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Theater | Theater Notes

Standing Up for Changes to the Ovations

March 25, 2001|DON SHIRLEY | Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

A package of proposed changes in the Ovation Awards drew a generally favorable reaction from several members of the theater community, but it also created some talk about possible further tweaking of L.A.'s most prestigious theater honors.

Gordon Davidson, the Center Theatre Group czar, said he was glad to hear that a Theatre LA committee recommends spreading the wealth by presenting three awards, instead of one, in categories that attract more than 50 entrants. However, he asked, "why do we have to have winners at all?"

There should be five distinguished honorees in each category, he said, with no further competition--a move that would be tantamount to honoring all nominees in each category as the winners. Awards such as the Tonys and the Oscars are "devices to sell tickets," he said--and therefore have a commercial incentive to intensify the hype by narrowing the list of nominees down to a single winner. But in the case of the Ovations, most of the nominated productions have closed by the time the awards are given. "We don't have the same hit mentality here, so it really shouldn't be about the 'best'; it should be about distinguished achievement."

Davidson said the same thing in an appearance before the Theatre LA committee, and his comments sparked the idea of some categories with multiple awards, said Jon Lawrence Rivera, who heads the committee. But the committee decided that if the competition stopped at the nominations phase, there would be "no sense of suspense"--which attracts people to the awards ceremony. "Only the winners would show up."

Practically speaking, extra awards would lengthen an already long ceremony. But former Theatre LA President and current board member Lars Hansen suggested that a strict limit on the length of acceptance speeches might help mitigate that problem.

One proposed change would set up a "touring/visiting" production category and remove touring shows from consideration in all other categories. This might prove to be a headache for Center Theatre Group in particular, which brings many shows to L.A.--sometimes as a co-producer, sometimes just as a presenter. Some of these shows, such as "The Dead" and "Death of a Salesman," are not part of a tour when they're booked but later go to additional venues.

Rivera said the committee would arbitrate any disputes about the definition of "touring/visiting." However, the committee has already considered cases such as "Ragtime" and "The Lion King," and decided that they would not count as tours--even though they later went on tour ("Ragtime") or will do so ("The Lion King")--because they began with open-ended L.A. runs and used plenty of local talent. That's a stretch, Davidson said.

Another recommendation would abolish the award for a new translation or adaptation. Ed Waterstreet, whose Deaf West Theatre's translation of "A Streetcar Named Desire" into American Sign Language won this award last fall, said he felt "a little 'aw shucks' " upon learning of this proposal. But he's aware his theater might be seen as having an unfair advantage in this category, because Deaf West always uses translations. He suggested, however, that the category should be retained for adaptations.

Shashin Desai, whose International City Theatre withdrew from Ovations competition because he didn't feel he could attract enough voters to Long Beach, said he was heartened by a recommendation to add more voters from outlying areas like Long Beach--and ICT will probably reenter the fray if the additional voters materialize.

TANNER LIVES: Attention, fans of Justin Tanner's plays from his long stint at the Cast Theatre--Tanner has directed a student production of "Zombie Attack!" (co-written with Andy Daley) at his alma mater, Los Angeles City College, on a much larger budget than he ever had at the Cast. It plays through Saturday, and Tanner's "Coyote Woman" will then go up at the end of April. His rewritten "The Tent Show" is on tap for a professional production in Burbank in June.

KAYE MOVES: Richard Kaye, who spent seven years building Glaxa Studios in Silver Lake into one of L.A.'s primary small performance centers, will sublease the space to an Indian restaurant, whose owners are expected to turn his first space, Studio A, into part of the restaurant. Studio K will remain intact, though it might not be used as a theater. Kaye, after taking a break, may produce something in his downtown studio, which has been used primarily for private film and video shoots.

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