Producers Must Audition for Part After 17 Years With City : Theater: Rogers Productions' falling ticket sales prompt council to seek bids for a possible replacement next season.

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A sharp decline in season-ticket sales in recent years has prompted the city to consider replacing the company that has co-produced live theater performances with it for 17 years.

The City Council, acting on the advice of its theater commission, has decided to solicit bids from production companies for the 1994-95 season at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, rather than automatically renew its contract with Rogers Productions of Beverly Hills.

The city's theater director, Jeff Brown, said the move is simply an effort to examine business practices during lean economic times, rather than a rejection of Rogers Productions.

"It's just good business to make sure the city is getting the most bang for its buck," Brown said. He said the city wants to reverse declining ticket sales.

Season-ticket sales have fallen from a high of about 17,500 in 1985-86 to about 9,000 in 1992-93, declining about 1,000 each of the last four years. Ticket sales for the current season so far are more than 1,000 below sales during the same period a year ago.

City Manager Gary Sloan said he was concerned that rising ticket prices were hurting sales. Prices rose $5, from a range of $23 to $27 in 1991-92 up to $28 to $32 last year. Ticket prices were unchanged this year. "While Rogers has an excellent track record and has proven itself a very capable production company, their product is not selling," Sloan said in a report to the council last month.

Sloan added in an interview that it is normal for a city to seek bids for work, "whether it be trash, street sweeping, or public works. We haven't done that before with Rogers, and after 17 years, everyone thought it was time."

The City Council is expected to select a production company at its Dec. 21 meeting.

Rogers Productions executives note that the shows, mostly Broadway plays and musicals, have been profitable despite the recession and competition from newer area theaters, such as the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.

Company co-owner Scott Rogers said it is unfair to compare attendance to the 1985-86 season. "We did 'A Chorus Line' that year, and no other season's figures even came close to that," he said.

Rogers maintains that city officials are still nervous about a $100,000 loss in the 1991-92 season, the only loss in 17 years. The city and production company share profits, but the city absorbs all losses. Up to that point, the shows had generated profits of no less than $160,000 a year.

A number of circumstances plagued the 1991-92 season, Rogers said, including the untimely opening of the largest and costliest show, the musical "Tin Pan Man," on the first night of the Los Angeles riots.

Although the season went on to be among the most critically acclaimed, a shift from the usual "Neil Simon-esque" performances fueled the drop in ticket sales, he said.

One play, "Other People's Money," had language that offended many longtime patrons. "They wrote letters of protest in droves," Rogers said. "People hated the language, and canceled season tickets because of it."

Last season, Rogers returned to more traditional, commercial hit plays, and the series showed a $30,000 profit.

"I don't think there's another (theater) group in the country that's made a profit for 15 years in a row," he said.

Rogers said he was disappointed by the council's decision, "but I'm not concerned that much. I don't see anyone coming in and doing a better job."

Rogers said his company plans to submit a bid for the new season.

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