Deborah Del Prete, originally from New York, and her partner in Dee Gee Entertainment, Gigi Pritzker, originally from Chicago, have established a "creative compound" for writers, directors and producers at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles.
Dee Gee is currently renovating the upstairs rehearsal hall of the Coronet Theatre to create a 150-seat theatre they will call "Upstairs at the Coronet" which will open Dec. 3 with Late Night Cataclysm starring the play's original writer and director, Mary Pat Donovan, who performed the show in New York.
What makes Dee Gee's work at the Coronet noteworthy is the comprehensive way that Del Prete and Pritzker have embraced local creators while trying to provide them with a solid foundation to build on.
Both women have worked for years to achieve their goal and discussed their recent plans with Playbill On-Line.
"Gigi and I had been working together for seven years before we came to Los Angeles," said Deborah Del Prete. "In New York we had a film production company and then we came to L.A. after making a deal with Savoy Pictures." "Doris Roberts introduced us to the Playwrights Kitchen Ensemble," said Gigi Pritzker, "and it was clear that we liked the same stuff. They were renting the Canon Theatre and they had a play reading series where people started off. We became involved with giving them financial support, we brought people in and after we went on board, they became non profit. That was about six years ago."
"Dan Lauria and Joe Cocaci are the playwrights who organized the series," Del Prete told Playbill On-Line. "Their dream was to have a workshop series and a permanent home. They also wanted to be able to produce some of the plays. In fact, they sometimes did, but they always went off to other places. They came to us when they wanted to buy a theatre."
The Coronet Theatre was put up for sale, Pritzker said, by the family that had owned it since it was built in 1947. The theatre was originally built by a woman who was a Russian vaudevillian and dancer. Her dream was to build a theatre where she could dance and this led her to design a wonderful small theatre which was never used for dancing, but has been booked from day one by Charles Laughton, John Houseman's company, Elsa Lanchester and others. Rogers and Hammerstein's west coast office was located at the Coronet as well.
Pritzker said the woman who sold it to them felt a special connection to what they were trying to accomplish there with Dee Gee Entertainment.
"She sold it to us, but I think she was happy because we were two women and we had the same feel for what we wanted to do there," Del Prete said, "in other words, what her mother originally wanted."
"They didn't want to see it go to someone who'd knock it down," Del Prete said. "We could have theatre, keep it running, have the film company upstairs and give Playwrights Kitchen Ensemble a home. Theatre and film go together logically. I believe great writers are great film writers, just like great actors often do both really well.
"We're also developing new works for the theatre and hopefully we'll be able to spread them around the country," Del Prete added.
"We're working with David Schwimmer on a straight play project based on Studs Turkel's 'Race,'" Del Prete said. "Our first production, Joe Di Pietro's Kiss at City Hall which is produced by Jonathan Pollard and Bernie Kukoff and Dina Hammerstein, opens in January at the Pasadena Playhouse We're also producing The Wedding Planner with Jennifer Lopez and Brandon Frazier."
Dee Gee's new space has 284 seats and a full size rehearsal hall. The theatre's studio space is where classes are conducted and the Coronet hosts the play reading series on Monday nights.
"All the actors just love the space, " Prtitzker said. Among the actors involved with the activities sponsored by Dee Gee Entertainment at the Coronet are Charles Durning, Scott Wolf, Christian Slater and some 150 celebrity actors who work on the reading series.
Dee Gee said its reading series is free to the public every Monday night at 8 PM. The Coronet Theatre is located at 368 No. La Cienega in Los Angeles. There is a hotline for Monday night readings info at: (310) 285-8148. The box office number for shows is (310) 657-7377
-- By Murdoch McBride