June 03, 1999   



Luckman Brings the Noise

A Noise Within will move to Cal State L.A.'s lavish Luckman Theatre.


by Rob Kendt


Last Wednesday night, members of Glendale's classical repertory company, A Noise Within, arrived by 6:45 p.m. sharp at the former Masonic temple that has housed their scrappy, steadily growing efforts since a production of Hamlet in 1991. The assembled actors, directors, and designers had been called to a company meeting but were given no idea what the meeting was about.


At 7 p.m., still mystified about their gathering, company members piled into a rented bus and embarked on what seemed a circuitous freeway route to a still-unknown destination. Recalled resident actor Jenna Cole, "We were like kids at camp."


The bus stopped on the campus of Cal State Los Angeles, northeast of Downtown L.A., and company members were led to the college's Luckman Fine Arts Complex, a four-year-old performing arts facility whose centerpiece is a gorgeous 1,150-seat theatre.


This, as company members learned to their delighted surprise, is to be the new home of A Noise Within, which until recently ran an ambitious repertory season in a 99-seat in-the-round theatre with wooden pews for seats (seating has been expanding for a few years now, to its current 144). Conveniently, the Luckman Theatre has curtains to block off the balcony and the back of the orchestra for an initial 252-seat configuration-a crucial point not only for ANW's audience-building but for its negotiations with Actors' Equity.


Amazingly, these negotiations have only just begun, though ANW's soon-to-be-announced fall season begins rehearsals in July. Indeed, this big move is progressing at hyper-speed, given that it's a marriage between a university and a small nonprofit arts organization.


"I've been working on this for seven weeks, which must be a new speed record for the university," said Charles Redmond at a reception in the Luckman lobby last week. As a board member of A Noise Within and a councilmember at Cal State L.A., Redmond was the crucial link who saw unmet needs on both sides and endeavored to bring them together.


On the one hand, the splashy Luckman space has been under-used, with a performing arts season consisting mainly of one-night-stands of dance, opera, and concert music; on the other hand, A Noise Within has been shopping for a new space ever since it became clear that the Masonic temple building in Glendale may never meet the troupe's needs "in a timely fashion," as co-artistic director Geoff Elliott said last week.


"Our success was collapsing in on us," Elliott said. "We were turning people away, and actors were getting frayed around the edges. There was no heating or air conditioning, no showers."


In 1995, the city of Glendale earmarked $2.5 million for the company to upgrade the space; $600,000 was spent upgrading the existing black-box space, with now-moot plans to build another 450-seater downstairs. The company's last production in the old building will be a brief revival of its award-bedecked 1998 rep productions of Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes and its prequel, Another Part of the Forest, June 3-13.


Plans at the Luckman, where A Noise Within will be officially a "company in residence," include its 22-week, seven-play 1999-2000 season and continued educational and internship programs. Its conservatory classes will not restart right away, but both Cal State L.A. officials and A Noise Within are clearly eying future educational collaborations, citing such models as La Jolla Playhouse's relationship with UC San Diego and American Repertory Theatre's with Harvard.


Details will be worked out in coming months at a breakneck pace. Currently ANW productions are on an Equity Periodic Performance contract, and while there are few if any employment models quite like this one-a repertory acting company in a college setting-Equity is likely to make League of Resident Theatre (LORT) scales a goal (professional midsized theatres on campuses, like La Jolla Playhouse, as well as the nation's only real rep acting company, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, both use LORT contracts).


Last week, though, members took a moment to relish the abundant, Ahmanson-sized fly space of the Luckman stage, the bathrooms and scene shop, and the attractive courtyard.


Said co-artistic director Art Manke, "All I keep thinking of is the theme from The Jeffersons: "We're movin' on up/To the Eastside/To a deluxe apartment.' "