Last summer, when my family and I went to Los Angeles, we spent some time with my actor friend Ron Bottitta. He explained the ins-and-outs of the acting world, at least in L.A. As I understand it, at one point recently, there was very little chance to see actors acting — live, anyway. Yes, there were the big theaters and broadway-type shows coming into town, but four, five, or even ten big shows can only hire so many people. Furthermore, as it is everywhere, the cost of one of those shows is prohibitive for most people (who aren’t making millions).
To correct this, there was a change in a law or a rule in LA county and smaller theaters, with 99 or less seats were allowed. What this meant is that actors had another place to practice their craft — lots of places to practice their craft. Something is happening out there which threatens this — some change which threatens this “99 seat rule” and thus threatens the existence of these smaller theaters.
I don’t claim to understand all the ins-and-outs of the system or the process — including who is threatening these theaters. There are enough political things in the world to keep track of, local LA politics can’t be one of them for me.
What I do know is this:
1) Acting is good for the soul. Just as writers must writers, and painters must paint, actors must act. Theater lets us experience things we wouldn’t normally. The theater that Ron works with has done plays on Racism, mythology, and he’s involved with something called “Rant and Rave” that, as near as I can understand it, covers all kinds of topics and maybe is improvisational. Like a good novel, a play can bring us to places we could never go in real life. I also think it probably makes the actors better people for the experience. Ron was never a bad person before, so, of course it’s hard to know. In any case, not doing it would make him feel like he wasn’t living a full life.
2) There are only so many places actors can go. Just as country music is associated with Nashville, and blues is associated with Memphis or Chicago, acting is associated with New York City (Broadway and the stage) and L.A. (Hollywood and film). I have never heard of anyone saying, “I want to be an actor. I’ll move to Milwaukee or Tulsa”. My apologies to anyone in a theater company in either of those places, but generally, L.A. and New York are the places that actors go. Why would anyone want to limit the number of people who could work or cut in half the number of places to go in any industry? If the rules or laws get changed, people who actually know acting will be less inclined to come there. That just seems dumb. It would be akin to closing auto plants in Detroit and expecting the economy there to attract people with engineering degrees.
3) Actors, like people in any trade, need to practice their craft. The more roles an actor can take on, the better of an actor they will be. Writers also need to practice their crafts, as do lighting people, stagehands, and so on. If we want to see better movies in those theaters, or better TV shows with better plots, if we want to be nourished by films and TV, rather than have bad actors spouting inane drivel, actors, writers, etc. need more places to practice. It is as simple as that. Not every small theater can feature incredible, consciousness raising, well acted stuff. Just as New York has “Off-Broadway” and “Off-Off Broadway”, the “other place where actors go” needs places to practice.
4) Finally, as a matter of economics, which probably isn’t what unions or towns want to hear, much acting has priced itself out of the market. There’s a reason Redbox is popular. When a movie costs $10.00 per person plus popcorn and soda, many families can’t afford it.They can, and will, spend $1.50 to see it if they have to wait. I have yet to go to Broadway for a play because it’s too cost-prohibitive. Even the cheap ways to see a Broadway play are expensive. 50% off of a $100.00 ticket is still $200.00 for my family and we simply don’t make that much. Concerts are just as bad and I love music so much, but I can’t imagine going. The smaller theaters in LA are cheap enough and good enough to make acting available to people at a price that’s within their budgets.
Again, I don’t know enough to say who’s threatening the 99 seat theaters, but I am convinced that they shouldn’t be threatened. Acting and actors are an important part of our lives, and we should have more access to good plays rather than less. I hope they get to keep them.