Acting Up At Griffith Observatory

griffiths observatory roofAs mentioned before, I am really excited about the re-opening of the Griffith Park Observatory. See this earlier post. [Update: See post about my viisit here.]

[Further Update: After reading the rest of the post, be sure to read the comments (starting here) for some commentary on the planetarium show since it was launched.]

[Yet another update: The discussion has continued to another post, with more contributions from various people concerned with the shows and the observatory, past and present. Link here.]

I’d noticed (on their site) the employment notice:

The Observatory will complete its four year renovation and expansion project in the Fall of 2006, with improvements including the new 200 seat Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon theater, doubling of the exhibit space to house more than 60 new and exciting exhibits, and new sound, lighting, interior dome and digital laser projection technology in the refurbished Samuel Oschin Planetarium theater. Employment opportunities will continue to increase as we approach our reopening date.

… and the job decriptions for the Museum Guide:

Job Qualifications
12 semester units or 18 quarter units in a recognized college or university in Architecture, History, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Astronomy, Zoology or related field. Six months experience working in the above fields may be substituted for education.

Job Description
Demonstrate and explain exhibits relating to astronomy and related sciences. Answer questions related to the observatory, astronomy and related sciences. May be asked to safeguard exhibits, and open or close

and thought it was ok (“may be substituted for education” was a bit worrying, but I think I know what they really meant), and assumed that the guides would be supplementary to more experienced staff who know more about the actual science, etc.

It seems I was wrong. A newspaper from the neighbourhood that the observatory is in, the Los Feliz Ledger, has a story (by Kimberly Gomez) entitled “Actors Get The Call Over Astronomers”. It seems that:

The traditional planetarium lecturers, who in the past led hour-long talks in the planetarium at Griffith Observatory, are upset that when the observatory re-opens this fall, they will be out of a job. According to four past lecturers, their position which traditionally required an education in astronomy, has been changed.


Now the Observatory is in the process of hiring “show presenters” who need no prior knowledge of astronomy to present a new half-hour planetarium show entitled “Centered in the Universe.” The new show will loop nearly continuously with little or no opportunity for visitor questions.

Of course, as far as I can tell, the biggest controversy that is getting people upset in the region is not this story at all. The issue on everyone’s minds in relation to the observatory is of course parking, the new traffic patterns, and whether or not it is legal to charge a fee when people use the proposed shuttle bus to the site, introduced to stop them driving their vehicles through the park…. As usual it’s all about cars and not about the actual content of the thing the cars are taking people to. Sigh. Anyway, back to the story:

The former lecturers became particularly concerned when a casting call notice was posted for the positions on an entertainment industry web site in August asking for actors—male or female between the ages of a “mature 28” to a “youthful 55—to audition for the jobs. The ad also called for applicants with an engaging personality and appearance and those that are not “overly character” or “nerdy.” The ad also stated that an “affinity” for astronomy was “great” but non-essential.

Wow. I had completely missed seeing this call (I’m not in the habit of browsing the entertainment industry job sites…. but that reminds me of a tale I must tell you sometime soon), and so did not appreciate the magnitude of their policy change. It is rather sad indeed that they are going this way… Just in case you think that it is a misinterpretation of the policy:

“This has always been a science lecture now it’s strictly Hollywood—entertainment rather than substance,” said James Somers, a planetarium lecturer for Griffith Observatory for 27 years and an astronomy professor at Glendale Community and Moorpark colleges.
According to Somers, he was told by Observatory staff that the new planetarium show was no longer about education, but about inspiring people.

I don’t understand why “education” and “inspiring people” are mutually exclusive goals. What is wrong with these people?!

So what they are doing, it seems, is lowering the pay by 2/3, and having an increased rehearsal schedule.

According to Dr. Ed Krupp, Griffith Observatory director, the lowered wages are due to fewer requirements expected of the lecturers.
“The planetarium show will be half the time,” that it used to be, he said, “and will liberate the lecturer from having to manipulate the equipment and concentrate on delivery.”

the planetarium lecturers say they are concerned the observatory is moving away from educational opportunities—a situation they say will result in a significant “dumbing down” of the observatory experience.
“When you think of [the] Griffith Observatory, you don’t think actors, you think of academics or astronomers,” said John Sepikas, a Griffith Observatory planetarium lecturer and astronomy professor at Pasadena City College.

(Well, I wish this was true. I think most people already think of the tons of movies that used it as a backdrop, rather than the content, but I get his point.)

I’m hoping that -despite this disappointment- there can be something positive to come out of this…(yes, I’m an optimist). Maybe some of the actors who get the job might actually be intrigued by the intersection of science and entertainment and try to bring it out in their future work. They might think of it as a rather cool job, a nice change from the usual stuff they do in their day to day material. There might be a little flow the other way, with their sneaking some science into Hollywood. You never know where it might lead… I’ll be talking to my friends in the Industry about this, you can be sure.

[Update: Be sure to read the comments (starting here) for some commentary on the planetarium show since it was launched.]


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