Fifty years to the week of Center Theatre Group’s beginning, and the opening of the Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum, the Los Angeles Times marked our anniversary with three stories that look to our past, present, and future.
In an in-depth profile, Artistic Director Michael Ritchie noted that the anniversary is valuable for giving the organization an opportunity to imagine what’s next. He discussed finding new synergy with Hollywood and deepening our connections with the city’s intimate theatre scene through programs like Block Party. He also shared his greatest desire for the future:
I could walk into the Taper, and walk down to the front of the stage and look up at the audience, and I would see Los Angeles sitting in that theater: every ZIP Code, every demographic. I would like to see a day when all of our theaters have that, regardless of the show that we’re programming.
Taper Production Manager Jonathan Barlow Lee, whose career began at Center Theatre Group in 1977, spilled the Taper’s secrets and told stories ranging from the original Zoot Suit to our upcoming production of Archduke in an interview. He also explained why he’s still drawn to the challenges of his job, like hoisting a four-ton train from the rafters for Archduke or sinking the set into a reservoir of water for the upcoming Head of Passes:
I love the idea that tomorrow is gonna be the best show ever,” he says. “Because every night, every experience, is unique. There’s an alchemy that goes on between performers and the audience. It’s a kind of magic.
The Times also reached out to actors, playwrights, and directors and asked them to share their favorite Center Theatre Group memories. Matthew Broderick recalled meeting Charlton Heston in his dressing room and (in a separate incident) getting food poisoning during a performance of Biloxi Blues. Chris Pine fondly remembered two patrons who stepped over him to walk out of a matinee of The Lieutenant of Inishmore while grumbling about how disgusting the show was.
Anna Deavere Smith recalled the process of creating Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992, which premiered at the Taper in 1992:
It amazed me throughout the project that the Taper opened its door to all kinds of talent and perspectives from the communities around the city. As a result of that, throughout the project I felt an enormous generosity coming from the citizens of Los Angeles, in all kinds of ways, who wanted me to know their story and their city. The Taper’s radical hospitality at that moment made it possible.
And Phylicia Rashad recalled how the organization helped the actors in our 2016 production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom learn the instruments they were playing onstage:
The staff and administration never said no. This is what needs to happen; this is how many times a week this needs to happen. OK. We had planned for training to be longer than it was but because of the schedules of the actors, it didn’t amount to more than about three weeks, maybe, before rehearsals. I’m telling you, it was very tight. But the theater staff never said no.