The Kennedy Center has responded to charges by a group of New York theatrical producers that the Center has generally neglected independent productions, American plays and plays with minority subjects from its subscription series.
In a letter to Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who chaired an informal Senate meeting of Kennedy Center critics a month ago, Center chairman Roger L. Stevens says that the critics used "incomplete," "erroneous" and misleading data.
One of the critics, producer Emanuel Azenberg, according to counter-data marshalled by the Kennedy Center, ignored five minority-oriented musicals performed in the past eight years at the Opera House and substantially exaggerated the number of Center attractions in which Stevens personally has been involved as producer or co-producer.
The musicials were "Lost in the Stars," "Treemonisha," "Pacific Overtures," "Timbuktu" and "The Wiz. Azenberg had charged that the Kennedy Center had never presented a minority play on subscription, but his data dealt only with the Eisenhower Theater, not the Opera House.
In addition, the Kennedy Center listed 51 American plays and musicals that had been performed there since its opening in 1971. Azenberg had said that 15 "premieres of first-class production of original American plays" were performed at the Center.
Finally, the Center challenged Azemberg's figure of 45 shows "produced by Roger Stevens and/or the Kennedy Center." The Center has fully produced 18 shows, Stevens' letter said, and has co-produced or invested in 36, often only to "make a production possible." Stevens himself, according to the Center's documents, has been involved in eight productions "through his relatively small interest in the [Robert] Whitehead-Stevens firm."
Stevens said yesterday that he hoped his response would be the last word in the current debate over the Kennedy Center's programming policies. "I ran into Pat Moynihan in New York one day," he said, "and I told him I was all for his seeing his constituents. But the things they brought up were perfectly ridiculous."
Azenberg, contacted in California, said that the Kennedy Center reply did not substantially refute his original charges. "The record speaks for itself," he said, adding that he would like to see Stevens respond in a forum where he could be questioned. "We just think Mr. Stevens, as the head of a public building, ought to be more responsive."
But Azenberg, who was instrumental in reopening the Warner Theater for legitimate plays as part of his campaign against the Kennedy Center, seemed to share Stevens' hope that the battle will calm down.
"Now that the National Theater is independent," said Azenberg, referring to the severance of a five-year tie between the National and the Kennedy Center, "perhaps it's time that peace be restored."