By Thom de Martino
Lovers of the arts will have to hold their collective breath and hope that they’ve not lost yet another theater in Orange County.
Patrons of Shakespeare Orange County, the resident theatrical troupe for Garden Grove’s Festival Amphitheater may be shocked to discover that the award-winning group has announced that they will have to shutter their scheduled annual summer season, due to planned construction at the venue by the new operators.
In an email to subscribers and an announcement on the shakespeareoc.org website, SOC Producing Artistic Director John Walcutt cushioned the blow with good news first, such as the group being awarded the California Arts Commission’ Local Impact Award, tripling its audience in the last four seasons, and partnering with the Orange County School of The Arts in creating youth programs for Orange County students and young adults.
Then the bad news dropped.
Due to construction on the theater by the new tenant — the LFA Group (Large Format Assemblies) — as it works to increase seating in the amphitheater and upgrade the concessions stand (as well as the sound and lighting systems as reported by the Tribune in January 2017, “More seats at the Festival Amphitheater?” [https://orangecountytribune.com/2017/01/11/more-seating-for-the-festival-amphitheater/]), there is not even the opportunity for an abbreviated summer season for SOC at the venue.
“They (the City partners) have made it clear that we cannot be open for business if construction is underway, nor can they offer us any options in pushing our season a bit later in the summer,” announced Walcutt in the email to theatergoers. “We have no reasonable and responsible choice, but to pull the plug on our productions this summer at the Amphitheatre. To proceed would be reckless, endangering our financial security and jeopardizing our professional product. I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.”
Now listed online as the “Garden Amp” and looking to appeal to a younger demographic with shows such as the “High and Mighty Festival” and “Not Yo’ Mama’s Ska Show”, the location is described as “an all-ages, open air venue… Previously known as the Festival Amphitheater or Strawberry Bowl, the venue has become a premiere location for concerts and events in Orange County.” A portion of the facility has also been transformed into a smaller venue for bands, called “The Locker Room.”
Concerning the situation with SOC, John Montanchez, Director of Community Affairs for Garden Grove, explained “There’s new operators there at the theater, the LFA group… there’s construction currently on the snack bar, trying to convert it to a restaurant, and what I feel it comes down to is that Shakespeare Orange County feels a little uncomfortable with the timeline on all of that, because they’re looking to do their annual fundraiser at the Strawberry Festival… because of construction, the timeline was going to be tight, that they were uncomfortable enough to say… ‘we’ll step back for the summer, but we’ll definitely want to look at the options of coming back next year.’ We [the city] are actually possibly looking at doing some smaller stuff with them during the summer at another location… this is all preliminary right now, we’re just discussing if they could possibly do a children’s kind of camp or something like that — we’re working currently right now on possibly finding a location for that.”
Garden Grove City Manager Scott Stiles, whom Walcutt acknowledged in his announcement as having been greatly supportive of Shakespeare Orange County, had this to say:
“We understand that ongoing construction and renovation work with kitchen and bathroom facilities at the Festival Amphitheater, along with operational and cost concerns, are causing SOC to take a break from their summer programming for July and August 2018… we certainly wish to encourage creative partnerships going forward with SOC, the city, and LFA, who serves as the City’s Amphitheater management company. We are excited about the potential for future partnerships with SOC and the arts community.”
Remarking to the Tribune, Walcutt said “Yes, we are all terribly disappointed and were completely blindsided. SOC was promised the theater this summer and was in the process of launching our season. There are may great things happening in Garden Grove right now, and in this particular case, we were squeezed out… we were left with no responsible choice but to step aside. We hope that this will provide the City and LFA the chance to get their ducks in order, complete some nice improvements on the Amphitheater and support SOC in future. We are grateful to the people of Garden Grove for their support — of all Orange County really, thank you. And we hope the City will focus on making SOC a priority down the road.”
Focusing on the positive, he concluded “Meantime, we will catch our breath, proceed with this summer’s education programs [for kids and students], and consider the options.”
Categories: Arts & Leisure