GroveShakespeare's Closing Is a Real Tragedy

W. Stuart McDowell was artistic director of GroveShakespeare in Garden Grove from April of 1992 until last month.

An actor who was to have been a part of GroveShakespeare's "King Lear" cast called last week. He had the luck at the very last minute to sign on with Shakespeare Santa Cruz and was driving north the next morning. As we discussed the cancellation of GroveShakespeare's current season, he said, "Everyone's a loser."

In the weeks since the cancellation of the 1993 season of GroveShakespeare, the tenor of the many phone calls I have received mirrors the coverage in the press.

The focus has been on those hardest hit by the theater's closing; its employees, the actors engaged for the season and the 1,500 subscribers who were looking forward to and in many ways depending on the theater's 15th year, its remaining five subscriber shows and, especially, Alan Mandell's King Lear.

For these, as well as for the theater's many supporters, including the merchants on Main Street who relied on the daily walk-up sales the theater generated, the season closing is a financial setback and a great disappointment. For thousands, GroveShakespeare represented hopes, dreams, jobs and opportunities.

But for me, the greatest losers are those least conscious of the shutting of GroveShakespeare's doors. They're the ones who hadn't bought their tickets yet, who had probably never set foot in the theater or seen a Shakespeare play. The real losers were those thousands of future audiences--namely, youths.

When I became artistic director in April of last year it was my dream that GroveShakespeare would develop as a center for art and education.

Audiences throughout Orange County were most responsive to this vision--from educators to season subscribers, from service organizations to the City Council of Garden Grove.

In the face of sustained cutbacks for arts in the public schools, educators and parents were crying out for sustained quality arts education coming from the county's artistic institutions.

Yes, for a theater person, there is a particular tragic sadness in the silent emptiness of the Gem Theatre and Festival Amphitheatre. The greatest tragedy, however, is the unanswered need for quality educational programming for teachers, children and young adults who might have used the theater's Shakespeare productions as a springboard for discussion, learning, involvement and an alternative to drugs, sex, violence and apathy. Countless numbers of young adults--many of whom have never seen Shakespeare performed, let alone set foot in a theater--lost the most in GroveShakespeare's closing because they had the most to gain from its success.

Last month, as the theater was being shut down, signs were going up on the Garden Grove Freeway directing people to "The Shakespeare Center." Let us hope the theater's future leaders embrace a vision that directs youth toward a thrilling, better tomorrow through arts education. Let us hope the funding will be secured to make this vision a reality.

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