The music entrepreneur who will try to bring theater-scale pop concerts back to Orange County at the former Celebrity Theatre has a background in the sweaty world of alternative rock but says the revived operation won't be a home to moshers.
Bruce A. Kahn, president of E 1000 Inc., has renamed the theater the Freedman Forum Concert Theater. He said Monday that he hopes to reopen the in-the-round venue, which seats more than 2,500, in mid-December. Six dates are on hold for tentatively booked shows, Kahn said, but the exact opening date will depend on how soon he can get a liquor license for the theater's bar and adjoining restaurant.
Kahn, 37, said that from 1993 to mid-1995, he owned the Bomb Factory, a 3,500-capacity venue in Dallas that he likened to the Hollywood Palladium. "It was more alternative, and [the Freedman Forum] is going to be more mainstream, much like it was [as the Celebrity], with nationally recognized acts."
Orange County has been without a mid-sized pop venue since the Celebrity went dark in early 1994; it closed after its previous operators went bankrupt and lost their lease for failure to pay rent. At the same time, the county has been starving for all-ages venues smaller than Irvine Meadows that can cater to the punk/alternative wave that has risen to prominence in the 1990s.
Kahn said the Freedman Forum probably won't be able to fill both voids. "We had a lot of big punk shows and lots of alternative stuff" at the Bomb Factory, he said. "This venue is really not configured for that. It's all seated, and there's no area for moshing. As much as I like that type of music, the building's not set up for that."
A lifelong Texan who says he got his start in the music business 10 years ago running Top 40 dance clubs, Kahn said he moved to Los Angeles about a year ago, looking for a chance to run a new venue. About two months ago, he joined forces with Blaine Greenberg, an attorney in L.A. They formed E 1000 Inc., named after the dock in Marina del Rey where they met (both kept boats there), to relaunch the theater in Anaheim. Kahn will be the hands-on operator; Greenberg, also 37, says he and his wife, Terri Bechtel, will put up the money and provide legal and strategic advice.
At least one concert executive in the area, Randy Brogna of Avalon Attractions, said the Freedman Forum will have hard going as it tries to compete with the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, which has booked many of the rock oldies, country and pop attractions that were the Celebrity's bread and butter.
"I wish the new guy luck, but I think [he] didn't factor in what Cerritos has become to this area," Brogna said. "Eighty percent of the stuff the Celebrity used to live on plays the Cerritos facility." Brogna said the Cerritos Center's ability to draw on city tax dollars has allowed it to make unusually lucrative bids to secure acts. He said Avalon's own interest in taking over the Celebrity cooled after its landlord, the Leo Freedman Foundation arts charity, vetoed plans for including some alternative rock shows with open floors next to the stage.
Greenberg discounted the impact of competition from the Cerritos Center, which is a few miles over the county line in Los Angeles County. "I don't think that's going to be a problem at all," he said, asserting that by "taking the events people in Orange County are traveling to Los Angeles to see" and by putting them "back into their back yard," the Freedman Forum would be "very successful" with locals.
He said the Celebrity went bankrupt not because the theater was overwhelmed by competition and recession, but because its operators funneled its profits into other, failed business ventures. He said the Freedman Forum's strategy for success includes forging an alliance with the House of Blues, a high-profile concert nightclub in West Hollywood.
"We'll both be bringing acts into Southern California, promoting them together."
The new operators also plan to offer the theater for film and television production and corporate events (Greenberg said it has been booked for use during the annual National Assn. of Music Merchandisers convention in January). Kahn said boxing matches also are a possibility.
The theater, at 201 E. Broadway, is in excellent shape despite nearly two years of disuse, Kahn said. It will reopen with the same sound and light system it had before. Plans call for frequent use of half-house setups, for which the rotating stage will remain stationary. Kahn said his aim is to book 100 dates or more a year. The Freedman Forum will produce some events itself, Kahn said, but it will be open to all promoters who want to rent it for shows.