A real theatre community?

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

The clearest lesson of the last two weeks in LA theatre is that festivals rock! Or to try to be a little more erudite - theatre needs community and community needs context.

Festivals provide that context. Whether it's RADAR: L.A., the Hollywood Fringe Festival, or Coachella, or Sundance - holding that festival ticket or wearing that dorky festival pass labels you as a member of a community, if only for a few days. It's what makes it so much easier to ask the person in the next seat, "What have you seen that's good?" And with that, you cease to be an audience member -- suddenly you're part of a group of like-minded people, a community.

And LA can use all the community it can get. That's why the "Is LA a theatre town?" question has riled so many theatre folks. There've been panels, counter-panels and counter-counter-panels dissecting the question. What's got everyone's knickers in a twist is what theatre people know instinctually -- theatre and place have to be linked. What LA theatre hasn't figured out yet -- or maybe figured out collectively -- is how to strengthen the links in a city whose infrastructure and geography conspire against coming together and experiencing art.

To weave theatre into the fabric of LA -- LA theatre has to articulate ‘what it is' and provide the context, the prologue and epilogue, to give plays resonance and create more than an audience -- to build an actual community. What do I mean?

Let's start with space: whether it's the lounge at REDCAT or the beer tent at the Fringe -- those mythical places known as ‘theatre bars' give the audience a way into community. Architecture, even temporary, can provide a car-cultured city a friendly way to transition from being an "I" to being a "we." The communal space of theatre needs to be about more than seats and the dialogue has to be between more than just actors. So for every theatre that doesn't have a lobby bar, why not name a local coffee shop or bar as their official spot for post-play festivities?

And if theatre is going to embrace an audience dialogue in this city, it probably needs to be in more than one language. For proof, just check out 24th Street's Spanish-language production of La Razón Blindada which has been playing for months and has extended yet again. In a city as culturally rich as LA it's nice to see some of that diversity represented both on stage and in the audience. Wanna go even deeper? Check out Cornerstone's work.

You thought I'd forgot about you, the audience, didn't you? What do you need to do? It's simple: first seek theatre out. It's not New York, it's not Chicago, but it shouldn't be -- it should be about LA and frankly, it's better than you think. Then once you find your LA theatre -- demand that it be better and demand that it speak to you - directly to you.

Our whole community will be better if you do.

I would love to hear your thoughts, gripes and additions at KCRW.com/theatre. For info on La Razón Blindada text the word "curtain" to 69866.

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

Banner image of REDCAT Lounge: Patti McGuire