Summertime approaches and to the theater world that means one thing: festivals.
Friday, the Interact Theatre Company begins Interactivity '98, its five-week marathon of staged readings and workshops. Saturday, the weekend-long NoHo Arts Festival gets into full swing, offering free bite-sized tastes of all Valley theater has to offer.
The NoHo Festival, now in its sixth year, started back when the area didn't have much to celebrate. The Northridge earthquake and MTA construction delayed the vision of a true theater district in the Valley. And although no one is going to mistake NoHo for Greenwich Village, the theater companies here have, it seems, finally reached critical mass.
Some 50 troupes will put on 100 45-minute samples of their work, sharing 13 stages close to the hub of Lankershim and Magnolia. In addition, the Chamber of Commerce has planned street performances, a food court and an arts and crafts fair.
Also on sale only at the NoHo Festival is a theater passbook from the Valley Theatre League. Each book of 10 passes, good at any participating VTL theater, costs $40. (Tickets to most shows in the Valley run $10-$15. You do the math.)
* NoHo Theatre and Arts Festival, at Lankershim Boulevard, between Magnolia and Chandler boulevards. Saturday and Sunday, noon-8 p.m. Free. (818) 508-5155.
A few miles north, the Interact Theatre Company will kickoff its annual festival of staged readings, Interactivity. Put the emphasis on activity. Nearly every member of this 50-person company is busy working on one of the 13 programs to be staged during the next month.
The shows aren't fully staged, explained producer James Harper, but they are rehearsed and have minimal sets and lighting.
"It's been a very successful stepping-off point for many of our productions," he said.
The Ovation-award winner "Counsellor-at-Law" got its first staging at Interactivity, as did recent hits "Into the Woods" and "Juno and the Paycock."
For the company, which functions as a collective, this is a chance to evaluate potential projects for the coming year. For audience members, it's a chance to preview what might be next for Interact, one of the most respected small companies in the city.
"People have a great time being part of the process," said Harper. "They get to see these actors doing all these different parts. And unlike a company that is in repertory, they don't have to wait weeks or months between shows."
There's no telling which of the 13 shows will generate excitement within the company, but there are a few that might be of particular interest to theatergoers. Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m., they will stage "Once Upon a Mattress," the Tony Award-winning musical version of "The Princess and the Pea." Wendy Wasserstein's "The Sisters Rosensweig" will get readings June 27-28. July 9 and 12, they'll try out "Death of a Salesman." And July 11 and 12, Interactivity will close with a workshop production of "Benedict Arnold," a new play by William Mastrosimone.
* Interactivity, at the Interact Theatre Company, 11855 Hart St., North Hollywood. Friday through July 12. Suggested donation $8. (818) 773-7862.
Summer is also the season for Shakespeare, and a particularly unusual take on his "As You Like It" is running now in Studio City.
Louis Fantasia, who directs Shakespeare around the globe, had a window of time at home in Los Angeles and decided to stage either "As You Like It" set in the 1970s or "Twelfth Night" set in the 1920s.
He chose the former, because, as he said, "The costume shop had more '70s clothes than '20s clothes."
It's Fantasia's rule that setting a play in a different period should make its meaning clearer, not be done for novelty's sake. He views the early Acts I and II as the Nixon early '70s, obsessed with politics. The later romps in the forest reflect the other side of the '70s: dropping out Timothy Leary-style.
* "As You Like It," at the Tracy Roberts Studio, 12265 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. $12-$15. Ends June 28. (213) 660-8587.
Finally, if you're interested in the future of theater, tune in to Spotlight, a discussion series starting at the Skirball Cultural Center next week.
Host Barbara Isenberg, who has covered theater from Los Angeles to New York and London, will interview some of the country's leading theater artists. On the first program, June 27 at 2 p.m., is Stephen Schwartz, who wrote the music and lyrics for "Godspell" and "Pippen," as well as for the upcoming DreamWorks animated feature, "The Prince of Egypt."
The Skirball, whose mission is to interpret the Jewish experience, has taken a growing interest in theater in the last year. The center hosted a panel on the future of theater in Los Angeles earlier this year and has also taken over as the venue for Los Angeles Theater Works, which will produce live radio theater in the Skirball auditorium.
Future Spotlight guests include Wendy Wasserstein, who will appear July 25, followed by Garry Marshall on Aug. 29 and John Rubinstein on Sept. 26. For tickets, call (213) 660-8687.