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New Advisor: The Audience

To select a new play, the Grove Theater Center will stage readings, then poll the people in the seats.


The Grove Theater Center will shepherd along a new play with the help of its audiences--a new wrinkle in a 2001 season otherwise stocked with old comic standbys.

The proven fare in the five-play season announced Friday is Bernard Slade's "Same Time, Next Year" (already announced and currently running through March 11 in the Gem Theater), Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," June 6-23 in the outdoor GTC Amphitheater and Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," playing outdoors Aug. 15-26. A Christmas-themed play, yet to be chosen, will run in December in the Gem.

Under its New Play Initiative, the Garden Grove theater will solicit unproduced scripts and take the six most promising ones through the development process, ending with a full production of the winner Oct. 10-27 in the Gem Theater.

The Grove, which opened in 1994, has produced a new play in each of its six previous seasons. But the New Play Initiative will allow more time to work with the playwright in perfecting the script, said Charles L. Johanson, the theater's executive director.

It also will allow for audience input, along the lines of South Coast Repertory's NewSCRipts series of staged readings.

"It's something we've wanted to do from the beginning," Johanson said.

The six scripts, chosen by Johanson and artistic director Kevin Cochran with the help of a small selection committee, will be read publicly in the Gem's upstairs cafe in late April and early May.

A moderated discussion will be held immediately afterward and written comments invited to gauge the audience's reaction. With the field narrowed to three, the finalists will receive more formal readings on the Gem's stage starting July 19, again with a round of audience comment.

Johanson and Cochran will make the final call in choosing a winner for a full, world-premiere production. "It's not a democratic process," Johanson said, but he doubts the choice will go against the grain of playgoers' comments.

Other "special event" productions, along the lines of last year's acclaimed evening of austere short plays by Samuel Beckett, may be announced, Johanson said. Among the possibilities are more Beckett, a possible one-actor world premiere and a return of the Troubadour Theatre Company, which specializes in comic sendups of Shakespeare plays.

The Grove has scratched the world premiere production of "Butlers, Bobbies & Boobs," a comedy by Ron House that originally had been scheduled for last fall, then postponed to 2001.

"It's having major rewrites. It's on our long-term list," Johanson said. "We're still working with Ron on another project."

Subscriptions to the five-play season range from $55 to $95. Single ticket prices are $14.50 for previews and $18.50 to $22.50 for regular performances. (714) 741-9555.

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