May 27, 1999
After years as the de facto Justin Tanner Playhouse, the Cast Theatre in Hollywood has parted ways with the producing artistic director who helped turn Tanner, a young playwright/director from Salinas, into an acclaimed L.A. fixture. Diana Gibson, who inherited leadership of the two-stage complex on El Centro Avenue from Ted Schmitt when he died in 1990, has left the Cast in the hands of Tanner, who serves as literary manager, and Andy Daley, the managing director and in-house set designer, in what Daley characterized, with some distaste at the phrase, an "artistic disagreement."
The relationship of Gibson and Tanner, which in its prime spawned such hit plays as Pot Mom and Heartbreak Help, had been rumored to be intensely close, to the point that Gibson's dramaturgy was practically becoming ghost-writing and her producer's notes to Tanner kept his plays in development sometimes for years. But, as Don Shirley reported in The Los Angeles Times last week, there were other problems at the Cast, from long-term financial concerns to inadequacies in its "physical plant" (including some famously frightening bathrooms).
Said Daley in a recent interview, "Diana helped us do something we couldn't have done on our own. But she focused solely on the art; she never wanted to manage the theatre. We need to bring the organization up to the level of the art. Even a green acting company has somebody writing for grants. It's a loathsome process to be an arts administrator, but somebody's gotta do it."
The best news here is that under Tanner's and Daley's leadership, the Cast Theatre will at last be open again to other artists and companies—and likely to more Tanner plays, as well. The notion of selling a subscription season, floated before, may be considered again, given the audience base Tanner has built since his first show, the long-running late-night hit Zombie Attack!, which went up in 1989.
"Because of Justin's popularity, a lot of people have come through here—not just the theatre audience but industry people, producers," said Daley. He said he hopes to build on that reputation with outside collaborations and co-productions. "It's not like we're rich and throwing the doors open, but there are artists who wanted to work here and deserve to work here.
"We're not interested in compromising the artistic level here—that took 10 years and most of everyone's sanity to build. But the artistic community has a lot to offer this theatre; it's a venerable space. We'd like to get the level of the finest people in town to work here—and upgrade our substandard bathrooms."