The Theatrical Languages of LA?

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

There's something exciting happening in LA theater but to appreciate it, or even see it, you have to take a step back.

Stick with me a second while I put LA theater into a pyramid with four admittedly reductive groups.

At the top of the pyramid, at least in terms of size, are the Broadway touring houses: the Pantages and downtown the Ahmanson.

Step down about a thousand seats or so and the next level of our pyramid is home to our big regional theaters: the Taper, the Geffen, South Coast Rep, Pasadena Playhouse.

Then we've got the third level, the presenters. Think RedCat, The Broad Stage, and UCLA Live.

Fourth, at the bottom, we've got the scrappy little theaters -- under 200 seats, with most under 99 seats - these theaters make up the bulk of LA theater.

So we've got the Broadway touring houses, the regionals, the presenters and the tenacious little guys.

Now, at the top of that pyramid all of those plays are focused on New York. They're either coming from Broadway or trying to get there.

In recent years, our regional theaters have sadly had pretty much the same focus: New York playwrights, New York plays, heck, increasingly, New York actors.

The presenters have looked east as well - if admittedly, a little farther east to Europe and New York. Looking back a few years most of the "international" work brought to LA came from Europe, a lot of it amazing work but not that different from what you could see at BAM, the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York.

But here's where things get exciting. This last summer LA played host to Radar:LA at RedCat an offshoot of a New York Festival called Under the Radar. Now before you say "Hey, that's just more of the Big Apple," Radar: LA, unlike its New York cousin, chose to look for work to the south and the west, to South America and the Pacific Rim. RedCat has kept this up with a brilliant piece last month from Argentine director Mariano Pensotti and this last week an ambitious, if not entirely successful, collaboration with Mexican director Martín Acosta.

So why should you care? Look around. No, really, look around . . . and listen.

I'd bet the chances of you hearing Spanish daily is far greater than hearing the accents of Europe. While New York was the capital of immigration for the last two centuries, Los Angeles demographically is leading us into the next century.

Wouldn't it be exciting if LA theater reflected that same diversity, spoke those same languages?

I can hear you asking, "What about those little theaters?" Well, as usual they're already ahead of the curve. Whether it's East West Players giving voice to the Pacific Rim, or the Latino Theater Company or even 24th Street with their continually extended hit from last year, La Razon Blindada, LA's small theaters already embrace those communities, but often one at a time.

The challenge, as always, is critical mass and consistency. It's one thing to bring out the Southeast Asian audience or the Argentine audience for a single play. It's quite another to build an audience as diverse as LA. But take one look at the demographics of the Broadway audience, which gets older and whiter each year, and you'll discover not only is diversity exciting, it's essential.

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

Banner image: A scene from Martín Acosta's Timboctou. Photo by Matias Sendon