THE CAR PLAYS AND RADAR L.A.
I’m sitting in a theater on Santa Monica Blvd. with a bunch of people I’ve never met before. I’m nervous. And a bit intimidated. Why? Because I will be hearing my new short car play read aloud in front of this room full of artists. Actors. Directors. Playwrights. Will it read well? Will they like it? Will they like me?
I was invited to be here by Lee Wochner– playwright and facilitator of my Saturday playwriting workshop. His theater company, he tells us one Saturday, is doing this thing called The Car Plays. Plays in actual cars. He suggest we try our hand at writing one.
WRITING A CAR PLAY
The play had to be set IN a car. The car had to be central to the play. Without a car, the play could not exist. The play couldn’t conceivably take place anywhere else. These were the rules. The car couldn’t start. The audience had to be IN the car with the actors, but the actors couldn’t touch the audience. Again, no touching the audience.
We were encouraged by Paul Stein- then Artistic Director of Moving Arts- to think about the range of experiences that happen in cars. Especially in Los Angeles.
So here we are in this theater… the intimidation quickly melts away leaving the truest form of collaboration imaginable. We playwrights hand our plays over to actors and they read them cold. After each read Paul asks, “Is this a car play?” And we say why it is or why it isn’t. We get feedback. We give feedback. We laugh. A lot. We play. We go back and rewrite. It’s bliss.
PLAYS IN CARS ON HOLLYWOOD BLVD.
A parking lot on Hollywood Blvd. Four rows of five cars. At least I think there were four rows that first time around. The audience buys a ticket to a ROW. They are guided to their row by car hops.
I am one of those car hops. I tell the audience that each person will have a partner. There will be two audience members per car. In one car you might be in the front and another in the back. Depends on the car. And, audience members are not allowed to open or close the doors. That’s my job. Got it? Car hops will close and open the doors for you. The door opening and/or closing, you see, is a cue to the actors.
Confused yet? Imagine having to explain this to Actors Equity.
Each car is a different play. Each one is ten minutes. Once the audience is loaded into each car and all of the doors are closed, the plays begin. Noises emerge from the cars. Screams. Laughter. Dialogue. Actors get in and out. Props are thrown onto roofs of cars. We carhops watch the parking lot filled with cars with 15 different plays happening simultaneously.
We watch Paul Stein to give us our cue that the ten-minutes is up. Once the ten minutes pass, we begin opening doors whether or not the play is finished. The logistical nightmare of The Car Plays requires this ten-minute rule to work.
The play is done when the ten-minutes is up. Period.
My favorite part of car hopping was opening the doors to let the audience out. The look on their faces. Would it be exhilaration? Relief? Horror? Happiness? Each car was different. And each audience member had their own reaction.
Part of Paul’s job was to choose the perfect balance of plays ranging from drama to comedy to the utter bizarre and confrontational. Each row had a mix of everything. Some were interactive, most were voyeuristic.
Would the audiences like it? Would they come?
Well, come they did. In droves. With only two seats available per play, they sold out so fast.
Did I mention that the actors had to perform their play a total of fifteen times per night?
MY THREE CAR PLAYS
I ended up having three car plays produced throughout Moving Arts’ various productions of The Car Plays.
Back Roads is about an elderly woman and her daughter stranded on a deserted stretch of road without a cell phone. It was directed by Herman Poppe and starred Helen Slayton Hughes and Mary Beth Pape. Back Roads went up in the first and second installments of The Car Plays.
It’s Not About the Car is about a man who gives his wife a car for her birthday, but all she really wants is a divorce. That one was directed by Lee Wochner and starred Joe Ochman and Liz Harris. It went up in the second and third installments and is worth noting that in the 2009 production Liz broke her arm right before and still performed brilliantly. With a broken arm in a sling!
Hollywood Hills is my dark comedy about two Hollywood starlets in the making drunk, high and lost in the Hollywood Hills on the way to an after-party. It was first directed by Paul Stein and starred Kathi Chandler and Jennifer Kingsley and went on to be published by Smith & Kraus.
PRODUCING THE CAR PLAYS
Imagine being a producer of this event. For just a second. As I said, just imagine having to explain to Equity what it is you want to do. You want to put the audience in a car with the actors and have the actors perform the play fifteen times, FIFTEEN TIMES in a row. And having them agree.
This is where I bow down to Paul Stein, Michael Shutt, Ronnie Clark, Christel Johnson and Lisa Marschall… the original producers of The Car Plays. They were the ones who had to figure all of this out. How to explain to audiences what they’d be seeing. How to arrange for all of the cars. How to time fifteen plays to start and stop at the exact same moment. And a million small details I’m overlooking, forgetting or just never knew about.
I became a producer of The Car Plays when I was the interim Managing Director of Moving Arts. So I have an idea of how difficult this show is to produce. But I was lucky because I was producing with the original producers and didn’t have to figure any of this out. They’d already done the hard work.
People would ask why Moving Arts didn’t produce it more often seeing how popular it was. Well, because it’s just not that easy to do.
Terence Anthony can attest to that. He was the artistic producer of The Car Plays in 2009 when they were done in Burbank with Steve Lozier as Managing Director of Moving Arts and Cece Tio as a producer. Am I missing anyone on that one? I might be. That one happened right as my husband and I were moving out of L.A. so I wasn’t as involved in that one. I did get to see it, though.
PLAYS IN CARS IN DOWNTOWN L.A.
The Car Plays are back! And Paul Stein returns as Artistic Producer of The Car Plays with Kim Glann, Steve Lozier and Cece Tio. Moving Arts was asked to bring The Car Plays to the upcoming RADAR L.A. Festival downtown Los Angeles. And yes, they are already sold out.
The theme of this production of The Car Plays is L.A. Stories. So it’s appropriate that my play Hollywood Hills is a part of it.
This time Hollywood Hills is being directed by Zeke Rettman and is starring Jenn Swirtz & Lynn Mikeska.
I’m immensely proud to be a part of The Car Plays once more. I only wish I could be there to car hop again.
If you want to check it out but didn’t snag a ticket, you could always offer to volunteer as a car hop.
You get to see a unique perspective that way.
Brave audience members get into cars. Doors slam shut. A beat of silence. Then… theater.
THE CAR PLAYS: L.A. STORIES
“This unique melding of site-specific theater and freeway crawl should be hailed as a local treasure… the production’s voyeuristic appeal is undeniable.” —LA Weekly
Responding to the vast landscape of Los Angeles, Moving Arts presents a series of intimate ten-minute plays in which audiences of two move from vehicle to vehicle, experiencing works by different playwrights in a dramatic setting familiar to all Angelenos—the car. After being ushered to a rear seat, the car doors close and the drama unfolds as people in the car break up, make up, make out or even deal with a dead body or two, just inches away. Ten minutes later, the doors open, a seat in a new car awaits, and a fresh story begins. In the course of about one hour, five evocative L.A. stories are revealed.
Conceived by Paul Stein
Produced by Paul Stein, Steve Lozier, Kim Glann and Cece Tio
RUN TIME: 70 minutes
Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater
631 West 2nd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012 | Map
PARKING: $9 event parking in the Walt Disney Concert Hall parking garage off 2nd Street.
For more information, visit Moving Arts’ Website.
THE GENESIS OF THE CAR PLAYS
The Car Plays were conceived by former Moving Arts artistic director, Paul Stein. Moving Arts had recently lost their theater space downtown L.A. Paul grabbed the moment to try something he’d been thinking about for a long time. Paul talks about the inception of The Car Plays in his first person article “RADAR L.A.: The Car Plays: L.A. Stories for Moving Arts” in L.A. Stage Times.