Calvin Remsberg

Calvin Remsberg

Anybody Out There Listening?

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Editor’s Note: Several producers/artistic directors of Los Angeles intimate theaters responded to our question: “What to Do With a Hit Show” — Extend It or Move It?” The following is the fourth response to LAStageBlog’s question.

I was standing in the lobby of the Celebration Theatre last weekend speaking with Nick DeGruccio about the state of 99-seat theaters in Los Angeles when he said something like, “It’s impossible for a 99-seat theater to take that next step…to move up.” While that is not entirely true, I certainly know what he meant.

I have just directed and co-produced the US premiere of Joe DiPietro’s F*cking Men, perhaps the largest box office hit in the Celebration’s storied career, and we find ourselves closing this weekend! The reasons are many and varied, but I am sure not unlike other situations that have occurred time and again in the small theater scene here.

First of all, the Celebration has a season, so another play is ready to move in to tech in the same space we now occupy, so where do we go? Secondly, we had the rights to a two-week extension; we were able to do one but any more would require another round of negotiations with the author. Third, if we were to move to another space, there would be costs that come along with that: designers retooling for a new space, additional publicity, more rehearsal and, if we stay at the 99-seat level, is the profit margin actually worth it? We have a 10-person cast!

If we were to move to a larger venue, where all costs go up, will our excellent reviews and strong word of mouth be enough to support the move and still make a profit? The mind reels with the advantages and drawbacks of every situation. My plate is full for the rest of the season with three more directing jobs lined up and pre-production on all churning away. Still, I found this play, and convinced the playwright and the Celebration to give me a chance, and here we are. It will definitely be hard to say goodbye.

The solution would be more mid-size houses in Los Angeles. There are very few!! Whatever happened to the Coronet, one of my favorite venues in all of LA? The Falcon can be expanded but they have the same “season” problem. The El Portal is gorgeous but almost TOO big, and it’s as true in theater as it is in real estate…location, location, location! Will my edgy little play survive outside of West Hollywood? I would like to think its appeal is broad and its themes universal but am I right? Right enough to risk 20 or 30 thousand dollars? It would almost make more sense to move this production to off-Broadway in New York than to move it here! And don’t think we are not trying to do that too!

All actors love to act and my 10 actors, plus the devoted understudies, have worked for eight weeks with virtually no pay. All the designers cannot possibly have actually MADE money doing this show….but small costs are necessary just to get it to happen at all. Yet, the 99-seat theater scene in Los Angeles thrives. I am an Ovation voter and I have seen some downright fabulous theater in these small places all over town for years. It’s heartwarming!

I guess it all boils down to why we do it in the first place…because we love the theater. We also love a challenge. Even as I write this, other things I hadn’t thought possible a week ago are being discussed to give this production a longer life. I knew when I went after it that it would be an artistic challenge…and a gold mine. I was right on both fronts. It seems some outside producer or theater owner might have the answer. Anybody out there listening?

Article by Calvin Remsberg, director and co-producer of F*cking Men at Celebration Theatre

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