It Takes a Village...
...to build a gay, lesbian, and transgender theater space (that appeals to the entire community).
While waiting for the box office to open at the McCadden Place Theater one evening, this TheaterManiac took a stroll down the block in search of caffeine. Mere feet from the McCadden and the Lex theater complex, we happened upon the Village. Between an artfully appointed lobby festooned with announcements for upcoming theater and community events and the Stonewall Café, we lounged in a pleasant courtyard patio with tables and chairs, sipping our java in a virtual oasis.
Located on the edge of "Theater Row" on McCadden Place, half a block above Santa Monica Boulevard, the Village houses two state-of-the-art theaters. The Auditorium has a 225-seat capacity with 144 fixed seats, while The Davidson/Valentini Theater is a 99-seat "black box" performance space. The Village's location is rather appropriate; not only does the venue promote edgy work by up-and-coming artists, it will also participate in the citywide Edge of the World Festival for the second year in a row.
The artfully landscaped courtyard of the Village served as a parking lot for the former building. (Today, there is free parking in multiple lots across the street.) The building itself was originally a furniture manufacturing plant in the 1930s; it became a post-production studio in the '70s, but fell into disrepair in the '80s. When the Gay and Lesbian Center purchased it in 1996, the building had been unoccupied for five years--the ceilings had fallen in and tours were conducted by flashlight.
Redesigned by the architectural firm Cavaedium, the Village can claim two of the best-appointed spaces in Los Angeles. The complex itself might be described as post-post-modern; the airy courtyard recalls Richard Neutra's sleek modern lines with seemingly endless glass panels. Palm trees, corrugated steel, and exposed ventilation ducts add to the hip feel. The Auditorium itself resembles nothing so much as a giant sauna; the vaulted ceiling gives the room a spacious feeling, as does the blond wood paneling. The cushy vermilion seats are the refurbished originals. The lighting grids and the THX sound system are top-drawer. Michael Kearns, a local triple threat who was one of the first performers at the Auditorium, exclaims: "The Village, smack in the heart of Hollywood, is a welcome addition to the landscape here--a 'user friendly' hub of excitement that contains two fab theater venues."
In addition to Kearns, previous performers at the Village have included Luis Alfaro, Amy Hill, Annie Sprinkle, Alec Mapa, John Fleck, and Danielle Brazell. Quentin Crisp sold out three nights at The Auditorium during what turned out to be his final West Coast tour. The performance roster has been diverse: drama, stand-up comedy, story telling, music, and movement-based theater. Upcoming are scheduled performances by Sara Felder and Fabulous Monsters. The Village will also host Black Satin 2000, a performance by jazz notables.
"Our target audience is diverse," says Jon Imparto, cultural arts director of the Village. "We're going after the folks who don't usually go to the theater. There's a lot of cross-pollination going on; people might come for a 12-step meeting and then stay for a show!" In addition to the two theater spaces and the coffee shop, the Village offers a wide array of other activities, from dance classes to conversation groups. According to producing artistic director Sue Hamilton, "the most powerful part is that the theatrical events support the art gallery and other services." Adds Imparto, "Every time people buy a ticket, they're giving back to the community and the non-revenue generating programs."
Although the Village books top name talent like John Epperson (as Lypsinka) and Kathy Griffin, Hamilton also wants to nurture up-and-comers; he cites the example of the Fabulous Monsters, a troupe which inaugurated the smaller Valentini/Davidson theater and will be performing at the larger Auditorium in a few weeks.
While TheaterMania appreciates "the fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants," "Mickey-and-Judy-put-on-a-show" spirit of so many L.A. theaters, we also appreciate a well-run venue: at the Village, the staff is professional, the curtain goes up on time, the lights don't cut out halfway through the show. Both venues are completely soundproof, with air-conditioning and heating systems that actually work. The technical glitches that can mar a new venue have largely been avoided.
TheaterManiacs who also love film have another reason to patronize the Village: the Auditorium can function as a screening room with Dolby sound, a seamless screen, and projection capabilities for 16, 35 and 70 millimeter film and video. Every Wednesday night, the Village hosts OutFest screenings. "Because people from all walks of life come here for theater, we're teaching tolerance," says Imparto. "We're showing people that we're not just a damaged community whose resources go exclusively to social services like HIV prevention programs. The building itself makes people feel proud. It's an uplifting, inspiring space."