People have asked about our policy or criteria for reviewing theatre at Society805.com. I’d like to take a moment to talk about what I am trying to do here at the Society805.com arts and theatre department.
First of all, there is a tremendous amount of good theatre in the 805, with active theatre companies in Santa Paula, Ojai, Camarillo, the Canejo Players serving Moorpark and Thousand Oaks, the Elite in Oxnard, Moorpark’s High Street Arts Center, to the Rubicon and Flying H Theatre companies in Ventura, to the Ensemble Theatre Company in Santa Barbara, numerous independent theatrical production companies throughout the Tri-county region; not to mention musical theatre and musical productions, or the unusually wonderful programs at the Ventura and Santa Barbara community colleges to no less than a half dozen fine to extremely good local college programs, with new endeavors popping up every year.
It’s a full roster of theatre in the 805, and with a small staff it is impossible to actually “cover” theatre in the 805 at Society805.com, so we make no claims that we do or even come close to doing so.
The 805 is one of the few regions outside a major metropolis in North America with this density and quality of theatre activity. We are very fortunate to have this.
Part of this is due to the great magnet, Hollywood, and the Film and Music industry’s pulling talent from all over the world to a small locus just south of here.
This also leads to a fair number of people retiring or as a change of pace, landing in our beautiful 805 world for one reason or another, which leads to exciting and significant talent frequently becoming involved with projects in the 805.
It also means that a larger number of local talents are inspired or see acting and production as viable careers while growing up here and become involved. The Rubicon Theatre, for example, routinely puts on projects on a par with Los Angeles theatres, even winning awards within that orbit, but also has sponsored extensive programs for local youth and young talent.
Taylor Kasch, founding director of Flying H Theatre has put on remarkable programs for youth, as well as mentored a small army of young, and not so young, actors, directors, writers, and production talent. Kasch has a gift for seeing how to produce theatre in extremely relevant and interesting ways, so he has been sharing this gift and literally building from the ground up, new resources and opportunities for theatre here in the 805, including making play-viewing available for amazingly low prices and producing interesting plays at a dizzying pace.
Taylor Kasch, founding director of Flying H Theatre Company. Building new theatrical opportunities from the ground up.
So we make a few assumptions here at Society805.com. First, I assume that everyone is already supporting and attending your local theatre company. If you aren’t, you should seriously consider doing so. Almost all of them offer well-planned and significant season offerings, often at reduced season-ticket rates that are a bargain in essentially every single case.
What I look for are, frankly, excuses to talk about things beyond the scope of any single play, productions that raise questions or point out broader issues that I would like to talk about that transcend the season productions of any given theatre company.
Most of all, we try to focus on those few and rare productions or performances that stand apart, where someone or often a lot of people, have done something of significance that the rest of the 805 should pay attention to, go and see and even learn from.
In other words, we assume our readers are already involved on the local level and try to point out those do-not-miss productions that are more than worth going out of your way to go see.
We also have a large readership in the greater LA area who want to know about those productions that are worth coming up to see when they want to spend a weekend getting out of the city.
For this reason, we primarily talk about the production and issues that are relevant for everyone across the 805 and want to raise the bar for the dialogue regarding dramatic theatre in general. This is one reason we favor productions that take chances, or infuse a unique vision.
Some projects, like the Flying H Theatre Company are more geared toward this kind of production, and others, such as the Rubicon, have the support and vision capable of maintaining a level of dramatic production of significant import and quality that tends to land them on our site pages more often than others. But we are open to everyone.
As for my personal focus, I am primarily interested in dramatic theatre and historically important plays. I do not really feel myself qualified to talk about musicals or musical theatre and we are always looking for people who can write about those productions, especially as there is a fair amount of expertise in those areas within the region and a specific audience for them.
Secondly, we recognize that a large share of our audience is a fairly well-informed, highly-educated, relatively young audience. We are an online magazine, and hence our average reader is considerably younger than the average reader of the region’s print publications, and we frequently pull greater readership numbers online than any print publication in the region. Unlike print publications we can actually see the numbers for specific articles, so we know there is a tremendous audience for our theater pieces out there.
The real challenge, and this is an issue not only across the 805, but across North America, is helping young audiences find good theatre to their taste. We are now witnessing a great cultural divide between a boomer generation that has grown up with some of the most exciting theatre in history [think Arhur Miller to Neil Simon to August Wilson to Sam Sheppard, to Tom Stoppard, to dozens of other equally capable writers] and the last three generations to come of age who have experienced virtually no off-screen live acting entertainment, save for a bit of stand-up comedy here and there, or a school play sometime along the way.
A side note here: there is the sobering reality that in the current USA, a majority of high schools do not produce any live theatre. Not a single play. There are high schools in the US that have not produced a play in decades, some located not too far from here. In the 805 we are fortunate to have some amazingly good High School theatre programs and even high schools, like San Marcos in Santa Barbara, and community colleges like Ventura’s that have theatrical facilities rivaling many small colleges; facilities capable of giving professional-level experience and production know-how to students. Part of this hinges on the availability of significant teaching talent in drama.
Without a guiding light on the faculty, it is nearly impossible to stage a decent school play or create the necessary learning environment.
So last, but not least of our criteria for looking at plays is our mission to help educate, inform, and talk about plays that will interest young adult audiences that might be new to live dramatic theatre and give them some sense of the cultural context and history behind various productions.
We are not really that concerned with doing traditional “reviews” of a play so much as helping you understand why a particular production might be worth your while to go out of your way and spend a couple of hours experiencing.
The interesting thing that we are seeing is that when the generations who have grown up looking at small screens get into a live theatre and see what it is all about they are frequently hooked, even more so than the white-haired audiences that typically attend a straight drama.
The younger, savvy audiences quickly realize that no screen of any size can offer anything anywhere near equivalent to the live theatre experience. You can say and do all kinds of things live that can’t be shown on screen. You have real flesh and blood people, only feet away, that you can watch every moment, not for the few seconds that a film editor allows you to.
And then there is the social element. You can meet the actors and people involved; you can talk to the other attendees who have just attended the same thought-provoking event you have, so there is plenty to talk about. Theatre has always been a huge social opportunity.
The infamous Casanova, though you may not agree with his personal philosophy [or maybe you do], pointed out in his memoirs centuries ago that there is probably no other public human activity that lends itself to interesting social discourse than live dramatic theatre. The ancient Greeks agreed. That fact has not changed much over the centuries, no matter how much electronics we get.
Further, there are new, young writers writing for new audiences as well. So far, these writers and audiences have shown a distinct bias toward dark comedy, leading to a virtual renaissance in dark comedy in the English-speaking theatre in the last decade. This last season in the 805 has certainly reflected this: probably more dark comedies are being produced this year than ever before. The Flying H Theatre is almost making a specialty out of doing them, though they also do a lot of other stuff, from whacky comedies to some very serious theatre.
On top of all this, few regional theatre companies put on as many world and US premiers as our local theatres. Part of this is due to the connections our producers, directors, and actors have. Part of it is that there are serious writers living and working here among us; many of our best local directors and actors also write, so it is a great, exciting, and creative theatrical community that we are blessed to live in.
If all this seems like news to you, I highly advise you to get out and see something as soon as possible. Discover a whole wonderful world just down the street, or up the freeway. You’ll be glad you did, I can assure you.