Debt-Ridden LATC Urges $32-Million Bail-Out From City


The financially troubled Los Angeles Theatre Center has told the Community Redevelopment Agency that it needs about $32 million over the next five years to survive, an amount one city council member said equals the city’s entire arts budget for the same time period.

According to an LATC report, the money is needed to maintain and improve the building that houses LATC, to pay debt service and property taxes, and to establish a $15 million endowment fund for future facilities costs.

But Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, a member of the council’s Community Redevelopment and Housing Committee, said in an interview that the center “effectively (wants) the equivalent of everything we spend on the arts in the city . . . I can’t imagine this kind of idea would be given even remotely serious consideration.”

The request is also likely to raise eyebrows because of the theater’s current debts. According to an earlier agreement with the CRA, the theater was supposed to have reduced its deficit to $250,000 by April 30. But a recent city audit reported that the deficit had risen this year, from less than $500,000 on Jan. 1 to $603,000 on April 30.


Furthermore, the theater faces a semi-annual bond payment of $298,000 on June 15--and the CRA’s reserve fund for such payments has only $195,000 left from the original $1.5 million. The trustee for the bond--Security Pacific Bank--could start foreclosure proceedings if the payment isn’t made.

The CRA’s proposed 1991 budget includes only $750,000 as a contingency line item for LATC facilities support. “It is clear that the agency does not have sufficient funds available to meet the funding requirements included in the (LATC) plan,” wrote CRA administrator John J. Tuite in his report to the CRA board.

The LATC plan suggests relying on the CRA’s Downtown Cultural Trust Fund to finance the theater’s $15 million endowment. But the current balance of that fund is only $266,000--and half of the fund is committed to the Los Angeles Festival under current arts policy.

The LATC five-year plan was prepared in response to a request by the city council in February. It will be forwarded to the council’s Community Redevelopment and Housing committee.

SURVIVALISTS: While some may wonder if LATC will survive the season, those who attended Theatre LA’s “Future Stages” conference at LATC on Monday were pondering the question: “Will L.A. Theatre Survive the ‘90s?”

Yes, as long as a lot of workers stay home and telecommute by the year 2000, responded panelist Susan Dietz, artistic director of Pasadena Playhouse. “When that happens, they’ll want to go out of their houses at night. If we can just hold on till then . . . .”

Carmen Zapata, artistic director of the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, agreed that now “they go home and barbecue and don’t want to go out again . . . The thing we have to cope with is the good life in California. In New York, they don’t have that good life.” She offered a jocular suggestion: “Why don’t we perform along the side of the freeway?”

“We need to give audiences what they want,” offered Zapata, “not what we think they want.”

“The community doesn’t know what it wants,” responded LATC’s artistic director, Bill Bushnell. “It’s my responsibility to put on these stages what I want to see done. And I’m not that different from my audience.”

More from Bushnell: “I’m not in the entertainment business. I’m in the art and education business. I look at the theater as a religious temple . . . I have to convert audiences away from the fallen and graven idols of film and TV.”

He compared theater with the more solitary, standardized experience of watching prefabricated film and TV: “Theater is a shared experience between the performers and the audience, which is different every single time it occurs . . . What we have to sell is uniqueness. The theater offers a first time, every time.”

But Dietz noted that her theater is not subsidized like LATC, so she can’t sneer at the value of entertainment. “My job is not unlike that of the Shuberts. Will (a play) be a hit?” Furthermore, she added later, “one of the things that’s killing the theater is that it’s looked on as art, as something serious, as something you have to work at.” She wants her audiences to think of theater “not as a bitter pill, but as something that’s joyous.”

Take a note: Bushnell, speaking of the necessity to keep tickets affordable, said that “Some day, I’ll have the guts to cut the prices in half and double the audience.”

COMING UP: Timberlake Wertenbaker’s plays gravitate toward Los Angeles. The young British-American writer’s “The Love of the Nightingale” will receive its American premiere in an L.A. Theatre Works production at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, opening June 15. It’s the same site where Wertenbaker’s “The Grace of Mary Traverse” was introduced to America in 1988. Last year, the Mark Taper Forum staged the U.S. premiere of Wertenbaker’s “Our Country’s Good.”

“Nightingale” opened at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Stratford-on-Avon stage last year. Here, it will feature Robert Foxworth as Tereus, King of Thrace, who rapes his sister-in-law and then cuts out her tongue. Carolyn Seymour will play the wife, with Brenda Varda as her sister. Peter Mark Schifter will direct, with music by Thomas Pasatieri.

Peg Yorkin, former director of L.A. Public Theatre, will co-produce, in her first stage venture since 1986.

EQUITY ELECTION: For the second year in a row, insurgents have dominated the elections to the 18-member Western Advisory Board of Actors’ Equity. Four of this year’s five winners--Laurie O’Brien, Stuart K. Robinson, Jeanne Hepple and Robin Gammell--were part of a slate that was nominated by petition, rather than by the nominating committee.

Top vote-getter O’Brien described her slate as “new-blooded people who would like to see the union update itself.” Asked whether the union’s controversial 99-Seat Theater Plan was working, she said no, citing a decline in the number of auditions available for actors. She admitted, though, that “I’m going in semi-blind” and added that “the other faction” has been “incredibly sweet and open” to the ideas of the newcomers.

Times staff writer Charisse Jones also contributed to this article.