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Risky, Offbeat Works Likely Will Be Included on Playbill


With the proposed new theater detailed Tuesday, South Coast Repertory co-founders David Emmes and Martin Benson, who make all programming decisions, will have twice as many tickets to sell for second-stage productions. Emmes said SCR is banking on the new theater's box office to cover the added expense of running it.

"We'll probably not overly push the envelope right away" in terms of taking risks with offbeat works in the new, medium-sized house, Emmes said. "We'll do artistically exciting [plays], but evolve our way into it. We don't do things by revolution but by evolution."

Benson, however, said the philosophy won't change: "In our history, the plays that have been most successful are the ones we wouldn't have produced" if box office were the leading concern. "We do what we're most passionate about producing. We have to keep that maxim in mind."

Goodies for the Kids

The graying of the theater audience is another chief worry of producers across the country. Hence South Coast's aim of spending $300,000 to stage three youth-oriented shows a year, using professional actors and in many cases offering new works commissioned from top writers known for their plays for adults.

The prospect excites Ben Cameron, executive director of Theatre Communications Group, a service organization for the nation's nonprofit regional theaters.

"This is a natural extension of the leadership role that people look to them to play," Cameron said from his office in New York City. "South Coast Rep understands new play development, and what they will bring to bear [in fostering new work for children] is immense. People are hungry for better plays for young audiences."

High-Tech Hard Drive

One seeming irony of South Coast's expansion drive is that a large chunk of its funding comes from Orange County's high-tech sector. Folks wiring the world for a virtual-reality future are trying to sustain an art form that, at its core, is little changed from its origins 2,500 years ago.

After Tuesday's news conference, at which his $2.5-million gift was unveiled, Broadcom Corp.'s Henry T. Nicholas III spoke with an evangelist's zeal of the Internet and its impact on communications and entertainment.

Theater can spread over the Internet and its television tie-ins, Nicholas said, envisioning community-based TV hookups that will enable local viewers to watch performances at South Coast Rep.

"Anyone who sees a play [electronically] and finds that compelling, the next thing they're going to want to do is see it live, because there is no substitute for a live production," Nicholas said.

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