BWW Interview: L. A. Theatres' Inventive Safer-At-Home Work-Arounds
In these crazy, safe-distancing times; I reached out earlier this week to various heads of Los Angeles theatres to see how they and their theatre families are holding up. The replies were amazing in their quickness, numbers and uniform positivity.
Bryan Rasmussen (Whitefire Theatre's Artistic Director): "I think theatre people are more prepared for something like this because we're always in this kind of uncertainty and instability. So just like back in 2008 with the recession, I felt that artists around me were handling it better, because it was nothing new to them to switch jobs or to be unemployed for a while."
All members of each theatre who responded are staying in virtual touch with their respective groups via Facebook, Zoom, sharing videos, Livestreamings and eblasts. But staying in touch with their patrons required a little L.A. Theatre ingenuity!
Ronda Spinak (Jewish Women's Theatre's Artistic Director): "We recently invited our community to share their stories of how they holding up. Just today, we launched INSIDE OUR TIME, a online series of stories written by patrons, staff, leadership, donors, funders, and volunteers about their feelings and stories today. Our dedicated JWT actors are filming themselves reading the submissions from their homes and sending them to us to share with our large community. It's a way for us to uphold our mission to share and celebrate the truths that connect all people, while inspiring and comforting each other in these uncertain times."
Antaeus Theatre Company has moved their ongoing Academy curriculum online, while other individual artists offer online lessons on acting, singing, dancing and cooking.
Jonathan Fox (Ensemble Theatre Company of Santa Barbara's Artistic Director): "ETC's education programs, including our Young Playwrights Festival, are still moving forward via remote access. We are accepting video auditions for our summer youth production of HELLO! MY BABY. We are also looking at ways to stream some of our archival content while we are dark, and we're looking into ways to keep connected with our constituents."
Gloria Gifford (GGC Players' Founder & Artistic Director): "The GGC Players are doing Zoom classes and auditions, poetry readings, scenes and self-tape classes. We have invited actors to join us online to get ready for our next productions."
Miriam Billington (Morgan-Wixson Theatre's First Vice President of the Board): "One of the leads in THE WILD PARTY has been performing princess visits online to children celebrating birthdays stuck at home!"
Doug Haverty (The Group Rep's Artistic Director): "We're exploring offering streaming of videotaped (original) productions for our patrons until we can open again."
Bryan Rasmussen: "Luckily, Whitefire had already begun live streaming live theater, so we were prepared for this new phase having just streamed 40 or more shows as part of SOLOFEST! We are planning STREAMFEST for this summer that runs June 13 through August 29, 2020 that is a streamed live theatre festival."
Spike Dolomite Ward (Theatre West's Executive Director) has continued Theatre West's members' nightly workshop via Zoom. "We've also invited all of the members to participate in an online storytelling event where participants read a story that they've written at home. Record it on their phones. Then send it in, and we'll put them all together, and send them back out to the company. The theme? Cancelled."
All theatres, with no current box office receipts, need everyone's financial support. David Hunt Stafford (Theatre 40's Managing/Artistic Director) added, "Our theatre needs "in this crazy time" some fundraising, and most importantly, for the crazy times to be over."
Doug Haverty told me about The Group Rep's specific situation. "We are in a triple net lease. 36 years ago, the City of Los Angeles relocated us from our previous space where we paid regular rent. When the CRA found us this new space, it came with a triple net lease. So, in addition to the rent, we are also responsible for the property taxes and insurance PLUS the physical upkeep of the structure. We're just a group of theatrical people (actors, writers, directors, designers), and we can fix a broken light fixture, doorknob, etc. But we've been in this building for 36 years and it needs a new roof, new exterior doors, new windows, new carpeting. We can only do so much. So, we need money or donations from companies for those large ticket upkeep items."
Heather Chesley (Actors Co-op' Artistic Chairperson): "Patience. We, like the whole theatre community, I imagine; want to get back to storytelling together. But if staying home is what ensures many, many theatre seasons to come- we want to do that."
Bill Brochtrup (Antaeus Theatre Company's Co-Artistic Director): "While it's impossible to guess what's coming down the pike in the next weeks or months, we need folks to know that Antaeus will be here. We're not going anywhere."
Ronda Spinak's really appreciative of her JWT's patrons. " What I admire most about our community is their resilience. And their loyalty. We were about to open our second Salon of our season, and not one asked for a refund. All are waiting until we can perform it. That's about 600 paid ticket buyers. If that isn't incredible, I don't know what is. We are so grateful."
Questioned on what words of wisdom each shared with their theatre families:
Miriam Billington: "We will be back soon, but in the meantime... stay home, stay strong, and sing show tunes!"
Bill Brochtrup: "In times like these, people truly understand the importance of family and community. Antaeus is proud to be a home for artists and audiences alike, and we will strive to continue to be that both during and after this crisis. There will always be a need for people to come together to share stories and camaraderie."
Jonathan Fox: "Historically, during other pandemics and with the situation in Wuhan, China, we are optimistic that we will see a clear recovery in about eight weeks. Ensemble Theatre Company is important to a great many people in Santa Barbara County and beyond, and we look forward to welcoming everyone back to our artistic home as soon as we're able!"
Gloria Gifford: "As a Broadway veteran actress, talking to my family of artists around the world at this time through Twitter and Facebook, we are all preparing for our re-entry into productions by safe distancing, better eating, exercise at home and watching movies and watching theatre online. As the late Terrence McNally said, 'Theatre changes hearts.' That is our aim."
Doug Haverty: "Patience and diligence. Stay safe. One of my favorite writing teachers (Bill Idelson) had a philosophy: People need stories, just as much as they need food, water and oxygen. I believe that, too. I also believe that people who love theater will be craving the live theatrical experience after having spent weeks in isolation. Hopefully, they'll be saturated with books and movies, streaming and binge-watching and will be wanting to sit in a theater again and respond to live art."
Ron Sossi (Odyssey Theatre's Founding Artistic Director): "Relax, take precautions and wait it out. Get some reading done, or listen to some music, or engage in a personal creative project. Most importantly, really try to advocate with those people who still do not take this pandemic seriously."
Ronda Spinak: "Stay safe, channel gratitude, give to others, find joy, share your stories, stay connected, and no need to get out of your pajamas for zoom meetings."
Heather Chesley: "Perhaps, what we have been given is time. Let's take the time to write and create new works of art. There are so many new stories that we can soon tell."
David Hunt Stafford: "This too shall pass. Stay well and stay healthy."
Spike Dolomite Ward: "The show will go on. Just later."
Shows in the pipeline for these theatres, hopefully in the near future, include:
- MARVIN'S ROOM and A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE @ Actors Co-op
- Saroyan's THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE @ Antaeus
- AMERICAN SON and TENDERLY: THE Rosemary Clooney MUSICAL @ Ensemble Theatre Company of Santa Barbara
- TENNESSEE (Williams) AND MILLER (Jason) - three one-acts- (27 WAGONS FULL OF COTTON, MOONY'S KID DON'T CRY and LOU GEHRIG DID NOT DIE OF CANCER) and THE THREE MUSKETEERS - The MUSICAL @ GGC Players
- Neil Simon's LONDON SUITE, Mitch Albom's TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE, Joanna Glass' TO GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE WE GO, Joseph Haye's THE DESPERATE HOURS, Ken Ludwig's THE GAME'S AFOOT, NINE WINNING ONE-ACTS, MOTEL 66 and ORPHAN'S REVENGE @ The Group Rep
- FOR GOODNESS' SAKE @ Jewish Women's Theatre
- Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winning SWEAT, THE MUSIC MAN and Youth Education/Entertainment Series (Y.E.S.) performances of FRECKLEFACE STRAWBERRY and FROZEN JR. @ Morgan-Wixson
- A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG and Inge's PICNIC @ Odyssey
- TAMING THE LION and the West Coast premiere of INCIDENT AT OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP by Katie Forgette @ Theatre 40
- LOVE IS A JOURNEY (short plays for Gay Pride Month), MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and Dina Morrone's MOOSE ON THE LOOSE @ Theatre West.
To support these theatres or get their further updates, log onto their respective websites: