Towards a Slow Theater
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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.
What if we started a slow theater movement?
I'm not talking about boring theater or long theater but what if we stole an idea from the food world? Namely, the Slow Food movement and the idea of being a locavore.
If you're not familiar with the slow food movement it was started back in the late 80's as a response to fast food. As a response to people getting too much distance from where their food was made. About people not caring about what they were putting into their mouths
I wonder if we've stopped caring about the theater we choose to see and if that's making our theater less interesting and less relevant?
To me the locavores pose the challenge what if "75% of your food came from within 75 miles of you?"
So what would it look like for 75% of your theater to be made within 75 miles of where you live?
What does it mean for a show to be local? Would that touring production of Wicked at the Pantages count? How about a show that's cast and rehearsed in NY, does that count?
One of things I love about the slow food movement is that it talks about people not as consumers but as co-producers. Now, I'm not sure every theater company in town is ready to accept the audience as their co-producer but what's wonderful about that notion is that it emphasizes the audience's role in the process.
If you go to the farmers' market and you tell Jerry you loved his carrots, he's gonna' plant more carrots. You are part of the process.
So you're thinking, "Wait a minute! If I'm the theater and the actors are there - we're sharing the same time and space - doesn't that make it local? Isn't all theater local?"
I think, like with that carrot from the farmers' market, where it's produced and conceived matters and whose stories are being told matters too. I'm not saying that every time we walk into a theater we need to hear a story about an Angeleno riding a bus. But there's something different about a playwright living in Los Angeles from a playwright living in New York or Chicago. When you go see a play by Luis Alfaro, even if he's adapting a Greek tragedy you can hear a bit of the city in the language. The voices sound familiar. Suddenly the story is for us and about us.
Now, I could go on and give you a speech about why from an economic standpoint, it's really important to buy your theater locally. And gosh, if we bought more local theater it might help counteract cuts at LA Cultural Affairs - and the fact that the LA schools are abandoning one of the most ambitious arts programs in the nation – and . . . maybe later I will.
I could ask if we were truly thinking local in a city that's as international as Los Angeles, then how come the actors don't look quite so . . . international. But that's also fodder for another time.
For now, I wonder what would it be like if as an audience we asked, "Hey, where was this show made?"
If we did, maybe the people who make theater would have to think a little harder about what they're growing.
I'd love to hear where you get your local theater and your ideas at KCRW.com/theater. This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.