The Hollywood Bowl is now on Plan C: filling all 18,000 seats


LOS ANGELES – They are playing ball at Dodger Stadium, which will sell all 56,000 seats for the games starting next month, not an inch of social distance between them. Across the country, Radio City Music Hall in New York is opening its doors and selling 5,960 shoulder-to-shoulder seats in a fixed indoor setting.

As more people are vaccinated and government covid regulations continue to change by the week, concerts and theater are clambering to maintain the venue and find out when to welcome the crowds they depend on And how to do it. For the Hollywood Bowl – perhaps the most celebrated outdoor venue in the country – that means making plans, and speeding them up again, as it rides the rapidly changing county and state regulations and its planned July 3 opening. Transposes public view before.

The Bowl has churned out three different opening plans in a span of a month. Plan A, announced in early May, called for the sale of just 25 percent of its 18,000 seats. Then, when the county’s rules changed, officials came up with Plan B: selling two-thirds of the seats to vaccinators, and setting aside just 488 less-than-prime seats without vaccinations.

The rules changed again this week, as California officials said external programs could return to full capacity from June 15, with attendees urging them to show vaccination or negative test results, but not required. The Bowl was moved to Plan C: It is now preparing to sell 100 percent of the venue.

“You are seeing for the first time how difficult it is to navigate, especially those of us who want to open in the summer,” said Chad Smith, chief executive of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which runs the amphitheater. He described Plan C. “Every time we are announcing the season based on the current protocol – and then the current protocol changes.”

The Bowl is battling the same forces that are facing the swirling places of the epidemic from coast to coast. Most people are looking to sell as many seats as possible to recover more than a year of lost tickets and concession revenue, without intimidating patrons who are not eager for a chance to sit next to someone , Who has not received a shot. It is important to strike the right balance for the Bowl, which provides most of the revenue for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which was forced to reduce its budget from $ 152 million to $ 77 million last year for declining revenue.

And the Bowl, carved into a valley north of Hollywood Boulevard, is not just another place to watch a concert. For nearly 100 years, it has been an ardent symbol of outdoor life and entertainment in Los Angeles and is famous throughout the country, enough to feature as a backdrop to classic films, including “double Indemnity,” And a. To be memorable in Bugs Bunny Cartoons. The Beatles and Bill Clinton appeared on the stage.

The announcement that the 2020 season would not – the first time a full season was canceled – was, for many in Los Angeles, a punch to the gut.

“We used to go to the Bowl 12, 14 nights a year,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, who grew up participating in the Bowl and became its champion when he served on the County Board of Supervisors, which named the main entrance Gone was his honor. “There was a deep void in my life.”

The rituals of the Bowl are shared and interwoven: Gustavo Dudamel, the music director of the Philharmonic, is walking on stage and using his arms to gesture the crowd to get up for “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Hollywood-worthy fireworks displays which accompanies Tchikowski’s “1812” overture. Even helicopters that appear to be essentially hoop-whop-hoop as soon as the conductor picks up a baton.

Its under-the-star concert, a eclectic program that runs from the Mahler Symphony to the “Sound of Music” singalong to pop and world music, begins in May and runs through the end of November, with rain or cold nights. There is little risk. (November can be difficult, as Barbara Streisand can prove herself by wrapping herself in a blanket While performing An Arctic snap by Southern California standards) as soon as temperatures dropped into the mid-50s.

And it can be an equally good place to measure the diversity of Los Angeles by sweeping the faces from the orchestra to the hill from one night to another. While the front seats can go for more than $ 200, the uppermost seats – “You’re in the balcony!” As Carol Channing would say from the stage – still go for $ 1 (which is not a typo) on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

Excitement over the promise of his return was displayed at an inaugural dress rehearsal earlier this month as the orchestra prepared to deliver a special series of concerts for emergency medical staff. The crowd watching that first rehearsal, a sparse group of about 400, when the dudamel, smiling and waving, emerged from one corner of the stage to begin operations, a sure sign that life was finally returning to something close to normal is .

The rapidly evolving rules will not only change the experience of audience members. In recent rehearsals, players in the orchestra still had to sit at least six feet apart – a requirement that, if this persisted, the size of the ensemble would be reduced from about 80 to 60 and, accordingly, its possible performances. Will limit the list. They now expect that the need for onstage distancing will be eliminated by Opening Day. But orchestra members, backstage staff, ushers and concession workers must show proof of vaccination to come to work.

“When things are constantly changing under you, it’s a struggle to plan,” said Norah E. Brady, vice president of marketing and communications at Philharmonic. “How many orchestra members can we put on stage? How many audience members can we have?”

These are not normal times and it will not be a normal season. There will be fewer shows, which means less revenue. “It’s a significant loss,” Brady said. “We usually have 73 to 75 concerts in a season. We have about 50 plans right now. “

Smith said it was his priority to make sure that this season looked as normal as possible, all things considered, for its patrons. As such, he said he was happy that the state and county were moving toward approving a liberal, full-steam-forward admission policy that he believed would be in force by official opening day.

However, there is respect for any patron who is not ready to return. Those who have box subscriptions – a valuable item in Los Angeles, where they are often handed from family to family – will be able to skip a season without forfeiting their seats.

This is part of the real difficulty in reopening, ”Smith said. “I think there will be some people who are not yet comfortable with audiences who have been vaccinated and who have not been vaccinated, and we will lose some of those preservatives by next summer. I also suspect That there is a great desire to come back to live performances outside. “

The original decision to set aside the vast majority of seats for vaccination was a civic-minded gesture, with the Bowl playing its role to encourage people to vaccinate. But it was also a commercial decision, noting that under county regulation in force at the time, the Bowl could sell 67 percent of seats in areas reserved for vaccination, compared to about 23 percent in socially distant sections. Was set aside for Not vaccination.

“So soon I said, we’re going to make it a majority vaccination site,” Smith said. “It was as much an economic decision as it was a decision to support those who were vaccinated.”

In many ways, the task is easy for the Bowl. Unlike other acclaimed summer venues – such as Tanglewood in Massachusetts and the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in New York – it’s completely out: no sheds or audience tarps here. There are no high-tech challenges with ventilation and air filtration systems and a relatively low risk of transmission of the virus.

The stage is three times as large as the stage in the Walt Disney Concert Hall, making it easier to separate the orchestra, which proves necessary. And the Bowl has been performing outdoor concerts for nearly a century – through world wars, terrorist attacks, earthquakes and wildfires – giving it an almost unmatched expertise across the country.

This period of experimentation and adjustment will also shape how the Los Angeles Philharmonic will proceed with a more challenging task, performing at Disney Hall, a 2,265-seater venue designed by Frank Gehry in downtown Los Angeles.

“It’s going to be a gradual return to normalcy, which I think is the subject for everything,” said Sheila Kuehl, a member of the Board of Supervisors.

The joy of the Bowl is shared by audiences and artists alike. John Mauseri, who has operated the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for 16 years, said he always made a point of stopping to address the audience, to appreciate the enormity of the experience. (The Bowl Orchestra offers its own program in addition to the work of the Philharmonic.)

“You know about this huge place, 18,000 people,” he said, “talk about the speed of sound or light. If I said something that was funny it took literally half a second for the sound to come back from the stage. . You must have the courage to wait for the response to come back to you. “

“Although a conductor has his back to the audience, you feel his presence a lot,” he said. “Though on the back of your neck, you know what’s going on. It’s extraordinary when 18,000 diverse people come together and are focused.”

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