Walt Disney had a saying that has always stuck with me, “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible”. I grew up here in Southern California and since as early as I could remember, I wanted to work at Disneyland. My dreams came true on the summer before my senior year of high school in 2002 when I joined Disney Entertainment Productions in Anaheim. Being able to be part of the magic and story of the Disney company, while also seeing the economics of how to entertain the masses inspired me throughout my career. Steve Job’s philosophy that incredibly beautiful things can be birthed from the intersection of artistry and technology set me on a mission toward achieving something within that realm. It wasn’t until a few years or so ago that I realized we are now on the verge of something magnificent here in Los Angeles, waiting for a rebirth.
In 2015, my business partner Paul McGill and I created a company called Broadway Masters, an online streaming company to bring musical theater masterclasses to any student with a wifi device. I had left the professional musical theater business after a decade on the road touring the world with West Side Story and fulfilling every performance dream Disney could afford me and set off on a mission to make my own mark on digital entertainment. After creating a social media ad agency from my digital advocacy work on President Obama’s re-election campaign, I felt a longing to get back into creative production. Musicals were having a resurgence, and I knew it was my destiny to jump back in. After meeting with Paul, my soon to be other half and dreaming up Broadway Masters, we came to a point where we had a realization. If we wanted Broadway Masters to be successful, I would have to move to New York and create it there, since Broadway lives in New York. I didn’t like this idea, since I had moved AWAY from New York to escape the cold and create a new life for myself back home in Los Angeles. Surprisingly, Paul had said that if we could find a way to make it work in LA, then there may be a possibility. So I got to researching. I soon found that besides the Pantages and the Ahmanson, Los Angeles did not have much of a thriving theater community. “How could this be?” I thought to myself. Until I stumbled upon a small, hidden city-sponsored website that would change everything.
It was called Bringing Back Broadway and it was a city redevelopment initiative started in 2008 by Councilman Jose Huizar to revitalize the Broadway Corridor in the historic core of DTLA. There, sitting across ten blocks between 1st street and 10th street still sat those 12 vaudeville theaters built by Gustav and Mayerfield some 100 years ago. All in various stages of disrepair, 6 of them had been decently refurbished and were occasionally used for small events and film shoots. These theaters, some twice the size of any theater on Broadway in New York City sit vacant 300+ nights out of the year. This was the largest concentration of theaters on one street in the US and still few were using them or even knew they were here. I immediately scheduled a meeting with the councilman to discuss my ideas with him on creating an education-focused theater academy that could feed into and create major theatrical productions that could bring the professional Broadway theater industry West. This type of initiative would bring billions of local tax dollars, jobs and a revitalization to the area that hasn’t been seen for a hundred years. His encouragement has led me here, and to my vision for Broadway West.
Since each theater is considered a historic landmark, luckily, they cannot be knocked down. If you keep the outside structure, you can do whatever you want with the interior as you see below with the Rialto, which is now an Urban Outfitters. They stripped everything but the brick walls and wood scaffolding. It’s heartbreaking. A true, in-your-face depiction of a forgotten era in the stark. I try to walk through every so often to feel the energy and magnificence of what it used to be, and laugh to myself in confidence that soon it will be empty again and live another day. But it’s not the first of major casualties and our beautiful theaters are systematically being hijacked one by one. One of the regalest of the 6 restored theaters, the Tower Theater, has been leased to the Apple Store and is currently in the middle of its transformation. At the federal level, The NEA and CPB budgets are being cut by 75%, leaving the remainder to go toward closing the agencies over the next 10 years. We are losing our arts heritage before our eyes. Therefore, I strongly believe that if we can use the powers of social media and entertainment, we can spark up Broadway West as I have described and save Los Angeles theater and the arts as we know it. We will also send a message to Washington and to those that seek to strip us of our most precious institutions that we will fight back and take back what is rightfully ours.
I have created a political org called Broadway West. It will service as our first iteration of our non-profit until we can raise enough money to eventually form a 501(c)3, separate from our lobbying organization that will support the advancement of our political interests toward our goals. This means directly contributing to electing local and statewide politicians to help us achieve our mission of saving our arts programs and revitalizing Broadway West at the legislative level. We will work with our local theater owners and provide organization-backed advances on space leasing in all the theaters for a 6–8-month time period to theater companies who will apply and be awarded production grants to fill the marquis. We will work with local developers, media, press, influencers, celebrities and document the entire transformation online for the world to see and participate in, all hopefully sponsored by our spark of creation, Apple.
None of this will be possible without people, hope and passion. If you are inspired by this movement, join us. Come to BwayWest.com and contribute however you can. Donate, volunteer and help us get the word out. It will take all of us working to make this a reality, to save our arts programs and the incredible culture that our parents and grandparents left us. Winston Churchill once said in response to being asked to cut arts programs to fund the war, he responded candidly, “then what are we fighting for?”