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Colony Theatre Co. Outgrows Its Venue, Begins Hunt for New Home : Arts: The troupe will stay put this season but is looking for a house with at least 250 seats.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After 17 years of performing on Riverside Drive, the Colony Theatre Co. has begun a search for a larger space.

The company rents the 99-seat Colony Theatre Playhouse, which has been outgrown by a growing audience that now numbers about 11,500 per season, said Barbara Beckley, the Colony’s producing director.

“We’re just . . . bursting at the seams, so we really have to expand,” Beckley said.

During a hit performance of “Candide” last summer, the repertory company had to turn away 30 or 40 people a day, Beckley said. With 2,833 subscribers, the company fills 96% of its hall on average, she added.

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The Colony recently hired a development director to conduct its search. The company will continue to perform at 1944 Riverside Drive at least though the 1992-93 season, which ends in September, Beckley said.

As an alternative, the company is also discussing with its landlords the possibility of expanding at the Riverside Drive location. But to remain, it would need to occupy the entire building, formerly a silent-movie theater, which it shares with an advertising agency and a printing firm.

Beckley said the company would like to buy or rent a theater with at least 250 seats. Because not many such spaces exist, the Colony is considering converting a movie house or another building into a theater.

Beckley mentioned Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena as possible new locations for the company. She said the Colony would stay within a 10-mile radius of its current home for the convenience of current subscribers.

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Neighborhood fans of the acting troupe seem willing to follow it to a new location.

“I would probably drive anywhere” to see a play performed by the Colony, said Sandy Schuckett, a longtime subscriber who lives in Los Feliz. But she said that she hopes the company remains “in the neighborhood.”

One theatergoer said that the company’s current location has drawbacks that may be solved by a move to a more vibrant commercial area.

“There have been times when we have wanted to go out to dinner before the theater. There’s not very much nearby there,” said Lucy Cole, who lives in Eagle Rock.

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Many of the Colony’s founding members were television actors seeking to get back to their theater roots. The company’s first big hit was a stage version of Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles,” which ran in 1977. Bradbury collaborated with the Colony on that production, as well as on a later staging of his “Dandelion Wine.”

The Colony’s box office success bucks a trend in the theater industry, which has been hit hard by the recession, Beckley said.

She said she is nervous about the prospect of the theatrical company starting at a new place during hard economic times. But she added that not finding a larger place would be a big mistake.

“Inevitably over time, we would decline, simply because nothing remains the same,” she said. “We’re just in a holding pattern right now, and you can’t stay in a holding pattern forever.”

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