Andrew Carlberg is an independent producer, and chairman and founder of The 4th Wall. He also currently works for Executive Producer Laurie Zaks on the hit ABC show Castle, where he has been since the program’s beginning. Producing credits include the upcoming feature film I Have It (Jim Fall attached to direct), the music video TIL MY VOICE IS GONE starring 7-time Emmy winner Ed Asner, as well as a variety of short films and internet spots. Next on stage Andrew is producing the Los Angeles premiere of 110 Stories at the Geffen Playhouse on February 22, 2010. An all-star cast joins together for a special benefit reading of 110 Stories, by New York playwright Sarah Tuft, which weaves more than thirty personal stories recorded in the aftermath of September 11th. All profits benefit Red Cross of Greater Los Angeles. Tickets and information are available at www.geffenplayhouse.com/110stories.
This article has taken me far too long to write. At times I thought it was because I am not an avid writer, I am a producer. Other times I thought it was because I didn’t know how to get started – an obstacle that always proves to be one of the largest hurdles in any endeavor. Then one night, while thinking about my deadline, and not actually writing anything, I realized why my predicament existed. I can never do the topic justice. There is no way I can even come close to expressing my love for theater. Not just my love, my deep-rooted belief that theater holds a unique and necessary place in the lives of all artists – even those in Los Angeles.
Over the course of the last year, I saw over 50 live theatrical performances. I have no doubt that will double over the course of this year based on how my time in the theater increased exponentially as 2009 progressed. Believe me, there were times when I was bored, exhausted or frustrated that I witnessed a group of people spending their money and occupying my time while not living up to the full potential of the medium. However, if for every ten, twenty performances I see one FARRAGUT NORTH (Geffen Playhouse) or AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY (Center Theatre Group), then every ounce of boredom, exhaustion and frustration is well worth it. I have left the theater more times than I can count, excited to be working in this industry, and anxious for the following morning when I can continue the process of putting my own work together.
I have been a patron of the arts for as long as I can remember – from the time my father first took me to see THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. My parents would take me to Broadway and we’d see five or six shows a trip, consequently introducing me to the likes of Kristin Chenoweth before she was a household name or Bernadette Peters, some twenty years after she was already deemed a theater legend. I understood early on that theater made even the most famous figures intimate, personable and even approachable. In June 2008, a year after comfortably beginning my career in Los Angeles, I chose to act on this understanding.
My dear friend Sharon Lawrence (whose praises I could sing if I had another 1500 words) invited me to a benefit for the Geffen Playhouse. An intimate gathering of what could not be more than 100 people gathered at a hotel in Malibu to enjoy a concert by world-famous pianist Hershey Felder. The water from the beach literally washed under the balcony as guests drank wine and enjoyed Felder’s performance of Gershwin’s standards, mixed with stories of the man’s life. An audience was mesmerized – some crying, some smiling, all enchanted. Dick Van Dyke sat a few seats to my left, and got up at one point to sing an impromptu version of “Put on a Happy Face” from BYE BYE BIRDIE. It will always be one of the greatest memories I have of this city.
Following the performance, I was introduced to Gil Cates, the Producing Director of the Geffen. I expressed my thanks for the evening and boldly, I now realize, commented on how I was by far the youngest person in attendance. His face was knowing. I immediately continued that I knew many individuals of my generation that not only would appreciate an evening like this, but would enthusiastically desire to be a part of it. At some point during the evolution of Los Angeles theater, medium and large scale theaters became associated with an older audience while 99-seaters and under seemed to rely on those with a fresh-out-of-college budget. In reality, it should be the quality of the theater’s work that acts as a measuring stick by which all patrons evaluate whether or not to spend their time and money.
Cates suggested I have lunch with a handful of Geffen employees. That lunch led to emails which led to phone calls which led to the creation of THE 4th WALL. The 4th Wall was how I envisioned my peers having the same access to these spaces and experiences that I had already been afforded. A council of 10 of my peers formed and we set out to evaluate why our generation wasn’t actively seeking out the amazing theater Los Angeles had to offer. In the end, it was our belief that three aspects were holding them back: they couldn’t afford it; they didn’t know what was out there; and they didn’t recognize how closely it related to their film and television jobs in the city.
On a trial basis we partnered with the Geffen to create a 4th Wall night. We lowered the ticket prices to what we felt were affordable for those living on assistant, coordinator and creative executive salaries. We told everyone we knew, taking full advantage of tracking boards, Facebook and word of mouth. As for communicating why it was in their best interest to attend the theater – that had to come with their experience, and it did.
Launching with an April 2009 production of Conor McPherson’s THE SEAFARER at the Geffen Playhouse, the 4th Wall has encouraged regular and repeat attendance from a younger generation of Angelinos. Following each performance, the 4th Wall holds an after-party, where not only 4th Wall ticket buyers are welcome to attend, but the cast, crew and creative forces behind the production just witnessed. This is what hit home the “why” of participating in theater. Following the Geffen’s production of FARRAGUT NORTH, over 100 hundred 4th Wall guests joined actors from the play for an after-party. Chris Pine, the film star, may be untouchable at this stage of his career. However, Chris Pine, the thespian, is more than willing to have a conversation with you. Moments like this serve as a reminder that if a film and television actor didn’t start in the theater, they most likely long to be a part of it at some point in their career. Theater is not a distant cousin to the film and television realms, it is a close sibling, with all three worlds becoming more intertwined as the entertainment industry continues to evolve. In addition to Chris Pine, the 4th Wall has seen Annette Bening, David Arquette, Julian Sands, John Mahoney, Olivia Thirlby, Chris Noth, Matthew Modine, Peri Gilpin, French Stewart, Joe Spano and a host of other familiar actors take the stage in front of them.
The success of post-show receptions encouraged The 4th Wall to begin hosting free-standing events, such as A CONVERSATION WITH NEIL LABUTE. The famed playwright and director spoke for an hour, entertaining questions from younger artists. The evening was intimate. Like other 4th Wall events, those artists that had “made it” were mixed with those that were going to make it. You look around and you know that the next Gil Cates, the next Neil LaBute, the next Annette Bening, might very well be in this room. Beyond that, it is exciting to know that current industry forces are communicating directly to the next generation of Hollywood. Cates tells the young producer how he assembled his cast. LaBute challenges the young writer to be truly fearless. Bening encourages the young performer that their purpose is greater than he or she realizes.
While the 4th Wall has its home at the Geffen Playhouse, its purpose exceeds that of any one theater. It is there to provide and encourage experiences that enrich, challenge, inspire and motivate the next generation of artists. From Plato to Shakespeare to Mamet, the live stage is the most enduring medium in entertainment. For thousands of years it has been the constant for artists. I love film and television and aspire to have a notable career encompassing all three arenas; however, there is nothing that inspires me more than the experience of seeing an actor express a truth right in front of my eyes. While every theater experience may not jump start your production, clear your writer’s block or encourage you to make a more honest decision, it only takes one to radically alter the course of your craft.
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Photo: Andrew Carlberg and Sharon Lawrence at the 2010 Ovation Awards