It looks as if Casa 0101, the 99-seat Boyle Heights theater that has been waging a six-month fight to remain open in the wake of financial setbacks, will not be closing after all, at least through the end of the year.
That’s according to the theater’s executive director, Emmanuel Deleage, who on Tuesday reported that by passing “the halfway mark” in its #CASA350 campaign to sign up 350 new subscribers at $25 per month to cover its rent and overhead, Casa 0101 had won a temporary reprieve.
“Now we are at 195 donors,” Deleage told L.A. Weekly by phone. “We can’t exist on that. But that’s 195 people we didn’t have before.”
In January, the Latinx company’s founding artistic director, Josefina López, had warned that the 18-year-old company couldn't meet its rent and would have to close its East First Street cultural center by June unless a new funding source could be found to offset the loss of several grants and some badly timed expenditures. It was an all-too-familiar refrain to L.A.’s intimate theater community, which has suffered a number of high-profile casualties to L.A.’s skyrocketing rents over the past decade, and which is still reeling from the double whammy of the financial crash and the termination by Actors' Equity Association, the stage actors union, of its 99-seat theater waiver.
Though Casa 0101 still remains 156 members shy of its 350-subscriber goal, Deleage explained, the new subscription revenue plus ticket sales from its current smash hit, the Disney musical Beauty and the Beast (which has been extended to July 1), should be enough to keep the doors open through the end of the year. It also buys the theater more time to reach its subscriber goal even as it scales back some of the costs that factored into the company’s financial woes.
The reprieve comes as especially welcome news to the city’s Latinx theater artists. As one of only three all-Latino stages in 48 percent Hispanic Los Angeles — and the only professional stage in East L.A. — Casa 0101 commands an outsized presence in the city’s performing arts scene and a disproportionate amount of casting opportunities for working Latina/o actors. The company’s free youth and adult classes in playwriting, acting, singing and dancing have made it a crucial gateway for young Latinx performers to the stage and into the film and TV industry.
For Boyle Heights theatergoers, however, the announcement means that the theater’s seasons of family-pleasing musicals and mostly new works that represent the history and experience of L.A.’s Mexican-American community will continue.
Last season saw the debut of López's Boyle Heights gentrification allegory Enemy of the Pueblo, and her Trio Los Machos, which premiered in 2012, chronicled the bracero program, the war-era guest-worker program that brought Mexican laborers — including López's father — to the United States. This fall will see the world premiere of Free Los Tres, playwright Carmelo Alvarez’s drama set against L.A.’s Chicano power movement of the 1970s. The play tells the story of the efforts to free “Los Tres del Barrio,” three Chicano leaders who were arrested and sent to prison over allegedly shooting and robbing an infiltrator working for the FBI as an agent provocateur.
“We’re going to have some of the activists [involved], and one of the persons that was jailed has been consulting on the script,” Deleage enthused.
The “new” Casa 0101 will nevertheless be a leaner, more efficient institution. The theater was able to cut a full-time position from its small staff in March when its head of communications left for another job, and instead of producing eight shows on its main stage each year, the theater will offer six-production seasons.
But Deleage said the biggest sacrifice may be the decision to give up Little Casa, the 50-seat storefront stage at 2009 E. First St. that was the company’s original home; he and López hope to hand it over to another Latino theater company. Deleage said the efficacy of the cuts, along with the theater’s continuing viability, will be evaluated in January.
In the meantime, the theater will be devoting a lot more of its energies to the lifeblood of all nonprofits arts institutions — grant writing, fundraising and self-promotion.
“We do a lot of plays. We offer a lot of classes. We have a lot of art exhibits, you know? But grantmakers really want to see the impact,” Deleage said. “We have to be able to do good work but maybe do a little bit less of it and make sure it’s well documented, well evaluated, and that will lead in turn to better grants.”
To support Casa 0101, go to casa0101.org/support-us.