By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
A Noise Within, Southern California’s premier classical-rep company, is returning to Glendale after what co--artistic director Julia Rodriguez Elliott calls ”the most difficult year of our existence“ -- its first and last ”in residence“ at the 1,150-seat Harriet and Charles Luckman Performing Arts Complex on the Cal State L.A. campus. The troupe has secured from the city of Glendale a parking lot at Brand Boulevard and Harvard Street, plus $50,000 to help offset the cost of a semipermanent structure, yet to be constructed there. Meanwhile, arbitration is under way for breach-of-contract complaints lodged by both ANW and Cal State L.A., which administers the Luckman, against each other.
A question running through many people‘s minds at this time last year was why ANW was so eager to move out of Glendale, where it had built a loyal subscriber following, was receiving enviable financial support from the city, had community-outreach programs firmly in place, and had already struck a deal with Actors’ Equity allowing the troupe, a tenant at the Masonic Temple since 1991, to expand from 99 to 144 seats.
Rodriguez Elliott explains that the company was nonetheless bursting at the seams, and that it wanted the unattainable: either to purchase the Masonic (which was not for sale) or, at least, to replace the company‘s year-to-year rental agreement with a 25-year lease -- ”the kinds of things foundations expect if they’re going to award grants to a theater,“ she says. ANW‘s current plight could serve as a cautionary tale -- particularly to the cluster of local professional companies eager to graduate from 99-seat to midsize venues -- on the wisdom of looking before leaping.
A year ago, Chuck Redmond, an ANW board member who also served on the Luckman Advisory Council, saw the move to Cal State -- where the Luckman was sitting mostly vacant -- as a ”win-win situation.“ Here was an opportunity for an established rep company, working around the Luckman’s sparse prior bookings, to stage three seasons of classics, bringing its audience in tow and attracting a new one, while creating campus liaisons with the university‘s English and theater departments. In six weeks, Redmond, working with ANW general counsel John McPherson, hammered out an agreement with the Luckman’s executive director, Cliff Harper, and Cal State L.A. counsel Jim Lynch. (Lynch did not return requests for comment from the Weekly.) Redmond points out that it initially appeared that Harper was aiming for a commercial rental agreement, while ANW was more interested in what co--artistic director Art Manke describes as ”a partnership based on the Yale Rep model.“
Redmond says that, early on, it seemed the deal was going to fall through, until university president James Rosser, responding to a plea for help from Redmond, made it clear he wanted ANW on the Cal State campus. But the underlying conflict between Harper and ANW was a smoldering ember waiting to erupt into flames. It was ignited, eventually, by a number of bureaucratic aggravations.
Manke speaks of rehearsal furniture arbitrarily a deemed off-limits to the actors; of champagne abruptly banned from an opening-night ”champagne reception“; of ANW patrons, already daunted by the Luckman‘s ghost-town nighttime atmosphere, returning to their cars to discover $25 parking tickets on their windshields. Though Rodriguez Elliott admits that the university acted in good faith to resolve the parking disputes, such annoyances don’t inspire subscriber loyalty. Says co--artistic director Geoff Elliott, ”Our goal for the first season was simply not to bleed.“
Though the ANW‘s contract with the Luckman explicitly authorizes the rep company’s use of the theater‘s scene and costume shops during its productions there, Manke says, Harper later specified that the costume shop was to be used only for repairs, not for construction, while asking that ANW curtail the amount of sawdust produced in the scene shop in the interest of keeping the place spotless for potential renters touring the facility -- an eccentric request, to say the least.
According to Manke, there was also a squabble over the institutions’ competing student-outreach programs, and after ANW‘s production of A Christmas Carol closed in mid-December, Harper demanded that the troupe remove its possessions from the facility until its next contracted production in February, even though the Luckman was barely being used in the intervening weeks. In late December, ANW discovered during a rainstorm that its sewing machines, sets and props had been stacked next to a garbage dumpster -- under a tarp, but at least partly exposed to the elements. After ANW sheltered its electrical equipment by returning it to the building, Manke learned that within hours it had again been deposited outside.
”There’s not a huge amount of space at the Luckman. It‘s not built for construction or storage of sets for long-term use,“ explains Carol Selkin, the university’s director of public information, speaking on behalf of both Harper and president Rosser. ”[ANW] knew very well that they didn‘t have actual residence space in the Luckman. There is no office space [at the Luckman], yet they were given [office] space [elsewhere on campus] that wasn’t contractually guaranteed. The contract doesn‘t say that they would be given permanent storage space at the Luckman.“