Playwrights’ Arena, The Broadwater and a Real Estate Dance, The Scenies, Sir Peter Hall Remembered
By Paul Birchall
PLAYWRIGHTS ARENA GOES TO CHURCH
Excellent news from Jon Lawrence Rivera, artistic director of the now venerable Playwrights’ Arena: The company is forging a long-term agreement with New Designs Charter School to move into a former church building on Adams and turn it into a new home for the theater company.
Rivera made the announcement on his Facebook page earlier this week, noting that the deal came about after one of Playwright’s Arena’s board members, who also served as board chair of the New Designs School and was a supporter of the company’s Act for Students program, offered the company the use of space. Noted Rivera on his page, “So, today, I walked into the church for the first time and I had to control myself as my heart started to swell and water is about to pour out of my eyes.”
“With a handshake for now (legal will now take over to draw up contracts), my company, the one I started with Steve Tyler 25 years ago in an old carpet factory on Pico Blvd, that has been performing all over the city for the past 15 years (sometimes in an actual hotel) has been granted a wish.”
Responding to my question of how the new arrangement would work, Rivera explained, “Playwrights’ Arena has been working with NDCS for over five years. The program, Act for Students, has been very successful and the partnership between the school and the theater has been very fruitful. Right now, the space is basically ours for free from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. During school hours, the space is ours, but if it rains – the school will use it as a place for the students to have lunch. Or they may hold their assemblies there. We do not own the building. The school owns the building. We are basically rent-free tenants. And we will expand our Act for Students program with after school workshops engaging the students in the technical and artistic elements of the theater.”
According to Rivera, the company will now have to commence a capital campaign to finance the conversion of the space into a theater (the school will handle renovations to the building itself). “Playwrights’ Arena has always been about this city, about our writers, about our artists, about our communities,” Rivera adds. “ We are starting small when we walk in there in 2019. But my goal, is that by the time we get to 2025… we will be working to our full potential as a 199-seat theater dedicated to only new works by Los Angeles playwrights (like we’ve been doing for the past 25 years).”
Everyone in the town’s intimate theater scene should be delighted with this prospect of a small local theater’s well-deserved rise to mid-size, though the economics of all that will need to be massaged, and may even require several visits to a chiropractor after negotiating with the stage actors’ union. But if anyone can iron out the knots and aches in a mid-size frame, Rivera can. For years, he has been one of the town’s hardest working journeyman directors and opinion makers, and his new home base promises to become central to a bona fide neighborhood and its extended community that’s connected to the school. It is also interesting to note that this occurs from a partnership with an educational facility, one of several models worth emulating.
SACRED FOOLS GOES TO BROADWATER
And now, from the Department of Why Not?, comes news that Sacred Fools Theater Company has renamed its four theater complex, which the troupe has owned and operated since 2015, “The Broadwater” – a catch-all umbrella title for the company’s four stages aimed to simplify matters when the venues are rented by outside companies or are participating in the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Sacred Fools Artistic Director Padraic Duffy notes, “With a variety of guest companies slated to stage productions moving forward, including during the massive Hollywood Fringe Festival, ownership and Sacred Fools management have decided to rebrand the entire complex as a symbolic gesture of welcoming to all companies and artists that perform on its four stages.”
“Sacred Fools Theater Company will continue to manage the four theater spaces that comprise The Broadwater and produce a full slate of productions,” explains Duffy. “What we are hoping is that renaming the complex can be the next step in making this amazing facility not just our home, but a home and destination to countless other theater companies, artists, and audiences.”
This re-brand creates a clear division between the producing and the managing aspects of the space. Sacred Fools can exist apart from The Broadwater, and The Broadwater could theoretically exist without Sacred Fools, should the company dissolve.
Notes Duffy, “The [Broadwater] name has had a long connection with the Duffy family. My paternal grandparents refurbished their small-town bar with antique pieces they found in a hotel called the Broadwater almost 60 years ago. My father still treasures those pieces. It means a lot to the family to keep that memory alive.”
CORRECTION: Sacred Fools Theater Company does not own The Broadwater, though it does operate the facility. The building is owned by the father of the troupe’s Managing Director, to whom it pays rent.
SCENIES GO TO EVERYONE
The Scenies, Steven Stanley’s annual self-nominated, self-curated, and self-awarded awards series, are out for 2017, and, as you can imagine due to Stanley’s invariably positive tone and attitude, there was much rejoicing through the land. Stanley is known for offering way more carrots than sticks to the productions he reviews, but there is certainly a place for this upbeat attitude within the chaotically maligned sector in which most shows are performed. For years, remember, Drama-Logue gave legions of awards – and so did Rob Stevens and Madeleine Shaner.
Stanley, to my mind, essentially keeps to the same tradition of pointing out the shows that deserve to be remembered in somebody’s scrapbook. Receiving an award is a signal that, in at least one person’s view, your show/performance was better than mediocre, and, since so many plays are like fireflies, living out their existences in a three week lifespan, the Scenies do a fine job of providing an additional item for the memory box.
I do not necessarily agree with many of Stanley’s choices, but if I wanted to hammer that point, I suppose I could create The Paulies. Stanley is a theater fan’s fan. Frankly, I’m in awestruck by how many shows Stanley not only sees, but also writes about, and then honors with awards. To snipe at his enthusiasm and energy is to snipe at generosity itself.
SIR PETER HALL GOES TO THE GREAT THEATER IN THE SKY
It has been a month or so, but I wanted to say a few words about the passing of Sir Peter Hall, that lion of the British theater, who died from dementia-related causes at age 86. The thing is, to those of us who have always been fans of the theater, Sir Peter represented a brand of Anglophilia that was a hallmark of theater in the US and the UK for decades. He was one of the founders of the Royal Shakespeare Company and also the English National Theatre on London’s West End. He was also part of that generation of directorial auteur who came up with consistently good, compelling work. He was one of those directors who sublimated his work to the text of the play he was working on, as opposed to using the text as a jumping off point for his own interpretation.
Hall directed the world premiere of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, the English-language premieres of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Jean Annoilh’s The Waltz of Toreadore; he staged the London premieres of Tennesee Williams’s Camino Real and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof — all of which suggests that he was far from locked into the drawing room confines of his generation.
Although he lacked the innovative heft of, say, his contemporary Peter Brook, he more than made up for his wisdom in the handling of classical materials, where he was known as a perfectionist with skills of clarity and presentation that set the standard for a works of the canon. Shortly after Hall’s death, I was talking with a colleague about him, and he mentioned seeing a production of Romeo and Juliet that Hall had directed here (At the Ahmanson Theatre) that he thought was atrocious – dull, straightforward, traditional. However, to me, the comment says more about a director at the end of his creative life, and does not put Hall’s skills into the proper context of the role he played in the mid-20th century British theater
I was 16 when I attended the very first production of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, which Hall directed and which starred Simon Callow and Paul Scofield; it was probably the moment when I truly discovered a love for the theater. His Diaries, which described his professional life from the founding of the RSC through the 70s, make for delightful, gossipy reading, as well as being a great textbook about theatrical philosophy. I met him once, at the opening night for his production of Measure for Measure at the Ahmanson, and he was surprisingly humble and a little shy, illustrating a connection between humility and greatness. What a career the man had and what a towering figure he was in the world theater.