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Getting a Derby Rink on the Douglas Stage

The Collaborative Artistic Process behind Theatre of NOTE’s ‘For The Love Of’

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(clockwise from left) Tania Verafield, Yolanda Snowball, Crystal Diaz, Lynn Odell (obscured), Alina Phelan, and Briana Price in 'For The Love Of (or, the roller derby play)' at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

A roller derby rink. Choreographed roller skating without wheels. An all-female cast, creative, and design team. These are just a few aspects that set apart For The Love Of (or, the roller derby play)—onstage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre March 7–17, 2019 as part of our third annual Block Party. And these are also some of the many reasons why the ensemble at Theatre of NOTE selected the play, written by Gina Femia and directed and choreographed by Rhonda Kohl, as part of their 2018 season.

It was deep in the MeToo movement, remembered Theatre of NOTE’s Sierra Marcks. We really wanted to celebrate female roles, female directors, female playwrights—and this play was kind of perfect for that... It ticked all the boxes. And on top of that, it was a lot of fun.

Founded in 1981, Theatre of NOTE—originally shorthand for New One-Act Theatre Ensemble—is a democratically run nonprofit focused on premiere productions in L.A. Marcks sits on its Artistic Management Committee (AMC), a governing body unlike those in most theatre companies around the country. Rather than having one presiding artistic director, Theatre of NOTE is led by five ensemble members who make up the AMC and lead the company’s artistic and management decisions. The five AMC members (plus one alternate) are elected by the larger ensemble of local member actors to serve two-year terms on the AMC.

We’re the only democratic [theatre] company in all of L.A., noted Lynn Odell, who currently serves on the AMC and plays Hot Flash in For the Love Of. We have always focused on new, original works. I think what makes us different in so many ways are the plays that we do. We just have a brand. We do some very interesting theatre that other people might be afraid of.

That’s led to some notable productions, including the World premiere staging of Bertolt Brecht’s adaptation of The Duchess of Malfi in 1998 and the L.A. premiere of Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day in 2000. Being led by actors has other advantages as well, explained Marcks. Our members are doing shows around L.A. all the time, so we have flavors of many theatre companies coming together in our theatre, she affirmed. In that way, we have a pretty good finger on the pulse of L.A. theatre. We really try to pull from all of the different influences.

This was particularly helpful during rehearsals for For The Love Of. Long-time Theatre of NOTE member David Bickford—who also serves as producer, company archivist, and roller derby enthusiast—brought in a player from the L.A. Derby Dolls to help train the actors in the proper body movements, to help audiences be fully immersed in the play’s setting and story.

What I’m so proud of is how much the derby players who came to see the show liked it, Bickford said. There were a lot of them in tears in the end—they identified.

Amidst an enthusiastic response from audiences, Theatre of NOTE unanimously selected For The Love Of as their submission for this year’s Block Party—an initiative that brings shows from intimate L.A. theatres to the Kirk Douglas Theatre stage. In the past, producers from their different productions would duke it out when it came time to choosing shows to be considered, Marcks explained, but all agreed that For The Love Of was magic onstage.

This is a show that can really benefit from an expansive space, Bickford added. We are depicting a roller derby track and a team and stands. More space might just give the show more room to breathe and let the choreography live even larger. I think the possibilities are exciting.

Theatre of NOTE members are hoping to connect For The Love Of with a broader audience at Block Party while raising awareness for their company and overall mission. We really treasure the diversity of the cast that was written into the script, said Marcks. We are really striving inwardly to make sure that we represent L.A. at large. I think this cast definitely does that. We want to make it theatre for everyone.

Ultimately, you don’t have to be a roller derby super fan or even understand the sport to enjoy For The Love Of. At its heart, it’s a very universal story, added Odell. It’s about finding out who you truly are instead of letting other people tell you who you are. I think that’s something anyone can relate to.

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