Gates McFadden is right on time as she pulls up to the Atwater Village Theatre. There is no designated spot listed for her, she just parks wherever. I mean, she does run the place. “Honey, you mind carrying this in for me?”, as she hands me a bag stuffed with scripts. I follow her inside the bustling theatre and she keys open her office, which is jammed tight with props, plays and programs. “I had kind of a crazy weekend,” she says as she places her slick, new phone on the desk. “I was at a convention this weekend and gathered twelve-hundred followers.” See, Gates just joined Twitter (@gates_mcfadden) three weeks ago and has gathered close to ten thousand followers. “You know how to upload this?” She hands me her phone and I notice a picture of Gates with her fellow Star Trek pal, Brent Spiner. They’re posing for what looks like a Borscht Belt act in the Catskills. “I’m just figuring this Twitter thing out. We [the whole Star Trek cast] all had theatre backgrounds and a lot of the Star Trek fans have never experienced live theatre. Hopefully, they’ll come over and see something or at least get them on our mailing list.”
McFadden is as busy as she’s ever been juggling her Artistic Director position at Ensemble Studio Theatre / LA, a recurring gig on TNT’s Franklin & Bash and squeezing in these appearances at sci-fi conventions all over the world. But it is theatre that keeps up her drinking espresso (out of her office espresso machine) into the wee hours of the morning.
McFadden’s artistic sensibility is unique, probably because of her global perspective on theatre. “I’m not the one to ask about the commercial elements of theatre. That doesn’t really interest me,” she says. McFadden has cultivated her unique theatrical flare by not only studying theatre in Europe but traveling extensively throughout Australia, Japan, Russia and Western Europe mining the theatres for the most interesting material.
During McFadden’s run at Ensemble Studio Theatre / LA, she has discovered a number of exciting new plays including Andrew Dolan’s, The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King, which won the 2012 Ovation Award for Original Playwriting. As she looks to this coming season, McFadden has her eye on a number of interesting new writers that share her idea of a theatrical global mash-up.
But she agrees the global perspective isn’t enough to keep the houses filled with new audiences. “People from out of town think LA is only Beverly Hills and home of the stars but the core [theatre] companies here in town focused on new work are world-class. There is just no infrastructure for marketing and these smaller companies need help in that department.”
Aye, there’s the rub.
As Angeleno’s we have access to “the best” of so much — art, nature, food, music, movies… and theatre. We’re blasted with advertising 24/7 and the real challenge for the 21st century human is to filter the good stuff from the crap.
So why theatre in LA? “Because we want to see things we haven’t seen before and in the last five years the game has gone higher in town. More actors seem willing to make a six week commitment to us in order to do a great play. World class designers want to give back. People just have to know that it’s here.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Gates. There has been an infectious surge in LA theatre over the past couple of years. The work that is being in created in our 99 seat theatres is as good as anywhere in the country right now. The only difference is no one outside our theatre walls knows. Not yet.
Graham Sibley is an actor and writer living in Los Angeles. He is a founding member of IAMA Theatre Company and a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre LA. For more information please visit www.grahamsibley.com.