Defining the Temples

There is an interesting correlation reflecting the inverse health of the economy and the health of the intimate theatre community in Los Angeles. Mass media is all abuzz with news that property prices in Southern California are at the highest point in five years. Hurrah! Properties are for sale, and deals are being made for cash well above asking prices. Yet there is another part to the story that is not being told.

I don’t hold myself out to be a financial wizard, but it’s not hard to see that many property sellers are viewing this as a great opportunity to cash out. There are investment groups out there with oodles of money willing to bid anyone up to gain control of neighborhoods, and in the process they become the new leaders in the “carve out my own empire” movement.

How is this at all about theatre? Well, theatres are the temples of dreams. The dozens of cramped and under equipped facilities that artist carve into their dream factories, supported and paid for by those willing to put up shows for little more than the sweat they were willing to invest to produce a show, or a season – these are the dream temples.

Theatre artists, from producers to ushers, have given not only of themselves, but have paid rent and upgraded properties in their efforts to bring theatre to their communities. Now amidst the hurly burly and woohoos because properties are selling, well established theatre’s are being put in jeopardy.  Companies that have long settled established homes are being forced out. Theatre companies that have struggled year in and year out to not only meet the wants of its audience and, the needs of their artists, but also the demands of their landlords, are suddenly finding themselves put into a situation where staying in their facilities is no longer tenable.

The very existence of some of these theatres has been the saving grace for some of these landlords. Not only were are there theatre companies willing to pay to use their under appointed facilities, but the artists added to the value of the facility and the neighborhoods where they set up shop.

And what of the neighborhoods? Take North Hollywood, which in days gone by was known as the seedy underbelly of the San Fernando Valley.  It has come to be the home to twenty-two live theatre spaces. In the process, restaurants found new patrons, shops developed new customers and it became a safe place to live and work, visitors come from the entire metropolitan area to take advantage of the opportunities.

This community treasure opportunity is repeated in many places: Hollywood, West Hollywood, Downtown, Venice, Santa Monica, Atwater, San Pedro, Long Beach . . . where there are people, theatres crop up.

Now, the numbers are begging to be affected. Celebration Theatre is looking for a new home, Rouge Machine is looking, Couerage Theatre, Open Fist…. the list goes on.  This month, one of the long standing theatres in North Hollywood, the Avery Schrieber, is being converted into a bistro. Companies that used to survive by putting up eight to ten shows a year, are now finding greater portions of their monies spent on rent rather than producing. All in the hope of keeping a space that in actually may be being sold from under them.

So, while figuratively speaking, “Rome (the economy) was burning,” for the last six years, intimate theatre forged forward and kept their promises. In the process, they helped sustain the landlords. And all the while, we the audience keep looking for the deal tickets, the free tickets, the cheap tickets.

Now, while we may not all be feeling the economic recovery, theatre companies that we have come to rely on for quality work are being forced out of their facilities. Squeezed by property owners to pay outrageous rents, and squeezed by the audiences to offer cheap or free entertainment.

I remember as a young boy reading about Christ casting the moneylenders out of the temple. Merchants had taken the opportunity of spiritual enrichment and used it as a source for their own personal enrichment. I think I’m finally beginning to understand the outrage.

I’m not suggesting that property owners forego their enrichment. Where would we be without that great American tradition of self-enrichment?  I am a capitalist, but I also see that we have a responsibility to sustain and enrich our culture.  As a society, we are bound to find ways to assure that we have, for lack of better expression, constant spiritual growth.

There is no more effective symbol of the greatness of mankind than that of the creative spirit. Art in all its various forms elevates us.  When we create, we emulate the very nature of creation.  Our godhead shines, and never is it more apparent then upon a stage. Multiple artists focusing their energies to create a once-in-a-lifetime moment. When we see that event, we are the only ones that will ever see that moment. It exists only to shine for that second, and then we move on.

I plead that as we sit and look for the next show we want to see, we realize that we have a responsibility to support this artistic effort. If you have the wherewithal, pay the full price for the ticket.  Saving $6 -$15 per person can be a consideration for you, but multiply that by a hundred tickets a night, then by twelve or more performances on the run of the show, and you begin to see how profound an effect you have on the well being of the theatre.

We cannot force the property owners to give the theatres a break. However, we can ask our representative to offer them tax incentives, we can plead throughout our communities for stronger support, and we can be willing to pay a reasonable amount for our tickets.  And, if you’re really feeling the glow of economic recovery, dig a little deeper and offer a donation. You’ll move from being audience, to patron.  And let’s face it art needs patrons.

About Peter Finlayson

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Peter Finlayson is the Founder, Publisher and Editor-in-chief of FootLights magazine and footlight.click. While working on a prelaw program at the University of Michigan, he happily got involved with the theatre program. Much to his mother’s chagrin, law school never happened, but in a career spanning more than 4 decades, Peter has performed, directed or designed more than 150 productions. In his spare time, he is working on a new play. You can follow him on Twitter @Thtrdog .

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