The Bard and the Bowl
Ensemble could bring theater back to Foster Park
By Chris O'Neal 07/03/2014
Since 1928, Foster Park Bowl, which sat in the far corner of Foster Park off Highway 33 toward Ojai, has been the location for concerts, plays and one-offs; but ever since the late 1990s, the Bowl has been in disuse and in need of repair. Now an effort to restore the park’s open-air theater for a series of performances has the Bowl back in the county’s spotlight.
According to Ventura County Parks Manager Theresa Lubin, upward of $30,000 will be needed to make the required repairs and improvements to the stage itself before any performance could take place, improvements such as additions needed to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act and to repair the structural problems caused by normal wear and tear.
The Riverbank Theatre Ensemble, a newly formed troupe of actors, playwrights and producers, hopes to bring 36 performances to the Bowl during the summer on a yearly basis, featuring music as well as stage performances.
John Valenzuela says that finding the Bowl was a moving experience.
“It’s got beautiful acoustics; it’s kind of a magical place,” says Valenzuela. “It was like stepping into something out of Lord of the Rings in the Shire. As an actor, I wanted to be up there on that stage and do something.”
After reading a sign posted on the stage regarding rental opportunities, Valenzuela met a park ranger who pointed him toward the person he would need to speak to in order to make use of it. It was then that he learned of the condition of the Bowl.
“I was hoping that it would still be available and you just pay a certain amount and get to use it,” said Valenzuela, who says that he had no idea the Bowl would need the amount of repairs that Ventura County Parks Department says it does.
Ventura County Parks Manager Theresa Lubin says that, though she’d like to see the Bowl get the repairs it needs, there are “projects that take priority that are in use by the public right now.”
“As much as we love the Bowl and consider it an important county aspect, it is sort of off the beaten path and hasn’t been well-used for many, many years.”
Lubin says that any planned events at the Bowl would be contingent on the Riverbank Theatre Ensemble raising the funds to have the repairs made.
County Supervisor Steve Bennett, District 1, who represents Ventura, the city of Ojai and the Ojai Valley among others areas, says that he would love to see the Bowl come back into use and is happy with the Riverbank Theatre Ensemble’s efforts, calling the return of the Bowl a “valuable plus,” and doesn’t rule out possibly assisting them in obtaining grants.
“They’ve been very good about how they’re working with the Parks and Recreation department,” says Bennett of the Ensemble’s efforts. “Whenever you have a community group that cares enough to throw themselves into something like that it’s a win for everybody.”
Obstacles standing in the way of a return to glory for the Bowl are the potential for noise complaints and parking disputes. About 50 or so homes have been built around Foster Park since its last use and some neighbors have expressed their concern over amplified music or performances. Valenzuela says that there will be no amplification used, even for the musical shows, which he says may include a few unamplified guitarists and singers, and all of the stage acting will be as it was in Shakespearean times, projected by the strength of one’s voice.
“Because the acoustics are so good up there, a person’s voice when they’re speaking properly on stage, you have no trouble hearing them throughout the entire theatre,” says Valenzuela. “If we’re up there, we plan on being very quiet, good neighbors.”
On July 14, Valenzuela and the Riverbank Theatre Ensemble will be present for a public meeting to discuss the concept. Valenzuela says that if the project were to move forward, no more than 100 tickets would be sold for the first performances, and a shuttle may be provided to bring in guests so as not to crowd the small parking lot.
“It would be very intimate. It’s almost like — not to sound too corny about it — but it’s almost like being in a church or a chapel that has to be respected,” he said.
The Ventura County Parks Advisory Commission will host a public meeting on Monday, July 14, at 4 p.m. at the Ventura County Government Center, Hall of Administration, Atlantic Conference Room, 800 S. Victoria Ave., Ventura. For more information, call 654-3968.