1997-1998: Inspiration in a War Zone
The idea for Trade City Productions all started back in 1997 when founders Josh Worth and Maureen Weiss, traveled to the International Children’s Festival in Sibenik, Croatia, where they filmed their documentary Kids in Flux. The film focused on the resurgence of hope stimulated through the arts and through children in a country that had just survived a war. The documentary was completed in April of 1998 and shown in Los Angeles and Croatia.
Inspired by the close-knit artistic community they found in Sibenik, Josh and Maureen formed a non-profit and gathered a group of actors, writers, and friends with skills. Together, the group created an original play called Carousel of Dreams, which they would perform at the next International Children’s Festival and at neighboring refugee camps. To support this hare-brained scheme, Trade City collected donations from friends, family and local businesses, and pooled money from day jobs.
After traveling by plane, train, boat, and bus to Croatia (literally carrying a set on our backs) the company somehow made it back to the States – now even more excited to create a community where artists would feel free to exchange ideas and explore new avenues of expression.
1999-2002: Headquarters in an Alley
Determined to find a local home, Trade City, searched for a non-traditional space to stage their second play High Glamour in Ypsilanti. We came across a warehouse on Pico in Santa Monica, which was perfect for the desired effect of a full experience rather than a passive “night at the theater.”
The intention was to rent the warehouse for the duration of the show, then move on. Once inside, however, we saw that the space had the potential to become a sort of back-alley headquarters for the kind of art we were looking to create and promote. We met with the landlord and signed a month-to-month lease, with the ever-present stipulation that if he found a permanent tenant, we would need to vacate within 30 days.
During that time, company co-founder Josh Worth began a job as an art director for a dot-com start-up. Feeling a bit of misplaced guilt about no longer being a “starving artist” he began funneling his disposable income into the rent on the warehouse. Much to his parents’ surprise, the frequent events held at the space began to generate enough income from admissions, concessions and donations to offset the drain on his bank account.
Having a space gave us the opportunity and incentive to offer a continuous schedule of plays, art-exhibits, and workshops. In 2000, Trade City introduced two weekly programs, Out Loud and The Simple Stage, which were opportunities for new and under-represented voices in the community to present their writings, propose new project ideas, and develop their work.
And as we expected, we weren’t the only ones looking to build an artistic community. The events at our ramshackle warehouse began attracting audiences and participants from all over L.A. From teenagers and senior citizens to the homeless and celebrities; from South Central and Pasadena to Long Beach and the Palisades, Trade City established a reputation for being open and accessible to disenfranchised artists in need of new opportunities for expression.
2002-2005: Living Like Nomads
In 2002, however, the landlord found a permanent tenant for the warehouse, and Trade City was forced to close its doors.
Although disappointing at first, this course of events provided us with the opportunity to reach new audiences by staging events at other venues throughout the city. From 2002 to 2005, Trade City could be found in:
- Santa Monica at The Miles Playhouse, The Creativity Center and the Powerhouse Theatre
- Hollywood at The Pan Andreas Theater and The 1160 Bar and Lounge.
- Downtown L.A at The Upstairs at the Market Gallery
- Culver City at The Ivy Substation
- Santa Monica at The Miles Playhouse, The Creativity Center and the Powerhouse Theatre.
- Mid-City at the Del Mar Theatre and various filming locations.
Despite the fact that we weren’t operating a full-time facility, 2003 marked the year in which we reached our highest operating budget. In May, we held a special one-night event called Alter Egos at the Del Mar Theatre on Pico and La Brea located in Mid-City. It was a “come-as-you aren’t” party/art exhibit in which guests were invited to come dressed incognito, as their secret identity. Lasting eight hours, the show attracted over 400 people and involved six musical acts, nine performance artists, and 28 visual/installation artists. Later, in the summer of 2003 we used revenue generated by Alter Egos along with a grant from The City of Culver City, to stage a large-scale production of Tennessee Williams’ Vieux Carré at the historic Ivy Substation (now home to The Actor’s Gang).
Also in 2003, Trade City broadened its scope to include outreach and arts education in local schools. We were invited to participate in the Santa Monica Arts in the Schools program, L.A.’s Best, STARS, and L.A. County’s YEA initiative – all of which exposed students to inspiring and horizon-broadening curriculum-based activities.
In 2005, we were offered office space previously held by Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre Projects (ASK). We shared this space with several other theatre entities: The Powerhouse, The Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble, EdgeFest, and Ghost Road Company. During this tenure, we were able to continue our weekly playwriting workshop, Simple Stage, which spawned two original plays, Chili Commandos and Western Wonderland.
2006-2010: Taking a Breath
When the lease on the ASK space expired in 2006, Josh and Maureen took some time to re-assess the direction of the company. The needs of the organization had grown beyond their ability to sustain it using their own funds, and budgets of government agencies were being slashed, making grants harder to come by. As we found ourselves chasing money for projects that were more easily funded, we edged further and further from the type of art we were looking to create.
In early 2007, without a space in which to work, and lacking a stable source of financial backing, the founders and company members began to channel their creative energies into outside projects. We remained active in the artistic community by contributing design expertise to local theater productions, collaborating with educational institutions on arts programs, and providing guidance for emerging artists. However the scale and visibility of our work was greatly reduced.
In 2009, in the midst of a tough economic climate, Trade City began to explore the possibility of resuming operations in L.A.’s Mid-City corridor. Several of our board members live in the area, and some of our most noted projects took place there. In 2010, we were accepted to the CRA/LA Mid-City Arts Retention Program, along with two other theatre companies, Ebony Repertory Theatre and The Ghost Road Company. During this informative process, we participated in a series of workshops aimed at sustainability and capacity building held by the CRA/LA and LA Stage Alliance.
2011-Present: Going Mobile
During the capacity building program, we kept coming back to the same conclusion: A space in which to develop and present work is the key to building a community of artists. We explored a number of options for opening a new space – buying, borrowing, renting, sharing – but none of these approaches seemed sustainable over the long term.
During one of our board meetings, we came up with the crazy idea of operating a space that wouldn’t be subject to the slings and arrows of the real-estate market – a mobile space, a stage on wheels that could present art from a parking spot.
In 2011, with the encouragement of the CRA, we created a proposal and set about exploring how such a thing might work. A converted Airstream trailer? A modified food-truck? A stage in the back of a van? As it turned out, building a custom trailer from scratch was the most cost-effective and practical option. It also allowed us to design exactly what we wanted. We contacted a fabricator in Orange County who said he would take on the job, but it would take some time.
Finally, in the first week of 2012, after many months of designing and welding, we hitched the mobile stage to a pickup and towed it to Los Angeles. We christened it the Popwagon and began a new chapter of our little story.
We’re just getting started on this part, so stay in touch for future updates…