The Kennedy Center is planning to create its own resident theater company, scheduled to begin performing in the fall of 1981 in the Eisenhower Theater.
"We're going to do what the Folger [Theatre Group] has been doing," Center chairman Roger L. Stevens said yesterday. He said he has been considering the idea for the past three months and now will make it his first priority.
The new company will consist of eight or nine resident actors and actresses under a contract with the League of Regional Theaters (LORT).
They will perform six consecutive productions each season with runs of about 5 1/2 weeks each, starting in mid-November. No actors or directors have yet been chosen.
Stevens said he hopes to offer "two good new plays, a couple of American classics, two European plays."
The Kennedy Center has been booking the 1,100-seat Eisenhower with traveling shows -- many of them bound for Broadway -- as well as those produced by the Center. When the new company is created, outside productions at the Eisenhower will be limited to three each season. "In any given year, there have never been enough plays to book," Stevens said.
"We've had to create some." (The Kennedy Center produced three of the Plays in the current season.)
The six productions by the new company will be sold on a subscripition series, and "these shows will not travel," said Stevens. "Obviously, if someone saw one and wanted to take it over and put a version of it on the road, we would let them. But we have no intention of going beyond the Kennedy Center."
One of the first plays Stevens wants to do is Friedrich Duerrenmatt's "The Physicists." Stevens produced it in 1964 on Broadway where it failed. ""It was very well received in Washington before it went to Broadway," he said. The play also went to London.
Stevens wants to bring in a variety of directors during the first year of the new company. "We have bright young people who could do it," he said. Among them: The Folger's Louis Scheeder, New York producer Craig Anderson and Alan Schneider, who has directed plays at Arena Stage here and is now teaching in southern California, according to Stevens.
"And, of course, we'll have great directors," said Stevens. "And if I find someone that I would like to have do it permanently, I may hire that person. But I won't go plunging in the first year with some hot-shot director."
The Eisenhower will still begin its season with three outside commercial bookings, each running for five weeks starting in August. In 1981, one of them will be the British drama "The Dresser," about a fading star and his dresser, produced by the Nederlander organization. It is now playing in London.
"We'll book shows that have been hits on Broadway or are hopefully on their way to being hits on Broadway," said Stevens of the non-Kennedy Center productions. "That's the way we hope we can make some money."
There will be no auditions for the new company, according to Stevens. "I haven't had any contact with any actors yet," he said. But he is making inquiries across the country about various actors, and will also try to get various "guest stars" to perform with the company for one run.
Both the company's repertoire and its salaries -- which must meet the Equity minimum and will probably be above it in some cases, according to Stevens -- will depend on the actors Stevens hires. "Maybe I can lure them in with some play they have wanted to do," he said. "That's the way [New York producer/director Joseph] Papp gets people like Meryl Streep. I hope we can get three of four guest stars." And, he said, "some actors might be willing to work for less if they knew they were going to be employed for 36 weeks."
The new company could conceivably save the Kennedy Center some money. Mounting original producions on a one-by-one basis is highly expensive; and a touring show now costs at least $200,000 to produce, according to Stevens. Plays done by the resident company could reach that high -- but sets would cost less. "You won't have to move them anywhere," he said. "There's a big difference between building a set for a traveling play and for one that's not traveling."
Stevens hopes to keep prices for the resident company performances from going above the current theater ticket rate, but he does not expect them to decrease.