By DS MAGID
Dear fellow Los Alamos County folks,
As a 25-year active member of Los Alamos Little Theatre, I’d like the community to understand what’s at stake at our Annual Membership Meeting this Sunday.
Full disclosure, I’m also a near-lifelong theater professional who has worked at many levels and almost every theater-type job there is. I have a similar breadth of experience at LALT, so I’ll set out what was and what is, and share with you what I hope will be.
First and foremost, every person involved in this social membership organization volunteers. Los Alamos’s original isolation fostered that culture but, in the current sociopolitical climate, it’s worth more than gold.
Secondly, LALT is run like a professional theater but with no Artistic Director. Since people’s interests have a wide range, and LALT exists to serve the whole community rather than just one value system or philosophy, being a Board-run organization makes a lot of sense.
In the dominant culture prior to the last 10-or-so years, the Board chose each season’s directors by calling for proposals that include a producer and a specific play. Once chosen, the producer peopled the creative, technical, and administrative teams for that show – sets, costumes, props, lights, stage management and crew, hair and makeup, dressers, ticket-takers, etc. The director provided a vision, cast the show, and directed, and the actors acted, just as in the professional world.
A Board liaison offered help if the producer needed it, and most importantly ensured that each crew had *at least* one person learning the ropes or being groomed to head that discipline on a future show, in the guild tradition that is the basis of professional theater. Non-acting folks were included from the beginning, even before casting, fostering a team-sport spirit. Many of us pitched in on each others’ shows as well as the ones we directed, acted in, or produced.
Members who wanted to act or direct but had small kids traded babysitting with other members or helped out in other ways instead, e.g., painting sets or building costumes. Everybody was welcome at cast parties, not just the casts. We cooperated and supported each other, doing whatever was necessary to get our shows on the boards. And we had enormous fun doing it all together.
Did we always get along? Of course not, we’re human. Have we disagreed at higher decibel levels than conversational? It’s theater, hello, we’re passionate. Without passion, maybe it’s lecture-demo or pageant or well rehearsed storytelling, but that’s not theater.
These years, while producer and liaison are still called for on each production, the expansive, almost aggressive inclusivity, which was the dominant culture has degraded badly. Lately LALT has carried a short-term, segregated view, every show for itself. When six of the 10 Board members resigned in April, taking with them nearly half the shows approved for next season and a large portion of the creatives from the show in rehearsal at that moment, they cited a “toxic” culture that began “10 years ago.” That was the timeframe when they had become involved, when the master/apprentice development of abilities gave way to isolationist, competitive stances. The “8×10 Six” show went on because “old-timers” and newcomers worked together, doing whatever was necessary to save our production. That’s why I think our professional-style culture, while badly beaten-up, can be revived.
LALT isn’t a business or school or church, it’s a social organization designed to run on people-power, with a collaborative Board and the self-esteem and sense of accomplishment of folks who enjoy playing well together. We are now perfectly positioned to use the strengths of our past to move forward, and I hope we will resume being supportive, sociable, and inclusive. I hope we will once again embrace and celebrate the community at the heart of our unique small town, and go back to having fun in the ultimate team-sport, the art that encompasses all art forms.