The Broad Stage is actually a performing arts center with two stages. The main auditorium has a modest 499 seats but is equipped like a major Broadway theater, with a full-size proscenium arch, a “sprung” floor to accommodate dance performances, a 41-person orchestra pit and the necessary technical accoutrements to handle backdrops for operas and musicals. With its unusual configuration of a small audience facing a huge stage, the Broad is at once both intimate and grand, somewhat in the manner of Italy’s baroque opera houses. A second, smaller stage—named after Broad’s wife, Edythe—is in a 99-seat black-box theater that can be configured for any use, from chamber-music recitals to script readings. The inaugural season kicks off September 20 with a gala performance on the main stage by Barbara Cook, and Franzen has already lined up a series of other musical programs. Ironically, though, she and Hoffman haven’t yet chosen a play. One idea being bandied about is Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, with Hoffman starring as the Stage Manager.
Hoffman’s vision for the Broad is to provide a spark for L.A.’s moribund theater scene, and he draws on memories of his early years in New York—where he moved from his native Los Angeles in 1958 and maintains a home, in addition to his place in L.A.—for inspiration. Back then, Broadway was full of fresh plays by Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee and Arthur Miller. Contemporary Los Angeles, on the other hand, doesn’t really have a self-sustaining theater community. The local geography is half the problem; the city’s principal stages are downtown, and, Hoffman jokes, “people in my field only venture there for a Lakers game.”
These days Hoffman’s main role at the Broad is to recruit big-name talent, and, sensibly enough, he’s started with his neighbors. David Mamet, a friend who lives within a mile of the theater, is working on a new play in which Hoffman plans to appear. He’s also cast a wider net, approaching London-based director Nicholas Hytner (The History Boys) about doing a project. “He’s hooked,” says Hoffman triumphantly.
“I get calls all the time: ‘Oh, I saw Dustin, and he told me to call you,’” reports Franzen, who seems by now quite accustomed to Hoffman’s Clinton-esque zest for outreach. “We’re trying to make this not just a community center for the audience but an artists’ center.” Franzen adds that what she really wants is for Hoffman to treat the Broad as “his theater,” and on that count, she has apparently succeeded. When Hoffman is asked what he most wants to do there in the future—whether it’s act, direct or even write plays—he nods yes to all of it: “The whole banana,” he says.