Center Theatre Group, one of the nation’s preeminent arts and cultural organizations, is Los Angeles’ leading non-profit theatre company, programming seasons at the 736-seat Mark Taper Forum and the 2000-seat Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, and the 317-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City. In addition to providing theatre of the highest caliber to the vibrant, diverse communities of Southern California, CTG supports a significant number of arts education, community partnerships and play development initiatives.
The Kirk Douglas Theatre was originally an historic 1940s Streamlined Moderne-style movie house called the Culver Theater, and it is believed that Kirk Douglas’ movie “Spartacus” played there in the early 1960s. In 2003 it was transformed into an intimate 317-seat live theatre venue and named for the theatre’s initial major donor: Kirk Douglas. The initial contribution of $2.5 million from Kirk and Anne Douglas was the crucial first step in realizing the much-needed, mid-sized theatre space for the Center Theatre Group (CTG). The Kirk Douglas Theatre began performances with the world premiere of Charles L. Mee’s “A Perfect Wedding” whose first preview was on October 31, 2004. Prior to this, opening ceremonies were held from September 30 through Oct. 3, 2004. I was a volunteer on the day residents of Culver City were invited to tour the facility and remember the excitement generated in welcoming such a beautiful theater to our city.
On Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, CTG’s Kirk Douglas Theatre celebrated its 10th birthday with Anne and Kirk Douglas in attendance. Starting at 6:30pm, the lobby was buzzing with activities to get everyone into the celebratory spirit, including walk around magic entertainment by “America’s Got Talent” star Fantastic Fig, roaming photographers asking people to put on their best “Spartacus” face, a Scavenger Hunt in which guests could participate and win great prizes – including a KDT Opening Mug personally autographed by Kirk Douglas, and lots of delicious appetizers and liquid refreshments.
Michael Ritchie, the Artistic Director of Center Theatre Group, began the show inside the theatre by thanking his predecessor Gordon Davidson who worked hand-in-hand with Anne and Kirk Douglas in the creation of the theatre. After thanking the people of Culver City for their continuing support, Ritchie showed a video clip from the film “Before I Forget,” written and performed by Kirk Douglas, taken from the stage presentation of the same name, which had its world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in March 2009. I was lucky to have been in the audience that night and thoroughly enjoyed Douglas’ one-man tour-de-force performance.
Ritchie then introduced Kirk Douglas, who was sitting center in the front row. At 98, Mr. Douglas is still full of spunk and even though his speech has been compromised by a stroke. He spoke with much joy about his desire to be a great stage actor. “Theatre is my first love. When I was 25, I got my first break on Broadway as a singing-telegram boy in ‘Spring Again.’ My subsequent plays had short runs, so I reluctantly accepted a screen role just to feed my young family and wound up making a hell of a lot of money. Now I have my name up in lights again on a theatre marquee, and future generations will be able to enjoy great theatre in Culver City, the Heart of Screenland.” With his long gray hair pulled into a ponytail, Douglas spoke about his family and paid lovingly tribute to his wife Anne sitting by his side. More video clips from his one-man show “Before I Forget” were shown with Douglas filling in more related information which delighted the audience.
And this being a celebration, there was lots of entertainment from the past 10 years of performances at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Eric Sims, CTG Director of Theatre Operations for the Kirk Douglas Theatre, introduced students from the Culver City High School Academy of Visual and Performing Arts, who performed the opening title number from the musical “13” which had a public workshop in 2007 at the Douglas, followed by the world premiere at the CTG/ Mark Taper Forum in 2007.
Pier Carlo Talenti, CTG Director of New Play Development, introduced writer/performer Dael Orlandersmith, who performed an excerpt from her play “Stoop Stories” which had its West Coast premiere in the theatre’s DouglasPlus programming in 2010. Orlandersmith’s CTG commissioned world premiere play “Forever” is currently playing at the Douglas through Oct. 26.
Diane Rodriguez, CTG Associate Artistic Director, introduced the comedy troupe Culture Clash, who have a long history presenting their work at CTG, and who will bring a reimagined and remixed version of their hit “Chavez Ravine” to the Douglas in January 2015. The show had its world premiere at the Taper in 2003.
Leslie K. Johnson, CTG Director of Education and Community Partnerships, introduced Nicole Julian who performed a monologue from an August Wilson play. Nicole, who is a Culver City high school alumna, was a past participant in the annual national August Wilson Monologue Competition for which CTG is the Southern California home.
From the theatre’s sound booth, Adam Phalen, Head of Audio at the Douglas, introduced writer/performer Matt Sax who performed an excerpt from “Clay,” which was presented at the Douglas in 2007. “Venice,” with book by Eric Rosen and music by Sax, was workshopped at the Douglas in 2009, and the world premiere production was presented at the theatre in 2010.
Trevor Algatt, one of the leaders of the theatre’s frontof- house staff, introduced Trey Lyford and Geoff Sobelle, who performed a piece from “all wear bowlers” which they created and performed at the Douglas in 2005. In 2012, Steve Cuiffo joined Lyford and Sobelle for the West Coast premiere of the CTG commissioned piece “Elephant Room” at the Douglas.
After accepting an award of recognition from Culver City mayor Meghan Sahli-Wells, Michael Ritchie announced the theatre’s control booth is now named the Anne Douglas Control Booth. Then a large birthday cake resembling the Kirk Douglas Theatre was wheeled in with Ritchie, Gordon Davidson, Anne and Kirk Douglas blowing out the candles. The audience released confetti poppers before adjourning to the lobby for a birthday cake, ice cream, and champagne reception.
It was a glorious evening celebrating the legacy of the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.