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Theater Notes

Does NoHo Have Say-So for District?

April 22, 2001|DON SHIRLEY

Does L.A. need a theater district? Does L.A. have one?

A press release for "Starry, Starry Night'-a gala event in North Hollywood next Saturday-says that the festivities will open "the NoHo Arts District as the designated Theatre District of Los Angeles."

Exactly who is doing the designating, beyond the promoters themselves, is unclear. Lillian Burkenheim, project manager for the Community Redevelopment Agency in North Hollywood, said that the designation isn't official but that "some resolution is moving forward through the bureaucracy." Lee Wochner, president of Theatre LA, the countywide organization of theater companies and producers, said that he was unaware of any such designation until The Times contacted him last week. He expressed a position that many Los Angeles producers have adopted in recent years: that "the whole county is a theater district" and that "one strength of theater in L.A. is its geographic diversity."

However, he said that officially designating several theater districts isn't a bad idea. "Is it going to get them more public funding and awareness? I'm for it."

The last organized effort to establish an L.A. theater district occurred in 1992, when 11 theaters along Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood declared themselves Theatre Row Hollywood, receiving official support from then-City Councilman Michael Woo. They pooled resources for improved security and parking, and hung banners pronouncing themselves a theater district.

As an organization, Theatre Row has not been active recently, said Matt Chait, one of the group's organizers, who operates the set of small theaters called the Complex. Most of the banners are long gone. However, the theaters are part of a larger, designated Media District, which is a project of the local Business Improvement District.

Chait said he would be concerned if NoHo called itself the theater district. A theater district wouldn't be a problem.

NoHo received official city designation as an arts district seven years ago, but "Starry, Starry Night" organizer Nancy Bianconi said that theater is the most important component and thus warranted special recognition.

It's true that by the standards of most pedestrians, more theaters are within easy walking distance from the heart of NoHo, at Lankershim and Magnolia boulevards, than from anywhere else in L.A. Bianconi said that 25 theater spaces exist within a square mile. All are sub-100-seat venues except for the mid-size main stage at El Portal Center for the Arts. This cluster distinguishes the area as a district, said Ed Gaynes, president of the Valley Theatre League, though he said his organization has not officially endorsed the proposed resolution.

Another device, now in the talking stages, may eventually stamp the area as a theater district more than any official proclamation could. Acting on a suggestion from American Renegade Theatre's David Cox, the NoHo powers are considering installing marquees in front of all the NoHo theaters, buying them with a group discount. The effort would cost a total of about $200,000, Cox estimated. He'd also like to see an electronic sign installed near the North Hollywood subway stop that would display the current offerings at area theaters.

Meanwhile, on Saturday at "Starry, Starry Night," NoHo boosters will gather for dinner in a tent on Lankershim. Ann Miller, Beverly Garland and Joseph Campanella will receive special awards. Then the party will disperse to attend 15 shows at NoHo theaters, with transportation provided for a couple of the spaces beyond the boundaries of the most theater-intensive square mile. Information: (818) 886-3026.


OVATION CHANGES: The board of Theatre LA has approved a package of changes in the Ovation Awards. As reported earlier, the moves will increase the number of awards, enlarge the voting pool and eliminate a conflict of interest rule for voters. The approval was unanimous, said Theatre LA's Wochner.

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