L.A. Theatre Works (Los Angeles, CA)

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Mark Ruffalo and Jane Kaczmarek were featured in LA Theatre Works’ January 2010 run of Clifford Odets Awake and Sing! Photo courtesy L.A. Theatre Works

In 1988, L.A. Theatre Works (LATW) producing director Susan Loewenberg found a way to address an old artistic question of how to reach communities that don’t have ready access to the arts. Following a conversation with a local radio station and the actor Ed Asner in 1988, Loewenberg hatched an idea to record a live play and air it over the radio. The Play’s The Thing blossomed, and LATW continues to record and preserve works of literature and drama, amassing an impressive library of performances, and reaching up to 6.5 million people annually nationwide with its broadcasts aired over 20 stations in 80 markets.

With help from a $20,000 NEA Arts on Radio and Television grant, L.A. Theatre Works will continue its radio programming in 2010-11, paying special attention to its online capabilities. Now that the web has become the great equalizer, “people are increasingly going online as their listening method of choice,” said Vicki Pearlson, LATW’s managing director. “We’re looking at ways of creating awareness of the show for new communities. People surfing for theater on web can now stream the programs online.”

The LATW radio program, which includes 52 shows over the year, uses well-known actors to record not just major works from the U.S. (and British) canon, but also new pieces by up-and-coming writers. The NEA grant will help LATW record and edit the plays with state-of-the-art technology, and then add in research and interviews that portray the program’s relevancy. As Pearlson noted, “The idea of the LATW collection is not just dramatic literature for its own sake, but to represent a diversity of voices, the diversity of current events that are happening, as a kind of platform for dialogue and conversation.” Shows that will be recorded and produced over the season as part of their weekly broadcast will include: Twelve Angry Men (starring Hector Elizondo and Jeffrey Donovan); The Rivarly (about the Lincoln-Douglas debates), starring Paul Giamatti and David Strathairn; and Awake and Sing! (starring some of the members of the award-winning Lincoln Center production cast); and a one-man show about the Watts Tower project by Roger Guenveur Smith.