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NoHo Festival Casts Its Spell

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first time the players from the NoHo Arts District gathered, it was a cold and rainy December day in 1992. About 100 people huddled in a park in Universal City, trying to stay dry. Actors from a handful of theaters staged scenes, sometimes drowned out by the thunder.

It would be months before the city of Los Angeles would officially dub the area around Lankershim and Magnolia boulevards “NoHo.” But as unofficial NoHo historian Fred Bower remembers it: “That’s where the spirit of NoHo came. It was there with the thunder.”

This weekend, thousands of people are expected to descend on NoHo for the fourth annual Theatre and Arts Festival. A two-day event, the festival will include eight hours of music and dancing on an outdoor stage, an arts and crafts fair, an international food court, and more than 30 free performances at area theaters each day.

From the wrong angles, NoHo doesn’t have much curbside appeal. From the right angles, it’s only slightly better. But the Chamber of Commerce and area theater owners have much to celebrate. Earthquake repairs are underway at the El Portal Theatre Center, the largest theater project in the area. The handful of theater companies that gathered in 1992 have multiplied to about 20 in the region.

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And, finally, Red Line construction--which wreaked havoc on traffic and parking--has moved off the street and underground.

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NoHo is ready for a party.

Theater is the main event here--and, ironically, the one least visible from the street. Last year, festival organizers tried staging the plays in a tent along Lankershim. That limited the number of shows that could be staged, and made theatrical lighting or sets impossible.

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Then, festival noise drowned out the actors, said Debra Sakacs, executive director of Universal City-North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “And,” she said, “it was 105 degrees last year.”

So this year the actors have returned to their smaller, but air-conditioned, theaters. More than a dozen companies will give free performances at seven area theaters.

To avoid overcrowding--most theaters seat 50-90 people--patrons will pick up free tickets at a booth near the Television Academy. Most of the theaters are near the festival--a block of Lankershim between Magnolia and Weddington Street that will be closed to traffic. A red London-style double-decker bus will shuttle people to the theaters farther away.

Fran Montano, co-artistic director of Actors Workout Studio, said, “What we’re hoping to do is introduce people to theater in the NoHo district so they can get the idea that we’re here, that we’re very much alive, and that there’s a great variety of shows going on here.”

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Also toward that effort, the Valley Theater League again will sell its Valley Expo ’96 discount tickets. A passbook of 10 tickets, good at any Valley Theater League show, costs $35 and will be available only at the festival. Play tickets typically cost $15 apiece.

Montano, who scheduled the theater performances, said the long-term goal of the Valley Theater League is to develop the event into a national festival for small theater. “We have the place to do it, we have the capacity. We’re doing 12 to 6 p.m. now. If we went 10 a.m. to midnight, we could do twice as much.”

Sakacs has similar expansion plans for the non-theater part of the festival. She’d like the food court to grow into a “Taste of NoHo” to coincide with the theater festival.

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Festival organizers have been more selective when it comes to the arts and crafts fair this year. The booths along Lankershim are reserved for artists selling hand-crafted wares, nothing mass-produced. The result is fewer booths than last year, Sakacs said, but higher quality merchandise.

“We see this as being a signature event for the community from here on out,” said Sakacs. “We want the image to be really upscale as far as the crafts and the artists.”

At the main stage--at Lankershim and Weddington--there will be shows about every hour, starting with Bob Baker’s Marionettes at 11:30 a.m. Saturday and noon on Sunday.

The performances have an international flair, with the Turkish music and belly dancing of Experiencia Fantastica and the South American music of Viento de los Andes on Saturday afternoon. The Jimmy Santos Band will play Caribbean music, and Roberto Estrada’s Mariachi Express will perform Sunday. Other performances include the Martin Dancers (both days), the Joe Tremaine Dancers (Sunday), and Art of the Dance Academy.

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The Chamber of Commerce estimated 5,000 people in attendance last year--despite the heat. This year, it hopes to draw 7,500. Said Sakacs, “A lot of it depends on the weather. “

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Schedule of Events

Times are for Saturday and Sunday, except where noted:

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11:30 (Saturday only) Bob Baker Marionettes, main stage.

Noon (Sunday only) Bob Baker Marionettes, main stage.

Noon “Story Time” by Synthaxis Theatre Co. at Lankershim Arts Center.

Noon “Throwing Stones,” “Beggars” and “Arabella” by Group Repertory Theatre Co. at Group Repertory Theater.

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Noon Bubble Science by Fun-Da-Mentals at American Renegade Theatre.

Noon “Pasquini the Magnificent” by Actors Alley Co. at El Portal Theatre Center.

Noon “Shakespeare Unbound” by Eclectic Co. Theatre at NoHo Actors Studio.

Noon “The Cat and the Moon,” selections from “Mother Jones” by the Celtic Arts Center and music by Finn MacCool at the Raven Playhouse.

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12:30 (Sunday only) Scenes from “The Adjustment” by Alliance Repertory Co. at Actors Workout Studio A.

12:30 (Saturday only) The Alley Cats sing 1950s-style a capella music, main stage.

1 “MOHO’s in NoHo” by NoHo Actors Studio at NoHo Actors Studio.

1 “North of Providence” by Theatre of Being at Raven Playhouse.

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1 (Sunday only) Art of the Dance Academy of North Hollywood, main stage.

1:30 “Matty” by Two Roads Theatre Co. at El Portal Theatre Center.

1:30 Selections from “Interactivity ’96" by Interact Theatre Co. at American Renegade Theatre.

1:30 “Sun in My Eyes” and “The Train” by Group Repertory Theatre Co. at Group Repertory Theatre.

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1:30 “Peace--It’s All About Respect” by Dierdre Smith at Actors Forum Theatre.

1:30 (Saturday only) The Martin Dancers, main stage.

2 “Zoo Story” by Back Parlour Theatre Co. at Raven Playhouse.

2 “Arabella” by Group Repertory Theatre Co. at Group Repertory Theatre.

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2 “Thugun and Natasha” by Synthaxis Theatre Co. at Lankershim Arts Center.

2 (Sunday only) The Martin Dancers, main stage.

2:30 “I Can Take the Heat” by NoHo Actors Studio at NoHo Actors Studio.

2:30 (Saturday only) Magician Mark Prines, main stage.

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3 (Saturday only) “Two Faced” by Lynne Adams/Actors Workout Studio at Actors Workout Studio A. Discussion with actress and director Brooke Adams to follow.

3 “What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor?” by American Renegade Theatre Co. at American Renegade Theatre.

3 (Saturday only) “I Can’t Hear You When the Water’s Running” by Actors Forum Theatre Co. at Actors Forum Theatre.

3 (Sunday only) “Walter” by Actors Forum Theatre Co. at Actors Forum Theatre.

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3 Short Fiction Series (readings) by Actors Workout Studio Co. at Actors Workout Studio B.

3 ARC Bell Choir at El Portal Theatre Center.

3 (Sunday only) Joe Tremaine Dancers, main stage.

3:30 “Recent Mutations” by Back Parlour Theatre Co. at Raven Playhouse.

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3:30 (Sunday only) “21A” by Chandler Theatre Co. at the Lankershim Arts Center.

3:30 “Danger Zone” (improv) by Eclectic Co. Theatre at Group Repertory Theatre.

3:30 (Saturday only) “Hazeltine School” by the Road Theatre Co. at Lankershim Arts Center.

3:30 (Saturday only) Experiencia Fantastica performs Turkish music and belly dancing, main stage.

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4 “More” by Kara Shaw at NoHo Actors Studio.

4 (Saturday only) Scenes from “The Adjustment” by Alliance Repertory Co. at American Renegade Theatre.

4 (Sunday only) Improvisation by the Silver Streakers at American Renegade Theatre.

4 “Reunions” by Actors Workout Studio at Actors Workout Studio B. (Also at 4:30 in Studio A.)

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4 (Sunday only) The Jimmy Santos Band plays Caribbean music, main stage.

4:15 (Saturday only) “21A” by Chandler Theatre Co. at Lankershim Arts Center.

4:30 “Pasquini the Magnificent” by Actor Alley Co. at El Portal Theatre Center.

4:30 “Apple Tree Boys” sketch comedy by Harlan Williams and Shawn Tweedley at Actors Forum Theatre.

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4:30 (Saturday only) Viento de los Andes plays South American music, main stage.

5 “Serial” by American Renegade Theatre Co. at American Renegade Theatre.

5 (Sunday only) “Hell on Wheels” by Chandler Theatre Co. at Lankershim Arts Center.

5 “Caffeine High” by Back Parlour Theatre Co. at Raven Playhouse.

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5 “44 Seats of Fun” (comedy sketches) by Actors Workout Studio at Actors Workout Studio A.

5 (Sunday only)--Roberto Estrada’s Mariachi Express, main stage.

5:30 “Intimate Views,” a concert by Fran Montano at Actors Workout Studio B.

5:30 (Saturday only) “Hell on Wheels” by Chandler Theatre Co. at Lankershim Arts Center.

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5:30 (Saturday only) Bean plays funky dance music, main stage.

7 (Saturday only) Topanga Community Players, main stage.


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