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Only Actors' Equity members can appear in an ELT show

[[image - black & white photograph of three actors]]
Gretchen Van Aken, Rebecca Seay and Tom Wopat in Oklahoma! (1978-1979).]]

which became its permanent home. "This theatre is ideal for us," explains George. "It was built by the Horch family as the Master Institute of United Arts, and their plan was to operate it as a resident hotel for artists with a performing stage, artists' studios and a ballet workshop. But they had a problem. They couldn't seem to produce anything of value on their stage, so when ELT was looking for a new theatre, the Horch family let us move in and only charged us for heat and electricity."

Eventually, the Horch family sold their theatre, and with each new landlord the rent has escalated. But ELT has been happy in its permanent home and has garnered enviable notices from drama critics for its productions through the years. Although the project's basic aims remain the same, there have been drastic changes in the number of shows and their budgets each season.

"We now do eight productions a year -- four musicals and four dramas," says George. "That's been the rule for the last 17 years. And our casting methods have been improved. In the old days, if you wanted to play King Lear, you would go to one of the libraries with a director friend and play the part. The quality of the shows ran from abysmal to quite good. When they did 54 shows in one season, you can imagine that there was little control over what was happening. Their shows only ran a few performances. Our musicals now run for four weeks and straight shows for three. We do eight performances a week, just like Broadway. Our budget for a straight show is about $7,000; musicals are about 50 percent more."

George is responsible for the administrative and artistic management of ELT and Randy Becker, the production manager, is responsible for the physical end of the productions. "I choose the directors, choreographers and musical directors," says George, "and Randy helps the directors choose the designers and the poeple who will execute the sets. The directors cast the show."

Since ELT is an Actors' Equity showcase, only Equity members can audition for a show. Sign-up sheets are displayed in the union's lounge, and actors sign if they wish to audition. They are guaranteed a five-minute audition. "For a straight show," George explains, "between 500 and 600 actors audition. Musicals attract about 400 or 500 because there are still so many actors who don't sing or dance. We never cast through agents. We only choose people who audition and are willing to consider this a career investment for seven or eight week for no money."

Actually, actors are paid a minimal fee of $5 a day. "This is not salary," says George, "but expense reimbursement. That pays for their carfare and a sandwich. Actors are willing to make this sacrifice because they know they will be reviewed and be seen by casting agents. I would say that 50 percent of the people who work for us get jobs directly or indirectly in the theatre, films and TV because of their ELT exposure."

George chooses the plays and musicals

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that are done. "It's part of my artistic mission," he says. "I take suggestions from our board, actors, directors, VIP's and my audience. This is an actors' showcase, and I have to bear that in mind and select a balanced group of plays. Our actors must be offered the whole range of theatrical fare -- Shakespeare, Chekhov, Gorky, Ibsen, American dramas, comedies, thrillers. Our audiences must have a taste of the great library of theatre that's out there."

The producing director has discovered that some plays simply don't work for ELT. "The Visit was one of them," George admits. "It had a very large cast, and some actors had to play three and four parts in it -- parts that don't stand out when an agent comes to see you. On the other hand, our production of A Little Night Music last year was better than the Broadway production. Hugh Wheeler, who wrote the book for that musical, told me that we did the show exactly as he had envisioned it -- not a star turn, but a musical that explored the relationships of a group of people. Our production of She Loves Me was also a gem. It was the closest we've come to the perfection I'm striving for at ELT."

ELT's production of Annie Get Your Gun and New Faces of 1952 were also highly praised. "We've had about five

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