Whether through preference or necessity, the LA arts community is highly collaborative, which is a great attribute. But collaboration is hard and sometimes more successful than other times. I’ve always thought it better to have a lot of great people around you whenever possible, so in scheming about how to extend the Back Alley’s audiences, more than 20,000 people a year by 1985, I conceived of what may have been the first (and only?) multi-theatre subscription plan in the history of Los Angeles. Passholders were to get one ticket to each theatre, good for a year, for any production.
I went to the California Community Foundation, where luckily Melinda Peterson, who was a theatre person, was a program officer at the time, and Jack Shakely was running the shop. Jack was frank that he didn’t think there was much future for the arts in LA beyond downtown, but I was convinced there must be other cosmopolites, urban explorers, who loved to find adventurous artistic experiences in new neighborhoods. I guess I convinced them, because we got a $18,150 grant ($50K in 2023 dollars) to launch and market the new pass.
In “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” Ken Kesey said: “There are going to be times when we can’t wait for somebody. Now, you’re either on the bus or off the bus. If you’re on the bus, and you get left behind, then you’ll find it again. If you’re off the bus in the first place — then it won’t make a damn.”
I invited four other excellent smaller theatres geographically dispersed across LA to join us in the LA Theatre Pass: LA Theatre Works, the Matrix, the Odyssey and Stages. Thinking of Kesey’s words, I gave them the choice of getting on board or not, but made it clear if the answer was no, I would invite another theatre instead. Everyone got on the bus, but mostly because they were afraid of being left off, I think. (Who’s clearly the happiest in the publicity photo below?)
Linda Chiavaroli was our marketing guru who produced a terrific bi-monthly newsletter for pass holders that featured not only the productions but great places to eat beforehand. We sold more than 2,600 passes the first year and reached a height of about 3,500.
But in the third year the project faltered because the Matrix only produced one play, Stages started bringing back prior productions, and LA Theatre Works didn’t produce anything at all. The funds from the passes had already been divvied up and, unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, spent. The Odyssey and Back Alley had no choice but to make good on all obligations to the pass holders by honoring everyone’s passes for any of our shows, which we did.
Was I sorry? No. The LA Theatre Pass succeeded in raising our theatres’ profiles, our primary objective, and laid the groundwork for my enduring belief that if we work together all boats will rise.
In the photo below: Paul Verdier sadly died in 2015 from early onset Alzheimer’s, but in 2023 still continuing on are Joe Stern’s Matrix Theatre, which is now leased to Rogue Machine, Susan Loewenberg’s LA Theatre Works, which is producing radio theatre, and Ron Sossi’s Odyssey Theatre, now celebrating 50 years.