Catherine Filene Shouse, 85-year-old founder and guiding spirit of Wolf Trap Farm Park, spent a hectic day yesterday after a nearly sleepless night, touring the smoking ruins of the arts and entertainment facility, receiving hundreds of phone calls from well-wishers and planning to salvage what she could from a season for which many tickets have already been sold.
The day ended with an emergency board meeting held in Shouse's home, at which it was voted without dissent to continue with the performances as scheduled as much as possible and to use the park as fully as the situation permits, perhaps employing a temporary structure. "The board appointed Postmaster General Bill Bolger to be our national fund-raising chairman," reported board chairman Robert Keith Gray. "And Bill has already given us our own zip code for fund-raising . . . 20260."
Earlier, Shouse held conferences with the Department of the Interior and the National Endowment for the Arts, which are working jointly under a special presidential mandate to present as much of the season as possible. Members of the Wolf Trap staff immediately began putting in calls to artists scheduled to appear there, beginning early in June.
"The president called," said Shouse. "It was a great surprise, particularly after the first lady's call at 8 this morning. He said he was sorry about what happened and he knew how much Wolf Trap meant to the whole community and the nation, and he said he was interested in seeing it rebuilt. He said he might have to throw away his Wolf Trap tie--you know I gave him a Wolf Trap tie--because he might not have any use for it.
" 'Don't you dare!' I told him. 'We're going to have a lot of the program that we have already planned.' I hope we can; we're working on it today. We have a couple of small amphitheaters that can be used, and we're looking into other facilities around town. Our jazz festival can be done very well out of doors, weather permitting, and of course the children's program can continue. We have 2,000 children a day at the Theater in the Woods."
An examination of the planned schedule shows some events that would be difficult or impossible to present without something like the Filene Center to shelter them, and many others that should be feasible in the open air or under a fairly simple tent. Apparent impossibilities include the two week-long runs of the New York City Opera: one early in June, opening with a gala performance of "The Merry Widow," and another in the last week of July. Also hard to stage might be a new production of "The Sound of Music" scheduled for late August and early September, four performances by the San Francisco Ballet, a new production of Marc Blitzstein's opera "Regina" and a two-day modern dance festival. One attraction that might have been problematic, a four-day run by the Peking Circus, had already been canceled. Lena Horne is scheduled for five days of what is essentially a cabaret act but might be adaptable to a more open-air performance.
Other scheduled attractions--including the jazz festival, other jazz, pop and bluegrass programs, Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie, Lou Rawls, Judy Collins, Ray Charles, Jean-Pierre Rampal, a recital by tenor Jon Vickers and orchestral programs by the National Symphony and the American Philharmonic--seem readily adaptable to outdoor performance if the Park Service, which owns and operates the facility, can have the grounds cleaned up in time. One opera, Szymanowsky's "King Roger," is planned for a concert performance without costumes or scenery, which should be possible (weather permitting) outdoors or in some kind of temporary shelter. Another attraction may actually gain from the absence of the Filene Center: For a planned showing of Abel Gance's "Napoleon" with orchestra, a large part of the lawn would have been unusable because the structure limited sightlines for the enormous screen. With unobstructed sightlines, a much larger audience could be accommodated.
One Wolf Trap staffer ventured an optimistic guess that the final salvage for the season might be as high as 80 percent--not all in the usual performing space, but in borrowed facilities or elsewhere in the park. "This is a 117-acre park, you know," she said.
Another insisted that, even if the Filene Center could not operate, Wolf Trap remains a functioning showplace for performing arts. "Don't forget, we have the Barns now," he said. "We expect that to be operating through the year, whatever happens in the park." The Barns, opened in January, are a new 400-seat performing arts space owned and operated by the Wolf Trap Foundation, not by the Park Service.
There was still smoke rising from the ruins of Wolf Trap Farm Park yesterday afternoon when Shouse--the woman who gave the facility to the federal government and has twice seen it destroyed by fire--came out to examine the damage. A truck from the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department was sending a massive column of water arcing into the air, seeking places where fire still lurked. Out in front, the lawn where people picnic and enjoy shows in the summer was green and untouched. Some of the back rows of seats still looked ready to hold an eager audience, but a few rows down, where the roof had fallen in, there was a confused, smoldering tangle of debris.
Down in the backstage area, where Shouse and her party went to inspect the damage, firemen were shoveling heaps of damp ashes away from the building's foundation. Above them, the steel skeleton of the destroyed building still stretched toward the sky, with parts of the roof looming above. "Ladies and gentlemen," a Park Service policeman shouted at the party, "I have told you the building is structurally unsound. May I ask you to move away, please?" If he knew that one of the people he was shooing away ("up the road, please; don't go up on the grass") was undersecretary and acting Secretary of the Interior G. Ray Arnett, he seemed unworried. Arnett, filling in for Secretary James Watt, who is out of town, said that it is too early to announce any plans, but the Interior Department is determined to get operation of Wolf Trap back to normal as soon as possible.
Also inspecting the damage was Frank Hodsoll, director of the National Endowment for the Arts. "It's good of you to come, Frank," Shouse said, greeting him. "I liked it a lot better when I came out last summer," said Hodsoll.
Later, in a formal statement, Hodsoll said the president had asked him to cooperate with the Department of the Interior and the Wolf Trap Foundation "in evaluating the situation and exploring what the possibilities are for rebuilding the Filene Center. We will also explore with the Wolf Trap Foundation ways to present as much of the planned programming as possible in the coming summer." The statement was issued, an NEA staff member said, after a phone call from the White House.
"How do you feel about the damage to your park?" someone asked Shouse, and she shook her head sadly, looking very tired--looking like someone who had not slept much in the last 24 hours. "It's not my park," she said. "It really belongs to the government. I don't own it. I gave it to the government." But does it make her sad, the questioner persisted. "I'm the kind of person who doesn't dwell on the past," said Shouse. "I think about what we can do from here on in."
For veteran Shouse-watchers, that statement meant two things: Get people to work on rebuilding as soon as possible, and salvage as much of this summer's program as possible. Reconstruction is a matter of dollars and cents, and she has already had hundreds of offers to help financially. "I had a hand-delivered letter from Ward Chamberlain at WETA," she said. "He wants to do a three-hour fund-raiser for us on radio and television. WGMS called and offered to help in any way they can. Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, the president of Catholic University, called, and so did Patrick Hayes. I have heard from the National Symphony, the New York Philharmonic and the Baltimore Symphony. Beverly Sills called and besides offering to help, she cheered me up. You know, she always wanted a pink dressing room in the old Wolf Trap and she told me, 'When you're rebuilding the dressing rooms, make mine pink.'
"It's really quite remarkable the way people are reacting," Shouse said, "people feel that Wolf Trap belongs to them. But when people break down and cry on the phone, I start to feel a little weepy myself."