Friday, December 20, 2013

Richard Niederberg’s 54-Year Perfect Attendance to the L.A. Holiday Celebration

54 years is long enough to call anything a tradition. Just ask entertainment attorney Richard Niederberg, a longtime Studio City resident and Chair of Cultural Affairs for the Neighborhood Council on his spotless record of having attended every Holiday Celebration since the age of six. While he may not have set out to start a tradition when he first rode the bus by himself in 1959 to the LA Sports Arena (where the show was originally held), over time he simply kept going, witnessing the major changes along the way such as the move to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, advances in technology and the show's original twelve hour duration brought down to three. 
A fixture at the Holiday Celebration, Niederberg is a sort of talisman for the producers. His familiar face can be seen sitting in the second row directly behind the stage manager...
This is not an accident as Niederberg takes on the responsibility of shooing away anyone who unknowingly tries to procure the stage manager's seat—one less headache for the ushers. A human epitome of the show's longevity in years, he is also a walking Wikipedia of knowledge, technical observations, historic relevance all superimposed with his appreciation for the arts. He has easily outpaced most of the staff including producers and directors but is very pleased with Laura Zucker, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Arts Commission and was familiar with her previous role as a producer at the Back Alley Theatre. But as much as he is the local color of the show, the annual live performances have also colored his life with its lasting influence.
The only one in his large family to take an interest in the arts, Niederberg was fascinated by the idea of watching Kenneth Hahn and his brother playing piano in a Christmas music program initiated by the city. In 1964, the Holiday Celebration moved to the newly built Music Center, specifically the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion where it has remained. But in exchange for the premises being built, Mrs. Chandler agreed to Hahn's demand that a free day be set aside for the public and the Holiday Celebration became the unifying annual show for this access in which even the parking is free. The word free is challenged as ultimately it is paid through taxes, but the spirit of the intention gives everyone the opportunity to see local artists, bands, choirs and school groups perform in the grand hall that might otherwise never be able to attend.
For Niederberg, the main attraction is the variety of acts. He enjoys seeing unknown as well as more established artists from all areas of Los Angeles, especially those from outlining areas. "It's a large county. There's something for everyone. Not every Mariachi band is in Mariachi Square for example. The LA Arts Commission is looking further out."

It became apparent that Los Angeles is a city ripe with talent, ethnic diversity and cultural appreciation as audiences discovered the show on stage or at home on TV. Televising the originally 12-hour production presented unique challenges but another avenue for people to see the broadcast. It also required the show to move faster and 12 hours was cut down to six and later cut to its current three-hours. Technology has changed how the show is filmed and miked. Now the equipment is less obtrusive than it was years ago, something Niederberg is grateful for as he likes being as close to the action as possible in order to see the movements in dance numbers. Some things have stayed the same, such as the closing act of "Silent Night" – one of his personal favorites. This year marks another "Silent Night" under his Holiday Celebration belt.
What began as a schoolboy fascination would turn into a life devoted to working in the arts. Holiday Celebration sparked an enduring love for live performance and Niederberg started his eclectic career as a stage hand at the halls in the Music Center and major theaters in Los Angeles. He went on to get a degree in Theater with an emphasis in Engineering at CSUN before attending law school at Southwestern University (maintaining perfect attendance from grade school on throughout). He worked in lighting for TV shows like The Carol Burnett Show and also produces theater. Recently, he has taken the spirit of the Holiday Celebration and offered the Luminaria Festival a free event now in its third year boasting 2000 paper bag lit lanterns with music and family-friendly entertainment.

Niederberg likes the idea of paying it forward and credits the Holiday Celebration for exposing him to a wide range of local artists and performances. It's a tradition that keeps on giving. If you see him there this Christmas Eve, give him a wave, just don't sit in that open seat in front of him.

54th Annual Holiday Celebration
Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Doors open at 2:30 p.m. (although the line forms much earlier, and entertainment on the Music Center plaza begins at noon.)
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at The Music Center
135 N. Grand Ave.
Los Angeles 90012
Information hotline: (213) 972-3099 or
Please note: Patrons may come and go throughout the three-hour performance
Reservations for tickets to the show or parking are not necessary
Those who can't make it to The Music Center can watch the live broadcast from 3 p.m.-6 p.m. on KCET-TV or stream it at The KCET broadcast repeats from 8 p.m.-11 p.m., and again on Dec. 25 at 12 p.m., 3 p.m. and 9 p.m.


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