Where’s the Risk?

Did you watch the Tony awards? There was the usual crowd, lots of pomp, lots of talent, and more than a fair share of hype, but something was different. What was it? The luminaries of the evening were the same people we see perennially at the Academy Awards. At first blush, instinct is to raise a grand “Hazzah”! The glitter of Hollywood has illuminated the American stage. But wait, the best and brightest of Hollywood have often come from the stage, and often return to tread across the boards. So to borrow from Nathan Lane’s analogy, why was this evening different from other evenings at the Tony’s?

How is it that four of the major acting awards all went to Hollywood names. Before any hackles are raised, the talent of all these fine actors is indisputable, what begs questions, is how is it that it’s suddenly a Hollywood dominance of the awards. The stars of Hollywood have always wandered back to the stage. But this year it’s not just wandering. There’s a stampede.

Famous faces, especially those with talent, always helps to sell seats. Theatre, big or small is in the business of selling seats. But what does it say of the nature of productions. The one word that comes quickest to mind is safety. If a producer takes a safe show, populates it with safe actors, and sells it to the public, the public will get exactly what it expects. While actors are in the business of taking risks, just how risky is “A Little Night Music”?

While audiences should get what they pay for, one of the functions of theatre is to explore, push the envelope, and challenge the values and morays of the audience. Broadway, which for more than a century has been the shining beacon that fostered the talents of so many, now seems to have fallen prey to the safety of success. God knows, there’s nothing wrong with economic success, we all strive to achieve that goal, but somehow it seems to diminish the visceral potential that theatre should offer.

This all prefaces why Los Angeles is such a vital part of the theatre world. There are risks being taken daily by every artist that participates. For the first time there is a Hollywood Fringe Festival that is running more than a hundred and seventy five productions in a two-week span of time. Aside from these fearless folks, there are the hundreds of companies that strive to entertain and amuse you, their audience, on budgets that were they an allowance would make a five-year old cry.

Theatre is or should be about risk. As has often been stated in these pages, if there are no risks, there are no victories. Los Angeles Theatre IS about risk. There are new plays, new interpretations, new envisioning and new talent that don’t have enough experience to know a task can’t get done. Art and theatre, are being created on blind faith. It’s there in the moments of blind faith that brilliance often bursts through.

When we speak of theatre in Los Angeles, it is the genius of the participants that inspire. So many of the participants are like tadpoles that have found themselves at the edge of the pond. The struggle for survival is intense and drastically imminent. But for those that survive, the experience is empowering and transcendental. Those of us who watch become a part of that miraculous process. Our own exposure to the light of creativity is so close that our souls almost boil. The price, of course, is the potential of failure.

Any act, be it high wire balance or an accomplished actor on stage, must have some jeopardy attached. If it becomes too safe, it moves from being inspirational to becoming a museum piece. No, those that won a Tony this year are not museum pieces. They are vital energetic talented artists. What is in danger of becoming a museum is Broadway.

While the amount of money that is spent on productions is the obvious difference between Broadway and Los Angeles, it is the spirit of adventure and the risk of failure that pushes Los Angeles. This spirit makes our community vital and important and at the same time desperate for your continued support.

About Peter Finlayson

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Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and footlight.click. While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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