Friday, September 17, 2010

Menier Chocolate Factory Makes 'Aspects of Love'

The Menier Chocolate Factory is currently presenting a revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Aspects of Love'. The building that houses the theatre with exposed wood beams, cast iron columns and brick interior sits a few blocks south of the Thames river. It was built in 1870 as a factory for Menier Chocolate, a Parisian company that was ultimately sold off during the 1960s and '70s.

The building now houses a restaurant and bar, rehearsal room and a versatile theatre space that can seat up to 180 depending on the configuration. A July 2010 New York Times feature sums up the story of this unusual theatre. Here are excerpts edited from the article presented in two parts:

The Chocolate Factory, in a former confectionary in the Southwark section of London pumps out critically acclaimed hit shows on shoestring budgets.

Founded in 2004, the theater has quickly become a creative force in the West End and increasingly on Broadway, where it has garnered 24 Tony (Award) nominations for three of its revivals: 'Sunday in the Park with George (2008); 'A Little Night Music' (2009 starring Catherine Zeta-Jones) and 'La Cage Aux Folles' (2010 starring Kelsey Grammer). As for London, of the 30 shows that the Chocolate Factory has procued, 10 have moved to much larger theaters.

Theater lobby and bar with exposed wood beams.
Such transfers have been essential moneymakers for the Chocolate Factory, which has an annual operating budget of about £2 million (US$3 millon) and does not receive a government subsidy. To create those shows for such little money, the Chocolate Factory has minted a minimalist aesthetice -- simple sets, basic costumes and lighting, actors often playing two or more roles -- on budgets that are on par with major not-for-profit Off-Broadway theaters. Plays cost about £80,000 (US$120,000), and musicals between £300,000 and £500,000 (about US$450,000 to $765,000). A typical Broadway musical costs US$8 million to mount. All cast members, even stars, are paid the same company wage of £300 a week, or about US$460. And the theater's permanent staff includes only three employees.

The goal of the Chocolate Factory, where theatergoers sit as close as three feet from the actors, is to remove the distraction of epic size production numbers, which can consume money and rehearsal time, so the creators and cast can focus on realizing a show's essence."

Click here for part 2 posted on 9/19/10 or here for the full NY Times article.

Exposed brick hall with production photos leads to auditorium.


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