23-Year Equity Chief Confirms Retirement

Times Theater Writer

Rumors had been going around for months, but Edward Weston, Western Regional director of Actors' Equity, has now officially confirmed that he will retire from his post at the actors' union on Sept. 1, 1990--one week after his 65th birthday.

"It would be foolish to deny it," said Weston, who played a controversial and contradictory role in what became known last year as the "Equity Waiver Wars."

Weston, who was the chief designer of the 1972 Equity Waiver Plan (whereby the union waived certain rules, though not its jurisdiction, in theaters of fewer than 100 seats, thus freeing actors to perform and to produce themselves in small venues) became one of the plan's chief opponents 16 years later, after he became convinced that it was being abused.

A modification of the Waiver, proposed by the union's Western Advisory Board and voted in by the Los Angeles membership, resulted last year in a lengthy and bitter dispute between Equity and local small theater operators (many of whom were also Equity members) who wanted the vote rescinded.

Allegations of improprieties, predictions of doom and gloom, and a lawsuit eventually resulted in a mutually acceptable modified plan. But Weston took a lot of personal abuse from unhappy Waiverites during the year-long struggle. He acknowledged Wednesday that the badgering had influenced a decision he had begun to make a year and a half ago.

"W. C. Fields said, 'It was a woman who drove me to drink and I never wrote to thank her.' If the Waiver people did hasten my decision," Weston said, "I'd like to thank them now.

"We had predicted there would be no problem (implementing the new plan) and there isn't," he continued. "I wish it could all be put into proper perspective. It's the least thing we do in the (Western) office, but the enormous emphasis on the Waiver has been disruptive and has distorted everything else we do. We cover 14 Western states."

Weston who is 64 today has held his current post for 23 years. Asked if he had any interest in using his final year in office to try to enlist the entertainment industry in helping to fund live theater, Weston said: "We're still trying to get the film and television industries to contribute money to our people with AIDS. They refuse to acknowledge that there is a problem. Why would we get them to acknowledge anything else?"

On a personal level, Weston hopes to lead a less structured life after retirement, he said. "I hope to travel at a more leisurely pace; I love to read books that have nothing to do with theater; I might even go back to school to learn French and history; I hope to continue teaching (he teaches a graduate class in arts administration at UCLA). It's stimulating and rewarding to work with bright young minds. It gives me a great deal of hope. It's also nice to be Professor Weston," he quipped.

And he mentioned the de rigueur item for any self-respecting Hollywood resident: "I have an idea I'd like to peddle to a movie producer. As it is now, I don't have the time. You know the lyrics from 'On the Town,' " said this former Broadway hoofer. " 'Where has all the time gone?/ Haven't done half the things I want to do' . . .

"Mind you, I still love Equity," he said. "It's been my life for almost 40 years--40 next year. There's been no fight. No explosion. Just a decision to make a change. I still think Equity is an organization that's underestimated by its membership. Theater is a cottage industry and Equity a cottage union, but I like it that way.

"What I don't want to deal with any more is hostility, especially the kind that was so prevalent in L.A. during the last few years. I got tired of dealing with people with little minds and big mouths. I'm not going to identify who these people are, but if the mouth fits. . . ."

Asked who his successor might be, Weston said that the decision would be up to the union's governing council in New York, adding, "Certainly I think that George Ives (the Western office's senior business representative) is uniquely qualified for the job."

(Alan Eisenberg, Equity's executive secretary stated Wednesday that he hopes to announce a replacement by the end of the year.)

SPACE ANYONE?: The Mark Taper Forum's search for a third theater continues. "We've been looking diligently for a space that would accommodate a 250- to 300-seat theater--ideally flexible staging," said artistic director Gordon Davidson. "Existing spaces are not really right. I'd like to find a raw space--an empty supermarket, a garage or a warehouse. It's costly to convert, but I believe we'll come up with something some day."

The new space eventually would house the activities of Taper, Too and the Taper's Improvisational Theatre Project (its children's theater arm). The current Taper, Too space, Davidson said, would revert to being the Taper Lab, one of its earlier incarnations.

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