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THEATER | Theater Notes

The Price Is Right for This Festival

April 25, 1999|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

Most of the myriad theatrical productions in Los Angeles occur in sub-100-seat theaters. Now a festival is being planned for that segment of the theatrical scene--with free admission.

L.A. Theatre Festival '99, slated for June 5-13, is designed "to raise the profile of small professional theaters," said producer Ed Gaynes, the festival's executive director. Small productions lack the advertising budgets to make themselves well known, and this fact--not lack of theatergoers--is their primary problem, he contended. "There is a theater audience in L.A.--'Phantom of the Opera' ran for more than four years. The audience just doesn't know about these other productions."

Exact details are still sketchy, but Gaynes hopes to present guest productions in more than 40 sub-100-seat theaters, from Malibu to Pasadena, on weekday evenings and weekend matinees. The regular productions at those theaters will continue in Friday-Sunday evening slots.

Out-of-town shows are invited too. Gaynes said he has confirmations from two New York shows and three from San Francisco.

The standard of professionalism required to participate will be the use of Actors' Equity's 99-seat Theatre Plan, which requires token payments to actors who belong to the union. Community theaters that aren't on the plan "don't need our help," Gaynes said.

The festival is an outgrowth of the NoHo Festival, which for six years has brought together Valley sub-100-seaters, primarily those in North Hollywood. Gaynes, who is also president of the Valley Theatre League, said his latest venture was separated from the NoHo Festival and expanded to include other areas because the NoHo Festival had "limited visibility" and a split focus between its theatrical events and its street fair elements.

Gaynes formed a nonprofit for this new festival, and he's soliciting donations, both cash and in-kind, to pay the expenses. Although admission to the shows will be free, priority seating can be guaranteed by buying a $10 pass. Given the sprawling area the festival will cover, some theatergoers may want to make sure they have seats before they travel too far, Gaynes said. He's also offering, for the fifth year, a book of 10 passes (for $49) that can be used at participating theaters during the rest of the summer--June 14-Sept. 30.

Companies may apply to join the festival through May 7, and at least a partial performance schedule will be available May 17. Information: (213) 620-0880 or (818) 766-4121.

99-SEAT NEWS: Although Gaynes' festival may look like a wholehearted endorsement of theater-on-a-shoestring, Gaynes said he doesn't believe in glorifying 99-seat theater "as an end in itself. It's just that this kind of theater is necessary for all the talent in L.A., and if the productions are going to be here, they need the support of audiences."

The attitude toward 99-seat theater at the annual LA Weekly awards ceremony, last Monday at Los Angeles Theatre Center, was less ambivalent. Indeed, the sold-out ceremony--which honors only sub-100-seat productions--ended with a rousing recital of a tongue-in-cheek pledge of allegiance to "theater of 99 seats or less and to the principles for which it stands: little money, lots of love and a bunch of great parties."

Charlotte Rae was a co-host. Those who remember Rae primarily as the maternal, understanding Mrs. Garrett from the TV series "The Facts of Life" were in for a bit of a shock.

Informing the crowd that "NEA Four" performance artist Karen Finley, famous for her chocolate-only attire, was a no-show, Rae boisterously saluted Finley with a four-letter word of the sort that she never uttered on "The Facts of Life." The crowd roared. It was a moment Finley herself probably could never have topped.

The big winners: Circle X's "Great Men of Science, Nos. 21 & 22," production of the year; Celebration Theatre's "Naked Boys Singing!," musical of the year (and the Naked Boys sang at the ceremony); Pacific Resident Theatre's "Indiscretions," revival of the year. "Great Men" and "Indiscretions" were joined by Theatre of NOTE's "Middle Savage," Actors' Gang/Cornerstone Theater's "Medea/Macbeth/Cinderella" and Evidence Room's "One Flea Spare" as the only shows to win more than one award; each took home two. *

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