Two of Long Beach’s avant-garde theatre companies joined forces recently, and the leaders of the new entity said audiences can expect more energy and creativity on stage beginning with the new season that opens March 15. The Garage Theatre and Alive Theatre merged into the new company now calling itself The Garage Theatre In Collision With Alive Theatre.
A press release issued by the group contained this statement: “Our mutual goal is to combine our strengths and pool our resources, furthering our shared vision, aesthetic and mission, allowing our companies, now unified, to keep growing and thriving here in Long Beach. We will be colliding at the current home of the Garage Theatre on 7th Street with the two companies now acting as one: one board, one season, and one mission.”
Eric Hamme, Jamie Sweet and Matthew Anderson founded Garage Theatre about 13 years ago. In a phone interview with the Signal Tribune, Hamme outlined the history of that company, explaining that the three founders met while studying theatre at CSULB. They each received their bachelor’s degree in 1999 and soon thereafter began looking for a place to produce plays.
“Our first show, Scenes From The New World by Eric Bogosian, opened in February 2001,” Hamme said. “The performances were held on 4th and Elm in a sort of underground club called Studio 354 that featured live music and poetry readings. The two guys that ran it let us be their resident theatre company.”
Later that year, Garage Theatre put on its second play and distributed fliers in hopes of attracting a bigger audience. “Our second show got a review in the Press-Telegram, and that was probably read by someone in City Hall,” Hamme said.
It turned out the club did not have the necessary city permits to host live audiences. When city officials began putting the pressure on Studio 354, the operators kicked Garage Theatre out. “So we got in touch with the operators of a theatre in the Lafayette Building on Broadway and Linden, which is now a bike shop,” Hamme said. “They let us finish our second show there during the 2001-2002 holiday season.”
For the next year or so after that, Garage Theatre produced shows in several different venues as rental space became available. “None of those was a traditional theatre, so we had to build a theatre before each production and tear it down at the end,” Hamme said. “We finally got fed up with that and decided we needed a permanent home for our shows.”
Then, in late 2004, another company, Found Theatre, moved to a new location on 6th Street and Long Beach Boulevard, leaving behind a vacant theatre at 251 E. 7th St. “We ended up getting the keys to that theatre at the end of 2004,” Hamme said. “We renamed it Garage Theatre and opened our first show there in February 2005.”
The company has put on about 50 plays since then, usually six per year.
Danielle Dauphinee, another CSULB theatre graduate, founded Alive Theatre with Jeremy Aluma in 2008. That company’s first production was the Cherry Poppin’ Play Festival. A collection of seven new plays that opened in January 2008. Since then, Alive has put on an average of four plays per year.
That company had a history similar to Garage Theatre’s. Until now, it did not have a venue of its own and was constantly moving from one building to another. The company has used 25 different buildings for its productions since 2008. Dauphinee explained that after four and a half years of constantly moving, the core group of company members realized they were spending far too much of their time arranging venues, negotiating rent and contracts, and building a theatre and stage. “That left us with very time little to build our company and keep our focus strongly committed to the art,” she noted. “As we got older and more full-time jobs, our precious time volunteering to our theatre needed to be spent more wisely.”
Meanwhile, Garage and Alive theatres were working together to get permission to put on plays in the Edison Theatre, which was owned by the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency (RDA). When a state law abolished all such agencies, the ownership of the building passed to the City, which is now trying to sell it. The two companies gave up trying to get use of that building soon after the RDA ceased to exist. “But that effort was so cohesive and pleasurable that it helped show us how great our companies could be together,” Dauphinee said. “And Alive Theatre has always looked up to The Garage Theatre since they have been a mentor of ours and paved a similar path.” She added that as the relationship between the two companies progressed, everyone involved began to realize that if the two companies combined their efforts, good things were bound to happen.
Hamme explained that for the last several years a core of about seven people was committed to planning and organizing the Garage Theatre shows. “We are all good friends, and we worked very well together,” he said. “But last year a couple of them had to move away, and that left a big gap in our company.”
Soon after that, the core group of Garage Theatre began contemplating joining forces with Alive Theatre. In subsequent discussions the leaders of both companies agreed that a merger was in everybody’s best interests.
“Alive and Garage have always been friends and had the same actors, designers, crew and even audience throughout the years, so why not get together and make it official and pool our resources?” Dauphinee said. “We both had members move away, and instead of filling the holes, we all saw the advantage of coming together.”
“From our end, the people of Alive Theatre are incredibly talented and motivated,” Hamme said. “They will infuse new energy and creativity into our performances.”
The new entity now has five members from each group serving as organizers, planners and directors.