Long Beach theater arts 'sleeping giant'

BY: JOANNE TUCKER

In addition to the manufacturers and coffee shops that fill Long Beach from the west side to Naples, when you stop and look at this city on the beach, you'll find it is also a city bursting with theater arts.There are 11 active theater companies in Long Beach, each with its own unique flavor that sets the stage for a plethora of shows year round. From Shakespeare to locally written theater, there isn't much left uncovered with these diverse theater companies. "I am completely supportive and elated over the growth of Long Beach theater," said Jann Baiz, a CSULB alumnae and executive director of Pacific Shores Hematology-Oncology Foundation.

Baiz, who has lived in Long Beach since 2002 and was at the opening of Alive Theatre's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" on Nov. 5, attributes some of this expansion in theater arts to Cal State Long Beach. "Long Beach State has amazing art programs," she said, adding that theater "will be the spoke of the wheel that's going to bring people to Long Beach."

What seems to be a problem for many wishing to support and enjoy theater in the city is a problem of information. "I am not nearly up on [theater], though I love it when I go," said Jared Eisenstat, a Long Beach resident for the past 20 years who was also at Alive's opening. He added that because he's not in the world of theater, "It falls off my radar."

Several other patrons agreed, saying if they wanted to go to a show it was something they really had to search for, and many witnessed a Long Beach theater production for the first time that night.

Linnea LaMont has lived in the city for about nine years and said this was her first Long Beach play. "I'm wondering why more people don't know about shows," she said.

While there are websites, such as LimelightLB.com and Visitlongbeach.com, no media in the city is comprehensive in its theater listings.

In dedication to theater arts in Long Beach, all 11 companies are listed below in alphabetical order. This fall and winter each theater company has something to offer the community at all price ranges and genres.

Alive Theatre

One of the newest Long Beach theater companies, Alive Theatre was founded in January 2008 by two CSULB alumni Jeremy Aluma and Danielle Dauphinee.

Many artists and peers of Aluma and Dauphinee, as well as already created company The Garage Theatre, helped establish Alive and its first production, the Cherry Poppin' Play Festival. The festival is a collaboration of several directors, short to medium-length plays and music ensembles.

According to Dauphinee, the festival this year saw more than double the amount of submissions from writers and was renamed the Long Beach Poppin' Play Festival.

Alive Theatre frequently chooses shows geared toward ages 18-35. The company selects plays that are contemporary or, as Dauphinee said, "Plays that we can put our own Alive Theatre spin on."

Since its inception, Alive has only known the economic recession climate. "All we've been doing as a company is growing in that time," Dauphinee said. And though the theater doesn't currently have a home, Dauphinee said it gives the company the ability to bring theater to various communities and engage in "guerilla marketing."

Find out more information on Alive Theatre and upcoming shows at Alivetheatre.org.

All-American Melodrama Theatre and Music Company

Sensational dramas and movie spoofs describe the plays done in this cabaret-styled theater located in Shoreline Village.

Owner Ken Park, who had a long-time love for melodrama theater, opened the All-American Melodrama Theatre and Music Company in June 2008, according to his partner and resident actor, Dawn Stahlak.

"The goal is to be a staple for theater and family fun," Stahlak said, adding that it has been a struggle financially due to the economic recession.

Despite any money troubles, "With each show the audience is growing, and we're finally on a steady incline of customers," said Stahlak, who called Long Beach "a sleeping giant" in regards to Long Beach theater.

The company's resident performers sketch up acts for some improvisational comedy on the first and third Saturdays of every month. The improv shows, which start at 10 p.m. for $10, are for adults only.

Larger productions permeate throughout the year as well. Currently, the company is performing "Scary Poppins," which plays until Nov. 21 and spins off of several family films from the 1960s.

The next play on the bill running Nov. 26-Jan. 2 is "Yo Ho Ho Ho: A Pirate's Christmas Adventure."

The casual setting of this theatre makes it a great venue for families or as a comedic date night. The theater offers a wide-range of concessions and beer for cheap.

Located at 429 Shoreline Village Dr., the theater company's listings and future show information can be found online at Allamericanmelodrama.com or call 562-495-5900.

California Repertory Company

The California Repertory Company is an educational theatre company comprised of CSULB graduate students, faculty and staff, and was established in 1989.

Ten years later the company, with the help of several partnerships and the Long Beach community, established themselves into a 99-seat theater where it won several awards as a small repertory theater, according to its website.

Cal Rep has moved several times since because of its attachment to CSULB and the university's building requirements the company must follow. The theater group recently found a stage at the Royal Theatre on the Queen Mary.

This often-provocative theater company performs works of modern controversies while still respecting traditional theater.

Cal Rep's next production "The Night of the Tribades" is on stage starting Nov. 16 and runs until Dec. 11. The show tells the story of August Strindberg, a Swedish writer and painter.

The company returns in the spring with "Hyacinth Macaw," which its website describes: "The nuclear family is disintegrating; identity is uncertain; even the moon is dying. [Mac] Wellman's language is his plaything. America is adrift." The play shows from Feb. 18 to March 12.

Cal Rep offers group-ticketing prices, CSULB discounts and other ticket packages. For more information visit Calrep.org or call the box office at 562-985-5526.

The Found Theatre

Since 1974, The Found Theatre has offered the community reasonably priced productions for all age ranges.

The company does all original material within the company, according to The Found Theatre Executive Director Virginia DeMoss, who has been with the theater group for 34 years.

"We like to be able to jump on something that's topical," DeMoss said, adding that while the plays are frequently comical they also have some type of message.

According to DeMoss, the company did feel the economic recession, but like the other groups it managed to keep a life of normalcy.

"We always kind of maintain a really shoestring budget so we always manage to survive," said DeMoss, who added that she is glad to see the growing theater activity in Long Beach. "People do have a really wide choice of theater to go to," she said.

"Somberton Senior Residence Presents 'The Nutcracker'?" is Found's next production that runs from Dec. 3-18 and returns Jan. 7-22. The play is an original comedy about a man doing community service in a retirement home who does "The Nutcracker" with the residents. John Sturgeon wrote the play and Lauren Nave directed and choreographed the play; both are long-time company members.

The Found Theatre will also present a special event for a tribute to songwriter and anti-war activist Phil Ochs on Dec. 19.

 

Ticket prices for any shows range between $10-15. For more information on the theater, which is located at 599 Long Beach Blvd. go to Foundtheatre.org or call 562-433-3363.

The Garage Theatre

Founded by four CSULB students, The Garage Theatre had its first show in 2001, but started officially the year before. Three of its founding members remain: Jamie Sweet, Matt Anderson and Eric Hamme.

The Garage Theatre found a permanent stage in 2005 at 251 E. 7th St. "We've gotten an incredible amount of support from the city and primarily the community," said Hamme, Garage managing director.

While the plays done by the Garage are primarily for adult audiences, and as Hamme describes, casual but provocative and cool and fun, the Garage's next production is a dedication to their first audience: the kids. "Revenge of the Space Pandas," an interactive play where the children can participate, is directed by Anderson and runs Dec. 3-19.

According to Hamme, the CSULB alumni started The Garage Theatre because it seemed there were graduating students interested in theater who didn't want to go to Los Angeles, and no other companies were doing theater they aspired to create.

Hamme said he's excited to see new companies put up sets. "The nice thing is we're all starting to work together," he said, adding that in light of the economic recession, "Usually arts are first to suffer from that climate, but we have actually grown."

Garage hasn't yet scheduled its 2011 season, but more information on the company can be found at Thegaragetheatre.org or call the info desk at 562-433-8337.

International City Theatre

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the International City Theatre is the Long Beach city council's officially designated resident theatre company for Long Beach.

The nonprofit company has been awarded an extensive amount of awards since its inception and is considered a major regional theatre in the U.S. reaching around 75,000 audience members annually, according to ICT's website. Performances at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, located at 300 E. Ocean Blvd., range from educational events to musicals and dramas.

Taking the audience through a range of musical styles, from vaudeville to opera, ICT's next performance "Love Repeating" is a story about loving life and is the West Coast premiere. The musical about loving love runs from Jan. 18-Feb. 13.

The rest of the 2011 season can be seen at Ictlongbeach.org.

Long Beach Community College Theatre

Currently showing "Wild Oats" until Nov. 14 at the LBCC Studio Theatre, which is located on the campus at 4901 E. Carson St., LBCC offers associate's degrees in theater.

"Wild Oats," written by John McClure as a restoration comedy of the original play by John O'Keeffe about the days of the Wild West, costs $15 with available discounts for seniors and LBCC students, staff and faculty.

The department's website, Tdf.lbcc.edu does not list its 2011 season and calls were not returned by the department for further comment.

Long Beach Playhouse

Long Beach Playhouse marks the oldest theater company alive today. Established in 1929, this theater has two stages, performance workshops and an art gallery.

 

Located at 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach Playhouse produces 16 plays annually, gathers about 34,000 people a year and "cuts across age, gender, ethnic and cultural boundaries," according to its website.

In the Studio Theatre, "The Lion in Winter" runs until Dec. 11 and is a British drama set in the 12th century. The production is most well-known from the 1968 film adaptation that starred Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn.

Next in line in the smaller theater is "The Lieutenant of Inishmore," a dark comedy set in Ireland about a teenager and his neighbor's dead cat. The show runs from Jan. 7-Feb. 12.

On the Main Stage until Nov. 20 "Murder by the Book" is a mystery-comedy about a mystery writer who gets convinced into committing the perfect murder.

For the Christmas holiday on the Main Stage from Dec. 4-26, "The Plight Before Christmas" is a melodrama and "includes five song parodies and puns galore," according to the Playhouse's website.

The full 2011 season can be found online at Lbplayhouse.org or call 562-494-1014.

Long Beach Shakespeare Company

Featuring this month two plays written and directed by a Long Beach Shakespeare Company member, "An Evening with Lauren Velasco & Sherlock Holmes" plays Nov. 12-14 at the Richard Goad Theatre. The Goad Theater is located at 4250 Atlantic Ave.

Starting Dec. 1 is the company's traditional holiday production, "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens, and runs until Dec. 19. The show will be at the Expo Theatre, which is at 4321 Atlantic Ave.

The Long Beach Shakespeare Company could not be reached for further information, but more details can be found at Lbshakespeare.org/

Musical Theatre West

Originally called the Whittier Civic Light Opera and established in Whittier in 1952, Musical Theatre West performs well-known and even premieres musicals of all types. According to the nonprofit company's website, since 1999 Musical Theatre West has called Long Beach home.

"Musical Theatre West is dedicated to preserving musical theatre as a unique American art form and enriching the cultural life of Southern California through the presentation of established musicals, the development of new works and the expansion of our Youth Cultural Enrichment Program," the website states.

Currently on stage is the production of "Annie" the popular musical about an orphaned girl. The show runs until Nov. 14.

Opening the curtains to 2011 from Feb. 11-27 is the play "Cats," the 1981 Tony Award winner for best musical. Ticket prices start at $30.

For more information on the youth program, tickets and the rest of the 2011 season visit Musical.org/ or call the box office at 562-856-1999.

University Players

CSULB ranks as one of the most prominent theater programs in the nation and is a nationally accredited program, according to the theatre department's website. The University Players, which consists of students in the program, offers six productions every school year in addition to weekly workshop shows put on by students.

Playing Nov. 11-Dec. 5 "Our Lady of 121st Street" is a dark comedy about the death of a Harlem nun and those who come to mourn her.

In the spring, an adaptation of a Shakespeare play "Two Gents Redux" is a modern version of the play about the foolishness of love. The play runs March 4-12. Tickets for shows with the University Players typically are $15 and $12 for CSULB students and seniors.

More information on the department and the rest of the shows for the 2010-2011 season can be found online at Csulb.edu/depts/theatre/ or call the box office at 562-985-5526.