Friday, July 11, 2014

Ford Amphitheatre: Restored & Ready for Summer Shows by M.R. Hunter

Nestled in the Cahuenga Pass just off the 101 Freeway (across from the Hollywood Bowl), the John Anson Ford Theatres complex boasts a 1,196-seat amphitheatre in its verdant environs and an intimate, 87-seat indoor theater, deceptively obscured when viewed from the street by the foliage and the design which incorporates the architecture into the natural scenery. But for the eye-catching marquee overlooking the parking lot on Cahuenga Blvd., locals are not always aware of what or where the theatres are, let alone how much history is contained up in the hills. It's an interesting dilemma, one that lends further charm and otherworldliness to the grounds upon entering.

At almost a century old, the amphitheatre was first built in 1920 as a humble wooden stage. Christine Wetherill Stevenson, a writer and heiress of the Pittsburgh Paint Company purchased the land as the site for where The Pilgrimage Play would be performed until 1964. Erected in 1923, in honor of Miss Stevenson is the 32-foot-high cross which glows at night like a beacon and serves as a curious landmark between the boundary of Hollywood and Universal City.

A brush fire destroyed the original stage in 1929, but the amphitheatre was reborn with an eclectic design of Art Deco nuances in the concrete walls erected on either side of the stage to reflect Judaic architecture in the same manner as the gates of Jerusalem. The amphitheatre continued to be the home for The Pilgrimage Play, pausing only during WWII, but the show was shut down after a lawsuit contending its religious content. From its initial spiritual and natural beginnings, the amphitheatre became an example of civic leadership in the arts, first by being renamed the John Anson Ford Theatres after the L.A. County Supervisor who founded the L.A. County Arts Commission and supported the building of the Music Center. For many years, the amphitheatre was used as a rental without any cohesive programming or funding. In 1993, County Supervisor Ed Edelman revived interest and launched "Summer Nights at the Ford."

Approaching the amphitheatre is like stepping into a lush canopy of trees apart from the city. The wide but long stretch of stairs leading up to the complex can be a tad intimidating, but there are several places to pause and appreciate the garden-like atmosphere with tables and chairs for picnicking before the show. Up top, the feeling is one of being transported out of the urban landscape and into an oasis far more walkable and manageable than the Hollywood Bowl. During the Fall and Winter, the smaller indoor theater hosts theatrical and musical productions.

Although the amphitheatre has stood up to time and several coats of paint, maintenance and restoration was badly needed and the Board of Supervisors approved funding to the historic site. For the past three years, a total of $27.245 million was invested which brought the original architecture back to life with a fresh scrubbing and rehabilitation to the walls and wooden stage. The stage is still in a work in process due to the sloping hilltop and water which collects and can flood the area, but new seats with cup holders were installed as well as two disabled seating areas, aisle lighting, and better irrigation for the plants and trails throughout the area.

There are more proposed project plans underway that have not yet been funded which would make the complex more easily accessible with a transit system, a plaza with a restaurant and small museum/gallery, and a hiking trail with views of the Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood Sign and Hollywood Reservoir. In the meantime, the current restoration brings back a yesteryear grace to the architecture for first-time visitors or regular patrons to enjoy.

This is the perfect season to make a special trip to the Ford Amphitheatre and see the renovations while taking in a dynamic show. Every season boasts a wide array of dance, music and theatrical performances with this year being no exception to quality and an emphasis on local artists.

Annual shows and offerings with a huge popular following are Outfest: Under the Starsa four-night film screening that is part of Outfest 2014: The 32nd Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and The Fountain Theatre's Forever Flamenco at the Ford! with this year celebrating the 49-year career of legendary flamenco dancer, teacher and choreographer Roberto Amaral.

JAM Sessions on Monday evenings are free, interactive events at 7 p.m. and a fun way to start the work week. Big!World!Fun! family series on Saturdays at 10 a.m. offer kid friendly music and dance events.

The Zev Yaroslavsky Signature Series, presented by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission with support provided by L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, returns to the Ford for a second season of extraordinary performances. Shows to look out for are the Los Angeles premiere of John Adams' I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the sky, performed by Long Beach Opera, on Saturday, Aug. 23 at 8 p.m. Titled after a quote from someone who experienced the 1994 Northridge earthquake firsthand, the story is set amid the aftermath of L.A.'s last mega quake. Seven young, diverse Angelenos are intertwined on their journey toward love and self discovery. Adams' opera-musical hybrid is a modern day Threepenny Opera that weds blues, gospel, minimalism, funk and pop. The Los Angeles premiere, marking the quake's 20th anniversary, will be given by Long Beach Opera, a company known for bold productions of new and rarely performed works.

On Saturday, Sept. 13 at 8 p.m., Daniel Ezralow brings his L.A.-based Ezralow Dance to the Ford to perform a commissioned world premiere with live music. Hailed as "unforgettably gutsy" by The New York Times and "one of the best American dancer-choreographers now working on an international scale" by the Chicago Tribune, Ezralow has created choreography and aerial choreography for theater, film, opera and television around the world, including the 2014 Sochi Olympics opening ceremonies, The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil, Broadway's Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, the film Across the Universe and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Batsheva Dance Company and Paris Opera Ballet. Ezralow is a co-founder of ISO Dance and an original dancer/choreographer of MOMIX.

Ford Theatres
2580 Cahuenga Blvd. East, Hollywood, CA 90068
Just off the 101 Hollywood Freeway between Hollywood Blvd. and Barham Blvd. in the Cahuenga Pass
May 31 – Sept. 13
Phone: 323 461-3673
Box Office hours: Through September 14: 12 noon-5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. On show days, the box office opens two hours before the start of the show.
Onsite, stacked. $5 per vehicle for evening shows; $1 per vehicle for morning family shows. FREE non-stacked parking and FREE shuttle to the Ford (excluding Big!World!Fun! and JAM Sessions) at Universal City/Studio City Metro Station lot at Lankershim Blvd. and Campo de Cahuenga. The Ford shuttle stops in the "kiss and ride" area and cycles every 15 to 20 minutes.

Upcoming 2014 Summer Shows at the Ford Theatres

JULY 11         Rong Music & Entertainment*
                     The Journey of... The Crystal Ark
                     A sonic excursion through musical history from the roots of electronic and dance music to modern        day. Produced by DJ and curator Jason Drummond and headlined by The Crystal Ark.

JULY 12         Flypoet Entertainment
                     Flypoet Under The Stars: Summer Classic
                     An evening of spoken word, music, comedy and live visual art.
JULY 16-        Outfest
JULY 20         Under the Stars
                     A four-night film screening that is part of Outfest 2014: The 32nd Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian                          Film Festival.

JULY 25         Eastside Luv*
                     English as a Second Language
                     An evening of live music by local Latino groups and DJ sets mixing a range of classic                                        Mexican, American and European rock hits.

JULY 26         Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company
                     Fiestas de México
                     An evening of folkloric dance with live music, premiering new works about two of Mexico's                                  celebratory traditions: Dia de los Muertos and Feria Nacional de San Marcos.

JULY 27         Colibri Entertainment
                     ¡Viva La Tradición!
                     A tribute to women in mariachi featuring Grammy nominated and award winning female                                      musicians.       

AUG 1           Bellydance Evolution*
                     Alice in Wonderland
                     The world of Alice in Wonderland comes to life through world fusion and Middle Eastern dance.     

AUG 2           Kollaboration
                     Kollaboration Summer Acoustic
                     An evening featuring up and coming Asian-American acoustic singers and musicians.

AUG 9           Fountain Theatre
                     Forever Flamenco at the Ford
                     A celebration of flamenco music and dance featuring local and international artists.

AUG 15          Ballet Folklorico Ollin
                     Retablos de Mexico: The Tradition Continues
                     A celebration of the cultural traditions of Mexico through music and dance.           

AUG 16          Chris Isaacson Presents, LLC*
                     Broadway Under the Stars
                     A musical review featuring Tony Award winning artists singing songs from some of the most                                beloved musicals of our time.

AUG 17          Music Arts Events
                     Serenata Filipina
                      An evening of choral renditions of popular songs and OPM (Original Pilipino Music) sung in both                         English and Tagalog, featuring jazz vocalist and instrumentalist Mon David.

AUG 22          Justice by Uniting in Creative Energy
                     The Sixth Annual J.U.i.C.E Hip Hop Dance Festival
                      A hip-hop dance festival featuring top local hip hop dance companies, spoken word, graffiti art,                             multimedia, film and live DJs.       

AUG 23          Signature Series: Long Beach Opera*
                      LA premiere of John Adams' earthquake romance, I was looking at the ceiling and then I saw the                         sky produced by Long Beach Opera.

AUG 24          The World Stage Performance Gallery
                      Jazz Masters: A Tribute to Billy Higgins
                      An evening of jazz featuring jazz notables Kamau Daaood, Carmen Lundy, Bennie Maupin,                         Kamasi Washington and Hubert Laws in honor Billy Higgins' prolific career.

SEPT 5          Jail Guitar Doors USA
                     ROCK-OUT for Jail Guitar Doors with Wayne Kramer & Friends
                     A concert to benefit Jail Guitar Doors featuring rock musicians performing acoustic and electric                          sets.

SEPT 6          PAE Live! – Vaud and The Villains
                     Vaud & the Villains - Original Salvation
                     A concert featuring Vaud and the Villains, a 19-piece New Orleans orchestra and cabaret.

SEPT 7          Los Angeles Jewish Symphony
                     Hershey Felder in Concert with the L.A. Jewish Symphony
                      A symphonic concert celebrating the 20th anniversary of L.A. Jewish Symphony and featuring a                           newly composed overture by Hershey Felder. 

SEPT 13        Signature Series: Ezralow Dance*
                      Director/Choreographer Daniel Ezralow (Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremonies, The Beatles                               LOVE by Cirque du Soleil, Across the Universe, ISO Dance, MOMIX) debuts Ezralow Dance and                         a commissioned world premiere.

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