It's tempting to say the Vanguard Theatre Ensemble deserves its depressing situation, the latest chapter of which plays out this weekend: a fire sale of the troupe's costumes and other possessions to help offset a $45,000 debt.
It's tempting to say "told you so," because how can any 64-seat storefront theater in Orange County that relies primarily on ticket sales expect to survive a $9,000 monthly rent? That's the price of a location in downtown Fullerton these days, and it's what the Vanguard's been paying—kind of—for nearly two years.
But you can't fault a troupe for dreaming big. The county's oldest established storefront theater (it formed in 1992), the Vanguard thought it had found a home in the heart of downtown Fullerton. Its timing couldn't have been better, as the area exploded with bars, clubs and restaurants—but instead of targeting twenty- and thirtysomethings with adventurous, cutting-edge fare, the Vanguard opted for the Bus Stopsand Same Time Next Yearsof the theatrical universe. It didn't catch on with walk-by audiences or with the community; this, coupled with its lack of a grant writer, brings us to where we are: at a rather grim post-mortem on a dream deferred.
"I'd say the mood is abject depression, at least for me," says Wade Williamson, the Vanguard's artistic director, who basically lived at the theater for its first six months as the troupe converted a former trophy shop. "There's a lot of talk about what we could have done differently six months ago to maybe avoid this, but as of right now there are no other choices."
The Vanguard is done—at least at this space and for the foreseeable future. Its landlord is suing, and it needs to pay him and its investors before it can even think of relocating. The plan is to stay involved with local organizations like the Save the Fox people, fund-raise to pay its debt and then look for another space.
The troupe's closing is significant because it marks the first time since South Coast Repertory expanded from a 74- to a 217-seat theater in 1967 that a local theater has thought really, really big. The Vanguard had many solid productions in its 12-year history, and even more solid actors. It will be missed.
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Elsewhere in the county, the Insurgo Theater Movement, which shut its Anaheim doors early last year, will resurface in April with the California premiere of Trey Parker's CANNIBAL! The Musical.Insurgo is contemplating Lake Forest or Irvine—the first time a legitimate storefront theater would be based in South County.
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A genuine alternative to lame holiday crap this season is the return engagement of Blake . . . da Musical.The four-time Ovation nominee returns to the Gem Theater in Garden Grove Dec. 3 and 10. And for local playwrights, the Grove Theater Center's New Play Initiative, which gives money and readings and productions to selected plays, has extended its deadline to Dec. 1. No Orange County playwrights have ever applied, and that's just plain stupid. For information visit www.gtc.org.
Joel Beers was recently selected to the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle.