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THEATER NOTES : Burbage Producer Ends Reign

One of L.A.'s most controver sial producers, Ivan Spiegel, is calling it quits at his Burbage Theatre in West Los Angeles. Today’s performance of “Scenes From a Broken Hand” will be his swan song at the Burbage.

“I don’t want to run a building anymore,” Spiegel said. “I’m through dealing with toilet paper.” His Burbage lease will expire Tuesday, which happens to be his 48th birthday, and he said he considers his exit his birthday present to himself.

Last October, Actors’ Equity revoked Spiegel’s status as a producer under the terms of the union’s 99-Seat Theater Plan, citing a variety of unsanitary and unsafe conditions at the two-theater Burbage, as well as an agreement Spiegel had asked actors to sign that Equity officials believed violated several union rules.

This left him as a theater manager for rental productions more than an active producer. But Spiegel denied that Equity’s action resulted in his decision to leave. He said he was tired of producing, that he had started doing it only because he was a director who wanted more freedom to do his own projects--and he will continue to direct.

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Michael Van Duzer, the Equity administrator who suspended Spiegel’s status in response to complaints from actors, said last week that conditions at the Burbage appeared to have improved since the decision was made. Until notified by The Times, Van Duzer was unaware that Spiegel had decided to shut the theater down.

Spiegel’s company is best known for his staging of “Bleacher Bums” at the company’s former space, the Century City Playhouse. It opened on April 21, 1980, and finally closed on April 28, 1991, becoming L.A.'s longest-running show of its era in terms of years (as opposed to number of performances--it ended its run playing only a couple of times a week and occasionally closed for long vacations). That theater also was the home of Spiegel’s staging of “Letters Home,” based on the correspondence between Sylvia Plath and her mother, which he said was his proudest achievement.

The Burbage became one of L.A.'s busiest theaters after most of its operations moved west in 1984, to its new location on Sawtelle just north of Pico Boulevard. Spiegel said that he co-produced 100 shows there just in the last three years. From the beginning, he recalled, the theater wasn’t in great shape. On opening night of the first production there, supposedly set in a drought-stricken desert, rainfall leaked through the roof and dripped on the stage.

The theater hosted some provocative productions, but it also generated complaints from actors and some of Spiegel’s co-producers, who often mailed their gripes to reporters who covered the theater scene. Equity briefly removed Spiegel from its 99-seat plan several years ago as well.

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Spiegel said producing had become more difficult because “people aren’t there for the work. They get upset when they can’t have everything they want.” He said he is a single parent of a 6-year-old, but added that some of the adults he worked with “wanted more from me than he does.”

SPIN CONTROL: Last weekend, when the famous helicopter failed to fly at the Saturday evening preview of “Miss Saigon” at the Ahmanson Theatre, a spokeswoman for the show blamed a computer system error “which rarely happens.” Still, it has happened occasionally at earlier stops on the tour. So before the scene started, when stage managers first became aware of the problem here, they were easily able to switch to Plan B, which uses lighting and other effects to allow the scene to be played without the helicopter.

Nonetheless, the computer had particularly lousy timing on this occasion, for the audience included a group who had paid a premium for tickets, as part of a benefit for Center Theatre Group. Just in case any of them felt cheated, Gordon Davidson, CTG artistic director-producer, who had been given a toy helicopter by the stage managers, demonstrated it at the party following the performance.

But what if the show’s chopper doesn’t show up at the performance you see? Forget about any kind of refund. The spokeswoman said the helicopter is “a fabulous effect, but it’s not the centerpiece of the show or even the scene. The dramatic impact is not reliant on the helicopter.”

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BROADWAY “BEAUTIES”: The addition of Burke Moses as Gaston to the cast of the upcoming “Beauty and the Beast” at the Shubert Theatre means that all five of the Broadway principals will re-create their roles here. Opening night is April 13.


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