"The Shrinking Stage," Feature, 4/4
Small Companies, Big Ambitions
I'd like to thank Rachel Swan for her thoughtful and thorough article on the current dearth of "plays of scope."
And I would be remiss if I did not bring your attention to the We Players production of The Odyssey on Angel Island, in which I am appearing as a generously-stipended but non-union performer May 12-July 1. We Players has embraced the classics — in this case, an original adaptation of Homer's epic poem — as well as large casts and huge, glorious productions. This one is a five-hour performance staged with twelve actors and seven musicians in travelling, site-specific style across Angel Island State Park.
As Swan notes, it is often the smaller companies that can, and do, take bold, adventurous risks that more established organizations with salaries to pay and facilities to maintain cannot. It's refreshing and welcome for an artistic director like Patrick Dooley to mention that he's simply not interested in running a company that doesn't take such risks. But we cannot rely on artists being willing to relegate themselves to poverty in order to provide the exhilarating, epic sort of theater that audiences seem to crave. Until we as an industry and a nation find a way to fund the arts sustainably, despite expansive bright spots like Shotgun and We Players, the Bay Area stage will continue to shrink.
Rebecca Longworth, San Francisco
Hiring local would be one of the boldest choices Bay Area theater companies could make, but sadly the Bay Area suffers from insecurity about the burgeoning talent pool it has. We have an embarrassment of riches in our local talent, but unfortunately, most of the theaters don't appreciate it. They fly in talent, which must be incredibly expensive and eat into a substantial amount of a theater company's budget. I hear the words "budget crisis" from so many theater companies in the Bay Area, and yet, when you look at the bios of the actors in their productions, you'll see that this actor works in New York, Chicago, LA. Why not cast locally? It makes no sense. It's not like this is the film industry, where producers hope to get "butts in the seats" by casting A-List actors with a huge draw. I just don't get it. We have so much talent right here, and yet, if you ask Berkeley Rep, ACT, TheatreWorks, etc., they cast out-of-town talent. My question is, why?
LeAnne Rumbel, San Francisco
Bigger Isn't Always Better
It's interesting to compare early-twentieth-century scripts to today's. They often have huge casts, but that doesn't necessarily mean they have a larger conceptual scope — tiny roles for butlers and maids seem to have been added just to give a company's minor contract players something to do. In those days, it seems, labor was the thing that was cheap (part of the reason for the foundation of Actor's Equity). It's good for writers to be aware of whether they're limiting their own freedom of thought to meet production requirements, but some limitations can lead to artistic success. For example, old Hollywood movies couldn't show explicit sex scenes, but not many films can match the onscreen heat of Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper in Morocco. The four-person, one-set classic The Glass Menagerie is still a great, relevant play. But I can think of some recent local shows with big casts that I just didn't get the point of. So I don't agree that bigger is necessarily better, but I thought the article made some great points about how theater is funded, and how this affects what's presented.
Christine U'Ren, Berkeley
"OPD Sees Itself as a Victim of Occupy," News, 4/4
OPD Out of Control
The more we learn about the Oakland Police Department, the deeper it gets. This is a third-world military operation that's been preying on the people of Oakland for years. Yes, good cops get tarred with the same brush — but it is cops' responsibility to be the arbiters of each others' conduct, and they have failed miserably.
Equally culpable are the corporate financial forces that have taken over planning and directing the city with the help of the Oakland police. And responsible overall: the elected officials who won't do a thing about it, or who participate in the money-changing that goes on.
Occupy Oakland is powerful enough to affect the operations and outlook of this police department? Good. There are a lot of us who think that the best work we can do is to uncover its brutality and impunity. Maybe there will be a time that Occupy Oakland is seen as a strong factor in cleaning it up and forcing the City of Oakland to put its energies and resources into its people.
Cynthia Morse, Berkeley
A Lack of Leadership
The most telling thing in this report is the lack of leadership, both at the top of the police department, but also in its civilian oversight. Where was Mayor Quan in all of this? Oh yeah, she was in DC begging for money.
Sorry Jean, you should have delayed your trip or delayed the raid. Being out of town is unforgivable.
Tim Burgess, Castro Valley
Shocked — and Radicalized
I want to thank you for your detailed, critical, and informative coverage regarding Occupy Oakland, the Oakland Police Department, and the City of Oakland. Your recent article about possible conflicts of interest in the investigation into OPD abuses is well-written and brings up important points.