BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — They say there are no small parts, and that is certainly the case at Theatre 40. Take, for instance, Leda Siskind, who can be found ushering at the current production of "Taming the Lion." While playing the part means she has to show patrons to their seats, she said the company's fan base is so loyal, a lot of them don't need any help.

What You Need To Know

  • Theatre 40 is a membership-based theatre company made up of roughly 150 professional actors

  • Throughout 55 seasons, the company has produced some 450 productions

  • When not cast in a show, members are expected to fill many other roles in support of the production

  • "Taming the Lion," which is based on the true story of William Haines, runs through Aug. 1

"Some of them will say, 'Baby, I've been going here 35 years. I always get the same seat. I know where it's at,'" she said, hamming it up a bit.

Siskind, too, knows this theatre inside and out – front of house, backstage, on stage, lobby. She's been a member of Theatre 40 for roughly 15 years performing in many productions and playing an array of other roles as well.

"I'm also on the artistic committee," she explained. "And I'm also a playwright, and they did, you know, my play."

It's part of the Beverly Hills-based company's DNA. Throughout 55 seasons, they've produced some 450 productions, and everyone is expected to pitch in every way, including David Hunt Stafford, the company's longtime artistic director and managing director.

"And full-time producer of all the plays," Hunt added. "And I'm an actor, of course, too."

"Many hats," he admitted.

"And many masks," Director Melanie MacQueen chimed in.

He's also a pretty good historian. Hunt can trace Theatre 40's history back to the '60s when a group of actors gathered in a home at 40 Haldeman Road to read Shakespeare. The original house numbers still hang in a display case in the lobby. In 1974, the Superintendent of Beverly Hills Unified School District invited the group to make their artistic home on campus.  

"In exchange for having the Theatre 40 actors and directors teach an adult education theatre appreciation class," Hunt explained. "We've continually taught the class to this very day. Forty-six years of volunteer teaching."

Theater 40 is a membership company, meaning actors audition to get into the group and pay dues. They still need to audition for roles in each show, but their foot is already in the door because the troupe doesn't cast outside their membership ranks.

"Taming the Lion," which runs through Aug. 1, is based on the true story of William Haines, a gay movie star in the early days of Hollywood who gave up his acting career rather than bow to studio demands that he marry a woman. The show premiered at Theatre 40 in March 2020 and ran for a single weekend before they locked the doors.

"People said to me, 'Well, what are you doing during the pandemic?'" Hunt recalled. "I said, 'I'm waiting. I'm waiting.'"

He ultimately waited 15 months until the state lifted restrictions on June 15. The very next day, he unlocked the doors, and the cast went straight into rehearsal.

"And nothing had been touched. Everything was exactly as we left," he said, adding that they were ready to brush up at the show and reopen. "The programs were already printed." 

Back in the darkened house, Siskind stands quietly, clutching a pile of programs, taking in the moment.

"I always love this part," she said. "Just before."

Having had her plays produced here, having tread these boards as an actor, it may seem difficult to take a role that's not featured in the program. Siskind said that's not at all the case because theatre is a community.

"Obviously, auditions come and go, and there's always the passion and wonderment and tragedy of getting into the show or not getting into the show, but ultimately you are here for the theatre," she said. "You are here for the community itself, and that endures past every show."