BACK STAGE WEST
November 13, 1997
Ovations Preview Features
NOMINEE: Tracy Young's Vision
As director/writer of the Actors' Gang's Euphoria, and adapter of the Cornerstone Theater Company's Candude, or the Optimistic Civil Servant, Tracy Young is the single most nominated person at the upcoming Ovation awards. But, as she confessed in a recent interview, her multiple nominations point up some of the inevitable quirks of giving credit and awards to artists in a collaborative medium like the theatre.
"I'm so honored to be nominated, but the funny thing about the Actors' Gang is that all the jobs are practically seamless," said Young in a recent interview. "In the workshop process, the way the actors inhabit the roles from the beginning, I usually end up writing with certain actors in mind. It's more like having a long, eight-week or 10-week conversation. Though I fully acknowledge the blood, sweat, and tears I put in, it's hard to have categorical definitions where you separate little pockets of the play."
Indeed, her work with the Gang has been so seamless that it's hard to tell anymore where Young starts and the Gang stops, or whose work informs who. But she shouldn't sell herself short: Also the creator/director of the Gang's brilliant feminist burlesque Hysteria (for which she won the best direction of musical Ovation in 1994), Young has proven herself one of the few original minds indigenous to Los Angeles theatre, with a truly theatrical vision that's been compared on more than one occasion to the plays of Caryl Churchill.
"If she were in any other town, Tracy would be a superstar," said Larry O'Connor, general manager of the Shubert, Theatre L.A. board member, and independent L.A. theatre producer. In addition to the Ovations, Young's unique work with the Gang has had its share of recognition: The workshopping of Euphoria--a revue-style show about drug experimentation and suppression throughout history which for a long time bore the working title Strange Medicine--was supported by grants from the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre and by a $15,000 Flintridge Foundation grant. The Flintridge folks have chipped in again for Young and the Gang's next project, as yet untitled, about "dreams, a lot of the Carl Jung stuff," said Young. She's also currently directing Vox for About Productions, to go up at the Actors' Gang this weekend.
Despite her strong theatrical sensibility, Young may be difficult to pin down precisely because she is so drawn to the edge of the envelope.
"I believe in the mixing of forms--that's why I'm drawn to musical theatre," Young said. "I'm interested in expanding that form and what it can say. My goal with Euphoria--and I don't know if it was totally successful--was to push these boundaries of what a narrative structure can yield while still keeping it accessible."
Her peers in the Gang get what Tracy's up to, of course. But her consistent recognition by Ovation voters speaks of a wider, and richly deserved, admiration.
VOTER: Don Nelson's Busy Year
Between Sept. 1, 1996 and Aug. 31, 1997, 250 theatre productions in Los Angeles County registered for Ovation consideration. Ovation voter Don Nelson saw 202 of them. Roughly calculating, that means Nelson saw an average of four shows a week--sometimes all on the weekend, in various matinees and occasional morning or late-night runs.
"It's a challenge," said a rather tired-sounding Nelson, an actor and costumer whose home company is the Woodland Hills Community Theatre. "But if you're going to commit yourself to be a judge, I think you have to make an effort to see as many as you can."
Theatre L.A. member theatres each choose or cajole one person among their ranks to be the theatre's representative voter for the Ovations; each voter is required to see a minimum of 25 shows, 20 of which must be in under-100-seat theatres. To qualify for nomination, each show must lure eight voters--out of a total of 128 this past year--to see it, and many aggressively promote their shows to Ovation voters.
It was the solicitations that wooed Nelson, he said; he'd initially committed to see only 65 shows this past year, but, as he explained, "The invitations come in, and I think, Well, I've got to make arrangements to see that one, too."
Arrange, indeed: "There were times I could see three on Sunday--one at 12:30 or 1 p.m., one at 3 p.m., and one at 7 or 7:30," said Nelson. "The most I ever saw on a Saturday was three: one at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 8 o'clock--and two of them had to do with breast cancer!" (Club termina at LATC and Purple Breasts at the Met).
With such a grueling schedule, Nelson admitted, voting was mostly a solitary pursuit--"Occasionally I had a companion, but 85 percent of the time I was by myself"--but, he said, ultimately rewarding.
"Overall it was very good theatre--there's an awful lot of good work out there, both onstage and behind the stage," Nelson summed up. "There were a few clinkers, and many avant-garde pieces where the people were doing it because they love that particular format; I may not agree with the format, but it showed they were earnest. I saw a lot of awfully good things with tight production values, and found theatres I had no idea existed, as small as 16 or 36 seats."
Among the smaller-theatre highlights he cited were Morphic Resonance at North Hollywood's Eclectic Theatre Company ("a wonderful ensemble piece with an awful lot to say") and Dirty Work at Burbank's Alliance Repertory Theatre ("a lot of the critics didn't like it, but I thought the work they did was great"), neither of which got any nominations. His larger-theatre favorite, though, got a record number of 16 Ovation nominations from his peers: "Yes, Ragtime was wonderful," Nelson concurred.
Though Nelson became a familiar face, nigh a fixture, at L.A. theatres in the past 12 months, he wasn't able to get much of anything else accomplished. Next year's Ovation season began on Sept. 1, but, said Nelson with a mixture of sadness, and relief, "I'm not voting this year."
AWARD MAKERS: Snapshot to Statuette
It all began in 1994 in the halls of the Center Theatre Group annex, a former city morgue north of the Music Center in downtown L.A. Chris Komuro, who works there as a graphic artist for CTG, was doing some design work for Theatre L.A., and asked colleagues from the Mark Taper Forum publicity office to pose for an image he was designing.
"I thought it was going to be a silhouette," said Joel Hiel, a Taper p.r. staffer at the time, who posed for Komuro with his arms in an Evita-esque Y over his head. "I had no idea it was going to be on billboards."
Hiel's image, which embodied a performer receiving an ovation, not only turned up on Theatre L.A. billboards and fliers, but later surfaced as the prototype for the Ovation award itself. Komuro took the image of Hiel, made it a silhouette, and stuck it in a phoenix-like sunburst image for another batch of Theatre L.A. materials. So when TLA executive director William Freimuth approached Komuro with sketches for the actual awards statuette, the design was pretty much settled.
"They keep saying I designed it," demurred Komuro, "but frankly, it was a done deal when they brought it to me."
Not entirely done, though: Komuro's design ended up in the Venice studio of Philip Hitchcock, who still makes the Ovation statuettes.
"The original sculpture was best suited for a bronze casting," noted Hitchcock, "but Theatre L.A. was looking for something more optical--translucent or clear."
An aqua blue cast polyester resin was the final choice of material; the bases are cut from cast acrylic, with an engraved aluminum plate affixed to the front. Hitchcock explained that the Ovations are made and polished one at a time; on a good day, he gets through four.
Special considerations include the Lifetime Achievement Awards, whose acrylic base is four times taller than usual, and the Best Ensemble award, for which economy dictates that a small engraved acrylic disc rather than a statuette be given (consider an ensemble award for, say, Mad Forest).
For his part, Hiel, who now works in Boneau/Bryan-Brown's West Coast office, seems bemused that he is the model for the "asexual" statuette, whose sinuous lines suggest that it's wearing a sort of shift or caftan.
"One of these days, I'll present one of the awards," joked Hiel, "and I'll just walk out and stand onstage with my arms up in the pose."