Curtins Up

Forest Theater Guild executive director, Yvonne Hildebrand-Bowen, in the set for The Borrowers, says the Forest Theater closed just months after she stepped into her role.

The city of Carmel red-tagged and shut down the Forest Theater in April 2014 for structural, electrical and ADA compliance issues. After a two-year, $2 million renovation, the century-old outdoor amphitheater reopened last weekend with the Forest Theater Guild’s children’s musical The Borrowers.

So how is it? Kind of the same, actually, but there are a few notable changes.

Ramps, steps and paths on both sides of the theater, stairs and ground surfaces, have all been paved over with concrete, replacing the previous packed dirt.

Solid new handrails and path lights accompany walkways. There are more exits on all sides of the amphitheater.

Some parking lot spaces are gone, so street parking got crowded last Friday. Residential Carmel roads are twisty, dark at night, with nary a sidewalk. That’s where the extra exits came in handy, by depositing people closer to their street-parked cars. (Tip: carpool, arrive early, and bring flashlights.)

There are portable restrooms, including wheelchair accessible ones, in place until permanent ones can be installed.

The changes made entry and exit for last weekend’s musical – adapted by Walt DeFaria from the book, and scored by the departed Stephen Tosh – a lot easier.

Some things remain the same. The wooden bench seats that bestow the occasional splinter remind theater-goers of old times. (Tip: bring something soft to sit on.) The sightlines of the upper seats still soar above the stage onto a distant Point Lobos. The cool Carmel night air encourages bundling up and welcomes fires in the dual fire pits. (Tip: bring blankets.) The concession stand still dishes out sweet treats, and you can still bring a picnic basket of your own goodies and drinks, including, as one theater-goer enjoyed last Friday, a Pabst tall boy.

The Forest Theater Guild fired up their Films in the Forest earlier this month, and despite technical, legal and financial glitches, the guild’s executive director, Yvonne Hildebrand-Bowen, says it has found its audience again.

“There is a lot of infrastructure [changes] that isn’t always visible,” Hildebrand-Bowen writes in an email. That includes more reliable electrical work. Pacific Repertory Theater executive director Stephen Moorer adds that a few “giant shade trees” have been lost.

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“We’re advising everyone to wear sunglasses for Sunday matinees,” he writes by email.

The Indoor Forest Theater below got new paint and carpet, but Moorer says it still has asbestos and lead paint issues.

So more changes are in the works. But as Hildebrand-Bowen says, “The architect and contractor did a very good job in trying to keep the integrity and the historic nature of the facility in mind.”

Let the good times roll.

THE BORROWERS runs 7:30pm Fri-Sat, 2pm Sat (July 2 and 9), 5:30pm Sun, through July 17, at the Forest Theater, Monte Verde and Santa Rita, Carmel. $10-$20. 626-1681, www.ForestTheaterGuild.org

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