The Edgemar Center for the Arts can be easily missed as one walks along Main Street in Santa Monica. However, once found, it’s not easily forgotten.
Nestled away behind several businesses in the Edgemar retail complex designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the nonprofit theater and arts center serves as a collaborative rehearsal and performance space for artists of all kinds.
The center offers theater, dance, music, film, writing, outreach programs for seniors and children, and an art gallery.
“It has everything under one roof,” says Alexandra Guarnieri, managing director of the center.
Indeed, it was built with that intent.
Edgemar also houses The Larry Moss Studio, known by many as one of the top acting schools in the country, offering classes and workshops for actors of all ages and levels.
The studio is led by renowned acting coach Larry Moss — whose clients include Leonardo DiCaprio, Helen Hunt and Hilary Swank, among others — and Edgemar executive artistic director Michelle Danner, who counts Penelope Cruz and Salma Hayek among those she has coached.
“We’re this gem that’s tucked away,” says Guarnieri. “A lot of people don’t even know we’re here — and we have so much going on.”
Edgemar Center opened in Santa Monica in 2002, born through Danner’s dream to open up a center for the arts.
“I always had a dream to create a place where all the artistic disciplines would come together in one place,” Danner says. “I had this vision and I kept talking to my vision.”
Edgemar’s creative director Brian Drillinger remembers how Danner started the center.
“It really was her dream and she made it happen and continues to do it on a daily basis,” he says. “The woman is unstoppable.”
Looking back, Danner says she was definitely in over her head, but she’s glad she pursued her dream to open the center.
“It’s something I needed to do,” she says. “I feel very, very fulfilled. Ever since we’ve opened our doors, we’ve had many success stories.”
The first fundraising benefit for Edgemar was hosted by actor Jason Alexander of Seinfeld at a friend’s house. The event raised $88,000, which Danner calls “a small drop in the ocean.”
Eventually, Danner and others were able to raise $1.3 million to build her vision, which has been in existance for six years now.
“It was a lot of begging, a lot of fundraising,” Danner recalls. “It’s amazing to think this all happened, but it did.”
Edgemar Center for the Arts is a nonprofit organization, and Danner notes that people like herself don’t get involved for the money.
“It’s not about the money,” she says. “It’s about the art.”
In fact, finding funding just to keep the center running is a big challenge, but well worth it, says Danner.
“We constantly have to raise funds,” Danner says. “We’re on the tight rope. It’s always a struggle.”
“Trying to find funding is a mammoth undertaking — especially in this climate, with what we’re dealing with as a country right now,” he says. “What’s the first thing that goes? Art.”
But Danner says that some people have been so inspired by the work done at Edgemar that they want to give back through donations.
Edgemar has two theaters — the “Main Stage,” a 99-seat theater and the “Second Stage,” a 65-seat theater.
About four shows are performed on each stage every year. These include dramas, comedies, musicals, cabarets and children’s shows.
The center’s art gallery features new works from different artists — some well known and some not — every three months. Currently on display are the works of photographer Robert Zuckerman.
But Danner says what truly sets Edgemar apart is the outreach that the center does.
The center has a program called Senior Moments, which gives the elderly an opportunity to bring their life stories to a theatrical setting. After speaking with several local seniors, volunteers from Edgemar choose one to interview over several months and collaborate to transcribe the story from memory to the stage.
Most recently, this was done with Maria Fabian, an 84-year-old native Hungarian who survived a turbulent youth and World War II, ending up in Santa Monica.
“She had to find a way to live,” Danner said, adding that the outreach program is “very special” and impacts lives.
On Friday, June 20th, Edgemar’s theatrical season opens with the comedy Mamafied, a one-woman show about motherhood.
Mamafied will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. through July 27th, with no show scheduled July 4th. Tickets are $25.
Information, www.edgemarcenter.org/ or (310) 399-3666.