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Paul Birchall’s Got It Covered:

After a pause, Pro-99 speaks; diversity please; and Malibu Playhouse’s Revolving Door Plan of Artistic Leadership

By Paul Birchall


After a Pause, Pro 99 Speaks Out with a Letter






Last week, members of the Pro-99 movement, whose current contact person is Lisa Glass, released their long-awaited congratulatory letter to newly elected AEA President Kate Shindle, who actively courted the Pro-99 seat faction during the months leading up to her election. The letter represents a cordial attempt to remind her of that fact.  Unstated in the letter is the meaning behind a recent advisory referendum, that the continuation of the 99 Seat Theater Plan of 1989, affirmed in a landslide, 66% vote of the L.A. membership earlier this year before being nonetheless gutted by the Union’s National Council shortly after the vote, remains the largest concern to members in the Union’s West Region. 


Battered by the Union management’s abrasive campaign leading up to the election – and the almost bizarre silence about the issue following it – the letter’s signers remind Shindle, who is quoted as saying “the coolest thing Equity can do is encourage its members to be passionate,” that her words celebrating one play performed at the Hollywood Fringe under the Union’s proposed new plan as a triumph “was the problem and not the solution. . . We have found . . . the fact that the leadership ignored the will of its own membership deeply disturbing.  Worst of all, we firmly believe this new plan will effectively destroy our own vibrant theatrical community.”


It’s interesting to scan through the 400 undersigned members to see who agree with the message.  Certainly, we find the folks you’d expect, like Alan Mandell, Dakin Mathews, and Nan McNamara, but there are some surprises, including film and TV A-listers like Zachary Quinto, Ed Asner, Joe Spano, Alfred Molina, and Linda Kerns.


Politically, the letter can be seen as an attempt to get the concerns of the Pro-99 movement back out into the forefront, following a somewhat quiet period when the issue has seemed to drop from being the “top story” in local cultural matters.  This period of quiet is, in fact, an AEA tactic:  Even the most casual observer instantly recognizes that the Union is hoping to run out the clock for when their new minimum wage policy starts next year, and it is to their advantage to just stay quiet, do nothing, and wait for their new regulations to take place – regulations which, it is clear from the pitbull antics of AEA managers Mary McColl and Melissa Robinette, they will enforce with extreme vindictiveness and brutality.


If the letter opens a new can of 99-worms for the theater community, it will only be a good thing. 


The letter may be found here


In Living Color






The struggle for diversity in representation is a theme that’s on many creatives’ minds these days – and rightfully so, as it is simply ridiculous for movies, TV shows, and plays not to resemble the audiences who attend them.  A few days back, there was rather a broo-ha-ha (admittedly opportunistically) about the Manhattan Theater Club’s early announcement of their new 2015-2016 schedule and how it contained no plays by women playwrights.  The company’s schedule, under popular backlash, was quickly updated to include a play by a female playwright, but the theater company, generally considered one of the nation’s most challenging and exciting, was put on reactive mode under attack from what many would consider their own base.  


These are, of course, critical issues for any artistic organization — not only do you want to represent the folks who are in your audience, but you might also find that by adding diverse communities to your group, you might open your theater to whole new audiences.  


Diversity and visibility are the themes to be explored on September 13 at the upcoming meeting of the Los Angeles Theater Network, our local, non-aligned think tank for issues relating to the production of local intimate theater.  The Network, intended as a crucifer for the invention of solutions to local theatrical problems, meets monthly (or so) and is nominally headed by local director Jon Lawrence Rivera and some time Stage Raw writer Ashley Steed.  This month, the meeting will be held at the Bootleg Theatre, 2220 Beverly Blvd, at 11 AM.  



Take Us To Your Leader






It’s not uncommon for theaters to have different directors rolling in and out of their doors, as part of the theater’s structure – but artistic directors?


The Malibu Playhouse was gadfly-critic-playwright-director Charles Marowitz’s old stomping grounds. He was artistic director there for about 10 minutes, so you could say the Playhouse’s new plan for its artistic leadership is part of a local tradition. They will be utilizing a series of artistic directors on six month terms.  Each of the artistic leaders will oversee an entire half-year slate of plays that will represent his or her taste and sensibility.  Despite what is rather optimistically noted in the press materials, this is not precisely a new business model:  Rather, it’s a sort of sublease, a theater AirBnB, in which the artistic directors are rotated out through the revolving door after six months.


First up will be Jeremy Skidmore, former artistic director of Theater Alliance in Washington D.C.  


“The major drive behind the change in model is to attract artistic talent among those working in a variety of industries who may not be able to commit to yearlong or full-time employment,” notes Skidmore, whose plans for his six month term include Wonderful Life! a musical based on It’s a Wonderful Life!Mary’s Wedding (Stephen Massicote’s WWI-era romance) and Pavillion. 


This portends a fairly un-precocious start to this administrative experiment. However, the thing about the rotating artistic director model is that, even while looking at the bill for this six months, your mouth can water at the thought that things might completely change in the next six, when the subsequent Executive-Artistic-Tourguide du-semi-annee comes in for his/her term. 


Wouldn’t heads turn were the next artistic director, say, City Garage’s Frederique Michel, with Skidmore’s Wonderful Life! musical being followed by a harrowing drama of incest in which naked ladies roll around on the floor shrieking existential thoughts?  And if the director after that was someone like Michael Kearns with endless ferocious meditations on gay life in the 20th century, replete with bouncing bottoms?


In fact, though, it doesn’t seem as though the six-month artistic director model is in itself particularly unpromising.  After all, it is certain that the fundamental infrastructure of the company, including their Artistic Board and Chief Operating Officers, will remain the same, even as the artistic directors “sashay away!” (to quote Rupaul) at the end of their cycles.  What might be more problematic is how the frequent changes help establish a long range vision for the theater company motivated more by expeditiousness than inspiration. Let’s see how it goes.


Correction: An earlier posting of this article cited Stand Up!, a night of comedy with headliner Jimmy Dore and hosted by comedian Michael Schirtzer, and The Guys, a Dan Lauria-directed play by Anne Nelson about a meeting between firefighters and a journalist after 9/11, as part of Skidmore’s season. In fact, these are special events that will predate the inauguration of Skidmore as artistic director.