Theatre Doyen David Elzer Chats With BNB

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When native Angeleno DAVID ELZER was growing up, his parents and grandparents took him to the theatre often.  One unforgettable night, he watched Anthony Hopkins play Prospero in The Tempest at the Taper. Fast forward a few years, and David is a tireless booster of the live theatre scene in and around LA, cajoling critics to give the latest offerings a serious look. (And his information sheets are great for helping them keep names and facts straight.) David’s also a producer and playwright. BurbankNBeyond’s Greg Simay had the pleasure of interviewing him recently.

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David Elzer

BNB: How would you answer those who say live theatre in LA is nothing more than glorified auditions for film roles?

DE: Showcase theatre was much more common than it is now, and you used to see a lot of it in the 99-seat world. The Colony Theatre was one of the few glorious exceptions. But in those earlier days, a lot of actors doing theatre were doing it hoping to get an agent.

BNB: But it’s different now?

DE: Yes! From the late 90’s onward, there’s been an explosion of serious theatre artists. Theatre companies came here from New York, Chicago, and they really wanted to do theatre because they loved it. And it showed in the amazing work they’ve been doing. I can now say that some of the best experiences in my life have been in a 99-seat theatre. Also there are quite a few actors who’ve already made their mark in film. They’re doing the art because they love it. Not because it will get them an agent.

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BNB: We know you’re constantly letting the media know about the latest plays in the greater LA area, and sometimes beyond, but what do you think really puts people in the seats?

DE: Good shows find their audience, word-of-mouth is everything. And social media’s the ticket that gets people to buy the tickets. Believe me, there’s a lot of amazing work being done in LA theatre. Don’t forget, moms from 40 to 80 are still the prime ticket buyers for their families.

BNB: So how did you learn the ropes in doing so much PR for the theatre scene?

DE: Right out of school I wanted to be an actor. I started out working for Columbia in the home video department and later switched to the photo department. Then I joined an independent company, Andrea Jaffe & Associates, which was the top public relations firm at the time for film and individual clients. As Andrea’s assistant I got closely involved with all the big films and stars. I found I had good PR instincts. Andrea wanted me to follow her to 20th century Fox, where she was to be the president of marketing. It was a great opportunity and I got involved in nationwide publicity for films like True Lies and Mrs. Doubtfire. Then I went over to Trimark and did worldwide publicity as a senior veep just as the independent film world was really exploding.

BNB: But so far we’re talking film. What got you into live theatre?

DE: Well as I was approaching 40, the little boy in me said, “What are you really doing with your life?” This is when I left Paramount Classics over “creative differences” and a friend told me about Disney needing someone to do publicity for Lion King in LA. Three interviews later, I got the job and became good friends with the Lion King’s producer, Peter Schneider. Then friends started asking me if I could help with the publicity for their play. Other friends started calling. And that’s when I found my calling as the Theater PR person. I started up DEMAND PR and became its president, chief cook and bottle washer. The Colony Theatre was one of my first big accounts. Today, I have about 20 accounts.

BNB: You’re doing more than PR, though. What got you to reconnect with your dreams of acting?

DE: When you see theatre work that’s great, you want to do great work yourself. I guess I connected more with my producing and writing side. I produced The Marvelous Wondrettes which ran in El Portal for almost two years [BNB: It won the Ovation Award for Best Musical and is now part of regional theatre.] I’ve gone on to produce other shows as well.

BNB: And now you’ve co-written story and book for a new musical.

DE: Yes, Justin Love, which will have its world premiere at the 99-seat Celebration Theatre.

BNB: So what would your publicity sheet say about Justin Love to entice the jaded critic?

DE: What if Hollywood’s biggest star has a secret (he’s gay) and has a beautiful model for a wife (married under contract)? And what if he falls in love and she falls in love (but not with each other)? And what if all this takes place in a TMZ-crazy culture. Can our hero come out of the glass closet, be true to himself and find true love?

BNB: Yes, it seems like one’s sexual orientation can still be a problem in major sports and entertainment.

DE: They’re the last glass closets.

BNB: Glass?

DE: Everyone knows what the real situation is, and everyone pretends not to see it.

BNB: Well we hope everyone comes to see Justin Love.

DE: Thanks. It starts Friday, September 21.

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