Can LA theater make its way across LA?

If you’ve been reading the theater newsletter the past few weeks, you know I’m a big fan of extending shows in LA’s intimate theaters.

Why?

Because 6 weeks in 99 seats, isn’t enough to overcome the obstacles of Time, Scale, and Geography that keep L.A.’s small theater fragmented and struggling for a citywide audience and reputation. For L.A.’s best intimate theater (and to be clear, that’s what we’re talking about: those few shows each year that strike a chord and find an audience), the health of the broader audience could be greatly leveraged by finding a way to keep those shows running and expose them to a more diverse audience.  After all, the best way to get people to the theater is with great theater (no one is going to fall in love with L.A. theater seeing a mediocre show, right?).

So how do we, as a community, do that? What are the models?

Well, as usual, the solution is already baked into the problem. Time, Scale, and Geography could be the titles for three different strategies.

Time

This solution is the no-brainer. You’ve got a hit show – keep running it at the same theater. Extend it and try to expand the audience. What isn’t quite as easy is finding the time in your production calendar, the money to keep advertising, and the commitment from your actors.

Scale (or the mid-sized transfer)

In cities with healthy theater ecosystems, top to bottom, a great show in a smaller theater transfers to a bigger theater. Look no further than the colossal success of “Hamilton” to understand how this works at the very top. But a Broadway transfer is just the most ambitious. In a healthy community a show could transfer from 99 seats to 300 or from 300 to 750. There have been examples of this in L.A. theater: think Vanessa Stewart’s “Stoneface” moving from Sacred Fools to Pasadena Playhouse or Center Theater Group moving Rajiv Joseph’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” from the Kirk Douglas Theater to the Taper (and later to Broadway). These examples are so rare as to almost fall under the category of less than once in a blue moon. This is where the lack of mid-sized houses in L.A. really hurts us (along with a lack of vision and leadership at the larger theaters). But L.A. does have a few mid-sized houses, some of which are largely vacant. Here the biggest obstacles are money (again), vision, and collaboration.

Geography

Okay, dream with me for a minute. One of our challenges in L.A. is that word of a hit show will barely make it past the closest freeway much less across the entire city. A hit show in Pasadena might as well be somewhere in the midwest for someone west of the 405 (I once told someone, who lived in the Palisades, to go see a fantastic show in Pasadena and he replied, with no sense of sarcasm, “it would take me two days to get there at that time of day. Are you nuts?”).

Looked at differently, the county of Los Angeles has over 10 million people spread across our sprawling city. Surely, among those 10 million there are enough audience members to keep a show running in a small theater beyond six weeks? Maybe the answer (beyond waiving a magic wand that made freeway traffic suddenly disappear or uber announcing uber-teleport – for when you need to make it from the 405 to the 5 instantly(tm)), maybe the answer is to try and move the theater across town rather than the audience.

What if we took a hit show in Venice and moved it to North Hollywood? Or a hit from Atwater and moved it mid-City? Or a circuit that connected Venice to North Hollywood to Pasadena? Imagine a collaboration that took the best shows from across Los Angeles and toured them across Los Angeles.

What if your neighborhood theater became the place to see the best shows not only made in your neighborhood but the shows from across the city. Imagine Circle X, Antaeus, Boston Court, 24th Street, Rogue Machine, and Pacific Resident Theater (to pick a handful of geographical favorites) banding together and producing each others shows in rep across 9 months.

What would that do for each of those shows? What would that do for theater across Los Angeles?

Next week, who pays the bill?