LOS ANGELES -- Rarely since David Merrick's heyday in New York has a producer dared to openly challenge the critical establishment. But now Rick Siegel is doing just that in Los Angeles.
Siegel, co-producer with Rita Wilson, of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Nia Vardalos' one-woman show at the Globe Playhouse about growing up Greek in America, took out a signed ad in the Los Angeles Weekly two weeks ago attacking such local papers as the New Times, Buzz Weekly and the L.A. Weekly itself for refusing to review Wedding.
"Are there enough people in Los Angeles who want choices in live theatre?" asked Siegel. "The New Times doesn't think so; while selling us an ad I was told they don't review productions our size. Buzz Weekly doesn't think small theatre is worth even a listing. Worse, the L.A. Weekly, perhaps the best paper for small venues, won't comment on this production because they saw a still-in- progress workshop many months ago."
Siegel continued his polemic by saying, "It seems L.A. has no real organized way to let people know when there's something worth seeing. But for me, there are few experiences around that match being in a small, intimate room filled with laughter, and I believe most people feel the same way."
In an exclusive interview with Playbill On-Line, Siegel said that he got the response he wanted from the ad. "It didn't immediately turn up vast numbers of people at the box office, but it got noticed by the press. Variety came, Buzz Weekly and the Daily News too, and that encouraged us to extend the run to Mar. 21." Siegel then followed up with another L.A. Weekly ad, this one aimed not at the media community but at the general public. "My friends who produce L.A. theatre think we're doing amazingly well -- playing to nearly full houses after only one month," he said. "They say you've got to be willing to invest a year before L.A. starts to support even the best of shows.
"That's crazy," he continued. "So I'm challenging you to come now, not in a year. Not just for support, but because everybody who's already seen the show, of every age and background, they've loved it."
Siegel cut his producing teeth at the Edinburgh Festival a few years ago, when he presented Robert Schimel's stand-up comedy show. "It was a crazy experience. You have two weeks to grab an audience that has 1,100 choices," he said. "I did it by working 16 hours a day -- talking to every newspaper and radio and TV show that I could, hawking free tickets on street corners, chasing down the Festival judges and begging them to come see the show. It was good training for Equity-waiver theatre."
Siegel feels that L.A. in general is not doing enough to encourage little theatre.
"There is a lack of organization on every level," he said. "The entertainment industry sees it as a place to harvest new talent, but rarely helps it. The media, especially the Los Angeles Times, refuses to do much for it. In the end, I suppose the theatrical community must take some responsibility for this. In such a difficult, competitive environment, it's got to be stronger and to pull together as one."
--By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent