Elizabeth Taylor, who made her stage debut in "The Little Foxes" last season, and Zev Bufman, who produced it, have announced plans to form a theater company that would open a year from now with Taylor starring as Bianca in "Much Ado About Nothing."
The company would produce three plays a year, each with major stars and directors, that would play in New York and Los Angeles for 10 weeks each, and Washington for four weeks. Bufman said each season would ideally include a classic, a new American play and an American classic, but plays would be chosen only if a sale to a cable television system had been arranged.
The company will be a profit-making venture; Bufman estimates potential annual earnings of $5 million, which would be divided among the two partners, other stars and directors, and authors. Star salaries will be "in five figures, but no crazy percentages or pieces of the gross," Bufman said. The stars will be housed in luxury hotel suites and have limousines at their disposal.
He envisions productions like "Inherit the Wind," starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, or "The Lion in Winter" with Katherine Hepburn. While no contracts have been signed, he has agreements from Christopher Plummer and Franco Zeffirelli for "Much Ado About Nothing," he said.
The company has not been named. "We're calling it The Elizabeth Repertory Co., Bufman said. "But that's said with a smile."
The idea of the company evolved in conversations between Taylor and Bufman during the run of "The Little Foxes" in Los Angeles, he said. "She wanted to do another play, but I hadn't been able to find one for her," he recalled. "Then she said the part she really wanted to play, sometime in the distant future, was Lady MacBeth. So we started talking about Shakespeare, and the idea of getting other stars involved. I did some calculations and found it was a feasible idea."
One of the underlying assumptions is that movie stars miss the challenge and excitement of the stage but don't want to commit themselves to a long run, which a successful Broadway play would require. Since most actors live in New York or Los Angeles, these cities were chosen not just for their size but because performers would only have to be away from home a maximum of 14 weeks. Washington was included at the request of Taylor, who is the wife of Sen. John Warner (R-Va.).
The idea is similar to the season Roger Stevens, chairman of the Kennedy Center, is producing at the Eisenhower Theater, which opened last night with "The Physicists." Stevens plans a season of plays with name performers in limited runs. Bufman wants to book his shows into the larger Opera House, although it is not available some of the dates he wants in the second and third years of his company's operation, he said. Stevens said yesterday, through a spokeswoman, that he has not been approached by Bufman about booking the Opera House.
Bufman is convinced the proposal is financially viable. He plans a budget of $3.6 million for the three plays, figuring the cable television sale will supply 40 percent of that sum. "When that first double truck ad in The New York Times comes out, we'll sell 85 percent of our capacity in season tickets alone," he said. The rest of the cost will be underwritten by Bufman, he said.
Bufman will function as the producer in the new joint venture, he said. "Elizabeth, aside from starring in one show, is a terrific recruiting officer," he said.