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El Camino Claims a Solid Arts Season Despite Budget Cuts

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some big names of the past are missing and the number of concerts has declined. But directors of El Camino College’s performing arts program believe they have forged a solid fall season despite $3 million in college budget cuts.

The college’s South Bay Center for the Arts will present 75 to 80 performances--almost 50 by professional artists--starting in October, said Betty Ferrell, the center’s manager of booking and promotion.

Last season, the center staged 116 performances, 66 of them professional bookings. Most of this year’s reductions have hit dance, jazz, guitarists and classical singers, pianists and orchestras. These series, which draw smaller audiences and do not recover booking fees, have either been reduced or canceled.

No cuts were made in pop and country-Western performances, which draw the largest audiences.

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“Under the circumstances, we’ve come out very well,” Ferrell said. “We will still be presenting what I consider a very well-balanced program; there just will not be as many things.”

Over a 23-year period, El Camino--with its 2,054-seat Marsee Auditorium--became a major performing arts center, bringing to the South Bay Harry Belafonte, opera stars Frederica von Stade and Leontyne Price, and country favorite Crystal Gayle.

The center was once expected only to break even on performances. But because of the college’s financial crisis, the center must earn $400,000 at the box office to help offset the budget shortfall. The season runs through May.

At one time, the college considered canceling the performing arts program altogether, but that was abandoned in favor of a policy emphasizing money-making attractions.

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Ferrell said the college will present four pop and four country-Western performances this year, which is comparable to last year.

By contrast, she said, there will be two orchestras this year instead of last season’s four; two dance concerts instead of six; one jazz group instead of four; two classical vocal concerts in place of four, and two pianists in place of four. The guitar series has been dropped.

In addition to the professional season, college theater, music events and art exhibits also come under auspices of the performing arts program.

Among next season’s attractions will be Victor Borge, the California Shakespeare Festival presenting “Antony and Cleopatra,” pianist Jean-Philippe Collard, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band of New Orleans, Claire Bloom in a one-woman show, Les Ballets Africains, the Waverly Consort early music ensemble playing music of Spain at the time of Columbus, a Rodgers & Hammerstein concert and the Moscow Virtuosi chamber group.

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Ferrell said she could not disclose the pop and country-Western performers because contracts have not been completed.

Roger Quadhamer, acting dean of fine arts who in charge of the performing arts program, said the reduction in the classical arena is a real concern. But he said the college has a “good core season” lined up and he hopes to build the program back up as the college financial picture improves.

However, he added, “the recovery will not be a quick one.”


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