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LA Stage Times

What Women Want for LA Theater

by Steve Julian | March 8, 2013

For more than a century, International Women’s Day has sought to draw attention to the needs and desires of women around the world. It is marked by over 200 formal events today in the United States — even more in the United Kingdom.

In Los Angeles, we asked women who play various roles in theater this question — what do you want to see for the coming year?

Here is a sampling of the responses.

Amy Levinson

Amy Levinson, artistic associate/literary director, Geffen Playhouse

“Truth be told, my gut reaction is to wish that this question were no longer relevant, but answering in the realm of reality, I am looking forward to a season of plays with great female characters.  I have been bowled over by the complex, exciting women who populate the crop of plays I’ve read this year.  The female protagonists are multifaceted, exciting, “˜take life by the horns’ kinds of women, some of whom grapple with the very idea of womanhood in a post-feminist age. And it’s no coincidence that many of these plays were written by women.”

Evelina Fernandez

Evelina Fernandez, Actor/Playwright – Latino Theater Company, LATC

“Obviously, I’d like to see more plays by and about women, but especially women of color. I was raised by strong, passionate, intelligent. funny sexual women, and I want to see those women on LA stages. LA is a majority minority metropolis, and I would like LA theater to reflect that more consistently. It’s a matter of survival, really. We’re all headed in the same direction toward a multinational identity of mixed ethnicities, cultural and geographical origins, and LA is in the forefront of that path. I would love for LA theater to be the most courageous, the most innovative, to be the vanguard of the future of the American theater and its audiences. In regard to Latinas/os in LA theater, I would love for LA theater to stop the ongoing notion that we are new, foreign, unusual and unfamiliar. Latinas/os come from all walks of life. We are not just kind-hearted nannies or housekeepers, or humble Latino gardeners or day laborers, or misunderstood gang members. We are as diverse as the city itself.”

Emelie Beck

Emilie Beck, director and c0-literary manager, Boston Court

“It is not enough to wish for institutions to add more female artists to their rosters. The wishing will not make it so, and it would not address the root of the issue. What is needed is a complete paradigm shift in the way we approach women as theater artists from all sides: practitioners, gatekeepers, tastemakers, and audiences. This is a difficult task, not just looking up at the icons of Miller and Williams, among many other men, but also from where we work in the shadow of Hollywood, which offers us lessons in formula and box-office success.

“From the time of Aristotle, the definition of story has been set out and adhered to with a masculine hand. And women have fit themselves into this standard in the same way we have entered most male-dominated professions: by taking their suits and cutting off the legs to make skirts. The truth is, women often have different ways of telling a story, less linear and myopic, more lyrical and layered. Though, of course, the less generalized truth is that we each have our own distinctive style. And by opening up the overriding ideas of what’s acceptable, we open ourselves up to stories told in unique voices from both men and women.

“What I hope is for all artists to be empowered to create work that is not defined by the ‘should’ or ‘supposed to’ ideas that have guided recent decades of work. What I hope is that both women and men push past the unofficial pro-forma guidelines that have produced only more of what we already know. What I hope is that we can expand theater to be the art form of depth and investigation that comes from each of us sharing our own unique voice. And what I hope for women in particular, is that we can free ourselves of trying to look and sound like men in our evolution as artists, and instead, to look and sound like ourselves, whatever those individual definitions may be.”

Murry Hepner

Mireya (Murry) Hepner, producer, MainStreet Theatre

“When I think about women in LA theater, I think about how many amazing women there are who are actively working in this community, especially on the creative end.

“For example, on my upcoming production of The Phantom Tollbooth, we have a woman director (Jessica Kubzansky), choreographer (Sarah Gorman), musical director (Janice Rodgers Wainwright), lighting designer (Jaymi Lee Smith), costume designer  (Tina Haatainen-Jones) and stage manager (Julie Haber).  I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, or if this is the case at other theaters, but when I look back at the creative people that have worked on our shows, a large proportion of them over the past seven years have been women.

“On the Ovation rules committee, where I serve, women represent about half of the group (Phyllis Schuringa, Dolores Chavez, Jeanie Hackett, Toni Sawyer), which seems about right.  They are all dynamic, smart, and deeply committed to raising the bar and honoring excellence in Los Angeles theater.

“So… I think what I’d like to see most of all is an acknowledgment of the many talented, creative, smart women who are so vital to the creative output of LA theater.  We should use International Women’s Day to celebrate!”

Lisa Wolpe in "Hamlet." Photo by Michael Lamont.

Lisa Wolpe, artistic director, Los Angeles Women’s Shakespeare Company

“As a female theater artist who has seen significant growth in the world theater culture in my lifetime, I am happy to see so many more wonderfully intelligent female directors and actresses working on the stage now than there were when I was younger. I am hoping that the trend toward more diversity in casting will strengthen, and that the percentages of women of color working as directors and actors will steadily grow. I see many American theater organizations committing to positive change in this area, and I am seeing lots of smart women emerge ready and capable of making tremendous contributions to the fascinating stories coming out onstage.

“I just began my stint as Distinguished Artist at the Center for Collaborative Art at Whittier College with a lecture that considers the question: “Might a woman have written the Shakespeare plays?” I’ll be presenting material on Mary Sidney, from Robin P. Williams’ book Sweet Swan of Avon. Mary Sidney was one of the most influential writers and patrons of the arts in Elizabethan times, to whose sons the Shakespeare plays and sonnets are dedicated. It’s possible that she had a big hand in writing the plays, and the evidence that is coming out about her influence is fascinating.

“It’s wonderful to read about the marvelous female writers, politicians, artists, and leaders who came out of the English Renaissance. For me, it’s powerful to consider the great female cross-gender work done in theaters stretching across time and space from artists like Charlotte Cushman and Sarah Bernhardt to Japanese Takarazuka. Whether I am watching “Makers” on PBS or studying the uppity women of 500 years ago, I will always remember that my life in art would have been impossible if the feminists and humanists who came before us had not fought for the rights of women to be allowed to free their voices onstage and in the world.”

Barbara Beckley

Barbara Beckley, artistic director, Colony Theatre Company

“I don’t have a few paragraphs on this one — just two sentences.  In LA we have an abundance of brilliant actresses of a certain age, and it was my honor to work with three of them in the past year — Anne Gee Byrd, Bonnie Bailey Reed, and Mariette Hartley.  Younger actors can learn a lot by sharing the stage with experienced professional artists like these women, and I hope to see many more of them on LA stages in the coming year.”

caryn desai

caryn desai, artistic director/producer, International City Theatre

“What do I want to see in the coming year for theater?  I can’t say that what I want to see has as much to do with being a woman as an artist.  There are many women leading theater companies, and there are great women directors, writers and actors.  What we need is incentives to keep good artists working, maturing and thriving in their craft.  Artists need to be paid.  We all need to do a better job communicating with the people who can make a difference in supporting theater.  We must communicate with our subscribers and our audiences about the important role subscribers play in the development and future of this most human art form.  Without subscribers, theaters (and I am talking about theaters who are paying artists) cannot afford to take risks or venture into new unproven work.

“If every play had to be sold individually, non-profit theaters would be out of business or be forced to offer safer choices.  Subscribers provide a base of support for a season — not just one play.  And this makes it possible to include newer, lesser known and riskier choices.  If good playwrights are to be encouraged, their work needs to be produced.  Subscribers are instrumental in sustaining theater.  There should be a campaign to educate the public — at least the public who cares about the future of theater.”

Sabra Williams

Sabra Williams, director of outreach and The Prison Project at Actors’ Gang

“I would like to see arts in education become recognized as being as a crucial part of the development of children’s lives and success in the future, as math or English. I’d like to see the state start to support the transformative potential of arts in rehabilitation and re-entry — for the sake of the incarcerated and the society they are coming back to. For me, as an actress, I want to help create a world where what happens on stage is regarded as invaluable as a conduit for social change and is supported financially in order to become sustainable.”

Dale Franzen

Dale Franzen, director of Broad Stage

“I think women want to see relevant stories that move and illuminate. They can be from any culture, any time, as long as they tell a story that claims the heart and soul. We go to theater to be elevated, to laugh, to share and cry.”


Mary Chalon

Mary Chalon, actress, co-founder of Parsons Nose Productions, associate director and producer

“We now live in a time and place in this country where women can be heard, seen, appreciated, respected, and valued, not merely for their individual attractiveness and appeal to men, but also for their intelligence, wit, capabilities, hard work, and senses of humor. Our stories of growing up, finding passions, seeking careers, falling in love, winning, losing, marrying, mothering, aging, leading, deserve to be told by both talented female and male writers, in serious ways, humorous ways, and with wit, style, and substance.

“Our young girls in this country need to grow up listening to the voices and seeing the stories of real women, who lived before them, come alive in the theater. It’s our history, and time can fly by all too quickly. I remember seeing what a struggle the women’s liberation movement was in the 1960s and ’70s, and its results are now so taken for granted. We can so easily forget about past times that shape who we are, unless we are reminded. The theater can do that for us so beautifully. Moments in the early 21st century will be behind us soon too. Let’s tell these stories. To help that to happen let’s see more funding given to developing new and young playwrights who write for and about women.

“Think of Lorraine Hansberry and what she did for young African American men and women with A Raisin In The Sun, or William Shakespeare’s character, Rosalind in As You Like It, and of 20th century playwrights such as Beth Henley and Wendy Wasserstein. Let’s nurture our young writing talents consciously and tenderly, and give our newer female writers places to try out their work, as well as honor fine writing for women from long ago.”

Amy Ellenberger in FLASH Festival Play. Photo courtesy of Chalk Rep.

Amy Ellenberger, founding member, Chalk Repertory Theatre

“As a performer and founding member of a female-run theater company, I simply want to see women represented in proportion to our society.  That means more women in leadership positions, more female directors, more female playwrights being produced, and casts that feature a balance of men and women.  I would also like to see women valued economically for their work.  There are some fantastic female leaders and artists operating in small to mid-sized theater companies with small budgets and little to no compensation.  It would be great if some of the larger theater companies would invest in these women to help lead the theater community into the future. P.S. If you want to see some women in action, check out the show we just opened, Mommune.”

Janet Miller

Janet Miller, independent director and choreographer

“In theater, I always hope for more opportunity for women”¦Period. More women artistic directors, writers, directors, designers, stage managers, choreographers, actors. And especially for women in that “˜over 50’ category. We have much to offer, so just ask us to join the party. Actually, in many cases, we bring the party, and lots more besides.”


Jean Bruce Scott

Jean Bruce Scott, producing artistic director and co-creator of Native Voices at the Autry

“We need more stories with leading female roles about important timely topics, more women writers writing those stories, and more women producers and directors willing to tackle them. Theater, which gives audiences the opportunity to see more of the tougher issues on our stages, can start discussions which may just lead to change.”

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LA Stage Times

March 25 SWAN Day Event Fosters Work for Women Theater Artists

by LA Stage Alliance | March 20, 2012

Theatre Mab Town Hall, a Los Angeles theater company with a focus on promoting the power of the individual, announces a Collaborations Conversation in recognition of SWAN Day (Support Women Artists Now Day). The Collaborations Conversation is open to all theater artists – male and female – who are interested in fostering new work for women theater artists. It will be held on Sunday, March 25 at 3 pm at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga.

The Fifth International SWAN Day is an annual event created by WomenArts.  Organizations across the country take part by focusing attention on the work of women artists in the weeks surrounding the last Saturday of March (Women’s History Month).

The Collaborations Conversation is one of the few SWAN Day events in the Los Angeles area,  A panel of respected theater artists and professionals has been assembled to open the Collaborations Conversation, an active springboard for new partnerships and projects.

The panel includes celebrated actress, director and Theatricum Botanicum artistic director Ellen Geer, and opera diva turned arts administrator and Founding Director of the Broad Stage, Dale Franzen.

Theatre Mab Town Hall artistic director and Conversation moderator Ella Martin describes the event as “A conversation by and for women theater artists and professionals on the nature and possibilities of collaboration. The event will create an environment where women theater artists can discuss past successful collaborations, meet new potential collaborators, and plan how they can and will work together to continue to support excellent work by women.”

Other scheduled panelists are performer/director Susan Angelo (Theatricum Botanicum, A Noise Within), director/producer Jen Bloom (Santa Monica Rep), playwright Mary F. Casey (Jane Chambers Award Winner), writer/performer Marissa Chibas (Daughter of a Cuban Revolutionary) and award-winning director Ann-Giselle Spiegler (Lit Theater).

The Collaborations Conversation is produced by Theatre Mab Town Hall; hosted by the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, and supported by the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative, a movement working to ensure fair representation of women playwrights on local stages, and beyond.

Admission to the event is free and open to the public; donations to offset the costs of producing the event will be gratefully accepted. The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd. in Topanga, midway between Malibu and the San Fernando Valley. The theater is outdoors; bring a sweater or jacket.

For further information, e-mail or visit

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LA Stage Times

Dale Franzen: Championing Community at The Broad Stage

by Deborah Behrens | July 2, 2010

SUMMER@THE BROAD: Alan Cumming: Uncut, Fri. July 9, 7:30 & 9:30 pm. Tickets: $60-$75. The Broad Stage; Celebrity Autobiography, Mon., July 19 & Sun., Sept. 26, 7:30 & 9:30 pm. Tickets: $35-$65, The Edye Second Space. The Broad Stage, Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica; 310.434.3200 or Parking is free.

If you build it, they will come. At least that’s what Dale Franzen believed when a dinner party exchange with Dustin Hoffman led the two to spearhead a 10-year capital campaign to build a world-class performing arts center west of the 405 Freeway.

Now two years after their efforts birthed the 499-seat Eli and Edythe Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center and its 99-seat Edye Second Space companion in October 2008, presenting artists ranging from Mikhail Baryshnikov to Placido Domingo to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on The Broad Stage and more eclectic fare like Jane Austen Unscripted With High Tea in the Edye, Franzen has launched her third season dipping a toe into summer programming. It’s a mash-up of family fare and adult content that led with new musical Daddy Long Legs taking the high road on The Broad’s main stage juxtaposed against an upcoming one night stand with Alan Cumming: Uncut and Celebrity Autobiography unspooling monthly in the Edye’s newly transformed cabaret style space.

The 2009 Drama Desk Award winner for “Unique Theatrical Experience” and 2010 Bistro Award winner, Celebrity Autobiography features a rotating cast of celebrities performing unedited excerpts from the tell-all memoirs of other celebrities as solo or ensemble pieces. “Authors” interpreted range from Tommy Lee to Sylvester Stallone, Loni Anderson to Burt Reynolds and Ivana Trump to Tiger Woods. The new July 19 cast includes Scott Adsit (30 Rock), Lesley Ann Warren, Fred Willard, Dayle Reyfel, Eugene Pack, Brooke Shields and others to be announced.

<br />

Alan Cumming

Scottish actor/singer/writer/director Alan Cumming brings the latest version of his critically acclaimed one-man show, featuring the Tony winner’s irreverent blend of cheeky humor and powerhouse song covers.

Last week LA STAGE sat down with The Broad Stage director and former professional opera singer at Huckleberry’s in Santa Monica to talk about the new season, her quest to de-amplify performers, what’s she’s learned being the newest kid on the performing arts block and why community advocate might be her most important calling of all.

LAS: Let’s start with your new summer experiment. What were your thoughts behind it?

DF: My gut feeling was that Santa Monica is an ideal place to have a summer season. Many performing arts centers are closed because they’re tied to the school year. People from all over LA County come out here during the summer. We’re seen as a vacation or staycation destination. A cool, fun place to hang.

LAS: How did you come up with the mix?

DF: I kind of did a test market. I did two shows that are completely opposite. One is very adult and one is very family. Both of them brought in completely different audiences. I thought Daddy Long Legs would be a great show to start with. I looked really hard to find a show that everybody could come to. Eighty five percent of the people at Celebrity Autobiography are new. So I want those people. The question is, are they a summer audience? I think they are a year round audience but this is a way to bring them in.

LAS: You converted the Edye into a club environment to accommodate Celebrity Autobiography.

DF: We wanted to relax a bit more especially with the Edye. We’ve reconfigured it as a lounge, as a club, as a cooler space. The kind of stuff we do there can be different. I hate the word edgy because I don’t think edgy is the right word. I think we can go in a different direction than I would in The Broad. The Broad is this beautifully elegant also intimate space with a very different kind of energy. I’m really looking to develop our summer season and I want it to be an important part of our year.

LAS: Does that mean you’re also considering cabaret acts for the Edye? Will you stage theatre again in that space?

DF: I don’t want to be pigeonholed right now. For me everything is driven by if I think it will work in my venue and if it’s something that will add to our programming. So if a great dramatic piece came along, I would put it in there. There’s a show I wanted to do this year but the tour fell out. I’ll probably bring it next year. The Edye is a totally flexible space. It can be whatever we want. I think the way we set it up is really fun and creates a different kind of intimacy. I’m really not so much driven by category as quality.

LAS: Who are you opening with this next season?

DF: Instead of an iconic name, we’re having an opening weekend. First we have Esperanza Spalding, a totally iconic new jazz performer. If you haven’t heard of her you will. That’s Thursday night. Friday night is Judy Collins. A totally beautiful show. She’s amazing at 72. She sounds exactly the same and she looks great! Saturday we have the great cellist Lynn Harrell in recital. Then a week later the Globe comes with The Merry Wives of Windsor. So, it’s an intense fall.

LAS: It looks as if you’re expanding your offerings again this year including Peter Brook coming next spring with the west coast premieres of Fragments by Samuel Beckett and The Grand Inquisitor from Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

DF: In many ways I feel like last year was our first real year. We had 80 shows. That’s a real season. We had 40 the year before. This year it’s 120. So we’re certainly in the broadening and deepening phase. My gut is we’re going to stay there. But it’s also really driven by programming. I’m not programming just to program. So if I don’t find the right fit, I won’t do a summer season. It has to be something I think we can sell and something I think can be a good show. I’m not tied to selling a subscription series like the Geffen or the Taper. Mine is much more driven by who I think is a good thing for us to do.

LAS: You have a $10 million endowment set up by the Broads. Does that cushion allow you to have fewer economic worries than those other venues face?

DF: No. I have to earn the money to produce my season. We do a huge amount of fundraising. We’re in the same boat as everyone else. The wonderful thing is, thanks to Eli and Edye Broad, we do have a $10 million endowment that will kick in for 2012. So that’s great. Even with that endowment, there’s still a lot of fundraising we have to do.

LAS: I think people just assume you’re attached to Santa Monica College and that relationship somehow makes a difference in your sustainability.

DF: We’re not attached to the school. We are a separate 501(c) (3). We’re like KCRW. We’re a separate entity that functions. How we’re attached to the school is they are extremely important partners in this whole endeavor and I couldn’t have done it without them. They’ve been fabulous. We do a lot of outreach and we do a lot of opportunities for the students. But we’re not attached. The same way that UCLA Live! is not attached.

LAS: You mentioned having a more community centric mission than the others.

DF: I feel like I’m more like BAM [Brooklyn Academy of Music] or 92nd Street Y. We’re a community-based performing arts center in a very wonderfully vibrant artistic community, both affluent and not affluent. We are aligned with an educational institution. I feel like we have a community service to perform and that does change how you see things. I actually believe venues like this can change entire communities the way BAM did Brooklyn. I think we can have a huge impact on culture, art and taste making in our community and in this region. I love working with KCRW. I work very closely with Ruth Seymour who’s on my board. And now [KCRW General Manager] Jennifer Ferro. That’s a very unique alliance in many ways. Having them here and working with them is a very unique thing for a performing arts center. I don’t minimize that.

LAS: You don’t have exclusive domain over use of the Broad Stage & Edye space, right?

DF: The school has priority booking and we have to negotiate dates sometimes like with the Globe [Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre] coming back from London. There were some conflicting dates we had to negotiate. The school has the theatre first and then they turn it over to me. I think it’s very fair and it’s a great partnership. [Santa Monica College President] Dr. Tsang and my immediate boss Don Girard have been incredibly supportive. They’re thrilled. This has brought a light on the college in a way that they’ve never dreamed. We’ve gotten international press. The level of programming I think has exceeded what even they thought they would see.

LAS: Where are you in terms of presenting vs. producing?

DF: I’m really mostly presenting at this point. I’m not producing from scratch where I’m paying for the show and producing it but things like Jane Austen Unscripted, which I brought last year to huge success and we tied it to a high tea, I mean that’s my package. For Celebrity Autobiography, changing everything in the Edye for that lounge look was my idea. I haven’t really gone into full steam producing and until we’re really stable financially and I feel I can really go out and do that – I mean I’m looking at things and people are talking to me – but I don’t think we’re there yet.

LAS: Are you finding as you’ve started to prove yourself that people are now pounding on your door?

<br />Dale Franzen

Dale Franzen

DF: Absolutely. I would say my first year I was making all the calls! (laughs) I was just banging on every door on every level all over the country and all over the world. Now it has really changed. I’m getting calls from all over but also the landscape is changing. I knew that would happen. It takes a lot of time to develop loyalty and trust in a venue. So we’re in our second year. But the first big thing was getting the Globe. That was a huge coup for us. The Globe has opened many, many doors. Because it’s kind of like, well if they can do the Globe, then they’re real and they can handle things.

LAS: It must be ironic to have this state-of-the-art space people are hesitant to use.

DF: We are the new kid on the block. We don’t have the decades of loyalty the Geffen or UCLA or the Taper have. There are a lot of shows I wanted that I didn’t get. And I’m sure that will happen again. That’s how life is. But I definitely know the reason I didn’t get them is they didn’t know me. They didn’t know my venue. It makes a huge difference when people come see The Broad. But I feel like I’m really gaining trust. My staff is fantastic. They work unbelievably hard. The artists that are on stage constantly say to me it feels like they’re playing to a large living room but on a world-class stage.

LAS: Are you attracting the kind of audience mix you thought you would?

DF: Not yet. Of my ticket buying public, and I would say this is true for every theater in America, 63% is white women over 45 who make more than $100,000. That’s great. But I want to see a lot of other people coming, too. I want to see people who maybe don’t come to the theatre and make it part of their lives. We’re working on a kind of inclusiveness that’s very different. If I don’t see certain people there, it bothers me. I don’t know if that’s true for other presenters but it bothers me. I want everybody to be at this party. I think that’s much more interesting. We get ghettoized here in many ways. So I’d like to change that. It may be a pipe dream. But that’s one of my dreams.

LAS: In the early stages of The Broad, Dustin Hoffman said he wanted to launch a repertory theatre company here. Are there still plans to do that?

DF: We’re not going to do that. We had a long conversation with somebody and I’m so glad we didn’t do it. I think in retrospect it would have been the wrong thing to do. It would have been way too much pressure. There’s a reason there are very few repertory companies in LA. It’s really hard to do. I’m in conversation with the Atlantic [Theatre Company] about doing stuff here because it’s such a great repertory company and they develop great work. There are also companies here in LA I think I can help. Like the way we’re working with the Celebrity Autobiography creators and Theatre Impro. If it’s the right fit, there are ways we can help them be in our venue with our marketing and what we can bring to the table. I don’t think I need to invent the wheel, at least not right now.

LAS: How did the Daddy Long Legs come about? I know the Rubicon Theatre Company developed and world premiered it last fall.

DF: We’re part of a consortium of four theatres. It was the Rubicon, TheatreWorks, Cincinnati Play House and then we tagged on. It came together because we were looking for a family show. And it’s really hard to find a family show! (laughs) Michael Jackowitz was telling me about this show over and over again so I flew up to TheatreWorks to see it. I thought it was really sweet and endearing. I really liked the message. I just thought the story of a young girl finding her voice through writing and through working was a great story for anybody. I mean I had a lot of men crying, men getting misty eyed.

LAS: The show has a simpler, more melodic style than say Green Day’s American Idiot.

DF: I thought it was something really different. It’s a very leisurely, anti-email pace, which I liked. A lot of women in our age range came up to me saying it was so nice to be in a leisurely environment instead of this mad concert.

LAS: I interviewed Jerry Herman recently and he said there should be room for shows that focus on melody to co-exist next to youth-driven rock musicals.

DF: I think it’s the whole issue of commerce and art as Sondheim said. Art isn’t easy. Commerce now is trumping art in many ways. It’s very tricky. Believe me, I’m running a business. I have to think on both sides of that track and there are daunting moments. The audiences are also changing. We’re not who they’re making shows for anymore even though we’re buying the tickets. If they don’t bring in the 35-and-under crowd, they’ll be nothing happening in another 20-30 years. It’s funny. I like American Idiot. I didn’t see it again. I love Spring Awakening. I love Hair. Those are rock shows and there’s a place for that. The issue for me is that when every show at the Tonys is a rock-n-roll show, it’s like you don’t even have to sing anymore. Without a microphone, none of these people would have careers.

LAS: As an opera singer, I imagine amplification completely irritates you.

DF: It’s kind of a personal agenda but I really want to turn my theatre into a non-amplified space. I didn’t want to amplify Daddy Long Legs but they’re not used to singing without mikes. And they were only here for two weeks. I couldn’t change it. If I develop a show, I’m not amplifying it. We have great acoustics in that house. And if you can’t fill a 500 seat house…

LAS: A lot of people I know who saw the great Broadway stars wonder why the younger generation can’t do the same.

DF: Because they don’t train that way anymore. It’s just shocking. It’s ridiculous. And this is the problem. It’s the iPod generation. They’re used to having everything blasted in their ear instead of having to listen. We didn’t mike the Globe and the Globe did great. Now they’re all amazingly trained actors but there’s been a real shift. And that depresses me. I just can’t stand the miking. It really bugs me. I want to try to make a difference but it’s going to be a hard road. Producers don’t want to change it. They’re like it gives us much more flexibility. It’s called singing! Learn how to sing! Take a voice lesson!

LAS: You worked a long time to make The Broad a reality. Now that it’s manifested and in its toddler phase, is it what you expected? What has surprised you?

DF: To manifest something and then have it turn out better than you thought? That’s how I feel. The theatre is better than I dreamed on every level. It’s really a world-class theatre. The Broad is an amazing space. Every time I sit there and something works, I’m just pinching myself, going ah! People bought tickets! I can’t believe it! Just to see the response. People are starting to get this larger-than-a-living-room-salon kind of community that I missed in LA and that I’m trying to create here.

LAS: So you’re actively cultivating a salon atmosphere before and after performances.

DF: It’s definitely becoming a place where you meet new friends and see your old ones. My staff recognizes everybody. Our whole messaging is intimacy. When you come to the Broad, we know who you are and we want to be part of your family. We want you to be part of ours. I’m interested in seeing what we can create in this lonely big sprawling city where it’s so hard to feel comfortable. Sometimes I just work the lobby and go up to people I don’t know and say hi, is this your first time here? I haven’t seen you before. And the thing is, everybody likes that. It’s the one place we can come together. It doesn’t matter who you’re voting for, what money you’re making; it’s all about who you want to see on that stage. So that’s a personal challenge for me.

LAS: You said in the past you wanted to build something that acts as catalyst for arts advocacy and local community building. It seems that wish is coming true.

DF: That flabbergasts me more than anything else. I actually did what I said I was going to do! When you start projects like this you write a lot of stuff. God only knows if you wind up doing them. There are other theatres built in LA who started with a mission and that’s not at all what they’re doing now. I sold my bill of goods and I’m doing my bill of goods. And that’s kind of cool. It’s actually what I thought was missing here. You can go to a theatre but I wanted to go somewhere where I was part of the community. I really wanted something different. It’s really a 21st century community center that happens to have high-end art.

For a preliminary schedule of The Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center’s fall season, please click here.

Feature image of the Broad Stage Theater by Benny Chan.


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LA Stage Times


by Don Shirley | November 24, 2009

LA STAGE WATCH is a series of articles by staff writer/blogger Don Shirley.

It’s beginning to look a lot like…summer?

In L.A. theater, prime time for Shakespeare is June through August, when alfresco productions are plentiful. But the current confluence of Shakespearean or Shakespeare-related productions reminds us that you don’t have to plan a picnic in order to see his work.

I saw four Bard-linked shows during the past week, including relatively big-deal productions of Equivocation at the Geffen, Richard III at A Noise Within and Love’s Labours Lost, which is the first multi-performance theatrical engagement at the new Broad Stage.

But let me shine a spotlight on the smallest and least marketed of the four: Hamlet, Shut Up at the never-more-appropriately-named Sacred Fools Theater. Jonas Oppenheim transforms the great tragedy into breathless comedy.

<br />Derek Mehn as Hamlet and Kimberly Atkinson as Gertrude

Derek Mehn as Hamlet and Kimberly Atkinson as Gertrude

His biggest idea was to remove Shakespeare’s time-consuming words. No, the actors aren’t silent as they depict most of the usual Hamlet narrative. They grunt, they shriek. One of them sings a song from the sidelines. A recorded instrumental score, accompanist Josh Senick and a few spelled-out words on a screen also help the audience keep its bearings.

Yet only one line is spoken, and it consists of only three words — which were not written by Shakespeare. They’re uttered in desperation, after a frantic bout of emergency miming fails to get an urgent point across, relatively late in the play.

Hamlet Shut Up displays a vigorous physicality reminiscent of silent film comedy, plus traditional Elsinore-style costumes. But it might be misleading to emphasize the old-school influences. The play is packed with more recent cultural references. I’m not going to give away the jokes, but I will note that Polonius’ obsessive relationship with his cell phone has very sobering consequences. Those who fail to turn off their phones during plays should take heed.

This is one of the shortest Hamlets ever — less than two hours. Most of the Rosencrantz/Guildenstern scenes and the Fortinbras finale are cut — but then those characters already have their own full-length comedies (courtesy of Tom Stoppard and Lee Blessing), so we need not pity them.

Oppenheim opens with the seldom-seen funeral of the slain king and also includes some flashbacks that were strangely missing from the original.  Have you ever wondered about Hamlet’s and Ophelia’s first date? Exactly how was Yorick reduced to just a skull?

Derek Mehn’s Hamlet looks sufficiently princely and agonized to pass as the real thing, but some of the other actors convey a more caricatured edge. The rapier-sharp ensemble maintains such impeccable timing that you’d think it had rehearsed for months.

Hamlet Shut Up is up there on the theatrical laugh meter with Land of the Tigers, which also started at Sacred Fools before its current run at the Lost Studio. Both shows deserve multiple extensions and cult classic status.

Speaking of extended runs, my first visit to the 499-seat Broad Stage in Santa Monica made me wonder how accessible it might be for productions imported from smaller L.A. companies — for example, Hamlet Shut Up or Land of the Tigers (or both in alternating performances!).

I wondered not only because the Broad is a gorgeous new venue that could serve as a great place for far-Westside audiences to see east-of-La Brea talent — or because it appears to have some big empty spaces on its online calendar. No, the main reason my thoughts strayed to the Broad’s future was because its currently imported Love’s Labours Lost, from Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, lacks any clear and compelling reason for being the venue’s first theatrical offering.

LLL is one of Shakespeare’s least accessible comedies, rife with pedantic references that most people would understand much better with footnotes in hand. In fact, a man who took the empty seat next to me during intermission spent most of the second act silently tracking the lines from a book, instead of looking directly at the stage — that is, until he started snoozing.

The narrative is more frivolous than funny during the nearly three hours in Dominic Dramgoole’s staging. Some of the actors (of both genders, in contrast to this company’s previous all-male appearances in L.A.) expertly pump up the physical comedy to try to compensate for the many verbal jokes that don’t land. But generally the play feels like an example of what a character in Bill Cain’s Equivocation describes as Shakespeare’s “comedies-don’t-have-to-be-funny period.”

Why start your first theater season with a play that doesn’t unrelentingly grab an audience by the funny bone — or by the guts?

To the credit of Broad director Dale Franzen, the next theatrical offering there (Dec. 11-20) is a local creation that she first witnessed on a small L.A. stage — Jane Austen Unscripted from the Impro Theatre. However, it will still be on a small stage — the Broad’s 99-seat second space, behind the main stage.

Eight years ago, a plan was afoot for a resident theater company at the then-unbuilt venue that would later become the Broad. Dustin Hoffman — who is a major Broad Stage supporter as well as one of America’s best-known actors — and producer Ron Kastner were hoping to produce one classic and one new play per year there. That particular proposal is dead, Franzen tells me, but Hoffman still would like to perform at the Broad. His name alone probably could sell out the place for weeks.

Franzen encourages L.A. producers to think about the Broad. “I’m going to be very careful, because I can’t take a big risk that will close my doors,” she says. But “no door is closed at this time.”

I’m just brainstorming here, but perhaps enterprising producers at smaller L.A. venues should contemplate whether Hoffman might somehow be incorporated into an already successfully mounted show.

OK, maybe Hoffman wouldn’t fit easily into Hamlet Shut Up or Land of the Tigers — and it would be a shame to see a little-known actor who helped develop a production bumped to make way for a big name. Still, if star power could lubricate a passage to the Broad’s main stage for one of L.A.’s many midsize or smaller companies…think about it.

Regardless of Hoffman’s possible participation, I look forward to the day when A Noise Within plays the Broad, and when a small Westside production like Pacific Resident Theatre’s current The Browning Version plays a larger Eastside venue such as A Noise Within’s planned new home in east Pasadena.  If audiences won’t bridge the gaps between L.A.’s many far-flung parts, maybe the theater companies themselves should.

Hamlet Shut Up continues at Sacred Fools Theater, 660 N. Heliotrope, L.A. Fri.-Sat., 8 pm. Thur., Dec. 17, 8 pm. Signed performance on Thur., Dec. 10, 8 pm. Closes Dec. 19. 310-281-8337.

Love’s Labours Lost continues at Broad Stage, 11th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica. Fri., 1 and 7:30 pm. Sat., 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sun., 2 pm. Closes Sunday. 310-434-3200.

Photo by Diane Meyer.