If you’re from a city like Chicago or New York or London, it’s easy to assume there’s no good theatre in LA, but that’s far from true! There are hundreds of professional productions each year, not to mention The Hollywood Fringe Festival and various one-act and solo festivals. Of course you are not here to do theatre, but there are some great reasons to get involved in and get connected with the theatre scene in LA.
Community and Connections
A friend of mine always says: Find your people! As actors living in this crazy town, it’s always nice to find a community that understands you, especially if you’ve moved here without first knowing anyone else who lives here. Joining a theatre company is a great way to find your people. Pay attention to the theatre company’s mission statement and seek out the ones that fit your aesthetic and mindset. Check out some shows and try to hang out at any of the theatre company functions to see what you think about the company members. I’ve been a long-time member of two theatre companies in town and I have to say that some of my closest and dearest friends here in LA are fellow theatre company members (including the one who says find your people).
In addition, theatre companies can also be great places for making industry connections. At one of the theatre companies where I belong, we have an ensemble member who is a series regular on a popular procedural. She has brought in members of the casting office to do workshops and fundraisers at the company. She has also submitted company member photos to the CDs and several actors have had co-star or one-day guest star roles on the show. At the other theatre where I belong, one of my fellow cast members was a good friend with a top film writer-director who came to see our show. After watching the show, the director brought in two of the cast members to audition for a major feature film.
Now, by no means am I saying that this happens all the time at every theatre, but these opportunities only happened because I was a member of these theatre companies. You’d be surprised how many noted actors, of varying ages, will tell you they got started in theatre and some of them doing theatre here in LA. Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right, Spotlight, The Avengers) and Tessa Thompson (Westworld, Dear White People, Creed) are two people who come immediately to mind.
A Free Acting Class
If you’ve been here for any length of time, you know that there can be long stretches between booking jobs. You need an outlet for your passion and a way to keep your skills sharp, but sometimes you just can’t afford an acting class. And even when you can, you may not want to be in a scene study class where you bring in the same piece to work on week after week.
Theatre is a great place for honing your craft. When you’re cast in a play, you get a chance to create a full character with a complete arc. You also have an opportunity to work with other actors, hopefully on your same level or better, and learn a lot from what they do and don’t do. Add to that a good director, and you’ll be learning invaluable skills and techniques that can only come from bringing a full play to life and that can be used in your film and television acting as well.
If you have been taking class or completed a theatre program, performing in a play is a great way to test the skills you paid all that money to learn. Rehearsals and performances are the perfect places for figuring out which tools you want to keep in your actor’s toolbox and which ones may not serve you.
How to Find a Good Company
While there is a lot of good theatre to see in LA, there’s also a lot of mediocre theatre. The same goes for joining a theatre company. So how do you find a worthwhile company that does great material and has a stellar group of folks as members? You can start with LA Stage Alliance (LASA).
LASA is a not-for-profit arts service organization that supports theatre in greater LA—it’s sort of the umbrella organization for all things theatre in Los Angeles. Most theatres in the city are members of this organization and as such, they make discount tickets available through LASA. When productions register their shows with LASA, they become eligible to be considered for Ovation Awards. The Ovation Awards are the only peer reviewed theatre awards in the country, meaning the nominees are selected by theatre professionals like actors, directors, stage managers, etc. (as opposed to award nominations made by critics or a league of theatres).
Why am I telling you this? Well, If you go to the LASA website and go to the Ovation Awards page, you should be able to find a list of the nominees and winners from the most recent awards. This is a great start for a list of theatres to consider joining!
To investigate further, go to the individual websites of the nominee companies and review their mission statements (as I mentioned above) to see if you find a company whose mission and aesthetic are of interest to you. You should also see what type of company it is: is it an ensemble company where only members can audition for productions, a company that requires an internship before you’re invited to join, or a company where you have to audition and be cast in a production first before you can be considered for membership? The website should also give you information on how to apply for membership, upcoming productions and auditions.
The Ovation Award nominee list is my shortcut way to finding a list of theatres. You can also check out theatre reviews in Backstage (the theatre newspaper) and on various theatre blogs and local news websites to start creating your own list. Don’t forget to ask around among your fellow actors who may belong to theatre companies and find out what they love and hate about the companies where they belong or have previously worked.
A heads up for folks unfamiliar to Los Angeles theatre companies: many respected theatre companies are dues paying companies, which seems to be peculiar to LA. However, with the abolition of the 99-seat theatre plan (which refers to the Actors Equity union plan for small theatre in Los Angeles), the structure of companies is in flux right now, so just make sure to ask questions about dues and or hours requirements before joining a company.
Auditioning for a Production
What if you don’t want to be bothered with joining a company and just want to be cast in a play? My go-to sources for finding theatre casting notices are Backstage and Actors Access. If you happen to be a member of Actors Equity, you can find Equity listings on their website.
These listing should give you all the basic casting info, as well as a loose outline of the rehearsal and performance schedule and the venue where the performances will be held. You’ll want to pay attention to that—sometimes if a production not associated with a particular theatre company, rehearsals and performances may be in different locations, which is something you’ll want to know ahead of time.
Do your research and check out the producers, director, theatre company or venue on line. If it’s not an established company or group of producers, try to make sure it’s not one of those shows where each company member is required to sell a certain amount of tickets.
You know the drill from there. Take a headshot and resume to the audition, show up early, and bring you’re A-game. Be aware that sometimes for the initial audition and usually for the callback, you may go in with another actor or group of actors for chemistry reads.
Once you’re cast, remember to treat it with the same professionalism you would a film or television booking, even if you’re doing it for little or no pay!
Will Doing a Play Interfere With My TV and Film Gigs?
I’m asked this question a lot. That depends on whether it’s a paid Equity show or non-Equity show.
If you’re working under a paid Equity contract, there are usually stipulations in the contract about when you can/cannot be absent because you have booked other paying work. The general rule is that you are given a fair amount of leeway during rehearsals, less leeway during tech rehearsals and almost no leeway during performances, unless you have worked something out with the producers and you have an understudy.
If you’re doing a non-Equity show, which most small theatre is here, they are fairly forgiving about missing rehearsals for auditions and paid gigs. If you are an actor who books a lot of film and television work, you should make it clear that you will need an understudy. Sometimes this may be asked on the initial audition form. If not, you may want to bring it up during the first table-read or in the first week of rehearsals.
The key is always communication. As soon as you know you’re on avail for a gig, let the appropriate person on the production team know. If you told them ahead of time that you book a lot, and they choose not to cover you with an understudy, that’s on them and they may just have to cancel a performance.
So . . .
Clearly, this doesn’t cover everything but it does give you some insight on doing theatre in Tinsel Town. It can be a great way to build solid acting skills outside of class and a community of people with a common interest. And sometimes it’s just an incredibly rewarding way to actively pursue and practice passion!