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Occidental, Tiffany Dark for Summer

May 25, 1997|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

The Occidental Theater Festival, a summer institution in Eagle Rock since 1960, won't happen this summer--for the first time since it began on the Occidental College campus.

The college had traditionally provided a cash subsidy for the festival, in addition to overhead and in-kind services. Last year's subsidy amounted to approximately 15% of the festival's $350,000 budget.

But this year, as part of general belt-tightening at Occidental, the festival's subsidy was eliminated, according to producing artistic director Alan Freeman. Although he called the cancellation "extremely dire and wholly regrettable," he said he didn't feel that the festival had been singled out.

A four-production festival had been mapped out before the subsidy died. To help cut costs, it would have been held completely indoors, at the 400-seat Keck Theatre, instead of the recent mix of shows at the Keck and the vast outdoor Remsen Bird Hillside Theatre, where stage construction adds to expenses.

The season would have included an obscure Shaw play, "The Apple Cart"; two familiar works, "The Robber Bridegroom" and "The Odd Couple"; and Freeman's own "Wall Scaling." The latter play, about a group of Pasadena women in the '20s and the '80s, is going on after all, this weekend and two more weekends in a revival of a production that played at Occidental last November, funded by private donors. But it uses a nonprofessional cast.

Since 1987, the festival generally employed a core group of Actors' Equity members--though the number varied from two to six. The festival pays its actors, "professional or not, a lot more than they would get in a 99-seat production," Freeman said, and maybe that policy "has to be tempered with the reality of today."

The Occidental festival has been a bargain for the students who serve each summer as interns. Unlike many similar programs, Occidental didn't charge tuition. That may have to change, Freeman said. With the college making no promises to restore its grant next year, "we've got to find a new way to fund," he said.

Festival audiences had numbered as high as 18,000 about 10 years ago, but last year that number was down to 12,000. Freeman said the festival will seek ways to attract younger audiences.

On July 21, the festival will throw a bring-your-own-picnic gala revue at the Remsen Bird Theatre. Freeman said it'll be "a spirits-raiser, not a fund-raiser."


BACI PULLS OUT: Venues just east and west of Occidental also are encountering problems--at least in their musical theater series.

Baci Management, who presented musicals at Pasadena Civic Auditoriums for the past three years, won't do a series next season, though it may present an individual show or two. Pasadena Civic general manager Richard Barr, who hopes to find a replacement presenter, said Baci quit because of a lack of touring shows. Barr cited the collapse last year of "Funny Girl," "Applause" and "Sunset Boulevard" tours, as well as local competition at the Ahmanson and Pantages theaters.

This follows the Theater League's withdrawal from the Alex Theatre in Glendale, where it presented musicals for two seasons. League president Mark Edelman cited the relatively small stage and lack of backstage space, saying this created extra work that made his stagehands' costs there 25% higher than they are at the larger Probst Center in Thousand Oaks. Theater League also has more subscribers in Thousand Oaks--8,000 compared to nearly 3,000--and by dropping the Alex, Edelman can cut advertising costs by concentrating on media closer to Thousand Oaks. The Alex, too, is looking for a replacement presenter.

Might the Theater League add Pasadena Civic to its circuit? It presented musicals there before Baci did. Edelman and Barr discussed a possible return, but it was too late to do anything for next season, Edelman said.

Meanwhile, Pasadena Civic will undergo a $1.4-million renovation in July and August, following the final Baci show, "Singin' in the Rain." So when the Emmys return there in September, the hall will boast new carpet, reupholstered seats and twice the current restroom facilities, including facilities for the disabled.


TIFFANY TOO: Surveying the myriad 99-seat theaters of Los Angeles, one of the last ones that anyone would suspect needs renovating is the two-space Tiffany on the Sunset Strip. So why is it closing for the summer?

Because offices above it are expanding, said artistic director Paula Holt, and that necessitates dropping three steel beams into the theaters' walls. When theatergoers return, they probably won't be able to tell the difference, she said, although the ceiling above the north stage will be higher, allowing for improved lighting. "The actors will notice it," she said.

The construction could last from six weeks to five months, so Holt probably won't begin booking shows for at least another month. But if all goes well, she hopes to resume productions in September.

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