GRIFFITH PARK—For nearly a decade, Barbara Ferris, the managing director of Symphony in the Glen, has been thinking of ways to create a permanent performing space for her organization.
Realizing that the area near the Old Zoo—a grassy part of the park known as the Griffith Park Performing Art Center and located at 4730 Crystal Springs Dr.—would be the perfect spot, Ferris, along with David Melville, the managing director of the Independent Shakespeare Company, began agitating several years ago to have the city build a permanent stage there.
The two spoke to local elected officials, and made their case that installing a performance space would allow easier access to arts for local residents.
“We started seeing the real need for this,” says Ferris. “Putting up a stage and taking it down every year was getting more and more expensive. What we started talking about was the idea to put something permanent.”
Now, the city has decided to move forward with the project. The Dept. of Recreation and Parks issued a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) last December. The project will be decided on by the Los Angeles Dept. of Recreation and Park’s five-panel board of commissioners March 5th.
According to the draft EIR, the project would include several pieces of construction in addition to the stage. The stage itself would measure 45 feet by 45 feet. The plan also includes “a new switchboard, resurfaced parking lot, improvements to existing restrooms, path lighting, resurfaced walkways, a new path and bridge meeting Americans with Disability Act (ADA) requirements, and undergrounding of an existing overhead power line.
The project would be paid for by Prop. K—a Los Angeles voter approved measure—that specifically reserves funding for parks and recreation facilities and improvements.
“They have a substantial amount of Prop. K money that needs to get spent,” said Melville of the Shakespeare Co., “and they’re looking for ways to spend it.”
If approved by the Recreation and Parks Board of Commissioners, the project would be completed by June of 2015.
In addition to giving the area a newer performance space, according to Melville, a permanent stage would relieve the companies of the expensive and cumbersome necessity of erecting a stage every single night of a show.
“We perform every night for three months,” he said, “so we have to light the stage and all that kind of stuff. A couple of years ago, we began really taking off, and when that started to happen I was looking at the infrastructure thinking, ‘we need some help here.’”
Ferris and Melville believe that they have the community’s support—
but not everyone feels that the stage is a good idea.
Gerry Hans, president of Friends of Griffith Park—a recently formed non-profit—said in an email that since its initial proposal, the plan for the stage has become too big for what the park can sustain.
“Small early-evening audiences are not objectionable and everyone appreciates the arts being brought into the serenity of the Old Zoo,” he wrote. “However, the scale of the project has escalated exponentially. Right now the project seems to be a moving-target with multiple phases.”
Hans went on to say that the Friends of Griffith Park’s concerns include the fact that the Shakespeare Co. recently stated that they hope to grow their audience another 5,000 over the 2014 summer, which he said, the park can’t accommodate.
Last year’s attendance for 40 performances for the Shakespeare Co. was 43,000—or about 1,000 per show. Performances run Thursday through Sunday, typically from late June to the end of August.
“We love Symphony and [The Independent Shakespeare Co.],” Hans wrote. “But will this area be opened up to other groups for a long season of events?”
Hans also added sound and lighting plans will “adversely impact wildlife.”
Ferris and Melville state that they, too, have a vested interest in maintaining the area’s natural beauty and wildlife.
“We don’t want to destroy the nature of the Old Zoo,” said Ferris. “We respect the site, and we’ve been talking about this for a long time.”
But, Melville added: this is the kind of project that will put the Los Angeles performing arts scene on par with other big cities.
“What the Shakespeare Festival is becoming is comparable to other Shakespeare Festivals across the U.S.,” he said, “and we’d like to have the same production values. We can’t do that with a temporary stage.”