With dozens of active theatres, North Hollywood has become a lively center for stage productions. We explore how it went from understudy to star status—ultimately becoming known as the Off-Broadway of LA.
- Written byMichael Ventre
SPREADING WINGS The impressive Falcon Theatre, owned by showbiz veteran Garry Marshall.
North Hollywood doesn’t pretend to be Hollywood.
It has its own identity, thank you, and it doesn’t need to define itself by its glitzier cousin.
By the same token, the theatre community within the North Hollywood Arts District isn’t trying to be Broadway’s doppelgänger—or even Off Broadway’s distant kin.
Rather it’s living by its own show business credo: “If I can make it here, that’s as good as making it there.”
In recent years, NoHo has stepped out of nondescript-understudy status and into the spotlight by creating an impressive array of local theatres featuring top-shelf talent and audacious productions that receive big-city attention. In doing so, the surrounding area—already swelling with residents and artists of all types, thanks to the Metro stop and related development—has burgeoned into a veritable hive of creative activity.
“There has been an onslaught of restaurants and nightclubs in the last the five years,” says Nancy Bianconi, president and CEO of NoHo Communications Group, which liaisons with many of the local theatres and businesses. “That’s one of the reasons new businesses have come here to the district—because the crowds are coming. More crowds mean more business. It’s been very, very positive. The area has become an international tourist destination, to come here and take tours and attend theatres. We have many, many film festivals due to having an art house here.”
In 1992 then-city councilman Joel Wachs, a staunch supporter of the arts, led a crusade to rejuvenate what was a blighted area in and around the center of North Hollywood. The plus side of a rundown part of town is that the rents are cheap. Those affordable rents slowly helped lure theatre folk there, as well as dancers and other artists in search of space.
Then in June 2000 the NoHo’s Metro station opened with the Red Line, and five years later the Orange Line was added. Those two factors were game changers: For the first time, getting there was a cinch. That new foot traffic ultimately ignited residential construction and in turn attracted businesses.
Today in a roughly one-square-mile hunk of NoHo, there are 24 theatres, including The Road Theater Company, which recently staged a boffo production of Sharr White’s critically acclaimed The Other Place in the theatre housed in the NoHo Senior Arts Colony. Sam Anderson, The Road’s co-artistic director and an accomplished actor who co-starred in The Other Place, says the company and other theatre troupes in the area make a particular effort to attract young people.
“Once the subway came in and all the lofts and apartments were built, it brought a contingent of younger people in their 20s who work at the studios or in the Valley or who commute downtown,” Sam explains. “We really reached out to that community. We got them to see a show and then did an informal soiree with wine and cheese. We met so many people in their 20s and 30s who had never seen a theatre piece before. We try to do things to shock the heck out of people who only had seen such things in movies.”
That wave, in turn, has been good for area business. “I always say Saturday between 5 and 7 p.m. are my favorite two hours of the week,” notes Steve Simon, general manager of The Federal Bar, “because it brings in a crowd that is going to the theatre that probably otherwise wouldn’t be visiting a gastropub.”
Of course, as with every dramatic scenario, there’s conflict. Actors’ Equity is proposing a change to its Los Angeles 99-seat theatre agreement that would require actors to be paid for rehearsals and performances. Many in the NoHo theatre community believe that change would make it difficult for many theatres to survive.
“Most of these theatres don’t make a profit,” Nancy states.
Sam, for one, hopes to keep building on what already exists. “When I first came here, you wouldn’t see people on the streets after 6:30 at night. Now look at it.”
The square-mile NoHo Arts District has, at any given time, more than 20 playhouses putting on shows. Here are a few selections of theatres and their productions.
1. EL PORTAL THEATRE | 5269 Lankershim Blvd.
Renovated 1926 art deco stage. Playing now: Violet by Brian Crawley and Jeanine Tesori. Off-Broadway hit about a scarred woman’s journey to find true beauty. Runs May 15-31.
2. THE ANTAEUS COMPANY | 5112 Lankershim Blvd.
Playing now: Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare. Runs through May 3.
3. THE ROAD THEATRE | 5108 Lankershim Blvd.
Known for featuring the works of on-the-rise playwrights. Playing now: Things Being What They Are by Wendy MacLeod. A comedic look at “maleness” in the suburbs. Runs through June 21.
4. ZOMBIE JOE’S UNDERGROUND THEATRE GROUP | 4850 Lankershim Blvd.
Playing now: Witch Ball. The fantastic adventures of a magical orb. Runs through May 9.
5. CROWN CITY THEATRE COMPANY | 11031 Camarillo St.
Playing now: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum by Larry Gelbart, Burt Shevelove and Stephen Sondheim. A musical that tells the story of a slave and his attempts to win freedom by helping his young master woo the girl next door. Runs through May 24.
6. ACTORS WORKOUT STUDIO | 4735 Lankershim Blvd.
The hub of Fran Montano, who has been teaching acting for more than 30 years and offers edgy productions.
7. THE WHITMORE-LINDLEY THEATRE CENTER | 11006 Magnolia Blvd.
Artistic director Edmund Gaynes presents bold choices at a theatre named in part for veteran actor James Whitmore.
8. THE GROUP REP AT THE LONNY CHAPMAN THEATRE | 10900 Burbank Blvd.
Don’t miss Lombardi by Eric Simonson. A look at legendary Redskins coach Vince Lombardi during one dramatic week of the 1965 NFL season. Runs July 24 through September 6.
9. ACTORS FORUM THEATRE | 10655 Magnolia Blvd.
Playing now: Outta My Head – Part 6. Three one-act plays by Eugene H. Butler. Runs through May 2.
10. FALCON THEATRE | 4252 W. Riverside Dr.
A 130-seat performing arts space on the edge of Toluca Lake that was built and is owned by showbiz veteran Garry Marshall. The Trouble We Come From written by and starring Scott Caan runs June 4 to July 12.