From Classroom to Stage


Where do theater companies come from? How are they born? In the 1930s, the legendary Group Theatre in New York grew out of an intense study of the writings of Konstantin Stanislavsky. Locally, the nationally acclaimed South Coast Repertory got a creative start giving performances out the back of a truck. The Valley’s Theatre West was born out of play readings in a Hollywood apartment.

For Michael Holmes, at North Hollywood’s Chandler Studio, the theater company grew organically from his teaching. Holmes, an actor-director, had worked in New York with the likes of Uta Hagen and Herbert Berghof and in such plays as the Broadway production of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Like many a thespian before him, he eventually moved west.

Holmes became a teacher at various studios in the Valley and in Hollywood, and finally settled into his own space on Chandler Boulevard. Then a strange thing happened.


“We started doing things out of the classes,” Holmes said. “We began doing plays. I started doing plays for particular actors, and it just kind of started growing.”

In addition to revivals, Holmes began crafting plays that would fit his actors on the small stage at the Chandler.

“That’s how this whole thing came about,” Holmes explained. “We began to develop a company. Plus, the space was just sitting here on weekends, and I thought I had to make use of it.”

For a couple of years now, Holmes has been producing plays at the theater, and he has a lobby wall with various awards to testify to his seriousness. Now everything is about to shift into a higher gear.

A play by Stephen Levi, called “Cherry Soda Water,” opened at the Chandler in late January and is still running, playing on Saturday nights. In May, another original will open in repertory with “Cherry Soda Water.” It’s titled “Still Life,” and was written by company member Ed Proudfoot. In June two other plays will open, all four playing one night a week, with the possibility of a fifth as a Sunday afternoon performance.

“In the past year or so,” Holmes said, “we’ve done five original plays, and that’s what our concentration is on. And so, we have a company of actors, directors and a few playwrights, and it’s run very much in what I consider the New York tradition.”


The value of this kind of company is important to playwrights like “Cherry Soda Water” author Levi, a freelance television writer. He first knew Holmes in New York while the latter was in “Rosencrantz,” and while his own play, “Daphne in Cottage D” (starring Sandy Dennis), was on Broadway.

“I have the opportunity,” Levi says, “to put something from my new play up on stage during our Monday night sessions to see what works, and the play is coming together. I can get it up on its feet while it’s fresh. To me, it’s an invaluable process.”

* “Cherry Soda Water,” Chandler Studio, 12443 Chandler Blvd., North Hollywood. Sat., 8 p.m. Ends May 17. $12.50. (818) 908-4094.


It Happened in Aspen: Well, it went to Aspen. Actually, it happened at Theatre East on Ventura Boulevard, where Seth Isler premiered his one-man exercise in exhaustion, “The Godfather Workout.” As this column reported, a representative of HBO saw Isler’s show at Theatre East, and he was booked as one of the acts at the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo.

Both presentations of the “Workout” sold out, and a portion of the show was included in “The Best of the Fest” on HBO, narrated by Sinbad. Isler was also named first runner-up for outstanding performance by an MCI jury award. Has anything changed for Isler, who is bringing the “Workout” back to Theatre East for a brief run?

“The thing that it has changed for me most of all,” Isler says, “is that in that room in Aspen, on one night, there were people from the industry that it would take me 10 years to see in this town. What’s changed is people now know who I am. And they know me directly from work I created. There’s a familiarity I was able to create for myself. That in itself has opened doors.”


It goes to show that you never know who might be sitting in one of those 99 seats.

* “The Godfather Workout,” Theatre East, 12655 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Sat., 8 p.m. Ends May 10. $15. (818) 760-4160.