“We chose La Cañada Flintridge not only for the 300 sunny days per year in the city, but also because La Cañada is a city where community matters.”
Those are the words of Sam Ross, who hopes to bring his Shakespeare company, the La Cañada Flintridge Shakespeare Festival and Conservatory program, to this city next year, staging plays and providing educational programs for the community.
Ross, whose wife Elizabeth is an English and British literature teacher at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, selected that school's amphitheater as the venue for his project and is awaiting a temporary use permit to hold a not-for-profit event at a public facility, as well as community support through a fund raiser on Oct. 1 to 4, to begin his dream.
City support doesn't seem to be far off.
“It's really in an ideal location,” said Chris Gjolme, a city planner, of the amphitheater and its potential for use for the Shakespeare company. Gjolme said the temporary use permit is necessary, despite the venue being on private school property, because it is within the city of La Cañada Flintridge and could potentially impact the neighborhood, with sound, lighting, parking and other issues.
However, he said, the amphitheater being “below street level and tucked away,” makes it unlikely to have much impact.
The permitting process is already underway and once the city has a site plan, including staging and addressing the above issues, it likely will be approved quickly.
That's exciting for Ross.
“I've been waiting about six years to get started on this,” Ross said Tuesday as he and a few of his project staff met at Flintridge Sacred Heart's amphitheater to discuss plans and share goals.
Sam and Elizabeth Ross moved here from Atlanta about 10 years ago, and he discovered the amphitheater shortly after she began teaching there. Although he previously approached school administration with the idea but was rejected, he floated the idea recently with a different administration and the proposed project was greeted with enthusiasm, he said.
Ross has a background in theater and earned a graduate degree from Trinity Rep in Providence, R.I., before starting a similar theater company in Atlanta. That company has now successfully operated for about 20 seasons, Ross said.
After the couple moved to the Valley Village area, Ross continued to involve himself in local theater and during a production of “Saint Joan” in Hollywood, he began talking with his then-director, Matthew Burgos about the possibility of starting a Shakespeare company at the school's amphitheater.
Burgos also became excited about the prospect and the two began making plans.
Elizabeth Ross said she is looking forward to serving as the company's director of education and conservatory classes.
“I was amazed when we moved out here and I came down [to the amphitheater] and saw how this space was here and not being utilized,” she said, adding that a community theater project such as she and her husband envision is vitally needed in La Cañada.
“Theater is something that brings people together, like a church or other community group. Pasadena and Glendale each have a theater, but La Cañada does not. This is definitely needed here,” she said.
The theater programs the group plans to offer will enhance other cultural programs already offered in this community, she said, adding that through the conservatory, local youths can expect to gain a broader knowledge of theater at a young age.
“It is our core belief that the training of theater should take place at a much earlier age than it does now,” Sam Ross said, adding, “If you want to excel at dance, music or even sports, you start at age 5. But most theater arts training takes place at age 19 to 23.”
The planned summer conservatory program would offer acting classes and workshops, leading to professional internships during the festival, Ross said.
Classes, taught by guest artists within the festival, would be open, for a fee, to students at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, as well as youths in other area schools.
A fund-raising activity is scheduled for Oct. 1 through Oct. 4 at the amphitheater, to allow the community an opportunity to jump on the Bard's bandwagon. The company will present a half-hour slice of Shakespeare's “The Tempest” free to invited guests.
For more information on the project, visit the web site: www.lcfshakes.com.