Los Angeles Theatre, I love you, you’re perfect, now change. Because we don’t really have a choice.
Theatre as we know it has changed, the world as we know is has changed. There will be an after, this chapter will eventually end, and we can start working on what the next chapter looks like. We need to start thinking about this otherwise we will be washed away down the storm drain when the rain finally stops, and I refuse to let Los Angeles theatre be considered debris in a post-COVID world.
Right now we don’t know when this state wide shut down will end, we don’t know what’s going to happen next, but we do know who we are as artists and the values we have as a community. Remember why you continue to do this work, to be part of something bigger than yourself, to provide service to the world. People need theatre now more than ever, and we need to step up to ensure those theatre doors open again. The world will be a different place, with different stories to tell, we have a responsibility to tell them and that starts now.
We cannot focus on the past or what we should have done. We all knew the system in which we were creating art was flawed and unsustainable, and it has unfortunately caught up with us in a devastating way. This is not to put the blame on any group of individuals. There will always be arguments about how this could have been prevented or what we could have done differently as an industry, and no one will ever actually know if those would have made a difference, because here we are, and all we can do is move forward. Hindsight is 20/20, and after this year, that phrase will have a much different meaning.
But what about AB5?
This was my stance on AB5 before, and it continues to be my stance now. It was never about if AB5 was good or bad for theatre. Yes, it protects the individual artists, yes, it also makes it financially more difficult for producers and companies to create theatre. Both are valid. Fundraising and financial responsibility are difficult for all non-profits, not just theatres.
What we need to focus on is the bigger issue that policy makers of California made a decision without thinking about theatre artists (or artists in general). This was not a malicious attack on the arts sector, nor was it meant to help artists, they just did not think about us, and didn’t think to ask us. And that’s the problem.
In this moment, policies are changing rapidly, and every industry is fighting for relief and attention from legislators. We do not have the time to be screaming at each other over Facebook and rehashing old arguments in the name of "I told you so," because that won't help any of us right now. People consistently say that theatre in Los Angeles has a sense of community that makes us stand out as a theatre town, so we need to lean into that now more than ever. We are all fighting for the same thing.
We all want theatre in Los Angeles to be created and valued in a safe and sustainable way. We all want theatre to be more inclusive, diverse, appreciated, and supported.
For that to happen, we need to wasting our voices screaming in an echo chamber that is already getting way too loud. Stop fighting with each other and fight for the sector as a whole. No matter which side of the 99 seat argument you were on, it doesn’t matter if theatre companies don’t get the help that they need because you were too focused on your pride to help your fellow artists in a medium that takes pride in how collaborative it is.
We sign up to be theatre artists because we choose to be something bigger than ourselves, and this is that moment where our values are being tested, and none of us are too busy or too important to be part of this conversation.
We need the government to pay attention to us, now more than ever, we have a rare moment in modern history were people understand the importance of gathering together to appreciate and experience art, do not let this fall away. We have national attention on the importance of performing arts while we as an entire sector are on the verge of collapsing, this is not a moment to be taken lightly, but that doesn't mean we can't handle it.
Will theatre survive COVID-19?
Absolutely. If you do the advocacy work as mentioned above, we will get to a more stable place quicker. Will most of us get paid to create theatre for a while? Maybe not, depending on how much we collaborate to get through this time. Is getting paid to do theatre the only way to ensure its validity? I don't know. But personally, I don’t feel comfortable comparing the original actos of El Teatro Campesino to community theatre, and I am not going to argue about unions with Luis Valdez.
Looking further back into theatre history, many folks are comparing art in the time of corona virus to Shakespeare’s shining moment of artistic renaissance after the black plague. But this isn’t about if art will continue to be created, it is about how we are engaging with our audiences. I’m not looking at art that was created during times of death, like the plague, because this is so much than a virus, and hopefully this state-wide shut down will prevent people from dying.
This isn’t about death, it’s about chaos. What art was created during times of economic uncertainty and government instability? For that, I turn to Bertolt Brecht and Augusto Boal. This is not an issue of people being able to consume art, it is a sense of complacency in our audiences and ourselves as artist. This is so much bigger than live streaming and advances in technology, as amazing as those are. We are incredibly lucky to be creating art in a time where we can connect with audiences and each other this easily. However, we need to focus on how and why we create theatrical art and what impact is has on our audiences.
All of this to say, we as artists need to be significantly more intentional with how we spend this time. If you need to take time to heal, emotionally, mentally, or physically, do so. If you need to create something beautiful for the sake of having more beauty around you, please do that and share it. If you need to take action, join advocacy efforts. I do ask that you please look for advocacy groups that already exist instead of creating one, collaboration is so important right now because we do not have any time or resources to waste.
But really think about what you are putting out into the world as a theatrical artist. Be intentional and responsible with how you brandish this important title. Maybe I’m an optimist, maybe I’m an anarchist, but absolutely I am stubborn. I refuse to accept that theatre in Los Angeles is over, even if we are all still figuring out what the next step is, but we need to figure it out together. This comes from a deep faith and adoration of this complicated artistic medium. Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this, or thinking about this.
Right now the world around us is ambiguous, but it is also malleable. It brings up the age-old question, does theatre reflect reality, or create it?