Scenes from Above
Local theaters, local arts battle for audiences and relevance in a down economy.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Theater In this recessed economy – an environment where live theater is regarded as an intellectual luxury, where entertainment is converging with powerful technology to reach wider and more frugal audiences – theater companies are reassessing.
PacRep’s School of Dramatic Arts, Monterey County’s high schools, Monterey Peninsula College and Hartnell College are doing what they can to produce successive generations of theater talent, but cuts in primary school education are turning out kids unskilled in the theater arts.
“The result of this is very apparent in our auditions,” says Western Stage Artistic Program Director Melissa Chin Parker. As for aspiring local playwrights, the opportunities are daunting because it is riskier to try new talent and original works over marquee stuff from David Mamet or Neil Simon.
Ken Cusson, president of the Monterey County Theater Alliance, says theater companies are looking at smaller venues to do “good theater for less [money] because of fewer actors and smaller sets.”
With the bigger MPC Main Stage and PacRep’s Golden Bough both undergoing renovations, even stage real estate – much less grant money – is shrinking.
The Arts Alliance and National CineMedia have teamed up to broadcast, live by HD satellite, London productions of Shakespeare, from the reconstructed Globe Theatre, onto movie screens across the country. Ticket price? $15. PacRep’s upcoming Romeo and Juliet at the Outdoor Forest Theatre? $16-$35.
And though most of the local theater companies are part of the Monterey County Theatre Alliance, one theater figure reminds: “We are all in business. We are all in competition for the same resources, funding streams… local talent pool (and) titles that appeal to the same theater audiences and patrons.”
There are successes among the raining economic fallout: Annie, produced by PacRep at the Outdoor Forest Theater, is selling really well, and the new Carmel Bay Players are putting on their second production at Carl Cherry. But overall, the financial dark clouds haven’t cleared.
“We’ve all talked about this,” Cusson says, “and it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. We’re all trying to figure out where this is all going.”
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Art There is a certain schizophrenia in Monterey County’s art scene.
Carmel’s heralded tagline of “more art galleries per capita than any other U.S. town” touts numbers over, say, the less quantifiable subject of content.
“Mostly it’s traditional Monterey County art, like you’ll see in museums,” says Michael Duffy, artist, president of the trade association Artists Equity and director of the Monterey County Artists Studio Tour, taking place Sept. 24-25 at multiple venues throughout the Peninsula and Carmel Valley.
The type of art might be owing to the older age of many of Carmel’s patrons and working artists, but the county Theater Alliance’s Cusson also ascribes the wealth of pretty pictures in Carmel’s galleries to the “serenity and beauty of Monterey County.”
A youthful and diverse milieu once existed in affluent Carmel, in the early part of the century, via the displaced San Francisco artists of the Arts Colony. And it flashed again, albeit briefly, last year.
That’s where the schism between traditional and ultra-modern found hot relief in the fresh and vibrant Carmel Art & Film Festival, most notably in the appearance and hype of self-styled artist Mr. Brainwash, who came from the hurly-burly (and often illegal) street art scene in L.A. – a different universe, in terms of content and approach.
The Youth Arts Collective in Monterey, SOMOS Media in Salinas and Alternative Cafe in Seaside are all thriving due to big support systems and under-exploited youthful niches. But the forward-thinking fine art base gallery didn’t even survive a year, despite hip, fun shows, in the growing art bastion of Sand City.
World-renowned artist David Ligare, winner of the Arts Council for Monterey County’s 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award, has tried to bridge the divide between more classic forms of art and the ultra-modern. Ligare, a neo-classical painter, mentored and championed poor kids and their street art at places like the now-shuttered @risK Gallery in Salinas’ Chinatown. He headlined a show there and invited elite patrons from the Peninsula over; they mostly didn’t come, he told the Weekly last year.
Maybe geography played a role. Duffy says it’s been hard to wrangle Salinas, much less South County, into the Peninsula-heavy tour of 61 artist studios.
Especially when people are poorer, as in this recession, says Duffy, “art is one of the first things people drop.”
But Arts Council for Monterey County Executive Director Paulette Lynch, who is on the frontlines of local art, sees hope, pointing to arts allies like the Alisal Center for Performing Arts, the Community Foundation for Monterey County, Museum of Monterey, CSUMB and Creative Edge.
“Artists tend to be incredibly resilient,” she says. “They realize they are stronger and more interesting than anything that might befall them.”