Dance programming is profound at UCLA CAP, is its theater?

I can tell you where I’m going to be for 36 hours this December.

That doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you’ve taken a look at UCLA’s the Center for the Art of Performance (UCLA CAP) season announcement. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts ambitious next season. If, in simplistic terms, the Wallis season was broad, the UCLA CAP season is deep. Where the Wallis is banking on attracting a theater audience across the whole year, UCLA CAP is banking on a couple of significant tent pole events.

I’m most excited aboutĀ Forced Entertainment’s “Complete Works Tabletop Shakespeare.” The conceit is genius: boil down each of Shakespeare’s plays into a one hour kernel, then perform each of them on a tabletop using household props (think: a ketchup bottle and a cheese grater) in front of a 120 person audience on the Royce Hall Stage across one week. 36 hours of Shakespeare in a single week. What a journey!

It’s also emblematic of the level of engagement Artistic and Executive Director Kristy Edmunds is asking of her audience. The experience being offered is both profound and simultaneously limited. If you are excited by this one week of theater (or some part of it – you can buy tickets to see separate programs composed of two plays each) then you’re in luck. Ms. Edmunds is offering an audience a deep dive.

Yes, there are other theater events in the season: Robert Wilson and Mikhail Baryshnikov are returning with another collaboration “Letter to a Man,” a puppet piece by Chilean company Silencio Blanco, and a collaboration between the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and SITI Company mounting Kurt Weill’s “Lost in the Stars.”

This is either thrilling or modestly disappointing – not based on the works themselves but on the number of events in the season.

If you compare it to the years immediately preceding Ms. Edmunds tenure, when UCLA presented no theater at all, it’s a relief that theater is there and cause for celebration. If you compare it to the past several years at the Broad Stage or REDCAT, it feels substantial. If you compare it to the quantity of theater in the Wallis season, or reach back to the compression of David Sefton’s theater festivals as part of UCLA Live, you find yourself yearning for more.

There is great value to the work Ms. Edmunds is presenting and I have the sense that the general audience only appreciates the tip of the iceberg – both in terms of the work itself, the surrounding engagement at UCLA, and it’s broader importance.

You can feel Ms. Edmunds engaging that conversation profoundly in her dance season. You have a sense of collective meaning and accumulation with work by Tricia Brown, Deborah Hay, and Lucinda Childs (both individually and as choreographer for the Wilson/Baryshnikov piece). That’s a stunning slate of artists who have had a profound impact on dance as a form. You sense a conversation with a form and an audience.

I long for that level of commitment and depth in UCLA’s theater programming.

Of course, theater is more expensive and we quickly return to the chicken and egg conversation: if there is not a significant audience there can’t be significant theater… but if there isn’t significant theater can there ever be a significant audience?