A jam packed calendar doesn’t serve the audience

Here’s a short list of the plays opening in Los Angeles over this weekend and next.

Adam and Evie by Charles L. Mee at CITY GARAGE

Antigonón by Teatro El Público at REDCAT

Building the Wall by Robert Schenkkan at THE FOUNTAIN THEATRE

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams at ANTAEUS THEATER COMPANY

Harlequino: On to Freedom by Tim Robbins at THE ACTORS’ GANG

Punk Rock by Simon Stephens at THE ODYSSEY THEATER

Rules of Seconds by John Pollono at LATC

The Cruise by Jonathan Ceniceroz at LATC

The Snow Geese by Shar White at INDEPENDENT SHAKESPEARE COMPANY

THE TOWN HALL AFFAIR by The Wooster Group at REDCAT

Twelfth Night from Filter Theater at THE WALLIS

There are some exciting plays in this list but also an impossible challenge. How does a theater fan, or even just a casual audience member, see enough of them to help build an LA theater audience? Can we divide the calendar instead of dividing the audience?

If it feels like you’ve heard me make this argument before, you have. There are certain weekends each year that are better to open a show than others. This is a calendar reality. It’s not LA theater’s fault, it’s just scheduling. But it is the fault of LA theater that nothing’s being done to either avoid the busy weekends or to capitalize on them. 

So what would a solution look like?

For starters, we need to admit we have a problem. We have shows clustering around specific opening weekends, but we also have significant “dead spots.” There are weeks in the calendar where only a single show is opening. To me, that means an audience either has too many plays to choose from or not enough.

The reality is these shows are not going to play to sold out houses. They are not going to get the press attention they deserve. Instead, they are going to subdivide Los Angeles’ theater audience into small chunks. Each show will enjoy less word of mouth, which means rather than building audience they will struggle to maintain the slice of audience they have.

Either we avoid the collisions or we make the most of them.

To avoid the collisions, LA theater needs to plan ahead. Brave producers need to open a show a week or two early or late. Let’s divide the calendar not the audience. Give a couple of shows a weekend to themselves. Bonus points if these shows are either on the opposite side of the geographic or aesthetic spectrum: a show in Venice isn’t likely to compete for audience with a show in Pasadena; an avant-garde new play isn’t likely to steal audience from a straightforward Shakespeare production. Or do the opposite? This weekend is about plays in Noho, next weekend Westside; this weekend is Shakespeare, next week new plays scheduled, marketed and produced to be seen together.

If we can’t avoid these collisions, let’s embrace them and make something larger out of them.

The trouble with all the shows opening over the next two weekends is, my guess, very few people know about them. No one is saying,”oh, this is Spring opening weekend, I should clear my calendar.” If all this work is going to happen at the same time, it should be a festival, an event, a moment.

What if all these shows combined a bit of their marketing money and tried to make a splash that cross promoted each other’s shows? Would Los Angeles’ theater audience grow? Would theaters begin sharing audience audience rather than stealing audience?

Maybe it would even be possible to build a robust city-wide audience.  What a thought.