Celebrating Alhambra's theater

Alhambra's Mosaic Lizard Theater is celebrating four years at its Main Street location, where it opened in February 2011 with owner Jay Parker's comedy "Bar Talk." Now the theater is premiering on Saturday "Projection," a new thriller by Parker.

Alhambra Source caught up with Lizard actress Maia Villa in 2011, a few days before the theater's big opening event. Villa told us what the space meant for her and other local actors and actresses. Check out her story below.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 01.21.2011:

I walked into Mosaic Lizard Theater last week for the first time since construction began, uncertain of what to expect after a year’s worth of waiting.

“It’s a real theater! Ahh! It’s a real theater!” I yelped like a little girl on Christmas morning. The brand new building was even better than I could have imagined. As I dashed through every room, my hands grazed against each perfectly decorated wall in disbelief. From one hallway that resembles a 1930s alleyway to the lizards that hang against the wall behind the audience’s seats, the new Mosaic Lizard Theater felt perfect to me.

Maia Villa, in the center with a hat, with the Lizard crew

For the past four years, Lizard has been a home to me, where I’ve felt able to go from being a child to a young adult. Only thing is the Lizard Theater never had its own space. We spent many rehearsals hollering over the clanking of dance shoes from the Arte De Flamenco Theater of World Dance. We were grateful to rent our “dance-studio-converted-theater,” and that the dancers always generously made sure their performance schedule did not collide with our own. However, at moments where, for example, the door of a chest an actor popped out of was so close that it almost hit an audience member, we sensed that we were in need of space larger than a square room in the middle of dance studios.

I discovered Lizard in 2006 when I was 13 years old. I had been going to the Renaissance movie theater on Main Street for years without knowing that live theater existed down the street, until my friend Cameron Parker invited me to see him act at his father’s theater. When we went, my mom and I laughed so hard our tummies hurt. On our drive home, we talked about how the play so perfectly balanced humor and meaning. That night, Jay Parker—the writer/director of “Bar Talk” and an owner of Lizard Theater—went from “my friend’s dad” to an unbelievably talented artist whom I greatly admired.

Maia Villa acts in “Crimes of the Heart”

More than just a stage, the theater company—since Lizard’s beginning in 1992 as a sketch-comedy traveling group—has strived to create a supportive environment offering advice, acting workshops, performance opportunities, and a sense of community that company members say can be hard to come by in Hollywood. This is something I know first-hand, starting with my first Lizard play “Crimes of the Heart” in the fall of my freshman year. I had no experience acting in a professional theater but was challenged by an actor who did to master that skill of balancing make-believe with reality.

On opening night, I waited backstage as jitters ran up my spine and a lump caught in my throat. I told myself, “I can’t do it. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it. I can’t do it.” Then I heard the kitchen drawer slam and it was my cue. I walked out to the light, leaving the jitters behind and replacing the lump in my throat with the subtle, yet energized accent I worked on. Between then and when the audience’s applause reminded me to return to being Maia, I fell in love.

Theater became a giant asset in my life, as I got involved with each Lizard season in some way whether through acting or technical work backstage. While my friends went out on weekends, I became accustomed to spending my weekend evenings performing with wacky and talented individuals.

cast of ”The Shop Around the Corner”

That’s one reason why the wait for Lizard to be completed has been so difficult. “This past year, not only have I missed directing, performing, and all that—but I’ve felt like I’ve lost my social life!” Parker shared what we have all been feeling, as I sat down with him and new Lizard co-owner Bryana Pickford in our deep blue audience seats that have the comfort of a small movie theater. Through many rehearsal and performance evenings spent together, we build relationships with people who share a common passion.I listened to Pickford and Parker’s account of the long construction process when they sometimes feared this big step for our theater might not be possible. “There was a moment, where we realized, this is really happening!” Pickford exclaimed, and I felt such a gratitude for her relentless work effort in helping Lizard reach this stage. (Pickford has been a company member since Lizard’s early days, and when the decision to move locations was made last year, Parker and his co-owner Ruben Aguilar asked her to become a co-owner.)With the birth of Mosaic Lizard Theater, which was created with support from the city, comes plans to put on more shows per week, to expand our workshops, to perform our first musical, and to even feature student films. We are planning on premiering with “Bar Talk,” which causes my insides to fill with a special sentimentality, knowing that my introduction to Lizard will be the same for others as well.

Photos by Albert Lu

Through all this exciting change, Parker and Pickford have stated they intend to keep the heart of the old place. The ceaseless beauty of Lizard Theater was the comfort of home, and that will continue—even with the Mosaic attached. The other day, I met a mother of two who recently moved to our area. She asked me about schools and other features of our community, and I was proud to describe that not only does the Alhambra school district reach academic excellence but our Main Street contains an art gallery, a dance studio, a music shop, and, finally, a live theater. Her eyes lit up at the news, and she said, “Good! That’s wonderful! I am so glad we moved here.”

Photos by Albert Lu

"Projection" will run Jan. 16-Feb. 1. Catch the show on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Mosaic Lizard Theater is located at 112 W. Main St.

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