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A New Stage

Starting this week, L.A. theatregoers have a new publication to keep them informed—and L.A. theatres, big to small, will have a new venue for feature coverage. Called L.A. Stage, the glossy publication will begin modestly as a quarterly until it can gather momentum from subscribers and advertisers to go monthly.

Bringing L.A. Stage to the page are some familiar faces to L.A. theatre: editor Lee Melville, former editor of Drama-Logue, and Theatre LA, the membership organization which, under the leadership of longtime theatre producer and booster Lars Hansen, has stepped up its efforts to market the assets of L.A. theatre to Southland audiences and potential audiences.

"It's a focused, niche sort of publication—a consumer magazine for theatregoers," said Hansen. Indeed, the first issue will go out free to a targeted list of 5,000, culled from Theatre LA member theatres. "The names we have are all people who've bought tickets four or five times in the last year," said Hansen. The subscription price after the first free issue will be $35 a year.

Advertising is the other pillar of support for the magazine, which is going ahead minus any capital. Theatre LA's staff is helping to put it out, and the publisher of Performing Arts, the glossy program magazine, is giving L.A. Stage a generous cost-only deal for its printing. "We're starting with a lot of wonderful, dedicated help and support from the initial advertisers," said Hansen. "If they and the readers think it's of value, it will grow."

L.A. Stage's mission, editor Melville explained, is "three-pronged. The first is to reach the subscribers of the major theatres, see if they'll subscribe to other theatres. The second is to reach occasional theatregoers and see if they'll go more often, maybe even subscribe, or go to smaller theatres like the Actors' Gang or the Colony. And the third is to reach those who never go to the theatre—to find out why they don't go and what would interest them. That group will be the hardest to reach," Melville admitted.

Despite its consumer focus, it will not include reviews—at least in part due to the long lead-time logistics of a monthly publication. In their place will be features focused not only theatre companies but on nightlife options for theatregoers, opening night coverage, and the thoughts of theatregoers themselves.

"We want to have an article from the viewpoint of the theatregoer every month—from a person who's not an actor or a theatre person, who just goes to the theatre," said Melville. For his part, since leaving Drama-Logue in early 1991, Melville continued attending the theatre faithfully, most recently as a voter for Theatre LA's Ovation awards. His new post at L.A. Stage will give him the best of both worlds: Now he can cover the shows he sees, though not with reviews.

"It's great to be getting back into publishing," said Melville. "It's reinvigorated me. My friends have noticed a change."

We're banking that L.A. theatre will notice a change, as well.

—Rob Kendt

Grove North?

It's a small empire, admittedly, but the 6-year-old Grove Theatre Center in Garden Grove, a sleepy Orange County suburb, is building its own makeshift theatre circuit, small venue by small venue. Run by its managing director Charles Johansen and artistic director Kevin Cochran, GTC already has two mid-sized stages of its own—an outdoor 300-seater and an indoor venue with 172 seats, aptly named the Gem—and has added a summer residency at Fullerton's outdoor Muckenthaler amphitheatre. Using a variety of Equity contracts, from the Small Professional Theatre to Letter of Agreement referencing LORT, the Grove has attracted seasoned L.A. performers (including an annual visit from the inspired Bard-manglers the Troubadour Theatre Company) and even some L.A. audiences.

But this weekend the Grove brings the mountain to Mohammed with the opening of its 98-seat venue in Burbank, to be called GTC/Burbank The space is known to some theatregoers as the Burbank Little Theatre, on the grounds of George Izay Park; the venue had been dark for more than a year since the children's theatre company Serendipity gave up the lease. Opening first at the new Grove is Denise Moses' one-woman show Girly Americana, and planned are more original plays, co-productions with homeless L.A. companies (including Troubadour), and possibly some productions that originate at the Garden Grove headquarters. Indeed, the hope is to have productions move both ways. "Up here we can workshop shows, put them on on a smaller level," said Cochran recently. "We'll try out more new work here."

The flexibility of Equity's 99-Seat Plan, which applies in L.A. but not Orange County, will allow Cochran and Johansen to mount more experimental fare more cheaply than they can in Garden Grove, and they're mulling whether to form a dues-paying ensemble company for the new Burbank space. They hastened to add that their subscription audiences in Garden Grove are not milquetoasts and have often surprised them—looking askance at traditional musical fare, for instance, while turning a revival of Elmer Rice's The Adding Machine into a box-office hit.

"The only times we've had failures was when we tried to second-guess what the audience wanted," admitted Johansen. "I try to program what I think is good theatre, rather than what an audience will like." Once you've done that, though, Johansen said, "You've got to listen to your audience."

Preferring to think of themselves as "impresarios" rather than empire builders, Johansen and Cochran will be putting a lot of miles on the freeways, but they're already used to it. "Most of the people we use are from L.A.," explained Johansen. "We hold auditions up here. We've even done some rehearsals up here. Garden Grove will always be our home base, but having the L.A. venue is really important."

—Rob Kendt

Off the Wire…

NATIONAL—John Lahr will take over the authorized biography of Tennessee Williams. The first volume, written by Lyle Leverich, told Williams' story up to 1945. The second volume will follow the body of Williams' writing career from 1945 to his death in 1983. Leverich had it written into his contract that if anything happened to him, Lahr should finish the project. He died in 1999.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA—The California Shakespeare Festival 2000 Midsummer Program will extend into the fall with a Young Performers Workshop. Designed for young actors, ages 13-18, the workshop will present rehearsals and a performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth in the California Shakespeare Festival Rehearsal Hall (Berkeley). Classes meet twice a week, Nov. 8-Feb. 17. Enrollment is limited. (510) 548-3422, ext. 114…

Berkeley Repertory Theatre has received a $3 million pledge from the Ask Jeeves Foundation. The Foundation, formed by the founders and early investors of Ask Jeeves, Inc., has committed $2 million to Berkeley Rep's Capital Campaign for the expansion of the existing theatre into a two-theatre complex, as well as $1 million to create an artistic endowment for the company…

Starry Starry Night, a gala evening benefiting A.C.T.'s conservatory for actor training, will take place on Oct. 1 in the Imperial Suite of the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Alumna Winona Ryder returns to A.C.T. as honorary chair for the event emceed by Sharon Stone, who will also host an auction of theatre-related items. The evening's renowned performers include Nancy Dussault, Malcolm Gets, Edwin Hawkins, Amanda McBroom, Kathy Widner, Douglas Sills, and Lisa Vroman. A.C.T. associate artist Peter Maleitzke is the evening's musical director, and director Charles Randolph-Wright will stage the show. (415) 439-2308…

Alchemy Program for Emerging Playwrights will present Too Many Balls in the Air and Before I Wake, Oct. 7-8, 14-15, and 21-22, at the Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts in San Francisco. The program is devoted to developing new works that tackle AIDS/HIV related issues and all proceeds go to the Artist Alliance Against AIDS. AlchemyPlaywrights@yahoo.com.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA—Los Angeles County Arts Commission has announced $1,902,000 in grants to nonprofit arts organizations for fiscal year 2000-'01. The commission received an unprecedented 172 applications to the Organizational Grant Programs this year. Some of the grantees include the American Renegade Repertory Company, $7,080; Los Angeles Women's Shakespeare Company, $11,568; Foliage Theatre Company, $1000; Moving Arts, $2,470; Pasadena Shakespeare Company, $4,517; Playwrights' Arena, $3,466; Sacred Fools Theatre Co., $1,671; Theatre of NOTE, $2,660; A Noise Within, $17,927; Actors Alley, $5,000; Celebration Theatre, $7,599; Colony Theatre Company, $8,905; East L.A. Classic Theatre, $10,832; Fountain Theatre, $11,712; Highways, Inc., $5,150; Odyssey Theatre Foundation, $14,509; Pacific Resident Theatre, $6,815; Shakespeare Festival/LA, Inc., $17,345; The Blank Theatre Conpany, $5,000; Cornerstone Theatre Company, $24,980; Deaf West Theatre Company, $14,031; Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, $10,000; Center Theatre Group, $106,032; East West Players, Inc., $10,860; Geffen Playhouse, $22,380; L.A. Theatre Works, $11,175…

Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Miramax Films & TV, and HBO have announced the first Greenlight contest, in which any American citizen 18 years or older can submit his or her original screenplay electronically to www.projectgreelight.com. The winner of the contest, announced Mar. 1, 2001, will get to direct the film based on the screenplay. The creators of Good Will Hunting will executive produce the movie; Miramax will finance the $1 million production and release it in theatres. In addition, HBO will run a 13-episode documentary-style TV series about the making of the movie. Submission deadline is Oct. 22. www.projectgreenlight.com or (212) 625-2222…

Chris Wells will present Liberty, a fast, furious fable for adults that looks at the idea of liberty in America today, Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica. (310) 315-1459…

Great Leap will present A Slice of Rice, Frijoles, and Greens, a theatrical feast of stories that give vivid insight into the Asian, Latino, African, and Deaf American experiences, Sept. 28-Oct. 1 at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. (310) 264-6696…

Arianna, a 22-year old with over a five-octave range, will present her show 5 Octaves Off Broadway on Sept 30 at Masquers Cabaret in Los Angeles. There will be additional weekly performances on Mondays during the month of October. (323) 653-4848…

Benjamin May and the Jazz Chamber Players will perform in concert, Where Jazz Meets Classical on Oct. 1 at the Don Cribb Theater located at the DePietro Performance Center in Santa Ana. (714) 550-9890…

The Theatre of Hope will sponsor Heidi Joyce's Stand-Up Against Domestic Violence's four benefit performances, Oct. 1, 8, 15 and 29 at the Bitter Truth Theatre in N. Hollywood. (818) 766-9702…

Yes! Yes! Nanette, an 80th birthday tribute to Broadway star and legendary leading lady Nanette Fabray, is set for Oct. 2 at the Pasadena Playhouse. The star-studded performance will honor Fabray's illustrious career as a performer and the decades of tireless work she has carried out as an advocate for the hearing impaired. Per Fabray's wish, the proceeds from this event will benefit the Musical Theatre Guild, a nonprofit organization that presents concert versions of rarely seen classics and undiscovered gems of the musical theatre. (818) 848-6844…

UCLA Performing Arts will present renowned theatre organist Chris Elliott opening the Royce Hall Organ Series with an overture concert immediately followed by the silent film The Mark of Zorro, with live organ accompaniment on the Royce Hall organ on Oct. 3. (310) 825-2101…

In celebration of Velina Hsu Houston's play Ikebana, the Pasadena Playhouse will host Tuesdays at the Playhouse, a series of free 30-minute concerts, Oct. 3, 10, and 17 in the courtyard of the Pasadena Playhouse. The series is sponsored by the L.A. Times and features performances by renowned Japanese musicians. (626) 356-7529…

Highways and Deborah Oliver will present the 7th Annual Hot & Sticky Performance Extravaganza, Oct. 5-7, at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica. (310) 315-1459…

The University of Southern California's School of Theatre will present Tales of the Lost Formicans, Oct. 5-8, at USC's Scene Dock Theatre. (213) 740-7111.

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