What went wrong? Why is Cirque du Soleil’s Iris permanently vacating the Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak) in Hollywood after the performance on Jan. 19?
Iris had been scheduled to last at least a decade. It began previews in the summer of 2011 and officially opened on September 25, 2011. However, it was dark for two months earlier this year, from January 23 to March 24, in order to make room at the theater for the Oscar ceremony and the time spent loading it in and out.
So far, the total attendance at Iris has surpassed 500,000, after 482 performances from the beginning of previews through last weekend, said Renée-Claude Ménard, the company publicist to whom all questions are being referred. Let’s say that the total is closer to 600,000 than to 500,000 and divide 600,000 by 482 — that translates to an average of about 1,245 per performance. With the capacity of the venue reduced from its original 3,300 to about 2,500 for Iris, it appears that Iris has been selling an average of only about half its seats.
The company is declining to reveal the exact proportion of seats that were sold. It also isn’t discussing dollar figures or estimating the geographical breakdown of the audience between people from the LA area and tourists.
Before Iris opened, Cirque president Daniel Lamarre was widely quoted about the vast number of pedestrians who walked past the then-Kodak during the day, who might be interested in seeing a show there. However, according to Ménard, too many of “the pedestrians remained pedestrians” — walking right on by. “Despite phenomenal reviews and enthusiastic audience response, demand has not met projections. Combined with the difficult economic situation worldwide,” the result was “disappointing box office.”
When I mentioned several other possible factors, Ménard acknowledged only one of them as possibly being a problem — the physical location of the Dolby entrance, set far back from most of those hordes of pedestrians in what can seem like a maze to first-time theatergoers there. “Not ideal,” Ménard offered.
However, Ménard dismissed these possible factors: excessively high ticket prices (they were “in line with the quality of the production”), too much competition from lower-priced entertainment options in LA, or the idea that the show’s theme — about the birth of cinema, with an emphasis on old-fashioned film genres — might be too old-fashioned to attract huge audiences in the 21st century. (Of course some shows set in the distant past attract huge audiences, but most of these are musicals such as Phantom of the Opera or Les Miz, which offer more cohesive story lines that those offered by Cirque).
As for the two-month interruption in the schedule to accommodate the Oscars, Ménard said it wasn’t a problem, because “we had always developed our business model based on that initial assumption.”
The marketing for Iris included TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, social media, banners on streets “and then some,” Ménard said. The strategy included aggressive efforts aimed at travel agencies and tour operators.
Iris may have an after-life. Asked if it might be adapted into a touring version, Ménard responded, “We are looking at every possibility for this amazing production.” Although its location in the heart of Hollywood, in the same venue where the Oscars are presented, seemed ideal for a production about the movies, I certainly wouldn’t be averse to seeing a modified Iris on the beach in Santa Monica in a year or two.
In the meantime, however, the closing of Iris at the Dolby will result in some local job losses, although most of these jobs were not directly on the Cirque payroll. Ménard says that CIM, the company that runs the Dolby, employs about 50 musicians and technicians whose jobs are expected to vanish along with Iris.
Besides the overall economy and the possible problem with directly luring all those pedestrians into the Dolby, I’m speculating that the main factor that Cirque might have underestimated is the variety of lower-priced entertainment options in the vast LA area.
Within the US, Cirque has succeeded with permanent shows in Las Vegas, of course, and — on a much less prolific level — Orlando. Compared to LA or New York, these are smaller cities, in states that were hard-hit by the economic crisis, but they’re also international tourist destinations that are oriented primarily and specifically on gambling (Las Vegas) and theme parks (Orlando), without the much wider array of possibilities tourists can find in the giant coastal megalopolises.
It seems to me that it’s much easier for even Cirque du Soleil to get lost among the bewildering lists of attractions offered by LA and New York than it is in Las Vegas or Orlando. And LA might be especially problematic because of its relative proximity to the Cirque-a-palooza in Las Vegas and also because of LA’s own far-flung geography — do the tourists whose main interest is Disneyland, for example, necessarily even walk by the Dolby Theatre?
This, of course, is a problem that probably sounds familiar to many LA theater practitioners — how do they get the attention of people in an area as diffuse as LA? Cirque du Soleil didn’t join LA STAGE Alliance after its supposedly permanent LA production opened in 2011 — but it sounds as if even the mighty Cirque found itself facing one of the same conditions that LA theaters experience on a regular basis.
Iris, Dolby Theatre, 6801 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. Most Tuesdays 8 pm, Wed-Fri 8 pm, Sat 4 and 8 pm, SunÂ and New Year’s Eve 3 and 7 pm. www.cirquedusoleil.com.
***All Iris production photos by Matt Beard
If Iris is at one end of the scale of visual spectacle, at the other end is the Odyssey Theatre’s intriguing experiment, Theatre in the Dark.
It’s divided into two separately-sold performances, Dark and More Dark. Each includes about 15 short vignettes. Ron Sossi’s production is presented largely without lighting — although not entirely. It includes enough fleeting glimmers, here and there, to merit a lighting design credit for Kathi O’Donohue.
However, the most important design credit is John Zalewski’s for sound — and indeed, he is justifiably listed first among the designers in the program. More than any other individual, he is responsible for keeping everyone awake inside the darkened theater.
There’s a reason why people turn out the lights before we go to bed — darkness promotes sleep. But with Zalewski keeping us alert, it’s probably harder to fall asleep in this production than it is in many an amply-lit show. I can testify to this personally. I recently returned from a trip that involved too much air travel over nearly 24 hours, although it crossed only three time zones. The first show I saw, the evening after I returned, was More Dark. True, I took a nap and drank coffee before I saw it, but I had no problem staying awake.
Dark, which opened first and which I saw several weeks earlier, attracted many more reviews than More Dark. But I enjoyed More Dark slightly more than Dark. It includes a short play by Lynn Manning, who is blind — in The Outpatient, he evokes the experience of a normally sighted person who’s temporarily blinded by bandages after eye surgery.
More Dark offers more treatment of sex than its predecessor, even if it’s largely with a sense of humor. Forbidden Fire, by Danny Robins and Dan Tetsell, parodies a pornographic radio serial, and Anna Nicholas’ Searching for Mary Jane takes us into the bedroom of two lesbians of a certain age.
Sheila Callaghan’s Beep (directed by Matthew McCray) and an adaptation of John O’Keefe’s Ghosts offer very different but equally haunting meditations on death. And one little scene is aptly repeated from Dark — a suggestion of dancing figures while the classic “Dancing in the Dark” provides the music.
More Dark from Theatre in the Dark, Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West LA. Dec. 6, 8 and 14, 8 pm. Dec 9, 2 pm. Dec 16, 5:30 pm. In rep with continuing performances of Dark. www.OdysseyTheatre.com. 310-477-2055.
Thanks, Robey Theatre Company, for reviving Philip Yordan’s Anna Lucasta. It’s a 1936 play that has long lingered around the margins of my knowledge of American theater, but I tended to confuse it with Anna Christie, which is 15 years older but which is also about a prostitute who tries to leave the life and return to the family fold.
Anna Lucasta was originally written for Polish American characters, but it achieved success only when the ethnic group was switched to African Americans. In its adapted form, it became one of the first successful non-musical plays to treat African Americans on a level that transcended blatant stereotype.
It also became a ’50s movie in which the locales were switched from Brooklyn and Philadelphia to San Diego and LA. Ideally, I would have liked to have seen director Ben Guillory maintain the movie’s local settings, but I suppose there is also something to be said for respecting the original settings and especially their more lyrical moments about the falling snow, which would probably have to be deleted if the action were taking place in Southern California.
At any rate, Guillory’s staging snaps to life. Although it respects the sensibilities of its period, it also doesn’t seem as remote from our own times as you might have imagined. The spirited and polished cast is led by charismatic Ashlee Olivia in the title role but features a varied gallery of engaging portraits.
Anna Lucasta, Los Angeles Theatre Center Theatre 4, 514 S. Spring St., LA. Thu-Sat 8 pm, Sun 3 pm. Closes Sunday. www.thelatc.org. 866-811-4111.