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THEATER | Theater Notes

After 9 Years, Canon Theatre Team Cements Relationship

April 18, 1999|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

Joan Stein and Susan Dietz call themselves, with considerable justification, "the only ongoing commercial producers in Los Angeles theater." Most of the big-time commercial theater that tours through L.A. is produced elsewhere, mainly in New York, while the bulk of home-grown theater is definitely in the nonprofit camp.

Fighting the tides, Stein and Dietz have jointly operated the 382-seat Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills for nine years, subsisting mainly on for-profit productions, including shows of their own as well as rentals.

The two women's relationship was born with "Love Letters"--that is, their long-running production of A.R. Gurney's play at the Pasadena Playhouse and then at the Canon.

Together, they also produced "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," Andrea Martin's solo show "Nude Nude Totally Nude" and the current "If You Ever Leave Me . . . I'm Going With You," all at the Canon.

Until recently, Stein was usually perceived as the more hands-on Canon operator, since her office was on the premises while Dietz worked in North Hollywood, running her own producing and personal management business.

Now, however, Dietz has moved her office across the hill into a space adjacent to the Canon, and the two have officially tied the knot, forming Canon Theatricals.

The name of their new firm conveys a trace of optimism, for the Canon might not be around too much longer. The current owner, like a couple of previous owners, "has a plan to create a development that would require tearing down the theater," Stein said.

Stein didn't sound all that concerned as she predicted the eventual demolition of her theater, however. "Suzi and I will continue to run a mid-sized theater in this city" even if the Canon is torn down, she said.

The two of them are talking with the Beverly Hills Cultural Center Foundation, a group that's investigating the possibility of converting an old post office, at the intersection of Canon Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard, into a cultural center that would include a 499-seat theater.

In the meantime, Stein and Dietz are planning the still-unscheduled West Coast premiere of the off-Broadway hit "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," the return of "If You Ever Leave Me . . . I'm Going With You!" on Sept. 23 after a summer hiatus, and other productions that they decline to discuss on the record. They're among the co-producers of Martin McDonagh's "The Lonesome West," opening on Broadway on April 27, and they're working on a variety of film and TV projects.

They're selling general management and marketing services to other theatrical productions as well.

"L.A. theater hasn't picked up on the tremendous need for marketing, as opposed to just advertising," Dietz said.

"Here you have to concentrate on bringing people together because we're so spread out," added Stein.

The more common way of bringing theatergoers together in L.A. is through nonprofit subscription series, and both Stein and Dietz have experience in that arena, but don't expect any such series from Canon Theatricals. As commercial producers, "we have to be able to run a show until it's over. A subscription series would truncate a hit," Dietz said.


THE "WIT" WIN: The Pulitzer Prize for Margaret Edson's play "Wit," announced last week, will probably increase the ancillary income that South Coast Repertory will receive from the play.

South Coast, which developed and premiered "Wit," will receive 4% of Edson's royalties, said the playwright's agent Carolyn French. Edson "feels very beholden to them and won't let me negotiate with them."

Since the production recouped its costs a month ago, Edson's royalties have consisted of 7% of the gross from the current off-Broadway production, French said, and rights to the play have been sold to a number of producers in other cities and countries.

The script of the current "Wit" is unchanged from the South Coast version except for "one teeny little part" involving a speech by a young doctor, Edson said.

After the local success of "Wit," South Coast commissioned another play from Edson--a country-western musical based on singer Margaret Carson. But South Coast artistic director (and original "Wit" director) Martin Benson said that the level of musical proficiency that it would require would make it very difficult to cast. *

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