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Over the summer of 1983, plans were made for the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival.  The following series of articles chronicles the sometimes-contentious negotiations between the Olympic Arts organization and the Los Angeles Theater producers, including Joseph Stern.

Theaters Feel They're Left Out of Festivities
(Originally printed in the L.A. Times, May 1983)

By Sylvie Drake

The unhappiness in the Los Angeles theater community at what is perceived as an uncaring attitude from the Olympic Arts Festival committee has intensified.

Acting on directives from the Olympic Arts Organizing Committee, a group of 11 Equity Waiver and mid-size theaters drafted a proposal for a local theater festival to run as an adjunct of Olympic Arts. At an earlier meeting of the theaters and the committee, Robert J. Fitzpatrick, director of the Olympic Arts Festival, had offered to commit $75,000 to a local theater festival, contingent on the group's ability to formulate a sound plan for the project.

The theater group drafted a proposal, budgeted at $665,620, which would revive its hits of the last decade in a "Best of L.A." theater festival, and submitted it to Olympic Arts for reaction four weeks ago. To their dismay, the theaters got that reaction indirectly last Thursday from a newspaper report.

Producer Joe Stern of Actors for Themselves, one of the participating theaters, responded swiftly. Serving as unofficial spokesman for the group, he sent a Mailgram to the Olympic committee, stating he found it "inappropriate and disrespectful" to have learned of its reaction to the proposal "via a phone call from a local columnist."

Fitzpatrick was unavailable for comment.

"He's in Korea and Japan booking groups," said Hope Tschopik, associate director of the Olympic Arts Festival. But a letter from Fitzpatrick dated June 2—the day the report appeared in the. press—did arrive. It acknowledged the theaters' ambitious plans, reaffirmed Olympic Arts' commitment of $75,000 toward the project (plus another $25,000 for a program of workshops and lectures with foreign artists) and set a Sept. 1 deadline "for all necessary funds (to) be in place."

Aside from a general concern that Sept. 1 may be too soon to raise the necessary monies, response in the .theater community remains emotionally charged.

"I think we've been diddled around," said Peg Yorkin of the L.A. Public Theatre. "They approached us originally to use our theaters to host international companies. They weren't even offering us enough money to cover expenses. It was highhanded. Now they're throwing us a bone. I'm not surprised; I'm only surprised at how it came down. It makes me sad."

"I'm not surprised the money is the same," said Ted Schmitt of the Cast Theatre. "I'm a whole lot surprised at how we found out about it. It's a question of attitude."

"After taking four valuable weeks to get back to us," Stern said, "they've switched the issues—from discussion and support to giving us the $75,000 and leaving us to raise the rest of it yesterday. There's no energy. Without everyone's positive interest it won't work."

Olympic Arts and Theaters: No Meet
(Originally printed in the L.A. Times, Thursday, June 30, 1983)

By Sylvie Drake

When last Thursday's meeting between representatives of the Los Angeles theater community and Robert Fitzpatrick, director of the Olympic Arts Festival, ended in a walkout by the theater people, the temptation was to groan and wish dad and the kids would stop fighting.

The family imagery is not farfetched. Theater in this town is a tightly knit community that has proved it knows how—and especially when—to stick together. With one exception. Looming large in this ongoing dispute is the uncharacteristically passive presence of the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum. Appointed by Olympic Arts as consultant for the international portion of the planned theater festival, the Taper has taken a position of nonintervention—a dutiful partner (mate?) to the powers-that-be.

At issue last Thursday—again—was the amount of money Olympic Arts is willing to allocate to Los Angeles theaters for production during the 1984 games, and for acting as host theaters in what is termed "a brother/sister relationship format" with visiting foreign troupes. Olympic Arts has consistently offered $100,000. The theaters asked for $300,000 down from an earlier $650,000. Fitzpatrick stuck to his $100,000.

But what chiefly appears to have provoked the walkout was attitude rather than money.

"There was a really strong patronizing tone coming from Fitzpatrick," said Ron Sossi, artistic director of the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble.

"It's the mentality that there's no theater worth watching in this town," said Peg Yorkin of the L.A. Public Theatre. "Remember, there were no plans originally for us to participate in this festival. I would say that's being discriminated against."

"It was like ice in there," added Don Eitner of American Theatre Arts, one of the few who did not walk out on the talks but remained "to express my distress and embarrassment at the very poor communication between the committee and us."

Eitner had good reason for his frustration. As liaison for the theaters, he had tried to find out from Olympic Arts exactly how much money was allocated to other performing and visual arts in Los Angeles, only to discover that the figures he was given were inconsistent with figures Fitzpatrick mentioned last Thursday.

"The overall budget for Olympic Arts is about $10 million," Eitner said. "I had been told that the theater budget totaled $1.2 million and that dance was getting $40,000. But Fitzpatrick calmly announced that the theater budget was $1.5 million and that dance was getting $100,000. That's the problem. The figures keep sliding around."

Efforts by The Times to ascertain what the real figures are proved equally unsuccessful.

"I don't mean to be evasive," said Olympic Arts' representative Alan Baker, "but I have to answer with a non-answer. We don't publicly break down allocations. First, they change a bit. Second, it's inconsistent with the overall Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee policy."

When it was pointed out that figures have been bouncing around in the press for weeks and that committee members—including Fitzpatrick—had spoken out on the subject, Baker insisted that, "All I can say is that dance, music and visual arts are in parity with theater."

The theaters drafted a letter of protest to Fitzpatrick Friday, citing the small sum ("1% of the Olympic Arts budget") channeled to Los Angeles companies and concluding, "The theaters of Los Angeles cannot possibly be effective hosts when we are cast as 'poor relations' required to live on crumbs from the feast.

"If we are robbed of integrity in our own house, it becomes very much harder to earn it in the eyes of our guests, and the American theater community, make no mistake, are watching us very carefully as the national spotlight seeks out Los Angeles."

Signatories included Actors for Themselves at the Matrix, American Theater Arts, the Cast Theatre, East West Players, L.A. Art, Los Angeles Actors' Theatre, L.A. Public Theatre, L.A. Stage Co., L.A. Theatre Works, L.A. Cultural Center and the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. They have received the endorsement of the California Theatre Council and the California Confederation of the Arts, and are seeking similar support from the California Arts Council and the Los Angeles City Council.

Fitzpatrick's office issued this statement: "We remain strongly committed to presenting Los Angeles theater artists in the Olympic Arts Festival in the same way that we are representing Los Angeles artists in every other aspect of the festival. It would be a tragedy if we were not able to share the vitality of Los Angeles theater with the many visitors who will be attending the Olympic Arts Festival."

Reached later, Fitzpatrick told The Times that he felt the naming of the Taper as consultant had made the other theaters feel left out.

"We're trying to use the festival to bring things to Los Angeles that wouldn't get here without the leverage the Olympics offers," he said. "The theater would be enriched by bringing in leading representatives and directors with differing styles from all over the world, not just for public performance but for dialogues and seminars with our own artists. We've asked the theater community here to help, and we hope to do one or two or three productions in the festival that would represent theater in Los Angeles. The door is still wide open."

How wide is moot at the moment. Yorkin and Sossi claim they want no part of the current offer.

"The impression is being given that we're against the importation of international companies," said Sossi, long a proponent of international theater. "We're not. But it's not the traditional way it's been done. You go to the Olympics to see the culture of that country. All we're asking for is equal treatment, and $100,000 feels like a buy-off. I can't lay this on the Taper. My disappointment is that the Taper is not more of an advocate for Los Angeles theater."

Questioned Wednesday about the Taper's position, managing director William Wingate said, "I think it's inappropriate for us to have one. We talk privately with the theaters and with Olympic Arts. We don't think the situation should be negotiated in the press. More discussion is warranted. I hope no one's taken any final positions and that's all I want to say."

"Los Angeles theater is not being 'done in,'" said the Cast Theatre's Ted Schmitt. "It wants to be recognized in the same fashion as the international theatres, and that's not unfair. The doors are not closed, I don't think. It's the mixed signals that are disturbing.

"We were misled by inferences that L.A. Theater would be included at the very top. We waited patiently and ended up being forced to demand information instead of being given it. We are the most rational group of people who can constructively disagree that I know - but in this case, we speak with one voice."

New Olympic Arts Proposal Mulled
(Originally printed in the L.A. Times, Saturday, July 9, 1983)

By Sylvie Drake

Representatives of the Los Angeles theater community and the Olympics Arts Festival will meet Monday to try to resolve their differences over the Olympic Festival's proposal for the funding of local theater in next summer's festival.

The meeting between the two groups follows a Thursday session of the theater community at the Cast Theatre in Hollywood, during which representatives reacted to a revised financial offer from Robert J. Fitzpatrick, director of the Olympic Arts Festival.

The local theater community and Olympic Arts have been at odds for several weeks about the nature of that participation and the amount of money Olympic Arts is willing to allocate for local productions. Olympic Arts ;has steadfastly offered $100,000, claiming it is all it can afford. The 11 theaters involved in these negotiations were asking for $300,000—down from an earlier high figure of $650,000.

While Fitzpatrick's latest proposal reportedly sticks to the $100,000 offer, it apparently also suggests specific new guidelines (among them, a reduced the number of productions) and an offer to include the theaters in "$50,000 worth of additional services."

Consensus of the theater representatives at Thursday's meeting was that Fitzpatrick's proposal demonstrates a sincere desire to come to mutually acceptable terms.

"I think the dollar amount is still a problem," said Joseph Stern of Actors for Themselves, "but*ve have some ideas we want to discuss with Olympic Arts. We'd like to make this thing work."

"We're basically agreed the effort is genuine," said Susan Loewenberg of L.A. Theatre Works. "We're willing to negotiate."

A meeting has been scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Monday between Ted Welch of Olympic Arts and selected representatives of the theaters—among them Ted

Schmitt of the Cast Theatre, Adam Leipzig of the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre, Ron Sossi of the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, Don Eitner of American Theater Arts, Loewenberg and Stern. Also expected to attend is Peg Yorkin of the L.A. Public Theatre.

Arts Festival picks 9 plays for Olympics
(Originally printed in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Wednesday, Aug. 31, 1983)

By Sasha Anawalt

Nine Los Angeles theater companies have been chosen to present plays as part of next summer's 1984 Olympic Arts Festival, assistant director of programs Edward Welch announced yesterday.

"We accepted every recommendation that the five-member panel made," Welch said, "and are allocating $100,000 from the total arts budget (of $9.8 million) to assist these theater groups."

The productions by the nine companies, to be presented from June 11-July 22, are: A world premiere to be announced and produced by Joe Stern of Actors For Themselves at the Matrix Theater; a revised production of "Brain Hotel," to be performed at Ted Schmitt's CAST-at-the-Circle theater; a series of short plays with a sports theme, to be produced by the Ensemble Studio Theatre; "Olympic Trials," a whodunit set in L.A. during the 1932 Olympics, to be staged by the Groundlings; a world premiere on the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre's mainstage, to be presented by Bill Bushnell as part of his sixth annual Festival of Premieres.

In addition, Steven Berkoff's "Agamemnon," to be produced by Susan Albert Loewenberg of L.A. Theatre Works; the West Coast premiere of David Mamet's "Edmond," to be staged by Ron Sossi at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble; a revival of Samson Raphaelson's "Skylark," to be performed by Room For Theatre; and a West Coast premiere of Al Brown's "Back to Back," to be produced by Tom Ormeny and Maria Gobetti at the Victory Theatre.

For the past 18 months, L.A. theater producers have been protesting the Olympic Arts Festival's apparent decision to organize the arts program without including any of them. In response, festival president Robert Fitzpatrick agreed July 20 to form a five-member panel that would select four to eight productions.

Members of the panel — Susan Dietz of the L.A. Stage Co., James Hansen of the Ahmanson, Daniel Selznick, president of the Louis B. Mayer Foundation, Jack Viertel, theater critic for the Herald Examiner and Peg Yorkin of the L.A. Public Theatre — received 33 proposals from L.A. producers, from which they chose the nine. The panel also allocated a maximum of $12,500 to each of the theater companies to produce their shows.

In addition, the theaters will receive equal billing and publicity with any other national or foreign company invited to participate. Unlike their foreign counterparts, L.A. theater productions will be staged in their own venues and will keep all box-office revenues. (The foreign companies will perform in a central Olympic location.)

Reaction to the choices has ranged from ecstatic to plaintive. "We're absolutely thrilled," said Beverly Sanders of Room For Theatre, which is setting up a new storefront venue in Studio City this fall. Sanders, along with co-producers Sylvia Walden and Dolores Mann, are known for producing rarely performed early American plays. "Skylark," a 1939 full-length play by noted Hollywood writer Samson Raphaelson ("Heaven Can Wait" in 1943 and "Trouble In Paradise") will be their festival production.

But Ron Sossi, of the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, was not as delighted. "The panel had promised eight plays at the most. Now, with nine, there's less money to go around. I was hoping they could find a way in the budget process to have something more in the realm of spectacle." The agreement between the Olympic Arts Festival and Equity, Sossi said, mandates that 20 percent of the box-office take must go to the actors after the first two weeks. "The $12,500 will barely cover that."

Concerned that the "skimpy funding" may prevent him from extending "Edmond" beyond the Olympic's two-week schedule, Sossi said he will join forces forces with Bushnell and the rest of the funded companies to raise as much as $300,000 independently.

The Olympic Arts Festival will support the local theater's fund-raising drive. Fitzpatrick already has mentioned an attractive funding source of his own, the James Irvine Foundation. It is hoped that the foundation will contribute as much as $100,000, according to festival spokesman Alan Baker.

Olympic Arts Fest Picks Theater Groups For Event
(Originally printed in Variety, Friday, Sept. 2, 1983)

After several months of internal bickering within the L.A. theatre community (Daily Variety, July 22) over how much money would be made available and the extent of the community's participation in the Olympics, the Olympic Arts Festival has selected nine theatre groups to present productions as part of the 10-week arts event.

The companies were selected by a five-person panel consisting of Susan Dietz (L.A. Stage Co.), James Hansen (Ahmanson Theatre), Daniel Selznick (president of Louis B. Mayer Foundation), Jack Viertel (Herald Examiner critic) and Peg Yorkin (L.A. Public Theatre). The productions will be presented between June 11 and July 22, 1984.

Selection Process

Most of the participants were selected for specific productions while several proposals specify productions to be developed. Those selected are:

• Actors for Themselves: a previously unproduced play dealing with contemporary society.
• The Cast Theatre: "Brain Hotel" a revue of Jungian vignettes.
• Ensemble Studio Theatre: short plays with sports themes.
• The Groundlings: "Olympic Trials," a comic mystery set during the prohibition.
• L.A. Actors Theatre: a series of premieres of new American plays.
• L.A. Theatre Works: "Agamemnon," an nontraditional version of the Greek classic.
• Odyssey Theatre Ensemble:the west coast premiere of "Edmund," by David Mamet.
• Room for Theatre: "Skylark," a revival about the problems of a childless couple.
• The Victorian Theatre: "Back To Back," a two-man comedy-drama set in Vietnam.

Many Proposals

Thirty-three groups had submitted proposals to the Arts Festival, which had originally intended to select just eight productions. The festival is providing $100,000, which will be divided in different amounts among the nine groups. The balance for each production has to be raised independently, with boxoffice receipts going to the theatres.

Panel chairman Viertel said of the selections that they are ' 'both thematically and geographically representative of the extraordinary and diverse accomplishments of Los Angeles theatres."

Ernest Dillihay, production coordinator of the L.A. Cultural Center, one of the groups not selected, had a different perspective on the selections.

"I wasn't surprised but I don't know what criteria the panel used,'' Dillihay said. "The choices are not representative of the theatre being done in the communities of L.A. They have no ethnic or international flavor."

Other groups, however, such as the East-West Players, felt that the panel selected the most worthy productions.

The Olympic Arts Festival is being produced by the L.A. Olympic Organizing Committee through the support of the Times Mirror Company. Presentations of dance, theatre, film and visual arts take place June 1 through Aug. 12, 1984.

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