The Center Theatre Group rehearsal rooms have been the site of many thrilling artistic breakthroughs over the past five decades, but audience members generally have had to use their imagination if they want to know what really happened there. Luckily for our patrons, we offer at least one opportunity to visit the room where it happens and get a glimpse behind the scenes for every production at the Mark Taper Forum. Before second Saturday matinee performances, our free, open-to-the-public Artist Series bring together artists and artisans—from playwrights, directors, and actors to designers and production crew members—with audiences for up-close conversations in the rehearsal rooms of The Music Center Annex.
What today we call the Artist Series was founded in the 1970s by UC Santa Barbara theatre professors who wanted to bolster the interest of young theatregoers. They invited Southern California alumni and other subscribers to join them before the show for discussions about the work onstage, often with members of the creative team. After the matinee and before the evening performance, the group would gather again for a potluck dinner to which they invited the cast. Over the years, the potluck was dissolved, and Center Theatre Group took over the programming, inviting any audience member who wanted to attend.
Genni Klein has been attending the program since 1975. She recalled highlights including director Warner Shook giving a talk about The Kentucky Cycle and co-director Oskar Eustis discussing Angels in America, as well as more recent programs featuring Archduke and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo playwright Rajiv Joseph.
“They are absolutely wonderful. I have appreciated them very much,” said Klein of the discussions. The program “has given me some very interesting insight into certain pieces, particularly new works. It’s always interesting to hear somebody’s point of view on the artistic choices.” Subscribing for so long has also created community for Klein. “There are several people from that original program who still attend, and it’s a way we keep up with each other,” she added.
“The Artist Series is another chance for us to highlight the caliber of artists we work with,” said Audience Engagement Director Tyrone Davis. “But more importantly, it’s a chance for our community—not just patrons but also students and people at home, who can listen to recordings of the conversations on our podcast—to find out about the creative spark behind the work, to deepen their engagement with the productions, and to be inspired by theatre in a new way.”
The 2018/2019 Artist Series kicked off on September 8, 2018 with actor John Earl Jelks, who reprised his Broadway and Off-Broadway role in Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat at the Taper. Writer and director Luis Valdez joins audiences on November 10, 2018 to discuss the history and inspiration behind Valley of the Heart.
“Theatre is ultimately about building community—and exploring and sharing our human experiences,” said Director of Social Strategy, Innovation and Impact Leslie K. Johnson. “What better way to do that than to bring together the two most important human elements of theatre—our artists and our audience—in intimate ‘get to know you’ conversations?”