New theater company subverts tradition by bringing the performance to your living room
Los Angeles, CA. September 27, 2015
Grafton Doyle and Daniel Korth didn’t set out to break the mold.
Like countless other Angeleno actors, they simply wanted to produce a play. But renting rehearsal space was expensive, and an actual performance venue, prohibitively so.
Instead, “we staged it in my living room [in West Hollywood] for a small group of family and friends,” says Doyle, “and the response was incredible. There was something undeniably powerful about using the literal living room we were in as the living room in which the story takes place. Friends and family who are not actors or regular theatergoers were mesmerized by the simplicity in its execution.”
“The audience was so close to the actors that they felt like voyeurs,” says Korth. “They could hear the actors whisper to each other and could register every thought that flickered across an actor’s face. They felt like they were watching real life.”
The evening had led them to a revelation: staging a play in a private space, rather than a traditional theater, can transform the audience’s experience of the story. The two men resolved to form a new theater company that would bring stories into private living rooms and other intimate spaces, so as to immerse the audience in the fictional world. They hired Shoshanna Chagall, an actress, director, and producer armed with both an MBA and a JD, to serve as the company’s financial and legal manager and formally launched Epsilon Theater Company last January. The trio hopes to forge a path into a new artistic genre—one which, as the company website states, “combines the intimacy of film with the power of live performance.”
Artistry aside, they’re also forging a path into a new way of funding theater in Los Angeles. At a time when a different small theater company is forced to close its doors seemingly every week—and when community mainstays like Bitter Lemons and Stage Raw host online forums on whether it is even possible to make a profit in 99-seat theater—Epsilon’s unique business model means that it is able to avoid many of the financial problems that plague other theater groups.
Most theater companies must shoulder the costs of their productions upfront and then hustle to recoup their investment via mass ticket sales. Epsilon, instead, functions as “for-hire” entertainment, meaning the team is brought in for larger parties and events to serve as the night’s central attraction. Rather than reach the theater-going community at large, Doyle and Korth need only connect with individual clients, who then provide them with both a performance venue and a built-in audience.
Today the company harnesses a repertory of actors (many recruited from the same San Francisco Meisner conservatory program where Doyle and Korth initially met as students) and a catalog of plays that are rehearsed continuously throughout the year so that any given piece is performance-ready whenever a client requests it. This flexibility allows Epsilon “to customize the theater experience to individual client requests,” says Chagall. “We can cater to the specific space of the showing, the nature of the event, the size and makeup of the audience, the client preference for classical material or for a new work, and other variables.”
“Everyone wins,” says Katrina Muldoon, an actress who performed with the company at a private event at the Beverly Hills Hotel in June. “As an actor, it offers a deeply creatively satisfying way of working. As a theatergoer, it offers an utterly unique experience you won’t find anywhere else in Los Angeles. And as a producer, it’s very exciting to make your money back."
No wonder, then, that in its first year of life, Epsilon has attracted the attention and support of The Actors Fund; added a billionaire angel investor to its team; and undertaken numerous successful exclusive performances for elite clientele, many of whom brought high-profile industry persons, from top talent managers to network TV showrunners, to the audience.
The Epsilon team will face their usual set of rewards and challenges in their upcoming performance of Theresa Rebeck’s “Spike Heels,” scheduled for next Wednesday, September 30 at SPACE Bohemia Art Gallery downtown. The event is the rare Epsilon event that is open to the public, with tickets available for purchase online.
Rebeck’s popular 1992 play (a bestseller at Samuel French, thanks to its frequent use in Los Angeles acting classes) spins a Pygmalion-like tale of a tough-talking, street-smart young woman from the lower classes who becomes the social experiment of a well-meaning philosophy professor. In Epsilon’s hands, set amidst SPACE Bohemia’s brightly painted furniture and crystal chandeliers, the play will find new life.
The cast—consisting of Doyle, Lili Bordán, Nancy Degnan, and Philipp Maximilian—have been exploring the material for months and have performed the piece in spaces as diverse as the lobby of a condominium high-rise and the backyard pool house of a private home in the Hollywood Hills.
Chagall, who directed the project, says that the lengthy rehearsal process has built team camaraderie and “has enabled us to hone and finesse the structure of the play down to every line and emotion while not compromising on anything. The actors are free to act and react in a way that is fresh and interesting to watch every single time.”
Actress Degnan, who takes on the central role of the complex heroine, says, “Taking over a new space every time means the performance is new every time. It poses a challenge, but allows for a palpable, literal discovery as an actor.”
Whatever surprises may unfold, the event is sure to prove magical.
“The intimacy of audience and player is so profound when they are in communion with each other,” says Doyle. Adds Chagall: “We at Epsilon are a grateful bunch.”
SPIKE HEELS by Theresa Rebeck
Directed by Shoshanna Chagall
SPACE Bohemia Art Gallery
3500 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019
Wednesday, September 30 at 8:00 PM
Tickets $25 General Admission / Available at http://epsilon.brownpapertickets.com/
Running time 2 hours, one intermission / Open bar
For more information please visit www.epsilontheater.com