There are a lot of buzzwords to describe Boston Court’s artistic vision; among them in their mission statement is creative, bold and daring. In the broadest terms, these are certainly applicable, but what sets Boston Court apart from other theaters requires the experience of seeing one of their productions to appreciate the uncompromising and dedicated passion they have to the eclectic, avant-garde and wholly original approach to classic and contemporary texts. As Co-Artistic-Director Jessica Kubzansky explains, “What makes something a Boston Court show requires it to be inherently theatrical, textually rich and visually arresting.”
Now finishing their 11th season, Boston Court has become the leader in edgy, theatrical art since their first production of “Romeo and Juliet” in the fall of 2003. Resetting the star-crossed love story in New Orleans in 1836, this reestablished choice also worked to establish their reputation in Pasadena, San Gabriel Valley, the local Los Angeles community and beyond. Undaunted by making safe, subscriber friendly choices, Kubzansky, Co-Artistic Director Michael Michetti and Executive Director Michael Seel, took the daring risk of avoiding convention to create theater unlike anything comparable. This fearless choice has earned them loyal supporters, critical acclaim and secured their position as theatrical visionaries in a time when theater is in transition.
Although the name Boston Court carries a significant weight on its own, to describe a production to someone unfamiliar with their style leaves one grasping for elasticity. Experience, if exceptional, defies language except for the most loquacious. Even then, verbosity fails as a poor imitation to actually describe the indescribable. Regardless of personal tastes, Boston Court mounts unforgettable, singularly significant plays unparalleled in its aesthetics. In person, Kubzansky and Michetti are a striking contrast to their artistic sensibilities as they discuss the inherent challenges of a pioneering vision with pragmatic candor and stalwart realism. They relate their almost decade long journey through past productions of “Medea” set in a catering kitchen, “Tartuffe” set in the San Fernando Valley and “Oedipus el Rey” set in the barrio of East L.A. without skipping a beat. Their current production of the rarely produced Samuel Beckett play “Happy Days” starring Brooke Adams, a woman buried to her neck in a mound of dirt and Tony Shalhoub as her husband (and real-life spouse) is an otherwise happy fit into their vision. It culminates every aspect of Boston Court’s non-realistic, engaging narrative, stylistic mantra with ease. Michetti reiterates, “When we do a classic, we approach it with fresh eyes.” Kubzansky agrees, “There are times like with “Happy Days,” the playwright has already done something that is so Boston Court.”
Re-envisioning classics though is only one of their many evolving facets. New work is at the forefront of Boston Court’s foresight. The company is an associated member of the national NPM (New Play Network) which strives to assist world premiere plays to receive second and third stagings at member theaters across the country. It also gives the playwright the ability to call their play a ‘world premiere’ for a year even with three different productions. Other L.A. based companies like Skylight Theatre Company are working with NPM to aid fledgling shows which open and are scantly heard from again due to what Michetti calls ‘world premiere-itis’: “There is a kind of prestige around world premieres; everyone is in pursuit of them. There are a number of grants involved too. That means a lot of terrific works get a single production but have difficulty getting the second or third.”
Kubzansky agrees, “Second world premieres are very important to us. We want to introduce new works. It shouldn’t stop at the world premiere.” Boston Court’s unfailing spirit however isn’t without its own brand of criticism too. By being the ones who self-admittedly push the envelope, push back occasionally occurs, accusing them of being the very thing they take most pride in: challenging. This is a credit but a careful line to tow, but one Kubzansky does not shirk from. “We have been accused of doing too raw of work. It may be underdeveloped or just not ready to stay on its feet.” She spreads her arms out unconsciously as if in welcome. “It took almost seven years before we had big houses. In our 7th season, we extended every show. We hit a critical threshold then. Audiences wanted to see us and what we were doing. Regardless of whether or not they liked the play, they trusted the quality.” Realism sets in though as she contemplates the long, road to artistic success. “We were blessed to have a patient board. That was the miracle. Their belief in what we are doing.”
Doing can be a far cry from achieving and regardless of the creative output, realities daunt Boston Court just like any other theater company. In the face of an ever-evolving zeitgeist, theater is still a risky endeavor so what has made this upshot Pasadena rebel endure? Soft-spoken Michetti contemplates the recent shifts in theater from the shrinking of print publication journalism to the tough requirements to stay vital and current. “We’ve been true to our vision (creative, bold, daring), we’ve expanded. We don’t need to be everyone’s theater.” This last statement is the most astonishing given that most theater companies seek out the exact opposite. “We want audiences to come see us. There’s recognition though in what we do. It isn’t for everybody. When you’re trying to do a new art form, it takes awhile for audiences to catch up with it. It takes trust.” Kubzansky succinctly adds, “The enemy of theater is bad theater. We do plays that are a cultural conversation. There’s an encouragement on our part for audiences to stay and talk about what they’ve seen afterwards.”
Audiences are talking. And they’re coming back to the Boston Court for more. More of the unusual, the different, the brave and sometimes downright odd, but always at its core, enlightening and superlative work done by a band of artist unwilling to compromise but supportive of those in their community who offer their trademark approach like A Noise Within and Pasadena Playhouse. Michetti remarks, “We aren’t in competition with them [being in Pasadena]. We know who we are and what we are doing. It is different but important. We want Pasadena to be an arts center. Theater is a part of that. It’s about support. It starts from within.” Kubzansky takes a broader scope on Boston Court and theater in general. “We’re in a time of evolution because of technology. I see an uptick of people looking for community. Storytelling is a primal, human need. We are in a time of change but it’s exciting too.” One of the heroines of local L.A. theater and a champion of venturesome approaches to classic texts, Kubzansky admits, “I love risk-taking. My favorite reason to direct a play is if it scares the hell out of me. I think we can do things in theater that cannot be done in film and television.” She leans forward, a gleam in her eyes. “The imagination of the audience fills it all in.” Kubzansky leans back and turns to Michetti. Sagely, he nods. “That’s what it’s about. The imagination.”
Creative. Bold. Daring. These words are tossed about in the theater community until they lose all intrinsic meaning. Boston Court is interested in change as artists but changing their vision or mission statement is inconceivable. Over the last 9 years, they’ve stayed true and real to what they are. It’s uncommon to find that kind of integrity but when it appears it is worth taking a risk and becoming part of an experience that defies description. It also requires an audience to be just as creative, bold and daring on their part. That isn’t about to change. Ironically though, seeing a Boston Court production can change how one views the theater.