After Source Theatre opened Victor Gialanella's "Ivory Pawns" at the Main Stage, a drama of another kind opened, between Source artistic director Bart Whiteman and Gialanella's agent, Rick Leed of the New York firm of Hasseltine-Baker. This resulted in the closing of the play after three performances.
Source presented "Pawns" for three royalty-free performances in its "Washington Theatre Festival," and the show was deemed "best new play" by a panel of 12 judges. The drama opened in regular run a week later.
Leed says Whiteman failed to confirm Leed's payment demands--a royalty of 6 percent of box office receipts or a guarantee of $25 per regular performance, whichever was greater--by Leed's deadline. The agent said he then threatened a lawsuit and demanded payment of the guarantee by certified check, which Whiteman refused, sending instead, by mail, a check for $75 to cover the first three regular performances. Leed testily says the advance fee demands are standard practice "when dealing with an amateur producer who has been deliberately difficult or unpleasant."
On "Pawns' " opening day, Whiteman received a telegram and mailgram from Leed (signed in Gialanella's name) demanding that the show be closed immediately. "If the show was doing well, I think we would have fought it and let him sue," Whiteman says. "I think we had grounds for a countersuit, since we had the agreement and cooperation of the playwright. I don't think any small theater in Washington should allow itself to be pushed around by some New York agent." Nevertheless, after Leed told Whiteman, "I want to get you and your theater company out of our hair," Whiteman closed the show, leaving the Main Stage dark until "Zooty Cafe" opens there Aug. 25.
Leed has received the check that meets his demand. He says that the situation is "resolved, in an unpleasant way, but perhaps now Bart Whiteman and others in Washington will realize that playwrights don't have to be s--- upon to have their play produced in a rat-infested little hole in the wall."
The Main Stage was dark last weekend, also, but for another reason--Pepco turned off the lights. Whiteman was late paying his last electric bill and couldn't raise the full amount demanded by Pepco, so, despite pleading, the power was shut off, forcing the postponement of previews of "The Glass Menagerie." Whiteman appealed to Pepco officials and got the power back, and "Menagerie" opened last week. Source's financial straits were also the reason for the departure of publicist Lorraine Ahearn, who left the company last week to find a better-paying job.
So at the close of Source's sixth season, with unpaid rent and bills piling up, Whiteman is preparing Source's first major fund-raising drive, with a goal of $50,000. "It's going to have to happen for Source to survive," Whiteman says. "New Playwrights' Theatre said $86,000 or bust, and they made it. I don't want to issue that kind of ultimatum--either we make it or we quit--but it's hard to continue at the level we're at."