Filling in the Blanks in Color for the Los Angeles Times

By Fanny Garcia

On December 29, 2012 the Los Angeles Times published a story written by Laura J. Nelson titled “What theater leaders are eager to see at others’ venues.” In it she asked theater arts community leaders in Los Angeles what kind of work they look forward to seeing on other stages in 2013.

The article was quickly posted and reposted on Facebook and Twitter by theater artists of color who had some concerns about the narrow focus of the article’s coverage. The artists main concern was that the piece had failed to represent the multiethnic diversity in the leadership of the theater arts community in Los Angeles.

Only one person of color was featured (Sheldon Epps of the Pasadena Playhouse) and only one woman (Jessica Kubzansky of Boston Court). Another concern that was raised was that the article only featured leaders who belonged to large regional theaters. It seems that artists who produce and exhibit leadership qualities at small black box venues were not considered leadership material for the Los Angeles Times article.

I don’t know how many community leaders Ms. Nelson interviewed for her article. I don’t even know whom it is that she contacted for her piece. Unfortunately, she didn’t respond to my email inquiry.

This response to her article is merely an effort to fill in some of the missing information in the Los Angeles Times story and so I interviewed a few theater community leaders of color that I know about and asked them what they want to see at other Los Angeles theaters in the new year.

What I discovered was that artists of color are super busy! Some were traveling when they received my call and email requesting their input for this article in January.

Jon Lawrence Rivera, Artistic Director of Playwrights Arena was in Mexico and Diane Rodriguez was in New York for The Public Theatre’s Under the Radar Festival. Jose Luis Valenzuela, Artistic Director for the Los Angeles Theater Center has been in Norway holding auditions for a production of Peer Gynt by Henry Ibsen that he will be directing, and so could not respond to my inquiry.

The rest were busy planning their company’s 2013 theatrical season. However, they still took the time to respond. I noticed a couple of things in their replies. Most responded with answers that spotlighted specific work that they want to see at other stages. In addition, they some also stressed the stories that are missing from theater stages in Los Angeles which would truly help make theater here as diverse as the city itself.

Take a look at what they had to say!

Jon Lawrence Rivera
Artistic Director
Playwrights Arena

I am most looking forward to seeing new works in development from Critical Mass Performance Group and Ghost Road Company. They are our premiere devise-based ensemble companies.  Their work is like fine bottled wine. They take a bit more time in the fermentation tank to get the right balance, but when they are ready to be uncorked… they’re quite rich, full-bodied and robust. Always a delight to see their process.

Josefina Lopez
Artistic Director
Casa 0101

…I would love to see at the Geffen [Playhouse] and CTG [Center Theater Group] more inspiring plays about brown people that are not just ethnic adaptation of classical plays written by dead white guys or Greeks.  I want to see something that makes me want to spend so much money to see theater at their venues.

It’s important because if theater is elitist and meant to entertain only the elderly and the rich then we lose young audiences, who tend to be brown, who will see theater as irrelevant and outdated and everyone in theater loses and theater will become irrelevant.

I always look forward to Company of Angels’ productions because they are doing a lot of exciting and fresh work from artists who truly represent Los Angeles and the rest of the world.

Ben Guillory
Artistic Director
Robey Theater Company

Areas that I would like to see explored on LA stages…The Harlem Renaissance offers a very rich legacy of theatre that speaks to the creative process of people of color that made significant literary contributions with minimal resources and support from the “main stream” at the time. Zora Neale Hurston’s Color Struck illustrates the Deep South vernacular [and] her collaboration with Langston Hughes on Mule-Bone are works that would enlighten audiences to the important trailblazers who were gifted storytellers.

The 60’s & 70’s offered work that was significant and reflect a consciousness shape by a recognition of colonialism.  Aime Cesaire’s A Season in the Congo comes to mind along with Ed Bullins, The Taking of Miss Janie,  The Electronic Nigger, and The Duplex dramatizations by the former Minister of Culture for the Black Panthers triggered by the seldom mentioned Black Power movement of the time.

Jesus Reyes
Creative Artistic Director
East LA Rep

There are many reasons to be excited about the world of Los Angeles theatre. For me, last year, my two favorite theatrical pieces were from 24th Street Theatre in the USC district and Off The Tracks Theatre Company in El Sereno (both Spanish language works) so this year, I look forward to seeing what they will produce and present.

Additionally, Radar L.A. is supposed to serve up a second round, and this, I definitely do not want to miss. The first Radar L.A. was a nuanced festival that captured the excitement of theatre with a combination of works by local and international artists presented at REDCAT, LATC and a parking lot along Grand Ave.

My not so guilty pleasure is Chico’s Angels, for some this drag trio may seem like fluff, but there is genius and incredible comedic timing, along with lots and lots of sequins, exploding from the tiny theater at Casita del Campo Mexican Restaurant in Silverlake. Finally, anytime Adelina Anthony is performing in Los Angeles, it is a must [see] show for me. This year she will premiere, The Beast of Times with D’Lo, directed by Mark Valdez, at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center.

Diane Rodriguez
Associate Producer and Director of New Play Production
Center Theater Group

The work that REDCAT and UCLA Center for the Art of Performance is producing is important because it is diverse on many levels. It is world-class theater that produces ethnically diverse as well as artistically diverse multidisciplinary and experimental work.

REDCAT in particular hosts and produces artists that are local, national and international. I love going there because the atmosphere is inviting with the bar in the lobby and the gallery for mingling.

I am also looking forward to Company of Angels‘ upcoming collaboration with Ric Salinas of Culture Clash and Cris Franco. The piece’s tentative title is My Mexican-American Wars.

As well as The Wooster Group’s collaboration with New York City Players, their new piece is called Early Plays and is based on the Glencairn Plays by Eugene O’Neill.

Tim Dang
Artistic Director
East West Players

It’s a shame that there is not much multi-cultural work or works of color happening at all levels of theatre to help reflect the population of Southern California more accurately. It makes the majority of us who live in Southern California invisible or without stories that would interest other people.

If I were to mention one item (okay two), one thing I do look forward to is a musical called Allegiance [by Marc Acito, Jay Kuo and Lorenzo Thione], which broke box office records at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego last October as it readies for a Broadway opening later this Fall or early next spring 2014. There has not been a musical featuring a large number of Asian Americans on Broadway in a very long time.

More locally, I look forward to seeing Chinglish by David Henry Hwang at South Coast Repertory, now playing.

Then again, because I work in the field of Asian American theatre, I know that there is so much more to see by other artists of color and underrepresented groups on all levels of theatre from 99-seat theatres to the larger houses.

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It’s important to note that according to the 2010 U.S Census, 76.3% of the population living in Los Angeles is not Caucasian. This 76.3% diverse population is made up of Asians, Blacks, Latinos, Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders, American Indian,  Alaska Natives and other ethnicities including those who consider themselves multiracial.

So when one of the city’s most important source of news misses information that is relevant to more than half of the population living in the city, it becomes necessary to ensure that other outlets fill in the blanks. pLAywriting in the city will try its best to help out.