November 18, 2019

Open Space on Fairfax offers sketch comedy, music shows and a cafe

When Itamar Ravid learned that the Bang Comedy Theatre on bustling Fairfax Avenue was up for lease, he jumped at the opportunity. The native Israeli and kibbutznik already owned a roofing company, but wished to expand his portfolio and give back to the arts scene in Los Angeles.

“I always wanted to have a place that could host a community and be a place for people to get together for some good times and shows,” he said.

A little over two years ago, he extensively remodeled the theater, adding a café to the front of the building. He renamed it Open Space and hired Jonathan Klein, a former stage actor, as his managing partner. The two began to offer performers the opportunity to rent the place for their shows while also giving some local organizations a home to hold gatherings. 

Today, Open Space has blossomed into a full-fledged performance and arts venue, hosting about 30 comedy, improv, storytelling and music shows, live podcasts and film screenings per month in the 50-seat venue.

Some regular shows include “The Variety Hour,” which is a night of stand-up and sketch comedy as well as music and “Hammer(ed) Time Storytelling,” which features comedians and storytellers talking about why they don’t drink green beer anymore. During “Shoot ’Em Up,” the audience, over the course of several shows, watches people tell stories onstage, hears them as film scripts and then view films inspired by the stories.

The eclectic schedule is Klein’s taste. As long as showrunners are excited about what they do, he’ll give them a platform. “I like all the genres,” he said. “What gets me passionate is seeing the follow-through that some of these young performers possess. We feed off each other’s passion.”

The theater makes a small profit through its paid rental agreements, Klein said. The fees to rent the theater vary based upon the type of show and what the performer can pay. Klein and Ravid also allow people to use the stage for free during the day to work out material as long as the theater is not booked.

The Open Space theater is fully equipped, providing a full backline of instruments and gear for musicians, creating a plug-and-play situation for them. The space has a state-of-the-art public address system, a projector with a 127-inch screen, stage lighting and video and audio recording capability, according to Klein, who founded the Young Writers Project and taught teenagers playwriting for 13 years while he also acted.

“What gets me passionate is seeing the follow-through that some of these young performers possess.” – Jonathan Klein, Managing Partner of Open Space

The café promotes every show, displaying fliers for them in the front of the building as well as on a digital screen outside, and the organization posts about them on social media and their email lists. “I’ve created a culture of service for the artists, since I was one for 25 years,” Klein said.

Lauren Howard Hayes, who has been running a monthly sketch show now called “The K-Lo Sketch Show” at the theater since January 2016, said the environment at Open Space is welcoming for performers. “We had our initial meeting with Jonathan and instantly fell in love with his energy and professionalism. Everyone he employs, whether it’s the people at the front serving you coffee or the people taking tickets, is really professional and excited to be there.”

A co-host of the show, Katie Elsaesser, said that all of her interactions with Open Space have been positive. “There are so many theaters in L.A. that aren’t the best locations. This is a clean, beautiful space with really dedicated people that provide a great overall experience.”

Open Space is home to acting classes on the weekends, meetings of the Mid-City Neighborhood Council homeless outreach program, and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) gatherings six days a week. The show “Hammer(ed) Time Storytelling” sprang out of the AA meetings. It includes stories about drinking and drugging and things that the members don’t do anymore.

While AA is charged a nominal rent, Klein lets the group utilize the theater for “Hammer(ed) Time Storytelling” at no extra charge. He also has donated the space to meetings for Theatre of NOTE, a nonprofit theatrical company, and the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles, and held a free screening of the presidential debates during the presidential campaign.

The café side of Open Space features two-person tables, pieces from local artists on the walls, free-WiFi and a menu that is inspired by international cuisines.

The café serves a breakfast Vietnamese-style banh mi with eggs, lettuce and meat; a Havana sandwich with Black Forest ham, Swiss cheese, pickled gherkins and Cuban mustard spread; and an Italian-style sandwich called “Et Tu Brute,” which comes with heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, basil oil and seasonal greens. The coffee is sourced from Matador Coffee Roasting Co. in Flagstaff, Ariz., but sometimes Klein will serve coffee from local roasters.

Two and a half years ago, it was no easy job for Ravid to completely rework the building he leased and make it an entirely new business. However, he said, it’s been worth it because of what he and Klein have built.

“I come into Open Space and I see it’s full and that more and more people are stopping in. They come to see a show and get some coffee on the way. It’s like a baby that you nurture in the beginning and now it’s almost on its own. It’s grown.” n