COVID-19 THEATER SERIES: The NoHo Arts District - An Interview with Nancy Bianconi


Nancy Bianconi is the president of NoHo Communications Group, Inc. (NCG), an arts and entertainment company specializing in arts education and marketing. NCG owns/operates NoHo Communications Group, Inc. For 20 years, NCG has been responsible for marketing the NoHo Arts District with a major focus on theaters. It has also produced / sponsored 85 per cent of NoHo’s theater / arts community events. Nancy has provided assistance with business practices, including administrative, finance, and coordinated marketing collaborative programs. Nancy has produced three off-Broadway musicals and has provided consulting to hundreds of dance and theater schools / companies in NoHo and Los Angeles. Nancy took time out from her very busy schedule to interview in April 2020.


Ronnie Marmo in "I'm Not a Comedian - I'm Lenny Bruce" at Theatre 68 - Photo by Doren Sorell

Tell us something about the history of the NoHo Arts District. What makes the NoHo Arts District special? 

Nancy Bianconi:  In the 1990s, North Hollywood was a blighted, crime-ridden neighborhood. Due to the cheap rents, theaters began to move in; and it was the theatres who helped rebuild the blighted and crime-ridden North Hollywood neighborhood that we now call NoHo. In 1992, the theaters and the Universal City/North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce petitioned the City of Los Angeles to declare this one-square-mile section of North Hollywood as the NoHo Arts District. Theaters were the impetus for the creation of the NoHo Arts District and attracted other theaters and creative industry folks as well as new developments, restaurants, bars, apartments, and hotels. The theaters have a huge impact on the neighborhood and on Los Angeles as a whole.

  • NoHo has 22 theaters in one square mile.
  • NoHo had the highest concentration of theaters outside of New York City.
  • NoHo theaters present more than 500 shows per year, including world premieres.
  • NoHo has 35 acting classes held any given night.
  • More than 20,000 people enjoy NoHo's shows throughout the year.
  • NoHo theaters are an economic multiplier for local restaurants, bars, local businesses, etc.  Theater-goers spend on average of $32 above the theatre ticket price for dinner, drinks, and retail purchases.

The official site for the NoHo Arts District, NoHoArtsDistrict.com, was created in 1998 to showcase this unique neighborhood, the first established neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley. What makes NoHo an eclectic neighborhood is that it is the only performing arts district in Los Angeles. The theaters established this section of North Hollywood as an arts district; and, over the years, it has blossomed into a booming creative neighborhood. NoHo is filled with 20+ live, professional theaters, which is the highest concentration outside of New York City. NoHo is also the hip-hop dance capital with studios and choreographers that create the moves we see on TV and in film and all over Instagram. NoHo makes a lot of music and boasts the largest amount of recording studios west of the Mississippi with musicians from all genres having recorded in the district. NoHo was the first neighborhood in the Valley; it has become a METRO hub and attracts new talent, creative businesses, and visitors alike.

Acme Comedy Theatre, NoHo Arts District - Photo courtesy of Nancy Bianconi

When did the theaters close due to COVID-19? Were any of the theatres in the middle of a run?

NB: All theaters closed when the Mayor ordered a shut-down. They were either in the middle of a run or about to open a show. The NoHo theaters are used for a variety of acting classes, one-night events, workshops, seminars, fundraisers, etc. Our theaters are open to all and the neighborhood utilizes them for many events. Our creative makeup means that our theaters are a normal use, a normal part of daily life, you could even say an essential service - when we are not under quarantine.

TU Studios, NoHo Arts District - Photo courtesy of Nancy Bianconi

Over the past weeks, how has COVID-19 impacted the theaters?

NB: Eighteen of the 22 live, professional theaters in the NoHo Arts District will close within two months because of Covid-19. It will not only harm the theaters, but also the NoHo Arts District as a whole. All the NoHo theaters survive month-to-month in order to create their shows because they’re not government supported and cannot sustain even a short-term shut down.  Without shows, classes, rentals, and ticket sales, theaters can’t survive. This has an effect on the entire community because, without the theater patrons, actors, and crew, restaurants, bars, apartments and other local businesses lose revenue. Without NoHo theaters, there will be no NoHo Arts District.

Group Rep Theatre, NoHo Arts District - Photo courtesy of Nancy Bianconi

What are you doing to prevent closing for good?

NB: To avoid closure of 18 theaters in Los Angeles’ performing arts district, NoHoArtsdistrict.com has created a “Save NoHo Theatres from COVID19” Go Fund Me campaign to help pay for 60 days of rent for the 18 theaters. The NoHo Arts District  is just one-square mile, and it has the second largest concentration of theaters in the United States. We need to make sure that it survives.

What do you think will be the impact of COVID-19 on live theater in general in Los Angeles? Do you foresee any permanent changes?

NB:  If we lose our NoHo theaters, we also will have lost theaters in Hollywood, downtown, West LA, and Santa Monica. Can Los Angeles still be the entertainment capital of the world without theater? I don't think so.

Secret Rose Theatre, NoHo Arts District - Photo courtesy of Nancy Bianconi

What do you need right now to keep going forward? What would you like from the theater public? 

NB: Like all businesses and individuals, we need a true moratorium on rent / mortgages. There is a freeze on rents, but what happens when the freeze is over? How is anyone - theater, dance school, or individual - supposed to repay back rents/mortgages when they have been forced to close, stop working, and have zero income? We all would like the answer to this question. In the short run, we would like to see support for our gofundme campaign from theater lovers, local politicians, arts organizations, etc. We are a large theater community that is an economic multiplier. Without theater patrons who go out for a show and dinner, restaurants would be negatively impacted. Without actors and technical / creative crew, who would fill the apartments? When life begins to function again - although it will be different - we would love to see our theaters packed with audiences, including some who've never seen a show in NoHo. We want to reopen with a splash!

Loft Ensemble, NoHo Arts District - Photo courtesy of Nancy Bianconi

What are some of your future plans?

NB: ​The future of NoHo theatres will be determined by the amount of money we raise through our gofundme campaign. NoHo theaters are determined to continue producing plays, festivals, acting workshops, and home-to-church services, community organization meetings, etc. It is from our theaters that tomorrow's Broadway and Off Broadway shows originate.


This article first appeared in LA Splash Worldwide.



Save Your Local Arts District - NoHo Arts District


This is a guest post by Lisa Bianconi


I was born and raised in the Valley and have seen North Hollywood transform from a bit scary (but always fun) to an eclectic, vibrant, creative neighborhood - a real one where folks actually know each other. Back in 2000, my mother and I joined forces to run NoHoArtsDistrict.com, and over the years the theatre owners, visiting companies, acting classes and everyone who uses our theatres have become our friends. When we saw the 18 NoHo Theatres struggling to save their creative homes due to the pandemic shut down, we had to figure out some ways to help.

Together we’ve created “Save NoHo Theatres from COVID-19” Go Fund Me campaign. We are going to do whatever is in our power to keep the NoHo Theatres alive.

As with most LA theatres, the NoHo theatres survive month to month in order to create their shows because they’re not government supported and cannot sustain even a short-term shut down. Without shows, classes, rentals and ticket sales theatres cannot survive. This has an effect on the entire community because without the theatre patrons, actors and crew, restaurants, bars, apartments and other local businesses lose revenue. Without NoHo theatres, there will be no NoHo Arts District.

“Why did residents and businesses move into the area? Because it’s an arts district,” says Nancy Bianconi, publisher of NoHoArtsDisrict.com. “If 18 out of 22 theatres close, this area will have to be called North Hollywood again. Theatres have a huge economic impact on restaurants, bars, apartments, hotels, other creative industries, local businesses, etc.”

Here are the owners of Brews Brothers, one of NoHo’s beloved craft beer bars, who chose their location because of the artsy neighborhood vibe.

But what makes NoHo theatres important to the neighborhood is:

  • NoHo has 22 theatres in one square mile.
  • NoHo had the highest concentration of theatres outside of New York City.
  • NoHo theatres present more than 500 shows per year, including world premieres.
  • NoHo has 35 acting classes held any given night.
  • More than 20,000 people enjoy NoHo's shows throughout the year.
  • NoHo theatres are an economic multiplier for local restaurants, bars, local businesses, etc.

Theatre goers spend on average of extra $32 above the theatre ticket price for dinner, drinks, and retail purchases.

But NoHo wasn’t always how it is today. In the 90s, it was the theatres who helped rebuild the blighted and crime-ridden North Hollywood neighborhood that we now call NoHo. Theatres were the impetus for the creation of the NoHo Arts District and attracted other theatres and creative industry folks as well as new developments, restaurants, bars, apartments, and hotels.

Meet The Group Rep at the Lonny Chapman Theatre. They are one of the founding members and longest-running theatre company in the NoHo Arts District.

“As one of the founders of the NoHo Theatre District, I have witnessed the most incredible blossoming of the entire neighborhood,” said Ed Gaynes, owner of three NoHo theatres. “When a few of us began opening theatres in the many empty storefronts, the area was a wasteland. No foot traffic, no shops, practically no restaurants even. The theatres attracted the people, the crowds flowing into our theatres attracted the restaurants, art galleries and shops. Ultimately, it all attracted the flood of new residents who poured into the district.”

But NoHo theatres are more than a place for shows. It is a place to practice your craft and make friends in a city of 10+ million people.

THE BOTTOM LINE
The goal of raising $108,194 will allow theatres to survive into the summer when the productions and audiences return, and NoHo’s entertainment and nightlife scene will be booming again.

WHERE CONTRIBUTIONS GO:
ACME Comedy Theatre, ACME Comedy Club
Actors Workout Studio, Actors Workout Theater B
Avery Schreiber Playhouse
Brick House Theatre
Group Rep Theatre Main Stage, Group Rep Theatre Upstairs
Loft Ensemble Mainstage, Loft Ensemble Sawyer’s Playhouse
Secret Rose Theatre
Theatre 68 Flex, Theatre 68 Main Stage
The Sherry Theater
Theatre Unlimited (T.U. Studios)
The Whitmore-Lindley Theater Center Theatre #1, Whitmore Lindley Theater Center Theatre #2
Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre

ABOUT THE NOHO ARTS DISTRICT
The NoHo Arts District is one of Los Angeles' eclectic and walkable neighborhoods - an enclave of all things artistic. This one-square-mile performing arts community is filled with 20+ live, professional theaters, which is the highest concentration outside of New York City. NoHo is also the hip hop dance capital with studios and choreographers that create the moves we see on TV and in film and all over Instagram. NoHo makes a lot of music and boasts the largest amount of recording studios west of the Mississippi with musicians from all genres having recorded in the district. NoHo was the first neighborhood in the Valley, it has become a Metro hub, and attracts new talent, creative businesses and visitors alike. Visit NoHoArtsDistrict.com for more information.


Ronnie Marmo at Lenny Bruce

Spotlight Series: Meet Ronnie Marmo – An Actor, Director, Producer, Playwright, and Artistic Director of Theatre 68 in NoHo


This Spotlight focuses on Ronnie Marmo, an actor, director, producer, playwright, and Artistic Director of Theatre 68 who has been touring the country with his dynamic solo show I’m Not A Comedian...I’m Lenny Bruce. I attended the show more than once and was excited to hear the news of its New York City and Chicago production dates, which of course are now on hold. If you missed the show, here’s a link to my review.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your own theatrical background?

Ronnie Marmo (RM): On stage, I have starred in more than 30 plays. A few of my favorites include my portrayal of Bill Wilson in Bill W. and Dr. Bob, Silva in Baby Doll, Earl in the Los Angeles Premiere of The Late Henry Moss, Danny in Danny and The Deep Blue Sea, and Satan in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot written by Stephen Adly Guirgis.

I completed an audio book in which I portray Lenny Bruce in Lenny’s autobiography, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. Most recently, I wrote and still perform in the long-running, critically-acclaimed and award-winning show, I’m Not A Comedian...I’m Lenny Bruce in Chicago (also in Los Angeles and New York), After 305 total performances across all three cities, we are still going strong. And still under the direction of Joe Mantegna.

As a director, I have staged over 50 productions and produced about 100 in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. I was the Artistic Director and Producer of the critically acclaimed first ever 13 by Shanley Festival; which enjoyed a six-month run. I received the Robert Pastorelli Rising Star Award for achievements as an actor, writer, director and producer at the 2010 Garden State Film Festival.

Most importantly, I am proud to continue to serve as the Artistic Director of Theatre 68 (68 Cent Crew Theatre Company) in Los Angeles and New York City.

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show?

(RM): We were in production in Chicago for the solo show I wrote and in which I star, I’m Not A Comedian...I’m Lenny Bruce. March 15th was my 85th and final (for now) performance in Chicago. That decision was made since the town was shutting down around us, and I felt the best thing for us to do was stop performing and for me to head back to Los Angeles to be near my daughters.

At the same time, both the LA and NY chapters of Theatre 68 were in pre-production for new shows. In LA, we were in the casting stage for the play Stupid Fucking Bird by Aaron Posner. We are slated to open in early June, and have decided to move all of our auditions and pre-production to a virtual platform, hoping we will get to open on time. Of course, we are prepared to postpone if need be for everyone’s safety during the pandemic.

In NY, our company was just about to go into casting for an evening of seven one-act plays, all written by Theatre 68 members. We were slated to open late May, which seems lightly unrealistic now. But as said above, we will continue on as if we will open as planned and move things out if need be.

To say I am heartbroken for both chapters would be an understatement. I love these artists and so we will do what we can. But obviously, safety is first for them as well as our supporters.

(SB): How did you communicate the shutdown with your cast and production team?

(RM): I was in constant contact with them throughout the entire process. But quite honestly, as the Artistic Director “the buck stops here” in moments like this, and I could not have made these decisions every step of the way without the incredible leaders I have at Theatre 68 on both coasts.

We communicated over video conferencing, phone calls and back and forth email threads. We used any and every platform possible given the circumstances at that moment. Although, I have to say. for someone who had no idea what ‘Zoom’ was a few months ago, it’s become the biggest part of my life now (laughing).

(SB): I am in the same position in that I must also learn how to use “Zoom” in order to be part of online meetings as well. So, we have more than our mutual love of PB&J sandwiches in common!

(RM): My go-to meal before shows!

(SB):  What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(RM): In the Theatre world, the only thing that was actually on the docket that has now seemingly been delayed was the booking and logistics for the Lenny Bruce National Tour. We signed with Columbia Artists Theatrical and they just began fielding offers right before COVID-19 hit.

While productions have been temporarily affected, one major shift in our Theatre 68 community has been that we moved our Monday Night Actors Gym to a virtual platform. To me, the productions we do are fantastic and we are blessed to have done over 100 of them. But the heartbeat of our company is the fact that we get together every Monday night on both coasts and have a 3-hour “class” of sorts where we hold each other accountable with scene work, monologues, improv, cold readings, writing assignments, etc. What makes it very special is that everyone in the company has a voice - there isn’t just one individual teacher. Transitioning from us being together on stage every Monday night to moving to Zoom has been the biggest adjustment to the company.

I’m excited to announce that we’ve had two successful Monday Night Gyms in NY and LA so far, and they have been inspiring to everyone involved. We’re still very focused on acting of course, but I’ve taken this opportunity to give our artists writing assignments with deadlines. I always preach taking your own career into your own hands and creating your own work. Now they have that opportunity more than ever.

(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(RM): Well, it’s funny you mention that. What started out as a silly idea and something to pass the time about 9 days ago, has become something that many people seem to look forward to watching every day. I have started a Facebook and Instagram live web-show called A Bachelor’s Guide to Do-mes-ti-ca-tion with Ronnie Marmo! The first 8 episodes (days) have felt to be more of a cooking show (since that’s where I need the most work - I basically can’t cook… nor have I ever had to do so for myself and think I single-handedly kept all the take out restaurants in business.

(SB): I watched the episode where you were driving around your neighborhood and asking viewers about how to make chicken parmesan, then took us inside Pinocchio’s Deli to purchase what you needed. I really enjoyed the spur-of-the-moment and interactive format, making those watching feel as if we were in there with you.

(RM): I’m trying to mix it up a bit and tomorrow we might just do some laundry together. It’s interesting how I end up having severe meltdowns and get hurt every episode, but we’re having a lot of fun and there have been a lot of laughs! Honestly, I’ve learned how to cook eight dishes so far thanks to help of all my viewers.  Maybe a cookbook is on the horizon? (more laughs)

(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(RM): I’m very proud that Theatre 68 is a part of the NoHo Arts Theatre scene. I have spoken to a dozen or so other theatres in the area and I’m very concerned that many of them will not recover and continue on after COVID-19. We have all been in constant communication and are trying to help each other. I will say, like any other crisis, this has brought us all closer together. I’m trying to encourage all of us to stay positive and try to stay in the day that we’re in and not project too far into the future because there are so many unknowns. I’m going to fight like hell to keep Theatre 68 and all the other Theatres in the NoHo Arts District alive and thriving.

Lastly, I just want to say “Thank You” to Broadway World for all of the support it gives to all the theatres small, medium, and large. There is never enough advertising dollars and generally speaking, we always need a little more enthusiasm and support for what we do. Broadway World and other press outlets have really kept us afloat even when things are great and especially when the road has become a bit rocky. So thank you for your constant support.

(SB): Thanks so much! It’s always my pleasure to get the word out about shows at theaters of all sizes in the greater Los Angeles area, and I appreciate all the kind words of support from readers of my reviews and these Spotlight Series interviews on Broadway World. This writer always likes to know my articles are being read and my contributions to the LA Theatre Community are helping to keep us united as the powerful group of artists I know we are.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.