out, but they didn't pay to do things offstage and backstage. This group also had acting classes members could attend (I think for free).

-Company C has auditions for company members and actors. I auditioned for the company (and got it). They charge a really low fee per month (WAY less than acting class). They perform at a theatre I know and they have a separate rehearsal space. If you're not cast in the current show, they have something like an improv/comedy performance opportunity so you're doing something. I'm not sure if there are any additional "hats" to be worn by company members. They also have acting classes. Members can attend at discount prices. I go to my first company meeting tonight to find out more. I really hope it fills the void I have until Sonny's up (at least). If I don't get onstage with them for the next two months at least the price is reasonable. It's about the cost of two full tanks of gas in my Mitsubishi.

I'm finding it's not unusual out here for actors to form their own companies. Dues-paying seems the way to go so a small group of people don't wind up footing the entire bill for something that's geared to get work for all of them. I guess that's the path I'll pursue in the theatre for now until I succeed with my master plan to change Los Angelenos into enthusiastic and respectful theatre goers. Or until Sonny is done. (Andrew Moore - hint hint)

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