No Exit for Theater Arts
Thursday, September 6, 2007
THERE IS NEVER A SAFETY ZONE for the theater arts. No matter if its a young thespian playing a zebra in front of an admiring audience of friends and relatives in a stage production at The Wilson Children’s Theatre in Salinas or a widely-lauded and experienced Stephen Moorer speaking the familiar lines of Macbeth on a naked stage within touching distance of his audience in the Circle Theatre in Carmel: The stage is no place for sissies. I was reminded of that when I spoke with Moorer, in his daytime role as founder/artistic director of PacRep, now celebrating its 24th season producing “bold and daring interpretations of the great plays from the world stage.”
“Doing risk-taking productions becomes harder as the years go by,” he says. “There’s resistance to a new play by both audiences and critics. ‘I just want to be entertained’ is something I hear a lot.”
I understand. I know that edgy plays often lose money – but because PacRep is so good, I blamed them for (but thoroughly enjoyed) a year of Buddy Holly and High School Musical and La Cage aux Folles and Twist and Shout...without having experienced their Timon of Athens or Talking to Terrorists that they offered earlier – before I came to Monterey. “We try to open the repertory beyond what people are familiar with. We struggle with it – the mission to fill the seat, or to mount a fully-rounded season.
“Theater is the one art form that speaks to us in our own language...for that reason it can be the most controversial, because issues can be addressed in the theater in ways no other artform can. The actor “holds a mirror up to nature,” says Moorer, and audiences seeing themselves can sometimes be offended.
I asked if Buddy Holly and Twist and Shout were paying for the riskier plays. “Yes, but we aren’t just going to do musicals because they make more money,” Moorer says. “We’re a regional theater and we look for unmet needs. There was a growing need – and we created productions to fill it – for productions suitable for families and children. Our annual family musicals at Forest Theater addressed this, and this year’s Earthsapoppin! with Aliens became the largest production ever in Carmel, with an audience of over 10,000 at the Forest Theater. It began by filling an obvious need and ended being our largest income-producer.”
Moorer’s observations were confirmed by John Salover of Western Stage. This company is a powerful creative force housed within the Theater Arts Department of Salinas’ Hartnell College. “There’s a wide range of risk in theater: in subject matter, in style, or the way a story is told, unfamiliarity with the play or playwright,” Salover says. “In putting together a season, I don’t just want to choose from columns A, B and C: one feel-good comedy, one tried-and-true chestnut, a recent hit. A season first has to be right for the company.
“We’re a training facility for the theater arts, engendering excellence and professionalism; what brings our professional crew back, the designers, experienced actors, directors, technicians...is to be able to practice their craft at the same time as having the excitement of working with and being supportive of emerging talent.” The company has produced some unforgettable theater in the process. To court new audiences that might be reluctant to try a college-based theater company, Western Stage brings some of their productions to Sunset Theater every year, including this year’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, a Broadway musical famed for being a “theater date.”
With youth theater abounding thanks to PacRep’s School of Dramatic Arts, Staff Players Repertory Company’s Children’s Experimental Theater, Ariel Theater’s ongoing efforts in Salinas’ Wilson Theater as well as in-school and recreational programs, it’s clear that there are plenty of opportunities for aspiring actors to learn, and if they’re good, to perform here.
UP NEXTOur writers have discovered a great arts season on its way, but also many obstacles that make this county, with its longstanding reputation as a center for the arts, a difficult place for artists to survive. Next week, after months of exchanging ideas and collaboration, the Arts Council of Monterey County unveils a plan that addresses many of these issues. Now that’s what we’re talking about.