Trouble at Center Theatre Group: Company to lay off staff, pause Taper programming

A stage set of a restaurant with actors
Center Theatre Group’s Mark Taper Forum hosted the West Coast premiere of “Clyde’s,” written by Lynn Nottage. The play was part of a season featuring women-identifying or nonbinary playwrights, which has been paused amid financial turmoil at CTG.
(Craig Schwartz)

Facing a significant budget shortfall, Center Theatre Group on Thursday announced that it would lay off about 10% of its full-time staff and pause season programming at the Mark Taper Forum after “Transparent” concludes its run on June 25. The pause is expected to continue through the 2023-24 season, but there is no confirmed end date yet.

The first show to be affected is the world premiere of L.A.-based playwright Larissa FastHorse’s “Fake It Until You Make It,” which was scheduled to open on Aug. 2. Fasthorse was going to be the first Native American writer to have a mainstage production at the Taper, and the postponement marks a disappointing end to a season slated to exclusively feature plays written by women-identifying or nonbinary playwrights, the majority of whom were BIPOC artists.

The Taper has long been CTG’s creative beating heart — a place where the company takes its biggest risks and enjoys its greatest artistic rewards. It is also the stage that can be the most financially draining, since many of the shows staged there do not enjoy the mainstream name recognition of the bigger shows that land at the larger Ahmanson Theatre.


The Ahmanson programming will continue as planned. Programming at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, which soon will be contending with disruptive construction of a planned affordable housing project in an adjacent building, will be limited.

“Since we reopened after the pandemic, there have been large operating gaps — and we all understand why that is — but the pieces haven’t fit back together cohesively yet,” said Meghan Pressman, CTG’s managing director and chief executive, explaining that the budget deficit is in the millions of dollars and audiences are still not returning at anywhere near pre-pandemic levels. “We’ve funded two years of waiting, and the reality is we can’t afford to keep funding at this level.”

After its ‘A Christmas Carol’ shuttered shortly after opening, the company will launch a new show this weekend, ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.’

Jan. 11, 2022

The news of cuts and pauses comes a month before CTG’s new artistic director, Snehal Desai, is scheduled to take the reins of the beleaguered nonprofit, which recently used special funding, including money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and employee revenue tax credits, to offset an $8-million budget shortfall. This time around, there isn’t extra money to pad the deficit, Pressman said.

The devastating contraction at CTG — L.A.’s most prominent theater organization and one of the country’s largest nonprofit theater groups — is in keeping with what has been happening to theaters large and small since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of stages nationwide for more than a year.

Audiences have not shown up in the numbers needed for financial viability, and the generous pandemic funding via various government subsidies has dried up. At the same time, costs to stage productions have risen because of inflationary pressures and the added financial burden of COVID-19 monitoring. Recession fears also have affected the large-scale donations on which nonprofits typically rely to fill budget gaps.

According to a new report, titled “Center Stage: The Role of Live Performing Arts in Revitalizing California Communities,” the state’s performing arts sector lost a decade’s worth of job growth within a two-year period, with 2021 employment dropping to 2010 levels. More than 59,000 jobs evaporated during the pandemic, the study says.


The report was produced by CVL Economics — the firm behind the Otis College Report on the Creative Economy — and prepared for the Theatre Producers of Southern California, along with Actors’ Equity Assn. and Arts for L.A., with support from Californians for the Arts.

That report focused on particularly vulnerable small companies, and if CTG, which is relatively stable compared with those operations, is experiencing pain at this level, it does not bode well for the industry at large.

Pressman said that theater leaders have been reluctant to broadcast the ongoing crisis, and their hesitance “has meant that we haven’t been sounding the alarms that we need to sound.”

“With this announcement, we are saying, in part, ‘Theater is not back,’ and the No. 1 thing people can do is go to their local theater,” Pressman added. “If we’re going to really come back, we need people to act faster than they have been to show that they care about live performing arts.”

Continued government subsidies, and expanded arts funding, also would be immensely helpful, she said.

Theater critic Charles McNulty interviews Snehal Desai, producing artistic director of East West Players, who has been named artistic director of Center Theatre Group.

April 14, 2023

CTG has struggled to regain its footing since restarting live programming in late 2021 — with notable successes at the Taper including a sold-out run of Jeremy O. Harris’ critically acclaimed “Slave Play,” which marked the reopening of the venue in February 2022 after it had been shuttered for almost two years.


But that momentum was short-lived and audience habits appear to have shifted as the pandemic’s effects continue to manifest.

Pressman said the goal is to eventually stage the paused FastHorse show at a later date when the Taper reopens. But because that date is unknown, she said the artists involved will be compensated in the same way they would if the show had been canceled.