'Move to mid-size" is the mantra for many of L.A.'s sub-100-seat theaters. On the immediate horizon, East West Players is scheduled to make the big move with the March 12 opening of "Pacific Overtures" in a new mid-size theater.
The next wave of upward mobility is likeliest to occur in the east San Fernando Valley, where Actors Alley and the Colony Studio Theatre hope to make their moves, perhaps by the end of 1998. Both companies have been planning their moves for years, but a few recent developments are worth noting.
Deaf West Theatre may join Actors Alley in the old El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. "Everyone seems to be in accord," said Actors Alley managing director Robert Caine--though neither board of directors has officially acted, and "we haven't finished defining the details."
Citing security concerns at its current home near Los Angeles City College, Deaf West has been looking for a North Hollywood home for a long time and even joined the Valley Theatre League before any Valley move was final. The company's "Brilliant Traces," which opened this weekend, is slated to be the group's final show on Heliotrope Drive; the company then plans to rent a space at the Odyssey Theatre in West Los Angeles for one show this spring, before heading north.
Actors Alley's renovation of a former movie theater into 380-seat and 99-seat houses is moving forward faster since the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed last month to give the company an extra $3.8 million for renovation of the earthquake-damaged El Portal.
Caine said that Actors Alley "might be open" to other groups using El Portal, besides Deaf West.
"I want it to be a three-ring circus, with something going on all the time," Caine said.
Meanwhile, a few miles east, the Colony Studio Theatre still hopes to move into a building that formerly housed a satellite of L.A. County's Museum of Natural History, in the Media City Center section of downtown Burbank. Nevertheless, the effort to convert the structure into a 279-seat theater has been scaled back because of the cost of the renovations. Plans were dropped for a second theater (though its space would still be used as a general-use meeting room), an exterior box office and a concession stand.
Revised plans were submitted with a proposed price tag of $1 million. That's $250,000 more than the city has allocated in community redevelopment funds for the project--but it's $400,000 less than the bids submitted in response to the former plan.
Mary Alvord, Burbank's director of parks and recreation, said she believes a majority of the Burbank City Council will support spending that additional $250,000, assuming the money can be found, but the council probably would balk at spending more.
The Colony aims to begin its tenure in Burbank with a season that uses only 99 seats--the same capacity in use at its current Silver Lake space. Partitions would block off the rest of the audience seating. That way, the theater could operate for one year under Actors' Equity's relatively low-expense 99-Seat Theater Plan.
"We need a year to get our bearings," said Colony producing director Barbara Beckley. But after that year, the Colony would move up to full capacity, presumably with its strong subscription base reinforced with newcomers from the East Valley. Community groups also would use the space in its 279-seat configuration, and the Colony would receive a rental break in exchange for providing box office and technical support for the other groups.
SMALL PRINT: Did you ever notice that the actors in a TV commercial for a touring show aren't the same ones who are actually touring? For example, ads for the upcoming "Chicago" at the Ahmanson Theatre feature Bebe Neuwirth and James Naughton of the Broadway cast. They won't be at the Ahmanson. If you look closely, a disclaimer at the bottom of the screen reads: "Scenes from New York production."
New commercials featuring the road actors would be prohibitively expensive, said an Ahmanson spokesman. Production costs could run as high as $250,000. The Ahmanson previously produced some of its own commercials but gave it up in favor of more radio commercials. It's now standard practice for most touring shows to use the New York commercials, said the spokesman, "unless there is a big name in the road production."
NO RELATION: Donna Shirley became a passing celebrity last summer, when the Mars Exploration Program she manages at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was all over the news. A July article in The Times referred to her as "the woman of the hour."
Now she's a woman of the theater as well. She's playing Mistress Quickly in a Caltech production of "Henry V." No, she's no relation to the writer of Theater Notes.