The Eclectic Steve Allen Theater In Hollywood To Close In July
Center for Inquiry Los Angeles and the small, independent theater it houses are going to be torn down and replaced with housing, according to a release from the organization. It is only appropriate, then, that The Steve Allen Theater, which has showcased performances from a host of notable comedians and actors for over a decade, will be aiming high for their final show, Bride of Blood.
Center for Inquiry is a nonprofit designed "to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values." The organization was founded in 1991, and merged with the Richard Dawkins Foundation of Science and Reason in early 2016. It has chapters all over the country, with its Los Angeles headquarters currently positioned at 4773 Hollywood Boulevard, near Barnsdall Park. Here, the Center has played host to a variety of lectures, art shows and events. It also contains the Steve Allen Theater, which was founded by Amit Itelman in 2003. In a release, CFI-Los Angeles Executive Director James Underdown explained that they "accepted a favorable offer," which should help the organization advance in the future. The future of the Steve Allen Theater, however, remains less clear. Underdown told LAist that both organizations will be in their current building until at least July, and that he is currently looking for a new space for CFI-Los Angeles to call home.
"We're not sure if [the new location] will be able to house a theater, where it will be, or even exactly when we'll move," Underdown told LAist.
According to Curbed LA, plans were submitted for the hew housing development in December of 2016. The development is being described as a subdivision of 21 homes, three of them live-work spaces.
A relatively small theater with 99 seats, the Steven Allen Theater has managed to draw an odd mix of performances over the years. The shows are curated by another nonprofit called The Trepany House, which was launched five years ago (Robert Crumb drew their logo!). Thus, Trepany House will remain in its intangible form, and Itelman is hoping that the nonprofit can find a new home for the theater, or that CFI-Los Angeles will find a new property that also has a theater.
Itelman told LAist how the theater launched:
About 15 years ago, I got a call out of the blue from James Underdown. He wanted to use the performing arts to get people down to the newly built center...He didn't give me any restrictions—I guess he trusted what I could do based on my previous stage work. I brought in curtains, theater lights, did some painting and I launched our first season. Initially, I didn't really think in terms of a mission; I just pursued interests in comedy, science, theology, music, horror, and weirdness in general. Hollywood Hellhouse happened fast, which put us on the map as an unusual venue.
Hollywood Hellhouse was essentially a haunted house. The script came via a more sincere production put on by Colorado church in Texas in 1992. It was written by Pastor Keenan Roberts, who desired to scare young Christians away from so-called "sins" like drinking, abortion, adultery and homosexuality. The haunt is especially gory, with teenagers being sexually assaulted at parties or dying in pools of blood. (You may have seen a similar haunt depicted in the 2001 documentary Hell House.) Roberts then decided to capitalize on his idea, according to Variety, by selling kits to make your own Hell House for a mere $299. It was probably not his desire to have a bunch of Hollywood liberals prepare a production of his work, but that's precisely what happened in 2004. Writer and actress Maggie Rowe and Jill Soloway (who now has two Emmys for her work on Transparent) called the show Hollywood Hellhouse. Numerous comics and actors—including Andy Richter, Bill Maher, David Cross—were hired to portray Satan throughout its run.
The Steve Allen Theater later hosted The Idiots, an avante-garde comedic play written by Ron Lynch and Craig Anton, about the fictitious exploits of the sons of Nobel Prize winning scientists Francis Crick and James Watson. Lynch and Anton now host Tomorrow!, a midnight comedy show that's been running for 13 years. Itelman says it's like "a variety show that feels like a slumber party." Sometimes guests like Louis C. K., Natasha Leggero, or John C. Riley stop by. Michael Darling of The Los Feliz Ledger described the show by saying, "It’s a kind of anarchic Vaudeville where stand-up comedy is followed by a knife thrower or a man in a horse mask doing ventriloquism. And yes, the dummy is also wearing a horse mask."
Other performers at the theater have included Emo Phillips, Metalocalypse creator Brendon Small, and Bob Odenkirk and David Cross of Mr. Show fame. The theater has also put on shows like The Secret History of GWAR, Reanimator: The Musical, War of the Worlds, and Mary Lynn Spreads Her Legs, a dark comedy written by 24 actress Mary Lynn Rajskub about postpartum depression. Itelman admits that the eclectic nature of the shows "can be hard to categorize."
"The theater has been a petri dish for many new performers to grow in," Itelman said. "It also acted as a workshop for seasoned performers to experiment and create new material. Seeing Eddie Izzard premiere and develop his show Force Majeure at the theater over a few months was a treat. Seeing him return to perform the show at the Hollywood Bowl was a trip."
Itelman said that The Kids in the Hall, Puddles Pity Party, Ann Magnuson, Marc Maron and Bill Burr have also used the theater as a space to develop new material.
Itelman is currently raising funds for what may be the last show in the venue, Bride of Blood.
According to Itelman's GoFundMe:
Solomon's desire for knowledge fuels an obsessive interest in Exodus 4:24, the only passage in the Torah that Solomon doesn't understand. The passage speaks of the night God came down to slay Moses, and when Zipporah, Moses’ wife, stated “Now you are a Bridegroom of Blood” to God.
Solomon approaches heavenly and demonic entities in pursuit of the unknowable. Foolishly, he unleashes horrible consequences. Soon he learns the value of humility.
Bride of Blood lives in a landscape of other-worldly characters and monstrous dangers. It merges Costume-Fantasy, Comedy, Horror, and Theology. It will feature intricate special effects, frightful mask-work, and puppetry.
Wisdom will show you mysteries of Heaven, and the monsters of Hebrew Folklore will come to life. Soon you will know what it means to Fear God.
If you haven't had a chance to stop by, the shows at Steve Allen are remarkably cheap, and a full schedule of upcoming events can be found here.