Laguna Playhouse has canceled its June 19 "Summer Sorcery" benefit in the face of allegations by a local minister that the fund-raising event would be an occasion "to mix alcohol and the practice of the occult."
The Playhouse, in the midst of a campaign to raise money for its expansion into the 17,000-square-foot General Telephone building, had sent invitations to supporters saying, "Your Magical Evening Under the Stars includes: Divine Dancing, Enchanting Edibles, Decadent Desserts, Liberal Libation, Plus: Prediction and Prognostications by Professional Astrologers, Palmists, Crystal Gazers, Numerologists, Psychics, Clairvoyants, Aura Readers, Psychometrists, Past-Life Readers, Psychic Artists, Rune Stones, Star Cards, Tarot Cards, Channelers, Kirlian Photographer."
Tickets for the event, which was to be held at the Laguna Beach estate of Constance Morthland, were $75. The initial response was strong, Playhouse officials said.
Last week, the Rev. Jerry Tankersley of Laguna Presbyterian Church mailed a flyer to congregation members that said, in part:
"It may well be that this gathering of occult professionals is nothing but entertainment, but I am concerned about a major cultural institution of our city becoming identified with those who are representatives and voices of spiritual powers that at times have proven to be destructive of human life."
Tankersley's letter then urged congregants to "continue to support the Playhouse, but let it be known that this program is inappropriate for our city. The Playhouse is ill advised to give these occult professionals a platform for their magic, their arts or their entertainment skills."
Earlier this week, Morthland and Playhouse officials agreed that the benefit should not be held at her residence. When an alternative site could not be found in time, the event was canceled.
Playhouse supporters who had already sent money for tickets will soon be receiving a letter explaining the cancellation with their refunds. The letters say that "unfortunately, some members of the community took exception to our program, particularly to the inclusion of psychics."
Brian Murphy, director of marketing and public relations for the Playhouse, said the cancellation will cost the Playhouse about $3,000--mostly for printing of invitations--in addition to an anticipated loss of $30,000 to $40,000 that had been expected to be raised through a silent auction.
"We're very disappointed that the event was canceled," Murphy said. "We are aware of Rev. Tankersley's letter, and we respect his right to his opinion, although we do disagree with him. We're not looking for a confrontation."
Murphy said that the Playhouse did not receive a copy of the minister's mailing but that Tankersley did contact the Playhouse a week before his mailing went out, telling about his objections.
Morthland, a longtime Playhouse supporter who is not a member of Tankersley's congregation, said that she did not see a copy of his mailing but that she "did receive some letters and some calls" as a result of the mailing.
She said the canceled program would have been "completely innocent."
Morthland told Playhouse officials about the communiques then left them to make the final decision. She said she expects to hold future Playhouse benefits.
Douglas Rowe, the Playhouse's artistic director, called Tankersley's letter "a bolt from the blue," particularly because "relations with the church have never been anything but cordial and supportive" in the past.
The program, he said, would have been "harmless. It just seemed like a real fun evening and a way to raise money for our building."
Tankersley said Wednesday that he was unaware of the cancellation and that he expected "some flak" as a result of it.
In 1988, both the Playhouse and the church voiced interest in moving into the GTE Building in downtown Laguna Beach.