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STAGE WATCH

Arts Figures Debate Merits of a City-Owned LATC : Among the issues raised are the potential danger of government-sponsored art and whether the Los Angeles Theatre Center could be used by other art forms.

November 29, 1990|DON SHIRLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Should the City of Los Angeles spend $4.5 million to buy the Los Angeles Theatre Center, and between $150,000 and $2 million annually to operate it? Should the city's Cultural Affairs Department take over as administrator of the building?

And if all this comes to pass, would your favorite arts group (other than LATC) be able to use the building alongside the current resident company?

These questions are on many minds this week in the wake of a report that a city takeover will be recommended by the commission that was charged with drawing up a blueprint for the future of the downtown theater complex.

The commission's detailed conclusions have not been released, pending further negotiations among interested parties--talks that are presumably covering the delicate subject of how all of this would be financed.

Even Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, who normally opposes further city funding of LATC, declined to comment until he sees and digests the report.

However, several leading arts figures agreed to discuss their reaction to the idea of a city-owned and operated LATC and on whether they might want to be included in such an institution.

"Any theater that has that kind of city support has my wholehearted support," said choreographer Bella Lewitzky, whose own Dance Gallery has been stymied in its efforts to raise enough money to begin construction on its downtown site.

"But I would now like it to extend to the dance world," she continued. "It doesn't extend easily to dance." She said LATC's Tom Bradley Theatre "would be an ideal space" for her company's intimate "In the Works" series. But most of the facility's theaters lack the wings, the overhead space and the proscenium possibilities that larger dance presentations need.

Danielle Shapiro, the artistic director of Pacific Dance Ensemble, presented a dance series, Generator Eight, at LATC last spring. She hopes dance would be included in the scenario for the theater's future, she said, "but my main concern is that the Cultural Affairs Dept. would administer the complex. My instinct says that it seems like too much power in one place, since they administer the L.A. (Arts) Endowment.

The Center Theatre Group's Gordon Davidson said he told the LATC commission "that they must find a way to remove the burden of (operating) the building from LATC. It's not inappropriate for the city to buy it. But the idea that it would become the responsibility of the Cultural Affairs Department has to be looked at seriously. What are the consequences?"

"I hate to see LATC diminished," he added, "unless (the reduction in available slots for LATC shows) helps them by allowing them to do more concentrated work."

Because "multiculturalism" is a hot buzzword in Los Angeles arts circles, and because one of LATC's claims to fame is its emphasis on multiculturalism, some of the city's smaller minority-oriented theaters might be likely to receive invitations to perform at a city-operated LATC.

"If there is a chance to get in, that would be great," said East West Players artistic director Nobu McCarthy. "But at this point I don't like to speculate. I'm not saying, 'Oh, good--another space for us.' "

Carmen Zapata, artistic director of the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, which runs a 99-seat theater, was more restrained. "I would have to consult my board, and I would do a survey of my audience, to see how they would feel about attending theater in that area," she said. However, she added, "I'm feeling the pressure of seams splitting. We're turning away people at the door. We're in search of a bigger space."

Zapata said she didn't like the idea of groups other than LATC (which would remain as the primary tenant, according to the plan) becoming ensconced in the facility. "Different theaters should use it at different times of the year."

But the Odyssey Theatre's Ron Sossi--while prefacing his remarks with "I have to see the details before I have an intelligent opinion"--had the opposite reaction. He suggested that LATC could share the facility with two other long-term tenants, "like the Ft. Mason complex in San Francisco."

Otherwise, he said, "if it's 'this month, this group; next month, that group'--there is no way to promote."

He said he would be "disinclined" to take his own Westside-based group to the building, especially if it weren't subsidized for a long engagement. "I don't have a great deal of faith in the downtown renaissance. The problem in pulling audiences to that neighborhood still exists."

Sossi also expressed concern about the possible role of the Cultural Affairs Department. He said he wants to know if the agency would control artistic decisions or whether it would operate "sheerly as a landlord."

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