Author: Dave Brooks
Date: May 16,2007

On May 8, a wildfire in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park burned
dangerously close to the Greek Theatre, forcing the relocation of
its May 10 show with Loreena McKennitt, May 11 concert with Keane
and May 13 show with Modest Mouse.Venues Today caught up with Greek
Theatre General Manager Rena Wasserman to discuss how the
Nederlander staff responded to the disaster.Venues Today: Where
were you when you got news of the fire? Rena Wasserman: I was
actually having lunch in Hollywood and received a series of phone
calls on my cell phone, and by the fourth call I looked up at the
party I was eating with and said, “I’m really sorry, I
think something’s going on. I should take this.”
Whoever called me said, “Are you alright?” and I said
“Why, are we on fire?” It was just one of those hot
days where you knew something was going to happen.VT: What were the
first things you saw when you showed up to the Greek?RW: I could
see fire as I was hiking down and flames were kicking in at the
park. The fire probably started at 1 or 1:30 (p.m.) and I was back
at the park by 2:30 (p.m.)VT: How did the L.A. Fire Department get
hold of you? RW: They didn’t have to get hold of me, they
were in the parking lot setting up a command post. It wasn’t
something we were notified about, we were in the mix from the
beginning. The fires did get really close and we provided them with
a land-line, which was essentially to their calling in for
backup.VT: Was there anyone at the Greek when the fire hit? RW: Our
whole staff was there. They jumped into emergency action to help
the fire department get what they needed, be it water, restrooms or
telephones.VT: Did you have any emergency preparation plans to
handle this kind of emergency? RW: Of course we do. Every venue
does. You’re driven at a certain point by what’s
happening and the magnitude of what’s happening. In this case
you’re directed pretty explicitly by fire and police
departments.VT: At what point did you realize you were going to
have to cancel some shows? RW: We decided about 24 hours before the
show, but having said that, it’s not a decision that we made
on our own. The mayor told us we had to move the first show. Nobody
was being allowed into the park and as of today [May 16] no one
still is.VT: Did he call you and tell you this? RW: No he told me
directly to my face. You’ve got to understand what a command
post is. There are hundreds of fire fighters in the parking lot,
there are backup generators, there are police battalion companies
all backing up the fire department, there are city entities and
they’re all housed in the parking lot. It was never a
question of someone calling me; I was out there all day and
night.VT: What was the most difficult moment for you? RW: I would
say at about 10:30, Tuesday night when I stood here and saw just
how close the fires came. The power was out in the building at that
time and I literally walked into my office, thought about what I
should take, and then quietly closed the door and left because
there really was nothing. You kind of cross your fingers and hope.
I would say the fires were only an eighth-of-a-mile from the Greek.
It’s remarkable we still have a bowl that’s filled with
trees and evergreens.VT: Back to rescheduling the show. The mayor
says you have to reschedule the first show. What happens next? RW:
We all leaped in emergency mode and found a venue that’s
available; in this case, it’s the Gibson Amphitheatre
(Universal City, Calif.) which is a great venue to move to because
it’s virtually the same size as the Greek Theatre. We know
all of the people in the same positions we have here and we
immediately jumped into a meeting about how a ticket exchange would
work. We then got a press release going and sent that to everybody
we could. In our case it was great because press conferences were
happening every few hours. VT: How did you notify the fans? RW: We
did move the concert time by one hour and everyone who bought a
ticket on the Internet was e-mail blasted by Ticketmaster. Anyone
who bought a ticket by phone was called by Ticketmaster and anyone
who purchased a ticket from our box office was called by our staff.
Remarkably, eight people showed up at the Greek Theatre on that
first show day. Very different from the old days when you wonder
“How do you get in touch with all the people who were
planning on coming up?” Plus the fires were huge news in Los
Angeles and the phones were ringing off the hook. VT: What about
getting people into the right seats? RW: It was a great venue to
move into because the sizes are so similar. For example, our
Section A has 18 rows; so does Gibson’s. Our section B has 18
rows; so does Gibson’s. If you were in Row A, you were in Row
A at Gibson. We also had great signage and laid out 10 tables so
that every section in the Greek was represented. If your ticket
said “Pit” you would get into the line that said
“Pit” and that person would give you a ticket of an
equal, comparable location. It was remarkable; no one waited.VT:
When do you plan to reopen? RW: This Friday [May 18], we’re
having Harry Connick Jr.VT: Will the concert-goer notice anything
different? RW: One thing. They’re not allowed to smoke any
more. There is no smoking of any kind in the buildings, in front,
or anywhere in the parking lot. How is the cleanup going? RW: I
think everybody imagined there’s tons of tons of ash here and
I think we were very lucky. The wind must have been going in a
different direction because there’s really not a lot of
cleanup. We feel really lucky and know that it took a lot of
amazing work by a lot of firefighters and our own staff. —
Dave BrooksInterviewed for this story: Rena Wasserman, (323)