In a 2018 survey of Southern California—where the second-largest number of DG members reside—I found something interesting: The majority of playwrights in the region (70%) have been produced principally (and sometimes only) on intimate stages (99-seats and under). Regional theatres, for most writers, remain an aspiration, not a reality.
That’s why the Center Theatre Group’s “Block Party: Celebrating Los Angeles Theatre at the Kirk Douglas Theatre” represents a thrilling opportunity for playwrights to be seen on a regional stage.
For Block Party, now in its third year, CTG chooses three local intimate productions to remount, fully funding, staging and marketing each production as part of a high-spirited springtime “mini season.” All artists are paid on CTG contracts, but the shows remain entirely faithful to the original run.
For a playwright, a Block Party boost means greater visibility, which can spur further productions and the play’s publication.
This year, Block Party (running March 7 – April 28, 2019) will remount Theatre of NOTE’s For The Love Of (or, the roller derby play), by Gina Femia; Skylight Theatre Company’s Rotterdam, by Jon Brittain; and Antaeus Theatre Company’s Native Son, adapted by Nambi E. Kelley from the novel by Richard Wright. Each production receives a two-week run with twelve performances.
“Our unofficial motto for Block Party has always been ‘a rising tide lifts all boats,’” said Lindsay Allbaugh, associate producer at CTG, who, in imagining the program, aimed to build on CTG’s history of partnering with local 99-seat theatre companies.
“We see so many plays throughout the season and are always incredibly impressed with what our colleagues are producing,” said Allbaugh. “We wanted to introduce that work to our audiences with a hope that they would continue to see work at these Block Party companies. We believe that cultivating an adventurous theatre-going audience is good for all of us. Some of the very best talent L.A. has to offer is working at intimate theatres – actors, directors, playwrights, designers, stage managers and producers: We wanted another way to get to know these theatre-makers with the hope that we would eventually build a pipeline for those artists to work on a larger stage.”
(In fact, I was associate producer, dramaturg and trans adviser on the LA production of Rotterdam, and producer of its post-show Beyond Conversation series. I was honored and proud to be a part of this year’s Block Party team.)
Being a part of Block Party both benefits a writer’s career and gives a play greater legs, said Stephen Sachs, whose adaptation of Claudia Rankine’s brilliant book of prose poetry, Citizen: An American Lyric – originally produced at the Fountain Theatre – was part of Block Party’s inaugural offering in 2017.
“It was thrilling and deeply affirming,” said Sachs, to see the play performed on the larger Kirk Douglas stage.
“The play worked fabulously at our intimate 80-seat Fountain Theatre. Bigger doesn’t always mean better,” said Sachs, who is the Fountain’s co-artistic director. “But seeing it on that larger stage, with all the design elements and resources that CTG could provide, was eye-opening. I saw the play I imagined in my mind. And with that came the affirmation: Yes, this play can live in both theatres, the intimate and the mid-sized, and be equally powerful and effective.”
At the heart of CTG’s Block Party is a deep love for and appreciation of intimate theatre. (Allbaugh herself was co-artistic director of the Elephant Theatre for more than a decade before joining CTG.)
“Block Party has given us another opportunity to program the work of lesser known writers/artists in a way that is really exciting,” said Allbaugh. “We are always reading new work and investing in new plays through our commissions and partnerships, but this is one more avenue to actually produce the work. And we often have our eyes on a playwright that comes to us through Block Party,” she said. “Some incredibly powerful and important work is being done on L.A.’s 99-seat stages. We believe that Los Angeles is a theatre town. This is one of the ways we can highlight that point and keep sharing our playground.”