Not to allow its neighbor, Los Angeles, to hog the limelight, the City of Long Beach boasts several performing arts venues and groups. The award-winning Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center houses both the Beverly O’Neill and Terrace Theaters, which host big-name acts as well as performances by local organizations. The California State University, Long Beach campus is another beacon for the fine arts, with the presence of the Richard & Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center and the more intimate Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater. For more offbeat productions, drama aficionados have the options of the Garage and Found Theatres, both of which have their own production companies. The Long Beach Shakespeare Company, based at the Richard Goad Theater in Bixby Knolls, transports theater-goers with more specialized tastes to Elizabethan England. And for those who wish to see community productions in a wide range of genres, the Long Beach Playhouse includes two stages for performances.
California State University, Long Beach
Richard & Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center and
Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater
6200 Atherton St. | carpenterarts.org
Carpenter: 562/985-7000 | Knoebel: 562/985-4747
Through its five series of performances, the Richard & Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center aims to open audiences to a wide range of experiences.
The center’s “Wit & Wisdom” series includes three shows aimed to inspire laughter. This year’s performers were actress Lily Tomlin, stand-up comedian Paula Poundstone and Peter Seagal, the host of NPR’s “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” The other series are comprised of Sunday afternoon concerts, cabaret, dance and shows intended to make an audience say, “Wow!” according to Executive Director Megan Kline Crockett.
The Richard & Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center seats 1,000 guests. Right, the Center transforms into a different venue for cabaret-style shows. Tables are set up behind the stage and performances take place behind the curtain. (Photographs courtesy of the Carpenter Center)
“We’re a very important part of the cultural fabric in Long Beach,” Kline Crockett said. “We live in such a diverse area. This is a gathering space for people to enjoy live theater and dance. They don’t have to go into L.A. to see these shows. They’re right here in their backyard.”
Musical Theatre West, a Long Beach theater company, performs at the Carpenter Center. Each year, the organization produces five Broadway musicals that each run for three weeks. The next production is “Bright Star,” which is set in the Southern U.S. during the 1940s, and features music by actor Steve Martin.
According to Paul Garman, the organization’s executive director, performances draw approximately 60,000 patrons every year. “The majority are from Long Beach, but some come from as far as Arizona, Las Vegas and Santa Barbara,” he said.
Garman explained that Musical Theatre West is both a commercial and cultural boon to the city. “It generates income for the economy and provides jobs,” he said. “We hire casts of about 20 to 25 for each show. There’s a stage crew, costume crew, ushers and musicians. It’s an economic resource which also lifts the human spirit.”
A cast from Long Beach theater company Musical Theatre West acts out a scene from “Les Misérables,” in a February 2015 show at the Richard & Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center. (Photography courtesy of Musical Theatre West)
Located near the Carpenter Center, the Martha B. Knoebel Dance Theater provides a venue for both student productions and those of other organizations that regularly rent out the space. Some of these include Precision Dance Company, Nannette Brodie Dance Theater and Westside Dance Project, according to California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) Dance Department Chair Betsy Cooper.
“The theater is a bridge between the creative work we do in the department and the local community,” Cooper stated in an e-mail. “It is also a venue for the Long Beach and L.A. County communities to view the work of outside companies, organizations whose work may be more appropriate for the intimate 230-seat Martha B. Knoebel Theater as opposed to the 1,000-seat Carpenter Performing Arts Center.”
The next dance concert is “Variance,” featuring the work of CSULB dance students. Performances are scheduled for October 11, 12 and 13. Tickets for performances at the Martha B. Knoebel Theater are sold through the Carpenter Center box office.
599 Long Beach Blvd. |foundtheatre.org | 562/433-3363
The Found Theatre, both a venue and a theater company, has a history of introducing original productions. According to Executive Director Virginia DeMoss, the late founder Cynthia Galles started the company with some of her peers after she graduated from college.
“She started doing classics like Shakespeare and Chekhov because they didn’t have to pay royalties,” DeMoss recounted. “She did a lot of different things with scripts like re-imagining [Shakespeare’s] ‘Twelfth Night’ as a Ginger Rogers/Fred Astaire show.”
The Found Theatre has a history of introducing original productions. The venue, a black box theater with moveable seats, accommodates up to 50 guests. (Photograph courtesy of The Found Theatre)
The Found Theatre is made up of a core group of about 20 to 25 members. The venue, a black box theater with moveable seats, accommodates up to 50 guests. Although the company has scaled back from producing five original shows per year to running two or three, DeMoss said she’s hoping to bring the number back up to at least three.
“We like to make people laugh and stick them with a message,” DeMoss said. Over the past year, the venue has mostly featured outside performers. These included Maha & Company, a Southern California nonprofit dance organization, and theatrical group MASQ Kids. The Found Theatre also hosted a one-man show, “La Verdad de Judas,” about a pedophile priest who was himself a victim of abuse. The actor, Pablo Figueroa, plans to return for a repeat performance in October.
The Found Theatre is a partner of Able ARTS Work, which provides music and art therapy to handicapped adults. “We bring their clients in to see shows,” DeMoss explained. “It’s hard for them to find spaces where they can take them.”
The Garage Theatre
251 E. 7th St. |thegaragetheatre.org | 562/433-8337
Eric Hamme, the managing director and co-founder of The Garage Theatre, said the goal of the volunteer-based performance group is to “take the stuffiness out of the theater.”
“We’ve always set out to do theater that’s a little more challenging,” he commented. “We don’t pigeonhole ourselves into a particular genre. We’re drawn to theater that other companies might find too strange or provocative. As long as the story is really good, we’re open to it.”
The company is made up of about 10 core members who conduct the day-to-day operations. “A whole pool of actors and designers come in and out based on the show,” Hamme said. The theater puts on four shows per year. Past productions have included, “The All-American Genderf*ck Cabaret,” which breaks down gender stereotypes; a work by an Australian playwright called “Kill Climate Deniers,” which explores the intersection of climate change and politics; and “Extremities,” a show that dealt with sexual assault.
“We’re the only theater in town that’s doing what we’re doing,” Hamme said. “I think it’s a very unique experience. Ours is very intimate; the audience is sometimes a part of the show, whether they want to be or not.” The black box theater seats around 30 to 40, depending on the configuration.
Hamme said the company set out to attract a younger audience, a mission it has found successful. “A good portion of our audience are in the 18 to 34-year-old range, which a lot of theaters would kill to have. I think that has to do with environment of the Garage of being relaxed and fun. The material we do appeals to that younger generation.”
Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center
Beverly O’Neill Theater | Terrace Theater
3oo E. Ocean Blvd. | longbeachcc.com | 562/436-3636
Each year, the Beverly O’Neill and Terrace Theaters book around 24 performances from arts groups and about 20 to 30 entertainers such as singers and comedians, according to John Braun, the center’s assistant general manager. Earlier this year, rock group Chicago and singer Bonnie Raitt both performed at the Terrace Theater.
Braun said the comedians have the best turnout. “You can get some really good shows that come in here,” he said. “You don’t have to travel very far in traffic as a Long Beach resident. The community can come in, enjoy a show, go for dinner and stay in a hotel.”
The Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center seats 3,100 guests. The theater hosts the Long Beach Ballet Company’s annual production of “The Nutcracker,” as well Long Beach Symphony concerts. (Business Journal file photo)
International City Theatre, Long Beach Symphony and Long Beach Ballet utilize the convention center venues for their performances. Long Beach Ballet Founder and Artistic Director David Wilcox said the Terrace Theater, which seats 3,100, lends itself well to the types of performances he likes to produce. “Ballet is at its best when it’s at a big, full-scale production,” he commented. “Giant theatrical productions like that are supposed to touch the audience emotionally.”
Long Beach Ballet is known for its annual holiday production of “The Nutcracker,” a Terrace Theater performance that features effects such as pyrotechnics and a live horse. The ballet company produces one other show every year, rotating between five ballets: “Swan Lake,” “Cinderella,” “Coppélia,” “Don Quixote” and “Aladdin,” an original production by Wilcox based on the Disney movie.
Long Beach Symphony performs six annual classical concerts at the Terrace Theater. It also provides arrangements for approximately 12,000 fourth and fifth graders from the Long Beach Unified School District to attend four shows every year. “We have a pretty intensive educational aspect to all of our concerts,” Long Beach Symphony Director Kelly Lucera said. “We try to make sure our audience is not just entertained, but [also] educated. We’re always encouraging them to listen to the pieces ahead of time to get them excited.”
The Beverly O’Neill Theater is located in the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center and contains 825 seats. International City Theatre is the resident company, and its season consists of five shows annually. Other groups such as Musica Angelica and Musical Theater West also use the theater. (Photograph courtesy of the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center)
International City Theatre, a professional theater company, also aims to educate and inspire. “I try to do something for everyone. I throw the net wide,” caryn desai, the theater’s artistic director and producer, said. “Theater helps create a more educated and harmonious society. We opened the theater, in 1986, with a play about AIDS. This was before people were even talking about it.”
International City Theatre performs five shows every year at the Beverly O’Neill Theater, which contains 825 seats. “We have a beautiful space in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. It’s close proximity to the stage no matter where you sit,” desai said. “The orchestra is five rows. You’re so close to the performers. It feels very intimate.”
Long Beach Playhouse
5021 E. Anaheim St. | lbplayhouse.org | 562/494-1014
Long Beach Playhouse holds open auditions, which attracts a range of aspiring performers with different experiences and backgrounds. “It fills a niche of seeing your community members up on stage, like someone who works for the city or is your vet during the day,” Executive Director Madison Mooney said.
The company explores a variety of genres in the 13 shows it produces each year. The Mainstage Theater seats 200 in a horseshoe shape around a thrust stage. The Studio Theater seats 98 around a proscenium stage. This setup features an arch over the stage that serves as a frame for the action, separating the audience from the performers. Shows run the gamut of drama, classics, musicals, murder mysteries and romantic comedies.
The Long Beach Playhouse’s Mainstage Theater accommodates an audience of 200. The Studio Theater seats 98 guests. The playhouse holds open auditions, which attracts a range of aspiring performers with different experiences and backgrounds. (Photographs courtesy of Long Beach Playhouse)
“We’re always trying to be by and for the community,” Mooney explained. “In the last few years, our artistic directors have tried to include more plays with roles specifically written for people of color or the LGBTQ community.”
The Playhouse is entering its 90th season. “Our longevity as a community theater is an important part of a city’s cultural landscape,” Mooney said.
Every summer, Long Beach Playhouse offers a youth program with singing, dancing and acting classes. It also opens the studio theater to outside local companies from December to April to produce their own works. “This gives newer groups or those who don’t have their own space a chance to use our facilities,” Mooney said.
Upcoming productions include “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club,” which began on September 22 on the Mainstage Theater and runs until October 20. Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Assassins,” a show that explores the motivations of those who attempted assassinations of American presidents, opens in the Studio Theater on October 13.
Richard Goad Theater
4250 Atlantic Ave. | lbshakespeare.org | 562/997-1494
The Long Beach Shakespeare Company, the resident theater company of the Richard Goad Theater in Bixby Knolls, is “the only Long Beach theater company that does 100% classical-form [productions],” according to Producer and Theater Manager Dana Leach. The black box theater accommodates 45.
“Our mission is to promote literacy and bring classical theater to Long Beach at an affordable price,” Leach explained. “Everything we do is based in classic literature. We try to re-create it in the period in which it was written to be performed.”
Each year, the volunteer-run organization produces four shows that run for 10 performances each. In between these productions, they perform eight radio scripts from the 1930s and 1940s. The shows are performed in front of a live audience, and actors wear costumes from the time period. The readings, which have included Sherlock Holmes plays, “Treasure Island” and “War of the Worlds,” are available as podcasts which stream on the company’s website. The group also reads from the works of Shakespeare.
Actors for the stage productions are selected through open auditions. Each year, the company chooses a different theme for the shows. “This year’s theme is ‘seldom-done Shakespeare,’” Leach said. “We did ‘King John’, and we’re finishing up ‘Troilus and Cressida.’ Those productions are done very rarely. For ‘Troilus and Cressida’, we had people coming in from other states. Next year is our season of villains.”
On the first Friday of every month, the company holds literature slam nights conducted in American sign language (ASL), which are free of charge and open to the public. The radio shows also have ASL interpreters.