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Arts Council Theatre Night

By Editor, 2014-01-18

It was always going to be an evening with a difference. Bring together the artistic leadership of all four of Anaheim’s theatres and the atmosphere was bound to be electric. There can be few artists more comprehensively endowed with all round creativity than theatre directors. Their skills have to cover everything from the imaginative interpretation of the script, to devising the look and feel of the play, the costumes, music, choreography, set design, lighting and sound. True, they may well put together a creative team to share the responsibility, but the director still has to have the artistic vision and judgment to pull it all together.

And so it was that the January Arts Council meeting certainly seemed to introduce a new exciting style for  their monthly gatherings. Introducing the guest thespians in typical talk-show fashion, Michael Buss, president of the Arts Council, swiftly interviewed all the directors starting with the youngest theatre in town – Stage Door Repertory.

Stage Door Rep

Having just celebrated their first two years in their smart space just off La Palma/Armando Nick Charles and his wife Julie are no newcomers to running theatres, and gave us a sense of the huge amount of work involved in starting a new theatre from scratch. They have quickly found a pool of fine actors from which to draw to produce excellent comedy, intense drama, musicals and – most important, good audiences.

A team of faithful volunteers has slowly emerged. Now, Nick says, we still need more, especially for set building and stage management. Stage Door Rep plans to run a summer youth program this year for which additional help will certainly be required. He says that in many ways they are still trying to find their feet, their precise niche. For the most part they have chosen not to do the familiar old plays but to produce excellent material that is less well known, some of it completely new scripts. The formula is evidently working.

Michael asked the question – why go to all this trouble? Julie: “Because it’s just so much darned fun!” And that spirit underscored the enthusiasm with which everyone else participated.

Right: Mark Toresso and Glenn Kelman, The Gallery

The Gallery Theatre

Next to join the artists on stage came Mark Torreso and Glenn Kelman, who run The Gallery Theatre at 3145 La Palma, Ste G. They’ve now been pulling in a great following for eight years. Both Mark and Glenn work for The Mouse (Disneyland) and bring their skills together to stage many completely original shows. Novel lyrics, spicy scripts, new music, unending wit and undying passion seem to fuel an energy at The Gallery which keeps audiences coming back time and again.

The Gallery brings innovation to Anaheim with their Professional Artists for Community Theatre (PACT) program in which they connect the pros with those who would like to improve their skills; set building, set painting, murals, acting, singing, etc.

The Chance

Third oldest theatre company in town is The Chance, now in their 14th year, and having grown from a 49 seat theatre to the new 150 theatre about to open just a stone’s throw from the current location on La Palma, a short way from Imperial. The expansion accounts for the $700,000 capital campaign headed up by Erika Miller. The Chance has a 20 resident artists and is able to call on professional directors and choreographers. Recently the theatre has received an LA Arts Award, 3 Ovation awards – and an NEA grant.

The Chance has never been afraid to mix their stage offerings to bring bold, imaginative and challenging theatre to the stage. In 2013 they did a follow up on The Laramie Project which they staged 10 years ago. This was one of the many ways in which this theatre has addressed issues of huge community importance.

Their current season kicks off with Lysistrata Jones, a modern musical version of Aristophanes’ comedic account of one woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by getting the wives of the soldiers to withhold intimate privileges until the men stopped fighting! The old themes of sex, manipulation, feminism and women’s rights have never yet died away.

But the great thing is this; theatre has the capacity to address the corruption of power, social injustice and dumb behavior in an almost unparalleled way. Movies and television may do it, but few things are more powerful than the face to face story-telling that occurs in live theatre, explained Oahn Nguyen.

From left: Oahn Nguyen, The Chance; Rich Carr and Norma Leichtweis, ACT

Anaheim Community Theatre

The oldest theatre in town is the Anaheim Community Theatre, founded in 1996 by Richard Carr and Norma Leichtweis. The first play ever produced was The Diary of Anne Frank; and now it seems that 2014 might be the last year shows are produced in the church hall. If so the last play will again be Anne Frank. Norma explained that it may become necessary to find a regular lessee for the space to ease the finances. ACT has always had a mission to welcome new people on to the church premises in the hope that they might stay. Plays are carefully chosen to be family entertainment and new actors are always welcomed. In fact, Rich commented, We’ll take anyone;  if they want to find out about acting we’ll teach them.

As a break from theatre directors Michael introduced 18 year old Justice Smith who caught the fire for acting when at Brookhurst Junior High School (Autumn Browne’s drama classes), and went on to study at OCHSA, taking part on the way in the youth summer program, Take A Chance. Justice has earned his way into playing many parts in films and commercials, but the stage remains his first love. And with that he delivered a stunning monolog from Euripides in the person of Heracles (Hercules) confessing to his father that with all the hideous crimes he has committed he no longer deserves to live.

Left: Justice Smith

There was a tangible thrill in the room. Theatre means spectacle! Those who are tuned in to theatre can find the immediacy of such spectacle on stage most weekends in Anaheim, complete with gorgeous sets and costumes and all the magic of sound and lights.

The success of the evening could be judged by the way in which the representatives of Anaheim’s theatres were deluged with hugs and handshakes, questions and comments as the audience reluctantly pulled itself away from an enthralling evening.

SUMMARY

Anaheim Community Theatre

Produces safe, family entertainment plays. Will take beginning actors and give them an opportunity to find their feet on stage. Usually three shows a year.  Tickets about $15.

Stage Door Repertory Theatre

Produces  occasional edgy material and new scripts,  Generally great but lesser known plays. Scope for volunteers to work in a growing theatre. Planned summer youth program. Very full house most of the time. Book early. Ticket prices in the $20 range.

The Gallery Theatre

Produces a regular, vibrant diet of new material, usually comedic and very well observed.  Has developed a very strong following. Connects theatre professionals with community counterparts for skills development  and inspiration. No problem selling seats. Special events. Outreach to seniors. Book early. Tickets about $18.

The Chance

Well established for very powerful productions, often directed and choreographed by professionals. Does new works as well as socially challenging plays. Some full time staff. A bold, expanding company. Has won many awards for theatre excellence. Now in new 150 seat theatre. Summer youth program. Varied ticket deals, generally in the $40 range.


Photos: Renee Stewart Jackson

 

 

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