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BWW Interview: L. A. Theatres' Inventive Safer-At-Home Work-Arounds, Part 2


BWW Interview: L. A. Theatres' Inventive Safer-At-Home Work-Arounds, Part 2

Here's the second 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)

As with the first batch of responses, these are just as amazing in their uniform positivity.

Heather Provost (Colony Theatre's Producing Artistic Director): "The tougher the situation, the calmer you need to be in order to make the smartest decisions. And the current situation is pretty darn tough. So, those decisions can be very difficult. However, we're confident we will get through this. We're staying focused and determined to keep our train on the tracks."

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:

Taylor Gilbert (The Road Theatre Company's Founder and Artistic Director): "Working virtually with company on preproduction work we can accomplish while being in isolation. We are busy reading over 400 plays that are in consideration for SPF11. With the hope we can present that in late summer, as it is our largest fundraiser for the company. We would love to make our weekly Word readings available to stream. So as we're being told to distance ourselves physically - we're tasked with working even harder to connect with one another."

Stephen Sachs (Fountain Theatre's Artistic Director): "We are exploring online streaming. I have been in contact with Actors Equity Association, seeking guidance and permission to move forward. It's clear that online content is the wave of the future. Even after this virus passes, the genie is now out of the bottle. I think streaming online is here to stay and will become a permanent platform for all theaters moving forward. Every LORT theater will have an online streaming component."

Gary Grossman (Skylight Theatre's Producing Artistic Director): "Starting Thursday March 26th, we've launched Skylight Live, a weekly online live theatre series with plays written for particularly for this medium, directed and performed by Skylight artists."

Casey Reitz (Segerstrom Center for the Arts' President): "As terrible as this crisis is and as isolated as we are from one another, it is also bringing us together to focus on a single goal: to continue to serve our community by providing entertaining and enriching arts experiences. To some extent, we have been energized to pursue a number of online community engagement and education projects that have been put on the backburner, as it were, to take care of the regular seasons of shows and performances, special projects, fundraising, etc."

Bree Pavey (Loft Ensemble's Managing Director): "For Loft, we created Wellness Teams: Physical Wellness, Creative Wellness, Supply Wellness, and Emotional Wellness. Company members signed up, if comfortable, for any team they wanted. Those teams check in with each company member periodically throughout the week and assess needs, health, etc., and then coordinate with other teams or individuals to try and help ensure the overall well being of each member. We have a private Facebook forum and our Physical Wellness Team streams a live workout twice daily - one for muscle, and one for stretching and flexibility. The Emotional Wellness Team reaches out directly, one-on-one via phone, email, text or Zoom to just see how anyone is holding up; and we've developed an in-house 'group' to discuss anxiety, grief, communication skills, body acceptance, and substance moderation. Our Creative Wellness Team sets creative challenges for company members: write a poem, write a scene, write a song, etc., and then checks in with each person on progress and follow-through. And our Supply Wellness Team checks in to make sure our members have enough food, toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, etc. The company set aside a small fund to be able to provide supplies as needed for members who are not working. This structure allows us all to have something to do other than sit on the couch and watch movies. It keeps us connected, accountable, motivated, and feeling supported!"

A little L.A. Theatre ingenuity keeps the theatres in touch with their audiences:

Michael Ritchie (Center Theatre Group's Artistic Director): "Inspired by the idea to create community beyond a shared physical space, we have been moving some of our education and community programming online, beginning with our College & Career Fair for the Arts last weekend. We transitioned to a completely virtual event hosted on YouTube. Over 500 students and educators were able to participate, and their excitement gives us hope for the future of the arts. We're now looking ahead to our next Education event, our annual Going Pro Career Fair on April 18, will be a another full day of informative, interactive online content planned for college students. We're sharing a new series of videos as part of our newly launched Art Goes On Project from members of the Center Theatre Group family. We asked them to speak to what theatre means to them right now and to share some of their favorite pieces of art."

Casey Reitz: "At the moment, we are creating web content that will include programs and past events. We'll also provide online classes lead by our teaching artists and teachers from our American Ballet Theatre William J. Gillespie School and School of Dance and Music for Children with Disabilities. Our goal is to use Zoom in order to offer classes and workshops in real time, bringing people together and helping them to stay connected."

Carrie-ann Pishnak (The Second City's Director of Marketing/Associate Producer): "We completely transitioned our training center curriculum to a virtual setting so the next generation of comedic actors and improvisers can continue their studies. We are organizing our first online shows to take place very soon, and training center shows so our students can jump in too."

Rob Bailis (The Broad Stage's Artistic and Executive Director): "We've asked ourselves what we would most want coming out of all this constraint, something we didn't have before, and that we would most benefit from going forward. As many school-aged children are now in need of high-quality educational materials, we've built The Broad Stage Learning Hub in the Community section of our website, determined to take the learning guides we have developed for classroom teachers (already developed to support existing curricular activities), and re-imagine them for an interactive web format that children and families can do together. We hope this will result in our ability to reach that most elusive of prospective audiences - the millennial parents of school aged children who rarely have time or even predisposition to consider coming to our venue, but might enjoy getting acquainted with us as a vital community resource during their child rearing years. Second, we've created The Broad Stage at Home for original content about creative process and what artists are doing right now at this moment of impact. We urgently need to compel from our communities upfront investment in commissions and creative process to keep the pipeline of new work flowing toward beautifully crafted future seasons and a brighter day for all. One hopeful outcome, should we succeed, is demonstrating for the broader base of our community that an artist's work has real financial value at all stages of creation, not just when the work can be monetized through consumption. We will regularly update our website with new content and Livestreams can be found on Facebook Live by liking us on Facebook."

All theatres, with no current box office receipts, need everyone's financial support, as well as,...

Ben Guillory (Robey Theatre Company's Producing Artistic Director/Co-Founder): "Faith, perseverance, & support."

Stephen Sachs: "And we need loyalty. When we reopen our doors - and we will - we need our audiences to come back, to ignite our rebirth. When this crisis is over, it will take time for all of us to get back on our feet again. If we truly are a community, the community needs to show up, to reassemble in strength, so we all can march forward."

Julie Bersani (Ammunition Theatre Company's Co-Artistic Director): "Well, at the end of the day, theatre is a show of fantasy made up of real people giving up their real time to entertain others. Being that this is a non-profit company, these folks need the same thing everyone else needs: money and stability. Members of the theatre community are often not salaried workers. Some don't qualify for unemployment or have safety nets, like sick leave. The Actor's Fund is one way to contribute, but here's a list of other organizations that deal with emergency funds for freelancers and creatives."

Casey Reitz: "In this crazy time, we all need patience and optimism that life will return to normal, and we'll soon share the performing arts as they are intended to be experienced - socially, in groups, with family and friends."

Gary Grossman: "Support! And not just financial. When something this big happens, it feels like you're alone and you just don't know what to do next. The fact is that we're part of a bigger and very capable artistic community. We're stronger and smarter working together and so on Monday, March 24, Skylight started hosting a weekly online summit for Intimate Theatre Artistic Directors to brainstorm ideas for AFTER COVID-19. Upwards of 20 attended the first one!"

Jon Imparato (Los Angeles LGBT Center's Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center's Artistic Director): "Money, like everyone else. We are a unique non-profit because the Los Angeles LGBT Center provides life-sustaining programs to our Seniors, Homeless Youth, People with HIV/AIDS, Mental Heath issues and Transgender and Gender Not-Conforming people. Money helps those programs and allows the Cultural Arts programs to do what we do for the community. We have always viewed art as prevention. Art heals and lifts our community, especially in these unprecedented times."

Laguna Playhouse's Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham & Executive Director Ellen Richard: "We need our audiences to be supportive by subscribing to our upcoming Centennial Season so that we can celebrate that milestone together! We need those who have the resources to think about the Playhouse with their philanthropic choices. We need everyone to contact their Congress members and Senators and ask that the arts be included in any recovery funding. We have donated our supply of 95 masks and other supplies to our local hospital, and are currently looking at other ways and opportunities to help support our community during this challenging time."

Bree Pavey: "Rent forgiveness. Not a freeze and pay it back later, but actual forgiveness. Most intimate nonprofit theatres aren't sitting on huge stockpiles of capital to be able to sustain months of no audiences. And donations dry up in times of economic crisis because donors are more worried about food, as they should be. Most of the groups I know can make it a month, MAYBE two, without audiences, and then will be out. And trying to pay back months' worth of rent after it's lifted is equally as destructive for a small organization's fiscal health. Just the peace of mind of knowing we will still have a space to get back to work IN would make a huge difference and will allow us to plan for more revenue producing opportunities for the 'after.'"

Questioned on what words of wisdom each shared with their theatre families:

Ben Guillory: "To Keep working- in many ways this is an ideal down time which gives us room to develop."

Michelle Danner (Edgemar Center for the Arts' Artistic Director): "I believe that great art is created in scary times, and that this can be a very fruitful time to write, feel what we're feeling, keep on writing and engaging with other artists. This is also a great time to reassess, reflect, regroup, read tons, and an opportunity to grow artistically. We have to learn from this time in history, and use it to our advantage."

Gary Grossman: "Our city needs to be healed, and we, as artists, need to lead the way. Skylight's still here. And we plan to be here tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow."

Julie Bersani: "We'll get through this the same way the theatre community, and all communities, get through tough times. By keeping safe and staying responsible, but leading with boldness, love, light and family."

Casey Reitz: "What you are doing is important, it matters. The arts have never, and will never, go away. Right now, we see the arts and artists being appreciated, as they provide us with distractions and beauty. More than ever before in most of our lifetimes, as we see businesses closed, sports on hold and the future filled with uncertainty, artists and the arts will never fail us."

Michael Ritchie: "The world has experienced moments of profound pain before, and often, from the darkness, life-affirming art has emerged. Such was the case during the AIDS crisis, when we helped bring the world Tony Kushner's ANGELS IN AMERICA. Tony's words about confronting the horrors facing his community resonate deeply with us today: 'The Great Question before us is: Are we doomed? The Great Question before us is: Will the Past release us? The Great Question before us is: Can we Change? In Time? And we all desire that Change will come.' Embracing both loss and change is how we as a theatre company will spin forward. In this extraordinarily difficult moment, we want to ensure that theatre continues to play an important role in all our lives. Imagine the art that is being and will be created that will help us better understand this moment in time. This is just the beginning. Center Theatre Group is already dreaming big. Art goes on. And so do we. I hope you'll join us at each step of the way. We're all in this together, now more than ever."

Rob Bailis: "Be kind to each other. Be mindful. Remember that our work was never intended to be done from home in isolation. We communicate through many more means than just the sound of our voices and the written word. Essential information is lost when we squeeze from three dimensions down to two; even in a video chat we're still operating at a loss. That said, look for the gifts buried within the complications - they are there. And most of all - there will be a day when this is behind us - let's get there together, healthy, wiser and ready to raise the curtain!"

Ann E. Wareham & Ellen Richard: "The Laguna Playhouse has seen other dark days during its 99-year history. We know this is a temporary period of pain before we all move to recovery together. And our community will be as excited as we will be when we are allowed to sit in the dark and enjoy the communal magic of theatre together again."

Carrie-ann Pishnak: "We look to the scientists for facts, and we look to each other for comfort and connection. Make sure you're still connecting with your tribe, and find ways to make each other laugh."

Jon Imparato: "Our fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers were asked to go to war. We are asked to sit on the couch for a few months. We can handle that. Imagine the wonderful art that will come out of this pandemic... ponder that... it will give you hope. 'Theater is as essential to civilization as safe, pure water.' - Vanessa Redgrave."

Heather Provost: "In my Producing Artistic Director letter that we sent out, I said, 'We know just how special the power of theatre is in bringing people together, and we have no doubt that our community will continue to be strong together, through all of this. When the dream is big enough, we find ways to get through ... I know, for all of us, the dream is big enough.' It really is. We will get through. Now please, just stay home."

Shows in the pipeline for these theatres, hopefully in the near future, include:

- Lia Romeo's LUCKY ONES and Bernardo Cubría's CRABS IN A BUCKET @ Ammunition Theatre Company




- HUMAN INTEREST STORY, and the L.A. premiere of Steven Levenson's IF I FORGET @ Fountain Theatre

- Hershey Felder's MONSIEUR CHOPIN and LEGALLY BLONDE @ Laguna Playhouse

- HAIR @ Los Angeles LGBT Center's Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center

- DEATH AND OTHER GIRLY THINGS, David Evan Stolworthy's JUST ONE MOMENT, TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT IT, Alice Childress, Stephen Kaplan's BRANWELL @ Loft Ensemble

- SCINTILLA and their 10-minute plays series COMMON GROUND @ The Road Theatre

- Leslie Lee's COLORED PEOPLE'S TIME and the 2021 PAUL ROBESON THEATRE FESTIVAL @ Robey Theatre Company


- Roger Q. Mason's LAVENDER MEN @ Skylight Theatre

To support these theatres or get their further updates, log onto their respective websites: (Los Angeles LGBT Center's Lily Tomlin/Jane Wagner Cultural Arts Center (Segerstrom Center for the Arts)

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