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STAGE WATCH

Megaw to Shut Down as Equity Waiver House

June 11, 1987|DON SHIRLEY

The curtain will come down on the Megaw Theatre, the leading theatrical outpost of the western San Fernando Valley, at the end of its current season, Aug. 23.

"We've taken the Megaw as far as it can go as an Equity Waiver theater," said artistic director Elaine Moe. "It's time to move on to something more professional, with stronger financial remuneration." Within a year, hopes Moe, a revived Megaw Productions will rent space in other theaters to present Equity wage-paying shows.

The Megaw opened its doors at 17601 Saticoy St. in Northridge with 45 subscribers in 1974. The number of subscribers peaked at 2,200 in 1985, declining to around 1,800 this year. But the lack of money, not a lack of audience, was the problem.

"Our deficit was never made up by grants," Moe said. So the theater's operators made it up out of their own pockets. Neither Moe nor executive producer Sydney May Morrison took salaries, nor did they accept rent on the theater (which they co-owned, with Morrison's brother). They also chipped in to fight two zoning battles "to keep the building alive as a theater."

"Perhaps the fact that we were self-supporting was a deterrent to raising other funds," Moe said. "It may have appeared there was an endless funnel of money."

In 1984, the Megaw was one week from closing escrow on a loan to build a structure on the Saticoy site that would have included theaters of 350 and 189 seats. But then a foundation's offer of $5 million collapsed--"with deep regrets, they sent their deep regrets," Moe said.

Moe believes the Megaw "developed the audience base" for the numerous Waiver theaters that have sprouted farther east in the Valley. And on four occasions, Megaw productions moved up to Equity wage-paying contracts at other theaters.

The Megaw's final show, "Through the Years," will be a "cavalcade of scenes from our musicals," Moe said. Then the building will likely return "from whence it came"--a church is buying it from the Megaw owners, just as they bought it from another congregation 14 years ago.

The Guthrie Theater, the Seattle Repertory Theatre and the Acting Company are among the troupes who will appear next season at the James A. Doolittle Theatre, under the auspices of the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts.

But don't send away for tickets just yet. The Acting Company will perform in January, and the other groups won't show up until May.

The Acting Company will bring its version of Mark Twain's "The Gilded Age," adapted and directed by Mark Lamos of the Hartford Stage Company, and a "Much Ado About Nothing" set in '30s Cuba. The Guthrie plans to present Barbara Field's new adaptation of "Frankenstein." The Seattle Repertory's two productions have not yet been selected.

Whatever happened to "Vienna: Lusthaus," the Martha Clarke piece that was supposed to follow on the heels of her "Garden of Earthly Delights"? "Too expensive," said the UCLA Center's marketing director Gail Kustin. "The show (budget) alone was prohibitive"--and the box office response to "Garden" was another discouraging factor. "If it ('Vienna') had more cards in its favor in terms of expected income, we might have been more inclined to take the risk," Kustin added.

UCLA hasn't lost money on the Doolittle since it took sole control of the theater last year, Kustin said--thanks to the rent paid by "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe," Lily Tomlin's show. "We're trying to open blocks of time for rentals," said Kustin, but only for shows "that enhance the reputation of the theater and the university." Such productions should help make up the deficits expected from such programming as the Musical Comedy/LA rep season this summer.

Booted out of the Music Center at the end of last month, the American Center for Music Theater (formerly the Musical Theatre Workshop of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera) has found temporary shelter in the Hollywood Pacific Theater building at 6433 Hollywood Blvd.

The third floor site may become permanent quarters for the organization, which specializes in the development of young musical theater talent. It depends on whether funds can be found to renovate the space, said artistic director/producer Paul Gleason, whose new telephone number is (213) 463-6593.

A few tickets remain for the Saturday performances of Melissa Manchester in the first, all-singing act of "Song and Dance." The event is a benefit for its host, Back Alley Theatre, as well as a workshop for the national tour of the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Don Black/Richard Maltby Jr. musical (which opens June 23 in Dallas but hasn't scheduled any California stops).

Tickets to the weeklong run were initially offered only to Back Alley subscribers and donors, but the unsold tickets to the Saturday performances are now available to the public. The cost is $35 for the matinee and $100 for the evening performance, which includes a post-show bash at La Magnolia, a historic mansion in Sherman Oaks. Information: (818) 780-2240.

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