Tag Archives: Sheldon Epps

Creative Community: The arts in LA is an inspiring world unto itself

1by Victoria Montecillo

On June 29, I, along with 131 other LA County Arts Commission interns, attended an arts summit held in Pasadena. Having never before attended a professional-type conference before, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It seemed like a great opportunity to meet other people in the intern program at different organizations, and learn more about the arts world in LA. I was excited, mainly, to attend my first conference! It all felt very grown-up and professional, and I was excited to learn. 

After checking in at the Pasadena Playhouse and picking which workshops I wanted to attend, I spent the first part of my morning nibbling at a blueberry mini muffin and avoiding small talk. As a naturally introverted person, I’m not one to comfortably strike up casual conversation with strangers; it takes me a little bit to warm up the gears of my social side. Eventually, we all migrated inside the Playhouse for a lovely welcome from the Playhouse’s artistic director, as well as some from the LA County Arts Commission and the mayor of Pasadena. It was certainly very inspiring to be so warmly welcomed and encouraged by people who had found fulfilling work in the arts; they spent the morning encouraging us to follow our passions, and work to create real change. 

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Pasadena Playhouse Artistic Director Sheldon Epps welcomes the interns.

Afterwards, we split into smaller groups and headed to separate locations. My group headed to the Pasadena Museum of California Art, where we got a private welcome and got to explore the work of California artists. We then got a backstage tour of the Pasadena Playhouse, where Playhouse volunteers told us all about the green room, the costume shop, the scene shop, and the library. As someone who absolutely loves seeing the backstage areas of any theatre, I was absolutely thrilled. After that, we walked over to First United Methodist Church, where we saw a beautiful site specific piece by the Jacob Jonas Dance Company. Essentially, we spent the morning being exposed to the different corners of the LA arts world, where we got to meet and talk with artists that were working towards their passions and were excited to share it.

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Victoria Montecillo

For lunch, we got together with our peer groups, a group of other LA County interns from the same geographic area. I got to meet some wonderful people working at a lot of different organizations. Some were working at theaters like me, while others were working for music non-profits or arts-based community outreach organizations. Even though we were in a crowded, noisy room, it was interesting to go around and hear everyone’s stories and where they came from, and how they ended up in this intern program. Some of the people I met were not necessarily interested in working in the arts world, but they were incredibly passionate about working in social justice and reaching out to Los Angeles neighborhoods. Everyone had a different perspective to bring, and different stories about their experiences to share. It was nice to hear about everyone’s experiences as interns, and the kinds of work they were doing. A few people were interested in pursuing graphic design, some were interested in music and arts education, and others were interested in theatre. I liked that we were a good mix among our group of various interests, because it gave us a wide range of perspectives. Alma Villegas, our wonderful Peer Group Leader from artworxLA, led us along our discussion and made sure to check in with all of us on whether or not we were enjoying our internships so far. It was comforting to feel that (other than my Fountain family of course) I had another community to fall back on, that would offer me help and support if I needed it. 

3After lunch, we split up from our peer groups to attend a workshop of our choosing. I attended a workshop on Public Engagement in the Arts, led by some truly inspirational people from Cornerstone Theatre Company and the Ford Theatres. They started off by keeping us on our feet, moving to different corners of the room for different things (e.g. “Move to this corner if you’re the youngest in your family, this corner if you’re the oldest,”), gradually picking more thought-provoking topics before ending with creating a line with one end being “art for art’s sake”, and the other end being “art for social justice”. This made us all think about why we were there, and what drives us. 

We then got to hear from Cornerstone and the Ford Theatres, and more specifically, the kind of work that they do in community engagement. My experience with community engagement from theaters is still quite limited, so it was certainly very educational to hear about the new and original ways other theatres were working to stay engaged with the communities around them. It was amazing to hear about Cornerstone, actually casting and creating shows with members of their community, and going out to neighborhoods and to the people to collaborate on creating a piece of art. And to hear from the Ford Theatres, and their work in spreading cultural awareness through free interactive workshops on dance and song. It was beautiful to see and hear about people in the community excited about the arts, and sharing it with the younger and older generations. 

Afterwards, I went to a session on Equity & Inclusion in the Arts, where we were told about the LA County Cultural Equity and Inclusivity Initiative. It was essentially a “town hall” meeting, where we were invited to share our comments, stories, and suggestions in order to help make change in policies. While it was not exactly what I expected, I learned a lot simply from listening to my peers discuss the challenges and obstacles they had all faced as people of color pursuing the arts. One suggestion that I found incredibly valuable (and, seemingly, somewhat intuitive) was the suggestion to offer opportunities to regularly have open discussions like the one we were having, where people had the chance to express their feelings in a safe environment. Sometimes, the first step to making change is creating the opportunity to discuss these issues openly, where people can feel they are being heard. 

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I want to thank the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and their wonderful internship program, as well as the Fountain Theatre, for giving me such a unique opportunity to meet other inspiring people pursuing fulfilling and meaningful careers in the arts world. I am learning so much more this summer than I ever anticipated.

Victoria Montecillo is our 2016 arts intern this summer at the Fountain Theatre, made possible through the support of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission Internship Program.  

Artistic Choice or Financial Risk?

Art and commerce can make strange bedfellows in the world of nonprofit theater, especially in hard times. Can a theatre risk producing new work and still keep its doors open?  When should a theatre sell its soul to please audiences? Can a theatre focus too fearfully on the spreadsheet’s bottom line and violate the bottom line of its artistic mission and the leader who guides it?

The question can be asked right here in Los Angeles. Sheldon Epps has had to program the Pasadena Playhouse with commercial, crowd-pleasing fare to lift the company out of bankruptcy. But, at least, Sheldon remains at the helm. That’s not always the case.

Jeff Zinn has stepped down after 23 years as Artistic Director at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre. Among others, one reason seemed clear: the Board decided that the cutting-edge new work that Zinn championed — and was at the core of WHAT’s artistic mission — could no longer financially support the organization and its gorgeous (and expensive) new state-of-the-art 220 seat theatre. You gotta fill seats.

Jim Petosa

Olney Theatre Center’s Artistic Director Jim Petosa knows that for sure. He has led the Maryland landmark since 1994 and directed shows there well before that. On Petosa’s watch, the sprawling 14-acre campus north of Washington DC  has built a new mainstage, an intimate theater lab, and an outdoor amphitheater for summer Shakespeare.

As Olney’s artistic leader, Petosa has confronted both financial and artistic struggles. In 2010, the theater faced a $6 million debt and a 5 percent drop in subscriptions. Olney added more revivals of family-friendly shows instead of the more cutting edge theater Petosa favored. The overall tone of season 2011 at Olney has been demonstrably tried, true — and commercial. The strategy seems to be working, but for Petosa, the artistic challenges lie elsewhere.

It has just been announced that he will step down as artistic director at the end of this year.

“I think sometimes personal artistic ­ambitions and institutional ­artistic ambitions don’t necessarily meet,” he says.

The sad truth gets sadder: The family-friendly programming at Olney is not viewed by the theater’s board or its audiences as an “unconscionable compromise,” says Petosa. Indeed, they “seem to be responding to these programming ideas with enthusiasm and passion.”

This is what scares us.

Joy Zinoman, a longtime colleague and friend, says Petosa is “a beloved figure as a director — high energy, very warm, very positive; filled with ideas.”

But Zinoman, who stepped down herself in 2010 after 35 years as founding artistic director at Studio Theatre in Washington, questions the road that Petosa and Olney have taken. “Jim is not a person who just wants to do commercial work. In his heart, I don’t think he’s that at all. I would myself not agree that the way to attract an audience is to do that kind of work.”

Even in a bad economy?

“Even so,” she says. “I believe that it is possible to lead an audience. You have to lead an audience and just doing ‘The Sound of Music’ again, or ‘The Christmas Carol’ again, I’m not sure that’s the way to build a theater. I mean, it might solve your problem in the moment, but it’s not going to get you anywhere.”

Put “Los Angeles” Back into the Los Angeles Times for LA Theatre

by Don Shirley

During the holiday season, the LA Times (aka LAT) demonstrated anew its curiously constricted view of the importance of the other LAT — LA theater.

Charles McNulty

Times theater critic Charles McNulty’s year-in-review roundup included a Top 11 list of theatrical productions, of which only two (Blackbird and Peace in Our Time) were LA-originated. Two other shows on his list, The Cripple of Inishmaan and Let Me Down Easy, were imported by LA area theaters. One Orange County production, Circle Mirror Transformation, also made McNulty’s list.

The other six shows on the list – more than half of the total – included a Canadian import McNulty saw in La Jolla (Jesus Christ Superstar), three shows he saw in New York (The Book of Mormon, The Motherfucker with the Hat and The Normal Heart), and two he saw in London (Luise Miller and One Man, Two Guvnors). McNulty also wrote a separate year-end essay that mentioned other shows, including four LA-originated productions, but they didn’t appear on his Top 11 list.

Whenever a critic tries to cover more than one geographical area in a year-end theater assessment, especially if traveling among the areas involves crossing not only continents but also oceans, I wonder how the critic could possibly have seen enough of the contenders in any one of the areas to make reasonably comprehensive judgments. To be fair to McNulty, it’s true that he wrote that these were the shows that “had me clapping loudest at home and abroad” – not that these were necessarily the best shows in the 2011 theatrical world or even in these particular cities.

Even so, a lot of readers probably assume that the chief LA Times critic reviews or at least sees most of the better LA shows. But it ain’t necessarily so.

RADAR L.A.

I looked up the record of what McNulty wrote about in 2011, courtesy of one of the databases at the LA Public Library. I found 52 reviews of individual theater productions within LA and Orange counties (plus one review at Long Beach Opera and a RADAR L.A. commentary that included brief comments on several shows).

It’s no surprise that he reviewed Center Theatre Group shows more often than those of any other company – a total of 13 in 2011. The surprise about his CTG coverage is that only two of those 13 were at CTG’s flagship venue, the Mark Taper Forum. Four were at CTG’s largest theater, the Ahmanson, while seven were at CTG’s smallest venue, the Kirk Douglas. McNulty wrote about eight productions at Geffen Playhouse and seven at South Coast Repertory. He covered five shows at Broad Stage (all of them imports).

So 33 of his 52 individual theater reviews in Los Angeles and Orange counties took place at those four companies, which are more or less regarded as the “1%” of LA theater by many of the “99%” who work elsewhere in the vast LA theater terrain.

McNulty also spent time in the major San Diego theaters, reviewing five shows at La Jolla Playhouse and four at the Old Globe (plus one at San Diego Rep, which he later re-reviewed when it came to LA).

Oddly enough, McNulty largely avoided one of our major theaters, the Pasadena Playhouse, even though 2011 was the year when it rebounded from bankruptcy. McNulty reviewed only one of the playhouse’s productions, Dangerous Beauty. He ignored the return of the playhouse’s Sheldon Epps as a director in Blues for an Alabama Sky (it opened the same night as the Mark Taper Forum’s Vigil – but McNulty didn’t review Vigil either).

Although 2011 was the year when A Noise Within moved from Glendale to larger digs in Pasadena, McNulty wrote only about the company’s opening show (Twelfth Night) in the new theater, not about the final season of three (better) productions in the former space or the new theater’s second show.

"Small Engine Repair" at Rogue Machine

He didn’t write about any of the four 2011 shows that won the top production honors at last year’s Ovation Awards ceremony (A Raisin in the Sun, Kiss Me Kate, Small Engine Repair, Jerry Springer: the Opera), nor has he has ever written (in his six years at the Times) about Troubadour Theater Company, which won the “best season” Ovation for the second time in three years.

He reviewed no 2011 shows at most of the companies that make up the middle tier of Equity-contracted LA theaters – the Colony, International City Theatre, East West Players, Theatricum Botanicum, Independent Shakespeare, the Falcon, Ebony Rep, Theatre West, Native Voices – nor did he write about anything at the larger musicals-only companies such as Musical Theatre West. He reviewed one production each at Reprise, REDCAT and the Skirball, plus the only Getty Villa production that was open for review in 2011. He wrote about one show each at the larger Pantages and Montalban theaters and at the Hollywood Bowl, as well as Cirque du Soleil’s Iris.

On the small theater (99-Seat Plan) level, he reviewed eight productions, including two at Boston Court and one each at six other venues. That’s eight out of the 371 productions that used the 99-Seat Plan in LA County in 2011, according to tentative figures from Actors’ Equity.       Continue reading