Long Beach Group Gets Equity's OK

Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

Add International City Theatre to the list of groups that plan to inch their way up from sub-100-seat status in the next few years.

The company has won the approval of Actors' Equity to launch a three-show season next year at the Center Theater within the Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center. This would be in addition to the regular ICT season in a 99-seat space on the campus of Long Beach City College, where the group has produced since 1986.

ICT plans to curtain off all but 190 of the venue's 862 seats, so as to be able to use Equity's Small Professional Theatre contract for that first season. That contract will require ICT to employ at least three members of Equity--two actors and a stage manager--in each production, with at least 10 Equity actor contracts signed during the entire season.

ICT hopes to use the 190-seat configuration again in 1998, then move up to 366 seats (and four shows) in 1999 and to 678 seats in 2001. But artistic director Shashin Desai said that he wouldn't use the entire capacity, because sight lines from the seats on the extreme sides of the sharply thrust stage aren't good. He would remove those seats.

Desai and ICT have a track record with the Center Theater. In 1989-90, Desai attempted to start a new company there, Long Beach Repertory Theatre, but funding fell through. Last March, ICT presented six performances of "Tapestry" at the Center Theater as a test run for his long-term plan.

"Tapestry," which ICT had earlier produced at its home base, filled an average of 325 to 350 seats per performance at the Center Theater, Desai said. That was enough to encourage him to move forward. But his first task was to convince Equity.

"Generally, we hate cutting down [seating capacities] in order to lower salaries," said Equity Western Regional Director George Ives. "But if the theater won't be used otherwise, there is some justification for it." Equity decided that was the case last year with "Party" at the Henry Fonda Theatre, which was plagued by subway construction. The Center Theater has been even more of a "white elephant," Ives noted; its most prominent tenant, Long Beach Opera, is moving to the Carpenter Performing Arts Center at Cal State Long Beach.

So Equity gave its blessing--but only for one season. ICT may have to renegotiate next year.

Desai still must raise money for his new series. He estimates the first season will cost $350,000--on top of the $200,000 seasonal budget for the 99-seat space, which will continue without interruption. If he raises $125,000 from private sources and gets $80,000 in public grants, "we should be all right," he predicted, with the box office providing the rest.

He believes he can fill an average of at least 60% of the 190 seats. The potential audience has grown since his ill-fated attempt to start Long Beach Repertory Theatre, he said. Although titles haven't been picked, Desai plans to produce more familiar plays at the Center Theater than at the 99-seat space.

He also hopes to pick up some of the city subsidy that went to the defunct Long Beach Civic Light Opera, which was based in the Terrace Theater adjacent to the Center Theater. Convention center officials announced last week that a series of touring musicals from Pace Theatrical Group will fill the musicals gap created by the departure of the Civic Light Opera. But those shows are strictly commercial tours and won't compete for any city subsidies.

Desai plans to produce his next show at the Center in October, before the season even starts, and use it as a promotional tool for the season. Although nothing is firm yet, the current front-runner is the revue "A . . . My Name Is Alice."

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