A Decade of Work

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

RedCat, the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater, is beginning to celebrate its 10-year anniversary and it offers a moment for reflection, a chance to look back on their decade of work. Beyond single productions or seasons, what impact has the contemporary, international work of RedCat had on LA theater?

For folks who've never been to RedCat, it's the performance space below Disney Concert Hall. Its greatest success is perhaps its very existence. The theater wasn't part of the original Disney Hall plans. Its niche had to be literally carved out of the parking garage (a poetic and fitting symbol in a city fixated on the automobile).

Looking back at their theatrical performances of the last ten years, it's tempting to read it like a fiscal crisis tide chart: a year with an abundance of exciting work followed by an ebb of smaller less ambitious productions.

Across the years, RedCat has shown a commitment to artist's unparalleled by LA's larger theaters. The best example is the multi-year residency of New York's Wooster Group whose work they've presented since 2004. In work as deliciously different as their homage to Grotowski's Poor Theater, or the perversely deconstructed Tennessee Williams' classic Vieux Carre, or their B-movie sci-fi opera Il Didone, Los Angeles was given the gift of developing a relationship with the Wooster Group across many plays; a chance to dive into their aesthetic: providing a home for both artist and audience to explore.

And the Wooster Group aren't alone. Wunderbaum, Elevator Repair Service, and others have all enjoyed multiple productions.

And Los Angeles companies and actors? Here RedCat's commitment has been as consistent but hasn't born the same fruits. Each year, RedCat has carved out time for both their Studio series and their New Original Works festival filling their theater with local work that's focused on multimedia and the physical. Like so many development programs, I applaud the effort but I want to see deeper effects. Where is the great body of work fostered by these programs?

Which leads to both my kernel of frustration and a seed of hope for RedCat. When it opened, it held the promise of being another tent pole in LA for contemporary theater: a downtown counterpoint to UCLA's presenting arm. I thought, however naively, that perhaps together these two presenters could grow an audience in Los Angeles that might support not only the imports but also native work. Well, compound a fiscal crisis with UCLA's absence for several seasons and it's easy to see the obstacles over the last decade. But there's hope . . .

RedCat began their anniversary with the second installment of Radar LA: a festival that included work from UCLA, the Getty, and others. Now the trick is making that an annual festival with an audience that supports work year round as both ticket buyers and funders. Easy. Right?

So happy anniversary, RedCat. Now get back to work.

If you want to see RedCat's latest offering, the Japanese dance theater company Faifai is performing Anton, Neko, Kuri through Sunday.

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

Banner image: Faifai's Anton, Neko, Kuri. Photo: Kazuya Kato