Since 2011, the “Live Read” series—created and directed by filmmaker Jason Reitman (Juno, Up In the Air)—has become the hottest ticket in Hollywood. Once a month between October and March at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater (5905 Wilshire Blvd.; lacma.org), Reitman lures some of the best-known actors in town to perform readings of classic screenplays. It’s like a radio play done live onstage, with a cast of A-list celebrities like Steve Carell, Natalie Portman, Anne Hathaway, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd.
Part of the genius of “Live Read” is the casting. For his reading of the 1975 sex comedy Shampoo, Reitman picked Kate Hudson to take on a role originated by her mother, Goldie Hawn. The Princess Bride reading featured Fred Savage reprising a role he first played as a kid in the 1987 film. Sometimes Reitman takes bigger risks, reimagining films in ways their creators never intended. He cast Reservoir Dogs with only African American actors. In February, the all-male script for Glengarry Glen Ross was played entirely by women.
Catherine O’Hara, of SCTV and Waiting for Guffman fame, agreed to do the Glengarry reading without having any idea which role she might be playing. “I wasn’t sure until the day before that I’d be reading Sheldon Levene,” O’Hara says of the character made famous by Jack Lemmon in the 1992 movie.
If you’re not in the audience of 600 at any given reading, you’ll never see any of these performances. “We don’t tape it; we don’t stream it,” says Josh Welsh, copresident of Film Independent, which produces the series. And getting in the room is no easy feat, especially for a one-night-only reading that everyone in L.A. wants to see. Tickets go on sale first to members of Film Independent (from $95 a year; filmindependent.org), the LACMA Film Club (from $100 a year; lacma.org), The New York Times Film Club (from $100; nytfilmclub.com), then finally to the online community ($40; filmindependent.org). Everyone else has to wait in the standby line, where the prospects of getting a seat are slim.
The screenplay selections for next season, which doesn’t begin until October, are anybody’s guess. Tickets for a reading typically go on sale a month in advance, and Welsh claims that even LACMA gets details just a few hours before the general public. Reitman reveals the cast first on his Twitter account (@JasonReitman), usually waiting until a day or two before the read.
In other words, if you’re one of those people who insist on knowing the title of a show and a few actor names before buying a ticket, this isn’t the production for you.