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Gates McFadden side-by-side-by-Atwater Village

February 12, 2010

Director, choreographer, and actress Gates McFadden (Star Trek TNG) says construction on her side-by-side 99-seat Atwater Village Theatre is progressing well and expects at least one house to open by the end of March. Good thing, given Ensemble Studio Theatre’s Winterfest program of 24 staged readings and other events in conjunction with Circle X.

McFadden says the fact that she’s opening not one, but two, theatre spaces in Atwater Village, north of downtown Los Angeles, is serendipitous. “My son studies violin with Midori at USC. At a performance last year, I sat next to a young man who had studied in USC’s film program, and we hit it off.” She discovered that the young man’s father, Avo Tavitian, was developing several spaces on Casitas Avenue in Atwater Village, adjacent to Metrolink and freight rail lines, near San Fernando Boulevard. “I figured this young man came from good genes, so I met with his father.”

That meeting last year showed McFadden a neighborhood she didn’t know. “I was a big Silver Lake and Los Feliz person, and I didn’t know Atwater Village that well. But when I got a good look at it, I fell in love with this little corner.” The developer showed her a small theatre space down the street in one of his buildings, “but he didn’t want me to take that one. We walked a block,” McFadden remembers, “and he said, ‘Here, you can fit two theatres in here. Can you make it work’?”

Coming from years of theatre hopes and dreams in New York and France, McFadden seized the opportunity. It made sense, she told me, to find a company that could work alongside her Ensemble Studio Theatre LA and share creative juices (and pay for the juice to keep the lights on). “I met Tim Wright of Circle X. He was terrific. I knew we could collaborate.” Interviews of other company directors followed, but she ultimately teamed with up Wright. “Both of our companies had been at [Inside] the Ford Theatre, so we had a common understanding, and we knew we could loan each other lights, props, scrims, whatever.”

Speaking of [Inside] the Ford, McFadden was able to use the new space in Atwater Village, in a pretty rough form, to rehearse Julie Hébert’s ‘Tree’. “It was so sad,” McFadden said, “to have to close ‘Tree’ just before Christmas. We were selling out every night, just at that point of recouping what we’d put into it. If this place had been open, we could have brought it here and kept it running.”

Given the recent shuttering of the Pasadena Playhouse, I asked McFadden how she intends to make the space pay for itself or, actually, the two spaces. “Having two should make it easier,” she said. “We can have one side in tech while the other’s in performance, so we’ll be able to keep audiences coming without a hiatus for set demolition and construction. We’ll also be able to do something that’s very important to me: educational outreach.” McFadden, who can juggle and ride a unicycle, taught in her twenties at Brandeis University for six years and currently teaches at USC.

Is Los Angeles a theatre town? People often say it isn’t. “And three years ago,” McFadden told me, “I would have thought so too. But then I saw plays with my friends, and I have done plays here. This is a theatre town. And I still have much to learn about these incredible companies, companies that are trying to change or reflect our culture.” And then, serendipity strikes again, and you see something unexpected. “I didn’t know Jessica Kubzansky before we needed a director for ‘Tree’. I happened to go to Ojai where I saw her Hamlet and was blown away. Her direction was phenomenal. You understood everything about the text. I went home, reread portions and went, ‘Oh my gosh, I’d never thought of it that way’.” Kubzansky went on to direct ‘Tree’ at [Inside] the Ford for Ensemble Studio Theatre.

Ensemble’s and Circle X’s upcoming fall season is not yet set in stone.  McFadden’s waiting to see what comes from next month’s Winterfest readings, “and a couple of other things I have in mind.” For Winterfest and other information visit EST’s website. And, you never know. You might one day find yourself on Casitas Avenue as the clock approaches midnight. “I love having the possibility of late night theatre,” McFadden gleamingly said. “Maybe some clown cabaret, a little Fellini! It’s been a dream of mine for a very long time.”

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