A Stroll Down Memory Lane

Posted: January 28th, 2013 | No Comments »

Jessica Hanna as Tamoraclown and Michael Dunn as Titus with a Hammer

Look out for some new updates on this blog because we’re back. Click here to subscribe and keep up with the latest news. It is about time we got around to publish this article which recaps everything we did during the Fun Family Festival of Tragedy two summers ago. Remember what a fun time that was?

This feature article by Julio Marteniez was originally posted at LA STAGE Times

July 13, 2011

So it seems these two MFA grads from UCLA and a transplant from Franklin, Massachusetts become acquainted at the Actors’ Gang and decide to put on a play, actually four plays. Along the way, they also decide to pay their actors under an agreement with Actors’ Equity Association (AEA).

Subsequently, executive producer Seth Compton, artistic producer Justin Zsebe and creative director Angela Berliner form a theater company, L’Enfant Terrible, move into the 99-seat Bootleg Theater near downtown LA to produce Fun Family Festival of Tragedy, a series of four “all ages” adaptations of Shakespearean plays. The plays, which are 30 to 40 minutes each, are running in repertory, Saturdays and Sundays, noon and 2 pm at Bootleg through July 31, all operating with an AEA contract.

“We perform all four plays every weekend,” says Compton, originally from Franklin, who has trained with Teatr Piesn Kozla in Poland. “They are all written by Angela, who also came up with the name of the company. Justin directs while I produce. Two of the plays, Titus the Clownicus and King O’ Leary, were originally produced at Actors’ Gang as part of their Summer Family Theater Program. Hamlet, Prince of Puddles was presented in April 2010 at Bootleg, which has become our fiscal partner. Our final play, Macbeth and the Monster!, is having its premiere at the festival, which began June 4.

“The idea of the four-play weekend came to us after producing Hamlet, Prince of Puddles last year. We decided it was time to raise the bar and create a chance for audiences to form a deeper connection with our work by coming back each weekend and seeing something different. We’re using this old festival model to develop new audiences. Most of our audience members are subscribers that have purchased festival passes — again, an old repertory tool working like new for us.”

This ambitious trio understands performing in a house with fewer than 100 seats such as Bootleg (formerly the Evidence Room) does not require a formal Equity contract, but it has always been part of the master plan. “It was a goal of ours right from the beginning that we wanted to pay people what they are worth even though it is a struggle for us as a business,” says Berliner. “We were originally projecting this would happen a few years from now; but after a highly successful fundraising campaign and the cooperation of the Bootleg, we are delighted we are able to make it happen now. Disciplining ourselves to do it has been good for us. It has forced us to grow up as a company a little faster than we expected.”

“When we did our first production on our own I had never done a budget for anything before,” Compton admits. “We just sort of dealt with things as they came up. Well, to do the festival, we developed a detailed pre-production budget. We researched what people needed to be paid under an Equity contract, what the accompanying fees would be, what things cost. And then we started fund-raising to meet that budget. We leaned on friends, did fund-raising events, did what we needed to do to raise the money.

“Of course we want them to succeed,” laughs Maria Somma, who is AEA’s spokesperson to the media, based in New York. “The company came to  Equity and presented its situation and we discussed it. We got to the idea of LOA per performance referencing a HAT agreement because of the uniqueness of their project. Letters of Agreement are always a situation when the production does not easily slot into something. This production is geared for young audiences, four different shows, a minimum of eight performances per show, with a total of 34, two a day and the shows are only 30 to 40 minutes long. We look at the whole big picture. AEA came to the conclusion that this particular contractual arrangement works well.

Watching a performance of Hamlet, Prince of Puddles, this writer notes the five-member performance ensemble’s fluid incorporation of Shakespearean dialogue, commedia dell’artetechniques, melodrama, contemporary farce, and out-and-out clowning, all while moving the Bard’s basic plot ever forward, all in 40 minutes. “For me as a director, I am interested in working in styles that I feel are compelling,” says Zsebe, who earned his MFA from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and TV. “We are infusing them within the Festival.

“I have always been interested in vaudeville. Before I came to LA I trained with the Shanghai Experimental Theater. We did Beijing opera stuff, which is almost a precursor to the commedia style of work, featuring scored and rhythmic cuing, playing with archetypical characters. When the three of us met at Actors’ Gang, we kind of came together and started honing our language, taking it in the direction that we wanted to pursue. We decided to form our partnership, keep working and progressing the language and changing it around. It has been an ongoing progression of multiple training forms and aspects that we now call the framework — how we frame action and performance so that things are stylized in a way so all ages can understand and have access to the stories that we’re telling.” Zsebe not only directs the shows, he also serves as an off-stage percussionist, accenting, punctuating and underscoring the action throughout.

Both Compton and Zsebe are quick to affirm Berliner is the creative fountainhead of L’Enfant Terrible. Compton recalls, “When we originally started talking about the work, we felt children’s theater was going to be a part of our process. But when we couldn’t decide what kind of adult plays to produce, we decided to concentrate on Angela’s plays and perform them for all ages.”Having earned her UCLA MFA in playwriting, Berliner is currently working on a TV pilot and a screenplay, all the while developing new works for L’Enfant. She also acts in three of the current shows. “I wanted to be an actor since I was child as well as a lot of lofty things like being a doctor or a vet, but I always wrote. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I wrote my first play. I had my first professional production just a few years later. Right now I mostly write. As the creative director of the company, I want the future development of the company to be driven by the work we are doing.

“This doesn’t mean we won’t branch out into other forms later,” Zsebe adds. “Over the next few years, our steps are to keep it accessible to all ages as much as possible. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be tackling things in a sophisticated way or taking on more adult themes. As we progress, as our vocabulary and our aesthetic develops and our audiences grow with us, we hope to expand into other types of pieces. Of course, to do this, we need first-rate talent. We’ve been fortunate with the level of actors we’ve been working with, who understand their role in the story. If something happens, which often does with young audiences, they are grounded enough and quick enough to take it, accept it and incorporate it into the flow of the work and move on.”

When this writer feels he has recorded enough to fill out a feature article, Compton’s eyes widen and he elucidates, “Oh my God, we haven’t talked about the Bootleg’s partnership with us. The Bootleg is our benefactor, provided this space for us and is fiscally involved in making this relationship with AEA work.”

The revenue from Fun Family Festival of Tragedy is funneled through Bootleg’s not-for-profit status. The motivation for this action is revealed in the festival program. Bootleg artistic director Alicia Hoge-Adams states, “Bootleg’s relationship with L’Enfant Terrible is a passionate one, born from a shared desire to develop an educational model that celebrates entertaining, subversive, cutting-edge theater.”

Compton sums up L’Enfant Terrible’s journey into the future. “There is a rich history of companies that have had organic growth. There is a relatively young theater called the Playground Theater in Miami, Florida. We met their director at the recent TCG Conference and she raised the point that sums up what we’ve always been saying — the idea of separating entertainment as being for adults or for kids, keeping them separate, is not going to help us build these young audiences into the adult audiences of the future.”

Compton also has more practical and immediate concerns. “The last scheduled performance on July 31 will be a marathon day, a grand slam of all the plays. The future is up for grabs. This festival is fully funded by fans. We haven’t gotten any foundation or corporate support. Some very generous people who believe in us made this happen. We believe the community needs us. We think the schools need us. We would love to tour the LA city schools. Taking these tragic stories and turning them into comedies is uplifting. It also teaches kids how to make decisions that are not hurtful to one another. We are willing to play by all the rules. So, let’s see what happens.”

**Production photography by Justin and Kimberly Zsebe

To read the whole article click here or go to lastagetimes.com

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