On a brisk spring afternoon, an eclectic crowd gathered for the Topanga Actors Company’s (TAC) Open House in anticipation of their fourth season. It began with a handful of curious women not sure what to expect. Attendees were invited to sit along adjacent folding tables strewn with bins of chocolate chip cookies and stacks of playbooks of TAC’s previous productions — A Perfect Ganesh, God of Carnage, and The Nether, to name a few. With the guidance of their hosts, the group, several students and teachers among them, were soon swapping life stories and sharing their mutual love of theater.
Several poster-sized cast photos decorating the back wall revealed a sense of camaraderie between the gleeful castmates. The players at the day’s event displayed the same playful familiarity—a sentiment that seemed infectious. A reception of a few, quickly gave way to a spirited social hour. Old friends arrived, embraced, and fresh bonds were forged with the newly initiated. Since its founding in 2015, TAC has performed selected groundbreaking plays at the Topanga Public Library. Under the enduring tutelage of founders Paula LaBrot and Judith Hendra, they seek to expand bringing in new actors and volunteers from myriad backgrounds.
“We don’t want to be one of those cliché click groups. It’s not our ethos to always use the same people,” said LaBrot. “We want to grow and help create a theatrically literate community.”
To that end, LaBrot and Hendra are excited to launch Topanga’s first Ten-Minute Play Festival featuring unpublished, original works. The producers hope to promote fresh voices through an open, nationwide submission process with the final selection made by a TAC committee. The festival will be presented at the Topanga Library meeting room over a full weekend this coming fall.
The two impressarios also spoke passionately of TAC’s upcoming productions of Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive and Bekah Brunstetter’s The Cake.
“I like stuff that permeates your soul,” LaBrot revealed of her selection process for their contemporary readings. The directors seek out powerful material that is challenging and often tackles controversial issues. “We don’t shy away from that.” She compared TAC’s objective to that of Chicago’s venerable Steppenwolf Theater Company, with which she worked in its nascent years. Both companies focus on innovative pieces with thought-provoking themes.
Hendra and LaBrot met through a local book club and soon after created a theatrical experience unique to Topanga. Several guests confessed that they had not heard of TAC until the Open House announcement; one attendee had confused it with another theater venture in the canyon, Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum.
“We work with contemporary plays partially to differentiate ourselves from the Theatricum,” Hendra noted.
The Open House created an opportunity to raise awareness of TAC and bring more of the community into the fold.
“We love the theater, and we love each other,” LaBrot declared. “Now we want to grow. That’s why the Ten-Minute Play Festival is so great. It’ll bring people together and bring in new voices.”
Judith and Paula stressed that TAC auditions are open to actors of all backgrounds and levels of experience. Each production typically requires six to ten rehearsals and, while the cast doesn’t need to be off-book, the directors incorporate movement into the staged reading. TAC is also eager for volunteers to help behind the scenes and volunteer readers to review submissions for the Ten-Minute Play Festival. The not-for-profit TAC’s performances take place in the Topanga Public Library meeting room and are always free of charge.
When Paula and Judith first discovered their shared enthusiasm for theater and launched TAC four years ago, their first season involved a single production featuring Steve Martin’s comedy, Picasso at the Lapin Agile. Now the company produces four plays each season with their chief goal always in mind.
“We do cutting-edge theater performed at a high level and bring the community together. It’s really fun,” said LaBrot. “Our main mission is Topanga.”
If you’d like to get involved with TAC, Contact Judith Hendra at email@example.com.
By Samantha Johnson