City Without Art

Tailpipe thought that developer Gary Posner's sunny promises to keep the Hollywood Playhouse afloat were too good to be true. Last September, Posner and his partner, Patricia Peretz, bought the theater building on Washington Street where the fiscally-troubled playhouse has been putting on award-winning plays for 50 years. They promised to refurbish it and keep it operating, and not -- as the two developers originally planned -- to turn the site into single-family homes.

"It's more of giving back to the community and giving back to the people," Posner told the Herald in September, 2003, in a Frank Capra-like rush of good will.

But the playhouse -- whose entire 2004-2005 season was abruptly cancelled last week, three days before the curtain was to go up on its opening production -- was just a piece of a much larger puzzle, termed HART (for Hollywood Arts District). As Posner and Peretz were dipping daintily into the world of footlights and grease paint, they were also assembling a mega-deal with the city's Community Redevelopment Agency to transform the southeastern corner of Young Circle. The $71-million project, which the City Commission approved in November, 2003, includes an 18-story condominium building, an arts and science charter school, and a 400-seat theater, which would serve as a home for the Hollywood Playhouse. Can we say that the two developers, in assuming control of the playhouse, had a lean and hungry look?

Including the prestigious 60-year-old theater company as part of the package certainly added luster to Posner and Peretz' pitch. If the plan ever gets past a lawsuit by condo owners on the site (which could stop everything), the Hollywood Playhouse, in some incarnation, should end up at a new Young Circle venue. The big question is whether having theater personnel go though the exercise of planning an entire season and actually cobbling together an ambitious season-opening stage production was anything more than a cruel hoax designed to help sell a development project.

Artists are always the last in line when they start handing out the money. Posner and Peretz got a $2.5 million loan from the CRA to buy the land for HART. And Charter Schools USA, the Fort Lauderdale-based for-profit company that runs the school will receive millions of dollars in city grants over the next 10 years. But the Hollywood Playhouse's little band of actors and stage hands, the ones who conjure up all the stage magic? Out of luck. Sorry, guys.

To cancel a production before it hits the boards is about as traumatic as it gets for theater artists -- maybe even worse than getting panned by critics. When the director broke the news to his cast of eight that, after a month of rehearsals, the planned production of Tom Stoppard's The Real Inspector Hound would die without ever being performed before an audience, there was shocked silence. "I thought one girl was going to start crying," Rodaz says. "But then, like everybody else, her jaw literally dropped. I was not just sending the actors home, I was going with them. Everybody just headed out."

Last week, Posner held out the last hope that the city might pitch in to save the rest of the season. He'd give it the old college try, he told Rodaz. "Mr. Posner said that by Friday he'd find out if the city would step up and put some money into the thing," Rodaz says. Then he called back to say that the city had turned him down. Forget the 2004-2005 season. It's over. However, Alison Wealcatch, a spokeswoman for City Manager Cameron Benson said that Posner had made no such request. Posner did not respond to Tailpipe's messages. Mayor Mara Guilianti called to say that the theater will "be more successful in downtown Hollywood," but that it was operating with too much debt.

For his role as the tender-hearted would-be philanthropist, Tailpipe is nominating Posner in the next round of theater awards as Best Actor in a Show That Was All Just a Ruse to Scare Up Investments.

Come Back, Khia

Three summers ago, local radio couldn't get enough of "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)," the ribald pro-cunnilingus anthem from Khia. Following the release of her Thug Misses album in 2001, the hip-hop star -- who maintained cribs in Tampa as well as here in the 954 -- could have been the Dirty South's baddest bad-mouthed mama. You had to locate weak underground stations to hear the uncensored version of Khia's demand for, uh, oral reciprocity (even Tailpipe blushes at the lyrics to "My Neck, My Back"), which only heightened the tune's notoriety.

But Khia (her last name is Finch) never followed up. When New Times tried to talk to the rapper in 2002, her record company passed along Khia's number, but she didn't return messages. Then Artemis Records, her New York label, said they themselves couldn't find her. There were rumors that she'd been killed by a jealous boyfriend or had contracted HIV -- or merely relocated to Atlanta. But then she popped up on MTV saying she had a new album ready to drop. It never did. In fact, since Khia's gone ghost, the only news about her surrounds the old Hillsborough County mug shots (pictured above) making the rounds on the web. Dodging petty theft, pot possession, aggravated battery, and domestic violence charges back in 1998 and 1999 was evidently Khia's line of work before she penned songs about tongue calisthenics. "She's one of our most prestigious repeat bookees," says Lt. Rod Reeder of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Here are a few of her happy cop-shop photos -- if you see her, tell her to give Tailpipe a call. The tube is worried about her.

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