Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More on L.A. theater journalism

Playgoer turned me on to this article by Variety's Robert Hofler. He describes a visit to L.A.'s 99-seat world by describing a handful of jukebox musical world premieres and one edgy play called Extinction, then proclaims that L.A. has nothing on New York Off-Off in the 70s.

Good to know.

Now I don't consider it my duty to champion 99-seat L.A. theater. I've seen a lot of it in the past 7 years and I've seen some mediocre stuff. Some of the stuff I've been involved in has been really mediocre. But I also haven't been writing about it all as if it were some 3rd-world country after settling for whichever shows could afford to pay for a publicist, then describing the whole thing in print as a "tour."

Which shows did he even see? He only describes one show in any detail (Extinction), even though he says he saw more; one can only infer from his article that he saw some John Lennon show and one of those Roger Bean musicals, since he doesn't spend any time talking about them except in the vaguest and most condescending terms. And then at the end of the piece he suggests it was a month-long process? That's the best he can do?

I just spent about 5 minutes on LAStage's website and the LAWeekly and found the following 99-seat world premieres that are either still running or have just closed, presumably within the window of time that Hofler would've been available to catch a performance.

Hamlet Shut Up

Grace Kim and the Spiders from Mars

Blood and Thunder

Violators will be Violated

Tree

Perhaps none of these shows are exactly "New York in the 70s," but they're not jukebox musicals either. Maybe he even saw some of them, but I wouldn't know from his article. In fact he seems far more interested in name-dropping almost 40-year-old plays and productions from another city than actually writing about the beat he's slumming in.

There's also something bugging me lately about this preconception that all 99-seat theater in L.A. is automatically alienated from its own audience. He touches on it repeatedly, and it's been coming up in other writings lately. I can't help but take issue with that, but I'll save it for another post.

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