First published in the Dec. 3 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
By Alexandra Applegate
It’s been one year since SAS Entertainment took operational control of Glendale’s iconic, century-old landmark, the Alex Theatre, after a controversial bidding process that ousted the theater’s former manager.
The city’s official 10-year contract with SAS went into effect last July, but the entertainment company entered into a six-month interim management agreement last November to demonstrate they could succeed in helming the historic theater, affectionately called the Alex. The City Council, in a special meeting this week, reviewed SAS’ time with the theater so far.
In its short tenure, SAS founder Miles Williams said the Alex sold out 15 shows, including the Barcelona Flamenco Ballet in April and the Hocus-Focus Film festival in October, with another 10 sold-out shows planned during the holiday season.
In the management transition, Williams said they did not lose any performers who had worked with the previous owners, such as the Glendale Youth Orchestra. The Gay Men’s Chorus, a long-standing, community-based company, returned to the Alex, after leaving the theater last year due to managerial uncertainty.
Looking forward, the Alex is booked for every weekend from February through June.
As part of the agreement with SAS, the responsibility for the venue as an asset was transferred to the city. The Public Works Department maintains all of the systems within the theater, while SAS is handling most of the day-to-day operations. The city provided the funds to purchase a range of new equipment, including a new audio mixing board, piano, audio equipment and digital projection system.
“This was really to try and modernize the theater in terms of being able to host some of those entertainment-focused shows as we go forward,” said Director of Community Development Bradley Calvert, who as an assistant director had recommended SAS to become the new operator. “This was one of the key pieces that needed to be done.”
SAS has also developed partnerships with ticket sales company Ticketmaster and popular Armenian ticketing company Ticket-Micket to increase the Alex’s visibility throughout Los Angeles and gain a broader audience.
“We are in the process of developing more relationships and getting attention from the larger music industry to the Alex,” Williams said.
This seemed to reassure members of the council, whose initial goals for a new Alex Theatre operator included continuing to serve as a cultural hub in Glendale and attracting top-quality entertainment.
Councilman Ara Najarian said he had never received more “hate mail” during his time in office than when SAS won the bidding process to manage the Alex over its previous manager, the nonprofit Glendale Arts.
“I’m glad that you’re doing well and starting to build those ties with the community,” Najarian said. “There are still those naysayers out there, sharpshooters waiting to take their shot at you, so keep up the good work.”
Throughout the next year, the Alex will undergo a renovation to add an individual dressing room with amenities made for high-profile celebrities and performers. Though the theater’s dressing rooms were refurbished a few years ago, Williams pointed out it’s a cast dressing room, without a designated area for stars.
“In the first few months, they have maintained the community-oriented focus of the theater,” Calvert said. “We are looking forward to an entertainment transition at a certain point once we see these capital improvements get made.”
Once they’ve completed some of these improvements in 2023, Williams said they will begin building relationships with L.A. talent agencies in hopes of booking big-name performances for 2024.
“There’s a lot of competition for those big names and we need the right audio system, the right lighting system and the dressing room renovation,” Williams said. “Without those, it makes it very difficult to compete with the other venues that are better equipped.”
As part of the agreement with SAS, the city is provided with 12 days of theater use, free of facility rental charge. The council decided to prioritize the city’s annual Tech Week, International Women’s Day and the Armenian Genocide Commemorative event as a few of the occasions the city could utilize the theater.
SAS will be required to return to the City Council with a more complete financial picture of their first year of operations in July.