While the "graying" of its audience is still a perennial problem, theatre in southern California promises to remain a vital force in the next century. That's the prediction of three important theatre artists who were interviewed recently in a local performing-arts magazine.
Sandra Tsing Loh, whose solo show Aliens in America played to full houses at L.A.'s Tiffany Theatre, believes audiences are becoming fed up with TV and are turning to live theatre instead. "My main thesis is that it's a bad time for TV--corporate, formulaic, all-white, etc.--which means it's a boom time for live theatre, and coincidentally for public radio. People are flocking to these 'older' forms because they crave real stories told by real people."
Gordon Davidson, artistic director of Mark Taper Forum, concurs. "I'm still amazed when I see how wonderfully refreshing and specific to the theatre the live actor and the live audience really are," he said. "I recently saw a three-hour-and-forty-minute production of The Odyssey, one of the great stories of Western civilization. The staging was beautiful, but it wasn't about technology. Imagination is what made it work."
According to Anne Hamburger, who became artistic director of La Jolla Playhouse in July, 1999, the graying of the audience is still a major problem. "How do we find ways to bring in younger audiences?" she asked. The challenge is made more complicated, she feels, by the new forms of media young people have grown up with. "I think they're wired differently. They look at work differently. In many cases, they're more image-based than language-based. And they absorb images at a different pace."
Hamburger's answer to the challenge is to put together a highly varied theatre season of six different plays. "We have purposely engaged playwrights and directors who come at theatre from completely different angles," she said. "One director might be deeply involved in visual theatre and be less interested in text. Another production slot might include a naturalistic playwright, and another might include a musical, or be oriented toward performance art, so that this thing called a season, which I believe is a work of art in itself, becomes a collision of aesthetics."Al Nodal, general manager of the L.A. Cultural Affairs Department, sees change coming in the new year. "I believe the L.A. performing arts community will have to work together much more closely in future," he said. "The community must realize that it needs to work as a whole, as opposed to everyone trying to reinvent the wheel on their own. I think it's a trend that we'll see in the next few years--the arts community coming together for common promotion and to share audiences."
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent