In 1997, I was performing in a production of Cyrano De Bergerac at the Knightsbridge Theatre in Pasadena. One of my cast mates at the time, Stan Freitag, was very excited because he had just gotten involved with a new upstart theatre company in Hollywood called Sacred Fools. Little aware was I as to how significant the upstart company would become in the subsequent years.
With a roster now over a hundred, including members and associate members, Sacred Fools has become one of the leading production companies in Los Angeles. With a prolific history, they have been the initial producers of more than a few notable shows, Louis & Keely Live at the Sahara, Stoneface, The Behavior of Broadus and many others.
They have produced award-winning shows going back to the year of their inception, 1997, when they received 11 awards for five different productions. Since 2011, they have won more than 100 nods in different catagories and have attracted some of the most talented artists in LA to join them.
In 2016, Sacred Fools moved from East Hollywood on Heliotrope to their current location, the Broadwater, in the heart of Hollywood’s Theatre Row on Santa Monica Boulevard at Lillian Way. While Sacred Fools does not owns the space, the landlord did purchase the previous home of The Elephant Theatre Company with Sacred Fools in mind, looking for a more permanent home for a growing, thriving company with multiple stages that would become a significant part of the LA theatre scene.
I recently sat down with Board President Bruno Oliver and Managing Director Padraic Duffy, both of whom are deeply committed to the operations of both Sacred Fools and the Broadwater. They have been involved with the company since very nearly the beginning.
PF: Sacred Fools has experienced a lot of success over the past 20 years. To what do you attribute that?
Padraic: We are a 100% artist-driven company. The projects put up on our stage are not the dictates of an administration, but the wants of the membership. The projects move forward because of the commitment from those participating.
If you look at our schedule, we always have a great many things going on. Aside from our main-stage productions, we have ongoing series, Serial Killers, Ten Tops, We the People, Fast and Loose. These are all driven by the eagerness of our members who organize and produce them.
Bruno: Unlike other organizations, we elect our artistic directors from amongst the members for a term of three years. Their project choices are made with a lot of input from everyone, proposals are submitted, and teams assembled with responsibilities assisted and supported by a host of volunteers.
PF: It would be difficult to discuss Sacred Fools and not delve into the change of venue and all that means.
Bruno: Let’s be clear. Sacred Fools is a tenant of this facility. One of the reasons for the renaming of building, The Broadwater was so that there would be a distinction between the building and the company. Aside from Sacred Fools productions, the stages are available for outside rental, and of course we are a host to a good number of shows during the Fringe Festival.
Padraic: While we do have a very friendly relationship with the landlord, we still have financial commitments. Those are substantial. What’s really happened is that we, those on the management side, have added the job of facilities management along with the operational management of a theatre company.
Bruno: It’s very important to us that we keep the same idea of the sandbox we had back on Heliotrope, an open space for our members to explore and stretch, but which is now, we realize, a sandbox on a different playground.
We’ve moved up our planning process. Where we used to be concerned about next month, “We need $300, how are we going to get that?”, we’re now at, “What are our goals for the next five years?”. It’s a bit of a shock to the system. It means we have to pay more attention to fundraising.
PF: So that means you have a well-defined development plan?
(Peals of laughter)
PF: What’s entailed in being a member?
Padraic: It’s a chance to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to be part of the community. It’s not like we have a lot of carrots to offer. Auditions are open, and the best, be they members or not, get the parts. We do have time commitment requirements.
PF: What do you mean by community? You’re certainly not a community theatre, at least not in the way most of us think of community theatre.
Padraic: It’s about community involvement. Not just the community of our company, though that is a big part, but the broader community, our commitment of Theatre Row, our commitment to the neighborhood.
Bruno: For an example, we have made a commitment to the neighborhood, to our audiences. We’ve set the ticket prices at $15. That’s not to say our shows are on sale, but it’s our way of saying we’re doing theatre for the community, it’s not showcase theatre just for us. The broader community is a part of us, and we want to encourage them to be here with us. It’s a concerted effort to be inclusive and encourage everyone.
For too long, theatre has not been a part of the education system. We’ve lost three, maybe four, generations of potential audiences due to lack of familiarity, so this is our way to encourage new audiences.
Padraic: It’s also a way to get out of the discounting ticket price game. Eliminating all kinds of codes and deals makes for a democratic feeling in the audience. Everyone pays the same. It’s a form of transparency.
Bruno: We still offer discounts on group sales, but the idea is to keep it simple.
PF: I notice that community has several definitions for you. We’ve spoken a bit about the communities of your company and the neighborhood. What about the community of theatre? Where do you see Sacred Fools fitting there?
Padraic: It’s important that we not see theatres as competing with each other.
Bruno: One of the reasons we want to be in this neighborhood is so we could support the idea of Theatre Row, to be a part of the experience, The Blank, The Hudson, The Lounge, and all the others in the area.
Padraic: Being a part of Theatre Row ups everyone’s visibility. We become a part of the destination concept. A bit like The Fringe, we’re in the middle of a world of theatre.
Bruno: As a community (of theaters), we’ve faced some pretty difficult challenges of late. And if we learn to support each other, help promote each other, we’re all going to have a better shot at survival and growth. We represent the next generation of professional theatre where the focus is a consistency of meeting the needs of the community you serve, even more important than hitting arbitrary benchmarks.
Padraic: It’s really important that we be open to a wide variety of what others have to offer.
PF: Getting back to development and planning…
Padraic: We’re no longer at the ‘what are we doing next’ stage. It’s more about what are we doing next year, what’s our goal for five years from now.
Padraic: It’s about aspiration. How do we build theatre into the community experience? We want to play, to grow, to excel, but we also want to make sure everyone is having fun in the process.
Bruno: We have the opportunity to offer a protected, nurturing space for a truly enriching experience, not just a space that grows bigger and bigger costing more money. We’re building something that will serve those yet to come.
Padraic: Obviously we want to get to a place where this is sustainable, where more people can get paid, artists and staff alike. Our biggest dream is to pay everyone what they should be getting and keep the democracy of how we get there.
Bruno: Staying true to our community, our sandbox. FL