Actors Alley Eyes El Portal Theatre

Actors Alley is making plans to move up the theatrical ladder--pending approval by the City Council.

The North Hollywood group hopes to renovate the El Portal Theatre on Lankershim Blvd. with the help of a $50,000 matching grant and a $200,000 loan, both from the Community Redevelopment Agency. The plan is to build a 99-seat space in the old movie theater's entrance area and a 199-seat hall with a thrust stage near the front of the auditorium, then eventually to replace that configuration with a 600-700-seat hall plus a separate 99-seat "black box" space.

Use of the larger halls would move Actors Alley up to the higher pay scales of an Equity contract. Though the 21-year-old company has used Equity contracts in three co-productions with the University of Judaism at the school's 479-seat Gindi Auditorium, its regular home is an 86-seat space on Riverside Drive, where the lease will expire in March.

The CRA board recently approved the El Portal plan, but now it must go before the City Council, which may be gun-shy in the wake of the failure of the CRA-supported Los Angeles Theatre Center and the city's current budget crisis. However, the council members from the immediately adjacent neighborhoods, John Ferraro and Joel Wachs, support the plan.

CRISIS AT THE CAST: Diana Gibson, artistic director of the Cast Theatre, sacrificed $1,500 in ticket revenue last Sunday rather than allow two productions at the Cast to go on because "the abuse and threats" she said she received from people associated with the two shows had reached what she describes as an intolerable point.

The other side contends that the abuse and threats came from Gibson.

The incident altered the plans of nearly 100 people who showed up in the rain to see "Melody Jones" or "Dunbar" at the twin-space complex in Hollywood, which has long been one of the brightest lights among L.A.'s small theaters.

It also raised the question of whether there would be long-term repercussions for the theater. Angry "Melody Jones" company members vowed to discourage other productions from going to the Cast, and an Actors' Equity official said the union would investigate its members' complaints.

The apparent trigger for Gibson's decision to cancel the performances came in a Sunday afternoon telephone call from "Melody Jones" co-writer and actor Dan Gerrity. According to Gerrity, he called to request that Gibson set up a wait list for the evening's sold-out performance, in case the weather deterred some of the ticket holders from showing up. Because it was the last performance of the show, he hoped that cast members would be able to obtain free tickets for guests. But Gibson arbitrarily decided to close the show instead, Gerrity said.

Gibson asserted that Gerrity demanded the comps and threatened to make a speech lambasting Gibson to the audience. Gerrity denied this, saying that Gibson was "yelling and screaming" so much that he didn't get a chance to say anything else.

At any rate, the telephone call was just the latest in a series of similar altercations, according to all of the involved parties.

Many of the charges and counter-charges revolve around questions of who was responsible for canceling or trying to cancel various earlier performances, for the absence of understudies in those cases, and for the tone of the exchanges between the disputants.

Although most of Gibson's accusations were directed at the "Melody Jones" company, she didn't completely absolve the "Dunbar" company, members of which responded that Gibson had failed to properly register their show under Equity's 99-Seat Plan. The plan governs payment schedules and working conditions for Equity members. An Equity official confirmed that there was a problem, but Gibson cited misunderstandings among her staff.

Cast members for both shows will be paid for the entire weekend, Gibson said. And audience members whose ticket orders were processed will receive refunds.

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