YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Symphony's Woes Are the Exception : Performing Arts Humming in L.B.

April 04, 1985|MARIA L. La GANGA | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — To theatergoers everywhere, it's the "Sound of Music," a stage classic with every ingredient for box-office success--love of family, love of music, love of country, love of honor, love of life, yes, even love of love--all topped off with a happy ending.

To members of the Long Beach Civic Light Opera, however, the show is so sickeningly sweet that director Martin Wiviott contends it "gives my performers diabetes."

But it also gives them jobs, which is why the old standard is also known in musical theater circles as the "Sound of Money."

The Civic Light Opera's production of the "Sound of Music," starring Anna Maria Alberghetti, will open at the Terrace Theater next month, at a time when the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra is taking its first tentative steps back to financial health.

While the orchestra--which went dark in November because of a $575,000 debt--spent the last five months going through the noisy throes of death and subsequent rebirth, the other major performing arts groups in this city quietly continued the business of performing and fund raising.

Alive and Well

Although they have had varying levels of success--and all are operating with deficits--the groups are alive and healthy.

The Long Beach Civic Light Opera just finished a resoundingly successful run of "Song of Norway" and is starting work on "Sound of Music." The Long Beach Ballet finished its 1984-85 season with three performances of "Coppelia" last weekend, and the Long Beach Opera is preparing "The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein" for its April 13 season debut.

Why--and how--have these groups managed while the symphony has not? Some say it is pragmatism combined with adrenalin and good management. Others say they have no answers--other than good luck in a high-risk business.

Lindsay Shields, executive director of the Public Corp. for the Arts, contends that the light opera, ballet and opera have succeeded "because of their high quality and the niches they fill."

"All of these groups have grown and have their own audiences and solid sources of funding," said Shields, whose organization is the arts advisory group to the Long Beach city government and a promotional group for the visual and performing arts.

"You have people coming to the opera from all over Southern California," she said. "You have people coming to the CLO from Bakersfield to Arizona. The CLO is the only self-producing group of its kind in this market. That's why they are all surviving."

Ominous Events

But exclusivity is not enough to keep an organization performing, and the symphony's financial problems and near-demise were ominous events for local arts groups.

"As the symphony was going under, our board of directors realized that this could be us in a year," said Pegge Logefeil, managing director of the Civic Light Opera, which has a $1.6-million annual operating budget. "We haven't been that far behind the symphony in just hanging on."

The CLO had operated for 35 years on ticket sales and "Friends of the Arts" donations. When it moved into the Terrace Theater in 1981 and became an Actors Equity performing group in 1982, "a significant deficit" was incurred, said treasurer Calvin Andrews.

An estimated $600,000 deficit was carried over into its 1983-84 season and grew to about $900,000. But the Civic Light Opera has since cut costs and attracted a greatly increased audience, so it should break even on its operating costs this year, Andrews said.

The light opera has a $560,000 trust fund, which it has used as collateral to borrow money and pay off operating expenses. Within three or four years, Andrews said, the deficit should be completely paid off.

The deficit caused the Civic Light Opera management in the 1983-84 season to begin its first full-scale attempt at aggressive outside fund raising, with special benefit events and a car raffle.

Civic Light Opera ticket buyers were offered such blandishments as seats to the sold-out Los Angeles performances of such hits as "Cats" and "La Cage Aux Folles." The company also ran a membership drive in January that increased subscribers by about 1,000 to 22,000--nearing the Mark Taper Forum's 28,000 and far exceeding the 2,000 to 3,000 subscribers the other Long Beach arts organizations have.

And on Monday, the group began a telephone fund-raising campaign to upgrade its members' donations and increase revenues. The light opera has seven categories of memberships--$30, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1,000 and $2,000. The average membership is $50, said board president James Barggren, and the funding campaign is an effort to persuade current members to give even more.

But that's not all.

"We try to bring our audiences what their preferences are," Barggren said, so the management polls subscribers every year to see what shows should be offered. The No. 1 choice for the 1984-85 season was the "Sound of Music."

Marketing Tactics

Los Angeles Times Articles