Damn Ephemerality!

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

Now typically when I talk about the ephemeral quality of theater, it’s
something I’m celebrating.  It’s part of what makes theater so magical
and essential.  Theater can’t be repackaged in a ‘best of’ box set or
re-released in 3d.  You need to be there in the room or . . . well . . . you missed it.

And that’s the flip side to that magic.  

This weekend I saw a play that I really wish you could see.   It was
director Declan Donnellan’s version of “Tis Pity She’s a Whore.”  With
his British company Cheek by Jowl, he breathed fresh life into a 400
year old classic.  With a physically adventurous cast he made an old
morality tale feel disturbingly, sexually present and managed to elicit
an audible gasp from the audience.  Mr. Donnellan brought such clarity
and intent to this dusty text that you felt every word, understood every
 nuance and chuckled at jokes  that in other productions sit like

It was really thrilling . . .  but here’s the problem, it’s gone.  It was
only here for one weekend as part of UCLA’s Center for the Art of
Performance series.

Now the reason for that is easy to point to: money.  It’s really expensive
to bring a company to LA.  Airfare, hotels, meals, salaries: they all
add up.  Without a guaranteed audience, it’s just too risky - as the
past couple of years where there was no theater at UCLA proves all too

“Okay”, I hear you saying, “but UCLA’s a presenter.  You know, like RedCat or
the Broad.  What does this have to do with LA based companies? Does it
really matter?”

Yes, it does.  And here’s why.

UCLA is just an extreme single weekend case of how theater is produced
across Los Angeles from the Taper to the most intimate shoebox.  The
model  is basically run a show for 6 weeks then close.  If lightning
miraculously strikes and the show’s a blockbuster - consider a two week

It’s astounding with the variety of theater that’s made in Los Angeles just
how much fits into this one production model.  Yes, it’s the simplest
and in many ways the most economical.  But is it the best model to
attract new audiences?  

Sure, it serves an existing audience but as any successful salesman will tell
 you if you’re not selling to new customers: your days are numbered.

Now, I’m not saying that every show should be extended or every company
should suddenly embrace a rotating repertory schedule but there needs to
 be as much creativity and risk taking in scheduling and marketing
theater as there is in making it.

This week, across town from UCLA in Hollywood, Cirque Du Soleil’s Iris
 is closing after close to a year and a half - which sounds like a hit
until you hear that they’d hoped it would run for 10 years.  Now, Iris was less than astounding on stage so it’s not shocking that it didn’t find legs.  

Still, it’s a cautionary tale that Los Angeles isn’t yet able to sustain a
long run and that’s important to the entire ecosystem whether it’s 2000
seats or 99.

Damn the ephemeral quality of theater!

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