Independent Shakespeare Company remembers former Councilmember Tom LaBonge

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival thrived because of Tom's support. In our earliest days in Barnsdall Park, he saw the importance of free Shakespeare performances, and was instrumental to our move to Griffith Park when we outgrew our former space. He hatched the plan to build the stage that will eventually be our summer home, created the path to funding it, and stewarded the process throughout his tenure as Councilmember.

Tom loved hosting Angelenos at City Hall. If he had time, he would take you up to the top to view his beloved city in all her glory. In 2014, Tom arranged for ISC to receive a special recognition at City Hall. It was a wonderful day for us, as a large group of our ensemble were able to attend the event. Tom was a gracious host as we toured his office, and took us up to the top. There, he showed me a tiny sign that said, simply, "THE CITY BELIEVES IN YOU". His eyes twinkled, and in that moment, I felt that anything was possible in Los Angeles. That was who Tom was to me. A man whose extraordinary love for Los Angeles and her citizens inspired you to do your very best for this City we share. He defined what it means to be of service. 

Following are some personal stories from ISC artists about the man who gave his all for the city he believed in.  
Melissa Chalsma, Artistic Director


Carene Mekertichyan
ISC Ensemble Member & Artistic Associate for Social Justice

During my childhood in Silver Lake I attended Ivanhoe Elementary where I became fast friends with Mary-Cate LaBonge. I spent many afternoons and evenings at the LaBonge house for play dates and dinner parties with our parents. There were Saturdays we spent exploring the LA Zoo under Tom's care. Tom would always talk to us about the Old Zoo and Griffith Park's history, turning every car ride into an infectious expression of his love for our city. I remember being intrigued by all of his LA memorabilia and him taking the time to explain the story behind what made everything so special. I always looked forward to my personal loaf of heavenly pumpkin bread from the monastery that the LaBonge's would send with Mary-Cate. Tom was simultaneously larger than life and the most friendly and approachable community member. He treated all Angelenos like members of his family. Tom always reminded me that Los Angeles was my city too and instilled an ownership, love, and responsibility for our community in me at a young age.

One evening during our Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival of 2019, I heard my castmates excitedly saying, "Tom is here" and "Tom is going to speak." When I asked who this Tom was, the answer hit me before Xavi Moreno had time to explain. There was no other Tom who could immediately create this air of excitement and bring a smile to the face of every Angeleno simply at the mention of his name. After Tom delivered one of his rousing speeches to the audience, I went to say hello but was sure he wouldn't recognize me as it had been years since we had last seen each other. Of course Tom did recognize me and told me I had "gotten so big" and that he was thrilled to learn I had attended John Marshall High, his alma mater. He said he would see me soon.

There are really no words to express how great a loss this is for our city; it was comforting knowing there was someone who loved this community so unconditionally. Tom gave us all so much, but perhaps his greatest gift was reminding us how blessed we are to be sharing Los Angeles with each other.



Xavi Moreno
ISC Ensemble Member

I always loved running into Tom LaBonge at our favorite place, Griffith Park, and how he would stop a hiker, someone having a picnic, or an Indy Shakes audience member and ask, "What neighborhood are you from, what street?" and then proceed to tell them the history of that street or his favorite place to eat in that neighborhood. He loved Los Angeles, its people, neighborhoods, history and he loved Griffith Park. He was one of ISC's biggest champions in City Hall. He will be truly missed. Rest in Paradise Mr. Los Angeles!



Bernadette Sullivan
ISC Ensemble Member

I know it's been said many times, but I cannot think of a more apt description of Tom LaBonge than "a force of nature.'" Because nature was such an integral part of his love of LA.

He grew up and spent his life near Griffith Park, hiking it almost daily, so is it any surprise that he loved coming to the park to see ISC play and revel in the Old Zoo's natural amphitheatre? 

I loved it when Tom would show up at the park on the night of a performance, stopping to say hi to David and Melissa and the cast and crew and to shake hands with audience members. His gregariousness non stop, his energy unflagging.

How perfect that ISC was there performing Shakespeare (who wrote so eloquently about nature), outdoors in Tom's beloved Griffith Park, to thousands of Angelenos who flocked there to be entertained in such beautiful natural surroundings. That forged our bond with him. 

He will be greatly missed.

Rest in Paradise, Tom. I'll bet it looks a lot like Griffith Park.

And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.
- As You Like It, Act II, Scene 1

Posted By Admin on January 27, 2021 03:35 pm | Permalink