Dani Oliver

Dani Oliver

Dani is the Editor of @ This Stage Magazine. She is an award-winning poet (Candace Silverman Memorial Scholarship, Virginia Middleton Creative Writing Award), theatre director, and journalist. She was previously the Editor of Daily BR!NK (dailybrink.com), and she holds a bachelor's degree in English and theatre from the University of Southern California, where she graduated magna cum laude. She is a proud member of the LA poetry collective, the WOMEN group, a Kahn Fellow, and an avid yogi. Find her on Twitter @DaniOliver.

Somewhere That’s Green: Backstage Spaces

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

Los Angeles theatergoers are accustomed to the motley collection of performance spaces spread throughout the city. Our stages are as diverse as they come, and each has its unique personality, quirks, and history that contribute to the atmosphere of each production. Taking a seat in front of the Sacred Fools stage feels inordinately different from sitting down for a performance at the Ahmanson — and that’s before the show even starts. No two stages are identical. But what audiences often aren’t privy to are the details that make each house unique backstage.

Traditionally, the theatrical green room functions as a waiting room for actors before, during, and after a performance. In reality (and particular in LA, where many stages have been converted from other structures), the green room is often multifunctional — used for press events, workshops, dressing areas, or storage. No matter the use, the green room is often a place of significance for theater artists. It’s a room of conversation, of cast bonding, and artistic collaboration.

We decided to take a peek into a few of the most interesting green rooms in the city to see what makes them unique.

ANTAEUS: THE LIBRARY

The Antaeus green room. Photo courtesy of Facetphotography.com.
The Antaeus green room. Photo courtesy of Facetphotography.com.

The green room at Antaeus is known for its impressive library. Two collections — Dakin Matthews’ Andak Theatre library and Antaeus’ own collection — line the walls, totaling approximately 10,000 volumes. The Antaeus collection was begun with contributions from company supporters Barry Kohn and Richard Stayton and supplemented by donations from Antaeus members.

There’s a free checkout system in place for the books, and Antaeus hopes to make it open to the public and add archival videos, similar to the system in place at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Library.

The room is also the home of the popular Potluck series. Patrons mingle, share a meal, and talk about theater.

The Antaeus green room from other angles
The Antaeus green room from other angles

THE KIRK DOUGLAS: BUILDING BLOCKS

Wall of bricks in the Kirk Douglas green room. Photo by Dani Oliver.
Wall of bricks in the Kirk Douglas green room. Photo by Dani Oliver.

Considering the large stage at the Kirk Douglas, its green room isn’t a very large space. Down a hallway past the stage door, the room is a small brick alcove with enough space for only a dozen or so people — but what it lacks it size, it makes up for in creativity.

One of the walls consists of these painted bricks — all done by cast and crew from shows produced at the theater.

During the run of Krapp’s Last Tape, Eric Sims, operations manager at the Kirk Douglas, recalls walking into the room and finding actor John Hurt sitting by himself, carefully painting over one of the bricks. He hadn’t told anyone his plan to paint a brick, but of course, says Sims, no one was going to tell Hurt he couldn’t.

John Hurt's brick for "Krapp's Last Tape" and Kirk Douglas' signed brick
John Hurt’s brick for “Krapp’s Last Tape” and Kirk Douglas’ signed brick

 

BOSTON COURT: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SNACKS

Boston Court shelves of snacks
Boston Court shelves of snacks

Boston Court’s green room has a notable snack collection. Stocked by membership/operations coordinator Joe McMahon (who has been lovingly referred to as Baron von Snackhauser), the cupboards are full of tasty treats for artists and Boston Court staff.

The room itself is multifunctional. Private staff meetings are held in the space, as well as the annual staff Grilled Cheese Day. (Marketing and communications manager Brian Polak says that one of his favorite results of this event was a creation of mascarpone, cayenne pepper, and strawberry on sourdough.)

For its artists, the Boston Court greenroom is a place where naps and lounging are encouraged. The drive to Pasadena, says Polak, is unpredictable, and actors are often encouraged to arrive early and make themselves at home.

The room also houses this gorilla, named “Transvestite Sasquatch,” which is the company mascot. The backstory is a bit complicated (ask Polak or Jessica Kubzansky if you want the details), but the result is a yearly holiday “Secret Transvestite Sasquatch” gift exchange.

The Boston Court green room and Transvestite Sasquatch
The Boston Court green room and Transvestite Sasquatch

THE GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE: A LOVE STORY

The Geffen green room
The Geffen green room

Once upon a time, in the Geffen Playhouse green room, two actors fell in love. These two actors were French and Vanessa Stewart. Vanessa fondly recalls meeting French in the green room for the first time while she was rehearsing Louis & Keely: Live at the Sahara, and French had begun rehearsals for Matthew Modine Saves the Alpacas.

“What I remember about French is that he was very affable, but had a horrible memory. My future husband actually introduced himself to me twice, which I thought was hilarious. He’s quick to point out it’s because I was wearing my Keely wig the second time around.”

Vanessa says that, due to her shyness, she would often sit in the green room with her iPhone — happy to be in the room, but without feeling obligated to speak to anyone.

“[French] was happy to break me out of my shell on many occasions. I found myself so charmed by his quick wit that I began arriving to the green room earlier and earlier every day, hoping I’d see him and that he would flirt with me again.”

It was French’s performance on opening night of his show that pushed their budding romance past the green room.

“I saw his performance and realized how talented he was. My crush grew 10 times over. That night, I invited him for drinks at a Tiki Bar and was amazed at how easy the conversation was, not to mention my growing attraction for him. Now, four years later, we are married with a newborn baby… thanks to the Geffen green room.”

Vanessa and French Stewart and daughter, Helene Claire
Vanessa and French Stewart and daughter, Helene Claire

CASA 0101: THE MYSTERIOUS ROOM

Casa 0101 green room
Casa 0101 green room

The green room at Casa 0101 is on the second level of the space and, as it turns out, many patrons don’t even know it exists. The room has been converted countless times and used for prop storage, dressing rooms, and cast spillover.

There are three entrances and exits to the green room that accommodate staging needs: an entrance staircase into the main theater, a foldout ladder into the restroom, and a foldout ceiling ladder to the dressing room hallway.

The room has a lot of history. Casa 0101 was once a rickety boxing gym (and used to shoot scenes from Rocky) before it was renovated into a theater in 2011. But with any old theater with a lot of history comes a bit of the mysterious. Actors have consistently reported bits of paranormal activity in the green room — including hearing eerie whispers and having their costumes tugged on while waiting to make their entrances. They’ve even installed a motion sensor light in an attempt to keep anything spooky to a minimum.

Dee Smith prepares in front of a mirror in the Casa 0101 green room. The view from the second floor green room.
Dee Smith prepares in front of a mirror in the Casa 0101 green room. The view from the second floor green room.

THE MARK TAPER FORUM: THE GREEN RED ROOM

Mark Taper Forum green room
Mark Taper Forum green room

Before the 2008 renovation, there was no green room at the Mark Taper Forum. There was no space for wardrobe, no area for directors to give notes, and no sign of anything resembling a green room. During the renovation, an electrical switch panel was moved to the basement in the parking garage, opening up a space to the side of the stage and making space for the new green room. Today, the green room is a central hub for the actors and the center of the backstage area. There are comfy couches, a TV monitor to watch the show, and genuine green walls to boot.

The green room, however, almost ended up as the red room. A production of Pippin, co-produced by Deaf West Theatre, was in rehearsals at the Taper soon after the renovation. Part of the early design concept was that all the actors’ arms would be painted red up to the elbows. The concept was abandoned, but not before the red makeup had permanently stained all the green room furniture. It remained reddish for a few colorful years before new furniture was ordered for the room. The show, obviously, left an impression on the space.

LA MIRADA THEATRE: GREEN ROOM GUESTS

La Mirada Theatre green room
La Mirada Theatre green room

The green room at La Mirada Theatre is all about memories. The walls are decked out in posters of past shows. The old upright piano in the corner is remembered fondly by cast members as both the rehearsal piano and the spot for impromptu jam sessions. During larger shows and national tours, the green room has been used for wardrobe, hair and makeup — bringing the casts together into one space and creating a sense of camaraderie.

Through 35 years of productions, the green room has hosted some legendary artists, including Cary Grant, Joan Rivers and Shirley MacLaine. (And it’s also hosted countless birthday parties and cast celebrations.)

The cast of "Miss Saigon" with Sgt. Doug Potratz, one of the last men out of Vietnam before the Fall of Saigon. / La Mirada Theatre staff with legendary Joan Rivers after her sold-out show.
The cast of “Miss Saigon” with Sgt. Doug Potratz, one of the last men out of Vietnam before the Fall of Saigon. / La Mirada Theatre staff with legendary Joan Rivers after her sold-out show.

PASADENA PLAYHOUSE: CELEBRATING TRADITION

Pasadena Playhouse green room
Pasadena Playhouse green room

Pasadena Playhouse’s green room is certainly one of the grandest in the Greater LA area. A large central room surrounded by nine smaller dressing rooms, the space is full of comfortable oversized couches, chairs and tables to be used by actors offstage during the production. The Playhouse’s stage is fully miked and actors are able to hear and see what’s happening onstage on the monitor in the corner.

The ceiling that you see in these photos (with the colorful beams) is completely original to the space. While other elements have been replaced or remodeled, the ceiling has remained the same. (Fun fact: the beams look like wood, but they’re actually cement.)

There’s a painting of a large ship hanging in the space that is a replication of the theater’s old, original fire curtain that still hangs in the rafters. One day, with the proper funds, the company hopes to restore the curtain and coat it with plastic so it can be lowered once again.

Every Saturday during the season, the Friends of the Playhouse hosts a potluck dinner for the cast and crew in the green room — a tradition that goes back many years.

Another view of the Pasadena Playhouse green room and one of the nine dressing rooms
Another view of the Pasadena Playhouse green room and one of the nine dressing rooms

THEATRICUM BOTANICUM: THE GREEN ROOM TIRING HOUSE

The Theatricum Botanicum tiring house
The Theatricum Botanicum tiring house

The green room at Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is quite different from the traditional green room. The theater is outdoors, and the actors wait offstage, change costumes, and do hair and makeup in a wooden tiring house that also functions as part of the set. The green room/tiring house is two-story and has several doors, allowing actors to make entrances from a variety of locations.

The tiring house was built in 2007, and before that, says artistic director Ellen Geer, actors changed behind bushes and makeup was applied by lamplight from a lantern hung on a tree.

Actor Samara Frame remembers the pre-tiring house days. “We were doing Twelfth Night and I remember we had to climb up a ladder to get to the women’s dressing room. Up a ladder in our big period dresses, bloomers and corsets!”

Frame also says that her favorite part of this non-traditional green room has been to step outside, just behind the tiring house and out of view from the audience, to wait for her cue as she looks up at the stars.

Inside Theatricum Botanicumn's tiring house/green room
Inside Theatricum Botanicumn’s tiring house/green room

Shakesqueer – A Queer, Feminist Reading

“We know from his plays that he struggled intimately with the social conditions that produce identity in the first place. A queer reading of Shakespeare dwells not on the orientation of the man but rather of the works. And Shakespeare’s works are queer AF.”

Read More »