by 99 Seats
So. I'm here. I'm alive. I'm coming around the bend on my 7th week in Los Angeles. It's been an interesting journey. I don't know if I've mentioned it, but I started a tumblr about it, from a more personal perspective here. It's mostly pictures and quick hits and "L.A. is like this, NYC is like that" kind of stuff. Me processing suddenly living somewhere else.
But I haven't forgotten about you all. I do plan to tell you about theatre out here...once I figure it out myself. I'm seeing my first show here in L.A. this Friday. One thing I've noticed is that there is a LOT of theatre. Or at least a lot of theatres. Seriously. The rap that L.A. gets is that it's 27 suburbs in search of a city. Well, each of those suburbs has one or two theatres in it. There are a few clusters of theatres, but it seems like on every main drag, there's a theatre or two. I can not vouch for the quality. But then again, I can't vouch for the quality of every small theatre in New York. Once I get more into it, I'll let you all know.
Theatre, however, is a sideshow in this town and everyone acknowledges it. It lives in the shadow of the film/TV industry. Actually, right now, it seems like most everything out here lives in the shadow of the TV industry. I've talked with a lot of people since coming out here, some are friends I haven't seen in a while, some were recommended by friends and colleagues. Nearly all are looking at or currently working in TV. It's become the 500-pound gorilla out here. As others have noted, we seem to be in a golden age for television. Particularly driven by the very high quality in writing. Plus the economics for a young writer are in television's favor. For movies, right now, there are really two bandwidths: cheap movies and big budget movies. When you add in the loss of control of your story, TV is way more attractive.
Now, I know that a large segment of the readers of this blog are, shall we say, less interested in television. (At least I assume they still read this blog.) I've never been among them (obviously). But there's an interesting artifact about the way theatre people view television. Several people I've met with have asked what shows I like. I can get through that okay, despite being vaguely sheepish about the shows I watch religiously: Fringe, Happy Endings, Community, Justified are all at the top of my list. Yes, yes, I know, I know, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, etc. I haven't gotten to those yet. I will. I'm good with the shows I like. Then I was asked a question that stumped me: Why?
That should be easy. I'm a smart, thoughtful person. I'm also an artist, so I'm aware of the conscious and subconscious intentions of artists. Television may be part commerce, but it's also art, created by artists. It does something. It's about something. And if I'm making sure I'm home to watch it, even in the era of DVR, if I'm making new friends watch it, the way I press Zadie Smith's White Teeth into their hands, it's saying something to me. But we're so used to thinking about television as entertainment, as being shallow, that, at first blush, when I'm asked, I get ready to answer in terms of craft, style, technique. Not in terms of the deeper point of art.
As I pursue this "new" line of work (it's still dramatic writing, but of a very different order), I'm realizing that I have to think more deeply about the work I'm doing and why. What are the stories I want to tell and why. Sometimes, as a playwright, we can fudge some of that. We can talk in big ways, use our over-educated minds to explain things away and keep the raw emotions at bay. Out here, for all of the crap, all of the commerce, I'm looking at digging deeper. But, you know, with jokes.