contributing editors

Kevin Morrissey
Los Angeles City College



Five Answers about City's Theatre Arts Department

Nuala Lincke-Ivic: The world didn't end on December 21, 2012, as the Mayan calendar seemed to conclude it would. So what‚s in store for City‚s Theatre Arts Department for 2013?

Kevin Morrissey: Ironically, my birthday is December 21, so I was quite relieved that was not the outcome. The coming spring semester is very exciting for the LACC Theatre. The Academy will be performing Untitled Warhol Project at the American College Theatre Festival-45 at Los Angeles Theatre Center on Saturday, February 16. The invitation to perform continues a tradition of excellence in the performing arts at the Theatre Academy which has been recognized by the American College Theatre Festival more than 30 times over the 43-year existence of the national organization. In addition, the Theatre Academy, in partnership with the LACC Foundation, will begin its first semester of scholarship awards, spring 2013, from the Norman Mennes Scholarship Endowment˜an endowment made possible by the generous gift of over one million dollars made by a former Professor and Department Chair at the Theatre Academy.

NLI: Which of City's Theatre Arts productions are you looking forward to most this year, and why?

KM: We have a vibrant production program, and produce three or more shows every semester, so all of the productions are special to me. The production laboratory is a dynamic place where theory meets practice and young artists˜actors, designers and technicians˜learn how to communicate with an audience. That said, I am always happy to see our students be invited to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. Participation recognizes the incredible work done her by our students, faculty and staff, and provides the students with an opportunity to see high caliber work of their peers from around the region, and if chosen, nationally. We are also producing some extremely powerful plays, including A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and The Shadow Box by Michael Cristofer, along with an eight production slate of one acts: The Most Massive Woman by Madeline George, Mirrors by John O‚Brien, Under the Balcony by Bruce Kane, among others.

NLI: You‚re the expert in stage design at City‚s Theatre Arts Department. I‚ve viewed many photographs of City‚s productions; they‚re impressive. When you consider plays to produce, how much does the elaborateness of the setting or settings weigh in on the decision to produce or not to produce a piece?

KM: The faculty selects material based on several criteria, including cast size and gender requirements, as well as performance licenses (royalties) paid to the rights owner as well as production requirements. We have had to be very conscious of production requirements more than ever with the severe budget cuts. We like to include works in the public domain, as they do not require a performance license and therefore no fees. Without having to pay for a license, we can devote our limited resources to scenery, costumes, lights and sound, and give an audience some of the spectacle they have grown accustomed to seeing in live events. I approach the season and design/teaching assignments with the aim to balance the semester stylistically. I have found that our students have a better learning experience if they work on/in all kinds of theatre environments, from realistic box sets to expressionistic poetic scenery. This variety is good for our audiences and our students and keeps people on their toes and challenged.

NLI: Can playwrights submit their original works to you for production consideration? Do they have to be City students or affiliated with City or LACCD?

KM: For a period the Department conducted a 10-minute play festival and did solicit original short plays. We no longer hold that event, but do still conduct the student-directed one acts, which on occasion are new plays. The problem with new plays, of which there are many, is that they need to be work-shopped to get the bugs out, so to speak. When we have a tight schedule where a lot of students need to have a quality experience, we don‚t have the luxury to workshop productions to work out the problems a new play presents. If we had a playwriting program, it would be expected, but not currently.

NLI: What is your dream production, a piece that you, as a designer, are longing to stage?

KM: Dream production˜I had hoped to design The Importance of Being Earnest, and hope to have the opportunity to design the scenery for that show before I retire. Oscar Wilde‚s satirical comedy is funny and still relevant to today‚s audience. I have a thing for architecture and décor from that period. As for dream production, it would be a dream to have all the resources necessary to do the job. When I was hired to be a set designer for the TV show Frasier, the production designer said during my interview that Frasier did not have a budget, and I was able to draft a set that cost over $100,000. It was thrilling to approach a design problem with all the resources possible to communicate a story. It is my goal as Chair to have our Department raise funds to sustain production activities at an appropriate level for our program. I am currently working with the LACC foundation to generate donations similar to the Mennes endowment so we can finance the work of an undergraduate production laboratory˜the lab where students can realize their work as artists.

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