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All this has produced a persistent buzz about UCLA’s emergence as a venue
for experimental, pioneering work. “The talk was all about this guy on
the West Coast,” says Joseph Melillo, executive producer of the Brooklyn
Academy of Music, who just returned from the south of France. “David has
transformed the presenting program at UCLA monumentally. And I don’t speak
in superlatives very often. The university’s search committee wanted to
put UCLA on the map as a cultural epicenter, and they’ve done that by
Melillo calls Sefton “a man of vision” and “a calculated
“He knows what works. He’s not cavalier about his artistic choices
— they’re well-reasoned,” Melillo says. “All of these
opportunities existed before, but they just never got to the West Coast because
L.A. did not have anyone to make these kinds of commitments programmatically.
There needed to be a gatekeeper to open that door. And David arrived with a
beautiful set of keys.”
But Sefton himself was unsure about what would happen once he unlocked that
door. “You have no idea how quickly it will catch on, or whether it will
catch on at all,” he says in retrospect. Given a mandate by UCLA to take
the performing arts in a radical new direction, he knew that change would be
traumatic. So he has not abandoned UCLA’s strong traditions, such as its
great dance program and classical-music series. And not all of the theater festival
is, in fact, radical and contemporary.
If patrons can get past the provocative photograph on page 3 of the hefty UCLA
Live season brochure that touts the U.S. premiere of Jewess Tattooess, they
will find more classical music than ever before, “and, generally, of a
higher standard,” says Sefton.
As initial nervousness about his arrival dissipated (“I think it’s
clear now,” Sefton told the Los Angeles Times wryly, “that I’m
not going to burn down Royce Hall and build a rock stadium”), audiences
began snapping up tickets. In his first season last year, ticket sales hit 93,000,
an increase of approximately 14,500 from the previous year. This year, with
subscription sales going strong, UCLA Live is projecting sales will reach 99,000.
With added shows for the spring segment, attendance should top 100,000.