One-on-One with Tim Dietlein

Tim Dietlein

Tim Dietlein

Tim Deitlein is the owner-producer of the Glendale Centre Theatre, which is the longest, continuously-running Theatre 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. I met him at La Scala Restaurant in Beverly Hills.

Tony: Tell me about yourself.
Tim: I’m a third generation owner-producer of Glendale Centre Theatre. I was born in 1959, raised in Glendale, 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 Centre Theatre in 1947.
Tony: What is the Glendale Centre Theatre?
Tim: It’s a 430-seat Theatre in the round. It’s the only one in Southern California. It’s privately owned from the beginning.
Tony: What about the Mark Taper Forum?
Tim: 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 really cool.
Tony: How did it get started?
Tim: 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 Theatre?” So they scraped up some money and opened up a little 99-seat Theatre in Glendale. My grandmother told me they had six people there opening night; four were friends and two were reviewers (laughs).
Tony: At least they got critics.
Tim: Hey, they got critics, and that’s a tough thing, especially nowadays. My grand-mother 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 Theatre groups around the country.
Tony: Do you live off what you make?
Tim: 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.
Tony: Do you just do your own plays, or do you take touring groups?
Tim: 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.
Tony: Do you just do straight plays or do you do musicals, too?
Tim: Both. Right now we’re doing “The Scarlet Pimpernel.” It’s an amazing production, powerful.
Tony: Are you directing?
Tim: Not this one. I direct one to two shows a year. I’m also an actor, so I still perform in them once a year.
Tony: Do you have Equity actors?
Tim: We have one or two contracts a play. Equity has been wonderful to many Theatres 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 Union.
Tony: That’s OK, to mix Union and non-Union?
Tim: It happens at every Theatre in town except Pasadena Playhouse and the Center Theatre 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 Theatres that get help in the form of grants and things, you will see that maybe 60% of their production costs come 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 Theatre because we rent to the movie and Theatre industry and other Theatres 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 anybody’s.
Tony: What does it cost you to put on a show?
Tim: “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.
Tony: I don’t see how you can make money.
Tim: It’s tough.
Tony: What’s your overhead on that? 100%?
Tim: 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.
Tony: What are your ticket sales?
Tim: For “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” it’s $23 for weeknights and matinees.
Tony: I mean what’s your percentage? What percent of the House do you sell?
Tim: 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.
Tony: Who have gone on to big careers from the Glendale Centre Theatre?
Tim: Over the years we’ve had a number. Mike Farrell, for example did several shows at the Theatre before he got “M*A*S*H” and other things. Gordon Jump, who was in “WKRP in Cincinnati,” literally walked into my grandmother’s office when they were in that little Theatre 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 Theatre and then, boom! He made it and had quite a career. Richard Hatch, who went on to star in “Battlestar Galactica,” did many shows at the Theatre. 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,” and did.

Glendale Centre Theatre is located at 324 N. Orange St. in Glendale. For ticket information, please call (818) 244-8481.

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