Theaters Unhurt, but Riots' Impact a Concern


"We're not burned out," said Marla Gibbs, actress and founder of the Crossroads Theatre and Arts Academy in the Crenshaw District, on her answering machine. "But nobody is safe until everybody is safe."

The "legit" theater buildings of Los Angeles were not damaged in the riots that tore through town. "We've been able to withstand the storm," said C. Bernard Jackson, director of the Inner City Cultural Center, which suffered nothing more serious than a power outage, though stores within the same building were looted and a neighboring structure went up in flames.

Yet Jackson added that people shouldn't "relax too quickly. . . . The fury hasn't been fully played out yet." He said he "is trying to assess the long-range impact on our programming, and our long-range role in rehabilitating the community."

Several theater operators expressed concern that the damage to their neighborhoods could scare away prospective theatergoers.

"What I don't have a sense yet is whether people will be resistant to coming downtown, even though the curfew is lifted," said Center Theatre Group's Gordon Davidson.

Katie Amstutz, producer of "A Prayer for My Daughter," which will resume its run tonight at Los Angeles Theatre Center, noted grimly that many people feared the LATC neighborhood before last week's riots. But she added that the area "may be safer than ever this weekend, because there are cops patrolling all over the place."

There are already indications that audiences won't shy away from some of the shows. "There were very few no-shows" at "The Phantom of the Opera" Tuesday and Wednesday, said a spokeswoman for the production at the Ahmanson Theatre in the Music Center. "And there was a pretty steady line all day of people who were anxious to make exchanges" of tickets they held for the performances that were canceled because of the curfew.

Cancellation of performances certainly put a damper on last weekend's box office. The weekly box-office gross at five major productions plunged to $352,530 from the previous week's $1,254,806, according to the trade newspaper Variety.

Even in Hemet in Riverside County, where the annual Ramona Pageant performed on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, attendance was down by as much as 1,500. Los Angeles and Santa Barbara residents called to say they were afraid to travel--or simply concerned that they couldn't return to their homes prior to the curfew, said a spokeswoman. Promotional efforts also suffered when public service announcements about the pageant were pulled from the airwaves in order to carry riot coverage. Last weekend's tickets will be honored this weekend, though not necessarily in the same seat locations; ticket-holders should call first.

At Highways in Santa Monica, performance artist Annie Sprinkle shifted her shows from evenings to matinees, performing at 1 and 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, and referred to the events of the week in her act. Highways also served as a collection point for relief efforts.

The MET Theater in Hollywood called off a Tuesday night reading but scheduled a special event for Saturday evening that will address the issues raised by recent events--and collect relief items.

The "Forever Plaid" company will hold a special performance at 5 p.m. May 28 to benefit relief efforts.

An East West Players official said the Asian-American company hopes to unite with other minority-oriented theaters in a production that would focus on recent events.

At the Mark Taper Forum, Robert Egan's staging of "Richard II," with its racially aligned forces at each other's throats, is "in some ways an apt response" to the disturbances in Los Angeles, said Davidson, the theater's artistic director. He has scheduled post-play discussions after all performances, "using 'Richard II' as a jumping-off point, but really as a community gesture."

Indeed, most of the discussion after the Wednesday performance--when about 25 audience members and a dozen actors stayed to talk--focused on the events in the city instead of the play.

Center Theatre Group is offering two tickets for the price of one to anyone who brings non-perishable food items, clothes or blankets, baby supplies or other relief items to the box office for the rest of the runs of "Richard II" and "It's Only a Play" at the Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood.

Some special performances of "Richard II" for school groups already have been held, and Taper officials are planning to solicit more school groups to regular performances through group sales. At the post-play discussion Wednesday, actress Natsuko Ohama said she was "shocked and inspired by the intelligence and emotion" of the school audiences. Referring to the discussions with students, she concluded: "I don't think (the dominant culture) can control people anymore, which is what this play is all about."

NEA News: Sheri Bailey of Venice and Gardner McKay of Los Angeles are among the 16 playwrights receiving fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts this year. Bailey and McKay received $10,000 each.

Ben Cameron, director of the NEA's theater programs, will speak and take questions at a Theatre LA forum Monday at 9:30 a.m. at the Radisson Bel-Air Summit Hotel, 11461 Sunset Blvd. He will conduct individual sessions to discuss NEA grant applications in the afternoon. The event is free, but reservations are required: (213) 614-0556.

Stage Beat, the review column that normally appears on Fridays, will not appear today because of curfew-related cancellations of performances last weekend.

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