Gordon Davidson, who has run half of the Center Theatre Group since its inception, is about to add the other half to his domain--for at least a season.
The veteran artistic director of the CTG/Mark Taper Forum will assume command of CTG/Ahmanson Theatre at the James A. Doolittle Theatre for 1989-90.
As previously announced, the Ahmanson programming will move to the Doolittle in the spring to make room for "The Phantom of the Opera" at the Ahmanson itself. The move coincides with the departures of Ahmanson artistic director Robert Fryer and guest artistic director Marshall Mason.
Davidson will oversee the Ahmanson shows for as long as they're presented at the Doolittle--which will probably extend beyond that first season if "Phantom" draws as well as expected at the Ahmanson. CTG will lease the Doolittle from its owner, UCLA, for two years.
"First and foremost," said Davidson, "I have to figure out how to preserve and maintain the Ahmanson audience in a new location. Otherwise, the Ahmanson would have to start from scratch when 'Phantom' closed.
"Second, this will be a wonderful opportunity for the Doolittle itself to operate as a year-round theater." CTG won't have to compete for time with UCLA's own theatrical bookings, which will move to the Wadsworth Theater near the campus.
CTG and UCLA jointly owned and programmed the Doolittle in 1985-86, but CTG pulled out after taking a financial bath in its first season.
This time will be "significantly different," said Davidson. "That was an attempt to define a new voice in town as opposed to the preservation of an existing voice."
Of the shows he booked into the Doolittle then, "The Iceman Cometh" would be the likeliest to make the cut at the new Doolittle, but he wouldn't book such exotica as "The Garden of Earthly Delights" under the new arrangement.
Does this mean a continuation of the Ahmanson's often-cited policy of relying on stars to fill all those seats?
"Star plays, not star actors," replied Davidson. "I know I have to reach 1,000 people instead of 750 (as he does at the Taper). But the dilemma of the Ahmanson is that they have to reach 2,000 (at the Ahmanson itself)."
Furthermore, he said, "this current Ahmanson season ("Les Liaisons Dangereuses," "Into the Woods," "Hapgood") is not based on star names. I could have programmed that season myself."
Davidson hopes to put his personal stamp on the Ahmanson/Doolittle programming. "I have a strong personality, and I will try to have that personality speak through that theater." Won't that be more difficult with the more conservative Ahmanson audience than it is at the Taper? "Why don't we wait and see? That's for me to know and you to find out."
Davidson will not use the Doolittle to revive his almost-abandoned idea of a repertory season--"it doesn't exist because of funding, and that funding is still not in place." But he hopes to develop some new plays for presentation at the Doolittle. "What I can't tell you now," he said, "is how many productions will be brought in and how many will be produced locally."
Will the Taper suffer as a result of Davidson's divided attention? "I think not," said Davidson. He "thought long and hard" about the added responsibilities, but he concluded that he can handle it.
CTG board president Lawrence J. Ramer agreed: "Gordon has a great deal of energy."
Davidson did allow that it was "highly unlikely" that he would accept any free-lance assignments during the period, adding that he has already turned down an offer to direct one of the Los Angeles Music Center Opera productions.
When "Phantom" closes, will Davidson continue to direct the Ahmanson at its permanent home? "I'm not even thinking about it," demurred Davidson. Ramer added that the CTG search committee will continue to look for potential Ahmanson artistic directors.
"The nicest thing that could happen," said Davidson, "would be a reason to keep producing at the Doolittle, regardless of what happens at the Ahmanson."
That, of course, would entail the creation of a new wing of the CTG, a new audience, a new theater--which may be precisely what Davidson wants.
"I hope," he said, "that an audience is capable of going to more than one theater."
A NEW ERA for the smaller theaters of Los Angeles begins Monday, as Actors' Equity's new 99-Seat Theater Plan goes into effect. But actors and producers throughout town are wondering how--or even if--Equity will make it stick, particularly in the wake of the news that Equity and opponents of the plan will meet again in late October.
Equity discourages such speculation. If Equity members appear in unsanctioned productions that open after Sunday, said George Ives, the union's local senior business representative, "we'll tell them to cease and desist. If they don't, they'll be brought up on charges." If found guilty in a hearing, "they could be fined, reprimanded, suspended--anything from nothing to expulsion."