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IN CENTER STAGE: ARTS COMPLEX IT WAS THE MAIN, BUT NOT THE ONLY, EVENT OF 1985

Times Staff Writer

With the scheduled opening of the Orange County Performing Arts Center only nine months away, it’s not surprising that the Center easily dominated Orange County’s arts scene in 1985.

For sheer magnitude, the smaller local arts organizations could hardly compete with an organization that:

- Affirmed that its $70.7-million main-theater phase will open Sept. 29, 1986, in Costa Mesa with the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta.

- Stated that the fund campaign (as of Dec. 30) has reached the $93-million mark: $53 million for construction and $40 million for an operating endowment fund.

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- Hired two former Kennedy Center officials: As new executive director, Thomas Kendrick, a longtime director of operations at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and as general manager, Judith O’Morr, who held the same title in Washington.

Obviously, Center board leaders believe that everything is right on track for 1986, despite the fact that the cost of the 3,000-seat main theater--and the 350-seat rehearsal studio--went up $13.4 million from the figure estimated 2 1/2 years ago. (No changes in cost have been announced for the proposed, yet-to-be-designed 1,000-seat theater estimated in 1983 at $8.2 million.)

Like other Center leaders, board president Timothy Strader expresses nothing but confidence, both in meeting the higher construction target and in signing a full-season roster of orchestra, opera, dance and musical-theater attractions.

“This is to be our final push (before the fall opening),” Strader said. “Everything points to success. It will truly be a curtain-raising year in 1986.”

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UP, UP AND AWAY: No, expansion and construction in 1985 wasn’t limited to just the Center. Consider these three ventures:

- The Laguna Art Museum (the new name for the Laguna Beach Museum of Art) is set to reopen its landmark facility in June, 1986. An $850,000 expansion will increase the size of the facility from 9,000 to 15,000 square feet. The museum also was given an extension through 1986 on its rent-free “satellite facility” at the South Coast Plaza Mall in Costa Mesa.

- The Laguna Moulton Playhouse in October reopened its theater after a $650,000 renovation to add a 68-seat balcony (to the 350-seat main floor) and for various office and lobby revamping.

- The South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa last July started site-preparation work for its $1.5-million Artists Wing support facility (SCR’s two-playhouse complex is next to the Center).

Other ventures in the works:

- The Irvine City Council and UC Irvine last August announced a preliminary plan to build a $9.5-million, 750-seat performing arts theater on the campus. To be funded by city bond monies, construction is projected to begin in 1986-87.

- The Newport Harbor Art Museum this month disclosed that its new-site search choices have been narrowed to the existing Newport Center location; two Irvine Co.-owned locales in Irvine, and the South Coast Plaza sector. A consultant’s report on the proposed expansion, which could cost up to $20 million, is being awaited.

- Freedman Forum, a proposed $6-million, 2,300-seat theater-in-the-round for musicals in downtown Anaheim, in October won preliminary approval from the Anaheim City Council. Final city approval on structural construction is pending.

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COMING ATTRACTIONS, PART I: The pending visits of American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Opera seem to support the Orange County Center’s long-touted aim to be a “world class” complex.

Beverly Sills, general director of the New York City Opera, was here Nov. 18 to announce that her company--the first attraction to be signed for the initial Center season--will appear in Orange County on Jan. 14-25 in 1987. “Carmen,” “Madama Butterfly,” and “Candide” are to be presented.

Baryshnikov, artistic director of the American Ballet Theatre, here Dec. 19, said his New York-based company will perform “The Nutcracker” for a Dec. 9-14 engagement in 1986.

This production, directed and choreographed by Baryshnikov, will play Orange County first, then Los Angeles for the company’s usual two-week holiday run at the Shrine Auditorium.

The Orange County Philharmonic Society, presenter of the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Orange County concerts since 1962, said it expects to present that orchestra’s regular series at the Orange County Center. The society said it also is negotiating for single-concert appearances by other major orchestras, including the Cleveland and Chicago symphony orchestras.

According to Kendrick and Strader, the Center is also continuing talks with other organizations, such as the New York City Ballet, the Shubert organization (the impresario of musicals) and the Joffrey Ballet.

COMING ATTRACTIONS, PART II: At one time, relations were rather combative between the local performing organizations and the Center over the question of booking.

Some Orange County Center officials had questioned whether the local attractions were of sufficient caliber to play--and draw enough people to fill--the main hall.

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But the Dec. 10 announced signing of the Pacific Symphony--whose leaders had been warning that the Center might become exclusively an “import house"--seemed to banish any further talk of rifts.

The first local group to be signed, the 85-member Pacific Symphony has set its opening concert Oct. 2 at the Center. The orchestra association will be underwriting the entire schedule of 14 (and possibly 16) appearances: eight regular classical concerts, plus children’s concerts and a “Saturday Night Pops” series.

On Nov. 7, Costa Mesa-based Opera Pacific announced its proposed--but still unconfirmed--plans to present at the Center in early 1987 “La Boheme,” directed by Gian Carlo Menotti. An additional opera and a musical reportedly will also be in the offing.

The two other local contenders for appearances at the Center--Maurice Allard’s Master Chorale of Orange County and John Alexander’s Pacific Chorale--have been more reticent. Both organizations have said only that they are in negotiations on a proposed 1986-87 schedule at the Center.

CHANGES OF THE GUARD: The big news came last May, when the Orange County Performing Arts Center announced Kendrick’s hiring after a 10-month nationwide search. Kendrick, who succeeded Len Bedsow, the Center’s first executive director, assumed his post full time in September.

But 1985 was a year of unusual staff turnovers:

- Wesley Brustad, after only three months as the Orange County Pacific Symphony’s executive director, quit in November to take a similar post with the Pasadena-based Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. His departure was the third in two years in that top Pacific Symphony post.

- William Lee, director of Santa Ana’s Bowers Museum for 3 1/2 years, disclosed on Dec. 19 that he was resigning, effective June 30. He said his decision was “purely personal.” He denied that he was leaving due to any dissatisfaction over expansion and reorganizational delays at the city-owned museum.

- William Otton, director of the Laguna Art Museum for the past 4 1/2 years, confirmed last August that he had considered accepting a post at the Rockford (Ill.) Art Museum. He decided instead to stay with the Laguna Beach museum, which offered him a three-year contract.

But Otton is now one staff-position short. Last June, he announced that the Laguna Art Museum’s first chief curator--Robert McDonald, a former Santa Cruz County Art Museum director--was quitting after 11 months. Otton argued that the chief curatorship had been created “prematurely”; it is to remain vacant indefinitely.

Other hirings:

David DiChiera, founding general director of the Detroit-based Michigan Opera Theatre, last January was appointed Opera Pacific’s first general director. It was seen as a move to elevate the relatively small Orange County organization into a big-league producer of opera and musical theater.

OUT WITH A WHIMPER: Santa Ana and its Bowers Museum were still trying to forget their big announcement in September. They had declared that Bowers was chosen for three proposed European masters’ shows beginning in 1988. The works supposedly would have included those by El Greco, Rubens and Botticelli.

But, the city later said, it was a case of municipal overeagerness. The promoter, the Sacramento-based Foundation for International Exhibits, was a fledgling group with no known arts experience. Both the Newport Harbor Art Museum and the San Jose Museum of Art had been approached before Bowers and had rejected the plan as being overly vague. And none of the foreign cultural agencies presumed to be involved had given preliminary approval to any such U. S. tour.

By November, the promoter said Santa Ana “was out” of the project because the city had failed to sign a preliminary pact with the foundation.


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