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Setting the Stage : After 18 summers, Warner Park's concert series is on the way to getting a proper platform for performers.


For 18 summers, the Valley Cultural Center has filled Sunday afternoons at Warner Park with the sounds and motions of performers from Louis Bellson to Peruvian dancers. And for 18 summers, the trappings for these free "Concerts in the Park" have been less than dignified.

Two flatbed trucks parked side-by-side have served as a stage. There have been no dressing rooms and nowhere for the musicians to warm up.

Now, the summer series is on its way to acquiring a more suitable home. The Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department is spending $1 million to construct a permanent stage in the Woodland Hills park, and the cultural center is asking for $300,000 in donations to add finishing touches.

"So we don't have to ask people like the Kingston Trio to stand in line for the portable potty anymore," said Marilyn Hankins, the group's executive director.

The new stage took on added importance recently when the Cultural Foundation, a private group that is hoping to build an arts complex in Sepulveda Basin, dropped an outdoor amphitheater from its plans.

So Warner Park Pavilion will provide the San Fernando Valley with its only modern, open-air stage. When completed in July, it will cover 7,000 square feet. It will be owned and maintained by the city.

The cultural center, which paid for the architectural plans and environmental preparations, will be given a 15-year lease to use the facilities. It is asking the public for additional money to pay for a sound system and to outfit the dressing rooms with lights, mirrors and clothes racks.

"I just found out the other day that we need a vacuum cleaner," Hankins said. "We need to clean up after ourselves."

Bob Voit of Warner Center Properties gave the fund-raising campaign an initial push by offering a $150,000 challenge grant--a donation he will give if the cultural center can raise an equal amount.

"Concerts in the Park" runs annually from June to September. Crowds for past concerts have been as large as 8,000. People often bring picnic dinners and pets to the 20-acre park at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Califa Street.

Performers have ranged from Fabian to the U. S. Air Force Band. Les Brown and His Band of Renown are an annual favorite.

Brown will open this year's series June 6, performing from the old stage. A grand opening of the new facilities is scheduled Aug. 8, with a performance by John Tesh, host of TV's "Entertainment Tonight," who is also a well-known composer.

As in the past, the summer series will provide audiences for the community symphony and chorale.

Those interested in donating to the new stage can call (818) 704-1358.

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