SUNDAY FEATURE: A Community of Cars

“If the audience does not ‘get’ the work, it is just as much the fault of the artist, IF NOT MORE.”- Anis Mojgani

LA Weekly’s theatre editor and critic Steven Leigh Morris wrote an interesting—if a tad bit melodramatic—article last week for the magazine’s cover story. It’s called “Why Theater Matters,” and if you get beyond Morris’s initial mish-mash of personal, historical, and statistical references, you find that there is a sincere, thoughtful point he’s trying to make: that Los Angeles can become an economically and artistically thriving theatre town if we focus on what we do well already—produce new work by new writers—and obtain the active support from both government and private donors.

I too believe in the promotion of more experimental and personal theatre, as opposed to the tired revivals from New York-based playwrights. And I too believe that both private and public funding, if kept in check, would do a great service to a struggling community. Yet I see a fundamental flaw in Morris’s thinking (for a far more extensive and intelligent retort to Morris’s arguments, check out the two-part blog from my friend, Andrew Moore, who’s also President of the local theatre company, Theatre Unleashed).

He forgets about the artist’s relationship to the audience—not just the producer.

A good artist/audience relationship can take on two forms. One is literal, meaning you know someone in the play, you’re friends with the writer, or you’re a part of the theatre company (for the record, this is the reason the UCB Theatre has lines around the block on Saturday night). The second form is less tangible, but just as vital, and works for the same reason a literal relationship works; because you care about the performance. And the only way to truly care about a piece of theatre is to empathize with it—to see where it’s coming from, and relate.

Last week, for instance, I had the privilege to see a local show that took on both forms of this artist/audience relationship—the literal and the empathetic—and the power of the relationship was reflected in its opening weekend numbers (full houses). It was the IAMA Fest 2010, which is an annual festival of one-act plays written, directed, designed, and performed by members of the IAMA Theatre community—and it runs until April 11th at the Working Stage Theatre in West Hollywood.

This year’s result is a wonderful collage of twenty-minute vignettes, interspersed with short video introductions, all which take place within this city’s limits, and involve some sort of automobile. There’s “Canyon,” written by Christian Durso: a somber, unnerving piece about two old friends, a truck, a canyon, and a particularly violent shared memory. After that is “Neighborhood Watch,” a delightful throwback to the screwball comedies the 1940’s and 50’s, written by Rick Marin and Ilene Rosenzweig. This one follows a yuppy pair of over-eager, Prius-posing neighborhood-watchers, and what happens when they get bored. “Penelope,” the third piece of the quatrain, is by far the best. It’s a long monologue from scribe Louise Munson, which takes the audience by the hand and leads them through the sexual and emotional exploits of a 20-something female, lost in LA, but mostly in her own head. The fourth and final one-act is a preview of the upcoming play, Accidental Blonde, the sixth installment of the “Seven Deadly Plays” from writer—and basic fuel of the company—Leslye Headland.

The scripts didn’t simply speak for themselves though; one of the strongest connection points between artist and audience—in almost any medium—is that of an actor and viewer. The reason for this is because acting is essentially a hyper-conscious form of life; the artist, at least superficially, is doing nothing that the audience doesn’t do themselves already. Thus, when an actress like Amy Rosoff, who plays the sole character in “Penelope,” stands in front of you, and spills her guts out onto the stage, allowing for only passing hints of her true self, it’s a form of confession. And when she was done, you care about her. You care for her. On the other side of the coin are those more physical, classical performers like Adam Shapiro and Laila Ayad, stars of “Neighborhood Watch.” With them our reality is heightened just far enough from ourselves that we can believe it, yet still laugh.

As far as the set was concerned, the running motif of the car in is no accident. To me, it’s a brilliant metaphor for local, LA theatre itself. Because theatre, like a car in Los Angeles, is a pretty necessary item. They both move us, yet we don’t move while we’re in them. They’re also intensely personal spaces, but still relatable to almost anyone. Also, theatre, like a car, needs fuel to run, but it helps fuel the economy of Los Angeles at the same time. And yes, there’s a future, more fuel efficient theater on the horizon, but for now, we have to deal with the one we have, broken lights, squeaky frames and all. Every day there’s a car crash, and yet we keep on driving. Why? For the same reason that places like IAMA and Theatre Unleashed keep pumping out great work. Because Los Angeles does have a community, an audience if you will. It’s just an audience of cars.

IAMA Fest 2010 runs until April 11th at the Working Stage Theatre. For more information, please visit www.iamatheate.com.

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