Mayor Backs More Shakespeare Festival Money

Times Staff Writer

The Hamlet of the Garden Grove City Council, Mayor J. Tilman Williams, reversed his previous opposition to funding the Grove Shakespeare Festival and said Thursday that he will support up to $20,000 in additional city money for the troubled theater troupe.

Williams' announcement follows a Tuesday vote by Garden Grove's Strawberry Festival Assn., a nonprofit group that raises money for public benefit organizations in the city, to grant the Grove Theatre Company $30,000, said Michael D. Fenderson, assistant city manager.

The Strawberry Festival donation would double the amount of money theater officials say they have raised in private donations. The city, meanwhile, has given the troupe $35,000 so far.

The mayor, who faces reelection in November, said he changed his position on the advice of his campaign manager, Woodrow Butterfield. Since their June vote that rejected the Grove's subsidy request for $83,000, the five Garden Grove councilmen have been caught up in a fierce debate over the role of cultural arts in their city, with many residents attending council meetings and writing letters to support subsidizing the theater from Garden Grove's $47.7 million municipal budget.

In previous years, Williams had voted for subsidizing the Grove, one of just two professional theater troupes in the county. But this year, following the anti-Shakespeare oratory of Councilman Raymond T. Littrell, Williams joined with Littrell and Councilman Robert F. Dinsen to block the subsidy.

Councilmen Walter E. Donovan and Milton Krieger--a possible opponent of Williams in the November mayoral contest--have consistently supported the theater's subsidy request, calling it an investment in quality of life.

Littrell had declared the plays of Shakespeare to be too sophisticated for the "hard-hat community" of Garden Grove and had asserted that the Grove company absorbed funds that would be better spent on police.

But as the debate has unfolded, with hundreds of letters of support for the theater company pouring into City Hall, Littrell too has softened his position on the issue. He has joined Krieger and Donovan in voting for $35,000 to keep the theater company operating through the fall.

All councilmen, with the exception of Dinsen, now assert that they are advocates of the arts and have no ill will for Shakespeare.

Williams said his support for the subsidy depended on the Grove taking steps over the next several years to end its reliance on a city subsidy, which now makes up 15% of the troupe's budget.

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