June 15, 2004
in the showbiz capital growing up, or just growing?
BY THE SEA: Santa Monica’s Madison Project will
500-seat theater, seen in architect’s rendering.
Could a growth
spurt lead to maturity for L.A.’s long-derided theater scene?
If so, the drawn out adolescence of a medium typically treated like
a tag-along sibling to the town’s real business of film and
TV may soon be over.
theaters are undergoing record expansion. If quality prevails, the
scene could finally come into its own.
are more changes going on in the L.A. theater scene than at any
time since I’ve been in Los Angeles,” says Gil Cates,
producing director of the Geffen Playhouse and an L.A. resident
since the 1970s. To name a few:
Center Theater Group’s Kirk Douglas Theater (320 seats) opens
in Culver City this fall.
Geffen Playhouse is undergoing a $17 million renovation, and will
add the new 120 seat Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater. (In the interim,
Geffen is using the 500-seat Brentwood Theater on the V.A. grounds.)
Madison Project, an ambitious 500-seat theater and arts complex
presented by Santa Monica College in conjunction with Dustin Hoffman’s
Three Coasts Theater Co., is slated to open at Santa Monica Boulevard
and 11th St. in 2006.
1,200-seat Ricardo Montalban Theater, dedicated to Latino artists
and playwrights, opened last month at the renovated Doolittle Theater
in Hollywood, in association with the Center Theater Group and the
Mark Taper Forum’s Latino Theater Initiative.
anything, the need for artistic growth appears to be driving the
expansion. New-play development requires more physical space, and
spaces technologically versatile enough to accommodate any artistic
vision. The idea already fuels presentations at the state-of-the-art
REDCAT (Roy & Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) in downtown’s
Walt Disney Concert Hall.
outgoing artistic director of Center Theater Group, says, “The
biggest challenge is to create spaces that let performers and writers
say what they want to say and give them the right to fail and the
right to go down a road and change their minds.”
the Douglas Theater will facilitate the development process, allowing
for extensive readings and workshops and facilitating CTGs commitment
to creating theater for the city’s youth.
is workshopping four original productions by commissioned Latino
writers and looking to create more opportunities. The Madison Project
is meant to be a breeding ground for spontaneity, according to its
director, Dale Franzen.
ago, George Sand would say, ‘Chopin, come play your new etude,
I’ll invite some friends.’ ” Now, because of email,
“We’ll be able to do spontaneous readings or performances.”
Also helpful will be having ticket prices competitive with movies.
For the industry,
though, it’s the potential of a growing theater scene to yield
benefits for fllm and television that may be most intriguing. Already,
there’s a long tradition of cross-breeding.
a CAA literary agent who signed director Anthony Minghella after
seeing one of his plays, reps several other playwrights who have
become A-list scribes and directors.
not like anybody has that assignment (to scout theater for talent),
but generally, agents do,” Peretzian says. “The more
good theater that is becoming available, the more agents who would
go see theater, and a byproduct would be more visibility for everybody
senior VP of casting for John Wells Prods., says the benefits of
an improved theater scene include exposure to it and “an auxiliary
range of actors you wouldn’t (normally) get to see.”
Many in the
industry hold legit theater to New York standards, and their current
antipathy could be hard to break, says Dennis Erdman, a director-producer
active in both theater and television. Producers, casting directors,
and their ilk typically treat theater-going in L.A. as “a
last resort,” he says, “after first trying to get the
script from an agent or a videotape of the production.”
complains, “There’s hardly any good material filling
the old theaters. What are they going to put in the new ones?”
are any number of people ready to capitalize on what’s to
Star thinks playwrights who haven’t written for television
“make that transition very capably. I think you find a lot
of interesting voices in the theater — people who have been
writing from their own point of view.”
new Fox 21 division, senior veep Jane Leisner is looking to develop
playwrights into TV writers.
are going to take chances on more out-there voices,” she says,
partly in a bid to reduce costs, because “you’re not
competing for the same talent, which ultimately causes bidding wars.”
director Michael Ritchie, who takes over from the retiring Davidson
in January, welcomes the potential for cross-fertilization.
don’t necessarily start as a movie star or a producer of a
hit TV show you’re probably writing a one-act play in college
that leads you to think, ‘Well, maybe I can do this.’
So there’s a real connection (to theater) that I hope there’s
an opportunity to draw from,” he says.
also a tradition in L.A. of successful film and television actors
lending their names, funding or clout to theater companies (the
many examples include Danny Glover with the Robey Theater, Tim Robbins
with the Actors Gang and Mark Ruffalo with the Page 93 Theater Group).
it was the promised appearance of movie star Hoffman, the project’s
campaign chair, that helped draw supporters to a recent fundraiser
in Santa Monica for the Madison Project.
Late in the
event, however, it was announced that Hoffman would be a no-show
— he was held up on the set of feature “Meet the Fockers.”
was appreciable. In L.A., a star theater scene may be waiting in
the wings, but for now, the film and TV industry still holds the
FOCUS: Barry Edelstein, Valerie Mahaffey,
Ava Shamban, John Carroll Lynch and Madison Project’s
Dale Franzen at a Santa Monica fundraiser
for the Westside project.
Project fundraiser photograph: Vladan Elakovic