Spokes & Mirrors by Steven Leigh Morris

A Fantasy: L.A. Theater, New Year’s Day, 2026

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“That damage was mitigated somewhat when the city’s rent stabilization program — a partnership of the city, the county and the L.A. Tourism Bureau — passed by City Council vote in 2018…”


[dropcap]Back[/dropcap] in 2020, the L.A. Superior Court again struck down the attempts by Mayor Garcetti (twice re-elected) and his Department of City Planning to erect a 200-story mixed-use retail-housing project on the corner of northwest Gower Street and Sunset Boulevard. This was partly because the project, like the one adjacent to the Capitol Records building, was situated directly over an earthquake fault line. And though the city’s sub-contracted geologists once again reported that the concern was exaggerated, the court favored, once again, the interpretation of the California Geological Survey, which said that the risk was palpable. The much publicized 6.6 shaker of 2019 obviously rattled the court, even though the epicenter was ten miles out to sea, west of Catalina Island. (Radical environmentalists blamed that quake on the newly approved fracking project on the Island’s more remote western slopes.)

The other mitigating factor was the lack of a credible Environmental Impact Report. The Report, financed by WeLookUp Construction Company, said the skyscraper would have no adverse environmental effects — that since traffic on the freeways traversing Hollywood, Downtown, North Hollywood, the Eastside, the Westside, and the Southbay was already averaging 0.1 miles per hour for 18 of the 24 hours per day, that pouring “another paltry 2,000 vehicles” onto the streets of Hollywood wouldn’t make much difference. The court didn’t buy it — not entirely.

A compromise was reached, and construction of a 50-story complex on Gower and Sunset resumed in 2022, scheduled for completion in 2027.

By 2025, the success of the Expo Line — linking Downtown to Santa Monica — was old news, and the Gold Line extended from East LA through Downtown and all the way out to San Bernardino, via Pasadena — a genuine triumph of vision and engineering. Movement across the region was possible. In October, 2025, LA’s Department of Transportation published/posted an impressively designed policy statement touting its plans to finally provide transportation services from rail stations to locations people actually needed to be. These plans had been curtailed due to budget cuts in the recessions of 2008 and 2019, but the Department pledged to make good on its promise of almost two decades.

But, thanks to the engagement of a certain theater support organization based in Los Angeles, the best news of all arrived in the area of what policy wonks still like to call “the cultural ecosystem.” (That term was invented in the early naughts and still has traction 20 years later, along with “impactful” and “inclusion.”)

High schoolers bussed into Atwater Village Theatre for a performance of "The Luckiest Girl" by Kitty Felde
High schoolers bused into Atwater Village Theatre for a performance of “The Luckiest Girl” by Kitty Felde.

Back in 2016, it appeared that the once numerically robust existence of theater venues (definition: where people gather to attend live performances) would be scaled back by 87% due to a lethal combination of rent/lease increases and a disappointing out-of-court settlement (the second in 30 years) reached between plaintiffs of a 2015 lawsuit and the actors’/stage managers’ union  — Actors’ Equity Association. Equity had been trying to ban its members from participating in theatrical productions that were unable to pay actors the going minimum wage for rehearsals and performances. The theater scene had thrived for 25 years prior, in a system largely based on non-binding volunteerism (i.e. actors working pro bono in mostly money-losing intimate theaters) in exchange for creative freedoms not afforded by most contract work. The union had decided, somewhat summarily, to end that system.

All sides hailed the compromise as a win-win solution, though both sides grumbled privately — for years later and for opposite reasons — over the damage inflicted to the stage community.

That damage was mitigated somewhat when the city’s rent stabilization program — a partnership of the city, the county and the L.A. Tourism Bureau — passed by City Council vote in 2018.

Essentially, subsidized by .01 hotel tax, the program permitted theater companies with at least a 10-year history, who had been driven from their venues by rent increases, to set up shop in “hub theater districts.” Hollywood became the first hub, in a pilot program, since Hollywood had been ironically officially dubbed L.A.’s “Theater Row” at the very moment when six of its theaters were driven from that very district, all the victims of unsupportable rent increases. Many of those theaters again found a home in these hubs, with some semblance of financial security. For that stability, these resident theaters had some obligations: First, it was required that public schoolchildren be bused in to at least one show in a theater’s season, and that the company had to engage academically and creatively with those children. The second requirement was that the theater demonstrate that, in at least 50% of its productions, the people on the stage ethnically represented the people in the community where the theater was located. Meanwhile, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce took the lead in touting the district as an arts center for business, while the tourism bureau alerted visitors to the efficacy of Hollywood’s arts district.

When the data was collected, demonstrating the drop in crime rates and the rise in literacy among local youth (combined with the boon to local business establishments), hubs opened in North Hollywood, Downtown and the South Bay, with four more planned on the Eastside, the Westside, Culver City and Pasadena.

So in 2026, even with anticipated, evolving frustrations on urban life, the state of the region for the arts had some highlights worth writing home about.

Steven Leigh Morris

Steven Leigh Morris

Steven is the Executive Director of LA STAGE Alliance, and is the founding editor of the community-funded digital arts venture Stage Raw (www.stageraw.com). Morris chaired the Jury for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2012, and served on that Jury in 2011. He received the Critic of the Year prize for his print reviews by the National Entertainment Journalism Awards in 2011.