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Raising Collaboration to an Artform

New Theatre Partnerships Bolster New Work at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

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Suli Holum in "The Wholehearted."

Photo by Craig Schwartz.

2016/17 is a season of firsts at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. The 13th season at our space in Downtown Culver City is jam-packed with five World premieres, one American premiere, and our inaugural Block Party. It is also a season that reflects the diverse and innovative ways regional theatres like Center Theatre Group commission new work, collaborate with artists, and champion diverse voices through a variety of partnerships with other theatre companies.

With Block Party, which is supported by lead donors Aliza Karney Guren and Marc Guren and Joni and Miles Benickes, we are collaborating with local theatre companies to remount three productions on the Douglas stage. The idea is to highlight some of the amazing work going on in Los Angeles. “Thanks to the hard work of Center Theatre Group staffers and the generous support of our donors, we’ve been able to develop a program that is beneficial to our audiences, to us, and to the companies we’re working with,” said Associate Producer Lindsay Allbaugh.

But while this may be Center Theatre Group’s first Block Party, it’s not the first time we’ve partnered with local theatre companies at the Douglas. Previous partnerships include Big River (Deaf West), A Raisin in the Sun (Ebony Repertory Theatre), and Permanent Collection (The Robey Theatre Company). “When Artistic Director Michael Ritchie arrived here back in 2005, he was talking—even then—about presenting local work at the Douglas,” said Allbaugh. “In a lot of ways it’s a part of his artistic vision for us as an organization.”

The Wholehearted is a different kind of local collaboration. It is the third micro-tour we’re presenting in partnership with other Southern California regional theatres thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. After a two-week World premiere run at the Douglas, The Wholehearted will go straight to La Jolla Playhouse for a weeklong run. This partnership follows 2013’s NEVA and 2015’s How to be a Rock Critic, both of which ran at South Coast Repertory, La Jolla, and the Douglas.

These partnerships extend far beyond our region. Adler & Gibb arrives on the Douglas stage for its American premiere as a co-commission between Center Theatre Group and London’s legendary Royal Court Theatre. Our final production of the season, King of the Yees, is a co-commission and co-production with the Goodman Theatre, Chicago’s oldest active nonprofit theatre. These partnerships put us in great company—and more importantly, allow us to give artists the time and resources new work requires as well as an upfront guarantee of two productions.

In some ways, these partnerships are a 21st-century re-envisioning of the co-production model theatres have long relied on that give a bigger stage and broader audiences to new, adventurous work. In other ways, they reconnect Center Theatre Group to our roots as a company.

According to Associate Artistic Director Diane Rodriguez, Center Theatre Group has always been interested in collaborations and ensembles. “[Founding Artistic Director] Gordon Davidson was such a fierce social activist in his theatre. And so, throughout his time here, he would routinely bring people in who weren’t playwrights, per se, but who were creating ensemble-generated work.” She offered Luis Valdez (writer/director of Zoot Suit and founder of groundbreaking Chicano theatre company El Teatro Campesino) and JoAnne Akalaitis (writer/director of 1986 World premiere Green Card and founder of acclaimed New York City avant-garde theatre company Mabou Mines) as examples.

“What we’re doing now is simply paralleling a resurgence of these kinds of companies, of this kind of work.” It’s in our blood.

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