Updated: Oct 11, 2020
The LAB LV's Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu opens outdoors Oct 15th
Being quick to adapt to change is vital in the arts community, and The LAB LV is no exception, as they have found ways to continue performances with the purpose of increasing representation of marginalized people while allying with other groups to generate support for the arts.
The LAB LV is an accomplished experimental and interdisciplinary performance ensemble, founded in October 2015. Made up of multiple art styles and disciplines, the company works to create opportunities that are both artistic and community-focused. Their mission is to “provide incomparable experiences for audiences by presenting strong, provocative work in unconventional settings, encouraging community dialogue and growth,” and strives to be a platform for artists from diverse cultures and their communities, (The LAB LV).
Kate St-Pierre, Artistic Director at The LAB LV, shared that the company is very selective of the stories that are told by their ensemble.
“We want the stories that we share to be inclusive and center marginalized voices/BIPOC,” St-Pierre said. “We want to increase accessibility to the theatre in as many layers as we can identify which historically has had limited access.”
The layers of particular focus, St-Pierre shared, include the cost of going to the theatre, the casting of those in the productions, and the representation in the stories that are told. They also put a lot of focus on having representation in the company itself by making sure that their board of directors has women and people of color at the helm.
“We are very ensemble-driven, and strive to create challenging opportunities,” St-Pierre said. “Some of these kinds of stories are ones that might make some people or artists uncomfortable but it makes room for growth - as audience members, as actors and artists, and as a community.”
The COVID pandemic has shut the doors on many production companies, including The LAB LV as they work to tell stories and facilitate conversations that need to be shared in our community.
“If we are going to put on a live production at this time, there has to be a valid reason for it,” St-Pierre said. “It has to be a necessary commentary and a community dialogue, as we want to create an opportunity for that dialogue to cover important issues - like the election coming up.”
She went on to say, “I like to consider our shows as the inciting incident. If the performance can create an energy and excitement within the audience, how can we channel that into an action? How can we as a theatre company be as specific as possible with what that action is,” she said. “Is it to get people to vote? To understand Black Lives Matter? What’s the action we want to incite through this performance.”
For now, St-Pierre said that the company is “taking it one day at a time” and that she “couldn’t be more proud of the cast” for all the work they’ve done, how they’ve responded to the pandemic, and for the productions they are working on in the near future.
She said that the company “pivoted - the word of 2020”, and redirected their energies into how they could continue their work for and with the community in a constructive, responsible manner, offering an online play-reading-series over the summer with award-winning playwrights, working on new unproduced plays with Las Vegas artists.
“Many of these plays had never been read out loud before. Actors got to work with a new script, and playwrights had their works read out loud for the first time,” St-Pierre said. “It was a really wonderful opportunity to work with people from all over the world.”
Besides the readings, the company itself has been doing frequent private readings together as an ensemble to keep their connection going when they can’t meet up to practice in person.
“At this time we have no intention to create a performance on Zoom,” St-Pierre said. “There would have to be a really good reason to do so, just like when we do live, public performances. There’s a lot of disconnect on Zoom.”
The LAB LV is planning an in-person community dialogue/performance October 15th - 17th, and the 22nd - 24th, with a play called ‘Pass Over’, by Antoinette Nwandu. Reservations are available through The LAB’s website.
St-Pierre said she is excited to have such esteemed experts moderating the community conversations including the ACLU, Professor Frank Rudy Cooper of UNLV’s Boy School of Law, and Keisha Weiford (MS,LMFT).
With no commercial event work available for artists and no additional funding to support the arts community during the public health crisis, the situation is dire.
“It’s been a struggle. The state hasn’t given any consistent guidelines to keep actors safe and employed, nor have they provided actors and artists any financial help,” St-Pierre said. “Many actors are not receiving unemployment and can’t pay their bills. Production companies and artists can’t pay the leases on their spaces or studios.”
The issue at hand is bigger than simply getting back to producing shows to some degree, as St- Pierre said that the performing arts community and art community in general needs massive funding, especially from the government, sharing how the arts are always overlooked, and especially during times like these.
“It’s devastating,” she said. “It’s only going to get worse if we don’t start working on a solution.”
St-Pierre went on to say that while she doesn’t believe now is the time to do performances inside, there are opportunities for socially-distanced, masked, and limited capacity outside events. That way actors and artists can get back to work and get paid.
“People that own or rent their spaces are desperate, they have to pay their overhead without having any work while trying to figure out how to survive and stay healthy.” (#MaskUp!)
“We’re a family here. And it’s terrifying to see this happen to our community,” she said.
Here in Las Vegas, the world-renowned creative community brings in a massive amount of tourism for the local economy and many industries were bailed out with programs like the Small Business Payroll Protection Program. St-Pierre believes it’s only fair that the arts community is also taken care of out here but that “the government has left the las vegas arts community behind.”
St-Pierre called various groups in the performing arts community together to form the Producers Alliance of Southern Nevada, or PALSNV for short, to improve conditions for the region’s nonprofit and event-related small businesses. The group is currently made up of over 20 organizations that are looking to improve cooperation among partners and advocate for equitable regulations at both the state and local level.
“We want them to know that we are here, and that we are ready to work with them in a safe capacity,” St-Pierre said. “We have a wonderful, vibrant community here. We must find ways to protect and still support ourselves, somehow.”
For those who wish to help support The LAB LV, St-Pierre shared that the best way to help the company is by checking out their website, ‘Liking’ and following their Facebook page or Instagram, and by donating directly to the company through their PayPal. The LAB LV is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, so donations are tax-deductible.
Sharing information about their company’s productions through word-of-mouth, and by coming out to the actual community talk-backs and performances to be a part of the dialogue, are other invaluable ways to support The LAB LV.
People can also help by contacting their local and state representatives to make sure government officials get cultural leaders like Kate St-Pierre’s message that “Many artists have already had to leave Vegas due to lack of opportunities and support,” and “The arts are an essential part of our local economy.”