Bill Bushnell dead: Former Los Angeles theatre leader & The Four Deuces director dies aged 86

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Former Los Angeles theatre leader Bill Bushnell has died aged 86

Bill Bushnell, the former theatre impresario who led the acclaimed but short-lived Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC) during its tumultuous six-year run in the late 1980s, has died at the age of 86. Bushnell, a prominent character in the city's theatre scene at the time, passed away on January 31 in Cueca, Ecuador, where he had retired, according to his former colleague Lisa Mount. The reason of death was not disclosed.

According to LA Times, Bushnell was instrumental in developing the LATC, a four-stage institution built in a refurbished bank building on Spring Street, and served as its director from 1985 until 1991. Although this project was short-lived due to financial constraints, it had a long-term influence by creating a thriving hub for the local theatre community. During its operating years, it competed with the nearby Centre Theatre Group and was praised for its diversified programming, acting as an inspiration to future generations of theatre professionals.

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Born on April 30, 1937 in Detroit, he graduated from Denison University in Granville, in Ohio. He then furthered his education in theatre directing at the University of Kansas, followed by obtaining a master's degree in theatre history and management from Ohio State University.

Transitioning through various roles, he contributed to Baltimore Center Stage and San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre before settling in Los Angeles. While primarily involved in theatre, Bushnell expanded his repertoire by directing films such as "The Four Deuces" and "Prisoners," along with an episode of the television series "The Waltons."

Los Angeles Theatre Center Los Angeles Theatre Center
Los Angeles Theatre Center

In early 1978, he collaborated with "Waltons" star Ralph Waite on the filming of "On the Nickel," a movie centred on life on Skid Row, with offices situated at the Alexandria Hotel on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles.

Bushnell, often known as "Bush" among friends, took over the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre (LATC's predecessor) from its founder, Waite, in the late 1970s. The Los Angeles Actors' Theatre, which was originally housed in two small theatres on Oxford Avenue near Santa Monica Boulevard, had intentions to build a new facility in Hollywood, but those plans fell through. Bushnell then addressed the city's Community Redevelopment Agency, which was looking to revitalise downtown's eastern side along Spring Street. Finally, in 1982, a difficult deal was struck, and documentation was presented on New Year's Eve to meet a deadline imposed by the expiration of an IRS regulation that provided real estate tax credits to private investors who financed the building of entertainment facilities with bonds. Bushnell's vision was realised two and a half years later, with the opening of the newly renamed Los Angeles Theatre Center (LATC).

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Under Bushnell's leadership, the theatre performed up to 18 plays each year, including a new-play festival, poetry readings, dance performances, and a quarterly journal. In a 1985 headline, The Times declared, "The Theatre of the Brash Makes It Big," reflecting the theatre's popularity. Bushnell's efforts helped LATC reach a peak of over 25,000 subscribers. With Bushnell guiding the way, the theatre prioritised developing new works by authors from marginalised communities, notably those of colour. This dedication persisted through the formation of the Latino Theatre Company, which was first planned as a laboratory under Bushnell and LATC. The Latino Theatre Company, led by Artistic Director José Luis Valenzuela and Associate Artistic Director Evelina Fernandez, relaunched LATC in 2007 and has since staged over 150 plays, continuing Bushnell's legacy.

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