It was 20 years ago tonight that we opened Moving Arts. Not all of those 20 years have been easy — it’s never easy keeping any theatre open, let alone one devoted entirely to new plays — and in fact, some of them have been pretty hard. But still, I’m not surprised we’ve hit 20. We’ve got good people running the place; in fact, we’ve always had good people running the place.
Moving Arts began in 1990, on paper, as Acme Performance Group, Inc. Originally, it was going to be a production company called Acme Arts Co., under a different artistic director than me. The concept of the proto artistic director had been that with the name Acme Arts Co., we could do “anything” — we wouldn’t be limited to theatre. Now I know better: that in most cases, it’s better precisely to be limited to just one or two things. Unless your corporate name is Virgin. But it turned out that Acme Arts Co. was a name already registered in the state of California, so the name became Acme Performance Group, Inc. In other words, the name went from bad to worse. But after waiting a seeming eternity for that artistic director to do something, I decided to drive around, find a space we could afford, and call him up and tell him about it, and as politely as I could, to also tell him that I thought I should take the title of artistic director. “I think you should,” he said.
The space I found, 1822 Hyperion Avenue in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles, had been a police substation. It was about large enough for two police and maybe their donuts. When the landlord, Bud Plochere, showed it to me and asked me what I wanted to do with it, I said, “I want to turn it into a theatre.” He stood inside and looked around and said, “You can’t open a theatre in here.” But we did. And we’ve been doing theatre there — and elsewhere — for 20 years now.
Over those 20 years, many hundreds of people have contributed their time and energy to Moving Arts and its productions. I do want to name just a relative fraction of them.
The founding board of Acme Performance Group, Inc. was: Eve Kathleen Baker, Julie Briggs, Gary Guidinger, Joe Stafford and myself. We never would’ve started the non-profit without Eve, who much like Johnny Appleseed sowed seeds wherever she went, but her seeds were non-profits; she started a lot of them, including ours. Eve died about five years ago (more, now?) and I still think about her frequently. And a special two-decade tip of the hat to my good friend Joe Stafford, who wrangled all the paperwork down at City Hall in 1992 while I was on the East Coast dealing with the death of my father; Joe made a friend in the bureaucratic maze and somehow navigated us through the other side.
The theatre was opened with $7,500. (!) Those founding funders were: Julie Briggs, her parents, Paul Crist, Joe Stafford, my mother, my wife and I, my brother Michael, and my wife’s grandfather, Frank Senn. Seven of them gave $1,000 each (that was the ask), and one gave $500. I remain grateful to them all.
There were many people who built the theatre, but the primary work crew was Marcy Ross, Tom Boyle, Rodger Gibson, David Krebs (now deceased), Julie, and myself. Rodger was an electrician and wired us throughout; Marcy was an ace carpenter; and Tom, as always, seemed to know how to do everything. I spent a lot of time scraping fake popcorn off the ceiling and inhaling lots of lung sealant in the process.
When it came time for a name for the place (I was damned if it was going to be Acme something), we compiled a sheet with three dozen or more alternatives. I no longer know where that sheet is (and I wish I did), but I do remember two names off it: Theatre X (which I came up with, and liked, but which got vetoed), and Moving Arts, courtesy of Steve Freedman. Nobody vetoed Moving Arts, and the more it stayed on the list, the more it grew on people. Thanks, Steve.
We’ve always had many talented, resourceful people in charge, but here are the true forces to be reckoned with, as I recall them.
Managing Directors: Julie Briggs, Rebecca Rasmussen, Lisa Payne Marschall, Michael Shutt, and especially, especially, our current hard-working (and long-suffering?) managing director Steve Lozier.
Artistic Directors: Julie Briggs again (about five years in, we adjusted titles and made her an equal artistic director with me; essentially, we’d already been producing partners since the founding), Kim Glann, and Paul Stein. (I was the founding artistic director, and I’m currently serving as artistic director again, on an interim basis, but really it’s in title only.)
Our Literary Director of many, many years, Trey Nichols.
Our incredible producer-director people, including Cece Tio, Sara Wagner, Terence Anthony, Mary McGuire, and Jane Sunderland.
And the many board members who’ve truly made a difference: Dan Beck, Jeannine Fairchild, Michael Curry, Mark Kinsey Stephenson, Kevin Scott, J. Hobart, Joe Stafford, Brian Newkirk, Marlene Coleman and Cris D’Annunzio among them.
And, finally, all the talented (and sometimes semi-talented) actors and designers and board ops and directors and playwrights who gave of their time and their energy. Thank you. Enormously.
Originally, my co-founder, Julie Briggs, just wanted to direct a play, one of mine. But I needed a place to work, and I hadn’t had a great time at the other place I’d tried to work. (The now long-closed Burbage Theatre.) And I didn’t like what I was seeing of other small theatres were run at the time. So I drove around and found the place we could afford to open. It was too small, and we had no money, and it was just the two of us. I figured you could do theatre anywhere, so the size wouldn’t stop us, and I knew even then that you can always get more money. But Julie wanted to know how just the two of us were going to do this. “We’ll get other people,” I told her, and that’s precisely what happened. One of the quips I share all the time is attributed to Jean-Paul Sartre: “Hell is other people.” But from day one, Moving Arts was built by other people. We thought we were building a theatre, but really we built a community.