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Theatre Center Stages Last-Ditch Call for Funding : Entertainment: Officials say they need $250,000 to keep from closing Sunday. Even then, financial problems may be insurmountable.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Insisting that their beleaguered downtown stage complex “is not a lost cause,” Los Angeles Theatre Center officials pressed a desperation appeal Tuesday for $250,000 that they say they must have to stay open past this Sunday.

But theater officials conceded that even if they get the cash infusion, the four-stage downtown theater complex still faces potentially insurmountable problems.

“At the moment, we’re being weighed down by a boulder placed upon our shoulders” in the form of ongoing financial obligations, past-due bills and debts believed to total more than $1 million, and by major fund-raising difficulties, said Bill Bushnell, the LATC’s artistic director.

Bushnell said that by late Monday night, the theater center had taken in $67,000 in emergency gifts, and he vowed to reporters gathered at the theater near 5th and Spring streets to somehow find a way to allow the show to go on.

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The news conference was attended by more than 100 actors, theater administrators and theater workers from LATC and throughout Southern California. Actor Danny Glover, who said he became involved in legitimate theater in 1979 in part because of an association with people who now run the LATC, said, “We’re going to come through this, but we need your help desperately.”

Bushnell received a $3,000 check from actor George Takei, an LATC board member, during the news conference.

“If this theater goes under, something dies in me,” said Gordon Davidson, artistic director of the Center Theatre Group headquartered at the Music Center of Los Angeles County. “We depend on each other. This is a (theater) community which is growing and struggling and determined to survive.”

The LATC opened in 1985 and was touted as the nucleus of a downtown cultural revival, which failed to materialize.

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At the news conference, Davidson announced that his organization--which has sometimes been perceived as a creative competitor of Bushnell’s--had donated $15,000 to pay back rent on the LATC’s scenery shop in Alhambra. The LATC had been threatened with eviction from the facility.

The LATC’s problems emerged last week, when Bushnell told the LATC board that the theater center would have to close by Sunday if it cannot raise $250,000 in cash, and that it cannot survive into September if it does not get another $250,000 by the end of August.

On Friday, the state Employment Development Department seized a theater center bank account in a dispute over unpaid payroll taxes. That action threatened to force the company to close, but the National Endowment for the Arts made an emergency wire transfer of $75,000 in grant money to avert the immediate crisis.

Bushnell said the cast of the hit musical “The Phantom of the Opera” had agreed to put on a fund-raising cabaret Monday night--a day after Bushnell has said the LATC might be forced to shut down. “Phantom” is playing at the Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre.

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Tickets for the special cabaret are to be priced at $50 and $100. Bushnell said, “If we close the doors (on Sunday), I’ll personally come down with the keys and turn the lights on” for the benefit.

On another front, a private meeting was convened Monday at the urging of Mayor Tom Bradley to try to determine if a new group of theater organizations could be quickly assembled to step into the LATC crisis or, failing that, be put together to take a role in the facility in several months. The gathering concluded that no quick-fix consortium can be assembled, but such a group might be put together in the next several months.

The meeting was attended by Bushnell and other LATC officials, Davidson and Center Theatre Group officers, top officials of the city Department of Cultural Affairs and the president of California Institute of the Arts in Valencia.

“The impetus was not so much to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but to understand the depth of the problem and to see what could begin to be thought about down the road,” Davidson said. “The immediate problem (for LATC) is so enormous and needful of money that there’s no way this group could address that. But we have got to be thinking what the long term is.”

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Sources said one possibility under discussion is associating the LATC complex with the Music Center’s Mark Taper Forum. The plan would call for moving the Forum’s affiliate--Taper, Too production company--from the John Anson Ford Theater in Hollywood to the LATC complex.

At the news conference, Bushnell laid some blame for the LATC’s precarious situation on its creditors. He specifically mentioned The Times, which stopped taking theater center advertisements earlier this year after the LATC piled up $56,000 in unpaid bills.

Laura Morgan, a Times spokeswoman, said the paper would not resume accepting LATC ads during the crisis. “We are sorry they are having financial difficulties and we are hopeful they will work things out,” she said of LATC. “Nonetheless, they owe us a substantial amount of money (and) discussions (about the situation) haven’t been satisfactory.”


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