Area stages undaunted by times

To survive and thrive in 2012, local theaters in Burbank and Glendale have adjusted to the times, expanding repertoires and finding niches in musicals, the avant-garde and the classics. They offer a wealth of affordable, engaging art and entertainment worthy of support.

Back in 2000, the Colony Theatre made a big transition after 25 years as a “99-seat” venue in Silver Lake by moving to a much larger space in Burbank. It was an important learning experience, says artistic director Barbara Beckley. “We couldn’t simply take what had worked in our intimate space and transfer it to a 270-seat space.”

The Colony now enjoys a loyal base of over 3,000 season subscribers, but single ticket sales are just as important as grants and donations when it comes to keeping the doors open for performances of engaging, well-made plays.

Operating under contracts with the Actors Equity Association — the union representing stage actors — has made payroll a prominent factor in planning each season’s well-rounded slate of shows. An important line item is stretching every dollar for production values in scenic design, lighting and costuming. It’s a recipe that serves the community well, given the results.

Among those results are four Best Production Ovation Awards — Los Angeles’ version of the Tonys — along with special recognition for Beckley, who received the James Doolittle Award for “Special Leadership in L.A. Theatre.” Clearly, the Colony has become a regional powerhouse.

Located adjacent to Burbank’s Town Center mall, the Colony presents the Pulitzer Prize-nominated “Old Wicked Songs,” running through March 4. Info at (818) 558-7000 and

Developing an artistic voice has worked equally well for the award-winning Victory Theatre Center, founded by artistic co-directors Maria Gobetti and Tom Ormeny. Relocating to Burbank 32 years ago was a fluke of luck, following the collapse of the roof at the company’s successful Hollywood acting studio.

Along the way, the Victory Theatre has gained renown for staging new works, including the world premiere of “The Miss Firecracker Contest,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Beth Henley, a former Gobetti student. The educational tradition continues there, with classes offered in commercial audition skills and the Sanford Meisner acting technique.

Relishing the fact that untested scripts always require some level of development, Gobetti’s hands-on approach has included onstage duties, including her tour de force performance in last year’s riotously funny “Sex and Education.” Currently at VTC is the extended run of Johnny O’Callaghan’s solo piece, “Who’s Your Daddy?,” running through Feb. 20. Info at (818) 841-5422 and

Catering to changing tastes has spelled success for the Glendale Centre Theatre, celebrating its 64th season of year-round performances. Established in 1947 by Ruth and Nathan Hale, it’s become an institution with generations of theatergoers. For years, its squeaky clean reputation meant plays never included profanity or questionable onstage behavior, and seasons mostly consisted of simple comedies and traditional musicals (and an annual production of “A Christmas Carol”).

But with approximately 400 seats to fill at any given performance, current owner-producers Tim and Brenda Dietlein have done a masterful job of introducing more challenging material. Last season dealt with racial discrimination and slavery with unedited productions of “To Kill A Mockingbird” and the musicals “Big River” and “1776.” The evolution continues with the upcoming production of “Fiddler On The Roof,” Feb. 9-March 24. A children’s production of “Peter Pan” plays Saturdays beginning on March 3. Info at (818) 244-8481 and

Theatre Banshee in Burbank is a self-contained company devoted to the works of Irish, Scottish and British playwrights. Led by co-producers Leslie Baldwin and Sean Branney, the Banshee is housed in the former Gene Bua Acting for Life space. Upcoming is Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” from March 24 through May 6. Info at (818) 846-5323 and

DINK O’NEAL, an actor and member of the American Theatre Critics Association, resides in Burbank.

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