A look back at the first Radar L.A. Festival


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The first Radar L.A. Festival is officially a thing of the past, and now the question on many people’s minds is: Will it be back?


Organized by REDCAT and featuring theater groups from around the world, the festival was an attempt to bring a critical mass of stage performances to L.A. The festival was produced in collaboration with Center Theatre Group and The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival in New York.

Times theater critic Charles McNulty recently described the inaugural festival as ‘a success, even if the pleasures weren’t to be found in the discovery of mini-masterworks but in fleeting encounters with what can only be described as pure theatricality. The eight shows I sampled offered intermittent delights as well as occasional frustrations.’

Radar L.A. coincided with the annual Theater Communications Group conference, held this summer in L.A., which brought theater professionals from around the country to downtown. It also coincided with the Hollywood Fringe Festival, another relatively new event.

Mark Murphy, the executive director of REDCAT, recently spoke about Radar L.A. and offered his thoughts on how the first festival transpired and what the future might hold.

How many people attended the festival?

Initial attendance figures are over 10,000, but where it will land exactly, we don’t know -- maybe somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000. But we haven’t tabulated everything yet. Overall, buying single tickets was the exception rather than rule.

Will Radar become an annual event?

We don’t know yet. We had discussions about it. The funding subsidy we had in place was for the current year only -- it was in the neighborhood of $750,000 and covered production costs, artists fees, marketing and publicity. About half of international groups had travel subsidies from their country of origin, so travel expense wasn’t too great. The largest single item in the budget was artist fees. The funding subsidy was a mix of private and public support, including Boeing, the Irvine Foundation, the Andrew Mellon Foundation as well as a mix of support from the NEA and the Department of Cultural Affairs L.A.

One of the arguments made in fundraising for Radar was that we were taking advantage of the TCG conference [which took place in L.A. this year]. What would change if we tried to do something like this when the conference is not happening here? We’re also exploring the possibility that it may be something that may happen the year after next. Or it could just be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Is there anything you would have done differently? In general, I’m pleased with the way it worked, and there are no significant structural or programmatic changes that any of the three co-directors called out for. We were reluctant to ramp up staff, knowing what funding we would have. The Radar idea started before we knew about the TCG conference, but it wasn’t until TCG chose L.A. that everything came together. It also coincided with Hollywood Fringe Festival, so there was a snowball effect. Overall, I was especially impressed that the work featured in the festival successfully served as a catalyst for conversations about state and future of the form.

What went especially well, in your opinion?

A lot of our out-of-town guests came before the TCG conference and filled the houses for the first couple of days, which was a successful strategy. By the weekend, the audiences were majority local. It was a healthy mix all through. The lively conversation was impressive.

One thing that was an experiment that worked was the five-ticket pass for $50 -- it made tickets affordable and encouraged people to see mulitple performances in a day, and people really did it. It was like the Sundance Festival. That kind of lively discussion doesn’t really happen in the same way when you see one performance.

[For the record, 9:45 p.m., July 6: A previous version of this post incorrectly referred to the TCG conference as the CTG conference.]


Theater review: ‘The Method Gun’ at Kirk Douglas Theatre

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Theater review: ‘Brewsie and Willie’ at Los Angeles Street Loft

-- David Ng