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Council Meeting on Theaters Has SRO Crowd

Garden Grove: Actors and fans of the Grove Theater Center speak out, trying to save it. City, which denied funds request, sets hearing.


The fate of two well-known professional theater venues near downtown Garden Grove will be in limbo at least through this month, the City Council decided Tuesday.

The future of the theaters has been in question since last month, when the Grove Theater Center, which has been managing the two venues since 1994, asked the city for $20,000--in addition to the $40,000 it has been receiving annually since last year--to help promote its shows.

City officials have already denied the request, contending the theaters' managers had violated the terms of their contract by not staging enough events or attracting enough people to the events they have staged. About 60% of last year's performances, they said, attracted fewer than 20 people.

At Tuesday's council session, dozens of actors and fans spoke out, some tearfully, in support of the 172-seat Gem Theater and 550-seat outdoor Festival Amphitheater, both city-owned facilities that have served local audiences for more than 30 years.

"Don't take away our favorite theater," said Mabel Houdishell, who said she has been attending performances there for years. "It's an icon of our city, and big is not always better. Let's save this gem for people coming up."

The council set a public workshop on the subject for April 30.

"We wouldn't be here tonight if there were this many people at the

The theaters' operators say the numbers are not the real issue. "We don't think their numbers are right, but we also don't think the numbers are the primary issue," said Charles Johanson, the Grove Center's executive director and chief financial officer.

"They're saying they want bodies there, but professional theater is not a quick fix--it's a long-term development process."

City officials say they are considering three options for the theaters: spending more money to promote them, taking over management of the theaters or seeking another contractor to run them.

"I think the community is still interested in professional theater," said City Manager George Tindall, who favors having a citizen panel to study the issue and make recommendations. "But the whole concept needs to be reviewed."

The small, eclectic theater company produces plays ranging from Shakespeare to modern original works. To many speaking at Tuesday's meeting, therein lies the charm.

"There's nothing quite like this in Orange County," said Don Took, an actor who said he frequently appears in productions at South Coast Repertory Theater. "These guys offer really eclectic programming--they're right on target."

Sandra Ramich, whose daughter Natalie appeared in several Gem productions, asked the council, "If we don't teach children to be theater lovers and theatergoers, where will they be as adults?"

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