We're pretty lucky here in Southern California—there's certainly no lack of high-class entertainment. Fine theater productions happen all across LA, from Hollywood to the Valley, to Pasadena and Boyle Heights. The region's vibrant stage companies satiate the appetites of theater lovers with ongoing rosters of new plays, old standards, classic works and culturally revelant fare. You may not even need to leave your 'hood to get to a major performing arts centers—and great storefront theater is probably happening around the corner wherever you live. 2014 feels full of promise, with some of the finest companies in the city offering a slate of thrilling theater and dance (we couldn't resist including one of LA's most exciting and theatrical dance companies). Keep an eye out for these eight LA companies this year.
Celebration Theatre has been producing LGBTQ shows for the past 31 years and every year, their season presents innovative, provocative and relevant works. They challenge society’s perception of the often marginalized and misunderstood community and also give a vibrant voice to the LGBTQ experience and identity. A recent steep rent hike pushed the West Hollywood-based company out of their Santa Monica Boulevard space and saw Celebration take up residency at the more spacious and parking-friendly Atwater Village Theatre district. On Feb. 4, Celebration Theatre is staging "Tonya & Nancy: The Rock Opera" at King King nightclub. It's a benefit for the company, coinciding (appropriately) with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.
CASA 0101 in Boyle Heights was founded in 2000 by Josefina Lopez, the author of Real Women Have Curves, and has since established itself as a leading arts venue on the Eastside, presenting theatrical productions, film fests, and other special events year-round. It's also more than a place to see great theater in a neighborhood storefront—CASA 0101 also offers free classes in acting and other arts disciplines for youth, as well as free and low-cost classes for adults in acting and writing. Right now, you can see the world premiere of "A Cat Named Mercy," a drama about aging, healthcare and an ethical crossroads.
Hollywood Fringe Festival
If you really want to immerse yourself in local and international theater, you can’t miss the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June. The lively fest has been growing since its inaugural year in 2010, when Artistic Director Ben Hill and his tireless team first carved out a space in the LA arts calendar. Their intention of becoming an annual celebration of the emerging arts and a theatrical extravaganza was met, and the highly popular event is now approaching its fifth summer. Savvily concentrating an abundance of theatrical energy within one geographical area—central Hollywood—the 2013 fest saw more than 200 shows at over a dozen Hollywood venues with an astonishing 25,000 seats filled. In 2014, expect one-person shows, new musicals, comedies and edgy dramas to descend on Hollywood once again.
The Astra Dance Company
A talented troupe of seventeen neoclassical dancers, contortionists and circus artists, the Astra Dance Company recently interpreted the twisted, sinister plot and expressionistic style of the 1920’s silent horror film classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as a gorgeous if disquieting acrobatic ballet. This melodramatic tale of murder and mystery was Astra’s third full production since their formation in 2005. An ambitious work, the combination of bold choreography, original music and ethereal costuming created vivid sequences and alluring drama. While no new modern ballet productions have yet been announced, this dance company is definitely one to watch.
Since the Road was founded in 1991, the membership-based company of creatives has built a reputation for presenting original works designed to introduce new voices and thoughts to the American stage. The company is also deeply invested in their NoHo community and the neighborhood’s revitalization, with active involvement in community service and educational outreach. In addition to live performances at their two nearby venues (their secondary venue is part of the NoHo Senior Arts Colony), they also present a free weekly series of staged readings of new plays every Monday night, as well as art exhibits, and writing and acting classes. Onstage now is The Different Shades Of Hugh by Clete Keith, a new play that explores the highly personal world of an artist’s creative process as well as the moral and ethical ramifications of what happens when an artist’s vision faces compromise. Clete’s play was presented in 2012 at The Road Theater Company’s Summer Playwrights Festival.
Located in the heart of the NoHo Arts District, The Antaeus Company (It’s "'An-tee-us, come see us!' not 'An-tay-us, they don’t pay us'"') is a non-profit membership corporation with about seventy members, most of whom are actors, who have built a classical theater ensemble. Unique among 99-seat theater companies in LA, Antaeus is known for “partner casting,” meaning there are two casts for every stage production. Set for their 2014 season are two contemporary classics and a world premiere. Top Girls by British scribe Caryl Churchill and The Curse of Oedipus—a one-evening history of Greece’s Royal House of Thebes newly created by Kenneth Cavander. Wrapping up the season is Wedding Band: A Love/Hate Story in Black and White—Alice Childress’ 1966 masterpiece. Taking place in 1918 South Carolina, the drama is about two people in love who yearn to be together as husband and wife, but are kept apart by society’s mores and laws prohibiting interracial marriage.
This one-act theatre ensemble, founded in 1981, is a non-profit, democratic company that primarily performs new original works. Based in Hollywood, one of Theatre of NOTE's best annual events is “NOTEworthy,” a series of staged readings of new works-in-progress, offering playwrights a chance to participate in a talkback with the cast and audience, giving them an opportunity to make revisions based on this feedback. Theatre of NOTE is hosting their 19th annual performance marathon Jan. 18, which is equal parts benefit and exactly what the name implies—an all-day, all-night "last-man-standing" evening of performances.
Boston Court Performing Arts Center is an outpost for creative, bold and daring works in the San Gabriel Valley. Every year, you can find a diverse program of concerts and theater in an intimate setting. The Theatre @ Boston Court was recently awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Art Works Grant to support new play development. Coming up in the new year is Se Llama Cristina by Octavio Solis, a gritty, poetic look at the uncertainty of life and our desperate need for belonging. That production will be followed by a world premiere co-production with New York’s acclaimed Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Entitled Everything You Touch, Sheila Callaghan’s play is a viciously funny look at the struggle to find an identity that's more than skin deep.