After nearly 22 years as a company and almost a decade in North Hollywood, Theatre 68’s Artistic Direction Ronnie Marmo was forced to close the theater’s doors as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country and the entire world. Even though show business was in chaos by the spring of 2020, with theaters across the U.S. going dark, Marmo tried to stay the course until it became impossible:
“Ultimately, we couldn’t keep up with the bills and so we sadly had to close Theatre 68…we were heartbroken, but we had to move on. The only thing that gave us a little peace was knowing the entire world was in this situation and not just us. But we had lost our home. We were devastated.”
Eighteen months after leaving his Los Angeles theater home, Marmo received an email from his old landlords asking him to consider returning to the theater space. It was a big decision, and Marmo was overwhelmed:
“The only way I would have the heart, stomach, and enthusiasm to open Theatre 68 back up was to bring in the incomparable Racquel Lehrman, a phenomenal producer in Los Angeles Theater.”
Apparently, Marmo approached Lehrman at just the right moment. As she observed:
“After losing the Lounge Theatre after 15 years during the pandemic, I was excited to get a chance to open another theater. I am thrilled to be coming over the hill to North Hollywood and continue doing what I love to do.”
With the two in complete accord, the involved process of restoring the old Theatre 68. The project meant reimagining something new, creative, and absolutely necessary to revitalize the old NoHo Arts District. And so the Theatre 68 Arts Complex was born. Thus 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, CA, 91601 would again offer theater entertainment to the public.
Marmo and Lehrman had big plans, and ultimately these planned solidified and resulted in a stunning NoHo arts center. The Theatre 68 Arts Complex contains three new theaters, the Rosalie (75 seats with dressing room and all the latest perks), the Beckett (50 seats with balcony seating and dressing room), and the Emerson (50 seats with dressing room and two upstairs entrances for second story sets). In addition, the Complex houses two open rehearsal room with four rehearsal cubes and seating. Ready for business and offering rental space to the many theater companies in need to space to meet a post-pandemic theater renaissance, Theatre 68 Arts Complex awaits.
The Theatre 68 Arts Complex officially opened its doors on September 15, 2022, with the return of Marmo as Lenny Bruce in “I’m not a Comedian…I’m Lenny Bruce.” To help celebrate his Grand Opening (and his hard work and eternal optimism), Ronnie Marmo was interviewed on September 14, 2022 about his newest and grandest venture yet.
WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO THE ORIGINAL THEATRE 68?
RONNIE MARMO: When I returned to the building, it was very different. It was shocking. A lot of white walls and significant changes to what I had done to the place initially. I was disappointed and blown away. It was going to take a lot of work to fix it up.
WHAT LED YOU TO DECIDE TO RETURN TO THE THEATRE 68 SPACE?
RM: When Racquel Lehrman and I connection, we decided to do it together. We take pride in the NoHo Arts District. These neighborhoods aren’t so good to start; but then with theaters they begin to open restaurants, bars, and places for people to go. The neighborhood picks up – but then sometimes they can’t afford it anymore. Then I realized that I have to be the one who makes sure the theater happens. I wanted Theatre 68 to be great, and good to great is just in the details. So I paid really close attention to every detail.
HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT GETTING SUPPORT FOR YOUR IDEA TO RENOVATE AND RESTORE? WHERE DID YOUR IDEAS COME FROM? WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR CHOICES? WHAT ROLE DID IMAGINATION PLAY?
RM: Racquel and I found some angels and had lots of good fortune because we knew what works. We knew how to do it better and not waste space. We wanted it to be a first class operation. We have a huge crew now. Lots of people work for us full time. I hope this leads to a renaissance. The neighborhood isn’t all back yet since the pandemic. But it’s getting there, and I hope we can continue that…I have a ten-year lease, and I think we can survive. Now we have a full-time rental person to help set everything up.
In the old days, Theatre 68 always come first and art came second. Now I think that they’re equal. Creative people do their art in their own way. I think that imagination played a role in my choices. I love the old school marque and the art deco front. Every detail in the building is art deco – the décor, the chandelier, and even our logo.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS FOR THEATRE 68 ARTS COMPLEX?
RM: Enthusiasm is infectious. People are excited to come to us, and it’s overwhelming. To say the least. We had to hire management to keep up with the demand. We want people to come and see the space. We can do shows here, one-night events, classes, rehearsals, and anything really. And I can produce shows with my company. I’ve been in LA for 22 years and in NY for 11 years, so I’m really bicoastal. Between the two locations, we have around 60 members in our company.
I want the Theatre 68 Arts Complex to be a place that will fill all the roles people need, a place where they can be comfortable and creative too.
WAS COVID-19 A GOOD OR A BAD THING FOR YOU?
RM: I guess that COVID was both for me. It was bad because it was bad for the whole world. But then again I met my wife during the pandemic, and I got married on July 2. Joe Montagna and I are close, and he got ordained so that he could officiate at my wedding. We’ve known each other for 18 years, and he’s still directing plays for the group. Besides that, I got to spend quality time with my wife and enormous time with my daughters. And I got settled down more with more time to think and write.
During the pandemic, I got to be productive too. I did a lot of writing, and I was actually lucky enough to shoot three different pilots and two short films. One of the films was “Tonight is Your Night;” I did that with my wife. The other film was “Mob Sense.” I directed that one too. I’m proud of all three pilots, “Un$uited,” “Dinner Talk,” and “Eltingville.” Looking back, I guess that the pandemic did more good than bad for me. I’m grateful.