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Theaters trying to stage a rally

Another troupe might be forced to leave Glendale as it struggles to sell tickets.

May 20, 2011|By Bill Kisliuk, bill.kisliuk@latimes.com
  • Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliot, the co-artistic directors for the A Noise Within theater in Glendale, pose near beautiful stained-glass window on the third floor of the theater on Monday, July 19, 2010. (Tim Berger/News-Press)
Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliot, the co-artistic…

While officials seek to transform a section of downtown Glendale into an arts and entertainment district, the local theater scene is slowly turning into a tragedy.

Citing weak ticket sales, Glendale Centre Theatre representatives say they may draw the curtains for good after 63 years.

A Noise Within, an esteemed theater troupe that has performed at the Masonic Temple on Brand Boulevard for roughly 17 years, will offer its final Glendale performances in early June before moving to Pasadena.

The leader of the Luna Playhouse on San Fernando Road cited financial difficulties in deciding to move on to other projects after five years, though the building owner plans to continue staging shows.

Tim Dietlein, executive producer at the Glendale Centre Theatre for 30 years, said low attendance is forcing him to consider closing the curtains or relocating to another city after the 2011 season.

“It is decision-making time for us,” Dietlein said. “We’re deeply in debt right now, and we’re just hanging on.”

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Dietlein is launching a vigorous promotional campaign to raise the profile of the theater on Orange Avenue that produces “A Christmas Carol” each December and other dramas, comedies and youth-oriented fare throughout the year.

But, he said, “if over the course of the next year or so I can’t make something happen that changes our numbers … we love Glendale, but there is also that cold reality that you’ve got to make a living.”

The first shockwaves hit after 9/11, Dietlein said. Audiences that once filled 94% of the theater’s 400 seats slipped as entertainment spending came to a stop, he said.

Attendance improved in subsequent years but never fully recovered. Then the recession delivered another blow.

“There are nights when we’ve had 60 people in the theater, and it looks like nobody is there,” Dietlein said. “Overall, the theater is running at about 60% of capacity. That’s a bad number.”

He has winnowed paid staff from about 10 to four and gone with all-volunteer casts, but business is still in the red.

Barry McComb, chief executive of Glendale Arts — the nonprofit that operates the Alex Theatre on Brand Boulevard — said local theaters tend to thrive when clustered near one another.

Audiences are also changing, he said.

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