COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: The Show Must Go On - An Interview with Echo Theatre Company's Chris Fields


A Los Angeles-based director, teacher, and actor, Chris Fields is currently the artistic director of the award-winning Echo Theater Company, a theater which he co-founded in 1997. Since its beginnings, the Echo Theater Company has presented multiple award-winning productions. Chris has worked in film and television, including stints in Fight Club, Apollo 13, Jurassic Park, NYPD Blue, and ER. From 1996 to 2000, he was founder and artistic director of the Ojai Playwrights Conference. As a director, he won the LADCC for Firemen and the Stage Raw award for Gloria. In 2017, the Company founded the National Young Playwrights in Residence in order to encourage and mentor young writers across the country. Describing Echo Theater Company’s approach to play selection, KCRW noted:

“The Echo Theater Company is on a fierce journey…they’re choosing plays that are consistently challenging, and all have a deep conscious…a rare commodity…the body of work that Echo is building is substantial…if you wanted to pick one small theater to add to your cultural roster – Echo is a consistent favorite.”

Chris took time from his busy schedule to interview in March 2020.


Steven Stroble, Alana Dietze, and Devere Rogers in "Gloria" - Photo by Darrett Sanders

Tell us something about the founding of the echo theatre company. What was the impetus for it to begin? What kind of programs does Echo offer? 

Chris Fields:  A half dozen of us founded Echo in 1996. The group of us went to the Eugene O’Neil National Playwrights Conference every year in the summer. One of the things we learned in the workshops was that the only way to develop a play is by working with the writer. Process, not product, is the key. We were all actors and transplants to LA, so we thought we would start a company that emphasized having a relationship with the writer.

One outgrowth of that was that award-winner Bekah Brunstetter wrote The Cake in our Lab. We told her to take her time with the play. We were able to do that because we have a relationship with her. Another writer we have a relationship with is Kate Robin, a writer for Six Feet Under on TV. She wrote Anon, and we put 22 women on stage in that one. By developing and maintaining a close relationship with writers, we’re able to develop really powerful stories.

Megan Ketch and Jackie Chung in "Cry It Out" - Photo by Darrett Sanders

When did you close the theater due to COVID-19? Were you in the middle of a run? 

CF: We were planning to open Chiara Atik’s Poor Clare on March 14, and we had previews on March 11 and March 12. The play was very well received. Then the Mayor shut down all the theaters, so we never really had an opening night.

Over the past few weeks, how has COVID-19 impacted your theater?

CF: Poor Clare was a world premiere production, and we put all our money into the show. When it didn't open, it was scary. We took a financial hit and immediately launched a fundraising campaign. Our financial model was shaken up quite a bit. Like almost everyone else in theater, it’s been tough going.

Kari Lee Cartwright, Troy Leigh-Anne Johnson, and Martica De Cardenas in "Poor Care" - Photo by Darrett Sanders

Are you doing anything right now to keep our live theater going? Streaming? Having virtual meetings? Planning for your next show when you reopen? Auditioning? Fundraising? What would you like from the Theater public?

CF: We will have on-line meetings of Echo National Young Playwrights in Residence. We pair a novice with a professional artist mentor. We’ve always done that on Skype because the writers are chosen from all over the country. We also have the Echo Young Playwrights, which is LA-based; that too will meet digitally.

We’ve moved everything to digital platforms. That includes our weekly meetings and the Young Playwrights. We’re rehearsing a play right now via Zoom. It’s called Forget Me Not When Far Away by Kira Obolensky. She’s from Minneapolis and wrote the play for the “10,000 Things” Project. She wrote for an inmate population in Minnesota, and her play has 39 women and one male character. Eleven of our Associate Company members are cast, and we even have men playing women. It’s fine by me so long as they don’t “camp” it up; and Kira agreed. I’m not sure when it will open, since everything is up in the air.

Jenny Soo and Teagan Rose in "Dry Land" - Photo by Darrett Sanders

We have a Playwriting Lab headed up by Darcy Fowler, a writer, and Stephanie Ward, a director. We discussed the current situation and decided we can’t just sit around. We’re putting content on our Facebook page. We’ve also already posted a radio play to our Facebook page. We introduced a “Lifetime Pass” in which people pay $500 and have a lifetime pass to everything that Echo does. People are responding well to that. Since we’re a non-profit, it’s tax deductible too. We want the theater public to remain connected and involved.

 

What are some of your future plans?

CF: We want to keep on going. We’re hoping to open Poor Clare in July. We have a season of three plays planned. I hope that everything works out. Right now, I know that this will end at some point; and then we’ll be ready to offer quality productions again. We just keep going with love for our work and our community.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



TICKETHOLDER AWARDS 2019 PART I

My 28th annual TicketHolder Awards are now posted on my TicketHoldersLA website in two parts. You can read it below and click here for photos.

Choosing my honorees this year is a real bitch. Almost as many tears shed as Carrie Ann Inaba eliminating a sports figure she finds hot. Yet there’s not much else good to write home about in 2019 besides theatre in El Lay. Between the mess we’re making of our planet and the eye-opening disintegration of everything I’ve championed and held dear all my life, thank Terpsichore it’s been a spectacular year for the creation of theatrical art to help ease the pain and frustration of living in our Trumpian nightmare. And even though I have a whole heap of productions to honor this year, with part of my time spent in New Orleans hosting an exhibit of my paintings and medical issues to tackle that seem to come with the territory at age 348, there were also a lot of noteworthy productions I sadly missed. In my world, it’s definitely been a year to praise some monumental directorial work and a plethora of spectacular ensemble casts; choosing winners in both categories has not been an easy task. And what do you think of the Geffen Playhouse? After too long a period of less-than exciting fare, the announcement in 2017 that Matt Shakman had been hired as the complex’s artistic director guaranteed a positive change and without a doubt, the turn around has been staggering. Two of the company’s casts are tied here for Best Ensemble, two of its masterful set designs are as well, and five of my top production choices for 2019 were presented at the Geffen, including my second, third, ninth, and tenth pick for Best Play and second choice of Best Revival. If I gave an annual award for Best Season, surely the Geffen Playhouse would win this year. As a matter of fact, maybe I should initiate such a thing. As a matter of fact, I think I will. 

THE 2019 TICKETHOLDER AWARD
FOR BEST SEASON

Geffen Playhouse; Matt Shakman, resident puppetmaster

BEST PRODUCTION OF 2019

Linda Vista, Center Theatre Group, Mark Taper Forum
The Thanksgiving Play, Geffen Playhouse
RUNNERS-UP: The Abuelas, Antaeus; Andy Warhol’s Tomato, Pacific Resident Theatre; Apple Season, Moving Arts; Dana H., CTG/Douglas; The End of Sex, Victory Theatre Center; For The Love Of (or the Roller Derby Play), Theatre of NOTE/CTG at the Douglas; 4.48 Psychosis, Son of Semele; Frankenstein, A Noise Within; Handjob, Echo Theatre Company; The Mountaintop, Garry Marshall Theatre; On Beckett, CTG/Douglas; The Play That Goes Wrong, CTG/, Ahmanson; Sisters in Law, Wallis Annenberg Center

BEST REVIVAL PRODUCTION

JitneyCenter Theatre Group, Mark Taper Forum 
FalsettosCenter Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre
RUNNERS-UP: The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Antaeus Theatre Company; Cats, Pantages; The Cripple of Inishmaan, Anteaus Theatre Company; Happy Days, CTG/Mark Taper Forum; Hello, Dolly!, Pantages; Jesus Christ Superstar, Pantages; Loot, Odyssey Theatre Ensemble; The Ruffian on the Stairs, Los Angeles LGBT Center; Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, Garry Marshall Theatre

BEST MUSICAL PRODUCTION

Indecent, Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre

The Pasadena Playhouse To Host This Year's Drama Critics Circle Awards

The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle (LADCC) has begun the celebration of its 50th anniversary by announcing its nominations for the year 2018 (Dec. 1, 2017 – Nov. 30, 2018). The Awards will take place on Monday, April 8, 2019, at the historic Pasadena Playhouse, in Pasadena's Playhouse District.

Although the Pasadena Playhouse will be hosting the LADCC Awards for the very first time, returning once again is onstage host Wenzel Jones of IMRU, the LGBTQI Radio News Magazine on KPFK 90.7, as well as local composer-conductor Christopher Raymond as musical director for his second consecutive year. The entire production will be in the hands of stage manager Heatherlynn Gonzalez, veteran of more than a decade's worth of LADCC service.

One or more plaques will be presented in each of 18 categories and seven special awards will also be presented. Topping the nominations, the Antaeus Theatre Company has a total of 12 in various categories, including for the McCulloh Award for Revival (plays written between 1920 and 1993) for their productions of both "The Hothouse" and "The Little Foxes."A Noise Within has 10 nominations, including for Production for "A Picture of Dorian Gray." The Center Theatre Group has a total of nine nominations, including for Production of "Come From Away." Both the South Coast Repertory and East WestPlayers have seven nominations each. And the Celebration Theatre and the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, each with seven and six nominations, respectively, are uniquely both up for the McCulloh Award for Revival for their individual productions of "Cabaret."

Sergio Trujillo, is nominated for Choreography for both "Ain't Too Proud," Center Theatre Group, Ahmanson Theatre and "On Your Feet," Hollywood Pantages Theatre. Allison Dillard, is nominated for her work in Costume Design for both "Bliss, Or Emily Post Is Dead," Moving Arts and "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert," Celebration Theatre. Set Designer John Iacovelli, a winner of multiple LADCC awards for Scene Design, is nominated for "The Little Foxes", Antaeus Theatre Company.

The LADCC special award recipients are as follows:

  • The Polly Warfield Award for an excellent season in a small to mid-size theatre will be awarded to Echo Theater Company.
  • The Ted Schmitt Award for the world premiere of an outstanding new play goes to Lauren Yee for Cambodian Rock Band, originally produced by South Coast Repertory.
  • The Kinetic Lighting Award for distinguished achievement in theatrical design goes to sound designer Robert Oriol.
  • The Milton Katselas Award for distinguished achievement in direction goes to Cameron Watson.
  • The Gordon Davidson Award for distinguished contribution to the Los Angeles theatrical community will be presented to Native Voices at the Autry.

More of the complete list of nominees for the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for theatrical excellence in 2018 is here.

The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle was founded in 1969. It is dedicated to excellence in theatrical criticism, and to the encouragement and improvement of theatre in Greater Los Angeles.

The Pasadena Playhouse is at 39 S El Molino Ave, in Pasadena. Standard general admission tickets (a small service fee applies) are $40 and are now available. All purchased tickets will be held at Will Call and tickets are also available at the door. The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a pre-show reception in the courtyard. The show will commence at 7:30 p.m. and nominees will receive instructions via email regarding how to claim complimentary tickets.

For all other inquiries, email: criticsawards2019@gmail.com.