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Angeleno Magazine — June 2003

PLAYTIME
A diva woos donors for her Santa Monica showcase

by Michael Webb photography by Tiffany Stern

In the wings: Dustin Hoffman and Dale Franzen

Dale Franzen is an opera singer turned impresario in the mold of Beverly Sills, and she is well on the way to creating her dream theater for Santa Monica College. SMC president Piedad Robinson, who is a passionate supporter of the arts, invited her to find a use for the auditorium of a decommissioned school that the college was using for off-campus classes. “I was just ending my 23-year career as a singer, and I had this vision of a little jewel box of a theater with great acoustics.” says Franzen. “The old hall would be kept as a rehearsal space, and the new building would fullfill the college’s mission to reach out to the community and showcase its music, theater and dance programs.”

To test her hunch that the space was needed, Franzen looked around and found that there were no easily accessible, 500-seat theaters on the westside, except for the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, and none in Santa Monica. She remembered what a great experience it was to perform in intimate spaces like this after singing with the L.A. Opera in the 3,200-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and knew there were many musicians and actors who would be eager to use it. She had already found her architect seven years before at the opening of the California Center for the Arts in Escondido. “It was a gorgeous theater, very like the Rome Opera,” she recalls. “I said to my husband, ‘If I ever build a theater, I want this architect.’” Renzo Zecchetto, who was the design coordinator for Moore Ruble Yudell, was standing close by and gave her his card

A rendering of the Madsion Project. Photo by Tom Bonner.“From the beginning, they knew they wanted a versatile, high-quality hall,” says Zecchetto. “I did a sketch, built models and designed the room from the inside out. The architecture was shaped by the acoustics: curved planes and boxes to reflect sound and lighting integrated into a seamless whole.” That expressive form is set within a cubistic outer shell, and the space between provides a foyer and circulation while acting as a sound baffle. The new building will back up to the old classrooms, some of which have been converted into an art gallery, and will define a courtyard for informal, outdoor performances.

Dustin Hoffman, who took his first drama class at SMC in 1956, became chairman of the Madison Project, as it is called, and Franzen threw herself into the business of fundraising for the theater’s construction. She is already half way toward her goal of $15 million and hopes the new theater will open in 2005. Meanwhile, she has begun eclectic programming in the spaces that are presently available. “L.A. is such a cool place right now with exciting things happening all over the city,” she says. “I get 20 calls a month from groups that want to play here, and we’ve not yet broken ground. When we are up and running, I plan to showcase new talent and produce works that cannot be seen elsewhere. It’s important to provide choices for people who don’t want to drive downtown.”


Renzo Zecchetto was born in Santiago, Chile, and was researching wood buildings in Patagonia when he read The Place of Houses, a book co-authored by architect Charles Moore. “I was so impressed, I flew to Berkeley and went to work for him,” says Zecchetto. “There I learned the importance of creating memorable places, and I’ve tried to do that here.” He’s currently designing houses, a new liberal arts building for SMC and a museum of environmental art in Encinitas.

 

 

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE…

THE SPIRIT SURVIVES

A DIVA WOOS DONORS FOR HER SANTA MONICA SHOWCASE

A BID TO BE BIG STAGE ON CAMPUS

AN ARTFUL PITCH FOR A NEW THEATER

DUSTIN HOFFMAN LEADS SMC CAPITAL CAMPAIGN

AFRICAN RHYTHM CONCERT TO KICK OFF 2001-02 MADISON PERFORMANCE SERIES

YOUTH OPERA CAMP AT MADISON COMBINES PERFORMANCE, BEHIND-SCENES LOOK