Recent Posts

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Lilian Fontaine Garden Theater in Sarasota, California

As many fans know, Olivia and Joan's mother Lilian Fontaine (born Lillian Augusta Ruse) was a stage actress. Apart from raising her children she dedicated most of her time mentoring young theater actors.

She also helped in the founding of an outdoor park theater which now bears her name --- The Lilian Fontaine Garden Theater.

It's located in Saratoga, California, near where Lilian lived and where Olivia and Joan grew up. Saratoga is about 13 miles southwest of San Jose (and about 70 miles north of where Joan lives today in Carmel).

This summer (2010), the theater served as the venue for performers Dave Koz, Al Jarreau, Lily Tomlin, Joan Baez, and others.

The theater has an interesting history going back decades. It is on the grounds near a mansion formerly called the Villa Montalvo Estate,  which was first owned by outgoing California businessman and politician James Phelan. He lived there and entertained many politicians and actors, including Lilian. Phelan died in 1930, and bequeathed the grounds (175 acres!) to the State, intending it to be a public park and cultural center. Today it is a private non-profit arts center, known as the Montalvo Arts Center. If you go there today you'll find the mansion (used for weddings), two theaters (one indoor and outdoor), an art gallery, hiking trails, and a gardens.

I've never been there, but it sounds like a beautiful place.

In 1978, the outdoor theater was named after Lilian Fontaine, who was not only a good personal friend of James Phelan's, but was also a longtime supporter of the theater until her passing in 1975 at the age of 89.

A few weeks ago KC shared a nice story about how Joan is now helping with the funding of the refurbishment of the theater. The article comes from the Mercury News, written by Richard Scheinin of Mercury News.

Susan Pfeiffer, an assistant to Ms. Fontaine, said that "Joan wanted to preserve her mother's love for theater by helping to maintain this wonderful place."

Also according to the article, Lilian is credited with having brought Shakespearean plays to Montalvo. Angela McConnell, director of the Montalvo Arts Center, said it is "a dream for us, to have Shakespeare in our theater again."

Also from the article:

Delmar McComb, Montalvo's garden curator, said he would like to plant a six- to eight-foot hedge behind and along the sides of the theater. This will "frame the amphitheater and unify it," he said, "creating more intimacy and a little more separation" from the surrounding landscape.

The effect would be "almost like that of a Shakespearean theater, with arches cut into the hedgerow. "

Some of those would be planted with "really bold architectural plants from the Canary Islands," he said, "kind of like a yucca, but softer and with flowers." He also envisions a trellised rose-strewn pathway leading into the theater from the south.

"I think it can be an experience in and of itself, just to go into that theater," he said.

The entire project sounds so wonderful. The director of the arts center hopes that Joan can visit the theater to see the progress, and also hopes Olivia can come as well.


Post a Comment