Most properly and most officially it's called the Music Center of Los Angeles County . For while it may fill a block of downtown real estate, this complex of buildings and people is as diverse as the county itself. A multifaceted city within a multifaceted county.
Take, for example, one day (and part of a night) at the Music Center. Almost any day. Say a day last spring:
From his Pavilion office, Music Center coordinator Roger Parrell, the liaison between the County and the Music Center Operating Co., scans the day's schedule: Pavilion--Performance 'Orpheus," 8 p.m. Mark Taper Forum--performance, "Stand Up Tragedy," 8 p.m. Ahmanson Theatre--performance, "Phantom of the Opera," 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Eldorado--Breakfast Club marketing breakfast (30 people), 7 a.m.-9:30 a.m. Blue Ribbon--Pete Schabarum reception (200 people), 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Founders--Coopers & Lybrand lunch (40 people), 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Pavilion Restaurant--11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5:30 p.m.-8 p.m. Otto Rothchilds--7:30 a.m.- 11 a.m. Backstage Cafe--11 a.m.-8 p.m.
An arts complex with only artists? Hardly. To maintain its many cultural and social activities, the Music Center operates much like a self-contained city, a city of more than 500 citizens. Here is a glimpse at how this city functions.
For glamour and adventure, Scott Pollack has one of the most underrated jobs in the complex. He commands the 17-man security force that ferrets transients out of stairwells, returns lost diamond broaches and keeps groupies from assaulting the Pavilion Artists Entrance.
Only 22 and a captain for Burns International Security Services (contracted by the county), the native New Yorker looks snappy in his starched white shirt with badge. "Most of the work is fairly slow," he says, "but there are moments."
During their post-performance lockup of the three theaters, Pollack and his men have found diamond watches, as well as cameras, binoculars, items of clothing and wallets. "Once we found a $6,000 diamond ring," he says. And once he discovered a homeless couple living in a Pavilion stairwell. The young man and woman had been there two days; the pair had set up bed and lodging.
Last year a burglar broke into the gift shop on the courtyard. But most of the time there is little problem because the grounds are patrolled on a 24-hour basis. (L.A. County Safety Police also provide building security.) A wide-angle video lens sweeps the courtyard with a ubiquitous eye.
Fans often try to con their way through the Grand Street Artists Entrance, says Pollack. "They will say that such and such a performer had left their name at the entrance, and it isn't their fault if it's lost."
"Often we are a person's very first theater experience," says Page Messerly, box office treasurer for the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. "Sometimes people are intimidated to come to the box office. If we treat them well, they will enjoy theater more."
This day, Messerly, 30, a UCLA theater-arts graduate who used to design lighting for Equity Waiver productions, is busy on three fronts: taking ticket orders for the July 1 and final performance of "Orpheus of the Underworld," handling advance sales for the summer Pavilion presentations of "Gypsy" and "Fiddler on the Roof" and doing subscription work for the 1989-90 Music Center Opera season (which just opened with "Tosca").
Messerly started in the telephone-orders room of the Pavilion four years ago, moved to group sales and took over as box office treasurer last year. Her department numbers 11 full-time staff members.
"Just now I had to explain to a customer at the window that we are not the Ahmanson," Messerly says. "People often confuse our Pavilion box office with the other theaters.
"Most sales, though, are not over the wicket but through ticket outlets and telephone and mail orders.
"The important thing is communication, learning how to extract information from people quickly. It's a lot easier when a customer says, 'I want to see this show on this date and here's the money I have to spend.' It comes down to what price people want to spend. Some have to have a seat on the aisle. And one patron, when buying for the Joffrey Ballet, always sits in Row 22, insisting the Joffrey can only be appreciated from Row 22.
"When it comes to opera, we find that word of mouth, not reviews, is particularly important."
He writes plays on the side and oversees a 130-person usher pool for all three theaters. "I started ushering here in '73," says Neal Alvarez. "It was a job to get me through college."
Now, as supervisor of all ushers, which include ticket takers and footmen (the uniformly dressed personnel who work the front of the box offices), Alvarez, 35, has a career.
Many current, full-time Music Center employes were once ushers and several, Alvarez says, went on to become L.A. policemen, lawyers and judges. The most famous is actor John Ritter, Music Center usher class of 1969-70.