Latino arts center is taking shape

More than three years after buying the Doolittle Theatre in Hollywood, the Ricardo Montalban Foundation is assembling a team of consultants to program and operate the would-be Latino arts center, which will be renamed after actor Montalban next spring.

Diane Rodriguez, co-director of the Mark Taper Forum's Latino Theatre Initiative, will put together the Montalban's initial artistic plans. She will help create a dedication ceremony and a gala fund-raiser next May, to be followed by a series of two workshops and two readings of new plays.

Although full production may begin in 2004-05, Rodriguez cautions that budgets are uncertain and that union agreements will have to be reached. She hopes the theater can be used in a configuration smaller than its maximum 1,100 seats in order to cut costs. Supporting Latino artists will be the theater's highest priority, Rodriguez says, but that doesn't mean that all productions will be Latino-specific.

Foundation executive director Jerry Velasco says he would like Rodriguez to be the theater's eventual artistic director. But for now, she isn't abandoning her 30-week-per-year job at the Taper or her status as a resident artist there. She plans to retain her Taper duties at least until Taper artistic director Gordon Davidson retires at the end of 2004.

Only one show, the money-losing musical "Selena," has had a long run at the Doolittle since the foundation bought the venue in 2000. The Taper rented the theater for one of its subscription offerings, "My Old Lady," in 2002. The foundation plans to spend $400,000 restoring the Doolittle's facade to its original 1927 look before the dedication.

-- Don Shirley

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