Advancing Theatre

For ten years, FootLights has been trumpeting the merits of Los Angeles Intimate Theatre. Innovative work, intimate, powerful, the vision of the new American Theatre….and the value of theatre is boundless. While FootLights is no longer a lone voice in the wilderness on this topic, there are a few obstacles that have yet to be overcome.

We live in a region, which if we include the contained cities and adjacent cities of Los Angeles, covers an area of nearly 34 thousand square miles. Incidentally that makes the Los Angeles area the 108th largest “country” in the world. So in case you’re wondering, that’s 108 out of 192. We’re bigger than Ireland, We’re bigger than Switzerland, Denmark… you get the idea. And in all of the acreage, intimate theatre hopes to make a mark by getting audience acceptance and popularity.

By the numbers, that would seem to be easy. With a population of 18.5 million people to sell tickets to, how can a good show fail? Well, the sheer size and the vast population actually works against any event becoming the “it” thing. If you live in Pasadena, and the show is in Santa Monica, what’s the likelihood of making that trek on a Friday night? If you’re in Thousand Oaks, is South Coast Rep even on your radar?

Los Angeles Stage Alliance is working on a bold plan where with government and private funding, they hope to build a number of regionally appropriate theatre centers. Yes, it is a lot like a cinema complex, but this would be upwards of 12 stages of different sizes where the space can be shared with resident companies as well as visiting shows. Steven Leigh Morris, who is championing this campaign, sees this as a big step for greater theatre awareness. If we go to a location where there are numerous shows going on, will our interests be peaked enough to come back for another?

At the same time, there has been a lot of conversation about some shows traveling around the area. If the Rogue Machine produces an amazing show, which it often does, why shouldn’t that show be remounted say in Pasadena? Or Long Beach, or Thousand Oaks? Anthony Byrnes of KCRW makes an interesting case for this. This would in many ways mirror the intent of touring shows out of New York, and would allow more people to see productions, which in turn would build the word of mouth, and fuel ticket sales.

Both of these ideas are meritorious. Every year, there are dozens of shows that deserve to have larger audiences, but the small house and limited budgets make marketing campaigns difficult. While Footlights and are certainly great tools to expose these shows, the community of theatre-makers need to come together and find a way to collectively enhance the visibility of the art form. There is a fledgling Producers League that has been in the making for several years and in time they will become more and more a part of this conversation.  In the meantime, what can we as theatre patrons and supporters do to help the process along?

First and foremost, if you see a show that’s a knockout, let others know. Send emails, forward links to the show to your friends, talk about the show to anyone that you know. Second, if you hear of a show that you want to see, but for whatever reason you can’t make it to the current run, let the producing company know of your interest. Let them know where you live. While there are no guarantees, if producers know that there is an interest in their show, they will find a way to keep it out there.

And finally, and sadly at the moment perhaps the most important, is be aware of the status of the Actors’ Equity Association and their position on interfering with the continuum of plays in Los Angeles. For more than a year, members of AEA, professional actors and stage managers, men and women that believe we are building something important, intimate theatre, have been fighting their union, AEA, which is trying to put such difficult restrictions upon productions that the very existence of them in our community is in jeopardy.

Theatre is about community. It’s about our heritage, our values and it’s a reflection and a confessor of our souls.  Each and every one of us can help in assuring that our theatres will grow and prosper, and that requires action – action by us to let others know about value, to let theatres know their shows are wanted, and to tell AEA and politicians that Theatre is a must for our communities, and everyone must share in the nurturing of that effort.


About Peter Finlayson

Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and 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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