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It takes Coeurage to run a pay-as-you-want theatre

February 24, 2010

“One of our bisexual members thought it would be a good idea if Eric Czuleger, who’d written a really great lesbian scene, wrote a play all about women,” says Jeremy Lelliott, Coeurage Theatre’s Artistic Director. “Eric, who’s perfectly straight, agreed and that’s where Head Over Heels came from, eventually with help from our women.”

Jeremy Lelliott

I wrote a couple weeks ago about Head Over Heels and finally met today with Lelliott, along with Managing Director Gedaly Guberek, and Czar of Being Sweet, Joe Calarco.

You think I’m kidding?

“We went through a lot of permutations in how we signed emails and letters,” says Guberek. “Joe, who’s really the administrator of The Road Theatre, which rents us stage time, was always the sweet one.” His real title is Director of Operations. By the time Head Over Heels closes this weekend, Guberek estimates close to 200 people will have seen it. It’s Coeurage’s first true theatrical production and he used as many online sources as possible for free advertising. “We had no budget,” he says. “But our final weekend is almost all reserved.”

Gedaly Guberek

He can’t use the term “sold out” because Coeurage operates on a pay-as-you-want model. Guberek tells me they’ll at least break even for the run, after paying for concessions, programs, and giving The Road half their receipts for use of the set, lights, and administration. “The average contribution from people who see the play is $7.50. Some people put in a couple bucks; others put in twenty.”

The theatre space is above Gallery 800 in the NoHo Arts district, next door to Deaf West.

Joe Calarco

The building, a former Department of Water and Power home, is owned by the City of Los Angeles and The Road Theatre has a sweet deal, Calarco says, having occupied the second floor above the gallery for more than half its 19 years, rent free.

I saw Head Over Heels in its opening weekend and liked almost all of it. The opening confused me, though. Six women came out, clad in black leotards, and struck defiant poses and said defiant, empowered words. Then, it seems the stage manager screws up – a false start – and the company, seemingly frustrated, starts anew. It appeared to have nothing at all to do with the rest of the show, which consists mostly of monologues or 2- or 3-character scenes.

“Eric didn’t care if the audience got it or not,” Lelliott says. “He spoofed us by playing off an earlier suggestion we do the Vagina Monologues. It was his tongue-in-cheek way of implying the audience was in for a night of sophomoric theatre, which, of course, they weren’t.”

“We all worked and studied together at Cal State Fullerton,” says 27 year old Lelliott. “The idea for the company was borne over meals and in car rides. There were so many talented people who had nowhere to perform. I was finishing up my graduate work when I met Gedaly, who’s a baby.” Guberek’s in his early 20s. “We got a core group of 12 people to meet at Four’n’20 Pie Shop in North Hollywood. And,” he says, like diehard theatre people, “we decided to start a theatre company. They nominated me to be artistic director. Gedaly was the only one with business sense, and he knew how to design web sites, so we made him managing director.” Guberek adds, “And maniac of all.” They laugh.

Then there’s the question of the name, and its spelling. “That’s Kirsten Kuiken. K.K.” Lelliott says with a beam. “As we thought about what to call ourselves, she suggested the French word coeur, which means ‘heart’ and combined that with ‘courage’.” In all, Coeurage has 20 members, slightly more women than men. You don’t see any of the guys in Head Over Heels. “That’s okay,” Lelliott says. “They’re coming soon.”

“We want to have a dialogue with the audience,” Guberek says. “While theatre will never die, it is a suffering art form here in LA. I’m very concerned about getting young people to give it a test run. That’s one reason why we have a pay-as-you-want philosophy – we don’t want to scare anyone by ticket prices. I’d rather have a full house paying little than a few seats filled by people paying an advertised price.”

That dialogue, he returns to, stems from performing in an intimate house. “We’re not the Pantages where you go to see a spectacle and just ‘watch’. Here, we may send an actor into the audience and get them to interact. We want to trigger minds and imaginations. Our eye candy isn’t Wicked’s eye candy. We might have a mime who ‘sees’ something and, through his gestures, gets the audience to ‘see’ it, too.”

Lelliott adds, “We also like to have dialogues with the audience about a play after a performance. Look, we have no sets of our own to speak of and a very small budget, so we try to make the invisible visible.” Does that make a play that leaves little to the imagination a lesser play? “No,” Guberek says. “Just different.”

Coeurage is looking for a new space to stage Don Juan in Hell, George Bernard Shaw’s third of four acts of Man and Superman. The third act was omitted in the early 1900s when the play was first performed and often still is. Also, performance dates conflict with one of The Road Theatre’s productions.

Gedaly Guberek will then take the helm of Measure for Measure, a 5 character adaptation. “Probably 3 women and 2 men,” he says. “Ideally,” Lelliott says, “we’ll do something every month. It’s a challenge to find or write the material, and find an affordable place to perform.”

One thing is clear: Coeurage intends to maintain its pay-as-you-want business model. “It’s worked so far,” Guberek says. “There’s no reason to stop now.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ana Breziner permalink
    February 25, 2010 3:21 pm

    Good Luck, best wishes success, but for Go’s sake, take away the hair, that covers your face……….. We want to see you.


  1. UPDATE: Coeurage finds home for Don Juan in Hell «

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