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Troupe Finds You Can Go Home Again

September 17, 2000|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

It's no accident that the first play A Noise Within will produce when it returns to its original home in Glendale this fall will be "The Skin of Our Teeth."

Thornton Wilder's play is about the survival of humankind despite successive calamities. The classical company's artistic co-directors feel kinship with survivors, after their own trials of the last year.

In the summer of 1999, A Noise Within left Glendale for a supposedly cushy residency at Cal State L.A.'s Luckman Fine Arts Complex, only to lock horns with the Luckman management over a variety of issues. This summer, the company not only returned to Glendale, but also filed a lawsuit against the university and the Luckman's manager.

Upon its return, the company initially planned to use a temporary structure on a city-provided parking lot on Brand Boulevard. But last week the company announced that it will return to its former home a few blocks south, also on Brand.

The temporary structure would cost at least $600,000--and the company would probably have to leave after two years, because the site is slated to become part of a shopping complex. "The costs were going through the roof for things we couldn't take with us," such as a concrete foundation, said artistic co-director Art Manke.

By contrast, a return to the group's former home will cost less than $50,000, estimated Manke and his colleagues Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez Elliott. The company will have to complete installation of sprinklers and, as before, pay for utilities, insurance, taxes and other maintenance.

The reasons the company left the former Masonic Temple last year still exist: a smaller seating capacity that was usually filled, an inability to obtain a long-term lease that would justify expansion within the building and a lack of modern amenities.

So the company is still looking for another site, preferably in Glendale, that could be a permanent home. For now, A Noise Within will operate on a fixed one-year lease, with an option for a second year and a 90-day termination clause.

The Glendale City Council had approved $50,000 toward the construction of the temporary structure at the parking lot, but it's considering redirecting this contribution to help pay the costs at the former Masonic Temple. A Noise Within's Geoff Elliott pointed out that the decision to use the company's original site, rather than the parking lot, will save money for the city too--it won't have to remove the parking meters, which city officials say yield about $25,000 a year.

The company had used 252 seats at the Luckman last year. The temporary structure would have seated slightly more than 200. With the return to home base, which has only 144 seats, the company is moving backward--which is the kind of movement that Actors' Equity has been known to challenge. An Equity official said the union hasn't had a chance to rule. But Manke said the company plans to pay its actors at the higher level that was in effect at the Luckman, not at the level that had been used earlier at the Glendale site.

"The Skin of Our Teeth" isn't the only play picked with the events of the past year in mind. The company's spring repertory will include "The Comedy of Errors"--a title that more or less sums up the past year, said the trio; "Hay Fever," which presents two groups of people clashing in a confined space; and "Life Is a Dream," with its surreal elements.

MUSIC IN THE AIR: The second West Coast Musical Theatre Conference, sponsored by Broadway on Sunset, will feature a keynote speech by "Lion King" director Julie Taymor, a "visionary" award to Center Theatre Group's Gordon Davidson, and appearances by such luminaries as composer Michael John LaChiusa, actor Douglas Sills, and Disney executives Chris Montan and Stuart Oken.

Besides a variety of panels, the conference includes a revue of songs from new musicals and a concert reading of a new musical, "Wide Eyes."

Los Angeles Theatre Center is the site, Saturday and next Sunday. Tickets cost $45 for one day; $75 for both. Reservations: (213) 485-1681.

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