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Theatre 40 Gets a Reprieve--or Does It?

Don Shirley is The Times' theater writer

After several weeks of uncertainty, the Beverly Hills school board voted unanimously Monday to allow Theatre 40 to finish its current season in its 27-year, 99-seat home on the campus of Beverly Hills High School--or, if construction should dictate a move next summer, in some other facility provided by the school board.

Yet whether the troupe can obtain a contract to ensure its presence beyond this season seems highly questionable, given the acrimony that exists between the company and some of the board members.

Addressing the board Monday, artistic co-director Artur Cybulski referred to “a vile political arena” as the reason why Theatre 40’s residency is in dispute. Speaking a day later, board president Barry Brucker called Cybulski “obnoxious.”

The school superintendent’s office will continue to investigate Theatre 40’s presence and general policies concerning the use of school facilities by outside groups.

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Brucker told The Times that his bottom line is “the needs of the students.” There may not be a conflict between those needs and the needs of Theatre 40, he acknowledged, “but all I know is that students haven’t had access to daily use of that space” where Theatre 40 performs.

Theatre 40 pays no rent but does pay approximately $4,500 a year in custodial overtime. The company also provides adult education classes on Mondays--about 40 sessions per year, said artistic co-director J. David Krassner.

Despite its rent break, the company’s losses averaged $5,608 a year during the past five years, Cybulski told the board.

The board may decide to charge Theatre 40 “prevailing market rent” and may allow other groups to use the same space. However, the board makeup may change in an election Tuesday; three seats are contested.

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Krassner said that no one prevents classes from using the space during the day, and he would love to see “a symbiotic relationship” between Theatre 40 and the students “that is really about education.” Students can see Theatre 40 productions for free, and more than 180 took advantage of it last season, Krassner said.

The campus theater used by Theatre 40 was designed by revered scenic artist Ming Cho Lee. In a letter read to the board, he said he was “appalled” by the threat to the company’s tenancy; Theatre 40 “is the only professional theater company I know of that has its home in a public high school. . . . This combination of arts and education is invaluable, and it should not be destroyed.”


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