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Plaza Hopes to Subsidize Big-Name Act

Arts: Community groups in Thousand Oaks criticize the plan, and chart-topping performers may be unaffordable in any case.


THOUSAND OAKS — Plans to book a big-name entertainer at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza next fall have several local arts groups feeling like they will end up playing second fiddle.

As part of its new strategic plan, the Alliance for the Arts--the Civic Arts Plaza's fund-raising arm--wants a major performer to headline each year's schedule. But to do so, the organization will probably have to subsidize the performance with fund-raising dollars, because the center's largest theater--the Fred Kavli Theatre--only seats 1,800 people.

Booking high-demand acts, such as pop singer Ricky Martin or teen sensation 'N Sync, would mean a single ticket would cost several hundred dollars if the performance received no subsidy.

Alliance officials hope to bring that cost down--and still make popular acts available to the community--by partially offsetting the huge fees top entertainers can demand. But subsidizing such big-name shows could easily cost more than $800,000 per performance, and alliance officials don't know exactly which performers to target.

"I can't throw any names out," said Carole Nussbaum, chairwoman of the alliance's programming and allocations committee. "It's not going to be easy to get anybody. Performers like to go to well-known theaters that hold more people than our theater, but that doesn't mean it's impossible."

Such plans have local arts groups concerned.

The alliance hopes to raise as much as $100,000 to subsidize a season-topping performance, Nussbaum said. Through fund-raising and corporate sponsors, the alliance hopes to pay for most of such a show's costs, allowing for a net profit from ticket sales, some of which would be used to support local groups, she said.

But subsidizing a superstar performer is an unusual move for a small theater, said Tom Mitze, director of the city's Theatres Department. And local theater groups, which last year collected a combined total of $100,000 from the alliance and will continue to receive annual funding, say the arts organization's time and money could be better spent providing them additional assistance.

"They're going to spend a great deal of effort and manpower, and perhaps corporate sponsors that could be our corporate sponsors, and [money] that they may lose," said Stephanie Angelini, artistic director for Gold Coast Plays and Gold Coast Theatre Conservatory, which together put on seven shows at the Civic Arts Plaza last season. "It's a risky venture for money, time and resources."

The alliance devised its plan after residents asked theater officials to secure bigger-name performers for the Civic Arts Plaza. Bringing such artists to the Fred Kavli Theatre will attract teens and adults hoping to avoid the hassles that a trip to downtown Los Angeles brings, Nussbaum said.

"There are two parts to this community," she said. "There are community groups who need support--and we have now been supporting them. There is another piece that is also very vocal, saying, 'It's nice these groups exist, but we want to see Ricky Martin.' "

But Nussbaum acknowledged that Martin won't be "Livin' La Vida Loca" in Thousand Oaks any time soon. The singer grossed more than $1 million per show during the first half of this year, as did 'N Sync. Both acts typically sold tickets to at least 20,000 seats per show, said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of Pollstar Magazine, a trade publication that tracks the concert business.

Based on those figures, tickets to see these performers at the Fred Kavli Theatre would exceed $550 without subsidies.

Even well-known acts who earn far less may be out of reach for the Civic Arts Plaza. Dixie Chicks shows grossed more than $500,000 and attracted more than 13,000 people per performance in the first half of the year, Bongiovanni said.

The highest ticket price for a Civic Arts Plaza show to date was $100 for a Barry Manilow concert five years ago, Mitze said.

"If you're looking at the same acts who are going to the [Great Western] Forum or the Staples Center, I think you're deluding yourself thinking they'll go to Thousand Oaks," Bongiovanni said.

It isn't unheard of, though, to find chart-toppers at smaller venues. Whitney Houston toured smaller theaters last year for an average ticket price that topped out around $150, Bongiovanni said. Bob Dylan toured 33 cities in the first half of this year, including a stop by Seaside Park in Ventura in June, and averaged just $33.35 per ticket for 4,008 seats, Bongiovanni added.

And the chart-topping Anaheim band No Doubt performed a warm-up show for an upcoming tour at the 1,250-seat Ventura Theatre this year for $20 a ticket, said Jeff Hershey, a booking agent at the venue in downtown Ventura.

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