A Noise Within, southern California's leading classical rep company, is suing Cal State LA's Luckman Theatre and its executive director, Cliff Harper, for "relentless harassment" and is asking $50,000 from Harper for out-of-pocket damages and for the cost of the company's first year of residency at the Luckman.
In 1999 ANW moved to the Luckman from its long-time home base in Glendale, where it had built a loyal subscriber following, was receiving strong financial support from the city and had community-outreach programs firmly in place. ANW had also struck a deal with Actors' Equity allowing the troupe, a tenant at the Masonic Temple since 1991, to expand from 99 to 144 seats. But as co-artistic director Julia Rodriquez Elliott explained, the company was bursting at its seams and needed more space. When the Masonic Temple not only refused to sell its building to ANW but declined to offer anything but a year-to-year lease, ANW decided to accept a residency at Cal State's 1,150-seat Luckman theatre.
"It was the most difficult year of our existence," said Elliott. "Harper viewed the Luckman as his private fiefdom...and routinely denied the company access to contractually agreed upon Luckman facilities, including rehearsal space, scene and costume shops and box office facilities."
Carol Selkin, the university's director of public relations, defended Harper's actions. "There's not a huge amount of space at the Luckman," she said. "It's not built for construction or storage of sets for long-term use."
The controversy has called into question the very use of the Luckman Theatre, which was built with public funds but has been an unmitigated commercial disaster under Harper's direction. For the entire 1998-1999 calendar year, the Luckman booked only twelve nights of programming, with a budget of $1.2 million. Of those twelve performances, half were only fifty per cent full, despite the fact that the Luckman is the only large-scale theatre in the area.Insiders familiar with campus politics blame not only Harper but Cal State's president, James Rosser, who, as one source said, "has been protecting Harper for years. Both of them are old cronies from East St. Louis."
James Lynch, counsel for Cal State, said that while he had not yet seen ANW's suit, based on previous allegations in the press "we don't agree with ANW's characterization of events."
ANW, meanwhile, 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.
-- By Willard Manus
Southern California Correspondent