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Vanguard's '01 Season Off to Good Start

Costa Mesa branch of BMC Software Inc. gives five-figure donation for Fullerton theater group to mount eight plays.


Vanguard Theatre Ensemble will enter its tenth year in the best financial shape in its history, thanks to a five-figure corporate donation that is the largest gift the small, grass-roots company has received.

In an unusual request for an arts patron, BMC Software Inc. has asked that the size of its gift to sponsor Vanguard's 2001 season be kept secret. The donation will help fund an eight-play season that includes two proven crowd-pleasing comedies--Michael Frayn's "Noises Off" and Steve Martin's "Picasso at the Lapin Agile"--as well as Arthur Miller's 1957 classic, "A View From the Bridge," and some less-familiar plays.

Wade Williamson, Vanguard's artistic director, said he submitted three proposals, of $25,000, $50,000 and $75,000, to the Costa Mesa branch of Houston-based BMC. Williamson said BMC officials agreed to fund one of those proposals, but he agreed not to specify which.

"We don't want to be seen to be blowing our horn," BMC's local site manager, Gary Pattengill, said of the company's request to keep the amount quiet.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 21, 2000 Orange County Edition Metro Part B Page 7 Metro Desk 2 inches; 59 words Type of Material: Correction
Schedule: The following shows were omitted from a Monday article announcing the Vanguard Theatre Ensemble's 2001 season:
* "Lonely Planet" by Steven Dietz, Jan. 19 to Feb. 17: A two-character play that deals with AIDS in symbolic fashion.
* "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" by Steve Martin: A popular comedy about a fictional meeting between Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso in a Parisian bar while both are still unknowns.

The grant, to be paid in quarterly installments beginning this month, eclipses Vanguard's previous largest single gift--an anonymous donation of $5,000. That money funded the production of a recent benefit show that Williamson said wound up netting the theater just $1,500.

"It's been better, it's been worse," Williamson said of Vanguard's financial condition before the BMC gift came through. "What I like now about the organization is we have a lot of enthusiasm among the audience and in the ensemble."

The BMC money will be an important boost for a company that puts on most of its shows in a 70-seat, in-the-round theater in an office-industrial complex in Fullerton. Williamson said Vanguard has operated this year on about $75,000. The company is in its final production of the season, the abortion drama "Keely and Du."

The BMC money will be used for general expenses in the coming season, and BMC will have its logo on all Vanguard programs, posters and promotional materials.

BMC took its first step as a patron of local arts groups seven months ago with a $50,000 sponsorship grant for the financially strapped Alternative Repertory Theatre in Santa Ana. Despite the bailout, ART soon collapsed. The problem was no longer financial need, but that after 13 years the theater's co-founders were burned out keeping a small theater going and decided to quit. That left Vanguard as the county's longest-running grass-roots troupe committed to a mix of classic drama and adventurous contemporary works.

Pattengill, the BMC executive, said the failure of ART did not give his company pause as it decided whether to back another small, amateur theater that operates more or less hand-to-mouth.

"I wouldn't say we were more cautious. The people at ART were very good people; it was just an unfortunate set of circumstances."

But Williamson said he kept in mind the ART sponsorship episode as he "put on my best schmooze" to convince BMC's corporate contributions committee that Vanguard was a horse worth backing.

Vanguard did have some inside help: Sarah Guerrero, who works in technical support at BMC and serves on its contributions committee, is also an actress; after performing at Vanguard in June in a 10-minute play called "Fat Cats and Other Party Animals," she became the theater's liaison to BMC. Williamson credited Guerrero with planting the idea of Vanguard's grant application and then helping prod the deal along.

Members of the BMC committee saw three recent Vanguard productions before deciding to back the theater, Williamson said. The shows included: Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night"; Constance Congdon's "Tales of the Lost Formicans," an offbeat show about a modern family in collapse; and George Bernard Shaw's "Heartbreak House."

"They had three really different looks at us over two months. I think they saw we have the talent to put up a season that has something for everybody," Williamson said. The coming season's eight shows will be down from the nine-play season plus special benefit production Vanguard mounted this year--a menu that Williamson said may have been a tad overambitious.

"We're just really tired. We decided, 'Let's make sure we can do what we commit to with the quality we demand and not kill ourselves in the process.' "

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