Group unveils plans for Ojai theater center
The cheery vision of traveling performers, high school kids,
local theater groups and musical extravaganzas taking turns entertaining
Ojai's townspeople on modern, technically advanced stages comes
closer to fruition with each passing day. So say organizers of
the Ojai Performing Arts Theater.
Human catalyst Joan Kemper, architect and city councilman David
Bury, Nordhoff music teacher Bill Wagner, and Ojai Unified School
District Assistant Superintendent Jim Berube presented plans
and goals for the theater, which has turned into a joint venture
between performers, townspeople and the district, to the public
at the Ojai Playhouse Friday night.
The complex will include a 450-seat main theater and a smaller
"black-box theater" that can double as a rehearsal
space. The building will also house a scene shop with loading
dock, an art court, offices, a lobby area with two gallery spaces
and 10 classrooms, which will replace what Bury said he believed
were the oldest structures at the school. All areas will be handicapped-accessible.
The main stage will feature a technical booth, lighting equipment
and a proscenium stage. An orchestra pit was a late addition
not shown on plans revealed to the public. A study allowing the
builders to dig deep enough for its inclusion only recently came
through, Bury said.
Located on the northeast corner of the campus, the facility will
cost about $15 million to build. Kemper said she's seeking endowment
funding of $5 million that could be used for many purposes, including
discounting student and senior admissions.
She said in a July meeting with the school board that donors
will have the opportunity to contribute to the endowment by,
for instance, buying naming rights to a seat or dressing room.
On Friday she said that all the money for the construction phase
will come from "government funds, grants and national foundations."
With an assist from the district. The original organizers, including
Kemper and many members of Ojai's larger artistic community,
brought their idea to the school board in May, seeking not only
their go-ahead but a financial commitment. The board authorized
a loan of $300,000 at a July meeting.
Bond money allocated to the district for capital improvements
paid for the school district's contribution.
At the July meeting, Kemper said the district would be fully
reimbursed. "When we get the final construction funding,
well pay it back, from both state and federal sources and miscellaneous
grants," Kemper said.
Meanwhile, construction is set to go forward in the near future
and completion is scheduled for 2005. Two more public meetings
are planned but dates have not been set. But the vision is clear.
"I envision our kids and our teachers on a professional
performing arts stage," said Berube to a crowd approaching
85 people at the beginning of Friday's meeting. He said that
deals could be in the works for students who make the best use
of the facilities and new arts curricula the district plans to
implement. Paramount, Disney and Universal, he said, have all
expressed interest in providing internships.
Kemper and her partners in the Ojai Performing Arts Theater Foundation
also envision the complex as an attraction for talent of both
the local and the touring varieties.
In answer to audience queries, she said that the theater would
shut down two weeks each year but could be used for performance
the other 50 weeks. On average, she said, the community might
see three professional shows and, maybe, something from a non-profit
another night each week, in addition to student shows.
Details, she said, of how the booking and scheduling will be
done, have yet to be worked out entirely. "Finding a good
theater manager will be key," she said.
The manager will run things and the foundation will lease the
land where the theater sits from the district for 99 years, said
Kemper. Several questions from the audience probed at the issue
of the sharing of space between kids and professionals.
Said Kemper, "There will be cooperation because we're neighbors."
Other citizens expressed concern about pedestrian safety, parking
and traffic congestion and potential conflicts with other school
Bury said he believed there would be sufficient parking and that
one reason for building on the northeast corner was access to
other lots besides those on campus. He also said he didn't expect
a big increase in traffic. "I see it as solving a traffic
problem," he said, because the theater will save people
trips to other outlets in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles.
As for legislation to prevent the dangers to pedestrians in front
of the high school, he said, "I believe that's going to
happen whether this theater triggers it or not."
Kemper said many more specifics will be ironed out by the Spring
The Ojai Valley News
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