Dee Gee Entertainment's renovation of a former rehearsal hall at Los Angeles' Coronet Theatre has resulted in the creation of "Upstairs at the Coronet," a new 150-seat theatre.
The new theatre opens Dec. 3 with an open-ended run of Late Night Catechism an interactive one-woman play starring the playwright and director, Maripat Donovan. She plays a nun who teaches an adult education catechism class to a roomful of "students." Donovan's character, "Sister," goes from benevolent instructor to Marine drill sergeant as time goes on, rewarding the students who give correct answers with glow-in-the-dark rosaries and laminated saint cards.
Donovan directs the show, which she co-wrote with Vicki Quade. The show has previously been performed in New York (where it is still running), Seattle, Chicago and most recently in Los Angeles where Donovan performed it at the Henry Fonda Theatre.
At the Coronet, partners Deborah Del Prete and Gigi Pritzker have already established a comprehensive creative program for writers, directors and producers aimed at supporting local creators and their projects.
"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 about six years ago," adds Gigi Pritzker. "They were renting the Canon Theatre and had a play reading series and we became involved by giving them financial support. We brought people in and later they became nonprofit."
Del Prete said that playwrights Dan Lauria and Joe Cocaci organized the play reading series and that their dream was to have a workshop series and a permanent home. They also wanted to be able to produce some of the plays, but that the productions always seemed to go elsewhere.
"They came to us when they wanted to buy a theatre," Del Prete said.
Dee Gee became interested in the Coronet Theatre when it was put up for sale 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," Pritzker told Playbill On-Line. "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."
Dee Gee said that Rogers and Hammerstein's West Coast office was once located at the Coronet.
Pritzker believes the woman who sold them the theatre felt a special connection to the arts. "She sold it to us, but I think she was happy because we were two women and each of us had the same feel for what we wanted to do there -- in other words, what her mother had originally wanted," Del Prete said.
Dee Gee has been able to maintain not only the theatre, but the film company upstairs while giving Playwrights Kitchen Ensemble a home.
On the unique mix of theatre and film talents at the Coronet, Del Prete and Pritzker say they go together logically. "I believe great writers are great film writers, just like great actors often do both really well," Pritzker said.
"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.' 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. And we're also producing the film, 'The Wedding Planner' with Jennifer Lopez."
Dee Gee's Coronet has 284 seats in addition to the new 150-seat theatre upstairs. The theatre's upstairs space is where classes are conducted and the Coronet hosts the play reading series on Monday nights.
"All the actors just love the space, " Pritzker 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