Small theaters like Little Fish Theatre, Fremont Centre Theatre creating personal, intimate plays By Michelle Mills LA Daily News

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NEW SHOWS: Los Angeles area theaters drawing from real life with upcoming original plays
MUSICALS: Find out what classic musical favorites are heading to theaters this season
DRAMA: Southern California theater gets dramatic with top productions
COMEDY: Comedies taking place this season around L.A. include “Eat the Runt,” “Sister Act”
DINNER THEATER: Dinner theaters continue to serve audiences throughout Los Angeles

Sure, it’s nice to cuddle up in front of the television for a movie, but why not turn that time into a special date night. Small theaters offer some wonderful live performances; many shows might seem too big for a tiny stage, but they work. And the best part is that, because of the intimacy, you may feel as if you’re actually in the production, too.

“I think that people do get an extra dimension of live theater when they are in a smaller venue and they really feel like they’re there with the actors,” Steve Stajich said.

Stajich is the director of “Auto Parts,” which will be presented at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena Aug. 22 through Sept. 20. He says that a large stage can separate the performance from the audience, making it more like going to the movies.

Another advantage of attending a show at an intimate theater is that the actors can offer a more expressive and detailed performance that would be lost in a larger space.

“That intimacy compels the performances to be that more acute and involving,” Stajich said.

Some other small theaters across Los Angeles include Little Fish Theatre in San Pedro, Long Beach Playhouse’s Studio Theatre, the Garage Theatre in Long Beach, Lonny Chapman Theatre in North Hollywood and West Valley Playhouse in Canoga Park.

While the distance in a large theater can make it harder to “pull people in” to a show, intimate theater offers an unspoken agreement with the audience that they will be interested and remain interested through the entire show.

“It starts to get to what live theater can do and does do that makes it really special over enjoying things on a screen,” Stajich said.

“Auto Parts” is a play consisting of four interrelated parts that are all linked to cars in some way. This is a piece that explores love, sex, murder and other adult topics. What makes “Auto Parts” stand out is that it involves the audience even before the curtain rises. Each evening before the show, theatergoers select the order of its four parts.

“This causes them to have a stake that can be bigger than they’re maybe just interested in the subject matter of any particular play and now they have impacted the form of what they’re going to see that evening,” Stajich said.

Stajich believes that audiences who attend intimate theater are provided with a great show and discover how special the experience is.

“Small theater potentially could be what people go to when one day they just turn off their iPad and say, ‘That’s it. I’ve got to see something with humans.’ I believe small theater can function, among all the other things it is able to do, as an antidote to fatigue of digital content,” Stajich said.

Michael Cooper grew up in Chicago and spent many hours in small theaters, which are accepted as mainstream there. Later, he moved to California and ran his own theater company for 25 years. He often directs productions at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, including the upcoming production of “The Lion in Winter” Sept. 27-Nov. 16. “Smaller theater in general is absolutely fantastic because people like the intimacy. There’s something to be said for the larger theaters also, but the smaller theaters allow creative people, directors, actors, to experiment more with the play and the written word,” Cooper said.

Part of the impetus for experimentation lies in the necessity of stripping down a production to accommodate a smaller venue, but the payoff, Cooper said, is the excitement with a show being presented differently.

The Sierra Madre Playhouse is intimate theater as far as the number of seats go, but it has a surprisingly large stage area. Cooper will present “The Lion in Winter” in an open space style as Shakespeare originally indicated in his script. Rather than a fancy, full set, the focus will be on the characters, costumes, lighting and details, allowing for a greater emotional impact of watching King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine clash over their favored successor.

“The biggest challenge is getting audiences to attend a smaller space,” Cooper said. “In the economy nowadays if people are going to save for a night out at the theater, they’re going to choose the Mark Taper Forum, the Ahmanson and the well-known title. With the smaller places the challenge is to get those audiences to see what can be done in a smaller space and get them to return.”

In Hollywood it can be a challenge to draw audiences to black box theater, Cooper said, because it’s hard to park and people are often unfamiliar with the area so they can’t plan for dinner before and or cocktails after. Sierra Madre is a perfect spot for theater, as it is a safe area with many restaurants and shops and ample free parking. “People should come to see a great play because it is a great play. Not only is it a great play, it’s in a great space,” Cooper said.

 

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