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Church and State 

Ring in the old, ring in the new

Thursday, Apr 22 2004
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A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale; (818) 240-0910; www.anoisewithin.org. Co-artistic directors Julia Rodriguez Elliott and Geoff Elliott. Formed in 1991, the midsize outfit is L.A.’s premiere classics repertory company, currently staging four shows a season. Except for a one-year residence at Cal State L.A.’s Luckman Theater, ANW has always called Glendale’s old Masonic Hall home. The theater has five full-time employees and about 100 volunteers. The company’s first, one-play season cost $3,000; today ANW runs an annual $800,000 budget, 65 percent of which comes from ticket sales, and the rest through 1,500 subscriptions, donations, fund-raisers, workshops, and county-paid theater courses taught in the public schools.

Eighteen months ago, the Elliotts — Julia Rodriguez and Geoff, who are married and run the company — decided it was time to bring in a full-time managing director, Todd Dellinger.

“Fifty percent of my time is spent fund-raising,” says Dellinger. “Since I’ve come on, we have added a full-time staffer to help with our outreach program. It’s like a teaching-hospital situation.”

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“Sometimes,” interrupts Geoff, “it’s just a hospital.”

“With a lot of heavily medicated people walking around,” laughs Julia.

Dellinger notes that while ANW took a 23 percent drop in ticket sales last year, 2004’s box office could reach a five-year high for the company. He says ANW’s major sources of grants include the Parsons, Weingart and Ahmanson foundations, but municipal support does not add up to very much — especially now that arts funding from the city of Glendale is frozen. Likewise, L.A. County support, which traditionally has helped ANW with its infrastructure needs and its outreach education programs, has noticeably decreased since the budget crunch.

Also in this issue:

Company Town: How did sprawling Los Angeles become a mecca for small theater? Nearly 100 self-sustaining companies, many with distinguished reputations, are at work in the city. STEVEN LEIGH MORRIS addresses the question of why L.A. is such fertile ground for ensembles, and profiles some of the best, along with ERIN AUBRY KAPLAN and STEVEN MIKULAN. Plus, MORRIS on Gordon Davidson, who will be designated this year’s Queen of the Angels at the 25th annual L.A. Weekly Theater Awards.

“At one point,” Julia says, “the state gave us $30,000, but now, with that gone, our Artists in Residence programs are charged to the schools that can afford them, usually private ones.”

“Some of the public-school teachers,” says Geoff, “pay out of their own pockets so the kids can come here. It’s tragic.”

Julia notes that even when teachers pay for students to attend shows or workshops, the school districts consider the visits “frills.”

“The districts think preparing for tests and getting high test scores are the most important things for kids and that their coming here only takes away from studying.”

Julia says the economic downturn has most cut into ANW donors who write checks in the $500 to $1,000 range. She also says that the company, realizing the potential of snack sales, has upgraded its concession stocks. Still, there will always be the problem of plays without intermissions, as “People tend not to buy snacks before a show.” Current membership 19. New members by referral/audition. No dues.

 

Meadows Basement, c/o Theatre/Theater, 6425 Hollywood Blvd., Fourth Floor; (323) 782-6218; www.meadowsbasement.org. Co-artistic directors Wade McIntyre and Aaron Ginsburg. Founded in 2001 by a group of former students from Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts, M.B. epitomizes the best of the city’s seat-of-the-pants theatermaking. After showcasing their talents at the Lex and Complex theaters, its members struck a friendship — and a deal — with Jeff Murray and his wife, Nicolette Jaffe, who run Hollywood’s Theatre/Theater. In exchange for monthly rent, Meadows Basement has an office and access to T/T’s two stages, plus rehearsal time.

“Our box-office sales take care of the rent — the rest is gravy,” says McIntyre. Working under the 99-seat contract, M.B., which charges $15 per ticket, has garnered critical raves for offbeat comedies like Hors d’Oeuvres and Isabella’s Fortune. Still, says McIntyre, “We’re eager to make the transition from Best Kept Secret to a known company.”

M.B. only recently received its 501 (3) (c) nonprofit IRS status, which Ginsburg says has had an immediate positive effect on its tax payments; coincidentally, perhaps, the company has been able this year to announce its first structured season, a move that other companies interviewed by the Weekly point to as a necessity for establishing a reliable audience base.

M.B. presents three “mainstage” shows and three late-night comedy performances on an annual budget of $22,000. Ticket sales account for $4,000 to $5,000. About its only resemblances to a midsize house like A Noise Within are that its first show cost $3,000, and it has two annual fund-raisers. It also offers theatergoers a unique money-back guarantee, says Ginsburg: “If people don’t like what they’ve seen, they can get their money returned during intermission.”

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