Before one can make any resolutions for the coming year, it's a good idea to look back on the previous year to find out where you've been. And why. For theater in the Valley, 1995 has been an interesting year.
During the past 12 months, some local theaters have expired, some have moved from old homes, some have tried valiantly to rise from the rubble of disaster, and some have popped out of the rabbit hole for the first time.
In Glendale, A Noise Within is in its fourth season as a classical theater company doing works that pre-date Shakespeare up to the recent past. An Equity house, they have done something no other 99-seat theater has done: For the second year, they are touring a production outside their walls under an Equity contract.
In a few years, they hope to move operations downstairs from their present space, also under an Equity contract. Working with a large grant from the city of Glendale, co-artistic director Julia Rodriguez Elliott said it best: "We're not about to go away."
At the other end of the artistic spectrum is the avant-garde Black Hole Theatre on Van Nuys Boulevard in Van Nuys. Their specialty seems to be the far-out. And while they have a way to go before they are on economic and artistic solid ground, they are off to a good start. Theater is always healthier with some radicals rattling around in it.
Speaking of theater's health, the institution has a grand, age-old nickname, "The Great Invalid." Theater is like the nonagenarian who's been sick every day of his life, but has managed to last almost a century. Theater can't be destroyed or held down. It goes on relentlessly in spite of the doom-sayers.
Take Actors Alley, which moved into its new quarters at North Hollywood's El Portal Theatre on Lankershim Boulevard, only to have the space badly damaged by the Northridge quake.
But after a season spent in a tent across the street on the Television Academy grounds, and this year's three-play season at the company's new Storefront Theatre at the El Portal, Actors Alley's future looks hopeful. Indications are that the El Portal mainstage and the company's smaller arena stage will be open early in 1996, giving the group three venues.
The Northridge quake was also directly, or indirectly, responsible for the demise of the Richard Basehart Theatre in Woodland Hills and the West End Playhouse in Van Nuys. Cynthia Baer, artistic director of the Basehart, has not announced plans for a new space in the Valley.
But Edmund Gaynes, who had several successful musicals at the West End, hasn't let the grass grow underfoot. He quickly relocated his operation to Studio City's Two Roads Theatre on Tujunga Avenue.
In addition, he recently took over the former Tonto & Dietz coffeehouse on Ventura Boulevard, also in Studio City, renaming it Ovations. He calls Ovations a "theater cabaret" featuring one-person and small-cast plays in addition to evenings of "theatrical comedy."
During 1995, Gaynes had a successful and inventive program at Two Roads called "64 Solos," a smorgasbord of one-person shows in brief runs, some of which he is reprising for longer runs.
The Road Theatre Company and Synthaxis Theatre spent 1995 moving into the Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood, joining a fast-growing group of theaters that make up what is called the NoHo Theatre Arts District.
The Road Theatre, Actors Alley and American Renegade Theatre are all within a few blocks of each other.
These venues have been joined in NoHo by the new Raven Playhouse, near Eagle's Coffeehouse; the Sanford Meisner Center for the Arts, near the Arts Center on Lankershim; and just to the south, Playhouse West.
The quake shook everybody up, but in spite of headaches and financial stress, theater prevails. In NoHo and other areas of the Valley, it proves that theatrical groups have no intention of letting nature or humans deter them.
Live theater gives audiences a sense of immediacy that film can never offer. And the instantaneous reaction of a live audience offers profound rewards to an actor. That's why you often see familiar faces from the large and small screen on stage in local theaters.
The Great Invalid may continue shaking its head and looking for the aspirin bottle. But as it has in the past year, its rapid recovery and will to survive will keep it from being done in.
Even old Mother Nature, tossing half a state around, can't keep it down.