by Stephen Sachs
I’m used to it by now. I expect it. I wait for it. Whenever I travel anywhere in the country, to any state in our union, whether on a personal vacation with my wife or attending a professional theatre conference in a faraway region, once I share where I’m from and what I do for a living I am asked the same question: is Los Angeles a theatre town?
My guard quickly goes up. I shift into protective mode. Defending my city and my art form. My talking points ready. Did you know that more theatre is produced in Los Angeles, more productions of plays and musicals, than in any other city in the world — more than New York, Chicago or London? Did you know that Los Angeles is home to more working artists than any other major metropolis in the United States, including New York? According to a 2010 report commissioned by the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI), Los Angeles hosts the largest pool of artists of any city in the nation. Los Angeles supports more than five times as many performing artists (actors, directors, producers), outpacing New York substantially. These facts always trigger startled looks of surprise.
Now Los Angeles is facing the same skepticism about football. With Super Bowl Sunday approaching this weekend, the nation wants to know: Is Los Angeles a football town? The answer is yes. In fact, Los Angeles is one of only two cities in the nation that has two NFL teams, the Rams and the Chargers. The other metropolis with more than one team? You guessed it. Our theatre rival, New York. Always bent on outshining us, New York has three teams.
While theatre has been performed consistently in Los Angeles since the city was founded in 1781, the Rams’ history with LA has been bumpy and uneven. The franchise began in 1936 as the Cleveland Rams in Ohio. The team moved to Los Angeles in 1946. After the 1994 season, the Rams left LA and moved to St. Louis. They returned to Los Angeles in 2016, suffering through a disappointing season. Then, like a true Hollywood story, magic happened.
In 2017, Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Sean McVay became the new Rams head coach at the age of 30, making him the youngest in modern NFL history. McVay is a rock star. He is what slick and glamorous basketball coach Pat Riley was to the Lakers in the 1980’s era of Showtime. McVay is young, movie star handsome, charismatic. And a winner. In their first year under McVay, the Rams won their first NFC West title since 2003. This season, the team’s 13–3 record tied for the second-most wins in a single season in franchise history and were the most ever for any NFL team in Los Angeles. On Sunday, they perform on the league’s biggest stage. The Broadway of football. A Los Angeles team hasn’t reached the Super Bowl since 1980.
Is LA a football town? Ask Rams star defensive tackle Aaron Donald. “It’s a football town now.” The team’s average home attendance in the regular season was more than 72,000 fans per game at the Rams’ temporary home at the LA Coliseum.
Inglewood is now building the team a new state-of-the-art 70,240-seat stadium, scheduled to open in 2020. At a cost of more than $5 billion, it will be the world’s most expensive sports complex. More than three times the size of Disneyland and twice as big as Vatican City. The last time Los Angeles built an arts complex even close to that size was the Music Center downtown in 1964. Although one of the largest performing arts centers in the United States, the 11-acre Music Center is 1/27th the size of the future 298-acre LA Stadium campus. And you thought tickets to Hamilton were expensive? The best seat at Los Angeles’ newest stadium will come with a licensing bill of $100,000 for Rams season-ticket holders, not including the price of each ticket per game.
I hold no illusion that theatre will ever be as popular in Los Angeles as football. More human beings worldwide will watch our LA Rams in this Sunday’s Super Bowl than have seen every performance of every play and musical ever produced in Los Angeles in two hundred years. That’s okay. Something exciting is happening in this town. I can feel it. LA is undergoing a renaissance, blossoming into the city of the future. Money is pouring in, new urban development is underway everywhere, our progressive city laws and lifestyle embrace diversity and inclusion and the hope of opportunity.
For many artists across the country, LA is still the land of dreams. The region’s record in home-growing, attracting and retaining artists is unmatched. Los Angeles is still the nation’s premier place to pursue and maintain an artistic career. Its theatre community is vast, richly varied and thriving.
And the Rams are playing in the Super Bowl. Whatever the outcome this Sunday, Los Angeles comes out a winner.
Stephen Sachs is the Co-Artistic Director of the Fountain Theatre and a longtime Rams fan.