Monday, March 30, 2009

The Reponse: The Post Show Round Table

My disillusionment is pervasive...

The Post from last week, "The Post Show Round Table" has provoked some dialogue, which is all I hope for with this blog.

We had a nice little bump from rising theater blogger Dennis Baker on his site. Dennis was the friend that clued me into Mike Daisey in the first place.

Scott Walters picked up on the post, I'm guessing from DB and he posted his response which I post below. It's a response to my response.

Then someone from Articles About Everything re-posted it on their website. If you don't want to do the clicky clicky deal on the links, I'll repost the text for you, Lazy Bone Jones. (But, please, do the clicky clicky, we all need the clicks, and these folks have some good thoughts in their noggins).

"As has been the case for the past two years, Mike Daisey continues to provoke long-overdue reflection and questioning on the part of artists. Theatre artists have a single kneejerk response to every problem: give us more money. Or, in lieu of that, the other knee jerks “we need better marketing.” When i reality, we need to do a Cartesian rethinking of the whole thing from the ground up. Peter Brook gave us a good starting point with the first lines of The Empty Space: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” Three elements: a place, an actor, and an audience. What Brook fails to mention is the relationship between the three, which is what we need to be doing right now. I would argue that the connection needs to be ongoing, committed, and interactive. As Wendell Berry says in an interview in Conversations with Wendell Berry, “”I think art comes about in answer to a need. At least, mine does. The community needs to talk about itself, needs to remember itself. It needs to recall significant things that have happened, and to mull them over and figure out what the significance is.” In this case, “itself” embraces the three points of Brook’s triangle: place, artist, audience. It is a three-way conversation that takes place over time. Berry sees the artist not as “an isolated, preeminent genius who materializes ideas from thin air, but as a person who has been in a community a long time, has been attentive to its voices…and who is prepared to pass on what has been heard. There are two things the artist must do: pass on all this is involved — the art, the memory, the knowledge. And take responsibility for his or her own work — that is the reason the work is signed, and that should be the only reason.” Responsibility, not credit; humility, not self-aggrandizement. Mick Montgomery made this realization, and it made him hang his head. That is the first step. The next step is to raise your head, look around, and start listening to the people around you."

Here is what I glean from this... and I may be way off base... but it's my blog so... here goes.

We're the artists. We're making the theater. If the theater is broken. It's our job to fix it. New models have to be introduced, they have to be born into this world. No government, no Artistic Director, No Donor is going to fix the problem, the hole, we have dug for ourselves. We let this happen. So, I guess we have the ability to take back the control.

I'm not a theater tycoon. I'm not lucky like Jeremy Piven, where I can throw away opportunites to walk along the great white way. I've performed for audiences of thousands and audiences of 2. My theater career has always been more about 'doing the work' and less about the big pay check. (Although, I'm not averse to big paychecks).

However, now that I can see my ability to 'do the work' is in jeopardy, I am thankful that more and more voices like Mike Daisey's, and Dennis Baker, and the folks at "Articles About Everything" are talking about this. I guess we need to stop talking and stop doing or it's just going to get worse.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Post Show Round Table

I almost titled this post, "My Disillusionment".

You'll understand if you read on. If you have been paying attention, you know I went to see Mike Daisey on Friday. (Read Me and Mike Daisey Part 2). What I didn't tell you in that post was what happened afterwards. When I took my seat for the show one of the ushers addressed the crowd and informed us that a special round table discussion, hosted by Daisey, would take place following the show. The topic? The state of theater in Los Angeles. The participants? 10 illuminaries in Los Angeles Theater and anyone else who wanted to stay. I wish, I could tell you I paid really close attention to the names, but I didn't. Suffice to say, reps from Center Theater Group, Odyssey, Cornerstone, were on the stage as well as a critic from the L.A. Weekly and someone representing the LA Stage Alliance. These were some key figures in the Landscape of Los Angeles theater. Also, that night in attendence in the audience were some critics I recognized as well as some theater producers I knew. It was a pretty good cross section of personalities from our theater world.

A Little perspective before I write on... Los Angeles is a really unique 'theater town' in that despite having the largest concentration of actors in the United States, it's probably the fourth or fifth town on the list when it comes to Theater. New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. have more successful and thriving theater communities with better developed audiences. Seattle, San Fransciso, Miami also routinely juxtapose L.A. for being true 'theater towns'. Our theater is divided into primarily two categories, super huge institutional and corportized theaters, or... really small ma and pa shops relegated to self described theater districts around town (i.e. NoHo, Santa Monica Blvd in Hollywood, Culver City??). Mid Level - regional houses are the rarity. The Colony and the Falcon being two that stand out. So, the pickings for making a living doing theater in this town is slim to none. Theater, culturally, for the actor in Los Angeles, is something to do to keep up your chops or challenge yourself artistically. It's something to do, when you're not doing anything in front of a camera. No one comes to Los Angeles as an actor to do theater. There just isn't enough money to be made here in it. We even have a 'showcase' clause in the equity contract that allows union actors to play for small houses of 99 seats our less. The idea of a sustained resident ensemble is rarely ever practiced, when you compare it to the over 100 plus 'companies in town' that are membership / dues driven. Yes, that's actors paying to play on stage. You throw in the wide real estate gaps in town, under developed audience and the incredible diverse and distinct cultures in the South and Eastern Regions of L.A. and you have a recipe for tremondous untapped potential that continues to remain... untapped.

Many years ago, I was asked to run for a position as Producing Director for a company in town called the Actors Co-Op. It was a company with two 99 seat equity waiver theaters. It was supported by an institution and further subsidized by membership dues. My dream was to try and figure out how to transistion the Co-Op into a company that paid a fair and competetive wage to the actors. I could only manage this, by coming to a special agreement with Equity on wages, having longer runs, and expanding 50% of the budget to education. This would have come at the cost of completely shifting the culture of the company from what it had been for almost 11 years. I realized that my dream of creating a theater that supported the community through education and entertainment, while supporting artists through fair wages was just that... it was a dream. So, I pushed my idea of education, but ultimately the job went to someone who was interested in maintaining status quo.

Thus this is the problem with theater in Los Angeles. It needs to change today, but no one wants to give up what is here now, despite how broken the model is.

The idea of a theater servicing the community through education and entertainment is the basis of what I feel is the regional theater model. A theater crops up in a town and locally invests in the citizens. The theater holds classes for youth and adults, while putting up shows. The education allows for grant money to be obtained, while also acting as an incredible marketing tool to children and their parents. Eventually the class transition to touring education shows and in house children's theater productions. This is how I feel you do theater right. The main stage provides the large adult oriented entertainment. The education provides the developed audience of subsribers. The last ingredient is heavy volunteer efforts from the local community to be ushers and ticket takers.

In Los Angeles, there are maybe three houses trying to do this model. They are succeeding. Everything else is not. And it's these houses, that constantly complain about not having enough money, not having enough press, and not having enough audience. Guess what, these were the 10 people sitting on the stage Friday night with Mike Daisey (with the exception of Cornerstone). I listened to someone from the Odyssey say the words that spell the down fall of all theaters in this country... "I don't want to do Children's Theater, I want to do the Art I want to do."

My message to those folks running theater in this town is... "Guess what? That's not your job." The job of the theater is to support it's audience and community, not exist soley for the purpose of indulging the creative proclivities of the artists entrusted with running the stage. Artistcally, I may want to do a season filled with "True West" and "End Game" and the like, where I could star in or direct them all, but that's not my job as the steward of the theater. My job is to embrace my community for who they are, and then go from there. I'm not saying this is soley doing Children's Theater, but it's about engaging your audience where they are at, not asking the audience to engage you where you are at. Theater is about people, audiences and artists sharing things together. Theater is not about a building or a 'great space' or subscriptions. The theater is the product of the people coming to it, not the other way around. We don't understand that here in Los Angeles.

We have an entity like Center Theater Group that has more money than it knows what to do with, and sucks all the focus of the media, so that it's hard for a regional theater to grow in an area like say, Culver City (one of the few towns in L.A. perfect for a regional theater model). It's like a great Black Hole sucking all the resources into it. Yet, if asked, who is your audience, I doubt the marketing team could tell you. It's because they pull everyone's audience into a mixed grab bag that is just enough to keep their subscriptions up and attract out of town productions to their stages.

I found it ironic that Mike Daisey railed against theaters trying to 'get more money' to solve all their problems with paying artists in his piece, and then comedically, 10 minutes after the show when he asked his panel, what would you need to make big changes to the theater culture in L.A. the first answer out of someone's mouth was... "We need more money."

I sat in my chair and hung my head. Did they not listen to the show?

It's not the money that is the issue. It's our model. Maybe theater needs to be less capitalized and more socialized. Maybe the City should figure out how to support the Theater Arts in L.A. like they support the visual arts. Maybe we do need $5 dollar theater Wednesdays. Maybe we need A Theater Alliance that truly correlates resources and marketing stragies. We have a city with a School District crying out for subsidized arts education, yet no one is there to help that process along. And here I sit asking myself, "What the Fuck is everyone doing? Why doesn't anyone understand how to make this work?" How come people in Portland or San Diego get it, but the place I live, where some of the most talented people in the world are living, can't figure it out?

Los Angeles Theater is the great disconnect. The Theater Community fails to understand the audience, and thus it fails to understand itself. Everyone is just scrambling for crumbs, no one is building relationships with each other through the art. The solutions are so simple. That's probably why I'm so frustrated.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Me and Mike Daisey (Part 2)

Friday night I made the three block walk to the Kirk Douglas. The K.D. is one of the theaters in the Center Theater Group cadre, which if you didn't know is the collection of big profitable equity theaters in Los Angeles. The wife and I walked into the incredibly polished lobby of the K.D. and I was blown away by how many folks were waiting for the doors to open. That is not a knock against Mike Daisey. I know he's very popular, and the show "How Theater Failed America" is an incredibly important work of theater. However, I was surprised because it's been a while since I have seen an audience buzzed like this audience for a performance.

I shouldn't have been shocked at the buzz, since every town that has seen this show goes completely bonkers after Daisey rolls in with his brash and bigger than life indictments of the state of theater in America, and how those who control theater in this country are in essence ruining it and dismantling it before our very eyes. None the less, you may ask yourself, well, what is this show about? Why is it so important?

I'll let Mike Summarize the thesis of the show in his own words, "The principal argument is that the theatrical establishment in America has lost sight of the values that led to the establishment of regional theaters, and in its place are institutions that value buildings over artists, isolation over engagement and corporate growth over artistic development. On top and in part because of this is a shrinking and aging audience base, which has led to an art form in contraction, with less and less audience every year. We pay artists and workers starvation wages and make it impossible for a national theater to take root here, while at the same time engaging in orgies of building construction that defy logic or sense. We have forgotten that the play's the thing — the show attempts to illustrate that with stories from my years working in theaters across the country, and tries to shake us from our slumber. "

So, you may be saying to yourself, "Wow, Mick, this sounds like a real barn burner of a good time," sacrasm dripping from your tongue. Well, dear reader, it's all in the delivery. Daisey incorporates personal and intimate musings and stories from his own life into the thesis narrative in order to shape and illuminate the point to it's highest impact. Whether it be his raucous and hilarious tale of doing 'garage theater' in the late 90's Seattle, or his truly personal and tragic discussion about teaching high school theater in Western Maine, each discussion high lights each bit of the overall message. And that message is clear, it's getting really hard to make theater happen in this country.

So, what was my reaction. Well, this post isn't a review of the show. It really can't be. If I were to critique the show for what it is, it would take away from what the show did to me personally as I sat in Row G Seat 10, clutching my jacket and sitting on the edge of my seat. At some point I stopped evaluating the lights, and the minimalistic set, and the performer, and I just let the message of it all wash over me.

I was inspired by the show. It really hit me, in my guts as I draw so many parallels in my own theater career to Mike Daisy's. I too started a fledgling theater company straight out of college. I too taught high school students theater while still in college. His stories about Seattle Garage Theater sound a lot like my days producing and performing theater in North Hollywood. The funny part was, I'm not alone. The audience around me were equally plugged in, equally enthralled, equally saddened and equally inspired by the piece. The fact that so many theater artists had gathered for this show to hear the message, did what no organization or conference in Los Angeles has been able to do, unite us all for one night. Unite us under a cloud of personal self reflection on what we are all doing as theater professionals and how it impacts our own personal theater world.

All of this from a performer who simple sits behind a desk, with a glass of water and a small collection of notes... a single poignant lamp stage left. Mike Daisey was for a night, our hero, our voice and yet at the same time, he was there to indict us to our crime. Allowing theater to fail America, an ultimately, fail us all. This show hangs heavy on me. Now I have to figure out what I should do about that.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Follow Me on Twitter!

Hey are you on Twitter? I know that's probably an annoying question. I have a friend who is completely 100% averse to all online socializing and social networks. So, when this person is asked, "Hey are you on Facebook?" or "Hey are you on MySpace?".... they usually roll their eyes and launch into a 15 minute lecture on safety, security, 'actual human contact'... it's as bad as listening to vegetarians proselytize to meat eaters.

However, if you're reading this, I bet you're not one of the S.N.A.'s (Social Network Averters) and you actually engage in some online socializing. By now you've noticed our little Twitter Feed in the upper left hand side of the page. Now, I am not new to Twitter. While it is now getting a huge bump in terms of users, I've had my account for about two years. I try to tweet or twit or whatever you want to call it... daily. If you want to follow me on Twitter, then go over to and follow me. Message me afterwards to let me know you are following me, and I will probably add you to my list of people I am following. Social Network Loop... complete!

Oh, and for the fun of it... Steven Colbert decided to coin a new term for posting updates on twitter that is fairly original, but some people might have a problem with it. Check it out for yourself by going here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Me and Mike Daisey

I am happy to report that Los Angeles has seen the arrival of Mr. Mike Daisey in Los Angeles. I was alerted to the upcoming run of "How Theater Failed America" by my good friend, Mr. Dennis Baker of I went to the link to happily discover that Mr. Daisey will be performing at the Kirk Douglas Theater a mere stone's throw from the expansive Montgomery Estates. Theater has become a luxury in the Montgomery household as of late. This is not just due to the enconomy, but mostly due to the arrival of my Son eight months ago. So, I shall be dining at our favorite Ford's Filling Station and then catching the show. I shall post about the experience after the weekend.

Friday, March 13, 2009

SAG vs AMPTP: The Elephant Discussion

John "Working Class Actor" (love that term) has put out a video on YouTube, that he hopes will call attention to some of the issues that SAG actors need to be aware of when examining what the AFTRA contract allows AFTRA members to do... which is work on non-union webisodes. John is basically sounding the alarm, that a massive influx on webisodic productions have stormed the casting sheets since the AFTRA deal was signed, and many actors in the Union are working these 'webisodes'. He feels this is terrible for the Unions, because it's undermining the wage scale for middle class actors. But don't take my word for it, take his:

Okay, so John makes a valid point, but it's somewhat unfortunately uninformed. He clearly doesn't understand the web content business as it stands today. He doesn't understand how you make money on the web, and that the money to be made is so small it barely can cover production costs. A lot of actors think that "New Media" is this gold mine where money is just churning out right and left from sites like Hulu or YouTube. They think there is the same money on the web as their is in traditional broadcast, and I have news for you... it's far from the same. We'll get to that later. What John's point of view demonstrates is an dangerous short sightedness actors have when it comes to their pay check. That is, they can only see what's on their paycheck and not the bigger industry picture, or more importantly how the whole industry makes money.

David Lawrence does a good job below explaining that you can't pay union scale when you don't have any money to even pay yourself. As a producer of Webisodic content, I can attest, there's no money in this... but I'll save that for later. However, David does a great job explaining this very point, as well as encapsulating the state of the current rise in internet content and how how 'profitable' it all is.

What David points out that John fails to realize is that the webisodic content that has surged on the casting sites is 'additional' opportunities that exist on top of what the Studios and Networks are already doing... that's not cutting into your pay or your market, it's adding to it. And if these 'independent' souls can even pay an actor $100.00 a day, God Bless them. Here's Jeff a webisodic producer discussing what it's like producing web content, and how much 'money' there is in it.

So, now you have an idea of how much "Money" is out there to be made. It's not a whole lot.

However, John is also uninformed from the stand point of what is made from Web Content vs Traditional Broadcast Television. That is not a small difference, it's a huge difference. What actors in the Unions have to realize is that if they do not give the internet market time to grow, time to find an audience so that advertisers will buy more expensive shares of ad space... this market will never develop into the full fledged money machine it can be. I'm not really good with Math, but David Lawrence is... and he was kind enough to put out another video explaining this.

If you look at what the Unions are 'fighting' for it seems ridiculous. You can't ask for scale, when the revenue the project generates doesn't even make money to pay scale. If you force the studios and networks to do this, guess what? They'll stop making content for the web, and that potential revenue for actors in the Unions will dry up.

John from the first video makes this statement, "If we give it away now, we'll never get it back. This industry has never given us back what we have freely given away." I would say to John that at this point, you have nothing to give away. Your Union has no jurisdiction over independently produced web content, nor does any of your bi-laws discuss web content. It's fair game for any actor to self produce or participate in something like this, if they feel it will benefit them. So, since you don't have jurisdiction now, how can you 'give it away'? You can't plain and simple.

What is really happening today is that all this mis-information out there, is stalling a process that is actually legitimately taking money out of actors pockets. Actors have lost much more money at this point than they could have hoped to have gained, and it will never be made back. As I have said many times on this blog, the time for pig-headedness is over.

Movie Review: The Watchmen

I don't do a whole lot of these, but here we go... movie review time.

Director Zack Snyder thrilled audiences with a big screen brawn and blood filled adaptation of Frank Millers '300' in 2006. The money maker netted ye' ole Brothers Warner a fat wad of cash and Mr. Snyder carte blanche to direct whatever he wanted to direct next. Snyder quickly pegged another WB / DC property to be his next Graphic Novel Screen Adaptation. The Novel in question quickly lit up all the Fanboys across the Globe, when it was confirmed Snyder would take on the Holy Grail of Comic Book Literature, Alan Moore's "The Watchmen".

While Moore would do his usual poo pooing of the project as he has done to other screen adaptations of his work, Snyder still decided to do a painstakingly accurate portrayal of the Spawling U.S. Historical Revisionist tale of the Cold War climate in the mid-1980's. As production continued to grind on and character stills, screen shots, and a trailer were leaked to the public folks were wondering if THE WATCHMEN would prove to be another huge success.

The story isn't simple. The main timeline picks up in 1985 in a world where Richard Nixon has been elected to a 4th term as U.S. president and hostilities with the Russians are at an all time high. The U.S. has kept the edge in this conflict due to the fact we have the only bonefied Super Hero on our side, Dr. Manhatten. Manhatten, played by Bill Cudrup, is basically a nuclear reactor that can bend space, time and matter to his will. A cadre of Super Heros surround him and the team is called, The Watchmen. This is the second major U.S. Superhero team after the 1950's version known as "The Minute Men". However, the Watchmen were disbanded years before our story picks up, and we get to see the fractured personal relationships between the team mates, as they wrestle to uncover who recently killed one of their own, The Commedian. The ensuing story gives the audience, Love, Betrayal, Super Hero Fights, Flash Backs, Nudity, Sex, Abstract Inner Monologues that pontificate on the relevance of the human struggle, and more nudity.

I'm here to tell you, that this is a very solid movie, with an obviously great story behind it. The story is to be honest, brilliant. The adaptation of the text is quite good. The visuals are stunning. The movie however will not be as 'successful' as '300', and I think Snyder squandered his good credit a bit here in Hollywood.

This is a case of an artists, Snyder, taking the huge risk and cashing in new found industry cred to do what is essentially an ART HOUSE narrative wrapped in a Comic Book Torilla. It looks like a semi-dark fantastic comic book adventure if you stare hard enough at the posters, but once you sit down, you're treating to Moore's vision of a sprawling existential examination of how humanity reacts under the pretense of annihilation. As I watched it, I couldn't help but stare at all the TEENS that had suckered their way into the theater hoping for a pre-summer Hero flick like last summer' Iron Man, only to sit through a really complicated Domestic Drama / Internationl History lesson. This is why so many people are panning this film. They feel like they've been sold a bill of goods by the studio. They marketing an action flick and what they delivered is something that is part mystery, part head spinner, part dysfunctional romance, part independent film. It's like buying a butter finger, unwrapping the package and finding and Alan Wrench. Sure, you can always use an Alan Wrench, but you wanted candy.

Synder's execution is fine here visually. His research and creativity in adapation is quite solid. He needs to work getting better performances out of his actors. He could have also cut some things out of the final product. However, in the end I found this movie to be somewhat important. While I maybe stretching and observation, I couldn't help but equate the doom and gloom outlook potrayed in the film's version of the 1985 Cold War Nuclear Stand off, with our own 2009 Global Economic Disaster. It was interesting to see how the media in that world did the same panick button slapping as our own true to life media is doing with our current money crisis. In the end everything worked out fine in 1985, and we were facing Global Nuclear Armegeddon. It's really a testament to what Alan Moore created when he wrote these books over twenty years ago. The film made me re-consider how brilliant that man is. I commend Synder for taking a risk artistically here. I don't think it will help his career, because I don't think the Watchmen, with a bigger budget and more marketing, will make the same cash 300 did. We'll see what he can do with his next project.

What the Hell Happpened?

I know... I apologize... I forgot how to write. I forgot how to blog, but this is what happens when I have to plan a shoot for The NoHo Show, and I get sick, but I'm back and hopefully you will enjoy the posts.