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.”
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.
“Younger people are more immersed in new electronic media,” said McComb, who’s faced his own challenges in generating ticket sales. “They are experiencing the arts through iPods and television, and that has been a challenge for every arts institution.”
The Alex Theatre has seen ticket sales rise in the first part of 2011, McComb said, but that was after he diversified its offerings. The Glendale Renaissance Orchestra was rebranded as the Glendale Pops Orchestra, and shows celebrating Filipino, Latino and Armenian arts and culture were added to the mix, McComb added.
“If the audience is supporting it, that’s what you do,” he said. “If the audience is not supporting it, you change.”
The Alex is one cornerstone of the city’s arts and entertainment district, where officials have made zoning changes in an effort to attract music venues and nightclubs. The Glendale Redevelopment Agency has also heavily subsidized the Museum of Neon Art’s move from Los Angeles to Brand Boulevard.
But the Glendale Centre Theatre is outside the boundaries, A Noise Within decided to leave Glendale before the district was formed, and Luna is in a different part of town.
Aramazd Stepanian, a former member of the city’s Arts & Culture Commission who ran Luna Playhouse until February, said the city supports “arts for business’ sake,” but that is not enough.
“You cannot expect arts organizations to support a city that hasn’t supported the arts in the first place,” he said.
Arman Keyvanian, who currently sits on the commission, said the city could do more to support the arts, but the fundamental problem is the way the economy is affecting patrons.
“With the recession, people are tight-fisted with their money,” he said.