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L. A.'s Wilshire Theater: the new kid in town

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Banks has a special feeling about people who work in the theater, both on and back stage. "The wonderful thing about people in the theater is when they're turned on to something they really do it. It's rarely money that motivates them. It's the project, either a show or the concept of running a theater. Everyone involved is so close to the creative part of it, the stagehands, the ushers, the lighting crew, they're all part of it. Because it's live."

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This reasoning explains why a life in the theater is a conscious choice for Banks, over a similar production job in television or films.

"What I love about theater," he says, "is the actual contact with the process. You lose that in TV and film, you become removed. I enjoy being involved in so many aspects of production. In film and television, it's so departmentalized, it's so rigid, unless you're a producer with a lot of money and can demand that control. In theater you have that control. And it's instant gratification -- you hear the applause every night."

The first production at the Wilshire was "The Oldest Living Graduate," starring Henry Fonda, which was first aired as a special on NBC. Among the shows that followed were "Whose Life Is It Anyway?" with Lucy Arnaz and Laurence Luckinbill alternating the roles of patient and doctor; "Beatlemania"; and "Anything Goes," starring Ginger Rogers and Sid Caesar. In between, three television specials have been taped at the theater.

How does the Wilshire fit into the already established theater scene in Los Angeles? "Only time will tell how the Wilshire will stack up," Banks says. "Right now we're still the new kid in town.

"The ideal would be to put on six shows a year, with a six-week run, tape the seventh week, and have the eighth week for a turnaround to mount the next show. Then sell the taped show to television, cable, or cassette. You could get practically any actor you wanted if you could guarantee him a part of the TV sale, because that way he or she would have a residual for life. All the actors live out here anyway, and most of them want to do theater. The cable access makes it financially viable."

Banks is a master of detail, from choosing the right logo for the theater -- a palm tree -- to making a pageant of opening night. "We concentrate on making our openings an event; we pay attention to the theatrical part of the evening, besides what's on stage." Invitations even encourage appropriate dress, such as "cruise attire" for the opening of "Anything Goes."

Banks brings new meaning to the overused phrase "upward mobility." As he moves up in his career, he also takes the quality of theater in L.A. up with him.

"I like making people feel special," he says. "It's included in the price they pay when they buy the ticket. And if you make them feel special, they treat the theater as if it were special, too."