A.S.K. drops programs in favor of grants

Times Staff Writer

A.S.K. Theater Projects, the private foundation long known for its in-house dramaturgical spadework and public readings of new plays, has dropped its play development programs and its annual Common Ground Festival of new works, choosing to focus on helping pay for others to develop new theater.

Three programs that grant money to artists and theater companies are being launched by the West L.A. nonprofit -- in the wake of the dissolution of the group's literary department last year and local artists' concern that changes at A.S.K. might mean a reduced interest in L.A. and in individual playwrights.

One program is devoted to direct grants to artists, and another is reserved for L.A.-based companies. Prospective award recipients in all three programs cannot apply for them; they must be nominated by members of panels A.S.K. will name later.

TIME grants -- an acronym for "Time for inspiration, motivation and exploration" -- will give each of six theater artists who work in creative positions $30,000 in unrestricted support plus another $15,000 for a project that could mean informal study or travel as well as development of new work. Recipients must have at least 10 years of professional experience.

The new Audrey Award, named for A.S.K.'s late benefactor Audrey Skirball-Kenis, will be an annual $25,000 prize for the producers of "the original noncommercial American theatrical production that best advances the art form." Thirty-six nominees will be chosen in advance of their productions by an anonymous national panel, and an anonymous jury of five will see all nominated productions during a September-June season. The first viewing season will begin in the fall, with the first Audrey Award to be given in fall 2004.

All Audrey nominees must be produced in L.A. or Orange counties, within 35 miles of the Chicago city limits or in New York City. But productions that originate elsewhere are eligible if they then play in one of the three participating areas, and previous productions in the three cities are eligible if they are radically restructured before their second production in one of those cities. In addition to the grand prize, three runners-up will receive $5,000 each.

A.S.K.'s third new program is the Los Angeles Initiative, which will honor small or mid-size local companies that have produced at least one area premiere out of at least three productions during each of the last three years and that otherwise encourage the creation of new work. At least $75,000 will be awarded each year, with grants of $25,000 for companies with annual budgets between $250,000 and $1.5 million, and grants of $7,500 for companies with annual budgets between $75,000 and $250,000. Companies that have received A.S.K. support during the last two years are ineligible for the first grants, but the grants can be repeated for up to three years.

A.S.K. executive director Kym Eisner said the group's budget remains about the same -- but that restructuring means more of the money will go to artists and less to administrative expenses. She said that in the Common Ground Festival, the grants barely covered the expenses of many participants.

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