How to fill seats


As the founding artistic director of Malibu’s first professional theatre, the Malibu Stage Company, I was somewhat amused by the irritation caused by the Council’s decision to reduce the amount of seating from 412 to approximately 300 [in MPAC]. The fact is, it was difficult enough to find the 100 or so people needed to fill Malibu Stage with first-class professional actors in works by Shakespeare, Noel Coward, Neil Simon, David Mamet, etc., because live theatre requires a certain esthetic intimacy between performer and spectator.

If one conceives of the Malibu Performing Arts Center as a concert venue for musical superstars, it will more than likely remain empty for most of the year with sporadic full-houses for the visits of occasional outsize celebrities. Even the arts programs at Pepperdine’s Smothers Theatre finds it difficult to book first-class artists for long and continuous stints. They seat between 450 and 500 but, apart from occasional student productions, rely a good deal on outside rentals.

When Malibu Stage featured actors such as Martin Sheen, George C. Scott, Rod Steiger, Ed Asner, Harry Hamlin, Trish Van Devere, Shelly Berman and Lynn Redgrave, the houses were always full. But it wasn’t so much the celebrities that people came to see, but the works in which these celebrities appeared. Broadway regularly demonstrates that no matter how big your star-name, unless the material is fresh and challenging, even the greatest names fall by the wayside.

A 300-seat theatre that establishes a professional company and takes theatrical risks could prosper in Malibu, so it is no loss to have a theatre seating approximately 300. One has to realize that Malibu is something of a remote location for avid theatergoers from Los Angeles proper. The real draw for a professional theatre is not a one-off commercial event, but investment in a permanent, professional ensemble which, Malibu apart, reaches out to residents from Westlake, Thousand Oaks, Pacific Palisades and Topanga. To achieve this, one has to do more than re-design a piece of theatrical architecture. One has to establish an artistic policy that will draw loyal theatergoers on a more or less regular basis because a professional company has been properly subsidized and is regularly creating art, not novelty.

Charles Marowitz