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Surprises and Disappointments : Having Finished With a Surplus, L.A. Festival Looks Ahead to 1989

September 30, 1987|JUDITH MICHAELSON | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Festival ended its 24-day run Sunday night in the black, with the size of its surplus awaiting a complete count. But the real boost to the future of Los Angeles festivals came with the surprise announcement that Peter Sellars, former director of the American National Theatre at Kennedy Center in Washington, will replace Robert Fitzpatrick as festival director of the biennial event.

Fitzpatrick told The Times Monday that the festival surpassed its $1.4-million goal in ticket sales sometime last week. Anything beyond that, he said, is surplus for the next festival in 1989.

"From my point of view it went spectacularly," said Fitzpatrick, who leaves on vacation today before assuming his new position in two weeks as president of Euro Disneyland in Paris. He added that "start-up money" for the '89 event had always been figured into this festival's $5.8-million budget--half the size of the 10-week 1984 Olympic Arts Festival that Fitzpatrick, 47, also directed. Meanwhile, a dozen key staff members will stay on at least through the end of the year.

Sellars, 29, whose warm, ebullient, sprite-like style differs markedly from that of the cool, elegant and professorial Fitzpatrick, received a 1983 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant." He takes over Dec. 1 after directing "The Electrification of the Soviet Union," which opens at Glyndebourne, England, on Monday, and "Nixon in China," which opens Oct. 22 at the Houston Grand Opera.

Asked if there was anything he might have done differently, Fitzpatrick quickly responded: "I would have kept the American dollar from declining." That prevented him from bringing major theatrical productions from Germany and Japan.

There were other difficulties, including complaints from the City Council that not enough local minority artists were included in the festival and that festival sites did not go beyond downtown and Hollywood. On Labor Day weekend, the sudden illness of British choreographer Michael Clark forced cancellation of the Saturday night performance while this past Saturday night Raleigh Studios in Hollywood was in the black due to a power outage that delayed the "Mahabharata" marathon and Compagnie Maguy Marin for 90 minutes.

"Even this weekend when 'Mahabharata' meant an hour-and-a-half wait," said Fitzpatrick, "my principal source of satisfaction from the festival was the response from the audience. People were in remarkable good form and good humor, and in a sense almost enjoyed the time chatting."

Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick pledged continued involvement as a member of the festival's board and called Sellars' appointment "a fantastic choice."

At an unusual Saturday morning press conference at the Biltmore Hotel, Mayor Tom Bradley declared that this year's festival has "ensured the success of this continuum that I expect will run as long as I'm mayor.

"And that," added Bradley who in 1989 will be seeking his fifth term, "is going to be a long time."

With a burst of energy as he rushed to the microphone, Sellars provided a glimpse of his vision for the future, and talked about long-range planning for festivals through the end of the century and beyond.

"While the festival has brought the best in the world to Los Angeles," said Sellars who had flown in from England for the announcement, "now we're going to make the best right here, and let everybody else get a whiff so that they can really see that it's not just that we can afford things, but actually right here is the crucible."

At the same time he said he intends to focus on a Latino and Asian festival for 1989 as Fitzpatrick had intended--"Oh, in a big way, you'll see a lot of that; that's where the interesting work is happening as well"--and to seek works from the Soviet Union, China and Eastern Europe.

"We can really take a leap," Sellars said. "We can really move beyond the political boundaries and the propaganda of it all, and share what people have to share. The next decade is the crucial one as those countries come in out of the cold, and we here wise up."

While bringing in works from abroad, Sellars is focusing on local artists as well, and said he intends to spread the festival throughout the city. "We're going to be expanding the way the festival happens," Sellars said, "so that we're really placing events in neighborhoods across the entire scope of the city . . . I really look forward to spreading the thing geographically, and planting seeds all over the place."

Key festival staff said it would take about two weeks before they had a detailed accounting of this year's surplus, the percentage of sellout performances and the actual number of ticket-buyers as opposed to repeat festival-goers. While the 'Mahabharata" was clearly the hottest ticket, the event that apparently sold the least, according to Fitzpatrick, was the final John Cage music event at Japan America Theatre.

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