New Roads, New Theater

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The Moss Theatre at the New Roads School, Interior. Photo by Cynthia Citron
The Moss Theater at the New Roads School, interior. Photo by Michael Arden

There’s a new 344-seat, state-of-the-art theater in town.

It’s the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater, and it’s part of the newly constructed Herb Alpert Educational Village at the New Roads School‘s upper-grades Santa Monica campus.

The theater is equipped for film and live performances. It has a proscenium and thrust stage and acoustics by Yasuhisa Toyota, the same man who designed the acoustics for Disney Hall.  There’s also a spacious lobby and art gallery for performance-related receptions.

The students not only have an attractive new venue for their own programs, but also the community has access to a comfortable, state-of-the-art auditorium for its own specific needs.

The facilities are open to Los Angeles and Santa Monica organizations at a fee, or a discounted fee, or sometimes no fee at all.  The hope is that those sharing the facilities will join with the school in creating original, evolving educational opportunities for the students based on the particular interests of their organization.

The opening of the theater in February featured a two-day gala in which 150 students performed Shakespeare, presented dance numbers, and rapped.  The following month, Herb Alpert performed in an informal “thank you” to the donors.

The Moss Theatre Lobby at the New Roads School. Photo by Michael Arden.
The Moss Theater lobby at the New Roads School. Photo by Michael Arden.

In the coming months the theater will host the high school’s production of Antigone, a winter concert, a spring concert by the middle school, jazz concerts, a spring musical, a Spectrum Program drama production, and other special events.

The Musical Theatre Guild is moving its 2013-14 season (four Sunday evenings) to the Moss and last weekend presented a benefit concert, Our Broadway Scrapbook, with all proceeds going to New Roads School’s art programs.

Other community participants’ events already scheduled include KCRW’s Unfictional, Dori Caymmi and Tom Schnabel, and California Cuisine; Writers Bloc programs featuring Valerie Plame and Robert Baer, Edwidge Danticat, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Hilburn; three concerts by the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; two My Hero events; the Brentwood Youth Symphony; a Human Rights Watch screening of Which Way Is the Front Line?; a Santa Monica College arts event; a concert presented by McCabe’s Guitar Shop and an evening of Persian poetry presented by the Levantine Cultural Center.

And on October 20, the theater will be the scene of a party hosted by LA STAGE Alliance for its 2013 Ovation Award nominees.

“We always try to host the Ovation Award nominee reception at a new venue in the community or one that has recently been renovated,” says Terence McFarland, LA STAGE Alliance CEO. “We’re thrilled to introduce New Roads’ incredible facility to this year’s crop of excellent theater artists.”

“We are grateful to Ann and Jerry Moss for their generous gift of the theater,” says Paul Cummins, founder of New Visions, the non-profit foundation that created and sustains the school and the Herb Alpert Educational Village. “It not only provides our students with their first professional theater for performing, but will give them the opportunity to study the technical aspects of the production, like lighting and sound, as well.  And of course it’s a wonderful venue to share with students from other schools, as well as with the city of Santa Monica and the rest of Los Angeles.”

If you’re a music maven, the names Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss should be familiar to you.  Alpert and Moss are the A and M of A&M Records, a hugely successful record company that they formed in 1962. They sold the firm in 1989 but continued to manage the label until 1993, after which they created Almo Sounds. Alpert — also a famous performer since his Tijuana Brass years — and Moss were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006 as non-performers.

Also part of the Herb Alpert Educational Village is the Capshaw-Spielberg Center for Arts and Educational Justice and the Performing Arts and Leadership Center — all of them under the umbrella of New Visions, which is also housed in the Village.

Walter Landberg, new head of school and Paul Cummin, founder of New Roads School and New Visions Foundation. Photo by Cynthia Citron.
Walter Landberg, new head of school and Paul Cummins, founder of New Roads School and New Visions Foundation. Photo by Cynthia Citron.

Cummins, a Chicago-born educator with degrees from Stanford, Harvard, and USC, put his ideas for quality education into practice in 1971 by co-founding the progressive, private Crossroads School in Santa Monica.

He eventually realized that it would be difficult to make Crossroads as economically and ethnically diverse as he had hoped. So in 1995, he left Crossroads to co-found and operate New Roads School — also progressive and private but designed from its inception to attract a community that wasn’t as wealthy or as white as the Crossroads crowd.

New Roads now has 650 students in K-12 college-prep classes of no more than 20 students each.  Some 52% are students of color, as is 36% of the faculty.  And 40% of the school’s tuition budget goes for financial aid to help more than 50% of the students.  In 18 years, the school has provided $60,000,000 in financial aid.

“Many schools take kids and grind them into academic dust,” Cummins notes.   “We want to provide a balance: to appreciate their differences, get the most out of them, and prepare them to take advantage of college and what’s presented to them.”

Although the school’s graduates have an enviable record of getting into colleges of their choice, “getting into the best college is not the goal,” adds Walter Landberg, who took over as head of the school this past July.  “We want to make sure that they get into the school that’s the best fit for them.  We want them to feel good about what they’re doing.”

“We have some demanding teachers who get the kids to pay attention, and some goofy teachers to excite them,” Landberg says.  “We want them to recognize that learning can be fun.”

Learning at the New Roads School involves studying community issues and performing community service. Students attend a class weekly that deals with current community subjects.

The Moss Theatre at the New Roads School, Exterior. Photo by Michael Arden.
The Moss Theater at the New Roads School, exterior. Photo by Michael Arden.

New Visions itself is an example of this commitment to community involvement.  The Capshaw-Spielberg Center for Arts and Educational Justice includes the Leadership Center, a forum for meetings, performances, conferences, or receptions.  Opened in February 2013, its 2,000 square feet feature a library, a professional catering kitchen, and projection and sound equipment.

Other New Visions initiatives are a series of independent and charter schools that provide educational justice, or “equitable access to quality education for all.”  To that end New Visions offers educational reforms for at-risk youth at Camino Nuevo Charter School at MacArthur Park, for young women at St. Anne’s New Village Charter School, and health, educational and social programs at the Lennox Educational Neighborhood Zone. Fostering New Visions places foster children in schools, and New Roads for New Visions provides after-school programs for incarcerated youths.

Also, the foundation provides offices in its Center for a dozen non-profit organizations that deal with education, the arts, social justice, community outreach, the environment or international relief.

“The Center serves as an ‘incubation place,’ for these organizations and eventually, as they grow, they move on,” Cummins explains, “but meanwhile we operate like Knights of the Round Table: we meet together monthly and share information and projects.

“Each of the organizations contributes to the activities of the New Roads School,” he continues, “and each organization receives two free evenings a year for projects of its own — performances, events, meetings, or fundraisers.”

Perhaps some additional non-profit theater artists will begin to wonder what might await them at New Roads.

The New Visions Foundation, the New Roads School, the Herb Alpert Educational Village, the Capshaw-Spielberg Center for Arts and Educational Justice, and the Ann and Jerry Moss Theater are all located at 3131 Olympic Blvd. in Santa Monica.

Cynthia Citron

Cynthia Citron