The tired question “Is L.A. a theater town?” was quickly dismissed at a panel discussion hosted by the L.A. Times’ Culture Monster last week. (Of course it is.) The harder question was about theater actors in Los Angeles. After all, the conventional thinking goes, don’t West Coast theaters benefit from having a huge pool of local actors? “No,” came the blunt response from Michael Ritchie, artistic director for Center Theatre Group. “For the most part, they’re out here to act in television and film.”
There was a whiff of blaming the victim in Ritchie’s response. One local actress, Aria Noelle Curzon, attended the panel hoping to gain some insight into crossing over from television into theater. The actress has been active in movies and TV since she was 6, doing voice work in many of the Land Before Time cartoons, for instance. But she’s finding it hard to make inroads to L.A. theater.
“I was raised in Hollywood,” says Curzon, “but I have a lot of questions about how you get cast by local companies. I don’t see a lot of people I know getting roles. I have one friend who has done work in L.A. and on Broadway but that’s rare.”
Curzon thinks that some of the problems are logistical. Actors seeking work typically refer to “the breakdowns,” essential lists of upcoming opportunities that agents and managers receive. “Unless there’s a big national tour or something like that, you hardly ever see auditions for theater listed in the breakdowns,” Curzon asserts. Even worse, West Coast agents don’t always deal with theater, a point Pasadena Playhouse director Sheldon Epps conceded at the panel on Monday.
“Sometimes,” Curzon says, “you need a New York agent if you want to get a role in theater here.”
As in many other communities, the local theater world can seem insular to the outsider.
“Everyone is looking for experience, of course, and if you have Broadway experience,” Curzon says, “you are going to get looked at quicker than if you just have screen credits.”
The key for some actors seems to be taking control of their own destiny. Alix Angelis considers herself principally a movie actress and has credits in TV movies, including Momma’s Redemption, and the Hilary Duff vehicle, Beauty and the Briefcase. She developed her one-woman show, Rock in Her Pocket, solely to exercise her creative impulses. She has been able to develop it further thanks to the support of the Not Man Apart Physical Theatre Ensemble, a company where she is an associate administrator. “I’ve ended up doing [theater] because I love it,” says Angelis. “I aspire to be a film actress, but I can’t say no to theater.”
Angelis understands the problems some actors have trying to get seen by local theater companies. “The bigger companies want name actors,” she says, “and I think may people find it impossible to break in.” In her experience, however, many smaller companies are pretty open to hiring actors from movies or TV, as long as they aren’t just bucking for visibility. “Some actors,” she says, “create shows that are just showcases to invite casting directors to.”
Angelis cites the Hollywood Fringe festival as a force for changing the dynamic in the local theater scene. “There is a mindset that theater in LA is not worth seeing,” she says. “But the Fringe festival is bringing work that is totally creative to the forefront. It’s like a remedy to that mindset.”