Repertory Group Goes Shopping for a Home, Ends Up in Supermarket

Times Staff Writer

A Santa Monica developer has come to the rescue of the homeless Santa Susana Repertory Company, offering use of an abandoned Simi Valley supermarket so that the fledgling theater troupe can continue its inaugural season.

The repertory company, which staged its first two plays in school auditoriums, is scheduled to open with “Man of La Mancha” on June 2, but had no stage to act on. A call for help went out and, last week, Doerken Properties answered in the form of an empty 30,000-square-foot building in the 5300 block of Los Angeles Avenue.

The place is decrepit, with broken glass on the floor and a roof left leaking from recent rains. Still, it is a welcome sight for a band of actors who had been shut out in the cold.

“We have people who are in tears. It’s overwhelming,” said Victoria Morris, one of Santa Susana Repertory’s co-founders. “It’s an incredible space.”


Under an agreement with Doerken Properties, the company can remain for at least as long as it takes to mount and present “Man of La Mancha.” Company members, both cast and crew, are rushing to transform the supermarket so that Cervantes will seem appropriate in a place that was designed with Campbell’s soup and romaine lettuce in mind.

“It’s a tremendous task,” said David Ralphe, who will direct the play. “What we are faced with is a raw space where we have to create a 299-seat theater and mount a production in 10 weeks.”

Despite such time constraints, the new tenants have big plans for an old supermarket.

“We can have a costume shop in there, all the dressing rooms plus our offices and the theater and a great lobby,” Morris said. “When we have to move, we can take everything we’ve built with us.”

Santa Susana Repertory counts a dozen experienced television and stage actors among its ranks and has given Simi Valley its first taste of professional theater. Most of the actors live in the bedroom community and simply wanted to work in live theater close to home.

So far this season, the company has offered “A Christmas Carol” and “Of Mice and Men” to small, sold-out audiences at Simi Elementary School and Moorpark College, respectively.

But neither of those stages was available for “Man of La Mancha,” and the company found itself in a difficult situation. Judy Mikels, president of the Simi Valley Cultural Assn., offered to help.

“They are a marvelous repertory company and they needed a home,” Mikels said. “I just started calling the owners of empty buildings until I found one who was willing to donate the building.”


Doerken Properties said it has offered use of buildings to organizations in the past, most recently to the Republican Party in the months before the November election. In this case, the supermarket was going unused, anyway.

“We’re hoping to find a tenant for the space,” said Yvonne Dettloff, a Doerken official. “But in the meantime, it is vacant and we were happy to donate it.”

Santa Susana Repertory was equally happy to accept. The company’s problems have been solved, at least for a while.

“After that,” Ralphe said, “we will again be looking for a space.”