Opening Weekend

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

Here's a shortlist of the plays opening in Los Angeles this weekend.

You could go see Roger Guenveur Smith direct The Mountaintop at the Matrix, you could see Nancy Keystone's Ameryka downtown, or Young Jean Lee's Lear at City Garage, or the Wooster Group at REDCAT . . . and I could go on and list another half dozen shows.

Now, there are a couple of ways to think about this list. You could say to yourself, “Wow, how wonderful I live in such a vibrant theatrical city with so many shows opening on the same weekend."

Or, like me -- right after you said that -- you could let out a sigh and say "LA theater, you're doing it again. You're splitting your audience."

The trouble with this slew of openings at the same time is that you can't go to all of them. Neither can I. Neither can the rest of the theater critics in Los Angeles. So in addition to splitting their audience like some crazy GOP caucus, LA theater is splitting the critical attention and audience that exists. At least one of these shows is going to get passed up - simply because of their choice of opening weekend.

Lest you think this is only a front-end problem, the same thing will likely happen closing weekend. Given that most shows in Los Angeles run for six weeks, these shows will all close together. So for the last minute audience member scrambling to catch a show before it's gone -- the same choice.

So why would LA's small theaters choose so often to open on the same weekend?

There are two simple answers: lack of infrastructure and simple calendar math.

Let's tackle the calendar math first. To understand why this is a hot weekend in LA's small theaters, you need to look back to New Year's Eve -- well actually the whole holiday season. Nobody wants to rehearse a play over the holidays. So you start rehearsals after everyone's back. Most small shows have roughly a four-week rehearsal process. Count the weeks from January 1 and voila -- this is the soonest you can open.

This isn't only a problem with the winter holidays. When you dice up the calendar there are a handful of other obstacles like: nobody wants to play over thanksgiving weekend or open before Labor Day so there's only a couple opening weekends in September. And you don't want to run in August . . . et cetera, et cetera. Basically, if you divide the calendar for a traditional production schedule, there are really only a handful of weeks each year that easily fit around holidays and the like.

There's very little LA Theater can do about that -- without getting super creative. The trouble is, these shows are not making anything out the collisions. There's no critical mass being created, no excitement about 'the winter productions' or the next slot in our city-wide season.

This points to the absence of cultural infrastructure and a tendency to see the audience as fragmented rather than appreciating the larger whole.

Wouldn't it be exciting to have a weekend of openings to go to? All scheduled so you could see three shows on the same day? Or simply for the shows to each receive their own critical attention and the audience they deserve?

This isn't going to happen until Los Angeles theater starts thinking like a single ecosystem instead of series of disconnected outposts.

Till then, like me, you're stuck picking what to miss this weekend.

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