LOS FELIZ, Calif. – The Skylight Theatre has been dark for so long, it took a few minutes for Gary Grossman to get the light board fired up again.  

What You Need To Know

  • Leaders of 53 theaters hold weekly Zoom meeting

  • Focused on safety, AB5, marketing, contracts, and festivals

  • L.A. Stage Alliance, others mapping out next steps

  • Safety measures could include physical distancing for audience and actors

Grossman is the artistic director of the 99-seat theater in Los Feliz. He says L.A.’s collection of intimate theaters is a close community, but they don’t usually have time to interact with each other.

“We come together usually in times of trouble," Grossman said.

This time they are all experiencing a lot of trouble. When the pandemic started, Grossman reached out to a few other artistic directors to see if they wanted to brainstorm. It started with about five or six players, but the cast of characters kept growing. He says every week, representatives for a collection of 53 theaters meet on a Zoom call.

The group has been working with the L.A. Stage Alliance to figure out their next steps. As the city begins to slowly reopen, for theaters, it is complicated.

Even when they get the greenlight to open their doors, Grossman said, "That doesn’t mean we go, because we still have to answer to our actors, our audiences.”

“It’s kind of daunting," Beatrice Casagran said.

Casagran is the artistic director of Ophelia's Jump Productions. She says the group assumed small theaters might have an easier time reopening, but they have found that isn’t actually the case. Space is tight so keeping people separated will be difficult.  

“In my particular theater there’s one bathroom for both the audience and cast," Casagran said. “We can’t get more than 10 people in the audience because there has to be a 6-foot perimeter.”

Grossman is in a similar boat. He demonstrated how his 99-seat theater goes down to 30 when you space the audience 6 feet apart.

Backstage, the dressing room that normally fits half a dozen actors, will now only hold three.

Preparing to reopen costs money small theaters may not have. Grossman is looking to put up partitions around the different stations. Casagran's theater is investing in touchless bathroom fixture and touchless thermometers to take the audience’s temperature.  

“Once we do all this stuff," Grossman said, "Do we really know that we’re going to get that audience in?”

Grossman thinks they will come eventually, but this is all unscripted. Nobody knows how it’ is going to play out.

“London doesn’t know. New York doesn’t know. Chicago doesn’t know," Grossman said.

But if there’s one silver lining, Grossman says, it’s that L.A.’s small theaters are finally collaborating in a big way and ultimately, that's how they will survive.

“We’re all going to have a find a new way here," Grossman said. "And we’re going to have to find it together.”