Nobody comes to LA to make it in theatre. That’s what New York is for.
Here it’s all about the camera, the loving eye that will hopefully propel you to the small and big screens, adored by millions and canonized in popular culture. The problem with this is that work in front of the eye is few and far between.
What do a whole bunch of out of work actors do when they have too much time on their hands? Some make it onto TMZ. Others decide to stage a production. And here is where you get this very strange world that bubbles beneath the surface of the everyday here in LA.
A random tax law means that if you have less than 99 seats in your theatre, you get special tax breaks. Never one to miss a loophole, rich Angelinos dump all kinds of cash into spaces and write it off as a loss on taxes. As such, there are a gabillion theatres all over this town.
So actors with all this time and all this space, naturally start pulling together shows. Not that you would know, because no one you know goes to them.
No one in LA goes to the theatre. Seriously. No one. Unless your roommate is in it and he came to that “Hamlet in a Disco” disaster you were in so you owe him.
Case in point, August Osage County was a production on in New York when I was there. You could not get a ticket for love or money. It was sold out. The rush line was sold out. Spaces on the pavement by the ticket office were sold out. Guns to hold up people who had tickets were all sold out.
Then the original cast come to stage it in LA at the Disney Hall (a gorgeous theatre in downtown) where you could get half-price tickets and watch it in a half-full theatre with half-dressed people. Yay, LA.
But I’m from Sydney and I grew up with great theatre so you live in hope. I keep going back despite the fact that I’ve seen not a lot to write home about. One thing that I have always wanted to see live on stage is a David Mamet production, and lo and behold, some group of out of work actors are staging Glengarry Glen Ross, my favorite.
Even the ad was totally LA. The play title was written small underneath a gigantic INCREDIBLE CAST. That should pack them in.
So I front up at the theatre with a friend. I bought two tickets and unlike a movie, where a friend would happily pay you back, it’s almost embarrassing to ask for them to shell out hard earned dollars, “for a …play?!”
The theatre is a converted store house, which is not as cool as it sounds. It’s small and it smells. And the seats must be out of a convent they’re so uncomfortable. They have spent a whole buck fifty on the set and my mate, who is a set designer (of movies, thank you) has no end of quips about it. Surprisingly though, the place is packed, all 47 seats of it. This must be the cast of Hamlet Disco on payback.
But when I look around the room, I’m surprised to see that I’m at a mini Emmys. There are a bunch of actors I’ve seen in films and TV shows littered around. Mostly character people, but you could get a couple of indie casts and change out of the gathered throng.
Then as the lights come down, a couple charge into the theatre late. The woman points out the two free seats in front of us and says, “Tom, there’s two here.” And down sits Tom Hanks. And his wife Rita Wilson. This silences me and my friend.
We look at each other.
We look at each other some more.
We turn back and watch the play. Over Tom’s curly locks. That are just a foot away. I hope I’m not breathing too hard. Could I take that hair off his jacket shoulder? Why do I think these things?
As it happens the play is excellent. Mamet is hard to do and this cast pull it off brilliantly. As they should; like the ad promised, it is a stellar cast. I knew all their faces and none of their names, but when I see them on a screen, I always think, oooh I like this guy. It was that cast.
But every time there was a joke, I’d laugh only to hear Tom Hank’s laugh a foot away. This is weird to hear a sound that you only ever hear on films, right there. A celebrity laugh track. It’s distracting, yet awesome, yet fun.
The real giggles though come at intermission for the meeting of SAG, the Screen Actors Grouphug. Everyone knows everyone else, except us. We are the token non actors in the audience. All around us, the cast members of everything I’ve ever watched, whirled around in real life. Deadwood Sheriff chats with scientist in disaster films. CSI investigator raps away with crooked cop from the Shield. Desperate Housewife laughs at joke from Scrubs nurse. And everyone chats with Tom.
It was the most surreal cup of bad coffee I’ve ever had. I felt like I was at an audition but hadn’t learned my lines.
The play continued in superb form and got a well deserved ovation at the end. This was a good night at the theatre. Well worth the, ahem, $10 a ticket. Seriously. Less than a talking animal flick.
So for what it’s worth LA, get out there and see some stuff. Even if the show sucks, the intermission alone is worth the price of the ticket that your weird arty friend from Sydney paid for. I hear they’re doing a revival of Hamlet Disco.