WITH TIM DIETLEIN
Tim Deitlein is the owner-producer of the
Glendale Center Theater, which is the longest, continuously-running
theater in the United
States. This year’s
season consists of “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” “Oklahoma!,”
“Footloose,” “Wait Until Dark,” and the 45th
annual showing of “A Christmas Carol,” among others. We met for lunch at
La Scala in Beverly Hills.
Tell me about yourself.
I’m a third generation
owner-producer of Glendale Center Theater. I was born in 1959, raised in
and lived there all my life. I was a political science major with a
business minor and a Chinese minor at BYU, graduating in 1977. I was
pretty much raised on the stage. I did my first play at the age of six
months. My grandparents started the Glendale Center Theater in 1947.
What is the Glendale Center
It’s a 430-seat theater in
the round. It’s the only one in Southern
California. It’s privately owned from the
What about the Mark Taper
It’s a thrust, three-sided,
where the stage projects out into the audience. They are a lot bigger,
seating over 600. Ours is a much more intimate setting; the furthest row
back is only nine rows. So you can see every facial expression. All the
stairways of the show go up into the audience, so it’s very close. It’s
How did it get started?
My grandmother was a
playwright but could never get her plays or movies produced. My
grandfather was an actor and they came here in the early ‘40s. They were
taking classes at the Pasadena Playhouse and getting little bit parts here
and there. Somebody said, “Hey, if you want to have your plays produced
and be the leading man, why don’t you open your own theater?” So they
scraped up some money and opened up a little 99-seat theater in
Glendale. My grandmother
told me they had six people there opening night; four were friends and two
were reviewers (laughs).
At least they got critics.
Hey, they got critics, and
that’s a tough thing, especially nowadays. My grandmother wrote some very
funny stuff. At one point more than 20 of her plays were published by
Samuel French, and were produced by various community theater groups
around the country.
Do you live off what you
Yes. That’s our sole income,
based on ticket sales. We don’t receive any endowments, any grants, no
funding. We exist strictly by ticket sales.
Do you just do your own
plays, or do you take touring groups?
Everything is in house. We
produce our own plays. My wife, Brenda, and I are the producers and we
choose our season. We do about 10 plays a season.
Do you just do straight plays
or do you do musicals, too?
Both. Right now we’re doing
“The Scarlet Pimpernel.” It’s an amazing production, powerful.
Are you directing?
Not this one. I direct one to
two shows a year. I’m also an actor, so I still perform in them once a
Do you have Equity actors?
We have one or two contacts a
play. Equity has been wonderful to many theaters and to us in that because
our ticket prices are so low we can’t afford full Equity type plays. So we
use what they call a “guest artist” contract, where we can hire Union
actors for a show and it doesn’t lock us into having to be full Equity for
every show because we’d be out of business. We don’t charge $100 a ticket.
Our patrons pay $112 and they get seven shows. And yet if you come and see
the shows they are very high quality. There are Equity players in it. We
pay them scale. The other players are volunteers. They are cutting their
teeth as it were. And they are great. But they haven’t reached the point
where they can join the Union.
They haven’t met the criteria to join the
That’s OK, to mix
Union and non-Union?
It happens at every theater
in town except Pasadena Playhouse and the Center Theater Group. Other than
those huge organizations, it’s a mixture. All the others might have five
or six contracts, but the rest would be non-Union players. It’s just a
matter of economics and what the producers can do. In theaters that get
help in the form of grants and things, you will see that maybe 60% of
their production costs comes from ticket sales and the rest comes from
donations from patrons and that’s how they survive. They can be full
Equity. In our case where the average cost for the show for the
ticket-holder is only $16, then we can’t do full Equity. Many people have
called our shows Off-Broadway caliber. Being In The Round, we don’t have
big huge sets, although the sets we do use we utilize very well. The
costuming is very important to make the period come alive. The costuming
for “The Scarlet Pimpernel” is beautiful. And we have a Costume Shop that
has grown out of 62 years of being in business. It actually helps the
theater because we rent to the movie and theater industry and other
theaters across the country. So we are able to make really nice costumes
because we make them and then rent them out to other groups and recoup our
costs that way. So our costuming is quite nice. It ranks up there with
What does it cost you to put
on a show?
“The Scarlet Pimpernel,” not
counting salaries, just production costs, is running around $80,000. But
that’s just show costs. That doesn’t count staff and box office, actor
salaries, all that stuff. It goes much higher than that.
I don’t see how you can make
What’s your overhead on that?
Higher than that. It’s very
high. We have to be at about 80% ticket sales in order to break even. And
that’s before I make a penny.
What are your ticket sales?
For “The Scarlet Pimpernel
it’s $23 for weeknights and matinees.
I mean what’s your
percentage? What percent of the House do you sell?
Right now we’re doing about
67%, so we’re going to lose money on “The Scarlet Pimpernel.” This is
unfortunate, because people need to see it. I don’t like to toot my own
horn, but it really is a great show. For example, our lead actress,
Heather, who is not Union yet, was flown back at the Producer’s cost to
New York as a replacement for Glenda in “Wicked.” She auditioned here;
they flew her back there for her final audition, and is now pretty much
waiting for someone to drop out, it will probably be her part, either on
Broadway or on the national tour. So when I say the quality is good,
that’s the quality of our leads.
Who have gone on to big
careers from the Glendale Center Theater?
Over the years we’ve had a
number. Mike Farrell, for example did several shows at the theater before
he got M*A*S*H and other things. Gordon Jump, who was in “WKRP in
walked into my grandmother’s office when they were in that little theater
at the beginning and said, “I’m from
Ohio. I’m a great actor.
I need a job. Hire me to work in the daytime and let me act at nighttime.”
My grandmother said she was so amazed at this man’s confidence that she
said OK. So he helped build sets and helped do other things. He acted in
shows and is a very funny man. In the ‘60s and ‘70s he was in almost every
other show at the theater and then, boom! he made it and had quite a
career. Richard Hatch, who went on to star in “Battlestar Gallactica,” did
many shows at the theater. Diane McBain, who was a star in the
‘60s and ‘70s, was hired
right off our stage. Eddie Dowling, Jr. was a Broadway producer, saw a
show one night that she was
in. After the show he pulled
out a pen and said, “Sign this; I’m going to take you back to Broadway,”