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THEATER

Now, to widen the Celebration

Michael A. Shepperd wants his gay-themed company to be a place for kids and straights too.

August 17, 2008|David Ng | Times Staff Writer

For all of his talk about change, Shepperd seems reluctant to toy with one time-tested gay theater formula: the presence of young, good-looking actors on stage, usually in various states of undress. "And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that," he says, smiling. "I can tell you honestly that I have gone to see plays simply based on a poster with a good-looking guy on it."

Shepperd concedes that such plays are safe moneymakers for the Celebration -- an important consideration since the company is perpetually "broke," he says. Still, he wants quality to supersede titillation: "Sometimes you get pitched a play where it's just seven guys naked on the stage the whole time. And I'm like, 'no.' There has to be substance behind it."

On most days, however, Shepperd deals with issues that are much more mundane. He manages an annual budget of about $150,000 -- which he recently cut by $20,000 as a result of a hike in the theater's rent. Shepperd is paid only a stipend, not a salary, and manages a small army of what he calls "professional volunteers."

In his short time as the head of the Celebration, Shepperd has made racial diversity a priority. Next season, the theater will produce plays by Edwin Sanchez and Chay Yew.

"This theater should be servicing the entire gay community, not just one portion of the gay community," he says. "The gay white male demographic is not the one I want to keep hitting."

Thus far, the most difficult part of marketing toward minorities has been actually finding where they live. "It's not like all of the black gays are over here and all of the gay Latinos are over here," he says. "They're all on the same hand, but you have to follow all of the fingers.

"I know what kind of theater company I want to build. When I go out to make my curtain speech and I look out, I want to see everybody -- gay, lesbian, straight, white, black, Latino, Asian.

"I want to see everyone out there."

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david.ng@latimes.com

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