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NEWS WIRE : "Alabama Sky" Flies South

Black Artists Network Development (BAND), in association with the City of Los Angeles, Cultural Affairs Department, will present its inaugural production of Pearl Cleage's acclaimed play Blues for an Alabama Sky, opening this week at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in downtown Los Angeles.

"Our mission is to provide focused energy and long-term institutional commitment to building a professional black theatre company in Los Angeles," said Adleane Hunter, the play's producer and one of BAND's members. "By professional, I mean Equity."

BAND's production of Blues, which will play at LATC's 320-seat venue, is operating under Equity's HAT contract (for productions at theatres holding 100-499 seats). Hunter told Back Stage West that if the production is a success, she hopes to continue presenting productions at LATC and develop a regular season of plays.

BAND's production follows in the footsteps of three 1997 productions of Cleage's play, which was staged at TheatreWorks in San Josƒ, A Contemporary Theatre in Seattle, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

The Los Angeles production, which will be directed by Gary Yates, will begin previews Jan. 29 and will open Feb. 7. It will run through Feb. 28 and will coincide with African Heritage Month.

The cast features three celebrity actors of the screen and stage: James Avery (Fresh Prince of Bel Air), T.C. Carson (Living Single), and Loretta Devine (Waiting to Exhale, Broadway's Dream Girls).

According to Hunter, it was not an easy task getting permission from Cleage's representatives to stage a production of Blues. Hunter credited Devine as the reason for finally gaining permission.

"Loretta Divine was the key," said Hunter. "She had met the playwright Pearl Cleage somewhere during her travels, and Pearl had said she thought it would be a wonderful role for her. Then, as luck would have it, I sent Loretta the script not even knowing that. We resubmitted it with Loretta Devine attached to the project and got a resounding, 'Yes.' "

For information, call (213) 485-1681.

--Jamie Painter

SAG Boots AMA Agency

The Screen Actors Guild has revoked its franchise agreement with the Los Angeles office of the Ambrosio/Mortimer & Associates talent agency. SAG, which franchises all talent agencies that represent its members, has for the past several months been investigating alleged financial irregularities at the agency.

The guild claims that its investigation revealed that the agency failed to pay more than $225,000 due its clients for acting jobs it booked. SAG, which is also in the process of revoking the franchise of AMA's New York office, said both the L.A. and New York offices are now "officially closed."

In a recent letter to its members, SAG said it has reached a "custodial agreement" with the agency that provides for "the immediate turnover of funds in AMA's possession or control" to a SAG-appointed custodian "for distribution to SAG members." The agreement also provides for "the notification of all (industry) paymasters to forward future SAG member payments, otherwise payable to AMA, to the custodian."

SAG officials also noted that AMA president Louis Ambrosio, who recently turned over $60,000 in checks to the custodian, has "cooperated fully" with SAG's probe.

--David Robb (BPI)

L.A. Home Business Tax Challenged

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit that would block the city of Los Angeles from imposing a tax on people who work in their homes. The lawsuit was brought by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., which claims that the tax would violate Prop. 218, an approved ballot initiative that requires a public vote before any new tax can be imposed in California.

The home-business tax is opposed by more than a dozen entertainment industry unions and associations, including the Writers Guild of America West, the Screen Actors Guild, the Association of Talent Agents, the Dramatists Guild, and Professional Musicians Local 47.

On Friday, Judge Edward Ross overruled the city's demurrer to dismiss the lawsuit and denied its motion to strike portions of the suit that seek to prevent the city from collecting certain business taxes and registration fees. The judge also ordered the city to file an answer to the suit within 20 days.

The Los Angeles City Council passed the Home Occupation Ordinance in 1996 and changed the city's zoning to allow certain occupations to be pursued at home. The ordinance also requires anyone working at home to pay a $25 registration fee. The Jarvis Assn. filed its complaint to stop the home-business tax on Oct. 24, and a month later, the city filed its demurrer requesting the court to dismiss the complaint. The city also filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, claiming that it does not have any legal basis.

Richard Fine, the Jarvis Assn. attorney who filed the suit, said Hollywood's unions "are behind what we are doing, because about 160,000 people in Los Angeles work in their homes outside the studios. Under this new ordinance, they would be subject to the business tax. Before the Home Occupation Ordinance, they were not subject to the city's business tax."

--David Robb (BPI)

Off the Wire

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA-- The eighth annual Cinequest--the San Josƒ Film Festival will be held Jan. 29-Feb. 4, primarily at the downtown United Arts Pavilion 8 complex. In addition to a special Jan. 31 "Conversation with Kevin Spacey," in-person tributes will also pay homage to directors Barry Sonnenfeld, John Schlesinger, and action star Jackie Chan, as well as editor Walter Murch and composer Elmer Bernstein. Other highlights include a Latino film celebration and gay-oriented "Out Fest." Screenings will also be held for competive categories (dramatic feature, documentary, first feature, short, and Maverick Spirit).(408) 995-5033

The Tectonic Theater Project production of Moisƒs Kaufman's Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, which previously enjoyed a successful run in New York last year, has been extended through Apr. 12 at Theatre on the Square in San Francisco. The role of Oscar Wilde will be played by Tom Nelis, who replaces Michael Emerson. Emerson will reprise his portrayal of Wilde in a limited engagement of Gross Indecency at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles beginning Feb. 8. (415) 433-9500

Word for Word and campo santo present "An Evening With Greg Sarris," Jan. 31 at the Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco. Author/screenwriter Sarris will read selections from his upcoming novel, Watermelon Nights and from Grand Avenue, followed by a preview performance of Sarris' Joy Ride. A champagne reception will follow the performance and Sarris will be on hand to sign copies of his novel Grand Avenue. (415) 626-3311.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA-- The Orange County Crazies are currently offering two annual scholarships, named in honor of Crazy performer Peter A. Seidenberg, for its Crazies in Training course, an advanced comedy workshop. (714) 550-9890

Russell Scott, the West Coast Business Representative for Actors' Equity Association, announced that he would be leaving his post on Jan. 23. This follows close on the heels of Kevyne Baar's departure from Equity in December. Baar's position as the Equity West Coast Field Representative was recently filled by Laura Waterbury. Waterbury, who worked as an actress for more than 28 years, spent the last three years in Los Angeles as an independent casting director

The Songwriters Guild of America will hold its "Story Night at the Guild" on Feb. 4 in Hollywood, featuring Ray Evans and Jay Livingston ("Dear Heart," "Mona Lisa," "Silver Bells"). Reservations are required. (213) 462-1108

The Fountain Theatre has received a $14,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for its HIV/AIDS theatre workshop, Voices. This program is currently seeking new members and is open to professional actors, writers, and directors, as well as non-theatre people. (213) 663-2236

On Jan. 29, the American Cinematheque will screen Darren Stein's comedic feature Sparkler, starring Park Overall, Grace Zabriskie, Veronica Cartwright, Freddie Prinze Jr., and Scream 2's Jamie Kennedy, at Raleigh Studios Chaplin Theater in Hollywood. (213) 466-3456

Susan Nelson, an arts instructor and former casting director at the Academy of Performing Arts, Japan, will conduct an open Voice Instruction Forum on Jan. 31 at Moro Landis Studios in Studio City. The forum is free to students and professionals, but reservations are required. (818) 219-0669

--Scott Proudfit/J.

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