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Stage Watch

Mixed Success Noted in South Coast's Second Hispanic Playwrights Project

July 16, 1987|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

In an effort to bring a Latino awareness less to Orange County as to the world of theater in general, six new plays by Latino writers were read over the weekend as part of South Coast Repertory's Hispanic Playwrights Project.

Three were done in closed session (with one day's rehearsal) and three in public (with four days' preparation). All were works in varying degrees of progress. All had an assigned dramaturg, director and a company of actors.

Respected Cuban-American playwright and teacher Irene Maria Fornes was present throughout. She launched the public proceedings last Thursday with an enlightened conversation on the fine points of playwriting (with SCR dramaturg John Glore). Subsequently Fornes also conducted a playwriting workshop in private.

The private aspects of the event, in fact, may have been its most productive. No one can argue with the worthiness of the project, but worthy endeavors are often burdened by such a compelling desire to make the experience good that it can lead to a false sense of accomplishment. In its second year, the SCR Hispanic Playwrights Project seemed more to be admired for its goals than its achievements.

"We measure the success of the program with how well the process has worked to provide the playwright with new insights," countered SCR producing artistic director David Emmes. "In that sense, it was most successful. Programmatic elements were essentially the same (as last year), but having gone through it once before, we did a more efficient job of knowing how to allot time and where to place emphasis. We were better able to focus our resources--actors, dramaturgs, directors and audiences--on the plays.

"We did a debrief with the playwrights Sunday and all of them seemed to have gained something in terms of new ideas. The greatest value (of the project) will be the residual action (it generates).

What's in it for SCR?

"The benefit to us is over the long term," Emmes said. "It's part of our Colab (the artistic research and development arm of SCR, which is process- rather than result-oriented). We will have helped to create new work for the American theater. Playwrights are the least-paid artists in the theater and the theater is suffering for that. It's a small commitment to putting our money where our mouth is."

Two plays that emerged out of last year's project--Lisa Loomer's "Birds" and Arthur Giron's "Charley Bacon and His Family"--were later staged in the SCR season. The outcome is iffier this year.

"We're considering optioning one of the plays," Emmes said, "but last year was unusual in that two of the plays were about ready to go. The work, in a sense, had already been done. This year the work was more consistent with the objectives of the program: providing support for plays in development. We're more fulfilled knowing we've provided income to a playwright for writing a play, than thinking we'll get a play out of it.

"We have two slots on our Second Stage that remain to be filled." Emmes said a play by Eduardo Machado, commissioned after last year's project and now in rewrites, could fill one of them. (See announcement of the complete SCR season on Page 7.)

RETURN "MAIL": That bouncy musical about unopened "Mail" closed Saturday at the Pasadena Playhouse (to allow "Handy Dandy" to open on schedule July 26), but it won't be gone for long.

The Jerry Colker/Michael Rupert romp is being reworked and forwarded to the same address--beginning previews Oct. 23, with a three-week run set for Nov 1-22. It's the second step producer Susan Dietz had talked of, on the musical's potential trip to Broadway.

WHO LOVES "ME": When "She Loves Me" moved from Santa Barbara to the Ahmanson it stumbled instead of waltzing, making a meager $69,556 at the box-office the first week (seven performances) and $79,580 the second (eight performances). Potential weekly gross for the house is $384,000.

Average daily attendance at the 2,071-seat theater has been under 700 (last Friday's figure was a grim 351), but there seems to be no thought of closing early.

The word as late as Wednesday was that the show will complete its run as planned--Aug. 2.

NEW TWOSOME: A marriage of the Los Angeles Theater Alliance and the League of Producers and Theaters of Greater Los Angeles is about to be consummated.

"We've been working on a plan for about a year," confirmed L.A. Theatre Works' Susan Loewenberg, a member of both the Alliance and the League. "If it goes through, the merger will be legal, programmatic and financial.

"The alliance is a service organization. The league was formed later to accommodate some of the larger more established theaters with specific common objectives in the areas of advertising, audience development and general marketing needs. We want to merge the programs, with a service arm able to receive grants, and a generic advertising and marketing arm."

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