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STAGE WATCH

Youth Theatre Isn't Applauding the Ovation Awards

September 12, 1993|DON SHIRLEY

They're off and running for the Ovations, L.A.'s first peer-judged competitive theater awards.

As of Wednesday, 11 shows that were already open or about to open had signed up as the first contenders. Though the year-long eligibility period began Sept. 1, shows that opened earlier could sign up with Theatre LA, the sponsoring organization, as long as they continued playing at least into September.

Though the race has barely begun, the first sign of Ovations controversy has already cropped up. Jack Nakano, artistic director of the California Youth Theatre, objects to the rule that Ovations contenders must be registered with Actors' Equity. His productions seldom use Equity members.

"We feel very disenfranchised," said Nakano, noting that his organization was one of the first members of Theatre LA and pays $180 a year in dues.

"We discussed this for a long time," responded Theatre LA president Barbara Beckley. University and community groups also belong to Theatre LA without using Equity actors. But the competition was restricted to Equity-sanctioned shows for the first, "pilot" year, "just to keep it more manageable."

Perhaps separate categories for non-Equity shows will be added in the future, she said. But "for them to be competing in professional categories isn't fair. . . . We will find a way to highlight other types of theater" at the awards ceremony in the fall of 1994.

At press time, a total of 66 voters had been certified, but the complete list of voters won't be available until at least Sept. 24. Each of the 121 theaters companies or producers who belong to Theatre LA is supposed to designate a voter, but some of them are such small operations that they haven't yet found anyone who can commit to seeing 25 shows--the minimum required of each voter.

Meanwhile, Theatre LA heard from a number of individuals who volunteered to serve as voters. If their credentials are in order (they must have been paid for professional work in the theater at some point in the last 10 years), they're being matched with those Theatre LA member groups that haven't found their own voters.

Beckley noted that retired professionals may have more time to see shows than still-active ones. Asked whether this might not skew the votes along generational lines, she added that the voters so far represent a wide age range--from the early 20s through the 60s--and "varying viewpoints." Is there a racial/ethnic mix? Yes, "but not as much as I would like."

The mostly L.A.-based voters won't have to travel to Costa Mesa--officials at South Coast Repertory, a frequent winner of other theater awards, have decided not to join Theatre LA, even though it means they can't win Ovations. South Coast spokesman Cris Gross cited Theatre LA's lack of Orange County orientation and the potential membership fee, and added, "It's not appropriate to join just to win an award."

The Nederlander Organization--which runs three of L.A.'s largest theaters-- has decided to join Theatre LA, prompted by the arrival of the Ovations season, according to Nederlander West President Stan Seiden.

A NOISE WITHOUT: A Noise Within, Glendale's acclaimed classical repertory company, operates on Actors' Equity's 99-Seat Plan, which requires only token payments to actors. But next spring, in a move rare for such a young (3-year-old) group, the company hopes to take "The School for Wives" on a four-week tour, using a regular Equity contract.

The tour was prompted by an offer from the Norris Theatre in Palos Verdes, where it will begin in May. Other bookings are still being firmed up, said a company spokeswoman.

LA MIRADA WATCH: Attention, "Nunsense" fans: "Nunsense II: The Second Coming" will make its first area appearance Feb. 18-March 6, with Jo Anne Worley, in La Mirada Theatre's Broadway series. Also scheduled are "Jake's Women" (Nov. 5-21), "Love Letters" with Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows (Jan. 7-23) and "Five Guys Named Moe" (May 6-22).

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