Welcome back to my blog! This blog is coming to a close next week, and I wanted to make sure that I provide a bit more insight into the philosophy behind the Odyssey, rather than my usual ramblings about what I learned this week. Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Beth Hogan, the Odyssey’s Associate Artistic Director, and one of the staples that holds this theatre company together.
The start of any generic interview usually begins with the question, “What is the hardest thing about your job/keeping this theatre afloat?” If you are not aware, the Odyssey is celebrating its 45th year, reigning as the oldest 99-seat theatre in Los Angeles. Mind you, Ron (Sossi) has been here the entire time as the main driving force behind this company, with Beth (Hogan) joining in the mid-70’s… very impressive. One thing that is unique about this company is the fact that they operate three 99-seat theaters in one venue. Keeping those theaters filled with shows at all times can be quite a challenge, considering the fact that each production, cast, designer, director, performer, all have some kind of special need.
Beth informed me that there has been a huge shift in the theatre world from the time the Odyssey first broke onto the scene. During the early years, artists were flocking in from the east coast in hopes of making a bigger splash in the LA pond, rather than the over-saturated hot bed in New York. These artists were theatregoers who turned to the Odyssey seeking live theatre to escape from the frantic pace of television and film. During that time, the Odyssey was, and still is, a company that focuses on providing interesting, thought-provoking content rather than commercial successes. Nowadays, people are moving to LA in pursuit of film & TV careers… and theatre just isn’t as important to the new generation. Traffic, parking, erratic schedules and the fact that most people don’t work a 9-5 job are just a few of the abundance of obstacles that make it difficult to set aside the time to see a show.
My next question led to Beth’s final response, “Do you ever choose to do a show based on the fact that you think it will be a hit?” Beth’s response: “Absolutely not. That has never been our goal.” In fact, Broadway Bound is a show the Odyssey wouldn’t usually do, not because of some elitist mentality, but because there is a certain expectation that accompanies a Neil Simon play. The Odyssey’s goal with each production, is to create a community of talented actors, directors and designers. When they heard that Jason (Alexander) would be on board along with longtime friend of the Odyssey, Alan Miller, the show came to life. It goes without saying that having Jason at the helm has certainly helped with ticket sales, considering he is a well known actor & comedian – but that wasn’t the decision behind deciding to work with him. Alexander was in the original cast, has a sincere love for the script, is friends with several cast members and is a talented director. From an outside perspective, using a “name” could easily be perceived as a marketing gimmick, but this is clearly not the case.
The rest of our conversation was beyond insightful – ranging from the current state of LA theatre to the process of picking plays for an upcoming season. If you ever have an opportunity to converse with Beth, be prepared for a poignant, exposing discussion.