June 24, 2013, can be marked as a sad day for Los Angeles. The Reprise Theatre Company shuttered their doors and have left the building. In their sixteen year stint at locally producing Musical Theatre in Los Angeles, Reprise mounted dozens of amazing shows, and won numerous awards. The cause of their demise was an unsustainable financial plan.
From their very first production, Reprise hoped to be Broadway in LA. Jason Alexander performed in the first production, which was “Promises, Promises” and in the intervening years many well-known performers from stage, film and television trod the boards under the Reprise banner. With each season trying to top the previous, costs, as they will, began to spiral. And perhaps because of those involved, the awareness of those costs failed to predict their future.
Theatre in LA, in all of America, is constrained by the same financial realities that all businesses must face. Basically, you have to work with a budget and not allow your expenses to outrun your income. The realities of here and now, “you can’t spend what you don’t got!”
There are underlying factors that Los Angeles must take into account if it’s to have a healthy theatre community. To put up a fully realized show, with complex sets, constructed costumes, and adequate staffing, not to mention performers that can sustain themselves on their wages, costs money. Los Angeles Intimate theatre has tried to answer this with artists shouldering most of the burden by forgoing wages, or accepting stipends that are laughable. Reprise thought they could fulfill the need by having the audience foot the bill. Sadly, that’s a model that seldom works on Broadway, let alone anywhere else.
There is not a single Theatre in the greater Los Angeles area, nay in this country that can sustain itself on ticket sales alone. Certainly not at prices that most can afford to pay. Be it Ahmanson, or the Geffen, or Pasadena Playhouse, or Boston Court or the shoe box theatre on the corner, nobody can survive on ticket sales. Nobody!
We in LA have allowed ourselves to be lulled into feeling that theatre need not be supported, and can be attended cheaply. Every major theatre, including those named above have major donors behind them. What Los Angeles doesn’t have, or not enough of, is public funding. In fact, California is 49th out of 50 states for arts funding. How’s that for a sad comment.
Theatre is one of the oldest and most profound voices in exploring our humanity. The closure of The Reprise will not silence that voice, but it gives us a glimpse of what may yet be to come.