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Alhambra's Lizard Theater Fights To Stay Open

Hannah Madans and Mike Vulpo |
March 8, 2012 | 10:33 p.m. PST

Executive Producer and Senior Entertainment Editor

The Lizard Theater has shows every weekend (Facebook)
The Lizard Theater has shows every weekend (Facebook)
A year ago, the Mosaic Lizard Theater moved from a cramped, 20-seat folding chair theater to a larger 49-seat one on Main Street. This re-location was made possible by the now defunct Alhambra Redevelopment Agency.

Performers such as actress Jordan Don began spending countless hours performing at the Mosaic Lizard Theater and now look at it as a creative outlet, a place that they never want to lose.

Don may now, however, have to face that prospect because the Alhambra Redevelopment Agency, which funded the theater, has been dissolved.

“I wouldn’t be able to get as much opportunity because here when I’m not on the stage, I can be here doing lighting and sound, I can be at the box office, I can watch the shows,” Don said. “If this were to close down…where would I be? I honestly don’t even know.”

The agency was forced to shut down Feb. 1, along with 400 other agencies in Calif,, due to a Supreme Court decision to uphold a bill dissolving the agencies.

The Redevelopment Agency previously helped numerous projects by providing them with valuable funding which allowed them to thrive.

The Lizard Theater was initially given $100,000 in order to build the theater, according to Alhambra City Manager Julio Fuentes. The Redevelopment Agency also helped the theater by making rent affordable: only $1 a year.

“It’s not about the money, it’s not about the malls, it’s about helping people,” Fuentes said of the agency. He said that with the agency being dissolved, it isn’t just projects like shopping malls that will suffer, but projects that help the community.

Fuentes mentioned in a press conference in January that the Lizard Theater was a project of the Redevelopment Agency that he was particularly proud of. 

Theater director and owner Jay Parker said he was very grateful for all the help the city gave the theater, and is going to look for ways to stay afloat, even though it will be a “huge challenge now because we are now pretty much on our own.”

Despite the hardships ahead, Parker said he is confident the theater will survive.

“I have no doubt that it will work out,” Parker said. “Businesses have hard times, they have good times and especially with a theater, it’s a roller coaster, and it has its ups and downs, but I have no doubt we are going to survive.”

Parker said the theater plans to ask major corporations for donations. He said many do want to help the arts and he feels the theater will receive some support that way.

At the moment, 90 percent of revenue for the theater is coming from ticket sales. Parker said this will pay for electricity, insurance and production costs for a while.

The theater has also turned itself into a non-profit organization. This way, donations from corporations and individuals will be tax deductible, which may encourage more people to donate. The theater has also been holding fundraisers throughout the city. This may, however, not be enough.

“What a travesty for those who worked so hard to put the Lizard Theater together,” Fuentes said. “And some group of people in Sacramento have decided that money needs to now be paid for another service that isn’t even related to this community essentially. I think that’s kind of silly.”

Parker said the theater has meant a lot to the community and the performers, who have become a “big family.”

“The Lizard Theater is a nurturing place for teenagers and that’s where Jay’s heart is,” Jay Parker’s wife, Dianne Parker said.

Many actors have similar sentiments. Zachary Guzman, who has been in multiple productions at the Mosaic Lizard Theater, said the theater is unique because actors don’t try to out do each other, but instead have a friendly atmosphere.

“It’s a real good family actually,” Guzman said. “I’d say family. I’ve done a lot of different shows here and I know them so well.”

Other actors agreed and said they would not be able to find a similar environment elsewhere.

“I don’t think I’d find one [a theater] as personal and close knit as it is here,” Don said.

Bryana Pickford, the managing director at the Lizard Theater, said that a lot of young actors have joined the theater and found their niche in doing so.

“We've kind of formed this community of actors where actors can grow and learn and we have actors of all ages—as young as 13 or 14,” Pickford said. “It's kind of this nurturing place where actors can learn and build their craft.”

Pickford studied theater in college and decided to lend her expertise to help design and advertise the theater by meeting with the city on numerous occasions when the Redevelopment Agency was involved.

Pickford said the theater started very “underground” but has since become more mainstream and a place where talent is more frequently recognized.

Both Pickford and Parker said the community has been extremely supportive of the theater and they hope that support will allow the theater to survive.

“The response from the community has always been really, really great and that’s what makes us want to keep coming,” Parker said. “People want us here.”

“We have to keep doing this because people are counting us,” he added.

Some performers, such as high school student Gabby Boye said that in addition to the theater being a close-knit community, it is also helping her pursue her dreams.

“[Acting] has always been something that I want to take on as a career, and I know that one day, I'm gonna be something big, and this theater is gonna help me get there,” Boye said.

Pickford said that the theater is hoping to stay at its current location and not have to move due to budget restraints.  She said “the city’s been nothing but helpful and supportive” and that she hopes to continue to use that support to stay where they are.

Whether this is financially feasible, however, is not yet known.

Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. The theater usually puts on three shows a week. If all 49 seats were filled with adults for all three shows, then that would still only make the theater $2,205 a week.

At the show “Oh, Rats!” which premiered in February, the number of patrons at the matinee could be counted on one hand. Parker decided to let those audience members see the show for free. He also said that he lets people who are struggling financially in at no cost.

While this does fit the idea of a community theater, it does not bode well for the finances of the theater. The theater will now need to make $15,000 a year in order to survive.

The theater’s recent non-profit status, however, will be helpful in making the theater affordable, Parker said. The theater also charges for classes such as teen improvisation workshops, which is also helping the theater make money.

Evident from Alhambra Place, a shopping mall two blocks away from the Lizard Theater, the presence of a redevelopment agency can drastically help or hurt businesses.

Several years ago, the shopping center was filled with major retailers including Mervyns, Payless Shoes, a Christian bookstore, hair salons and much more. Today, the center is 90 percent vacant with only Radio Shack and a few eateries open for business.

“It was a lively place. Parking was so hard to find. Young people and students hung out here,” said Silvia R. McLeod, a 36-year resident of Alhambra. “Now, it looks like a ghost town. The merchants just took off.”

Without a redevelopment agency supporting interested businesses, it may be too cost prohibitive to buy available space. As a result, the shopping center could remain vacant for years to come or until the economy improves.

“Nothing’s going to change anytime soon. No changes that I am aware of for Alhambra Place,” said Angel Garcia, a sales associate for the center’s Radio Shack.

He admitted some stores could not pay the rent and as a result, they had to go out of business. Garcia said his store is the “last man standing.”

When asked about nearby businesses closing their doors or struggling to stay open, many at the Lizard Theater were unfazed and said the theater was not comparable to a chain store.

“A theater runs off of ticket sales and donations and I can’t really say nearby businesses [have an effect],” Parker said. “If we do good work, people will still come. Our customers are coming here specifically to see theater. Then after theater, they go to the nearby bars and stores and theaters.”

Even though the Redevelopment Agency has been dissolved, Fuentes proposed an economic development ordinance plan to curtail the negative effects of the agency that’s now unable to aid projects such as the Lizard Theater.

At a special meeting, city council members reviewed a draft of the ordinance. If passed, the city will have the ability to buy land, provide financial assistance to developers and rehabilitate and manage land owned by the city. 

The funding for this ordinance has not yet been determined. The ordinance would restore many of the Redevelopment Agency’s prior roles.

If passed, the ordinance would allow the city to continue to be involved in projects like the Alhambra Place and Fremont Plaza shopping centers and Howard Street Townhomes.

Reach Executive Producer Hannah Madans here. Reach Senior Entertainment Editor here.



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