People criticize Raoul Marquis for many things They criticize him for being overbearing and authoritarian; for operating the Marquis Public Theater chiefly on government money; for taking advantage of his employees; for running his theater with a buckshot approach — scatter enough plays around and one of them is bound to be a hit; and for not always knowing what he is doing.
One of Marquis’ employees, Kent Brisby, says, “Before I met him. I’d heard a lot of horror stories about Raoul.” Another of his employees says, ‘‘Raoul is stern and opinionated; he has alienated a lot of people.” And Kit Goldman, managing producer of the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre, says. “Raoul tends to use his people. He gets what he can from them. A lot of people who have worked for him had very negative feelings when they left.”
Marquis, of course, is the founder of the Marquis Public Theater and the so-called India Street Art Colony, an odd assortment of twenty-two structures — mostly cottages and shops — at the southeast comer of Washington and India streets. He owns three-quarters of the block, with an appraised value of nearly $500,000. If the man is a hobbyist or dilettante, as some people claim, he is an awfully committed one. This year alone, Marquis — the scholar turned farmer, turned carpenter, turned developer, turned lawyer, turned social activist, turned theatrical entrepreneur — has invested about $20,000 of his own cash to help sustain the theater.
In physical appearance, he is of medium height, on the nervous side of being fat. and has an intense ham of a face. His gray-brown hair has only infrequent encounters with a brush, and his thick eyebrows look as if two woolly caterpillars crawled up his face and died somewhere above his eyes. In the course of his fifty-four years, he has learned how to charm and how to bluster, how to cajole and how to demand. And less than eight years ago he determined that he should use his considerable personal and financial attributes to burst onto the dormant San Diego theater scene.
As recently as five years ago, the Old Globe productions and community-based “little theater” groups were about the extent of drama in San Diego. The different groups jealously guarded their actors, technicians, and play lists. Almost no one was paid for services rendered. By any account — aside from the Globe and a few university productions — San Diego was a third-rate town for theater.
Into the void entered a troupe of young actors — mostly in their twenties — called Indian Magique. which based its “street theater” on commedia dell’arte and the modem surrealism of the Firesign Theater. From 1973 to 1975, Indian Magique performed in San Diego and throughout the state without benefit of a theater. At one point, recalls Sam Woodhouse. a founding member of Indian Magique, the group was approached by Raoul Marquis. It was in 1974, and the troupe was performing outdoors in the Zoro Gardens of Balboa Park. Marquis asked if the actors were interested in building a theater for their use on Marquis’ India Street property. “Raoul’s energy and vision were very strong,” says Woodhouse. “But it was obvious to us that he knew even less about theater management than we did, and we didn’t know very much. Besides, at that time, there was no theater; only the plans. We were more interested in doing plays than helping to build a theater.”
In the following three years, eight members of Indian Magique reassembled as the San Diego Repertory Theatre, toured the state, leased a downtown church as a theater in 1977, and have since operated one of the most consistent, high-quality, professional theaters in the city.
But while the San Diego Repertory Theatre (or the Rep. as it is called) was edging toward legitimacy. Marquis was searching for someone to run the theater he hoped to build. A dramatic ensemble calling itself the New Heritage Theater began negotiating with Marquis in 1975 to operate his planned theater, but nothing came of it. Marquis even went to Craig Noel, executive director of the Old Globe, with the idea of using an India Street theater for an experimental-theater branch of the Old Globe. Noel liked the idea, but the Globe’s board of directors voted it down. So Marquis went into business for himself.
The main theater was begun in 1976. Marquis and a sculptor named Jay Shirley designed and built it, accepting technical advice from professionals at the Old Globe. A year later it was done; warm, intimate (only ninety-nine seats), well designed. And to complement the theater, he began attracting Bohemian commercial ventures to the shops adjoining it: a coffee house, a record shop, a book store, art galleries, restaurants, a photography studio, and a crafts boutique. “One of the things I am into economically is shopping centers,” says Marquis. “I wanted the theater and restaurants to be people generators, and the galleries and shops would be satellites.”
Marquis was into the “penicillin culture’’ of theater, in which theater thrives on itself and expands; the more it is produced, the more it will be produced. And during the first year of theater operation, the Marquis Public Theater produced 136 performances by twenty-nine different performing groups. It was an explosion of theater that shows little sign of slowing down. It is not something that has gone unnoticed by the rest of the theater community. Sam Woodhouse, a founder of the Rep. says, “The clearest difference between us and what Raoul does is that he wants to do a lot more things than us. He has too many projects going at once. That kind of approach depends on the quality of people working for you. In the first year, the quality of people at the Marquis was just not that good.”
There were errors. In one of the first plays performed at the new theater in 1978, Marquis switched from director to leading man. Kit Goldman of the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre recalls it like this: “Raoul was doing the Master Builder in the lead role. One night he came out, and it seemed symbolically correct to him not to speak his lines, but just sort of act it out. The weird thing about it is that he didn’t tell his actors beforehand. He just thought it would be interesting to do it without speaking. Raoul is from the 1950s. He’s self-indulgent.” (Marquis, however, says that never happened, and that he only assumed the lead when another actor fell sick.)
But Goldman tells another story from 1978. “I think it was the second time 1 actually met him when the group I was working with, the Women’s Theater Ensemble. did Shaw’s Women. We booked the Marquis Theater for five nights. The night we opened, someone had revamped the sound and light board for a different play. That night we had lights flashing on and off and weird sounds, and it just ruined our performance. It was not malicious, though, and he did try to make it up by giving us more of the box-office receipts. But it really showed a lack of professionalism.”
Although many of the mistakes that happened that first year have been rectified, Marquis sometimes still insists on doing too much. On one Friday this past summer, the Marquis Theater enterprise produced six separate dramatic works, to the emotional detriment of the cast and crew. There was a performance at noon of Lunchtime Theater, a production of The Fantasticks on the main stage that evening, a space-age opera at a makeshift theater on West Broadway downtown, two one-act plays in the newly opened Gallery Theater next to the main stage, and After-Theater Theater at midnight.
Gallery Theater director Kent Brisby looks almost pained when he recalls that hectic night. “Six separate curtain times,” he says, musing. “Nothing is essentially wrong with that except the staff is stretched so thin. You cannot make six quality shows on one day without a lot of volunteer help.”
But even with volunteer help, it was too much for most of the people. Leonard Enrique, one of Marquis’ right-hand men, says the “confusion factor” that day was so great that the quality of the individual productions suffered. Enrique even had to call his girlfriend and ask her to work in the box office. “Quality turned out to be the surprise rather than the expectation,” Enrique says. And Scott Busath. a Marquis employee for the past year and a half, says simply, “I was obliterated that day.”
Marquis, though, thought the multiple productions made good business sense. “The idea of opening all these theaters,” he says, “was merely to generate some income.” It isn’t unusual for Marquis’ business instincts to overcome his more artistic inclinations. He was raised that way. Bom in Chicago in 1925 to an Austrian mother and Hungarian father. Marquis was brought up in the Old World tradition which says a man must first prove himself in a profession before he dabbles in the arts. And so Marquis set out to prove himself.
He received a bachelor of science degree in biology from Stanford, and a master’s degree in city planning from San Diego State. But academic credentials had little to do with Marquis’ initial success. In the 1950s Marquis made a substantial amount of money as a land-speculating farmer and a building contractor. “The way to make money is to farm in the path of urban development." he explains. “1 did that in Murrietta. in Perris, in Avenal in Kings County, and in the Lost Hills area of Kern County. I was farming in the path of urban development. I was building in the Palmdale-Lancaster area when it was booming. I was a general contractor during this incredible building boom. The aircraft industry was moving up there. You could buy land for seventeen dollars an acre and sell it for $200. It was a time when you could do nothing wrong, if you were in the right area.”
The money he made from the land gave him not only the money to buy the India Street property later on, but freed him to return to school, this time to earn a law degree. With six children and a wife (Raoul and Minerva Marquis were married in 1954, divorced in 1971), Marquis took a job as a prosecutor in the Riverside County district attorney’s office, in 1961. Three years later, he and his family moved to San Diego where Marquis worked in the county counsel’s office and, soon after, in private practice.
He now lives in a modest home on Poole Street in La Jolla, just west of UCSD. The den where he works and relaxes is wood paneled and decorated with plants. The lighting is low, but dramatic. A dozen framed photographs of friends and family cover one wall. The rest of the house is tastefully Spartan. He drinks instant coffee at the simple, maple table in the dining room, where he reads the newspapers. He clips interesting articles and tacks them to a cork bulletin board on the wall of his spare, utilitarian kitchen. Currently, he has pinned there a financial story about the weak points of selling stock back to the issuing corporation.
Marquis is not flashy about his wealth, but he apparently has invested his money well. All he will say, though, is that he has “out-of-state investments.” He develops an endearing stutter when he is pressed to answer a question that he doesn’t want to answer, and that includes questions about his finances. “W-w-w-well, let’s just say out-of-state investments and leave it at that,” he insists.
His financial and legal expertise are ever present, not least in the relationship with the commercial lessees on his block. Marquis is currently suing Peter Canora. owner of Canora’s sandwich shop, one of Marquis' tenant businesses. The suit was filed last September, and maintains that Canora has failed to begin nighttime restaurant service for the theater patrons. Canora, on the other hand, claims that he has made more than $60,000 worth of improvements to the property he rents from Marquis, and that he thought Marquis would not bind him to a “literal and timely compliance” with the lease clause in question. After Marquis filed the suit, Canora made a deal with the Mobil service station across the street to lease the station’s parking area solely for Canora’s patrons. The parking area had formerly been used by all the India Street colony tenants until Canora obtained exclusive use by paying the station owner more money. Marquis says Canora did this to pressure Marquis into dropping the lawsuit.
As the lawsuit might indicate. Marquis is keenly aware of the legal and financial aspects of nearly everything that affects his theater complex. It is because of such knowledge and expertise that Marquis has been able to obtain controversial financial support for the theater in the form of government grants, and, specifically, grants from the federal Comprehensive Education and Training Act (CETA).
CETA was approved by Congress in 1973 as a means to employ urban residents in temporary jobs which would prepare them for more permanent employment. To qualify, CETA participants must meet certain requirements of length of unemployment, income levels, and residency. Marquis studied CETA as a possible funding source for his newly completed theater in 1977. He learned that CETA had distributed almost $200 million in its brief history to 600 projects in 200 cities, and decided that the Marquis Theater should help administer some of that money.
The Marquis hasn’t been the only theater to go after CETA. Sam Woodhouse says the Rep was among the first of the local arts groups to receive CETA funding. (The Rep currently has eight CETA employees; the Marquis has twenty-one.) Marquis, however, seems to have the Midas touch in his grant applications. In 1978, the Marquis Theater received a $94,000 grant to develop “Experiment in Public Theater." “It was merely to provide a performing space,” says Marquis. “We hired eleven people on that grant." (Marquis personally gets none of that money, and in fact draws no salary from the theater.)
That first grant lasted through 1978. The second grant, worth about $200,000, was for a ten-month period in 1979. It provided for the development of three acting companies; one stationed at the Old Globe, a company-in-residence at the Marquis, and the Southern California Black Repertory Theater.
As more people were hired under the program, more grant projects were created. CETA will not continually fund an ongoing project, so the impetus to develop new projects was great. More money ($150,000) was received from CETA this year to sponsor a series of dramatic workshops and theater-business seminars, to hire an acting core, and to develop and produce plays at the forty-nine-seat Gallery Theater. A new, four-part grant, also worth $150,000. goes into effect January 15 for ten months, and will employ nineteen people under the Marquis administration . It has gotten so that people refer to the Marquis as the House That CETA Built.
Marquis is quick to defend the use of CETA money, pointing out that CETA is not donating money to the arts, but rather is employing out-of-work artists — theatrical and otherwise — who are not likely to find profitable employment in their profession without such aid. (CETA salaries are anything but luxurious; the average monthly pay is $598 before taxes.) But the program still has its detractors, some of whom are even now on the CETA payroll.
Leonard Enrique, whose job includes maintaining meticulous records to placate the CETA bureaucracy, says the major advantage of the program is that it pays salaries and administration costs. But the disadvantages are many. “We’re doing way too much administration,” Enrique says. “Letters of hire must be dated just so; all your books have to be kept just the way they say. You have to put yourself in an administrative frame of mind, and then you find yourself saying. Uh oh, rehearsal time.’ You have to be very fluid to survive in this sort of environment.”
Goldman, of the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre, currently receives no government money. It is a point of honor with her that her theater should survive on box-office receipts and private donations. “Raoul knows how to deliver the rhetoric that gets government money,” Goldman says. “When you get grants, though, your whole focus is different; your focus is on maintaining those grants. And when you have so much money coming at you, and a huge staff, your accountability goes down. When you have the money to do just about whatever you want, like 1 said, your accountability goes down. But you need that accountability. If the survival of your theater is reliant on box-office profits, it tends to make you more sensitive to the desires of your audience."
Scott Busath. who came to the Marquis Theater as a CETA employee but who is now paid directly by the theater as its production coordinator, maintains that CETA does not control the theater. “It isn’t the reliance on CETA that makes the theater run,” Busath says. “It’s the artistic people who come here as a result of CETA. And there is a small core of people who are remaining here even after their CETA eligibility time is used up. Every theater needs that small core of people to run it. The Old Globe ran on a core of five or six people for thirty years, and 1 think CETA is helping us accomplish that.”
No matter, though, whether one favors government funding of the arts or one sees such funding as insidious government intervention; all foresee the day when state and federal governments will be unable or unwilling to prime the arts’ financial pump. They call this Life After CETA. "We’re trying to develop as many funding sources as possible aside from CETA,” says Marquis. “We’ve applied for grants from the California Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. We’re trying for increased box-office sales, and more school tours with school funding. Plus, the people who want to work here are developing lifestyles that don't demand they be paid a lot of money. They can live together in the houses on the block.” (Marquis charges rents of between $160 and $200 to the people who live in the seven cottages on his India Street property behind the theater.)
It isn’t only Marquis himself who worries about “this money thing,” as people invariably refer to Life After CETA. Kent Brisby, for example, has considered this problem as well. “CETA is terrible, if you rely on it,” he says. “It doesn’t build loyalty. The theater does, yes, but CETA works against that. It puts a lot of arbitrary restrictions on your time. It’s going to come to the point where we should stop accepting money just because CETA offers it. Just because they say we can hire more employees doesn’t mean we should. To control that situation, we need someone who has not been connected with CETA, and we don’t have that person.”
And Enrique says he sees the theater eventually becoming self-supporting. “We’ve taken many steps in that direction,” he says. “For example, we use the main stage for plays with proven draws, and the Gallery Theater for experimental theater or new plays. But we need more self-generated funding or private donations so we don’t have to go through this nail biting every time a CETA contract expires and we apply for a new one.” Another manner in which Marquis is seeking alternative funding to CETA is with a theater alliance. In fact, the Marquis Theater has received a CETA grant to help create such an alliance. Basically, and ideally, the theater alliance, which includes most theaters in the county, would be a nonprofit umbrella organization to receive government and private money for disbursement to the member theaters. Such an alliance would also create a script library, maintain a costume bank, and develop a single box office for all the theaters. Marquis admits that a theater alliance could also serve as an alternative to COMBOu the Combined Arts and Education Council of San Diego County,
COMBO raises money from government grants and from its annual charity auction, then gives that money to its twenty-two member arts groups, including the Marquis Public Theater, the Rep, the San Diego Ballet, the Starlight Opera, the Old Globe, the San Diego Opera, and the San Diego Symphony. With such heavies as the symphony and ballet in the line-up, the balance of the COMBO disbursements tends to favor the traditional, longstanding arts groups. (The Marquis Theater is not so favored. Last year and this year, the Marquis received only $2000 from COMBO, out of COMBO’S $1.5 million income.)
Marquis would prefer that COMBO give more money to the smaller arts groups — rather than force those groups to break away from COMBO and form their own umbrella groups — and so accepted a position on the-COMBO board of directors this year, in order to “work within the system." as he is fond of saying.
People throughout the theater community in San Diego generally feel they are shortchanged by COMBO. Sam Woodhouse of the Rep is one of those who feel that way. ‘Don’t misunderstand me, though,” Woodhouse says. “The people in COMBO work real hard. We need more people like that in the arts. But the COMBO allocation system is inequitable.”
Sue Chicoine, who has been the Marquis public relations director for much of her tenure with the theater, agrees with that. ‘‘Theaters are treated like little brothers by COMBO,” Chicoine says, ‘‘subordinate to the ‘high-class’ arts like the symphony and the opera.”
At a recent meeting of the nine-man steering committee of the Marquis Theater, Marquis tried to explain to his employees his subtle technique to change the COMBO allocation system. “We’re trying to see if we can influence COMBO,” Marquis says to the committee. “We’re trying to work within the system rather than against it."
Tavis Ross, a goateed technical director at the Marquis, fumes when he hears this. “1 think the way to influence COMBO is to get ail the arts people who aren’t getting their fair share of the money, go to COMBO’s televised auction, and scream and yell and tell them that the artists don’t support it!"
Marquis, though, remains conciliatory. "My last conversation with them [the COMBO board of directors] gave me the impression that they are trying to change their allocation system," Marquis says calmly.
"They are such an elitist group,” Ross says.
“We have to make an active effort to reach these people [COMBO],” says Sue Chicoine.
"That’s why we’ve been giving comps [complimentary tickets] to the COMBO staff,” says Marquis, patiently, "to get them over here.”
In the end. Marquis quiets the dissent — even though he himself, in private conversation, bristles at the way the COMBO funds are allocated. The steering committee exchange, though, is an interesting event in itself. Marquis runs the meetings as if they were sensitivity groups, giving each member a forum to express complaints and desires. Theater staff members. while acknowledging Marquis’ ultimate supremacy in most theater decisions, have noticed a decrease in his authority. For example:
One of the most successful plays of the current Marquis Theater season has been Gemini, which closed to packed houses and good reviews last month. One weekend performance of the play set a Marquis box-office record for a four-day total: $2000. It isn’t surprising that Marquis’ business savvy was aroused.
Marquis wanted to extend the box-office smash past its scheduled final performance of November 23 and brought up the subject to the technicians and actors and actresses at a mid-November staff meeting.
Marquis: “I mean, it’s a big money generator, and since some of our grant positions are ending in a few weeks, I thought we could keep Gemini going and move one of our upcoming plays back.” An actress: “But some of the actors in the play have other commitments.”
An actor: "And a play sometimes reaches its saturation point; it’s just not going to attract as many people after that.” The rest of the staffers seem to concur that Gemini would best be served by letting it close on schedule. Marquis reluctantly perceives that the tide is against him. and so provides himself with an exit line that w ill permit him to return to the discussion stage later.
Marquis: "Well, we have a steering committee meeting on Thursday. We'll discuss it more then.”
But Marquis fares little better at the steering committee meeting. As the nine committee members sit in a circle of folding chairs in the Gallery Theater, Marquis squats on his chair like some Occidental Buddha. As the discussion begins, actor Jim Manley gives eight different possibilities of dealing with Gemini, including renting another theater, delaying the opening of an upcoming play, and simply letting Gemini close as planned.
"And what do you recommend?” Marquis asks Manley.
“My recommendation?” Manley responds, hesitantly. "My recommendation is that we let the show close as per schedule.”
Marquis nods noncommittally.
“I think it was a wonderful high.”
Manley continues, almost, it seems, apologetically, sensing that Marquis does not agree with Manley’s recommendation. "I think now the community knows what we can do.”
"The commitments of these people in the show . . .” Raoul says, scanning the faces for a supporter. "What I ‘m getting at . . .I’m wondering . . . what is the possibility . . .” He focuses on Scott Busath, who has very short hair and a well-barbered beard. "How difficult would it be. Scott, to be able to at least play Gemini next Friday and Saturday? Just two extra nights? I mean, we’re bringing in almost $500 a night.”
"Well, it would be difficult,” says Busath. "but not impossible.”
Leonard Enrique breaks in. "If we bring in another actress,” Enrique says, "it would really interrupt the flow.”
Tavis Ross joins in: "And there’s a good psychological feeling about closing a play to a full house, rather than just having it trail off.”
It is clear that Marquis is the only person in favor of extending the play; no one else has voiced support. But still he does not give up.
“But we’re like the New York Public Theater,” he beseeches. "We can take a successful show and move it to another theater, and have it support the other activities of the theater.”
“1 think that would be self-defeating, Raoul,” says Minerva Marquis, his ex-wife with whom he maintains a friendly working relationship and who is one of the theater’s creative directors.
But still Raoul will not give up. "How about bringing it back in the summer?” he asks. "We’ve got the tourist audience coming back.”
No one in the committee meeting wants to hurt Raoul’s feelings. Jim Manley comes to Marquis’ aid, without at the same time supporting the extension of Gemini. It is a swift move on Manley’s part. "I think one of the things this theater has to do is produce works with a strong appeal,” Manley says. "There’s nothing wrong with a blatantly commercial work if it’s good.”
"It gives the experimental work we do a lot more validity,” says Tavis Ross, as if on cue.
A somewhat defeated Marquis peers at everyone around him with a look of hurt and surprise. He says, “I haven’t heard one person who wants to extend the show. I mean, we have to start thinking about Life After CETA. Gemini is a successful show. It brings in money.” He pauses, and looks about him in vain once more for support. Finally, he says, "Well, I guess that’s it.”
Raoul Marquis is changing before the eyes of his employees; he is not mandating as many decisions as he once did. "Before we had the steering committee meetings,” says Enrique, "Raoul would have pushed that decision about extending Gemini. Now the steering committee has final say. About the only things where Raoul has final say anymore are things that deal with more expenditures other than those covered by CETA, because he pays those out of his own pocket.”
Before the steering committee — technically an advisory body — was created one year ago, things were not nearly so democratic. "Raoul is taking a different kind of attitude now,” continues Enrique. "Before we had the steering committee meetings, we had production meetings with the whole staff, and Raoul was definitely in charge. The idea of the chief bull leading the herd worked at the time, but now he’s delegating more authority, and listening more.”
Kent Brisby also recalls the time before the steering committee was created. "The decisions were made by the whole staff,” he remembers, "and the discussions were often bloody. Then the staff started growing until it was huge, so we began the steering committee. Before that, if a decision was not made by the whole staff, Raoul made the decision himself, which alienated him from the staff. For example, he never really discussed the Gallery Theater workshop with the staff. Me, Judy Fein, and Rafael Melendez were put in charge of getting the Gallery Theater together. We were put in this position of being a troika, and I was appointed liaison between the troika and the staff. Things did not go smoothly. The decisions of the troika should have first been discussed with the staff.”
Judy Fein, one-third of the Gallery Theater “troika,” later was fired from the Marquis Theater because of intense conflict of artistic goals with Marquis. Fein, who refuses to discuss her relationship with Marquis at length, says her time spent at that theater was “a ghastly experience.” She says that observers should not be fooled by Marquis and his seeming defeats in the steering committee. "He runs those meetings like a Synanon encounter session,” she says. "He never really loses. He just gets people to say what they’re feeling. It doesn’t mean he listens.” Fein’s reference to Synanon is not groundless. In 1965 Marquis provided legal services for the drug-rehabilitation group, and it was his association with Synanon, begun while Marquis was a prosecutor, that led him to buy the India Street property in the first place. As the Interstate 5 freeway was being constructed north of downtown, the property owners in the area of Washington and India streets began to put out the For Sale signs, fearing that the freeway would ruin the area as a commercial district. Marquis saw the block for sale and mentioned to the Synanon directors that the property and buildings could make a good rehabilitation center. Armed with his own cash and the good graces of Synanon. Marquis bought three-fourths of the block. When he brought the Synanon officials down for the grand tour, they protested that there weren’t enough toilets and that the necessary improvements would be too expensive to install, and so Marquis was left with the property.
For the next seven years, from 1965 to 1972, the land and buildings were mostly dormant, except for a few commercial tenants — a beauty shop, a record store, a pizza parlor. In 1971 Raoul and Minerva Marquis were divorced. Marquis left his job as an attorney and went to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, where he worked as a carpenter for fifty dollars a month plus room and board. Then he traveled about Europe and Israel. In Israel he visited an artists’ kibbutz, Ein Hod, and allowed his artistic inclinations to expand. "For years I did all that was expected of me,” he was once quoted as saying, "met all the requirements; I was in the infantry and marched across Europe with Patton. I raised my three sons and helped raise three stepchildren. I’ve been a farmer, a prosecutor, a defense attorney. I have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, a law degree. Then there came a time in my life when I looked at myself, and I saw that I had been holding something back. I realized that, for all I'd done, I hadn't allowed, I hadn't honored a part of me. I had smothered the artistic side of my nature.”
And for all the hard and mean things that might be said about Raoul Marquis, one must admit that his artistic oil well has been a gusher. The theater Marquis built has sponsored a playwrights workshop; radio drama workshop; Vietnam Veterans Theater workshop; Theater of the Deaf; Pacific-Asian Theater workshop; Southern California Black Repertory Theater; writer-in-residence Rafael Melendez, who wrote several plays at the Marquis; and a high-school production of A Midsummer Night's Dream under the direction of veteran actor Eric Christmas. The Marquis Public Theater has begun experimenting with theatrical performances at different times of the day, including noon and midnight. There have been ja// concerts, new-wave concerts, and classical concerts. The Marquis has presented a number of San Diego premieres. The buildings themselves won an award in 1978 from the American Institute of Planners. And not least of all. the Marquis has given jobs in the theater to scores of actors and technicians who might otherwise have been reduced to waiting on tables or pumping gas.
Even Marquis' critics, like Kit Goldman, end up giving him the benefit of the doubt. “People are beginning to realize that the better one theater does, the better all theaters do,” Goldman says. "I may have a lot of differences with Raoul about running a theater, but I don’t think it’s necessary that we all agree. I think it’s very healthy that there can be so many different attitudes toward theater in this city and that they can all work."
The productions of the individual plays at the Marquis are generally conceded to be much improved over last year, and that is because of the professional theater people who are being attracted to the Marquis, people who can handle the nuts and bolts of the day-to-day operation, people who can accept much of the responsibility Marquis used to bear himself. And as these trained technicians and dramatic artists assume more control of Marquis’ theater. Marquis himself is being cast in a new role.
“I certainly think that as the theater develops, it draws to it a group of artistic people who can be trusted with their own artistic decisions," he says. "That should be supported. I suppose, at this stage, it’s a natural series of events that’s taking place. It’s like carpentry. I loved being a rough carpenter. Putting up the frame to a house, knocking in nails with one blow of the hammer. They tried to put me on as a fine carpenter, doing finishing work, and I was terrible. I’m a framer. When it comes to the tedium of details. I’d prefer that those people who are more adept move in and do the finishing. I continually seem to function in that peculiar role.”
It seems almost as if Marquis is edging himself out as he brings in the talented professionals. The people working on the productions often tend to know more about the theater than Marquis does. It is almost as if Marquis is bringing in the people who will make Marquis himself expendable.
The question is. then, can and will the Marquis Public Theater go on without Raoul Marquis? “Well, that’s certainly in the back of my mind.” says Kent Brisby. “At this time, though, without Raoul’s financial donations, the theater could not survive. We’re trying to get a nucleus of people who can run the theater. I think that’s a goal for Raoul, too. I don’t know if he’ll tell you that; I don’t know if he knows it himself. But the value of a lot of people he has hired won’t really be known until down the line, and yet he has hired them anyway. I think he does that because he knows that sooner or later it will be up to them to run the theater.”
But maybe that’s all right for Marquis.
He won’t be in the position to bother himself with troublesome technical details. He can sit back, in the theater that he built, and listen to the applause, because he likes applause, and he isn’t used to applause. “When you are a lawyer.” he says, “you can work on a case for three years, learn everything about it, be completely successful and win your case. But when it is over, no one applauds.”
It is getting to the point where he is exploring new aspects of the theater. ‘ ’The arts are politicized,’’ he says, and it is his task to play politics now, while the actors and directors and technicians prepare for the play. The Marquis Theater has been a piece of sculpture for Marquis, a work of art. That’s how he perceives his theater. “It is the job of a man to put his balls on the line,” he asserts, “and they continually get chopped off. The remarkable thing is that when you put your hand between your legs in the morning, they’ve regrown. I have to do that. That’s how you grow balls. I’m a sculptor as well. Sometimes you begin a piece of art, and you don’t know exactly what you’re doing; you make mistakes. But then there is that moment when you perceive what it is that’s in front of you. You understand what it is you’re trying to create. And that is also a moment. That is the moment of life or death of art. I’ve felt that way about some plays we’ve produced, and I’ve felt that way about the theater itself. There was that fear, but we did it.”