THE CENTER : A Year of Discovery : Coffee Nerves and Other Shake-Out Problems

September 17, 1987|RANDY LEWIS | Times Staff Writer

One hotly debated issue that resonated through the Performing Arts Center during Year One had nothing to do with multimillion-dollar finances or prestigious programming.

It was, of course, the Coffee Question: Why isn't coffee served at the Center's refreshment counters? For the sleepy-eyed in the house, the caffeine prognosis isn't good.

"No coffee," said Josh Lavender, beverage manager at the Center. "The carpeting is a very light color, and coffee stains carpeting. For the first few seasons it's very important to keep it up and keep it nice, so we stay away from any thing that stains. That's also why we don't serve Coca-Cola."

On the bright side, however, Lavender said that sometime this fall, Orange Couty Performing Arts Center private label sparkling water will be served.

The coffee question was but one of numerous incidents, accidents and other occurrences at the Center during 1986-87 showing that, despite all the meticulous advance planning, the Center still had a fallible human side.

--In a speech at the Center's flashy Sept. 29 opening night concert, where tickets went for up to $1,000, then-Center Vice President Timothy Strader read a congratulatory telegram sent from the White House. It was signed, Strader said, "President Ronald Raisin . . . Reagan."

--Center officials invited the Master Chorale of Orange County and the Pacific Chorale--290 voices in all--to join Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Just one problem: only half that many singers could fit on stage with the portable orchestra shell in place. The hasty solution: the number of singers was cut, and those who didn't sing were given free tickets to opening night.

--Following the acclaimed performance last November of the New York City Ballet, the company's first West Coast engagement in a dozen years, principal dancer Sean Lavery described the Center's stage as feeling "like a trampoline on cement." Joffrey Ballet principal David Palmer was kinder to the dance surface ("It's good for dancers") but discovered the sensitive Segerstrom Hall acoustics to be potentially embarrassing. "We were told not make any noise on stage because it would be heard in the audience." Why would that be a problem? "Usually we talk to each other," Palmer said, "but nothing you could print."

--In April, one couple attending a performance waited in the exclusive Center Room watching the concert via television monitor rather than from their seats. The reason: their daughter was pregnant and due any moment, and they wanted to maintain telephone contact with the Los Angeles hospital she was in to learn the moment the baby was born. Just minutes after the curtain went up, word came that the baby had been delivered, and the new grandparents celebrated with a bottle of champagne.

--At a fund-raising dinner in May, Gen. William Lyon, a major donor to the Center and vice chairman of the Performance Fund campaign, was persuaded to take the podium and lead an orchestra performing for the event. As Lyon doffed his jacket and tie, conductor John Koshak deadpanned: "You don't have to strip , general."

--August, 1987, was a tough month at the Center. On Aug. 9, an elevator got stuck between floors, trapping 19 people on their way to see "Cabaret" for nearly 90 minutes. The hasty solution: those who got stuck were offered tickets to another performance. (Ground floor seats this time, we would hope.)

--Then, on Aug. 19, a hose on a large air-conditioning unit burst, filling a room with Freon. There was no performance that day and no employees were injured, but damage was estimated at $20,000.

--Also in August, singer Bernadette Peters pulled out of a long-planned concert to celebrate the Center's one-year anniversary. The "Encore" gala was already a sore point, having stirred controversy in the Jewish community when it was scheduled on Oct. 3, the concluding night of Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday. Center officials canceled the entire event, saying they could find "no performer of Peters stature" to replace her. True--we could think of only one other singer as petite, curvaceous and dryly humorous as the squeaky-voiced Peters: Betty Boop.

--The Times wasn't immune from Center gremlins. Last October, a headline trumpeted the upcoming appearance of "ISSAC STERN," who reportedly is no relation to virtuoso violinist Isaac Stern.

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