One of the continuing problems of live theater always has been, and always will be, getting people into those seats.
With a fresh burst of energy for the new year, some local groups are making a special effort to do just that.
Most interesting is a new program beginning at California Institute for the Arts in Santa Clarita. Begun by CalArts' new dean of the Theatre School, Susan Solt, the project is called CalArts Theatre Presents, and it's an attempt to bring together not just the students and faculty of the school, but professional theater companies, whether they are alumni or not.
"The project came about," Solt said, "because I really wanted to present a kind of theater that will attract an audience."
Because the school prides itself on having a faculty of working professionals, the idea, Solt said, is to provide a venue for professional performance. Solt believes this will benefit the community by providing interesting theater, and it will expose students to professionals working in the real world.
Solt received her training at Yale Drama School, was involved in experimental theater in the States, England and Poland, and about 10 years ago entered the film business, most recently as senior vice president of Miramax Films. She's returning with a dream for the world of live theater.
"There are a number of issues here," she said. "One is [that we bring to the school] a kind of theater [that is] inventive and fun. Another is that it relates to CalArts because of the alumni connection. The other is that it is professional theater that I can present here and create a link between the professional world, the school and our community."
The project will involve a wide range of works, Solt said. The first production, opening Friday, is faculty member Ferdinand Lewis' very loose and dark comedic adaptation of Pedro Calderon de la Barca's 17th-century fantasy, "Life Is a Dream." Lewis' version, directed by Rodger Henderson, is called "Sigismund," about a Polish prince returning to court after banishment, with no idea of his real identity.
The work is being produced by the Ghost Road Company, which was founded by Lewis, Katharine Noon and alumnus Donald Gordon. Solt first saw the company's work last summer in a downtown Los Angeles space.
"I like interesting ideas," Solt said, "and I want to serve the piece. I'm not looking for a mold and pouring something into it. I want all manner of things to be happening here."
* "Sigismund," CalArts Coffeehouse Theatre, 24700 McBean Parkway, Santa Clarita. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Ends Feb. 3. $7 general, $2 students. (818) 362-2315 or (805) 253-7800.
Another attempt to fill seats is the revival of A Noise Within's production of Moliere's "Tartuffe." The hit staging is in a limited run at the Glendale group's home base, but during the run the company will be touring larger venues around California, including the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, UC Santa Barbara's Campbell Hall and Palos Verdes' Norris Theatre.
Operating under an Equity contract for the touring dates and generally using Equity's 99-seat plan, A Noise Within is setting an example for other small theater companies on how to inspire growth. All the more impressive for a company that only produces classics.
* "Tartuffe," A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale. Call theater for Glendale schedule and tour dates. Ends Feb. 4. (818) 546-1924.
A third and very insightful attempt to fill theaters is a new program called Teen-Tix, designed for parents, relatives, businesses and others interested in purchasing coupons as gifts for young people--19 and under, individuals or youth groups. The coupons offer an affordable entree into the world of theater. Most young people today think of a night out as a movie, rock concert or hanging at the mall. Live theater is rarely one of their options.
Tomorrow's theater audiences are growing up right now. With programs such as Teen-Tix, theaters have a shot at bringing in a new generation of theatergoers, and young people get another rewarding entertainment option.
* Teen-Tix, two passes $15, four passes $25, 10 passes $50. Information and ticket orders, (818) 757-3018.