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Noise Within Scraps Pews in Return Home

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

The pews are gone.

A Noise Within has returned to its original home in a former Masonic Temple in Glendale, opening with "The Skin of Our Teeth," but the place looks just a little different than it did before the classical company moved out last year.

Probably the biggest change theatergoers will notice is that the padded pews on which they sat have been replaced by cushioned chairs. This change allows for reserved seating, which wasn't used in the days of the pews--when theatergoers got pew positions on a first-come, first-served basis and were sometimes asked to nestle closer to each other than they might have appreciated.

The company's patrons became accustomed to reserved seating, in individual seats, last year at the Luckman Theater at Cal State Los Angeles, said Art Manke, one of the company's artistic directors, "so we're continuing that." Besides, several pews "were starting to get rickety," he added. But anyone who enjoyed the religious connotation of the pews can take comfort in the fact that the new chairs were purchased from a church supply company.

Elsewhere in the building, the lobby has been repainted, and its old fluorescent lights have been replaced by incandescent lighting fixtures from the building's upper floors. The elevator is in better working order, and fire sprinklers have been improved. Because the company sold most of its equipment when it left for the Luckman, it had to buy new drapes and sound and lighting equipment.

"Not one person has said, 'I wish you were still at the Luckman,' " Manke said. "This is the opposite of when we moved to the Luckman. A lot of people said they were dissatisfied about that move."

Manke and his cohorts eventually joined the ranks of those dissatisfied people. After compiling a long list of disagreements with the Luckman management, the company exited in June and filed a still-pending lawsuit against Cal State L.A.

*

CAST THEATRE, R.I.P.: The Hollywood structure that formerly housed the Cast Theatre, for two decades a haven for new plays, will return to more familiar fare from its new operators--the Theatre District, previously a Costa Mesa-based company.

The Theatre District relies primarily on previously produced work. It rented the Cast earlier this year for a reprise of its Orange County revival of Alan Ball's "Five Women Wearing the Same Dress," and its first production under its new, five-year lease will be a repeat of its earlier production of Jim Geoghan's "Light Sensitive," opening Dec. 1.

Because of Actors' Equity rules that discourage the union's members from appearing in small theaters outside Los Angeles County, the Theatre District has always used unpaid actors who aren't Equity members. "Light Sensitive" will use non-Equity actors, but this time they'll receive a small stipend, said managing producer Joan Lescot. She added that the company "absolutely" will open its ranks to include Equity members in future shows at what will be called the Theatre District in Residence at the Cast.

Mary Willard, the last manager of the Cast before the change, said that as a playwright, she is "offended" by the move toward more revivals. The Cast Theatre's previous board had installed Willard only a few months earlier, in part because she agreed that rentals were necessary to bring in additional revenue beyond the Cast's own productions, said former board head Doris Koenig. Yet Willard also planned to continue the Cast's tradition of specializing in new plays. That plan was upset, however, when the landlord decided to rent the building to the Theatre District.

However, the Theatre District--which has produced at least seven plays each year and is also open to rentals--will do readings of new work and eventually "hopes to honor the history of the theater, if there is a new play we're passionate about," Lescot said. The late Ted Schmitt, who ran the Cast during the '80s, left files on his play development program on the premises, Lescot said, and "we're learning a lot from Ted, even though he's not here."

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