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Black box of many colors

REDCAT (the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater) is inside the Disney Hall complex but definitely not of it.

September 14, 2003|Don Shirley | Times Staff Writer

At the southwest corner of the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex, a small marquee welcomes visitors to REDCAT, the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater. In its curves and sheen, the marquee consciously echoes the design of the larger building's exterior.

But don't be misled. Within the Disney Hall context, REDCAT is the alternative: the un-Disney Hall.

So says REDCAT's executive director, Mark Murphy, as he gives a tour of his new playground, which makes its debut Oct. 28. His boss, CalArts President Steven D. Lavine, agrees, speaking from Lavine's office at the CalArts campus in Valencia, 32 miles northwest of REDCAT.

They contrast the right angles of their new black-box space with the more sinuous, colorful design and natural light of the main auditorium. They note REDCAT's flexible seating configurations, ranging in capacity from 122 to 279; their larger neighbor has 2,265 fixed seats. They point to the plywood walls in the REDCAT lounge area and mention the richer, more polished woods next door.

The differences also extend to the programming -- REDCAT will offer brief runs of mostly unfamiliar cutting-edge artists in contrast to the permanent residency of the famous Los Angeles Philharmonic in the bigger hall.

The budgets, too, are radically different. "REDCAT has to run like it's not in the Walt Disney Hall," Lavine said. "It has to run like it's in a shack in some corner of town."

"Some corner outside of town" might describe the location of REDCAT's parent, CalArts. Lavine said invitations to CalArts are often declined because "it's too far to drive."

Now, CalArts will have what Lavine says is "like a seventh school" (in addition to schools of art, critical studies, dance, film-video, music and theater) in the heart of L.A., close to L.A.'s arts establishment.

In fact, Lavine insists that REDCAT's educational significance and its potential to market CalArts to a much larger audience will be worth big bucks -- even though the project has required a serious fund-raising effort during an economic downturn, and even though its distinctive mission could easily become lost in the swirl of greater attention focused on the opening of the larger Disney Hall.

"If I didn't believe it will at least break even in the long run, I wouldn't have done it," he said. "It's like a winning football team for USC."

$21-million price tag

REDCAT was carved out of the parking garage that preceded the construction of Disney Hall. Until recently, parking stripes and "COMPACT" signs could still be seen on the floors. One entrance leads directly from the parking garage.

Although the space is leased from Los Angeles County for $1 a year, CalArts built REDCAT and has raised about $16 million out of the required $21 million, beginning with twin $5-million contributions in 1997 from the Walt Disney Co. and from Roy E. and Patty Disney. Walt and his brother, Roy O. Disney, provided most of the original endowment for CalArts itself in the '60s.

Since then, the REDCAT capital campaign has been harder than the $40-million rebuilding of CalArts after the Northridge earthquake, Lavine said. In addition to the economic woes of the last three years, "many of the logical funders had already given to the concert hall itself, and it seemed like double dipping." Most of the money has come from Disney connections, including $3 million from the Sharon Disney Lund Foundation. CalArts has a $12-million line of credit for completion of the facility.

REDCAT programming funds were easier to raise, Lavine said, but the goal was much smaller. "I always imagined that the first year's budget would be between $1 million and $2 million," he said, and it's now $1.48 million.

Of that, $250,000 is for the REDCAT gallery off the lobby, which will maintain regular daytime hours with free admission. The rest of the budget is for the performance programming. Projected box-office revenue will return about one-fourth of the expenses. Most tickets will cost $20 or less.

The theater was originally designed with a larger balcony on three sides that could have expanded capacity to 340, "but we changed it because it seemed we were heading for this trap of having to fill a larger house," Lavine said. "Many times we're aiming for artists who don't have wide reputations. I don't think Los Angeles has had the right scale for presenting young, not-well-known companies."

L.A.'s primary home of contemporary interdisciplinary performance is the UCLA Live series, which operates the 1,818-seat Royce Hall on the Westwood campus and also uses the university's smaller Freud Playhouse, Schoenberg Hall and Macgowan Little Theater. UCLA Live has a $7.1-million budget this season and relies on the box office for 54% of it.

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