The Hollywood Bowl domino effect: Layoffs and furloughs follow season cancellation

"The Simpsons Take the Bowl" show.
“The Simpsons Take the Bowl” show in 2014. The Los Angeles Philharmonic said cancellation of the 2020 Hollywood Bowl season was triggering additional layoffs and furloughs.
(Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Philharmonic‘s announcement Wednesday that it had been forced to cancel the 2020 seasons at the Hollywood Bowl and the Ford Theatres came with details of an $80 million budget shortfall and a painful ripple effect in the form of staff furloughs and layoffs.

The summer closure — the first in Bowl history — following the spring closure of Walt Disney Concert Hall has triggered the furloughing of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra (65 musicians and staff) and 25% of the L.A. Phil’s full-time, non-union workforce (about 50 people) through September. A total of 226 seasonal employees at the Hollywood Bowl have been laid off.

For the record:

3:29 p.m. May 14, 2020An earlier version of this article misstated Gail Samuel’s title as executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. She is the chief operating officer.

These cuts come on the heels of reductions announced in early April that included the layoffs of 94 part-time L.A. Phil employees and pay cuts of more than 35% for the leadership team. L.A. Phil orchestra musicians have been receiving 65% of their weekly minimum scale since April 20.


“It’s a devastating blow to our organization,” Chief Executive Chad Smith said in an interview Wednesday, shortly after announcing the plan to staff. “As much as we had tried to avoid furloughs for full-time staff up to this point, today that became impossible. These are people who are colleagues and friends.”

Gail Samuel, president of the Hollywood Bowl and chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn., which oversees programming of the Bowl, expressed sorrow about the cuts and the loss of the seasons for the Bowl and the Ford, the amphitheater that sits across Cahuenga Boulevard from the Bowl.

“Aside from the huge impact on our organization, and the very personal pain we are all feeling today, it’s our job and responsibility — our mission — to provide these experiences for people and we can’t do that right now. Just that fact hurts,” Samuel said. “Especially in a moment when we want to do that more than ever.”

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Smith and Samuel said there is no doubt that the L.A. Phil and the Bowl will survive. The path to a better future just will take a great deal of sacrifice, Smith said.

The L.A. Phil is drawing $20.6 million from its endowment, listed as about $281 million in the tax filing for 2017, the most recent year records are publicly available. The organization is launching a $35 million fundraising campaign called “Play Your Part,” aimed at supporting the L.A. Phil Assn.’s programs, including Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, which brings music education to kids in underserved neighborhoods throughout the city.


Ticket holders are being asked if it’s within their means to donate the value of their tickets to the L.A. Phil, or to hold on to them for a future season, rather than seek a refund.

“This is an unprecedented crisis — and we will get through it,” said Smith, adding that his team is concentrating on modeling ideas and contingency plans. Remaining flexible and responsive, he said, is essential as the organization tries to envision what the future will look like.

Following the cancellation of Season No. 99, the Bowl will mark its 100th summer next year, and Smith and Samuel said they are both looking forward to that milestone.

“We will have to come together and celebrate, and remind ourselves what is so essential about gathering together and experiencing these art forms as a community,” said Smith. “That’s what is being lost right now — that unique sense of electricity we feel when hearing music with someone close to us.”

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