They’re Back for More
A Portrait of The Road on Magnolia Theatre…One Road, Two Destinations
In case you missed it, back in May of 2011, I brought you the awe-inspiring tale of The Road Theatre Company expressed in an article profiling Founder and Co-Artistic Director Taylor Gilbert. It was at that time that The Road Theatre Company was nearing their 20th anniversary, and- in addition to completing a rather impressive milestone- something else that excited Taylor back then was the plan to expand their reach in the form of a second facility. As of just last month, I’m excited to report that those plans have concluded, bringing us the concrete reality that is The Road on Magnolia.
Located in the NoHo Arts District on Magnolia between Vineland Ave and Cahuenga Blvd, and housed in the NoHo Senior Arts Colony building, The Road on Magnolia had their official grand opening on the 17th of this past May, showcasing the dramatic period piece Cooperstown. Taking place in the summer of 1962 in this quiet New York town where Jackie Robinson is set to be the first African American inducted into Baseball’s coveted Hall of Fame, Cooperstown tells the story of several diverse characters impacted by this history-making moment while demonstrating how racial tension, family and love come into play. “Cooperstown was a reading in the Road on Lankershim series two years ago, and it was such a crowd favorite that we staged it in our annual Summer Playwrights Festival for another viewing,” Taylor comments.
The piece received such a vocal response from company members as well as attendants of the festival that it was an obvious choice to benchmark The Road on Magnolia’s grand opening. And it continues to draw audiences Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm, set to conclude on July 20th. But prior to Cooperstown, Taylor and her staff did something a little unorthodox and- just this past January- staged a four-week, twelve-performance run of a musical at the new space. “And it’s something we plan to do again in the future,” Taylor says. “This particular musical came to us by one of our company members. She had been working on it for ten years, and we were able to get a grant from the NEA (National Education Association) as well as a grant from the L.A. County Arts Commission to produce this piece. And we knew that this new location on Magnolia would be a terrific place to open it and test out the space at the same time.
Since hearing of the completion of this anticipated new theatre, I couldn’t wait to “test” it out either, so you can imagine my delight at being invited to the new space to meet with Taylor for a second time.
Clad in only the most fabulous of shoes, Taylor shows me around the new space, and I’m immediately reminiscent of the last time we met. Draped in hanging artwork, the lobby to the theatre doubles as an art gallery that is open to the community of residents. And there is something magical about the actual theatre itself with stadium-style seating and a stage that feels intimate as well as grand. “The vision of the new theatre was the idea of some amazing people who banded together to bring to the community an idea that is the first of its kind, not only in NoHo, but in the United States,” Taylor comments. “Tim Carpenter of EngAGE along with John Husky of the Meta Housing Corporation had already been in the business of creating environments that brought both individuals and the arts together under one roof. This time, however, they wanted to add a professional theatre to the mix.”
With a recommendation from the Community Redevelopment Agency, Taylor and her team prepared a proposal that presented their case for becoming the resident theatre company at the newly erected NoHo Senior Arts Colony, and- not surprisingly- their proposal was granted. Thus, the opportunity to expand their programming was born.
“Before, it was tricky because as blessed as we were to have the space on Lankershim, we were always in a position where even if we had a big hit, we still had to commit to doing other shows during a short season. And when you only have 42 seats, it’s hard to have to close a show that’s doing so well,” Taylor says. “But now, when we have a show that’s doing well at the space on Lankershim, for instance, Smoke and Mirrors- which has been running since January- and we intend to run it through the end of the year, this new space gives us the opportunity to do additional work.”
And the fact that this new space is located in the NoHo Senior Arts Colony also creates the opportunity to work with and service residents of the building through readings and previews of upcoming programs. “We were really excited about the idea of working with people who have so much to share,” Taylor comments. “Just because someone is retired or of a certain age doesn’t mean they don’t have things to offer. They have a tremendous amount of knowledge and vitality that they can share with us and that we can learn from.”
Midwestern State of Mind
Today, with two locations each in need of their own programming, producing double the work may seem challenging. But Taylor powerfully takes it on- a choice representative of the passion she’s carried for this work since her days of reenacting movie scenes for her brother when she was a child. “Growing up in the Midwest, you adopt this work ethic that drives you to constantly keep working and be better and better. It’s the way I am, and it’s the way my Co-Artistic Director Sam Anderson is as well,” she admits. “We both have that it’s-good-let’s-make-it-better mentality. And that’s what we hope to do always.”
It’s a hope that they’ve fulfilled year after year at the Road on Lankershim, and one they’re continuing to fulfill at the Road on Magnolia with Cooperstown. And it’s all thanks in part to their ongoing reading series known as The Word, open Monday evenings to the public, free of charge, where company members are given the opportunity to present a play of their choice to the NoHo community of actors, directors and playwrights- followed by an open dialogue in regards to the work, feedback and an opportunity for networking. But whether the plays are found through The Word series or by recommendation from the Road literary board, finding compelling original work is always the goal.
“And I think there are fewer companies who are dedicated to this type of theater because it’s very risky financially,” Taylor comments. “It’s easier to go with classic plays that have already been produced and gotten great reviews before. It’s not an easy road, no pun intended, to put on solely original work. But for me, it’s about the word and presenting things that people may never have an opportunity to see if we don’t produce it.”
And The Rest is Future
Yes, The Road on Lankershim has been a stand for the production of original material for the past 22 years. And the Road on Magnolia will undoubtedly bring us more of the same with the upcoming plays Good Enough to Eat by Playwright Tom Dulack, premiering June 17th, and Lake Anne by Playwright Marthe Gold, opening the Road’s 23rd season in September. And with the same hard-working, talented pool of people who made The Road on Lankershim a success now turning their attention to the Magnolia location, I predict nothing but awards and fabulous reviews on the horizon for this new space as well. But make no mistake, however appreciated those accolades may be, they are not the driving force behind this work for Taylor
“What’s really important to me is bringing this kind of intimacy back to people because it enlightens lives in some ways, and it enlarges lives in others. In a world of incredible technology where people sit in the same room texting each other and pausing the TV to root through the fridge, I find theatre to be a balm. It’s great to be able to ask, no, require people to turn off their devices, sit back and participate in the moment- and to experience something that leaves an impression, sparks a dialogue and encourages them to be a part of a larger community. And for me, that’s the reward.”