The Ritual of Space

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This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

You know how spaces can accumulate meaning?

Maybe it's the bedroom you grew up in? Or your favorite bar in college? Or even the trail for your favorite hike? Through repetition and experience, these places become more than simply a physical place. They become endowed with memory and emotion -- maybe even growth. Simply returning to that place takes on the quality of ritual.

The best theaters can be like that. I'm talking about the physical spaces not the companies that inhabit them. Gordon Davidson used to talk about how the echoes of all the Taper plays lived in the rafters -- almost like a happy haunting.

The tiny, little shoebox theater at Rogue Machine on Pico Boulevard was developing that patina of memory and experience for me.

I mentioned it just a couple weeks ago in my Best of 2015 wrap-up. As if to tempt the gods, I said, "There's something special about the tiny theater at Rogue Machine. It's so intimate . . . That's only due in small part to its compact architecture. The journeys we've taken there are powerful and lasting."

No sooner do I celebrate it -- than suddenly it's going to vanish. Just a couple days after that piece aired the gossip mills and message boards of LA Theater gave word that Rogue Machine was being forced to move from Pico over to a residency at the Met Theatre in Hollywood.

That lovely, magical space would no longer be a theater.

When you walked in to Rogue Machine to see Blackbird you felt caught up in the sexual tension of the space itself. It was too small for you to escape. In the best way, you were trapped there going through the drama with the two characters. Or in last summer's A Permanent Image, the space suddenly seemed both claustrophobic and expansive - both mired in this particular family's history and oddly much larger as it delved into the profound question of what we're all going to leave behind.

Here's the funny thing, as a piece of architecture or a physical theater it was sort of a crappy space.

You'd never choose to build that room from scratch. You had the feeling you were literally being shoe horned into the corner. But it was because of these limitations and how Rogue Machine both embraced and transcended them that the theater became special.

That's the odd, perverse magic of the best physical theaters. It's not the boundless possibilities that make the art -- it's transcending the profound limitations.

So what does this all say about LA Theater at this moment?

Well, we're experiencing another seismic shift. Beyond Rogue Machine's move there's a lot of shifting real estate both announced and behind the scenes. Antaeus will close out their time in North Hollywood and move to a new larger space in Glendale. Sacred Fools announced a move to the larger Elephant Theater complex on Santa Monica. Change is afoot -- both good and bad.

What's undeniable is that rising rents are impacting LA's small theaters. Let's hope that's a challenge that creates great art rather than sinking the ship.

If you want one last chance to experience Rogue Machine's small theater, Need to Know, will play there through January 24.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

Photo: The Theater of Delphi (Challisrussia)