In the early 1990s, I had the honor of working with a group of theatre artists fueled by passion and courage and fortitude. Led by Iranian-born director Reza Abdoh, the Dar A Luz company of actors wrested theatre into creation out of the rage and beauty that was Reza’s distinctive voice. As a group, they developed a language together, a process which was completely foreign to my theatrical experience and training. They were athletic, graceful, and unafraid to express the dark societal taboos that Reza entreated them to.
Up to that point, I had stage managed mostly either large scale one-time APLA benefits, Broadway musical revues; or a series of “old school” shows at various theatres in LA – ranging from “A Little Night Music” to Neil Simon’s “Jake’s Women” to “On Borrowed Time.” Hardly ground breaking in terms of risk or political statement. How I ended up as the stage manager for “Bogeyman” is a true illustration of the organic networking process of live theatre, and a case of “being in the right place at the right time.”
The Los Angeles Theatre Center on Spring and Fifth Street in downtown LA was a hotbed of creativity in the years leading up to 1991 and Reza Abdoh’s “Bogeyman.” I stage managed a small show in Theatre 4 at LATC one year earlier, in September of 1990. A group of Latino comedy artists, Rick Najera, Diana Rodriguez, Luisa Leschin and Armando Molina, constructed a show to lampoon the Latino stereotypes they had to that point seemed destined to play. They banded together to write original material to show off their talents and get noticed. The show was slated to run for 6 weeks but was a hit and ran for six months in the smallest theatre in the complex, just off the vast white marble lobby.
LATC was housed in a repurposed Bank building in the Banking District of downtown LA. Outside, the neighborhood teemed with homeless people. The donut store on the corner was notorious for drug deals. Inside, the three story lobby, echoed with the voices of artists colliding from all four theatres and rehearsal spaces over 6 floors of activity. It was like a theatrical ant farm. The Queen of the Farm was Diane White, who championed Reza’s work both financially and emotionally. The King, Bill Bushnell.
This description of the theatre from an LA Times article by Judith Michaelson in 1985 on the occasion of it’s opening gives you an example of the kind of energy Bill Bushnell brought to LATC.
“Theatre 1–an open stage and 503 seats upholstered in seven shades of hot yellow, orange and red seats, and denoted by an orange door–opens its Classic series Thursday night with Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” in a new translation by British playwright (“Noises Off”) Michael Frayn.
Theatre 2–a proscenium stage and 296 seats with a Prince-purple door and wine-colored seats–opens the Los Angeles premiere of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love” Sept. 26 with an all-black cast.
Theatre 3–a thrust stage in a stark Greek-amphitheater setting (downstairs), with 323 seats, a blue door and black seats that veer straight up the side of a steep incline–premieres the English-language production of “Nanawatai” by William Mastrosimone, about the Soviets in Afghanistan. Philip Baker Hall plays the Soviet tank commander. It opens the Premiere series Thursday.”
Bill and Diane did new and provocative work as well as reimagined classics, and those artists privileged to work there in the late 80s and early 90s before it closed could not help but be energized by the environment. The physical plant made artistic collaboration inevitable. There was an elevator just off the lobby that led to the dressing rooms. It opened front and back – front when you reached the lobby, back after it had groaned slowly down to the third and fourth levels where the dressing rooms were. There were multiple occasions where “places” was called and just the architecture of the building fought a timely start to the show. In Theatre 1, the booth, on level 3, nestled just off a catwalk, allowed a stage manager to go out and look down on the actors backstage to determine if you had places. I remember watching two actors make out at the top of one show I subbed in on. They were both married and not to each other. Scandalous. Inevitable.
Here’s a virtual tour of the theatre center.
These were fertile years of training for me and I suspect for all those who inhabited LATC during that time.
Don Shirley’s LA Times article from January 9, 1994, a scant two months after the closure of LATC on October 31, 1991, appeared and cited the cause of the demise of LATC and Bill Bushnell:
“A legal entanglement lingers on for Bushnell in L.A. Soon after LATC collapsed in Oct. 1991, the state’s Employment Development Department assessed him for $46,464 in LATC’s unpaid unemployment and insurance contributions and slapped on an additional $6,607 penalty. But last Dec. 1, administrative law judge Paul Wyler reduced Bushnell’s liability in the case to just those debts from the period between mid-May 1991 and the theater’s final collapse–an 80% reduction, according to Bushnell attorney Mark Rosenblatt’s estimate. Wyler accepted the argument that Bushnell was not in charge of the theater’s finances during the preceding period.”
And yet, it was in those dark, financially insecure moments of LATC’s history, when Reza challenged us to join him to rage against the world, funded largely by Diane White, in Theatre 2, with it’s purple doors and wine colored seats.