The problem with Los Angeles theater is that everybody who is involved with small theater is trying to get a job in TV or film and everybody who is big and successful in those media just uses theater as an exercise.
Someone once said that when you get on the stage you have to make it look like you have nowhere else you'd rather be that night. In L.A. theater productions everybody would rather be on TV or the big screen.
Having recently moved from a dramaturgical background in Seattle and relocated to Los Angeles I find this discussion to be incredibly important. Yes, Los Angeles has a lot of theaters. But I would argue that Seattle is a lot closer to figuring out the whole "theater as community" thing. All shows at the Seattle Rep, Intiman, Book-It, Live Girls, etc., offer tickets to those under age 25 for $15 . . . something most people can spend on a night out on the town. Good luck finding that at Mark Taper . . . or REDCAT. You're almost always looking at tickets in the $40-$60 range. That kind of exclusivity makes this a less friendly town for theater and the artists who struggle to support it.
I have friends in Chicago and Southern California, as well as a brother in NYC, all of whom are members of Actors' Equity, and they can tell you that one of the biggest deterrents to making a living in Southern California or Chicago as an actor is that so many auditions for productions in L.A., San Diego or Chicago are in New York.
Shows that will be Broadway bound, for example, from houses such as the La Jolla Playhouse or Old Globe will have NO auditions in Southern California -- NYC only.
If these Equity houses would stop relying solely on NYC actors and auditions and start concentrating on casting locally -- or at least offer local auditions in the first place -- they might be able to cultivate an even stronger theatrical culture and presence in these tough economic times.
Having been fortunate to have a long-term artistic post at one of L.A.'s biggest resident theaters and now having been an active free-lance writer-director for the last two years, I'm seeing all too clearly the enormous chasm between the two worlds.
It's nearly impossible for independent theater artists in Southern California, no matter the degree of success, to sustain themselves here without self-subsidy from teaching, commercial work or other "day jobs."
And the number of resident artistic positions (compared to producing positions) has dwindled to almost none. Our region is as large as New York, larger than Chicago, and yet we have precious few artists living and working here who earn their living from local theater or who garner national respect. Maybe even worse, we have lost countless talent to commercial film and television and to New York.