This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain for KCRW.
"Los Angeles is a city of continual reinvention – a city in a perpetual state of becoming, always looking for its future. Unconstrained by a singular historical or institutional orthodoxy, the city promises a creative environment free from the traditional hierarchies that limit individual expression and experimentation. "
Sounds a bit like a description of the Los Angeles theater landscape, right?
Actually, it's the opening text for a new architecture show at MOCA: a survey of the last 25 years in Los Angeles. Full disclosure, I collaborated on a multi-media piece for the exhibition - so I've spent a lot of time listening to architects over the last couple of weeks and frankly I'm a little jealous.
What I'm struck by is how deeply our city, Los Angeles, informs the creative process of both theater and architecture: the same lack of hierarchy and creative freedom that you feel in the best of LA theater is palpable in the models and sketches at MOCA: as one of the architects, Michael Rotundi, so eloquently puts it, "The European umbilical cord never made it over the Rockies."
So why is LA known as one of the world's centers for architecture while theater struggles to fill the house?
One of the answers is easy - and seemingly fixed. Money.
You need only glance at some of the models to realize that while folks might build a $30 million building - theater never enjoys that level of support.
The other benefit architecture enjoys is that space, at least when well designed, needs no subtitles. An LA architect can export his wares to the whole world while we, in the theater, are limited to our audience in both time and space. It's both the inescapable magic and terrible burden of theater - it doesn't scale well. We are limited to the community we create, to live performance. The challenge is how do we broaden that community?
One hint might come from listening to the voices, or more particularly the accents, of these architects. It's clear that LA architecture draws on the globe - you hear a diversity that's sorely missing in the theater. How in a city as diverse as LA can our theater still be so limited in scope?
Another lesson is the role of academia. It's clear that LA's architecture schools are not only turning out future interns but playing an active role in furthering the discourse. There is a more direct relationship between the field of architecture and those that teach it. For all the theater programs that encircle Los Angeles, the impact feels distant at best. How can our training programs do more than simply turn out diplomas?
Which leads to legacy. It's hard to imagine a festival of the last 25 years of Los Angeles theater. Who among us could even tell that story? And…if we don't know where we came from can we really know where we're going?
Contemporary architecture fills the galleries at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary through September 16. If you're craving a survey of theater, check out the Hollywood Fringe Festival now through the end of June.
This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.
Banner image: Installation view of A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA. Photo: Brian Forrest, © The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles