Theater Group Gets a Summer Reprieve From Distractions
Community center Ping-Pong games that interrupt rehearsals. Bustling country club kitchens that double as backstage areas. Noisy ice machines that plop during dramatic pauses on stage.
This summer, for the first time since its inception in 1987, the Xanadu Theatre Company is enjoying a reprieve from the aforementioned distractions that have accompanied a company constantly on the move.
The Conejo Valley-based, nonprofit troupe has finally found a home--albeit a temporary one--at the 90-seat Little Theatre on the campus of Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
Xanadu is performing in repertory Joe Orton’s “Loot” and Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing” Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through July 22.
About 40 volunteers are involved in the productions, which alternate each night. Many of the actors and almost all of the technicians and support personnel are residents of the San Fernando Valley area.
“It’s wonderful having a place where all of the people involved in the company can come to rehearse and perform on a regular basis,” said Xanadu founder Naomi Monroe. “We’ve had some real production adventures in the past, so this is luxury to us.”
Xanadu, which has no permanent home, secured the use of the Cal Lutheran theater through Michael Arndt and Mike Roehr, both of whom are drama professors at the university and members of the Xanadu board of directors.
“One of the things that makes theater so tough in this area is the community is so new,” said Roehr, a Canoga Park resident and the company’s set designer. “With a theater, when you start you usually find an old building that’s not being used and you move into it. But there aren’t any old buildings out here. So where do you go?”
Arndt, a Minnesota native who lives in Agoura Hills, has directed more than 80 professional and college productions, including several Xanadu shows.
The relationship between the company and the university is mutually beneficial, said Arndt, who is directing the current production of “The Real Thing.”
“One of the reasons for my becoming involved with this project is to hopefully have a theater company that operates and builds in this community,” Arndt said. “Another reason is for the university to have a link with a professional-quality theater because it provides opportunities for our students.”
In conjunction with the current productions, Arndt is teaching a summer course through the university called “Professional Theatre in Performance.” The class includes weekly lectures covering production aspects of play writing, directing, acting, stage management, design and technical production.
“It’s kind of a class-workshop,” Arndt said. “Students are able to talk to members of the staff, actors and observe the process of--even though we’re not getting paid--what we label professional theater.”
Monroe, a Newbury Park resident, started Xanadu after founding Actors for Children, an adult touring company that has brought theater to Valley-area children since 1984.
A New York native who started a theater company in New Jersey, Monroe said she founded Xanadu to help fill a cultural void faced by adults in the Conejo Valley.
“We came together because we felt there was an opportunity and a need for a company in the area,” Monroe said.
Xanadu’s first production, “The Dining Room,” was directed by Arndt and staged with the help of a cultural grant from the city of Thousand Oaks at the Conejo Community Center. Now, Monroe said, ticket sales fund the productions. Xanadu usually budgets $2,500 for each show; the company is attempting to stage the current productions for $4,000.
The company’s next five productions, which included such shows as “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been . . .,” “The Foreigner” and “Lunch Hour,” were rehearsed and performed at community centers, libraries, schools and country clubs.
“In the past,” Arndt said, “we’ve rehearsed in rooms where the actors had no idea what the stage was really going to be like until we got into dress rehearsal.”
Said Monroe, “It was a hassle design process-wise because the sets had to be struck and moved in 15 minutes so we didn’t get charged overtime.”
The CLU Little Theatre is providing--temporarily--shop, rehearsal and performance space all in one location.
“When we say this is a theater,” Roehr said, “part of what we mean is we can leave the chairs up instead of taking them and the whole set down every night.”
For Roehr, the current productions presented the challenge of constructing sets that work for both plays and easily change over.
“It’s basically the same physical set redressed with different furniture,” Roehr said. “The design more than the execution is the tricky part.”
The greatest challenge still facing the company, however, is its search for a permanent site.
Once school begins in the fall, Xanadu is on the road again. The company will present Tina Howe’s “Painting Churches” at the Conejo Community Center.
“We’d like to be a theater in a space so people can identify us with one space,” Arndt said. “We’re still looking for a home.”