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Not a drive-in: An L.A. theater gets city approval for an outdoor stage

An artist's rendering of the outdoor stage to be erected in the parking lot of the Fountain Theatre.
(The Fountain Theatre)

Stephen Sachs, artistic director of the Fountain Theatre, has seen the future of pandemic theater, and it is outdoors — with well-ventilated bathrooms, lots of hand sanitizer and audience members who sit six feet apart.

The Los Angeles City Planning office has given the Fountain permission to erect an outdoor stage in the parking lot adjacent to the theater’s two-story building in East Hollywood. It was an arduous process, Sachs said, which now provides “a little ray of hope in the darkness.”

The planned stage, which was also welcomed by the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, is a modular structure composed of 18 pieces that can be broken down and stored when it is again safe to gather indoors. Sachs said he would like to bring out the stage in future summers and make an outdoor season a regular cultural event.

“We live in a city that has this beautiful climate, and it’s the perfect environment for enjoying the arts and being together,” Sachs said.

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He hopes to stage the first outdoor performance in late spring or early summer, though that timeline depends on when the current tide of coronavirus cases in the county begins to ebb. Current health guidelines for the county prohibit outdoor gatherings of large groups — even if the participants are masked and distanced.

In the meantime, the theater’s focus remains on safety precautions laid out by the county health department and the Actor’s Equity Assn., which has its own set of rules and guidelines for keeping its union members safe.

The Fountain plan involves seven rows of chairs six feet apart, as well as 12 high-top tables, also six feet apart, which will be reserved for household pods or bubbles. The setup is meant to accommodate 50 to 84 audience members.

The theater itself, with its various rooms for administration and guest services, will be used to keep cast and crew safely distanced. The bathrooms will get added ventilation, and restroom monitors will be posted to prevent crowding.

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Sachs is keeping the first show for the outdoor stage a surprise, saying only that it will be an L.A. premiere that deals with urgent social issues.

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