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Building Los Angeles' Community Theatre

Talking with Paul Elliott about his career, creating Los Angeles Community Theatre (LACT), and the community theatre scene in L.A.

"I want to work with a group of professional writers and actors to start our own community theater to give back to the community that has given us so much." - Paul Elliott

First of all, tell us about yourself and what kind of work you do in the Los Angeles area?

I began as an actor in college and it was there a teacher encouraged me to be a writer…but I didn’t listen. Who wants to be behind the scenes when you can be front and center…I always played the boy next door, the best friend who never got the girl. I loved comedy, but after a couple of years of this I approached a director and asked if he would consider me for a villain. After his initial shock, he said it might add a new dimension and cast me as Demekos in "Tiger at the Gates. " Demekos was a very evil conniving person, who was so focused on gaining power that with his last dying breath caused the Trojan war. From there on I played a whole array of villians which are much more interesting that nice guys…and gave me an outlet for some of my own frustrations. I acted in over 35 productions in three years and then from acting I moved into directing and being an over-achiever, directed another 18 productions in college and summer stock before moving onto to graduate school. I ended up being the first MFA graduate from the University of North Carolina in Greensboro and for my thesis production directed the first licensed production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” the week after the show closed on Broadway. It turned out being a major hit and I was hired as chairman of a performing arts department in another college even before graduation. After several years of running my own theater, dance and music department and directing five productions a year, I realized I was sending my students out into the world to compete and I had never really done that myself. I had been offered chances to direct off-broadway and had even been offered a chance to join the Pasadena Playhouse in its heyday but had been too afraid to step out of my network of friends…So in a leap of lunacy, I decided to take a year sabbatical and go forth and conquer. I thought I’d write a play and see if I could get it published….I wrote a play called “Ledge, Ledger and the Legend” and sent a copy off to both Samuel French and Dramatic Publishing.

Dramatic answered that first week…and by the time French responded positively the next week, the contract was already signed. Samuel French agreed to publish the next two plays I wrote…which they did. Nothing much happened with those two plays, but “Ledge, Ledger and the Legend” has become one the most produced one acts in the past thirty years… since then Dramatic Publishing has handled all my plays.

Getting to Los Angeles was again a twist of fate. I was living in Nashville TN, and was married with two children when a friend of mine suggested i should try writing a movie or TV show. He gave me book on how to write a screenplay and we decided to compete with each other to see who could finish a script fastest. He churned out a beautiful piece of historical genius and I wrote a screenplay called, “Fangs” about a Tennessee resort taken over by snakes. Since i wrote mine for an actor who was big at the time, Monte Markham, I read in a magazine he lived in Malibu, so I sent it to Monte Markem Malibu, CA….and by some twist of fate it actually make it to him…and two weeks later I got a call from the man himself saying he’d like to meet with me.

He was at that time touring the country in a play about Raymond Burr… when he got off the plane in Nashville, the press swarmed him and after saying how glad he was to be in Nashville, he mentioned that he was really excited to meet with the Nashville screenwriter, Paul Elliott. It made the front page of every paper in town and I did meet with him and he optioned the script. But even more importantly, I got a call from another producer asking if I had ever written for television. Of course, I hadn’t, but asked him to send me a sample script. He had a new recording star he was trying to cross over to mainstream…. Her name was Dolly Parton. I ended up doing 24 shows for the Dolly Show, then 24 for Marty Robbin’s spotlight, then another 24 for Country Roads…..great training for moving to Provo, Utah to work with Donny and Marie, Barbara Mandrell, Bobby Goldsboro, and Dick Van Dyke.

Then musical variety died and I moved into live entertainment for Disneyland and Disney parks around the world….Then on to multi-million dollar press launches for HB, Microsoft, Merle Norman, Neutrogena, Radio Shack, and others…..

After retiring, I started writing again for the stage and have had five new plays published and have spent five years as the head of writers unit with Fierce Backbone, a playwrighting development workshop in Los Angeles, and also have taught a improv class for seniors wanting to get into commercials.

Now I want to work with a group of professional writers and actors to start our own community theater to give back to the community that has given us so much.

What other collaborations have you had in California community theatres?

I only became a recent member of AACT (American Association of Community Theatre) when my play, “Exit Laughing”, won the first New Works Playfest …. Meeting Linda Lee and the others AACT made me realize I had found the group I wanted to become a part of.

LACT, Los Angeles Community Theatre, was an idea I came up with when I realized Los Angeles does not have an official community theatre named after it and yet it is a huge city with so many communities within it, the possibility of a multicultural theater was exciting…especially if the city gives us access to some of the existing venues they already have.

LACT brings together actors, artists, writers and directors and plans to utilize existing venues in the LA area to create professional training grounds for all age ranges.

Los Angeles' theatre scene is unique; there is a mix of theatre produced by larger theatres, and also community theatres. Geographically, there is distance from the 'hub' of LA proper with the 'professional' groups, and the surrounding areas that are a larger mix of both community theatres and professional groups and performing arts centers that present. Is this an accurate description of the LA theatre scene? What makes LA theatre unique, and also challenging?

Because Los Angeles’ artistic community has chosen this field as a profession, it’s mentality is that there are only two types of theatre… professional (“I’m paid”), and 99 seat (“I’m not necessarily paid much, but I get to be seen by agents”) the words “community theater” to them, denotes unprofessional, unpolished, vanity productions…and what I’ve learned is that that is just not the case… I challenge any professional theater to compete with the Springfield Little Theatre, or the Venice Beach community theatre on their production values.

How do you hope lact will be part of the greater Los Angeles theatre culture?

I want LACT to help link not only the communities of greater Los Angeles, but the professional talent of Los Angeles with those wishing to become professional…

What's next for LACT?

Becoming a reality

How can people get involved with LACT?

- by contacting me and expressing interest…

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