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THEATER | THEATER NOTES

Inner City Gets a New Lease on Life

March 30, 1997|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

When the Inner City Cultural Center's longtime executive director C. Bernard Jackson died last summer, supporters vowed to carry on his legacy. But Inner City's financial problems were worse at Jackson's death than was commonly known.

Inner City's Hollywood headquarters, the Ivar Theatre, was quietly foreclosed on last year, before Jackson died. Inner City continued to rent the Ivar for its Talent Fest competition. But after the Talent Fest was over in November, Inner City moved its office to Los Angeles Theatre Center downtown, where the rent is only $100 a month.

Tax liens have been filed against Inner City many times in recent years--including, most recently, federal tax liens on Dec. 19 and Feb. 13, and a state unemployment tax lien on Feb. 19. The organization is a federally tax-exempt nonprofit unit; most of the federal liens are the result of penalties for mishandled returns instead of back taxes, said two Inner City board members.

They declined to give a total debt figure because of ongoing negotiations with the Internal Revenue Service. A newly enlisted CPA is doing pro bono work, helping clear up the mess, said the board's Rosamaria Marquez. "Foremost on our minds right now is the responsibility for the debt," she said.

The board members said that the existence of Inner City has never been in doubt, and they sounded hopeful about raising money. Inner City will benefit from a donation by the Mark Taper Forum of 200 tickets (to be sold at $100 each) to the April 24 performance of the Taper's "Valley Song," followed by a reception. The Inner City board also is discussing a benefit jazz concert and a performance involving a couple of the many celebrity actors who once worked at or trained at Inner City.

If they raise enough money, they hope to keep the Talent Fest tradition going later this year and hire a new executive director before 1997 ends. "We'll continue our multicultural mission," said board member Gail Kennard Madyun.

They won't try to find a facility to replace the Ivar. "We need to look at our internal structure first," Madyun said.

Meanwhile, the Ivar, which was returned to its previous owner, Argus Properties, during the foreclosure, has since been sold again. Eden Studios of Los Angeles, a New Zealand-based company that's in the recording and theater businesses, bought it for $1 million. A spokesman said Eden plans to present public performances at the Ivar, but the company is not ready to announce definite plans.

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CAL REP DOWNTOWN: California Repertory Company in Long Beach has shifted course slightly in its attempt to open a mid-size theater in downtown Long Beach.

Cal Rep does indeed plan to open a downtown space, but for now it will be a 99-seater instead of the 199-seater that was outlined in 1995. The difference in cost: $300,000 for the smaller space vs. $1.1 million for the larger.

Howard Burman, the company's artistic producing director, said he realized a few months ago that the money for the larger space wasn't going to materialize soon. In the meantime, he felt enough funds could be raised to open a smaller theater in a converted camera shop, just south of the parking lot where he hopes the larger theater eventually will be built. The location is the east side of the Promenade, just north of Broadway.

"It's an area that's going crazy," Burman said, with cinemas, restaurants and coffee emporiums sprouting nearby. "Once we're downtown, we hope that with that visibility will come friends who help us move to the next level."

He hopes that productions can begin in the 99-seat space in the fall or by next winter. He said the company would produce at least three of Cal Rep's five shows each season in the downtown space, picking plays that would appeal to a more general audience than some of the more academic offerings they will continue to stage at Cal Rep's current home on the campus of Cal State Long Beach.

A foundation associated with the university will lease the smaller downtown space from the city for $1 a year and make it available to Cal Rep; the $300,000 that Burman is raising will pay for conversion of the building. Separate programming money also is being raised.

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"RENT" PAYMENT: The Ahmanson Theatre, which is counting on three big musicals--including the Tony-winning "Rent"--to stop a decline in subscription totals (Theater Notes, March 23), might take heart from La Jolla Playhouse, where the earlier announcement of the same production of "Rent" provided a big boost in this year's subscriptions.

As of Monday, La Jolla subscriptions had risen to 13,142, up from a previous record of 10,078 in 1991. Of those, 6,617 are new subscribers. Subscription revenues hit more than $1.8 million, breaking the previous record of $1,251,109 set in 1995. La Jolla plans to stop selling subscriptions in April instead of the usual August.

"Rent" opens in La Jolla on July 13 and in Los Angeles on Sept. 28.

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