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COAST, CENTRAL, AND NORTHWEST CITIES : LOS ALAMITOS

Base Ready to Set Stage for Theater

May 23, 2000|CHRIS CEBALLOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Within a year, Los Alamitos could have not one, but three new theaters to call its own. Eventually, the city could have an entire fine arts and performing arts complex. And it won't cost the city a dime.

At least, that's what Fine Arts Commissioner Kent Johnson has in mind.

Since joining the commission about 18 months ago, Johnson, a director of musical and community theater with more than 35 years' experience, has shepherded a five-year plan for the development of arts in the city. He has received the green light from officials at the Armed Forces Reserve Center to rehabilitate and use the base's 1,045-seat theater.

"My first couple of times [meeting with the commission] I noticed people were busy doing things with current projects but didn't see a plan in place for the future," Johnson said. "So we decided to lay out the plan where each of the arts were going to get our attention and support, to get the whole arts scene stimulated."

A month later Johnson was attending the base's Fourth of July celebration when he spotted the building that housed the base theater. "I can recognize a theater a block away," Johnson said.

Johnson arranged a meeting with the base commander, Brig. Gen. Guido J. Potante, and a tour of the theater. Potante told Johnson the theater was used four times a year and that he would love to see the base revitalized and used by civilians.

Before renovating the main stage of the theater, Johnson wants to build 100- to 150-seat, open-air theaters in each of the building's two patios.

The first, dubbed by Johnson the Little Theater in the Forest, would use a patio with tall grass and trees to stage shows with outdoor settings. He has already talked to a Los Angeles Shakespearean troupe, Bard in the Yard, about staging the theater's debut production, followed by the musicals "The Fantasticks" and "The White Arrow," an original play penned by Johnson.

The first theater would cost between $7,000 and $12,000, which Johnson hopes to raise from local businesses. He wants to develop a workshop and storage facility for the theaters and a fine arts building for painting, photography and other arts.

Johnson realizes the city is not in a position to help financially.

"Los Alamitos doesn't have large industry to support civic projects, and the city doesn't have money with its tight budget," Johnson said. "But these things tend to snowball. Once you get something [donors] can see, they want to get involved."

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Chris Ceballos can be reached at (714) 966-7440.

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