Resource Sharing For Los Angeles Theater

LA Stage Alliance Warehouse Co-Op props costumesSustainability.

It’s the buzz word du jour in Los Angeles theater with most of the current dialog focused on funding (When is it never focused on funding?!).

Community partnerships, collaboration and keeping the theaters in business all fall under the broadly topical heading.  But narrow down the focus and you’ll discover one of the more intelligent resources functioning behind the red curtain, for local and visiting companies – the LA Stage Alliance Warehouse Co-Op.

From its humble origins, the self-styled, non-profit extension, reminiscent of New York’s TDF Costume Collection, has become meticulously organized, due in no small part to the creative wrangling and dedication of Warehouse Co-Op Supervisor, Monica Greene.  For the last 2 years, Greene has been bar coding each and every object, discovered under layers of treasure crammed into boxes and corners. Everything from elaborate costumes to lighting fixtures and ladders to jewelry. Even questionable bits that occasionally get put together to invent new production props, like the microphone sitting on Green’s desk that was built out of a shower hoop.

“We’re still finding stuff that was never inventoried from the first drop off.” ~Monica Greene

Under Greene’s day to day supervision, the Co-Op mission is to ultimately create real and sustainable resource sharing for all the performing arts in Los Angeles.

Currently serving local LASA membership theater companies with storage, the space also incorporates 2 additional rehearsal/meeting rooms and the actual offices of the LA Stage Alliance.  But there’s another opportunity available for any theatrical or not-specifically-theatrical organization in need, within this compact operation – rentals.

“I want people to know that we’re here and that we are a resource for the theaters.  It’s also, you know, community.” ~Monica Greene

Opening a show? Traveling in to L.A. to debut your West Coast or World premiere? Entered into a festival? Need costumes? Furniture? Props? Advice? For a small fee so many assets are already within your reach.

What do you get for being a partner theater at LA Stage Alliance? According to Greene, it’s kind of a creative question.  Because the truth is, it’s an evolving one.

LA Stage Alliance Warehouse Co-Op 4

Like many things in the arts, the LA Stage Alliance Warehouse Co-Op began with an idea, a lot of discussion, agreement, then a crowdfunding campaign and finally, the beginning of a resource that is growing larger every day. It could however, use a lot more help spreading the word about what it does. Feel free…

And then there’s that other wish-list item of getting someone to refurbish the stock. Having regular volunteers would be a boon. ‘Because there’s always a need.  You know?’ 

How did the Co-Op get created?

It started in 2013…the space used to be a car garage. Lots of people said, ‘Yes, this is a great idea.  Let’s do it! We’ll raise the money!’

Initially about 100 Los Angeles theater companies were interested in setting up a program. In actuality, about 12 of them came in on the ground floor, Theatre of Note and Sacred Fools among them.

This was way before my time. There wasn’t really a plan essentially. But then they had Tito from Live Event Pros come in and shape up the space.  And the LA Stage Alliance hired people from all different parts of the community to create the shelves.  About 2 1/2 years ago we actually added the wire up top for hanging props, to open up more space; because I do have companies that continue to acquire more items and continue to want to store them.

Who’s allowed to join?  To store? To rent?

We have several partnership options. To get storage however, you have to be a partner of LA Stage Alliance.

There are full organizational partnerships which allow members to pull as much as is available, plus storage. Then there’s the limited organizational partnership where it’s a much smaller storage fee and members can rent items at a weekly rate.  That makes it easier for companies who don’t produce as much or who don’t have as much stuff.

However, anyone can join us for a short 30-day partnership.  For instance, the Independent Opera Company who just did a single production, and Kaiser Permanente who also came in on the same level.

After the first 30 days, we also pro-rate by week if extra time is needed. Because standard theatrical runs are often 6 weeks, it makes the cost more affordable. You don’t have to pay for another 30 days if you’re not going to use the membership that long.

There’s also a limited 30-day membership for a show that needs a single item. For instance, I’m getting this gurney right here, ready to check out. That’s a piece of property belonging to the Pasadena Playhouse. (laughs) I’m getting really intimate with all of the stock.

Ultimately, by resource sharing, the Warehouse Co-Op offsets storage costs for members. According to Dakin Matthews of the Andak Stage Company…

“The savings I’ve made in storage–I’ve cut my storage costs at least in half, more like from about $500/month to $175/month, especially in these times when I am on a producing hiatus– those savings are only part of the benefit. Almost more important is the thoroughness and accuracy of the inventory.  And certainly, most important is the knowledge that I am helping my fellow artists save money on their budgets and adding immeasurably to our sense of community.”

LA Stage Alliance Co-Op costumes membersHave the non-member rentals brought in more revenue to help the warehouse be more self-sustaining, and not just through membership dues?

They have, especially with the Hollywood Fringe Festival.  We do have a Fringe discount and I try to make it as feasible as possible. I do production. So I know how expensive things get.

What made you want to come in and dedicate your time to the warehouse?  It’s a really hefty job.

I love organizing, finding stuff for people and making things more efficient. It’s fun. I’d been here maybe 2 times as a member of Sacred Fools doing either a pick-up or drop-off.  But like others who would come in, I was like, ‘Ooo, what a discovery!’  And I thought this must be a really fun place to work.

Also, having been a part of a theater company who has storage, I’ve already done the dance of going into a storage room and figuring out what’s what.  Often everything is just sort of thrown in there, because (production) strike happens and you’ve got to get rid of stuff.   So, you pack it into a box or bin and throw it somewhere and nobody knows what’s in there.

Recently, within the last year, you had a sort of fire sale of warehouse items.

Yes. We did have a warehouse sale. The reason we purge is to make sure that the membership companies are getting the storage that they are paying for.

For instance, the items of companies that unfortunately have closed like Burbank Community Theatre and The Colony were donated to us. I sorted all the materials and keep what people use on a regular basis. Things that people don’t use I try to re-home. Some I’ve posted on Craig’s list, like that vintage television set over there. Someone actually bought that purple bench over there. But never came back to pick it up. It’s been a year. I can re-home it.

And then I also do outreach and go through other resource sharing networks like Big Cheap Theatre. There’s the private Yahoo group that’s been around for a super long time.

How are the membership companies protected when non-members/renters pull from their stock?

A prop, a costume or any item that is borrowed needs to come back in at least as good a shape as it went out.  If something gets broken or lost, renters are responsible for providing a replacement that’s suitable, and that’s agreed upon from the other company.  We set the replacement cost which includes a labor cost if I have to go out and barter for an item or buy it outright or have it shipped in. Of course, if someone were to go out and find a similar item, I send a picture to the theater that owned the original piece and ask if it’s acceptable. Most of the time partners are pretty flexible.  So far, no one’s been a real stickler about replacements.

LA Stage Alliance Warehouse Co-Op propsWhat’s the process for pulling costumes, props and furniture?

Whenever anybody signs up they have their own personal login and they’re on account for the inventory system.  That means they can go online and create an order and send it to me.  In that case, we pull, process and have all the items ready for pick up in 2-7 days. Which is easier for people who know the stock.

People who are new like to come in and see things, touch them and get inspired.  If they’re needing costumes, we’ll set them up with a rack.  If they want furniture or props and other miscellaneous items, they get a clipboard and a color of tape [to denote who they, the renters are, and physically reserve the items]. They’ll write a little description, like ‘burgundy wine sofa’ and they’ll write the barcode in this section. I’ll record their show name, order number and the person to contact if I have questions.

Do you allow costume alterations?

Yes. You can alter. But you’re not allowed to cut any fabric. Any alterations have to be taken out before the costumes come back. And everything must be cleaned. I provide a little guideline sheet.

What’s the most difficult thing about running the space?

Well, I’ve been trying to find grants specifically for the warehouse. It’s hard because production isn’t necessarily what people think of when they think of the arts.

But the truth is, every aspect of production is creative and it absolutely supports every part of theater, not just writers, directors or actors.

Production is ground level. You know? Each production team is a village to make the show happen. When it comes to grants, a lot of grants are focused on children’s programs, children’s education, arts education or grants specific for writers to write a play.

But I’m always trying different angles.

Greene was incredibly generous in this interview and forwarded some links to other resource sharing sites and low cost reuse purchasing companies:

Big Cheap Theatre Yahoo Group

Big Cheap Facebook Group

EcoSet Consulting

Recycled Movie Sets

L.A. Shares

Habitat ReStores

The ReUse People

Warner Brother Encore!

Photo Credits 
Director of Photography: Joel Daavid
Art Director & Set Styling: DeAnne Millais

About Tracey Paleo

Tracey Paleo is Associate Editor at FootLights Magazine. She's also the Founder and Chief Editor of the arts and culture site, Gia On The Move, where she often reviews live performance events.

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