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Confusing Equity Situation in Spotlight; Listener’s Version of ‘Treasure Island’

Times Theater Writer

Can you keep actors from acting? Not a chance. They’ll do it for free, for fee, and sign whatever it takes.

Thirty-five Waiver productions are opening between now and Oct. 3. Why this tidal wave? Because that’s when the 16-year-old Waiver Plan will be supplanted by Equity’s new Actors’ 99-Seat Theatre Plan (a modification of the Waiver that requires a flat payment for actors). More significantly, Equity has declared that Waiver shows already on the boards Oct. 3 may continue undisturbed.

It’s no surprise that only a handful of productions are so far scheduled to open in theaters of 99 seats (or fewer) after Oct. 3. How many of those have signed on to Equity’s new plan is not known.

Michael Van Duzer, the 99-Seat theater administrator for Equity, said he couldn’t give out the information because of a pending lawsuit by 15 actors against Equity’s Western Advisory Board and other union officials. The lawsuit questions the legality of Equity’s new plan. All Van Duzer confirmed is that a “Hamlet” (by This Town Theatrics coming to Theatre Exchange Nov. 4) has signed on.

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Some operators of 99-seat theaters who found Equity’s new plan unworkable formed their own association--Associated Theatres of Los Angeles, or ATLAS--and created their own plan: the ATLAS Plan. It’s in use now, is not sanctioned by Equity and pays actors a percentage of the gross (instead of a flat fee). To date, 41 theaters have adopted this plan. But can they make it stick? And how?

Just as nebulous is what Equity might do about union members who defy union rules by participating in ATLAS Plan productions--or any productions that don’t adopt Equity’s plan.

“We would inform them it was not a plan production,” Van Duzer said, “and tell them to cease and desist. . . . “

And if they didn’t? “I couldn’t really say. There’s going to be a lot of confusion after Oct. 3.”

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Confusion may be the only certainty for the immediate future.

An informal polling of productions opening in 99-seat venues after Oct. 3 drew responses as varied as the styles for coping (or not) with the changes. Call the prevailing attitude wait-and-see.

First show on line in the post-Waiver era is “The Fantasticks” at East West Players (an ATLAS theater). It opens Oct. 5 and artistic director Mako isn’t talking.

“We’re waiting for Thursday (today) four o’clock (when the lawsuit is heard in federal court). Until then, rehearsals continue,” Mako said. And then? “We’ll decide on the appropriate response.”

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The Santa Monica Playhouse, opening “The Great Fair--Shalom Aleichem On Tour” Oct. 7, is also waiting for results of the lawsuit.

“We’re planning on becoming signatories of the ATLAS Plan,” said the theater’s Chris De Carlo. “Since the only Equity members of the cast are Evelyn (Rudie, who co-runs the theater) and myself, we decided to go for it. We’re not looking for a fight, but we don’t feel it’s in our best interest right now to fall over.”

The Long Beach Studio Theatre, where “A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking” opens Oct. 15, is playing the same game. “Our board of directors will ultimately decide what we do,” said general manager Elaine Herman, “but right now we want to see what happens (with the lawsuit).”

Other tactics on display are avoidance (“Sea Mother’s Son,” which was to have opened at the Gene Dynarski Theatre Oct. 6, cannily moved its opening to Oct. 2), skeptical compliance (Mark Travis, who directs “No Place Like Home,” a one-man show coming to the Tiffany Theatre Oct. 12, says he’ll “probably sign,” but admits he’s confused) and willing compliance (Dan Alvy and Ron Parker, producers of Marc Mantell’s two-character “Duck Dancing,” opening at the Court Oct. 16, will sign on to Equity’s plan, according to a spokesman for the theater).

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And then there’s Shashin Desai of International City Theatre in Long Beach, where the curtain rises on “Vanishing Points” Oct. 14. Desai says he’ll go with whatever plan prevails that day:

“I really feel it’s OK to share the money with the actors. We’ll have to limit our experimentation sometimes. It’s the price we’ll have to pay. We’re going to make an honest effort to abide by the (union’s) law. All we want is to do good theater.”

Which may be the only valid bottom line. Meanwhile, the real bottom line will be decided in court today at 4 p.m. Whether indeed the new Equity plan goes into effect Oct. 3 hinges on whether U.S. District Court Judge Terry Hatter grants a preliminary injunction to those 15 actors suing their union.

RADIO DRAMA REDUX: In the tradition recently resurrected by L.A. Classic Theatre Works and KCRW-FM (“Once in a Lifetime,” “The Crucible,” “Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been”), another group called California Artists’ Radio Theatre is going on the air Saturday at 6 p.m. over KUSC-FM (91.5), KSCA-FM (88.7) and KCPB-FM (91.1) with a new 90-minute listener’s version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island.”

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Peggy Webber, who harks back to the Mercury Theatre, produced, adapted and plays the part of the young Jim Hawkins. Eminent radio/TV artists in the cast include Parley Baer, Richard Erdman, Linda K. Henning, Lou Krugman, Shep Menken, Jeanette Nolan, Dan O’Herlihy and Ford Rainey. Richard Wilson directed. Veteran Bud Tollefson was the soundman.

Webber, who spearheaded this project, has organized a wide-ranging company of radio veterans and hopes to produce more theater broadcasts for KUSC, depending on how this one is received.

Stay tuned.

THEATER ANYONE?: The Hollywood Playhouse hasn’t had much of a go since it was extensively refurbished (and extensively hyped) by lessee F.H.M. corporation in 1984.

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Now the 240-seat theater complex on Las Palmas Ave. (just south of Sunset Blvd.) is up for grabs.

It has a price tag of $1,150,000, with $200,000 wanted down and the balance to be paid off on three assumable mortgages.

Frank Javidzad is the owner, but the seller is the Westwood Playhouse’s Norman Maibaum, an F.H.M. officer (along with Budd Friedman and Stanley Handman).

Despite F.H.M.'s efforts, only four shows played that theater in as many years: “A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking,” “Duet for One,” Nicol Williamson’s one-man show and “Strange Snow” with Adrienne Barbeau.

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Information: (213) 208-6500.


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