Not So Funny
I was truly excited when our office received the information that Back Stage West was going to print an improv issue [BSW, 7/11/02]. The Second City L.A., like other schools of improvisation, submitted its advertising information and paid the fees. So you can imagine my shock to open the improv issue and find that the Second City paid to promote an issue about the Groundlings, not an issue about the art of improvisation.
This issue should have been called "Lies in Advertising," not a Spotlight on Improv Groups. While the Groundlings certainly deserve the attention within the community, I would like to remind Back Stage West that the improv issue did nothing to service the rest of the Los Angeles improv community, and that is a disservice to your readership. There was no information provided to your readers about each school's varied style of teaching, the quality of instructors, curriculum, pricing—no information. If you call printing a listing of schools reporting information, the schools currently do that for themselves by paying Back Stage West to advertise.
If Back Stage West wanted to do a promotional piece about the Groundlings, it should have done just that. Back Stage West owes their readers information and the Los Angeles improv community an apology.
Producer, the Second City L.A.
EDITOR'S RESPONSE: The Spotlight on Improv was not intended as an issue about the Groundlings, or about any single institution. We chose to speak to two high-profile actors, Mindy Sterling and Michael McDonald, about their improv training, which in their case was at the Groundlings. We also printed a piece about intellectual property issues surrounding collective-based sketch work, which sourced various improv experts from a variety of groups. We felt this coverage, surrounded by ads and listings about various improv training options, was a service to our readers. I regret that you didn't feel served by this coverage. We hope you like next year's improv issue better.
Regarding your feature article of July 18 ["Dream Plays and Nightmare Seasons," which presented a wish list of shows by BSW critics]: Your critics are probably aware that the producers and presenters of theatre in L.A. County, and in the Southland generally, are very much interested in bringing to our audiences productions of current interest and importance along with those of theatrical significance and general audience entertainment. We would love to be able to produce many of the plays you and your critics would like to see.
In fact we often ask the rights holders of many of the plays you list and are turned down with no reason given. At the Long Beach Playhouse we believe we have a problem in being close to the L.A. audience and that the authors' representatives are holding out for larger L.A. theatres. It seems that Orange County theatres have an easier time than we do obtaining rights to some plays, because the East Coast reps don't know the geography of the area.
This is possibly a wrong guess on our part, in that we hear now our friends in Orange County are having as much trouble as we are in getting rights.
In addition to denying rights, the publishers don't let us know until the very last minute whether we get the rights or not, making it very difficult to plan a season and get all the publicity and season subscription material produced in time to effectively promote our season.
Having spent time at Samuel French trying to pick up material that we might produce, I believe the folks in the backroom there may be able to tell you that we're all having trouble getting rights to what we think would be successful productions.
You might ask many of the contemporary authors you list why they won't allow their plays to be produced in Waiver theatres in L.A.
I would hope that you will look further into this matter and perhaps help to break this impasse. Until we get better opportunities to produce shows that we are interested in, we'll have more classical and public domain shows for your critics to sit through.
Past president, Long Beach Playhouse