United they stand

Bob Rusch was searching for a permanent home for his SkyPilot Theatre Company, and Aramazd Stepanian, owner and artistic director of the Luna Playhouse, was looking for a company to share his space. The Internet brought them together.

"I put a note on Big Cheap Theater, a Yahoo group for theater people, and I announced I was looking for a partner for the Luna Playhouse, and he was looking for a theater," Stepanian said.

That was in June, and now SkyPilot, which formerly produced shows in Burbank, is a resident company of the Glendale playhouse.

It's been difficult operating the theater on his own when he's producing all the shows, Stepanian said.

"In 2009, we did six major productions, and at the beginning of this year, we did five — that's a high rate," Stepanian said. "It leaves very little time or energy for me to pay attention to running the theater. By having this company come in, we will have more time with the material that will allow us to stage much better productions."

The plan is to have productions every night of the week, Stepanian said.

"That's one thing I'm looking forward to," he said. "There are hardly any playhouses in California that do it — they aren't used to this. They do this in Europe. In London, theaters have two performances on Wednesdays — a matinee and an early show at 7:30, and they are done by 9:30 p.m."

Producing weekend shows only in a small theater makes covering the rent a constant struggle, he said.

Rusch's SkyPilot Theatre Company Inc. is a nonprofit, and no one is paid, Rusch said. The company had been producing plays at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Burbank. They did "Sexual Perversity in Chicago" by David Mamet and the West Coast premiere of "The End of Civilization" by George F. Walker.

"I was looking to get a space for ourselves and grow the theater company," Rusch said.

He didn't expect to find a location so quickly, but said it has made his company jump-start projects this year. There are more than 43 company members — 30 actors and nine playwrights, a managing director, resident graphic design artist and marketing person.

This first season, Rusch said SkyPilot will be producing five "dramedies," or dark comedies.

The first season there will be two world premieres, including a one-act festival and an adaptation of "Salome" by Oscar Wilde. Weeknight shows and appearances from other companies are also in the works, Rusch said.

The company members have also been working to renovate the space guests see when they enter the front door. Bookcases have been turned around, and artworks have been mounted on the back.

"My vision was when people walk through the door I wanted people to feel they were in a creative environment," Rusch said.

He wanted the space to be a lounge with theater posters and a couple of pieces of art, but resident director Gideon Potter and managing director Joan Turner wanted to bring in works by professional artists.

"The gallery came as a result of wanting to create a multi-disciplined art center as much as possible under the umbrella of the theater company," Potter said. "I have friends who are fine artists, and I am always trying to promote their work and art in general."

Combining art and theater is a perfect marriage, he added.

"You have an audience there for the show, so there's no reason not to immerse them in a total art environment," Potter said. "We look forward to welcoming interested artists and audiences to a place that is singing and dancing with energy."

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