Don't cry for them, Theatre/Theater,
For they are now in another building.
They had to "venga"
And leave Cahuenga,
But don't be mourners,
`Cause they're at Warners..."
Weeks ago, Playbill On-Line reported that the famed Equity-waiver house Theatre/Theater [sic], a Hollywood mainstay since 1984, would shut down permanently in June. The structure, which housed two spaces, one with 71 seats, the other with 24, is to be torn down by its owner, the Pacific Theatre movie chain, and replaced by a Greyhound bus terminal.
Reached at the time, artistic director Jeff Murray admitted to "having burned out a little" in recent years. He delegated management of the theatre and turned it into more of a rental space than before. But he and his wife, actress Nicolette Chaffey vowed to continue their work elsewhere. "We hope to keep doing what we've done...run a small theatre, do new work, good work...and hope the people will come."
Well, someone was listening because Theatre/Theater will be back in the fall in an even better space than before. "We've landed on our feet," Murray told Playbill On-Line (June 11). "We've moved around the corner into 4,500-square-feet in the old Warner Brothers Theatre (the Pacific Theatres building) at 6425 Hollywood Boulevard."
A bit of luck was involved in the move: both buildings have the same landlord. When Murray told the sympathetic owner that losing the Cahuenga venue would leave him virtually broke, the landlord showed him the Warner property as an alternative. "We're gonna have two theatres of 50 seats each, so we can maximize the performance area," said Murray. "We're also gonna try to turn into a little bit of an arts complex with room for projects rehearsing and teachers teaching. Plus we have a perfect space for a video editing bay. It's the next step up."
Murray and Chaffey intend to spend the summer "gathering energy," with full productions planned for the fall. (The duo may stage some "in-house" shows during the summer to work out the kinks).
Theatre/Theater's history actually extends back into the 1950s, when B-movie maven Ed Wood ran some theatrical ventures out of the Cahuenga Blvd. location. It later became home for such theatre companies as Seis Actores and Hollywood Actors Theatre.
Murray and Chaffey first operated out of a small space on Melrose Avenue. Once on Cahuenga the company opened with a successful production of Goddess of Mystery and maintained consistently high standards after that.
Throughout its 14-year history, 293 productions played Theatre/Theater, many of which were premiered by the company.
Murray and Chaffee kept the operation afloat by running a tight ship. There were no outside boards, subscriptions specialists or marketing advisors putting an oar in.
"It was never about building an empire for us," said the Canadian-born Murray. "We wanted the equivalent of a La Mama situation here. Had it become a bureaucracy, we would have lost interest and shut the whole thing down. Our philosophy was simple: do new work or work new to L.A."
At one point, Murray tried turning the theatre's rehearsal space into a third venue, but that proved too unwieldly. "Two spaces make for the right balance. Some plays need a small arena, one where plays can be done on a tight budget. That way if you come up with a hit, it's survivable -- the producers make some money, the actors get a stipend, and the play gets some exposure."
Murray's biggest hit was Del Shore's Daddy's Dyin', Who's Got the Will?, which later became a movie and led to an association with Shores which resulted in the long-running premiere of his Sordid Lives and the current Meldoy Jones (which Shores produced but didn't write).
Among the theatre's other wellknown productions were Buffalo Soldiers, Madame Mao's Memories and Jonathan Tolin's first play The Climate.
"Jonathan's next play was Twilight of the Golds, which he was going to give us," said Murray. "But his agent went after some of the major theatres who'd expressed interest in his work. The Pasadena Playhouse made an offer within five days; it was that quick, like a movie sale. "The play was a big hit at Pasadena and went to Broadway, where it unfortunately flopped," said Murray. "But the author did get a movie sale out of it."