Shaun Landry believes live theater has always been vital and will bounce back stronger post-pandemic, as it did in 1918 , after that epidemic.
The prolific actor looks to launch a new theater in a city starving for change.
Looking at the sheer volume alone, itâs easy to equate Shaun Landry with the exponential growth of improv in America. Shaun has worked for The Second City Chicago Tour Company & Childrenâs Theater, Geese Theater Company, African American Shakespeare Company, and has been in the improvisational festival circuit teaching and performing at The Kansas City, Big Stinkin Improv Austin, The Funny Womenâs New York, Miami, Hawaii, Duofest Philadelphia, Improv Festival, Oberlin College, Chicago, Amsterdam, Seoul and Tokyo Improv Festivals, BATS Improv Comedy Festivals, and has taught at universities including Stanford and Northwestern.
Lest we forget, sheâs done the foundational work connecting online networks of artists together for decades or the groundbreaking work as Artistic Director with Oui Be Negroes.
Then a global pandemic happens. Cities are shut down. Live theater becomes non-existent. In Los Angeles alone, The Upright Citizens Brigade L.A. and ACME Comedy shutter their doors along with Second City LA, who paused for infrastructure renovations. Myriad independent shows have nowhere to call home along with iO West that closed the year before.
Again, it just seems like the one person best suited to sow some fresh seeds in the L.A. comedy scene would be Shaun Landry. The actor, improviser, and artistic director hopes to do that with her latest project: The Ledge Theater.
Canyon Chronicle: Youâve established yourself as a leader in three prolific comedy scenes in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. What makes a community thrive?
Shaun Landry: The kindness in saying this first and foremost, to my mind feels a touch overstated. In all three cities, I considered myself âmaking my wayâ in the theatre/comedy scenes.
What makes a theater community thrive at its base is organization, communication, creative input, inclusion, and full transparency, with all working in conjunction with each other. None can be micromanaged within an ensemble or theatre company. The base of the entertainment industry is the competitive nature of different companies. A Community does not thrive if no one wishes to collaborate and make what we do seen by audiences. Saying itâs a community does not make it so. You have to work as hard in your own theater as you do to make an inclusive community for everyone involved.
CC: Why are minority points of view becoming exponentially more important? Why werenât they earlier? How can we keep proper focus?
SL: Iâm sorry. This question to me sounds like a no-brainer question and one that wishes to play devilâs advocate. If people do not know why minority viewpoints are exponentially important, there is literally no hope for them at this point in a lifetime. I think Jon Oliver on his show (with Leslie Jones) said it best: âGOOGLE IT!â Google Systemic Racism. Google the same thing with the words THEATER or THEATRE behind it. Google Juneteenth.
As a black woman, Iâm physically exhausted explaining why my point of view is exponentially important. Itâs a viewpoint that has been buried, shunned, and in American history hung, shot, and set on fire. You keep focus by listening to these voices and do the hard work of getting onto a computer and using Google. And being an ally to those voices.
CC: Post pandemic, so many entertainment avenues are being catered for the home or internet, why is live theater still vital?
SL: It always has been. It always will be. If 1918 and that post-pandemic means anything, the theater community not only bounced back but became more vital. As a matter of history, some of the best theater and entertainment venues came post-1918 pandemic. It was the need to see people and human contact. Why would it change in 2021? I donât think it will. I might even argue that a newer and brighter scene will come out of the ashes.
CC: Also post-pandemic, a slew of comedic institutions who were once the gatekeepers of comedy in the city are either no more or in serious repair. It also feels like a reset. What changes do you wish to bring into this fresh slate and how do you see Ledge Theaterâs contribution?
SL: A space to play that we never had in Los Angeles that does the thing that the âGatekeepers of Comedyâ (Honestly, I HATE that term) did not do: Care about the performers in the spaces they held.
The thing that I wish to bring is something that will never make me a millionaire but changes culture outside of treating specifically marginalized and systematically affected people; i.e., [what hasnât been] seen in a land of âCopy/Reel/Credit links/Pay to Playâ and all that entails: A payroll for the actors working on the stages. A real human resource department where itâs not some blind email link to the same person you have been talking to about concerns. Itâs a place for indie ensembles to have that option of either renting or getting profit from their shows performed. Real marketing and publicity for all that is involved in the theater, and not putting that onus onto performers (it should never be mandatory).
Classes that do not make you feel afterwards, âHow many more do I need to be on this stage?â Classes that, if you are a high school or a university student wanting a degree in the arts, it gets transcribed to your credits.
I want a theater that takes into account that if anything goes wrong within its doors and in its community, it will be handled professionally, with empathy, and in a space that is caring and professional from the top of the lights to the bottom of the un-sticky, clean, and welcoming floors.
I donât wish to have a drinking mess around in a theater where overbooking and miscommunication is the normal and not the exception. I donât want a theater that makes you feel you are not an actor, your ensemble is not professional, and your worth is only as good as how many people in the community you know, not by your artistic worth. I donât want my staff doing the heavy lifting of everything while still trying to figure out how to pay their own rent and healthcare because none of them are getting paid a living wage.
I want a theater that has a payroll, that offers healthcare, that is a beacon of something new in the realms of a non-profit after a pandemic. A place that has the welcome mat out to everyone to experiment, laugh, be joyousâŚand get paid and appreciated for the work they do in theater.
CC: Whatâs your favorite street joke?
SL: Two strings are sitting next to each other and are bored. One, out of complete boredom, ties itself together then takes one end of his body and unravels.
First String: Hey man are you okay?
Second String: Iâm a frayed knot.
For more about Shaun Landry and The Ledge Theater, search The Ledge Theater on Facebook or on Kickstarter where the theater is currently accepting donations.