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FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA theater for KCRW.

Where do plays come from?

Okay, I know it sounds like a silly third grade question with the predictable answer 'well, from the playwright and the artists that create it.' But scratch the surface a little deeper and the answer becomes a little more complicated.

Take the production of Alcestis by director Nancy Keystone and her company Critical Mass Performance Group that's currently playing at the Theatre @ Boston Court.

Ms. Keystone and her company are known for creating richly layered, dense works that are often created over many years. Her production Apollo traced the space race from its early German roots through the Nazis to NASA and the Civil Rights movement in America. It took close to a decade to create. The company is currently devising a piece that follows Poland's strange ties to the US from the Revolutionary War through Solidarity.

So what led this company to do an adaptation of a play by Euripedes? Where'd the play come from?

The answer is the Getty Villa.

A museum is the fountainhead for not only Ms. Keystone's production but also a virtual who's who list of LA's theater companies: Theatre Movement Bazaar, Antaeus Company, the Troubadour Theater Company, Luis Alfaro, Poor Dog Group, and Rogue Artists Ensemble have all created new adaptations of Greek or Roman theater at the Villa. And like Alcestis many of these works are going on to productions beyond the Getty, even beyond LA.

Now, the Getty's theater programs take two forms. The best known are the outdoor productions they do once a year in September. Lesser know, but arguably more important - especially to the ecosystem of LA theater - are their Lab productions that happen during the winter. This is where Alcestis began. For these workshops and readings, the Getty invites companies for a residency at the museum. They surround them with scholars and curators, provide them with space and time to create, and most importantly they fund them.

Ms. Keystone had a notion for an adaption of Alcestis before her Getty Residency but as she readily admits it would have never happened as quickly without the Getty's support.

I won't bore or depress you with a history of theater funding in Southern California but suffice it to say the words 'severely diminished' come to mind. A little more than a decade ago, LA theater enjoyed the generous and deep pockets of A.S.K. Theater Projects that funded both playwrights and companies. The Flintridge Foundation kept many small companies creating with their modest but essential grants. When both shut their doors more than a million dollars annually vanished.

It's against this backdrop that the Getty's vision, and frankly cash, stand out as national models.

So where do plays come from?

One answer is from a funder with vision.

In September you can see the Getty's outdoor production of Prometheus Bound directed by Travis Preston with CalArts' Center for New Performance.

If you want to see the fruits of the Getty's labors now, Alcestis plays at the Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena through July 28.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA theater for KCRW.


Photo: Ed Krieger

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