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THEATER | THEATER NOTES

The Cast Joins the Crowd

December 15, 1996|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

Justin Tanner and his comrades at the Cast Theatre can now compete for Ovation Awards. The Cast, where all of Tanner's comedies are presented, has joined the Ovation-sponsoring Theatre LA--a prerequisite for Ovation eligibility.

Until Cast producer Diana Gibson changed her mind about joining, the Cast was the most prominent remaining holdout among Los Angeles County theater companies. On the eve of the annual Ovation ceremony last month, Gibson was quoted in these pages defending her dissenting stance.

By last week, she had changed her tune. "I didn't want to be the only one," she said. "Even though I have my reservations, I believe in [working within] a group. I want to show my support for our theatrical community."

Her primary reservation had been the cost of providing complimentary tickets to 100 Ovation voters in the first few weeks of a run at her 99- and 65-seat theaters. "But we have the money to do it now," she said, "mostly because Justin is in a better [financial] situation, so the theater has help."

Thanks to exposure from his productions at the Cast, resident playwright Tanner has made money in recent months from TV deals. However, he remains a loyal Cast worker bee--still answering the phone, among other duties.

Tanner's next play, "Coyote Woman," should open at the Cast sometime in the next couple of months, Gibson said, and she plans to register it for Ovation consideration. For that matter, Tanner's currently running "Heartbreak Help" could still qualify for next year's Ovations if it were registered and eight voters saw it. Gibson said she hasn't decided whether to do this, but she noted that it's easier to accommodate Ovation voters deep into a run than it is when the show is newly opened and benefiting from the initial publicity.

Tanner has a better track record with critics than any other L.A.-based playwright right now, so his entry in the Ovation balloting could lead to tougher competition for the Ovation that's awarded each year for a new play.

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SAN BERNARDINO BLUES: The 50th-anniversary season of San Bernardino Civic Light Opera has come to a premature close, with the cancellation of the remaining two shows, "Oklahoma!" and "Hello, Dolly!" The opening show last month, "West Side Story," lost $40,000, even though it was one of the most-requested shows among subscribers, said general manager Keith Stava.

Refunds for already-sold tickets to the canceled shows will be mailed around the times that the productions were scheduled to take place, Stava said.

The organization is not closing. Its scenery rental business--described by Stava as the largest in the country, with an inventory of 60 sets--will continue, with revenues applied toward paying off subscribers and creditors. The total debt is around $1.1 million, down from $1.8 million, where it had landed in the wake of a financially disastrous production of "Annie Warbucks" in 1992.

There are 3,260 subscribers--up 460 from last year, Stava said. But he believes many of the new subscribers used to be single-ticket buyers, and single-ticket sales have suffered as a result. If the group had tried to keep the season going and had failed, refunds would have been more problematic--and "we don't want to poison the well," Stava said. He attributed much of the underlying problem to "the decimated local economy."

San Bernardino was once one of the Southland's biggest musical theater companies, but in recent years the number of Actors' Equity members in its casts and the individual show budgets have been halved in an attempt to cut costs.

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