El Centro Theatre

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El Centro Theatre in Los Angeles, California, has two stages: The Circle (99 seats) and The Chaplin (45 seats). Founded in 1946 and originally named the Circle Theatre, it is located at: 804 N. El Centro Ave. Hollywood, California 90038

The theatre has changed names many times over the years. It was originally named the Circle Theatre. Then it was known as The Cast under Ted Schmitt, then The Theatre District under Macario Gaxiola, and now The El Centro Theatre.[1]

In 1946, students from UCLA, including William Schallert, Jerry Epstein, and Kathleen Freeman, along with Sid Rushakoff, and Sydney Earle Chaplin, moved from their first location (a friend's living room) after their successful production of Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine. Their new space was a converted corner grocery store at Waring and El Centro Ave., which they named The Circle. The first play to be produced in the new space was Ethan Frome. Having to clean the rubbish and convert the building into a theatre was a daunting task. Bob Burns, their lighting genius, coordinated the conversion. Jack Kelly came by to help out on the work.

"The entire theatre movement in Los Angeles started in a Hollywood living room. Before that, there were only talent showcases and tired road shows. But it was The Circle Theatre that was the beginning of making Los Angeles a theatre town."- Patterson Greene, Theatre Arts, June 1961

The cast of the first show at The Circle: Ethan Frome

Character Actor
Harmon Sydney Chaplin
A Young Man George Englund
Ethan Frome William Schallert
Zenobia Frome Kathleen Freeman
Denis Eady Sherridan Hall
Mattie Silver Irene Gordon
Jonatham Larry Salters
Ed Varnum Julian Ludwig
Ethel Jere Silvern
George Charles Chaplin, Jr.
Ned Hale Jack Kelly
Ruth Varnum Gloria Grant
Mrs. Hale Ada Fremont

Charlie Chaplin allowed access to his props for the production. Antics were common place at The Circle, weekly cushion fights abounded. After the audience left you might have seen Sydney Chaplin or Bill Schallert pursuing Kathleen Freeman down the streets, while the children across the street at Hollygrove,(Marilyn Monroe stayed there as an orphan) watched the mayhem.

The next play to grace The Circle's stage was The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan. Sydney was in the show and at the time dating Marilyn Monroe, bringing her to watch rehearsals. This was the first production that Charlie Chaplin came to. Next up was Love on the Dole. Then something amazing happened, William Saroyan, sent his new script Sam's Ego House and asked if The Circle would consider presenting it. Saroyan made it to the show, along with Mrs. Clifford Odets and Edward G. Robinson.

The New Theatre (now the Chaplin Stage) was built in 1915 as one of the first silent picture movie theaters in Hollywood. It was later used as an auto mechanics garage with a dirt floor. The Circle Theatre took over and converted the building for its use as a second stage.[2]

In the early 1950s and 60s, George Boroff ran the theatre, sending several plays to Broadway. In 1955 Rachel Rosenthal created the experimental Instant Theatre in the space.[3]

The theatre changed hands in the mid-1960s and housed many small companies until 1976, when Ted Schmitt took over the space.

2012: James Roday, star of TV’s “Psych,” is now the co-owner of Hollywood’s El Centro Theatre. Roday, co-artistic director of the Red Dog Squadron theater company, and screen and stage vet Matt Shakman, purchased the historic Hollywood theater last month for $800,000, saving it from a group of people who wanted to convert it into a tango parlor. In July 2012 the two-stage theater will start a series of yet-to-be-determined renovations and begin Red Dog and Dahlia productions in early 2016. “We’re going to give the place a makeover,” said Roday. “We don’t want to say too much yet because we have some big ideas, and in case they don’t all happen, we don’t want to create expectations or make promises we can’t make good on.”

References[edit]

  1. ^ Information from Jerry Esptein's Remembering Charlie
  2. ^ "El Centro Theatre", Cinema Treasures
  3. ^ "Oral history interview with Rachel Rosenthal, 1989 Sept. 2-3", Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, accessed 31 )ct 2010

Coordinates: 34°05′08″N 118°19′27″W / 34.085541°N 118.324274°W / 34.085541; -118.324274