BY CARY GINELL
Tonight, we are excited in welcoming Playhouse 101, a new multi-use theater which makes its debut in Agoura Hills. Located in an office building complex at 28720 Canwood St., Playhouse 101 is managed by Jeff Wallach, artistic director for Curtain Call Youth Theatre. Jeff has ambitious plans for his new venue, including renting it out for rehearsals and concerts in addition to conventional theatrical plays and musicals. We visited the theater yesterday, where Jeff proudly showed us around. Its first production, the popular baseball comedy Bleacher Bums, bats leadoff in the Playhouse 101 season.
VCOS: Has Curtain Call Youth Theatre ever had a permanent home?
JEFF: We have had multiple locations in which we have stayed for multiple years, but this is the first time that CCYT has a permanent home.
VCOS: What did it take to find and secure this place and how did you come up with the name for the theater?
JEFF: Playhouse 101 is the name of the building itself; we took it because I wanted a generic name that wasn’t specific to any technical location or city, because I see this expanding and I don’t know, when our lease ends after five years, if the building itself will be able to hold what I know will be an amazing performing arts center. But we are location by the 101 Freeway so that’s how we got the name. It took about two-and-a-half years of looking for the right space. This has been in the works since we moved out of our partnership with the Agoura Recreation and Event Center. One of my moms from CCYT gave me a name of a real estate agent, and he was the one who showed me the space. I had looked at multiple spaces and been involved with multiple agents, and so by the time I got to him, I was kind of brow-beaten, but still had the fire. When I walked into this space, I saw it all. I saw the whole performing arts entity. It was amazing. The space is a 4,000 square foot theater, 2,000 of which will be used for a black box theater. The rest will feature extra rehearsal space, a lovely lobby and box office area, storage for costumes and props, and a spacious dressing room for the actors. It’s like any space in West Hollywood or the NOHO theater arts district. It’s that kind of a cool, funky, old-school space.
VCOS: Have you received interest from companies to rent the space out?
JEFF: Yes. Actually, we have confirmed the California Shakespeare Company, which will have a production here and will be renting from us as long as they’d like, in the fall. We also have a casting director from Nickelodeon who was conducting a one-day casting workshop at our space. We’re also in the works with a couple of local writers who would like to put up their work here. The playhouse itself is working on different branches of the arts. We already have in progress a cabaret series, which is kind of like a more developed open-mike night, we have a graduate from CSUN coming in to helm our new works division, which will include evenings of 20-minute original musicals, 10-minute original plays, and a lot of great new works by local authors. So there is a lot going on, and there are still spaces available should anyone want to rent it out. They can contact me.
VCOS: Can people rent it out for rehearsals where the performances will be at other theaters?
JEFF: Yes, definitely. It’s by space availability, but I’m open to anything, and that’s another reason why I wanted this space, because it’s local, it’s easy access, it’s for the community, and it’s for those artists who can’t afford one of the larger venues. So if you come to us, we’ll help you out. That’s what we’re all about. We’re here to work with our fellow artists to keep the performing arts strong in our community.
VCOS: Give me the technical specifications of the theater – number of seats, something about the audio and visual capabilities, room for musicians, and so forth.
JEFF: It’s a small space, so we don’t have room for a huge number of instruments. For our current production of Bleacher Bums, all we need are six instruments, and there’s ample room for them. But I’m pretty sure we can have as many as 20. We are in the process of building our own trust system to accommodate the 20 instruments. We have an easy access, easy-to-use sound board, so if anyone wants a mike system, we can accommodate that. The seating is very flexible. The beauty of a black box is that whoever wants to rent it for whatever production, we can be very flexible with the seating. Right now, we are using a traditional proscenium audience of 35. For one of our youth productions, we’re going to do a theater-in-the-round and have 60 seats. That’s about as large as we can go. But the configurations are limitless. Theater-in-the-round, three-quarter thrust, traditional proscenium, it’s really a cool space, so the possibilities are endless.
VCOS: Where do musicians sit?
JEFF: When we do musicals, it’s wherever the director wants them. They can be as traditional as between the audience and the stage, but they can also be behind the audience, off to the side in little pockets, or whatever the director desires.
VCOS: So no orchestra pit, then?
JEFF: No. It’s a pretty small space, so we can’t have a traditional orchestra pit.
VCOS: So tell me about Bleacher Bums. Why did you pick that show as your inaugural production and what can you tell me about the cast?
JEFF: I produced Bleacher Bums many, many years ago in Los Angeles and although I’m not a baseball person, I found this a unique show because of its message about people from different walks of life, philosophies, and races are coming together to share one common goal – to enjoy an afternoon at the ballpark. It’s a beautiful character study and really, the show will appeal to everyone of all ages. We have a mixture in our cast, so that’s one of the things I chose it for, its message of coming together and supporting one another, and for our space, it works beautifully. We have a small cast of ten and one set. For this production, it runs an hour and forty minutes without an intermission. Our cast is incredible. Two of our members left our cast two nights ago so our director stepped into one of the lead roles. One of the other actors switched over to a larger role and then we got a member of the community who hasn’t acted in years, but had a professional singing career, to step into one of the smaller roles. Our cast includes Seth Wayne, our first Equity performer, since we are under 99 seats, Joella Bolen, who you may have seen in Hairspray at Conejo Players, is the cheerleader and is absolutely incredible. And we have a seven-and-a-half-year-old actress playing the kid, and it’s amazing how professional she is. Her name is Isabella Burrous. Her father, Chris Burrous, is an anchorman over at KTLA News.
VCOS: Every theater needs a slogan. Do you have one yet?
JEFF: No, not yet!
VCOS: How about “Broadway By the Freeway”?
JEFF: There you go! I like that? Can we use it?
VCOS: For a fee, sure.
JEFF: (laughs) That’s great. You know, Agoura Hills hasn’t had a theater here since the old Stage Door, and that was many, many years ago. So we’re happy to be here and now there’s another option in the Conejo Valley as well as one for the West San Fernando Valley and Malibu.
Bleacher Bums opens this evening at Playhouse 101. For directions, dates, and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.