Visionary L.A. theater impresario Invoice Bushnell dies at 86

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Former theater impresario Invoice Bushnell, who led the influential however short-lived Los Angeles Theatre Middle throughout a heady six-year run within the late Nineteen Eighties, has died at age 86.

One of many key figures within the metropolis’s theater scene in that period, Bushnell died Jan. 31 in Cueca, Ecuador, the place he had retired, in accordance with former colleague Lisa Mount. No trigger was given.

Bushnell was the driving power behind the creation of the city-run Los Angeles Theatre Middle, a four-stage complicated in a renovated financial institution constructing on Spring Avenue, and he oversaw the theater’s programming from 1985 to 1991.

Whereas the enterprise lasted solely a handful of years earlier than collapsing below the burden of debt, it served for a time as a beacon for the native theater group, rivaling the close by Middle Theatre Group as the guts of the town’s nonprofit skilled theater scene and provoking future generations with its multicultural programming.

William H. Bushnell Jr. was born April 30, 1937, in Detroit. He graduated from Denison College in Granville, Ohio, studied theater directing on the College of Kansas and earned a grasp of arts in theater historical past and administration from Ohio State College. After stints at Baltimore Middle Stage and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre, Bushnell moved to Los Angeles and supplemented his theater work, directing the movies “The 4 Deuces” and “Prisoners,” and an episode of the TV present “The Waltons.”

In early 1978, Bushnell and “Waltons” star Ralph Waite have been filming “On the Nickel,” a film written and directed by Waite about life on Skid Row. They’d workplaces downtown on the Alexandria Resort on Spring Avenue.

“Throughout the road I’d see a constructing, a Greco-Roman construction that was falling to spoil, lined with graffiti and, often, sleeping or lifeless our bodies,” Bushnell instructed friends at a conference of arts leaders in 1984. “I used to have a look at that constructing, and that a part of me that’s an city animal used to say, ‘Why doesn’t any person do one thing?’ ”

In late 1978, Bushnell — referred to as “Bush” to pals and colleagues — took over the reins of LATC’s predecessor, the Los Angeles Actors’ Theatre, from founder Waite. Then housed in two modest theaters on Oxford Avenue off Santa Monica Boulevard, the Los Angeles Actors’ Theatre obtained a grant to construct a brand new complicated in Hollywood however the deal fell by means of. Bushnell turned to the town’s Group Redevelopment Company, which had a need to revitalize the japanese aspect of downtown alongside Spring Avenue. Fortune intervened and the company confirmed him the 1916 Safety Financial institution constructing — the very construction he initially had his eye on. However the street from Hollywood to downtown would show to be stuffed with twists and turns.

“Twice within the subsequent 4½ years, I walked away from the undertaking throwing my arms within the air,” Bushnell instructed The Occasions in 1985. “I realized in sure life packages I observe which you can solely beat your head in opposition to the brick wall so lengthy earlier than you get so bloody you can’t see.”

As a “reforming alcoholic residing someday at a time,” Bushnell lived by the speculation that “if you happen to don’t hold transferring ahead, you cease.”

Lastly, in 1982, a fancy deal was put into place and the paper work filed on New 12 months’s Eve to beat the deadline on the expiration of an IRS regulation giving real-estate tax credit to non-public buyers placing up bonds to assist construct locations of leisure. Two-and-a-half years later, Bushnell’s dream would turn into a actuality with the opening of the newly rechristened Los Angeles Theatre Middle.

Underneath Bushnell’s management, the theater produced as much as 18 exhibits a yr together with a new-play pageant, poetry readings, dance performances and a quarterly journal. “The Theater of the Brash Makes It Massive,” The Occasions wrote in a headline in 1985. Bushnell constructed LATC’s viewers to greater than 25,000 subscribers at its peak.

With Bushnell on the helm, the theater positioned an emphasis on creating new work from playwrights of colour and marginalized communities. That legacy has continued with the Latino Theater Firm, which was created as a lab below Bushnell and the LATC. Led by Creative Director José Luis Valenzuela and Affiliate Creative Director Evelina Fernandez, it reopened the LATC in 2007 and has produced greater than 150 performs.

Talking with Lisa Mount for a current tribute to Bushnell in American Theatre journal, Valenzuela mentioned: “We solely exist due to him. Bush was a visionary who believed in variety within the Nineteen Eighties; it was the place he thought the nation was going…. He gave so many alternatives to keen younger folks, creators who have been hungry to talk with their very own voices.”

Following the collapse of LATC in 1991, Bushnell labored for greater than a yr at Cal State Lengthy Seaside and its theater wing, CalRep. The job ended on account of monetary cuts by the state.

Quickly after, Bushnell left the town, writing in a vacation letter to pals and acquaintances that L.A. had turn into “creatively poisonous.” For a time, he lived on a ship within the Virgin Islands, and he later labored as a catastrophe aid worker with the Federal Emergency Administration Company.

Whereas doing public relations work for FEMA within the aftermath of disasters, he met Leita Hulmes, a geologist. The couple married and retired collectively in Ecuador.

“I had excellent coaching for engaged on disasters — 35 years within the theater,” Bushnell quipped to The Occasions in 2003.

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