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THEATER | Theater Notes

They've Got a Real Mania for the Stage

March 19, 2000|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

In many ways, the Internet and the theater are opposites. The former brings people together from around the world--but only virtually. It's ideal for fast retrieval of information. The latter brings a small group of people together in one space--their bodies as well as their minds--and asks them to concentrate for an extended period of time.

Still, a number of theater Web sites have popped up in recent years. Internet surfers can find theater listings, press releases, short news stories and gossip items at several theater-dedicated Web sites. Most larger theaters and some smaller ones have Web sites, many of them linked to national sites. In Los Angeles, Theatre LA recently began same-day half-price ticket sales on the Web.

The L.A. branch of a new player, TheaterMania.com, was launched last Monday. Already running for several months in New York, TheaterMania may be the most ambitious attempt yet to profile theater on the Web. Unlike many existing sites, it aims to serve local theater communities, including L.A. and eventually San Diego, as comprehensively as the New York scene. It also appears to be the first such company to offer a wide range of its own theater reviews.

The site's New York-based executive editor, Leonard Jacobs, hopes that TheaterMania will eventually provide as many reviews of L.A. theater as it does of New York theater--where 20 to 25 reviews and 60 to 100 other articles already run each month. If the company meets this goal, it could help compensate for the recent diminution of L.A. theater reviews caused by the closing of such alternative newspapers as the Reader and Village View--both of which carried many more reviews than their replacement, New Times.

Jacobs said that TheaterMania's reviews and other editorial content are "fire-walled from our marketing and outreach efforts." Indeed, two of the first three reviews that appeared on the new L.A. edition last week were more negative than positive. Jacobs said he's aiming for the style of criticism espoused by the late Walter Kerr--"There was a lot that he didn't like, but he didn't attempt to set fire to the theater," nor was he " a lord passing judgment on his subjects." Jacobs wants the reviews to be entertaining and "uplifting without being Pollyannaish."

TheaterMania already has staff in Boston and Chicago as well as New York and L.A. and offers some editorial content for a total of 25 cities.

The site's co-founder, Darren Sussman, identified four revenue streams for the site: national and local advertising; online merchandise sales; the licensing of editorial content to other Web operations; and online theater ticket sales. The latter service isn't yet available in L.A., but Sussman said the L.A. operations should be going full-blast in a few months. Typical for an Internet operation, no profits are expected for at least a year.

Sussman's background is in Internet marketing for record labels, but his TheaterMania partner, Joe Corcoran, produced a theatrical phenomenon, "Tony n' Tina's Wedding." Jacobs said he has been a director and playwright as well as a New York theater journalist.

LADCC HONORS: TheaterMania will introduce itself to the L.A. theater community in person Monday by sponsoring the annual awards ceremony of the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. LADCC President Debbi K. Swanson is the regional editor for TheaterMania.

The circle announces its special awards in advance, and this year brings a couple of new ones, intended to become annual. The Polly Warfield Award, honoring the reigning doyenne of L.A. critics, salutes an excellent season in a small or mid-size theater. The first winner is the Pacific Resident Theatre.

The first Ron Link Award, in honor of the late director, goes to the Odyssey Theatre's Ron Sossi.

Audrey Rapaport is the winner of the Natalie Schafer Award, for an emerging comic actress. The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga gets this year's Margaret Harford Award for sustained excellence.

The Ted Schmitt Award, for outstanding premiere of a play in L.A. or Orange counties, goes to Paul Mullin for his "The Louis Slotin Sonata," produced by Circle X Theatre. There are two career achievement awards for designers: the Bob Z, for set designer Victoria Profitt, and the Angstrom, for lighting designer Michael Gilliam.

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