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Theatre Center Survival A Cliffhanger

September 25, 1986|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

The Los Angeles Theatre Center celebrated its first anniversary Monday--that is, the first in its Spring Street quarters.

It was a private affair. The 450 or so people who had worked there, on and off, since last September each chipped in $10. The money was both practical and symbolic--a pledge to the center's survival.

Survival has not been easy--or assured. Bill Severns, appointed to bird-dog the center's management activities for the Community Redevelopment Agency (the center's chief supporter), said Tuesday: "They've come through some sort of a wringer in the last month. They came in from that little house (on Hollywood's Oxford Avenue, where the company spent 10 years in a two-theater complex as the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre) and were swamped by that huge palace.

"They attempted to solve their problems by adding to the payroll. Bill (producing artistic director Bill Bushnell) has had to make some major sacrifices. It's still touch and go, but I feel they're on much more solid ground. It'll be intensive care for probably two years. How well we can get them through the cash-flow problem will tell the tale, but we're pulling it around."

"It's going to be lean," said Bushnell, conceding the new austerity has required him to trim 25 people from his 175-person payroll and to plan fewer shows for the '87-'88 season (down to 13 from the current 18). "It was tough, but probably healthy. Things are looking good. Our relationship with the CRA is positive. Bringing Bill Severns in was the most positive thing they could have done. It's worked extremely well--for them and for us, especially in terms of defining areas of responsibility."

Patricia Sterne, deputy director of the CRA for the metropolitan area, concurred and clarified:

"The agency is reevaluating its financial participation," she said. "For the rest of the season and all seasons during which the facility is under our control, we will assume responsibility for the maintenance of the building. We will not assume operational expenses.

"We're trying to maintain truth with Bushnell and our own redevelopment mission. The theater has met the crucial CRA objectives of getting people downtown to Spring Street--225,000 of them, and at night. We're pleased with the operational changes that have been made so far and the recent fund-raising effort."

"The purpose was not simply to support the performing arts," echoed CRA board chairman James Wood. "It was part of a redevelopment design for Spring Street. In order to support a commercial and secondary office market you need a lively environment.

"When the state office building is completed (at 3rd and Spring), the theater will stand between it and the garment district, which is already very strong. It will become one of the most attractive office markets in the West."

(The troubled Variety Arts Center at Figueroa and 9th streets does not enjoy the same geographical advantage, Wood said, which is one reason why it lost its CRA support and faces foreclosure.)

Typically, Bushnell is working on three years at once. He's currently tackling the budget and the artistic programming for the '87-'88 season, which begins in March. All he'll announce is that Charles Marowitz will direct "The Importance of Being Earnest" next summer.

How are things financially?

"The current budget has been revised down from $7.3 million to $6.1 million," he said, in keeping with the austerity rule. About the '87-'88 budget, all he'd say is "it'll be slightly more than that."

As for a report on the center's artistic state, "Tartuffe" is doing well and might be extended for two more weeks. "I Don't Have to Show You No Stinking Badges" plays at Florida's Burt Reynolds Dinner Theatre Oct. 7 to Nov. 2. and might open in San Francisco after the first of the year.

Donald Freed's "Alfred and Victoria" will open on schedule Oct. 30 and run to Dec. 7, with Gerald Hiken directing. Philip Baker Hall and Dinah Manoff are featured.

Bushnell himself will direct William Mastrosimone's "Tamer of Horses" opening Nov. 7. Stein Winge ("Barabbas") will return to do "The Glass Menagerie," final entry in the Classics Series (replacing "Happy End," Jan. 15 to March 1). And Barbara Bain will play Winnie in Samuel Beckett's "Happy Days" (Oct. 23-Nov. 30).

Two plays planned for the Festival of Premieres are Jon Robin Baitz's "The Film Society" with Robert Egan directing (Jan. 22-Feb. 22) and Darrah Cloud's "The Stick Wife" (Jan. 15-March 1). A third play will be announced.

"Miracles happen," quipped Bushnell, "but then we have to work out the details."

ONGOING O'NEILL: A dozen West Coast directors met last Saturday at Tao House, the former Eugene O'Neill residence in Danville, Ca., for a preliminary conference on how to coordinate the O'Neill centennial in 1988. The conference, sponsored by the Eugene O'Neill Foundation Tao House, was also attended by those emeriti O'Neill specialists, actor Jason Robards and director Jose Quintero, and by George White of the O'Neill Foundation East.

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