CityWatch, July 6, 2010
Vol 8 Issue 53
The Hollywood Fringe Festival has come and gone, leaving in its wake a revitalized arts community, an engaged local audience, and a new standard for LA's Theatre professionals.
Spread over two weeks, the Fringe saw nearly 200 theatre productions offer up 800 performances in three dozen venues, all within the Hollywood Theatre core and all within walking distance. It was inspiring and it was evident that the seeds of greatness lie in LA's Theatre Community.
If, as the Bard writes, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players;" perhaps it's time for City Hall to look to the theatrical community for direction.
Based on my Fringe experience, here are four lessons from LA's Theatre Community that will position Los Angeles as a Great City:
1) Connect with the audience! Great theatre is based on a relationship between performers and the audience.
The words that are written, the characters that are brought to life, the staging that creates a new world, and the story that is told are all meaningful if there is an audience to experience and interact.
The objective all along is to engage the audience, informing, challenging and entertaining. But all along, it's the relationship and the dialogue that continues past the curtain call that is the objective and it all starts in the theatre.
The City of Los Angeles would do well to consider that the work it does depends on the audience, the public. Obstacles for engagement must be removed, the process for participation must be simplified, and an environment that fosters civic engagement must be created.
The audience is the reason for the performance, anything else is simply rehearsal.
2) Customer Service counts! The relationship between production and audience starts well in advance of the performance and lasts long after the curtain call.
The box office experience sets the tone for a journey that includes the ticket-taker, the washrooms, the ushers and the production crew. From the Pantages Theatre to the courtyard on Hollywood Blvd., great customer service is not a function of budget but of a commitment to the audience's experience. It matters.
It can crush a performance when it's missing but when it works, it's seamless and it frees up the audience to truly connect and become part of the production.
City Hall could improve the quality of life in Los Angeles dramatically simply by remembering that the people of LA are the purpose for the city.
Human infrastructure is LA's greatest asset and the most meaningful opportunity for change is in the little transactions that make up life in Los Angeles.
The details count and they are often simple and free, but they are critical to a Great City commitment.
3) Critics are an asset! They're human, they're fallible, but they play a respected role, informing and entertaining their audiences, hopefully stirring great dialogue and piquing the interest of their readers.
As for the actors, directors and producers, it's the feedback of the critics that offers an opportunity to improve, to adjust, to take a production to the next level.
Regardless of the love-hate relationship that exists between performers and critics, there is no doubt that getting reviewed is an honor while being ignored is simply crushing. "Love me, hate me, but don't ignore me!"
The City of LA's absence of performance-based evaluation has resulted in long-running performance of the "Mutual Admiration Club" that relegates critics to the cheap seats, a pattern that firmly establishes mediocrity as the status quo.
City Hall would do well to engage and respond to the critics, embracing the feedback as an essential gift and as a tool for improving performance.
4) Budget is no excuse! A big budget doesn't automatically translate into big production value and a small budget doesn't necessarily limit creativity or innovation.
In fact, some of the best performances came from producers who had to overcome significant financial limitations, requiring that they focused on the things that truly matter.
A great story, brought to life by believable characters who are able to connect with their audience is priceless.
The City of LA is mired in a budget crisis that is positioned as an excuse for mediocrity and as the justification for a reduction in the delivery of services.
It's completely unacceptable to have that conversation without first establishing priorities and committing to the fundamentals.
Now, more than ever is the time to connect with the people of LA, not alienate them, and to focus on creative solutions that resonate.
City Hall would do well to get in touch with LA's story, focusing on what's important and bringing it to life with character and conviction, embracing the critics, connecting with the audience and delivering a performance worthy of a Great City.
(Stephen Box writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net)