Thursday, June 16, 2011

Project Oxpecker

The LA Times-sponsored theatre round-table took place a couple days ago, and judging by the coverage on Culture Monster, it largely missed the mark when not mashing the same, tired buttons.  More on that in the not too-distant, after I've had a chance to watch the videos and form a fuller opinion.  In the meantime, Tony Frankel's response on Bitter Lemons really struck a chord:
Here is the role of Los Angeles in the National Theatre Scene: Because of our limitless talent pool and relatively inexpensive production costs, this city could be the Petri dish in which we nurture theatre artists and productions which we can then send out into the nation. Period.
The Under-99 set is good at creating an enormous amount of theatre on the shoestringiest of budgets.  Every now and then, one of those shows turns out to be jaw-droppingly amazing.  A few weeks later, the run ends, the set is torn down, and that's it.  Maybe it's brought back later, maybe it's produced by another company, but rare it seems is the show that, incubated in the Under-99s, makes the leap to a bigger stage.

Take Forbidden Zone: Live in the 6th Dimension.  Tremendous piece of theatre, sold-out shows, extended run, and the most fun I've had in a theatre in a long time.  (My almost embarrassingly glowing review may be found here.)  There was some talk of the show coming back, but Sacred Fools has announced their 15th season and it's not on the list.  So what happens to this incredible theatrical experience?  If this were New York, odds are it would hop to Broadway by way of Off-Broadway, à la Urinetown or Avenue Q.

An independant outlier being snatched up and distributed to larger audiences is not a foreign concept in Hollywood.  Small, low budget movies get scooped up and distributed (or remade) all the time.  I thought the problem with LA theatre was our industry-obsession.  So why haven't we aped this aspect of the movie business?

I once gave a glib outline for how this relationship could work.  Here it is again, slightly trimmed:
The average annual LORT budget is just under $7 million. What if a LORT company were to break off $200,000, and fund ten Under-99 productions of new works to the tune of $20K each?

In addition to that $20,000, the LORT company provides access to rehearsal space, stock set and costume pieces, the expert advice of dramaturges, etc. All of it to help those ten companies produce the best possible show with the best possible production values that an Under-99 company can produce.

In exchange, the LORT company reserves the right of first refusal to restage the seeded productions. They can take the shows that hit and graduate them to union houses, reaping the benefits.

This would be a mutually beneficial arrangement, a way for LORT companies to use the Under-99s as laboratories, farm-leagues, etc; a way for Under-99s to budget a show without begging friends and family for more nickels and dimes.
I call this "Project Oxpecker."

"It's okay, big guy.  You rest.  We got this."

First things first, we find a better name.

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