“Q&A with Colin Mitchell” by Dan Berkowitz

Yeah, I know, I’m still asking questions. Truth be told, I’ve got an awful cold, and rather than sneeze and cough all over theatregoers around town, I decided to do another Q&A, this time with one of LA’s most fascinating theatre figures.

Yes, he’s an actor. And a director. And a playwright. And a producer. And has written comics for Marvel (I don’t know where that came from either, but it’s true…)

However, what many people in town think of first when they hear the name Colin Mitchell is Bitter Lemons. No, he’s not some sort of weird citrus chef too. Bitter Lemons is an entertainment website he began in 2008 with publisher and partner Enci Box. The site has grown each year, is read not only in LA, but across the country, and is about to hit 600,000 page views for this year. The subtitle of Bitter Lemons is “Bringing Los Angeles Theater together. Whether it likes it or not.”

Colin Mitchell

Colin Mitchell

Dan Berkowitz: In 30 seconds, can you tell us what Bitter Lemons is all about? All right, make that 45 seconds.

Colin Mitchell: That’s the thing about Bitter Lemons, it’s difficult to crystallize what we are and what we do down to an easily digestible cyber bite, as we are constantly expanding and endlessly evolving, but if you held a gun to my head: we are a Los Angeles-based, grass roots, arts media brand that has become the go-to pub-hub for all things Los Angeles Theater.

We’ve achieved this by using a unique blend of irreverent and outspoken op-ed arts-lit writing, innovative bare-knuckle advocacy that marries the ancient art of theater with the modern tech of the Twentieth Century, and our trademarked aggregate review system known as the LemonMeter, which has solidified us as the “Rotten Tomatoes of live theater.” How’s that?

DB: Pretty good, though it was closer to 52 seconds. Give us a couple of reasons why people interested in LA theatre should visit Bitter Lemons every day.

CM: While there are other arts journalism outlets out there, no other publication captures the true flavor of Los Angeles Theater like Bitter Lemons, mostly because we provide an open platform that is radically inclusive to all voices and all opinions while bringing a refreshing edge of honesty, intelligence and wit that has captured the voice of Los Angeles Theater. People trust us because we say the things that others won’t, though they wish they could. When it comes to Bitter Lemons, people may not agree with what we say, but they know there’s no bullshit involved. And that’s refreshing.

And of course the LemonMeter has literally changed the face of serious theater criticism like nothing else in this city. For almost eight years we have challenged the theater critics in this town to get better, to change with the times and speak to a new audience that is getting their information in new ways and from different places.

And our radical new business model for theater criticism, The Bitter Lemons Imperative, though it may not have quite taken hold yet, certainly has exposed the hypocrisies and chicanery of theater criticism in this town. And I think we’ve done the same for the community as a whole. People may not always like us, but I think they’d be lost without us. Basically, with the continued transition of arts journalism from print to online, we have become the alternative to the alternative and our audience has never stopped growing since our inception in 2008.

DB: It’s been rumored you have strong opinions. What do love most about LA theatre? What do you hate most about it?

CM: Well of course I love the work first. I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again, some of the best theater in the country, if not the world, is being made in Los Angeles. I’ve lived in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and the unique blend of cinema, theater and TV on our stages here in LA is like none other. It’s just that most people don’t realize it yet.

And therein is probably the thing I dislike most about LA Theater: its inability to sell itself to its own city and the cities around it. Too many of the companies in this town work from a place of fear, almost reveling in their own poverty, asking people to “support” their work rather than to come and “enjoy” it, protecting their tiny domains and mailing lists while wondering why their audiences aren’t growing.

There is way too much back-patting going on this town, too much undeserved boosterism, and when it comes to productive criticism, most people simply want praise, rather than healthy differences of opinion. This is a town easily offended and outraged and I think it comes from a major inferiority complex. I mean, how many people actually identify themselves as members of the Los Angeles Theater Community? More so lately, but it’s been a long time coming. It’s the business of theater in this town that needs to grow up and match the pace of the talent and fine work that’s already being made.

DB: What do you think of the current brouhaha between Actors Equity – the union which represents professional stage actors – and the producers of LA 99-seat theatre, which is most of the theatre we have in town?

CM: Well I’ve written about it extensively, as you may know, and it’s a very personal story for me as I’m a 25-year member of the union. But it’s also a very complex story, as I’m also a member of the LA Theater Community and an influential voice as well because of my work at Bitter Lemons. Many allegiances and many obligations, it can get exhausting finding the balance.

The 99-seat plan needs to change, I’ve been a proponent of that for years, the eco-system of LA Theater has outgrown the business model – sorry, the “volunteer model” – but overall, Equity’s tone deafness and duplicity was extremely repellent to me and has soured me on ever trying to actively collaborate with them ever again. But the resulting #Pro99 movement feels like a win and I’d like to think Bitter Lemons had a hand in getting that online tsunami a-rolling. Something new will come out on the other side and that in the long run will be a good thing for Los Angeles Theater.

DB: We’re about to leap into Awards Season, and “10 Best” lists are popping up everywhere. We don’t need 10, but give us your top 3 theatrical favorites of 2015.

CM: Funny you ask that as I’ve just posted my Top Ten Favorites in LA Theater 2015 over at the site and will be soon publishing our Top Rated list pulled directly from our LemonMeter.

If I had to choose three, though, it would be Coeurage Theatre’s Failure: A Love Story, Circle X’s Trevor and Deaf West’s Spring Awakening at The Wallis, which started in the 99-seat theater world and is now killing it on Broadway. It was a pretty good year for theater in Los Angeles overall, certainly more and more people are taking notice and I think the work we’ve been doing at Bitter Lemons has certainly helped in that respect.

DB: You act, you write, you direct. I hear you’re about to teach a couple of classes soon – what’s that all about?

CM: Though I’ve focused much of my time building up Bitter Lemons over the last five years, actually making and doing theater is still my passion and I’ve tried to ease my way back into that world more and more over the last couple years. Did my one man show Linden Arden Stole the Highlights at the Fringe last year and it did very well, winning a couple awards, and this year I had a play I wrote and performed in called Madness! Murder! Mayhem! at Zombie Joe’s Underground that was very well received. I’m looking forward to even more theater making in 2016.

And yes, classes too. I have two uniquely collaborative and simultaneously symbiotic writing and acting classes I’m teaching in NoHo in 2016 that are currently open for enrollment. I’m calling the project “Leapfrog with Unicorns.” The classes will be all about learning by doing and will culminate with three performances at Zombie Joe’s. Anyone interested should give me a shout at 323-253-3887 or leapfrogwunicorns@gmail.com as the spaces are filling up quickly.

DB: What’s a fun thing about you that no one else knows? (And we guarantee not to tell…)

CM: My dad was a two star general in the Army. My mother is an off-the-boat Scottish immigrant painter and teacher. The only thing I love more than theater is soccer. Well, that and my six-year-old son Max. Sorry, that’s like four “fun things.” Frankly, if I had my druthers, I’d be coaching college ball or something in Portland rather than wasting my time talking about theater here in Los Angeles. I mean, is there anything more boring? Oh, wait. Did I just say that out loud?

Yes, you did. But don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.

And in case any of you readers didn’t catch it, this Q&A exposed one of the biggest controversies and bones of contention in the entertainment community today: some people spell theater “theatre” and other people spell theatre “theater.” And never the twain shall meet.

If you’d like to check out Bitter Lemons for yourself, click here: http://socal.bitter-lemons.com/


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