Taken For Granted: A treasure in our midst

I’m amazed at how many Glendale residents fail to take full advantage of the great entertainment opportunities our city has to offer.

Topping the neglect list is the Glendale Centre Theatre. The recent production of “1776” was a wonderful, patriotic musical about the struggle for independence and the human qualities of our founding fathers. It was performed by a cast that could readily have presented it on Broadway to the cheers of the most snooty of New York audiences and critics.

And while attendance was good throughout the run of the show, it should have been standing room only every night. The quality of the production was typical of every play this gem of a community theater stages.

What used to be a most astute and culturally active Glendale population seems to be a thing of the past. The changing demographics of our town — an aging population, many non-English speakers and a weak economy — have cut into the sellout audiences the theater historically experienced.

For three generations, the Hale-Dietlein family has provided Glendale with the best in classic and contemporary American musicals, comedies and dramas. This unbelievably talented family has produced, directed, performed in, and, during the early years, written plays for the enjoyment of our community.

The Glendale Centre Theatre will celebrate its 65th year in 2012. Owner and executive producer Tim Dietlein is the moving force behind the company, having carried on the mandate of his grandparents and parents to offer quality entertainment suitable for the entire family.

Starting as a child actor, he and his siblings performed during the early years in the family’s productions at the original Colorado Street location. At that time, the family house was about 20 feet from the stage door and Tim related the story of his brother’s nocturnal adventure.

Tucked away in bed one night, 3-year-old David decided to go for a stroll. Stripping off his pajamas, he entered stage left, buck naked in the middle of his grandmother’s big scene, providing the audience with an unexpected laugh. Not missing a beat, his grandmother scooped him up while ad libbing the line, “Oh no, the neighbor boy is out again,” leaving the stage to a perplexed cast who had to wing it until grandma put David back in bed and returned to the stage.

As the theater’s offerings became more ambitious, Tim has functioned as a jack of all theater trades, from director and producer to stepping onto the stage in an occasional role.

Seating 400, the theater-in-the-round setting provides a degree of intimacy with the audience which the ancient Greeks long ago wisely concluded was ideal for entertaining the citizens of a democracy. Over the years, audience involvement has resulted in several memorable moments.

At one performance, an actor’s failing cigarette lighter prompted a quick thinking audience member to make his stage debut by striking a match and graciously lighting the actor’s cigarette. On another occasion, a totally involved patron in the first row picked up a ringing telephone on stage. Realizing his gaff, he quickly handed the phone to the actor and said “It’s for you.”

The Glendale Centre Theatre ticket prices are a fraction of what you would pay to attend the Pantages or Dorothy Chandler. Because the pricing is so reasonable, some may assume that community theater is amateur. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We live in an area of the country that is chock full of great talent. All Glendale Centre Theatre productions are performed by seasoned professionals with impressive acting credentials under the guidance of demanding directors. Those who have graced the stage in the course of their acting careers include Connie Stevens, Jayne Meadows and Mike Farrell, to name just a few.

Those in our community concerned that their limited English-language fluency may restrict their enjoyment of the productions staged at Glendale Centre Theatre should rest assured that virtually all of the plays presented are universally listenable and the plots easily understood.

As my high school music teacher explained to me when I hesitated regarding the assignment to attend my first opera, “You don’t need to understand Italian or German to appreciate the beauty of the music, the quality of the performer’s voices, the color and the action on stage.”

American musical theater is one of our richest cultural contributions to the world. It mirrors the struggles and values that make our country exceptional. It is a wonderful kaleidoscope of the traditions and history of our people.

Nancy Reagan put it best in a letter to, and about, the Hale-Dietlein family: “Through their devotion, encouragement and love, Southern California can be proud of this cultural achievement. The president joins me in sending each of you our heartfelt thanks for your generous support of the arts and the Glendale Centre Theatre.”

Now it’s your turn, fellow Glendalians, to support and enjoy this treasure in our midst.

PAT GRANT has lived in Glendale for more than 30 years and was formerly a marketing manager for an insurance company. He may be reached at tfgranted@gmail.com.

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