“[Here’s] this town where everyone is making movies and Web series, and the only thing we knew how to do was make cheap guerrilla theater,” says Katie Lowes, best known as Quinn Perkins on ABC’s “Scandal” and co–artistic director of IAMA Theatre Company.
Pronounced “I am a,” the company has quickly grown since its inception and was recognized with an Ovation Award in 2014 for its production of “The Recommendation,” a show starring two African-American actors and one Jewish actor about who’s given a recommendation in this world and who isn’t. The political show perfectly exemplified what the theater sets out to achieve.
“We like voyeuristic theater, where you feel like you’re watching something that you shouldn’t be,” says Lowes. “We’re really into words like ‘edgy’ and ‘racy’ and ‘provocative,’ and really pushing theatrical boundaries to look at the place in which we live culturally, socioeconomically, and racially.”
In a town like Los Angeles, she adds, where everyone’s just waiting for their big TV or film break, it’s vital to practice live performance.
“It’s the only place that’s truly the actor’s medium,” she says. “When you work on a TV show, it gets put into an editing room and the performance gets changed and shifted. It’s really more in the writers’ hands and the editors’ hands.
“There’s something about getting onstage in a play where the actor tells the story, beginning, middle, and end, the way they want to tell it,” she adds. “For me, it’s the most powerful place to be and it’s the most empowering place to be.”
Though her Gladiator/B613 agent on “Scandal” is a powerful and consuming role, Lowes uses downtime on the set to keep up with her co–artistic director duties.
“You can ask everyone on set: On every turnaround when they have 15 minutes for a lighting setup, I’m reading through another play; I’m reading submissions for our one-act festival; I’m getting emails out for our once-a-month reading series; I’m scheduling rehearsal for our scene-study night. It’s literally my passion and my artistic outlet in between takes. And, of course, when things are super serious on ‘Scandal,’ the company is amazing at picking up my slack.”
Lowes, along with co–artistic directors Stefanie Black and Christian Durso and the rest of the company, is gearing up for the annual IAMAFest Nov. 6, which consists of about six one-act plays performed in different areas of a bar and is “a really important part of [the theater’s] process,” according to Lowes; the environmental theater festival introduces the company to new directors and playwrights, and new works often become full-length plays later down the line.
Outside of IAMA, the new season of “Scandal” is set to premiere Sept. 24. And while Lowes has her hands full balancing her two rewarding jobs, she says her company is “a huge part of my life and I want it to be forever.
“Before ‘Scandal,’ when I was a waitress and a babysitter and a caterer and not working as much, IAMA and my best friends at IAMA and being able to make theater with my friends is literally what saved my life and kept me going.”
With local theater still such an important part of her routine, Lowes can only encourage working actors to make it a part of theirs. “It’s the best way to get represented and to get casting directors to see you,” she says. “There’s nothing better than renting a small, 50-seat theater in L.A. and just getting up there.”