Celebration Theatre: Welcome to the Hood!

image2Within 15 minutes of Celebration Theatre announcing the location of its new home, the Lex Theatre at Lexington Ave & McCadden, Hollywood Theatre Row, artistic director Michael Shepperd was immediately greeted by a welcome email from Jon Imparato at the Los Angeles LGBT Center right down the street. He very subsequently also received a direct order:  “Come to one of my shows…(expletive)!” — a largely comical and unabashed decree, calling attention to the interdependent nature of LA’s Intimate Theatre culture.  When it comes to real support aka ticket sales, audience attendance and interest, one hand washes the other very much. Or at least it should.

With Celebration now able to plant its feet again in a permanent space, new possibilities for transformation seem to be materializing.  Celebration has a long history of providing a safe and supportive forum for professional and emerging LGBTQQIA writers, directors, designers, and performers in order to give voice to the full experience of gay culture.

The material has kept in line with their mission statement, presenting provocative, innovative and relevant works that examine the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning and allied experience (recent adds to the acronym are: inter-sexed, two-spirited, cisgendered [you live in this body and you accept it]), their most passionate voice Michael Kerns recently lauded by the Chuck Rowland Pioneer Award as an example. “Michael is an incredible writer whose plays co-mingle love, anger, compassion and sexuality.”

Admittedly, however they have been very male centric. And so the challenge going forward is centered around what could quite possibly be “radical” change.

Do we still need queer theatre?  

With larger houses like the Geffen Playhouse now producing queer works in the mainstream, the benefit of making these plays attractive and trendy with today’s audiences also has had a downside. It has become difficult to obtain the stage rights to popular gay plays. So finding and introducing new works at Celebration is essential.

But the finer challenge still is centered around evolution within the community itself.  Celebration Theatre wants to be known for producing “great theatre” not just as the “great gay theatre”.  

The task here is to focus on not only challenging society’s perception of the gay community, but to foster a metamorphosis inside overall queer cultural identity.

coming-together  “We want all people

to witness the kind of works we are producing here, which reflect our new diversity and the new climate in Los Angeles. We still need to cultivate and discover new queer voices.  We’ve also got to better connect to our respective groups inside the body politic.” 

We are re-examining our mission and asking:

“How does Celebration really see itself today?”

“How can Celebration change and grow with the community?” 

“How do we promote and produce gay writers who are also writing non-gay plays?”

“How can produced works best represent the community going forward?”

It’s an upgrade in thinking and action taking, and there is plenty of risk involved in this balancing act, which will shortly have to also contend with unprecedented and untested change to the Los Angeles theatre landscape in 2016. Thanks to a new, and largely opposed by local membership, 99 Seat Theatre ruling by Actors’ Equity Association, union membership companies will face extraordinary budget increases citywide.  

The pressing questions are whether or not Celebration’s current relationships will support the new ideas.  Can real and honest diversity take center stage?  How to find plays that are commercially viable which reflect diversity within niche turfs while embracing the community as a whole. Finally how to cultivate a mostly untapped heteronormative crowd without a potential backlash from those who may be opposed to broadening queer reach outside of the inner circle. In other words, uncertainty in spades.

Right now, however, Celebration is focused on the positive.  It has launched an indiegogo to help pay for one years worth of rent ($60,000) so that it can also address practical concerns like upgrading the interior space, lighting and power, promoting new works including a lesbian centric show next season and developing special Saturday morning family programming for kids. 

Find out more information about Celebration Theatre at: http://www.celebrationtheatre.com/

Celebration Theatre is located at The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038

Talk to Celebration on Twitter: @Celebrationthtr  #errbody



About Tracey Paleo

Tracey Paleo is Associate Editor at FootLights Magazine. She's also the Founder and Chief Editor of the arts and culture site, Gia On The Move, where she often reviews live performance events.

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