🎭 When You Think of Southern California, Think of … Live Theatre

When you think of Los Angeles, what comes to mind? Freeways (but of course). Traffic. The Movie and Television industry. But what about live theatre? I ask this question because this week there was a an article in the New York Times about Annette Benning,  when the New York Times said, “In Los Angeles, where no one notices theater,…” Over in some of the theatre discussion groups I frequent, this prompted a … kerfuffle. Many argued about the article, and I posted the following comment:

As an audience member, I think there is an audience for theatre in LA, but that most of the theatre loving people here only know the Pantages, Center Theatre Group, and other large theatres that advertise. Our local papers don’t care about theatres, our TV stations only know the largest theatres, and there’s precious little other publicity. So unless you are already a theatre lover and well connected to the information streams (as I am), you think the only theatre in this city are the tours that are at the big boys.

And that’s wrong. That’s why I tell anyone I can about Fringe; that’s why I write up almost every show that I go to on my blog (which takes about 3 hrs) (and we go to at least one live performance show a weekend on average; sometimes more), and that’s why I spread the word.

I’m an engineer. I can’t act or inhabit characters. I wish I could. But I can be an audience, and I can spread that word that LA is the best theatre city around.

Consider this post part of the effort. It was spurred on by another post that I saw titled “L.A. is a Theatre Town: A Guide to Indie Venues“, which although a good start, was woefully incomplete. So this is my top-of-the-head guide to some of the places you should be exploring — places that will make you realize that Los Angeles is indeed a theatre town. Suck it up, New York Times. Except for the commercial juggernaut that is “Broadway”, we may have you beat. I’ll note that this discussion excludes all the wonderful concert hall venues in the area such as the Saroya (FB), the Broad Stage (FB), the Wallis (FB), the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza/Kavli (FB), Hollywood Bowl (FB), the Ford Theatres (FB), and others of that ilk, as they rarely present multi-week runs of plays or musicals. ° indicates theatres where I personally subscribe or have recently subscribed.

My apologies in advance for any theatre I left off this list. This is just off the top of my head. I’ll be glad to edit this post to add your company or venue in.

The Oxygen Suckers

These are the big boys: the theatres that get all the publicity. Of course, I’m talking venues such as the °Hollywood Pantages (FB), and the theatres within the Center Theatre Group (FB): the °Ahmanson Theatre, the Mark Taper Forum, and the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The Pantages (now under the “Broadway in Hollywood” moniker, as they are also presenting at the Dolby Theatre (FB)) exclusively does tours. The Ahmanson does almost all tours, or productions in pre-Broadway tryouts. The Taper and Kirk Douglas will do both tours and locally produced shows. But these theatres get almost all the publicity, to the extent that it seems other theatres don’t exist in the city. I should note that tours also come to the Segerstrom Center for the Performing Arts (FB) in Orange County, and the Kavli in Thousand Oaks (FB).

The Other Big Boys

There are a number of other larger theatres that present well acclaimed seasons and get some level of publicity for it. The best known of these are venues such as the Pasadena Playhouse (FB) and the Geffen Playhouse (FB) in Westwood. But some other theatres with equal quality and programs include A Noise Within (FB) in Pasadena, International City Theatre (FB) in Long Beach, the Laguna Playhouse (FB), Rubicon Theatre (FB), South Coast Rep (FB), and the La Mirada Performing Arts Center (FB), which with McCoy Rigby Productions does some excellent remounts of musicals.

Also in the “Other Big Boy” category would be musical companies that do short runs of shows, such as ° Musical Theatre Guild (FB) in Glendale, Musical Theatre West (FB) in Long Beach, and °5 Star Theatricals (FB) in Thousand Oaks.

The Intimate (Small Theatre) Companies

LA is blessed with a number of smaller companies that regularly produce multi-show seasons” of great work. If you had the funds and the time, you could subscribe to all of these; but you can certainly find the companies whose missions and programming align with your tastes.  In general, I’d have no hesitation to see a show from any of these great companies; I have been to almost all of them for at least one show or another. This list would include companies such as °Actors Co-op (FB), the Actors Gang (FB), Anteaus (FB), Boston Court (FB), East West Players (FB), Sacred Fools (FB), Rogue Machine Theatre (FB), Group Rep (FB), Pacific Resident Theatre (FB), Odyssey Theatre (FB), Theatre West (FB), Casa 0101 (FB), Theatre of Note (FB), the Celebration Theatre (FB), the Road Theatre (FB), the Chance Theatre (FB), the Blank Theatre (FB), the Sierra Madre Playhouse (FB), Theatricum Botanicum (FB), 24th Street Theatre (FB), Write Act Rep (FB), Theatre 40 (FB), Skylight Theatre (FB), Ruskin Group Theatre (FB), Promenade Playhouse (FB), Greenway Court Theatre (FB), Garry Marshall Theatre (FB), The Fountain Theatre (FB).

…and then there are (the first): there are other excellent small companies that may not have formal seasons, but that produce multiple shows and also do excellent work: Company of Angels (FB), Ensemble Studio Theatre (FB), West Coast Jewish Theatre (FB), Zombie Joes (FB), Circle X (FB), Echo Theatre (FB), Theatre Unleashed (FB), Little Fish Theatre (FB), IAMA Theatre Company (FB), Victory Theatre Center (FB), Open Fist Theatre (FB), Conundrum Theatre Company (FB), Proof Doubt Closer Theatre Company (FB), The New American Theatre (FB).

…and then there are (the second): there are theatres that are less companies, but more providing homes and rentals to shows. This would include venues such as the Hudson (FB), the Santa Monica Playhouse (FB), the El Portal (FB), the Whitefire (FB), the storefront theatres at the Complex (FB), the Secret Rose (FB), the Lounge Theatres (FB), the Actors Company, The Edgemar Center (FB), Grove Theatre Center (FB), The Pico (Playhouse) (FB).

…and then there are (the third): There are some companies that recently lost their space, do great work, and are looking for new spaces: Crown City Theatre (FB), the Cupcake Theatre (FB).

…and then there is (the fourth): The unique beast that is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB): over 380 different shows across multiple venues in Hollywood. Look here to see what we’re seeing, but there are so many shows to see, and so little time.

Community Theatre Companies

There are also companies that do great work at the Community Theatre level. These use a true mix of local talent, combined with people that work primarily in TV and Film. This would include venues such as the Morgan-Wixson Theatre (FB), Glendale Center Theatre (FB), Canyon Theatre Guild (FB), Simi Valley ARTS (FB), Theatre Palisades (FB), Kentwood Players (FB), Charles Stuart Howard Playhouse (FB), Whittier Community Theatre (FB), Long Beach Playhouse (FB), and numerous other companies.

And Many Many More…

On top of all of this, there are all the little Shakespeare companies: Independent Shakespeare (FB), Shakespeare by the Sea (FB), and many others. There are city owned theatres, such as The Main (FB) in Santa Clarita that present loads of short runs. There are places like The Colony (FB), which (alas) has become a mostly rental house. There are pop-up companies like 4-Clowns (FB). There is theatre going on in every nook and cranny in this town.

So How Do I Learn About All of This?

By now, you’re thinking there is so much theatre in LA, how do I learn about it all?  After all, I haven’t bamboozled the publicists into thinking I’m a critic (like you have), so I don’t get all the mailings. Here’s my advice:

First, find the theatres you like and join their mailing lists. Follow them on Facebook.

Second, visit Better Lemons, @ This Stage, Stage Raw, and Footlights. Join the LA Stage Alliance.

Third, get on broader mailing lists like Plays 411 and BroadwayWorld.Com.

Fourth, join Goldstar, and get on their mailing list, as well as liking theatres (which gets you email when they have new shows listed). I’m sure TodayTIX has something similar.

Read my post on how to find discount theatre in LA for more suggestions.