There are a bevy of reasons to experience live theatre: Sharing a communal experience with like-minded people, relating those emotions and feelings on stage to what is going on in your own personal life, witnessing the baring of the human soul, even pure entertainment and fun.
None of the above applies to theatre in Los Angeles.
Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot of great theatre here. The Odyssey Theatre, A Noise Within, Circle X, East West Players, Open Fist Theater, Actor’s Co-Op – these companies put on plays that are so good that at the end of them you don’t want to applaud, rather you want to run up on stage and punch the performers in the face for being so goddamn good. There are plenty of talented artists and performers here in LA.
I mean, sure, there is definitely some crap theatre here. My friend Brooke and I once went to a sketch comedy show where we were the only two people in the audience. Instead of canceling, the performers decided to do the show anyway. It was the exact opposite of funny and our forced laughter bouncing of the echo-y theatre walls only made the evening more depressing. But hey, there is plenty of crap theatre in Chicago, too. When I lived there I once acted in an ill-advised, all-deaf version of “Our Town” which we fondly derided as “Deaf Town” (and for those of you getting all hippity scotchety about the un-PCness of the above title, let it be known that it was a deaf actor who came up with it – so bite me).
Here are the two reasons theatre exists in LA:
1) “I’m hoping to get noticed by someone important so I can get into TV or film, preferably film.”
3) “I am not currently doing any TV or film, so I might as well do theatre and bide my time until I can do more TV or film, preferably film.”
Any other reasons to do theatre are utterly superfluous.
And because the TV and film industry is so pervasive here, theatre becomes the ugly, awkward and neglected cousin of show business, that member of your family who you only see on holidays and even that’s too much. Theatre in LA came be summed up in these four words:
NO ONE FUCKING CARES.
Going to theatre in the city of Angels is more of an obligation than a pleasure. You go because you owe someone. It’s tit for tat. It is an unwritten rule of LA theatre that if I have a show and you have a show we both have to see each other’s, even if we hate each other. It’s all part of the forced politeness that makes Los Angeles so special. And if I bring two people to your show, then you goddamn better bring two people to my show. To quote the vastly underrated Helen Slater vehicle, The Legend of Billie Jean, “Fair is fair!”
If you are not getting something out of it than why the hell spend money on tickets, dinner and parking when you can just as well spend the evening inhaling whippets and Twittering as you wait in line to get into a club to drink absinthe? Going to theatre becomes a hassle. Not to mention traffic which, when it can take you two hours to drive 19 miles in rush hour, is reason enough not to go see theatre (Note: if your show is in the Valley, you are out of luck. No one will come see it. Not even if you offered a hand job and a Mounds Bar to follow would they come and see it - and you know a Mounds Bar is tasty).
The only way people will willingly come see your show is if Annette Benning or Neil Patrick Harris is in it, and even then it’s only to have the opportunity to suck at their celebrity teat. And those few people that do want to come see your show want industry comps. Never mind that they may not even be industry, they still want to see it for free. When I used to be a part of the LA theatre scene a good friend of mine insisted I comp him to any show I was in, and he worked in human resources!
“It doesn’t matter, bro.” He would say. “It’s human resources for Disney. It’s still industry.”
And yet, in the ironies of all ironies, there are more theatre companies and theatre productions in LA then there are Chicago or New York, which is both funny and sad at the exact same time. So for those of you in a play or planning to be in a play in Los Angeles I say to you good luck, break a leg and don’t fucking call me…
I’m not going to your show.
- Kirk Pynchon