Wednesday, December 23, 2009

After that LATimes article

from Charles McNulty and the discussion that followed, there was a collection of letters to the editor that ran. I'm way behind on posting about it, but the collection led with the most hackneyed, and to my mind, inaccurate, written by someone named Philip Wissbeck (from Wisconsin, no less). It's below.
The problem with Los Angeles theater is that everybody who is involved with small theater is trying to get a job in TV or film and everybody who is big and successful in those media just uses theater as an exercise.

Someone once said that when you get on the stage you have to make it look like you have nowhere else you'd rather be that night. In L.A. theater productions everybody would rather be on TV or the big screen.
I think anyone who has any familiarity with L.A. theater knows that statement is false, and if they're like me they get really bored with hearing and reading it all the time. Of course there are plenty of people in small theater in L.A. who aren't trying to get a job in TV or film, and of course everybody who is big and successful in those media don't "just use theater as an exercise."

But so what if those statements were unequivocally true? Why is that a problem?

Why shouldn't people in small theater in L.A. want careers working in the industries that best suit their talents? Do you think actors in New York or Chicago don't want the same? Why should we begrudge people their ambitions? And how does it automatically lead to mediocre work? Should all struggling actors just give up? What would you have them do besides hone their craft? And how does it follow that they're ignoring the audiences that come to see their work as they hone it?

When someone writes a letter to the editor suggesting as much, it's easier to shrug off. But when someone like a Variety editor
says this --
Sometimes it becomes painfully clear the theater is not there for the audience.
-- Or this --
[T]here's a bottomless reservoir of film and TV actors here [in L.A.]or, at least, people who call themselves actors.
-- there's a clear suggestion that the journalist who's taken the time to cover the community walked into it in full condescension mode.

Bottom line, if someone calls him or herself an actor and one performs on a stage, one is an actor. He or she may not be a good actor, but if you're going to call one's vocation, even identity, into question, it's clear to me that you've no more interest in taking the work seriously than someone writing an easy letter to the editor, spouting out the same tired generalizations I've heard since before I even moved to L.A. and actually got to know the theater scene here.

I do think there are certain realities about L.A. small theater that contribute to its reputation as being unserious or insubstantial, but to treat an entire community that way because of some speculative lack of commitment by the people who make it up is what is truly insubstantial here, not to mention lazy.

That brings me to another post about L.A. theater journalism and the theater community. I promise it won't take me a week to get that one online.

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