New L.A. Playwrights Initiative, The Temblors, Aims to Shake Up Local Mid-Size Theatre Scene

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[dropcap]In[/dropcap] October, 1985, highly motivated Artistic Director Bill Bushnell marshaled enough city, county, corporate and public support to move Los Angeles Actors Theatre (founded in 1975) from the limited-space Oxford Playhouse in Hollywood to Downtown LA, taking possession of an early 20th century bank at 514 S. Spring Street and converting it into Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC). Bushnell created a four-theater complex that included three mid-size houses, featuring seating capacities of 503, 323 and 296.

“The idea is to finally establish a successful step up from the 99-seat and under doldrums that has plagued LA theater since its inception,” stated Bushnell in an interview at the opening of the complex.

Bushnell’s creative ambitions did not go as planned, financially or creatively, and his company closed down in January 1994. In an interview with Don Shirley of the LA Times, Bushnell declared, “…the City of Angels has become creatively toxic.”

Putting Bushnell’s dire indictment aside, LATC has survived, now under the management of The Latino Theater Company and its Artistic Director Jose Luis Valenzuela. Despite an inconsistent production history over the years, Valenzuela is affirming LATC’s proper place as a nurturer and presenter of mid-size theater fare, announcing the launch of The Temblors — a seven-member collective of LA-based playwrights, operating within a four-year initiative to create seven Equity premiere productions at LATC, produced by Latino Theater Company. Participating playwrights include Meghan Brown, Nate Rufus Edelman, Oliver Mayer, John Pollono, Kemp Powers, Vasanti Saxena, and t. tara turk. The plays will each be produced in one of LATC’s mid-size venues, operating under AEA’s Small Professional Theatre (SPT) agreement.

“This came out of a series of discussions,” says Pollono, whose play Rules of Seconds, directed by Jo Bonney, will be the initial premiere presentation (scheduled to debut in early 2017, TBA). “We eventually assembled this group initiative, modeling it after some stuff that had been put together in other cities.”

Both Pollono (Small Engine Repair, Lost Girls) and Kemp (One Night in Miami) have been successfully associated with 99-seat venue, Rogue Machine, which has recently moved its operation from Theatre/Theater on Pico Boulevard to the MET Theatre in Hollywood. (Ironically, as The Oxford Playhouse, this was the original home of Bushnell’s Los Angeles Actors Theatre.)

“Rogue Machine is my home and will continue to be,” Pollono affirmed. “I’ve had a bunch of readings there of this new play. It is set in 1855 Boston, it involves dueling. It is dark, funny and verbose. It has ten characters. The scope of the work seemed too big for Rogue Machine. I kind of wanted to pop it out a little bit. So, it seemed like a good fit for this thing that is going to happen at LATC. I am happy we have some more months to deal with the logistics. I’ll be continuing to work on it. We’ll be staging it in LATC’s largest space, although we may be reducing the seating a bit. We’ll probably shut off the top level and just use the bottom area, which is about 240 seats. It all depends on what it is like when we do it. This play is very different than anything I’ve ever done. Both my director Jo Bonney and I love that we’ll have this space to mount it.”

Pollono has collaborated with Bonney on hit Off-Broadway productions of Small Engine Repair and Lost Girls at MCC Theater in New York City, following award-winning productions at Rogue Machine. New York, he’s found, has been a much more hospitable environment to produce a work in a mid-size house than Los Angeles.

“We all have great hopes this Temblors initiative will take hold,” he says. “This is the sort of contract that I believe Rogue Machine will be utilizing within a couple of years. I know it is a goal of the company to eventually be able to successfully work within a mid-size house.”

The current seven playwrights working within the initiative certainly have the credentials to make this a success. Collectively, their creative output has garnered six LA Drama Critics Circle and five NAACP Theatre awards, as well as 20 Ovation Awards nominations. Many of these works have branched out to Equity regional productions, as well as stagings in New York and London. Now, a major goal is to bridge the formidable gap separating LA’s active 99-seat house community and the many fewer local LORT houses.

In a prepared statement, LATC honcho Valenzuela declared, “We were drawn to The Temblors playwrights’ passion and commitment to one another’s work and to producing in the mid-size theaters, which has been a challenge for many playwrights and companies in Los Angeles. Our vision for the LATC has always been for our programming to reflect the aesthetic and cultural diversity of Los Angeles, as well as to provide a home for diverse L.A. based artists. We feel it is our responsibility as operators of LATC to produce our city’s playwrights in mid-size theaters whenever possible, and we are thrilled to be offering The Temblors playwrights the same attention here as they receive nationally.”

The current mandate of The Temblors is to produce one play by each member of the collective, at the rate of two productions per year. For each production, the playwright whose play is in development will step into the role of production manager, with the other members of the group helping to execute that member’s vision through dramaturgy, fundraising, and development.

Future Temblors output include these works, currently in development: Hunger Strike of the Food Testers by Meghan Brown; The Whores by Nate Rufus Edelman; Members Only by Oliver Mayer; The Two Reds by Kemp Powers; The Mic Picks Up Everything by t.tara turk; and a new work by Vasanti Saxena (TBA).

“This will be an ongoing producing concept,” says Pollono. “At the end of our four-year residency at LATC, seven new local playwrights will be chosen to carry The Temblors initiative into the future. This should be a great opportunity for L.A. theater.”

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Julio Martinez

Julio Martinez

Julio pens the weekly LA STAGE Insider column for @ This Stage Magazine, as well as the monthly LA STAGE History column. He is a recurring contributor to Written By (the monthly publication of the Writer’s Guild of America) and is the TeleVision columnist for Latin Heat Entertainment. On air, he hosts the weekly Arts in Review program for KPFK 90.7 FM. An active journalist for over 30 years, Julio’s articles and reviews have appeared in Los Angeles Times Magazine, Daily Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, L.A. Weekly, Stage Raw, Backstage West, Westways Magazine, and Drama-Logue Magazine, among others.