The coronavirus hurts historic outdoor play ‘Ramona’

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“The show must go on!” was a statement made in The Morning Republican in Scranton, Pennsylvania, in 1875. But, the more recent saying, “The show must go wrong,” is unfortunately what has happened with the “Ramona” pageant outdoor play being canceled this year because of the novel coronavirus.

The Ramona Amphitheater board, the actors, stage hands and hundreds of local extras were devastated when Lori Van Arsdale, past president of president of the board, announced at the Hemet City Council meeting and on Facebook that the historic “Ramona” play would be canceled for only in the fourth time in its history for fear of spreading the coronavirus.

“With a very heavy heart we announce that we have to cancel our beloved ‘Ramona’ pageant due to the coronavirus issues. With county, state and federal announcements and requirements we cannot go on with the show. We are devastated but know that so many others are in the same boat. We sincerely thank all of our cast and volunteers who were rehearsing their hearts out to bring you the best show ever. Please everyone be careful and stay well so that we can all come back and rise together,” Van Arsdale said on behalf of the pageant on Facebook. “This decision was not made lightly. We are a nonprofit. Our board is made up of volunteers. We get no money from the county or state, yet we are California’s official outdoor play. The money we get from ‘Ramona’ sustains us for the entire year. We began rehearsing for this year’s show in December. We have spent money on production costs that we will not get back. We hope that people will support us as we try to get ready to present the show next spring.”

Now the Ramona Bowl has to figure out how to survive, since the pageant is the biggest fundraiser for the event and amphitheater each year.

She said on a brighter note that an “anonymous” donor has offered to match any donations coming into the pageant until the crisis is averted.

The board reported that 70% of the sales are made by out of town visitors. Some sales have been made in advance. In that regard, the amphitheater said they were unable to simply postpone the plan. Much of the advance sale money has already been spent on the rehearsals and other pre-pageant expenses.

“With no end in sight, we have no date certain to postpone to, 400-plus in our cast and crew that have to reschedule and deal with everything going on around their worlds on this issue, too. We are truly heartbroken, and being an events venue that can’t do events, we have to figure out how to survive.”

She said the pageant ticket sales are considered “no refunds,” and “Sadly the money for those tickets have been spent on production costs. We can’t give back what we don’t have, and none of our vendors are giving us a refund. We hope that offering two for one tickets for next year will help, or if this clears up and we can offer concerts this summer.”

The board officials on Facebook said, “We would be willing to work with people to use their Ramona tickets for that. Remember, since we are a nonprofit and get no money from the county or state, you can use the cost of your tickets as a charitable contribution.”

In response to the dilemma, many Ramona Pageant advance ticket holders have said they will be donating their ticket money to keep the pageant going next year.

She indicated that they were particularly saddened for actors Kayla Contreras, who was to play Ramona, and Elis Santana, who was to play Alessandro. They are not only out of work at Ramona this season but also at their other entertainment venues as well. Contreras was working at Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farms, which have both been closed because of the coronavirus. Santana was a member of a rock band that was touring Europe, and those schedules have been canceled as well. All the Ramona Bowl workers are also laid off and at home. However, work is continuing on the Ramona Bowl Gift Shop, increasing accessibility and resurfacing the patio and garden area outside of the amphitheater. The work is being donated by a special donor.

An historic wall-sized “Ramona” fresco, rendered by muralist and fresco artist Milford Zornes, is in the museum storage area. Partially painted over in past years, the fresco is almost uncovered. The fresco and an enlarged museum and gift shop will be opened to the public again after the the coronavirus is passed, Van Arsdale said.

Donations, which will be matched by the Ramona Bowl’s anonymous donor, can be sent through Paypal or to http://www.ramonabowl.com.

The museum and gift shop are closed.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.