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The theater that Colonized Burbank

Longtime leader of the Colony gets ready for 'Blame It on Beckett.'

August 19, 2012|By Lynne Heffley
  • Barbara Beckley, artistic director of the Colony Theater, on stage at the Burbank location.
Barbara Beckley, artistic director of the Colony Theater,… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

Barbara Beckley, pencil thin and fiercely emphatic, sits in an armchair in the living room-style lobby of the Colony Theatre in Burbank. Sounds from the stage indicate that rehearsals are underway for the second show of the Colony's 38th season: the West Coast premiere of John Morogiello's backstage comedy, “Blame It on Beckett.”

The Colony's artistic director and longtime leader is looking back, tracing her company's trajectory from an actor-driven, 99-seat venture in Silver Lake to its transformation into a 276-seat, full Equity theater. Founded in 1975 by a group of Los Angeles actors, the Colony Studio Theatre, as it was called then, earned considerable critical acclaim and audience loyalty during its first 25 years in “the land that time forgot,” as Beckley puts it.

“We called it Silver Lake because that was cool,” she said, “but actually we were in this hole between Silver Lake, Echo Park and Glassell Park. Our nearest competitors were the Dodgers.”

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Beckley initially managed the theater for founding Artistic Director Terrence Shank while pursuing her own acting career. After the company's successful first year, she recalled, “people said, ‘What are you doing next season?' Terrence and I looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, guess we better figure that out.'”

The Colony quickly gained a reputation for sterling, award-winning, often original work — it was and is the recipient of numerous L.A. Weekly, Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle and Ovation Awards. The audience grew. Regulars began trekking in from as far away as Orange County.

“They still do,” said Beckley.

When Shank moved on in 1984 for a theater career in Florida and South Africa, the leadership position “kind of landed in my lap,” Beckley said. In 1987, she spearheaded a canny marketing effort that would set the stage for the theater's evolution.

“That was the year that we discovered telemarketing. We decided to throw everything we had into a campaign to build our subscription base. It was a leap of faith.”

That strategic move coincided with a through-the-roof smash hit for the company: Jean Anouilh's “Ring Around the Moon,” headlined by Parker Stevenson.

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