BWW Interview: L. A. Theatres' Inventive Safer-At-Home Work-Arounds, Part 3
Here's the third installment of responses from various Los Angeles Theatre heads on how their individual theatre families are holding up in these crazy, safe-distancing times. (You can read the first installment here and the second here)
As with the first two batches of responses, these are just as amazing in their acknowledged realism and uniform positivity:
Matt Shakman (Geffen Playhouse's Artistic Director): "We're hanging in there. It's a strange and scary time - and like most theatres, we had to make some brutal calls when deciding to temporarily close up shop. But there was no doubt in anyone's mind that it was time for all of us to stay at home. Once we got there, we realized pretty quickly how dependent we are on each other and how much work takes place in between meetings-in hallways and in the kitchen and walking to and from the Trader Joe's parking lot. Like most workplaces, we're now relying on Zoom for staff meetings and to connect with the freelance artists with whom we collaborate. But the theatre is a really high energy workplace and there's no way to recreate that when we have to work apart.
We had just begun rehearsals on Theresa Rebeck's BERNHARDT/HAMLET and were one day away from opening Anna Moensch's MAN OF GOD. It's hard enough to have your entire team go home to work indefinitely, but in that case, at least we have the comfort of knowing we'll be back. With these shows, we just had to sacrifice months and months of hard work by so many people inside and outside of the building. Not to mention the thousands of patrons who will miss these wonderful plays. I watched so many artists go through this exact same thing, and while it pales in comparison to the larger epidemic we're all facing, it has its own heartbreaking element."
IAMA co-Artistic Directors Stefanie Black & Katie Lowes: "IAMA's doing ok! We were saddened at the early closure of our musical FOUND, which was about to start its fourth week at LATC. It was such an incredible production, our first musical and we were playing to sold out audiences each night. But we know the Show Must Go on... So we've been staying positive and getting creative about how we stay present with each other and the L.A. Theater community. #LATheatreLives"
Paul Garman (Musical Theatre West's Executive Director/Producer): "Gratefully, our High School Scholarship auditions were completed just before the stay at home order, and we saw 60 students from Los Angeles and Orange County High Schools. Twelve were chosen to receive $1000 or $500 scholarships to help them pursue their theatrical careers. The luncheon when they were to perform for our donors on May 9th has been postponed, and we're waiting to see when we might be able to re-schedule hopefully in the summer.
This week we had to cancel our upcoming NYC tours with our Travel Club. We had 200 patrons joining us for two weeks of seeing six Broadway shows and some terrific New York City sights as well. Gratefully, most of them have agreed to join us for May 2021, so we're transferring them to those tours."
Heather de Michele (The Groundlings Theatre & School's Managing Director): "There is a lot of love in The Groundlings Theatre family, and everyone is doing a wonderful job of staying in touch. We are collectively counting down the days until we get to make theatre together again."
Garry Marshall Theatre's Producer Joseph Leo Bwarie & CEO Kathleen Marshall: "Springtime at the GMT is always so apropos because seasonally it is a time to welcome new growth, and for us, this is the time when we normally welcome the University Showcases from around the country to introduce and present the newest members of our professional, creative community. We miss having that energy in our space. It is something that Garry loved - the next wave of actors and performers."
Martha Demson (Open Fist Theatre Company's Artistic Director): "The Open Fist Theatre Company is a close knit and resilient ensemble. On the whole we are holding up well. However, we have members who have lost loved ones to Covid-19 and many who have lost employment. As a Company, we are reaching out to support those with the greatest need."
José Luis Valenzuela (Latino Theater Company's Artistic Director): "We are as well as we can be under the circumstances. We are a company that runs a large theater complex, the LATC. So, there is much to consider regarding our full time staff, our Spring & Fall 2020 Seasons, our seasonal staff, tenants, rentals, etc. For now, the building is closed to the public and we are keeping our full-time staff on salary through April, at which time we will assess where we are."
Elizabeth Schmidt & Mark Jude Sullivan (InHouse Theatre's Artistic Directors): "Thankfully, our company members are all healthy. We are concerned about the future, but also trying to find ways to create positivity and value in this challenging time."
Jessica Kubzansky (Boston Court Pasadena's Artistic Director): "We're blessed to have the most wonderful staff at Boston Court, a tiny but mighty band of humans who are all, of course, working from home, but staying connected through a variety of virtual platforms, engaging in their trademark snarky Boston Court humor, sharing work hours that fit with their 'co-workers,' a.k.a. toddlers' schedules, and just in general being resilient as we all find our way through this uncharted territory together."
All members of each theatre who responded are staying in virtual touch with their respective groups via Facebook, Zoom, sharing videos, Livestreamings and Skype. Making the most of home isolations with new ideas and new approaches:
Elizabeth Schmidt & Mark Jude Sullivan: "Via Zoom, we read plays out loud within our company membership for consideration for our upcoming season."
Joseph Leo Bwarie & Kathleen Marshall: "The outpouring of connectivity and entertainment we are seeing through technology is a tribute to all the artists and creative minds in the arts. When there is an obstacle or a road block, it's the creative arts that always get us across the bridge to the other side. For now, we are enjoying the songs and dances and performances out there on so many platforms, as we are preparing our offering that will be unique to what we do at the GMT."
A little L.A. Theatre ingenuity keeps the theatres in touch with their audiences:
Paul Garman: "One is the good old fashioned way of picking up the phone and being in touch with our patrons. This past week, the box office staff has reached out to ticket holders for our production of MAME which was to run March 27-April 12th, and remind them the show has been postponed until August, and seeing if there is anything else they can help them with or answer any questions they might have. They reached out to 1700 patrons this week, and let them know we were thinking of them as well.
Two of our staff members have started a daily series of Instagram and Facebook postings which we're calling Quarantainment. We have Songs that make us Happy airing every day at 9:30am and 4:00pm on Instagram, and at 9:45am and 4:15pm on Facebook hosted by our box office manager Michael Betts, who has now been dubbed "Man in Box Office" à la DROWSY CHAPERONE's "Man in Chair." The first week he celebrated songs of Stephen Sondheim in celebration of the master's 90th birthday. He's come up with running themes and fun trivia to keep folks happy and entertained during these challenging times. We've found that there's nothing like a good show tune to lift your spirits when you're feeling blue!
And then Musical Theatre West artists are sharing their talents on the MTW Free-4-All which is airing on Instagram every weekday evening at 8pm, and then 2 and 8pm on Saturdays, and 1 and 6pm on Sundays which would be our regular showtimes, and is then posted on Facebook."
Matt Shakman: "Last week we launched the Geffen Stayhouse, a new streaming component on The Geffen Playhouse website. We're asking artists to create videos, and running a segment every Wednesday where people are truly performing in their living room for us. While this started out as a way to connect with our audiences, the added benefit of giving artists an outlet until they can get back on stage has proved to be equally joy-filled."
José Luis Valenzuela: "We have an active social media presence and we have scheduled on-line artist conversations and the sharing of archival videos of previous productions of the Latino Theater Company."
Martha Demson: "Early on we circulated a survey among our patrons, asking what types of engagement would be most valuable to them during this time of social distancing. In response to a flood of requests, we are inviting patrons to some of our rehearsals, including them at some of our virtual social gatherings, and are developing arts enrichment content for our youngest patrons who are stuck at home."
Heather de Michele: "We offer shows 6-7 nights a week, 52 weeks a year, so we were in the thick of it. We are now offering online classes taught by several incredible Groundlings instructors. The roster is very diverse and unique, while remaining true to The Groundlings' curriculum. Classes such as Generating Ideas, Building a Sketch and Developing POV are in the mix! We launched The Groundlings Podcast Network on April 1 with a very special interview with Groundlings Alumna Lisa Kudrow. Expect new content every week available on your favorite podcasting platform!"
Stefanie Black & Katie Lowes: "We recently launched #IAMAatHome, which is our initiative to bring virtual programming and inspiration to our patrons and larger worldwide theater community. It's important to stay in touch with our patrons via our e-blasts, but we are prepared to continue IAMA's tradition of kick-ass social media to continue to engage our audience. Stay tuned for some cool stuff..."
Elizabeth Schmidt & Mark Jude Sullivan: "For the next month(s), we hope to produce readings online, primarily of original work that we hope to produce 'in person' in the future. At InHouse, we hope to bring these theatrical works to everyone's houses - to experience a new version of live theatre while we are at home that makes us feel a little less alone and a little more connected to a larger humanity."
Besides being a provider of theatrical arts, some have the abilities to find ways to contribute to our communities in this current situation:
Stefanie Black & Katie Lowes: "Through one of our members, we have started organizing the making of protective masks to send to health care workers in New York and Georgia and other places that are in need at this time."
Elizabeth Schmidt: "Because our theatre company produces site-specific work in intimate, immersive settings; we don't have a physical home or geographical community within L.A. However, my co-artistic director Mark has put together a fantastic list of resources on our website that provides very helpful information and assistance for actors and industry professionals, compiling numerous links to various foundations and relief funds."
Martha Demson: "Some Company members are out packing and distributing meals for the LAUSD Grab and Go program. Most of our outreach is virtual, however, as we try to model the importance of self-isolation."
Joseph Leo Bwarie & Kathleen Marshall: "We are doing anything we can to lift up our community and our local business that surround the GMT during these times - when support is so needed. Even changing our marquee to read "THE REAL STARS ARE HEALTHCARE WORKERS" has people honking as they drive past."
All theatres, with no current box office receipts, need everyone's financial support, as well as,...
Elizabeth Schmidt & Mark Jude Sullivan: "Support from the L.A. community. Please watch and support all artists in all media creating work and putting themselves out there to help guide and steer humanity through these troubled waters, as artists have done for millennia."
Jessica Kubzansky: "For people to sustain their belief in the power of theatre, experienced live and communally, as necessary to our essential humanity; and to seek it out as soon as it's genuinely safe to do so. And when we're able to come back together, more than ever, we'll need both love and art to sustain us."
Matt Shakman: "We need writers and artists creating work that will help us make sense of all of this. We need patrons who will stay connected to us. We need to keep planning and moving forward and practicing defiant optimism in what feels among the darkest times we've known."
Heather de Michele: "Buy gift certificates for future shows - we'll all need some serious laughs after this is over."
Paul Garman: "Patience and understanding as we all travel through this time together. Our patrons and donors have been incredibly supportive during this time and we're so blessed."
Joseph Leo Bwarie & Kathleen Marshall: "All industry is going to need support though the next many months ahead. If there is anything extra we all need to hold on to is the importance of kindness and the worth in forgiveness and that we are not required to pretend this 're-set' didn't happen, or that we all have to work ourselves tirelessly when we are out of our homes. What will be vital to the growth of all business - arts and beyond - is that we continue to maintain good health for ourselves and our community."
Stefanie Black & Katie Lowes: "Honestly, for us, we are very lucky to be a nomadic company, moving between a few theater venues each season. Our lack of home has actually kept us a little more financially stable than some of our colleagues. What we do need right now is to keep a direct line to our audience and community. We need to spend this time to plan for the future and the new normal that we are about to enter."
Questioned on what words of wisdom each shared with their theatre families:
Jessica Kubzansky: "This is one of the most extraordinary moments I suspect most of us have ever lived through, and there is so much more discovery to come about the ways in which this will change the world as we know it and who we are as human beings. But if the pandemic has done nothing else, it has strengthened our awareness of how important communal gatherings are to all of us, and how precious they are now that we don't get to have them for a while. And since we are told to turn challenge into opportunity, even in the midst of fear, perhaps it's helpful to view the pandemic as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves for the brave new world that will emerge on the other side of all of this. And in any case, the darkest of times have produced some of the greatest art, so we have that to look forward to when we're once again able to come together."
Heather de Michele: "We will get through this. That is so important for us to remember."
Stefanie Black & Katie Lowes: "We all just keep telling each other how lucky we are to have this beautiful theater family that we created over 12 years ago. A large group of us have been friends since college, so as long as we stick together, we'll get through this and IAMA will forever be stronger."
Matt Shakman: "The theatre always survives. Many things will change by necessity as this pandemic reshapes our everyday lives, but never doubt that humans want art to help examine and explain the world in which we live. I cannot wait for the time when I can sit in a theatre surrounded by the great citizens of Los Angeles and breathe freely, laugh loudly, and exhale deeply."
José Luis Valenzuela: "Doing theater is never easy and especially so for theater organizations of color. We are used to the struggle, fighting for our art and the telling of our stories. We are used to struggling for money, for funding, for recognition. We are conditioned for times like this and I believe we will prevail. We will survive. Si se puede!"
Martha Demson: "I don't really have any pithy words of wisdom adequate to the situation at hand. But I would add my voice to that of Queen Elizabeth and other world leaders in encouraging my theatre family to have faith and assuring them that we shall persevere. After all, the theatre is no stranger to quarantine. Between 1603 and 1613, when Shakespeare's powers as a writer were well established, the plague shut down the Globe Theatre for 78 months! This too shall pass."
Shows in the pipeline for these theatres, hopefully in the near future, include:
- PASSION and The Harp Twins concert @ Boston Court Pasadena
- THE ROOT BEER BANDITS, NEW WORKS FESTIVAL, ANAM Irish Culture & Arts concerts and AN EVENING WITH DR. EDITH EVA EGER, the award-winning author, eminent psychologist, and holocaust survivor @ Garry Marshall Theatre
- The 2020/2021 Season includes: COLLECTED STORIES, A WICKED SOUL IN CHERRY HILL, THE ENGAGEMENT PARTY, THE INHERITANCE - Parts 1 & 2, SOFT TARGET, MINDPLAY, Bryan Cranston Directorial Project @ Geffen Playhouse
- Nina Braddock's THE UNTITLED BABY PLAY and a world premiere, part of The Jubilee season, dedicated to celebrating female-identifying playwrights @ IAMA
- A tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium with Latino Theater Company's AUGUST 29 and LA VIRGEN DE GUADALUPE, DIOS INANTZIN, Alfredo Ramos' THE LAST ANGRY BROWN HAT and Evelina Fernandez' SLEEP WITH THE ANGELS @ Latino Theater Company
- The West Coast premiere of TREASURE ISLAND, MAME, GREASE, CINDERELLA, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS and DAMN YANKEES @ Musical Theatre West
- THE SOLDIER DREAMS, Rorschach Fest (a celebration of experimental theatre), Political Pop-Up (10-minute plays inspired by the theme "In a Perfect World" @ Open Fist
To support these theatres or get their further updates, log onto their respective websites:
- thelatc.org Latino Theater Company
- musical.org Musical Theatre West