Former Motion Pictures & Television Student's Company Shakes up L.A.'s Theater Scene
In 2012, Grafton Doyle was using the skills he gained from Academy of Art University’s School of Motion Pictures & Television to build his acting career. “I was in San Francisco, doing industrials and commercials, including a spot for the Golden State Warriors,” he said. “I was doing well, but I wanted to be in Los Angeles because it’s a bigger pond for actors.”
Doyle moved to Los Angeles, hoping to find more work in film and television. But his career took an unexpected turn after he had the chance to direct a play called The Woolgatherer for the Hollywood Fringe Festival, an annual event celebrating freedom of expression and collaboration in the local performing arts community.
“I never really considered doing theater in L.A. because it’s such a film town, but after putting on The Woolgatherer at the Fringe Festival, I decided to do the first act in my home,” said Doyle. “I invited some friends over, made fried chicken and we performed the play in my living room. It was a special night - people felt like they were right in the middle of the action. Everyone was on the edge of their seats, and the actors could be really honest and authentic.”
Eager to recreate that intimate, immersive experience for others and to provide a fresh alternative to L.A.’s dying experimental theater scene, Doyle and his friends—actor Daniel Korth and Shoshanna Chagall, an actor and director—formed Pop Up Theatre LA. For the past couple of years, the group has been riveting audiences with performances in small, unconventional spaces such as homes, hotel rooms, party venues and art galleries. Examples include the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Bearded Lady’s Mystic Museum.
Former School of Motion Pictures & Television student Grafton Doyle. Photo courtesy of Grafton Doyle.
“The intimacy and power of our shows really resonates with people,” said Doyle. “We gravitate to putting on new, original work from emerging artists, but our menu of plays also includes work from established writers.”
Pop Up Theatre LA has performed at fundraisers for nonprofits like the Actor’s Fund and the Pilot Light Foundation. The company has received great reviews from those who hire them and the local press. In addition, they recently formed an exciting partnership with Airbnb.
“Someone who works for Airbnb saw us perform at a home in Venice and now they’re offering our services as a special guest experience for their Los Angeles customers,” Doyle said.
Fans of Pop Up Theatre LA include Diane Baker, executive director of the Academy’s School of Acting. Baker saw their production of the The Gypsy Machine, starring Academy alumnus Sean Gunnell in Burbank. Impressed, she asked Doyle to bring the play to 620 Sutter Street Theatre where it will run on September 23 and 24.
“Grafton has created this wonderful production company and they’re putting on shows all over Los Angeles,” said Baker. “They’re getting good reviews and people are starting to know who they are.”
Looking back at his time at the Academy, Doyle said it prepared him for what he’s doing now in ways he hadn’t anticipated. “I learned all aspects of the business, how everything works together and how to collaborate,” he explained. “I had incredible role models like Diane Baker, Melissa Gray and Jim Jarrett who showed me what it is to be an artist and be creative. Also, whether you’re an actor, writer or director, the Academy instills in students the importance of being your own advocate, marketing yourself and creating your own opportunities.”
Following this advice continues to open new doors for Doyle. In addition to his work with Pop Up Theatre LA, he recently landed a role in an untitled soap opera for HERE TV, as well as parts in several films.
“My career has been really interesting lately,” he remarked. “Lots of my bookings have come from people in the industry, like casting directors, who come to see our group perform.”