Arts & Leisure

Shakespeare OC out at amphitheater

“PIRATES OF PENZANCE” was one of the plays staged by Shakespeare Orange County at the Festival Amphitheater in Garden Grove (SOC photo).

By Jim Tortolano

William Shakespeare wrote “All’s Well That Ends Well, “ but it remains to be seen how things will turn out for Shakespeare Orange County.

SOC, for years the resident theatrical troupe at the Festival Amphitheater in the Village Green park in Garden Grove, is apparently out and looking for a new home.

In a Facebook post, the SOC reported that it was being ousted from residence at the 540-seat open-air facility. Large Format Assembly, which stages popular music concerts locally and which took over management there, will be filling the amphitheater with a schedule of performances which won’t leave time for the classical theater company to stage its plays.

“We tried to get them (city officials) interested,” said John Walcutt, the SOC artistic director. “We did the best we could, doing very good work and engaging the community. But in the five years I’ve led the company, we just couldn’t get them hooked in. It was an uphill battle. Even though the neighborhood and the artistic community responded wonderfully.”

Garden Grove Mayor Steve Jones had this comment to the Tribune:

“The city is deeply saddened Shakespeare OC has not been able to work out terms with the new operator of the amphitheater. For years, the amphitheater sat dormant a significant portion of the year and the hope was that Shakespeare OC could exist by mobilizing their stage set and allowing other shows to happen at the amphitheater during their extended downtimes.”

Shakespeare in Garden Grove has a long and somewhat contentious history. Grove Shakespeare Festival had its debut in 1979 under the leadership of Thomas Bradac, with performances at the adjacent Gem Theater and, later, the Amphitheater. The GSF received artistic acclaim but became embroiled in controversy over the content and the issue of the city subsidizing the plays.

Bradac left and the facility was seldom used until Bradac – who established SOC at Chapman University in Orange – was invited back. Shakespeare OC was back on stage in 2003. Eventually, Bradac retired and Walcutt took over leadership of the organization, adding some non-Shakespearean fare to the seasons.

In 2016 LFA made a proposal to take over operation of the facility. In 2017 it staged the High and Mighty Music festival that occupied much of the Village Green Park. With LFA managing the facility – now advertised as Garden Amp, or Gar Amp –  it was stated that SOC would continue to use the venue, but the 2018 season was cancelled due to construction at the location.

So what’s the ending? Walcutt said the city held out the possibility of allowing SOC to use another park to stage its productions, but added that there was interest from other cities – such as Huntington Beach, Irvine and Fullerton – to host Shakespeare Orange County.


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