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Second City, 2 Other Major Theater Troupes Taking a Look at Settling in Santa Monica

With movie multiplexes, cabarets, art galleries and a comedy club moving into the exploding arts/entertainment scene in Santa Monica, it’s no surprise that major theater companies are also looking west.

Three prominent troupes--Second City, the Mark Taper Forum and the Odyssey Theatre--are all pursuing Santa Monica venues.

The famed Second City, with headquarters in Chicago, is the closest to a deal. The troupe, which develops comedy sketches from improvisations, is in the midst of negotiations to take over the Mayfair Theatre, a rococo building on Santa Monica Boulevard near 2nd Street that was built in 1911 as a small opera house.

Negotiations have been completed with the tenant of the property, and renovations needed to accommodate the troupe already have begun inside the theater. But a deal to guarantee Second City its own long-term lease has not been signed with the property owners. Since a concert series ended at the Mayfair this summer, the theater has been dark.

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Second City has had a major influence on comedy over the last three decades. Such performers as John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Joan Rivers, Mike Nichols, Elaine May, Alan Alda, Gilda Radner, Robert Klein, Alan Arkin and Barbara Harris are alumni.

The Odyssey Theatre complex in West Los Angeles has been home to a number of world premiere productions of a political or experimental nature. Current hits at the theater are the long-running “McCarthy” and “Kvetch.”

“We’ve outgrown our present site,” Artistic Director Ron Sossi said. “It’s time for us to take the next step.”

Sossi has been meeting with Santa Monica officials about his plans for that ambitious next step, which he said will ideally include the building of a complex to house an 800-, 500- and two 99-seat theaters plus a cabaret. But a venture of that magnitude will likely need some kind of city help.

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He said that he and city officials have been looking at sites on city land near the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and city airport, and at a vacant public high school.

Finally, the Mark Taper Forum has had its eye on the Miles Playhouse in a city park. “We’ve been looking for a way of doing things down there for a long time,” said Gordon Davidson, artistic director of the prominent downtown theater. “It’s a diverse community with a lot of energy.”

Several years ago, the Taper expressed an interest in the Miles, but because the theater needed seismic reinforcement and renovation to allow access to the disabled, the project was considered too expensive. The city has since done some of the seismic work itself.

“Once it’s all ready, the plan would be to lease it out to a theater company for $1 a year,” said Barbara Moran, director of the city’s newly formed Cultural and Recreation Services Department. “We would want to make sure that anyone we put in there could produce shows there without requiring a subsidy from the city.”

Davidson said talks about the Miles are in the initial stages, but he is encouraged by the city’s interest in the project. He would like to use the Miles for the Taper II series of plays the company produces at the John Anson Ford Theatre in Hollywood.


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