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THEATER NOTES : Latino Lab Looking to Leave Taper

August 14, 1994|Don Shirley

Jose Luis Valenzuela wants to move his Latino Theatre Lab from the Mark Taper Forum to Plaza de la Raza, the cultural center in East L.A.

Launched at the Los Angeles Theatre Center with the help of $250,000 from the Ford Foundation in 1987-88, the lab moved to the Taper after the LATC resident company collapsed in 1991. A year later, Valenzuela became the director of the Taper's Latino Theatre Initiative, which was financed with a $1.4-million grant from the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Fund. Valenzuela recently directed "Bandido!" at the Taper as part of the Initiative.

But no Latino Lab production was scheduled for next season at the Taper, where many types of plays vie for the mainstage slots. "There are things I want to move forward, but the complexity of the Taper makes those things difficult to accomplish," Valenzuela said. "I would have been at the Taper two more years without doing anything (on the mainstage). I'd be bored."

So Valenzuela has decided to try to build his own institution. Enter Plaza de la Raza, home of a 240-seat theater "in the middle of the Chicano community," to use Valenzuela's words. He presented a five-year plan to the organization's board of directors, and "the idea intrigues them," said Plaza interim managing director Lydia Lopez. "We'd love to have him here"--but the board probably won't decide if it's feasible until later this month.

Money, of course, would be required. Valenzuela not only wants to present annual seasons of Latino plays using actors on an Actors' Equity contract, starting in 1995-96, but he also wants to expand the seating in the theater to a 350-400-seat capacity. He hopes that a university may want to become a partner in the project. He also plans to call on "all my connections" in foundations and corporations.

Valenzuela staged "The Last Angry Brown Hat" at Plaza de la Raza in 1993, in a production that cost a mere $350 and ended up making a little money, he said. He believes audiences will come to that theater. But that play (currently being revived by Actors Alley with most of the same cast) was presented under Equity's 99-Seat Theater Plan, which requires only token payments to actors and restricts the size of audiences to 99.

Audiences did come to "Bandido!" at the Taper, despite a largely negative response from critics. It grossed more at the box office than any other mainstage production last year, Taper officials said. Valenzuela said that he was proud of the production, "but I don't think we finished it. We needed more time, maybe one more workshop, to make it as successful as it could be." Some day, perhaps, he'll have a chance to tackle "Bandido!" again at Plaza de la Raza.

With Valenzuela on his way out, who will run the Latino Theatre Initiative at the Taper? Rosamaria Marquez has been promoted to a full-time administrator job on the project, but the search for an artistic director is still going on. The Initiative calls for one Latino play each season on the mainstage; next season it will be Eduardo Machado's "Floating Islands," opening in October, to be directed by Oskar Eustis. The Latino Lab's work has generally focused on Chicano subjects, so Machado's Cuban American epic could represent a broader focus for the Initiative. Then again, said Corey Beth Madden--the Taper official overseeing the search for the Initiative's artistic director until one is appointed--"I can't say what direction we'll go in."

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SAN DIEGO WATCH: The Theatre Corp. of America's retreat from the Alex Theatre in Glendale last week was preceded a week earlier by its exit from its only other remaining outlet outside its home base in Pasadena, the Poway Center for the Performing Arts in San Diego County. Last week the Poway city council quickly approved a plan of substitute programming for its 850-seat theater. JRS Productions will present "Plaza Suite" with Lee Meriwether, Oct. 27-Nov. 6, and Robert Mandan in "Sleuth," Jan. 12-22. Then Glendale's acclaimed classical company, A Noise Within, will revive its recent "Importance of Being Earnest" for a May 4-14 run. The city is supporting the series with a loan guarantee of $100,000, although it's still owed $42,000 by the departing Theatre Corp., according to City Manager Jim Bowersox.

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