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THEATER | THEATER NOTES

NEA Cutbacks Hit Home

May 05, 1996|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

Say goodbye to the theater program of the National Endowment for the Arts, which is being submerged along with other discipline-based programs in the current NEA reorganization. The final round of professional theater company grants was announced last week, with amounts to most local recipients reflecting the NEA's severe cutbacks.

Center Theatre Group's grant fell to $70,000, down from $161,980 last year and a far cry from the 1985 high of $315,000. The money will go to the Mark Taper Forum's New Work Development Project.

The grant to Old Globe Theatre in San Diego dropped from last year's $134,980 to $68,000, to be used on the upcoming production of "Play On!" South Coast Repertory's slipped from $94,580 to $50,000, targeted for the company's Collaboration Laboratory, a new play development wing. La Jolla Playhouse will receive $28,000 (for the production "Boy") compared to last year's $51,610, while San Diego Repertory Theatre gets $18,000 (for Latino outreach), down from $36,000.

On a smaller scale, the Odyssey Theatre suffered a big setback, falling from last year's $15,300 to $4,000, while Santa Barbara's Access Theatre's grant decreased from $13,140 to $8,000.

But most of the NEA-funded sub-100-seat theaters didn't get much money last year, and their cutbacks haven't been as large proportionally. Cornerstone Theatre's grant fell from $10,800 to $7,000, Bilingual Foundation of the Arts slid from $9,000 to $6,000, and East West Players--which plans to expand soon from 99-seat to mid-sized status--dropped from $4,950 to $4,500. Deaf West Theatre and Stages got $4,000 each, down from $5,400 and $4,500, respectively.

A few glimmers of good news contained within the theater program's last gasp: The Fountain Theatre received its first-ever NEA grant--$4,000 to help develop "Sweet Nothing in My Ear," a play about cochlear implants that would feature deaf and hearing actors. Los Angeles Poverty Department's amount actually increased from $4,500 to $5,000, while the grant for the touring We Tell Stories remained almost constant, slipping by just $380 down to $7,000.

Beginning next year, NEA grants will be issued in four broader categories rather than the discipline-based programs of the past, and they must be used for specific projects rather than general support. A sampling of three major theaters reveals that they are applying in the new "creation and presentation" category.

Center Theatre Group is asking for $66,000 to help develop a two-part epic, "Common Ground," based on J. Anthony Lukas' book about the Boston busing crisis in the '70s, to be written by "Distant Fires" author Kevin Heelan. CTG also seeks another NEA grant in conjunction with Arena Stage for the project on the presidency that Anna Deavere Smith is planning.

South Coast Repertory is applying for support for its five-year American classics series, which will begin this year with "Death of a Salesman" and continue in 1997-98 with "Our Town." South Coast producing artistic director David Emmes said the money would help expand the number of discounted student performances; the theater hopes to make 4,000 more seats available for such performances.

The Old Globe Theatre seeks $150,000 in developmental support for "To Gleam It Around, To Show My Shine," an adaptation by Bonnie Lee Moss Rattner of a work by Zora Neale Hurston.

Officials at all three theaters expressed regret that the general support grants were ending. "What a great balm that was," Emmes said. He said his company lacks the resources to add major new projects to its plate beyond the regular seasonal fare. "Grant-driven projects can lead to doing things for the wrong reason," he warned.

"We won't get caught in the trap of inventing something just to get money," said CTG grants manager Dana Whitco.

Old Globe development director Domenick Ietto noted that his company's NEA money has generally gone toward actors' salaries, and the NEA's new rules will force the theater to seek that money elsewhere or, if the money isn't found, to do shows with smaller casts.

*

UCLA IN CHARGE: The last vestige of Center Theatre Group control over the Doolittle Theatre is about to vanish. The building's owner, UCLA, is taking over the theater's management.

After CTG's lease on the Doolittle ended last year following "Angels in America," CTG continued to manage the building for UCLA. "We did it as a favor to them," said CTG managing director Charles Dillingham. "It was a transitional arrangement. They anticipated that we'd leave. Now we're too busy with our other projects."

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