Performing Arts

Performers Rally Around Community Theaters, State Legislation

"Nonprofit, small theaters are the key to the existence of acting, of our art form, that's where we all begin," said actor Edward James Olmos.

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Small community theaters, which often operated on shoestring budgets before COVID-19 hit the theater industry, have been struggling during the pandemic.

But Wednesday morning in Boyle Heights, celebrated actors and activists teamed up with lawmakers to support California Senate Bill 805, in the hopes of saving the small arts venues that helped them rise to fame.

"Lethal Weapon" actor Danny Glover got his start in the Bay Area, playing Lenny in "Of Mice & Men" in the Palo Alto theatre, he said at the rally in Baldwin Park. "Stand and Deliver" actor Edward James Olmos started in similar venues in Los Angeles.

"I had to learn my craft and I learned it through 14 years of small theatre before I stepped on the stage to do El Pachuco in 'Zoot Suit,'" Olmos said.

The actors stated that community theaters provide an outlet for members of minority groups, who face more difficulty in breaking into the industry.

"Nonprofit, small theaters are the key to the existence of acting, of our art form, that's where we all begin," he added.

That argument is echoed in the language of Senate Bill 805, authored by state senator Susan Rubio, who called the bill "a lifeline to so many theaters that are closing their doors." The bill passed in the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 10, and will be voted upon in the legislature on Thursday.

The bill states that those small, nonprofit theaters "create and preserve opportunities for performers... particularly workers in marginalized communities," and provide "substantial economic benefits to their communities" in the process.

If voted into law, the bill would establish the Performing Arts Equitable Payroll Fund to provide grants and create a low-cost payroll service, enabling small performing arts companies to pay workers the minimum wage.

Included in those small performing arts companies is the Boyle Heights Casa 0101 Theater, founded by "Real Women Have Curves" playwright Josefina Lopez. She founded the theater when, despite the success of that play, she found it difficult to tell Latino stories.

“As a screenwriter in Hollywood, I’ve been trying to tell Latino stories for over 30 years," she said early on Wednesday.

Lopez joined Olmos and Glover in support of Senate Bill 805, calling for more community theater funding.

“Community theater is about our story," Glover said. "Not their story, our story.”

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