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THEATER | THEATER NOTES

Cheerleader Hangs Up His Megaphone

January 18, 1998|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

Since 1993, William Freimuth--as executive director of Theatre LA--has been the chief official cheerleader and spokesman for that sprawling and often inchoate entity known as L.A. theater.

During his tenure, Freimuth has tried to highlight the size of the animal by frequently reciting in public what he now calls the Theatre LA "mantra": L.A. has "more shows on our stages and more talent in our backyard than any other city in the history of the planet."

There is also a short version: "more shows, more talent, better weather."

Last week, after announcing that he will depart the job on March 31, Freimuth noted that he has personally heard Mayor Richard Riordan using the long form of the "mantra" in speeches on three occasions--evidence, Freimuth believes, that word is finally getting out about L.A. theater.

"I finished a lot of what I set out to do" in four years on the job, Freimuth said. Theatre LA's Ovation Awards is now a high-profile competitive contest instead of a noncompetitive event. Freimuth's organization opened a same-day half-price ticket booth at the Beverly Center last fall. And in conjunction with the Audrey Skirball-Kenis Theatre, Theatre LA has generated a lot of talk about the importance of a mid-sized theater scene for the long-term health of L.A. theater.

It's that last arena where Freimuth would like to see something else accomplished before he leaves. Last summer, a group of producers, encouraged by Theatre LA, delivered a proposal for a new "Flex Plan" contract to Actors' Equity, designed to make it easier to produce professional theater in 100- to 399-seat theaters. The plan is under consideration at Equity.

The half-price ticket booth Times Tix, sponsored in part by The Times, "is getting a tremendous amount of foot traffic," Freimuth said, but it's selling only 300-400 tickets in an average week. The long-term goal is more than 1,000 a week. Freimuth said he'd like more of the big shows to make tickets available for purchase at the booth. Fund-raising is in place to take the booth through a full year, after which it will be reconsidered. "It's still a little early to tell" whether it'll keep going, Freimuth said.

He said he's "thrilled" by the growth of the Ovations. When agents are approached about stars' participation at the awards ceremony, he said, they now know what the Ovations are--in contrast to the ceremony's early days. The computer software that tallies Ovations results has gone through "tumultuous changes" recently, he said, so the group decided not to make any structural changes in the awards for a year, but Freimuth believes the awards will eventually embrace a few more categories, including musical director. In the meantime, the voting qualifications are "more stringent" now, he said, and he defends the voting system as scrupulously fair.

Freimuth said he isn't sure what he'll do next. A former director and artistic director, he did acknowledge that he would like to return to "the more creative side of things." He chose to announce his resignation now because it gives the group time to find a replacement before serious preparations for next fall's Ovations ceremony.

Board president Brad Burlingame said that Freimuth has "artistic interests he wants to explore," adding that he "is well liked and highly regarded" by the board. "The consensus is that we'd like to find somebody in our own backyard" to replace Freimuth. "The field of talent is rich here. However, the search will be conducted nationally."

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: After Chita Rivera scorched the KGIL airwaves in a number from "Kiss of the Spider Woman," an announcer came on and solemnly intoned that we had just been listening to a toccata by Johann Christian Bach.

Huh?

That was a couple of months ago. Since then, KGIL (1260), the all-show-tunes station, has expanded its coverage to a much wider geographical area with the addition of KGXL (1650), and the station is also trying to eliminate the engineering snafus that have created frequent misidentifications of on-air material, said general manager Saul Levine. A new music director, Bob Myers, will help, Levine believes. "The format has tremendous potential if we do itright."

Of course, doing it right might not make for quite as many laughs. A couple of weeks ago, after listening to John and Bonnie Raitt sing a duet version of the wistful "Hey, There," from "Pajama Game," we were told that we had just been listening to the Jets from "West Side Story."

YADA, YADA, ADA: Discussing the many L.A. theater awards last week, we foolishly neglected the Valley Theatre League's Artistic Director Achievement Awards, known as the ADAs. ADAns were justifiably chagrined, pointing out that the San Fernando Valley has not yet seceded from L.A.

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