L.A. to host annual theater convention

L.A. audiences may find local theaters a bit more crowded than usual next June.

That’s because Theatre Communications Group, the nation’s premier research, advocacy and organizing entity for the American theater, has chosen Los Angeles to host its 21st annual convention, a three-day marathon of meetings, discussion sessions and performances that will be held June 16 to 18.

Not coincidentally, the conference will overlap with the inaugural launch of “RADAR L.A.,” a West Coast version of the Public Theatre of New York’s “Under the Radar” festival dedicated to adventurous new theater and multidisciplinary performance. “RADAR L.A.,” which is being organized by a consortium that includes TCG, the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, REDCAT, the service and advocacy group LA Stage Alliance and the Public Theater, will run June 14 to 26.

Teresa Eyring, TCG’s executive director, said Wednesday by phone that her organization, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2011, chose Los Angeles because of the quality, variety and history of its theater. Also, she said, L.A.'s theater community stands at the intersection of several important trends, including a surging interest in hybrid theatrical forms, cross-disciplinary and non-text-based performance, and biingual theater.

“We feel L.A. just represents so many of the positive things that have evolved for our theater community over the past 50 years,” Eyring said.

Several hundred theater professionals are expected to attend the conference. Last summer’s TCG’s gathering, held in Chicago, drew 930 people, its best-ever attendance.

A multi-pronged organization, New York-based TCG is the country’s largest independent publisher of dramatic literature, a major arts grant-maker and a watchdog for federal and other legislation affecting the arts. It has 700 organizational members and affiliates and an individual membership of about 12,000.

Los Angeles will be only the third city in the western United States to host TCG’s convention, after Seattle and San Francisco, Eyring said. During its initial years, the formerly biennial conference was exclusively held in New England and the Northeast. But over the decades, TCG has expanded its attention, and the reach of its programs, to other parts of the country and the world beyond.

“Our theater community is becoming more globally oriented,” Eyring said. “Many theaters are addressing the fact that we are in a country that is a multilingual country, that has many immigrant communities with many stories to tell. I think L.A. is a microcosm of that.”

Although many conference activities will be centered in downtown Los Angeles at venues such as REDCAT (tucked under the Walt Disney Concert Hall) and the Los Angeles Theatre Center, Eyring said that transportation and other arrangements will be made to enable attendees to visit other communities and sample the arts there. Eyring said that all L.A.-area theaters and theatrical entities are invited to participate in the conference.

Olga Garay, executive director of the Cultural Affairs department, said she had been wanting to start an L.A. version of “Under the Radar” for several years but had been delayed by the 2008 economic meltdown. In a former job as director of the arts program for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in New York, Garay helped spearhead the initiative that resulted in the creation of “Under the Radar.”

A National Endowment for the Arts planning grant helped jump-start the “RADAR L.A.” project, said Garay, who called the convergence of the new festival with TCG’s conference “a marriage made in heaven.”

“This country is still fairly East Coast-centric, so we really felt that there was a new energy here that needed to be shared,” Garay said. “It provides a wonderful opportunity for our artists to be seen by decision-makers from all over the country and all over the world.”

Garay said that she intends to keep ticket prices low for all “RADAR L.A.” performances, “like around $10, so the broadest possible audience can attend it.”

Although “RADAR L.A.” will start before the conference officially begins, some of theater professionals are expected to arrive early in L.A. to attend it. The festival will be co-curated by Mark Murphy, REDCAT’s artistic director; Diane Rodriguez, associate producer and director of new play development at the Center Theatre Group; and Mark Russell, who produces “Under the Radar” for the Public Theater.

In an interview, Murphy said the festival will include at least a dozen works, at least half of which will be performed by L.A.-area-based ensembles or individuals, at multiple venues, most within range of downtown. Some works eventually may tour or be re-staged elsewhere.

The NEA has committed $40,000 to the festival, and Cultural Affairs has committed at least $50,000, Murphy said. Although there is no formal application process, he said, an “extensive research” process is being used to select works and performers.

“RADAR L.A.,” Murphy said, will provide an occasion to “acknowledge” and “encourage” some key recent tendencies in theatrical producing and presenting: a heightened emphasis on globalization; an interest in “highly visual” director- and ensemble-driven work (as opposed to script-based plays); and exploring the way new technologies can engender new theatrical forms.

“My hope,” Murphy said, “is that in an action-packed, compact time period, a snapshot of an evolving field will give people the opportunity to get a sense of some of the really influential work that is exemplary of the next generation of theater artists.”