Malibu Stage Company cofounder ousted

Jacqueline Bridgeman

Jackie Bridgeman, the cofounder of the Malibu Stage Company who has been at the helm of the company for 18 years, said she first resigned, then the board voted to remove her as president.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

The Malibu Stage Company is seeing yet another seismic shift in its organization with the resignation of cofounder and President Emeritus Jacqueline Bridgeman.

Bridgeman, in response to recent activity and a perceived take-over of the theater company by a dissenting faction on the company’s board of directors, opted to leave the company rather than be subject, she said, to “more nasty innuendo and hostility when all I want to do is maintain the integrity of Malibu Stage Company.”

The company’s board formally voted to oust Bridgeman after she tendered her resignation, Bridgeman said.

The nonprofit company, cofounded in 1990 by Bridgeman and theater director, critic and playwright Charles Marowitz, has seen its share of growing pains during the past 18 years.

It took them eight years just to find a theater facility. The board of directors squabbled and changed its makeup. Threats of lawsuits have flown back and forth. Adequate funding has been a perpetual problem, and lack of a season-subscriber base or significant government subsidy kept the company operating on an ad hoc basis.

“The idea was to found a professional theater, using professional actors from the East and West coasts,” Marowitz said in an interview with The Malibu Times last week. “We would put on full productions and staged readings as fundraisers with talent like George C. Scott, Martin Sheen, Jack Lemmon and Robert Altman.”

Before they found their permanent home, shows were presented at venues from Pepperdine University Smothers Theatre to Bridgeman’s home.

“But that’s not a theatrical season,” Marowitz said, saying that a season subscription base was always a “point of dissention” between himself and the board of directors then.

“They said, ‘We don’t have enough money to do a full season for a season-subscription base’ and I said, ‘You’ll never get a subscription base until you offer them a season,'” Marowitz said.

Marowitz was dismissed as artistic director in 2002, and was followed by Oren Safdie as interim artistic director (the company’s Web site still lists Safdie as holding the position, although board member Rick Johnson said he was recently appointed by the board as artistic director).

(Although Marowitz had said in 2002 that Bridgeman was behind his firing, and tensions existed between the two, they had started working together again last year, with the production of “Entertaining Mr. Sloane.”)

Bridgeman continued to fund theater productions from her own pocket and acted as “chief fundraiser, producer, press liaison and graphics designer,” she said. “It was a lot of work.”

Tensions were fueled when, earlier this year, board member Johnson launched the Zuma Repertory Theatre as, Johnson said, “a branch of Malibu Stage Company” looking to mount productions under the aegis of the MSC and using the talents of members of his acting classes.

“I would never shoot down Zuma Rep,” Bridgeman said. “But I preferred MSC to be something more professional. I thought Zuma Rep should be autonomous with their own bank account and renting the theater from MSC.”

Earlier this year, the MSC board expanded its membership to include Zuma Repertory adherents. Subsequently, the repertory has staged two productions, “The Shadow Box” and “Glorious!” without the artistic support of founding members Bridgeman and Marowitz.

“Neither of them came to either show,” Johnson said. “Eight years ago, everyone was fighting about the direction of the theater and the whole board walked off, threatening lawsuits.

“Since then, we’ve re-organized and produced shows, but I thought we needed a repertory company,” he continued. “Recently, the board appointed me to be artistic director, and I am reading plays to determine what we’ll do in our first subscription season next year.”

Marowitz and Safdie objected to what they characterize as the unprofessional “community theater” direction of Johnson’s repertory group. (Marowitz is not a board member, nor serves in any other position with the Malibu Stage Company. Safdie resigned his year as interim artistic director.)

“When Jackie and I were not at a board meeting earlier this year, they took the opportunity to vote on artistic decision, without the president or [interim] artistic director [present], and created Zuma Rep,” Safdie said. “According to our articles of incorporation, they can’t do that. So I resigned.”

Further drama ensued.

When Bridgeman found out that Zuma Repertory had secured the rights to produce “Glorious!,” she contacted the licensing agency, Samuel French, to advise them that MSC did not apply for the rights — Zuma Repertory Theatre did.

Johnson responded by firing off a letter to Bridgeman that he characterized as “a simple misunderstanding” and what Bridgeman’s supporters call “a libelous, hate-filled pack of lies.”

Bridgeman resigned. Or didn’t.

“Charles encouraged me to rescind my resignation when it looked like they were taking over the theater,” Bridgeman said. “It’s such a mess, I’ve hired a lawyer who handles these things to look over our bylaws.”

Marowitz laid the problems at the feet of board chairman Geoffrey Ortiz.

“Geoff is the Robert Mugabe of Malibu and knows nothing about theater at all,” Marowitz said. “Jackie told me he even asked her if we had obtained the rights to perform “Othello!” (“Othello,” a Shakespeare drama, is within public domain).

Ortiz laughed at Marowitz’s comments. “Charles Marowitz did not leave MSC on his terms and remains resentful to this day,” he said. “I’m sure any comments he has made reflect that resentment.”

Recently, the board formally voted Bridgeman out after she tendered her resignation.

Marowitz said he was outraged: “Jackie has bankrolled the company for 18 years! Where are they going to find operating capital?”

Ortiz, a computer-industry businessman, said, “We are in no hurry to replace Jackie. She’s irreplaceable. But we’re hoping to make MSC more dynamic.”

Johnson said, “I’m grateful for all Jackie and Charles have done. But we made a profit on our last two shows and we are looking forward to our first real subscription season in 2009-2010.”

Bridgeman said she wonders if this is possible. “It costs $32,000 a year just to [the] keep doors open,” she said. “That doesn’t include production costs. I wish them luck.”

Ortiz, for his part, said the company is seeking “angels” from the community. “Malibu Stage Company will have a lot to offer,” he said.