After 25 years in the acting/directing business in LA, I was presented with the opportunity to purchase the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks, at a price even I could afford. So I sacrificed everything to make it successful, even converting the upstairs office to a temporary makeshift residence.
Theater, as you know, is a selfless art. AndÂ as the idea of committing to rehearsals and four to six performances a week is anathema to Los Angeles actors auditioning daily for screen and TV, I soon found myself with very few shows and no money. Broke, alone and out of sheer desperation, I began to book shows for one-day-a-week runs in what I call “vertical repertory,” in which a show could run for an extended period but only once a week, allowing actors to work on their theater skills while simultaneously providing time the rest of the week for auditions, jobs and meetings.
The vertical rep idea caught on and I began to book shows. I wasn’t becoming rich but I felt happy with the progress the Whitefire was making. One day, writer/producer/director Bobby Moresco came by and asked if he could run his Actors/Writers Gym on Saturday afternoons at the Whitefire. I began participating in the Gym. Bobby’s suggestions made me realize that I should be pursuing projects that mean something to me — and that, as a result of running the business aspect of theater, I had been moving away from acting.
One day, in my sixth year running the theater, I was outside on a ladder fixing a sign when writer Pedro Antonio Garcia approached and asked to speak with me. Â Pedro is a recently transplanted NY writer whose good friend, actor Kamar
De Los Reyes, owns a personal fitness gym four doors down from the theater. Pedro just happened to be walking by the Whitefire and wanted to know about the space. He then asked me to look at two of his plays. Perhaps because we are both optimistic and enthusiastic about the creative process, I felt an immediate connection with Pedro.
As a director, I sometimes come across a project that reflects the important social issues of the day, allowing me the opportunity to pursue my craft while at the same time creating a strong public message. When I read Pedro’sÂ Firehouse, I realized it was exactly the kind of play I was looking for. My heart immediately connected with the plight of firemen, the significance of community and the duty we have to all human beings. As I examined the issues raised by the play, I felt a strong obligation to invest every fabric of my being into something I not only believed in as a work of art but also as a moral truth.
I told Pedro I could run the play in vertical rep, and he asked me to audition for the role of the Captain. I was so enthusiastic I agreed to direct the show as well. As we had a very small budget to work with, we decided to produce the show together and use every available resource to create it. Then Laura Coker, an actor and theater producer, saw the auditions and agreed to produce it.
I introduced Pedro to Bobby Moresco. Bobby invited him to the Actors Gym where we ran six of the nine scenes, using Gym members, taking advantage of their acting skills for review, analysis and commentary. The ability to do this helped sharpen the play and focus its intentions. Like Pedro, Bobby is a New Yorker from Hell’s Kitchen so he was drawn into this gritty urban play. He began to make suggestions to heighten the drama.
Up to the last minute, he even considered directing Firehouse but had to pull out due to a nagging knee injury. However, he continued exploring aspects of the play while also developing other new plays at the Gym. His projects include the work of playwright Bill Hoffman, incorporating the skills of Gym actors Michael Stahl David (Cloverfield), Saverio Guerra (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Patrick Brennan (The new Twilight movie) and Maggie Siff (Sons of Anarchy).
So it was a series of somewhat fortuitous circumstances that led to the production of Firehouse and my involvement in it: Had Pedro not passed by that day, I would not have known about the play; had Bobby not been involved with Whitefire, we would not have had his participation in the production; had Laura Coker not been at auditions, we would not have had an executive producer financing the project; and, had I not been open to the possibilities of this play, I would still be searching for the perfect artistic project.
These are the moments that are important to me and make me happy and content with my life. Furthermore, the opportunity to work with artists like Bobby, the Gym actors and Pedro, as well as the accessibility of the vertical rep, allow me to grow as an actor and director and, most important, as a person. For that I am eternally grateful.
Firehouse, produced by Laura Coker, consulting producer Robert ‘Bobby’
Moresco, opens Feb. 4; plays Fri. only, 8 pm; through April 29. Tickets: $20-$25. Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 323.822.7898 or www.theatermania.com.