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Inner City Center Faces the Future

THEATER | THEATER NOTES

July 28, 1996|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

The July 16 death of Inner City Cultural Center Executive Director C. Bernard Jackson leaves a big question mark over the fate of the institution.

One of the Inner City board members said last week that Jackson was the organization's only remaining parent, while board members and other supporters are like aunts and uncles. So who'll take care of the orphan?

"The only proper and fitting tribute [to Jackson] must be to continue the maintenance and support of Inner City," declared actress Beah Richards at Jackson's funeral Monday, setting off resounding applause from approximately 600 mourners.

"We're going to have to become C. Bernard Jackson," said another speaker, Dennis Wilkerson. "It's scary because we don't have that heart, that energy," but he added that Jackson's belief in people's talents should still apply to the situation facing Inner City supporters in the wake of his death. Later, at a post-funeral reception, board members vowed that Inner City has a future.

Still, creating that future is a daunting challenge. Born from the aftermath of the Watts riots in 1966, Inner City was a pioneer in multicultural arts and an active production and training center for more than two decades. But Inner City's recent past hasn't been nearly as distinguished as its prior history.

In 1989, Inner City bought the Ivar Theatre for $750,000, hoping its Hollywood location would provide a high-profile home for runs of successful shows that would move from Inner City's complex of smaller theaters at 1308 New Hampshire Ave. The Ivar also would provide rental revenue when Inner City wasn't using it.

This didn't work out according to the plan. The Ivar needed costly refurbishing, but no donor came through at the level Jackson was hoping for, and for which he was offering to rename the theater. Because of the Ivar's larger size, Actors' Equity contracts are more expensive there than in the sub-100-seat spaces at the old Inner City. And subway construction affected theater attendance in the area.

Inner City upgraded the look of the Ivar somewhat (its immediately previous life was as a strip joint), and produced or presented a few shows there. But nothing settled in for a long, lucrative run.

Meanwhile, with the Ivar taking up time and energy, production dwindled at the oldInner City facility. In 1992, following nearby rioting and facing an expensive seismic retrofit, Inner City left its home on New Hampshire. Jackson pledged to return some day and convert the center into a mixed-use cultural/retail complex. But that plan died in 1993, when Inner City sold the New Hampshire facility to the United Methodist Ministries for $800,000. A spokeswoman said last week that the proceeds went into the mortgage payments on the Ivar.

Inner City's only sign of consistency in recent years has been an annual talent contest for performers, playwrights, filmmakers and composers. This year's is scheduled to begin next week. The Talent Fest produces some revenue in the form of entrance fees. Classes also provide some income.

But any new arrival to L.A. would be hard-pressed to recognize within today's Inner City the vitality of the early Inner City, as described in last week's funeral orations. Even revivals of Jackson's own work in recent years were presented at Los Angeles Theatre Center, not the Ivar. Bilingual Foundation of the Arts mounted his "B/C" there, and his "Iago" was presented last spring as part of a Shakespeare festival at LATC.

At the reception Monday, actor Robert Hooks declared that larger organizations such as the Music Center and prominent Hollywood companies "should come to the aid of an institution like Inner City, that everyone knows is in dire straits." Larger arts centers have taken many of the minority-oriented grants that formerly went to the likes of Inner City and this "seems unfair," he said.

But without a dynamic leader to replace Jackson, grants might remain elusive for Inner City. Board members said they'll conduct a national search for such a leader.

Inner City "has been losing a lot of steam financially," said Adolfo Nodal, the city's Cultural Affairs director, at the reception. But Jackson's death "has brought people together. There is a lot of leadership in this room. You could put together an incredible board from these people. Inner City has an incredible name. Now it's a matter of getting people to focus on maintaining [Jackson's] vision."

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COMPLEATLY CONFUSED?: Does "The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)," at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, sound familiar? Maybe you're thinking of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)," which played at several Southland venues beginning in 1987.

The productions have a complicated relationship. Jess Winfield, director of the San Diego show, is the former Jess Borgeson, one of the trio who created the previous show under the name the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Winfield changed his name shortly after he left the Reduced troupe in 1992. Neither he nor his new bride wanted to use the other's name, so they created a new surname for both of them--Winfield.

"The Complete Works" (note the modern spelling) is still being presented by the English branch of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, which includes the only one of the original trio, Adam Long, who's still with the group. An American branch of the Reduced company also exists.

Winfield, meanwhile, is doing an updated "Works" at the Old Globe--but it's not a production of Reduced Shakespeare Company. And although the Old Globe, as well as the published version, use Compleat in the title, Winfield considers Complete the proper spelling.

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