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Getting the Jobs Done : The Scene: Once attendees locate the new Richard and Karen Carpenter center, they find it an impressive--though a little sterile--venue.


LONG BEACH — The new Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center aced its first really, really big test last week, enduring the Northridge earthquake unscathed.

"We fared well," center executive director Rich Kerlin said between recent aftershocks. "We had no broken glass, no structural damage."

The 1,162-seat hall at Cal State Long Beach seemed to handily survive another trial Sundaywith the presentation of its first touring troupe, Susanne Linke's modern-dance company of Frankfurt, Germany. While not their without gripes, many in attendance gave the place a thumbs-up.

"I think it's a nice theater," said Neil Elliott, a Redondo Beach engineer. "It's impressive, it's big."

"The seats are really comfortable," said Michelle Wilson, a CSULB communications major.

The $27-million center, a crescent-shaped, streamlined facility completed in December, will present events ranging from Tex-Mex music to film to comedy. It operates under a public-private partnership with the university, where siblings Karen and Richard Carpenter majored in music in the '60s.

Just beside it sits the Martha B. Knoebel Theater, a 245-seat venue designed exclusively for dance and which will be used mostly for campus events. It is expected to open in April.

The lack of signage on the center itself or posted on nearby streets was a common complaint Sunday.

"We spent 15 minutes driving around" before finding it, said Los Angeles choreographer Rose Polesky.

Interior signs identifying seat rows would help too, patrons said. And, while many admired the theater's gently curved, floor-to-ceiling glass facade, its airy lobby and muted purple, aqua and burgundy color scheme, some wished for adornment on its expansive blank walls.

"They need a Chagall mural," like that inside New York's Metropolitan Opera house, said Ricardo Trimillos, a UCLA visiting professor of world arts and culture. "When you look in from outside, it's very sterile."

According to Kerlin, the theater will soon have signs installed at its main entrance, at street entrances to its 700-space, front-yard parking lot, as well as signage inside, guiding patrons to restrooms and to seats.

Artwork will be added to the walls, he said, and the theater may ask Long Beach city officials for street signs as well.

Many patrons, however, praised the new facility, named in honor of Richard Carpenter's $1 million donation toward its endowment. It was designed by Irvine architect Kurt Gibbs, who designed CSULB's new arena, still under construction.

Steeply raked seats providing easy viewing and its acoustics won high marks.

"Both speaking voices and recorded sound were very clear," said Trimillos, who also is a musician and ethnomusicologist. "The sight lines were very good too. We sat about eight rows back, near stage left, but we took a walk around the entire hall" before the performance.

"We're very pleased with the sound," Kerlin said.

CSULB dance department chairwoman Joan Schlaich, who hatched the idea for the center and the Knoebel hall 22 years ago, said Sunday that design plans to "make the audience feel very close to the performers" succeeded--at least from where she sat in the middle of the theater.

The capacity can be scaled back to 765 seats for smaller events. The center's large stage, modeled after the New York State Theater's, is 70 feet wide by 65 feet deep, officials said, and has a so-called floating floor, identical to those in seven new dance classrooms adjacent the Knoebel Theater, named for a Long Beach philanthropist.

Dancers in Linke's athletic piece, "RUHR-ORT," who tromped, jogged and flung their bodies onto the stage, pronounced it "perfect."

"It's big and wide and like a stage for dance is supposed to be," said Ari Fastman, who has performed around the world.

Large dance troupes, from New York City Ballet to the Martha Graham Dance Company, may be booked at the center, Kerlin said.

But much of its programming will target the area's "underserved and underrepresented audiences," he said, including gays and lesbians, Latinos and seniors, in order to avoid competition with local producing arts organizations or other nearby theaters. The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, the Terrace Theater in Long Beach and the Orange County Performing Arts Center are each roughly within a 20-minute drive, he said.

"We're seeing a definite need in the region for a mid-size hall that's professionally operated," Kerlin said. Ticket prices will be kept between $12 and $20, he added.


Construction was financed with state bonds, but it will operate without additional government subsidy. Its initial operating budget, Kerlin said, will be about $500,000 annually, generated from facility rentals, ticket sales, parking fees and other revenue sources.

The center's first full season begins Feb. 12 with the Nat Adderley jazz quintet. It will proceed with comedian Paul Rodriguez (March 12), the San Francisco Girls Chorus (March 27), the Joe Goode Performance Group (April 16), and country/Tejano singer Tish Hinojosa (May 5).

An official grand opening and gala will be held in the fall with an all-star tribute to the Carpenters' music, Kerlin said.

Most CSULB music productions will continue to be held in the 278-seat Gerald R. Daniel Recital Hall in the University Music Center adjacent to the new facility. College theater productions will be held in the 387-seat University Theater, on the school's south end.

* The Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center is at Cal State Long Beach, 6200 Atherton Drive, just west of Palo Verde Avenue at the northeast end of the campus. Parking, in front of the theater, is $2 per vehicle. (310) 985-7000.

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