James A. Doolittle and his non-profit organization, the Southern California Theater Assn., has signed on as a longterm tenant at the Los Angeles Music Center, specifically to present dance there.
The first presentation coming out of this agreement will be the return of the American Ballet Theater in December with a new production of “The Nutcracker,” choreographed by artistic director Kevin McKenzie. It will mark the the company’s first Music Center performance in 12 years.
“Frankly, I think it’s a tragedy that a city of this size has not been able to sustain dance,” Doolittle said, referring to the recent collapse of the nonprofit Dance Alliance along with the loss of the Joffrey Ballet as the Music Center’s resident dance company. “I’ve spent most of my life presenting or working with dance, and with all of this happening, I thought that we might be able to enhance or increase the dance productions here.”
Taking on this commitment will, in effect, bring Doolittle’s 40-year-old SCTA out of semiretirement. Among those who sit on the organization’s board are longtime pals Joseph Barbera, George Sidney and Howard Koch.
Under this agreement, the SCTA will underwrite presentations from various dance companies and have first right of refusal to present any dance organization wishing to perform at the Music Center.
The agreement covers the next three years, but there is no specified annual number of weeks that Doolittle must fill.
“For one thing, we have to work around the schedules of the resident companies in the (Dorothy) Chandler Pavilion,” said Sandy Kimberling, Music Center Operating Co. prez. “Then each year we see what holes there are in the schedule.”
The arrangement means none of the dance performances will be offered under subscription. “Not unless we could possibly create a time period for something in the summer,” Kimberling noted.
Yet future summers could quickly be filled as Music Center exex look to round out their offerings with musical theater. Talks are ongoing with producers Barry and Fran Weissler to bring two tuners to the Pavilion next summer.
The relationship between Doolittle and the Music Center dates back some years; his organization presented the first ballet at the Music Center in 1965.
More recently, the affiliation was renewed when he presented the Kirov Ballet there. Doolittle said that run, which cost about $ 1.3 million to present, broke even and thus was considered a success.
SCTA currently is presenting two danceattractions there — the Joffrey Ballet’s “Billboards,” which opened last night and runs through Sunday, and the White Oak Dance Project, in association with Baryshnikov Prods. Inc., which runs July 31-Aug. 1.
“Generally dance and opera have to have heavy subsidies to keep going,” Doolittle said. “But we’ve been fortunate over the years to be able to sustain these kinds of presentations. A lot of dance companies haven’t been able to sustain themselves, and I admit that doing this is a gamble,” especially since SCTA has never done formal fundraising.
“I think we’re the only non-profit organization that has never had a fundraising drive,” he said.
The formula for success, then, has been to find those productions, performers or plays that will be commercial hits.
“Most of our cultural presentations have either paid for themselves or broken even,” he said.
And, in past years, he remembers several little gems that have turned into long-running surprise hits, like “The Gin Game” or the musical “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road,” which ran for a year at the Doolittle Theater.
Doolittle sold that facility several years ago to the Music Center and UCLA. A year later, the center backed out of the deal and the theater now belongs to UCLA, which is leasing it to the Center’s Ahmanson Theater while “The Phantom of the Opera” finishes its lengthy run.
Ahmanson subscribers, meanwhile, will likely continue to make the trek to the Doolittle for at least another year while the Ahmanson undergoes a major refurbishment and downsizing.
“We fortunately have had a few exceptional plays that ran for long periods and helped sustain other things,” he said.
In dance, Doolittle is trying to keep it simple; Give the companies a flat fee and offer a potential small profit if the run does well.
“What it does is make it possible for these companies to have a play date, to know they’re coming in and being underwritten,” he said. “My philosophy has always been to just kind of do the shows and hope they work out. So far, the good Lord’s been very kind.”