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THEATER NOTES : Productions Troubled by Lack of Minorities : Few such actors has restricted what can be done on stage. But children's acting groups have no trouble with recruiting.

September 23, 1993|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

There's a common--and justifiable--cry throughout the show business community for more representation by minorities. When a Latino, African-American or Asian appears in anything other than a stereotypical supporting role, it's major news; the recent release of "The Joy Luck Club" with its nearly all-Asian cast is considered something of a miracle within the community.

On the flourishing Ventura County community theater scene, though, the situation is different. Considerably different. Here, producers have trouble finding actors, or even would-be actors, from minority communities.

"It's pitiful," says Michael Jordan, whose Gothic Productions stages plays in Thousand Oaks. "I've been producing plays in Ventura since 1984, and I think I've worked with three minority members in that time."

Jordan's sentiments reflect those of most theater group representatives who were surveyed for this piece. They practice their craft from Thousand Oaks to Ojai. Several, including Jordan and Michael Maynez, founder and artistic director of Ventura's Plaza Players, say the lack of minority actors restricts what they're able to produce on stage.

"There are many wonderful plays incorporating minority characters available," says Maynez, who is unable to produce them because of the shortage of African-American actors in Ventura County.

As of the 1990 U. S. Census, only 26% of the county's residents were Hispanic, 5% Asian and 2% African-American. Thousand Oaks' population was 1.2% African-American, and only three-tenths of 1% of Ojai's 7,600 residents were African-American.

It's somewhat of a victory for all concerned, then, that three plays in the near future feature African-American or Latino actors: Plaza Players' production of "Our Lady of the Tortilla," which opens Saturday; Ventura College's production of South African playwright Athol Fugard's "Blood Knot," which opens next weekend; and the Santa Paula Theater Center production of "The Boys Next Door," which opens Oct. 22.

Jay Varela, head of the Ventura College Theater department, says he began advertising "very early, in May," for a black actor to appear in "The Blood Knot," and wound up recruiting David Ford. Varela says that he's cast only three black actors in recent years, due mainly to the limited talent pool at Ventura College.

David Ralphe, director of "The Boys Next Door," advertised throughout Ventura County before locating a Los Angeles actor. "One Asian had shown up for auditions and I considered him" Ralphe says, "but the role clearly demands a black actor."

Several local theater groups actually go to the trouble of recruiting outside the county for actors, most notably in the trade publication Drama-Logue. For last year's presentation of "Driving Miss Daisy," Santa Susana Repertory Company's Lane Davies recruited professional actor Beau Billingslea, whom Davis had known when both were appearing on the soap opera "Santa Barbara."

But it's difficult to find professional or amateur actors willing to drive in for rehearsals, several days a week for several weeks.

Opportunities for minority actors abound. Most roles aren't race-specific, and most local producers say they'll consider any talented actor for most parts.

"We had Oliver Hamilton in 'Klondike Kalamity' " says the Moorpark Melodrama's Linda Bredemann, "and a beautiful, talented black actress named Gaynor Kelly in 'Virtue Victorious.' She had to drop out of our upcoming production of 'Rockin' Robin Hood,' because she got a movie offer."

A former Moorpark Melodrama regular, Kevin-Anthony, is now touring in a national company of "Miss Saigon."

Encouragingly, children's theater groups seem to have no trouble recruiting minorities for their productions.

Elizabeth Ridenour, whose Illusions Theatre performs in minority-starved Ojai, boasts that one recent production included five Latino cast members and one Filipino. Mark Reyes of Thousand Oaks' Young Artists Ensemble says that his group often includes minorities, due largely to the fact that recruitment is done through the public school system.

Though, he adds, "we have never recruited a specific minority or even a sex--with the children's plays, we often gender-bend."

The Caravan Passes On

D. Geoffrey (Geoff) Foley, athletic director at Villanova Prep, has been named managing director of the Ojai Shakespeare Festival, replacing Mary Wolk who--having brought the Festival from infancy to its current prominence--is planning on moving East with her family come spring.

In addition to being a seasoned administrator who's worked for several schools as well as various athletic organizations, Foley is an actor, who co-starred as Petruchio in this year's "The Taming of the Shrew."

"My immediate plan of attack," Foley said, "is that we need money." The Festival's board of directors has already approved an annual Halloween costume rental service and an Elizabethan Christmas fund-raiser, featuring, Foley says, "Food and frolic" in period style.

Several changes have come down too, in what used to be known as the Fay Renee Dinner Theater in Camarillo.

First, co-proprietor Dawn Renee departed, then the company was renamed Dinner Theater at Ottavio's (which is where it's held).

Most recently, Tom and Mary Lee Hulette, who alternated as directors of most of the troupe's productions, left for drier pastures in Arizona. Producer Candace Fay has dropped the previously announced "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" from the schedule, and brought in Martin Horsey to direct Neil Simon's "The Prisoner of Second Avenue," which will open Oct. 7.

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