Another Way for Theater Corp.?

Things may look grim for Theatre Corp. of America, but David Houk, the company's president, plans to rebound.

The Pasadena-based company, which produces the seasons at Pasadena Playhouse and the Alex Theatre in Glendale, recently called off tours of its shows to three of the four satellite cities where they had been presented.

Theatre Corp. also laid off 44 of its 130 permanent employees, including the two senior vice presidents who were directly responsible for programming the Playhouse (Deborah Dixon) and the Alex (Martin Wiviott).

But the programming at the Playhouse and the Alex will go on, say Theatre Corp. officials--although there may be changes in some of the announced titles. And Houk said last week his "personal goal" is to be back on track, once again touring Pasadena and Alex shows to just as many cities, by next January.

How does he plan to do this? By re-structuring the deal that governs his company's ownership and operation of the Pasadena Playhouse in order to allow more freedom to raise private capital.

The current deal is complicated. The playhouse is owned by a limited partnership led by Houk, which leases it to the city of Pasadena, which sub-leases it to the nonprofit Pasadena Playhouse State Theatre of California, Inc., which hires Houk's Theatre Corp. to operate it.

When the deal was being hammered out in the '80s, it was set up "to insure that the city would get back the property if it didn't work out," said Pasadena city attorney Victor Kaleta last week. At that time, Houk had no track record of producing shows.

Now Houk has a track record. But the structure of the deal "does make it difficult for him to finance" his operations, Kaleta said.

Houk hopes the board of the nonprofit will approve his restructuring plan at a meeting Monday, and that the city will approve it within a month. Prospects for this are "favorable," speculated Kaleta last week, because "there is a lot of good will" toward Theatre Corp. among Pasadena city officials--assuming, that is, that the city won't have to violate its "fiduciary responsibilities."

After that, Houk said he plans to make a private offering of stock in his corporation. He wants to raise several million dollars, he said.

Details of the restructuring plan were not available at press time. But Houk said he should have tried to restructure sooner.

In addition to the restrictions of the current deal, Houk cited the Jan. 17 earthquake as another reason Theatre Corp. has had to pull back. The box office for the shows that were up then, "Joined at the Head" and "Sayonara," "came to a dead stop" for 10 days after the earthquake. Houk "guesstimated" a $300,000-$500,000 loss as a result.

Houk said he is "satisfied with the work everyone has done" at Theatre Corp. Layoffs are simply "to save money," and he'd be willing to bring Dixon and Wiviott back at some point. Although some shows were better than others, "we've never put on anything that embarrassed me," and he has no plans to push the programming in the direction of safer revivals.

The company's second-in-command, executive vice president and chief operating officer Lars Hansen, will do the work Dixon and Wiviott had been doing.

Poway Center for the Performing Arts has survived as the only member of the Theatre Corp. touring circuit because Poway managers "have agreed to help with rent postponement and some of the operating costs," Houk said.

IN TENT: Another company affected by the Jan. 17 quake, Actors Alley, plans to set up a tent for its its next round of three plays.

The quake occurred just as Actors Alley was about to re-open El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. The old theater was hard hit. The troupe presented two shows this spring at Valley College. But next season will take place in a 99-seat tent on the grounds of the TV Academy, across Lankershim Blvd. from El Portal.

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