NOT all the drama in 2002 was on the stage. Behind the scenes, pivotal characters chose new directions, money appeared and dema- terialized, and the show went on. A recap and update of the highlights:
The news: Center Theatre Group's artistic director, Gordon Davidson, announced that he plans to retire at the end of 2004. The founding father of Los Angeles' flagship theater company -- the CTG's Mark Taper Forum -- as well as artistic director of the Ahmanson Theatre for the last 13 years, Davidson will stay through the opening of the Taper's Culver City wing, the Kirk Douglas Theatre, in 2004.
The update: The CTG board hired headhunter Gregory Kandel of Management Consultants for the Arts to assess the leadership needs of the organization. Kandel met with the board and staff but not yet with any candidates for the job or jobs. Still to be determined is whether the Taper and Ahmanson responsibilities will be split, as they were before Davidson added the Ahmanson to his Taper duties.
A.S.K. Theater Projects
The news: A leading benefactor of new play development, A.S.K. Theater Projects, went through a major shakeup, marked by the departure of numerous staffers, the cancellation of a readings series, and concerns by local artists that A.S.K. was focusing more on out-of-town artists and larger institutions.
The update: Executive director Kym Eisner outlined three "core programs" that A.S.K. will continue to support: individual artists (whom she defined as "not just playwrights") and ensembles, local organizations that demonstrate a commitment to new work (including Los Angeles County's ongoing Hot Properties series and the Taper New Work Festival that A.S.K. co-funds) and national organizations that produce new work. The organization's Playwrights in the Schools program has been axed, and the fate of A.S.K.'s Common Ground festival of workshops is still up in the air, she said. The staff has been reduced from 11 to six.
Americans on the London stage
The news: A wave of American actors, including Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Woody Harrelson and Jake Gyllenhaal, may have crested when British Equity protested the casting of three non-British actors, including star Glenn Close, in the subsidized National Theatre's "A Streetcar Named Desire."
The update: Martin Brown, a spokesman for British Equity, said at year's end that Equity officials "met with the National Theatre to seek assurances that this was not the start of a trend to increase the number of overseas performers. We were given the assurances we were after."
Kirk Douglas Theatre
The news: Kirk and Anne Douglas gave $2.5 million to the campaign for the conversion of an old movie house, the Culver Theater, into the 320-seat Culver City branch of Center Theatre Group, to be used primarily for play development and youth-oriented theater.
The update: The cost estimate for the facility rose to $10.9 million from an earlier estimate of $7 million to $8 million. Plans for a 100-seat second stage that would have occupied the old theater's balcony were dropped because of costs. CTG managing director Charles Dillingham declined to disclose how much money for the Douglas had been raised. Meanwhile, the Taper began the move to Culver City by outfitting the 99-seat Ivy Substation, a few blocks from the Douglas, and staging its New Work Festival there in the fall.
The news: The Geffen Playhouse received two $5-million gifts, one from David Geffen and another from the Skirball Foundation. The Westwood theater launched a $15-million campaign that aims to build a 125-seat theater on the east side of the Geffen property, to renovate and expand by about 40 seats the existing Geffen auditorium, and to provide a $2-million endowment for the company.
The update: The new small theater will be named after the late philanthropist Audrey Skirball-Kenis, who died in June. Construction is not expected to begin until 2004 and will require Geffen shows to move to a temporary facility.
The news: Theatergoers said goodbye to the Century City home of many of L.A.'s longest-running musicals, slated to be replaced as part of an office development. Many of its seats and other equipment were distributed to other theaters, and demolition was predicted for the fall.
The update: The empty building still stands. City approvals of the new development have been delayed, with a Planning Commission hearing in February the next step. The developer's plans include some sort of a "cultural amenity," but the nature of the "amenity" -- whether a performing arts facility, a gallery or some other project -- has not been decided.
New York ticket prices
The news: In autumn of 2001, an astonishing $480 ticket price for the best seats at "The Producers" rocked Broadway. This year several other shows joined Broadway Inner Circle, the "Producers"-allied company that managed these premium tickets, although no other show went as high as $480.
The update: A new high was set for an off-Broadway ticket price -- $115 -- for an all-star rendition of Brecht's "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui," with Al Pacino in the lead. The production sold out, but a spokesman for the play said box office receipts weren't sufficient to pay for the costs, although income from contributions may yet make up the deficit.