Looking back

A Noise Within produces its last performance today at the former Glendale Masonic Temple building on South Brand Boulevard. As its final act, the theater company will produce its Summer With Shakespeare program for youngsters from June 27 to July 26 before moving to the new state-of-the art theater complex in Pasadena in October.

The husband and wife co-founders/co-artistic directors, Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, are proud that for 19 seasons, the company has remained the only year-round classical repertory company in Southern California, and one of only a handful in the entire country dedicated solely to producing classical dramatic literature in the repertory tradition of rotating productions with a resident company of professional artists.

When they came to the area to realize their dream of bringing classical dramatic theater to Southern California, the Elliots were offered space in a building on South Brand Boulevard, and that was how it all began.

“We will forever be indebted to the De Pietro family, owners of the building, a former Masonic temple, for their incredible generosity in providing us with a home for the classics from the company’s inception,” Geoff Ellliot said.

Since the beginning, the company has presented more than 120 plays from the classics of world literature. Each season it produced a minimum of six classic plays from authors such as Shakespeare, Moliere, Miller, Calderon de la Barca, Ibsen, O’Neill and Shaw. Over the years, it has received more than two dozen Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, as well as numerous LA Weekly and Backstage Garland awards.

While receiving accolades for its productions, the company has continued to deal with a 1920s theater that fell short in the area of comfort for its patrons from the beginning, said Michael Sholer, the longest serving member on the board of directors.

Sholer saw the company’s first production, “Hamlet,” before joining the board during the company’s second season. He said he wondered, as he sat in the audience, if anyone would come to the theater, and if anyone would know it was there. The space was spare and sparse, he said, just the bare bones.

“There was no heating in the early days, or air-conditioning,” he said. “It was so cold in that room when the ghost of Hamlet’s father walked by, the circulating of the cold air convinced you that you were on a turret of the castle walls in Denmark.”

In 1995, Glendale’s Redevelopment Agency budgeted $2.5 million for the theater company. The city spent more than $676,000 over five years to fix code violations in the former Masonic temple, expand the theater from 99 to 144 seats and provide rental assistance. About $1.3 million was available for a new mid-size theater in the downtown area, but that was far short of the $15 million needed. The new theater never materialized.

After eight years of performances and creating internships and educational programs for local children, the classical theater company left town for the Harriet and Charles Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State Los Angeles in May 1999. The reason, theater officials said, was because of poor heating and air-conditioning units and no hot water inn the Masonic building.

But only after one season, A Noise Within left the Luckman facility. The theater company started working with Glendale city officials to find a new home. But again, negotiations failed and the company returned to the 1920s Masonic temple.

Five months later, the company opened its 10th season, with more comfortable seats and a working elevator having been added to the Masonic temple structure. A $50,000 appropriation from the Redevelopment Agency went to upgrading the fire sprinklers and the elevator.

Deborah Strang, resident artist and box office manager, said the final production has brought the move in perspective for her.

She and Elliott performed together in Eugene Ionesco’s “The Chairs,” which is about an event at a retirement home. At the end, Elliott thanks all the people that helped on the event, mirroring how everyone at A Noise Within came together over the company’s 19 seasons, Strang said.

“The 19 years flashed before my eyes as I listened to him each night,” Strang said of Elliot. “His words reinforced to me that it’s not one person, but everyone — ushers, the students who come through and the patrons who’ve come to see our plays — that have contributed to its success.”
 
 

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