The curtain was down, this performance of The Madres was over. It had been a small house, maybe 30 people. Yet, the impact of the show had been so profound that the audience failed to comply with the current trend of giving a rousing standing ovation. Instead, some continued to sit in their seats, catching their breath, a few were crying, and I walked out knowing that I had just witnessed the very essence of why intimate theatre is not only important, but essential.
Sadly, most atrocities committed by governments against their own people seldom get the coverage the stories deserve. The Dirty War of Argentina in the late 70’s and early 80’s is one of those events. The Madres, playing through April 29th at the Skylight Theatre shines a light and makes the consequences of the “disappeared” so personal and so relevant, that to miss this play would be a loss.
The Madres is well reviewed and recommended by multiple outlets. It’s a shining example of what intimate theatre can be. The probability of this play finding a commercial producer in American theatre is slim. Though an important and well-crafted story, the subject matter is of a time and place that doesn’t generally grab the attention of the public at large. In the colloquial it’s more focused for a diverse audience. So, it falls to the deeply committed artists, those that see the message as more important than the messenger, to pick the story and give it life.
While theatre is most assuredly a form of entertainment, it’s roots and soul remain in its social functions. An opportunity of sharing experiences beyond those we actually live. The allegorical value, the social commentary, the questioning of norm, all set and experienced sitting with others.
The very heart of intimate theatre is that there are stories to tell that must be told. Not just the pretty, not just the happy ending, but the stories that remind us just how complicated and fragile all our lives are. Opportunities to reflect upon commonalities even in the most dissimilar situations.
The Skylight Theatre is one of the gems of Los Angeles intimate theatre that has taken on the responsibility of telling those stories. As a company that focuses on developing the play, its outreach programs and labs are geared to the writing process. Gary Grossman, the Producing Artistic Director, is one of the champions of the 99-seat movement and has been for more than 30 years.
This path has come at some cost. When Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) issued an edict two years ago which curtailed the use of professional actors (members of their union) by intimate theatre in Los Angeles, The Skylight was not on the list of theatres exempted from the ban. So, despite the fact that Gary, and by extension the Skylight, had been producing award winning work for years, and that offering these gems up to the public with the full awareness that there would never be commercial reward off of the efforts, one of the primary tools to assure quality work was ripped from the Skylights’ grasp. A Do Not Work Order was placed upon the company.
The consequences can be disastrous. By its very nature, the Skylight produces works that are edgy and challenging, work that inspires artists and brings their passions to full force. To fill the roles as written requires experience. Any actor can portray passion, but it is the experienced, well trained actor that understands the importance of playing the nuances of passions.
Material like The Madres lives right at the edge of melodrama. Deep passionate concerns, life affecting decisions, choices that may imperil lives. These are the challenges. So, it is masterful artists that need to interpret those moments, or they can fall to parody.
When the opportunity comes to play a role such as this, true artists fight to find ways to take on the roles. Actors may wait years between this type of opportunity. When the role comes around, the question is never, “how much will I get paid?”, the question is always. “how do I make this work?”
This is of concern because the nature of the work prohibits financial success. Passion projects are driven by the investment of the artists. The ability to exercise those moments, share those experiences is the lifeblood of the art form. Even in film, how often do we hear of actors taking far less for their work because the project speaks to them? How often do we hear the term passion project?
So too on stage these projects occur. It is the largess of producers like Gary Grossman that many of these projects see the light of day, and it is the largess of the contributing artists, that these important works are shared with an audience.
There is a place for AEA on the American Stage. But intimate theatre is not the place and should AEA persists in its intrusion into the art, artists may do well to consider which side of the fence they stand. PF