Sep 15, 2008

Being in Space

Charles McNulty offers an extremely thoughtful piece on how a venue influences, even determines the theatrical experience. The occasion is the Mark Taper Forum's unveiling of its newly refurbished mainstage, but McNulty doesn't dwell much on that (it's been detailed elsewhere). Instead he gives an astute if idiosyncratic (and for me, bittersweetly nostalgic) tour of some of L.A. theater's essential stops, from City Garage to the Fountain Theatre.

I don't know if it's something about L.A. and its anomalous relationship to live theater, but McNulty gives eloquent expression to a strain of similar thoughts I recall having when I was on the beat there--a sense of occasion and particularity that seems especially pronounced there, which I think patrons in such theatergoing capitals as New York and London take for granted. Theater in L.A. springs up in unlikely places--there's no "district," exactly, though there are a few areas of concentration, in Hollywood and North Hollywood--and its very out-of-the-wayness, which the Taper despite its ostensible centrality shares with the tiniest garage theater, can make a theatergoer uniquely alive to the experience. You could almost say that all theater in L.A. feels site-specific.

Like politics, all theater is local, which is to say that while an artist's reputation develops nationally and internationally, the actual art form is experienced at a particular site on a particular street inside a particular building. Yet there's been a false or perhaps idealistic assumption that theatrical space is characterless and interchangeable -- "empty" in director Peter Brook's famous formulation -- offering merely a neutral ground for the show to begin.

The whole piece is worth a read, even (perhaps especially) for the non-L.A.-acquainted.

(Photo of the hallway at the Matrix Theatre on Melrose Ave.)

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