The Broad Stage Opens Its Doors With a Grand Gala

Santa Monica College is now home to a world-class performing arts venue. On Saturday night, the Eli and Edythe Broad stage officially opened its doors on the Madison campus. This intimate 499-seat theater was christened by 80-year-old Broadway legend Barbara Cook at the Broad Stage inaugural gala.

The Broad stage will dramatically increase the availability of high culture performing arts in the Westside. Until now, audiences traveled downtown to see opera, classical music and dance. "I had to go elsewhere to get my cultural fix," long-time Santa Monica resident Patricia Eltinge said. "[Los Angeles] is morphing and growing its own cultural consciousness."

"The Westside of Los Angeles has never had anything of [this] kind...It's a stage for dance, opera, musicals, yet it's an intimate theater," said Dustin Hoffman, a chair on the Broad Stage artistic advisory board. "We have the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, and now the Westside will have its own premiere performing arts venue," Eli Broad (rhymes with road),a multibillionaire philanthropist, said at a press conference.

Now that the Broad Stage is constructed, it's easy to admire its architectural beauty and enjoy great acoustics inside the hall. This wasn't a simple task. It took over 60 years to complete.

A stage "was in the original charter of the college in 1950," SMC President Dr. Chui L. Tsang said. The stage started to materialize nine years ago at a dinner between Dustin Hoffman and Eli Broad.

Hoffman became the link between Broad's fortune and SMC's construction bond. "Like the Godfather, they hooked me through the eye and said you're an alumni," Hoffman said. Hoffman attended SMC for a year, but left after receiving marginal grades, he said. Therefore putting the link between Hoffman and SMC was somewhat superficial, but necessary for the stage's construction, he said.

The stage was chiefly financed by a $35 million bond measure that Santa Monica and Malibu voters approved of in 2004. "Great art has always been supported," said Rob Rader, chair of the SMC Board of Trustees. "From the Sistine Chapel to Sesame Street."

Broad donated an additional $10 million that established an endowment to keep the stage operational. "The vision we had will continue," because of the Broads, Dr. Tsang said. Besides the Broad endowment, SMC will maintain the stage by taking a portion of ticket revenue, Rader said. The Broad stage is supposed to be self-sustaining and shouldn't drain SMC's resources, he said.

SMC probably won't spend money maintaining the Broad Stage because of its performances attract a wealthy audience. The inaugural gala event cost $1000 to attend. On Oct. 11, the Broad Stage starts its first season with performances ranging from Musica Angelica, a baroque orchestra, to String Theory. Tickets for these performances are $40 to $125.

Besides relatively expensive shows, the Broad Stage will offer educational workshops and master classes for students of all ages. "Free invitation-only events, bused-in student outreach, Santa Monica College campus activities, and special public performances will explore a high quality approach to arts education," the Broad Stage website said. Rader said he wants SMC students to get involved with the Broad Stage to learn more about the arts.

When students participate in Broad Stage events, they'll learn how a certain space can affect music. During Cook's performance at the inaugural gala, she sung her last number without a microphone.

This was probably to show off the Broad Stage's amazing acoustics. Cook's voice carried and reverberated within the hall's specifically contoured body. Mark Holden, who was an acoustician for the Juilliard School, was the Broad Stage's principal architectural acoustic designer.

The Broad Stage has excellent acoustics and one important addition suggested by Dustin Hoffman. "I'd like to say something about diarrhea," Hoffman said at the inaugural gala. What seemed like a non sequitur was eventually tied into an anecdote about actor Allen Arkin. "[Arkin] had a problem with diarrhea," Hoffman said. Right before Arken would go on stage he'd have to use the bathroom. "Stuff happens," Hoffman said. Most art spaces don't have a bathroom side stage, Hoffman said. Therefore Hoffman asked specifically for a bathroom close to the curtain at the Broad Stage.

With well-placed bathrooms, an aesthetically pleasing exterior and proper acoustics, the Broad Stage will probably become an integral part of Santa Monica. "So many people have these ideas, but so few people can bring them to fruition," Cook said. "It's a beautiful theater." Building the Broad Stage was a lengthy but worthwhile process. "It wasn't easy, it was a labor of love," Hoffman said. "[The Broad Stage] is a culmination of what we wanted."