- Reporters Desk
By John Farrell, Curtain Call Writer
Isn’t it nice to be able to say “San Pedro’s second-newest theater company?”
For more than 10 years, Little Fish Theatre on Centre Street was the only action in town: often imaginative, very successful and just a little lonely.
Lonely? They could sell tickets without competition, except for the on-again, off-again productions at the Warner Grand. But ask any theater professional and they’ll tell you that loneliness is overrated. What you gain by having no competition you lose because the theater-going public (you know who you are) just doesn’t have a lot of choices.
Now San Pedro has three theaters in regular production: Little Fish with a regular season every year (and Shakespeare by the Sea in the summer,) the San Pedro Theatre Club bringing its musical productions to Pacific Avenue and Theater Elysium San Pedro Repertory, which operates out of a former doctor’s office on Seventh Street, just an alley away from Little Fish.
San Pedro Rep is not, quite, the newest show in town: San Pedro Theatre Club opened first. But if it isn’t the youngest, it certainly is the most imaginative. In four production this year it has won critical acclaim from the Daily Breeze, Broadway L.A., and the Huffington Post. Its production of Aeschylus’ Oedipus, which continues at San Pedro Rep through Dec. 21 is as spectacular and innovative as ever.TE San Pedro Rep moved to San Pedro this year, after starting in La Crescenta. Begun by Aaron Ganz, founder and artistic director, the company found in San Pedro the sense of community and an eagerness for theater that makesSan Pedro special.
“As we complete TESPR’s first full season in San Pedro, our greatest success has been in developing an aesthetic that our audiences can count on, while ensuring that each show continues to surprise with unique storytelling methods,” Ganz said in a recent email exchange.
“Our audiences have defined themselves as passionate theater goers, interested in moving beyond the gloss of a typical theater experience. The people who come to see our shows know that they are entering into a world where the story happens around them, through them and with them.
They know they will experience powerful stories told in innovative ways, at the highest levels of creativity and performance. The audiences that we are building are composed of adventuresome appreciators of theater, people who want their shared human experience to push boundaries in unexpected ways, something that stays with them long after the performance ends.”
That’s certainly true of Oedipus, which takes the classic Greek tragedy and transforms it to not only an incense-filled courtyard but also a modern night club. And that is just the latest of several original works.
“Our spring production, Wouldn’t It Be Lovely, was the highest selling show to date, and we were able to sell over 1,000 tickets in our first season, unheard of in our previous location,” Ganz said.
“Our audience members have extended to the downtown San Pedro area, and sponsorship aside, the business community in downtown San Pedro has included some of our most loyal theater supporters.”
Oedipus, the fourth play presented by TE San Pedro Rep (they began with Hamlet by Shakespeare, then presented Wouldn’t It be Lovely, Ganz’s fusion of Shaw’s Pygmalion and Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady and then The Lady of Shallot, based on the famous Tennyson poem) is as exciting as any they have done.
“Oedipus has long served as a warning against hubris and rashness,” said the play’s director David Mancini. “It was initially written as a protest play, I think people overlook that when discussing it. It’s so easy to get lost in academic adoration of it, but it has a very real message about authoritarian rule, overconfident leadership and our responsibility to not turn our leaders into heroes or gods.
“A week after an election where our country is celebrating our new leadership and what they will be able to do while blaming the losers for not immediately solving all of the country’s problems, I’d say that the deification of leadership is still an issue in society.
“One of the things that Aristotle enjoyed about Oedipus was its adherence to the unities of time, place and action. None of that has changed. …(I)n the course of the evening you will see the fall of a king. The differences come with the audience and their relationship to the action. This production considers them citizens of Thebes and members of the Chorus. They are implicit in the action of the play.
“To take that sense one step further, during the latest San Pedro First Thursday we had our supporters and community members make works of art that will be featured on the walls of certain rooms during the performance. Those that came to the theater to play that night are not only implicit but helped create the world that will bring Oedipus to his downfall.
The hope is to take the audience out of the role of knowledgeable spectator and allow them to experience the story immersed as the chorus, wishing against the facts that are given through the evening so that maybe Oedipus will not be subject to the punishment he himself imposes.”
There are extensive plans for next year.
“The repertory company is expanding its slate of productions from three performances to five full productions for the upcoming season including a spring rep cycle that will feature the same cast in two rotating shows – the Olympics of acting and theatrical production,” Ganz said. “Our first show will be Much Ado About Nothing (by Shakespeare).”
Ganz will direct that play.
“It will be a joyful celebration of our new cast, company and season. The spring rep cycle (otherwise known as the ‘Celebration Series’) revives Theatrum Elysium’s most acclaimed and innovative productions from our La Crescenta location, re imagining them in our San Pedro home. This spring Celebration Series will feature The Underpants, adapted by Steve Martin, in rep with The Vanek Trilogy, by Vaclav Havel.
“Following in the footsteps of The Lady of Shalott, our 2015 summer flagship production is the next bold, all original piece … a truly epic story, Joan of Arc.” Ganz will also direct that work. “Our season goes out on top with Three Sisters, one of Anton Chekhov’s most enduring works” Ganz said.
And TE San Pedro Rep has latched onto the celebration of Thursday in San Pedro, with a vengeance.
“’First Thursdays’ will offer community set build days, where our San Pedro friends can join our cast and crew in bringing each show to life, on a technical level,” Ganz said.
The third Thursday of every month is now “Thirst Thursday” and TE San Pedro Rep will be hosting an open-mic night, a theatrical cabaret for performance artists. And on other select Thursdays there will be film screenings in the theater’s backyard with members of the TE San Pedro Rep cast and crew.
Ganz is most excited by another aspect of TE San Pedro Rep.
“There is nothing we anticipate more in 2015, however, than the full launch of the Acting Matrix Conservatory, TESPR’s comprehensive training wing,” Ganz said. “Starting on January 6th, the AMC will offer drop-in workshops every Tuesday night from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. in voice, movement and scene-study technique. This July, the AMC will also be launching an immersive one-month acting intensive, which will be re-offered in the fall.
“In 2014, we welcomed over 50 theatrical practitioners into our community and we are entering into 2015 with our most talented, professional and innovative team yet!”
John Farrell’s review of Oedipus can be found in our Curtain Call on-line feature.