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Theater will play a bigger role at this year’s ShowBiz Expo, with the West Coast Theatre Conference featuring nine panels.

ShowBiz Expo added theater to its lineup for the first time last year. The theater conference was repeated in January as part of ShowBiz Expo East.

By the time the show opened, the Theatre Conference had the support of Actors Equity, the League of Broadway Producers & Theatre Owners, as well as Off-Broadway, Off-Off-Broadway and the Theatre Alliance.

Sheldon Metz, a veteran of both theater and trade shows, heads the Theatre Conference. “Everybody seemed to support our show,” says Metz, “and I don’t just mean by speaking on panels. They were sending out mailings and encouraging their members to attend.

“Nothing like this had been done in New York before–a comprehensive conference and trade show for the theater industry. And it was amazing to see how many products crossed over into the theater from film and television. So I see this as a merging of ideas.

“And in Los Angeles, because of the pool of talent here, a crossover would be good for theater, because not everyone can work in film every day, and theater would give them another creative outlet. Theater, after all, is still the formation of how it all got started.”

The Theatre Conference’s nine panels include:

“The keynote event,” (Saturday, 9:30-10:15 a.m.), according to Metz, “will be similar to what we did on the East Coast–talking about the problems of theater and what we can do to help save it.”

Taking part in the discussion will be James Carey, president of the Hollywood Theatre Row District; Susan Obrow, staff liaison for the Center Theatre Group; Karen Rushfield, executive director for Theatre L.A.; and Gil Saldana, public-affairs officer for Los Angeles Metro Rail.

Lester Burg, assistant project manager for Hollywood’s Community Redevelopment Center, officers his projections as to what the major topics of discussion will be: “A theater committee has been formed that is pushing for programs to get more theaters to expand and relocate in Hollywood, so there’ll be an infra-structure.

“Eventually, there will be three subway stations on Hollywood Boulevard, one of them at Hollywood and Vine, facing the Pantages Theatre. We will discuss what that will mean to the growth of the city. There are a lot of things happening besides the street being improved.

“Metro Rail is putting up a Theatre Information Center at Hollywood and Vine, a place where tourists can come, and theaters can list their various productions ,” Burg says.

Undoubtedly, the proposed closing of sections of Hollywood Boulevard during construction of the new Metro Rail will be discussed, debated. Metz has his own ideas on the subject: “I understand it will close Hollywood Boulevard to Highland Avenue for a lengthy period of time, but, in the end, it’s going to help theater immensely because it will give an easier access to get to the area.”

The first seminar is titled “New Play Development: The Nettles, the Thorns, the Roses (Saturday, 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.) to be moderated by playwright Jane Anderson. Among the scheduled speakers is Oskar Eustis, director of play development for the Center Theatre Group.

Eustis directed and nurtured “Angels in America” through its various phases of development, being replaced as director prior to its Broadway opening. He will speak about “the responsibility that instituttions have toward the commissioning and support of new work; what it behooves us to do and what it behooves us not to do. Also, that partly psychological, partly political relationship between the director, dramaturge, and playwright. It’s something I’ve had a lot of experience with and it’s a very tricky, often abused relationship.”

Other events Saturday include: “The Role of the Theatre Journalist in L.A.,” a luncheon honoring Sylvie Drake, theater editor emeritus of the Los Angeles Times, followed by a dessert dishing on the role of the theater critic, hosted by L.A. Drama Critics Circle president Richard Scaffidi (12:30-2:30 p.m.).

Duncan Mahoney, technical director of the Odyssey Theatre, heads up the panel for “Alternative Stage Materials: Luan Doesn’t Grow on Trees (12:30-2 p.m.) discussing the scarcity and cost of lumber and the search for new materials to be used in stage and scenery construction.

From 2:30-4 p.m., Michael McClain, associate dean of UCLA’s theater department, will moderate “Set Design: Preparing for Success”–a “how-to” on creating a collaboration between designer, director and script.

New techniques in lighting will hold center stage for “Creating Effective, Cost-Efficient Lighting for the Stage,” moderated by lighting designer Larry Oberman (4:30-6 p.m.). Paulie Jenkins, who heads up her own company, Lighting Designs Associates, is on the opposite side of the fence. “I’ve discovered,” she says, “that theater can’t afford anything new, so we don’t use any of it. I use some of it at Disneyland–they can afford it.”

Sunday kicks off with a 10:30 a.m. look at “Complying with the ADA: Financial Gains and Legal Liabilities.” ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) is described by Dr. Randall Davidson as “an act for the 50 million to 60 million individuals with a disability, and that they should be treated as ordinary citizens.”

Edmund Gaynes, artitstic director of the West End Playhouse and Center Stage Theatre, will lead a round-robin on “Producing Under the Equity 99-Seat Plan” ( 12:30-2 p.m.), hosted by Actors Equity.

Panel will concentrate on first-time Equity producers and directors as well as seasoned pros and examine the intricacies of working under the 99-seat plan. “The idea is to focus on the various aspects of actual production, so that newcomers can glean from our experience and not have to reinvent the wheel,” says Gaynes.

“Negotiating Theatrical Contracts for Mutual Benefit and Profit” holds down the 2:30-4:30 p.m. slot. Producer-attorney Frank Gruber will discuss “the financial relationship between the Equity 99-seat theater and the playwright–the ‘what-ifs.’ What if the play starts in a 99-seat theater and ends up on Broadway? What are the financial arrangements going to be from here to there?, etc.”

The Society of Stage Directors & Choreographers will host the final event (4: 30-6 p.m.), “The Business of Directing: Casting Techniques for Directors.” Since many directors consider casting the most difficult element of their job, Steve Rothman, the West Coast representative for SSDC, will join with directors Frank Condon, Robert Egan and Art Wolff to offer their methods.

Who does ShowBiz Expo expect to attract to the West Coast Theatre Conference? Sheldon Metz is quick to explain: “It’s open to people in the industry–producers, directors, production company owners, administrators, writers, actors–and you don’t have to be a member of any union to attend.”

Welcome to the theater.