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Reaction mixed to Pace pact

NEW YORK — Independent theater producers, most hearing for the first time on Monday about a far-reaching agreement between Broadway theater owner Jujamcyn Theaters and national tour presenter Pace Theatrical Group, responded with caution, cheer or a mixture of both over what was variously described as “a real example of excellent leadership” and “theater by committee.”

Under the non-exclusive pact, Jujamcyn, the third-largest Broadway theater owner (five houses), and tour presenter Pace will develop theatrical productions for the road and Broadway assisted by a stable of indie producers with whom Jujamcyn and Pace have “housekeeping” arrangements. In exchange for money, office space or both, the indie producers will develop theatrical projects and provide Jujamcyn-Pace with a first-look option.

Old Hollywood?

The system, to be abetted by a $20 million to $25 million Jujamcyn-Pace investment pool, is being described — both favorably and derisively — as being in the mold of the old Hollywood studio system.

“This system has not been successful in Hollywood,” says legit producer James Freydberg. “The Oscars this year didn’t go to the studios, they went to independent films. When a great film comes out of a studio, it’s by accident.

” ‘Rent’ would not have happened under this system,” he continued. “Are we going to give that up and go back to another season like we’ve just had, where everything looks like it’s 20 years old?”

But Margo Lion, an indie producer whose production of the play “Triumph of Love” is slated to be the first to fall under the Jujamcyn-Pace umbrella when it hits Broadway next September, called the partnership “enormously exciting.”

“For me, it just provides an opportunity to give my investors some kind of greater security, if there is such a thing in this business,” she said. “I can go to my investors and say we now have the ability to take the show to 31 (Pace) markets as well as England because of the Jujamcyn-Pace venture, and our chances of getting a return on our investment and making a profit are much better.”

Rocco Landesman, president of Jujamcyn, hailed his new venture as good news for independent producers. “This offers a large amount of capital for them to tap into.” As to the charge of “theater by committee,” he responded that Jujamcyn has, in effect, operated under a “quasi-studio system” for years, with Lion, Richard Frankel, Steven Baruch and Thomas Viertel operating as virtual in-house producers, and director Jerry Zaks occupying office space on the Jujamcyn premises.

Indeed, there are few indie producers who have not worked on one project or another with either Jujamcyn or Pace. Indie producer Rodger Hess, whose revival of “Annie” currently is housed in the Jujamcyn-owned Martin Beck Theater, said that the financial benefits alone could make the venture worthwhile. “I like anything that claims it will help develop new and more projects,” he said.With some producers privately expressing concern over artistic control of Jujamcyn-Pace projects, Landesman and Miles C. Wilkin, CEO of Pace, are no doubt prepared to field accusations. Said one producer who has worked with both companies, “I’m sure the second thing they thought of after they got the idea was that they’ll have to deal with the fact that this smacks of restraint of trade and concentration of power.”

Both Landesman and Wilkin dismiss the suggestion of artistic control.

Broad relationships

“Our relationships (with indie producers) have been all over the lot,” Landesman says, “from being passive investors to being lead producers. I don’t see any changes in that. Sometimes we’ll be passive producers who put in money, others times we’ll have quite a lot to say in what happens.”

The partnership was being viewed by many in the industry as an attempt to strengthen the theater establishment’s grip in the face of increasing outside competition from corporations such as the Walt Disney Co. and Livent Inc., both of which continue to develop new projects for Broadway and the road. With Pace as a partner, Jujamcyn will be able to tap into the tour company’s dominance of the lucrative road industry.

For months industry insiders have speculated that Pace intends to make a public stock offering, and the Jujamcyn venture has re-ignited those rumors. “This is all just a prelude to a merger,” says one indie producer. “It’s all about finance and making a big capital base. Pace is looking to go public, and a partnership with Jujamcyn would make an attractive package to stockholders.”

But Landesman denied the conjecture, saying that Jujamcyn’s founder and owner James H. Binger “is very happy owning the company.” Asked about a potential merger with Pace, Landesman said that nothing is planned “for the foreseeable future.”

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