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Theater of survival

Tough economic times have threatened to close the Colony, but the show goes on.

December 09, 2012|By Steve Appleford, steve.appleford@latimes.com
  • Burbank's Colony Theater's artistic director Barbara Beckley, left, and executive director Trent Steelman, right, inside the theater during rehearsal of "The Morini Strad" in Burbank. The theater is having financial problems.
Burbank's Colony Theater's artistic director… (Raul Roa/Staff…)

Actress Mariette Hartley has been through drama before, with decades of experience in film, television and on local stages, beginning with a Los Angeles production of “A Midsummer Night's Dream” with Bert Lahr. But she experienced suspense unlike any other during rehearsals for “The Morini Strad” at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, where an ongoing budget crisis threatened to shut down the play before opening night.

A weak economy finally caught up with the nonprofit theater, a Burbank institution for the last 12 years after thriving for a quarter-century in Silver Lake. On Oct. 27, an emergency “Save the Colony” fundraising campaign was announced with a mixture of hope and gloom: the Colony needed to raise $49,000 in just two weeks, or the play would be canceled, leaving the theater's future in doubt.

In an unexpected irony, “The Morini Strad” was the story of another treasured artistic icon in danger — in this case a priceless Stradivarius violin inadvertently damaged by its owner, an aging female virtuoso and recluse played by Hartley. The symbolism was clear, even if “MorinI” was put on the schedule more than a year earlier.

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“It is a colloquy about art and discipline and commitment — with humor and beautiful music,” said Hartley, 72. Of the rehearsals, she added, “We realized we were kind of working in limbo, but we were continuing to work.”

Finally, during the first week of November, artistic director Barbara Beckley and executive director Trent Steelman announced to cast and crew that funds had been raised. “I cried, I was so invested in it. It was a pretty happy ending,” said Hartley, but then she corrected herself: “I hope not. I hope it's a beginning.”

The funds came in from a wide range of patrons and fans, mostly ranging from $25 to $2,000 donations, many accompanied by emotional letters of support that now cover a wall in the Colony lobby. “The letters on the board were just astonishing — ‘Oh, how I wish I could do more. I can't imagine my life without being able to come to the Colony shows,'” said Beckley. “Just beautiful letters of support.”

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